The Agreeable World Of Wallace Arnold: Ah, rites of passage]

Click to follow
The Independent Online
I AM delighted to see that my old friend and quaffing partner Anthony Lejeune has produced a delightful celebration of that very centre and bastion of the civilised world, White's.

I imagine a large percentage of my regular readers is drawn from the membership of that estimable club; for them, White's: the First Three Hundred Years will prove a most engaging companion as the nights begin to draw in and as the servants pull-to the shutters at an ever earlier hour.

Having been a highly respected member of that illustrious institution for over 30 years now - 33 come August, to be exact] - I must confess to a shred of disappointment that my name was to be found nowhere in the index, nor in the chapters on 'Bon Viveurs', 'Literateurs' or 'Raconteurs'. I trust, Anthony, that you will shortly be compiling a companion volume, White's: The Arnold Years, to be published on the 35th anniversary of my election: my fellow members will not lightly forgive you if you don't]

Until then, might I be permitted a few reminiscences of my own? I remember my first visit to White's as if it were yesterday: the clock ticking comfortingly in the hallway, the soft tinkle-tonkle of the brandy trolley as it curled its way through the haphazard circles of capacious armchairs, the distant yell and slump of club servants in the outer yard (for it was the first Monday in the month, and on 'Execution Mondays' minor felonies and misdemeanours are punished in the most humane manner possible, which remains the Club bow-and-arrow to this very day).

My proposer, that inveterate clubman Roger Gleaves, the self- styled Bishop of Medway, was anxious to introduce me to the broadest possible range of members with a view to consolidating my vote. First he led me through to the Inner Morning Room, where any members who had died overnight were permitted to wait before collection. 'One can often pick up the odd vote in here,' he announced gleefully. 'Members are permitted to vote when dead, provided the death has occurred within 48 hours, and only if their hands are guided by a living Member, who must be prepared to provide his own writing instrument, green ink not allowed, except in mid-February, of course.'

Having picked up a useful vote or two in the Inner Morning Room, we marched our way along to the Dining Room, where a whiff of excitement filled the air. Members were gathering with

assorted firearms - many of them family heirlooms of great antiquity - for the first day of the grouse season. On the stroke of 11am, a servant would bring the gong, the chairman would order the closing of the windows and the club secretary would release up to 25 young grouse (plus the odd ptarmigan) into the room, all to the roar of deafening gunfire.

The bag that morning was a commendable eight brace, with only three people injured, none seriously, one of them only a servant. There was also, sad to say, one Member missing in action, believed killed by a stray shot. Incidentally, the corpse of this Member - a leading light in the City, and, some maintained, also an MP - was found 18 months later, hidden beneath an old cushion in a waste-paper basket. It seems that, finding himself mortally wounded, nervous of disrupting the proceedings and wishing to cause the club no inconvenience, he had crawled into the nearest wagger-pagger and, with his dying breath, had thoughtfully placed a cushion o'er his head to minimise the distraction. It makes me proud to relate that this brave and considerate man is remembered with great affection in the club to this very day, though few - if any - can recall his name.

My final port of call on that very first day was to the lavatories, where middle-ranking servants were discreetly at hand to help one with a quick wash-and- brush-up and to unbutton the flies of those Members for whom the effort proved intolerable. Three days later, my election was announced. A treasure-trove of agreeably civilised memories stood ready to be filled; of which more, I rather think, anon.

Comments