Season of Mists

PUBLISHED November 26, 2011

Autumn lends a certain magic to Camberwell. Burnished with gold, the horse chestnuts shed their bounty to the windswept plaza. As dusk settles, the cleaner chisels the day's chewing gum out of the '70s mural in the lobby. Nutkin, the court squirrel, who amazingly has not been speared and roasted by a feral client, optimistically buries conkers for Christmas in a pile of builder's sand ? a metaphor for the local judicial process. He will be dependent this winter on the illicit peanuts fed to him by staff wildlife fanciers who must remain nameless for fear of their jobs. (?Don't feed the vermin,? say Management.) I muse that Nutkin is a photogenic vegan with a fluffy tail and thus infinitely more cute than this morning's teenage robber.

A client strolls in and recognises me.

He is best described as whacked to the max. It is like trying to take instructions from Bob Marley ? though the latter has at least got the excuse of being dead. After a few minutes of his sepulchral slurring, I deduce that he was due to appear on a breach of unpaid work, the original offence being offering to supply cannabis. Irritated, I point out that it is 5.15 pm, rather than 10.00 am. Client looks wonderingly at the gloom outside and pauses. And pauses. He is still pausing when I decide that I may as well just get on with it. Teasing the national insurance number from the brain cells that remain wastes a further five minutes.

Rushing upstairs, I cajole the breach officer into changing back out of his Tour De France outfit. He retrieves his tie from the photocopier where it is being ironed overnight and stomps with me down to court. The Legal Advisor rugby-tackles District Judge Zani trying to flee from what was already a late night and we all grumpily recommence.

I put forward the excuse for the breach. ?Sir, his benefit was stopped and it was too far from his native Streatham to walk to reach the placement at Bermondsey...? Mr Zani gently points out that the appointment letter refers to Forest Hill. The DJ then politely asks why client was late. ?He overslept, Sir?. OK, so these instructions are improvised but I am not sure that I can bear the languorous pause that will precede getting the real thing. ?Nights are drawing in,? I continue, ?it's easy to mistake the time...?

This is the ?It's too late to jail this buffoon? approach.

I successfully convey that client's herbally founded lifestyle leaves him too bonged to find the alarm clock, much less wake up when it doesn't ring. Wearily, Mr Zani figures that listening further is more pain for no gain and throws him out with another 20 hours that he will be too stoned to start.

Outside, Nutkin hedges his bets and hopefully stashes his spare conkers into a discarded Kentucky box.