I want an old-fashioned shop with an old-fashioned sign — and a ban on newfangled billionaires (Oct. 20)
I wonder. Has anything ever been improved by having way too much money thrown at it? HS2, for example. Will it be dramatically better than what we have now? I suspect it probably won't. Then there's football. In the olden days, when Blackburn's Billy Harbuckle pulled on a stout pair of boots, sparked up a Woodbine and ran about in a quagmire, before adjourning to the pub with his fans, the game was played for fun. But along came Captain Cash, and now the only fun to be had is watching teams with too much of it fail.
In Formula One motor racing Mercedes has just won its sixth successive constructor's championship and the reason you don't know that is simple: money has made the sport unwatchable. And horsists can shut up, because what you do on a wet Tuesday at Lingfield isn't any better.
In the world of commerce, though, things are especially bad because, so far as I can see, absolutely everyone who starts a business these days is only thinking of one thing: when can I sell it? No one wants to provide a decent living for themselves and their family. They don't want to make 50 quid. They want to make £50bn and then move to Monaco with some bikinied-up boat meat.
When my mum started making tea cosies and draught excluders in the spare room, she didn't think: "Right. I shall sell four and then I shall sell the enterprise to a furniture conglomerate for millions." She just wanted enough money to buy my sister and me some new shoes.
It was the same story with me. In the mid-1980s, when Margaret Thatcher was extolling us all to go it alone, a friend and I started a business, selling road tests to local newspapers. The idea was that we'd have enough at the end of the week to buy some beer. Not a whole brewery.
Today it works very differently. You have an idea for a vegan drinks additive or an app that provides directions to that day's nearest eco-protest, and you then borrow a huge amount of money from someone whose job is to lend huge amounts of money to people like you.
One in a million of these businesses will succeed, and in order to turn the large fortune that results into an even larger fortune, the man who created it will pay people to lend his money to people who have a new idea for a clockwork dog.
This is what's become of capitalism, and if you do the maths, you will very quickly work out that one day, one man — or one woman — will own every single business in the world. And then it isn't capitalism any more. I don't even know what it is, because not even the Catholic Church managed to pull off such a feat.
Shows such as The Apprentice give us a graphic demonstration of all this.
Gelled-up wide boys and pouting Love Island cast-offs giving 10% more than is mathematically possible so that they, one day, can be like that Thomas Cook boss who trousered a couple of million as the business failed. He's their pin-up and it makes me feel sick.
There's talk that, after Brexit, Britain will become a low-tax haven for commerce — like Singapore — and we all nod as if we know what that means. But I reckon that we should have a reboot and go the other way, back to the days when you started a small business because you wanted enough to live on and fancied being your own boss.
I'm reminded at this point of a conversation AA Gill had with a bouncily keen young Thatcherite MP who was squeaking away about how everyone needed to invest the money they'd made from gas shares into an entrepreneur's wet dream.
Adrian piped up to say that he started a business shortly after leaving school. The MP beamed and bounced some more. "Good man," he said. Adrian went on to explain that he worked long hours, late into the night, until eventually the Tory boy asked excitedly: "And what was it you did?" "I was a drug dealer," he replied.
I read today about these so-called county line gangs that deliver spliff and charlie and horse around the shires. These are often run by young kids who, having been excluded from school, face a life on the dole, but instead they've helped create a £500m-a-year industry supplying drugs to middle-aged people who have no theatres and no cinemas to take their minds off the fact that, once again, there's nothing on television that night apart from a documentary on transgenderism.
I'm not advocating the use of drugs or the use of slavery to sell them. I am merely pointing out that large numbers of people in the provinces like to get high and someone has worked up a business plan to sate that demand.
I'm about to do pretty much the same sort of thing. Not drugs, obviously. Or slavery. Well, not much. I'm going to start a small shop. I do not need to borrow a penny to get it going, but, according to the business plan, it should generate about £20,000 in the first year and maybe treble that in the second. I have no intention of selling it, ever, because I want to pass it on to my children.
That makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, knowing that one day, when I'm JR Hartley, I'll go outside with some Humbrol and paint some words on the sign outside my business premises that you rarely see any more: "and son". (Or "and daughter". I'm not bothered either way.)
If more of us did this — started a business for the long term — then the spectre of Jeremy Corbyn with his anticommerce and anti-inheritance policies would be far less scary.
But as things stand, practically the only people who will not be voting for him next time round are the hooded entrepreneurs who turn up on your doorstep with a bag of ecstasy on a Friday night.
Note: This small article ran in the same issue of the paper.
And on that bombshell: Clarkson sets up shop
By Nick Rufford
To Britain's legion of small shopkeepers, a familiar name will soon be added: Clarkson and Son.
The motoring presenter is to open a shop on his 1,000-acre farm in Oxfordshire, selling vegetables from his kitchen garden, honey from his hives and beer from his barley — licence permitting.
It will stock "anything I grow on the farm", said Clarkson, who may take turns behind the counter. "Bread from my wheat; vegetable oil.
"There are partridge and pheasant, and we could sell them. But that would require hosting a shoot day and hitting something, which I'm not very good at."
Clarkson never thought of himself as a shopkeeper, but says he has little choice. He bought seed he could not plant because of wet weather and diesel for machinery that has sat idle. Delays in planting 100 acres of winter barley have cost £18,000, while Brexit has put at risk his EU subsidies, erasing his profits.
"I'm so much in debt now you cannot believe. If you went on Dragons' Den and said, 'I've got this idea for a business. I'm going to spank a load of money upfront and I don't know if I'm going to be able to sell my products. I don't even know if I'll get any products. And I don't know what the price will be', they'd just say: 'Don't be stupid.'" The shop could throw his farm a lifeline...
He says his "tiny" shop is no threat to a nearby store, "which is the life and soul of the village", and promises not to sell similar goods.
Galloping good fun — when it's working: The Clarkson Review: Porsche 718 Cayman (Oct. 20)
How did we cope in the olden days when cars broke down all the time? Did we really walk to a phone box and stand up to our knees in a tramp's urine, desperately trying to push a 2p coin into the vandalised slot so we could summon help from someone on a work-to-rule?
And did we then call the person we were going to visit, to explain that we wouldn't be there because we were on the A38 and we were going to be sitting in the rain for the next two hours and then making merry with the driver of the tow lorry, who would take us to his workshop and explain that he'd need a new £200 part to get the car going again, but that it wouldn't be available for a month as the workers at the factory where it was made were on strike? I guess we did all those things, and we accepted it. We knew when we set off in our dismal Austin 1100 that, even though there were only six moving parts, one would definitely go wrong every two or three months. And that we'd be walking through the rain again.And spending some time later in the breakdown lorry with a man who might or might not be a murderer.
I guess we still have unreliability in our lives. Phones. Trains.
Holiday companies. And my laptop is capable of spectacular strops from time to time, but cars have become phenomenally bulletproof.
I drove a Toyota pick-up to the North Pole once, and long after the savage cold had laid waste to my camera, my phone and everything with an electrical circuit in it, the pick-up, and all its 15,000 parts, worked so perfectly that I began to suspect witchcraft.
Even brands with a poor reputation for reliability are now fine. My old Range Rover has a few aches and pains these days — the steering is getting very heavy — but that's because the old girl's getting on a bit. The new one, though: it bounces through fields all day long with a back seat full of drunk men in tweed shorts. It takes noisy kids on day-long thrashes through France. It does stop-start traffic in London and it never goes wrong at all. It hasn't even been stolen yet.
There was a time when the hard shoulder on a motorway was a place to park cars that had been hurriedly thrown together by communists. But now people don't even really get punctures any more.
Last week, however, the car I was testing came over all 1971 and did actually break down. It was a proper, old-fashioned, steam-and-noises breakdown, too, which surprised me enormously.And what surprised me even more was that the car in question was a Porsche — a 718 Cayman GT4.
Porsches do not break down.
Ever. A Porsche makes a Swiss watch look sloppy and haphazard. If you explained to a Porsche engineer that Japanese train drivers are punished if they arrive in the station more than seven seconds late, he would be staggered by the leniency.
And yet there I was, coming home from a short Sunday morning test drive, when I was told via a message on the dashboard that the coolant was so low, I needed to stop driving immediately. It didn't say "Achtung", and there was no imagery of a soldier in a greatcoat with a Schmeisser submachinegun, but the tone was similar. So even though it wasn't my car, I did as I was told.
There was a lot of gurgling and plenty of steam as well — so much, in fact, that a chap staying on a caravan site across the road came over to see if he could be of assistance. Though when I say "to see if he could be of assistance", what I mean is: he came over "for a bloody good laugh".
Having bitten off the inside of his cheeks trying not to openly cackle at the man from the telly with his steaming yellow Porsche, he went off to fetch some water while I attempted to find the engine. It wasn't in the front and it wasn't in the back. There are boots at either end. Big ones, too. But that was it.
Happily, because it is the 21st century, I didn't have to walk to a phone box, and because I live close to a former prime minister, the 4G signal is excellent, so I googled the issue and discovered that the car's engine is locked away in an impregnable metal box. When MG did the same thing on the MGF it was idiotic, but I guess Porsche didn't see a problem, as it knew it would never need attention.
However, it turned out that what appeared to be suspension turrets are the filler nozzles for topping up the water and oil. So when my new best friend came back from the caravan site's lavatory block with a watering can, we were able to effect a repair.
Except we didn't. The water was now cascading from the bottom of the car. But as I was only a couple of miles from home, I thought I'd make it before it all came out again. Wrong. Because a hundred yards later, the electronic sentry flashed up a new message. "Achtung!" it said. "For you, Tommy, ze drive is over."
This time, there was an alternator fault, and the advice was to park in a safe place as soon as possible. I had a quick think and reckoned that the nearest really safe place was outside my house, so I got there as soon as possible and later that afternoon the car was hoisted onto a tow vehicle and taken away to be punished for its insubordination.
The next day, Porsche called to say the water pump had gone wonky and dumped coolant all over the alternator. Plainly, Porsche finds the modern, and possibly left-wing, system of using water, as opposed to air, to cool an engine a bit complicated.
Pity, because just before it came over all British Leyland, I'd decided the 718 Cayman GT4 was a very good car. I've always thought that the Boxster and the Cayman were bought exclusively by people who could not afford a 911, and that view didn't change when the 718 came along. Buy one, and all you're doing is saying that you haven't achieved your life goals.
In recent years, though, the 911 has got a bit ahead of itself. It's still fabulous,if you like that sort of thing, but it no longer feels like the sports car it's supposed to be. It feels a bit unnecessary.
And that's where the 718 comes in, especially if you go for the GT4, because that doesn't feel unnecessary at all. This is a real, genuine, 100%, undiluted sporting thoroughbred. It's what the 911 is supposed to be.
It's not fast enough to be scary. It's got bundles of grip from its noisy tyres. The seats are spectacular. The driving position is perfect. It's practical and small, and before I get to a conclusion that Porsche would like, I've decided to break down. Steam. Hiss. Gurgle, gurgle.
Keep a stiff upper lip when all about you are losing theirs, and you won't be a Yank, my son (Oct. 27)
When Obama Barrack came to Londonshire in 2016, he put on a serious face and told us that we'd better stay in the EU or else. And I remember being so incensed that my nose swelled up and my teeth moved about. Because how dare he come here and lecture us on what we should and shouldn't do.
Last week, it happened again. Meghan, Prince Harry's wife, went on television to tell us that instead of keeping a stiff upper lip and bottling up our feelings, we should vomit them out in a torrent of snot and tear-stained, shoulder-heaving sobs.
Well now, look, Meghan. That might work for you, because you are an American and programmed to weep and wail at every little thing, but we are programmed to do the exact opposite.
This was evidenced at Wimbledon in 1981, when John McEnroe had his famous "You cannot be serious" meltdown. American viewers heard nothing of the tantrum because they had five excitable commentators, all shouting over one another as they speculated on what kind of punishment the emerging champion was likely to receive. British viewers, on the other hand, heard everything McEnroe had to say. And only when he told officials they were the "pits of the world" did our commentators see fit to interject with a quiet harrumph.
