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"
 

Revelator

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This Python is no more, he has ceased to be but, boy, did he ruffle the Establishment's feathers (Jan. 26)

Terry Jones died last week, and within minutes of him running down the curtain to join the choir invisible, all of the usual suspects were falling over themselves, and whatever furniture was in the way, to be first on social media to say that they were Monty Python's biggest fan.

They weren't. I was. When I was nine years old, my dad came into my bedroom in what felt like the middle of the night and asked me to come downstairs to watch something he'd found on television. "It's very important," he said.

"Important." That was the word he used. Assuming that a giant space snail had consumed Rome, I toddled in his wake to the sitting room, where, on our black-and-white set, there were some flying sheep, followed by a man in an army outfit saying they were silly. It didn't look very important to me.

But every Sunday night after that, I was not allowed to go to bed until Monty Python had finished. I never laughed at what they did and nor did my dad. He would just sit in his Dralon chair with his elbows on his knees, staring at the screen and concentrating. Really concentrating. Like he was getting the results of a worrying cancer scan.

When the Python team finally got round to making a proper full-length film — Monty Python and the Holy Grail — all the cinemas around where I lived in the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire were screening Soviet propaganda films. So I was driven to London. It was a three-hour journey to watch the Knights of Ni and Prince Herbert's curtains. And again, we did not so much as snigger.

Here's the strange thing, though. We went back the next day to see it again. And over the coming weeks and months, I saw it so often that I knew every single line off by heart.

A year after it came out, I was sitting in my study at school with just seven days to go before my O-level English exam. They were going to ask me questions about The Merchant of Venice, a book I had doodled in but not read. I was in a blind panic. But then I thought: "Hang on. If I can become word perfect in the Holy Grail, why can't I learn this twaddle as well?" So I did. And a week later, I passed, with an A. I don't think of myself as being particularly obsessive but when it comes to Python, I'm off the scale. I even become furious if people quote a line and get it slightly wrong. Like Trekkies do when someone talks about Doctor Spock. "He wasn't a doctor, you imbecile!" I was not alone. As recently as the Eighties, I used to play a game with a friend. We'd take it in turns to call one another in the morning and say one tiny phrase from any Python TV show, film or record, and then we'd have until five that night to call back with the sketch from which it came. He once called me and said "Because". And because I was such a nerd, I had the answer by lunchtime. The Four Yorkshiremen: "Because we were poor."

I can still do it. When I received a text last week from another old friend saying simply "stapling machine Mrs Zambezi", I knew at once that Terry Jones would no longer voom, even if you put 4,000 volts through him. And even though, as John Cleese once said, I shouldn't get sentimental, because things explode every day, I was very sad.

It's hard to explain why. Yes. My dad's weird relationship with Python developed eventually to the point where John Cleese took him, and me, out to dinner after a show on the troupe's First Farewell Tour and I'd sat next to Terry Jones, who scrawled all sorts of things in my copy of the Big Red Book. But that's not why I'm sad. I once sat next to Dale Winton and I didn't get all blubbery when he went west.

There's a bigger reason. Python was the language of my youth. Like French, I didn't find it at all amusing when I was learning it, but when I became proficient, I found myself in a small club of uber-fans, and I liked it there. Kids now have to know about football. But then, if you were at a public school, you had to know about Monty Python. It was the law.

Quite often on my Grand Tour show, I urge my colleagues to not get "bogged down" with something. Amazon recently put together of a montage of me saying this over and over, and it's online. And I like the way that only a tiny number of people know where the allusion comes from. Swamp Castle. The same place that causes me even today to refer to breasts as "tracts of land".

That's what Monty Python is. To some, it's a bridge between the bum-titty-wee-wee jokes of yesteryear and the political satire of today. It was the first "comedy" show where no punchline was expected. And all of this is probably true.

But more than that, it became the very thing the Pythons despised. A club. A club for people who know the sketches are not funny — they're clever.

My favourite of them all is hard to pick. It's either Royal Festival Hall Concert, featuring Emile Gilbert performing "Tchaikovsky's Contezana Padoano", or it's Novel Writing, in which we are given a cricket-style commentary from Dorset on Thomas Hardy writing his latest novel. Because these best epitomise what it was all about.

The Pythons were intellectuals, and yet here they were, poking fun at their own kind. Most people who've read Hardy like Hardy. The Pythons were giving us permission to say: "Yeah. But he's a bit dull isn't he?" They were doing things with snobbery that no one had done before. And no one has done since. They were screwing with the Establishment long before the Duchess of Sussex had even been born.

And that's what I think my dad recognised very quickly. It wasn't comedy and it wasn't satire and it wasn't funny. But, ooh, it was important.

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Too hardcore even to think about: The Clarkson Review: BMW M8 Competition coupé (Jan. 26)

Until quite recently, public-school kids who wished to practise the art of being sick while simultaneously catching chlamydia would finish their final A-levels and head immediately to the Cornish fishing port of Newquay.

This meant that every summer the town became a brawling mass of floppy-haired Humphreys and tottering young Humphreyettas, emerging from their underwear into the dizzyingly complicated world of being a drink-obsessed northern European adult.

The locals didn't like this very much, so a new policeman was drafted in. He went to war on underage drinking and the kebab shops. On his watch, the postcodes of kids who had made block bookings at a local campsite were checked and a school briefing about sea safety and the perils of drinking was arranged before they left home.

In pursuit of the greater good, Sergeant Nicholas Angel oversaw the destruction of houses deemed "horrible", prosecuted local journalists if they spelt someone's name wrong and shoved a model cathedral through Timothy Dalton's chin. No, wait — that was in the film Hot Fuzz. But it's not far from what's been happening in Newquay.

The officer didn't actually say to the visitors, "Look, Blackpool is more your scene," but he can't have been too bothered when messages started cropping up to this effect on social media. He was winning. By clamping down on outdoor vomiting, Newquay wasn't worth the effort any more, the kids decided. And now they've pretty much gone.

Today it's all vegan cafes and public displays of yoga on the beach. Apparently this is better. I'm not sure, though. If I lived there, I'd far rather be carpet bombed by a million well-off kids every summer than have to navigate my way down the shoreline past a million plump ladies doing a downward dog.

Nonetheless, I have a great deal of respect for Sergeant Angel, whose real name is Inspector Dave Meredith. Because he's proved that with intelligent, longterm thinking, police work really can improve the lot of the locals.

I see something similar emerging round where I live in Mudfordshire. The local police station closed recently and response times became measurable in days. It didn't take long for crims to notice this, and now all we ever talk about round these parts is who was burgled last night and who'll be next.

In the run-up to Christmas, though, I started to see a much bigger police presence. Twice I've seen a proper jam sandwich in the local village, and in the town the Five-O are patrolling in pairs. Like Crockett and Tubbs, only with less linen and more belly.

What's more, because they are local police for local people, they know what to stop and what to leave alone. Over the Christmas break, someone I know was driving an unlicensed, uninsured, non-roadworthy vehicle with 16 children on board.And all she got from the fuzz was a friendly wave. They knew who she was and where she was going, and since no one was going to be stabbed as a result, they didn't bother breaking out the stinger.

They certainly didn't trouble me, either, as I went about my business, because I was driving the fastest, and one of the priciest, BMW production models ever made: the 617 horsepower, 553 torque and — if you buy the M Driver's Package — 190mph M8 Competition. And I was driving it as fast as conditions would allow. Which was about 6mph.

Even though it had four-wheel drive, I did not once push my right foot all the way to the firewall. The roads were far too greasy and smeared — mostly by my tractor — with a thin veneer of watery mud. Apply 600 horsepower to a surface like that and you're going to need a head wand for the next few years, that's for sure.

