Fish for lunch
SEPTEMBER 12, 2003
Every once in a while The Mole likes to drop into the London office of the tunefully-named (and disgracefully expensive) legal firm of Scheister, Scheister, Zissu & Zaas and take his legal counsel Norma Zaas out to lunch. The Mole often wondered how it was that Norma's parents had given her such an unfortunate name but one day she explained that being middle European peasant refugees they had not realised the implications of the name when they settled in Bethnal Green, having escaped from Poland with only a porcelain statue of the Virgin Mary to their name.
Norma was an intelligent girl and had hurtled through school, Cambridge, Lincoln's Inn and the Harvard Law School before returning to London to open an office for one of the lesser-known New York law firms. Along the way she had picked up a few tips in being classy and was a very attractive thirty-something-ish lady who, The Mole felt, always looked rather good in her habitual Chanel little black dress.
"She doesn't live up to her name at all," said Penelope (Roedean), "although, if I am brutally honest, I do have to say that her posterior is definitely not as cute as mine."
The Mole raised a weathered eyebrow, concluding that his best secret agent was fishing for compliments, and decided that it was a good moment not to say anything.
"The different between you two girls," he said, to change the subject in an amusing fashion, "is that if I gave you two knitting needles, you would kill an entire platoon of Cuban Spercial Forces while Norma would use her needles to knit a jumper."
"If God had meant us to knit our own clothes," Penelope said dismissively, "She would not have invented Bergdorf Goodman."
The Mole laughed.
The other difference, he thought quietly, is that Norma has an intellect as sharp as a Queen's Counsel. Her only failing in fact, apart from her unfortunate name, is that she is too conventional and too discreet. The Mole decided a few months ago to start to take her out to lunch once a month and send her back to the office a little merry with drink at twenty past two.
For some reason, which The Mole had never fully understood, he found that he inspired confidence in young women and having failed to take advantage of this ability when a young man, had adopted the role of being a slightly naughty, but totally safe, uncle.
That day, Norma was very talkative and even discussed her unfortunate name.
"Norma Zaas may not be a great name," she said, "but every now and then I thank my lucky stars that I wasn't christened Henrietta Hawes or Harriet Hooker."
"Besides," she added, "One day I am going to find someone with a sensible name and marry them."
"And a lucky man he will be," said The Mole. "Although it will be a sad day for the Motor Racing and Tinpot Dictator Department of the Secret Intelligence Service."
As he scanned the menu, he wondered secretly whether Norma's laser beam-like intellect scared men away.
"I often wonder," she said, as though reading his mind,"whether being clever actually frightens away men."
"Well," said The Mole, "I always heard that an intelligent girl likes an animal in her bed. Isn't that what they say?"
"That may be so," said Norma demurely, "but why do I always get the hamsters? I want a lion in shining armour."
"Ah well," said The Mole. "There are plenty of fish in the sea."
And with that he steered the subject of the conversation to fish.
They were in the St James's Restaurant at Fortnum & Mason, and ordered the lobster bisque with Somerset cider brandy followed by the sauteed scallops in a Pernod sauce.
"How come you're not in Japan?" asked Norma a few minutes later.
"I like my fish to be cooked," said The Mole. "Actually I quite like going to Japan. They're a funny lot, the Japanese, but Mount Fuji is pretty enough when the trees are changing colour and the Bullet Trains are highly impressive, but getting into the Suzuka Circuit Hotel is very difficult and I really don't like all those tiny hotel rooms where you cannot even swing a kitten. The Circuit Hotel is not bad and the Campanella restaurant makes great pizza although they are so disorganised that they spend all their time delivering the wrong meals to the wrong tables. It is quite fun because you can order pizza and then accept someone else's prawns and no-one has a clue what is going on. Last year they brought me some spaghetti as I was finishing my tiramisu. Marvellous."
They giggled and The Mole poured out some more wine.
"When all is said and done," he said. "I decided that I would forego the pleasures of the Orient and watch the race at Mole Manor with a plateful of Mrs Batty's marvellous bacon and eggs to keep me company and The Sunday Times to follow.
"This is rather good," said Norma, pointing her fork towards an inebriated scallop.
"Yes, it is, isn't it?" said The Mole.
"By the way," said Norma, "I hear that the TV coverage of Formula 1 is about to get a lot better."
"Really?" said The Mole.
"Yes, it seems that Bernie is going to start sending his mobile TV facility to all the races again next year although I suppose they will have to rename it because Eddie Baker has moved on and so they cannot call it "Bakersville". The new guy is called John Morrison."
"Morrisonville?" mused The Mole. "Not very catchy, is it?"
"No," said Norma. "Sounds like somewhere in Illinois. Anyway, they are going to have most of the same technology that they used to have for the old pay-per-view service but this time they are going to make programmes for all the free-to-air stations. That will be a lot better than the local hero directors we have seen over the years."
"Well, I am all for better TV coverage," said The Mole. "I've always said that there is nothing wrong with the sport that better TV coverage could not fix. It makes a lot more sense to have a dedicated and experienced unit doing the coverage, using decent cameramen and lot of clever systems."
"Indeed it does," said Norma. "The thing is that televising a Grand Prix is a massive and expensive job but for TV types it is quiet prestigious and so they think they can do the job of being host broadcaster better than everyone else."
"They are TV people." said The Mole.
"Yes, but the fact is that the best host broadcaster has always been Mr E's crew. Eventually, they want to get all the races and once they have done that FOM can go back to the broadcasters and charge them a pile more money because the show will be so much better and so will attract more viewers. In fact I did hear that Mr E is going to hire someone to do all his TV negotiations for him."
"Did you?" said The Mole. "I don't supposed you have a name, do you?"
"Of course I have a name," she said. "Michael Payne. He's been running the marketing of the International Olympic Committee since the late 1980s and was the first Marketing Director of the Olympics."
"Interesting," said The Mole.
"Well, I guess you should also know that he was a low-profile guest at the recent Italian Grand Prix and the word is that he is looking around for something else to do because the changing of the guard at the IOC after the retirement of Juan Antonio Samaranch is not perhaps to his taste."
"Are you sure that wasn't just a social call?" said The Mole.
"If it looks like a fish and smells like a fish," said Norma. "What do you think it is?"
"Fish?" suggested The Mole.
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