CAPTAIN MOONLIGHT: Better to be a Norwegian than a llama

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The Independent Online
AHOY! Yes, it's your Captain speaking, returned and refreshed after the soothing sort of hol a top-name, cutting-edge columnist needs to get through the dog-days of August. Actually, I've noticed that quite a lot of top-name, cutting-edge columnists seem to take August off, but that is not the Captain's way: I know my duty. You need, for example, my help in sorting out this ticklish problem about the best way to view the eclipse: just look above. The front of the hat is pierced by a pin; inside is a cunning combination of small mirror, toothbrush and used Pot Noodle container. You will also be in more need than ever of the inside track on traffic in the corridors of power, celebrity, culture and style: see this column, passim. Which reminds me: I've just had a letter from Mr Gerrard of Huntingdon. "Captain!" Mr Gerrard writes, "I once went on a llama trek in Norfolk - not a lot like the Andes, no - and was stunned to discover that llamas all go to the lavatory at the same time. Yes! Their owner confirmed it. They form a little circle, bums inward, and it's a case of, well, one out, all out. How do they do that? Perhaps your erudite readers can explain." Thank you for that, Mr Gerrard. You have just won yourself one of my prized black and silver enamel-effect Moonlight Badges. Erudite readers: over to you. Next!

SORRY? My hol? I went to Norway, actually. Very nice for the time of year. One of the biggest highlights came on the ferry back from Kristiansand to Newcastle, where I watched the Helsinki chapter of the Cannonball branch of the Hell's Angels, very large men, mostly with shaven heads, in shades and studs and black leather, queuing up patiently to buy vouchers for their healthy continental breakfast. On the ferry out, I was selected from a large audience to help the ship's magician with his routine. Have you ever done that? Wonderful. My family enjoyed it tremendously. Thank you, Marvo. Some hot stories in Norway, too. Look, for example, at my picture on the left. It's proof that the English way with a pair of sandals is now sweeping the continent even as far up as Tromso. Marvellous. And how about this big story in Dagsavisen, the leading daily newspaper, featuring a picture of some police in Oslo looking wary outside a shop, and the banner headline: "Bakeri ranet av kvinne med strahatt." Remarkable. Sorry? You don't have any Norwegian? Oh, very well: "Bakery Raided By Woman In Straw Hat." Obviously a Raffia job. The Captain will keep you posted on the hunt for this dangerous figure. Meanwhile, keep a sharp look out when you're buying your baps. On!

BBRRNNGG! The entire office starts, as one. Yes, it's the telephone, with a Call for the Captain, and from none other than my redoubtable political correspondent, Ms Una Tributable. "Captain! Forget the tumult in Tuscany with the Blairs or the mob in the Med after the Royals! The really big story is on Cape Cod! Gordon Brown is taking his hols there, with his friend Sarah Macaulay, a pencil and lots of page-turners on neo-Keynesian post-endogenous thingamy. Anyway, it seems the picture everyone is after is one of Gordon with his tie off! The Times has even sent Peter Riddell, its political columnist, over there with instructions not to come back without the snap! Sarah's furious!" Hmmm. I allow that a picture of Gordon without his tie would be a bit of scoop, and that the Times certainly seems a little odd these days, but I have to tell Ms Tributable that I know for a fact that Riddell was going to Cape Cod for his holiday anyway, and, besides, being a pretty bulky chap, would have some trouble concealing himself among the local rhododendra. Ms Tributable, slightly chastened and muttering something about "August", says she will try to come up with something "hotter". Next!

