Don't put down Rover ... squirrel stew ... free royal table-mat

Captain Moonlight
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The Independent Online
YOU will have your own feelings on the matter, of course, but I'm going to miss old John Major. It's fashionable to deride him as dull and ordinary but, in truth, he is one of the most remarkable public figures of the century. Consider: a man known not by his real name, but by the stage name of his father, a trapeze artist who turned to manufacturing garden gnomes; the first prime minister to be revealed as a toy boy, the lover of a divorced mum from Streatham who called him Rover; the first prime minister to be rejected as a bus conductor because he was too tall; a man who always gives the Downing Street postcode when he puts his name and address down in visitors' books; a man who saved the life of his goldfish last summer by rubbing in sun cream. Now let me make one final attempt to distil his flavour. Called upon this new year by the Evening Standard to write of his vision for London, the following is the second thing he tells his readers about the capital: "Its bus network is the most comprehensive in Europe - 495 bus routes compared with 298 in Paris." Believe me, we shall not see this man's like again.

n YES, I KNOW morale is pretty much at rock bottom in the Tory party, despite all the jollying along from that nice Brian Mawhinney. Whatever happened to his predecessor, Hanley, by the way? Probably too tough and abrasive. Anyway, despite everything, there are some members of the party who refuse to be panicked by the giddy descent into division and anarchy. They have tried and tested traditions, and they stick to them. One of the most popular is The Ceremony of The Tory Diary, which, not surprisingly, takes place at each new year. This involves buying the Tory diary, turning to the fine photograph of Mr Major which serves as frontispiece, and sticking a photograph of Baroness Thatcher over the top of it. They do, they do, I promise you. And just to show you how it's done, I attach a painstaking photographic reproduction of the operation.

SAD news indeed from New York and Conde Nast, publisher of, among other things, Vanity Fair and Vogue. Si Newhouse Junior, the owner, has put the brakes on the fabled internal spending which saw loans for big houses, Concorde flights, big cars and clothing allowances of more than pounds 15,000 a year for its top editors, who earn around pounds 300,000 a year. The Captain sympathises: even here we have had to make sacrifices recently. But my greatest regret is that the tough new regime has surely spelt the end for the annual birthday party Conde Nast has been wont to throw for Mrs Newhouse's pet pug, Nero. Only pugs were invited, and only pugs whose pedigrees had been subjected to the most careful scrutiny. The pugs sipped Evian water while their owners made do with caviar. I am now mulling over some similar restraint to impose on this column's watch dog, Eubank. Down, boy!

n ROSEMARY WEST, the Captain learns, is to embark on a GCSE English course. Mrs West, apparently, was very good at English at school, although she left without qualifications. Her worst subject was history. Those who followed her recent trial will not be surprised to learn that her principal difficulty with the subject was remembering dates.

THE CAPTAIN is, of course, a man of considerable expertise in military matters. But I must confess to a little difficulty with a superior officer, General Sir Peter de la Billiere. Sir Peter, you will know, has been complaining about political interference from the Ministry of Defence during the Gulf war, claiming that the MoD insisted on low-level Tornado bombing despite the risks it imposed on our fliers. I rushed out and bought a copy of Sir Peter's memoirs, Looking For Trouble, to learn more. My advice to you: don't bother. It contains no such criticism, but rather the view that General Schwarzkopf was right to carry on the air war as long as he did. I then turned to my war shelves and consulted General Schwarzkopf's reminiscences, It Doesn't Take A Hero, in which the general recalls changing his battle plan to accommodate Sir Peter's request that British forces be included in the main attack because "British voters would object to seeing their boys relegated to the supporting attack". All very puzzling, I'm sure you'll agree.

n CAPTAIN'S Tycoon Tips. Every so often, the Captain puts your way a fascinating fact which helps to explain the success of some of the top entrepreneurs. Today: Conrad Black, owner of newspapers in Australia, Canada, the United States, the Cayman Islands and a couple of undistinguished titles in Britain. There is a new biography, Shades of Black, by Richard Siklos, which reveals that Black has raisin bran cereal for breakfast. And, I can also tell you, Black says that when he is in his office he spends most of his time thinking. So that's it.

CUE JINGLE (urgent, but, at the same time, jolly: a cross, if you will, between Blue Peter and News at Ten). And so welcome once again to Captain Moonlight's Interactive Corner, the part of the column featuring you, the reader. And, naturally, you are all desperate to know the names of the very lucky five of you who, having provided the correct answers to my Christmas Card competition, went on to satisfy my rigorous procedures to select the winners of my last five bottles of port (sponsorship now having ended, leaving perhaps the British media's prime site, my hat, up for grabs, verb sap, etc). Well, astonishingly, no one won! You were asked, I remember, to match the featured cards with their senders, the Iranian embassy, Stella Rimington, Sir Paul Condon, Gordon Brown, Virginia Bottomley and my Auntie Vera. Just about everyone got Auntie Vera's; the problem was Gordon Brown, whom no one suspected of being linked with a card featuring choirboys. Still, we've got to get rid of the stuff, so I've chosen the four nearest: Mr Cook of west London, Mr Le Blancq of Petersfield, Mr Stableford of Bridgnorth, and Mr Cahan of Hertford. The last bottle goes to Mr Wright of Kirkby Stephen, who following my revelation about Elvis Presley eating squirrel, sent me a recipe for squirrel stew. And very tasty it sounds, too; if you're interested, write to me, with sae, marking your envelope "I want to eat squirrel".

