Captain Moonlight

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TAKING no chances: two wary Bournemouth residents making quite sure that the Tory party conference really is over before coming out. Toby the Golden Retriever has been looking like that since Lord Tebbit smiled at him on Wednesday. No? Well, then, how about: a heavily disguised Mark Thatcher and two binocular-toting aides check that the coast is clear before emerging from a Parisian pillar box. Captain Hewitt, Major Ron and their latest ghostwriter hiding in a French pigsty while Mark Thatcher, Wafic Said, Lord Lucan, Lord Archer, Shergar and Elvis Presley keep their heads well down? Saddam Hussein, a close adviser and Mark Thatcher in a bunker near Kuwait? All right, it's two birdwatchers and their dog in a wildlife sanctuary outside Montreal.

The Captain's Catch-Up Service

EYES down for the only weekly news digest that tries to give you a flavour of the full wonder of the human experience . . . Nostradamus predicted that Gary Lineker could become a football manager, according to Valerie Hewitt, author of a new book on the seer . . . Batman has stopped wearing his underpants outside his pants . . . Chess champion Victor Rittekropt, beaten three times by a computer at an exhibition in Cherbourg, smashed it to pieces on a chair . . . Police in Shrewsbury opened a suspected parcel bomb addressed to Boris Yeltsin and found a woolly cardigan inside . . . Angler Jimmy Craven, from Carlisle, hooked a 10-ton minke whale. It got away . . . Library staff in Alice Springs installed electronic alarms to stop a thief who keeps stealing the Church Times from the newspaper rack . . . Robert Puelo, 32, of St Louis, stole a hot dog from a convenience store and then choked to death trying to eat it . . . A team of researchers from New Jersey crossing lava beds in a submarine in the Eastern Pacific have discovered that the octopus can be homosexual . . . Postman Jean Cellise cut himself open to check that doctors in Toulouse had removed his appendix properly . . . One of the world's rarest falcons ate one of the world's rarest pink pigeons in a bird sanctuary on an island off Mauritius . . . Soccer ace Gary Speed, of Leeds United, claims he is being plagued by a poltergeist which mysteriously switched his kettle on as someone in Coronation Street on his television asked for a cup of tea.

THE MOST exciting political proposal of the week was almost completely lost in all the fuss from Bournemouth: Viscount Cranborne, Leader of the Lords, is launching a campaign aimed at persuading the younger hereditary peers to play a more active role in the upper house. The Captain stands and applauds. For too long the outstanding aptitudes of our nobility have been ignored and sold short, victims of mindless prejudice and egalitarianism.

Consider the renaissance talents of such as Lord Teviot, former bus driver and genealogist; or of Lord Colwyn, dentist and dance band leader. Sadly, at 59 and 52, it may be too late to give such men the opportunity that should have been theirs long ago. But the younger peers are no less talented and unexploited. To give you some idea of what is available, I have drawn up a possible 'dream team', a government composed entirely of young peers:

Home Office: a particularly strong team here, really covering the waterfront. Both the Earl of Rosslyn, 36, and Lord Calverley, 48, are police officers; their experience, I think you'll agree, will be splendidly augmented by that of the Marquess of Bristol, 40, who has served two jail terms for drugs offences and is currently on probation. These three would serve under an impeccably liberal and stately home secretary, the Marquess of Bath. (I know the Marquess is over 60, but you're as young as you feel, aren't you? He would also double as Minister for the Family).

Chancellor of the Exchequer: Look no further than the Marquess of Cholmondeley, 34, who really knows how to balance the books and sell off the family silver. The marquess inherited an estate worth pounds 118m four years ago and is now selling furniture and art works worth more than pounds 15m.

Defence Secretary: the Duke of Westminster, 42, is a very keen Territorial. I would have thought there was a pretty good chance of his picking up the bill as well. Health: the Marquess of Bute, 36, used to be a Formula One racing driver. How does that qualify him as Health Secretary? Well, Virginia Bottomley was a social worker, and look how well she's done.

Whips: the Earl of Huntingdon, 46, trains horses, and Lord Rathcreedan, 45, trades them. Foreign Secretary: The Earl of Dundonald, 33, is the honorary Chilean consul to Scotland.

Social Security: the Duke of Northumberland, 41. Anyone who can date Naomi Campbell's mother and host Ivana Trump's engagement party must be incredibly socially secure. Prime Minister: Lord Sutch.

