James Woolf



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KEVIN BARRY on R V Sieger - additional documents disclosed by the Crown Prosecution Service

Good Morning, Azar

I can almost see him, at his desk, magisterial, his tiny office overflowing with law books and papers, painstakingly composing each note with his 1930s Mabie Todd fountain pen, oblivious to the early morning chill. Years of assiduous toil on behalf of demanding clients has left his skin puckered like the bark of the Common Alder tree.

In this, my first assignment, I will be reflecting on the collected notes left by a barrister to his cleaner, in order to see what we might learn about narrative, character and theme, the staple ingredients of any study of literature.

The notes were written between five and six a.m., on headed paper, over a four month period. I will deal with how I came by them in due course. Mr Mountjoy is a successful lawyer, practising in a niche area of consumer law. Azar Akbari is a student of Journalism and Media Studies, who uses her income from her cleaning to fund her studies.

Mr Mountjoy needed to employ a cleaner due to his wife’s deteriorating health. He placed an advert in the local paper and selected the twenty one year old Ms Akbari on the basis that she could compose proper sentences. Before she started, they had met once, when Mr Mountjoy gave her a tour of the house (it took over three hours) and supplied her with keys.

The notes are presented unedited. Each was written upon the same headed paper and left on the dining room table.


Thursday 2 April

Good morning Azar,

It was pleasing to meet you last weekend. The following supplements the information provided at that meeting.

1. When we wash the wooden floors, we use only one product (“Invigorate”) and you will note that I keep a good supply in the cupboard. Use sparingly (no water) and you will find that it fairly glides across the floor.  I am personally fond of the smell which reminds me of Marzipan treats from my childhood.

2. Cleaning the oven. I omitted to say that this less than pleasant task is a monthly one please. I am a fan of roast lamb and gravy. I have slightly shaky hands. Need I elaborate?

3. My memory may be at fault (presumably as a result of recent and upsetting events with my wife), but did I mention that we take particular care with displayed objects on shelves? Security.  My job entails working on confidential material belonging to my clients. Please ensure that the study door is locked each week after you have attended to it.


Thursday 9 April

Good morning, Azar,

As you know, Beatrice is currently unwell and receiving treatment. The small amount of free time which my job allows is spent visiting her, or when at home preparing food. The cleaning which you undertake will therefore very likely be the sum total in my house that week. I make no complaint about your efforts last time; you covered the whole house and completed the ironing in your five hours for which I was grateful. But I would ask you to bear in mind that with my eldest, Penny, employed in a solicitors’ firm and my son in his first year at university, and poor Bea in treatment, you and I are the only souls currently setting foot in my house. As I am too busy to clean, that burden must fall to you.

Please feel free by the way to use the space left on my notes or the reverse side to make comments or ask questions. I do not have a smart phone or email address (my chambers’ email is wholly managed by my clerk Bertie and is for work purposes only). So all communications in this old fashioned way, please!


Hello Mr Mountjoy! All understood. I am sorry about your wife. As we say in my country, “What is brought by the wind will be carried away by the wind”. I will do my best with the cleaning and will answer your notes when I need to. Hopefully I won’t need to write too much!

Thursday 16 April

Good morning, Azar,

Last Thursday, Kenny my driver collected me at seven a.m. (my standard departure time) and I returned home at ten thirty p.m. (slightly, but not significantly, later than normal). I was feeling worn out by a conference with two nit-picking clients which eliminated my entire afternoon and early evening. I was not however too tired to notice the immaculate job which you had made in all rooms up to and including my bedroom. Thereon, and particularly the top floor, I sensed that you were galloping to complete the task in hand. For example, there were cobwebs in the ceiling corners in the room used for storing Beatrice’s dolls houses.

I mention this not to castigate you (I am pleased with the start you have made), but to say that as old and infirm as I appear (I’m only 55 as it happens!), I do notice these things.
By the way, I have no idea what your proverb means, please explain.


I am sorry, Mr Mountjoy, I did unexpectedly find myself in a hurry towards the climax last week.

