Clarkson's Sunday Times Columns

Revelator

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Yes, I admit it: justice in Cyprus is blind and blameless. Now can I phone my lawyer, officer? (Jan. 12)

When I heard that car industry boss Carlos Ghosn had been arrested, I assumed it was for green-lighting the dreary Nissan Juke. But no. It turned out that his alleged crimes had something to do with accountancy.

I don't understand this sort of thing. When I visit my accountant and he is talking about pensions and tax, I know it's important, so I fix him with a hard stare and concentrate like hell. But when he's finished, none of it has gone in, because all I heard was a voice in my head saying: "Must listen."

Anyway, Ghosn claimed that all the charges came about because it was felt in Tokyo he was letting the French arm of the company, Renault, trample all over the Japanese part, Nissan. As a motoring writer, I felt it was important to get up to speed, but after two minutes of reading, I felt the onset of sleep coursing through my head like a big warm blanket.

When I woke up, Ghosn was gone.

Rumours suggested a team that included former Green Beret commandos dressed as Gregorian musicians had turned up at the place where he was under house arrest and smuggled him onto a bullet train, and then aboard a private jet inside some kind of musical instrument case. Yup. He'd scarpered. So, obviously, he was as guilty as hell of whatever it was he's supposed to have done.

But then I learnt that in Japan, prosecutors have a 99.9% success rate. If I were facing those odds, I'd also want to be smuggled out of the country — in a matchbox if necessary. Of course, you expect to find weird justice in backward places, but Japan's a surprise. And it's not the only one.

In Armenia, they threatened to make a man sit on a bottle until he confessed to a crime he didn't commit.

In Australia, Plod kept the recording devices off as they "interviewed" a suspect and then miraculously turned them on just before he owned up. The man was inside for 11 years before the authorities admitted they may have screwed up.

The Canadians have been busted for helping a witness with his mortgage payments. The Finns tried one woman twice for murdering her husband and got it wrong both times. The Icelandics have been known to keep suspects in solitary for more than 600 days.

Even the Germans can't be trusted. In 2001, a man crashed his car into a river. His body was discovered after eight years of being nibbled by fish. There was no evidence that a crime had taken place, but even so, various members of his family were convicted of his killing.

And all of this brings me neatly to recent events in Cyprus. Now, I've had some experience with police in that part of the world. On a night out in Crete, my then girlfriend was touched by a young local man in a bar. When I asked him to stop, he and his friends took me outside, tied me into an interesting reef knot and then peed on me. When the police arrived, one of the locals punched me in the head, and after that I was arrested for "insulting the Greek flag".

It was very poor policing, if I'm honest, but this rape business in Ayia Napa is on another level. Sure, when the case was first reported, I figured the police were on the right track. They imagined some silly woman had it away with a man she'd just met, his mates piled in, and the next day she dealt with the guilt by saying she'd been raped.

I wasn't at all surprised that the Israelis involved in this incident were allowed to go home, and was actually quite glad that she'd been charged with causing a public mischief.

But then, interesting details started to emerge. The bruises on her body. The fact she hadn't been allowed access to a lawyer. The extraordinary confession, which plainly hadn't been written by anyone with English as a first language. "I discovered them recording me doing sexual intercourse." Really? Sure, the police in Ayia Napa must be heartily fed up with the annual arrival of several thousand puking, brawling sex enthusiasts, so it's only natural they'll have little sympathy when one of them cries rape. I get that. But what were the courts thinking of? In a civilised country such as Cyprus, it's their job to take a cool, detached look at the evidence. And yet, somehow, they reckoned there was no reasonable doubt, found her guilty and gave her a four-month suspended prison sentence.

There are calls for tourists to boycott Cyprus and I hope they have the reach of a bittern's boom. I hope every youngster thinks about the plight of that poor young woman and decides to go somewhere else. And I hope the police who conducted her interview are made to sit on very large bottles until they have finished writing out, a thousand times: "I must not fabricate statements."

I have a similar problem with America. Last year, a woman called Anne Sacoolas left the US military base in Northamptonshire where her husband worked and drove on the wrong side of the road until her car hit a young biker called Harry Dunn. He was killed and she fled back to the States.

Harry's devastated parents have been a model of dignity as they have pleaded with her to come back and face the music. But she has claimed diplomatic immunity and is apparently backed by the US authorities, who say that charging her is not a "helpful development".

Her US lawyer has suggested that our legal system isn't up to much, and you know that she has in mind the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six. Yet America, remember, is a country that can't even work out a humane way to execute criminals. Unless they are several thousand miles away, at an airport in Baghdad.

So let's end on a lighter note by wondering if the people who helped Carlos Ghosn escape will one day become known as the Renault Five.

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And here's the Sun column: "Resign from the Royal Family? Do they know the next in line is…Prince Andrew?"
 

Revelator

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Driving a digger is in a man's DNA, ladies. Now sit back and watch me make a horlicks of it (Jan. 19)

We live in modern times, when a woman can win the heavyweight boxing championship of the world, if that's what she wants, and this is all very tremendous. But despite what you read on the monoculture that is social media, there are still certain things that a man feels he can do and a woman cannot.

One of the things a man thinks he can do, and a woman cannot, is score a penalty in a game of football. We think it's in our DNA, and we continue to believe it even though all the evidence suggests otherwise. I once took a penalty and — no kidding — the nearest the ball got to the goal was when it was on the spot. As soon as my foot connected with it, it was moving away. But even so, I still think that, under the dilapidated fatman suit, I'm Lionel Messi.

Then there's opening a bottle of HP Sauce. We can do that. We are born with the ability, in the same way that we are born without an ability to knit. We can also do a handbrake turn, cook meat on a barbecue, eat very hot curries without fainting, operate everything without reading the instruction book, win big at the races, make cement, remember every single line in Where Eagles Dare and nothing at all that's ever come out of Hugh Grant's mouth, land a plane in an emergency — and even not in an emergency — cut down a tree, shoot a deer and, above all else, operate heavy construction equipment.

That's why, last week, I didn't hesitate for a moment when the man from JCB, handing me the keys to a 22-ton excavator, asked if I knew what I was doing. Of course I knew what I was doing. "Yes," I said, with a look of genuine incredulity etched into every single one of my facial features. Even my nose looked surprised and hurt.

Job one was to attach the shovel thing to the end of the arm. I don't know the technical name for this as I didn't read the manual; I just climbed aboard, started the engine and began to move the various levers around.

Fifteen minutes later the man arrived in the cab, and 15 seconds after that the shovel thing was attached. Then he left me alone again and off I went, pushing the levers backwards, forwards and from side to side to see what they all did. Very soon I had mastered everything, which is only to be expected from someone who is a card-carrying member of the Testicle Owners' Club.

Then I arrived at the top of a steep bank. No worries. This was a very large piece of equipment that had two tracks. It was basically a big yellow tank, and tanks can go down steep banks, so off I went.

Immediately, things went awry, because the whole thing wasn't driving down the slope. It was sliding. And it was starting to spin. If it turned through 90 degrees, it would fall over, and despite assurances that the glass box in which I was sitting would protect me, I felt certain that in seconds the last breath would be escaping from my shattered and ruined body.

Now, when I have an emergency in a car, I know instinctively what to do. I undo my seatbelt and get in the back. But in an excavator, it turned out, I was at a loss. There are no brakes, for example. And there's no steering wheel. I pushed one lever in a panic and it was only pure blind luck that caused the arm with the shovel thing on the end to plunge into the earth and halt my slide. Or was it luck? Maybe — just maybe — it was my Y chromosome at work.

Whatever, I'd arrived at my destination, I was alive and my plan was intact. I was going to scrape off the topsoil — and maybe a bit of subsoil — to create an area of wetland that would be visited by otters and damselflies and water voles, and I would become the darling of social media. Princess Me-Gain, or the Duchess of Sussex, or whatever she's called these days, would drop by and we'd do selfies together in a blizzard of butterflies and lapwings.

First, though, I had to do a bit of delicate scraping, which was tricky because it required a light touch. And I don't really do light touches. I do heavy touches. So heavy that soon there was a 12ft-deep hole in front of me and a mountain of soil behind. A mountain I now had to climb if I wanted to escape.

It didn't go very well. In fact, it went so not very well that soon the digger was teetering at a precarious angle. One tiny breath of wind and it would fall over. So the man from JCB politely but urgently asked me to get out of the cab so he could save this £150,000 machine from certain death. He didn't seem so bothered about me.

Realising, once the excavator was back on an even keel, that I'd made a terrible hash of my wetland plans in that particular valley, I decided to apply them somewhere else.

So off I trundled, slithering and slipping and dragging myself along, using the arm and the shovel thing, until, eventually, I was in the right place to dig another hole.

Whereupon I went straight through the pipe that takes water to the cottage where I live. And a few other cottages as well. Tonight I'm having a Chinese takeaway, and when my neighbours drop round to say things, I'm pretending to be out.

The farm, meanwhile, looks like a set from the film 1917. I've never seen such devastation. I'm also fearful that I've killed several hundred animals. I've certainly torn apart several trees, and at least 50 anthills.

As I write, my girlfriend is out in the rain, marshalling operations to get the digger I borrowed out of the river. If she can also reconnect the water pipe, I may have a long, soapy bath later.

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A colossus with its heart torn out: the Mercedes-Benz G 350 dAMG Line (Jan. 19)

The enormous Henry Willis organ at the Royal Albert Hall has 147 stops and a bewildering array of 9,999 pipes. It is a colossus. A shrieking, bellowing blitzkrieg of chest-smashing decibels.

So imagine all those disappointed faces at the Proms if someone decided to replace it with a nice upright piano. Well, that's what Mercedes has done with the G-wagen. Removed the hadron collider from under its bonnet and replaced it with a penny whistle.

It was ballsy of Mercedes not only to keep the G-wagen in production but also to decide over the years that it should be gently updated and fitted with all sorts of new stuff the previous versions didn't have — such as steering.

I mean, why would you persevere with a car that had simply no place in an increasingly green world? And why, having made that choice, would you decide that the only engine you'd offer was a twin-turbocharged V8 that came with enough torque and power to move tectonic plates? This is the sort of engine God uses to start worlds.

And it's hard to think of any single thing that is more out of step with current thinking. Driving one of these around the place is like sitting in the royal box at Wimbledon in a mankini.

I think I know why Mercedes did it, though. Because there are enough customers around the world who will always want a very large, very noticeable off-road car.

These people bought Humvees, and before that Jeep Wranglers with eagles on the bonnet.

I think the twin-turbo V8 Mercedes-AMG G 63 is a hilarious and wonderful car, and said so when I reviewed it last year. But I didn't think it would be hilarious or wonderful if you removed its reason for being — that colossal engine — and replaced it with a miserable diesel. Because what would be the point? The only reason you'd buy a G-wagen is its full-fatness, and you don't get that from a diesel. What are you saying about yourself: that you care about the planet? Really? So you've bought a 2½-ton tank that runs on a fuel that kills old ladies in their beds? You might as well try to win hearts and minds by hosting a world turtle strangling competition. There is no reason on earth Mercedes should have fitted its leviathan with a diesel power plant. But it has. And it gets worse, because it's the 3-litre six-cylinder unit you'll find in both E-class and S-class models. Except, for reasons that are not clear, it's been detuned in the G-wagen, so it's even less powerful.

In theory, of course, a detuned engine will be more fuel-efficient than one that's been strained to bursting point. That said, the G 350 diesel can manage only 25.9mpg, which isn't much more than you get from the AMG V8 monster. And here's the final, and perhaps biggest, problem. It costs — sit down for this — more than £96,000. That's £96,000 for a slow, uneconomical, five-seat, uncool German army lorry.

I was intrigued, so I decided to borrow one to see if I could spot what appeared to be missing on paper. Perhaps it would have the sort of turning circle Triumph Herald owners can only dream about. Nope. It arrived nose-first in my drive and I had to execute a 6,000-point turn to get it out again. When you're told by the sat nav to "execute a U-turn", you're going to need a deserted car park.

And then I was on the road and — oh dear. Yes, the new G-wagen is much more composed than the ones from yesteryear, but it still has a ladder chassis, like Stephenson's Rocket. And this makes the ride very busy. It doesn't glide; it lurches.

Speed? It's better than I was expecting, bearing in mind the engine produces four horsepower and the front end has the aerodynamic properties of the British Library. But it's not a speedy car. Perhaps that's a good thing, because it's tall, so it'd probably fall over if you went round a corner too quickly.

Then there's the boot. The door opens sideways, which means in town centres it doesn't open at all. I know Mercedes couldn't have hinged it at the top — no one would be tall enough to shut it — but why didn't it go for a split, folding system like on a Range Rover? It's not a patented design. I can only imagine it didn't want to be seen to be copying Tommy.

