View Full Version : Solomon Had It Easier

January 14th, 2012, 06:58 PM

Well, it’s true that Solomon had it easier than today’s judges. After all, apart from that thing with the two women and the baby, what demanding cases did he try? Please don’t write in. Anyway, the Old Testament sage was a king, so had a good deal of latitude. His modern counterpart is more circumscribed and must try to extract justice from a morass of laws created by others. Perhaps no-one did this better than that demon of denouement, Judge Embert Wimple, as the cases presented here surely demonstrate. All were culled from those tried by the judge during his last year on the bench. It was no small task to persuade him to allow them to be placed in chronological order, nor was it easy to convince him that only a limited number could be included here. His final choice was made only weeks before he departed for the great courthouse in the sky. He gave no reason – for the selection, that is, not his departure.

Some readers may note that there is little reference to the apportionment of costs. This arises from the judge’s practice of making the relevant orders after giving his verdicts and declaring proceedings closed. It is felt that no great purpose would be served by the provision of case-by-case footnotes concerning this point.

* * *


Proceedings in the Grimshaw versus Pepper case began at ten-thirty a.m., Judge Embert Wimple presiding. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant was guilty of failure to repay a loan, the defendant responding hat he had not done so because the plaintiff had deceived him. Neil Grimshaw was represented by the redoubtable Desmond Oddley-Staggers, while Gordon Pepper was in the hands of the no less distinguished Rodney Melliflewes.

Judge Wimple, aged eighty-three and officially long-retired, still appeared frequently in court to assist hard-pressed colleagues. The hearing was to be held in camera, which pleased the judge, who foresaw some stimulating entertainment, which he was ill-disposed to share with a courtroom full of jurors and other undesirables. In fact, from this case onward until his retirement, the judge was to hold all his hearings with the public excluded, though he would continue to avail himself of a courtroom, as he considered his chambers inviolate.

After satisfying himself that he was clear as to the respective charges, Judge Wimple addressed prosecuting counsel. “Very well, Mr Taggart, you may begin.”

Oddley-Staggers was accustomed to the judge’s habit of addressing advocates by whatever names occurred to him, irrespective of true identities. His honour’s view was that he was dealing with a pool of lawyers and a like-sized array of names, and which of the latter he applied to any of the former was not important to him. On the occasions when his attention wavered more than average, he had been known to refer to barristers long dead. It had become a convention that, in the interest of reaching the end of a case within a tolerable period, nobody corrected Judge Wimple. The litigants were usually primed and almost always obliged.

Thumbs in waistcoat pockets, Oddley-Staggers inclined his head towards the bench. “May it please Your Honour,” he said, “the facts in this case are quite simple. Some fourteen months ago, my client loaned the sum of one pound to the defendant, the arrangement being that Mr Pepper would, at the end of one year from the date of the loan, repay the principal, plus interest. Mr Pepper did not honour this obligation and still has not done so. My client’s purpose here is to recover the amount owed. He appreciates that the sum concerned is a modest one, but contends that there is a principle involved, which must be upheld. Subject to a satisfactory outcome, he is willing to ignore any interest incurred after the one-year period.”

“Seemingly most generous,” said the judge inspecting his papers. “We must never ignore matters of principle, or indeed in this case also principal. Now, it says here that the amount owed is two pounds, seventy-two pence. I am puzzled as to how we get from the one figure to the other. Presumably this arises from either administrative charges or the interest rate. Were there any charges and what was that rate?”

Oddley-Staggers reddened slightly. “No charges, Your Honour. The interest rate was” – his voice fell to a mumble – “one hundred per cent, nominal.”

“Speak up, Mr Olliphant. I’m not sure I heard that correctly.”

“No charges. The interest rate was one hundred per cent, nominal.”

“Bless my soul,” said the judge. “I am not au fait with current trends, but if your client makes a habit of this, he must be in a lucrative business. Furthermore, my arithmetic, though possibly defective, suggests an amount of two pounds owing. I still don’t see how we get to two pounds, seventy-two pence. Please explain.”

“Your Honour, my client does not operate in the financial world, but was merely doing a favour. As to the sum involved, we are dealing here with a factor known as the exponential constant, which is the base of the natural logarithm. It is usually referred to by its initial letter, e.”

“Most interesting. Would you care to regale us further?”

“Yes. This kind of situation occurs frequently in certain areas of mathematics, physics and commerce, where two interacting elements are involved, one rising as the other falls. In this case, it concerns multiple compounding of interest. At the time the loan was made, there was no discussion between the parties as to the number of periods my client was to employ.”

The judge was enthralled. “And this makes such a large difference, does it?”

“Indeed it does. My client realised that, as the rate was nominal – or at least that there had been no agreement that it was not – there was no impediment to his compounding interest at periods of less than one year. He found that by doing so at increasingly frequent intervals, the sum owed became ever higher. He considered half-yearly periods, then quarterly ones, then monthly, then weekly and so on, until he reached the point at which no further meaningful increment could be achieved. It is a question of an arithmetical series, leading to the exponential constant I mentioned. This series consists of one, plus one, plus one divided by two, factorial, plus one divided three, factorial, and so – ”

“One moment” said the judge. “You say ‘factorial’. Perhaps you would expand?”

“Willingly. The expression is mathematical shorthand. Any number factorial means that number multiplied by the one immediately below it, then the result by the next lower one and so on until unity is reached. For example, five factorial means five, times four, times three, times two, times one, the last operation being of course academic, since it does not change the total. In this case, no matter how often the compounding occurs, there is an effective limit, which to two decimal places – the practical level in financial matters – is two, point seven two. We are concerned here with an irrational number.”

“We certainly are,” said the judge. “I never heard of anything less rational.”

“If I may explain, Your Honour, an irrational number is one which has no precise value, but which can be calculated to any desired degree of accuracy, the digits following the decimal point proceeding to infinity, with no repeated pattern and always with a remainder.”

The judge was well aware of the meaning of the term concerned, but was not inclined to miss an opportunity to allow any counsel, especially one of his regulars, to demonstrate a grasp of whatever was at issue. The more experienced ones enjoyed these diversions as much as he did. His honour’s view was that all of this added colour to the proceedings. “Fascinating!” he said. “Please continue.”

“I was about to say that mathematicians usually consider the result to five decimal places as satisfactory, this being two, point seven one eight two eight.”

“Well, well,” said the judge. “I imagine that financiers find the idea even more agreeable. Was there no obligation on Mr Grimshaw to reveal this multiple compounding to Mr Pepper as it proceeded?”

“Nothing to that effect was specified at the outset, Your Honour. The technique is widely used in commercial transactions.”

“Thank you, Mr Oddment,” said the judge, turning his attention to defending counsel, “Now, Mr Mildew,” he said. “What have you to say?”

Being as experienced as his opponent, Rodney Melliflewes had no difficulty in maintaining his poise. “May it please Your Honour,” he said, clasping his hands behind him, “there is no disagreement as to the simplicity of this case, nor is there any argument about the arithmetic. However, there are two points of significance. First, the plaintiff’s assertion that the amount due is two pounds, seventy-two pence. My client’s view is that this would represent overpayment, as the true figure, by the prosecution’s own calculation, is two pounds, seventy-one point eight two eight pence. This is less than the amount demanded. My client is willing to pay two pounds, seventy-one pence, but not the remaining nought point eight two eight of one penny, let alone the further nought point one seven two of a penny which would take the total to two pounds, seventy-two pence. He considers this excessive. Second, he contends that normal practice was contravened, in that the conditions of the loan were arbitrarily imposed upon him. Notwithstanding this, he agreed to settle in round terms, though he was thinking that the sum would be truncated to the penny below the true figure.”

Judge Wimple had been staring at the ceiling. Now, his gaze returned to defending counsel. “A combine harvester, was it?” he said.

“Beg pardon, Your Honour,” said Melliflewes. “A combine harvester?”

Having briefly lost interest in the matter before him, the judge had been silently reminiscing about a totally unrelated farming case he had tried many years earlier, when a casual labourer had lost an arm. “Askew versus Beaumont, some time ago,” he said. “That has an indirect bearing upon this matter. Do try to keep up, Mr Murgatroyd.” He was now in his element, especially as his impromptu comment clearly left Melliflewes floundering. “So, we have two parties who seem to be almost in agreement.” He turned his attention to Oddley-Staggers. “Have you anything to add, Mr Braithwaite?”

“Only one point, Your Honour. The arrangement in this case was verbal and informal and my client does not see how it could have been covered by consumer credit legislation.”

“Very well,” said the judge. “If all has been said, I think this would be an appropriate point at which to recess for lunch.”

Oddley-Staggers issued a political cough, causing the judge to eye him keenly. “Was there something else, Mr Oliver?”

“Your Honour, I would respectfully point out that both my learned friend and I are required to appear in other cases this afternoon. Since it is not yet eleven o’clock, I was mindful that –”

“No doubt,” snapped the judge, “and I was mindful that the visitors had lost eight wickets by close of play yesterday. Is it essential that you proceed immediately?”

“Er, no, Your Honour.” Prosecuting counsel knew of the judge’s addiction to cricket and, appreciating that the season had just begun, was unwilling to cast a cloud over the proceedings.

“Good. In deference to your other commitments, we shall reconvene at one o’clock, and a few minutes should suffice to complete this hearing. ”

The parties foregathered as ordered by the judge, whose eyes roved over the company. “Has either party anything more to say?” he asked. Neither had, so his honour continued: “Very well. I believe I have digested everything of consequence here and I must say that it is intriguing to be involved in a case so friv . . . ahem . . . grave. It remains for me to sum up and give my verdict.” He rustled his papers, all blank apart from a note that the home batsmen, pursuing a modest opposition first innings total, had lost early wickets in what promised to be a more absorbing encounter than the one in which he was involved.

With a final stare at the battling parties, he went on: “This case revolves largely around mathematics and I am no expert in such matters, but have considered the position as, I hope, a fairly intelligent layman. I am minded to dismiss Mr Pepper’s claim that he was deceived. He should have demanded a formal agreement. As to Mr Grimshaw’s charge, we seem to be dealing with a question of rounding up or down. My personal view is irrelevant, but insofar as it might have any moral force, it is that the plaintiff is a scoundrel. I have carried out some research during the lunch break and have found that credit may be obtained at vastly more favourable terms than were offered by Mr Grimshaw to Mr Pepper. Furthermore, I am fully conversant with the electronic calculator, as you will soon appreciate.” In fact the Judge, who never ate lunch, had been instructed in the use of the tool in question by a court officer, who as a consequence had missed a repast of steak and kidney pie.

Neil Grimshaw and Desmond Oddley-Staggers were by turns euphoric and glum. “Now,” said the judge, “we come to the question of the debt. My conclusion is that, having indicated his willingness to honour his obligation within reason, Mr Pepper should pay Mr Grimshaw the sum of two pounds, seventy-one pence, scandalous though that may be.”

Gordon Pepper and Rodney Melliflewes were pleased by their qualified triumph. but only momentarily. Judge Wimple went on: “However, I feel bound to comment on the lack of common sense exhibited by Mr Pepper, in that a grown man should have known better than to accept a loan without ensuring that the terms were clear and unchangeable. This demonstrates foolishness almost beyond belief. We are considering a transaction between a rogue and a simpleton. With respect to this, I can say only that a man may be excused for being the latter, but not the former.”

The judge had expected silence here, and wasn’t disappointed. He paused for ten seconds before continuing: “Now, the prosecution seems to be punctilious about decimal places and in respecting that, I see that we are left with nought point eight-two-eight of one penny in contention. The court will hold this amount in escrow, on a purely notional basis, and will allocate to it, also notionally, interest at one per cent per annum,” here the judge raised his voice as he glared at Oddley-Staggers, “compounded once a year”.

Satisfied that he had delivered a rebuke, his honour went on: “As the court cannot be expected to continue the action until the sum in question reaches one penny, we shall have to wait until we get to that level. I would caution the plaintiff against any expectation he may have of an automatic final finding in his favour with respect to the outstanding amount. Lastly, I indicated that I have not been idle during the break and you may wish to note that I have checked the length of time required for the initial capital to reach the total concerned, at the rate of return I mentioned. You may therefore regard my decision as an interim one. As to final disposition, we shall meet again in” – he examined his notes – “nineteen years. Proceedings adjourned.”

* * *

bazz cargo
January 16th, 2012, 10:54 PM
Hi CJ,
I needed a laugh. It has been a long and trying day. Thanks

I am a big fan of Rumpole, who appears to be the nearest competitor to your eccentric Judge.
Can't nit pick, just enjoyed the ride.

January 18th, 2012, 12:24 PM
Glad you enjoyed my offering and thank you for your feedback, dear Bazz. It's very much appreciated.

More soon!

The Courtjester

The Backward OX
January 18th, 2012, 12:55 PM
Absolutely hilarious and not a mistake to be found.

Unlike bazz, I didn’t think of Rumpole at all. The opening put me more in mind of Roger Thursby in Sober As A Judge, compliments of Henry Cecil.

More, please.

January 18th, 2012, 03:48 PM
I thought of Rumpole all the way through. He would have delighted in appearing before this old darling.

You have a beautiful balance between age-induced eccentricities and continued mental competence. This is a great read. Thank you.

January 18th, 2012, 07:00 PM
Absolutely hilarious and not a mistake to be found.

Unlike bazz, I didn’t think of Rumpole at all. The opening put me more in mind of Roger Thursby in Sober As A Judge, compliments of Henry Cecil.

More, please.

Your kind words make my efforts worthwhile. Hope you will enjoy the rest of the Wimple tales – twenty-nine more to come.

I don’t know anything about Roger Thursby. Sounds as though ‘Sober As A Judge’ might be worth looking into.

Kind regards – Courtjester

January 18th, 2012, 07:09 PM
I thought of Rumpole all the way through. He would have delighted in appearing before this old darling.

You have a beautiful balance between age-induced eccentricities and continued mental competence. This is a great read. Thank you.

Thank you for your comments. From what little I have heard about Rumpole, I imagine you are right in saying he would have enjoyed himself in Judge Wimple’s court. More unusual barristers coming up. Courtjester

January 18th, 2012, 07:18 PM

It was the second week of May, with the first test match only a month away. The initial neighbourhood spring attack on gardens and house exteriors had been carried out and the toilers had temporarily retreated to nurse their ailments. They would soon be at it again, but the respite pleased Judge Embert Wimple, who had survived yet another winter and for a man well past eighty was as sprightly as could be expected.

Mrs Wimple, who had taken up oil painting, was away from base, having sought kindred souls in St Ives. She was in high spirits, having sold her latest canvas for £80, a quantum leap from the £25 each she had received for her first three efforts, offered al fresco at a local shopping precinct. Her absence left the judge to cope with the housekeeper, a position that formerly would have been tiresome. However, during his wife’s last jaunt, Embert Wimple had taken issue with the domestic dragon, reminding her of who paid the bills. As a result of the encounter, the two had reached an understanding that had previously eluded them.

There was no let-up in the judge’s court schedule. Considering the demands on his services, he might almost have continued in full-time employment. He had intended to enjoy his day’s work, but noted that he was dealing with another matter concerning what seemed to be domestic violence. Usually, these affairs were sordid and uninteresting, but Judge Wimple lived in hope that one of the few meaty ones might turn up at some point. The case was Bakewell versus Stafford, the allegation being that the defendant was guilty of physical violence and was responsible for consequent mental distress. Appearing for the plaintiff, Brenda Bakewell, was the veteran William Weatherley, acting in what would prove to be his last case before retirement. The defendant, Anthony Stafford, had engaged one of the few local female barristers, Arabella Bray, who was making her first appearance before Judge Wimple.

Having ingested what was necessary, the judge took a moment to look at the litigants. The plaintiff was a tall bulky tough-looking woman, dressed in blue jeans, a matching denim jacket and a mid-grey pullover. A large bunch of keys dangled from her right hip. The defendant was a small, dapper-looking, moustachioed and goatee-bearded man, wearing a smart navy-blue suit, white shirt and what looked like a regimental tie. His honour, who was disposed to maintain a light touch, addressed the learned Weatherley. “Time to get ball rolling, Mr Weathervane.”

Prosecuting counsel was not in the least discommoded. “Thank you, Your Honour. The incident with which we are concerned occurred in my client’s house on the twenty-fourth of January this year. Perhaps it would be helpful if I were to state that my client, Mrs Bakewell, had earlier been married for nine years to the defendant. Notwithstanding the matrimonial breakdown and Mrs Bakewell’s subsequent second marriage, the two parties here were in frequent contact. Mr Stafford was in the habit of visiting the Bakewells each Saturday evening to play cards. On the occasion in question, two other gentlemen had also been invited, so there were five players. The game was standard draw poker. Here, I would request indulgence, as a description of the game might be helpful.”

The judge nodded. “By all means. We may sometimes have too little information, but cannot have too much. Please proceed.”

“Your Honour is most gracious. We speak of a game of combined skill and chance, in which five cards are distributed face down to each participant, the dealer included. Players are allowed to keep their original cards, or if they so wish, to discard any or all of them. As the game proceeds, bets are made into a central pool, on an increasing scale, the wagers normally, though not necessarily, representing the strength of the various hands. Some players may wish to drop out, either initially, or as betting continues. For example, where five players are concerned, which as I have said was the case on the occasion we are considering, it is not unusual for only two players to remain at the end, both convinced that they have the superior hand, or that they can bluff the opponent into thinking so.”

“And bluffing is legitimate, is it?”

“Yes. I believe many a game has been won that way. As to ranking, there is the totally nondescript hand, on which, generally speaking, no player would make a bet. Then there is a progression. First, a pair, that is two cards of the same value, for example two threes. Then two pairs . . .”

“Dead man’s hand,” said the judge.

“Your Honour?” Weatherley queried.

The judge’s eyes twinkled. “I know very little of poker, Mr Westerman, but I believe that the late Wild Bill Hickok was shot in the back in a Deadwood City saloon, while holding a hand of two pairs. I think there was some question as to whether he had eights and aces, or eights and jacks. No doubt someone will make a lifetime’s study of this, if that has not already been done. However, I fear I halted your discourse. Please go on.”

“I am obliged to Your Honour for the information. I was about to say that the ranking proceeds to three of a kind, which is three cards of the same value. After that, there is the straight, which means five cards of consecutive values, irrespective of suit. Then a flush, which is five cards of the same suit, irrespective of values. Beyond these, there is a full house, which is three cards of the same value, plus a pair of another value. Then there is four of a kind, which means four cards of the same value. Finally, outranking all others, there is the straight flush, which means five cards of the same suit, in consecutive values. It follows that the best hand is the highest straight flush, called a royal flush, headed by an ace. Thus, a royal flush is ace, king, queen, jack and ten of the same suit.”

The judge nodded. “I understand. Presumably the hands are in accordance with calculated odds?”

“Exactly, Your Honour. This was the catalyst in the case here. The chances of improving a given hand are known, but are of no relevance to us. The important point is the one relating to the initial distribution. Now, the chances against any player receiving five specific cards, for example a royal flush in spades, from a pack of fifty-two are over two-and-a-half million to one. Obviously, any player hopes to get such a hand. Since there are four suits, the odds fall accordingly, but are still nearly six hundred and fifty thousand to one against. In this case, there had been the usual rounds of discarding and bidding. My client had initially been dealt two pairs and had improved her hand to a full house. She reasonably supposed that she would win the pot, as only four of a kind or a straight flush would prevail over her cards. The other three players had dropped out, leaving only Mrs Bakewell and the defendant, who was also the dealer at the time in question. My client recalled that Mr Stafford had kept his original cards. In the . . . er . . . final showdown, it turned out that Mr Stafford had a royal flush and won the pot. Mrs Bakewell was staggered at this outcome, reasoning that it was unthinkable that the defendant had legitimately dealt himself a hand which so confounded the odds. She recalled from their marriage that Mr Stafford had spent much time studying card play and –”

“Erdnase wasn’t in it.” This came from the plaintiff. Weatherley turned to suppress her outburst, but she had no further observations.

“Erdnase,” said the judge. “What is that?”

“Not a what, Your Honour, a who,” Weatherly replied. S. W. Erdnase produced a book in, I understand, 1902. The author’s true identity is not known, though it is often supposed that he was a certain E. S. Andrews, well known at the time for his dexterity with cards. It was, and perhaps still is, believed by some people that he wrote under a pseudonym, as the writer’s initials and name are simply the letters of E. S. Andrews in reverse order. The volume concerned has long been regarded as a textbook on card manipulation. Mrs Bakewell had noted during her marriage to the defendant that he had a copy of the book, to which he referred frequently. She had suspected that her husband cheated at poker but until the evening we are discussing, had never caught him out.”

“And on that occasion she did?”

“Such is her contention, Your Honour. In her view it was unbelievable that a player could deal himself a royal flush by fair means. It was tantamount to stealing the pot.”

“And what was the amount involved?”

“The stakes were modest, as is usual in these friendly games. The total was just over four pounds.”

“Hmn. Not likely to excite anyone in Las Vegas. Carry on.”

“A fierce disagreement broke out, which was ended when the defendant attacked my client, striking her a vicious blow to the forehead.”

“Resorted to fisticuffs, did he?”

“No, Your Honour. He hit her with a melon.”

“My goodness. Well, since it does not normally have edges, I suppose a melon would qualify as the proverbial blunt instrument, though it may not be the first one to come to the mind of a would-be assailant.”

“One might say that it came to hand as much as to mind. It was in a bowl on the nearby sideboard.”

“I see. Was it a honeydew, a cantaloupe, or a watermelon? I think we should know.”

Weatherley overcame his bafflement, muttering with his client. “It was a honeydew melon, Your Honour. In fact, Mrs Bakewell had been so struck . . . beg pardon . . . impressed by the item that she had earlier weighed it, finding that it scaled over five pounds.”

“Indeed,” said the judge. “A fearsome weapon if skilfully handled.” He was recalling an incident during his RAF service, when a medicine ball had flattened him while he was distracted by a butterfly during a physical training exercise.

“Quite so. Mrs Bakewell fell, the back of her head hitting a door. She was shocked, disorientated, almost certainly concussed and I hardly need say, greatly distressed. She has a particularly delicate constitution.”

“I understand,” said the judge. He glanced at the litigants, noting the defendant’s diminutive stature and comparing it with that of the five-foot-ten, fourteen-stone plaintiff, whose face might have been hewn from granite. Delicate?

“Thank you, Mr Weathercock. I think we should now hear what the defence has to say. Ms Gray?”

A close one. Arabella Bray, who had been briefed about the judge’s attitude to names, was pleased. Was it gentlemanly deference? “May it please Your Honour, we have heard of my client’s supposed misdeeds. With regard to one of them, he was at fault and I shall return to that. As to the matter of his defeating phenomenal odds in the game, he did so and that was all there was to it. We might invoke the adage that if one is unlucky in love, one may well be lucky at cards. Perhaps Mr Stafford exemplifies this, since his marriage was terminated. He makes no apology – nor should he – for the fact that fortune smiled on him at the poker table. We submit that no explanation is necessary.”

“Very well, Ms Straikes,” Bray wondered where that one came from, “I imagine you have further comments?”

“Yes, Your Honour. I think it was Rochefoucauld who said that arguments would not last long if the fault were on only one side. This is a case in point. It is true that my client assaulted the plaintiff with a melon. However, the prosecution said nothing about the provocation, which was extreme and, but for Mr Stafford’s sense of chivalry, would have led to a counter-charge.”

The judge reproved himself for thinking that he had been called upon to deal with a mundane matter. It was really quite interesting. “What was the nature of this provocation?” he asked.

“Fiery, Your Honour. When the outcome of the game was known, there was a heated exchange between the two parties. Having, as she saw it, been bested verbally, the plaintiff rushed into the kitchen. A moment later she returned, carrying a box of matches and a can of lighter fluid. She sprayed the liquid onto my client’s beard, then ignited it. I am sure I need not comment on the ensuing distress, save to say that the potentially life-threatening predicament was alleviated when one of the parties present emptied a can of lager over Mr Stafford’s face, extinguishing the flames. It was only then that my client retaliated in the way described by my learned colleague. This is the basis for our submission, which is that all would have been well, but for the plaintiff’s unreasonable behaviour.”

“Thank you, Ms Patel.” Patel? The judge may well have been on form, but he was certainly off-colour. In fact, his mind had drifted to a local cricket match he had heard of, in which half the players had borne the name he had in mind. Hard work for the scorers, Embert Wimple had thought. “Now, if that is all, I need to retire, as there are enquiries to be made.” This was usually a bad sign for someone. “We shall reconvene at two-thirty.”

When the parties reassembled, the judge was in jovial mood. He offered a slight nod and a smile of matching wattage to all present, before delivering his verdict. “During the recess, I have checked that the odds in poker are as stated this morning. I am satisfied that the respective arguments have been clearly presented. I am also persuaded that this is yet another matter which could have been settled by sensible discussion – and I wonder why this obvious course is not taken more often. I must say that I never before heard of an assault by melon, or any other fruit or vegetable. As to the attack upon the defendant, I had thought that such things had died out with Sir Francis Drake, who, albeit allegorically, singed the King of Spain’s beard four centuries ago. As to Mr Stafford’s defeating such long odds, we shall never know, but I recall the no doubt fancifully named ‘law’, elucidated I believe by a Scotsman, under which the apparent million-to-one chance occurs with baffling frequency. It is the sort of thing one encounters when, say, walking along a country lane. One may do so for an hour without hindrance, but when one wishes to cross a narrow bridge, two large vehicles appear from opposite directions at the same instant. In this case, I find it impossible to favour either party, so am bound to dismiss the charge. Proceedings concluded.”

* * *

The Backward OX
January 18th, 2012, 11:34 PM
I haven't read your second offering yet - I'm already late for breakfast - but felt inclined to say this anyway. "New Posts" is not an infallible guide. Some people simply scroll down the Menu page, or whatever it's called - I know I do - and there's no indication - regarding a thread they know they've previously dipped into - that new work as such has been posted. You would possibly probably obtain more readers if each story had its own thread.

January 19th, 2012, 12:07 AM
I nearly passed this one up for that reason. Presumably there is more, and I am in full accord with the recommendation of my learned colleague.

January 20th, 2012, 12:17 PM
Thank you, my dear friends and learned colleagues. No sooner said than done!

I had no idea that it would be better to present each story individually, in a thread of its own. I have decided to continue posting all subsequent stories in the main thread, so they can be read one after the other like a book and also - following your advice - to provide each one with its own thread. I hope our kind Admin people will find this acceptable, too.

The Backward OX
January 20th, 2012, 01:00 PM
That’s an interesting one. “Double posting”, or the posting of the same item in two threads, is not allowed. However, strictly speaking, what you are proposing is not the posting of the same item in two threads, but is, in effect, only a quote from one thread being posted in another. To me, that seems okay.

January 21st, 2012, 06:51 PM

With a final snip, Judge Embert Wimple removed the last of his protruding nasal hair – he had already dealt with the ears. This monthly grooming ritual represented the judge’s only use of a mirror. Having been converted to electric shaving twenty years earlier, he saw no reason to observe himself during that operation. This time, he lingered for a moment over his inspection. The years had undoubtedly taken their toll, but for a man of his age he was in good condition. True, greyness and baldness had been battling for decades in the upper reaches, the contest being still undecided. There was a shaggy near-white tuft above each ear, bracketing a ruddy scalp – two tenacious shrubs clinging to a hillside – plus a crescent of similarly snowy hue at the back. In court, the bewigged majesty of the law concealed such things. The slim, five foot seven form was still supple, thanks to early morning bending and stretching exercises, a vigorous daily walk and a good, varied diet. The judge had recently fenced with a vegetarian regime, but that had brought him into such conflict with the distaff side that he had, with concealed relief, abandoned the project. Thus, the ample Mrs Esmeralda Wimple had triumphed as she so often did, quietly but firmly.

The victory had given little satisfaction to Mrs Wimple, who did not pay much heed to domestic matters nowadays, being deeply immersed in oil painting. Even now, she was away for three days, having travelled southwest to Bath to attend a course on perspective. She had been told by her mentor that once one had that element right, one could get away with murder in other aspects of the art. Mrs Wimple had no intention of such impropriety, for she had genuine talent and had several times pocketed respectable sums for her efforts.

So, Embert Wimple was confined to the ministrations of the part-time housekeeper, a lady only marginally younger than her employers and with firm views on domestic affairs. It was, Judge Wimple sometimes thought, ironic that he, so awesome in his official duties, was subjected to what he considered petticoat government on the home front. Still, the forthright Mrs Bristow had been somewhat quelled by her recent head-to-head encounter with the judge.

This being early May, the cricket season was lumbering into action. England’s players had returned from their exhausting overseas tour and were facing a summer of what promised to be equally hard labour. Gardening at the Wimple establishment had finally been handed over to a professional. This arrangement suited his honour perfectly, as it gave him time to concentrate on the intellectual pursuits so dear to him.

The judge had only one small matter before him today, as so often a contest of which he knew nothing in advance and which he was, happily, to try in his new position, without a jury. The case was Winterton versus Boland, the prosecution and defence being represented by, respectively, Roderick Prendergast and Douglas Latimer, two gentlemen well known – albeit with their names not entirely clear – to the judge. Having appeared and satisfied himself that he had grasped the preliminary details, Embert Wimple addressed prosecuting counsel. “You may proceed, Mr Fothergill.”

Aware of the judge’s proclivities, Prendergast nodded. “Thank you, Your Honour. The position here is that my client, Mr Winterton, claims damages against the defendant, in that he – my client – suffered financial losses amounting to nine hundred pounds, as a result of the activities of Mr Boland. There is also an element of emotional distress, though no claim is made in that respect.”

“I see,” said the judge. “Perhaps you would favour us with the details.”

“Certainly. The event occurred on the eleventh of December last year. The defendant had bought for his son a model aeroplane, operated by remote control. Father and son had adopted the practice of flying the object in a field adjacent to the properties of both parties. The high-pitched whining of the miniature aircraft caused much annoyance to the Winterton family and to others in the neighbourhood, though Mr Winterton was the only one prepared to take a stand. On the day of the incident, he went out to remonstrate with Mr Boland and the boy, and was greeted with derisory laughter and advice as to what he might care to do with his complaint, the recommendations including a certain anatomical operation on which I will not dwell. Suffice it to say that the defendant’s language was intemperate. The upshot was that there was a scuffle, during which Mr Winterton admits that he pushed Mr Boland in the chest. Mr Boland lost control of the model, with the unfortunate result that it burst through the dining room window of the Winterton house, causing considerable damage.”

The judge interrupted. “One moment, Mr Penworthy,” he said. “Can you enlighten me as to the dimensions of the window and whether or not it was double-glazed?”

“Yes, Your Honour. The window was six feet wide, four feet six inches deep and was single-glazed.”

“Thank you,” said the judge. “I ask only because I had occasion to replace a window recently, following the impact of a golf ball. The pane was somewhat larger than the one you mention and double-glazed, and the cost of replacement was far below what is claimed here. Was there something special about this window?”

“No, Your Honour, but there was er … as the military people put it, collateral damage.”

“I see. In what form?”

“Mrs Winterton’s dress was ruined and there was defacement of decorations.”

“Dear me,” said the judge. “The details, please.”

Prosecuting counsel drew a deep breath. “It so happened that Mrs Winterton was just passing the window as the aircraft crashed through. Unable to react in any other way, the lady flung herself to the floor and in doing so, tore a very expensive dress, which proved to be beyond repair.”

The judge interrupted. “For the record, could you tell us something about the size and type of aircraft involved?”

“Yes, Your Honour. It was about two feet in wingspan. I cannot state the exact length, but believe it was not much different from the width. The item was one of a series of scale models of World War Two combat aircraft. It was a Stuka.”

“Ah,” said the judge. “The old Sturzkampfbomber. I remember it well.” His mind scrolled backwards through the years. As a young man, Embert Wimple had been an enthusiastic amateur aviator. Indeed, in the dark days of 1940, he might well have been one of the immortal ‘few’ – but for the fact that all his identifying papers were accidentally incinerated in a barrack-room stove. That incident caused him to languish in a Worcestershire transit camp for several weeks, until the authorities rediscovered him. By then, the Luftwaffe menace was receding and it was felt that his administrative expertise would be even more valuable than his flying experience. So he became an organiser, rising to the rank of squadron leader without so much as handling a joystick. He had had what some people used to call ‘a good war’. Hauling himself back to the present, he continued: “I see. Now, you say Mrs Winterton lost an expensive item of clothing.”

Prendergast nodded. “Yes, Your Honour. It is the custom of the Wintertons to dress for dinner –”

“And a very proper custom, too,” the judge broke in. “It is pleasing to see these traditional values upheld.” In fact, when dining at home, Embert Wimple invariably did so clad in an ancient cardigan, a plaid shirt and carpet slippers. His interruption was not unintentional, for it gave him time to glance at the litigants. The plaintiff wore an immaculate dark-blue pinstripe suit, plain red tie, white shirt and gleaming black shoes. The defendant presented something of a contrast. His hair was an untidy black mop, his face showing a two-day growth of stubble. He wore heavily-stained brown cord trousers, a windjammer of scuffed black leather, a grey wool shirt with the top two buttons open, revealing a tangle of black chest hair, and mud-caked tan brogue shoes. Some might have considered such casualness disrespectful. But this kind of thing would not influence Judge Wimple. A custodian of the law must at all times be absolutely impartial.

Noting that his visual wanderings had created a pause, the judge fixed his eyes again on Prendergast. “You also mentioned decorations, did you not?”

“Indeed I did, Your Honour. Further problems were caused by the trajectory of the aircraft, which caused it to plunge into a tureen of bouillabaisse, prepared by Mrs Winterton as part of the evening meal. There was extensive damage. The dining room wallpaper was ruined and had to be replaced. Furthermore, Mrs Winterton’s dress, already mutilated as result of her avoiding action, was splattered.”

“Most disturbing,” said the judge. I have heard the expression ‘one for the pot’, but never before in this context. I imagine that if the aircraft’s propeller was still turning when it struck the fish stew, we could regard the result as spin-off damage.”

Prendergast bowed. “Your Honour is as perceptive as ever.”

“You are very kind,” said the judge, who turned his attention to defending counsel Latimer.

“Now, Mr Trellis,” he said. “Would you care to state your case?”

“Thank you, Your Honour. There is one point which must be made, namely that while what my learned colleague says is essentially accurate, there is the question of the attack upon the person of my client.”

“By which you mean that Mr Winterton pushed him?”

“Quite, Your Honour. It was a physical assault, causing some distress.”

The judge glowered. “Are you saying that Mr Boland was injured?” he asked. “If so, we would require evidence to that effect.”

“That cannot be produced, Your Honour. However, there is a sound reason. By a happy coincidence, Mrs Boland is a nurse and was able to deal with the matter.”

“I see. So there is no documentary evidence of any injury?”

“That is correct.”

The judge turned his eyes back to Prendergast. “Now, Mr Dunwoody,” he said, “do you have any bills to support the claim for nine hundred pounds? It is after all a considerable sum.”

Prendergast was unhappy. “Your Honour,” he said, “both the window replacement and the redecorating were carried out by a local tradesman.”

“No doubt,” snapped the judge. “I hardly imagined that contractors from Cornwall or Sutherland would have been summoned. Nevertheless, presumably the party concerned supplied invoices?”

“Bloody cowboy!” The exclamation came from the defendant, who was disposed to continue, but was silenced by a venomous glare from his counsel.

Ignoring the outburst, the judge continued to address prosecuting counsel: “Can you produce any documents?”

“Your Honour,” said Prendergast, “we have done all within our power to prevail upon the gentleman to provide us with bills, but he is intractable.”

“Very well. In that case, can you tell us the dimensions of the dining room concerned?”

“Yes. It is approximately twelve-by-ten feet, with an eight-foot ceiling.”

“Good. Now, with regard to Mrs Winterton’s dress. You said that it was a costly item. Can you substantiate this claim?”

“Regrettably not, Your Honour. The garment was bought some time ago, the supplier is no longer in business and the Wintertons have no record of the purchase.”

Judge Wimple nodded. “I see,” he said. “So, we have no verifiable evidence of any injury to Mr Boland, nor have we any documentation concerning the reinstatement of the Winterton property, and the position with regard to the dress is also unclear. This is unfortunate, but we must be resourceful. When all is said and done, a dive-bombing incident is no everyday occurrence. Now, I need to make enquiries, so we shall recess until two o’clock.

When the parties reconvened, everyone but the judge was in subdued mood. His honour was effervescent. “Now,” he beamed, “are the parties willing to accept my verdict?”

There was no dissent, so the judge riffled his papers, as usual all blank, excepting the top one, which he crumpled and discarded. It was littered with his unsuccessful efforts to defeat himself at noughts and crosses, in which exercise he had indulged while mentally drifting during counsels’ presentations.

“Very well,” he said briskly. “We are in the all too familiar position of not having every detail available to us. Nevertheless, a decision must be made. You might be relieved to learn that I have not slept through the lunch break. I have made certain enquiries. Incidentally, I must say that I am troubled by the fact that we tend increasingly to emulate practices in the United States, where there are almost four times as many lawyers per citizen as in Britain. Not that I wish to denigrate our American cousins, whom I admire in many ways.”

At this point, the judge, seeing drooping heads before him, curtailed his intended sermon, returning to the immediate issue. “First, I have learned that there are designated places for people to fly model aircraft. I was not surprised to learn that built-up areas are excluded – and here I am inclined to discount the fact that there is a field close to the residences concerned. You might wish to know that, had the defendant’s aircraft-flying been reported to the environmental health authorities, the activity would have been stopped. Second, I have made efforts to establish the likely costs of window replacement and redecoration of a room of the size concerned here. Third, I have, as far as possible, familiarised myself with the admittedly variable costs of ladies’ attire. By no stretch of the imagination can I reach a total of nine hundred pounds, which is the amount claimed. I think that the bouillabaisse was not the only thing that was fishy in this matter. The lack of tradesman’s invoices suggests that if the plaintiff employed anyone at all, that person was probably a odd-job man, supplementing his dole, while as to Mrs Winterton’s dress, I am bound to wonder whether we are dealing with fabric or fabrication.

“My conclusion is that the defendant behaved most reprehensibly, in that he provoked the opprobrium of his neighbours. As to the plaintiff, he has a genuine grievance, which he has sought to exploit beyond reasonable bounds. Taking everything into account, I find in favour of Mr Winterton and award damages of three hundred pounds. The defendant will also pay a fine of fifty pounds. Proceedings concluded.”

* * *

January 25th, 2012, 06:43 PM

Judge Embert Wimple was in such high spirits that on leaving his house to enter the waiting official car, he performed a little hop, step and jump – no mean feat for a man of eighty-three. The buoyant mood was occasioned by a combination of factors. The sun was shining, the first test match was in progress and a visiting batsman had entertained every cricket aficionado in at least two lands. Like so many true lovers of the game, Embert Wimple derived his pleasure from the aesthetics involved and was largely indifferent to the outcome of a match. Finally, the judge was beginning to bask in the reflected glory of Esmeralda Wimple’s growing success with oils and canvas.

The upcoming case offered a little extra spice in that it was another matter about which Embert Wimple knew absolutely nothing until he took his place in court. Still, that was all to the good, was it not? A new problem and a fresh mind were desirable ingredients in the quest for dispensation of justice. Even after his many years on the bench, the judge still searched ceaselessly for some trace of a path – even the odd footprint – in the seemingly trackless wasteland of human misconduct. Surely there was a pattern? There must be one in the cosmos itself, and what was there in the whole must be detectable in the parts. Or was it? At times, Embert Wimple found himself in the position of the subaltern who receives orders which seem senseless because he cannot see the whole picture.

On this occasion, the prosecution and defence were to be conducted by two barristers from the local pool, both accustomed to appearing before Judge Wimple. Simon Fortescue represented the prosecution, Liam McGillivray the defence. Not that this made any impression on the judge. A panel was a panel and the two counsels were well acquainted with his honour’s peccadilloes. Judge Wimple’s view was akin to that of a well-balanced umpire, who may make a number of wrong calls without greatly affecting the result of an encounter. It was all swings and roundabouts.

Having taken in what he considered necessary, Judge Wimple addressed Fortescue. “Very well, Mr Wentworth,” he said. “Please begin.”

Fortescue, who deferred only marginally to the judge in terms of anno domini, offered the slightest of bows. “May it please Your Honour, the circumstances here are a little unusual, but the underlying principle is not. My client, Mr Philips, seeks satisfaction from the defendant, Mr Stone, in that he – Mr Stone – took from my client a dollar, in Canadian currency, which he refuses to return.”

Fortescue was set to continue, but was interrupted. “A dollar, you say,” said Judge Wimple, producing a mischievous smile. “Dear me, we seem to be in deep waters here. Forgive my intervention at this early stage, but I feel compelled to ask what the defence has to say about this. He turned his attention to McGillivray. Are we really discussing a matter concerning one Canadian dollar, Mr Easterbrook?”

Counsel for the defence was of the piercing eyes and hands-behind-the-back school. “May it please Your Honour, there is no fundamental dispute with respect to what my learned colleague says, but there is more to the matter. The point at issue is that the amount in question – and more – was owed by Mr Philips to my client, Mr Stone. In fact –”

McGillivray was no more successful than his opponent in completing his remarks. The judge held up a hand for silence, then turned again to Fortescue. “I think we are proceeding too quickly,” he said. “Perhaps you would recount the details, Mr Faraday.”

“Certainly, Your Honour. Mr Philips and Mr Stone were once close friends and had a mutual acquaintance in Canada, a gentleman who emigrated to that country some years before the incident at issue here, and who visited both parties some months ago, at which time Mr Philips was the principal host. When the visitor was about to return home – this was on the twenty-sixth of January – he found that he had no Canadian currency. He was anxious to buy some small items on the aircraft and was not sure whether he would be able to pay in sterling. Not surprisingly, Mr Philips also had no Canadian money. The matter was resolved when Mr Stone handed over to the visitor a banknote in his – the guest’s – currency, the value being ten dollars. The item had earlier been given to Mr Stone as a memento of the visit. Mr Philips admits that he agreed to treat the matter as a loan to him and that he promised to reimburse Mr Stone.”

“I see,” said the judge. “So, Mr Stone was out of pocket to the extent of ten dollars, which was to be paid back to him by Mr Philips, after the visit of the Canadian gentleman?”

“That is correct, Your Honour. Following the visitor’s departure, Mr Philips and Mr Stone continued to visit one another, as they had done for some years. The question of the ten dollars was raised several times, albeit on a jocular level, but was not settled. Finally, Mr Stone called on Mr Philips, ostensibly on another matter, but in reality to press his claim. During the general discussion he was shown a Canadian one-dollar coin, which he examined, but failed to return to Mr Philips. Since then, despite numerous allusions to the matter by my client, Mr Stone has refused to hand back the item in question, hence the current position.”

