BBRRNNGG! Bless my soul, the clarion call of the Alexander Graham, and, on it, Ms Una Tributable, my redoubtable political source, who is excited! "Captain! The Norman Shaw Building, the MPs' office block - it's falling down! Scaffolding everywhere! And you must remember what Nostradamus said - "When the Norman Shaw goes skew-whiff/A new leader will come from the land of olives, initial P, with a quiff". And I saw Him, on Tuesday, Captain, just after His return, in that Tevere restaurant, in a dark corner, deep in conclave over the cappuccino with little Alan Duncan, Willie Hague's excitable and exotic
bag-man! An Italian restaurant, Captain! Drinking cappuccino! What can it all mean? A pro-European lurch? Shadow Foreign Secretary?" I replace the receiver, reflecting that Alan Clark has more than some over-rated diaries to answer for. Next!
FERRETS! Well, I did mention in last week's Nature Notes that I had some pictures of them somewhere. This is the latest in my rapturously received series of Calendars Of The New Millennium. It's published by the Ferret Company of Redwood City, California. And do you know what the difference is between a stoat and a weasel, by the way? No? How many times do I have to tell you: one's weasily recognisable and the other's stoatally different. Oi! And, before we move on to the centipedes, I have a lizard update: the one that made it all the way by boat from Puerto Rico to Ilfracombe - you must remember - has, unfortunately, been eaten by the cat of the family that so kindly took it in. Better news, though, on Desmond the pantomime camel, who went missing after being sent from York to Annan, near Dumfries: he's been found in Tel Aviv, en route for the Jordanian capital, Amman. Next!
CENTIPEDES! Did you know that the first centipede with an even number of pairs of legs has been discovered by a doctoral student at the University of Sunderland? And there I was thinking they all have 100 legs! But, I read, until this one, scientists had only ever found centipedes with an odd number of pairs, varying from 15 to 191, despite a century studying the 3,000 species of centipede. Humbling, and eminently suitable for a bit of fin-de-centennial pondering, I should have said. But before all that, have you heard about the talking centipede? This chap bought one from a pet shop, took it home, and then asked if it wanted to go out for a drink. The centipede didn't reply. So he asked it again. Still no reply. So he asked it again. "All right, all right!" said the centipede. "Can't you see I'm just putting my shoes on?" Oi!
WHAT? The tasteful tub over there? Well, you might not have noticed, but some of us are getting very excited about the approach of Christmas, not to mention the Millennium. (Do any of you remember that terrific TV programme, Crackerjack!, and the way everybody had to cheer when anyone said "Crackerjack"? Well, we're doing the same here with Millennium. Try it. Millennium! Come on, louder!) Anyway, that tub will be filled with the Captain's Christmas Tree, when it arrives. Bit of a hitch in delivery, got sent to Trafalgar Square by mistake, apparently. Next!
BBRRNNGG! Yes, break open the breezers, it's my showbiz correspondent, Ms Britt Bafter! "Captain! Glad to see that Fraser's, the showbiz memorabilia specialists, part of the Stanley Gibbons group, are keeping up their pioneering work in the celebrity game! Yes, for just pounds 19.99, you can have a replica of the will of more than 150 celebs, including Sigmund Freud, Lucille Ball, Carmen Miranda, Rudyard Kipling, Albert Einstein, and Diana, Princess of Wales! And the divorce files of Sonny and Cher and Madonna and Sean Penn, too! And, yes, the autopsy reports on Karen Carpenter, River Phoenix, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Sharon Tate! Terrific, eh, Captain?" All a bit rich for my blood, I'm afraid: is there, I wonder, anything a little less, how you say, guignol? "Well, what about a bit of Elvis's fence from outside Gracelands? pounds 375 to you, Skipper!" Remarkable. Next!