So, what's the point of this car then? Ah, well, there's the thing. I don't really know. Elsewhere in the world,you can buy a normal M8 coupé, but for some reason, BMW has decided that the Britishers would only want the full, uncut, hardcore version.

And it's very hardcore. The ride is brutal. Far too brutal. And so is the turn-in when you get to a corner. BMW has even fitted this car with strengthened engine mounts to make sure the big, heavy lump under the bonnet turns just as quickly as the rest of the vehicle . On a racing circuit, this would be tremendous, I'm sure, especially if you put the car in Track mode. But you're not going to take a £120,000-plus coupé to a racetrack. Particularly as it weighs almost two tons.

Weirdly, despite the bumpy ride and the sharpness, you can sense this weight as you move along.

And it feels as if you're controlling a ballerina who's turned up for work in her wellies. I didn't much like the steering, either. I haven't liked the steering in any BMW M car for some time now. And I also didn't like the drive-by-wire brakes. They felt artificial and I found myself not really knowing how hard to press the pedal.

Then there was the interior.

And that didn't blow my frock up much. I don't mind that the back seats would only be suitable for Richard Hammond's pet mouse — it's a coupé, after all — but I did mind that the dash looks pretty much identical to the dash you get in a normal 3-series. For not far off this kind of money, you could have a Bentley Continental GT, and sitting in that is like sitting in the jewellery box of one of Bernie Ecclestone's daughters.

At this point, I usually try to turn things around with a nice jolly "but". I can't really, though, because the not-so-good news keeps coming. There's something wrong with the styling. The back end is too heavy, and the wheels don't seem to fill the arches. Maybe things will be better in the new four-door Gran Coupé version. But only if it can be used, by normal people, on the road.

The M8 Competition cannot.

There's too much power and too much weight. If you want a car that goes this quickly, then you'd be better off with something designed for that kind of work. A Porsche 911, for example, or a McLaren GT, or an Aston Martin DB11. Not the DBS Superleggera, though, because that has the same problems as the Beemer.

If, on the other hand, you want a car that's a nice place to sit, then you're better off, as I said, with a Bentley Continental GT, which is no slouch either. I'm sad, really, because I've always liked BMW's big coupés. But it seems to have taken its eye off the ball with the latest 8-series. Not one of the versions I've tried so far, including — especially including — the diesel, makes any sense.

They need Sergeant Angel in the next management meeting. To get this car back to what it should be. Which is about £30,000 cheaper, three times prettier, three times less complicated, half a ton lighter and much, much less powerful. As it is, it's a clever answer to a question no one was asking.

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And here's the Sun column: "We can hold onto historical institutions and still be a modern country"
 

jeffjeremy

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This Python is no more, he has ceased to be but, boy, did he ruffle the Establishment's feathers (Jan. 26)

Terry Jones died last week, and within minutes of him running down the curtain to join the choir invisible, all of the usual suspects were falling over themselves, and whatever furniture was in the way, to be first on social media to say that they were Monty Python's biggest fan.

They weren't. I was. When I was nine years old, my dad came into my bedroom in what felt like the middle of the night and asked me to come downstairs to watch something he'd found on television. "It's very important," he said.

"Important." That was the word he used. Assuming that a giant space snail had consumed Rome, I toddled in his wake to the sitting room, where, on our black-and-white set, there were some flying sheep, followed by a man in an army outfit saying they were silly. It didn't look very important to me.

But every Sunday night after that, I was not allowed to go to bed until Monty Python had finished. I never laughed at what they did and nor did my dad. He would just sit in his Dralon chair with his elbows on his knees, staring at the screen and concentrating. Really concentrating. Like he was getting the results of a worrying cancer scan.

When the Python team finally got round to making a proper full-length film — Monty Python and the Holy Grail — all the cinemas around where I lived in the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire were screening Soviet propaganda films. So I was driven to London. It was a three-hour journey to watch the Knights of Ni and Prince Herbert's curtains. And again, we did not so much as snigger.

Here's the strange thing, though. We went back the next day to see it again. And over the coming weeks and months, I saw it so often that I knew every single line off by heart.

A year after it came out, I was sitting in my study at school with just seven days to go before my O-level English exam. They were going to ask me questions about The Merchant of Venice, a book I had doodled in but not read. I was in a blind panic. But then I thought: "Hang on. If I can become word perfect in the Holy Grail, why can't I learn this twaddle as well?" So I did. And a week later, I passed, with an A. I don't think of myself as being particularly obsessive but when it comes to Python, I'm off the scale. I even become furious if people quote a line and get it slightly wrong. Like Trekkies do when someone talks about Doctor Spock. "He wasn't a doctor, you imbecile!" I was not alone. As recently as the Eighties, I used to play a game with a friend. We'd take it in turns to call one another in the morning and say one tiny phrase from any Python TV show, film or record, and then we'd have until five that night to call back with the sketch from which it came. He once called me and said "Because". And because I was such a nerd, I had the answer by lunchtime. The Four Yorkshiremen: "Because we were poor."

I can still do it. When I received a text last week from another old friend saying simply "stapling machine Mrs Zambezi", I knew at once that Terry Jones would no longer voom, even if you put 4,000 volts through him. And even though, as John Cleese once said, I shouldn't get sentimental, because things explode every day, I was very sad.

It's hard to explain why. Yes. My dad's weird relationship with Python developed eventually to the point where John Cleese took him, and me, out to dinner after a show on the troupe's First Farewell Tour and I'd sat next to Terry Jones, who scrawled all sorts of things in my copy of the Big Red Book. But that's not why I'm sad. I once sat next to Dale Winton and I didn't get all blubbery when he went west.

There's a bigger reason. Python was the language of my youth. Like French, I didn't find it at all amusing when I was learning it, but when I became proficient, I found myself in a small club of uber-fans, and I liked it there. Kids now have to know about football. But then, if you were at a public school, you had to know about Monty Python. It was the law.

Quite often on my Grand Tour show, I urge my colleagues to not get "bogged down" with something. Amazon recently put together of a montage of me saying this over and over, and it's online. And I like the way that only a tiny number of people know where the allusion comes from. Swamp Castle. The same place that causes me even today to refer to breasts as "tracts of land".

That's what Monty Python is. To some, it's a bridge between the bum-titty-wee-wee jokes of yesteryear and the political satire of today. It was the first "comedy" show where no punchline was expected. And all of this is probably true.

But more than that, it became the very thing the Pythons despised. A club. A club for people who know the sketches are not funny — they're clever.

My favourite of them all is hard to pick. It's either Royal Festival Hall Concert, featuring Emile Gilbert performing "Tchaikovsky's Contezana Padoano", or it's Novel Writing, in which we are given a cricket-style commentary from Dorset on Thomas Hardy writing his latest novel. Because these best epitomise what it was all about.

The Pythons were intellectuals, and yet here they were, poking fun at their own kind. Most people who've read Hardy like Hardy. The Pythons were giving us permission to say: "Yeah. But he's a bit dull isn't he?" They were doing things with snobbery that no one had done before. And no one has done since. They were screwing with the Establishment long before the Duchess of Sussex had even been born.

And that's what I think my dad recognised very quickly. It wasn't comedy and it wasn't satire and it wasn't funny. But, ooh, it was important.

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Too hardcore even to think about: The Clarkson Review: BMW M8 Competition coupé (Jan. 26)

Until quite recently, public-school kids who wished to practise the art of being sick while simultaneously catching chlamydia would finish their final A-levels and head immediately to the Cornish fishing port of Newquay.

This meant that every summer the town became a brawling mass of floppy-haired Humphreys, playing in casino paypal and tottering young Humphreyettas, emerging from their underwear into the dizzyingly complicated world of being a drink-obsessed northern European adult.

The locals didn't like this very much, so a new policeman was drafted in. He went to war on underage drinking and the kebab shops. On his watch, the postcodes of kids who had made block bookings at a local campsite were checked and a school briefing about sea safety and the perils of drinking was arranged before they left home.

In pursuit of the greater good, Sergeant Nicholas Angel oversaw the destruction of houses deemed "horrible", prosecuted local journalists if they spelt someone's name wrong and shoved a model cathedral through Timothy Dalton's chin. No, wait — that was in the film Hot Fuzz. But it's not far from what's been happening in Newquay.

The officer didn't actually say to the visitors, "Look, Blackpool is more your scene," but he can't have been too bothered when messages started cropping up to this effect on social media. He was winning. By clamping down on outdoor vomiting, Newquay wasn't worth the effort any more, the kids decided. And now they've pretty much gone.

Today it's all vegan cafes and public displays of yoga on the beach. Apparently this is better. I'm not sure, though. If I lived there, I'd far rather be carpet bombed by a million well-off kids every summer than have to navigate my way down the shoreline past a million plump ladies doing a downward dog.

Nonetheless, I have a great deal of respect for Sergeant Angel, whose real name is Inspector Dave Meredith. Because he's proved that with intelligent, longterm thinking, police work really can improve the lot of the locals.

I see something similar emerging round where I live in Mudfordshire. The local police station closed recently and response times became measurable in days. It didn't take long for crims to notice this, and now all we ever talk about round these parts is who was burgled last night and who'll be next.

In the run-up to Christmas, though, I started to see a much bigger police presence. Twice I've seen a proper jam sandwich in the local village, and in the town the Five-O are patrolling in pairs. Like Crockett and Tubbs, only with less linen and more belly.

What's more, because they are local police for local people, they know what to stop and what to leave alone. Over the Christmas break, someone I know was driving an unlicensed, uninsured, non-roadworthy vehicle with 16 children on board.And all she got from the fuzz was a friendly wave. They knew who she was and where she was going, and since no one was going to be stabbed as a result, they didn't bother breaking out the stinger.

They certainly didn't trouble me, either, as I went about my business, because I was driving the fastest, and one of the priciest, BMW production models ever made: the 617 horsepower, 553 torque and — if you buy the M Driver's Package — 190mph M8 Competition. And I was driving it as fast as conditions would allow. Which was about 6mph.

Even though it had four-wheel drive, I did not once push my right foot all the way to the firewall. The roads were far too greasy and smeared — mostly by my tractor — with a thin veneer of watery mud. Apply 600 horsepower to a surface like that and you're going to need a head wand for the next few years, that's for sure.

So, what's the point of this car then? Ah, well, there's the thing. I don't really know. Elsewhere in the world,you can buy a normal M8 coupé, but for some reason, BMW has decided that the Britishers would only want the full, uncut, hardcore version.

And it's very hardcore. The ride is brutal. Far too brutal. And so is the turn-in when you get to a corner. BMW has even fitted this car with strengthened engine mounts to make sure the big, heavy lump under the bonnet turns just as quickly as the rest of the vehicle . On a racing circuit, this would be tremendous, I'm sure, especially if you put the car in Track mode. But you're not going to take a £120,000-plus coupé to a racetrack. Particularly as it weighs almost two tons.

Weirdly, despite the bumpy ride and the sharpness, you can sense this weight as you move along.

And it feels as if you're controlling a ballerina who's turned up for work in her wellies. I didn't much like the steering, either. I haven't liked the steering in any BMW M car for some time now. And I also didn't like the drive-by-wire brakes. They felt artificial and I found myself not really knowing how hard to press the pedal.

Then there was the interior.

And that didn't blow my frock up much. I don't mind that the back seats would only be suitable for Richard Hammond's pet mouse — it's a coupé, after all — but I did mind that the dash looks pretty much identical to the dash you get in a normal 3-series. For not far off this kind of money, you could have a Bentley Continental GT, and sitting in that is like sitting in the jewellery box of one of Bernie Ecclestone's daughters.

At this point, I usually try to turn things around with a nice jolly "but". I can't really, though, because the not-so-good news keeps coming. There's something wrong with the styling. The back end is too heavy, and the wheels don't seem to fill the arches. Maybe things will be better in the new four-door Gran Coupé version. But only if it can be used, by normal people, on the road.

The M8 Competition cannot.

There's too much power and too much weight. If you want a car that goes this quickly, then you'd be better off with something designed for that kind of work. A Porsche 911, for example, or a McLaren GT, or an Aston Martin DB11. Not the DBS Superleggera, though, because that has the same problems as the Beemer.

If, on the other hand, you want a car that's a nice place to sit, then you're better off, as I said, with a Bentley Continental GT, which is no slouch either. I'm sad, really, because I've always liked BMW's big coupés. But it seems to have taken its eye off the ball with the latest 8-series. Not one of the versions I've tried so far, including — especially including — the diesel, makes any sense.

They need Sergeant Angel in the next management meeting. To get this car back to what it should be. Which is about £30,000 cheaper, three times prettier, three times less complicated, half a ton lighter and much, much less powerful. As it is, it's a clever answer to a question no one was asking.

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And here's the Sun column: "We can hold onto historical institutions and still be a modern country"
Another incredible article. Thanks!
 

Revelator

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Messages
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A pricy way to clean up the school run
The Clarkson Review: Audi Q5 TFSI e
(Feb. 02)

I recently hosted a day's shooting on my farm. It was all very Edwardian, with lots of kids running about, surly teenagers overdoing it on the sloe gin and dads looking proud when their sons managed to smoke a low hen.

There was one modern touch, though. I do not believe in excessive walking. I believe God invented the Range Rover for a reason: to get you and your gun as close as possible to the action. But on the day of my shoot, the ground was very wet, so on occasion we had to huff and puff the last few hundred yards.

This did not go down well with the young urban fraternity. So instead of coming along, they all sat in my car, running the big diesel engine, with the heater on full, as they discussed their continuing love affair with Greta Thunberg, their determination to save the planet by giving up meat and how they'll never use plastic. Apart from when they are awake.

Afterwards, they told me they'd had to run the engine because "We were cold". And that totally sums up the problem with trying to be green. It's great, as long as it isn't a tiny bit inconvenient.

Cycling is a good example. Lots of people use a bike to get to work, but when it's raining, they fire up the Beemer instead. And then you have animals. We all want to protect God's little creatures from a cruel and undignified death, but when there's a wasp, it's out with the spray and a rolled-up copy of Hello! magazine.

Every single person under the age of 25 now travels everywhere with a bottle of water in case they suddenly need to hydrate. Many carry a reusable container that was made in China and then shipped to the UK on a massive container vessel, but when they've accidentally left that at home, they will resort to plastic without a moment's thought. And why? "Because tap water's disgusting."

I absolutely sympathise with that. I want to make a difference. I don't want to see a baby turtle choking to death on the wrapping from a Bounty bar, and I worry about the weather records being broken all over the world. So I'm not going to wear beef-scented cologne or stamp on an otter. But nor am I going to wipe my bottom with a smooth stone or go to work on the bus. Because, well, I worry, but I don't worry that much.

All of which brings me on to the Audi Q5. This is perceived to be a high-riding off-roader that can deal with flooded rivers and mountains and wolves. So it's popular with school-run mums who think if it can deal with the Rockies in a winter blizzard, it will be extremely safe for little Jasper.

And there's more. Prices start at £41,420, which isn't bad for a spacious, four-wheel-drive family car. It's quite economical, too, and being an Audi, it's likely to be pretty reliable. So while it doesn't float my boat — I pretty much hate all cars of this type — it ticks all of the boxes for those who aren't "carnoisseurs" or petrolheads or speed freaks.

These, however, are unusual times, so Audi has launched a new version. The model I drove rejoices under the snappy handle of Q5 55 TFSI e quattro S Line Competition, and it is a plug-in hybrid. Which means the batteries can be charged from the mains or via its 2-litre engine.

There's a great deal of electronic cleverness as well. Sensors can detect when you may need all-wheel drive and when you won't. And then there's the predictive efficiency assistant, which looks, among other things, at the satellite navigation and how far you are from the car in front before deciding how much juice can be taken from the electric motor to top up the batteries. Or whether it's OK to free-wheel.

The system also works with the cruise control, so sometimes it will brake or accelerate of its own accord. The idea is that unlike, say, the awful, mind-of-its-own Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, the plug-in hydrid Q5 "feels" normal, but can still achieve 108.6mpg.

That's lovely, then. You get what feels like a standard Q5 but instead of leaving a trail of dead polar bears in your wake, there will be rosy-faced children playing in the garden with their pink-lunged grandparents. You will be doing your bit for Planet Greta and will sleep soundly in your bed at night.

Plus, when you are in a hurry, it's no slouch. Because when the engine and the electric motor are holding hands as if they're in a 1970s ad for Coca-Cola, you get 362 horsepowers. Which means 0 to 62mph in 5.3 seconds and a 149mph top speed. You can even do 84mph on battery thrust alone.

Mmmm. Except, hang on a moment, because there's no way in hell you will achieve 108.6mpg. That's just a theoretical possibility. In reality, fuel consumption will be only slightly better than a normal Q5's. And don't get carried away by the idea of tooling down the motorway at 84mph on electric power only, because at that speed the batteries will be flat in about no seconds at all.

I'm afraid it gets worse, because I couldn't get it to run on electrical power at all. I stabbed at various buttons in the manner of an iPhone user who's been given a Samsung to make an important call, but apart from different hieroglyphics appearing on the dash, nothing seemed to change.

And, like all hybrids, it had a mind of its own at roundabouts. Sometimes I'd lift my foot off the accelerator and it felt like I'd jammed on the brakes, and sometimes it just coasted. And I never really knew what it was going to do next.

Finally, there's the price. The car I tested, when fitted with a few extras, costs £61,000, and that's a huge amount for what, when all is said and done, is a medium-sized school-run car.

I said on television a couple of years ago that I will never buy an electric car or a hybrid. And this Audi does absolutely nothing to change my mind. Sure, if you live in a yurt and you haven't washed your hair for a year, you could probably argue that it's a tiny bit kinder to the environment than a standard model. But, God, it's expensive — and annoying.

And there's something else that sticks in my throat. No European car-maker was begun by a man who wanted to make a tool. Sir William Lyons, Colin Chapman, Herbert Austin, Enzo Ferrari, Andrew Citroën: they all wanted to make something exciting, something fun. It was all about noise and power and handling.

Not any more. Today, it's all about miles per gallon and grams per kilometre, which means cars are becoming nothing more than white goods. And that's sad and pointless, because people will only go green when there are no drawbacks. And with electric and hybrid cars, there are far too many.

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Let bluebells and badgers take over our farms, and zero-carbon Britain can slowly starve (Feb. 02)

There is currently a lot of snarling and teeth-grinding about government plans to let a Chinese company called Huawei install and run lightning-fast 5G services for our driverless cars and our mobile phones and our wind farms.

The Americans say this is madness, because, should there ever be any hostilities with China, which isn't entirely out of the question, Huawei could come through an electronic back door and instruct our driverless cars to crash into our wind farms, and our nuclear submarines to rain fire on our own cities.

Or the Chinese could simply push a button and switch the whole system off, which would turn Britain into a muddy, medieval hovel full of disease and people with warts on their faces. Imagine your kid with no wi-fi. You can't, can you? It's not just the Americans who are worried either. There are plenty of voices closer to home that say it's madness to put state security in the hands of a country such as China. And these voices are so noisy, they completely drowned out the speech made in Oxford last month by Theresa Villiers, who for the time being is our environment secretary.

She announced that as Britain sails away from the bureaucratic monster that is the EU, farmers will no longer get a cheque every year for growing food. Instead, they will get public money for public goods.

Public goods? Climate change, stupid. As we know, the government made a millennial-friendly pre-election pledge to make Britain carbon-neutral by lunchtime on Tuesday, so from next year, farmers will be paid not to plough their fields or cultivate them. This means greenhouse gases will be trapped in the soil, unable to escape and get up Greta Thunberg's nose.

Wheat and barley seeds will be planted directly into the untreated ground, and whatever miserable sproutlet that results will have to take its chances against the aphid threat from below and the squadrons of Chris Packham-protected birds from above.

More amazingly, it seems there are even plans afoot to pay farmers a grant if they allow their fields to flood, because this means the water doesn't end up downstream, in a council estate, ruining three-piece suites and the fruit machines in various flat-roofed pubs.

There will also be grants for farmers who smother their fields with trees. This means you will work all day so Mrs Villiers can send the money you earn to a farmer so he can spend it on bluebells and mighty Scots pines.

And, while this will emphatically not be happening on my farm, further money will be made available to those who allow hard-up families to come along at weekends, in their dad's van, to stomp about, breaking fences and leaving half-used tubs of Flora all over the place.

Farmers will also be getting cheques if they filter the water, create bogs, hoover soot from the air and provide warm and comfortable housing for the badgers, the grasshoppers and Johnny Fox.

Now I have to say that, apart from the badgers, which are evil little hedgehog-munching, disease-spreading bastards, and the ramblers, who are even worse, I actually approve of what the government is trying to do. Intensive farming has had a profound effect on the country's wildlife, and I miss seeing lapwings and otters and murmurations of starlings. So it's good the government is taking steps to bring them back.

It's also good that it will be paying farmers to do this nature conservation, because there's no way in hell that most could afford to do it on their own. The profit margins in Mudfordshire these days are simply too small.

However, I've read Mrs Villiers's speech twice, and only once does she talk, in an aside, about how farmers are expected to grow food if they are being urged to grow insects and bluebells instead.

Perhaps this is part of the plan. Certainly, the likes of George Monbiot say that no land should be used for farming and that instead we should grow what we need in labs. Others reckon we should hand all of Britain's countryside back to nature and simply import what we need from abroad. This is already happening in Soho House, where the lady customers eat only Mexican avocados and quinoa from Peru.

But we have been here before. In the years leading up to the Second World War, we were having to import 55 million tons of food a year to keep everyone fed. And that's fine as long as the Atlantic isn't full of U-boats. When it is full of U-boats, however, it's a serious problem, which is why from 1940 until nine years after the Second World War ended, we had food rationing.

After hostilities were over, all sorts of measures were introduced to ensure that Britain could never be starved into submission. But all of those have been usurped, which is why, today, we grow almost none of the wine we need. And, worryingly, only about 60% of the food.

With the world, for the most part, at peace, that's no big deal. The ladies who lunch can continue to get their avocados flown in by private jet every day and I can continue to enjoy a fine Provençal rosé. But what if there's a hiccup of some kind? An epidemic that requires a temporary suspension of food transportation? Or a blight? Or a war? I don't want to sound alarmist, but they do happen from time to time.

And I worry that our post-EU plans don't really take this into account. We've become so consumed by climate change, we've lost the ability to think rationally. Which is why everyone is running around panicking about Huawei and no one is wondering about a much bigger problem: where their next sandwich is coming from.

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And here's the Sun column: "How do we decide who is a boffin and who is a freeloader in Boris Johnson’s immigration scheme?"
 