Judge Wimple peered closely at all parties present. “I suspect that there is more to this than meets the eye,” he said. He addressed McGillivray. “What do you say to this, Mr O’Connell?”

McGillivray bowed. “Strictly speaking, Your Honour, what my learned colleague says is correct. However, Mr Stone left the home of Mr Philips, absentmindedly holding the item in his hand. He thought little more of the matter, except to reflect that, even with the coin in his possession he was, and still is, owed the sum of nine Canadian dollars, or the sterling equivalent. Although unwilling to take up the court’s time with a counter-charge, he is still seeking restitution, which he is willing to accept in either currency. Further, he contends that Mr Philips never specifically requested return of the coin concerned.”

The judge turned his attention to the prosecuting counsel. “A nice point, Mr Fortescue,” he said. “Do you agree?”

For a moment, the learned gentleman was nonplussed at being addressed by his correct name. However, barristers do not reach their positions without the ability to act extemporaneously. Recovering, he conducted a sotto voce consultation with his client, following which he turned again, clearly embarrassed, to the bench. “Your Honour, it seems that, during their conversation, Mr Philips and Mr Stone imbibed liberally. It was only afterwards that Mr Philips noticed that the item was missing. He subsequently mentioned the matter to the defendant, but on grounds of delicacy did not suggest that Mr Stone might have the coin. That would have been tantamount to an allegation, or at least a suggestion, of theft. Mr Philips merely spoke of his loss. Naturally, he thought that Mr Stone would, if he had the item, give it back. So, it is true to say that Mr Philips did not actually ask for it to be returned. He merely made a reasonable assumption. Our contention is that, by his silence in the matter, Mr Stone was guilty of a sin of omission, which we feel Your Honour will agree is as reprehensible as one of commission.”

The judge, who half a century earlier had been a leading member of his local amateur dramatic society, felt that a touch of histrionics was permissible. He glared at Fortescue. “You speak of loss, Mr Grimmett,” he said sonorously. “Great heavens, we are considering well under a pound sterling. Kindly explain yourself?”

Counsel for the prosecution played his trump card: “Your Honour, the item in question is a Canadian maple leaf dollar.”

“And this is important, is it?”

“Yes, Your Honour. The Canadian mint is renowned for producing gold with a purity of nine-hundred and ninety-nine point nine fine. Most mints do not reach that level. The dollar in question was a coin worth many times its value as ordinary currency.”

“Ah, at last,” said the judge. “We have got to the point. Presumably your case rests upon this?”

Fortescue nodded his affirmation. “Yes, Your Honour.”

“What a pity you didn’t say so earlier.” Judge Wimple turned his gaze to defending counsel. “Now, Mr Armitage, do you agree with all of this?”

McGillivray emulated his opponent’s nod. “Broadly, Your Honour. However, my client has neither knowledge of coins, nor interest in them, but wishes only to clear his name and receive satisfaction. He still contends that he is owed the balance of nine Canadian dollars, or a matching amount in sterling.”

“Very well,” said the judge. “Are both parties willing to accept my verdict?” They were, so his honour shuffled his totally blank papers, thinking that he would have been much better occupied watching what remained of the test match. He looked over his gold-rimmed half-glasses. “Now,” he said, “in spite of the apparent complications, this is a straightforward matter. It is admitted that the plaintiff did not at any point demand return of the coin in question. Furthermore, we are dealing with the fact that the defendant does not appear to be a numismatist, so I am inclined to accept that he has no interest in the intrinsic value of the item. As far as he is concerned, he received one dollar. The same logic surely applies in the wider context. Indeed, one is almost compelled to extend the reasoning from the particular to the general. Not everyone is prepared to accept rarity as being commensurate with value. I mean, for example, osprey droppings are probably rare, but I doubt that many people would consider them valuable.”

With the wind in his sails and his audience agog, the judge was thoroughly enjoying himself. “Now,” he continued, “the fact that we are not addressing a purely domestic matter is a side-issue. If one were to patronise, say, a British supermarket and were to proffer a sovereign in payment, the face value would be, as it always has been, one pound, irrespective of any metallic content. One would perhaps get several tins of baked beans in exchange. It would be quite improper – and most inconvenient to all concerned – to demand more. One could hardly expect a whole display of the same produce because of the unusual nature of the transaction. Think of the administrative chaos. There would be a cashier, a supervisor, and possibly an under-manager and a manager involved. It would be tantamount to turning a major retail outlet into a bazaar. I seldom visit supermarkets, but have great sympathy with the hard-working check-out operators and would not wish to impose upon them the added burden of a requirement to know the current values of Krugerrands, Doubloons and the like.

“There are understandable complications in a case such as this. I am sure I need not remind either prosecuting or defending counsel of a parallel which occurred not long ago, when a British businessman decided to pay his employees in gold sovereigns, his reasoning being that as the nominal value of the coins was one pound each, his staff would avoid income tax liability. I recall that the gentleman concerned was not successful in pursuing his argument. That matter has a certain resonance in this case.”

An outbreak of audience fidgeting caused the judge to realise that he was in danger of labouring his point. He continued: “The principle of precedents is undoubtedly useful, but it is not sacrosanct. In the affair I have mentioned, there was premeditation and a successful outcome for the businessman and his employees would have amounted to the evasion of income tax rather than its avoidance. The distinction is obvious, in that the former is unlawful, while the latter is not. In this case, my conclusion is that, regardless of the supposed value of the coin in question, which is variable anyway, a pound is a pound and a dollar is a dollar. Were I asked to arbitrate upon a counter-charge, I would be obliged to find in favour of Mr Stone, who is still owed nine dollars, or the corresponding amount of sterling. I cannot find it in me to blame him for retaining the coin, since his possession of it seems to represent his only leverage in the matter. It seems to me that Mr Philips would have been best advised to settle his modest debt before this complication arose. I therefore find against the plaintiff. Proceedings concluded.”

* * *

January 28th, 2012, 06:43 PM

Having allowed the first test match to proceed more or less unhindered – for which Judge Embert Wimple was thankful – the weather had changed, the British summer apparently having decided to set in with some severity. It was cold, wet and windy. Normally, his honour paid little attention to the elements, unless they interfered with cricket, but domestic matters had made this morning exceptional.

The judge’s day had started badly. He had been irritated almost from the outset. For the first time in fifty-two years of married life, Mrs Wimple, who usually made breakfast, had failed to produce a full measure of oat flakes. For decades, Judge Wimple had fuelled his morning exertions with porridge. On this occasion, he had been reduced to half-rations. Mrs Wimple was not one to wallow in contrition. She had responded to her husband’s complaint with some asperity, saying: “Naturally I’m sorry, but let me point out that it’s the first time in over half a century, Your Honour.” Such sarcasm! Only once before had anything similar occurred. Twenty years earlier, the judge had protested about the absence of his preferred brand of tea-time crackers, causing his wife to remark that if he didn’t stop complaining, she would get him a supply of whinger biscuits. Not a woman to trifle with.

This time, the judge had been somewhat mollified by his wife’s apology, qualified though it was, plus the timely provision of a large free-range egg, soft-boiled, with five toast soldiers for dipping. Still, the ageing custodian of the law remained a little tetchy as he prepared for the day. But a man had to make allowances. The judge reminded himself of Mrs Wimple’s recently formed addiction to painting and there was no accounting for people with artistic leanings. And it had to be admitted that Esmeralda was no dabbler. Within two years of her first flush of interest, she was selling well. Still, it was all a little trying.

Dismissing the inconvenience from his mind, the judge steeled himself to do his duty. In the eight years since he had relinquished his full-time responsibilities, Embert Wimple had found himself called upon more frequently than he had envisaged, to assist his peers in dispensing law. He would, he sometimes thought, have preferred justice, but as that was so elusive, the statutes usually had to suffice. Dwelling further on the demands made upon him, the judge thought it odd that his colleagues were often indisposed. Diet was the problem. If the young whippersnappers of sixty-five or seventy would only subscribe to a balanced intake of food, they would not be laid low as often as they were. However, deplorable though it was, the situation played into Judge Wimple’s hands, as it had given him the ammunition necessary to avoid the gardening he so hated.

The case was White versus Brown – not a black and white issue, as Judge Wimple would later remark to anyone who cared to listen. For the umpteenth time, the judge found himself dealing with those two seasoned advocates, Rodney Melliflewes and Desmond Oddley-Staggers. On this occasion, Melliflewes appeared for the prosecution, Oddley-Staggers representing the defendant. Embert Wimple was still revelling in the absence of jurors and other supernumeraries. He took the same view as the tycoon he had heard say that a business should be run by an odd number of directors, three being too many.

Having assimilated what was necessary – and having also failed to come up with prosecuting counsel’s name, or any other that seemed appropriate – the judge nodded and waved Melliflewes into action. The barrister assumed his customary hands-behind-back posture. “May it please Your Honour,” he said, “the circumstances here are uncomplicated. At shortly after three in the afternoon of the seventh of October last, my client, Mrs White, left a shop in Low Street in this city, intending to enter her car, which was parked outside the premises. She was encumbered by her purchases and almost collided with the defendant, who thrust out an arm, forcing Mrs White back into the doorway from which she had just emerged. She sustained physical injuries and suffered acute mental distress.”

“Just a moment,” the judge broke in. “Your client seems, at least superficially, to be well at present. Am I to take it that she has recovered?”

“Mercifully, the bodily harm was relatively minor. However, there is no telling what longer term psychological consequences an assault of this kind might cause. Mrs White is entitled to redress.”

Thank you, Mr Tranter,” said the judge. The keen blue eyes switched to defending counsel. “Now, Mr Enderby, what have you to say?”

Oddley-Staggers bowed. “May it please Your Honour, my client, Mr Brown, is basically in agreement with regard to the overall circumstances. However, as so often, we are concerned with subjectivity. Mrs White left the shop at great speed and Mr Brown, having perceived a threat, real or imagined, extended an arm to counter it. This was quite natural, in view of his occupation.”

“I see,” said the judge. “What is that occupation?”

“Mr Brown is a professional rugby player, Your Honour.”

Judge Wimple looked at the six-foot-one, fifteen-stone defendant. “A fine figure of a man,” he said, mentally noting the physical contrast between the parties, the plaintiff being barely five feet tall and less than half Brown’s weight. “What position does he play?”

“He is a front-row forward.”

Judge Wimple’s mind reeled back through the decades. There was a time, sixty years or so ago, when he’d been a nimble fly-half, appearing at least once at the premier grounds in England, Ireland and Wales, missing Scotland by a hairsbreadth. Still, that was another time, and perhaps another man, was it not? No bearing on the present matter. “I would imagine so,” he said. “The plaintiff would be no match for him in a scrum?”

“So it would seem, Your Honour.”

“Wouldn’t be likely to bring him down with a well-timed tackle, eh?”

“Probably not.” Oddley-Staggers had much experience of the judge’s digressions and was not disposed to attempt deflection.

His honour nodded. “Quite. Now, we must get to the details. And here I think it would be appropriate for us to consider both sides as near simultaneously as possible. First, we must establish whether there were any hand signals.”

“Hand signals?” chorused the two advocates.

“Yes, yes,” snapped the judge, his breakfast tribulations surfacing. “I am concerned to know whether either party gave them.”

Melliflewes was the first to regain composure. “Ahem, Your Honour, we would point out that hand signals are not normally used by pedestrians.”

“And a great pity, too,” said the judge, “I think they should be. That would spare us all many problems, don’t you think?”

Melliflewes bowed. “Your Honour is, as always, most incisive. However, I believe that without further deliberation we may say that no hand signals were given.”

Oddley-Staggers nodded his acquiescence.

“Very well,” said the judge. “Now, was either party breathalysed?”

Melliflewes was shaken. “Breathalysed, Your Honour?”

“Yes, breathalysed. If one or other litigant was intoxicated, or perhaps even both of them, that would influence the matter, would it not?”

Momentarily forgetting her counsel’s advice to remain silent, Mrs White strained forwards. “He was as drunk as a sk –” That was as far as she got before being subdued by a wrathful glare from Melliflewes.

The judge had delivered a googly, causing the learned gentlemen to confer with their clients and one another. Finally, Oddley-Staggers replied: “Neither party was breathalysed, Your Honour.”

The judge shook his head. “Most unfortunate. Knowing the result of such a test would have assisted us. Still, we must proceed with the information we have, however incomplete it may be. Now, with regard to the weather at the time. I imagine that has been considered.” His eyes fixed on Oddley-Staggers. “Mr Guilfoyle?”

Counsel for the defence faced the basilisk glare bravely. “The weather, Your Honour? I am wondering –”

The judge interjected. “I doubt that it has escaped either party that in our climes, the sun strikes us at varying angles, according to the time of year. It seems to me that this may have a bearing on the case. We are speaking of an incident that took place in mid-afternoon on the seventh of October. If it was a sunny day, that would surely have been a factor. Can anyone enlighten me?”

This caused a further consultation involving the two advocates and their clients. It was Melliflewes who responded to the enquiry. “Your Honour, we agree that the sun was shining brightly at the time.”

“Excellent,” said the judge. “Now, there remains the question of Low Street. How does it run? Is it north-south, east-west, or what?

Another melee, from which Oddley-Staggers emerged with the answer. “Your Honour, we are in agreement that Low Street runs roughly east-west, or vice versa.”

“Splendid,” said the judge. “We progress. Now, at the time and on the date in question, the sun was well past its annual zenith, but was obviously in the South and must have been high enough to clear the buildings on Low Street, which are hardly skyscrapers. Next, we have to consider where Mrs White made her purchases. Which side of the street? He looked at Melliflewes. “Mr Brewster?”

“My client had been hiring video-tapes from an outlet at the northern side of Low Street.”

“Indeed,” said the judge. “And you said that she was encumbered, which suggests the possibility of a large number of tapes. Are we to be privileged to learn what material was involved and whether it was for Mrs White’s entertainment?”

“Your Honour?”

“Come, Mr Westwood,” said the judge, “We need to know everything that might help us.”

This caused Melliflewes to have a further long discussion with his client. Satisfied at last, he addressed the judge. “Mrs White was hiring tapes for herself. They were all of the action-thriller variety.”

“Thank you,” said Judge Wimple. “Now,” he turned his attention to Oddley-Staggers. “It might also be helpful if we could establish where Mr Brown was bound. Is that possible?”

A brief exchange between Oddley-Staggers and his client elicited that Mr Brown had intended to visit the shop which Mrs White had just left. The defence advocate had a further observation. “Your Honour, we feel it appropriate to remark here that my client was subjected to verbal abuse from the plaintiff.”

“I see,” said Judge Wimple. “Would you care to be specific?”

“Without entering into detail, we can say that the plaintiff’s observations on my client’s alleged parentage and . . . er . . . certain proclivities were most explicit.”

“Thank you,” said the judge. “Now, one further point. Is Mr Brown a motorist?”

After consulting his client, Oddley-Staggers confirmed that the defendant was a driver. “Very well,” said the judge, scribbling his final notes. “I believe I now have sufficient information to reach a conclusion. I don’t think I need to retire.”

Allowing the parties to quiver with apprehension, the judge pored over his papers for two minutes before pushing them aside. “Now,” he said, “it seems to me that the main problem here is the lack of a pedestrian equivalent to the Highway Code. If we had such an instrument, the position would be clearer. Indeed, it has often occurred to me that we should paint white lines along our pavements, similar to those in the roads. If we were to do that and to introduce breath-testing and hand signals for pedestrians, we could save ourselves much anguish. You may recall that before the appearance of winking indicators, drivers gave notice of their intentions by hand and arm movements. In my view, it would be a boon if those on foot now did the same. Were they to copy the old rules for drivers, the left turn would involve a circular motion of the right arm. Indeed that could hardly have been otherwise for drivers, unless the person concerned had a prodigiously long left arm and an open left window – and even that would hardly have been adequate for other motorists.”

The judge’s eyes rose ceilingwards as his mind went back fleetingly to the halcyon days of motoring before returning to the current task. “Admittedly, the right turn, requiring full extension of the arm might cause confusion among pedestrians, especially where many people moving in opposing directions sought to manoeuvre at close quarters.” Here Judge Wimple’s eyes held a mischievous gleam. “One could imagine that with so many limbs flailing, half the population might become interlocked along our streets. Even so, that would save troubles like the one we have here – and arranging the disentanglement would offer the police an interesting challenge. Also, who knows but what such a potentially tactile society might not lead to more friendship all round? It’s an intriguing thought.”

It was far from intriguing to any of the judge’s listeners, but he allowed them to titter briefly before continuing: “In this case, it seems to me that both parties were probably hampered by the prevailing conditions. They were possibly also influenced by established mindsets – in the case of Mrs White, by the material she had just obtained and in the case of Mr Brown, by a reflex action, arising from his sporting activities. Seeing Mrs White coming upon him, he may have had a momentary lapse, mistaking her for an opposing defender and deciding to palm her off in the manner common among men in his line of work. Alternatively, he may have been indicating a right turn, in the manner to which I have alluded. There is also the question of the angle of the Sun at the time in question, which probably affected both parties. The light must surely have been directly in the plaintiff’s eyes and probably at about ninety degrees to those of the defendant. Indeed, I suspect that this may have been decisive. All things considered, I am minded to dismiss the charge. Proceedings concluded.”

February 1st, 2012, 07:01 PM

It was, Judge Embert Wimple thought, just typical. Here we were, with the second test match at Lord’s interestingly poised and rain falling like stair rods. Moreover, the weather forecaster had disclosed, with what to the judge seemed like boundless glee, that no let-up could be expected during the day. Casting his mind back over the years, Judge Wimple tried to recall a Lord’s test match unaffected by rain. He could not, though he accepted that that may have been attributable less to an accurate appraisal than to a defective memory. Anyway, it was most depressing.

To compound his honour’s misery, he was about to preside over what appeared to be yet another of those tiresome neighbourhood disputes. Where had all the fraudsters and thugs gone? And yet, these little clashes were grist to the mill.

Proceedings began at ten a.m. The case was Moorhouse versus Chadwick. The plaintiff, Edwin Moorhouse, alleged that he been occasioned bodily harm by the defendant, George Chadwick, who had counter-charged that Moorhouse had been culpable of reckless behaviour, likely to endanger the public. The plaintiff was represented by Jeremy Turnpenny, the defendant by Henry Bullivant. Both learned gentlemen were among the judge’s regulars, though neither expected to be identified correctly.

Having ensured that all present were clear as to charge and counter-charge, Judge Wimple addressed prosecuting counsel. “Perhaps you would favour us with your opening comments, Mr Terrapin.”

A close one. For a fleeting moment, Turnpenny was almost disorientated by the effort, which showed that the old boy was on the qui vive. “Thank you, Your Honour. At three-thirty in the afternoon of the tenth of October last, my client was working at his home, when he was attacked by Mr Chadwick. He was struck on the head by a blunt instrument, namely a walking stick, with a large knob at the end.”

“And it was this knob that inflicted the injury, was it?”

“Yes.” Turnpenny was not pleased by this seemingly irrelevant query, but the judge had his reason, having interjected so that he could inspect the plaintiff, whose head was swathed in a bandage.

“Dear me,” said his honour. “It must have been a fearsome assault. Your client appears to be still suffering.”

“Not from the same cause. Mr Moorhouse received his current wound while conducting an . . . ah . . . experiment which has no bearing on these proceedings.”

“Perhaps not,” said the judge. “However, he seems to have fallen upon evil times and my sympathy with his predicament prompts me to enquire as to the nature of the experiment.”

Turnpenny bowed. “As Your Honour pleases. Mr Moorhouse was working with ammonium nitrate fertiliser, diesel fuel and weedkiller. There was an explosion.”

“Your client has a particularly troublesome garden, has he?”

“Possibly, Your Honour. I did not think to ask.”

“Well, let us not go into that here. Now, we must establish whether there was any reason for this attack.” He turned to Bullivant. “Would you care to comment, Mr Bullstrode?”

Another near miss. Defending counsel was flattered. “May it please Your Honour, it is not disputed that my client assaulted Mr Moorhouse. However, he claims that he did so in the greater public interest, in that he prevented, or rather halted, a most dangerous activity.”

“I see,” said the judge. “And what was that activity?”

“The manufacture of an atomic bomb.”

“Great heavens!” the judge shrieked. “Whatever are we coming to? Please wait a moment. We must hear what the prosecution has to say to such an allegation. Mr Tympany?”

Turnpenny was well prepared. “The assertion is ill-founded. My client, Mr Moorhouse, is interested in technical matters and was simply making a replica device. There was not the slightest danger to the public. With Your Honour’s permission, I will offer a demonstration.”

“You are not about to transport us into the next world, I hope?”

“Certainly not.”

“Very well. Proceed.”

“Thank you. As it happens, I have had some training in the field of nuclear physics, so I think it may be said that I know whereof I speak.”

“Most gratifying. We are honoured to have among us a man who has mastered both atomic and legal matters. You are a rare bird, Mr Pennyworth.”

Turnpenny bowed. “Your Honour is very kind.”

“True. Please continue.”

Turnpenny moved to a nearby table, beside which was a large holdall, from which he extracted an assortment of items, placing them on the table and waving a hand at the array. “I do not wish to try Your Honour’s patience,” he said, “but I believe that this will prove worthwhile. However, I must make some preparatory remarks. In order to produce an atom bomb by the fission process, one needs a core, a housing, an initiator and a detonator. There are two kinds of device, the implosion type and the gun type. Mr Moorhouse had already tried to make one of the former, using a thirty-six pound iron ball, of the kind made for the guns of the old wooden battleships, plus a discarded globular vacuum cleaner. Unfortunately, he had a mishap with that project.”

The judge broke in. “Your client seems to be accident-prone, does he not?”

“Such is the nature of experimental science, Your Honour.”

“Very well. Go on.”

“Thank you. Mr Moorhouse turned his attention to the gun type device, as represented here. We have no fissile material, but these items will serve our purpose.”

The judge noted that one of the objects was a globe of Dutch cheese, holed through the middle and that another was a large, lidded pan. He looked over his half-glasses. “I hope you haven’t changed your mind and decided to offer us a meal?” he said.

“No. The cheese is a substitute for a further iron ball, which my client was unable to obtain. If this were a genuine nuclear device, the only food connotation would be the Last Supper.” Chuckles all round. Turnpenny brandished pan and lid, showing that they were lined with polystyrene. “This is a simple domestic pressure cooker. The handle has been sawn off, the ball valve sealed and the steam escape drilled out and replaced with a threaded hole, matching the diameter of that in the cheese.” Next, he put one of two small metal discs in the bottom of the pan and placed over it the ball of cheese, hole uppermost, then he inserted the gasket into the lid, which he fitted to the base with a downward push and a sharp twist. He spread a hand. “This is the main part of the core and housing.”

“Yes, yes,” said the judge, totally immersed. “Proceed.”

Turnpenny selected a yard-long tube, one end open and threaded, the other closed by a cap, perforated by two tiny holes. Next, he picked up a cylinder of cheese, its diameter the same as those of the hole in the ball and the pan-lid. He produced a tube of glue, fixing the second disc to one end of the cylinder and squeezing more of the adhesive over the other end. Then he picked up a handful of something that looked like putty, which he stuffed into the tube, shaking it down to the end. He then took the cheese cylinder, pushing it down the tube – the glued-on disc facing the open end – and pressing it into the soft substance with a long-handled wooden spoon. Finally, he pressed the open end of the tube into the hole in the lid, twisted it several times, then turned to the judge. I am obliged to Your Honour for the forbearance,” he said. “This is the complete assembly, minus the detonator, which I felt unnecessary.”

The judge nodded. “Most impressive,” he replied. “What you have there looks like a very large shillelagh. However, I don’t seem to be any wiser than before. And speaking of clubs, I hope I shall not need to cudgel the essence of this presentation from you.”

“No, Your Honour. I merely intended to demonstrate that Mr Moorhouse was using everyday materials. He would have preferred to adapt another vacuum cleaner for the housing, but did not have one. The synthetic lining merely ensures a precise fit. The tube is a length of pipe as used by plumbers, to which a metal screw-sleeve has been attached, corresponding to that fitted to the hole in the pan-lid. The small discs were made from jam-jar tops and the malleable element is simple modelling clay. In a real device, the pan and tube would be of high-grade steel, the two parts bolted together after the loading, while the clay would be plastic explosive. The discs would be of certain metals which react with one another to produce neutrons, and the cheese would be enriched uranium or plutonium.”

“I see,” said the judge. “How would the thing work?”

“Quite simply, Your Honour. Separately, the ball and cylinder – in a true atomic device, the fissionable parts – would be sub-critical, therefore not potentially explosive. It is only when they are forced together that they reach critical mass, susceptible of rapid chain reaction. The two discs, also when brought together, cause the required neutron bombardment of the core. The combination Mr Moorhouse had in mind was lithium and polonium.”

“Polonium,” the judge exclaimed. “That sounds like a sandwich filling.”

“Perhaps so, Your Honour. In that particular respect, my client was inspired by something he had read in a novel. However, that is not important. My understanding is that other pairings would suffice. Now, firstly, anyone can glean the general principle by consulting the reference section of a large public library. Secondly, a competent engineer would see that in terms of economy, this is an ideal configuration, since what is required is a container for the core, plus what amounts to a gun barrel. The idea is that a detonator, connected through the holes in the top of the tube, is used to set off the charge of plastic explosive, which is a small one. That in turn thrusts the cylinder along the tube, into the hole in the ball, producing criticality and slamming the two discs together, the last operation releasing the neutrons.”

Judge Wimple rubbed his hands. “Astounding,” he said. “You seem to be saying that if someone could get hold of the necessary materials, that person could actually produce an atom bomb.”

Turnpenny nodded. “Yes. However, we are speaking of substances which are uncommon, dangerous, or both.”

“Explain, please.”

“Certainly, Your Honour. Some of the components are rare and could not normally be acquired by the layman. For example, the core. Enriched uranium can be produced by either gaseous diffusion or centrifuging – though I believe there is work in progress on a third possibility, involving spectroscopy. Both proven processes require large and extremely costly plants, demanding huge inputs of energy. Such installations would be beyond the resources of most states, let alone individuals.”

The judge nodded. “That is reassuring,” he said. “But what about plutonium? I have heard that there may be any amount of it floating around the world.”

“Alas, that is not clear. Almost all plutonium is produced by nuclear reactors of a certain kind. Very little occurs in nature. Also, unlike uranium, which normally can be manipulated with relative impunity, plutonium is one of the most toxic substances known and handling it requires considerable expertise.”

“I see,” said the judge. “Thank you, Mr Pennywell. Most succinct.” He turned to defending counsel Bullivant. “Now, Mr Bolivar, I think it is your turn.”

“Thank you, Your Honour. I cannot emulate the performance of my learned colleague. My client’s case rests upon his conclusion that he had reason to believe that the plaintiff might have destroyed the neighbourhood – and perhaps much of the city. It is true that matters got out of hand, largely as a result of Mr Moorhouse’s behaviour in threatening my client with hammer.”

“My word,” said the judge. “An aggressive gesture. Yet it seems that Mr Chadwick was equipped with a formidable walking stick for a visit to his neighbour, and he does not have one now. Can you explain that?”

“Yes, Your Honour. My client was impelled by the highest ideals and acted on the ‘have a go’ principle, which we often hear is lacking in our society. He was displaying civic courage in the face of a perceived menace and admits that he carried the walking stick because he feared that he might need to defend himself. We would emphasise that this was not the first time Mr Moorhouse had caused alarm to those around him. In fact, should Your Honour see fit to adjourn the proceedings, we could produce witnesses who would testify to that. We have not yet done so, only because we had in mind limiting the time and costs involved here.”

“A point well taken,” said the judge. He turned again to the prosecution. “Mr. Trumper, I think the ball is in your court.”

Turnpenny spread his hands. “Your Honour, I cannot deny that on account of his hobby, which is totally innocuous, Mr Moorhouse has occasionally attracted the opprobrium of his neighbours.”

“Ah,” said the judge, “I would like to know more. What else has Mr Moorhouse produced?”

“In addition to those we have mentioned, he has made a replica Colt forty-five revolver, a Gatling gun, two letter-bombs and a bazooka.”

“Good grief,” wailed the judge. “You are quite sure they are all harmless, are you?”

“Absolutely, Your Honour. My client has taken precautions to see that none of them is really functional.”

The judge nodded. “I understand. Still, Mr Moorhouse seems to have an addiction to these simulated instruments of mayhem. Does this continue and if so, what is he doing now?”

“As a result of the assault, he has been discouraged, but does retain some interest. He is currently working on a cruise missile.”

“Remarkable. I applaud his indefatigability, if not its application. Now, have you both finished and are you willing to accept my decision?”

Nobody had anything to add, so the judge decided that no recess was required. He shuffled his non-existent notes and pondered for almost two minutes before giving his verdict: “There is no need for a protracted summary here. I am minded to dismiss the counter-charge of reckless behaviour. The real issue is not Mr Moorhouse’s conduct, but the attack upon his person. After all, he had a hammer to hand, but there is no suggestion that he used it in his defence. Still, I am mindful of Mr Chadwick’s mental state at the time, and am satisfied that he did what he thought right in the wider interest. I feel bound to find in favour of the plaintiff, but in view of the defendant’s public-spirited attitude, I award a nominal fine of one pound. Now, although the proceedings are closed, I would be interested to learn something of plaintiff’s background. What does he do for a living, Mr Turnstile?”

Turnpenny muttered for a moment with his client before replying: “Your Honour, Mr Moorhouse is between jobs at present.”

“I see. What did he do before this interval?”

“He was a technician and was employed northwest of here, at the national nuclear reprocessing plant.”

The Backward OX
February 2nd, 2012, 05:23 AM
Culpable of? I don’t think so, Tim.

February 4th, 2012, 06:34 PM

Judge Embert Wimple was not amused. Normally, he looked forward to his day in court, especially now that all his cases were heard in camera, a stage which gave him latitude for the odd quip which might have been misinterpreted in an open forum. Today was different, for the judge had become immersed in space travel, and was resentful of matters which interfered with his studies in that field. He was heading toward the conclusion that, desirable though interplanetary missions were, there was no good reason why the astronauts involved should undergo unnecessary hardships. Why not, he reasoned, wait until people could be sent to Mars and beyond in reasonable comfort? The direct route was the thing. None of this intolerably lengthy sling-shot stuff. What was needed was an improved propulsion system. So the judge was mired in questions of plasma rockets, nuclear pulses and the like. This would be suitable fodder for the long winter evenings, which were far off, this being July. Small wonder that the legal luminary was more than usually detached from mundane matters.

From what little Embert Wimple knew of it, today’s case was all too earthly, its only somewhat unusual feature being that one of the litigants was not an individual, but a bank. Reluctantly putting aside his joust with celestial mechanics, the judge girded his loins to address the troubles of his fellows. There would be compensation later, in the form of an evening with an audio-tape of ‘The Mikado’. For a devoted Savoyard, what could be better?

Ritual being what it is, Embert Wimple was pleased to note that the contestants in the case were represented by two familiar faces, Rodney Melliflewes appearing for the prosecuting bank and Daniel Pettigrew for the defendant, Malcolm Bentley. The advocates had no doubt that the judge would fail to match their faces with their names and as ever, no-one would be disturbed. The only exception had occurred four years earlier, when Judge Wimple had got the two counsels’ names right, but had repeatedly misapplied them. That had caused some confusion until the learned gentlemen had got the hang of it.

Having established that all was as it should be, the judge nodded at Melliflewes. “Perhaps you would make a start, Mr Brewster,” he said.

“Thank you, Your Honour.” That wasn’t too bad, thought Melliflewes. After all, though he rarely appeared nowadays, Brewster was a pretty senior chap, so there was obviously nothing derogatory here. “The incident with which we are concerned occurred on the ninth of March. At about one-thirty in the afternoon of that day, the defendant entered my client’s High Street premises in this city. The branch is a relatively small one, with four cash desks, two of which were closed at the time. Mr Bentley approached one of the open counters, depositing upon it a shopping bag and producing with his left hand a note, demanding money and indicating that he was armed. In his right hand, Mr Bentley had a large manila envelope, deformed in such a way that the cashier was convinced that it concealed a gun. The cashier fainted, causing her colleague, who had no customer at the time, to spring into the breach. This second lady immediately grasped the position and emptied the cash drawer into Mr Bentley’s bag.”

“Was there no resistance?” said the judge.

“No, Your Honour. The standing instructions to the bank’s staff are that none should be offered.”

“Not even a token gesture?”

“No, Your Honour.”

“I see. What happened then?”

“The defendant left the premises with the money, which amounted to six hundred and eighty pounds. It was only afterwards that matters became somewhat bizarre.”

“Did they indeed? How?”

“Mr Bentley returned to the bank at 2.45 p.m., seeking to rent a safe-deposit box. By that time, the police had visited the premises, done what they had to do and left. Normal business had been restored and even the young lady who had earlier collapsed was back at her post – as it happened, the very one at which the defendant again appeared. Mr Bentley duly completed the formalities and deposited the stolen money in his newly-acquired box.”

“Astounding,” said the judge. “So, you are saying that Mr Bentley robbed the bank, then almost immediately rented a safe-deposit box in the same branch, in order to secure the proceeds of his activity. Was he not recognised?”

“He was, Your Honour. That is how we come to the present position.”

Melliflewes offered a ‘digestive’ pause, but overdid it and the judge was not disposed to tolerate histrionics. He leaned forwards. “Surely you do not wish to keep us in suspense, Mr Medlicott? Our task here is to resolve cases, not prolong them. Please enlarge.”

Being an old campaigner, Melliflewes was unruffled. “I was about to, Your Honour. When he first appeared, Mr Bentley was in disguise, wearing contact lenses, a black wig and a very striking black suit, with a chalk-stripe motif. On the second occasion, his appearance was his natural one, as you see him now.”

The judge noted that defendant had close-cropped blond hair and wore a blue denim jacket, plaid shirt, faded blue jeans and steel-rimmed glasses. “Yet you say that he was spotted. How?”

“It was fortuitous, Your Honour. Mr Bentley, who was – and still is – unemployed, was attending a course on computer literacy, his intention being to find work commensurate with the training provided. As is common in such circumstances, he had been given an identifying cardboard lapel tag, bearing his forename. He wore that item when he carried out the raid and again when he returned.”

“Good gracious,” the judge exclaimed. “This is like reading a book of jokes. So, Mr Bentley not only robbed the bank branch, then promptly used the same place to put away his booty, but advertised himself while so doing?”

Melliflewes bowed. “That is more or less the case, Your Honour.”

“How was he apprehended?”

“It was not the name in itself that betrayed him. The tag merely identified its wearer as ‘Malcolm’. The real revelation came in that the defendant, being of a nervous disposition, had at some point handled the item and while doing so, had torn it before first visiting the bank and had repaired it with clear adhesive tape. When he first appeared, the cashier was not able to read the name, but noted the tape. When Mr Bentley returned to rent the safe-deposit box, the young lady he accosted for the second time was in a state of heightened alertness. She contacted the branch manager while Mr Bentley was dealing with the paperwork. The manager informed the police, who detained the defendant when he sought to leave the bank. Under questioning, Mr Bentley confessed, albeit on a qualified basis. The bank felt obliged, in the wider public interest, to initiate the proceedings which have led us here.”

“Very clearly stated, Mr Carstairs,” said the judge. “I am much obliged to you, though the apparently provisional nature of Mr Bentley’s confession needs some clarification. I think we must hear what the defence has to say.” He turned to Pettigrew. “Your comments please, Mr Fetterman.”

Pettigrew braced himself. “Thank you, Your Honour. The bare facts have been stated by the prosecution, but there is more to the matter. My client does not deny that he did what he is accused of, but there are substantial mitigating circumstances.”

Pettigrew emulated his learned colleague’s pause for effect, but the judge was still in no mood for theatricals. “I suspected as much,” he said. “Please tell us all.”

“Your Honour, we are dealing with a sad case, in that my client is afflicted by a distressing malady. He is given to delusions which cause abrupt changes in his behaviour, followed by short-term amnesia, then a return to his normal state. On account of this he was, some time ago, admitted to a psychiatric institution. He –”

The judge waved a hand. “One moment. You say he was admitted, yet he seems to have been free when this incident occurred. Did his confinement have no effect?”

“Regrettably not, Your Honour. Mr Bentley discharged himself after escaping the restraints placed upon him, assuming the persona of the institution’s director and conducting the customary evening visits to patients, before leaving the premises on his bicycle.”

“Discharged himself, you say,” snapped the judge. “Was he not subsequently reconfined?”

“No. He originally entered of his own accord and there was no administrative machinery to compel him to return.”

“I see. Now, do you intend to anaesthet … stimulate us with details of any other events following Mr Bentley’s exit from the institution?”

“Yes, Your Honour. A short while afterwards, he was found sitting on a dustbin outside a Manchester night club, playing a ukulele, apparently under the impression that he was George Formby. No charges were made against him.”

“Very interesting,” said the judge. “was there anything further?”

“Yes, Your Honour. Several months ago – that is to say rather over a year after he had regained his freedom, Mr Bentley was discovered in a public park in this city, with his limbs so contorted that it was necessary to summon the fire brigade to disentangle them.”

“Bless my soul,” said the judge. “And who was he on that occasion?”

“The late Harry Houdini, Your Honour. Again, there were no charges.”

Judge Wimple rubbed his brow. “I don’t believe I can cope with much more of this,” he said. “Perhaps you would omit your client’s further intermediate adventures, if any, and tell us who he was on the occasion we are addressing here?”

“Certainly, Your Honour. There were no other incidents until the one with which we are concerned. It occurred when Mr Bentley was under the impression that he was the late Jack ‘Legs’ Diamond, a gangster who flourished many years ago in America.”

“Perhaps influenced by something he had read,” said the judge, his mind flashing to a story he had enjoyed many years earlier, which featured a man who believed himself at various times to be a number of well-known men, including the very hoodlum named by Pettigrew. “No doubt that explains the wig and the suit you mentioned. I believe Mr Diamond had luxuriant hair and was noted for fashionable dress. However, it does not clarify your client’s wearing of the lapel tag when he was in disguise. What about that?”

“It is easily explicable, Your Honour. Mr Bentley had become so accustomed to detaching and re-attaching the tag that he did so almost automatically. It was, in the context concerned, an oversight.”

“I see. So, your client made off with his booty. What then?”

“For a brief period, his mind was a blank. He returned to his lodgings, undressed and took a short nap. When he awoke, he had emerged from his delusional state and found himself in possession of this sum of six hundred and eighty pounds, with no recollection of how he came by it. He knew that he had started the day with little more than two pounds. Not wishing to keep a substantial amount of money in his room, he changed into his normal attire and went to the nearest bank – as it happened, the one he had . . . ah . . . robbed – and rented the safe deposit box. In the overall process, he lost an afternoon of valuable tuition.”

“This is all very odd,” said the judge. “Why did he not simply open an account, or pay the money into an existing one?”

“Mr Bentley does not have a bank account, Your Honour. Apart from accepting the merits of safe-deposit, he does not trust financial institutions.”

The judge could not resist a smile. “I imagine the sentiment is mutual,” he said.

“That may be. However, when matters became clear, after Mr Bentley’s apprehension, he at once apologised most profusely and insisted upon handing the proceeds of the robbery back to the bank. He had thus made such restitution as was within his power – he could not do anything to compensate the cashiers for having pained them as he did. He was, and is, distraught by his own behaviour and is further deeply perturbed by what he sees as the vindictive attitude of the bank.”

The judge nodded, staring hard at Pettigrew. “Very succinct, Mr Balmforth,” he said. Then he turned to prosecuting counsel Melliflewes. “Anything to add, Mr Makepiece?”

“Only that we would emphasise one point. Clearly, there is agreement as to what occurred. However, my client is one of a large number of finance houses, many of them targets of people who are, happily for all of us, often incompetent felons. Had there been no proceedings against the defendant, the wrong signal would have been given to other actual or potential criminals.”

“A fair point,” said the judge. “Now, I believe I understand the matter and do not need to retire. Are both parties willing to accept my decision?”

They were, so the judge summed up. “It is sometimes observed that there is nothing new under the Sun. In general, I agree, but there are variations on basic themes. In this case, the defendant’s behaviour was most enterta . . . reprehensible. However, he did try to make amends, and if we were all to be called to account for our misdeeds, there would not be enough courts in the world to hear the actions. My conclusion is that the defendant is undoubtedly guilty, but must be treated with compassion, as he is obviously troubled, in addition to which he showed his remorse in the most practical way. I impose no fine, but recommend that he be committed to another institution, similar to the one from which he earlier fled, but this time with higher walls. Proceedings concluded.”

February 8th, 2012, 05:43 PM

The Old Trafford test match loomed and so, thought Judge Embert Wimple, did rain. If Lord’s was an effective place for opening the heavens, surely Manchester was even more so. The judge had never bothered to check the assertion he had heard, to the effect that the Northwest’s premier cricket venue got no more attention from rain-doctors than any other place. Rightly or wrongly, he simply didn’t believe it, and at eighty-three, he was not inclined to have his opinions on such matters influenced by any facts which might refute them. Old Trafford was a wet spot and that was that. Still, there was the famous match of 1956 – dusty enough then, the judge seemed to remember.

Mrs Wimple had returned from her latest course on perspective and was even more immersed in her painting than before the junket. She had never been a chatterbox and was now more taciturn than usual, devoting the bare minimum of time to household matters and desultory conversation. Art was all. This pleased the judge, as he was increasingly disposed to delve into scientific questions and needed every hour he could find to grapple with them. The sands were running out and a man – or, Judge Wimple happily accepted, a woman – had to concentrate on ever-fewer interests, addressing them with greater intensity than before.

Despite having accepted a reduced workload since he had reached the age of seventy-five, Judge Wimple was still the local patriarch of his profession, a grey eminence, exerting considerable influence upon his juniors. One way or another, he was much in demand and seemed likely to be so indefinitely. The betting was that he would die with his boots on.

Today’s case seemed like yet another of those squabbles between neighbours, edifying only insofar as they confirmed that people, especially men, will often pursue to the bitter end – even to their own destruction – what they see as questions of principle. Judge Wimple sometimes wondered whether women – who appeared before him much less often than men – might manage these disputes more effectively. They were, after all, supposed to be more inclined to conciliation than confrontation. Whether that was attributable to the fact that the ladies had, at least so far, limited experience of occupying the hot seats was a matter to which Embert Wimple devoted more time than was generally realised. Was it the case that the incumbent moulded the high office or, as his honour suspected vice versa, the pressures shaping the reactions?

The argument in question today was between Messrs Shuttleworth and Bean, the parties being represented by, for the prosecution, the promising young newcomer Cedric Thistle and for the defence, the more experienced Jeremy Turnpenny, making his fifty-fourth appearance before judge Wimple and his second in short order. As to the case, his honour knew only that Derek Shuttleworth and Rodney Bean were locked in a particularly unpleasant combat concerning property. Calling the parties to order, Embert Wimple first addressed prosecuting counsel, Thistle. “Now, Mr Throstle,” he said, “please get us started.”

