Prince fillip ... flogged off ... Chinese wisdom

Diary: Captain Moonlight
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Last week, there was, I couldn't help noticing, in the absence of this particular Captain, an outbreak of republicanism on this page, with features mocking of both the Prince and Princess of Wales. This was in clear breach of an undertaking given to me by The Editor that this column would be spared the republican vapourings he has inflicted on the rest of the newspaper. Thank goodness I have returned in time for the Queen's birthday. Many happy returns, Your Majesty! Would that these could be happier times! How on earth is the Duchess of York to live on pounds 500,000 a year? But here is happier news: I have persuaded the columnar laureate, Stan Trochee, to pay his own tribute. Here goes: Seventy Years/ Laughter/ And tears/ You've had your Phil/ Pay your own tax bill/Now, too/ Will that do? Finally, a fillip. Look at my fetching picture down there. These are the Royalists, a top band, who are releasing a new song next week, "Diana, Queen of Hearts", a real foot-tapper, very reminiscent of Lonnie Donegan. I have two copies I'd love to give away.

Come with the Captain now to a meeting deep within the beached liner that is Broadcasting House, headquarters of the BBC. A meeting so secret that I cannot tell you the name of the important man addressing it. But I can tell you that he was very, very concerned that nothing whatsoever about it should appear in the press. Happy to oblige. The BBC has now devised a fiendishly Birtian self-balancing formula. From now on until the election, each week's news and current affairs output must feature Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem input in the ratio of 5:5:3. Should be very easy to run. Inspired, the Captain is now following suit with his jumper, the one adopted lest those of a cynical turn of mind suggest my legendary independence is threatened by the sponsorship of those wonderful Mr Pink shirts, excellent value, worn by people of the calibre of Mr Melvyn Bragg and that well-known boulevardier, Hugh Grant. From now on I will be wearing red, blue and yellow ones in a ratio of 5:5:3. This will also be an aid to personal hygiene. Thank you.

Since you ask, a very nice holiday, thank you. Lancashire, mostly. Hot, too. On Good Friday, the sun was cracking the flags in St Helens, I can tell you. ("Cracking the flags", a reference to pavement flag stones.) It rained in Lancaster, though, where the Captain attended a maritime festival. Also present, in a tent, was Mystic Miranda. At one stage, Miranda came out of the tent to pose for photographs with a Japanese family, and I couldn't help noticing, make of it what you will, that she had to go back inside to get her crystal ball. And now, a plea for help. Over the Easter period, the Moonlight videotaping service concentrated on Mary Poppins, a film which, for reasons that needn't bother us here, I have now watched about 18 times. Except that the tape runs out before the end. What happens? I'm sure it must be sad, with lingering, painful deaths for both Mary and Bert, the loveable American with the speech defect played by Dick Van Dyke. Do write and tell me.

Thump! A document lands on the Captainly oak veneer. It contains details of a top level confidential Home Office conference held in London earlier this year. It is most interesting, acknowledging that the department's morale needs lifting, and confirming that the "Home Office is an organisation that is simply not good at communications". As for remedies, I was much taken with the answer supplied to the question "How can ministers help?", which is "Tell us what they want". But "Everyone should be committed" seems a bit drastic. Under "What to do better" is "leaks", while under "Next steps" is "plug leaks". Sorry? Yes, the document was leaked, as it happens.

Dogged readers will not be surprised to learn that I share John Prescott's outrage at the behaviour of London's Evening Standard newspaper, which, using some flashy technological wizardry, altered a photograph of the deputy Labour leader, removing a bottle of Beck's beer which had been in front of him and cropping another bottle so as to make it closely resemble champagne. I have long campaigned against this pernicious practice, usually accompanying my condemnation by pronouncing, with heavy irony, "So they say the camera never lies, do they?". As a gesture of apology on behalf of my entire profession, I am printing a nice picture of John, who is middle class. I have also approached Beck's, wondering if they might feature John in an advertising campaign. No comment, but they do seem pretty pleased with John. Meanwhile, I hear that Jimmy Knapp, the rail union supremo who is the same age as Sir Cliff Richard, is dismayed by the interest John's assistant, Rosie Winterton, has been showing in representing the Labour interest at Doncaster Central. Doncaster is a railway town, and Jimmy would prefer a train driver. And Jimmy sponsors John. Tricky business, life.

The really great bunch of young people who produce this section are very sweet about it, but I know they feel that the Captain is not quite at the cutting edge of metropolitan trends; that he is, bluntly, more than a Dolce short of a Gabbana. So just take this: I saw Gilbert and George the other day. I did. They were looking in the window of an estate agent in the London district of Stoke Newington, where people live before they buy suits and move to Islington. So does this betoken a move away from their familiar Spitalfields quartier for the dynamic developing duo? Perhaps I should have asked them. Meanwhile, a question: do you think G and G walk a) slowly b) quite quickly c) really fast?

