Sponsors' corner ... Di cleaning bills ... national Noddy alert CAPTAIN MOONLIGHT

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DON'T worry. I won't let you down. For the last few days now you have been trying to decide what to think about this scheme to sponsor the names of London Underground stations. You have read the heavyweight opinion and chuckled over breakfast at the many suggestions from our finest humorists: Ronnie Knightsbridge; Fosters Cockfosters; Demos, Highbury and Islington; Theydon Beastie Bois; British Nuclear Fuels Turnham Green; Vladivar Vodka and Limehouse; Persil White City; Barings Bank (sorry); KGB Hampstead; Canon Cannon Street; OvalTine; all right, all right, I'll stop.

But you want to know what I think. Well, I think it's a tremendous idea, long overdue. If it moves, sponsor it, and if it doesn't move, sponsor it, that's my view. Providing, of course, it's tastefully done. And, to show you what I mean, I am inviting sponsorship for this column. Look up at the top, and you'll see the space I have provided for your logo. Product guidance? Well, I'm game for anything, really, but I would prefer something sympathetic to the nature of the column. Bedtime drinks, carpet- slipper manufacturers, that sort of thing. Bids by next Friday, please.

n SOMEWHERE in London, a telephone rings. It is the Sunday Times. Enough to make anyone who has ever so much as hummed "Lara's Theme" decidedly twitchy. But Salman Rushdie, for it is he, does not flinch. The voice on the other end comes to the point: would he like to be Literary Editor? Mr Rushdie, who knows all about internal exile, refuses instantly. Which is a pity, because it would have been interesting to see what price he could have beaten them up to before withdrawing. Martin Amis, for example, has just signed a reviewing deal, negotiated by his famous agent (take in nickname: The Jackal), and said in Bloomsbury, between clenched teeth, to be worth £4 a word. Next!

SPOOKY Corner: I wonder if you, like me, were struck by the amazing similarity between the Princess of Wales in holiday mode and Woody Harrelson, the star of Natural Born Killers. Just look at my pictures. Uncanny, or what? Watch out paparazzi, I say. I also happened to notice a report confiding that, as part of her divorce settlement, the Princess was seeking £1,000 a week for dry cleaning. Thinking this just a little steep, I consulted the Captain's own dry cleaner, the charming Mehmet Veyfi, of Dorset Cleaners, London SW8, to whose skills with the steam and spirits I am vivid testimony. Mr Veyfi tells me he will clean blouses for £3, frocks for £6 top whack if they've got pleats and stuff, and £20 at the most for a ball gown. On my calculations, he could do 20 ball gowns, 50 blouses and 66.6 recurring frocks for the £1,000. I should also mention that Mr Veyfi bestows free lollipops on smaller clients and is willing to discuss a special royal discount.

n PLAYFUL fellows, these actor types, when you can find them. Jolyon, my man at the National, telephones with the tale of Richard II, Deborah Warner, Fiona Shaw, John of Gaunt, and Paul Scofield. Deborah, as you will know, is producing Dick Two, as we call it, at the Nat, with the slightly unconventional feature of her friend Fiona as Dick. Anyway, the part of John of Gaunt was offered to Paul. "He wrote back this very nice letter,'' says Jolyon, "saying how thrilled and delighted he was to be offered such a wonderful part, but that he was not really sure this was the direction he wanted his career to go in at this particular time, etc, yours sincerely, etc." And then, says Jolyon, there was this PS: ``Can I suggest Joan Hickson for the role?'' Jolyon then dissolved into a fit of giggles. Imagine my surprise, then, when I opened a newspaper the next day and saw the same story, but with Scofield's suggestion changed from Miss Marple to Miriam Karlin! Scofield was quoted as saying it was apocryphal but wonderfully funny. So I rang him with the Joan Hickson version and he thought that was wonderfully funny, too, but still untrue. Good to know it's not all angst and pain, eh?

IT'S THE town on everybody's lips, but how much do you know about it, except that Nick Leeson was brought up in a council flat there, Elton John used to own the football club, and they're making the new Bond film in its old Rolls-Royce factory? Introducing the Watford Files, a Moonlight potted guide. 1) The early history of Watford is obscure. 2) John Motson took Italian lessons from a woman in Watford for five months before the 1990 World Cup. 3) There are 13 sets of allotments in Watford and two allotment societies. 4) A Watford company called Funnybones makes buffalo and alligator burgers. 5) In May 1993, British Rail stopped a delayed express at Watford Junction to ensure that Michelle Collins, the EastEnders actress, caught her plane for a holiday. 6) Terry Scott came from Watford. 7) Britain's longest non-stop rail journey is from Watford to Perth. 8) The Watford branch of Asda has introduced singles shopping nights. 9) An old saying has it that the difference between Florence and Watford is that not many girls are called Watford.

n THIS IS a personal message for Carla Lane: please do not read the following item, as you may find its contents disturbing. It concerns a telephone call made to a Marks & Spencer's store and reported in the M&S staff newspaper, St Michael News. The woman caller wished to buy her five- year-old daughter a stuffed penguin. "Hold on, I'll put you through to the right department," said the switchboard operator. A few seconds later, another voice responded: "Food Hall - can I help?''