With hands behind his back, largely to conceal the fidgeting which was a symptom of his recent cessation of smoking, Thistle gave the slightest of bows. “Your Honour, the position here is one in which a mundane affair escalated sharply. My client, Mr Shuttleworth, recently sold his house to the defendant. On completion of the transaction, Mr Shuttleworth and his wife moved out in the usual way and the defendant and his wife moved in. They noted that two large flowerpots, one on either side of the front door, had been removed. Later that day, they checked the position, finding that the Shuttleworths had taken the pots and deposited them at their new home, again on either side of the front door. The defendant took exception to this and visited my client’s property late one night, a week after the sale was completed, removing the flowerpots and returning them to their previous positions, that is at the property then occupied by himself and his wife.

The judge thought this an appropriate moment for an interruption. “Were there any plants in the pots?” he asked.

“Yes, Your Honour. Hydrangeas.”

This meant nothing to the judge, but he had achieved his objective of giving all parties a short breather. “Very well. Please continue.”

“A week later, again late at night, the pots were taken from the Bean residence. Being suspicious as to what might have happened, Mr Bean drove by the Shuttleworths’ house the following day, seeing that the pots were once more situated as before. That night, he went there again, removed the pots and returned them to their original positions, that is to say the ones before the transaction. The following afternoon, my client drove to the defendant’s house, noting the presence of the pots. As they were, in my client’s view, still his property, he attempted to remove them.”

“What?” said the judge. “In broad daylight?”

“Yes, Your Honour. It was here that matters became complicated.”

The judge glared over his half-glasses. “Are you saying that they were previously simple?” he snapped.

“It is all relative, Your Honour,” replied Thistle who was somewhat brash and not easily intimidated. “Mr Bean was watching a football match on television. When his wife called his attention to Mr Shuttleworth’s action, he went outside to remonstrate with his visitor. There were sharp words, culminating in a fist-fight, during which my client sustained a burst nose and lacerations to his forehead, cheeks and mouth.”

“Most disturbing,” said the judge, who noted that the allegedly aggressive Rodney Bean was a much smaller, frailer-looking man than the plaintiff. “Presumably there were further developments?”

“Yes. While Mr Bean was incapacitated, Mr Shuttleworth recovered the pots and returned them to his new home.”

“One moment,” said the judge. “You said that your client had sustained injuries, yet you refer to the incapacity of the defendant. Could you clarify?”

“Certainly, Your Honour. The hostilities were on both sides. I believe Mr Bean was also injured.”

“I understand. Please go on.”

“In the early hours of the following morning, Mr Shuttleworth and his wife were aroused by a commotion outside their house. They went to investigate, finding that the flowerpots were in fragments and that two shadowy figures were disappearing around a corner at the end of the street. Mr and Mrs Shuttleworth were in no doubt that the miscreants were Mr Bean and an accomplice.”

The judge nodded. “Was there anything more?”

“Nothing bearing upon the case, Your Honour.”

“Thank you, Mr Farnsworth.” The judge turned to defending counsel, Turnpenny. “Now, Mr Cartwright, perhaps you would favour us with your version of events.”

“May it please Your Honour, we have thus far been presented with a view which does not fully describe the matter. With respect to the transaction concerned, my client, Mr Bean, had perfectly reasonable grounds for supposing that the flowerpots in question were a part of the bargain. They were an enhancement to the property sold by the plaintiff and in my client’s view, integral to the deal. Nothing to the contrary was specified. It is true that emotions ran high, and with regard to the injuries sustained by the plaintiff, we would point out that my client suffered grievously at the hands of Mr Shuttleworth. Among other things, his head was rammed against his up-and-over garage door. This resulted not only in his receiving a blow which caused a large cranial contusion, but also in a dent to the door in question, which had to be repaired at considerable cost. It was while lying prostrate after the attack that my client was obliged to watch the removal of the flowerpots by the plaintiff.”

“My goodness,” the judge interrupted. “The battle must have been a spirited affair.”

“Indeed so, Your Honour. “However, with regard to the early-morning incident in which the pots were wrecked, my client maintains that he was in bed and under sedation at the time, as a result of the fight. He could not have been party to the destruction of the pots, even if he had wished to be. The simple fact is that the plaintiff apparently had second thoughts about the ownership of the items, and decided to keep them. Regrettably, this kind of situation is not uncommon where conveyancing of real estate is concerned. However, my client bought the property as seen and had every right to assume that the pots were part and parcel of the transaction. There is no dispute about the brawling, nor is there any argument about the injuries inflicted upon the litigants.”

“I see,” said the judge. “Testosterone prevailed and neither party wishes to be regarded as a sissy. Is that so?”

“One might view it thus, Your Honour.”

“Thank you. Is that all?”

“I believe so.”

“Good. Now,” he turned back to Cedric Thistle. “Have you anything to add, Mr Galloway?”

“A peripheral but important point, Your Honour. We did not wish to introduce a sentimental note, but it must be mentioned that my client’s main concern is that the soil in the flowerpots contained the ashes of his uncle, who had died several months before the incidents we are addressing. Mr Shuttleworth and his uncle were, in spiritual terms, very close and the deceased gentleman’s ashes were dug into the two pots, hence there is a factor which cannot be quantified.”

The judge looked startled, then scribbled a short note. “So, you are saying that the intrinsic aspect is of less consequence than the fact that Mr Shuttleworth’s uncle was consigned to the soil?”

“That is my client’s view, Your Honour.”

“Very well. I think we have reached a suitable point for a pause. I need to make some enquiries, which may take a little time. Now, I would like to know the names of the solicitors who acted for the parties in the house sale.”

This caused some consternation to both sides. Two brief huddles followed before the names were produced. “Thank you,” said the judge. “There is one final piece of information I need. Who was the late uncle, on what date did he die and which funeral director was involved?” Jeremy Turnpenny relaxed like a like a punctured balloon, but there was no such respite for the prosecution’s Cedric Thistle, who had that hollow feeling which accompanies the realisation that one has been bowled a ‘wrong-un’. A few words from an embarrassed plaintiff to him produced the information.

“Excellent,” said the judge. “We shall convene again at three o’clock.”

When the parties remustered, it was clear to both advocates that all was not as either would have wished. The judge’s brow was furrowed above a stern gaze. He pushed aside his notes and addressed both counsels with a sweeping look. “I am disappointed,” he said. Some castigation was clearly coming. “First, there is the question of the transfer of ownership. I would have expected such matters as the flowerpots to be covered as a matter of course. Sadly, that was not the case here. It seems that, on both sides, the transaction was handled carelessly. In the case of the prosecution, it was handed down to a junior solicitor who, as it happened, had domestic problems and was less assiduous than he might have been. As to the defence, the matter was dealt with by a supposedly specialist conveyancer, who had limited experience. Apparently, the matter of the flowerpots was not properly addressed by either party, so I must arbitrate – an onus which would not have been placed upon me if everyone had behaved correctly.”
Seeing that his words were producing the desired discomfiture, the judge made a show of consulting his papers before continuing: “Then there is the matter of the disposal of the remains of the deceased uncle. By pure coincidence, I am acquainted with the undertaker concerned” – the two were members of the same exclusive club – “and have established that the last wishes of Mr Shuttleworth’s late uncle included a desire to have his ashes scattered over the moors of North Yorkshire. While it is true that no-one from the undertaker’s company officiated at that culminating ceremony, I have no reason – other than the plaintiff’s contention – to believe that those final stipulations were not honoured.”

Cedric Thistle gave his client a look that could have frozen Hades. It was not lost upon Judge Wimple, who continued: “In the absence of any reliable evidence to the contrary, I am bound to conclude that the plaintiff’s protestations regarding the disposal of his late uncle’s remains must be viewed with scepticism. With respect to the ownership of the flowerpots, I can say only that if I had been buying the property concerned, I would have expected them to be included in the bargain, unless otherwise indicated. Now, if the plaintiff’s word is questionable in the matter of his late uncle, it might also be doubted in other respects. With regard to the defendant, it is surely inconceivable that some other party wrecked the pots in the final episode of this drama. I am therefore forced to the conclusion that he is also culpable of trying to mislead us. It seems to me that there is little to choose between the two parties, who both seem to be of the opinion that if they cannot prevail by unconstitutional means, they seek to do so through legal channels. They are not likely to succeed. For future reference, I would recommend that more assiduous work precede hearings of this kind.”

The judge found himself confronted by four red faces. He went on: “I am not normally a believer in violence as a means of resolving disputes, but on this occasion I feel bound to say that it is a pity that the litigants did not pursue their fight with even greater vigour than they apparently did. That might have knocked some sense into one or both of them. I see that we are concerned with charge and counter-charge and I must say that to find in favour of either party would be to compound this lunacy. Proceedings concluded.”

February 11th, 2012, 07:06 PM

Judge Embert Wimple was out of sorts, his condition having arisen from a week-long shortage of sleep. He was still getting his fair share at night, but daytime was a problem. Since reaching the age of eighty, three years earlier, his honour had taken to cat-napping during the less complex parts of his cases, especially when learned counsels were inclined to verbosity. It had long been evident to the judge that there was no need to listen to all that was said by everybody, but rather to pick up certain key words which contained the essence of the presentation concerned. Unfortunately, Embert Wimple had recently heard a succession of demanding cases, causing him to remain exceptionally attentive. It was a strain.

On the plus side of life, affairs at the Wimple house were peaceful. Esmeralda was storming ahead with her painting and gaining a considerable reputation, while the judge had just about given up toying with his recent idea about the wisdom of selling the absurdly large residence and even more extravagant garden, and moving to a town apartment. He still looked longingly, if increasingly hopelessly, at the handsome houses surrounding the Georgian square a stone’s throw from the court building. It wasn’t so much a matter of the convenience – for Judge Wimple expected to turn in his gavel any decade now – but one of ambience. The place of his daydreams was given over to lawns, flowerbeds and splendid old trees, all enclosed by black iron railings, and the beauty of it was that the council dealt with the maintenance. The properties had long ceased to be purely residential and were now besprinkled with the discreet plaques of medical consultants, upmarket lawyers and architects. Still, a top-floor flat would be ideal. Well, perhaps in the life beyond, Embert Wimple would be able to construct his own Georgian square, choosing the occupants himself.

As the judge finished clipping his toenails, he began to get the day’s business into focus. He didn’t know who was to appear before him, but was aware that the case involved some sort of disagreement in the world of sports or games. Well, that would do to be going on with. Time enough to yawn through the details as they were recounted. Though once a first-class rugby player, Judge Wimple no longer had any time for sporting matters, with the exception of cricket, which he considered not really a game, but rather an aesthetically pleasing ballet, involving energy and elegance. The best of all worlds.

The judge arrived at court and took his seat, to find himself in the comforting presence of two familiar advocates, Desmond Oddley-Staggers appearing for the plaintiff, Albert Speight, Rodney Melliflewes for the defendant Dennis Ryan. The fog of sleep-deprivation had not totally cleared, so Judge Wimple took his time over making a final check of his papers, before addressing Oddley-Staggers. “Very well, Mr Catherwood. As a certain Roman lady said, ‘let it begin’.”

Being a little prudish, Oddley-Staggers was not too pleased by the allusion to the antics of a woman of easy virtue, but masked his disapproval.

“May it please Your Honour, the case here concerns a bizarre incident which took place on the twentieth of February in a billiard hall about a mile from here, owned and managed by a Mr Alfred Parsons. My client and the defendant became casual acquaintances because both men were patrons of the establishment. They had some difference of opinion as to who was the better snooker player and decided to settle the matter by means of a match. As they wished to finish in one session, they agreed on a best of eleven frames contest, meaning that the first player to win six frames would be the victor. There was no gambling involved, the encounter being simply a question of pride. Play was to proceed uninterrupted, save that each man was allowed to eat and drink between frames, or while the opponent was taking his shots.”

In order to let the details sink in, Oddley-Staggers paused for an unnecessary drink of water before continuing: “Play began at nine a.m. and proceeded until eight-fifty p.m., when it was abandoned after the incident we are addressing. At that time, five frames had been completed and the sixth was well advanced. It –”

“Just a moment,” said the judge. “You say they had been playing non-stop for nearly twelve hours and had completed only five frames. Now, while no expert, I am under the impression that a frame of snooker usually lasts for anything from, say, about twenty minutes up to an hour or so. Is that right?”

Oddley-Staggers bowed. “Your Honour is perhaps thinking of the highest standards, such as seen on television. Both parties here are far below that level. The five frames I mentioned had lasted for an average of rather over two hours each.”

“Ah, I see. Please carry on.”

“Thank you. The match was going badly for the defendant. My client had won all five completed frames and was on the verge of taking the sixth, which would have been the last. He was ahead by fifty-five points to three, with only twenty-four points left on the board. The –”

The judge held up a hand. “I’m sorry to interrupt you again, Mr Pettifer. You say that fifty-eight points had been scored and that only twenty-four remained. I believe that comes to eighty-two. Now, I am as a child in this matter, but I seem to recall hearing that there are one hundred and forty-seven points available in a snooker frame. Would you care to educate me?”

“Certainly, Your Honour. The figure you mention is correct, but depends upon maximum use of the object balls. To achieve this total, the fifteen red balls must be potted, each followed by the black, which has the highest value and which, like any other of the so-called colours – yellow, green, brown, blue and pink – is set up again after being potted, so long as there are still reds available. Once potted, the reds remain in the pockets. After all of them have gone, the colours are disposed of in ascending order, also remaining in the pockets. The maximum break occurs rarely and only among the leading players. At the other extreme it is quite possible for all the fifteen reds to be sunk, at one point each, without any being followed immediately by a colour. In that case, the reds’ total of fifteen points and the colours’ total of twenty-seven would add up to only forty-two points. Indeed, in the case of frame being conceded for lack of available scoring potential, a frame could be over with even fewer points registered.”

“Thank you. I understand. Continue.” In fact, the judge was well aware of the scoring system but did not wish to be thought of as a student of snooker.

“The match was clearly about to result in a crushing defeat for Mr Ryan. When my client prepared to execute the coup de grâce, the defendant began to behave in an extraordinary manner, making wild allegations and issuing most lurid threats. The situation became confused and increasingly heated. The result was that Mr Ryan attacked my client with his cue –”

“Which end?” the judge interjected.

“Which end, Your Honour? Do you mean of my client or of the cue?”

“Very punctilious, Mr Petherbridge. The cue.”

“The thin end, Your Honour.”

“Very well. Proceed.”

“Mr Speight was struck in the solar plexus. He staggered and fell backwards against the wall. It was then that events took a strange turn.”

“As if they were not already strange enough,” the judge remarked drily.

“They were to become more so. Here, I must digress slightly, to explain why.”

“By all means.”

“Thank you, Your Honour. The proprietor, Mr Parsons, had had trouble with balls disappearing, usually taken by people who wanted them as mementos of particularly good performances. This caused delays for later patrons, who were annoyed, as they paid by the hour and did not want to spend their time seeking missing balls or asking for replacements. Mr Parsons, who is a trained carpenter, made a set of six narrow wooden troughs – one for each table – each just under four feet long, They are lined with synthetic foam and are wall-mounted and each holds a full set of balls in, as it were, single file. One end is permanently closed, the other being secured by a small latch. When the second end is freed and the trough tipped, the balls roll into a baize-lined container, for transfer to the table.”

“It sounds very elaborate,” said the judge.

“Perhaps, but it was helpful. At the end of any day or session, Mr Parsons is able to fill each trough, seeing at a glance whether the sets of balls are complete. Any deficiency is made up from his stock of spares. This saves time and often avoids frayed tempers.”

“I do hope all this is necessary, Mr Oddbin.”

“I have almost finished, Your Honour. When my client fell, his cue arm was flung out and the cue became wedged under the closed end of one of the troughs, raising that end slightly. Unfortunately, the other end had not been properly closed, so Mr Speight was sprawled back against the wall, with his head about eighteen inches under the then open end. The balls rolled out at about half-second intervals, their progress being slowed by friction with the lining, so while my client was prostrate, each of the twenty-two balls struck him on the head, over a total period of ten to twelve seconds. Being bald, he did not have even minimal protection. He was distressed and disorientated.”

“My goodness,” said the judge. “This is pure Laurel and Hardy. Did no-one have the presence of mind to help Mr Speight?”

“I believe everyone was transfixed. The outcome was that my client, being incapacitated by his fall, was helpless to extricate himself from his predicament. He now seeks redress.”

“A clear presentation, Mr Penworthy,” said the judge. “Now, I think we should hear from the defence. He turned to Melliflewes. “What say you, Mr Merrydew?”

“May it please Your Honour, my client does not deny that he attacked the plaintiff in the manner described by my learned friend. However, the prosecution said nothing about the provocation.”

“Then perhaps you should do so.”

“Certainly. It is quite true that the match was poised as already stated. However, there are four points upon which the prosecution did not touch. First, there was the matter of cheating.”

“Cheating?” said the judge. “I don’t remember hearing of that in the context of snooker. What form did it take?”

The usually urbane Melliflewes seemed uncomfortable. “Er . . .Your Honour may have noticed that the plaintiff is somewhat corpul . . . ah, that is to say that he is of ample proportions.”

The judge had already noted that Speight was obese. By contrast, the defendant, Ryan, was slim, with a dark visage and a generally craggy, predatory look. “My eyesight is still intact, Mr Mowbray,” he said. “Go on.”

“My client’s contention is that the chicanery was systematic, in that if one ruse did not work, another might. For example, the plaintiff repeatedly leaned over the table. Under the cover of his bulk, he displaced one or other of the balls, as seemed advantageous to him. Second, there is the matter of distraction.”

Now the judge was fully engaged. “What kind of distraction?” he asked.

“It was mainly comments, Your Honour. Time after time, as my client was about to take his shots, he was subjected to derisory remarks from the plaintiff.”

“Ah,” said the judge, “I sometimes suffered from the same thing during the brief period I spent paying golf, many years ago. Perhaps the snide observations my companions made about my skill amounted to accurate appraisals, but a few useful tips would have been more constructive. I think it regrettable that so many men – I will not presume to speak for he ladies – prefer ridiculing their fellows to helping them. However, I am interrupting you. Proceed.”

“Thank you. Our third point is that my client does not accept that he was about to lose the match. He had merely been toying with Mr Speight and was about to teach him a lesson, starting with a recovery from his apparently poor position in the sixth frame, by way of a series of cunning snookers.”

“Let me be clear about this,” said the judge. “Are you saying that he had confidence in his ability to repeatedly place his opponent in positions from which escape without conceding points would have been difficult?”

“That is correct. Mr Ryan is an expert at this. Having induced in Mr Speight a sense of euphoria, he intended to snooker him repeatedly, thus taking the sixth frame, then the remaining five. He was frustrated only by the altercation. This leads to our fourth point, which is that the hostilities were initiated by Mr Speight, when he hurled the cue ball at my client, who headed it away.”

“What?” said the astonished judge. “He used his head to intercept a speeding snooker ball?”

“It is not as odd as it may seem. Mr Ryan was once a prominent player in the local churches’ soccer league, and as centre-forward he headed many a goal. When he saw a ball approaching him, he did what came naturally. Having disposed of the ball, he reacted with his cue.”

Judge Wimple shook his head. “Are you saying that your client was unable to distinguish between a snooker ball and a football?”

“It was instinctive, Your Honour. As soon as he had dismissed the ball, my client retaliated. The point is that he did not start the violence. He had been persistently tricked and taunted by the plaintiff, then assaulted by him. Mr Ryan has nothing to account for here and appears only because he was required to do so.”

“Very well,” the judge said. “Now, it seems we have no witnesses.”

“That is correct, Your Honour. Both parties claim that the proprietor, Mr Parsons, saw the whole incident. However, he dislikes the litigants and is not willing to appear for either of them.”

“Thank you. Now, I think I am close to being able to reach a decision. First, could the learned gentlemen tell me whether either the plaintive or the defendant suffered any long-term damage from this incident?”

On being assured that neither party had sustained lasting harm, the judge penned his final notes, then laid aside his spectacles and gave his summing-up. “As so often, it is the word of one party against that of the other. If Mr Speight was cheating, he probably got what he deserved. It is regrettable that we don’t have a film of the incident, which sounds like sheer slapstick. I am inclined to think that the immediate punishment visited upon the plaintiff was commensurate with his alleged transgressions. As to the defendant, one can only regard with bafflement the contents of the cranium of a man who chooses to present his head to a fast-flying snooker ball. Possibly Mr Ryan could find employment at the receiving end of a coconut shy.

“Now, whether the aggregate impact of twenty-two snooker balls falling slowly a foot or two to strike a human head outweighs that of one similar, rapidly moving ball doing the same must be a matter for conjecture. I have encountered some hard-headed people in my time, but we are surely here confronted with the opposite, as a pate abused as either of these two were and without obvious ill effects must be soft enough to cushion almost any shock. Since I find it impossible to favour either party, the charge is dismissed. Proceedings concluded.”

February 15th, 2012, 06:58 PM

A promising outlook confronted Judge Embert Wimple. The Headingley test match was coming up and the weather reporter, deprived of the chance of a doomcast, had been forced to admit that the rain that had been threatening to wash out the game was about to stop. It seemed likely that the full five days would be available for play. To make things even better, Esmeralda had chalked up another impressive score in the painting department by selling a townscape for two hundred pounds. Her work on perspective was paying major dividends. The domestic scene was improving apace and the judge was teetering on the edge of a decision to end his long legal career. After all, with affairs on the home front so pleasant, there would be no need to scurry off to court to avoid them. It was a window of opportunity. Perhaps time to concentrate on cosmology. Could the answer to the mystery of the universe be within the grasp of the octogenarian dispenser of law?

Today’s case – Whitcombe versus Booth – seemed to be another piffling wrangle, but one never knew. And anyway, the combatants were to be represented by two rising young warriors, Arabella Bray appearing for the prosecution and Cedric Thistle for the defence. This pleased Judge Wimple, offering as it did a change from the confrontations between the veterans he had seen so often.

Taking his place, the judge was gratified to note that the litigants on both sides were well-dressed, which in his view showed due deference to the occasion. Mr and Mrs Whitcombe looked particularly smart. Embert Wimple opened his hands, addressing Bray. “Very well, Ms Bray. Please begin.”

Prosecuting counsel was momentarily nonplussed by the judge’s accuracy, but proved equal to the occasion. “Thank you, Your Honour. The case here is perfectly clear. My clients, Mr and Mrs Whitcombe, planned to move home. On the seventeenth of January they were returning from a shopping trip when they passed a bungalow belonging to the defendant. In the garden was sign with the legend ‘House for Sale. Apply Within’. The area in question is a much sought-after one, about six miles from the centre of this city. My clients stopped and decided to make enquiries. They found the defendant at home, asked to view the property and did so. They at once agreed to buy the bungalow, informing Mr Booth that they had a prospective purchaser for their own house. As a result of their visit to the property, they contacted their would-be buyer and matters proceeded as usual in such circumstances.

Seeing that the judge was beginning to nod off, Arabella Bray hastened to her critical point. “Having made their decision, my clients relaxed and allowed events to take their course. They thought nothing of the fact that the defendant had told them of his intention to take a long vacation in the Caribbean. He had left his solicitor with power of attorney to conduct his affairs. On conclusion of the formalities, my clients employed a removal company to transport their effects to their new residence.”

“No doubt eager to get on with the next phase of life,” said the judge. His irrelevant interjection had no purpose other than to remind everyone, especially himself, that he was still attentive.

“Indeed so, Your Honour. However, their euphoria evaporated when they arrived at their destination. Before setting out, they had made a telephone call to Mr Booth’s home to clarify that all was well, but did not get an answer. They therefore contacted his solicitor, who said that Mr Booth was still overseas but that he – the solicitor – would meet the Whitcombes at the property and hand over the keys. When they arrived, my clients were surprised to find that the bungalow was still fully furnished. The solicitor who had been waiting at the other end of the street –”

“Why there?” the judge broke in.

“I am coming to that, Your Honour. The solicitor saw the Whitcombes’ removal van and drove along to join them. Initially, he was as puzzled as they were but to cut a long story short it emerged that he had been waiting outside a different property because that was the one he had conveyed from Mr Booth to my clients. At his request the Whitcombes accompanied him to this second property, which he told them they had bought.”

Bray paused for a drink of water before proceeding: “No doubt Your Honour will appreciate that my clients were baffled and distressed. They had vacated their house and had a pantechnicon full of furniture and other effects. Also, their purchasers had moved into the Whitcombes’ former house the moment after my clients had moved out. Mr Booth’s solicitor suggested that the only sensible solution would be for Mr and Mrs Whitcombe to move into the second bungalow, pending clarification.”

“I am amazed,” said the judge. “You mean that Mr and Mrs Whitcombe were advised by a lawyer to move, willy-nilly, into what was probably the nearest empty property?”

“It was not entirely unconsidered, Your Honour. In addition to the bungalow in which he was living, the defendant owned the empty one, which he had inherited. The solicitor also had with him the keys to that property.”

Judge Wimple shook his head. “I usually think of myself as being abreast of social advances,” he said, “but I am beginning to believe that that I may have been bypassed by changing standards. Are you saying that your clients took possession of a property they had not bought because the one they thought they had bought was not the one defendant claimed to have sold?”

“Not quite, Your Honour. It was not as simple as that.”

The judge sighed. “I do not normally take any medication,” he said, “but I feel the need coming on. How complicated was it?”

“Perhaps the position could best be described as force majeure, Your Honour. Like everyone else, my clients had to be somewhere. They merely acquiesced to the suggestion that by moving into the empty property, they would at least get refuge for the night. In fact it turned out to be for many nights. Unfortunately for them, the property they moved into was a far cry from the one they imagined they had bought. It was exactly the same in size and layout, but there the resemblance ended. The bungalow in which they found themselves was deficient in many respects. It had previously been owned by the defendant’s parents and had not been lived in for some time. It was affected by penetrating damp, rising damp, wet rot, dry rot and heavy mould growth. The roof leaked and neither the front door not the back one could be closed, from inside or outside, without the application of shoulders, knees or both.”

The judge’s eyes rolled upwards. “I don’t like to use the word ‘incredible’, but I am close to doing so,” he said. “Does this complete your presentation?”

“Yes, Your Honour. My clients are simple people and demand only what is right. They wish to take over the property they assumed they had bought, and to receive some compensation for their inconvenience.”

“Thank you, Ms Drain,” said the judge. He turned a dark stare upon Cedric Thistle. “Now, do you have an explanation for this, Mr Entwistle?”

“Yes, Your Honour,” Thistle replied, seeming less forceful than usual. “It is true that my client placed a sign in his garden, advertising a property for sale. It is also true that Mr and Mrs Whitcombe approached him in the manner described by the prosecution. However, the introductory comments are important. On entering Mr Booth’s bungalow, Mr Whitcombe said: “May we have a look around your house?” My client obliged, but at no time did he suggest that the property the Whitcombes inspected was the one he intended to sell. He was merely proud to show them his own dwelling.”

The judge ran his hands over his wig. “This becomes odder by the minute,” he groaned. “Am I right in assuming that your client had no intention of selling the property he advertised?”

Thistle produced his oiliest smile. “We are dealing with interpretation, Your Honour. My client owned both the property where the sign was displayed and the one which the plaintiffs occupied after the transaction. Mr Booth never indicated to Mr and Mrs Whitcombe that the property they inspected was the one for sale. Some confusion may have been caused by the fact that one of these bungalows – the one in which Mr Booth normally resides, and which the Whitcombes viewed, is called Rosehill, while the other is known as Rosemount.”

The judge waved a hand. “Just a moment. Were there not questions of a mortgage and a valuation?”

“Not on this occasion, Your Honour. The proceeds of the sale of the Whitcombes’ house sufficed to complete the purchase, so there was no mortgage involved. As to valuation, Mr Booth had had both properties examined shortly before the transaction. He showed the valuer’s report to Mr and Mrs Whitcombe. It seems that they were satisfied and decided that a further inspection was not necessary.”

“Obviously unwise,” said the judge. “Now, I would like to know whether the Rosehill property had been viewed by other parties before the Whitcombes inspected it. And I would caution you to consider this point carefully, as I am prepared to check it – by advertising if necessary.”

Thistle was prepared. “There had been eight earlier viewers, Your Honour.”

“I see. Now, I seem to recall that the market at the time was brisk. It seems odd that none of the previous viewers had offered to buy the property. Was there a particular reason? I must stress that this could be significant.”

This time, Thistle was obliged to conduct a spirited conversation with his client before turning back to the judge. “Your Honour, knowing that he was likely to be absent for some time and not wishing to overburden his solicitor, Mr Booth sought a buyer who did not need a mortgage. He was thinking in terms of eliminating some administrative work. It was by the same reasoning that he showed the Whitcombes the valuation he had commissioned himself.”

“Thank you, Mr Pustule,” said the judge, slapping his hands on the bench. “This is becoming incomprehensible. I think we need more input from the prosecution. Ms Swain?”

Arabella Bray bowed. “Among the papers provided, Your Honour will find a copy of the valuer’s report. It is noteworthy that at the top right-hand corner, the relevant address is given. In this case, the copy is misleading, in that there is a thumbprint over the part of the address which refers to the precise name of the property. The ‘Rose’ is clear, but what follows is not. It is our submission that that the defendant substituted the report on the superior property he occupied, Rosehill, for the one on the inferior residence, Rosemount. This was nothing more than a confidence trick. It is for this reason that my clients seek satisfaction.”

“I understand,” said the judge, “but what about the conveyance? I mean, is it not usual for a drawing to be submitted from one solicitor to the other?”

“That is true, Your Honour. However, the circumstances here are unusual in that not only did the two properties abut the same thoroughfare, Maple Drive, but they were at opposite ends of it, one being the first, the other the last. The plot outlined in red by the defendant’s solicitor – that is the one of Rosemount – was, like the size, exterior and interior of the building, identical to that of Rosehill. Everyone concerned saw that the two dwellings were at the extremes of the development, but it appears that no-one noticed the difference which seems so obvious to us now.”

The judge flopped back in his chair. “We live and learn,” he said. “Or perhaps we just live. I sometimes wonder. What you say puts me in mind of someone writing a long document. He or she may labour long and hard and make many amendments, but in carrying out a final check sees what is in the mind’s eye, rather that what is on paper. I have done it myself. However, I think I have all that is important here. Are the parties willing to accept my decision?”

There being no dissent, Judge Wimple rubbed his hands together and launched into his summing up. “This is a sorry affair. Clearly, Mr and Mrs Whitcombe were gullible in their failure to arrange a survey of the property they assumed they had bought. But gullibility is not a crime and is not even reprehensible, for if there were no miscreants, there would be no victims. Deception is a different matter. It is obvious to me that Mr Booth, having inherited Rosemount, perceived that the two properties concerned were similar as to plot, size, and appearance. By what he presumably saw as, for him, a fortunate coincidence, the two dwellings were at the ends of Maple Drive. He seems to have noted that there might be some confusion, so apparently decided that there was an opening for opportunism.”

The judge leaned back, lacing his hands across his midriff. “I know the area concerned quite well and am in no doubt that the bungalows there are, when in reasonably good condition, highly desirable. I believe that Mr Booth had both properties valued, then erected the sale sign at his home and simply waited for a prospective purchaser who did not need a mortgage and who would accept the survey report on the Rosehill property, defaced by the supposedly accidental thumbprint. He had little to lose by rejecting any offer which did not suit his purpose. This transaction was clearly a swindle. I think Mr Booth concluded that at worst, he would be faced with relatively small expense if his ruse failed, while at best, he might push the matter through to an outcome favourable to him, in that he would avoid the considerable cost of restoring the Rosemount property to good condition. In effect, he would receive the price for a dwelling in a first-class state, while disposing of one which needed extensive remedial work.”

Cedric Thistle contemplated his footwear as the judge leaned forwards to complete his remarks. “I find in favour of the plaintiffs, who have been ill-used. We shall meet again in two weeks from today, when I shall give my decision as to compensation. I hardly need say that the sum will be not be small and that the responsibility for it will devolve largely upon the defendant, though I shall also have something to say about roles of the two solicitors, who will be required to reverse some of their work at their own expense. As for Mr Booth, I think he should make arrangements for alternative accommodation. I cannot so order it, but suggest that he may wish to consider exchanging properties with Mr and Mrs Whitcombe, subject to the financial conditions I shall impose. Proceedings adjourned.”

February 18th, 2012, 06:35 PM

Esmeralda Wimple had done it! After – as she viewed the situation – initially grovelling in the gutter by selling her paintings for twenty-five pounds each, she had hurdled the hundred-pound obstacle, then passed the two hundred mark and now, only weeks later, had disposed of a landscape for two hundred and fifty pounds. It was a target she had set herself at the outset and no matter that her latest effort had been bought by a friend of the family, she was overjoyed. In fact the work was good enough to have achieved the same price on the open market. Suffused with largesse, Esmeralda had offered to treat her husband to a new pipe. Judge Embert Wimple had reminded her that following a self-imposed health scare, he had not smoked for two years. His wife hadn’t noticed. The Wimples may not have been twin souls, but they had reached a state of passably amiable tolerance of one another, both being absorbed with personal interests and barely conscious of other influences.

At well over eighty, the judge was trying to put an end to his long legal career but his colleagues had prevailed upon him to continue. After all, he was father of the house, so to speak. No rest for the wicked. Or was it the weary? Embert Wimple was never quite sure about that. It was like filling the bill or fitting it. The English language was such an unruly monster, receiving its input as it did from every corner of the Earth. However, a busy man has little time to dwell on such things. Messrs Ramsden and Clegg were awaiting their respective fates in what seemed to be yet another in the long line of minor neighbourhood arguments. Judge Wimple should have known better than to think in this way. He persisted in forgetting the famous exchange between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson that demolished the latter’s assertions about how commonplace these little matters were, noting that the ‘mundane’ affair the doctor had mentioned concerned a man who ended each meal by throwing his false teeth at his wife.

Accustomed as he was to seeing familiar faces across the bench, the judge was mildly surprised to encounter one new to him. The barrister concerned, Timothy Parmenter, was a slim, hawkish-looking six-footer, representing the plaintiff, David Ramsden. The defendant, Robert Clegg, was in the hands of the elderly Simon Fortescue. Judge Wimple did not bother to assimilate the charge. Everything would come out in the wash. However, he made a mental note to be on his best behaviour, especially with regard to identifying the visiting advocate. He nodded at Parmenter. “Perhaps you would get us going, Mr Parmesan.”

Prosecuting counsel gave a mini-bow. “May it please Your Honour, the essence of this case is that my client was grievously misled by the defendant. The two gentlemen live in the same Victorian terrace, in houses which are commonly called back-to-back. Both properties retain many of their original features, including black iron cooking ranges, fuelled by open fires. The two parties had been friends for many years and it was their habit to get together each Sunday morning to play chess. The matter with which we are concerned occurred on the seventh of March, this year. Perhaps I may digress slightly here.”

The judge had already digressed and was thinking about the various propulsive agents that might be used for interplanetary travel. “By all means,” he said absently.

“Thank you. It was customary for the games to be played with a particular set of chessmen owned by the defendant, Mr Clegg. The pieces were red and white and had long been admired by my client, who collects chess sets. Mr Ramsden had many times offered to buy the one concerned from Mr Clegg, who had consistently refused to part with it, saying that it was the work of an Indian craftsman, who had carved the pieces from ivory, late in the eighteenth century. He said he had bought the set for fifty pounds, at an auction of rare items over thirty years ago.”

“A considerable sum at the time,” said the judge. “Might I enquire as to the pattern of the chessmen concerned? Were they in the traditional Indian style, or that more common today?”

This caused a brief consultation between counsel and plaintiff, then Parmenter swung back to the judge. “Your Honour, they were of the Staunton pattern which is seen most often nowadays.”

“Thank you. Please proceed.”

“On the day in question, my client made yet another offer to buy the set. Finally, Mr Clegg agreed to sell, saying that he considered a figure of three hundred pounds as appropriate. My client immediately returned to his home, where he kept substantial cash on hand. He came back and paid the full amount. It was decided that the deal would be consummated by a game with the pieces in question, by then belonging to my client. The game was recorded. When Mr Clegg made his forty-fourth move, he realised that he had blundered and was about lose. In a fit of pique, he swept an arm over the board, hurling the pieces around the room.”

“Good heavens,” said the judge. “I have played little chess, and then only for passing amusement. Is it usual for such emotions to be engendered?”

“I fear so, Your Honour. Chess is not always a relaxing pastime. There is a history of odd behaviour, which has been known to reach the highest levels, including world champions.”

“Ah, yes,” said the judge. “Now that you have jogged my memory, I recall that one great player was given to breaking furniture if things did not go according to his plans.”

“Your Honour is well informed.”

“You would expect that of a judge, would you not? However, let us get back to the incident.”

Parmenter nodded. “One of the pieces – the white queen – landed in the fire. Both men immediately grasped the full horror of what was happening. They tried to recover the piece, alternately pushing one another aside to do so. Finally, the item was rescued from the flames, but the skirmish continued. I understand that the defendant overbalanced, injuring himself.”

“One moment,” the judge broke in, having finally taken note of the plaintiff’s charge. “You say Mr Clegg was hurt. I will come back to you, but before I lose track, I think this might be a good point at which to hear a few words from the defence.” He turned to Fortescue. “Mr Willoughby?”

Defending counsel outbowed his opponent by some margin. “Thank you, Your Honour. My client admits that he was upset. He was already thinking that he had been ill-advised to submit to the constant pressure upon him to part with the chess set. His error on move forty-four was the cause of his subsequent conduct. He also agrees that physical force was used on both sides, but submits that he was motivated by an overwhelming desire to rescue the white queen from the flames, at whatever peril to himself and notwithstanding that it was no longer his property.”

“Very noble,” said the judge. “And he was injured?”

“Severely, Your Honour. Furthermore, the prosecution’s comment that Mr Clegg overbalanced is specious. He did so because he was first struck on the nose, then pushed violently by the plaintiff. Mr Clegg fell face-first against the oven, which was hot, as it contained some Yorkshire puddings which Mrs –”

“What kind?” asked the judge.

“Beg pardon, Your Honour? What kind of what?”

“The Yorkshire puddings. Were they the good old plate-sized ones, or these apologies we are sometimes offered in restaurants?”

“I will enquire.”

The judge had been carried away to his childhood, remembering his mother’s vast Yorkshire puddings, swimming in onion gravy, each almost a meal in itself. “Never mind. It was just a passing thought. Go on.”

“Thank you. In addition to the blow, Mr Clegg suffered burns to his forehead, which have healed only in the last week or so. However, he makes no charge in this respect, as he is conscious of his wife’s intervention.”

“Mrs Clegg? How was she involved?”

“It seems she was fearful for the fate of her puddings and entered the fray by kicking Mr Ramsden.”


“In the living room.”

“I was thinking in terms of Mr Ramsden’s anatomy.”

“Beg pardon, Your Honour. If I am to avoid indelicacy, perhaps it would suffice to say that the kick was . . . er . . .below the equator.”

“Are you speaking of the Tropic of Capricorn?”

“That would describe it well.”

“I see,” said the judge. “Now, considering that Mr Clegg was injured and that action is being taken against him, I think we had better hear a little more from the prosecution. Mr Paraquat?”

Parmenter rubbed his hands, preparing his knockout blow. “Mr Clegg was not the only one injured, Your Honour. My client suffered extensive burning to his left hand. However, that is not the substance of our claim.”

“Really? Then perhaps you had better get to that substance. I have known murder trials with fewer ramifications.”

“My apologies, Your Honour. The point at issue is that, when the white queen was retrieved from the fire, it was deformed, having been partially melted. My client was suspicious, as he did not imagine that ivory would react in that way to such a brief contact with flames. On examination, he found that the piece – and all the others he had just bought – were of plastic, the bases being weighted and sealed. The set, or something like it, could be bought now for four or five pounds in any one of several local shops.”

“Dear me,” said the judge, “this is most disturbing. I assume your contention is that Mr Clegg was aware that he had sold this common or garden plastic chess set for three hundred pounds and had been misleading your client for some years?”

“Precisely, Your Honour. We suggest that no other interpretation is credible. It may be that in the initial instance, Mr Clegg was merely fantasising. It is even possible that he began to believe his strange story, but the fact remains that he obtained a substantial sum of money from my client by false pretences.”

“Very well,” said the judge, turning to Fortescue. “Have you anything to add, Mr Bannerman?” There had in fact once been an advocate of that name, who had appeared before Judge Wimple several times, but had been dead for twenty-three years.

While listening to the prosecution’s latest remarks, Simon Fortescue had been shooting furious glances at his client, who had not seen fit to advise him about the true provenance of the chess set. But advancing years had not yet extinguished Fortescue’s lights. He excused himself for a few muttered words with Clegg before replying: “Not a great deal, Your Honour, except that it appears that my client was duped when he originally bought the pieces at the auction, so long ago. He can hardly be blamed for passing on what he believed. For many years, he had been satisfied that he possessed an item of great age and considerable value.”

“Thank you. Now, both sides have had their say and it remains for me to summarise and arbitrate.” Straightening his minimal notes, the judge treated both counsels to a grim look, then went on: “This is a sad affair. To borrow from the chess vocabulary, the litigants are here because they have reached stalemate. On the one hand, there is covetousness and on the other, deception. I am not an avid reader of the scriptures, but I seem to remember that the former is one of the seven deadly sins. Still, this is a secular court and we cannot judge anyone for religious transgressions, so long as we are not dealing with crime in the generally accepted sense. Deception is a different matter, but is elusive, since it often depends on the interplay between disingenuousness and gullibility.”

After a brief pause to allow everyone to take in what he considered profound words, his honour continued: “One factor is that the plaintiff and the defendant share a passion for chess. It is therefore odd that neither should have noticed one most obtrusive fact about this set. I mentioned that I have had no great involvement in the game as a player, but that has never debarred me from being a student of its history. I would say that chess can, to perhaps an even greater extent than most games, be regarded as part playing, part discussing games already played and part lore. It is the third element which puzzles me in this case, insofar as I think it inconceivable that two such enthusiasts as appear here could be so deluded as they apparently were. We are asked to believe that both parties accepted the pieces in question as being the work of an eighteenth-century Indian artisan. This is nonsense – and I am bound to express my disappointment at the quality of whatever research was carried out in this case.”

The judge took a drink of water and glared again at the advocates. “Someone on one side or the other should have noticed that the Staunton pattern of chessmen takes its name from Howard Staunton, the only Englishman ever to have been considered the world’s best player. It was introduced close to the middle of the nineteenth century. Obviously, the likelihood of a chess set of this kind being made some decades earlier is remote. I very much doubt that a reputable auctioneer, especially one dealing with rarities, would have offered such a patently spurious item as the one concerned, so I do not accept Mr Clegg’s assertion that he bought the set in the way he claims to have done. I believe that he deceived the plaintiff.”

