2021i8, Friday: cat day.

Sorry. Have to prep for next week’s trial. Cat pic ok with everyone?

Short thought: I’m a bit short on thoughts today. I’m digging my way back into a vast bundle for a 10-day hearing starting on Wednesday (adjourned from last March, a week or two before lockdown hit). And I was meant to be taking the cat to the vet today to get neutered, but it’s been cancelled owing to an emergency op for someone else’s pet. So that’s a couple more weeks of guilt for us about what we’re having done to her…

The more so because – as this picture demonstrates – she seems to have the power to create wormholes on demand. Smart kitty.

(Her name’s Iroh, btw.)

I’ll be back next week, although I think this is going to drop to 2-3 a week while the trial’s on. Blessings, all.

Someone is right on the internet: More online comfort food today. God knows if anyone’s ever checked, but I have a feeling that lawyers – and perhaps especially barristers – have quite a close relationship with stationery, and particularly writing implements. Even those of us, like me, who’ve drunk the paperless Kool-Aid.

So this curated rundown of the 100 best pens (via Helen Lewis, bless her and her excellent newsletter for ever) is both a horrific time-suck and a wonderful treat. As well as a source of arguments and outrage if they’ve left your favourite off the list, or demoted it below some ghastly ballpoint.

Me? I’m happy, because my lovely Kaweco fountain pen (described as “the Volkswagen of pens, with a Jaguar engine”) is in at number 5. As is the Uni-ball Vision at 61, the more so because the “peculiar shade of green” they mention is a go-to staple for me.

Shameless plug: I feel a bit guilty about having an Amazon affiliate link for the Kaweco (I should admit it: any amazon stuff I post here has an affiliate link which might give me a penny or two if you click and buy, although that gets stripped out if you receive this by email). So as well, let me shamelessly plug my favourite stationery shops: in no particular order Choosing Keeping, who sold me my first Kaweco; The Journal Shop, whose notebook selection is to die for; and Present & Correct, whose curation of stationery oddballs is second to none and a source sans pareil of gifts for stationery lovers. All brilliant, all with fabulous stuff. Keep ‘em running through lockdown, people. Well worth it.

(Don’t forget – if visiting a site doesn’t float your boat, you can get this stuff in your inbox. Subscribe at https://remoteaccessbar.substack.com/.)

Sorry about that…

I do apologise for the hiatus. Real life, in the shape of work (thank goodness, I have some – and feel very lucky, but I now have a book deadline in 10 days and still have 60 pages to write), family (helping 13yo daughter plan her days – it’s incredibly tough having to switch to self-directed study, while losing both structure and society, when only just a teenager), and general Stuff, has got in the way of writing.

In a nutshell: because Reasons.

Proper writing will start again tomorrow. But in the meantime, I’m treasuring the best kind of news, of Good Things happening to Good People. My excellent friend Amy Woolfson has just joined 5 St Andrews Hill, a lovely set full to bursting with talent and niceness, as a third six pupil. In the best possible way, they deserve one another.

As Star Fleet’s greatest captain once said (yeah, I know. Sue me): “Even in the darkest moments, you can always find something that will make you smile.”

(The hug at the end of that clip… as a parent, it gets me every time. Speck of dust in the eye. Honest.)


So important, it needs to be in shouty caps. Sorry.

Image from Aeropress's website. Much obliged.

A very old friend just commented on my desk du jour pic, noting the lack of “a bluetooth/app-controlled espresso machine”. Can’t argue with the principle of the thing, including the absolute centrality of caffeinated beverages to a successful life at the Bar.

However, this is one of those very rare occasions where low tech is best. My amazing and wonderful spouse gave me an Aeropress for Valentine’s Day. And it’s the best thing ever, coffee-wise. Heartily recommended, both on taste grounds and because it’s quick and easy to wash up…

Desk du jour, #1: mine.

He’s a genius, that David Grant. As well as introducing me to Sun Ra (for which ta), he came up with this idea…

I can take no credit for what I hope will be a regular (if not entirely daily) feature of this scribble: the Desk du Jour. Since (other than those few who were pretty much wholly remote anyway) we’re all either making this the norm rather than the exception, or starting from nervous scratch, it might help to know that claims of perfect desk organisation are unfounded, unevidenced, and therefore probably a fundamental ethical breach (see the BSB Handbook, Rule rC6.1.a, about making representations which you know to be untrue).

