You probably noticed that, once again, I didn't get anything in the New Year's Honours List. You may well think that's because I wasn't asked, but you'd be wrong there - Buckingham Palace will never admit it, but they offered and I turned them down flat.

Of course, it didn't happen as simply as the Queen dropping me a line inside a Gary Larson card "Lex, fancy a gong? - Liz". They never ask you outright because no citizen is ever allowed to turn the Queen down. Instead, the offer is made through an escalating series of nods and winks, vague questions left hanging in the air which, if you answer in the affirmative, end up with you getting some decoration or other.

So it happened that I went into my local sandwich bar just before Christmas and there was a very posh man behind the counter whom I hadn't seen before and I said, "I'd like a chicken salad sandwich, please." And he said, "Very well, sir." Then, in a very significant voice, he inquired, "Would you like mayonnaise on that?"

Now he knew, and I knew, that he wasn't really asking me if I'd like mayonnaise on my chicken salad sandwich. What he was really saying was, "Would you like to be made a Knight Commander of the British Empire?" Quick as a flash I said most definitely, "No, mate, I decidedly don't want any mayonnaise," although in fact I would have liked some mayonnaise. So I didn't become a member of the Establishment and my lunch-time sandwich was a bit dry.

Of course, I wouldn't accept any sort of honour: first, because I think that all this ennobling simply perpetuates the divisive class system we have in this country, but also because, frankly, gongs aren't worth what they once were worth. Even 50 years ago medals, honours and decorations were only awarded for the most conspicuous acts of bravery, charity or civic responsibility.

During the First World War, for example, for a soldier to win the Victoria Cross he had to do something really amazing, such as storm and wipe out a German machine-gun nest armed only with a small tomato. But the last VC - awarded to Corporal Irving Walsh of the Blues and Royals - was given because, as the company record states, "on 25 January 1994 while serving with the Unprofor forces near Mostar in Bosnia, Corporal Walsh did ... wear a very nice hat". Not quite the same is it?

Similarly, while once a civilian had to perform some spectacular act of social worthiness to get even a humble MBE, they are now given away in selected packets of Kellogg's Frosties.

How has it come to be that honours mean so little? Partly, of course, it is just the attrition of time: just as money now buys less, so titles now mean less. But there is more to it than that. Put simply, there are just not as many opportunities to be noble these days as there used to be because life is much easier for most people. Our parents' and our grandparents' generations lived through the First World War, the Depression, the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War, conscription, Korea - great cataclysmic, collective events that spun them all in their vortex. And we've got - well, nothing really. Hearing Robson and Jerome sing "I Believe" is the worst thing that's ever happened to me and I hardly deserve a medal for that.

I always try to remember when I'm working on a movie and I start complaining about the soup being cold how my father-in-law during the Second World War was sent away for six years, had to sleep in the jungle with scorpions in his boots and every day Japanese men in the trees tried to shoot him. It doesn't make any difference, of course. I still carry on moaning. But I envy the men of those previous generations because they've been "tested" in a way that we haven't. They have all been through some defining moment. Physically or metaphorically they have all faced the guns of the enemy, they have all reached down inside themselves and tested their courage to the very utmost. They all know whether they would turn and run or stand and fight. Previous generations understand themselves in a way that men of my age or younger simply do not.

Maybe we should all be grateful for the placidity of our lives, but I have increasingly come to feel that I need to know just what my limits are. I want to be "tested". So to that end, in February 1997, in the town of Reno, Nevada, I will be fighting Mike Tyson for, hopefully by then, the Heavyweight Championship of the World. I haven't got a hope, but that's not the point.

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