Clarkson's Sunday Times Columns

Mr. Nice

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During a pandemic, Clarkson is calling for the NHS to be privatized? That may be the ultimate example of wealth and privilege leading to selfishness and callousness. He need only look to the United States, a country that he has often shown dislike and disdain for, to see the many ways in which a private system can fail those who rely on it. The US also experienced shortages of masks, ventilators, and other equipment going in to this pandemic. What we had that people in the UK did not was nearly 30 million people who are uninsured, and who therefore either found healthcare to be ridiculously expensive or completely unaffordable.

Yes, Americans die every year because they can't afford healthcare.

There may be negative aspects to socialized medicine, but that type of healthcare system does not exclude the working poor.

A change of circumstances can happen to anyone. Wealth should not be a determining factor when it comes to access to healthcare. I say this as someone who has more wealth than the 50th percentile (half) of American households (this amount is much lower than many people would imagine).

https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2018/09/who-are-the-uninsured.html

https://www.businessinsider.com/personal-finance/net-worth-to-be-wealthy-at-every-age-2019-8

https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/sickaroundtheworld/
 
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Revelator

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Agreed. Clarkson is a Libertarian who thinks government can do nothing right. But the past 40 years have shown that government is all that stands between the people and rapacious corporations that only care for profit.
 

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My, my, my, it sounds as good as Tom Jones
The Clarkson Review: Eagle Lightweight GT (July 26)

Yes, I'm writing about cars again. There were a few months when I couldn't get hold of any press demonstrators, and even if I could have done, there was nowhere I could go in them without being branded a "Covidiot". But all that suddenly changed the other day when a man from Volkswagen arrived with a T-Roc cabriolet. Which looked awful.

It had been a while, though, since I'd gone for a drive, so I leapt aboard and put my foot down. And a mile later — a mile — I still hadn't reached the national speed limit. Yes, I know that I was going uphill and that I was in sixth, but the car's stubborn refusal to accelerate meant that I turned round, went home and did farming instead. Then an all-electric Porsche Taycan Turbo arrived.

I have no idea why it's called a Turbo because, obviously, it isn't. It is, however, everything else. You get two electric motors: one to the fore that drives the front wheels through a one-speed gearbox and one in the back that powers the rear wheels via a two-speed unit.

In between is a raft of lithium-ion batteries and all the wiring needed to make such a complex machine work. The net result is that this car weighs about the same as a medium-sized bungalow.

Bloody hell, it's fast, though. The first car I drove that was too powerful for its own good was the Ferrari F12berlinetta. This Porsche is another. It may have only 617 horsepowers in normal running — at least a hundred fewer than the Ferrari — but the way those horsepowers arrive is extremely sudden and very alarming.

I can imagine that a lot of Taycans will be crashed moments after the driver has turned to his passenger and said, with a big, idiotic grin on his face: "Right. Watch this."

It got to the point, after a couple of days, that I didn't dare overtake slower-moving traffic because being on the wrong side of the road, with trees to my right and a lorry to the left, in a car that was behaving like a horse that had just had a mustard-covered hot dog shoved up its backside, didn't seem a place I wanted to be.

There's another issue too. In most electric cars, when you lift off the throttle energy from the motor is harnessed and fed back into the battery, so it's like you're braking. But when you lift off in the Taycan, it keeps right on going. It's so aerodynamically efficient that not even the air will slow you down.

You do get a button on the steering wheel that brings some regenerative braking to proceedings, and I found myself pushing that even before I did up my seatbelt. And it really does raise a question. Do electric cars really have to be this powerful and this complicated? When my kids were younger, they had a battery-powered yellow Jeep that they could use in the garden. It had plastic tyres and one-wheel drive and no brakes because it was never going fast enough for them to be necessary. And I wonder: is that not what people want from an electric car? Rather than massive complexity, terror and an immense price tag? There are juicy tax breaks and government subsidies available to anyone who buys an electric car, but despite this, and the public relations onslaught, the figures tell us they're not really catching on. Put bluntly, for every hundred cars sold in the UK last year, fewer than two were powered by batteries.

I don't believe the figures, however. Both my colleagues from the television, Richard Hammond and James May, now have Teslas. Paul McGuinness, the former manager of U2, came for lunch recently, and he had one, as did two people at dinner the previous evening. The bloody things are now so prolific in my world that to offset the effect they're having and bring some carbon neutrality to the table, I've had to order a V8-powered Bentley Flying Spur, to go with my V8 Range Rovers.

