n OH, YES, the photograph. It is, of course, a Hamster Dragster. This is an ideal purchase for the bright, lively hamster with a yearning for horizons beyond going round on one of those little wheels all day. The hamster featured is the Captain's little friend, Nigel (observe the moustache), who can handle speeds of up to 2 mph in his dream machine, available in all branches of Pet City, retailers of, inter alia, ferret shampoo. Did you know that hamsters need to cover six miles a day to stay fit and healthy? But just a few warnings: if Nigel is anything to go by, hamsters are as likely to go backwards and forwards; on the box, it warns strongly that hamsters in dragsters should avoid elevated surfaces and stairwells (whoosh!); do not get involved in a race with a hamster called Schumacher. Poop, poop!
YOU know how it is in the espionage game. We watch unblinkingly, read signs, smile hollowly, laugh bleakly. Something that might mean nothing to you conveys everything to us. A nod, after all, is as good as a wink to a blind horse. And quiet cows eat all the grass. But I have to confess to being just a little puzzled by the latest move at the Circus (that's what we call MI6). It recently moved into a large, conspicuous building at Vauxhall Cross, on the Thames, famously described (by me, actually) as a sort of sandcastle thingy with pretensions. There is a new man in charge, David Spedding. And now they have started flying the Union Flag. Prominently. Every day. What can it mean? Some sort of signal? Damned if I know. Perhaps I'm getting too old for all this. Or maybe they'll be having a street party next.
n THINGS are done differently in Belfast. Kevin Toolis has just had published a new book on the IRA, Rebel Hearts. The first day it was on sale at Easons in Belfast, 20 copies were stolen. They will re-emerge at £5 a time in West Belfast. Everyone is delighted at the scale of the theft because it is a surefire sign that the book will be a bestseller. When Martin Dillon's book, The Enemy Within, went on sale last year, not one copy disappeared on the first day. The book did not do as well as expected. Who needs market research?
STAND by your beds. Want to have a few words about this proposed reorganisation and merging of ranks in the Services. No complaints about most of it. None at all. Never saw much difference between Field Marshals and Generals, Brigadiers and Colonels, anyway. None of them seemed to have a clue what they were doing, rank immaterial. Keeping Major and Captain, good show. But, a worry. Big worry. Getting rid of Lance Corporals. Ancient and venerable rank, very important. Lance Jack told Corporal what to do, Corporal told Sergeant, and so on, right the way up. Lance Corporals have won 54 VCs. Another thing. The Captain's mother was a Lance Corporal. Drove a staff car. Got a stripe so she could talk to the officers, ask them where they wanted to go, that sort of thing. How she met the Captain's father. Another thing. Corporal Jones, Dad's Army, strictly Lance Corporal, with Kitchener in Sudan, only acting up. Example to us all. Famous advice: Don't Panic! Worth remembering, think you'll find.
n CAPTAIN'S Literary Workshop. No need for weekends in the country with Malcolm Bradbury or AS Byatt. Stick with the Captain and you'll pick it up as we go along. Today: how to write like V S Naipaul. Sir Vidiadhar was at a reception for the paperback publication of his A Way In The World last week and confided that his writing had been computer analysed. The computer's conclusion was that he used a lot of words, and I phrase this carefully, composed of four letters. So there you are. Now get on with it, and don't forget to give me an acknowledgement.
LAST week, inspired by the tumultuous funerary arrangements for Ron "The Colonel" Kray, I disclosed plans for my own send-off, including the provision of a large and tasteful tribute spelling out "The Captain" in chrysanthemums. Moyses Stevens, the Queen Mother's florists, you may remember, quoted me £500. Well, on Friday, I received a call from Carole McQueen, the East End florists who provided the Kray flowers and now style themselves "Florists to the Firm". Actually, the call was from Carole's daughter-in-law, Pauline, who offered me, if I ordered now, a special deal of £150. When I pointed out that many inflationary years might pass before the tribute was needed, Pauline told me not to worry about it. I wonder if she's heard something.
n FOR a quote like this, a man can be forgiven even for being a lawyer. Geoffrey Robertson QC, Australian, was asked if Rupert Murdoch, Australian, was a great Australian. "Yes," he replied, "but in the way Attila was a great Hun."