Dan Maskell was a master of this. All sorts of mayhem could be happening around him and all we ever got was, "Oh, I say". He had the stiff upper lip.
His son died in a plane crash. His wife drowned. But he did not bleat about these things. He filed them away in his head and got on with his life, best foot forward. Because he was British and that's what we do.
A year after the McEnroe match, a British Airways jumbo jet on a night flight over the Indian Ocean roared at 500mph into a cloud of volcanic ash that wasn't visible on radar. Moments later, all four engines stopped.
Now we all know, of course, about Captain Sully — Chesley Sullenberger — and his Hudson River landing, and all those Mercury astronauts with the right stuff, so I'm not going to say a US pilot would have run up and down the aisle, screaming: "We're all doing to die."
But I'm willing to bet he wouldn't have been quite as calm as Eric Moody, the BA chap, who announced to passengers: "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get it under control. I trust you are not in too much distress."
Think about that. He's doing maths in his head and working out that a fully laden Boeing 747-200 has a glide ratio of 15 to one, meaning it can cover 15 miles for every mile it drops. So, at 37,000ft, he had 105 miles to work out why the engines had stopped and how best to restart them. But despite all this, he didn't panic and, crucially, he didn't forget his manners. I'm willing to bet, in fact, that if Alan Sugar had been on board, Moody would even have started his announcement by saying: "My lord, ladies and gentlemen ..."
A lot of this calmness has to do with the classical education boys received in the public-school system. Pupils were taught that if they took a lead from the Spartans, who loved a bit of discipline and self-sacrifice, they'd be able to cope more easily with freezing dormitories, the unwanted attentions of slobberymouthed geography teachers and the regular beatings from sixth-formers.
Then, after chapel, they learnt about the Hellenistic philosophy of stoicism and how it could be found in Hamlet, Rudyard Kipling, the teachings of Marcus Aurelius and, best of all, in the short poem "Invictus": "In the fell clutch of circumstance / I have not winced nor cried aloud. / Under the bludgeonings of chance / My head is bloody, but unbow'd."
To be honest, we liked the Boy's Own sound of all that. If your best foot is blown off in a battle, you promote the other one and hop on. And you most definitely do not finish a game of bowls early just because the Spanish have sent an armada. That would be poor form.
Put it like this. If Captain "Titus" Oates had been an American rather than an Old Etonian, we can be fairly certain he would not have left the tent saying he "may be some time". He'd have laid there, screaming and begging for his mother and some counselling. He'd have told his tent-mates not to judge him and written in his diary how he'd bravely sobbed and drooled to the bitter end.
Of course, the British are capable of shedding a tear or two. We cried at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. Well, I did. We cried when Winston Churchill died. And we cried when they buried Lord Nelson. But we don't cry when our neighbour's dog dies or because of something on the news. We may be upset, but we then employ a phrase not used anywhere else in the world. We "get a grip". Not being able to get a grip is like being really fat. It's the sign of a weak mind. It's an indicator that you aren't able to control yourself and that you may be French.
I don't mind Meghan having the need to open a window to her soul every five minutes. But she can't tell me to do the same thing, because I'm not made that way. It'd be like going to Germany and ordering them to be funny. Or telling the Japanese that blondes have more fun. Or insisting that bees stop making a buzzing noise when they fly.
Let's not forget what happened when Morgan Piers went to America and lectured them on gun ownership. They put a flea in his ear and sent him packing, and now he has to earn a living from behind a veil of orange make-up on breakfast TV. If Ms Meghan doesn't learn a lesson from that sorry tale, she may well end up in exactly the same boat.
My new squeeze is a bit short on spice -- The Clarkson Review: Toyota GR Supra (Oct. 27)
I know some short people and, by and large, they're weird. Mainly, this is because they have it in their heads that tall people spend every waking moment thinking up new and interesting ways of making their lives a bit less pleasant.
At social events where the guests stand up, short people feel lost and abandoned in the forest of nipples and chest hair. They feel excluded from the gossip and the chit and chat, and think that tall people have done this on purpose.
In the cinema, they think that tall people scan the auditorium, searching out the shorty, and then sit in front of them on purpose. On the roads, they assume that every single move made by everyone else is an act of ridicule.
And in bars, they imagine every barman is trained to serve the tall first. Holland, home to officially the tallest people on Earth, is seen as a cruel plot to make the short feel pathetic and unwelcome on a stag night.
None of this, however, is true. I'm tall and when I look at a room, everyone is, broadly speaking, the same height. Tom Cruise and Gerard Butler. Richard Hammond and James May. Elle Macpherson and Kylie Minogue. They're all just "down there somewhere".
And, if I were made to think about it, I'd suggest that the world is actually geared up to make life a little bit better for the gonks. Clothes shops, for instance. Every jacket is tailored to suit a toy and every pair of trousers for a jockey's stunted brother.
Tall people are never comfortable at the theatre, and on an aeroplane we are forced to pay thousands of pounds for business-class seats, because if we sit among the straw and dead dogs in economy, the blood supply to our legs is cut off and we get gangrene.
Oh, and then there are houses.
You, with your Ken-doll measurements, can live wherever you please. I cannot. I know this because I grew up in an Elizabethan farmhouse, where, because of the beams, I could only ever walk east and west in a room. Never diagonally, or north or south.
And this of course brings me onto cars. I yearned, when I was a small boy, to drive a Ford GT40, and when, by a series of miraculous events, the day arrived when I actually could, I found that I couldn't because I simply didn't fit behind the wheel.
Then there was a time when Paul Stewart built a Formula One car that could actually accommodate a normal-sized driver. Jos Verstappen, probably. He is Dutch. And I was offered a drive in it. So I immediately zoomed up to Silverstone and slithered inside, wiggling my toes onto the pedals and getting comfy.
Then along came a health-and-safety man with a plank of wood. He rested one end on the top of the roll-over hoop and the other on the front tyre and worked out that my head breached the imaginary line that had been drawn. So I got out and sloped back to London in a huff.
Since then, I've had a few problems in a couple of supercars but, in the main, car interiors are designed these days to accommodate just about everyone: from that freak on Pointless to Mr Amoeba. In a modern Mercedes, I don't even have to push the seat all the way back to get comfortable.
But then, last week, the new Toyota GR Supra arrived. I'd been looking forward to driving it very much because it's exactly the sort of car I like. Front-engined. Two seats in the middle. And drive to the back. All put together by Japanese robots so it will never, ever go wrong.
Straight away, though, there was a problem. They may have fitted the roof with a "double-bubble" arrangement to give taller occupants enough headroom, and I thank them for that. But the doors simply aren't high enough to allow these tall people to get inside. Not with any dignity.
I had to adopt all sorts of horrific yoga positions to get on board, and then I was actually quite scared I might not be able to get out again. Perhaps I'd have to drive lightly into a tree so the fire brigade would cut the roof off and I could get out that way. But, for now, I was in and the engine was on, so off I went for a drive.
Now, the old Supra was unashamedly aimed at the American market. It was big and lazy and handled as if it was on its way home from a hard night at the pub. I quite liked it. But this one is unashamedly aimed at the European market and for the switchback mountain roads we all use on our way to work. Short wheelbase, wide track, BMW engine.
Yup. BMW. Because there aren't that many people these days who drive to work over Alpine passes, there aren't that many people who want to buy small, light, whizzy sports cars. So if car-makers want to design and build one — and they all do because designing and building hybrid boxes is emphatically not what gets people up in a morning — it makes sound financial sense to team up and share the costs.
That's what BMW and Toyota did and, for half the cost, they ended up with a Supra and a new Z4. Which, we are told, are completely different. Course they are … I can tell you that the new Supra uses a straight-six BMW engine and BMW running gear, and when you sit in it, you'll notice that the gear-lever and most of the dash are from BMW as well.
I don't mind about that. What I do mind is that somehow it doesn't really work. It's not underwhelming, by any means, but neither is it overwhelming. It's just whelming and I was expecting, I dunno, a bit of chilli and lemongrass in the mix. And maybe something a bit more aurally exciting than tyre noise.
I liked the speed and I liked the handling. It's the honest-to-God, meat-and-two-veg stuff that causes hairy-backed motoring enthusiasts to drool slightly, but somehow everything is delivered as though the car's mind is elsewhere. Maybe it's wondering what its point is when people can buy a Toyota GT86 — which does broadly the same sort of thing — for about £25,000 less. Or a much prettier BMW Z4 that has no roof.
Eventually, my drive was over and I shuffled downwards, pushing my feet into the bottom-left corner of the footwell and my knees into the top-right corner so I could emerge head first into the light. And when I finally got to my feet, I couldn't help wondering … With each passing year, and in every country except America, the average human being becomes taller and more intelligent. Which means that the Supra is designed specfically for people who are smaller than average. Which means they're not that bright.
Lose the leccy and hit the Swede spot
The Clarkson Review: Volvo XC90 (Nov. 03)
We all know that people in Sweden sit beside lakes all day in chunky jumpers, solving crimes by staring into the middle distance. And then they go home to wooden houses and spend the evening sending all the money they've earned to the government.
This, however, is true only in the sense that all British people carry rolled-up umbrellas and all Italian people are in bed with your wife. So while there are some Swedish people who earn a living by staring at things, most are not like that at all.
I once went to a town called Kiruna in the north of the country and, I'm not sure, but I think it's the worst place … in the world. Built around an iron-ore mine, which makes the snow a sort of mottled dark grey, it is filled almost exclusively with miners, who are very large and are in the pub, looking for someone to punch in the face. Only after they've done this, and thrown a bar-stool through a window, do they go home to give all their money to the government. It's a long way from Abba, that place.
It's also a long way from Greta Thunberg, who, in turn, is a long way from the corporate giant that is Ikea, which is miles and miles from the archipelago of Gothenburg, which is one of the most mystical and peaceful places I know. Sit me on one of those smooth islets, let me stare into the mist, in the silence, and within an hour I reckon I could pinpoint the location of Lord Lucan. And make cold fusion work.
Sweden, then, is known for one thing, but, actually, it's lots of things. And so it goes with Volvo. In the late 1970s, my dad decided, for reasons that are not clear, to buy a Volvo 265, which had been styled, on an Etch a Sketch, by someone who despaired at the Romans' inability to go in a properly straight line.
As an impressionable young man, I should have hated that wilfully practical estate car, but Volvos were all right in my book because, as a small boy, pride of place on my bedroom wall went to a poster of the drool-inducing P1800ES. And let's not forget that Mr Eyebrows himself, Roger Moore, used a Volvo when he was playing the part of Roger Moore in The Saint. Before he went off to be Roger Moore in the 007 films.
Volvos, in those days, were cool.
They were square and the scourge of motorcyclists, and then, in the 1990s, the firm went bonkers and entered a brace of estates in the British touring car championship.
They used to come down the main straights like a massive blue-and-white Swedish tidal wave, washing away the ghosts of Roger Moore, my dad's brown box and everything else as well. Yes, it was a marketing ploy. But it worked. Everyone loved those cars.
In just 20 years, Volvo had gone from being as cool as Alicia Vikander's icy stare, to being the last word in safety and practicality, to being a full-on racing team. And now, in 2019, it is the Arctic division of a huge Chinese conglomerate making some of the most stylish 4x4s the world has ever seen. Not even John Hurt was as versatile as that. And this was a man who had been an elephant, a rabbit and an alien transportation system.
I like Volvo's range a lot. It seems completely in tune with the times. And that's why, when Volvo announced it had updated the twin-engine XC90 hybrid, I was keen to give it a whirl.
The updates, it must be said, are not significant. In fact, as far as I can see, they amount to nothing more than a new bag in which to keep the charging cables you'll never use. Because while you may be fully Greta on the outside, no one can be bothered to charge up a car that is capable of charging itself. I don't even like the bag.
