The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold: A privilege to trade in that sun-soaked land

I GENERALLY try to leaven this column with a little 'humour'. I have, as you may have noticed, a soft spot for the pun, and my rib-tickling 'Names That Make Me Chuckle' slot (Mr Spade, a gardener from Chiswick, has recently been brought to my attention]]]), continues to run in the Sunday Express after 33 chucklesome years. But this morning the matter I wish to touch upon is, alas, too grave for the offhand jest. Much as one would like life to be all swings, it is occasionally smitten with roundabouts, too.

Deep breath, Wallace, deep breath. You may have read that Sir David Steel last week took the unusual step of naming 'Sir Tim Bell, Mr Steve Tipping, Mr Mark Thatcher and Mr Wallace Arnold' in the House of Commons as 'members of Lady Thatcher's close circle' who 'were caught up in the brokerage of the Pergau dam project'.

I regret to say I have had to pen a strong letter to Sir David Steel seeking a retraction. To set the matter straight, I reprint that letter here:

'Dear Mr Steel, Your speech in Parliament yesterday contained a number of ill-advised and inaccurate statements.

'I am indeed a close friend of Lady Thatcher, having been responsible for much of the humorous content in her recent memoirs. I am proud to count among my close personal friends the other three individuals to whom you referred. It is an open secret that I was responsible for the marketing of the wedding of Mr Mark Thatcher and the distribution of franchises resulting therefrom, including the merchandising of the Mark Thatcher Gold Wristwatch, the Mark Thatcher Wok, and the exclusive Mark Thatcher Executive Desktop Supergun. Mr Steve Tipping is an associate chairman of Tipping Arnold Enterprises plc, which specialises in First World aid schemes, fighting to protect the rights of the overprivileged for the challenge of the 21st century.

'Sir Tim Bell, I might add, is one of my closest confidants: it was through me that he was first introduced to Mark Thatcher who in turn introduced him to Steve Tipping who informed him that there would be someone well worth his while meeting on the qt before introducing him to me. The four of us have remained close associates ever since, meeting in top-secret sessions at least three times a week.

'The above information should prove beyond all doubt that there was absolutely no 'conflict of interest' surrounding my chairmanship of The Gratuities Advisory Council to the Government of Malaysia, and any such imputation may seriously jeopardise future commissions vital to British industry, among them the North Sea Dam Project and the Docklands Traction-Engine Development Board. Already, the villagers of Duncton in Sussex are getting cold feet about our Under-Fives Nursery Playground (Nuclear Waste Disposal) Scheme, and their unfounded fears concerning this project can be laid directly at your feet. I urge you to retract, and to ameliorate our distress with a cheque or postal order to my pet charity, The Thatcher Foundation (Used Number Plates for Sports Cars Appeal). Yours ever . . .'

I reprint this letter as further proof of my innocence. Malaysia has long been a loyal friend to this country of ours, and I have been privileged to trade with the plucky Malaysians for the past 20-odd years. When last I travelled to that sun-soaked land with Mark Thatcher, it did not in the least surprise me that ordinary peasant folk and government ministers alike treated him with a respect more usually reserved for the deity: indeed, more than 5 million Malaysian schoolchildren daily recite the (albeit rather short) list of Mark's O- and A- level results, and Mark has established itself as the most popular baby's name throughout Malaysia, parents believing that it will bring them a healthy government grant.

One further word. Far from being the fascist state that the tabloid press have tried to paint it, Malaysia is one of the most liberal countries in the world, its cells for political prisoners all fully fitted with round-the-clock electricity and first- aid facilities, and only the most meddlesome of busy-bodies disappearing at dead of night. In fact, Sir Tim's catchy new tourist slogan says it all: 'Very Mark Thatcher, very Malaysia'. Touche, Steel]