This brought a further angry glance from Fortescue to his client, before the judge continued: “Against that, we have the fact that Mr Ramsden caused Mr Clegg to suffer a serious injury, and the further point that Mr Ramsden was also slightly hurt. We must offset Mr Clegg’s injury against Mr Ramsden’s financial loss and the lesser physical damage to him. My impression is that there is little to choose between the two parties. I do not accept that any trinket of whatever supposed value can fairly be balanced against bodily harm to anyone. However, as there was injury to both parties, I think the best solution is that Mr Clegg should repay the three hundred pounds in question and that he should resume ownership of the chess set. That seems to be the nearest we can get to restoring the status quo ante, which was disturbed by avarice on one side and opportunism on the other. Proceedings concluded.”

February 22nd, 2012, 06:58 PM

Could anything be better? Late August, with the last test match coming up and the weather set fair, domestic affairs running smoothly and to cap it all, an impending case involving a local cricket captain, a magician and a theatre. It was almost too good to be true. Judge Embert Wimple tried to put things in order of priority. In the final analysis, there could be no doubt. Over half a century of matrimonial bonds – albeit with the inevitable discords that arise between people of strong character – must come first. Having consigned to dreamland his idea of getting a city-centre penthouse flat, his honour was resigned to spending his remaining years – or as he often thought, days – in the outer reaches of the city.

After flirting with muscular activity – first sculpting, then pottery – Esmeralda Wimple had opted to stick to her painting, while the judge had finally decided to reject the blandishments of his colleagues and plunge into full retirement in the not too distant future. After all, there was much to do that had been neglected and if a man had avoided senility, he had a duty to indulge an enquiring nature. And what was senility anyway? Malcolm Conley had something to say about that. What was it now? Ah, yes: “They tell you that you’ll lose your mind when you get older. What they don’t tell you is that you won’t miss it much.”

When Judge Wimple’s thoughts regressed through the decades, they spent little time on the annoying interventions of wars and other social disruptions. His honour’s main regret about World War Two was that Don Bradman and Len Hutton had been denied some of their best years at the batting crease, while the egg-shaped spinners of Hedley Verity might have entranced the cognoscenti for longer than they had. And in more recent times, what about the test careers of those two great South African batsmen, Pollock and Richards, and that country’s demon bowlers – another Pollock in there somewhere. All wrecked by politics. It was too sad.

As to the present, the judge knew that his case today was Horner versus The Great Tomaso. This presented a moral dilemma. Embert Wimple knew nothing of the defendant, other than that he was a professional conjuror. The problem lay with the plaintiff, in that the judge was aware that Alan Horner was a leading local cricketer. His honour had wondered whether he should recuse himself, on grounds of possible partisanship. Then he had got to wondering about this ‘recuse’ matter. He had heard that American judges occasionally used the term on – as he understood it – the ground that they might be considered less than totally impartial. On consulting his dictionary, Judge Wimple could not find the word, so rebuked himself for having failed to include in his library a copy of Noah Webster’s compendious American counterpart. The omission was regrettable, but a man had to row with the oars he had. And anyway, Embert Wimple was not personally acquainted with Horner, so felt that he could officiate with a clear conscience.

The plaintiff was represented by the up-and-coming Cedric Thistle, the defence by the ageing Douglas Latimer, back in harness after a battle with nervous debility. Relations between the two barristers were far from cordial, so it seemed likely that sparks would fly. After checking that all was in order, the judge glanced at the litigants. He was familiar with the tall, lithe figure of the plaintiff, whom he had seen performing on more than one local cricket field. Being not only team captain, but also opening batsman and opening bowler – his father was club president – Alan Horner was a well-known man in the city. The defendant was a slim fellow of middling height, with a swarthy complexion, a tiny, pointed black beard and a waxed moustache. He looked, the judge thought, perfectly suited to his trade. His honour nodded at Cedric Thistle. “Let’s get the ball rolling, Mr Pestle,” he said briskly.

Prosecuting counsel was by now familiar with the judge’s little ways and was a no-nonsense man, not the type to be derailed by a slight misnomer. “May it please Your Honour, the incident we are addressing took place in the variety theatre in the city centre here at about eight-thirty p.m. on the ninth of April. This was one of those special evenings when attendance is by invitation only, those present being in period dress to recreate an atmosphere of a hundred or more years ago. As a part of his performance, the defendant requested a helper from the stalls, to assist him with a trick. My client came forward.”

“One moment,” said the judge. “Mr Horner was therefore a willing party, was he?”

“In a way, Your Honour.”

“I think you had better explain.”

“Of course. The defendant is said to possess certain hypnotic powers. He tends to fix his eyes upon a member of the audience, causing the person concerned to be . . . er . . . induced to co-operate, willingly or not.”

“Remarkable,” said the judge. “If only I could do the same at home. Go on.”

“Thank you. My client was asked to take part in a trick in which a handkerchief was apparently damaged, then returned intact to the helper. This time, there was some error and the object was mutilated. This annoyed my client, who exchanged words with the defendant. There was a tussle, which we contend is not material to the case. What matters is that my client lost a valued possession and he seeks compensation.”

The judge peered over his half-glasses. “So we are all here on account of a handkerchief, are we?”

“It was no ordinary handkerchief, Your Honour, but rather a family heirloom, on show only because the event was an unusual one. The item was passed down to my client by his father, who received it from his father, who was presented with it by a member of the Russian aristocracy, shortly before World War One. The handkerchief was one of a set of six – the others disappeared long ago – given to Grigori Rasputin by Empress Alexandra in 1900. They were of fine silk and the empress had had them monogrammed with the initials of Mr Rasputin. Each was of considerable historical value and therefore the only remaining one was correspondingly more so.”

“I see,” said the judge. “Now, with regard to the handkerchief, anyone might make a claim of this kind. Was there a genuine provenance involved?”

“Not as such, Your Honour. However, the item was assessed by a local antiquary who put a figure of five hundred pounds on it.”

“Do we have any written evidence of this?”

“Sadly, we do not. The expert concerned has been away for some months, inspecting artefacts in a remote part of Cambodia. It is no easy matter to contact him. Naturally, my client would have sought a second opinion, but as the item concerned was not only ruined during the incident, but was then lost in the ensuing confusion, this proved impossible. We are thus left with the valuation I mentioned.”

“Very well,” the judge said. “Now I think we should hear what the defence has to say. He turned his gaze to Latimer. “Your turn, Mr Lansbury.”

Defending counsel had spent many years bowing and scraping before judges, and now considered himself beyond such obeisances. He remained resolutely erect, if a little twitchy. “May it please Your Honour, the prosecution has said everything except what is important. Clearly, my learned friend feels that what is lacking in substance may be made up by loquacity. There is no argument about the summoning of the plaintiff from the audience, nor is there any denying that my client’s trick failed. As a matter of interest it was, at least up to that point, his only error in many years of practice.”

The judge held up his hands. “Do you mean that he has had further troubles since then?”

“Unfortunately that is so, Your Honour. The artistic temperament is a delicate one. The experience that concerns us unnerved my client to the extent that he has had other difficulties which have twice led to affrays. Indeed, he has only just recovered after being attacked by a Bulgarian wrestler.”

“Most regrettable. Now, just as a matter of interest, what happens if your client summons a helper who does not have a handkerchief?”

“Tomaso provides one and insists that it be inspected not only by the helper, but also by another member of the audience.”

“Thank you. Please continue.”

“The Great Tomaso admits that he defaced the handkerchief. However, he tried to pacify the plaintiff, who became inordinately aggressive and, after a short altercation, punched my client. The blow, discomfiting enough in itself, caused complications. Your Honour may be aware that a small orchestra performs in the theatre concerned.”

“Yes, I am. Proceed.”

“There is very little space between the musicians, once they have taken their places. The plaintiff’s punch spun my client one hundred and eighty degrees and flung him head-first into the orchestra pit. Among the players is a cymbalist, who uses his instruments to heighten the effect when a performance reaches a climax.”

“I know what you mean,” said the judge, who had spent a few evenings at the theatre. “Continue.”

“When the musician saw my client hurtling towards him, he thought only trying to avert an accident. As he had no room to move, he instinctively attempted to form a barrier in front of himself by clapping together his cymbals, but was not quite successful because my client’s head came between them.”

“Oh, dear,” said the judge. “So we almost had Tomaso puree?”

“Very droll. Your Honour’s remark captures the essence of what was a deeply disturbing experience for my client. I would also mention that it was the same, though in lesser degree, for the musician. As it happens, the gentleman concerned is stoutly built. My client broke through the instruments and his head thudded into the cymbalist’s midriff. The man was severely winded, but when things calmed down, he realised that his rotundity had probably prevented even greater misfortune all round. Had my client collided with the cymbal-player’s immediately adjacent colleague on his left, who was a very slender man, the consequences would undoubtedly have been far more serious. As it was, Tomaso suffered acute physical and mental distress. His hearing was impaired for some time. In spite of this, and of the fact that he could have made counter-charges, he appears here at his own expense, which is not inconsiderable, as he is currently working in Hamburg and will miss at least two performances. He is an Italian and is not fully conversant with the ways of British justice. Nevertheless, he wishes to comply with them, not least because he has hopes of appearing among us again.”

“I understand,” said the judge. “Having been unseated here, he wishes to re-mount the proverbial horse.”

Latimer bowed. “Yes. Furthermore, though the incident that concerns us has been detrimental to my client’s career, he bears no malice toward the plaintiff, but merely seeks to do what is right.”

“Very commendable,” said the judge. “Now, I think most of what is relevant has been said, but there is one small point.” He turned his gaze to Thistle. “Mr Griswold,” he said, tearing off a piece of his notepad. “I would be obliged if your client could replicate on this paper the Rasputin monogram on the lost handkerchief. There is no need for great artistry. The best he can do will suffice.”

The utterly bemused Thistle went into a huddle with Horner, who produced what the judge wanted.

Embert Wimple stared at the result, his eyebrows rising, then slapped his hands on the bench. “Excellent,” he said. “Now, if you have no more to say, I believe we can come to a conclusion. Gentlemen?”

There were no further observations. The judge sighed and removed his glasses. “Unlike some cases I hear,” he said, “this is fairly simple. I am surprised that neither counsel” – he glared at both – “appears to have noticed that the empress Alexandra must have been accustomed to using the Cyrillic alphabet, in which some letters are similar to Roman ones in appearance and pronunciation, while others look similar, but are pronounced differently and still others bear no graphic resemblance to their Roman counterparts. Now, unless my memory fails me, the Cyrillic capital ‘G’ is rather like the Roman ‘T’, with the left-hand side of the cross-stroke omitted, while the Cyrillic capital “P” corresponds with the Roman ‘R’. It would seem reasonable to assume that the empress had the handkerchiefs monogrammed in the Russian way, yet Mr Horner has given us his version, which is unmistakably Roman.”

Here, the judge paused, to allow his comments to be absorbed before continuing: “The conclusion must be either that the plaintiff innocently accepted the tales of his forebears, or that the truth was known all along. I am inclined to believe that Mr Horner took the ancestral story as valid. However, that gave him no right to assault the defendant. If we were all to resort to violence at the slightest provocation, we would spend much of our lives brawling. Surely we have reached something better than that. I am also conscious of the fact that The Great Tomaso, while perhaps well-known and generally successful in other parts of the world, must have had a chastening experience here. On the whole, I think that, having encountered both injury and a career reverse, he has suffered enough and I do not intend to add to his tribulations by upholding the charge. As to the plaintiff, he is a cricket captain. I hope I need not say more. Proceedings concluded.”

February 25th, 2012, 06:55 PM

It was late September and, thought Judge Embert Wimple, a good thing, too. The country was bathed in watery sunshine. True, the cricket season was over, but there were compensations. The gardeners were surely about to call it a year. That would be a blessing, particularly on this occasion, as the judge and his wife had new next-door neighbours, a young couple. The man’s idea of relaxation was to mow his half-acre of lawn twice a week, to the height of carpet pile – and not shag carpet, either, the judge reflected bitterly. Well, perhaps one had to make allowances. The newcomers had previously lived in a flat and were revelling in their first experience of owning a large garden.

Esmeralda Wimple was off on another short jaunt, calculated to improve her already profound grasp of perspective. The judge was happy to have his evenings free for contemplation, as he had set aside his examination of the latest developments in rocket propulsion, returning to his main preoccupation of cosmology in its widest sense. His thoughts were far removed from what he was about to deal with as he took his place in court. What was it today? Fallowfield versus Pryce, something about a contretemps in an eating house. And what about the advocates? Ah, familiar faces, Jeremy Turnpenny for the prosecution and Roderick Prendergast for the defence. That was positive on two counts. First, there probably would be no fireworks and second, neither barrister would expect his honour to be too well acquainted with what was coming up. The judge nodded at prosecuting counsel. “What delights have you for us today, Mr Turnpike?”

Turnpenny was pleased to note that the judge seemed to be quite jovial. “Interesting ones, Your Honour,” he said. We are concerned with the events of the fifth of May. Late in the evening of that day my client, Mr James Fallowfield, having spent an afternoon here in the city, went for a meal at a restaurant called ‘The Strasbourg Goose’, which is owned by the defendant and is situated about three miles north of the city centre. Mr Fallowfield had a meal, of which the main course was lobster. He was thoroughly dissatisfied with what was offered to him, but he did his best with it. When it came to payment, there was a dispute. My client was –”

“Just a moment,” the judge interjected. “If your client was unhappy about the matter, why did he not speak up earlier?”

“He restrained himself for two reasons. First, he was so hungry that he would have eaten almost anything put before him. Second, he could hardly have been expected to pronounce on the quality of the meal without eating it, or trying to.”

“I see. Go on.” “I was about to say that Mr Fallowfield offered payment, notwithstanding his justified complaint.” Turnpenny paused to allow the inevitable further interjection.

“What was the nature of that complaint?”

“Serious, Your Honour. The first course was a clear broth which my client equated with the effluent from the operations of a washing machine. When it came to the main course, the vegetables were steamed to a sloppy pulp. Still worse was the lobster. Mr Fallowfield maintains that he observed some movement on the plate, and he was not convinced that the creature was actually deceased?”

“Good grief,” the judge groaned. “I appreciate that there is a passion for fresh food nowadays, but that would be too much for most people. Furthermore, I have always thought that lobster changes colour when cooked. Did that not give your client a clue?”

“Mr Fallowfield had never before eaten lobster, so did not know what to expect.”

“Extraordinary. The idea of a meal escaping from the plate is new to me, though I seem to recall that James Bond encountered something of the kind. What then?”

“Despite his reservations, Mr Fallowfield agreed to pay in full for the meal. In doing so, he became embroiled in an argument with the waiter, who summoned the owner, Mr Pryce, who in turn brought in the restaurant’s security officer. At the time there was only one other patron, who was an old man and heavily intoxicated with drink. The waiter, Mr Pryce and the security officer hustled my client into the kitchen, where he was intimidated into washing crockery and cutlery for two hours before being released. Mr Fallowfield was in fear for his physical safety, so did not protest on the spot. He now seeks satisfaction.”

“Thank you,” said the judge. “That seems clear enough, but we will not jump to conclusions.” He turned to defending counsel Prendergast. “What is your version, Mr Pendlebury?”

“May it please Your Honour, there is something of a history involved here. The plaintiff had dined at the Strasbourg Goose on several previous occasions, each time causing trouble. Indeed, had my client, Mr Pryce, known that Mr Fallowfield was in the restaurant, he would have refused him service. As it happens, the waiters at the establishment change from time to time and the one who served Mr Fallowfield was ignorant of that gentleman’s idiosyncrasies.”

The judge was now fully absorbed. “Tell us a little more about them,” he said. “I mean the idiosyncrasies, not the waiters.”

“That is easily done, Your Honour. On his last visit to the Strasbourg Goose before the occasion that concerns us, he had ordered a sirloin steak. He caused much consternation by demanding a hammer and some tacks, saying that the only way he would get any value for money from the dish would be by nailing it to his shoe soles. This was a totally unwarranted slur on my client, who is well known for producing excellent steaks. Two months before that incident, Mr Fallowfield had dined at the restaurant, ordering fried plaice and a green salad. He caused uproar by demanding aspirin tablets, claiming that they would offer the only possibility of, as he put it, resuscitating the salad, which he said was made from wilted ingredients. He also asked for a bottle of Beaujolais and on learning that there was none in stock, demanded that the waiter go to the nearest off-licence shop to rectify the perceived shortcoming. This was done, then Mr Fallowfield created another scene when he railed at the waiter for failing to advise him against drinking red wine with fish.”

The judge was beginning to tire of the litany. “Is that all?”

“Not quite, Your Honour. Mr Fallowfield had patronised the restaurant on one still earlier occasion. He made no complaint about the food, but inveighed against the lack of stabling.”

“Stabling?” Did he arrive on horseback?”

“No. As far as we can ascertain, he does not own or ride a horse. He said that he was taking a stand against what he called declining standards at our catering establishments, saying that the absence of stables would have been unthinkable in times gone by.”

“I see,” said the judge. “A queer customer indeed. However, I understand that on the occasion we are discussing, despite his doubts about the state of animation of the lobster, Mr Fallowfield offered to pay, but was pressed into washing up instead. What do you say to that?”

“The proposed method of payment was in keeping with the plaintiff’s conduct on other occasions. By the time the bill was finally presented, Mr Pryce was at the table. Recognising his customer, my client was not disposed to tolerate any further antics from him and insisted on settlement. Mr Fallowfield produced a wallet from his inside coat pocket, opening it ostentatiously under my client’s nose and shaking it to demonstrate that it was completely empty. He then turned out his other coat pockets, which contained a handkerchief, a nasal inhaler stick and two paper clips. Thinking in terms of presenting a bill at a later stage, perhaps by post, Mr Pryce asked the plaintiff for proof of identity, but was told that Mr Fallowfield had none. Seeing that my client was becoming agitated, the plaintiff rummaged in a trouser pocket, bringing out a crumpled piece of paper. He tossed this onto the table, saying: ‘Take it out of that – and mind you get the right change.’ Mr Pryce straightened the paper, discovering that it was a banknote, torn half-through, the denomination being one thousand pounds.”

“Good heavens,” the judge squeaked. “I had no idea there were any such items in circulation. Was it genuine?”

“That question was never raised, as the note was no more than a catalyst for what followed. Perhaps the prosecution could enlighten us.”

“Never mind that now. These waters are already murky enough. Continue.”

“The alleged offer to pay was clearly frivolous. My client’s takings for the whole of an average evening, which the one in question was, amount to far less than a thousand pounds. Mr Fallowfield must have known that, irrespective of the validity of the note, his idea of a transaction was wildly eccentric. My client merely tried to settle the matter expediently.”

The judge nodded. “Thank you, Mr Penfold. If you have finished, I think we had better see whether the prosecution has anything further. Mr Turnstone?”

“Your Honour, the past differences between the two parties are of no concern to us here. We are addressing the simple question of my client’s satisfaction with his meal and his effort to pay for it. Mr Fallowfield was quite within his rights in complaining about the food, especially as the main dish appeared to be trying to return to its natural habitat. Notwithstanding that, my client, having decided to pursue retrospective methods of gaining satisfaction, offered payment. Now, inflation affects all of us, and it was a certain constellation of events that left Mr Fallowfield with his particular means of settlement. It may have been extreme, but was perfectly legitimate. For what it is worth, I would cite my own recent experiences. About two years ago, I availed myself of public transport into the city. I offered one pound and was chastised by the driver, who said that he was running a bus and not a bank. Eighteen months later, I took the same journey, also presenting the driver with a pound, only to be told that that was not enough. The position in the case here is no more than an extension of the same phenomenon.”

“Very well,” said the judge. “Now, this matter is more complex than it might appear. However, I do not propose to retire, so if both parties are willing to accept my verdict, I will give it.”

No-one demurred, so the judge dispensed with his half-glasses, adorned his papers with a copy of Einstein’s formula for time dilation, stared hard at both counsels and summed up: “I am dejected that a matter such as this should reach court. With regard to the plaintiff, the prosecution is quite right in saying that Mr Fallowfield’s earlier visits to the Strasbourg Goose are irrelevant. They may indicate a pattern of behaviour, but one must assume that any disagreements were resolved on the spot. Now, as to Mr Fallowfield’s complaint, we must try to equate this with someone’s buying an item at a shop. In such a case, if the goods are defective, they are normally replaced or a refund given. It seems reasonable to me that if someone has a meal at a restaurant, the quality of what is provided cannot be established without, as it were, the proof of the pudding, which as we know is in the eating. There is therefore no doubt in my mind that the two situations are alike, the only difference being that a part-eaten meal cannot be returned to the producer in its initial state. I regard that as a minor technicality. With respect to the question of payment, I accept that Mr Fallowfield’s offer of a thousand-pound note was extraordinary. However, no-one has contested the authenticity of the item, so we must assume that it was genuine, in which case it was legal tender. As to the question of Mr Fallowfield’s failure to offer proof of identity, I imagine that a man who walks around with thousand-pound notes as loose change is not normally asked demonstrate this.”

Defending counsel looked gloomy as the judge went on: “With regard to Mr Pryce’s means of enforcing payment in kind, I think he was a little precipitate.” Here the judge was looking at the litigants, noting that both seemed to be about forty years of age and that the defendant was tall, massively-built man, while the plaintiff was short and slim. “I cannot imagine that a man of Mr Pryce’s appearance would have had much difficulty in dealing with Mr Fallowfield, yet he seems to have enlisted the assistance of his security guard, which I assume is a euphemism for a bouncer. This leads me to wonder why an establishment with modest takings needs such an employee. However, that is by the way.”

The judge peered closely at his notes, then went on: “If there was doubt about Mr Fallowfield’s identity, that could surely have been settled by an insistence from the defendant that a name and address be supplied, with a view to legal proceedings by Mr Pryce. If any such demand had caused a scene, I have no doubt that the police could have helped, and I ask myself why they were not brought in anyway. In conclusion, I must say that, although Mr Fallowfield’s conduct was unusual and possibly provocative, it was – still assuming that his banknote was genuine – not unlawful. I am bound to find in his favour, to the extent of ordering repayment by Mr Pryce of the cost of the meal, for which he obviously extracted equivalent value from Mr Fallowfield. I will not impose a fine, but must caution Mr Pryce against any repetition of his behaviour in taking the law into his own hands. Proceedings concluded.”

February 29th, 2012, 07:11 PM

The last test match had finished and as the players not destined to go on the winter tour prepared for their hibernation, much-loved bats were receiving their special annual treatment. The reek of linseed oil was in the air. Wistful was the word uppermost in Judge Embert Wimple’s mind at this time of year. How many more test series could a man of well over eighty expect to see? No doubt that depended on the extent to which mind and body were kept active. Happily for his honour, this was not a problem. As to the body, he still managed a ninety-minute daily walk at a pace which would have left many of his juniors floundering in his wake, had they cared to try keeping company with him. The mind was also well placed, for the judge was still working on his Theory of Everything. Having done all he thought reasonable with regard to the infinite – the shape and extent of the universe – he was about to address the equally mysterious matter of the infinitesimal, by delving into particle physics.

All in all, there were few cobwebs in the judge’s cranium, though according to Mrs Wimple, there was at times a possible question of bats in his belfry. Esmeralda was matching her husband in her own way, being by now a considerable figure in the local art world. Her paintings were selling as fast as she could produce them and she had been prevailed upon to run a course for aspiring brush-wielders. Fortunately, she did so at night school – a relief to the judge, who had had glum forebodings of a domestic tiff when his wife had initially toyed with the idea of inviting her pupils to the Wimple residence.

With scant knowledge of what the day had in store, the judge arrived at court to find that he had been assigned the case of Bellamy versus Hall, which appeared to be yet another affair arising from the world of sports and games. This was becoming an epidemic. Also, the incident concerned had taken place far outside Judge Wimple’s normal jurisdiction. However, both parties lived within five miles of his court, so he was not disposed to make anything of the point. The plaintiff, Colin Bellamy, was represented by one of the judge’s most long-standing sparring partners, Desmond Oddley-Staggers, while another old stager, Daniel Pettigrew, appeared for the defendant, Philip Hall. With everyone in place, the judge addressed Oddley-Staggers. “Let’s get the show on the road, Mr Barstow.”

Thumbs in waistcoat pockets, Oddley-Staggers gave the slightest bow that decorum required. “May it please Your Honour, this is a case in which a simple sporting encounter, intended to be joyous, became quite the reverse. It took place on the eighteenth of December last, this hearing having been delayed owing to my client’s recent illness. Both parties here have high reputations in the field of conkers.”

“Conkers?” said the judge. “Do you mean as in horse chestnuts?”

“Yes. No doubt most of us, of our gender anyway, are familiar with the old school playground game. Over the years, this has developed into something of a sport, with regional, national and international adherents. The position was that my client and the defendant both had aspirations to reach the UK finals, from which position either might have become world champion. At the time in question, they were leading contenders for the county.”

“Just a moment,” the judge interjected. “You indicated a world championship. I have always thought of conker-playing as a peculiarly English activity.”

“That might have been the case at one time, Your Honour, but if it was, it is no longer so. Indeed, I believe a German gentleman has recently come to prominence.”

“Has he really?” said the judge. “You surprise me in two ways. First, I had no idea that this pastime had reached such a stage. No doubt we shall soon see it as an event in the Olympic Games, perhaps contemporaneously with tiddlywinks. Second, I once spent some time in a village in Germany. I recall that there were two horse-chestnut trees bracketing the door of a Wirtschaft – that is a public house. I well remember seeing conkers galore on the ground. None of the locals took any notice of them. In fact, my wife and I collected a hundred and twenty-seven fine specimens in less than an hour. We placed them in a basket and had great enjoyment from looking at them for some time. I find it gratifying that our Continental neighbours are getting the idea. However, I am interrupting you. Please continue.”

“Your Honour’s comments are as always most interesting and educational. The litigants here were convinced that the winner of their encounter would very likely have represented his county in the national play-off. It must be admitted that the rules are not always entirely clear. The local attitude is a traditional one, which is to say that when a particular conker succeeds against another, it takes the gains from the defeated one. For example, if one conker has, say, ten victories and prevails against another with fifteen successes, it becomes what is known as a twenty-fiver. If it then further defeats another twenty-fiver, it become a fiftyer, and so on. It is quite common for a conker to mark up several hundred points in this way.”

The judge knew the rules perfectly well. In fact, as a schoolboy, he had once had a seventy-sixer. “I understand,” he said. “Go on.”

“Thank you. On this occasion, the parties decided to make a day of it. They hired a coach to take them and their supporters to the coast, where everyone concerned was expected to have a good time, after which the match would take place on high ground abutting the sea. All proceeded as planned until three o’clock in the afternoon, when the contestants met. By all accounts, it was a gruelling battle. It is not unusual for spectators to count the blows and if necessary, we could produce a witness who would state that there were thirty-six strikes on each side before a result was reached.”

“I don’t think we need that,” said the judge, who was deeply engaged and wanted no interventions other than his own. “I know how the game is played. Proceed.”

“My client’s conker prevailed, fragmenting its opponent with the thirty-seventh blow. Normally, one would expect a handshake at such a juncture. However, on this occasion, the defendant became querulous and heated words were exchanged, including an allegation of victory being achieved by sharp practice. Mr Hall snatched my client’s conker and threw it into the sea. Some grappling ensued and, locked together, the two men rolled over the adjacent cliff, after which hostilities were discontinued. My client sustained injuries. He makes no claim in that respect, but contends that he was deprived of the chance of becoming the British and perhaps even the world champion. For this, he seeks compensation.

“Thank you, Mr Stairwell,” said the judge. “Now, I think it is time for us to hear from the defence.” He turned his eyes to Pettigrew. “Proceed, Mr Pettifog.”

Was that deleterious or a good try? Defending counsel was not sure, but he maintained his composure. “Thank you, Your Honour. My learned colleague’s comments are interesting, but leave much unsaid.”

“Then perhaps you would care to acquaint us with what is missing.”

“Certainly. First, we will make nothing of the fact that the contest was basically an unequal one. We –”

“One moment,” the judge broke in. What do you mean by unequal?”

“Only that my client’s conker was, so to speak, fighting beyond its weight.”

“Explain, please.”

“Your Honour will appreciate that conkers come in various sizes. In this case, my client’s entry was of the flattened, disc-like variety, whereas the plaintiff’s was an unusually large, almost spherical one.”

The judge was now totally enthralled. “Are you saying that your client was entering a middleweight against a heavyweight?”

“That describes it perfectly.”

“Hardly a defence, Mr Petticoat. I mean, As I understand it we are considering what seems to be a boxing analogy. In that sport, anyone may fight as a heavyweight, no matter what his normal category may be.”

“Quite true. That is why we do not wish to make an issue of the point. My comment concerning inequality was merely intended to . . . er . . . impart the flavour of the occasion. It is true that size is not necessarily all-important in conker fights. Condition is very significant. I could tell tales of oven-hardening, pickling and varnishing which do not reflect well upon the game.”

“Please don’t,” said the judge. “I am close to being overwhelmed. Carry on.”

“Thank you. My client admits that he threw the plaintiff’s conker into the sea. However, he did so only after suffering a string of insults from Mr Bellamy, who at a time when he should have been rejoicing, chose instead to be derogatory with respect to a gallant opponent.”

“That is saddening,” said the judge. “You imply that the plaintiff failed to observe the first part of Churchill’s dictum concerning magnanimity in victory and defiance in defeat.”

“In a nutshell, yes.”

“Well, I take the point, but I also note that anyone with as much to say as the great leader must be right about some things at some times. It does not follow that such a person is right about all things at all times. Continue.”

Slightly chastened, Pettigrew pressed on. “There is no argument about the physical contest mentioned by the prosecution. The two parties did indeed grapple, then fell over the cliff-edge. However, they did not fall into the sea, far below, but landed on a ledge only six feet under the cliff-top.”

“Ah, Reichenbach again,” said the judge.

“Beg pardon, Your Honour?”

“I was thinking of Holmes and Moriarty struggling above the famous waterfall. I believe the case was ‘The Final Problem’. You may recall that the dastardly professor plunged to his death, while the great detective escaped. There was some question of a ledge in that matter too, though I seem to remember that Holmes climbed up to it, rather than falling onto it. However, I digress. Please proceed.”

“Thank you. Both parties sustained minor injuries as a result of the fracas and the fall. However, we would point out that there are no counter-charges against the plaintiff. My client, Mr Hall, is first and foremost a sportsman. As such, he accepts that emotions tend to run high when the stakes are substantial. Following the skirmish, my client required medical treatment, but his view is that this represented the normal cut-and-thrust of these vigorous engagements. He considers it beneath his dignity to debate so minor a point. Further, he is perplexed by the plaintiff’s obsessive attitude with respect to the lost conker which was – after the incident we are discussing – merely a two-hundred and nineteener and therefore by no means an object of countrywide adulation. To put the matter into context, there is a gentleman in Gloucester who has a six-hundred and twenty-eighter, and another in Padstow with a four-hundred and ninety-twoer.”

The judge projected both palms. “Enough,” he wailed. “I believe you have said all I need to hear. Let us have a final word from the prosecution.” He shifted his eyes to Oddley-Staggers. “Mr Strange?”

“We would add only that there is a difference of opinion here. The defence seeks to make something of the fact that my client’s conker was not the most revered one in the land. However, it was all Mr Bellamy had, so represented his total resources within this particular frame of reference. The loss was one he could not take lightly. He had genuine pretensions to national – perhaps international – renown, which were dashed by the disgraceful behaviour of the defendant.”

Embert Wimple scribbled a last note, then subjected the contestants to his most penetrating stare. “I do not propose to request your acquiescence in the matter of my decision,” he said darkly. “Enough has been said. Indeed, I think perhaps more than enough. Learned counsels have demonstrated that they have the gift of the g . . . that is to say they have been most eloquent. There is no need for me to retire, as the position is clear. First, I must say that I am shocked and dismayed. I am well aware that with regard to the most popular international sporting activities, standards of behaviour are not what they were. Within the more parochial ambit, this case is the third of its kind I have been obliged to deal with recently. If I remember correctly, the others concerned chess and snooker. I don’t know what we are coming to.”

Both advocates were already fearing the worst, as the judge went on: “It seems to me that we are dealing here with a biathlon. Normally, such an event consists of skiing and shooting, or alternatively cycling and running. However, I see no reason why any two combined sporting activities should not qualify for the description, and in this case we had conkers and wrestling. I am disposed to ignore the David and Goliath nature of the first part of the proceedings. Perhaps the defendant’s decision to enter his apparently underweight contestant was too ambitious, but we can hardly regard that as reprehensible. Now, as to the wrestling, I believe it is usual for such bouts to be decided by the best of three falls, or a submission. On this occasion, it seems that neither condition was fulfilled, so we must regard the match as inconclusive.”

The judge paused for ten seconds before delivering his final thoughts. “I hope you will all forgive an old man’s doubtless silly notions concerning the meaning of sport and its concomitant implication of fair play, when I say that the plaintiff seems to have behaved without appropriate grace in his moment of triumph. As to the suggestion that he may have been deprived of his chance of fame in the world of conkers, this must be regarded as a matter for speculation. It seems to me that Mr Bellamy might have taken any possible petulance on Mr Hall’s part with greater sang-froid. I also note that the prosecution has made no attempt to quantify in financial terms, the alleged loss of status in conker circles. There is no counter-allegation, so I feel it incumbent upon me to dismiss the charge and to advise the litigants to let bygones be bygones. Proceedings concluded.”

March 3rd, 2012, 06:46 PM

All was sweetness and light chez Wimple. The judge had been vindicated in prevailing upon his wife to abandon her recently expressed ambition to indulge in the more physical arts, his comments concerning the stress involved having preceded by a few days Esmeralda’s first rheumatic twinges. Further, the Wimple chatelaine had notched up another spectacular painting success – a sale for £300 – and had concluded that if she stuck to her easel, she might well outdo Grandma Moses.

His honour was much relieved. Dinnertime conversation had been reinstated, albeit at blatant cross-purposes, as Mrs Wimple was inclined to speak of palette and brush, while the judge was disposed to dwell on white dwarfs and black holes. Discussions were therefore somewhat tangential, but that was an improvement on the earlier introspective silences. His honour had grasped that some couples take longer than others to reach accord. Since both Wimples were well over eighty, their path had been a long one, but better a late accommodation than none.

The North of England was largely fogbound and, this being October, bereft of cricket. Still, an overseas tour was coming up, so willow and leather would soon meet again. The case demanding Embert Wimple’s attention was Walker versus Walker, and the judge was hoping that it would not be one of those ghastly domestic tiffs he so detested. If the country had not gone litigation mad, people would resolve such matters themselves, wouldn’t they? Still, a case was a case and there was always a chance that one of the learned advocates might have something novel by way of presentation. His honour thought of some his recent hearings, in which apparently prosaic cases had taught him much about snooker, card playing, chess and the production of nuclear weapons.

Having arrived at court and taken account of what he thought proper, Judge Wimple noted that the eminent Rodney Melliflewes was to handle the prosecution, while the rising star Arabella Bray had charge of the defence. The litigants, Geoffrey and Neville Walker, were well-dressed men, both in their forties. Making his mind a blank – an increasingly simple process, he sometimes thought – the judge beamed at Melliflewes. “On with the motley, Mr Carruthers,” he said.

“Thank you, Your Honour. My client takes issue with his brother, the defendant, in that he – my client – has been deprived of a substantial financial benefit, to wit, the proceeds which should have accrued to him from the disposal of a rare postage stamp. The case hinges upon this.”

The judge gave a short bark of laughter, having immediately linked stamps and hinges. In common with his schoolboy contemporaries, the young Embert Wimple had been an avid stamp-collector. Now he recalled his breathless visits to the local dealer, who had consistently failed to supply him with the odd penny black in the apparently endless assortments of a hundred British and Colonial items for a shilling a packet. Then there had been the hinges. Fifty for a penny, was it?

“Your Honour is amused,” said Melliflewes.

“Indeed I am,” the judge replied. “Your humour may be unconscious, but I was thinking of the connection between stamps and hinges.” He quickly rejected a fleeting idea of expanding on his rib-tickling aside. After all, if prosecuting counsel had never been a philatelist, he would not know about the delights filling an album with picturesque items from Dahomey or Nyasaland, or the bed-sheet-sized offerings from Tannu Tuva – how did people find space for addresses on envelopes to which they had just affixed such monsters – and where was the place anyway? Ah, yes, somewhere in Russia. “Now, in what way was your client deprived of those proceeds?”

Melliflewes had indeed never been interested in stamps, so was relieved that his honour’s diversion was brief. “It was a most unfortunate incident, arising from the death of Mr Walker senior, some months ago. My client and the defendant are the only offspring of the deceased gentleman, who was a widower, my client being his elder son. In broad terms, the matter of the estate had been decided. The will decreed that, with the exception of a few minor bequests, the inheritance was to be divided equally between my client and the defendant. When it came to the house clearance, everything went smoothly until the afternoon of the sixteenth of July, when the late Mr Walker’s stamps were discovered. It emerged that he had made no disposition in that respect. He left a single album, which was largely nondescript. However, there was one item which had a page to itself. This displayed a single stamp, which was an example of a Jamaican issue, produced during World War One. There had been an omission in the printing, which had been rectified manually, a practice which was not unheard of at the time and place, but which did confer an exceptional value upon the stamps in question.”

“I see,” said the judge. “So, we are not speaking of the Mauritius twopenny whatever?”

“No Your Honour. There is no vast fortune involved, but possibly a considerable sum. Much would have depended upon the condition of the stamp.”

“You say ‘would have’ depended. What was the condition?”

“Alas, we cannot say. There was a struggle between my client and the defendant, during which the stamp was mutilated. One corner was torn away and disappeared. The rest was defaced in the skirmish, as the defendant fingered the item after handling an ink pad. My client, who like his father is also a philatelist, had once viewed the stamp and maintains that before the affray it was in excellent condition.”

“That is meaningless,” snapped the judge. “I have some experience of these matters and have no recollection of stamps being categorised as ‘excellent’. My understanding is that the grading of these items is broadly similar to that of coins, in that there are specific classifications. I have never heard of ‘excellent’ as one of them, in either field. We really must be more precise. Can you help me?”

“Sadly not, Your Honour. However, I am able to say that there is a range of values involved. In addition to the condition as such, there is the matter of whether the stamp concerned was used or unused. In this case, we are not sure, as my client cannot remember and the defendant never knew. The piece now missing might or might not have told us, but there is no prospect of its being recovered. All we can say is that the values range from about a hundred and fifty to perhaps three hundred pounds.”

“Thank you,” said the judge. “I think it is now time to hear from the defence. Ms Bracewell.”

Quite good, thought Arabella Bray, not for the first time unsure whether she was the butt of an accidental near-miss or an intentional effort.

“May it please Your Honour, my client differs from the plaintiff in that he contends that he was told by Mr Walker senior that he was to receive the album in question, because the deceased gentleman wished to be even-handed with respect to his sons and had already promised to the plaintiff a painting of not inconsiderable worth, and an antique vase. It seems that the late Mr Walker considered the respective values of these two items together on the one hand and the stamp on the other as roughly comparable.”

“Did he? Well, we shall not be able to establish that now, shall we? I imagine the painting was not an old master?”

“No, Your Honour. It was a modern work by an artist from this city.”

The judge immediately set up a mental equation with his wife’s canvases, now much in demand. “Has it been appraised professionally?”

“Yes. Bearing in mind the unascertainable condition of the stamp, we thought that appropriate. This presented us with some difficulty, as the painting was already in the possession of the plaintiff. However, we were able to find an expert in the city, who is acquainted with the work of the artist concerned. The figure – albeit a provisional one – she placed upon the painting was two hundred and fifty pounds.”

“I see,” said the judge. “What about the vase?”

“We also considered that. The intrinsic value appears – at least in the context we are considering – to be fairly modest. We cannot be more precise, as we have been unable to find anyone to offer an accurate assessment. Of course, there may be a sentimental aspect which would hardly be quantifiable.”

“Very good,” said the judge. “You appear to have been most thorough, Ms Terry” – he was thinking of a schoolteacher he had associated with seventy years earlier. “Now, we are closing in upon a conclusion here, but there are certain things I would like to know. First, I need the addresses of the deceased gentleman and the two litigants. Second, I would be interested to learn whether there were, or are, mortgages or other encumbrances in respect of any of the properties concerned, assuming that all three are in the owner-occupier category, which I suspect is likely. Third, I would like to know the value of the rest of the inheritance, excluding the house. Perhaps you would enlighten me? If not, we shall adjourn to make enquiries.”

This deft swerve caused a general scrum, no-one but Judge Wimple himself being quite clear as to what he was thinking. Having had experience of the judge’s readiness to delve into detail, both counsels, while fearing the worst, knew better than to temporise. Finally, Melliflewes emerged. “Your Honour, all parties involved live, or lived, in this city. The deceased resided at number seventeen, Oakmill Chase, my client lives at number thirty-five, Beechwood Avenue and the defendant has an apartment in Riverside Mews, close to the city centre. As to encumbrances, there were none concerning the property of Mr Walker, senior. The only other charges involved are that my client has a mortgage of just under five thousand pounds and the defendant one of almost seven thousand pounds. As to the rest of the estate, there was only furniture and the usual household effects, plus financial investments. The furniture and other minor effects were sold for seven hundred pounds. The investments amounted to almost eighteen thousand pounds.

“Thank you,” said the judge. “I am much obliged. Now, if there are no further observations and if both parties are prepared to accept my decision, we can proceed.”

There was nothing to add and neither party had any objections, so Judge Wimple doffed his half-glasses and gave his steeliest glare to all concerned. “I am pained,” he said. “Pained and disappointed. I have said before from this very seat that I thought I had heard everything. Perhaps this will be a lesson to me to avoid premature conclusions. You may wonder why I asked for details of the properties and encumbrances in respect of the deceased gentleman and the litigants, and the rest of the estate.”

If that was a question, it elicited nothing but the blandest of expressions from the two counsels and looks of bafflement from their principals. However, the judge was in his stride, so any element of query was rhetorical. He ploughed on. “I will tell you. My knowledge of the highways and byways of this city is quite extensive and takes in the three addresses concerned. The deceased gentleman lived in Oakmill Chase, where I am quite sure that all the properties are worth far more than is the average dwelling hereabouts. Both plaintiff and defendant own properties of values not much less than that of the one they inherited.”

Both Melliflewes and Bray could see where the judge was headed. He took a drink of water and continued: “So, in addition to their existing wealth in terms of equity in property – which in both cases must be substantial – both parties here inherited real estate worth more than half the total value of their own dwellings, plus a half-share of the furniture and other effects, and half of their father’s investment capital. Yet it seems they conducted themselves like bellicose drunkards because of a postage stamp which cannot have had a value of more than three hundred pounds.”

