John Walsh: Tales of the City

'You need your very own personal bailiff; tough, no nonsense, short on social chitchat. That'll sort it'
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The Independent Online

If you've ever lost anything in a nightclub cloakroom; if you've ever come second in a row with the club management; if you've ever stamped home in frustration wishing you could stand up for yourself more convincingly - then hearken unto my tale, for it concerns Neil, a man who has spent his life fighting back against petty bureaucracy and, by slyly negotiating a few legal loopholes, mostly getting away with it.

He is relentless in his manipulation of tiny details. If he receives a summons for parking his car on the pavement, he will measure the said pavement, discover that it is 0.0067cm lower than it should be according to the Roads, Thoroughfares and Walkways Act 1938, argue that, if it is not a proper pavement, then it counts as no different from the roadway, upon which it is perfectly legal to park, and he will bamboozle the judge into dismissing the case. He is, needless to say, a complete hero of mine.

The other evening he went out grooving at a fashionable nightclub in Charing Cross. At 1am, he went to retrieve his leather jacket from the cloakroom. "Sorry," they said, "there's nothing on that hanger ticket. Are you sure you checked it in?"

"Don't tell me," said Neil, "that it's been nicked?"

"Impossible," they said. "This is a fashionable nightclub."

"Well, if it's been mislaid," said Neil, "perhaps you could hunt around for it? It's a black leather one and..." "Sorry," they said: "We're busy and we don't have time to hunt for customers' belongings."

"But it's my jacket," said Neil. "It cost me £120. I'm fond of it."

"Can you read?" they asked. "That sign says, 'The Management Accepts No Responsibility for Items Lost in the Cloakroom.' Now bugger off."

He went home furious (and slightly chilly) and, being Neil, got a firm of lawyers on to it. They were encouraging. While the management can claim no responsibility for your loss, they have (said the briefs) a legal duty to assist punters in finding their stuff. And if they didn't do so, then they're in the wrong.

Neil's lawyers wrote a letter to the nightclub stating as much and asking for either the jacket or its cash value. The club wrote back a week later saying it wasn't responsible for accidental loss and that was the end of the matter.

After two more letters went ignored, Neil asked the lawyers what more could be done. Well, they said, there is one course of action...

Which is how my friend Neil found himself venturing back to the fashionable nightclub in Charing Cross, only this time with a bailiff. Yup, a real-life nasty bailiff of his own - thick-set, broad-shouldered, no-nonsense and short on social chitchat.

He didn't threaten or raise his voice. He had, he told the club management, a warrant to distrain their chattels in the event that they failed to pay £120 or return a valuable black garment to its owner, so where should he start?

The fashionable club bosses looked at him with dropped jaws and began to remonstrate, patting his enormous biceps like woodland pixies trying to placate an ogre. "I ain't got time for this," said the bailiff. With a gesture that was clearly born of much practice, he opened the nearest till, extracted £120, signed a receipt with a flourish and exited with a triumphant Neil.

Isn't that brilliant? A story to tell your grandchildren. A grown-up version of the gunfight at the OK Corral you used to practise in your bedroom mirror.

We know that airport security has been getting a little peculiar recently, but really... A friend of mine was stopped in a transit lounge the other day and told that her rucksack was "too wide" to count as hand luggage. It had been perfectly OK hand luggage on the trip out, but was now, mysteriously, not hand luggage because it had some shopping in it. She dug into the rucksack to reduce its bulk - and drew out a pack of lamb chops she'd bought at the airport. "Aaarrgghh!" said the security man. "You can't take those into the passenger cabin!" Leaving her speculating about just how many terrorist incidents every year are lamb-chop-related.

And what do you make of this? A photographer pal tells me how he recently flew from Heathrow to Scotland for a shoot in South Uist. At Heathrow, he bought a bottle of perfume for his girlfriend, taking the precaution of buying it airside. He flew to Glasgow and was escorted from the plane to a smaller jet bound for Benbecula.

At the plane door, they looked at the perfume in its duty-free bag and said: "You can't bring that bottle on this plane. We don't allow any liquids in the passenger area." "But dammit," he said, "I've just flown up from Heathrow with this bottle which I bought in the duty-free place, and nobody complained about it. And you know I haven't gone anywhere dodgy, or picked up anything suspicious, because you've just escorted me from one plane to another. I am not relinquishing £70 of perfume just because of your paranoid suspicions."

The Scots crew and security men confabulated in their dour Caledonian way. Then one of them marched the photographer into the duty-free section of Glasgow airport, selected a bottle of identical perfume from the shelves and replaced it with the bottle that had travelled up from Heathrow. Honour apparently restored, everyone (bottle included) flew to the Hebrides.

Leaving the photographer wondering this: if they think the bottle contains liquid nitroglycerine, what's it doing in the airport shop, waiting to be flown at 30,000ft by an innocent scent-lover?

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