I spent the first two years of my legal career in a small firm dealing with mostly domestic matters: property buying and selling, wills and probates and domestic disputes, including divorces. One case involved a family restaurant where the son in law of the owner designed the fit out and the tables and chairs he sourced didn’t fit. It led to litigation between the father and son in law and included a day in court when the father brought along an example of the chair and table to try and illustrate why it was useless. The judge, trying to be helpful, offered to sit at it but he was a large man and the chair broke under him. There was an awful silence as we waited to see if (a) he would get up and (b) how he would react. He found for the father immediately because clearly the problem was shoddy workmanship and not his bulk.
I didn’t enjoy litigation, I have to admit. There were few upsides, though occasionally a case did come across our desks that was different. One such was a neighbour dispute between a Mr Greenbank, licensee of the Appletree Arms and Mr Thomston of Thomston’s Vernacular, a sort of knickknack shop next door.
Mr Thomston was well educated and liked people to know it. Mr Greenbank wasn’t and was happy for people to know it. He also liked to point out to Mr Thomston that, had he really been successfully educated, as opposed to attending an expensive school for no obvious benefit he would have ended up in better establishment than the knick-knakery he ran.
As far as we could judge these two were once reasonably friendly but as they became set in their ways a tension developed that stayed at the rumbling cold war level until Mr Thomston was advised by his GP to ‘get more exercise’. To encourage this to happen, Mrs Thompston acquired a small dog for her hubby.
A routine of sorts developed. After a breakfast, Mr Thomston would put on his hat and coat and sally forth with Quinton for the dog’s morning constitutional. Both were a creature of habit. On leaving the front door of the shop, Mr Thomston and Quniton turned right and walked along the frontage of the shop. They passed the return frontage of the pub and reached the corner where they would cross the road and enter the park. In the early days of ownership it appears Quniton, desperate for a pee after being cooped up all night, tried to relieve himself against the Thomston shop front but Mr Thomston thought this as inappropriate as the dog urinating indoors. So the tremulous hound was dragged beyond the shop and quickly learnt to hold on those few seconds and his moment would arrive. That moment coincided with the corner of the pub.
The Appletree Arms was old and somewhat friable, having been built of the local sandstone. By the time of this tale numerous dogs, foxes and not an inconsiderable number of customers had peed on that corner and the stone was wearing away. Mr Greenbank took advice and was told, in no uncertain terms that the peeing had to stop or expensive repair work would ensue.
Mr Greenbank put up a sign and asked his customers to help. He was well liked for a publican and they did what they could but the damage continued. He added a metal corner without noticeable improvement. ‘Whose buggering with my wall?’ he asked.
And one of his regulars told him. Mr Greenbank was livid. Couldn’t the man take a joke? A bit of harmless joshing was one thing but trying to undermine his livelihood quite another. He asked a lawyer but was told proof was going to be difficult. He tried to soft soap his neighbour but the ears were cloth. He attempted a variety of protections but still the urinerosion continued. He was at his wits end.
And then he had an accident. A small one without any particularly adverse consequences but it lit a fuse. Mr Greenbank had a sign on the side of his pub which was illumination in neon. It had been put up by the brewery advertising their splendid (in their view) ale. One day, with the brewery representative due, Mr Greenbank realised one of the neon strips had ceased to work and it did not show the necessary dedication to promoting the brewery’s product having half the sign unlit. So, in something of a rush, Mr Greenbank brought out his ladder and the new bulb. Without thinking things through – the power was on and it was raining – he climbed up, took out the old trip and clipped the new one in place. As the connection was made, Mr Greenbank received a small but noticeable shock.
He reported this to a customer, an electrician to be told that had his hands been dry it would have not been a issue but the water, being especially conductive permitting the charge to transfer.
You maybe can see where this is going. The entrepreneurial Mr Greenbank fixed a simple neon strip to the corner of his pub, switched it on and waited.
Unbeknown as to what awaited Quinton, dog and owner set off as usual. The corner reached, neither dog nor owner gave much thought to the oddity of a strip light on the side of the pub. A leg was cocked, the requisite muscles either engaged and/or disengaged and a gentle stream poured forth.
For Mr Thomston, perhaps planning to reorder some novelty knockers, he remained stationary. But Quinton was injected with a desire to remove himself from the scene of such an unexpected shock. Off he shot with not just his tail firmly between his legs.
One has to be sorry for Quinton in the story. We were consulted by Mr Thomston, determined to pursue compensation for the scrotal assault. We listened, we mulled and we advised that, unless there was a loss sadly there was little we could do. Assaulting a dog with a neon strip was not in and of itself a basis for litigation.
Mr Thomston considered his situation. ‘He’s pedigree. He will not be able to breed, now his nadgers are fried.’
Yes, we thought, there was a demonstrable loss. So we began to plot how we might frame a claim. I researched such matters and spent a week with my head in dusty tomes considering options.
And then Mr Thomston rang. ‘We have a situation.’
‘About Quinton’s reproductive capacities.’
‘He hasn’t any.’
‘No, you said.’
‘I mean he’s never had any. Well not for long. He was castrated after he was born.’
Our case collapsed. Mr Thomston felt aggrieved but there was nothing to do. Mr Greenbank was victorious. Quinton wouldn’t go near that corner ever more.
But in one of those twists of fate, Mr Greenbank left the the strip in place. A few months later, one of the less easy going denizens of the town where the Appletree Arms sat was walking his dog. It too peed on the strip. It too reacted as most mammals would in the given circumstances. But the owner was not of the same attitude when it came to seeking justice for his pooch. It was reported he entered Mr Greenbank’s establishment and, with the sure and certain application of a well researched left hook sought and obtained a form of recompense that my week’s researches hadn’t turned up as an option.