There's never a dull moment, I find, at the Ministry of Fun

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THIS IS the column that likes to please. And, with the Tory conference about to start, I thought it might be helpful to show you what Virginia Bottomley has been up to recently. So just look up at my top bit, if you will. Virginia, they tell me, is now Secretary of State for National Heritage; my pictures will give you some idea of the range of her activities. Good outdoor stuff, although many people thought it a tad ambitious to go in for the Tour de France so soon after Wimbledon. There was also a rumour she was on the bench for England in the Rugby League World Cup, but I'd take that with a pinch of salt, if I were you. I thought Geoffrey Howe had retired, too. And who's the guy in the pink? But, yes, you're right, that one does show her being wired up for the Internet.

n THERE DOES seem to be a lot of confusion about exactly where Labour stands on this matter of railway privatisation, doesn't there? Was that a pledge by Tony Blair to renationalise, or wasn't it? My friend John Humphrys found Mr Blair slightly elusive on the point when he interviewed him on the Today programme. And there is more: what, I want to know, about the Prunella Scales factor? Prunella is obviously a very considerable force in the party; did you see that party political broadcast she gave from her London fireside? Very good, very convincing, a telling mix of compassion and anger at the sheer, bloody injustice of it all. But does Tony know that Prunella is an advocate of free public transport (interview, the Independent, August 1993)? The Captain writes: that should cost a bob or two, Gordon.

AND NOW, yes, it's Competition Time! And let me remind you that Competition Time! is brought to you in association with the Captain's sponsors, W & J Graham's Port. There will now be a short pause while new readers look up at the Captain's hat. Tasteful, or what? Last week I introduced you to the Virginia Woolf Burger Bar, and asked for similar examples, promising the best a bottle of the sponsor's best. So, bottles of Graham's Late Bottled Vintage to Mr Puckett of Ashford, for King Arthur's Car Park, in Tintagel; Ms Gallard of Norwich for Havisham Bridal Gowns, in Rochester; Mr Dawes, of Orpington, for, near Jane Austen's house, at Chewton, the Mansfield Business Park; Mr Gerrard of Huntingdon, for the Bronte Garage, Haworth. But I confess that my favourite was submitted by Mr Farrell of Finchley, who passes an eastern Mediterranean cafe on his way to work called Kafka's Spoon. (Mr Gerrard, by the way, clinched his award by mentioning that he used to shop in Rainford, Lancs, at an outlet of our flourishing family supermarket concern. I should also tell you that I have negotiated a deal with my brothers which guarantees that anyone entering a Nevin's supermarket bearing a copy of this newspaper will receive a warm handshake from a member of the ever cheery staff. The Captain says: let commerce flourish!)

n ACTUALLY, while we're on sponsorship business, I ought to tell you that I became considerably alarmed when I read last week that the Socialists had swept to power in Portugal. Trembling at visions of my hard-earned deal being swept away in a tide of nationalisation up the Douro, I rang my Lisbon correspondent, Eamonn O'Porto. "Capitano," soothed Eamonn, "if these people are real socialists, my name is Mr Tony Blair. Your port trees are safe." So that's all right, then. And now another case of LBV has arrived, sent from their estate by the Symingtons, owners of W & J Graham, after they read in horror last week that I had only been sent one. Next week: my wine correspondent, R U Tawney, explains why we really ought to be trying the Vintage '63.

TIME NOW, once again, for the Captain's renowned Social Service, my diary of events to avoid. Well, yes, the Tory conference, obviously. And the launch of Jean Paul Gaultier's new fragrance for men, Le Male, at Harrods, tomorrow. Le Male, indeed. And, blimey, David Soul is singing at the Cafe Royal for 18 nights. And Alan Bleasdale has another of those overheated, exhausting things of his on TV. But the real corker is this poetry bash next week at the Albert Hall, "The Return of the Reforgotten", an evening of counter-culture, featuring 15 poets, including Kathy Acker and Allen Ginsberg. Yes. And it's National Poetry Day on Thursday. And everyone going to the Albert Hall can enter a poem for a competition which will give the winner the chance to perform with the 15. Steady. I consulted my friend and poet, Stan Trochee, who has done his already: "I saw the best wines of my generation/ Drunk by some other bugger/ I've read Ginsberg, put down Acker/ Knackered/ Given it all a lot of thought/ And frankly, I'd rather have a Graham's Port/ PS. Hope That's alright/ Send the case via Captain Moonlight." Thanks, Stan.

n THOUGHT For The Week With Captain Moonlight. Do you, like me, keep reading writers quoting Tolstoy's observation in Anna Karenina that "All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way"? And are you, like me, really fed up with reading it? I thought so.

COME NOW, take the Captain's hand and let me take you to the future. Yes, of course I am talking about the Foresight Panels set up by the Office of Public Service and Science. Foresight Panels! This is something we should have had for ages! Just think what could have been avoided besides both world wars and all poor Will Carling's trouble. Anyway, these particular foresight panels are supposed to spot technological winners. And there is one for transport. And the new chairman, just appointed, is Stephen Gibbs of the London Docklands Light Railway, a creeping, driverless, funfair ride affair so far ahead of its time and planned with such foresight that pounds 2bn is being spent on a good old-fashioned Underground line to do the job properly. Sorry? Well, yes, I do, as it happens, about five times a week. Next!

n I THINK I'm going to stop going into my club for a while. It's proving impossible to have a quiet half in the corner without some permanent secretary or other coming up and bending my ear about this Audit Commission chairman business. Richard Greenbury, he of the Report, was up for the job, but Kenneth Clarke turned really nasty after the Marks & Spencer man said the wrong thing about share options. Now a trawl through the usual suspects and a wider search by headhunters has failed to find anybody to oversee the overseers of spending in local government and the health service. I imagine the pounds 18,025 a year has something to do with it; not exactly your electric, gas, or even water, is it, even if it is only part-time. Perhaps the Audit Commission should be privatised. Or they could get a sponsor. Listen, I'll have a word with W & J Graham. Call me. Bye!

EVER wondered what happens at cricket grounds in the close season? Well, the answer, normally, is not very much! But at Headingley, as you can see, those canny Yorkshiremen are not ones to let a grazing opportunity pass by! Which turkey do you fancy for Christmas? Sorry? They're vultures? You're right, of course. This is actually a stark comment on John Major's chances at the next election created by the leading installation artist and occasional commentator, Trevor "The Boil" Bailey. All right, all right, it's a South African poster advertising the forthcoming England tour. The caption reads: "The English are coming. Talk about easy meat". Charming.


The Captain's catch-up Service

SOME OF the stories that you might have missed last week ... Dr Elisa Sobo, top American anthropologist, is to study why people in the north-east of England grow such big leeks ... John Edney, 53, was jailed for three years at Southwark Crown Court after knifing a publican who teased him over his resemblance to Adolf Hitler ... Doug and Beryl Hook, of High Wycombe, have eaten a meal at the Shaheen Tandoori there every Thursday night for the last 21 years ... Jean Michel Fargal, 22, was arrested in a bus queue ten minutes after raiding a bank in Fleurance. "We caught him because his bus was late,'' said a police spokesman ... Eric Cantona was mistaken for a waiter in an Italian restaurant in Cheshire when a customer asked him for a table for four. But there was better news later in the week when a survey of men in Manchester revealed that most of them would rather go on holiday with him than with Cindy Crawford ... Following calculations taking into account its small front legs and the danger to its nose if it tripped over, James Farlow, an American palaeontologist, has reduced the top speed of the tyrannosaurus rex from 70 kilometres an hour to 35.