Now even the adversaries got the point. The judge toyed with his glasses for a moment, then went on: “Normally, it is no part of my duties in a case of this kind to probe into the circumstances of the litigants. However, I hope that it is now realised why I felt it necessary to do so on this occasion. That two men of such apparent affluence should, after becoming even more prosperous, behave in this way almost beggars belief. Now, we do not know what the late Mr Walker had in mind regarding his stamp album. We have only the opinions of the contestants here, and as I have already noted, they behaved like a pair of savages over a comparative triviality. Therefore, we can hardly expect them to be objective.”

Melliflewes and Bray were now staring hard at their shoes, while both plaintiff and defendant were looking round as though contemplating a swift exit, all of which pleased Judge Wimple, who delivered the inevitable verdict: “There is no counter-charge from the defence and the prosecution’s allegation cannot be sustained. I have no authority to enforce what I have in mind, but if I had, I would recommend that the plaintiff, having acquired a painting and a vase, both apparently of some value, might feel it appropriate to hand over one or other of those items to the defendant as a peace offering. When I encounter this kind of thing, I am troubled by the thought that there are people starving in this world. The parties must of course do as they see fit, but the charge is disgus . . . er . . . dismissed. Proceedings concluded.”

March 7th, 2012, 07:02 PM

It was a glorious morning. Mild, watery sunshine, multi-coloured leaves everywhere and the harvest gathered in. Judge Embert Wimple found himself, not for the first time, emotionally torn. On the negative side, there was the usual hiatus in the cricket programme. Against that, this was the only time of year the judge really liked, in environmental terms. Winter was inconvenient, spring brought out noisy lawnmowers and suchlike torture instruments and summer was a series of interruptions, a time when people were always somewhere other than where they were needed. Perhaps on some other plane there would be a perfect state of permanent autumn, plus cricket. Could there be such a world? Embert Wimple hoped so. He accepted the idea of reincarnation, a belief which caused him to have mixed feelings. Did one want to do it all again? Some might, but he did not. Could one get out of the cycle and pass on to better things? Possibly – by being very good. Therefore, the judge did his best.

The tests encountered along life’s way were many and varied and the octogenarian lawgiver was today facing what appeared to be one of the more mundane ones. The impending hearing seemed likely to be tiresome, since it involved a motoring matter. This depressed the judge, who recalled the days of carefree driving, wind in the hair along country roads, dropping in at a pub without piped music and breezing along to one’s rural destination, albeit with the odd puncture on the way. What did we have now? Everybody and his brother had a car. And the result? Chaos, bad tempers and territorialism.

The judge took his place, finding that the case was Drinkwater and Thomas versus Hogg. Two plaintiffs. Or was it a company? No, it was two individuals. They were represented by that old campaigner, Desmond Oddley-Staggers, the defendant’s counsel being another battle-hardened veteran, Roderick Prendergast. As they were such familiar figures at court, both advocates had hopes that the old boy would confound the current odds in the barristers’ betting system by remembering one or other of their names. Time would tell. Judge Wimple scanned the written details, then addressed Oddley-Staggers. “Very well, Mr Goldstein, perhaps you would get the ball rolling.”

Prosecuting counsel was not the obsequious type. Adopting his customary thumbs-in-waistcoat-pockets pose, he favoured the judge with a minimal nod. “Thank you, Your Honour. We are dealing here with what is, in our view, a case of mindless hooliganism. The incident in question occurred at about seven-thirty in the evening of the twenty-first of June, initially on a minor road four miles from the centre of this city. One of my clients, Mr Drinkwater, had stopped at the junction with the major road and was checking the traffic position before emerging. The defendant drove up behind and failed to stop, his car striking the rear of Mr Drinkwater’s vehicle. My client got out of his car to check for damage. The defendant joined him and, despite my client’s calm reaction to the incident, became most abusive. Mr Drinkwater, who is more than twice the age of the defendant and a semi-invalid, feared for his safety and rejoined his wife in his own car, having established that the vehicle had suffered minor denting to the rear bumper.

“As the Drinkwaters were composing themselves to proceed, they were startled by a further rear-end impact, which was caused by the defendant’s intentionally ramming their vehicle with his much larger, heavier car, before retreating a few feet. Mr Drinkwater was unwilling to expose himself to possible further aggression, so leaned out of his window and shouted to the defendant, demanding an explanation. He was subjected to a further torrent of abuse and the comment that he now had something to complain about.”

“Good heavens,” said the judge. We seem to be invoking Clausewitz, who I believe considered war as the pursuit of diplomacy by other means.”

“An apposite observation, Your Honour,” Oddley-Staggers replied. That is precisely how Mr Drinkwater views the matter, especially in view of what followed.”

“And what was that?”

“My other client, Mr Thomas had driven up behind the scene of the incident. He noted that Mr Drinkwater had returned to his car and, suspecting that there was something amiss, he halted about thirty feet behind the defendant’s vehicle and left his car, intending to enquire as to what had happened. Unfortunately he was, like Mr Drinkwater, greeted with an unreasonable verbal response from the defendant. This caused him to retreat and lock himself in his car. Mayhem ensued immediately.”

“Did it indeed?” said the judge. “In what form?”

“After his altercation with Mr Thomas, the defendant leapt into his vehicle, which he proceeded to drive to and fro several times, first hitting Mr Drinkwater’s car, then that of Mr Thomas and so on.”

“Ah,” said the judge. “He was shunting, was he?”

“One might consider it so, Your Honour. With each impact, the plaintiffs’ cars were pushed alternately, one forwards, the other backwards, until Mr Thomas’s car was struck by another vehicle approaching the junction.”

“A fourth vehicle?” said the judge. “And yet we have no fourth litigant. Furthermore, you say that the plaintiffs’ cars were pushed. Did they not have handbrakes and gears, which might have obstructed the defendant’s activities?”

“They did, Your honour. However, the circumstances were unusual. My clients were, not surprisingly, flustered by the defendant’s outrageous behaviour. Neither had the presence of mind to use brakes or gears. It might also be argued that, had they done so, the damage would probably have been even greater than it was.”

At this point, the judge peered at the litigants. The two plaintiffs were elderly men, Drinkwater being the senior in years at well over seventy, while Thomas was in his mid-sixties. The defendant, Darren Hogg, was a tall, heavily-built, red-faced man of thirty-odd. “I see,” said Judge Wimple “Now, what about the fourth vehicle?”

“It was a vintage Rolls-Royce, Your Honour, yellow and black. Mr Thomas, who has much motoring experience, tried to note the registration number, but failed. However, he believes that the car was a 1920s model. This fourth vehicle, which sustained minor front-end damage, immediately reversed in a wildly erratic manner. The driver performed a backwards slalom until he reached a side-road, along which he drove at high speed. Judging from his actions, one might well conclude that he was perhaps intoxicated and wished to depart a scene that presented complications.”

The judge nodded. “Well,” he said, “there should be no great difficulty in tracing such a distinctive car, especially one with a defaced frontage. However, we will not detain ourselves with that, as we have enough to do here. I almost hesitate to ask, but was there was anything more?”

Oddley-Staggers cleared his throat. “I fear there was, Your Honour, although it does not bear directly upon these deliberations. It so happened that in his final thrust forwards, the defendant pushed Mr Drinkwater’s car into the major road. An oncoming oil tanker, on the same side as the car, was obliged to swerve. In so doing, it crossed the central white markers and caused a Land Rover coming in the opposite direction to swerve in turn and to leave the road for a few yards.”

“Saints preserve us,” said the judge. “And still we have no other litigant. Can you explain?”

“Up to a point, Your Honour. Mr Drinkwater was too shocked to make any effort to note the number of the oil tanker. With regard to the Land Rover he tried, but the vehicle was so mud-spattered that the licence plate was largely obscured. Both vehicles sped away. We must assume that the two drivers concerned were satisfied that they had narrowly averted accidents and did not wish to linger at the scene.

“Thank you,” the judge replied. “Is that all?”

“I believe so.”

The judge turned to defending counsel, Prendergast. “Now, Mr Potterton, I assume you have some riposte. Your observations, please.”

Prendergast gave a mere fifteen-degree nod. “Your Honour, much of what my learned friend says is correct. However, there are two points which we feel must be considered. First, the confrontation between my client and the first-named plaintiff. Mr Hogg does not deny that his car initially struck the rear of Mr Drinkwater’s vehicle, causing no damage of consequence. The two parties left their cars and conducted a verbal exchange. However, it was more than a simple matter of words. Mr Drinkwater was not only abusive, but also attacked my client.”

“Did he?” said the judge. “In what way?”

“With a forefinger, which he thrust into Mr Hogg’s solar plexus, causing much pain. My client believes that Mr Drinkwater was presuming upon his advanced years, insofar as to suppose that there would be no retaliation against a senior citizen.”

“I understand,” said the judge. “And your second point?”

“A particularly poignant one, Your Honour. My client had been undergoing traumatic experiences. First, he had marital difficulties. Less than a week before the matter under discussion here, his wife had left him, taking with her the Hoggs’ two young children. Second, on the day of the incident, Mr Hogg had been informed that he was to lose his job with virtually immediate effect, thus being deprived not only of a substantial income, but of unlimited private use of a company car, which was the one involved in the matter we are addressing. The altercations already mentioned added to his misery.”

“Troubles coming not as single spies, but in battalions,” said the judge.

“Exactly so, Your Honour. Not surprisingly, Mr Hogg was already acutely distressed before this incident, which at first caused hardly any damage. Mr Drinkwater’s fit of rage and his assault with the finger amounted to the last straw. Or perhaps we should say the penultimate one, since the other plaintiff, Mr Thomas, also behaved intemperately, his language being extremely strong. It could be argued that my client’s response was excessive, but our submission is that many another man might have reacted even more fiercely after going through the same chain of events. It was an outbreak not of rage, but of exasperation at the vicissitudes of life.”

“Thank you. As a matter of interest, what work did Mr Hogg do?”

“He worked with heavy machinery, Your Honour.”

“What kind of machinery?”

Prendergast looked as embarrassed as a barrister ever does. “Your Honour, Mr Hogg . . . er . . .”

The judge leaned forwards. “Yes?”

“He operated a car-crusher.”

It was hard to tell which facial feature Judge Wimple opened wider, mouth or eyes. He flopped back again. “Bless my soul,” he said. “I have heard of people taking their work home, but this is an extreme case. I hope you are not going to tell me that your client proposed to charge the plaintiffs for practising his trade on them.”

“No, Your Honour. The . . . ah . . . service was provided gratis.”

“Well, we must be thankful for small mercies. Now, it seems that half the vehicles in the North of England received Mr Hogg’s attention one way or another. I would hate to think we had overlooked any.” His eyes roved from one advocate to the other. “Can we be sure we have not, and will both parties accept my judgement?”

The learned gentlemen were satisfied that nothing had been missed and were willing to accept the judge’s verdict.

“Very well. The complexities here are superficial, so I don’t need to retire. To summarise, there were six vehicles involved. If I may permit myself a colourful allusion, I consider the yellow car a red herring, as I do the tanker and the Land Rover. This leaves the three litigants’ cars, all damaged by Mr Hogg’s impromptu performance.”

Here, the judge removed his half-glasses and took a deep breath. “Now, we come to apportioning responsibility. There can be no reasonable excuse for what Mr Hogg did. However, I accept that this might well have resulted from the pressures upon him before the incident. I am disposed to believe that the stress affecting him was exacerbated by his being verbally and physically assaulted right and left almost simultaneously, which –”

Drinkwater leapt to his feet. “It’s a bloody li –,” he bellowed, before being quelled by a horrified look from his counsel, who realised that much of his sterling work had just been undone.

“ – which,” the judge went on, “might indeed have been the last straw referred to by defending counsel. So, there is no doubt about Mr Hogg’s culpability, though I understand the mitigating circumstances. Some of this is attributable to the way we now live. In the old days of motoring, such behaviour as we are considering here would have been unthinkable.” The judge was again transported to the golden era, when only the ‘right’ sort of people had cars, which they regarded more as toys than tools. In those days, colliding motorists would have exchanged a few airy comments. ‘I say, bad luck, old chap. Been at the bubbly, eh?’ and so on, neither party caring much about smashed radiators and crumpled boots.

His honour continued: “Nowadays, regrettably, tempers often run high in these matters. Disturbed though I am to hear of Mr Hogg’s recklessness, I realise that few of us are visited by matrimonial collapse and redundancy within a week, and which of us could predict our reactions to such events? Now, I see from the written information provided that all three vehicles have been repaired under insurance arrangements, so the question is how Mr Hogg should pay for his misdeed.”

The judge assumed a stern look. “This matter could have been settled at the outset by a few conciliatory words. However, since no-one other than the litigants knows the true nature of the verbal exchanges, we can only try to picture the position. It was a dangerous cocktail. On one hand, a possibly hot-headed young man under great pressure. On the other, two ageing drivers – and here I am mindful that some elderly people tend to be cantankerous. My decision is that Mr Hogg must pay a fine of fifty pounds, which may incline him to moderate his behaviour. I imagine the sum is more modest than the plaintiffs were expecting, so this outcome might also have a steadying influence on them. Proceedings concluded.”

March 10th, 2012, 06:45 PM

It was a wild autumn day, an equinoctial gale driving needles of rain at a sharp slant. Still, being well into his ninth decade of experiencing such things, Judge Embert Wimple was inclined to take less notice of them than he once did. There were other matters to think about. It was understandable that those obliged to spend their days in factory, office or shop fretted about being penned in when nature was smiling. However, they were protected when the elements were in uproar, so on the whole it wasn’t too bad a balance. Such was the judge’s train of thought as he was swept to court for another day of dealing with human frailties.

No cricket pro tem, but an overseas tour was not far distant and how England’s batsmen would stand up to a battery of formidable bowlers was a matter for conjecture. Still, as long as there was fair play – and wasn’t there always? – some fine entertainment was in prospect. As befitted his professional stance, the judge was impartial as to the outcome. ‘It matters not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game’, was his attitude to all matters, sporting or not.

Mellowness still prevailed in the Wimple household. Esmeralda could now barely keep abreast of the demands for her paintings, while the judge was working his way toward an overall view of the mysteries of time and space. He hoped that anytime now, he would be able to reach a conclusion about the bang-crunch interpretation as against the steady state one.

However, the immediate prospect was Bennett versus Gavins. This was something to do with theft, trespass or some equally sordid theme – and that was all his honour wished to know about it in advance. He took up his position, noting that the plaintiff’s case was in the vastly experienced – if now rather shaky – hands of Simon Fortescue, the defendant being represented by another ageing gentleman, Henry Bullivant. It was high time, the judge thought sourly, for some of these greybeards to stand aside and make room for younger advocates with a little fizz in them. What on earth was old Fortescue doing in court at seventy-eight? And Bullivant must surely be in his late sixties. Ah, well, time to make a start.

“Let us get going, Mr Fothergill,” said the judge, addressing Fortescue.

Defending counsel gave his usual slight bow. “May it please Your Honour, we are here as a result of an incident which occurred on the twenty-fourth of June this year. My client, Mr Bennett, is a farmer. His land has its southern boundary about eight miles due north of here and extends a little way further in broadly the same direction. It is Mr Bennett’s custom to inspect his estate each evening, checking walls, hedges, fences and so on. In the country northwest of his land there is a tarn from which a stream runs southeast, passing through the land of his farming neighbour to the northwest, then through Mr Bennett’s own land, then through that of his downstream neighbours, eventually debouching into the river which runs westwards. Though small, this waterway is considered very picturesque in parts.”

“Apparently a delightful rural idyll,” said the judge. “Is the description relevant?”

“Perhaps not, Your Honour. I was merely trying to paint a picture of the scene.”

“And so you have, Mr Forsdyke. I defer no-one in my admiration of your verbal artistry, but we are addressing an incident, are we not?”

“We are. During his evening round on the day in question, my client was approaching the stream, when he saw the defendant walking along by the water’s edge. Across Mr Gavins’ shoulder was a stick, from which a trout was suspended on a length of string. My client had had trouble with Mr Gavins in the past, specifically regarding trespass and suspected poaching. He called out to the defendant, who began to run away. Despite my client’s efforts to detain him, Mr Gavins made good his escape, complete with the trout. Mr Bennett does not seek redress with respect to the trespass, but feels that the time has come for him to make a stand in the matter of the unauthorised taking of fish and game from his land. He accepts that Mr Gavins is not the only offender, but contends that he is the most frequent one. Mr Bennett feels that an example must be made.”

“I see,” said the judge. “Now, the sanctity of private property is a time-honoured aspect of our legal affairs, notwithstanding the fact that much of that property was acquired by the trading of favours among a privileged minority and excluded most of the population.” Fortescue did not like the sound of that. “However,” the judge went on, “I think I understand the prosecution’s position, so we will now hear what the defence has to say. Mr Bullaway?” The judge had, during the previous evening, listened to radio documentary about affairs in southern Africa, so got the best compromise he could between defending counsel’s name and that of one of the cities mentioned in the programme.

Bullivant was mildly comforted by another of the judge’s close ones. “May it please Your Honour, our submission is that, as so often in human affairs, we are dealing with a question of interpretation. In this case, an unworthy motive appears to have been attributed to my client, who was in fact acting in a socially admirable manner.”

“Was he indeed?” said the judge. “I can hardly wait to hear more. Continue.” It had not been lost upon the judge that the defendant wasn’t making his first court appearance, not even the first before Embert Wimple. If the judge remembered correctly, James Gavins had last come within his purview after being apprehended while struggling gallantly to free a hare from a trap on land owned by one of the current plaintiff’s neighbours.

“Thank you,” said Bullivant. “We are pleased that the prosecution does not wish to pursue the matter of trespass. In fact, my client admits that he was on the plaintiff’s land. However, the explanation is simple. Mr Gavins is employed by an egg-packing company, the premises concerned being adjacent to the land of the plaintiff’s neighbour to the northwest. Now, my client does not have the benefit of motor transport and, owing to a medical condition, cannot ride a bicycle. In order to get home by road, he is faced with a two-mile walk, which is not always a pleasant prospect after a day’s work. When he took up his employment, Mr Gavins noted that he could shorten his homeward journey to less than a mile, by crossing land belonging to the plaintiff and his neighbours. With a wife and five children eagerly awaiting his return from work, my client succumbed to the temptation to take the short route. He regrets this transgression and is relieved to note that his weakness is not to be punished.”

“This is interesting” said the judge, “but it does not enlighten us with regard to the trout. What have you to say about that?”

“A good deal, Your Honour?”

“I was afraid so. Go on.”

“We are dealing here with a total misunderstanding of intentions. My client is well known for his caring attitude to creatures of the wild. Only last week he released a ram from a distressing predicament when the animal’s horns had become entangled in a barbed wire fence. Mr Gavins was injured in the process. He asks that it be noted that on the occasion in question here, he took the trout from the water upstream of the plaintiff’s land. At several points along the waterway, there are pools and it was in one of these that Mr Gavins saw the creature, which seemed to him to be in some distress.”

“In distress?” said the judge. “How did your client perceive that?”

“He is an expert in such matters, Your Honour, and noted that the trout was struggling.”

“Is it possible to make such an assessment with any real accuracy?”

“Yes, if the observer has sufficient knowledge. Mr Gavins took the trout from the pool, intending to do two things. First, having grasped that the fish was disorientated, he wished to transfer it to faster-running water, where he believed it might feel more comfortable. Second, he had studied such things extensively, his conclusion being that trout, along with salmon, tend to leap from the water quite frequently. Mr Gavins has a theory that both trout and salmon are making, as it were, a collective cri de cœur, seeking their preferred aerial environment, while aquatically bound. Not only was my client taking the trout to waters more amenable to its condition, but was also aerating it in the process, thus killing two birds with one stone, so to speak.”

“And perhaps killing the trout,” said the judge.

“It was a calculated risk, or as it is referred to in some circles, a judgement call.”

“No need for overkill. Either expression will do. Proceed.”

“Mr Gavins was, as he saw it, acting for the best, when he was accosted by the plaintiff. It is true that he ran away. He did so for the very good reason that Mr Bennett was pursuing him with a shotgun. In fact, the weapon was discharged and several of the pellets tore through both legs of my client’s trousers, which are available for Your Honour’s inspection.” He pointed at a parcel on a nearby table. It is nothing short of a miracle that Mr Gavins was not injured.”

The judge held up a hand. “Just a moment. The prosecution said nothing of this.” He glared at Fortescue. “Mr Fotheringay?”

The learned gentleman was seized by a brief fit of coughing, which gave him time to form a reply. “The shotgun was fired accidentally, Your Honour. While approaching the defendant, Mr Bennett slipped on a wet tree root. He fell, wrenching a knee and inadvertently pulling the trigger. He had no intention of using the weapon in anger, but merely sought to interview Mr Gavins.”

“I see,” said the judge. “I take note of the fact that Mr Bennett encountered the wet root on the twenty-fourth of June, which I recall was during a long dry spell. Can you explain this?”

Fortescue instantly brought to bear his great experience. “Yes, Your Honour. The ground at the place in question is always marshy, even at the height of summer.”

“I see. However, we will now let the defence finish.” He opened a hand at Bullivant. Mr Brumfitt?”

“Thank you. There is little more to say. Owing to the violent nature of the plaintiff’s reaction to what was a minor infringement, my client was unable to carry out his plan to return the trout to the water. Indeed, he considered himself lucky to have escaped with his life.”

“What happened to it?” asked the judge.

“To his life?”

“No, of course not. The trout, sir, the trout.”

“Ah, the trout. When Mr Gavins reached his home, he found that the creature was still suspended from the stick, but was dead. My client was distressed, first because he had failed to preserve the fish and second because he had been forced to review his hard-thought theory concerning the avian capability of the species. He had, in a manner of speaking, been obliged to return to the drawing board. For lack of any alternative, the trout was fed to my client’s cat. In summary, our contention is that the absence of any trespass charge leaves only the allegation of poaching and that even if that were to be substantiated, the abstraction of the trout from the water took place on land not belonging to the plaintiff and is therefore none of his business. Finally, we are shocked by the prosecution’s failure to allude to the matter of the shooting.”

“Very well,” said the judge. “We seem to have all the facts we are ever likely to have, so if both parties are agreeable, I will make a decision.”

There was no dissent, so the judge pushed aside his notes, removed his glasses, took a deep breath and summarised: “It is said that cases are tried, but in this matter, it would be more appropriate to say that it is the arbiter who undergoes the trial, particularly with regard to patience. I have seldom been required to listen to such a farrago of nonsense. The sole merit of these proceedings is that they have been passably entertaining, but I shall now put a stop to that. I am aware that the defendant has appeared in court a number of times, in connection with his propensity to assist our scaled, furred and feathered friends. Offhand, I recall incidents involving a pike, a hare, four rabbits and a pheasant. In this case, it is clear that we shall never know at which point Mr Gavins took the trout from the water. Perhaps the lesson to Mr Bennett is that he might in future seek to cooperate with his neighbours before contemplating charges. As to the defendant’s flight when accosted, I can say only that if I were faced with the same situation, I would seek to depart the scene in much the same way as Mr Gavins did.

“With regard to the plaintiff’s conduct, I can well understand his frustration and his reaction. However, I am also mindful of the fact that he could not have had any proof as to the point at which the trout was taken from the water. That might have been done as the defendant claims it was. Also, I am not persuaded that the discharge of the shotgun was entirely accidental. I ask myself whether it was possibly a physical equivalent of the famous Freudian slip. Anyway, a few well-chosen words might have been more appropriate. In my view is regrettable that people sometimes seek to make up in belligerence what they lack in articulation. Yet that applies to many of us. I can think of occasions on which I have been close to remonstrating with my neighbours, especially with those who sit atop lawnmowers, trundling to and fro, when in my heart of hearts I would rather have shot them. However, if we were all to submit to our baser urges, we would have a very primitive society.

“Now, the defendant may or may not be a poacher, but there is insufficient evidence that he was so at the time in question. As to Mr Bennett, I accept that he felt aggrieved, but he clearly made no effort to establish the true facts before rushing into action. No doubt the principle of the inviolability of private property must be considered, but there is also the question of ‘noblesse oblige’, which often has particular connotations for landowners. Taking everything into account, I feel compelled to dismiss the charge. Proceedings concluded.”

March 14th, 2012, 07:08 PM

It was November and Judge Embert Wimple, looking at a lawn sprinkled with dead leaves, was once more struck by the thought that he would have been happy to exchange the Victorian pile and acre-plus of grounds for a town house or flat. He no longer mentioned this at home, as he knew that his wife would maintain her opposition, which he considered strange, as Esmeralda Wimple had never expressed any great affection for the house and had lost interest in the garden since taking up brush and palette. It was in vain that the judge had pointed out to her that a lofty eyrie on the fringe of the city centre’s main park might offer better light than she could get in the converted bedroom she used as a studio. She had argued that the urban murk would more than counteract the gain in height offered by a top-floor apartment. She was still ahead and seemed likely to remain so.

It was probably just as well, thought Embert Wimple as he donned his thermal underwear. No doubt the transplanting of such old trees – both Wimples being well past eighty – would have a downside. Perhaps the idea was just a pipe dream, or would have been if the judge had still smoked a pipe.

On with the serious business of life. A glass of orange juice, a bowl of porridge and three cups of tea prepared the judge for another day in court. The case was Watkins versus Lewthwaite and that was all Embert Wimple knew about it, which in his view was to the good.

The plaintiff, Arthur Watkins, was represented by that old warhorse, Desmond Oddley-Staggers. The defence of Michael Lewthwaite was to be conducted by the redoubtable young Arabella Bray, whose reputation was rising with each case she handled. The judge was not inclined to waste too much time in grasping the details, which would emerge in due course. He nodded to Oddley-Staggers. “Let’s get cracking, Mr Enderby,” he smiled. “We’ll play it by ear.”

This was good news to prosecuting counsel. Such language from the bench suggested that the old boy was in high spirits. Dipping his thumbs into his waistcoat pockets, Oddley-Staggers favoured the judge with a fractional bow. “May it please Your Honour, this case is a clear-cut one. My client, Mr Watkins, was assaulted by the defendant, such that he was unable to pursue his occupation for three days. He calculates that he lost one hundred and fifty pounds in potential earnings. He also, albeit conjecturally, lost income of two hundred and fifty thousand pounds, though he is not taking action in respect of this su –”

“What?” Judge Wimple’s voice rose to a falsetto squeak, which Oddley-Staggers felt might belie his honour’s superficially good mood. “Your client is overlooking a quarter of a million pounds, in order to press his claim for less than one-thousandth of that amount? Are you serious?”

“If I may explain, Your Honour.”

“I think you had better do so.”

“Thank you. Mr Watkins is in the second-hand furniture business. From time to time he clears out houses where someone has died. In such cases it is quite common for the family of the deceased to take what they want from the home in question, then hand over the residual work to a professional. Mr Watkins was occasionally assisted by the defendant, who received payment in recognition of his labours. The incident before us took place on the twenty-second of June. The two parties were removing contents from a house in Blenheim Parade, about two miles from here. The property had almost been emptied when my client recalled that he had occasionally found oddments in the lofts of such places. He therefore investigated, finding a large cardboard box, which contained a number of nondescript items, but also a violin.”

“Oh, no,” the judge groaned.

“Your Honour?”

“I hope this is not another Strad in the attic story?”

Oddley-Staggers flushed slightly. “I fear so. However, there are variations here.”

Judge Wimple flapped his hands, projecting weariness. “Please continue.”

“Thank you. All the other objects in the box were put into the removal van, but my client and the defendant deemed it wise to examine the violin. They used a torch to look through the f-holes.”

“The what?” yelped the judge, who was quite clear as to what he had just heard, but felt that feigned ignorance was in order.

“The f-holes, Your Honour. Those are the incisions in the upper face of the instrument. They resemble the lower case letter ‘f’. On shining the torch through the holes, the parties detected the letters S – t – r – a – d – i. Mr Watkins thought it appropriate to prise off the back of the violin. It was found that the name signed inside the instrument was indeed Stradivari. Moreover, following the signature there was a small circle, inside which was a capital letter ‘R’. My client immediately perceived this as evidence of the authenticity of the object. The two men became excited and regrettably the emotional turbulence resulted in a dispute as to who had first discovered what both considered significant. There was a brawl, during which the defendant picked up the instrument, minus the detached base, and struck my client on the head with it, causing the injuries which led to the inability of Mr Watkins to follow his occupation for the period mentioned earlier. For this reason, he seeks satisfaction.”

“Astounding,” bawled the judge. “How could a prize like that fall into such hands. I think we must hear from the defence. What have you to say, Ms Braithwaite?”

Not bad, thought Arabella Bray. She bowed. “May it please Your Honour, the bald facts as stated by my learned colleague may well be accurate, but they do not do justice to the matter.”

“Then perhaps you had better expand.”

“By all means. I have made extensive enquiries and I will try to omit what is unnecessary.”

“Oh, please do,” the judge interjected. “By all means bowdlerise. I doubt that I could stand the unexpurgated version.”

“Very well, Your Honour. My client, Mr Lewthwaite, was a little ahead of the plaintiff, in that he noted that what was left of the violin after the fracas had a distinct smell of tobacco. Not being sure as to when that substance was introduced into Europe, or when Stradivari lived, he took the debris for expert examination, which revealed that the resonating body and neck of the instrument had been made of cedarwood and that the fingerboard, tailpiece, scroll, pegs, pegbox and chin rest were assessed as being of common, kiln-seasoned softwood. Here, certain background details are essential.”

“Why am I not surprised?” the judge groaned. “Go on.”

“Some years ago, there was a young man in Huddersfield named Wayne Jackson. During a period of unemployment, he discovered that he had a remarkable facility for woodcarving. This led him to try his hand at violin-making. He was unable to buy the long-aged spruce, maple, sycamore and ebony woods considered the best material for such work. It so happened that he was friendly with a local tobacconist who often had, or had access to, cigar boxes. Mr Jackson used these to make the resonating bodies of violins. He steamed, laminated and bent them, in such ways as he found effective. For the remaining parts – except the strings, which were conventional – he used lengths of two-by-four pine, obtained from a local do-it-yourself store, where he also bought own-brand varnish, which he used for the finishing.”

“You are overwhelming me, Ms Grayson,” said the judge, who was thinking of his recent hearing of the soundtrack of ‘The Desert Song’. “Allow me to make a few notes.” He scribbled furiously for two minutes, then nodded to defending counsel. “You may proceed.”

“Thank you, Your Honour. Encouraged by friends, Mr Jackson acquired such a sense of vocation that he changed his family name by deed poll, thus becoming Wayne Stradivari. He was therefore able to sign his violins without any suggestion that he was deceiving anyone. It was one of these instruments that came into the possession of the parties on the occasion which concerns us.”

“I see,” said the judge. “And all this has been authenticated, has it?”

“Yes, Your Honour. I believe you will find in your papers a letter to that effect from Mr Jackson, who has now reassumed his original name and is doing well in Sydney, Australia. I was able to trace him and ask for his corroboration. He was totally sincere about his work at the time he made the instruments, but now seems to regard the matter as a folly of his youth. In summary, our contention is that the object which caused the unseemly behaviour was of little value. We further submit that the hostilities were initiated by the plaintiff, who was the first to resort to violence, when he struck my client with a photograph album, circa nineteen-thirty. As a result of the assault, Mr Lewthwaite was also unable to work for three days.”

“Thank you,” said the judge. “That concludes your presentation, does it?”

“I believe so.”

“Very well. Now, there is just one point I would like to clarify. In a case that came before me recently, I was obliged to allude to the weather, and I now feel compelled to do so again. Can anyone enlighten me as to the conditions at the time the incident occurred?”

This caused much muttering, involving the litigants and their advocates. Finally, Oddley-Staggers emerged from the cluster. “Your Honour, we are agreed that the incident took place at about three-thirty in a hot afternoon. The temperature was about thirty degrees Celsius.”

“Good,” said the judge. “That is helpful. This seems to be my purple period for supposedly old artefacts. One of my recent cases concerned a chess set of spurious provenance. Now, several interesting points have been raised here. I feel like Old King Cole, who you may remember called for his pipe and his bowl and his fiddlers three. I cannot speak for the pipe – would that I could – or for the bowl, but we seem to have the fiddle and the three men associated with it. I must say that I am at a loss to understand the plaintiff’s suggestion that he may have been deprived of a vast sum. He seems to be an experienced handler of old items and I am surprised that he was not more thoughtful on the occasion in question. Against that I have to consider that we are speaking of a time of uncomfortable heat, and such periods are said to induce wild behaviour, rather like the appearance of a full moon, which allegedly causes socially disruptive conduct. I sometimes wonder whether there is anything in the legends of lycanthropy.”

The judge took a long drink of water before continuing: “Now, as to the work of Mr Jackson, alias Stradivari, I am astonished to note that certain points seem to have been overlooked.” He peered hard at both advocates. “As far as I know, the idea of marking goods with an encircled capital letter ‘R’ is a recent one and I doubt that it was known at the time when Antonio Stradivari did his work. Further – and this is perhaps less well known – there is the question of the name itself. Many years ago, I heard that one might regard a single instrument made by Stradivari as a ‘Stradivarius’, the reasoning being that more than one might be considered in the plural as ‘Stradivarii.’ The fact is that the great workman of Cremona had the habit of signing his instruments with the Latin version of his name, which was ‘Stradivarius.’ I would have thought that anyone dealing with such items might know this.

“There is also the question of the chin rest. Here, I cannot speak with authority, but I understand that this accoutrement was not known in Stradivari’s time. Indeed, I believe that the great Paganini did not use one, though they were available while he was still performing. I accept that some may have been added to Stradivari’s violins. Incidentally, I believe that the virtuoso we so often associate with the instrument favoured the Guarneri products.”

Aware that his audience was gripped, the judge took another drink, then went on: “I will not dwell upon the use of cigar boxes and do-it-yourself pine and varnish items. In the overall context, I am mindful of the late P. T. Barnum’s comment that there is a sucker born every minute. We seem to have accounted for two of those minutes, in that both parties in this matter appear to have been deceived by the work of Mr Jackson. Clearly, the litigants here had brief aberrations which they are now retrospectively, and in my view erroneously, seeking to justify.

“I am prepared to accept that in his youthful enthusiasm, Mr Jackson, or Stradivari, was carried away, but he is not a direct party to these proceedings and in any event, he does not seem to have done anything illegal, though his moral attitude may be have been questionable. As to Mr Watkins and Mr Lewthwaite, I consider their behaviour disappointing, but no more so than that of many others who appear here. I am inclined to the view that the hot weather and the prospect of sudden riches unhinged both of them. It is not within my power to order them to consider the matter closed, but I hope they will do so. In my opinion, they have both suffered enough by way of injuries and lost earnings. I have no reasonable choice but to dismiss the charge. Proceedings concluded.”

March 17th, 2012, 06:45 PM

November was doing its best to depress the general population, but was having no such effect upon Judge Embert Wimple, who was counting his blessings. With each passing day, he took increasing comfort from the dark, dank ambience. Nobody was fooling around with garden implements, and house extensions seemed to be at a standstill. These mercies were much appreciated by his honour who, but for the absence of domestic cricket, was in his element.

There was a touch of in-house frost chez Wimple, as the judge and his wife were at odds over his honour’s suddenly resuscitated idea of disposing of the rambling heap in which the two and their housekeeper rattled around like peas in a drum. Esmeralda had thought the notion well and truly dead, following a recent spat on the subject. The judge was still on the defensive in the face of Mrs Wimple’s assertion that in this case, a change would not be as good as a rest. His honour was about to defer yet again.

Embert Wimple had no foreknowledge of what awaited him in court and as ever, that did not cause him any concern. With a vast fund of experience at his disposal, he didn’t expect to be startled by whatever might come up. In fact there was a mild surprise at the outset, for the judge noted that the prosecution was in the hands of William Baskerville, who had discarded his wig over a year ago. Something had persuaded him to emerge from the woodwork. The defence was in the hands of an import, not known to the judge. This fellow, Nigel Palfrey, would have made his honour’s day in court worthwhile, even if there hadn’t been a case to try. The young barrister was six feet seven inches in height and weighed well under twelve stone. Judge Wimple abhorred all allusions by anyone to the physical peculiarities of others, but could not help thinking of the pipe cleaners he had used before renouncing the weed.

The plaintiff, Stuart Macfarlane, was a man of thirty-odd, a little over average height, wearing a blue serge suit that strained at the seams, plus a white shirt and plain red tie, one or both of which seemed to threaten asphyxiation. And were those hiking boots peeping out from under the trousers? The defendant, Jack Wainwright, was a wizened little man, well over twenty years older than his opponent. He wore a black suit and tie and a light-grey shirt. Having taken in all he considered noteworthy, the judge nodded at Baskerville. “Perhaps you would care to make a start, Mr Holmes.” For a man as erudite as Embert Wimple, it was only a short mental step to associate prosecuting counsel’s name with that of the Baker Street sleuth. The judge was already bounding across Dartmoor with a slavering phosphorescent hound at his heels.

Baskerville was an old hand in these matters and plunged unhesitatingly into his presentation. “May it please Your Honour, this case concerns reckless behaviour on the part of the defendant. My client, Mr Macfarlane, is the manager of a building site at the southern edge of our city, where two blocks of flats are being constructed. At the time that concerns us, which was the seventh of July, both parties worked on the site, the defendant operating a large tower crane, over two hundred feet tall. He had reported for duty and ascended to his cabin. He was in contact with Mr Macfarlane by two-way radio. A few minutes after taking up his position, Mr Wainwright became involved in a dispute with Mr Macfarlane. My client tried to settle the matter, but an impasse was reached. In a further effort to resolve the difficulty, Mr Macfarlane called a meeting with other workers. It was while the men were talking that the defendant committed his outrageous act.”

The judge was now fully engaged. “What did he do?”

“He saw that, contrary to normal practice, the bottom end of the lifting cable was close to its lower extremity, only four or five feet from the ground. Usually it is hoisted above that level overnight, to avoid any misbehaviour by intruders entering the site when work is not in progress. Apparently, Mr Wainwright also noted the position of my client and his workmates. With complete disregard for safety, the defendant swung the jib of his crane anti-clockwise, then brought it back clockwise. On such a large crane, the hook at the bottom end of the hoisting cable is a heavy object. Swinging forwards, that is clockwise, it had gained considerable momentum when it struck my client on the head, or rather on his hard hat, sending him bowling base over apex across the site. Using his hands to regain his balance he executed something resembling a double somersault. When he was half-upright in his second roll, he still had some lateral momentum and his head entered the mouth of a small cement mixer which had just been activated.”

“My goodness,” said the judge. “That sounds like a dreadful accident. And yet your client is present here, so it seems that his head was not mixed with the aggregate, or whatever it is called.”

“No and yes, Your Honour. No, because there was not an accident, but rather a premeditated attempt by the defendant to cause injury to my client. Yes, because Mr Macfarlane was extricated from his predicament by others, so that only his hard hat remained in the mixer. Happily, it was later removed.”

“We must be grateful for that,” said the judge. “So the substance of your case is that Mr Wainwright assaulted your client with the hook?”


“A strange incident. Was that the first time Mr Wainwright had so behaved?”

“No, Your Honour. About a week earlier, he had caused problems when he swung a large concrete slab with excessive force, causing it to demolish a section of wall already built, thus delaying work on the project. Two weeks before that, he was raising a number of metal components, stacked on a pallet hanging from the outer end of the jib. Without any obvious reason, he interrupted the operation and swung the load round in two full circles, generating centrifugal force. He then resumed normal control, but not before a sizeable item had fallen from the pallet, landing within a foot of a car owned by one of his fellow-workers. The gentleman concerned was of the opinion that Mr Wainwright intended to damage the vehicle.”

“Extraordinary,” said the judge. “Had there been any altercations preceding these two earlier incidents?”

“Not with regard to the first one I mentioned, although Mr Macfarlane says that he thought he had detected the smell of whisky on Mr Wainwright’s breath before work started that day. As to the other occasion, the man whose car was almost in the path of the falling item had had sharp words with Mr Wainwright on the evening before the incident. He was convinced that the act was vindictive.”

“I am shocked,” said the judge. “What about the company’s attitude? Was any thought given to terminating Mr Wainwright’s employment?”

“This is a very difficult area. One of the problems is that tower crane operators are a rare breed and thin on the ground.”

“Or in the air,” said the judge.

“Very droll, Your Honour.” Baskerville, who was noted for his complete absence of a sense of humour, maintained a straight face. “The position was debated, but these projects are subject to severe constraints with regard to schedules and finance. At the time in question, no replacement for Mr Wainwright could be found. The position changed shortly afterwards and he was dismissed.”

“I see. But the employer did not wish to take legal action against him?”

“That is correct. Mr Macfarlane is acting independently. He might well have been maimed for life by Mr Wainwright’s irresponsible behaviour. As it was, he suffered injury and distress and but for his dedication to his work, would have reported sick and would probably have been able to demonstrate that he was concussed. Happily for his employer, he is made of stern stuff and continued working. Nevertheless, he is entitled to recompense.”

The judge’s interest had begun to waver. “Thank you, Dr Watson,” he said. “Now I think we had better hear from the defence. “Mr Poultry?”

Palfrey had not been briefed on the judge’s ways, but was dealing with only his second case as a barrister, so was not inclined to disrupt matters on a minor point of identity. He gave a painfully extravagant bow. “May it please Your Honour, there is much clear water between what the prosecution says and the true position. I will seek to show that my client was the victim of reprehensible and premeditated conduct by some of his workmates, acting together.”

His honour was returning slowly from another brief excursion to Dartmoor. “So the water you speak of is not only clear, but also deep?” he suggested.

“Indeed it is. When my client reported for work on the morning in question, he left his car and reported to the plaintiff in the usual way. Mr Wainwright’s normal practice was to climb to his cabin, bearing over his shoulder a haversack containing his requisites for the day, the most important item being his lunch pack. When he got to his work station, he decided to check on what his wife had prepared for him.”

The judge smiled. “Fearing cheese sandwiches, I imagine,” he said.

“Possibly. However, when he opened his tin box, he saw that his lunch had been removed from the haversack and replaced by a pound or so of sand from the site below. Realising at once that he had been tricked while he was talking with the plaintiff, he communicated with Mr Macfarlane, informing him of the position and expressing his annoyance. The plaintiff responded in the worst possible taste, with a variation on an old music hall joke, saying: ‘You can’t eat your lunch because of the sand-which-is-there.’ My client was not amused by the witticism.”

“Very juvenile,” said the judge, who, while hating pranks, was a devotee of schoolroom humour and had at his disposal a stock of ‘doctor, doctor’ jokes, with which he occasionally tried the patience of his peers. “What happened next.”