It simply means we must leave these things to fate.

Thursday 23 April

Good morning, Azar,

I am troubled that I failed to deduce the meaning of your proverb. My apologies for being an obtuse old man. A general fog descended upon me when my beloved Beatrice was admitted to the Friary Clinic. It has been over two months now and there is little prospect of her returning home soon. She hasn’t always been delighted to see me when I have visited recently. But enough, I shouldn’t trouble you with my problems. When you say “my country”, which country are you referring to? My guess would be Iran.

On a more pedestrian note, would you mind dusting inside the crockery cupboard?


You are right! My family were from Iran. My father and mother came here in the early 1980s. I’m the youngest of five sisters (all born here). But I must now reprimand you, Mr Mountjoy! I do not wish to hear you call yourself obtuse or old again! When I met you, I would never have considered you as anything but a man in the prime of life.

I am so sorry to hear about the problems with Beatrice. Please share your worries at any time. I am a good listener (or reader!).

I hope you agree that your crockery cupboard is now fit for Buckingham Palace!

Thursday 30 April

Ms Akbari,

You have refreshed my ailing spirits considerably (as well as my crockery cupboard). Was it problems caused by Ruhollah Khomeni which brought your parents here? They were political refugees perhaps? The second floor bathroom could do with some attention.


Mr Mountjoy, I know that my country has had its problems, but we aren’t all political refugees. My father came here for business reasons. I have visited Iran many times, and we don’t imprison and torture everyone!

Consider it attended to!

Thursday 7 May

Good morning, Azar,

Did you, for any reason, climb into my bed last week?


Thursday 14 May

Fragrance, Ms Akbari. My sense of smell has always been keenly developed. I recall my father saying when I was just eleven that, knowing my strengths and weaknesses as he did, my career choice was between perfumier and barrister. He was a friend of Oliver Creed (if you have never encountered one of his scents, you must go to Selfridges at once! – it is a life changing experience). I knew which of the two professions father preferred and followed him into the Bar. It has been a good career, albeit one with long working hours; but I have provided well for my family in terms of living standards, holidays, and of course the lovely house you clean (to which subject I am about to return). My nose for scent by the way has not diminished, and that is why I knew, when I climbed into my bed shortly before midnight two weeks ago, that I smelt your very individual fragrance, which contains an extract from the Atropa Belladonna (you will know it as deadly nightshade). I had recalled the scent from our meeting a month earlier.

I thought long and hard about the reasons why you might have taken to my bed and they included the following:

1. You were, because of your studying, very tired.

2. You wished to test the comfort of my bed as say compared with yours.

3. You were feeling unwell and had to lie down. You may first have lain on top of the bed, but requiring extra warmth ventured under the sheets.

4. You had lain in my bed as a bet or dare. Perhaps you took photographic evidence – I believe it is called a “selfie”.

I must admit that I discarded all of the above theories, having found after your visit last week, at around eleven thirty pm (when I was checking under the bed to satisfy myself that it had been vacuum-cleaned), a pair of red and yellow striped male underpants.

They were most certainly not mine.

While closer inspection of the sheets on the freshly made bed revealed no evidence of other activities having taken place within, I later discovered that you had washed an extra set of bed linen.

Ms Akbari, you chose not to answer the question I put to you last week. This week I do require an answer. Have you, for any reason, been sharing my bed with a man for your mutual sexual gratification? You may be able to explain away my discovery quite innocently and to my satisfaction; my hope that you will do so is sincere.


Mr Mountview [1], I am so ashamed! It is true, all true. For the past few weeks, I have been using your bedroom (and regrettably others too) for love making with my new boyfriend. It was very much at his instigation though I take full responsibility for my behaviour. Mr Mountview, I plead with you to forgive me and offer me another chance. It will not happen again. Truthfully yours, Azar.

