A BAD week, you will agree. The Government reeling from disaster to defeat like a drunk in charge of a loaded Purdey. The Queen digging for oil. The RAF carrying out mock bombing raids on a village telephone box. And then Tuvalu and this business with the flag, which has gone rather unnoticed.

It should not have done. We talk symbolism here. Tuvalu, nine tiny, remote Pacific atolls, 9,000 people, Commonwealth member, formerly the Ellice in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, is fed up. So fed up that it's ditching the Union Jack from its flag (seemy picture) and talking once more about dropping the Queen as head of state. Because of global warming, the islands are sinking. The Tuvaluans are keen to resettle, but no one will have them.

The Tuvaluans are a gentle people who tell stories through dance. Their experience of Europeans has embraced slavers, disease and missionaries. Even their independence celebrations went off badly when Princess Margaret couldn't leave her cabin. Buckingham Palace and the Foreign Office say that what the Tuvaluans want to do is up to them. Now Tuvalu is holding a competition for a new flag. ``Help'' in red letters on a white background sounds a good idea. Or perhaps we could have a competition to decide w hom we might usefully swop for a few Tuvaluans.

LISTEN, I don't know about you, but on my list of candidates for the ultimate nightmare, Ken Russell directing the wedding video would rank pretty high, probably just above Jeffrey Archer making the best man's speech and David Mellor giving the bride away.

But brave Kerry and Ray from Wolverhampton have done it for a new Channel 4 series on camcorders. Ken, as you would dread, entered fully into the thing, calling out ``Cut'' as the bride entered, things like that. Still, after they had cleared the naked nuns from the altar, all went well. Actually, the bit about the nuns is a joke, I think.

So there I was in my study, fire crackling, crumpets to one side, reading, as I will, Alan Palmer's new work on Franz Joseph, Habsburg Emperor, 1848 to 1916. Suddenly, I almost upset the crumpets as a comparison struck me. See if you are similarly moved.Franz Josef was married to the beautiful and vivacious Elizabeth of Bavaria. Elizabeth was an obsessive dieter, regularly on nothing but six oranges a day, who developed an equal obsession for exercise. Familiar, or what? This being before the coming ofthe personal trainer and the Harbour Club, Elizabeth used to go for long walks all the time. And how did it end? In tears: she went to Switzerland for the benefit of the mountain air and was stabbed to death by an Italian anarchist in Geneva. I don't know what moral you would draw from that, but I turned the page and had another crumpet.

Babylon, Byzantium: last days are always like this. First loyalty goes, then discipline; all of it evidenced by a hundred little signs, a thousand straws in the wind signalling that the jig is up. So I should tell you, then, that the crime wave at the Palace of Westminster is intensifying. The disappearance rate at what must be the most heavily policed building in Britain has always been startling. Telephones, fax machines; you leave it unattended, governor, and it walks. Now, I discover, they are even stealing the brass coat hooks. Held on by four screws, too. Not long to go, I should say, before that splendid fellow Michael Howard, Home Secretary, flings him self back on to that green leather bench to discover someone's nicked it while he's been at the dispatch-box. What dispatch-box?

BRRNNNGG! It is Murdo, the Captain's north London correspondent, springing to the defence of his friend and neighbour, Tony Blair, who is under fierce attack from the right-wing press for patronising a hairdresser who charges £60 a shot. Murdo tells me that the said salon, Michaeljohn, is one he has used for many years, a place of friendliness, without side, where you get all sorts.

``Why, only the other week Norman Lamont's wife was under the adjoining drier!'' he told me. His hair is cut by Edwin, a Malayan Chinese, who has a pair of scissors which he says cost him £500 and who is a very talented beard trimmer. Or there is Kevin, from Edinburgh, a very chatty fellow. And the cost? Usually £45, he says. I listen to this, but I am not impressed. I am with plain Michael, on South Lambeth Road, in south London, a Greek Cypriot, I think. I am not sure because we have yet to have a single conversation about anything, which is bliss, and brings me, fittingly for this column, to what is reputed to be the oldest joke in the world, when the barber asked Midas, of the golden touch, how he would like his hair cut. ``In silence,'' he replied.

