Captain Moonlight

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Bombs or no bombs

BRRRINNGG] Yes, it's Bert, the Captain's man at the BBC, with another vignette of Corporation life. This one concerns Fergal Keane, the South Africa correspondent, who was named news reporter of the year in last week's Sony Radio Awards. After one of the election campaign bombings, Keane fights his way through security cordons and then contacts Radio 5 Live to file an instant report. Unfortunately, David Mellor is hosting a soccer phone-in at the time and having a riveting conversation with a Newcastle fan called Ian about a big signing failing to settle. Keane is told that it would be 'inappropriate' for Mellor to break off and interview him about the bombing. Keane protests that he is standing with bodies around him, to no avail. 'So much for rolling news,' he says. Quite, says Bert and a lot of other people at the BBC.

The big debate on enlargement of the European Union comes up in the European parliament on Wednesday. The whips are out. But they have problems with holding the line, marshalling the troops. There are no promises of office that they can give, and few potent threats. The worst sanctions are redirecting the recalcitrant from jollies to the United States to jollies to Bulgaria. And appointing them to unpopular committees. For Labour Euro Mps, this means Legal Affairs, while for Tories it is, apparently, the Womens' Rights committee. Just thought I'd mention it.

Press tycoon can't stomach New York

AN EMPIRE holds it breath. Conrad Black, Canadian, polymath, and owner of quite a few newspapers including the Daily Telegraph, comes over all queer at dinner in New York. He is rushed to hospital. But not even a press baron can jump the pecking order at a New York hospital. No bullet wounds, back of the line, he is told. It is a worrying time, particularly for a man whose autobiography (out here later this year, already published in Canada and Australia, where it has provoked an inquiry into his takeover of the Fairfax group and an entertaining spat with Bob Hawke) is entitled A Life in Progress. He is examined. It is pronounced an attack of indigestion. An empire breathes again.

A LETTER flutters on to the Moonlight desk. It was written by John Patten, that Oxford don, that education secretary, that doughty fighter in the unceasing struggle for literacy, that fearless castigator of the incorrect, when he was junior minister at Environment. 'Dear Mr H,' it begins. 'You wrote to both Kenneth Baker and I . . . '

And now, the stories you missed earlier

SO HERE it is, Captain Moonlight's Catch-Up Service, the weekly digest which penetrates the furthest recesses of the strange phenomenon we call news . . . A violin was badly damaged by a fruit pastille which landed in the orchestra pit of the Hull New Theatre during a Scottish Ballet production of Sleeping Beauty. It was not clear whether the pastille was thrown deliberately or propelled into the pit by someone who pulled too hard while struggling with a tube of sweets . . . Twelve young pigs whose lives were to be spared for taking part in a festival race in County Kildare may now be slaughtered, after the race was called off following a protest by the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals . . . Carpenter Ray Charles, 37, accidentally shot himself in the head with a nail gun in Alabama. He only realised what he had done when he tried to take his hat off . . . Ian Lewis, a restaurateur from Standish, Lancashire, spent 30 years tracing his family roots back to the 17th century. He then discovered he had been adopted . . . Garden centre bosses in Norwalk, California, claim to have created the world's first garden gnomes from recycled cow dung . . . And finally, staying with dung, farmer Torstein Sele has turned a Nato rocket launcher into a super-powered muck-spreader that blasts a plume of manure over the fields of his farm in Orre, Norway . . .

Beaten at Eton: old boys bare all

THE Captain has been most tremendously bothered this past week by Old Etonians desperate to pass on details of life under the sway of Anthony Chenevix-Trench, headmaster there between 1963 and 1970. A new book on the school, Eton Renewed, by the present vice- provost, Tim Card, reveals that Chenevix-Trench had a fondness for drink matched only by an enthusiasm for giving his pupils a good beating. At dinner on Thursday, an old friend, whom out of sensitivity we shall refer to merely as Fluffy, entertained the gathering with an account of Chenevix-Trench administering a flogging while conversing with his small dog about the iniquities of the victim and hopes for his reform.

Under closer examination, Fluffy had to concede that this was hearsay. But another OE, whom out of sensitivity to his position we shall refer to merely as Buffy, had personally suffered the full C-T treatment. 'It was like this. Around 10.30 at night myself and some other chaps whose names would surprise you were caught playing poker and smoking. I was particularly upset because I was pounds 30 and an IOU for a peerage up at the time. Anyway, it turned out that we were to get a flogging from the headmaster. Tails up, bent over a wooden block, got more than six. Hurt like hell, drew blood, stripes still there months later. C-T seemed sober to me. No sign of his dog, a small terrier as I recall. Resent it? Grateful, really. Put me off sado-masochism for life.' Who says there's nothing in the old ways?

Or was it Nitnit?

