COME WITH the Captain now to an executive box at Arsenal Football Club and enjoy the company of Roger Levitt, the well-known champagne-sipper, cigar-smoker and fraudster who has paid his debt to society by giving 180 hours of his time free to the community.
Mr Levitt, who was recently discharged from a bankruptcy involving debts of some tens of millions of pounds, was in affable, expansive mood. 'I am,' he told the assembled company, 'a folk hero.' And, apparently, it was true: on the way out of the ground, he was hugged and kissed by an exuberant Arsenal fan. Like I always say, a funny old game.
THIS is the column which likes to keep you au courant with social trends, what's in, what's out, the done thing, the undone thing. Today the Captain turns his wavering beam on the head butt, very much the coming thing. Time was when this abrupt contribution to argument was a thing of unlit alleyways and anywhere where Wimbledon FC happened to be playing. Recently, though, it has made several significant advances.
Last week, for example, produced the first example I have seen of a head butt on the squash court (previously the preserve of mild-mannered estate agents, accountants and office equipment salesman) when a Pakistani delivered one to an Australian celebrating a winning crosscourt forehand. Last month, at, of all places, Twickenham, the Welsh fly-half attempted to apply one to the English fly-half right under his own goalposts. Being Welsh and a fly-half, he combined it with a flying leap, but the effect was the same. And, interestingly, no one seemed to find it at all unusual or worthy of particular comment.
Away from the heat of the sporting arena, Chris Donald, of Viz magazine, creator of Biffa Bacon, the head-butter's role model, urges particular caution in fish-and-chip queues, where the practice is, for some reason, common. I also have news of an outbreak in more exalted digestive circumstances: a dinner at the London Marriott Hotel organised by the Lonsdale International Sporting Club, whose president, the Earl Grey, also a former president of the Association of Cost and Executive Accountants, was, for no reason, suddenly subject to the attentions of the forehead of an over-emotional fellow diner. The Earl, thankfully, was not badly hurt; nevertheless the Captain does urge you not to relax your guard at either the fish shop or black tie bashes.
HOW refreshing, amid the petty nastinesses of modern life, to be able to report that loyalty can still be offered and graciously received. Some people may blame Sir Peter Morrison, Margaret Thatcher's parliamentary private secretary, for her undignified end, but the pair remain friends. So touched was Morrison by the Baroness's last visit to his country home that he later sent all involved a photograph of Lady Thatcher with his dog.
On its way: the life of Mary's husband
HERE'S the answer to something that may be bothering Lord Archer, athlete, author, politician, success and husband of Mary Archer: yes, that man with his family when you had the open day at your beautiful Grantchester home last summer was the BBC Newsnight reporter who keeps popping up to interview you at by-elections. It's Michael Crick and he's writing your biography. Crick, exposer and examiner in previous books of Militant, Arthur Scargill and Manchester United, has been working on an Archer biography for nearly two years and expects the book to come out next autumn. He promises, inter alia, interesting material on the early Archerian days, a matter for much speculation. His Lordship showed his usual capacity for listening when I asked him if he were aware of the biography or had co-operated with it: 'I don't know. I'm not interested. Thank you, goodbye.'
COLD, miserable, wind-blown and chapped? Depressed? Worried that spring will never come? Just thought I'd mention that John Paul Getty is in Barbados this weekend, celebrating the refit of his large, luxury yacht.
HERE IT is, Captain Moonlight's acclaimed Catch-Up Service, the digest of the week's other news . . . British actors staging a saucy show in Singapore flash a red light when nudes are about to appear so the audience can shut their eyes. A bell rings when the nude scenes end to let people know they can look again . . . An injured hedgehog taken to Hull Hedgehog Hospital has made a full recovery, except that it now only walks backwards. Worker Pat Bone said: 'It must have received a blow to its head' . . . A magician who pretends to cut his penis off has been banned from appearing at Colne, in Lancashire. Clive Webb's trick involves a girl slicing a sausage. 'They were under no illusion when I booked,' he said . . . A former BBC newsreader known as 'The Man with the Midnight Voice' has changed sex . . . Janet Carr, 39, of Falmouth, Cornwall, has managed to ease her pet tortoise Tiger's breathing problems by smearing his box with Vick . . . A biography of Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett has been translated into Turkish . . . and, finally, gardener Joe Wood, 67, has had his shed stolen from his allotment in Freshbrook, Wiltshire . . .
