Clarkson's Sunday Times Columns

Yes, I’m going to watch it for sure.
I'll give it a shot.
I anyone else really exited for Clarksons farming show thanks to his collums? It sounds like it's gonna be a hoot (and an unmitigated disaster)
The main reason I'm sticking with my Amazon Prime Video membership is Clarkson & co, so yes will definitely watch the farm show. Very few shows deliver laugh out loud moments the way Clarkson's shows do.
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Long time lurker here; agree, thanks @Revelator for what you are doing, we are all appreciating it (altough in silence most of the time).
And I as well am definately keeping my Prime subscription for whatever the three boys are going to release (and also as payback for a long time free top gear that I've watched)
[Clarkson has only one column this week, probably because The Grand Tour is filming.]

Eau no, my pipe dream's sprung a leak
Jeremy's latest wheeze: bottling his own spring water. How hard can it be? (Oct. 4)

Here's something juicy to get your head round this morning: 97.2 per cent of the water on Earth is in the oceans, and a little more than 2 per cent is stored as ice in glaciers and at the poles. Whereas just 0.023 per cent is to be found in our lakes, inland seas, rivers, soil and atmosphere.

Happily, about 30 times more than that is stored as ground water beneath our feet. If you go out today and dig a hole in your back garden, you will eventually find it, whether you live in Alice Springs, St Petersburg, Montevideo or Hemel Hempstead.

Even the Sahara desert is floating on a vast underground "lake". A study has suggested it covers a vast area beneath Libya, Chad and Algeria and could be 250ft deep.

So there we are, then. Problem solved. We can bathe and shower until we glisten with a pinky, wholesome goodness. We can water our gardens until our plants are giddy with the refreshing zestiness of it all, and the entire population of the planet can hydrate itself until we all look like some kind of hosepipe-based accident in a Tom and Jerry cartoon.

What's more, we have it in our minds that the water deep below the surface of the Earth fell as rain perhaps three million years ago and has spent all that time absorbing enriching minerals from the rocks it has passed through, so that it will make our brains big and our colons clean.

That's certainly what I thought when I sank a borehole on the farm earlier this year. The drill went down 300ft. A pump was inserted. And out came … well, it's tricky to say what exactly.

It looked like water and it smelt like water, which is to say it smelt of nothing at all. But after just two months the irrigation system in the fields jammed up, all the crops were covered in a weird white residue and at home the dishwasher, washing machine and shower all ground to a halt.

Tests revealed that the borehole was delivering a curious and possibly lethal cocktail of manganese, sodium and sulphates. The levels were so far beyond legal limits that if anyone even stepped in a puddle of it, they'd immediately grow two heads.

The problem is that there's only a finite amount of water on Earth. What we have now is what the dinosaurs lived on. It's what the amoebae climbed out of, after they had grown legs. It's what cooled the volcanoes back when everything was hot and messy, and, if you're that way inclined, it's what God used to water the apple tree in the Garden of Eden.

It's said that if you drink tap water in London, it will have passed through at least six other people before it got to you, but that's nonsense. It will have passed through many more than that, and a few dogs, and the odd woolly mammoth, and even a few brontosauruses.

It will also have passed through rock that doesn't necessarily have the rejuvenating properties of French limestone or Alpine granite. Rock such as we have here in the Cotswolds. Dirty rock.

Diseased rock.

To solve the problem I was told to spend several billion pounds on a reverse osmosis system that takes everything out of the water, apart from the hydrogen and the oxygen. This would allow me to put back in what I wanted. A hint of David Ginola with a touch of Timotei waterfall, and perhaps a high note of woodsmoked apple blossom. I didn't fancy that, so instead I turned my attention to the springs that bubble up all over the farm. I have no idea why this spring water might be different from the water I obtained through the borehole, and neither does anyone else. I think it's fair to say we know more about the surface of Mars than we do about what's happening deep beneath our feet.

But for some reason it is different. Some of it is full of E. coli, some of it heavy with nitrates and some of it a blizzard of faecal matter. But the test results from one spring came back with a clean bill of health. It was perfect.

Further investigations revealed that the nearby village used to live on it until one night in 1972 when the water board switched it over to the mains. There was a near riot. Questions were asked in the House. Chris Tarrant came to cover the story for the local news channel. And even though I'm not a man who could tell red wine from Red Bull in a blind tasting, I can see why. It just tastes — what's the word? Better.

As the flow rate suggested about a million litres a day were coming out of the ground, I figured there'd be enough for me, and that I could bottle what was left over and sell it in my farm shop. Yes, I know. Peckham Spring. But, as it turned out, much more complicated.

First, the water had to be captured in a tank before it had had a chance to see the light of day. Then it had to be fed down a new pipe to another tank containing a pump, which would shoot the water up yet another pipe to a plant room, where all sorts of witchcraft would be used to remove all the things that the report said weren't there in the first place.

From here the water would travel along a final pipe to a wipe-down sterile room where it could be bottled. This was two shipping containers I'd welded together and kitted out with stainless steel fixtures and fittings. I ordered the bottles and had labels printed saying "Diddly Squat Water. It's got no shit in it". Because I knew it didn't. And on the hottest day ever recorded in Britain, production began.

Now, unless you arrived here from Somalia via Libya and Sangatte, I'm guessing you've never been in a shipping container on a hot day. Don't try it. It was 52C in there — so hot that I broke open every single bottle that rolled off the conveyor belt and downed the contents immediately.

Which is a bit scary, because before I could put the water on sale, I had to have it tested again, and, somehow, it's failed. I know it's clean at the source and I know all the pipework and filtration system is cleaner than the clean room at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia. But a bacterium has managed to get in there, and now I have to flush the whole system out.

This will mean using detergent, which will eventually end up in the stream at the bottom of the garden. It'll then flow into the Evenlode and the Thames and then the sea, from where it will evaporate and be flung high into the sky before falling over Scandinavia as rain.

Which means that in a billion years from now, Lars and Ingrid will drink a bottle of Norwegian mineral water, imagining it to be as pure as can be. But to keep us happy in the here and now, it'll actually be a litre of Fairy Liquid with some dead germs in it.
Lights, camera, excessive caution! We're back, but the Covid control freaks are running our show (Oct. 11)

Boris Johnson made a pretty good speech last week at the non-existent Tory party conference. He spoke in a way people could understand, even when he was using words they couldn't. He struck exactly the right tone of exasperation on the virus, and painted a bright and sparkly vision of what Britain would look like when it had gone away.

I liked a lot of what he had to say, but, unfortunately, he's not in charge. He can dream all he likes about wind farms and electric aeroplanes and 14-year-olds buying houses, but the person running your day-to-day life now, and for the foreseeable future, is your company's Covid officer.

In the past, he or she will have been in charge of health and safety, which means they were responsible for erecting signs advising you that the floor was wet. Now, though, they have your actual life in their hands. And what they like to do, when you ask if something is possible, is say, after a lengthy important-sounding pause: "Yes."

