Captain Moonlight's column: A time to ruminate, reminisce, nay regret

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HO! YO! AGAIN! But, frankly, I expect you could do with a spot of rumination today, caught as you are on the Inter Xmas Millennial Cusp, which, unless you take something for it, can be quite painful. So why not try those new slippers on for size and settle down for The Moonlight 1999 Awards, a joyful celebration of the "quirky take" on life for which this column is so rightly renowned. Ready?

AND WE start with the Best Fact In A Moonlight Column Award. And the nominees are: 1) The Countess of Wessex's father, very briefly, taught Nigel Dempster geography. 2) A pig can eat anything but currants. 3) Virginia Woolf always wrote standing up. 4) Harry Corbett used to store Sooty in a box with air holes. 5) The number of men dressmaking, doing needlework or knitting has risen from two per cent of the population to three per cent since 1977. 6) In a year, the liver secretes enough bile to paint the outside of 30 detached houses. 7) The can opener was invented 48 years after the tin can. 8) Demosthenes had a lisp. 9) The chances of your being killed by a falling vending machine are about 4,000,000:1. And the winner is ... Sooty's box!

TOUGH choices faced the judges of the Best Piece of Advice In A Wild Animal Encountering Situation. There were several in favour of the submission from Mr Jennings of Westhead, who advised that the correct response on meeting a grizzly bear was to play dead. He warned that, in some cases, this might lead the bear to drag you off and bury you as part of his food store; but gave a measure of hope, provided there was a steep slope nearby, as a bear's short front legs will cause it to fall over and roll down hopelessly out of control. There was admiration, too, for the insouciance of the advice re the water buffalo offered by our distinguished environment correspondent, Sir Geoffrey Lean: immediately drop to the ground, lie on your back and flatten yourself as firmly as you can against the earth. The shape of the buffalo's horns will prevent it from tossing you up into the air, but will not prevent it from continuing to try. Strike it repeatedly on the nose with a sharp stick until it goes away. But, in the end, the award went to Mr Jennings because he lives in the same road as the Captain's Mum.

PICTURE POWER. Few entries could compete with the Captain's Fish Tank, the world's first virtual internet site in a Sunday newspaper, which provided endless fascination throughout the year. There was some support for our candid shot of Britain's earliest known telegraph pole, and, inevitably, for the moody study of what is claimed to be the least-used bus shelter in the country, between Lewes and Newhaven; but, in the end, the award had to go to Roger Moore, if only for his astonishing resemblance to no fewer than three world leaders, including Jiang Zemin of China, and some other chap. And an honourable mention must go, too, to Mrs Davis of Baldock's elegant visual rebuttal of the foul canard that the Moonlight Badge, a stunning piece of costume jewellery awarded to deserving readers, didn't exist.

COMMISERATIONS of the year go to keen bird-watcher Sophia Hadi, who drove all the way from Leeds to Washington, Tyne & Wear, after a friend reported hearing a rare song thrush, only to find it was, in fact, the noise made by a fork lift truck reversing at the local Asda.

AROUND The Regions With Captain Moonlight. The usual wide-ranging entry paid tribute to the sheer diversity of life in immediately pre-millennial Britain. In Truro, for example, there was consternation when a film containing pictures of the Bishop of St Germans dressed in fishnet tights, a black wig and a mini dress was stolen from a local photography shop. The film, which also showed the Bishop of Truro dressed in khaki shorts, a sunhat, and pigtails, had been taken during a production of Jack and the Beanstalk which featured five senior clergy appearing as Enid Blyton's Famous Five. In Pinner Green, meanwhile, a woman found herself locked in a garden centre, the first time such a thing had happened in 26 years. In Blaenau Ffestiniog, there were reports that it was impossible to buy root ginger, and equal excitement in Rossendale when a 400lb pig fell through the roof of a shed belonging to Mr John Rawstron. Keep those reports coming in 2000!

MOONLIGHT Counsellor Of The Year: Step right up, Dr Cedric Wayne of Pretoria, who became so infuriated by the wife's carping during a marriage counselling session that both he and her husband attacked her. "She's the most annoying woman I have ever been around," Dr Wayne told arresting officers.

