When the jackets come off ... G'day Tony ... royal warning

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The Independent Online
I AM NOT, as you know, a man to get my leg over a high horse. Clinical, dispassionate, just occasionally wearily amused, that's the Captain's game. But I must say that the prominence given last week to the decision by the Travellers' Club to allow its members to dispense with jackets because of the heat seemed to me to be outrageously out of proportion. Everyone knows that the Travellers has been going to the dogs for years, and that this is precisely the sort of behaviour you would expect from a club whose membership seems to be composed entirely of journalists and civil servants pretending to be spies. A gentleman does not remove his jacket from the time he leaves his dressing-room until the time he re-enters it. Indeed, I think it safe to say that my children have never seen me without a jacket. Consider, too, the other backsliders: the Beefsteak, full of right-wing Sunday newspaper journalists of uncertain origin; the Savile, where Stephen Fry is a member; the Carlton, home of Tory MPs, where you can take your jacket off in "the private room", something one has come to regard as inevitable with Tory MPs and articles of clothing; and the Royal Air Force Club, where, and I quote, "smart casual" is allowed. Oh, dear. Let me tell you a story. During the last war, in the Western desert, the Captain's father was invited to the nearby mess of an Indian Army detachment. The mess was in a tent. The plates were laid for the principal bit of tucker. The officer commanding touched his. "These plates," he barked, "are cold."

n I CAME across my arresting photograph (below) in a new magazine called Learner Driver. It was used to illustrate an article on the danger to wildlife from inconsiderate driving, and pretty vivid it is, I think you will agree. I was hoping against hope that it was a posed photograph, entailing the use of a previously stuffed red squirrel, but, sadly, a jovial man at Learner Driver informed that this was not, in fact, the case. So, please, keep your eyes peeled out there.

MEANWHILE, the Captain has some information of immense significance concerning Tony Blair, who is, as you read, a guest of his new friend, Rupert Murdoch, on a small island off Australia. The information: Rupert has turned down Tony's invitation to be Secretary of State for National Heritage in the next Labour administration. No, that was a joke. The real griff, I am here to reveal, is that Tony spent part of his early childhood in Australia, in Adelaide, between the ages of two and five, when his father was lecturing at the university there. Now you do not need me to tell you how crucial those early years are in the formation of character, which explains Tony's colourful, terse way with language and his penchant for cold lager and dirty jokes. And the curious accent, which I had always assumed was vaguely Scottish; and the smile, obviously a result of all that squinting into the sun.

n TALKING about Australia reminds me that you are hankering to know what happened between Nicholas Soames, the defence minister, and the bottle of Australian sparkling. This was sent to him by the Yalumba people after he was particularly disparaging about the digger bubbles when invited in the House of Commons to join the anti-nuclear-testing French boycott and toast his master's election success with it rather than champagne. Well, he got it, there's a suspicion that he tasted it, but no report back. Some nonsense about being too busy. Don't do it if you're going to be rude, as Grandmother Moonlight used to say, a touch peevishly. I, for my part, have now banned myself from whistling "La Vie En Rose" (much praised for its intense, warbling quality) and am point-blank refusing to let Citroens out into traffic.

LISTEN, while I remember, I've got one of those exclusive thingies. Oh, yes. John Major is not going to Portugal for his holidays this year. Oh, no. He and Norma are off, I understand, to the Dordogne and a villa. Very middle class, John. Next you'll be arriving in Downing Street with a Labrador and one of those four-wheel-drive efforts.

n YES, YES, of course I was at the Rolling Stones concert, we all were. Great, great, marvellous for their age, should all be knighted, older than the average member of the Cabinet, you know, Jagger's brilliant, always has been, but street fighting man, do me a favour, it's all Lord's and Lords now. Anyway, I looked around me and it was a sea of miming middle-agers singing along and jiggling a bit. Except for Tom Stoppard, whose hips and lips never moved once, not even during "Satisfaction". Tom, call me.

YOU KNOW, if I were that Nick Leeson chap, the man in the frame over the Barings collapse, I shouldn't be that keen on doing my time in Britain rather than Singapore. The problem is that pressure groups dedicated to improving prison conditions here - the Prison Reform Trust, for example - used to get quite a lot of help from the Baring Foundation, most of which went down the swanny along with the other billions he is alleged to have been so effective in losing. So if he does get here, he will probably find everyone back in arrows.

n THERE ARE, of course, penalties in being a public figure. Constant recognition can be a little tiresome (and often causes quite a hold-up in the supermarket check-out queue, let me tell you). I suppose I could dispense with the top hat and cape, but I am what I am. What makes it all worthwhile are the privileges that go with this job. People tell me things. Kirklees Metropolitan Council has just been in touch to tell me that they are putting on a "soiree'' this Saturday, featuring "fruit punch, poems and tranquillity" in the gardens of Red House, Oxford Road, Gomersal, which is in Yorkshire, near Cleckheaton, on the way to Heckmondwike. Thank you, I hope everybody has a splendid time. Then Mr Searson, of Portsmouth, wrote in to say that the Co-Op Funeral Directors were putting on their Come Into The Parlour exhibition at the Havant Show today. Mr Searson provides a brochure which tells me that the exhibition is in its third, "and probably most exciting", year. On display will be 10 coffins and an extended range of mortuary fashion "all tailor-made including rear velcro fastenings to ease dressing within a coffin ... the basic design has been changed to represent a suit or a dress, depending upon the preferences of the client". Thank you, Mr Searson.

