Hindsight: you’ve got to love it, haven’t you? You look back on an event, and see the blindingly obvious. It was a watershed moment even if at the time it was the epitome of humdrum.
If I listed the biggies: my wedding day, the birth of my children, becoming a partner in my law firm, passing my finals: these were all important in and of themselves – involving as they do that holy trinity of importance – you knew they were going to be important, they were and, in retrospect, they have remained so. No hindsight here.
Yet each of these events was the culmination of a process. My children followed from my wedding, which followed a long courtship (how Jane Austen) with the current Mrs Le P who I met at a law fair in October 1976 at Bristol University, where I passed my finals that led to me choosing a career in the law, which led to me joining the firm where I achieved a partnership in 1987.
Bristol is the common denominator in all of this so where did that destination come from? And why the law, when I was there? Apart from the odd ‘Oi you’ from the local Bobby, my giving a witness statement when I was about ten and the time Dad was stopped for speeding with a customary ‘Morning Stirling’, my brushes with the law had been non existent.
Well, if I dig back, it all becomes clear. The Boy Scouts. Undoubtedly choosing Bristol and choosing law involved more than one influence but both components are inextricably tied to Bob a Job week in the spring of 1971.
Bob a Job was a Boy Scout event which inflation and health and safety zealots ruined. The idea was, as a Scout you offered yourself to do small jobs for a Bob, a shilling in old pre 1971 money, 5 pence these days. I don’t know when the price was set – probably when the Scouts were founded after the Boer War, in 1903 or whatever. Anyway, by 1971 it was just a label for raising funds for your Scout troop – or it should have been – one old sod offered me a shilling for scraping mold off his caravan. He was the exception and Dad was livid but as with a lot of Dad’s ‘this is appalling’ moments it didn’t translate into anything as constructive as telling the old boy where to stuff it.
I had a few easy numbers and several mucky tasks – the local doctor had me creosote his paddock (which sounds like a euphemism for something vaguely bestial, but really involved painting a wooden rail fence in a thick black sludge) which ended with me creosoting myself when I misjudged the robustness of one cross beam. But easily the best of the lot was to do some gardening for a friend of Mum’s – Iris Gosling. Iris and Mum were what were known as ‘stalwarts’ of the local Woman’s Institute in much the same way that Kim Jong-un is a stalwart of the North Korean government.
Mrs Gosling – she became Iris when I went to Uni – paid well, beyond a bob anyway and was impressed that I said it would all go to the Scouts. She liked my ‘ethic’ – I remember her saying exactly that and not having the first clue what she meant beyond she was pleased with me. The idea that I might have siphoned off some of the cash for myself didn’t occur. Opportunity missed, I suppose.
Having proved I could weed and dig to order, she then offered me a regular job, two to three hours on either a Saturday or Sunday to do more gardening. I think I was paid half a crown an hour – that’s 25 pence today. It seemed a good deal to me especially as Sundays tended to be filled with homework and home chores for which the rate of pay was zero.
Mrs Gosling lived with her husband, a bluff hearty lopsided man in an enormous house and an even bigger garden, on the corner of Silver Street and Vaggs Lane in Hordle in Hampshire – Silver Thatch, I think. This was a convenient half mile from our family home. Mum had already taught me a few basic lessons which meant I avoided a few pitfalls and after a trial couple of weeks, I was set with a source of income.
Over the next four years until I went to University I worked for Mrs Gosling and learnt a lot about gardening and life. The ‘life’ bit came from her whole family: Mrs G had been an actress and had tales of London life during and after the war to counterpoint some of my parents more sanitised offerings; her husband had been ‘in business’ and told of the City with its long lunches, formalities, involving the correct way to furl an umbrella and how to smooth the patina on your bowler hat – skills I never needed, sadly; and David, her son.
David was then in his twenties, a qualified solicitor who appeared to be having the time of his life and most of it spent with a range of gorgeous women who came home for weekends, tended to be ignored on Sunday mornings while he worked on his car before a long lunch and a drive back to the ‘Smoke’. Goodness did he and his lifestyle seem exotic.
He had also done a law degree at Bristol University and raved about Bristol. If he could end up with such an epicurean lifestyle by doing law at Bristol, then it followed I could too.
Such is the naïveté of youth.
There were other links; my brother went to Bristol, a close friend had set his sights on the law from a way back, I didn’t know what else to do at degree level – maths was boring, history seemed destined to leave me teaching which, back then, seemed a worst option and since I knew nothing about law itself it had to be a better bet.
But in truth it was the glamour wot done it. I was seduced by the tin, not the contents, the branding not the product.
I’ve always been a bit of a prat and tend to fall into things without as much thought or planning prudence would demand. But I’m a lucky prat and that, more than insight, judgement or skill counts. So here’s to hindsight. You’ve just got to love her.