CAPTAIN MOONLIGHT : Canada goose ... pedalling Gordon ... red and proud

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The Independent Online
THE Captain was stirred considerably by the Canadian-Spanish fishing hostilities last week. For one thing, generations of Moonlights have been taught to be extremely wary of Spaniards at sea. For another, one instinctively sides against anything Sir Leon Brittan supports. But, most of all, I appreciated a bit of robust action by Canada. For too long Canadians have been considered stolid, sensible, and, yes, dull. Here, we are all acquainted with the old, cheap gibes about trying to name 10 famous Canadians. In the US, there was much sophisticated chuckling over the winner in a competition for the headline which would be least likely to make you read on: "Canada, Friendly Giant To The North". It is time for the truth. So, my useful list, entitled "Canada, Surprising Giant To The North": 1) They produce rather fine wine in Canada. Try an Ontario Chardonnay, but be wary of the Caribou, which is a little sweet. 2) Bathtub racing originated in Canada. 3) Canada has an annual Rub A Bald Head Week. 4) The world's loudest snorer used to be a Vancouver man, but not any more. 5) In Toronto, there is a nightclub called the Bovine Sex Club. 6) West Edmonton shopping mall, in Alberta, is the biggest in the world. 7) Mel Gibson ran into the back of another car in Toronto. 8) John Major's father nearly took the family to Canada. 9) There are 3,000 bison in the Banff National Park. 10) Glenn Gould, Pamela Anderson, Leonard Cohen, Keanu Reeves, Neil Young, Glenn Ford, J K Galbraith, Conrad Black, Bernard Braden.

n WELCOME to Captain Moonlight's Consumer Corner.May I show you a recent purchase of mine, bought with an eye to the approach of more clement conditions? Your experience might be different, but I have always found the conventional pith helmet a touch on the warm side, especially in tight spots. But this natty little number, as you can see from my picture, sports a solar panel on top which powers a fan that blows air over the wearer's head. For those extra-hot days, a sponge in the headband can be wetted to facilitate "evaporative cooling", as we call it in the solar topi trade. There is battery back- up for cloudy days, but we are so high up here at Canary Wharf that I find I just have to approach a window for a recharge. It is available from Quorum International for £29.95. Next, please!

IN THE week that Tony Blair unveiled the new Clause IV - which, in my view, is a good deal less convincing, less well-written, and certainly far longer than the winner of my acclaimed competition to write your own Clause IV, "Fair Dos" - I thought I would bring you a vignette which, for the Captain, sums up the new Labour Party. Come with me now to a gymnasium, or "fitness centre" as I understand they are now known, close by the Palace of Westminster. And who is this imposing figure "working out"? Why, it is Gordon Brown, the Shadow Chancellor, pedalling away on an exercise bicycle while at the same time reading a sheaf of his press cuttings. Perfect! It should feature in a party political broadcast. Or, perhaps, a portrait in the heroic style. I should reassure you, too, that, as befits a prudent, putative occupant of Number 11, Gordon was there during the off-peak, cheaper, period, and his kit looked very, very old.

n SOCCER shock: this year has already seen far too many befoulments of the field of dreams; so it gives me no pleasure at all to have to record yet another unsavoury event, this time during a match in Chiswick last week between the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Independent. The flashpoint came when a V&A full-back and film star, Hugh Grant, went to contest a ball with the Independent's legendary literary hard man, Sebastian "Birdsong" Faulks, uncompromising author and stopper. Captain's caution: never go for a 50-50 ball with a novelist. Personally, I'm not surprised Hugh didn't go into the showers afterwards. Sorry? Oh, all right, Hugh scored a goal from 40 yards and we lost 2-1.

