You won't catch this scout with his shorts down

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
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The Independent Online
I SEE THE nincompoop Carey has been up to his old tricks again, only to be followed, hard on his heels, by the Chief Scout, both of them well- practised in the art of silly buggers. The pair of them, it seems to me, believe wholeheartedly in sticking their grubby little fingers into other people's business, Carey sanctioning "shacking up together", the Chief Scout wishing to change the Scout Promise to eliminate the notion of loyalty to the Crown.

As a devout Anglican (godfather, indeed, to Mr Jonathan Aitken) and a keen Scout (I always wear my shorts and Backwoodsman badge to the Cenotaph) I feel I have earned my right to speak out. Who will rid me of these meddling dolts?

Deep breath, Wallace, deep breath. Keep calm. Apologies for blowing off in this way. But the news that the Church of England is giving the green light to "shacking up" between man (let us call him Jeremy) and woman (henceforth to be known as Jemima) has come as a tremendous blow to all right-minded Christians everywhere. Not content with sanctioning church services performed to the jungle rhythms of castanets and kumbaya (dread word!) and the gospels translated into "accessible" (ie Hard Left) language, vicars with beards and sandals, the gormless Carey is now suggesting that Jeremy and Jemima should be free to indulge in all types of "snogging", "heavy petting" and worse, without bothering to marry, and presumably without so much as drawing the curtains or putting the cat out.

The Arnolds have always been churchgoers. Our preference is firmly for the traditional form of worship. In my acclaimed childhood autobiography, Arnold In Shorts (John Murray, 1965), I famously recall our family visits to the local church, and it pleases me to offer you this short extract to jog your memories:

"In 1933, a new Vicar was to arrive. Father was greatly displeased with what he regarded as the man's unhealthy interest in the Beatitudes. `Blessed are the Poor,' intoned the cleric, `for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.' Father went puce. `That just about takes the biscuit,' he bellowed, and stormed out, taking us all with him. It was a full three months before he located a Church with a Vicar of suitably traditional outlook, a Vicar who was prepared to acknowledge that a Heaven filled with begging-bowls and Benefit Forms and packets of Ready Salted Crisps would hardly be a Heaven at all. The Church in question was The Church of Christ the Comfortably Off, just around the corner from our house in Belgravia.

"The services were short, but to the point. First, a traditional hymn was played at half its normal pace on the church organ while the congregation devoutly mimed the words. Then the Vicar would say a few brief words on a topic close to his heart - one week it might be his horror at the way in which Northern accents were creeping like bindweed into BBC broadcasts, the next week, his sorrow that a verger with an ever-ready smile and his tambourine had been run over outside a neighbouring church sustaining comparatively little injury.

"At this point, a collection would be taken on behalf of one of the major personal pension plans, with anything left over to be saved for the poor of the Parish to buy a second-hand coach to bus them elsewhere.

"Communion would be centred around wine-tasting - a light Pouilly Fume, perhaps, or, come Christmas-time, a decent second-growth Claret - and finally the service would be rounded off with a rousing chorus of `Praise to the Lord', in deference to those seven members of our congregation who were proud to call themselves Members of the Upper Chamber. All in all, the Church of Christ the Comfortably Off helped the Arnold family abide by the lofty demands of its family motto, encrusted on shields o'er 17 generations: `Charity Begins At Home'."

An immortal passage of childhood reminiscence, and one that will offer solace to readers of this newspaper who find themselves gravely troubled by the sad rumbles of the past week. If living in sin is no longer sinful, then what on earth is? Let those of us who believe Jeremy and Jemima (or - Heaven forfend - Jeremy and Jeremy!) should desist from their gropings stand up and be counted. On the other hand, if the couple in question are called Charles and Camilla, then it is no business of ours what they get up to, and the Chief Scout should button his lip, woggle or no woggle.

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