Summer daze ... a hack for Hezza ... lawnmower alert

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AH, YES, the silly season: giant wasps shaped like rugby balls, killer jellyfish, kitten-eating frogs, grunts from Loch Ness, the Skull of the Beast of Bodmin, sheep committing suicide by drowning in Mongolia, brush-tailed possums falling out of trees for no good reason all over New Zealand. And, on Wednesday, the Daily Star fried eggs on the pavement. But, interestingly, no corn circles as yet, although we have had grainy film of an alien bearing an uncanny resemblance to a bald Princess of Wales after a rough night. The Captain, an all-year specialist in the field, is not greatly impressed by this August amateur dabbling. Particularly not when one of my regular correspondents, Mr Don Stallybrass of Bognor Regis, has just written in to point out the extraordinary synchronicity of lightning striking Bognor Regis railway station on the 120th anniversary of the birth of Carl Jung. No, in August the Captain likes to relax by telling you a story of absolutely no topicality but one, nevertheless, that tickles him. Sir David Frost was going to interview Lady Thatcher, and wanted to watch one of his earlier encounters with her. His research team found it, and, alert to their chief's sensitivities, couldn't help noticing that he looked rather younger then, more hair, fewer wrinkles, less flesh. With trepidation, they brought him in to view. He watched for a while in thoughtful silence, and then announced: "My God, hasn't she aged!"

n DID YOU see the poem Ted Hughes wrote for the Queen Mother's 95th birthday? It compares her to an oak tree and includes the line "richer than all the tartans was the blend you drank". And I thought she was on the gin. Ted's comparison is a bit off the mark, too. She's much more like a fuchsia. Cue my laureate, Stan Trochee:

Like a fuchsia

That's what you are.

Clink. White shoes. Corgi.

Pray, who won the 4.30

At Northampton? Floppy hats.

Do have another.

Yes. That's

The Queen Mother.

NOW, WHERE was I? That's right, these photographs of the scarecrows down here. No, not gratuitous silliness, thank you very much. They are by way of telling you about the Great International Scarecrow Competition, to be held on the front lawn of Ipswich Borough Council's Christchurch Mansion next month. The competition has been devised by the Suffolk College of Art and Design to celebrate the scarecrow and to revive the art of scarecrow- making in the face of prairie farming and those things that keep going bang all the time. Adnams brewery is offering four prizes of pounds 100, including best foreign scarecrow (entries already from France and Austria) and a further pounds 250 for the best of the lot. Entrants are not allowed to spend more than pounds 10 on materials. The first three pictures are of the varied cast of scarecrows to be found in Suffolk. The fourth is my prototype for a Captain Moonlight scarecrow. But I fear crows will not find it half as disturbing as my Really Scary Scarecrow, which, as you can see, has Michael Portillo's hair, John Major's spectacles, Richard Branson's beard, Ken Clarke's middle, Paula Yates's legs and Lady Thatcher's handbag. Blimey, I could have sworn it moved just then!

n FIRST Secretary Heseltine is, I am told, on the hunt again. He's got the big desk, the big sofa and the big office; so now, naturally, he wants his own spin doctor. Apparently The Hero of Wallsend wants a journalist. Discreet soundings are being taken among the finest on Fleet Street's right-hand side. I should have thought there was only one candidate with the requisite combination of subtlety, discretion and the ability to suffer fools endlessly and gladly. No, don't be shy and modest, step forward, Mr Paul Johnson.

BRRNNGG! The telephone rings, as it keeps doing. On the other end, the unmistakably wheezing tones of my political correspondent, Ms Una Tributable. Other "polcors", as we call them, may be hob-nobbing by Tuscan poolsides over that oil-soaked red crinkly lettuce, but not Una. She is ever-vigilant. Besides, she has not been invited. And she has news of another still at home: "Captain, Robin Cook. On a 10-city tour to deliver the Labour message on Europe. Bit of flak because he used to be anti-Europe, but that's missing the point. The wee bearded man is not just talking to business leaders and that sort of thing. No, he's having chats with party members just in time to remind them to vote for him in the party's Executive Committee elections. Did the same thing last year on an anti-Post Office privatisation tour. And, by a strange coincidence, topped the NEC poll. And he's been meeting with the new old Labour grouping, What's Left. Una scenario: Young Tony goes down to Tory tax-cut promises at the next election, Robin ready to step in from left." "But," I say, "I thought Cook has said he's too ugly to lead the party." "Captain, Captain," sighs Una, in the way of the older and wiser, and rings off.

n CAPTAIN'S Caution: I see that police in the Cotswolds are reporting a new "megabusiness" in organised crime. Large numbers of lawnmowers, apparently, are being stolen from garden sheds all over the area and then smuggled out to former Communist countries in Eastern Europe by a ruthless band of master criminals. This is extremely worrying and constitutes a major threat to the English Sunday way of life. Clearly these people will stop at nothing. Before we know where we are they'll have snatched all our cardies and chamois leathers as well. Take care out there!

AND NOW, Captain Moonlight's Interactive Corner. Last week, you will remember, I wondered if there might be a way to persuade Mr Richard Branson to make 18 non-stop trips round the world in his hot air balloon rather than just the one he planned. The best suggestion came from Mr Francmanis of Harrogate, who proposed giving Mr Branson the "Thought for the Day" slot on Radio 4 for as long as he stayed airborne. This allowed Mr Francmanis to nominate Rabbi Lionel Blue as the third crew member Mr Branson is seeking. My mention of the upcoming tours of sew- age works prompted Mr Ingham of Knutsford to send me his plan to turn our redundant Magnox power stations into super sewage plants. Thank you, Mr Ingham. And another big thank you to all those who have sent in their more unusual postcards. Keep them coming: I am looking forward to featuring my first winner (bottle of bubbly promised) next week, I think.

n DID YOU Know With Captain Moonlight. Did you know that Terry Hands, director emeritus of the Royal Shakespeare Company, always wears a red kimono with a dragon on the back during the technical rehearsal of a new play? I didn't. Did you know that Roy Rogers's real name is Leonard Slye and that the animal stars of the Roy Rogers Show, his horse, Trigger, his wonder dog, Bullet, and his wife's horse, Buttermilk, are now stuffed and mounted at the Roy Rogers Museum in California? I didn't. And I didn't know, either, that chimpanzees frequently greet each other with a handshake, ants have five noses and crickets' ears are on their front legs. Next!

