Sayle, Alexe, The Independent (London, England)
You probably noticed that, once again, I didn't get anything in the New Year's Honours List. You may well think that's because I wasn't asked, but you'd be wrong there - Buckingham Palace will never admit it, but they offered and I turned them down flat.
Of course, it didn't happen as simply as the Queen dropping me a line inside a Gary Larson card "Lex, fancy a gong? - Liz". They never ask you outright because no citizen is ever allowed to turn the Queen down. Instead, the offer is made through an escalating series of nods and winks, vague questions left hanging in the air which, if you answer in the affirmative, end up with you getting some decoration or other.
So it happened that I went into my local sandwich bar just before Christmas and there was a very posh man behind the counter whom I hadn't seen before and I said, "I'd like a chicken salad sandwich, please." And he said, "Very well, sir." Then, in a very significant voice, he inquired, "Would you like mayonnaise on that?"
Now he knew, and I knew, that he wasn't really asking me if I'd like mayonnaise on my chicken salad sandwich. What he was really saying was, "Would you like to be made a Knight Commander of the British Empire?" Quick as a flash I said most definitely, "No, mate, I decidedly don't want any mayonnaise," although in fact I would have liked some mayonnaise. So I didn't become a member of the Establishment and my lunch-time sandwich was a bit dry.
Of course, I wouldn't accept any sort of honour: first, because I think that all this ennobling simply perpetuates the divisive class system we have in this country, but also because, frankly, gongs aren't worth what they once were worth. Even 50 years ago medals, honours and decorations were only awarded for the most conspicuous acts of bravery, charity or civic responsibility.
During the First World War, for example, for a soldier to win the Victoria Cross he had to do something really amazing, such as storm and wipe out a German machine-gun nest armed only with a small tomato. But the last VC - awarded to Corporal Irving Walsh of the Blues and Royals - was given because, as the company record states, "on 25 January 1994 while serving with the Unprofor forces near Mostar in Bosnia, Corporal Walsh did . …