*Warning the following post may offend those of a sexist persuasion or who read the Daily Mail – probably the same thing…*
This is dedicated to my chum M whose frantic ferrying of teenagers and fending off the calls at court in the perpetual search for lost school items, is truly terrifying and inspirational all at the same time.
I am the generation of women who believed they could have “it all”. I was never too sure what the “it” was or why I should want all of it but logic and my mind are not the best of friends. One thing I thought was at least achievable was having a rewarding,fulfilling career and Motherhood. Silly naive me. Particularly as I supposed the Bar would offer me the flexibility (and ready for the gag…) to work around my children as I would be self employed. Ha ha! Then came the terrible realisation – to make ends meet, I would have to work pretty much every hour under the Sun. I used to joke with my clerks that “Yes, I will do that mention (£46.50 gross) as it would pay for a pair of kids shoes”. Except it wasn’t really a joke.
I am that pariah of society, the bringer of the collapse of all known civilised society, a single Mother. I have read the other blogs about the financial woes of my colleagues and would only add this: Imagine, you had to fork out not less than £1000 per month of your taxed income on childcare costs. Every month. As as a Mum therefore, I have to earn more than my peers just to keep working. Now frequently the person I pay to look after my children, earns more than I do.
I know that I am not alone in this position and it doesn’t matter whether you have a ball and chain, sorry , a partner or not. The nature of the job demands that you employ “help”. Nurseries are no use at all due to the demands of the job as a) I do not start/finish work every day at the same place and exactly at the same time and b) cannot take holiday time mid trial for the 48 hour exclusion if my child has a sniffle. Add in that I cannot have a phone to hand for the emergencies that invariably befall small people and even if I did, unless it was very grave, I could not just ask my boss for an hour off (“I’ll make up the hour tomorrow”) to go home and sort it out.
Courts are not parent friendly and though some judges do try to help, many are oblivious and the very worst are lay magistrates – to this day, I still fume gently at the memory of sitting till 7.30 pm to finish a mags court case just because one of the bench couldn’t rearrange their own work commitments to go part heard… Or judges’ who say at 4.30 pm ” Perhaps we can finish this witness off today…” I hear court users (alright ,usually baby male barristers fretting as to what their SO they’re normally desperate to impress will make of starting the holiday without them. Bliss, I would’ve imagined) moan about lost holidays due to cases overrunning or lists shifting – try the added pressure of expectant, excited little faces. I knew as a working Mother that school nativity plays , sports days, prize giving and even just assemblies would be tricky ( whilst trying to make costumes, bake bloody cakes and find odd socks…) but I had not bargained for a working environment which would actually deter me.
Here is the point though. If the Criminal bar is to survive it must reflect the Public it serves through diversity and that diversity includes working parents of either sex but especially Mothers. The proposed cuts and/or legal aid reforms means that I will almost certainly find it financially un-viable to continue. My worry is that the bar will revert to how it was nearly 40 years ago – a hobby job for the privileged and wealthy. A mirror of the current Cabinet the more cynical might even say….
I became a better barrister after I had sprogs because once you’ve experienced childbirth and coming home to wipe bottoms, you really haven’t got time for the posturing and posing or quite frankly, the waste of time of listening to your own voice – I have better, more important places to be in all honesty. It also means that I bring my experiences when dealing with child witnesses (rubbing eyes = time for a break) or the ability of being able to speak the lingua franca of parenthood, the most exclusive yet inclusive of clubs, when I speak with their parents. I understand now about bath times, SENs, schools,computer games,dinosaurs,child psychology ( practical & theoretical), One Direction, sibling jealousy, co-parenting, Key stages, Health visitors, EYNCOs, phonetics, family law and Grandparents. And the attraction of the music of Psy.
I now have transferable skills of multi-tasking, patience,nose wiping and being able to recite names of famous Engines (note correct usage as taught to me by no.1 child – “No, its not a train, Mummy, that’s an engine…) as well as occasionally finding a suit devoid of Petit Filous to do my job with added humanity.