Utter even a kind word and the lefties' digital vitriol is instantly fizzing (Jan. 31)
Ever since the tie was invented, gentlemen of means have sent their sons away to a good boarding school, where they would forge lifelong friendships with like-minded boys who'd go on to become useful-to-know captains of industry and world leaders. It was called "the old boys' network".
It didn't really work for me, if I'm honest. I don't see my school's magazine very often but the last time I looked, there was a letter from one of my former classmates saying he'd become a manager at United Biscuits. Another had written to say he's now a policeman.
However, the friends I met at school did introduce me to other friends, and now I have an address book that's full of people who have jets, and can get tickets to things, and generally make my life that little bit easier.
The old boys' network, however, is rather more than the professional equivalent of Disney's queue-jumper pass, because it meets in dusty clubs and it sorts out all kinds of political and strategic stuff that makes it easier for the privileged to keep on being privileged.
Those on the left have never had that luxury. Largely, they went to local state schools, where they met local people who could only dream of moving to Tamworth and becoming the manager of a biscuit company. They knew that out there, in the world, there were other people who shared their views, but as they never went on shooting weekends, they could never actually find them.
And when they tried to get organised and national, and came up with secondary picketing, along came Mrs Thatcher, who said "not on your nelly, comrade". And banned it.
But then, all of a sudden, there was Twitter. And because of it, the lefties had a means of communication. Of finding one another. They had a network to rival the clubs of St James's and the picnics at Eton.
Today, Twitter is said to be in trouble and lots of people have come up with all sorts of reasons why rival social media sites such as Snapchat, which is where young men post pictures of their poos, and Instagram, where young women post pictures of their dogs, are powering ahead.
I used to like Twitter a lot. It was a fun place where clever people such as Giles Coren could condense their thoughts into a literary amuse-bouche. But now it's being policed by people who are furious about everything and everyone who isn't Jeremy Corbyn. As a result, it can often be very unpleasant.
Last week, in this column, I said that in the olden days I used to find the whole transgender issue either funny or annoying. But I concluded by saying that it must be awful to be trapped inside the wrong sort of body and that if these unfortunate souls want a third gender box to tick on a passport application form, no one should really mind.
And with wearisome predictability the Mirror completely ignored the conclusion and ran a story saying that I was a bigot who'd filled my newspaper column with transphobic invective. It uploaded this to the internet and that was that.
As is the way with modern media, the story spread rapidly, until by lunchtime Twitter had accepted it as fact and then carpet-bombed my phone with abuse. It was weird.
I'd said very clearly that I sympathise with transgender people. I'd said they could have my support in their quest to be recognised as a third gender. And yet despite this, I was drowning in their vitriol.
I'm not alone, of course. There was that woman who sent a tweet saying she was boarding a plane to Africa and that she wouldn't get Aids while there because she was white. By the time she landed, Twitter had got her sacked.
Only last week Twitter noticed that the Christian names of Wayne Rooney's three children began with the letter K. This meant he was definitely a member of the Ku Klux Klan and as a result he must be taken out and shot as soon as possible.
I'll give you a dare. Go onto Twitter now and say something mildly right-wing. Say there are too many immigrants in Britain or that patio heaters didn't cause those sperm whales to beach themselves in Norfolk. Or that you've shot a badger. By teatime you'll have been made to feel like Hitler and it'll feel like the whole country wants you to commit suicide.
Of course, you can block users who are abusive, but that's like standing in a Bangladeshi sewer after Ramadan finishes. You can flail about as much as you like and wail loudly about the importance of free speech. But ultimately you're going to get covered in excrement.
This is Twitter's big problem. It's being policed by the Stasi. And of course, when they react angrily to what you've said, the Mirror and the BBC and The Guardian see this as evidence that you've done something wrong. So they run a story saying, "Twitter has reacted with fury ...", which then causes the whole site to become angrier still. Really, they should drop that bird logo and replace it with an endlessly spinning red flag.
This, then, is not the sort of platform where advertising can thrive. Praise a restaurant or a shop, and there will be an immediate assumption that you've been paid off, using money that should have gone to a refugee, you bastard.
In this anti-capitalist world of Twitter's secret police, any attempt to market a good or service is met with derision. Sponsorship? Don't make me laugh. It would have been easier to get Leonid Brezhnev to wear a McDonald's badge on his hat. And as a result, trying to monetise Twitter is like trying to monetise Arthur Scargill's hair. It's not possible.
I think it's a shame. Twitter's a good idea. But these days it sounds like a sixth-form common room after the headmaster has announced the guest speaker at tomorrow's assembly will be Katie Hopkins.
I have to agree--the best argument against drugs is the banality they induce in those who take them. Clarkson's line about Nancy Reagan was probably inspired by Clive James's famous description of Barbara Cartland: "Twin miracles of mascara, her eyes looked like the corpses of two small crows that had crashed into a chalk cliff."Yo, kids, this morning's anti-drug message is brought to you by Isis (Feb. 7)
In the beginning there was the war on drugs, and then after that hadn't been won, there was the war on terror, which isn't going terribly well either. And now everything has become very complicated because it seems the terror and the drugs have joined forces.
Reports suggest that Isis is feeding its foot soldiers with an amphetamine called Captagon, and there's evidence to back this up. Last November Turkish anti-narcotics police confiscated a staggering 11m pills that they say were on their way into Syria.
Apparently if you take Captagon you feel invincible and wide awake and strong. And the effects are even more pronounced if you don't drink, which we must presume applies to the Isis mob. In fact you feel so awake and so invincible that you will happily strap some dynamite to your chest and then blow it up.
Well, now, I'm sorry, but how do the Isis top brass make this sound attractive to their men? "Come on, comrades. Take one of these pills and within the hour you will be human wallpaper." If I were sitting there cross-legged on the floor, I'd put my hand up and say: "If it's all the same to you, sir, I'd rather not."
I see this problem with all drugs, in fact. Because who looks at someone who has ingested cocaine and thinks, "Yes. I'd like to be boring and self-obsessed, so I will have some of that"? And who looks at people who've smoked weed and thinks, "Yes. I want to find toothpaste funny and I want to be so hungry that I'll eat a sherry trifle sprinkled with frozen peas, so pass it over"? On a recent trip to Burma I was taken to a party in a remote mountain village where everyone had taken something called yaba. Roughly translated, this means "madness drug". It is made from a mixture of caffeine and methamphetamine and was originally given to horses that were pulling heavy carts.
But then one day someone thought, "I know. I'm going to put one of those horse pills in my mouth. And then I'm going to swallow it to see what happens." What happened is that he turned, immediately, into a swivel-eyed lunatic. He became a rampaging bundle of taut sinew and spittle, massively angry about absolutely everything and extremely violent.
If you see someone who you think has taken yaba, here's a tip. Don't spill his pint. Especially if you are in Burma's Shan state, because here he will be furious and armed with an AK-47.
Now, you would have thought that if you'd been in a bar, watching someone banging their head on the wall and shooting anyone who looked at him funnily, you'd think, "Crikey. I must remember not to take what he's had." But no. They didn't. For some reason they thought it would be fun to shoot their mother for putting too much milk on their cereal and tucked in.
I've never tried a Quaalude, but those I know who have done talk about it as though it's some kind of perfect nirvana. They go all dewy-eyed and misty about 'Ludes in the way that you and I go all dewy-eyed and misty when we recall childhood picnics and first kisses.
And I struggle to see why, because I've now seen The Wolf of Wall Street, and Leonardo DiCaprio made it very clear that actually Quaaludes cause you to crash your Lamborghini and roll around on the floor with what appears to be cerebral palsy. This looked a pretty good anti-drug message to me.
