STOP! Yes, that's right, it's me! Part, or even a great deal, of the excitement of this column, people tell me, is that you're never quite sure where it will turn up this time. One week, almost inaudible for all the noise and grunting coming from the adjoining sports pages, not to mention the awful smell of liniment; the next waiting patiently and coughing diffidently while Mr Watkins and Ms Smith finish the important thinking. Well, that's all over now. From now on, the Captain is a changed man. Fixed, constant, and with a mission. A mission in tune with my new position. A mission to speak to Youth, the Youth for whom this section, Real Life, as it is called, is a "Must-Read". Hence my new hat, which is intended to send out a subtle, almost subliminal, underlining of my commitment. From now on, let me make very clear, you will be extremely lucky to find anybody or anything in this column that doesn't have something relevant or challenging to say to Youth. That is the Captain's mission statement. Now read on. If you dare.
n AND straight into Interactive Corner, the column's niche position for your uniquely illuminating insights into matters of current concern. First up, Mr Potter of Exmouth, who is worried about my claim last week that the Russian for railway station is voksil, named after our very own Vauxhall railway station. Mr Potter, who prefers vokzal, points out that according to Tsyganenko's Etymological Dictionary of the Russian Language, vokzal was first used in the 1860s to denote "a hall for dancing and playing cards" and "a place for concerts at a railway station". This, together with Mr Potter's recollections from student days that early Russian railway stations were situated in gardens, convinces him that the name has more to do with the old Vauxhall pleasure gardens than the railway station. Mr Potter also wants us to know that the English word "coach" is derived from the Hungarian kocsi, meaning "from the town of Kocs". Thank you, Mr Potter.
YOU may have heard that Mr Jonathan Aitken, late of Her Majesty's Government, has been down the Strand, surveying the mock Gothic splendours of the Royal Courts of Justice and showing an intense interest in the technique of my learned friend Mr George Carman QC, who is holding Court Number 13 spellbound in an action involving an alleged defamation. Others have rushed to the conclusion that this might be in some way connected with the imminent probability of the said Aitken facing cross examination from the said Carman in the same court over another allegation of defamation, namely one by the said Aitken against the Guardian and World in Action. Captain's memo to said Aitken: I have a piece of exclusive information which will be of immeasurable assistance in your research into the Carman motivation and method: George's favourite television programme is Blind Date. It must be all those questions.
n THE Captain, demonstrably, is in touch with Youth; I'm not so sure about the Observer, this newspaper's what's the word, yes, that's it, beleaguered rival. Obviously despairing of their own pathetic attempts to publicise some quiz they're running with one of those supermarket-style booksellers, they've now written to me begging for a plug. Apparently, a "Youth" team will take on a "Wisdom" team. Martin Amis is on the "Youth" team. Martin Amis is 46. Get down!
NEXT: squirrels. Just imagine the Captain's dismay when he saw that the Countryside Council for Wales is to start poisoning grey squirrels with warfarin in an attempt to stop them overrunning the dwindling number of little red ones. This is nothing short of a scandal against which I shall be registering the strongest possible protest: dogged readers of this column will know that I have long taken an interest in the grey squirrel. We should not be poisoning them. We should, as I never tire of telling you, be eating them. They taste nicer than the reds, and are fatter. The young Elvis Presley ate them; Julian Barnes has just announced on Desert Island Discs that, marooned, he would cook them. So here, to enable you to get in on the trend early, and to do your bit for conservation, is The Captain's Squirrel Pie: "Two squirrels. Two tablespoons of butter. One onion, minced. Two garlic cloves, minced. Two tablespoons of minced ham, one of flour. Bit of thyme, half a bayleaf. Bit of lemon rind. A couple of glasses of claret. Wash and wipe squirrels, cut in quarters, rub with salt and pepper. Slowly fry onion and garlic in butter until golden, add ham and squirrel, sprinkle with flour, fry until brown. Place in pie dish, add claret and remaining ingredients, slap pastry on top. Cook, medium heat, 35 minutes." Yum! Sorry? Do I have to tell you again? To catch a squirrel, place a nut liberally sprinkled with pepper on a stone. Squirrel sniffs at nut, sneezes and knocks itself out on stone. Enjoy!
n BRRNNGG! The telephone bell interjects, insistently. It is my political correspondent, Ms Una Tributable, direct from a Westminster seething with talk of the Scott report and constitutional reform. "Captain," she shouts, "if you speed up a tape recording of David Blunkett talking, it sounds exactly like Arthur Scargill. Perhaps the readers would like to try it at home." Extraordinary.
COCKLE warming with the Captain. Did you know that the Groucho Club is buying sleeping bags for the homeless in Soho? Yes, every time one of the members sups or dines, he or she can contribute pounds 1, which will be matched by the club and spent on the bags, thus easing consciences and hardship in equal measure. Some members, though, the Captain understands, are concerned that this is not enough. Hence, I hear, support for a scheme where each table in the club's restaurant will be allocated its own homeless person. And to think people mock the Groucho.
n MAY I be permitted to add my memory of Gene Kelly, writes Charles Nevin. It was at one of those Hollywood award ceremonies.Gene was receiving a tribute from Liza Minnelli. Ms Minnelli, fighting the tear in her eye and the catch in her throat in trademark style, pointed to the large backdrop photograph of Gene and pointed out a tiny scar on his face. Gene could have had something done about it, said Lisa, but he preferred to be honest. Gene sat listening to this with great modesty in his toupee.
n ONE last thing: A Mr Combe, from Guernsey, has returned a couple of my recent columns, marked. Mr Combe criticises, among other things, my choice of preposition and my preference for "airplane" over "aeroplane".
Mr Combe: you're banned. Everybody else: wrap up nice and warm and I'll see you next week. Get down!
The Captain's catch-up Service
WELCOME to my unique news review, in which we wander along the byways beyond the global village's ring road ... Clowns are being sent into American operating theatres to keep children happy during surgey. They will wear surgical gowns and masks but can keep their wigs, red noses and outsized shoes ... Paul May, 49, of Corsham, Wilts, has collected 280 dog collars and leads, but his only pets are fish because dogs give him asthma ... A man dug a well 110 feet deep in a vain attempt to find water in his garden in Ampus, France. Soon after, a spring began to flow at 250 gallons an hour in his living-room ... Emad Solomon, author of How to Survive a Financial Crisis, owes pounds 500,000, a Sydney court heard ... A naked man playing the accordion in a laundrette was arrested in Hancock, Michigan ... Aluf Miah, of Gloucester, was rushed to hospital after eating what was claimed to be the world's hottest curry, made with 20 types of chilli pepper ... Harriet Lasky, of Denver, Colorado, has been chewing the same piece of bubblegum since 1960 ... and, finally, according to the Weekly World News, a comet the size of Europe will collide with Earth on Easter Sunday.Reuse content