Burnt fish ... cold chips ... hard man at the Foreign Office

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HALLO! Come in, come in! Weather turned a bit, but there's no doubt about the week's big news over in this corner: John Major's goldfish. Yes, following the leak of a private conversation by Paddy Ashdown, Downing Street has at last been driven to confirm what I told you some time ago, namely the existence of a pond full of ornamental fish in the Prime Minister's back garden in Huntingdon.Not only that, but we now know that one goldfish nearly succumbed to the heat in August and had to be treated by Mr Major himself with suncream. Tremendous! Fascinating creatures, goldfish. And when you know as much about them as the Captain does, I think you will come to understand the PM's enthusiasm. I expect, for example, that you are unaware of the goldfish's original colour: grey. Research has shown that you can train a goldfish to turn left or right. But the real stunner came in a 1967 experiment conducted by R L Morris which proved that goldfish could actually anticipate the throw of a dice. It is not known if anyone has got them working on lottery numbers. Can they hear you? Yes, Prime Minister, but you must keep your voice low, at a frequency of around 350 hertz. Famous fellow fish owners include Jim Davidson and that woman who impersonates the Queen. One last thing: this tendency for owners to start looking like their pets. Look at my pictures of a goldfish and the Prime Minister and see what you think.

n AND NOW, ladies and gentlemen, astonishing news from the overheated world of temperament and tureen. You know that programme Junior Masterchef, the one featuring all those children who should be out doing something healthy, like chasing a rugby ball around? Well, my man in the kitchen, whom we shall call Mark Five, has just been a judge on it, and he tells me that there is a gap of 45 minutes between the children finishing cooking and the judges tasting the results. "Stone flaming cold, mon Capitaine," said Mark Five. Extraordinary, I tell him, not without irony, before realising that at last we have an explanation for Loyd Grossman's vowel sounds. Try it at home: take a sip of cold gravy with or without the funny little bits of fruit and then attempt to smile and say something enthusiastic. Voila!

BRRNNGG! It is the telephone, and, on it, my political correspondent, the indefatigable Ms Una Tributable. "Captain," she shouts, "I'm sending you over a copy of the new Blair biography, by young Rentoul of the Independent. Pages 22, 28, 61, 70, 275. Bye." I must say that Ms Tributable knows what I like. On page 22, we learn that Blair, as a fag at Fettes, made particularly good toast; on page 28, even more intriguingly, we discover that he had a spell as a waiter in Paris as a student, which explains why I keep thinking I've seen him before. Garcon! Page 61: he got a mere third-class pass in the Bar exam, the same, by a spooky twist, as the Captain. Page 70: he had his last cigarette 15 minutes before he got married. It was Cherie's idea. Page 275: Cherie's father's great-great-grandfather's brother was the father of John Wilkes Booth, the man who assassinated Abraham Lincoln. Extraordinary!

n THE Royal Naval College, Greenwich: Captain's Warning. Prospective purchasers of these historic buildings, to be auctioned off by the Government to pay for their Daimlers or something, should be warned that the Captain is taking a very close interest. Quite apart from his obvious nautical connections, you should know that the Captain's grandfather was the man who wired up all those little table lamps on the long tables in the dining hall. Not quite as important a contribution as Sir James Thornhill's painted ceiling, I grant you, but not negligible either. Speak to me before you tamper with them, please. Apart from anything else, I saw some of his later efforts around the house. Next!

I IMAGINE that the intelligence community has turned to this page pretty sharpish today, aware, in that special way of theirs - no names, no umbrellas - that the Captain has been compiling one of his lists. This one is of possible successors to Stella Rimington, head of MI5, who will be retiring in February. Speculation so far has concentrated on the possibility of the job going to a senior policeman, but the Captain's trawl though his extensive shoal of highly placed contacts indicates a much more open field than has been supposed up till now. All these people are said to be in with a "good chance", and, most importantly, are available: 1) Will Carling; 2) Martyn Lewis; 3) Matthew Corbett, Sooty's controller; 4) Joanna Lumley; 5) Joanna Lumley's cleaning lady; 6) Norman Wisdom; 7) Delia Smith; 8) Tiggy Legge-Bourke; 9) Dale Winton; 10) the Archbishop of Canterbury.

n BLIMEY! White-hot technological progress in the upper levels of government is beginning to approach melt-down levels. Last week I told you that Downing Street was about to erupt all over the Internet and, even more excitingly, that there were plans for virtual reality trips round Number Ten. And now we learn from the row over the leak of Mrs Shephard's document that she has been showing the Cabinet slides about her policy. Slides! I ask you! Do they draw the curtains, do you think? And I hope she got them in the right way up because that can be really annoying, I find. Next week: John Gummer shows everyone what he and Penny and Cordelia and the rest of the family did on holiday!

