How not to drink champagne
MAY 2, 2003
They were drinking champagne on the balcony of The Mole's room at the Hotel Hermitage.
"Do you know," said The Colonel (The Mole's next door neighbour and a staunch supporter of the Conservative Party), "that the first champagne glass was moulded from the breast of Helen of Troy."
The Mole raised an eyebrow.
"Yes," The Colonel went on, "apparently her boyfriend was some chap called Paris and he made a wax mould of her chest and then got some artisans to fashion a glass in that delightful shape. They call it a coupe de champagne."
"It sounds rather painful to me," said The Mole, holding up his narrow flute de champagne, filled with a little dose of Krug Clos du Mesnil 1988. "In fact, Colonel, I have to tell you that your story is just not true."
"Why so?" said The Colonel, teetering on the brink of outrage.
"Dom Perignon did not invent champagne until the 17th century," said The Mole.
"Oh well," said The Colonel. "Why should we let the truth stand in the way of a good story?"
And then he launched into a complicated tale about how they used to use coupes de champagne to ensure that the dancing girls at the Folies Bergeres had exactly the right amount of bust.
"Where do you get this stuff from?" said The Mole. "Everybody knows that you drink champagne from a flute. A coupe causes the wine to warm up quickly and to go flat."
"Yes," said The Colonel, "but they aren't any breasts in your story!"
The Mole smiled, put on his best Sean Connery voice and said: "There might be if the champagne does what it is meant to do."
The two smiled. Being middle-aged chaps with fairly dull lifestyles meant that once in a while it was nice to pretend to be James Bond and standing on the balcony at the Hermitage one could do that with ease.
The Mole had intended to stay at the Villa Mole, overlooking the Bay of Angels, but at the last moment Mrs Mole suddenly remembered (while doing the roses) that the Villa Mole had been rented out for the Monaco Grand Prix weekend.
"Oh, such a horrid man," she remembered. "Quite awful. How can I explain?"
"Does he have a pigtail or rollerskates?" asked The Mole.
"Oh gosh, dear, not that bad. I think he would know the difference between Scottish and Scotch."
"Rolls-Royce or yellow Ferrari?" said The Mole.
"Yellow Ferrari with the tartan upholstery," Mrs Mole giggled, dead-heading a Small Maiden's Blush.
"Shops at Hermes rather than Lanvin?"
"Bingo!" said Mrs Mole. "I think you have the concept."
"The sort of person who does not understand that a real Rolex is even more stupid than a fake?" said The Mole.
"Yes, you've got it... Thinks Al Dente is a kind of tomato sauce."
"Minor royals?" The Mole asked cryptically.
"All the time dear," came the reply.
"Gruesome," said The Mole. "I shall stay at The Hermitage. The worst thing you get there are Renault executives."
Mrs Mole shivered and said "Yuk!"
Getting a room was a bit of a panic and needed some hurried phone calls but if you know the right people there is always a room at the Hermitage. It is one of those places which has a low season price, a high season price, a very high season price and then a price for the Grand Prix. But it is a magnificent place and its marble halls and crystal light fittings are rather splendid, as is the glass dome over the Jardin d'Hiver which was built by none other than Gustave Eiffel. There were a lot of Renault people about but the hotel was not the place to do the talking and, seeking the anonymity of the real world, The Mole arranged a rendez-vouz on Thursday evening with his Renault spy Isabelle at The African Queen in Beaulieu, where one can get lost amongst the yachting types.
Most of the F1 types were off at the Ball.
"It is a beet of mess," she said, taking a sip of her gin & tonic and leaving a lipstick mark on the rim of the glass. "It has all been done too late. There are no choices left. The design of the engine has to be the same as what we were using back in 2000. They are going to start out with basically what used to be a Supertec and try to work out how to apply what they have learned on the wide-angled engine to the old 72-degree engine."
She paused, looking furtively around, tossed back her dark mane of hair and laughed.
"In English I think you say that they are stuffed. It takes 18 months to do a completely new engine. And there is not much you can do to change that. Perhaps they can make a competitive engine with a 72-degree V angle but if everyone else has gone to a 90-degree V logic suggests that Renault must follow. It is not the moment for free thinking. We have to be successful. They may have lots of clever engineers at Renault but if the right decisions are not being made there is nothing they can do about it. They are stuck.
She leaned forward across the table and The Mole caught a delightful whiff of Arpege.
"The big question is whether they can keep the good chassis people," she said, her tongue just flitting across her lower lip. "Why would they stay when Toyota is offering them so much money to go?
"Flavio," she said. "He is being Flavio-ed."
And she raised her glass to her enticing lips.
"I do not think that he will be drinking much champagne for a year or two.
"At least not at the race tracks."
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