“Far from conducting himself as the prosecution has intimated, my client showed great restraint. He asked that lunch be brought up to him, but was told that no-one else on the site had the necessary head for heights. Despite the lack of cooperation from those below, Mr Wainwright tried to start work. He could not do so, because the trolley – that is the crawler mechanism which runs to and fro along the jib – was stuck in its central position, halfway between the cabin and the outer end of its track, and would not move. Anxious to do his duty and notwithstanding the stupidity of his workmates, Mr Wainwright left his cabin and clambered along the jib to see what was amiss. He found that someone, obviously with malice aforethought, had inserted two metal wedges into the rolling gear. He was unable to remove these obstructions and it was only then that he swung the jib, in the hope that a pendulum movement might dislodge them.”

Palfrey took a drink of water, then continued: “It is appropriate that we mention here that Mr Wainwright had, in his determination to avoid delaying the construction work, done more than was required of him, since the trolley problem should have been handled by a specialist mechanic. My client was doing his very best to keep the project moving and had no intention of injuring the plaintiff. The prosecution is quite wrong in saying that Mr Wainwright noticed that the bottom end of the lifting cable had been lowered in the way already mentioned. That had obviously been done by the party or parties who blocked the trolley. In brief, the position was that my client’s patience was tried beyond all normal endurance, yet he behaved with admirable self-control and no little ingenuity. He was completely blameless.”

“A clear enough statement, Mr Paltry,” said the judge. “Now, what happened after your client had finished playing skittles with the plaintiff?”

“Order was restored. Mr Wainwright had a few chocolate biscuits and facilities for making tea in his cabin. He made do with what he had. Early in the afternoon, an expert arrived and freed the trolley.”

“I see. So perhaps Mr Wainwright’s lunch could have then have been hoisted to him on the hook?”

“Superficially a fair point, Your Honour. However, at its upper extremity, the hook would still have been several feet below the jib. For my client to collect his food in that way would have required on his part gymnastics of which he was incapable.”

The judge had had all the amusement he needed for one day. “I understand. Now, if you have both finished, I will give a decision.”

A headshake from Baskerville and spread hands from Palfrey left his honour to sum up. “I am aghast at hearing of these antics,” he said. “I realise that sometimes horseplay occurs where workmen get together and that we are considering the sort of place at which softies need not apply. Nevertheless, one expects a certain minimum level of sensible behaviour. Now, Mr Wainwright might in a way have been considered master of all he surveyed from his perch, yet his colleagues seem to have regarded him as a bird of ill omen – a high jinx is the phrase that comes to my mind. We are not obliged here to examine his conduct with regard to the concrete slab and the metal component, our concern being the incident which caused the plaintiff’s distress.”

This was not good news for Baskerville, who had hoped that the judge would take account of the defendant’s earlier behaviour. His honour proceeded: “The issue here is whether Mr Wainwright acted recklessly, or was motivated by the overall good. In passing, I wonder whether Mr Macfarlane considered having Mr Wainwright’s lunch delivered by helicopter, though perhaps that would have been an extreme measure. We shall never know the truth about the words exchanged between the two parties, nor shall we learn whether the lowering of the hoisting cable and the possibly associated blockage of the trolley constituted a foolish prank by the defendant’s workmates. If Mr Wainwright was unpopular, it was surely a part of Mr Macfarlane’s job to smooth any ruffled feathers. I do not underestimate the plaintiff’s misfortune in having his head flung into the cement mixer, but what I have heard does not convince me that Mr Wainwright’s action was malicious. I must thank you, Mr Moriarty and you, Mr Poltroon, for your lucid arguments, but the matter is too perplexing and I must therefore dismiss the charge. Proceedings concluded.”

March 21st, 2012, 07:09 PM

It was early December and apart from the absence of cricket, life was pleasant. With regard to Christmas, Judge Embert Wimple was a ‘bah, humbug’ man. However, this was in a way an agreeable time of year, mainly because the gardening enthusiasts were still quiet. For several blessed weeks, the judge had not heard the sound of lawnmowers or hedge-trimmers. Had it not been for the bodily ravages inflicted by winter, the cost of keeping warm and the rest period in the only game that mattered, his honour would have been happy to experience this season the year round.

The judge’s internal conflict remained intense. On the one hand there was his ironclad sense of professional duty, on the other his growing awareness of the fact that the sand was running out with respect to his endeavours in the field of physics, which he was increasingly inclined to think of in terms of metaphysics. One lifetime just wasn’t enough and Embert Wimple was sustained only by his recent conversion to the notion that he would be able to return to the earthly plane, if he so wished. What he did not achieve on this occasion, he would attend to the next time round, finally becoming a fully rounded character. That was comforting.

In the meantime, one had to deal with one’s contemporaries, in the judge’s case, the more wayward ones. From what little he had heard of the matter – which had been reported in the local newspaper – Embert Wimple was vaguely aware that today’s affair was out of the ordinary. That was good. His honour’s palate was somewhat jaded, so as far as he was concerned, the stranger the better.

The plaintiff, Kevin McGee, was represented by good old Jeremy Turnpenny and the defendant, Norman Stott by the ebullient young Cedric Thistle. It seemed that Stott had made some sort of promise which he had failed to honour. Good enough for a start.

Having made a show of studying his papers, the judge switched on his most beatific smile as he addressed Turnpenny. “Perhaps you would get us going, Mr Turncoat.”

Bowing even lower than usual, prosecuting counsel began: “May it please Your Honour, the position here is that my client rendered to the defendant a service for which payment was promised and was not made. I will elucidate.”

“Oh, I do hope so,” said the judge. “Please discourse.”

“Thank you. The defendant, Mr Stott, had been having difficulties with his neighbours in general and with one – a Mr Illingworth – in particular. Mr Stott and this Mr Illingworth had been at cross-purposes for some time, owing to Mr Illingworth’s habit of parking his car in front of Mr Stott’s house, notwithstanding the fact that Mr Illingworth had his own garage, drive and road frontage, which he persistently failed to use for the obvious purpose. Mr Stott finally tired of remonstrating with Mr Illingworth and of trying to involve the authorities. He decided to employ more direct methods and in doing so, sought the assistance of my client – the two men are regular patrons of the same public house.”

“One moment,” said the judge. “I must make a note.” In fact, he was using the time he gained to observe the plaintiff, a very large man with a forward-hunched stance and fixed scowl which combined to give him a somewhat intimidating appearance. “Continue.”

“Thank you. Mr Stott told my client that he – Mr Stott – would give his all to be free from the presence of Mr Illingworth. Taking the defendant’s words literally, my client offered to intercede in whatever way seemed likely to produce the desired result.”

“My goodness,” said the judge. “Are you saying that Mr Stott employed an enforcer to put the frighteners on Mr Illingworth?” The judge had been reading a series of gangster stories.

Turnpenny bowed again. “It might be so construed, Your Honour, though my client had in mind reasonable argument and had no intention of using force. However, that is not the issue here. What is important is that the defendant promised a large reward to my client, in return for Mr McGee’s presumed nominal service in merely being present when Mr Illingworth next transgressed proper behaviour.”

The judge nodded. “I see. What was the nature of this reward?”

“My client was conducted to the defendant’s cellar, where he was shown a cube of what Mr Stott claimed to be pure gold. The item in question was of one foot per side, therefore a cubic foot in volume. It was in a casing of what the defendant said was bullet-proof glass. Mr Stott told my client that if he – Mr McGee – would discourage the troublesome neighbour, this gold would be his. Now, my client does not pretend to be an intellectual luminary. He was tempted by the offer and agreed to conceal himself in Mr Stott’s garden and to step in should Mr Illingworth again flout convention.”

“I see,” said the judge. “You mean that your client agreed to, as it were, lurk in the shrubbery and confront Mr Illingworth if circumstances so indicated?”

“Perhaps a lurid view of the matter, Your Honour, but essentially correct.”

“Very well. What then?”

“Developments occurred quickly. On the second night of my client’s vigil – the eighth of August – Mr Illingworth returned home late and parked his car. The vehicle blocked about two feet of Mr Stott’s drive. Mr McGee emerged from the rear of the property and spoke to Mr Illingworth, who instantly became violent. There was a brief fracas.”

It would have been brief, thought the judge, once again eyeing the formidable McGee. “I suspect that Mr Illingworth was the loser?”

“Yes, Your Honour. However, once again, that is not relevant here. The crucial point is that Mr Illingworth was persuaded to behave more responsibly. Here, perhaps a little background information would be helpful.”

“I feared as much,” the judge replied. “Please be concise.”

“I will try. Our enquiries elicited the information that Mr Illingworth was one of several people in the neighbourhood who had fallen foul of the defendant. Mr Stott had acquired a reputation for taking issue with those around him. If necessary, we could produce parties who would confirm this.”

Turnpenny took a deep breath and was about to plough on, when the judge put up a hand. “I think that will do for the moment, Mr Turnpike. Before I lose track, I would like to hear from the defence. His eyes swung to Cedric Thistle. ”Let us hear from you, Mr Birtwistle.”

“Thank you, Your Honour. Happily, there is no danger of the thread being lost by our presentation, which is simplicity itself. My client did have some difficulties, which he is convinced arose from the fact that someone in the neighbourhood took a dislike to him and spread the word. Mr Illingworth was the main cul –”

“Just a moment,” the judge said. “How many others did Mr Stott have trouble with, and to which authorities did he turn for resolution of his problems?”

Thistle was prepared. “There were, at various times, six parties other than Mr Illingworth. On three occasions, my client asked the police to help, twice he consulted the environmental health office direct, without involving the police, and once he invoked both services.”

“Poor fellow,” the judge put in. “I am reminded of Job and his plague of boils. Go on.”

“Mr Stott considered these six cases as relatively trivial. Mr Illingworth was different, in that he had been a persistent offender ever since my client moved into his present house.”

Thistle didn’t need the glare from his client. As soon as his words were out, he realised that he had handed the judge a cat-o-nine-tails. His honour promptly seized it. “And how long has he lived there?”

“Ah . . . fifteen months, Your Honour.”

“I see. He seems to have become embroiled with his neighbours rather rapidly.”

Thistle, being a quick thinker, was regaining his composure. “My client is a quiet, retiring gentleman and has perhaps somewhat exacting standards in the matter of neighbourly behaviour. For this reason, he has never given those around him any cause for complaint. However, he was driven to despair by what he saw as a conspiracy against him. Now, as to his connection with the plaintiff, the two men did discuss my client’s problems in the public house mentioned earlier. This is where we begin to depart from the version given by the prosecution. As far as my client was concerned, the conversation was initially jocular, rather in the nature of a certain monarch wondering ‘who would rid him of this turbulent priest’.”

Having had the spat between Henry II and St Thomas Becket drilled into him at school, the judge liked this and was pleased to note that details of the affair had not been lost upon at least one of his juniors. He smiled, waving Thistle to continue.”

“Possibly there was an alcoholic factor – we shall never know. However, the litigants found themselves in my client’s cellar. Mr Stott showed the golden cube to the plaintiff, but he never represented it as solid gold. In fact, it was an artefact produced to amuse the Stotts’ children. It was basically a large biscuit tin of the kind displayed by retailers who sell the confections loose. The tin had been filled with soil and covered by thick cardboard to raise the dimensions to an object of one cubic foot, which had then been coated with gold-leaf paint. The verisimilitude was remarkable. As to the glass case, this was a discarded domestic aquarium. My client never offered the cube to the plaintiff, but merely suggested that it was an indication of his substance. We must be truthful here by admitting that Mr Stott may have given the impression that the plaintiff would derive some benefit from helping him.”

The judge laced his fingers. “I understand. But the plaintiff did not benefit? He intervened as promised, after which no payment was made to him?”

“That is so, Your Honour. My client was willing to recompense Mr McGee, but there was some dispute about the cube. Relations between the parties became strained and they are no longer on speaking terms. Also, matters in the neighbourhood deteriorated to the point at which my client placed his house on the market for sale. The neighbour, Mr Illingworth, did the same and the two have been alternately reducing their offer prices in their efforts to depart the area.”

“Dear me,” said the judge. “A sort of pre-emptive gazundering, is it?

“One might say so, Your Honour.”

“Enough for the moment, Mr Purcell,” said the judge. “I would like to clarify something with the prosecution.” He switched to Turnpenny. “Mr Pennyworth, I would like to know a little more about the proposed payment to your client. I mean, how was he to take delivery?”

Turnpenny had not thought of this one and was obliged to consult his client before replying: “Your Honour, the suggestion made by the defendant was that, since there was no other egress from the cellar, two men should carry the golden cube up the steps to the living room and out into the garden, after which it was to be conveyed to my client’s home by taxi, as neither party owns a car.”

“Thank you,’ said the judge. “If you have both finished, I think I have grasped the essentials.”

Both counsels indicated their exhaustion as his honour, whose mind had been intermittently elsewhere, added to his notes the relativistic formula for the increasing mass of accelerating objects. He removed his half-glasses and swept his eyes over the parties. “I am by turns surprised and disappointed,” he said. “First, I do not approve of vigilante activity, however nobly intentioned, so in this respect I am bound to say that the defendant’s decision to engage the plaintiff was totally improper. Further, I do not accept alcohol as a mitigating factor.”

Having poked the defence in the eye, he changed tack. “With regard to the plaintiff, I must say that if there were a world record for gullibility, he would be a contender. I have noted Mr Stott’s address, which is in a street of very small semi-detached houses. Now, it seems strange to me that Mr McGee accepted that Mr Stott possessed a cubic foot of gold. First, I doubt that such an item exists. Second, though I do not have the current values of precious metals before me, I am sure that that quantity of gold would be worth millions of pounds. It is understandable that a man should keep his wealth in highly tangible form, and I am assuming here that there are no restrictions with regard to private gold holdings. However, I am bound to wonder why Mr McGee’s suspicions were not aroused when he found a vast fortune in Mr Stott’s cellar. I feel he might have asked himself why the defendant chose to live in circumstances so repugnant to him, while sitting upon such riches. I might be more inclined to accept Mr Stott’s version of events had he been, with the exception of his troubles with Mr Illingworth, blissfully happy in his accommodation.”

Counsels realised that the net was closing. The judge continued: “I am further surprised to hear of the apparently profound ignorance of both parties with regard the properties of gold, considering that this was such an important point.” Here, he shot his most contemptuous look at both advocates, then did a calculation on his papers before proceeding: “If I remember correctly, a cubic foot of gold weighs about twelve hundred pounds, and we are told that two men were to haul it up from the cellar and out into the garden, then put it into a taxi. How? I do not believe that Mr McGee’s musculature, though obviously considerable, would have been up to the job of lifting even a quarter of the weight involved. As to Mr Stott, the idea of his doing so defies my imagination. There was no mention of pulleys or rollers, and even if such aids had been available I question whether the house would have been strong enough to support their use. There would also have been the problems of transferring the cube into the taxi, and that vehicle’s load-bearing capability.”

With a final disdainful look at his audience, the judge concluded: “I am not called upon here to castigate the defendant, blameworthy though his methods may have been. I have to consider the plaintiff’s charge. In my opinion, Mr McGee is a simpleton who was overcome by desire and was putty in the hands of Mr Stott. Possibly he has some moral argument, but as he was overstepping our current mores, he has no legal redress. The charge is dismissed and I hope that neither party will darken my court-step again. Proceedings concluded.”

March 24th, 2012, 06:36 PM

The last case before Christmas – and a good thing too, thought Judge Embert Wimple. Despite a profound aversion to seasonal frivolities, his honour had no objection to a short respite from his official duties. Rest was becoming increasingly necessary. It was as well that judges so often did their work in short bursts, with frequent breaks between bouts of intense concentration. Were it otherwise, the octogenarian lawgiver would have resigned long ago. As it was, the working hours he kept enabled him to maintain a fresh attitude to whatever confronted him. Nevertheless, the time was surely approaching when he would have to heed the call to greater matters. The Theory of Everything still beckoned and how could a man deal with that if he were to be continually confronted with the misdeeds of his fellows? Like many an older man, Embert Wimple often thought that he needed to keep going because his juniors were not quite up to the job. In fairness to him, he usually had second thoughts, leading him to conclude that the initial ones were largely based on rationalisation, designed to keep him in the saddle. But a man had to learn when to let go. It was just a matter of timing.

Now, what was the case today? It seemed ordinary enough. Harris versus Pickles. Apparently a straightforward matter of assault. Beginning to relax for Yuletide, the judge noted with some satisfaction that the litigants were represented by two old warhorses, Rodney Melliflewes for the prosecution, Douglas Latimer for the defence. While happy to welcome the younger advocates, Judge Wimple usually felt more at home with the old brigade. He addressed Melliflewes. “Very well, Mr Mallander. You may proceed.”

“May it please Your Honour, this is a simple case of a physical attack, which occurred at about 10.45 p.m. on the nineteenth of August this year. My client, Mr Harris, had been enjoying a drink or two in a public house. He left the establishment alone and decided to round off the evening by going to the nearby fish shop, which he did, with unfortunate results. He had in mind a portion of haddock and chips. On placing his order, he was disappointed to find that only cod was available. He raised the issue with the defendant, who failed to engage him conversation. My client’s patience was severely tested by what he saw as dumb insolence on the defendant’s part. Mr Harris’s language may have become a little intemperate, but at no time did he threaten violence. However, in the case of Mr Pickles, the reverse applied. After refusing to speak for about two minutes, he resorted to hurling at my client a wire-mesh trayful of chips, fresh from the frying pan. Mr Harris sustained burns to his face, plus damage his only suit, which he cannot afford to have cleaned. He seeks redress.”

The judge looked at the litigants, trying to glean what he could from their appearances. The defendant was a small, well-dressed, inoffensive-looking man, whose nervous state was betrayed by continuous fidgeting. The plaintiff was a much larger fellow, wearing a plaid shirt and jeans, with no jacket. He gazed vacantly ahead, giving the impression that he was present in body only. His ruddy face and mass of purple cheek and nose curlicues just possibly suggested more than a nodding acquaintanceship with the cup that cheers. Embert Wimple turned his eyes to defending counsel. “What say you to this, Mr Lorimer?”

Latimer was pleased by this worthy effort. “May it please Your Honour, what my learned colleague says is true, as far as it goes, especially with regard to his client’s inflammatory words. However, there were extenuating circumstances, which the prosecution has failed to mention.”

“I am not surprised,” said the judge. “One would hardly expect both sides to reveal all without a little coaxing. However, notwithstanding the great adversarial tradition in this country, we do try to deal in truth – though I sometimes wonder whether we should try the Code Napoleon. That might be more expedient in getting to the point, but would not be half as much fun as our system. Please continue.”

“Thank you. It is correct to say that the duologue, or rather monologue, occurred as the prosecution has stated. Now we come to the underlying situation. My client, Mr Pickles, had two good reasons for his reluctance to become involved in a verbal exchange. First, he is employed at The Peace of Cod on –”

“The what?”

“The Peace of Cod, Your Honour. That is the name of the fish and chip shop.”

“I see. Well, I dare say the title makes its point, though it is perhaps not very imaginative.”

“There is more to it than meets the ear, Your Honour. The second word is spelt as in ‘War and Peace’.”

“Ah, that’s better. The Peace of Cod. Are you now about tell me that the produce involved passeth all understanding?”

“Only insofar as the high quality is widely thought to be beyond the comprehension of the shop’s competitors.”

“Well said. You excel yourself. However, if you continue to take us along these byways, we shall be here all day. Please continue.”

“Thank you. My client was employed on a part-time basis. Owing to his retiring nature, Mr Pickles has a history of difficulty in securing employment. In fact, his only job of any consequence has been the one at the place in question, where he is still occupied. It is therefore understandable that he was anxious to stay in his position. His employer, a Mr Yardley, has a certain reputation with respect to his staff. It might be said that he rules with a rod of iron. He is a former heavyweight boxer and a man of overbearing demeanour. Among other things, he discourages his employees from chattering with customers. Silent service appears to be his motto, and since he is always present during opening hours, his will prevails. Being in fear of losing his source of income, my client obeyed his master to the letter.”

“The dark satanic mills,” said the judge. “I think I understand. However, I wonder how Mr Pickles managed to serve customers without speaking. Could you clarify?

“Yes. Normally, there are two people at the counter, while my client deals only with frying. On the occasion concerned, one of the two usual servers was off sick. Mr Yardley was in the back room chopping chips. The other assistant, noting that there were no customers, had gone to the toilet, leaving Mr Pickles in the unfamiliar position of dealing with frying and possibly serving at the same time.”

“I see,” the judge replied. “Now, what about the second reason?”

“In a way, that is more important. Mr Pickles wishes to join the order of Trappist monks, which involves a vow of silence. It seemed to him, rightly or wrongly, that he should place upon himself voluntarily the state he aspired to maintain later in life. Only thus could he be sure of his presumed vocation. One might say that his normal work in the fish and chip shop was providential, in view of the owner’s attitude.”

Here, Latimer paused for a drink before continuing: “By Mr Yardley’s admission, my client fulfilled his duties admirably, until the incident in question here. This submission is supported by the fact that Mr Yardley continues to employ Mr Pickles, who had done exactly what was expected of him, until provoked beyond reasonable bounds by the plaintiff’s speech and gestures. It is also noteworthy that Mr Yardley lost considerable custom on the evening in question, as a number of people left his premises unserved, being alarmed by the plaintiff’s aggressive behaviour, which was no doubt attributable to alcoholic intoxication – a point on which we can offer independent corroboration, should that be necessary. In fact, when the shop was closed, Mr Yardley found himself with several portions of cod and chips unsold, an almost unprecedented situation. Owing to the lunchtime rush, he cannot be with us now, but has asked that his opinion be considered. I believe Your Honour will find among the relevant papers a letter from him to that effect.”

The judge had already read the scrawled note. “Yes, I have seen it,” he said. “A most lucid presentation, Mr Lansbury. Now, you have made your two points.” He turned to Melliflewes. “Have you anything to add, Mr Ackerman?”

Not a good sign, that. Was the old boy beginning to wander further than usual? “Nothing strictly relevant, Your Honour. The fact remains that, whatever the supposed provocation, my client was physically assailed and restrained himself in trying circumstances. He is entitled to satisfaction.”

The judge was beginning to visualise the incident. “So he is, if he has been wronged. And yet, I would like to know more. The defence mentioned that Mr Harris was somewhat the worse for drink. Do you concur?”

Aware of his opponent’s comments concerning the production of witnesses, Melliflewes had no intention of extending the proceedings, thus possibly provoking judicial ire. He was stymied. “It is true that my client had imbibed – after all, that is the usual purpose of anyone visiting a public house. On the occasion in question, matters were exacerbated by the fact that there was a malfunction of the pumps and my client, who normally drinks only mild beer, was obliged to switch to bitter, which is stronger than his preferred beverage.”

“I see,” said the judge. “And how much did he consume, before and after this switch? We could enquire of the publican if necessary, but perhaps you could spare us that effort?”

Melliflewes suddenly found the floor most interesting. He was aware that the judge might well adjourn proceedings and haul everyone off to the scene of the incident. Best to own up. “Before the change, eight pints of mild. The position after that is unclear.”

The judge saw the possibility of a little light entertainment. “Eight pints, plus heaven knows how much more,” he exclaimed. “Your client must have a remarkable bladder. I wonder how he retained his intake, if indeed he did.”

This caused prosecuting counsel to examine the pine-clad walls for ten seconds before the judge continued: “You seem to be pregnant with information, Mr Melbrook. Is there something?”

Still dwelling on defending counsel’s comment concerning witnesses, and suspecting that the judge might have a little anecdotal evidence, Melliflewes was distinctly uncomfortable. “Your Honour, my client urinated against the wall of the fish and chip shop, though very briefly. The owner did not wish to make anything of this.”

The judge chuckled. “I appreciate that it would hardly be good for his business if he were to publicise the fact that such things occur at his establishment. Now, as a matter of interest, what does your client do for a living?”

“Unfortunately, he is unemployed. He had a deprived upbringing and his limited education fitted him for nothing more than manual labour. Also, owing to an arthritic condition which affects his joints, he is unable to carry out even such work.”

“An unenviable position,” the judge said. “Still, he seems to have at least one fully functional elbow. Now, I think the affair has been covered comprehensively.” He turned to Latimer. “Anything to add, Mr Ponsonby?”

“Only a plea for clemency, Your Honour. My client is most contrite, but is concerned that any court judgement against him might affect his application for acceptance into the Trappist order.”

The judge sighed and gave the slightest of head-shakes. “As between the tribulations of your client’s present life and what might await him in his apparent vocation, I am not in a position to comment. Only he knows what goes on in his own mind. Now, I am bound to wonder why the shop owner, Mr Yardley, did not intervene on the occasion in question. Can you shed any light on this?”

Latimer bowed. “A little, Your Honour. Mr Yardley is a great believer in self-reliance. He expects his staff to demonstrate this, notwithstanding his presence.”

“Quite a martinet, it seems,” said the judge. “On the one hand, he seems to repress his employees, while on the other, he requires them to cope with whatever happens to them, regardless of his omnipresence. I doubt that I would wish to be employed by such a man. This reminds of the German word ‘Zugzwang’, which means compulsion to move and requires someone to act, notwithstanding that anything done will be detrimental.”

The judge felt that he had now captured his audience. He contemplated the ceiling for a moment before continuing: “This is a depressing matter. We are dealing with a young man who has a spiritual calling, yet finds himself enmeshed the secular affairs which concern all of us. The strain upon him must have been enormous and one can only speculate about his state of . . . a . . . internal combustion on the occasion in question. By some process of concatenation, I find myself thinking of the words of, if I remember rightly, G. B. Shaw, who once observed of a woman of his acquaintance that she had retained the power of speech, while having lost the art of conversation. When I consider the verbal clamour around us, I wonder whether our lives might be better if more people were to take vows of silence.

“As for the plaintiff, he wanted fish and chips and being mindful of his condition, I am bound to doubt that he had any genuine worry about whether he got haddock or cod, as I do not believe that he would have been able to detect much difference. Incidentally, my heart bleeds for a man who was able to amass the resources to buy a large quantity of beer, but not those required to clean his suit. A question of priorities, I assume.”

Seeing the declining heads of counsels, the judge thought it best to avoid further digression. “So, Mr Pickles did what he is accused of. He was in the same position as a parent who, confronted by an impossibly recalcitrant child, resorts to the expedient of physical force. This may not be right, but it terminates the bickering – at least pro tem. Strictly speaking, I should find the defendant guilty. However, considering what he seeks to impose upon himself for the rest of his life, I feel bound to avoid frustrating his desires by an adverse judgement, especially as he was so blatantly goaded. I suspect he will find himself in a similar position many times in the future. The charge is dismissed. Proceedings concluded.”

March 28th, 2012, 06:06 PM

Administering the law was, Judge Embert Wimple sometimes felt, a tiresome business. If only people would behave in a more civilised manner, there would be far less need for cumbersome legal machinery. Still, one had to adopt a balanced attitude and after all, the disputes referred to him kept the Wimple household in comfort. The wolf was a long way from the door. When musing in this way, the judge usually consoled himself with the words of Cicero, to the effect that people were in bondage to the law in order to be free.

It was January and England’s cricketers were having a torrid time overseas, where they were facing some wily spin bowling and a daunting array of batsmen. Still, the chaps were battling bravely. What a pity that Jim Laker was not available to give the opposition a taste of its own medicine. The judge thought once more of that great test match in 1956, when Australian batsmen were mesmerised in quick succession. Would a bowler would ever again take nineteen wickets in a test and if so, would it be for a mere ninety runs? Those were the days.

Time to steel oneself. There were more serious matters to consider. In particular, the question of Gale versus Frost, a dispute in which Embert Wimple was about to officiate. Shedding his thoughts about leg-breaks and off-drives, the judge amused himself with the thought that this was another meteorological affair. Many years earlier he had tried the case of Breeze versus Hailing and now here he was, confronted by the elements again. It seemed too odd to be true that one judge should get two such cases in a lifetime, but fate has a way of arranging these things. If he worked on long enough, Embert Wimple thought, he might one day preside in the matter Storm versus Fogg. No, that was too fanciful.

Apart from failing to note the charge – an omission which was to prove unimportant – his honour acquainted himself with what he considered necessary, then took his place. He was pleased to note that the prosecution was in the hands of that doughty campaigner, Daniel Pettigrew, the defence being represented by the mettlesome young Cedric Thistle. The judge peered at Pettigrew cleared his throat and began. “Very well, Mr Peterson, it’s showtime.” Judge Wimple liked to put in the odd modernism, lest it be thought that he was out of touch.

Pettigrew bowed. “May it please Your Honour, we are concerned here with a difference between my client, Mr Gale and the defendant, Mr Frost.”

“Yes, of course we are,” snapped the judge. “What is the nature of that difference?”

Pettigrew was taken aback. Clearly, despite his early flash of humour, his honour was a little querulous this morning, which was out of character. In fact the reason was that he had had one of his rare disappointments, in that his breakfast porridge had come out a little too thin for his liking. More like gruel, really. His comment to the effect that the days of Oliver Twist were surely long gone had been given short shrift by the redoubtable Mrs Wimple, who wished to get to on with her real work and had no intention of being distracted by culinary trivia.

“Beg pardon, Your Honour,” said prosecuting counsel. “The dispute arose on the eighteenth of September last, at the workplace shared by the litigants, who follow the same occupation.”

“I see. What is that occupation?”

“They are both trainee astronauts, Your Honour.”

“Indeed? I did not know we had a space programme. I hope we shall not be required to exercise extraterrestrial justice. The earthly variety is troublesome enough.”

Pettigrew allowed himself a smile. Perhaps the old lad had switched back to mellow mode. “No, Your Honour, we are spared any such problems. The incident took place in a variable-gravity simulator at a research centre only five miles from here and indisputably earthbound. As to any official ambitions the country may or may not have, I am not competent to comment. In this case, the project is a private one, funded by a local businessman, who has an avid interest in interplanetary travel. He is what one might call a visionary.”

“I understand,” said the judge. “He must be a man of some means. I believe such enterprises are costly.”

Pettigrew had been hoping for a chance to explain. “The sponsor exercised some ingenuity On hearing that a local vinegar brewery was going out of business, he bought one of the large vats used in the process. He had this mounted on an electrically powered turntable and had the apparatus fitted with universal joints, so that users might get some of the effect of gravitational forces, plus a certain degree of disorientation. The gentleman also undertook responsibility for training of a group of unemployed people, including the litigants here.”

The judge nodded. “Most intriguing. I have some interest in these matters myself, but I have never heard of this development.”

“The man concerned does not encourage publicity, Your Honour. Now, the two parties were preparing for a mock space-walk when an argument took place, which led to an exchange of blows. In the encounter, the defendant laid hands on a knife, with which he inflicted damage in the form of a three-inch cut to my client’s space suit. Had the parties been in orbit, the consequences would have been fatal. Even as it was, they were not inconsiderable.”

The judge was now all ears. “Very strange,” he said. “I was under the impression that the selection of prospective astronauts took into account their equanimity, among other things.”

Pettigrew inclined his head. “Indeed it does, but these men are after all human and not divorced from the feelings common to most of us. In addition to the physical attack, the defendant made derogatory comments about my client’s wife, expressing specific views concerning her moral inclinations.”

“Dear me,” said the judge. “Are we to be permitted to learn the precise nature of those remarks?” – he had no objection to a whiff of the salacious.

Pettigrew was uncomfortable. “I cannot quote verbatim, Your Honour,” he replied, “but the terms ‘alley cat’ and ‘strumpet’ were used. I believe we can all imagine the position.”

“Oh, can we?” said the judge. “Well, it is not our job here to imagine, but for the moment I will accept your remarks. Is that all?”

“Almost. My client wishes to add that the defendant had been difficult on the day in question and was argumentative from the moment he came through the door that morning.”

If Pettigrew had entertained any notion of augmenting his remarks, he was halted by a restraining hand held up by the judge, whose impish smile boded embarrassment to come. “One moment. I realise that we are dealing with matters that have connotations beyond the mundane round. Am I now to understand that we are invoking the supernatural?”

“Beg pardon, Your Honour. I don’t understand.”

“You referred to the defendant as having come through the door. I have heard of people coming into a room by a door, or at a door, or through a doorway but I have never before encountered a situation in which someone entered through a door. This seems to argue ghostly qualities, does it not?”

“I stand corrected, Your Honour. The expression is widely accepted, even by prominent writers.”

“Perhaps. It was also long accepted by many that the Earth was flat. That did not make the view correct. However, I will not labour the point.” He turned his attention to defending counsel. “Now, Mr Trowbridge, what have you to say?”

Cedric Thistle took a moment to realise that it was his turn, but being a man of nimble mentality, he quickly rose to the occasion. “May it please Your Honour,” he said, “we have no quarrel with the basic substance of the prosecution’s remarks, in that my client did what the plaintiff claims he did. However, he was provoked. There were high words, but not all on one side. The prosecution referred to my client’s remarks and Mr Frost does not deny having made them. However, he did so in response to extremely offensive comments made by the plaintiff, concerning Mr Frost and his whole family, specifically commenting on their allegedly short journey from what he referred to as our common arboreal ancestry. I will refrain from reciting details, but there was more in the same vein, much of which I consider unrepeatable here. Furthermore, my client exerted himself to make restitution. Among other things, he offered to pay for repairs to the damaged spacesuit. The proposal was spurned.”

“I see,” said the judge. “I note your delicacy in sparing us anything that might give rise to blushes. However, it seems to me that, as the two parties are about the same size, Mr Frost might have suggested an exchange of spacesuits.”

“That idea does not seem to have occurred to either of them, Your Honour.”

The judge leapt in. “Most disturbing. Having already established that the emotional state of both men was unbalanced, we now learn that their presence of mind left something to be desired. I fear for our future in this matter of space travel. Now, what other reparations did Mr Frost suggest?”

“Positive ones, Your Honour. As an immediate gesture, he proffered the plaintiff a roll of adhesive tape. He further indicated that he knew a tailor in the city, who could have repaired the damage.”

“Did he really?” said Judge Wimple. “We seem to be entering abstruse fields. I am under the possibly erroneous impression that space suits are high-technology garments. Are you saying that they can be reinstated to full functionality by needle and thread, or something similar?”

“Yes, Your Honour,” said Thistle. “Such is our contention.”

“But what about the proposed space-walk? Would there not have been problems?”

“We are not able to say, one way or the other. However, it is not unknown for astronauts to get into difficulties and be rescued by commensurately mundane activity, including the use of ordinary spanners and pens.”

“A good point, Mr Trevellian,” said the judge. “However, we have not yet covered the matter of ultimate responsibility. I find it hard to believe that in this day and age, such people as the litigants here are accountable for the state of their protective clothing. Surely, there must be technicians involved in this kind of undertaking. Can anyone enlighten me?”

Pettigrew coughed his way to the fore. “Your Honour, we are confronted here, as frequently elsewhere, with the problem of limited resources. It is true that such incidents as this would formerly have been handled by technical staff. However, the current position is that there is resistance all round, both public and private, to requests for continued funding for projects from which no short-term benefit is perceived. The businessman concerned is not entirely immune to this.”

“Hardly surprising,” said the judge. “I mean, when this space thing started, we were told that our lives were to be transformed. For example we would soon be able to stop worrying about accommodation, as there would be tinfoil suits available to all of us, offering complete protection from the weather. Yet here we are, with no such advances. We seem to have reached the position in which we could have pens which work upside-down and under water. Now, as I do not write in an inverted position, still less sub aqua, I have never had any requirement for such a blessing, and I imagine this is true of most people. However, I fear I interrupted you, Mr Galloway. Please continue.”

“Thank you. I was about to say that the situation is analogous to that which pertained in the days of national service, which Your Honour will doubtless recall. In those times, conscripts to the armed forces were given their initial clothing, but were required to keep it in good condition – in some cases by darning and sewing. As a result of budgetary constraints, this is what is now required of our would-be astronauts. In a way, it could be said that we have gone full circle.”

The judge nodded. “Yes,” he said, “I grasp the comparison, and a fair one it is, too. However, there are points which we cannot clarify by sitting here. It seems to me that we are in need of the genius loci. I feel that I cannot decide without taking in the full essence of the matter, so I believe we may need a reconstruction of the events. It would be helpful if we were to arrange a visit to the simulator in question.” The judge knew exactly what he was doing. He also guessed what effect his comments would have. And they did.

Both counsels were aghast, Pettigrew being the first to recover. “Your Honour,” he said, goggling, “I fear that would be difficult. The installation is extremely costly to maintain and is reserved for long periods in advance of any proposed use. It is unique.”

“I am not surprised,” said the Judge. “Especially now that Mr Heath Robinson is longer with us. Do you concur with the prosecution, Mr Enfield?”

Thistle’s bow was the epitome of obsequiousness. “Indeed I do, Your Honour. My learned colleague has taken the very words from my mouth. The expenditure would be astronomical.”

“Or perhaps astronautical,” the judge replied. “However, we have come to a pretty pass here. In circumstances such as these, it is not uncommon for all parties concerned, including juries where applicable, to visit the scene of an alleged wrongdoing, in order to establish the facts. Am I to take it that justice is to be frustrated on grounds of cost or time?

“No, Your Honour,” replied Pettigrew glumly.

Thistle was equally deflated. “Certainly not, Your Honour.”

“Very well,” said the judge. “Now, there seems to be general agreement that in addition to the time factor, the expenses involved in proceeding further would be great and I hardly need say that they would devolve upon the loser. This seems to be an appropriate moment for us to recess briefly. I shall return to my chambers and leave you to reflect on the position. We shall reconvene in fifteen minutes.”

Judge Wimple spent the following quarter-hour trying vainly to get news of England’s progress in the current test match. On returning to the courtroom, he found both parties in sombre mood. They had agreed that in view of the likely high costs and the uncertain outcome, no good purpose would be served by prolonging the action.

“Very commendable,” said the judge. “I applaud the pragmatic attitude of both sides. Proceedings concluded.” With a final withering look at the two barristers, he added: “Solomon had it easier.”

March 29th, 2012, 10:52 AM

Having read a number of your jesting recitals of courtly due process I find myself applauding the dialogue.

I wonder how Judge Embert Wimple would have delt with this case.
A house had been sold and a removal company engaged to pack and transport the furniture and belongings of the seller to his new abode. The new owners arriving later in the day had quite a shock and had to call the police.

It transpired that the removal men, who were somewhat intimidated by their boss, and clearly fearful of being delayed in completing the job had acted in something of a dilemma. On arrival, the removal men had found the seller dead on the floor of his living room. Instead of calling the police, they had simply put the body to one side while they removed and packed the furniture and personal belongings. Before leaving in trying to show some respect for the deceased they laid him out on the floor of the empty front bedroom.

I don’t recall the outcome, but I think the magistrate let the removal men go with a good ticking off. :subdued:

QDOS :cool:

March 31st, 2012, 06:06 PM

It was early February and bitterly cold. Embert Wimple was glad to don his thermal long johns, nowadays discarded for only three or four months of the year. Life was more or less in balance. On the minus side, there was an interlude in the strenuous overseas test match schedule, a struggle in which England’s lads were doing their best against tough opposition. On the plus side, Esmeralda Wimple, after abandoning her whimsical interest in other matters, was painting with renewed vigour. The only change was that she had developed a taste for portraiture. Judge Wimple was mildly disappointed that his wife had not chosen him as her first subject, especially as the Wimples were enjoying domestic harmony. Perhaps there was further to go along this path. Were some of the Eastern believers right in thinking that it was it all an unending cycle? Embert Wimple thought not. At some point, there must surely be a progression to another plane. But would that start the whole thing over again at a different level? It was confusing.

The judge put his mind into freewheel as he was chauffeured to court. No point in speculating on what awaited him. He did know that he was to deal with the case of Walmsley versus Walmsley, and entertained a tenuous hope that this would not be another matrimonial shindig. He found such affairs distasteful. They were usually revealing, but Judge Wimple did not like grovelling in the anatomy of any marriage. In such circumstances, he found himself continually reminded of the observation of Randell Jarrell, who spoke of ‘the uneasy world of family life, where the greatest may fail and the humblest succeed’.

On this occasion, the judge found himself dealing for the first time with two female barristers. The prosecution was to be conducted by the rapidly advancing Arabella Bray, the defence being in the hands of a newcomer, Lorna Perceval. Not being completely converted to androgyny, Embert Wimple found himself casting an appreciative eye over the advocates. He was already familiar with the appearance of Ms Bray, a short, stout, black-haired woman in her early thirties, possessed of formidable talents. Pugnacious was the word. Defending counsel was a little younger, a tall slender, pony-tailed blonde of, the judge thought, quite compelling and distinctly equine appearance. By the process that the human mind carries out at such bewildering speed, Embert Wimple zipped through his cerebral attic, retrieving a snippet of conversation he had had with a fellow law student over six decades earlier. The young man had asked whether Wimple preferred blondes, brunettes or redheads, to which the judge-to-be had replied blandly in the affirmative.

Somehow, Embert Wimple sensed that this case might offer a welcome change from the normal run of prosaic matters. Perhaps his feeling was just another of those things that seem to be in the air at times. But something was amiss. Ah, yes, there was no defendant. This was unusual, but not unprecedented. The plaintiff was a six-footer, thin as a rail and remarkably pallid, his appearance suggesting that a moderate wind would blow him over. The judge nodded at Ms Bray. “Very well, Ms Garbo, please get the ball rolling.” He had been thinking of his latest viewing of ‘Ninotchka’.

Prosecuting counsel offered the briefest of nods. “Thank you, Your Honour. My client, Peter Walmsley, was the victim in an incident which occurred on the twenty-fourth of October last year. If Your Honour will permit a little background information . . . ?”

“Of course. Please carry on.”

“There is another party involved, albeit only indirectly, in these proceedings. I refer to Mr and Mrs Broadbent, who conduct a fast-food establishment in the suburbs of this city. Assisted by their son and daughter, they provide meals, both over-the-counter and by delivery. Their speciality is pizzas, though they supply other items, such as curry, chips and so forth. It is perhaps appropriate to say that they have been having a difficult time. They conduct their business in a traditional family way, with the son and daughter delivering orders, the son by bicycle and the daughter by scooter. On the evening in question, a man entered the Broadbents’ premises, saying that he was hosting a rugby club meeting at his home and that, as matters were going well, he had decided to treat his guests to an evening of food and drink. He ordered forty family-sized, pepperoni-topped pizzas, plus a large quantity of other items, all to be delivered at his house within two hours. He said he was on his way to a cash machine and would pay on receipt of the goods.”

“I see,” said the judge. “Quite a bonanza for the Broadbents, I imagine.”

“So it seemed, Your Honour. And timely too, for a decent family facing an uphill struggle to make a living.”

The judge leaned forwards. “You may put down the violin, Ms Brain. I am already sympathetically engaged with the Broadbents.”

“Your Honour is most understanding. Now, the Broadbents prepare the food themselves and are very proud of their pizzas. They were delighted with the order, which was exceptionally large, and got to work at once. After their intensive joint effort, Mr Broadbent loaded the food into his van and drove to the address he had been given. On arrival, he was surprised to note that all appeared quiet and that only one car was parked at the house. With mounting apprehension, he knocked at the door, which was opened by my client, Peter Walmsley. Mr Broadbent was relieved to see the face he had seen earlier, save that the complexion was much less tanned than the one he recalled. He assumed that to be an optical illusion.”