If they say no, nothing will happen and they'll be out of a job. But if they give you a tentative yes, they are in complete control. If they tell you to staple your genitals to a piece of cardboard and quack like a duck, you will. Or you'll be out of a job.

The trouble is that in every single company, the health and safety officer is always the stupidest person on the payroll. No boss, when he's told by human resources that he must appoint someone to look after workforce safety, is going to choose the sharpest tool in the box. He's going to select that drongo Terry, from stores.

The first thing Terry does is buy a Roget's Thesaurus to make sure he never uses the word you'd expect. You don't "start" things with Terry, you "initiate" them. And you don't ever chat, you have a "conversation", not about what he's found out but what he's "ascertained".

And what he's ascertained, after reaching out to the weirder end of the internet, is that, yes, you can go ahead, but everything from now on, up to and including the way you wipe your bottom, must be approved — green-lit — by him.

So you've drawn up a business plan. You've taken all the precautions you can think of to make sure everyone is safe. And everything has been approved by the board. And now it's all up to Terry, who isn't going to say yes unless he can come up with some extra precautions you hadn't thought of. And which make absolutely no sense at all. Because Terry is a moron.

In the summer, when it seemed as if the virus were receding, we decided to fire up the Grand Tour machine and head north of the border to spend a week or so watching Richard Hammond crash into things.

I'm not suggesting for a moment that Amazon has a Terry but, my God, the rules of engagement it supplied were dizzying. We were to take our own testing lab on the 1,000-mile journey and the key players were to be tested every day, after filling out an online form that began by asking if we'd been tested before. "Yes. Yesterday."

Everyone on the crew had to maintain a distance of 6ft from one another, which is pretty tricky when you're in a car. And anything anyone touched had to be sterilised before someone could touch it again. This meant removing the locks from our cars and giving everyone their own screwdrivers to break in, because keys were deemed lethal. The cost of meeting all these requirements was enormous. And that's before we get to the fact we had to take over entire hotels, rather than rooms, and fly on our own plane.

I didn't think there was a hope in hell we'd get started, let alone finished. And that's before we get to the problem with Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon seems to be driven solely by a deep-seated hatred of the English, so we were expecting her to close the border at any moment. Which would have meant throwing away all the money that had been spent. There's supposed to be a government insurance scheme for film companies in this position, but it doesn't seem to have a fully functioning website yet. Or a boss. Or staff.

We did make it to the start line, though, and in the Edinburgh hotel we had been forced to commandeer, we all sat and had dinner, on tables for one, facing in the same direction. Then a burly man shoved a swab down our throats until we gagged. And, incredibly, all of us — about 50 people — tested negative. We could begin.

We were not allowed to socialise with or even speak to people from outside our bubble, which wasn't easy, as every other TV show I can think of was in Scotland too, pegged back from their global aspirations by their own Terrys. Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer were there. We passed the producer of A League of Their Own scouting for locations. Then there was I'm a Celebrity. And, finally, when we got to North Uist, we were greeted on the docks by Joanna Lumley. I wasn't allowed to get within 6ft of her. That hurt. Well, it hurt me.

I was allowed to take off my mask while eating, but when I stood up I had to put it back on. Because Covid-19 only exists at altitude and before 10pm, which is when I was forced to go to bed in a room with no wi-fi. My producer texted to say it was OK, though, because Emily Maitlis was hosting Newsnight in knee-high boots.

Astonishingly, thanks in part to the rules but mainly to luck, not one of us tested positive on the whole nine-day shoot. Which meant all the cameras were rolling when Hammond had his customary accident. It was a good one. Probably his best yet, mainly because he didn't actually hurt himself. I guess that's lucky because, strictly speaking, he wouldn't have been allowed by the Covid rules to go in a stranger's air ambulance.


Much more fun than a car ten times the price
The Clarkson People's Car of the Year: Mini John Cooper Works GP
(Oct. 11)

Three years ago, a possibly over-refreshed chap from BMW announced at a motor show in Germany that soon the company would make a Mini with more than 300 horsepower. Yeah, right, we all thought. And what else will it have? Space lasers? Anti-gravity thrusters? Beryllium posi-drive? Our scepticism, however, was misplaced, because earlier this year it launched the Mini John Cooper Works GP, and under the bonnet is broadly the same turbocharged engine as you find in a BMW M135i. An engine that produces 302 horsepower.

Now, obviously, if you are going to put the blood-red heart of a mutant wolf into the body of a mouse, you're going to have to make all sorts of changes to ensure the whole thing doesn't just explode in a shower of cogs and rubber and headlamps.

Which is exactly what BMW hasn't done with the JCW GP. Glance casually at this ridiculous car and you'll note the huge double-decker wing on the roof, the carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic barge boards along the flanks, the flappy-paddle gears and how the rear seat has been replaced with a beam to make the body stiffer.

But look closely and you'll realise it isn't a strengthening beam. It's just a bar to stop your luggage slamming into the front seats when you brake. You'll also notice that the flappy paddles are connected to an automatic gearbox and that the barge boards don't do anything at all.

Then there's that big wing. After you've spent a while wondering why you'd want to push the back of a front-wheel-drive car into the road, you'll do more examinations and start to wonder if, actually, the downforce comes solely from the weight of the damn thing.

Having raised and lowered your eyebrows a few times at the plainly cosmetic nature of all this flimflam, you'll come to the conclusion that the standard Mini would be capable of handling the 302bhp monster that now lives under its bonnet.

It isn't. Not by a long way. Many years ago some sensible engineers from Saab explained it would not be possible to put more than 200bhp through the front wheels, and then proved themselves to be correct by launching the wayward 220bhp Viggen.

This was the car industry's all-consuming big problem back then. Many companies, Saab included, were making front-wheel-drive cars because they're cheaper to manufacture than those with rear-wheel drive. But you simply cannot expect the front wheels to handle the steering as well as increasingly large amounts of power.

They experimented with all sorts of ideas, but there's no getting round the fact that when you open the taps in a powerful front-wheel-drive car, the front wheels will squirm this way and that, causing what's known as torque steer. Sometimes it's annoying. Sometimes it's alarming. And sometimes you've no idea what it is because you've speared head first into a tree and now you're dead.

BMW got round the problem by sticking with rear-wheel drive in its powerful hatchbacks. Mercedes and Volkswagen resorted to four-wheel drive. But the Engineers at Mini did not. Apparently the four-wheel-drive system used on the Countryman is designed for gymkhana car parks, not the Nürburgring, so they stuck with front-wheel drive — and crossed their fingers.

How best do I describe the results? Hmm. I think "Sweet mother of Jesus" covers it. You pull out to overtake a van, you put your foot down and then something with the power of Thor's hammer takes control of the steering and you're left with two choices: get off the power or have a crash.

Tidal torque steer is not the only issue either. This is a car that doesn't glide down a country road, or squirt. On its lowered suspension, it bounces. Imagine being on Tigger after he's just received news of a big premium bond win and you get the idea. But bear in mind you are also in Eeyore's eddy with no control over your direction of travel.

