Clarkson's Sunday Times Columns

Mr. Nice

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I can't comment on the UK, but in the US we can and should be raising taxes on the wealthy. When my 97 year old grandfather was an IRS agent, the top rate varied, but it was at least as high as 91% for top earners during part of his career. I think that the amount of earnings that currently put an earner into the top rate is $518,000. The top rate is currently 37%. That means that for every dollar earned over $518,000 the earner pays 37 cents to federal income tax. We could very easily raise that to 68%, which would help to pay for our recent $2 trillion stimulus. Under Trump, our deficit had already ballooned, and now our national debt is as high a percentage of GDP as it was in WWII. If we continue without raising taxes, the likelihood of government default will rise. If the government defaults, our currency will have little or no value. A lot of haves will become have nots in the event of that happening.

In the US, it would most definitely be better to raise taxes for awhile. This would increase the financial security of both the rich and the poor.

https://www.bankrate.com/finance/taxes/tax-brackets.aspx

It's worth mentioning that the TCJA changed the corporate tax rate to a flat 21%. Corporate holding companies, which generate income mostly from dividends, now pay a flat 20% rate.
 
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Revelator

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Well, well, well, this is a sticky one. We'd best start burning the midnight oil. And the daytime oil... (April 26)

Everyone is saying the same thing. That the skies last week were impossibly blue. Blue in a way not seen since the days of the dinosaur. Tuscany blue. And as clear as gin. So clear that on high ground you could see New York. And everyone has decided this heavenly sharpness has nothing to do with the easterly winds, which have, since the dawn of time, brought clear skies. No. Everyone has decided that this time the skies are clear because there are no aeroplanes in them.

So now everyone is rushing about telling anyone who'll listen that there can be no going back to the old ways. That when this pandemic is over, we must keep the planes on the ground and our cars in the garage. Doubtless Sir Attenborough will fly himself and a large film crew to Tuvalu at the first opportunity to stand up to his ankles in the sea and tell us to take our holidays from now on in Ullapool.

There is, however, a small problem with this. The world is geared up to use about 3,500 million gallons of crude oil a day. But now, because about 40% of the world's population is stuck at home, only 3,000 million gallons are needed. Which means that every single day 500 million gallons are coming out of the ground and no one wants them.

This — among a host of other things — has had a dramatic effect on oil prices. At one point in America last week, oil traders were paying people $37 a barrel just to take the stuff off their hands.

You may wonder why they don't just hang on to it until all this Covid-19 business blows over. But where exactly do you store 500 million gallons of crude? A large household central heating tank can hold 500 gallons, so they'd need a million of those. And the next day a million more.

This is hard to visualise, so let's use the standard unit of measurement here. Right now there is enough excess oil coming out of the ground, every two days, to fill Wembley stadium to the brim.

Already every tanker and every storage depot is full, and still the surplus oil keeps on coming, at the rate of 20 million gallons an hour. That's why traders are paying cash money to offload the stuff. They have nowhere to put it.

Farmers can pour their surplus milk down the drain, but you can't do that with oil. Well, you can, but if you did, Sir Attenborough would have a duck fit. He needs that oil so his film crews can fly off to film penguins.

You may imagine, of course, that the oil companies could simply shut down some of their wells, but it's not that easy. Oil wells are like coalmines. When you shut them down, you have the devil's own job to start them up again.

There's a similar problem with power stations. Demand is down 20% , but you can't just stop and start a gas turbine as though it's a car. So at present the power companies are churning out power that no one wants. And electricity is even harder to store than oil. They're so desperate that there's talk of them shutting down the wind farms for a while. That made me smile.

Since I diverted off topic and talked for a moment about power stations, 350,000 more gallons of oil have been produced. The situation is so dire that there are even plans to store it in trains and swimming pools. But I've had a better idea.

Cruise ships are a menace. When they're not blocking the views in Venice or crashing into bits of Tuscany, they're bumbling about turning Senokot into sewage and filling the sky with particulates. I don't mind things that pollute if they have a purpose, but what purpose do these ocean-going smoke machines serve? We're told that the view from your cabin constantly changes, but that's patently untrue. The sea is always the sea. Yes, it changes colour depending on the weather, but if you want to sit in a room looking at the sea changing colour, why not rent a static caravan in Tenby? The food's better, your turds don't end up in a manta ray and you are less likely to pick up an STD.

When they became Petri dishes for Covid-19, a lot of the appeal was lost, and now I suggest we remove what remains by using them as crude-oil storage containers. Simply put a pipe in the funnel and fill the whole damn thing with oil: the engineering spaces, the cinemas, the karaoke bars, the 10-pin bowling alleys, everything. And then keep on filling it until it's as oily in there as the captain's bathroom cabinet.

The only slight problem with my plan is that there are only 278 cruise ships in the world, and, big though some of them are, it's nowhere near enough to solve the problem completely. Which is why we too must do our bit.

Little things will help. When you go to the shops, stay in third gear. Instead of using firelighters to start your barbecue, use petrol, and don't do any job in the garden by hand if it could be done just as well by a machine. This needs to become our new mantra. Stay at home. Turn the heating up. Burn fuel.

So long as the easterlies continue to blow, this will have no effect on the skies, but it will have an effect on your pension. Because unless the oil crisis is solved, it's possible that the twin foundation stones of your pension plan, Shell and BP, will have to be nationalised.

That would be ... I was going to say catastrophic, but actually "amazing" is a better word. And, in a way, funny too. Because all of a sudden those middleclass eco-people who buy hemp shopping bags will become joint owners of the very companies they say they hate the most.

Think of it. Gwyneth Paltrow will become an oil baron.

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No car column, but it will return next week.

Here's the Sun column: "Scientists don’t agree on what to do about coronavirus – at least it shows they’re thinking properly"
 

Mr. Nice

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Clarkson must mean "cap" not "shut down" oil wells. It's easy to stop pumping for awhile, just shut the pump off. When a well is capped, generally, they fill the hole with concrete and sand.

When this quarantine business ends, Clarkson should go see if there are any wells being drilled and/or pumped where I used to live. The "world's oldest refinery" still exists there. Arguably, it's the place that gave birth to much of the oil economy that we have today.

http://www.kendallmotoroils.com/history

https://www.amref.com/Refinery/Refinery-History.aspx

http://www.dallas-morris.com

https://forums.finalgear.com/threads/challenge-special-ideas.62085/post-3558125
 
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Revelator

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Worthy books won't see a chap through lockdown. Give me explosions, Nazi gold and reviewers' tears (May 3)

New research shows that men usually give up on a book by the time they've got to page 50. Hmmm. I've never not finished a book. Obviously this doesn't include instruction manuals. I've never read one of those to the end. But when it comes to proper books, I've always kept going.

Even when they were worthy and terrible and full of people in ruffs and bonnets, I continued to sail on HMS Optimism through the sea of turgid reality, praying that eventually the dreary Victorian heroine would have mad sex and then get eaten by a shark.

The trouble with this policy is that she never was. So I've wasted a large chunk of my life doing something I wasn't enjoying. And as a result, I've grown to fear books. I'm 60 now. At best I have only 87,000 hours left before I die, and I don't want to spend any of them being avoidably miserable.

In the past five weeks I could have read maybe 30 books. But the number I've actually read is nought. This is because I've been doing hard manual labour, and after a tiring day in the fields, I'd rather shoot a Nazi zombie in the face than read the "searing and poignant" tale of a Romanian woman's 50-year search for her hat. Which is what all books are about these days.

Examples I may have made up include The Duvet of Blossoms by Pandora Treacle. Set in a remote Cornish village, Pandora's sweeping new novel looks at the lives of two elderly women who occasionally meet when they're posting letters. Or there's How Dare You! by Milly Lennial. Milly's first novel, published by All Men Are Bastards Books, is a meticulously researched account of how powerful white males such as Prince Philip and "Bomber" Harris are responsible for all the plastic in the oceans.

I've had a canter through all the most talked-about books at the moment and what we have is Dilly Court's The Summer Maiden, which is about women doing something or other in the 19th century. Then you have Wilde Like Me, which is about a woman trying to be less dull, and The Cows, which is about three women who want to be heard. It doesn't explain what they're saying but I bet it's nothing of any consequence.

My daughter is raving about The Beekeeper of Aleppo, about which I know nothing except that the author's previous work was called A Watermelon, a Fish and a Bible. And that really, really doesn't sound like my cup of tea. It sounds, in fact, like the sort of tea women drink that isn't tea at all, because it's made from nettles.

What I must know, before I begin a book, is that I will definitely enjoy it. If there's any doubt, it goes straight onto the bookcase that I, like Tory MPs, use as a backdrop when doing a Skype interview on television.

But how can you know you will definitely enjoy a book before you have started it? Reviews are no help because all of them are written by weird fedora people in corduroy who would actually enjoy the searing and poignant tale of a Romanian woman's 50-year search for her hat.

I have nothing in common with book reviewers. They want nuance and elegance, whereas I want Apache helicopter gunships. They look for what's not being said. They look for hints and suggestions. Whereas I look for speedboats and submarine evasion manoeuvres.

If you gave a reviewer a book with an explosion on the front cover, and a gold ingot embossed with a swastika, and a girl in a bikini playing baccarat, you can be assured she'd give it one star. Give her a book about a Dutch girl's flower arranging class and she might need to go off for some me-time. We, in the real world, like Jilly Cooper and Jeffrey Archer and EL James. But none of their books are reviewed well. They are sneered at because they are populist, and populism in the arts is always seen as vulgar. To be truly great, a writer must die at the age of 42, alone and penniless. To achieve this, you must write books that only reviewers like.

I devour books when I am on holiday, but this has been getting harder in recent years. Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler and Arthur C. Clarke are dead. Wilbur Smith is pushing 90. Worst of all, Lee Child announced recently that he's hanging up his pen and letting his brother write the Jack Reacher books.

To make matters worse, when you are on a beach you cannot lie there reading something with an explosion on the front cover because everyone will think you're a moron. Biographies work quite well, but I've enjoyed only two. There was Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon and Keith Richards's memoir Life, written with James Fox. I seem to have a thing for people called Keith.

That said, I'm lucky because I have a local bookshop — Jaffé & Neale — whose owners, Patrick and Polly, give me a cup of coffee while they scurry off to find a pile of books they know I'll enjoy. They've never been wrong.

They gave me a book about Mexican drug cartels called The Power of the Dog, and it was breathtaking. And then there was Matterhorn. That's a book where you're very tempted to give up on page 50. The Vietnam War dialogue is impenetrable. But as usual I persevered and, ooh, I'm glad, because it's the second-best book ever written. After The House at Pooh Corner, obviously.

Don't argue. It is. Anna Karenina. The Great Gatsby. War and Peace. These are the books Mark Twain was on about when he observed that a classic book is "something that everyone wants to have read, and no one wants to read".

That, I guess, is why so few men are capable of getting past page 50.

Everyone is trying to write classic books rather than great books full of global annihilation and Cylons coming at Mach 5 out of the sun.

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Sorry Clarkson, but I will argue. I doubt Mark Twain had any of those three books in mind. Having read Gatsby and War and Peace, I can say they're classics for the most obvious reason: they're profoundly good. And they're pleasurable and not difficult to read. Don't let inverse snobbery deprive you of good books.

Anyway, here's the automotive column:
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Sparky, but it won't set anyone alight
The Clarkson Review: Mini Electric
(May 3)

Because of delays relating to current circumstances, I'm talking to you from the past. It's late March, and a week ago we were all ordered to stay at home. Especially in Derbyshire, where the police have broken out the Stasi manuals and are running amok using drones to buzz hikers in the Peak District and megaphones to harangue elderly ladies popping to the chemist for more support tights.

Even worse are the Neighbourhood Watch types, who've become the behaviour police. They sit behind their permanently twitching curtains, making detailed notes about anybody who drives past. They are loving the lockdown because suddenly everybody else is made to live as they do, in a friendless haze of relentless daytime television and tinned soup.

At the moment most people are playing ball. There are no contrails in the sky, and you could walk down Regent Street at 6pm on a Friday knowing you aren't going to be knocked down. Well, not by a car, at any rate. For some reason the powers-that-be are still keeping the double-decker Petri dishes moving.

Luckily, I am not affected. I can go where I please, partly because I have a press card. And partly because I'm a farmer, so I'm a key worker. I can therefore whizz about as much as I like in my Range Rover and, though I wouldn't dream of putting this to the test, I'm fairly sure I could get away with running it on red diesel.

