THE sound of the hound, the thunder of the hoof, the blur of the fur, the whirr of the video camera, the view-halloo of the chattering classes: ah, yes, marvellous, it's hunting time again! No need to ask where the Captain stands on all this; but you might all benefit from my exclusive top nine hunting tips, garnered from long experience of life in the pink: 1) Remember to put your left foot in the stirrup when mounting or you may find yourself facing backwards. 2) Always indicate before carrying out a manoeuvre; the signals are similar to the hand signals of motorists, plus the right arm is shot out straight in front of you at an angle of 45 degrees to show you are about to jump. 3) I have always found it useful to keep a ham sandwich under my hat. 4) Hold on tight. 5) Never talk to strangers. 6) Particularly ones in odd trousers who clearly come from Stoke Newington. 7) Crying "Yee-haw!" and "Keep those dogies moving, Rawhide!" is generally frowned upon. 8) It's probably best, on the whole, not to bring your cat. 9) Jumping hedge after hedge can get a little repetitive; if no one is looking, I often dispatch the fox with a quick burst from my Heckler & Koch and pop off to the pub. Tally-ho!

INDEPENDENT on Sunday readers: cheer up! I know many of you will be disappointed to have missed out on our great offer of free train tickets to Cornwall to view the eclipse, I know. That's why I am today reprinting a photograph of the last solar eclipse, the one in Liverpool in 1927. There it is, just above us. Can you make out my good self in the foreground? Sorry? Well, I was told that I wouldn't fully share in the mystical experience that is an eclipse unless I took all my clothes off, even if it was on the Dock Road. But yes, that does explain the ladies as well. And the Lord Mayor. And Neville Chamberlain. Well, we were all much younger then. Next!

ON the telephone: none other than my indefatigable showbiz correspondent, Ms Britt Bafter. "Captain! I have an exclusive story about all manner of goings-on in one of our best known boy bands!" Hmm. I have to take quite a firm line with Ms Bafter, pointing out that this is a family column in a family newspaper and demanding some rather more wholesome entertainment news. "All right, all right, Captain. Harrison Ford has admitted that he not only irons, he vacuums as well. And Martin Jarvis will be appearing at the Railway Tavern, on the Commercial Road, tonight. And Alec `Mr Kim Basinger' Baldwin and Easy Rider star Peter Fonda have signed to star in Thomas The Tank Engine: The Movie." Now that's more like it, I tell Ms Bafter: Martin Jarvis, the famous actor and recitator, down on the Commercial Road! "No, Captain," she says. "Not that Martin Jarvis. This is the Martin Jarvis famed for his interpretations of songs from the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies, songs like `I Remember You', `Running Bear', and `My Old Man's A Dustman'!" Remarkable. Two of them. Sometimes I marvel at the sheer variety of showbiz. Next!

SUNDAY. A day of rest for most of us, but not for my labour editor, Dean O'Saur. For, sadly, confusion has arisen between Dean's telephone number and that of Empire Stores, the Bradford-based mail order mammoth. Scarcely an hour passes, night and day, without a call ordering a patterned duvet cover or an egg whisk. Morosely, Dean has shown me his pager, containing a message demanding "two shower curtains, pink". "An old lady rang up the other day," he continues, "and when I apprised her of her error, she shouted: `He says he's not Empire Stores', and another voice, presumably that of her spouse, shouted: `Well, tell him to xxxx off then!'" Ladies, gentlemen, stop calling 0171 293 2004! Dean is beside himself, and who knows what union luminary might be trying to get through with important news? This would never have happened in Vic Feather's day, I can tell you. Next!

A column of this nature would be nothing without some whistleblowing, would it? This is the column, after all, which first revealed the truth about Tory Central Office. (Did you know that when you dial Central Office's telephone number on a touch-tone phone the numbers play "The Red Flag"? Try it: 0171 222 9000.) This is the column which has watched, disapproval duelling with admiration, the efforts of the rogue MI6 officers, Shayler and Tomlinson. This is the column, too, which revealed recently that the extreme fir tree on the left of the line of fir trees adorning the MI6 building at Vauxhall Cross has turned brown and poorly looking. This is the column which today reveals that the one next to it has now turned brown as well. Have a look for yourself. Is the Captain alone in being perturbed about the implications for vigilance and surveillance in our intelligence services that this extraordinary state of affairs raises? Next!

