BBRRNNGG! It is the call for which I have been waiting, from Ms Una Tributable, parliamentary correspondent. I have instigated enquiries into the hottest story to come out of Westminster for some time and I am hopeful that Ms Tributable will come up with the inside track. "It's true, Captain!" she shouts. "I have it, via fewer than three mouths, from the man at the corner shop who knows the mother of a BBC make-up girl, and it's definitely true. Peter Mandelson dyes it." I replace the receiver in a contemplative way. It's not that I don't trust Ms Tributable, but the sourcing of the story is just a little below the exacting standards I like to set myself. So I telephone a leading Mandelsonian, Mr Derek Draper. He says it is not true. Disinformation at work, I suspect. A murky business, politics. Could it be that this canard comes from the same mysterious source who claimed that Mr Major dyes his hair grey?
Captain Moonlight's That's Enough Of That Quotation Service. Listen, there are some quotations that are trotted out again and again by writers, presumably in the belief that they are still fresh and new and arresting. To help, I am setting up a facility that will log the ones we're all completely fed up with. Send me yours and I could send you a bottle of port. This service was prompted by Lady Hogg in the New Statesman with that old Marshal Foch thing: "My centre is giving way, my right is in retreat; situation excellent. I am attacking." Enough!
Let Me give you this one straight. Well, comparatively straight. I am not making it up. No. As the election looms, the thoughts of Conservative representatives in the House of Commons quite naturally turn to alternative methods of employment. And so I bring you the big ambition growing larger by the day in the breast and brain of Mr Nicholas Soames, the ample defence minister and Churchillian offcut. He wants to be a chat-show host on television. The attractions of the heady life of sofa, arched eyebrow and amusing little anecdote follow on from his starring role in the recent BBC documentary on the Ministry of Defence. "I really would like to be a chat-show host," he has told friends, "because I would do it bloody well. I can chat to anybody. I'm a man of the people. I would model myself on that Wogan chap and be gentle. You get more out of people that way." Voters of Crawley, your duty to the nation is clear: Vote Soames!
BBRRNNGG! The telephone, again. And, on it, the Captain's playful old chum, Peter Tatchell. Peter, you might remember, was last in touch about this interesting piece of American research that measures the responses of avowed homophobes to gay videos by attaching wires to the sensitive parts of their anatomy. Peter now tells me that he has been in debate at Cambridge on the motion "This House supports the outing of hypocritical homophobes." Opposing him was Bruce Anderson, political pundit of the Spectator, friend of the Prime Minister, and man of firm views. Departing slightly from the motion, Peter challenged Bruce to take what we shall from now on refer to as "The Big Test". Sadly, Bruce declined. Peter, though, is pressing on with his quest.
Will no one step forward? and Queries with the Captain. "Upon boarding 'The Clapham Omnibus', the number 88, the other evening in Piccadilly Circus, I was rather taken aback to find more than 20 traffic wardens seated therein and thus forcing most of the rest of us to stand, the said 88 being a small single-decker bus. They seemed in a happy, relaxed mood and alighted in Marsham Street. What is going on? There seems little chance of coming across offending motorists on board a bus. Is this part of some cunning plan to force us off public transport and into cars so they can issue more tickets? R A, London, SW8." Dear R A. I have made inquiries on your behalf. The Metropolitan Police say that their traffic wardens never travel on buses. But, the Met said, Westminster City Council meter attendants do; and so it proved. They were on their way back to base after a shift, no more, no less. They are instructed to stand up for old ladies. Hope this helps. C M.
I Don't really want to give any more publicity to Andrew Neil's memoirs, but I do feel my readers in the North-west should share this little analogy our Prime Minister drew for Neil about the burdens of German reunification: "West Germany [has] bought itself 25 Liverpools." Thank you, John.
Now, Ties. The Daily Mail had a large splurge last week with photographs purporting to show that Mr Tony Blair has taken to wearing the same tie all the time. What tosh! Any gentleman could have told them, if they had bothered to ask, that we always buy our ties in bulk. If I see a tie I like, I buy six of them. So, clearly, does Tony. What a crass error from a newspaper owned by a viscount. Not that any blame should attach to Lord Rothermere. There, I can tell you, is a man of taste and sensitivity. Who among us can forget his ringing declaration at his last Christmas party when I asked him for his opinion of the Independent on Sunday? What was it he said? Yes, that's right. "A very attractive package." Some people have subsequently claimed that he misheard me and thought I was talking about his own Mail on Sunday, but I pride myself on the clarity of my diction, which, unusually, actually improves with champagne.
