The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold: Commoners this way

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The Independent Online
MIGHT I add a small postatis scriptatum to the sundry farmyard noises emerging from those Sunday newspapers that conspired to drown the merits of poor Mr Major's excellent Carlton Club speech on equality and classlessness?

I regret to say that many of my fellow commentators on this newspaper, as on so many others, have been encumbered since birth by sizeable chips on their shoulders. Just because the portals of the Carlton Club are not thrown open to such inky representatives of the great unwashed as themselves, they exact their revenge by publicly suggesting that it is in some way an 'elitist' place, full of 'snobs' and 'upper- class toffs'.

A correction, if I may. As has been widely reported, I have, for the past 15-odd years, enjoyed occupying the lustrous position of Hon Entertainments Secretary to the Carlton Club. From this superb vantage point, I have witnessed a Carlton Club at ease with itself, a Carlton Club in which people rise through their own merits, good luck and hard work (particularly good luck), a Carlton Club which, in common with Mr Major, I have come to believe is a veritable paradigm (dread word]) for the British society we both wish to create.

'Snobbish' indeed] I once saw Mr Jeffrey Archer walking down the main staircase, and even Lord Tebbit himself is a Member (though I hasten to add he has been discreetly dissuaded from using the Members' Dining Room while others are eating, and a tapestry screen is generally placed around him when he sits in the Library, as much for his own benefit as for the convenience of other Members). Poor Mr Major has, of course, been fully accepted as a Member, and will continue to be so right up until his very last minute as Prime Minister, when his immediate resignation from the Club will be accepted with the utmost regret. At the moment, he enjoys unrestricted use of the Club's facilities, though we do ask him to keep his voice low in the Upper Billiards Room, as complaints have been received from one or two of our elder Members who have been disturbed by some of his more outre vowel sounds.

As I say, the Classless Society is already alive and kicking at the Carlton, and some of our major initiatives in this direction are at present being studied by a special task force from Central Office, led by Sir Norman Fowler, who has been granted temporary membership of the Club, provided that upon entry he removes the somewhat common and unsightly brass 'buckle' from his shoes and pursues his perambulations employing only the back staircase. As a fully fledged Temporary Member, Sir Norman is, of course, welcome to enjoy luncheon at the Club on any weekday before 12 o'clock, on condition that he brings his own light refreshments and consumes them within the confines of the cubbyhole provided for that express purpose on the lower ground floor, one along from the boiler. The lavatory facilities of the Club are also at his disposal, though he has been expressly asked to give priority in this area to Full and Life Members.

I have it on good authority that Sir Norman and his team have been bowled over by the classless initiatives we have undertaken at the Carlton Club. To encourage a more relaxed atmosphere between Members and Staff, for instance, we have recently granted the Servants permission not to kneel during the pouring of Members' cocktails, and they now need only enter a room backwards, whereas before they had been obliged to depart backwards, too. Also, any Member requiring a Servant to dress up in maid's clothing for purposes of a sound whipping must apply for written permission from the Secretary. The same rule need not apply, of course, to Members who wish to dress themselves in maid's clothing, as long as they provide their own uniform, tip the Servant the recommended sum and confine their activities to the Lower Morning Room.

These, you will agree, are pioneering steps, and anyone wishing to help us in this important field should apply to The Hon Secretary (no tradesmen, please).