And it's why I'm moving on now to the meat of this morning's missive. The extraordinary Jaguar E-type-based Eagle Lightweight GT that's just been made by a small engineering company in East Sussex. Eagle is best known for mild E-type tweaks, but occasionally it makes a car that stops the world. Remember the Speedster? The most beautiful thing made in all human history? That was one of Eagle's. And now it's done it again.

I'm not going to beat about the bush here. It costs close to a million pounds, and that's a lot for a car that's nearly 60 years old. But the truth is, it sort of isn't. It's actually about 60 minutes old.

If you look carefully, you'll note that the sills are lower, the indicators are flush, the doors are frameless and the windscreen is more raked than it was on the original 1963 E-type Lightweight.

Under the bonnet it's a straight-six, as you'd expect, but it's a 4.7l unit, made by Eagle, from aluminium, with big valves and three Weber carburettors spoonfeeding the go juice. The result is 380 horsepowers, and it seems to me, having been half scared to death by the Taycan, that this is a more sensible amount. Especially as very little is wasted in lugging around unnecessary weight. In the Eagle Lightweight GT everything that can be made from magnesium is, and almost everything that can't is titanium or aluminium. The result is a dry weight of 1,017kg — less than me, then.

You'd imagine that it feels like a stripped-out racer, but no. It's called the GT because it's a grand tourer, a leather-lined, air-conditioned long-distance cruiser. It's nothing like the original racers and nothing like the "continuation" cars that Jaguar has made recently. It's civilised, even by modern standards.

The interior is a labour of love. It is a thing of beauty. Getting in is a bit of a faff, and getting out is harder, but that's OK because I didn't want to get out. I just wanted to sit in there, for ever, touching stuff.

Or driving it. The twin-choke Webers are a bit hard to coax into life, but once they've cleared their throats, you get just the right amount of performance and just the right amount of grip, and you also get just the right amount of Tom Jones noises. God almighty, this thing sounds good.

Hammond argued recently that we car journalists will have to start thinking up new ways of describing the sounds an electric car makes, and I wish him all the best with that plan. Porsche has tried to tune the noises the Taycan makes but it still sounds like a milk float. They all do.

That's why I'll never buy an electric car. You can drone on as much as you like about how yours does a million miles between charges and how nothing but baby hedgehogs come out of its rear end, but when you put your foot down in a carb-fed straight-six, and that long bonnet rears up slightly, you know what's missing from your motorised vacuum cleaner. The soundtrack. And when you lift your foot up again and you get all those little crackles and pops — ooh, it does things to your hair.

The only way you could achieve something similar with your Tesla or your Taycan is if you put your tongue on the battery terminal.

But, really and truly, this debate comes down to something simpler. I want an E-type Eagle Lightweight GT. I want one so much that it keeps me awake at night. I do not want a Porsche Taycan Turbo.

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Jenrick's cunning planning revolution might just give our moribund towns a new lease of life (July 26)

It has recently been announced that the rules governing planning permission are to be simplified. Soon, without any kind of thumbs-up from the local council, Katie Price will be able build a pink Rapunzel-style tower on the side of her mansion. And Ed Sheeran will be able to add a swim-up bar to the diving board and inflatable swans that he's installed in and around his "garden pond".

Planning consent has always been annoying, because even if you want to build a train set in your attic, you can be assured there will be objections. It's just a fact that on every street and in every village, there is always at least one person who spends their mornings commenting online about stories in the Daily Mail and their afternoons objecting to planning applications.

And even if you can get over that hurdle, you're still nowhere near home free, because before you're given permission, people in hi-vis jackets will have to visit the site to make sure that no bats will be affected. They will spend the night in your garden, and then they will announce that they have definitely seen a pipistrelle, and that it will have to be rehoused before work can begin.

So how do you rehouse a bat? Well, in theory, the only way is to offer it superior accommodation, which means you must encourage it to move into your rich neighbour's much larger house. Unfortunately, this is impossible because bats have no powers of reason, so what you must do is shoot it (you could eat it, of course, but I really wouldn't recommend that) and then tell the council man that, much to your surprise, it just upped sticks one day and left.

However, as it is extremely difficult to shoot a bat, many people decide instead to join the freemasons. If you do this, there will be no awkward questions about bats, or newts, and any pesky objections from your Daily Mail-reading neighbours will be put in the bin.