Off road? Well, there are now lots of buttons that can be pressed to engage various differential locks, and that's excellent. But when I tried the car in my fields, it hadn't stopped raining for 11 weeks, so the ground was sodden. And in such conditions you can have as many diff locks and low-range gearboxes as you like — you aren't going anywhere unless you have some proper winter tyres. And the G-wagen didn't. In its defence, my Range Rover was just as hopeless. In fact, come to think of it, it's been stuck there for a week now. I really ought to try to get it back.

Now we get to the good stuff. The interior is beautifully done. There's wood trim that actually works and all sorts of disco lighting to play with when you're stuck in traffic. Plus the dash is a joy to behold and wonderful to use. It may not be a £96,000-plus car in any other respect, but when you're inside, it feels as though it may be worth the money.

And I adore the driving position. I'm tall when I'm on foot, and it feels right and proper that I should be tall when on the road. And in the G-wagen I felt like the love child of Richard Osman and Miranda Hart. If you're a shorty, you'll love it up there. You can even see your own indicators.

I'm trying to be fair here. I'm trying to find the good points in a car that doesn't really make much sense. I agree, a big Range Rover doesn't make much sense either. But, I dunno, it feels so much less unnecessary than the big Benz. And much less bouncy as well.

I'm glad Mercedes made it. I'm glad it thinks there are people who'll buy a G-wagen and then, at the last moment, have a crisis of confidence and select the diesel option to make them feel more … what? Environmentally aware? I don't think there are, though.

I think if you are disposed towards a car such as this, you're going to want the full soundtrack and a throttle pedal that lets you pull all the stops out. You're going to want the Henry Willis-AMG version. And if you don't, you're going to want something else entirely.

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And here's the Sun column: "If BBC made The Crown a guy in wheelchair would play The Queen and Prince Philip would be played by Idris Elba"
 

Revelator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then there was the interior.

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

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

The M8 Competition cannot.

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

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

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

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

jeffjeremy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then there was the interior.

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

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

The M8 Competition cannot.

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

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

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

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

Revelator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revelator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revelator

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Joined
Mar 14, 2012
Messages
432
Location
San Francisco
If you thought socialists lacked a sense of humour, read all about their plans to launch the Daily Wail (Feb. 16)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The authorities know we can.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Nice

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 6, 2007
Messages
2,512
I thought we hadn't cracked nuclear fusion yet:blink:. Even in the US, where people frequently, illegally use the shoulder to get around traffic "smart motorways" sound stupid.
 
Last edited:

Revelator

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Messages
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San Francisco
Lie back and think of Aston Martin
The Clarkson Review: Mazda CX-30
(Feb. 23)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It wasn't just the gearbox either.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revelator

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Location
San Francisco
Cooking with Jeremy Clarkson: no‑nonsense recipes from the renowned gastronome

First he bought a farm, now he’s learnt how to cook its sheep. Clarkson explains why, armed with these recipes, there’s no need to fret in the kitchen.

By Jeremy Clarkson (Sunday Times, Feb. 29)

When I was a small boy, we’d eat out once a year, always at the Berni Inn in Doncaster. The choices were not extensive. To start, it was either grapefruit juice or pineapple juice, and then it was breaded plaice or steak. Mind you, customers were able to choose how they’d like their meat cooked. For an hour. Or for much, much longer. The vegetables, meanwhile, went into the pot when you booked the table.

I knew this was wrong, even when I was only six, because my dad was a fanatical cook. He would cook for people all day. He cooked for the postman. He cooked for the women who worked for my mum in the barn at the bottom of the garden. And when he ran out of people to cook for, he’d make elaborate cakes for the birds.

He would rise at six so he could start cooking and I still yearn for some of the things he made. Tripe in a simple milk sauce, especially. And his roasted heart was one of the cornerstones of my childhood. Alongside Mungo Jerry, being bullied, and the hedgehog-print jeans my mum made for me because Levi’s were too expensive. And which were the root cause of much of the bullying.

Later, in my teens, he would take me to London occasionally, and we’d go to a restaurant at 235 King’s Road, which was called 235 King’s Road. Or an Italian place on the Earls Court Road called Il Palio, where Bruno the owner and his chef would have furious rows all night long. And then at lunchtime, he’d take me to a place he knew in Marylebone for a salt beef sandwich.

Later, as my mum’s business started to become more successful, we’d go to San Lorenzo in Beauchamp Place and Odin’s, which belonged to Peter Langan. And I didn’t like the food they cooked because it wasn’t plain. It wasn’t simple. It wasn’t tripe in a milk sauce. It wasn’t roast heart.

Much later, AA Gill did his best to make me understand food and cooking. He would take me to places where the rabbit tasted like bacon and the pigeon like ham, and he would swoon and kiss the chef on the mouth. And I’d stare wistfully at my pigeon, thinking, “If I’d wanted something that tasted like ham, I’d have ordered ham.”

This is why I despise all provincial restaurants today. And please don’t write to tell me about a place your daughter-in-law has just opened in Penrith, because I won’t like that either. In restaurants outside London, it’s always about the chef’s ability to create a visual taste sensation. No one’s allowed to talk. You are expected to sit there in reverential silence, marvelling at how the single piece of cress is a perfect accompaniment for the bubbles in the broth.

And it’s bollocks. When I go out to eat, it’s because I can’t be arsed to do the washing-up. I want exactly what I’d make at home, only without the faff of making it. Shepherd’s pie. Spaghetti bolognaise. Lamb chops with new potatoes. And no effing sauce. I also don’t want a new concept, where I order 876 little things and then share them all with the people on the table by the loo. Or plates made from wood, or metal. I swear to God, restaurants that do this always provide cutlery that you can’t hold properly, so you can’t stab the waiter.

What I hate most of all, though, is travelling with film crews. Because when we are abroad, they treat food as fuel. Which means we never walk the streets looking for the sort of restaurant that does home cooking well. They just eat whatever is provided at the hotel, which is almost always like the sort of food you get in Birmingham.

Nicola Formby — aka the Blonde made famous by AA Gill’s reviews — is always suggesting little places in back streets that do great gnocchi on a bed of lightly killed rattlesnake, but I don’t want that. I want simple. I had roast grasshoppers in Cambodia and Burma and they were terrific. I had a trout, plucked from the stream next to my table in Croatia, and then grilled. And that was even better. But the absolute best food I’ve ever eaten was a bruschetta in Bologna. Bread. Olive oil. Tomatoes. Basil, probably, and maybe some balsamic vinegar. I can’t be sure because after smoking half a million cigarettes, my taste buds have the sensitivity of steel. All I knew is they were really good tomatoes on a really nice piece of bread.

I can add another couple of things to this list of culinary triumphs. The chicken pho by a chef called Ms. No at the Six Senses Con Dao island resort off Vietnam. And the Denny’s breakfast experience in any of those Reacher towns in the red bits of America.

If you break a perfectly poached egg, and in Denny’s the poached eggs are always perfect, onto their hash browns, I swear you end up with a taste sensation that would stop Jesus in his tracks. I have searched the world for hash browns made the Denny’s way, but when they’re offered, the chef has always suffused them with his own twist. By which I mean “ruined them”.

I have a similar global quest to find a better eggs benedict than the one I was given at the then Regent Hotel in Hong Kong, back in 1988. So far, it’s no dice. No one gets the simplicity right. Simplicity is always the key to my enjoyment of food. It’s why, when I cook, I never use cheese unless what I’m making is cheese on toast or a cheese sandwich. This is because cheese is a powerful flavour that sits in the pan like the Russian president sits in a room full of diplomats from former Soviet states. It’s the same story with bacon. Pop that into the mix and what you always end up with is something that tastes of bacon.

“Are you not getting the delicate hints of pomegranate?”

“Nope. Just bacon.”

All of which takes me back to my dad’s roast heart. I sometimes look online for how this might be made and what I get is “roasted ox heart stuffed with a mushroom duxelle” or “beef heart braised in wine” or “lamb’s heart stuffed with lemon thyme and streaky bacon”. No. And then no again.
And nor can you serve them with a Dover sole so you have the chance for a jokey “Heart and Sole” offering in the menu. I just want heart. I like the taste of it as it is. I like the texture and all I want added is a spoonful of mashed potato to mop up the blood.

I’ve just started an internet thing called FoodTribe, on which people can share thoughts and ideas on food. And I’m going to be sharing this quest for simplicity a lot. I may even go further and start turning the stuff I grow on my farm into straightforward food that I can sell in my simple, straightforward, unheated shop.

As I write, I have three sheep that are due to go “down the road”. I feel sad in some ways, but I’m cheered by the fact that I can have their hearts. And even more cheered by the fact that I’ve accidentally grown 20 tons of potatoes. It’s going to be a supper that makes me feel young again and it will be the first I’ve grown entirely by myself.

Yes. I started a kitchen garden earlier this year and have spent the past few months taking a weird pride that the spring onions, and the carrots and the peas and especially the golden beets, all of which were grown by my own . . . ability to tell girlfriend, Lisa, and gardener, Josh, exactly what I like.

I don’t know why we enjoy eating vegetables that we’ve grown ourselves more than those grown by some disinterested Mexican on minimum wage. Maybe it’s because we know we haven’t urinated on them. Or because we know that no carbon was burnt in their trip from the soil to our table. But whatever the reason, we do. And I cannot wait to do that with meat as well. It’s simplicity in its purest form.


Lamb chops and new potatoes
INGREDIENTS: Sheep, New potatoes, Butter, Bisto granules
  1. Kill a sheep. Remove its chops. Place the chops in the top right-hand oven of your Aga.
  2. Call Aga and ask them to send a man round to fix it.
  3. Throw away the chops.
  4. One month later, after the man has been, kill another sheep and place its chops in the top right-hand oven.
  5. Peel the new potatoes. It’s lazy to keep the skins in place and it’s not healthy because the potatoes will have been drenched in glyphosate.
  6. Do not be impatient. Wait until the potatoes are properly cooked before draining the water. Put them on a plate and add a knob of butter.
  7. Remove the chops from the oven. Realise you should have done that sooner as chops cook faster than potatoes. But put them on the plate anyway and eat. If you wish, enliven this simple dish by adding three heaped tablespoons of Bisto granules to half a pint of boiling water. Then pour in the fat from the chops so it looks like you made the gravy yourself.

McVitie’s Dark Chocolate Digestives
INGREDIENTS: McVitie’s Dark Chocolate, Digestives, Tea
  1. Go to the shop.
  2. Buy a packet of McVitie’s Dark Chocolate Digestives, then bring them home.
  3. Open the packet and remove two. Serve with a cup of tea.
  4. Eat two more as the tea cools. Put what’s left in a cupboard. Start your tea. Go back to the cupboard and get three more biscuits, or four.
  5. Finish your tea and take the mug to the sink.
  6. While there, open the cupboard and finish off the biscuits. Write “McVitie’s Dark Chocolate Digestives” on your shopping list.

Pheasant breast
INGREDIENTS: Pheasant, Horseradish sauce, Bread roll
  1. Shoot a pheasant, being careful to hit it in the face.
  2. Lay the dead bird on its back and place your feet on its outstretched wings. Grab its legs and pull firmly but smoothly.
  3. Say, “Are you sure this is correct?” but keep going because, eventually, the bird’s breasts will emerge from its anus.
  4. Throw away what remains and place the breasts on a grill above the open fire that you’re bound to be huddled round anyway.
  5. Roast for half an hour, turning occasionally, and serve with a bit of creamed horseradish sauce in a bread roll.

Pork and pepper pasta
INGREDIENTS: Pig, Chilli-infused olive oil, Shell pasta, Mushrooms, Green peppers, Onion, Bottom-breaking chillies, Plain flour, Oxo cube Milk
  1. Kill a pig. Remove its tenderloin. Chop into cubic inches and heat in a pan you’ve smeared with chilli-infused olive oil.
  2. Add some shell pasta to a pan of salted boiling water.
0.3 Dice some mushrooms, some green peppers, half an onion and a couple of those small bottom-breaking chillies. Add the whole lot to the meat.
04. Stir it all about.
05. Sprinkle some plain flour and an Oxo cube into the pan when the meat is cooked. Add a splash of boiling water and stir until it starts to thicken.
06. Add a cup of milk. After it all starts to bubble, remove the pasta from the water and add that too. Stir and serve. Everyone will think you’re very clever.


