CAPTAIN Moonlight's Mail-order Pick Of The Week Slot. And this week, courtesy of the Home Free catalogue, for only pounds 19.95, as pictured, talking salt and pepper shakers. I quote: "Why not liven up meal times with these highly entertaining Talking Shakers? Imagine the surprise your guests will get when they shake the pepper pot and it sneezes, and then the salt shaker says, `bless you'." Tremendous. Meanwhile, Captain Moonlight himself has, on special free offer, a CD of The History of British Military Bands (Volume Two), an America The Beautiful calendar, and a packet of Finish Citro-Fresh dishwasher freshener. Just write to me and tell me why you want them. Next!
NEW Labour alert! New Labour alert! Last week, I brought you the story of Jack Straw in the pie shop in Debden asking for pie, mash and liquor, but, unfortunately, pronouncing it "liqueur" as in creme de menthe. Well, I found this very hard to believe, particularly as Jack is a local Essex boy, but I was worried that the report would get the same currency as the one about that nice Peter Mandelson mistaking mushy peas for avocado dip in the fish shop (a fiercely disputed event, particularly by Steven Norris, the happiness-spreading Transport minister, who swears he asked for guacamole). Sadly, Jack was away, but now he has returned, and, thank goodness, has denied all. So that's that. By way of recompense, I should like to give wider exposure to an interview with Mr Straw published last week in which the shadow Home Secretary revealed that he cried over the death of his cat and turns out a mean spinach with anchovy souffle. That's more like it!
SCIENCE can be fun, you know. Last week I had you chuckling with a couple of amusing anecdotes concerning the famous British quantum mechanic Paul Dirac (you must remember, how he worked out how to knit purely topologically and another about his laconic way with a conversation). As a result requests have been coming in by every mail this past week for more Dirac stories. Happy to oblige! Sir Nevill Mott, another Nobel Prize winner, remembered in his autobiography, A Life in Science, the time when a colleague sitting next to Dirac at dinner in Cambridge asked him what he was working on. "Do you know what adiabatic invariants are?" asked Dirac. When the colleague confessed ignorance, Dirac replied: "What is the use of my talking to you if you don't know the very elements of the subject?" Quite. A Mott story? Very well: he once recalled that, when interviewing potential undergraduates, he had asked them why the sky was blue. "And, do you know," recalled Mott with amazement, "some of them didn't even know!" Quite.
WELCOME to Interactive Corner, the Captain's therapeutic tool, the place where you, the reader, can air your views on matters of pressing contemporary concern and, in return, I reward you with Mr Pink's vouchers. And I must say that I had no idea when I introduced SOCMORUC (the society for a more restrictive use of the cucumber) that so many of you felt so deeply about this cursed and lanky vegetable. Mr Desmond of Twickenham points the finger at that swanky sandwich chain Pret a Manger. Assez de concombres, n'est- ce pas? Mr French of Totnes thinks it part of a wider problem, too many ingredients in a salad. Recently he had a salad in Bristol containing no fewer than 18 ingredients. On an even more alarming note, Mr Shepherd of Northampton reports a man holding up a post office in Bushland Road with a cucumber. Where will it end? Too many of you took up the challenge to name 10 Leicestrians; Mr Minogue of Holloway disqualified himself for toadying by nominating The Editor; Mr Hill of Bexley did very well, but has anybody else heard of an amateur magician called Preston? Mr Hill also wonders if anybody could name three Nottinghamians, while Mr French adds Torquay to the list of places - Rome, Sheffield, Tunbridge Wells, Weybridge and Lisbon - built on seven hills. Pink Vouchers all round!
BRRNNGG! It must be the telephone. And on it, my political correspondent, Ms Una Tributable. "Captain!" she shouts, in her amusing way, "Engine Room here! I have a little story that shows the Prime Minister in a very good light." Before she can go any further, I command her to hold hard. Do we really want a story that shows the Prime Minister in a good light? I'm not at all sure that we do. But I am only the host here. You must decide. Write, marking your envelopes either "I Want To Know More About That Nice Mr Major" or, alternatively, "Bah!".
THE Captain, as you will have gathered, has an eclectic information- gathering operation. News, in fact, from everywhere, high, low, left, right, north, south. Come now with me into the midst of members of the metropolitan constabulary stationed in Kilburn, north-west London. They are not happy. Since the resurgence of terrorist activity they have had to spend nearly every waking hour on the beat in a subtle demonstration of security and vigilance. Many would rather be in their stations or station houses, working on flow charts or playing cards or drinking tea. Which is why they would not like it to be widely known that crime has dropped by 29 per cent as a result of this increased presence. Happy to oblige. Did you know, by the way, that the country's most senior police officers are in the habit of almost unfailingly refer to Irish people as "Paddies"? Evenin' all.
LOYAL subjects of the Queen! This is the only spot of sanity in a newspaper dedicated to the overthrow of Her Majesty! And the Rev Ian Shelton, rector of St Helen's, Barnoldby le Beck, writes to tell me that a previous rector was deprived of his living for supporting the royalist cause in 1642. You see: these people will stop at nothing! Next, as part of the duty we owe, and knowing of her interest, I am continuing my series of England sporting captains in the hope of providing the Princess of Wales with a little solace. Today's hunk is the England bowls captain, Gary Harrington.
DO YOU know, I was rather taken with the revelation that Yorkshire Water considered evacuating Bradford last summer because of the water shortage. So much so that I present a special Moonlight impression of what the scene might have looked like. If you look carefully, you can just make out the flat caps. Notice the figure with raised arms: that is a depiction of Mr Trevor Newton, Yorkshire Water's managing director, surrounded by Bradfordians and the little work tents his company puts up, watching the water disappear before his very eyes. If all this appears familiar, it is because it is based on John Martin's splendid picture of Moses and the Israelites at the Red Sea. One last thought: what exactly would you do with 100,000 Yorkshire men and women? Answers to me please.
BRIDGEMAN ART LIBRARY
The Captain's Catch-up Service
ENTER here the strange world of the weekly news digest ... Henry Bragmeyer, of Boston, Mass, has just opened the world's first cemetery exclusively reserved for computer enthusiasts. "Hackers want to be together," he said ... John Young has compiled what he claims to be the first book to list every telephone dialling code in the world. Mr Young says it is "the most boring book in the world" ... Jimmy the Nail, a cabaret star from Long Eaton, Derbyshire, had darts thrown at a board marked out on his back for a German television show. "I had a brilliant time," said Jimmy, whose act includes hammering a six-inch nail up his nose and nailing wood to his ears ... Police evacuated a postal sorting office at Freshwater, Isle of Wight, after a sexual aid inside a brown paper parcel started vibrating ... Skarthi, the hare-lipped Viking said to have given Scarborough its name, probably never existed, said archaeologists. They now think the town was founded by Henry II ... Baltique, President Mitterrand's black labrador, has published his memoirs ... Finally, you will be relieved that Ulrika Jonsson, star of Gladiators, has vowed not to give up sausages.