Winston and the fire warden; part II



You’ll remember we had just discovered Winston in Clive’s room. I had come up with a cunning plan to retrieve the troublesome escapee threatening Tom-Tom’s career, and was about to reveal my brainwave to her.

‘You’re the fire warden-right?’ I asked.

‘I am,’ said Tom-Tom.

‘Get your helmet and a blanket. I’ll give Clive a call. We’ll meet in my room. Hurry!’


I picked up the phone and called Clive. ‘It’s Gabriel, Clive. Don’t hang up!’ I said. ‘I know you’re in conference, but this is urgent; trust me.  We have a crisis …’ I explained the situation to Clive the best I could. To his credit, he didn’t panic, nor did he lose his cool. After all, barristers are supposed to be able to deal with pressure, and Clive rose to the occasion.

‘Can you see him?’ I asked.

‘Yes,’ he mumbled, it’s just as you said.’

‘Still chewing?’

‘Yes, I think so. He looks happy.’

‘Good. Now, listen carefully, this is what we are going to do …’


‘So far so good,’ I said to Tom-Tom, bursting into my room with a blanket and the fire helmet under her arm. ‘Put your helmet on and come with me. ‘I’ve just spoken to Clive; he knows.’

‘What are we going to do?’

‘Improvise. We’ll pretend the fire alarm’s gone off somewhere in the building, and we have to assemble at the lifts as a precaution. I’ll distract Lady Ashburton and the solicitor and usher them out of the room with Clive, and you throw the blanket over the dog and subdue the beast; easy.’

‘You’re out of your mind!’

‘You have a better idea? Let’s hear it.’

‘Clive’s in on this?’

‘Sort of.’

‘Here goes my job!’

‘Bullshit! Just think of it as a fire drill; piece of cake.’

‘How can you joke at a time like this!’

‘Let’s go.’


Tom-Tom’s red cashmere jumper certainly looked the part, but the fire helmet which was several sizes too big gave her an almost comical look. The stilettos are a bit of a worry, I thought watching Tom-Tom strut down the corridor like a starlet in some crazy Broadway show.

‘Here we go,’ I said, taking a deep breath, ‘let the show begin.’ With that, we burst into Clive’s room.

‘Sorry to interrupt,’ I said, ‘we have an emergency!’

‘Fire alarm,’ said Tom-Tom, bending down looking for Winston.

‘We must leave the room at once,’ I said, pulling Lady Ashburton out of the chair. She was a frail creature in her late seventies, and I almost lifted her off her feet.

‘How exciting,’ said Lady Ashburton, holding on to my arm.

Lady Ashburton’s solicitor, and elderly, reserved man I had met before, just looked at us in amazement, but didn’t move.

‘Clive, take Mr Barlow to the lifts; we may have to evacuate; quickly!’

I was almost at the door with Lady Ashburton in tow, when I heard it; a muffled growl. Looking over my shoulder I saw Tom-Tom kneeling on the floor. She had thrown the blanket over Winston and was trying to pull the strap of Lady Ashburton’s handbag out of his locked jaws. Not surprisingly, Winston refused to co-operate and put up a fight.

‘What’s that?’ said Barlow, pointing to Tom-Tom, trying to subdue Winston struggling like crazy under the blanket.

‘A fire bug? She’s the fire warden,’ said Clive calmly. ‘Let’s get out of here.’

I thought we had almost made it, when Lady Ashburton stopped in her tracks and began to panic. ‘My handbag; where’s my handbag?’ she shouted. ‘I don’t go anywhere without my handbag!’

‘Don’t you worry, I’ll go back and get it,’ said Clive. He winked at me, tuned on his heels, and saved the day.

‘He’s such a lovely young man,’ said Lady Ashburton, linking arms with me. ‘Do you think the firemen are on their way?’


Moments later, Tom-Tom appeared. Breathless and a little worse for wear, but otherwise in control, she declared the emergency over. When she turned around, I noticed a long tear on the right sleeve of her jumper. ‘False alarm,’ she said, patting Lady Ashburton reassuringly on the arm.

‘No firemen?’ said Lady Ashburton, obviously disappointed.

‘I’m afraid not.’

‘What a pity.’

‘Where is he?’ I asked, taking Tom-Tom aside.

‘Your mate Winston?’ she said, a mischievous sparkle in her eyes.

‘He’s not my mate.’

‘Back in your room, of course, watching television. Silly question.’


Barristers are supposed to be in the business of making speeches. However, one of the most difficult speeches I remember having to make was a eulogy a few years later.

After a short, but devastating illness, Tom-Tom passed away, and her partner asked me to give the eulogy. Instead of following the traditional path, I decided to tell the story of Winston and the fire warden, because it allowed me to talk about Tom-Tom the way I remembered her: intelligent, vivacious, generous to a fault, and with a sense of humour that never deserted her. As tears of sadness were banished by laughter and the funeral turned into a celebration of her short, but brilliant life, I knew that I had chosen the right path.


A good barrister never asks a question without knowing the answer. Being a good writer is all about choices. I’ve struggled for years to reconcile the two.