CAPTAIN MOONLIGHT: I was young. Anyway, it wasn't a gerbil

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The Independent Online
AHERM! Thank you. A grave moment, but there you are. Public life, I have come to recognise in the past week, demands certain standards of frankness, honesty and openness, not only about one's present hopes, dreams, and ambitions, but also about one's past, ah, how shall we say, performances. What were, at worst, slight errors of judgement brought on by a sudden rush of joie de la jeune vie can be seen in something of a harsher light with the passing years, particularly if they are presented unsympathetically by the crack team of investigative reporters from one of the smaller-sized newspapers which has recently been in contact with large numbers of my so-called friends. And so, today, the Captain will, yes, clear the decks! Here follow My Ten Top Youthful Indiscretions (With Mitigation): 1) I can now no longer remember how my set of Encyclopaedia Britannica came to be covered in brown paper; what I do know is that this has since prevented me from noticing they were the property of the Bodleian Library. 2) The damage to the Randolph Hotel bedroom would not have been half as bad if staff had not thoughtlessly left all those fire extinguishers lying around. 3) I have never owned a hamster; or a gerbil. 4) I was minding the water vole for a friend. 5) Misreading "Smith" for "Moonlight" on a postal order is a mistake anyone could make. 6) Dale Winton was reading Greats, and had an interesting mind. 7) Bill Clinton asked me to hold it. 8) You should have seen what The Warden of All Souls was wearing. 9) What binliner? 10) Mail on Sunday: call me now, on 0171 293 2462, and you won't be sorry! Next!

BBRRNNGG! Ah, yes, the week begins its trilling round once more! And, on the telephone, none other than my redoubtable political correspondent, Ms Una Tributable, live from a Westminister seething with rumour and jostle. "Captain! Tory latest! Have you noticed the astounding resemblance between the leader of the Conservative Party and the giant statue of a naked child which will be one of the star attractions of the Mind Zone in the Millennium Dome?" Hmmm. Well, frankly, I don't think it looks anything like Portillo, but take a look anyway. Next!

TWEET! Yes, indeed, a carrier pigeon lands, direct from White City, bearing a state of the art missive on rice paper from my man at the BBC, Bert! "Captain! Hail! Life just a bit rocky at present for Peter Salmon, bouncy former Blue Peter assistant and present Controller, BBC1. Record- breaking ratings (low), everyone leaving, no one taking bets on seeing him on top table in hired dinner suit at next staff dinner. Been asked to apply for number two job over at Production, apparently. Very worrying, as touted replacements include Zoe Ball, Rolf Harris, and the younger Chuckle Brother." Deary me, it all sounds as serious as the new Saunders and French sit com. Next!

BBRRNNGG! Gracious, Ms Una Tributable, pol corr, again! "Captain! Chris Patten!" This is more like it: inside track on Ulster, or, possibly, post- Portillo manoeuvres. "He's got this big house in France, Captain. With a pool. Bought, I suspect, with the profits from that completely unreadable tome on east and west that is being advertised at the moment and quite coincidentally coinciding with the RUC report thingie! Neither of them poolside reading, as it happens. Anyway, you should know, Captain, that Patten cleans his pool with salt." Hmmm. I am, I have to say, a little puzzled about the significance of this, but Ms Tributable has gone, on the track, doubtless, of some similar world exclusive. On!

BADGE Time! So, which lucky readers will be awarded a splendid, stylish, black and silver enamel-effect Moonlight Badge today? Well, it's a great pity that my I Almost Met competition is now closed, since Mr Hoyle of Email's entry, involving his sister entering Selfridges next but three behind Paul McCartney 15 years ago, and that of Mr Crowe of Crediton, who failed to meet Jack Straw about 30 years ago at a Guildford student protest because the then NUS President only left his taxi long enough to give a statement to the press, would clearly be strong contenders. But it's time to move on, to the new comp, My Claim To Fame. And first up is Mr Evans of Ware, who writes: "My claim to fame is that my dad's old doctor was Tony Blackburn's dad." Thank you, Mr Evans: Badge! And, staying with doctors, Dr Essex-Cater, of Northallerton, has this Claim to Fame: "I am a doctor (medical) with legible handwriting. This was even challenged once in court when a lawyer suggested that my hand written notes could not be contemporaneous to the case as they were too neat". Thank you, Doctor, splendid. And there's no doubt that your handwriting is extremely neat and legible. But I'm just a bit concerned about your signature. What do you think, Readers? Look at it, over there. Exactly. So, Badge for the Doctor, or not? Vote now, by e-mail thingie, or on 0171 293 2462!