n MEANWHILE, the hunt for sponsorship continues. I've had a word with the people who do for The Glenlivet, and they sounded quite interested, particularly when I assured them that a Captain Moonlight sponsor is treated with the utmost deference and takes on an inestimable prestige just by the mere fact of association with me. Remember, too, that, first and foremost, this is your column; so if you know the chairman of a multinational drinks company, or, indeed, if you are the chairman of a multinational drinks company, do please get in touch for what I can assure you will be a satisfyingly fawning chat. Nevertheless, I think I speak for most of us when I say that there will be no truck with fancy foreign lagers or, indeed, anything French: there is a limit, you know. But anything that requires one of those little cocktail umbrellas would be perfectly acceptable.

A PACKET docks at Canary Wharf, bearing the mails. Among the plethora of stiff white cards betokening receptions for this and that, there is an invitation to the American embassy for a cocktail reception given by the Florsheim Shoe Company. The card further informs me that Florsheim shoes are a legend in America and about to become one in Britain, and that there will be the presentation of The Florsheim Heel of the Year Trophy for 1995. I make inquiries. "Heel", I discover, is American slang for a "despicable person, often someone who lets others down". The person charged with promoting publicity for Florsheim furnishes me with the shortlist for the award; it includes James Hewitt, Hugh Grant, Cedric Brown, Paula Yates, Imran Khan and David Mellor. Suppose they all turn up? I begin to feel rather depressed. This is not alleviated when the person charged with promoting publicity offers me a "good deal on a pair of Florsheims". I sigh, and, once again, long for the dear, dead days of William Freeman, Arthur Hardy and Frederick Willis. The Florsheim Shoe Company, by the way, is based in Chicago.

n INTERACTIVE Update: New Labour's secret weapon revealed! Ms Samuels, of Ilford, has sent me the extract from a mail order magazine which I reproduce below, showing just how Tony Blair does it. You thought it was his policies, his brilliant colleagues, the Government? Wrong! What puts the zip into Tony is a posture comfort support. John, get one. And at two for only pounds 10, I'd get Ken Clarke one, too.

TODAY, an offer from the Captain that you will find very hard to refuse. You will no doubt have seen that the Prince of Wales is to start selling sets of table-mats bearing some of his watercolours. They are going on sale in Klosters, and, if the venture is a success, will be produced on a larger scale for sale at home and abroad. The cost is around pounds 50 for six, all proceeds going to charity. But, the Captain says, why wait? I reproduce here, exclusively for you, one of the Prince's watercolours of Klosters. All you have to do is cut it out, using the dotted line I have helpfully provided, and then stick it to a cereal packet or some such suitable piece of cardboard. Then go back to your newsagent, buy five more copies of the Independent on Sunday and repeat the exercise. Finally, exercising skill and judgement, donate what you consider to be an appropriate amount of money to the charity of your choice. Another offer with the Captain very soon!

The Captain's catch-up Service

STAND BY for the news review with the inbuilt "well, stone me" factor ... Sixty per cent of married women in the United States would rather give up their husband than television, according to a magazine survey. "You can change stations, but you're stuck with your old man," said one wife ... The first transsexual lesbian backed by a major Australian political party is to run for parliament ... Genghis Khan has been named as Man of the Millennium by the Washington Post. The greatest time and place was Titian's Venice. The biggest mistake of the millennium was "Invading Russia. Anybody invading Russia" ... Scouts at an international jamboree near Invercargill, New Zealand, bought up the camp shop's entire stock of 3,000 condoms within three days. They are prized as emergency water carriers, according to scout leaders ... Virginia Bottomley had her car clamped in Hampstead after she failed to fill in her scratch parking card correctly ... The Kenyan government will allow Muslim women to wear their veils in photographs for new national identity cards after they threatened a boycott ... Owing to a technical hitch, mourners leaving a funeral service at All Saints, Gravesend, heard Rod Stewart's "Do You Want My Body?" on the hi-fi system ... Stephen Green, 23, on his way to a New Year's party, was saved by his Mr Blobby outfit after tackling a robber who slashed him across the chest with a knife. His initial plan had been to go as Rambo ... Peter Sedore died on the fourth green of the Panorama Village Golf Course in Hemet, California, immediately after shooting his 18th hole-in-one. "Maybe God wanted him to do it one more time before taking him," said his son, Dennis.

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