Farewell, Turgi ... safe seats update ... lunching by numbers

Captain Moonlight
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The Independent Online
NATURE: a remarkable thing, you'll agree. I could sit and watch those programmes about the circle of life and whatnot all day, I could. I particularly marvel at the way all the camera crews on the Serengeti avoid getting each other in shot. And some of the things you learn: amazing. Take last week, a fairly typical week in Nature circles. There was the sad news of the death, at London Zoo, of Turgi, last of the Polynesian tree snails (Partula turgida). As its formal name implies, the tree snail was not a quick mover: less than two feet a year, actually. But it had been around since 1.5 million BC, which is a tribute to taking your time in my book. Yes, I know what you're thinking, but I'm assured that they watched it for a long time before making the final pronouncement. So that's it for the tree snail. Makes you think, I should say. Ave et vale, Turgi. Next, American scientists announced that they have discovered a sea anemone called Gerard (Gerardia) off the Bahamas who has been alive for between 1,500 and 2,100 years. Apparently he puts it down to not smoking and plenty of exercise. And then, blow me, we learnt, courtesy of a crack team of Italian and Australian biologists, that toads are right-handed, which prompts me to bring to you Five Other Fascinating Nature Facts: 1 A male silkworm moth can smell a female seven miles away. 2 Snakes are deaf. 3 There is a hospital for sick fish in Toba, Japan. 4 Elephant teeth weigh up to 9lbs each. 5 Chimpanzees frequently greet each other with a handshake.

n CAPTAIN Gets Controversial: I think there's been far too much fuss about the tabloid newspapers invading privacy. In my view, they're not doing enough of it. Last Sunday, you might remember, I offered them the chance of a grainy video featuring Jane Atkinson, new press person to the Princess of Wales, playing the principal boy, legs and all, in Mother Goose, which happened to be in the possession of a friend of mine. And do you know what? Only one sniff of interest, from the Mail on Sunday. How on earth am I going to get an auction going if there's only one buyer? Do come on!

I DON'T know about Gerard the Anemone (see above and below) but I'm worried about Mme Jeanne Calment, 120, of Arles, France. Mme Calment is the oldest recorded person ever and can remember Van Gogh smelling of drink. In three weeks, Mme Calment will be 121. I hope she makes it, but she has already been interviewed by two British tabloids and there will surely be more to come. Let me quote the sensitive beginning to the piece in our cousin newspaper, the Daily Mirror: "She's blind, half-deaf and hasn't had sex since the start of the Second World War..." Courage, Madame!

n BRRNNGG! The telephone sounds its merry carillon. And, on the other end, anxious to convey the latest political intelligence, is my Westminster correspondent, Ms Una Tributable. She has lost a vital leaflet sent to her, entitled "The Safest Seat In The House", in which a lavatory seat manufacturer offered her the opportunity to purchase a tasteful wooden cover embossed with the golden parliamentary portcullis. Perhaps somebody out there can help?

FASHIONABLE to knock marketing people, isn't it? Not in the Captain's book, though. Take the marketing people at Whitbread, owner of the Thresher off-licences. Thresher, of course, is irrevocably linked with our old chum, Mr Norman Lamont, the prospective Tory candidate for Harrogate who once had a spot of bother over a mischievous claim that he had popped in for some cheap bubbly and fags. But now, noticing that Labour are doing rather well, the marketers have opted for a cunning change of name for the Thresher food and drink shops. They're going to be called Hutton's. This is an obvious tribute to the celebrated left-wing thinker, Will, and his aptly titled work, The State We're In.

n WHILE we're on unfashionable groups, let's talk about accountants. No, wait, come back. Last week I launched, to blanket media coverage, my campaign for long lunches and a kip afterwards in a bold attempt to combat all these dull work-ethics men and women. And now what do I find: only that, according to a survey of lunchers conducted by the Athenaeum Hotel in London, accountants hosted the most lunches, ate the most expensive food, and drank the most wine. Not only that, but 40 per cent of them spent less than a third of the meal talking about accountancy. Ladies and Gentlemen of The Double Entry, the Captain salutes you! But tell me: what else do you talk about?

