Captain Moonlight

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NEW readers start here. Old readers tend to start at the end, flick about a bit and then head off quickly to Sport. That is their right. They have earned it. But what all of you should know is that this is the column with a heart. The Captain does not bang on about his personal life, and his particular problems. No. That is not his way. The Captain likes to reach out and help. That is why, this week, I am extending a hand to people who like to wear fur. You will have read the seemingly universal condemnation that has been the lot of lovely Gwyneth Paltrow for championing fur. Now let me say at once that no one feels more keenly than this officer the pain, the fear, the waste and the sheer speciesism - humanism, you might say, mockingly! - that can go into producing a fur coat. But what, I should like to know, about people wearing fur coats from animals who have died of natural causes? A leopard, for example, that might have suddenly succumbed to a coronary seizure while in hot pursuit of an especially juicy bit of prey? Or a bear that might have tripped, fallen and banged its head, with sadly fatal consequences? Exactly. But now you can avoid unfair and embarrassing social misunderstandings simply by cutting out my special badge over there and wearing it with pride. Next!

t NOW where else can I be of service? Oh yes, that's right, I'm very worried about all these presenters, Pete Sissons, Mick Buerk, lovely Anna Ford, who appear to be at the wrong end of a smear campaign from within the BBC suggesting that they are not good news. Disgraceful! But I'm not surprised: I myself haven't watched or listened to the BBC since they so cynically incinerated Grace Archer on the opening night of commercial television in 1955. I find Kiss FM perfectly adequate for my needs, thank you. But why can't Anna have her own network? They could call it Radio Ford. Next, food, and this dreadful business of A A Gill, the famous food critic, being ordered out of the famous restaurant by the famous restaurateur because Gill had been rude about him in print. Well, I can help on a number of fronts here. First, it must be rather exciting to be thrown out of a restaurant, mustn't it? You know, the sudden silence, the dignified stalk for the door, head high? So I have made arrangements for my readers with Mr Roy Ackerman, proprietor of many famous restaurants, including the Gay Hussar, Elena's L'Etoile, and the ones called Simply Nico. All you have to do is go into any of them, say to the maitre 'd "Hello, I'm a friend of Captain Moonlight'' and you will be ejected forthwith. Enjoy!

t AND THEN again, I am in the way of being a bit of a "foodie" myself. So, if you like, I can pass on some useful tips each week. Did you know, for instance, that there is a cafe in Streatham where you can get spotted dick with custard for breakfast? It's called the Astoria, just past the Kwik-Fit fitters. And perhaps, too, you are unaware of the potentials of Polish cuisine. I have come upon this excellent book, Kuchnia Polska, from which I reproduce a particularly appetising dish. Let me give you a flavour: "Z przesianej maki, jaj i kukru zagniesc ciasto jak na kluski bez wody, posolic, dokladnie wyrobic." Now all I need is someone who speaks Polish. Next!

t JONATHAN AITKEN. You must remember. The crusader for truth currently facing perjury charges. The former minister and secondary banker who got his testimonies in the most frightful twist during a libel action against the Guardian and then did a runner. A cool sort of fellow, if you employ cool in its older sense, which I do. But the Captain is worried about Jonathan. Call me a liar, but I think it's all beginning to get to him. There I was, strolling down Lord North Street last Saturday, as I do, when I saw him coming out of a telephone box next to his home. Carrying a mobile phone. So: cracking up; or has someone told him that's what telephone boxes are for? I suppose I could have asked him, but I'm not sure there would have been any point. Did you know, by the way, that Brendan Bracken, another legendary truth economist, used to live in Jonathan's house, and persuaded the council to change the name from North Street to Lord North Street because it had more class? Another Fascinating Fact With Captain Moonlight. Next!

t NATURE NOTES With Captain Moonlight. Busy little section this week. And we start with fruit, seeing as it is Apple Day on Wednesday. The Captain, always ahead of the news, was fortunate enough to tour the National Fruit Collection last week, Kent home to 2,200 distinct apple varieties, 500 different pears, 350 plums and 220 cherries. Have you ever tasted a Knobbly Russett? Did you know that the Conference pear is so called because it was introduced at the Pear Conference of 1890? That most people think the Fiesta is a Spanish apple when it comes from Kent? That supermarkets are responsible for all these dull, bland, round apples? That plums are out of fashion? Not with badgers, though: the Captain's nationwide naturalist network (CNNN) reports badgers staggering round all over the place, making a nuisance of themselves and refusing to go home after drinking fermented juice from the fallen, neglected fruit. Eat a plum, save a badger from Betty Ford, Gazza and Eileen Drewery. Did you know, by the way, that a pigeon has a brain twice as large as an alligator's? Next!

