BBRRNNGG! Yes, that's the sound that can mean only one thing: someone is trying to Call The Captain! And it is none other than my "showbiz" correspondent, Ms Britt Bafter! "Captain, I think I've got something for you here. Have you noticed that, within a comparatively short period of time, Lionel Bart, Anthony Newley and Oliver Reed have died, and all of them with Dickensian connections? Lionel, of course, wrote Oliver!, in which the other Oliver starred as Bill Sikes, while Tony Newley was the Artful Dodger in the earlier David Lean film. You may recall, too, Captain, that the late Rod Hull lived for a time in the house in Rochester used by the great novelist as the model for Miss Havisham's residence." I thank Ms Bafter for this and replace the receiver.
GRIEVING, time to end it (2). Readers who have wandered with the Captain before may recall that recently, in a fascinating series, I charted the progress of some frog spawn as they made their way from my aquarium here to full frogdom in a pond in Snaresbrook. And, if you remember that, you must remember that we lost one along the way, Brooklyn, victim of an over- enthusiastic member of the paparazzi, another sacrifice on the altar of celebrity. He is buried here, in the plant pot also containing the remains of the pot plant introduced into this office by our former editor, Ms Rosie Boycott, to symbolise her campaign to legalise cannabis. Dreams, eh? I remember here, too, we once dreamed of banishing doggie doos from our streets. You might smile indulgently; where, though, would newspapers be without dreamers? But enough of that. There remains the aquarium. I wanted to leave it empty, permanently, as a tribute, but Victoria, office factotette and his former nanny, has persuaded me that it is time to move on and buy some fancy fish from her Aunt who runs this pet shop in Plaistow. We talk, apparently, of Cherry Babs, Lemon Tetras, Tiger Tetras, and White Mountain Cloud Minnows. They will be here soon.
I hope this is a good idea. Meanwhile, I append a photograph of the empty aquarium. Some people have also suggested that I open a book of condolence, or at least print a photo of the plant pot. What do you think?
BBRRNNGG! How exciting, someone else is Calling The Captain! And this time it's my literary correspondent, Hugh Advance. "Captain, do you remember Geoffrey Robinson, the former Paymaster General, runner of Jaguar, associate of Belgian widows and purveyor of bridging finance to aspirant cabinet ministers whose names begin with M and end in N?" I allow I recall old Geoff. "Well, he's certainly bashing away at his memoirs! Up with the lark and at the keyboard. In a hurry to get them ready, definitely!" To get them ready, I ask, for what? "For publication during the week of the Labour Party conference, of course!" But surely, I muse, this could embarrass the Government? "Perish the thought, Captain. And it depends what's in them, of course. I mean, he might reveal all about lots of things. But he's going round saying he can't see why anyone should be interested in his book. And, as Geoff is not famed for his irony, this could be good news for Mr Tony, but bad news for the newspaper that is supposed to have splashed out the price of a tasteful house in Notting Hill on the serialisation rights!" I thank Hugh and replace the receiver, reflecting, not for the first time, that both politics and publishing can be a damn tricky business. Next!
EXCLUSIVE views are not unusual in this office, you know. Following my item last week recalling Richard Nixon's celebrated comment on the Great Wall of China ("It's a great wall"), a senior executive here approached me and gave it as his view that Dicky was cracking a bit of a joke, and that the old boy's way with a gag and a wink has never been sufficiently appreciated. Interesting. If true, it throws new light on his other most celebrated remark, to Gypsy Dave Frost, during a break in the filming of the Nixon interviews, when he inquired of Frosty, by way of matey small talk, "Tell me, did you do any fornicating over the weekend?" Way to go, Dick!
CRACK that conundrum with the Captain. Christine Hamilton, wife of Neil, blond chap, teeny bit obsessive, interesting line in stationery, former associate of that most unBritish of Knightsbridge corners shop owners, M Fayed. Christine, the love, was on the radio the other day, giving this endorsement of Ann Widdecombe's leadership potential: "You wouldn't have to bother about the boobs." Right. A tough one. But it becomes a little clearer, I think, if you interpret "boobs" as the sort of "gaffes" that Wee Willie is prone to, you know, baseball hats, kitchen tables, Cecil Parkinson, that sort of thing. All right now?
INCREDIBLY beguiling, the picture, isn't it? No, not the fish tank, the Gustav Klimt, Black Hat with Feathers, 1910, over on the left. It was sent to me by Mr Smith of Leyton, on the other side of his winning entry in my competition to explain the significance of the school prefect Michael Portillo entering a classroom and announcing to his juniors: "My name is Portillo, but if you write it backwards, it spells ollitroP." Simple, writes Mr Smith: "Ollitrop comes from the Greek; 'oligos' meaning 'little', 'tropias' meaning 'sour'. So: backward-looking and a little sour." Thank you, Mr Smith: take a bottle of champagne. And one, too, while we're at it, for you, Mrs Mottram of Salisbury. Following my note about the Brazilian pretending to be an Italian waiter at a restaurant in Hampton Court, and my concern that such impersonation was widespread, Mrs Mottram writes to tell me that the waitresses pretending to be Tibetan at the Hilton in Lhasa in 1990 were, in fact, Chinese. Thank you. More reports, please!
DOMINATION. That, it's generally agreed, is what my acclaimed Moonlight Miscellany, a thing of snippets and sundries, is achieving in the market. And, first, I hope you were there yesterday to watch the Bishop of Horsham touring Bognor Regis on an open top bus with the Mississippi Three jazz band in a bid to "raise the profile of the Church" in preparation for the millennium. The tour was organised by the Rev Keith Richards. No, it was. Next, the 1999 Moonlight Spin Doctor 7/40 Colourfast Award must go to Frank Dobson's man, Joe McCrea, for continuing to prattle on about what a splendid job Dobbo is doing even though at the time Joe was under general anaesthetic on an operating table at the Chelsea and Westminster hospital after falling down the stairs of a Soho restaurant. Well done, Joe! Next, the 1999 Moonlight Sir Geoffrey Boycott Good Sport Award goes to the batsman in western Puna who, rather than wait for the umpire's verdict, took his bat to the bowler who had appealed for lbw and bludgeoned him to death. Commiserations to keen bird watcher Sophia Hadi, who drove all the way from Leeds to Washington, Tyne and Wear, after a friend reported hearing a rare song thrush only to find it was, in fact, the noise made by a fork lift truck reversing at the local Asda. And, finally, congratulations to Fabrice Gropaiz, 27, a Parisian, who has become the first person to go round the world on roller skates. Sophia: tough. Fabrice: terrific. Everyone else: Bye!
MOONlight special: taking what they call "The Braveheart Option", the three party leaders in the well-hung Scottish parliament present their credentials in Edinburgh to Mr Sean Connery (flanked), who has clearly been impressed by the size of their polls. Donald Dewar is on the left. No? All right, it's Cardiff, Ron Davies, and Shirley Bassey, not Sean Connery. No? Nato's next phase? No? A visual plug for Mr Bagnall's column below? Actually, it's three Colombian students protesting against, naturally, economic policies. It is.