Captain Moonlight

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HOLA! Apologies for the unconventional opening gambit, but I thought it quite apt, given the astonishing legal events of the past week, particularly those relating to the late dictator of Chile, the one who should be up before the beak in Bow Street very shortly, Jack. Jack? It is also, I must confess, a bit of a show-off, as the Captain is currently engaged in the study of Spanish under the charming and coincidental tutelage of an Anglo-Chilean poet called Walter. Thanks to Walter, I can tell you that the final "t" in Pinochet is not silent. Walter also has the answer to those who think they have heard Chileans chanting "Free Pinochet!" outside the General's various temporary London resting places: the chant is, in fact, "Frio Pinochet!", which conveys a different message altogether, referring, as it does, inter alia, to the process by which potatoes are turned into chips. Proximo!

t ACTUALLY, what astonished me most about the decision by the House of Lords was that we got only a couple of sentences of casting vote concurrence out of Lord Justice Hoffman, widely regarded as the brainy law lord. As it happens, I can sort of vouch for this, having studied law under the great man, which, inter alia, explains my confident way with an inter alia. Being taught by Lennie, as we called him to his back, has been among the most terrifying experiences of my life (and I've done my bit as a war correspondent, you know, vote now on 0171 293 2462 if you want to hear all about it, at length). Lennie's teaching methods were based on luring us along a trail of increasingly faltering and outrageous solecisms until he put us out of our misery with a smile and a "no" in which disdain and amazement fought an attritional but inconclusive battle for supremacy. Such fun! And it was good to hear from my top legal source, Quentin Refresher, QC, that Lennie's methods haven't altered that much now he has to deal with silks in the House of Lords: "There you are, going well, when, suddenly, out of a clear blue sky, he smiles and sends down one of those inswinging yorkers, stumps radically re-arranged, fourth day at the Gabba time, all over bar the fee!" Quentin's view of the Hoffman briefness is that his intellectual rigour wouldn't allow him to take issue with the unanswerable case for sovereign immunity made out by Lords Lloyd and Slynn. But that's just Quentin doing his stuffy lawyer bit. The Captain Says: Well done, Lennie, all is forgiven!

t WHICH brings me to the next astonishing legal matter of the week, involving the only slightly less distinguished Mr Justice Singer, one of the adornments of the Family Division, encountered by Quentin at some legal bash or other on Wednesday night: "He joined this group discussing some of the finer points of EastEnders. Then, after listening for a while, he asked `What is EastEnders?' What a scream! Good old Singers!" Hmmm. On your behalf, I point out, a little stuffily myself, that this sort of thing has its less entertaining aspects. "But you don't understand, Captain!" says Quentin. "He was joking!" The Captain Says: Crikey, what has happened to the old certainties? Next witness!

t THIS one was going to be about Lord Irvine of Lairg, the Lord Chancellor, the forward-walking orderer of the pounds 300 trousers, and his old sparring partner, Bob Marshall-Andrews, QC, MP, leader of the internal opposition (satirical wing); but I thought we'd better take a short adjournment from legal matters. So let's turn to Germany. Dogged readers will recall that I recently pointed out the remarkable resemblance between Gerhard Schroder, the German chancellor, and the late, popular entertainer and quiz master, Eamonn Andrews. Now I would like to point out something equally remarkable about Oskar Lafontaine, Gerhard's feisty finance minister, something inexplicably missed by the Sun, which last week did a number on Oscar's fiscal federasty under the front page headline, "Is This The Most Dangerous Man In Europe?" Dogged reader Mr Meek of Vienna, an illustrator, draws (!) my attention to the remarkable resemblance between old Oskar and the late, popular entertainer and quiz master, Hughie Green. Look at my two pictures, up there, and I think you'll agree with Mr Meek. The Captain Wants To Know: What The Heil Is Going On Here? Nachste!

t AND something else. On 3 July, 1994, the Captain announced, following the first threats by Germany to ban British beef, that, should the Germans go ahead with their threat, I would, from that moment, cease all consumption of Blue Nun. We all know what has happened since. My question now, following the lifting of the ban, is whether I should resume consumption of the wimpled elixir; or, given that the Germans voted against the decision, whether I should continue my selfless denial. Vote now on 0171 292 2462. And don't worry if at first you can't get through: it will probably be readers anxious to ensure that my exploits as a war correspondent are given the exposure they warrant. On!

t BBRRNNGG! It is the telephone, somewhere, and, yes, it's a familiar voice, that of Ms Una Tributable, my political correspondent. "Captain! Hot one! A large fish tank has been installed in the reception area of Norman Shaw North, the Westminster offices that house many of our MPs!" This is very interesting, as I happen to know that fish are very big in the feng shui game, producing as they do a lot of yang energy. I ask Ms Tributable for the colour of the tank. "Blue," she replies. Not so good: blue (nb young Mr Hague) can spell danger. I ask for the colour of the fish. "White and orange, and one black sucker thing that hangs around the bottom". Thank goodness for that: black fish absorb bad energy. Thanking Ms Tributable, I replace the receiver and return to my copy of the Daily Star, where I learn that a goldfish has an attention span of three seconds. Then I place a call to the lady in charge of decor at Norman Shaw North. She assures me that the tank has been there since time immemorial. This is worrying: how many other big stories has Ms Tributable missed? Next!

