AHOY! Quite a lot of vexed and weighty matters about at the moment, aren't there? In fact, today, I want to address not one, but two ticklish problems I have been reading a great deal about in the last week. First, as a nation, we are, it seems, suffering from a lack of sleep. Second, I notice that in Britain we have 7 million cats and dogs who are, not to put too fine a point on it, overweight. Here follows, then, the Captain's Top Ten Tips for getting to sleep and getting some weight off your pet at the same time. 1) Read as much literature as you can about weight loss in pets out loud to them. 2) Stare, mockingly, for as long as you can, at your pet's stomach. 3) Demonstrate to your pet (indicating that it should follow suit) the full range of Canadian Air Force exercises, with emphasis on the bench press. Wait for your pet to follow suit. 4) Take your pet outside. Holding a can of pet food in one hand, use the other to hurl your can opener to the end of the garden. Repeat repeatedly. 5) Take your pet to a pet psychologist. Both of you should lie on the sofa. 6) Disarm the electronic cat flap (without telling the cat). Go and lie down. 7) Order your pet to enter and exit repeatedly from your bedroom. Count the number of times. 8) Lettuce is a foolproof sleep-inducer. Eat a large tossed salad about half-an-hour before your pet's feeding time. 9) Put a picture of a sleeping whippet on the fridge. 10) Zzzzz!

BBRRNNGG! Yes, it's that telephone again, and, on it, my showbiz correspondent, Ms Britt Bafter, friend to the stars. "Captain! Intriguing titbit for you, direct from the sound stage at Shepperton, where the multifariously talented Mr Kenneth Branagh is making the next Big Bill Biggie, Love's Labour's Lost, a 15 mill buckeroo of a baby, also starring the gorgeous Ms Alicia Silverstone and that protean super-satirist, Mr Paul Whitehouse, even if they couldn't get Sir Tom to cast an eye over the script!" A great enthusiast, Britt, if sometimes inclined to stray from the point. I endeavour to "refocus" her. "Oh, yes, sorry, Captain! It's about Kenny! And it's fascinating! Apparently, he likes tomatoes on his toast!" I thank Ms Bafter and replace the receiver, reflecting once again on how, in life, the larger picture is so often drawn from small details. Next!

EXTRAORDINARY. You will have been reading all about Romano "PC" Prodi, cigar-chomping Italian economist, the one who is going to be President of the European Commission, and the one who was described thus by Gianni Bonvicini, director of the International Affairs Institute, Rome: "Romano has a lot of charisma. He just can't always express it." I know a few people like that. But what I want to share with you today is the uncanny resemblance between Sig Prodi and that famous quiz show host, Ted Rogers, of 3-2-1 fame. Look down there, and see what you think. And while we're here, before the gallant Luxemburger is consigned to the dusty bin of history, what about Jacques Santer and Max Bygraves? Thank you.

BBRRNNGG! Who can this be? Why, it's RAC Quart, my food and drink correspondent and part-time television reviewer and social commentator. "Captain! Did you know that Gordon Ramsay, the reclusive, unassuming and sensitive superchef, recently shared a car with a pig?" No, I say, I didn't. "Yes, it was some stunt or other for television! And what's more, Captain, the pig had a weak bladder!" This seems a little personal, but I thank Quart nonetheless, replace the receiver and return to my study of One Is Fun, by lovely Delia Smith. Tomatoes with toast, tonight, I fancy. Next!

CAPTAIN'S Book Choice. And, as a bit of a rail buff, I must say how much I was taken with Proceed At Caution (Challenger UK, pounds 12.99), the memoirs of Peter Kirton, the veteran railwayman. Peter, among many other delightful musings on beam and buffer, recalls his exciting period as a ticket inspector at Leeds station and the time he helped Tommy Cooper make his train with only moments to spare. Cooper thanked Peter profusely and asked him if he took a drink. When Peter said he did, Cooper dug into his pocket, produced a sealed envelope, and pressed it on him, saying: "Here, have a drink on me." The train pulled out. Kirton opened the envelope. And what do you think was inside? That's right, a teabag. The Captain writes: And now little Ern's gone, too. Next!

