BBRRNNGG! Ah, the familiar jangle, pregnant with information potential; yes, it's my showbiz correspondent, Ms Britt Bafter, "ringing in" with this week's items. "Busy, busy week, Captain! Spotted, for example, in the National Theatre's Terrace Cafe: lovely Derek Benfield, who used to play the loveable rough diamond in that excellent Seventies BBC serial The Brothers, and now plays the loveable downtrodden husband to Patty Routledge's Hetty Wainthrop in the popular BBC series of the same name! Then there's Lionel Blair, Captain. He's been giving his cure for leg ache: apparently, you take an empty milk bottle and roll it up and down on the floor with the soles of your feet. Did you know, too, that, apart from one crown, Lionel still has all his teeth, even if he does give his age now as '49 plus VAT'?" Remarkable. I ask Ms Bafter if there is any news of Lionel's dog, Eric, who I have long believed, possibly erroneously, to be named in tribute to the old dancer's famous namesake, George Orwell. Ms Bafter tells me that, sadly, Eric has passed on. She has better news, though, of both Hugh Grant and Elvis Presley. "Yes, apparently Hugh uses moisturiser twice a day for his dry skin. And a library card signed by Elvis when he was 12 has just been discovered. Did you know, too, Captain, that Elvis used to refer to his manhood as 'Little Elvis'?" I replace the receiver, a little awed but confident, also, that this column's showbiz coverage is unrivalled. Next!
PHWOAR! Ah, yes, you've noticed the tasteful pose, with only fine words to preserve an officer's modesty. And you are, of course, wondering what the old fool is up to now. No, it is not a cheap bid to titillate the readership and put on massive sales. Today, I will have you know, is World Naturist Day; it seemed only polite. And, please, no trying to see through Mr Watkins on the previous page. I do hope the weather picks up a bit, though.
POLTROONS. Incompetent. Disappointing. The Captain is aware that certain misgivings are being expressed about the quality of the present House of Commons. I must say that I myself, an experienced political observer, have not noticed much difference from the last lot, or the lot before that, etc. But, even so, I was a little taken aback last week, during the recess, to observe a bottle of milk standing neglected all day outside the Members' Entrance. I mean, really, if they can't even remember to cancel the milk, what hope is there? Perhaps they were waiting for a message on their pagers. Still, I didn't know that Betty only allows them one bottle between 658, did you?
BBRRNNGG! The telephone, again, and, on it, my doyen of diplomatic correspondents, Norman Channels, no doubt with the latest inside griff on the frantic machinations in the Balkans. "Captain, I've just had a most interesting chat with the Norwegian ambassador! He told me that, in his view, it was pretty pointless visiting Stornoway on a Sunday, as most of it is closed." I thank Norman for this, and promise to pass the tip on. Next!
LYRICAL. That is the only way to describe the reaction of the judges as they journeyed gaily through your entries to my poetry competition, the one inspired by the new poet laureate, in which you were challenged to pen four lines on the subject of "Where I Live", the winners to be rewarded by - their choice - either a book of Prof Motion's work or one of my splendid Moonlight Badges. Well. Thank you, Mrs Olsen: "Whitley Bay is where/I stay/It's by the sea/Which is nice for me." Badge! And Mr Hollington: "Southend-on-Sea/With its pier and golden mile/Does for me/As my domicile." Terrific! Badge! And Mr Tomalin: "Here at Aldeburgh, as everyone knows/The daffodils dip, when the Easterly blows./'Cos there's only Moot Hall/'Twixt us and the Ural". Very good, Mr Tomalin, although there was some pretty fierce discussion about "hall" and "Ural". Badge! But the overall winner, breaking the pattern of strong coastal contenders, has to be Ms Brown: "I live in Palmer's Green/It's not rich in mystique or myth/Yet here in N13/Lived the poet, Stevie Smith." Splendid, and clinched by the postcard on which it was submitted, over there, showing a moving and completely irrelevant view of the Lea Valley Viaduct. Oh, and Mr Wright: your poem about the Wirral was very good; its failure to convince the judges completely has absolutely nothing at all to do with your slightly puzzling preference for Prof Motion's poems over a splendid Moonlight Badge. Next!
BBRRNNGG! And this time, it's my redoubtable political corrrespondent, Ms Una Tributable. "Captain! Charles Kennedy, cuddly contender for the Lib Dem leadership: a slight quandary. He's found the woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with - lovely girl, works for Camelot - but he's not quite sure about his timing: should he go for a snap hitch now, to give his leadership chances a lift, or should he gamble, play the long game, and tie the old knot just before the next general election to give the Lib Dem campaign a boost? Tough call, Captain. What do you think?" I tell Ms Tributable that it sounds like a bit of a lottery to me, but I'm sure love will find a way. Next!
LOOK, let's do something about this. Last week I had to point out that some Euro junket had listed William Hague at 28 out of 33 on its VIP guest list, in between the leaders of Malta and Estonia. Now this week I see that the Daily Mail, no less, has listed him at 26 out of 41 on its list of VIPs supporting anonymity for the Bloody Sunday paratroopers at the new inquiry, just 17 places below Dame Vera Lynn. Enough. Let's get Willie to the top of these lists! I note that the all-conquering Finnish president, Martti Ahtisaari - that's a bit of a mouthful, isn't it? - has a sausage named after him. Perhaps that's the way to heighten the Hague profile. Hmmm. An egg?
CRIPES! Yes, it's my acclaimed Moonlight Miscellany, a magical melange of mirth, musing and mystification. And did you know that the first time Gyles Brandreth met Edward Heath he threw up? Sorry? Ah, yes, good question. Gyles threw up. Next, rugby league. And, perusing the birthday list in last Saturday's Independent, I was delighted to discover that the full name of the Wigan and Great Britain captain, Andy Farrell, is, in fact, Anstruther Farrell. Splendid! Sadly, it turned out to be one of those misprints unavoidable in even the most scrupulous of publications. But I'd think about adopting it, Andy: this could be just the boost the Greatest Game needs in its drive to recruit upper-middle-class support! Next, Captain's Competition, Badges available: the two phrases most common among mobile phone users, please, after "I'm on the train". Commiserations, next, to the two armed raiders who chose to hold up a bar in Alabama the night it had been hired by the local gun club. Both died in a hail of bullets. Congratulations, though, to Mrs McAlister of Cork, who Writes To The Captain to tell me that, although she lives about four miles from Blarney Castle, she has never visited it. Badge! And, no, I have still not heard from the Marquess of Cholmondeley. Bye!
DO US a favour, mate: didn't you have a picture of somebody pointing something out to the Duke of Edinburgh last week? Yes, but that was in Wales and I had him going on about the Welsh so convincingly that a Welsh lady living in Hastings ("for my sins!") rang to complain. Captain culpa, mea maxima. So let's avoid controversy and concentrate on what's happened to the Prince of Wales (right, front). Did you know eating soya could do that? Actually, it's a sculpture of a dung beetle at London Zoo's new biodiversity centre, just opened by the Duke, an apt choice, and His Wife, ER Indoors and Out. J STILWELL/REUTERS
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