No matter. I liked this car when I drove it three years ago, so, obviously, I'd like it now, yes? No. Because although it hasn't changed much, I have. Back then I was mildly curious about hybrid drive systems, but now they send me into a cold rage.
I'm not going to trot out the numbers again but the fact is that hybrids don't travel as far on a gallon as is claimed, they run on electric only for a few miles before the batteries are flat and they are phenomenally power-hungry to make. Clubbing baby seals is more environmentally acceptable.
So what do you get in exchange for not doing much for the planet? A car that's a bit of a nuisance a lot of the time. You get into the Volvo, turn the diamond-cut starter button and nothing happens. Confused, you pull the sex-toy gear lever back into the "D" position and try to set off. And nothing happens again, because you've got to pull the lever back twice before you engage Drive. I don't know why.
If you are on a loose surface, the wheels at the front, which are being driven by the clever petrol engine, set off normally, but those at the back, which are driven by electricity, can't handle the enormous torque and spin. Which makes holes in your lawn.
Then, when you get home, you turn the key to shut everything down — but have you? Or is the car simply sitting there in electric mode? Or has it engaged the stop-start system and is waiting for you to take your foot off the brake so it can set off again? Silence in a car that's fully awake is unnerving and I don't trust it.
I also didn't like the wipers, which decided when to be on, no matter what I did, or the head-up display, which wouldn't move up or down the windscreen even though I was doing everything right. Oh, and then there was an occasion when the car thought I was going to reverse into a bush and jammed on the brakes all by itself, making yet more skid marks on my lawn. Maybe the answer is not to drive this car on your lawn.
Make no mistake, the XC90 is still an absolutely brilliant car. It's good-looking; it's practical; it remains by far the best seven-seater; it works to a certain extent off-road; it's a lovely, light and airy place to sit; and, above all, it's safe. Really safe. So safe that since it was originally launched in the UK in 2002, nobody has died in one in a collision with another car.
I've had four of them over the years and if I still had children who needed ferrying about with 600 of their closest personal friends, I'd buy another without a moment's hesitation. But it wouldn't be the version with two engines. One engine is much more environmentally friendly and thus much more Swedish. Because you have to give more of your money to the government.
It gets birdbrains in a flutter that wildlife is booming on my green and pheasant land (Nov. 03)
I was up early the other day because I was keen to write about the Britannia Hotels group's incredible achievement of being voted the UK's worst chain for the seventh year running. Imagine. You're told you're rubbish once and then you keep on being rubbish for six straight years. I wanted to comment about such an extraordinary level of commitment to slack-jawed slovenliness.
But then I noticed that the survey had been done by Which?, an organisation that is really only interested in reaching adenoidal people in action trousers and sandals who contribute to TripAdvisor and run the neighbourhood watch scheme. As a general rule, I've always reckoned that if something does badly in Which?, it's probably pretty good.
As I sat, deciding which side to take in the great hotel debate, I was distracted by an annoying man on Radio 4's Farming Today show. He was from the airborne wing of the Labour Party — also known as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Birds — and he was talking about how he thought shooting game birds might be a bad thing.
The RSPB has always been prevented by its royal charter from campaigning against the shooting industry — Mrs Queen likes to strangle a pheasant or two at Christmas time, as we know — but it has worked out that it can comment if it reckons shooting is done by rich bastards in Range Rovers.
Now, the columnist Charles Moore said recently that the actress Olivia Colman had a "left-wing face". I won't comment on that, but I will say that Martin Harper, the man the RSPB sent to Radio 4, had a left-wing voice. Chris Packham has both a left-wing voice and a left-wing face, and he wants us all to stop using fly spray.
Anyway, Martin reckoned that if you release 50m non-native game birds into the British countryside every year, it's bound to have an effect. When pressed by the interviewer for a specific effect, he said: "Er, climate change." That was lucky for the Britannia Hotels chain, because I immediately abandoned my original plan and decided to write about shooting instead.
The first thing I did when I started a small shoot was plant several acres of so-called cover crops. Maize, sunflowers and something called kale, which can be eaten by humans if they are very deranged. These crops provide warmth, food and a place to hide from Johnny Fox, not just for my pheasants but a whole squadron of other birds too.
We keep reading about how endangered the yellowhammer is these days; well, not on my farm it isn't. Since I started my shoot, the skies are black with them. And goldcrests. And wrens. And skylarks. The dawn chorus used to be nothing but the occasional squawk of a murderous crow, whereas now it's positively philharmonic.
Research has shown that if you run through a field of crops planted by a shootist, you are 340 times more likely to encounter a songbird than if you do a Theresa May and run through a field of grass.
So, Martin, if the RSPB does manage to ban shooting, then, yes, you will be championed as a class hero throughout the vegan strongholds of Islington and Shoreditch, but you will also be responsible for the deaths of a million linnets. Which, as far as I know, isn't why the RSPB was founded.
And then there are the woods, where the pheasants are held until they are old enough to forage on their own. Woods are beautiful and still. They're places to shelter from the endless drone of light-aircraft enthusiasts. Mine are full of roe deer and muntjac and squirrels and badgers, and at this time of year there are many mushrooms too. I love to spend an evening down there as the leaves turn golden, giggling. Everyone likes woods, except if you are in a horror film.
But they generate no income. So if shooting were banned, I'd have to get Brazilian on their arses and turn them into farmland. Is that what you want, Martin? Because I fear that would create a damn sight more climate change than my Range Rover.
Of course, I'm well aware that some people might bridle at the sight and sound of eight hedge-fund managers in tweed shorts, braying their way through a pint of sloe gin while brandishing a pair of £20,000 shotguns, but what good comes from making them take up golf instead? There are many hobbies that inflict far more pain and misery on others: light aircraft — I'm not giving up on that — the violin, motorcycling, strimming, morris dancing and so on, so why pick on one that's good for nature and good for the way the countryside looks? Pointedly, it's good for birds too. Not just songbirds, but the kind of stuff that makes kids point at the sky and squeak with joy. Birds of prey. Since I started a shoot, I have seen a huge increase in the number of kestrels and buzzards over my farm. I even think I spotted a peregrine falcon the other day, and that made my heart soar.
Was it here because it likes eating my pheasants and partridges? There's some debate about that, but the truth is I don't really care if it does take a few. Because I like having it around.
So stop persecuting me, Martin, and concentrate instead on the people who do real damage to these magnificent creatures. Seriously. If you put down your Jeremy Corbyn picture book for a moment and do some actual work, you'll learn that peregrines like to hang out on top of churches and cathedrals. Because the height gives them the ability to reach the speed they need in an attack dive.
But, because of bell-ringers, it's noisy and scary up there. So if you really want to help these birds, don't target the shooting community, which is doing its bit already. Target the real villains: the nation's campanologists. That's what I want to see — the RSPB and the country's bell-ringers at war.
That is one of the most reasonable and sensible Clarkson pieces I've read in years.
The problem I've had with him quite a lot recently is that while his ability to shoot down bullshit and lampoon idiocy are, deservedly, legendary, the majority of his targets have been chosen to appease the rabid prejudices of his target audience in the right wing press.
Here he makes a valid argument from the standpoint of someone standing very much and firmly on the moral high ground.
In 9th grade earth science, I was taught that an engine must do work. Here is a link that seems to explain this better https://jakubmarian.com/difference-between-engine-and-motor/ Based on that knowledge, I made an engine out of a couple of small pieces of copper pipe, a grill ignitor, a spark plug, and some WD-40.
For nearly 18 years, I haven't been able to eat anything green. Kale may taste awful, but I'd honestly love to be able to eat some. It's also supposedly good for you:
This is watts thrilling me: James May reveals why he has gone electric
(Sunday Times, Nov. 10)
By James May
I've bought a Tesla. "Boo," cries every true petrolhead on earth, because electric cars are boring. In some ways they are. It's true that Tesla owners converge at superchargers and talk about, well, Teslas, and where once we car types met to boast of peak-power outputs and 0-62mph times, there is now a motoring subculture that discusses energy consumption, range and charging times on new 32-amp domestic spurs. It's not very heroic, and Steve McQueen wouldn't have approved — although I reckon he would have loved my electric motorcycle.
I'm convinced, however, that cars ought by right to be driven by electric motors. I'm painfully aware of the argument for internal combustion and the protestations of those who would declare that a car without pistons and a manual gearbox has no soul.
But we've known since we have had the word "car" that the electric motor (which, by the way, predates the internal combustion engine) makes more sense. It's light, compact, smooth-running, famously reliable, has excellent power and torque characteristics, is easy to produce and is virtually maintenance-free. It's a bit of a 19th-century no-brainer.
The only thing that's held the electric car back for so long is the thorny issue of how to store the electricity. Yet now we have the lithium-ion battery, effectively a giant version of the thing in your smartphone. So my Model S will do 300 real-world miles on a charge, and charges in my garage while I'm at the pub or in bed.
But what if the battery electric vehicle, or BEV, isn't the answer? What if the answer is the HFCEV — the hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicle? In case it is, I thought I'd better have one of those as well.
So I've leased a Toyota Mirai, one of only three passenger HFCEVs to have so far been made available to the public (the others are by Honda and Hyundai).
Instead of a battery, the fuel-cell car has an on-board power station that combines compressed hydrogen from a tank with oxygen from the air to generate electricity on demand. The debate raging among engineers, physicists and chemists is whether it's better to store our clean, renewable power as chemical or electrical energy — that is, in the form of hydrogen molecules (H2) or electrons (the charge in a battery).
Charging batteries is still a slow process, even when granted access to Tesla's superchargers. But if all else fails, I can plug the car into a feeble domestic socket and sit around for a couple of days while it juices up. It's a bit of an exercise in forward planning.
The Mirai refuels from a pump, like any other car, in a few minutes, and has a range similar to that of the Tesla. But there is only a tiny handful of hydrogen stations in the whole country, and if you run out, you're well and truly shafted. So driving the Mirai is an exercise in trepidation and pure brinkmanship.
Why subject myself to this? Because finding out the right way to go requires a massive experiment, and I felt I should take part. I'm a car enthusiast, I'm interested in the future of my hobby and I'm in the fortunate position of being able to do a tiny bit of the research. I sort of feel obliged to, to be honest.
The car has never been under such scrutiny as it is now, except perhaps when it was invented. But then there was only one and it had broken down somewhere between Mannheim and Pforzheim.
With what seems like incredible suddenness, everything about the car — as both a vehicle and a proposition — is being questioned: how and where it's used; how it's made; who or what should actually be in charge of driving it; and whether it should be allowed at all. But, most pressingly, how it's powered.
I like cars, and like driving them.
I want to be allowed to continue to indulge myself. So I can either embrace the experiment or dig a foxhole and man an archaic weapon, under a flag emblazoned with a Jaguar straight six. The future is uncertain, but I'm pretty sure I know how that would end.
Inside James May's electric garage
BMW i3 from £34,445; range 188 miles. Six years after the electric and hybrid versions were launched, the i3 has lost its petrol engine and gained a larger battery, giving it a greater driving range. BMW recently said it may not build a successor, so take this innovative model for a test drive now, before it is brushed under the carpet.
ZERO MOTORCYCLES SR/F on test from £16,990; range 70-150 miles. Today's wannabe Peter Fondas don't lust after a bike whose engine can set of f car alarms; they'd rather boast about silent power (108bhp) and speed (three seconds to 60). The SR/F's range nudges 150 miles if you don't ride like Evel Knievel, but a four-hour charging time is more Stand by Me than Easy Rider.
TESLA MODEL S LONG RANGE from £78,690; range 379 miles. At seven years old, Tesla's first mainstream electric car still sets the standard by which every electric car is judged — driving range. It can travel for nearly 380 miles on a single change, thanks mainly to the sophisticated management of its 100kWh battery.
