EFF ONE

Christmas comes, but once a year is enough as far as I am concerned and my plan for Yuletide 2004 was to dodge the jollity and spend my well-earned cash on a Christmas-avoidance holiday with Mrs Eff and one of the Effing offspring. The goal was to lie on the beach, sipping on some fruity cocktail, and watch Mrs Eff frolicking in the surf in the hope that a shark might swim by and take a fancy to her.

And so to Mexico: Hola chiquita!

Nothing much happened in the Formula 1 world after the cars stopped running in mid-December and so as I headed for the airport the only story of note was Ralf Schumacher's plan to open a chain of sex shops in Eastern Europe. It seemed to me a good idea because when your manager is called "Willy Webber" there would seem to be some potential for F1-themed sex toys, although perhaps it might have been better if Ralf had stayed at Williams as team mate to Mark Webber. Ralfie was also getting a lot of extra column inches thanks to his wife Cora, who got the German press highly excited by suggesting that Ralf drives like a girl. It sounded a bit hard. When I started to think about it, however, I concluded that this was probably part of the sex shop concept as it would be entirely logical that one of the lines of merchandise in the Ralf Slap and Tickle Emporium should be Hard Cora-branded sex toys. Just what one needs to get a little titillation in the Balkans. In the end however Ralfie shelved his plans, apparently after a German comedian (surely an oxymoron there?) poked fun at the project.

By the time I came back from Mexico nothing much had changed. The big news was a claim that half the Formula 1 drivers need cocaine to get them to the first corner. I was most surprised by this (no-one ever offered me any) but I guess that explains why the FIA stewards are always penalising drivers for touching the white lines at the end of the pit lane. Whatever the case the drugs tests in F1 have never revealed anything apart from the fact that some of the F1 stars cannot pee on demand.

So with nothing to write about I was able to enjoy that weird thing which people call "a normal life". Boarding a plane which was not bound for a race track was definitely a novel experience and I had to repress all my usual habits: consuming the entire contents of the drinks trolley, chatting up the stewardesses and so on. Still, it was good to see fellow passengers who were actually looking forward to their trip rather than dealing with the battle hardened Grinches of the F1 world. Grumpy faces on F1 planes will become an even more familiar sight in 2005 as we cram 19 races into the same timeframe we had for 18 races this year.

The new race in 2005 is to be in Turkey, a country which is famous only for inventing the flat cigarette. The Turks are looking forward to the arrival of F1 dollars and I was delighted (if a little perturbed) to discover while surfing the Web for an affordable hotel that the main selling point in all the 5 star establishments in Istanbul is good security: the hotels have regular baggage searches and have installed double doors for extra security. I first experienced these anti-bomb devices in the early days of my motor sport career when working on rallies in Northern Ireland. To this day, I can still hear the "click, whirr, bang, ouch!" sequence as the inner sliding doors opened and closed on my head after I failed to negotiate the hazard after a good night out on the town.

Ah, the good old days, when the F1 paddock used to be a place of fun and laughter, with silly stunts and motorhome parties. Nowadays it is all work, work, work. Let us hope that we get a season of thrilling races because otherwise I am really not sure how we are all going to stay awake on those long sunny Sunday afternoons.

Still, this was not a problem I pondered much about in Mexico where things went swimmingly after a rather worrying start. The manager had directed us to our billet and was busy pointing out the advantages of the annex accommodation, arguing that it was much nicer than the normal rooms in the main hotel building, when I am afraid I lost my temper. "It has far more rustic charm," he pleaded as I pulled myself up to my full height and ranted about the lack of a bath tub and insisted that we be re-housed. Perhaps 2004 years ago Joseph the carpenter was a little more easygoing and content to hang out in the stable with sweet little Mary, but I was not.

Afterwards things calmed down and I really enjoyed the evenings when The Eff Family Swingers became involved with conversations around the dinner table about subjects which were completely unrelated to Formula 1. The best evening was when we shared a Japanese meal around one of those cook-before-your-eyes affairs with a geriatric Spanish princess, her incredibly attractive daughter (who accounted for the soy sauce stains on my shirt and a sore shin courtesy of Mrs Eff) and two Russian-born New York mademoiselles who said they were travel agents and appeared to be using their hotel room as an office. The odd thing was that they were obviously not very good at selling tickets as all of their clients kept coming back.

Conversations with the locals proved to be a little more difficult as I speak no Spanish but, as always when abroad, I was able to rely on my well-thumbed copy of "Miss Piggy's Guide to Life". Wanting a piece of chocolate cake, I simply read from this Muppet classic: "Personality who bringulates the munchables, if it does you please, transportez to moi's tablette one gigantical smitherinee de that chocolate cakefication avec as immense a velocite as possible."

This seemed to work fine and I am now confident that when we get a 20th race in 2006 I am ready for anything that Mexico can throw at me.

So, all that remains is for me to wish you all a Happy New Year, although I realise this only applies to those who live by the usual calendar. The Chinese and others will have to wait for whenever their lunar calendar decrees the New Year to have begun.

The big advantage, I always say, is that our calendar solar. That means you never need to change the batteries.

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