Captain Moonlight

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The Independent Online
IT'S POSER time again. No, not victims of the reshuffle. No, that is not Lord Archer in the hat, even if the skin beneath it is enviably smooth. No, not an intrepid group of commuters who will stop at nothing to beat the rail strike. Nor even members of Tony Blair's kitchen cabinet suitably dressed for a weekend policy brainstorm. It is, in fact, one of the country's fastest expanding pastimes, the leisurely streak. These three members of one of Britain's estimated 115 naturist clubs, out for a spot of coastal walking, will feature in an ITV documentary next Thursday. I am particularly taken by the socks. Having got this far without mentioning bare facts or essentials, I had better stop.

WELCOME to my exclusive weekly news digest, the one that keeps you up to speed with events on the information bypass . . . Racecourse ticktack man Eddie Brown's last wish was granted when his horse-drawn hearse passed a string of bookies' shops in Preston . . . Vicars, nuns, priests and carpet fitters are among those most at risk of arthritis in the knee, according to a Southampton University report, as kneeling for long periods puts the kneecap under strain . . . John Evans, 47, of Marlpool, Derbyshire, set a world record by balancing 164 pints of bitter on his head for 10 seconds . . . Robber Rudolf Schmidt fired at a garage cashier in Zurich but died when the bullet bounced off a window and hit him in the head . . . Magistrates told Michael Dent, 27, to get legal advice after he pleaded 'not guilty-ish' to driving offences at Norwich . . . A new species of tree kangaroo has been found in Indonesia. The bondegezou sits in trees and gives a friendly whistle when it sees a human . . . Farmer Gilles Sellier robbed a bank of pounds 3,000 but was caught making his getaway on a tractor . . . Pizza delivery man Casey Fine was shot in the head in Sydney but managed to drive himself to hospital, delivering his order on the way. 'They wanted their food, not some lame excuse,' said Casey . . . Police trapped Scott Glynn by following the trail of crumbs he left after burgling a bakery in Moray . . . and, finally, Ernestine and John Kujan, of Long Island, are suing the Pet Pavilion after their dog Sandy was baked to death in an automatic blow dryer.

Privy secrets hidden in the shuffle

SHUFFLES? Been there, done that? Quite. But that was before you knew about Captain Moonlight's Reshuffle Miscellany, a compendium of startling and unusual facts giving an unique insight into the men and women whose tiniest whim and quirk can have untold effects on the lives of each and every one of us.

1 Jeremy Hanley, new chairman of the Conservative party, likes barbecueing in the rain. 2 Dr Brian Mawhinney, the new Transport Secretary, is the first man with a masters degree in radiation biology from Michigan University to serve in the Cabinet. 3 The wine Anna Ford threw at Jonathan Aitken, new Chief Secretary to the Treasury, for his part in her dismissal from TV-am, was a chablis. 4 William Waldegrave, the new Agriculture Minister, has 500 cows. 5 Viscount Cranborne, the new Lord Privy Seal, accepted a post as a parliamentary private secretary on a Friday and resigned the following Monday, thought to be a record. 6 Gillian Shephard, the new Education Secretary, does an acclaimed impersonation of Baroness Thatcher and never scored less than 74 per cent in any school exam. She is known, in some circles, as the Norfolk Broad. 7 The family firm of Stephen Dorrell, the new Heritage Secretary, makes, inter alia, smocks for cow milkers. Perhaps Mr Waldegrave has one. 8 In his book, The Young Meteors, Aitken predicted a brilliant future for John Gummer. 9 Aitken was romantically linked with Carol Thatcher; Hanley, an accountant, once coached Mark Thatcher to an examination success, also thought to be a record. 10 At eight months, Hanley won first prize in a beautiful baby competition. 11 Three of Kenneth Clarke's ministerial team at the Treasury went to Eton and Oxford; the fourth went to Harrow and Cambridge. 12 Amanda Dobbs, wife of Michael Dobbs, new party deputy chairman, is described as a 'born again Buddhist', which sounds tautologous to me; Cranborne's wife is a niece of the SAS's founder. None of this may be significant.

IN A SCENE surely repeated throughout the nation last week, corks popped and union flags were waved up and down repeatedly in the Moonlight household to mark the Queen's splendid success in raising over pounds 2m by allowing her subjects to pay pounds 8 a shot for a gander at carefully selected parts of her lovely London home, Buckingham Palace. She also sold 40,000 commemorative mugs with royal crest and 46,000 boxes of mint chocolates wrapped in special Buckingham Palace paper.

