Nobel knitting ... Straw's pie ... spooky banana

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Indy Lifestyle Online
I HAVE decided that this section needs a graver, more serious tone. Youthfulness is all very exciting, I know, but it can also be just a teeny bit relentless, don't you find? So, let's talk about National Science Week, which, as you know, we are currently in. And I would like to quote from a lecture written by the late and distinguished British scientist, Sir Rudolf Peierls, entitled "People in the Early Days of Quantum Mechanics". The extract concerns Paul Dirac, the British Nobel prizewinner, and goes as follows: "There is another characteristic story about Dirac. He once came to dinner in a friend's house, but the hosts were late. So he was shown to the sitting room where there was the old grandmother sitting there and knitting. Neither of them said anything for a while and Dirac was just watching her knitting. Then he said: `There must be two ways of doing this.' Now, any woman who can knit knows there are indeed two ways, but Dirac decided this entirely on basis of topological grounds, just by watching her." Extraordinary, I think you'll agree.

n OH, all right, another Dirac story. When he met Richard Feynman, the legendary American quantum mechanic, the conversation went like this: "You're Feynman." "You're Dirac." And that was it. Sorry? Topology? The mathematics of space. Next! Actually, I'm beginning to get into this science stuff. Some of you may recall the famous occasion when Einstein and a friend were enjoying a musical evening. Einstein was on the violin, his friend was on the piano. Things were not going well. Finally, the friend slammed down the lid of the piano and yelled: "For heaven's sake, Einstein! It's one, two, one, two! Can't you count?"

NEW Labour alert! New Labour alert! Listen, you remember that story about Peter Mandelson in the fish shop pointing at the mushy peas and asking for some avocado dip? Well, I have another one, about Jack Straw in the pie shop in Debden, Essex, his old home. Jack, on a nostalgic return, ordered pie, mash and liquor. (Captain's note for northerners: liquor is a parsley sauce used as a tasty accompaniment with eel pie and mash). But, I am told, he had a Mandelson moment and chose to pronounce it "liqueur", as in creme de menthe, three times before being corrected by the pie lady. The shame! Can it be true? The pie lady at Kelly's Eel Pie & Mash Shop does remember a man asking for liqueur with his pie, but doesn't know if it was Jack. Jack himself is away until Tuesday. We wait.

n ROYALISTS! Welcome once again to Captain Moonlight's Safe Haven, established under an international agreement to provide shelter against the crazed republicans who run the rest of this newspaper. This week, I have a complaint: why is it that the Prince of Wales's divorce solicitor, Fiona Shackleton, has a third from Exeter, while Anthony Julius, the Princess's wallah, has a first from Jesus, Cambridge, and is a real brainbox? Next: noting the Princess's interest in England captains, and always eager to please, I shall be providing a weekly galere of some of the other stout fellows who carry the hopes of the nation into various fields of sporting endeavour. This week (left): Dick Clegg, MBE, England angling captain. Honi soit qui mal y pense!

BBRRNNGG! The telephone. And, on it, my parliamentary correspondent, Ms Una Tributable. "Captain," she shouts. "These complaints about lack of press coverage in the House. They forget me. I do not sleep. Toby Jessel, Con, Twickenham, bored us all rigid the other night by reciting poetry about the London Underground for reasons best known to himself. This led Brian Wilson, the shadow transport minister, to write some of his own, which he read out to the House: `The debate has concluded without rancour/ Although the last speaker was the Hon Member for Twickenham'." I thank Ms Tributable, my memory, for some reason, going back to the occasion when Roy Jenkins announced, in his inimitable way, that he was leaving for high European office "without rancour"; and somebody interjected that David Marquand was also taking up a Euro position.

n OBSERVER shame. Well, I have to tell you that the Guardian is still v keen on offloading its loss-making acquisition. And I have to tell you that the Brompton cornershop owner, Mr M Al Fayed, is still v keen on buying it for some reason. The problem is that five out of the eight members of the Scott Trust, which controls the Guardian, are opposed to selling it to him under any circumstances. Some objection to the cut of his jib, apparently. This seems rather odd when you consider how much Mr Peter Preston, the amateur magician, diarist and editor-in-chief of the Guardian and the Observer, relied upon Mr F in the strange affair of all those Tory MPs and the mini bars at the Paris Ritz. Still, you know, the caravan moves on and all that.