"Sorry, officer, but I was scared of the 'ronavirus being on the pump."

I wish to God that I had a truly great car to test, because to bomb about now, on deserted roads, knowing that all of the police force is busy telling youths to stop their kickabout in the park and go home, would be bliss. I haven't, though. As I've explained, I'm stuck with the last cars to be delivered before the lockdown, which I'm working my way through. I recently reported on a Vauxhall Corsa, which has been appropriated by my girlfriend's daughter. I also have an electric version of the Mini Cooper S. First things first: it's bloody cheap. Factoring in the government's £3,000 cashback incentive, prices start at a whisker under £25,000, which is obviously a lot for a Mini, but for an electric car it caused me to sit up a bit and pay attention. Sure, I was lent a Level 3 version, but even that was only £30,900, and it's a lot of car for that kind of money.

You certainly get a lot of tech. It has the same "hybrid synchronous" motor as BMW fits to the i3. This means — pay attention — that within the rotor design you get the effect of permanent magnets combined with something called "reluctance". This cuts down the need for rare-earth neodymium, which means the rotor can spin faster. I can see why James May likes electric cars so much. To him this kind of talk is way beyond erotica. It's filth.

What normal people care about, though, is the oomph, and that's not bad. You get 181 horsepower and nearly 200 torques. And so, even though the Mini is both big and very, very heavy, it'll get from zero to 62mph in 7.3 seconds. It actually feels faster than that. It feels faster than its petrol-powered brother. But it isn't. Not quite.

And I must now put the needle back on the same old record and explain, once again, why I shall never buy a car propelled by electricity. This is a personal thing. I know Richard Hammond wants a Tesla and I know James May already has one, along with an i3 and some kind of hydrogen car. Not sure what sort it is, but it looks very boring in the pictures.

I'm afraid, however, that I do not share their enthusiasm. Yes, when you put your foot down at low speed there is instant and dramatic thrust. But before your passenger has time to say "wow", it's over. In this respect the power delivery from an electric motor is like the power delivery you get from a diesel. There's one big lump, and then it's gone.

I much prefer the seamlessness of petrol. Sure, the electric car whizzes off the line more quickly, but as the seconds tick by the petrol car will catch up. What's more, if you run the race five times the electric car will start to lose its immediacy, and if you run it 10 times it'll stop working altogether because the batteries will be flat.

Then there's the issue of slowing down. In a proper car you can coast. And if you coast in gear you will be using no fuel at all. Not a lot of people know that. In an electric car you cannot coast because the act of slowing down is used to top up the batteries. It's called regenerative braking and it makes my nose swell up with rage.

In the Mini you take your foot off the throttle and it's as if you've jammed the bloody brakes on. This means gentle driving is tricky. It also means that, much to the surprise of the driver behind, you shudder to a halt 300 yards before every set of traffic lights, every roundabout and every T-junction.

But it's not this, or the quality of the power delivery, that causes me to shy away; it's the noise. All you can hear in an electric car is the tyres. And, frankly, I'd rather listen to the bubbling stomach juices of the lion that's just eaten me.

My Alfa GTV6 is a musical instrument. The noises it makes cause the hair on the back of my neck to rise. No electric car will ever do that. Because an electric car is nothing more than a dishwasher. That stops about four minutes before you want it to.

I appreciate, however, that I'm speaking to only a very few people. (Hi, Eric.) Most will be ignoring the hairs on the back of my neck and saying, "Yes. But the Mini costs only 4p a mile to run."

This is undoubtedly true. If you choose your electricity provider and your timing correctly, and you operate the throttle using nothing but the down of a newly born owl, you will achieve this figure. And you will also get a range of 140 miles before you need to charge the batteries.

Two things on that. One, in normal running you will not get anything like 140 miles before you need to find a plug socket and sit about for 12 hours while the damn thing comes back to life. And, two, rival electric cars from Peugeot and Renault can go further than 140 miles. Quite a lot further.

There are other issues too. The proper Mini has fairly cramped accommodation for passengers in the back, but, because the batteries are under the back seat, there's even less room in the electric version, and the boot is suitable only for people who have a pet ladybird. It wouldn't work at all if you had two.

Further forward, things are much better because it's familiar Mini territory. Like the last version I drove, the electric car has a dash that changes colour to tell you things. I don't know what those things are, but it looks cool. I like the head-up display too, even though it gives you exactly the same information as you get on the dinky new instrument binnacle, which is located about an inch away from it.

I quite like the way the car handles too. It may weigh more than a policeman's lockdown bellow, but it still has the Mini nimbleness. The ride's not brilliant, though. And that's another reason I'd buy the petrol-powered version instead.

Of course, you may be sold on the idea of an electric car — and don't be ashamed by that, because you're not alone. Plenty of others like sitting about waiting for the batteries to charge and driving along in a state of permanent panic that they're going flat again. But even if you are green'n' clean, I still think the Mini is no good. The price is fine, but the French alternatives are better cars.

If, that is, you can think of a battery-powered personal mobility unit as a "car". Which I don't, and never will.

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The Sun column: "Instagram generation don’t know what’s going on because all they see is pampered celebs boasting about lockdown"

And a bonus--a column by Clarkson's girlfriend:

FARMER CLARKSON IS WORKING ME LIKE A DOG. CAN I BE FURLOUGHED, PLEASE?
Building dams and putting up fences is not how Lisa Hogan imagined spending lockdown with her partner, Jeremy Clarkson

By Lisa Hogan (May 3)

I have played it all wrong from the start, this lockdown with Clarkson on the farm. In the early days, hearing Jeremy shout, "I have just had a genius idea!", my ears would prick up. I would listen, in full meerkat alert pose, as he explained, for example, how we could reroute a dribble of a stream into a pond. Then, day after day, we would trundle to the dam, and Jeremy would bellow instructions while I lugged wheelbarrows full of clay over a series of old doors that served as a makeshift bridge.

"Get your act together, Elastigirl," Jeremy boomed as the door with the wheelbarrow on began sliding away from the door with my feet on. The last thing I saw was the exasperation on his face as I fell into the freezing water.

Jeremy's energy has always been extraordinary. He whizzes between his seven jobs (or is it 11 now?), flicking a two-fingered salute at the fact he had his 60th birthday a few weeks ago. I am a decade younger, athletic and have always been a willing partner in his creative ideas on the farm. But now I'd like to check into Slothdom, please. I can't keep up. Can't I be furloughed?