APOLOGY Of The Year: Runner-up, the Daily Star: "The Pope. We reported on April 9 that Pope John Paul II supported Fulham. We have been asked to point out that, although the Vatican may have written to the club, the Pope is not a Fulham fan". Winner: Denis Laroux, who was in some trouble with an all-girl chapter of Hell's Angels after he tattooed "Stan's Slaves" on their breasts rather than Satan's Slaves.

MOONLIGHT Achiever Of The Year. This award is dedicated to Mrs McAlister of Cork, who wrote to tell me that although she lives about four miles from Blarney Castle, she has never visited it. Runner-up: John Evans, 50, of Marlpool, Derbyshire, who balanced 402 cans of Coca-Cola, weighing 366lbs, on his head for 112 seconds. Winner: Philip Hampshire, a security officer from Norwich, who revealed he is building a replica of Norwich Cathedral with 140,000 matchsticks during nightshifts. Mrs McAlister: see?

CRIME. A fiercely contested category, although without doubt the most baffling crime of the year was the theft of a framed portrait of Jack Straw from a community centre in Blackburn, followed by my exclusive report, greeted with a deafening official silence, that a policeman's helmet had been stolen from the Palace of Westminster. In the end, I suspect, just too many suspects. Most Helpful Defendant In A Court Appearance: Peter Crawford, of New York, whose self-defence in court rather collapsed after he asked the key witness: "Did you get a good look at my face when I snatched your bag?" Unluckiest Break In A Crime Situation: a tie between the man in Strasbourg who exposed himself to 30 girls exercising in a park, only to discover they were police women having an aerobics class; and Arnd Dick, a German bank robber, who was captured after someone stole his bicycle from outside the bank. It doesn't pay, you know.

SCOOP! Yes, it's the one you have been waiting for! Which, of the hundreds of thunderbolts that have landed with a spectacular crash on to your breakfast table, submitted by my crack team of special correspondents - Una Tributable (politics), Britt Bafter (showbiz and the world of celebrity), Russell Nib (media), Cher Currency (Europe), to name but a few - will be THE one? Steady. And the nominations are: 1) Ms Una Tributable hears the cry of an oyster catcher at the Blackpool conference. 2) A journalist turns up for the Brussels press conference given by John Maples, shadow foreign secretary. 3) Rupert Murdoch buys two sea bass from a shop on the Wandsworth Road. 4) Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch re-form. 5) Chris Patten cleans his swimming pool with salt. 6) Bob Dylan has a limp handshake. 7) The Archbishop of Canterbury gives up the drink for Lent. 8) Prince Rainier buys a shellsuit. 9) George Robertson enjoys tinned mangoes. 10) Romano Prodi drives a Ford Mondeo. 11) Lord Cranborne is a big fan of the St Helens rugby league team. 12) Prince Harry eats a packet of crisps. 13) Bianca Jagger has a T-shirt absolutely ruined by a hotel in Skopje. 14) A German Embassy spokesman says he prefers beef on the bone to Black Forest Gateau. 15) The consumption of fairy cakes is inexplicably rising. 16) Paddy Ashdown fails to make himself understood in at least six Chinese restaurants in Newport, Gwent. And the winner is ... Number One!

FINALLY! It is time to say farewell to some who also said farewell this year. People like Otto Breck, 31, of Frankfurt, who died on his stag night when a stripper fell off a table and landed on him; and like Charles Felder, 73, of Dallas, who died after the cleaner unplugged his life-support machine so she could use the vacuum to tidy up a bit. But above all, it's a farewell to Brooklyn, the Captain's tadpole, who, in an incident some affected to see as a poignant allegory of celebrity, passed on without achieving froghood after suffering rather too close attention from an over-eager photographer. Otto, Charles, Brooklyn: Vale! Everyone else: see you next century, if we're spared!

ADIEU! Last day for the Captain's Sponsor, so let's shift the remaining product with the Captain's Famous Christmas Card Comp! Just decide which of my aunties - Vera, Tessie, Marie, and Elsa - sent which card. Joker: Gordon Brown's is in there, too. Tie breaker: exercising skill and judgement, supply the missing word: Milton, Keats, Joyce, Captain *********. Thank you.

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