Clarkson's Sunday Times Columns

Drinkin' wine spo-dee-o-dee...

Wine bore's red? Wide-awake white? No, I'll take the vino in-betweeno (Oct. 29)

Right, then. That's it. British summertime is over and for the next five months it will be constantly dark and cold and foggy. There will be steamed-up windows and runny noses too. So it's time to put away the Pimm's and break out the Bovril. Or is it? Next weekend the nation will gather round various bonfires, oohing and aahing at all the fireworks. We will be in our duffle coats, and our children will have pink cheeks and sparklers, and we'll be wondering how on earth it's possible for the smoke to blow into our eyes no matter which side of the fire we choose to stand.

Naturally our host will provide liquid refreshment, which will be either warm brown beer made by a brewery with a silly name, or mulled wine. Both of which will be disgusting, so I have a suggestion. If you are thinking of hosting a bonfire party, do what I'd do: serve only ros? wine. With lots of ice.

Some people find my love of lady petrol rather weird. And when I point out that Noel Gallagher has similar views, they look quizzical and say: "Well, he must be weird too." But we are not alone, because the world is divided into two distinct camps. Those who have realised that ros? is the only drink worth drinking. And a tiny number who haven't. Yet.

There was a time when you'd only drink ros? when you were staying with friends at their villa in the south of France, in August. You wouldn't dream of buying it in England, in November, because, well, you are a man and you have your own tankard in the pub and you wouldn't be seen dead drinking pink. But not any more.

Waitrose and Marks & Spencer say ros? sales have recently leapt by more than 100% and it's easy to see why. If you drink white wine with your supper, it will turn to sugar in your stomach and at three in the morning you will sit bolt upright in bed as though John Travolta had just pumped your heart full of neat adrenaline.

If, on the other hand, you choose to drink red, your face will be in the bouillabaisse by eight in the evening, and you'll snore all through the main. Ros?, meanwhile, steers a neat course through the two extremes, getting you nicely tipsy without waking you up in the night or putting you to sleep during the starter.

And there's more: if you drink ros?, everyone will know you know nothing about wine. This is a good thing because anyone who does know something about wine is incapable of keeping this knowledge to themselves.

This is a problem for me at the moment because recently I was given a case of something called Ch?teau Cheval Blanc that was made in 1985. I'm told this is an excellent wine and should be shared only with those who'll truly appreciate it. Which would mean inviting that sort of person round to my house, and that's not something I'm prepared to do. In case they appreciate it out loud.

Mind you, things are worse in restaurants, because nothing ? and I do mean nothing ? causes my blood to boil quite so quickly as some pompous arse in red trousers sitting at the head of the table, poring over the wine list for half an hour, and then wasting another half an hour discussing his knowledge and brilliance with the sommelier.

And that's only the start because when the red-trousered arse has finally decided what heavy red he'd like, and the sommelier has congratulated him on his "excellent choice", there's that whole swirling and examining against the light and sloshing procedure to be endured. I know he thinks that everyone round the table is sitting there, with faces like resins, thinking: "What a cultured fellow this man must be" ? but we are not. We are all sitting there thinking: "What an insufferable show-off."

How would he feel if he climbed into the passenger seat of my car and I sat there in silence for an hour listening to the engine, and blipping the throttle occasionally? He'd think I'd taken leave of my senses. Almost certainly he'd say that a car is just a car and ask if I wouldn't mind setting off some time this week. Well, quite.

To express his displeasure at a restaurant full of wine snobs, my dad, upon being asked to taste the wine, once took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeve and dipped his elbow into the glass before saying to the wine waiter in a loud voice: "Mmmm, yes. That's delicious."

Ros? gets round all that nonsense. You don't have to let it breathe. You don't have to swirl it around or smell its cork. And if you comment on its quality, or how it's "opened up nicely", people are going to laugh at you. I'm not saying all ros? is lovely. It isn't. If it cost you ?1.99 from the petrol station and it's the colour of Ribena, and the bottle has a screw top, it'll make you go cross-eyed every time you take a sip. But if it's a Ch?teau Minuty or a Whispering Angel or, best of all, a Ch?teau L?oube, you can cut the top of the bottle off with a sword and get cracking immediately because it will be tremendous.

I'm really not alone in this view. I took two bottles of L?oube to a friend's dinner party the other night and before we'd even sat down it had all gone. No one there was drinking anything else. And yet here's the strangest thing. Most restaurant wine lists have 800 pages of wine that's red or white, and then a Postit note on the back listing the two they have that are pink. British Airways doesn't serve ros? at all. Not even in the lounge.

I think that's why it's no longer the world's favourite airline. Because it doesn't serve the world's favourite wine.
For further reading: the Sun column and Sunday Driving review (of the 2017 Porsche Panamera Turbo).
 
I should hope that if Mr. Clarkson hasn't already come to the United States, gone to a reservation, and seen the abject poverty in which many Native Americans live, that he plans on doing so soon. He should also be made aware that we have no NHS in the US, and many impoverished Native Americans are going without health care.

Edit: I grew up near a place called Willow Bay

This article mentions how the Kinzua Dam that forms Willow Bay came into being.

Also worthy of note, a road known as PA 666 is not tremendously far from there.

Further Edit: A song called The Ballad of Ira Hayes is about the man who was from the Pima tribe in the Southwest United States.
I thought that I would add a couple of things to this

http://www.salamancapress.com/news/senecas-to-remember-kinzua-removal-this-weekend-with-film-walk/article_8764199c-a48f-11e7-9db6-2b96df46fc3d.html

 
Holidaze...

Guy Fawkes was an amateur. You should have seen me and my friends blow up Hull (Nov. 05)

I was once invited to spend Bonfire Night at a party near Hull. We were young back then ? and poor ? so everyone turned up with a party seven of Worthington E and a small box of Standard fireworks. The sort that fizzes momentarily in a flowerbed and amuses no one at all.

It was decided, therefore, that, rather than set them off individually, we would meld them together to create the mother of all fireworks. The biggest rocket to be developed in Britain since Blue Streak. A bomb so big that it would make seismograph needles wobble as far away as Buenos Aires.

The powder and the effects from each small firework were emptied onto the kitchen table; duct tape and a collection of cardboard boxes and tubes were found and shaped. A broom handle was sourced from beneath the host's stairs. And eventually six burly men were summoned to carry the monster we had created out to the back garden.

Everyone was invited outside to watch this thing strut its stuff in the crisp night sky. The blue touchpaper was lit and then ... whoooooosh. Up it went. And then up some more. Soon it was out of sight. Moments passed. And then we waited a moment while some more moments slid slowly by. And then, after a long moment, someone suggested we should all go back inside, because plainly it hadn't worked and it was too cold ... And as everyone turned to do just that, Hull blew up.

I've seen an Abrams M1A1 main battle tank unleash hell in a live-fire exercise, and I've worked with James Bond's special effects people. So I've experienced some fairly loud bangs, but nothing has compared to the explosion we created that night. Roof tiles were dislodged. Chimneys were bent. Windows were shattered. And for a moment, through the hole we'd punched in the atmosphere, we may have caught a glimpse of Guy Fawkes himself sitting up there in the heavens with a puzzled look on his face.

The poor man must be constantly puzzled, because he and his mates were pretty useless. One wrote a letter to a parliamentarian, urging him to stay away from the Palace of Westminster on November 5. This was passed to the authorities, which searched the cellars and found Guy guarding the gunpowder.

His co-conspirators, meanwhile, had ridden north to start their Catholic rebellion, but they still had a fair bit of gunpowder with them and it caught fire, which meant some were smouldering gently when they were arrested.

They probably thought things couldn't get worse. But they did, because the men were stretched on the rack, hanged until nearly dead and then let down and made to watch as they were castrated. After that they were disembowelled and cut into four pieces and their heads were put on spikes.

Fawkes was facing a similar fate but was lucky because he jumped, breaking his neck. So while they still chopped him into quarters, he didn't feel a thing.

It can't have been much fun, though, lying there, paralysed and ready to be cut up, knowing that your plot had failed and that the hated Protestants had won. He must have had a very real feeling that he'd be forgotten in a week ... But no. To commemorate his failure, his effigy was burnt on November 5 for centuries.

Then the Chinese firework corporations moved in, and now the date is marked by doctors having to work overtime to deal with burns victims.

As legacies go, that's fairly weird, but Christmas is weirder still. We gather to celebrate the possible birth date of someone who may or may not have lived by giving one another electronic goods. And then there's Easter, when we stop work to celebrate the death of the man who may or may not have lived by eating eggs made from chocolate. I'm absolutely certain that if Jesus really did mooch about in the Middle East 2,000 years ago, spreading his message of goodwill, and if he really did rise again to sit with God in the clouds, he's going to be pretty pissed off to see the biggest beneficiaries of his endeavours are Nintendo and Cadbury.

