Captain Moonlight

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The Independent Culture
t HELLO! It's that time of the year, isn't it? Time, amid the hurly and the burly, the jingle of the till, the pop of the cork, the rustle of the tinsel and those squeals coming from the stationery cupboard, to put the foot on the ball, metaphorically speaking, and think for a moment what it's really all about. Life. Which is why I was particularly happy last week to see that more than 70 celebrities had responded to the request from a mental health charity for their words of wisdom and advice for Life. I was moved by nearly all the messages, from Tony Blair's "Seize the day", to Michael Palin's "Listen", to Zoe Ball's "Love, laugh, live", to Richard and Judy's "A Very Happy Christmas To Everyone". So much so, in fact, that I have decided to let you have The Captain's Top Ten Maxims For A Happy And Fulfilled Life. 1) Breathe regularly; 2) If you have a pebble in your left shoe, take it out; 3) Do not wear a panama in town until after Goodwood; 4) Laugh and cry. But on either occasion, a handkerchief will come in handy; 5) If you wear a hat, an umbrella is not always necessary; 6) Blue and brown raise a frown; 7) Before you gamble, always check with Shane Warne; 8) Never forget that an open door was once closed; 9) You cannot a change a light bulb alone; 10) A twig snaps in two, but a piece of uncooked spaghetti snaps in three. Next!

t TIME, too, I think, to make a stand. Kowtowing to this government must stop. Particularly kowtowing to Peter Mandelson, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. You will have noticed that this column played no part in the recent hysteria surrounding Mr Mandelson's outing, the apologies, the sneering, the innuendo. But this was not because the Captain was banned from mentioning Mr Mandelson. Nor was this because Mr Mandelson had in his gift the power to make a decision which might adversely affect the Captain's employers. No. It was because, as so often happens, the Captain didn't know anything about it. But now I do know something. Something which the Times newspaper, owned by Rupert Murdoch, whose proposed takeover of Manchester United is under Mr Mandelson's scrutiny, also knows, but has chosen not to publish. It concerns Mr Mandelson and the late Dame Catherine Cookson. I shall say no more. For now. You, my readers, will decide. Ring me on the Moonlight hotline, 0171 293 2462. A simple majority will have it, my vote to be casting in the usual event of an absolute dead heat. On!

t WHICH, as it happens, is about Mr Blair's balls. They're absolutely enormous, and silver. Never have I seen such big ones on the Downing Street Christmas tree. Look at my picture of two similar balls. What can it mean? Sorry? Don't be so stuffy, it is the panto season. Actually, it's the panto season all year here. Sorry? No, you will not find the Captain indulging in tawdry sub-Freudian speculation. My Trade might be Trivia, but it is also the Truth. In pursuit of which, I telephoned the Downing Street press office, inquiring whether the impressive decorations on the tree, mostly balls, but very big balls, were an innovation and in aid of anything special, like just watch it, Gordon, or some such. A charming man called Chris in the press office promised to find out. And rang back in short order. Apparently, they get a different company to do it each year, chosen strictly on value-for-money criteria. So who was it this year? Chris couldn't tell me. Not done, he said. And he mentioned security. Well. It's a good job a respectable broadsheet newspaper has got hold of this, rather than one of those smaller-sized ones. I can see the headline now: Mystery Over Blair's Balls! Let's scotch it immediately: Downing Street tree decorators and balls purveyors, call me and explain yourselves. Perhaps you would care to sponsor this column. Actually, though, while we're on tawdry sub-Freudian speculation, what on earth was going on with Mo Mowlam on the Today programme on Thursday morning, when she called George Mitchell George Michael? Now, there would be an initiative. Next!

