Confederation Report (February 2010)

Happy New Year! As those unfortunate (or sad) enough to be regular readers of my offerings, you will know that it has become something of a custom for me to regale you with a theme from a book I’ve been given at Christmas. This being the first outpouring post-Yule, unimaginatively I was planning to do the same this time. In fact it was the very thought that sprang to mind as I gleefully ripped the shiny wrapping paper off the obvious shape of a book that came to my hand as I delved deep in Santa’s sack! (Well it was under the tree really, but I thought I’d camp it up a bit).

Simon Mumford

And, joy of joys, it was one of those books of rare promise – “A Miscellany of Britain” by Tom O’Meara. And it really is interesting but I have a beef with Mr O’Meara - there isn’t nearly enough about Wales in his tome. Bags of English entries, and loads of Scottish titbits. But for instance, whilst in the Chapter titled “Traditional British Food”, there’s Cornish Pasties and Cream Teas, HP Sauce, Bovril, Marmite and Haggis in spades, even the Pork Pie (which is attributed to Yorkshire and is apparently called a “Growler” there), Wales gets barely a mention (the British breakfast, lovingly described with a seeming afterthought “… whilst in Wales they often serve it with laver bread”…. and a grudging aside that faggots were also present in Wales, that’s about it!)

The only cheese mentioned is Cheddar (and it can only be “Cheddar” if produced within a thirty mile radius of Wells). What about Caerphilly then? Per Llas? And whilst I accept that Welsh Cuisine is not desperately popular on the streets of the West End, the Champs Elysees or in the Tapas Bars ofBarcelona, surely in a BRITISH book, there could be at least a mention of Cawl, Welsh Cakes, Welsh Rarebit (or “Rabbit” as you will)

No mention of the fierce debate now raging about the Pasty actually having been invented in West Wales! And there is precious little else in the book about Wales (oh it is mentioned that Cardiff is the youngest capital city inEurope, and that our flag has only been in existence since 1960 – surely untrue?)

There were NO Welsh people in the “Top Ten” Famous Brits, and only five in the top 100! Aneurin Bevan (12th), Richard Burton (22nd), Owain Glyndwr (40th), King Arthur (48th), David Lloyd George (51st). Well I claim Lawrence of Arabia (49th), and the Unknown Soldier COULD have been Welsh (82nd). Julie Andrews came 12th for Goodness sake!

Anyway, it bugged me to the extent that the book will not figure as my theme (apart from telling you that in the “Bizarre bets” section, some insightful folk placed bets on the Beatles to have a No 1 (10 to 1 in 1963), Robbie Williams to rejoin Take That (8/1 in 2009) and Charlotte Church to announce she was pregnant by Gavin Henson (at 6/1)

The other book I had was more productive – the latest offering from “Brit Wit”. For instance, Lord Amehurst, an Army Officer said in 1760 “There are three ways of losing money; racing is the quickest, women the most pleasant, and farming the most certain”.

I think if his Lordship had been writing today, he might have substituted “being a Solicitor” for farming.

Which is why I was stunned to read in the Law Society’s Gazette (you know, that object in the polythene bag that sits in the corner of your room with the box of “Just the Green Fruit Gums” and the bottle of “Wee Glenphoney” Libyan whiskey, gifts from grateful clients), that the number of practising solicitors in England and Wales has “risen sharply” to more than 120,000 “with their ranks growing at an accelerated rate despite the economic pressures faced by the profession”.

Professor Stephen Mayson, a legal services expert, has said that this trend (7% last year) “defies gravity” and that “something’s got to give”. He also points out that “Residential conveyancing, personal injury, High Street and Legal Aid are not areas that are associated with growth and the bigger commercial firms are not hiring in the way that they used to.”

Well, you’re not wrong there Prof!

When I waved this article around in the office, it produced quite a reaction (apart from the fact that many were surprised that anyone should remove the offending publication from its wrapper), the main one being to blame the Law Society for allowing this to happen. “No wonder I’m skint!” and “If there’s that many, why is the Practising Certificate so ruddy expensive?” I won’t tell you what the incomparable Vicki Hains said, but it was very, very rude!

My view is that if someone has the dedication and determination (and the dosh!) to spend six years of their lives qualifying as a solicitor, good luck to them!

No, the question is WHY? I mean it’s a bit like people booking a trip on the Titanic’s sister ship the day after it sank, for a high speed night time cruise around Greenland, to see the glory of “the mighty iceberg”. The accompanying picture to the article showed all these young folk, packed into Law Society Hall, all shiny faced and beaming. By the cringe it depressed me. As Anthony Burgess said “We all need money, but there are degrees of desperation.” I just hope that these “newbies” don’t live to regret it. It seems to me that the lifeboat is already pretty full, and supplies are not going to last.

