William Donaldson's Week: Saved by the log-chopper

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The Independent Online
'A SMALL objection, m'lud,' said Mr Alway. 'Is the statement 'Frankie Fraser is an offensive weapon' true by definition, as m'learned friend wants to argue, or by fact?'

The bench wilted, clamped by Mr Alway in one philosophical puzzle too many. I relaxed slightly, confident for the first time that giving myself up had been the right decision.

Last week, you may remember, urged on by the Princess of Wales (the more scandalous, therefore, that she wasn't with us in the frame), Frankie Fraser, his lovely Marilyn, a Fiona whom we hadn't met and I had conspired - or so the prosecution at Bow Street alleged - to repossess the wrong flamingo pink Mitsubishi.

Ridiculous. At the suggestion of the Princess of Wales ('Let's go for the flint-eyed minx]'), Frankie Fraser had enforced a judgment on my behalf, thereafter discovering that, through no fault of his own, he'd been fired off in the wrong direction.

Further, because the statement 'Frankie Fraser is an offensive weapon' was tautologically true according to the prosecution, we faced a second charge of demanding goods with menaces - the charge which Mr Alway was at the moment seeking to rebut.

'Only a follower of Saul Kripke, m'lud,' continued Mr Alway, 'would want to hold that Frankie Fraser is necessarily an offensive weapon, such that a Frankie Fraser who was not an offensive weapon would not be Frankie Fraser. Quine is better here, I think, when he says that properties apply necessarily not to objects in themselves but only under particular descriptions (ie, that necessity is de dicto, not de re).'

The prosecution was dead in the water, and I thanked my lucky stars that I hadn't followed my first impulse, which had been to do a runner - to take off to the Dordogne with the Fiona whom we hadn't met (who, you may remember, is in fact called Isabelle and wants me to be a Comus, whatever that may be), to flex my gastronomic muscles before my gig as the Scotsman's restaurant critic.

That had seemed like a good idea. I would follow in Bernard Levin's footsteps, waddle through vineyards in khaki army shorts worn below the knee, and stun the locals with enlarged ideas on la condition humaine and souffle au saumon.

'J'ai mange miracles, Gaston]' I'd say, 'but answer me this: if we must die, why do we live first?'

And then I'd stun another. 'Argue me this, Francois: can a performance of Schubert's Death and the Maiden quartet, even by the Amadeus on their finest form, truly be compared to Marco Pierre Whites's Cod Viennoise?'

Isabelle and I, packed for the south and in her sensible three-day-eventer's Jeep, had got as far as Dover, and then she'd said: 'You do remember, I hope, that I want you to be Comus.'

'And what the hell is that?' I'd said.

She'd been quite shocked. 'Comus,' she'd said, 'is my favourite character in literature. You must know Milton's masque? Comus was a pagan god, son of Bacchus and Circe, who waylaid innocent girls and made them drink a magic liquor. I want you to corrupt me.'

Like Proust's Countess, 'Je sentis une immense fatigue.' (Excuse me. Still in Bernard Levin mode, I'm unable to shake off these bloated, curricular quotes.) In fact, I'd felt a spasm of white hot grief, realised that I loved my baby still, that, 10 months on, she was irreplaceable - not least by a three-day eventer, however handsome, who wished to be saddled up and made to take the jumps.

'Stick to Badminton, madam,' I'd said. 'The fact is, I love my baby still - in this respect, differing from my best pal, Neil the Shirt.'

'Who's he?' Isabelle had said.

'He loved her, too,' I said, 'and for 17 years, no less. However, he recently went to Aspen, Colorado where he fell in love with Sharon. Sharon is a beautiful woman (I've seen the holiday snaps, you understand) and educated, too - which will make a change - but I'm sad to discover Neil the Shirt's emotions are so shallow. Mine run more deeply.'

'Where are you going?' Isabelle had said.

'Back to London,' I said, 'where I intend to present myself at Bow Street, and there to face the music.'

And here I was, in the frame with Frankie Fraser and his lovely Marilyn, while Mr Alway spun his philosophical web.

'M'lud,' said Mr Alway, 'it was J L Austin, surely - not John, his illustrious namesake and predecessor in the philosophy of law - who, in his seminal paper, Repossessing The Wrong Mitsubishi, and wishing to distinguish between an accident and a mistake, contrasted the culpability in law of two men: one chopped up a log, mistaking it for his wife; the other chopped up his wife, mistaking it for a log. Which was guilty, and of what offence? Similarly, and with referent to Mitsubishis . . .'

The magistrate fell forward in a heap. 'Enough]' he groaned. 'Case dismissed]'

Frankie Fraser signed several copies of his book (Mad Frank, pounds 15.99, and a steal at the price) and then Mr Alway asked us back to the office to celebrate.

'I haven't time,' I said.

'Where are you going?'

'To the Dordogne with Isabelle,' I said. 'The straining jodhpurs, a haughty 'English unofficial rose' rising provocatively to the trot . . .'