Marrow
INGREDIENTS: Marrow, Milk
  1. Peel the marrow.
  2. Cut it in half.
  3. Scoop out all the seeds and that stringy stuff.
  4. Chop what remains into cubic inches.
  5. Place the cubes in a pan of salted boiling water.
  6. Wait until they are soft, then drain the water.
  7. Do not eat the marrow as it will be hotter than the surface of the sun.
  8. Place the cubes in a colander so that this vast heat can dissipate.
  9. About 30 minutes later, grind some black pepper onto what’s left and eat.
  10. Rush to the fridge for a glass of milk because you won’t have waited long enough and now your mouth’s on fire.

Radishes
INGREDIENTS: Radishes
  1. Build a bed out of oak planks and fill with topsoil.
  2. Plant radishes — go for a peppery variety.
  3. Wait about four weeks.
  4. Pick a radish.
  5. Remove leaves and wash it.
  6. Eat immediately. Any delay at all and it will taste like the insipid radishes you get from a supermarket.

Chicken pho
INGREDIENTS: 128 different herbs and spices*, Chicken, Rice noodles, Star anise, Cardamom pods, Cloves, Coriander seeds, Garlic, Onion, Beansprouts, Mushrooms, Insane chillies, Bok choi
*The proper recipe requires 128 different herbs and spices, none of which will be available in any shop, unless you live in Notting Hill. If you do not live in Notting Hill, don’t worry as pho is street food, so you can pretty much do what you like. This is my suggestion
  1. Kill a chicken, pluck it and boil what remains in a pan of salted water for two hours.
  2. Remove the chicken and, after it has cooled down a bit, tear all the flesh off the bones. Pour the water through a strainer into a pot and let it simmer for an hour.
  3. While that’s happening, soak some rice noodles in bowl of cold water.
  4. In a dry pan, cook some star anise, cardamom pods (Notting Hill only), cloves and coriander seeds for 2 minutes. Remove from the pan and add them to the chicken stock.
  5. Throw away the garlic you bought because it will make your breath smell afterwards. Chop up an onion and add that to the stock, then leave for 30 minutes. Pour the stock through a strainer to remove what you put in half an hour ago. No idea why.
  6. Add beansprouts, mushrooms, some insane chillies and some bok choi (don’t be alarmed — it’s really nice).
  7. Remove the rice noodles from the cold water and add them to the broth. Simmer for four minutes.
  8. Place the meat you tore from the bone into a bowl and cover with the broth.
  9. Eat, and while doing so, wonder why anyone ever cooks anything else.

Cabbage and breadcrumbs
INGREDIENTS: Cabbage, White bread, Butter
  1. Go into your garden and pick a cabbage. The pale sort. Not the winter cabbage, which is used for making gym people feel self-righteous.
  2. Wash away the mud.
  3. Cut off the leaves and chop them into pieces about the size of a stamp.
  4. Boil the stamps for about 10 minutes.
  5. While this is happening, crumble up a slice of white bread. Brown bread has difficult political connotations you need to avoid. Toast the crumbs in a dry pan over a low heat.
  6. Strain the water from the cabbage and add an enormous knob of butter. Then a bit more for good measure. Let the butter dribble all over the cabbage and then sprinkle on the toasted breadcrumbs.

Shepherd’s pie
INGREDIENTS: Sheep, Olive oil, Onion, Carrot, Potatoes, Beer, Tomato purée, Butter, Milk
Ideal for when known vegetarians are coming round for supper
  1. Murder a sheep. Mince up its innards and place in a frying pan with a few splashes of olive oil and a chopped-up onion.
  2. Chop up a carrot sideways and put it in a pan of boiling water. Peel four big potatoes. Chop into four and put them in boiling water too.
  3. Open a bottle of beer and enjoy the contents while you stir the mince and onion. Then have another.
  4. When the carrot is soft, drain and add to the mince. Squirt tomato purée into the mix until everything becomes sort of red.
  5. Drain the potatoes when they are soft and mash them. Then keep on mashing them until there are no lumps. Add a huge knob of butter and a cup of milk and stir. Then place what results on top of the mince and carrots.
  6. Put under the grill until the potato starts to go brown.
  7. Later, when your vegetarian guest says he, or more likely she, is happy to eat just the vegetables, scoop a bit of potato off the top and give her that. Then eat the rest yourself.
 

Revelator

Active Member
Joined
Mar 14, 2012
Messages
432
Location
San Francisco
You can't help a fat child lose weight by insulting them. So target their porky parents instead (March 8)

We read last week about a 15-year-old boy in Bristol who weighs more than his house. All I know about a body mass index is that the world managed perfectly well without it for thousands of years, but apparently this kid's is 44. And that makes him what doctors call "extremely obese".

So extremely obese, in fact, that just recently one of his hips collapsed and had to be repaired at vast expense to the NHS. And to make everything even more tragic, doctors know with an eye-rolling certainty that the boy-whale will go home and sit around eating ice cream and lard until his other hip turns to dust as well.

His mother, who's also described as "overweight", said she simply didn't realise the boy was too heavy. Really? So she reckoned it was normal to live among piles of furniture that had been turned to matchwood by the multichinned pizza monster? Evidently, she did. And she's not alone. One survey found that 85% of parents with fat children think their kid is normal. One parent, with a seven-stone five-year-old, just accepted the kid would eat anything, including frozen sausages from the fridge and, for a light snack between meals, bits of lavatory paper. Another, with a 23-stone 14-year-old, lets him lie in bed most of the day. He hasn't actually eaten the family dog yet, but that day can't be too far away.

Naturally, all of this has sent middle England into spasms of rage. Thin blonde women, who graze monthly on the juice of a nutmeg shell and then spend two weeks spinning to work off the 10th of a calorie it produced, raise their pipe-cleaner arms in despair. "It's the parents' fault," they wail. And they're wrong. It isn't.

Today, kids learn all they think they need to know from Greta Thunberg and Stormzy and Love Island. Parents are just lumpy things in jumpers. They'd listen more intently to a washing machine. At least that has a digital display.

If a child, for whatever reason, decides to spend all day eating sweets and killing zombies, a parent is a bit stuck. Because if they fill the fridge with kale and other weeds and stage forced marches up Scafell every evening, they'll have Dame Esther Rantzen on the doorstep in 10 minutes flat.

I therefore have every sympathy for parents whose children become fat. As the mother of one very obese youngster said: "I'm grieving for a child who's still here." And as my mum used to say: "You can only ever be as happy as your least happy child."

The trouble is that kids who eat too much are almost always unhappy for some reason. And then they're in a vicious circle, because the more they eat, the more they don't look like those people on Love Island, and that makes them even more unhappy. So it's back to the corner shop for more Smarties.

It was argued by some drippy socialist last week that calling someone fat is the same as being racist. They are partly correct. Teasing a child for being fat is wrong. However, when it comes to the parents, it's a very different story.

If you sit there on the sofa every night, washing chocolate and curry down with gallons of rosé, which is what I do, you are subtly letting your children know that it's OK to look like the bastard love child of an elephant and a hot-air balloon.

What's more, you will be annoying in lifts and on aeroplanes, and then soon your knees will stop working, and when you fall down the stairs as a result, it'll sound as if EastEnders is ending. Eventually, you'll end up on one of those ridiculous mobility scooters, which means you'll be annoying all the time, everywhere.

You know you are fat. You know you look ridiculous and you know your back hurts when you have to walk to the shops. You also know you're going to get diabetes, which will cause your penis to break. And yet, despite all this, you are still going to haul your lardy arse over to the fridge for another slab of Cadbury Fruit & Nut. There is only one reason you would do this: you're thick.

Don't try to argue you became heavy on purpose because fat people are harder to kidnap. And don't say you're genetically prone to fatness. You're not. You don't see fat people in famine zones. I was stick-thin until my late twenties. And then one day someone said: "Have you tried this pink wine?" And now I'm a wafer-thin mint away from bursting.

Kindness and understanding won't change a fat person's behaviour. They are engaged in a slow-motion suicide attempt and you're not going to alter their mindset with some gentle hair stroking and the kind offer of some juiced rocket.

Abuse. That's what we need. Shouted insults in the street. Torrents of "fat boy" mocking on social media. Weighing scales that say "No coach parties" when we get on them. Famously, the ex of a former Tory MP who liked a lunch once said that making love to him was like having a wardrobe fall on you, with the key still in the lock. Today, almost certainly because of that dig, he's not fat.

So I would urge the thin and the good looking to step up their fat attacks. Sledge us on Tube trains. Blow out your cheeks when passing us in the street. Give us hell. Point out that not moving is the new smoking and that we are going to bankrupt the NHS with our spineless, weak-willed attitude to booze and biscuits.

Use extreme cruelty to bring us back into line, because if we, the grown-ups, stop being fat, then it's likely our children will stop being fat as well. We can't tell them what to eat, or to sit up straight, or to go outside and play Swingball. But we can lead by example.

Except for the Swingball, obviously.

That's just something naturists do on the cover of Health & Efficiency magazine.

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That's la dolce vita in the rear-view mirror
The Clarkson Review: Hyundai i10
(Sunday Times, March 8)

Driving in the centre of Rome is one of the most uplifting experiences life can provide. I love the cut and thrust, and the sense that traffic lights are not provided for traffic management. They are installed because they enable motorists to settle scores. If you've chosen to stop at the red, which isn't a given, the subsequent green is an opportunity to prove that you have a faster car than the chap alongside.

The result is a city that moves. A city that electrifies. A city where you can actually look forward to your morning commute. Hold-ups, over there, are what women wear under their dresses.

Parking, too, is a joy, because no space is too small. If you can get even a tiny part of your car into it, you can use your bumpers to make it bigger. Or you can simply stop wherever you want. And you know you will be untroubled by the traffic wardens because they're all too busy preening themselves in shop windows. The handbags carried by traffic wardens in Italy were designed — and I'm not making this up — by Fendi.

It's not just Rome, either, where driving is such a joy. It's the whole of Italy. If I were to list my all-time No 1 motoring dream, I'd be hurtling down the Amalfi coast in an Alfa Romeo Spider, on my way to a cliff-top restaurant for some bruschetta. The sun would be shining and Claudia Cardinale would be in the passenger seat and she'd be wearing a headscarf.

It's why I've always loved Italian cars. Even the most dismal looking Lancia Dedra or Fiat Croma has, somewhere in its DNA, a reminder of what driving should be like. You may be on the North Circular on a wet Wednesday evening, the tail-lights dissolving in the coming of night, but in your mind you'll be in Portofino, going slightly boss-eyed because the tomatoes on your bruschetta are so tart.

If I had my way, all cars would be designed by Italians. They have a revvy twin-cam spirit that cannot be quietened. As a boss at Lamborghini told me recently: "If I am forced [by our owners at Volkswagen] to make an electric car, I will shoot myself." He's not alone. Even now, Fiat does not make a single car that runs on batteries. It has one in the pipeline, but you sense that it'll be launched with a disgruntled shrug.

Sadly, however, the Italians are out of step, as am I. The rest of the developed world has got it into its head that the car is a tool for taking small children safely and economically to school, and that the environment has got something to do with this. By and large we no longer buy cars because they are pretty or because they make a sound that tickles our perineums. We care only about what connectivity they have and whether they are able to steer themselves for short periods.

It's also important that they should have excellent satellite navigation systems that can use space technology to spot traffic ahead and reroute us around the problem. Even if that means going down tracks with grass in the middle and the occasional ford. Or along residential streets with speed humps every few hundred yards.

I used a sat-nav system the other day that, for reasons known only to the idiot who programmed it, reckoned I'd be better off avoiding the M4 and traveling through the 14th century instead. After an hour of backing up to let oncoming ox carts past, I knew it was talking nonsense.

What was the matter with the motorway? Probably nothing. I was sent footage recently of a man walking down the middle of various quiet Berlin streets with a trolley full of 99 mobile phones, and therefore causing Google Maps to identify those roads as jammed. Why was he doing this? I have no idea, but as Charles Moore might say, he did appear to have a very left-wing face.

That's what we are up against here. Noisy lunatics with too much time on their hands and access to every half-baked thought in Christendom via the internet. They've got it into their heads that cars are bad.

So they are.

Some middle-class halfwit from Extinction Rebellion took the trouble recently to visit the motoring exhibition running at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, simply so he could festoon one of the displays with some of his organisation's literature.

Still, our flawed attitude is better than the system they've developed in India, which is to arrive at a traffic jam and sit there blowing your horn until it moves. Things have become so bad that in Bombay, or Mumbai, as the BBC calls it (why don't they call Florence "Firenze"?), they fitted a set of traffic lights with a decibel-o-meter designed to keep the lights on red until people stop honking.

At first, motorists were so enraged by the delay that they blew their horns even more vigorously, but eventually they realised they had to stay silent if they wanted to move. Be in no doubt: similar technology will be employed here to prey on the rich Arabs who descend on London every year and commit the heinous crime of getting into their thunderous supercars and "driving about".