However, anti-drug people think they know better and are forever showing us pictures of dead drug runners in Colombia and comatose teenagers who've eaten some dodgy ecstasy at a nightclub in Preston. Obviously this isn't working. Then you had Nancy Reagan with her famous "Just say no" campaign, and that didn't work either, because what teenager would take a lecture from a woman who looked as if two crows had crashed into her face? The most recent anti-drug push in America was even more hopeless. It used emojis, which, Grandad, are those little pictures you put at the end of a mobile phone message if you want your text to be billed as a picture and you don't care because your parents are picking up the tab.
To you and me the anti-drug message just looked like gibberish. There were pictures that included a "donut", a bee and a man putting something in a wastepaper basket, and none of it made any sense. But to a teenager the message was very clear. And what it said was: " I do not have to be trashed to have fun."
Amazingly, earnest charity people thought kids would see this and think, "Ah. Whoever wrote that and put it on a billboard in Times Square understands my language, so next Saturday night, instead of smoking a joint with my friends, I shall go to the library and read some Hugh Walpole."
There was another emoji ad that if you were under 30 said: "I'm tired of drinking to fit in." I'd love to see them run that in Newcastle.
Except I wouldn't, because it would be pointless and stupid. As pointless and stupid as showing kids how they will look if a drug takes hold of their life.
Because teenagers don't think much past tomorrow afternoon, which means they simply cannot see the possibility that one day they'll be turning tricks in a back street for a rock of crack.
"It won't happen to me" is what kept everyone sane in the trenches. And it's what keeps the lavatories packed at most nightclubs.
Far better, surely, to show them the Quaalude scene from The Wolf of Wall Street. To show them what drugs do in the here and now, not in 20 years' time and not to some lowlife in a cartel on the other side of the world.
And I can think of no better place to start than Captagon. "Take this and you'll be overcome by a need to go to a shopping centre and explode."
It's still available the next day in http://www.driving.co.uk/contributors/jeremy-clarkson/Now Jeremy's car review column has slipped behind a paywall, as it moved to the Sunday Times "Magazine" publication. Bummer.
Top Gear certainly deserved a Bafta, though I wonder if the show being hard to categorize might account for its lack of awards. The Oscars are about industry self-congratulation, so prestige films (which show how cultured the studios supposedly are) or social issue films (which show how caring the studios supposedly are) always get the awards. Populist blockbusters don't need cultural approbation and it's not as if any superhero films have been artistic masterpieces. As for this:If you want the Oscar, Ridley, better start shooting Blade Limper (Feb. 14)
If you look carefully at all the people who've been nominated for a big award at the Oscars ceremony later this month, you will notice that none of them not one is a conjoined twin, or a man who's really a woman, or a dog. There's no one there whose mum took thalidomide, and none was born in Yorkshire. But everyone seems to have a bee in their bonnet about the single fact that none of them is black.
There was a photograph of all the hopefuls in the newspapers last week, and it was just a lot of rich people with one head each and four functioning limbs. It was billed as "the white face(s) of Hollywood", and lots of people were very cross.
Some even pointed out that in the awards' near-90-year history only 12 non-US films have won best picture. And 11 of those were British.
But if you stop and think for a moment, you have to conclude that the silver screen is just about the least white place on earth. You look at the really big film stars these days and for every Tom Cruise you have a Will Smith. For every Robert Downey Jr there's a Denzel Washington. And that's before we get to Morgan Freeman, Cuba Gooding Jr, Jamie Foxx, Forest Whitaker, Don Cheadle and Samuel L Jackson. Oh, and this year's Oscars host, Chris Rock.
And while none of these guys is up for a big award this time round, you can hardly accuse the Academy Award judges of institutional racism or naked Trumpery because in 2014 it was a two-horse race between Dallas Buyers Club, which was about Aids, and the eventual winner of best motion picture, 12 Years a Slave, which was about being a slave for 12 years.
In 2006 Crash, which was an excellent film about racism, beat Brokeback Mountain, which was about homosexuality. In 2009 Slumdog Millionaire, which featured no white faces to speak of, not even Ben Kingsley's, walked off with the top gong, and in 2011 it was the turn of The King's Speech, which was about disability.
It's obvious, then, that the judges love a cause. They like a film that addresses issues and rights wrongs. And don't say they avoid giving the best actor award to a black man, because they gave one to Washington, Foxx and Whitaker, not to mention Sidney Poitier.
However, they have never once given the top gong to a superhero film. And a blockbuster in which a rock is heading our way never gets a look-in, although, that said, the alien-fest District 9 was nominated. Mainly, I suspect, because actually it was about apartheid. This is my big problem with the Oscars. Anything even remotely populist is dismissed as being no better than the popcorn, or the Palace Tandoori commercials.
And that brings me neatly on to Ridley Scott. He's an Englander and the son of an army officer and the list of films he's directed boggles the mind.
There was Alien, which we all know is a masterpiece. Then there was Gladiator, which managed to be huge and engrossing even though one of the main actors died halfway through the shoot.
Black Hawk Down, Black Rain, Hannibal, Thelma & Louise, Blade Runner, American Gangster, Robin Hood. You've seen them all many times. They form the spine of the DVD shelf in your sitting room. They are to the world of cinema what Rumours and The Dark Side of the Moon are to your record collection.
And Ridley did them all.
You probably walked right past Matchstick Men one Sunday afternoon in your video rental shop, assuming that because it starred Nicolas Cage it would be impenetrable nonsense. But it was an extremely good film about a chap with obsessive compulsive disorder. And it was the same story with Someone to Watch Over Me. Yes, it starred Tom Berenger, who came and went in Platoon. But, again, it was excellent. And they were Ridley's too. Of course, there are some wonky moments in his back catalogue. The Counsellor, which starred absolutely everyone, was a bit of a mess, and I've tried many times to understand Prometheus. But it's like long division. I just don't get it.
Judging Ridley on these failures, though, would be like judging Paul McCartney on Ebony and Ivory, or Terry Wogan on The Floral Dance. Because the fact is he's a staggeringly good and versatile director who makes films people want to see over and over again. And he's never won an Oscar.
He's up for best picture at the end of the month for The Martian, and I can pretty much guarantee he won't win, because it's too exciting and too funny and too popular. So he'll have to sit there and gurn as someone else goes onto the stage, and I don't doubt he'll feel gutted.
But cheer yourself up, Ridley, with something Jilly Cooper once said: "Jeffrey Archer and I would trade all our sales for one prestigious literary award. In the same way that people who win prestigious literary awards would trade their statuette for a tenth of our sales."
In a much smaller way I know what she's on about, because Bafta never gave Top Gear an award. The great and the good from the world of British TV never thought our efforts were worthy of recognition, and I had to sit there in my frilly dinner shirt as someone who'd made a programme about social workers in Oldham was given the gong by someone who'd presented Britain's Heaviest Paving Stone.
I could smile, though, and I did, because our show was really popular with the viewers. And that's who we made it for. Not a dame from Islington.
The Revenant may win best picture. And the best actor will probably go to Leonardo DiCaprio, who has never won before, probably because he's never been forgiven for being Jack Dawson in Titanic. That's fine. It's a good film and I enjoyed it.
But I enjoyed Avengers: Age of Ultron even more. And that hasn't even been nominated. An omission that, it should be noted, has nothing to do with the fact that Samuel L Jackson is in it.
It's still available the next day in http://www.driving.co.uk/contributors/jeremy-clarkson/
Ahh, OK, that's much better. I figured they'd be behind the paywall for good. Thanks for the clarification!
