No offence, existentially speaking

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The Independent Online
A most extraordinary case is going on in the High Court in which a motorist is being prosecuted for more than 1,000 parking offences. Here is an extract from yesterday's proceedings.

Counsel: Can you tell us what your name is?

Defendant: Yes, I can.

Counsel: Then please do so.

Defendant: My name is Sidney Delba, I am 46 years old, I work as a chartered accountant, I am married with two children, I like country and western music, and I am not ashamed of it ...

Judge: Thank you, Mr Delba. Please confine yourself to answering the question. That is all you need to do in a British court of law.

Defendant: Thank you, my lord.

Counsel: Now, Mr Delba, can you tell us what happened on the afternoon of 16 July 1995?

Defendant: Yes, I can.

[A long pause]

Judge: Well, will you therefore do so?

Defendant: Do so what, my lord?

Judge: Tell us what happened on the afternoon of 16 July 1995?

Defendant: Of course, my lord. I did not know that learned counsel wanted me to tell you. All I knew was that he asked if I was able to tell him. "Can you tell us ... ?" he asked. "Yes, I can," I said. Having told him of my ability to do so, I thought my answer had come to an end. Bearing in mind your lordship's advice ...

Judge: Listen to me, you little whelp. There are many people like you who have sought to make fun of British justice. And it is very easy. We wear ridiculous clothes, we wear laughable wigs and we talk in a kind of English that has never been heard in the street. We know all that. We make fun of it ourselves. So when someone like you comes along and does the same, we are not impressed. Are you with me, chuck?

Defendant: Yes, my lord.

Counsel: Now, can you tell us what happened on the afternoon of 16 July 1995?

Defendant: Yes - I parked my car in Kensington High Street in London.

Counsel: And when did you return to pick it up? The same day?

Defendant: No.

Counsel: When, then?

Defendant: I returned to pick it up two years later.

Counsel: Was it still there?

Defendant: In essence, yes.

Counsel: Could you explain to the court what you mean by in essence?

Defendant: I mean it in the Sartrean sense.

Counsel: Could explain to the court what the Sartrean sense of essence is?

Defendant: No.

Judge: Why not, Mr Delba?

Defendant: My lord, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote several long books trying to explain the same thing, such as his seminal work Being and Nothingness, and failed to clear it up, so I hardly feel that in a couple of minutes here I shall achieve what Sartre failed to do in his lifetime.

Judge: Then why did you invoke the Froggy philosopher in the first place?

Defendant: Because, my lord, when I saw the condition of my car after two years, when I saw what the rain and the weather had done to it, and the vandals of London W8, and the aphids descending from the lime trees above, I suddenly felt for the time what Sartre meant by Being and Nothingness. My car existed, yes, but its car qualities, its essential carness, had gone.

Judge: I don't know what you're talking about.

Defendant: This is quite a common initial reaction to existential thinking, my lord.

Counsel: So, to sum up, you left your car for two years in a parking place in Kensington and then, when you came to collect it, left it there?

Defendant: Yes.

Counsel: Did you not end up owing hundreds of pounds in parking fines?

Defendant: No. I had parked in a Disabled Only parking space.

Judge: Ah! And are you, in fact, disabled?

Defendant: In essence, yes.

Judge: In what sense?

Defendant: In a Heideggerian sense, my lord.

Judge: Lord save us. Let us adjourn the court for an hour while I get some fresh air and read some PG Wodehouse to regain my sanity.

More of this fascinating case tomorrow.

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