THE AGREEABLE WORLD OF WALLACE ARNOLD: Hey, cats! No one is going to call me a square Daddio

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The Independent Online

outh? Splendid! Agadoo-doo-doo! Build me up, Buttercup! A wop, a bop, a loo, another bop and an old bamboo!

I have always had a tremendous amount of time for the young of all ages. They have such energy, such enthusiasm, such idealism, such resourcefulness! "Pop videos", "the Internet", "the telly-v", "glue-sniffing" - all marvellous! Count me in!

Of course, for the past 30-odd years, I may, from time to time, have given the impression that the opposite was the case and that I entertained the odd reservation about "youth" (undread word!). Not so, Daddio! I would not deny for one moment that I occasionally sought to engage the under- 25s in constructive criticism, vide my recent articles "Custodial Sentences for Chewing Gum Offenders Now" (Dec '98), "Who is `Robbie' Williams?" (Feb '99), "Whatever Happened to Clean Fingernails?" (May '99) and my ill-conceived stab at irony, "Can Nothing Be Done About Janet Street-Porter?" (June '99). But on giving the matter further thought, I now realise quite what a vibrant and exciting contribution "youth" makes to our society!

These were my thoughts as I was queuing up to meet our exceptionally well-chosen new editor, who just happens to be Miss (Mssss!) Janet Street- Porter, of whom I have written so very carelessly in the past. Knowing her penchant for Things Modern, I had borrowed a pair of "denims" from a very dear young friend and had whirled them around my head in impromptu kaftan style. When the door to her office opened, I began to whistle a recent tune from the very "now" hit-musical Cats - written I hear tell, by the immensely in-the-swing Andy Lloyd Webber. I suppose I hoped it would make up for any misapprehensions she may have come away with following our last meeting, a few months ago.

It was in the BBC Moral Maze studio, when I was a panellist and Msss(!) Street-Porter was an expert witness. I came away with the impression that not only was the lady full of a variety of new and modern ideas, all of them well worth exploring, but also that she was admirably feisty - very much the type of feisty "independent-minded" woman who would leave the dishes for later if there was any chance of prolonging the argument! Though others saw it differently, our sparring session was, to my mind, exceedingly amicable. "ou do look a sight!" I began, putting her at her ease. "What DO you think you look like? Thank goodness the viewers at home can't see you, or the cardiac departments would fill up in no time!" At this point our po-faced chairman, Mr Michael Buerk, interrupted me. "Really, Wallace," he said, "do please try to maintain some last vestige of decency. our question to Ms Street-Porter please!"

"If I understood what you were saying, Miss Porter - and that's no easy job, given that accent of yours!!! - I take it you were arguing the cause of what I believe are termed `all-night raves'. Well, my question is this: why don't you take your cravenly modish opinions with you and CLEAR OFF OUT OF HERE!!??"

A lot of fun - but water under the bridge! I know our new editor is such a consummate professional that she would never let her memory of such jovial badinage affect her editorial judgement towards a senior colleague in any way. But, just to make sure, on that morning after her appointment I entered her office with a file labelled "Very New, Modern and Up-to- the-Minute Ideas" under my arm, and proceeded to regale her with them. "My young friends tell me that corduroy is the new tweed," I said, excitedly, "that James Last is the new Mantovani, that Commander Tim Lawrence is the new Captain Mark Phillips and that cream is the new magnolia!

"As you know, Janet, I've always been one for keeping my nose close to the pulse of the very latest fashion (undread word!) and I'm determined to transform my column into something on the `cutting hedge'.

"This week, I'm looking forward to writing a mould-breaking piece `In Praise of Ghastly Loud Music', and next I'm going to write the first in a swinging new series about my roller-skating trips around the hottest coffee-bars in town. And I really do think it's high time someone wrote a decent piece about the whole Skiffle Thing. One week we could feature Lonnie, the next week Donegan, and so on and so forth."

Frankly the (not-so-little!) lady looked cock-a-hoop, saying nothing and showing me the door so that I could set to work without further ado. I wonder if I may be perhaps a little bit too "with it" for her?