White lines ... baa baa black sheep ... coffee slug

Captain Moonlight
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The Independent Online
Poop, Poop! Motoring News With The Captain. And I must say I was delighted with this idea from John Butcher, the Tory MP, for jugglers and acrobats to be used on motorway central reservations to entertain motorists during jams. Cheering up the motorway has been an enthusiasm of mine for years, although, for the tiniest example, a typical lack of vision at the Department of Transport continues to thwart my proposal to present "The Ancient Mariner" written line by line on successive bridges round the M25. As usual, they handle these things much better in India. I well remember many an entertaining roadside safety slogan, including, on the road up to Darjeeling, you know the twisty one with the little railway beside it, "Better A Late Mister Than The Late Mister". Whatever, word reached me last week of plans that would really take the boredom out of motoring in this island: the European Commission (Transport Commissioner, N Kinnock) was said to be pondering the ultimate harmonisation: changing us over from the left to the right. It is, I must say, difficult to get through to Mr Kinnock's spokespeople; but when I did, they told me this was just one of those completely scandalous rumours people are always making up about Brussels. I should have known, really.

n BBRRNNGG! It is Atkinson, my man inside the Department of Trade. He has exciting, even disturbing, news from Wandsworth, in south-west London, site of the department's file store, where, Atkinson tells me, they have just planted 30 trees. I tell Atkinson that while this might pass for hot news in his circles, my readers are rather more demanding and discerning. But then Atkinson tells me what kind of trees they are: Redwoods. Significant, I have to agree, obvious coded message. But, I go on to wonder, what kind of Redwoods are they? "Vigorous growth, Captain, with upward sloping branches," says Atkinson. But are they Californian Redwoods, the ones that can grow over 300 feet tall? "Well, they're up to 10 feet already," says Atkinson. I replace the receiver tremulously, a vision forming of the whole of south London in shade as far away as Purley, Catford and Cheam. The photographs are, I think, self-explanatory.

Brace yourselves: there are reports of man-eating sheep on the Brecon Beacons. No, no, it's true. Up there, at 3,000 feet, the sheep are turning nasty. They are attacking hikers and stealing food from their rucksacks. This worrying development is a result of people feeding them crisps and the like. Now, the sheep are coming to get the grub for themselves. They climb up your legs and look in your pockets. The savaging of a hiker caught with empty pockets after lunch cannot be far away, even if the National Farmers' Union does say it has never heard of a sheep biting anyone. The name of Geoffrey Howe is much mentioned for some reason. The Captain says: take care out there, and if you hear a baa, leg it quick!

Pursuing captainly interests, I was leafing through Malcolm Brown's excellent Imperial War Museum Book of the Somme when my good eye was caught by a reference to an officer in the Royal Garrison Artillery by name of Lieutenant Blackadder. I telephoned Mr Brown, who was anxious to stress that this Lieutenant Blackadder, judging from his diaries, was neither cynical nor craven, but a solid and at times quite sensitive artilleryman who lasted right through Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele as well. His diaries were bequeathed to the museum by a brother officer, together with some photographs. But there is no way of identifying which is Blackadder, and there is no record of what happened to him after 1919. Only his initials are known: R J. No, Mr Brown has no record of a Private Baldrick.

Sponsorship news. Well, chums, mixed news this week. So far, we've had an offer of drink, books, and some rather fancy glasses. But, I am afraid, we have all been deeply, deeply insulted by Horlicks. Horlicks, you will recall, was selected as an ideal sponsor for this column. So I wrote to them. And now they have replied. And do you know what they say? They say this column doesn't "fit with Horlicks' brand positioning"! The cheek! Friends, readers, colleagues and comrades, your course is clear: Ovaltine. Elsewhere, this newspaper has been in receipt of an entertaining fax from the Lynne Franks PR agency, telling us that they represent a brand of fancy French coffee and that Bastille Day is coming up. What we should do, they suggest, is write an article about French people living in Britain that mentions the brand "subtly (if there is such a way)" in the text. They then, helpfully, provide a paragraph to insert in the article. Lynne Franks, let us put this subtly (if there is such a way): Maxwell House!