Thursday 21 May

Dear Azar,

Please find monies covering a calendar month’s cleaning, offered as payment in lieu of notice. We had no formal contract and therefore no notice period, but I feel it is right to make this settlement even though you are being dismissed for gross misconduct. It only remains for me to wish you the very best for your future studies and career.


P.S. Please return the red and yellow striped underpants to your boyfriend. They are in a Waitrose bag by the front door.

Mr Mountjoy

I have been crying intermittently through the five hours I’ve just spent cleaning your house. Over the last six weeks you have shown me only understanding. I know how badly I have let you down. I cannot accept your kind payment so I leave it on the kitchen table.


I must now interrupt the narrative to own my role in its development. The red and yellow underpants were in fact mine. Ms Akbari and I had met on her second week cleaning the house, though I swore her to silence regarding having seen me. I’d become disillusioned early on with my academic course in Sussex, and not being tempted by the merry-go-round of undergraduate socialising, I’d taken to returning to Sunningdale on weekdays to watch daytime television in comfort. This routine was interrupted by Ms Akbari’s arrival. With her striking looks and pleasant disposition, I found myself taking an interest in her progress around the house, even helping out in order to get to know her better. One thing led to another and we were soon engaged in athletic and lengthy bouts of love making, after which I would join her in attending to the detail in my father’s ridiculous notes before he returned home.

You can imagine the humiliation now felt by Ms Akbari, and her wish upon reading the note of 21 May to immediately leave the scene of the crime never to return again. But I barred her tearful exit that morning and persuaded her to clean the house one last time. And as she did so I told her that word of her exploits would quickly get around Sunningdale and beyond. Not only would she never work again as a cleaner, but this lapse could jeopardise her future career in the media! Being emotionally wrought, she was susceptible to my arguments.

The good news, I told her, was that my father appreciated nothing more than a humble apology made in person. So, the following morning, we set off together to his Chambers in Lincoln’s Inn where Ms Akbari waited an hour before he was free to see her. The following was covertly recorded at my insistence.



Mr Mountjoy:      I’m sorry about the wait. I hope Bertie was polite. He’s not brilliant with human interactions.

Ms Akbari:           He was fine, Mr Mountjoy.

Mr Mountjoy:      I’m dealing with two rather pernickety clients. They’re threatening a formal complaint --

Ms Akbari:           That’s rotten.

Mr Mountjoy:      So I don’t have terribly long. But you’re wearing a different perfume.

Ms Akbari:           I’ve stopped wearing the other one.

Mr Mountjoy:      I’ll make some coffee.

Ms Akbari:           Thank you!


Ms Akbari:           It’s a nice meeting room.

Mr Mountjoy:      I’m glad you approve.

Ms Akbari:           And such a fascinating part of London.

Mr Mountjoy:      Indeed. It’s well worth doing a tour if you can find someone to take you.

Ms Akbari:           That might be interesting, yes. Oh, that coffee is good, Mr Mountjoy!

Mr Mountjoy:      Isn’t it just?

Ms Akbari:           Mr Mountjoy, I wanted to apologise in person for what happened in your home. It must have
                              been a shock when you discovered what had been going on.

Mr Mountjoy:      Do continue.

Ms Akbari:           It was very unlike me and I feel quite sick about my behaviour. I really am very sorry.

Mr Mountjoy:      It’s good of you to come and make your apology face to face. It shows strength of character.

Ms Akbari:           I’m very worried too. That news of what I did might… spread…

Mr Mountjoy:      Do you think I’m the sort of person who engages in idle tittle tattle?

 Ms Akbari:          No, Mr Mountjoy.

Mr Mountjoy:      Hmmm…

Ms Akbari:           I do not think that at all. And if you did re-employ me, there would be no question of any of                                   those things being repeated.

Mr Mountjoy:      I would hope not. And harsh as it sounds, your boyfriend is not welcome in my home in                                         future.

Ms Akbari:           I’m sure I could make an even better job as I wouldn’t be trying to satisfy his demands at the                                  same time.

Mr Mountjoy:      (PAUSE) Was your boyfriend very demanding, Ms Akbari?

