Many lawyers in the Randstad started at a large firm and are still working at a large firm. Or sometimes at a slightly smaller office but still in the Randstad. Then, of course, you miss out. You also become something of a lawyer, to be sure, but with a limited Randstad view; you don’t know much more of the world than your own little area of law. That’s why I’m glad I started in the back corner of a region of the country that is itself called Achterhoek (‘Behind the Corner’). It has made me the lawyer I am. I was given unique opportunities and experiences to learn the trade.
Oude Kleine Beverberg on the line
It started right away the first week. The day after I was sworn in. A phone call. A man, who introduced himself as Oude Kleine Beverberg (Old Little Beaver Mountain) or something like that, congratulated me on my appointment as curator. It was a cattle dealer and I just had to get there quickly, because there was only a fat cow left and a fat cow is worth a lot of money. How do you sell a cow? At the cattle market, of course. Then you need at least a tow bar, so to speak. So if you see a provincial lawyer driving a car with a tow bar, you know that has nothing to do with a caravan, but with the foreclosure value of cattle. The tow bar was put on immediately, by a cousin of Old Little Beaver Mountain.
Café Het Witte Paard
At first I thought Old Little Beaver Mountain, when he called about the appointment, was a college buddy who wanted to kid me. I even thought I recognized the voice of college friend Marcel-Paul. So my response to Old Little Beaver Mountain was to tell him to stop with that nonsense and let’s go have a beer soon. That’s good, the man said, whereupon I began to have doubts because I detected a slight Achterhoek accent. The all-important court clerk whom I mistook for a college friend gave me the name of a pub. You have a surprising number of those in the Achterhoek. It turned out to be a suitable guy; he had been wielding the scepter in the bankruptcy department for years. We met at Het Witte Paard (The White Horse) in Zieuwent. I sat there waiting in vain for an hour, until I noticed that I had mistakenly entered The Black Horse. The White Horse sat across the street.
Escort to Africa
One thing leads to another, so it goes in the smaller districts. Not much later I was a trustee of a deceased person. That was still possible at the time. He only had an old Nissan Cherry that really no one wanted to buy, not even the junkyard. So what do you do? Export to Africa of course. But yes, empty estate – no money, so you can’t insure such a car. Uninsured and without an MOT on the road from the Achterhoek to the port of Rotterdam? Yes. With escort; in front and behind a motorcycle officer, with flashing lights. The motorcycle officer in front was another cousin of Old Little Beaver Mountain who could always arrange something in such a case. Ten liters of gasoline in the tank; just enough. Resolved. The trip back did take three hours, but what else is there to do.
Our office was in a large villa on the outskirts of a small town. There were three gardeners in permanent employment, who had the bad habit of going for coffee with their mud boots in the waiting room. Then they would ask the waiting clients what if anything they actually came to do. If there was no answer, they asked a little further whether it was for a divorce or for a layoff. Usually there was no answer because, as everyone knows, Achterhoekers don’t show the back of their tongues easily.
Farmers, citizens, countrymen
The gardeners then just drew their own conclusion about the client’s case by discussing aloud the poor waiting person’s clothing. An overall meant: dismissal had been announced. Leather jacket was a folkloric punishment, such as illegal reptile keeping, vagrancy or poaching: the couleur locale. If it was a woman who was not wearing a skirt but pants, then it was a divorce (with skirt was after all a moral matter), and if it was a farmer then it was a right of way, with a noble large landowner as the other party. Such a dispute belonged to the patrimony: it was passed on from generation to generation. A gold mine for office. Well-dressed countrymen came for a nasty miscue of a lame horse, and so I could go on. Usually their description was accurate, and as long as we listened carefully to the gardeners, we knew right away how things should be done, and how they would turn out. Once the silent clients had been collected by the lawyer, the gardeners trudged back out. Raking the gravel around the villa was a day’s work.
A decision by the oldest partner
One day the gardeners came into the office. They looked tired. Their foreman asked with cap in hand belied by the oldest partner in the firm. He stated that he was overworked and therefore they all had to resign. The oldest companion said that’s not easy to do, because who would have to rake the gravel? But his thoughts also turned to the clients in the waiting room, who could use some privacy. It gave unease anyway, all those questions. So his answer was that under the Labor Code, the resignation could not be granted unless three equivalent, different gardeners were hired in return. These were entitled to coffee, but not in the waiting room; the secretary did bring out a thermos.
And so it happened. The next day we saw three new solid guys working on the driveway. Gravel had just been added. A surplus lot from a landscaping company’s bankruptcy, not worth enough for a foreclosure auction, I was told. There were thickly ten centimeters. That was pretty tough because my last little bankruptcy was already a Nissan. The partners had already told me to sell the ugly thing. They didn’t want the little car on display for the notable customers anymore; of course, the local factory directors couldn’t park their BMW next to an old Nissan 323, it didn’t matter. In addition, there was a High Visit that afternoon. I had no buyer this time, Old Little Beaver Mountain was on leave, and so I decided to park the little car on the street. However, the little car was no match for the freshly deposited gravel. The 1100 cc engine roared, the gravel splattered against the base plate, but no movement. In the Achterhoek you need horsepower and not Japanese tin. In the distance, the old Landrover of the High Visit approached. I could choose. Or ask the gardeners to rake a way out for me, about 50 yards to go until the asphalt road. They would never succeed because they looked tired. Or put my own car in front of it and tow it. I still had a rope in the back from that cow that had to go to the cattle market. Around the tow bar, and then to the bumper of the Nissan. That had to be doable. I chose the latter. The gardeners had gone for coffee anyway, in the waiting room, they were nowhere to be seen – a thermos with some cups stood untouched on the floor.
The baron who was arguing with the farmer , the one of the right of way, got out of the Landrover. Rib pants, tweed jacket, lambswool sweater. It now had to be settled once and for all. In fact, a businessman from the west was going to buy the castle. The news had rushed ahead of him. The penniless nobleman had definitively lost the battle for the preservation of his heritage. He looked at what had once been the land of his forefathers** and he ignored me and my old Nissan. Did not greet back, and walked in. The gardeners would now question him in the waiting room, what or it was about and what he did come for, I thought. Only later did I understand his bluntness. His Landrover was not to fall into my hands, ever. I tied the rope to the rickety bumper of the Nissan. No, this job I had to do myself.
** free to Lampedusa, “The Tiger Cat” (and reality in the Achterhoek).
Posted by Marius Hupkes
Marius Hupkes is an attorney and former clerk of the Board of Discipline.
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