Captain Moonlight: Ladies, he will not be for ever taciturn

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HELLO again! Yes, very nice holiday, good break, but tremendous to be back. And thanks to all of you who wrote in worrying that my absence might be due to another of my "little local difficulties", or only temporary. Did you see, by the way, the story about Thomas Brown, the retired Nottingham baker who has been to Skegness for his holidays 136 times since 1924? Uplifting, and an invaluable and greatly deserved booster for our native tourist trade. I went to Costa Rica. Very nice, but the cod platters weren't up to much. It's not as easy as it looks, batter. But let's get on. Men, I read somewhere else, speak, on average, 12,000 words a day, while women manage the odd 23,000. Embarrassing. That's why today, for just this once, in the interests of equality, I am offering a "Ladies Only" service, entitled How To Increase Your Man's Word Power, or Ten Conversational Gambits Guaranteed To Get Him Going: 1) "Turned out nice again, hasn't it?" 2) "What's your star sign?" 3) "Stam's been a bit of a revelation for United, hasn't he? Really confounded the doubters." 4) "But do you think it might rain later?" 5) "Aristotle, you know, believed that the direction of the wind at the moment of conception determined the sex of the child." 6) "If I were you, I'd raise the blades on that mower a touch." 7) "Extraordinarily enough, Queen Berengaria, Richard the Lionheart's wife, never visited England." 8) "Where do you stand on Chris Woodhead?" 9) "Have you noticed that the two globes which make up part of the backdrop to ITV's Lunchtime News are spinning in the wrong direction?" 10) "When do you think they'll harmonise screw-top and bayonet light bulbs?" Right. Now stand back, ladies!

EXCITEMENT, rejoicing, happiness, but a tinge of sadness, too. That is the best way I can describe the atmosphere here on my return; and it strikes me that this would also do pretty well to describe the Journey of Life on which we are all embarked. Which is apt, because the said outpouring of emotion greeted the rite of passage that saw the Captain's tadpoles, assisted by their nanny, Victoria, make the mighty leap into full froghood and exchange their beautiful aquarium here at Canary Wharf for the delights of a pond in Snaresbrook owned by Victoria's Uncle Frank (see my exclusive picture below left). The sadness? Well, I have to report that one of them didn't quite make it. It was Brooklyn, the first to show. Some of you might affect to find another metaphor in the manner of his demise, which involved a stone and a photographer who was a little over-eager to record the transfer. The Perils of Celebrity. But Balham, Gwyneth and Branson, the one who arrived late, are all thriving, I'm glad to report. And Brooklyn is now at rest in the plant pot on our windowsill which also contains the remains of the pot plant which is all that remains of the last editor here, Ms Rosie Boycott. RIP, sic transit, dust to dust, hashish to hashish, circle of life, time to stop grieving and move on. Next!

BBRRNNGG! This sad reverie is interrupted by, yes, the telephone. And, on it, my man at the BBC, Bert. Bert's calls are always a bit testing, since he does rather tend to assume that I'm a little more up to speed on the inner workings of the Corporation than is, sadly, the case. This call proves to be no exception. "Captain! A really, really big one! Alice Beer has left Watchdog! Programme just not big enough for her and Annie!" I thank Bert with a fine show of enthusiasm, but, I have to say, I'm really none the wiser. Still, I suppose it must be important. Next!

SORTED! A new service in which the Captain gets down and gets action. Last week, for example, I received a call from my redoubtable political correspondent, Ms Una Tributable. Tense times at Westminster, Hague repositioning, Blair's war leadership under examination. "Captain," Ms Tributable told me, "I've been reading the complaints book in the Strangers' cafeteria on the Commons Terrace! And the vegetarians are not happy. 'The lettuce is limp' is just one comment. 'I've lost a stone since I arrived', comes from another hapless herbivore, while yet another writes, plaintively, that 'I can only eat chips'." Well! The Captain does not hang about. Quality of life is at steak (!) here. I immediately place a telephone call to Mr Dennis Turner, chairman of the Commons catering committee. Mr Turner, the Labour MP for Wolverhampton South East, is charm itself, inviting me to his special British pork promotion at the Commons. "Perhaps you'd like to come along and try some crackling," he offers. I accept with alacrity, and then recall the purpose of my call. It is the first Mr Turner has heard of the veggie plight. He promises to look into it forthwith. "I don't eat much lettuce myself," he says. "But we must make sure it's crisp!" Right. SORTED! Next week: the Captain turns his beam on to the pressing need for a hot drinks machine at Penrith Station. Have you got a grouch or a problem? Tell the Captain, and get it SORTED! Thank you.

