Give it up

Times Online, October 20, 2006

National Giving Week is nearly at an end. For those unacquainted with this ne plus ultra of the charitable calendar, NGW is one in which we are urged to "give it up" for a variety of deserving causes and individuals.

I have encountered the phrase "give it up" on my meanderings, often in circumstances where a speaker is imploring his audience to dispense applause, gratitude and acclaim as a more famous interlocutor takes the microphone. Thus, "give it up for Lord Hoffmann," lead judge in the House of Lords for its iconic Jameel judgment, might be the words of the chief of the Fleet Street Lawyers association were he to be introducing his Lordship at a media shindig. Conversely, "give it up for Gary Neville and Paul Robinson" is unlikely to be heard at the next gathering of the nation’s football writers.

But I digress. The point is that we are in the death-throes of NGW. Next week, we will return to a world in which we will no longer be giving it up, for charity anyway. It will be every man for himself. This thought pains me, and albeit that it is mildly alleviated by the knowledge that City superstars Herbert Smith were one of NGW’s corporate supporters, I believe that we should not content ourselves with merely one week of giving it up per year. As lawyers, we should be prepared to give it up much more frequently, as I learnt this week.

On Monday, I walked into my local bank to deposit a rare cheque from the poker magazine to which I am condemned to contribute. Once the formalities had been completed I asked the assistant if there was anything for which she would like me to give it up. "Excuse me?" she said. "It’s National Giving Week," I replied, "and as a lawyer of repute, ill and otherwise, I was wondering if you would like some free legal advice." She said er, no, thank you very much, but you might try the butcher – his dog ran after some sheep the other day and he’s rather worried about it.

On Tuesday, having read up on the law concerning dangerous hounds, I visited the butcher. For some reason I was unable to think of anything other than a quote that Ian Holloway, erstwhile manager of my beloved Queens Park Rangers, had once given me after a rare Rangers’ victory. "It’s National Giving Week," I said, "and, as Ollie would say, I’m as happy as a butcher’s dog on heat."

The butcher looked at me forlornly. "My dog has been taken away by Constable Kent because he ran after some sheep," he said.

"I’m sorry to hear that," I said. "I will visit the constable and make representations for his safe return." The butcher asked me how much, and I said nothing, nihil, niente, nada, for I am giving it up for free.

On Wednesday, I ventured to Constable Kent’s domain. "There is nothing I can do," he said. "The case is as cut and dried as a pair of tomatoes."

Excuse me? "I’m sorry," Constable Kent said. "I was mixing my metaphors. I hate it when I do that. I feel so humiliated and ashamed, especially in front of lawyers. Here, take the hound. Leave me now to suffer alone."

On Thursday, the butcher rang. "Thank you so much, I would like to give it up for you, too. I have a choice cut of sirloin, for you and your family." I popped into town to retrieve this unexpected gift and, on the way, stopped the car every now and then to ask if anyone wanted any free legal advice. Never were so many legal lacunae cleaved by one so few in number, or something like that, for it was after dark when I finally knocked on the butcher’s door. "At last," he said, "I was going to give up on you. Here’s your sirloin. You did a great job. The things they teach you lawyers! How did you do it?"

This morning, I awoke and wondered whether to tell the butcher how I had retrieved his dog. It is the autumn of NGW, but still NGW nevertheless, so I elected to give him the truth. "I didn’t do anything," I confessed. "In this, I am like most lawyers. Often our mere existence is enough."

There was silence at the end of the line as the butcher digested the import of this admission. And then, in a strangely disembodied tone, as if he were not of this world and, as such, knew that his words would meet with nothing but the chthonic oblivion they deserved, he said: "In that case, you lawyers should give it up a lot more than once a year."