Revelator

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San Francisco
The wrong choice if you're late for lunch: The Clarkson Review: Kia XCEED (Feb. 09)

The NIST-F2 is a caesium fountain atomic clock located in Boulder, Colorado. Used for precise television transmissions and military-grade sat nav systems, it fires atoms through a microwave chamber, and then witchcraft and wizardry are used so that it is extremely accurate. So accurate that, in the next 300 million years, it will neither gain nor lose a single second.

Compared with me, however, it is slapdash. I am an atomic clock with eyebrows and ears. If I say I will see you at six o'clock, I will see you at six o'clock. Not one minute past. My mum and dad should have called me Tim. I am never late "on account of heavy traffic" because I always assume the traffic will be heavy and adjust my departure time accordingly.

Part of this comes from working in the television industry, where punctuality is a given. Let me put it this way: in 30 years, I have never once known a single crew member to turn up to a shoot late. Every one of them could die in the night and they'd still be on time for work the next morning.

If I am delayed by forces beyond my control — by which I mean my girlfriend, Lisa — then I start to shudder. I have panic attacks. I stand by the front door, with sweat pouring down my forehead, begging her to please hurry up. She will try to explain that when people hosting a dinner party say eight o'clock, they mean 20 past. But I don't get that. If they'd meant 20 past, they'd have said 20 past. One of these days, the pressure is going to make me faint.

It nearly did one Sunday recently. We'd been invited out for a 1pm lunch and I'd been assured the hosts lived just 10 minutes away. So, at exactly 10 minutes to one, I was in the car, leaning on the horn, desperately trying to get Lisa out of the bath and into some clothing. Or not into some clothing. I didn't care, just as long as she got a move on.

When she finally climbed on board at a terrifying five past one, I was hyperventilating with fear and shame. And then she had to find her specs to put the postcode she'd been given into the sat nav system. And when she'd done that, I had what felt like an aneurysm. Because it said the destination was 35 miles away and the journey would take 56 minutes. We would be more than an hour late. I wanted to kill myself. I couldn't be an hour late for something — it's just not in my genetic toy box. So I decided to drive extremely quickly. But this was impossible, because the car I was using that weekend was a 1.4-litre Kia XCEED.

On the face of it, this is a perfectly nice little family crossover hatchback thing. It has snazzy seats with splashes of bright colours dotted about the interior, designed to make it feel like a Lamborghini.

The digital instrument graphics, displayed on a Lexus LFA-style dashboard binnacle, change completely when you engage Sport mode. And there are many luxury touches, such as a heated steering wheel, that make you feel that, actually, it could be a Bentley.

It's quite a good-looking car too, but not at the expense of practicality. It really is a full five-seater, and the boot is generous as well. See one of these in a showroom, or take one for a short test drive, and you'll be signing on the dotted line immediately, wondering why you'd ever even thought of buying a Volkswagen T-Roc instead. Because a T-Roc, compared with the Kia, is equipped like a cave.

However, I wasn't in a cave or on a short test drive. I was in a life-or-death struggle to cross Oxfordshire in minus seven minutes. And in that kind of a panic, a few shortcomings did expose themselves. Such as, for example, the 1.4-litre turbocharged engine.

In a meeting, this will have sounded a great idea, because the marketing department could boast about low emissions and good economy, but when you're an hour late, 138 horsepower in a car this big and heavy is best described as "Nowhere near enough". Oh, and even when you're not in a hurry, it's not that economical either.

However, it was enough to cause torque steer. It's been 10 years since I last felt this dreary drawback to front-wheel drive — the wheel squirming this way and that as the front end struggles to transfer the power smoothly into forward motion.

There was also a hint of even more old-fashioned axle tramp, causing the wheels to vibrate. And, despite the traction control, yards of wearisome understeer. It felt as though I was driving along in the early 1980s.

And then there was the gearbox. A colleague described it as "very smooth", and he's right: it is. But that's because it takes about four hours to swap cogs. Going into a roundabout, I learnt to mash my right foot into the carpet, knowing that I wouldn't actually be given the correct gear until I was coming out on the other side.

Overtaking? Well, I tried, obviously, but the combination of a gearbox that works in geological time and an engine that has less power than a cement mixer meant that most of my attempts ended in an embarrassing duck and dive back behind the Peugeot I'd failed to get past.

It really could do with a 2-litre engine, or even a 1.6, because the 1.4 unit is so puny that if you try to overtake anything, you could easily become KIA — killed in action.

Which brings me on to the brakes. It has some. I shall say no more than that, because there's no more to say.

I managed on my headlong charge through Oxfordshire to shave 16 minutes off the time posted by the sat nav system, so that's not bad. But I was still more than three-quarters of an hour late, which meant I had no appetite for food or conversation. I just wanted to drown myself in the bath, really.

I certainly didn't want to drive the Kia home again, because, while it's fine at being just a car, I had worked out on the way to lunch that if you ask the components to step up to the mark, they can't. Think of this car, then, as a speaker that can quite happily play music in the background but that goes all hissy and wobbly if you want to crank things up for a party.

You may say that you will never want to party with your car, in which case the Kia will suit you just fine. But I like all the things I buy to be capable of doing everything that may reasonably be expected of them. And the Kia can't.

For sure, the VW T-Roc is a much more sombre alternative. It has none of the South Korean car's snazz and aesthetic dash. But underneath it's a real car, made from components that can do the job, even when the job demanded of them is time travel.

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Wild swimming means chilblains and E coli. If I can't smell the chlorine, I won't make the leap (Feb. 09)

I read last year about a woman who decided that to help the needy, she'd do a charity swim down the River Severn. To begin with, things went well. She dodged the submerged shopping trolleys and managed to avoid the bubbles of Freon gas escaping from all the dumped fridges, but then some turds went into her mouth and quite quickly after that, she was in a hospital suffering from a nasty bout of campylobacter.

I wonder: what outcome was she expecting? Because not a single river in the country is recognised as suitable for swimming. Not one.

Soon, however, that may change. So called wild swimming enthusiasts in West Yorkshire are pressing hard for the authorities to recognise part of the very pretty River Wharfe as an official bathing spot. Because if they get accreditation, it will force the local water and sewage company to keep the water as clean as a Swiss eye surgeon's bottle of Perrier.

Hmmm. I'm not sure this will be possible. There are several babbling springs on my farm, and recently I had some of the streams tested to see how clean they are. Mostly, the news was not good. Because somehow, just 10ft from where the water bubbles out of the ground, it had become full of faecal matter, chemical waste, diesel fuel and E coli. Drinking it would be like licking the ruined reactors in Chernobyl.

And, remember, this is only 10ft from the source. Go 10 miles downstream, after the water's been through some otter poo and over the rotting carcass of a deer, and it has all the health-giving properties of a firing squad.

This is what the country's aquatic ramblers don't seem to understand. Yes, occasionally, a bit of human sewage will seep into a river, and, yes, steps should be taken to stop that happening. But even without humans' disgusting habits, nature is filthy. It's full of death and disease and parasites that burrow into children's eyes. Walking through it is dangerous and unpleasant. Swimming through it is downright suicidal.

And yet wild swimming — or "swimming", as we used to call it — is becoming extremely popular, especially among socialists. The Guardian has previously run a handy guide letting people know about all the best spots, and it's full of tips such as "Get off the train at Pangbourne" and "Park your Toyota Prius at the Trout Inn".

However, while there's advice on where's best for a "lunar snorkel safari" — Mauritius? — there's no mention of whose land you're swimming through, because, of course, in the world of wild swimming and The Guardian, all property is theft.

