Captain Moonlight

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The Independent Culture
BBRRNNGG! A mixed blessing, the telephone, I find, don't you? Still, it does help to keep one "in the know". And this call is from none other than my redoubtable political correspondent, Ms Una Tributable, a woman with an unmatched entree to the very innermost kitchens, salons and sanctas of government. "Captain!" she shouts, "Gerhard Schroder!" I am immediately all ears; the trip to the off-licence can wait. Any intelligence concerning the new German leader will be of especial interest to my readership and could, quite possibly, move markets, particularly given the emphasis he placed on European federalism in his inaugural address to the German parliament last week. "An extraordinary thing, Captain," continues Ms Tributable. "But Gerhard is an absolute dead ringer for the late Eamonn Andrews!" Hmm. This is not quite what I was hoping for, and I cannot help conveying some sense of my disappointment to Una. She sounds a bit miffed but promises to "dig around a bit more, if that's the sort of thing you want". Mind you, though, she has got a point: just look at my pictures below of the German Chancellor and the late, genial Irish television personality and see what you think. Next!

t NOW, THEN, time for a bit of culture. Never let it be said that the Captain does not take his responsibilities to this section of the newspaper seriously. Some of you, for instance, will remember that only recently I was in e-mail conversation with Noam Chomsky. Well, yes, it was rather a short conversation, but that's not the point. Some of you will also remember that I have been trying to talk to the renowned actress, Prunella Scales. Well, yes, it is about how she combines being President of the Council for the Protection of Rural England with advertising Tesco, so- called supermarketing scourge of the green acres; and, well, no, I still haven't managed to get her to talk to me, but that's not the point, either, and, anyway, I'm sure she's very busy. What else, culture credentials wise? Well, I live quite close to Joanna Lumley. And Roger Moore used to live in our house, when he was a boy. He did. And, funnily enough, I'm also quite good at raising my right eyebrow, in a quizzically amused kind of way. You try it. Not as easy as it looks, I think you'll agree.

t BUT LET'S get on. Poet Laureate, that's my cultural thing at the moment. I'm searching for the man or woman who can best satisfy the yearning of both the nation and our prime minister for a "People's Poet". Last week, I put forward Reg Kray ("I am the freest of the free/ That's my philosophy") and Des Lynam ("Those sad grey rocks won't half have/ Cost a lot"). This week, I should like to offer you Lemmy, from Motorhead: "Leave me alone/ Get off the phone/ I've got a heart of stone". And who can forget this line, penned by that most cultured of full backs, Eddie McCreadie, of Chelsea and Scotland, in his "Winter Thoughts": "I tread the cold ice of reality"? Indeed. But my prize offering this week has been composed exclusively for you by one of our very top sporting personalities, Mr Lennox Lewis, the heavyweight boxing champion, who has been matched against another one, Evander Holyfield. Over to you, Lennox:

"Take a gander


At this left and a


Thank you, Evander

And now say goodnight"

Thank you, Lennox. Very confident, and a nod to the old cockney origins there as well. More submissions from popular but unfamiliar poets, please!

t BBRRNNGG! The telephone, again, and, praise be, Ms Una Tributable again. "Captain! Gordon Brown!" This sounds more like it. Gordon looks nothing like Eamonn Andrews. I make encouraging noises. "He was in the Stranger's Bar on Wednesday night! Very rare, very rare!" I ask her what she makes of it: obvious bid to curry favour, support for vital tax reform, leadership contest, definitely going for it, only a question of when, or, perhaps, the big one, his stag night? "I think," says Ms Tributable, "that he probably fancied a drink." I replace the receiver with a sigh, my admiration, already marked, for political pundits and rune readers like our own Mr Watkins increased yet further. Next!

t BUT YOU'RE probably wondering about my picture of his highness Prince Rainier of Monaco in a shell suit. Well, to be perfectly honest with you, so am I. Duane, my correspondent specialising in the exciting world of celebrities, hairdressing and minor foreign royalty, telephoned me in great excitement last week to tell me, exclusively, that Prince Rainier had ordered a sporting outfit similar to the one pictured from Lonsdale, the sports equipment and clothing company based just off Regent Street. Unfortunately, Duane was not at that stage able to tell me exactly why the Prince had chosen Lonsdale, whose other clients include Mike Tyson; or, indeed, why the Prince had conceived of a sudden yearning for a shell suit. He promised to find out all this for me, but, so far, no word. Perhaps there will be some enlightenment next week. Meanwhile, as we journalists like to say, or to fill a gap, I asked my technical support staff to exercise a little computer wizardry to show you how the Prince might look. And I must say I can't help wondering what Grace Kelly would have made of it.

t GOODNESS, what a relief to turn to the world of nature! And we do have quite a few queries to get through. First, witches spitting on blackberries. This filthy habit, according to country lore, is the reason why you shouldn't eat blackberries after the end of September. Intriguing. Next, I've been promising for some time to pass on to you a helpful tip for dealing with small dogs who greet visitors with a "wee". Gwen Bailey, author of Good Dog Behaviour, says it's to do with smallness and suggests that the visitors should help by getting down on their haunches sideways on, stroking the dog under the chin, not on the head, using a baby-talk voice and not looking directly at the dog. Gwen also recommends giving the dog higher status within the family by letting it go through doors first and playing games but always letting the dog win. The Captain writes: when I visit, I prefer lying on my back to haunch-crouching. And my dog, Eubank, doesn't need any help from me, thank you, even if he is a bit too keen on the Sicilian defence. Good luck with the carpets!

