Don't Hispanic! ... Blair hair ... Rat House

Captain Moonlight's notebook
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Indy Lifestyle Online
AHOY! It has been brought to the Captain's attention that some of you, not content with the adversions of Ascherson and the wisdom of Watkins, are looking for yet more of a serious, intellectual nature in your favourite Sunday newspaper. With this in mind, I took myself off to the Spanish Embassy last Tuesday for a discussion on a very thick book, Millennium, by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, a history of the past 1,000 years written from a distanced and un-Eurocentric perspective. Present and discussing, besides Felipe, were Sir Raymond Carr, the great Hispanicist, and Dr David Starkey, styled by some the great Selfpublicist. I can't pretend to have followed everything that was said, but I was taken by Sir Raymond on Chaos Theory: "Rubbish invented by, by, by, by, by ... weather people!" Dr Starkey was even more pithy: Millennium, he said, was "a wonderful read, like Simon Schama with style". Yikes. Seeking to raise the tone, I asked Felipe for Four Fascinating Facts Of The Last Millennium. Felipe obliged: 1) Cannibals bordering Mali in the 12th century wouldn't eat white men because they considered them "unripe". 2) In 1807, Mme de Stael's decolletage prevented her climbing Mont Blanc. 3) In 1842, Charles Dickens was sea sick on his way to America on board the Britannia. 4) In 1972, a presidential candidate in Papua New Guinea predicted that Agatha Christie would return to rule over them. Thank you, Felipe. As I left, I overheard Michael Foot saying "We're going to win this time!" Strangely, when someone then said "Who's We?", Michael immediately switched the conversation to Charles James Fox. Next!

n CONFERENCE Special... Conference Special... Still a lot of worries, the Captain understands, about The Leader's Hair. It is a matter of pride to me that I was the first commentator to point out the danger of imminent recession, in an article in Harper's & Queen, 1991. I blame it on his habit, as a schoolboy, of applying butter to make it seem shorter so as to avoid the attention of the barber. Whatever, I must bring you, exclusively, this direct and poignant quote from one of The Leader's aides: "Hair is a charged issue in our office". Strewth. Actually, while we're at it, has anyone else noticed that Andrew Neil's hair now seems to be an interesting shade of red?

GRASP That Zeitgeist Really Firmly With Captain Moonlight. Britpop? Forget it. Burt Bacharach? Do me a favour. The Captain knows what's hot, what's the next "Big Thing". Ready? Donovan. You must remember Donovan. Skinny little bloke with a cap. "The British Bob Dylan". "Try To Catch The Wind". Well, he's got this daughter. Called Astrella. Naturally. And she's got this boyfriend called Drew. And what have they have just done? I'll tell you. They've just recorded a rap version of the I-Ching. Next!

n CONFERENCE Special... Conference Special... You will have seen that The Leader's staff have been casting about for jokes with which to enliven His speech. As it happens, I have one for him. It was told by Clare Short the other night in the Atrium, the Westminster restaurant less than a sound bite from Mr Mandelson's new command and communication headquarters on Millbank. It goes like this: "Have you heard the latest rumour? Apparently Tony Blair's rejoined the Labour Party." Not funny, Clare. Not funny at all. Next!

DID YOU KNOW with Captain Moonlight. Did you know that Chelsea Register Office, in common with other register offices, does not allow religious readings during its marriage services? Did you know, too, that it suggests a number of apposite non-religious readings, which it has kindly photocopied? And did you know that the first suggested reading is from The Bridges of Madison County, by Robert James Waller? The Captain Says: Lummie!

n BBRRNNGG! The telephone rings, again. It is my political correspondent, Ms Una Tributable. I inquire after news, views and gossip from the exciting Liberal Democrat Conference. "Good Grief, Captain!" shouts Ms Tributable. "I've not been down there! No, I wanted to tell you that at 5.29pm on Wednesday, as I was nearing the Members' Tea room, a rat rushed past me and went in through the door!" Nothing unusual in that, I say lightly, going on to wonder which particular sinking ship it might have been escaping from. "Quite, Captain," replies Ms Tributable, "But I don't think it had much chance of a tea and a bun. The Tea room is closed presently for an element of refurbishment." I thank Ms Tributable for this intelligence and then replace the receiver, musing that the low cunning of this large rodent has clearly been exaggerated.

