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

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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

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Messages
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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?
 

Revelator

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Messages
417
Location
San Francisco
That's a sheep trick
Whether escaping fields, letting out the hens or dying in revolting ways, his flock of woolly jumpers loves to torture Jeremy Clarkson (May 31)

Last week one of my pregnant sheeps watched one of its mates give birth and decided that the new and very slimy lamb was hers. So, much to the distress of the actual mother, she started to lick it and offer up her nipples — is that the right word? Whatever, women tell me that the birth process is something they tend to remember. So how could a sheep think it had given birth when it hadn't? There's an obvious answer. Sheeps are the stupidest animals on God's green earth. Except for one thing.

They're not.

I bought mine last year at an auction in Thame, Oxfordshire. I had no idea what I was doing. Sheeps were brought into the ring, the auctioneer made machinegun noises and I went home with 68 North Country Mules. I've no idea what I paid. I couldn't understand a word anyone said.

I then bought two rams, which are basically woolly ball sacks, and in short order, all but three of my new flock were pregnant. The failures? I ate them, and they punished me for that by giving me heartburn.

And this is what I've learnt about sheeps in the nine months I've had them. They are vindictive. Even in death.

Sheeps know that human beings are squeamish. As a result, they never die of something simple, such as a heart attack or a stroke. No. A sheep's death has to be revolting. So they put their head in a bit of stock fencing and then saw it off. Or they decide to rot, from the back end forwards. Or they get a disease that causes warts to grow in their lambs' mouths. A sheep's death has to be worthy of a Bafta. Remember Alec Guinness at the end of The Bridge on the River Kwai? Well, it's that. With added haemorrhagic enteritis.

My sheeps clocked me immediately as a chap who's eaten too many biscuits, so when I had to move them out of one field into another, they'd do exactly as they were told. Then they'd wait for me to close the gate and walk home, before jumping over the wall, back into the first field. Did you know they can jump? Well, trust me on this: if a sheep wanted to annoy you, it could win the Grand National.

I bought a drone eventually and programmed the onboard speaker to make dog-barking noises. This worked well for a day, but then the sheeps just stood there, staring at it. So I had to move them by running about. And as I trudged home with a bit of lung hanging out of my mouth, they jumped over the wall again.

Today I have 142 extremely delicious-looking lambs boinging around in the fields. The walkers still won't put their wretched dogs on leads but at least they now look guilty when I glower at them. Although, actually, the biggest problem is not the dogs. It's the mothers.

Last week one of them decided that, to annoy me, it would abandon its lamb. I found the poor little thing in a hedge, shivering and hungry, and any attempt to reunite it with its mother ended with the lamb, and me, on our backs. The ewe was having none of it.

So I had to bring the lamb to the barn and make a bed for it near the wood-burning stove and sit up all night with bottles of warm milk. And then, in the morning, because it's a sheep and it wanted to upset me, it died.

The only good news about this is that there's no financial loss. Owing to the double whammy of Brexit and Covid-19, lambs today are worth about the same as a barrel of oil — minus £30.

Still, at least I now know how it must have felt to be a guard at Stalag Luft III. Because what those sheeps are doing when they're standing there in a perfectly nice field is thinking of ways to escape. If they were people, they'd be Gordon Jackson, Charles Bronson and Steve McQueen.

They constantly probe for any weakness in the fences. They keep tabs on my routines. And I'm bloody sure they are imperceptibly turning one of the cross-country fences into a rudimentary vaulting horse. And it's not because they want to get out. They're in the best field with the best grass. They just want to get on to the road so they can be hit by a bus, and burst.

Their latest game is very irritating. Somehow they've worked out how to open the doors on the hen houses. Even though I have opposable thumbs, I can barely do this; the latches are very stiff. But they can. And at night, they do. This means the hens can escape, and that means they are killed by nature's second most vindictive animal — the fox.

I cannot work out why the sheeps open the doors. It's not as if they're after the eggs, or the hens. Which means they must be doing it for sport. They actually enjoy watching the hens being eaten. And, as an added bonus, it pisses me off, which they enjoy even more.

It's the same story with their water bowser. They've worked out how to break the tap so all the water leaks into the soil. This means that either I have to mend it, or they die of thirst. So for them, it's a win-win.

Last night they gnawed through the wire providing power for the electric fence. So they could get out? Nope. So I'd have to stop what I was doing and fix it.

As I was doing that, I noticed something odd about one of the lambs. Its ears had come off. And as I stood there with my hands on my hips, asking myself how that was even possible, I got a pretty good idea of what life was like for my teachers having to deal with me and my troublesome friends. "Why have you rubbed linseed oil into the school cormorant, Clarkson?" That's what sheeps are, I've decided. Woolly teenage boys. And that's why they are so annoying.

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Let melodrama rest in peace. Unless Jaws is involved, there's no need to make a meal of death (May 31)

Cornwall. Bank holiday Monday.

The sun is shining and the winds are gentle. It's a beautiful day. Think of the town of Amity before the shark comes. And then hold that thought, because, in the space of just one panic-stricken hour, there were three incidents, in which two people died and a third was seriously injured. Hell had arrived out of nowhere.

With the coastal emergency services' control room looking like the CIA command centre after Jason Bourne has just peered through the window, police, the coastguard rescue helicopter and a flotilla of lifeboats were dispatched in a flurry of noise and full-speed determination.

The coastguard dealt with incidents at Treyarnon Bay, Constantine Bay and Harlyn Bay, and lifeboats were launched from Rock, St Agnes, St Ives and Padstow. At some point I like to think someone looked up from his radar screen and shouted to no one in particular: "Hostiles inbound!" And all this seemed a bit weird because these places were where I used to go on childhood holidays with my mum and dad, and nothing dangerous ever happened at all. Nothing at all ever happened at all. We'd sit in the café Dad had found and, every hour or so, Mum would rub a bit of condensation from the window and say: "I think it's brightening up." But it never was, and it never did. So we'd have another cup of tea and I'd while away the hours, wondering which droplet of water would get to the windowsill first.

Sometimes, when the rain had slowed to a point where it was simply torrential, we'd go to the beach and I'd mooch about looking for things in the rock pools. Occasionally I'd even go in the sea, where my dad would warn me about rip tides and undertows and all sorts of other things. But I could never hear what he was saying above the sound of my chattering teeth.

Yes, sometimes I'd be picked up by an invisible wave of torque and moved a little way from the beach. But I'd solve this issue by deploying something called "swimming".

What's changed? Why have Cornwall's beaches gone from being the most benign places on earth to being so dangerous that Robert Duvall's airborne cavalry and a fleet of 40-knot rescue boats are not enough to keep everyone alive. Padstow? It seems to me it should be twinned with Basra.

I'm surprised the locals haven't yet come up with a way to blame Gordon Ramsay. Since he decided to spend lockdown in his house in Cornwall, he's been blamed for every other damn thing. The Corns even follow him around, waiting to photograph him strangling a dog or stabbing a postman. He's Rebecca from Manderley and the vicar from Jamaica Inn rolled into one. But the truth is, the accidents in Cornwall last weekend were not Gordon's fault. They were no one's fault. And really, they weren't even a story.

I'd love to say that when I holidayed in Cornwall in the Sixties, nobody ever died while swimming and no one was ever injured. But I bet they were. An unfit northerner with a belly full of beer, two lungs full of coal dust and a heart encased in bacon fat leaps into an ice-cold sea with nothing more than a bronze swimming badge: it's a recipe for disaster. I bet the fishermen were catching more dead miners every weekend than mackerel.

But it wouldn't be reported because someone had died, and where's the news in that? Back then, we accepted that dying is like going to the dentist's or buying a Volvo. Everyone gets round to it sooner or later. Today, of course, thanks largely to social media hysteria, things have changed and we aren't allowed to die any more. And if we do, there must be an inquiry of some sort to ensure that no one ever need die of anything ever again.

The fact is, though, that every single thing that has ever lived on earth has, at some stage, died. Or it will do soon. And before we get it into our heads that holidaying in Cornwall is more dangerous than holidaying in a Boko Haram training camp, we need to remember that Padstow over the bank holiday wasn't Hue in '68. It was not Jaws 6. Hell didn't come and there were no hostiles, inbound or otherwise. There were some sea accidents and that's it.

At present, many newspapers run obituaries. Sometimes there will be three in one day. That's three people whose lives have been deemed interesting enough to warrant a halfpage look-back. The other 1,500 people who died in the UK that day? Nope. It's reckoned they haven't done anything in their entire life that's worthy of a mention. It's not that they haven't charged down an enemy machinegun nest armed with only a pearl-handled butter knife, or invented fertiliser. They literally haven't done anything of note at all.

