Flaky questions ... wobbles at Walworth Road ... church mice

CAPTAIN MOONLIGHT

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NOW THEN, now then, settle down. There has been much amusement among the clever clog persuasion because a team of highly skilled scientists from the Institute of Food Research in Norfolk has spent three years and pounds 250,000 studying what makes cornflakes crunchy, or, as they put it, "the effects of water content on the compaction of breakfast cereal flakes". Yes, yes, have your fun, but then ask yourself how we could have got the non-stick frying pan without travelling to the moon. In my view, there should be more, not less, of this imaginative research. Among the many things I should like to see a lot of work on are 1) Why chocolates melt in your hand and not in your mouth 2) Why peas roll off your plate when carrots and turnips and things like that stay put 3) Why soup is better in a deep bowl with sides 4) Why oranges are not the only fruit 5) Why the tomato blushed when it saw the salad dressing. I have other research subjects, such as what the Princess of Wales does between photographs and why they don't write proper tunes any more, but I think that will probably do for now.

n CAPTAIN Moonlight's Interactive Corner. Hi! And welcome once again to your particular part of the column. This is where I publish your hopes, your fears and your penetrating observations on life and give you a bottle of the sponsor's port in return (still no sign of any of the '63 vintage I was wondering about, by the way; or an invitation up the Douro). And it's a big thank you to a regular correspondent, Mr Ingham of Knutsford, who has a startlingly original idea which would help Labour's embarrassment over Trident and solve the problem of a yachtless Royal family at one stroke: yes, Mr Ingham is proposing that a Trident submarine doubles up as the royal yacht! I was so taken with this economical idea that I've mocked up how it would look. Pretty impressive, I think you'll agree. And now an apology. Last week I offered a tape of the noise of racing cars to anyone who could tell me Nigel Mansell's mother's maiden name. Well, Mr Brodkin of north London has sent the correct answer - fascinating, thank you - but I'm afraid, rather embarrassingly, I can't find the tape. Perhaps some crazed fan of the chequered flag has walked off with it. No, I tell a lie, here it is, Mr Brodkin. It's on its way. Brrmmm, brmmmm, poop, poop!

THE MOONLIGHT Guide To The Correct Handling Of Newspaper Editors. Newspaper editors, I have found, are sensitive people who are easily hurt. Here are two examples. You may have read that Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, was interested in the editorship of the Daily Telegraph, and, indeed, only turned it down after his proprietor, Viscount Rothermere, upped his salary to around the pounds 700,000 mark. What you should also know is that Dacre's availability was caused principally by his irritation at the way his chairman, Sir David English, was airily and publicly discussing a switch of the Mail's allegiance to Tony Blair without consulting him, the editor. Very costly lapse of manners, Sir David. Next!

n THIS MIGHT be the place to mention that Andrew Neil, former editor of the Sunday Times, has not been in touch to claim the bottle of port awarded to him in last week's Captain Moonlight/Trevor McDonald Towards More Colourful English Award for a particularly startling metaphor employed in his Daily Mail column involving dying swans and gallows. Mind you, he does seem to have been out of contact. I quote from last week's Mail column, in which he was discussing overeating: "I'm off to finish the chocolate-chip cookies in the fridge." He probably hasn't come out yet.

BRRNNGG! And, on the telephone, my political correspondent, Ms Una Tributable. "Interesting news from Walworth Road, Captain!" she shouts. "Yet another backroom boy has upped and off! Roland Wales, director of research, the man who should have been writing the manifesto, has been squeezed out by the Blair conservatory cabinet, Philip Gould and that lot. Three others, including David Gardner, the man who made such a persuasive presentation to the Boundary Commission, have already left to join lobbying firms, snapped up in anticipation of a Labour victory." Might this, I ask, affect the chances of a Labour victory? Does it worry Mr Tony Blair and his chums? Ms Tributable says they are far too excited about their shiny new command and communications centre, very posh, in the Millbank Tower, hard by Parliament, due to open early next year, from where the election campaign will be run while Walworth Road licks the envelopes. And the nickname for the new HQ? Well, New Labour is nothing if not original: The War Office.

n WE ALL have weaknesses; the important thing these days is to confess to them, get it all out in the open. Right, here goes: I rather like Ken Clarke. And never more so than when I heard about his response to someone who thought his television manner arrogant. "Good," said Ken.