Well, if you insist
WHAT A wonderful, talented woman Joanna Lumley is] Timing, intelligence, presence, and what vowels] So good in that marvellous, marvellous thing with that woman comedian when they're drunk or worse all the time, so clever to subvert so deliciously her glamorous image] The Captain, like any other male who likes to call himself red-blooded, has been in love with her for years. You can imagine, then, my depression when I read in an interview with her in the Radio Times of 22 January this year that it would perhaps be the last interview she would ever give.
'I've talked for 25 years,' she said, 'and there's nothing else to say.' Lawks] What would I, what would we all do without the Lumley view on acting and life? How would commissioning editors ever fill all that space? It's been tough. Since 22 January, according to the Captain's reckoning, which is not comprehensive, Lumley interviews have appeared in the Times, the People, the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Express, the Mail on Sunday, the News of the World, Best, Marie Claire, the Daily Telegraph and Time Out. We have had the art of the advertising voice-over compared to haiku, we have had the Lumley-wears-no-knickers sensation, followed by the Lumley-only-wears-no-knickers-when-she-doesn't-want-her-panty-line-to-sh ow rebuttal. And now we have had the first of the new television series, which I thought was a triumph over weakish material, although there were some who thought it a right old load of codswallop.
Summoned by belles
A SMALL Betjfest is upon us, 10 years after the cuddly laureate's death. The first volume of his collected letters, edited by his daughter, Candida Lycett Green, is about to be published and has just been serialised in part, seething extracts of instant betrothals and fumbling romances, cute slang and teddy bears. And on its heels, in its shadows a little, as in life, comes a book by Candida's daughter, Imogen, on the poet's wife, the formidable Penelope, brusque lover of India, the outdoors, horses and high places.
Lady Betjeman died in 1986, on the steps of a temple in the Himalayas, aged 76, leading a tourist expedition. Imogen had travelled with her through India the previous year. Grandmother's Footsteps recounts her retracing of that trip, combined with memoir. It is unaffected, affecting and manages the rare feat for an Engish travel writer of not treating Indians as amusing little coves, even when she is fending off the advances of Mr A D Sharma, tourist officer for the Rampur district of the Sutlej Valley, or debating with a Jain swami the relative merits of John Mortimer characters: 'His Rumpole is an ordinary man if you ask me, but this Titmuss, he is worth thinking over.'
Back in England now, she says the trip and the book, the talking to her grandmother's Indian friends, have helped her to appreciate better a 'bossy, compassionate, emotional, funny, kind' woman; and to see beyond that, particularly to a sadness that she and Betjeman had drifted apart, he to London and she to her 'Himalayan' hills outside Hereford, on the Welsh border. 'I hadn't really understood any of that,' she says, 'that it had weighed on her . . . but she felt she could talk to people in India about it.'
Not that she wants to present a picture of an overshadowed, disappointed, unfulfilled Penelope. There were her two books, one on Spain, one on India; there was her enthusiasm, her fierce interests, her refusal to be cowed by age. Imogen's book recounts some of it: ordering hippies to get up to watch a sunset, the fiercely typed notes with their energetic capitals: 'A FEW TIPS FOR MEMBERS OF LADY BETJEMAN'S TOUR OF INDIA . . . TUMMY TROUBLE IS LARGELY PSYCHOLOGICAL. It is in the mind and if YOU ARE DETERMINED TO GET IT then you WILL.'
And she was, for Imogen, a much larger character than Betjeman. 'She was louder for a start.' He was 'just my grandfather who was Poet Laureate. He used to come and stay at Christmas and stuff. I loved being round him. He made us laugh and he wrote us lovely letters, but she was the larger figure.' Imogen won pounds 1 from him for reciting the verse about Diana and her awfully bad luck at the gymkhana.
Loyalty to grandfather and mother makes her less than ecstatic about the selection of letters serialised; the stuff about first loves and social climbing is old hat, she says with the firmness of one whose mother is a confidante of the Prince of Wales and whose father used to run a Savile Row tailors before going into oil. As for snobbery, her grandfather was 'a champion of the ordinary'.
Imogen, 27, married to a wildlife film cameraman, considers herself ordinary beside two such originals. She is not 'worried by achievement. I don't long to be a national figure'. But she would like to write more. And soon she is going to Leicester, with greetings for its its 25,000 Jains from the Mortimer-reading swami.
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