n AND NOW, competition time! You will remember that I asked you to send in your unusual postcards for my summer exhibition. Bubbly this week goes to the charming view of Cromer, that refined Victorian resort in Norfolk. The card is signed Pelagius, who, if memory serves, was a fourth-century heretical British monk who placed rather too much emphasis on free will. But if you want your bubbly, chummy, you'd better come clean. Next!
TURNING aside with a sigh from the London Review of Books, I picked up my copy of That's Life, a lively little magazine featuring true stories from readers ("The High Price of Love: handsome charmer Steve wasn't all he seemed to be"), and a semi-naked chap in a cowboy hat giving away money ("our dish with the dosh"). The item I was taken with was, "Aren't men daft, but we love 'em: the funny things our fellas get up to". There, next to the "soft lad of the week" who had assembled his flat pack in the hall and couldn't get the wardrobe upstairs, was a picture of a father- in-law who "fancies himself a bit of a Paul Daniels" operating his trick guillotine, oiled with margarine. Looking closely at this man, I noticed that it was none other than Peter "Hey" Preston, the chap who used to edit the Guardian. So that's what he's up to these days! Pity he couldn't have made that cod fax disappear.
n BRRNNGG! It is Marmaduke, my new man at the BBC, bringing news of Mark Laity, defence correspondent, a man who keeps models of things that go bang on his desk and belongs to one of those groups that re-enact battles. Laity, he tells me, is soldiering on in Bosnia despite a tragedy in his private life first broken to a news executive anxious to get his reaction to the fall of Srebrenica. "Something terrible has happened," Laity told him. "My cat's died."
THERE are readers' offers, and there are readers' offers from Captain Moonlight. Come with me now to 131 Stroud Green Road, Stroud Green, in the alpine foothills of north London, to "The Captain" Fresh Fish Restaurant And Takeaway. Let me quote from the promotional material: "Eating at the Captain's will be an experience you've never imagined ... each meal in the Captain's menu is a titan in fish meals ... The Captain makes you the unprecedented offer not to be found anywhere else: if you don't like it, you don't pay for it". How about that? This Captain is Chris Neophytou, Cypriot, economist, yacht master and, three days a week, psychoanalyst. A man, clearly, after your Captain's heart. Note, too, the uncanny coincidence of the initials. The readers' offer? Well, this Captain is offering 30 per cent off the price of a meal until Tuesday. But, for Moonlight readers, he is prepared to offer 31 per cent off. Just take along the paper. You may even get your fish wrapped in it.
n BLIMEY, Come Off It And Leave It Right Out With Captain Moonlight. There is a new column in the London Evening Standard in which "Britain's leading image expert takes a long, hard look at the personal successes and failings of this week's newsmakers". "Britain's leading image expert" turns out to be Michael Shea, the former Buckingham Palace press secretary. Could this be the same man who told a reporter in 1983 that the Queen was referred to by Buckingham Palace staff as "Miss Piggy"? I rather think it is. Could this be the same man who set off a splendid spat in 1986 by saying more than he should have to a reporter about the Queen's views on Mrs Thatcher? I rather think it is. Is this the same Michael Shea referred to in a headline in the same Evening Standard, "The Palace, The Press and the Confused Mind of Michael Shea"? I rather think it is. When Shea left royal employ, Britain's leading commentator, Charles Nevin, wrote: "The uncharitable view of Shea is that he was a slightly vain, slightly pompous man who overreached himself". Carry on!
MS UNA Tributable, my political correspondent, has intelligence. It concerns the identity of the Chief Whip in Mr Tony Blair's first administration. Step back into the shadows, Nick "Newcastle" Brown, the rounded member for Newcastle East, who, according to Una, has it in the bag, or wherever whips keep it. The retiring Derek Foster will be replaced after the shadow cabinet elections in the autumn, but Mr Brown, presently shadow health minister, is interested only in the post in power. What is he like? "He has a guttural laugh, a malevolent grin and the faint air of a man spoiling for a scrap," replies Ms Tributable. Perfect, say I. But what of the great Peter "Mandy" Mandelson, the noted whip, spinner and member for Hartlepool? Una tells me that greater things are in store for Mandy. She also tells me that he is not the most popular man in the whips' office; indeed, he has not even been given a desk. And, she says, when he asked where he was supposed to work, he was pointed towards the top of the fridge. Actually, Mandy is also a great friend of the mushy pea. For he is the man who, on an early visit north, pointed to the peas in a chip shop and uttered the fateful words, "And I'll have some of the avocado dip as well, please". Perhaps I shall enlist him in the fight. Una advises against, pointing out that Mandy disputes the story. And, she says, he hates being called Mandy.
BITING ON the brioche: a smiling Mr and Mrs Tony Blair pictured holidaying in the south of France and putting a brave face on the current internal rumblings within the Labour Party. Mr Blair, giving his famous "Tony wink", is pretending to bite into a pair of matching his and hers loofahs they have just purchased at M Hulot's salle de bain in Juan-les-Pins. In the background, members of the Blair backroom staff can be seen mulling over the purchase of a new kitchen cabinet. The hand on Mrs Blair's shoulder belongs to Peter "Mandy" Mandelson. All right, it's not; it is, in fact, Des "Bonzer" Mulligan and his wife, Darlene, part of a crack team of Australian undercover operators who have parachuted into France to undermine support for nuclear testing. All right, all right, it's two characters from EastEnders filming in Paris.
The Captain's catch-up Service
WORRIED that you might have missed some of last week's news? Relax with my exclusive digest ... A man who tried to rob a village shop using a Toilet Duck lavatory cleaner had his sentence cut from three years to two. Paul Somerville, 34, shouted "Down on the floor" before squirting the liquid ... A parrot has been banned from the English women's bowls championship for making disrespectful remarks. Ralph Shakespeare, Henry's owner, said that he had been known to scream, "You're a yard short!", which people found objectionable ... Robbers in Paris shouted at an 83-year-old librarian to give them the library fines money. She told them that they wouldn't get any money and that they would have to leave if they didn't speak more quietly ... An Italian handbag snatcher on a motor scooter unwittingly robbed his own mother in Bari. She reported him to the police ... Pablo Vicenzo, a Madrid waiter, lost his claim for unfair dismissal after his employers proved that he regularly offered customers indigestion tablets ... And, finally, a child minder from Bushey Heath was injured when a newsagent's National Lottery pointing finger sign dropped on her.