YOU WANT to know what's wrong with this government? Yes, yes, I know you haven't got all that long, but I'll tell you all the same: no hard man. Remember Tebbit and Lawson? Enough to put the fear of God up anyone. But this lot? Portillo? Lilley? Do me a favour. But there is such a man: step forward, David Davis, minister at the Foreign Office. When I tell you that he is the son of a printer, you will get my drift. He has a broken nose, too, but no one has ever dared ask how he got it. His Maastricht whipping is still remembered with trembling awe; when people say he should be Chief Whip, he replies that the position is not yet desperate enough for his special talents. Listen, this man is so hard that he is telling everybody he wants to go to Mururoa to watch the next one really close- up. Captain's Counsel: if I were you, Jacques, I should offer to let him push the button; it would be a fine coup and he would really enjoy it.

n BRRNNGG! Again! And on the line, the rasping whisper of someone evidently in deep distress. It is one of the nation's industrial correspondents on the morning after the night of the award of the legendary Golden Bollock, presented to the one of his number who has made the biggest fool of himself in the previous 12 months. And so I learn that the Captain's man, Philip Bassett of the Times, has pulled off the big one, if that is the right phrase. Bassett, you will remember, is the man who meant to fax one of his stories prior to publication to Harriet Harman but sent it to one of her Tory opposite numbers by mistake. Foul rumour had suggested that he would take this in less than good part (m'learned friends were even mentioned) but in the event he did very well, even if his acceptance speech was the longest since Emma Thompson's last one. And he received a new, improved trophy, a shield featuring, I'm told, quartered Y-Fronts in blue and white with eponymous appendage exposed, unguled and pendant sinister, designed by a man called Norman from just outside Gravesend. Bye!

GAME FOR A LAUGH: Well, yes, we know that Paul "Gazza" Gascoigne (extreme left) is used to silly hair styles, but what are (others, from left) Virginia Bottomley, Janet Street-Porter, Umberto Eco, P D James and Sir Isaiah Berlin doing in the white fright wigs? It's for charity, of course, taken just before Gazza's Grannies took on a team of celebrity chartered accountants in a game to raise money for Natlottoff, the support group for people who have suffered emotional distress from failing to win a bean week after week in the lottery and have not managed to attract a grant from the Millennium Commission either. Actually, it's Supergran FC, from Stockton-on-Tees. It is, honestly. They've already beaten a team of schoolboys and are now looking for another game. Funnily enough, Terry Venables's phone seems to have been out of order all week.


The Captain's catch-up Service

WELCOME to the strangest, spookiest weekly news review in the world ... Psychologists studying drivers at red lights in Paris found one in four women checked their lipstick while one in four men picked their nose ... School lollipop lady Doreen Freeman has married lollipop man Peter Ruffell after 12 years patrolling different junctions in the same street in Southampton ... Graham Alston, 43, of Preston, dislocated his shoulder when he tried to show his Cub Pack the "Scorpion" kick demonstrated by Rene Higuita, the Colombian goalkeeper, against England at Wembley ... Stevie Lynn shattered a shelf full of beer glasses in The Toby Jug in Carlton, Nottingham, after hanging on to the final "You" in Elvis Presley's "The Wonder of You" for ten seconds ... An American television executive wanted Jane Austen to go over there for a tour to promote the BBC's new version of Pride and Prejudice ... and, finally, the Captain's colleague, Keith Howitt, won a rosette and a pounds 2 gift voucher when his pink fir apple potatoes in the Eastney Allotments Annual Autumn Show took second prize. Funnily enough, his sister, Gina, won a prize two years ago for the biggest cabbage.