And now for a piece on Mr. May:I'm aching like billyo and dying for a fag. It's a fat man's holiday (Feb. 21)
Very rich people are able to control their lives extremely well. They are able to control their sightlines and their address book and even the droopiness of their breasts. They never have to look for a parking space or pop to the shops for milk or sit next to someone on a plane. And they don't have to worry about how their children are doing at school, because whatever happens, they'll be fine in the end.
If you invite a very rich person to your house for dinner, they may well accept, but that doesn't necessarily mean they will turn up, because very rich people may decide at 8 o'clock, when they should be getting ready, that they'd rather watch Ray Donovan, or go to St Moritz.
Very rich people are always doing precisely what they want to be doing at all times of day and night. And the moment something starts to be dreary, or damp, they just start doing something else.
However, there's one thing they can't control: their health. They can make sure that they are surrounded at all times by perfect people, perfect weather and perfect food and wine, but they cannot do a damn thing to stop one of their cells deciding one day to become cancerous.
Very rich people, however, will not accept this. They have it in their minds that because they breakfasted, in Rome, on an otter's nose, smeared with the still warm earwax from a famous horse, that of course they can control their bodies too. So they go mad.
When a normal person goes on holiday, they get up in a morning, and immediately lie down again, in the sunshine, with a book. They relax until it's time for lunch, after which they find some dappled shade and go back to sleep again. Until it's time for dinner and bed.
Very rich people, however, do not see the typical holiday as a time for relaxation. They see it as an opportunity to stop their hearts bursting and their livers breaking down and their lungs becoming black and scabby and tumorous. They see holidays as an opportunity to buy a bit of "extra time" at the end.
There's a small island in the Caribbean called Mustique, where very rich people get up in a morning, do exercise and then walk up and down some very steep hills. Read a book? Not a chance. Not when you could be on a tennis court, or a horse, or a treadmill.
The treadmill is almost certainly the world's biggest killer of very rich people. Some die because their designer clothes get caught in the rollers and they're strangled. Some because they fall over and hit their head. And some because their heart goes, "What the hell are you doing?" and then explodes.
And so they lie there, having their faces rubbed off by the still-functioning belt, thinking in their dying moments that it's impossible. "I bought my neighbour's house because I didn't like the sound of his children playing. I can control sound. So why am I dying?" That's broadly what I thought this morning. I'm spending a few days with friends in Barbados and we are now at a stage in life when we too think that if we actually move around all the time, we'll buy ourselves a little bit longer in an old people's home.
And so this morning, instead of lying down with a book about a secret agent called Clint Thrust, I was to be found hurrying through a small fruit salad so that I could make it to my fitness session on time.
It was all quite jolly to start with. We made jokes and pulled faces as we were made to jump up and down and stretch bits of elastic. But after 10 minutes it stopped being jolly and we started to hate our instructor, who was a bit like that drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket. After another 10 minutes I started to wonder what he'd look like without skin, or a head, and I may have said this out loud.
For the final 10 minutes none of us made a sound. We were too exhausted even to grunt. And then we had to do the wind-down, which involved adopting a series of extremely unnatural positions and leaning this way and that until it hurt. The position I wanted to adopt most of all was called "the Private Pyle". I really did want to be on a lavatory with a mad stare and an M14 rifle.
An hour has elapsed since I gave the sergeant-major a fistful of dollars and I still don't even have enough breath to light a cigarette. And I'm thinking: I've been here for three days now and I've done nothing but play tennis and pick things up and put them down. I even went on a golf course yesterday and gave myself a cricked neck by repeatedly swinging my bat into the ground near where a ball was lying.
And what has been achieved, exactly? Well, I ache everywhere. My buttocks in particular feel as though they have caught fire. My arms are so numb, they can't even pick up a glass of wine, and for what? So that many years from now I can suffer from Alzheimer's for just a few more days.
You may imagine that I will at least have a less ridiculous-looking body as a result of these exertions, but I've just seen it in a mirror and I thought I was staring at a weird picture of a 6ft 5in beluga whale with idiotic tan lines.
But this is the done thing today. And so when I get home I shall be compelled to employ a hundred Poles to create a vast subterranean world beneath my house that I shall then fill with bits of equipment that can be used to break my heart and my neck.
Except I won't be compelled to do that. Because what this break means is that I've earned the right when I get back to spend a few nights on the sofa, watching television with a takeaway curry and a delicious bar of Cadbury Fruit & Nut chocolate.
Me and My Motor; James May on being sacked, and a Ferrari he couldn't afford (Feb. 21)
by Nick Rufford
As one of the three presenters who made Top Gear the world's most popular factual television programme, James May earned the nickname "Captain Slow". He was the cerebral, bumbling enthusiast who practised "Christian motoring" -- driving within the speed limit and letting people out at junctions -- the counterweight to Jeremy Clarkson's laddishness.
Viewers were never sure whether May was putting on an act or whether he really was a bit accident-prone, but the story of buying his latest car suggests the stars have never quite aligned for the 53-year-old. May wavered for years over buying a limited-edition Ferrari 458 Speciale. So long, in fact, that it was going out of production when he finally placed his order. Just as he was congratulating himself for securing the very last one, fate intervened. A new Top Gear deal fell through after Clarkson got into a tussle with a producer. May was left with a PS 250,000 bill for the Ferrari -- and no income.
"We were all three of us on the brink of a new three-year contract. I decided to reward myself with a new motor from Maranello. Then, suddenly, it had all gone. Oh cock, as I used to say when I was on telly."
Worse was to come when the car arrived and he tried to park it. "The first time I arrived at the garage door I rotated the mirror knob [to fold in the mirrors] and nothing happened. Later I found out that you get the folding function only if you specify it as an extra. Each time I park I have to get out to fold the mirrors, and then get back in again."
Since then things have looked up for May. He and his two Top Gear co-presenters have signed a lucrative deal with Amazon, and the Speciale has rocketed in value.
Driving it, compared with his previous Ferrari, is akin to seeing TV in ultra-high definition for the first time, he says. "The Speciale is a 458 broadcast in 4k -- it's sharper all round. The downside is that to some I look even more of a knob than before -- largely down to me ordering it in orange with gold wheels."
It's a far cry from his first car, a 1978 Vauxhall Cavalier 1.6L that came with "pre-stolen hubcaps" and a stoved-in rear door. "I acquired it at the age of 18 and drove off into the countryside. It was like going into space -- it nearly killed me with excitement. To young people it probably doesn't sound much, but because the world was black and white then and we ate coal, this was: 'Wow! A Cavalier L.'" May graduated from Lancaster University with a degree in music, and then took a succession of jobs on car magazines. "In those days I used to get fired a lot. When my involvement in Top Gear came to an end, at least I was ready for it."
May doesn't think of himself as a car collector; more an impulse buyer. His collection includes a Porsche 911, a Rolls-Royce Corniche and a BMW i3 electric car, as well as a Fiat Panda (his runabout) and 40 motorcycles.
All this poses a problem: parking. May lives in a mews house in Hammersmith, west London, with his partner, Sarah Frater, a dance critic, and two orphaned cats, the Fluff and the Bounce, and there is little space in the street. "Manoeuvring the Fezza into the underground car park is a bit like removing a plaster from a hairy leg. It's agony and might just as well be done swiftly and mercifully -- using the launch control." To those unfamiliar with the term, that roughly equates to flooring the accelerator, closing your eyes and hoping for the best. Not unlike May's career, you might think.
MY LIFE IN CARS
1981 Vauxhall Cavalier Mk
1986 Mini Clubman
2007 Rolls-Royce Corniche
2010 Ferrari F430
2015 Ferrari 458 Speciale
My dream car: Despite everything I've said, it actually is the Ferrari 458 Speciale.
