Clarkson's Sunday Times Columns

Revelator

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Yes, I admit it: justice in Cyprus is blind and blameless. Now can I phone my lawyer, officer? (Jan. 12)

When I heard that car industry boss Carlos Ghosn had been arrested, I assumed it was for green-lighting the dreary Nissan Juke. But no. It turned out that his alleged crimes had something to do with accountancy.

I don't understand this sort of thing. When I visit my accountant and he is talking about pensions and tax, I know it's important, so I fix him with a hard stare and concentrate like hell. But when he's finished, none of it has gone in, because all I heard was a voice in my head saying: "Must listen."

Anyway, Ghosn claimed that all the charges came about because it was felt in Tokyo he was letting the French arm of the company, Renault, trample all over the Japanese part, Nissan. As a motoring writer, I felt it was important to get up to speed, but after two minutes of reading, I felt the onset of sleep coursing through my head like a big warm blanket.

When I woke up, Ghosn was gone.

Rumours suggested a team that included former Green Beret commandos dressed as Gregorian musicians had turned up at the place where he was under house arrest and smuggled him onto a bullet train, and then aboard a private jet inside some kind of musical instrument case. Yup. He'd scarpered. So, obviously, he was as guilty as hell of whatever it was he's supposed to have done.

But then I learnt that in Japan, prosecutors have a 99.9% success rate. If I were facing those odds, I'd also want to be smuggled out of the country — in a matchbox if necessary. Of course, you expect to find weird justice in backward places, but Japan's a surprise. And it's not the only one.

In Armenia, they threatened to make a man sit on a bottle until he confessed to a crime he didn't commit.

In Australia, Plod kept the recording devices off as they "interviewed" a suspect and then miraculously turned them on just before he owned up. The man was inside for 11 years before the authorities admitted they may have screwed up.

The Canadians have been busted for helping a witness with his mortgage payments. The Finns tried one woman twice for murdering her husband and got it wrong both times. The Icelandics have been known to keep suspects in solitary for more than 600 days.

Even the Germans can't be trusted. In 2001, a man crashed his car into a river. His body was discovered after eight years of being nibbled by fish. There was no evidence that a crime had taken place, but even so, various members of his family were convicted of his killing.

And all of this brings me neatly to recent events in Cyprus. Now, I've had some experience with police in that part of the world. On a night out in Crete, my then girlfriend was touched by a young local man in a bar. When I asked him to stop, he and his friends took me outside, tied me into an interesting reef knot and then peed on me. When the police arrived, one of the locals punched me in the head, and after that I was arrested for "insulting the Greek flag".

It was very poor policing, if I'm honest, but this rape business in Ayia Napa is on another level. Sure, when the case was first reported, I figured the police were on the right track. They imagined some silly woman had it away with a man she'd just met, his mates piled in, and the next day she dealt with the guilt by saying she'd been raped.

I wasn't at all surprised that the Israelis involved in this incident were allowed to go home, and was actually quite glad that she'd been charged with causing a public mischief.

But then, interesting details started to emerge. The bruises on her body. The fact she hadn't been allowed access to a lawyer. The extraordinary confession, which plainly hadn't been written by anyone with English as a first language. "I discovered them recording me doing sexual intercourse." Really? Sure, the police in Ayia Napa must be heartily fed up with the annual arrival of several thousand puking, brawling sex enthusiasts, so it's only natural they'll have little sympathy when one of them cries rape. I get that. But what were the courts thinking of? In a civilised country such as Cyprus, it's their job to take a cool, detached look at the evidence. And yet, somehow, they reckoned there was no reasonable doubt, found her guilty and gave her a four-month suspended prison sentence.

There are calls for tourists to boycott Cyprus and I hope they have the reach of a bittern's boom. I hope every youngster thinks about the plight of that poor young woman and decides to go somewhere else. And I hope the police who conducted her interview are made to sit on very large bottles until they have finished writing out, a thousand times: "I must not fabricate statements."

I have a similar problem with America. Last year, a woman called Anne Sacoolas left the US military base in Northamptonshire where her husband worked and drove on the wrong side of the road until her car hit a young biker called Harry Dunn. He was killed and she fled back to the States.

Harry's devastated parents have been a model of dignity as they have pleaded with her to come back and face the music. But she has claimed diplomatic immunity and is apparently backed by the US authorities, who say that charging her is not a "helpful development".

Her US lawyer has suggested that our legal system isn't up to much, and you know that she has in mind the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six. Yet America, remember, is a country that can't even work out a humane way to execute criminals. Unless they are several thousand miles away, at an airport in Baghdad.

So let's end on a lighter note by wondering if the people who helped Carlos Ghosn escape will one day become known as the Renault Five.

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And here's the Sun column: "Resign from the Royal Family? Do they know the next in line is…Prince Andrew?"
 

