The meal was surprisingly good. Somehow, Tom-Tom had managed to have a main course choice of Beef Wellington or Tasmanian Salmon — washed down with a selection of fine Tassie wines — put on the menu. The Tasmanian theme was part of my hidden strategy which would become apparent later. Just when I began to relax a little, Clive stood up, almost shattered his wine glass with his dessert spoon, and asked for silence.
‘Ladies and gentlemen. Normally, Marcus, our head of chambers, would be addressing you, but not tonight. Why? Because tonight he’s here in a different capacity. He’s here as one of the three Brothers Grimm, ready to do battle and defend his title.’
Applause. Clive held up his hand until the excited diners fell silent again.
‘As most of you would know, for the past 20 years or so, the Brothers Grimm have been a hallowed tradition on our floor. They are the champion storytellers of our chambers who have entertained us on many occasions with their flair and panache, their imagination, and command of language. However, once a year, they can be challenged. This year we have a challenger, and he has chosen Marcus as his opponent. ’
Clive pointed in my direction. More applause. ‘And very soon you will be called upon to decide whether or not he’s been successful.’ Clive, an experienced advocate and storyteller — he was one of the Brothers Grimm at the time — paused, letting the tension grow. ‘Here are the rules: The challenger goes first. He has 15 minutes to convince you that he’s worthy. He will try to do that by telling you a story. After that, it’s the incumbent’s turn. He too has 15 minutes to show off his skills as a storyteller and fend off the challenge. After that, you decide. You will be asked to vote for the story you liked best. This will be done by show of hands. If the challenger wins, the incumbent surrenders his title and the challenger becomes one of the three Brothers Grimm until one day he himself is challenged and defeated. Straight forward and fair. So, without further ado, I call upon the challenger to step forward. Let the contest begin!’
This is it, I thought. I stood up — heart beating like a drum — and slowly walked across to the dais at the far end of the room. At my request, two bar stools had been placed next to the microphone. I climbed up on one of them and looked at my audience. Just like a jury, I thought, calming myself. Most of the faces I knew well. Apart from our entire floor, there were several judges and their associates, eminent QC’s, two MPs, and of course the Attorney General. And all of them were watching me.
As every storyteller knows, the opening line is critical. You have to capture your listeners at the very beginning and make sure they stay with you. The best way to do this? Surprise.
‘Why two stools?’ I asked, pointing to the empty stool next to mine. ‘Because I have an important guest I would like to introduce to you. A guest? In a story, you ask? How come? Because my story is a true one, and my guest is the central character in that story. Well, one of them, anyway. Please welcome His Honour, Justice Archibald.’ On cue, Archie came over and sat down next to me. Subdued applause. I knew my audience didn’t quite know what to make of this. Good. I had everyone’s attention.
‘The story I’m about to tell you, takes us back a few years. I was a newly admitted baby barrister and the time, as Tom-Tom here used to call me, and I was fortunate to have two very special people as my mentors and friends. Who were they? One of them was Marcus, our head of chambers, and the other Judge Archibald here.’ I paused, and pointed to Archie sitting next to me. ‘We were all on the same floor and had appeared in many trials together. And we had common interests; red wine and champagne mainly, usually consumed in copious quantities after court in my room which had somehow become the unofficial club room/ bar of our floor.’
A little laughter.
‘I remember the day well. Archie burst into my room after court, took off his wig and poured himself a stiff drink. He had just finished a long, gruelling trial and looked pale and exhausted. Guilty verdicts do that to the best of us.’
“I need a break,” he said. “Hillary and I should go away for a few days.”
“Good idea. Do you have somewhere in mind?”
“You’ve been raving about Tasmania a lot. You seem do know it well.”
“I do. You’d enjoy it; I’m sure,” I said, trying to encourage Archie.
‘There’s just one little problem,’ he said.
A little explanation is needed here. Winston is Mrs Archibald’s beloved dog. In fact he’s the apple of her eye. Many of you will remember the famous story a couple of years ago that made Clive one of the Brothers Grimm after Archie’s elevation to the bench—Winston and the Fire Warden? That story was about the same dog.’
‘Anyhow, I could see where this was going. “You want me to look after him?” I asked.
“It would only be for a couple of days.” Archie looked at me pleadingly. Refusing a friend like him wasn’t an option. And besides, I had looked after Winston before, but never for that long.
“No problem,” I said.
“Good man! Winston likes you.” That was an exaggeration. Winston didn’t like anyone. He tolerated people who did what he liked.
“It’s settled then,” said Archie. “Now, about Tasmania. Where would you go say, for 3 days?”
“Hobart,” I replied without hesitation. “It’s a wonderful town.”
“All right. What are the must sees of Hobart?”
“The first thing I would do, is to hire a car and drive up to Mount Wellington, but only if the weather is good. The view from the top is breathtaking. You’ll see half the island from up there.”
Two days later, a Friday, Mr and Mrs Archibald began their journey to Tasmania, and Winston was delivered to my house just before they left. It was a journey none of us would ever forget.’ I paused, letting this remark sink in.
‘At the time, I was living in a terrace house in Paddington, a short walk from the Archibald residence. This was Winston’s neighbourhood, and he was well known to all the shop keepers. Because Winston — a feisty, demanding dog with short bow legs, a squashed nose and a curly tail — had high expectations and a strict routine, my entire weekend would be devoted to looking after him. Going out was therefore out of the question, and I had arranged for some friends to call in for a BBQ in my courtyard garden on the Saturday. On Saturday morning I took Winston for his favourite walk, and then stopped at the butchers to buy some meat for the BBQ. I tied Winston to a tree outside and went into the busy shop.
“Looking after the judge’s dog, mate?” said the butcher. “Here, I’ll give you a sausage. Rosemary and garlic; his favourite. Mrs Archibald always gets a few of these for him.” I gave Winston his sausage outside and got a big thumbs-up from the butcher through the window. Winston and I were off to a good start, I thought. I was wrong. Sadly, it was going to be all downhill from then on.’
‘Don’t keep us in suspense like that!’ I hear you complain. Unfortunately, I have to do just that. There just isn’t time to take the story further tonight. But next Friday … well, that’s another story! See you then.