Captain Moonlight

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The Independent Culture
What ho! What do you think of the decorations? Pretty good this year, I think, although there was the usual trouble with the fairy lights. Still, after going through that individual tightening business, I finally got them all working, so that was okay. But I think I might have to buy some new ones next year, you know. Gosh, I love Christmas. Let's get on with the Captain's Traditional Xmas Round-Up, shall we? And first, a couple of tips for stress avoidance. One: do not, on any account, do anything Jane Asher recommends. Two, this warning from the British Hernia Centre about lifting the turkey out of the oven: the Captain has followed a simple, preventative routine for years, involving overalls, helmet, goggles and one of those boards with wheels you go under cars with. Using all of the above, slide yourself up to the oven, open the door, and then with a simple lift and jerk pass the turkey to a waiting assistant. Now, is your name Noel, Holly, Ivy, or, perhaps, Jesus? If so, the Captain has exciting news for you: this Christmas, for one day only, the Co-op has decided to give you a free Xmas pud. Sadly, it was yesterday. Moonlight bargains: hanging baubles from 50p at B&Q; or what about a personally selected tree, "sourced exclusively from several country estates" by Joshua Dugdale and Christopher Prain at the Wasing Tree Company of Fulham for as little as pounds 12.50 a foot? Gifts? The Captain can do no better than recommend the Tanita Body Fat Monitor, available from all good stores; and, for that pet in your life, a hamster potty, including scoop, pounds 3.79, or (see my exclusive picture) the moulded Xmas fireside scenes for your favourite fish, pounds 6.99 and pounds 4.99, both from Petsmart. Thank you.

t MOONLIGHT Dictator and Despot Neighbourhood Watch. Yes, we all know about General Pinochet in Wentworth, but Duane, my correspondent specialising in the world of celebrities, minor European royalty and other rulers, has news from that exclusive piece of Essex in urbe, Bishop's Avenue, big houses, big garages, Hampstead: "Captain! Slobodan Milosevic! President of Serbia! Contacts of his, I am told, are busy buying up most of the avenue! Big Xmas party there the other night, apparently, orchestra flown in from Belgrade, the lot, although, between you and me, I'm a weeny bit sceptical about the supposed similarity between the floppy-haired conductor and Dr Radovan Karadzic!" I thank Duane, and replace the receiver, musing that this, clearly, is a trend that might well catch on. Saddam, for example, might find Walthamstow Town Hall to his taste. Failing that, you can pick up something very roomy in Chingford for around pounds 300,000, if you know where to look. Next!

BBRRNNGG! The telephone, and on it, my arts correspondent, Lieutenant Easel, clearly the worse for the current round of festivities. "Captain!' he shouts. "Party season taking its toll! Only yesterday I managed to overhear, by dint of lying under the table, some clearly confused remarks from a distinguished trustee of the Victoria and Albert Museum about his new chairman of trustees, Paula Ridley, the one from the Liverpool Tate. Well, this trustee was claiming, loudly, that before she got the job the nearest Paula had ever got to the V&A was Harrods! But the V&A says this is just not true. What can it all mean, Captain?" Goodness. I mutter something non-committal about the ever-interesting world of the arts and return with relief to my fairies. Next!

THE CAPTAIN REGRETS: Mo Udall, veteran Democrat congressman, who has gone to the last great Caucus. Mo, from Arizona, was one of the first environmental campaigners and perhaps the only man to run for President after first playing professional basketball with one eye. He also had a terrific sense of humour, and was responsible for one of the Captain's all-time favourite political line, capturing perfectly as it does the joy of democracy. Asked to comment after losing one of the 1976 primaries to Jimmy Carter, Udall said: "The people have spoken. The bastards." How true. Perhaps I shall not be running for Mayor of London, after all. Next!

