Clarkson's Sunday Times Columns

I would say Shakespeare (or more correctly: the group who collectively wrote and performed what he may or may not have documented on paper) is an interesting historical note, and many of the stories are important archetypes (just as versions of most of them can be found in every other culture...), but "master of language"...? C'mon. It's bollocks!
MossMan;n3545256 said:
I would say Shakespeare (or more correctly: the group who collectively wrote and performed what he may or may not have documented on paper) is an interesting historical note, and many of the stories are important archetypes (just as versions of most of them can be found in every other culture...), but "master of language"...? C'mon. It's bollocks!
I think you have it the other way around. Shakespeare is generally valued because of his gift for the language, not on archetypes or historical notes or his plots. There's a reason why he's ranked higher than the other playwrights of the period, who were also brilliant. And I think most people who care about the English language are more than willing to call Shakespeare a master of it.
Well, as I said there's doubt "he" wrote it all anyway - and personally I find the "unscripted" GT Croatia film better written and more amusing than any of the Shakespeare "comedies" I've been forced to digest as a schoolkid.
MossMan;n3545330 said:
Well, as I said there's doubt "he" wrote it all anyway - and personally I find the "unscripted" GT Croatia film better written and more amusing than any of the Shakespeare "comedies" I've been forced to digest as a schoolkid.
There's also doubt about the moon landing. Conspiracy theories are very popular nowadays. Personally speaking, I don't find Shakespeare's comedies very funny either, but humor tends to age faster than tragedy. Nor do I think schoolkids should be forced to read Shakespeare before the third year of high school.
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After a long hiatus, Clarkson returns to the column pages.


Before you lynch any Oxfam workers, remember the lives they've saved (Feb. 18)

I have probably got this all wrong but so far as I can tell, a hard-working charity worker may have slept with a prostitute after a gruelling day spent handing out fruit and silver foil blankets to earthquake victims in Haiti and now there are calls for anyone who's walked past an Oxfam shop to be shot in the head and buried in an unmarked grave on the edge of town.

Let's be in no doubt here, I've always had my doubts about Oxfam. I've never liked the way it used global warming and austerity and Margaret Thatcher as a three-pronged assault weapon on our guilt juices, and I've long suspected that any organisation run by a bunch of BBC and Labour Party stalwarts would spend far more on South African nuclear-free peace crisps than it did on bandages for the needy and the dispossessed.

Oh, and not even when I had a brief flirtation with punk on or about August 1, 1976, have I found anything in an Oxfam shop that's caused me to think: "Hmmm. That's ironic." It's all just tat.

It's not just Oxfam either. I've been to Muslim troublespots around the world and — during Ramadan — and seen UN workers sitting on street corners in hotpants, smoking and drinking beer. And I've heard people out there in dogooder land wondering how every single UN Toyota Land Cruiser hasn't been daubed with a blue "C" and "T" as well.

Then you've got Unicef, which we were told last week is riddled with paedophiles, and all of the other nongovernmental organisations that you just know are run on the ground by the sort of happy-clappy vicar-people you'd never have round for dinner.

I get the appeal of signing up for this kind of work. You get sent to somewhere hot for a few months and you are doing the sort of important work that will make you look interesting and tanned.

Plus, if something does go wrong and you are trapped or eaten or blown up, you know your old headmaster will say glowing things at your standing-room-only funeral and the local paper will call for a roundabout to be named in your honour. Yeah, John Lennon got an airport for his egg man but you? You got a roundabout. With geraniums on it.

And when the work is done for the day, you can hang around the pool at the house where you're staying, drinking beer in the warmth of the evening and maybe do sex. And that seems to be the nub of Oxfam's problems.

One of its chaps, a Belgian, working in Haiti, may have actually paid for some women to do whatever it is they are said to have done and that's gone down very badly with everyone who has no idea what they're talking about.

Haiti is very poor. There is very little work. And then along comes a Belgian with a wad of dollars. What happens next, says everyone, puts the Belgian up there with the dentist who shot that lion and Jimmy Savile and Hitler. I'm sorry, but I don't understand the hysteria.

There are prostitutes in the world. They sleep with men for money. It has been happening since I was born. Some say it's been happening since even James May was born. Sex workers are a fact of life. Yes? Right? So what happens to these women if there are no customers? They take a job in a nail salon? In Haiti? Get real.

It's much the same argument we saw recently with grid girls in Formula One. It was decided they didn't fit the sport's image so now they've been dropped. Which means that several hundred young women from all over the world now have less income.

What this Belgian does with a prostitute is a matter for his wife. Not a bunch of barking mad lunatics back in Britain. I'm distraught to see that since this story broke, Oxfam has been bleeding direct-debitors — 1,270 went in just three days. And now we have flocks of former international development secretaries denying they've heard of Oxfam and the hairy armpit brigade burning people in the street for looking in a charity shop window.

We can be absolutely certain that this story will run and run. In the same way that Harvey Weinstein led to Kevin Spacey, who led to everyone else who's got a scrotum, and the Presidents Club fiasco consumed the nation to the point where Great Ormond Street Hospital handed back money given to help sick children because it had been raised by young women in matching underwear, so other charities will be dragged into the mire.

And by this time next week you'll be afraid to roll a 10p piece into the Royal National Lifeboat Institution's tin in case it spends it on bats for clubbing seals.

Yes, some charities are quite inefficient and only spend 60% of what they're given on good causes. But most do better than that and spend only 1% of their income on running themselves.

I used to know a chap who worked for a well-known charity and when he was back in Europe after six months on a battlefield or in some hellhole, he would regale us with horrific tales of sewing people's legs back on back to front and nailing coffin lids down on people who said "Ow!" when the first hammer blow landed. Those who didn't know him well were appalled by this and in today's climate he'd be hanging from a lamppost while the idiotic threw vegetables at him.

