Captain Moonlight

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The Independent Culture
GOODNESS, THAT was a bit of a week, wasn't it? Peter M in terrific form over Pinochet, that poor young Blue Peter chap out on his ear, Polly Toynbee finally doing the decent thing by Bruce Anderson, Sir Cliff coming out fighting for his art, defiant in the face of the grinning gerontophobes, Wales recovering from a small earthquake, Gridlock Friday, Helen Mirren doing what she does best in Antony and Cleopatra, supermarkets receiving yet more criticism, and St Helens unaccountably failing to make the Rugby League Grand Final. Who would have thought it? Actually, the Captain's heart went right out to the Blue Peter bloke. Many is the morning I have surveyed an awesome apparition in the shaving mirror with a heavy, remorseful heart, only too conscious that once again I have not only let myself down, but that I have let you, my readers, down as well. And more besides: my mother, my editor, my proprietor, Mr Blair, Dr Carey, and my personal trainer, Sebastian. But life must go on. Apart from anything else, there are mysterious matters afoot: the sudden rash of identical requests at a hairdressers in Richmond, south-west London; the relentless march across our countryside of trees that are only pretending to be trees; and the two muggers in Ingolstadt who stretched condoms over their heads in a cunning bid to disguise their features.

t NATURE NOTES with Captain Moonlight. These false trees. Come on. The mobile phone masts cunningly disguised as trees. You haven't noticed? You must have. They're all over the place. Just have a look round. There's one located between Junctions 12 and 13 of the M4, for starters, and another in the Lake District, near Cockermouth. There are plans to install them on the North Yorkshire moors, up in Scotland, and over in Snowdonia. Very convincing. Plastic bark, epoxy resin, rubber leaves, the lot. And they've given me an idea. It came to me as I was staring out of the window here at Canary Wharf, over the river, trying to forget that I had let you all down again. Look at my next picture. You've no idea, have you? It's the Millennium Dome, disguised in the same way. Rather fetching. Elsewhere on the nature front, great to welcome back the glutinous snail, previously thought extinct; and I was intrigued, too, to read this week in my favourite research tool, the Daily Star, about a very handy way to distinguish between an adder (poisonous) and a grass snake (not). Just look closely into the snake's eyes: the grass snake has round pupils; the adders are more like slits. Good luck, out there, everyone!

t RUGBY LEAGUE. Some affect to find the game lacking in appeal outside its proud northern heartlands. But did you know that Eddie George, Governor of the Bank of the South of England, was a promising union scrum half in his day, and had ambitions to play league? He was, he did. Nobody took him on, though, I'm afraid. But it does seem an excessive way to take revenge. Anyway, news of another famous person with an unlikely connection to the game. Rod Stewart. Yes. You must remember. "Maggie May", that was one of his. And Britt Ekland, as I remember. Well, I'm here to tell you, Rod performed at Headingley last Sunday, at the big clash between Leeds Rhinos and St Helens, receiving the sort of welcome only a rugby league crowd can give to a star of the Seventies as he trotted across the pitch escorted by Ronny Rhino, the Leeds mascot (Rita Rhino was nowhere to be seen), and launched straight into his opening number. Sadly, though, keeping up with Ronny had left him a bit puffed, and even his most ardent fans felt his interpretation rather suffered. Old rockers, eh? Still, the way St Helens played, I think we can guarantee him at least a place on the bench next season. And Eddie, too, come to that, providing he can master the six tackle rule. Next!

t ROCK AND ROLL! And Sir Cliff! Love and Marriage. Horse and Carriage. Blue and Suede. Expresso and Bongo. Debenham and Freebody. I think you will get the Captain's drift. That's why today I want to do my little bit to help Rock's First Knight beat these young people with no sense of tradition and history who are trying to keep him off our airwaves; let's get Cliff back to where he belongs: on top. The shortcomings of newspaper technology prevent me from playing his catchy new number, "Can't Keep This Feeling In", but I am going to do the next best thing, and that is to reproduce, with permission, a snatch of his jazzy lyrics: "I can't hold it back/ You know I'm trying to/ Keep this feelin' in/ You know I'm trying to X2/ I can't hold it" Yes, that's the stuff. I was wondering what "X2" meant as well, but it all became clear when a colleague, not young, but dressed in black, explained it was all about repeating the line. And I think we've just got time for a bit from Cliff's rap mix: "Cos, me an' my crew can't be beat with bats/ And if you want whack tunes you'd better get the other cats". Whoaa! Hep! Next!

t BBRRNNGG! It is the telephone, and, on it, my media correspondent, Russell Nib. "Captain,'' says Russell. "Bruce Anderson.'' Not, I say, the formidable political commentator, the one who predicted that John Major had the gifts to build an impregnable Tory coalition, the one who tipped Michael Howard to succeed Major, the one who predicted that William Hague, "not just a speaker, an orator", "cleverer and quicker than Mr Blair," would stop the anarchy in the Tory party, the one whose witty sallies were so abruptly terminated by Ms Polly Toynbee's feisty way with the claret last week? "The very same, skipper. So do you want to hear an appalling story of how he repaid the Christmas hospitality of Lord Hesketh, one of those Tory grandees to whom he is always sucking up in the most revolting fashion?'' I listen, gasp, turn pale, thank Russell and replace the receiver, faced with the dilemma of embarrassing poor Bruce and spoiling whatever meal you are embarking on next; or failing in my higher duty, to the truth. What to do, what to do?

