On the river bank

Mr Chang of Chinese Intelligence and his assistant Peaceful Fountains of Desire have been in London in recent days on an official visit to meet their counterparts in British Intelligence. This may seem an odd thing for intelligence officers to do but in fact it helps both sides and cuts down on the risk of mundane mistakes being made at a later date. It is generally accepted in the spying world that there are certain spies (usually Third Secretaries and Commercial Attaches in embassies) who are "declared". This does not stop both sides employing "illegals" to keep an eye on what is going on in places where declared agents and satellite machinery cannot reach.

In The Mole's experience it is better if relationships can be built up as information can thus flow between governments without the need for guns and break-ins. It is rather more civilised than the days when 00s of the Cold War days gathered information by other means.

The Mole and Penelope (Roedean rather than Cheltenham Ladies College) were drafted in to show the Chinese some of the sights of England, with special visits laid on to see the House of Commons, Porton Down, Silverstone and other great bastions of British democracy. On the second day The Mole suggested that Penelope take Peaceful Fountains of Desire on a shopping trip in London and it was decided that the perfect place to show to Communists would be the John Lewis department store, because of its sensible practical goods and the fact that it is owned by its employees.

"And besides," said Penelope, "they have such divine fabrics."

Mr Chang and The Mole had a different kind of shopping in mind and went to lunch the Waterside Inn in Bray, the perfect place, The Mole felt, for the British Government to entertain such an eminent mandarin.

The Mole might have chosen Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons but one cannot visit there these days without bumping into one Formula 1 team boss or another (there is, you understand, an economic crisis in Formula 1). And that would have been ghastly because one mention of China and the average team boss begins to salivate like a Pavlovian dog.

"So," said The Mole, "you want a Formula 1 team."

Mr Chang looked around shiftily and to set him at ease The Mole decided to order something to drink.

"Diego," said The Mole, "Do you think we might have a bottle of 1961 Bollinger to wash away our woes."

Mr Chang still seemed rather ill-at-ease.

"My dear boy," said The Mole finally. "If we were going to get you with a honeytrap, we wouldn't be using me, would we?"

Mr Chang thought this was very funny and relaxed.

"So let's get down to business," he said, suppressing a final giggle. "We, the people, want to have our own Formula 1 team and we are looking for some advice. What do you suggest?"

"My dear fellow," said The Mole. "That is like being given the menu and asked what you would like to order. It rather depends on your budget. By way of illustration you can see that there is a considerable difference between the rabbit and the duck."

The Mole watched as Mr Chang looked at the menu and he could see that the mandarin was busily multiplying by 13 to see how many Yuan Renminbi this was costing the British Government.

He seemed rather shocked.

"As a basic rule," said The Mole, "my advice would be to buy an existing team rather than cooking up one of your own. It would have to be based in Britain, because that is where the expertise is. It is all very well you and your comrades wanting a Chinese team but you will find that the average F1 composite laminator is not too keen on relocating to Shanghai"

"They don't like China?" said Mr Chang.

"Well, most of them do like the odd Chinese," said The Mole diplomatically.

"I see," said Mr Chang. "And tell me, dear Mole, what sort of price are we looking at?"

"Well, I think you can probably pick up a team for about a dollar," said The Mole, scanning the wine list.

"A US dollar?" said Mr Chang in shock and awe. "But that is cheaper than the rabbit..."

"Indeed," said The Mole. "Considerably cheaper..."

Mr Chang admitted that he had been told in his pre-mission briefing that the last middle-ranking team to change hands had been Stewart Grand Prix, which had cost the Ford Motor Company 76m.

"It was paid to a company called Camshaft Settlement in Jersey," he said, trying to sound well-informed.

"Ye-e-es," said The Mole. "Things have moved on since then."

"Really," said Mr Chang. "How very nice. And tell me: Why would we have to pay a company in Jersey?"

"For tax purposes," said The Mole. "People selling Formula 1 teams do not like to pay taxes to the British Government."

"Is there tax on a dollar?" asked Mr Chang casually.

"I have no idea," said The Mole, "but the government rarely misses the chance."

Mr Chang shook his head in disbelief.

"Yes?" said The Mole.

"Well, frankly I am confused," admitted the mandarin. "You are telling me that someone can sell a Formula 1 team for 76m and avoid paying tax on that. And then he can live in England and demand money from the government for the good of British motor racing. And he can even accuse Bernie Ecclestone of putting nothing into the sport, even though Ecclestone recently gave 12m to help the rebuilding work at Silverstone."

"Yes," said The Mole. "It's strange but it is true."

"Really?" said Mr Chang. "I think we execute people like that."

"Yes, perhaps you do," said The Mole.

"Well, I think I may buy myself a Formula 1 team..." said Mr Chang. "On behalf of the government, of course."

"Of course," said The Mole.

"I am sure we can find some sponsorship from my friends in Beijing. And I should register the company in Jersey?"

"Absolutely," said The Mole. "It is the done thing."

There was a pause in the conversation.

"I think I will have the duck," said Mr Chang with a broad smile.

"Diego," said The Mole. "The mandarin would like the duck. I think I will have the lamb."

"I was wondering," said Mr Chang a few minutes later. "Is any chance of a knighthood as well?"

The Mole cleared his throat uncomfortably.

"No, I think not," he said. "But you might be able to negotiate your way to a Legion d'Honneur."

Mr Chang looked rather disappointed.

"Shall we have the Chateau Mouton?" said The Mole.

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