The courts, like life, are replete with rituals that allow us to inhale and exhale to a reassuring rhythm.
Betwixt the pomp and ceremony of the 10 am – 4 pm floorshow (breathe in), the camaraderie of mail runs that bookend the working day (breathe out) and the tension of strategic talks with the stationery gods over post-its and felt-tips (holding of breath inadvisable), there is barely a moment for unknown unknowns to punctuate the life of ‘staves.
But on Friday evening youthful pulses quicken and breaths become shallow as another ritual beckons.
Come 5 pm, we will trip expectantly across Phillip Street to the Leagues Club – smelling of freshly-applied deodorant and lip gloss and quivering desperation – to prove the link between law graduates and our ape ancestors in drink-sodden displays of nerdy debauchery.
At the chiming of this enchanting hour, Gus arrives to collect his wing woman.
“I just put my head in next door,” he says in a catty undertone, gesturing with a tilt of his head towards the chambers inhabited by our colleague Belinda.
“It smells like an adolescent mating ritual in there. The woman must’ve bought shares in The Body Shop.”
Belinda is one of the few broads of our acquaintance who can make straight women (me) and gay men (Gus) blush at her overpowering femininity, from her fluttering spider-leg lashes and towering patent leather stilts to her ample physical charms.
I feel almost lecherous when my gaze inadvertently lingers in her direction – but surely that is the point of all the preening and perfumery.
Plastic Man is quite besotted.
“She’s all woman, isn’t she,” says our floormate Emma with an expressive eye roll, sliding into our booth at the Leagues.
We follow her eyes to the bar where Belinda is whispering something earnestly to a chiselled specimen from the Federal Court, French-manicured claws resting on his forearm.
This could explain why PM has been more terse than usual about tea towel duty.
“I used to go out with him,” Gus murmurs.
“Thick as two planks. Probably outsources his research tasks to India.”
We cackle like the nasty pieces of work we are.
Gus and I have discovered a kindred spirit in Emma.
We suspect her cynicism springs from peculiarly middle-class sources – parents who wouldn’t buy her a pony, say, or the stigma of having been the only girl at her private school without subscription television – which rather sets her apart from our own brand of mean-streets realism, but there’s no denying she’s a wit.
“I don’t know why I do this to myself,” she sighs.
“Look at them. They’re bad enough by day.”
She’s got a point. Our colleagues are, without exception, a truly terrifying mix of ignorance, naked ambition and insecurity.
“By night, they’re well nigh unbearable.”
The painful awkwardness of self-conscious attempts by ‘staves to impress one another is – as Annabel Crabb once said of our elected representatives’ posturing – quite “awfully, skin-crawlingly, knuckle-bitingly embarrassing”.
But more horrifying still is Emma’s parting observation, delivered with a raised glass and a wry smile.
“It’s like looking in a mirror.”
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