Where I was articled the top floor was occupied by an ex-policeman, Sid Powell, who looked like the actor Jeremy Kemp and who went by the name Sandy. Powell, now well out of condition, was a giant of a man who had played for one of the then first-class Welsh rugby union clubs.
He had twice been demoted from the rank of detective inspector for dealing with a suspect harshly – or so the story went.
He ran the criminal side of the practice under his own steam and his old colleagues sent him a steady stream of cases. He smoked a pipe which he didn’t take out of his mouth when he spoke in his thick Welsh accent and so was often incomprehensible. I took to nodding and saying ‘Good’ until one day when I nodded ‘Good’ he was out of his chair in a flash and grabbed me by the lapels saying, ‘Whaddayou mean?’ What he had said was ‘My wife’s in hospital’. That was the day I realised how he had come to be demoted.
A great drinker, after Tottenham Hotspur won the cup final Sandy was found paralytic on the steps of the local town hall and was bundled into a police car and taken home. There Mrs Powell, now out of hospital, was known as a force to be reckoned with in these circumstances. One of his saviours took his keys, opened the front door quietly, pulled Sandy out of the car and pushed him along the path, giving him a final shove towards the door as he ran back to the car and safety.
Perhaps the thing Sandy liked best, if only to demonstrate the longevity of his liver, was going to funerals of former colleagues whose constitutions were not as strong as his. The days after the funeral, the wake of which was always held at the same local pub, would find his room empty until finally a very shaky Sandy could be heard climbing the stairs.
When we met, he would give me a full account, which never varied. After the service they all went to The Oxford where they stayed drinking until 10pm, ‘when the landlord, Jim that is, rang the bell. We had two minutes silence, and then everyone (including stray drinkers) sang Abide with Me’. It did catch my imagination.
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor