Our Man in London ... Selfish people, noisy neighbours, children who run riot ... Things are intolerable ... "Pleb" libel case - Silly Politician v Slow Witted Plod ... Leverhulme laments
I THOUGHT of Miller v Jackson the other day.
You remember that marvellous dissenting judgment of Lord Denning about the cricket ground in County Durham which begins:
"In summertime village cricket is the delight of everyone. Nearly every village has its own cricket field where the young men play and the old men watch."
A High Court judge had issued an injunction to stop the cricket and did so "at the instance of a newcomer who is no lover of cricket. This newcomer has built, or has had built for him, a house on the edge of the cricket ground which four years ago was a field where cattle grazed. The animals did not mind the cricket ...
"Now he complains that when a batsman hits a six the ball has been known to land in his garden or on or near his house. His wife has got so upset about it that they always go out at weekends. They do not go into the garden when cricket is being played. They say that this is intolerable. So they asked the judge to stop the cricket being played."
In the words of many an old boy in the gentleman's club, this was surely "the thin end of the wedge".
What reminded me of Miller v Jackson was my neighbour, a retired, Scottish psychiatric professor. He and his young wife have moved into the Victorian house next door and are systematically and noisily gutting it. I used the word "systematically" advisedly because they have employed a builder who is anything but systematic.
He never finishes a job without starting another one. The building works have been going on since May.
It's like professional cleaners who have dirty homes. The psychiatrist may be good at sorting out the minds of others but this builder is playing him for a sucker.
And to achieve nothing more than a hollowed-out, minimalist, white living space - which will ready my neighbour for the heaven he hopes is to come.
Still, as Hilaire Belloc told us after Lord Finchley tried to mend his own electric light:
"It is the business of the wealthy man, to give employment to the artisan."
* * *
IT'S going on in many places in England. Beautiful Georgian homes in places like Chelsea and Notting Hill are being disembowelled. People are spending fortunes on digging deep underground to build what we used to call rumpus rooms.
The prolonged disruption to neighbours is irrelevant. Selfishness abounds, but there is always some politically correct motive which will justify it. Poke it and the anger spews out.
There are the thirty-somethings in high-powered jobs whose kids run riot in restaurants, airports and pubs while their progenitors smile proudly. The parents do cut up rough when you ask for a bit of shush.
There are those terribly important and busy people who walk through the streets shouting loudly to themselves until you realise they are on the phone. What would Lord Denning have made of them? He'd think we had gone mad.
Building work beats inconvenience to neighbours. Children outweigh annoyance to diners. Phone users can be as loud as they like.
But don't stereotype others, particularly on Twitter or Facebook.
The gauche Ed Miliband sacked shadow Minister, Emily Thornberry for showing a lack of respect when she posted a picture of a white van outside a house displaying a St George's Cross.
White van men are not popular in Britain. They are regarded as selfish, inconsiderate, mostly working-class and aggressive. I just see them as blokes in white vans.
Miliband was asked what he thought when he sees a white van outside a house and said:
"What is going through my mind is respect [at least something is]. Respect is the basic rule of politics and I'm afraid her tweet conveyed a sense of disrespect. There is nothing unusual or odd, as her tweet implied, with having an England flag in your window."
* * *
THE class system which pervades this island has been to the fore recently. The former Tory Chief whip, Andrew Mitchell had the misfortune to sue the Sun for libel.
He had been accused of calling police officers at the gates of Downing Street "plebs." In fact what he is alleged and found to have said was:
"Best you learn your f****** place - you don't run this f****** government - you're f****** plebs."
In these days of instant, howling breaches of political correctness, such an allegation, it was thought, would besmirch Mitchell forever, so he sued.
The litigation had an unfortunate beginning when Mitchell's lawyers failed to file a costs budget on time and were told by the Master that even if they won in the end they would be limited to recovering the court fees. This decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal.
The trial took place in front of Mr Justice (Weather Perm) Mitting (Downside, Cambridge). It has always struck me as odd that because a person has studied law, and been able to charge hefty fees, that makes them a reliable assessor of human beings and their evidence, more so than, say, a builder or a retired psychiatrist.
But Weather Perm found for the Sun. The word "pleb" was politically toxic. "Fuck" has long since given way in the outrage stakes.
More fool Mitchell in suing for libel over such a petty issue. But was it?
In the course of his judgment, Weather made an extraordinary observation. He was satisfied that Mitchell had called the wallopers "Plebs" because Constable Toby Rowland was, "not the sort of man who would have had the wit, imagination or inclination to invent on the spur of the moment an account of what a senior politician had said to him in temper".
A pleb by any other name.