Take the saga with our old Aga. Not long after confinement began, beastly easterly winds blew down its vent and from then on its cooking temperature would barely rise above tepid. After eating dinner post-midnight a few nights in a row, Jeremy had a brilliant idea. "Why don't you fix the Aga? All you have to do is disassemble the cupboard under the sink, unscrew the engine and see whether any soot's stuck."

I did not want to do this.

We have a farmhand who normally deals with this kind of thing, but he's not allowed in the house now. The cupboard under the sink is scary, and if it turns out it's not soot that's the problem, Jeremy will come up with many other excellent suggestions that could well singe what's left of my grizzled hands, or blow me up. So I refused to fix the Aga.

On Sunday, I put lunch in the oven at 9.30am. It wasn't ready until 4pm. Ha, that will teach him, I told myself as he sat on the terrace, reading in the sun with a glass of rosé.

With us on the farm is Ali, my 18-year-old daughter, who has been my little helper: my sous-chef in the kitchen, on constant dishwasher duty and in charge of the chickens. I've only found one dead and only occasionally discovered them still sweltering in their coops at 9am when Ali's slept through her sunrise alarm. Out of pity, we decided she could have a friend to stay and work on the farm and help with the ever-growing list of "brilliant ideas" Jeremy sets as tasks. But we would have to apply some strict self-isolation rules: Ali and her friend would stay away from me and Jeremy for two full weeks.

Initially, I suggested they stick to the older, separate part of our cottage, but Jeremy thought this was just a cunning plan for me to get out of being his laundry bitch, since the washing machine is in that part of the house. I was annoyed that this ploy hadn't crossed my mind.

There may have been alcohol involved when, instead, we decided to buy an isolation mobile home for Ali. When it arrived, I thought, "Holy Moly! How drunk could we have been?" The horror is two-tone green, with green carpet and green sofas. It's an eyesore with conjunctivitis.

The girls could in theory come back into the cottage now, but they've found the barn where the booze is stored and refuse to do so. I'm allowed to visit if I need to use their oven.

Jeremy had been filming a new farming series for Amazon. But the crew that used to pile into the house are gone, along with the delicious film-set catering. So now it's me filming wobbly scenes on a little video camera. Jeremy gets in position, says his bit, shouts "Cut!", then pff, he's gone. Half the time I haven't got round to turning the camera on.

Around week four, I hit a slump. The Groundhog Day routine has got to me. So the next evening, at dusk, Jeremy leads me deep into a wood. We climb up onto a wobbly plank high in a tree opposite a badger hide. Our badger watching plan doesn't get far because we chat too much. Jeremy loves nothing more than to tell an interesting story he's read or heard, then I tell him something that he doesn't find interesting at all, but we natter on our perch until it's dark.

Back at the house, he lights the fire in the party barn, puts on the disco lights and plays me his favourite vinyls from the 1970s. I dance my heart out. Even though he thought it would be funny to put my daggy dancing on Instagram, I'm back in high spirits the next day.

I've been sleeping well, but Jeremy less so. Waking after the deepest sleep, I found him awake, bleary-eyed and shattered. To make up for it, I cut his hair, which grows outwards. At one point I heard it brushing the door frames as he walked through the cottage. Using clippers, I've done quite a good job.

Now he wants to return the favour. I'm about to fire up my home waxing kit (let me point out, this is for me), when he offers to assist me with the parts I can't reach. I look warily at his enormous hands. "Can't you fix the Aga instead?" I ask, but he's adamant.

Who would have thought it? As it turns out, we've both acquired new skills during the lockdown.
 

Revelator

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Stick a cork in it, wine bores. I'd much rather get horizontal on the terrace with a Blue Nun (May 10)

Good news at last. Some experts have decided that the age-old practice of opening a bottle of wine a couple of hours before you start drinking it is old-fashioned nonsense. And that there's nothing wrong with removing the cork with a screwdriver and necking it on your way home from the off-licence.

I love wine. I love to ingest vast quantities of it in the sunshine, and while I prefer the pink kind, I'm perfectly happy with a pint of white at lunchtime and a balloon of red before bed. I've drunk so much over the past six weeks that we are now embarrassed to put the bottles by the bins in case the neighbours think we've been hosting illegal parties.

But despite a 30-year love affair with wine, I know absolutely nothing about it. Some say this is because my taste buds don't work properly.

And it's true. Having smoked three-quarters of a million cigarettes, I am unable to tell the difference between fish and cheese. So I have no chance of being able to tell a burgundy from a claret. In a blind tasting many years ago, the wine I preferred turned out to be Red Bull.

But not being able to tell one wine from another is not the reason for my ignorance. No. That comes from my dad. I'm not quite sure why, but he developed a loathing of wine bores. If someone in a restaurant swilled wine round the glass before tasting it, or smelt the cork, or even peered at the label, he would begin to mutter under his breath. Usually about freemasons. He had it in his mind that anyone who talked about wine in a pompous fashion had a secret apron in his office drawer.

Once, we were eating at the French Horn in Sonning and absolutely everyone was swilling their wine around and sniffing corks and nodding sagely whenever the sommelier spoke, and eventually my dad had had enough.

So when our wine was poured for him to taste, he stood up, removed his jacket, undid his cufflinks and carefully rolled up his right shirtsleeve. Then, with everyone in the restaurant looking on, he dipped his elbow into the wine and left it there for a good 20 seconds before turning to the wine waiter and in a booming voice saying: "Mmmm. That's delicious."

I was only 14 and I explained afterwards he'd caused me great embarrassment. To which he replied: "Not as much embarrassment as you'll endure if you end up like that lot, pretending to know about wine."

I now know lots of people who pretend they know about wine. They post pictures of what they're having for supper, and their friends — probably masons — reply, making appreciative noises. The other night one of them said the wine he was opening was only 7% alcohol, so he could drink the whole bottle. No, mate. If it's only 7%, you'll need to drink three bottles to make it worth your while. Seven per cent? You may as well drink milk.

The wine cellar has always been a thing in big houses. But now it lives in the kitchen and it has glass doors so that visitors can peer inside and swoon with amazement at the man's impeccable breeding and knowledge. I'm having a glass-fronted wine fridge built in the kitchen of my new house and I'm going to fill it with Blue Nun. Which, if you're wilfully ignorant like me, is a German wine that wine buffs don't like. At parties I shall serve a special version sprinkled with bits of gold leaf, which sparkles when you shake the bottle.

