Like Hell ... a leer at Provence ... post-modern strike

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HELL. Just what is it? You will have seen that the Church of England, always ready for a bit of innovation, is leaning towards the idea that Hell is more a question of nothingness than fire, brimstone, grill, griddle and being prodded in your delicate parts with a sharp fork thingie. Clearly, the latter concept is sadly out of touch with modern thinking, but to settle for nothingness seems to be a little unimaginative. In the spirit of help, truth and reconciliation, I should like to offer the following definitions for consideration by the General Synod: 1) Being condemned to spend eternity in a small room with Bob Monkhouse, Barbara Cartland, a "TV weatherman", a "TV cook", a team of "impro" alternative comedians, Professor Anthony Clare, a gypsy violinist and the Dean and Chapter of Lincoln Cathedral; 2) Being part of the "ideal" team of astronauts for a journey to Mars, which, according to Nasa, should include "a jolly, outgoing type to lift the others through low periods"; 3) Being condemned to spend eternity celebrating Sir Edward Heath's eightieth birthday; 4) That dreadful bottleneck on the A4010 at Princes Risborough where they're building a roundabout; 5) And don't forget that when everyone gets this microchip in their brains, your friends will be able to download their entire holiday experience smack bang between your synapses. Next!

n LOYAL Subjects of the Crown! It is of crucial importance at this difficult time that we all pull together for the sake of Queen and Country. Rumour is rife, enemies are abroad (in a villa in Provence, actually). What we need is a method whereby we of the proper, monarchical persuasion can recognise each other. That is why today the Captain is introducing Captain Moonlight's Royalty Loyalty Card. Cut it out along the dotted line and stick it on to something appropriate, such as a royal appointment cereal packet. Shopkeepers, display it in your windows and offer discounts to loyal subjects proffering their own. Write in to me and I will gladly publicise your offers. That nice Mr Fayed in Knightsbridge is bound to want to join in. I am also making soundings among palace "insiders" to determine whether Her Majesty would be prepared to mark some of her tasteful mementoes down a bob or two. Together, we can defeat the forces of republicanism, anarchy and envy. You will also notice, if you look above, that I am now displaying the initials of my first three names, Hector Runcorn Hercules, whose astonishing coincidental significance I have only just noticed. Charities: I am available and ready to serve.

CRUNCH time on the greensward! Forget England v Pakistan, Khan v Botham (Khan definitely ahead on suits, in my view, and, my dear, those sunglasses!); I'm talking about the clash between Grim Gordon Brown's Chief Policy Wonk, The Man With The Brain The Size Of A Planet, The Man Who Really Knows The Neo Classical Post Endogenous Growth Theory, Ed Balls, and The Man Actually From Another Planet, John Redwood. Cricket. Balls batting, Redwood bowling. An intellectual collision unrivalled since Fred Trueman took issue with a Trevor Bailey summary. Balls smites two sixes and two fours in one over. No contest. Victory for The Brain over The Vulcan. And I have more bad news: Atkinson, my man within the DTI, who, you will remember, brought us the exclusive news that Redwoods have been planted outside the department's file store in Wandsworth, has been back in touch to say that six of them have now turned orange. Next!

n THIS, dogged readers will know, is the column with a minority remit. And one of the unsung, unglamorous groups that it supports is: the nation's dentists. So I am happy to be able to bring you news of a pioneering and exciting new development that has just been introduced by Barbican Dental Care, based both in the City of London and here at Canary Wharf. While you are sitting in the chair, they promise to play you your favourite music. When I telephoned to inquire about availability, they said they could provide anything provided it was on CD and I gave them enough time to order it. I am now drawing up my list, and, so far, have plumped for "The Gunfighter's Prayer"; "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town"; "Rose Marie"; and, naturally, "Bury Me In My Shades". I see, too, that there is to be a College for Buskers. This is an excellent idea, so long as it is made clear on the course that the following songs are banned sine die: "Streets of London", "Wonderwall", and anything at all by Sir Paul McCartney or Sr Antonio Vivaldi.

BBRRNNGG! Judging by the sound, it is my telephone. And, on it, my Cotswolds correspondent, Morton Marsh. "Captain!" he shouts. "That story, last week, about Sir Richard Rogers, the famous modern architect, and the unlikely pink geraniums presently bedecking the exterior of his Chelsea mansion! Well, I can tell you that Sir Richard was recently to be seen at a society wedding in Gloucestershire! And what was he wearing? That's right: a bright pink suit!" Thanking Morton for this intelligence, I replace the receiver and begin to wonder if this architecture business is as straightforward as it seems.

n MOONLIGHT: The column the stars read, then call. Last week it was John Carter, the travel expert. You know, the one on the telly who goes to all the nice places that are not quite as nice as the ones Judith Chalmers gets to go to. John was much taken by my discovery that Botticelli originally painted The Birth of Venus with the said goddess wearing a pink polkadot bikini. John wanted to say that there was nothing new in the travel game. Club 18-30? Been there, done that: John quoted Seneca, writing at about the time of Christ, on rowdy boating and bathing parties down on the coast north of Naples, given to all manner of "immoderate displays". Thank you, John. I bet Judith didn't know that.

