A Grand Prix in Kiribati?
AUGUST 22, 2003
It was too quiet. As The Mole walked down the corridor towards the Motor Racing and Tinpot Dictator Department, he could hear nothing: no giggling, no high heels clicking; not even the whisper of lipstick being applied to pouting lips.
There was something wrong.
Instinctively, The Mole reached for his pistol, but as he did so he knew that he had not worn it for 15 years and realized in that instant that he had no idea where it was hidden. In the potting shed, perhaps?
The Mole burst through the office door anyway and was somewhat surprised to find the four Penelopes and Miss Pringle-Featherby (of the Berkshire Pringle-Featherbys) where they should be, all reading silently.
The Mole's dramatic entrance caused them to stir.
"What is going on?" said The Mole, trying to cover his embarrassment. "What ARE you all doing?"
Penelope (Roedean) was the first to speak, as usual.
"Well sir," she said, "we're just doing our homework. Like good little girls."
The Mole paused for a moment, considering whether to make a remark about preferring bad little girls, but decided that it was probably wiser to change the subject.
"What are you all reading?" he said.
"Tungaru Conjugal Jealousy and Sexual Mutilation" said Penelope with a twinkle in her eye.
The Mole winced.
"I am reading "Astride the Equator" by Ernest Sabatier," said Penelope (Benenden).
"The earth moves in mysterious ways," said The Mole, mixing his metaphors.
"This is Arthur Grimble's "A Pattern of Islands"," said Penelope (Wycombe Abbey), waving a book in his direction.
"...and I've got Pacific Studies, Vol.14, Number 2. Simon Milne's study on "The Economic Impact of Tourism in Kiribati"," added Penelope (Cheltenham Ladies College).
There was a slight pause and then Miss Pringle-Featherby, looking rather guilty, said: "I am reading Country Living."
"A very sound choice," said The Mole, trying to put the poor girl at her ease. "I've always liked Country Living."
Miss Pringle-Featherby blushed.
With that The Mole disappeared into his office. He was not going to ask any more questions. He knew that in the fullness of time the girls would come and explain it all to him.
When it was time for Elevenses, Penelope (Roedean) knocked on the door and brought The Mole a cup of coffee and a chocolate bar.
"Don't you want to know about Kiribati?" she asked, peeling the paper off her chocolate.
"Is Bernie Ecclestone planning to have a Grand Prix there?" said The Mole.
"I don't know," said Penelope. "It's no sillier than some of the places that have been mentioned."
"So what is it all about then?"
Penelope tossed back her mane of black hair just to make sure that she had The Mole's full attention.
"Upstairs has come up with a new front organization," she said. We're opening an office with a brass plaque outside which will say "Tourism Kiribati" so we all need to know about Kiribati. I think they are talking about an office in Mayfair."
"That should get rid of the backpackers," said The Mole, thinking out loud. "And the people who live in Mayfair are more likely to go to the West Indies than they are to go to Kiribati."
"Absolutely," said Penelope. "Do you know that Kiribati has half as many tourists as Rwanda."
"Well, I certainly could not go there," said The Mole.
"Why?" asked Penelope.
"You'll have to forgive me," The Mole said, "but I seem to have mislaid it."
Penelope smiled and for a moment The Mole thought of his missing pistol.
"Kiribati is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean," she said. "It is a country made up of 33 atolls. Part of it used to be called the Gilbert Islands. What is really strange is that part of Kiribati is on one side of the International Date Line and the other half is on the other side. That means that part of the country is a day behind the other bit.
"A bit like going to Magny-Cours then?" said The Mole.
Penelope ignored him.
"The phosphate mining stopped in the 1970s," Penelope went on. "There are about 1000 tourists a year, mainly Americans coming to visit graveyards from a battle which took place at Tarawa in November 1943. It was a very nasty business, by all accounts. They reckon that in the 72 hours of fighting 1000 US marines and 4500 Japanese were killed. But as we Brits were not involved, there is almost no demand in the UK for tickets to Kiribati. And if by chance some lunatic does walk in and ask to go there, we will tell him all about the nuclear testing that was done in the 1950s. That should put them off. If that fails we will talk about sudden typhoons and mention that the islands are not self-sufficient. And if all else fails we will mention the pollution problems arising from the locals using the lagoons as their latrines."
"Yes, I dare say that will work," said The Mole. "Rather dissuades one from going swimming. Tell me, was Kiribati one of our colonies or did the Frogs have that group of islands?"
"I see that the European Awareness Course worked wonders with you," she said.
There was a pause.
"By the way," said The Mole, changing the subject. "Have our pet Frogs picked up anything about Magny-Cours?"
Penelope followed the lateral leap with aplomb and did not even blink.
"I think there is more likely to be a French GP than there is a Grand Prix in Kiribati," she said. "I just cannot imagine them dropping the oldest race in the world."
"Since when did that make a difference?" said The Mole. "The French GP is a nice destination for a motor tour but most of the F1 circus just do not want to go there. Do you know that at a recent meeting the F1 team bosses all voted to drop the race. All of them, including Frenchmen running Italian teams and vice versa.
"And besides," he added. "There is always some legal trouble over tobacco or there are bailiffs turning up. It's all very dull and bad for the F1 image."
"But what about the political situation?" said Penelope.
"What about it?" said The Mole. "The days are gone when the local socialists ran the whole of France. The region is still solidly socialist but there are no national figures left. The Socialist Party in deep trouble at national level and I don't suppose that President Jacques Chirac gives much thought to the fate of Magny-Cours when he twiddles with his croissants each morning. I am sure that Chirac would like there to be a French Grand Prix but I am not sure that he wants to pay for it."
"It seems to me that the biggest problem is that Magny-Cours owes Mr E $11m," said Penelope. "And you know how he like to see the colour of his money."
"Indeed so," said The Mole. "But have you not thought about Canada?"
"What's that got to do with it?" said Penelope.
"It just struck me that it might be an amusement for Bernard to play the French off against the French Canadians," explained The Mole. "You know, hike up the price. Have some fun."
"How would he do that?"
"Well," said The Mole, "Bernie says that F1 is not going back to Canada without tobacco branding. The Canadians say that they will not allow that. So the only way forward is for Bernie to lose another non-tobacco race, such as France. It is a perfect situation for Mr E. French national pride played against French-Canadian bullishness. The French won't let go and the Canadians will have to pay a LOT of money for being so obstreperous.
"It is almost poetic in its money-making potential."
"Should we book hotel rooms in Montreal on June 6 next year?" said Penelope.
The Mole shrugged.
"Let's talk about Kiribati," he said. "Any chance of a Grand Prix there? Do they have anti-tobacco laws?"
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