Ms Akbari:           Yes. But that relationship is completely over.

Mr Mountjoy:      I see.

Ms Akbari:           There is something else you should know about him. (PAUSE) No, perhaps not.

Mr Mountjoy:      I wouldn’t want to pry.

Ms Akbari:           Please believe me that this has all been quite out of character.

Mr Mountjoy:      Fundamentally, Ms Akbari, you are a good person. You are well turned out. You have                                              apologised nicely. You have clearly been well brought up.

Ms Akbari:           You are too kind.

Mr Mountjoy:      You would put my son to shame. Something went quite wrong there.

Ms Akbari:           Do you not get on with him?

Mr Mountjoy:      I don’t hear from one month to the next. I’ve no idea what he’s up to.

Ms Akbari:           Well --

Mr Mountjoy:      Anyway, Bea will be coming home in the next month or so.

Ms Akbari:           I’m so pleased!

Mr Mountjoy:      Thank you for coming, Ms Akbari. So you will continue next week as normal?

Ms Akbari:           If that’s okay?

Mr Mountjoy:      Indeed.

Ms Akbari:           That’s rather a tremendous tie, Mr Mountjoy.

The transcript finishes here. My own relationship with Ms Akbari, which she had unequivocally ended after the discovery of my underpants, did, after much legwork and persuasion on my behalf, recommence. But we were more circumspect and Ms Akbari preferred not to get up to anything in my father’s house.

Before we continue, a word about his notes. They are not a new thing. Penny and I were plagued with them throughout our childhoods, and mother’s mental illness and alcoholism are no doubt connected with having her husband replaced by a mounting pile of instructions on personalised stationery.


Thursday 28 May

Dear Azar,

I wonder if you’d mind having a look at Bee’s dolls houses in readiness for her return. She will wish them to appear well cared for. It would be lovely if the houses could be looking ship shape and their inhabitants happy when she comes back.

Two other things, Azar. First, there may be a little gift coming your way next week. I was going to keep it as a surprise, but am so pleased with my choice that I cannot help but mention it.

Secondly, we talked about your needing someone to show you around the historic area of Lincoln’s Inn. May I put myself forward for that role? I am a keen amateur historian, and I would enjoy acting as your local guide! Please call my clerk and make a lunchtime appointment. Bertie will sort you out.


Thank you for letting me play with the beautiful dolls houses! I was transported back to my childhood (although I never owned anything so magnificent!). I hope that they now appear more welcoming for Bee. And you must make sure that you, Mr Mountjoy, are also looking happy and well cared for when your wife returns! A gift? I am intrigued. I will call Bertie to make the arrangement.

Thursday 4 June

Dear Azar,

I hope you enjoyed your tour. I also work very close to the John Soane’s museum, an absolute marvel! If you fancy another lunchtime rendezvous, do give Bertie a call. Can you defrost freezers? Mine is fairly choked with ice and not functioning as it should.


Yes, the tour was quite good (although I’d perhaps omit the silver vaults for future tourists!). But Mr Mountjoy! I am bowled over by your gift left with your note. I immediately recognised the coffee maker as the brand used in your chambers. Along with what looks like a year’s supply of coffee too, I am a lucky girl and will never fall asleep over my late night studies again! You are too generous, Mr Mountjoy! I would have refused your gift if I hadn’t loved it so much! Bertie will be hearing from me. You are now nicely defrosted.

Thursday 11 June

Dear Azar,

Yes, you may have heard of the paintings The Rake’s Progress. Seeing them is worth the visit alone, not just for the salutary reminder of the depravity to which any one of us might sink at any time. I look forward to sharing this with you.


​Me too, Mr Mountjoy. Personally, I am hoping that I have already sunk to my lowest depths and am now on the way up! I am much enjoying my new prized possession. My little flat is heaving with the aromas of Ethiopian Coffee!

