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CAPTAIN Speaking! And it's congrats time! For you are among the fast growing, deeply discerning band of thrill-seeking sophisticates who are buying the Independent on Sunday in ever increasing numbers, thousands more last week, thousands more this, attracted by all the fab acres of free publicity from tired rivals piqued by our bold choice of new Editor, Ms Janet Street-Porter! And now, if I could crave the indulgence of my regular and touchingly devoted readers for just a moment (kettle? tap the barometer? more work on the matchstick cathedral?) I should like to give all you exciting newcomers a bit of inside griff on what this column is about. Yes, it's The Captain's Mission Statement! What I offer, through a range of unrivalled, mustard-keen and frankly incredible special correspondents, is the lowest of the lowdown, the buzziest of the buzz, and the juiciest of the juice from the fascinating worlds of, inter alia, politics, books, showbiz, haute cuisine, and low-cost mail order. In addition, I offer the occasional wry reflection on this funny old Life of ours, and invite yours, which are rewarded with one of my exclusive black-and-silver enamel effect Moonlight Badges! It's all tremendous fun, so why not stick around? And there's some hot Mail Order news just in: those enterprising people, Carnell, of west London, are offering a Talking Horse Wall Clock, complete with 12 magnificent full-colour pictures of horses which, for just pounds 19.95, "every hour on the hour will thrill and enchant you with their soothing whinnies". Terrific, eh? Next!

MOONLIGHT Buzz, Fun, Excitement and Circulation Update! And, crikey, these new readers are just flooding in! They are. I've just had an e-mail from Mr Creevey of Newport, Salop, whom I haven't seen since he was in my class at school in St Helens when we were seven! Remarkable. Mr Creevey tells me that Rory McGrath used to live down the road from his Auntie Doris in Cornwall and that he once carried Mrs Justice Hogg's books for her before she was Mrs Justice Hogg. Take a Badge, Mr Creevey, and join the party! Next!

THE news that Gordon Brown is flogging off more than half our gold reserves has set the Captain to deep and serious thought about realising some of the Moonlight assets. So, after an exhaustive stocktake of my immediate surroundings that surprised even me, it is with great pleasure that I announce a bit of a sale myself. Offers, please, for:

1) England's Barmy Army, a video featuring "Come on England!", the unofficial Cricket World Cup anthem, with guest stars, Dickie Bird, Chris Tarrant, and Faye from Steps;

2) Sound Revolutions, a biography by Jerrold Northrop Moore of Fred Gaisberg, "founding father of commercial sound recording";

3) Judgement, the new album from Anathema. ("Vinnie's vocals are a revelation. He has such a powerful voice, full of heartbreak and confusion, and this time around vocals and music match perfectly".)

4) The Kleeneze Nail Guide, for use with nail and hammer, plastic, instructions included. Banish those sore thumbs for ever.

5) A pink French fancy (pictured) left over from last week's birthday celebrations for Victoria, the columnar factotette. Thank you.

COLUMN writing can have few greater pleasures than a call from Ms Una Tributable, the Captain's redoubtable political correspondent. "Captain! Splendid news from the Press Gallery, the association of journalists dedicated to reporting anything that moves at Westminster, and Jack Cunningham, too! They have had a vote on whether or not to retain the Loyal Toast at their lunches, the splendid affairs at which fine wines and sumptuous viands are but a distraction as the assembled scribes write down every word of important invited guests. And, joy, the vote was more than three to one in favour of continuing to scramble erect and raise a bumper to our glorious sovereign! Bye!" I replace the receiver much cheered by this, and call the Palace to break the splendid news. They, I have to say, rather take the boost in their stride. I am keen on an immediate statement along the lines of "Reptiles in Loyalty Shocker!", but all they have to say is that the decision is entirely a matter for the Press Gallery. Really! I bow to no one in my dedication to the Cause, but the sooner they get Alastair over there the better! Next!

