CAPTAIN MOONLIGHT: Portillo, palindromes and primary school

BBRRNNGG! Gracious, it's the telephone, already! What whisper will this be? What item of intelligence is about to be vouchsafed, innocuous and insignificant in itself, but when placed into the great jigsaw of life likely to set in train all manner of momentousness? Who, in short, is Calling The Captain? A wheezing cough, the Ladbroke Tannoy in the background: yes, it's my redoubtable political correspondent, Ms Una Tributable! "Captain, Michael

Portillo! Did you know that when he was at school he entered a classroom of juniors and introduced himself thus: 'I am your form prefect. My name is Portillo - but if you write it backwards, it spells ollitroP.' " Hmmm. I have been pondering on this since, but, frankly, I am not altogether sure just what it tells us about the Conservative Party's most famous semi-Spaniard. Perhaps you can help. The most convincing explanation will be rewarded with a photocopy of the photocopy of a school play programme typed by the young Portillo (who also helped with the refreshments) which has found its way into the Captain's possession. Steady. Next!

THOUGHT For The Week. A new, challenging series in which the Captain challenges cosy preconceptions. So there I was, in this rather pleasant Italian restaurant near Hampton Court. Pleasant company, pleasant fare, and pleasant staff, who coped indulgently with my faltering attempts to thank them for the rigatoni - grazie tanto! - and with the interesting table habits of the young Moonbeams. After lunch, as you do, I found myself in the loo. One of the waiters was there, too. "And what part of Italy," I asked, in my best visiting-royalty manner, "do you come from?" And he looked at me, curiously, and said: "Brazil." Nor, when I came to think about it, is it the first time this has happened to me. I have, for example, come across the odd Spaniard pretending to be an Italian waiter. How much of this do you think is going on? How many real Italian waiters are there, exactly, out there? And are there Thai waiters, too, pretending to be Vietnamese? Chinese pretending to be Thai? Unsettling, I think you'll agree. On!

BBRRNNGG! And it's Ms Tributable, again! "Captain! Ian Paisley has been spotted in Tunbridge Wells!" I thank Ms Tributable for this and replace the receiver. Things are clearly worse than we thought. I didn't even know Tunbridge Wells was threatening to leave the Union. Next!

BOARS. Wild ones. Really wild. Yes, those are they, in the picture. It was taken by Mr Mason, of Amsterdam, while he was visiting Santiago de Chile. Why is Mr Mason sharing this with us? That's right, it's the latest instalment of yet another fascinating long-running Moonlight series, What To Do On Encountering A Wild Animal! And the keeper in Santiago told Mr Mason that "should you be pursued by a wild boar, the best thing to do is to run in a straight line and then go off at a right-angle suddenly: the boar is supposed to carry on without swerving from its path. He didn't tell me whether the boars have cottoned on to this. Nor have I yet tried rushing headlong at a boar and chasing it until it swerved off to the right". Thank you, Mr Mason. I'm not sure I can get champagne to Amsterdam. And you say you don't want one of the 19 videos of the Royal golden wedding celebrations that I rescued from traitorous knock-down sale (99p indeed!) in a Windsor post office. Perhaps you might like one of the Praying Teddies I have come across in my Bright Life mail-order catalogue: "This little kneeling friend will help your child learn a traditional first prayer. When you squeeze his paws he recites the entire 'Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep' in a little child's voice. Nearly a foot high." Just let me know.

MEDIA Corner. And you can imagine my excitement last week when a circular plopped on to the Captainly mat advertising a magazine called Penge. It's long been my contention, shared by, among others, Pevsner (Nikolaus rather than Baldy), that The Gateway To Bromley has been unfairly sneered at by Metropolitan types who've probably never even seen the Blenheim Shopping Centre. A glossy magazine proclaiming the truth could be the start of something that would leave its northern rival, of which you might conceivably have heard, Notting Hill, The Gateway to Harlesden, for dead. Imagine, then, too, my disappointment when I read further and discovered that it was, in fact, a Danish magazine, and that Penge is Danish for money; a disappointment almost certainly unmatched since Betjeman hot-footed to what he thought was a lecture by Lord David Cecil on Reading, but which turned out to be a lecture by Lord David Cecil on reading. On!

BODGE and tinker, fiddle and botch. I wonder if this government has ever heard of a most useful saying the Captain came across only the other day, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"? I ask because I am now seriously alarmed about the plans they've got for The House of Lords. And so would you be if, every time you tried to telephone the Lords, you got put through to Teresa Gorman. Next!

POLE. I doubt that many of you can have forgotten a gripping item I brought you, just before The Editor kindly told me I should take a little holiday, about what was possibly the oldest telegraph pole in Britain, on Culver Hill in Gloucestershire. The pole bears a stamp reading "1886" and BT says that it has "no reason to suspect that this is not a genuine marking". Sadly, owing to communication difficulties, I was not able to bring you a photograph of the actual pole at that time, but I promised to bring you the real thing as soon as possible. And the Captain is a man of his word. So there it is. Not much else to say, really, is there? Actually, I'm put in mind of Richard Nixon, when he was asked, on a visit to China, for his thoughts on the Great Wall, and he replied, "It's a great wall". Next!

BBRRNNGG! Well, knock me down, it's my literary correspondent, Hugh Advance! "Captain, consternation in the gentlemanly world of publishing! Johnny Vaughan, host of Channel 4's The Big Breakfast, has come across something novelish he wrote in prison while doing time for what I believe is termed 'a drugs rap', and is wondering if it might interest a publisher. But his agent is demanding money upfront for a sight of the manuscript. It's unprecedented. It's appalling. The tweeds are in shock! Salman's green and Martin's positively apoplectic!" I thank Hugh for this, replace the receiver, immediately telephone Johnny's agent and offer to hand over my autographed CD of Sir Cliff's last hit, "Can't Keep This Feeling In", in return for a sight of the first sentence of the diary. The agent flatly denies Hugh's story and rejects Sir Cliff. But she says they might be interested in a Frank Sinatra CD. I don't mention the royal videos.

WESTMINSTER Watch. First sighting: Angela Smith, charming, New Labour, Basildon, in the Members' Lobby, talking earnestly to Jack Straw while clutching a 2ft stuffed penguin under her arm. This is rather more difficult to read than Second Sighting: Ken Clarke, smiling, on the Tube. This means Wee Willie is in deep doo-doo and Ken, still hopeful, is jacking up the common touch. Next!

SADO-MASOCHISM. That's one of the few topics we won't be touching on today in my acclaimed Moonlight Miscellany, a thing of asides and sundries. And, first, speaking of teddies, Christie's are warning about faked antique bears: "I saw three fakes in one morning," says their expert. "Sometimes their noses have been shaved to make them look worn ... people should watch out for inconsistencies such as plastic eyes in supposed pre-World War I bears." Next, worrying news from Wales, where an innocent man was temporarily jailed in Cardiff after a juror's cough drowned out the word "not" when the verdict was read out. Next, a bottle of bubbly for Ms Lane of Lea Marston, who Writes To The Captain following my item last week: "Could it be the reason women speak twice as many words as men is that we have to repeat ourselves because men don't listen!" What!? Next, the substitute for a Notts football team has been sent off for "intimidating an official" after the linesman reported him for repeatedly whistling the Dad's Army theme tune. And, finally, the Captain Recommends you make a trip to www.hamsterdance.com. Most diverting. Bye!

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