Columnist's Lyttelton home 'too dangerous to occupy'

01:20, Nov 23 2011
Joe Bennett
DEFIANT: Joe Bennett says he is not the only one refusing to budge.

''I recognise that man," said the judge, as the defendant shambled into the dock.

"The supercilious manner, the halitosis that could blister paint, those wrinkles like the clefts in volcanic rock worn by the remorseless action of the great grey widow-making sea."

"Your Honour has missed his avocation as a poet of deathless imagery," said the defendant.

"That's enough of your lip. The name is Bandit, is it not?"

"Your Honour is confusing me with a member of the legal profession."

"I believe you cracked that same witless witticism the last time you appeared before me."

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"I shall be happy to change my wit, your Honour, when Mr Leopard the Lawyer changes his spots. The name is Bennett."

"Indeed it is. So what has the poster-boy for self-abuse been up to now? Another dose of smoking in a public place with reckless disregard for the safety of his fellow man?"

"The crime of occupying a house, your honour."

"What? Squatting at your age! Have you no shame? You parasite. You sucker of the blood of decent citizens . . ."

"It is my own house, your Honour."

"You are joking.'

"Indeed I am not. I lack your Honour's jocular facility."

"No, I mean you are joking that you own a house."

"Unlikely though it may seem on a writer's stipend, your honour, it is true. But then some months ago, the city council deemed my house too dangerous to occupy.

"Naturally, I ignored them. But bureaucracies do not like to be ignored, your Honour, and they have now announced that they intend to act and evict me and others in the same situation. And when I continue to resist they will apply, in their own sinister words, 'further enforcement activity'."

"So you have not yet been arrested."

"I have not, your Honour. I am imagining the court case in advance."

"I see, so I am an imaginary judge."

"I am afraid so, your Honour. But I assure you that you are an outstanding one."

"Very well, summon the city council and let us see."

The entire city council, thousands strong, filed into court, many of them bringing their desks.

"Do you admit to being the city council?" said the judge.

They nodded.

"The same city council as recently issued a vision for the regeneration of Lyttelton which began with the words 'Leveraging economic advantage'? Is there any one of you who can tell me what those words mean?"

They shook their heads, then hung them low.

"More germanely, did you also issue a press release stating that you, as a council, are 'extremely concerned' for the safety of ratepayers living in red-stickered houses?"

Up came the heads to nod once more.

"And tell me," continued the judge, his looks withering, "can any one of you, one single person, admit in his heart that he has actually lost a moment's sleep over the safety of Mr Bandit and others in his position?"

No response bar the shuffling of nervous feet.

"Exactly. Your words are as hollow as a doughnut. You issued the red stickers merely to cover your own backsides, and you are now enforcing them merely because you do not like to be ignored."

"But," began the council chief executive, emerging from behind a colossal pay cheque.

"But nothing," bellowed the judge, his jowls turning purple, his voice like the all- shaking thunder.

"But nothing at all. Has every one of you forgotten the first principle of civilised freedom, as enshrined in the words of John Stuart Mill, words that should be emblazoned in scarlet letters a foot tall above the desk of man, woman or child who holds office? 'The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others'.

"Go. I have tired of you. Return to the vast amount of important work that needs doing and leave Mr Bandit alone. Case dismissed."

As the council drooped out, the defendant leapt from the dock and flung his arms around the judge and kissed him. "Oh," he exclaimed. "To think that I have lived to see such a magnificent defence of freedom and individual responsibility from the judicial bench. Oh your Honour, you are the knees of the bee."

"You seem to have forgotten," said the judge, disentangling himself with some urgency from the defendant's embrace, "that I am entirely imaginary and most unlikely to exist in real life. The same cannot be said of your halitosis."

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