The BBC has a guide too, listing all the tarns in Wales and the quarries in Cornwall where you can trespass to your heart's content. And, naturally, there are also guides on how lovely it is to swim through the sewage and the fungicides without any clothes on. Apparently, it "liberates you from the commercialisation and sexualisation of our society". Not really. There's footage online of one young woman doing this in Snowdonia, and all I could think as I watched was: "Crikey, she's hot." Except, of course, she wasn't. She was bloody freezing.

Of course, I have swum in British rivers. Usually after I've drunk three bottles of wine and fallen off a boat, when swimming to the bank is obviously better than sinking to the bottom. But I would not deliberately go swimming in a British river, because, quite apart from the germs and the dumped Toyotas, they're all too cold.

Except cold is not the right word. What people always say when they've jumped in and they want everyone else to follow suit is: "It's very refreshing."

No, it isn't. A glass of iced Robinsons lemon barley water on a hot day is refreshing. A shower after a sweaty game of tennis is refreshing. Leaping into the River Don is not refreshing. It's freezing and it's bad for your heart.

I struggle even with the Mediterranean. Last August I was cruising around the Greek islands on a friend's boat, and every morning I'd wobble along the bathing platform, planning an elaborate dive at the other end. But I'd take one look at the water and then wobble back to the breakfast table for some more bacon.

Partly this was because the water was far too refreshing, but mostly it was because of the sea urchins. Treading on one is bad enough, but when you get out of the water, things get worse, because everyone has got it into their heads that there's only one cure. And, I'm sorry, but on holiday I do not want a German man pulling his Speedos to one side and giving me a golden shower.

I will admit that the Indian Ocean off Mozambique is better. The sea is not warm. In places, it borders on being hot, but even here there are issues, such as the stonefish. It looks exactly like a stone — hence the name — which means you don't know it's there until you are in agony and gallons of bloody diarrhoea are pouring down your legs. For the first five minutes you're terrified that you might die, and for the next five minutes you're terrified that you might not. Don't worry, though: in the end, you do.

Obviously, there are no stonefish in Britain's rivers. There are very few fish at all, in fact, because they've got more sense. And I think we should learn something from Johnny Trout.

The singer Ed Sheeran recently created a "wildlife pond" on his estate in Suffolk. But even though the water is turquoise and there is a diving platform and, apparently, changing facilities, the council has been very clear and said he must not swim in it. Wise words.

And I shall be taking its advice with the wildlife pond I dug last week. It is strictly for birds. If I want a swim, I won't get in that, or drive to a flooded quarry in Snowdonia — I'll simply pop into Chipping Norton, where there's a lovely lido. It's heated, so it isn't the slightest bit refreshing, and it's full of chlorine, so there are no turds in it.

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And here's the Sun column: "Prince Andrew should take a tip from Caroline Flack on speaking out over scandal… don’t"
 

Revelator

Active Member
Joined
Mar 14, 2012
Messages
396
Location
San Francisco
If you thought socialists lacked a sense of humour, read all about their plans to launch the Daily Wail (Feb. 16)

Richard Burgon, a chumpish-looking chap who's hoping to become Labour's next deputy leader, reckons the party should publish a daily tabloid newspaper that would be given away at railway stations. Sadly, though, he didn't just keep this idiotic idea in his head. He said it out loud.

Mr Burgon is a proper old-fashioned socialist. Driven into politics by the miners' strike, the MP prefaced his pledge of allegiance to Mrs Queen with a call for an end to the monarchy, and once went to see Tony Benn wearing a T-shirt that included the words "Socialism is the flame of anger and the flame of hope". Maybe that could be the slogan for his exciting new newspaper.

I wonder, though, how many pictures of side boob it would publish. Or whether there'd be space for any at all once it had run a story explaining how Tory transgender bias was affecting production at the People's Tractor Factory No 47.

Last week, readers of actual tabloids were treated to many shots of the ever-wonderful Jennifer Aniston posing in a leather jacket and a pair of hotpants. I can't see these making their way into Mr Burgon's paper, because, of course, leather comes from cows and killing one to make a jacket is murder. Besides, page 3 would be where they'd publish the minutes from the previous day's TUC equal opportunities meeting.

I have long believed that, when all is said and done, tabloid newspapers should be fun. You spend five minutes reading one, and when you've finished, you should feel slightly happier than you did when you started. There can be campaigns and righteous indignation, but ultimately their goal is to give people what they want. Which usually is the football results, Dear Deidre and Jennifer Aniston in a pair of pants.

As for real news, well, the police announced that they have started using facial-recognition cameras in London. Obviously, they've seen those Hollywood movies where a camera identifies the mass murderer and a team of heavy-set special forces men race to the scene, to find the man is pretty much exactly where he was when they set off. They're never stuck in traffic. And when they unleash hell, none of the bullets ever goes into a pram.

There are some differences, however, between the system used in spy thrillers and the system that Plod has adopted. For example, the cameras in London are mounted on highly visible vans. And there are signs posted in the area telling people that if they are mass murderers, they should find another route to where they are going. The signs even say there's no legal requirement to have your phizog filmed if you don't fancy it.

A tabloid would spot these shortcomings. It would also note that the actual police cannot respond as they do in the movies. Because, in the real world, Plod is sitting in the station investigating a dead man who wasn't a paedophile, and has to put down his peanut-butter sandwich and haul his bellies down three flights of stairs, because the lift is broken, to his electric patrol car, which has a top speed of 4mph because the battery is low. By the time he gets to where the mass murderer was spotted, the man's at home, watching beheadings on the internet. A tabloid would also note that if the coronavirus really does do what tabloid newspapers say it will do, everyone will be wearing masks. And what good's a facial-recognition camera then? A Labour Party tabloid wouldn't spot any of these things, because the whole point of socialism is to suck the joy and fun from everything. Therefore, it would point out that the authorities are abusing our human rights by using technology to spy on ordinary, hard-working members of the working classes and much-maligned Islamists who have every right to explode wherever and whenever they wish.

To find out what else a Labour Party tabloid might say, I turned to The Guardian, which argued that facial recognition is not reliable and that 93% of those who were stopped in trials were wrongly identified.

A real tabloid would then print an amusing set of photographs pointing out celebrities who look like one another. Doubtless they'd say that if I ever committed a crime, my doppelganger, Susan Boyle, would get fingered, and there'd be much hilarity.

The Guardian didn't say that. Instead, it published a photograph of a good-looking woman called Silkie Carlo, who previously raised money for Edward Snowden and is now to be found beside police spy vans, with a placard, protesting about Big Brother.

I scrolled down the page to see if there were any more pictures of Silkie, perhaps in a swimming costume, but instead there was a letter from the owners of The Guardian asking me for a pound.

That's the trouble Mr Burgon will face. Most people know that cameras are a good idea and you're not going to get far if you start twittering on about human rights and how suicide bombers and knife enthusiasts must be allowed to go about their business without police interference. People will read the London Evening Standard instead, and that won't do much for your ad revenue.

Back in the late 1970s, the Socialist Workers Party used to hand out free newspapers on the streets of towns and cities. I can still remember the intro to one front-page lead. "It is no longer safe to walk the streets of Thatcher's Britain, as every man, woman and child is fair game for vicious police attack."

This newspaper never really caught on. The Sun, on the other hand, did. Because people like a bit of side boob more than they like a humourless lecture on how Britain will use racism to tackle the coronavirus. Which is what the online Socialist Worker newspaper was saying to all of its four readers last week.

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Tricks for surviving on the hard shoulder: The Clarkson Review: Skoda Kamiq (Feb. 16)

We will get to the exciting Skoda Kamiq in good time, but first we must address the sorry saga of the nation's so-called smart motorways — a government invention that has killed 38 people. This makes them nearly three times more deadly than Peter Sutcliffe.

We were sold the idea as a simple solution to the ever-increasing problem of congestion, but I've been convinced from day one that it was only ever a sinister Whitehall ploy to make money from traffic jams.

To try to make the plan look modern and woke, they told us that journeys would be completed more quickly if the hard shoulder were used when traffic was heavy, and that this would be good for the environment. And naturally everyone bought into that because anything that's good for the environment is good, full stop. If they told us murdering was good for the environment, we'd all pop round to our neighbour's house with a baseball bat.

They also said the cost of building a new lane would be whatever the contractor said it was. And because contractors know government accountants aren't spending their own money, this could be as much as a million billion pounds a mile. Whereas the hard shoulder was already there. So why not use it? Of course, as the scheme was rolled out on the M42, there were a few doubting Thomases who wondered what motorists would do if they had some kind of mechanical problem. But they were told that since British Leyland had gone west — or east, to be accurate — cars did not break down any more. They didn't even get punctures.

"So," cried the smart motorway enthusiasts,"why provide a refuge lane for something that's not relevant? It's as daft as providing life jackets in an aeroplane."

After a successful four-minute trial, it was decided that smart motorways should be rolled out across the country. This meant that the M3, for example, had to be narrowed and coned off and fitted with average speed cameras so that, on the occasional days it was actually there, the workforce would not be run over.

You may wonder why a workforce was necessary. And why the work took more than two years. Surely you'd just need one man to put up a sign saying "Please use the hard shoulder". But no. Because it's at this point that we start to see the real reason behind the scheme.

Gantries would be needed over the road every few hundred yards so that, when the hard shoulder was in use as a normal lane, motorists could be advised that the speed limit had been reduced, for no reason whatsoever, to 50mph or even 40mph.

Simple logic dictates that if you widen a motorway, you have more space between moving vehicles, so the same amount of traffic can travel faster. So why, when you bring the hard shoulder into use, would you lower the speed limit? It makes no sense. Unless you put speed cameras on the back of the gantries to catch motorists who have continued to pootle along at a perfectly reasonable 70mph.

We have been told the lower speed limit is necessary because it can be confusing for motorists when the hard shoulder is open, but this argument is plainly idiotic.

We are human beings. As a species, we can fly rockets to the moon and rescue jet fighters from inverted flat spins. We can knit while watching television and build canals and contain nuclear fusion and, even if we are fat and ham-fisted and old and entirely inexperienced, powerslide a twin-engined hovercraft through the tourist boats in St Petersburg. I know because I've done it.

So if we can do all those things, we can sure as hell drive a modern car with modern brakes and modern tyres down a smooth and well-maintained four-lane motorway at a relatively pedestrian 90mph.

The authorities know we can.

They know British motorways are among the safest roads in the world. So we have to assume that the only reason they created smart motorways is that they could fit speed cameras to the gantries and tax those who have a life to live.

And what makes it worse is that while the thieving bastards who dreamt up this harebrained scheme were down at the pub, toasting their brilliance with a quart of kale soup, people in Peugeots were conking out on the smart motorway and being punted into the next life by a 40-ton lorry full of Bulgarian wind-farm parts. Because it turns out that while they'd run amok with cameras that can catch a car going too quickly, they hadn't fitted anywhere near enough cameras to spot a car that wasn't moving at all.

We were given the impression that smart motorways would be monitored 24 hours a day by some former US air force drone commander, who, using a bank of screens, like something from a Jason Bourne movie, would spot an obstruction and immediately flash warnings on the shiny new gantries to warn motorists that the lane ahead was blocked.

What we got instead was some uninterested Herbert in a Portakabin who couldn't see much of anything at all. Which means that, on average, it takes 17 minutes for an obstruction to be noted and another 17 minutes for the emergency services to arrive. By which time the occupants of the steaming Peugeot have been punted into the nearest tree.

So in the government's relentless quest to find new ways of taxing motorists, it has ended up with 38 people who are dead.

Oh dear. I seem to have spent so long writing about the money-making properties of smart motorways that there's very little space to write about the Skoda Kamiq.

For those interested in affordable cars, I'm delighted to say that the Kamiq SE L model I tested costs a relatively modest £21,980.

To try to make this a bit different from all the other superficially identical mini SUVs you can buy for the same amount of money, the Skoda has an umbrella in a recess in the driver's door and an LED torch in the boot. It also has indicators that flash in an unusual way and little plastic flaps that boing out when you open the doors, to protect the door edges in tight spaces.

There are, then, lots of similar cars out there. And some from Seat and Volkswagen are pretty much identical, if you peel away the badges. But none comes with unusual indicators or an umbrella. So if that's what you've always wanted, the Skoda is definitely the car for you. Certainly, the torch will be very useful should you ever break down at night on a smart motorway and need to run for your life.

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And here's the Sun column: "Let’s give the Spanish a Jolly Rogering and nick all that sunken treasure"
 

Mr. Nice

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 6, 2007
Messages
2,433
I thought we hadn't cracked nuclear fusion yet:blink:. Even in the US, where people frequently, illegally use the shoulder to get around traffic "smart motorways" sound stupid.
 
Last edited:

Revelator

Active Member
Joined
Mar 14, 2012
Messages
396
Location
San Francisco
Lie back and think of Aston Martin
The Clarkson Review: Mazda CX-30
(Feb. 23)

It's been said by some that I should review affordable cars because, apparently, you, the reader, are more interested in learning about a car you can buy than a car you can't. I've heard this argument before and I'm not sure it stacks up.

Many years ago, on old Top Gear, the one hosted by Quentin Wilson and Tiffany Dell, I was asked to review the affordable Ford Orion. This would have meant talking for seven minutes about the fuel consumption and then using the Top Gear luggage to see how many suitcases would fit into the boot. And it all would have been jolly interesting for adenoidal people in jumpers who were interested in buying a medium-sized Ford saloon.

However, without permission, I decided instead to review the new Lamborghini Diablo. I therefore booked the luxurious Lucknam Park hotel near Bath to use as a backdrop and the nearby Castle Coombe racetrack to use as a location. For props, I got hold of a Miura and two Countachs, and for a soundtrack I brought along my collection of Bad Company albums.

I can still recall the editor's face when he saw what I'd done.

Horror didn't even begin to cover it. As he sat watching the wacky camera angles, which had been achieved by fixing newfangled Pulnix minicameras to poles, it was as though he were watching someone murder his dog.

He was used to presenters with beards talking about knee-room in the new Austin and, at the end of the show, a man in slacks urging the viewership to "drive safely". And all of a sudden he had Paul Rodgers on vocals, Simon Kirke on drums and four howling Lamborghini V12s providing the descant.

I was very pleased with the film. He wasn't. "I can't show this," he spluttered, explaining that no one could afford a Lamborghini Diablo, so why on earth should it ever appear on a Birmingham-based motoring-and-beard-review show? I tried to point out that Elton John could afford one, but this argument fell on deaf ears.

Eventually the sheer cost of the film I'd made meant it had to be transmitted, and, as the viewing figures crept up towards seven million— unprecedented for a magazine show on BBC2 — it became clear that this was exactly what the audience wanted. Noise and power and pounding rock'n'roll. Not slacks and beards and dreary reports about how spark plugs work.

It's the same story with restaurant reviews. Sure, our critic could go to a pub in Harpenden and sample the microwaved pie and the oven-ready chips and the frozen peas, because that's affordable. But wouldn't you rather read about a Ukrainian chef 's brilliant £300 truffle velouté? Or holidays. Do you want Center Parcs and Filey week in and week out, because that's all Johnny Normal can afford? Or do you want to sit there with your eggs and soldiers this morning, reading about white beaches and giant tortoises in the Seychelles? You may never go there, but it's nicer to dream than to be reminded you'll be getting another verruca this summer in the Hotel T'urd in St Ives.