TOYOTA MIRAI on lease £66,000; range 300 miles. At the heart of this family car is a fuel cell that uses hydrogen and oxygen to generate electricity that drives a motor. With a range of 300 miles and a tank that can be filled with hydrogen in a matter of minutes, the only thing holding back the technology is the UK's non-existent refuelling infrastructure.
Life on the farm is really picking up
The Clarkson Review: Ford Ranger Raptor (Nov. 17)
The new Land Rover Defender is a bit of a surprise. I imagined it would have steel bumpers and hose-down carpets, and differentials that you lock with levers. I reckoned it would be militaristic and straightforward, like the old Defender, only with room behind the wheel for both a driver and his shoulder. But, instead, it seems to be yet another high-riding option for the school-run mum.
In time, I understand, there will be many different variants, including a leather-lined and superfast alternative for the millions out there who say: "Yes, I'd like a Mercedes G-wagen, but actually prefer something a bit more Slovakian." Because that's where the Defender is being made.
I don't really understand what's going on. Land Rover already makes a vast array of extremely nice and very capable four-wheel-drive cars. So why did it make another one, rather than a tool for people who need their car to put in a shift every day? A workhorse. A tool.
Can you see Isis fighters unscrewing heavy machineguns from the backs of their pick-ups and fixing them to a fleet of new Defenders? Can you see the manager of a uranium mine in Australia replacing his underground fleet of Toyotas? Or, closer to home, can you see Britain's foresters and fencing contractors declaring over a pint of Old Scrotum that, yes, the fancy new Land Rover is exactly what's been missing from their lives? As I may have mentioned six thousand times, I'm trying to run a farm at the moment and the fact is that my vet, her boss, my shepherdess, my tractor driver, his brother and the guys mending the Victorian water supply all have pick-ups.
If I look out of the window and see one bouncing up the drive, I know someone with big wrists and a Viyella shirt is on his way to do a job of work. If I see someone coming up the drive in a Vauxhall, I know it's someone from the government coming along to stop him. And if I see someone arriving in a Range Rover, I know it's a school-run mum dropping round for some prosecco.
I have a Range Rover. I have two, in fact. And I have never wanted a pick-up. I'm aware of the tax advantages, of course.
Because HM Revenue & Customs largely classifies them as vans, you could buy an air-conditioned, leather-lined, five-seat Mercedes pick-up with all the stuff you get in a Mercedes car, and pay just £686 a year to the Treasury, if you are in the lower tax bracket. That's less than half what someone in the top tax bracket would pay for a Ford Fiesta.
But despite the fiscal advantages, I've always thought pick-ups were a bit Richard Hammond — for the sort of Donald Trump enthusiast who flies a Confederate flag above his house, even though he lives in Basildon. Plus, I've always figured if I put my shopping in the back, it would be stolen immediately when I pulled up at a set of red lights.
But then the car I was due to test recently was crashed on its way here, so Ford sent round a Ranger Raptor. This is not to be confused with the US Ford F-150 Raptor, which is nearly 20ft long and about 7ft wide. It's hilarious, but you couldn't possibly drive such a thing here. It just wouldn't fit.
The Ranger is a scaled-down version, especially under the bonnet, where, instead of a gigantic V8 that runs on dead grizzly bears and granite, there's a 2-litre EcoBlue engine. This did not excite me, and I figured the test drive would be once round the block and that would be that.
However, it had been raining constantly for six weeks and the summer tyres on my old Range Rover were making life in the fields a bit Bambi-ish, so I went out to do some chainsawing in the Ford, which had proper off-road, Canadian-winter-spec tyres. And it got stuck — immediately.
This was because I wasn't wearing my spectacles, so I hadn't spotted the knob that engages drive to the front wheels. Switchable four-wheel drive? I haven't encountered that since the Daihatsu Fourtrak went west. The only blessed relief was that I didn't have to get out to engage the front hubs.
Getting out of the Raptor is annoying for two reasons. In order to swing your trousers clear of the muddy step that allows short-arses into the cabin, you will need to adopt a body position that causes the horn to sound. This irritates people. And then there's the rear armrest. If you use it to rest your arm, you will lower the window. That is irritating too.
So is the cover that's fitted to shield the contents of the load bed from prying eyes. I'm pretty tall but the Raptor is so high off the ground I simply couldn't reach it to pull it shut. This meant I had to climb into the back, and that is manual labour, to which I am allergic.
I vowed, then, after my chainsawing expedition, to put the Ford in the barn and leave it there. But then my girlfriend went to Holland for no reason I could see and decided there wasn't enough grass in the field for her horse. Which meant I had to take it a bale of hay. So out came the Ford again.
And then I had to deliver a sheep-handling system to a distant field, and then three of the sheep had to be separated from the main herd — is that the right word? And then I had to create a beetle bank. And, to be honest, I needed the pick-up for every single one of these things.
It's gone back to Ford now and I'm bereft. I simply do not know how I managed without it. It's a bit like trying a knife and fork for the first time and then having to go back to chopsticks. That's fine some of the time, but not when you are faced with a lychee or a fried egg or a lamb chop.
It wasn't even that bad on the road. The ride was especially good, and it had all the fixtures and fittings you could reasonably expect and some you reasonably wouldn't. Such as the strip of red leather on the steering wheel to tell you, when you're in a rally, where the "straight ahead" position is. I didn't need that even once. But despite this flimflam, the Raptor was an honest car for honest people doing an honest day's work.
However, if I were ever to buy a proper working vehicle, I'd balk at the £47,874 price tag and quickly become annoyed by the height of that load bed and the step needed to get inside. I suspect this model is for townies who want to look like they're Kate Humble.
The ordinary cooking version is not bad, though, and if you go for the two-seater, you can have one for £22,914. That said, the Volkswagen Amarok is also worth a look, as is the countryman's favourite, the Mitsubishi L200. Then you have options from Fiat, Nissan, Mercedes and Isuzu. Not Land Rover, though. It has simply abandoned the market it created, and I think that's a bit mad.
Interesting as the Ranger review I saw here didn't take well. Mostly the interior. I imagine if Clarkson had any truck for the tasks he used it for, he'd like it as he had such complaints for getting into the thing. Didn't he have an Amarok on The Grand Tour?
(Note: this week's motoring column was written by Abbie Eaton)
This is my Schuey dream come true
The Abbie Eaton Review: Ferrari F8 Tributo (Sunday Times, Nov. 24)
Growing up in the 1990s and 2000s, I would see friends swoon over posters of Kurt Cobain, binge-watch DVD box sets of the Harry Potter films and spend weekends petting ponies at gymkhanas. I'd have to feign interest because my mind was elsewhere. My world was all about an altogether different sort of prancing horse: the bright-red Ferrari of Michael Schumacher.
Schuey and his Ferrari were the fastest thing in Formula One. He was the one I looked up to, the one who inspired me to follow my motor racing dreams. He is part of the reason why the artist formerly known as Top Gear's Stig underwent something of a sex change for The Grand Tour — the show that Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond went on to make with Amazon — evolving into, well, me.
When I accepted the job of being the show's tame racing driver, I knew it wasn't going to be your average nine-to-five role. The first time I met Jeremy I was a bundle of nerves. What tough questions would I have to answer to prove my car knowledge? Would he want to see proof of my results on British racetracks? None of these things happened.
Instead, the first thing he asked me to do was say "toast". I'm from Hull, and he must have taken joy from the fact that finally there was someone on the show other than him with Yorkshire roots. (In case you're wondering, it's pronounced "turst" .) The call may have come about after The Grand Tour's producer, Andy Wilman, heard how I'd worked wonders for the driving skills of the rapper Professor Green. In the ITV series Drive, a bunch of hopeless celebrities — hopeless at driving, that is — were put through a series of extreme, track-based motoring challenges.
I was relieved not to be coaching The X Factor's Louis Walsh, because he was beyond help, frankly. Green, on the other hand, had the nerve and skill but needed some finessing to get the best out of him. Sure enough, he beat the lot of them and I confess I felt proud of him.
In upcoming episodes of The Grand Tour, I won't be as involved as I have been for the past two years. Some people have joked that it's because I keep showing up the boys with my scorching lap times, but the show's focus is switching to road-trip specials.
Naturally, the question I get asked the most is: who's the best driver — Clarkson, Hammond or May? I can honestly say it's Jeremy, and not because I'm guesting for him here. He's decisive, not scared of going sideways and is quite assertive. And we agree on things.
For example, we agree that the scariest car we've tested is the reborn Stratos, from Manifattura Automobili Torino, while the best we've driven is the Lamborghini Huracan Performante, which is probably the most fun you can have with your clothes on. It's so loud and shouty and totally theatrical, and it makes you smile, which reminds me of someone… So when I was offered the chance to test-drive the new Ferrari F8 Tributo at the famed Fiorano track in the heart of Ferrariland, near Maranello in northern Italy, I jumped at the chance. This is where every Ferrari road car and race car is driven, and to this day Schuey holds the lap record, driving a 2004 F1 car.
It was proper bucket-list stuff.
This mid-engined, two-seater sports car, a replacement for the 488 GTB, takes engineering and performance elements from two cars I already know and love: the 488 Pista — a supercar designed primarily for the track — and the 488 Challenge, an out-and-out track car. The F8 Tributo's vital statistics are up there with the Pista's: at 710bhp, it is 50bhp more powerful than the 488 GTB, plus 40kg lighter; it has a top speed of 211mph and it hurtles from 0-62mph in 2.9 seconds.
Yet this is a car designed to take the raw aggression of the Pista and the Challenge and tame it for the road. If you like, this is the comfy and affordable (it's all relative) 488 GTB. On the more track-focused cars, all you have to do is breathe on the accelerator and you're in the Adriatic (we're in Maranello, remember — keep up). On the F8, the accelerator is just that little bit less hyperactive, and the undoubtedly jaw-dropping acceleration feels manageable. Exhilarating, yes, but never scary.
At the heart of the F8 is Ferrari's 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8 engine. The company won't hesitate to remind you that it not only won the international engine of the year award four years in a row, but was last year crowned best engine of the past two decades. The F8 Tributo is a tribute — hence the name — to it. Now I'd have to be pretty pigheaded, given the weight of evidence in its favour, to say anything against this engine and, to be honest, I can't, but truth be told, there is so much more to this car than just its engine.
For a start, it looks great. My favourite bit is the louvred engine cover, which harks back to the F40. In some cars, features are added to improve performance and look a bit out of place, but in the F8 everything seems to fit and have a purpose.
Before we could get started, there was a lesson with a Ferrari test driver. Not about how to drive, but about the car's various gadgets and gizmos. The F8 is seemingly half car, half HAL 9000, and it always seems to be one step ahead of its driver.
For example, there is a "Wet" setting that could even function as a good starter mode for some of Ferrari's wealthy clientele who are more interested in parading along Monaco's harbour front than driving around Silverstone. In this setting, the car's stability aids are switched on, the suspension is a little bit softer and the throttle response is slightly less hectic.
Then there are "Sport" and "Race" modes, with added options to remove or retain some driver aids.
Ferrari has updated its "side slip angle control" system and its dynamic enhancer . They're far too complicated to describe in detail here, but in a nutshell these systems exist to help anyone drive like me. And, thinking about it, does that mean Ferrari is trying to put racing drivers out of work?
The new software allows more drivers to experience the car's full performance, while reducing the risks of having to call your insurer and ask how soon it could arrange for a temporary replacement car while your precious Ferrari pays a costly visit to the bodyshop.
Should you wish to live life on the edge, you can turn off all driver aids. That's OK on a track, but doing it on the road is as silly as peering down the barrel of a loaded gun. I think it's wise to get your kicks on the track and cruise comfortably on the road.
The Grand Tour might have opened doors for me, but some things seem slower to change. I was the only woman on the trip, something that's not uncommon.
It's all right, though. I played up to every silly-girly-racing-driver stereotype there is and pretended I couldn't keep count of how many laps I drove the Ferrari for. It was meant to be four, but by the time it came to seven I gave up counting and waited for them to red-flag me. I'm sure Schuey would have approved.
