An eventful week: wedding preparations, a wardrobe malfunction and returning to Oxford

Last week began with a cautionary tale and ended by proving the point! It began on Monday with my sister, Aunty Doo Doo, and I going shopping in Harrogate, for her “Mother of the Bride” outfit. Her daughter Abby is soon getting married to Jonny and excitement is mounting! Obviously as one of the “stars” of the day, she can’t risk a wardrobe malfunction. So I’m very pleased to say, we found the perfect outfit. Her face lit up when she tried it on.

She looks really lovely, and most importantly it’s an outfit complete with hat and shoes that she can simply put on and forget about, knowing she will be comfortable but always look great. The assistant kept telling us how important it is when attending a function to be able to glide through it, without worrying about the outfit. I am certain Aunty Doo Doo will make the best ever mother of the bride, and we had a well-earned cup of tea in Bettys tea shop afterwards to toast our successful shopping trip.

Then the week began in earnest, with a 5am start on Tuesday to catch the train down to London. But alongside my “day job,” last week was punctuated by some pretty spectacular events, which I’d like to share with you…

Firstly, I had the great pleasure of showing one of the top family barristers in the country, Bruce Blair QC, head of chambers at 1 Hare Court (which many lawyers regard as the top family set in London), around our new offices. He clearly enjoyed the tour; the team greeted him with delight and he took in my top floor office, which has a roof terrace to the back with a view of the enormous Principal Registry, the main court for family law in London, and a tiny terrace at the front with a view of Gray’s Inn Gardens. Bruce visited my rather more humble original offices in Leeds many years ago, and we laughed about the change in set-up. He took me out for a great lunch afterwards. I’m supposed to be on a strict diet at the moment (wedding approaching) but I made an exception and will be holding back this week as a consequence.

The best thing about Bruce is that though he is obviously very brilliant and experienced, he is also down to earth, genuinely friendly and very good company. He has no airs and graces despite his success, and that’s why I regard him as a friend and an extremely safe pair of hands as far as my clients are concerned.

The week continued with an interesting meeting at the Law Commission. Being part of the Legal Advisory Group that is considering possible changes to the law relating to family financial remedies, I have been given the real privilege of taxing my brain alongside some of the finest academic brains in the country – and I love it!

It is a pretty formidable challenge, but I have said my bit from the perspective of a practitioner who sees and hears the experiences of many people in my day-to-day work, as well as the many unrepresented litigants who express their views and seek advice through this blog. My readers’ views are well known to me and I have communicated them when opportunities have arisen during the course of our discussions.

Law Commissioner Prof Elizabeth Cooke not only has a vast grasp of her subject, and an understanding of the principles, she can also swiftly apply them to any circumstances or argument – both for and against. Her young team are impressive too and i’m pretty sure that whatever they ultimately recommend will be right and fair.

I left the Law Commission building after the meeting, and as it is near to the Houses of Parliament in Tothill Street, I decided to walk back to my apartment. London is buzzing right now. There are Union flags everywhere and St. James Park, The Mall and Horse Guards Parade looked fantastic ahead of the London Marathon, as did Trafalgar Square – which is looking much cleaner than usual. A machine gun toting policeman guarding the back of Downing Street even smiled!

A couple of hectic days later, during which I took on another solicitor for the London office who I’m confident will be great for the firm, it was on to Oxford – for the first time since I took part in a debate at the Oxford Union last year.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was invited to the very glamorous second part of a book launch dedicated to Dr Stephen Cretney of Oxford University, and his fifty years of service to the world of family law. The first event took place at the University of Staffordshire Family Law Conference when the book was literally hot off the press. Edited by Professor Chris Barton and Professor Rebecca Probert, a number of academic contributors have contributed chapters about developments in family law over the past fifty years, and some of them presented papers at Staffordshire University last month.

At the second launch party, which took place at All Souls College Oxford on Friday, there was a discussion, a reception at which a version of the book signed by all contributors was presented to Dr Cretney, and a dinner. I couldn’t make the dinner, because it wasn’t fair to leave my husband alone in Oxford for the entire evening, but I did attend the discussion and reception.

