Anne struggled on. ‘Work helps me. It helps a lot.’ But it was precisely when she was at work that her thoughts let her down. It seemed that her mind knew that the job in hand was important and so distracted her just when she needed to concentrate most. She remembered a really important case from March the year before. It was one that she had desperately wanted to win.
It was a blustery day and the constant wind dried the fields and tired everyone who worked outdoors. Just before entering the courthouse she parked very near another car. She was in a hurry because she wanted to check a couple of facts before the case began. She parked quickly in the last space (thank goodness there was one left), but this gave very little room for the person in the next car to get in through the driver’s door. She quickly looked to see that he had enough room. She never thought of “she”. It was always “he” in the court, and it was always “he” in the car park. Anyway, she looked to see that he had enough room to open his door on the passenger side, and then she dashed into the courthouse. It stayed in her head, though, this question of the car, this question of the space. Had she parked too near the other car? Would he, whoever he was, be able to open his door?
‘Come on, Anne. He can use the passenger door and slide across. It doesn’t matter anyway. It doesn’t matter.’
She did her best to persuade herself of this, but the question ‘Can he get back in his car?’ came to her again and again throughout the morning. Just when she needed to concentrate most on her work was when the thought attacked her most. ‘But this shows it’s just nerves or whatever. This shows it. It’s precisely when I need to think most clearly that something stops me.’
But she still had to think about it, to sort it out.
‘Ah well, if it hadn’t been the car, it would have been something else. If I were doing something easy, like watching a film or going for a walk, this wouldn’t bother me.
OK, just make some excuse, and go outside, and move the damn car!
No, that’s giving in to it. That´s giving it importance. You have to resolve this in your mind.’
All this was going through her head as her turn to speak was approaching. She finally resorted to her usual last resort strategy.
‘Postpone it. Finish the morning’s work, and deal with the car thing later.’
From this moment, she could concentrate on her arguments, on her client and on the trial, and focus 100% for the next two hours.
‘What a relief to be able to work, to be able to devote myself to what I have to do!’
‘If only I could be like Percy,’ she thought, as at the end of the morning she walked to her car, which was now splendidly on its own in the car park, with yards of space around it. ‘He doesn’t worry about car doors; he doesn’t worry about anything. He just concentrates on what he has to do, and then he goes off to the pub and has a beer.’ ‘How easy life is for him,’ she thought, as she drove out of the car park towards the Anchor Head, where she hoped for a quiet corner table, where there would be no lawyers who would want to talk to her and who would break in on her rest after the morning’s struggle.
Percy Hamilton Greaves was well-established in Anne’s chambers and was over ten years older than her. From the first he had helped her with advice whenever she had needed it, and had given her a lot of support and encouragement with her first cases. He was relaxed, cheerful, and clever. Words came easily to him, and he never seemed pressed for time. All day he seemed to walk about on that plateau that Anne had to climb up to by arguing herself into readiness. In chambers, as an advocate, he was regarded with great respect, mainly because of his results but also because he managed those results so effortlessly. He walked into court in the morning with a relaxed amble, exchanged pleasantries with the judge, was effortlessly witty through the case and generally appeared to have an easy life. This only goes to show how often we create a mask which misleads everyone, as Anne found out many years later, one evening, over a beer with him at the end of a long and difficult day, when he confided in her. But that is another story, as so many things are.
Anne lost her case in the end, and then she worried that she had lost it because of her worrying. Would she have lost it anyway? She thought so, beyond reasonable doubt, but she couldn’t be sure. Beyond reasonable doubt! ‘Reasonable!’ (‘Aye there’s the rub.’)
‘Keep within the bounds of reason, Anne and leave it at that.’
She tried, but for the rest of the day she had the nagging feeling that she had failed her client. She went home, exhausted and angry with herself. Was this life?
At home that evening Anne took out some notes written on the back of an old envelope. The envelope was creased and wrinkled because she had gone back to it so often and read it again and again. She kept it inside her old hardback copy of “Three Men in a Boat”, which was then her reading each night. She needed something to cheer her up.
“I know of no distress that an hour’s reading did not relieve.” That was Montesquieu and how right he was. Well Anne could not manage an hour every night but fifteen minutes with ‘Three Men in a Boat’ certainly helped.
And so, back to the notes. How valuable this envelope was!
