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Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Thorny Crown of Pricks: A Short Story

Thorny Crown of Pricks


“Twitter? Did you say twitter?” Deputy District Judge Hubert Smite fiddled with some apparatus on his desk then snorted into a yellowing handkerchief. After examining the contents, he fiddled some more.

“Yes, Your Worship. Twitter.”

“Like the birds twitter? Is that what you said? Is that what he said, Bailiff?”

The Bailiff of the court nodded and rolled his eyes in the direction of the Prosecution, the defendants, their counsel and a policeman in attendance. “Is your hearing aid working, Your Worship?”

“Yes, perfectly well, Bailiff, I popped into ‘Timothy Whites’ for a new battery and some rubber johnnies on the way here.”

The Bailiff grunted in surprise. “‘Timothy Whites’, sir? I believe they went into receivership several decades ago along with ‘MacFisheries’.”

Judge Smite’s mouth twisted in thought and he mopped his forehead with the handkerchief. “Really? Odd. Could have sworn it was there this morning. Look.” He fished in his pocket and out plopped a dozen packets of Durex in assorted flavours, onto his desk which he prodded. “See? Rubber johnnies.”

“Ah, yes, Your Worship,’ the Bailiff responded, ‘but these are from ‘Boots’ aren’t they?”

“Are they? Oh. I see. An impulse buy, to be honest, Bailiff. I saw these young people on the television in a film, jumping up and down to music, having a jolly good time, waving these around and shouting: ‘These don’t burst, safety first.’ Or something like that,” Judge Smite smiled fondly as the delightful memory danced across his face.

“Was this film an advert for Durex by any chance?”

Smite looked confused for a moment then offered some of the packets to the Bailiff. “Look. These come in a variety of flavours, you see? Caramel delight, strawberry sunburst and lemon meringue. I thought I could put them in my pudding.”

Clearing his throat loudly, the Prosecution, Willie McNab, stepped forward. “With all due respect, Your Worship, can we return to the case before the court?” Without waiting for a nod, McNab continued, waving a scrap of paper at the bench. “Now, as I was saying, this letter I’m holding, this vile piece of…filth, was sent to the accused via Twitter. It was tweeted around the world, Your Worship.”

Once more Judge Smite twiddled the instrument on his desk. “Tweeted? I’ll not have birds in my court. They make a vile mess: great big pelicans flapping round the ceiling squawking. See if you can trap them with these rubber johnnies, Bailiff.”

The Bailiff, an experienced man, who knew perfectly well what Twitter was and that condoms, flavoured or plain, made useless pelican traps, felt impatient. But having some hopes of promotion, he avoided confusing Smite. Instead he patiently explained about social media and watched as the judge dribbled into his beard, tore open a packet of custard cream condoms and fiddled with his hearing aid again.

Eventually, Smite had heard enough. He waved an unrolled johnnie at the defendants intolerantly and snorted again. “Well, yes, read the letter, Prosecution, for heaven’s sake. Before we all need a convenience break.”

“Of course, sir,” replied McNab, with a hint of edge. “This was received by the defendants and Cornwall County Council from a Mr Terry Dobwalls, address unknown, via Twitter. Allow me to read the inflammatory contents, if it please the court.”

“Proceed, proceed,” snapped Smite with a flick of the hand. The johnnie sailed across the court and was caught, mid flight, by the constable who trousered it then smeared greasy fingers down his jacket without comment.

McNab ignored the projectile and began to read: “My name is Terry Dobwalls. I am writing on behalf of local pop group ‘Thorny Crown of Pricks’. These young people have been banned, by you, from practising in a garage due to making too much noise. My point is that if you get a group of people playing bad music on bad instruments in garages they will turn out to be the next Showaddywaddy. Think of the joy and inspiration they could bring as the next Showaddywaddy. Like me, they could benefit from a long career playing in holiday camps like Butlins and Pontins.”

The Prosecution paused, cleared his throat, then finished: “Like many musicians, I started out in a garage, playing bad music on bad instruments. However I did not turn out to be the next Showaddywaddy. Instead I was the next Black Lace. I demand you bastards at the council allow them to continue, or else.”

“Thorny Crown of Pricks?” grimaced Smite, “What kind of name is that?”

“A stupid one, Your Worship.”

