“Did you know that, until about 1990, time didn’t run for pleadings from 1 August to 1 September?”
This tweet from a barrister prompted this reply from me:
Note: Generally, the English don’t have “vacations”, but holidays. This use is an odd exception. The RCJ is the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand, daunting when buzzing with life, haunting when empty.
The Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand
In practice, it wasn’t just pleadings time limits which went to sleep in August – most deadlines in court orders took de facto account of the assumption that no one would be working. I loved it, in the days before I was concerned about school holidays, and would make sure that I took my holidays while everyone else was at work. It seemed almost incredible that they paid us the same in August as they did for the rest of the year (not that that was very much at the time).
Freed again from school holidays, and long parted from the conduct of litigation, I do the same now, sitting at my desk while others are away. I get vicarious pleasure from others’ holiday pictures, but the main benefit is that my neighbourhood falls quiet at the same time as my Inbox does. Down in the centre of Oxford, the pavements are jammed with tourists, trailing round the city in desultory crocodiles before getting back into their charabancs for Bicester Village and Stratford-upon-Avon. Here all is quiet, as families with children are replaced by their (generally quiet) Airbnb guests.
Oxford from a distance in winter. Close up in summer, it heaves with tourists
There is little point in publishing blog posts – I kept going until the end of last week, but by now it feels like shouting into the void. I use the time instead for the admin which gets left on one side for the rest of the year. I am not good at treating it as “work” and there are better ways of using leisure time, so it does not get done.
Do I cull email, the file system, old paper files or Evernote? Do I clear the attic or get the accounts in order? Is this the chance to go through terabytes of backups or go through the boxes and drawers of long-redundant cable, connectors and chargers? All of these are important, but none of them is urgent, and competing non-urgent jobs are the hardest to prioritise. The only approach, I have decided over the years, is to forget about priorities and get stuck into any one of these tasks at random. Dull they may be, but the tangible benefit in getting them done is measured by the perception of order and by the reduced time it takes to find things thereafter.
For years, August was interrupted by ILTA, the big annual conference of the International Legal Technology Association. I loved the event itself, and it made good business sense to attend it, but the end of August is a hell of a time to fight your way through Heathrow to get to Las Vegas or the outer suburbs of Washington. I did not go last year for reasons to do with press passes which are recorded elsewhere. This year, I got my press pass, and only then discovered that neither of my techie sons (upon whom I depend for my video interviews) could come. If I can’t return with a clutch of videos, then the economics don’t work. I declined both my press pass and an invitation to sit on a panel, and will stay at home.
I will, no doubt, feel pangs of regret when the time comes, but I have only to think of the horrors of Heathrow, of British Airways food, and of long queues at US immigration, to counter that regret. Even as I write this, British Airways has cocked up its IT again, probably thanks to its CEO’s cheap-skating masquerading as cost-cutting, and thousands are stuck in Heathrow hell.
ILTA near Washington DC in 2016
Someone asked me what I plans I had for the summer. “Interring my relatives” was my answer. Both my mother and my mother-in-law died earlier this year and we will bury their respective ashes in beautiful churchyards, one in Hampshire and one in Suffolk, at what are intended to be celebrations rather than mournful occasions. Apart from that, there are no events planned all summer, and I hope to keep it that way.
Orford Church, Suffolk
Now – what admin task to do first. Eeny, meeny, miny, moe – let’s attack the file system today.