Which brings me back to this business of opening a bottle an hour or so before you want to drink it. And the claim it's not necessary. That has to be correct, because if you pull the cork out to let the air in, the only bit of wine that's exposed is a tiny area about half the size of a stamp, at the top of the neck.

Air doesn't penetrate liquid if the liquid's not doing anything. Put some fish in a tank of water and in the morning what you're likely to have is some dead fish. You really need a pump to blow bubbles if you want them to live. Maybe that's what I'll do with my Blue Nun. Make guests wait while I pump air into it.

This is what wine enthusiasts like: waiting. I go to their houses and wait while they slowly read the label and then even more slowly pull out the cork before slowly pouring the contents into a decanter.

At this point you might think there's no more waiting to be done, but you'd be wrong because a proper wine bore will, after an hour or so, pour the wine back into the bottle before serving. It's called "double decanting", and it's why, when I'm at a mason's house, I always make sure I take a large gin and tonic to the table before sitting down. It's something to drink while you're waiting for something to drink.

I am aware, of course, that there are people in the world who can tell one wine from another in the same way as there are people in the world who can saw a woman in half and put a playing card in your wallet. I'm even sure there are those who could tell a double-decanted wine from one that has been served down a garden hosepipe. These people have a name. We call them "the French".

If you are a man whose hedge fund has done well, you are not French. You are simply a man with a secret apron who is showing off, a man who thinks that a knowledge of wine makes you sophisticated.

That's wrong. When some Georgian chap first discovered wine 8,000 years ago, he didn't think: "I wonder if this would taste better if I planted the vine on a hill."

What he actually thought was: "Ooh. I feel giddy." And what he then thought was: "I wonder if I can feel even giddier if I have a bit more."

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One man went to mow… in a Lambo: Life on Diddly Squat (May 10)

Unable to test cars because of lockdown, key worker Jeremy Clarkson is ploughing his energy into his farm. In the first of a new series about rural life, he takes his giant tractor for a death-defying 25mph spin

Back in 2008, I bought a thousand-acre spread in Oxfordshire and employed a local man to do the farmering. But last year he decided to retire, so I thought I'd take over myself. Many people were surprised by this, as to be a farmer you need to be a vet, an untangler of red tape, an agronomist, a mechanic, an entrepreneur, a gambler, a weather forecaster, a salesman, a labourer and an accountant. And I am none of those things.

My bosses at Amazon were so surprised, they commissioned an eight-part show that would enable viewers to enjoy the "hilarious consequences" of my attempts to manage the woods and the meadows and the fields full of wheat and barley and oilseed rape. I'd called the farm Diddly Squat because that's what it makes.

Still, I was confident I'd manage.

Man has been farming for 12,000 years, so I figured it must be in our DNA by now. You put seeds in the ground, weather happens and food grows. Easy.

Unfortunately I could not have picked a worse year to begin. We had the wettest planting season on record. It started raining in October and did not stop for seven weeks. Then there was the uncertainty about Brexit. And then, just as the sun came out, everyone was told to go indoors and stay there, possibly for ever.

This has had a catastrophic effect on prices.When I first began delivering my 140 lambs a couple of weeks ago, they were worth £100 each. Now that's down to £30. Spring barley, meanwhile? It'll be hardly worth harvesting, thanks partly to a weather-driven glut and partly to the fact that barley makes beer. And all the pubs are shut.

Despite the problems, however, I'm sitting here on a lovely spring day and, apart from 10 acres of oilseed rape eaten by flea beetles, everything seems to be growing quite well. And only three lambs have died. And as there's so much to do, I'm not wandering around the house, glugging wine from the bottle and watching reruns of Cash in the Attic. I'm a key worker.

And better yet, I still have something to write about, here in the motoring section of your newspaper — my tractor.

I could have bought a Fendt.

Everyone says they're the best.

Or I could have bought a Fastrac, because I'm friends with the JCB family. But obviously I wanted a Lamborghini. So that's what I've got. An R8 270 DCR, to be precise.

Lamborghini was a tractor-maker long before it made cars, but the business was sold — along with the rights to the name — in 1973. Today they're made in Germany but they still look Lambo-mad. If an Aventador were to make love to a spaceship, this is what you'd end up with.

It's huge. Even the front tyres are taller than me. You have to climb up a four-rung ladder to reach the door handle and then you climb up some more to get into the cab, and then up again to get into the seat. It's so vast, in fact, that it wouldn't fit into my barn. I therefore had to build a new one. Every single farmer type who's seen it says the same thing. "That," they intone with a rural tug on the flat cap,"is too big." But in my mind tractors are like penises. They cannot be too big.

Yet the farmers are quite right.

It is too big. Not only will it not fit into my barn, it won't fit through the gate onto my driveway. So I've had to build a new driveway. It is also too powerful. The straight-six turbocharged diesel produces only 270 horsepower, which, in car terms, is Golf GTI territory, but there are 775 torques. This means that when you attach a piece of equipment to its rear end, it is immediately ripped to shreds.

Not that I can attach anything to its rear end. It's all heavy engineering back there and I just know that if I tried, you'd be reading about yet another farmer walking for four miles across his fields with his severed arm in a bag. To put cultivators and rollers and drills on the back, I've therefore had to employ a man called Kaleb. Who also says my tractor's too big. He reckons his Claas is better. We argue about this a lot.

I concede the Lamborghini is a bit complicated. You start it and there's an almighty roar from the vertical smokestack, which is a full 7in in diameter. And then you put it in gear. And then you put it in gear with the other gearlever, and then you let the clutch in, before you realise you haven't selected forward from the other gearlever. To change gear on the move, though, you use a fourth gearlever.

There are, I'm told, 48 gears forward and reverse. Happily, there are only two brake pedals and two throttles. But I did count 164 buttons before I opened the arm rest and found 24 more. None of them is labelled, which is a worry as all of them are designed to engage stuff that will tear off one of my arms.

Eventually, though, it all began to move and I discovered something unusual. The tractor has suspension and so does the seat, but they are designed to operate independently, so when the tractor is going up, the seat is always coming down. This means you alternate between severe spinal compression and a banged head. I clung so desperately to the steering wheel that after just three minutes it came off. Literally, off.

