Death by Umbrella

Christmas shopping is not up there with The Mole's favourite activities but rather than doing something sensible like shopping in August when the stores are quiet, the Moles always seem to end up in the West End at the worst possible time in the run-up to Christmas. Mrs Mole wakes up in a flap and the rest of the day follows that trend downwards and as there is rarely even time for a decent lunch.

The Mole soon becomes rather irascible as his ability to endure shopping is limited to around 90 minutes.

"If the Russians ever need to know all of Britain's secrets," they used to joke in the office. "They don't need to torture you. They could just take you shopping."

Each year The Moles arrive home and collapse into armchairs and swear (as they down some well-earned whisky) that they will never do that again.

The problem is the general public. When Christmas shopping people seem to fall into various categories: some wander aimlessly with their heads in the clouds and mouths open in gormless glory; others rush around with no obvious path of travel. They change direction suddenly or just stop dead, causing pile-ups of people in their wake; others allow their spoiled children to run wild, shrieking and wailing because they will not be bought a particularly toy. The parents seem oblivious to the snotty-nosed little monsters.

But The Mole is not. These children are, he believes, a very good excuse for bringing back child labour. A few days climbing dirty chimneys and eating gruel rather than chicken nuggets and they would have less to complain about.

The Mole is not a violent man (although he might at one time or another have despatched the odd Russian agent to the Soviet version of heaven) but there are times when he wishes that he could get his hands on an umbrella similar to the one that the Bulgarians used to kill emigre writer and journalist Georgi Markov in London back in 1978.

A Bulgarian secret agent "accidentally" bumped into Markov at a bus stop and jabbed the writer with the end of his umbrella. This collision was timed to coincide with the arrival of the bus and so there was confusion and Markov climbed aboard the bus before realising that the collision had drawn blood. Worse than that, in fact, for the tip of the umbrella had inserted a tiny metal sphere, the size of a pinhead, into the back of Markov's right thigh. He died three days later and the investigation became a murder inquiry when the sphere was found during the post-mortem. The chaps at the government chemical defence establishment at Porton Down concluded that Markov was almost certainly killed with a poison called ricin but the killer was never traced.

Sometimes, walking down Oxford Street, The Mole wishes he had such a device to clear the way ahead.

The Mole is not by nature a Scrouge. The idea of Christmas being a time of goodwill is one that he always tries to promote. His mood improved quite a lot as the whisky did its work. Mrs Mole then went off to fuss over wrapping paper and The Mole settled down to deal with a despatch box which had arrived during the afternoon from the office. This included the latest information from the F1 world although there is rarely much in Christmas week. There was however a report on the return of Alex Zanardi to competition, just 15 months after the accident at the Lausitzring which nearly killed him.

Alex lost both his legs in a horrible crash during the CART race when the front of the car was torn off when it collided with another car. He very nearly died from loss of blood on his way to hospital in Berlin but the surgeons at the Unfallkrankenhaus Berlin (UKB), one of the best trauma hospitals in Europe, saved his life.

Since that dreadful day Alex has been getting used to life with artificial legs and his progress has been impressive. And at the recent Bologna Motor Show Zanardi climbed into a go kart, specially-fitted with hand controls, and he drove a fabulous race to lead a very decent field until he spun off.

When he had finished reading The Mole found that he had renewed energy.

When The Mole was a youngster he gained much inspiration from a great hero of that era: the fighter pilot Douglas Bader. In December 1931, when Bader was 21, he crashed while doing aerobatic stunts and had both his legs amputated. Within a year he flew a plane again but the Royal Air Force refused to pass him fit for flying until 1939 when Britain needed all the trained pilots it could find. Bader proved to be a great fighter pilot and went on to shoot down 23 enemy aircraft and become one of the bestknown names in the Royal Air Force. Eventually he was shot down in aerial combat over Occupied France and proved to be such a difficult prisoner of war that he ended up in Colditz Castle, the high-security German prison for diehard escapers.

For The Mole Bader was the ultimate hero.

Zanardi is already talking of perhaps one day returning to CART and The Mole wonders if perhaps the modern generation will soon have a hero to rank alongside Bader as a symbol of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.

And with that thought in mind The Mole went into the Christmas festivities with a joyfulness that surprised even Mrs Mole.

Click here to read previous Mole columns: The Mole Archive

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