Saturday, 31 May 2008

Hello, I Must Be Going

This is the view (looking across Suffolk Square) from Compass House, Lypiatt Road, Cheltenham GL50 2QJ, where I've worked as a partner - and more recently a consultant solicitor - for the past several years. I've now said farewell to Charles Russell LLP having yesterday attained the magic age of 65.

We dress down on Fridays, so I went to work for my last day in brown shoes, cords and a casual shirt. Some contrast with when I started as an articled clerk at Clifford-Turner 42 years ago! Then I arrived at 11 Old Jewry, London E.C.2 - no postal codes in those days - in shiny black shoes, grey socks, grey three-piece suit, white shirt with separate stiff collar and (probably old school or college or Law Society) tie, with umbrella and bowler hat. Photocopying had just emerged from the era when it resembled a school science lab experiment. The calculator didn't exist, though there was a toaster-sized apparatus with levers and a handle which I toyed with for the purpose of making apportionments, but never really understood. Pairs of women sat in small rooms one reading out an amended draft and the other checking it against the engrossment.

By good fortune my principal was Bobby Furber, a man of considerable culture, heavily involved with the British Film Institute. He took the trouble to recommend to me Janet Baker's Saga recordings: they cost the equivalent of 62p each, which even on an annual salary of £450 I seemed to be able to afford. I sat in on meetings with the likes of Yehudi Menuhin, Charles Mackerras and a very young Daniel Barenboim. During my lunch hours, clutching luncheon vouchers worth the equivalent of 15p, I bought a sandwich and went to City Music Society concerts at the Bishopsgate Institute. There were no time sheets to fill in. I confessed once to a more senior articled clerk that I had taken slightly longer than an hour for lunch because the concert overran. Oh I shouldn't worry, he said: I saw War & Peace in my lunch hour the other day.

I was one of an intake of six articled clerks at Clifford-Turner, then one of the largest firms in the City of London. As with all firms, the number of partners was limited by law to 20. According to its website, that firm's present day incarnation, Clifford Chance, now employs "about 6,700 people".

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