Strangely, the night before posting this I was watching Clarkson's most recent appearance on QI, where he also referenced Call of Duty.The NHS new towns are Nazi nonsense. We need Call of Duty Garden Cities (March 6)
Having established that it's jolly good at mending broken legs and even better at getting mildly political songs to No 1 in the hit parade, the NHS has decided it would like to start designing towns.
So it's trying to sell us a vision of newly created urban areas where health is put at the top of the agenda. There would be no fast-food shops near schools, and children would be encouraged to go for a walk rather than sit at home shooting aliens and terrorists on their games consoles.
"Virtual" care homes would be created so elderly residents could speak to nurses and one another without going outside. And roads would be designed with special signs to help those suffering from dementia.
Of course we've seen this sort of thing before. The Dutch have been building Camberwick Green-style cycling-friendly towns for years, and before that Hitler built the Prora resort, where German workers could go to the coast and do star jumps from dawn till dusk.
But it's the first time that "strength through joy" towns have been contemplated in Britain, and already 10 areas have been identified as potential sites. I hope and pray, however, that none comes to fruition because it's the stupidest idea since Sir Clive Sinclair decided we'd all like to drive to work in an electric slipper.
The problem is simple. New towns, or garden cities, as they are sometimes called, cannot work, because they are built to address the issues we face now. Not the issues we will face in 10 or 100 years' time.
Take Welwyn Garden City, in Hertfordshire, as a prime example. A neo-Georgian town centre was erected in the 1920s, and all the roads were designed to be fringed with wide grass verges on which children could play with their hula hoops and the grown-ups could do star jumps. Lovely. But it was decided that lots of different shops would be messy and unnecessary, so just one was provided. Yup. One.
Then you had Milton Keynes. It came along in the 1960s, and by then planners had realised that more than one shop was a good idea. They'd also worked out that people didn't want to do star jumps all day long and that they'd rather drive a car instead. So the town was chopped up into little pieces by a grid system of dual carriageways that had 70mph speed limits.
And there would be no pesky traffic lights. Every main junction was a roundabout so you could whizz about in your Humber or your Austin more speedily. I rather liked Milton Keynes. And I still do. But I think everyone else would argue that building a new town around the car isn't really what we want today.
And that, as I said, is the problem.
When they built the Tower of London, nobody sat back and thought: "Right. We've got the dungeons and we've got the portcullis, but what if, one day, we need to open a gift shop?" And when the Romans decided Bath needed a communal swimming pool, did anyone say: "Yes. But what if one day everyone's house has its own bathroom?" Which brings me neatly to the outskirts of Poundbury, in Dorset, the Prince Charles creation where people can live in a town-sized tin of 18th-century healthy-living shortbread.
The idea is that it's a complete mishmash, with no separate zones for shopping, business, the rich and the poor. Everyone lives, works and buys their groceries in one big potpourri of "Morning, constable", "Morning, reverend", Enid Blyton, Cider with Rosie awfulness.
This means you wake up next to a family of Romanian squatters and walk to the factory that makes organic birdseed breakfast cereal, and then you pop out at lunchtime for a hearty ploughman's that takes four hours to buy because the shop selling the crusty bread is two miles from the shop that sells crunchy pickle, which is half a mile from the shop that sells manky apples full of dead wasps. And you can't drive, because that's bad for the polar bear, and you can't buy the whole thing in one go from the supermarket thingy because supermarkets are horrid.
If you want that kind of thing, fine. But I guarantee that within 10 years all the shops selling crunchy this and organic that will have gone out of business and the Romanian squatters will have nicked your bread oven and you won't be able to get any sleep, partly because Prince William keeps landing his helicopter in your back garden and partly because of all the Amazon and Ocado lorries bumping over the organic sleeping policemen.
It's going to be the same story with the eco-towns that are currently very popular with planners. Yes, the houses all have new-fangled central heating systems, and windmills to get rid of the sewage, but the time will come, very soon, when we get all our energy needs from hydrogen fuel cells. And people living in a house with solar panels on the roof are going to feel pretty stupid as they huddle round a candle for warmth and eat their parents to stave off the hunger pangs.
That's going to be the problem with these NHS towns. They sound tremendous in the here and now, but soon they will be made to look, by unforeseen events, idiotic.
Of course, fans of nationalisation say that unless we do something to address the issue of obesity, the NHS will go bankrupt, and that these towns are therefore absolutely vital. But come on. Ten new Proras full of people with dementia crashing into people doing star jumps and children playing hopscotch in the middle of the road isn't going to cut it.
They'll house, at most, half a million people, which means that there will be 77m other people living in Welwyn Garden City and Milton Keynes and Bath who will continue to eat McDonald's until they explode.
Or until someone works out that all the star-jumping is giving people heart attacks and that playing Call of Duty is actually good for a child's mind.
Call up the paparazzi army to take Brussels ? and keep us in Europe (March 13)
After a month of campaigning for a normal election, we are usually fed up with the mudslinging and the over-analysis and the infernal polls. But this Brexit referendum seems different, because it seems we are not.
Everywhere I go, people are asking the same thing. Are you in or out? Freed from the rich-versus-poor tribalism of a general election, everyone?s listening, everyone?s thinking, everyone?s calmly trying to make up their mind.
Of course, it?s being billed by the media as some kind of personal heavyweight showdown between Bouncing Boris and Call Me Dave. Which would mean we?d have to choose between a man who has screwed up London?s roads to indulge his love of a Victorian transport system. And a man whose wife we quite fancy.
Sadly, however, we are not choosing which Old Etonian we prefer. It?s more complicated than that, and we need the proper campaigning because none of us really knows what?s for the best.
I have spoken in recent weeks to super-rich businessmen who do not know what an exit would mean for commerce, and I?ve spoken to hedge fund managers who are similarly clueless about the effect such a move would have on the City. These guys are opinion-formers. They have the ears of ministers. And they?re all standing around at parties with their palms upturned and their shoulders shrugged saying: ?We don?t know.?
Normal people reckon it all comes down to immigration. Will we have more Syrians if we stay in the EU than if we leave? And no one knows the answer to that one either. Or whether it?s a good thing ultimately. Or whether it?s just a phase the world?s going through and it?ll all be over when Putin stops bombing Aleppo.
What we think we know is that if Britain chooses to leave, the Scottish will say, ?Och aye the noo,? and refuse to come with us. Which would mean immigrants could catch a boat to Edinburgh and then simply walk into England. Which would mean we?d have to rebuild Hadrian?s Wall. Or would we? Again, I?m not sure.
I suppose that now is as good a time as any to declare my hand. I?m with the man whose wife we fancy. I?m in.
When Mr Cameron was touring Europe recently, seeking a better deal for Britain by sucking up to the leaders of such places as Romania and Hungary, I watched on YouTube an MEP called Daniel Hannan make an anti-EU speech to a group of, I think, students. It was brilliant. One of the best speeches I?ve ever heard. And, I?ll admit, it made me question my beliefs. But despite his clever, reasoned and passionate plea for us to leave Europe, I?m still in. He talked sense, but a lot of this debate is about how we feel.
In 1973 my parents held a Common Market party. They?d lived through the war, and for them it seemed a good idea to form closer ties with our endlessly troublesome neighbours. For me, however, it was a chance to make flags out of coloured felt and to eat exotic foods such as sausage and pasta. I felt very European that night, and I still do.
Whether I?m sitting in a railway concourse in Brussels or pottering down the canals of southwestern France or hurtling along a motorway in Croatia, I feel way more at home than I do when I?m trying to get something to eat in Dallas or Sacramento. I love Europe, and to me that?s important.
I?m the first to acknowledge that so far the EU hasn?t really worked. We still don?t have standardised electrical sockets, and every member state is still out for itself, not the common good. This is the sort of thing that causes many people to think, ?Well, let?s just leave and look after ourselves in future.?
I get that. I really do. And after I?d watched Hannan?s speech, that?s briefly how I felt too. But, actually, isn?t it better to stay in and try to make the damn thing work properly? To create a United States of Europe that functions as well as the United States of America? With one army and one currency and one unifying set of values?
Britain, on its own, has little influence on the world stage. I think we are all agreed on that. But Europe, if it were well run and had cohesive, well thought-out policies, would be a tremendous force for good. I think we are all agreed on that as well. So how do we turn Europe from the shambles it is now into the beacon of civilisation that it could be in the future?
The answer, I think, lies with the press. Today, in Britain, an MP cannot even put a cup of coffee on expenses without being torn to pieces by the media. A duck house will get him the sack. He can?t look at a pretty girl or pick his nose, and woe betide any of them who says something that is slightly at odds with what they?ve said before. Or with what the leader is thinking.
British MPs work and play in the glare of powerful follow-spots. They are monitored constantly by the newspapers . . . the same newspapers that tell us these people are powerless because these days all the big decisions are made in Brussels.
Right. So let?s switch our attention. Let?s leave the ?parish councillors? alone and concentrate our big guns on the real decision makers in Brussels. Let?s have hacks outside their houses all day long, waiting for one of them to do or say something wrong. Let?s make them accountable. Let?s turn them from ?faceless bureaucrats? into household names.
That is the biggest problem with the EU right now. Nobody is really concentrating on its leaders. Nobody is saying: ?Hang on a minute . . .? And this means they are running amok.
It?s why we need to stay in. So our famously attentive media can try to stop them. To make them pause before they move. To make the Continent work the way the Continent should ? as a liberal, kind, balanced fulcrum in a mad world that could soon have Trump on one side and Putin on the other.
As you might have guessed, the paragraph about "the drunken greengrocer from Luton" is a direct quote from Monty Python's Travel sketch.Sober Syrians we should let in; boozy Brits are too shaming to be let out (March 20)
If you listen to the bleeding-heart liberals with their Baftas and their Islington postcodes, then every single one of the Syrian people currently stuck at the Macedonian border or holed up at that camp in Calais is a decent, hard-working soul who wants to come to England to start a nail salon.
Whereas if you listen to the Ukip types with their red trousers and their usual spot at the bar, then they're all terrorists and ne'er-dowells who want to come to Britain so they can pick our pockets and burgle our houses while gorging on our healthcare system.
The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the middle. Some of the people queuing up to come to England want to explode in a shopping centre as soon as possible and some want to steal your wallet. But some are living under a tarpaulin sheet, in a field of mud, in the cold, because they grew weary of waking up every morning, wondering whether they'd be blown to smithereens by a Russian bomb that day or be beheaded by a lunatic. To these people even Rotherham looks like heaven on Earth.
Not that long ago I was actually in Raqqa and Homs, the hellhole cities that vie for coverage every day with Kim Kardashian's bottom. I had a nice time there. I met lots of people who were kind and funny. They gave me tea in their shops and asked if Captain Slow, James May, was as hopeless in real life as he appeared to be on television.
It troubles me that many of these people will now be dead. And it troubles me even more that some of them are in that French dump, with their children, trying to get into Britain.
I don't have a Bafta and I don't live in Islington, so I'm not daft. I'm not going to sit here now and say, with a tear in one eye and a bit of a sniffle, that we should open the Channel tunnel immediately because I know that's impractical. Britain is a small island and while only 2% of the land mass here is actually built up that's a fact, by the way we simply don't have the houses for a million newcomers or the money to keep them fed, watered and healthy.
Which brings me neatly to the poolside bar of the hotel in Morocco where I was staying last week. It was horrible. The hotel itself was a giant concrete maze painted brown to make it look like an ancient fort. The pool was ringed with palm trees to make it feel like an oasis. And the people around it were the sort who were completely taken in.
They'd come away, in March, to spend a few days getting diarrhoea simply so they could go home with a red nose that would cause people at the lodge to say: "Have you seen Brian's tan? His laundrette must be doing pretty well."
At night I was cornered in the bar by some drunken greengrocer from Luton with an Instamatic and Dr Scholl's sandals and last Tuesday's Daily Express who droned on and on about how Nigel Farage should be running the country and how many languages Enoch Powell could speak ... and then he wandered off to get some more Watneys Red Barrel and another packet of cheese and onion crisps and I was left thinking: Monty Python was way ahead of the game on this.
But instead of a party of Germans forming pyramids and frightening the children there was a group from--and I'm saying this because it's true--Liverpool. They had shaved heads, gym-toned bodies and voices that could crack glass on the International Space Station.
They called the waiters Mustapha and drank a seemingly endless amount of cognac and Coke. This is a drink with which I'm unfamiliar. And I hope it stays that way because it seems the more you ingest, the stupider you become. After four, one of the party said that the Gestapo were like Heinrich Himmler's special forces. He knew this apparently because he'd watched a television programme. Their views on the employment laws of Britain were interesting too, since they seemed to think they were slaves. And that upon their return to Liverpool they would definitely be sacked.
Then they all jumped in the pool and made a lot of noise, which caused all the Brians and the freemasons to peer over their Harold Robbins books and look displeased. And the waiters to scurry away for fear that they'd be used as a volleyball in the very near future.
And all of this got me thinking. These people are English. They have British passports. And it is their way of life that we are trying to preserve when we say no to the Syrian refugees.
But answer me this: who would you rather have living next door? This lot? Or a teetotal family from Homs who have fled from Vladimir Putin's jets and Jihadi John's knife so they can have a quiet life in the shires? We keep talking about the citizenship test, to make sure that newcomers know the name of the national anthem and how to hold a knife and fork properly before they are given a British passport. And yet we hand them out without so much as a by-your-leave to morons who have less intelligence than the average dishwasher. Simply because they were squeezed from between their mothers' phlebitis-ridden thighs in Britain.
I'm not suggesting for a moment that we introduce a one-in-one-out policy that would mean ejecting one undesirable for every Syrian who's allowed in (although deep down ...), but I do think we could adopt some kind of halfway house that prevents Britain's most unpleasant souls from travelling abroad.
The fact is: we need to be careful of our image. And I'd far rather be represented on the world stage, and around its swimming pools, by someone who had the gumption to up sticks and walk across Europe with his children to find a better life than a yobbo in a football shirt who mixes cognac with Coca-Cola and thinks he's a slave just because he has a job.
'In one year I lost my mother, my house, my job. How do you think I felt?' He is Britain's most successful TV presenter--and its most notorious. Twelve months after being sacked by the BBC for punching his producer, Jeremy Clarkson talks to Charlotte Edwardes about life after Top Gear (from a sunlounger in Barbados)
I am on holiday with Jeremy Clarkson in Barbados. Sorry, I am working and he is working. He's out here filming the new, as yet unnamed Amazon Prime version of Top Gear. I am interviewing him. "This is work!" he shouts over the squirrel spray of the jet ski, then skids at 45mph to douse me in seawater. "Work!" he insists as we stroll the length of a spongy beach, look around the island's oldest church, eat warm banana bread and suck at rum sundowners against the bouncing chromatic beat of a steel pan.
But when a woman with a flute of pink fizz floats over in a nightie to ask for a selfie, Clarkson barks, "Can't you see I'm on holiday?" And this is his gruff response (pathetic, may I say, because he always does pose for them) to the other 20-odd random people who ask him for his picture over the course of the weekend.
