By the time I arrive at the Hand and Shears, a mere 10 minutes late, Henry is already staring down the barrel of an empty glass. “A process of evaporation seems to have taken place,” he says.
I feel it would be unwise to argue with setting up a tab, and not just because I’m in the company of lawyers. The Hand and Shears, according to David, used to be a famous stop-off point for criminals on their way to be hanged, and hidden down this winding London alleyway, I am not confident of finding an escape route if the need arises.
“We sometimes bring clients here,” David adds, obviously keen to set his customers’
expectations of success as low as humanly possible. Rupert adopts a different approach. “We actually went to the church down the road for one client,” he says, before musing: “We really do need to invent a new time code for praying.” So does the cider-drinking partner often take clients on such day trips? “Well, maybe, but that’s dating.”
While the now quite battered Tab 4 is sent back to the bar for another round, the increasingly slurred conversation turns to the campaign for plain English.
Rupert describes a complex mathematical formula for calculating is the simplest way to convey complex ideas – at which, apparently, The Sun does very well. “Well,” says Henry, “I guess they’re very good at what they do. Which is: provide comic interest for people with short attention spans.”
One forum in which words do run free is the internet, much to Aidan’s delight. He has devoted vast amounts of time to creating online reviews of coffee. “Coffee’s better than wine for this,” he insists. “There are 800 flavours in coffee, wine has only 200.”
Rupert, still drinking his cider, is clearly unimpressed, so urges Aidan to tell the tale of Kopiluwok, apparently the most expensive coffee in the world. “Monkeys excrete the beans,” says Aidan. He’s far too excited about this.
The lawyers claim they don’t do internet searches on job applicants – explaining, presumably, how Aidan slipped through the net. But the lengths to which some people go to get a job with them are astounding. “Someone from eastern Europe turned up in reception asking if he could have a job in energy and projects,” recalls Aidan.
At this point, watching my increasingly vain attempts to keep pace with my note making, Arthur the barman puts two and two together and makes 20. “If you need a new job, love, you can work here.” Despite my feeble protests, the lawyers urge him to let me behind the bar. Left in charge and facing the (blood) thirsty lawyers, Building bites the bullet and starts pouring pints.
Henry Sherman, partner
Rupert Choat, partner
David Snape, legal executive
Aidan Steensma, solicitor
Victoria Elsdon, solicitor
Ian Insley, consultant
Adrian Bell, solicitor advocate
Sarah Richardson, Building
Chosen watering hole: Hand and Shears, EC1
Ambience: Surprisingly cheerful for a doomed man’s hang-out
Topics: plain English, coffee
Drinks: 4 glasses wine, 2 pints Kronenbourg, 2 pints Best, 2 pints Guinness, 7 Pints 6x, 3.5 pints cider, 1 pint Budwar, 1 pint Stella, 1 pint Fosters.