CAPTAIN MOONLIGHT: DIARY

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If Lord Archer had written this headline it would have cost pounds 600 Not a penny less ... Virtual government ... Wrong kind of cattle

HI! TODAY, for once, I want to address a serious question. And it is this: do you, like me, think that we spend too much time in this country knocking people who have made a bit of a go out of life? Envy is not an attractive emotion, I find. But already the knockers are out for Lord Archer and the deal struck for the multimedia rights to his next three novels. A figure of around pounds 30m has been reported, and denied by his publishers, HarperCollins. The tightest possible security surrounds the first book, about whose 200,000 words and ripsnorting plot all manner of rumours abound. But I knew that if I telephoned his Lordship and asked for an exclusive sneak preview on behalf of you, my readers, I would not be turned away. So what, I asked an Archerian assistant, was the first word of the great work? 'Twas not long before LA was on the line. "I know what you're up to, you bloody joker," he exclaimed. "You want to say this word is worth pounds 10, don't you? Well, stick your head down the well, I'm ahead of you, give me the credit for that!" Quite, I murmured; and the word? "It's 'The'!" he said. And then, swearing me to secrecy, he intoned the first sentence. I am saying nothing. Nothing! Afterwards, though, I tried my long division on 200,000 and pounds 10m and came up with pounds 500 a word, not pounds 10. I rang LA back and he said: "This is why you're not a millionaire. You're pathetic!" So we fiddled around with the decimal point together and ended up with pounds 50 a word. Thank you, LA!

n NOW then, another of those exclusive thingies. From deep within the recesses of Downing Street, a voice just above an anorak contacts me: they are, finally, about to go on the Internet. It's going to be called Downing Street Forum. Rather sweet to think of John sat there all day, answering questions, but I don't suppose it will work out like that. My hot piece of info, though, is that they are also planning a virtual reality tour of Number 10. Imagine sitting in at Cabinet meetings and listening to the First Secretary while John takes notes and Portillo plays with his model Trident and Lilley goes through thick wads of giros, checking. But I don't suppose it will work out like that, either.

CAPTAIN Moonlight's Interactive Corner. Yes, once again, it's your chance to shine. And today, Alice Charles, of Brixton, has some fascinating information about the lottery. Alice tells me that every time she has bought a scratchcard in south London she has not won so much as a bean. But, when she has bought a scratchcard in fashionable Islington, she has won every time bar one. Thank you, Alice, I'm sure readers will find that most interesting. Next, I have a postcard from a Mr Jaspan, of Crouch End, north London, who asks me if he might see a fascinating photograph showing the former editor of the Guardian, Peter Preston, performing a conjuring trick involving a guillotine greased with margarine. Happy to oblige, Mr Jaspan!

n MICHAEL Portillo: crazy guy, crazy quiff. And now, the biography, due to be published on the eve of next month's Tory party conference. It's by Michael Gove, who works on BBC's Today programme. I spoke to him. Michael, I said, don't bother me with the big stuff, give me some Portillo trivia. Trivia is the key to these people, I said; the detail is in the drivel. Michael went away, and came back with these three fascinating facts: 1) In 1969, Michael Portillo went to Yugoslavia on holiday with his mum. 2) As a teenager, he was a big fan of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. 3) At university, he used to wear frilly dress shirts which put some in mind of Englebert Humperdinck. Now I quite like Englebert. But, CSN&Y: oh, dear, oh dear, oh dear.

DON'T you love this time of the year? Early morning mists, soft rain, the TUC conference, and the Golden Bollock Award. The Golden Bollock is presented to the industrial journalist who has made the biggest fool of himself in the previous 12 months and will be awarded in the customary debonair frenzy of camaraderie in Brighton on Thursday night. The winner will be chosen by the current holder, John Fryer of the BBC, whose exclusive on post office privatisation was rubbished by a chuckling President Heseltine live on the Today programme minutes later. And the Captain is proud to reveal that the front runner is Philip Bassett of the Times, whose gaffe you read here first. Bassett was the one who meant to fax a story pre- publication to Harriet Harman and sent it instead to Philip Oppenheim, one of her Tory opposite numbers, thus allowing Michael Portillo great fun in the Commons, particularly with Bassett's injunction to "keep it under your hat". Anyway, wild rumour among the normally tight-lipped industrial correspondents is that Bassett has threatened Fryer with legal action if the Bollock comes his way. Bassett denies this, although he concedes he did say he would not be "the happiest bunny in the world" if it happened. He now claims to be philosophical; Fryer has a dangerous note in his voice. The tension, the tension!

n BLIMEY! Even the Captain is getting leaks from Railtrack now. This one is definitely slanted in my direction, too. It's a recent report of an incident on the line between Crowhurst and West St Leonards in which no fewer than 10 cows and a horse were removed after the current was switched off between Whatlington and Bo Peep Junction. No, no mention of sheep. Or Will Hay. Funny place, Sussex.