"The whole thing is an act, of course," he says at one point. What? "My job, my TV persona. 'Jeremy Clarkson.' It's a mask. We all wear masks. It's not the real me." Is he suggesting that the man who's made PS30 million from "being himself" is a con? "Yup." Then who is the real you? "I'm not telling you," he laughs.
Instead, he warns against the dangers of catching "c**t flu" in a paradise like this.
It affects the rich and famous, he says, and stems from being surrounded by flunkies who won't say no. "It's basically when you see your helicopter and say, 'I want a bigger one.'" He's had a few attacks-- once in rural New Zealand, when he couldn't find a board game he felt like playing, so he sent someone to Auckland to buy Risk.
"It's one of the reasons rock stars will continue to expire at the age of 27," he explains. "C**t flu kills them. 'I can do what I want, therefore' That's c**t flu. It's selfishness, really." Amy Winehouse had c**t flu, he says. "But what a singer."
Still, he has moments of grumpiness, which is down to the "horrible, horrible" time he's had lately: "My luck stopped suddenly three years ago." I suggest it must be wearing to be interrupted to pose every five minutes. "No! It's as Angela Rippon says, 'When it stops is when you have to worry.'" Actually, his popularity seems undented by his very public defenestration from the BBC's Top Gear. A short walk on the beach is like being in The Truman Show. There are cries of, "I love you, Jeremy!", "Good luck with the new show, I'll be watching!" and (less reassuringly), "It's you, innit? The one from whatsit?" No one asks about The Alleged Punch. It's almost exactly a year since Clarkson, 55, gave a cut lip to producer Oisin Tymon in a hotel in North Yorkshire for not, so the story goes, having a steak supper ready after filming. Three and a bit weeks ago he apologised, and Tymon's lawyers said they had settled for an undisclosed fee (rumoured to be in excess of PS100,000) for racial discrimination and personal injury (Clarkson allegedly called him "a lazy Irish c**t").
"I can't talk about it - legal reasons," Clarkson says when I ask. Does he have a temper? "I can't talk about it, honestly." Was he really angry? He sighs. Does he argue a lot? "I don't usually argue with people; I discuss. If I'm in a mood and I'm talking to an idiot, I might tell them to eff off. If you and I found a subject we disagreed on, you'd see."
Later, in a harbourside restaurant suggested by TripAdvisor, we do have a disagreement. By then, warmed by sun, swimming and a bottle of rose, he'll be more relaxed and open about life in general.
I've been chasing Clarkson for this interview for more than a year, and having been batted away with multiple versions of "No, thank you", I'm only here now because, in a moment of "bravado", he texted me something along the lines of, "All right, come on then, but it has to be in Barbados tomorrow."
When I arrive, he has a hangover. He's spent much of the day sitting on the bottom of the swimming pool with an oxygen tank, refusing to be coaxed up by a desperate scuba instructor, on the grounds that he wanted to drown out the world. "It was so nice and peaceful down there. Why would I want to come out?" All he can bear to recall of the previous evening is that he went down to "Second Street" in nearby Holetown (which develops a mythical quality over the course of the weekend) and bumped into Andrea Corr (of Irish band the Corrs) in a piano bar.
Tonight he's skipped a "pyjama party" to meet me at the Coral Reef Club hotel, which is candlelit and colonial with shutters and palms, although the trees have been castrated of fruit and the area is sprayed with mosquito repellent, erasing the ambience of bugs.
Still, the crickets are going like an itch. And we're drinking banana daiquiris topped with glace cherries in the smoking area. At all times Clarkson is equipped with three packs of Marlboro Lights, which he spills onto the table along with boxes of matches, lighters, receipts, a "crappy student" cashpoint card and anything else that he can unearth from his pocket.
The confusion over whether this is work or holiday is understandable. This is his itinerary over the next weeks: India, Jordan, America, Mozambique, Sweden. He's already been in Portugal - "and Devon". When I suggest this is all rather five star and enviable, he protests that he often shares a room with co-presenters Richard Hammond and James May, and that May snores like a beast.
Here they're building a coral reef out of old cars. "You need to 'seed' reefs," he explains. "Concrete is best, but steel is good, too. Just over there they sunk a ship not that long ago, and already it's an island of marine life--turtles and fish. Beautiful. One day the ship will rust and dissolve and you'll be left with a coral reef. I was reading about it in an in-flight magazine. I thought why use ships? There are awful, terrible cars with which you could actually create new life. So that's what we're doing in Barbados. That, and the fact that the crew will think we're brilliant because we're here rather than some godforsaken mountaintop in a country no one has heard of."
His job sounds like the world's longest gap year. In the West Indies he's played drunken dodgems on jet skis. He's been in three plane crashes, including one in Libya and one in Cuba (during which he lit a fag as the plane went down). In Nepal, he remembers dragging his sleeping bag outside their dorm because "May's snoring was worse than the alternative: sleeping on a bench next to a vomiting pig". May regularly holds up their convoy with his 40-minute trips to the lavatory. "He says he can't hold it, which means at least once in his life," Clarkson muses, "that man must've had to interrupt sex in order to take a dump."
There are tales of nervous moments spent confronting armed militias, cross-legged conferences around campfires, negotiations with multiple agencies on borders, and occasional last-minute about-turns-- "I was too chicken to go into the DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo]. Got all the way to the border and then thought, 'Actually, no.'" He flips through his iPhone to show me photos from 2011, larking about in Raqqa (now Islamic State's stronghold) and Homs (now rubble and pock-marked, skeletonised buildings). Of course, jeopardy has always been a part of the show's appeal. This is lads' diplomacy - which at times goes hideously wrong.
While filming a Christmas special in 2014, they had to be evacuated from Argentina after his Porsche's numberplates (H982 FKL) were said to be a deliberately provocative reference to the Falklands conflict. (Clarkson denies this: "It was just an impossibility for us to have chosen that numberplate on purpose. I drive thousands of cars a year; I never look at the registration.") The situation was so tense for the remaining crew - attempting to reach Chile cross-country - that Clarkson feared they'd be killed. "I rang [David] Cameron, who was out in Afghanistan. 'Get someone over from the Falklands. You've got to help us out here, otherwise you're going to have 40 dead English people.' There were 40 stuck in that convoy. It was one of the most unpleasant nights of my life."
What was the response? "Cameron said there was nothing he could do. And realistically there was nothing he could do. The High Commissioner came out, did his best. He could do about as much as the president of Argentina could do if some Argies got into trouble in England--nothing. Those days when you can send a gunboat, I'm afraid, are over."
It was against a swirling background of "incidents" like this that BBC bosses commissioned a number of investigations into Clarkson's "offensive behaviour". For example, while trying to build a bridge over the River Kwai in Thailand (actually, as it turned out, the River Kok), Clarkson commented, when he saw someone walk across it, "That is a proud moment but there's a slope on it."
He makes a noise of exasperation. "No one gave a s*** in Asia. They were alerted to the fact that there was a 'deeply racist' slur in the footage, and said, 'That's not deeply racist,' and transmitted it unedited. Which is what I thought would happen.
"I genuinely don't think it was bad. It was built up to be a huge thing. We don't mind being called 'roast beef'. The Aussies call us Nigel, a lot. Or Poms. We call the French 'frogs'." He has admitted to mumbling the n-word while reciting Eeny, meany, miny, moe and is apologetic for being rude about Mexicans. "I'd say the one time we made a mistake--not one time, sorry, we made lots of mistakes; everybody does--but the biggest was Mexico. We got carried away in an item about a Mexican sports car and were very rude about Mexico and Mexicans and it was uncalled for. I apologised to the Mexican ambassador."
Against a backdrop of heightened awareness of sexism, the Top Gear boys' Carry On humour began to be scrutinised. When Clarkson revealed they'd all made up daily injuries as an excuse to see a "rather attractive" paramedic working with them, culminating in Hammond telling her "my willy tastes funny", it provoked a paroxysm--and not of laughter.
