Do your usual, old boy, and fill in for Rees-Mogg

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
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The Independent Online
A busy week. The percipient among you (if any - I jest!) will have noticed that, come August, the columnists and opinion-formers in one's newspapers take a well-earned holiday.

My old friend and quiffing partner Lord Rees-Mogg takes to his wind-surfer, for instance, whilst that most estimable scrivener, Bernard Levin, dons his orange-and-black all-in-one Lycra bodysuit, leaps on his trusty cycle and, head down, goes hell-for-leather in the world-famous Tour de France, stopping on the way only for a selection of gorgeously ripe cheeses from the Perigord washed down with a fine Bourgogne.

But no rest for the wicked! Whilst these distinguished doodlers are relaxing from their inky toil, it is Wallace Arnold who is invariably hired as their stand-in. "Wallace," the editor of the Times will say to me as August approaches, "Levin and Rees-Mogg are sunbathing for a month. Our readers need someone who'll talk sense for a change and you're the man!"

So out comes the old quill, Quink and thinking-cap, and away I scratch! In the past week, I have deputised not only for Rees-Mogg and Levin but also for Lee-Potter, Worsthorne, Johnson and Junor - all this on top of my own regular commitments and the column for this newspaper I write each week under the age-old pseudonym "Alan Watkins".

Traditionally, August is the patchiest of months when it comes to news, so for lesser scriveners there is precious little to comment upon. This is one of the reasons the above-mentioned, for all their not inconsiderable talents, take to the foothills of Tuscany. But editors know that Wallace Arnold can be relied upon to make something out of nothing, and vice versa. Might I take a goodly blow of my own horn with the purpose of showing you, the general reader, how I composed this week's matchless comments?

On Monday, I was due to write the Rees-Mogg column, so on Sunday I searched the newspapers for an item over which I could voice my strong opinions. It must be said that the page one headlines - "Diana To Buy New Shoes in Autumn", "Man, 34, Caught in Traffic Jam", "Hamster Escapes From Cage But Survives", "New Deputy Governor for Danish Bank" - seemed initially unpromising. No columnist worth his salt ever feigns strong feelings, an opinion I expressed most forcefully in my recent article for the Spectator, "A Plague and Damnation on Bogus Indignation".

But I soon came across an item that was to find my quill twitching with fury. The resulting piece, "Why I Marginally Prefer Early Autumn to Late Summer", was, my devoted readers have assured me, a classic: measured, sensible and informative, yet with the distinctive Arnoldian whiff of bold iconoclasm. And I ended it on a splendidly controversial note, delivering a provocative observation designed to send countless readers up and down the country racing to their writing desks: "I have long found Winter a much warmer season than the immensely chilly Summer. How long must we wait before the British come to their senses and start wearing warm woollies in Summer, and nice airy shorts in Winter?"

Excellent! Come Tuesday, I was standing in for Mrs (Mssss!) Lynda Lee- Potter in the Daily Mail. Deciding what to unleash my anger upon in The Wallace Lee Arnold column was, I must confess, a tricky business: the Monday newspapers offered slim pickings by way of hard news. However, I am never one to shirk my responsibilities. In just under two and a half hours I had completed my task triumphantly. At the top of my page ("Wallace Lee Arnold: The Man Celebrities Avoid"), I launched an impassioned attack on the millions of little grains of sand that litter so many of our Great British Beaches. "Is it not high time we swept all this sticky, clingy, itchy sand away - and replaced it with some of the excellent AstroTurf for all-weather comfort?"

Beneath this item, I hit out at "that veritable curse of 20th century life - the armchair". My remaining opinions, trenchant and informed, covered a wide range of issues facing ordinary decent readers this summer, from a sensible solution to the birdlife problem ("millions more handguns are needed") to a headlong assault on the declining standards in our children's education ("when did you last see a hooligan with an encyclopaedia?"). Needless to say, the week's remaining articles went swimmingly - few better, I would modestly aver, than this.

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