n LIFE as a newspaper editor is not all long lunches and snap-ping: "Run it, run it big and run it now", you know. It can be hard and thankless, too. Ask The Editor of this organ. Well, I would ask him, but he's out at lunch. Anyway, take Alan Rusbridger, the man in charge at the Guardian. You may remember an earlier story of mine outlining his crushed disappointment upon learning that the Princess of Wales didn't read his paper. And now I hear of a fresh humiliation. The great man had taken possession, temporarily, of a Rolls Royce, and had proudly parked it outside his home in north London. Unfortunately, it was then towed away while he wasn't looking by his local authority on the grounds that any Roller in that particular road was bound to have been nicked and abandoned there. Heigh-ho!
THUMP! An air mail envelope lands on the captainly oakette laminate. But it bears a British stamp and is postmarked Islington. Inside is a short letter, composed on a word processor, unsigned. Whoever has sent it has gone to great lengths not to be identified. It will soon become clear why. The letter refers to my note about Gilbert and George, celebrated residents of London's Spitalfields district, house-hunting in Stoke Newington. It reads: "We believe we know why G&G might be developing an interest in properties in Stoke Newington. Jeanette Winterson has aquired (sic) an amusing example of listed dereliction in Spitalfields. G&G are doing the only sensible thing in the circumstances - fleeing north." Well. I know Jeanette can be very fierce and tends to fetch up on the doorstep of people who've written nasty things about her, but this seems a bit hard. I make inquiries and discover that it is Jeanette's partner, Margaret Reynolds, who has bought a house there. Very nice she sounds, too. G, G, loosen up: take some sugar round.
Dreadful bit of bad luck, that deal struck by Her Majesty's Stationery Office with Uzbekistan, the one that has left HMSO with rather a lot of miniature pencils, rubbers, sharpeners, notebooks, 1996 calendars in Cyrillic script and a loss of about pounds 3m after the Uzbek government denied any responsibility for the deal. Could have happened to anyone. Mind you, I have to say that the Captain, who has found his way round a few bazaars over the years, might have been just a little wary of a company called Uztoshkitob and and an agency called Polygrafsnab. Uztoshkitob? Polygrafsnab? But then HMSO was probably unaware of that old Uzbek saying: "A man who has an eraser has no need to sharpen his pencil". Which brings me to my appeal for old Chinese sayings, rewarded by pounds 25 vouchers from Mr Pink. Thank you to Mrs McAlister of Cork for "He who spares the candle begets twins"; to Ms Drummond of Bristol for "Kindness shown to a starfish is like wind blown in a desert"; to Mr Deeks of Amersham for "A pig on its back can still wiggle its trotters"; I leave you with this, from Ms Gulliford of Warsash: "He who leaves first gets the best coat".
Interactive Corner: where you and I, dear reader, meet for the exchange of fascinating snippets of information and vouchers in the order of pounds 25 and pounds 50 from my long-suffering sponsor, Mr Pink. Listen, I'm finishing this thing about almost every city and town you can name being built on seven hills. Mr Taunton, an AA Dip, no less, from Portsmouth, has sent me a most learned letter, in which he suggests that they're all made up in a bid to grasp a bit of Rome's cachet, and claims that Basildon is built on five. Well, council spokespeople for both Bristol and Sheffield, named by Mr Taunton, indignantly insist on their seven. And in Basildon, they had to check before reporting back that it is, fancy that, built on seven hills. Some things must remain a mystery. Mr Mickleburgh, meanwhile, of Grimsby, who is keen on piers, tells me that, apropos of Jarvis Cocker, there used to be a 1100-foot wooden jetty in Margate, only available at half tides and low water, called the Jarvis Landing Place, which was demolished in 1851. Fascinating, Mr Mickleburgh: pounds 25. Next!
Sir Tim Bell. You must know him. Sir Tim "Tinker" Bell, the chap with the exuberant tonsure and confiding manner who earns pounds 501,532 a year out of the consultancy and advice which proved so successful in saving David Mellor's ministerial career and has made John Birt, Lord King, Nick Leeson, British Airways and British Gas such universally popular figures and institutions, and swept F W De Klerk and his National Party back to power in the South African elections. Yes, he was the one involved in the spam fritters D- Day celebrations, too. Whatever, thumbing through the annual report of his company, Chime Communications, I came across this, from Sir Tim, about his companies: "The quality of our work is becoming vital in breaking down the media's overbearing dominance of peoples' views and decisions". Captain's Note: Sir Tim's clients include BSkyB, Express Newspapers, the BBC, and News International.
Banish those tired old myths with Captain Moonlight. You thought tortoises were slow? So did I until I read a report last week of a 100-year-old tortoise which had been found in a hedgerow two miles from its home in Chalford, Gloucestershire, after being missing for 12 days. Well, I licked my pencil and made a few rough notes and calculations. First, as you know, tortoises are notoriously late risers and sometimes don't even get up at all. And this one was, after all, 100. So I reckon he was unlikely to be on the road, at the earliest, before nine in the morning. And then he would need to stop for lunch, and, as it happens, tortoises are slow eaters. So I allowed him the traditional newspaper break from 12 till 3. And, reasoning that he was unlikely to want to be caught up in the rush hour, I assumed he would have packed up for the night by 5. That makes five hours a day; which means, by my reckoning, he was moving at 165.2 feet an hour. Makes you think, doesn't it? Next!
n WHERE are they now? This week, Clement Freud, bon vivant and droll. Readers can be forgiven for having lost touch with Freudy, as his friends call him, since he now writes for the Times. Last week he was filing a series of reports on the local elections campaign under the title "Freud's Election Ride", which has, when you come to think of it, a redolently Freudian ring to it. I expect we can expect more in the General Election campaign. Which is why I think it only fair to warn readers of an encounter witnessed by the Captain in a previous election campaign, when he arrived in Cambridge to help Shirley "Reasonable" Williams in her doomed campaign there. All went swimmingly until one of the helpers, a lively young fellow in his teens, made chirpy reference to Freudy's old telly selling activities. There followed what people in the saloon bar call "a total sense-of-humour- failure". So, just to make it clear: if you meet Freudy, on no account ask "Where's the dog food, then?"
