THE MOLE

Wild times in Texas

"I am Lady Windermere's biggest fan!" said The Mole to the Reverend O, as they were finishing off the roast lamb on Sunday afternoon at Mole Manor. "She's a fearsome old trout and I really should not be telling you this but she spent some time in the 1970s with a unit called the 14th Intelligence Company in Northern Ireland and I understand she did some highly unusual intelligence work. She's damned good with a Heckler & Koch P9S and a dab hand with a bit of Semtex."

The Mole realised that around the table the small talk had ceased. Everyone was pretending not to listen.

"She speaks her mind and there are not enough people like that around these days," he added, rather loudly.

"But I do think we must speak out," said the Reverend O. "Lady Windermere should not be buying a great BMW motorbike. It is not a wise thing to do."

"For God's sake man," said The Mole. "It's the K1200LT. It's a motorbike for grannies. It has cruise control, a six-disc CD player and heated seats. It probably comes with a custom made handbag."

"A handbag?" said O in confusion. "The thing that alarms me is what she will do when the bike falls over? It weighs 800 lbs."

The Mole looked to the heavens but saw only the exquisite Georgian acanthus leaf mouldings of his dining room.

"She will flutter her eyelids, wiggle her leather-clad hips and men will appear to help her out. That is how the world works!"

"Well, I think it's irresponsible," said O. "She'll kill herself and, likely as not, will kill half the village as well."

"At least the old girl has some spirit," said The Mole.

"Gateau Basque?" said Mrs Mole, who had arrived suddenly from the kitchen and realised that there was some tension in the air. "We had it flown in especially, all the way from La Maison de Paries in St Jean de Luz. Marvellous. You cannot get better."

The murmur of conversation picked up again. Could it be, they were wondering, that the chairwoman of the Parochial Church Council, famed for a stern manner which hid a golden heart, was in fact a fearsome assassin. An angel of death. The annual parish garden party would never be quite the same again.

"Why should we stop the old dear?" said The Mole quietly. "Why do we need society to be our nanny. If she wants to ride at 100mph along the top of a cliff, surely that is up to her. I can assure you that she is quite aware that we are all mortal. And what is wrong with trying to transcend the mundane daily existence and leave behind the responsibilities and confusions of modern life. There is actually no difference between riding a motorcycle and producing great art!"

"I cannot remember who said it," said O, "but all art is quite useless."

There was a pause.

The Mole realised he was in the dog house when, after the meal, Mrs Mole, who was rather perturbed by the conversation, sent him, the Revd O and The Colonel off "to examine evidence of badgers" in the garden while the rest of the party drank coffee in the drawing room and talked about whether killing badgers is an acceptable thing to do, the subject having recently come up on The Archers.

Out in garden, the debate continued.

"Why must we submit to laws just because others are frightened by what we do?" said The Mole. "There is a sight too much political correctness these days and far too many health & safety people with sociology degrees from unknown universities. There should be moderation in all things, including moderation."

And then he broke into a smile.

"That's the Mosley family motto, you know."

"Oh Lord," said the Revd O. "Was he a secret killer as well?"

"Only in the committee room," said The Mole.

The Colonel, who had remained quiet for most of the conversation, decided it was time to lighten the atmosphere.

"O, you silly fellow," he said. "Life is an adventure. It is fundamentally dangerous. No-one has survived it yet."

"You should listen more attentively to my sermons," snapped the Revd O with uncharacteristic severity.

"In motor racing we accept the risks," said The Mole. "Racing driver are having fun, not trying to kill themselves. But accidents do happen and that is when protection is needed. The thing that is not acceptable in the modern era is killing those who come to watch."

"We must consider what the outcry would be if we had another Le Mans disaster," agreed O. "Imagine the media hysteria if 80 people were killed by an out-of-control racing car. Fifty years ago the sport could cope with that but what about today?

"People who go to watch races know what to expect," said The Mole. "And even those ghastly American lawyers would have trouble arguing that fans are not aware of the dangers. It is written on every ticket and every programme. Do we have to do have it tattooed on our foreheads as well?

"Besides," he added. "They had that nasty thing at the air show in Ramstein when the Italian aerobatic team made a balls-up of a manouevre and one of the planes crashed into the crowd. It killed 70 people and injured 400 but there are still air shows, aren't there?"

"Not in Germany," said The Colonel.

"I am not so much worried about F1," The Mole went on. "The frightening thing is the knock-on effect that F1 might get from a crash in something like the Indy Racing League. They had a really close call the other day at the Texas Motor Speedway when Kenny Brack and Tomas Scheckter had a coming together and Brack's car went into the air and into the debris fencing on top of the wall. The impact was so great that a section of the fence, which is strengthened by horizontal steel cables, was torn away. You can argue that most of the large pieces of the wreckage ended up back on the race track but my chaps over there said that the Texans were picking debris from the 40th row of the grandstand. Fortunately the IRL is not as popular as it could be. The speedway is built to hold 200,000 but there were only about 100,000 people present and so there was no-one in the area. But imagine if there had been. It was just luck that the crash did not happen at a place where the grandstand was full."

There was a pause in the argument.

"The thing is that the IRL has had a couple of close calls already," said The Mole. "There was one in 1996 when Alessandro Zampedri went along the debris fencing at Indianapolis. He got badly smashed up but no-one else was hurt. And then in about 1999 a wheel came off one of the cars in Charlotte and went into the crowd and killed three people. The IRL increased the height of the fences and introduced wheel tethers after that but the danger is obviously still there."

"I read somewhere that in the United States in the last 15 years there have been something like 270 people killed in different motorsport events," said The Colonel. "The majority, and I think it is about 80%, were drivers. And only 10% of them were spectators."

"Ah," said The Mole, "but those statistics would change dramatically if a car goes through a fence."

"True enough," said O. "It is very important that the IRL people are in earnest."

"Quiet so." said The Mole.

They all nodded in agreement.

"Wild," said The Mole.

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