If the cap fits

The Mole trudged through the freezing darkness towards the glow of the village pub. He could hear the distant laughter and a quiet tinkle of glasses and he knew that in a moment he would be out of the bitter cold and into the warmth of an English tavern. A fire would be burning in the hearth and the bar would be filled with the eccentric sort of folk one finds in such places. He smiled to himself. There might be a lot wrong with Britain, but the village inn has been there since time immemorial and will continue to cheer up the miserable English for centuries to come, when tapas bars and gastro pubs have long been consigned to history. He decided as he walked that he would order a Whisky Mac, the perfect blend of whisky and that most glorious of British inventions ginger wine, which for centuries has been known as an aid to digestion, a very effective aphrodisiac and a protection against cholera.

The Mole laughed. Cholera in Surrey, he thought. Whatever next? Women becoming Catholic priests?

He was going to stay at the pub just for an hour or so. When he had left Mole Manor Mrs Mole had mumbled about Mrs Batty preparing a wonderful steak and kidney pie and The Mole was keen to get back for that. But it was important to catch up with his friends after a Christmas and New Year spent wrapped up with grandchildren, carol concerts and Thank You letters. He had not seen The Colonel nor the Reverend O for several weeks and he found that he actually missed them, just as he missed the Penelopes when he was out of the office.

Most of the village seemed to be in the pub, including the Reverend O, who had a very red nose and appeared to have had a couple of sherries more than usual.

The Colonel was sitting in his habitual spot, propping up the bar, as he always did.

"Aha!" said the old soldier. "The Mole has returned! Didn't see your name in the New Year's Honours List, old chap."

The Colonel always had a way of finding The Mole's most sensitive spot.

"There was no room for worthies like me," said The Mole. "One has to play to public opinion, you know. So give gongs to every obscure cyclist, rower and yachtsman in the Olympic Games. I cannot believe how many cyclists got medals. Britain leads the world in motorsport and there were more cyclists in one Honours List than there have been racing people in the last 10 years. It is just not right. And giving Lewis Hamilton an MBE is a disgrace. World Champions always get OBEs."

The Colonel nodded.

"That was odd, wasn't it?"

"They only give medals to TV celebrities these days," said The Mole. "The next thing will be Dame Paris Hilton."

The Mole ordered his Whisky Mac.

"So what's up, chum?" said The Colonel.

"Same old, same old," said The Mole. "We're a bit worried about job losses in Formula 1. You know, after the agreements in December. I hear on the grapevine that Renault has already decided to let about 50 people go and they are asking the others to take a cut in salary."

The Colonel frowned.

"If you look at NASCAR in the United States," The Mole went on. "They have laid off about 600 people in the last six weeks. It's frightening over there. And the great Petty Enterprises has been wiped out. That is like Ferrari disappearing. They have been in NASCAR since 1949 and have the best record of any team."

"It is the survival of the fittest, isn't it?" said The Colonel.

"The thing in F1 is that the test teams are obviously going to be in trouble," said The Mole. "And there are going to have to be cuts in aerodynamic people if they are going to restrict the time that the wind tunnels can be used."

The Colonel nodded.

"The thing I don't get," he said, "is why the sport is going on paying outrageous salaries to its stars and putting other people out of business. How much money do these drivers need? If you are paid $10m a year that money will get you through the rest of your life in great comfort, but some of these guys are being paid $40m a year, every year. It is just an ego thing. A measure of their worth. They don't need the money. They should not be paid it! If you ask me it is the work of a moment for the teams to say that all drivers will be paid a maximum of $10m. Only a few of the big earners will be affected and in any case they don't choose the teams because of the money, at least not if they are serious racers. They want to win and the money is a bonus. There is nothing to stop sponsors giving the drivers personal bonuses, but shifting the costs from the team would mean that many jobs could be saved. Maybe one or two of these guys would try to sue, but how is that going to look when they go to court and try to argue that they should get money they do not need while hundreds of others should be put out of work."

"Wow," said The Mole. "You have a bee in your bonnet."

"Well," said The Colonel. "It is just insane. It is mad that half the revenues of the sport disappear into financial companies that care nothing for the sport. It is just wrong. These fat cats in the City do not need the cash. They are the same as the drivers. They are just greedy."

"I think it is human nature," said The Mole. "If you have the chance to earn a disgraceful amount of money, you are going to take it. Even if someone else suffers. That is just capitalism."

"Well I think salary cap-italism is a good idea!" The Colonel said, and took a large swig of whatever it was he was drinking.

January 6 2009

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