BOYCOTT. Dogged readers will have the date of 3 July 1994 fixed firmly in their memory and underscored in both green and red felt tip with one of those little squiggly asterisks at the side. For it was then, in response to the German threat to ban British beef, that the Captain vowed to cease all consumption of Blue Nun unless the said threat was lifted. Well, we all know how successful my campaign has been. Imagine, then, my feelings last week in the face of yet more backsliding in Berlin. Clearly, a further sanction was necessary if minds across the Rhine were to be concentrated. So, the ultimate sacrifice, beyond, even, my renunciation of the azure wimpled nectar: no more Black Forest gateau. Yes, yes, I know, but the way of principle is not without its hard shoulder. With heavy heart, I telephoned the German embassy in London to inform them of my decision. A Herr Weck there concealed his consternation with the skill of the practised diplomat. That was my choice, he said. And then the bombshell. Speaking personally, said Herr Weck, he would rather eat British beef than Black Forest gateau! Beef on the bone, he said, was "simply excellent"; they were eating British beef all the time at the Embassy. Gerhard: you'd better check on these guys, they've clearly gone dangerously native. Unless, of course, Herr Weck was joking, in which case it's even worse than we thought. But Gerhard: I'm serious. The gateau is off, unless. Next!

BBRRNNGG! Gracious, that sounds like the telephone again! It is, and, on it, my media correspondent, Russell Nib: "Captain! Have you been down to Chequers yet?" I reply, a little frostily, that there is still quite some time before lunch. "No, no, Captain, Tony's country pad. He's been seeing important figures in the media down there. Bit of ego-massaging, bridge-building, fence-mending, before the summer break and the conference season. Important people have been given tea. Really important people, like David Yelland, editor of the Sun, got lunch. What did you get, Captain?" I mutter something non-committal and replace the receiver perhaps a little too firmly, reflecting that Tony has an odd approach to earning a Moonlight Badge. Next!

EXCITEMENT, action, breathtaking beauty, colourful characters. All of these have no place in the Captain's annual summer postcard competition. And first up is the submission from Ms Jackson of Nottingham. For the few of you who don't recognise it, this is, of course, St James Street, Burnley. Thank you, Ms Jackson: Badge! Oh, and Mr McKevett of Dundalk: I'm afraid the Captain does not haggle over Moonlight Badges. Submit the postcard of the paella and it will be judged strictly on its merits, without fear or favour, unless you're a relative of the Proprietor. Thank you.

BBRRNNGG! Blimey, it wasn't like this in Norway, I can tell you. It's Ms Tributable again; clearly this will be the "hot one" she has promised. "Captain! Simon Hughes, top candidate for Lib Dem leadership! Interesting pointer: he's painted that London taxi he owns a paler shade! It was orange, now it's sort of yellow!" Hmmm. It has been warm recently, hasn't it? I muse aloud as to whether there is "anything else". "OK, Captain, what about Consternation on the Commons terrace?" This sounds a little more promising. "Yes, someone has written in the cafeteria comment book that `some of the staff are very rude and extremely ugly'. Whatever next?" Indeed, I reflect as I replace the receiver. It could be a long August, this one. And anyway, I thought Alastair was on holiday. Next!

PHWOARR! Yes, it's time, once again, for my acclaimed Moonlight Miscellany, an inspired eclectery of this, that and the other. And first, this week's winner in our ever popular I Almost Met slot is

Mr Wheeler of Nuneaton, who decided at the last moment to pass up the chance of meeting Philip Larkin in Coventry. Mr Wheeler: Badge! This week's good-manners tip: don't wear your hat cocked

over one eye or thrust back on your head. One method is rowdyish, the other rustic. But Simon Allen, a lawyer prosecuting vehicle-theft charges at Lewes, was probably right to refuse the defendant's

offer to break into his car boot to retrieve the trapped files. You will also want to know that the British Antarctic Survey tested a new hi-tech penguin weighbridge last week. Elsewhere, first-aid instructor Gary Perkins of Portslade gave Topsy the tortoise the kiss of life after she was found floating upside down in a fish-pond. And in Wolverhampton, greyhounds are racing in tight-fitting Lycra vests to reduce drag and increase speed. Thank you. Bye!

Just good friends: members of the Prince of Wales's summer holiday party sportingly demonstrating the sleeping arrangements on board their luxury yacht during a stopover in Bridlington. The Prince and Mrs Parker Bowles are first and second from the top. No? All right, it's the scene near the Villa del Gombo, Mr and Mrs Tony Blair's holiday home, after eight Tuscans attempted to defy the imposition of a no-go zone on the beach and were shot dead. No? All right, it's the European Life Saving Championships at Bournemouth. It is.