We mourn them if they were close to us, but we don't expect their deaths to be front-page news. Or even page 27 news. And that's how we should treat the manner of their death.

Yes, if someone spontaneously combusts while teaching a class of six-year-olds or is shot by an alien in the Arndale centre, it's definitely interesting. But if they drown while swimming or fall off a horse or crash into a telegraph pole, it's not. And if we report it, along with pictures of sobbing relatives, it's actually quite dangerous, because then there will be calls for beaches to be closed and riding to be banned and speed limits to be reduced. And the myth that death is avoidable will go on.

Who knows, we may even get to the point where we encounter a new virus that can really kill only people who were doing to die soon anyway, but, because we are so weak-minded and timid, we react by shutting everything down until a cure is found. Which may be sometime shortly after never.

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And here's the Sun column: "Next time there’s a pandemic, let’s just do what the Germans do"
 

Revelator

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As a bonus, this week's Sunday Times also had a column by James May!

Scrap HS2 and buy us all a bike

After several blissful weeks riding along car-free city streets, James May has come up with a plan: take the billions being spent on the new rail link and use it to start a proper two-wheeled revolution (May 31)

As a teenager, my dream bicycle ride was probably a typical one. I would be taken, in a van, to somewhere like the top of the Cairngorms to enjoy a whole sublime day of exclusively downhill riding on my five-speed, pig-iron Raleigh racer. We thought about this, me and my mates. It would be, as Philip Larkin said, "everyone young going down the long slide / To happiness, endlessly."

It never happened, of course. The memories are all of screaming calf muscles and the dull report of a back tyre, already worn down to its canvas, finally unburdening itself of its inner tube and stranding me with a flat. But I still love a bike, and haven't been without at least one since I was three.

I maintain the bicycle is one of humankind's greatest inventions, because all it really does is empower the pedestrian. It transforms the pummelling ugliness of walking into smooth and unstressed rotary motion, just as the pistons and crankshaft of a car engine do, and improves the efficiency of the human machine.

As individuals and societies, our thirst for geographical liberty starts with bicycles — the history of many of our car companies is rooted in them — and riding one immediately reunites you with the innocence and optimism of childhood.

As a younger man, I could easily ride 70 or 100 miles in a day, and did, all over Britain and France. These days, it's more like riverside jaunts to rewarding pub suppers, and probably not enough of them — the bike rides, I mean — if we're honest.

Then something interesting happened. The lockdown came with a qualifier: you could go out walking, running or cycling, once a day. So I immediately bought a new bike, which was a bit self-indulgent, as I already had one. But this is the best bike I've ever had: a Giant TCR Advanced 2, which has a frame designed by Mike Burrows, who also designed the Lotus bike that carried Chris Boardman to victory in the individual pursuit at the 1992 Olympics. It came highly recommended by Cycling Weekly magazine and, more importantly, in a really good metallic red.

This is not a cheap bike — it's got a carbon frame, you know — but neither is it in the you-could-have-had-a-decent-car-for-that range. It's more in the bottom bracket of posh bikes. I've ridden it everyday since, except one, when I was laid low by chronic gut rot bought on by isolation cooking experiments with Thai-style spicy lime prawns (the recipe for which is in my upcoming cookbook, although I've just realised that's a very bad plug).

I've devised a series of round-robin local routes of between six and 10 miles, which I try to ride vigorously, and I have to admit I haven't felt so healthy in years. Cycling really is good for you.

It's also fascinating for a driver, because many of the concepts we find difficult in understanding cars — the difference between power and torque, the point of gearing, centre of gravity, unsprung weight, blah, blah, blah — are thrown into perfect clarity out on a ride, as no machine engages with its user as feverishly as a bicycle does.

After a month or so of this, I experienced the greatest bike ride of my life; better, even, than the imagined Cairngorms descent. I was required to report to a studio in Soho, central London, for voiceover work on the upcoming Grand Tour special (something we genuinely can't do from home).

It was an odd experience: I entered the building and the recording booth alone, spoke to the producer remotely, only vaguely glimpsed the sound engineer through 2in of germproof glass and never even saw Richard Hammond or Jeremy Clarkson. Maybe we should always do it like this.

I made the six-mile journey on my bike, and that was an even odder experience; the capital at the quietest I've known it, and by a long, long way. By the time I left, the sun hung in view, and I decided on a wantonly circuitous route home, taking in much of the West End, Park Lane, various monuments, the park, Buckingham Palace and a couple of famous bridges.

It was utterly idyllic, the whole fabulous cityscape sluiced in sunlight, uncorrupted air and almost complete silence, seemingly there for the pleasure of the hundreds of cyclists exploiting an unprecedented and unrepeatable opportunity.

To save you the bother in the comments section, I'm aware of the piquancy here. I've spent 25 years making a living writing about driving and I'm admitting that this was a joy mainly because there were hardly any cars.

This, though, is the dream of the government, which is committing £2bn to "deliver" improved cycling and walking, but only £10m to create infrastructure for electric vehicles, which seems about as significant as a fart in a pandemic.

I'm unsure about how to improve walking, which seems to have been sorted for a long time, and I remain cynical about convoluted attempts to build bicycle lanes, because they often end up confusing and ignored. I'm also unclear about how a bicycle lane can "pop up", though I wish to boast that my idea — first posited 20 years ago — of turning London's Tube network into an underground bike super-highway is starting to look prescient.

We must also acknowledge that bicycles have their limitations in a fast-paced, competitive and recovering economy. They're great for short commutes and local light shopping; less good if you work in a city but are forced to live 30 miles away because the houses are too expensive. They're also not good if you have to pick up a new vase, or in January.

But it's a lovely vision, and it should start — like most things — with a mindset. That means it should start with bikes. All this talk of bicycle repair vouchers is encouraging; bliss it is in this extraordinary dawn to own a bicycle repair shop (I know a man who does, and he's looking very happy), but how about a new bike? This got me thinking: £2bn is a lot of money. To that, we can add the £80bn projected to be spent on the HS2 high-speed rail link , which is going to be even more unpopular now only four people will be allowed in a carriage. All that cash could buy every adult in Britain a carbon-frame bike.

Numerous politicians and philosophers in recent history have said that when an insurgent group or rebel nation emerges, we shouldn't call in airstrikes. We should drop crates of brand new Cadillacs and televisions on them.

People are restless. They want change. So come on, Boris Johnson — you've long been known as the bike man. Bomb us with bicycles.

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The Sunday Times also ran a short interview with May about his column:

Supporters of HS2, which aims to connect Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham to London with high-speed track, say it will improve transport times, increase capacity, create jobs and rebalance the UK's economy.

However, Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has conceded that trains may not run on the route until 2028 or even 2031.

May says there is no need to scrap the project. By scaling it back the government could provide each working-age person with a £200 bike. "They only need to achieve an 8% reduction in HS2 costs to put everyone on a bike and build the railway," he said.

"You could revive British industry by making a Soviet-style national bicycle factory that made one [type of] bike and call it the People's Bicycle Co-operative of Britain."

May, 57, recently took up regular cycling to shed weight: "I tended to cycle to a pub with a few mates where we'd have pie and mash, but I decided to make an effort because I've been getting a bit fat and slovenly."
 

Revelator

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Oh dear, I've realised I'm a ramblin' man
On a 10-mile stroll around his property, our columnist discovered angry walkers, mutilated deer — and a love of the great outdoors (June 7)

I've been told many times by fellow farmers that it's important once in a while to do a "perimeter walk". And obviously I've nodded enthusiastically and left the conversation thinking, "Well, that's not going to happen."

I can walk for miles in a town, but I've never really seen the appeal in the countryside. What's the point of going for a walk when you just end up back where you started? You go past a tree and then, shortly, you go past another exactly the same. And then you get hay fever.

However, I was recently told that if you go to a Covid-19 hospital with a body mass index number that puts you in a category called "obese", then you are put straight in the bin. I therefore decided to walk all the way round my farm immediately.

People who walk in the countryside have got it into their heads that it's a sport, like deep-sea diving and ice hockey, so they reckon it needs specialist clothing. But it isn't a sport. It's a pastime, like cricket or Scrabble. Which means you can do it in a suit or swimming trunks. You don't need ski poles or materials that make a noise when you walk, and you definitely don't need to tuck your trousers into your socks.