I've never been terrified at 25mph before, but in that tractor I really was. Since then, I've driven it very slowly… into six gates, a hedge, a telegraph pole, another tractor and a shipping container. I think I'm right in saying that I have not completed a single job without having at least one crash. Doing a three-point turn at the end of a cultivating run? I'm bad at that. I always go through the fence.

I'm also very bad at "drilling".

This is the word we farmer types use for "planting". Mainly this is because, to do it properly, you must install the type of computer that Nasa uses for calculating re-entry angles. That's another aspect of farming I can't do: computer programming. Which is why some of my tramlines are 10ft apart and some are in Yorkshire.

However, despite all this, when I'm trundling along and the air-conditioning is on and there's a constant dribble of socialism coming from Radio 4, I confess I start to understand why Forrest Gump was happy, after all his adventures, to end up on a tractor mowing the school football field. I'm especially happy when the engine is under load, because the stupendous noise coming from that exhaust pipe drowns out Marcus Brigstocke.

And when I finish a field and I climb down the ladder and sit on a fence I've just broken to enjoy a bottle of beer and a chicken sandwich, I can look back at the work I've done and feel a tiny bit proud. It's not nursing or doctoring, I understand that, but growing bread and beer and vegetable oil is somehow a damn sight more rewarding than driving round corners while shouting.

As I am not able to write columns about cars until this virus issue is solved, I shall be bringing you more news from the farm each week.

Seed money
Cost of tractor: Second-hand from Germany £40,000. But it does run on red diesel.
Cost of barn to put it in: £28,000
Cost of driveway it can actually use: £23,000
Cost of man to fit things to it every morning: His business, not yours
Cost of repairing the damage I've done so far: £215,000,000 But it does run on red diesel.

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Here's the Sun column: "Don’t make rules about life after lockdown but give us guidelines – we know the risks"

This is the best bit:

A Little Surprise

I had to go to London this week. It was essential. There was no way round it. And I genuinely could not believe my eyes.
I’d seen the pictures of deserted streets but nothing prepares you for the spectacular sight – and sound – of Regent Street with nothing and nobody on it.
The traffic lights wink away as usual but they’re not talking to anyone. I went round Marble Arch twice and on neither lap did I see a soul.
At one point, I got out of my car to take a picture of the sun-drenched emptiness but had to wait for one grubby little urchin, headed in my direction, to clear the shot.
As he got nearer, I realised it was Richard Hammond. Given that we’ve both been isolated for the last six weeks, it was a hell of a surprise.
But an even bigger surprise was this: I was actually quite pleased to see him.
 

Revelator

Active Member
Joined
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Messages
409
Location
San Francisco
I now see the appeal of the caravan holiday. All it took was a global crisis and zero other options (May 17)

In my day job on television, I have destroyed hundreds of caravans. I've dropped them onto things, blown them up, fired missiles into them and towed them round racetracks at high speed until they fell over and disintegrated. I've made it very plain that I hate them. And now I've bought one.

Here's why. My house was blown up a few years ago, so I'm living in a cottage that's very small. The sitting room is nine feet by nine and the kitchen is eight by four. So when my girlfriend's daughter announced she wanted a friend to stay, I had to point out that social distancing would be mathematically impossible.

The only solution was a caravan, and as all caravans are fundamentally the same, we simply opened up the internet and ordered the first one we saw. Built in Grimsby in the 1990s, it's a 35ft Cosalt Rimini. And it's no ordinary Rimini. It's a special version called the Super, and that's odd, because it isn't. Finished in a shade of green that I've seen before only in sick, it is trimmed with the sort of materials that were discarded by the rest of humanity in 1972.

Pleblon and vulgalour abound. Even the tassels have tassels on them and the wood is varnished to the point where it looks like real plastic. My girlfriend's daughter, however, was not bothered about any of this. She and her friend loved their new home, right up to the point they discovered it didn't have wi-fi. Naturally, they were gone within the hour.

That means I was left with a four-grand hole in my bank account and, for no good reason, a sick-green caravan in the yard. I was cross. And I remained cross right up to the point that Matt Hancock, who is the health secretary, announced last week that "lavish" foreign holidays would not be possible this summer.

Doubtless many people will have heard this and decided they would instead rent an agreeable house in Cornwall or the Lake District. This, however, isn't going work, for two reasons. One, they were all snapped up back in March, and two, the weird angry people who live full time in these rural idylls have developed a frothing hatred for townies who come into their little world with money to spend, good looks and all their own teeth.

However, while rich people are not allowed into this sexless chocolate-box world of bitterness and petty-minded rage, for some reason the poor are welcomed with open arms. Which is why caravan parks will be opening up again very soon.

Of course, you don't want to go on a caravanning holiday. Your skin's not thick enough, so you'd die of shame, holding up all that traffic as you trundled down the A303 like a 12mph snail.

And what the bloody hell would you do when you finally got there? It's not like you can pop down to Le Club 55 or that bar in Cala Deià where they filmed The Night Manager.

Well now, let's just think about that for a moment. You've spent the past eight weeks living like your grandparents did, playing board games with your kids and cards with each other in the evening. So you're now match-fit for an old-fashioned holiday with drizzle and rock pools and flying kites.

And there's more. You'd gnaw your own arm off to spend a couple of weeks on a gin palace in the Mediterranean, and yet you pooh-pooh a caravan. Why? Both have awful furnishings, uncomfortable mattresses, not enough head room and gas appliances that constantly smell like they're on the verge of exploding. In some ways the caravan is better. It doesn't make you seasick, you don't need a ladder to get off and there are no jellyfish.

I'm not being fatuous. And anyway, the fact is you're simply not going to the Greek islands this year. And you're not going to be able to stay in a hotel in Britain. And you're not going to be able to rent a cottage. If you want a holiday, you're going camping.

I urge you to look on the bright side. You will not need to pack any sun cream or mosquito repellent. In fact, you won't need to pack at all. You just chuck all the kids' toys and your barbecue set and a barrel of wine in the caravan and set off. You won't even have to leave your dog behind.

No security guard will want to touch your genitals. There will be no queues for immigration. You won't get deep-vein thrombosis and you won't have to spend two hours in a packed foreign airport trying to rent a car because the hot, coughing minibus driver your travel company sent looks like he may be a heavily infected psychopath.