There was an audible titter in the courtroom from the defendants’ area. Smite leaned forwards and glared at the three teenagers, middle aged gentleman and the counsel for the defence. Catching the look, the constable moved his hand towards his truncheon but stopped as the Bailiff shook his head.

“Order in court, there,” grunted Smite, with the tone of a school teacher dealing with a naughty boy at the back of his class. He cleared his throat. “Now, Prosecution, what do you mean by ‘Next Black Lace? Like Mrs Smite’s underthings? I don’t think we want to see those in the court. Bailiff? Have you got rid of that dirty great pelican, yet? I don’t like the thought of him flapping overhead entangled in Mrs Smite’s underthings. Cruel to the bird.”

The Bailiff pinched his forehead with his right hand in pain. “No, Your Worship, there is no pelican. That was last week, during the animal cruelty trial. We caught it. You remember. You dismissed the case and gave it its freedom. We released it by the boating pond.”

“Boating pond? Why has it come back then? Is it a homing pelican?”

McNab, in the meantime, had, with a flourish, reached below his desk. He hefted up an impressive CD Player which he placed solidly in front of the judge. He then motioned the constable to come over, and between them they lifted two enormous speakers which they attached to the player and turned in the direction of Smite. “This, Your Worship, is the ‘New Black Lace’. McNab pressed the top of the player and there was an audible ‘click’.

For about a minute, the court was deafened by a hideous calypso number – handclaps, shrieks, whistles and samba beat. Then McNab switched it off. “Agadoo, Your Worship,” he explained, as the judge and bailiff removed their hands from their ears, faces frozen in pain.

“That was repellent, Prosecution. All that pushing of pineapples and shaking of trees,” shuddered Smite, wiping a tear from his eye. “They’re banging on those bongos like chimpanzees. Inflicting that wretched din on the population? Well, it must stop.”

“Noise pollution,” agreed McNab, “Malicious and quite honestly the nearest thing to pure evil it has been my misfortune to hear. An unholy racket emanating from the garage and inflicted upon the mild, unassuming residents of Helston.”

“Appalling.” Smite shuddered and leaned across his desk, looking at the constable, “They were truncheoned, I hope?”

“Ah, no Your Worship, they was cautioned and brought before you.” The constable looked embarrassed. “Truncheoning would have been out of the question on account of the fact of the matter being that their manager is an officer in the Royal Navy.”

The gravity of the constable’s statement sank upon the courtroom like the arrival of an unwanted weather system. Smite’s eyes widened and his hand pulled his chin down, temporarily ironing out some of the wrinkles. “Her Majesty’s Royal Navy?” he spluttered, reaching for the handkerchief and rubbing his weeping eye with it. “What possible excuse did he have?”

“We can never know,” concluded McNab.

“Bring him closer,” ordered Smite in irritation. “Now, what’s your name, Sir?”

With a grin, the middle aged gentleman, who had been standing alongside the three teenagers, swaggered towards the bench. He was grey at the temples and concealed a balding head with a day-glo bandana bespattered with neon hearts. A brass curtain ring protruded from his left ear like a cheap ship’s antenna. He wore tight fitting leather trousers over which some Calvin Klein underpants were worn on the outside partly concealing a spreading damp patch. His aging grey-white T Shirt proclaimed ‘Anarchy in the UK’ but the announcement was partially hidden by an unbuttoned denim waistcoat which completed his ensemble. “Lieutenant Commander O’Bounty, M’lud,” he smirked, insolently. “Mah hood calls me ‘Mutiny’.”

The constable’s jaw twitched and his right fist spasmed. Smite’s eyes widened and his fingers ripped open the nearest packet of contraceptives. He pulled a rubber johnnie out, blew his nose into it, then smeared it across his forehead. “Royal Navy?” he spluttered. “What branch can you possibly belong to?”

“The rotting, lying in the mud, thick branch?” muttered somebody, possibly the Prosecution.

“I am a flight controller,” said O’Bounty, with a snigger, ignoring the gasps of surprise from within the courtroom, “in my spare time, that is.”

“Fight controller? Fighting, eh? Well, that makes it worse.” Smite rubbed his forehead rapidly where the condom had congealed and become stuck. The bailiff stepped across, prised it loose with a pair of scissors and tossed it, underarm, to the constable. “I cannot find it in my gift to condone a noise, such as the one you allow these young people to make, that provokes violence amongst others. It’s worse than public morris dancing.”

