More vintage work for a champagne lawyer in the forest

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The Independent Online
I WAS sitting next to this bloke on the train the other day. He was asleep. I wasn't. I was working. I work on the railways. My job is to travel from one station to another, stealing luggage. Never a dull moment. You never know what you're going to find. Semtex, dirty laundry, conference papers . . .

The man was talking in his sleep. Most of it I couldn't make out, and a lot of it was just bad-tempered noise, but I could distinguish the odd phrase coming through. 'Let me put it to you' was one. Another was 'Are you seriously asking the court to believe . . ?'. Then he suddenly shouted 'My Lord, I must object]' and sat bolt upright, awake, a little dazed. He looked at me, somewhat crestfallen.

'Was I talking in my sleep?'

'Are you a lawyer?' I said.

'Why, what was I saying?' he asked, looking alarmed.

'Just give a straight answer to the question, yes or no,' I said.

'Yes, I am.' It must have been the first time in the history of the world that a lawyer had given a straight answer to any question. I thought it might be worth probing this man while he was still only semi-conscious.

'What kind of lawyer?'

'I'm a trouble-shooter. I protect people's good names.'

'Like who?'

'Like people whose good name is being impugned.'

'Such as?'

It was like fighting one of those boxers who put their guard up and go on the retreat, never hitting back. But to my surprise he suddenly gave away a point.

'Champagne,' he said.

'I'm sorry?'

'I used to work for the French champagne people.'

'What did you do for them?'

'Protect their good name.'

'In what way?'

'Oh, they were endlessly worried about anyone else using the name 'champagne' for their product, so when they saw a label saying 'Danish champagne' or 'Primrose champagne' I would go in, firing from the hip.'

'And did you always win?'

'Oh, yes. We had the right to the name. They never had a leg to stand on.'

I had read about one or two of these cases. I had got the impression that the champagne lawyers were about as friendly as vultures coming out of Lent.

'Why was it so important to protect the name of champagne? It's not as if anyone could really confuse it with anything else,' I said. 'Anyway, it might have backfired. My impression is that people now would prefer Australian sparkling. Half the price and nearly as good.'

'That's fair comment,' he said. 'We never objected to people saying that our product could be matched by something else. We just didn't want them to call it champagne.'

'And who do you work for now?'

'A hamburger firm,' he said, not meeting my eye.

'Hamburgers?' I said. 'Isn't that a bit of a comedown from champagne?'

'It's where the money is these days,' he said, defensively.

'So when you spot someone else using the name 'hamburger' to describe their product, do you sue them on the basis that a hamburger can only used to describe a dish from Hamburg?'

'No,' he said. 'We don't consider that a hamburger has any links with Hamburg these days, any more than a Frankfurter comes fram Frankfurt or . . .'

'Or Cheddar cheese from Cheddar?' I suggested.

'Right.'

'Hold on]' I said, enlightenment dawning. You're a trouble- shooter for that firm that takes people to court for suggesting that they cut down rainforests to graze beef cattle on]'

'Are you suggesting that my firm cuts down rainforests to graze beef cattle to turn into hamburgers?' said the lawyer, eyes blazing and a tape recorder suddenly in his hand.

'No, sirree,' I said. 'I don't even know what your firm is. And all I know about hamburgers is . . .'

'Yes?'

'Well, the last one I had was so soft and gungy, it tasted as if it had been already predigested by several other people. I have not had another one since.'

'That's fair comment,' said the hamburger lawyer. 'I tend to agree with you.'

The train slowed and stopped.

'My station,' I said, and got up to leave. I had decided to leave his suitcase behind. The 100-1 chance of finding it full of hamburgers appalled me.

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