WHO says there's no fun in business any more? Those advertising johnnies still have a playful sense of humour, I can tell you. Remember the three Saatchis directors, Jeremy Sinclair, Bill Muirhead, and David Kershaw, who wanted to join old Maurice's new venture but were taken to court by Saatchis to stop them? Well, the case rumbles on, and the three remain on that wonderfully verdant euphemism for paid suspension, "gardening leave". This explains why, when you ring them at the office they have set up in Sackville Street pending settlement of the action, they reply: "Mayfair Garden Centre." Meanwhile, Maurice and brother Charles are being forced to share the same room as they do battle for the British Airways contract with their creation, which they now refer to as OldCo. And while we're on names, I do think that the lads should come up with something slightly snappier than the New Saatchi agency. What about, for example, Ver Saatchi?
n ANY OLD journalist can win an award. Here at the Independent on Sunday, we hand them out. Why, only last week, Geoffrey Lean, one of our immensely distinguished correspondents, was at Paramount Pictures presenting the Californian Youth Theatre awards, known to some as the Junior Oscars. Geoffrey co-hosted with Michael York. Helen Mirren couldn't make it. Sorry? Yes, I know Geoffrey is our environment correspondent. But it was the last minute and his family and David Lean's family do all come from the same Cornish village, so that was good enough, apparently, as they have a great respect for Sir Lean, as he was known in Hollywood. Memo to awards organisers: The Captain is always available, usual terms, 12 bottles of brown ale, two packets of garibaldi biscuits and the dry cleaning bill.
DO YOU, like me, dread those sudden silences which can crop up in even the liveliest conversations? You know, everything going swimmingly, then, bang, you're left looking thoughtfully into your glass, sipping from an empty one, or just smiling vaguely into the middle distance. It helps, I find, to have the odd interesting snippet ready to plug these gaps. And so, as part of the service, from time to time I am going to pass on some of my tried and tested titbits. Today: 1) All the pubs in Harlow New Town are named after butterflies or moths. 2) A strand of spiderweb spun around the world would weigh less than five ounces.
But is it Art? Geoff "The Hammer" Hurst (right) and Aldie Hyde, avant garde installation artists, pose for the Moonlight camera sitting on their latest work, Flaming Big Fluted Column On Legs (In Denim). Controversy has raged around the work since Hurst and Hyde revealed that the legs belonged to Percy Padgett, their assistant. "Percy was determined to quite literally die for Art,'' said Hurst. "Just before the concrete hit him he gave a thumbs up and made a very good joke about becoming set in his ways." Croydon police are investigating. Well, no, it's not really; it's not even The Memorial To The Unknown Contortionist which dominates the skyline in Rugeley, Staffs. No, it's just a whacky spring-type photograph featuring those welcome back-packing foreign tourists basking in the sunshine at that big column with the Duke of York on top, just off Pall Mall
Photograph: AP/ EFREM LUKATSKY
The Captain's catch-up Service
YES, here we go again with the only news digest that goes beyond the headlines and right to the heart of the human condition ... The late Sir Charles Irving, former Conservative MP for Cheltenham, asked in his will that his ashes be scattered over the town from an aircraft ... A cargo of flatulent pigs forced a jet with 300 people on board to make an emergency landing. Wind from the 72 animals set off a fire alarm on a South African Airways flight to Johannesburg. Fifteen of the pigs choked to death when fire-fighting halon gas was released ... A man in Virginia is suing Lola Rose Miller, a palm reader, for nearly £2m for selling him losing lottery numbers ... A sheep survived a stroll across a busy motorway in Kuwait City, but 24 cars collided trying to avoid it ... Radio ham John Hind discovered that his wife Christine had written to the council objecting to his plan to erect a 50ft aerial in their back garden ... Anita Lukas, of Chicago, has left her husband, Wayne, 47, for a two-year-old chimpanzee called Bernard ... And receptionist Sarah Huddlestone wakes guests who want a call by singing "Oh, What A Beautiful Morning" over the telephone at a hotel in Hinckley.Reuse content