Captain Moonlight: Success is wasted on the young

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AVAST, belay, reef the mizzen, lash the wheel and all that sort of thing: it's your Captain speaking! And today my message is for the young people, who, I read, believe that if they are not in possession of a long-term partner, money in the bank, a senior position, a flash car and a big house by the age of 30, they have failed. The Captain counsels: Girls, boys, relax! I didn't make it to where I am today until comparatively recently! So, lie down on that sofa and ponder my top consolations for the "slow burner" career: 1) You will have time to listen to the joke line that Max Bygraves has just launched at 50 pence a minute on 0909 5215030. 2) You could do worse than sample Max's back catalogue, as well. "I'm A Pink Toothbrush, You're A Blue Toothbrush" is a bit of a neglected classic, in my view. 3) Most of Britain's going to be flooded soon anyway, you know. 4) Look what's happened to William Hague. 5) And William Pitt, and Napoleon: both dead. 6) No, David Mellor's still about, I think. 7) They're all terribly thin, these young, successful types, aren't they? Have another hazel whirl. 8) Listen, I enjoy public transport. You meet all sorts of interesting people at extremely close quarters. 9) You won't have any of these journalists pestering you for the secrets of your success until you're mature enough to handle it. 10) Still feeling driven? All right, then, here's the clincher: Mr Johnson of Ipswich tells me the chances of winning pounds 1m on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire by pure guesswork are only 536.9 million to one. Next!

BBRRNNGG! I must answer that, it might be the phone! And it is: and, on it, my redoubtable political correspondent, Ms Una Tributable! "Captain! John Redwood, alien life force: it's official! I was enquiring, solicitously, about his indisposition last week, and Bernard Jenkin, his shadow cabinet colleague, told me: `He's just got off his sick bed. He's been suffering from flu. His systems are down.' My italics, Captain!" Remarkable. I wonder if anybody's had a word with him about those missing Mars probes. Next!

COOKING With The Captain. Delia Smith? Phooey! Stick with me for the really interesting gastronomics, and some lively alternatives for a different Christmas. Today: Gruel. Mix two tablespoonfuls of oatmeal with a gill of cold water; pour this into a saucepan containing a pint of hot water. Stir the gruel on the fire while it boils very gently for about a quarter of an hour, then sweeten it with moist sugar, or, if preferred, add a little salt and a bit of butter. That's more like it. Stand by, you leading supermarkets, for an oatmeal stampede! Next week: Cow Heel Broth. Don't say you haven't been warned. Next!

KERRPPLLOPP! Yes, that's the sound of an e-mail thingie reaching the Captain! What cutting-edge character can this be? Delight, it is my new man within the BBC, D Van Dyke! "Captain! All sorts of trouble at Panorama! Peter Horrocks, editor, has called an angry crisis meeting, demanding to know when his mission-to-informers are going to come up with something to match the ground-breaking interview conducted by Sir Trevor McDonald's prog on the other side with Sheryl `Shezza' Gascoigne, lately wife of Paul `Gazza' Gascoigne! And not only that, Skipper! Apparently, there is woe and embarrassment within the huge news and current affairs department because the biggest current affairs hit the BBC has had for some time, those progs starring that brave chap with the hairy chest, wotsisname, Donal McUndercover, were made by the BBC's, ah, documentary department. Toodleoo!" Hmmm. Is this important, do you think? Next!

COOEEE! Yes, that can only herald the arrival of my showbiz correspondent, Ms Britt Bafter, the memories of a thousand premieres wafting in her wake, the promise of another thousand twinkling ahead! "Captain! Dale Winton! He's answered a Xmas questionnaire! And the question was: `If you could have anything, what would you like for a present?' And Dale's answer: `World peace, an end to famine, and an Aston Martin.' What a love! Next: Verb Sap! Christmas 2000 Charts Warning! I've just been reading My Favourite Hymn, the Red Cross collection of celebrities' favourite ones, and I notice that Sir Cliff is very keen on `When I Survey The Wondrous Cross'!" Yikes!

BERKHAMSTED! Will this giddy social round never cease? Yes, this week I am going to Hertfordshire, for the long-promised Xmas lunch with the distributors of W & J Graham's Port, my splendid sponsors - look up NOW! The Symingtons, the family that owns Graham's, have large estates up the Douro, you know. Very nice. I expect Christmas and New Millennium Eve - Millennium! - will be wonderful up there. Glittering, probably. Ah, well. Did you know that Berkhamsted is the headquarters of True Love Waits, an organisation representing 10,000 British virgins? Bottoms up!

BBRRNNGG! All hands on deck, it's Ms Tributable again! "Captain! Don't worry about John Prescott! Tony has absolutely no intention of ditching him! And remember who told you that! But I can reveal that, in a retreat from the Deputy Prime Minister's oft-repeated claim that he prefers to rely on substance rather than style, an urgent hunt, approved at the highest level, is now taking place to find him a spin doctor! I beg your pardon, Captain? No, as far as I know, neither Murray Walker nor Marcelle Marceau are in the running, and Tommy Cooper's dead, isn't he? Must dash!"

FERRET! And this week's ferret, taken from the estimable calendar published by the Ferret Company of Redwood City, California, is Miss April. Actually, while we're on ferrets, did you see that the last flat cap factory in Yorkshire is about to close? I blame Yorkshiremen. Not enough wearing them. That's why I have instructed Moonlight boffins to show you just what William Hague could do for the industry. Caps on!

BBRRNNGG! Ms Tributable, again! "Captain! Interesting to see that, in his maiden speech last week, Michael Portillo used as a prop the Australian inflatable pillow called a Portillo which was first drawn to our attention by Ms Kirk of Canberra back in September. Michael quoted from the instructions: `Portillo for ease and convenience. A thousand and one uses. Grab Portillo in the palm of right hand, insert thumb into opening.' Quite. You, Captain, are no doubt wondering why he didn't go on to quote another of its advertised claims, that it is `great for bed-hopping'." Hmmm. I tell Ms Tributable that I am wondering no such thing and ask her kindly to leave the page. Next!

EXCLUSIVE! Yes, no one else would dare print my acclaimed Moonlight Miscellany, a finely, highly wrought frame for this, that and the other. And first, the mighty Moonlight Xmas tree. Which has now arrived, thank goodness, although my support team tell me it was a bit of squeeze. Jingle! Talking of which, I was delighted to see that a drive-in nativity scene has opened at a church in Arkansas. Port! And I'm still waiting for the most convincing explanation as to why a stuffed eagle has remained unclaimed in the London Transport Lost Property Office for more than 27 years, although I was quite taken with the amnesiac transexual taxidermist Tory Cabinet minister's wife offered by Ms Coppard of Sheffield. And, finally, this week's leaf from the Captain's Common Place Book is this piece of self- reflection from Conrad Black, the cuddly Canadian proprietor of the Daily and Sunday Telegraph: "In any significant career in the history of the world, except for maybe Alexander the Great, there are setbacks." How true! Bye!

HO! Chirpy Frank Dobson is so eager to get on the London mayoral campaign trail that aides are having to hold him back. The one on the left is reading Frank's policies. No? All right, it's a well-wrapped Boris Yeltsin springing on to a Moscow platform yesterday. The aide on the left was holding the bottle and is now indicating the extent of Russia's reserves. No? Well, it is Moscow. It is. AFP

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