Miles Kington Remembered: This battle of the balloons has gone beyond a joke

12 June 2002
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The Independent Online

A most extraordinary trial is going on in the High Court at the moment, in which a Mrs Porter is suing a Mrs Treadwell for using balloons as a dangerous weapon. What happened, apparently, was that – but perhaps things would be clearer if we brought you an extract from the case itself. We join proceedings when Mrs Porter has just taken the witness stand...

Counsel: Now, Mrs Porter, on the day in question you were sitting at home in your kitchen having a quiet cup of tea when there was a sudden invasion, was there not?

Porter: Well, invasion is a slightly strong word. It was not quite as bad as the Normandy landings.

Counsel: Then perhaps you would describe it in your own terms.

Porter: Certainly. The kitchen door opened and eight or nine children in party dress came rushing in, shouting things like: "Where's the food? Have you got any ice cream? Is there a conjuror?"

Counsel: Were you, in fact, holding a children's party?

Porter: Of course not. My children are all grown up and far away. I do not even like small children.

Counsel: Than why do you suppose they had come to your house for a party?

Porter: Because someone had affixed lots of balloons to my garden gate.

Counsel: And who do you think had put the balloons on your gate?

Porter: Mrs Treadwell of No 19.

Counsel: This is a very serious accusation, Mrs Porter. What made you think it was her?

Porter: I saw her do it.

Counsel: Why would she do such a thing?

Porter: She had done it before. She is always doing it. She knows I hate children. She does it to annoy me. She puts balloons on my gate, and before you know where you are, children are rushing in looking for a party. It drives me scatty.

Counsel: Does it not seem odd that there should be children roaming the neighbourhood looking for a party at the very moment that the balloons go up on your gate?

Porter: Not at all. Mrs Treadwell organises it all. She recruits them and dresses them up and puts pretty little bows in their hair and positions them in my garden with instructions to charge in and look for a party. Some of them will not leave till I have given them a going-away present.

Counsel: And why do you suppose Mrs Treadwell would go to all these lengths to annoy you?

Porter: Because she hates me.

Counsel: Why do you think she hates you?

Porter: It is a long-standing neighbourhood dispute.

Counsel: Over what?

Porter: Nobody is quite sure now. But the people who owned Mrs Treadwell's house before she moved in had a deadly argument with the people who owned my house before I bought it, and she and I have inherited the dispute.

Counsel: Are you asking us to believe that you and Mrs Treadwell are engaged in a feud started by people you don't know for a cause you are not aware of?

Porter: May I ask you a question?

Counsel: If it is relevant.

Porter: Do you live in suburbia?

Counsel: No.

Porter: Well, if you did, you would not have to ask such a question. The whole of suburbia is governed by long-standing resentments of such complexity that it would take a new agency set up by George W Bush to get to the bottom if them.

Counsel: I see. Well, getting back to the balloons, is it not more of a practical joke than anything else to put balloons on your gate and pretend that you are having a children's party?

Porter: Oh, but it is not just a children's party. She sometimes puts them on my gate in the evening and arranges for the arrival of gangs of noisy teenagers... At this point, there was a sensation in court when 15 small children burst into the courtroom, waving lighted sparklers and blowing party hooters. Even the judge noticed.

Judge: Quiet in court! What is the meaning of this disgraceful exhibition? Who are these children?

Leading child: We saw the balloons outside the room, sir, and thought this was where the party was!

Judge: Balloons? Party? What party?

Counsel: I suggest that you call Mrs Treadwell, m'Lud. I suspect she may well know more about this than anyone else.

More of this very exciting case tomorrow, I hope.