Out of Character by Trevor Plumbly

RumpoleRole Models

I quite like people who are a bit different; they always seem to provide a bit more in the way of amusement than those of us who simply trundle through life. I don’t know if it’s the fault of the electronic age or not, but we don’t seem to produce as many ‘characters’ as we used to. In my early days in Tunbridge Wells it was pretty tough getting through the day without encountering someone who was either different or eccentric or just slightly crackers. Oddly enough, none of them was harassed or regarded as a threat in any way; they were seen as different, but still part of the community. One such was ‘the sideways man’: his theory was that if everybody walked sideways on pavements there would be more room on the planet. He practised what he preached and it was a common sight to see the well-dressed elderly gent shuffling sideways on crowded streets. His other theory was that if he stopped at a street junction and strained his eyes to extreme left and then extreme right for a few seconds, it would increase his ability to see round corners. He was harmless, affable and always happy to discuss his theories with anyone with the patience to listen.

Frank and the Rubber Cheque Book

Frank was a charmer. His main ambitions in life were to avoid any form of employment and drink booze as often as possible. He had a sort of faded military bearing about him, complete with clipped middle class accent, moustache and an obscure regimental tie. Frank and his cohorts were regulars at our pub; he would order a round of drinks before saying, ‘Can you do me a small cheque old boy?’ If you pointed out that his last one bounced, he simply offered to write another one to cover it, plus of course ‘a fiver on top to pay for the next round’. Stories of his dole office performances were the stuff of legend: moving up to the counter with a slight drag of one leg together with the barely audible mutter of ‘damn shrapnel’ was pure Tony Hancock. On one occasion, seeing a long queue for payment shuffling up to the front, he approached the counter saying, ‘Excuse me dear boy, but I wonder if you wouldn’t mind bumping me up to the front; I’ve got a taxi waiting and you know how much those damn things charge.’ And somewhere buried in their archives is the application form listing his previous occupation as ‘Coronation Programme Seller’.

The Legal Beagle

Peter was a pillar of the community, a well-respected lawyer, a welcome fixture on any charitable and cultural committee. He was ‘hail fellow well met’ to all, including his dodgier clients. He was more Rumpole of The Bailey than Atticus Finch, loved rolling oratory and rarely missed a chance to air his talent. For the most part, like many town stalwarts, Peter was predictable, but mercifully he had his weak spots. Individually they weren’t dramatic – his wife’s absence, a cash fee payment and single malt whisky – but combined they had just about the same effect as Dr Jekyll’s experimental potion. He would launch into hilarious anecdotes of his dealings with his less savoury clients and what they would have got if it hadn’t been for his advocacy skills. He was scathingly critical of any magistrate who failed to rule in his favour; if they were elderly ‘the old bastard probably drinks formaldehyde at night’, whilst any judge under 60 who crossed him ‘still needed his bloody mother to cut up his meat for him!’ As the evening and Peter wound down, he would declare ponderously, ‘The law is so bloody simple really old boy.’ He would end the evening with his great slice of legal wisdom which he attributed to Abraham Lincoln, ‘If the law’s against you, argue the facts! If the facts are against you, argue the law! If they’re both against you, pound the f***king table and scream for justice!’

They don’t make them like that any more. Shame really.

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