Sure, British caravan sites are usually full of rampant Brexiteers who keep koi carp. And I'm sure it will be annoying, trying to explain to your children every morning why the couple in the nextdoor van were making piggy grunting noises the night before. Plus, you will need to empty the lavatory yourself, which is obviously disgusting.

But think of the freedom. You can go anywhere. Not Cornwall, obviously, or the Lake District, because the local gonks will throw mud at you. But there's northern Norfolk, which is lovely, and northwest Scotland, which is even better. And you don't even have to worry about the poor-quality McFood, because all the pubs and restaurants are shut.

When the sun shines, north Devon is about as pretty as Britain gets, which means it's as pretty as anywhere in the world. Or how about the Cotswolds? You could be David Beckham's neighbour, and how exciting is that? I even know where you can rent a caravan.

She's a beauty. Finished in a striking shade of Grimsby green, she has two bedrooms, a kitchen and a spacious living room, and she is available right now at very reasonable rates ... What? You didn't think I was going to use the godawful thing myself, did you?

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And here's the Sun column: "The reason we have coronavirus – we are too healthy and safe for our own good"
 

Revelator

Active Member
Joined
Mar 14, 2012
Messages
409
Location
San Francisco
They've found a new galaxy 12bn light years away. Fantastic — now how do we make it blow up? (May 24)

On Wednesday evening, after a few wines, I found myself in the garden, on my back, looking at the stars. They were particularly bright, partly because I live high above the layer of smog that blankets the rest of the country, and partly because the only light pollution comes from a far-off village, where the solitary streetlight is a Toc H. And, of course, when you are on your back, after a few wines, looking at the stars, it doesn't take long to say out loud that we cannot be alone in the universe. And then, shortly after you've failed to grapple with the concept of infinity, you will be feeling morbid and philosophical so you will start talking about your long-dead father and how you hope you've made him proud.

I love looking at the stars, and I get squeaky with excitement when the International Space Station slides by. It's only a skip with some shiny wheelie bins tacked onto the sides, and it's full of space nerds in polo shirts and chinos, and it's only 250 miles away, which means it's less distant than Carlisle, but somehow it's impossibly exotic.

Two years ago I was given a telescope by an extremely generous friend and I was priapic with excitement because it wasn't the sort of telescope that Bret Easton Ellis types use to spy on lady neighbours from their penthouse apartments in New York.

It was the real deal, with many lenses and a remote-control device that allowed me to steer it electronically to the star or a planet of my choosing. I could even drive it via wi-fi and look at the images on my phone while sitting in a meeting in Los Angeles. And, naturally, all of this means I haven't been able to make it work at all.

Once, I think, I managed to line it up on the church in a village a couple of miles away. But the image was so blurry, it could have been an ear of corn. Or David Cameron's left leg. In desperation I called my local telescope society, which sent round two chaps whose names I can't remember. They were almost certainly called Doug, though. Doug is the right name for a man who likes to stand outside at night looking at the rings of Saturn. I should have been called Doug.

Unfortunately, however, my telescope was too complicated even for the Dougs, so now it's in a storage barn waiting for the day when I'm rich enough to have a personal space butler who can point it at what I want to see and then pour endless glasses of wine while I talk to him about my dad. Don't mock. People have personal trainers, so why can't I have a personal Galileo? I bring all this up because last week it was reported that some Dougs in Chile have found a galaxy 12 billion light years from Earth. Let me try to make that number live for you. The sun is 93 million miles away, and the light it emits takes eight minutes to get here. The light from the galaxy El Doug has found takes 12,000 million years to get here.

It can only be seen if you have a really big telescope, which is what they've got there in Chile. It's 10 miles wide, sits on a plain in the Atacama desert that is higher than Mont Blanc and consists of 66 dishes — 54 of which are almost 40ft wide and 12 of which are about 23ft across — which are moved around on massive 28-wheel, 130-ton robotic lorries. Since it became operational nine years ago, it has photographed the dust inside the tail of a comet and was part of a network of telescopes that produced the first image of a black hole. But its most impressive achievement came six years ago when it helped produce pictures of two galaxies crashing into one another.

I very much enjoy watching video clips of cruise liners having parking accidents on YouTube. The action is always pedestrian, but the devastation that results is immense. It's hilarious watching an entire harbour being reduced to rubble after a ship full of chlamydia crashes into it at 2mph, so I cannot begin to imagine how wondrous it would be to see a head-on between two star systems.

In four billion years the people of Earth will have a front-row seat when our Milky Way plunges into the Andromeda galaxy, but for now the collision between NGC 4038 and NGC 4039, as the crashing galaxies are romantically called, is all we've got.

It's an accident that's been going on for at least 300 million years and it'll still be going on 400 million years from now. At some point the galaxies' nuclei will collide, and I can imagine the damage caused by this will not buff out. Stuff is going to get dislodged, that's for sure. I guess if you put 2,000 tons of C-4 explosive in a ball pit, and imagined the balls were stars, you'd get an idea of what sort of havoc will result.

And here's the juicy bit. Even though this crash is happening just 45 million light years from Earth, we won't feel a thing. Billions of new suns will be created in an instant. Others will be catapulted zillions of miles from their usual course.

Planets will implode. Trillions of tons of gas will solidify. Gravity fields will collapse. And you'll be lying in your garden, in Cheadle, blissfully unaware that anything of any consequence is happening at all.

We're also unaware that the Earth is spinning at a thousand miles per hour and going round the sun at 67,000 miles per hour. The sun, meanwhile, is orbiting the centre of our galaxy at half a million miles per hour, and the galaxy itself is tearing through space at 1.3 million miles per hour.

Which means that as you lie there, with your nice bottle of merlot, you're careering at 250,000 miles per hour towards a massive crash with another galaxy. It's useful to remember this next time you are worrying about whether the furlough scheme will extend beyond September.

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No vegging out on breakback mountain (May 24)
When Jeremy Clarkson was warned vegetables wouldn't grow on his hill farm in the Cotswolds, he wanted to prove the naysayers wrong. Now he's stuck with soaring costs, a wilting crop and no one to pick it.

