The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold: After the confusion, we knew we were men

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The Independent Online
I HAVE taken the odd aspirin, of that there can be no denying. I sometimes find a lozenge can prove a marvellous pick-me-up when a hectic afternoon looms before me. I have long had a soft spot for cough-drops, and I have, on occasion, been known to swallow an Anadin Extra. But of the new, so-called "wonder-drug" Viagra (dread word!) I remained blessedly ignorant. Or such was the case until Wednesday last.

Deep breath, Wallace: deep breath. Let me explain. A small group of us meet on the third Wednesday of every fourth month at an upstairs room in The Garrick Club. The group was originally formed in 1958 to discuss the incidence and meaning of dental care in the works of Anthony Trollope. Ever since our discovery that there is no mention whatever of dental care in the works of Anthony Trollope we have allowed it to become a dining club whose sole interest is good food, good wine and highly civilised conversation.

Wednesday night saw an excellent turnout. My old chum Sir Roy Strong was there, along with My Lord (if you will!) St John of Fawsley, that redoubtable scrivener Tony Powell, the estimable (if a mite leftish!) Lord Runciman and last, but by no means least, that fashionable young tearaway Mr Simon Heffer, there to teach us "old fogeys" (!) a thing or two about "skiffle" music, "polo necks" "Yo-yos" and the like.

The evening had got off to a cracking start. "There's nothing I like more than a good Trollope," I said, to set, as it were, the ball rolling.

"Agreed," chimed in Tony Powell, "But sometimes I find a decent book can do the trick just as well."

It was at this point the young Heffer removed a bottle of pills from his waistcoat pocket. "I swear by Haliborange," he said, placing them on the table. "They combine the tangy taste of orange with a certain vitaminy charm."

Just as he was uttering this precious encomium, who should walk by but Mr Tony Curtis, the elderly American moving-picture actor and his lady wife, the sight of whose bountiful embonpoint sailing past us caused Tony Powell to hold up his hands in admiration. Alas, in so doing he knocked Heffer's Haliborange jar onto the floor, where it rolled beneath Mr Curtis's feet, sending the poor fellow tumbling higgledy-piggledy onto the Garrick timbers.

As Heffer struggled to pick Curtis up, I set about retrieving the poor man's effects - a hankie, a jar of pills, an elastic band - which were scattered all over the floor. I then placed them on the table, whence Curtis picked them up and placed them in his pocket before departing with his voluminous wife.

Our dinner continued without further interruption, the talk as delightful and high-spirited as ever. At the end of the main course (pork with stuffing), Heffer was good enough to offer us each a calming Haliborange. "Take two!" he implored - and we did. Just as I was swallowing the second, who should return to our midst but Mr Tony Curtis. "Any of you kind gents seen mah Triple Action Viagra pills?" he said. "Seems like I lost them in the fall - and picked up these little orange tablets by mistake!"

We all looked at one another, our faces wreathed in horror. Had we really been swallowing, two-at-a-time, Mr Curtis's Triple Action Viagra? "I doubt it will have any effect whatsoever," declared dear Roy in his most insouciant tone, "save perhaps the unwelcome addition of a certain - how shall I put it? - rugged manliness!" And with that he reached over to the vestibule, picked up a London Telephone Directory, and ripped it in half.

At this, My Lord St John of Fawsley downed his glass of claret in one, wiped his mouth with his sleeve, said, "Waaaarhhh!", or words to that effect, and bellowed his order for a pint of Special Brew to the astonished barman. Meanwhile, young Heffer picked up a fork and began tattooing the words "LOVE" and "HATE" on his knuckles with it before emitting a noisy burp and informing us that he "didn't half fancy" that "Melinda Messenger bird".

Tony Powell, normally so reticent, was busy making eyes at Raine, Countess Spencer, who was out dining with a Captain of Industry at the far end of the room, whilst Lord Runciman, bless him, was challenging Heffer to an arm-wrestling match whilst passing vivid full-colour photographs of the young Harriet Harman around the table. And me? I had found myself possessed of an irresistible urge to gather a pile of Country Lifes from the hall table and retreat with them into a dark corner of the library, there to leaf through the frontispieces in search of the lady with the largest estate. The rest of the evening, I regret to say, remains but a distant blur - or did I really hear Lord St John boasting that he had "had it off" with Ginger Spice?