This is a car that will usually arrive, but not necessarily at a place where you wanted to go.

Around town there are problems too. Things are very jerky in stop-start traffic. And on the motorway, mainly because of the tyres, it is very loud. Plus, you have to pay attention constantly because all Minis have a natural cruising speed measurable with Mach numbers. You have to be especially careful in the JCW GP because it has a top speed of 164mph. That's 164mph. In a Mini.

So. It's far too powerful, far too loud, more blinged up with unnecessary nonsense than Lewis Hamilton's earlobes, annoying in traffic, a crazed dog on the motorway and less fun than a crashing airliner when you accelerate on a road with any sort of camber at all. It is also one of the best cars I've driven all year.

We are currently in what might fairly be termed the car industry's beige period. Cars are made to be ecological and safe and spacious and cheap to repair. They creep onto the market with an apology rather than a fanfare. There's no pizzazz or razzmatazz in almost any of them. And then, just when we thought it was all over, out of nowhere comes this crazy Mini.

It's as if I've been sitting in a dentist's waiting room for ten years and, all of sudden — blam — I'm at the carnival in Rio. There is colour all around me and noise, and instead of thumbing through a two-year-old copy of Country Life to the accompaniment of the tick and the tock of the dentist's old clock, I'm listening to the sounds of the samba on a float as bright as a child's imagination.

I learnt, after a while, to wait for the right bit of tarmac before mashing the throttle into the firewall, and then I'd laugh out loud, in a way I haven't for years, at the noises and the rush that resulted. I then learnt to deal with the low-speed problems by not driving slowly. This is not a serious car. The steering is not particularly crisp, and the gearbox is not that snappy. It's not designed to be a textbook lesson in how to tame physics. It's designed to make your journey a bit happier. It's not a book. It's a comic.

It is fast, though. Really fast. I also liked sitting in it. I love how, in a Mini, the windscreen is so far away and you sit so low down that you're almost peering over the dash and the bonnet. Most of all, though, I liked the certain knowledge that, among all the millions of types of Mini we've seen over the ages, I wasn't going to encounter one faster than mine.

And I've saved the best bit till last. When other firms launch a limited-run car such as this, they tend to go a bit berserk with the price tag. But this Mini is less than £35,500. That is extremely good value, principally because most of the time it's much, much more fun than cars costing 10 times the price.


And here's the Sun column: "It’s time Nicola Sturgeon forgave the English – I’ve even made up with Piers Morgan"
Sir Attenborough and St. Mark's can breathe a sigh: loathsome cruise liners are sinking at last (Oct. 18)

A public information ad that nobody much paid attention to when it first appeared last year started doing the rounds last week. It suggested that girls who can no longer be ballet dancers should think about retraining for a career in cyber-technology. This made a lot of young people very angry, and I'm not sure why.

Covid-19 forced theatres to close. So it's pointless sitting at home, banging your fists on the floor, saying, "I want to be a ballet dancer". It'd be like mewling and puking with rage because you can't be a town crier or a switchboard operator.

Or a cruise ship steward. We were treated last week to the most joyous and uplifting spectacle. An aerial photograph of five gigantic liners being broken up for scrap in a Turkish shipyard. I gazed at it for several minutes, feeling all warm and fuzzy at the thought of how these hideous eyesores would never again ruin anyone's view of St Mark's or the Sydney Opera House or a Norwegian fjord.

With their rear ends removed, you could see into the rabbit warren of their interiors and imagine how much misery had been generated. The loneliness. The diarrhoea.

Let me illustrate my hatred of these gigantic floating vomit buckets with some numbers. In a typical week, a liner with 3,000 people on board will produce more than 200,000 gallons of sewage and a million gallons of grey water, teeming with body fluids, eczema flakes and HRT-flecked sick. Legally, all of this can be pumped into the sea.

Along with the contents of all the bins.

It was reported in the Financial Times last year that the luxury cruise operator Carnival's fleet alone produces more emissions of sulphur oxides than all of Europe's 260 million cars.

Sir Sir Attenborough--a man so respected that they knighted him twice--was banging on in his recent Netflix eco-rant that we must all give up meat, but what's the point of taking that one small and unpleasant step if Wilbur and Myrtle are still allowed to fill the seas with their turds and the sky with enough carbon to make half a dozen Boeing Dreamliners?

What has always fascinated me about these ships, though, is not the damage they do to the sky and the fish: it's the fact that they're full of drunk, weird people and there's no police on board. Between 2011 and 2015, 116 people simply disappeared while on a cruise. That may explain why sea levels are rising: because of all the dead plastic women who've been thrown into it by jealous husbands.

By law, there must be a person on board with some kind of medical certificate. But who's to say the certificate wasn't issued after the person had spent six months in a remote village, administering ground-up bones and potions as a pox doctor's clerk?

And then there's the question of who's cooking the food. If you are a good chef, you will get a job at a top restaurant or hotel in a bright and vibrant city. If you are less good, you will end up in a burger van at the side of the A429 or at café in the provinces. So how bad to do you have to be to wind up making gravy on a cruise liner?

I can't imagine, then, that life on board is much fun, but it's better than what happens when they let you off. The problem is that the brochures talk about all the exotic locations you'll visit, but the truth is you have to dock in a shipyard, and they're not exotic at all.

I once watched a cruise liner disgorging its orange passengers onto Barbados. They'd doubtless read about how they'd meet Simon Cowell at the Cliff restaurant and dip their toes in a turquoise sea. But instead, they got off, climbed onto what looked like a train, but was in fact a converted Ford Transit van pulling some rickety wooden carriages, and were deposited on the other side of the docks, outside some not-at-all convincing chattel houses, where they bought Rasta hats, before it was time to get back on board and head to Trinidad.

Sure, they could tell friends in the Harvester back home that they'd been to Barbados, and they had, in the same way that I could say I've been to Minneapolis because I once changed planes at the airport.

Anyway, the photograph of all those liners being turned into kettles demonstrates that the cruise holiday, mercifully for all concerned, is coming to an end.

Or is it? Because last week we were all treated to the unedifying spectacle of P&O's brand new ship, the Iona, which is bound for its home port of Southampton. Billed, hilariously, as an "excellence-class" liner, it can handle 5,200 passengers and even has its own gin distillery. It is like Prora, the Nazi-built resort, only uglier.

It is said this giant will set off on its maiden voyage early next year, but I wouldn't bet on that. And even if it does lumber off to ruin the peace and tranquillity of a pristine spring morning, I wouldn't count on it being what you'd call "packed".

Which makes me wonder. If it can't operate as a cruise ship and it can't be scrapped because P&O just spent more than £700m building it, what does the future hold for this 19-deck monster?

Well, there was a plan recently to house migrants on ships while their paperwork is sorted out, but for reasons I can't understand, young people were cross about this too. So how's this for an idea. The government takes the Iona off P&O's hands, puts it in the middle of the North Sea, renames it the HMP Alcatraz and fills it with prisoners.