t NEW feature. There has been a splendid response to my new slot, Grey Grouse, catering for the concerns of the older and too often disenfranchised newspaper reader. Mary R, of Balham, has been in touch to say there's far too much sex on television, and Frank J, of Wanstead, has sent me a ticket from the Showcase Cinema, Newham, which has a dollar sign on it instead of a pound sign. Frank reckons this is just another sign of creeping Americanisation, and I must say I rather agree. Now for my next exciting new idea, Cut That Edge With Captain Moonlight's Interesting Internet Intelligence. This week: an important vote at the site run run by the Rocky Mountain News, at www.insidedenver.com. They're trying to find out whether people prefer their cranberry sauce with the whole berry left in, or as a smooth berryless jelly. Latest: 60 per cent for keeping the whole berry, which is encouraging. "E-Mail" me your interesting internet bits at moonlight@independent.co.uk. Grey Grouses also welcome!

t BBRRNNGG! Now who can be calling the Captain this time? It is Bert, my man within the BBC. A splendid fellow, but, I find, a little technical. Can you keep up with all this digital business? Anyway, Bert is all a flutter because some bigwig has told him that a merger between BBC News 24 and Breakfast News is on the cards. What else? Oh, yes, the nasty feeling between Breakfast News (TV) and Today (radio), recently arrived next door at White City, gets ever nastier. Steady, loves! And Bert is also very exercised that a 50-hour week of film editing outside the BBC, studio, editor, the lot, costs pounds 1900, while a 40-hour week inside costs pounds 2,000, pounds 650 for the editor, pounds 1350 for the internal market, or "the bloody BBC bureaucracy" as Bert puts it, before slamming the phone down. Dear!

t NATURE NOTES With The Captain: First, rats. Did you know that rats never stop growing? And that, now, in our cities, cosseted by rising temperatures and sustained by the ever burgeoning output of fast food restaurants, they are living longer and longer and getting bigger and bigger? Some of them in Mayfair are as big as cats, you know. Just thought I'd mention it. Actually, on cats, it's the Captain's privilege to announce a new collar alarm, the Liberator (pounds 11.95, from Khazu of Huntingdon). Much more effective than the bell, apparently, it flashes and goes "beep-beep" just as your cat is about to spring upon that bird it has been patiently stalking for the last hour. A bit of a blow, I should have thought, at a difficult time, what with this serial cat killer about. Flash. Beep-beep.

t SORRY? Oh, yes, Lord Irvine and Bob Marshall-Andrews. Word reaches the Captain that Bob is a little upset about his appearance on Have I Got News For You, during which he retold his famous apercu about the Tightless One, first aired at a big dinner before the election, in the presence of Irvine, the one that goes like this: "Today we have a Lord Chancellor [Mackay of Clashfern] who is a Scotsman and a teetotaller. After 1 May, we'll have a Lord Chancellor who is a Scotsman ... well, a Scotsman anyway." Afterwards, Derry expressed shock that such a crack should have been aired before an audience of 200. Bob thought the old boy meant it was such a good gag that it deserved far wider exposure, which is why he told it to the several millions who watch HIGNFY. He now realises that he got completely the wrong end of the stick, and is penitent. A tricky business, public life, isn't it? Next!

t NOW, the matter of Mr Langford of Canterbury, the reader who complained that not all the items in my acclaimed miscellany, viz the tips on getting into a wetsuit and cling-filming spectacles while painting, were original. The Captain, you will remember, decided to let you decide whether Mr Langford should be allowed to continue as a reader, and announced a Moonlight You The Jury Exclusive Telephone Poll. And the result was: an absolute dead heat! Mr Langford: I could have taken the Hoffman route and used my casting vote against you, but the Captain is a clement man. Please stay, but do try a little harder to embrace the Moonlight philosophy. Like, for example, Mr Ingham of Knutsford, who has been following with great interest my series on Oswestry (where The Editor was born!) and has supplied today's exclusive picture ( down there, on the left) of Mrs Ingham entering old Oswestry by the Welsh Gate. Or Mr Douch of Wellingborough, who tells me that in Wellingborough all the local authority vehicles are now painted white. Thank you, Messrs Ingham and Douch. Bubbly! But, Mr Sladen of Woodstock: trouble. Mr Forbes of East Horsley writes to say that the inflatable trouser cushions you told me about last week were in Huxley's Antic Hay, not Waugh's Decline and Fall. Mr Sladen: no bubbly! Next: is Mr Meek of Vienna (ibid) my most far-flung reader? Next!

t AND now it is my acclaimed miscellany, a thing of snippets, asides and the odd report you may have missed. And it's congratulations to Tom Rawlinson, 90, who has built a model town out of cornflake packets covering four tables at his home in Ashford. Next, some terrific news from Christie's: Lord Lloyd Webber is selling his piano! It's the one he has been composing and playing on since 1988. You should know, though, that it is not his only piano. He's selling another one, too. And, a spokeswoman informs me, he's got lots more at home. How many, I hope to reveal next week. You may care to guess. Ms Tributable has been on again, to confirm that W Hague often does a judo work-out immediately before question time. Be very careful, Tony, when you bow your head to look at your notes. And, finally, late, late cranberry sauce vote update: it's now 53 per cent in favour of the berries. Bye!

GOODNESS me! Not getting any easier at Westminster, is it? A plucky Lord Bragg is shown receiving treatment after a particularly heated exchange with the Earl of Onslow. Lady Jay is on the right. No? Marks & Spencer's new chief executive bravely modelling the spring catalogue? The Prince of Wales towards the end of another party? All right, it's a Nato exercise.

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