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A winter's tale

William Shakespeare wrote one or two memorable stage directions in his plays, but the two most famous appear in the same work: A Winter's Tale. In this one character is directed to "Exit, pursued by a bear" and then halfway through, when The Bard wanted to move the action along rather quickly, he wrote simply "Enter Time" and in the space of one speech he transported the story on by 16 years - and moved the action from Sicily to Bohemia.

Time is one thing that is never in plentiful supply for people in Formula 1. The F1 season has not yet started but that does not mean that we are sitting at home doing nothing.

Fortunately, the urge to travel is never subdued for long. Perhaps I was born under the influence of some magical wandering star; perhaps the nomadic blood of my great-grandfather - a sea captain - has filtered down through the generations; of perhaps it was just because my father's job meant constant moves and I never put down any roots - never had a neighborhood I called home. As a child I was forever poring over maps and wondering what it was like to steam up the Zambezi or visit the iron mountains of north western Australia.

This week I have been whizzing around Europe like a squash ball bouncing around a court, popping from Paris to a launch here or an interview there. On Tuesday it was Switzerland, Wednesday London and Thursday Paris. On Friday I should have gone to the Ferrari launch in Maranello or to a test in Spain but then I would have needed to be back in Zurich on Sunday for the launch of the new Sauber.

I will be doing much the same again in the coming week.

I am living with a briefcase containing a computer, some wires and plugs, a toothbrush and a new shirt. It has got to the point that nowadays I have a little store of belongings in London so that I can turned up carrying nothing and yet still be able to dress up and go about business.

Travelling at this time of year is not overly stressful except that across much of Continental Europe this week is a school holiday (they have a four-term system) and that means that thousands of people head for the ski slopes of Switzerland to get their kicks hurtling down the sides of mountains. The timing this year is perfect for much of Europe is suffering Arctic conditions and as I write I am in the hills behind Lausanne, where all is white and grey. There is a blizzard blowing and everything is covered in snow. The trees are etched white and the people are bundled up like Michelin men in an effort to keep warm. It is a time for sitting in front of a fire, a time for comfort food. This is the one time of year when eating soup seems like a great idea and the idea that in a month from now we F1 people will all be down in the sunshine in Melbourne seems somehow hard to believe.

But I am on the move, riding a train across to Geneva to pick up a nice cheap Easyjet flight to London. The trains in Switzerland are fast, reliable and clean and this is one of the few countries in Europe which can make the trains run on time without needing a dictator. It may not be the most direct route to my target but as the regular airlines - hell-bent on self-destruction - ask $1100 for an overnight stay in London it seems that Easyjets's $100 seems like a bit of a bargain. The good news is that I like the railways: one can work and watch the world going by.

When this little train gets to the top of the hill and then begins to head down towards Lake Geneva the skies may clear and the lake may appear in all its glory. But we don't know until we get there.

I was trying to figure out whether or not I am excited that the new F1 season is nearly upon us. Perhaps in a week or two I will be but in recent months I have rather got used to the comforts of home and all this travelling has left me feeling rather disjointed. But in a few days the editors around the world will start to ask for preview material and then we will have to focus on the questions that must be answered this year and that will shake off the malaise that was created by too many Schumacher victories at the tail-end of last year. But this year there are new cars from others and gaps should be closing. Time has stepped in and hopefully the result will be something a little more exciting than the latter stages of the 2002 season. I know that when we get down to Melbourne everyone will be full of vim and vigor and enthusiastic about the season ahead. We do not yet know whether up ahead there is light at the end of the Ferrari tunnel or a break in the clouds and we will not know that until after the race in Australia. But there is always hope.

The train rattles on, refusing to be cowed by the hills and by the elements. Imperceptibly we reach the top of the hills and begin to snake slowly downhill. Ahead is nothing but grey cloud. Lake Geneva may be out there somewhere but there is no trace of it until we reach the vineyards on the heights of Grandvaux and can just see a grey stretch of choppy water through the murk. Normally it is a lake so beautiful that rich people from all across the world settle here to enjoy the views (and the tax benefits). Michael Schumacher has just shelled out a fistful of millions to buy himself an amazing lakeside estate just a few miles up the road.

The train rattles down to Lausanne and then on towards Geneva. Gradually the world becomes green again and suddenly a ray of sunshine hits the lake in such a way that for a moment the water seems almost turquoise in color, like some tropical paradise. And ahead towards Geneva the skies are blue. The world ahead is brighter. The clouds may still obscure Evian and Mont Blanc but as the train zips along beside the lake my mind is filled with memories of warm summer evenings in the little villages along the way.

A new chapter is coming. It is amazing what time can do. Just ask Shakespeare...

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