The Agreeable World Of Wallace Arnold: Today's disasters go down best with the full English

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The Independent Online
What, one oft wonders, are the greatest pleasures in life? A ripe and runny brie, the sound of Mr Val Doonican softly ambling his way through a medley of well-loved tunes, a clean six from good old Fred Trueman, the gentle trickle of well-decanted port meandering its way down one's chins, a pheasant plummeting to the ground, his blood-splattered plumage flickering gracefully in the clear spring light ... ah, but I could go on like this for ever! I was reviewing life's little pleasures with an intimate circle of close friends in the snug bar of the Garrick. My fellow scrivener and old quaffing-partner Mr Godfrey Smith had, as I remember, brought up the subject. "Might I perchance ask you assembled gentlefolk whence cometh your keenest pleasures," he intoned, nursing a Dry Sack between his knees.

The responses were both plentiful and immediate. "A sunny day at Lord's watching England triumph over the West Indies with a packed lunch of Scotch Egg, Pork Luncheon Meat, Leg of Chicken (cornfed for preference!), four good old English bangers, lashings of freshly-boiled potatoes swathed in melted butter, a portly lobster, a couple of bottles of halfway-decent claret and half-a-dozen slices of bread-and-dripping for backup with strawbugs and cream for afters!" suggested Roy Hattersley, and we all applauded his unabashed love of the sport.

Roy Strong, bless him, confided that nothing gave him half so much pleasure as the old-fashioned art of topiary. "But," he told us with a mournful tweak of his moustaches, "even the greatest pleasures have their drawbacks." Anticipating the arrival of HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, he had, he said, recently cut an entire hedge into a life-size statue of her, complete with tiara. Alas, the Queen Mum had been forced to make a last- minute cancellation, and in a fit of pique Roy had reached for his garden scissors, stormed into the garden and, with a few well-placed stabs, transformed Her Majesty into her old enemy, the late Duchess of Windsor. In something of a frenzy, he had then taken a dozen Polaroid photographs of the finished product, and posted them anonymously, in a plain brown envelope, to Clarence House.

He had, he said, thought no more about it, but later that week a crack- squad from the SAS had parachuted on to his lawn clad from head to toe in Balaclavas. Bringing out their pinking-shears, they had then lopped off the head of the Duchess of Windsor, replacing it with that of the late King George V1, before leaving in a flurry of anonymity. Poor Roy is now left with the head of King George V1 attached to the waist of the Queen Mother. "Frankly, I've got a mind to turn the two of them into someone else entirely," he huffed, adding ruefully, "though I've only got enough hedge left for little Arthur Askey, and even then he'd have to be kneeling."

But I digress. The rest of the company then chipped in with their own particular pleasures, some warmly predictable (a hot-water-bottle for Norman St John of Fawsley, a spitoon for Sir Peter Ustinov), others less so (an early King Crimson LP for Paul Johnson). A pause, and then: "But what of you, Wallace?" asked Godfrey, nibbling on the tropical fish he had just picked out of the blue-tinted bowl in the halfway. "Pray, what is your own pleasure?"

My intimate circle leant forward, ears agog. "There is one pleasure without which I could not do," I announced, "and that is the Today programme on the Home Service."

While the others muttered their approval, I talked them through my reasons. "I always sit down to my full English just in time for the seven o'clock news. I then purr with pleasure while I listen to the very latest on all the tragedies and upsets that have occurred during the course of the night. What could be more civilised?

"I think I shall never forget hearing of that earthquake in India a few years back. I had just poured myself a second cup of coffee - a little milk, no sugar! - when the news came through. Thousands dead, millions lose their homes, etcetera, etcetera. I stabbed my lightly-grilled tomato and popped it into my mouth. Delicious!

"The next item - a little on the dull side! - concerned a coachload of Britons (dread word!) killed in a road-crash somewhere in Turkey. No one I knew, but that couldn't be helped. And finally, just as I had polished off my third chipolata, there was an item about riots over something-or- other somewhere out East. Not, you might think, the most scintillating of editions, but that particular programme has stayed with me for many years, primarily because of the excellence of the repast. Funny how it's the little things that mean so much, wouldn't you agree?"