The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold: Season's bleatings

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The Independent Online
THROW another log on the fire, for Christmas dawns] The festive season brings out the poet in us all, as my collection of Christmas verse, Of Mistletoe, Music and Merriment (now available on audio- cassette) bears testament.

I am a tremendous Christmas person myself, entertaining house parties for hour upon hour with my seasonal anecdotes, often accompanied by light-hearted renditions on the piano. 'Have I ever told you,' I begin, 'of the time when my old friend and quaffing partner, Kingsley Amis, toddling about in a department store after a by no means disagreeable lunch, was mistaken for Santa Claus by a passing child? Needless to say, the poor kiddy ended up in intensive care, but not before the most amusing chain of events had unravelled . . . ' and with that I launch into a mirthful trip down Memory Lane, with sprightly interludes on the pianoforte. Result: a magical evening.

But those of us who have been brave enough to dip our proverbial toes in the treacherous waters of commerce know that many consumers look for anything but jollity come Christmas. Instead, they loiter in the bookshops with hangdog expressions, searching for Potholing in Paraguay or some such gibberish. So those of us in the books game know to publish misery galore whensoe'er the month of December beckons.

To the point, Wallace] It is widely known that I am the co- owner and executive director of Granta, the literary magazine targeted primarily at the moody 26- year-old of a sullen disposition with time on his (or her]) hands. As I have written before, the little chap who does the day-to-day editing, an unabashed American ('Bill') of the heavily bearded variety, is always trying to swing the magazine towards a more 'happy-go-lucky' outlook. 'Say, Wally]' he booms at me, 'Why don't we go to town this Christmas and let it all Hang Out with a real rip-roaring Fun issue?'

Struggling to conceal my shudders, I tell him, and not for the first time, that our marketing johnnies would be up in arms. 'Every morning for the past five years,' I explain, 'Our salesmen have chanted 'Get Gloomy - Get Granta, Get Granta - Get Gloomy' before setting out to work, and with amazing results. Do you want to undo all their hard work? Do you? DO YOU?'

'B-b-b-but Wally]' replies the aforesaid editor, 'We could spread so much happiness] Just take a look at this.' He passes me a dummy contents page:

Godfrey Smith: In Search Of The Great British Plum Pud

John Mortimer: Rumpole And The Case Of The Festive Turkey

Keith Waterhouse: Bread and Dripping - Nowt Tastier]

Ned Sherrin: Master Of Mirth: Favourite Coward Anecdotes

Tim Rice: Father Christmas Superstar] (lyric)

Melvyn Bragg: It's A Funny Old World (short story)

Peter Mayle: Noel? Noel Who?] Yuletide En Provence

Lynda Lee Potter: Season of Joy, Season Ahoy (poem)

Barry Appleby: Gaye Gambol Hits The January Sales (cartoon).

Now, a great many of these sterling contributors are very warm friends of mine, but nevertheless I had to put my foot down. 'I'm sorry, William, but our readers simply won't stand for it,' I explained. 'They're expecting our regular contributors, all shedding their regular light on the current Christmas scene.' I then took pleasure in handing him this revised contents page:

Hanif Kureishi: With A Mince Pie Up My Arse

Martin Amis: Soiled Condom In The Cracker (short story)

Raymond Carver: No Presents, No Wine, No Friends, No Nothing

Craig Raine: My Penis Slightly Resembles A Christmas Tree If You Look At It From A Funny Angle (poem)

Salman Rushdie: Mrs Torture's 14th Year In Number 10

Tony Harrison: Holly Bloody Hurts When Swallowed (poem)

Ian McEwan: Santa's Severed Eyeball (short story).

Poor old William looked aghast. 'Gee whiz, Wally,' he moaned, 'this ain't no fun.'

'Fun? Of course this isn't fun,' I said. 'This is business]'