Thursday 18 June

Dear Azar,

I had forgotten quite what a treasure trove Sir John Soane’s is! I sense that you didn’t enjoy it as much as me, but your comments on the paintings were most perceptive and to show you around was my pleasure and very diverting from my present woes.

Now, every summer I take a good break in the South of France. My yacht is comfortable and spacious. There is no need to answer immediately, but I am wondering if you would like to accompany me and Beatrice, assuming that she’s able to (I’m finding it difficult to get any sort of prognosis from her evasive psychiatrist). You would have your own cabin and privacy (there are four cabins in total). I am planning to go at the beginning of August for a month, but there is flexibility. It would of course be an all expenses paid trip.
I am going to need a holiday by then as I am now dealing with a full blown complaint by those clients and trying with my insurers to head off their law suit!


It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the museum. It’s just that I wondered about Mr Soane picking up the treasures of the world and carting them all back to his house in Holborn...

You will notice Ms Akbari’s less than effusive response to the barrister’s note. Her exuberant personality had clearly been dampened.

Here I must admit to being the dampening agent. I forbade her to respond to what I will call the Med Invite, until we had both reflected on its full implications.

It might be argued that this is an imperfect academic exercise, if I, as the author, sought to influence the content of the notes which form the basis of my study. I freely concede that point.

I had been photocopying the notes from the day Ms Akbari began cleaning the house. I had no purpose in doing so at first, but then conceived the idea of using them for study. Being in possession of the full set afforded me ample opportunity to register even the most subtle changes of tone. The increase in intimacy that I now noticed was anything but subtle.

Even before the last note, I had been wondering what I ought to do about their burgeoning friendship. Perhaps it might be time for Ms Akbari to contemplate other ways of supporting her studies? The Med Invite solidified this view.

Thursday 25 June

Dear Azar,

You will think me a strange old man, but over the last few weeks on the days when you haven’t worked your magic touch, I have formed the impression that someone else has been prowling in my lair. It began with the sense of cushions having moved, or doors being open which I thought I had left shut. More recently, bottles of milk, have been finished off. On Sunday, I found a plate on the patio! Tell me, Ms Akbari, that I am not going a little bit bonkers. [2]

The thought of our lunchtime meetings keeps me sane. Looking forward to our trip to the Hunterian. The idea of those strange pickled bodies in jars is turning my insides mucilaginous in anticipation!

By the way, have you had a chance to consider your plans for the summer? Specifically, are you able to join me on the yacht?


Thursday 2 July

Dear Azar,

I regretted the fact that you had called Bertie at short notice to cancel the Hunterian without explanation. If I am Johnny-come-lately to the land of feelings and emotions, for Bertie it remains unexplored territory. I asked whether, from the tone of your voice, you seemed angry, or if he detected that I’d done anything to upset you. “I didn’t notice anything, Mr Mountjoy. But I was eating my Coronation Chicken sandwich at the time.” I regret also Ms Akbari that you haven’t responded to my other invitation.


Mr Mountjoy, I am sorry, I cannot meet you any more for our “educational lunchtimes”. I know that you have a lot going on at the moment. I do too.

Thursday 9 July

Dear Azar,

You might wish to know that Bea now has other plans when she leaves hospital, an event which is imminent. There’s a letter on the table should you care to read it. I dropped a bottle of wine last night, probably because I am unused to drinking alcohol alone late at night. It smashed into a thousand shards, some of which I may not have cleared away. Please go carefully and sweep up any pieces that you find.

Mr Mountjoy, next week will be my last week as your cleaner. I’m moving away from London. I’m sorry about everything. Azar.


Dear Mr Mountjoy

Beatrice has asked me to write on her behalf to explain that upon leaving the Friary Clinic she will, for the time being, be staying with her sister. In time, she will be looking to establish a home of her own. Beatrice requests that you do not contact her when she is residing at her sister’s property. In my professional opinion, having heard much about your note writing habits, it would be better for Beatrice’s continuing recovery if you respected this request.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Steven Cavendish

Thursday 16 July

Dear Azar,

This is the final week and I have no instructions. The ink in my Mabie Todd is running dry. My work in chambers goes on. We are defending my clients’ law suit. It is getting dark so late. Please mop the study floor. I wept last night.


