Mrs Batty's big secret

Mrs Batty, The Mole's celebrated cook, is famous throughout the Home Counties for her culinary skills and particularly a special salad dressing which she often serves. Many have tried to discover the recipe but Mrs Batty refuses to say and has even turned down considerable bribes to reveal the detail. The only person who knows is The Mole himself and this is because Mrs Batty needs his help to get all the necessary ingredients for her masterpiece. The secret of the sauce comes in a packet of something called Ranch Dressing which is available in every grocery store from Cape Cod to the Golden Gate but cannot be found anywhere in the mother country. Mrs Batty has tried many times to get the same taste by mixing ingredients available in England but there must be some special, and probably not very magical, additive which creates the specific flavour that has Surrey all agog when The Mole has people round for dinner. Once a year The Mole, sworn to eternal secrecy. is despatched to buy 20 packets of the stuff. This is why The Mole was in a Kroger grocery store in Indianapolis, which is hardly the place for a topline spook to be spending his time.

Having completed his secret mission for Mrs Batty, The Mole paused briefly to look in the aisle where the magazines are displayed, wondering if perhaps Penelope (Roedean), his best agent, would appreciate a copy of Guns & Ammo, her favourite publication in the world. Suddenly he remembered that she had taken out a subscription and so browsed briefly through alternative magazines which might broaden Penelope's already-broad mind. Blade, the magazine for those with a passion for knives, was of interest. Deers and Deerhunting seemed of little use for a girl in Central London and he rejected a copy of Combat Handgun magazine for reasons which he could not quite place. And then he lost interest and picked up a magazine about NASCAR and read a little about Jeff Gordon and his friends.

Gordon has recently been to Europe see Formula 1 cars in action in Barcelona. It is no secret that Jeff has a secret desire to be a Formula 1 driver, but this is offset by the fear that at 32 he may be too old to change his ways and master a new kind of automobile. The four-time NASCAR champion remains intrigued by the idea of the challenge and although publicly saying he is not moving to F1, he has admitted that if he had an offer from Ferrari or Williams he would be hard-pressed to turn it down. When he left Barcelona that message was left hanging in the air. Gordon understands that any offer from F1 would be primarily based on his superstar status in the United States and not related to his driving skills although Williams has had a tiny glimpse of what he can do when he was given a few laps in one of the cars from Grive when he did a promotional event last year for the United States Grand Prix.

Gordon is fortunate in that he would be of enormous value to Formula 1. He is one of the biggest names in sport in the United States and a successful Formula 1 programme would open the door of Boardroom America to the money-hungry burghers of F1. It would lift the sport to a new level in the world's biggest consumer market. So tempting is the idea, in fact, that F1 commercial chief Bernie Ecclestone might even be convinced to come up with money to make the deal happen. For F1 it would be a win-win situation because if Gordon were to be successful F1 would be huge in America and if he were to fail it would underline the argument that F1 has the best drivers in the world.

The Mole smiled. The biggest secret at the moment, bigger even than Mrs Batty's salad dressing, is that Frank Williams is as intrigued about Gordon as Jeff is about Formula 1. Frank needs a good driver to partner Mark Webber next year and while David Coulthard, Olivier Panis, Giancarlo Fisichella and Jacques Villeneuve are all excellent drivers they do not have the excitement of mystery about them. They are known quantities. Williams has taken risks before with Villeneuve, Jenson Button and Alex Zanardi. Sometimes the risks work out, sometimes they do not. The difference between success and failure seems to be a question of the cars that the team produces and the way the drivers react to the challenge. If Williams builds a good car, Frank is asking himself, will Gordon be a feisty enough individual to rise to the occasion? The fear is that he would need a season to learn the ropes and that this would weaken the team as it tries to challenge Ferrari for the Constructors' Championship. This is a valid point but the potential benefits make it worth considering a risk.

The Mole shook himself out of his reverie, put the magazine back on the shelf and wondered as he sauntered to the check-out, armed with Mrs Batty's secret ingredients, what Frank Williams will be doing in his week between the Canadian and United States Grands Prix.

A spot of tea and a little chat with a Mr Gordon no doubt.

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