Escape would be impossible. Overcrowding in the current prisons would ease. And all the robbers and rapists would get what the cry-baby lefties have been demanding for years: a choice of restaurants, four swimming pools and a spa.


If there's a bump in the road, you'll find it
The Clarkson Review: Aston Martin DBX
(Oct. 18)

The Aston Martin DBX is an all-new car that will compete in a sector of the market where the company has never been before. And to make that strategy even riskier, this SUV is being built in a brand new, untested factory and being launched into showrooms that have seen significantly fewer customers since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Other small motoring manufacturers around the world--Lamborghini, Bentley, Ferrari and so on--are owned by big car companies, so they have access to all the latest technology and are cushioned to a certain extent from any virus-related problems. Whereas Aston Martin's owners include a man who made his fortune by selling trousers.

He and a consortium of other businessmen have invested £500m in Aston, which sounds a lot, but that's roughly what Renault would spend on a new heater knob. And the money arrived, as did the new boss--poached from Mercedes-AMG--when the DBX was pretty much finished.

It was therefore designed on a shoestring by a company whose share price was wearing margarine trousers on a slide into oblivion. Plans to make the DBX all-electric were shelved early on, and the proposed fitting of a new V6 hybrid postponed, so it has ended up with a 4-litre Mercedes engine and lots of Mercedes kit that was bang up to date--about 10 years ago.

After such a difficult birth, I was not expecting it to be any good, but if I say that here you will be very angry with me, because not liking an Aston Martin in this country is illegal. It's like saying you don't like the Queen. You just do. You were born that way.

So. Here goes. The first thing that surprised me about the DBX is its size. It's like Richard Osman, who you see sitting behind his desk on Pointless in the evening. You assume that because he's a man, he must be man-sized, but he isn't. He's taller than a telegraph pole. I had the DBX for five days, and in all that time I assumed it was the same length as a Porsche Macan. But in reality it's almost 2in longer than a Range Rover.

It's much lower, though, and perhaps that's what makes it so handsome. Well, that and the pillarless doors and the huge 22in wheels. And the optional bonnet blades. And, best of all, the colour. It was very definitely black. But when the sun came out, it was a dark green. It was wonderful.

I was also taken by the seemingly endless ways of tailoring your new DBX. You can choose what colour badge you'd like and what sort of stitching you have on the seats. There's even a Pet Pack, which gives you a rear bumper protector and a partition. And a Snow Pack.

You can also have a safe under the front passenger seat and a gun cabinet in the boot. So one thing is for sure: while the price of the DBX is £158,000, by the time you've spent a week or two on the configurator it's going to be way more than that.

High prices have been a problem for Aston in recent years, because the interiors of its cars never really felt special enough. That certainly isn't the case with this SUV. It's very good, chiefly because the manufacturer has ditched a recent move towards the square steering wheel and reverted to something circular. Some may criticise the ageing Mercedes infotainment system but, actually, it's from a time before all these systems got far too clever for their own good. It works well.

What doesn't work so well is the way you use buttons to select the gears. If my memory serves, we first saw these on a Ford Fiesta concept car back in the early 1990s, and I remember thinking at the time: "Wow. These don't work at all." They still don't--they're too far away.

What also doesn't work very well is the way the leather has been stitched so the seams are visible. As one reviewer said, it looks like botched plastic surgery, and it does, but there's another problem too. One of these seams, on the centre console, digs into your arm as you drive along and is very annoying.

But it's not as annoying as the bumpiness of the ride. When I read that the DBX was fitted with 48-volt active anti-roll bars, I assumed it would glide along like a hovercraft. But it doesn't. Partly because of the big wheels, I suspect, it crashes hard into potholes, which makes it a bloody nightmare in London, and on the motorway it literally wobbles. If you try to sing in this thing to pass the time, you will get a very clear understanding of what's meant by vibrato.

I cannot understand how this has happened. Aston must know that the people who will buy this car are likely to be in their fifties and sixties, and that people in this age group are long past the time when sleeping on the floor is an acceptable end to the evening, no matter how good the party was.

Sure, the DBX is a fast and rewarding car when you are in the upper echelons of the rev range and the differentials are busy whizzing power to whichever wheel is best able to handle it. But nobody who wants an SUV wants to drive like this. They'd gladly put up with a bit more lean and a bit more understeer if it meant they could relax on the way home from work, rather than getting an idea of what it might be like to drive on a road made from corrugated iron.

Off road? I don't know, to be honest, and you never will either, because although it has all the right tech to deal with the rough stuff, it sits on fat, fast, low-profile tyres, so the instant you show it a field of wet grass you'll know you're going home on foot.

This is all very worrying because I'm heading to the point when I have to tell a nation of Aston fans that the new car is not much good.

However, I genuinely have a problem with most of the boutiquey SUVs that have come along in recent years. The Bentley Bentayga is a lot better-looking after its recent facelift, but it's still no beauty. The Rolls-Royce Cullinan is wilfully awful to behold. The Lamborghini Urus doesn't quite have the courage of its convictions. The Maserati Levante is pointless. The Jaguar F-Pace is good, but in a different, lower league, and the Alfa Romeo Stelvio serves as a constant reminder you should have bought the Giulia Quadrifoglio instead.

So, when you look at the competition, the DBX starts to make sense. And it continues to make sense right up to the moment you remember the car that started this particular ball rolling 50 years ago: the Range Rover. The first is still by far the best.


And here's the Sun column: "Without insects we could all be dead in 50 years – we need to save them"
As a brit, hating on an Aston Martin is probably not an easy thing to do.

But if I had the means I would daily a Range Rover as well. It looks the part, has all the toys and as far as I know it's one of few SUVs you still can get with a diesel V8 so I'd have to get one while you still can.

I don't care that it would break because it would be on a lease or under warranty and with a service agreement.
I remember driving a Range Rover 2 years ago at COTA on an off-road course. They are nice and can see why people like them.
Clarkson may have reasons to disagree with Attenborough's urging of people to give up meat, but we in the United States should definitely be considering giving up beef.

It's time you quit Furious Tweeters Anonymous and joined me and the Trots for a quiet pint (Oct. 25)

All this month, people have been talking about a new Netflix documentary called The Social Dilemma, in which a bunch of stubbly Californian tech start-up nerds on a guilt trip worry out loud about how the internet has been hijacked by enormous companies that are now using it to make — gulp — money.

They say that our phones constantly monitor what we do and who we talk to and what we say. And clever algorithms are used so advertisers can target their products and services at exactly the sort of people who might be interested. And this is what, exactly? A bad thing?

If you are a woman and you are experiencing lady problems, you do not want your Facebook feed to be full of ads for agricultural buildings. In the same way, I'm not the slightest bit interested in hearing about an exciting new breakthrough in tampon technology. Targeted advertising makes sense for all concerned, and if Facebook can make a few quid along the way, good luck to it.

"Ah, but," say our stubbly friends from California. "Exactly the same information-gathering and algorithms can be used by political parties to target undecided voters." And ... what's wrong with that? Seriously. What's the difference between doing that and dispatching some smiley dweeb with a clipboard and a pamphlet full of promises to the swing-state housing estates of Hemel Hempstead?

