First, soak the mop ... the bear facts ... minimum effort :CAPTAIN MOONLIGHT

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The Independent Online
AH, YES, Spring! Sunshine and little green shoots - remember them? - bursting into glorious flower throughout the nation's parks and gardens and woods. A season when hope and expectation are still talking to each other. A season when even the old lady of Threadneedle Street turns out to be capable of kicking up her skirts and hosting extra-curricular activities in the Governor's washroom. It is, in short, a season when the Captain's thoughts turn to spring cleaning. For on to my desk comes fluttering a release from the Addis brush company, announcing National Spring Cleaning Week. Fainter hearts might note the starting date, 1 April, and fail to pass on some useful tips to keep your home spick and span: "When you're using a sponge mop, make sure you soak the sponge head in water before you flex the plastic hinge"; or, "Always keep sponge mops inside the house, not on the back doorstep, to avoid extreme temperatures". Beat those carpets, attack those cobwebs! Get into those troublesome little corners! Captain's caution: always ensure there is no one in the bed before turning the mattress. By the way, this nice lady from Harrogate has been in touch about her revolutionary invention, an ironing board shaped like a wine bottle. More handy tips next week!

n I EXPECT you have noticed the photograph below by now. Aye, aye, you will be saying, what's the old fool up to now? Bear with me. My eye was caught by an entry in a fascinating American book entitled Would You Believe It About Animals?, by Rose Girling, Rick Sanders and John and Jackie Runeckles. I quote: "Polar bears have been seen to cover their black noses with a paw while out hunting to make themselves less conspicuous." I have appended the photograph to give you an idea of how it might work. But is it true? Are the polar wastes heaving with questing bears on tiptoe with their noses covered? I spoke to Mike Salisbury, the BBC producer of The Kingdom of the Ice Bear. Well, said Mike, polar bears do tend to lie next to seal holes for hours and hours waiting for a seal to come up so they can grab it, and more often than not they cover their noses while waiting. He is pretty sure they do it to keep their noses warm, but, as he says, "Who knows what a polar bear is thinking?" He is about to make another film about them and promises to investigate the matter. Meanwhile, if I were a seal, I'd be very, very careful.

LIFE with the Royals, an occasional Moonlight series, providing intimate insights into our favourite family. And all true. When that programme To Play the King was on the telly and there was all the fuss about its lightly fictionalised Prince of Wales, an aide received a call from him: "I'm told there's a very interesting programme about royalty on the television at the moment. Do you think you could get hold of some tapes of it for me? It's Scarlet and Black, the Stendhal thingie."

n BRRNNGGG! It is my political correspondent, Miss Una Tributable. She sounds slurred, but this may be due to the connection. Miss Tributable has intelligence from the Strangers' Bar. Apparently Rodney Bickerstaffe, associate general secretary of Unison, you know, the one who looks like what Buddy Holly would have looked like if he had lived, was in. Rodney, as you will know, is chairman of the TUC's economic committee and has about his person the TUC's classified briefing on the minimum wage, which he somehow contrives to leave on the bar. Then he spots this unassuming fellow leafing through it. "Who are you?" demands Rodney. "I am the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment with responsibility for watching developments on the minimum wage," replies Phillip Oppenheim. Nice one, Rodders!

AH, YES, that Rupert Pennant-Rea. Milton Keynes, my economics correspondent, watched him attend four Treasury select committee meetings at which he uttered not a word. Then, at the famous Barings press conference, Milton felt a rising excitement when, at one stage, Eddie George turned to Pennant- Rea and said, "That's right, isn't it, Rupert?" And Pennant-Rea nodded. As Milton so elegantly puts it, "A man who kept his public life extremely private". But wait a minute. I almost forgot to tell you. I used to work with Mary Ellen Synon. What? What can I tell you about her? Well, she often wore a fur coat. What do you mean, it's not much? The Captain says: no matter how big the jigsaw, each piece is vital. Next!

n MONITORING the Today programme the other morning to check whether James "Jim" Naughtie has dropped his much-mocked habit of introducing every item with a portentous "So", I found myself listening to Michael Portillo. It's a tricky accent, his, isn't it? Very difficult to place. Little of the costas about it at all. No, the underlying key, it finally struck me, is a character called Blakey, the inspector in that popular television comedy, On The Buses. You listen next time. I realise this means little to my many readers from Generation X. All I can offer them is that character created by my colleague Mr Enfield who is always saying, "You don't wanna do that", but it is not quite as exact.

