Let us reflect ... Rothermere buys IoS shock! ... knowledge is port

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Now, then. I've still got some port left over, you know. So, with ado, it's the Captain's Christmas Card Competition. All you have to do is study these bits of various cards and then match them up with their senders, who are, in no particular order, Gordon Brown, the Iranian Embassy, Sir Paul Condon, Stella Rimington, Virginia Bottomley and my Auntie Vera. Get those entries in now. First come, first served. I'm just popping down to the cellar now to see exactly how many bottles we've got left. I may be some time. So: six bottles. And one for Mr Best down there. Bottoms up and happy comping!

RIGHT. Decorations up. Tastefully understated, I think you'll agree. And now it's time for an exclusive review of the stories that the Captain brought you in 1995. The stories that made you gasp, the stories that made you laugh, the stories that made you cry. Who, for instance, can forget my revelation that Lockwoods of Derbyshire had sold a pallet of frozen mushy peas for export to Corfu? Or that the Princess of Wales had confided to the editor of the Guardian that she didn't read his newspaper? Or that Martin Amis had pulled his gluteus maximus playing pool? This, let me tell you, is also the column that brought you the following world exclusives: 1) When you dial Conservative Central Office on a touch-tone telephone the numbers play "The Red Flag" 2) On the day he announces the Tory leadership contest, John Major changes out of one grey suit into another grey suit 3) Britain leads the way in the manufacture of bath plug holders (see picture) 4) Guests at this summer's Buckingham Palace garden parties encounter dog droppings on the lawn, quite possibly Corgi 5) Dr Brian Mawhinney, Cabinet minister without portfolio, is seen carrying a portfolio 6) Salman Rushdie loses his spectacles at book launch 7) Michael Heseltine eats reindeer at lunch to celebrate Finnish entry to the EU 8) Polar bears hunting fish cover their noses with a paw to prevent detection (see picture) 9) The first word of Lord Archer's yet-to-be-published blockbuster is "The" 10) Leaked document reveals that nuts, cherries and alcohol are banned from the fruit cake competition at the Home Office Craft Show. Yup, 1995 will be a tough one to follow.

n IT'S XMAS party time with Captain Moonlight! Last week I told you about the anaesthetist and the lady whose spookily prescient cleaning woman had told her no good would come of the marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales. This week: the Viscountess Rothermere's Xmas "At Home" at Claridge's. And what a charming person the Viscountess is! You will remember, of course, that she is the former Miss Maiko Lee, Japanese-born of Korean parents and long-time resident of Paris. She will be spending the holiday in London this year, she told me. I sympathised with her over all the dreadful civil insurrection in the French capital. She shuddered, delicately, and said: "I am not even thinking of Paris!" "Quite," I murmured, sympathetically. And what a discerning person the Viscount is! He may well own the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday and the Evening Standard, but he still knows a decent newspaper when he sees one. What, I asked him, did he think of the Independent on Sunday? "A very attractive package," he said. So there you have it: an exclusive endorsement from a legendary newspaper proprietor. I think we should run it on the front page as a slogan, just like the ones they have outside theatres.

HAVING excused myself from the Rothermere presence, I ventured around the party. I was looking for Ryu-Ma, their beloved Japanese Akita. Ryu- Ma was present at their marriage in the mairie in the Rue de Rivoli. It's a dog, silly. But Ryu-Ma wasn't there, so I had to make do with a sighting of Michael Howard. Then I espied Miss Betty Kenward, who used to be Jennifer of Jennifer's Diary. Well, we've never got on, close rivals etc, so I decided to move on to the Sunday Times party at the Victoria and Albert museum. A rather rowdier do, I have to say. Guests included such self- made men as Michael Heseltine, John Prescott and Lord Archer. I was just beginning to formulate an attractive thesis about the Mail being old establishment and the Times new establishment when I bumped into the ST's rugby league correspondent and we became deeply immersed in far more important matters.