BBRRNNGG! The telephone, again: and, this time, over a crackly line, my sports correspondent, Glenn Drewery. "Captain! Bit of a scoop! Fives! You know, the one where you hit the ball with your hands. So there I was, covering the Schools Eton Fives Championships at Shrewsbury School when who should I come across but Prince Harry, small chap, fourth in line to the throne, in the Eton Under-14s Third Team! And there's more!" I can scarcely wait. "Between matches, Captain, he ate a packet of crisps!" Hmmm. That, I fancy, Your Royal Highness, is not the way to climb into the Under-14s Second Team. And surely his dad could stretch to a racquet. Next!

ACTUALLY, talking of the monarchy, God bless 'Em, I have to report a disappointing response to last week's competition, Who Wants To Own A Royal Video?, which featured a chance to win one of the19 exclusive recordings of the royal golden wedding celebrations I recently picked up for 99p each from the post office in Windsor. A similar enthusiasm also greeted my appeal to help pay off the Queen Mum's overdraft by sending me cheques made out, for convenience, to "Captain Moonlight". Shame! Anyone would think you didn't want a Royal Family! PS Mr Clark of Gretton, Northants: thank you for pointing out a mistake in a previous column, viz that Mr Barry Dennis, the noted bookmaker, is not, as I said, a "rails bookie", but, in fact, a "boards bookie". So I'm delighted to tell you, Mr Clark, that, as you read this, a video of the Queen's golden wedding is making its way to you. Enjoy! Anyone else care to complain?

BBRRNNGG! Gracious, whoever can it be now? By the wheezing, almost certainly Ms Una Tributable, my redoubtable political correspondent. "Captain! Paddy Ashdown! Former Special Boat Section! Trained to kill silently! But not pleased about this nuclear submarine of ours that is peppering south-eastern Europe with missiles. `HMS Splendid?' snorted Paddy. `What are they going to call the next one? HMS Spiffing? HMS Top Hole?' Good old Paddy! And one more thing, Captain: have you got anybody covering what all this might mean for the Yugoslav entry in the Eurovision Song Contest?" Hmm. Next!

SPAWNSPOTTING. And now we've got three tadpoles! Just have a look down there: Brooklyn has been joined by a brother, Balham, named after the place of his pond of birth, and a sister, quick, there, to the left, behind that frond, the wet, pale and slightly emotional one, who is called Gwyneth, and who would like me to thank her mother and father, her landscape gardener, her aquarium producer, and spawn everywhere for giving, sharing and celebrating the gift of life. Steady, Gwyneth. Oh dear. Next, quickly!

SENSATIONAL. That's just one critic's view of my acclaimed Moonlight Miscellany, a biryani of brevity, a bouquet of borrowings, a crumble of asides. And first, a major Y2K problem in America, where it is estimated that 250,000 gravestones waiting for a deceased spouse's partner have the live spouse's name and dates already chiselled on, awaiting only the addition of the final two digits, as in, say, 1925 to 19--. Tricky. And not long to go now, either. Next, a police chief in Seattle has been sent this memo: "Chairs/Sitting. Until safety officers can give formal training, please inform all employees to take hold of the arms and get control of the chair before sitting down." It follows a spate of accidents involving officers falling off chairs. Finally, Mr Douch of Wellingborough, yes, writes to the Captain: "You may wish to know that my wife, Barbara, was born in a house the garden of which had a fence which formed part of the boundary of the road in which Sir Cliff Richard spent some of his formative years. However, she and he never met." Fascinating, Mr Douch, thank you, have a bottle of bubbly! Bye!

WELL now. Dickie Branson thinks this is going to solve all his problems on the West Coast line, but I'm not sure. Why the sheep? That's for counting during hold-ups outside Crewe. No? All right, 55 deliveries and you've got a carpet. No? It's the baacycle, Lamb-orghini's latest attempt to break into the lucrative mutton-powered market pioneered by Woolseley. No? All right, it's the World Super Baa Championships this weekend. All right, it's a Moroccan getting ready for Eid, which will be great fun for the Moroccan. It is AFP