The puppy’s frenzied barking awakens me to the Police Cruiser pulling up outside the holiday home I am staying in.
'I'll call you back', I say down the phone to my colleague. 'The Old Bill is here'.
I stick on some wellies and make my way outside.
'Do you know why I’m here, sir?'
Classic opening gambit from the officer. As a criminal barrister, I have heard this forensic line of questioning on bodyworn footage numerous times, presumably designed to trap the suspect into making a surprise clean breast of it, but always employed to literally no avail.
I almost respond with the sarcastic comments I always imagine using in response to this question, but stop myself. I’m keen to get back to my mid-morning cuppa with minimum fuss. After all, I do know why he’s here. A disgruntled local has reported me, thinking I’m having a cheeky weekend away in the Yorkshire Dales.
The truth was far less hedonistic, boasting an almost rigid legality.
The theme for this year’s Mental Health Week is nature, which could hardly be more appropriate for a Londoner who, for the last year, swapped the big city for the countryside. After surviving the first lockdown in a small one bed flat in the Angel, my partner and I mutually decided that another lockdown spent the same way would result in various Offences Against the Person and, generally speaking, was Very Bad For Our Mental Health. We were in temporary accommodation whilst our new home was refurbished – maybe built would be a better word for that extensive project – and nothing was keeping us in the City. Whilst London returned to ‘normal’ over the summer, we quietly made our way up north and when the next lockdown hit, we were enjoying expansive views and walks up fells with the most recent addition to the family, a lockdown pup – a Labradoodle named Shadow.
For those of us who call London home, we are privileged to live in what can be classified as a forest, according to a U.N. definition. London has 8.4 million trees, almost one per person. There are parks aplenty. However, for those of us working in the justice system, it is fair to say that we have to work hard to spend time in close proximity to those green spaces.
During a lengthy trial at Wood Green, I ruminated on my lack of vitamin D – I spent at least 5-6 hours a day in a courtroom with no windows at all, I spent my lunch breaks inside scouring through pages of late disclosure, I spent my evenings writing legal submissions. On week two I began cycling to court, lugging my laptop and papers on my back. There are no showers for counsel to use and no changing rooms. Stripping off in the robing room is a dicey business and best avoided for the sake of the mental health of one’s colleagues. Our creaking old system is not set up for a good work life balance.
There were several times over the last year when I felt I had had enough nature for a while. We got snowed in in Swaledale and I rolled the Land Rover down an icy hill and ending up hiking miles in the snow for provisions. However, even in those conditions, I felt healthy, alive and my mind was quieter.
We can’t hike every day, but we can seek out those green spaces and less polluted air that are great for the soul. So even if you can’t stop your judge asking you all to work over lunch, try to sit outside to eat. Travel in slightly earlier and detour through round the grounds of the local cathedral before your trial begins. Refuse to sit down and begin your unavoidable work evening before a walk in a park. Try a bit of meditation in the sun if you’re lucky enough to have a garden or a balcony, or an open window.
Nature is in the National Parks in abundance, but it’s also round the corner.
Dan Robinson is a criminal barrister at Red Lion Chambers and a member of the wellbeing committee