n DIARY Dates With Captain Moonlight. And, first up, calling all hedgehog lovers: if you've got anything planned for Saturday, 9 March next year, cancel it now! That's the day the department of continuing education at Oxford will be holding a one-day symposium, "Hedgehogs: How They Behave And Why". Highlights will include "Follow That Hedgehog!" at 11.30am with Dr Nigel Reeve of the Roehampton Institute, and, at 4pm, "Rehabilitated Hedgehogs: Can They Cope?" with Dr Pat Morris of London University. Before that, from 2-10 September, the Water Services Association will be holding Splash & Flush Week, "a fun, informative and unusual experience" which will include the chance to tour the country's sewage works. I have provided visual illustration of both these events. Finally, an important note from the Oxford organisers: "We do ask that you please do not bring your hedgehog with you on this course!"
PETER Mandelson. Labour scion, Member of Parliament and the very Hotpoint, Emburey and Crippen of spin doctors. So powerful that many scenes exist just so he can be behind them. But the Captain is worried. The legendary Mandelson modesty appears to be under threat. I hear of a luncheon engagement for Peter at Carlton Communications with Michael "Mr TV" Green. Shortly before, Peter telephoned Carlton and demanded that a car be sent to the Commons for him. Green, who is amused by politicians, promptly sent one of his larger limos round to the House, with the hood down. So was it a blushing, chastened Member for Hartlepool who arrived at Carlton towers? "You must be joking," says my source. "He loved every minute of it."
n IN Islington, last week, two defining moments. First, we are in a restaurant and, on the next table, they begin to talk about Bosnia. One of the gathering, having listened for a little while, then leans forward and says: "I don't like to call things problems. I like to call them challenges." Next we are in the cinema, where a man leans forward and taps the shoulder of the woman in front of him who has been chatting to her friend during the adverts. "Would you mind keeping quiet," he says. "A large amount of creative thought and energy has gone into making these advertisements."
BRRNNGG! Why, it is my French correspondent, Serge, calling from a phone box in Dieppe, just near the Cafe des Tribunaux, close to possibly the finest street market in the Seine Maritime. "Mon Capitaine," says Serge. "I must tell you. I have just seen something very funny. One of your English compatriots came out of the cafe and shouted after his friend, very loudly, 'Oi, Norman!' Well, you can imagine! Everyone turned round. It was, how you say, most amusing." I have to confess I was quite unable to see the point of all this until Serge explained, patiently, that Dieppe is in Normandy. So I told him about the time at Westminster when Lord Hailsham, on his way to the Woolsack, spotted a colleague and shouted "Neil!", whereupon a party of watching American tourists fell to their knees. Serge, displaying a surprisingly intimate knowledge of our political system, then capped that with the time Sir George Young thought Hailsham had told him to sit on his lap when the Lord Chancellor was in fact addressing his dog. "C'est un drole ancien monde, n'est-ce pas?" opined Serge in his French way, and I had to agree.
n I DON'T know about you, but I tend to disregard a great deal of the prattle that comes out of Westminster. Before I went away there was all that stuff about John Major's position being under threat, for example. Now they tell me that the new Conservative Party Chairman, Dr Brian Mawhinney, the only holder of a masters degree in radiation biology from Michigan University ever to serve in the Cabinet, is not a happy Ulsterman. Something about him not having anything to do because First Secretary Heseltine is doing everything. But I have discovered something that makes me wonder a teeny bit about the Doctor. You recall he was made minister without portfolio to give him a seat in the Cabinet? Well, he's currently wandering around carrying this red portfolio on which is written "minister without portfolio". All very confusing, if you ask me.
