Captain Moonlight

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HELLO there! No, as you were, as you were. You don't remember me, do you? Come on, be honest, I don't mind. No reason why you should. It's just that I was here before, a long time ago, on this very newspaper. It must be, oh, two years ago. Then, Captain Moonlight was the very non pareil of Sunday diarists, an ear behind the arras in any London salon worth its entree, a foot in the door wherever light ale and sound thinking mingled, zeitgeisty, really au fait, that sort of thing. But, inevitably, the life of a social and cultural barometer has its ups and downs. And so it was that the pressure, combined with an unfortunate incident in Old Compton Street, complete misunderstanding, led me to seek another way, beyond Braintree, to Frinton on Sea. Do you know Frinton? There's something very soothing, even healing, about the wind whipping through the slats of a beach hut, isn't there? Anyway, now I'm back, braced for another thrilling ride through the heartlands of Cool Britannia. Next!

RUGBY LEAGUE. There's a game for you. The Captain was thrilled to be among the several thousands present recently for the clash between the London Broncos and St Helens at the Stoop, Twickenham, also home to Harlequins, who play the junior rugby code, union. Although it was a most exciting encounter, I rather missed the informality of the Broncos' previous ground-share, with Charlton at The Valley. The Broncos' cheerleaders, for instance, are no longer called the Broncettes, with a hard "c"; now they are the Bronco Belles. No more does the public address announce, as at Charlton, that they ''will be available in the bar afterwards''. But I was glad to see the Broncos' chairman, nice Richard Branson, the one with the trains, smiling broadly despite his team having left their bid to win the game far too late. Captain's Rider: He's always smiling, isn't he? Do you think it all possible that he might be wearing a Richard Branson mask?

BBRRNNGG! A strangely familiar sound. It is my telephone, and, on it, a young woman with a low, attractive voice who wishes to take advantage of my reputation for complete discretion and remain anonymous. For now. "Captain,'' she says. ''Where have you been?" I tell her. "Captain," she says. "Did you enjoy the recent radio programmes in which Lord Hattersley read the clearly fictitious diaries of his dog, Buster?'' I concede that Buster's droll apercus on the human condition have been probably my least favourite of his Lordship's entertaining and prodigious output. "Captain,'' she says, ''we must ensure they are never inflicted upon the nation again - and I know how!'' She then makes allegations, in graphic, distressing detail, of an entirely inappropriate encounter between a girl, her blouse and the said canine's canines outside Buckingham Palace a full year after Buster's tearful contrition, castration and conviction for savaging a goose to death in St James's Park. And threatens to go public if Roy ever unleashes Buster on us again. I argue freedom of expression, to no avail. Yes, it is an ugly word, Roy, but what can I can do?

BUT I'm terrifically fond of dogs. Really. The Captain has a record. When I see the rights of the dog being attacked, I attack. Mine, some of you might remember, was a lone voice for sanity when this newspaper launched one of its hard-hitting campaigns against the right of dogs to relieve themselves anywhere in any manner they thought fit; just as mine, again, was a lone voice for sanity when this newspaper launched one of its hard-hitting campaigns against the right of the monarchy to rule over us. And who was on the winning side in both instances? Right, thank you, God Save The Queen and just watch where you're treading. Sorry? The cannabis campaign? I can't remember that one. But back to the point. And I must say that no one is looking forward more keenly to the prospect of foreign travel together than the Captain and his faithful companion, Eubank, my affectionate attack dog, whose innocent enthusiasms make Buster seem positively listless. To the right is Eubank's first passport photo. Quite a good likeness, actually.

RUGBY LEAGUE, as it will, came up again on the way to the Reform Club. Do you know, I had quite forgotten the roguish charm of the London cabbie, the way those eyes twinkle as they hold yours locked tight by way of the rearview mirror. During a wide-ranging tour d'horizon of today's mores, mine told me of the time he had picked up four large Hull Kingston Rovers fans intent on doing Soho and dropped them at a gay pub in Vauxhall, assuring them of a good time. This, clearly, was a man unaware that being gay has been no bar to playing prop for both Wigan and Australia. Reasoning that the Hull lads would want to thank him for his discernment, I made a note of his number: E4988. Here's to a happy reunion. The Reform? A book launch, for the new Robert Harris, Archangel. A rush to congratulate me on my return. A smiling blonde photographer fights her way through the scrum. I smile. She says, "Excuse me,'' and elbows me out of the way to take a picture of Andrew Neil. It can be cruel this game, you know.