WINK, WINK! Flash, flash! Bzzzz, bzzzz! It is my man on the Internet in the upstairs back bedroom, Wayne "The Click" Cursor. "Captain," his message reads, "The association of Anglican Internet users is having its inaugural meeting in Cambridge next month. Members are having a vote on the Internet about what to call it. There is CIA, Churches Internet Association, but I feel those initials have already been grabbed. I quite like NUNCIO, New Users Network for Church Internet Opportunities, but my favourite is CAREY, Christian Action for Religious Electronic Yatterings. Yours with a Mouse, Wayne." Too much to pray for, I suppose.

n FUNNY, what makes you want to read something, and what doesn't. Sometimes, I'm grabbed, sometimes I'm not. See what you think of this introductory heading in the current Spectator: "Anne Applebaum attempts to discover what Quebec nationalists really want." I really must try harder.

A PACKET docks at Canary Wharf laden with mail from the New World. New Mexico, to be precise. Taos. It is from a friend of the Captain who once played scrum-half for Sedbergh, the hardy northern public school. Would that he had stuck to such uncomplicated ambition! (Ditto that Sedbergh centre, poor dear W D Carling! Did you see, by the way, that Julia Carling is having the estranged couple's labrador gelded?) But back to my friend, who tells me he is deciding between more pool at the Teva Lounge "with two tough Mexican molls who love my accent" or a morning spent relaxing to the sound of Vipissana Yoga and Psychic Drumming, sponsored by Sun Radio, the world's only solar-powered country music station. This particular Captain feels a certain restlessness; that call of the wild and exotic which can only be satisfied by a holiday. I am off for a couple of weeks. It will be a two-centre affair, Ormskirk, Lancs, and the East Midlands. Bye!

WIZARD PRANG: the world of witchcraft was in mourning last week after Daphne Arbuthnot, 55, more familiar (our little joke!) in sorcery circles as Old Mother Toadsquint, was taken downstairs following a tragic accident just outside Datchet. "I can't believe I'll never hear her curse again,'' said a friend last week who preferred to remain anonymous on account of her day job as a dental receptionist. "I mean, we'd had a few potions, but nothing serious, and she seemed fine when she took off. Her lights must have failed. Mind you, she was obviously going at one hell of a pace for the broomstick to go right through the tree like that. I suppose you could say she was one of those things that went bump in the night." Precisely. Actually, to be dull and truthful, it's a Hallowe'en decoration in Michigan.

Photograph: JOHN RUSSELL/AP

The Captain's catch-up Service

YES, here it is again, my exclusive digest of what you might have missed last week ... Two Canadian mathematicians, Jonathan and Peter Borwein, set a world record by calculating pi to 4,294,967, 286 decimal places ... PC Graham Murray, working undercover on hooligan duty at the match between Auxerre and Nottingham Forest, suffered minor injuries after he was hit on the head with a truncheon by a French policeman ... Nina and Hilbert Jonker, Dutch tourists, left their wallets under a mattress in a hotel in Barcelona and found them, still with the money in, when they returned a year later ... Gus, a polar bear at Central Park Zoo in New York, has been cured by psychiatric treatment of a compulsion to swim endlessly to and fro in his pool and to regard his two female companions as sex objects ... and, finally, a shock result as Raith Rovers, the team adopted by the Independent on Sunday because they try harder and have far more flair and youth than any of the boring big boys, went down 2-0 to Bayern Munich in the home leg of the Uefa Cup, Jurgen Klinsmann somehow scoring twice. Just wait for that return in the Olympic Stadium, Jurgen!

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