GLOBETROTTER

Accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative...

You have to feel sorry for Giancarlo Fisichella. All he has to do at the moment is go near a racing car and it will immediately park itself in a barrier or turn upside-down and leave "Fizzy" crawling from the wreckage. Each accident adds bruises to his bruises. A few months ago it was Michael Schumacher who could do no right. Every time he went towards the first corner in a race someone would drive into him (which probably made it more interesting for him as he is usually trying to drive into others).

They say that there are when it rains, that it pours.

It is a melancholy reality in life that when things go wrong the disasters often happen in sequence. If the washing machine falls apart you can be quite sure that it will not be long before the toaster catches fire and the cat pees into the video machine. When you get into a series of such disasters all you can really do is laugh about it. In the words of Bing Crosby: "You've got to accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative. Latch on to the affirmative. Don't mess with Mister In-Between."

Of course, it is easier sung that done.

On my flight home from the Belgian Grand Prix the stewardess was doling out breakfast trays when she contrived to drop a small quantity of water on to the keyboard of my laptop computer as I was battering away, finishing my post-Grand Prix work. The computer did not fizz nor flame. It just died. What can you do? They do not let you take Samurai swords on aeroplanes these days and so there was no way I could behead the silly girl. I could perhaps have stabbed her with a plastic knife or bludgeoned her to death with a Sabena croissant but I controlled myself.

She was very sorry, of course, and her colleagues in the flight crew were very keen to help. They gave me all the right forms to fill out and looked up the name of the local Sabena representative. They even gave me a bottle of champagne to try to cheer me up. And then I got off the plane and found that the representative had been posted to Malawi and had not been replaced. No-one wanted to know about a blown-up computer. The best thing I could do, I was told, would be to ring head office in Brussels and get lost in the telephone system.

What a shame about your deadlines, they said. But what can we do? It's lunch time.

It was then that they told me that normally they do not pay more than $400 for any damaged luggage. Oh, I said, the computer cost about five times that. Well, you can try, they said, and you never know in about six months something may happen.

And so I went home and cobbled together the articles as best I could, using the desktop computer. A new laptop was organised from the United States. No problem. This was entrusted to the people of Federal Express, who use their Formula 1 sponsorship of Ferrari as means of promoting an image of speed, efficiency and high technology.

There was a whole week to spare before I would have to depart for Monza. Everything would be all right.

But the computer became stuck in customs and after being detained for four days the computer was liberated - and then the people from Federal Express lost it.

As the clock ticked towards the hour of my departure for Monza, I was becoming rather agitated. Talking to people at Federal Express was a worthless exercise because all they could do was shrug down the telephone. No wonder Ferrari is struggling to be competitive, I said. I expect that all the new parts are FedEx-ed to the race team and so end up in Namibia in the cargo hold of a Sabena jet.

And, as I was ranting and raving down the phone, I was foolishly copying the data from my desktop onto a zip disc to take to Monza so I could load it on to a borrowed computer. Distracted, I pressed the wrong button and wiped out all my work for a fortnight. Waltzing close to the edge of sanity (the scream must have been quite blood-chilling), I shut down the desktop with a hefty blow to the keyboard, I slammed shut the office door and went to find a copy of Thomas the Tank Engine to calm myself by reading it to my son. After a few moments he jumped up in a moment of excitement (James the Red Engine had crashed) and he fell over a cushion and kicked me between the legs.

"But I didn't do it on purpose, Daddy," he cried, as I sucked in air.

And then the dog threw up...

When I had stopped weeping I began to accentuate the positive (and so on) and I realised that I was off to Monza and that, I have found over the years, cures most things. Monza is a sort of motor racing version of Lourdes and is worth a pilgrimage. It is, I always feel, a little bit like going to the Grand Canyon because when you stand on the edge of that great big hole in the ground all of life's little problems - like Sabena and Federal Express - fade into total insignificance and one can get things into perspective.

Monza is not the Grand Canyon but it is still a great place to go if you are a racing fan. It is the cathedral of motor racing and one walks in the Monza park with a sense of reverence.

And to go from Monza to Indianapolis is also something to look forward to. At the moment everyone in Grand Prix racing is excited about going to Indy and seeing what the Americans will make of modern Grand Prix racing. Everything has been sold out and you cannot get a hotel room within 50 miles of Indianapolis (so if you are planning a spontaneous weekend shopping trip give it a miss). The new road track is impressive and now it is down to whether or not the right chemistry will happen between the Old World and the New World.

One fact which has been forgotten by many is that Monza and Indianapolis are not just evocative names and places. They are, in fact, the two oldest surviving permanent racing circuits in the world: Indianapolis Motor Speedway was pre-dated only by Brooklands and opened in 1908 while Monza dates from 1922.

And before anyone writes in to complain I accept that there were races on the Milwaukee Mile as early as 1903 but the circuit was not really a permanent racing circuit as it was a dirt track which was shared between horse and racing cars into the 1920s. The infield was also used an a football field and was regularly used by the Green Bay Packers. Milwaukee did not really become a permanent racing facility until the track was paved in 1954.

The thing about the two great speedways is that even if you do not know the history of a place, you can feel it. There is something supernatural about such places, as though the events that have taken place there have, somehow, got into the walls. People often talk about the ghosts of Monza and it is referred to as "la pista magica" (the magical race track). And it is a bit the same in Indianapolis. They have not always been happy places but there is something special about them which time has left behind. Is it hopes? Is it dreams? Who can say? But for me at least it as magical as the world where Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends inhabit.

So who cares about the wombats of Sabena and Federal Express.

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