BBRRNNGG! Yes, it's the telephone (again!), and, on the line, my correspondent Duane, ever anxious to provide me with snippets from the endlessly entertaining world of "showbiz". "Captain," he says, "Did you know that Lionel Blair's dog is called Eric?" I confess that I had no idea, but wonder, politely, why this would be a matter of particular interest to a discerning audience such as mine."But Captain," says Duane, "don't you think it might be Lionel's tribute to George Orwell?" Interested now, I telephone Mr Charlesworth, Mr Blair's agent. Sadly, he thinks Duane's theory unlikely. My picture shows Lionel and his wife with Eric.
Actually, while we're on Lionel, I must tell you of an amusing little conceit which much entertains New Labour types. You didn't know New Labour types were allowed to be entertained? Read on, read on. Apparently, they distinguish between Italian restaurants by calling them either Lionels or Tonys. A Lionel is one of those establishments with the red and white checked table cloths and the signed photographs of people like Lionel on the wall (hence the title, do try to keep up), places like La Barca, just over from Westminster, in Waterloo. A Tony is one of those hip, minimalist places with thin waiters like L'Incontro in Pimlico Road. So it's a bit of a dig at Tony, then? Listen, this is as daring as they get. Next!
Dogged readers will know that I yield to none in my admiration for Paul Johnson, historian, intellectual, journalist, controversialist, man with red hair, man with red face; and never more so than when, last week, he mounted a passionate plea in the Daily Mail for the cattle about to be slaughtered, under the strap-line: "Middle-class women went to the barricades over veal, New Agers risked their lives for trees. While Paul Johnson accepts the inevitability of a culling, he asks why no one is speaking out for our cows." And who better? An emotional piece ended thus: "In the meantime, what of the poor cows, doomed to die to make good human errors of greed, arrogance and stupidity? Perhaps to redeem the indifference of brutal humanity, one of our poets will step forward to write their elegy. It is the least we can do". Quite. I have two efforts. The first is by Fay B Wimsey, a dear friend, and draws on myth and pertinence. The second is by the columnar laureate, Stan Trochee, and speaks for itself:
No human form the girl could woo
So Jupiter became a bull.
She loved his holy horns, his moo,
His lacy brain. Her heart was full.
For 30 moons his lowing rent
Europa's heart. But he's a dud
And must to bovine heaven be sent
To chew the celestial cud.
How now, brown cow
It is curtains for thou.
Goodbye, pip-pip, ciao
That is the end of the moos
Now for the weather
I mentioned last week this chap who collects airline sick bags; now, blow me, I find he has a rival: my fellow diarist, prince of our peach-coloured business section, old Bunhill himself. Here are a few of his favourites, culled, as you can see, from a lifetime of thankfully uneventful world travel. And now, blow me again, Mr Poultney, until recently our head of special editorial services, tells me he also has a large collection (a flavour of which next week, if you like). Why do they collect airline sick bags? Do you know, I didn't like to ask. Funny place, this.
The Captain's Catch-up Service
Welcome to the news digest with food for thought guaranteed ... The Rev Stephen Grey, of St Michael's Church, Bamford, near Rochdale, continued praying when a ferret disappeared under his cassock during a communion service. The ferret, believed to be a pet, was eventually ejected from the church after biting a parishioner's thumb ... A bank cashier robbed three times by the same man in Dallas, Texas, was asked if she had noticed anything special about him. "He was better dressed each time he came in," she said ... Five spy cameras intended to fight crime in Newbiggin, Northumberland, were all stolen within 48 hours of being installed ... Prisoners at a jail in Jackson, Alabama, were asked if they could help break into a car after its owner, a visiting social worker, had lost her keys. A prisoner stepped forward and hurled a brick through her windscreen ... A motorist arrested for driving the wrong way down an Austrian motorway was drunk, failed to produce a licence, and had two wooden legs
What, I hear you ask, is the old fool up to now? Well, this might look like just a patch of yellow to you, but there is more to it, much more. It begins with a letter I received last week from Mr Waller of Liverpool. Mr Waller, in a welcome uplifting of the columnar tone, noted that the recent Lib Dem party election broadcast began with a blank yellow screen, which after a few moments was shown to be the sun in a child's painting; this made him wonder whether it might not be a hommage to Harold Pinter's unproduced screenplay for Proust's A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, published by Grove Press, in which a blank yellow screen is shown to be a detail from Vermeer's View of Delft (which, as you will know, was old Marcel's favourite painting). Sadly, the Lib Dems deny all knowledge, but I thought I would show you a bit of Vermeer anyway. Thank you, Mr Waller; have a sponsorial gift voucher.Reuse content