AN ANGRY letter arrives in the mails. It is from Red and Proud, an organisation bent on defending redheaded people against the rank prejudice that is their sad birthright. Our Opinions piece last Sunday, following the policeman who hit the yob on a train, asked people whom they would like to punch. In it, a librarian nominated "ugly redheads''. Simon Protheroe, from the Retaliation Department of Red and Proud, demands an apology, or else. The editor passes it on to the Captain, who has long experience of dealing with this type of thing. Mr Protheroe and Bernard Hand, his chief executive, a nurseryman from Milton Keynes, tell me they hope to mobilise the world's redheads. Theirs is a cultural guerrilla organisation "strong, vindictive and hell-bent on revenge". I ask Mr Hand why there is this prejudice against redheads and he is unable to tell me, but he hopes to hold a convention later this year, to be catered by Jane Asher. They are also "outing" unnatural redheads, including Cilla Black. I ask for their red role models. They have a list: Neil Kinnock, Van Gogh, Alan Ball, Shaw, Churchill, Nero, Napoleon, Shakespeare, Oliver Cromwell, Elizabeth I, General Custer, William the Conqueror, and Rod Laver. I am suspicious of some of these. The French Embassy will not have Napoleon as a redhead. The National Portrait Gallery allows Shakespeare a reddish tinge, but says Cromwell was light brown. Mr Hand claims he was usually in a helmet. Then I remember that Cromwell is the hero of Stephen Dorrell, Secretary of State for National Heritage. I ring his department and say I have a question for Mr Dorrell. "Which one is he?" asks the switchboard operator. They say they will try to ask him. They do not ring back. It's a good job I'm not a redhead. Red and Proud: more checking on dead reds, I think.

n ALONG with what to do about Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Kenneth Clarke and things like that, there is, the Captain is given to understand, another tough decision approaching for John Major. Following his storming of New York, when he became one of the few men ever to cause Tina Brown the slightest consternation, Mr Major's brother, Terry, is contemplating a second foreign venture in the company of his Boswell, James Hughes-Onslow, the Old Etonian journalist.

All of Terry's major activities are cleared by his brother, who will have to weigh in the balance the pros and cons of a visit to an international garden gnome exhibition in New Zealand. Captain's counsel: let him go, John, they could do with a bit of excitement down there!

All clear: Sid "The Helmet'' Hobnob emerges blinking into the daylight after hearing of the demise of Ronnie Kray on Friday. Hobnob went into hiding under the East London line between Whitechapel and Stepney 33 years ago after Ronnie told him one rowdy night in the Kneecapped Costermonger: "You're dead, Hobnob.'' A relieved Sid told me yesterday: "All right, he might have been joking, he was a great joker, Ronnie, but I wasn't taking no chances. Don't get me wrong, Ronnie, in my view, was a diamond geezer and a real gent. You've got to remember that he never harmed anyone but his own. Unfortunately, I was one of his own." No, of course, it isn't, it's Chancellor Kenneth Clarke on a fact-finding mission to Consett. Actually, I wish I could tell you what's really going on, but due to an unprecedented oversight on the Moonlight desk, I've lost the caption. I can tell you that it is an AP photo, and that the chap in the helmet has obviously got something to do with railway lines, but beyond that I'm struggling a bit, I'm afraid.

The Captain's catch-up Service

AH, YES, marvel with me once again over the things that folk get up to ... Police in Antwerp will neither confirm nor deny reports that a grapefruit-sized UFO vapourised a German tourist as he strolled through a park in January ... Doctors treating Frank and Helen Walters for stomach cramps in Toronto found they had secretly poisoned each other ... Fay Macey, 41, swung into the drive of her home in Uckfield and smashed into the Victorian lamp-post her husband had just installed as an ornament ... Surgeon Edward Baker has been sacked for drawing a happy face on a patient's penis during an operation in Houston, Texas ... Gerhard Weisch's guard dogs held firefighters at bay while his factory full of furs burnt to the ground in Berlin ... A Russian passenger jet with 140 people on board flew 350 miles off course while its pilot and co-pilot had a fight in the cockpit ... Lucky the guide dog has been allocated a new owner in Pine Hills, Florida, after leading his first owner in front of a bus, his second over a cliff and his third under a train ... Steven Lam, of Ramsgate, cooked a £1.40 Chinese takeaway, and then found the numbers were for his brother's lottery entry.

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