t THIS, YOU will recall, is the column that supports our royals, through thick and thin and whatever might be going on in the rest of the newspaper. So you can imagine how closely I have been following the universal celebrations as the Prince of Wales accomplishes the remarkable feat of turning 50. And no one cooked the Captain's old cockles like dear Graham Turner in the dear old Telegraph: "He has led a life which, thus far ... has been an epic in many different ways: an epic of suffering, an epic of courage, an epic of duty." How true. And yet the mockery still goes on. Take the japes of another of my dogged readers, Mr Long of Loughton, who has written to the Palace attempting to hire the Royal Train for the annual outing to Southend of the British Halitosis Society. Does he receive a severe reprimand? No. Just a polite "not possible to do as you ask" from a special assistant to the private secretary. Practical jokes: where do you stand? The Captain tends to be a bit stuffy. As I was when one of my support staff here, young fellow, v. keen, informed me that he had been successful in securing a table for eight at 8.15 pm on Wednesday 11 November at the River Cafe (you know, new Labour new nosh, fed Pinochet, gave cheque to Amnesty) in the name of Dr Radovan Karadzic, the fugitive leader of the Bosnian Serbs. Sorry River Cafe. Next!

t SUPERMARKET BASHING. Open season, currently, isn't it? Greedy and oppressive cartels bent on callously destroying the small, the diverse, the weak and large swathes of unmarked countryside in the pursuit of blind and selfish profit. The Captain says: steady. Some supermarket people can be all right, you know. And no, I'm not just saying this because my family has been faithfully serving the north-west of England in such a capacity for 75 years. Nevins, of St Helens. Always a friendly welcome. Pop in. Do. We weren't always self-service, of course. I can remember the Brooke Bond chimps coming to open the shops when they changed over, in the Sixties. Very nice chimps, too. But that's not the point. The point is that our supermarkets need defending. And who better and more apt than Prunella Scales? A popular personality who has played the Queen, a leading supporter of new Labour, President of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, and the advertising face of Tesco: perfect! If only: I fax, I phone, but, for some reason, I still cannot get her people to respond. Pru: you are needed!

t RIGHT, WHAT else, what else? Oh, yes, of course, the Moonlight Miscellany, my acclaimed, "wry" look at current happenings and such. And my first item this week is another Captain Cooking tip: have you ever been to the Gobi desert? If not, you may not have come across baiga, which is a shame. It is made from millet and pigeon droppings, mixed together, heated and fermented. Quite a kick. And much better, I have to tell you, if the pigeons have been well fed ... Next, that rash of requests at the Richmond hairdressers: no fewer than three for the Monica Lewinsky look. Hmm. Richmond. More reports, please ... And I was also pleased to see that Anglican clergy in Birmingham have had a representation of Spaghetti Junction embroidered on their new vestments. It is believed to be the first time a motorway junction has achieved such high recognition ... And there was a slight hiccough, and five-mile tailbacks, in the north-east when a clerical error resulted in a 500-ton crane being sent from Wallsend to the Argos shop in Newcastle when it should have gone the other way to the Royal Fleet Auxiliary training vessel Argus in North Shields ... In Oldham, meanwhile, loyal and clearly very contented late-night shelf-stackers at Asda saw off ram-raiders by pelting them with Christmas puddings ... Sorry? Oh, yes, the two muggers in the German town of Ingolstadt who stretched condoms over their heads as a disguise. They fainted because the condoms were too tight, and were arrested when they came round ... And, finally: tough choices. 1) I've now got the photograph of what is claimed to be the least-used bus shelter in Britain. 2) Mr Stallybrass of Bognor Regis has sent me a photograph of some buses. 3) I still haven't given you that crucial youth-zeitgeist- defining result from the Cambridge Union when, inter alios et alias, Floella Benjamin and Keith "Cheggers" Chegwin went head to head on the motion "This House believes money can buy you happiness". 4) And there's that dreadfully embarrassing story about Bruce Anderson. Why don't you tell me which one you would like to see? We will have a telephone vote: Call 0171 293 2462 and leave your choice. The lines will be only be open until 10 am tomorrow, so hurry, hurry! And Bruce: no multiple voting, thank you. Bye!

Try one of these in a sensitive area, Senor! A defiant Baroness Thatcher demonstrating yesterday just what she would do to any Spaniard rash enough to feel General Pinochet's collar, particularly the one on the jacket with all the braid and medals. Lady Thatcher also announced the formation of a single mothers' special catapult squadron, to be based at Westminster Abbey. No? Actually, it's Mrs E. Arrowsmith of Ainsdale, Lancs, about to make short work of a Longbilled Dowitcher. The Dowitcher, also known as the red breasted snipe, is a very rare visitor to these shores, but it does have a rather irritating call. All right, it's Yvonne Macleod, 78, attending a reunion at St Trinnean's, Edinburgh, model for Ronald Searle's St Trinian's. Sorry, Yvonne.

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