Driving about is not allowed. Driving down the Amalfi coast with Claudia Cardinale would even be frowned upon by most people in Britain. "Why didn't you use the bus?" they'd say. Because there's no romance in a bus.

Because it's not something anyone dreams about. Because it's not joyful. And what's the point of being alive if all you want to do is catch a bus to Berlin and walk about with a trolley full of mobiles, making everyone else miserable? I'm minded, after getting all this off my chest, to go to Scotland next weekend with an Alfa Romeo Quadrifoglio and drive from Inverness to Ullapool. Because when I come over a crest and there's that tapering grey snake disappearing off to the next impossibly jagged horizon, my heart will be filled with the buzz of anticipation about the thrills that are to come. A bus can't do that.

After a gentle ramble through my head, it's time to get to the subject of the column — the new Hyundai i10, which is an ideal car if you want to spend from £12,495 on a small, five-door Hyundai. There's nothing wrong with it at all, really, except that if you just want convenient and reliable personalised transport, you'd be better off with Uber in the cities and a train for longer journeys.

That's the trouble with all cars like this. If they are sold to us as soulless tools — fridge-freezers with sat nav and collision avoidance technology — we will quickly decide that the best and cheapest way of getting about is not to have a car at all.

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And here's the Sun column: "I was convinced I had coronavirus — turns out I just drink too much"
 

Revelator

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Joined
Mar 14, 2012
Messages
432
Location
San Francisco
This bruiser has a spring in its step
The Clarkson Review: Bentley Flying Spur
(March 15)

It's been argued since the dawn of automotive time that if a car manufacturer wins at the track on a Sunday afternoon, its sales will increase in the showrooms on Monday morning. Fair enough. So who won the 12-hour Bathurst race in Australia recently? You don't know, do you? I tried the other day to work out how many types of motor sport there are around the world, and it's just about impossible. Certainly there are thousands, and each one comes with its own set of rules and regulations. No one could possibly be expected to follow all of them. Most of us, in fact, follow just one: Formula One. Which, I guess, is why we all drive to work every day in our Red Bulls.

Occasionally a new "thing" roars into our consciousness, such as the British touring car championship in the 1990s. That was tremendous. And these days an increasing number of people who want to watch milk floats whizzing about in city centre car parks are drawn to Formula E. My favourite, though, has always been the Bathurst 1000. I first saw it on television about 500 years ago and couldn't believe my eyes. The cars, big Fords and Holdens, had cameras that could be remotely swivelled to ensure they captured the action. And the commentators could talk to the drivers. And we could listen in.

This annual event was absolutely huge in Australia, where the Ford and Holden rivalry was deep. It was Manchester United v Liverpool but on an epic scale. Big, nasty fights would break out every year, so in an effort to cut down the violence, organisers restricted alcohol. Which meant fans went to the site weeks or even months in advance and buried their beer so it could be dug up and consumed before the fight on race day.

In 1992 the entire crowd was, for once, united in sorrow and grief, because, to everyone's horror, a Japanese Nissan Skyline won. "Boo," they shouted at the winning driver, Jim Richards, as he took to the podium. After they had pelted him with beer cans, he snatched the microphone and called them "a pack of arseholes". It was all very Western Suburbs. I loved it.

Today the Ford v Holden battle is over, chiefly because Holden has gone to that great scrapyard in the sky. But the racing has survived, and earlier this year Bathurst staged around of the Intercontinental GT Challenge — a branch of motor sport that allows supercar manufacturers to go wheel to wheel and see which is best. It should be bigger than the Premier League and the NFL combined. But the average attendance is about one. You get bigger crowds at a county cricket match. And the coverage in terms of column inches is even smaller. Which is why you don't know who won that 12-hour race in Oz.

It was a Bentley Continental. In a race interrupted by the arrival on track of two kangaroos, the big Brit bruiser somehow put one over on the much more lithesome supercars from McLaren, Porsche, Lamborghini,Aston Martin and Audi. Yes, I know this racing version had two-wheel drive and weighed only 1.3 tons, but even so.

Watching something that big do that well was quite a spectacle.

I haven't driven a Continental recently, but I have been driving its four-door brother, the new Flying Spur. And even though this emphatically does not weigh 1.3 tons and most definitely does have cumbersome four-wheel drive, it still absolutely flies. You put your foot down and, when you glance in the rear-view mirror and see all that quilted leather and all that trinketry, you can't help thinking: "How is this even possible?" In the previous version the gearbox could be a bit dimwitted, but not any more. And there are other improvements. There are cupholders in the front. There's even more Volkswagen tech. The ride, even on big 21in wheels, is massively improved. And it is a much more joyous car both to sit in and behold. You can even have an illuminated flying B emblem that rises silently from the leading edge of the bonnet — who doesn't want that in their lives?

Mistakes? Well, let's start with the dashboard trim. So many types of wood are on the options list, you need to be a qualified arborist to decide which would be best. Oregon crab apple, Manchurian walnut with a splash of Siberian stone pine or good old-fashioned Cretan zelkova? Bentley sent my test car with a glossy piano-black finish, and it looked lovely until the sun came out. Then the reflection was so powerful, it was like being shot in the face with a ray gun.

There were other issues. All companies these days are engaged in a headlong rush to reinvent the gear lever. Slotting it into D and setting off is deemed to be old-fashioned, so you must jiggle it this way and that or engage D twice before you can go. And the Bentley's no different. I got cross with it often.

What's more, around the base of the gear lever there are several thousand very small buttons. To see which does what, you must put on your reading glasses and lean over for a good peer. This could be construed as "driving without due care and attention". Plus, you need to be mindful, because they, too, are all set in a glossy piano-black veneer, so if you've got up close and personal when the sun comes out, it's like being shot in the face by several thousand ray guns.

My main issue, however, is the mountainous torque. That gigantic turbocharged W12 engine produces so much of it that your passengers will get an idea of what it would have been like to ride a Saturn rocket. If you have a driver, he'll need ballerina feet and the touch of a gigolo to be smooth.

I don't care, though. This is a fabulous car. Yes, there are small mistakes, but that's what gives it a human quality. Who chooses their friends because they're reliable and sensible? In the Spur you get astonishing smoothness and silence coupled with insane power. When I pressed the brakes, I always thought, "How are they stopping it? How?!" Most of all, though, you get a sense of deep satisfaction every time you get inside. Yes, it's a bit chintzy and a bit Wilmslow here and there. But in a world where everyone else makes car interiors look like the inside of a man's washbag, it's refreshing to have a bit of diamond-gnarled brightwork and some chrome organ-stop vent knobs.

After driving the previous Spur, I concluded by saying the Rolls-Royce Ghost was a better car. But that is not the case any more. The new model is just so sensational.

Plus, it's very affordable, if you are a successful chief executive or a pop star with several No 1 hits in your past. I suppose I'd call it affordable too, but as I'm from Yorkshire, I'd wait until the summer, when the V8 version is set to come along. Not only will this be about £20,000 less expensive, but you won't have to tell your passengers to hang on every time you pull away from the lights.

This means they won't know it's a racing car. No one knows, but trust me on this. It is

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The taps in Luddite Towers are a real turn-on, but I don't want a bath that can fill itself (March 15)

Four months ago, builders started work on my new house and, as I speak, they are roughly a week ahead of schedule.

All newspaper columnists commission builders because they know, with absolute certainty, that the army of men in their hard hats and sturdy boots will be a bottomless well of material. But here? Nothing. Every week, I pray there will be a catastrophe so that I have something to write about, and every week, there isn't.

I was, for example, hoping that when Brexit was settled, a jackbooted army of shock Boris troops would arrive to herd the Romanian brickies into lorries. I'd get three columns out of that easily. But they're all still here, rushing about with a work ethic that would shame a bee.

I haven't even encountered any problems with the endless job of choosing fixtures and fittings. Most people say this is the biggest nightmare, but I'm loving it. I spend hours in plumbing shops in Notting Hill, talking taps with the staff, all of whom are Terry McCann from Minder, and deciding exactly how much damping I'd like in the hinges of the lavatory seats.

Then it's off to the New King's Road in Fulham for the lighting, and although these shops tend to be staffed by people who learnt their retail skills from Serge in Beverly Hills Cop, the choice is bewildering. I bought a stunning golden oak-leaf chandelier the other day for almost exactly £50 less than it would cost to buy a car. It's being made now, in Italy, which of course means it isn't.

I've spent evening after delicious evening agonising over a choice between elm and oak for the hall floor, and wondering whether Purbeck stone is too extravagant for the kitchen. And when I have a chance to think about nothing at all — for instance, when James May is speaking — I think about kitchen podiums and whether they can be made from copper. I think they can.

In short, I am loving the whole process of building my new house, apart from one thing. My complete inability to explain to everyone concerned that I do not want any effing technology. None.

When I'm in my new house, I either want to be warm or not warm. So what I want from a thermostat is the ability to turn the heating on or off. That's it. But no. Instead I'm shown a wireless thermostat that can turn the heating on and off six times a day, and can keep on doing so even when its batteries are flat and I'm on a fortnight's holiday in Jamaica.

Think how small the buttons are going to be. I'll need a cocktail stick to operate them. And think of the menu and the submenus that I won't be able to read because I haven't got my reading glasses on and because there's glare. A system like this means my sitting room will be on a frost setting for ever and in the third spare bedroom I'll be able to grow tomatoes.

They also say I need security, so I'm shown an app that allows me to lie in my bed and actually watch live highdefinition footage of the burglars breaking in. And I'm supposed to not panic because signals have been dispatched to Airwolf, which is on its way.

Pah. Apps and control systems are always designed by nerds who fit features because they can, not because anyone needs them. This is why I shall continue to rely for security on my knobstick. It's wooden, so it will never go wrong, and no instruction book is necessary. You just hit someone on the head with it and then you call the undertaker.

Apparently you can get an app now that allows you to draw a bath before you get home. I see. And you'd trust that, would you? Five miles out, you'll get out your phone and ask for a bath in the absolute certainty that the tap will shut down when the tub is full. Good for you.

Charles Babbage, the inventor of the world's first computer, talked about the "unerring certainty" of machinery. And it's easy to see what he was on about. Provided no components break, a steam engine will continue to perform the same function over and over again, for ever and faultlessly.

Electronical machines are different. Your Sky box works well. Then it doesn't. So you turn it off and on. And then, for no reason whatsoever, it works well again.

My laptop has moods that sometimes become full-on, door-slamming teenage strops. There's nothing wrong with it.

It just won't start until it's calmed down. And my desk drawer is full of old phones that are in perfect working order, except they don't work. And now they never will because I've lost their chargers.

This morning Amazon delivered a snazzy bird-spotting scope, and I may as well put it straight in the bin, because it can be connected to a phone, which means it can't, and it needs a charger, which I will have thrown out with the packaging.

The problem is that we know what electricity is and we know what it does. But not one single scientist has ever been able to understand it. Even the man who "invented" it, Thomas Edison, was stumped. "Er. It's a system of vibrations," he said. So it's like witchcraft and ouija-board evenings.

Sure, it powers our world and our bodies, but it should not be allowed to power unnecessary tat in our houses, because we should not be using what we do not understand. Stick to wood and stone. And use actual people, not apps, to put everything together. That's what I'm doing. It's why everything's working perfectly.

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And here's the Sun Column: "Eco-mentalists burned all the koalas… they can buy the Savlon"
 

Revelator

Active Member
Joined
Mar 14, 2012
Messages
432
Location
San Francisco
My old age is cancelled, society's about to collapse and the greens just can't stop smiling (March 22)

So, the canals in Venice are no longer the colour of a Cadbury Fruit & Nut bar. They are gin-clear. So see-through, in fact, that if there were any visitors to the city, they'd be able to see hundreds of fish swimming about while blinking frantically as they look at the sun and think: "What the bloody hell is that?" This is great news for the hardcore environmentalists, who will read this and say to themselves: "Ooh, that's lovely. Wouldn't it be fantastic if the water stayed that way for ever?" They will also look at the skies and note that there are no aluminium tubes full of fatties from Newcastle streaking their way to the chlamydia hotspots in southern Spain, and none whizzing film people to desperately important meetings in Los Angeles. There's nothing. No contrails. No noise. No haze from the Rolls-Royce jets. Just 93 million miles of fresh, empty space.

Meanwhile, out at sea, the Saga crowd are no longer performing dry, limp sex on one another as their cruise ship turns thousands of tons of diesel into choking brown smoke. And on the roads of many cities around the world, there are no cars. This is what our eco friends have been dreaming about. To them, Utopia is being born right before our eyes.

