A secret puff on my trusty pipe in the PM's jet

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
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The Independent Online
May I correct a libel put about by some of my rivals? Whilst travelling on the Prime Minister's aeroplane, I did indeed keep popping into the lavatory or - dread word! - toilet. This I would not seek to deny. But there are many lavatorial activities that are wholly innocent.

Laughing at cartoons of oneself, for example. Like many distinguished men (and women!), I keep an outstanding display of cartoons of myself by the splendid Franklin of the Sun in the "smallest room", if only to show my house-guests that their old friend Wallace is fully able to laugh at himself!

I also find the lavatory an excellent place to peruse the newspapers, to indulge in a relaxing game of Solitaire, and, when appetite gets the better of me, to polish off a packet of "Pringles", those excellent adult crispy comestibles in the distinctive tube. Like many scriveners, I have dashed off some of my most important books within those confines, my latest, Ever Fowler: The Authorised Biography of Sir Norman Fowler (Weidenfeld pounds 18.95) among them.

So I see no reason to make excuses for my frequent trips to the lavvy on the PM's aeroplane. I acknowledge that my first excuse - that I was in charge of slooshing out the bowl with the Sanilav Toilet Duck every 10 to 15 minutes - was later discredited. Everybody knows this is one of Dr Mawhinney's key jobs. I also admit that I took my trusty pipe with me on my visits. However, there is no basis to the rumour that what I was smoking in my pipe was anything other than a quarter of Finest Yorkshire Shag.

Mind-changing potions are abhorrent to me. I have no need for artificial stimulants. If ever I want to relax, I enjoy a perfectly healthy bottle of Scotch and, as a chaser, a good old fashioned Valium or two, all washed down with a few well-pulled pints of Theakston's Old Peculier.

What then, the nosier reader will be asking, were you up to in the PM's lavatory? The week's events have told their own story. A week ago, one thing seemed evident to all those who have the Prime Minister's best interests at heart: the sooner we could get rid of him, the better. History will undoubtedly number John Major among the finest Prime Ministers to have served in the early 1990s. No one can take this from him. But there's a time in the career of even the most distinguished Prime Minister when it becomes clear that he is utterly hopeless at his job. At this point it is far better for him, and for the party he leads, that his dearest and closest friends should conspire to ditch him.

But this should be arranged with the utmost tact and consideration. On the Wednesday flight, I took great care to check that John Major was sitting comfortably, jacket off, spectacles at a jaunty angle, re-reading his beloved In-Flight magazine. I then winked across to Michael Howard, and together we tiptoed to the toilet.

"We must work towards a resounding Conservative victory on polling day," said Michael as I turned the knob to "Engaged". He then continued, in a hushed whisper, "But if Portillo stands against Redwood, and Clarke stands against Shepherd, then where the hell does that leave me?"

The poor fellow looked distraught, all cramped up against the lavatory- paper holder. I attempted to calm him down. "What about Hague?" I said, "Now there's a dark horse."

"Hague? HAGUE!" gasped Michael. "That infant slaphead is never going to take the leadership from ME! He doesn't know the foggiest. Where does he stand on Europe? Where do I stand on Europe? For the life of me, I can't remember!" We exited, and Michael returned to his seat. I then signalled to Mawhinney to join me in the lavatory. "I've been a success as Party Chairman, Wallace, now tell me I have!" he said as I looked the door. "The next Leader will want me to stay on, he will, won't he?" There were tears in his eyes.

"Michael Howard tells me that John R. told him that Hague told Michael Heseltine that Ken Clarke thought Gillian might back Michael Portillo," I whispered. "But obviously your loyalty must be to the Prime Minister."

"Anyone in there? I'm bursting!" It was the voice of the Prime Minister, obviously desperate.

Mawhinney looked at me, and I looked at Mawhinney.

"Wee in your pants, for all I care, you daft prat!" Mawhinney yelled back at the Prime Minister. In retrospect, I think I will come to date this as the pivotal moment when I finally realised that John Major had lost the respect of his close friends and colleagues. We wish him well in his retirement.

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