Revelator

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Driving a digger is in a man's DNA, ladies. Now sit back and watch me make a horlicks of it (Jan. 19)

We live in modern times, when a woman can win the heavyweight boxing championship of the world, if that's what she wants, and this is all very tremendous. But despite what you read on the monoculture that is social media, there are still certain things that a man feels he can do and a woman cannot.

One of the things a man thinks he can do, and a woman cannot, is score a penalty in a game of football. We think it's in our DNA, and we continue to believe it even though all the evidence suggests otherwise. I once took a penalty and — no kidding — the nearest the ball got to the goal was when it was on the spot. As soon as my foot connected with it, it was moving away. But even so, I still think that, under the dilapidated fatman suit, I'm Lionel Messi.

Then there's opening a bottle of HP Sauce. We can do that. We are born with the ability, in the same way that we are born without an ability to knit. We can also do a handbrake turn, cook meat on a barbecue, eat very hot curries without fainting, operate everything without reading the instruction book, win big at the races, make cement, remember every single line in Where Eagles Dare and nothing at all that's ever come out of Hugh Grant's mouth, land a plane in an emergency — and even not in an emergency — cut down a tree, shoot a deer and, above all else, operate heavy construction equipment.

That's why, last week, I didn't hesitate for a moment when the man from JCB, handing me the keys to a 22-ton excavator, asked if I knew what I was doing. Of course I knew what I was doing. "Yes," I said, with a look of genuine incredulity etched into every single one of my facial features. Even my nose looked surprised and hurt.

Job one was to attach the shovel thing to the end of the arm. I don't know the technical name for this as I didn't read the manual; I just climbed aboard, started the engine and began to move the various levers around.

Fifteen minutes later the man arrived in the cab, and 15 seconds after that the shovel thing was attached. Then he left me alone again and off I went, pushing the levers backwards, forwards and from side to side to see what they all did. Very soon I had mastered everything, which is only to be expected from someone who is a card-carrying member of the Testicle Owners' Club.

Then I arrived at the top of a steep bank. No worries. This was a very large piece of equipment that had two tracks. It was basically a big yellow tank, and tanks can go down steep banks, so off I went.

Immediately, things went awry, because the whole thing wasn't driving down the slope. It was sliding. And it was starting to spin. If it turned through 90 degrees, it would fall over, and despite assurances that the glass box in which I was sitting would protect me, I felt certain that in seconds the last breath would be escaping from my shattered and ruined body.

Now, when I have an emergency in a car, I know instinctively what to do. I undo my seatbelt and get in the back. But in an excavator, it turned out, I was at a loss. There are no brakes, for example. And there's no steering wheel. I pushed one lever in a panic and it was only pure blind luck that caused the arm with the shovel thing on the end to plunge into the earth and halt my slide. Or was it luck? Maybe — just maybe — it was my Y chromosome at work.

Whatever, I'd arrived at my destination, I was alive and my plan was intact. I was going to scrape off the topsoil — and maybe a bit of subsoil — to create an area of wetland that would be visited by otters and damselflies and water voles, and I would become the darling of social media. Princess Me-Gain, or the Duchess of Sussex, or whatever she's called these days, would drop by and we'd do selfies together in a blizzard of butterflies and lapwings.

First, though, I had to do a bit of delicate scraping, which was tricky because it required a light touch. And I don't really do light touches. I do heavy touches. So heavy that soon there was a 12ft-deep hole in front of me and a mountain of soil behind. A mountain I now had to climb if I wanted to escape.

It didn't go very well. In fact, it went so not very well that soon the digger was teetering at a precarious angle. One tiny breath of wind and it would fall over. So the man from JCB politely but urgently asked me to get out of the cab so he could save this £150,000 machine from certain death. He didn't seem so bothered about me.

Realising, once the excavator was back on an even keel, that I'd made a terrible hash of my wetland plans in that particular valley, I decided to apply them somewhere else.

So off I trundled, slithering and slipping and dragging myself along, using the arm and the shovel thing, until, eventually, I was in the right place to dig another hole.

Whereupon I went straight through the pipe that takes water to the cottage where I live. And a few other cottages as well. Tonight I'm having a Chinese takeaway, and when my neighbours drop round to say things, I'm pretending to be out.

The farm, meanwhile, looks like a set from the film 1917. I've never seen such devastation. I'm also fearful that I've killed several hundred animals. I've certainly torn apart several trees, and at least 50 anthills.

As I write, my girlfriend is out in the rain, marshalling operations to get the digger I borrowed out of the river. If she can also reconnect the water pipe, I may have a long, soapy bath later.

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A colossus with its heart torn out: the Mercedes-Benz G 350 dAMG Line (Jan. 19)

The enormous Henry Willis organ at the Royal Albert Hall has 147 stops and a bewildering array of 9,999 pipes. It is a colossus. A shrieking, bellowing blitzkrieg of chest-smashing decibels.

So imagine all those disappointed faces at the Proms if someone decided to replace it with a nice upright piano. Well, that's what Mercedes has done with the G-wagen. Removed the hadron collider from under its bonnet and replaced it with a penny whistle.