BRRRNNGG! The telephone rings, again. It is my ballet correspondent, Erich Von Tiptow. Erich is a lovely man, but I do have difficulties with him. This is because, knowing nothing about "The Dance", I generally don't have a clue what he's on about and he has a rather heavy accent. Anyway, Erich wants to tell me about a big dancer, Zoltan Solymosi, one of Covent Garden's principals, known to balletomanes as "The Hungarian Hunk". Apparently the HH has just been on tour in the Far East with the lustrous Darcey Bussell and has been behaving in a way which Erich characterises as "Hungarian. Very Hungarian indeed". This, if I understand Erich correctly, means a display of the melancholic side of the Magyar temperament. I tell Erich that, personally, I'm not surprised, what with all that jumping, in tights, in humid conditions, but he seems unimpressed. Next!
n HELLO. Not for nothing is Captain Moonlight known as the first interactive diary column. This week I want your help with quite a few things. First, you may have noticed that Richard Branson is planning to circle the world in 18 days in a hot air balloon and that he is looking for a third passenger to go with him. What I would like you to do is to think how we can persuade him to go round non-stop 18 times and to nominate the person you would most like to go round for all that time with him. Next, Bob Monkhouse. Is there anyone left in Europe who does not know by now that the poor chap has lost two maroon ledgers containing all his jokes? Bob is offering pounds 10,000 for their return. But the Captain has a counter-offer: anyone who can furnish conclusive proof that the books have been destroyed will receive a bottle of champagne and a personal note of thanks. Finally, more champagne is on offer in Captain Moonlight's Great Summer Postcard Exhibition: send me your more unusual postcards and I will endeavour to give them the display they deserve.
THE Falkland Islands, the Captain notes, are to embark upon an imaginative scheme to attract new settlers by building replicas of English villages complete with thatched cottages, public houses and shops. This is a splendid idea, which deserves encouragement. But I think we must insist on complete authenticity. So I hope each village will be given its quota of advertising executives, television producers and merchant bankers, those big Volvos, those Japanese four-wheel-drive thingies, Labradors, and some rather poky little council houses tucked away round the back. The shop should be run by a surly individual whose crushed dream it is, offering only individual fruit pies, condensed soups and fish fingers. The pubs must be owned by couples called Roger and Liz serving swordfish in the basket while the advertising executives and television producers in Viyella shirts, corduroys, cravats and those funny quilted jackets with no sleeves sip from their own tankards and stand at the bar completely blocking your way to Roger and Liz, who, if you could get at them, would make it crystal clear that they are doing you a huge favour by serving you at all and that this in no way implies any sort of master-servant relationship. And when you get back outside you will find that the shop has closed down because of the competition with that hypermarket just outside Port Stanley. Cheers!
SLOW march, muffled drums: they are an uncompromising people, up on the bleak border between Lancashire and Yorkshire, a people who owe their living to naught but the unforgiving land. Seen here is John Hudson (on the left), the defeated Conservative Party candidate in last week's Littleborough and Saddleworth by- election, being led away to be burnt. The ladies in traditional dress carrying the giant match are members of the Saddlesiders "Sambettes" Latin Formation group. The man on the drum is Bernard Manning. The identity of the rather small man in the middle with the big rosette is unknown, although it is probably safe to say that the expression on his face changed when he saw the faggots piled up on Bleak Hey Nook. Sorry, only dreaming. Actually, it was John Hudson and Lord Archer joining the annual Rushcart procession in Littleborough last weekend. But has anyone seen Archer since? Photograph by DAVID KENDAL/PA
The Captain's catch-up Service
HERE it is, once again, my useful guide to some of the stories you might have missed over the last seven days ... An RSPCA officer was called out to revive a ferret suffering from sunstroke in Nottingham city centre ... Edward Muller, of Ohio, fired a gun at a delivery boy who brought him a pizza topped with mushrooms. Muller hadn't ordered mushrooms ... Felipe Aliago, of Lima, Peru, painted his 98-year-old grandfather red from head to toe to win a pounds 10 bet. He now faces five years in jail ... The Blue Cross animal welfare charity reported that it had treated 20 cats with broken legs in recent weeks after they had fallen from balconies and high window ledges while sleeping in the hot weather ... Giant frogs the size of dinner plates reportedly capable of eating kittens, guinea pigs and baby rabbits appeared in south London ... A goat called Cecil caused pounds 100 of damage to a garage in Redruth after eating fermented apples ... A woman clairvoyant was removed from a jury in Oslo after telling the judge she knew the verdict ... Boris Herlman, of Frankfurt, died when a stripper fell off a table and landed on him at a stag party ... And, finally, another British triumph: Archie, a snail from Pott Row, Norfolk, covered 13 inches in two minutes to beat the existing world record by a full 20 seconds.