EFF ONE

23 December 2002

There has been lots of talk this year about Formula 1 being in crisis, but currently I am more concerned with my annual crisis of getting through the forthcoming festive season while avoiding my relatives.

I have sought advice by checking out the self-help section in my Public Library but to little avail. Some guy called Albert Einstein wrote a tome devoted to the theory of relatives, but as the snappily titled "E=MC squared" made as much sense as a statement from Michelin's F1 supremo Pierre Dupasquier, I had to look elsewhere.

Of course, Dupasquier cannot help making barmy statements, including the fact that this year's Michelin tires were better than the Bridgestones, even though they only won two Grands Prix. The problem is that he is French and is therefore simply following a long Gallic tradition of spouting forth non-sequiturs in the finest tradition of Marie Antoinette's "Let them eat cake" and General de Gaulle's amazing "Europe is me." Closer to F1 matters, one might add Alain Prost's claims that he could run a Grand Prix team or even former FIA President Jean-Marie Balestre's observation that his most prized possession is his lawn mower (or the "coup de grace" as they call it in French.)

Failing to find inspiration in the library on the subject of relative avoidance, I had considered feigning illness and taking to my bed to watch television until I remembered that British television is currently blighted with a rash of "Reality TV" programs which work on the simple principle of employing dim members of the public to compete against one another to become pop stars. This is cheap to produce but the novelty value may now be wearing thin as the BBC recently suffered plummeting ratings with a tedious show called "Fame Academy".

I note with interest that our sport's governing body has decided to go down the same route, having just announced the "FIA Academy." Thankfully, the FIA version, which plans to award honors for promotion of road safety, protection of the environment and substantial contribution to international motorsport, does not involve any half-baked musical efforts. The idea of tuning in to watch Eddie Jordan playing the drums, Mercedes's Norbert Haug playing his collection of Kinks records or Eddie Irvine playing the field as usual, does not bear thinking about.

If the FIA Academy had been up and running this year, then I'm sure Alex Yoong would have got the road safety award, as he spent very little time actually driving on the road. As for protecting the environment, it's a close run thing between Mercedes and Honda, which both selflessly saved fossil fuels by retiring before the end of as many Grands Prix as possible. Ferrari certainly get no prizes in this category, as the mere sight of two red cars on the front row of the grid was enough to send all the tea-drinking F1 fans in the world into the kitchen to switch on their kettles, thus wasting precious electrical resources.

As for the award for the substantial contribution to international motorsport, my vote would go to the anti-tobacco advertising lobby. Any organization that ensures we no longer have to visit a windswept World War II aerodrome in England or a rain lashed forest in Belgium deserves recognition in my book.

My thoughts turned to where the cigarette money will go once it is no longer welcome at the races. As I ploughed through the TV film listings for Christmas it dawned on me that tobacco advertising is still the norm in British cinemas and so we can expect a host of tobacco-backed remakes of famous movies. Science fiction types would be standing in long lines to "Tar Wars" while other genres would be represented by such classics as "The Lung Goodbye", "Reservoir Dog Ends", "Cheroots of Fire", "El Cig" and "The Magnificent Mild Seven" not to mention that great Vietnam War classic "Full Menthol Packet."

And what Christmas schedule would be complete without Julie Andrews warbling in "The Sound of Mucous""?

With all this talk of avoiding the festivities, I wouldn't want you to think I am not getting into the Christmas spirit. In fact, I am about to head off and take part in that well known seasonal tradition of finding a parking space at the shopping center. While the Three Wise Men had a star to guide them in their search for a tethering post for their camels, I go through the modern day ritual of following the heavily laden shopper back to her (it's usually a woman) parking space. In an ideal world, these women would have a sign round their necks saying, "My car is a mile away from the shops and you'd do better to go home and come back by taxi." It is essential to carry out this operation like a sheep dog worrying sheep, with the front of your car nudging her ankles. Otherwise other motorists will try and intercept "your" shopper. When you finally get to her car, parked in a part of town where the other cars appear to have stacks of bricks where the wheels ought to be, she might try and indicate that she is only dropping off her first load of Christmas parcels before heading back to the shops. Much revving of the engine and the donning of a Hannibal Lecter mask should see her off. Unfortunately, it is then that you then discover she is driving one of those silly little city cars and once you have parked, you realize you cannot open the doors and have to hail a passing pedestrian to open the trunk so that you can crawl out.

Still, it's all worth it when you see the look on the faces of your nearest and dearest as they unwrap their gifts on Xmas morn. And if you've forgotten what you bought them, you can always refresh your memory when the gifts turn up at the local garage sale a few weeks later. If you can buy them again at a knock-down price you can hand them over again the following year.

Let us end the year with a Christmas cookery tip. When you head for the butcher's shop to pick up a turkey please remember that, unlike the bumper sticker which informs you that "A dog is for life, not just for Christmas," a turkey is supposed to be just for Christmas, not for life…

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