Witty intercourse with the great Gore Vidal

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold

Share
Related Topics
HOW delightful to hear from my old friend and quipping partner Mr Gore Vidal. Mischief-maker and rascal that he is, Gore is also the wittiest and wisest of American ecrivains, and immensely enjoyable company to boot. Needless to say, Gore has not avoided the temptation to reprint his usual untruths about yours truly in his first volume of autobiography, Palimpwrist, published this week.

Yet one must forgive such a fine writer everything. The words "Arnold, Wallace" in the index to the aforesaid volume herald the following entry: "Youthful flirtation with GV, 25; Roars with appreciative laughter at GV's aphorisms, 25-27; secret role in Arms to Iraq, 192; sighting on Grassy Knoll, 242; wholly footling role in the advancement of English letters when measured alongside the towering achievement of GV, 247-252." Let me assure the general reader - and in particular readers of my "Arnold's World of Old-Fashioned British Commonsense in Uniform" column in the Reader's Digest - that not one of Gore's typically wild and flamboyant assertions contains any grounding in fact. Bar one: I have long adored Gore's wicked tongue, my laughter increasing with my knowledge that I am indeed in the presence of a maestro.

To celebrate the launch of Gore's magisterial new tome, a distinguished group of his admirers took him out for an agreeable - if waspish! - luncheon at The Ivy restaurant. The ever-youthful Ned Sherrin was there, along with Sir Roy Strong, the amusing - if a mite leftish! - Mr Christopher Hitchens and that most eminent of anthologists and elder statesman, Mr Kenneth Baker.

We kicked off with oysters, a treat that inevitably prompted a witty - if waspish! - apercu from Ned. "I always say," he chuckled, "that an oyster by any other name is merely - an oyster!!" Needless to say, we all gurgled with pleasure at Ned's effortless bon mot, little realising it would inspire a marvellous tour de force of humour, political insight and honest-to-goodness wisdom from Gore himself.

"Whenever I myself see an oyster, I think of my dear old friend John F Kennedy, that most inveterate and unrepentant of White House womanisers," Gore began with a wry smile, "for whenever I ate oysters with Jack, I would be reminded of how he had risen to power upon my back, in a manner of speaking, and of how he pilfered all his best ideas from his younger and, may I say, rather better-looking Cousin Gore." As Gore smartly wiped the corners of his ever-youthful mouth with the personalised napkin he carries with him everywhere, we prepared for some vintage - if waspish! - Vidalisms.

"For as my dear friend Princess Margaret once remarked to me in a moment of unusual candour: 'Gore, you are positively the cleverest, funniest and best-read man I have ever been lucky enough to meet!' And do you know what I replied? I believe it is in all the standard books of my quotations, but it remains - as dear Jackie O used to say whenever I opened my mouth - always worth repeating. I replied, 'you are astonishingly youthful, ma'am - and most gracious and amusing with it!' "

Bullseye! Gore has a great stock of such gems, all rich in political invective. "This lamb reminds me" he began as our main course arrived, "of the doleful occasion upon which I was forced to remind the - ahem! - Acting President Ronald Reagan that the Pentagon was run by a small cabal of Japanese car-dealers, acting on direct instructions from our old friend, Mr Saddam Hussein, the President of what used to be known as Persia."

While Hitchens busily scribbled down these shimmering insights into our life and times and Ken Baker noted them for his forthcoming Faber Book of Political Satire ("I am happy to say I have included 10 pages of satire against myself by some of the leading lights of the satire movement - one is always so grateful to be mentioned at all," Ken enthused with a delighted grin), Gore continued to charm, bedazzle and amuse us all.

"This creme brulee reminds me," he said, "of my put-down to Norman Mailer in November, 1966. He offered to punch me, and I replied: 'If you follow through your threat, I will tell my good friend Princess Margaret who, I can assure you, Norman, will be most displeased!' "

Delicious! This Sunday morn, pray raise your champagne flutes to the inimitable - if waspish! - Mr Gore Vidal, scourge of the wealthy and famous, and friend of illustrious people, among them Princess Margaret.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Syrian refugee 'Nora' with her two month-old daughter. She was one of the first Syrians to come to the UK when the Government agreed to resettle 100 people from the country  

Open letter to David Cameron on Syrian refugees: 'Several hundred people' isn't good enough

Independent Voices
Amjad Bashir said Ukip had become a 'party of ruthless self-interest'  

Could Ukip turncoat Amjad Bashir be the Churchill of his day?

Matthew Norman
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us