I have to begin this week by declaring an interest: as one who has, man and boy, answered the siren call of journalism, I must count myself among a hated species. For years, opinion poll after poll has placed members of what is sometimes called my profession in the fetid shallows of public esteem, where we wallow alongside such reptilian creatures as estate agents and vivisectionists.
Lately, however, we have taken some comfort from the arrival in our midst of newcomers to share our obloquy. They include cowboy plumbers, double-glazing salesman, politicians of all stripes, and, oh joy!, lawyers. Of these, the last are surely the most deserving of public contempt.
The charges against them are many: they profit from human misery, they are slow to act, conceited, and overpaid; they swell the ranks of politicians, thus doubling their hatefulness, and, through fostering the compensation culture, they detract from the joy of life. It is thanks to lawyers that hanging baskets are removed from street lamp-posts, that children taking seaside donkey rides must wear hard hats, and that village fÃªtes are cancelled lest the tombola tent falls to the ground.
Imagine my delight, then, in reading a newspaper report recounting the acute discomfort of a lawyer, a judge no less, whose composure was so disturbed and whose equanimity so rudely unseated, that I laughed till the tears rolled down my rosy cheeks.
The story, which appeared in the News-Leader newspaper of Springfield, Missouri, is so heart-warming, so joyous that I would be failing in my duty not to share it with you in its entirety. So here it is:
“A US judge is seeking compensation after finding the body of a dead mouse in a bottle of beer.
“Judge Randy Anglen says he screamed and screamed when he saw the mouse – after finishing the bottle.
“Anglen, a judge in Hollister, Missouri, drank the bottle of Miller Lite at home one night after finishing work.
“He drained the last bit into the sink, so he could put the bottle in his recycling bin, but heard a ‘plop’ as he put the bottle on his worktop.
“When he peered into it, the first thing he saw was a long tail coiling around the inside of the bottle. Then he saw the rest of the mouse.
“‘The first thing I did was scream in horror. Then I screamed in revulsion. Then I dropped to the ground, holding my head in my hands while I was still screaming,’ he said.
“‘My wife ran in, holding our one-year-old, and she started screaming and the baby was screaming because she didn’t know what was wrong with me. It was five minutes before I could regain enough composure to say don’t worry. I’m OK.'”
“Judge Anglen says a Miller representative told him to pack the bottle in dry ice and mail it to them, so they could determine if it was a mouse: ‘The first thing I said was, I’m an attorney, and that’s the evidence.’
“He wants Miller to offer him an appropriate compensation for his emotional trauma.
“‘I’ll do whatever they want including taking a lie-detector test,’ he said. ‘They need to know that I’ve got other things to do besides hatching a scheme to defraud Miller by putting a mouse in my beer.'”
Now tell me, is that not wonderful? Is not the world a better, sunnier place for that news? The report fizzes with such effervescent gaiety that it is difficult to single out which bubble of delight to relish most.
Note how the forensic mind continues to work even under extreme strain, enabling His Honour to time with precision his most acute discomfort: even as he writhes on the floor, his composure slowly returning, he clocks the ordeal at five minutes precisely.
Like Violet Elizabeth Bott in the Just William stories, he screams and screams, but, unlike that repulsive little girl, he is not sick. Had the tail of the mouse alone remained in the bottle, giving rise to the dread thought that its other mortal remains resided in his stomach, the judge’s screams might have run to more than five minutes and the claim for compensation been commensurately larger.
And what is the compensatory tariff for the screams not only of a judge but also of his wife and baby daughter, both of whom rattled their tonsils in unison with his? Did they, like the judge, have the presence of mind to hold their heads while they were screaming, the better to prevent whiplash injury?
Thankfully, the experience left Anglen’s sense of his own importance intact. Not for him the demeaning task of wrapping rodent remains in dry ice and forwarding them for inspection. His word is sufficient proof. When a judge sets eyes on a dead mouse, that is sufficient to establish beyond doubt both its deadness and its mousiness.
Who can say whether Judge Anglen will be awarded $1m or $10m in damages? What price a writhing judge? But his story goes some way to compensating the rest of us for having to share the world with lawyers. So let’s raise a glass of Miller Lite to the good judge.
Afterthought: What happens when you cross a lawyer with a pig?
Nothing. There are some things a pig just won’t do.