I worked for the McHaggis firm of solicitors – which is a Law Firm if you’re speaking American – in the Probate department. Although, as an English person I am loath to use the word “quaint”, the village is painfully quaint – the buildings along the High Street (which is like Main Street – every village has one!) are lined with Tudor buildings but some frontages have been damaged by Georgian vandals so there are generally two architectural styles. Unlike many more urban areas, the architecture has not been punctuated with 1960s monstrosities plugging the holes left by the Luftwaffe. In the summer there are baskets of pendulous flowers along every light post and the winters are not nearly as dreadful as the Midwest of the United States. I tell my mother regularly that I have come to a civilised country.
One of the hardest things I had to accustomed myself to was the lack of personal space in the UK. Even the largest mall in my old hometown was busy at Christmastime but that is nothing compared to a Midwestern winter. England, in some ways, is like Illinois: England is roughly 1.7 times the size of Illinois but has roughly 5 times the people. The usual consequences accompany this concentration of people: the price of property is high, any green space is either transformed into car parking or a tidy garden. I remember I found the lack of space made me a little claustrophobic for the first few years in the UK and I sometimes had to stay home of a weekend so that I wouldn’t feel the need to escape.
Mr McHaggis had a sizeable office in the Tudor building beside the church on Church Street. His room was lined in genuine old oak; he sat at a large antique desk and would regularly say that computers were nothing but Complicated Paper Weights. In his office were situated a row of dull metal filing cabinets and on the other side a smaller antique desk for his Articled Clerk (which even then was old terminology for a trainee solicitor). I adored most of his trainees: we all seemed to have something in common even if it was something different for each trainee. Trainees obtain their “theory” qualifications and then do two years of “practice” before they can call themselves qualified solicitors. Each crop of trainees was required to do six months in each of a number of departments – usually probate, real estate, litigation and then a choice of whatever the trainee hoped to specialise in – such as commercial, matrimonial, medical negligence, etc.
In this instance, Elizabeth was a devout and kind girl who went to church several times a week. As someone with a secular outlook, I found her to be something of a curiosity and we got along like a house on fire.
McHaggis had a great sense of humour but also a hopping-mad temper if you weren’t careful. The best thing about his temper was that when it was done, it was done. When McHaggis was in a foul mood he would go around looking for things that someone had done incorrectly so that he could bring that someone to heel. In particular, he thought that Foolscap paper was the correct size for Wills because it was bigger and therefore saved on paper.
The partners always started their day opening the post and distributing it. One day when he came into his room he was already in a mood, he was going on and on about a letter that an estate received from a car dealership saying
Dear Dead Person
Wouldn’t you like to buy a car? We have a sale on at the moment that you might find hard to turn down!
McHaggis was blustering about it being a complete waste of paper and that he couldn’t possibly charge the estate for such rubbish. I was still in his office – finishing off the filing and chuckled to myself.
Nothing really. Sometimes I have evil thoughts….
McHaggis with the hint of a sparkle in his eye: What?
Well, you could say that letter is an exercise in autofellatio.
McHaggis exploded with laughter, pounded on his desk with his fist and left the room to distribute the rest of the day’s post. After he left, in almost a whisper, Elizabeth asked:
What does autofellatio mean?
Well, if auto means this, and fellatio means that…
GASP! I cannot believe that you said that!
Well, it put him in a better mood. I should get a medal!
Later in the afternoon, and after printing a large wedge of letters, I was back in McHaggis’ office quickly shoving signed letters into envelopes while McHaggis was telling Elizabeth how great he was and he shot her another 10p word. Then he said
There’s another one for you to look up tonight, Liz!
Don’t worry Mr McHaggis, Jade showed me what it was.
Showed you?!!? Where???
Elizabeth became the shade of a beautifully cooked lobster and I nearly died of embarrassment and laughter.