It was ballsy of Mercedes not only to keep the G-wagen in production but also to decide over the years that it should be gently updated and fitted with all sorts of new stuff the previous versions didn't have — such as steering.

I mean, why would you persevere with a car that had simply no place in an increasingly green world? And why, having made that choice, would you decide that the only engine you'd offer was a twin-turbocharged V8 that came with enough torque and power to move tectonic plates? This is the sort of engine God uses to start worlds.

And it's hard to think of any single thing that is more out of step with current thinking. Driving one of these around the place is like sitting in the royal box at Wimbledon in a mankini.

I think I know why Mercedes did it, though. Because there are enough customers around the world who will always want a very large, very noticeable off-road car.

These people bought Humvees, and before that Jeep Wranglers with eagles on the bonnet.

I think the twin-turbo V8 Mercedes-AMG G 63 is a hilarious and wonderful car, and said so when I reviewed it last year. But I didn't think it would be hilarious or wonderful if you removed its reason for being — that colossal engine — and replaced it with a miserable diesel. Because what would be the point? The only reason you'd buy a G-wagen is its full-fatness, and you don't get that from a diesel. What are you saying about yourself: that you care about the planet? Really? So you've bought a 2½-ton tank that runs on a fuel that kills old ladies in their beds? You might as well try to win hearts and minds by hosting a world turtle strangling competition. There is no reason on earth Mercedes should have fitted its leviathan with a diesel power plant. But it has. And it gets worse, because it's the 3-litre six-cylinder unit you'll find in both E-class and S-class models. Except, for reasons that are not clear, it's been detuned in the G-wagen, so it's even less powerful.

In theory, of course, a detuned engine will be more fuel-efficient than one that's been strained to bursting point. That said, the G 350 diesel can manage only 25.9mpg, which isn't much more than you get from the AMG V8 monster. And here's the final, and perhaps biggest, problem. It costs — sit down for this — more than £96,000. That's £96,000 for a slow, uneconomical, five-seat, uncool German army lorry.

I was intrigued, so I decided to borrow one to see if I could spot what appeared to be missing on paper. Perhaps it would have the sort of turning circle Triumph Herald owners can only dream about. Nope. It arrived nose-first in my drive and I had to execute a 6,000-point turn to get it out again. When you're told by the sat nav to "execute a U-turn", you're going to need a deserted car park.

And then I was on the road and — oh dear. Yes, the new G-wagen is much more composed than the ones from yesteryear, but it still has a ladder chassis, like Stephenson's Rocket. And this makes the ride very busy. It doesn't glide; it lurches.

Speed? It's better than I was expecting, bearing in mind the engine produces four horsepower and the front end has the aerodynamic properties of the British Library. But it's not a speedy car. Perhaps that's a good thing, because it's tall, so it'd probably fall over if you went round a corner too quickly.

Then there's the boot. The door opens sideways, which means in town centres it doesn't open at all. I know Mercedes couldn't have hinged it at the top — no one would be tall enough to shut it — but why didn't it go for a split, folding system like on a Range Rover? It's not a patented design. I can only imagine it didn't want to be seen to be copying Tommy.

Off road? Well, there are now lots of buttons that can be pressed to engage various differential locks, and that's excellent. But when I tried the car in my fields, it hadn't stopped raining for 11 weeks, so the ground was sodden. And in such conditions you can have as many diff locks and low-range gearboxes as you like — you aren't going anywhere unless you have some proper winter tyres. And the G-wagen didn't. In its defence, my Range Rover was just as hopeless. In fact, come to think of it, it's been stuck there for a week now. I really ought to try to get it back.

Now we get to the good stuff. The interior is beautifully done. There's wood trim that actually works and all sorts of disco lighting to play with when you're stuck in traffic. Plus the dash is a joy to behold and wonderful to use. It may not be a £96,000-plus car in any other respect, but when you're inside, it feels as though it may be worth the money.

And I adore the driving position. I'm tall when I'm on foot, and it feels right and proper that I should be tall when on the road. And in the G-wagen I felt like the love child of Richard Osman and Miranda Hart. If you're a shorty, you'll love it up there. You can even see your own indicators.

I'm trying to be fair here. I'm trying to find the good points in a car that doesn't really make much sense. I agree, a big Range Rover doesn't make much sense either. But, I dunno, it feels so much less unnecessary than the big Benz. And much less bouncy as well.

I'm glad Mercedes made it. I'm glad it thinks there are people who'll buy a G-wagen and then, at the last moment, have a crisis of confidence and select the diesel option to make them feel more … what? Environmentally aware? I don't think there are, though.

I think if you are disposed towards a car such as this, you're going to want the full soundtrack and a throttle pedal that lets you pull all the stops out. You're going to want the Henry Willis-AMG version. And if you don't, you're going to want something else entirely.

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And here's the Sun column: "If BBC made The Crown a guy in wheelchair would play The Queen and Prince Philip would be played by Idris Elba"
 
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