But the fact is this: for every one mistake he made while utterly exhausted, and in a bloodbath, he saved hundreds, maybe thousands of lives.

I fear that's what the world is doing to the Belgian man. I could be wrong, of course. He could be a terrible wrong 'un. But let's be sure before we lynch him for sleeping with prostitutes — he's not the first to do that — after a day spent saving the actual lives of hundreds of others.

In the meantime, here's a tip. Give Oxfam a bit of money next time you're passing one of its shops.


And here's the Sun column.
This week's column is "in the bag."


Keys, gum, corkscrew ... ah yes, here it is. I knew I'd put my masculinity in my man-bag (Feb. 25)

Keen to learn more about the alarming claims that Jeremy Corbyn was once mincing around London with a poisoned umbrella and a briefcase full of atomic launch codes, I turned to the BBC's sprawling news website and found...nothing about the story at all. There was, however, an interesting piece about the history of the man-bag.

Obviously, no mention was made of this on the BBC but they've always been seen as a bit, you know, gay. There was an episode of Friends in which Matt LeBlanc — whatever happened to him, I wonder? — bought a bag that provided his co-stars with many opportunities to make out that he may, in fact, be a lady.

Then there was an episode of Seinfeld in which Jerry told friends, indignantly, that his man-bag was not a purse. "It's European," he said. As we know, when an American describes something as European, such as not carrying a gun or smoking a Disque Bleu, he means "homosexual".

My dad used to have a handbag and God I teased him about it. He argued that no one in the hard, men-are-men mining town of Doncaster would ever steal such a thing and he was dead right. It was, in fact, stolen while he was in the European city of Amsterdam. "Presumably," I said, "by someone who wanted something to hit his boyfriend with."

According to GQ, the man-bag first became popular in the 14th century when chaps would attach a small pouch to their belts or leg that was filled with spices and herbs to make them smell nice. It was a sort of Renaissance deodorant. Right Guard. Only with a hint of parsley.

Things, of course, have changed since then. Homosexuality is now pretty much compulsory and exhibiting its traits is de rigueur if you want to get on. Which is why David Beckham, Lewis Hamilton and various other chaps who live their lives in the Mail Online's sidebar of shame are regularly seen "jetting into LAX" with a three-grand leather pouch tossed casually over their shoulder.

Sales are up. Fifteen per cent of the male population of Britain bought a bag last year and that jumped to a quarter among the under-34s. And here it comes. I have one. It wasn't made by Stella McCartney. It doesn't have any leather trimmings. It's more in the style of Indiana Jones's satchel but it's mine and I'm a man and it's a bag and I simply couldn't manage without it.

Think about it. When you went out in the past, everything you ever needed—chequebook, condom and Blockbuster membership card, for when the condom wasn't necessary—fitted in a wallet. And that fitted in the pocket of your Oxford bags.

Today things are different because when you go out you need a phone, a laptop, an iPad and chargers for all of them. Then there's your Kindle and your credit cards and a bit of cash, and there's no way you're going to fit that lot in your pockets.

You may say that a briefcase could accommodate all of these things and that's probably true. But a briefcase makes you look like you go to meetings and say that you'll "reach out" to various people, which is not acceptable unless you are in the Four Tops. It also suggests that you play golf at weekends and that's not a message you want to be sending out. Much better to have people think you bat for the other side.

What's more, no briefcase could accommodate all the other stuff that the modern man needs if he's truly ready to move at the drop of a hat.

My bag, for instance, contains the laptop and the chargers and so on. But in addition, there are headache potions, all the malaria pills I've never finished taking, the key cards for every hotel I've ever stayed in, two packets of nicotine gum, a bottle opener, a torch, a corkscrew, a passport, pictures of my children, plug adaptors for every country in the world, spare house keys, two pairs of sunglasses, a spare pair of reading spectacles, noise-cancelling headphones that I use to drown out the sound of James May on aeroplanes, a bag of tissues, a card saying I won't catch yellow fever, $40, €40, coins for airport trolleys, spare batteries for the James May-cancelling headphones, a laser pointer for annoying dogs and, critically, no liquids or penknives or anything that could cause a delay at an airport.

I could get an emergency call this afternoon to be in the Arctic or an equatorial swamp and I wouldn't have to think for a moment because I know that everything I'll need is in that bag.

There is a drawback, of course, because we've all been there, with a woman, standing outside her front door as she rests her handbag on an elevated knee while she rummages around for the house keys. Well, it's the same story with my bag. I know everything is in there but I can never locate anything. I've cancelled cards that have turned up a week later and once even changed the locks on my flat having decided I'd definitely lost the keys. Only to find them six weeks later, tangled up in some iPhone cabling. Which I'd just replaced at one of those Apple shops where nothing makes any sense.

God knows how David managed. The Bible tells us that when faced with Goliath, he reached into his man-bag and took out a stone that he threw at the Philistine. The truth is that if it had been a real man-bag, he'd have been standing there for half an hour in a puddle of chewing gum wrappers and old boarding passes saying: "Hang on, hang on. I know it's in here somewhere."

The thing is, though, I'd rather know that I have something I need somewhere about my person than know for sure that it's on my hall table. And for that, you need a bag.


And here is the Sun column. Incidentally, the Sunday Times car column for the past couple of weeks has been written by Richard Porter.
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The kids are not alright this week...


A proper lunch — that's all millennials need to stop getting fat and miserable (March 3)

Last week an old man in a chalk-stripe suit woke up and said the panna cotta of celeriac that he'd been given for his subsidised lunch in the House of Lords canteen was nothing more than a petrified carrot swimming in a pool of egg. Also, his beef had been "uneatable".

Naturally, this went down badly with those of a hairy armpitted disposition who all said something or other about hard-working families and austerity and Trump and how the poor can't even get any food at KFC these days.

It also went down badly with me because I love lunch, and since AA Gill died I can't find anyone else who does. Apart from a lot of dead people in clubs in St James's who are propped up in front of a spotted dick that was cooked in black and white during an air raid.

If I do talk someone into joining me for a spot of gossip and a wine, they tut when I order a starter, spend the main course looking at their watch and become wide-eyed with incredulity when I suggest a second glass.

Normally, I could rely on women to come and play, but not any more because — and I am not making this up — they have started having FaceTime lunches. This involves doing something pointless to an avocado, pouring a splash of gently carbonated water into an overpriced glass and then sitting at their kitchen table and nattering away on an iPad to a friend who's done exactly the same thing at her kitchen table.

It's no good in the office either, because when I ask if anyone would like to go to the pub at lunchtime, everyone looks at me as though I'd just said, "Would anyone like to come outside and kick a homeless person to death?" Only the other day I was in our conference room and noticed someone from the previous meeting had eaten half a custard cream. Who does that? Who takes a bite from a small biscuit and then thinks, "Mmm. I'm stuffed"? The problem, probably, is that most of the people in our office are about nine, and as we know, nine-year-olds claim to eat only leaves that have been shade grown by well-paid organic farmers in Borneo. A plate of not-sustainable fish and full-fat chips at the pub? Cooked by an immigrant on the minimum wage? Or an entire biscuit made by an American corporate giant? They'd rather eat their shoes.

Or would they? Because figures just released by the nanny state show that today's millennials are on course to be the fattest generation in history. More than 70% will need a weighbridge to determine their weight by the time they are 40, say researchers. Others won't make it that far because they will explode at the age of 29.

So, the message is clear. If by some miracle they make it to old age and need an MRI scan, they will have to be sent to the vet and put in a tube normally used for horses.

I have no idea how millennials are getting so fat. Perhaps it's because, as we've learnt, they prefer lunching via telephone to getting off their arses and going to an actual restaurant.

But I think the real problem is that they are a very miserable generation who believe that Theresa May set the Grenfell Tower alight by herself and that the country would be better if it had a man called Stormzy in the hot seat. They are steered through life by campaigning websites, leftie tweets and inspirational hashtags, and as a result see inequality and injustice all around them.

Especially on Instagram, where everyone else is always on holiday. And has a better-looking dog.

This causes them to seethe with bitterness. In their minds, Margaret Thatcher is from the same page in history as Adolf Hitler, all men are rapists and all white people suffer from institutionalised racism. Lily Allen is cleverer than Stephen Hawking, Cara Delevingne has a point, Jeremy Corbyn is a god and all Tories are bastards.

Last week they had a new champion.

A woman with big teeth announced that she isn't paid very much by the BBC, not because she's penis-free, but because she has some kind of regional accent. And before I could say Cilla Black or Huw Edwards, The Guardian was jumping up and down and squeaking a lot about how she has a point, right? #TimesUpAttenborough.

Let's have a bit of "Ee bah gum" on t'news. And some "Calm down, calm down!" on the weather forecast. Actually, that's not such a bad idea. "Bit chilly" would have been more helpful last week than "Beast from the East".

The trouble is that if you wear a shellsuit at the next awards ceremony to show your solidarity with the riff-raff, you'll be castigated for not wearing black and thus supporting all the women who've slept with attractive rich men over the years. Or a white glove. Or whatever fashion statement Lily Allen has decided is important that week. #ColdandHomeless.

Keeping up with this pressure, with nothing but an avocado for company, is hard work and stressful and lonely and it will make you sad. Which will cause you to eat crisps when your FaceTime lunch is over. And that's probably what's causing the weight problem.

And that takes us back to the beginning. Because if you want to lead a full and happy life, don't bother with breakfast or dinner but do have a nice long lunch, with a bottle of wine, a lot of laughter, and maybe a small zizz afterwards. Doctors say a run would be better. They say exercise stimulates the mind, but they are wrong. There are no very bright athletes.

And there are no very happy people who spend their lunch hour eating weeds while scrolling through a ream of electronic misery on their laptop.


Here's the Sun column.
This week's column meanders a bit...


Use your loafers, with the right shoes you'll beat the jungle, illness and Corbyn's reign (March 11)

I have never really seen the point of opening a bank statement. Because it either says you have money in your account, in which case, so what? Or it says you are overdrawn, in which case, you're going to what? Magic the balance from behind the sofa? Sell the dog for medical experiments? Kill yourself?

Last week, however, while I was on holiday, I did open a statement and, worse, I read it. And I've never had such a panic in my whole life, because suddenly I could see how much everything was costing. The little wi-fi dongle, for instance, that I plug into the cigarette lighter in my car. That costs more to run than putting three children through Eton. And Ocado? I spend less on lawyers.

Over the years, I've wandered round the world with my data-roaming on, watching amusing clips of cats in washing machines, imagining that because it's the internet it's all free. But it isn't free. It's pricier than my car.

Of course, in a time of plenty, which is what the world's been enjoying these past 10 years, this recklessness isn't too bad, but in the past two weeks I've met my accountant and a woman from my bank, and both say with solemn faces that the end is nigh; Corbyn is coming, and everyone with a mortgage and a car and enough for a family holiday in the summer should make preparations.

