CAPTAIN MOONLIGHT:Trend spotting ... the Great Contender ... grey matter

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The Independent Online
HELLO. And welcome. You have rushed to this page, I know, because you relish the depth of my coverage and the acuity of my analysis and you want to know more about last week's hot news, the latest batch of government social statistics, Regional Trends. I will not disappoint you. Here follow Captain Moonlight's Four Most Amazing Regional Trends, 1995: 1 Households in the East Midlands are more likely to own a tumble drier than those in any other region. 2 People in East Anglia smoke less than in the rest of the country. 3 There are 7.94578 sheep for every Welshman. 4 Yorkshiremen between the age of 16 and 44 have the largest mean body mass in the country. Captain's Analysis: 1 In the East Midlands, you have to make your own entertainment. 2 It is very windy in East Anglia, making it difficult to light cigarettes. 3 There are lot of sheep in Wales. 4 Self-explanatory, I should have thought.

n BRRNNGG! It is the Captain's political correspondent, Miss Una Tributable, on the telephone. "Captain," shouts Miss Tributable. "Did you know that if you dial Conservative Central Office on a touchtone telephone the numbers play 'The Red Flag'?" I thank Miss Tributable for this, reflecting with awe at her ability to sniff out the real stories while everyone else at Westminster succumbs to election fever. Then I try it myself, and, do you know, she's right! Have a go yourself: 0171 222 9000. Next!

AND now, competition time! Last week I asked you to send in your suggestions for that vacant plinth in Trafalgar Square which Prue Leith and her Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts Etc are so anxious to fill. A splendid entry. Thank you, Mr Mickleburgh of Grimsby, for proposing a giant cast of Eric Cantona's leg in flight; Rob Andrew's boot, however, would be too painful a memory. Very funny, Mr Horsnell of Scarborough, but quite unprintable. Mr Long of Loughton wants Steven Norris, the junior transport minister up there; he has already nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize for reasons I couldn't quite fathom (a rum lot in Loughton, I can tell you). The suggestion that Baroness Thatcher should be portrayed atop a tank, prompted Ms Pugh of Cardiff to prefer under a tank. It also led, independently, Mr Money of Maida Vale and Mr Robinson of Hampstead to suggest in a tank, in formaldehyde, in the manner of Damien Hirst. I did get this mocked up but the result was a little strong for the breakfast table. Instead, I show you our winner, the inspiration of Ms Bell of Penrith: The Statue of the Unknown Pigeon. Ms Bell helpfully appended a design for an internal pump to mimic the pigeon's renowned waste disposal system, but I'm not sure we're quite ready for that. Fizz for Ms Bell, and Messrs Money and Robinson.

n ARCHER, Jeffrey, Lord. You remember him. Small, bouncy fellow. Extrapolating downwards on Dame Fortune's fickle flip chart just recently. That trouble with those shares at Anglia Television. This biography by Michael Crick setting out the less than glorious beginnings and antecedents. His Shepherd's Pie rather less in demand suddenly. But is he downhearted? Please.Consider this: before serialisation, his lordship telephoned his cronies on the Sunday Times political staff. The cronies, who had been kept well away from the book for just this reason, outlined to him "in general terms" what was in the first extract. Lord Archer's response? "Is there anything that would stop me being the next prime minister?" Stand by for a late challenge.

THIS confusion over newspaper editors is getting completely out of control. Last week I told you about Peter Stothard, editor of the Times, and his continuing difficulties in getting anybody to recognise him. Now I hear that there is an imposter going around London pretending to be Stewart Steven, editor of the London Evening Standard. Yes, I agree, a curious compulsion, but there you are. Last week Steven had to drive himself to his office when his cab failed to turn up. Inquiries revealed that the cab had picked up a man outside Steven's house in Chiswick and taken him to the Standard offices. Captain's counsel: if a man introduces himself to you as the editor of the Evening Standard, be very, very cautious.

n AH, YES, Wimbledon. Lots of stuff about it at the moment, have you noticed? Well, take the Captain's advice and confine yourselves to our excellent supplement, all you need. The rest is mere persiflage. But spare a thought for the poor johnnies who have to churn it out. I remember, in a previous incarnation, on the Sunday Telegraph (don't bother, very specialised taste) a colleague enlivening his 2,000-word piece by taking a hefty wager that he could do it without mentioning strawberries and cream. And, do you know, he did. I mention this because I have just been reading a 2,000-word piece about the use of cow gut for strings. Did you know that it takes the guts of two and a half cows to string one racket? Cat gut? A complete misnomer. Which means I will have to amend one of my favourite jokes: there are these two cats watching Wimbledon; one turns to the other and says, "My dad's in that racket". Oi!