I had arranged to meet Chris Barton and Dr Sue Jenkinson of Staffordshire University (another contributor) at 4pm in the lobby of the Randolph Hotel, where we were based during our stay. My husband and I had been out sightseeing and forgotten the time, so I rushed back to the hotel to find them waiting. Sue was very excited as she had just seen Colin Dexter, author of the Detective Morse novels, signing copies of his book at the hotel. Chris mentioned we were walking to All Souls, which he reckoned would be a 20 minute walk.

A 20 minute walk! I started to panic. I dashed upstairs to get changed out of my jeans, sweater and flat shoes. I had brought just one dress with me, an elegant cream cashmere dress with a black belt. I had bought one pair of gorgeous black high heels to wear with it, but alas, there was no way I could walk the higgledy-piggledy streets of Oxford for even ten minutes in them. Instead I glared at my functional flats, realising that my lovely dress was not going to look quite so good matched with them.

I then had a major wardrobe malfunction. I had forgotten the underslip worn with the dress, and it was completely see through without it. I looked in the mirror from every angle in an attempt to kid myself that it wasn’t that bad. And with Chris and Sue waiting for me and nothing else to wear but jeans, the only option was to wear my dress with a raincoat – and keep the raincoat on! So I went to join them wearing flat shoes, a buttoned up raincoat and a see through dress underneath. The words of the shop assistant in Harrogate to my sister and I were ringing in my ears….

Anyhow, I’m a lawyer. I’ve learned to hide my feelings and pretend disaster hasn’t happened! I’m sure no one knew that I was in turmoil, because we chatted and laughed all the way to All Souls College, walking past several other beautiful colleges including St John’s opposite the hotel, Hertford College with its famous “bridge of sighs”, the Bodleian Library (note me outside the next day in said raincoat, jeans and flats above, and the library itself below to the right) until we finally arrived in the famous quad of All Souls. And what a stunning setting it was.

People were gathering outside the Old Library, and looking around I noticed Baroness Butler-Sloss (the former President of the Family Division of the High Court), Baroness Ruth Deech, a former Principal of St Annes College Oxford who now chairs the Bar Standards Council, and Baroness Brenda Hale of the Supreme Court. There was also Lord Justice Thorpe from the Court of Appeal and many of the contributors to the book, such as Prof Cooke from the Law Commission, chair of the event Prof Rebecca Probert looking very sharp in her black dress (worn without a coat!), Prof Gillian Douglas, Jens Scherpe of Cambridge and QEB chambers in London, Stephen Gilmore of Kings College London, Mavis Maclean of Oxford, and the American jurist Prof Sanford Katz. Prof Rebecca Bailey Harris of 1 Hare Court, Neil Robinson – a colleague from Staffordshire, and several lawyers and friends of Dr Cretney from other disciplines completed the guest list.

I had a very enjoyable conversation with Freddy Reynold QC who told me he and Dr Cretney had gone up to Magdalen College together as undergraduates. He became a QC in 1982, the year I started my practice, and I see from his profile that he has appeared in a number of cases as an employment specialist in the House of Lords.

The star of the event, Dr Cretney, was of course present with his wife. He was clearly thrilled with it all. He has an ever-smiling face and was very warm.  It was a real honour to be in his company.

The scene was thus set for quite a discussion, led by some of the most distinguished figures in family law. It was terrific to be there and I had the impression everyone present felt exactly the same way. We all went up some extremely steep stairs into All Souls and the magnificent setting of the Old Library. I sat down between Sue Jenkinson and Stephen Gilmore and shuffled off my raincoat. The distinguished speakers moved to the front. I noticed Lord Justice Thorpe perched casually to my left on a window seat. Then Rebecca Probert took over and the discussion began. And as to the contents of our discussion? You’ll have to wait to find out, as that will follow in part two of this post…

Marilyn Stowe

The senior partner at Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers with clients throughout the country, in Europe, the Far East and the USA.

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1 comment

DT - April 24, 2012 at 4:59pm

Hi Marilyn

I’m in the Caribbean heeding Lord Sachs’ wise words. He’s right!

Your blog reads just as well over here. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sick of working my way down the cocktail menu just yet, but it’s good to have a bit of ‘brain food’ available.

I just love the idea that the Legal Advisory Group is made aware of important and very real  issues via your blog. If it wasn’t for you and your facilitation of such, many voices, some very quiet, frightened and vulnerable, wouldn’t get heard at all – thank you Marilyn.

I couldn’t help but smile when I read about the Union flags!

DT

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