Some people think that, to win over a planner, you must take him to your box at Wembley or educate his children, but you really don't. You simply shake his hand, being careful to press down hard with your thumb on his index-finger knuckle, and immediately he will assume you're the Duke of Kent and allow you to build the purple guitar-shaped orangery you've always dreamt about. Oh, and 16 executive homes in your paddock.

But all that's due to change, thanks to the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, who's obviously been to a fundraising ball of some sort and decided, while sitting next to a property developer, that Britain would get back on its feet quicker if the planners were a bit more supine.

Naturally, people are now running around, waving their arms in the air and screaming blue murder, claiming McDonald's will soon be opening a drivethrough in Bibury and KFC will be allowed to build a takeaway joint in two new storeys on the top of York Minster.

However, the thing that seems to have caused the most froth and spittle is the proposal to let people convert towncentre shops into residential accommodation. "People can't be expected to live in houses where all the windows face the same way" scream the nation's architects. But I'm not sure about that. Iron Man lived in a house built into a cliff, and that was amazing. And what about Petra? All the windows face the same way there.

Architects have converted churches into houses and won awards for it.

They've also converted barns, pig sties, sewage plants, factories, stables and even caves. I know one architect who lives in a yurt, and that has no windows at all. So why the sudden beef about converting a branch of WH Smiths? Town centres have been dying for some time, and the coronavirus has accelerated that process. When I moved to Chipping Norton, 25 years ago, there were little shops selling hardware, hi-fi kit, car accessories and shoes. There was even a charming department store, and now all of them have gone.

Every day, the planners are giving permission for more and more houses to be built in the surrounding area, seemingly without noticing they're creating a doughnut. A ring of smart new Barratt boxes all gathered round a big empty hole in the middle.

I don't doubt for a minute that your town is exactly the same, so it makes sense to turn some of those empty shops into houses. That would bring in people, and when you have people, restaurants and bars will follow, along with all the little boutiques and market stalls that sell stuff you can't buy at an out-of-town superstore or online.

You therefore end up with a fun place full of families rather than a dusty and vandalised hellhole full of pizza boxes, vomit and charity shops selling nothing but books by Richard Hammond about how he didn't die in a car accident.

And it's not just town planning that needs a shake-up. According to the Daily Mail, I'm in a spot of bother with my local planners at the moment because they don't like the juniper-green steel roof on my new farm shop.

Now, at this point you're probably expecting me to describe in some detail the size of the traffic cone I'm going to insert into the planning officer responsible for this objection, but I'm not, because I've dealt with the planners round these parts for many years and they're all very sensible. The rules they have to implement, however? That's a different story.

If I filled my new barn with farming equipment, it'd be an agricultural building, and there's nothing really the council could do about it. If, however, I fill it with local produce and employ local women to sell it to local customers, the council can do something, and it has.

It's obviously nuts. But, that said, we can't have a planning free-for-all. We do need some rules, because, unfortunately, in this country not everyone has very good taste.

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And here's the Sun column: "Face masks up North? The folk there are barely wearing actual clothes"
 

Revelator

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Jean-Claude Van Lamb v Clarkson: Sheep that don't want to be fleeced by amateur hairdressers have fighting skills to rival those of the "Muscles from Brussels". Thankfully the professionals are trained in hand-to-hoof combat (August 2)

I decided recently that my sheep are like woolly teenage boys. They take absurd risks and feign a lack of interest in everything, while deliberately being obstructive, stubborn, rude and prone to acts of eye-rolling vandalism. I understand this. Between the ages of 15 and 17 I could not walk past a fire extinguisher without setting it off. That's a very sheep thing to do.

A week ago I put them in a field full of succulent grass, with far-reaching views of the Cotswolds and the Chilterns beyond. It was sheep paradise in there, but every single day, without fail, all of them would walk straight through the electric fence and into a neighbouring field full of not-at-all succulent spring barley.

There are two reasons why they do this. They know that, thanks to the weird weather we've had in the past nine months, the profit margins on barley are extremely tight, so if they eat some of it they will cause me financial hardship. They also know that barley, if eaten in sufficient quantities, will kill them, and that, as always, is their main goal in life. To die, horribly. If sheep could operate machinery, they'd all have very powerful Japanese motorcycles.

Last week they had to be sheared. Now, you may think I'd do this for my benefit and sell the wool for profit. Ha. How wrong you are.

