Goodbye Annabel

It had been nearly two years since Annabel, the new girl, had first arrived in the Motor Racing and Trade Development Department of the Secret Intelligence Service, hotfoot from the MI6 training school, not a million miles away from Silverstone. The Mole had hoped that this rather irritating girl would one day blossom into a proper replacement for Penelope (Benenden) who, despite her crush on Max Mosley, had been a very effective agent before she was transferred off to join the stiffs at the FCO in King Charles Street.

But life had not worked out that way. The ugly duckling had developed into a duck that quacked rather too much rather the swan-like figure of a real Penelope. She annoyed everyone with her over-enthusiasm. The Mole admitted that it was useful to have someone who spoke five languages but none of them seemed to work when it came to winning friends and influencing people in the department. The Mole had started to worry about sending her out on missions in case she gave the department a bad name but that meant she was always in the office and The Mole had started to fear that Annabel's irritating ways would drive the Penelopes to ask for transfers, or worse still, to get married, have children and retire from the spying business.

That would be a disaster for British motorsport.

Even Miss Pringle-Featherby (of the Berkshire Pringle-Featherbys), who was famed for never saying a bad word about anyone, went quiet when Annabel arrived.

The office was not the joyous place that once it had been.

The Mole had been pondering the problem for a while but had not reached any conclusions until one day he found himself down in The Morgue in the basement at SIS Headquarters where the department files are cared for by a creepy little man called Schmutzli, who frightens children when he stands at bus stops. In an unguarded moment Schmutzli had admitted that even he was frightened of Annabel.

"She's a terrible adwertisement for ze department," he mumbled in his curious Germanic lilt. "She's just too enthusiastic. It's just not very British."

The Mole nodded sagely.

"If I vere in charge I vould send her to America," Schmutzli added. "They like loud people over zere, don't they?"

The remark gave The Mole an idea. The growth of NASCAR was such that for some time he had been of the opinion that he needed someone "underground" in North Carolina to spy on the US stock car series. This was the prefect opportunity. The following week he lunched at the Club with his old friend The Mandarin, who was in charge of the Personnel Directorate, and sold him on the idea - on the basis that it would switch Annabel off the SIS books and add her salary to the British Embassy in Washington.

"Marvellous," said The Mandarin. "We get a free spy!"

"And I lose a headache," said The Mole.

For a cover story The Mole rang an old friend in Toronto and a job was organised working for Harlequin, the bodice-ripper publishing company which dominates the world of romantic literature. Harlequin has just done a deal to write a series of steamy novellas about NASCAR as a means of promoting the sport amongst sex-starved young women and judging by the sales figures (5.2bn books and still selling) Harlequin will bring hordes of dreaming babes to the race tracks in the years ahead. Annabel would pretend to be a writer.

And then he was ready to break the news to Annabel herself. He was a little worried that she might refuse because he knew that she was rather attached to a couple of horses she rode at weekends but was pleasantly surprised when her first word was "Super!"

Soon she was making preparations. She was sent to the UK government's secret language school, where she would learn how to speak American and was told to see as many Tennessee Williams plays and films as possible. She dyed her hair a rather bleachy blonde and started to go every lunchtime to Fortnum & Mason to have ice cream sundaes to make herself a little more "bottom-heavy", as she put it. The Dusty Road sundaes have been filling out skinny girls for generations.

"A government-sponsored ice cream orgy," said Penelope (Roedean) one day in disgust. "It shouldn't be allowed!"

As usual Annabel went too far, asking The Mole whether she ought to have cosmetic surgery to increased the size of her bust.

"I just don't think my breasts are big enough for the Americans," she said.

"Nor are mine," said The Mole curtly.

And then she was gone and the department was suddenly just like it had been in the old days.

"That was a most environmentally-friendly thing to do," said Penelope (Roedean).

"It seems to be all the rage at the moment," said The Mole.

It was true that F1 had suddenly decided that it had to be "green" and Honda had taken the whole thing to the limit by announcing a car painted to look like the earth, photographed from space. His spies at Honda talked of corporate battles that had raged to get the idea through but he liked it. The car looked good and Honda F1 boss Nick Fry, F1's answer to a game show host, set about selling the idea to the F1 media.

"He could sell fish to the eskimos," said Penelope (Roedean).

The Mole decided that he would go along to the post-launch party in the Natural History Museum and Penelope (Wycombe Abbey) was sent along as well, disguised as a caterer to hand out canapes and listen to all the conversations.

The Mole was rather surprised to find McLaren's Martin Whitmarsh as one of VIP guests and raised a wizzened eyebrow when it emerged that Max Mosley was not there. He has been the champion of turning things green in F1 and here was a chance to both bang the drum and bask in the glory. Instead Honda roped in the Sports Minister, who made a rather dull speech.

They all drank rather a lot but everyone seemed to be sold on the idea.

"The only problem," The Mole told FIA consultant Tony Purnell, "is that the car is not quick enough and a fancy colour scheme is not going to find the missing tenths."

Purnell looked a little startled.

February 28 2007

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