Captain Moonlight

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The Independent Culture
BBRRNNGG! The telephone rings, as it will. On the line, my "showbusiness" correspondent, Max "Twice" Daley. "Captain!" shouts Max. "Ron Davies, former Welsh Secretary!" I immediately cease my search for some refreshment in the bottom right hand drawer and am all attention. Max has surprised me. Freddie "Parrot Face" Davies would undoubtedly fall within his province; I had not previously been aware of his interest in Westminster, or Clapham Common, for that matter. "An amazing thing, Captain!'' I agree it is. "No, no, listen. Ron Davies shares a birthday, 6 August, with Mike Sarne, who had a number one hit in 1962 with the song 'Come Outside', featuring a boy trying to lure a girl into a serious error of judgement outside a dance hall!'' Extraordinary, I murmur, resuming my search. "I should cocoa, Captain," says Max. "You might also be fascinated to know that the girl featured with Mike on the single was none other than Wendy Richard, who now plays Pauline Fowler in EastEnders!" I thank Max, and replace the receiver, reflecting that it might be time for just a touch of judicious rationalisation in the staff sector.

t ALL THE same, though, an error of judgement as serious as the one on Clapham Common does tend to get people thinking, doesn't it? Lots of ramifications. Lots. Before we knew where we were, Matthew Parris was outing gay cabinet ministers all over the shop and the merest aside by Chris Smith had provoked no less a figure than the respected political correspondent, Bruce Anderson, into a thought-provoking and typically pertinent and incisive piece in the Daily Mail wondering whether we might ever have a gay prime minister. Bruce's conclusion was, as ever, uncompromisingly unequivocal: "Tory or Labour, there is unlikely to be a homosexual prime minister in the near future. But if public attitudes continue to change and an outstanding candidate emerges, it could happen one day.". Attaboy, Brucie!

t SORRY? The result of the exclusive Moonlight telephone poll where, in a pioneering piece of newspaper interactivity, you, the readers, were invited to choose which you would prefer to see this week: a desperately distasteful story about the above Bruce Anderson; the result of an important debate in the Cambridge Union shedding fascinating and telling light on the attitudes of the young towards the interdependence of wealth and happiness; or a photograph of the bus shelter on the road from Newhaven to Lewes, just where it turns off to Kingston, claimed to be the least-used in Britain? Well, readers, every picture tells a story, and the one below left is no exception: showing the discernment which has made you one of the most keenly targeted readerships in the country, you went overwhelmingly for the bus shelter. Sadly, I have temporarily mislaid the photograph, so you will have to put up with this one, showing another bus shelter, somewhere in East Anglia. And, all right, the members of Cambridge Union decided, on the whole, that they didn't go along with the motion, "This House believes money can buy you happiness". Ah, the idealism of these splendid young people! But, I wonder, what did they make of Tom Cruise being turned away from a video shop in Bushey Heath last week because he didn't have the requisite ID? Life isn't always so black and white, is it? Next!

t SORRY? No, I can't help. The majority has spoken. Bruce's shameful secret is safe. Unless, of course, enough of you demand a recount by registering your protest on 0171 293 2462 by 10 o'clock tomorrow morning. Thank you. In the meantime, how many of you remember that it was Bruce who so churlishly refused to cooperate with Peter Tatchell in a research project where acclaimed homophobes would be shown video material of an erotically gay nature while the relevant and sensitive part of their anatomy was wired up to test reaction? I thought not. So much for his thirst for knowledge and truth. But I can't hang about here, I have news from Norway.

t MY MOTHER-IN-LAW, you see, is Norwegian. A wonderful woman. And she has a solution to all Mr Tony Blair's problems over the House of Lords. She tells me that when Norway abolished its aristocracy, they didn't do it in one fell swoop. No Lady Jay, no Madame Guillotine for them. No. Instead, they simply ruled that titles could no longer be handed down. Result: a slow, disarming, undramatic peter. Pretty good, eh? No, just take it, Tony. The Captain, and his family, are here to serve. If you care to write in, for example, my mother-in-law would be very happy to explain any of the finer points of the most interesting proposal on proportional representation that Lord Jenkins has put forward. AV Top-up? She's got it. Have you seen, too, that Alan Ayckbourn is putting on Ibsen at Scarborough? About time, too. I can still remember the look on my mother-in-law's face when I remarked, after watching Vanessa Redgrave take on Ghosts: "What a waste - all those doors and not a pair of dropped trousers in sight!" And I'll tell you something else that might tell you something about Norwegians: her sister has not lost one single sock doing the washing in 40 years of married life. She hasn't. Could you claim anything like that? I thought not. The Norwegian for Saturday, by the way, translates into "Bath day". What does that tell you about the vikings? Calls for a fairly dramatic rethink, I should have said. My mother-in-law, by the way, owns a table which was once owned by a friend of Ibsen. Match that. Next!