Already, they are looking at pictures of China, taken from space, and jumping up and down because, for the first time in 30 years, they can actually see it.

Other photographs show that the huge cloud of nitrogen dioxide that normally sits over northern Italy has vanished.

Friends of the Earth are delighted, saying that this shows "many of us can live and work in completely different ways".

Of course, we could explain to our idiotic green friends that thousands and thousands of people are dying. But let us not forget that eco-ists have been calling for a Thanos-level cut in the world's population for years. In 2018, their spiritual leader, Sir Attenborough, said "our population growth has to come to an end".

So, a virus that kills 10% or 20% of us? That's something the greens would welcome. Especially if it's essentially a cull of the old and the sick.

This coronavirus business, then, is their idea of a wet dream. Fewer people, no travel, no pollution and, as a smear of icing on the cake, no commerce. It's been said that the pandemic will hit the poor very hard, but trust me on this: as stock markets crumble, the rich are being absolutely battered.

That sort of thing will make an eco-ist priapic. And when government bonds start to get shaky as well, our green friends may well die of pleasure. Friends of the Earth, in another pearl of wisdom, say that this time of poverty, disease and economic despair will bring out the best in us. They suggest we will all become more lovely.

Yeah, well, I don't see much of that going on in the world's supermarkets. In the aisles, it's just a dog-eat-dog, multi-armed blob of tattooed flubber, rolling about on the floor as people fight over the last bit of Andrex.

And a few weeks from now, when they've eaten the last of their tinned spaghetti hoops and the shelves are bare and they have no money and the banks are shut and the cash machines are empty and the wi-fi's down and the kids are screaming, you wait and see where the milk of human kindness goes then. That's why, when you were stocking up on bog roll, I was out buying four tons of vegetable sets and, just in case I'm right and Friends of the Earth are wrong, 600 shotgun cartridges. (Obviously, I need these to shoot deer. Not burglars.)

I believe that the coming weeks and months will be extremely trying. We will start by playing Scrabble and going for long walks, but soon people will stop paying their taxes. And when they run short of essential supplies, I believe they will resort to theft. Even a vicar, when hungry, will kill the lady who embroiders the church kneelers for a custard cream.

So when the virus is beaten, which it will be one day, I wonder what the world will be like. Ruined, I think. That's the only word.

Sure, the socialist/green movement will see Elton John putting out his own bins and Alan Sugar cycling to the tip, and they will say it's become fairer now the young are poor and the old are dead.

But it fills me with such sadness. I'm sorry, but it does. I'm about to turn 60. I was building a house. And I was looking forward to sitting in a rocking chair on the porch, with a glass of wine, listening to the murmur of far-off civilisation and the whispery giggle of my grandchildren playing hide-and-seek in the long grass.

Instead, I'm facing the possibility of my house never being finished and not seeing the countries I haven't yet visited and losing friends to this effing virus, while having to do back-breaking work on the farm to produce food that I then barter for a clothes peg from the local whittler.

The worst thing, though, is that I'll have to live my remaining days, with dirty fingernails and warts, listening to an endless stream of smug green people, gloating about how happy they are. And how boiling wood to make hoes is exactly what they've always wanted to do.

I don't want to live in that world. Given the choice between clean air and a glass of wine with friends in the pub, I'd be at the bar in 10 seconds flat.

I'm sorry to be so morose this morning. I'm not normally an unhappy person. But right now, among the death and the despair and the absolute destruction of our way of life, I see absolutely nothing to smile about. I think the world as we know it is ending. And I wasn't ready for that.

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Underneath it's a fake — just like my new house
The Clarkson Review: Porsche Macan Turbo
(March 22)

When it's finished, my new house will be a magnificent stone edifice on a hill. It will have Georgian proportions, an elegant roof line, big sash windows and high-ceilinged rooms where I could get about on a pogo stick without banging my head. The views are fairly spectacular too.

I'm watching it rise majestically out of the ground as we speak and, while it's exciting, I have an issue. Because while it will appear to be a handsome honey-coloured block of solid four-square splendour, I'll know that behind the Cotswoldy masonry and the delicate cornicing, the inner walls are made from breeze blocks and the whole thing is held together by RSJs.

Of course this keeps costs down to the point where they are merely eye-watering, and it means I can have much bigger rooms than would ordinarily be possible. Also, I like a steel frame. Steel is a material you can trust, whereas cement is flaky and weak. You don't make a tank out of cement.

Despite all this, I'll always know that I've created a fake, that my house is not what it appears to be. The corridors will not echo to the ghosts of Victorian children playing tag. There'll be no sense that Gordon Jackson ever worked in the back kitchen. Or that now-extinct sheep breeds ever came inside to shelter from the fearsome hilltop winds. I grew up in an old house that felt old. My new one will simply look it and I wonder how that might sit in my head.

To get an idea, I've just spent a week in the new Porsche Macan Turbo. Yes, I know, all Porsche Macans are turbos. But this is the turbo Turbo. It doesn't have a turbo to keep Greta Thunberg happy. It has a turbo — two in fact — to make it fast.

They're blowers that sit on top of the 2.9-litre V6 engine and they're little and free-spinning so they can spool up quickly and do stuff that would make Ms Thunberg very angry. Mind you, this is no great feat.

The end result is a car that, on paper, is pretty fast. But in the real world it isn't. It doesn't feel that much faster than the ordinary non-Turbo turbo. Maybe this has something to do with the epic four-wheel-drive system or the wonderful steering or the clever optional electronic drive aid package, but the power and the speed never felt as terrifying as the stopwatch would suggest.

I'd actually call the performance "perfect". It sets off just fast enough for your passenger to nod sagely and make appreciative noises, but from behind the wheel you never feel as if you're dancing with the devil on an icy precipice of death. It's just a bloody good, quick car with bloody good brakes.

It also has a good interior.

Unusually for an MPV, you sit quite low down, and after you've spent 10 minutes moving the super-slow-motion electronically adjusted steering wheel to the right place, the driving position is perfect. So is the gearlever. Unlike almost all other cars these days, it lets you just put it in D and go. You don't have to do a magic trick with your left hand and tap your nose three times before it'll set off. BMW could learn a lot from this old-fashioned approach.

However, while the car is ready to go, you're not, because next to your left thigh, at the bottom of a bank of buttons four miles long, is a new, optional, one. To understand what it might do, you reach for your reading glasses, which reveal an unusual symbol. It's not one you've seen before. It's a stylised man having what appear to be billiard balls thrown at his face.

You do not want this to happen, so you visit YouTube, where someone has made a video explaining everything. Someone has always made a video explaining everything. Usually his name is James May. And you discover that, when pressed, the button causes the air coming into the car to be ionised.

Quick question on that. If it's a good thing to breathe ionised air — and we have to assume it is — why would they fit a button that allows you to turn the system off? "Today, kids, let's breathe some diesel exhaust fumes instead."

Naturally, there is also a button that makes the car noisier. I left that alone. And several that make it more uncomfortable. I left those alone too. I did play with the heater, though, and quickly worked out that it wasn't very good. "Warm" was a concept it didn't understand. It just did "hot" or "freezing".

Other issues? Well, they've fitted a type of USB port that means you'll have to buy a new cable. And it had a collision avoidance system that I think was designed by my mother. It needed only to spot a snowdrop wiggling gently in the breeze three miles away and it would jam on the brakes. It was alarming and I should like very much to send the man who set it up to prison.

These things aside, though, I liked being in the Macan "actual" Turbo and I liked driving it too. I also liked coming out of the house in the morning to find it sitting there. It was handsome. Maybe the engine could be a bit more charismatic and maybe there could be a bit more space in the back and the boot, but, all things considered, it's a very nice car.

Except for one thing. It's not a Porsche. It sits on the exact same underpinnings that propped up the old Audi Q5. And I don't mean the last one. I mean the one before that. This is a car that was designed to compete with the Humber Super Snipe.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that because the engineering on this car was done during the time of Helmut Kohl, all the costs would have been met by now. I'm sure they have, in fact. So on that basis Porsche could sell the Macan for supermarket prices and still make a buck. But it doesn't. My test car had a price tag of £86,000, and if you go mad with the extras, you can get the price up beyond £100,000.

Maybe it's my Yorkshire upbringing but I don't think I could cope with that. It turns out that I don't mind driving an ancient Audi dressed up as a 2020 Porsche. That's fine. It works very well. And that's a relief because it means I'll be happy in my steel-framed Georgian house. I do mind, however, paying Porsche prices for something that isn't the real deal.

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And here's the Sun column: "Any fool can start a ‘war on coronavirus’, but it will take skill to end it"
 

Revelator

Active Member
Joined
Mar 14, 2012
Messages
432
Location
San Francisco
Heaven to look at, a demon to drive:
The Clarkson Review: Lamborghini Aventador SVJ
(March 29)

Ferruccio Lamborghini started wi' nowt. But he did have a shrewd mind, so, after the war, he realised Italy would need to get moving. He therefore cobbled together a few bits and pieces from Morris and pretty soon he had a tractor. Never mind that you had to start it with petrol and then switch to diesel before setting off, it was a machine. And Italians like machines, especially when you can use them to grow wine.

Having made a few bob from his tractors, he started a business making oil-fired heaters. But then he realised that Italy was quite a warm country, so, using that canny head of his, he developed an air-conditioning system.And soon he had a Ferrari 250 GT.

The clutch kept going wrong, so he took it to Maranello, where Enzo Ferrari basically told him to eff off. Ferruccio therefore decided to make his own cars. He had this mad idea you could mount a V12 engine, sideways, in the middle of a car, behind the driver. And it turned out he was right. You could. So along came the Miura — the world's first mid-engine supercar.

Its aerodynamics were so poor that at about 80mph it would try to take off. But it looked sensational and, actually, that's what people mostly want from a supercar. Styling that can melt a small boy at 500 paces. Everything else sort of doesn't matter.

This was an idea Ferruccio developed well with the car that replaced the Miura: the Countach.

Designed so that no human being could fit inside, it had steering set in concrete, the sort of clutch God uses to start galaxies and the all-round visibility of a postbox. But in 1971 it came into the world with the impact an Apache gunship would have had at the Battle of Hastings. It was the ultimate poster car, a trailblazer for Farrah Fawcett-Majors's right nipple and the Athena tennis girl.

After this, though, things started to go a bit wrong. Thanks to revolution in Bolivia, which was a big market for Lambo tractors, and the oil crisis, Ferruccio decided to spend more time on his unique, twin-Lambo-engined Riva Aquarama speedboat. So the tractor business was snapped up by an Italian rival and the car operation by various smoothlooking Swiss types.

There followed a period of great turmoil, and terrible cars, until, eventually, Lamborghini ended up in the hands of Audi.

The result of this marriage was the Aventador and, let's not beat about the bush, it was easily the most supercar-ish of all the supercars. It's what "Won't Get Fooled Again" is to the world of rock music. Definitive. Everything else is just a copy.

It's a car I know well. I've maxed an Aventador round the fearsome Nardo test track in southern Italy. I used one on the hill climb in Switzerland that very nearly claimed the life of Richard Hammond.And I spent two happy days thundering one around my favourite racetrack, Imola.

There's one thing I can tell you.

It is not a racing car. It does not like being on tracks. Ferruccio Lamborghini would approve of that. He once crashed his Fiat into a restaurant while competing in the Mille Miglia and for ever after nursed a dislike of motorsport.

Lamborghini has flirted with it a few times. It even made a Formula One engine in the late 1980s, but its cars are not built to take chequered flags. If you try, the brakes will fade. And then fail. Yes, they may have carbon ceramic discs these days, but the heat still has to go somewhere.

What the Aventador does very well is "being a car". I once drove one all the way up Italy, and it was quiet and easy and civilised. And that's always been the Aventador niggle. Because Lambos shouldn't be easy. They should be bastards.

Which is why I was delighted to take delivery last week of the new limited-edition Aventador SVJ Roadster. It's wider than the standard car and has a revised exhaust system with monstrous tailpipes located at the precise head height of a following cyclist.

There's also a new electronic aerodynamic system that changes the shape of the car as you drive. So on the straights it's smooth and slippery, and through the corners it becomes heavy and fat with air to improve grip. There's lots of mechanical grip too, thanks to four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering.

Couple all this to a mercifully unturbocharged V12 engine that produces 760 volcanic horsepower and you have a car that can, and did, lap the Nürburgring in six minutes and 44 seconds. No production car has gone round faster than that.

I would like, however, to meet the man who was driving it, because one thing's for sure: he wasn't man-shaped. I am manshaped, so getting inside was a five-minute job. Feet first, get them both under the brake pedal into the far corner of the footwell. Now, right arm on the road, ease your arse backwards, tucking your head into your chest until you hear your spine start to crack. If people are watching, you can be assured they will laugh at you.

