Safety for diners ... the Nevin archive ... poor Virginia

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The Independent Online
THE CAPTAIN has a wide brief. I am watchdog, guide, and an assiduous feeler of the nation's pulse. Last week we had a debate about the dignity of hamsters. This week I want to mark your card about where to be seen eating when in the capital. Now some of you might be under the impression that the last word in swish and chic belongs to Granita, a little place in Islington favoured by Tony Blair and the editor of the Daily Mail; the very place, indeed, where Gordon Brown gave Tony a free run for the leadership over the lentils. But the Captain hears rumblings. Last week, while Richard Ford, legendary American literary figure, sat minding his business, a group of men in ties with red faces drank champagne and sang a song which sounded like Y Viva Granita. I also understand that Granita's chatelaine, Vicky Leffman, will not be accepting any more reservations from Salman Rushdie because his fatwa-threatened presence is putting her more sensitive customers off said lentils. At least Salman doesn't sing. (Actually, if you are of a nervous disposition, there is a restaurant where you are guaranteed not to meet Rushdie: a very trendy Iranian restaurant, much frequented by Lucien Freud and situated in a Portakabin behind Olympia Station.)

Our next dining titbit comes from Royal College Street, Camden Town, home of the Kypros restaurant, unpretentious purveyor, I'm told, of the finest Greek food in town. My attention has been drawn to the amazing similarity between Mr Kypros and his restaurant and the Cypriot restaurant and restaurateur portrayed by Michael Dobbs, deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, in his latest thriller, The Final Cut, right down to the permanent "closed'' sign, the number of tables and the impressionistic portrait of Churchill on the wall. All very good, except that Mr Kypros's fictional doppelgnger assassinates prime minister Francis Urquhart in Trafalgar Square after his restaurant has been raided by the VAT man, blown up, and his daughter seduced by the former foreign secretary. When last contacted, Mr Kypros was going out to buy a copy. I'd send a signed one round sharpish, Mick, if I were you. A lawyer writes: Yes!

n THIS is for Lord Rothschild, but you can read it as well if you like. Cast your eye, My Lord, over my illustration below. Yes, the little chicks are very sweet, but that's not the point. What you are looking at, My Lord, is the pride of the Nevin Archive. It is a postcard written to Mrs I Nevin in Accrington in 1910, a lady I suspect to be my Great Aunt Ivy, by her daughter Tessie. It mentions Blackburn and gives a valuable flavour of the times. I came upon it quite by chance and acquired it by private treaty after entering into a complicated set of negotiations with a mobile memorabilia dealer in the Commercial Road. You will know, My Lord, that there is great interest in this sort of heavy literary stuff in Texas. It is joined by other priceless assets of Neviniana including a postcard from my maternal grandfather to my maternal grandmother with a pretty girl on the front and the message on the back, "I am just passing Melton Mowbray, where the pies come from". While I have no wish in any way to hold a pistol to the nation's head, I must ask you to get in touch forthwith, or I will never, ever, enter the lottery again.

THE Captain Regrets: Brigadier Eric Langlands. The Brigadier, who died earlier this month aged 97, boxed as a featherweight for the Army in India, won the Indian Grand National, was Master of Hounds of the Lahore Hunt and President of the 8th Gurkha Regimental Association. As a young captain in Rajputana, he was tasked with despatching a man-eating panther. The panther, wounded by Langlands, retreated back into a 2ft-high cave. Having failed to smoke it out, he entered the cave. After he had crawled 15ft he heard the sound of loud breathing and came face to face with the beast. He then discharged his service revolver into its open mouth, killing it. The Captain Almost Regrets: Peter Wright, the Spycatcher man, who died last week in Tasmania. I once visited him at his shack in the Huon Valley. He refused to see me. At the local pub they said he didn't stand his round, but in Hobart his manners came under far heavier fire. The charge: "He doesn't take his hat off in the fish shop.''

n UPDATE, update. Last week I told you that Timothy Clifford, director of the National Galleries of Scotland, was being seen for the big job at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Clifford, you will remember, upset J Paul Getty Jnr by suggesting the gift of The Three Graces was to spite his late dad's museum. Now I hear Getty has given a glowing reference to Tim's rival, Alan Borg, the Imperial War Museum chief. This is bad news indeed for Tim, since JP is the most important man in British arts on account of his having more money than anyone other than Winston Churchill. Next.

I DIDN'T mention it last week, because I thought it might be a temporary aberration. But there it was once again on Sunday, along the top of the front page of the Observer (a newspaper; struggling; very dull). "Independent," it reads, "since 1791." No, don't go and buy one, take my word for it, I promise you that's what it says. I know, I know, Tiny Rowland, tall man, silver hair, German, big mining company, absolutely disgraceful that all his unstinting, selfless support should be forgotten so quickly. I'd sue if I were you, Tiny. The rest of us will ponder on the wisdom of starting off your newspaper with a porky. I am now working on a curlicued addition up above which will read: Captain Moonlight, sober, serious and mature reflection since 1993.

n CAPTAIN'S Confession: I'm beginning to feel the faint stirrings of a batsqueak of sympathy for Virginia Bottomley! Last week the Health Secretary went up in a hot air balloon for charity and there were some very rude comments in the less responsible press. Now I hear she so upset a television studio crew the other day that they refused point blank to get her a cup of coffee, using language that would make even a ward sister blush. Let's try and be kinder, shall we?

COME with the Captain now to Her Majesty's Prison, Cardiff, where a Very Important Person is inquiring into security. Discovering unrest because the inmates were not allowed to send Valentine's cards this year, the VIP says he can't see any reason for this ban. "The Woodcock Report forbids it," he is told, a reference to the inquiry into privileges extended to prisoners at Whitemoor jail. "Oh, no, it doesn't," replies the VIP, who should know, for he is none other than Sir John Woodcock. Cards next year lads, I fancy.

n COLUMNISTS. Anne Robinson, you know, the patronising one on Points of View, has a column in Today, in which, last week, she sympathised with Chris Evans, the disc jockey, often described as "difficult and demanding". These, she said, were terms "used by the incompetent and lazy to characterise anyone who annoyingly insists on a high standard of professionalism". Quite. Only wish I qualified. I do hope she hasn't been too hard on the person responsible for misspelling the name of Canon Michael Saward seven times in her lead item. Bye!

GETTING down to it: Pete "The Terminator" Ackroyd, Norman "Crusher" Stevas and Dave "Rolling Thunder" Starkey, pictured last week at Wilderspool Stadium, the home of Warrington Rugby League Club, giving a traditional, warm, no-nonsense Northern welcome to Rupert Murdoch (out of shot, right) when the great man visited the latest outpost of his empire, the so-called "Super League". Mickey "The Monster" Holroyd, at the back, was a little slow with his welcome and has now signed for Peasley Cross Raiders. "I know a lot of people have their suspicions about Mr Murdoch," said Stevas afterwards. "But I found him a proper gent, concerned for our traditions. He said that was why he was giving us money." Starkey agreed: "And a great sense of humour. The lads got a real laugh when he told us we would now be able to afford nets." No, sadly; it's the Australians warming up for the Test against the West Indies at Sabina Park. Photograph: AP/GILL ALLEN