"Yes," I said sagely. But, actually, what preparations can you make for the arrival of a card-carrying lunatic? We have no idea what madness he will ejaculate into the economy or from where his attacks on the fabric of common sense will come.

We know only that if your parents were born in Britain and you have more than 25p to your name, you will be visited in the night by his brown-suited henchmen, who will take away your money and give it to Hezbollah or that annoying man on the pavement in town who has a dog on a piece of string.

So how do you get ready? Do you put all your money in a biscuit tin under the bed? Or cover yourself in woad and move to the woods? Should you be getting lessons in how a crossbow works and how to gut a rabbit? Or stocking up on soup and other tinned foods? Or getting in a sledge and going to the countryside with Julie Christie?

Well, you can start — bear with me on this one — by looking at what you spend on shoes. According to figures that are now five years old, the average British woman buys 13 pairs a year. That, in a lifetime, is £34,000. You could almost run my wi-fi dongle for that.

You'd imagine men spend less, and you'd be right. But it's not much less. In the US women spend $30bn on shoes each year, and men a not-far-behind $26.2bn. Whereas in the past two years the amount I've spent on footwear is £360, this being the price of one pair of Tod's loafers.

Now I will admit that on a wet shopping-centre floor the Tod's loafer is useless. I visit the giant Westfield arcade in west London extremely infrequently, partly because it is full of horrible people buying horrible things from horrible shops but mostly because I almost always fall over.

However, in every other environment the loafers work brilliantly. You can wear them for lunch in the Wolseley restaurant on Piccadilly, and you can wear them while climbing to the highest point of a jungly island in the Seychelles. I know this because I did it last week.

I have worn the same shoes pretty much every day since I bought them. I wear them to host my television show, and I wear them in the field, so to speak.

I wore them while crossing Colombia in January, and I wore them in the snow we had recently. They are the SUV of shoes.

You may argue that for various sporting activities they would be hopeless, but no. I have played football in them, and tennis. I have also slept in them. Well, one of them.

This morning, while on the beach, I was alerted by some rumblings in my tummy that I had only a few seconds to reach a lavatory. And the nearest was up 142 steps, behind the hotel's reception desk.

Now bear in mind that this was midday in the tropics. The equator was only 4 degrees away, and I can spit that far. The steps would therefore be very hot, so I'd need shoes. Flip-flops would be quick to put on, for sure, but they'd slow me down on the steps. Training shoes would be ideal for the run, but doing up the laces would mean getting as far as the reception and then making a mess of its marble floor.

Happily, I had the trusty loafers to hand, which meant — and it was close — that I made it to the loo in time.

They are also good in airports. You see people struggling to get out of their Doc Martens or their over-the-knee boots in the security area, whereas you can kick off your loafers in a second and overtake.

Then, when the plane journey is over and your feet have swollen to the size of barrage balloons, you can hear the grunts of fellow passengers as they try in vain to put their normal shoes back on, whereas when you have a loafer, you can just put the front of your foot in the shoe and the job's a good 'un.

You may find the idea of wearing the same shoes every day ridiculous, but trust me: when Corbyn has put a red flag over Downing Street, you'll be very glad of this advice. You will also be glad if you look at your bank statement and note that you haven't spent half your wage that month on what, when all is said and done, is nothing more than an insurance policy in case you tread on a piece of Lego.

Last week I accidentally alluded to the fact that Cara Delevingne is pointless. She isn't. I meant Meryl Streep.


Here's the Sun column.
Not sure about the logic in this week's column...


If you're so happy you could die, I have a suggestion: move to Finland (March 18)

Following on from the success of its International Women's Day, soon after which we learnt that several extremely well-paid newsreaders are not paid quite as much as their extremely well-paid colleagues, the United Nations is preparing to stage its International Happiness Day this week.

Ahead of this global event, its annual World Happiness Report has just announced that the happiest place on earth is now — drum roll — Finland.

And how have experts arrived at this conclusion? Well, it was simple. They went to all of the countries in the world and, in essence, asked the people they met if they were content. And more people said yes in Finland than anywhere else.

"Joo. I am very happy," said Erik from Helsinki as he washed down his 50th sleeping pill and climbed into the bath with a Stanley knife and a gallon of cheap whisky.

I wonder if the UN thought about this. Seriously. Did it sit down at any point and think: "Hang on. If these Finns are as happy as they claim to be, how come so many of them while away the day by committing suicide?" According to the World Health Organisation, the only people in the civilised bits of Europe who kill themselves significantly more often are the Belgians, usually because officers from their equivalent of Operation Yewtree are at the door.

Mozambique is one of the world's poorest countries. Life there is hard and hot but they do better than the miserable Finns. And it's the same story in Rwanda and even the Democratic Republic of Congo. Although to be fair, in the DRC, few people have the ability to kill themselves because some drugcrazed warlord has thrown them into an acacia tree.

Other spots in Europe where suicide is relatively popular include Iceland and Norway. And both of these are in the top five on the UN's happiness report.

So what's the disconnect then? How can people claim to be happy when they are sitting in a car, with a hosepipe coming through the window? Well, I think the answer is simple: the UN's report is complete claptrap.

Let's take Britain as an example of the problem. We finished in 19th place, which is not bad, but I suspect we'd have been a damn sight lower down the running order if the UN had done its research in Wakefield on a wet Tuesday evening in November.

When the first "Beast from the East" was on its way, the BBC found a woman from somewhere grey and miserable in West Yorkshire who, because she couldn't afford to heat her house, spent all day riding around town on a bus. "It's t'only way to stay warm," she said.

I'm guessing now, but if you asked her to rate her level of contentment to keep some halfwit at the UN's office in New York busy, she'd say minus a million and then tell you to eff off.