There was a brouhaha recently about a planeload of Romanians who had arrived here to pick vegetables. "We don't want their diseases," said people in tracksuits."And why can't the jobs be given to proper English people?" " Hmm. Farmers have been screaming for weeks about how their vegetables will die unless an army can be raised to pick them. They've been begging "proper" English people to get off their flabby arses and help out, but apart from a few middle-class parents who've signed up Giles for a week on his hands and knees, the response has been pathetic. There were 90,000 jobs on offer; 6,000 people got as far as an interview. Hence the plane from Romania.

Ordinarily I would not be interested in this story, because my farm is on a hill in the Cotswolds. When I come here from London, the temperature gauge in my car drops like the altimeter in a crashing airliner. It's cold here. Bitter. And that's the wrong weather for veg.

I'm also informed that the soil's no good. "It's brash," say the locals who wear overalls and Viyella shirts for a living. Many also wear ties. I'm not sure why. A tie is just something else that can get caught up in farm machinery. But anyway, they say "brash" is good only for cereal crops.And maybe sheep. Not vegetables.

Last year, to prove them wrong, I decided to plant a couple of acres of potatoes. Eventually, after filling in a stack of forms about 4ft high, the government gave me permission (in farming, you have to get permission from the government to get up in the morning) and four months later I had 40 tons of spuds in the shed. This was the wrong amount: not enough to make it worth a merchant's while to send a lorry, too much to sell at the side of the road. I managed to sell one ton; 38 tons rotted; and I've given the rest away to old people in the village.

Financially, then, my attempts to become the potato king of Chipping Norton ended in failure. But it did prove to the locals you can grow vegetables up here in the freezing troposphere, in soil that's nine parts stone and one part dust.

That's why, a couple of weeks ago, I decided to take half a field earmarked for spring barley and use it instead to grow broad beans, beetroots, leeks, cabbages and all the other things people use as an accompaniment to food.

This meant buying a planting machine. Most, these days, are designed for planting a whole county in a morning and Canada by nightfall. But I had only a four-acre plot, so I ended up buying one from the 1950s. It's tiny. And brittle. If I attached it to the back of the gigantic torque mountain that is my Lamborghini tractor it would explode. I therefore needed a smaller tractor. So I cleverly bought my girlfriend, Lisa, a present. It's a dinky little 1961 Massey Ferguson.

But despite my ingenuity, there was a problem. You need someone to drive the tractor and two people to sit on little chairs in the miniature planting machine, feeding the vegetable sets — as the seedlings are called — into the machinery. And there is no way that's possible when everyone has to be 6ft apart.

I called my children, who, despite the lockdown, immediately decided they had work to do and essays to write. So I got my tractor driver, Kaleb, to sit on the Massey Ferguson and we decided he was very nearly 6ft in front of the planting machine. Therefore Lisa and I could sit in it, doing the work.

It's said that deep-sea diving off an oil rig is dangerous work and soldiering is worse. But the fact is the fatality rate among people in agriculture is almost 20 times higher than the average for all industries. And when you sit in a planting machine you can see why.

In front of you, mounted vertically, is a heavy motorcycle-style chain, and attached to it, every 4in or 5in, are little V-shaped platforms onto which you place the vegetable plants. As the tractor goes along, the chain turns and you start to get an idea of what it might be like to be inside a gearbox. It is phenomenally easy to get your hand trapped. And because the tractor is so loud, its driver would not hear your screams.

The planter is fitted with a plastic cover. Initially, I thought it was to shield the occupants from the sun and rain. Now I'm fairly sure it's to make life easier for the coroner.

The most amazing thing, though, is that the machine doesn't work. It either buries the sets a foot down where there's no sunlight or it doesn't bury them at all. This means you have to go over the ground you've covered and do it all again by hand. Until eventually you realise it's easier to plant everything by hand in the first place.

So that's what we did. Planted by hand, for hour after back-breaking hour. And for what? So some spoilt little fat kid can push the fruits of our labours to the side of his plate and demand a Twix instead.

Ha. Chance'd be a fine thing. We are not experts in market gardening. We aren't even on the bottom rung of the market gardening ladder, but even we were able to deduce, the day after we'd planted the first acre, that something was wrong. Our new plants were kind of leaning over. "Wilting", I believe, is the correct word.

It turned out they needed water. And how do you get water to a field that's half a mile from the nearest tap? Well, you need a digger, a pipe-laying machine, a dam across one of the streams and a pump, and after you've done all that, a couple of men to come along and do it all again. Only properly. At this rate, the only way I can achieve profitability is by charging £140 for each broad bean. And £400 for a cabbage.

And that doesn't factor in the amount of time I'm giving to the project. Which is all of it. Ten times a day I move my four sprinklers to new positions — and they are running constantly, demanding so much water from the stream that there's very little left to supply my house. Most days I feel like Jean de Florette.

I woke yesterday to the sound of rain and for the first time in my life I was glad. But now it's sunny and windy and the forecast says it will be 24C by the end of the week — 24C in effing spring. After the wettest autumn on record. How come no one has noticed this sort of thing is happening? The weather, however, is not my biggest issue. That'll come in the summer, when the vegetables that haven't died will need picking. If I use Romanians, Nigel Farage and his Hackett army will go berserk, and if I use Lisa's daughter, who's keen, the Daily Mail will accuse me of employing child labour. So it'll be down to me.

It'll kill me for sure. I'll become a farming statistic. But I guess I'll be able to crawl through the Pearly Gates knowing that I have the gratitude of Joan Armatrading, Jeremy Corbyn, Lewis Hamilton, Paul McCartney, Captain Sensible, Miley Cyrus and all the other celebrities who've chosen to follow in the footsteps of Adolf Hitler and lead a meat-free life.

They think they are being kind. But they aren't. Because eating vegetables is bloody cruel to the people who have to grow the damn things.

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And here's the Sun column: "The future is rosé because REAL men drink pink… just like Brad Pitt and me"

There's a Grand Tour-related item in it:

PM Boris must be bushed
Six weeks ago, Andy Wilman, who’s my oldest friend and the producer of The Grand Tour, was struck down by coronavirus.
It hit him hard and for two weeks he was in bed, unable to sleep because of the constant coughing.
Happily, he recovered without having to go to hospital, but he was never back up to full speed before the virus came again.
I had a Zoom call with him this week and it was like talking to a sea lion.
All of which makes me wonder about Boris Johnson.
Yes, he’s up and about and yes, he says he’s fit enough to work. But is he really?
 
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