To prove the point, I got up from the breakfast table and set off in what I happened to be wearing at the time, which was a T-shirt, a pair of jeans and some off-road training shoes I have had for 10 years. Lisa, meanwhile, went for tracksuit bottoms, which she teamed with a pair of Dr Martens Chelsea boots.

We left at 11 in the morning, with me already thinking about the cold lunchtime pint I'd have when I got back. The sun was shining and the going, to begin with, was only mildly uphill. Soon I saw some wildlife. It was a fat ginger youth in an anorak, walking right through the middle of a field of spring barley.

"Please don't do that," I said as he came close. "What are you going to do about it?" he replied. We discussed the options of shooting him or smashing in his face with a spade and, pretty soon, it all got rather heated. And that's odd. I've never had an argument with another pedestrian in London, yet in the sticks I was having a full-blown row with the first one I came across.

Later I came across another.

I asked her politely to put her dogs on a lead as there were sheep in the next field, and was told I couldn't throw my weight about just because I'm on television. Interesting. On the evidence to hand, 100% of people who walk in the countryside are argumentative and unpleasant idiots.

Still, these debates gave me a chance to get my breath back before resuming the endless uphill slog to the most northerly point of the farm. Here, for complicated reasons, there is a gigantic model of James May's head, which has been viciously attacked by walkers with hammers and their bare fists. I have no idea why.

It had been two hours since we set off and we were still going uphill, through a field of brambles that grow out of the ground and then, after forming a hoop, plunge back into it again. You know when Steve McQueen was stuck in that fence? Well, it was like that.

Then we found a Second World War underground air-raid shelter. That was pretty cool, finding out that you own one of those. Less cool was discovering in a nearby wood that other things I own include a fridge freezer, a car door, a sofa, six worn tyres and several hundred empty bottles of cider.

Soon I came across a deer. It had the most adorable face, with the biggest, soppiest eyes I'd ever seen. I stared into them and thought I detected a hint of sadness, which could have had something to do with the fact that behind its head there was nothing but a licked-clean spine. I have no idea what manner of beast killed Bambi in this way. I'm guessing it must have been a lion.

Two fields later I found another dead deer. This one had not been eaten but it had somehow snapped in the middle, so its left buttock was nestling against its cheek. I'm not sure, after seeing it, that I'd let a child walk in the countryside. There's an X-rated surprise at every turn.

Soon I found a broken gate. It had obviously been smashed to smithereens by an out-of-control car. There was a bit of "Police Aware" tape holding what was left of it to the gatepost, so I called the police, who said that, yes, they were indeed aware of the crash in question.

I then asked for the name of the driver, so I could sort out the insurance, but Plod wouldn't hand that over. He was aware of the name, but he wasn't allowed to share it. Good job he's not developing a vaccine for Covid-19.

Five more uphill fields and we reached the big wood where the nettles were up to my nipples and I trod in a badger sett every 17 seconds. It was like a Petri dish of tuberculosis in there and I was glad after two hours to reach a small pond.

It's fed by a spring that looked very inviting. But I don't really like water. It's unnecessary. I know 20-year-olds can't get to the other side of their bedroom these days without "hydrating", but I'd walked for miles on a hot day and I wasn't thirsty at all. I did, however, clean the wounds caused by the brambles and, for a moment, I felt a bit like Bear Grylls.

Lisa, however, felt like going home. She said she had a blister the size of a space hopper on her right heel and that it hurt. I pointed out that it could be worse. The blister could have grown on my foot.

Onwards we went, and upwards, until, after five hours, we found a deer that was extremely unusual for these parts. Mainly because it was alive. Interestingly it had managed to get its head through a hole in the stock fencing, but thanks to its antlers it couldn't pull it back out again.

The poor thing was in a desperate panic. And what do you do in a situation like that? Yes, that's right, you film it and upload it to Instagram as soon as possible. Unfortunately, however, before I could get my camera working the deer was free and on its way.

Then Lisa was too. Nine years younger than me and fit enough to do a marathon while carrying a photocopying machine, but she couldn't take the pressure of a walk round my farm. I was knackered, I admit, but, spurred on by a need to finish what Dr Martens girl could not, I plodded on with no one for company except Bob Seger.

It took seven hours in total to get back to where I'd started. And my phone's fitness app revealed I'd covered just over 10 miles. Slow going, but in my defence much of it was through brambles or streams or over margins that are peppered with ant hills. And more bloody badger setts.

Hateful? I'd love to say it was, but the truth is I loved it. I'd seen a tortoiseshell butterfly, two rabbits, a hare, an amazing thistle-type thing and a squadron of goldfinches. I'd nearly had a fight. I'd seen one snapped deer and one that was just a head and a spine. And most importantly I'd learnt something useful about my farm. All of it is uphill.

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The prince and his missus want low-key security, lads. Let's make sure everyone knows about it (June 7)

So reports suggest Prince and Princess Harry will soon be spending more than £2.5m a year on a team of crack security experts who cut their teeth in the FBI, the CIA and the NSA (not the National Sheep Association — that's something different). This means that wherever they go, the couple will be accompanied by a highly visible squad of men with curliewurlie earpieces, who will keep the sleeves of their expensive suits fully informed about what's going on at all times. This will make the prince and princess feel very important.

Should there be an incident of some kind, the couple will have been told that one of the team will leap into the path of the oncoming bullet — and they'll have believed this, of course. They will also have believed the guarantee that a full refund will be paid if the agent decides at the last moment that he'd rather not take the bullet after all.

Plus, they'll be deeply impressed when Curt — one of them is bound to be called Curt — scans the rooftops for snipers as he holds open the princess's car door. He isn't doing any such thing, of course. He's just looking up because if he looks down, it will appear he's trying to cop a glimpse of some royal gusset.

Of course, Harry and his wife are close family members of the Queen, but I'll be honest: I'm not sure they need protection. Because if you wanted to make a terrorist statement of some kind, why would you think, "I know. I'll go for a woman who once appeared in a television show that no one watched, and the sixth in line to the throne of a country most people in America have never heard of." They'd be better off targeting Amal Clooney's florist.

Or Gordon Brown. As a former prime minister, he is entitled to round-the-clock protection from a crack team with sub-machineguns and Roger Moore skills in hand-to-hand combat. And can you imagine what the officers in the protection division say when told they've been given Brown to look after? "Oh sir. Can't we have Sir John Major instead? Nothing will happen to him either, but at least, with him, we'd go to a cricket match once in a while."

Also, if we look back over the whole of human history, it's hard to think of a time when a notable person's life has been saved by his or her security detail. There was that chap who was told to look after Princess Anne while she was driven down the Mall. He had all the training and all the reflexes but, come the moment, he was shot by the assailant and then his gun jammed. And, yes, in case you were wondering, it was a Walther PPK.

Then there was Michael Fagan, who broke into Mrs Queen's bedroom in Buckingham Palace one morning. And where was her security man? He'd knocked off at 6am at the end of his night shift.

Further down the evolutionary scale we find Tamara Ecclestone, who was using the same company that Harry and Meghan are considering when someone swiped £50m of jewellery while she was on holiday.

Then there was Kim Kardashian, who is famous and rich for no reason I can see. She was robbed at gunpoint in Paris while her bodyguard was reportedly at a nearby nightclub, protecting her sisters.

In a past life, when Top Gear did a live show, we were always accompanied by a security man who gave us coded "handles" in case his sleeve-based radio network was hacked. So, after work, it'd be: "Traveller's just ordered a glass of wine." Followed a few minutes later by: "Traveller's just ordered another." I insisted on being called "Traveller". James May was "Acebiscuits". Richard Hammond was "Richard Hammond".

I have no idea why we used security.

There must have been some insurance reason, because no one in the world was going to convene his or her terrorist cell and say, "Right. We could go after the president of the United States. Or Gordon Brown. But instead let's kidnap those halfwits from that car show." I can't tell you the guy's name as he was in the Special Boat Service but I can tell you what happened in Moscow one night. I think it gives a pretty good insight into what the security industry is all about.

We were dining at one of those places that are wallpapered in actual gold and that use Cristal champagne to flush the lavatory. Only one other table was occupied, and it was the standard Muscovite fare. There were two insolent-looking yobbos with big watches and stupid shoes surrounded by perhaps 12 pneumatic Ukrainian women.

I popped outside for a cigarette at one point, and our Kevin Costner elected to stay inside with Acebiscuits and Richard Hammond. Which was a worry, because in the street the Third World War was raging. Our fleet of Range Rovers was parked right outside the restaurant, which was causing some distress to the drivers of the fleet of blacked-out Cadillac Escalades that obviously belonged to the yobbos inside.

