Captain Moonlight: In case you are grilled on tuna

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AT LAST. You have deeply pondered and lengthily discussed pole-and-line, net lengths, net stretching, purse seining, territorial limits and dolphin escape nets. But how much thought have you given to the tuna itself? Worry no more. Read The Captain's Top Ten Tuna Titbits and never again need you feel embarrassed when the topic of tuna comes up, as come up again it surely will:

1 The tuna is part of the mackerel family, only bigger (don't be taken in by thattin). The largest, the bluefin, can be 17ft long, and does 50mph in top gear. My reference books state that its chief enemy is the killer whale; they may disagree in the Bay of Biscay or beneath those boats with seats, large rods and sportsmen.

2 Its proper, English name is the tunny fish, but I'm afraid that, as with so much else these days don't you find, the American version (taken from the Spanish) dominates.

3 The tunny fish was first mentioned by Archestratus, the 4th- century BC Greek foodie. Herecommended grilling it. Elizabeth David wasn't that keen, but, let me tell you, seared tuna is now very much the dog's biscuit.

4 You thought Jonah was swallowed by a whale? Not so. It is now believed to have been a big tunny.

5 The tonnaroti (tunny fishermen) of Favignana, an island off Sicily, have a prayer: 'Bedda Matri . . . quattrumila tunni stanotti 'nta tunnara' (Blessed Mother, may you make 4,000 tunny fish come into the nets tonight). Last year they caught 975.

6 Steinbeck called the tuna fish 'the chicken of the sea'. Hemingway described it as 'a strong, full- blooded fish', not too sweet, unlike dolphin. Whoops.

7 British writers have not been quite so keen; the best my crime- writing expert can come up with is poisoned trout in Ngaio Marsh's Scales of Justice.

8 Films featuring tuna? Marilyn Monroe worked in a tuna factory in Clash by Night (Dir: Fritz Lang). No, Alec Guinness was in Tunes of Glory.

9 John West, the British market leader, has sold more than 700 million tins of tuna since 1952.

10 My illustration is taken from a 4th-century BC Sicilian vase, now in the museum at Cefalu, probably the earliest depiction of a fishmonger; curiously, he is not wearing a straw boater.

YOU COULD, if you wished, compare the columnist's game with that of the great detective. A fact, certainly curious, but on its own apparently insignificant, comes my way; I bring it to wider attention, confident that one day the completed jigsaw will be revealed. This week: Michael Portillo's hedgehog. The telephone rings; it is one of my extensive and highly rewarded network of informants. Do I know that Michael Portillo has a statue of a hedgehog, about a foot long, in his Buckinghamshire back garden? The Captain sucks his pencil, thoughtfully. Possible link with John Major, scion of a garden ornament manufacturing family? The affinity of similarly shy, sweet, retiring natures? The inspiration for the famous Portillo hairstyle? My informant rings again, with an update: it's not a statue, it's one of those boot brush, shoe scraper things, but it is nowhere near the back door and looks as if it has never been used.

THE CAPTAIN, as you know, is a 'must-read' for buffs of the showbiz publicity game. Which is why I want to share with you the news that Arnold Schwarzenegger now gives interviews to three journalists at a time. This is more intimate than the press conference, and quicker than answering the same question three times - 'Exactly how big are your pectorals, Arnold?', 'Your favourite food is, I believe, skimmed rice pudding?', 'Has success changed you?', that sort of thing. Naturally, I was begged to join the circus, but declined: the Captain's interview technique is a thing of subtlety, based on intimacy, trust and 'one- to-oneness'. The nearest I have got to the conveyor belt was an interview some years ago with Norman Mailer, the lettered American boxer. At the end of my hour, the doorbell to his suite rang and there stood the man from the Times. 'Gentlemen,' said Mailer, 'Now I know how a whore feels.' We both laughed like drains. It was only some time later I got to thinking that this was probably not the first time he had used that line.

CINEASTE and general early auteur warning: Bertrand Tavernier is already here and will be both giving a master class at the Edinburgh Film Festival and introducing the films of his friend Andre de Toth. And Franco Zeffirelli will be here and available for interview all September to promote his new film, Sparrow. Let's hope Gerald Kaufman is back in time.