TASTE. Tact. Sensitivity. For the journalist, all these things are important. But they have to be balanced with our duty to the truth, to the public's right to know. This, although we neither expect nor demand sympathy, is part of our daily struggle. So do not think it has been easy for me to tell you that, in a shop called Bookcase, in Harrow, you will find a pile of copies of Stephen Fry's novel, The Hippopotamus, marked down from £14.99 to £4.99.

n NODDY warning. You are, but did you know it, on the threshold of National Noddy Week. I can only pray that you missed the live interview with the snivelling, whingeing, greedy, misshapen little wooden road hog yesterday morning at 8am on BBC1; my purpose is to warn you to avoid GMTV tomorrow morning when, and I quote, "Noddy will visit Mr Motivator for an exercise regime designed for all wooden boys". There will be a national tour to promote a new video and a meeting of minds with Mr Blobby at the Crinkley Bottom theme park in Somerset. "So watch out," I quote further, "because a national icon wearing a blue hat and driving a small yellow convertible could soon be in your area." Captain's advice: get the Purdey out of the gunroom and wait your chance.

Eye for an opportunity: eager students pictured at what is believed to be the world's first academy for bewitched and cursed royal scions. The curriculum includes anger-sharing therapy encounter groups ("Witches have problems, too''), Princess recognition, pond selection and credible opening gambits. "Too many princes think it's good enough just to hop from leg to leg and pucker up - and that's precisely the way to stay a frog for a long, long time," says Prince Igor of Thurrock, who was enfrogged many, many moons ago ("a very minor tiff with an old beggarwoman"), liked it and stayed. "I hate formality and love swimming,'' he says simply. Most, though, are desperate, and none more so than Prince Valiant of Harlow, seen on the left practising his serenade of "It's Not Unusual". The truth? Why, of course, it's an exhibit at the museum in Estavayer le Lac, in Switzerland, created by Francois Perrier, a Swiss Guard, in the 19th century. Photograph: AP

The Captain's catch-up Service

SOME information items you may have missed during a busy week ... An American psychic won a court battle for custody of her 35,000-year- old warrior spirit guide, Ramtha, an ancient Egyptian with a gruff voice who offers investment advice. An Austrian court threw out a claim by a German psychic that Ramtha spoke only through her ... Kevin Lycett, 50, took a bite out of a Stanforth's pie as he walked his dog along a canal towpath in Skipton. As he threw his head back to try to stop the gravy trickling down his chin, he also stepped sideways to avoid a puddle and fell in the canal. Stanforth's have given him a free batch of pies ... An IRA bomb lay undetected for two years behind calculus textbooks in the Oxford branch of Dillons ... The Russians have bought all 158 episodes of Eldorado ... Mildred Sherrer, 69, a retired teacher, won The Most Boring Hobby in America competition. Ms Sherrer has a collection of 2,000 vinegar bottle caps, all of the same brand ... A seance being conducted by three widows in Paris was interrupted when a burglar fell through the roof on to the table ... Keith Morris, a photographer, has taken pictures of 73 other men for an exhibition at Ruthin, north Wales.


GOING FOR A POUND: a bunch of daffodils; 20 seconds of a leading lawyer's time; half a pint of bitter or, in the old days, "a slap-up dinner, eight pints of bitter, a Babycham for her, and still have change for your bus fare home"; three pints of milk; two litres of unleaded petrol; one National Lottery ticket; one Independent on Sunday; 0.34 of a share in British Gas; one packet of condoms (unflavoured); one-thousandth of a question from a Tory MP; four first-class stamps; seven cigarettes; two minutes of peak time on a chatline; from Waterloo to Vauxhall on Eurostar; Jane Eyre (Wordsworth Classics); four days' colour television viewing; 1.14kg of tomato ketchup at Tesco (one penny change); five visits to the ladies' lavatory at King's Cross station; 2,685.05 lire; 1.254 ecus; or the entire assets and liabilities of Barings bank - Britain's oldest, most respected and most blue-blooded financial institution.

TODAY is the feast day of Saint Piran, 6th century Cornish hermit, believed to protect tin miners. Piran may not have existed at all (and be merely a misspelling of the Irish Saint Kieran whose feast is also today) but he was revered in Brittany and Cornwall in the Middle Ages. In Britanny, the miners of Breage and Germoe kept his feast until the middle of the 18th century. Relics of a chapel supposed to have been his were excavated in 1910 at Piran-in-the-Sand on the coast north of Perranporth. Other Cornish churches and places which bear his name include Perranarworthal and Perran Uthnoe.

5 March, 1790: Flora Macdonald (above), Scottish Jacobite heroine, died in Kingsburgh. Born in South Uist in the Hebrides she was an ardent supporter of the young Prince Charles at the time of the Jacobite uprising. After the battle of Culloden in 1746 when "Butcher" Cumberland defeated the Jacobite army, Flora conducted Charles (the Young Pretender) through the Highlands and Islands for five months, disguised as her maid Betty Burke. Charles was never caught but Flora was imprisoned for a year. On her release she married Macdonald of Kingsburgh but, like many Highlanders, they were forced to emigrate to America during the punitive Highland clearances. Flora returned in 1779.

1946: Winston Churchill, speaking in the United States, first referred to an "iron curtain" across Europe.