Mr Mountjoy in his final note slips naturally into use of the objective correlative. He is doubtless unaware that deploying staccato sentences is a known device for conveying emotions.

In completing this assignment, I feel that I myself must give the narrative the closure that the notes would otherwise deny us. In the days that followed, Ms Akbari moved into my accommodation. I had not provided my father with the address when we had parted company on poor terms the previous autumn. I now understand that Ms Akbari jotted it down without my knowledge, before leaving the house for the final time. She confessed as much when Mr Mountjoy turned up at our door early one evening, unaware that I was also living there. Having rung the bell for some time, he departed. He returned hours later, and drunkenly recited a poem at the top of his voice in the rain:

Goddamn the empty sky
and the stars at night
Goddamn the ripply bright
stream as it goes by 

When this failed to bring Ms Akbari to the door, he sang Jacques Brel songs until the early hours.

It will come as no surprise that this, my first assignment, is also my last. Ms Akbari and I have finished being students in favour of finding remunerative work to support our lifestyle. Despite my early departure from the course, I would appreciate this paper being graded. I remain curious.

Laurence Mountjoy (junior)


The following documents are filed with the assignment.

25 July

Dear Mr Mountjoy

I am returning your autumn project ungraded as it does not qualify as academic study, rigorous or otherwise. For what it is worth, I also question the morality of using these notes and wonder what your hapless father would make of the exercise.

I wish you luck in your future career. I am sure that you have a talent for something.


Angela Simons

Lecturer in English Studies

28 July

Dear Laurie,

I received the enclosed in the post with your tutor’s comments. I expect that you forgot to provide the department with your current address. You will forgive my opening and reading the package; one of the perils of us having the same name, for which mistake I take responsibility.

You can imagine my mounting sense of disbelief and betrayal as I read the assignment, particularly your own role in the drama. I’m sure that you both had much enjoyment at my expense when I visited your property.
I need not tell you my news as you know everything there is to know and have made it a subject of ridicule. Nor do I need to ask what you have been doing. My reading has brought me right up to date.

Please do not contact me. I am not in a hurry to get over this.

Your (hapless) father

1 August

Dear Angela

I received your comments. I’d rather you’d sent them to the email address I provided instead of dispatching all to my home address. I am now estranged from my father, possibly forever. Azar, who’d known nothing about my assignment, read my father’s letter, finished our relationship and walked out that same day. You have quite possibly ruined my life. And you talk about morality.



Yesterday I saw mother at Aunty Hen’s. She’s doing well. She had just returned from Sunningdale where she’d been collecting her belongings. She had been surprised by the person she found: “Your father was very understanding. In fact he has been restored to something resembling a human being. If it’s the cleaner that did it, then more power to her elbow!” It seems that mother had met Azar. She was helping father pack for the Mediterranean where she will be staying on his yacht and assisting him in, I imagine, many different ways. Before closing this sorry document forever, I reread it one last time. I now see that it leads inexorably to this point.

The picture in my head is as follows. They are both standing in the heat on the deck, Azar in the turquoise swim-suit that I bought her, my father in his faithful canvas green shorts which he gets out every summer​. They have cocktails in hand, and chatter thankfully about getting away as the boat charts a steady course across the French Riviera.


[1] The reader will note a Freudian slip by Ms Akbari, replacing “Mountjoy” with “Mountview” she conveys that her employer's recent friendliness has ​mutated into this close surveillance of her activities.

[2] It is true, I had at first been careful not to leave a hint of my weekday visits. Over time I had become blasé. Then I had the idea of tormenting him by leaving small clues. And the thought of driving him slowly mad was positively exhilarating.

[3] Extract from Goddamn the Empty Sky by Violeta Parra, Chilean poet and songwriter, 1917-1967,

Good Morning, Azar was first published in Ambit 229.