And now, wonderfully welcome news of a new recruit to the Independent on Sunday's dirty dogs campaign: none other than the boxer Chris Eubank, the monocled middleweight and horseless jodhpur-wearer. For Chris, I can reveal, feels very strongly about dog dirt. So strongly that the other day, spotting some of the offending article on his lawn, he asked his wife to clear it up. Communicating with her via his car phone on the way out, of course. Diamond geezer. How did he get on in his big fight last night,by the way?

The Captain Regrets: an occasional series. Do you find it takes a death to remind us of what we have lost? Exactly. Norry Gilroy, who flew 105 sorties as a navigator in the Mosquito Pathfinder Force and won the DFC and Bar, died last week. Flt-Lt Gilroy,who was Jewish, liked to protest against Nazism on these raids. He would arm himself with a brick wrapped in the Jewish Chronicle and drop it from the cockpit of his bomber.

RELAX, that desperate search for gifts is over! Just settle back and peruse Captain Moonlight's Justly Renowned Xmas List. She has everything? But does she have long red velveteen evening gloves from George of Asda, £5.99? Stressed out? Try Relax with the Donkeys, a delightful "sit and watch" film, with lovely donkey pictures set to music, £6.50 including postage and packing, from the Donkey Sanctuary, Sidmouth. Or, perhaps, something for those after-lunch longueurs: what about Freemasonry, It's No Secret, the History of English Freemasonry, five CDs or cassettes, with a 240-page book, only £39.95? Or an electronic rain gauge, £33.84 including VAT, from Modern Measures, Gerrards Cross? A bit more action? Well, there's an Atlas AC109 Mini Angle Grinder,with spindle lock, £47.99 from B&Q. Is he a messy eater? How about a Swiss-style napkin clip, hangs round the neck, only £9.95, Box HH26, Leeds? Want some Christmas romance? The orthopaedic wedge, £15.50 from the Science Museum! More? Hush A Bye Babies.The makers, Scotland Direct, say: "You'll fall in love with this series of sculpted, hand-painted miniatures depicting the joys of early years,'' including "One for Mummy", "still sitting on that potty!", £9.46 each. Yes! Miracle on the Brompton Road: aworried Mohamed Al Fayed, owner of Harrods, is seen attempting to talk down Sir Tristram Mini-Barre, the rebel Tory backbencher. Sir Tristram took the seasonal job at the Knightsbridge store to augment slender earnings from his MP's salary and 36 million acres in the Highlands after Mr Fayed told him: "I might have something for you in the Grotto''. The last straw, apparently, came when he inadvertently placed himself between a coach party from Bushey and a Power Rangers display. No? Well, how about Barry Norman attempting to talk Father Christmas down just after Santa had seen Lord Attenborough in the remake of Miracle on 34th Street? No? Father Christmas just after he was told that the Independent on Sunday will not be published on Christmas Day? You don't really want any reindeer gags, do you? Actually, it's a Father Christmas decoration on a department store in Munich. The caption describes the man below as a "passer-by'', but, to be honest, I rather think the photographer asked him to stand there.

Frank Augstein/AP The Captain's catch-up Service WELCOME to the Moonlight lane of the super information highway . . . John Wilson, from Crieff, Tayside, after 30 years among the Karamajong tribe in Kenya has found 570 words in their language similar to Gaelic . . . A gunman ordered "nobody move" when he robbed a New York store, then shot his partner as he stepped forward to grab the cash . . . The Agricultural and Food Research Council wants turkeys to be given colour televisions showing rustic scenes to reduce stress . . . A robber armed with two lobsters got away with £300 from a shop in Venezuela . . . and, finally, journalists on Europeo, the Italian magazine, are growing beards until the management show them plans to halt declining circulation. Women journalists will "wear false beards or a chador'', said a spokesman.