20 AUGUST 1988, Page 51


Leaves from the commonplace book of Wallace Arnold

AFTER a most agreeable dinner, with the ladies safely upstairs 'powdering their noses', the talk turned to the subject of charm. 'Wallace,' drawled my host, a twinkle in his eye, 'being so very charming yourself, you of all people are just the man to define for us the meaning of charm.' A percipient man, he had rightly divined that I would be on home territory. Never- theless, I wished to reflect for a couple of minutes. As my host and fellow guests (bar the fairer sex!) awaited my response on tenterhooks, I swirled the brandy in my glass, jangled the loose change in my pocket and strummed out a meditative tune on the fine old oak table.

`Charm', I began, 'is like the sun rising over the cobbled streets of Venice indefinable yet curiously tantalising.' They leant forward in their seats, anxious to hear more. 'Charm is an alluring mixture of ease and grace. It is generosity, wit and sheer commonsense, all rolled into one. It is the plump red tomato bobbing on the azure sea. In three short words, charm for me is . . . is . . . is — Mr John Mortimer!' 'Why — there we have it!' my host congratulated me.

The military gentleman opposite me rose to propose a toast. `To charm and John Mortimer!'

We raised our glasses with gusto: `To charm and John Mortimer!'