R v Upward Day 7: Animal Magic, Mad Science and Class Warfare


The trial of Luke Upward on charges of criminal damage to a neon sign in defence of his right to starlight proceeded more slowly than Queen Victoria’s funeral cortège, as the plodding Prodnose cross-examined his remaining wearisome witnesses. His dreary delivery claimed another member of the jury as a victim. Although inured in his former occupation to somnolent vapours, the retired steam-presser fell fast asleep in his seat and had to be replaced from the substitute’s bench. With rare animation, Prodnose protested. “Objection, m’lud. The new juror is a leopard.”


            “M’lud.” The new juror cut through the pompous prosecutor in tones almost as silken as those of Mr Reporter by name and profession or even Upward himself. “With respect to learned counsel, he may not have noticed the spacing in my name. It is not Mr Leopard but Mr Leo Pard. One of the Shropshire Pards. In earlier times I was a ‘wild cat’ in the oil industry, but I have made a very different life since then as the operator of a garden centre in Much Wenlock. To serve on an English jury is a mark of acceptance in English society. Must my past and my face condemn me to be a perpetual outcast?” Two small tears glided across the juror’s spotted but distinguished features.


            “Objection over-ruled.” Cocklecarrot J made a landmark ruling. “We’ll have no speciesism in my court. Pray take your place, Mr Pard, and try to keep awake.”


            Luke Upward rattled through his expert witnesses with the efficiency and grace of the finest Japanese “bullet trains”. Beginning with his friend Patrick Moore, each offered unassailable testimony on the importance of seeing stars. They were not in the least disconcerted by Prodnose’s clumsy attempts to discredit them, nor even by the battery of noise which accompanied him when he stood up to cross-examine: to the squeal of cheap shoes, the electrostatic cackle of cheap artificially-fibred suiting and the snap of perished cheap replacement sock-suspenders, he added the rattle of cheap dentures and the scrape of cheaply manicured fingernails across the cheap veneer of the court rail.


            For all Upward’s success in this phase of the trial, he could sense a certain restiveness from the bench. Before he could call Dr Strabismus (Whom God Hath Preserved inUtrecht) Cocklecarrot J asked him point-blank: “Is this witness really necessary, Mr Upward? And all those teachers afterwards? And that Roger Rabbit person?”


            “M’lud. Dr Strabismus is an inventor and the defence is one of necessity of which all inventors are children.” Once again, the self-represented man-of-letters could see a wheel turning in the judge’s mind, even more slowly than when he had struggled to remember the name of Charles Dickens, as if propelled no longer by an arthritic hamster but by a heavily sedated gerbil. He realized that the elliptical use of an unattributed proverb would be lost on Cocklecarrot and that he needed an argument more ad rem and ad hominem. “May I approach the bench, m’lud?” In response to the judge’s nod, the s-r m-of-l glided across on his habitual faultless and soundless brogues. To elude the aural ambiance of Mr Reporter by name and profession, he whispered “M’lud, there has been no response to the witness summons on Miss Susan Sarandon. Without Dr Strabismus and the other witnesses, there is a grave danger that the trial could collapse before your Lordship has a chance to meet her in chambers, that is to say, hear her vital evidence.”


            “Call Dr Strabismus!” said the judge at his most imperious.


            To Upward’s relief his witness had turned up at the appointed time, although under the mistaken impression that he was addressing a conference on conservation of dogfishes. The usher had to remove several samples from the sage’s pockets before he could administer the oath.


            “Dr Strabismus, might you accurately be described as an inventor of international stature?”


            “There is a statue of me in my native Utrecht but I am not aware of any others.” Considerable {laughter} greeted this response but Mr Reporter by name and profession thought it unseemly to record the mockery of a distinguished man of science for a trifling mistake in a language not his own.


            “Dr Strabismus, would you describe the most recent of the 8457 inventions which have earned you the renown of an astonished world, up to a maximum of three?”


            “I have patented a cud softener for cows with weak jaws, inflatable string for marine parcels and a cream for the removal of unwanted bismuth.” As Upward hoped, this brought the jury to the edge of their seats, especially the dealer in aggregates.


            “You have worked frequently and successfully with gases, have you not?”


            “I have developed an infallible anti-laughing gas, which people can inhale in situations where laughter would be inappropriate.”


              “Such as a state funeral or the Long Room at Lord’s cricket ground?”




           “And how was this gas tested?”


          “Subjects inhaled the gas and then listened to a reading of the death of Little Nell”.


        “And there was not even a smile?”


        “That is not a scientific term, but accurate enough.  There was a reading of only 0.12 on the Rictus Scale, which might have been an instrument error.”


      Upward could see that the jury were spellbound. The leopard’s mouth fell open, revealing still-mighty jaws, but none of his colleagues noticed, not even the timid tailor. He decided to press home his advantage. “So, as an authority on gas, would you inform the jury what family of gases neon belongs to?”


     “It is one of the noble gases.”


    “Indeed. And do you think it right for a noble gas to be put to such an ignoble use as promoting a dismal nightclub and extinguishing the sight of all the burning gases in the night sky?”


     Before Dr Strabismus could answer that leading question, or be directed by Cocklecarrot J not to answer it, Prodnose was on his feet. For once, he achieved this elegantly and noiselessly. “M’lud.” For once, his normally grinding tones had the suavity of the s-r m-of-l. “May I suggest that in modern times it is now usual for the nobility to have a job of work? Neon is more nobly employed in a tube, promoting commerce, than lounging about in the atmosphere, idle and inert.”


      The jury was visibly impressed. Upward realized too late that his defence had put him on the wrong side of the class struggle. Everything might now turn on the impact of Susan Sarandon – if and when she answered her witness summons. The case would continue.

16. February 2013 by rkh
Categories: Belles-Lettres | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on R v Upward Day 7: Animal Magic, Mad Science and Class Warfare