The reform of the NHS has prompted some very interesting conversations in Haverfordwest Mags Court over the past few days. A fair few people have mused as to what it would be like to have a parallel system where the profession ran the legal system. Just imagine, no LSC, the SRA curtailed, lawyers making decisions about cases, Solicitors and Barristers trusted to decide how the budget should be spent. Even the Solicitor General and the Master of the Rolls being actual Solicitors! And then Bobby Ewing came out of the shower with Lord Lucan, Elvis and Shergar, and I found that I had captained the Welsh team that won the Rugby World Cup as well.

I went to the cinema for the first time in ages last week, to see the King’s Speech. It was absolutely brilliant, and if it doesn’t win a clutch of Oscars, well it won’t be fair. Do see it if you can. I can’t remember the last time I heard a cinema audience applaud at the end. It set me thinking about a gift I was given when the old Magistrates Courts closed. Sir Lincoln Hallinan was the Stipendiary Magistrate at the time, and he had a vast office with all sorts of memorabilia from the oddest of places (he was a great purchaser of china, which he had to hide from his lovely wife by carefully applying dust to give the impression he’d had the piece for ages!)

But he could collect all sorts of things (he was once seen precariously scaling the then recently demolished BBC studio opposite Queen Streetstation tugging a poster of Ivor Novello from the rubble). Anyhow, his new room being much smaller in the new court, and his home already full to bursting with his antiques, he had to give away lots of his loot. I was lucky enough to be given a coronation mug of King George VI.

He had been given it by the monarch, when he was introduced to him during the war. (Perhaps the Queen Mum didn’t want too much clutter like Lady Mary Parry!) Sir Lincoln said that the firm instructions were that you were not to speak to the King, as he was seldom able to answer. “I don’t know why” said Sir Lincoln, “I had a decent talk with him, and he seemed fine to me!” Remembering Sir Lincoln, with great affection, as a wonderful raconteur, I suspect his Majesty did most of the listening!

Sensing the mood of “collectability”, I immediately embarked on a trawl of my own accumulations (chief amongst which are Colin Bell’s sock, a plastic pencil case autographed by Phil Bennett, a copy of Ray Gravell’s instructions about how to drink Welsh Whisky (best with water from a stream in Mynydd y Gerig) and a small woollen koala bear (whose relevance I forget). Since Winston Churchill’s false teeth have fetched nearly £20,000, you never know. And times are hard.

I found the mug in a chest, and it was wrapped in the first ever edition of Legal News! We didn’t have the date, but its a few years ago now, and horrifyingly I was listed as the editor! Your present editor, Richard Fisher, need not worry about comparisons. Not only that, I had three articles in the thing –a car test drive, an article about Alun Roberts – Thomas (a fine advocate from the 50’s to the 80’s), and a rant about legal aid. Some things never change!

Cardiff Accies played against the Pembrokeshire over 45’s in early January. It was a lovely day weather-wise (the first in west Wales without a blizzard, a monsoon or five degrees of frost for about three months!)

Although it was not noticeable for the result (we lost 3 – 0 but performed heroically) it was the moment when “El Supremo” Andy Owen, partner with Abses, had one of those stand out moments.

As you will be aware, whenever possible, I tend to snitch on Andy for moments of madness on the pitch, sartorial gaffes, basically anything I can. However, this time he thwarted me. He brought his Dad down from St David’s to watch! Not having been able to persuade my Uncle to come, we were not, sadly, able to have a “My Dad’s gonna beat your Uncle up” incident. And it was with some trepidation that I approached Mr Owen, knowing that his son had often told me of his displeasure at my revelations. I need not have worried. Owen Major is a charming man, who, I suspect, rather enjoys these tales.

Sadly for me, Andyo was pathetically boringly good on the pitch, and did nothing noteworthy that I can report - Curses!

He did tell me a wonderful story about a very distinguished Welsh Solicitor who, whilst at the College of Law, having been abused by his landlady for years, and being evicted, placed a male and female rat in the vacated property, but I promised not to write about that. Pity, ‘cos it is a great story.

I am delighted to report that the Confederation Summer Ball will take place, once again at the New House on Caerphilly Mountain. Last year was brilliant, and all that attended have asked for a repeat. I urge you to attend.

The Confederation AGM is looming – 6.00pm on 10th February at the Law Society’s Regional Office. As with last year, if anyone wants to hold office (especially mine!) do put your name in the hat.

I leave you with two offerings:

Mr Justice Darling said “The law courts of England are open to all men, as are the doors of the Ritz Hotel”. He will surely be spinning in his grave;

And, on the day when the police urged drivers with colds to refrain from driving, I give you this from the Times – “A man who volunteered to take part in an identity parade was arrested and charged with theft after he ate a policeman’s cheese sandwich. Bournemouth Magistrates handed down a Conditional Discharge and ordered him to pay £25 costs. “It was an expensive sandwich” said the Defendant “and not even very nice!”

Until the next time, if we’re spared.



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