Diary: Captain Moonlight

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The Independent Culture
AHOY! I've been noticing lately, as I'm sure you have, that it has become fashionable to mock our Government's bold attempts to "rebrand" Britain. Well, sorry, but I for one welcome the Millennium Products Initiative, which aims to promote British creativity by listing and promoting those British products which should soon be sweeping the world if they are not already. And yet, as I studied the latest list, released last week, I couldn't help thinking that we were in danger of selling ourselves short. For while the Captain would be among the first to applaud the clockwork radio, non-polish shoes, non-iron clothes, and the Lancashire BSP Converter, a unique pipe fitting which enables a plumber to change (or convert) from a standard (BSP) thread to a piece of tube sealed with an O-ring, I still find myself worrying that the British genius for inventing things you didn't even know you needed is being seriously under-represented. Where, for example, is the Park-a-Plug plug holder ("Fed up with untidy plugs? Sink, basin and bath plugs can be a real nuisance, hanging around, cluttering up the place and generally getting in the way. Park-a-Plug is the answer")? Where is the Pot Noodle, invented here in 1977? Or the Corby electric trouser press (1970), a reassuring presence in many a hotel room? Exactly. And there's much more. Look, for example, at my picture. That is a Tissue Tower. Free standing, with a pretty plant motif, it holds and disguises up to five lavatory paper rolls and is an attractive and practical solution to an unsightly problem. Only pounds 10.99, from Home Free mail order. Or, for two or more, pounds 9.99. This is the sort of product that should not go unheralded. So I am compiling my own list: send your entries to the Moonlight Millennium Really Quite Fascinating Products Initiative. Rewards are promised. Next!

AND, NOW, Captain Moonlight's Justly Acclaimed Media Corner. And this week, I should like to concentrate on Editors. Splendid people. The new man here is very good, you know. A Yorkshireman, from Sheffield. Right. Anyway, moving on: Richard Stott, forthright former editor of the Daily Mirror and Today. Well, for some reason, he doesn't want anyone to know that he's masterminding, on behalf of Mr Murdoch, a new free newspaper for the London underground. It's going to be called The Tube. I know all this because Duane, my correspondent specialising in the world of the smaller sized newspapers, their readers and role models, a most reliable fellow, told me. He also made a lot of jokes about "down the tube, eh, Captain," and "Mind the Gap" and "underground press" which I won't bother you with because I'm shooting upmarket. Quite literally. Because I don't know about the management style where you work, but at the Daily Telegraph, the editor there, Charles Moore, keeps a pair of shotguns under the sofa in his office. He does. It's only a few floors above us here, in Canary Wharf, so I'm listening out for that low "crump-crump" sort of sound followed by a scream which will indicate that "Smoking Barrels", as he's known, is either unhappy with the layout on page three or has just bagged a brace through the window. Next!

BLACKPOOL. The Labour Party Conference. Listen, topicality isn't everything, you know. The Captain also has a duty to History. Which is why I must tell you about Peter Stothard, editor of the Times, and the mystery of his disappearing hearty breakfast. Each night in Blackpool, before retiring, he left out his room service order for the the full whack, black pudding, fried bread, and so on, and each morning he was given muesli and grapenuts or something similarly foreign and unfilling. Yes, some merry japester was altering his order. Step forward and deny it, Andrew Marr, playful former editor of The Independent, rooming just down the corridor. Sorry? Message from the Editor: that's enough Eds. Ed.

NOW, THEN. You will be wanting to know the Captain's Tip for Poet Laureate. You will know that Mr Tony Blair is taking this People's Poet thing very seriously indeed. Forget any of the posh names you may have heard, your Motions and your Fentons. In any event, I happen to know that old Motion charges at least pounds 250 a reading, and the laureate only gets pounds 97 a year, so he's right out. No, we have to look elsewhere. I must say I was very disappointed to learn that Sir Cliff doesn't write his lyrics. But Sir Paul, with such evocative, numinous works as his "Mary Had A Little Lamb", is being plugged by Mo Mowlam. (Thank you, Mo: wasn't "Give Ireland Back to the Irish" one of his, too, by the way?) There is, though, another stand-out contender, a rhymester with unmatched popular credentials, author of such lines as "So I am free/There's no boundaries for me/I am the freest of the free/This is my philosophy". Yes, that's right: Reggie Kray! He's got nothing to spend it on, anyway. Unconvinced? Try his epitaph for Ronnie: "Ron had great humour, a vicious temper/Was kind and generous/He did it all his way/But above all he was a man/That's how I will always remember/My twin brother Ron." Terrific. But wait, who is this, running late, on the rails? It's Des! Des Lynam! He's releasing a CD of poetry for Christmas, including one of his own, "The Silly Isles", about the Falklands conflict: "But when those exocets are fired/ When men are dead and others tired/Those sad grey rocks won't half have/Cost a lot." Sorry, Reggie. It is now.

