Penny A Brick – Why I became a lawyer

Posted on April 25th, 2010 by Chrissie Lightfoot

Often I have been asked the question “why did you become a lawyer?” I bet you've been asked the same.
ookie. Frustrated and bored crunching numbers day in and day out he decided to go into the 'commercial van hire business' in the '70s and rode the wave of the Thatcher years.

Being a frugal entrepreneur and having a way with numbers (being an accountant an' all) he decided that the start-up period required investment in the company which meant selling the family home, 'tightening our belts' and living in a caravan whilst we built the next family home.

So, we “upped sticks”, as the North East saying goes, from the town and headed to the countryside.

The new family home was going to be built on a plot of land which at that time had a dilapidated farm house on the very same – a listed building – an old coach &  horses residence (aptly named the Bread & Beer House). 

Brainwave 1: To save money my father decided that we would 'carefully' dismantle the present building and build our dream family home using the salvaged bricks wherever possible.   

Brainwave 2: My father needed 'cheap' labour. We (my older brother and I) were to be the chippies! You see, when you knock down a building and desire to reuse the bricks you have to chip away the mortar from the brick with a hammer & chisel to ensure a smooth brick for use to be 'relaid' with fresh mortar.

Brainwave 3: In order to persuade my brother and I that this was a good idea and worthy of our 'buy in' my father said that he would pay us a penny a brick. This was in addition to our 'pocket-money' that we received for our usual weekly chores which we were expected to continue to carry out (grass cutting, raking, sweeping, dog management etc).

So, (being our parents children i.e. appreciating the value of the £) my brother and I then spent our entire school summer holidays (6 weeks) chipping bricks from dawn till dusk. As you can imagine we weren't exactly happy about this arrangement as our friends were having a jolly and we weren't able to join them. However, with the delightful idea that at the end of the task we would have a small fortune we 'got on with the job in hand'. It wasn't without the typical brotherly sisterly fighting and sniping of course as we fought every day for 'the best hammer'. Tears, tantrums, swearing, the lot (which I am not proud of I hasten to add but all part of the rich tapestry of the growing up process). Yup … we had a great time.

Now, the day arrived when we had chipped our final bricks and my brother and I asked our father for payment due. To which he promptly gave us half the amount we expected.

You see, at the outset my father had said that he would give us a 'penny a brick'. My brother and I thought this meant that he would pay each of us 1 penny per brick (aka the cost of the labour was actually 2 pence per brick). My father retorted “no, I meant penny a brick between the pair of you” i.e. 1000 bricks = 1000 pennies = £10.00 between you, NOT £20.00 i.e. £10.00 each.

And so it was. For six weeks chipping bricks with all the bruises, calluses, new swear word additions to our vocabularies and lack of childhood fun I earned £5.00 and my brother earned £5.00 instead of our anticipated £10.00 each.

I felt cheated, stupid, dumb, ignorant, dependent, angry, void of knowledge and recourse. It was a defining moment.

I was 6 years old.

To add insult to injury the council promptly slapped a 'stop build' notice 2 months later due to the listed building wrangle and we ended up living in the caravan for 30 months (instead of the anticipated 6 months). Woo-Bloody-Hoo …

You're no doubt thinking that there were lots of legal issues amongst this little experience, apart from the human nature element of course.

From this defining and unique episode in my childhood I learned a harsh lesson and vowed NEVER to be so trusting, stupid, ignorant or dependant. I figured I needed to understand and learn about 'the law' … as well as human nature!

So, when someone asks me why I became a lawyer, perhaps they now understand.

Chrissie Lightfoot
The Entrepreneur Lawyer
(of the naked kind)

What's your story? I'd love to hear it. Feel free to share and/or comment here …

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