Waiting for the tide

Mrs Mole announced half way through last week that she was going to be busy on Sunday at some Pony Club cross country event. The Mole was alarmed by this news because Mrs Batty, the cook, had taken to gin over the summer, while visiting her sister Beryl in Brighton, and remains on the south coast, taking the air.

"I suppose I shall have to look after myself," The Mole sighed, in the full knowledge that he and The Colonel would immediately plan a jaunt to somewhere interesting. That, of course, would call for a designated driver and, as the Anglican church has the unsporting habit of holding its services on Sundays, the Reverend O would not be available. He would be busy all morning tending his flock and there was no way they could wait for him AND have a decent lunch on the coast.

The Mole immediately thought of Annabel, the new girl in the office.

"She is always so desperate to please that she says yes to everything," said The Mole.

"I wish I'd known her when I was 19," said The Colonel. "Girls never used to say yes when I was a lad."

The Mole chuckled.

"Yes, well a few things have changed since then," he said.

Annabel arrived at Mole Manor, bang on time, at the wheel of a sexy little Peugeot. The Colonel was already in the back and The Mole hobbled over and climbed aboard. They were soon zipping through the country lanes bound for Bosham, where The Mole had planned lunch at the Anchor Bleu.

"It has new owners," he said, "and they say the food is surprisingly good."

They sat on the terrace of the Anchor Bleu, overlooking the harbour and ate and drank very well.

"This place has one of the fastest tides in the country," said The Mole, toying with a piece of splendid chicken pie. "For a lot of the time it's like this with the harbour bed exposed. And then whoosh, in comes the tide and everything disappears beneath the water. Even the road down there."

"Really?" said Annabel.

"Yes," said The Mole. "Many a car has been drowned in that little car park. Legend has it that it was here that King Canute demonstrated that not even he, as the King of England, had the power to turn back the tide. You can be as rich as you like and as powerful as you like but one day the tide will come in and your sandcastles will be flattened."

"One cannot fight with nature," said The Colonel, and tweaked the end of his moustache.

"True," said Annabel, obviously on a slightly different mental path. "People are as they are."

There was pause in the conversation as they listened to the delightful sound of the clinking of the rigging wafting with the wind from the yachts at the quay.

"That's very true," said The Mole. "And that is why this legal thing with Bernie is bugging me."

"What legal thing?" said The Colonel.

"Back in 2001 the Formula One group - ie Bernie - borrowed $235m from a Swiss bank," said Annabel. "He had to give the cash to Max Mosley so that he could start his FIA Foundation."

"Bernie borrowed the money?" said The Colonel.

"Yes," said The Mole. "I believe that in order to secure the bond back in 1999 the Formula One company had to agree to some pretty severe restrictions. One of these conditions was that the company could not spend its annual profits until the end of the bond in 2010. That meant that there was a pile of money building up in cash but it could not be used."

"Bloody silly bond," said The Colonel.

"Well it's not silly if you are a member of the Ecclestone Family," said The Mole. "You get a $1bn to put away in an offshore trust fund and you can spend the rest of your life going to parties without having to worry about the cost of a frock or the latest designer handbag."

"Oh, to be young again," said The Colonel. "Those were my kind of girls. Nice girls with rich Daddies. I should have been wiser. I spent too much time in Aldershot. I should have joined the Household Cavalry. Back in the old days they were the fighter pilots of their era and just a little of that glamour remains. They have nice uniforms, nice easy guard duty at the Palace and rich young ladies at the barrack gate in Knightsbridge. That's what those American would call a target-rich environment."

"Yes, yes," said The Mole, "but let's get back to the subject. Formula One borrowed the money. Now the bank has issued a writ and wants that money back. The bond is paid off. There must be money available. So why has he not paid? It is not his style at all."

"I see your point," said The Colonel, although secretly he was still thinking of the fillies of yesteryear.

"The only thing I can think of is that the bank had a deal to get the money back when the bond was paid off and was expecting that to be in 2010. Because Formula One paid off the bond so quickly they now think they should get the money back immediately."

"Why would they do that?" said Annabel. "Any banker worth his Porsche would go for more interest rather than getting the cash back."

"True," said The Mole, "but knowing Bernie he probably had a fixed rate deal for the full term so when they came and asked him for the cash, he would ask them for a discount because he has not had the money as long as planned. I am sure the whole thing is an argument over the meaning of some clause in a contract and Bernie trying to chisel a better deal."

"Some bloody lawyer is going to make a pile and then it will all be settled out of court," said The Colonel. "That is how it works."

"Still," said The Mole. "It looks bad for the sport. We've got half the fans saying that the sport is manipulated. We have a pretty poor image already in financial circles - some companies will not touch F1 because they don't like the image. It's still not corporate enough and, what is that appalling phrase they use? Oh yes, the stakeholders, are forever arguing over nickels and dimes. You have ego getting in the way on the one hand and money on the other. And no-one seems to care a jot about promotion. They all seem to think that the sport will always be there, popping out golden eggs. Well, I think we should be worried about NASCAR and perhaps even about A1 Grand Prix. They are being properly promoted. They are looking at what people want."

There was a pause.

"When does the tide come in?" said Annabel.

"Don't know," said The Colonel.

"Oh, it will," said The Mole. "It always does. Just sit around long enough and you will see it. And it will be quick."

September 19 2006

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