The Social Dilemma, however, did in the end touch fleetingly on a subject that's been troubling me for a little while now. That Google and Facebook and all social media will eventually cause every country on earth to be engulfed by a bloody civil war. Possibly about toothpaste.

When I was a reporter on the Rotherham Advertiser, I'd go for lunch most days with two people who were in the Workers Revolutionary Party. I liked them a lot, and I think they liked me, even though I was very obviously not a member of the Workers Revolutionary Party. We talked about politics, of course, and we'd argue in a good-natured way and then we'd have a couple more pints. And then we'd go back to work.

It was the same story with my dad. He didn't like my trousers and I did not like his. We didn't have similar taste in music either. He thought Dave Greenslade might be the devil. I thought Bach needed to cheer up. And we'd have lengthy debates about hair too. But we never actually fell out over any of it.

Today, though, things have changed, because we can engineer our lives so we rarely encounter anyone who thinks differently. You think you are chatting to your kids in the evening, but actually you're making noises while they're tuned into Radio Greta on social media.

We all follow like-minded souls on Twitter. We have WhatsApp groups, where we share jokes with others we know will find them funny. We watch whatever news channel echoes what we are thinking. We ignore those on Tinder who like Donald Trump, or those who eat meat or who do anything that doesn't belong in our opinion bubble.

That's why people were staggered when the country voted for Brexit. Remainers such as myself were surrounded by other remainers, so we thought everyone was a remainer. It's why everyone at the BBC was bowled over when Boris Johnson won such a massive majority. They couldn't believe it because absolutely everyone in their electronic lives voted for Jeremy Corbyn.

If you are a vegan, it's extremely likely that you will share vegan recipes with other vegans on social media. You may even share stories that say meat is murder and growing cows is destroying the ozone layer. So when you see a picture of a man eating an actual burger, you are horrified. Staggered. Because how could he be so obtuse?

You are going to send him a message, which, because social media allows you to dispense with the niceties of meeting face to face, will be extremely abusive. And then your friends are going to pile in until, eventually, burger man responds in kind and soon everyone is threatening to kill everyone's children.

If you don't believe me, tell someone under the age of 25 that we shouldn't be pulling down statues. But be warned, the response will be so unpretty your phone may well melt.

I don't think there's been a time when society is as divided as it is now. Women versus men. Black people versus white people. Rich versus poor. Right versus left. There are even heated and abusive online arguments about dental hygiene. And it's because people are always absolutely convinced by social media that they have the majority on their side.

The internet was built so you could get a pizza at four in the morning, and find out where James Garner was born while you're on a beach, but it's become home instead to levels of bigotry, rage and hatred not seen since the Trojans opened up that horse.

It will spill out on to the streets in time. It already has in America, where gangs of white supremacists, utterly convinced by social media that 94% of the world is on their side, are roaming around in packs, with Glocks on their thighs and an AR-15 rifle in the boot, just waiting for one of the nation's six Democrats to look at them funny.

The stubbly start-up nerds say it isn't possible to step back from the brink. They say we've created Skynet and that no one's going to come from the future to save us.

But I think it is possible. We just need to remove the cloak of anonymity behind which all social media users can hide. You used to need a licence to own a dog and could have had it taken away if you didn't treat it well. But anyone can go online and say anything they like to anyone in the world, completely safe in the knowledge that they will only ever be found by Heckler & Koch, which will send them an ad for its latest sub-machinegun.


My bafflement is sprouting nicely: Pass me the scythe — I'm up to my ears in agri-jargon and I don't understand a word (Oct. 25)

I didn't think farming would be especially difficult. I figured that man had been growing crops for 12,000 years and that after such a long period it would be in our DNA. That it would be relaxing. Monty Donnish even. I'd plant seeds, weather would happen and food would grow.

In my mind, then, farming would mostly involve leaning on a gate while munching pensively on a delicious Dagwood Bumstead sandwich, or enjoying a late summer sundowner from behind the wheel of an air-conditioned tractor. It'd all be a festival of crusty bread, lemonade, fresh air and cider with Rosie. Followed by a cheery harvest festival and a big fat cheque from the EU.

I've learnt, however, that all of it is back-breaking and difficult, that there's never time for a ploughman's in the sunshine, that there's no cupholder in my tractor for sundowners or anything else and that to be a farmer you must be an agronomist, a meteorologist, a mechanic, a vet, an entrepreneur, a gambler, a workaholic, a politician, a marksman, a midwife, a tractor driver, a tree surgeon and an insomniac.

I am none of those things, which is why I spend every single evening with my nose buried in a copy of the countryside bible — Farmers Weekly. It's my new favourite thing.

I especially love the fertiliser and machinery adverts, because they all feature fifty-something men and they're all wearing checked shirts and zip-up gilets made from a material that exists only in agricultural supply shops. I want to buy everything they're advertising because it all looks so manly and proper.

The editorial is a bit different, though, because I can't really get my head round any of it. There will be a picture of some sheep, so I'll think, "Ah. I have sheep. I must read this." But after the second paragraph I have to give up and move on because I don't understand a single word.

I therefore switch to a piece about the new agriculture bill, but all I've taken in when I finish it is the sound of a voice inside my head saying, "Concentrate, Jeremy. This is important." The actual words? No. They've just swum about like fish.

I understand now how life is for people who think they might be interested in cars. They pick up a car magazine, and after five minutes they think that maybe the exciting front cover featuring a Porsche on full opposite lock was a con because the text inside seems to be about physics.
I can read about an electronic limited-slip differential and know what the writer means.

I know terms such as lift-off oversteer and axle tramp and torque steer and scuttle shake and I even have a fairly good idea what the motoring writer Gavin Green meant in Car magazine when he said the then new Toyota MR2 suffered from "tread shuffle"*. For most people, though, this kind of language is gobbledygook.

We see the same problems today with Formula One. The commentators don't translate tech-speak such as "deg" for the viewers. They use it to demonstrate to the drivers and the engineers that they too are part of the inner circle. It annoys me — so, chaps, can you stop saying "box"? And use the word "pit" instead, because then people at home will know what the bloody hell you're on about.

This brings me on to the world of banking. Like a lot of people I have savings, and that means I occasionally have to speak with people called Rupert and Humphrietta. One said in a Zoom call recently that in the previous few months I hadn't "shot the lights out". I had no idea what she was on about. She then tried to sell me a "product", which, it turns out, is only a product in the way that a casino chip on red is a product. I could be wrong, but I'm in no position to know.

I turn occasionally to the Financial Times for assistance on these matters, but, like the car magazines and the F1 commentary, it's far too complicated. Which is why I mostly end up reading the superyacht reviews in the disgusting but strangely engrossing How to Spend It supplement.

I fear, however, that simplification isn't actually necessary in Farmers Weekly, because the readers don't need the jargon translated. When they read that ex-farm spot wheat values are averaging close to £176.50/t midweek, they know what the words mean and what the implications are. Me, though? Not a clue.