These very angry guys figured they should be in "pole position", and as they were in full paramilitary uniforms and carrying machineguns, I'd have been inclined to agree. But the growly Russian FSB guy running our squad of drivers was having none of it, so there was much screaming and poking. As it was Russia, it looked like an explosion in a potato factory.

I settled into a doorway to enjoy my Marlboro and watch the scene unfurl, and I remember thinking that this is what it must be like for people who have an idiotically unbalanced world-view: you employ actual, real-life soldiers to have meaningless wars on your behalf. You literally pay them to fight to the death, with guns, over the best parking spot in town.

It's the kind of thing that attracts attention, which I guess is what these people want. If you don't want attention, you should just go out by yourself with no security at all. It'll be interesting to see which way the princess jumps.

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And here's this week's Sun column --"You buy a Tesla for the cool autopilot function… but you don’t actually use it" --which contains the shocking admission "I actually quite like Tesla’s current range of cars. I think they are interesting and fun."
 

Mr. Nice

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Dec 6, 2007
Messages
2,489
Clarkson needs to get Lisa some extra thick socks and different footwear. I've had plantar fasciitis in my left foot for many years now, so I wear boots. Before I developed that problem, I'd either wear sneakers (which could be cross trainers) or hiking boots. Besides my current Italian hiking boots (Vasque Sundowners, made in Vietnam), I've never had much in the way of serious hiking gear. Getting decked out in expensive gear is laughable for the type of hiking that most people do. I hike with a nearly 15 year old Australian Shepherd mix, and sometimes I have to carry her a bit here and there. A few weeks ago, she and I went on a more difficult hike up a mountain. Here's a picture that I took while on that hike.


and here's a picture of my dog on that same hike
 
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Mr. Nice

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Dec 6, 2007
Messages
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Thanks, Revelator. She can't do what she used to do, but she is still pretty amazing. Though I did carry her over many trees that had fallen across the trail, the walk that I took those pictures on was an 8 mile loop with an extra 2 mile out and back excursion.
 
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Revelator

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I'm smashing the myth that the old days were better. Now, where did I put my wooden racket? (June 14)

A picture of Boris Johnson playing tennis with an old-fashioned wooden racket was doing the rounds last week and I wondered: what exactly did he think we'd make of that? I reckon he thought he was coming across as very Three Men in a Boat with a light seasoning of Bertie Wooster, all served under a bed of tally-ho spotted dick with lashings of Bird's custard. But what I actually thought was: "Are you nuts?" Quite apart from the fact that he risked incurring the wrath of Britain's numerous, vocal and often violent animal enthusiasts, who'd be sure to notice it was strung with catgut — which, weirdly, is made from the stomach of a sheep — wooden rackets don't work. You'd score more points if you went out there with a mop.

I'm told by people who've played tennis against Boris that he always uses a wooden racket that's so warped it looks as though it's been propped up against an Aga since David Livingstone set sail for east Africa. Apparently, this means his opponent has no idea where the ball will go after he's hit it. I bet Boris doesn't either.

I used to have a wooden Dunlop Maxply when I was at school and I loved it very much. Late at night, in my study, I'd pretend that it was a guitar and I was Dave Gilmour. I never actually used it to play tennis, obviously, and now I never will, because for reasons I can't remember, John McEnroe smashed it into small pieces.

Wood was a very good material for making rackets in the same way as leather was a very good material for making the bindings on a pair of skis, by which I mean to say, it wasn't very good at all. The trouble is that if you take two pieces of timber from the same tree, you don't necessarily get the same results. Wood is like gravity. It's unpredictable and heavy.

In the early 1980s, the graphite racket came along. This brought consistency and an ability to do some fine tuning. You could have a heavy head to give you a powerful serve or a light head for more control. And, as time's gone by, all sorts of other materials from the periodic table have been used. They're up to boron now.

More important, though, is the size. Playing with an old wooden racket is like playing with a soup spoon. The actual surface area of string is about two square inches, whereas the head on a modern racket is about the same size as a Spanish trawlerman's net. Basically, you just stick your arm out and you are bound to make contact with the ball.

I know this because Greg Rusedski once belted a 150mph serve at me, and I hit it. The ball didn't go back over the net, I admit. It didn't even head in the direction of the net. But I still hit it, and that's incredible for a man like me, who has the reaction times of a very large, slow-moving animal that's asleep.

Modern rackets, then, are just better in every way than the rackets we used in the olden days. And the same is true of pretty much everything.

A few years ago I had to spend a week or so filming in the Norwegian ski resort of Lillehammer, and because it was so cold and snowy, the production team provided a pair of perfectly hideous Salomon boots, made from all sorts of brightly coloured synthetic fibres.

Feeling very Borisish, I scoffed at their lightness and slipped instead into my trusty leather boots, which after an hour were wet through. Soon I had what felt like the onset of frostbite, so I was forced to hang them on a radiator and switch to the Salomons.

And guess what. They were brilliant. So brilliant that I still wear them today whenever it's chilly. Even though I'm told that in terms of footwear tech, they are Navratilova's Yonex R-22 in a world that's moved on to Nadal's Babolat Pure Aero.

The other week I found my old NAD amplifier and hooked it up to my Wharfedale speakers so I could listen to some turntable rock from 1976. It was all very nostalgic and thrilling and the music was still fabulous, but it did sound as though my head was buried in a woolsack.

We old people need to move on. We need to accept that landlines aren't as good as mobile phones. That the Douglas DC-3 is not as good as the Airbus A380. That a typewriter is no match for a laptop. And that radiators aren't as good as underfloor heating, unless you've captured one of Justin Welby's envoys and you want to tie him to something. Also, I doubt very much that Avengers: Endgame would look quite as good if you watched it on a VHS machine.

Almost everyone would agree with me on this, but there is still one small group of people who do not. People who seem to think that, despite the wars and the lung diseases and the rickets and the boredom, yesteryear was a better place than today. These people are called "leaders of the Conservative Party".

David Cameron used to take his holidays in Cornwall, even though Corfu is better in every single way, apart from the wasps. Theresa May could have gone on a cruise, or a dirt-bike tour of the Baja California peninsula in Mexico. But no. She went walking in Wales all the time. And now we've got Boris and his wooden racket.

It worries me because this is the man who's in charge of the nation's defences.

And I don't want him deciding that submarines are unmanly and underhand and that it would be better if we had a fleet of dreadnoughts instead. Or that the new F-35B Lightning is nowhere near as good as a Sopwith Camel because it's somehow less charismatic and charming.

You can't win a war with charisma and charm. Any more than you can win a tennis game with a racket made of wood.

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Don't scoff — it's no poultry matter
While I'm tied up with red tape, chlorinated chicken and other cheap imports will change the countryside for ever, says Jeremy Clarkson (June 14)

Whenever you enter a small and unimportant country, you are expected to complete a selection of extremely detailed customs and immigration forms. And never, not once, in 30 years of travelling, have I ever filled one in properly.

Yes, I could get out of my seat on the plane and open the overhead locker and rummage around in my bag looking for my passport so I can write the number down accurately. Or I could just make one up. So that's what I do. I make everything up, in fact. Over the years I've been Roger Daltrey, the king of Norway, Mickey Mouse and every single one of the Mercury astronauts. My place of birth has been all of the towns in Kent and, once, Buckingham Palace. I've been three, 17 and 149 years old. I've even been a woman. And not once have I ever been caught out.

However, when it comes to filling out British government farming forms, there can be no messing about. You have to do it properly, which is why while you were in the garden, enjoying the sunshine, I was in my office, dreaming up new and interesting ways of peeling the minister of agriculture.

These damn forms wanted to know everything. What I'm growing and where, how big my new pond is and how much land I've given over to turnips this year, to four decimal places.

Imagine if you had to do this where you work; tell the government precisely what's in your stationery cupboard. And you can't just say"pens", because pens have a code.And not just one code. There's a code for ballpoints and another for fountain pens and another for Sharpies. And writing "about 40" is no good. You have to tell officials exactly how many there are, and how many are in circulation, and how much ink — to four decimal places — is left in each one, and what colour it is. And then you move on to the photocopier toner…

… If you mess about, or get something wrong by accident and they find out, and they will, because they use satellites to monitor farmland — they really do — then you will have your subsidy reduced or even withheld.

My farm, even if it were run by someone who knew what he was doing, could not make money without that government leg-up. Very few farms could. We need it, which is why I had to measure — precisely — how much wasabi is growing in the stream. And then go and measure it again, using the Roman Catholic system.