However, the weirdest legacy of all is what a few fancy-dress enthusiasts celebrated last weekend: Halloween.

I thought it was some American thing, like Thanksgiving, when they all get together and eat turkey to thank the Native Americans for dying in such great numbers. But no. Halloween started on this side of the pond, possibly in Scotland, where people would gather at the end of the harvest to give thanks.

And yet somehow it's become an excuse for young women to put on no clothes and go out after work on the pull.

And for parents to send their children into the street to practise the art of extortion on frail old ladies.

There's a ghosts and ghouls element in the mix as well, and it's hard to see what this has to do with Mrs McTavish and a bag of root vegetables. So I did a bit of checking, and it seems Celts celebrated samhain, as they called it before the Christians came along and renamed it All-Hallows Eve, by communing with the dead. And the ghostly night in the graveyard was the afterparty to the rather nicer bring-and-buy festival at the village hall.

This obviously excited America's marketing departments, which said: "Yes, we have a small gap here between the end of the summer holiday and Thanksgiving. Let's slot in a new thing where people can paint their faces with fake blood and go out vandalising, and we can sell them plastic turnips and make a film about a man who won't die.

"And then let's export it to Englandland, so they can have two weekends on the trot when no one gets any bloody sleep."
No car column this week. His Sun column has some advice for the BBC.
Oh, and contrary to what Jeremy thinks, Thanksgiving is not about thanking "the Native Americans for dying in such great numbers." It just involves being thankful for what you have and is a nice excuse for families to reunite and enjoy a good meal together. It is a rare example of a noncommercial American holiday. So rare that the marketing departments couldn't stand it and invented Black Friday immediately afterward--a day devoted entirely to greed and consumerism.
 
Clarkson famously hates Shakespeare, but his column shares the same sentiment as the most famous line from Henry VI, Part 2: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."

Injured at school, the Famous Five go in search of a no-win no-fee lawyer (Nov. 12)

The Famous Five enthusiast who is now running Ofsted announced last week that children should be encouraged to run about until they are exhausted and explore caves, even if there's a chance that they'll be captured by smugglers and tied up.

Amanda Spielman said nursery schools that do not allow kids to be tied up by burly men in caves could actually be harming children's development and has called for climbing frames not to be removed from playgrounds so that they can understand what it feels like to break an arm.

Because we are broadly the same age, I know exactly what she means. When I was small I was encouraged on icy mornings to go into my nursery school's playground and do slides even though I couldn't and always fell over. I spent hours climbing on precariously balanced haystacks, stealing rhubarb from the local nuns and playing hide and seek in various bits of 1960s farm equipment. The teachers would look on and squeal with delight as blood spouted from our severed arteries and you could barely hear the screams of pain because of all the breaking bones.

Like all old people, I can sit here now saying it never did me any harm and rolling my eyes at the news that the bestselling toy this Christmas is likely to be a ?35 drone that can be flown from the comfort of your sofa. But only if there's experienced adult supervision because the blades could cause light bruising. Tragic.

Certainly, if Enid Blyton were to write a Famous Five book today, there'd be no ginger beer because Red Bull is nicer, no Uncle Quentin because he'd be in jail for child abuse and no smugglers because, obviously, that would be racist in some way. The kids would just sit around smoking weed until one day Timmy made George pregnant. No, hang on. Timmy was the dog. I meant Julian.

I used to encourage my children to play in the fields when they were young but they looked at me as though I might be mad. They simply couldn't see how a field could possibly compete with Call of Duty and I fear they may have had a point.

I'd wail about how we'd moved out of London so they could get rosy cheeks and make dens in all the fresh air and they'd look wistfully at the wi-fi router, wondering if any of the lights would ever turn as green as they'd been in Battersea.

So I wonder. If nursery schools were to follow Mrs Spielman's advice and keep climbing frames and all those things that used to fill our childhood with pain and misery, how much would they be used? How would you get a child to stop Snapchatting their mates and get on a seesaw? I'm not sure you could.

Or should. Because let's just paint a picture of how things would turn out. Little Johnnie would have his telephone confiscated, which in itself is bound to contravene some kind of human right, and then he'd be forced to play on the climbing frame. And because he's fat, he's going to fall off and break his wrist.

Now, in the past the parents would have taken the child to hospital, they would have been strapped up and that would have been that. But not any more.

Today the parents would take him straight to a lawyer who would explain that the enormous orb of fat and tears would have become a Wimbledon champion were it not for the school's insistence he plays on a climbing frame under the supervision of someone who that morning had arrived in Britain on the underside of a Eurostar train.

And so, yes, he would gladly take the case on a no-win no-fee basis. The parents will hug him and sob and express their gratitude, not realising that there is literally no chance in hell he will lose and that when he wins he will take about all the money that the court awards. Which will be a lot.

The school will have known the lawyer's letter was on its way because the fat kid's father will have said as he picked up his blubbing, blubbery son that he'd sue it for every penny it had, so it will have launched an investigation. Translators will have been found for the woman in charge of the playground that day, and counsellors found for the children who heard the fat boy's wrist snap. The headmistress, meanwhile, will be outside giving her 40th interview of the day to a reporter whose initial soppiness will have turned into mock incredulity: "Are you seriously suggesting you didn't know that a climbing frame would be ..." and so on.

Eventually, after the head has been sacked and the teaching assistant deported and the school closed down, the case will reach court where the lawyer will deploy yet more mock incredulity, wondering out loud and with a lot of pomposity how on earth a school could possibly have been so reckless as to install a death trap in its playground. And having heard from a "tennis coach" that the fat kid could have beaten Roger Federer, the court will award the parents about eleventy million pounds. Which will have to be sorted by the taxpayer.

So I'm afraid Mrs Spielman is fighting a war on all fronts here. Children don't want climbing frames because they prefer Snapchat, and schools don't want climbing frames because they know that sooner or later, no matter how many precautions they take, they'll get sued.

So if Mrs Spielman really wants kids to get off their fat arses and party like it's 1961, she's going to have to address the root cause of all the safety and health nonsense that's keeping them glued to their screens.

And the only way of doing that is by explaining to the nation's no-win no-fee lawyers that if they lose, they'll be taken to the nearest zoo and fed to the lions.
Here's the Sun column.
 
This week sounds bleak:

Sorry, kids, but Britain will be the next Vietnam, with you as the cheap labour (Nov. 19)

When you go out these days you are picked up by an Uber driver who's Syrian and taken to the restaurant, where a pretty young Latvian woman shows you to your table and introduces you to your French waiter, who explains what specials the Italian chef has prepared.

On the way home you buy some milk from a Pakistani shopkeeper and then find the Estonian babysitter has broken the lavatory, so you call the Polish plumber, and as you sit waiting for him to arrive, you find yourself wondering when you last spoke in normal, nonenunciated English with anyone you encountered in your workaday life.

The man who runs my off-licence is French, my cleaning lady is from Estonia, the traffic warden with whom I have a daily row is Nigerian, the man at the garage is Indian, the chap who mends my wi-fi is Armenian ... I cannot remember the last time I spoke to someone in a London shop or restaurant where I didn't have to speak slowly and clearly, like it's 1970 and I've just gone abroad for the first time.

I should point out that I don't really care about any of this. Why should I be the slightest bit bothered about what language the girl at the supermarket checkout uses when she gets home? Just so long as she's quick at her job and pays her taxes, it's irrelevant.

What's interesting, however, is that the vast majority of people who live in Britain are actually white British. There are regional differences of course ? it's less than half in London and more than 99% in the Lake District or northern Norfolk ? but the fact is that the last time anyone counted, there were more than 51m white British people in the UK and I have a question. What the bloody hell are they all doing with themselves? We are told by the government that despite Theresa May's best efforts to make everything worse, there are now more people working than at any time in the country's history. Well, I'm sorry, but that's about as believable as its claims that Brexit is going very well and the cabinet is united on all fronts.

Yes, my accountant is white British and so, despite a French-sounding name, is my lawyer. But not everyone can be a lawyer or an accountant. Not everyone has that sort of mind. Some are fit only to be cobblers but there's no such thing any more. We don't mend shoes because we don't keep them long enough to break: they get thrown out when they go out of fashion, which is every three months.

We don't mend anything, so you can no longer earn a living with a television repair shop or an under-the-arches garage. Heavy industry used to soak up the masses but by and large that's gone, as are all the mines. And who works on the land? Well, I have quite a big farm and it's all looked after by one man, except at harvest time, when he gets a mate to help out.

The armed forces? Hmmm. I listened to a senior officer on the radio last week and, from what I could tell, the Royal Navy today has a smaller, less powerful fleet than the row-boat hire company on the Serpentine in Hyde Park.

It's not even possible these days, really, to be a shop assistant because in the first half of this year 14 high street stores closed down every day. Because why go to town when it can come to you? Hairstyling will survive, naturally, because only James May has worked out how this can be done remotely ? and the results are not successful. But this line of work is only for those who are too dim even to get a job in a nail salon.

I did actually encounter a young white British person in a working environment recently. I was staying in a hotel in Yorkshire, he was working as a waiter and he was completely useless.

He wore his supposedly smart black trousers in the manner of a Los Angeles remand prisoner, with his underpants sticking out over the top of the belt line, and he leant on everything when he wasn't doing anything, which so far as I could tell was all the time.

When he did finally arrive to take my order he said in a completely flat, nasally way: "Do you want a cooked breakfast or owt like that?" Since I couldn't think of anything that was "like" a cooked breakfast that wasn't a cooked breakfast, I had one of those.

And off he went to lean on a wall while the chef made it. I suspect he'd only managed to get the job because his mum and dad knew the hotel's owner. And secretly, I suspect, she would rather have employed a Hungarian.

I look at my friends' kids who are now leaving university and while many have used nepotism to get a job, the job in question is invariably an internship. Which means they are working 12 hours a day for no money and can only exist on their parents' backs.

A lot of them, however, have decided that they don't want to work for other people, for no money, and have started blogs, which means they are now working for themselves, for no money. I feel for that generation, I really do, because it is becoming used to this state of affairs.

And think about it. When Britain has left the EU and we can no longer offer the bosses of foreign manufacturing companies a nice place to live and lots of golf courses, as well as access to the single market, we will have only one fiscal way of attracting investment: cheap labour. We will become the next Vietnam.

Your kids then? They're at university now, studying hard for a 2:1 in archaeology. But if they want a job that pays money down the line, their only option will be in a factory, putting the laces in training shoes for a gigantic Chinese corporation.
And here's the Sun column.
 
"with his underpants sticking out over the top of the belt line,"

Ah, gay then. At least, that's what Brendon Cuberbatch said in an episode of Sherlock.
 
Not his best...

Stick to pretty fish, Sir Attenborough, and stop blubbing about dead whales (Nov. 26)

We have learnt in recent weeks that people in a position of power should never use that power to influence their underlings. Many people have been caught up in this sea change and the latest, tragically, is none other than Sir Attenborough.

I am a huge fan of his new fish programme and I'm in awe of the people who make it. They sailed for 4,000 miles to film some grouper fish ? which once a year spawn wildly before being eaten by sharks ? and they missed the moment. So the next year they sailed all the way back to try again. That sort of devotion to the cause is almost beyond comprehension in today's televisual world of orange and pink, that'll-do, bish, bash, bosh.

Then there's Sir Attenborough himself, a towering colossus, a giant among naturists. Or is it naturalists? I can never remember. But, whatever, his enthusiasm and passion for the fish, no matter how puny or how stupid they look, leaves me begging for more each week. And I salute him as a broadcasting god because if it were me behind the mic, I'd be tempted once in a while to say: "God almighty, that's an ugly f*****."

However, it seems he has been in trouble for spouting a lot of Greenpeace eco-babble instead of moving on to the next sea cucumber that can open tin cans with its hairstyle. People have been saying that it's a Sunday night and while they are sitting in front of the fire with a glass of sherry, they don't want to be told by an old man that they should sell their Range Rover. And that using a BBC-funded show to get across his point of view is an abuse of power.

I can see where they are coming from. I certainly don't want to be told to sell my Range Rover because coral is so stupidly picky about what sort of temperature it likes the sea to be. If it heats up by so much as one degree, it squirts all its colour into the nearest current and dies. Well, diddums. If the sea's too warm off Barbados, why doesn't it come and live off Morecambe? When I was cold as a kid and would ask my dad to turn up the heating, he'd tell me to put on a jumper. And frankly that's what Sir Attenborough should be telling the coral to do.

He was at it again a week later, showing us a whale swimming around with its dead calf and saying it may have died because its mother's milk had been poisoned by plastic. That may have been the case, but scientists have been saying that he couldn't possibly have known. It may have been shot by a fisherman, or died of boredom, or cancer.

Yes, plastic is a problem in the sea.

But, again, I don't want to hear about it on a programme about pretty fishes. It'd be like Mary Berry popping up in the middle of a show about pastry to tell us that cargo ships should be fitted with hydrogen fuel cells.

And, anyway, it's an easy fix. I analysed all the plastic that washed up on the beach at my place in the Isle of Man recently and found that it's mainly deposited by people who like milk chocolate Bounty bars and Flora spread. Tackle those two things and, hey presto, everything is tickety-boo. This is what Attenborough should have said: that poor people who eat spreads and milk chocolate are killing whales. But he didn't. He said we are all to blame because we want easy, comfortable, disease-free lives.

He's been getting stick for that and I understand why. Though at this point I should admit that I once concluded a TV programme in which I'd driven to the magnetic North Pole by saying there's no such thing as global warming because I hadn't fallen through the ice. But this wasn't really abusing my powers. I was simply saying it to annoy the BBC.

If you want to see the No 1 abuser of his power in action, you should dig out a recent copy of Country Life magazine and have a look at what Prince Charles has to say about the British countryside. It's so miserable it makes the average Philip Larkin poem look like a commercial for DFS.

I was in the British countryside last weekend and it was so beautiful my knees kept buckling. The colours were spectacular, fieldfares danced about in the fruit trees, finches hopped hither and thither in the hedgerows and I saw a swarm ? an actual swarm ? of yellowhammers. I also saw some pretty partridges, which I shot and later ate.

Somehow, though, when Prince Windsor looks at our green and pleasant land, he sees disease and pestilence. He sees withered oaks and fallen elms, and immigrant moths and beetles chomping their way through the woods, and he knows who's to blame. You. And me.

He says that when we go to the garden centre, we don't check to make sure the plant we are buying isn't riddled with some foreign disease ? and that because of this laziness on our part, the country and the world will become a desert. I'm not quite sure how he's worked this out but he reckons trees cause rainfall. Maybe they do. Maybe I haven't been paying attention but, whatever, without them we all die of thirst.

I don't doubt that as Harvey Weinstein emptied his seed into a plant pot and Mr Spacey Invader did his thing, they thought that their power and fame would allow them to get away with it. But one day the little people reared up and said: "Actually, you know what, you bloody well can't."

And that's what Charles needs to remember. He needs to stick to opening cricket pavilions and stop scolding us for not recognising Asian longhorn beetles or potato brown rot when we are buying shrubs at the garden centre. Because, frankly, we have better things to do.
In conclusion: coral should put on a jumper or move to Morecambe, all the plastic in all the oceans is whatever washes up on the Isle of Wight, editorial remarks are not an abuse of power if they annoy the BBC (even if you believe in them), and Prince Charles has abused his power as much as Harvey Weinstein. :???:
Thankfully the Sun column makes more sense...
 
Last edited:
More sensible this week:

Eat your heart out, Dyson: the Surrey space cadets are hoovering the galaxy (03 Dec 2017)

Last week my stern words about Sir Attenborough's ecopreaching on the fish programme went down badly with one reader, who wrote to say that Sir Richard is a national treasure and that I was just a smartarse. That made me laugh. But the truth is Sir David ? as opposed to his brother, who has no opinion on the matter because he's dead ? is quite right to say we are dropping too much junk in the sea. We are. But it's nowhere near as disturbing as the amount of junk we are dropping in space.

When we watched the space shuttle take off, we saw its solid rocket boosters fall away a couple of minutes after launch, and if we thought anything at all, we assumed they'd burn up on re-entry. But they didn't. They fell back into the sea, and then they were recovered, rinsed out and used again. So that's all very lovely.

The space shuttle, meanwhile, would drift about doing science until it was time to come home. And that's lovely too. The idea that Johnny Astronaut was up there lobbing crisp packets and fag butts out of the window is preposterous. But, actually, he sort of was.

Somewhere in the heavens is a hammer that someone dropped a while back. An actual hammer. And there are countless nuts and bolts as well. Today the faecal matter of astronauts is bagged, compressed and brought back to Earth, but that wasn't always the case. In the past it was chucked overboard to float around for decades in the big nothing. Urine too. One astronaut described a sunset pee dump as the most beautiful thing he'd seen.

Over time, some of that crystallised pee crashed into the Mir space station, causing a fair bit of damage. And that's the nub of the problem.

A problem that's getting bigger. In 2007 China destroyed one of its own satellites with a missile, and the mess ? from both the satellite and the missile ? is still up there somewhere. Then, two years later, a US communications satellite hit a Russian one, and all the flotsam and jetsam from that crash is still having to be monitored.

It's estimated that there are currently about 5,500 dead satellites and more than 20,000 bits of debris bigger than 4 inches across whizzing round the Earth, and you probably think this is no big deal because space is really huge and the chances of crashing into someone's lost spanner are quite remote.

Not so. One shuttle returned to Earth with a chipped window after hitting something we'd left behind. Another was actually holed. A European space agency satellite has a big dent in one of its solar panels caused when it hit a bit of dust.

You may think a bit of dust is no big deal. But when it's travelling at 17,500mph in one direction and you're travelling at 17,500mph in the other ? trust me on this ? it's going to sting. Dust? No one knows how much of that's up there.

What we do know is that soon we'll get to the point where there's a very real risk that every launch will fail because the spacecraft is bound to hit something. And when it does, and it shatters, you're going to end up with more bits of debris.

You've seen the film Gravity. Well, it's like that.

And then there's the business of this rubbish coming back to Earth and landing on someone's head. The chances are remote, of course, but it has happened. A Turkish woman was hit on the bonce once by a bit of heat shield that hadn't burnt up properly. If we don't watch out, we'll need to start walking around under steel umbrellas because it'll be raining Neil Armstrong's matter pretty much constantly.

Naturally, the problem will be solved at some point by Norwich Union, which will refuse to insure space launches. So they won't happen any more. Which will mean we have no internet, or satellite navigation, and that, if you're 20, will be like going back to the Dark Ages.

We need the sea to be clean and shampoo-advert fresh so we can enjoy snorkelling when we are on holiday. But we need space to be clean too, because if it isn't, everything we hold dear these days will not work any more.

Happily, help is at hand from the Surrey Space Centre ? no, me neither. But, whatever, it has built an orbital vacuum cleaner that will be launched next year and is designed to whizz about up there being Wall-E. Like everything made in a British shed these days, it doesn't look very impressive ? think twin-tub washing machine from 1964 ? but the Borg's spaceship was pretty cool and that wasn't exactly sleek either. It's called, imaginatively, the RemoveDebris, and what it does is tow a net around, like a trawler, collecting rubbish. When it gets to a big bit, it uses a harpoon to spear it and reel it in. Then, when it's full, it will deploy a sail and float back into the atmosphere, where it and everything it's collected will be turned to ash.

It sounds very simple, and I hope it works. It'll be nice to think that while the Russians and the Americans and the French are busy making a mess up there, a bunch of spacemen from Surrey will be hoovering it all up. Maybe that's a metaphor for what Britain will become post Brexit: the world's cleaning lady.

If it doesn't work, I see two possible solutions. First, stop employing clumsy astronauts. We really can't have people up there who can drop a hammer and then not notice.

Or introduce a one-way system. At present, satellites go in whichever direction the maker chooses, which means they can have head-on crashes.

This is madness, so why not force them all to go the same way? Just a thought.
 
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I was all on board until the last bit:

Revelator;n3541447 said:
Or introduce a one-way system. At present, satellites go in whichever direction the maker chooses, which means they can have head-on crashes.

This is madness, so why not force them all to go the same way? Just a thought.
The Earth is a globe - there is no "one way" around it unless everything is moving at exactly the same speed and height. There's only one place this happens - geostationary orbit (for all the TV and telecoms satellites)...

But for any satellite trying to get global coverage (satellite imagery, GPS, etc.) they can't just be stuck at the equator and that means they go at an angle and will not follow the path of satellites at other angles and heights. Add to that you'll want more than one GPS satellite visible at any time (same with satellite phones) so you have to have networks of satellites criss-crossing each other all the time!

I know he's being flippant but "going one way" is simply not an option.
 
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Clarkson finds a new vice:

The girls, the gambling, the gin — I've gone galloping mad for horse racing (Dec. 17)

When you watch horse racing on the television you're told by hieroglyphics on the screen and by the commentator that the action is coming from the 3.20 at Lingfield. But is it? Because Pontefract and Lingfield and Wetherby? Only a very small number, of very small people, would be able to tell the difference.

I've thought for a long time that when colour television was invented, a horse race was filmed and they just use the same footage over and over again. Because can you tell Graphic Decapitation from Tell-Tale Skidmark? Of course not. Claiming that horses are all different is like saying ants have recognisable faces. They're all just milk bottles. Identical.

And there's more. We are expected to believe that a television cameraman or cameraman woman spends years being an assistant. He or she humps tripods up and down hills, drives vans through the night and learns about all the latest breakthroughs in digital technology so that one day they can sit in the mist, on top of a Citroën, filming a sport being watched by only half a dozen red-nosed drunks in betting shops in the north.

Think about it. Every single horse race is filmed, apparently. That means at least six sound recordists and six cameramen at four different courses, six days a week. If that were really happening, there would be no crews left for anyone else. David Attenborough would have had to film his nature programmes on a cameraphone.

This Friday you will not be able to watch Fleetwood Town play Gillingham on the television, but you will — we are told — be able to watch the action from Uttoxeter and Wolverhampton. And that makes no sense. Because in horse racing there never is any action. It's just meat running about. As a sporting spectacle, it's even more dreary than Formula One.

Of course, it works if you have some money on Womble Boy and it's leading by a nose with a furlong to go. But if you are betting on a race in Wolverhampton, on a Friday evening, then you are a friendless drunk and you should get some help. What's weird, though, is that horse racing does work extremely well if you watch it live.

I went to Newbury the other day and had lunch in the royal box with various owners who were competing with one another to see who had the fastest pet.

I'd like to say this was all rather tragic, but the truth is that I have a shoot and I've been known to just fire my gun repeatedly into the air so people who run neighbouring shoots think: "Clarkson's having a better day than me so I'd better kill myself."

It's all part of growing up and being a man and having an ego. Which is why, in horse racing, people will spend millions — lots of millions — on a horse with a fast dad. Just so they can have a faster pet than Sheikh Hakeem Makeem Dhakeem. Or Mr O'Reilly from Kildare.

Outside the royal box, it was a scrum of tweed and red noses and people queuing for the cash machine. It was an alloy of hope and drink and fur. And at one point I was taken into the paddock so people could take my picture.

After a little while, some horses were brought out and somehow we were expected to be able to tell which ones stood a chance and which ones were going to limp home last in the race after the one they'd started. They all looked exactly the same to me. So I picked one that was running at 8-1 — I always do that, even though it has never, ever worked — and went off to give Honest John from Liverpool some of my money. He took it gratefully and gave me some banter and a bit of paper, which I put in the bin because it would never be worth anything. And then the race began.

There's no getting round the fact that it's all very brilliant. Fuelled by sloe gin and whiskey and beer, people begin to make noises that rise in volume to become, in the final few moments, like the sound of four million startled geese. And then it's done and Jeremy Kyle is dancing around because his pet has won and no one hears the vet shoot the 8-1 outsider that fell over at the first fence.

All of this noise and excitement and gunfire is infectious. And that's before we get to the summertime events such as Royal Ascot or the Melbourne Cup in Australia, where women decide that in order to watch a horse running along, they must not wear knickers and should fall over in the paddock every five minutes.

I don't know why they do this. I think it's because they have it in their minds that horse racing is posh, which it is, of course. But what makes it posh is that you have the lords and the ladies and the groundsmen and the dry stone wallers and none of the idiots in between. You and me? We are just there to make a noise and fill the tills.

And it works. We go there, into the olden days, and we have no idea what's going on. We place our bets for reasons that make no sense, which gives us something to cheer about when the race happens, and then we have an egg sandwich and some more sloe gin and then another girl falls over and when it's all finished it's cost us whatever we chose to spend and that, for an exciting day out, is not bad value.

When we get back we don't feel compelled to watch the highlights on television because the sport's not important — and it wasn't really televised anyway. No. It's because we could spend a day dressing up and sounding like geese and having a drink with our friends. And there's always a chance that you could go home with a wallet so full that it's actually uncomfortable to sit on. This, I'm told, is the most wonderful feeling in the world, because winning £50 is better than earning a hundred.

Thanks to tax, actually, it amounts to the same thing.
And here is the Sun column.
 
Two columns for Christmas! Standard column first:

I had fun with acids at school; now I want them kept under military guard (Dec. 24)

I used to enjoy chemistry lessons at school because there were neverending opportunities to cause explosions and "accidentally" drop big lumps of sodium into a bucket of water. Plus, whenever a master noticed yellow nicotine stains on my fingers and accused me of smoking, I could claim I'd been handling potassium permanganate and the stains had come, in fact, from that.

But by far the best way of enlivening the lessons would be to pour a cup full of sulphuric acid into one sink, wait a moment and then get a friend to pour a cup of nitric acid into his sink. And then all we had to do was contain our mirth for a few seconds until the next sink along exploded, causing the boy standing beside it to get some detention.

My teachers would claim afterwards that I had learnt absolutely nothing from my chemistry lessons but this isn't true. I learnt how to sleep with my eyes open and that acid is extremely weird and should never ever be thrown into someone's face.

Today, though, children are not allowed to play with acid when they are at school. They are too busy being told to stay at home because it's a bit chilly or too hot. So they have no idea about the havoc it can wreak, which means that in many parts of the country it's considered an amusing game to squirt it onto the head of someone who was looking at you funny.

Between 2012 and 2016 the number of acid attacks in Britain rose by 500%. This is largely because of gang people who like to melt the arms off someone who's stolen their phone or their moped. Or their girlfriend, if she decides that on balance she'd rather go out with an estate agent.

The BBC is telling us that, contrary to what we thought, the acid problem in London isn't caused by Asian immigrants doing so-called "honour" crimes on girls who won't marry them. Nobody thought it was, you halfwits.

We know that sometimes the attacks are for fun. At the Notting Hill carnival this year it was used to mark out territories. And last week a man was sentenced to 20 years in jail for spraying the dancefloor with acid at an east London club. There was no suggestion he'd targeted anyone in particular.

Recently, in a shopping centre not far from the nightclub, gang members decided to have a water fight. That would have been quite a laugh if they really had used water. But they used acid. And that wasn't a laugh at all, as six passers-by were caught up in the action.

And now, as a result, London is the world capital of acid crime. A title it hasn't held since Victorian times.

More recently, acid-throwing has been popular in Asia but governments in that neck of the woods came up with successful solutions. If you threw acid at someone in Pakistan and were caught, the authorities would tie you down and drip acid into your eyes. In Bangladesh, they now go one step further and kill you.

I'm not certain either solution would be adopted here. Because if the warders at Belmarsh were to be caught dripping acid into the eyes of teenagers, The Guardian would have something to say about it. And there'd be calls for the police to concentrate on the real criminals such as Andrew Mitchell, Damian Green and various bankers.

Last week a young woman who'd been caught up in the London nightclub attack released photographs of her scars. And they were horrible. I'd quite like to meet the man who caused them, for a laugh, and hammer my point across using an actual hammer.

I was slightly amazed to hear, though, that people who use acid as a weapon here can only be done for grievous bodily harm. Knives and guns will put you in court charged with attempted murder but it's felt by someone that acid can only cause harm, not death.

Hmmm. I think if someone were to be lowered into a bath of acid, they would not be thinking as their legs melted: "Well, it could be worse. I could have been shot." Acid can kill. And acid attacks must be seen that way.

But before we get to the question of punishment, we must first address the problem of supply. Knives are tricky to deal with on this front because everyone needs them for chopping up vegetables or carving meat. Kids can get hold of one by going no further than their mum's cutlery drawer.

Acid is different. I have never once in 57 years thought: "Damn, we are low on hydrochloric acid. I must get some next time I'm in town."

I appreciate there are various heavy industries that need acid to make bits for ships or fertilisers but, again, I bet they don't buy their supplies from the local chemist.

Bleach is the only issue because that's something most households do need.

But bleach in gangland is like a Ruger LC9 handgun. A bit wet. A bit lightweight. You're not going to rise up the ladder in the criminal underworld if all you have is a bottle of Domestos. In a gang, it's all about looking cool and for that you need the AK-47 of acids, the full sulphuric. That stuff can melt bone, man.

So step one, I suggest, is simply to treat it, and all its nasty corrosive brothers, like we treat assault rifles, hand grenades and plutonium. They need to be kept on army bases and transported under heavy guard to places where they are really needed. They should not, ever, fall into the hands of Gazza from Dalston.

Instead, the government is talking about implementing measures that would reverse a recent decision that allows shops to sell corrosive substances without a licence. Whereas what it should be thinking is: "Why does any high street shop need to sell it at all?" And on that cheery note, happy Christmas to everyone — except Tom Watson.

And now a special Christmas column:


I CAN'T DO THE LUNCH WITHOUT NICOTINE: Christmas is no time to quit anything you enjoy, says Jeremy Clarkson, as he prepares for his first smoke-free festivities. It's going to be hell on earth (Dec. 24)

Two years ago, various evangelical friends and Californian birdseed enthusiasts decided that I should stop drinking, so that my life could be as miserable and as unhappy as theirs.

And to be obtuse, I did just that. What drove me to distraction was the way they'd come up to me at parties, with their faces arranged in a "sorry your dog died" smile of sympathy, to ask how I was coping. I was coping just fine, apart from the fact that I was now driving everywhere instead of using taxis. And that meant I was spending every penny I'd saved on wine to pay the parking Nazis each morning to get my car back from the pound.

They'd put an arm around me, though, and say, "Yes, but it'll be Christmas soon and you'll find all the parties very hard." I didn't. I found it refreshing, not having to start each new day by writing to the previous night's host and hostess to apologise for what I'd said and offer to pay for the damage.

And then there was Christmas Day itself. That was the best in my entire adult life. I was very good at all the games we played. I enjoyed the food. I enjoyed my children and, critically, they enjoyed me too. It was heaven and I'd recommend it. But having proved that I could manage perfectly well without a drink, I took it up again. That said, I may not imbibe on Christmas Day this year because I like being sober for that. Everything is so much shinier and more childlike. What is for sure is that I won't be smoking. And that may be more tricky.

After 43 uninterrupted years of living in a nicotine buzz, during which time I ploughed through 630,000 cigarettes, I gave it up back in August and I haven't, hand on heart, touched one since. One minute I was the heaviest smoker in the world. The next I was just another cowardly schmuck, living his life frightened by the unseen threat of cancer.

Like the drink thing, there are upsides to not smoking. You don't have to excuse yourself from the party every five minutes to stand outside in the rain. And, er, that's it. All the rest of the pros and cons are cons.

I wake every single morning thinking,"Ooh, good, I'm awake, I can have a smoke." Then there's the crushing realisation that I can't. That I must endure the morning ritual in a dreary cloud of fresh air. There are other moments when it's tough too; after a swim, when I sit down after work with a glass of wine, and, terribly, when I'm writing. Which is something I do most days from seven in the morning till seven in the evening.

Christmas, though, is going to be very tough because smoking, for all of my adult life, has been part of the ritual. I'd wake, have a smoke, go downstairs for a smoke, have a smoke while the coffee machine warmed up and another while it delivered the espresso. And then it'd be time for the greatest joy in all of nature's bounty box — the first coffee and smoke of the day combination. The two ines: caffeine and nicotine.

Then my children would come downstairs and I'd watch my son roll a smoke while my daughter and I had one that had been made by professionals. Then we'd wash the previous night's ashtrays and distribute them around the sitting room for the present-opening ceremony, which took hours, as we'd have to test the lighters we'd all bought one another.

Well, all that's gone now and I feel for my children. Not only have they lost an ally — which is what smoking's all about these days — they can no longer buy me a Zippo for Christmas. They've got to think of something else. My fear is that it may be slippers, because that's what most people take to when they pack in the fags. Something comfortable in which to sit, as they wait to be surprised by the arrival of the ailment that kills them. At least when you smoke, you know it's going to be lung cancer. When you don't, it could be anything. Fat probably. This has always been the problem with giving up smoking — that when you have nothing to do with your hands all day, you employ them in the fridge, making improbable sandwiches and cakes until one day you're in the tabloids for becoming Britain's most disgusting person. They may even have pictures of the fire brigade winching you into an ambulance.

Certainly, you'd imagine that, without cigarettes, you'd do nothing on Christmas Day except eat. But my worry is: how am I going to eat any lunch at all? Seriously. Because it will mean taking out my Nicorette gum for maybe half an hour. Forty minutes, if there's some bread sauce left over. I'm not sure I can do 40 minutes without nicotine. The only way of keeping calm, I suspect, will be to take a drink. Which rather puts us back where we started. When I was approached to write this piece by my editor, a non-smoker, my first thought was to extol the virtues of a no-smoking, clean-living Christmas. But I can't. Because the world is full of opportunities and things that bring joy and happiness. For some, that's weeds and seeds and poetry. For others, it's a few pints, a packet of fags and a Bond film.

You may want to try new directions at other times of the year. The idea of being fit and clean and holier than thou may appeal when you are trying to get "beach body ready". But this is Christmas, and — don't let the vicar tell you otherwise — that has nothing to do with God or the baby Jesus any more. It's all about having a nice time. So do just that. Be happy. Be with your family. Do what your family wants to do.And have no guilt.
And here is the Sun column.
 
Zippo bought Case knives years ago. Maybe next year, Clarkson's children can buy him one of those instead. I suspect, however, that it may be a better idea to buy him more Nicorette, and forgo the possible stabbing.

Bradford, Pennsylvania, still home to Zippo and Case, was also once home to Kendall Motor Oil, Holley carburetors, Piper aircraft, Dresser manufacturing, Pennzoil's headquarters, many other businesses and manufacturers, and me.
 
New Year's pessimism this week:

Just remind me, please, why we think the world is becoming a better place (Dec. 31)

Over the Christmas period, I was introduced by a friend to Amazon's Alexa device. It's amazing. You just say: "Alexa, play Long Train Runnin' by the Doobie Brothers" and it goes into a record collection of everything ever written, finds what you want and plays it.

Now, I don't want to sound like an old man but if the Tomorrow's World presenter Judith Hann had said to me, as I was taking a record out of its sleeve, carefully dusting it and then placing it on a turntable, that in my lifetime the sky would become a giant voice-activated record player, I'd have laughed at her. And it would have been the same story if she'd said I could sit in a car, on a motorway, and watch a feature film on my telephone.

Thanks to technology, and improved medicine, we think the world is getting better, but if we look back at the events from the past year, we can see that, actually, it isn't. Not really.

For example, if Hann's colleague Raymond Baxter had said that in 2017 a Muslim would be so devoted to the cause of Islam that he'd strap some dynamite to his chest and walk into a pop concert that he knew would be full of children — and explode — I'd have thought: "Oh dear. The breeze of insanity is blowing through the poor man's head."

Especially if he'd gone on to say that people would one day drive their vans down the pavement trying to kill as many pedestrians as possible. We'd seen that in a film — Death Race 2000 — but the idea that it could actually happen would have seemed completely idiotic.

Then there's the business of nationhood. After the First World War, it was decided that the lump of rock and ice in the Arctic Ocean that is now called Svalbard couldn't just belong to nobody because a villain might come along and build a rocket site there. So it was gifted to Norway. And with Antarctica buried under a mass of treaties, the world was all sorted out.

Now, though, there are countries throughout the world with no effective government at all. So instead of operating from bedsits in Cologne and Belfast, terrorist groups are able to really stretch their legs. And if they do eventually get pushed out of say, Syria, they simply up sticks and move to Libya.

As a child, I holidayed once in Tunisia and if William Woollard had popped up and said one day, on this very beach, a man will walk along shooting tourists, I'd have called the police and said a madman was on the loose.

Predicting where the next actual war would come from has always been easy. It was Germany. So who would have said, in the late Seventies, that Britain's next big scrap would be with Argentina? Or when we were yomping over the Falklands, that 20 years later it'd be Afghanistan? Or that the next big nuclear threat would come from North Korea?

A threat so severe, it seems, that Japan is about to circumvent its pacifist constitution and accept that its collection of grey boats staffed by efficient and uniformed sailors is actually a navy. And not a department of the police force.

And then there's Africa. I would have assumed that by now, it'd have all been sorted out. But no. Just last month, a coup in Zimbabwe saw the lunatic Mr Robert Mugabe ousted and replaced with a chap called Mr Emmerson Mnangagwa. Who, apparently, is even worse.

There might have been a time when Britain would have flexed its muscles over such a move. But this is not possible any more because our army is on a course, learning to no longer say "Ladies and gentlemen" when addressing a crowd, and the navy's aircraft carrier has no planes and a leak.

Also, the politicians in London are all consumed with how we are going to leave the EU. That's all they are doing, all of them. All of the time. It makes you wonder how they fill their days when they don't have the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland to sort out.

There are similar issues in Spain, which everyone thought had been fixed after General Franco went west. Seems not. As nobody at all predicted, Catalonia decided it wanted to break free and organised an election in which the only people who voted were secessionists.

And lo, when they won, the leaders of the campaign decided that it was all too complicated and fled to Belgium. Anyone see that coming? Meanwhile, in America — well, what can I say about that? In 2016 the Democrats fielded someone so useless that the election, with some help from the Russians, was won by a dotard who thinks "bigly" is a word.

Everyone predicted that Trump's victory would herald the end of days, but as he approaches the end of his first year in office, there's no getting round the fact that the Dow Jones is higher than ever, that his tax cuts will boost the economy and that so far, at least, no actual war has started. It'll be hilarious if he goes on to become the most successful president yet. Would you bet against it? Really? In this world? Where no one can predict anything? Harvey Weinstein, for example, could not have predicted this time last year that in the next 12 months, he'd have fallen so low that he could never again show his face in public.

Or that by inviting young actresses to watch him shower, he would set in motion a chain of events that would see more than 30 high-ranking people in the entertainment industry and beyond accused of being alleged sexual nuisances and cause a sea change in the way the world works. Now it is pretty much illegal to ask a young woman out.

Who knows where this one will end? Will the stone continue to roll down the hill, until it becomes socially impossible for men and women to converse. Or will the pendulum swing the other way so that next year the big comedy hit will be a remake of Carry On Camping.

The fact is that we don't know what will happen next. No one ever has done. A point proved by Tomorrow's World. Every week it was full of the latest innovations that would shape our lives in the future. And it didn't see the internet coming.
I will be happy to tell Clarkson why the world is becoming a better place. In case he's forgotten, terrorism was a major problem in the 70s too, along with civil and other wars, yet there are no conflicts today as bad as the Vietnam War, let alone the World Wars. Crime rates are way down from the 60s and 70s as well. Nor is the nuclear threat of North Korea a match for that of the Cold War. Mr. Mnangagwa has yet to prove himself worse than Mr. Mugabe. The "useless" candidate in America easily won the popular vote, while the doomed dotard who won thanks to a quirk of the electoral college is suffering from historic unpopularity that will only increase when the economy takes an inevitable dip. Meanwhile the fallout from the Weinstein affair means that fewer sexual abusers will be able to get away with their crimes, as so many did in the "good old days."

Anyway, here's the Sun column.
 
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New Year's pessimism this week.
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Just remind me, please, why we think the world is becoming a better place (Dec. 31)

Over the Christmas period, I was introduced by a friend to Amazon's Alexa device. It's amazing. You just say: "Alexa, play Long Train Runnin' by the Doobie Brothers" and it goes into a record collection of everything ever written, finds what you want and plays it.

Now, I don't want to sound like an old man but if the Tomorrow's World presenter Judith Hann had said to me, as I was taking a record out of its sleeve, carefully dusting it and then placing it on a turntable, that in my lifetime the sky would become a giant voice-activated record player, I'd have laughed at her. And it would have been the same story if she'd said I could sit in a car, on a motorway, and watch a feature film on my telephone.

Thanks to technology, and improved medicine, we think the world is getting better, but if we look back at the events from the past year, we can see that, actually, it isn't. Not really.

For example, if Hann's colleague Raymond Baxter had said that in 2017 a Muslim would be so devoted to the cause of Islam that he'd strap some dynamite to his chest and walk into a pop concert that he knew would be full of children — and explode — I'd have thought: "Oh dear. The breeze of insanity is blowing through the poor man's head."

Especially if he'd gone on to say that people would one day drive their vans down the pavement trying to kill as many pedestrians as possible. We'd seen that in a film — Death Race 2000 — but the idea that it could actually happen would have seemed completely idiotic.

Then there's the business of nationhood. After the First World War, it was decided that the lump of rock and ice in the Arctic Ocean that is now called Svalbard couldn't just belong to nobody because a villain might come along and build a rocket site there. So it was gifted to Norway. And with Antarctica buried under a mass of treaties, the world was all sorted out.

Now, though, there are countries throughout the world with no effective government at all. So instead of operating from bedsits in Cologne and Belfast, terrorist groups are able to really stretch their legs. And if they do eventually get pushed out of say, Syria, they simply up sticks and move to Libya.

As a child, I holidayed once in Tunisia and if William Woollard had popped up and said one day, on this very beach, a man will walk along shooting tourists, I'd have called the police and said a madman was on the loose.

Predicting where the next actual war would come from has always been easy. It was Germany. So who would have said, in the late Seventies, that Britain's next big scrap would be with Argentina? Or when we were yomping over the Falklands, that 20 years later it'd be Afghanistan? Or that the next big nuclear threat would come from North Korea?

A threat so severe, it seems, that Japan is about to circumvent its pacifist constitution and accept that its collection of grey boats staffed by efficient and uniformed sailors is actually a navy. And not a department of the police force.

And then there's Africa. I would have assumed that by now, it'd have all been sorted out. But no. Just last month, a coup in Zimbabwe saw the lunatic Mr Robert Mugabe ousted and replaced with a chap called Mr Emmerson Mnangagwa. Who, apparently, is even worse.

There might have been a time when Britain would have flexed its muscles over such a move. But this is not possible any more because our army is on a course, learning to no longer say "Ladies and gentlemen" when addressing a crowd, and the navy's aircraft carrier has no planes and a leak.

Also, the politicians in London are all consumed with how we are going to leave the EU. That's all they are doing, all of them. All of the time. It makes you wonder how they fill their days when they don't have the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland to sort out.

There are similar issues in Spain, which everyone thought had been fixed after General Franco went west. Seems not. As nobody at all predicted, Catalonia decided it wanted to break free and organised an election in which the only people who voted were secessionists.

And lo, when they won, the leaders of the campaign decided that it was all too complicated and fled to Belgium. Anyone see that coming? Meanwhile, in America — well, what can I say about that? In 2016 the Democrats fielded someone so useless that the election, with some help from the Russians, was won by a dotard who thinks "bigly" is a word.

Everyone predicted that Trump's victory would herald the end of days, but as he approaches the end of his first year in office, there's no getting round the fact that the Dow Jones is higher than ever, that his tax cuts will boost the economy and that so far, at least, no actual war has started. It'll be hilarious if he goes on to become the most successful president yet. Would you bet against it? Really? In this world? Where no one can predict anything? Harvey Weinstein, for example, could not have predicted this time last year that in the next 12 months, he'd have fallen so low that he could never again show his face in public.

Or that by inviting young actresses to watch him shower, he would set in motion a chain of events that would see more than 30 high-ranking people in the entertainment industry and beyond accused of being alleged sexual nuisances and cause a sea change in the way the world works. Now it is pretty much illegal to ask a young woman out.

Who knows where this one will end? Will the stone continue to roll down the hill, until it becomes socially impossible for men and women to converse. Or will the pendulum swing the other way so that next year the big comedy hit will be a remake of Carry On Camping.

The fact is that we don't know what will happen next. No one ever has done. A point proved by Tomorrow's World. Every week it was full of the latest innovations that would shape our lives in the future. And it didn't see the internet coming.

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I will happily tell Clarkson why the world is becoming a better place. In case he forgets, terrorism was just as much of a problem in the 70s, and at the moment ISIS is in retreat. There are no conflicts right now as bad as the Vietnam War, let alone the World Wars. Crime rates are at record lows in America and much of the rest of the developed world. North Korea might pose a nuclear threat, but it's hardly bigger than what was experienced for decades during the Cold War. And since Mr. Mnangagwa has yet to actually perform worse things than Mr. Mugabe, Clarkson is merely being pessimistic. Spain's Catalonia secession woes are so far less violent than the Basque ones. The "useless" candidate in America easily won millions more votes than the dotard, who is only in office thanks to the quirk of the electoral college. And the chances of the dotard being "the most successful president yet" are rather low considering that in his first year in office he only passed one significant (and very foolish) piece of legislation. Given that his approval numbers are at a record low and that the economy won't stay great for long, the dotard might be the only person to have cause for real pessimism. As for Weinstein, his fall (and those of his fellow harassers) is obvious proof that the world is becoming a better place for women--and men by extension.
 
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Time for some urban revitalization!

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Next up on It's an Arty Knockout — Chippenham's forest of manhole covers (January 7)

Someone has installed a gigantic and rather elegant ladder on Dartmoor. It's not propped up against anything; it just rises up from the middle of nowhere and heads off into the clouds. Many have called it "the Stairway to Heaven" and soon local officials will remove it on the grounds of health and safety.

They haven't actually said that this will happen but it will, because what if someone were to climb the ladder and then, when they got to the top — where there's nothing but sky — fell off? Someone would have to be sued. Best, then, to take it down and put it in a skip.

Previously, an enormous oak chair lived for a while where the ladder stands now. It was built by a local artist called Henry Bruce but "Dartmoor chiefs" (that's what the regional newspaper calls them) said it was too popular with tourists and, because of the resultant traffic problems, it must be taken away. So it was, in a big removal lorry.

I wonder. Why has no one taken down the 66ft winged figure that towers over Gateshead? Or the naked men of iron who stand knee-deep in sand on the beach at Crosby on Merseyside? Or the stencil sketches that adorn the sides of various shops in Bristol? Ah, well, that's simple. All of these things were created by renowned artists. So they are fine. But the ladder and the chair? They were both made by ordinary people, presumably. This makes them litter, so they must be taken away.

I think this is silly. I like the ladder.

Without it, Dartmoor is nothing more than a wild expanse of mud and wind. It's fine if you are a horse, or an idiot in a cagoule, or a convicted burglar, but for ordinary, evolved human beings it needs a focal point. Or else it's just something that must be driven past on your way to Cornwall. A big blob of nothing that's holding back Tavistock.

So I say this to the Dartmoor chiefs: put up a small notice on a nearby wall saying they are not responsible if someone is injured while climbing the ladder — and then leave it be.

And then I have an even better idea for the nation's broadcasters. Let's bring back It's a Knockout, but with a couple of important changes (To be very clear to all television executives reading this: it's my idea). Instead of getting a paedophile commentator to laugh hysterically while people dressed as Smurfs fall into a paddling pool, make it a gigantic nationwide art competition.

I think people are bored with watching gym enthusiasts in the jungle, or Boris Johnson's relations being normal. And we are definitely bored with ducks that can skateboard, shop assistants who think they can sing and poorly children who can do magic tricks. Soon we will even tire of people with two left legs and a sequin jumpsuit, jiggling about to an Abba track.

My new programme idea is still a competition but it's better than the established powerhouses because each week, two whole towns go head to head in a battle to create the best municipal art installation. And they will be encouraged by the judges — Antony Gormley, Jonathan Yeo, Keith Tyson and Mr Banksy — to think big.

Think about it. Every town has a bit of waste ground developers don't want. As often as not these days, that area is known as "the centre". It's just a row of charity shops and takeaways and it only comes alive at night when it's a blizzard of chlamydia and vomit. So why not turn it into a mile-long Henry Moore? Sometimes it won't be the centre. It'll be an abandoned factory, or a tower block that's deemed, post-Grenfell, to be uninhabitable, or a park that's used mostly as a dog lavatory. Everywhere has something or somewhere that could do with a makeover.

So a spot is identified by council chiefs and local artists are consulted. Everywhere has some of these too; people who put up their watercolours and their weird taxidermy in the town tea shoppe in the hope that a customer from the Royal National Institute of Blind People will want to buy it.

These consultations will be filmed because we'd all like to see the back story; the prize-marrow pony-clubs mall-town bitterness that's bound to surface when one artist is told that his plans for painting all the telegraph poles red is stupid and they're going for a fullscale model of Bilbao's Guggenheim. This will require a lot of work but that's OK because in every town there's always a lot of busybodies who want to be involved with "the community". And an even greater number who want to be on television. The one I'd like involves recreating that old Sony Bravia ad in which gallons of paint is fired from a council estate to create a blaze of colour. Remember that? Well, imagine firing foot-wide paint balls from a cannon at the side of an eyesore. In minutes, it wouldn't be an eyesore any more.

Bristol could produce an installation based around Concorde, Doncaster could make a 600ft-tall bronze miner and Chippenham could create a forest of manhole covers in honour of its most famous son, Jeremy Corbyn, whose ideas for regenerating forgotten towns are nowhere near as good as mine.

Surely there must be a town in Britain somewhere with a company that could recreate that wonderful fountain from the lobby of the Burj Al Arab in Dubai but on a massive scale. I'd far rather watch someone attempting to do this than a girl on a journey, from her checkout till, past Simon Cowell and back to the checkout till again.

And whereas she'd be forgotten in a matter of moments, the fountain could stand for a thousand years. A marvel that puts the town that created it way further up the art map than the next pointless City of Culture. Coventry.

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And here's the Sun column.
 
Apologies for being late with this week's column.

***

Keep playing with your files, constable. Let us vigilantes handle this burglar (Jan. 14)

I know only one thing about the law in Britain: that there is no more expensive place in the entire world to stand than the moral high ground. God himself could appear from the clouds to tell the jury that what you did was correct, but that doesn't mean you're going to win the case. Usually, it means you won't.

And that brings me neatly on to the case of a man called Mark Cardwell, who appeared at Teesside crown court last week. He'd been online, chatting to what he thought were some young girls, but it turned out he'd been asking for intimate photographs from various paedophile-hunting vigilante groups. Who promptly shopped him to the gammon.

That's tremendous, of course, but hang on a minute. What crime had he actually committed? He hadn't been intimate or inappropriate with a young girl. He had merely asked a paunchy man in a Steppenwolf T-shirt to pleasure himself and send photographs. That's weird, I'll grant you, but it's not illegal.