BBRRNNGG! A summons to see The Editor in his glass riverside eyrie, high above east London. He is staring pensively in the direction of the Thames Barrier. He tosses me a book. It turns out to be the memoirs of Steven "Steve" Norris, the former junior minister and gay icon. "My MP," barks The Editor. "Pages 117 and 229." I walk out backwards, return to my humble corner, eventually locate my reading spectacles, and obey my instructions. On page 117, Steve writes: "Losing is less pleasant than winning." And, on page 229: "Brian Mawhinney is one of the most interesting men in British politics." I think back to the pensive stare at the Thames Barrier and resume my interrupted perusal of The Sporting Life.

n CAPTAIN Moonlight's Miscellany... Mr D Johnston-Cree of Chester, the owner of Francs Restaurant, writes. Inspired by my mention of a 123ft- long string of garlic bulbs on the pier at Hastings, five of his chefs have now managed 149ft 11in. Thank you, Mr Johnston-Cree... Following my failure to elicit an Egyptian joke from Mr Mohamed al-Fayed, the proprietor of Punch, I have been sent one by Mr A Gibbins of Sale, Cheshire: Two dogs meet in Italy. The English one is going to Egypt, the Egyptian one to England. Egyptian dog: "Why are you going to Egypt?" English dog: "I'm going for the bones. Why are you going to England? There are no bones there." Egyptian dog: "Oh, I'm going for the barking." Something lost in the translation, I fear, Mr Jones... Mr J Lamper, of Wareham, Dorset, has sent me details of open days at Swanworth Quarry and a talk on the A31 at the Carey branch of the WI. Thank you, Mr Lamper... Finally, my picture below shows the QE pig shower, which allows pigs to cool down by pushing the "nudge plate" with their snouts. Clearly the old expression will have to be changed to "as happy as a pig with soap on a rope and conditioner". Bye!

THIS picture? It is entitled The Actress and Bishop, it is by Annie Newnham and is, as you can see, propped against a table. Mr R Baresel, who sells paintings on Ms Newnham's behalf, sent me the photograph, thinking the picture might be vaguely topical and anxious for what he terms "a plug". Well, as you can imagine, I get many hundreds of such requests a week; what clinched it for Mr Baresel was the charming artlessness of his photography. Mr Baresel, bless him, also wanted to be told the story about Malcolm Rifkind and Pisa showing the Foreign Secretary in a good light which I mentioned last week but which, in line with columnar policy on such stories about members of the Government, can only be told if a reader writes in specifically requesting it. Mr D Hayward of Bristol and Mr J Elliott of Holloway did, too. So here goes: Mr Rifkind was seen at Pisa airport helping an old lady with her luggage.

Mr Hayward, alone, wants to hear the nice story about Mr Major, but he'll have to wait until next week.

The Captain's Catch-up Service

SO here it is, the news review that gives pause...Viktor Ritskia, Russian chess player, lost his temper when he was beaten three times by a computer at an exhibition in Milan and smashed it to pieces with his chair... Francis Mortello, a club owner in Foggia, southern Italy, was fined pounds 300 for pumping laughing gas into the audience to get laughs for his comedy acts... A male inmate died and five suffered palpitations after a woman of 79 stripped off at a home for the elderly in Brisbane... A Dane ordered not to contact his former girlfriend was fined pounds 100 for having Leonard Cohen's "Ain't No Cure For Love" dedicated to her on the radio... Ted Chandler swept the board at a horticultural show in Gloucestershire, three months after his death. His family entered his last crop... Syd Ambrose, a Beverley Sisters fan, had to have medical treatment after clapping too hard at a concert in Clacton.