So, this millennium celebration at Greenwich is going ahead, despite my exclusive revelation ages ago that they did nothing special in 1000, apart from that bit of a riot by worried peasants near Dijon recorded by Ralph the Bald, the well-known chronicler. But, to return, reluctantly, to the present: the decision to go ahead is a triumph for Michael Heseltine, who stepped in so gallantly to rescue the floundering and reclusive Heritage Secretary, the one with the similar hairstyle whose name has temporarily escaped me. But beware, First Secretary. I have to tell you there are a couple of worrying omens. The first is that the name of one of the security guards at the site is Napoleon. It is. The second is that a copy of the Heseltinian Mein Kampf, the aptly titled Where There's A Will, is currently featuring in the window of Greenwich Book Time, reduced from pounds 5.99 to 99p. Next!

NAMES. Last week I noted that the name of the father of the England footballing brothers, the Nevilles, is Neville Neville, and that the Bishop of Durham's address is "Durham. Durham. Durham". Now Mr Willis of Stalybridge has written in to say that when he was a student at Newcastle University in the early 1970s he had a friend called David Hadfield, whose address was Hadfield Road, Hadfield, Derbys. Remarkable. Thank you, Mr Willis.

Limelight and Moonlight: news, views and celebrity sightings from the world of that fickle, demanding but life-enhancing mistress, Showbiz. And I should tell you that Pat Boone is reported to be recording an album of heavy metal music entitled Pat Boone In A Metal Mood. Celebrity sightings: no news from the nation's supermarkets this week (do try to keep your eyes open out there, please). But Mr Douch of Wellingborough was motoring through Thaxted the other Sunday on his way back from a wedding on the Kentish coast when his sister-in-law identified, just from the back view, Ian Hislop, who was making a television film. Mr Douch stopped to watch and was invited by one of the programme makers to gather around Mr Hislop. "I was thus enabled," writes Mr Douch, "to touch the back of Mr Hislop's head - a moment to remember and treasure." Thank you, Mr Douch.

Royalists! Splendid news! As I predicted, the arch and interminable republican, Prof Stephen Haseler, has been found guilty of treason! Sadly, it was merely a mock trial, on television, but I am glad to report no hesitation by the jury, despite the insidiously beguiling but tragically misplaced eloquence of his chief witness, The Editor of This Newspaper. We shall triumph yet!

My photograph illustrates that compromise, the much-maligned but instinctive English skill, can triumph even at that uncomfortable point where Art meets Digestion. Come with the Captain to last week's Royal Academy Summer Ball, to Gallery VIII, and to the table of patrons placed immediately beneath Exhibit 1045, as you can see, a particularly striking reclining nude by George Sweet, priced at pounds 9,000. Barely had the hors- d'oeuvres hit the damask before a member of the party at the table, an aristocratic scion, summoned a waiter and asked for some Blu-Tack. This was brought and the effect I reproduce achieved with the aid of table linen. The evening then proceeded happily. You may see this as an act of sexist vandalism; the Captain thinks it, in its own way, displays that particular type of delicacy for which the English are also renowned. Indeed, I also admire the strength of the aristocratic constitution: they managed with just the one napkin; I had to put the ones on the left up as well.

The Captain's Catch-up Service

WELCOME to the news review that takes you to the foot of your stairs ... A Timothy Chinnick, 42, a ratcatcher, was fined pounds 60 by magistrates at North Avon for speeding on the way to his first emergency call ... Police marksmen backed up by a helicopter surrounded a Kurdish community centre in north London after a group of armed and uniformed men were seen entering it. They were, in fact, members of Yeni Yasam (New Life) theatre company rehearsing their production of Harold Pinter's Mountain Language ... A bride's father was so furious at the groom for turning up late for the wedding that he married his daughter off to another of the guests instead in Al Buzin, South Yemen ... A world record string of 1,560 bulbs of garlic measuring 123 feet has been set up on the pier at Hastings. It beats a 78ft 4in Canadian effort ... Three Whitbread employees were sacked after coming to blows and throwing beer as they relaxed after a bar behavioural skills seminar, the Appeal Court heard.