Miles Kington: A memorial to bureaucratic incompetence

'I went to the park authority, and they agreed that if I paid the necessary money, they would put in a bench with the necessary brass plate'
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The Independent Online

A most extraordinary trial is going on in the High Court, which involves the Queen, a park bench, and an international conspiracy leading back to the Amazon rainforest. It all started when Mrs Yvonne Grace ... but perhaps it would make more sense if we heard what the lady herself had to say in court.

Counsel: Your name is Yvonne Grace.

Grace: It is.

Counsel: Mrs Grace?

Grace: Yes.

Counsel: So you are married?

Grace: No. I am a widow.

Counsel: And what was your husband's name?

Grace: Grace.

Counsel: What was his first name?

Grace: It was always Grace. He never changed it.

Counsel: Ah, but by what name did you call him?

Grace: Honeybunch.

Counsel: And what did his parents call him?

Grace: John.

Counsel: Thank you. How long were you married?

Grace: For 12 happy years. And 20 miserable ones.

Counsel: Which came first?

Grace: The miserable ones.

Counsel: Why miserable?

Grace: The children were still at home.

Counsel: I see. Now, when your husband died, what did you do?

Grace: Well, I was very upset to begin with, but it wore off when I met a chap called Arthur ...

Counsel: No, I mean, what memorial did you arrange for him?

Grace: Oh, yes. I endowed a park bench with a brass plate saying "in memory of john, who loved to stand in this place".

Counsel: Don't you mean, "who loved to sit in this place"?

Grace: No. There wasn't a bench there when he was alive. He had to stand. That's why I wanted to have a bench there.

Counsel: What happened next?

Grace: I went to the park authority, and they agreed that if I paid the necessary money, they would arrange for a park bench with the necessary brass plate to be put in that spot. Six months later I was passing that way, and noticed that the plate actually said: "in memory of our twins pete and sue, who were conceived on this spot."

Counsel: Do you in fact have twins named Pete and Sue?

Grace: Certainly not. Nor have I ever conceived in the open air.

Counsel: What is the name of this park?

Grace: I am not allowed to say.

Counsel: Why not?

Grace: The Queen might be offended.

Counsel: Ah! It is a royal park, is it?

Grace: It might be. It might not be. I am not allowed to say.

Counsel: What did you do next?

Grace: I went to the royal park authority to demand an explanation. I had an interview with the head of park furniture, a Major General Sir Arthur ffinchley.

Counsel: Major General Sir Arthur ffinchley? That seems rather a high rank for someone who just puts out benches and maintains see-saws.

Grace: That's what I thought. I made some inquiries and found that he had once been Lord Lieutenant of some posh county, but he had come down in the world. Still, better to put out a park bench than sleep on it.

Counsel: Quite so. And did he give you an explanation?

Grace: Yes. He said my bench had been sent in error to Gibraltar.

Counsel: Gibraltar!? Why on earth ...

Grace: My words exactly.

Counsel: And how did he explain that?

Grace: Very lamely, in my view. He said that there had been a systemic error.

Counsel: But that's the sort of thing politicians say when they refuse to take responsibility for anything!

Grace: I quite agree. But you try asking him.

Counsel: I certainly will! Call Major General Sir Arthur ffinchley! The new witness takes the stand. You are Major General Sir Arthur ffinchley?

ffinchley: I have that honour.

Counsel: Honour? Honour? You call it an honour to take money from a grieving widow for a park bench dedicated to her husband, and then ship it out to Gibraltar, replacing it with one commemorating an illicit carnal act?

ffinchley: There is a very simple explanation.

Counsel: It had better be good!

Continued tomorrow. Let's just hope it's worth it.