The first problem is that the Aussie and Kiwi chaps who roll around the world like a wave, chasing the shearing seasons, are marooned this year by Covid-19, so the price for skilled labour has gone up. Reckon on about £1.50 per sheep. And how much do you get for one fleece these days? Well, as they're not being exported to China and they're not being used to make carpets and rugs here at home, the price I'd get for the wool from one North Country Mule is … drum roll … 30p. So I'm losing £1.20 per sheep on the deal. Now you can see why I call my farm Diddly Squat.

The only reason, then, I had to get shearing is because a shaved sheep is less likely to be eaten by maggots and is more comfortable in the summer sunshine.

You'd imagine they'd be grateful, but no. The first sheep took one look at the salon I'd made and charged at top speed into a bramble bush, where it writhed about until it was stuck fast. Freeing it meant lacerating my arms and legs so extensively that I was in danger of going into hypovolemic shock. And by the time I'd finished all the other sheep had wandered through the electric fence again and into the barley field.

I had two shearers on hand, but the idea was that I'd get stuck in as well. So after we finally got all the sheep into the pen, I set to work.

Job one is to capture a sheep, turn it upside down and drag it on its buttock into the shearing area. This is not possible because sheep do not want to be turned upside down and dragged about on their buttocks. And they are very strong. Imagine turning Jean-Claude Van Damme upside down and dragging him into a salon to cut off his mullet. You could explain as much as you like that he'd be better off without it, but you wouldn't get anywhere. I was knocked over, kicked and then knocked over again. The professionals advised me I should grab the sheep under its chin and fold it in half before turning it over, so I tried that, and I was kicked before falling over again.

Some of the other sheep decided at this point they didn't like sharing the pen with a seemingly violent fat man who kept falling over, so they jumped out. This amazed me because even though they had no run-up space at all, they managed to clear a fence more than 3ft tall. Honestly, sheep have better VTOL properties than a Harrier jump jet.

Eventually, though, I managed to get one of them in the right position and in the right place, and then I was told to stick one of its back legs up my butt crack and reach for the shears.

These were the most fearsome things I'd ever seen. Imagine the inside of a gearbox on the sort of circular saw they use in Canadian logging yards. And now imagine wielding that while trying to cut off Mr Van Damme's hair. There could be only two outcomes. The sheep would die. Or I would.

"Go on," said the onlookers.

But that seemed foolish. Bomb disposal officers don't urge onlookers to give it a bash. A surgeon doing an eye operation on a young girl doesn't ask the father if he'd like to wield the scalpel. So I put down the oscillating, out-of-control lumberjack's gearbox and went on strike.

The professionals got to work, taking less than two minutes to give each sheep a buzz cut, and I, meanwhile, was given the lesser job of rolling up the fleeces and putting them in the woolsack. Though when I say "lesser", what I mean is "revolting", because before the fleeces can be rolled, you have to separate the fleeces dingleberries from the wool. By hand. You have to get down on your knees and tear chunks of dried faeces from the hair. And if you tear too much hair away, you are shouted at, because it's worth something. It is too. About 1p at current prices.

When we'd finished, we had the job of herding the 75 shaved sheep and 145 of their still woolly offspring into a new field on the other side of the farm. Two dogs were used to keep them in line and I was put in front of the flock with strict instructions not to let the sheep overtake me.

I'd like to say I got a hundred yards, but it was actually about 25 before they tore past and ran into a field of barley for a lethal afternoon snack. And as I stood there, trying to rub the pollen out of my eyes while country folk told me that rubbing my eyes is the worst thing you can do, I realised that I am not, and probably never will be, much of a sheep farmer.

However, there is a happy ending. I'm building a house and I noticed the other day that the builders had started to fill the wall cavities with glass fibre.

Wool does a better job. It has a low thermal conductivity rating — which means it's good at stopping heat escaping — it's flame-retardant, it can absorb water vapour better than almost anything else and, because it's a protein, it can remove unpleasant odours through a process called chemisorption.

So instead of selling my wool for the square root of bugger all, I'm going to use it in the cavities of my house. This means I won't need to buy the expensive man-made alternative. So while my wool won't make me a penny, it'll save me thousands. And get me a letter of commendation from Greta Thunberg.

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My rock heroes are off to the great gig in the sky, but I've got a whole lotta love for their tribute acts (August 2)

If you want to hear Verdi's Requiem performed live, you will happily slip into a frilly dinner shirt and toddle off to the Royal Opera House, where you will sit in uncomfortable trousers, on an uncomfortable chair, listening to someone else's interpretation of how it should sound.