I have been writing these farming columns for six months and I have started buying all my clothes at StowAg, so quite often I'm stopped in the street by farmers wanting to know about the moisture content of my wheat or where I am on the idea of levying a carbon tax on farmers who finish their cattle after 27 months.

I have therefore become very skilled at nodding and then suddenly remembering that I must get in the car and go away.

The worry is that I want to learn how to speak farming, but I have no idea how this is possible. I don't have a boss who can take me under his wing, and while I have a land agent, who's brilliant, he is even more un-understandable than Farmers Weekly.

I could sign up for a three-year course at what is now, hilariously, called the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester, but by the time I'd finished learning how to drive a Golf GTI up the steps and how to get home from Cheltenham after a particularly pissed-up day at the Gold Cup, I'd be too old to lean on gates or climb the ladder into my tractor.

Muddling on isn't really an option either, because when our EU money dries up in January, it's very obvious farmers are going to have to adopt a much more scientific approach to survive with dwindling government grants.

I already don't know how a potato grows, but soon it won't matter unless I can use chemicals and boffinry to grow four billion of them. I shall therefore drown in tech I don't understand and can't afford.

I have turned to the internet, of course, and it is neatly split between two approaches. Fantastically simple nonsense written by and for failed City boys who have two acres and a lamb. And head-spinningly complicated equations written by people into chem-porn at Monsanto.

And in the middle of all this there's me, who wants to make good food, well. I think I'm not alone. I think there are a lot of farmers like me who are bewildered and even a bit frightened by what they must do to survive. And I think you, round your breakfast tables, should be worried too.
Because when you take the art and the history and the simplicity out of farming, I suspect you may end up with a lot of food that doesn't taste very nice.

* I actually don't know what "tread shuffle" means.


And here's the Sun column: "The first real upside of this Covid business is that Halloween’s dead this year"
Easy on the eye, rather tougher on the wallet
The Clarkson Review: Peugeot e-208
(Nov. 1)

The problem with the Tesla, and all the other electric cars from Jaguar, Porsche and BMW, is that they're trying to be cars. When, of course, they are not cars. They are auxiliary transport solutions.

I'm sure it would be possible to make an electric dog that could be programmed to bark at burglars and lie by the fire on chilly evenings. But would it be an actual dog? Would you want to tickle it behind its ears and take it for walks? No.

According to a dictionary on Google, a car is "a road vehicle, typically with four wheels, powered by an internal combustion engine and able to carry a small number of people". And the key in that is "internal combustion engine". Replace it with an electric motor and what you're left with is a module for moving around. Not a "car".

A fridge freezer is not powered by internal combustion, which is why you have not given yours a name. There are no magazines called What Fridge Freezer? or Performance Fridge Freezer. There is no sadness when you have to throw your fridge freezer away and buy a new one. You do not talk with friends in the pub about the latest innovations in the world of fridge freezers, and no one meets on a Sunday morning to reminisce about classic fridge freezers of yesteryear.

The engine is a car's heart and soul. It's where the personality comes from. Take it away and what you're left with is a husk.

It's been argued that soon everyone will be using electric transportation husks, and that cars will suffer the same fate as horses when people stopped using them as tools. They'll become playthings for enthusiasts, stabled in heated garages, hacked out on sunny days for fun. And raced occasionally by tiny men.

But this isn't happening. People maybe growing increasingly concerned about the world's unusual weather, yet, despite all sorts of financial incentives, electric models account for a small proportion of the UK car market.

That's because the car-makers have got it into their heads that an electric car should be like a proper car. Only more expensive. And, as a result of their limited range and problematic "refuelling", a damn nuisance. A friend of mine drove her Tesla to the south of France this summer and spent so long sitting in cafés while it charged up that, when she arrived in Antibes, she weighed more than it did.

I've said for a while now that electrically powered transport husks should be modelled on the simple little yellow Jeep your kids had when they were small. One-wheel drive. And no need for brakes because it could do only 3mph. Happily, Citroën seems to have realised this and has launched a model called the Ami, which is now revolutionising the way people move around Paris.

It does not pretend to be a car.

It doesn't even try to look like one.

It's a box with four wheels, a small electric motor and a plastic moulded interior that will be familiar to anyone who has used the bathroom in a HotelF1 room.

As a result of all this the French government does not label the Ami a car. It deems it to be a quadricycle, which means it can be driven by 14-year-olds if they have a moped licence. Is it safe? Compared with a Volvo probably not, but as it has a top speed of just 28mph you'll never really be going fast enough to do yourself any serious damage.

It costs €6,900, or about £6,265, and has a range, apparently, of more than 40 miles. That seems low, but as this is meant to be a city-centre device — a sort of two-seat Boris bike — it's plenty. I think it's a very clever idea, and full marks to Citroën for thinking of it.

Interestingly, however, Citroën's other half, Peugeot, is sticking resolutely to the idea that electric cars should be actual cars but with a different sort of propulsion unit. Which is why it sent round some kind of battery-powered 208 hatchback for me to try.

It's a good-looking little thing, and for a moment I thought maybe Peugeot had tried to reinvent the 205 GTI, but I was in for two disappointments on that front. The first disappointment was on getting in. For reasons I can't understand Peugeot has decided drivers want to look at the instruments over the top of the steering wheel, not through it. This means the wheel is mounted so low I had a real struggle getting my leg under it. And when I finally managed, I couldn't see the instruments at all.

Then came the next disappointment. I pushed the start button and was rewarded with a health-and-safety notice that I couldn't read, partly because I wasn't wearing my spectacles, but mostly because I didn't know it was there. The steering wheel was in the way.

Also, I didn't know the motor hadn't started, because in an electric car there's no aural clue. Nor can you tell when you've turned it off. Although if you try to get out without first applying the handbrake, the Peugeot sounds the sort of alarm you'd expect to hear on a sinking submarine.

Eventually, though, I got everything working and pushed the gearlever backwards twice, which is what you must do to make the car go forwards, and off we went.

To be fair, it's quite a nice little car to drive. The steering is entirely lacking in feel, which is dreary, but it's smooth over even the biggest bumps, it's quiet and, at 8.1 seconds, it's quicker from 0 to 62mph than the original Golf GTI. What's more, it is spacious, has a big boot and is an appealing place to sit.

There are lots of alternatives out there from Renault and VW and Vauxhall (which is a Peugeot as well these days). Honda will also be joining the fray, although its car does at most 137 miles between charges, against the Peugeot's 217 miles, and that's not enough. Which is best? Well, if you have thin legs and are a sucker for good looks, it's probably the little Peugeot.

However, before you rush off to buy one, consider this. Peugeot has done its best to muddy the waters, but, after an hour or two on its website, I reckon that when the £3,000 government plug-in grant has been factored into the equation, the electric GT costs just over £30,000. And you can have the same thing, but with a petrol engine, for about £10,000 less than that.

