Lord Wakeham. You remember, the chap with the wavy hair who was so successful as the Government's fixer and leadership campaign organiser for Baroness Thatcher in the late unpleasantness. Ended up as chairman of the Press Complaints Commission. And now M'Lord's influence spreads ever further: his head man at the PCC, Mark Bolland, is, I hear, to take over the Prince of Wales's PR as some sort of super spin doctor. Good luck, everybody!
Rum. It is, of course, the Captain's preferred quaff. Nothing in my view to match that bouquet, at its best headily reminiscent of polished parquet in a convent corridor. White, dark, it's all the same to this throat and lower. I mention it because the other day I was invited along to the International Spirit Challenge, a blind tasting of more than 300 spirit samples organised by Wine and Spirit International magazine. One of the rum judges was a New Zealander who was about to play cricket for France against Belgium (some of that might not be necessarily in the right order). There was much talk about "delicacy on the nose" and "genuine rum characteristics". I'm afraid my attention rather wandered to all the spitting that was going on into buckets (the International Wine Challenge, involving 24,000 bottles, was also under way in the same vacant Docklands building; this is the sort of thing we do in Docklands, you know). Anyway, a Mr Stanley-Clarke and a Mr Peppercorn were most helpful on the subject, mentioning, with no particular priority, the advantage of a gap between the teeth, the importance of the parabola, and the director of the import company who could spit out of the side of his mouth into a spittoon on the sideboard in the company dining room without leaving the table. I was also introduced to Sr Luis Pato, from Portugal, who said, with modesty, that he was accurate for distances up to a metre. Later, I learned that Portugal was the world leader in the field, a position of pre-eminence achieved under the legendary John Smithes, who could both "hit the ear of a dog at 20 paces" and "drown a fly on the wing at 50 feet". Remarkable.
Chuckle With The Quantum Mechanics: part three of an exclusive Moonlight series aimed at convincing you that yes, Science can be fun. And today's little story concerns Werner Karl Heisenberg, quantum mechanic and celebrated author of the eponymous Uncertainty Principle (what is the Uncertainty Principle? It is that Anything Could Happen And, Indeed, That Anything Might Have Happened. Neat, eh?). But let's move on. One day, Heisenberg tripped over a kerb and fell to the ground. Someone rushed to help the struggling genius, who shouted: "Do not touch me! I am solving it!" Crazy guy. Next week: you have a choice. Either a jolly little poem from that deadpan master of mirth and column regular, Paul Dirac; or a bit of a ribtickler involving Fritz Houtermans, atomic transmutation, thermonuclear reactions, the night sky, and a pretty girl. You can vote by sending in a postcard marked "Deadpan Dirac" or "Houtermans Hoot". Next!
THIS, as you know, is the column that likes to please. Take those photographs below. The one out-of-focus featuring the back of that bald man's head was taken at a quiz night in The Brewery, Chiswell Street, London. Most other columnists would look at a picture like that and throw it straight in the bin. Not the Captain. He feels for the poor PR person. So he decides to run it with another example of heroically indomitable PR optimism. That one was something to do with Sony. But perhaps you, dear reader, have something even more boring. And now, another approach to the business; one which has touched even the famously flinty heart of The Editor. It was contained in a fax to Him from a Ms Julia Berg, which read thus: "Please can you help? I have sent pictures, invitations and information about the Pride of Baltimore II, now in London, to your features editor, your pictures editor and your news desk ... all over two weeks ago. Maybe I've done this all wrongly and maybe I'll get sacked for it ... but I just haven't heard back from anyone ... I would so appreciate your advice - I have been sent over from the USA to handle this and if I cannot even get a reply then it seems I have screwed up really badly..." Julia, it worked: the Pride of Baltimore II, pictured left in its glory, is the only replica Baltimore clipper in the world. It is in London to deliver a memorial to Lord Baltimore, founder of Maryland, and will be anchored at St Katharine's Dock until Thursday morning. Now calm down.