I didn't get into motoring journalism to review Morrises and budget Citroëns. I got into it to write about alpine roads and Lamborghinis. In the same way that proper journalists don't become journalists to do flower shows and village fetes. They all want to be Woodward or Bernstein.

And what is affordable anyway? If I'm writing for Jeff Bezos, everything is. Whereas the caretaker at my local park would struggle to buy a 15-year-old Rover 200. Where do we draw the line, and who draws it? The car I was sent to review last week was the Mazda CX-30, which is a five-seat, front-wheel-drive, school-run family wagon. If you look up the word "sensible" in a picture dictionary, this is what you'll see. But how many people, I wonder, are considering this morning buying such a thing? A hundred? And how many are reading this bit of this paper? Ten? Well, think yourself lucky, people. Because this is as personalised as it gets.

Mazda has a CX-3 and a CX-5 and needed something to go in the middle. Annoyingly, because it's used the name already on a car sold only in the Chinese market, it couldn't have a CX-4, so it went with a CX-30. And ended up with a car that is affordable if you have £22,895 to spend. That said, the model I tested — the 2-litre GT Sport with leather seats and a lovely red paint job — is £28,875, which means it isn't affordable at all.

There are some other problems too. It's not what you'd call spacious. In fact, it's what you'd call "unspacious", especially in the back. And the boot isn't very large either. Plus, it comes with an optional electronic tailgate that opens and closes in a time frame only a glacier would call speedy. You could get very wet, standing in the rain, waiting for it to do its business. And if you have a dog, it will have plenty of time to escape before the clunk tells you that all is well.

The next big problem is the way this car drives. Mazda must have looked at all the other medium-sized SUVs out there and thought,"None of them is very exciting to drive." There's a reason for this. People who buy medium-sized SUVs don't want to hammer along as if their hair is on fire.

That little nugget of information obviously didn't occur to Mazda, though, so in went the manual gearbox, which sits there like a television with no remote control."What? I have to actually do work to make the gears change?" Yup, because that's how Nuvolari did it.

It wasn't just the gearbox either.

They fitted the CX-30 with what feels like no suspension at all. You know that bit in The Avengers when the Hulk bashes Tom Hiddleston from side to side on the floor? Well, you get an idea of how that might feel if you drive a CX-30 at normal speeds on a country road.

I'm sure that if you decided to go very quickly, this firmness would pay dividends. But there's a problem with going quickly, because the CX-30 can't. Its 2-litre engine is fine, but it's no pocket rocket.

The upshot, then, is that the 10 people thinking of buying this car should choose something else. A Volvo XC40, perhaps. And the thousands of readers who were not thinking of buying it? God knows, we lost them 25 paragraphs ago.

Some, though, will have skipped down to the end, so welcome back, people, and don't worry. I fully intend to try out Aston's new DBX as soon as possible. I realise, of course, that most of you cannot afford one, but I shall try to make it live, to give you a sense of what it feels like to be in there, surrounded by all that leather and noise and romance. I shall be writing about a dream, because that's what a car should be.

Sadly, however, I've just checked my diary and it seems that next up is the Hyundai i10.

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The Tories talk tough on immigration — but plan to let in millions of foreign trees. That's barking (Feb. 23)

In the run-up to the general election, all the main parties were making huge tree-planting promises. The Liberal Democrats said they'd plant 60 million a year. The Green Party said it'd plant 70 million. And then the Labour Party played its joker and said it would pepper the countryside with 100 million.

The Tories promised to plant just 30 million, which sounds pathetic until you break it down. Because it still means planting 82,192 a day. Which, as near as makes no difference, is one every second.

Despite the daunting numbers, many organisations have stepped up to the mark, and now children spend only a tiny fraction of their time at school learning about adding and subtracting and whether they want to be a boy or a girl in later life, and all the rest of it planting twigs on nearby roundabouts.

Charities, meanwhile, are urging one million people to bend over and plant one for the planet, and planners are now being urged to look favourably on woodland schemes, even if it means pulling down a hospital.

I can see why the notion of tree planting appeals. All environmental solutions in the past have sounded pretty gruesome. We were told that to give the Earth a chance, we'd have to clean our teeth with bark and cycle to work and wear clothes made from dead flies. But all of a sudden we are told that if we plant a tree once in a while, we can continue to turn up the central heating whenever it's a bit nippy.

I did some research and found that to offset the emissions from a car, you need plant only six trees a year. I've therefore applied for a government grant to plant 5,000. This means every gram of carbon I've ever emitted will be of no consequence. And, better still, the bill for my big green wonderland will be paid by the mummies and daddies of all those Extinction Rebellion protesters.

It all sounds tremendous, but there are a few problems, such as: where on earth are all these 30 million trees going to come from? Your local garden centre? Sure, it may have a few dozen to choose from, but a few dozen won't cut it. To keep up, it'll need to sit down and work out how it can produce tens of thousands by the time the planting season comes around again.

I use a specialised tree-planting nursery, so I asked one of the chaps who run it where the 30 million trees are going to come from. "I haven't got a clue," he said. And he meant it.

Most will have to be imported, and that's problem number two. I don't want to sound racist, but if you allow millions of foreign trees to come over 'ere, it won't take long before their disgusting foreign diseases start to wipe out native British trees that have lived here for centuries.

Dutch elm disease and ash dieback are well known, but there are about 20 other killers out there, including the eight-toothed spruce bark beetle and the elm zigzag sawfly.

As I write, 11 more are nearing the Channel, and as soon as they get on a boat in Sangatte, we will be in a right pickle. Because we will be planting disease-ridden trees simply to replace trees that the disease has killed.

And now we get to problem number three. Who, exactly, will we use to plant all these infected foreign trees? I read recently about a man up north who ties saplings to his waist and sets off into the wintry wilderness with a planting spade. He can plant two thousand saplings a day, but after just 12 years his planting arm is ruined and he's worn out. I'm not sure my children would want a job like that. I'm not sure yours would either.

We will have to use immigrants, then, but here's the funny thing. Under new rules being drawn up, we will turn back all the unskilled labourers we could use for planting operations, while keeping the disease-infested wooden rafts they used to get here.

Let's assume, though, that solutions to these problems are found and that the planting process begins in earnest. At present — and you'll have noticed this if you've driven through the countryside recently — the saplings are wrapped in plastic blankets, but it won't take long for the eco-loons to say this must stop. Which will be great news for the nation's deers and hares, who will eat the unprotected saplings, and even better news for the newly introduced beavers, who will cut them down.

We could get round that by eating more venison and learning once more to jug hares. Something tells me, however, that in a mad world where mad people have got it into their heads that eating meat is bad for the environment, this solution won't catch on.

No matter. With hope in our hearts and in a spirit of unbridled optimism, let's spool forwards a hundred years to a point where a quarter of Britain is once again nestling under a carbon-drenched canopy of rustling branches and pretty colours.

Hmmm. The problem is that most of the new trees will be alien to these shores and therefore alien to the insects and birds that live here. We simply do not know what impact that will have. We are all therefore engaged in a headlong rush to save ourselves, but we are all wearing blindfolds.

Seriously, the rush to restock is like throwing away all the records in your collection to make way for some Kazakh folk music that's been recorded onto a device that you cannot play.

And it gets worse. I am currently piling up dead trees in my woods to create "beetle banks". This sort of thing causes socialist women in knitted hats to see me as a cross between David Attenborough and the baby Jesus.

But the truth is that, as the trees sit there rotting, a lot of the carbon they absorbed in their long and dull life is being released back into the atmosphere. I'm achieving precisely nothing.

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And here's the Sun column: "You’ll never need Bear Grylls’ daft survival skills – at worst you might get a bit lost on the way back to the car park"
 
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