Calm down, Wallace. Deep breath. All better. I mention the late Reverend simply because I've been spending the past week tucked up in bed with my hot water bottle perusing the new Penguin Book of Twentieth Century Protest. And what a book it is, a compendium of all the most celebrated Moaning Minnies of the past 100 years. One is only grateful that, for all life's travails, one never found oneself stuck behind Beatrice Webb in the Post Office queue. "I didn't ask for a dog licence, I was after a cat licence!" "I wanted 12 stamps, you've given me 11!" Frankly, one doesn't have a lot of time for these shrill protesters. To put it in a nutshell, protest is not the English way.
Nevertheless (excellent word, incidentally, for kicking off a third paragraph!) I have been just a mite disappointed in finding my name absent from the Contents page of The Penguin Book of Etcetera Etcetera. After all, like Keir Hardie and Nelson Mandela before me, over the years I have proved something of a dab hand whenever I have paid a visit to Complaints Corner. Yet the editor appears to have overlooked even my most celebrated protests, preferring to give space to such leading members of the chip-on-the- shoulder brigade as Mr John Pilger and Miss (Mssss!) Germaine Greer.
I am therefore compiling my very own "Wallace Arnold Book of Protest" for submission at the publishers' earliest convenience. Needless to say, it will be devoted not only to my own most memorable protests, but also to those of my friends and confreres. It kicks off with a protest by my dear old friend and quaffing partner Sir Roy Strong "Against the use of the word 'serviette' among Respectable Gentlefolk" in which he makes an impassioned attack on the less-well-off in our community.
This brilliant piece of polemic is followed by a blistering attack on social injustice by Lord Norman St John of Fawsley: "Please will you stop directing personal remarks against their Noble Lordships". In it, Lord Norman makes it clear that he is fed up to the back teeth with those ("the grubby little infantry of the flat-capped and the dirty-fingernailed") who seek to denigrate the efforts of the Upper House by calling its mitred inhabitants "toffs" and "blue-bloods". "Many of the hereditary peers in the Upper House have a great deal of experience in the outside world. My Noble Lord Cadogan, for instance, spent a month as a student picking blackberries in Brittany as recently as 1953, with only a week off due to fatigue, and My Noble Lord Bethune plays the 'Oh, When the Saints' on the mouth-organ with considerable prowess."
My book then widens its scope to my own heartfelt piece of protest, drawn from deep within my bones, "On employing a fish-knife to cut toast". Frankly, I roar into battle with my sword unsheathed, swinging it through the heads of all those who continue to believe that there is morality to be found in the use of a fish-knife to cut and spread their breakfast toast. Stunned by this furious - and, I may say, influential outburst, a great many commentators have asked me how I came to write it. With tears in my eyes, I tell them that it was borne of the deepest personal experience, namely a traumatic incident over breakfast involving Geoffrey Wheatcroft, a loaf of Homepride, a household toaster and a jar of Robertson's Thick- Cut Orange Marmalade.
I'm sorry. The memory is too painful. I simply can't go on. Chin up, Wallace, chin up. By next week, I trust I will have recovered my equilibrium enough to tell you more about my forthcoming book. Until then, do please keep up your protests, particularly it you see a youth chewing "gum" in a public place.