t BUT let us return to the wacky world of Rupert Murdoch, tangentially initially, or, perhaps, distaffly. You will, of course, still be breathless from last week, when, in just one of a number of exclusives, I made my ground-breaking revelation that Elisabeth Murdoch, daughter, mogulette and Sky pilot, has planted two gum trees outside her lovely new home in Notting Hill. Well, I have since had a letter from Mr Winn of County Cork. Mr Winn, I notice, pens the odd piece for our excellent Travel section; he also claims that I owe him a shirt from Mr Pink, one of my original sponsors, who have since taken to tarting themselves around all over the place, although I am not bitter. Mr Winn, I regret that neither I nor my beautiful assistant has any record of it; you had better refresh our memories. Meanwhile, though, Mr Winn has fascinating intelligence on the kind of fauna that Ms Murdoch might import to frolic under the shade of the gum trees. He supplies a list of some of the small mammals of Australia: bandicoot, brush-tailed phascogale, dibbler, dunnart, echidna, numbat, Gilbert's potoroo, quoll, quokka, wambenger, and the woylie. My, life will be exciting around Ladbroke Grove this summer! Mr Winn also has a curiosity to put alongside the Australian anthem, "Advance, Australia Fair": neither of those two national symbols, the kangaroo and the emu, apparently, can walk backwards. "Something to do," he writes, "with the former's arrangement of hind legs and tail, and the latter's startlingly small intellect. I've tried pushing an emu backwards, and it's true - it just pushes forward against you; push any harder and it falls over." Remarkable. Thank you, Mr Winn. Nixt!

t BBRRNNGG! The telephone, again, and on it, my media correspondent, Russell Nib. "Captain! Peter Stothard, long-serving editor of the Times, cultured classicist, unassuming sort of fellow!" Not the same man, I say, whose Blackpool conference hotel bedroom door breakfast menu was mischievously changed from the full monty to Grape Nuts by a man alleged to fit closely the description of Andrew Marr, former editor of the Independent? "The very same, Captain! Stothy has now been so long at the Times and Sunday Times that he has qualified for a gift. And what do you think he chose for his long-service award?" Seeking to humour Russell, I pick the most outlandish gift I can think of: "A karaoke machine?" "Blimey, Captain, bang on!'' I thank Russell, imagining the treat it must be for Stothy's neighbours to hear him giving a lusty run-out to Schubert's "Come! Thou Monarch of the Vine". Good old Stothy!

t LORDY Lawks! If I were running for Mayor of London, I would be a very, very, worried potential candidate at the moment. Yes, Jeffrey has gone for the big one! Listen to this pledge from the Lord Archer, solemnly given at a lively head-to-head with dear old Ken Livingstone at the Saatchi Synagogue last week: "My contract with my publishers ends in August next year. I have told them that if I am elected mayor, I will not continue writing." What a master stroke! It's the biggest vote winner since Lord Lloyd-Webber and Paul Daniels said they'd leave the country if Labour won the election (The Captain writes: Never, ever forget who is really to blame for our present situation). This is getting serious. I may have to stand myself.

t AND now, finally, my acclaimed Moonlight Miscellany, a thing of snippets, asides, bits you might have missed, and the odd exclusive. First up, Moonlight Crimewatch: three thieves in Workington were arrested after police followed a trail of pine needles and found 13 Christmas trees. Next, this week's Top Tip: to prevent your wash flannels from becoming slimy with soap residues, soak them once a week in a solution of half vinegar and half hot water. I had hoped, too, to bring you a top tip from Stains and How To Remove Them, the mould-breaking (!) Norwegian work translated by my mother-in- law, but we can't find it at the moment. Anybody got a copy? Next, this week's Top Correction: you may recall that last week, in a vivid demonstration of my legal acumen, I pointed out that I had described my old tutor Lennie Hoffman as Lord Justice Hoffman rather than Lord Hoffman. Actually, the name is Hoffmann. Next, this week's Top Feng Shui Tip is from the Little Book of Feng Shui, by Lillian Too, who advises you never to sit with your back to the door. Very wise: the first time Wild Bill Hickok sat with his back to the door, he was shot dead. And you can get a pain in the neck from the draught, I find. Bye!

FRANTIC scenes in Toyland as the news comes in that Eddie George has reduced interest rates by half a point, unleashing a flurry of demand from young consumers. Steady, Rudolf! No? All right, it's the frantic scenes at Richard Rogers's house as a team of crack Santas try to find the entrance to the chimneys. No? The Captain's Spot The Sleigh Competition? No? Actually, it's the frantic scenes round the back at a luxury hotel just outside London as a desperate band of bogus asylum-seekers from up around the North Pole flee a team of investigative reporters from the Sun coming in at the front. Actually, I keep banging on like this because I've lost the caption. But if past form is anything to go by, it is almost certainly taking place in Germany, where they go in for this sort of thing.