So to kick it off, here’s mine:


  • The big desk. Bought with absolutely no foresight but wholly fortunate timing about a month ago. (At the same time as daughter’s new desk – again, no foresight, but goodness I’m glad we got it.)
  • The sunlight lamp. Critical, although the room faces west.
  • The laptop platform, as previously discussed. Avoids upnostriling (I normally avoid neologising, but couldn’t resist this) on video conferencing, and makes for more space.
  • The ergonomic keyboard and trackball. Critical stuff for me – RSI is not your friend. (Also note the Apple sticker on the Microsoft keyboard. Sorry about that. Had it lying around.)
  • The chair. Which has foldaway arms. Lord, I hate arms on chairs when I’m typing.
  • The Windows laptop in the middle – for a client whose work demands I use its own kit. Another benefit of the big desk.
  • The stand for papers. Usually sits under the laptop platform for maximum desk space usage, but I’ve moved it so the Windows machine can be centre stage for a hearing today.
  • And the external monitor. Currently plugged into my laptop on the platform and positioned so I can glance at papers on it without turning completely away from the camera. But I’m about to plug it into the Windows laptop for the hearing. Versatility, thy name is me. (No, not really.)

Two other bits of kit I regard as crucial but aren’t visible:

  • The pic of wife and daughter. I’m trying not to annoy them too much while being under their feet the whole time.
  • The mat under the mug, which is made with Hama beads by my daughter several years ago and looks like R2D2. It’s a prized possession. No argument.

There’s also a small Yoda torch. Sadly not Baby Yoda (or “Yodicle” as it’s referred to in our house), but you can’t have everything.

Who’s next? Email ’em in, friends…

First things in a paperless world

There’s lots to think about, if you want to survive in this new remote, bundle-less Bar. These are just a few physical preliminaries.

Some readers of these musings may already have a way of working paperlessly, and remotely, that suits them. Although everyone can learn from everyone else’s experience (with the usual YMMV caveat, of course), this short post is really addressed at those who are staring at their laptop in horror and wondering: how on earth can I function like this?

There are lots of things to think about and do. But step one is to work out what you REALLY need, and what you don’t.

I’d suggest the following are the physical essentials. We’ll cover the software and services next time. For anything not covered here (scanners, inkjet printers, mice, and so on) – my first port of call for reviews and recommendations is usually The Wirecutter. But there are plenty of others.

  • A workspace that won’t drive you mad, and allows you to think and communicate. If you’re in a small shared space, that’s going to be difficult. But there’s lots of advice out there. Rather than a list of other sites, I’d simply recommend a short and free ebook, Take Control of Working from Home Temporarily. It’s published by people who’ve written literally dozens of tech guides for normal humans. They’re great. (In fact, I recommend the series as a whole.) And remember: you’re likely to need a space from which you can video-conference without looking too disorganised or unprofessional. So take the time to set things up with care.
  • A computer you’re used to. No point – in these times of urgency and short funds – in buying something that expensive anew unless you absolutely have to. You don’t want to be re-learning right now. Doesn’t matter if it’s a Mac, a PC, a Chromebook, an iPad, a Surface or what. If you’re comfortable with it, stick with it.
  • If you can, a cheap headset. You’re going to spend a lot more time than usual on the phone, and possibly for lengthy periods. You DON’T want to last through a two-hour hearing with the phone wedged under your chin. I prefer Bluetooth (then I can pair it with phone or computer without worrying about which variety of USB/Lightning/whatever plug it happens to have), but it’s your call. I have a fairly rubbish one, but a better one (I hope) is arriving tomorrow. I’ll add a link if it works. Wired or wireless mobile headsets can do it, but you may sound pretty echoey. In a long remote hearing, probably a no-no.
  • A decent chair. Seriously. They’re not expensive. Get it done, if you don’t want your back to hate you. This one’s mine.
  • Not compulsory, but useful if you do print stuff sometimes (or have papers sent to you) – a shredder. Normally I hate the things, but they’re a necessary evil given the duty of confidentiality we work under. Again, this is mine – reasonably cheap, takes more than a sheet or two, can cope with staples. Doesn’t go wrong too much.
  • Also not obligatory, but I’d argue a really phenomenal idea if you’re using a laptop: a separate screen and keyboard. 4k screens are great, but dear – a 1900×1200 one is relatively lo-res, but reliable, responsive and easily good enough for having your papers side by side with whatever document you’re working on. And only about £100. As for keyboards – I use a Microsoft Sculpt to avoid RSI, with a Logitech K380 on the road (switches between laptop and iPad at the push of a button – nice).
  • Which leads to what you do with the laptop itself. I have mine on a platform. A friend of mine uses one of these on circuit when he can’t rely on having a lectern box. But this one does two things in the WFH environment. First it makes for extra precious desk space – I have a stand for papers underneath mine. Second, it raises your laptop’s camera so that it’s the perfect height for video-conferencing. No more giving people an up close and personal view up your nostrils…

You’ll notice I haven’t included a webcam. Frankly, the one on most modern laptops etc is good enough. And particularly if you’ve got a platform like mine, then you don’t really need one.

I also haven’t said anything about printers. This is cheeky. I may be mostly paperless, but I’ve a decent (and cheap) laser printer – an HP M254dw. (I’m not including a link because Amazon now sells it for twice as much as the £150 I paid, but there are plenty of decent ones around for that kind of money.) Because sometimes someone else is going to need something on paper. It’s how it is.

So that’s the basics. Next stop: the intangibles…