Whereas if you asked a family from Fulham who were playing in the waves outside Padstow on a beautiful June day if they were happy, they'd offer you some prosecco and say: "Yes, very."

Happiness is hard to pin down because there's the undercurrent and there's the moment. The undercurrent says that Jeremy Corbyn is coming and that makes me sad. But, as I write, the moment says that I'm going to the Cheltenham Gold Cup and that makes me happy.

There's more. If you are expecting the surgeon to cut off all your limbs and he announces at the last minute that he can save your left arm, you will be the happiest person in the world. Even though you won't be opening any cans any time soon.

Then you can have someone who's just got out of Cameron Diaz's bed. Happy? Not if he's just trodden on a piece of Lego.

According to the UN's report, money definitely makes you happier. But among its footnotes — and this will warm the cockles of Corbyn's heart — there are references to a previous study that suggests this is only true if you earn $75,000 (£54,000) a year. Any more or less and the happiness tails off.

The authors of this earlier research, both of whom have won Nobel prizes — for services to communism, probably — note that an increase in income beyond this point no longer improves a person's ability to do what matters most, such as "spending time with people they like, avoiding pain and enjoying leisure".

I see their point on that if your idea of leisure is bowling or knitting or having a pint after work. But mine is going on a superyacht in the Caribbean, so not earning enough to do that would make me sad.

All of which brings me back to Finland, which is one of the most aggressive places I've been to. Other Scandinavian countries are full of socialism-lite people paying voluntary taxes and riding their pastel-coloured micro scooters to the recycling plant.

But Finland's not like that in my experience. It's often dark. There are many mosquitoes. Passers-by in the street will often — and for no reason — invite you to eff off. One man took out his penis and waved it at me. And in every bar I visited, there was always someone looking at me as though they were wondering how I'd look without skin.

It was more like Scotland, really, which is why it's no surprise to me that Finland's biggest export in recent years was the mobile phone app called Honey, Puppy Dogs and Kisses.

Oh no, wait. Sorry. It was Angry Birds. PS: Don't worry. The UN's much anticipated World Toilet Day is coming, though not until November 19.


And here's the Sun column.
Mother Nature is a bitch this week.


Ignore the Scandi-killer on the TV, there's a real murderer just outside your window (March 25)

When you come to the end of a box set that you've really loved, it's like coming to the end of a long-term relationship. You need to spend some time whittling wood and listening to Phil Collins before you can move on.

I felt like that when I finished Black Mirror. "Nothing will ever be as good ever again," I wailed into my snotty hanky. But last week, having swiped left on the remote for about a month, I came across a show called Modus. It's set in the snowy wastelands of Sweden and, as is usual with Scandi-dramas, it features various weirdly attractive people staring into the monochromatic scenery while solving a set of improbable murders.

Modus is not as good as Black Mirror.

It's not even close. But it certainly satisfies the masochistic trend that compels us all towards a drama that makes us feel afraid, cold and miserable. We seem to like the violence and the slowness and the reminder that, deep down, happiness is something to do with the devil.

However, if all you want is a bit of misery, might I suggest that until the writer of Black Mirror stops collecting awards for the four series and gets on with the fifth, you turn off your television and go for a walk ... Last week, I didn't do that, obviously. But I was outside, seeing how much of my oil had been stolen that day, when a barn owl swept no more than 8in over my head. I didn't see it coming and, more astonishingly, I didn't hear it either. This was a medium-sized bird with a face that has the aerodynamic properties of a satellite dish, travelling at maybe 40mph, and it wasn't making a sound.

It swooped over a hedge and then, out of nowhere, it was attacked by a brace of crows. The owl twisted and turned but the bastards kept at it.

Pecking. Grabbing. Ramming. Not since the late summer of 1940 had the skies over Britain seen such a dogfight.

I can only assume the owl was out early that night, before the sun had set, because it was hungry. And because it was hungry, it wasn't as strong as it should have been. Plus, it was like a Stuka, designed for fast dive-bombing, unlike the crows, which were the F-15s. The result of the drama was inevitable and soon, owly was dead.

We're always told that in nature everything is bright and beautiful and animals kill only for food. It's only humans in general, and Scandinavians in particular, who strangle and stab for fun. So I figured that the owl versus crow contest was a one-off and that I'd witnessed something unusual.

It seems not. Three days later, the papers ran a large photograph of a sparrowhawk standing on an upturned starling. You could see the panic in the starling's face and the cold detached killer look of a Nazi zombie in the eyes of the hawk. It was a brilliant picture with more drama than you'd get in a week of television.

And it gets better. After I'd finished the newspapers, I picked up a copy of Country Life, where there was an even more amazing photograph. It showed a great grey shrike standing by the carcass of a mouse that it had impaled on a large thorn. Not even the girl with the dragon tattoo thought to do that to her victims. Small wonder its nickname is the butcher bird.

This is a creature that can peel the skin off a toad before eating the innards. It can lure other birds into an ambush by mimicking their cries. Oh, and it kills by beating victims to death with its beak.

It is a rare sight in Britain these days, but if you can't find one, don't despair because the much more common thrush can entertain you by smashing a snail to pieces on a rock.

Abroad, things get even more gruesome. On one African holiday, I was watching a little monkey preening itself in a tree when, out of nowhere, an eagle arrived. There was a bit of a kerfuffle during which the bird quite simply emptied the monkey. When the dust settled it was sitting on a branch with a bloodstained beak and what appeared to be a monkey glove puppet on its foot.

