HUP, one, two, three! The report in last week's New Scientist, that athletes run faster after taking a cold bath, comes as no surprise to the Captain; nor will it to anyone who has seen me loping to work of a morning. British Olympics competitors may wish to benefit from the full Moonlight cold bathing routine, which is designed around the "key concepts" of motivation, focus, and "creating and channelling the aggression". But it is not for the faint-hearted: no bubbles in there, no back-brush, and certainly no toys, not even submarines with wind-up propellers. Some of the more highly strung performers may find lying submerged to attention while singing all the verses of "God Save the Queen" a bit of a strain; I can only say it works for me. Ditto the handstand on the taps followed by twist and reverse back-flip on to the bathmat with which I customarily finish. Drying? Towel banned; a mixture of will-power and listening to the Today programme, particularly "Thought for the Day". Olympians may prefer to concentrate on Sebastian Coe's pay rise. Good luck!

n OBSERVATION: that's my game. I potter around and, occasionally, I notice things that give me pause. Take last week. There I was, wontedly, in Chelsea on one of those glorious summer mornings that can almost persuade you that life in the capital might just be tolerable, always providing you don't get taken out by the bull bars of a school-run Cherokee Jeep or whatever. And then I saw them. Geraniums. Pink geraniums. Lots of them. On the balconies of Sir Richard Rogers's house. Well. Excuse me. The one thing that my two horticultural consultants, "Scarifier" and "Gumboot", agree on is that pink geraniums are unarguably and irretrievably outre. I would have thought a pile of cucumbers would have been more the Great Architect's thing. Still, he has never been one to be hidebound by convention. Perhaps pink geraniums are about to be the next Big Thing. I now have a man posted 24 hours a day outside the Lloyd's Building ready to report on the replacement of all those pipes and thingies with window boxes.

CAPTAIN Moonlight's Guide To Those Surprising British Isles Number 33: Barnsley. There were, naturally, the usual southern sniggers at the news that, this week, after an opening ceremony opposite the Tesco car-park in Barnsley, it will become possible to walk a European footpath that passes through the Yorkshire town on its way to Istanbul. But Barnsley is rather more exciting than the cackling metropolitans might think, as my exclusive research reveals: 1)Alan Newbold of Barnsley downed two- and-a-half pints of raw eggs in 12.5 seconds in 1992. 2)In 1993, a thrush made its nest in a set of traffic lights at a busy Barnsley junction. 3)John and Jackie Hanby of Barnsley have an accommodation service for bonsai trees. 4)At the Metrodome Leisure Centre, you can order a bottle of Chateau Barnsley. 5)There is a Cafe Barnsley, in Gorlovka, in the Ukraine, which serves Yorkshire puddings. 6)In December 1992, a Vietnamese pot- bellied pig was found walking in the road in Barnsley. 7)Foster's Bakeries delivers its long-lasting baguettes, made from a secret recipe, to Brussels, Paris and Barcelona. 8)Dick Clegg, the England angling captain, is from Barnsley. 9)I used to go to school quite near Barnsley. 10)My friend Edward "Eddie" Lyons, who was very good at table tennis, was from Barnsley.

n NOBODY - nobody! - harbours a more passionate commitment to the Theatre than the Captain. Anyone seized of an irresistible urge to contact me of an evening would be best advised to visit the crush bar at one of Mr Cooney's farces or the front stalls at a Sir Andrew foot-tapper. Serious drama: mais oui! The gloomy Norwegian, the sombre Swede, I've sat through them all. Even Bond, Barker and Brenton. It's the risk, the sheer, sweaty danger of live performance that I adore, never knowing how exactly the bar staff will condescend to you this time or when that insistent American voice demanding instant plot analysis and interpretation will start up in the row behind. But now the Royal Court, as befits our leading experimental and innovative venue, has introduced a new edge. They've been awarded all this lottery money, you see, to build an ace caff underneath Sloane Square; but there's the usual snag: matching funding. Which is why people who are in the habit of going to the Royal Court, or have ever been in the habit of going to the Royal Court, or have just visited it once, are receiving a series of telephone calls from the Royal Court suggesting they may like to make a donation. And if you're not there, they just keep ringing. The record so far is six calls. The Captain has a suggestion for the Royal Court: it would be much simpler to make one call, then send that Steve Berkoff round.