It's easier when the roof is off — a simple job that requires only two laps of the car. But when it's off and stored, it fills the front luggage compartment. And when you put it back on, you need to be careful to do the job properly or the passenger seat will fill with water, which will cause your girlfriend to do a lot of swearing. Well, mine did.

Her mood wasn't improved when she found there were no door pockets and no glovebox.

There's nowhere to put anything. Even your head. I therefore had to get out of the car, onto my hands and knees — it's the only way — to remove my coat and thick jumper. This made me very cold, but at least meant I could lean back just enough to get my head inside.

Immediately the seat started to squeak noisily against the bulkhead, so to stop that happening I slid it forward a tad. Which meant I could no longer indicate left, because my knee was in the way. Not that I really noticed this, thanks mainly to the incredible smell of natural gas. People online say this comes from the brakes, but people online say veganism is a worthy lifestyle choice, so they're to be ignored. It's not the brakes. Maybe there are tanks on board to give the exhaust cloud that distinctive blue glow as you drive along. I don't know. But the smell is pig-farm bad.

The ride, however, is worse. It's the worst ride of any car I've driven anywhere in my whole life. It feels like there is no suspension at all, which means that whenever you go over even the smallest bump, your head hits the roof and you will be unconscious until you hit a tree and become dead.

Other things? Well, the Aventador is almost 10 years old now, so its Audi-based control system is Motorola 8900 backward. And the gearbox has a single-clutch system that Alexander the Great once called old-fashioned. Certainly, this is a car that accelerates from 0 to 60mph a damn sight faster than it changes from first to second.

The car was so bad, in fact, that I hardly drove it. It hurt too much to get inside, it hurt when I managed it, and it hurt to get out again.

All of which means Lambo is back to doing what it does best. Because this is a towering, thunderous, fire-spitting monster.

A howling blend of savagery and craziness, all wrapped up in a body that's more mad than the maddest thing ever to come from Hollywood's sci-fi CGI boys.

Lambo, then, has made another poster car. The best poster car of all time. I want one so much, it hurts. But I'd never actually drive it. For going to the shops, I'd use something ordinary. Like a Ferrari.

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Welcome to my new quiz show, Who Wants to Become a Monster? No, you can't phone a friend (March 29)

On the evening of September 10, 2001, an army major called Charles Ingram won the glittering top prize on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, which I now host. However, his stuttering performance was so weird that the producers and technicians knew — even before the studio audience had left the building — that somehow he'd been cheating.

The next morning, while they were figuring out what he'd done and whether cheating in a quiz was an actual crime, a bunch of terrorists flew some hijacked airliners into the twin towers, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, and all of a sudden the world had other, more important things to think about.

Weirdly, however, while those awful events in America have moved from current affairs to the pages of history, the saga of the so-called coughing major rumbles on. We've had a documentary on the matter by Trevor McDonald and a West End play, and next month there's a three-part drama on ITV.

I assume by then that you'll have gone through every single box set on Amazon and Netflix, so you'll be desperate for new material. You won't be disappointed. It's called Quiz, it stars Michael Sheen as Chris Tarrant and it's good. Very good, actually.

The main story — did he or didn't he? — is gripping. But for me the best thing is that we are afforded a glimpse into the weird world of pub quizzing. As someone in the show says, this is a uniquely British pastime because it combines our two greatest passions: "drinking and being right".

Hmmm. I still think a pub is a place for drinking and talking, and nothing else. I hate it when someone says "let's play darts", because why stand up and do maths when you could sit down and chat? I hate snooker for the same reason, and also because I'm comically useless at it. And I especially hate pub quizzes because all of a sudden, men with side partings and jumpers and an ability to reel off all of Britain's monarchs, in order, are given the right to tell people who are approaching the punchline to "shush".

I meet these people regularly on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. Sure, you sometimes get gormless contestants who just want to win enough to buy a greenhouse. They don't see the show as a quiz, so much as a cash machine. But quite often you get pub quizzers. They're part of a network. They speak online. There's a hierarchy. It's a club for people who know the short form of every element in the periodic table and the population of every island in the Pacific. But they can't form an opinion. They're not people. They're tape recorders. Parrots, with adenoids.

By trotting out the contents of their minds, in the Rose and Crown, they win glory. By day they are Brian the librarian. By night they are Brian the slayer of men. And you may think you are nothing like these people. Well, I'm sorry, but stand by to be disappointed.

Many years ago Jeremy Paxman had been booked to host a parents' quiz night at his children's school in Oxford. But thanks to some hanging chads in Florida, he was unable to make it.

So, as my children were at the same school and I'm also called Jeremy, they phoned me.

It was hell. The problem was that all those mild-mannered, middle-class parents had decided to cheat their arses off. They'd turned up with "uncles" who I just knew were emeritus professors. They had mobile phones strapped to their thighs and hotlines to the Bodleian. I felt like I was Andy Garcia in a room full of Danny Oceans. It wasn't a quiz to find out who knew the most; it was a quiz to find out who'd made the most "preparations". And afterwards it was like a war crimes trial. This was pony club mother bitterness, with bells on. Years later I took part in a real pub quiz, with real punters. It was for a segment in my car show, so it was just for a laugh. Get a few things wrong. Gurn at the camera. Go home.

Hmmm. The problem came when we were asked what New York's JFK airport was called, before it was named after the dead president. No one on my team knew. And as I looked round the room, I could see that the great aviation encyclopaedia known as James May didn't know either. This made me happy, because I've seen Goodfellas. So I did know. I therefore snatched up the pen, and wrote, with quite a flourish, "Edelweiss" on the answer sheet.

I was feeling very smug, until the end of the evening, when the quiz master announced that our team had scored no points, because the correct answer was "Idlewild".

In the big scheme of things it didn't matter that I'd got it wrong. The world would still turn. But I was furious, and I put that emotion into words. Some of those words began with the letter "f".

The quiz master wouldn't budge, though. He wouldn't even give me half a point, and then I had to back down from my noisy and increasingly sweary protestations, because the rest of the room started jeering and telling me to shut up.

It's odd. I don't mind losing at anything else — God knows I've had enough practice — but there's something about a quiz that turns us all into monsters.

Maybe it's because we fear being humiliated. That's why German nudists use weights and rubber bands when they're on the beach. And it's why middle-class parents will cheat at a cheese-and-wine parents' evening.

You may watch the new ITV drama and think Major Ingram took part in a million-pound heist five feet from Chris Tarrant's nose. Or you may decide that all he did was exploit loopholes and bend the rules, which is something you'd do as well. In fact it's something you have done. You know you have. Every time you said, in the middle of a game of Trivial Pursuit, that you needed to go to the loo.

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And here's the Sun column: "I have the answer to going out and staying safe… it’s called a motor car"
 

Revelator

Active Member
Joined
Mar 14, 2012
Messages
432
Location
San Francisco
It shouldn't happen to a columnist, but I've just had to give my sheep the full James Herriot (April 5)

I have just had the busiest week of my entire life. While you were at home, Instagramming pictures of your dog and your children and the bread you'd just made, I was in a freezing hilltop barn delivering 150 lambs. You may have seen, on your permitted daily walk, a flock of them, all feet and ears, boinging through the dandelions, and I bet you put a picture of that on Instagram too. Because in the six-month gap between being born and becoming sheep, or chops, lambs are just about the most adorable things on God's green earth.

Hmm. I'm no longer so sure about that. For the first three days of my sleepless and freezing endeavour, things went quite well. But then, on the fourth, there was a problem. A sheep had given birth to one lamb, and I knew from a scan done a couple of months ago that two more were due to come along. After 40 minutes I was starting to get worried. After an hour it became obvious I'd have to slip my whole right arm into a green James Herriot condom and go inside for a furtle.

Job one. Catch the sheep. This is not easy, as sheep are very strong. It had been only 60 minutes since she'd given birth and she was still in labour, but in the first round she took me down with a deft sidestep followed by a hefty rump assault on the backs of my legs. I staggered to my knees and she was coming again, her face contorted with fury.

I tried to go for her ankles using skills gleaned from watching rugby mauls, but it went wrong and I was catapulted backwards. And as I started to fall, I realised I'd land on the new lamb.

It's funny. We like to think that when we are falling over, we have no control, but it turns out that isn't so. Even though the closure of restaurants and pubs means lambs are now worth only about £50, I didn't want to flatten it. So in mid-air I adjusted my trajectory and landed instead on the water trough, knocking it clean off the wall.

Distracted by the sudden fountain, the mother sheep made a mistake and, with a move Jack Reacher would have liked, I managed to bring it down. Once it was incapacitated, I reached round the back and, whispering gently to keep it calm, eased my gloved hand inside. My first thought was, "Ooh that's warm", and my second was, "There's no lamb in here."

I shouted to the shepherdess, who was busy with another sheep on the other side of the barn, and she said I needed to go deeper. So I went up past my elbow and still there was nothing even remotely lamb-shaped. I then looked at the sheep and I could tell by her cross-eyed expression that something was amiss. It was. To put it bluntly, I was biceps-deep in her arse.

At this point, in a plot twist that Brian Rix would have described as far-fetched, Lisa, my girlfriend, arrived. She assessed the situation and, with a despairing shake of the head, said: "Can't you think of something better to do?" Before you all start making animal cruelty noises, I should explain it was a genuine mistake and that actually vets sometimes go in the back bottom to deal with a breech birth. I wish I'd known that at the time. I could have said I was doing it on purpose.

You'll be happy to know that eventually all three lambs were born safely, but this raised another problem. The mother, who to this day still looks at me in a funny way, has only two teats. This meant that, the next morning, when another sheep gave birth to a single lamb, I had to stand at her back end catching all the juices in a bucket. This was a long way from Kate Humble bottle-feeding a lamb on a bed of fresh straw.

But once the juices had been collected, I took one of the triplets, bathed it in the bucket and then presented the subterfuge to the mother of one, who now thinks she had twins. The mother of the triplets, meanwhile, seems not to have noticed one of them has gone missing. Maybe she has other things on her mind.

There was no time to dwell on that, though, because another sheep was in difficulty. As I was now banned from intimate midwifery, Lisa went to work. She did a great job. Well, she found the right hole at least. But this time the news was not so good. One lamb came out backwards. The other came out dead.

And what do you do with a partially rotted dead lamb? Yes, that's right, you put it in the bin. "Not that one," shouted Lisa in the way all women do when men put stuff that can't be recycled into the section for stuff that can.

As I write, most of the lambs are now out in the fields, amazing me with the speed of their development. These are creatures that can walk less than five minutes after being born and run after a day. After two days they started to have sex.

Seriously. The boy lambs will mount anything, including other boy lambs. I saw one yesterday suckling on its mother's teat while trying to impregnate his sister. This is why the shepherdess has put elastic bands round all of their scrotums. It's a job I would not do. And now, as I walk about, making sure the crows are not pecking out the lambs' eyes — which happens a lot — I can occasionally feel, through the sole of my shoe, the squelch of a testicle that's dropped off.

Lambing, then, is a revolting process, and worse is to come because in a few months they'll all go to market. I'll find that quite sad. And I'll find it even sadder if someone panic-buys the lot and then ends up throwing what they couldn't eat in the bin. After what I've been through, that would break my heart.

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The Clarkson Review: Renaut Clio
It’s perfect without any extras, Papa
(April 5)

I’ve never owned a French car. I’ve never even wanted to own one. I used to like the Citroën CX enormously, especially the way the back, not the front, dipped when you braked. It was a car, then, that looked at the laws of physics and said, with a shrug, “I’m French, so I’m not going to pay any attention to this English kernigget Isaac Newton.”

I also liked the way the stereo was mounted vertically between the front seats, so if you dropped bits from your croissant or your Double Decker bar, they would fall into the cassette slot and jam it.

And then you had indicators that didn’t self-cancel. You pushed a rocker switch on top of the instrument binnacle, made the turn and then drove for 40 miles wondering why every other road user was flashing their lights at you.

The CX was a comfortable, spacious and very good-looking car. But it was bonkers. And you just knew that it had been hurled together in a factory with 101 lavatory facilities and a floor carpeted in bits of car that hadn’t been screwed on properly. That’s why you bought a Volvo instead.

Other French cars I didn’t want but liked nevertheless include the Peugeot 504 convertible, the Peugeot 205 GTI, the Renault Fuego turbo and the mid-engined Renault Clio, even though that was even more bonkers than the big Citroën. It had a turning circle so vast that you needed all of Canada to do a U-turn.

