Diary of a busy practitioner, juggling work and family somewhere in England

In 2015 a woman who had delivered many, many more babies than I had given birth to said my baby ‘wasn’t coming any time soon’.


My baby was coming. Very soon.

I knew she was coming. I told her she was coming. She came.

I recently read Chris van Tulleken’s book Ultra-Processed People in which he refers to a study that proved that babies will choose healthy food if there are no outside influences convincing them to choose otherwise.

The Enormous Puppy never eats chocolate left lying around. She also never takes another dog’s ball.

Last year, counsel told me my client didn’t have much of a claim, but we ended up settling it for £170,000.

What do all these things have in common? Trusting your instincts. Going with your gut. My gut is particularly predictable. It behaved in exactly the way you would expect in the toilets in the reception area of Herbert Smith after a horrible vacation scheme interview in 2002. After both maternity leaves it behaved in the same way for a full week on my return to work.

There are lots of studies on ‘gut feelings’. Are they really instinctive? I think, in most cases, a gut feeling is actually an (often quick) assessment of lots of very small factors that add up to something much more. How did I know my baby was coming? Well, I had done it before, for one thing. I was in such extreme pain that simply couldn’t last for much longer, for another. The question really is why did the midwife not trust me? Why were her instincts wrong? She was not feeling what I was feeling, I suppose, and I would hazard a guess that not everyone is as polite as me in this sort of situation.  

How did I know my client’s claim was worth more than counsel said it was? I’m not really blowing my own trumpet here. I am just making the point that, occasionally, it takes more than a set of instructions to get a feel for a matter. I knew, from meeting her, what a good witness my client would be – she was hard-working, kind and well-meaning. She always asked about my children, and always tried to pay me before I had sent an invoice because she was worried about getting behind. I knew, from what she had told me, that the defendant wouldn’t like getting letters from a solicitor. I had seen some room for manoeuvre in the language used by the defendant’s solicitors. I guessed the defendant wanted a quick end to the dispute. We had some practical advantages – the court delays were on our side, for example. It is the myriad of small factors that, I think, make up a gut feeling.

It is hard, and it comes with experience, but our clients are often looking to us for those gut feelings. I embarrass my children regularly in restaurants by asking the waiting staff what they would have from the menu. They are almost always extremely decisive. Of course, they have seen the food, they have seen how popular the food is, if they are lucky they will have tried the food. I only have some words on a menu. When they are decisive, I always order what they suggest. Of course, just like the menu, you need to give clients all the options but you mustn’t be scared, if asked, to tell them what you would do if you were them. Sometimes, like a footballer deciding to have a shot, you have to do it quickly.

Deceptively Angelic Looking Child 2 (DALC2) currently has a tummy ache every bedtime. We always end up having an exchange that goes:

Me: ‘Are you worrying about anything?’

DALC2: ‘I don’t think so, but if I was, what might it be that I was worried about?’

Which leaves me in the unenviable position of trying to decide whether to give her a list of things she could worry about. Sometimes say ‘I saw Sophie look at you a bit funny this morning’ or ‘Trump wants to be president again’ and make her tummy ache far worse because she was not even thinking about those things. But, on a good day, I feel like I have put a keyword into a search engine and, with just one phrase from me, that thing that happened at lunchtime with some mean kid in Year 5 comes tumbling out.

I tell my kids to listen to their tummies. Unlike the babies in the research project, my kids’ tummies mainly seem to want Things Smothered in Ketchup. But food aside, when they are making decisions, I want them to listen to what their tummies are telling them and not doubt themselves or get bogged down in overthinking.

I have no doubt in the next few years someone will offer them a vape. What does their tummy say is the right thing to do? Someone will seem kind but something about their kindness won’t add up. When they are 17, they will be in a car with a friend who is driving too fast. Or they will be out and their friend will be drinking way too much. Or their teacher will treat them unfairly. They will have to make decisions that exclude some careers in favour of others. All these moments will give them a feeling in their gut – a feeling about what is right – and I think the more they can trust that feeling and act on it, the better.


Some facts and identities have been altered in the above article