THAT picture, down there, the one next to Roger Moore? Well, it's all to do with the Captain's latest competition, I Almost Met. It was inspired by our Mr Moreton here, who was telling me he once nearly met Catherine Deneuve at the Hotel Richmonde, overlooking Lake Geneva. He was coming in through the revolving door as she was going out. Another couple of seconds either way, and who knows? And I once almost met Roger Moore. I did. Dogged readers will remember that Roger used to live in our house, before he was famous. So, when I saw him, near Oxford Street, I thought I'd go up and tell him. But Mrs Moonlight said he wouldn't be in the slightest bit interested, and what was he supposed to do, thank me or something, so I didn't.

So, your almost quite close encounters with celebrities, please. Badges will be awarded! Sorry? Oh, yes, the picture. It's the latest in my entirely coincidental yet fascinating series of world leaders who resemble Roger Moore. This one is Mr Barak, the new Israeli prime minister. He's on the right. Thank you.

IS etiquette something of a puzzle to you? Would you like to have a bash like Posh and Becks but worry about the correct form? You need Just Mind Your Manners With Captain Moonlight. And today's sound advice comes from the late Lena Ashwell, legendary theatrical grande dame, who played opposite Beerbohm Tree and whose voice was described by Shaw as like "a squall". Lena's advice is about stockings: "My mother used to say `A hole may be an accident, but a darn is a premeditated vulgarity'." Thank you. And don't wear thick shoes or boots to a dinner, or any other evening party. And, while you're at it, don't mistake a haughty, overbearing manner for an air of good breeding, either in yourself or your fellow creatures. Thank you.

DEAD or alive? Yes, it's time once again for that award-winning Moonlight series, Where Are They Now? Not many people remember Peter Mandelson today, but he was once a very important politician. These days, you're most likely to come across him addressing trade union conferences in the Channel Islands on the importance of Europe. My labour editor, Dean O'Saur, came across him in Jersey at the engineering-workers bash. But Dean was, I have to say, just a little surprised to see Peter afterwards in the duty-free shop which the non- EU tax haven is keeping on at its airport. Thankfully, Tony, we are able to report an extremely rapid rebuttal of any plans to pick up a couple of clinkers for the musical cocktail cabinet. Far from it. "I'm just trying to find a postcard for my old mum," was Peter's rather touching explanation. And after she failed to stump up the cash for his house, too. Well done, Peter. And you've reminded me that it's time for the annual Moonlight Summer Hol Extravaganza: your most boring postcards, please, everybody. Badges!

INTERESTING. A word that runs out of puff as it tries to match my acclaimed Moonlight Miscellany, a heady confection of this, that, and the other. First, I see that a doctor called Sepp Porta is making heart patients in the Austrian town of Graz do bungee jumps off a bridge to beat stress. You're my kind of doc, Sepp! Next, soggy meringues? Try a few drops of vinegar. Next, Mr Rose of Dublin claims that you can't find old rope there for love or money. Hmmm. Interesting, Mr Rose, but I require independent confirmation. Next, a woman has been locked in a garden centre in Pinner Green, the first time such a thing has happened in 26 years. Next, Mr Polhill of Bradford on Avon has submitted his Tip for Life: "You can always fry it". Thank you, Mr Polhill. Badge! And Mr West of Rowlands Castle has written, pointing out that when I recently referred to camomile lotion I clearly meant calomine lotion. Thanks a lot, Mr West. Actually, it's calamine. Next, Ms Swann of Newhaven's friend has now taken a substitute photograph of what might be the least-used bus shelter in Britain, and she will send it in as soon as the roll is full. Finally, I hope you have all noticed my clever subliminal message. No? Just look at the first word of each item. Captain Moonlight: really pushing the edge of the envelope of serious journalism! Bye!

RALLYING round: friends of the disgraced politician, Jonathan Aitken (left, back to camera), pictured sharing a joke with him at Standford Open Prison, Kent, yesterday. Paul Johnson (right, in country clothes) has his arm on Aitken's shoulder. Reports last week queried the former cabinet minister's mental health, but they remain unconfirmed. No? All right, it's HM The Queen and her aide de camp, Cdre D'Ale Wynton (backs to camera), putting residents of the Grimoopnawth housing estate completely at their ease, God bless 'ER. Actually, it's a tour guide in Jaffa with a statue of the late French dictator. It is. AP