In all, the Queen's new 'trading arm', the Royal Collection Trust (chairman: the Prince of Wales), made a profit of pounds 4.3m out of allowing visitors into various royal residences around the country. More than half of that will go towards the restoration of Windsor Castle. May a fiercely loyal subject make a suggestion for some of the rest of it? It's to do with the Palace Wall, particularly the long stretch down Grosvenor Place, which is, if you'll pardon the phrase, a right royal eyesore. Every time some other misguided German backpacker climbs over and pitches his tent for the night, they smack a bit more barbed wire on top. The result now rivals that stalag Steve McQueen and the rest of them escaped from.

The Palace fends off inquiries by saying it is all a security matter. There must, though, be a more aesthetic solution. Right up the chairman of the Royal Collection Trust's street, I should have thought. Red, white and blue barbed wire? Advertising billboards to raise extra revenue? Or perhaps a couple of watchtowers, just to relieve the monotony.

ISLINGTON Person: A warning. Since this newspaper introduced the above Person to an intrigued world last Sunday, there have been copious references to the said Person in various newspapers and organs, including the Daily Mail, the Guardian, the Times and the Evening Standard. The existence of Islington Person, a concerned and talkative individual of liberal view living in that north London borough who normally has the dining table in the kitchen in the basement, has been variously affirmed, denied or used to launch rickety opinion pieces (or 'thumb-suckers' as we call them in the trade) about the rise of a Labour-thinking middle class opposed to the 'real' and 'timeless' 'values' of 'Middle England'.

Now, as you will know, the Independent on Sunday is not one of those brassy newspapers forever blowing its own trumpet. It notes that gracious, grateful acknowledgements of our introduction of the IP have been few; but expected little more. No, our interest in attribution is concerned not with vainglory but with historical accuracy. Take the sad case of Essex Man, the last socio-politico-geographical-personification construct to gain wide currency, currently the centre of a fierce paternity dispute between Simon Heffer, a journalist from Chelmsford, and Julian Critchley, the writer who is Tory MP a bit for Aldershot. Heffer is generally acknowledged as the father; Critchley claims to have coined EM some months before Heffer in an article in the Mail on Sunday's You magazine. Unfortunately, Critchley, the Captain and the Mail library have all failed to find a copy of this article, leaving Critchley claiming he 'thinks' he used the term. It is to avoid just such a worrying mess that the Independent on Sunday must insist on attribution of the term 'Islington Person' whenever and wheresoever it is henceforth employed by means of an immediately subsequent bracket containing an acknowledgement of the Independent on Sunday's copyright and the payment of a cheque for pounds 5 made out, for convenience, to 'Captain Moonlight'.

PREVIOUS lives of our noble and excellently behaved judges (2). I have already told you about the ghastliness of enduring Oxford tutorials under the withering South African sway of the-eventually-to- be Lord Justice Hoffmann. Now word reaches me of Hoffmann's summing-up in the case of another wretch wrestling with the glories of jurisprudence: 'He has taken to the law like a cat to water.'

DAVID FROST in Carlyle Square, Jeffrey Archer at Grantchester, John Prescott on the Tattershall Castle: cherished invitations all. But the Captain spreads his net a little wider. I have been invited to the opening of the country's newest motorway service station, 10.30 tomorrow morning, carriages compulsory, Cherwell Valley, Junction 10, M40, near Banbury, Burger King, banking facilities, toilets, showers and baby changing-rooms, 7,800 trees, 50,000 shrubs. Performing the official opening ceremony - and I'm dying to see what form that takes - will be the President of the Board of Trade, the Rt Hon Michael Heseltine.

Did you know, by the way, that five ministers had appointments with John Major on that fateful Tuesday evening last week: Messrs Patten, Brooke, MacGregor, my Lord Wakeham . . . and the President. The Captain understands that this was to discuss the effect of the changes on the DTI; my political correspondent, Ms Una Tributable, says it was also an example of the Prime Minister's impish sense of humour, otherwise known as 'putting the wind up Hezza'.

NEWSPAPER baron update: the Captain's Australian cousins, masters of giving the pith, ring me to say that Rupert Murdoch and Conrad Black, vying there as here in matters of megalomedia, are known as The Two Uglies.

(Photograph omitted)