What's the alternative? Verdi is dead and the same goes for Teresa Stolz, the soprano soloist who originally performed the Requiem. So if you want to hear the full choral might of that incredible "Dies Irae," you have no choice: you must listen to other people performing it. And you do. Happily.

So why, if I suggested you head out tonight to watch a young man with a red and blue lightning bolt on his chubby face, singing a collection of David Bowie's hits, would you feel slightly uneasy? I mean tribute bands. They're a bit wedding and bar mitzvahy. Aren't they? I was hosting a yet to be transmitted edition of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? last week and one of the contestants announced that he enjoys watching a bunch of men pretending to be Genesis. This made me a bit queasy because the thought of watching someone who can't drum as well as Phil Collins giving it a bash on "Supper's Ready" seems daft. Not even Tony Banks liked to play the piano solo on "Firth of Fifth" live, so what chance does an accountant from Hemel Hempstead have? Frankly, I thought, I'd rather listen to a dog being strangled.

It's long been accepted that when a rock star dies, so too does our opportunity to hear his or her music played live. That's why I live in a state of constant regret about Queen. I saw them at Live Aid, but never properly, in an arena, with Freddie Mercury and the badger enthusiast giving it the full strut in a blaze of light and smoke. And now I never will, because Queen without Freddie is like a ham sandwich without the ham.

This makes me sad, and in the next few years it's going to get worse, because Billy Joel, Elton John, Dire Straits and the Eagles are all now elderly. It's possible we will never see them perform again, and before long it will be certain. Think about that: when these people are no longer with us, their music will exist only in Apple's impenetrable cloud and at the back of our cupboards under the stairs.

Or can something be done? Many years ago, I was killing time in a windowless sports bar in Fairbanks, Alaska. There were many muted television screens showing a selection of sports I couldn't name or understand, and on the sound system they were playing, loud, the whole of Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon.

I was very happy until, on the way to the lavatory, the happiness turned to amazement, because I realised it was actually a live band. And they were note, pitch and semihemidemisemiquaver perfect. Totally indistinguishable from the album. An album I know well because I've listened to it approximately four million times.

Yes, David Gilmour was 17 and riddled with pustulating acne and Nick Mason was black, but the sound they were making was identical to what Pink Floyd had achieved after God knows how many weeks in a recording studio.

Sure, I could have sat in the car and played the actual album but it felt special to be in that small, dark, oil-workers' bar, necking a beer and listening to it being done live, loud and well.

Which gives me an idea. When a child is interested in classical music, he or she does not try to write it. They simply learn how to play what was created by the masters: Bach, Beethoven, Mozart et al. And why should it be any different with rock and pop? Right now, there are many young people who are extremely talented musicians and almost all of them will be trying to write their own material. Why? So they can trouser the royalties? Ha. There won't be any, because the fact is that everything that can be done with popular music had been done by — if I were being facetious, I'd say 1978, but let's be realistic and say 1986.

So instead of trying to write something better than Neil Young or Paul McCartney or Steve Winwood — which you can't — why not get yourself ready to pick up the baton they'll soon drop.

Don't develop your own style on the guitar. Just copy, say, Ronnie Wood, then team up with someone who's learnt how to play the drums and someone who can do bass and a Scottish vocalist who sounds like he's straining on the lavatory and the next thing you know, you could be the new Faces. Just don't call yourselves that. The Big Faces, maybe.

There's a band that does Tom Petty numbers called the Petty Criminals and that is a great name. And I'd really like to see someone form a Led Zeppelin tribute band called Hairway to Steven. I'd book them for a party, that's for sure, because I like the idea of being in a room, with my friends, listening to excellent musicians playing music I love.

I remember once going to a 50th where the host had booked the Four Tops. The word was that there were, in fact, four Four Tops on the party circuit, each with one Top in it, but it didn't matter. They were bloody good and soon everyone was making shapes and singing along.

The fact is that the London Symphony Orchestra plays other people's music, but no one calls it a tribute band. And it's the same story when you go into a church to listen to the choir.

The syrupy film Yesterday is about a man who wakes one morning to find he's the only person in the world to have heard of the Beatles. So he records all their songs and is in the process of becoming a mega-star when he's rumbled by two other people who also remember John, Paul, George and Ringo. And they are not cross with him. They thank him, in fact, for keeping the music alive. There's a lesson there.

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And here's the Sun column: "Simplify it Boris: yes you will get the virus, but if you are slim, you will survive"
 
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