Banish those tired old myths with Captain Moonlight (2). I know some of you are under the impression that, not to put too fine a point on it, a lot of these backbench Tory MPs don't have a great deal going on above the shoulders and between the ears. I have even heard people quote Toby Jessel, the Hon Member for Twickenham, as a prime example. Perhaps it is the style he affects that misleads them, Bertie Wooster without the guile. Or perhaps it is his absent-mindedness, which can be the only explanation for a curious incident the other day when he approached a lobby journalist and wondered if he might be available as a pair. Buck up, Toby!
Talking of Toby, I am delighted to announce that he is the inaugural winner of the Captain Moonlight Most Creepy Entry In The Register of MPs Interests Award, for this: "December '95: Sponsorship by BT of a concert at St John's, Smith Square, at which I performed the Schumann Piano Concerto, which raised pounds 40,000 for the NSPCC ... I performed unpaid, but the sponsorship has affected my attitude to the sponsors". CM Most Sanctimonious Etc Award: Jack Straw for: "July/August '95, space available upgrade to Club Class provided by British Airways to self (one way), spouse and two children (two ways) London/USA". CM Most Esoteric Etc Award: Chris Mullin, for: "Director of the Friends of Hanoi Architectural Heritage International Foundation (unrem'd)". And, finally, the Most Hip Award: The Rev William McCrea (DUP), for "Gospel recording artist" (the Rev is known to the irreverent in Ulster as Boxcar Willie McCrea).
Thank goodness for these Moscow spy expulsions! Loud were the huzzahs in Cotswold studies and Carribean verandas as the telephones rang once more and superannuated spywriters heard that long-forgotten heady promise of Fleet Street gold in return for a quick 1,800 words on what it all meant! And who rose best to the old challenge, the old call, the one that made the hairs rise on the back of the neck as the cold sweat trickled through them? Step forward, Frederick Forsyth, for this last paragraph in the Daily Mail: "So, in the alleys of the Middle East, along the waterfronts of Asia, beneath the shadows of the Kremlin walls facing our embassy across the Moskva river, what Kipling called The Great Game goes on". Attaboy!
Future events with Captain Moonlight. Come now and have your card marked by the Captain. And, frankly, you're going to have a hard time keeping me away from the Mind, Body, Spirit Festival at London's Royal Agricultural Halls this week. I fancy Workshop A on Sunday, when Tim Sikyea, a Canadian Indian Medicine Man from the Dog Rib Tribe, Percy Ndithembile Konquobe, an African Shaman, and Andrea Von Schnoy, a German Druid, will be teaching that the Earth is not sick, it is the people who have forgotten how to love. Then I might take in Donna Eden's hands-on workshop on how to talk back to the body, then a bit of Titanya Dahlin (Belly Dancing: Connecting to our Primal Selves), before ending up being regressed by Dick Sutphen, who believes that about half of your problems have been caused in previous incarnations (Dick, of course, is the author of You Were Born Again To Be Together). See you there!
And now, a big welcome to Interactive Corner, the part of the column where you provide interesting bits about this and that in return from largesse from our sponsor, Mr Pink, in the form of pounds 25 and pounds 50 vouchers. And, first, we had better finish off the Chinese proverbs business. I rather liked the one quoted regularly by the Welsh minister who used to play bridge with the father of Mr Cantlay of Bristol: "Of the 39 strategies of war, the best is to run away". Ms Higgs of Moseley submits: "Even the tallest man is no smaller than himself", before moving on to Albania with "The way out is often the only way in" and "The tune can go on even when the monkey has stopped dancing". Next, Mr Olley of Maidstone has news of an interesting box in the EU E111 certificate of entitlement to benefits in kind during a stay in a member state application form which reads: "This box is for the use by competent French institutions for non-occupational accidents sustained by self-employed farmers". Very interesting, Mr Olley. Listen, this Mr Pink sponsorship runs out shortly, and I've still got oodles of vouchers to give away. Time for a competition. It's for the most overworked lines in television and film. You know the sort of thing: "It's a bit of a long shot, but it just might work" ... "For you, Tommy, the war is over" ... "Seeing as you are going to die, there's no reason why I shouldn't tell how I did it". Get to it, compers!