Then, on holiday last month, I sat at the breakfast table each morning, watching all the birds fight over which one would get to the breadbasket first. There was a sparrow with a wonky leg we called Peg, and all the other birds, sensing his disability, picked on him. For them, a bit of warm croissant was less important than annoying Peg.

During the day, I liked to sit in a treehouse watching the fairy tern chicks — almost certainly the cutest creatures on God's green earth — defending their patch from adult ingress. They'd stick their arms out and fluff up their down and charge at birds four times bigger.

As Sir Attenborough was not on hand, I had no idea why they were doing this. But being confused didn't detract from the show. I mean, I hadn't a clue what was going on in Inception either but I still watched to the end.

There was a story last week about a singer who decided to take the money she'd earned and start a bee farm in the sticks. It all sounded a bit yoga and yoghurt to me at the time but now I'm not so sure.

Because all the things you see and love on the television — apart from The One Show, obviously — can be found, for nothing, in your garden: murder, violence, intrigue, bullying, beauty and heroism.

Plus you can get involved, rewarding the heroes and punishing the villains. Which is why, after the crows had killed the owl, I got my shotgun and, with a plaintive cry of "Don't pick on the little guy", blew both their heads off.


And here's the Sun column.
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That article reminds me of an NBC interview with Robert Frost from 1952. There used to be some audio of the following available somewhere online, but this text was all that I could find.

I know it isn’t kind. Matthew Arnold said, “Nature is cruel. It’s man that’s sick of blood. And man doesn’t seem so very sick of it.” Nature is always more or less cruel. Should I tell you what happened once on the porch of a professor-- minister he was, too? The war was going on, beautiful moonlit night. And he was there with some boys and talking about the horrors of war, how cruel men were to each other and how kind nature was, what a beautiful country this was spread beneath us, you know, moonlight on it. And just as he talked that way, spreading his arm over it, a bird began to shriek down in the woods; something had got into its nest. Nature was being cruel. And the woods are all killing each other anyway. That’s where the expression came from "a place in the sun," a tree wanting a place in the sun that it can’t get, the other trees won’t give it to it.
Apologies for the late column--I had a long Easter weekend!


45 litres of red from pump No 4, please — that's how I want to buy my wine (April 1)

Do you know what our biggest problem is today? We are burdened with far too much choice. A surprising claim, I know, but think about it. If you arrive in a car park and there's one space, life is easy. But if you arrive in a car park that's empty, it's almost impossible to decide which space would be best. So you end up driving round and round for hours.

Margaret Thatcher taught us that choice was a good thing, that state ownership of gas, telecommunications and the railways didn't work because there was no alternative to bad service, grimy sandwiches and high prices. We all bought into that. We were all urged to "Tell Sid" as we invested in gas shares, and we flicked the "V" at Arthur Scargill as he was dispatched back to his bungalow with his tail between his legs.

But hang on a minute. In Chadlington, in Oxfordshire, there is a village shop. It is the best village shop in the world. Everything is fresh. The cheese doesn't cost more than a car. And the young women who work there are chummy and trusting and wonderful. That shop? It would have Thatcher drooling.

But if you take her vision of Britain to its natural conclusion, there should be two village shops in Chadlington, and the owners should compete with each other for business. That's capitalism, and capitalism is how the world goes round. So one of the owners would eventually buy one of the two shops in another village to use economies of scale to keep his prices down. And this would drive both his rivals out of business.

Pretty soon he'd buy another shop, and then another, and then you'd end up with only five village shops in the whole country. These would be called supermarkets. Then one day someone called Jeff would come along and think: "I can undercut these supermarkets if I do away with the actual buildings. I shall therefore sell everything online." So then there are no village shops and we are back where we started, with no choice about where we buy our stuff.

And is that a bad thing? I'm not just saying this because I make a television show for Amazon but, seriously, have you ever been on its shopping site and thought: "I wish there was an alternative to this cheap and convenient way of buying my washing-up liquid"? Yes? Really? OK, then think about this.

One day you're at work and you get the call you dread most of all. One of your children has been hurt, and before you can get all the details, your phone's battery goes flat. Happily, because you have an iPhone, other people at work can lend you a charger. But what if you've been a clever clogs and bought a Samsung instead? You'll feel a proper idiot as you stand in the local phone box wondering what halfwit decided to turn it into a defibrillator.

When I have a hangover, I don't want a menu; I want a McDonald's. And when I order a Coke and the barman says, "Would you be OK with Pepsi?", I always reply: "Sure. If you'd be OK with Monopoly money."

This is at its worst in an off-licence. You want a bottle of red and the Frenchman behind the counter shows you a wall of choice. He talks about how one offers you hot handbags in a Bovril factory and another some notes of Angela Merkel hovering over a cauldron of sawdust. And as he drones on, you're just thinking: "I want to get pissed." Wine should be sold like petrol. While I'm at it, cheese should be sold like logs.

I've a similar problem in art galleries. I don't need to know how the artist began at a street cafe in Hoxton or how Damon Albarn bought his last work. I just want something 2ft by 3ft for about 50 quid. I do like a choice in a shop that sells paint. But nothing like the choice we have now. Someone needs to tell Farrow & Ball there's only one beige, not 500.

We waste an enormous amount of time making decisions based entirely on this fanciful notion that we like alternatives. On the morning I wrote this column I asked a waitress for poached eggs on toast and was given a list of toast options that went on for about a week. Toast is toast. It's made from sliced white bread. The end.

The day before that, I needed to get from somewhere called Are, in Sweden, back to Britain. The airlines would like to think I spent hours with their brochures and based my decision on the quality of their food and the smiliness of their stewardesses. But I didn't. I ended up in the communistical squashed world of a one-class-for-all SAS Boeing because that set off at the most convenient time.