AN interesting libel action is due at the Royal Courts of Justice this week. Forget Graeme Souness's tears and Gillian Taylforth's layby, this one concerns beards and features an unlikely defendant, the poor old Oxford University Press, publishers of a history of the Sikhs, written by the redoubtable Sikh pundit, Khuswant Singh. Complained of is a footnote alleging that Dr Jagjit Singh Chohan, strident Sikh nationalist, shaved his beard off while working as a railway guard for BR. This is no small thing for a devout Sikh, as Dr Chohan has made clear. The Captain, sadly, is not privy to just how the defence intends to tackle this ticklish one.

n CAPTAIN'S Caution: should you cherish your privacy while out for a country walk, do not use the public footpath that passes Highgrove, the Prince of Wales's Gloucestershire home. That yew hedge may look impenetrable, but I learn from an article by the Prince in his house magazine Perspectives that he has cut windows in it through which he stares at the views beyond. If, alternatively, you are of an inquiring nature, you could perhaps use the windows in the manner of those holes in hoardings around building sites, but I'm not sure I would strongly recommend it. Just wave.

BRRNNGG! It is the Captain's political correspondent, Miss Una Tributable, on the telephone, again. "Captain," she shouts, "Another exclusive. John Major changed his suit between Question Time and the Rose Garden announcement." Extraordinary, I murmur, encouragingly, noting that the Rose Garden had been his customary reassuring grey, and wondering what the Question Time one had been like. "Grey," shouts Miss Tributable.

Grin and bar it: a good-humoured John Major cheerfully enduring the 17th round of the Tory leadership election while sipping at a reviving mug of tea. It followed yet another dead heat (327 MPs each receiving one vote, Douglas Hurd abstaining; nobody told Lady Olga Maitland). This round was the brainchild of party chairman Jeremy Hanley and certainly bore signs of his showbiz background. In a neat and symbolic reversal of the usual order, candidates were required to sit in a bath inside a cage and have buckets of whitewash thrown over them by members of the public. Michael Heseltine was disqualified for wearing a shower cap. Michael Howard couldn't find his way into the cage. Kenneth Clarke thought it was somewhere else. Michael Portillo was in there one minute and then seemed to have slipped out. Virginia Bottomley refused to enter, saying she would be much happier outside in the community. Sebastian Coe entered for Sir Jerry Wiggin, Neil Hamilton wanted to know where the mini-bar was and at least 50 other backbenchers gave notice of consultancies with paint manufacturers. In the next round, candidates will face the introduction of Mr Blobby into the cage, which has led to a lot of clever money going on Nicholas Soames. Really? It's one of those ghastly French street theatre groups appearing in a festival in Weimar. I quote: "This spectacular street performance is aimed at transforming banality into the grotesque and ends up with the production of a massive amount of bath foam." The Captain sighs.

Photograph: AFP

The Captain's catch-up Service

HERE it is, that vital research tool for students of the human condition, the news digest of them all ... Hans Henpell, of Salzburg, slept beside his matchstick model of the Eiffel Tower to guard it from rivals before a contest, but his pipe fell from his mouth and set it on fire ... In Berne, a farmer doused President Villiger of Switzerland and a friend with liquid manure as they were out cycling. "He must have had something against cyclists," the President told his parliament ... Firemen who rescued Gavin Jackson, 17, from a burning house in Chelmsley Wood, West Midlands, saved Bandit, his hamster, by giving it oxygen and a heart massage ... A low-fat diet may reduce heart disease but be so depressing that it increases the risk of suicide, medical research has found ... A girl has been born to a bus conductress in a traffic jam in the Philippines. The baby will be named Princess, after the bus company ... Also in the Philippines, President Ramos is sponsoring a new golf tournament, the JPII Golf Classic, in honour of the Pope's visit in January ... Two workers at a zoo in Tel Aviv have been arrested for eating 40 canaries, 11 parrots and four miniature goats.

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