BBRRNNGG! It's Ms Tributable again, still terribly excited about old Portillo. "Captain! Are you aware how lucky He is to be back? I understand that the Lib Dem campaign took a rather bad knock when they printed all these leaflets proclaiming the vital nature of re-electing the Liberal Demoncrats and had to withdraw them pretty pronto. Although I must say that the activists who advised sending them out anyway because no one would notice were not demonstrating that thrust to be taken seriously as a potent force which young Mr Kennedy is demanding. Bye!" Well. Next!
WHAT? The postcard? Yes, that's right, it is a view of Mauritius. It was sent to me by a Mr Roberts, with the message: "Dear Captain, How is this for a boring postcard? Best Regards." Now, taken in conjunction with that letter we had from Mr Hilton of Sawbridgeworth, musing on the fancy pillows in his Tokyo hotel, and a telephone call from a Mrs Benson claiming that she was unable to get into her favourite museum in Florence when Tony and Bill were over there recently, I fancy I detect an element of oneupmanship creeping into what has been heretofore a blamelessly egalitarian intercourse in the finest traditions of the Independent on Sunday. Now, what's this? Ah, yes, that's right, the pressing question of public convenience closures in the Penzance area, recently highlighted for us by Mrs Thompson. And, in a fairly impressive display of Moonlight Power, I am delighted to be able to announce that Penwith Council is now thinking again, no doubt also swayed by this impassioned appeal from Penzance representative Malcolm Lawrence: "When visitors return to their home areas, they will spread the word, do not go to Land's End, we could not find a toilet open." Well done, everyone!
MILLENNIUM! Millennium! Steady, but yes, it's that section where we announce the latest top-notch Big Double M Offers! And, blow me, it's another Mrs Thompson, this time from Leeds, with a pair of Millennium champagne flutes, pounds 3.98, and the Millennium tea towel, in red, or blue, 89p, very colourful, both from Tradex. Next, for just a little more of an outlay, Mr Douch of Wellingborough has been rather taken by the opportunity to buy your very own Celebratory Millennium Beacon, five foot high, made from solid steel, only pounds 89 from Millennium Beacons, Coalbrookdale, who say they are also "ideal for floral displays in 2000 AD for a beautiful future!". Marvellous. Just think, if you could persuade the neighbours to buy one as well, you could have your own chain on the big night! Mrs Thompson, Mr Douch, look up NOW: yes, you have won a bottle each of the sponsor's estimable product. And very soon now the Captain will be gathering in another perk provided by the connection: Christmas lunch with the distributors! In Berkhamsted! Oh, and Mr Wilson of Salisbury: nominating the highly tasteful Artisan Balls featured in our Review is not the way to impress the judges. On!
LAUGHABLE! That's how seasoned observers describe my acclaimed Moonlight Miscellany, a plumptious palimpsest of this, that and the other! And, first, Carol Westgarth, of Blyth, had a lucky escape when her yucca plant spontaneously combusted last week, setting fire to her carpet and floorboards. As you can see, Moonlight boffins have laboured long and hard to recapture the moment. Next, Father Phillippe Laguiere, of Bordeaux, who was caught speeding at 120 mph in a Mercedes, told the court: "The accelerator went down on its own. I can only assume some evil force took over." Father Laguiere was fined pounds 250 and banned for six months. Next, Well I'll Go To The Foot Of Our Stairs With Captain Moonlight. And did you know that a stuffed eagle has remained unclaimed in the London Transport Lost Property Office for more than 27 years? There's a bottle of Port for the most persuasive explanation. And, finally, this week's leaf from the Captain's Common Place Book comes from Lord John Russell, last serving Prime Minister to father a child before this one: "A spur in the head is worth two in the heel." Exactly. Bye!
THAT'S BETTER: Mr Bill Gates of Microsoft (dressed as angel) and other leading multinational corporation chief executive officers pictured yesterday before leaving for The Third World on a mission to allay fears about the implications of a completely unfettered free trading system so vividly demonstrated in Seattle last week. No? IRA go-betweens about to get down to a spot of decommissioning? The Inland Revenue Xmas party? Outside, just after your Xmas party? All right, it's some Rent a Santa scheme in Berlin. It is. REUTERS