Private jet on the runway. Sweaty hand on your back. Say ciao to Andrew's entitled Eurotrashers (Nov. 24)
By Jeremy Clarkson
Shortly after Prince Andrew claimed he didn't indulge in public displays of affection, we were bombarded with a million photographs of him doing just that. There were so many, it started to look as though he'd had his hand on the arse of everyone in London and had even gone into battle in the Falklands with his tongue in his co-pilot's ear.
The problem is, however, that in the world he inhabits, this is the done thing. When you are introduced to a woman, you don't shake hands. You run your fingers delicately up her exposed back and she responds by resting her head on your shoulder. And then, later, you mate.
The first person I met from this weird world was a translator we once used in Italy. She was idiotically pretty, all freckles and blue eyes — like a Cadbury's Flake girl who'd washed up, under a mane of just-out-of-bed hair, in a Timotei waterfall. And she spoke about 17 languages. "Where are you from?" I asked squeakily. "Er ..." she replied.
That's the thing about these people.
They're not ever from anywhere. Her mum was an American diplomat in Buenos Aires, her dad was an Italian architect and she'd been born in France and educated in England, and lived mostly these days in Switzerland.
This is why most of her friends would have a "de" or a "von" in the middle of their name. To give them some kind of anchor. It's why Andrew fits, because the man he calls Dad is Greek and his mum is German. But he's the Duke of York. I'd be Jeremy of Doncaster. I actually call these people the "ofs and froms". But everyone else has a different name for them: Eurotrash. And you can spot them at parties because they all have wandering Eurohands.
They emerge from their mother's birth canal on water-skis, with a golden suntan. By the age of four, they are fully qualified helicopter pilots, and by six they've won several motor races. They never double-fault on the tennis court, never ski on a piste and, like Andrew, have no discernible source of income. The odd one may have an art gallery in Zurich or a private equity operation in Mayfair, but, by and large, they live an impossible life on invisible means.
It's a carbon-heavy life of parties, mostly. They alight in Rome for Alain de Biarritz's wedding to Alexandra von München and then, after a day of recovery by the pool, they all share a secret signal and whizz off to Moscow for Hugo von Duesenberg's 40th. In many ways, they're like starlings. And, like starlings, they socialise and travel only with their own kind — people who are in the same boat. Or on the same boat, usually.
Sitting at a dining table with these guys involves a lot of shouting, because each has such a long name that the place card is 3ft wide. Which means you are always miles away from the person sitting next to you. Not that they will talk to you, anyway, because of your miserably short name. And because you're an insect in a room full of antelopes.
The men never wear socks. The women never wear much of anything at all. And while they are all able to converse fluently with waiters in any country on Earth, they all communicate with one another in English, but with an accent that sociolinguistic professors would place halfway between Milan and Kentucky. The word they use for "party", for instance, has a "d" in it. And when we say "PJs", we mean pyjamas, but to them PJs are private jets, which is what they all use when the lead starling suddenly decides everyone needs to be in St Moritz. Or Juan-les-Pins. These people, who are only ever photographed with a glass of champagne in one hand and a woman's arse in the other, are all basically beholden to Peter Sarstedt.
You might think they'd never allow a girl from the back streets of Naples to join their gang, but that's not true. Yes, the men must have private means, but they also need boat meat for the summers in St Tropez. And anyone will do, as long as she is visually striking and 7ft tall. Her only job is to appear at the dock in a bikini that's two sizes too small. And to not suffer from heat rash. These are the mystery women who appear in the James Bond casino scenes. And in the background of all those Andrew pictures.
And it all sounds very idyllic for everyone concerned. The women just have to be pretty and they get a racehorse for Christmas, which they keep for a laugh. And the guys never have to mate with anyone who's fat.
No one ever has to buy a washing-up bowl or fill a car with petrol. Which all sounds great, but none of them owns a dog — it'd be too much of a nuisance dealing with it when Air Starling decided to head to pastures new. They don't have jobs for the same reason. And this means they have no concept of responsibility.
Marriages, in their world, are like houses. You move in and then you move out again. They do the wedding thing because they fancy hosting a party, but at the reception the bride will get a lot of Eurohand action, and the only reason the groom doesn't notice is that he's upstairs, snorting coke off the back of the girl from the back streets of Naples.
They never really had much of a connection with their parents, either, because they were sent off to boarding school four minutes after their umbilical cord was cut. And they only ever met Mum subsequently when they passed in the general aviation terminal in Nice.
All of which means that, while their lives are glamorous and exciting and filled with sunshine and princes, they contribute nothing and achieve even less.
Plus, they never experience the most important thing of all: love. It's why so many of them are such enormous bell-ends.
Mozzies, heat, upset tummies and all-day drinking — even Corbyn's taxes are better than life abroad (Dec. 01)
After Mr Corbyn wins the coming election — and he will, because all your children are going to vote for that weird Lib Dem hamster woman — a great many rich people will decide to emigrate. If the top 1% of taxpayers do that, then Corbyn will have 30% less income tax revenue to spend. If the top 5% go, then he will lose half of what HMRC gets now. Half. The country will go bankrupt, simple as that.
And this time we can't send Princess Margaret to the White House to borrow some dollars, because she's no longer with us. And because that bit of The Crown wasn't true. We can't send Prince Andrew, because the FBI will probably arrest him at the airport. And we can't send Harry, because he will probably have emigrated as well.
I've certainly considered it, and so have many of my friends. But where would we go? Portugal seems to be a popular option because it is offering disaffected Brits extremely good tax arrangements. So is northern Spain. And so is Italy. But the problem with these destinations is: they're hot. And if you have been brought up in the Tupperware box that is Britain, you will not be able to cope.
Think back to your last summer holiday. Think of the faff of getting your children to put on sun cream after breakfast. Think of the heartache it caused you and the pain it caused them when they won the argument. And then imagine doing that every single day, for the rest of your lives.
Then think how much work you'd get done. You'd open the shutters every morning to reveal another endless blue sky, so you'd walk straight past your laptop and go to the beach. This is why the economies of hot countries such as Greece and Spain and Italy are failing: faced with the choice of going to the office or going for a swim, everyone pulls on a swimming costume.
And, of course, shortly after pulling on a swimming costume and sploshing about in the sea, you will want a beer. At first you may impose a midday curfew on that, but within a week you'll relax it to 11, and within a month you'll be pouring vodka on your cornflakes.
Not that you can buy cornflakes when you are abroad. Or HP Sauce. And when you have the craving for a chicken madras with some pilau rice, you will be sorely disappointed by the cherry tomatoes and bread that are produced instead. We all think we want to live on a healthy Italian diet but the truth is: we don't.
Then there are the wasps. You tend to dial them out of your Mediterranean memories in the same way your head uses time to dial out pain, but think how many lunches were ruined because someone in your family has insect panic and rushes about screaming every time a wasp comes within 3ft. Which is constantly.
It's hard to enjoy mealtimes with your children here because of their addiction to social media. So imagine how difficult it would be if they were on Instagram with one hand, and creating a waspincinerating flamethrower from your deodorant and a lighter with the other.
I was in Madagascar last month, and it is, without any doubt, the most beautiful place on earth. I didn't know what the colour green was until I saw its jungles, and I didn't have any concept of what a deserted white beach looked like until I saw its northeastern coastline. The Seychelles are lovely but this was better still.
However, five minutes after our 70-strong crew arrived, all of the under-25s took to their beds with upset tummies. I mocked them, of course, for their millennial frailty, but two days later I too was struck with an urgent need to visit what passed on our campsite for a lavatory. I have a cast-iron constitution. I could lick a Turkish urinal dry and not suffer any ill effects, but there I became a human hosepipe.
And then there were the mosquitoes. All around the world they tend to avoid beautiful people — you never see a supermodel coming out of the sea with red welts on her legs — but everyone in Madagascar is fair game. The Guy Gibson of mozzies got James May on the end of his nose, and then, a day later, one climbed into my shirt and, having broken out its best cutlery, began to eat my back. It's two weeks since I got back but it still looks as though I've been at the wrong end of a firing squad.
And I can't scratch the wounds as much as I'd like because my fingernails are constantly employed dealing with the heat rash on my arms.
So, yes, if you move to a hot country to escape the wrath and idiocy of Corbyn, you will save a great deal of money and that's tremendous. But on the downside you will be eaten by insects, you will do no work, you will become an alcoholic, your children will be in agony, you will have loose stools and when you go out at night everyone will think you are Joseph Merrick because of the constant scratching.
My current thinking is that it's better to stay here. But I do have a plan to make that work. The well-off should form a sort of trade union, and if the tax demands become too bonkers, we will simply go on strike. We will refuse to pay our taxes. We will have picket lines. We will point out that we are paying for half the country's services already. We will light braziers and we shall throw stones at the policemen who are sent to make us repent.
That'd blow a fuse in his head. He can say no to a millionaire in a suit, but if that same man put on a donkey jacket and waved a placard in his face? I bet he'd back down in a heartbeat.
Impractical. Fun. Guilty as charged
The Clarkson Review: Mercedes EQC (Dec. 01)
According to new figures, Sadiq Khan's war on pollution is so successful that otters are now frolicking on the banks of the Thames, small boys are playing tag in the streets and an osprey is nesting in Berkeley Square.
Yup. What they're saying is that, since April, when the London mayor made it even more expensive to bring diesel cars into the centre of the capital, people with enormous Porsches and Range Rovers have decided to leave them at home and hop to work instead. While not breathing out in case they upset Greta Thunberg.
Of course, it is possible there were, as is claimed, 13,500 fewer cars on the streets of central London in September than in March. But this, I reckon, has more to do with the fact that all the roads were blocked by people called Tarquin, dressed up as fruit and vegetables.
Or maybe people don't want to come into London any more because the mayor is obsessed by the composition of gases in the upper atmosphere but not obsessed in the slightest by the number of stabbed boys that are cluttering up the city's parks and mortuaries.
But whether it's because of the higher charge or the stabbings or the fact all the roads were shut by spoilt teenagers in peace-and-love hazmat suits, levels of NO2 have indeed fallen to a point where they are still massively above the legal limit.
Why is that? Well, naturally the people who worry about this sort of stuff have an immediate answer. It's because of all the filthy right-wing Brexit bastards in their diesel-powered black cabs, which are exempt from the charge. And because of selfish tossers like me who continue to drive their Range Rovers to Jermyn Street for a haircut. Tories. Yes. They're to blame and they must be destroyed as soon as possible.
At no point does anyone even think to say that public transport maybe responsible for a fair whack of the problem. According to the latest figures, there are 3,669 hybrid buses on the streets of the capital, 155 that are pure electric and 10 that have hydrogen fuel cells. Subtract those from the total number in the fleet and it means there are 5,308 buses out there running on diesel alone.
That's 5,308 London buses, usually with one confused old lady on board, doing 5.3mpg. And just in case you think the hybrid buses run on spring water and dew droplets from freshly picked daffodils, they are using a gallon of diesel to do just 6.1 miles. That, then, is an improvement of not even 1mpg.
Then you have the fine particles being produced by their brakes and their tyres and the road surface, which is turned to dust by the passage of these behemoths. And the congestion caused by the special lanes they need. And the noise. That awful, pulsating noise. It's worse than Radio 1. So here's a tip for those in power in London, and all the other big cities that are looking to the capital for a lead. Forget your relentless attacks on private motorists and black cabs — many of which are hybrids anyway these days — and concentrate your firepower on the really big problem.
At present, cyclists, cars and buses are fighting for their own lanes on the road, and it's not possible to fit them all in.
Something has to give and it makes sense that it should be the Dickensian distributors of disease and global warming. Of course, many eco-loons will object, but they need to be told that the world has moved on since the days of Flanders and Swann. And that they now face a choice. Get a bike. Or work harder and get a car.