MONARCHIST NEWS. And I must say this old officer's heart leapt when I heard that of all those Warhols being flogged off by Lord Archer (you must know him, little chap, writes) the ones snapped up first were the four portraits of the Queen. Well done, Ma'am! Quite makes up for the disappointment last weekend when Prince Michael failed to finish the London to Brighton veteran car rally. Broke down at Burgess Hill, apparently. My mother-in-law, by the way, who is Norwegian, tells me that HH Princess Raghnild of Norway, Mrs Erling Lorentzen, is 60th in line to the British throne, which is reassuring. And thank you, Mr Stallybrass of Bognor Regis, for letting me know that your cousin Oliver also has a Norwegian mother- in-law. Fascinating. Next!

BBRRNNGG! It is the telephone, and, on it, my parliamentary correspondent, Ms Una Tributable. My pen is poised, ready for the latest intelligence from the heart of government. "Captain! I have been talking with one of the excellent police officers who patrol the corridors of power here. And he told me that there is currently something of a crisis in taxi provision!" Indeed, I murmur. "Yes! It seems that the London cabbie is ignoring the light that tells him MPs are desirous of transport. This is for two reasons. The first is that most of the lazy articles only want to go a couple of hundred of yards to the Norman Shaw building or such. And the second is that their level of tipping, always legendary, has hit a record rock bottom!" I replace the receiver, mulling over this fresh insight into the Third Way.

BBRRNNGG! It is the telephone, again. And, on it, again, is Duane, my link with the lower orders. "Captain! This week's TV Times! The write- up on the National Television Awards! There's this story about how Gillian Taylforth fixed the zip on her sister's dress on the way to the awards!" I ask Duane why this should be thought interesting. "You must remember Gillian Taylforth, Captain! But it's the caption with the accompanying picture of the sisters that does it. It reads: 'Kim Taylforth's just glad her sister Gillian is handy with a zip'. Handy with a zip, Captain!" I replace the receiver, none the wiser, to be perfectly honest. Did you know, by the way, what they used to call Anne Sloman, the BBC's chief political advisor on editorial policy, the one who banned any mention of Peter Mandelson's private life, during her brief spell in television current affairs? The Abominable Sloman. Always a popular figure, then. Next!

NATURE NOTES with Captain Moonlight. Nature notes has been unavoidably held over this week. This means that you will have to wait until next week to find out about what happens when witches spit on blackberries; the serial cat killer terrorising London; and how to cure small, nervous dogs who "wee" on the floor when visitors come to call. Sorry!

AND NOW, the Moonlight Miscellany, my "wry take" on current events and happenings. And first off, you'll be wanting to know about the picture. It was sent to me by Mr McLean of Dover in the wake of last week's hard- hitting column, which featured a photograph of a bus shelter similar to the one claimed to be the least used bus shelter in Britain. Mr McLean writes: "Your photograph of a bus shelter was not that impressive, I must say. Instead, how about the least used tram shelter? This photograph is of a wonderful example on the outskirts of Dover (on the old Folkestone road) just after it had been renovated in 1994. Whilst it looks very pretty, the last tram left in 1937. Clang! Clang! David McLean". Thank you, Mr McLean! No doubt you, and many other readers, will also be delighted to learn that I have now found again the photo of the least used bus shelter, which I will show you next week, if you like. Next, Improve Your Quality of Life With These Handy Hints From The Captain. 1) To prevent trousers slipping off coat hangers, tie a rubber band around middle of cross-bar. 2) Insomniacs will be helped by eating a lettuce sandwich before retiring. And, finally, a gross slur has been perpetrated on one of my esteemed fellow columnists. Writing in the Spectator, a magazine, Joan Collins, an actress, witters on about being thrown out of some restaurant or other, proclaiming that the restaurateur knows he will get more publicity for throwing out "Joan Collins" than he would for "Joan Smith". The cheek! Time for A Moonlight You The Jury. Who would you rather be flung out with? That Joan or our Joan? Vote now on 0171 293 2462. Bye!

DEDICATION: Peter Mandelson gets an awful lot of press, but not very much of it concentrates on his willingness to set a hands-on example and lead from the front, does it? Here the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is pictured working on the Hampstead stretch of the Government's millennium bug eradication programme. No? Well, I had the same sort of idea for Sir John Birt and his digital TV programme. No? Then what about the Prince of Wales, always a dreamer, confusing a ski lift with a cable car? All right, all right, it's a German repair man.

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