Back page: Captain Moonlight

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HI! GOOD WEEK? Fine. Now, then: I've got all these media stories. What shall I do? Scatter them around the column a bit, or get them out of the way in one go? Right, right. Actually, a lot of people rather like media stories, you know. No, I'm not hurt. It's just that the scatter approach might have looked more impressive, more, you know, in touch. But never mind. First, come with me to the nerve centre of world events that is BBC News, White City. A distinguished man, silver hair, craggy face bearing the rich and commanding lines of experience, is not happy. He laments, at length, his lot, the world, and what it's all coming to. Eventually, he comes to an end, blaming his young companion for "getting me started''. "But John," protests the youth, "All I did was say 'How are you?'" Good old Humphrys! And next, news of another old boy, Lord Bragg. And reports reach me that there might be a certain amount of denial going on, following his removal from Start The Week and replacement by Jeremy Paxman on the grounds that his impartial chairmanship had been compromised by the Labour peerage. His new series starts on Thursday, and if you ask him what it's called, he says, "Continuing the Week''. It's really called In Our Time With Melvyn Bragg, and the first show stars ... Richard Dawkins. All change there, then. I think I prefer Melvyn's title. And, finally, a lot of people affect to find senior television executives risible, don't they? Pretty knee-jerk stuff. No more self-regarding than you or I. Doing a a difficult job with precious little thanks. So why does everyone I tell think it so funny that, according to further reports, Sir Christopher Bland, BBC chairman, has invited lots of senior colleagues, corporation and independent, down to his house in south-west France to tread his grapes this weekend? Search me. Squelch!

THIS IS, I think you will find, a column that neither shirks controversy nor courts fashion. "Hard-hitting'' is a description that you don't come across so much these days, but it describes pretty well what is on offer here. And today I want to tell you that, for this Captain, technology is a pretty good thing. No easy sneering from me about bad haircuts and rows of pens and anoraks; I reckon Bill Doors is worth every last cent of his considerable fortune. So, if, as happened last week, someone brings me a story purporting to prove that you are as well off phoning the Psychic Friends Network as Microsoft Technical Support (neither do anything, but the Psychics are friendlier) I tend to be pretty unimpressed, I can tell you. Even if I do have a duty to pass it on. Snipe away: Doors and Moonlight are the future. And now you can talk to me on the Mesh. It's easy: moonlight@independent.co.uk. But do remember to start your messages thus: ''Calling Captain Moonlight, Calling Captain Moonlight...''; and to end them: "Roger And Out''. Thank you.

BBRRNNGG!!! The telephone, and on it, my top legal contact, Quentin Refresher, QC. "Captain!'' he says. "Yes?' I say. "That will be 50 guineas! No, don't panic, just my little joke.'' I laugh, lightly. "Seriously, though, Captain," continues Quentin, ''There has been an absolutely appalling incident at the High Court. You know the dancer chappie, Flatley, Duke of the Dance, or whatever?'' I allow I am aware that the highly talented Irish American interpreter of the jig and reel is currently just off the Strand being sued by his former manager for breach of contract. "Well, he only offered to have it out with the little manager fellow in the corridor, mano a mano!'' Indeed, I say, recalling that the diminutive superstar has been a champion boxer in his time, after all. And then I try a small quip of my own: "So I suppose you could say, Quentin, that he wanted to settle it out of court!" But Quentin is not tickled: "This is no laughing matter, Captain! Suppose everyone decided to do it? Then there would we be?" I replace the receiver, suddenly haunted by images of echoing, boarded- up houses in Barnes and Holland Park, Provence and Tuscany, rusting Saabs, stricken sommeliers, sad tailors, silver tongues for ever stilled from uttering the old, golden phrases ... "Now, turning to Page 66 paragraph four in the blue bundle". A terrible, terrible prospect, indeed.

NATURE NOTES With Captain Moonlight. Not much movement, I'm glad to say, on the disturbing story I brought you last week, the one in which I noted the steady increase in the numbers of crows in south London and warned the owners of small pets to be very, very careful. A country dweller and dogged reader, Mr Wright of Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria, has written to tell me, in the slightly superior country fashion, that they're more likely to be rooks, although I'm not sure what difference that makes if you're a small pet. I have also discovered that crows have been taught to talk, and can count up to three or four, so I am currently working on getting them to go up to the Chinese takeaway. Elsewhere, I'm sorry to have to tell a Mary R, from Balham, that tadpoles can take as long as three years to turn into frogs; and that you almost certainly contributed to its death after a year by conveying your lack of confidence in its ability to do the business. I'm told a kiss can work can wonders. Now, two sets of congratulations: to the Rev Alison Christian, of St Andrew's, Sudbury, for including stick insects in her pet blessing service last week; and to the green iguanas of the Caribbean, who, Dr Ellen Censky of the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History reports, are spreading the species about by surfing long distances between islands on anything available. My picture shows a particularly well-equipped green iguana. More from the Captain's Wonderful Wide World very soon!