While it may sound like some kind of VIP package on a cruise liner, the Mercedes EQC 400 4Matic AMG Line Premium Plus is a car, and it would suit them down to the ground as it's all-electric. But I fear they will have to work very hard, because, although it's a five-door hatchback, the version I tested costs an enormous £74,610 before the plug-in grant. I have never been so amazed by a price tag. It's almost exactly twice what I'd guessed.
Unlike Jaguar's I-Pace, this car was not designed to be electric from day one. Instead, it was adapted from an existing platform, which means it weighs exactly the same as Nottinghamshire. That's probably why it can't go as far on a charge as the Jag.
And that was my first problem. For a while, I used it for pottering around the farm. It has four-wheel drive, so I figured it would cope. But it was wet and it had road tyres, so it didn't really.
And then I had to go to London. Now, I can't charge an electric car at home in the Cotswolds because it blows all the fuses, and I can't charge one in London because I live on the top floor of a tower block. So I'd have to make it there and back on one charge, which is doable. But only just. And as I didn't want to spend the last 30 miles of the return leg panicking, I thought I'd take the bus. But as that would hurt our precious and fragile planet, I used my Range Rover instead.
There's another issue. The EQC's sat nav has a facility that will direct you to the nearest charge point. But it didn't know about the one at my local farm shop. Or at the Soho Farmhouse.
As a car, then, the Mercedes is fairly useless. But as an electric car it's not bad. A few things puzzled me. Why does it have a radiator grille when it has no radiator? Why does it have flappy-paddle gearshifters when it has no gears? And why has the electric motor been made to look like an engine when it isn't one? I should also ask why the range readout is so small that I needed spectacles to read it, because in an electric car this is all you need to know: how far have I got left? It's quick, though. Really quick. Four-hundred-horsepower quick. And it feels planted too, probably because of that airliner weight. I liked driving it. And I liked being in it.
A lot of it is standard Mercedes, but the central command unit comes up with all sorts of graphics that, at first, make no sense. You may well have been driving for 30 years, but don't for a minute think you could get into this car and just set off. Because if you do that, I guarantee that the first time you want to turn left, you'll put it into neutral.
Imagine having a private pilot's licence. You're entirely familiar with many of Piper's dentistkillers and could fly any of them in your sleep. Right. Now imagine you suddenly find yourself at the controls of an F-35 fighter jet and it's time for some midair refuelling. You're going to need to spend a little time with the instruction book, that's for sure.
Is it worth it? Well, if your lifestyle could accommodate electric propulsion, then yes. As battery-powered cars go, it's pretty good. But I don't think it's quite as good — and it definitely isn't as good-looking — as Jaguar's cleverer, purpose-built I-Pace.
Giant tortoises are slow of foot but quick of wit, while I struggle to keep up with my sheep (Dec. 8)
For many years the giant tortoise was seen as an easy-to-catch lunch. After a long voyage to the tropics, sailors would disembark and immediately peel one of these giant beasts, which, they said, were delicious. Plus, the creature's hard-to-digest wrapping paper could then be sold to a Victorian doctor's wife as an exotic centrepiece for the hall table.
Later, after various animal enthusiasts decided the tortoises shouldn't be eaten, no matter how wonderfully buttery their fat might be, Hollywood turned up and gave them another role. We've all seen Jurassic Park. Well, the grunting noises made by the velociraptors were actually recordings of giant tortoises doing sex.
Today they are protected and their porn noises may not be used in films. Children cannot ride around on them and they cannot be turned onto their backs for a laugh. We have all fallen in love with their enormousness, and when it was reported in 2012 that the last of one species — a chap called Lonesome George — had died, there was international sadness.
It's always interesting to try to figure out why some animals work their way into our hearts while others do not. I've long suspected that unless it's cute, magnificent or delicious, we don't care two hoots if it becomes extinct. But boffins in Japan may have come up with another reason the giant tortoise is so universally adored. Yes, it's slow-moving and has the metabolic rate of a stone, but they reckon that behind the placid, Volvo-y exterior, it's actually quite clever.
Ten years ago they taught a group of captive tortoises in Vienna zoo that if they bit on the end of a particular coloured stick, they would get no food, and that if they bit on a different coloured stick, they would. When the scientists returned nearly a decade later, three of the creatures were tested again. And they could still remember which stick did what. So now scientists are saying that a giant tortoise is basically Sir Tim Berners-Lee with a shell on his back.
I already knew this, because think about the human being. The Vikings had visited France and north America but reckoned that the slate-grey slab of frozen rock we call Iceland would be a much better place to raise a tribe. Then you had the Romans, who could have lived under a wisteria tree in Tuscany but decided Doncaster would be better. And Genghis Khan? He was raised in the bewitching open spaces of Mongolia but dreamt of the day he could move to Kiev.
We saw none of this idiocy from Johnny Tortoise. God knows where he started out as a species, but today he's found only in the Galapagos Islands and the Seychelles. This means he must have walked, at half a mile an hour, through forests and deserts and moorland. And then swum, with his house on his back, for hundreds of miles, across open ocean, until he found what are probably the two most beautiful places on earth. Coincidence? I doubt it.
I've been to the island in the Seychelles where thousands of giant tortoises womble about, eating leaves and thinking about cold fusion. And it only took me about no minutes to see yet another example of their intelligence.
The island has a grass runway, on which planes carrying noisy and annoying tourists land. Now think about that. You walk halfway round the world in search of paradise, and then, when you're about 150, the serenity is shattered by a steady torrent of honeymoon couples.
To solve the problem, the tortoises have decided to live on the runway. They can't be shooed away because, well, they're tortoises. And they can't be carried because they weigh nearly half a ton. This means they've been more successful at closing an airport than those Extinction Rebellion halfwits at Heathrow.
I don't think tortoises are the only animals that have genuine intelligence either. Look at your dog. He can fetch a ball and answer to his name and he knows not to urinate on the furniture. But what he knows most of all is that if he behaves in this way, like a human simpleton, you will give him biscuits and a bed by the Aga.
Left to his own devices, he becomes Alan Turing. Look at those wild dogs you see in places such as India and Burma and South America. Look at how quickly they walk. It's like they have a purpose, like they know where they are going and why. Their ears are alert. Their tails are up. You rarely see humans in these parts of the world moving with such intent. I reckon that when we are not looking, dogs read books.
And I'm not sure that sheep are far behind. They are widely reckoned to be the stupidest animals on earth, but I've had a flock for a few months and I'm beginning to wonder. They are perfectly happy to pretend that they are hemmed in by the electric fences and walls we build, but when they want to move on, they just do. Our manmade obstacles are nothing to them.
And I think they have a sense of humour. I spent two hours the other morning running around, trying to get them into a new field. And three minutes after I succeeded, they all jumped clean over a Becher's Brook of a wall and back into the field they'd just left. So I spent two hours rounding them up again, and three minutes later they jumped the wall again. After a third time, I knew they were doing it for a laugh. To humiliate the idiotic, out-of-breath biped.
There's more evidence of animal intelligence too. When they need a new leader, monkeys and zebras and lions don't sit around arguing about who'd be the best man for the job. The two candidates put forward their case, and there is always unanimous and immediate agreement afterwards.
Humans, however, listen to the candidates for months, and then half of us decide to vote for the person who'll definitely lead the tribe into a fiery pit of brimstone, bankruptcy and despair.
And here's a model I reversed earlier: The Clarkson Review: Volkswagen T-Cross (Dec. 8)
I have eight jobs. I know this because it's what I always tell people. But the funny thing is that I'm so busy, I actually can't remember what the eighth job is. Am I a rent boy at night? Do I have a county lines gang? Am I the foreign secretary? No idea.
What I do know is that I'm sitting here now panicking about what I'll put in the other two columns I write, knowing that before the week's out I must turn my attention to the next Grand Tour special while also hosting Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. Then there's the DriveTribe operation that needs feeding, and its new spin-off, FoodTribe. And I'm building a house, and a shop, and writing a book, and all of this is set against my new role as a farmer, which occupies my mind and my time seven days a week from dawn until way past dusk.
This morning, for example, I was up long before you because four of my sheep have blood spurting from their ankles. And then I needed to move 10 tons of stone from the barn to the Big Silence, which is a field, so a local chap called Gerald can turn them into a wall. While transferring some money to my daughter's account because she's penniless and her flat is falling down.
This might explain why I forgot to drive the latest car they sent round. Wait. That's not strictly true. I did drive it, but only to reverse it from where it had been left into a little alley between two barns, so a couple of gigantic, hissing artics could deliver 46 tons of glyphosate. The problem was that the alley into which I'd put the car isn't very visible, which is why, after I'd telehandled the glyphosate into the long barn and needed to rush to a charity dinner in London to buy some signed rugby balls and a night in a lady's box at the Royal Albert Hall, I forgot it was there and leapt into my Range Rover.
When I got back the next day — late because I'd got a bit carried away the night before — the Volkswagen had gone. And now here I am, wondering how on earth I can review a car I've only driven, in reverse, for about 16ft.
What I can say straight away is that, for the entire duration of this drive, there was a terrible vibration. Does it do that when you go forwards? No idea. I never found out. I can also tell you it was a Volkswagen.
So I went, before I embarked on this column, to VW's website to find out as much as I could.And it was here that I discovered that it's called the T-Cross. I was invited to click on a link that would give me more details but all I got was some pictures of Cara Delevingne. I was even invited to watch a video of her, which I did. Several times. No mention was made of the car.
So I scrolled down to find out, for example, how much it costs, but I had to wade past pictures of a ginger man with a ponytail and another pretty model in a purple skirt before, finally, I learnt that the range starts at just £17,395. That is much less than I was expecting and I'd like to give VW's marketing people a bit of advice at this point. Cara is lovely. And we all enjoy watching her on the internet. But if I'd been in your shoes, I'd have nosed my strategy on the surprisingly low price.
Underneath, it's a VW Polo, and there's nothing wrong with that. The Polo is a fine car. I have driven one of those — forwards — and I liked it very much. It's what I'd buy if I were after a car of this type, but I'm out of step. Everyone else in the world wants their car to be on stilts, so they will be more interested in the high-riding T-Cross.
What I can tell you is that it's very good-looking. I know this because when the lorries arrived and their drivers asked me to move it, I thought: "That's very good-looking."
It also has a very good interior with lots of snazzy trim. I know this because when I climbed inside, I thought: "This trim's very snazzy." It's one of the reasons I'm so surprised by the price. It didn't sound cheap, either. The door, when I closed it, made the exact same noise as a hard-hit pheasant landing in a well-ploughed field.
It also sounds nice when you start it up, because the tiny 1-litre turbocharged engine has only three cylinders. This means it's inherently unbalanced, like a V8, which means the noise it makes is flawed and therefore human.
There are two petrol versions on offer, one of which produces 94 horsepower and the other 113. That's 113 horsepower from 1 litre, and that's remarkable. Maybe that's why it vibrates so much. But, all things considered, you're better off saving your money and getting the cheaper version. If you want to achieve a tyre-screeching personal best on your way to work every morning, you'd probably be better off with something else. Such as a Lamborghini Aventador.
I can also tell you, because I waded past more pictures of things that have nothing to do with the car, that it's crammed full of cubbyholes and that the rear seat slides forwards and backwards. But that's it, I'm afraid.
So. Conclusions. Yes, this is the only car I've tested that had a serious fault for the entire duration of my test drive. But I can't really mark it down for that as the "entire duration" was only 15 seconds. And I only went backwards.
Other things? Well, assuming the reversing issue is a one-off and not intentional, which would be mad, the T-Cross is good value, cheap to run, charismatic and practical. And if you want a small SUV, that's probably enough.
I'd like to say at this point that I'm pleased to have completed a review on a car that I drove for such a short distance, but I'm not, because in the week ahead I have an even bigger problem. I have three trips to London planned and I can't use the Mercedes I've had on test, because it's electric.