MRS Scanlan writes from Sheffield. She is worried. It's about this problem with beef. What, Mrs Scanlan wants to know, about horseradish? Whither sales? Losing no time, I consulted the family business, Nevins, purveyors of fine food to customers blessed enough to be in proximity in North West England. And do you know what: despite some reduction in beef purchases, sales of horseradish are holding rock steady. What can be going on? I also took the opportunity to inquire for a family view on the Sainsbury Slump. Was it all down to these discount "loyalty cards" Tesco were handing out? Were we going to introduce them? "Charles," replied my brother, "our customers would be insulted to think that their loyalty could be bought. The Nevins Way Of Grocery is based on Mutual Respect and Trust built up over Generations, not by means of cheap, cheapening gimmicks and meretricious marketing techniques." He then reminded me that the founding Sainsbury's dying words were: "Keep the shops well lit". No, we didn't mention Lady Porter. Next: following the publication last week of my response to Mr Paul Johnson's plea for odes to culled cows, many of you have submitted yours. And the one that moved me most was from Ms Mackenzie of Mumbles: "Bang up more crosses / For / Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy! / Drum up new volumes / Of / Moving, cruciform, dense hagiography! / Holy Cow!
Sorry? My logo? Well, the furore surrounding that dreadful picture of Her Majesty has encouraged quite a few people here to approach me and complain bitterly that my illustration does me the grossest disservice. That up there, all agree, is much more like it. Bye!
Just occasionally, I come across a piece of news that warms these old Captainly cockles. Such a glow occurred within when I read that Lord Howard de Walden, he of the copious rows of London Georgian houses, had come out firmly in favour of the net curtain. Tenants of His Lordship's estate have been reminded in no uncertain terms that their leases require net curtains to be hung "to protect the estate's elegant residential character". There have, of course, been deep mutterings - "hideous ... dated ... unsophisticated" - about this from tenants who unfortunately know no better. But the Captain does. An Englishman's castle, like his cricket, is not the same without nets. (Eschew, by the way, the use of the word "lace"; that really is hideous and unsophisticated). The net is the very essence of Englishness in that it allows a close examination of others while preventing any introspection whatsoever. During my navy days, I am proud to say that I had one of the few bridges with nets. There were complaints, but then there always will be, in my experience. And it is my privilege today to share with you the arrangements at my own private berth, and pretty shipshape it looks, I certainly must say. Any top style magazine interested in taking this further should contact me here.
The Captain's Catch-up Service
Catch-up with some of the news items you might have missed last week ... Vasile Sturza, justice minister of Moravia, was stopped at the Austrian border and ordered to surrender his car, which had been reported missing in Germany in 1994. "I borrowed it from a friend," he said. "I had no idea it had been stolen" ... A woman driver was arrested and breathalysed near Auckland after she and her fellow passengers mistook a police van for a snack wagon. Police saw her car stop and two men approach before one was heard to say: "That's not the bloody pie-cart". The van had foot- high "Police" signs on it ... A Club Med holiday resort in Senegal is being sued for pounds 3.5m for entertaining black politicians, including Jesse Jackson, with a black and white minstrel show. They sat open-mouthed as blacked-up men sang Mammy-style songs ... Hidesaburo Kagiyama, 63-year-old owner of a Tokyo car component business, has inspired executives across Japan to follow his example of cleaning his firm's lavatories every day. Mr Kagiyama's slogan is: "Let's polish our hearts through cleaning toilets" ... Father Martin McKenna, 33, a Roman Catholic priest who has a pub act impersonating Elvis Presley, has taken sabbatical leave on the advice of his Bishop in west London ... and John Whalley, charged with burgling a warehouse in Stoke-on-Trent, told the court that he had posted himself to it in a box to win a Christmas bet...