FASHIONABLE, these days, to knock the Tories, isn't it? But if, like me, you are thorough, and you probe, and you sift, and you dig, then you discover things. Last week, for example, someone called Peter Ainsworth, the "culture spokesman'' proposed that the party should ban the word "luvvie'', declaring that its use was an insult to the entire creative community. Well said! How true! And, in my experience, it particularly traduces our theatrical folk, who far from being precious, excitable and emotional, are actually level-headed, down-to-earth people who just get on with it and work bloody hard; a bloody sight harder than most people in our inky business, let me tell you! Case in point: last week's relaunch of the Old Vic with a bit of a bash down there. Present: oh, Kevin Spacey (a new director of the Old Vic Trust), Janet Suzman, Timothy and Prunella, Patty Routledge, Peter O'T, Peter M (Trade and, nb, Industry) people like that, and Gerry Robinson. And what happened: Peter O'T only got up on stage and mentioned, by name - Macbeth! Well, as even I know, that is the unluckiest thing you can do in the theatre, apart from signing up to appear with Stephen Fry. But did Timothy flinch, Prunella blanch, Janet gibber? They did not. It made me proud. (Although, of course, there were a few who panicked, as I show in my picture, below left). Peter claimed it was only unlucky if you were appearing in a production, and he should know. Marvellous. Good luck, Old Vic. And let's hope nobody breaks anything!

BBRRNNGG! The telephone, and on it, the sound of gulls, crashing waves and heavy breathing. Clearly a call from Bournemouth: but is it a time share salesman, my political correspondent, Ms Una Tributable, or Sir Edward Heath? It is Ms Tributable. "Captain," she shouts, ''I have succeeded in infiltrating a closed and closely guarded meeting of Scottish and Welsh prospective candidates!'' Eagerly, I demand to know the calibre of those the young leader intends to send over the top next time into those lands where the party lacks a single parliamentary representative; I think I might most safely paraphrase Mr Tributable's colourful summation as "unimpressive". I congratulate her on her scoop. "Yes, but there's a downside, Captain," she says. "Apparently I'm now standing in Dunfermline East against Gordon Brown." Hmmm. These closed meetings at party conferences are all the rage, aren't they? Bad news for New Labour next year, though: my old chum Bob Marshall-Andrews, playful member for Medway, leader of the internal opposition (satirical wing), is going to give daily public briefings on them. Ooooh!

RIGHT, WHAT else, what else? Oh, yes, of course, the Moonlight Miscellany, my acclaimed, "wry" look at current happenings. And my first item this week will be of particular interest to fans of Vince Hill. Yes, I was lucky enough to come across an interview with the legendary interpreter of "Edelweiss" in a magazine I found in my bedroom at the Holiday Inn, Reading (no, better not to ask). Anyway, Vince has got a lovely home near Henley, a new barbecue, and is now recording on the Tabasco label. It's a long interview, though, so write in and I'll send it to you ... And next, the Sussex Express is wondering, somewhat recklessly in my view, whether the bus shelter on the road from Newhaven to Lewes, just where it turns off to Kingston, is the least used in Britain. Perhaps you know better. I have a picture, too, which I could show you next week if you like ... Staying with transport, I saw this truck last week from Grantham owned by the Kestrel company announcing on its side a 24-hour-a-day "chilled/frozen courier service''. So I put my thumb up at the man inside, who wasn't wearing a scarf, and he waved back quite happily ... Staying with Grantham, did you know Denis calls the Baroness "Thatcher'', as in "Come on, Thatcher''? Well, I didn't ... International section: Police in Bangkok have been banned from playing golf on duty ... And, in Bologna, Magdalena Platini, upset that her son Guiseppe hadn't said goodbye before he went for his driving test, drove after him, pulled up alongside him and shouted "Good luck, my sweet boy". Guiseppe, startled, lost control and drove into a brick wall, breaking his leg ... And, of course, of course, you'll want to know what happened at the Cambridge Union when Keith "Cheggers" Chegwin, Kris Akabusi, Martin Hancock (Coronation Street) and Ian McCaskill (sun, rain, retd.) debated the motion "This House believes money can buy happiness". Crucial stuff, what with this depression coming up, what young people think, echoes of wouldn't fight for king and country, etc. The result? Oh dear. Out of space again. Bye!

Right this way, please: A welcoming Peter Lilley, deputy leader of the Conservative Party, at the entrance to the party's new special unit, tucked away at a secret location somewhere in the hills high above middle England. Here party members will be inducted into the British Way, election-winning brainchild of the young leader, William Hague, who is waiting within. Courses include Why Hanging's Too Good For Them; Listen, Some of My Best Friends Are Black; The Last Time I Was In Europe It Was At 20,000 Feet Over Dortmund; They Come Over Here With Nothing Etc; and Roll Up Your Trouser Leg And I'll See What I Can Do About That Planning Application. The British Way is sponsored by Ikea. No? All right, it's some joker from a company trying to persuade us it will be perfectly safe to store nuclear waste in 60 old tunnels underneath Pembrokeshire. It is. Honestly.

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