THIS column, you will have noticed, is a big fan of anniversaries. Did you know, for example, that this year is the 500th anniversary of the publication of Summa de Arithmetica, in which, for the first time, a Franciscan friar, Luca Pacioli, explained how to do double-

entry book-keeping? Yes, yes, you can sneer, but a lot of chartered accountants, and many cost accountants, too, are very excited. In Scotland, I am told, they had a fiesta of accounting in celebration. It is also the 65th anniversary of the first Tintin book. New videos are coming out. There will be exhibitions. Personally, I can't stand the awful little creep, which is why, in an entirely malicious attempt to smear him, I reproduce here this damning extract from a bootleg version published in France by Irish republican sympathisers. Blistering barnacles, indeed]

A fur among flak jackets

ANN LESLIE is of a certain age, which she is not confiding. She has long scarlet fingernails, arresting eyelashes and a lot, a lot, of jewellery. She was taught by nuns, read English at Oxford and talks in a drawl which makes Princess Margaret sound common. You may have heard her on Any Questions? and Question Time. She also covers wars, uprisings and commotions and is the acme of a big-name Fleet Street foreign feature writer. She is a 'tabloid dame' who writes for the Daily Mail. Having filed her exclusive from Gorazde, she is back in the office, handing in her flak jacket.

Not that she wears one much. 'Freya Stark said the advantage of being a woman was that you can always act stupid and men believe it. I never alter my style one jot. I turn up anywhere in the world clanking my jewellery, my North London, Hendon-style flash . . . I was on the Serb front line above Sarajevo wearing a silver fox coat, flashing my fingernails, berating toothless oafs in their bunkers for the marketplace killings, and they were completely taken aback by it . . . I just don't change anything . . . '

Ms Leslie lights another cigarette and carries on in her wry, old-fashioned Fleet Street way. 'It's a huge disadvantage being a man. People are less instinctively inclined automatically to shoot a woman, particularly if they see this ludicrous sight: I look like somebody who's on the way to the Dorchester for a PR launch instead of in somebody's trench. I'm a source of endless merriment, but (and here Ms Leslie shoots a meaningful look out from between the megalashes) I get the story . . . '

She does. Zimbabwe, Salvador, Ethiopia, China, Russia, Haiti, Gulf war, South Africa, Bosnia, 70 countries so far. How does she get the story? 'Belgrade was full of hacks grinding their teeth about how they were going to get to Gorazde. I was the only one given permission to go into Serbian-held Bosnia in the first place, and then I used - do you remember Nick Tomalin? - 'rat-like cunning' and a pleasing manner to get to Gorazde. But I'm not going to tell you how I did it. That's a trade secret.'

Another secret is her salary, known only to God, the Inland Revenue, and other important people like Sir David English, chairman of Associated Newspapers and her long-term mentor (but let's say safely more than pounds 100,000 a year).

There were, though, snipers at Gorazde, a long drive back with more toothless Serbs, a looming deadline and a bad line. Why does she do it? Why doesn't she just settle for Glenda Slaggery, a column perhaps, and a lot of amusing drawling and incorrect chattering-class teasing on radio and television?

Well, she says, she is highly opinionated - 'The moment I fall out of bed I have more opinions than can be consumed locally' - and she likes giving them. She loved being on Radio 4's Stop The Week, Robert Robinson's chattering class: 'I really went for the apres-ski - afterwards we went to the pub and got drunk. But the new regime thought we were a bunch of wankers and stopped it. We enjoyed it far more than the listeners, although there were an enormous number of letters . . . ' Ms Leslie lights another cigarette.

But she likes her opinions to be based on experience. And, 'I quite like being frightened. I'm not one of these young men who long to be cannon fodder and when they hear a shell fall run towards it singing 'Happy Days Are Here Again', but what I quite like is arriving at a place where I don't have a lot of contacts and don't know where to start. You get this frightened feeling, the worry about whether you're going to pull it off this time. It gets the adrenalin going.'

She entered journalism by chance, after Lady Margaret Hall, because she wasn't interested in the careers on offer on the milk round, 'in thread or in detergents'. Her father, in oil, in the East, was not impressed: 'He thought the Times was a yellow rag.' She joined the Daily Express in Manchester, and didn't like it. Her news editor didn't like her. But she got her break interviewing a dwarf in Oldham who had been at school with Cary Grant. The Hendon flash started about this time and has stayed with her ever since.

She will stay on the road as long as she is wanted and wants to. Her teenage daughter and husband, formerly with the BBC, are happy with it. Other journalists wonder if it is a grown-up kind of life, but she has no interest in power and titles. Women, she says, are much less concerned than men about status and the size of their car. She also resists posh motives for her journalism. 'I want to enjoy myself. I don't think I'm going to move the chancelleries of the earth. Journalists kid themselves. They spend too much time sitting around in offices imagining the world is hanging on their every word. It isn't' Another cigarette, and next, perhaps, the Mandela inauguration.

(Photograph omitted)