Soon, though, everything is going to change. And from where I'm sitting it'll all be much worse.

After the First World War the government decided it wasn't that bothered about farming and repealed the Corn Production Act, which guaranteed fair prices for oats and wheat. Industry was what mattered back then. We'd make trains and power stations and machine-guns, and then buy our food from abroad. Which is why, when the Second World War came along, we were damn nearly starved into submission.

When that ended, it was decided Britain would, for evermore, be able to feed itself. Years later we joined the Common Market and backed French plans to put farming first.

But everyone then decided they wanted avocados for breakfast and cherry tomatoes in November, and were horrified to discover, from their loft apartments in Hackney, that British farmers could not oblige. "Tut," they said. "We give them all this money and they can't even grow quinoa."

Which is why, now we have left the EU, the government has decided farmers should no longer be paid to grow food. Instead they will get "public money for public goods". In the short term this means I will only get a subsidy if I stop feeding people and look after the bees and the environment. In the longer term I won't get a subsidy at all.

If I were a young man I'd puff out my chest and face the challenge head-on. I'd get organised and efficient and ruthless.And I'd declare from the top of my tractor: "Yes, I shall bring back the spirit of Mrs Thatcher. I shall stand on my own two feet."

And then I'd get knocked down, because the government is taking away not only our financial support but also asking us to go into bat with no box. Or bat.

At present there are a million rules in this country about how animals should be reared and how they should be transported, and these are enforced by satellite tracking, many forms and regular inspections.

Naturally this means customers know, when they buy a British chicken, that's it's led a happy life, suffered a painless death and isn't drizzled in bleach.

Unfortunately, post-EU trade deals mean supermarkets can import chickens from countries where the birds were fed on human toenails, kicked to death as part of a bizarre sport and then drenched in chlorine.

It'd be lovely to think the customer will avoid these birds, but don't fool yourself. Wayne and Waynetta won't care any less, because they will be cheaper than the quality British alternative.

The Conservative MP Neil Parish spotted this and tried, at the third reading of the Agriculture Bill, to include an amendment that would have protected British farmers and customers from low-quality imports. Unfortunately, because of the coronavirus, the vote was held remotely, which meant the fate of UK agriculture was in the hands of about 600 MPs who'd broken of from home schooling to chip in with their ill-thought-out opinions.

The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, voted in favour of the amendment, which would have banned the import of chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef, but it was later suggested he had been muddled by the technology and pressed the wrong button. In the end only 22 Tories voted in favour and, as a result, the amendment failed.

This means that, soon, British farmers will be asked to compete on the world stage, with no financial help, while having both hands tied behind their backs by red tape. Even now, I cannot sell a lamb I delivered and reared on my own farm in my own farm shop for less than you'd pay for a New Zealand lamb in the supermarket. When the basic payment scheme for farmers is phased out, I'll be even more screwed. So will many thousands of others.

Some people will probably welcome this. They will watch the brambles proliferate on uncultivated fields, note how nature has begun to blur humanity's boundaries and feel warm and fuzzy as they cycle into town for some more avocados and a nice quinoa and lentil bake.

Then, as the ecomentalists meet in the wooden teepee they've built to sing kumbaya, and celebrate the fact that all of the nation's carbon is now tucked away safely in the untilled soil, there will be another virus or war, or another something that stops the world working properly for a while. And then what? Because you can't eat a teepee.

Right now Britain produces only 60% of the food it needs, and if you're worried about that number getting any lower, you should contact the government immediately. Send your thoughts on a form, it's the only language it seems to understand.

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And here's the Sun column: "If we pulled down Peel and put up Flintoff, someone would still moan"
 

Revelator

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Messages
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Stow the chainsaw: I've called in Godzilla
Taking down a tree is harder than it looks, even with a manly power tool to hand. Luckily the experts have a monster of a solution (June 21)

It's been suggested that after months of house arrest, people are starting to appreciate the countryside. Many are saying they won't need cities or beaches in future because there's so much to enjoy in an English wood.

I'm not sure my girlfriend, Lisa, subscribes to this point of view. In a previous life she had homes in the Swiss Alps, Mallorca and London. She sailed the Atlantic on a whim and then lived on a beach in Trinidad for a while. Her butler had a butler. Remember that Learjet that crashed onto the A40 in west London a while back? She was on it.

But as I write, she's in the vegetable field, wearing tracksuit bottoms that are too short, furry Ugg boots and a vest that is soaking wet because she tried to move the sprinklers in a howling gale, and now she's on her hands and knees poking bits of horse manure into the mud, desperately hoping this will help the leeks and golden beetroots fight off the constant bombing raids from the beetles, birds and mildew.

Alan Titchmarsh told The Times recently that all plants want to grow."It's just up to us not to get in the way," he said. That, Alan, is bollocks.

Lisa loved the idea of growing vegetables on the basis that all the work was done by a little man from the village and all she had to do on a summer's evening was wander around with a watering can and a trug. But because she's now been exposed to the brutal reality of full-on vegetable farming, I suspect that 90 minutes after the restaurants reopen, she will be in Sloane Square, powering through the door of the Colbert café like a 6ft artillery shell.

I suspect I shall be with her because, at the weekend, I decided to have a go at woodland management. It turns out, however, that you can't "have a go" at this, any more than you can "have a go" at underwater oil-rig maintenance.

All men believe that they can operate a chainsaw. And, furthermore, all men want to operate a chainsaw. Because it's the manliest thing ever made. You put a chainsaw in the hands of Nicholas Witchell and immediately he becomes as masculine as Schwarzenegger biceps. There's no way Prince Charles would have said "I can't bear that man" if Nick had been brandishing a chainsaw rather than a microphone.

If you have a chainsaw in your hands, you are the most powerful person in the room. Politely ask Elon Musk to sell you a majority shareholding in Tesla and he'll tell you to go away. Ask him while revving a chainsaw and the company will be yours in a matter of moments.

The problem is that you wouldn't be able to rev a chainsaw because chainsaws are just about impossible to start. You yank away on the starter cord endlessly until your arm is weary, and then you remember that there's a safety catch that needs to be pressed before the motor will fire.

Unfortunately, there's a safety handle as well. So you need one arm to hold that down, one to hold the machine steady and one to pull the cord. There are more safety features on a modern chainsaw than there are on a Boeing Dreamliner.

Eventually you become so hot you have to take off your safety helmet because sweat is running into your eyes. And then you have to remove your gloves because you can't operate the safety switches, and then, after you've deployed your best swearing, it bursts into life.

And it is not what you were expecting. It is terrifying. You know that at any moment the chain will come off and sever your head. So you set off very gingerly towards the tree that needs surgery. And soon you will fall into a badger sett that you hadn't seen because of all the nettles.

It's thought that when a man is falling over, he's out of control. Not when he has a running chainsaw in his hands he isn't. It's like falling into the sea when you're holding a mobile phone. You'll sacrifice yourself if necessary to keep it above water.

The Tubes were an American band that had very little success until frontman Fee Waybill, who sang under the name Quay Lewd, decided to appear on stage with a chainsaw. Everyone wanted to see that. Me especially. Which is why I was there, at the De Montfort Hall in Leicester, the night Fee fell off the platform shoes he'd made from old tomato juice cans. He could have put his arm down to save himself but that was needed to keep his chainsaw under control, so he didn't. As a result, he spiral-fractured the fibula in his right leg and that was the end of the tour.

Soon I reached the tree, my face lacerated by the brambles I'd fallen into, and started to cut. "Zzzzz" went the motor, angrily.

And then nothing. It had jammed. To unjam it, I needed to lift the branch slightly, which meant I was doing one-handed chainsawing. I'm not sure this is advised in the manual.

The other thing I learnt is that no matter how you approach a tree or branch, it always, always, always falls on your head.

After half an hour of sweaty manliness, I started to realise I didn't know why I was doing what I was doing. Was I trying to get more sunlight onto the forest floor? Or less? Did I want to encourage the spread of the brambles or stop it? Woodland management sounds very important but to be a manager you need to know what you're doing, and out there I started to feel like Matt Hancock.

I therefore called John Deere, which sent round easily the most fantastic machine ever made. It's a Nimitz-class destroyer of worlds. It's like a Star Wars battle cruiser has had sex with Edward Scissorhands, and what it does is breathtaking. The operator drives up to the tree and tells the machine what sort it is. After a quarter of second, during which time it does maths to determine how many planks can be produced from the trunk, the tree is cut down, turned sideways and chopped up. Even the biggest tree in the wood is in strips in three seconds flat.