That brings me neatly on to the vexed question of where Britain's next runway should be built. If you live in Crawley, the answer is Gatwick. If you live anywhere else in the entire world, the answer is Heathrow.

And while we are on the subject of transport, you can set yourself up as an owner-operator taxi driver, billing yourself in your adverts as a clean, safe chap who knows where he's going and isn't even slightly predatory. But you won't get anywhere, because people don't want a choice. They want Uber.

The government tells us that football fans should be given the choice of going to the World Cup in Russia this summer. Why? Because if you go, you will be stabbed, and if you don't, you won't. And what kind of choice is that? It's like the choice we will face come the next election. Do we want a madwoman with silly shoes or a man who appears not to like Jewish people? They had the same problem in America, where they were asked to choose between a lunatic and a woman with a stuck face.

Whereas when we were given someone whether we liked it or not, we got the Queen. And that hasn't worked out too badly, has it?


And here's the Sun column.
Time for some politics...


Hard cheese, Jeremy, you will never fly the red beetroot over No 10 (April 8)

So let's see if I've got this straight. Jeremy Corbyn is besieged on all sides by people accusing him of being an anti-semite. So he decides, in the midst of the storm, to go to a party held by a group of Jewish radicals. He doesn't take a bottle of wine or some soap — that would be too bourgeois. Instead he rocks up in an anorak, obviously, with a bundle of fresh beetroot, which is the most right-on thing I've heard of.

He was greeted with chants of "F*** the police" and "F*** the Tories", and there were exhortations to have a revolution. And that's all fine and what you'd expect, but weirdly the event was full of people who reckon Israel is a "steaming pile of sewage".

So he's being depicted on social media as Hitler and he's chosen to quieten the noise by passing the evening with people who allegedly booed when the name of the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews was mentioned and do everything in their power to annoy the nation's rabbis. As PR strategies go, it's up there with Harvey Weinstein choosing to address his issues by going to the Presidents Club dinner.

Now I know that in 2015 I said in one of these columns that I would leave Corbyn alone. I saw no need to ridicule his beard or his tracksuits or his collection of photographs of manhole covers, because then he seemed to have no chance of becoming prime minister. Now, though ... He spent his earliest years in the agreeable-sounding Wiltshire village of Kington St Michael, where nothing has happened since the 17th century. And nothing happened then either. He went to a fee-paying prep school and in his teens became a left-wing lunatic.

This is quite normal. Many young people dally with communism because they are too busy worrying about spots to get much of a handle on how the world works. They just want to stay in bed and have the government send them tickets for Glastonbury once in a while. Capitalism, to them, means getting up.

Of course, most people give up on socialism when they get their first pay packet and see how much has been deducted in tax. A friend of mine's son became a dyed-in-the-wool Tory overnight when he was told the money had been taken by the government to pay for schools and hospitals. He accepted that, but rang his mum in a panic when he got his second pay slip. "They've done it again," he wailed.

Corbyn was different. He clung on to his socialism and got a job teaching geography in Jamaica. But that was far too colourful and enjoyable, and there is no space in the world of Marx for jollity and sunshine. So he went to north London instead and enrolled at a polytechnic to study trade unions. Sadly, he left after a year, having spent most of his time arguing with the tutors.

This means he's the only person in the world with fewer qualifications than me. He admits he hasn't read any books on the economy but says he's looked at a few. I'm not sure this equips him to run the country. I mean, I've looked at a few elephants over the years, but that doesn't mean I'd be a good zookeeper.

As a backbencher he made it his mission to object to just about everything anyone said. When Labour was in power he defied the whip a staggering 428 times. And he built a reputation for supporting absolutely anything that was anti-British. So just weeks after the IRA's Brighton hotel bombing in 1984 that killed five people, he invited the then Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams to visit the Commons.

He was later arrested while protesting against the show trial of the man convicted of setting the bomb. And naturally he supported the men who were convicted of bombing the Israeli embassy in London. He nearly went to jail over the poll tax, and once defied Labour policy on law and order by saying only the National Front would want greater police powers in Britain.

Naturally, he was passionate about the plight of dispossessed people from the Chagos islands, even though literally no one has ever heard of them. I'm fairly sure they haven't even been an answer on Pointless.

He also supported the miners, crossdressers, Middle Eastern terrorist groups, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and so on and so on and opposed privatisation in all its forms. He was a walking cliché. A poster boy for the permanently disillusioned.

He's been married three times but still found time to take Diane Abbott on a motorcycling tour of East Germany. And who would do that? I've been to East Germany, and apart from some beautiful cobbled towns, it is in no way a match as a holiday destination for France, Greece, Spain, California, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland, Vietnam, the Seychelles, Austria or indeed West Germany.

In fact, if I had to choose the worst place to go on holiday, it would be Algeria. But East Germany runs it a close second. And I certainly wouldn't go on a motorcycle and it definitely wouldn't be with Diane Abbott.

But I'm not Corbyn. He looks at a situation and thinks: "Once I've worked out what everyone else is doing, I'll do the exact opposite." His unpredictability is completely predictable. I knew he was going to side with Russia on this Salisbury thing long before he did.

This is almost certainly why he went to that weird leftie gig last week. It was all a gigantic middle finger to everything Tunbridge Wells holds dear. Apart from the beetroot, obviously.

And I like that in a man. I like someone who stands at the back and throws bricks. And I especially like it from the leader of the Labour Party. Because it means that, despite what my gut thinks, he cannot and will not ever be prime minister.


