GLOBETROTTER

Mr. Wakibaki and The Wombats at Number Six

This is the time of year when the professional Formula 1 travellers begin to get twitchy. It has been a long year with 11 races in 22 weeks and people are getting tired. And it will not feel like we are in the home stretch until Monza in mid-September when Europe will be finished and we will be off on the aeroplanes again to the United States and the Far East.

The reason that F1 people are twitchy is not because of the constant slog of keeping up with the World Championship nor even because of the miserable weather that Europe has been suffering in the summer of 2000. It is because the rest of the world is now on holiday and we are not only jealous but travelling is much more difficult. Everything takes twice as long as normal. It is that time of year when one encounters people trying to board aeroplanes without first checking in; when airport concourses blocked by people in silly hats, lugging home souvenirs.

There are busloads of Japanese who are not quite sure in which city they are but are busy nonetheless buying every conceivable piece of garbage on offer in the airport shops.

Everywhere there are cute little children being decidedly "un-cute" with the modern equivalent of the bucket and spade and on the planes young parents discovering the hard way that pushchairs do not fit into overhead lockers. The stewardesses are so fed up that rather than saying "Hello, how are you?" all they can manage is "Chicken or Beef" or "Tea or Coffee"

You cannot go anywhere without falling over a smelly rucksack full of unwashed, fortnight-old socks. You are forever being run into by people who do not understand the vehicle dynamics of the luggage trolley and you go mad with the tannoy which in every airport seems to be calling for the same missing passenger, who has a ridiculous name like "Takako Wakibaki" and who is urgently required to go immediately at Gate 45 where his flight is ready to depart.

Grand Prix people are not by nature a patient group. They do not like to wait for things to happen. The grab and they scream. This is why they are successful in the F1 world. This means that by the end of July you soon begin to hear F1 people muttering about the need for a good war.

This may sound a little bit radical but there is very sound logic to the argument. When there are little wars taking place normal people get worried. They do not go on holiday. Instead they dig up the vegetable patch to build bomb shelters and stock these uncomfortable places with tins of baked beans. People are far too worried about terrorist bombs and ground-to-air missiles to buy aeroplane tickets.

This means that the number of airline passengers drops dramatically. Airlines and travel agents do not get the business they are used to having and that means that they quickly begun to undercut one another in an effort to grab the remaining customers. This means that not only do prices dive but planes are empty and the remaining passengers are treated well. Yes, wars are a good thing for the professional traveller.

It is actually much the same story with coups d'etat. The minute people read that there is a coup d'etat in Bongo-Bongo Land they immediately cancel their beach holiday in the sun. This means that the hoteliers quickly begin to feel the pinch. Suddenly they need any business they can get. Soon the prices begin to go down as the hotel owners try to grab the few available travellers.

Adventure holidays are all the rage - or so it said in an in-flight magazine I was reading the other day. People no longer want to go to Majorca to lie on the beach. Nowadays they want to go rafting on the Orinoco or glacier-skiing in Alaska. This gives people something to talk about when they stumble home after their fortnight of adventure.

There has always been a certain competition between those who live in the same neighborhood to see who can have the most impressive holiday.

"Darling," the wife will say on a cold wintry night. "We simply must keep up with Mr. and Mrs. Wombat at number six. They went marlin-fishing in Botswana this year. All we ever do is go to Cleethorpes. Couldn't we go to Buenos Aires and learn how to dance the tango or something?"

"Yes dear."

I am not a great holiday-maker. When it is time to take a holiday I try to stay at home and take to my hammock with a bottle of red and a Raymond Chandler (although it is always the blonde who did it). However, over the years I have had one or two quite interesting holidays. The best, without a question of doubt, was my holiday in a coup d'etat.

If you happen to be reading the newspaper and see that there has been a coup d'etat my advice is to hail a taxi and head for the nearest airport to get the first flight to wherever the trouble is happening. In most countries the locals are far too busy watching television during a coup to go out and do anything so there is nothing much happening except in the immediate vicinity of the palace or parliament building. Obviously there are one or two places which should be given health warnings as fundamentalist lunatics with knives and nooses can seriously damage your health but in most places (particularly sunny ones) coups do not amount to much. One elite replaces another and everyone else has a few days at home watching CNN.

A few years ago I happened to have some time to spare when there was a coup in Fiji and so I jumped on a plane and flew to Nadi (pronounced Nandy) for a holiday. It was marvellous. It cost next to nothing because the hotels accepted whatever money you offered them and as there were no other people the service was exceptional. There may have been a curfew but what difference does it make when you are on an small island without roads which one can circumnavigate on foot in 10 minutes.

In addition to this there was a very special feeling among the guests because in times of crisis people are always more open and more friendly. The four guests in the 200-room luxury hotel had a splendid time. There was much singing in the bar.

The British - the nation which dominates the F1 world - have a phrase for this increased sense of togetherness in times of crisis. It is called "The Dunkirk Spirit" and is named after one of those wonderful military disasters which the British somehow manage to turn into a victory: the evacuation in Dunkirk in 1940 was the ultimate humiliation and yet it is remembered as a triumph; the Charge of the Light Brigade was a fearful screw-up and yet it is now the epitome of glorious actions.

This year it seems to me there is a kind of Dunkirk Spirit in the Formula 1 paddock. It is a long hard slog through the Formula 1 season. There is a race every two weeks (which means that one leaves home every 10 days. In previous years there was always at least one three-week break, usually two and so there was a feeling that one was getting a little extra time. There are very few people who can easily miss a race. Some team managers and engineers go from race to test to race to test. They never go home for more than a day at a time. Drivers work hard but then they get paid such vast amounts of money that no-one feels sorry of them. They can get their rest when they retire with their millions.

The modern F1 calendar is decided upon by people who do not have to do all the travelling. They do not care if it makes life difficult for those who do all the races. It is not going to change because they want as many races as they can get and it is impossible to move the TV facilities from place to place in less than 10 days and so everyone is condemned to a never-ending 34-week season.

And, ironically, it seems to me that while people are more tired than they have been in previous years, there has developed amongst the F1 regulars a stronger sense of togetherness - an esprit de corps if you like.

Or perhaps I should say an "esprit de coup".

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