HOWEVER, there is a job I have just noticed that could be right up my information highway. Yes, Mr Mandelson is looking for an e-Envoy! Do come on. I will be reporting directly to Mr Mandelson, and, as required, to the Prime Minister, in my role as spearhead of the Government's drive to make Britain the best environment worldwide in which to trade electronically. All I have to do first is demonstrate my global perspective, strong advocacy skills, particularly my track record of influencing and building relationships at a senior level, my thorough, realistic and broad understanding of the potential of the "Information Age", my excellent intellectual ability and strategic insight and the subtlety and sensitivity which will enable me to undertake such a complex representational role. Gentlemen, I am ready to serve. You will find me at moonlight@independent.co.uk. I should add that I hold a grade six in advanced, ordinary-level mathematics, and that, in 1976, I scored 15 out of 50 for creative thinking in the Diplomatic Service entrance examination. e-Envoy! Who would have thought it? And does the e-Envoy get to take tea with the Drugs Czar?

ACTUALLY, mention of Peter reminds me that I promised to reveal to you, if you were at all interested, something concerning the President of the Board of Trade and the late Dame Catherine Cookson. Something which the Times newspaper, owned by Rupert Murdoch, whose takeover of Manchester United is under the President's scrutiny, has chosen not to publish. The decision was to be yours. All you had to do was telephone my Moonlight hotline, 0171-293 2462, and vote. The result was the traditional absolute dead heat. Which leaves me with the casting vote. I shall be announcing my decision next week, a decision that will be influenced by nothing more than my duty to you, and my duty to the Truth. I notice, by the way, Peter, that you are not offering a car as part of the e-Envoy package. Until next week, then.

SPIES, eh? Rum business. Mata Hari, Reilly, Ace of Spies, Commander Crabb, James Bond, and, now Dominic Lawson, distinguished editor of the Sunday Telegraph. Incredible! But the Captain has had a taste of this spying business, you know. Oh, yes, although my opportunities have been a bit limited by the aforementioned failure to pass the Diplomatic Service exams. Sorry? Why did I only score 15 out of 50 in that part of the paper devoted to creative thinking ? Well, candidates were asked to advise HMG on the implications of a man-powered aircraft capable of flying 60 miles, non-stop at 60 mph. My advice, which I thought was both entirely consistent with Whitehall thinking and a "creative take" on the effects the machine would have on aerospace and car manufacture, was to suppress it. Pity. What? My spy stories , including the encounter with Sir Rex Hunt, Governor of the Falklands? Worry not, all will be told. When I get the clearance.

DEEP sniffiness, I notice - thank you, Lady Antonia! - has greeted the inclusion of the first sandwich in the selection of major millennial moments for this new television advert for the Dome. Some - yes, thank you, Lady Antonia - have opined that the discovery of penicillin was rather more important. This is yet another example of what I term the bias against trivia. The elevation of trivia to its rightful place in world civilisation is my mission; and I have to say - pace Lady Antonia - that the tide seems to be turning my way! Anyway, I have decided to institute a competition. To find the Ten Most Important Trivial Discoveries, Inventions and Moments of the Millennium. Bubbles all round!

AND NOW, in conclusion, my acclaimed Moonlight Miscellany, a thing of snippets, asides, and that sort of thing. This week's top news story: weightlifter Manjit Singh, 48, broke a world record in Leicester by eating 271 peas with a cocktail stick in three minutes. This week's top tip: pinch out tips of sweet peas sown last month to create bushier growth.This week's far-flung reader: Mr Hewlett, in Pula, Croatia, working on a waste- water project. Have a happy one, Mr Hewlett. This week's Lord Hoffmann story: Lennie once commented that a student had taken to the law like a cat to water. This week's top news release: Alcan Europe tell me they have appointed Marcel Daniels vice-president, corporate affairs, Europe. Well done, Mr Daniels. And, finally, at this time of year, the Captain would like you, amid all the fun and laughter, to come with him down by the Thames, where a bunch of forlorn creatures have been gathering, wistful for better days. Yes, it's all those former Tory MPs, patiently waiting their turn in the House of Commons gifte shoppe, unable to shake off their addiction to giving those mints with the fancy portcullis on as Xmas presents. Bye!

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