GORDON BROWN (2). Last week we brought news of an attempt at reconciliation between Gordon and Princess Margarita of Romania, conjuring the possibility of King Gordon. This week we stay with the high life, and introduce you to a case of champagne. This is what Gordon's spin medic, Charlie Whelan, is ready to wager against the pernicious rumour that his boss will be shunted by that nice Mr Blair from the exchequeur to foreign affairs come the shadow reshuffle. Captain's advice: don't do it. If only I could get someone to wager as much as a half-full bottle of Argentine methode on the future of Mo Mowlam, well-known Monarchy Moderniser.

IN hard times, even the strongest look for consolation. This may explain why a little do Mrs Bottomley threw at the Department of Health last week was awash with crisps, dips, those little orange cheesey things and Australian white wine, none of which I can find anywhere in this recommended diet the department is keen on. Making his way through the merry throng, the Captain sought to commiserate with John Bowis, the junior health minister, over the burgling and bungling at Center Parcs. Bowis was comforting himself with the case of the Swedish young offender who absconded on the way to the airport and a holiday in Turkey. Apparently the two social workers going along just carried on and went on the holiday without him.

SO. Rain. Package-tour operators ringing your doorbell, thrusting tickets into your hands and going down on their knees to beg you to get pink and drink lager. One report saying that British beaches are not as clean as they might be, another that our seaside resorts lack 'competitiveness'. The Captain's advice is clear: stay at home. The British holiday experience is unique. I speak of sand in the sandwiches, the warm hug of a windcheater, of the Thermos that cheers; of the ambience, and the people. Take one of my favourites, Frinton. Often the butt for the cheap humour of the vulgar, this is a place of contemplation and repose unsullied by public houses and anything else that has happened since 1959, apart from an outbreak of topless sunbathing below the Greensward against one of the groynes some years ago. The Captain covered the affair, and was very happy to have a notebook to look at while interviewing the young ladies. But that is by-the-by. While in Frinton the other day, I was reminded of its peerless description of Connaught Avenue, the main shopping thoroughfare, as 'The Bond Street of the Tendring Peninsula'. There is something to admire in the slogans our resorts have concocted. Lord Street in Southport is, naturally, 'The Bond Street of the North West'. In Scotland, Lerwick is, of course, 'The Venice of the North', and Rothesay 'The Madeira of the North'. My favourite is Torquay's 'See Naples and die - but see Torquay first'. As a summer competition, the Captain is offering champagne for equally evocative slogans to attract the discerning holidaymaker. Hurry. Roll up. And that sort of thing. Captain's warning: I don't think 'Harwich for the Continent, Frinton for the Incontinent' at all funny.

AH, YES, the Glorious Twelfth. My picture today records the first occasion on which a sportsman has been known to surrender to the grouse. This historic event took place in Orkney, where, as you can see in the foreground, the Government stores its rolled-up set-aside fields. Wait a minute, though, the sharper-eyed among you will have said, those are not grouse, those are barnacle geese. Quite right. It was a joke. This is, in fact, Jimmy Hogarth, an Orcadian who hopes to be recruited as a human scarecrow to scare off the geese, which destroy acres of Orkney pastureland every winter. The geese have become wise to traditional scarecrows, thus placing themselves far up the evolutionary scale from grouse. But be warned, barnacles: in similar circumstances at Liverpool Airport, they augmented the human scarecrows with Shirley Bassey music. Here, the Captain suggests, nothing could be more fitting, and effective, than A Scottish Soldier, by the late, much-missed Andy Stewart.


HERE it is, the alternative weekly digest that brings you right up to date with some of the other events of the past week . . . An okapi died from stress at Copenhagen Zoo after a performance of Mozart's opera The Abduction from the Seraglio . . . Arnold Schwarzenegger (qv) has killed 275 people in the films he has made to date . . . Rafael Marques broke into a convent in Valencia and was beaten unconscious by two nuns . . . That prisoner who escaped from jail in West Virginia by making a 20ft rope out of dental floss has been recaptured . . . Nigel Eade, 42, of Yatton, near Bristol, has named his baby daughter Porsche. 'I was going to call her Porsche Carrera,' said Nigel, 'but my wife would have left me, so we settled for Porsche Florence' . . . Bartoleme Moya, 37, a Philadelphian serial killer freed because he had only days to live, booked himself in for an emergency heart transplant paid for by the state and is now on the run . . . Wyatt Earp, 36, of Smethwick, who claims to be a descendant of the original, has been fined for shooting the lights . . . and, finally, it was revealed that there was a precedent for the name Columbus in the Kent family: a labrador once owned by the Duke.

(Photographs omitted)