Plus, of course, to make the batteries for your electrical husk, mining companies in Russia and Canada will be wreaking environmental havoc. Acid rain. Entire river systems ruined. And that's before we get to the problem of child labour in those cobalt mines in Africa.

Yes, it maybe less good for the climate to buy a car with a petrol engine, and you maybe sneered at by your annoyingly right-on children, but at least you end up with a car.


The moon is awash with cold water. Let's tap it — and pour it on the lunatics dreaming of Mars (Nov. 01)

Ever since Apollo 17 commander Eugene Cernan stepped back on board the lunar module Challenger, fired up the rocket and took off from the surface of the moon on December 14, 1972, we have been assured that, one day, man will be back.

John F Kennedy was the first to use lunar exploration as a political tool. "We choose to go to the moon ... and do the other things," the president bellowed, "not because they are easy, but because they are hard." Good speech. Even though we never did find out what he meant by "the other things".

Later, George HW Bush pledged that America would go back to the moon, as did his son George W. A few years after that, Barack Obama announced he wanted Americans to land on an asteroid, and then came Donald Trump, who wanted to build a wall and go to Mars. Which, though Donald probably doesn't realise this, means we have to go to the moon first.

The reason for that is simple. It took only eight days for Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin to get to the moon and back, but — even though they weren't going for long and they weren't taking much with them and their capsule was not much bigger than a Mini Metro — they needed a rocket that was taller than the Statue of Liberty to get them into space; a rocket that used 20 tons of fuel a second at launch and produced more horsepower than 160,000 new Ferraris.

Now. Getting people to Mars would take nine months. So they would have to take all they needed for an 18-month round trip, not counting the time they'd actually spend in the freezing hell of the red planet.

And think about that. When you go to the beach for two weeks, your suitcase is so heavy you can't even carry it. They would need enough lavatory paper, blankets, washing powder, spare clothes, food, shampoo, sanitary products, Jack Reacher books, phone chargers and bedding to last for more than a year.

And, because we are way beyond the idea of going to other planets to leave flags and footsteps, they would also have to take a ton of scientific equipment to make the journey worthwhile. They would, therefore, need a spaceship so big they'd require a rocket the size of Africa to get it off the ground. And, the fact is, we don't have one like that.

Rather than wait for such a thing to be developed, which would take about 50 million years, it would be much better to set off from the moon, which has only a sixth of the Earth's gravity. So, to break free and get on your way, even if you were in a ship the size of an articulated lorry, you would only need the sort of whizz-bang rocket that Standard sold you on Bonfire Night.

That's why the discovery last week of water on the bright side of the moon is so important. I have no idea how the men who went there 51 years ago missed it, or how it's never been spotted by the Hubble, but whatever — boffins flew a specially modified jumbo jet high above almost all the water vapour on Earth and a telescope mounted in the aircraft's open door spotted it. Tons of the stuff. A veritable moon river. More water than you'd find in the whole of the Kennet and Avon canal.

So now astronauts could take off from Earth and go to the moon, which we know is possible. And there they could collect all the water they'd need for the onward journey. And I've just thought of something else. They could even use solar energy to convert it into rocket fuel.

But what about using the water to grow stuff? Hmm. That's trickier. Last year the Chinese announced they had landed a capsule on the far side of the moon and that the potatoes, fruit-fly eggs and rapeseed inside it had all died. This was not surprising. Rapeseed is hard enough to grow on Earth.

But they did say that the cotton seeds had begun to sprout, giving hope that the astronauts would be able to grow their own bedsheets and trousers. Sadly, though, the next day, the Chinese scientists were forced to admit the cotton had died as well. Which isn't surprising, given the temperature on this part of the moon is as low as -173C.

Anyway, all this means we are a long way from growing cows up there, or hens. Or anything.

It seems to me there are other issues too. Because in order to launch a spaceship from the surface of the moon, you would need a tower with retractable gantries, and lots of hoses, and a factory to make the fuel and a hotel where visiting astronauts could stay while preparing for the second leg to Mars. In short, you'd need a moon base.

We already know we don't have the power to get a few gallons of water up there, so how do we transport what's basically the whole of Cape Canaveral and Houston?

And how do we pay for it? It costs as much as $100,000 to blast a kilogram of mass into space, according to Nasa, so each lamb the astronauts ate up there would cost about $2m. Even a laptop would be 80 grand.

We couldn't possibly afford it, and even if we could, we don't have the technology to make it feasible. Or the will, because if somebody died in training, you just know there would be deafening calls to scrap the whole thing.

It isn't going to happen, then. We are not going back to the moon and we are not going to Mars, and America's presidents should learn to accept that so they can concentrate instead on doing "the other things" that Kennedy talked about.

Such as inventing an iPhone cable that doesn't become all tangled up seconds after you've folded it neatly and put it in your office drawer.


And here's the Sun column: "Death may be natural…but ruining lives by mistake isn’t"
It's insane that Peugeot completely forgot about us tall people when they did their current crop of cars. I have no desire to drive with the steering wheel on the floor somewhere between my kneecaps. At least you can get the same tech in an Opel if that's what you want, and at least in my Insignia there's plenty of adjustment even for André the Giant. I've never driven a PSA era Opel so I'm hoping the engineers in Rüsselsheim still got to have some input.
It's no wonder we all have narcissists or clowns for leaders: pay chickenfeed, get birdbrains (Nov. 7)

America is a country that gave us Steinbeck and Springsteen and Scorsese. For centuries it has been a powerhouse of innovation and intellect, and yet somehow Americans ended up deciding that their leader should be either a rambling narcissist with nylon hair or a 200-year-old man who puts his false teeth in the fridge every night and goes to bed with a pint of milk.

It's weird and slightly depressing, especially if you stop and think for a moment. Because then you'll notice that exactly the same problem is affecting a great many other countries around the world. Britain, for example. In our most recent election we were asked to choose between a big blond bag of bombast and a small communist weasel.

Then you have Austria. After the dreadful shootings in Vienna last week, the Austrian leader was allowed out of school to say that the gunman should be given a Chinese burn in the dorm and six of the best on Saturday.

France has a man who married his teacher. Finland has a woman who posed for a magazine photograph wearing a blazer with nothing underneath it, and then we have New Zealand. There they have a leader who stopped being a Mormon so she could promote transgenderism, and now she's decided that the foreign secretary should be someone with a tattooed chin.

Yes, don't worry, I know that this is an ancient Maori custom and that's lovely and inclusive and so on, but you get the sense that she's been made foreign secretary specifically because she has a tattoo on her chin.

I was going to bring up Vladimir Putin, but as I don't want two burly men with potatoey complexions and bad leather jackets to come round and coat my door handles with something radioactive, it's probably best if I move on to Canada, where they have a man who likes to black up occasionally. Or Scotland, where they elected a woman who's very annoying.

It's always been said that politics is show business for ugly people, but now it's become a sort of muster station for the mad. And I think I know why.

Politicians are not paid enough. The president of America has genuinely awesome responsibilities and is tasked every day with making truly momentous decisions involving trillions of dollars and a fleet of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, but he's paid just £304,346 a year. George Alagiah earns more than that.