t TIME to meet another remarkable actress. Or not. Dogged readers will remember that the Captain has been attempting for some time now to establish contact with that fine actress, Prunella Scales. Nothing untoward, you understand. I just wanted to know how she copes with people who carp on about her being President of the Council for the Protection of Rural England at the same time as doing all these ads for Tesco, which, according to the CPRE, rural England needs protecting against because of the effects the big supermarkets have on small country shops and small farmers. But, do you know, I just can't seem to get through. So, for the moment, I'm afraid I'll just have to be content with this, from an interview Pru gave a few years ago: "I do regard the market economy as a total evil and a most ridiculous mistake. It's asking people to worship money and do anything, regardless, in order to get it. You split society with a huge gap between those who've got money and those who haven't; you then make goods desirable by advertising and that creates a criminal class. It sounds so trite, doesn't it?" No, not at all, Pru. But, clearly, we need to talk. Captain's Fine Actress Stop Press: if you go along to Helen Mirren's sold-out Antony and Cleopatra at half-time, it's surprisingly easy to find a seat, for some reason. Stop mumbling, Rickman! Next!

t NATURE NOTES with the Captain. And you will be pleased to know that dormice are breeding well in this country again. The Romans used to eat dormice, you know. Stored them on shelves asleep, hibernating, ready to go. Never knew a thing about it. Not the British sort, of course. They can take 20 minutes to nibble one hazelnut. Next, some handy tips. Hunt saboteurs: did you know that foxes will not cross human urine? Thought not. Cat owners: did you know that the Daily Telegraph is recommending that you make them do something useful at last by getting them to pull cables under the floorboards by attaching a length of wool to the collar and then the wool to the cable? Thought not. But do make sure the cat is out before you nail down the floorboard again. Owners of small, nervous dogs who "wee" when visitors arrive? I'll pass on the cure next week. If I remember. You're still a bit dubious about foxes and human urine, though, aren't you? Okay, then, how many have you seen in Piccadilly Circus late on a Saturday? Thank you. And what was that noise? Sounded as if it was coming from under the floorboards. Next!

t THE CAPTAIN cooks. And staying with the animal kingdom, I must say I was taken with the dignity of the response from Hyundai, the Korean car people, to the claim by Jeremy Clarkson, a motoring writer, that Koreans are too busy "eating dogs" to design a decent looking car. "We want an end," said Hyundai, "to this bigoted carping about the occasional consumption, amongst a very small part of the Korean population, of dog meat." Quite. The oldest dog in Britain was 150 last week, by the way. You multiply a human year by five-and-a-half, apparently. It's a Papillon called Fred. No, they're like a chihuahua, but with longer hair. Not much meat there, then. Perhaps you can also help with the Captain's quest for a good recipe for Cuy, or roasted guinea pig. Meanwhile, the Captain Says: Lay Off Our Delia. Very helpful. Last week: "You need a saucepan - that's a pan for the sauce". Who could argue with that? Now I just have to find the kitchen. Mmmm!

t RIGHT: this sponsorship business. Not going too well, actually. I think a lot of people must have thought they couldn't compete with the rush. Well, it's slowed. right down. But I had an idea last week. It was when I read a fascinating article by Lord Rees-Mogg about Woodrow Wyatt in The Times. I was fascinated because his Lordship managed to mention his flight on Virgin Atlantic and Virgin's limousine service three times for no readily discernible reason. Product placement: that's the thing. So I thought about who might benefit from a splattering of approving mentions all over this column. Of course: Virgin Trains! A very good fit with our philosophy and practice, too. But they turned me down! Some nonsense about concentrating on the service. More deep thought, particularly when I noticed that Lord Rees-Mogg had just flogged his ebony four-poster bed off at auction for pounds 33,350. Perhaps he might like to sponsor: plugs for his writings, his antiquarian book shop, that sort of thing? His Lordship was genial, convincing on the innocence of his Virgin fixation, but disappointing on the commercial front. Hey-ho. Maybe I'll try that nice Mrs Parker Bowles.

t AND NOW, direct from Canary Wharf, the eighteenth floor, the acclaimed Moonlight Miscellany, my "wry take" on "life". I wonder if any of you remember that old feature in the old Daily Express entitled "Just Fancy That!"? That's the sort of effect we're after. Take Mr Harris Simbabwa, for example, a Zambian angler who choked to death when a fish he had caught slipped down his throat as he tried to kill it by biting its head off. Or M Denis Dulo, who was let out of a Marseilles jail to run a marathon and was still on the run four days later. Or this chap in Canada who has so far attacked 14 joggers and stolen their socks. Or Mr Joseph Potter and his wife, Mary, of Stockport, who have just put up their Christmas decorations. "Mary is absolutely mad about Christmas," said Joseph. There again, if I were a vengeful sort of officer, I could tell you about the Virgin Train from Glasgow due in at Euston at 1 pm last Monday. But let us turn to the news from Newick, Sussex: "Village Hall: We are happy to report that the village hall is back to normal after the excitement last week, but, please, don't send any chemical or electrical items of a doubtful nature to future jumble sales." Crikey. And now disappointing news for south London fetishists: the innovative Battersea house designed by Walter Menteth featuring in Architecture Week has been constructed from rubble and not, as advertised, rubber. Finally, and perhaps most remarkably of all, ticket sales for a two-course lunch with Loyd Grossman on Saturday at Leith's Restaurant, when Loyd will talk about his life in food and drink and some new book or other, are said to be "quite steady". Imagine. Bye!

SO: an "apparently ambiguous" bronze seal hangs upside down in an artificial hair necklace. Just what you would expect from Rosemarie Trockel, an artist whose "idiosyncratic, influential and eclectic work is often poetic and humorous, distinctly feminised without being didactic". This piece, which has quite a long title, explores, as you can see, "how anthropomorphic interests are changing the way we view our animal kingdom". How true it all is. More Culture With The Captain very soon!