CAPTAIN MOONLIGHT: Poetic licences ... gnome alone ... the number of the beast

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The Independent Online
COME away, before you read my world Redwood exclusive, from all the febrile sweatiness of Lord North Street and Sunset Boulevard. Come with the Captain and think poetic thoughts. Because today I want you to consider this thing about poets and driving. Martin Amis (you remember, snooker, tennis, teeth, money) is telling anyone who will listen and anyone who has read his latest advancebuster, The Information, that poets don't. Drive. "They just intuit that they're not cut out for it," explains Martin in his latest exposition, in the New Yorker, quoting James Fenton and his dad (you remember, knight, grumpy, Garrick). Intrigued, I telephone my poet friend, Stan Trochee. "Galvanic,'' says Stan, pausing for effect, "Bollocks. Auden drove. Larkin drove an Audi because it reminded him of Auden. Ted Hughes is forever battling fiercely against the elemental monster that is the M5 to get to London. Motion drives. Hugo Williams is a biker. And, let me tell you, old Dylan wasn't suggesting mounting a push-bike when he wrote the bit about not going gentle into the night. That was Humber Hawk talk, that was." Stan, a Formula One Renault Espace man himself, has even written a poem about it: "Is this a Daimler I see before me/ Its handle toward my hand?/ Come let me clutch thee/ And step on thine gas/ Baby, you can't drive my car/ Cos, Baby I'm a poet." Thanks, Stan.

n MAKE Your House Into A Home With Captain Moonlight. You know, people often say to me, "Captain, the trouble with this country is that we still have tremendous ideas and imagination, but we seem to have lost the knack of being able to capitalise on them." Well, today I have news of one British idea which didn't get away. Look at my picture. What is it? Friends, I can do no better than quote from the Home Free mail order catalogue advertising it: "Are you fed up with untidy plugs? Sink, basin and bath plugs can be a real nuisance, hanging around, cluttering up the place, and generally getting in the way. Park-a-Plug is the perfect, smart, simple answer to this problem. Durably made in Britain from high-impact plastic. Pack of Two, pounds 2.99." Proud-making, I think you'll agree. Take that, Tokyo!

NOW, where was I? Ah, yes, that world Redwood exclusive. And it is aimed at any waverers in the ranks of Tory MPs this weekend contemplating the future: if Redwood wins, I have it on excellent authority that HarperCollins will reissue his remarkable work, amply quoted from all week, The Global Market Place. Only you can save us. Actually, it's very interesting, this link between literature and politics. Why do you think General Colin Powell is going to run for President? For power, influence? Nope. To make sure his memoirs, due out this autumn, sell enough copies to justify his whopping pounds 3.75m advance, that's why. Many people are wondering, too, just what Rupert Murdoch and Tony Blair were discussing the other night at a soiree thrown by the fellow, you know, wotsisname, who edits the Times, the cheap newspaper whose price is going up next week (the news being announced over the Tannoy at the Daily Telegraph rather in the spirit of the Battle of Britain). Anyway, back to Blair and Murdoch. You should know that Rupert owns HarperCollins. Go for pounds 4m, Tony. Then you could afford school fees.

n AND, while we're at it, what about John Major? What on earth will he do with himself? No hint of a deal with Rupert yet, but he has built a fishpond in the back garden in Huntingdon. A bit cloudy at the moment, apparently, but in there are no less than 30 fish. A charming picture irresistibly presents itself: a pond dappled by sunlight, and beside it, an amiable, grey-haired figure hunched, with rod in hand, strongly reminiscent of some of the delightful garden statuary his father used to make, taking that long rest all of us think he thoroughly deserves, dreaming of the next non-executive directorial lunch. So farewell.

SOCIETY NOTES With Captain Moonlight. My social correspondent, Miss Cecilia Circular, has filed this despatch from the front: "On Wednesday night, I was just one of 400 guests privileged enough to pay large amounts of money to be in Hyde Park's Serpentine Gallery at the same time as Joan Collins and the Princess of Wales and so contribute towards the gallery's renovation. Both Joan and the Princess looked absolutely stunning and I am delighted to be able to report that there was no repeat of last year's unfortunate miff, what I believe our American friends call a "hissy-fit", from Lord Palumbo, the incoming chairman of the gallery's trustees, when he learnt that the outgoing chairman, Lord Gowrie, was sitting next to the Princess and he wasn't. This year the place next to Her Royal Highness not occupied by Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair, sponsors and organisers, was taken by Mortimer Sackler, American industrialist and philanthropist, who paid pounds 175,000 for the privilege; which, as one of my playful fellow guests put it, amounted to more than pounds 8,000 a minute for Lord Palumbo's painstaking address. Must dash. Colonic irrigation with Ivana followed by a low-profile lunch with Liz at Daphne's. Byee."

n WELL. I knew these Tories could sink pretty low, but this is taking lowness into a new profundity. Word reaches me that they're planning to hold the Littleworth and Saddleborough by-election, the one caused by the death of Geoffrey Dickens, on 27 July. What's wrong with that? Do give over. It's right in the middle of Lancashire Wakes Week, that's what's wrong with it. Ten thousand Lancastrians, sensible Labour voters all, will be on holiday, mostly in Blackpool, some as far away as Rhyl. A Lancastrian writes: if only they were as bloody clever at running the country.