WELCOME to Interactive Corner, where you write to me with your interesting observations on life and all that and I give you gift vouchers from our wonderful sponsor, Mr Pink, in return. And, first up, Mr Coidan of Rochdale, who has sent me a form from the Bury Health Care NHS Trust. It is for parents to fill in about their children so that they can have booster vaccinations. It wants to know the child's name, address, and "Date of Bath". Well done, Bury! Ms Robertson of Battersea says Lisbon joins Sheffield, Rome and Tunbridge Wells in being built on seven hills, and wonders about Weybridge. Now, my competition to find a competition to give away these vouchers remains open. Mr Boland of Monasterevan thinks you should be working out what all these tourists have got in those enormous knapsacks, but I'm not sure. On the other hand, if a bona fide tourist were to write in with a definitive list, I might be interested. Mr Rooks, of Leicester (where The Editor, a Republican, comes from) suggests you should name 10 famous Leicestrians, but I think that would be much too difficult. Vouchers all round! By the way, following all this fuss about Harold Wilson's statue, I am now looking for one of Ramsay MacDonald. Pictures, please!

n STOP. Enough. You have been jamming the Captain's switchboard. You want to know about the Pope and his Doc Martens. You saw the initial report from the company announcing an order for 100 pairs of the Doc's boots and shoes for the Vatican. You saw that the company also revealed that the Pope had been wearing two pairs of black boots and two pairs of white brogues since spring last year. But then you saw the Captain reporting a firm Vatican denial. "This story makes no sense," was the way a spokesman put it. The truth? I must tell you that the spokesman was not in possession of chapter and verse. The Pope does indeed wear Doc Martens. You don't believe? Look at my picture. By the way, I am informed, authoritatively, that the Pontiff has not been impressed with the British press on this story. Too much levity, too many remarks about holy orders and soles. Quite. Nostra culpa, nostra culpa.

THOUGHT For The Week With Captain Moonlight. Do you like cucumbers? No, I don't, either. So why is it that every salad and sandwich has got cucumber in it? Is there some shadowy cucumber lobby with a secret hold over Britain's salad and sandwich makers? If you would like to join my society for a more restrictive use of the cucumber, write to me here, marking your letter SOCMORUC. Thank you. Staying with fruit and veg, I was particularly intrigued by the story about the aubergine in Bolton with the seeds that seem to spell "Allah". I'm intrigued because I promised last week that I would tell you about getting your own Geiger counter, pounds 69.95, from Modern Originals of Liverpool, ("gives you perfect peace of mind for a very affordable price"). Anyway, I was running mine over a banana when I noticed the extraordinary configuration which I reproduce here, without further comment. Bye!

MANY people seem to believe that life in the theatre is a bit of a swan, an easy option. It's not; it's bloody hard work. And if you doubt that, just look at my exclusive Moonlight pictures of the audition queue outside the stage door of the Lyric Theatre in London's famous - if a little chilly! - West End theatreland last week for Sir Peter Hall's new all-nude updating of Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, wittily re- titled "Mind My Cherry!" The hardy hopefuls pictured are giving their impressions of the eponymous tree, with the effort of Rupert Allbeloved, extreme left, particularly admired. In the foreground is Aubrey Fly, Sir Peter's ASM, carrying his instant audition curtailing equipment. Actually, they're winter sunbathers in St Petersburg.


The Captain's Catch-up Service

STAND BY, students of the human condition, for the only news digest with you in mind ... Rachel Crompton, 23, a fine art student at the University of Staffordshire, suffered a bit of a setback when her fellow students stole all but a few of the 300 baked bean tins she had tied to a tree as a "challenging perspective on the hardship of students" ... Jose Ricco caused a collision in Madrid when he slammed on the brakes of his new car and opened the door on a busy road because he didn't want to sneeze all over it ... The mayors of Athens and Sparta have agreed a peace treaty formally ending the Peloponnesian War ... Jamie Eastwood, of Gainsborough, was run over by a pig driving a JCB, Scunthorpe magistrates heard ... Colonel Gaddafi has written a best-selling book for children, The Village is the Village, The Land is the Land and Suicide of the Spaceman ... The Whitewater corruption trial decided that a juror dressed in a Star Trek commander's uniform was unfit to sit because she gave a television interview. Barbara Adams is commander of the seven member Little Rock Federation Alliance.