Different ways to skin a cat

The Mole and Number Two were having lunch on The English Maid, a barge which is moored on the River Thames, not far from SIS Headquarters. The Mole was particularly enjoying his Cumberland Sausages with mustard mash while Number Two had plumped for the much healthier Fish Pie.

"It is a funny place, isn't it?" said Number Two."Did you know that there's not much English about this old tub. She started out as a Dutch barge about 100 years ago and then spent a lengthy period as a houseboat in Paris before being converted into a floating bistro in the 1990s. They say that it's the only place in London where the room sways when you start drinking and things get steadier in the course of the evening."

"Marvellous," said The Mole. "I must say the thing I like is that they claim that the wine list is healthy. I can never work out if they mean that the wine list is big or whether the wine is organic and all that rubbish."

Number Two raised an eyebrow. For some time he had been eating healthily, reasoning that he smoked too much and so had better each well instead.

"It has pretty much been proven that wine helps to kill you no matter what," he said.

"Yes, but it reduces the chance of a heart attack," said The Mole, rather emphatically.

"So they say," said Number Two. "What they don't tell you is that while lessening your chance of a heart attack, it is in fact increasing the chance that you will die from a lot of other diseases."

"...said the man who smokes like a convoy," replied The Mole. "As far as I am concerned this is healthy wine and I am drinking it."

Number Two realised that it was time to back off. He had been away for a month, doing a refresher course at Fort Monckton, an old naval fortress where the government runs an interesting academy which features classes in such esoteric subjects as Sabotage and Demolition Techniques.

"Did they remind you how to kill people?" asked The Mole, in passing when the subject came up.

Number Two smiled. They paused to eat.

"So what's new?" said The Mole's deputy finally.

"I've sent Penelope (Roedean) down to Monaco to keep an eye on the meeting there. I am sure she is having a lovely time, chasing Max and Company around the Hotel de Paris. I expect she'll be e-mailing a CX bulletin later today."

"Good." said Number Two. "What about Penelope (Wycombe Abbey)?"

"Ah, now that's an interesting story," said The Mole. "While we have all been watching this business with the new F1 regulations for 2008, she has been working on the Indian GP, posing as a software person and shopping for pearls in her spare time in Hyderabad. Anyhow, she made contact with someone important and she's found out that the deal with Mr E is more or less done and it is all set to go ahead in 2007. There is a seven year contract but I am not sure that has actually been signed, I think the legal types are doing their drafting now.

"She tells me that the locals are already going to work buying up 1367 acres of land on which to build another Tilke-Ring. The biggest problem she has had so far has been coping with the food. Apparently they like it hot down there in Hyderabad. The other problem has been spelling.

"I beg your pardon?" said Number Two.

"Spelling," said The Mole.

Number Two looked puzzled.

"Well," said The Mole. "Can you spell Gopanapally. That is one place where they are planning to build the track. And there's another place down the road called Vattinagulapally, which is going to provide a bit of land as well. And then there is the local finance minister. He's called Yanamala Ramakrishnudu. And the Chief Minister is called Nara Chandrababu Naidu."

"Isn't he the bloke that survived a landmine under his car not long ago," said Number Two. "Amazing. They had this bloody great thing which blew his car right up in the air and made a huge crater but the poor old car absorbed the blast and he had only minor injuries."

The Mole ignored the remark.

"The other thing that she has been struggling with is the local numbering system because they don't use thousands and millions in India, they use things called lakhs and crores. A lakh is 100,000 of something and a crore is 10 million. So it all gets a bit confusing. There are about 44 rupees to the US dollar so when they talk about the project costing 600 Crore you have to multiply 600 by 10 million and then divide it by 44.

"One hundred and thirty five," said Number Two, without even blinking.

"Really?" said The Mole, trying not to be impressed. "$135m sounds about right. I think overall they are planning to spend about $320m with all the infrastructure changes and so on. But they don't seem to be too worried about it all. The state budget is a bit under pressure at the moment because they have borrowed billions to make Hyderabad a better place but the plan is to back off after a couple more years and get rid of some of the debts as the investments begin to pay off. And there is a bunch of private money involved as well."

"Sounds logical," said Number Two.

"There is a bit of a problem on the question of tobacco sponsorship," said The Mole. "It seems that Bernard is suggesting that the Indians introduce a three-day exemption from India's anti-tobacco laws.

"Cannot see it happening," said Number Two. "They are a bit radical about tobacco down there."

"Oh, I don't know," said The Mole. "I am sure that Mr E will explain to them that he is quite happy to drop the tobacco question if they will pay him a few more millions."

"Very big of him," said Number Two. "Another glass of wine?"

"Trying to kill me?" asked The Mole.

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