BRRNNGG! This time it is my friend Duane, who specialises in the always exciting doings of the demi-monde and has just returned from the Costa Del Sol. "Ere, Captain," he says. "You know this Jonah Lomu geezer, the monster All Black winger, star of the World Cup wotsit, who's supposed to be signing for Leeds to play rugby league?" "Yes," I say, guardedly. "Well," says Duane, "He's had another offer, you know. To box. From Panos Eliades, of Bloomsbury Square, the small Greek accountant who runs Lennox Lewis, the occasionally vertical British heavyweight with the Canadian accent. He has faxed Jonah offering him big money and the chance to be taught everything Lennox knows, which, as my informant put it, would not be one of the steepest learning curves ever undertaken." "Any reply from the big man?" I ask. "Not as yet," replies Duane, "although, personally, I would much rather take on Mike Tyson than 13 of those big northerners, particularly when they're upset." I thank Duane, and, once again, marvel at life's variety.

SERIOUS OPERATIONS: Overlord in 1945 involved 13 nations in the invasion of Normandy; Hurricane tested Britain's first atomic bomb off the north-west of Australia in 1952; Julie in 1978 led to the arrest of 28 people on drug charges; Desert Shield, to protect Saudi Arabia in 1990, soon became Desert Storm to invade Iraq; Granby shipped British troops to the Gulf war, cost pounds 116m, and became the subject of a police fraud investigation; Restore Hope was a hopeless failure for US Marines in Somalia from December 1992 to May 1993; Rainbow in 1993 checked on dozens of lorries in London in an anti-terrorist sweep; 307 arrests followed Bumblebee in 1994 when 1,500 police recovered stolen goods valued at pounds 120,000; the Met's Eagle Eye focused last week on young blacks in a crackdown on street crime that is seen as racially biased.

TODAY is the feast day of Saints Justus and Pastor, Spanish brothers who lived under Roman rule in fourth-century Spain. While schoolboys they heard that Dacian, governor of Spain, was searching the country looking for Christians to torture. When Dacian arrived in their town, Complutum (now Alcala), the boys, aged 13 and 9, left their school and rushed to intercede for their fellow Christians. Far from being touched at the young boys' appeal, Dacian ordered that they be beaten. This was done with tremendous ferocity but the boys refused to recant. Their constancy encouraged other Christians and Dacian, in danger of losing credibility, had the children beheaded.

6 August, 1881: Sir Alexander Fleming (above), bacteriologist who discovered penicillin, was born in Loudoun, Ayrshire. After leaving school he worked in London as a shipping clerk for five years before qualifying for a medical studentship at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington. Fleming secured a research place in the hospital's bacteriological laboratory only because of his expert marksmanship in the college rifle team. His discovery in 1928 of penicillin, a mould with miraculous antibiotic powers, was accidental. But he was sure of the value of his discovery and 11 years later two experimental chemists produced the mould as a drug. It was used for the first time in 1942 to treat a policeman with septicaemia. By 1943 penicillin was being used to treat Allied forces and in 1945 Fleming, Chain and Florey shared the Nobel prize for medicine.

WILL IT never stop? There are those who laugh at the St Swithun's Day legend; but not this year. On and on it goes, relentlessly, drip followed by splosh followed by trickle down back of neck. Our exclusive Moonlight picture captures the misery on the front at Clacton yesterday as (from left) Mr Michael Fish, from Grimsby, Mrs Fish, Mrs Fish's friend, Phoebe, and Mr Rex Gutteridge, of Braintree, clad in their all-over waterproof protectors survey what's on offer at the end of the pier, which, by a remarkable coincidence, is the Clacton, Frinton and Walton Amateur Operatic Group's sprightly revue, Long to Rain Over Us!, featuring Mrs Ethel Bembridge, a Frinton stress counsellor, stopping the show with "That's Why The Lady Is Damp". Seriously? Hell, no, it's monks begging for alms in Phnom Penh. Photograph by AP/RICHARD VOGEL

The Captain's catch-up Service

SO WHAT ELSE has been going on this week? Let me tell you ... In London, Joseph Lindon was jailed for an attempted robbery. The court heard that Lindon was about to be searched at Brixton police station when he tried to eat a false beard and moustache he had worn as a disguise ... Bob Woolard, an Isle of Sheppey pigeon fancier, is worried that the French have eaten 19 of his racing pigeons after they failed to return from a race in the Dordogne ... In Copenhagen, someone has deliberately changed the German version of the city map so that German visitors get lost ... In Jerusalem, an Israeli soldier on leave was sucked into a giant dough mixer in the Mystic Pizza parlour and kneaded to death ... In south London, thieves broke into a car, stole the anti-theft lock and left the car, which wasn't a Lada ... In Sicily, thieves who stole a car returned it with an apology on the windscreen after discovering it belonged to the son of a Mafia boss ... Plans to stage a model re-enactment of the bombing of Hiroshima at an air show in Elvington, near York, "the biggest controlled explosion ever seen at a public airshow" were abandoned after protests.

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