Wednesday night took me to Belgravia in the hope of witnessing an exciting showdown between Douglas "Dougie" Hurd, the former foreign secretary and Etonian, and Sebastian "Birdsong" Faulks, the novelist and cricketer. Dougie has been upset by the bit in Faulks's new triple biography, The Fatal Englishman, where he is to be found flogging a whole intake of Etonian scholars to inculcate in them a proper sense of their worth and position. Not true, says Dougie. Sadly, he chose not to show up for a bit of personal disputation. But my hopes rose when I saw Faulks in close conversation with Harold "The Pause" Pinter, bad-tempered playwright and cricket impresario. Faulks, if I heard him aright, was talking about a long corridor in the house he has been renting in France. "It's 25 yards long," he told Pinter. Pinter, naturally, paused. And then he said: "Does it take spin?"

Interactive Corner: the part of the column which you write in return for Mr Pink's largesse. And I have to tell you that this seven hills business is now getting out of hand. To date, we have Rome, Torquay, Lisbon, Sheffield, Tunbridge Wells, Bristol, Kampala and Weybridge all built on seven hills. And now Mr Constable of Durham writes to tell me that Durham is, too. And Ms Hunter of Cambridge submits Seattle. What is going on? The most convincing explanation will receive one of Mr Pink's big vouchers, worth pounds 50. Next!

Moonlight memo to the wives of government ministers, particularly those who have served in Northern Ireland: did you notice that Dr Brian Mawhinney's reaction to having flour and paint hurled at him was said in court last week to have been conditioned by his Ulster security training? I quote from the trial of his assailants: "He [Dr Mawhinney] tried to `put some distance' between him and his wife to draw their fire but conceded to the court that television news suggested that he had in fact put her between himself and those firing the missiles". I'd find out a bit more about that Northern Ireland training if I were you, girls.

Gardening notes with Captain Moonlight. I was watering my lawn last week with one of those fertiliser thingies that you attach to the end of the hose when, quite inadvertently, I sprayed some over the ginger cat belonging to my next-door neighbour. This cat has now increased appreciably in size and shows no sign of stopping. I don't think they've noticed yet: should I tell them? What does the panel think? And has this happened to any other waterers?

My esteemed colleague, that doyen of environmental writers, Geoffrey Lean, is a man of philosophical bent. It must be close acquaintance with the ozone layer that does it. Anyway, the other day, Geoffrey turned away from the keyboard on which he was turning and polishing his latest exclusive, and said to me: "Do you know, Captain, there is an old Chinese saying that if you sit on the river bank long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float past." Wonderful! I must say I do like old Chinese sayings. More, please.

In an increasingly uncertain world, the Captain is always grateful for constants, for reliability, for people behaving in an accustomed way. And so it is that I bring you news of Oliver Reed, who recently gave an interview to the Glasgow University Guardian in connection with his latest film, The Bruce. He was asked if he had any advice for students. "Be very, very careful of the whisky in Scotland," was his reply. "I had a few glasses this lunchtime, and I had to wash it down with a bottle of Chardonnay." Bye!

Pressing on with our royal celebrations, my illustration today demonstrates once again how much better the Dutch are at these things. It shows loyal Netherlanders dancing a quadrille in the jaw bone of a convenient blue whale on the occasion of a Dutch queen's birthday in 1827. It is taken from an article in History Workshop Journal, published by the OUP, and submitted by one of the authors, Peter Mason, who is from Leicester but now, sensibly, lives in Amsterdam. In a further demonstration of European royalist superiority, I notice that the Danes have redecorated Queen Margrethe's palace at a cost of pounds 14m as a 56th birthday present. And what have we given our Queen? Nothing. Send your belated gifts to me and I will forward them on!

The Captain's Catch-up Service

Welcome once again the news review that gives pause ... Patients in Cornish hospitals are being offered counselling services by Cassandra Latham, a witch. Her name has been added to a list of contact points for minority religions. "Paganism is not a hobby, it is my life," said Ms Latham ... A drive-in restaurant for dogs in Oakland, California, has proved popular. Staff at the Pooch Inn wear hats with big droopy ears ... Neighbours attending a Neighbourhood Watch party in the Wilton Ballroom, Castleford, Yorkshire, scattered as two of the Watchers came to blows after one accused the other of watching him, Pontefract magistrates heard ... Dale Harden, a factory packer from Ruskington, Lincs, watches three hours of Dr Who videos a night and dresses up in a Dr Who outfit to go shopping. "Dr Who is my life," he said ... Golfer John Cooper's wayward shot over a 150ft cliff near Welshpool was thrown back to him by a rock climber ... Ingrid Emsland, of Dresden, organised a surprise party to reconcile her husband, Gerhard, to all the people who bore him a grudge, including his abandoned stepdaughter and a former boss he owed pounds 6,000. But Gerhard fled when he saw them all and hasn't been seen since ... Eric Rigoland, of Paris, an artist, hires himself out as a piece of furniture. For pounds 30, he will visit clients' homes and pose naked as a coffee table, chair or hatstand ... Bonzo, a parrot from Pencader, flew off his owner's shoulder on the way back from the pub and perched on the wing mirror of Mr Huw Jones, who then drove at speeds of up to 65mph in a vain attempt to shake Bonzo off before going to the vet in Llandyssul to prise him off.

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