t SORRY? The other picture? Don't be misled by the bus. Look at the top of the picture. That is a red squirrel crossing an experimental rope bridge in Cumbria, where a one-year survey into red squirrel road deaths has begun. Amazing. In Lancashire, I understand, research is underway into the possibility of training hedgehogs to polevault over busy roads. But I would take reports of small roadside trampolines in Derbyshire with a pinch of salt, if I were you. On related topics, I was fascinated to see that some Swiss research has found that hamsters are expert navigators. Let me quote: "The subjects [the hamsters, do try to keep up. C.M.] compute the direction and distance to the goal by subtracting their current position vector from the stored nest-to-goal vector". The Captain adds: so how come they're always going round and round on those wheels, then? And one of my regular, dogged and forbearing readers, Mr Wright of Kirkby Stephen, has provided a recipe for guinea pig, from Andre Simon's Concise Encyclopaedia of Gastronomy, which holds that they are "excellent as entrees in various stews - with mushrooms cut up and stewed brown, in a white stew with button mushrooms, with green peas, a la soubise, and especially in curry". Thank you, Mr Wright. I notice, too, that aardvarks are better when smoked.

t BBRRNNGG! Crikey, it's Ms Tributable again.

"Captain! The Esperanto Parliamentary Group had a sherry party on Thursday! Baroness Trumpington will be singing 'Chattanooga Choo Choo' in a charity variety show next Monday which will also feature Margaret Beckett singing a folk song and Michael Ancram doing 'Streets of London' and 'Blowing In The Wind' to the sound of his own guitar! And Bob Russell, the Colchester Lib Dem, goes to Colchester's away games! Any good?" I thank Ms Tributable for her enthusiasm, sigh, and then place a call to my other contact, Ms Dee Briefing.

t AND NOW, with ado, my newly launched Moonlight Millennium Really Quite Fascinating Products Initiative, aimed at promoting the British genius for making and pushing things you never knew you needed. And my first entry is from Mr Cartwright of Worsley, who submits a remarkable apparatus for squeezing the last bit of toothpaste from the tube. Thank you, Mr Cartwright. And thank you, too, Mrs Vahey of Brighton, for entering the Christmas lights that also play 16 seasonal favourites (pounds 14.95) and the revolving Christmas tree stand that gradually turns forward, then back (thus avoiding lightcord tangle) to give all your decorations a proper display (pounds 29.95). Rewards? Well, Mrs Vahey, Mr Cartwright very kindly sent me not one but two "Park-A-Plugs", the answer to unsightly bath and sink tangles, so I thought I'd send you one of them. Just a joke, Mrs Vahey. I hope you both drink? Next!

t BBRRNNGG! It is Ms Dee Briefing! "Couple of hot ones, Captain! First, I understand that cuddly, bearded Trevor Kavanagh, political editor of the Sun and Gayfinder General (Retd), is bang in the frame to become Willy Hague's new party spin supremo! And, sad to report, even the legendary hospitality of Associated Newspapers has a limit, as I witnessed earlier this week at the emotional farewell do thrown for Mr Jonathan Holborow, an editor they have just sacked, when Lord Tebbit was approached by support staff at the end of the evening and asked, very politely, questions of a could-you-drink-up-please and haven't-you-got-a-home-to-go-to variety. Sorry, Captain? Yes, they were black, as it happens. Why do you ask?" I thank Ms Briefing and replace the receiver, my thoughts turning pleasantly to husbandry, reaping and sowing. Mind my bike!

t BBRRNNGG! This is too much. It is Bert, my man at the BBC. "Captain! Anne Robinson! You know. Watchdog. You must know her. Well, anyway, Annie has a really terrific sense of humour, but, for some reason, she wasn't that taken with a line from one of the other presenters on Watchdog, Johnathan Maitland, that she had come fifth in a popularity poll of women telly presenters, just behind Cruella de Vil. Odd, really, that she should be so sensitive when everyone knows what an obliging and self-effacing person she is to work with!" I thank Bert for this, but, to be honest, I'm not really much the wiser. Actually, Eamonn Andrews was very good, you know. He was in Crackerjack! with that game with the cabbages. Crackerjack!

t SPONSORSHIP NEWS: very exciting. I told you that things had gone a bit quiet in my search for a sponsor. Now I know why. Behind the scenes, in an operation so hush-hush that even I, with all my contacts, was completely unaware of it, the dedicated men and women of the Business Development Unit of the Independent and Independent on Sunday have been beating a path to the ear of any entrepreneur of wit and style worth a quick touch. Can't say too much, obviously, but this could be a very good Xmas for all of us! Down the hatch! Etcetera!

t AND, FINALLY, my acclaimed Moonlight Miscellany, a thing of snippets, asides, and the odd report. First, an important correction and clarification. I told you last week that The Editor was a Yorkshireman, from Sheffield. I have since discovered that he was actually born in Oswestry. No, that's very unfair. John Biffen used to go out with a chemist's daughter from Oswestry. The Duchess of Gloucester was there in April. And the Raj Mahal in Leg Street is very nice. Next, a feng shui tip: if you have a blue roof, hang four pairs of bamboo flutes from red ribbon near the ceiling in an upside down V shape. Also, getting into a wet suit is much easier if you put plastic bags over your feet. Harry France, a keen angler from Sheffield, had his last wish granted last week when his ashes were mixed with groundbait and used by his son on a fishing trip. To prevent spattering with paint when you're roller painting the ceiling, stretch clingfilm over your spectacle lenses. If you see Prunella Scales, you ask her. The result of my Moonlight You The Jury Phone In on who you would rather be flung out a restaurant with, Joan Collins or Joan Smith, resulted in a unanimous vote for our Joan. And, finally and sadly, my photograph of the least used bus stop in the country has been unavoidably held over, again. Bye!