I can't charge it up at the farm because I've done that with an electric car in the past and it blows the fuse box into space. I can't charge it in London, either, because the entire infrastructure has been swamped by sanctimonious gits in Teslas. And I can't take it to a charge point at my local restaurant because that would mean sitting around for an hour or two, and I really don't have time for that.
This is the weird thing about electric cars. You need to have eight jobs to earn enough to afford one. Which means you won't have time in your life to charge it up.
I've some divan inspiration for hotels: you don't need to stop mattress thieves, just the mattress (Dec. 15)
It's hard to know when hotels were invented. According to Guinness World Records, the first was in Japan in AD705, but plainly that's not true, because 705 years earlier than that we know Gullible Joe and his mysteriously pregnant wife, Mary, attempted without success to find room at an inn in Bethlehem.
What's more, we have to assume that hostelries go back even further than that, to the days when people started to move about on horses and needed somewhere to rest them for the night. That's 5,500 years ago. That's when the premier inn was. And what's interesting is that in all this time, no one has managed to get a hotel room right. Until now.
Today there are more than 17 million hotel rooms in the world and all of them are wrong in some way. Some smell so powerfully of extreme cleaning products that your septum starts to bleed. Some are several miles from reception. And many have doors that are opened by electronical key cards that don't work. Ever. So then you have to go back to reception and prove to a sceptic in a stupid waistcoat that you're the same person who was there only two minutes earlier.
However, I was at the Dakota in Manchester last weekend and, unusually, it had rooms that had plainly been designed by someone who'd stayed in a hotel before.
The light switches did what I was expecting when I pushed them. You didn't need a degree in astrophysics to open and close the windows. The temperature was maintained at a level that felt like there was no temperature at all. And the shower controls were located by the door to the cubicle, not on the other side of the icy jet that starts the moment you turn the tap.
As it's in Manchester, where even the postmen get dressed up like the Chippendales before they go out, and homeless ladies look like Ivana Trump, I was expecting a lot of unnecessariness and orange diamante. But the decor was halfway between businesslike and what I'd put in my house. I had a look round the room and some of the stuff I would happily have stolen.
I worked with a chap for many years who did this as a matter of course. He argued that he had paid for the room, so everything in it was therefore his. I tried to reason with him but it was no good, and every morning he'd leave with all the towels, dressing gowns, sheets and pillows, as well as any ornaments that took his fancy. Obviously, he couldn't have the drinks from the minibar because management had that covered, but in his mind the fridge itself was definitely fair game.
He was missing a trick, though, because last week hotel chiefs reported that the latest craze is for guests to steal the mattresses from their beds. This sounds nuts, but in posh hotels with good beds and lifts that go directly to an underground car park, it makes perfect sense.
Or does it? Because, think about it. Sure, you could be stealing something that cost upwards of £20,000, but it's been in a hotel room since the day it was sold, and every night it's been slept on by someone you don't know, someone who has a skin disease, perhaps, or some kind of lung disorder.
I went through a period after I stopped smoking when my gums leaked at night and I'd wake up in the morning to find my bedding soaked in blood. Would you like to steal that? And I haven't yet got to the other things that come from ladies and gentlemen when they are in hotel rooms together.
Once, I stayed in a hotel just outside Kampala in Uganda. The sheets didn't look so bad, apart from the fact that they were pink and made from nylon, but I pulled them back to reveal a mattress that remains the single most revolting thing I have ever seen. Many of the stains were green. And God knows what manner of thing had caused that. Maybe a previous guest had spilt some Thai green curry. But I doubt it.
I'm fairly sure that even with light staining, a used mattress would have no second-hand value at all. Which means people are stealing mattresses for themselves. And that's like stealing used underpants to wear.
So how can hotel chiefs solve the problem? It's probably unwise to warn customers that all the mattresses have been drizzled with body waste. That may be off-putting.
Nor can cheap mattresses be used, to minimise the cost of buying replacements, because nobody likes to sleep on horsehair. I did it for five years at boarding school, so I know.
I suppose it might be possible to arrange a lift's algorithms to ensure it always stops on the ground floor and the doors always open. Because knowing he'd have to stand there with a stolen mattress, in full view of reception, might embarrass a would-be thief into thinking twice.
Don't be so sure, though. A few years ago, a gang of four men wearing brown store coats walked calmly into the ballroom at a well-known London hotel and rolled up a gigantic and very valuable Chinese rug. They even asked the guests, who'd assembled for some early-evening function, if they wouldn't mind stepping over the enormous silk sausage they were creating. And then they carried it calmly to a waiting van and drove off.
That's the kind of front the hotel industry is facing. But don't worry, chaps and chapesses, because I have a solution. Fitting a mattress to a bed is a one-time gig, yes? So why not put it there and fix it to the frame with something that cannot be undone with pliers, a linoleum knife, a heavy-calibre gun or even explosives? Such a thing exists. It's called a ratchet strap.
If you think a ratchet strap can be undone or adjusted, then please write to me at "The Sunday Times, London", marking your envelope: "I'm weird."
The Clarkson Review: Land Rover Discovery Sport (December 22)
According to every single clickbait site on Google, the worst road in the world is in Bolivia. I’ve driven up it and, I’ll admit, it’s fairly terrible. There’s a constant sense that you’re playing automotive snakes and ladders; that at any moment you’ll land on the wrong square and find yourself in a thousand-foot, land-sky-land-sky-crash-bang-wallop plunge back to where you began.
Another bad road listed by the internet is the Alaska Highway, and I’ve driven that one too. For sure, it’s very bumpy and it’s hard to fill the tank at the sporadic petrol stations because you have to hold the nozzle with one hand and fight off a plague of mozzies with the other. This is tricky, as many have the agility of an F-16.
A road that’s not listed but should be runs along the eastern side of Lake Victoria. It’s mostly smooth and traffic-free, and you feel encouraged to travel at great speed. But it is peppered with sharp-edged potholes that are guaranteed to burst your tyre and break a wheel. And there is no RAC in Tanzania. Just lions.
The worst road in the world is also not listed. It’s the RN5 in Madagascar and it’s not really a road at all. It was when the French built it, back in the day, but now it looks like a dried-up riverbed. There are boulders the size of space hoppers and they’re made from basalt, which makes granite look like ice cream. There’s mud, too, deep enough to drown in. And the road is so narrow that if you meet a car coming the other way, you are completely screwed.
Locals employ boys to run a mile or so in front of their car, warning people coming in the opposite direction to pull over as soon as they see any kind of passing place. And most motorists are jealous of the boys because they can travel at four or five miles per hour. Even the hardiest high-riding pick-up can’t get close to that. I was there last month and over a week averaged 0.2mph.
Mind you, I wasn’t driving a hardy, high-riding pick-up. I was driving something that will surprise you greatly when you find out what it was in an upcoming episode of The Grand Tour. And James May, he’d been even more ambitious. He was in a racing car.
All of which brings me on to the vast array of four-wheel-drive off-roaders that litter the highways and byways of Britain. Yes, they will work better than a normal car when it snows, but when it snows here, or rains, or if it’s a bit windy, the motoring organisations order everyone to stay at home. So no one goes on the roads anyway.
I saw footage online the other day of a man in a big, proper Range Rover chicken out of crossing a mildly flooded ford. The water would barely have reached the top of his wheels, but he decided to take the long way instead. And I just sat there, thinking: “Why didn’t you buy a Ford Mustang instead? Or some wellies?”
I was shooting last week. Everyone turned up in 4x4s and everyone spent the day slithering into walls and fences because everyone was using road tyres. On wet grass, that’s like trying to make progress in Fairy Liquid shoes on a frozen lake.
The upshot, then, is that no one needs a four-wheel-drive car, partly because conditions here are rarely bad enough to warrant the technology and partly because when they are, we don’t have the skill or balls or tyres to cope.
And so we have the new Land Rover Discovery Sport, which sits in the company’s increasingly complex range as a modern-day equivalent of the old Freelander.
And it isn’t new. Not really. When the Discovery Sport was launched several years ago, Land Rover said much better engines would be fitted soon. And that’s all that’s really happened: the new engines have come along to punish impatient people for being early adopters.
Those who waited can pat themselves on the back because the diesel engine in my test car was extremely smooth. That said, it wasn’t even on nodding terms with being extremely powerful. Couple this to a gearbox that could never really make up its mind and a representative from the EU’s emissions department in the exhaust system, and you have a car that was not much fun to hustle. And was poor at exploiting gaps in the traffic. Also, in a field, on its road tyres, it was like Bambi. However, despite all this, and a price tag getting perilously close to £50,000, it’s a very, very good car.
For more than a decade I’ve argued that the Volvo XC90 is the only seven-seat school runster worth considering. And I still think it’s a fantastic piece of design. But it has become quite large.
That’s where the Discovery Sport comes in. It, too, is available with seven seats, but it’s not really that large at all. They’ve just been really clever with the packaging, redesigning the rear suspension and fitting seat runners so that you really can get five adults and two kids in there.
It’s a nice place to sit as well. This is partly because the engine and gearbox combination do not encourage crazy driving practices, but mostly because this has to be one of the most comfortable cars I’ve driven. It’s far better than a big Range Rover, which can crash into potholes occasionally. The Disco Sport doesn’t. It’s like riding around on a plate of Angel Delight.
Maybe Audi and BMW can sell you a car of this type with slightly better command and control centres, but they emphatically cannot sell you a car with more off-road gizmos. The tyres will always be the weak link, yet in dry conditions a Disco will get you further into the woods than a Q5 or an X3.
It also has a much more weird rear-view mirror. This is because it’s actually a television screen taking a feed from a camera mounted on the roof. In the showroom, this is a “sign here” gimmick that will win you over, but on the road it’s strange having the tarmac spooling away from you in the corner of your eye. Better to push a button and use it as a mirror. Especially as this lets you also see which kid is doing the biting and the bullying in the back seats.
I liked the Sport. I liked the way it looked. I liked the extraordinary comfort and I liked the practicality as well. Of course, you don’t need such a thing, and if you ever did, you would be told by the authorities to get under your bed and whimper until the weather improves.
But, that being said, this is definitely the car I’d buy if I needed something I don’t need. And I didn’t mind paying through the nose for it.
Northerners are gagging for the Boris bounce, but who do they think will fill all the new jobs? (Dec. 22)
I was with like-minded friends when the exit poll was announced, and immediately we decided that we should head into the night to taunt a Trot. We needed to find Steve Coogan or someone of his ilk so that we could pretend we were sad for them, while smiling the smile of someone who absolutely wasn’t.
In the end we found Lily Allen, and she was crestfallen. As I bit the inside of my cheeks in a desperate bid to stem a fit of giggles, she explained that the Tory victory would mean piles of dead children in the streets and Muslims being openly poked with sticks by shaven-headed gangs of far-right thugs.
She also mused that capitalism needs cheap foreign workers to exploit and that, as a result, immigration will rise, not fall, in the coming months and years. Which is exactly the opposite of what the new Tories on the Northern Wall want. On this point I’m in agreement with her.
On election night I made a coherent argument to all my friends that the “red wall” would not crumble, because the memory of Grandad dying from a lung disease in his pebble-dashed, National Coal Board house would prevent any northerner from voting Tory, no matter what they’d told the pollsters. “A northerner could cut off his own head with some garden shears more easily than he could vote Conservative,” I bellowed. And, amazingly, it turned out I was wrong.
In those polling booths they had dead Grandad on one shoulder and the hated spectre of Thatcher on the other. But despite every fibre of their being telling them to vote Labour, they did not. They didn’t even go halfway and vote Lib Dem.
When I was growing up in the Don Valley constituency, it was inconceivable that it’d ever go blue. Not unlikely. Impossible. And yet it has. And it’s the same story in Rother Valley. If you’d said, in a Maltby pub 25 years ago, that you’d voted Tory, you’d have gone home wearing your bar stool as a hat.
But now — and I still can’t quite believe this has happened — many did. And are saying so, out loud and in public. That’s how desperately they wanted Brexit.
