The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold: We couldn't let the real Queen Mum into The Garrick

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The Independent Online
I AM not against women per se. Far from it. Am I not the editor of the affectionately humorous The UNfairer Sex: The Punch Book of Women (Robson Books, pounds 12.95)? These delightful creatures lend an undeniable colour to a room, and often display talent in areas - flower-arrangement, tapestry, lacrosse, cooking, chit-chat (!) - in which the male of the species remains sadly deficient.

Margaret Thatcher was a woman; so too is the doughty Lady Olga. I have a great deal of respect for the forthright views of Miss Linda Lee-Potter, and no time spent with Mrs Bottomley is ever wasted, even if one does begin to flag after the first quarter of an hour. Each time I have been entertained to dinner by HM The Queen Mother, I have been amazed by her stamina and her dignity, particularly when last we played a full two hours of that redoubtable after-dinner game "Twister" with Kenneth Rose, Lord St John of Fawsley and The Duchess of Devonshire.

So I think with this lengthy list I have firmly established my credentials as something of a feminist, especially in essential areas such as the laundry-room and the typing-pool, where, I believe, no man has ever shown quite the same diligence or expertise as his female counterpart. And yet... and yet... I find the news that the young tearaway Mr William Hague is backing plans to let birds of the unfeathered variety (!) through the sacred portals of the Carlton Club almost impossibly hard to stomach.

An illustration. Nigh on 15 years ago, I found myself sitting in the Garrick, enjoying a pleasant dinner for two - eating alone, but peckish. Imagine my horror when, looking up from my Boeuf en Croute, I found myself staring at three extravagantly dressed women and a saggy horse, all traipsing any-old-how through the hallway. I immediately took the trouble to call the Head Porter and demand an explanation. He informed me that all was well: the three women were in fact Sir Terry Worsthorne, the late Sir Kingsley Amis and my old friend and quaffing partner Godfrey Smith popping in during the interval of the Garrick Club Annual Christmas Panto- mime, dressed as Mother Goose, Widow Twanky and An Ugly Sister.

"But hold!" I said, "What of the horse?"

It emerged that the horse in question was none other than the estimable Lord Deedes (front) and the Hon Nicholas Soames (back) and that the sagginess was due to the extra Fortnum's hamper Soames had stowed away within the costume "to keep the wolf from the door".

All well and good, but in future how on earth were we to know when a woman walked through the door whether or not she was a man? I think I am betraying no secret when I confirm that the Garrick contains quite a number of members - among them top judges and high-ranking civil servants - who, for one reason or another, enjoy dressing up every second Thursday as HM The Queen Mother. It would be an act of the grossest impertinence to perform a strip-search on them. Yet what if the REAL Queen Mother sought to elbow her way into the Club in the guise of one of her multifarious impersonators, and thereafter sat in the upstairs bar, hogging all the Avocaat and twittering away to anyone who was passing?

At the next meeting of the Central Committee, I put it to our Chairman, Lord Parkinson, that to avoid any such mishaps in future, random sex-tests on all visitors should be carried out on the door by trained professionals. This would have the twin benefit not only of allowing our female impersonators to feel at home, but of successfully weeding out any male impersonators: only recently I had spotted up to five Roy Strongs within the club at any one time, one in the smoking room, one in the upstairs bar, one in the phone booth and two sharing an omelette in the Members Dining-Room.

These tests, I am happy to say, are now standard procedure in all the main London clubs. Only last week, a woman was trapped by sex-test officials trying to enter the Travellers Club disguised as Mr Andrew Neil. It was her voice that gave her away: it was much lower than Mr Neil's, with none of the same slightly effete timbre to it.

But now Hague with his dreadful "reforming" (dread word!) zeal wishes to pull the whole apparatus of club society down around our legs by forcing in women! If this measure goes through, the very nature of The Carlton Club will be altered: no ribaldry, no setting the world to rights, no cigars, no bonhomie and precious little mutual masturbation. Instead, there will be napkin-folding classes, trauma counselling, Tupperware parties, poetry readings, cake-making competitions, endless laddered tights and 49 varieties of incessant giggling. On your own head be it, Mr Hague: on your own head be it.

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