Yet Clarkson seemed ever more defiant. I get the impression that he actually enjoyed winding up Danny Cohen, the BBC's director of television at the time. He says Cohen ordered him into his office to ask if it was true he'd called his west highland terrier Didier Dogba (a play on Didier Drogba, the former Chelsea striker; Clarkson is a Blues fan). "I confirmed it was true. He said, 'What colour is it?' And I said, 'It's black.' And he said, 'You can't call your black dog after a black football player.' So I said, 'Why not? Would you rather I called it John Terrier?'" On another occasion, Clarkson tells me, he sat next to Cohen's economist wife, Noreena Hertz, at dinner and asked her if she was a communist. "No," she said, "a Marxist." "What's the difference?" he replied. "The next time I was in with Tony Hall [the BBC director-general] and Danny Cohen, I said, 'Tony, you do know Danny is a communist, don't you?' Danny got really cross and said, 'Just because two people are married doesn't mean they have the same politics.'" Today he says, "Danny and I were, and I suspect will remain for ever, very far apart on every single thing. Normally, you could find some common ground with somebody, but I think Danny and I could probably only get on perfectly well so long as we absolutely never had to think about each other for the rest of the time. Because I don't mind anyone having an opinion that's different to mine, just so long as they don't mind my opinion, either. So long as it doesn't impinge on what I want to do."
But it did. Ultimately, Cohen won. Clarkson was sacked from Top Gear. "I wasn't sacked. What was it? Oh yes, they 'didn't renew my contract'. I was sacked." There was public outcry. A petition calling for his reinstatement was signed by more than one million people. He says David Cameron quipped, "Well, if you go, they're just left with Hammond and May, and from my experience that'll never work."
In the end, much of the Top Gear team - Hammond, May and some key crew members - defected to Amazon Prime with him. (The BBC has rebuilt Top Gear with Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc at the helm, about which Clarkson is entirely nonchalant. "Nobody says, 'What? Someone's doing another cookery programme?' Why shouldn't there be more than one car programme?") But despite the jibes and the shrugs and the bluff and bravado, these were dark times for Clarkson. When I probe, he swerves, shrugging off tricky questions with, "Wait just a cotton-picking minute. I drive round corners too quickly while shouting. That is my job. Ask me what it's like to have a Ferrari sliding sideways and you've got to do a piece to camera before the power slide is over."
And then he says, "In one year I lost my mother, my house, my job. How do you think I f***ing felt?" At 10am the following morning we have breakfast. He's been up since dawn with a trainer called Junior. "He has no mercy. I must look close to death and he says, 'Do it more!'" He does daily weights at 8am and plays tennis at 5pm. "It's a new thing. It hasn't had an effect yet." He slaps his stomach.
Clarkson is tall and misshapen with wirewool hair and tobacco-stained teeth. With the possible exception of Wembley Fraggle, he looks like no one else. He likes to say he was made in God's factory on a Friday evening, when all they had left was two good feet "and a pair of good buttocks. Look at these rubbish hands, this paunch, this hair." Someone like Andrea Corr, he adds, was made on a Monday morning.
He claims to be utterly ham-fisted. "My first memory is peeling a hard-boiled egg. I was only about 18 months apparently, and it's still the most practical thing I've ever done.
"As Hammond always says, I look like an orangutan when I'm presented with simple tasks, like opening a bottle of wine. He says, 'You look perfectly happy, just baffled.' I have no sense of how an engine works at all."
He must be good at something? "I promise faithfully I can do nothing. I can't hang a picture without knocking a wall down. When I play tennis I can hear people saying, 'It is odd because that man is in tennis clothes and he's on a court and he's carrying a racquet, but what's he doing?' "Skiing is the same. I look like a bus driver having a crap. I can't cook. I tried to make some soup the other day. My daughter was staggered that it could go that wrong. You know that footage of people in the London sewers with all the congealed fat? It looked like that."
Top Gear was the only thing he's done well, he claims. At one point in his 27-year association with the show, he left to pursue a "solo" career. "I thought, 'I'm brilliant at this; I can do anything.' So I did a range of not at all successful programmes: a chat show, a programme on the history of cars. They tanked. One was so bad that it never got shown at all. So I reinvented [Top Gear] with Andy Wilman, the show's producer] and went back."
He's known Wilman since he boarded at Repton School - "He was my fag." Was Clarkson a fag, too? "Yes. We had to sweep the corridors--and then they'd come and empty their bins in them, so you'd have to start again. We'd clean the changing room, the bathrooms, make the beds."
Was he bullied? "Yes. I got beaten every night with empty Globe-Trotter suitcases. There's more give in a Globe-Trotter suitcase than there is in a skull. So you were fine. Head, back, shoulders, buttocks. Maybe you'd get the odd bruise from the corner. It was annoying and uncomfortable. In the morning, we were woken up and hurled into the plunge pool, which was freezing." He pauses. "Does you a power of good. I was a cocky little s*** coming to a private school at 13. God, it knocks it out of you."
He says the experience had "a profound effect because I can remember the day, the moment, that I thought: this isn't working just being me. It doesn't work. I'm going to have to make people laugh. Because once someone's made you laugh, you can't be cross with them. And it stopped from that day onwards. I was 14. It was a useful tool, making people laugh." He tells me he's also the world's best liar--that he can fool anyone--but I think he underestimates his audiences.
At school, he continues, "I was simply unaware of any homosexuality. We were remarkably naive. I assume some of the teachers were gay but we didn't notice." What he did notice was the racism. "I'm sad to say it was the Seventies and Till Death Us Do Part was on the television and there was definitely racism. We had a few Asian kids, [a] few blacks." He's "100 per certain I did not take part in racist bullying" and believes that the leap from his generation, "when racism was institutionalised", to today is remarkable.
"Our generation needs the biggest pat on the back of any generation for the changes we've overseen. When I talk to my children I realise they are completely colour-blind."
In other ways his childhood was perfect.
He had a Blytonic middle-class upbringing in a 400-year-old farmhouse. "Prince Charles would get an erection if he thought about my childhood."
His dad, Eddie, "cooked and cooked. And when he ran out of people to cook for, he made cake for the birds." His mum, Shirley, sat at the kitchen table sewing Paddington Bears (they owned the toy company that made them). After school, Clarkson would help sew them before he was allowed to do his homework. "If you've got a Paddington Bear in your attic and it's badly sewn up the back, then that's one of mine."
They holidayed in Padstow, Cornwall, and later in a campsite in Brittany. "And twice a year we went to the Berni Inn in Doncaster, where you could have choice of starters: either grapefruit, pineapple or orange juice. Then you could have steak or breaded plaice. I once saw Leonard Parkin, who was an ITV newsreader, in there. It was like the Ivy."
His childhood hero was Alan Whicker and he even got to meet him. "But afterwards I heard him call me 'an irritating little s***'."
Most of the time he built dens with his sister - now a successful lawyer - and two girls "from up the way". Were they honorary boys? "Nope. I was the honorary girl," he says. "To this day 80 per cent of my closest friends are women."
He says, "Of all the 'ists' I've been accused of, sexist is the most stupid. I'm not sexist. The idea that you can't be pretty and have a brain makes me absolutely livid. Some of the girls were the fastest drivers--and why wouldn't they be? Just because you have breasts doesn't mean you can't drive a car.
"There's a standard thing in The Guardian that Top Gear was misogynistic. What people who'd never seen it assumed was that we used words like 'lady garden' to be misogynistic, but we didn't. It was primary-school language. We also said 'gentlemen's sausages'."
