Captain Moonlight: Did you know frogspawn hibernate?

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AHOY! Yes, it's your Captain speaking! And today I want to talk to you about shopping. Very much in the news, what with the government "crackdown" on overcharging traders and the way our continental cousins seem able to buy everything they need at least, how you say, dix fois cheaper than it is for us and still have change to get over here and ride the Docklands Light Railway with a large knapsack no doubt packed with all these bargains. And that's before the opening this week of Europe's biggest shopping centre just outside Dartford. Exciting times! So I thought it might be helpful if I passed on some advice gleaned from the family background in the retail trade (my dad was a grocer). So here goes with the Captain's Ten Top Shopping Tips. 1) Don't forget your warm-up exercises before you leave the house. I do 50 star jumps. 2) On arrival at one of these big shopping malls, take out a ball of string and attach one end to your car aerial. Then unravel it behind you. This way, you'll never get lost. 3) Many of the larger supermarkets now organise their checkout queues in alphabetical order, so do check with the shoppers in front of you. 4) In many malls, you will notice people sat on benches looking aimless, usually near the water feature. These are porters, who will be happy to carry your shopping for you. 5) Barter works best when the queue behind you is longest. 6) Always memorise your list; this can save you vital seconds and a lot of trouble back home. 7) Indicate before turning your trolley. I also employ a slow, waving motion with my right hand if I'm going to stop suddenly for a bargain. 8) Avoid Dover on your booze and cig runs. I run a rowboat into Margate. 9) On the whole, butchers don't appreciate mimed references to BSE. 10) If you are ever within a 50 mile radius of Stretford, Manchester, might I recommend my own supermarket, Nevins, on Barton Road? Friendly staff, near Gallic bargains, you won't regret it!

FROGSPAWN. And the Captain, is, I have to say, a slightly worried officer this weekend. Readers with time on their hands will have learnt last Sunday that this column, pioneering as ever, has adopted some frogspawn as its official pets, with the promise of regular picture updates as the spawn made their life-enhancing journey to tadpoles, froglets and froggy fruition. On Monday, though, I had a disturbing call from Victoria, their nanny. "Captain! They're dead!" You can imagine how I felt. But, after consulting with experts, and having a stare, I am not so sure. They are not doing very much, true, but neither does Jack Cunningham. Have a look at them in their new aquarium, provided by Victoria's Auntie Pat, who runs an artistic flower and pet shop in Plaistow and see what you think. If they haven't moved by next Sunday, I think I will have to consult Eileen Drewery. Or an excellent frog conservation body that has been in touch called Froglife, a very hopeful omen. Next!

BBRRNNGG! The telephone, and on it, my indefatigable media correspondent, Russell Nib: "Captain! Have you noticed that News at Ten has moved?'' Remarkable. So that's why I have found myself in bed so early recently! "Background colour anecdote filler, Captain, 69 words. Ready: Alastair Burnet, distinguished newsreader, stickler for standards, bit of a martinet. Always complaining about support staff. One night he says that the lighting people hate him and keep shining the lights in his eyes. Man from lighting is summoned and told, can you believe it, Alastair is saying you're deliberately shining the lights in his eyes. So the man replies, `We are. We hate him.' It's called creative tension, Captain." Dear! Nib has other stuff, too, including Martyn Lewis's nickname and the newsreader who got the colour of the news scripts changed because she thought it was reflecting badly on her, literally. Want to know more? Ring 0171-293 2462 and vote "Yes" now!

BBRRNNGG! Gracious, it is Russell Nib, again! "Captain, Peter Stothard, editor of The Times! Heard of him?" Hmm. I tell Nib that indeed I have, and if he'd been paying attention last week, he would have seen my story about Stothers having a bit of a sticky time getting into the Garrick, and that was probably enough Stothers for now. "But, Captain," replies Nib, plaintively, "this wouldn't take up very much space. It's just that Mr Stothard, a noted classicist, is giving his literary editor regular lessons in Greek! What can it mean?" Search me. Anyway, I've had a word with Our Editor, who is now offering staff here a lecture, with slides, on Oswestry, his birthplace. !

SMART Moves with the Captain. Did you see that Costa Rica has complained to the United Nations about the pounds 100,000 a year the UN is paying a dog to sniff out suspicious packages at its New York headquarters? Well I did, and I fancied I spotted a bit of an opening there. As you know, my sense of smell is legendary, and with a bit of training, I'm sure I could do the job, for, oh, pounds 90,000. Sadly, Beverley Cuddy, Dogs Today top dog, tells me that a dog's sense of smell is immeasurably better than ours, occupying vast tracts of its brain, and that no amount of training could get me up to sniff. Beverley also contends that dogs have a better sense of taste than we do, and would be rather better with wine than, say, yes, let's say, Oz Clarke. You make your own joke. The Captain's: "My dog's got no nose". "How does it smell?" "Dreadful". Oi! On!

BBRRNNGG! Knock me down, it's the phone again, and on it, my trusty "pol corr'' (as we call them in the trade) Ms Una Tributable! "Captain! Betty Boothroyd! Madame Speaker! She's on Songs of Praise next week, telling Michael Buerk how she relaxes by walking in the park or paragliding!" I am, I confess, a little short with Ms Tributable, telling her that everybody knows of La Boothroyd's penchant for soaring up high into the blue skies, coiffure unruffled, above her favoured holiday spot in Cyprus, like some magnificent Yorkshire Juno. Is there not, I demand, anything new? "Not really, Captain, except that the Tory Party is now so badly in the red that Archie Norman has banned Central Office from sending e-mails on account of the cost!" Well. I'm afraid I'm even shorter with Ms Tributable about this because I have just heard that nice Mr Hague on the wireless telling John Humphrys how swimmingly everything is going, so it can't possibly be true. Next!

SPIES. A lot of people knock them, don't they? Not the Captain: I have served. So it is with a sense of some alarm that

I now break what could be potentially highly worrying news for MI6, and, a fortiori, our country. For, sauntering across Vauxhall Bridge last week, after a good lunch (thank you, Gordon, great burger!) and eyeing, as usual, the suitably self-effacing headquarters of our secret service, I suddenly noticed that the second fir tree from the left looked distinctly dodgy. See for yourselves. What's going on? Some sort of poison? Or a powerful ray pinpointed on the building by an evil megalomaniac with a thing about leylandii? Or is there an agent of a foreign power actually concealed in there? Have a butcher's out of the window, lads!

STEADY! Yes, it's the acclaimed Moonlight Miscellany, a sundry sort of thing. First, Monarchist Update: now, listen, I've not had a single offer for those 19 videos of the Queen's golden wedding I snapped up from the post office in Windsor and offered you for just 50 pence. All right: 25 pence! And Nib's been on again: apparently all the BBC's producers are in hiding in case they're asked to do Vanessa. Two who got caught refused to have their names on the credits. Blimey, now it's Ms Tributable again with some story about Lord Mel Bragg cuddling up to Lord Dave Owen and going all Eurosceptic. Off-message, Melvyn, but quite right: we want nothing to do with those Europeans, an arty-farty bunch, especially the Frenchies. I hope you noted, by the way, that Oskar Lafontaine's resignation came only weeks after the Captain pointed out his uncanny resemblance to the late quiz show host, Hughie Green. Bye!

STAGGERING Find on Mars! Yes, as these extraordinary pictures from the Mars Global Surveyor show, Neil Kinnock has long been worshipped as a god on the Red Planet. No? All right then, Phil Collins. Actually, I thought you might like to have a doodle yourselves and see what you come up with. It is, in fact, The Happy Face Crater, 134 miles wide, pictured last Monday. AP