IT IS plainly evident that the Captain is a man of wide-ranging interest; a man who takes delight in the bewildering variety of the human condition. But even I have my cut-off point. Which has now been reached with British models caught up in Japanese disasters. It began with the Kobe earthquake, in which more than 3,000 died and 10,000 buildings were destroyed. This story was introduced in several of our newspapers with the ordeal of two British models being thrown out of bed by the earthquake: "Models' night of terror" and "I fled quake in nightie". Then, last week, courtesy of the Daily Mail, we were treated to "British model in Tokyo gas horror", with the encouraging sub-heading, "But she made it to her photo-call before passing out." The Captain says: Leave it out. I am reminded, as we tend to say in the column game, of the spoof version of the Oxford Mail once produced by Isis, the undergraduate magazine, with the headline: "Oxon man killed in nuclear holocaust", and the sub-heading, "Six million feared dead as bombs strike New York."

n BLIMEY, there are an awful lot of them out there, you know. Last week I disposed of the pretensions of Red and Proud, the militants lobbying for a fair deal for redheads. The next thing I know, there's a letter from the Beard Liberation Front, general secretary, one Keith Flett, the man who writes a lorra lorra letters to the newspapers, sometimes about beards. "Men were born with beards but everywhere are clean shaven,'' writes Flett, claiming that the bearded are generally oppressed - "shouts of `beardie' and `get a shave' are commonplace insults which bearded men face on a daily basis" - and proclaiming 1 May International Beard Day. Well, Flett, I'm sorry, but the bearded don't really, you know, inspire me. Richard Branson, Sheridan Morley, George Michael, Ayatollah Khomeini, Jerry Hayes, Jeremy Beadle and all these people with goatees like Andr Agassi and the funny little chap with the bobble hat from East 17? No. I make only one exception, which, by one of those coincidences that makes you wonder, turns out to be the editor of this very newspaper. But even he, Flett, baulks at your demand for a column devoted to advice on how to grow and maintain beards. So, on your way, beardie.

The Captain's catch-up Service

WELCOME to the news review that will have you breathing "crikey!"... A man has complained to police in Kentucky that his girlfriend tied him to a chair and beat him up with a dead chicken ... A footballer yelled "Goal!" after hitting the winner in a match for the deaf and dumb. Officials in Turkey awarded the game to the other side ... A car driven by a whippet crashed into a house in Totnes, Devon ... A Dutch couple spent their honeymoon in hospital after the groom, distracted by the "lucky boots" tied to his car bumper, hit a tree ... John Williams, a convict, is taking prison officers to court in California, claiming they steal his copies of Prison Life ... Percy Plug, a walking giant three-pin plug intended to publicise Walsall Illuminations, has been dropped because councillors thought he would "make a mockery of the town" ... Science teacher Patrice Stabile told her class in San Jos, California, that a chemical mixture they were studying could kill with a single drop. So one of them spiked her coffee... Gauri Bannerjee, of Ajmer, India, who had been blind for 20 years, regained his sight when he accidentally rammed his head against a door. But the blow made him go deaf.

All in a good cause: Britain's jolly jack tars lining up at Rosyth for the Royal Navy's annual charity fund-raiser, the always popular competition, How Many Sailors Can You Fit Into A Submarine? That look of apprehension on the face of Able Seaman Alex "Sandy" Beech (in glasses, fifth from left) is because he has just been told that Noel Edmonds and Keith "Cheggers" Chegwin are down there doing the counting. Sadly, though, it seems that this may well be the last year for the competition because of an unfortunate shortage of sailors. No? Could you be persuaded, then, that this is the queue of eager young hopefuls desperate for a part in the new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Sub Fuss, for which the musical knight has composed a completely original new score, including the hit number, "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye I Dive A Little?" I thought not. Actually, these are sailors from the USS Bunker Hill paying a courtesy visit to the Chinese Ming- class submarine, Chong Chen, docked at Qingdao. Photograph: AP/GREG BAKER

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