STYLE Notes With The Captain. This week: disturbing news from Jermyn Street. The Captain's brother-in-law, a figure of some distinction in Antipodean circles, over here on a visit, reports that things are not what they were in the Street of Ten Thousand Shirts and Only Slightly Fewer Superior Counter Tenders: "Right down the dunny. All thick stripes in tart's colours, mate. No restraint. No sleeves longer than 35 inches, either, unless you've got a neck like a wombat's uncle. And black shirts! The shop across from Lewin's had one, black with white collar and cuffs. Stone me. I mean, mate, do I want to look like a cross between Al Jolson and a dodgy Sydney sky pilot?" Dear. Verb sap, chaps. Next, you will recall that, before I took my brief leave, I offered a tie someone had sent me for some reason to the first person who provided photographic evidence of a state of dress clearly requiring neckwear. And there it is (left). It's Mr Mickleburgh of Grimsby, dancing at, as you will have of course recognised, the Tower Ballroom, Blackpool. It has been specially doctored by Moonlight experts to spare Mr Mickleburgh the embarrassment of being recognised in his local supermarket. Oh, and Mr Mickleburgh: could you stop writing in for a while; people are beginning to talk. Next!

TREMENDOUS News! Dogged readers will know that the Captain is the nation's foremost chronicler of the rise of the wheelie bin to its present pivotal (!) position in the nation's life and culture. In the past I have paid particular attention to its penchant for trapping tripping pensioners and its popularity as a murder accessory, recently given classic benediction by the untimely death and disposal of poor Saskia on EastEnders. But now a real advance in the appearance sector. Yes, florally decorated full- colour self-adhesive vinyl sheets that you can stick on them and give that extra dimension to the garden! Three sorts, cottage garden, variegated ivy, and spiraea, only pounds 14.99 from Home Free, Preston. Get yours now! Elsewhere in the world of mail order, might I recommend the seven-and- a-half-inch tall dancing gorilla that really sings "La Macarena"? Yes, just pounds 7.99, from Bright Life. Hey ... Macarena!

HYPERVENTILATION warning: yes, it's time for my acclaimed Moonlight Miscellany, a finely crafted collection of snippets, gleanings and such. First, bad news for Otto Breck, 31, of Frankfurt, who died on his stag night when a stripper fell off a table and landed on him. Next, congratulations to Innovative Tooling Solutions, of Fife, who have won a Queen's Award for Industry for their work with controlled boring solutions. Next, Captain's diary note: to celebrate the centenary of the birth of its founder, Dr Minoru Shirota, Yakult, the milk drink company, are sponsoring the Digestive Disorders Foundation annual conference, "Bowel Bacteria - Friend and Foe", at the Royal College of Physicians on 8 July. Next, Moonlight Dictator Watch. And it's bad news from the Lookalikes Agency, which specialises in supplying celebrity doubles: "We had a Saddam Hussein on our books," says an agency spokeswoman, "but he wasn't very popular. In fact, he didn't get much work. Who would want a Saddam Hussein? It's not very funny, is it?" Indeed. Moonlight Fascinating Fact: the winter on Uranus is 84 times longer than that on Earth. Finally, very worrying news from the United States: David Baron, film critic for the Times-Picayune, has been sacked for writing that poor Gwyneth Paltrow's Oscar acceptance speech reminded him of "Ophelia's mad scene in King Lear". Sort of mistake anyone in a high-pressure job like ours could make. In a gesture of solidarity, I am offering David a job as this column's fact checker. Make your own jokes now. Actually, the Uranan winter may be only 83 times longer than here. Bye!

RIGHT, barman, mine's a Yorkshire Terrier! Hair of the dog, eh? Doquiris? Seriously, though, what will those boffins come up with next? No need to pop down to Battersea any more, simply open your packet of Rover Assorted and add to water! All right, all right, these are really the latest thing in spare loo roll covers. No? Actually, they're Buddy and Darika, of Bangkok, Siamese Yorkshire Terriers, claimed to be the world's lightest dogs, taking over from one called Big Boss. They are.

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