And yet, amazingly, it is, because last Monday, Cardwell was found guilty of attempted grooming and attempting to engage a child in sexual activity, and was jailed for 18 months.

Perhaps there were aspects of this case that were not fully reported but, whatever, the police commissioner expressed his gratitude to the vigilante groups for their assistance in securing the conviction, even though there's no need to help the police because "we have the whole thing under complete control at all times".

Except they don't. We know this because they announced last autumn that in a drive to save ?400m they will no longer investigate minor crimes of violence or tiny bits of theft unless the victim can name the person who did it.

Sure, if a baddie uses violence or trickery to enter someone's house, then the desk sergeant will fill in a form, in his best joined-up writing, and carefully file it away in that massive warehouse where the Lost Ark ended up. But if the baddie jimmies a window open and steals a few bits and bobs, the homeowner will be told politely to get lost.

It's the same story with mild violence.

If, like most of the country, you are at war with your neighbour over his unruly hedge, you can't hit him in the face with a hammer. Plod's going to come round if you do that. But if you push him over or poke him in the eye, then that's OK.

The idea is very simple: by ignoring minor crimes, the constabulary will be able to concentrate its efforts on the only stuff that matters these days. Terrorism. Being a disc jockey in the 1970s. Splashing a mum with muddy water by driving through a puddle too quickly. Or dropping plastic into the sea.

The trouble is that when you find you've been burgled, it doesn't feel very minor at all. At best, it's inconvenient because you will have to keep your temper while an insurance assessor accuses you of doing the break-in yourself. And then you will have to buy a new toothbrush just in case the thief put yours up his bottom.

At worst, a burglary can be very upsetting. Losing your mother's engagement ring, or your dog, or your photograph albums may look trivial on paper, but in your heart it's huge and heavy and sad. And it's even sadder when you are told to get out of the police station because "all our officers are currently on a ladder-climbing course". So how's this for a plan ... Warehouses employ night watchmen to keep an eye on things when the workforce is at home. Light industrial estates have men walking round every so often with fierce dogs. And stores have security guards too. I saw one last week, standing in the doorway of a shop. He had big shoulders and an earpiece, and because he was there, the chances of a smash-and-grab raid were, I should imagine, massively diminished.

Pubs and clubs also have their own security teams on hand to sort out the kind of behaviour that no longer interests Dixon of Dock Green. So why, pray, do streets not do the same thing? The street on which I live in London does. A local was fed up after losing two Range Rovers in a year, so he got his neighbours to club together to employ a man who drives around at night, shining his torch into the face of anyone in a hoodie. And the next year he had three Range Rovers stolen. But I think this is because the lone vigilante he employed is a bit rubbish.

Yours needn't be. And nor would it be massively expensive, because, think about it: if there are a hundred houses on your road and everyone chipped in, you could have a man and a car and an angry dog for, what, ?300 each a year? For a little more, it might be possible to launch your own legal system. Various Muslim areas of Britain have sharia, or Islamic law, which is obviously tailored to their beliefs, so follow that lead and decide in your street what is appropriate for you and your neighbours.

If you are in a Jeremy Corbyn-type area, you could invite the burglar into your kitchen for some winter-warming soup. If you are Tunbridge Wells, you could tie him to a maypole and sentence him to death. By stoning, if that's what your children would like.

This would take the burden off the normal courts, leaving them more time to focus on the big stuff, such as parking on a yellow line and driving too quickly.

The only thing I wouldn't recommend you get involved with is paedophilia.

Because I have some experience of this. No, wait. Let me rephrase that. I once had to call on Ceop ? the child exploitation and online protection arm of the police ? for help.

And it was outstanding. Dazzlingly brilliant. It's the one area of police work where individuals cannot do better than the police are doing already.

***

And here's the Sun column.
 
Clarkson in Philistine mode this week...

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Four words that could have saved the Ukip leader's marriage: I hate classical music (Jan. 21)

If your husband wakes one morning, has a big stretch and says, as he opens the curtains: "I hate all classical music," you should breathe a sigh of relief and go through the rest of your life with a smile on your face and a spring in your step. To understand why, you need to examine the case of Ukip leader Henry Bolton who at the age of 54 decided to leave his Russian-born wife so that he could be with a young woman called Jo Marney.

She has been described by friends as a "model, actress and journalist", and by the non-judgmental lefties on Twitter as "a topless model 30 years his junior", but the affair seemed to fizzle out once the newspapers started referring to her as a "racist model, actress and journalist".

So now, presumably, Mr Bolton is on his own in a bedsit while Mrs Bolton is busy at the family home, putting all their wedding photographs in the waste disposal unit.

It's a sad story and it's not unusual. Lots of 54-year-old men wake up in the morning and think: "Oh no. Soon I shall be a hollowed-out shell with droopy moobs and see-through hair, so I should make the most of my final few days as a man by buying a Porsche, sculpting my pubic hair into the shape of an eagle and taking a 25-year-old out for dinner."

In order to impress the woman, the poor man will pretend to be interested in Snapchat and why Rita Ora is better than Bouff Daddy. And later he may agree to go clubbing, where he will not realise that no man past the age of 40 should dance with his arms above his head.

Many people will laugh at him.

Especially after he's tried K cider to look cool and finished the evening under a park bench, drooling and thinking he's stuck in Roger Dean's head.

It's probable that one day he will get into the 25-year-old's underwear but since this will take place in the Porsche, he will put his back out and wake the next day with half the handbrake up his backside and chlamydia.

But he'll stick with her, they'll get married and for his 60th birthday, when he should be settling down with a book on fly-fishing, he'll get as a present a new baby.

Amazingly, some men are able to resist this option. Some look at the teenage receptionist and think: "I must not think that way." But to take us back to the beginning, a wife can never truly relax until the day comes when her husband admits he doesn't like classical music.

I admitted it to myself over Christmas and then out loud at a party last weekend. People were quite shocked. But I ploughed on regardless. Some of it may be catchy because it was used to advertise tyres or ice cream but if you actually listen to all of Nissan Dormobile it's terrible. Longer than a prog-rock drum solo and about as dreary.

Classical music is like Shakespeare.

Everyone says his sonnets are brilliant and the bedrock of our language. Really? So how come, then, that nobody in their right mind reads him from the moment they leave school until the moment they die? Shakespeare is like Radio 3. We are aware of it and the BBC says 2m people listen to it every week but we're not fooled. It's just one imbecile in a loft, turning his radio on and off 2m times.

You'll probably have seen the epically brilliant film In the Loop. It was a feature-length version of the television series The Thick of It and in one scene an angry Scottish man tells a pompous civil servant to turn off his classical music. "It's just vowels," he shouts. And he's absolutely dead right. It's consonant-free communication. I firmly believe that the Bay City Rollers produced more of note than Mozart, Brahms and Bartok combined. And anyone who says they like opera, doesn't really. They're just showing off.

And that's the point. When we are in the hunt for a mate, we dream up all sorts of stuff to make ourselves look interesting. We are careful not to use the word "toilet" and we make a point of not having a television in the bedroom. Nor would we lie on a beach openly reading a Lee Child book. Much better to have the biography of some Renaissance painter.

Nicky Haslam, the interior designer and commentator on social matters, recently posted an image of a tea towel given to him by a friend, listing all the things Haslam reckons are common and to be avoided. Ibiza, Richard Branson, personal trainers, being ill, pronouncing the "e" in furore, vodka tonic, Oxfordshire, dress codes, cufflinks ... The list is very long and if you are in the market for a relationship, it's a handy reference guide that you can hang on your Aga. Hang on. Just checking. Nope. Agas are fine, it seems.

But think of the effort needed to do this, to always be doing the right thing in the right place at the right time with the right people. Once, I arrived with a girlfriend at the house of a posh woman who said to her as we walked through the door: "Would you like to look in a mirror." She meant "Do you want a pee?" but couldn't actually say that because it somehow wasn't correct. She's the sort who'd listen to Bach. And sit on a train with a copy of The Economist even though in her heart she'd far rather be reading Hello!.

The only reason we live such a wicked life of fakery is because it makes us look cleverer and more interesting and better-read than we actually are. And the only reason we do this is because we want to be attractive.

But the day will come when no amount of squinting into the mirror helps. You just know that you're not attractive any more. And that is the most blessed relief because it means you can say and do and wear whatever you want.

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Speaking as someone in his right mind who still reads Shakespeare, I think Clarkson is being an orangutan. He doesn't have to like Shakespeare, but as an English writer he'd be a fool to dismiss the greatest master of his language. Anyway, this week's edition of the paper also had the feature "Sunday Times star columnists review the best treatments from around the world," so here's Clarkson's contribution.

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And the Sun column.
 
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