LIKE you, the Captain was convinced that these postal workers holding the country to ransom were led by a tightly knit, highly organised, politically motivated band of professional malcontents. Now I'm not quite so sure. Item: there was this plan for the first strike day involving the delivery to every MP of a glossy brochure outlining the postal workers' case. This had to be abandoned when someone pointed out that the glossy brochures couldn't be delivered because there was a postal strike. Item: when before, in the history of militant collectivism, has the presentation of a potent symbol highlighting a proper grievance been abandoned on the grounds of historical accuracy? But this was indeed the case with the scheme to hire numbers of penny farthings, complete with riders in period costume, to tour the picket lines, thereby emphasising that postal workers have been working a six-day week since 1847 and that it is about time for a reduction. This was abandoned when someone pointed out that the penny farthing dated back only to 1871. Consequently, the Captain, overcome by a rush of fellow feeling mingled with admiration, declares undying support for Our Posties!

n NOTHING makes the Captainly blood come to the boil more than the claim that Business in this country is concerned only with profit and takes no notice of the broader national interest. So it is with a particular delight today that I commend to you the offshore banking division of the Midland Bank. For one of my many readers in Germany, Miss Hada, of Berlin, has been sent a letter by Midland Offshore outlining its various services, one of which is a booklet entitled How to maximise your UK tax bill. Well done, the Midland!

AND well done, too, South West Trains. They have been having all sorts of trouble with the air conditioning in their carriages. Can't seem to make it work properly. But now they've come up with a radical, lateral solution. Yes, they're spending pounds 100,000 on installing windows that will open. Now, what about some coal as well? Toot, toot!

n BRAG. Swank. Boasting. General self advertisement. Not things the Captain is given to, in the normal run of things. But I think, for once, that I can be allowed a brief moment of quiet modest, properly ocularly downcast pride. For my work has been syndicated. In the newsletter of the Spa Hill Allotment Society. My unassuming note about the perils of gardening (you might remember the caution about putting something heavy in your pockets to guard against the sudden and uplifting effect of a change of hose pressure) is the first item. Spa Hill is in London. I have now been invited to the Society's Open Day, which will feature a floral art display and a tour of the allotments. I hope to attend. Meanwhile, the Borough of Worthing has written to tell me about its exhibition at Worthing Museum celebrating 100 years of film-making in West Sussex. It opens at the end of the month and will feature film of the Worthing Lifeboat made in 1898. Until next week, then!

UNDETERRED by the pessimists and the dismal-johnnies, there are some British companies still striving for the excellence and innovation which made Britain the envy of the world. Step forward, Associated Metal (Stainless) of Glasgow. Not content with its triumph of two years ago, the special stainless steel toilet cubicle installed on Mount Everest, AM(S) have now, as you can see, created the tallest urinal in the world. This is the Euro "Waterfall" Slab Urinal, which has just been installed in the new Celtic Entertainment Centre in Oban. It is 2.5m long and 3.25m high. Water can cascade from the top to the trough at the bottom, depending upon the whim of the operator. You will ask: does it splash? Mr Philip Tolan, AM(S) md, will tell you that a special design feature makes the water adhere to the steel, removing any such prospect. Mr Tolan would like me to mention his range of customised steel products. Happy to oblige, sir!

The Captain's Catch-up Service

WELCOME to the news digest that makes you shake your head in wonder at the foot of your stairs ... More than 300 men went to the Action Man 30th Birthday Convention in Wembley. A brisk trade in dolls took place, but there was no sign of the Action Man with the green moulded underpants, of which only 100 were made ... Andrew Teven, of Mansfield, had a bad day. His girlfriend was rushed to hospital, his home caught fire, his canary died, and he was burgled ... A Missouri man was arrested for mowing the carpet in his son's bedroom at 6.00am because he had refused to mow the lawn ... The prize of a month's free groceries for the first "topless lady" to enter a Brisbane supermarket was won by a three-year-old ... An attempt by Monique Sailles, a French gymnast, to do backflips for 15 miles through Paris, ended after three backflips when she landed in a pothole and sprained her ankle ... Stephen Vierling, from Washington DC, claims his home computer is haunted by his mother-in-law, Norma, who sends him rude messages.

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