ALL RIGHT, all right. I would be a liar if I said there weren't those who accuse this column of being a few Marcels short of a Proust in the cultural department. But I do try, I do try. Take this new biography of F R Leavis, for example, by Ian MacKillop, out next month. F R Leavis: A Life In Criticism, it's called. Absolutely fascinating. Did you know, for example, that F R and Q D (his wife, do try to keep up) always slept in a double bed, even though two singles were then very much the fashion? Try mentioning that next time you're down the pub, it could do wonders for your intellectual profile. And did you know, too, that, if given total protection from disease and predators, one pair of rabbits could give rise to three and a half million rabbits within three years? All makes you think, doesn't it?

n DOUBT, sometimes expressed in distressingly strong terms, has been cast upon my revelation last week that dialling Conservative Central Office on a touch-tone telephone produces The Red Flag. I can only urge you to try again. But now a letter has arrived from Les Daley of Preston, which suggests we may have stumbled upon something much bigger, deeper and more sinister. Mr Daley, clearly something of a numerologist, has deconstructed the number, 0171 222 9000 thus: 2+2+2=6; 0+1+7+1+2+2+2=15=1+5=6; 0+1+7+1+2+2+2+9+0+0+0=24=2+4=6. Result: 666, the mark of the beast! Crikey, it's suddenly gone very cold. That nice Jeremy Hanley, too, whoever would have thought it?

Henley sensation! It must have been the last place anyone in the world would have thought of looking for her, but there she was yesterday, bold as brass and first on the left, stroking the Wigmore Club First VIII to victory in a thrilling and titanic struggle against Leander. Regatta watchers choked on their Pimms as they recognised Miss Divine Brown, recent companion of Hugh Grant, the actor, setting a very respectable 32 strokes a minute down the mile-long course in company with three senior officers from the Coldstream Guards who wish to remain anonymous. Well, no, that's rather silly; actually, it's the Trappist First VIII celebrating their victory over the Dominicans, the Benedictines, the Christian Brothers and the Cowley Fathers in the Vat 69 All Habits Open Invitation Communion Plate. Really, really: a well-protected Radley College taking part in the Princess Elizabeth Cup at Henley.

Photograph: Martin Keene/PA

The Captain's catch-up Service

Yes, it's time once again for the only weekly news review with the in-built well I never factor ... Roger, a ram, crashed into the police station at Bamfurlong, Gloucestershire, when he saw his reflection in the window, rampaging through the radio room and soiling the chief inspector's carpet ... Eva Noel Bevilacqua, a mature student, celebrated her New York high school graduation by reading a poem in the nude, taking her gown off as she approached the podium, leaving just her boots. "It took a lot of guts," said a friend. "She wanted to make a statement" ... Thomas Biggs, 93, of Farlow, Shropshire, put pillows under his bedclothes and climbed out of his bedroom window to go for a late night pint. Unfortunately, he got lost and was found in a field 12 hours later ... Vandals have painted a 33ft white condom on the 2,000-year-old Cerne Abbas fertility symbol in Dorset ... Two male storks in Germany's Osnabruck Zoo have hatched out a penguin egg after it was tossed out of the parental home, taking turns to sit on the egg for 14 days until it began to break out of its shell. The baby, named Pingu, is doing well on a bottle of fish juice and vitamins six times a day.

THE LIST

IN FLAGRANTE DELICTO: Howard Hughes and Bette Davis were caught in the act by her husband Harman Nelson, who demanded $70,000 hush money (Bette Davis paid but the story leaked out anyway); a snatched photograph of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, adorned with only a string of pearls and an unnamed man, was produced during a sensational divorce hearing in 1959; prison warders discovered former Washington mayor Marion Barry, jailed in 1990 for cocaine use, under a table with one of his visitors; telephoto lenses captured an intimate moment in the South of France between the Duchess of York and her financial adviser John Bryant in 1992; in 1993 an intimate telephone conversation between a man sounding like Prince Charles, and his lover, was intercepted; British actor, Hugh Grant, was discovered by a Los Angeles police officer committing a lewd act.

TODAY is the feast day of Saints Processus and Martinian, warders at Mamertine prison when the apostles Paul and Peter were imprisoned by Nero. With the help of a few miracles, Peter and Paul converted all the warders to Christianity, with the satisfactory result that they were offered their freedom. While the limping Peter was escorted from prison, a bandage dropped from heaven. Then, as Peter passed a dry rock it miraculously gushed water and he baptised Processus and Martinian. The two warders became fervent believers but went too far when they spat publicly on a statue of Jupiter and were executed.

2 July 1566: Nostradamus (Michel de Notredame), (above), French astrologer, died leaving behind 14 volumes of enigmatic rhyming quatrains called Centuries, still widely debated. The first modern interpretation was published in 1938 and was banned in 1940 by the Vichy government because it predicted a "General returning in triumph" believed to refer to General de Gaulle, then in Britain. Terrible things were predicted for the 1990s including a plague in the cities infecting blood and semen; a third antichrist (his first two were Napoleon and Hitler) called Mabus to come from the Middle East; and trouble in Slavonia. Did he have anything to say about next Tuesday's leadership election? Probably. Predicting troubles in Britain he suggests that in the year 2000 "she who was cast out" will return at the age of 73 to punish her enemies. Baroness Thatcher is 69.

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