WHICH is why I have more than a little sympathy for President Clinton. Here is a man being subjected to the most outlandish, intrusive and undignified questioning. So what does he do? Does he lose his temper, lash out? He does not. He seeks to elevate the debate. This is his reply to a question about whether he had lied when previously maintaining that he had not had an affair with Ms Lewinsky: "It depends on what the meaning of 'is' is''. What style! What sangfroid! He wants to talk philosophy, to discuss the verb most intimately involved in the notion of existence, a matter of rigorous exercise for all the big boys in the thinking game. Aquinas was very keen. Bill, clearly, too. He wants to chat about the distinction between property and identity, and muse on beingness. But can I find anyone who wants to join in? The great Sir Anthony Kenny is, frankly, sniffy about having anything to do with anything to do with poor Bill. Noam Chomsky? On Bill and Is, Noam's a No-No. I call Cambridge, and they say, ''Thomists are a bit thin on the ground round here''. I call Columbia and ask for the philosophy department. "Spell philosophy for me,'' they say on the switchboard. I know how you feel, Bill.

PICTURE department. You're wondering about the other pictures. The beach hut is easily explained. That's where I've been for the last two years, thinking, resting, just generally chilling out, and working on my book, Moonlight and Hoses: Patio Gardening The Captain's Way (with Alan Titchmarsh). No, that's just a friend with me. Just a friend. Actually, beach huts are becoming very desirable, you know. In Southwold, they're going for pounds 14,000 a shot, but I think I can do better than that for anybody interested. Next time I leave, which, hopefully, will not be for many a year, it's going to be South America. Long record of hospitality. I'm currently being taught Spanish by Walter, a charming Anglo-Chilean (Chile, by the way, for those who have not been paying attention to Emma Thompson, is pronounced with a short 'i' and a long 'e'). Anyway, Walter pointed out last week that the Spanish for the pope is el papa, while la papa is a potato, which I thought was rather interesting. Next!

BUT WHAT can compete with the variety, the energy, the pzazz, the sheer buzz of premillennial, Mandelblairian London? Take just three cameos from the Captain's week. One: Mayfair. I'm coming out of Nicky's salon (the roots again) when a woman comes rushing in, late for her appointment: she's been mugged, but luckily Tom and Nicole are neighbours, and Tom's bodyguards saw what was happening and fought the muggers off! We are all tremendously lifted. Two: that terrific little greengrocers in Notting Hill. Nigella, fresh from Bookering, comes in. She has news for all of us: "I'm doing moussaka!'' My, it's good to be part of it again. Three: that terrific little newsagents at the top of Ladbroke Grove, the one Harold and Antonia use. Three young builders are surveying the racks, where the LRB, the NYRB, and the TLS are prominently displayed. After some time, they turn to the proprietor and confide: "Not much top shelf material is there, mate?'' Priceless!

RIGHT. Look at the fetching image of the Captain up over there. Observe the hat. Now, in former days, that hat was not just a hat. No. It was a vital marketing space. This, I will have you know, was the first ever sponsored diary column. On that hat, the producers of such diverse, but high quality, products as port and shirts advertised their wares. This meant that the Captain was able to distribute said port and shirts among you as a reward for sharing your wit and erudition with the rest of us. And it will happen again. Already I have approached Pfizer, manufacturers of Viagra. A spokesman said the company was looking to redress publicity that hadn't been right for a serious medicine. Sadly, though, the Captain and his readers couldn't help with this repositioning because such sponsorship was forbidden by the Medicine Advertising Regulations Act. So that was a bit of a let- down. But it does leave the field free for a frantic auction. Right this way, please. Steady, Ralph; careful, Calvin. Bye!

WELL, well, well. What's that Will Carling been up to now? A bit drastic, I grant you, but they tell me this brand new mobile emergency prophylactic sex aversion unit has been a big hit in the United States, and has helped many, many people control their urges. I'm not sure the hunky romeo love rat bride-to-be-and-mother-of-his-child-deserting former England rugby captain and companion of Diana, Princess of Wales, is looking too well in there, though. He definitely looks a bit peaky to me. No? A spin doctor on call-out? A scene from the auteur Michael Winner's latest shocker, Revenge of the Angry Goldfish? The Duke of Edinburgh launching Phase Four of the Buckingham Palace glasnost offensive with his own wry take on a bicycling monarchy? All right, all right, it's US architect and inventor Hans Walter Muller in Paris last week demonstrating his electric bicycle in a plastic bubble. It is. Honestly.