1. More company. Go out more. When you’re out of the house, you’re out of yourself.
2. More exercise. This helps a lot. The world seems right when you’ve just played squash. “Mens sana in corpore sano.” I hope so. I do hope so.
3. Regular meals. Regular sleep. (Both had been difficult when she had been with Harvey. But she hadn’t needed any solutions then.) I’ll try. (And try she did, fervently, day after day.)
4. Divide up the day into manageable bits, such as: from starting work to coffee time; coffee time to lunch; lunch to tea; tea to the news.
Harvey had, quite unconsciously, suggested these divisions of the day to her. One summer he had taught English to foreign students in Reading near London. At the first staff meeting, when the anxious new teachers were waiting pen in hand to take down notes on evaluation procedures and teaching methodology, the director had wisely started with an outline of the teaching day, thus: “Before coffee, after coffee, before lunch, after lunch, before tea, after tea”. This had proved a very practical timetable, and with such emphasis on eating and drinking, the course turned out to be a happy one for teachers and students alike. Harvey had joked about it to Anne and, while he was wending his way from Syria into Saudi Arabia to take the road that ran by the pipeline down to the Persian Gulf, she incorporated it into her routine.
5. When something is on your mind, just think ‘What is the worst that can happen?’ OK, you didn’t lock the front door. So what? The worst thing is that someone comes in and robs you. If you lose the TV, so what? It’s not the end of the world! This helps. This helps.
5. Take an interest in the weather. (Anne was not really meteorologically minded, but she felt that the weather was something neutral in the world, and therefore it was healthy. It was above moral judgements and the demands of conscience. It was apart from things done or left undone and human worries in general, so see if it’s sunny, Anne. If it is, enjoy it. If it´s raining, go outside and feel the rain. At night gaze up at the stars.)
6. Look at the birds! In fact, look at any animal! Surely they’re not battling with their own minds as they walk by the hedge or munch grass in the field. The old dog lying in front of the fire is not working out how to tackle tomorrow. They’re OK.
6. Get comfort where you can.
The old postman, who always seemed pleased to see her in the morning, and gave her a free weather forecast for the rest of the day, the woman who sold fruit in the market, the chatty cashier at the supermarket, whose queue she always chose just for her cheerfulness, all these people helped her without knowing it. They were all happy at their work, or at least seemed so. They were cheerful, and this made some sense of the universe.
By resorting to these crutches of normality, Anne kept going, hoping that things would get easier, that the next month would better than the last, and that she would gradually settle down to a happier life.
She kept telling herself to relax.
“Easier said than done!”
She remembered how Harvey could relax with friends, whether out at a bar for a drink or cooking for them at home. He was a good cook. But Anne had to surface to the top of her mind when she was with people. Conversation cost effort. Considering her answers, asking the right questions, being interested without prying, all this was hard work for her.
Her best way of winding down was to take the car, drive out of Bristol, park near Erewhon on the rough, wide track that used to be the old coach road, and then walk for an hour or two on the Mendips. She had walked there for years, and the hills took her back to her childhood. Childhood! No responsibilities! That blessed state of being told what to do!
She thought about her father. We never give our fathers their due, do we? They do what they can and they carry out their responsibility as well as they are able. Anne remembered some tiles she had seen on the wall in a restaurant in Barcelona when she was on holiday there years before. There were five and each dealt with the attitude of children to the fathers as they grew up.
Age 6 Dad knows everything.
Age 10 Dad knows some things.
Age 16 Dad knows nothing.
Age 25 I will ask Dad for advice.
Age 35 I wish my Dad were here so I could ask his advice.
She wished her own father were there. He would have been able to give her sensible advice about so much. About Quentin, for example.
Anne felt most at ease when walking in the wind, the sun and the rain, but best of all in the rain, that thin rain, hardly rain really, little more than a falling mist. Her Yorkshire grandmother had loved it too and had called it moor grime. Her grandmother had invented little errands outside, things to buy at the shops, just to go outside and enjoy a walk in moor grime. And then, of course, friends who saw her walking had stopped their cars and insisted on giving her a lift, which she had been too polite to refuse.
One thing Anne knew for certain. She would never give up. She would not let it get the better of her. She would work and lead a normal life (‘But what is normality?’). Where is that envelope? She would go on.