So who are his female heroes? He pauses. "Um. The Thatch? Although not massively so. She did do remarkable things in that time. Female heroes, um--" In the nick of time he remembers Twenties Hearst reporter Grace Hay Drummond-Hay, the first woman to travel around the world in a Zeppelin. "The descriptions are brilliant: the one about crossing the Russian tundra under this remarkable moonlit sky, my God. Then someone else smuggled a record player on board, so they were able to play music and do the Charleston."
Later he spoils all his enlightened feminist talk. In a bar surrounded by elderly men and women with sticks and hearing aids, he suddenly stops talking. "Sssh! Can you hear that rustling noise?" No, I say. What? "Listen. Can you hear it now? That is the sound of dried-out old vagina."
Every five minutes or so we stand by the surf for a cigarette. A beach trader stops to ask if he can bum one. "You want any weed? Coke?" he asks after it's lit. When we decline, he offers us paintings, plaited bracelets, sunglasses. Clarkson laughs. "You really are a mobile shop. Do you have any Weetabix or Alphabetti spaghetti?" At 11:15am, Clarkson switches from espressos to beer. Boy, can he put it away. I ask him about reports that he was drinking too hard and rumours that Tony Hall had told him he could keep his job if he went to rehab. "I still can't drink as much as James May," he deflects. He relates a time at Heathrow when May "just looked at me and said, 'Have you ever had red wine for breakfast?' It was 7:30am. I said, 'No, James. I haven't.' So off he toddled and he came back with two glasses. It was actually delicious. It's an experiment I haven't revisited, I'm relieved to tell you."
Last summer he disappeared for a month (when I ask where he went, he says "somewhere that was like prison"), and subsequently gave up drinking for four or five months. Initially, he says this was to "stay sharp" while negotiating his Amazon Prime deal. "You can't deal with Californian lawyers if you've had a couple of glasses of wine." Later he clarifies that his stint away was not rehab, but helped him clear out his head and think straight. "I'm a lot calmer now. There's the same s***, but I can deal with it."
Over dinner we talk about exes. His first kiss was at the age of 13 (in a boiler room at Repton) with a sixth-former. One of his many flats in Fulham was nicknamed "the vomitorium". "If you got a girl back there she stuck to the carpet and that was the end of it."
He admits to a massive crush on Kristen Scott Thomas, the actress, and boils with inexplicable rage whenever anyone pronounces her name incorrectly. "Sadly, I am unable to string a sentence together in her presence."
On marriage he is silent. His first wife, Alexandra Hall, left him after six months for one of his friends, and he's currently in friendly divorce proceedings with his second wife, Frances Cain--also his manager--to whom he has been married for 26 years. (Although he does tell me their wedding was in the Fulham church used in The Omen in the scene where a priest gets skewered by a lightning rod.) His recent split with girlfriend Phillipa Sage is offlimits, too, because, he reasons, "It's unfair on them--they didn't ask to be dragged into this."
It's his view that women are far tougher than men in break-ups. "How are you all so cold?" he asks. "Are you really so deeply unmoved when you get that mixtape of romantic songs, and the really bad poetry?" Did he have lots of girlfriends? "We're not going there. Nobody's interested." So it's not true that he was "a right shagger"? He looks absolutely mortified and says he's been inaccurately linked with multiple women, among them Jemima Khan, a friend of many years. "Although I thought her denial of our affair was a little strong," he says. "'No, no! This is the most revolting, disgusting, worst thing that's ever been said about me!' A simple no, Jemima, would probably suffice."
Our argument is over whether it's possible to change as a person. He is a fatalist who believes people can't. For this reason, Clarkson doesn't see the point in therapy. "I don't believe in a human's capacity to change," he says. "We are who we were born and, bar some very early nurturing, that is set for the rest of our lives. Everything else is a mask." (In the morning he says, "I had to really think about it after I said it yesterday. I thought last night, 'Do I really think that?' And I do. I stand by it.") What he talks a lot about are his kids (Emily, 21, a writer; Finlo, 19, who's at Manchester University; Katya, 17, who's at school). He shows me photos of them on his phone and reflects how much they'd like to be in Barbados now. "They practically grew up here." One thing he breaks his work schedule for is the kids. "I've yet to miss one of Katya's school plays," he says.
His farm in Chipping Norton, he loves that, too. He has dogs, sheep and kunekune pigs (they are pets: Zeppelin and Walter). But he doesn't mention his other properties--in the Isle of Man and London--and actually he's oddly unmaterialistic as a person, carrying his "clean clothes" (denim shirt and jeans) in a black plastic bag, which, from time to time, he asks the reception desk to look after.
There are so many predictable things about Clarkson, such as his dislike of poetry, musicals--"I just want to shout: stop singing!"--and Uber. He's only been in an Uber once (I took him in one in London and he grumbled all the way: "Oh, I see, a quick trip from the top of Notting Hill to the bottom, via Dewsbury. Oh, and a Magic Tree. Anyone who has anything hanging from their rearview mirror can't drive").
But there are surprising things, too, like his love of ornithology (he's constantly looking for a sugarbird to show me), and A.A. Milne ("Every character you'll meet in life is a character from Winnie-the-Pooh: May is Wol [how Owl spells his name], Hammond is Piglet, I am Tigger").
Also, he tells me that he has no pubic hair. "None. Never have. I'm bald down there." How did you know when you were going through puberty? "My voice broke." (Later he tells me this is not true and that he does have pubes.) I'm astonished to hear he has a driver, a man called Andy, but he quickly corrects this to say he's "a Man Friday" who does a little bit of everything. Like drive.
He's doggedly loyal, saying without question that he'd rather go to prison than sneak on a friend, something ingrained since school. "Under any circumstances, you never, ever rat on a friend. That is for ever. I can think of a million other things I'd rather be than a sneak."
I ask about his mother's death last year from breast cancer that spread over five years. He'd just arrived in Moscow to do a live show when he was told over the phone by her nurse, "which was very sad".
"We didn't know how long she had. We didn't know if it was going to be a day or a week or a month--you just didn't know. But you have to be pragmatic. She's lying in bed barely conscious. My sister and I effectively said goodbye in her last bits of consciousness. And then I thought, well, I can either continue to sit in her bedroom for what could be a month ... What do you do? It's very difficult to know. We had Moscow planned and I had to go. I thought, 'Well, I'm only going for four days. I'll be back in four days.' But she didn't make it."
Clarkson received the news shortly before he was supposed to be on stage in front of 15,000 people. He hesitated over what to do. "I thought, 'Let's just say I fly home, what would I do? Nothing. I may as well be here.' So I did the show.
"But the BBC--No, I won't say it." He looks sour. "Let's say they were very unhelpful." It was the time of the BBC inquiry into "the slope thing". He was fielding calls. He mutters something about someone being "a s***".
"I said, 'My mother's just died. Please leave me alone.' But they wouldn't. And it was bad. We were doing the TV show and the live shows, and three newspaper columns a week and endless investigations into whether or not we'd said this or done that or whether or not my hair was straight or my teeth were cleaned. It went on and on and on. It was very tricky. So there was quite a lot of pressure that year even for a jovial soul like me to handle. I was very close to my mum."
He misses her. "Even now I think, 'I must tell my mother about that.' And then you think, even just now at the Coral Reef, I thought, 'Oh, mother likes it here.' It just floats in. But"--he takes a deep breath and I can see his eyes are damp behind his sunglasses - "I just tend to think of her as a benign presence around."
He sniffs. "Do you mind if I pop to the loo?" And then he returns, and like all moments of pathos with Jeremy Clarkson, this one is harpooned. "By the way," he says, "all the time I was talking about my mother, I could see your knickers."