Toot Baldon, here we come!February 22, 2012
Mrs Mole had disappeared to see a distant nonagenarian relative for the weekend and Mrs Batty had seized the opportunity to go off to visit her sister Beryl in Brighton. This meant that The Mole was by himself, and rather than stay at home and do nothing in particular, he decided that it would be fun to go for a day out in the country in his Alvis TF21, on an old-fashioned motoring tour. He wondered if any of the Penelopes might be interested, as driving around with beautiful young women is good for the ego of an older gentleman. In the end, however, he decided that the girls were probably not old-fashioned enough and so he asked The Colonel, his next door neighbour and a staunch supporter of the Conservative Party.
“Only if there are no motorways,” said The Colonel. “Dashed uncivilised things.”
“Shall we go to have lunch at The Mole in Toot Baldon?” said The Mole.
“Is that the place with the skinny chips and fat chips,” said The Colonel. “And with fabulous stodgy puddings? “
The Mole nodded.
“Fine idea,” said The Colonel. “You know my passion for a good stodgy pudding.”
They rooted around and found a copy of an old Times Atlas of Britain and, hunched over it like a pair of schoolboys looking for towns with rude names in Africa, they sketched out a route from Surrey to Toot Baldon, which for the uninitiated is a small village not far from Oxford.
“We’ll go to Egham and Windsor,” said The Mole. “A nice regal route. Fit for an Alvis.”
“And then we should go to Maidenhead and Henley,” said The Colonel. “So very English.”
“And Nettlebed,” declared The Mole. “Oh, I love this part of the world. Such splendid names: Brighton Baldwin, Berrick Salome, Preston Crowmarsh, Stoke Talmage. It’s just perfect. God’s own country.”
“All that and stodgy puddings as well,” said The Colonel. “Isn’t it great to be English!”
Saturday was cold, but sunny. A beautiful winter day. They had buttery bacon sandwiches and steaming mugs of tea in the kitchen, and then fired up the grumbling Alvis and set off through the country lanes. There was plenty to discuss.
“I hear there is a right old Charlie Foxtrot going on with HRT,” said The Colonel.
“A what?|” said The Mole.
“A Charlie Foxtrot,” said The Colonel. “You know. Phonetic alphabet for C and F, which stands for Cluster and F…
“…Ah yes,” said The Mole. “I get it. Very droll. Yes, I suppose so. They are making a bit of a pig’s ear of getting the new car out. Still, we do not complain. My job is to promote the British motorsport industry so when other nations make a mess of things, they are really doing our job for us. We applaud that. You know the British, always a very sporting nation!”
The Colonel knew that The Mole’s job was to promote the motorsport industry, but he was under the mistaken impression that his pal worked in a dull office somewhere off Whitehall. He had no idea that the Motor Racing and Trade Development Department was part of the Secret Intelligence Service and that The Mole was really the head of a clandestine network.
“We’re really rather lucky at the moment,” said The Mole. “We have a fantastic Formula 1 factory in Germany that is being completely wasted by Toyota. Colin Kolles has the makings of an F1 team down Ingolstadt way, but he does not have an F1 entry, nor the money. We have the Epsilon Euskadi factory in Spain sitting unused and the old Prost factory, near Paris, has been sold off to an electricity company, so that is no longer a threat. This is all splendid news for the British motorsport industry. There was also that idea to use the NASCAR cluster in North Carolina to build F1 cars. Thankfully that was headed off at the pass. We cannot do much about Ferrari, apart from taking it over from the inside, and Sauber and Toro Rosso are not really very worrying in the overall scheme of things. We don’t like all these foreign chaps buying up our F1 teams, but at least they keep them in England. In any case, the owners come and go.”
The Colonel nodded sagely.
“Well, there is Williams,” he said. “That’s British.”
“Not as British as it used to be,” said The Mole. “Remember there is an ambitious Austrian fellow called Wolff who wants to gobble it up, and some Dutchmen have bought shares as well. We had Brawn for a while, between the team being known as Honda and Mercedes, but Ross and his chums took the money and ran.”
“And you cannot blame them,” said The Colonel. “You would have done the same.”
The Mole hrmphed, but did not dispute the point.
“McLaren is owned by various Arabs,” he went on. “The Austrians have Red Bull. The Malaysians own Caterham and they will soon have the old Arrows place in Leafield as well. And the Russians have Marussia in Banbury.”
“What are people from Luxembourg called?” said The Colonel. “Luxemburgers? Luxembourgeois?”
“I believe the term is Lëtzebürgers,” said The Mole. “But I am not quite sure. Perhaps it is one of those places where the call themselves different things in different villages.”
“Letsy-burger sounds like a fast food restaurant,” said The Colonel. ”Anyway, you know what I mean. That lot have the Lotus name and the Enstone factory.”
“For the moment,” said The Mole. “We are watching that one quiet closely. We think there is potential for Britian to reclaim the team, although to be quite honest it was only British back in the days of Ted Toleman.”
“And what about the Forced Indians,” said The Colonel, trying to be funny.
The Mole smiled weakly.
“Yes, well we’re not quite sure what is going on there,” he said. “This Mallya chap is all very showy, what with his bling and his big boats, but he is sailing around in a sea of debt back home in India. It is a real mess, actually. And then there is this Sahara fellow who controls a chunk of the team. I think it has disaster written all over it, but we will have to wait and see. They chaps in Silverstone are doing a very good job. I mean it is still an English team, despite the name. We are a little bit worried in the long term. We will have to see how things develop. Remember the mess they got into after the Jordan days, with that funny Russian lot and then the Dutch. We will have to see how that develops in the future.
“We reckon that there currently two ways in which we can get another team under British ownership: there is Team Lotus and there is Force India,” The Mole went on. “I suppose that one day Red Bull will get bored with F1 and that will give Christian Horner the chance to take over the team with Arden, or whatever. Times are hard outside F1 as well. We‘ve lost Super Nova Racing in GP2 now, so the only British teams left there are iSport and Carlin.”
“Don’t these chaps have ambitions,” said The Colonel. “You know like Prodrive used to have. Lola, and folk like that.”
“Yes, said The Mole. “They have the ambitions, but they need money.”
“And there is that Larry Drayson chap, isn’t there?” said The Colonel.
“Baron Drayson?” said The Mole. “He’s not called Larry.”
“He’s not called Baron either,” said The Colonel. “Besides he’s a Labourite, isn’t he?”
“I think his name is Paul,” said The Mole. “He used to be a government minister and he’s done politics. He is still pretty young and he is very well–connected and, most importantly, his big thing is environmentalism, so the new F1 rules in 2014 might suit him well. I don’t really know his agenda. Maybe he wants to become an electric car manufacturer. He’s doing Le Mans at the moment with some hybrid thing. He seems like a clever chap, made a fortune in pharmaceuticals, played around in politics and is now heavily into racing. I can see him having ambition. He’s worth watching.”
They were silent for a while.
“Yes,” The Mole thought. “I’d better send one of the Penelopes down there to Gloucestershire to check out Lord Larry.”