WELL, YES, I know you can't get the staff these days, that she paid pounds 84.8m in tax last year, and that she's down to her last pounds 450m, but I must say that I really don't expect to go to a Buckingham Palace garden party and have to avoid stepping into dog droppings. Doesn't Her Majesty know that the Independent on Sunday is running a campaign against this sort of thing? Although no expert in these matters, I am willing to wager that, judging by contour and consistency, it was corgi. Captain's counsel: if you are going, I should avoid any of that walking backwards in the Queen's presence.

Hugh Grant (extreme right) and Liz Hurley (extreme left) being interviewed on the top-rated coast-to-coast US chat show, Underwater Tonight With Captain Nemo (centre). Grant and Hurley were in, as you can see, bubbling form, joining Nemo in a stomping version of "The Sash My Father Wore". Ms Hurley's skin-tight outfit was designed by John "Ten" Galliano. Put under fierce pressure by Nemo, Grant agreed that he was amazingly lucky to have Ms Hurley and a new film to publicise. No, of course, it isn't: it's (from left) John Major, Raymond Illingworth, and Michael Atherton, with bats, inspecting the pitch for the fourth test at Old Trafford, the first concrete result of the Prime Minister's initiative to produce more sporting British winners. Give in? All right, it's the Snorkelling Elvises, down deep off Key West, Florida, USA, taking part in an Underwater Music Festival, giving "In The Grotto" their all. Photograph: REUTER

The Captain's catch-up Service

JOIN ME now on our weekly ramble around the super information byways ... A policeman set off a major alert over a boy "who'd been knocked to the ground and had his testicles licked" after mishearing a call about the boy's ball "being nicked" in Milton Keynes ... A burglar was accused of an extra charge of theft when a Belgian police prosecutor realised the man was wearing his missing jacket during a trial in Bruges ... Forty Swiss psychics on a package tour round Britain failed to foresee that there would not be enough hotel beds for them in Devizes ... Ralph Fiennes, playing Hamlet on Broadway, emoted "Alas", and then paused, dramatically, but rather too lengthily for a lady in the 15th row who shouted "Poor Yorick" ... "Clinton" has been banned as a Christian name for Kenyans ... Japanese tourists to Britain are causing traffic chaos by stopping their cars and looking for the scenic view when they see signs signifying police anti-speeding cameras ... A wife who took exception to her husband's hobby of racing pigeons burnt down his pigeon loft and served up three of the pigeons roasted when he came home to Breda, Holland.


REJOICE: The Israelites were extremely happy when the waters of the Red Sea parted, allowing them to escape from the Pharaoh's pursuing horde; there was also much cheering at David's remarkable victory against Goliath; the Prodigal Son's father was overjoyed at his son's return, others, including the fatted calf, were less enthusiastic. The English broke out the bunting when Ethelred paid the Danes money to go away; unfortunately, they came back. Christendom erupted with relief when Don John of Austria threw the Turks back at Lepanto in 1571. British church bells have rung out to celebrate such happy events as Agincourt, the defeat of the Armada, Waterloo, and the marriage of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson. Margaret Thatcher urged us to "Rejoice, rejoice", after we recaptured South Georgia in 1981. And now, hallelujah, Channel 4 has announced there will be no more editions of The Word.

TODAY is the feast day of St Helier of Jersey, a 6th-century hermit who gave his name to the island's chief town. Born in Belgium, he was taught Christianity there by a priest called Cunibert, who, for his troubles, was murdered by Helier's father, a heathen. Helier fled to Normandy, where he received further instruction in the faith. Eventually, he decided to lead a life of solitude and chose for his home a cave on the coast of Jersey, where he met his death at the hands of pirates whom he attempted to convert to Christianity.

16 July, 1557: Anne of Cleves (above), the fourth wife of King Henry VIII, died. After the death of Jane Seymour, Anne, daughter of John Duke of Cleves, the leading German Protestant prince, seemed to Thomas Cromwell an exceedingly eligible proposition for Henry. There were, though, drawbacks: she spoke, wrote and read no English; had no interest in music and spent most of her time at needlework. And then there were her looks, doubts about which Cromwell chose to ignore. A portrait was requested. Her brother- in-law pretended his court painter, Lucas Cranach, was ill. So Henry sent Holbein, with the famous, flattering result. Anne arrived in Rochester on New Year's Eve, 1539. Henry was not impressed; the legend of "The Flanders Mare" was born. The marriage was doomed, as was Cromwell. It was dissolved; he was executed. Anne stayed in England and was given a fine funeral by Elizabeth I.