GRAYDON CARTER, editor of Vanity Fair, is something of an anglophile. Well, he's Canadian, so you mustn't hold it against him. He must have been particularly impressed with the native reserve at the swanky lunch laid on for him in London last week. An eclectic group was assembled at Conde Nast headquarters, including Stephen Fry, Melvyn Bragg, Max Hastings, editor of the Daily Telegraph (sadly without his car, stolen by a man who walked into the Telegraph offices and asked for it), Sir David English, chairman of Associated Newspapers, Lord Archer, Michael Green, of Carlton Communications, the Princess of Wales (again. See Page 1) and a group of workmen standing on the scaffolding, looking through the window into the boardrooom and nudging each other. And the native reserve? Well, the presence of the princess and Archer cut down safe topics of conversation, love and money being pretty much out. And then there were these vicious attacks Sir David's newspapers have been making on Fry; and the vicious attacks Sir David's newspapers and Hastings's newspaper have been making on Archer. So? Stand-up rows, blood? No. 'All perfectly amiable'. What a country]

THIS IS a column that likes to spot trends, keep you abreast of fresh stirrings in the Zeitgeist, mark your card culturally. Which is why I wonder if you, like me, have noticed the increasing popularity of the wheelie-bin (below) as an accessory to crime. The potential has always been there - size, mobility - but it's only over the past year or so that it seems to have come into its own. There have been two wheelie-bin murders already this year and a conviction in a murder trial involving one. Wheelie-bins, according to the Institute of Waste Management, are now being used in about 50 per cent of local authorities, which means there must be about 9 million of them. They were introduced here from Germany - where they are known, less pithily, as Mull Tonnen auf Rader - about 15 years ago. But my correspondent in Bonn was unable to turn up one example of this alternative use. Further proof, if it were needed, of the British talent for improvisation in the unlicensed despatch game. The Captain, meanwhile, retains a small, traditionally static bin and is happy to forgo that increasingly tense moment which all wheelie-

bin owners now face as they lift

the lid.

BRRRIINNGGG] Thus the urgent tones of the Captain's telephone. It is Bert, my man at the BBC. Bert reports an air of unease in corporation corridors about Radio Five Live. The infant news and sport channel, known to some, most irreverently, as Radio Fruit Juice, has had a remarkably easy ride from 'media commentators' since its introduction at a cost of pounds 30m last March. The worry at Broadcasting House is that someone, eventually, is going to notice that only 80,000 more people are listening to it now than were listening this time last year to the much criticised ragbag of programmes it replaced. If Bert's arithmetic is correct, that works out at pounds 375 a listener. More from Bert very soon; meanwhile, keep those dials tuned]

THE TORIES are a bunch of jokers. No, no, listen. Cards, they are. First there was Chairman Hanley with that joke about the Rolls-Royce which was already creaking a bit when his Dad got it off Tommy Trinder. Then there was Peter 'Silly' Lilley, the Pam Ayres of Westminster, with his annual ghastly poem. Delivery: not good. Try a couple of years round the clubs, lads. The Heseltine Joke, by contrast, received wide acclaim. That was the one about Gordon Brown's famous speech featuring our old friend, Post Classic Endogenous Growth Theory, written not by Gordon, according to the Pres, but by his talented young assistant, Ed Balls. 'So there you have it,' declared the Pres of Labour's economic vision, 'But it's not Brown's. It's Balls.' Very good. But, the Captain can reveal, not written by the Pres. Stolen, in fact, from Jerry 'Purple' Hayes, the bearded Essexist MP from Harlow often to be seen in bright shirts on laddish late-night TV programmes. Anybody stealing a Hayes 'quip' has got to be in trouble. And was it altogether wise to introduce the concept of 'Balls' into a Tory conference? Certainly that chap called Small who lifted his kilt at the YC bash regretted it when the picture appeared all over the popular press. And what about the Prime Minister, known to some as John 'No Ball' Major following the abandonment of the second part of his surname? Dangerous waters. Finally, a joke for Michael Howard. 'I never thought I'd hear myself say this,' confided a senior Home Office figure last week, 'but bring back Kenneth Baker.'

INTERESTED in literature and partial to a flutter? The Captain would like to introduce you to Marion Boyars, eponymous publisher of no fewer than six eventual winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature, including this year's laureate, Kenzaburo Oe. 'Anyone can publish after,' says Ms Boyars, a removed New Yorker and unlikely graduate of Keele University who has published, inter alios, Beckett, Boll and Canetti during her 34 years in the business (she was formerly the Boyars in Calder & Boyars). The secret? 'Good taste,' says Ms Boyars, who will be publishing Oe's Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids in March and still has Teach Us To Outgrow Our Madness in print. The flutter? Henrik Stangerup, great Danish writer, very much worth a punt for a Nobel, advises Ms Boyars. Yes, of course she publishes him.

(Photograph omitted)