All the other thousands and thousands of cars they’ve made were school-field-trip dull, designed for French motorists who really only needed something that could be used to create a parking space. They were just bumpers with engines.

So I wasn’t terribly excited to discover that my latest test car would be Renault’s all-new Clio. I knew what it’d be like. Clangy doors. A clattery diesel engine. Foam seats and a weirdly high safety rating from Euro NCAP, which is backed by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile.

First things first. It doesn’t have clangy doors. They close with the exact sound a landing parachutist makes when his equipment has failed to open. And there’s more. When you turn a knob, it feels as if there’s some weight behind it, as if Renault’s knob man may have actually attached it to something.

Also, the seats are not stuffed with the sort of flotsam left over after a festival. They’re good and grippy and comfortable. I’m going to say it. This car feels German.

Then you set off and immediately it doesn’t feel German. German cars are schloss-dungeon hard. They don’t need compliant suspension because in Germany potholes are against the law. The new Clio is that rarest of things, a car that rides nicely and corners well too. It also has absolutely beautiful steering.

The engine’s not bad either. I can’t remember the last time I drove a French car with spark plugs, but because diesel is now seen as the fuel of the devil, that’s what this one had. I’ll be honest. I missed the low-down grunt you get from an oil burner. The petrol engine never really gets going. It’s smooth enough and economical too, but on a hill you do need to change down if you want to keep moving.

Perhaps this is why — surprise, surprise — the Clio has a five-star safety rating: you’re never going fast enough to hurt yourself in a crash.

And the good news keeps on coming, because it’s practical as well. It has a boot bigger than any other car in this class and a decent chunk of real estate in the back too. After only two days I was beginning to think that finally someone had made a better small car than the Ford Fiesta. I was really, really enjoying it.

And then I had a look at the prices and was amazed to see that it costs less than all its main rivals. So, good value, fun to drive, so slow it’s safe, spacious and seemingly very well screwed together.

However, while people like to think they care about this kind of stuff, what they actually want are features that make passengers envious. And that’s where the Renault comes unstuck.

My test car had a huge iPad-type screen attached to the dash, and this is used to control everything. Well, that’s what someone will have said in a biscuits-and-flipchart meeting. But it simply didn’t work.

Up to six people can dial in their own settings. Then you just push one button and all the stuff that can be adjusted silently becomes tailored to you. I bet they toasted that idea with a vat of wine and a slice or two of raw bunting.

But what happens in practice is absolutely nothing at all. The screen doesn’t wake up. So you set off, and several miles later, when it does, you try to operate it. No chance. Good though the suspension is, it’s not good enough to ensure your outstretched finger hits the right bit of the screen. So now you’ve got to hit the “go back” button, but you’re guaranteed to miss that as well. And then you’ll have to concentrate so hard on finding where you are in the menu that you’ll fail to see the approaching corner, and crash. Luckily, however, because of the engine’s feeble output, you’ll be doing only 12mph.

I learnt after a few days to get in the car about an hour before I needed to set off so I had time to wait for the screen to warm up. But even when it did, there were still problems. It’s possible, for example, to change the dash so you have a rev counter display, but achieving this took — I’m not exaggerating — 40 minutes. Apple knows how to make screens that work. Renault does not.

Then you have the buttons on the steering wheel. Push any one of those and you get a mildly different readout on the dash. Eventually I had to look in the instruction book, but the photographs should all have had those Boots “out of focus” stickers on them and the words had plainly been written by someone for whom English wasn’t even a third language.

And then it all got worse, because the seatbelt warning “bong” started even though my seatbelt was done up. Being told to do something you’ve already done is mind-bogglingly annoying. After seven seconds I wanted to kill myself. After seven minutes I wanted to kill everyone in the whole world.

What we have here, then, is a really good little car that’s been ruined by all the show-off electronic tat you don’t need. If, however, you buy the entry-level Play version, you can get round that because it’s just the basic car with no flim-flam. It’s the croque monsieur. Not the croque monsieur with velouté de pouce-pied électronique.

I still love the Ford Fiesta, but I’m fairly sure the base Clio would be a sound alternative. It may well be even more than that: the first French car in years you’d actually want to buy.

THE SPECS
Engine 999cc, 3 cylinders
Power 99bhp @ 5000rpm
Torque 118 Ib ft @ 2750rpm
Acceleration 0-62mph: 11.8sec
Top speed 116mph
Fuel / CO2 54.3mpg / 118g/km
Weight 1,178kg
Price £17,995
Release date On sale now
Jeremy’s rating ★★★★☆

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And here's the Sun Column: "To quote Donald Trump, we may have cut off a leg to treat an ingrown toenail"

One excerpt: "I’d love to tell you a new Grand Tour episode is coming but the man who runs that show, and edits it, is currently lying in his bed, pausing occasionally to cough up a bit more lung."
 

MWF

Now needs wood
Joined
May 29, 2008
Messages
28,280
Location
MWF HQ, Ukadia
Car(s)
MX-5 1.8i Indiana SE, update pending
Damn, that's Wilman. I hope that's typical Clarkson hyperbole and that AW is OK.
 

Revelator

Active Member
Joined
Mar 14, 2012
Messages
432
Location
San Francisco
Thank the lockdown gods, it's no Lambo
The Clarkson Review: Vauxhall Corsa
(April 12)

When Boris Johnson took his needle off the record and everything had to stay exactly where it was, the car I had on test was not a Lamborghini or a Bentley or an F-type Jag. Nope, the car I'll be living with for the next 300 years, the car that will not be picked up until after the coronavirus all-clear has sounded, is a bloody Vauxhall Corsa.

I don't know why this fills me with such Eeyorish gloom. Maybe it's because cars must have a sense of place. You need to know where they were made, because then you can understand why they're the way they are. A Ferrari is obviously Italian. A Honda is obviously Japanese. A Vauxhall is obviously … nothing at all. It's automotive wallpaper paste.

For as long as most people can remember, Vauxhall was part of General Motors, which meant it was American, but the only thing I can think of that's less American than a diesel-powered Astra is Stalin's moustache. Maybe this is because Vauxhall is a sister company to Opel, which makes it German. Except that these days it's part of the Peugeot group, so it's French. Apart from the fact that the Corsa I've ended up with was made in Spain. It is, then, like one of those ghastly Eurotrash people you see in Hello! magazine: a baseless, rootless waste of blood and organs.

And, oh my God, the people who drive them. Whenever someone comes up the drive to my farm in a pick-up truck, I know he or she will be arriving to do a job of work. Shepherding. Fencing. Bulldozing. Tractoring. And whenever someone comes up the drive in a Vauxhall, I know it will be someone from the government to stop them.

I'm not kidding. When I see an Insignia coming into the yard, I dive into a vat of slurry to escape, because it's always someone with a clipboard and an expenses chit and an encyclopedic knowledge of the obscure rule I've just bent. I can't remember what my teachers drove, but I bet all the annoying ones who enforced the rule on top buttons being done up had Vivas.

The problem is really that old.

Vauxhalls have always been Ernie Wise to Ford's Eric Morecambe. They have tried to be part of the gang and, occasionally, to be cool, but never pulled it off. Being named after a railway station might also have had something to do with it.

They've even had fast cars over the years. The Chevette HS, for example. And the droop-snoot Firenza. And the Lotus Carlton, which was created by fitting a Saturn V rocket to a canal boat. Some of these were actually quite good. But what sort of person sits up in bed in the middle of the night and says, "Right, business is good, I shall buy a fast Vauxhall"? Behind the scenes, James May, Richard Hammond and I have always agreed that the single funniest thing in motoring is the concept of a "fast Vauxhall". It displays such a monumental lack of ambition. It's like buying a really expensive piece of jewellery — from the market.

I once asked an idiot — he had on a tracksuit and a baseball cap, and he spoke without really moving his mouth — what car he would buy if he had an unlimited budget. "A Calibra turbo," he replied. It was the single most underwhelming, shoulder-sagging answer in the entire pointless history of vox pops.

That's why I was miserable about my new life in the Corsa. And doubly miserable to discover it had one of those lively three-cylinder turbo engines. Sweet Jesus. It was trying to be a fast Vauxhall without even having any under-the-trousers cred. At least the Nova SRi, which tried to pull off the same trick in the 1980s, had flared wheelarches.

That said, the Corsa was quite pretty. And practical too, I think. I tried to borrow some children to see how many would fit in the back, but that kind of thing is apparently frowned on these days. I then went for an essential drive to do key work and you know what? Despite myself, I liked it.

The Renault Clio I tested last week was more comfortable, but the Corsa is peppier and more eager. That engine really does have a sense of place. And the place is very definitely France. There's an off-beat strum and, despite the fact it's only a 1.2, it doesn't half crack along. My only real complaint from behind the wheel was the braking. I only had to look at the pedal and the damn thing stood on its nose like it was in a cartoon.

Oh, and when you push the button to start the engine, what happens is: the engine doesn't start. It just sits there. So you push the button again and it thinks, "Oh, you do want me to start after all." This is annoying. But, all things considered, it's not bad at all. If it were called something else — the Murderer, for example, or the Faeces — then I'd recommend it wholeheartedly. And I know someone else who would as well.

I'm sharing my cottage in these trying times with an 18-year-old girl. Wait. Let's be clear. I'm sharing my cottage with her mother, and she's here because of that. As you can imagine, she is not happy about the quarantine. She's supposed to be taking her A-levels this year. She's supposed to be planning the school trip to Magaluf and a million summer parties. Instead of which she's here, clearing out the chickens, mending fences and pretending she's happy to watch a Bond film every night. But it's not all doom and gloom, because I have a long drive and I have that Vauxhall and it has a manual gearbox.

So what she does is invent reasons for going to the bottom of the drive and then, when she's there, invents things she's forgotten back at the house. It's all she does. Whizz up and down the drive. It's entirely possible that when the prison doors are opened and we are allowed out again she will have become the new Lewis Hamilton. She will certainly be the first person in human history to say that her only true happiness for a long time was a brown 1.2-litre Vauxhall Corsa.

In a funny sort of way, the fact it makes her happy makes me happy too. So I'm glad I don't have a Bentley or a Lamborghini, because she's too young to drive something like that.

And here's the funny thing. The herbert from the Welsh Pig Breeders' Gazette who does have the Bentley and the motoring writer from Cosmopolitan who's got the Lamborghini can't drive them either. Because in these troubled times "road-testing a car" is not a good enough excuse to leave your house.

They are, then, marooned by their own good fortune.

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While we're stuck at home, Bounty Bar Man and Cola Woman are having a litter-chucking field day (April 12)

Good news. The world's paparazzi have decided that they're key workers. They reckon the human race cannot survive without food, power, healthcare … and a daily fix of Amanda Holden in a short skirt. So while we cower under the kitchen table, whimpering, they're still out there, risking their lives to bring us a bit of celebrity side boob. I salute them.

I don't actually. I think they're annoying. And I find it wildly hypocritical when they go outside to take photographs of famous people who should not be outside. However, last week one of them managed to capture the moment when a man nicknamed "the Hot Felon" wound down the window of his car and lobbed his unfinished lunch onto the pavement.

If you are unfamiliar with this Hot Felon man, I salute you too, but let me fill you in. He shot to fame after he was arrested on gun possession charges and the Los Angeles police department put his mugshot online. Thousands of very stupid women thought he was goodlooking, and as a result he was given a modelling contract. And as a result of that, he went onto date, and then father a child with, the daughter of the Topshop boss, Sir Green.

This made him a paparazzi target and he responded by wearing extremely weird clothing and pausing on red carpets wherever possible. We all knew he'd done two years for beating up a child. And we all knew he'd been part of the LA gang scene. But it didn't matter. Because thousands of orange women were saying: "Oh, but look at his eyes and his chiselled jawline." So he probably thought he could get away with anything, which is why he decided to lob his half-finished lunch out of the car window.

And do you know the awful truth? He will get away with it. The idiotic pap who caught him in the act was more bothered about who he was with. So were the idiotic gossip journos who wrote the captions. No one was bothered about the fact he was throwing effing litter out of the effing window. Except me. I still think this is the only crime for which there should be the death penalty.

A month ago I decided to tidy all the litter from the verges on the small single-track road that goes through my farm. I was pleased with myself, but last week, on my daily walk, I noticed the problem was back and worse than ever. In fact I counted, and lying in the grass on this mile-long stretch of country lane there were 117 new pieces of junk.

And what makes that astonishing is that we've been in lockdown all that time. These days only a handful of people are using that road.

The problem gets worse if you go further from the verges. The same day, in one field, I found a car bonnet and a front door. In another are 24 bin liners filled with something squishy. And in another a mini fridge. And that's just the big stuff. The cans and the wrappers, they're just endless. It's as if there's been a plane crash out there.

