Very nearly the hero of the Fur Order

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The Independent Online
ALAN CLARK'S problem, according to his Diaries, is that he cannot even urinate when someone else comes into the gents, which, he seems to remember, 'is such a bad sign that, if admitted, could get you a discharge from the Army as being a moral danger to your brothers in arms'.

He doesn't in the least mind, he tells us, letting girls see his penis. But men are a problem. 'I suppose it is because I fear - for quite extraneous physical reasons - becoming lightly, or indeed heavily, tumescent and attracting the attention of other men, either whose curiosity or disapproval being equally unwelcome.'

And he wonders whether perhaps this has something to do with Eton.

Actually, I'd have thought that a problem such as this, to the extent that it is a problem (given Mr Clark's perfectly conventional sexual priorities: he likes girls under 25, with bosoms), might go back a little earlier than Eton. He can happily, as it were, show his willy to Mother. It is in the presence of Father that he is liable to fall prey to confusing emotions, light or heavy tumescence, fear of curiosity and disapproval.

And this fear of going naked into the presence of papa seems particularly apposite when papa is Kenneth Clark, author of The Nude, a book through which many a schoolchild has flicked with just those confusing sensations of light and heavy tumescence. One might venture to suggest, what's more, that Alan's vaunted sex mania (although this book, full of sexual talk, is short on the deed itself) was inherited from Kenneth, who was similarly afflicted.

The book that Alan Clark has written resembles an idealised penis in this sense, that it is something he can show around to men and women alike. This is me, naked. And it resembles an unidealised penis in the sense that it oscillates between cocksure and panic-stricken.

The Alan who runs scared is the one who fears catching Aids from bed linen, or a Californian salad. He is terrified of getting out of shape, of falling prey to old age: 'Men are OK from 30 to 45; if they're careful they can stay the same. After that it's an increasing struggle because of jowl and neck lines, even if the waist can be restrained. And the bruising of repeated sexual rejection starts to show in the eyes.'

He very much regrets his lost youth: 'How I pine for that long, long youth that I enjoyed] To leap and stride - with every new encounter a joy of possibility. The 'sluice of hearing and seeing' that endured for so long.'

From time to time we see the cocksure Alan, striding into the mountains, outpacing some fellow walker, a resolute man equal to any risk. The 'sluice of hearing and seeing' (a phrase sourced to MacNeice) becomes deafening, awesome. Then we return with a bump to Mr Pooter: 'I must - when will I - write my great work, Tories and the Nation State 1922-74. Perhaps it is for this that I will be remembered? If I am spared.'

Oh, no no no, one wants to cry - if you are spared, Alan, spare us the Tories and the Nation State 1922-74. Seek fame instead as the man who could have written such a work but who decided, heroically, not to inflict it on the poor old general public. Seek fame, indeed, as the author of the heroic, abortive Fur Order. Why not?

For the Fur Order is the nearest thing Alan Clark has to a political achievement, as the Diaries make plain. He loves furry things. He loves foxes, for instance, and won't have them hunted on his land. He makes himself late for work by setting a badger free. Admittedly, he also shoots a heron that has been helping itself to the fish in the moat, but he redeems himself by at once bursting into tears and coming 'near a nervous breakdown'. He says that 'if it had been a burglar or a vandal (he) wouldn't have given a toss. It's human beings that are vermin.'

This contempt for unfurry old humanity goes with a hankering after pagan morality. Among the Masurian Lakes, Mr Clark feels that 'We are very far north here, deep in the Runic Lands. A long long way from the Judaeo-Christian ethic . . . Today we are driving to the Wolfschanze (Hitler's HQ at Rastenburg). Stauffenburg's bomb exploded 44 years ago, just after two o'clock. I hope we might get there in time. No one will know what is going through my mind - except possibly Glyn. And he will know only half.'

Pretty runic stuff, eh? Pretty furry and Ur- Teutonic, you might say. Which brings us back to the Fur Order, a measure intended to force fur traders to label garments made of the skins of animals caught in leg-hold traps. The proposal fell foul of the Canadians and, according to Mr Clark, of the 'Finchley Furriers', and Margaret Thatcher began to worry about it. So she asked her most loyal minister: 'Why not the labelling of battery hens, of veal who never see daylight - what about foxes? Do you hunt?'

'Certainly not. Nor do I allow it on my land. And as for veal, I'm a vegetarian.'

'What about your shoes?' asks Mrs T, sharp as a razor, in my opinion.

Mr Clark ignores the question once. The second time he says, 'I don't think you would want your ministers to wear plastic shoes.'

Far gone in indignation, Mrs T shoots back some observation about the feet breathing better in leather. Then: 'It's not you, Alan, it's so unlike you to respond to pressure.'

She hasn't understood the point, you see, that this is the moral centre of Mr Clark's being: furry creatures of the Runic North should be allowed to roam free.

Wildly, Mrs T conjures up an image of a house surrounded by wolves. 'How would you like that?'

'I'd love it,' responds Clark. Wolf is, after all, his pet name, as it was the Bayreuth Circle's, for Hitler. A house surrounded by wolves would be a kind of Wolfschanze.

Mrs T says that it is all very well for the suburban bourgeoisie to inflict such legislation, but what about the noble savage (or words to this effect)? And Mr Clark makes what he afterwards recognises to be a serious mistake. He says that the Fur Order would be a first step.

Mrs Thatcher repeats the phrase several times, under her breath: 'The first step? The first step?'

'In enlarging man's sense of responsibility towards the animal kingdom.'

He has let the furry animal out of the bag, and within minutes the Fur Order is a thing of the past.

'I hate quarrelling with you, Alan,' says Mrs T.

'I wouldn't do it for anyone else,' he snarls back. He has let Mrs T see the thing he values most in the world. And what does she do? She bites it off.

'Diaries', by Alan Clark, Weidenfeld, pounds 20.