It was the torture tongs that Margaret loved best

THE AGREEABLE WORLD OF WALLACE ARNOLD

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IT WAS only the other day. An intimate group of us had gathered at My Lady Thatcher's home in Belgravia for another delightful trip down Memory Lane. The drinks had been served, the nuts circulated, and My Lady was enjoying her usual pint of Teacher's through a straw.

"I'll never forget how you gave those wretched miners a run for their money," chortled Lord McAlpine, chewing on a cashew.

"And you taught those nurses and firemen a lesson they'll never forget, ma'am," chipped in young Heffer, to a brief burst of applause.

"And what about the wretched doctors and steelworkers?" laughed my old quaffing partner, Lord Sherman. "You certainly forced them to put a sock in it, eh, Margaret?"

"Happy days," purred Lord Young.

"I do welcome these debates," concluded Margaret, sucking up the last drop of Teacher's before emitting a burp. "Top-up, anyone?"

"Ding-dong!" It was the doorbell. My Lady looked at her watch. "That'll be Augusto," she said, perking up. "Now there's a man who knows his own mind! Heffer - the door!" There was a flash of red as Heffer scuttled to the door.

"Out of my way, carrot-top!" General Pinochet marched into the house, giving Heffer a playful swipe on the head with the sheath of his sword. He then strode to where My Lady was sitting, slammed his heels together and gave her a full military salute. "Margaret, my dear!" he screamed. "You've never looked lovelier!"

Two of the General's bodyguards elbowed their way past my Lords Tebbit and Archer bearing two sackfuls of gifts. The General proceeded to unpack each one.

"Two dozen red roses, very very costly," he announced, handing them to My Lady. "A 100 per cent cashmere shawl, also very costly! One executive- style hamper from Fortnum and Mason containing four gift-wrapped champagne flutes in Waterford Crystal! Four front stalls tickets to a Thursday matinee of Starlight Express! Two silver foxes, ready-strangled for their luxurious prestige fur! Five hundred duty-free Benson & Hedges! Four fully-automatic torture-tongs and electric cable to silence any subversives in our midst! And finally, my dear Margaret, a very special box of Milk Tray for a very special Lady."

There wasn't a dry eye in the house. The General's kindly reputation had preceded him, but we were tremendously moved by this extraordinary display of generosity.

"I d-d-don't often b-b-blub," croaked dear old Alan Clark, dabbing at his eyes. "B-b-but this time, Aug-g-gusto, you've surp-p-passed yourself, you l-l-little p-p-poppet, you!"

Margaret, too, was visibly moved. "I don't know how to thank you enough, Augusto," she said, taking a prolonged slurp through her straw.

"My only thanks are to be found in your appreciation of my undoubted generosity," he said. "For instance, whenever you wear your 100 per cent cashmere shawl, you must think of me. And whenever you use these fully- automatic torture-tongs and this electric cable on your opponents, you must remember the dear friend who gave them to you!"

"Frankly, we don't have an awful lot of torture in this country, Augusto," quoth I. "More's the pity."

"It seems a dreadful shame to waste such a thoughtful present," said McAlpine. He fingered the tongs lovingly, adding: "Surely there must be someone in this room who's just a teensy bit subversive."

It was I who broke the silence. "Didn't My Lord Archer drag his feet a bit on the miners' strike?" I suggested.

"I never!" countered Archer, "But Norman here once told me he was dead against the Poll Tax."

"Come outside and say that!" said Norman. At this point, we all knew that if we were to enjoy General Pinochet's well-intentioned gift, we would have to look to someone beyond the narrow confines of our group. But who?

Margaret sighed wistfully. "It seems ages since we've seen dearest Heseltine," she said. "Does anyone have a number for him?"

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