PRETTY interesting. Yes, that was the Captain's reaction to a call from my correspondent in Euroland, Ms Cher D Currency. "Captain! Jacques Santer! You must remember him. Luxemburger, grey hair, deep voice, disgraced president of the European Commission, couldn't run an EU in a brewery!" Ah, yes, I say, I know the fellow, somehow managed to get himself elected as an MEP, due to take his seat in Strasbourg this week? "But that's not the half of it, Captain! He's also bang in line to be appointed President of the EU-African Caribbean and Pacific Joint Assembly!" Well, well, I say, much experience of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific? "Not so as you'd notice, Captain." First big meeting? "Bahamas, October." Very nice. Anything else? "The post also gives him a nice big corner office in Strasbourg." Terrific. Next!

SPIFFING news! The Clerk to the Lord Great Chamberlain has written again! You will, of course, recall that, as part of my public service remit at this time of great constitutional change, I have been attempting to find out what the Lord Great Chamberlain does. You will remember that the LGC, the Marquess of Cholmondeley, passed on my letter to his clerk, forcing me to deny vulgar suggestions that he didn't know himself. Still, I think we have now established that the Lord Great Chamberlain's is a purely ceremonial role, and, a bit of a revelation, I fancy, that the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod is, in fact, the Lord Great Chamberlain's secretary. But, sadly, the Clerk is unable to help with the Captain's understanding that on the accession of the next sovereign, Lord Carrington will become Lord Great Chamberlain, and will be entitled to the bed used by the monarch the night before the coronation. She suggests asking the Queen. Wilco! Meanwhile, I have learnt, probably exclusively, a hidden cause of chagrin among the hereditary peers about to be banished from the Upper Chamber: apparently most of them convert their order papers and all the rest of the bumf into briquettes to heat their large and draughty homes. So what now? Brrrr! I hope you can live with that, Tony!

NEWSPAPER rumour has it that the Moonlight Miscellany, my acclaimed compendium of this, that and the other, is universally envied. I'm not surprised. First, today, my I Almost Met feature. And the winning trio, all awarded black and silver enamel effect Moonlight Badges, are: Mr Wellings of Brighton (stood next to Mick Jagger at Fortnum's chocolate counter); Mr Newton of Hyde, (walked past steps used by Stuart It's A Knockout Hall in Manchester); and Mr Robinson, also of Brighton (Nuria Espert, Barcelona, thank you, Mr R, for a touch of class at last!). I see, too, that this business about what to call the next decade is up and running again. Actually, I thought I had settled this some time ago: the Noughties. Unless, of course, you have a better idea. Did you know, by the way, that in Germany the new Austin Powers film, The Spy Who Shagged Me, has been retitled The Spy in the Secret Missionary Position? Those Germans! Oh, and Mr Jennings of Westhead, who lives in the same road as my Mum, has, yes, A Moonlight Fascinating Follow-Up to my nature note about crocodiles and how they can't stick their tongues out. Camels, he writes, can turn their nostrils inside out, which is very useful when you're trying to lick away trapped sand. Thank you, Mr Jennings: Badge! By the way, should any of you visit the Marriott Hotel, San Jose, Costa Rica, you might notice in the cocktail bar an excellent jazz combo featuring musicians who look uncannily like Rosie Boycott (vocals), David Montgomery (tenor sax), and Conrad Black (percussion). Which reminds me: I'm off on my hols. Which reminds me: keep those most boring postcards flooding in, and we'll go absolutely mad when I get back. Bye!

New Chapter: Ann Widdecombe pictured yesterday introducing the Conservative Party's new Treasurer. Dr Fu Manchu replaces Mr Michael Ashcroft, who has resigned to hunt for cuff button and trouser press. `Dr Manchu is a highly respected figure,' said Mr Hague, the Tory leader. `Reports that he intends to attack Washington with a deadly nerve gas from his secret base in Belize unless he achieves world domination have been irresponsibly exaggerated by the media.' No? All right, it's this Japanese chap who has opened a Tokyo eaterie called Alcatraz AD where diners can do karaoke in fake cells. He has, honestly.

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