After an hour or two I went to a nearby hill for a picnic lunch and, looking back on the roof of the wood, it was like Godzilla was in there, having a temper tantrum.

After two days, my woods were ruined. Carpeted with sawdust, and with a whiff of diesel in the air, there were logs everywhere. Thousands of them. But as I stood there with my puny chainsaw, a tool I now realise is good only for chopping off a drug dealer's arms, it was explained to me by Godzilla's driver that I'd done the right thing.

The new environment will be good for deer, butterflies, bees, flowers and the trees that remain. Plus, I can sell the timber I've created to the new green power station in Kent and make a profit of £3,000. Which will be just enough, come September, for the lunch I'm planning at the Colbert café.

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Dye, straighteners, razors — it's all so pre-Covid. Let's just snip off the vanity and go au naturel (June 21)

A young chap from Bradford revealed last week that his "half price" hair transplant operation in Turkey had not been quite as successful as he'd hoped. That's quite an understatement. The surgeons had removed healthy hair from the back of his bonce and then attempted to stitch it into his forehead.

It's hard to explain without pictures just how wrong this had gone. It's as if he had an alice band of hair, and then, on either side of it, it looked as though his head had been used as target practice for a maniac with a miniaturised nail gun.

But I'm sorry — what was he expecting? We all know the Turks are pretty good at carpets, but expecting someone who's handy at weaving a bit of silk to be good at weaving you a new barnet is like expecting your butcher to be good at heart transplants just because he's handy with a rib.

It's not as if there haven't been horror stories before. A few years ago a Scottish surgery enthusiast decided that she needed a bigger bottom. So off she went to Turkey, where budget surgeons took fat from her waist and rammed it, like dough, deep into the muscle in her buttocks. However, an allergic reaction to the anaesthetic caused her face to look as though it had gone through a windscreen, and the flight home was deeply uncomfortable.

Then there was the woman who earlier this year revealed she'd been to a Turkish clinic five times because it kept messing up her boob job. She said she'd fully researched the clinic on Instagram — the first port of call for all medical matters — but that her boobs were still wrong. To prove the point, she took them out for a Sun photographer, and I have to admit she had a point.

Now, you may think at this point that I'm having a go here at the Turkish plastic surgery industry, and you'd be right: I am. But there's a bigger picture, which is that we've just spent the best part of three months stuck inside with no access to the Botox clinic, the hairdresser, the shops or the colourist. Which is why, north of the border, we are already starting to see the ginger shoots of recession.

There are other effects. Women who have not worn a bra since March are now going public to say they never will again, and women who have become fully grey are looking in the mirror and thinking: "Hmm. What's wrong with this, exactly?" It's as though Covid-19 has robbed us of our vanity.

Everyone's groin looks like a 1970s welcome mat and everyone's armpits are now a feminist protest movement. Our jumpers have holes in them, we wear slippers to go shopping and no one's handbag is last season because everyone is using a carrier bag instead.

Speaking as someone who wears whatever happens to be next to the bed in the morning, and hasn't brushed his hair since 1971, I can assure you that you'll find this refreshing, and you will not want to go back to the olden days when your forehead was a pin cushion and your bum looked like one of those inner tubes that gets towed behind a speedboat.

Do you remember when you went out for lunch with friends and you felt compelled to nibble lightly on a piece of lettuce, like a rabbit? Well, not any more. Now that you know it's perfectly acceptable to have thighs like tugboats and a prolapsed stomach, go ahead and have some fish and chips, over a pint or two of stout.

And put away your hair straighteners, because do you remember those girls in the Cadbury's Flake adverts? They all had masses of curls and they looked so fantastic that I may have to break off now to have a look at them on the internet ... (several minutes later) ... Yes, they did. And they still do.

And since we are now on to the subject of hair, let's get back to that young man from Bradford and the problem of going bald. It isn't a problem. It never was. I don't know any women who look at Jason Statham and think, "Oh God, I'm going to be sick." Then you've got Mark Strong, Vin Diesel and the Rock. None of them is sitting at home today with nothing for company but an empty Tinder inbox.

What's more, a hair transplant is not like a penis-enlargement operation. You can't hide it away in your trousers and only reveal it to people who've never seen it before. It's on your head.

So, one minute you have see-through hair, and the next it's as though the Forestry Commission has been round. We are going to notice that, and when we do, we are going to laugh. Ask Wayne Rooney. When I saw what he had done, I was filled with an almost uncontrollable urge to water it; to go round to his house with a watering can and actually start sprinkling.

And this is Wayne Rooney, a man said to be worth £100m. He presumably bought the best hair system on the market and it still made him look ridiculous. So what chance, Bradford boy, did you have on your RyanHair mini break in Turkey? It's the same story with men's hair dye. When I look at Mick Jagger, I have to bite the inside of my face to stop myself from bursting out laughing, because he hasn't pulled it off at all. And why has he gone for "russet"? What's the matter with Sir Branson's salt-and-pepper? Or a nice Farrow & Ball Dayroom Yellow? What I'm hoping is he emerges from lockdown with old-man wisps that say: "Actually, I'm not worth it." It'd help give the rest of us the strength to make "grooming" an even dirtier word than it already is.

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And here's the Sun column: "Boris Johnson needs to be liked but the way things are going… we’ll all hate him"
 

Revelator

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Messages
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Hold the wrecking ball, admiral — that rusty old destroyer would make a smashing superyacht (June 28)

I am very excited by the Royal Navy's new Type 31 frigates. Due to enter service in 2027, they are sleek, fast and agile darts that, at £250m a pop, are surprisingly good value for money. In recent years the navy has been experimenting with Toyota Prius-style hybrid technology, but these new frigates are getting proper old-fashioned grunt in the shape of four 20-cylinder, 11,000-horsepower diesels. And then, to make the on-board electricity, four 16-cylinder generators. If the planet ever stopped spinning, you'd be able to use one of these things to get it going again.

What troubles me is what will happen to the ships they'll replace: the beautiful Type 23 frigates. I went on one once, HMS Westminster. It was off Norway, and it remains the only example in human history of a well-run government-funded thing. I loved it, and I loved how the hairs on the back of my neck rose with pride as we slithered into Bergen, powered by nothing but calmness and a few whispered instructions from the captain.

In the past such a ship would eventually be sold to some Third World backwater, where it would be renamed after the date of a revolution and then driven at full speed by some coked-up captain into some rocks he'd forgotten about. That would make me sad.

Remember HMS Ocean, which was moored on the Thames during the London Olympics? Well, that was flogged unceremoniously to the Brazilians for a reported £84.6m, just a few years after a £65m refit.

Our Upholder-class submarines went to Canada, where one is now called the Corner Brook. Many of our Type 22 frigates went to South America. One, HMS Brazen, became the Bosisio and was then used for target practice and sunk. The same thing happened to HMS Boxer, even though it was only nine years out of a total refit when it was decommissioned.

Things were even worse for the mighty Ark Royal. That was sent off to Turkey, where it was turned into kettles, exhaust pipes, fridge doors and fence posts to keep the Syrians at bay. And do you know how much we, the British taxpayer, trousered from that deal? Nope, you're wrong. It was £2.9m. That's £2.9m for a fully fledged aircraft carrier that was able to sail to a wrecker's yard on the Aegean under its own steam.

And that gives me an idea. We learnt recently that the super-rich are no longer interested in superyachts that potter about in the Caribbean in winter and the Mediterranean in summer. They want ships that can tackle summers in the southern oceans and winters in Svalbard. They are no longer content with a couple of jet skis and one of those water slides off the top deck. They want on-board submarines that can be launched to track the migration patterns of coral spawn, and hulls that can smash through ice.

The new breed of eco-minded billionaires who made their fortune in tech don't want to show off. They want to bugger off, and explore strange new worlds and new civilisations. The late Paul Allen, a founder of Microsoft, once used his superyacht, the Octopus, to locate a Japanese battleship that was sunk off the coast of the Philippines. Remoteness is the new Monaco. The Mariana Trench is the new marina.

No one wants to lie around on their boat waiting for the private jet to deposit some party guests and half a hundredweight of caviar. Well, some people do. A lot of people, in fact. But many would rather head into the Northwest Passage in search of a new type of squid.

And, surely to God, the endlessly downsizing Royal Navy is in a perfect position to capitalise on this new spirit of adventure. Put simply: it can stop flogging its older hardware to Bangladesh and Turkish scrap dealers for next to nothing. And start selling it to Elon Musk for eleventy million.