Lieutenant Commander O’Bounty puffed out his chest. “And I cannot take seriously the words of a senile old fart with a condom stuck to his head.”

“Tart? How dare you. Now you see here. Naval officer or not, you’d better have a watertight defence,” stressed Smite, shaking. The Prosecution nodded in smug agreement and the Bailiff leant over towards Smite’s left ear.

“Good, that, Your Worship,” he hissed. “Watertight defence; you could add ‘hole you below the waterline’, too, if you’ve a mind to.” Smite nodded and scribbled it down on a pad in front of him. “Well, Defence? Has he anything to say in mitigation, before I pronounce judgement?”

The Defence, a small man in spectacles, looked apologetic. He cleared his throat. “Lieutenant Commander O’Bounty has decided, ah, to conduct his own defence, Your Worship.” It was clear that the Defence thought this a poor idea. He moved back towards his bench like a soldier on a minefield, sat down and tightened the knot of his tie.

Untroubled, O’Bounty strode forward. He turned and faced the gallery. Tossing his handkerchiefed head like a thoroughbred around the courtroom with a winning grin of greying teeth, he bellowed with the authority of a captain on the quarterdeck. “These children,” he thundered, “these poor unfortunates, have nothing to do. Cornwall County Council gives them no amenities. No entertainment. No facilities. And then they complain,” he paused for emphasis. “Complain!”

The public gallery looked unmoved. Smite had rested his head on his right hand and was toying with condoms with his left. The Bailiff had sat down and was flicking through some papers in his briefcase. One or two people began to get up and walk towards the toilets.

Unconcerned, O’Bounty continued. “They have the cheek, the unmitigated nerve, to complain, when these talented young people want to play their bad instruments badly and become, as Mr Terry Dobwalls rock n roll legend, said: ‘an inspiration to young people like them’. Even worse, they arrest me. Arrest me! Because some stupid, fickle, members of the public complain when I find them a garage to rehearse in.”

“Where exactly was this garage?” asked Smite, interrupting the tirade and turning to the Bailiff.

“It was ‘Kwik-Car-Fix’, Your Worship, on Helston High Street. They complained they could no longer work and repair vehicles effectively due to constant interruptions from, and I quote: ‘three spotty gits and their aging hippy father, bashing biscuit tins with sticks and doing the conga around the workshop floor.”

“But that’s where Mrs Smite goes for her servicing!” Smite was incredulous. In his anger, he tore into another packet of three, ripped out a ribbed tickler and stretched it with intent. “I’ve heard enough. You Crowny Thickets are in clear contraception of the law!”

“Contravention, Your Worship,” corrected McNab, “and they’re actually ‘Pricks’. ‘Crowny Thorn of Pricks’, if you recall.”

“Pricks, eh?” ground Smite, through his teeth, “well perhaps they might use these to good effect, then.” He flung what remained of the condoms petulantly at O’Bounty and they spattered onto the floor of the court. Then, with great effort, he controlled himself. He raised his aged body up, wiped his forehead again and looked at the members of the court.

“You say these young people have nothing to do? You say there are no amenities? That the council should be forced to provide skate parks, free wifi and internet cafes? As a result, you say that young people are forced, therefore, to annoy our car mechanics with noise pollution and unwanted dancing? Well, I am forced to concede, in this instance, you may be right. Therefore I intend to give you, and them, something to do. To rectify the council’s inefficiency.” He paused and glared. “You can all have 1000 hours of community service each.”

The Prosecution looked pleased. “Excellent, Your Worship. Maybe they should start by cleaning up this courtroom?”

Smite agreed, looking at the crestfallen O’Bounty with a grimace. “Yes and when they’ve picked up all the johnnies, Constable, ship all four over to Mrs Smite’s house without delay. It’s her birthday today and she informs me her lover is treating her to a candlelit supper and ‘more besides’ whatever that means. They are to post the packets through her letterbox with a rude note and perform ‘Agadoo’ loudly in the garden between the hours of 8pm and midnight.”

“If Mrs Smite or her gentleman caller protest, Constable, tell them that ‘Thorny Crown of Pricks’ have been called an inspiration to all those who play with their bad instruments. Furthermore, they are a far more effective method of birth control than rubber johnnies.”