And don’t be fooled by what The Guardian says. They didn’t want Brexit because of trade deals or fishery protection. Nor do they care a tinker’s cuss about the Good Friday agreement or farm subsidies, and if you explain that Britain could become a freeport like Singapore, they will almost certainly throw you into a canal.
Make no mistake. They voted for Brexit, and they voted Tory to make sure Brexit happens, because they want immigration to stop.
That, for Boris, is a serious problem. It’s so big, it’ll become known as Boris’s Big Problem. Because many people who voted for him in those northern towns think that, any minute now, he’s going to come along with a magic Boris brush and make the area as racially mixed as it was before the Romans arrived. At the very least, they’ll want to see barbed wire and signs saying, “Achtung — Minen”, to make sure “things don’t get any worse”.
But Boris can’t do anything like that for three reasons. One, he doesn’t want to. Two, it’s impossible. And three, as Lily Allen says, we actually need immigration to keep everything running smoothly. I mean, where is Boris going to find all his new nurses? In a secret nurse box in Tunbridge Wells? Or in Africa?
To take everyone’s mind off the Big Problem, Boris has promised to invest in the north, and that’s a good idea. The gap between the broken engine room of the empire and the south, where there are exquisitely lit art galleries on most street corners, is far too large. And if it gets any larger, someone will drive a revolution through it.
However, investing in the north means attracting more people. And is Nigel Havers going to move to Rotherham? No. But if there are a couple of grants to get a training shoe company off the ground, you can bet your bottom that entrepreneurial types will be off like a shot. Soon they’ll need a high-speed rail link from the docks at Hull to South Yorkshire just to keep the factories fed with Latvians.
This will infuriate the people who only want a pie fo’ wife and a pint fo’ whippet. They will say Boris has let them down. They will say they feel like outcasts in their own land and that they’re imprisoned by the weird and woke machinations of the south.
We are no longer allowed to sympathise with this view. It is a racist view. But can you imagine what it might be like if a village in Hampshire or Devon were being overrun by Martians whose cooking smelt different, and who had illegal underground schools for their children, and didn’t speak English? Imagine if you walked into the pub and it had become a Martian court.
Outwardly you’d call it multiculturalism and you’d be happy, but inwardly you’d probably scuttle into a polling booth and vote for a man who you thought could turn back time. And if he didn’t, or couldn’t, or wouldn’t, you’d be pretty cross, and you certainly wouldn’t trust anyone from his party ever again.
I offer this, then, as a crumb of comfort for Lily Allen. The red wall has not crumbled. It’s just melted temporarily. And when immigrants keep on coming, people will drift back to the party where racists feel most at home: Labour. Then, the wall will be back.
Until that happens, though, let’s enjoy the calm and pause for a moment to thank our lucky stars. The pound has soared, restaurants are full of people paying £100 a head for lunch, no one’s house has been confiscated and even the most ardent remainers have now put down their megaphones. It should be a peaceful Christmas. Let’s hope so, and a happy one too.
It's no wonder we can't find the middle ground. Social media has stolen it (Dec. 29)
Last week, my oldest daughter announced that she is now bulking up, ready for the all-out war against men. I'm not quite sure why she's gone from being a well-meaning feminist to Defcon 1 in a matter of moments, but this sudden escalation has become the norm in the past 10 years. And as we enter a new decade, it's got to stop.
There was a time when I found socialists quite amusing. I worked with one when I was a trainee reporter on the Rotherham Advertiser, and we'd joke over a couple of pints at lunchtime that, come the revolution, we'd meet at a village halfway between our houses and have a shootout. Then we'd have a couple more pints and he'd tell me about the Workers' Revolutionary Party training centre he'd attended in Derbyshire. And I'd laugh at that too. A bunch of lefties with pipe-cleaner arms, using sticks for guns in the woods. Like I said, socialists were funny in those days.
Now, though, I can't stand them. And they have grown to hate the likes of me. On election night, when I was genuinely worried that Jeremy Corbyn might actually win, I turned down one party invitation because I thought he might have supporters there. And I couldn't face the thought of watching them preen and crow.
And it's not just me, and it's not just politics. Young people have decided to hate those who aren't any more. They think old people have messed up their world with our cigarettes and our foreign travel. And we've grown to dislike them for their laziness and the way they leap onto every bandwagon, no matter how stupid it might be.
There was a time when I would have laughed if a 12-year-old had told me you can choose what sex you are, rather than looking in your underpants to find out. But now, when I hear easyJet is banning its pilots from starting messages "Ladies and gentlemen ...", in case they upset a transgenderist on board, I radiate rage.
And what good can possibly come of this? I realise kids have always despaired of their parents, but we are on a different level now. It's not just the way dads dance or the Abba songs that Mum likes. Emboldened perhaps by how permacross Greta Thunberg glowered at perpetually angry Donald Trump, kids now look at an old lady on the bus with undisguised hatred because she once had a Hillman Avenger. And she glowers back at them because they take a day off when they are ill, rather than soldiering on like she did back in the Fifties.
Brexit was a big one. When David Cameron called the referendum, I wrote a column saying how nicely I thought it was going. I noted that, without party politics in the mix, the debate seemed to be intelligent and free of rancour. But look what happened. After the result was declared, the spittle glands of those who'd voted remain went into overdrive.
There was no respect for those who'd voted to leave, no attempt to understand their reasons, just wild-eyed hatred.
And now we get to the point where my daughter, who has campaigned for women's rights for many years, has suddenly decided that instead of using a toffee hammer to break the glass ceiling, she must wheel out the nukes.
In the Seventies, people would say things such as: "I really don't like President Nixon." Whereas now, people say: "I absolutely loathe Trump and I hope he dies in agony in a vat of boiling acid." My grandfather once threw his shoe through the screen of his television because "that man Wilson was on it". Were he still with us, he'd throw his actual TV at Corbyn, I suspect. He'd certainly throw it at Nicola Sturgeon, and I'm sure half of Scotland would throw their sets right back at him. Because that's another debate that now drips in bile.
And I think I know why reasonable argument is no longer possible. It's social media. When you had to express your displeasure in the past, you wrote a letter, and you enclosed your address so that someone could reply. This meant you had to watch your language and your manners. Not any more. Now you can hide behind a blanket of anonymity and say anything you like.
Today, you can see the messages other people have left, and to stand out, yours has to be more gruesome and vitriolic. Until eventually, a man in a black Iron Maiden T-shirt pops up to his mum's loft and fires off a message saying he hopes you are in the vat of acid with Trump, and that they put a toaster in it.
I could go on Twitter this afternoon and say I hope Boris Johnson has a lovely holiday in Mustique, and I guarantee I will be bombarded with messages from people saying they hope his plane crashes. Social media has taken away the middle ground. It's a world of nothing, or everything; a world where there are no catapults or pistols, just intercontinental ballistic missiles.
It's been argued Twitter and others of its ilk democratise communication. They give the little man in his mum's loft just as much space as they give the president of America. And this is supposed to be what? A good thing.
Because the little man in his mum's loft has no checks and balances. He's unhinged and stupid and frightened and a bully, and he encourages others to behave as he does until we reach a point where even the president of America joins in and becomes nasty too.
What's to be done? Well before the election, a friend said on Twitter that he could not vote for Corbyn and was swamped with abuse. So, what he did was ask his wife to dress up in a short skirt and stockings and read them all out to him. That, it seems to me, is the only solution. And on that note, have a happy new year.
One way to make everybody feel welcome in the Lake District: tell the ramblers to take a hike (Jan. 05)
As we know, everything in life is now racist. Everything you say, everything you do, everything you think: it's all racist. History is racist. Travel is racist.
Capitalism is racist. Climate change is racist. Jeremy Corbyn is racist. Dogs are racist. Comedy is racist. Television is racist. And now comes news that the Lake District, the least racist thing on earth, is racist as well.
Yup, according to Richard Leafe, who runs the Lake District national park authority, the area is not doing enough to attract black, Asian and minority ethnic visitors. He also says that there's a similar issue with the young and those who are "less able in terms of their mobility".
Crikey. So this land of Beatrix Potter and William Wordsworth is also ageist and disablist. You get the sense that if it had half the chance, it'd put a wheelchair user in a big wicker man and set fire to him. It should really be renamed Hitlerville.
Of course, there was much brouhaha after Mr Leafe's announcement, and lots of derision. But it's not his fault. He's just doing as he's been told by a government that seems to think that because a park is open to everyone, everyone must go.
And when not everyone does, it assumes the authorities must be doing something racist.
The fact is, though, that young people don't want to go to the Lake District, because hills are boring and there's no mobile phone signal. Sure, disabled people may want to go, but they cannot, because the terrain is rough and steep.
That's not Defra's fault. It's God's. I don't know why black or Asian people don't want to go, because I'm not black or Asian. But I have my suspicions.
Leafe says that at present the Lake District is mainly a single-use environment. And on that he's dead right. It's used almost exclusively by ramblers, and ramblers are far and away the most intolerant group of people the world has ever seen. Ask them and they'd call Saudi Arabia "lax".
Let me give you an example. Because the Lake District national park is supposed to be open to "everyone", you'd assume that water-skiers would be welcome. They are people, after all. But no. On Windermere, Derwentwater, Ullswater and Coniston, there's a blanket 10-knot speed limit for all boats, falling to six knots in certain areas. So, in fact, water-skiers are not welcome at all, and any attempt to change the law is met with an immovable wall of purple cagoules and angry Straw Dogs faces. "Burn the outsiders," they cry.
It's the same story with off-road enthusiasts. I cannot for the life of me understand why someone would want to drive their Land Rover or their motorcycle into a pit of mud, knowing full well that it will get stuck, but some people do enjoy this sort of thing and, thanks to ancient laws, they can still do so in the Lake District.
But for how much longer? There are two bits of green lane much favoured by the Land Rover enthusiasts, and together they are 1.8 miles long. So we are not talking about a big muddy motorway full of roaring engines and frightened horses. Even so, the purple wall of spittle and hiking boots recently started a petition to have them banned, and almost 360,000 have already signed it. This is the "single-use group" making damn sure the Lake District remains "single use".
There were even moves late last year to ban cars. "Visitors are leaving their vehicles while they go walking," said one surprised local.
To try to make the area more accessible for those in wheelchairs, plans were mooted to tarmac an old railway trail from Keswick to Threlkeld.
Well, you can imagine how that went down. Tarmac? In the Lake District? Nooooo. Because what if it were used by young people on their bicycles? We don't want young people here. And if they come, we'll get Dustin Hoffman and Susan George on their backsides.
Let us not forget that the Ramblers organisation started out in life in the 1930s as an offshoot of the communist movement — which also staged a mass trespass on Kinder Scout in the Peak District — and to this day it campaigns for workers to have the right to walk through other people's gardens.
I met a rambler the other day, walking on a footpath over my farm, and she was very angry. "Look how muddy this is," she yelled, pointing at the brown soup in which she was standing. I tried to explain that it had rained nonstop for 11 weeks and that the mud was a consequence of that, but she was having none of it. "It's your responsibility as the landowner to do something about it."
And she was right. It is. By law, I have to either change the weather or reinvent the absorbency of soil.
This is the sort of person we are dealing with in the Lake District. Tinyminded imbeciles with stupid hair and an arousing fizz in their underwear whenever they think of Theresa May or her husband.
These people watch Countryfile, humming with their fingers in their ears whenever that presenter in the wheelchair is on, and humming especially loudly when it's the young Asian woman. Only when nice old John Craven heaves into view in his comfortable trousers and talks about the Countryfile calendar do they actually sit up and listen.
And therein lies the problem. It's not the Lake District that's racist. It's the people who go there. So if the powers-that-be really do want the area to become a place for everyone, they must start by banning rambling. Because only when you get rid of that lot, with their bitter minds and their endless petitions, can the rest of us feel welcome.
And on that note I'd like to wish everyone a very happy new year. Except Janet Street-Porter, who, as we speak, is probably walking all over the vegetables in my kitchen garden.