t LET'S STAY with supermarkets. And did you see the report, produced by the Countess of Cranbrook, splendid woman, for the Council for the Protection of Rural England, criticising supermarkets for hitting the smaller farmers and rural shops? Indeed. But who is the President of the CPRE? That's right, lovely Prunella Scales. The one who advertises Tesco on the telly. Tesco. Well. Interesting. So I approached Pru for a view. No reply yet, sadly. Basil!

t MY ATTENTION has also been drawn to the Government's plan to abolish the right of the hereditary peers to sit in the Lords. What an outrage! The Captain feels a campaign coming on. Your Graceships, My Lords and Ladies: you are always welcome here. This is the column that supports our betters. We like a bit of rank here. Besides, our aristocrats all live extremely useful lives. Today: Lord Colwyn. Not only is his Lordship a stand-out dentist, he also plays the trumpet in his own danceband. Take that, Lady Jay! But I do have depressing news of a bit of continental backsliding: my old friend, the Contessa Beatrice Rangoni Machiavelli (yes, relation). Beatrice has just been appointed President of the EU's Economic and Social Committee, and has been talking about the "universality of democracy based on the civic and community consciousness of citizens". All very good, too: but why has La Contessa now taken to styling herself "Mrs"? Disgraceful. An adjective comes to mind which aptly and accurately describes this sort of pragmatic behaviour. Avanti!

t BBRRNNGG! It is the telephone, and on it, my churches correspondent, the Rev R C "Happy" Clappie. "Praise the Lord, Captain!" he exclaims. "A brave cleric has taken a stand against the evil Murdoch!" I ask the Rev to share. "It's my colleague, the Rev Doug Gay, minister of Clapton Park United Reformed Church, in east London, and regular contributor to the "Credo" column in the Times. Until now." Until now? "They were not happy when Doug suggested in his offering for last week that Christians cherishing freedom of expression should oppose the monopolistic workings of Murdoch's empire. They withdrew Doug's freedom to express that particular thought, accusing him of biting the hand that fed him!" The nerve of it, I tell the Rev, and ask him to keep sharing. "Doug said God fed him, refused to have his column neutered, and resigned. Now he's trying to persuade his fellow contributors, including the Chief Rabbi and the Bishop of Wakefield, to take their thoughts elsewhere, too." I replace the receiver, musing that it can be tough in the spirit zone. Then I write Mr Murdoch a short note. "The Captain's Credo" sounds pretty fine, don't you think?

t RIGHT, what else, what else? Oh, yes, of course, the Moonlight Miscellany, my acclaimed, "wry" look at current happenings. And the first item this week concerns the bus shelter I mentioned last week, the one on the road from Newhaven to Lewes, just where it turns off to Kingston, claimed to be the least used in Britain. I was going to show you a picture, but it hasn't arrived yet. Probably three will come at once next week. I shall stay in Sussex for a bit, though, because it's been very busy there news- wise recently, with a fully laden milk float being found abandoned, a load of cutlery spilt all over the A272, and a man telephoning Lewes police to say his duvet was locked in the launderette ... International section: Police in Kalmar, Sweden, are looking for a bank robber who who dresses up as a giant chicken ... And, of course, of course, there's that crucial result I couldn't fit in last week, the vote at the Cambridge Union when Floella Benjamin, Keith "Cheggers" Chegwin, Kris Akabusi, Martin Hancock (Coronation Street) and Ian McCaskill (weather, retd.) vigorously debated the motion "This House believes money can buy happiness'', a vote which gave an intriguing insight into the mind of the youth of the nation, what with this depression coming up, echoes of wouldn't fight for king and country, etc. And the result was, oh, no, I don't believe it, not again! Sorry! Bye!

ALL CHANGE: State openings of Parliament will certainly never be the same again following the introduction of this baby! Meet "Millbank", a young Indian elephant who will be the star attraction the next time Her Majesty comes calling down Westminster way. Plans are still at an early stage, but the Captain understands that Her Majesty will be atop the splendid beast, which will back into the Commons under the direction of the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine (left), who is pictured in a new outfit that cleverly marries modernity and tradition. The Queen will then deliver her speech with the aid of a loud hailer. No? England trainer B Smart waiting for the nod before warming up a fresh striker to take on those plucky Luxemburgers? All right, it's an elephant in Hamburg, dressed up for a jokey ice cream ad. Those Germans, eh?