Wednesday, June 30, 2004

How to be British - an occasional series for Foreigners

Part 3 - Wear a powdered wig and tights

Remember to call attorneys Barristers when translating into the local patois. Britain, or more precisely the main bit of it known as England, is run by a coterie of these witch doctor-like figures, also known affectionately as "old boys." Easily recognised in their black robes, powdered wigs, tights and garters, they have something in common with Pantomime Dames, but I will save that subject for another article. A significant proportion of them these days are real women.

Barristers are a protected species held mainly in London, in a Royal Park called the Inns of Court, where their numbers are carefully managed. The process of becoming a barrister involves "eating a number of dinners" at the Inns. Whether that is a euphemism or a literal procedure, I dread to think. Some cursory acquaintance with legal precedent is expected as a matter of good form, but the chief attribute required is an olympian ability to make the implausible sound likely. In their spare time, barristers also run the nominal government of Britain from the nearby Palaces of Westminster.**

Within the Inns of Court, there are miles of ancient squares, buildings and alleys stretching from Temple near the Thames Embankment all the way to Grays Inn Road, a mile or so to the north. These cobbled lanes and squares are full of the ghosts of Samuel Johnson, Boswell, Dickens and I can't think of anyone else. --Oh yes, myriad newly poor litigants.

I don't think many people know what a wonderful little world is here, which has been around for a very long time, and judging by the stone construction of the buildings and alleys, will be for a very long time yet. So here are some pictures by London-based photographer Onion Mbeke, to give you some idea of the place.

One of the delights is this fountain in Fountain Court near Temple. It is shaded by two ancient mulberry trees, now almost horizontal and both propped. You can see the prop holding up one of them in this picture.

Also on view is a marvellous open-air exhibition of hundreds of expensive German cars, as well as a few Range Rovers, Jaguars, Bentleys and the odd Aston Martin.


*Dozens of you have written to ask me what the purpose of this series is. It was originally intended as a handy guide to US authors who may have to visit the island of Britain to bring the light of literature back from across the Atlantic to where it has partially died out in "the ould sod." As well as sensible sexual hygiene practices, it is also a good idea to know a bit about the natives, their likes and dislikes. Don't be fooled by his inoffensive demeanour, Tommy is not a man you would want to have as an enemy. P.

**Known to all London taxi drivers as the Palace of Varieties. P.


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