ANOTHER long afternoon stretches ahead, that dull, dreary period you will all be familiar with between the long lunch and the first inviting sherry at one of the many literary parties with which we metropolitans amuse ourselves at this time of year. Honestly, if I see another of those little bread rolls with asparagus inside I'll die! With a sigh, I pick up my copy of the New Yorker, which still has the odd good cartoon interspersed between long pieces about actresses. And I notice that Pia Zadora is taking over in Crazy For You on Broadway. Why am I telling you all this? I am telling you all this so I can move seamlessly into the Pia Zadora story. Pia, a comely young thing, has not received great recognition as an actress. Quite the reverse: critics can be very cruel, you know. And so can audiences. Pia once took the lead role in a production of The Diary of Anne Frank. When the German soldiers broke into the house where Anne/Pia was concealed, a voice shouted from the audience: "She's in the attic!"

n YOU KNOW, we're really lucky to have each other. It's just not the same at other newspapers. I have often wondered if anyone actually reads the Sunday Telegraph, and now there's proof. In a survey to test reaction to a new magazine section, 80 per cent questioned thought it, er, already had one.

LOOK upon me, dear reader, as your long stop on the far boundary of probability, your monitor of the might-be. This week: strange happenings in Fillongley, in Warwickshire, where villagers have been alarmed by the sudden appearance of giant plants, some of them 8ft high. One resident, Mollie Hassall, said: "These plants are quite a daunting sight. I've seen dogs shut their eyes and hurry through the plants because they are so frightening." Well. And do you know what they turned out to be? Giant lettuces! On the march! You can do the rocket joke yourselves; let me tell you that lactuca serriola, the prickly lettuce, normally found only in the east and west, has been spreading during the hot summer and growing to unusual heights. Laugh if you like, but remember, when you see the fire tenders filled with balsamic vinegar, who warned you first. Bye!

WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE: Peter "Mandy" Mandelson, MP for Hartlepool, models the new uniform for Labour's strike force aimed at dealing with trouble on the streets of our cities, supported by "Dirty Harriet" Harman and Mo "Hasta La Vista" Mowlam. I tell you this: I would think long and hard about putting my squeegee anywhere near my bucket if it meant having to tangle with these three, or the shadow home secretary, Jack "Hang 'em High" Straw. Or about wondering if anyone might have the price of a cup of tea. Or about moving into that subtle chord shift on "The Streets of London" behind an open guitar case. Now I know there are those who think that applying electrodes to sensitive parts of the body of anyone caught talking after 9pm is a bit tough, but if it makes this country a better place to live in, I'm with you, Jacko! Actually, it's a Russian instructor teaching women prison officers how to handle Makarov pistols, but it might not be long, you know.

Photograph: AFP

The Captain's catch-up Service

WELCOME to the weekly news review that gives it to you straight...As Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, left BRMB studios in Birmingham, where he had just given a radio interview claiming that the Government was beating crime, by a back door, two thieves ran in through the front door and stole 20 pictures from the walls...A woman in Thetford crashed into her insurance company offices after losing control on a roundabout. A spokesman for Swinton Insurance said there would be no problem dealing with her claim...A church in Kalmar, Sweden, is planning to save on heating costs by recycling heat from the crematorium next door...Jeffrey Ovellette, from Seattle, won the world belching championship in Copenhagen with an effort lasting three minutes and 33 seconds...Lorenzo Trippi, a lifeguard in Ravenna, lost his job when three people drowned after he had hit them with life preservers. Police said his aim was too accurate...Police in Shelby, North Carolina, refused to confirm or deny that a saucer-shaped UFO had rustled six cows from a farm outside the town...And, finally, if you think you've got it bad with mice or ants or things like that, you should know that in the Ukraine they have got so many rats they are now training them to catch cockroaches.

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