I did a survey and the results are interesting. There are no discarded champagne bottles and no Caffè Nero paper cups. Round these parts Minuty and Léoube rosé wine is popular, but I could see no evidence that the people who drink it throw the empties over the nearest wall.

There were no Daylesford sausage-roll wrappers either, and nothing that ever contained olives, chicken liver pâté or Green & Black's dark chocolate. Examine the flotsam and jetsam and it's as though the middle classes simply don't exist.

We know there will be no evidence of the toffs either, because the upper classes never throw anything away, ever.

Did you see the Queen's phone in that photo they released recently? It was the sort of thing that used to ring in James Herriot's study when you dialled Darrowby 385.

I'm afraid, then, that when we are looking for someone to blame for the mountain of litter, we need to say it like it is. It's the Flora margarine people. Idiots who like milk chocolate Bounty bars and Nando's and cola from companies you've never heard of because it's even cheaper than Pepsi. It's people who are stupid.

I spent some time that day wondering what goes through their heads as they throw their greasy kebab papers out of the window, and then I realised it was a futile exercise. Nothing goes through their heads. They are not capable of thought. They are insects, in tracksuits.

Which gives me an idea. When we get out of this godawful Covid-19 mess and we are plunged into economic chaos, none of these human-shaped bluebottles will have a job. They'll be standing around like goldfish at feeding time, waiting for a BBC vox pop reporter to come along so they can say the lack of government action is "disgusting".

Well, how's this for a plan? When we were all told to stay at home, the first thing almost all of us did was tidy up. And when we'd tidied up the bits we could see, we tidied up the bits we couldn't. At one point I vacuumed my gun safe.

And that's what we will have to do when the virus has been hammered back into the bat from which it first escaped. We are forever being told that the world will be a different place. Greener and kinder and all those motivational, social-media-friendly things that people trot out when they've planted a tree or bought some organic chai.

Yeah, well, if we want it to be greener and kinder, and cleaner as well, we should get the millions of unemployed to work for their dole. Put simply, they can have a state handout only if they turn up at the dole office with a bag of rubbish. That's similar to what they do in Tanzania, and as a result the place is spotless. I think we've a lot to learn from rich countries like that.

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And here's the Sun column: "Scientists should be fighting Covid-19 — not making a moonbase out of urine"
 

Revelator

Active Member
Joined
Mar 14, 2012
Messages
432
Location
San Francisco
They called it Puma - and put in a dog bath
The Clarkson Review: Ford Puma
(April 19)

When the coronavirus first leaked out of an undercooked bat and became a thing, large parts of China shut down and this had an effect on car-buying habits. Quite a big effect. Sales in February were down at one point by 92%, compared with the same period in the previous year.

I'm genuinely staggered by this. Because what it means is that in a month that featured the worst epidemic the country had ever seen, with bodies piling up in the eerily quiet streets, 310,000 people bought a new car.

In Britain the situation was similar. Last month sales were down 44% to 254,000. Not many people — but some — woke up and thought: "I know what I'll do today. I'll buy some new wheels."

In February, which was of course a diferent aeon, I spent a morning at the accountant's and decided afterwards that I'd like a new car. I spent the next day with a man from Bentley, choosing options and holding swatches of leather up to the light. It was very exciting. But now I've got other, bigger things to think about, such as: will I be dead soon? I used to be mildly asthmatic, I've smoked three-quarters of a million cigarettes and I've had pneumonia. Plus, by the time you read this, I'll be 60, so if I catch the virus and have to go to hospital, I'll be wheeled straight past the ventilators and put in the bin.

If I don't catch the virus, it'll get me next season or the season after that, when I'll be even older and even less likely to survive. So with that thought ricocheting around my head, I'm not spending much time thinking about my Spur.

There are other things I think about, though. Such as: how many people, when this is over, will have a job? And what are they going to live on? And how soon will it be before there are riots and a breakdown of society? And, selfishly, how will I live when my savings have disappeared as though they were never there? I could sell my flat, I suppose, but with the economy in ruins I can't imagine I'd get much for it. Who knows? When things get really dreadful and I'm awaiting trial for shooting a burglar, I shall probably end up bartering the flat for a trug of leeks. The only consolation is that I won't be suffering alone. Everyone will be a penniless and jobless drunk.

Actually, strike that. Not everyone. The lockdown — I still don't know what that word really means — has proved that we need only three things in life: food, power and wi-fi. So the people who provide these things will still have jobs. This week's road test, then, is for the nation's greengrocers, the power station workers and Sir Dunstone.

When I heard Ford was bringing back the Puma, I was quite excited, because the old one from the 1990s was a proper hoot, and pretty too. But, actually, all Ford has done is brought back the name and put it on the back of a box.

Still, a post-apocalyptic world where no one is rich and all the ill people are dead is no place for stylish and sporty automotive statementising. The car will simply be a tool, and that's exactly what the new Puma is.

Ford has tried to make it look untoolish by giving it some curves and an enormous mouth, but this hasn't really worked. It's like putting snazzy training shoes on James May. He's still James May. And, anyway, the styling isn't very good.

The innards, however — that's a different story. Let's start at the back, in the enormous boot, which can be made even more enormous if you remove the floor. This reveals a washable well with a drain plug. Got a muddy dog? This is perfect: you can wash him and then lift him out.

The back seat is spacious enough for three children, but they won't want to be there for long as there are no USB ports and no vents. But don't worry if the resulting stuffiness causes a stomachular reversal, because you can unzip the seat covers and put them in the washing machine. Amazing. It's almost as though this car was designed by an actual person who leads an actual life.

Happily, it's obvious they also like driving, because, unlike almost every other small SUV, this one is a laugh when you're in a hurry. It's based on the Fiesta, which is the best-driving small car, and it shows.

Yes, the 1-litre engine has only three cylinders, so it doesn't sound as though you're going to get much chilli in the mix.

However, it is fitted with a large turbocharger.And to fill the time while that's spooling up, there's a hybrid drive system as well. All this means that in the ST-Line X version I drove, you get extremely good economy and a scarcely believable 153 horsepower.

Somehow, despite all the tech, the Puma is quite light, and that's what makes it so brilliant to drive. It's not better than the Fiesta, because it's taller and bigger, but for an SUV it's a peppy, whizzy riot. And, as the roads in postapocalyptic Britain will be largely deserted, you'll appreciate this.

You'll also appreciate the location of the "lane keeping" switch. In most cars it's fitted as an afterthought down by your right shin, but Ford has put it on the end of the indicator stalk so it's easy to turn off. Which is something I do even before I've put my seatbelt on. Having an electronic nanny gently tugging at the wheel drives me to such despair, I often breakdown in tears. And it would be doubly annoying in the Ford, which has such lovely steering.

It also has a pretty good infotainment system. The writing's a bit small for the elderly, but in the near future that won't matter, because short-sighted people, and old people for that matter, will all be dead. I especially like the way you can change the look of the whole dashboard. This would keep a passenger amused for hours.

And, again, it shows that there's someone deep in the bowels of Ford who understands what people want from a car. Speed, economy, safety, cheap insurance, blah, blah, blah. Funky lighting, sensibly placed switches and removable seat covers — that's what matters. Along with a dog bath in the boot.

The only thing I didn't like about the Puma, apart from the styling, was the seating. This is true of many Fords. It feels as if you're at one of those parents' evenings, sitting on chairs designed for a six-year-old.

Those things aside, though, this car, designed in one age for use in another, makes a great deal of sense. It could have been just another fridge-freezer in a long line-up of other white goods, but it's not. It has some genuinely nice touches. If, then, I needed something to get me to and from work at Sizewell B, it'd be ideal.

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We definitely can't blame the Germans this time, so wealthy second-homers get a kicking instead (April 19)

For the past couple of weeks, we've been told fairly constantly that this virus is bringing out the best in us. We see pictures of people setting up community larders in village phone boxes and women making jam to raise money for nurses and we think, "Yes. We are all much nicer."

However, I'd argue that, in fact, the lockdown is turning most people into monsters. We have the police ordering youngsters to stop sunbathing, and fights in supermarkets, and mealymouthed old bats patrolling the streets with tape measures to ensure everyone is 6ft apart. And then, last week, a nurse came back from her shift to find one particularly unpleasant neighbour had posted a note through her letterbox, castigating her for leaving the house.

All of which brings us, naturally, to Gordon Ramsay. He decided that if he was going to have to stay at home, the home he'd like to stay at was his backup pad in Cornwall. If the virus had brought out the best in his neighbours, they'd have left a nice cake and a welcoming trug full of vegetables outside his front door. Instead, they're all running around saying the crinkly old bastard should bugger off back to Scotland.

Rita Ora is having the same problem.

She's been posting pictures of her breasts from the rural idyll she's rented, and what's wrong with that? "A lot," say her new neighbours. They have taken to local forums to make up stories about how she's behaving and to say that she should have stayed in effing London.

David Beckham is copping it too, and so is the Queen after she fled London in her "Chelsea tractor" to batten down the hatches at her second castle in Windsor. People say these weekenders will place an undue strain on stretched rural services, but that's not the real reason for their resentment. It's bitterness. It's petty jealousy. As far as I know, Rita Ora hasn't been into the local village to lick the postmistress's nose, so why should it bother anyone else if she wants to live in a second home? Simple. Because she can afford one and they can't.

The big problem is that when the pandemic is over, things will get much worse. As millions emerge, blinking, into the light to find they have no food, job, pension or savings, anger will mould their bitterness into a petrol bomb. Especially now that petrol is so cheap.

I heard on the radio last week a man with a garden centre demanding that the government buy all his stock because he hadn't been able to cash in on the traditional Easter boom. I feel his pain. Of course I do. But he's not alone in "demanding" government cash. The airlines also want it. So do the road haulage contractors, every single charity, the catering industry, drycleaners, cake-makers, farmers, engineers, racehorse trainers, lowerleague football clubs, printers, builders, landlords, mortgage companies, banks, car dealerships. Literally everyone wants it. And literally everyone isn't going to get it.

A woman in my village can't see why. She thinks Boris Johnson should hand cash to anyone who needs it. I asked where this cash was going to come from and she was perplexed. "From Boris," she said as if I were mad. She's not alone. Thousands of people believe cabinet ministers pay for the NHS and our submarines out of their own pockets.

Others who have a (slightly) better understanding of fiscal issues will say the problem can be addressed by taxing the rich. "Bleed Rita Ora dry," they will yell. "Squeeze Gordon Ramsay so hard he becomes smooth." They really do believe that if second-home-owning celebrities, and Google, paid more tax, all Britain's problems would be solved.

Because there are so many people like this out there, and because social media gives them a voice, this government will not survive the post-virus apocalypse. Unless the Argentinians can be persuaded to invade the Falkands again, which is unlikely.

Sure, Boris will try to surf his wavelet of popularity for a while, but eventually he will be consumed by the tsunami of bitterness. And then he will be dragged from a drainage ditch by an angry mob who'll push a scaffolding pole up his bottom.

We are told that two million could lose their jobs, but it could be four million. It could be six. We've already seen footage from Italy of enraged families trying to kick their way through a supermarket's windows, and it's likely this will happen here too. We will be living in a world of "I see, I want, I take". So the next time Gordon Ramsay goes down to his seaside retreat, he'll find 16 Corns in his sitting room, watching Straw Dogs.

To prevent this kind of social meltdown, it's imperative we find someone to blame for all our problems. That's what we do at the end of a football match. We discuss with one another whose mistakes were responsible. It's what happens when a political party loses an election. It seeks a scapegoat to cast into the wilderness. It's also what happens after every disaster. An inquiry is set up, ostensibly to prevent the same mistakes from being made in the future, but in reality its primary purpose is to discover who made those mistakes. So they can be hounded off Beachy Head.

And that's our problem with the virus.

We can't blame what we can't see, so we are lashing out at people walking in the Peak District and sunbathers and Gordon Ramsay and those poor souls who host the daily press conferences and Jeff Bezos and anyone who we think is better off than we are.

This needs to stop. In the First and Second World Wars there were unimaginable hardships, but the country was united because everyone knew who was to blame. The Germans. All our negative energy was focused on them, not one another.

Sadly, these days, it is considered racist to blame a country and its people and their penchant for eating wildlife. But I think it would be healthier for everyone if we could.

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Um, no Clarkson, it wouldn't. It would just lead to racism against anyone who looks Chinese. That's what's happening in America as we speak. Increasing taxes on the very very wealthy and on even wealthier corporations would be the healthy option for economic recovery.

Anyway, here's the Sun column: "Lockdown has taught me all I really need is electricity, wifi and biscuits"
 
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