Captain Moonlight: The column with more donkey than the rest

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The Independent Culture
AHOY! Good to have you on board. I'd like to start this week by talking about us. You will have seen that the Government has just published its annual set of statistics about the nation. Well, as part of the Moonlight monitoring service ("We never blink"), I have been delving deep, very deep indeed. Ready? 1) On Page 36, Table 1.14, inter-regional migration within the United Kingdom, I discovered, by reading down the table, that 16,000 people had migrated from Yorkshire and the Humber to the North West, while 16,000 people had migrated from the North West to Yorkshire and the Humber. What can be going on? Is it some quaint northern custom? Are they the same people? Has the BBC started a programme called Changing Regional Areas? Call me. 2) It takes a Briton on the average hourly earnings for all industries and services one hour and one minute to earn enough to buy one kilogram of frozen cod fillets. 3) Eleven per cent of people who did not report a crime "dealt with the matter themselves". Crikey. Not in the Home Counties, surely? 4) The number of men dressmaking, doing needlework or knitting has risen from two per cent of the population to three per cent since 1977. 5) According to my calculations, based on Table 13.13, participation in selected leisure activities away from home, by age, nearly 300,000 people aged 60 or over had visited a "nightclub" or "disco" in the three months before they were interviewed. Well done! Did you know, by the way, that during a year the liver secretes enough bile to paint the outside of 30 detached houses? Remarkable. Next!

t BBRRNNGG! Goodness me, it's the telephone, and, on it, my new Euroland correspondent, Ms Cher D Currency. "Hot news, Captain! The European Commission doesn't have any objections to the acquisition of shares from Elsa Elbe- Saale Recycling GmbH, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Otto, by Alba AG & Co." Hmm. I'm not sure Ms Currency is quite up to speed with the special requirements of the Moonlight readership. I wonder, tactfully, if "there's anything else about". "Not really, Captain," she says. "Except for one of those exclusive thingies. Apparently, Joschka Fischer, German deputy chancellor and foreign minister, made an unannounced visit to London for New Year's Eve." Hmm. This is more interesting. Fischer is the Green v keen on European political union; the one who, as I noted only last week , bears an uncanny resemblance to that man who used to play Captain Onedin in the Eponymous Line. What on earth could he have been doing here? Plotting with other shadowy centrist fanatics before bursting into "Auld Lang Nein" at midnight? "Well, I do know one thing he did, Captain,'' volunteers Ms Currency. "He popped into a bookshop and bought that book by Hugo Young of The Guardian all about the British and Europe, post-war. And he's read it." Good grief, I reflect, on replacing the receiver, things are far worse than we thought. Has anybody else noticed, by the way, the amazing resemblance between Otto Schily, the interior minister, and Rod Stewart? Next!

t THE CAPTAIN is very big on the World Wide Web, you know. I even have my own e-mail address: moonlight@independent. Great place out there, isn't it? Only last week I came across e-mail addresses for both HM The Queen and Elvis Presley. Naturally, I whizzed off messages to both of them. A loyal greeting, on your behalf, to HM (no, no reply yet; boot up and check that mail, your Maj!). And to Elvis, whose address, curiously, is "Nice to see you in work. Which branch are you at? Do you have responsibility for any particular aisle? Confectionery? Relishes?" In response, this message flashed up, several times: "Recipient's mailbox busy/not found/no access." Cripes! Keep your eyes peeled, Tesco shoppers!

t ACTUALLY, that little mention of Tesco reminds me that I have momentous news! Yes, Pru has been in touch! Dogged readers have thrilled and gasped at my exhaustive (and perhaps a little exhausting!) attempts to get in touch with Ms Prunella Scales, the fine actress, to ask her whether she thinks there might be any conflict in her twin roles of Tesco advertising icon and President of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, given that supermarkets are supposed to be attacking rural England at every turn. "I'm so sorry not to have been in touch before," writes Prue. "We've been out of the country, and are now deep in rehearsals for the regional tour of The Birthday Party, and I'm finding it hard to catch up with correspondence." A confident start, I think you'll agree. And it's sustained as Pru points out that the character she plays in the ads, as in her plays, does not necessarily bear any resemblance to herself or her views. She goes on to praise the new Tesco Metro stores, built on brownfield sites "which stay open late and help the regeneration of urban life". She continues: "Although CPRE is opposed to all inappropriate building on greenfield sites and has never fought shy of dialogue with Tesco or any other supermarket chain, we believe it is through dialogue with the corporate sector that corporate responsibility and environmental performance will improve. We are keen to stimulate debate about the role of supermarkets in all our lives, and are grateful to your column for contributing to it". Well! She's certainly convinced me. But what do you think? Is Pru off the hook? Let me know now on 0171 293 2462. Nice plug for the play, by the way, Pru! Next!

t BBRRNNGG! The telephone, again, and on it, yes, my redoubtable political correspondent, Ms Una Tributable. "Captain! Ashdown's gone, apparently. Remarkable. But don't, whatever you do, fall into the trap of describing him as the longest serving party leader. That, of course, is Lord Sutch, of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party. Been in the political arena since 1963, stood in Stratford when Profumo resigned. Must dash, something about Mandelson and a mortgage. Did you know, by the way, that at one stage Peter was very keen on renaming Hartlepool Hart-le-Pool? Remarkable." Indeed, indeed. On!

