The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold: A reflection on the true meaning of Christmas

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The Independent Online
WHAT ONE might delight in describing as an 'elite gang' of us had foregathered in the snug bar of the Garrick Club for a pre-Christmas noggin: Sir Robin Day and Lord Woodrow Wyatt, both hot from panto, the former still clad in the fetching mauve tights of Puss in Boots, the latter sporting the traditional polka dot one-piece of Widow Twankey; Sir Terry Worsthorne, fresh from a successful season of magic and fun at the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill; and Sir Kingsley Amis, following a disappointing season as Writer-in-Residence at the Battered Wives Centre in Harlow.

'What I want to know,' I said, downing my Famous Grouse, 'is whatever happened to the true message of Christmas? I'll tell you what happened to it] I'll tell you] It has been lost beneath a barrage of presents, fancy lights, party games and banjos in church] And it's about time we regained that true message, that's what I always say]'

'Hear] Hear]' quothed the others, as we ordered the next round.

'But tell that to the modern so-called 'Church Leaders']' barked Woodrow, 'and they wouldn't understand a word of it] It's all lovey-dovey goody-two-shoes stuff these days - and not a thought for the true meaning of Christmas]'

Just as we were all humming our agreement, the most peculiar thing occurred: who should walk into the bar, without so much as a 'by your leave', but

a) a young woman, quite unashamedly pregnant

b) her heavily bearded male 'companion', swarthy and unsmiling - and frankly looking a mite Jewish, dressed in what looked like last year's laundry and

c) a blessed donkey]]]

Needless to say, our conversation came to an abrupt halt. As George the Barman was temporarily out of the room on a mercy-dash to the cellars, I stepped forth to 'do the honours'. 'Ahem,' I intoned. 'Ahem. May I introduce myself. I don't believe we've met? Wallace Arnold, Scrivener Extraordinaire] How do you do? Always a pleasure to welcome a new member and his lady wife. You are a new member, I take it, and this is your lady wife?'

Through a series of grunts and hand-signs, it soon emerged that - as I had, of course, expected all along - he was no more a member of the Garrick Club than I was the son of Adam; and as to whether the young lady was his wife, thanks awfully but I would prefer not to hazard a guess.

''Who the hell are they? New Age Travellers, I suppose]' quipped Woodrow, with a convivial chuckle. 'Committed sandal-wearers both, I fear]' quoth Kingers, 'and what's all this bloody shawl nonsense, eh? Given the choice of one of 'em, I'd probably go for the donkey]]'

'Sorry, old fruits - but on your bikes, as friend Norman would say]' chipped in Sir Robin, as the laughter died down, stroking his extravagant Puss in Boots whiskers with his customary worldliness.

But it was not going to be quite as easy to get rid of the 'tiresome trio' as we might have expected, for at that point old Beardie started to blather on about how they needed shelter as his wife was expecting. 'Expecting what?' I chuckled good-naturedly. 'A kick up the backside?'

Amidst the roars of laughter, Terry Worsthorne began to hold forth about Single Parent Families ('excessively tiresome - particularly at Christmas, which frankly to me seems to have lost its True Meaning') while Woodrow wondered out loud whether the Garrick chef might not be able to make a halfway decent casserole out of the donkey. 'I'm sorry,' I said to the hairy couple, taking command of the situation, 'but there is no absolutely no accommodation available at the Garrick. The fairer sex are allowed in only when accompanied by members and unless the lot of you piss off out of here within the minute, I'll be calling upon the services of the local constabulary]'

'Out] Out] Out]' The five of us then began to chant good-humouredly to the magnificent old tune of Adeste Fidelis. At last, the penny seemed to drop, and the unkempt trio descended the main staircase back out on to the streets.

'Whatever happened to the good old Authorised Version?' I asked, as the hubbub died down. 'Of course, I read it avidly, but I sometimes worry that, for the younger generation brought up on the ghastly modern translations, the true message of Christmas will be entirely lost.'

'Ghastly,' the others all agreed, 'simply ghastly.'

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