n TALKING of rugby league, there's the small matter of my competition to uncover a maxim which would adequately reflect the game's importance in Life, one to match Camus blathering about soccer having taught him everything. As a minor spur, I have been offering a pounds 54 bottle of my sponsor's '66 port. This week, I am grateful to Mr Simpson of Brighton for "Cogito ergo scrum"; and to many other efforts which, though noble, did not quite make it. So the port will go to Ms Devereux of St Erth for her strangely moving "Short shorts. Big thighs. Pies." But I now realise that the game's appeal is undefinable, and so have resolved never to mention it again, particularly after St Helens' midweek defeat at Castleford. I have also received a moving request, from someone closely connected, to write no more about the sad happenings at the Observer. What do you think? Write to me, marking your envelopes "Observer Shame". But I have absolutely no intention of starting a "Guardian Shame" item by telling you that the former KGB agent, Mr Richard Gott, who resigned when his day job was exposed, has now effected a trademark shadowy return.

JUST for a moment, mist rolled down from over the heather and the ghosts of the Bruce and the Bonny Prince were abroad once more, and moving south. I have this friend, you see, who lives in East Molesey. Which is in Surrey. Which is why he got tremendously excited when this letter arrived on the mat, offering him a free copy of the Scottish Daily Mail followed by four weeks of it at half price. Moved by the vision of this bold counter attack, and by the prospect of a photo byline of Paul "Cockaleekie" Johnson in a kilt, he telephoned the Scottish Daily Mail's London outpost. Only to be told it was an inexplicable error. I'm not so sure I believe it. My new friend Viscount Rothermere is a very shrewd man, you know.

n MY LAST Xmas appeal for those less fortunate than yourselves is concerned with the huddled knots of people who will be all too visible outside hospitals and hostels throughout the country today and tomorrow, braced against the wind and snow, stamping their feet. These poor wretches, ladies and gentlemen, will be journalists attempting to discover which sufferer this Christmas has been lucky enough to receive an incognito visit from the Princess of Wales. Please do not give them money, as they will simply spend it on strong drink; rather, shake them by the hand, look them in the eye and say: "Merry Xmas and thank you. A democracy cannot survive without a free press." By the way, about "knowledge is power", the phrase used by the Princess in her Panorama interview. First of all I attributed it to Reg Holdsworth of Coronation Street. Then we were reminded that Michel Foucault also used it. Now Mr Best of New Malden refers me to "Nam et ipsa scientia potestas est" in Of Heresy, the famous meditation of Francis Bacon, the guy who also knocked off Shakespeare's stuff. Well, knowledge is port, Mr Best: a bottle for you. The last one, too. The Captain will soldier on, sponsorless, a little threadbare, needing help, but too proud to beg. Merry Xmas, one and all. Damn, I've left the ladder up.

The Captain's catch-up Service

HO! Yes, time for my seasonal round-up ... The French, who never miss a trick, are flooding the British market with cheap mistletoe. The Captain says: Remember Muroroa ... Patrick Houghton, 30, of Norwich, dressed as Santa Claus, mingled with late-night shoppers and stole a teddy bear, two large cheeses, a fresh chicken, a jar of coffee and two balloons on sticks. He asked for four other offences to be taken into consideration and was put on probation and ordered to do community service. "Dressed as Father Christmas carrying a teddy bear he was bound to draw attention to himself," the court was told ... 100 Santas ran amok through a downtown San Francisco department store, where a lady Santa was alleged to have exposed her breasts to shoppers. The Santas were from the San Francisco Practical Jokers' Club. "Mostly I just saw a lot of good, clean fun,'' said one member, Mr Maxwell Maude ... and finally, a Christmas card showing Santa lying on a pavement with a knife in his back has been withdrawn by WH Smith. The company admitted that the card, with the message inside, "Don't be upset, it wasn't the real Santa", was in bad taste.