After 15 years, another few minutes won't hurt

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The Independent Online
I WAS up at the crack of dawn yesterday and down at our local bookshop by 7.15am. I was still only ninth in the queue, however.

'You'd think that the shop would open early on the day Mrs Thatcher's memoirs were published,' grumbled one man, resplendent in a red beard. 'They must have known there would be a demand. Why make us all wait for two hours till the shop opens?'

'It's well worth the wait,' lowed one elderly Tory supporter. 'After all, we've been waiting for the book for 15 years. Another few minutes won't hurt us.'

I said nothing, but just stamped my feet. It was one of those frosty mornings that makes you severely doubt the existence of global warming. There were about a dozen of us in the queue, and just to pass the time away we had a straw poll on whether any of us would actually read the book when we had bought it.

One man said he definitely wouldn't even be buying it, but that was because he wasn't queuing to buy a book; he was queuing to get his scarf and gloves that he thought he had left behind in the bookshop on Saturday.

I said I would be looking through the book to see if a joke I had been commissioned to write for it had actually been kept in, so that I would know whether to invoice the publishers for its use.

'I think that's a scandalous suggestion,' said the Tory lady, 'and a remark in very bad taste.'

'I tell nothing but the truth,' I said. 'Did you know that after the book was handed in, someone pointed out to Mrs Thatcher that there weren't any jokes in it?'

'And what happened?' said red beard.

'Well,' I said, 'there was a short interval while someone explained to her what a joke was, and then she said that if that was what a joke was, she didn't think there had been any jokes in the Eighties while she was in office, and so the publishers decided to have a few lunches at which her ex-colleagues came along and told jokes of the period about her, and stenographers were on hand to take them down, and they were inserted in the book later . . .'

'I don't believe a word of it,' said the Tory lady, and didn't talk to me again. Red beard, however, was very interested.

'I can well believe it,' he said. 'As a matter of fact, I am buying the book, not to read, but to use as the basis of a lawsuit. And what you say fits in very well with what I shall be claiming in court.'

'You're going to sue Mrs Thatcher?' I said, amazed. 'But there can't be any libel or anything in there. Don't forget, this book was written by experts. They'd be too clever to leave any actionable material behind.'

'Perhaps 'too clever' is the right phrase,' said red beard. 'They've forgotten one thing. The Trade Descriptions Act.'

'How do you mean?'

'On the jacket of the book it says, The Downing Street Years, by Margaret Thatcher. That,E to me, suggests that she wrote the book. We now know that she dTHER write erroridn't, in fact, write the book but had it done by a team of slaves. I therefore intend to sue the publishers under the Trade Descriptions Act, on the grounds of misrepresentation.'

'You haven't a chance,' said the Tory lady.

'Oh, haven't I?' said red beard. 'Let me tell you, madam, that I have sued many publishers and have always won.

'I started out by taking a publishing firm to court because I had paid pounds 16.99 for a book that was described on the jacket as 'thrilling, absorbing and brilliantly penetrating', whereas it was nothing of the sort. I was awarded substantial damages for misrepresentation.

After several lawsuits like that, publishers began to see me as a danger and there was a half- hearted effort to have me banned from bookshops, as if I were some sort of football hooligan. It didn't work, of course. But then when did publishers manage to get anything right?'

Suddenly the bookshop door opened and the owner came out.

'We'll be open in 45 minutes,' he said, 'Meanwhile can I get anyone some coffee and toast? We're serving a light breakfast at pounds 1.20 a head.'

It seemed, somehow, a suitably Thatcherite preliminary to buying the book. Then his eye fell on red beard.

'Oh, it's you, is it?' he said. 'We don't want you here. You're a troublemaker. You won't be buying Thatcher's book from me, mate. Out]'

To our amazement, the man pulled off his red beard with a curse, thrust it into his pocket and slunk off.

'Sorry about that,' said the bookseller. 'Now, anyone for croissants?'