Bray, who savoured her presentations to the full, paused to take a long drink of water. Sure of an attentive audience, she continued: “A strange conversation ensued. My client knew nothing of any rugby club and he and his wife never entertained guests. They had no wish to eat pizzas, especially not ones with pepperoni, as they and their two children are vegans.”

The judge looked from counsel to plaintiff and back again. “Ah, I was wondering about that,” he muttered.

“Beg pardon, Your Honour?” said Ms Bray.

“No matter, Ms Crane. Merely a passing thought. I apologise for the interruption. The floor is still yours.”

“Thank you. Coming on top of the Broadbents’ already serious business difficulties, this shock was severe. I will not give a blow by blow account, although the incident did almost result in blows, which would have been one-sided anyway, as my client is a pacifist. However, when matters calmed down, it became clear to Mr Walmsley that both he and the Broadbents had been victims of a trick perpetrated by my client’s twin brother, Ian Walmsley. This man, the defendant, has a long history of practical joking and has several times embarrassed my client. Peter Walmsley had no idea that his twin was in this country, as he heard with great relief that Ian had departed for Australia some time earlier. Finally, my client invited Mr Broadbent into his house, where the matter was discussed over a glass or two of dandelion wine. On learning of the Broadbents’ plight, my client agreed to pay for the goods supplied, on condition that Mr Broadbent retain them to do with them as he saw fit.”

The judge was hanging on grimly. “Is there much more?” he whined.

“No. Happily, thanks to my client’s sense of family honour, Mr Broadbent did not suffer financially. However, Peter Walmsley concluded that he had had enough of his brother’s irresponsible behaviour. He decided to take action for recovery of the amount he had paid to Mr Broadbent. I believe the sum is stated in Your Honour’s papers.”

It was – and the judge’s eyebrows rose when he saw it. If they managed to sell their food at such prices, could the Broadbents really be in trouble? However, that was not the point. More interesting to Judge Wimple was the matter of the absent defendant’s behaviour. His honour was not given to great emotion, but had a visceral hatred of practical jokes. He had never liked them and his attitude had been set in concrete when in his youth he had been invited to a birthday party. Some prankster had placed an iron bucket full of water in a doorway, then yelled for help. Young Wimple had responded, to find himself tripping over the obstacle, flooding a kitchen and sustaining wounds to his right shin. Even now, seventy years after the event, a faint scar was still visible. It would require a very skilful defence to incline the judge toward leniency. “Yes, I have the details. Is that all?”

“We have nothing else specific to this case.”

The judge turned his attention to defending counsel, Perceval. “Now, Ms Parsifal, what can you tell us – beginning with an explanation of your client’s failure to appear?”

At this early stage in her career, Perceval had expected to draw a few short straws, and none would be shorter than this. Still, she was determined to do her best. “Your Honour, my client offers his profound apologies for his absence, but asks the court to bear in mind that he is a freelance business consultant with international obligations. As such, he is often called to faraway parts at virtually no notice. If he refuses a commission, his reputation suffers. On this occasion he was summoned to Bangkok yesterday morning. He has given me full powers to act in his absence.”

“A high-flyer, is he?” said the judge. “Well, I will take his work into consideration. What about his involvement in this affair?”

Perceval doggedly pursued her hopeless cause. “At the time, my client had just returned from a spell of work in Canada, where he had been assisting a computer company. He admits that he called at the Broadbent shop and placed the order in question. However, he intended to invite a few friends and pay a surprise visit to his brother’s house, so his apparently extravagant order for food was genuine at the time he gave it. Unfortunately, he was attacked by muggers while on his way to the cash point he mentioned to Mr Broadbent. He was injured and spent the evening attending to his wounds. Being disorientated by his experience, he did not think to telephone his brother. By midnight, he had more or less recovered, but felt that it was too late to make telephone calls, though he still intended to rectify matters as quickly as possible. However, early the following morning he was asked to proceed at once to Turkey, in order to offer advice to a building firm.”

“Most interesting,” said the judge. “People in your client’s line of work seem to be remarkable polymaths. And yet I have heard it said that a consultant is a person who will borrow one’s watch in order to tell one the time. It never ceases to amaze me that so many large organisations seem to be run by either accountants or consultants. I often wonder what happens to the entrepreneurs who found such businesses. Please forgive the aside. You were saying?”

“There is little more to contribute from this side, Your Honour. Since the evening in question, my client has been immersed in a series of exigencies affecting one or other of the organisations he helps. Such is the pace of his life that he has hardly had time to draw breath. However, he is acutely aware of the embarrassment caused to his brother and the inconvenience to the Broadbents, and is willing to accept the court’s verdict. He asks only that it be understood that his intentions were quite innocent, if a little eccentric.”

The judge scribbled a further note, then stared at Perceval. “Thank you, Ms Persimmon. Do you believe your client’s story?”

“I have no reason to disbelieve it, Your Honour.”

“Very well.” He turned to Arabella Bray. “Anything to add, Ms Thwaite?”

“Nothing directly relating to this incident, but we ask that the court take into account the defendant’s past antics, since they have caused much misery to a number of people. Also, my client asserts that his brother is not a business consultant, but a professional gambler, who travels to wherever he foresees exciting action.”

The judge grunted. “In a way I sympathise with him. If he were a business consultant rather than a gambler, he would have only an upside to his activities, whereas most gamblers sometimes lose. Now, I believe I have all the relevant details and the defence has already indicated acceptance of my decision. Is the prosecution also agreeable?”

There was no objection from Bray. “Very well,” said the judge. “There are several points to consider here. First, my heart bleeds for the Broadbents. At the prices they charge, I wonder whether their merchandise is offered on gold plates. They must need to sell at least half a dozen pizzas a week to make ends meet. However, that is irrelevant. If these people offer high-priced products which others are willing to buy, that is no concern of this court. After all, we hear of millions of pounds being paid for old artefacts, and who is to say that the Broadbents are not as eminent in their line as Michelangelo and his kind were in theirs? Personally I would as soon eat a memorable pork pie as contemplate a Titian. Now, I am pleased to note the defendant’s wish to make amends for his action, which caused so much trouble for others. He seems to have been sliding merrily down the banister of life and he has now encountered the newel post. I am determined to stamp out this kind of behaviour and my decision is that the defendant must reimburse his brother for the amount paid to the Broadbents, plus a fine of one hundred pounds. Proceedings concluded.”

March 31st, 2012, 06:23 PM

Having read a number of your jesting recitals of courtly due process I find myself applauding the dialogue.

I wonder how Judge Embert Wimple would have delt with this case.
A house had been sold and a removal company engaged to pack and transport the furniture and belongings of the seller to his new abode. The new owners arriving later in the day had quite a shock and had to call the police.

It transpired that the removal men, who were somewhat intimidated by their boss, and clearly fearful of being delayed in completing the job had acted in something of a dilemma. On arrival, the removal men had found the seller dead on the floor of his living room. Instead of calling the police, they had simply put the body to one side while they removed and packed the furniture and personal belongings. Before leaving in trying to show some respect for the deceased they laid him out on the floor of the empty front bedroom.

I don’t recall the outcome, but I think the magistrate let the removal men go with a good ticking off. :subdued:

QDOS :cool:

I am not clear as to what laws, if any, the removal men transgressed. No doubt Desmond Oddley-Staggers, Arabella Bray or any of their peers would have got stuck into such a matter. His honour would, I suspect, have distracted himself from cricket for long enough to apply his great wisdom to the conundrum and I imagine he might well have reached the same conclusion as the magistrate you mention.

Cj :cool:

April 4th, 2012, 06:00 PM

Another frosty February morning. It was a good time for reflection before spring stormed in – and Judge Embert Wimple was reflecting more than somewhat. Uppermost in his mind was the thought that the point was approaching when he would have to call it a day. He did not believe that his powers were waning. However, being both introspective and objective, he had noted within himself an increasing tendency to regard his cases with a degree of light-heartedness not entirely commensurate with the gravitas they deserved. Perhaps more important was the fact that he was getting increasingly lucid glimpses of the mysteries of particle physics. Only yesterday, he had commented to Esmeralda that the oddities of human nature were of ever decreasing interest to him and that quarks were more important than quirks.

With only the vaguest impression of what awaited him today, the judge assumed his position and looked over his papers. Ah, yes, Daniels versus Parkinson, a squabble in the publishing world. Well, with any luck it might be better than humdrum. The advocates were old warriors. Desmond Oddley-Staggers was to represent the prosecution, the defence being in the hands of Liam McGillivray, making one of his rare appearances before Judge Wimple. Satisfied that he was as au fait as necessary, the judge nodded to Oddley-Staggers. “Very well, Mr Osmond, let us begin.”

Prosecuting counsel tucked his thumbs into his waistcoat pockets in a gesture familiar to the judge. He bowed. “May it please Your Honour, this matter is less simple than some that find their way to court. My client, Sidney Daniels, is a literary agent with a flourishing practice close to the centre of this city. Early in August last year, he received from the defendant a manuscript. As Your Honour is doubtless aware, the artistic world is somewhat crowded and this is nowhere more apparent than in the field of books.”

“True,” said the judge. “A short time ago I was asked to read a manuscript produced by a distant relation” – the man concerned was the judge’s brother-in-law – “and I managed no more than thirty pages of turgid twaddle. It was an adventure novel and quite painful. However, I am stealing your thunder, Mr Oldroyd. Please continue.”

“Thank you. The work concerned was titled ‘Lions of Liberty’ and described the rise of organised labour, from the time of the Tolpuddle Martyrs to the present. Now, far more work is submitted to publishers and literary agents than they can reasonably evaluate. There is always a backlog. Authors, especially new ones, are usually apprised of this from the outset of their endeavours to get into print. My client placed the manuscript concerned in his pending file, having informed the defendant by telephone that it might be some time before he could reply fully.

“Towards the end of October, Mr Parkinson began to conduct an offensive action against my client, designed to force him to respond. First there was a number telephone calls in quick succession, then several letters. Finally, the defendant appeared at my client’s office, where Mr Daniels was in sole charge, his secretary being on holiday. Mr Parkinson’s behaviour was aggressive and caused Mr Daniels considerable alarm. So furious was the verbal onslaught that my client was in fear for his safety.”

“Yes, yes,” said the judge. “I note that the defendant was forthright. Can we get to the upshot?”

“We can, Your Honour. In a state of some anxiety, my client waved a hand at his pile of outstanding manuscripts, asking Mr Parkinson to try to understand the position. The defendant did not reply, but pushed my client aside, descended upon the heap of files, selected a blue folder familiar to him and left. Three days later Mr Daniels discovered that he was short of a manuscript from one of his most successful authors, a gentleman who has written a string of popular novels set in the Wild West.”

The judge’s eyes lit up. His mind had wandered so far that his notes that his notes comprised efforts to devise an anagram for a ten-letter word that had popped into his mind. Now, suddenly, he was on full alert. Embert Wimple had been brought up on the work of Zane Grey and like many men the world over, he was at heart a rider of the purple sage. He leaned forwards. “Westerns, you say. Who is the author?”

“His name is Gilbert Merrydew.”

“I don’t recall hearing it.”

“You would not have. Mr Merrydew writes under the pseudonym of Dick Trapp.”

“Ah, I see. No doubt he considers that punchier than his real name. You were saying . . .”

“Mr Daniels was distraught, especially as Mr Merrydew telephoned him a day later, asking about his latest work. My client was obliged to admit that he could not find the manuscript. He was acutely embarrassed.”

The judge raised a hand. “Just a moment. Did Mr Merrydew not have a copy of the work?”

“No. He writes his stories using pen and paper and usually calls on my client to hand in his latest work. More distressingly, he does not supply a covering note to identify himself. Mr Daniels is familiar with the handwriting, as the two men are old friends.”

“This seems a little casual,” the judge said.

“We are speaking of the arts, Your Honour. Mundane considerations are not always uppermost in the minds of those concerned.”

“Perhaps not. I suppose I must try to understand such laxity, though I can hardly condone it. Now, you are meandering towards a point. Do you think we might reach it?”

“I am sorry if Your Honour’s patience has been tried. The defendant had violated my client’s filing system and seized what he thought was the folder containing his manuscript. As it happened, Mr Merrydew had coincidentally enclosed his novel in the same kind of light-blue folder as the defendant had used. Mr Parkinson took the wrong file and a potential best-seller disappeared. Mr Merrydew had laboured for ten months over his work and must now must do it all again, assuming that he can do so, which is a large assumption, artistic inspiration being in some cases a transient phenomenon. Furthermore, Mr Merrydew may not wish to entrust any further work to Mr Daniels. The loss of commission income to my client might be regarded as incalculable, but as the story in question was Mr Merrydew’s latest and best novel, Mr Daniels puts the figure at a minimum of ten thousand pounds.”

“Enough,” groaned the judge. “You have made your point with hammer and nails.” He turned appealing eyes to McGillivray. “Let us hear from you, Mr McGillicuddy.”

The big, bluff Irishman offered neither bow nor any other evidence of grovelling. “I am obliged to Your Honour. There is no disagreement about the original submission of my client’s manuscript. Having worked long and hard over his seminal work on the rise of the trade union movement, Mr Parkinson came upon the name of the plaintiff by referring to a writers’ reference book. Being an innocent in these matters, he naturally assumed that he was dealing with an upright businessman. That he was not doing so became apparent to him only after he had demonstrated great restraint in the face of extremely bad manners.”

“Yes, yes. I have just heard that. Tell us something new.”

Far from feeling rebuked, the quick-thinking Celt smiled and ploughed on. My client was frustrated by the plaintiff’s unethical business methods. The catalyst for his later behaviour was the last of his telephone calls to Mr Daniels’ office. He spoke with a young lady, who asked him to wait until she had consulted her employer. Mr Daniels was in the office at the time and Mr Parkinson heard the lady call out to tell him who was on the line. He also heard the reply, which was: ‘It’s in the slush pile with the other drivel.’ This was hardly conducive to my client’s peace of mind. He was angry and decided to act, hence his appearance at Mr Daniels’ office.”

“I understand,” said the judge. “Do you concur with the prosecution’s version of what happened when the litigants met?”

“To some extent, Your Honour. There was an argument, though the plaintiff was not pushed aside. No violence was intended or contemplated by Mr Parkinson. He simply sought justice, which is ironic, since he is now, in a manner of speaking, at the wrong end of it. When he was invited to retrieve his manuscript, he saw piles of papers atop Mr Daniels’ filing cabinets. Seeing what he thought was his own work, he took the blue folder. On leaving the office, he felt a need to relax and called in at a nearby public house. It was there that the Merrydew manuscript disappeared.”

“Disappeared?” said the judge. “How?”

“We do not know. Shortly after my client departed from the hostelry, he realised that he had left the folder on a seat there. He hurried back, only to find that the item had vanished. The landlord was unable to help. It seems that the folder had been taken by a party or parties unknown. Nothing more has been heard of it, which is not surprising, since there wasn’t anything in it to identify either the author or the agent.”

“I see,” said the judge. “As a matter of interest, how long did Mr Parkinson spend in the public house? If you are not sure, we could check.”

A nasty one, that. Judge Wimple had been known to act in the way he was implying.

“He entered at about twelve-fifteen and left at shortly after three.”

“Hmn, closing time. And what about Mr Parkinson’s manuscript? Was it still with Mr Daniels?”

“That was our assumption, Your Honour. Unfortunately, Mr Daniels has failed to produce it. He confirms that there were two identical blue folders in his pending material and that Mr Parkinson took the wrong one. For reasons beyond our comprehension, he seems to be unable to find Mr Parkinson’s work. Because of this, my client would, were he of a litigious nature, be justified in taking action against the plaintiff. However, I have no instructions to that effect. Our submission is that Mr Parkinson has no case to answer. Any strong words he used during his talk with Mr Daniels arose from perfectly reasonable agitation at the plaintiff’s obstructive attitude. Had Mr Daniels behaved in a businesslike manner, there would have been no problem.”

“Very well,” said the judge. “Did Mr Parkinson have a copy of his text?”

“He did not. Like Mr Merrydew, he writes with pen and paper and has no convenient access to copying facilities. Unless the file is recovered, my client has lost two years of work.”

The judge nodded. “Thank you. Now, if you are both willing to accept my verdict, I will give it.”

There was the usual assent, and Judge Wimple abandoned his attempt to produce the anagram he had been seeking. Rustling his papers and doffing his glasses, he emitted a prodigious sigh before summing up: “This an unusually complex matter. Mr Parkinson put his work into the evidently unreliable hands of Mr Daniels, assuming that it was in a secure place and would be either used or returned to him, since it was his intellectual property. I am also mindful that the prosecution has not disputed the defendant’s claim that he repeatedly tried to recover his work.”

This was no comfort to Oddley-Staggers, whose face fell as the judge continued: “As to what occurred in Mr Daniels’ office, we shall never know, as there were no witnesses, so it is the word of one party against that of the other. Even as a judge, I do not wish to be too judgmental, if that is not a contradiction in terms. Still, I am bound to wonder what might have happened in the mind Mr Parkinson, who clearly was in an excited state, and spend three hours in a pub, leaving only when required by law to do so. Also, there is no doubt that having failed to retrieve his own file, he lost the one belonging to Mr Merrydew.”

The judge paused here, but for once disdained the watering that usually characterised such a break. Taking a deep breath, he went on: “With regard to the plaintiff, I am concerned about two points. First, he seems to be no better than the defendant at retaining material, having apparently mislaid Mr Parkinson’s folder. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that he did so on a tit-for-tat basis. The defendant had taken one of his files and he – it might be thought conveniently – lost Mr Parkinson’s work. With regard to the estimated financial consequences, I must introduce a personal note. Some years ago, I visited a friend in hospital and was obliged to wait a long time to see him. I had nothing to do but found one of Dick Trapp’s books on the table. I got through about fifty pages, all flailing fists and flying bullets. I thought it was a very ordinary effort. Bearing in mind the usual selling price and circulation of what I can only call pulp westerns and the usual commission paid to agents, I cannot believe that Mr Daniels was deprived of anything like ten thousand pounds of income.”

The summary was approaching mammoth proportions and the judge paused again, this time taking a long drink. “Now,” he continued, “I must say that I have some sympathy with the unfortunate Mr Merrydew, or Dick Trapp, whose prose may or may not ring down the centuries, but who is an innocent loser here. I don’t want to make too much of this, as I find it hard to believe that he truly spent ten months over the novel concerned. I remember listening to an interview with Mr Mickey Spillane, who writes hard-boiled detective stories. When asked what he felt about possible rejection, he replied to the effect that if his publisher did not like his latest effort, he threw it away and produced another, which occupied him for, I believe he said, three weeks or so. Now, I believe that Mr Spillane sells in the millions and if he can produce a popular story in the time he mentioned, I am not disposed to dwell on the supposedly deathless writing of Mr Merrydew.

“On the whole, I am impelled to feel for the defendant. The plaintiff lost a run of the mill Western, which the unfortunate Mr Merrydew will, I assume re-write – and despite what we have heard, will probably submit to his usual agent. So, Mr Daniels will wind up no worse off than before, apart from any interest he may lose by not getting his commission as early as he might have wished. As to Mr Parkinson, notwithstanding his negligence in losing the Merrydew manuscript, the greatest misfortune here falls upon him, as he is obviously a beginner in the literary world and will, I suspect, have an onerous task in recreating his work. All things considered, I feel bound to dismiss the charge. Proceedings concluded.”

April 7th, 2012, 06:04 PM

Judge Embert Wimple was cruising towards the end of his long legal career. Time was closing in and his honour had not yet solved the riddle of the universe. He now accepted the Big Bang theory, but what about the position before that event? A man needed leisure to come up with an answer, to indulge in the famous ninety-nine per cent perspiration which just might precede a great mental breakthrough. The judge was also ever-more conscious of his growing crankiness. Some of his recent interjections from the bench had left his own jaw dropping, let alone those of counsels and their principals. Today might well produce more of the same, for Embert Wimple was feeling a little cantankerous. That was his own fault for staying awake half the night, listening to the doings of England’s cricketers on their overseas tour. Well, he would try to curb himself.

Now, what was on the menu today? Ah, yes, Oldroyd versus Oldroyd. That didn’t seem too promising. Probably another tiresome family wrangle and, his honour noted, one concerning an incident which took place outside his normal jurisdiction, the third of its kind in short order. No doubt there were reasons, into which he did not wish to enquire. A further point of interest was that the advocates represented the extremes of age among the local practitioners. The plaintiff, George Oldroyd, had placed his case in the hands of the vastly experienced but rapidly declining Simon Fortescue, while the defendant, Margaret Oldroyd, had entrusted hers to the young terrier, Arabella Bray. Fortescue had let it be known that he was likely to retire in the near future, so any case now might be his last. High time, in Embert Wimple’s view. For goodness sake, the man must in his late seventies.

Still revelling in his position of not being inconvenienced by a jury, the judge took his place, verified that all was as it should be and, assuming his most brisk manner, addressed Fortescue. “Let’s get going, Mr Forecastle.”

Prosecuting counsel, who had been busy massaging his knuckles, sprang to attention. “May it please Your Honour, we are dealing here with a dispute between husband and wife. Mr and Mrs Oldroyd are in their middle fifties and have been married for twenty-eight years.”

The judge pounced immediately, giving vent to a touch of irascibility. “I assume you mean married to one another?” he said sharply.

“Yes. In –”

“It’s just as well to be precise in these matters. Go on.”

Slightly shaken, Fortescue offered a small bow. “Thank you. In recent years, there have been marital strains. Though continuing to live together conventionally, the parties were drifting into estrangement. Finally, my client decided that something should be done to impart spice to the union. With this in mind, he suggested to his wife that the two might undertake an expedition.”

“Did he indeed?” said the judge, his romantic side evoking visions of dizzy mountains, mighty chasms, white water, jungles and the like. “That certainly sounds lively enough. Something Himalayan, perhaps?”

“Not quite, Your Honour. Mr Oldroyd proposed a walk on Ilkley Moor, his idea being to rekindle something of the spirit of courtship years.”

The judge leapt in again. “Possibly not what many might consider high adventure, but no doubt all such things are relative. However, let us not digress. Continue, please.”

Fortescue wasn’t amused by this further interruption, but was too world-weary to care much. “Mrs Oldroyd agreed and the two set out in the afternoon of the sixth of November last year. They parked their car at the end of an unsurfaced road about fifteen miles north of here, then proceeded on foot through a conifer plantation, over two or three stiles and onto the moorland. It was a dull, misty day and Mrs Oldroyd did not wish to walk too far. At about a quarter past four, Mr Oldroyd, who was in the rear, stumbled. He pushed out his hands, inadvertently striking his wife in the back. Both parties fell. As this was a special occasion, Mr Oldroyd was particularly concerned to be solicitous with regard to his wife’s wellbeing. On checking for injuries, he detected what seemed to him to be a swelling of Mrs Oldroyd’s right ankle. Assuming a severe sprain, he insisted that his wife remain on the spot, while he summoned assistance. Confident that he could negotiate his way back to the car, he left Mrs Oldroyd, assuring her that he would soon return.”

The judge, now immersed in the story, leaned forwards. “So the lady was left on Ilkley Moor. Was she, in the immortal words, baht ’at?”

This caused Fortescue to go into a brief huddle with his client, before reporting back to the judge. “Yes, Your Honour, the lady was indeed baht ’at. However, she had a hooded anorak, so was not entirely deficient in the matter of headgear.”

“Thank you. Proceed.”

“Mr Oldroyd located the car, only to find that it had been vandalised. The driver’s side door lock had been chiselled out. The Oldroyds had left nothing of value in the vehicle and the would-be thieves, having been deprived of booty, had spitefully deflated two tyres and made off. Under the rear bench seat was a foot-pump, which the miscreants had either overlooked, or thought unworthy of their attention. Mr Oldroyd managed to reflate the tyres, then drove home, intending to raise the alarm.”

“One moment,” said the judge. “Did it not occur to him to call at a local house. I mean, his wife was in distress, was she not?”

“People do not always think rationally in such circumstances, Your Honour. My client’s dominant feeling was to get home, then alert the authorities. In that, he may have been in error, but he was under pressure and confused.”

“I see. Carry on.”

“At a little after six o’clock, Mr Oldroyd was about to initiate a rescue when, to his surprise, his wife appeared. He was further startled when she attacked him.”

“Good heavens,” said the judge. She hurled herself upon him, did she?” It had not been lost upon his honour that Mrs Oldroyd was well-endowed in the matter of avoirdupois and was three inches taller than her spouse.

“Not exactly, Your Honour. She assaulted my client with a chicken.”

“What?” squawked the judge, his tone not dissimilar to that of a specimen of the fowl just mentioned. “Explain.”

“Mrs Oldroyd had left a frozen chicken in a pan, intending it for the evening meal. The thawing was not complete, so the creature was hard and heavy and a formidable weapon. Blows were administered to my client’s head and face. He lost two teeth and sustained severe lacerations. For this he seeks satisfaction and is willing to accept Your Honour’s decision.”

“Dear me,” said the judge. “I think it is high time for us to hear from the defence. He turned to Arabella Bray. “Ms Greystoke?” The judge had been reading Edgar Rice Burroughs and was mentally swinging through the jungle.

Defending counsel was getting to grips with Embert Wimple’s idiosyncrasies. “Thank you. What we have heard so far is an incomplete version of the events. My client was an ill-used woman and her patience was exhausted. It is true that she was persuaded to embark upon the adventure described by the prosecution, and that there was a fall. However, for reasons which will become clear, Mrs Oldroyd believed that this was an attempt by the plaintiff to incapacitate her. As we shall show, the effort was unsuccessful.”

“I can hardly wait,” said the judge.

“Nor shall you, Your Honour. “Shortly after Mr Oldroyd’s departure from the scene of the alleged accident, my client examined her ankle. She found no swelling, nor did she have any pain. Her indisposition had been transient, arising mainly from shock. She mastered her fear of the gloom, made her way to the point where the car had been parked and from there to the main road, then began trying to thumb a lift. It is perhaps a sad reflection upon our social mores that she – a lady alone in an isolated spot in the dark – was ignored by numerous motorists before being picked up and driven into the nearest town, from where she caught a bus to within a mile of home. She walked the rest of the way, arriving to find the family car parked in the drive and lights on in the downstairs rooms. The front door was unlocked and she entered the house, thinking to rush to her husband for solace after her ordeal. However, she heard his voice coming from the living room. He was telephoning someone, speaking loudly and seemingly in high spirits. Mrs Oldroyd grasped that her husband was talking to a friend. Arriving at the living room door, she heard: ‘. . . and ditched the old trout at last, so you’ll call for a noggin.’ My client concluded that she had been the victim of a most wicked plot to leave her to expire on the moor, and that Mr Oldroyd’s suggestion that the outing was designed to revitalise the marriage was a cruel deception. Coming on top of her already harrowing experience, this was too much for Mrs Oldroyd. She lost her temper, seized the chicken and used it to belabour her husband.”

The judge nodded. “A most disturbing affair,” he said. “Is that all, Ms Vicar?”

Being familiar with Oscar Wilde’s work, defending counsel grasped at once how the judge had connected the clerical title with her real surname. “Not quite, Your Honour. When things calmed down to some extent, Mrs Oldroyd demanded an explanation. Her husband gave her his version of events. Such is human nature that my client was half-tempted to believe him. However, the matter was to take another turn. A week after the incident, my client was going about her house-cleaning when she found, in her husband’s bedside cabinet, an invoice for a foot pump, purchased from a local supplier of motoring accessories and dated the day after the fateful outing. As far as Mrs Oldroyd could remember, the couple had never previously owned a foot pump. She assumed that Mr Oldroyd had bought the item after the event, merely to corroborate his story.”

Bray paused briefly to ensure that her words had hit their mark, then continued: “Later the same day, my client was tidying the inside of the car, when she found in the glove compartment a chisel which looked familiar. Hurrying to the garage-cum-workroom, she found that the space normally occupied by the implement was vacant. She concluded that Mr Oldroyd had staged the whole matter of the claimed vandalism and that he had used the chisel to remove the door lock of the vehicle, then placed the tool in the nearest convenient spot and forgotten about it. She further assumed that the alleged tyre-deflation had been another ruse, designed to account for some time to elapse, and had probably not occurred at all.”

“A dreadful business,” said the judge, who was beginning to tire of the wordmongery of both counsels. “I will come back to you, but I think we need a further word from the prosecution. Mr Forsyth?”

“Thank you, Your Honour. The simple fact is that Mrs Oldroyd was clearly affected by some bizarre delusion. The only proven point here is the attack upon my client, who asks the court to note the further point that as the household’s provider, he was obliged to replace the fowl, which was a free range one and quite expensive.”

“I don’t see why the original chicken should have been wasted,” said the judge. “However, as I seem to be switching from one party to the other more than usual, I would like to know why Mrs Oldroyd presents no counter-charge. Ms Wray?” The judge was now in ‘King Kong’ mode.

“Your Honour, the explanation is simple. The plaintiff maintains that when he arrived home, he tried to telephone the local police station, finding the number engaged. He contends that while waiting for the line to clear, he decided to contact his closest friend, claiming that this would help to settle his nerves. After much discussion, Mr Oldroyd finally convinced my client that she had misheard his side of the conversation. The two men are anglers and were allegedly discussing a long-postponed outing. Mr Oldroyd insists that what he actually said was not: ‘… and ditched the old trout at last, so you’ll call for a noggin,’ but: ‘… and fished the odd trout at last, so we’ll call for the log-in’ This ‘log-in’ is apparently the term used in the two men’s angling club for registering a catch.”

“I see,” said the judge. “However, if Mrs Oldroyd accepted her husband’s explanation, I wonder why the charge was not withdrawn?”

“My client insisted that the case be heard. She was tormented by remorse over her action with the chicken and wished to make an example of herself.”

The judge nodded. “I understand. She wishes to don a hair shirt. Now, the position is perfectly clear. I am surprised only that Mrs Oldroyd has not made charges against her husband. Since she has not done so, I am obliged to consider only the plaintiff’s charge of assault with the chicken. However, as a matter of interest, I would like to know the present state of relations between the parties. You may confer.”

Counsels and litigants mustered to discuss the point, Bray emerging with the answer. “Your Honour, Mr and Mrs Oldroyd continue to live together and have no intention of separating. The only point of contention between them is that before the court.”

“Excellent, though a little puzzling,” said the judge. “If they are largely reconciled, as appears to be the case, it seems odd that we are here. Still, I am accustomed to encountering strange behaviour, so do not propose to enquire further into the reasons on this occasion. Clearly there was a tragic misunderstanding. It is always saddening to hear of matrimonial discord, but in my experience a basically sound union is capable of surviving many shocks and setbacks. With the right spirit on both sides, these can be overcome. The parties here have been married for twenty-eight years and I think that what we are looking at is an extreme example of the proverbial seven-year itch. There being no denial of the defendant’s behaviour and no counter-charges, I am bound to find in favour of the plaintiff, though I hope he will regard his victory as a pyrrhic one. I think that a nominal fine of one pound is appropriate. I hope the litigants will reflect upon their unnerving experience and rejoice that despite what has occurred between them, they are still together. Others have fared worse. Proceedings concluded.”

April 11th, 2012, 06:03 PM

Another day, another dollar thought Judge Embert Wimple as he applied his forefingers to a small spot on his chin. He burst the offender, applied a blob of antiseptic cream and was then ready to be whisked off to officiate at another bout of legal tussling. The last year had been busy one and at almost eighty-four, the judge was feeling the strain of offering what was ostensibly part-time assistance to his colleagues. In fact, having agreed to put in two days a week after reaching seventy-five, he was now employed almost every weekday and would have thrown in the towel, but for the latest domestic development.

Mrs Esmeralda Wimple, having in what seemed next to no time become an accomplished painter and teacher, had once again threatened to turn her hand to more physical things – this time woodcarving. His honour had reacted as he had to her abandoned sculpting and pottery ambitions, in that he was striving to discourage the departure and had pointed out that at his wife’s age, which was close to his own, her body would not take kindly to the necessary exertions. In fact, his real concern was the horrifying thought of long sessions of chipping and rasping around the house. Embert Wimple was an extreme devotee of peace and quiet. One of his juniors, a stripling of seventy-two, had recently observed that when the old man was finally consigned to the grave, he would notice no difference in the noise level around him.

Mrs Wimple, who had shrugged off her few recent muscle and joint twinges, thanks – she maintained – to her habit of swigging copious quantities of cod liver oil, straight from the bottle, had pooh-poohed her husband’s fears. Still, she was touched by his concern for her health and had agreed to postpone a decision. An uneasy truce prevailed at maison Wimple.

It was not until he reached his chambers that the judge acquainted himself with the day’s business, which consisted of one case – Ashton versus Weekes – in which the plaintiff alleged that he been pressured into a transaction in which he had been duped. Well, at least it didn’t seem to be another of those silly neighbourhood things.

The plaintiff, Selwyn Ashton, was represented by the youthful, thrusting Cedric Thistle, the defendant George Weekes by the older, graver Henry Bullivant. Both counsels were known to Judge Wimple, though neither entertained any serious thought of being addressed correctly. The judge was increasingly inclined to think of people he had known half a century earlier. Rustling his papers, he addressed Thistle. “Let us hear your case, Mr Armitage.”

Not being the servile type, Thistle offered a barely noticeable nod. “May it please Your Honour, my client seeks satisfaction, having been swindled by the defendant, perhaps with the collusion of a third party, not represented here.”

“Really,” said the judge. “Then it seems we are short of a quorum, so to speak. However, please carry on.”

“We speak of an incident which took place on the seventeenth of December last. My client had been working late and on his way home he called at the City Tavern which, as Your Honour may be aware, is quite close to us here. Mr Ashton, who does not normally patronise public houses, intended to drink a pint of beer and proceed homewards. He was engaged in conversation by the defendant, who seemed to be … ah… imbued with the Christmas spirit. Mr Weekes had noted that my client was carrying a package, wrapped in decorative paper. At one point, the barman referred jokingly to this item, which my client said was a bottle of Armagnac, a distinctive type of French brandy, not widely obtainable. The defendant expressed a wish to buy the liquor from my client, and became most vociferous. He was aided and abetted by the barman, who incited my client to part with the item, suggesting that this would be an appropriate seasonal gesture. The defendant became aggressive and Mr Ashton began to feel himself intimidated. Furthermore, he recalled that the off-licence shop in which he had bought the brandy had had a further bottle on display and as far as he knew, was still open for business.”

Here, Thistle paused to arrange his thoughts, masking this by pretending to take a sip of water before proceeding: “Fearing for his safety, my client said that he might consider selling the bottle, but pointed out that he had paid fourteen pounds for it, Armagnac being none too common and usually expensive. The defendant brandished a banknote and demanded that a deal be done forthwith. The barman again intervened, pressing my client to conclude the proposed transaction. Mr Ashton did so, saying that he would accept what he had paid – he was by then becoming desperate to get out of the situation. He took the banknote, the denomination being twenty-five pounds, giving the defendant eleven pounds in change. He then left the establishment, returning to the off-licence shop, where he tried to buy a further bottle to replace original one, only to find that his twenty-five pound note was counterfeit.”

“Astounding,” barked the judge. “You seem to be saying that your client accepted a twenty-five pound note. I think an explanation might be in order.”

Thistle nodded. “Your Honour, my client is not what one might call a man of the world. He has little day to day contact with cash, as he settles most of his transactions by credit card and normally carries little money about his person. On account of the approach of Christmas, the evening in question was an exception.”

“I see,” said the judge, “but this seems to be contradictory. On the one hand you imply that your client has a very simple lifestyle and on the other hand, he seems to be fairly sophisticated, in that he is accustomed to using a credit card. I am wondering how he came to be deceived in the way you suggest. Can you enlighten me?”

“I fear not, Your Honour. Perhaps we cannot do more than conjecture as to how many people might have been fooled in the same way. I am able to say only that Mr Ashton, having ascertained the true state of affairs from his visit to the off-licence shop, hurried back to the City Tavern, to find that it was closed. He was distressed, as was his wife, since the Armagnac was intended for a double celebration, the couple marking their wedding anniversary as well as Christmas. The following evening, my client returned to the City Tavern to make enquiries. For a time, no-one could help him, then an elderly patron intervened, remarking that there had been complicity between the defendant and the barman, who seemed to be well acquainted with one another. The old gentleman said that he had heard the barman and the defendant agreeing to collaborate in seeking a gullible patron whom they could snare.”

“Indeed,” said the judge. “Was any effort made to contact this barman?”

“Yes, Your Honour. However, it appears that he was a relief worker, employed by various local public houses. He seems to have vanished. However, the old gentleman I mentioned informed my client that he had often seen the defendant in other local hostelries, most frequently in the Crescent Bar, which is not far from the City Tavern. In addition to the question of principle, the loss to Mr Ashton was not insignificant. He decided to pursue the matter. However, he was apprehensive about confronting Mr Weekes, who had shown evidence of violent tendencies. My client therefore enlisted the aid of two burly office colleagues, who accompanied him for three successive evenings, during which they called at the Crescent Bar. The first two visits were abortive, but on the third evening, the defendant also appeared. Mr Ashton, accompanied by his two colleagues, accosted Mr Weekes and demanded satisfaction.”

“Slapped his man’s face with the proverbial gauntlet, did he?” said the judge.

“Your Honour’s metaphor captures the spirit exactly.”

“And in case of a duel, Mr Ashton had his seconds to hand.”

“One might phrase it so, Your Honour.”

“I see. Armagnac at dawn, perhaps. Please continue.”

“There is little more to say. Mr Weekes laughed at my client and told him to do his worst, also recommending Mr Ashton might put his complaint in a place where, as Mr Weekes phrased it ‘the Sun did not shine’.”

His honour nodded: “I see. This concluded the interview, did it?”

“Yes. However, my client made further enquiries and was able to establish the defendant’s name and address, so that he could initiate this action.”

“Interesting,” said the judge. For one who is in your words not a man of the world, he appears to have been both ingenious and resolute.”

“Yes, Your Honour. The worm turned, so to speak.”

“As well it might in such circumstances. Now, I think it is time to hear from the defence.” He turned Bullivant. “Your comments, Mr Bulmer.”

Defending counsel was flattered by this degree of accuracy. “Thank you, Your Honour. This is predominantly a matter of interpretation. My client did indeed buy the bottle of brandy from Mr Ashton on the occasion in question. However, like the plaintiff, he is an honest simple trusting man and had himself accepted the twenty-five pound note earlier that same day, in settlement of a wager.”

“No doubt involving another man in a pub,” said the judge.

“I believe so. However, overjoyed by his earlier good fortune, Mr Weekes proffered the banknote in good faith. He had been as much misled as was the plaintiff. The whole affair was most unfortunate. As to the alleged collusion between my client and the elusive barman, there was none. Mr Weekes met the man for the first and only time that evening. My client has himself been at pains to locate the man who passed him the twenty-five pound note, but has so far been unsuccessful. His efforts continue. Further, he wishes to place on record that he was extremely alarmed by the appearance of the plaintiff and his colleagues at the Crescent Bar. Far from adopting a truculent attitude, he was profoundly glad to escape unscathed from the encounter. The suggestion that he was less than friendly when the transaction took place at the City Tavern is quite improper. Mr Weekes may have been slightly inebriated, but he is the most mild-mannered of men.”

His honour stared at the litigants, noting the dapper appearance of the small, lightly-built plaintiff and the much larger, red-faced, stubble-jawed mass of the defendant, who presented a disconcerting sight. “Very well,” he said. “Now, if both parties are finished, I believe I am in a position to make a decision. Does anyone wish to say more?”

No-one did, so the judge rustled his papers and looked hard at the advocates and their clients. “I have been in the legal profession for over sixty years,” he said, “and am reliev . . . troubled to note that the misdeeds of humankind continue to offer fresh revelations. Sometimes I think that, in trying to get to the truth of cases like this, I would be as well off dispensing with any other means available to me and using a hazel twig.

“In a way, I am heartened to learn that we still have two people who are so unworldly as to accept a twenty-five note as a valid item of currency. Perhaps that indicates that not everyone in this land is devious. As to the representations made, I think it is a pity that we do not have with us the third party, who passed the banknote to Mr Weekes. Still, possibly that would complicate matters. As to the stories of the litigants, I am disposed to accept that Mr Ashton is not a regular public house patron, whereas Mr Weekes clearly is – not that this basically influences the matter. It seems to me that Mr Ashton was out of his depth and Mr Weekes was not. As for the involvement of the mysterious barman, I think that is extraneous, and anyway, we cannot deal with him.”

The judge paused for several seconds to study his notes. Though aware that they did not include anything relevant to the case, he derived some satisfaction from his scribbling, which consisted of several attempts – the last one successful – to solve a quadratic equation. He continued: “My decision is that Mr Weekes must make every effort to restore, as far as possible, the situation which pertained before the incident in the City Tavern. To this end, I am minded to adjourn this hearing for two weeks. In the meantime, I recommend that Mr Weekes occupy himself in finding a replacement bottle of Armagnac, at as near as possible to the same price as the one bought by Mr Ashton. I wish to see him hand over the merchandise to the plaintiff, together with the cash balance, making up the total of twenty-five pounds. And here, I would caution Mr Ashton against accepting an eleven-pound note. As to a possible fine, I will reserve judgement. Proceedings adjourned.”

April 14th, 2012, 05:54 PM

Unusually for him, Judge Embert Wimple had woken with a weary sigh. He was well aware of the reason for his lassitude. The conflicting pressures of duty and inclination were becoming too much. Also, this was mid-March, the rump of another trying winter. The judge was on the verge of a conclusion. He did not want to shuffle off the mortal coil without having made every effort to understand life, the universe and everything. That would be inexcusable. His increasingly frequent glimpses of the infinite and the infinitesimal were becoming ever-more tantalising. Could the depths be plumbed? Perhaps, but not while his honour was benchbound. Once again, the elder statesman of lawgiving was torn – but not for long, he thought.

There was nothing in the Wimple household that impelled the judge to extend his long period of trying to dispense justice. After years of mild tension, breakfast was once more a pleasant occasion for swapping ideas with Esmeralda, who had found her long-sought niche and was now spending as much time encouraging others as improving her own fine work, in addition to which she had ‘definitely, finally’ abandoned all other artistic aspirations. She was also concerned that the judge should indulge himself by following his true interests. The Wimples were more at one than ever before. Well, the judge thought, if one accomplished nothing else in life, that was perhaps achievement enough.