HOLD, though, what is this? Another note on the topic of signatures, from Mr Morgan of Epsom. "Dear Captain," he writes. "Tony Blair came into office saying that new Labour's priorities were `education, education, education'. He could do worse than start on his own website. The graphic on his signature on the Number 10 website is called `Signiture'." Well. Thank you, Mr Morgan. And, no, I certainly do not think any the less of you because you have nothing better to do than look at the names of website graphics. Without people like you, Mr Morgan, lovers of literacy, democracy and Britain would sleep much less soundly of a night: Badge!

BBRRNNGG! The telephone, and, on it, the happy sound of the hand pump and the slap of butter on bread: yes, it's my labour editor, Dean O'Saur! "Captain, this chap Dave Prentice, the one who's going to take over from Rodney Bickerstaffe as gen sec of Unison. Guess what his hobby is?" I have a wild stab. "Extraordinary, Captain, bang on, DIY it is! And it features in his favourite joke, too. If you ask him how many screws you need to erect a Habitat/MFI/Ikea/ Whatever wardrobe, he replies, quick as a flash, `Eight more than you get in the flat pack!' Terrific, eh, Captain?" Indeed. Did you see that poem the laureate, Mr Motion, has written for the TUC congress, by the way? Very good, but I have a feeling that one of my regular readers and poets could do better. Step forward, Norman Willis, genial former gen sec: Moonlight awaits!

CHUCKLE With The Captain. So this farmer comes out on a bitterly cold morning and finds his cows completely frozen, turned to ice. He hasn't a clue what to do, but then this little old lady comes along, rubs each cow on the nose, and they miraculously recover. The little old lady leaves, refusing any reward. "Don't you know who that was?" says a passer-by. "No," says the farmer. "Thora Hird," says the passer-by. Oi!

BBRRNNGG! Terrific, it is my "showbiz" correspondent, Ms Britt Bafter! "Captain! Some more fascinating insights into Celebrity lifestyles for you! 1) Claudia Schiffer sometimes enjoys a traditional German breakfast of sausage, cheese and bread with her family. But usually she has half a grapefruit and herbal tea. 2) Demi Moore insists that a bowl of porridge is the best way to start the day. 3) Roy Hattersley's favourite is pea soup followed by haddock and chips and finished off by a jam roly-poly, but I don't think he has it for breakfast. Bye!" Remarkable. Next!

YIPPEE! Steady, yes, it's time, once again, for my topical tombola of this, that and the other, the Moonlight Miscellany! And first, congratulations to Mrs Mavis Gamesby, 69, of Billingham, who has had her handbag containing her false teeth returned to her a year after it was stolen in Tenerife. Commiserations, though, to Mr Norbert Jordan, who has been refused a job with police in Connecticut because his IQ was too high. "Smart people," said a police spokesman, "get bored and leave." Transport corner: it's now a race to see who can rush their picture to the Captain first, Ms Swann of Newhaven, or Mr Barnes-Watts of Starcross. Mr Barnes-Watts has promised an interesting picture of Kelso Bus Station; Ms Swann has long promised a new photo of the famous bus shelter near Lewes that might just be the least used in the country (to replace the picture unaccountably mislaid by the Captain). Mr B-W's snap appears to be in America while its owner is on business in Beijing; Ms S has been delayed by a mix-up which has left the shelter sharing the same print as a Portuguese holiday villa. God speed, both! Finally, the Captain was moved to moot a new competition, I Can't Wait, by the following on Classic FM: "And now, Across The Threshold with David Mellor... `Good morning, my guest today is Bonnie Langford.'" Yikes! Bye!

WINNERS: an animated England soccer coach Kevin Keegan pictured with the players who will lead the national team into a bright future. No? All right, it's the scene moments after a packed Wembley stadium was told that the candidates for Lord Mayor of London would shortly be addressing the crowd. No? All right, it's Tony Blair's moral crusade catching fire. No? All right, it's top TV weatherman Michael Fish watching another really gripping English sporting performance as temperatures soar into the 90s. All right, it's some bloke at the US Open tennis.