The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold: Calf love, or why I was shunned at the Garrick

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I NEED hardly say that the present veal furore has upset me most terribly. Call me oversensitive, but ever since I was a child I have had a soft spot for little calves, the more succulent the better.

As motoring and food editor of the late, lamented Punch magazine throughout the 1970s, I was forever trumpeting the tender delights of veal (see my much-lauded culinary series "Veal I Never! The Lighter Side of Serving Calf", Punch issues 32,349 - 32,35


with illustrations by Barry Appleby).

As a dish, veal has long been subject to the ups and downs of gastronomic fashion, but I have always maintained that it is the perfect food for every occasion. Indeed, whilst on a motoring holiday through the Dordogne in '78 with Sir Harold Acton and Dame Barbara Cartland, I made a point of keeping a calf tethered to the rear mudguard, so that we could help ourselves to a thin slice whenever that great demon Mr Peckish came knocking at the door.

Being readers of the Independent on Sunday, I suppose you will wish me to tackle some of the weightier moral problems arising from this complex issue. Is there, you may well be asking yourselves, anything a civilised person should not permit himself to nibble?

This dilemma first entered my life in 1972, after I had found myself boarding an aeroplane to cross the Andes for my acclaimed "Arnold in the Andes" series in the Telegraph magazine. Quite to my surprise, the aeroplane soon plummeted into the mountainside, leaving just 17 survivors, among whom W Arnold was one.

The story of the other 16 is recorded by Piers Paul Read in Alive (1974), but after he had persistently refused to re-title it Arnold Alive I withdrew all permission to include my own tale in the book, and so I found myself ruthlessly excluded.

A shame, because my own tale is, as always, well worth telling. As luck would have it, I had landed bang next to a large hamper chock-a-block with packed lunches. This proved perfectly sufficient to see me through the 10 weeks we spent in those frosty climes waiting to be rescued, though I had to exercise some discretion in keeping its presence from the other fellows, or they might have wanted the odd nibble.

The moral dilemma that faced me then was all too vivid: when he is really up against it, is it acceptable for a member of the English upper classes to eat Peanut Butter Sandwiches? In the comfort of home, such a course of action would, of course, have b e en unthinkable. Here, Peanut Butter is quite rightly considered beyond the pale, but things were different out there in the nippy Andes.

By week five, closeted away with my secret hamper whilst, in the distance, lots of little South Americans looked at one another with ravenous eyes, I found myself succumbing to the lure of Peanut Butter. And - yes - before long I had downed those ghastlysandwiches, one and all.

Chin up, Wallace, chin up. It was over three years since my rescue before I confessed to anyone what I had consumed out there. Soon the rumour spread around the Garrick that I had eaten Peanut Butter, and I found myself shunned by friend and foe alike. "You're not really telling me that there was no decent veal available?" protested an old friend.

Ever since that day I have taken a calf in a crate wherever I have travelled. Indeed, I write this very article sitting in the crate-laden Arnold office suite in Canary Wharf, the lowing of tender young calves ringing in my ears, my mouth a-water. Dista s teful? Hardly. Personally, I believe it to be a sign of good manners to eat whatever is placed in front of one, be it beast, fish or foul.

Only the other week I found myself sitting in an empty room come elevenses, the old stomach on the rumble once more. Empty, that is, but for a birdcage containing a parrot and a budgerigar. I eyed the pair of them. "No, I really mustn't - I mustn't be sogreedy," I told myself, so I just had the parrot.

Frankly, I draw the line at goldfish (too moist) and hamster (too hairy) but I have a soft spot for mole, which compares favourably with lightly sauted guinea-pig. It grieves me deeply that my old friend and quaffing partner William (or Vealyham - I jest!!!) Waldegrave is up to his neck in it from the rent-a-mob. I have stuck my knife and fork into many a juicy calf whilst ambling around his estate, and would be loath to see 'em go. If the Almighty had not wished Man to eat of the Animal, He wou ld surely have made vegetables that much tastier.