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  1. #21
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    Caveat Emptor

    CAVEAT EMPTOR

    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.”
    Last edited by Courtjester; January 31st, 2019 at 03:19 PM.
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  2. #22
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    Back To Square One

    BACK TO SQUARE ONE

    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.”

    “Where?”

    “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.”
    Last edited by Courtjester; February 1st, 2019 at 01:55 PM.
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    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

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  3. #23
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    Pure Magic

    PURE MAGIC

    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.”
    Last edited by Courtjester; February 2nd, 2019 at 01:20 PM.
    [CENTER][B][I][SIZE=3][FONT=times new roman]Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustn’t sigh and you mustn’t cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

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  4. #24
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    Queer Customer

    QUEER CUSTOMER

    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.”
    Last edited by Courtjester; February 3rd, 2019 at 02:15 PM.
    [CENTER][B][I][SIZE=3][FONT=times new roman]Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustn’t sigh and you mustn’t cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

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  5. #25
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    Biathlon

    BIATHLON

    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.”
    [CENTER][B][I][SIZE=3][FONT=times new roman]Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
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  6. #26
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    Stamping Ground

    STAMPING GROUND

    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.”
    [CENTER][B][I][SIZE=3][FONT=times new roman]Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustn’t sigh and you mustn’t cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

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  7. #27
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    Shunting

    SHUNTING

    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.”
    [CENTER][B][I][SIZE=3][FONT=times new roman]Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustn’t sigh and you mustn’t cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    [/FONT][/SIZE][/I][/B][B][I][FONT=Times New Roman]O:)[/FONT][/I][/B]
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  8. #28
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    COUNTRY LIFE

    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.”
    Last edited by Courtjester; February 7th, 2019 at 03:48 PM.
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  9. #29
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    Fiddlers Three

    FIDDLERS THREE

    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.”
    Last edited by Courtjester; February 8th, 2019 at 01:07 PM.
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    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

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  10. #30
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    High Jinx

    HIGH JINX

    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?”

    “Yes.”

    “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.”
    [CENTER][B][I][SIZE=3][FONT=times new roman]Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustn’t sigh and you mustn’t cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    [/FONT][/SIZE][/I][/B][B][I][FONT=Times New Roman]O:)[/FONT][/I][/B]
    [SIZE=2]
    [/SIZE]
    [/CENTER]

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