THE AGREEABLE WORLD OF WALLACE ARNOLD: Patriot's delight: champagne, cats and county cricket

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The Independent Online
he proverbial letters have been flooding in. A fortnight ago, I launched my new cut-out-and-keep series, "Arnold's England: A Celebration", and it has proved wildly popular beyond all expectation. I received two letters on the Monday after publication, and another later in the week. Though they none of them specifically mentioned the new series - tax offices so rarely do - something about them told me that I was on to a winner.

As the series progresses, I hope to be asking all the big questions. What is it about England that makes it so English? Is it perchance connected with England's very Englishness? Or is there something indefinably English about the quest for a definition of what makes England English? Can one separate England from the English? And who are the English, anyway?

Fascinating stuff. This week, we tackle the letter "C". Here goes!

CATS. The English have a peculiar fondness for cats. The estimable Dr Roy Strong has a team of four, all with the most delightful names: The Reverend Wenceslas Muff, Professor Lancelot Whiskers, Archbishop Pompous Twat, and Prebendary Marmaduke Fuckface. The late historian Dr A L Rowse was also a keen cat-fancier, and many experts now believe that some of his later works were not in fact written by him but are the work of three- legged tabby called Jemima.

CHAMPAGNE. The English love their bubbly. The island race puts away 16 million bottles of the stuff every year. From Ascot to Henley, the English summer explodes to the sound of popping corks. And the future looks rosy for champers. For this summer's wedding of HRH Prince Edward and his English Rose Sophie, the public has already upped its order to a further three bottles, and the Royal Family is itself splashing out on a case (on a sale or return basis).

CHEESE. Nothing beats a healthy slab of good old English cheese. A nice bit of Cheddar or a chunky slice of Wensleydale? The choice is yours. Generations of English householders have also discovered good old English cheese can come in exceedingly handy around the house - grouting the pantry tiles with a good slab of Wensleydale is a uniquely English pastime - as well lend the place a lovely lived-in aroma. Many people imagine that Camembert is a traditional English cheese. But they are wrong: its origins are French.

COTTAGE, THE COUNTRY. What was it that Wordsworth said about the old English country cottage? I forget, but one may rest assured that, if the old scrivener said anything at all, it was indubitably pertinent. The Bard of Avon lived in a cottage, and so too does Delia Smith, though she has added an attractive, "in keeping" sun-lounge with wickerwork furniture, suitable for those spring evenings when the weather makes it a little too chilly to sit out. Leading Outward Bound courses, the Duke of Edinburgh has been known to reach up good naturedly for a handful of thatch while passing a cottage to use as a lighter for his mobile barbecue.

CLASS. These days the English obsession with class is confined to the lower-middle classes. The true English gentleman is able to speak to a duke or dustman; though preferably not both at the same time, or things could become extremely embarrassing.

CLUBS. The Gentleman's Club is the outstanding English contribution to civilisation. Within the portals of the Garrick Club, venerable thespians, such as Widow Twanky and Squire Hardup, rub shoulders with distinguished ecrivistes such as the late Kingsley Amis - still seated in his favourite seat in the corner - and my own good self. The Gentleman's Club is also an excellent place to hold forth (see also Forth, Holding). In White's, the members still devote the evening of every third Tuesday in the month to a discussion of the disgraceful behaviour of the miners under the wretched Mr Gormley, whilst in Boodle's they regularly place bets on the likely outcome of the 1963 general election.

CRICKET. Oh sacred game! There are few pastimes your full-blooded Englishman enjoys more than spending an afternoon at Lord's, bantering with his peers over a couple of pints of best bitter, a ploughman's lunch, a punnet of Cornish ice cream, a plate or two of strawbugs and cream, four packets of cheese and onion, a banana float with thick choccy sauce, a Scotch egg, a pork pie and a bottle or two of halfway-decent claret. Once in a while, someone may score a run, but no true Englishman would ever allow this to distract him from the task in hand.