Living in a tree
FEBRUARY 21, 2003
The Mole has always been a fan of Asia. He spent some time in the late 1960s as the commercial attache at the British Embassy in Saigon but it is a less known fact that for a period he also lived in a tree in North Vietnam. Alas, details of why one would live in a tree near Huong Khe are probably best glossed over to avoid falling foul of the Official Secrets Act, but suffice to say that there were fewer Viet Cong in the area when The Mole departed than there had been before he arrived. The rest can be left to the imagination.
Living in a tree was an interesting experience in many ways and it taught The Mole a number of important lessons about life. It taught him that people rarely look in any direction other than the one in which they are travelling. There are some who look from side to side to see if there are enemies lurking in the jungles but it is very rare to find someone who thinks of looking in a third dimension.
Living in a tree also taught The Mole a valuable lesson about the need to see things as part of a bigger picture. Sitting up there in your tree, you think that you can see a lot but the reality is that you are seeing just a tiny fraction of the world and have no idea what is happening beyond that. There have been many times when The Mole has wished that some of the Formula 1 team bosses had spent time living in the trees near Huong Khe.
Living in a tree also teaches one discipline because an item dropped can be a death warrant if it is found by a wandering Victor Charlie. There is, after all, nowhere to run to if someone with a Type 56 SKS carbine points it in your direction with the intention of blowing holes in you.
Living in a tree also gives one plenty of time to think about life when not noting down troop movements or setting off on murderous missions in the neighbourhood. It gives one time to consider all kinds of strange things.
The point of all this is not really philosophical for there is a message at the end of it. The Mole's mission in the tree was finally terminated because he was unable to hear what was going on around him. This was because his ears had become blocked with wax and no amount of prodding and probing would solve the problem. In the end he had to call in a Bell Huey to pick him up.
Afterwards he had a long and rather disgusting conversation about ear wax with an American doctor in Saigon and learned all about cerumen, which is the nice name for the gunk that is produced by our ears. It is there to catch dust, dirt, bugs and all other nasty things that try to crawl into a human ear and risk damaging the delicate ear drum. The wax is produced in the outer ear and having done its job tends to accumulate, dry out and then fall out at the most inconvenient moments, such as when you having tea with Her Majesty or in a loving embrace with a new woman.
The doctor told The Mole that one should never stick things into your ear in an effort to clean them because that tends to push the gunk deeper into the ear and as a result blockages occur.
It seems that people who travel a lot or are under a lot of stress tend to produce more cerumen than everyone else and so Grand Prix people, who are always on the road and always sticking things in their ears (earpieces, ear plugs and so on), have a tendency to suffer more blockages than normal people.
It is this information which led The Mole to realise what has been going on at British American Racing in recent weeks. In Melbourne you may recall Jenson Button was infuriated by the fact that Jacques Villeneuve came into the pits just ahead of him and as a result ruined his race. Jacques said that he had a radio problem but team sources indicated that this could not be found. Jacques looked like the bad guy. If the radio was not faulty how come Villeneuve did not hear the messages? The suggestion that his earpiece might have fallen out was patently ridiculous. So was Jacques turning a deaf ear to the messages? Or was it perhaps that his ear was deaf because of too much cerumen?
Obviously a fashion icon like Villeneuve does not want the world discussing his ear wax and so it is more convenient to blame the radio.
The Mole knows after years in the secret world that conspiracies are rarely really conspiracies. Usually they are just embarrassing screw-ups which people do not wish the world to know about. This would explain the inconsistencies in Villeneuve's stories. The Mole hears that the BAR engineers were in a huge flap trying to figure out which lap Jacques was on and the whole business became highly confused because two counts did not tally. This was why Jacques did not stop when he should have done. Whether he heard an instruction to let Button past him on the way into the pits is not entirely clear but whatever the case he did not budge and Jenson was unhappy.
The whole story took on a life of its own with both drivers popping shots at one another in Malaysia. The team was not however in a state of crisis but seemed to be rather enjoying it all. That seemed strange until one considers that the goal of British American Tobacco in Formula 1 is to sell cigarettes. The most important thing in all of this is exposure and the team has not been very good at doing that on the track. This year the car is better but there has still not been much exposure. Until Melbourne. The driver fight and the coverage that resulted has been a huge bonus for BAT. It is a basic Good Buy versus Bad Guy story and all the newspapers have covered it. Everyone is talking about it. And that means that more cigarettes are being sold.
And all because of a little too much cerumen.
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