t JOURNALISM: a tough old game. The good years are few, let me tell you. That's why it's important to cash in while you can. So I was most taken with an article in UK Press Gazette, the trade paper, detailing the money to be made by distinguished journalists on the after-dinner circuit. A lot of them around, you know. Tony Livesey, editor-in-chief of the Daily Sport and the Sunday Sport, is very popular, particularly when he turns up accompanied by a topless woman riding a donkey. Fees? Sir David Frost is said to be able to command up to pounds 25,000 a shot, Andrew Neil up to pounds 10,000, while Charles Moore, editor of the Daily Telegraph, according to Brendan Barnes, of Speakers for Business, could have pounds 2,000 for the asking. I telephone Charles to apprise him of this, but he is not interested; he never accepts fees, he says. A little short-sighted, I can't help thinking, even if he hasn't got a donkey. I get in touch with Barnes about alternatives. The two chaps here, for example, I say, the editor of this paper and the editor of the daily paper, are both very lively, both do a very good turn. Barnes is cautious, but I think we could swing it at around the Moore rate. Then again, there is the editor of the Sunday Telegraph, Dominic Lawson, who must have some very interesting stories to tell, as I understand he is something of an expert in security matters. Sorry? The Captain? Listen, very reasonable: pounds 1500, and I throw in the carrots. Call the Moonlight Media Speaker Service ("A smile guaranteed, laughter a little bit extra") on 0171 293 2462 now!

t BBRRNNGG! Praise be, it is my churches correspondent, Father R C "Happy" Clappie! "Captain! Basil Hume, cardinal and all-round saintly figure! Friend of the spiritual, enemy of the commercial! But, sadly, I have to report some restlessness among his Westminster diocese priesthood. They are being brought to their knees by a barrage of mailshots from the diocesan offices, offering them special deals and money off everything from photocopiers to fire extinguishers, and exhorting them to consider themselves `stakeholders in the diocesan enterprise'. Personally, I don't see what they're complaining about. With this sort of slick operation, we'll soon be able to buy back Westminster Abbey!" I thank Father Clappie and say goodbye, but I don't think he can hear me over the click of the beads. Dominus Vobiscum!

t BBRRNNGG! Yes, it's Russell Nib, my fearless media correspondent! "Captain! The New Statesman. It's got this advertisement with twinkly lights and aerial photos promoting the virtues of a new Anglo-American airborne radar system currently competing for a Ministry of Defence contract involving joint military operations between the two countries! Radar, Captain! Military operations! In the New Statesman! Interested?" Hmm. I have to take quite a firm line with Nib, pointing out that 1) Times change, real world, beards and pulses long gone, advertisers want to reach all these new Labour people who read the Statesman, military man myself, these sort of surveillance systems could prevent war not provoke it, even if the casual reader might be left with the impression that the aerial photo features downtown Baghdad, accompanied as it is by the slogan, "Making Joint Operations A Success"; 2) Peter Wilby, the editor, has described this column as "postmodern" and "brilliantly anarchic" and I haven't got that many fans. I suggest Nib rings Peter. "I already have done, Captain! He says advertisers have absolutely no influence on his fearless editorial line. And ..." And? "And he says before we get so hoity-toity and high-moral we should ask our proprietor, Dr Tony O'Reilly, who, as you may remember, Captain, is also chairman of Heinz, about all the sugar he puts in his baked beans!" I replace the receiver, reflecting, not for the first time, that the pursuit of truth does have its difficulties.

t AND NOW, my acclaimed Moonlight Miscellany, a sundry sort of thing. And first, yes, that's right, it's time once again for Culture with the Captain! And tomorrow sees the publication of the autobiography of Syd Little, one half of the comic pairing, Little and Large. It is entitled Little Goes A Long Way. The Captain feels a competition coming on: your best similarly striking autobiographical titles, please: bubbles all round! Next, around the regions: Flower arranging classes, United Reform Church, Neath, Tuesday, 2 pm, pounds 1, ring Mrs Gallanders on 01639 771348. Next, Travel News: and I'm afraid Jersey has decided to cancel its new advertising campaign featuring a Nazi gun emplacement and the slogan, "Jersey, where there's always something to keep everyone occupied". Next, Crime Watch International: A man in Strasbourg exposed himself to 30 girls exercising in a park, only to discover that they were police women having an aerobics class. They gave chase and captured him as he was trying to escape over a barbed wire fence. And, finally, our furthest flung reader so far, Mr Noble of Vancouver, has answered my appeal for advice about whether one should lie down and play dead or run upon encountering a grizzly bear. Play dead, says Mr Noble; running is the worst thing you can do. Thank you, Mr Noble. I just hope we haven't lost too many Canadian readers in the meantime. Bye!

THIS WAY, love: the touching scene outside London's Ritz Hotel as HRH the Prince of Wales picked up his old friend, serious chum, and fellow fox botherer, Mrs Camilla Parker Bowles, (extreme left) after a special charity recording of Celebrity Squares. "It was amazing," said one happy onlooker. "Camilla raised her hand and the Prince expertly stopped right next to her. She got in, and then they drove away. Amazing." Actually, it's the London to Sydney Overland Expedition leaving Singapore. It is.