Despite persistently thinking that he had seen and heard everything, Judge Wimple was time and again perplexed by the vagaries of human nature, and today was to offer a further example. The matter seemed odd from the start, the case being Duckworth and Thompson versus Duckworth and Thompson. The judge could not recall anything of the sort. The plaintiffs, Margaret Duckworth and Eileen Thompson, were represented by an outsider, Andrew Stallybrass, who had appeared before Judge Wimple only once before. The defendants, Harry Duckworth and Frederick Thompson, had entrusted themselves to that anthropomorphised cannonball, Arabella Bray. The judge wondered idly why the positions were not reversed, with a female barrister putting the case for the plaintiffs. However, his was not to reason why. He did remember that prosecuting counsel Stallybrass had a penchant for flowery prose, which might have to be curbed. With a nod to that gentleman, he opened the hearing: “Please let us have your observations, Mr Stalybridge.”

“Thank you, Your Honour. We are dealing here with what, if it were not so serious, might be called a Whitehall farce. My clients, Mrs Duckworth and Mrs Thompson and the defendants, Mr Duckworth and Mr Thompson are married couples and live in maisonettes, one above the other, in a housing estate about four miles from the centre of this city. Until the incident, which occurred on the ninth of December last year, the two couples had been not only long-time neighbours, but also friends. The defendants were in the habit of spending one evening a week at their local public house, leaving the ladies to pass the time together, which they did in one or other of the two dwellings.

“On the evening in question, the defendants returned home later than usual. The ladies had separated and gone to bed. Mr Duckworth and Mr Thompson bade one another good night. Being the worse for drink and fearing recrimination from their wives, the men moved as quietly as their state allowed and retired without disturbing the ladies. Having been oppressed by the stuffy atmosphere in the public house, both men opened their bedroom windows. Outside, there was snow on the ground. It was a calm, clear, frosty night. The neighbourhood had settled down. All was quiet and peaceful. Thus it remain –”

The judge cleared his throat massively. He had decided that Stallybrass had done enough to set the scene. “A real page-turner, Mr Stalwart,” he said. “You are beginning to sound like an Edwardian crime novelist. Are you going to speak of butlers emerging ethereally from the wainscoting and suave detectives stroking moustaches?”

“Er, no, Your Honour. This is not quite the country house mystery so beloved of fiction writers. In fact it is more –”

A raised forefinger from the bench halted Stallybrass again. Satisfied that he had correctly recalled prosecuting counsel’s proclivity for ornamentation, the judge had resolved that the man must be kept on course. “We shall omit clouds scudding across a silvery moon,” he said. “Especially as there was no wind. What happened?”

“My apologies. At about three o’clock in the morning, Mrs Duckworth awoke, putting out a hand to check that her husband had joined her. She sensed that something was amiss and switched on a lamp, establishing that she had been in bed with Mr Thompson. She emitted a shriek of such pitch and volume that Mrs Thompson, in the maisonette above, was roused. She also turned on a light, finding that her companion in bed was Mr Duckworth. Mrs Thompson also cried out. Both ladies ran to their bedroom windows and conducted a conversation. They saw lights going on elsewhere, so temporarily doused their own to avoid attracting attention from other neighbours. Fumbling in the dark, they met in the Duckworths’ living room to discuss the matter.”

“One moment,” said the judge. “Did they not wake their husbands?”

“They tried, but found that the defendants were both in a state of drunken stupor. In fact it was not until close to noon the following day that the men, almost simultaneously, emerged from what could perhaps be called their hoggish slumbers. The parties foregathered in the Thompsons’ living room. Suspecting that there had been a conspiracy, my clients taxed the defendants, who were unable to offer a reasonable explanation. The ladies were dissatisfied with – ”

“I was more dissatisfied than what she w– ”

That was as far as Mrs Duckworth got before being faced down by her furious advocate, who continued: “I was about to say that the ladies were not, and still are not, satisfied with the feeble protestations they heard. They seek recompense for the distress caused to them.”

“A riveting tale, Mr Stansfield,” said the judge. “Now, I imagine the defendants have some explanation. “What about it, Ms Grayle?” He had drifted into the world of Raymond Chandler.

Arabella Bray was neither surprised nor deflected. “May it please Your Honour, there is indeed a reason. Mr Duckworth and Mr Thompson are great believers in moderation and normally consume no more than three pints of beer during their weekly night out. It was only later that they were able to piece together what had happened. When they went out for the evening on the ninth of December, they found themselves in the company of several friends, one of whom had that day won a substantial amount of money. This gentleman has something of a reputation for playing tricks. Unable to understand their own behaviour on the evening in question, my clients finally asked their drinking companions about the events on that occasion. One of the men concerned admitted that each time my clients’ attention had been distracted, the prankster I mentioned had topped up their drinks with copious amounts of whisky. Unaccustomed as Mr Duckworth and Mr Thompson were to such a large intake of alcohol, they succumbed. By the time they got home, they were in a confused state and entered the wrong dwellings.”

“Dear me, said the judge. “Did they not notice the differences?”

“No, Your Honour. Both maisonettes are laid out in similar fashion. Only certain items of furniture and some decorations are different – and then only in a few details. The Thompsons had earlier been impressed by the Duckworths’ refurbishment of their home and had largely copied it. No-one but the two couples lives in the maisonettes concerned, so in their state of inebriation, neither Mr Duckworth nor Mr Thompson observed anything odd. Both simply wished to get to bed without disturbing the ladies.”

The judge help up a hand. “One moment. How did it come about that the defendants entered the wrong homes? I would find it difficult to accept that the two ladies retired leaving their doors unlocked and I assume that the keys are not interchangeable. Can you explain?”

If the judge thought he had homed in on a weakness, he was to be disappointed, for Bray had done her research. “Your Honour’s acuity is undimmed.” For a moment, Bray thought she had been a little too effusive here, but the old lad seemed pleased as she continued: “This is indeed a critical point and I fear I must ask indulgence, as the clarification will take a minute or two.”

The judge gave a benign smile. “You are entitled to make your case, Ms Graves. Go on.”

“Thank you. This is a comedy, or some might say a tragedy, of errors, which probably would not have occurred with any other pair of households. Both the Duckworths and the Thompsons have adult children who visit them, sometimes without notice, occasionally finding their parents absent from home. To avoid any inconvenience to their family, the Thompsons had the idea of fixing two small hanging pot plants to their outer wall, one plant on either side of the door. They always left a key under the left-hand pot. The Duckworths were impressed and followed suit. In both cases, another key hangs on the inside doorframe. The doors are self-locking. This arrangement worked well for some years.”

“I understand,” said the judge. “The notion seems to leave something to be desired in terms of security, but that is not our concern.”

“Indeed not, Your Honour. Now, at one time or another over the years, three of the four parties here have mislaid or lost door keys and it had become a habit with my clients to use those under the plant pots, replacing them before closing their doors. Among other things, the practice confirmed that the outside keys were still in place. This explains why my clients were able to enter the wrong dwellings. Mr Duckworth and Mr Thompson are most distressed and are prepared to make such restitution as is within their power, though despite all their enquiries, they are unclear as to what the ladies demand.”

“That is certainly a salient point,” said the judge, whose attention was hanging by a thread. “It can be clarified only by the prosecution.” He turned his attention to Stallybrass. “Exactly what are your clients seeking, Mr Bracegirdle?”

“Their case is a fairly common one, Your Honour. Both defendants have council allotments where they spend much of their time and where, in addition to gardening, which they regard as necessary, they have hobbies. Mr Duckworth keeps pigeons and Mr Thompson breeds ferrets. My clients have long complained that because of the defendants’ allotments, pastimes and drinking, they – the ladies – have been virtual widows for some years, as the men appear at home only for meals. The defendants give their wives weekly housekeeping allowances and appear to think that this absolves them of responsibility for all further domestic affairs. Mrs Duckworth and Mrs Thompson wish to teach their husbands a lesson.”

“Yes, yes,” said the judge, interest and irritability battling within him. “But do they assess this in monetary terms?”

“They do not. It is their contention that they have been neglected for far too long. They make no direct financial claim, but wish it to be brought home to the defendants that something must be done to instil into them a sense of spousal duty.”

The judge sighed deeply. “Not that this isn’t enough, but have you finished?”

Stallybrass nodded. “Yes.”

“Anything to add, Ms Brain?”

“No, Your Honour.”

“Very well. I could retire but I feel sure that a recess would not make me much wiser. It is sad that this kind of estrangement affects so many couples.” Here he was mindful of the fact that he and Mrs Wimple had lived together for over fifty years without too much discomfort, although they had spent much of the time travelling in different directions and had only recently headed back towards a true union. He continued: “I was at one point disposed to ask how it had come that apparently neither man noticed that Mr Duckworth ascended the stairs to the upper dwelling, while Mr Thompson stayed at the lower level. However, if I were to pose the question, there would be an answer, and I doubt that I could stand it.”

Having failed to cover the point, both counsels were clearly uncomfortable, which was pleasing to the judge, who went on: “That the defendants are at fault here is perfectly clear. As the evidence was presented, I began to think of this matter in the most serious terms. However, it seems that since Mr Duckworth and Mr Thompson were fast asleep throughout the night and most of the following morning, no real impropriety occurred, or at least none is alleged.”

Both Stallybrass and Bray were intrigued. How would the judge resolve this one? He did not keep them waiting. “I note the defendants’ submission that their behaviour arose from the unexpected strength of the drinks they consumed, but do not accept that as sufficient mitigation. I must find them guilty of the offence concerned.” His honour was shuffling his papers furiously, but could not find the one specifying the charge. However, he was too old a hand to stumble over such a hurdle.

“Until I heard that the plaintiffs were not seeking direct monetary recompense, I was disposed to set a fine. However, I accept that not everything can be quantified financially. I am forced to adopt an unorthodox method to settle this affair. My decision is that the defendants should, immediately and at their own expense, take their wives – I recommend that each be accompanied by his legal spouse – for a weekend at a seaside resort, to see whether the invigorating atmosphere will help to restore harmony. To avoid any further confusion, I suggest that the two places should be widely separate, for example Blackpool and Bridlington. As this idea is experimental, we shall meet here again in one month and see how it works. Proceedings adjourned.”

April 18th, 2012, 06:27 PM

The decision was made. Judge Embert Wimple would retire. He had a little court business outstanding, but would take on no more. Even his iron constitution was being taxed by a combination of age and, increasingly, weather. He was tired of rising early, especially in winter, to do battle with his contemporaries’ aberrant behaviour. There were more important things in life. Specifically, the judge was concerned that he might be leaving it too late to grapple with cosmic matters. It was the technical aspect that troubled him – and for a particular reason.

He had recently read an article concerning the lives of artists and scientists, in which it had been pointed out that the former frequently seemed to be virtually ageless, going from strength to strength, while the latter often burned out early. Admittedly, the article said, there were exceptions, Archimedes being cited as an example. However, it was contended that the boffins usually do their best work before reaching middle age. Einstein had erupted incandescently from about 1905 to 1916, but what he done afterwards? The article did not say, but Judge Wimple had drawn his conclusions. He had also thought of an eminent man in his own line of work, the American Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes, who once said: “Life is painting a picture, not doing a sum.” Well, Esmeralda Wimple was going well on that basis, a fact not lost upon his honour.

It was late March and the weather was striking a wild note, with a high wind and driving rain, a combination the judge found a match for his mood. However, it was time to get going. What was on the menu today? Goodall versus Short. Embert Wimple was not clear about what awaited him, but wasn’t greatly concerned, that situation being familiar. What of the advocates? Appearing for the prosecution was young Cedric Thistle, who was rapidly gaining a reputation as a two-fisted courtroom scrapper. Defending counsel was Daniel Pettigrew, now surely close to retirement and probably no more interested than strictly necessary. The plaintiff, Colin Goodall, was a slim fellow of about six foot two. The defendant, Victor Short, was a little over average height and heavily-built. Both men were in their thirties. Goodall was casually but tidily dressed, while Short wore a smart pinstriped blue suit. Judge Wimple nodded at Cedric Thistle. “Let us proceed, Mr Gristle.”

A fair effort, that. Prosecuting counsel inflated his chest and drew himself up to his full five foot seven. “Thank you, Your Honour. The incident that brought us here occurred on the twenty-eighth of November last year, at about two-forty in the afternoon. Before describing it, I must comment on my client’s unusual predicament.”

Fearing wordiness, the judge peered at Thistle. “Please be brief,” he said.

“I will try. Mr Goodall is unemployed. He does not own either a car or a bicycle and he cannot afford to travel by public transport.”

“Yes, yes,” said the judge. “That is unfortunate, but not unusual. Please make your point.”

“My apologies, Your Honour. My client assuages what he perceives as his social disadvantages by taking long walks at high speed. He is so accomplished in this way that he finds it difficult to accept that anyone else might exceed his fleetness of foot. He –”

The judge broke in: “You may be surprised to learn that the syndrome is not uncommon. You mean that your client cannot grasp that there may be those who can outpace him. I was once a member of a road harriers’ club, so I know the feeling. One senses oneself to be in competition, even when one is not. You may continue.”

“Thank you. At the time in question, Mr Goodall had been walking in the woods north of here. He emerged from a stand of trees and was heading towards a stile, when he noted the defendant and his family approaching the same spot from the opposite direction. Seeing that he and the Shorts were equidistant from the stile, my client obeyed his instinct and quickened his pace. Unaccountably to him, Mr Short did the same, surging ahead of his companions. In fact, Mr Goodall was convinced that the defendant actually ran a few paces.”

“Cheated, did he?” said the judge.

“One might say that. The two men converged upon the spot, the defendant being a stride ahead. Mr Short sat on the stile, beckoning his party to hurry along. Obviously insisting upon what he saw as his rights, he made no concession to Mr Goodall, but retained possession of the stile until the rest of his party – wife, three children, pushchair and two Labrador dogs – reached the place. My client took issue with this small-minded attitude and words were exchanged. The outcome was that the defendant struck my client on the head with a stick, causing lacerations which required medical attention. Mr Goodall was told that, should he retaliate, the dogs would be set upon him.”

The judge held up a hand to interrupt Thistle’s flow. “It seems to have been an unequal contest. A hefty man armed with a stick and supported by his family and two dogs, against a man with no companions and apparently no weapons. What did your client do?”

“While the defendant’s party nonchalantly passed by, he staunched the bleeding from his wound. Then he followed the Shorts at a discreet distance, noting that the family entered a car some distance away from the stile. By coincidence, my client recognised the car as one he had often seen in the drive of a house in the estate where he lives. From the electoral register, he established the details which enabled him to bring this action. He is entitled to recompense for Mr Short’s brutal assault.”

“Thank you,” said the judge. “Now, you mentioned your client’s psychological condition. I appreciate that may have no bearing upon the incident, but as a matter of interest, has he sought professional attention?”

“Yes, Your Honour. He has undergone aromatherapy and homeopathic treatment.”

“What about the more conventional methods? Not that I am in any way denigrating the ones you mention. In fact I favour them myself.”

“Mr Goodall has no faith in what might be called mainstream practices.”

“I understand. Now, I think it is time for us to hear from the defence. What contribution have you to offer, Mr Peterman?”

Pettigrew was not too pleased that the judge was thinking of a safe-breaker when addressing him, but sailed over the point. “Thank you, Your Honour. There is no question that my client struck the plaintiff as described by the prosecution. He happened to be carrying a stick he had picked up earlier, but used it only to defend himself when the plaintiff threatened him with raised fists. However, that is not the only point we have to make. My client, Mr –”

“Jewels of the baroque,” the judge interjected. He hadn’t meant to speak, but boredom had caused his mind to regress to a tour of Austria he had undertaken decades earlier, after passing his final law examinations. He had been enchanted by the architectural work of Fischer von Erlach, Prandtauer and von Hildebrandt.

“Beg pardon, Your Honour. Baroque?”

The judge needed to think quickly. “Yes. I was thinking of a case similar to this one, tried in Vienna in the nineteen-twenties. If I remember rightly, the courtroom was in one of the city’s many great structures built in that style. Amazing how swiftly the human mind works. However, I note that your client decided to get his retaliation in first. Now, what was your other point?”

It was an adroit recovery, fully appreciated by Pettigrew. “Your Honour’s erudition is as astounding as ever. I was about to say that my client wishes to draw attention to the matter of right of way. His contention is that he reached the stile ahead of the plaintiff and was therefore entitled to, as it were, plant his flag.”

“My goodness,” said the judge. “It would seem that he saw the incident as a replay of the race to the South Pole.”

“Perhaps not quite so dramatic, Your Honour, but there was a principle involved. Mr Short, perceiving himself as head of his party, intended to shepherd his flock over the stile.”

“Victor by name and by nature, apparently.”

“Possibly. However, there can be no doubt that my client was in the right. He was first on the spot and simply thought of his retinue. Furthermore, he did not initiate the hostilities, but merely reacted to the plaintiff’s argumentative attitude.”

“I see,” said the judge. “But what about the dogs? They might have intimidated the plaintiff.”

“They are the most placid of creatures. Had they been ordered to attack – and Mr Short gave no serious thought to such impropriety – they would not have understood the command.”

“But the plaintiff could hardly have known that, could he?”

“Perhaps not. However, the nub of this affair is that in the first place there would have been no trouble if the plaintiff had not behaved aggressively, and in the second place, my client was in situ before Mr Goodall and therefore entitled to exercise his right as he thought fit.”

The judge nodded. “Very well. Your client sees the crux as the plaintiff’s disputatious attitude and Mr Goodall sees it as the defendant’s territorial claim. Have you finished?”


“Thank you, Mr Petrus,” said the judge, who had recently read an article on French wines. “I believe I grasp your point and that of the prosecution. If there is nothing else, I will give a verdict without retiring.” Neither counsel wished to complicate the matter, so the judge brushed aside the blank sheets provided for his notes, pulled forward his glasses, rubbed his jaws with both hands and summed up: “There are times when I fear that we are adopting the litigious mindset of our cousins across the Atlantic, which seems to hold that there are no accidental or incidental occurrences and that everything that happens is someone’s fault. One wonders where this is leading. Only last year I slipped on an icy pavement and bruised a hip. Should I have taken action against the local authority, on account of negligence? I think not. We are speaking of material greed, and once people have embarked on the course of achieving gratification in that way, there is no end to their ambitions.”

That didn’t ring well with the prosecution, but his honour had more to say. “It seems to me that we are dealing here not quite so much with right and wrong as with a battle of egos, and I must say that this depresses me. A little common sense would have sufficed in the circumstances described. An active man should surely be able to climb over an average stile in five or ten seconds. By contrast, a party of one man, plus a considerably lagging group of one woman, three young children, a pushchair and two dogs would require possibly two or three minutes to do the same. Now, as to rights, I am reminded of a friend of mine, who was taking driving lessons and tried to beat another driver to a roundabout. His instructor admonished him with the quatrain: ‘Here lies the body of Mr Day, who died maintaining his right of way. He was right, dead right, all along, but he’s just as dead as if he’d been wrong’. We seem to be on similar ground.”

Seeing signs of restlessness in his audience, the judge thought it time to close. “What we have here is a case of a man – Mr Short – who took possession of a place from which he intended to repel Mr Goodall, notwithstanding the fact that a responsible social outlook would have led him to conclude that he should have relinquished his position, to reduce the total time, including waiting, required for both parties to negotiate the stile. One of our philospohers said many years ago that the greatest good to the greatest number is the measure of social success – or words to that effect. In this case, the optimum solution would have been for Mr Short to give way, regardless of his having been first on the spot. He then compounded his intransigence with violence, no doubt wishing to demonstrate his virility to his family. Nobody was going to get the better of him.”

Bad news for Short, but the judge had not quite finished. “As for Mr Goodall, his condition is, as I have already intimated, not as strange as some might think. It is no more than an aspect of the spirit of competition, transposed from the athletics arena to everyday life. He is young and will get over it – quite quickly if he keeps meeting people like Mr Short. Just as the proverbial hard man will eventually encounter an even harder one, so Mr Goodall will probably come across someone who can outpace him. Be that as it may, I find in his favour on this occasion. I hope Mr Short’s family is proud of his show of assertiveness, as it now leaves him with a court record and a fine of fifty pounds. Perhaps that will induce him to restrain what he clearly sees as his masculinity. Proceedings concluded.”

April 21st, 2012, 05:51 PM

The elements had relented. Having for several days done its best to confound the lion and lamb adage, March had given in and was ending placidly, with a high light-grey sky, no wind, no rain, no ice, no snow, and a moderate temperature. Judge Embert Wimple wondered why it couldn’t always be like this – days without any noticeable weather.

His honour was about to deal with his penultimate case. And high time too, was the thought uppermost in his mind. There were other engrossing things to do. Esmeralda, having in short order become not only an accomplished painter, but a teacher in her chosen field, was now often surrounded by acolytes. To her husband’s profound satisfaction, she had expressed relief at having finally consigned to the scrapheap all other artistic ideas. The judge had got the message. Mrs Wimple’s adoption of a new passion late in life – she had never before had any consuming interest – was just what the doctor would have ordered, had she consulted one, which she had not done for at least twenty years. Good for the goose, good for the gander, was his honour’s conclusion.

Wrapped in a comforting cloak of thought about a fresh start after six decades of wallowing in the morass of jurisprudence, Judge Wimple had only the vaguest notion of what awaited him in court. As ever, he was unruffled by this, as he had always been an adept improviser, never failing to astound learned counsels by recovering from a reverie or nap to demonstrate that somehow his subconscious had grasped all that had occurred during his apparent mental absence. Not once in over thirty years on the bench had he been obliged to admit to having lost track of proceedings.

Today’s treat was unusual, in that the litigants were both women and his honour had to think hard to recall his last such case. In his experience, the ladies were generally inclined to avoid the blunt instrument of legal proceedings as a means of resolving their differences. Of course, there had been the recent case involving Mesdames Duckworth and Thompson, so perhaps things were changing. The plaintiff, Susan Chapman, was a middle-aged woman, a little under five feet tall and of average build, with shoulder-length black hair. She wore a black jacket and skirt, a white blouse and black flat-heeled shoes. The defendant, Sharon Hill appeared to be in her early twenties. She had close-cropped blond hair and was about five foot seven and extraordinarily slim, a feature emphasised by a skin-tight red jumper and blue jeans which seemed to have been sprayed onto her slender form. White trainers completed her ensemble. Representing the plaintiff was the almost intimidatingly competent Arabella Bray, appearing for the second time opposite the urbane Rodney Melliflewes. If there were to be any fireworks here, they would, the judge thought, be one-sided. He nodded at Bray. “Very well, Ms Froy. You may turn the ignition key.”

Not having seen ‘The Lady Vanishes’, prosecuting counsel failed to understand the judge’s train of thought, but was not dismayed. “Thank you, Your Honour. There is not much to detain us here. The incident we are addressing occurred at about noon on the fifteenth of December last. The defendant walked into my client’s shop, clearly in a truculent frame of mind. She demanded a beef sandwich. My client said that she had none. Ms Hill expressed some annoyance, then said that she would accept a chicken breast and chips. Again, Mrs Chapman was unable to help. This seemed to raise Ms Hill’s ire. She went on to ask for two further snack items, neither of which Mrs Chapman had available. Finally, Ms Hill said that failing all else, she would accept a slice of pizza. She was again disappointed and flew into a rage, using language which it would inappropriate to repeat here.”

The judge broke in. “Perhaps she was unusually hungry, or possibly trying to get her lunch in limited time? Such circumstances have been known to try the patience of some people. Also, she seems to have requested fairly common things.”

“Superficially a reasonable assessment, Your Honour. However, if the young lady was affected by hunger or time pressure, we submit that she should not have called on my client, who is a florist.”

The judge, who had been known to lay verbal traps for counsels, had walked into that one. His already high estimate of Bray’s skills increased by several notches. “Oh, that certainly puts a different slant on the matter. Mrs Chapman does not sell food at all?”

“No. Only flowers.”

“Extraordinary. No wonder the two found themselves at cross-purposes. Still, such requests as Ms Hill’s are not viewed as strange in some parts of the world. I once spent a little time in the West of Ireland, where an order like the defendant’s would not have raised an eyebrow. Indeed, on one occasion I was speaking to a shopkeeper in a village in County Clare, when a local farmer interrupted us with an order for two pounds of tomatoes, a pair of slippers and a garden gate. The proprietor was not in the least incommoded and supplied the items without showing any surprise.” The judge was about to plough another furrow in the same field, but noticed that Bray, who was not a great fan of his anecdotes, was demonstrating the body language of impatience. “Sorry I distracted you. Please carry on.”

“Thank you. I was about to say that Ms Hill’s behaviour progressed from aggressive language to physical action. She brandished a fist at my client, using her other hand to slap the counter quite violently, causing a pen used by Mrs Chapman to roll from a pad on which it was resting. Ms Hill’s conduct then became even more extraordinary. Evidently noticing that the fountain pen was a high-class item, she seized it and rushed from the shop – or rather to the door, where she tripped over the threshold, falling face-down across the pavement. The pen flew from her grasp into the road, where it was run over and mangled by a passing bus.”

“A number nine, I suppose?” said the judge.

“Your Honour?”

“I was merely thinking that in such tales as this, any bus involved is usually a number nine, although I seem to remember one occasion on which it was a number seventy-three.”

As always, Bray had done her homework. “It happens that the number nine does pass my client’s shop, but only on the half-hour. Several other bus routes run along the same street and the one that caused the damage may have been a number twenty-four, although we cannot be sure. Anyway, it was almost certainly not a number nine.”

The judge smiled. “Ah, foiled again. I had hopes of confirming my preconception, but we must accept what we can get. However, you mustn’t take us along these byways. What happened next.”

“Mrs Chapman hurried outside and summoned the help of two passing pedestrians, who subdued the defendant until her name and address were established. My client, having noted the wreckage of the pen, had begun to think in terms of taking action.”

“Legal proceedings over a fountain pen? Was there something special about the item?”

“Yes. It had great sentimental value to my client. Having belonged to her mother, it was much treasured.”

“I see. But what about the intrinsic value?”

“Nothing identical is made today. The only guide we have is that a short time after the incident, Mrs Chapman noticed something vaguely similar in a flea market. These objects are increasingly sought and the one she saw was priced at fifteen pounds. This cannot begin to compensate my client. In addition, she suffered severe shock from the defendant’s behaviour.”

“Very well, Ms Graves. Now, as that seems to be all from your side,” – the judge had no intention of listening to any more – “we will hear what the defence has to offer. Mr Milestone?”

Fair to middling was Melliflewes’ assessment of that one. “May it please Your Honour, the incident was as described by my learned colleague.” He gave a genial nod to the prosecution, the twinkle in his eyes not being lost upon either the judge or Arabella Bray. “However, as is often the case, we are dealing with extenuating circumstances. Anyone lacking knowledge of the background to this affair would indeed regard my client’s conduct as reprehensible. Therefore, an explanation is appropriate. The position was that, shortly before the occurrence, Ms Hill had lost her job and was in search of further employment.”

The judge had one of his frequent flashes of what he considered precognition, much derided by some of his colleagues who, lacking the required mental equipment, averred that they had no time for ‘such nonsense’. “What work did she do?”

“She was a hairdresser.”

“I see. And how did she come to lose her job?”

“Er . . . she was dismissed, Your Honour.”

The judge nodded. “I don’t wish to pry unnecessarily, but you raised the matter of the background here. Why was she dismissed? If you do not have the details to hand, we could adjourn and make enquiries.”

Had the old fox homed in on the Achilles’ heel? Melliflewes was not sure, but had been impaled more than once on the horns of his honour’s mild questioning and knew that honesty was the best policy. This surely would be the case now, as the judge, having been wrong-footed by Bray, would be even more alert than usual. “She had the misfortune to fall foul of a customer.”

“In what way?”

The game was up. “It seems that my client and the customer had earlier been rivals for the affections of a young man and that the customer’s charms had prevailed. The two ladies were having something of an altercation concerning that affair, when Ms Hill quite inadvertently cut off a large hank of the customer’s hair, causing the lady to have an . . . ah . . . unusual appearance for a time. It was as a result of the customer’s complaint about this that Ms Hill’s employment was terminated.”

“Thank you,” said the judge. “I assume that is not the only point you wish to make?”

“No. I was seeking to indicate my client’s state of mind. The loss of employment was a precursor to Ms Hill’s subsequent actions. During her quest for a new position, she concluded that she was overweight and decided upon an extremely severe slimming regimen. Your Honour will perhaps appreciate that some people taking such courses are at times over-assiduous in following guidelines. When Ms Hill entered the plaintiff’s premises, she had not eaten anything for over two days and was in what can only be called a delirious state. To put it plainly, she did not know what she was doing or saying. She admits to having behaved as described by the prosecution, but submits that she would never have even dreamed of acting in that way, had it not been for the recommendations of the dietary adviser whose ideas she followed. She is most contrite and can only throw herself upon what she hopes will be the understanding of the court. In doing so, she realises that she can offer no restitution commensurate with the loss to the plaintiff.”

The judge had been straying more than somewhat during defending counsel’s remarks, but felt that he had reeled in the thread. “Thank you, Mr Malady. I think that both parties have said enough” – they had said more than enough for his honour’s liking – “and if there is nothing to add, I will make an order.”

There was nothing more from either party, so the judge went on: “I have heard many excuses for unconstitutional conduct, but starvation is new to me. The defendant admits to being at fault, but there are some points of interest. I am much in sympathy with Mrs Chapman, as I once lost two sets of cigarette cards featuring ships and steam trains, both series being irreplaceable. Therefore, I understand the plaintiff’s feelings. However, we cannot fairly assess sentimental value. All we know is that a similar object to that which was lost to Mrs Chapman was recently offered for sale at fifteen pounds. I accept that as the nearest figure we can get. There is also the question of the distress caused to Mrs Chapman by the defendant’s odd behaviour. Notwithstanding the sympathy I have already expressed, I must say that this was hardly a life-blighting matter, causing as it did only a few minutes of harassment, followed by sorrow over the connotations of the loss. It is not as though Mrs Chapman had been crippled or deprived of any of her senses by the incident. In my view, she is quite right, but seeks to make too much of the matter.”

Leaving both sides with something to hope for, the judge paused, glanced at his notes – mainly concerning causality and the speed of light – and continued: “As to the defendant, here again I have some understanding. She was obviously overwrought as a result of her sudden change of lifestyle, self-imposed though it was. My decision is that she should compensate Mrs Chapman in the sum of fifteen pounds and that she should pay a fine of thirty pounds for her transgression. I would also recommend that she should henceforth try to introduce a little food into her diet. Proceedings concluded.”

April 25th, 2012, 06:19 PM

It was a nostalgic occasion. Judge Embert Wimple was about to appear in court for the last time. A man might be excused for reminiscing during the event, though no such idea was entertained by his honour as he prepared for his final day as a dispenser of justice – or as near to that as the law allowed. He would, as always, do his duty. The timing was appropriate, as this was April and a new cricket season was imminent. Imbued as he now was with the need to grasp the meaning of life, Judge Wimple was hoping that his long stint would end with a whimper rather than a bang. Furthermore, his recent proposal to Esmeralda that the two might take one of their rare holidays together had been received with enthusiasm. They were now committed to a week in Torquay. Who knew what aspects of a long union might be refreshed?

Now, what was afoot today? Newman versus Ball. Proceeding on the assumption that everything would come out in the wash, the judge did not cloud his mind with any great preparation. However, he did note that he was once more confronted with the two ends of the advocates’ age scale. The prosecution was in the hands of Lorna Perceval, making only her second appearance before Embert Wimple. The defence was represented by the now doddering Simon Fortescue. The judge intended to have a dig at him, having overheard his recent observation that the presence of fogies on the bench conveyed a negative impression to the public and that it was time for ‘Old Wimps’ to be put out to grass. Still, his honour expected Fortescue to appear at the small celebration planned for that evening. Embert Wimple had been promised a tasting of an exceptionally fine manzanilla, his partiality to sherry being well known.

Fiddling with his papers, the judge cast his eyes over the litigants. The plaintiff, Jonathan Newman, appeared to be about sixty years of age. He was dressed in a black suit, black tie, white shirt and gleaming black shoes and had both hands clasped on the brim of a black Homburg hat. The defendant, Dean Ball, was clearly well under half the age of his opponent and was, it seemed to the judge, no respecter of occasions. He wore a scruffy dark-blue windcheater, opened to reveal a stained white tee shirt, plus lavishly frayed grey denim trousers and tan shoes which the judge silently nominated as the dirtiest ever to appear before him. Still, Embert Wimple reminded himself for the umpteenth time, one must not judge books by their covers. He addressed Perceval. “Very well, let us proceed, Ms Lancelot.” As on prosecuting counsel’s first appearance before him, his honour’s train of thought had got him to the Round Table, albeit this time at the wrong seat, let alone the gender.

Being a product of both Oxbridge and the Ivy League, Lorna Perceval not only grasped all the nuances involved, but was also gratified by a fly-past of such proximity. “Thank you, Your Honour. We are dealing with an incident which took place at about one o’clock in the afternoon of the fifth of January this year, less than two hundred yards from here. My client, Mr Newman, has an office in the properties surrounding the public park which lies just across the main road from the court building. Your Honour is perhaps aware that the four short streets surrounding the square concerned are usually lined with cars, many of them deposited there for the day.”

Having spent some time at the spot in question – that of his many recent daydreams – the judge nodded. He also once more noted Ms Perceval’s distinctly horsey appearance. “Yes, I know the place. By the way, are you interested in equestrian matters?”

Again, the breeding showed. Without batting an eyelid, Perceval replied: “Only on Grand National day. I have been known to wager a pound each way on that occasion.”

“Really? I would have thought that a dashing young barrister might risk all on a straight win.”

“Caution runs in my family, Your Honour.”

Embert Wimple was delighted to note Perceval’s adroit avoidance of any pitfalls she might have fallen into by enquiring whether his comment had any relevance. Many barristers had been skewered that way, though on this occasion no trap was intended. Obviously, here was an advocate to be reckoned with. “I see. Well, we can’t chat about these things all day. You were saying . . . ?”

“My client had stepped out to buy sandwiches for his lunch. On the way back to his office, he walked between parked cars, intending to cross the street. At the very moment he emerged into the clear area, a Bentley limousine came along, causing him to leap backwards. He caught a foot on the pavement edge and fell against the park railings. At the same time, the defendant arrived on the scene. He got Mr Newman seated on the pavement and asked him about his condition. My client replied that, considering the economic downturn, he was doing as well as could be expected. At this point, the defendant realised that he was kneeling on Mr Newman’s wallet, which had dropped from an inside coat pocket when my client fell. No doubt motivated by opportunism, Mr Ball picked up the wallet and rushed off. In doing so, he almost collided with a large gentleman who was passing by. In an avoiding action, Mr Ball swerved and ran head-first into a lamp-post, the impact knocking him unconscious.”

“Instant karma,” said the judge, whose recent conversion to belief in reincarnation was now never far from the surface.

“Perhaps. However, by then two ladies returning from their lunch break had stopped to ask my client what was amiss. Now, while the defendant was incapacitated, the large gentleman I mentioned had obviously seen enough to grasp that the wallet, which had fallen from Mr Ball’s hand when he struck the lamp-post, belonged to my client. He returned it to its rightful owner. Before doing so, he exhibited great presence of mind, in that he noted that some items had almost slipped from the defendant’s hip pocket, He was about to push them back, when he saw that one of them was an envelope bearing what he assumed to be Mr Ball’s name and address. He wrote the details on the back of his business card, replaced the envelope and the other things in Mr Ball’s pocket, then went to offer assistance to my client. He helped Mr Newman to his feet, by which time the defendant had recovered and run off.”

“I see,” said the judge. “This left your client, the large gentleman and the two ladies on the scene, did it?”

“Yes, but not for long. The gentleman left as soon as he had provided my client with the information he needed to trace the defendant. Mr Newman seeks recompense.”

“A seemingly reasonable attitude,” said the judge, “considering that he sees himself as the victim of an intended theft.”

Ms Perceval clasped her hands. “It is not the attempted robbery that troubles my client, Your Honour, but rather the ancillary effect. Mr Newman is a stockbroker. He had several deals planned for that afternoon, none of which took place, as his affairs were disorganised by the incident. He cannot quantify the smaller transactions, but on three larger ones, he lost commission of seven hundred and twenty-three pounds. He wishes to be reimbursed.”

The judge raised his eyebrows. “Seven hundred and twenty-three pounds, plus an unquantified amount, for an afternoon’s work,” he said. “Your client seems to be a high-powered operator. Is that all?”

“I believe so, Your Honour.”

“Thank you, Ms Persil. I’m sure you have omitted nothing.” The little jab was unwarranted, as prosecuting counsel had not been excessively verbose. However, the judge felt himself entitled to a little liberty here and there, though he had no doubt that outside the confines of the court, Perceval would have been capable of turning on a blast of hauteur powerful enough to wither anyone in its path. Her crust was, his honour suspected, as upper as they came. “I think we should now hear from the defence.” He turned to Simon Fortescue, whom he had many years ago considered a lion of litigation. Now he noted the drooping shoulders, the pinched look and, above all, the long, narrow nasal beak. Lion of litigation indeed. More like an aardvark of advocacy. The judge’s tittering at that thought caused some puzzlement to his audience. “Mr Fortinbras?”

Shakespearian allusions did not normally loom large in Judge Wimple’s repertoire, but defending counsel was coasting on experience and took the misnomer in his stride. “May it please Your Honour, what we have so far heard is a misrepresentation. The prosecution is correct in saying that my client sprang to the assistance of the plaintiff. Beyond that, there is a divergence of views. It is true that Mr Ball ran from the scene, bearing the plaintiff’s wallet. He did so because he wished to summon the relevant emergency service. It seemed to him that he should be in possession of as many facts as possible and with that in mind, he hoped not only to call for an ambulance, but to give the identity of the victim, which he expected to learn from Mr Newman’s wallet. We suggest that this was a remarkable example of quick thinking. In his anxiety to be of help, he ran into a lamp-post as stated by my learned friend. When he recovered his senses, he saw that the matter seemed to be well in hand, the two ladies mentioned by the prosecution being still on the scene at that moment.”

Realising that this might be the only opportunity to take a cattle prod to old Fortie, the judge leapt in. “Were they nurses?”

“Beg pardon, Your Honour. Nurses?”

“Yes, nurses. I take it that you know what nurses are?”

“Er, yes. I was merely thinking … “

“I’m pleased to hear that. The query arose from my past observations, which have led me to the conclusion that people who hover around accident scenes are often unhelpful and sometimes ghoulish. I was merely trying to establish whether these two ladies were medical people. However, I suspect you cannot enlighten us?”

“No, Your Honour. May I proceed?”

“Of course.” Having hurled his harpoon – and noted the little show of spirit from Fortescue – the judge had switched back to full bonhomie

“I was about to say that, being of a retiring nature, Mr Ball departed. He is not what one might call a gregarious man, in addition to which he could hardly have been expected to appreciate the ramifications of the matter. As far as he was concerned, he had done his best and did not want any further involvement.”

“I understand,” said the judge. “Mr Ball’s actions may have arisen from genuine altruism, blind opportunism, or inherent nefariousness, and we are asked to accept that the first interpretation is the true one?”

“A most perspicacious assessment, Your Honour,” wheedled Fortescue.

Embert Wimple wondered why he was thinking of Uriah Heep. “Is that all from your side?”


“Thank you.” His honour’s eyes switched to prosecuting counsel. “Now, have you anything to add, Ms Perseus?”

Lorna Perceval knew when enough had been said. “I think not, Your Honour.”

“Very well. I believe I have noted everything of relevance and I don’t need to retire. If both parties are agreeable, I will give a verdict.”

Noting that there was no dissent, the judge treated both advocates to a penetrating stare before summing up: “This matter is unusual, in that I am accustomed to having one reprobate in a case, but to have two is abnormal. Lady Bracknell would have had an apposite comment. Let me first appraise the defendant’s argument. I have never considered myself as particularly swift on the uptake, having always tried to be attuned to profundity rather than velocity. Had I been in Mr Ball’s position in this incident, I would have hastened to call an ambulance and would, I imagine, have had no other thought in mind. My credulity is stretched by the effort to accept that Mr Ball’s mental processes were so swift that he considered Mr Newman’s wallet as being potentially helpful in the circumstances described. Still, perhaps the defendant really does think so quickly – we cannot put ourselves in the shoes of others. As the American native proverb puts it, one should never criticise a man until one has walked a mile in his moccasins.”

With counsels and litigants hanging on his every word, the judge cleared his throat and continued: “With regard to the plaintiff, I am equally unhappy about what he has to offer, but in a different way. I sympathise with him insofar as he had an accident, although he should not have walked into the open road without checking the traffic position. To a large extent, his misfortune was of his own making. As to his financial losses, I must say that as he seems to be a businessman of some standing, it defies my imagination that the incident so disturbed him that he lost the profit from an afternoon’s work. After all, it seems that he emerged virtually unscathed and with his wallet returned intact. In my limited experience” – the judge had none – “a man in Mr Newman’s position would normally write off such matter as a small misfortune and get on with his affairs.

“Now, just as we have to choose from the possible motives of the defendant, so we must decide what caused the plaintiff to initiate these proceedings. Is he seeking the fairness we all crave, or is he being vindictive, or perhaps greedy? Ms Parakeet would have me believe the first interpretation, in the same way as Mr Forsyte wishes me to accept that his client’s attempted flight with the wallet was born of humanitarian considerations and that Mr Ball did not have theft in mind.”

The judge’s audience remained spellbound as he proceeded: “We are confronted with a situation in which the defendant’s protestations just might reflect his behaviour at the time, however tenuous the reasoning. If we had jury here, the members would be asked to decide beyond any reasonable doubt. I am in the same position, and have lingering reservations. All things considered, I have no choice but to dismiss the charge. Proceedings concluded, thank goodness.”

The above item ends the Judge Wimple stories.

April 28th, 2012, 06:19 PM

If you have enjoyed the Judge Wimple series, perhaps you would like to try my latest offering, Pondhopper, starting with Footwear, the first of twenty adventures of a Briton working as a private eye in the USA. If that sounds good to you, please follow the link below:

http://www.writingforums.com/humour/129436-pondhopper.html#post1520576 (http://www.writingforums.com/humour/129436-pondhopper.html#post1520576)

July 15th, 2012, 06:22 PM
If you have enjoyed the Solomon tales, you might care to know that the first item of another aspect of my work has just appeared on a different forum. This is a story entitled ‘Banking On It’ and is the first of what I hope will be a series called ‘Sunset Stories’. If you like the sound of this, please click on the link below:

(http://www.writingforums.com/crime-thriller-general-fiction/131220-banking.html#post1539438)http://www.writingforums.com/crime-thriller-general-fiction/131220-sunset-stories-banking-others.html#post1541557 (http://www.writingforums.com/crime-thriller-general-fiction/131220-banking.html#post1539438)

The Courtjester

December 15th, 2013, 07:47 PM
It has occurred to me that some of those who have read all or parts of ‘Solomon Had It Easier’ might like to know that I have started a new series of short Western tales in the Crime Forum. If you think this sounds interesting, you may wish to follow the link below, which leads to the first story:

Incident in Texas (http://www.writingforums.com/threads/143593-Way-Out-West-Incident-In-Texas-And-Others)

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