The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold: A spot of bother down at the Old Rectory

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The Independent Online
THE dread Paxman is back. I had been merrily leafing through the contents of this week's Spectator (eminently civilised journal]), joyfully perusing a particularly delicious attack on the under-fives ('squat, childish and easily taken in') by Mr Paul Johnson when, turning the page, what should I come across but an unashamedly leftist article by that veritable patrol leader of the chip-on-the-shoulder brigade, the aforementioned Mr Jeremy Paxman.

Incidentally,what is it about these Jeremys? Jeremy Thorpe, Jeremy Isaacs, Jeremy Beadle, Jeremy Fisher, Jeremy and the Pacemakers: frankly, there is something a little dodgy about the lot of 'em, but let the matter rest. Anyway, the Jeremy in question has penned a monstrous attack on my old friend and quilling partner Mr Alistair Horne, masterly biographer of Harold Macmillan and the author of a magnificent work of youthful autobiography, Getting the Horne (1992).

The situation, pure and simple, is this. Alistair (no Jeremy he]) lives in the splendid Old Rectory, a small, eight-bedroomed house near my own rather grander abode, The Old Manor House, in the village of Turville in Buckinghamshire. Not long ago, the local vicar, sandals firmly on feet, decided to declare war on all reasonable folk in Turville by announcing that he was planning to convert the old village school into - wait for it] - a holiday centre for endless groups of 'disadvantaged' (dread word]) primary school children from - ahem - the 'inner cities'.

I doubt whether any of my readers will have set eyes on a child in the past few months, and particularly not an 'inner-city' child, but I can assure you that they wear skateboards all over their bodies, sing unsuitable songs, sport dirty knees and even dirtier thoughts, show scant respect for distinguished men of letters and spend their time depositing bubble-gum on well-mown lawns while reciting lewd ditties at the top of their shrill little voices. I am not for one moment - as will no doubt be claimed by our critics - suggesting that there is no place in our society for inner-city children. Of course there is; and that place remains firmly within the inner cities.

But I digress: when Alistair telephoned me a few months ago to tell me the awful news that a dozen or more inner-city children (no doubt they would prefer to be termed 'kids']]) would soon be let loose in Turville, the poor man was close to tears. 'We can on no account admit children to Turville,' I agreed. 'And certainly not a group of children for whom our literary and social distinction is as nothing compared to the dubious charms of the Beano, 'penny chews' and 'Bill Haley'. You are the military historian, Alistair. Let us to action]'

Before the week was out, we had equipped ourselves with copies of Who's Who and Debrett's, plus a packet of 100 stamped envelopes. Thus was OIK - 'Off with the Inner-city Kids' action group formed, and it has since gone from strength to strength, attracting a distinguished array of supporters, among them my old friends and quaffing partners Lord Quinton and the self-styled Bishop of Medway.

And then along comes the dread Paxman, poking his nose, as per usual, in other people's business, penning an article in the Spectator in wholehearted support of the Great Unwashed. With unerring predictability, Paxman claims to live locally. I have indeed seen him from time to time sniffing around the village green in search, I imagine, of some new 'controversy' to stir up on behalf of his controllers on the dread gogglebox. And perhaps he has an ill-kept little bungalow somewhere on the edge of the county. But does this give him the right to elbow his way into other people's affairs, and to try to position a grubby-faced 'kiddie' within spitting distance of all our sofas? I think not. He attacks Alistair and myself for penning an article for the Daily Mail in which we stated our case, in the most measured terms, against admitting these revolting little Cockney morons into the very heart of our village. In so attacking us, he demonstrates, once again, the typical BBC propensity for 'trial by media'. But we Turvillians are made of stronger stuff than Paxman might suppose, and when we want his opinion we shall ask for it, along with two sick-bags. But until then, I think we have heard enough of all Jeremys for the time being. In fact, rather more than enough, if I read the mood of the country right.

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