Here's the Sun column.
Clarkson really needs to became a US citizen. I'm not pro-Corbyn, I just find it funny that Clarkson comes off as being so anti-taxation. At the very least, his friend's son needs to move to a state like Tennessee, which is both in the anti-government interference South, and has no income tax.
Mr. Nice;n3548189 said:
Clarkson really needs to became a US citizen. I'm not pro-Corbyn, I just find it funny that Clarkson comes off as being so anti-taxation. At the very least, his friend's son needs to move to a state like Tennessee, which is both in the anti-government interference South, and has no income tax.
But Clarkson's distaste for taxes is dwarfed only by his distaste for Americans...
I didn't give this enough thought. Not because of the Americans issue, but because there would still be Federal income tax, estate tax, property tax, etc. I did some looking, and the British Virgin Islands, and the Cayman Islands both look pretty good.
Let's say, however, that it does. And let's say that they manage to fit it with a tube from which this thermonuclear missile can be fired. Does anyone seriously think it'll be able to sail all the way from the Sea of Japan to the Solent here without being detected? It runs on diesel power, which means it has to stay on the surface most of the time.
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Gather round ye laddies and lassies, for a sassenach named Clarkson wants a wee word with ye...


Choose life, Scotland. Choose a job. Choose exquisite views. But forget independence (April 15)

One of the things I've never really understood about the people who voted for Brexit is why they thought they would be better off if British people were making British laws. Do they think British people are all the same? Because I'm not sure we are.

I, for example, have very little in common with an equally British Welsh hill farmer. And Princess Anne has only a basic facial arrangement in common with people who go to Millwall's away matches. Some people in Britain like painting watercolours. Some like doing wheelies on motorcycles. Some enjoy campanology. Others — me, for example — think all church bells should be made from kapok. Or the severed limbs of those who think bronze is better.

Even if you went further than Brexit and allowed the town I live in to govern itself, it would still be impossible to ensure everyone was happy. Because even in a small market town in the Cotswolds you have those who want to burn the supermarket down and those who like its cheap prices. Then there are those who want the roads to be more bicycle-friendly and those — me again, I'm afraid — who think all cyclists should be sent to prison.

The only way I could truly be happy is by making my house a nation state. And even then there'd be some issues about using mobile phones at the kitchen table, general demeanour among the under-25s and: who put an empty jar of horseradish back in the bloody fridge? This is why I was in favour of a United States of Europe. I know I have nothing above a biological connection with a Romanian teenage gypsy or a Milanese fashion designer or a Swedish detective, but once you have two individuals being governed by the same person, you may as well have 200 million.

And that brings me on to Scotland. It had a vote on independence in 2014, and sanity prevailed. Then those who lost immediately decided they'd like another vote. And so it will go until, eventually, they win, and we will have to have post soldiers on the road out of Gretna Green.

I don't understand the need for Scottish independence. The Battle of Falkirk was a very long time ago. And it's not as if England can win the Calcutta Cup any more. What's more, the Scottish have exactly the same problem with going it alone as we'll have post-Brexit.

The bi-curious artisan who's opened a craft shop in the Highlands selling jumpers knitted from her own armpit hair does not want the same things from Nicola Sturgeon as a heroin enthusiast from the tenements in Glasgow. They may think that getting rid of the English will unite them all and bring Sean Connery back. But it won't.

I spent several days recently up beyond Inverness, and I'm not trying to suck up to the Scots, but it really is absolutely eyes-on-stalks beautiful. We often talk about breathtaking views, but in the Highlands they literally do that.

I drove on Wednesday along the coast road north of Ullapool, and never have I gone so slowly. Sometimes the views were so spectacular, I coasted to a halt and never even noticed. The sky was the colour of a Norwegian model's eyes. Tendrils of cloud spilt over snow-capped mountains before being whipped into nothing by the wind.

And it went on and on and on. Past turquoise water like you find in the Maldives and islands as weird and as enticing as those in Ha Long Bay. This was — and I will take no argument on the matter — by far the most beautiful place on Earth. As far removed from anything we have in England as Timbuktu.

And yet on the radio there was the travel announcer talking about jams on the M25 and news reporters talking about Theresa May's policy on Syria and DJs discussing that night's opening of Soho House in White City, west London. They might as well have been talking about life on the moon.

Is that a bad thing? Really? Would the people who own the wonderful Kylesku hotel, which is just outside nothing at all, on a road that goes nowhere, be less interested in Syria or celebrity gossip than someone from Hemel Hempstead? Maybe they would find the M25 jams a bit boring, but the Scotland-first political correctness at the BBC means the report always begins with roadworks on the A9.

Do they want different laws? Really? What laws? Legalisation of burglary? The age of consent raised to 48? Compulsory yodelling for anyone on a bicycle? No. They want the same things as you and I. Something to do in the day and some disposable income at the weekend.

At this point I should like to talk about the film Local Hero. It's about an American oil company that wants to turn a Scottish village into a refinery. But the longer the Texan negotiator spends there, the more he wants to keep it as it is. It's a fabulous film. One of my favourites.

What I love most is the anarchy. The locals up there are all mucking in — so completely, they aren't really sure who has fathered the community's baby. They catch lobsters and paint their boats and at night they all meet in the pub for a chat and a few beers with the Russian trawlerman who's dropped by, totally unnoticed by anyone in authority.

Oh, sure, Whitehall is droning away 600 miles to the south, and the EU is making laws in Brussels, and there's a police station, probably, in the next town. But none of these things concern the villagers. They just want the oil money. And then to be left alone again.

Isn't that better? Just living your life while serious-faced people in suits make serious decisions about things that in the big scheme of things don't really matter? Politics exists only to keep David Dimbleby in a job.

And Scottish independence and Brexit and Catalonia? Yup. Same thing.


And here's the Sun column.