Because, come on, what would you rather have? One of those Saudi monstrosities that block the view from your villa in Corfu, or a former Royal Navy destroyer? You pull up off a beach in one of those and even Sir Green would doff his mullet as a mark of respect.

And instead of coasting back that night to Antibes, you could go to South Georgia to study penguins. It really is lunch at Club 55 — and breakfast the next day at 55 degrees south.

The fact is that, right now, in Birkenhead docks, there's a Type 45 destroyer called HMS Dauntless that's been broken for the past four years. It's the latest generation of warship, so it's an eco-friendly hybrid. The only trouble is that the intercoolers on its turbines don't work very well in the sort of warm waters you find off Iran, Yemen and Somalia, which means that unless we have more Cod Wars with Iceland, it's always going to be fairly useless.

No one is saying how much it will cost to cut a hole in its side and install three new diesel generators, which could solve the problem, but most seem to agree it'll be well north of £120m. So, what if you went along and offered that amount to take the damn thing off the navy's hands? It'd have to agree. It'd have to.

You'd then end up with the bargain of the century, because £120m is less than half what you'd pay for an ordinary superyacht. There's more too. A Type 45 destroyer, at 500ft, is longer than all but a handful of the biggest superyachts. You could have more guests too, as it can hold 285 people, and it's fast. Allen's boat can do only 20 knots. You could do more than 30.

Plus, if you were bored after a boozy lunch, you could push one button and atomise every single other boat in the entire bay in half a second flat. Not even Roman Abramovich could do that.

This, I think, is the future for the Royal Navy. Selling ships that have passed their use-by dates to wealthy individuals. And then, who knows, the air force could jump on the bandwagon. I quite fancy one of those Tornados.

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I won't make a hill of beans without water: Pipes laid by clever Victorians might have made Jeremy Clarkson king of Chipping Norton. Shame they're nowhere near his parched veg (June 28)

For such a famously wet country, Britain has always been notoriously useless at dealing with water.

We spent a fortune on dams and reservoirs when we thought industry would bring thousands of workers to the northern factories, and they opened at exactly the same time as all the factories shut and everyone moved down south.

Today there are 27 reservoirs in Derbyshire, 26 in Lancashire, and 110 in Yorkshire, while in Hertfordshire there's one, in Kent there's two and in Hampshire there are none at all. And there never will be, because while it's easy to evict Albert Arkwright and his whippets from his hole in the ground in Heckmondwike, it's nigh-on impossible to get the Fotherington-Sorbets to move out of their pile in Odiham.

There was once a plan to fill giant polythene bags with water from those enormous northern reservoirs and, because fresh water is less dense than sea water, float them down the North Sea to the Thames estuary. But that would have been exciting and clever, so we got hosepipe bans instead. And we just accept that what comes out of the tap got there via the bladders of six other people.

I have a similar problem here on Diddly Squat Farm. There are 10 springs that I know of and none of them is where I want it to be.

In the 19th century, a previous owner installed a pump, which was used to force water from one of the streams to a tank at the highest point of the farm. And then gravity carried the water from this, down a network of underground pipes, to the troughs he installed in every field. Brilliant. But the halfwit never made a map of where these pipes were. Or the tank.

A neighbour called Charlie, who may be mad, suggested that to find everything I should walk about with two coat hangers. In my mind water divining is like ley lines and horoscopes. It's nonsense. Two coat hangers will not react to the presence of water. Except for one thing. They do.

It was brilliant. They'd go berserk, I'd fire up the mini digger and, bugger me, right where the coat hangers had crossed, there was a pipe. I found them all over the place. The massive Victorian underground water engine was still there. So all I had to do was fill the tank at the top of the hill and it'd wheeze into life once more.

The old pump, made from leather and powered by men with no teeth, had long gone, so I installed a new one, used a mole on the back of my Lamborghini tractor to dig a mile-long trench, and now the troughs are fully functional once more.

But it turns out I don't need them. They were installed before stewardship schemes and fertiliser and big tractors changed the way farming is done. Which means they're in fields full of nothing but marjoram and orchids and butterflies and ground-nesting birds. All of which can manage perfectly well without my subterranean water system.

What cannot manage are my vegetables. It is stupid to try to grow vegetables in this part of the country. The soil is wrong and because it's so high and exposed, it is below freezing most of the time. Summer here lasts from July 2 at 10 in the morning till just after lunch.

However, last year I ran a small potato experiment on a two-acre plot and, contrary to the advice from absolutely everyone, they grew well. I ended up with about 40 tons of the damn things.

So when Covid-19 hit and there was panic-buying in the shops and borders were being closed, I had a wine-powered idea. As people would not be able to buy their vegetables from abroad, or even from Kent, if travel was banned, I'd grow some. Yes. I'd be the broad bean king of Chipping Norton. And the man you call late at night if you need an onion.

My land agent raised an eyebrow and suggested the idea was foolish. "Ha," I responded, full of the confidence you get after 20 years in Notting Hill. I pointed to a nearby field where we'd planned to grow spring barley and explained that, because of the rain last autumn, everyone would be planting the same thing. He agreed. And then I delivered the coup de grâce. Spring barley is used to make beer, and all the pubs are shut, so there'd be a glut of something no one wants anyway. "Much better, then, to grow vegetables in it," I declared triumphantly.

Planting the so-called "sets" was tricky. I bought a machine from the Middle Ages, but that turned out to be useless. So Lisa and I did it by hand. By which I mean Lisa did it by hand. And having seen how much she was enjoying this, I decided to keep right on going.

Last year the dreaded flea beetle, which a man in Brussels says I'm not allowed to kill any more (rightly so, actually) destroyed a 10-acre field of oilseed rape. The field is therefore empty. And what's the point of that? Why not use it to grow pumpkins for Halloween and lavender for people's knicker drawers and sunflowers for… actually, I don't know what they're for.

Lisa was thrilled. I know this because she rolled her eyes, slammed the door and went for a long walk on her own to celebrate.

I, meanwhile, ended up with a 14-acre vegetable patch, and as anyone with a window box knows, all I needed then was a regular supply of rain… April was the fifth warmest since records began in 1884 and, while it went cold at the beginning of May, it didn't rain at all. I can't remember when it last rained here. The ground is parched, cracked. I'm living in a dust bowl.

Yes, tons of water is still pouring out of the springs and it's all being harnessed by my underwater engine, but it's all being fed to the wrong fields.

Desperate, I broke out the mole, got someone to fit it to the back of my tractor — I still can't do that — and created a new underground pipe to one field, which I must get round to marking on a map. I then attached this to some sprinklers, which have now seized up for no reason that I can see.

The other field, however, is on the far side of a small road and it seems I'm not allowed to dig a trench across that. So I bought a vacuum-operated slurry tank that sucks water from a stream and then sprays it over my vegetables. Unfortunately it also sprays it over everything else. Which means the field is now one part vegetable and nine parts thistle. I know now how Jean de Florette felt.

Last night, having marinated myself in more wine, I was looking into the possibility of using a hovercraft as a water dispenser. That's had to be shelved this morning, however, as the amount I've spent on my vegetable operation already means each broad bean will have to be sold for £17. And that's nearly as much as you'd pay at Daylesford.

There's only one solution as far as I can tell. I'm going to have to call Donald Sutherland and Kate Bush, and get the plans to that rain-making machine they made.

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And here's the Sun column: "Mrs Thatcher would not be ill with Covid and she would sort it out without dithering"
 

Revelator

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Messages
417
Location
San Francisco
With a screech of tyres, Vin Diesel speeds towards the role he was reborn to play: the son of God (July 5)

Incredible news from the pulpit. The Most Rev Justin Welby, oil man, Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the entire Anglican church, has announced — and you may need to sit down for this — that the baby Jesus may not have been white. He says that if you tour the world's churches, you see Jesus depicted in lots of different ways. He's black. He's pink. He's short. He's tall. Apparently, in the South Pacific, he looks like Jonah Lomu. But, says Welby, it's probable that he actually had a Middle Eastern appearance.

That will come as a huge shock to people in the southern states of America, where most people believe he has a very long tie, an orange face and some nylon growing out of his head.

It came as a fairly big shock to me as well, because I always thought Jesus had blue eyes, long hair, a beard and some kind of kaftan. Basically, he looked like the lead guitarist in every mid-Seventies rock band. This is probably because that's the look Robert Powell chose when he took the lead in Franco Zeffirelli's 1977 smash Jesus of Nazareth.

Since 1912, nearly 60 actors have played Jesus in films. And in recent times most of them seem to have channelled their inner Paul Rodgers before pulling on the thorny crown and the sandals. Except for the Swedish actor Max von Sydow, who looked like a Volvo chassis engineer with a towel on his head.

Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson, Brian Deacon and Willem Dafoe all went down the rock-star route. And then came Christian Bale. You'd expect something more from this master of versatility — that he'd burst onto the screen looking and sounding like Larry Grayson, or Jacob Rees-Mogg. But, no, he decided to play the role as John Entwistle of the Who.

All of this means that for more than a hundred years it's been drilled into the world that Jesus was definitely white. Which is probably why, when they discovered the Turin shroud, no one thought to say: "Wait a minute. That face. It can't be real, because it looks like it's from a Bad Company album cover." Of course it looked like that. It was Jesus, and that's what Jesus looked like. We were all certain of this.

Occasionally a director would decide to cast a non-white person, and once, in a film called Killing Jesus, the lead went to a chap called Haaz Sleiman, who's Lebanese, of all things. And, it later turned out, gay. This, people will say, was madness, giving the part of Jesus — a single man from Nazareth — to a single man from Beirut.

Apparently, this weekend, the altarpiece at St Albans Cathedral is being replaced by a high-resolution print of a rainbow-nation Last Supper, in which Jesus has the facial features of a Jamaican model called Tafari Hinds.

I don't doubt that this will cause quite a stink among all those Brexitty old ladies in the congregation who've only just got over the gay Lebanese chap, but the fact is this. If you're prepared to believe that the son of your God could walk on water and turn fish into loaves and bring people back from the dead, then it must be possible to believe he had dark skin.

Actually, I'll go further. If you believe his mum was a virgin when she became pregnant, then you should be able to believe it if I say he looked like one of those laughing robots from the Smash commercials.

Can you imagine the furore if we could go back in time and work out what Jesus really looked like? You'd hope and pray that he had a strong resemblance to Omar Sharif or Cat Stevens. But it's possible he was a dead ringer for Saddam Hussein, and that would be like finding out that Shakespeare had a Birmingham accent or that Stonehenge was an early-days public lavatory or that Florence Nightingale was a screaming racist. Sometimes, history is best left under lock and key.

A novelist, for example, suggested in his bestselling Da Vinci book that Jesus had fathered a child, and as a direct result of that it's now emerged that the author ended up with four lovers and bought one a horse with money that should have gone to his ex-wife. I bet he wishes now he'd left the Jesus story well alone.

The church, however, cannot leave the Jesus story alone. The spotlight of social media is shining in his face, and we're all waiting for guidance on what we are seeing. That's what Welby must now do: come up with a global face for Christianity. A sort of Ronald McDonald for the church.

All the successful corporations, such as Coca-Cola and Apple and Rolls-Royce, have an instantly recognisable brand look, and the Anglican church needs one too. It's a man on a cross, for sure, but what does his face look like? That's the million-dollar question.

Happily, though, I have an answer. I know exactly who Jesus should look like on every cross and in every stained-glass window and in every painting in every church in every corner of the world. He should look like Vin Diesel.

Mr Diesel is perfect because he's racially un-pigeonholeable. He's definitely white but he's also definitely black, definitely Asian and definitely Hispanic. Could he be a Nazarene as well? It's possible, for sure. So he is what you want him to be, which means everyone will be happy.

But there's more to it than that. He says his mother was English, German and Scottish, and had a knowledge of the stars. He also says, intriguingly, that he doesn't know who his father was.

Joseph? He won't say. He won't say anything about his private life, but then you wouldn't if you'd risen from the dead and then disappeared for 2,000 years.

We are told his real name is Mark Sinclair, but that may be a ruse. It could be Jesus. And I think that, from now on, it should be, because imagine how good that would look in the credits of Fast & Furious 10.

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My trees are under attack: Huge tractors have just removed 200 tons of timber. But the real threat to my forest is Bambi and his pals Hare and Squirrel

I'm not quite sure how I've managed this, but somehow I have reached the age of 60 without absorbing a single piece of information about trees. Literally nothing. I know more about Jane Austen, and all I know about her is that her Christian name is Jane, her surname is Austen and she wrote about a liberated young woman called Emmanuelle.

I must, occasionally, have been on a walk where someone started to talk about the trees we were seeing, but I guess I must have a filter in my head that turns tree talk into an eerie silence. I therefore cannot tell an oak from an ash or a spruce from a larch. They're all just green and brown and covered in bark. I only know what a Christmas tree is when it's covered in tinsel.

However, there are a hundred acres of woodland on my farm, and in the past nine months, since I decided to do farming for a living, I've had to try to learn something about how they work. This is tricky, because when I go into the gloom with a man who has no fingers — everyone in forestry has no fingers — he only ever gets to "You see the thing about an oak is…" and the filter kicks in so after that I hear nothing at all. I had the same problem at school in chemistry lessons."Your lips move but I can't hear what you're saying."

Despite all this, I have learnt some things. First, it is impossible for a tree to survive without man's help. If you plant one and then leave it alone, it will be eaten by a deer or a hare within a week.

To get round this, you must surround its spindly little trunk with a piece of plastic tubing that's designed to split when, after about ten hundred years, the trunk is wide enough to withstand attacks from Bambi and his overgrown rabbity mates.

At this point the grey squirrel will arrive and remove all of the bark to a height of about 2ft. This means the tree will become infected with something and die. Or it will grow more slowly than the other trees around it, which means it will be deprived of sunlight and die.

Eventually, and I genuinely don't know how it's possible, a few trees will grow to become big and strong, but this takes such a long time, you and your children will not live long enough to reap the rewards.

To get round this, I recently planted 20 trees — I don't know what they are; they're all brown and green — that were already 25ft high. Each one cost more than most hatchbacks. They arrived on a fleet of articulated lorries, with their roots encased in sacks, and were lowered into holes that had been made by a 21-ton digger. This was wilding, with extra diesel. And now it is my job to look after them.

It is a big responsibility. Twice a week I must pour exactly 25 litres of water into the roots of each tree via a tube that sticks out of the ground like an exhaust pipe. And another 25 litres around the trunk.

As there is no liquid refreshment in the field, it means I must first fill a tanker with a thousand litres of water and then spend two hours measuring it out and delivering it to precisely the right places. If I do not do this properly, the trees will die. So I am doing it properly. And, from what I can tell, the trees are dying.

This may or may not have something to do with a vast range of diseases that a tree can and will get.And the problem is going to get worse, because in the run-up to the last election, each of the main parties, and the Lib Dems, was promising vast tree-planting programmes in an effort to shut up Greta Thunberg.

We ended up with the Tories, who had said they would plant 30 million trees a year by 2025. That's 82,000 a day. Leaving aside the issue of who exactly would do all the planting, now we have left the EU, there's the bigger question of where they are going to find 30 million trees a year.

Abroad, is the obvious answer. But when you import a tree, it will arrive with bugs and fungi against which the native trees have no immunity. Dutch elm disease came from Canada. Ash dieback came from mainland Europe. So, to fulfil a political promise, we import one diseased tree from Finland and end up killing, according to recent estimates, 72 million trees that are already here.

There's another problem too. We will not be creating these 30 million trees. We will simply be moving them from their place of birth to Britain, where almost all of them will be killed by rabbits, deer, squirrels, disease, the growth ambitions of other trees… or me.

One of the things you learn when you become a countryman is that all real countrymen say the same thing when they walk into a wood. "Hmm," they chunter. "This needs thinning."That's what my keeper said to me. It's what my tractor driver and land agent said too.

So, in a single week I took 200 tons of timber from a 10-acre slab of woodland, and when I posted a picture on Instagram of the gigantic John Deere machine that I'd used, every single teenage girl who follows me — all four of them — came back with a stream of venom and anguish. I was worse than McDonald's. I was ruining their future and choking their grandparents. I was doing deforestation, and that's worse than racism.

Incredibly, however, it's almost impossible to tell that any trees have been felled at all. The only difference is that now the forest floor is aglow with puddles of sunlight, which will stimulate all sorts of new growth.

In the past I've walked through that wood and it was ever such a dark and gloomy place. They could have filmed The Blair Witch Project in there. They probably did. But now there's new growth of nettles here and there, and for the first time in probably 20 years you occasionally trip over a hoop of bramble. By killing a bunch of trees, then, I've brought the wood back to life.

That's good for Bambi and the hares. It's good for the squirrels. It's good for the 250,000 bees I've just put in there, and it's good for all sorts of small flowers about which I know even less than I do about trees. It's also, according to my keeper, good for my shoot.

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And here's the Sun column: "I’m 60 and falling apart…but at least my mind is still racing"
 
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