BRRNNGG! The telephone, again, and a rare contact with my municipal correspondent, Ben T Counsell. "Captain!" says Ben, "this man Forbes, Steve, very rich, son of Malcolm, front runner in the New Hampshire presidential primary, the one who wants a flat-rate tax?" I allow I've heard of him. "Well," continues Ben, "I bet you didn't know he is also a council tenant!" Chuckling, Ben goes on to explain, at length, that the Forbes Foundation rents Old Battersea House in south London from Wandsworth Council and that Steve's brother keeps his collection of Victorian paintings there. I thank Ben for this priceless piece of information, an example of what we journalists call "an amusing local angle", and replace the receiver.

n IT PAYS to increase your word power with Captain Moonlight. Sir Norman Foster has just designed 11 stations for the Bilbao underground, featuring typically Fosterian entrances, all mouth and glass. So Fosterian indeed, that they are being called Fosteritos in his honour. Drop that into any conversation and see just how impressed your pals are! And if they haven't just made hurried excuses and left, follow it up with the fact that the Russian word for railway station is Voksil, taken from our very own Vauxhall station.

A PACKET docks at Canary Wharf bearing a letter from A Froggatt, PA to Brian Simpson, Labour MEP for Cheshire East. "Dear Sir/ Madam," it reads, "I have been asked to inform you of the birthday of Mr Brian Simpson, Labour MEP for Cheshire East. Brian's birthday is on Tuesday, February 6th 1996. Best wishes, Yours Sincerely, A Froggatt." Well. Not a lot of notice, but I'm sure we will all want to get Brian something. And to help, I've looked up his interests in Who's Who: rugby league, cricket, British and European history, and steam railways. I think I might go for one of those Thomas the Tank Engine lunch boxes.

n FOR ONCE, something of interest in the Daily Mail, in the bit where readers write in with questions and other readers answer them. "Question: In the Fifties, my husband, along with other servicemen, had 6d deducted from his wages as a contribution towards the wedding present of Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones. What did they buy?" "Answer: I write at Princess Margaret's bidding ... The princess would like the writer to know that she was given a small marble-topped commode ... Lord Napier and Ettrick ... Kensington Palace, London W8." So now you know. Actually, I'm thinking of starting a feature where I give the answer and you supply the question. This week's answer: upside-down in a hammock. Bye!

THE CAPTAIN spent much of the week puzzling over Mr John Major's new pugilistic style in the Commons. Those bruising encounters at Question Time with Mr Tony Blair reminded me strongly of another epic encounter, but I was blessed if I could pin it down. Then, dozing after lunch on Friday, it came to me: Rowlandson's famous depiction of the bare knuckle fight between Ward and Quirk in 1812, prize 100 guineas. You will note that the likenesses are uncanny, including Messrs Heseltine, Howard and Clarke urging their man on. You will want to know who won: Blair/Quirk. He had more stamina, and Ward/Major, although impressing for a short time with a few jabs, had a suspect chin. But I have to tell you that it went on for simply ages.

Photograph: MARY EVANS PICTURE LIBRARY

The Captain's catch-up Service

WELCOME to my weekly wander along the super information byway ... And first up is Tess the Terrier, 3, of Windsor, who is a bit of a whizz on the automatic quiz machine at The Two Brewers, where she has already won two pounds 10 jackpots. "The first time she gave the button a whack she answered something about Greek mythology and won me a fiver," said owner Emil Molineaux ... A gay farmer in Carlisle made advances to a man he thought had winked at him, only to discover it was an undercover policeman with a facial twitch. His case was adjourned for reports ... A beggar arrested outside a mosque in Saudi Arabia had about pounds 70,000 on him ... In an under- 12 school soccer match between Aloeric School of Melksham,Wilts, and local rivals Forest and Saidon, every Aloeric player and five F&S players were called Chris ... Mike Rowell cycled 220 miles to watch Grimsby play West Ham in the FA Cup unaware that the match had been called off ... The number of Elvis Presley impersonators in the USA has risen from 100 in 1977, when Presley died, to a current 7,500.

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