SO. Tony Blair has made the Bloomsbury Dictionary of Contemporary Slang. "Tony Blairs" have replaced "Lionel Blairs" as rhyming slang for flared trousers. But nothing for John Major. This is a pity, which I hope you will help me remedy. Stand by for John Major rhyming slang. "That's a bit of a John Major" (John Major: hopeless wager). "Hang on, that's the John" (John Major: electronic pager). "Why must I be a John Major in love?" (John Major: teenager). "A pint of your best John, please John" (John Major: lager). Listen, I don't care how you pronounce it. Besides, this is John Major rhyming slang.

n NOT long ago, I brought you the news, exclusively, that if you speed up a tape recording of David Blunkett speaking, it sounds just like Arthur Scargill. Today, ceaseless in my mission to inform, I have another revelation: if you close your eyes, or listen to them on the radio, it is impossible to distinguish between the voices of Michael Howard and Paul Boateng. Another one to casually toss in down the pub, I should say, or, alternatively, keep in reserve for one of those silences at a sticky dinner party. Next!

YOU know how it is. There you are, snatching a brief respite from your exhausting schedule, skimming through the newspapers, chuckling over this, tutting over that, when, suddenly, you are brought up short by an item of such enormous implication that, in a rare double, your blood runs cold at the same time as beads of sweat break out on your forehead. Prepare yourselves. Daniel Day Lewis is being tipped to play Barry McGuigan in a film about the plucky little Irish boxer's life. Aaaaarrrrgggghhh! By the way, did you know that there is now a Noel Edmonds lookalike available, pounds 350 a function?

n THE Column That Gets Results: on 20 March 1994, as part of my drive against British cultural imperialism, I reported that I had telephoned the Egyptian Embassy urging them to press for the return of the Rosetta Stone and the Beard of the Sphinx from the British Museum. Ms Aya Karel, the cultural attache, promised to convey my message to Cairo. Last week, only just over two years later, Faruq Hosni, the Egyptian culture minister, called for their return. Moonlight: Getting Things Done. No Job Too Big or Too Small. Which brings me to Abigail Ratcliffe's mum, who has been on the telephone, concerned. Abigail has been doing some work experience at the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull. The art gallery's restaurant, The Loggia, is introducing musical interludes, and Abigail was asked to drum up some publicity for the innovation. But newspapers and their news desks, said Abigail's mum, had been uniformly rude to her daughter, often hanging up on her. Could I help? Glad to be of service, ma'am.

WHAT? The Captain's chest? Up there, below his bow-tie, bare? Well, it's to do with this business about hairy men being brainier, the claim made by Dr Aikarakudy Alias, the interestingly named psychiatrist who is alleged to have been studying the relationship between intelligence and body hair these 22 years. Now, normally, as you know, the Captain prefers to steer well clear of such frivolous stuff, but, as this is clearly a respectable piece of scientific research, I have abandoned modesty (and the razor, just for this morning) to provide this exclusive and conclusive evidence. Steady, girls!

EXTRAORDINARY: researchers examining Botticelli's Birth of Venus with the very latest photographic aids have made an astonishing finding which looks set to add further fuel to controversy surrounding the French claim that a Frenchman invented the bikini 50 years ago. All last week the debate raged, with competing claims continually surfacing. Now, as this exclusive Moonlight picture reveals, it is clear that Botticelli painted his famous Venus wearing a bikini and sun glasses with a beach towel near by. How she subsequently came to be uncovered must remain a mystery, but my money, frankly, would be on a lascivious French hand.

Picture: BRIDGEMAN ART LIBRARY

Photomontage by EMMA BOAM

The Captain's Catch-up Service

WELCOME to the news review that ranges far and wide in its search for the more interesting stories ... Roy Cox, unable to have a general anaesthetic for a hip-replacement operation, was played his favourite Frank Sinatra records to take his mind off the surgery at Grimsby District Hospital. "I ended up singing a few numbers and had to ask one of the consultants to turn up the volume for 'My Way'," said Roy ... Paula Clarke, of Neath Abbey, North Wales, is treating insomniac pets with aromatherapy, reflexology and holistic massage techniques ... A pigeon set fire to a tree in Streatham, south London, after it picked up a burning cigarette end to line its nest ... Racehorses that travel to the course facing backwards perform much better, researchers at Edinburgh University's School of Veterinary Studies have found ... A man was arrested after trying to sell fake designer clothes at the local trading standards offices in Barry, south Wales ... Robert Alois has been awarded pounds 45,000 in damages after a steel ball flew off the roulette wheel in Monte Carlo and wounded him in the eye.

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