Ah, Yes, the House of Lords. Never be the same again, you know, once Mr Tony Blair takes office and starts tinkering with a noble institution which has stood the test of time and has so much to offer. Allow the Captain to present two small vignettes to show you exactly what I mean. First, batting for the hereditary peers, Miles, Duke of Norfolk, former top brass hat, leading Catholic, who is wont to introduce himself thus: "I am - pompous arse, I suppose you would say - the Earl Marshal of England." Anyway, Miles was in conversation with his chum, the 17th Earl of Perth, who was telling him that what they had to do was listen to the arguments and then make their minds up. "But," expostulated Miles, "when I listen to the arguments I can never make my mind up." Next, another old friend of the column, Baroness Seear, who was heard to say the other day when asked by an American researcher what it was like to be a Lady among so many Lords: "Frankly, a lot of us here are so old we've forgotten what sex we are." Thank you, both.
Let's invent new traditions with Captain Moonlight. And today I invite you to consider that glorious day when Scotland is granted its own assembly. And now consider the matter of the Queen's Speech. The Liberal Democrats, for one, will be demanding that she also delivers it to the Assembly in Edinburgh. Anything else would be an insult to Scotland, they argue. And I must say I rather agree. Which brings me to my new tradition suggestion. Why doesn't she climb back into the state coach and immediately make her way up the A1? What a marvellous sight it would make, clattering north! Those in favour should write to Buckingham Palace without delay.
Captain Moonlight's Miscellany, a thing of snippets often rewarded by a gift of port. Mr E Wood, of Chorley, Lancs, draws my attention to the following regulation in the recently issued government regulations relating to the Pensions Act 1995: "In these regulations, unless the context otherwise requires, a reference - (a) to a numbered regulation is to the regulation bearing that number in these regulations; (b) in a regulation to a numbered paragraph is to the paragraph bearing that number in that regulation." Thank you, Mr Wood. I particularly like "unless the context otherwise requires". Port! ... Mr A Smith, of Halstead, Essex, writes to say that he is concerned that I am being too rude about my sponsor and that the LBV they have foisted me off with is of an excellent quality. Crawling, Mr Smith. No port! ... Finally, Ms Janet Suzman, whose excellent book, Acting With Shakespeare, I mentioned last week, writes to accuse me, inter alia, of condescension, selective quotation and failure to send her a bottle of port. Ms Suzman: Port! Everyone else: buy the book, it's a right rollicking read!...And, lastly, Salman Rushdie, I hear, was particularly taken with the Times, that well-known paper of record, reporting the presence, at the Kingsley Amis memorial service, of a Miss Vidia Naipaul. Port?
First we had the stealth bomber, undetectable to radar, almost invisible to the naked eye; now, I see, two British companies are working on the stealth warship. Might anyone, while they're at it, be interested in my stealth horse? Shergar II, as I playfully call him, is a wizard over the sticks. Sealed bids in an envelope here, please!
Photomontage by SUZANNE HALLAM
The Captain's Catch-up Service
Yes, it's that time of the week when you can catch up on all those interesting stories you missed ... PC Clive Norman, who challenged some armed robbers outside a bank in Stockwell, south London, has been reported by a woman who was passing at the time for swearing as he lay wounded from a burst of machine-gun fire ... Amsterdam city council is ordering brothel owners to bolt down beds to prevent over-ardent clients and prostitutes from falling off and injuring themselves ... A man of 87, who always left and entered his second floor flat in Setubal, Portugal, by climbing a rope, died when it broke ... A 6ft Wendy house planned for Langley Manor School, Slough, Berks, has been rejected by South Bucks County Council because it would be a new building in the green belt ... Inland Revenue inspectors investigating a small restaurant in Southend ate incognito to check the number of whitebait on a plate ... Peter Graham, who wears a gorilla suit as Adagio in the double-act Adagio and Sioux, has been thrown out by his wife, Sioux, for watching television in the suit while grunting and eating bananas ... Magnus Magnusson is looking for the Southampton policeman who thought Mastermind auditions were a promotion interview. He didn't realise until Magnus asked him for his specialist subject, apparently ... and, finally, the Rev Stephen Prior, of Chester-le-Street, Co Durham, has defended his decision to hold a memorial service for a monkey.