And George Alagiah is not subjected to a constant barrage of abuse. It's strange. We are not allowed to talk in a derogatory way about people with ginger hair or Belgians or people with tattooed chins, and soon we will not be allowed to say, over dinner with friends, that the French can be a bit belligerent, but we can say whatever we like about politicians. They are not protected, it seems, by any hate crime legislation.

So here's the deal. If you are wise, well educated, well travelled and well read, why on earth would you decide to go into politics? You'd have to be insane. Let's take, I dunno, Boris Johnson as an example. He could easily earn enough in the normal world to feed and educate his six children but chooses instead to work as prime minister — which makes him the bull's-eye in the dartboard of abuse — for an annual salary of just £150,000.

Yes, I know that sounds a lot if you are a cleaner or a teacher or a tramp, and I know he has a company car and two free houses, but when he entertains friends at Chequers, he's expected to pay out of his own pocket. Which is why all his visiting chums are given fish fingers and Blue Nun, and they can't bring a bottle of something more palatable because unless it went in the much-scrutinised book of members' interests, it might look like a bribe.

This means that the British prime minister lives a friendless life of abuse and is paid a fraction of what he could get by running a carpet warehouse in Huddersfield. Look at Nick Clegg. He is now a small cog at the electronic address book that is Facebook and he earns 10 times as much as the PM. Plus, he can fly in the front of the plane, drive a Beemer and have whomever he wants over for dinner and bung it on expenses.

It's all very well saying that we want commitment politicians, but do we really want the country to be run by someone who's happy to earn 20 grand and live in a tower block? Or would we be better off paying the prime minister £30m a year so that we get someone with a bit of FTSE 100 management nous?

Let's see if I can answer that for you. If we examine a list of countries that actually publish their leader's salary — not Congo or Saudi Arabia, then — we discover that the world's best-paid prime minister is to be found in Singapore — he gets a whopping £1.24m a year.

And what country do you suppose comes second? Argentina? Belarus? Greece? Nope, it's Switzerland. So, the two best-run countries in the world are the only ones that use leaf-blowers to power cash through their leaders' letterboxes. That can't be a coincidence.

America should certainly consider this as it picks up the pieces from the horror show we saw last week. And hopefully it'll realise that it needs to pay the president more than he could earn by running Apple or Google or MyFace.

Because if it did that, it would attract a normal person with a sharp mind, and not a lunatic billionaire or an IRA sympathiser who looks like all those old men who advertise gardening trousers at the back of The Daily Telegraph.


The Clarkson Review: Alfaholics GTA-R 290
A blast from the past, rebuilt even better (Nov. 8)

I think we are going to have to face up to the fact that the supercar is dead. They’re too big and they’re too powerful. On a normal road you cannot keep your foot down in first, second or third for more than a second because it’s like trying to fly a jet fighter through a shopping centre. And this means you are putting up with all the discomfort and all the shortcomings of that racing-car layout and then not being able to enjoy — or even use — the supercar’s raison d’être. Its power.

Plus, if you arrive at someone’s house in a bright orange, 8ft-wide, mid-engine two-seater, they will assume they are being visited by an eight-year-old Saudi Arabian who has spent all night driving round Harrods.

So, because supercars are now unusable and driven by ghastly people with no taste, wealthy petrolheads, who do have taste, are being driven into the arms of Eagle, which will sell them a beautifully restored and modernised Jaguar E-type. Or Jensen International Automotive, which can build them an Interceptor with the reliable engine and electronics from a modern Chevrolet Corvette.

Yes, these restored cars cost as much as a Ferrari or a McLaren, but you can use all the performance all the time, and when you drop round to see friends they won’t draw the curtains and pretend to be out.

All of which brings me on to the car you see in the photographs this morning. It started out in life as an Alfa Romeo GTA but has been restored, redesigned and rebuilt by a family-owned company in Bristol called Alfaholics. The result is called the GTA-R and if you want one it’ll cost you £320,000.

Now, you would probably pay six figures for an E-type or an Interceptor because Jags and Jensens have that kind of kudos. But an Alfa?

The trouble is, Alfa Romeo has spent most of the recent past making dismal hatchbacks with the word “Fiat” crossed out and “Alfa Romeo” written in in crayon. So we have all forgotten that back in the days before the Arna and the 33 and the MiTo, Alfa was one of the most respected and loved car companies on earth. Enzo Ferrari worked there early in his career. And it dominated the Formula One drivers’ world championship in 1950 and 1951.

Back in the 1960s, a 1.6-litre GTA cost £2,898. That’s about £500 more than you’d have paid for an E-type. So, make no mistake, for older people the Alfa brand is very special.

There’s another reason why the Alfaholics GTA-R costs £320,000. The 3,000 hours of work that have gone into making it.

The original engine has been removed and in its place is a Twin Spark four-cylinder unit from an Alfa 75 that has been bored out to 2.2 litres. This now produces 240 horsepower, 200 torques and a noise that makes even your eyebrows tingle. On a visit to the workshop I wondered out loud why the company hadn’t fitted the V6 from an Alfa GTV, and those present looked at me as though I’d defecated on the office desk. The Twin Spark engine was chosen because — as anyone who knows anything knows — it can trace its roots and architecture back to the aluminium 1.6-litre engine that the original GTA had.

Alfaholics, then, does not just add what it thinks will make the car more reliable or more modern or snazzier. It makes sure whatever it changes, or does, allows the character of the original to shine through. It’s like the company has taken Julie Christie and rebuilt her so she’s 25 again. And given her optional air-conditioning. And Bluetooth. And new air vents with tiny Alfa badges in the middle. And I think I’m in love.

First things first, though: the interior. The car I drove was racing-car basic, but the driving position was — and this is a first for any Alfa — perfect. The steering wheel was high up, close to your chest and even closer to the gearknob. And the pedals were perfectly placed for double declutching and heel and toe changes. (I’m aware this might not make much sense to the under-40s.)

But while it felt like a racing car in there, it certainly didn’t feel like one when I took it for a drive. Because, unlike all modern cars, which are designed with one eye on the Nürburgring, it’s as comfortable as a Shackletons wingback armchair. And so easy to get in and out of, you know.

This is because modern suspension systems have to support the huge weight of the car, which gives them very little spare capacity for doing anything else. If you are giving a fat man a piggyback ride, it would be unreasonable to suggest you should be able to play the guitar at the same time.

The GTA-R, however, with its carbon-fibre components, weighs just 830kg. The suspension can prop that up without thinking, and so concentrate fully on what it’s supposed to be doing.

Like the original, it has a double-wishbone suspension at the front and a live axle at the rear, but all the pick-up points have been changed to give it a more modern feel. Sprinkle in telepathic steering and you end up with a car that doesn’t feel as if it’s from the 1960s at all. It feels as if it’s from that weird bit of your head where the concept of “perfect handling” lives. The brakes work too, principally because you get six-pot discs at the front, but also because all they have to slow down is something that weighs less than a cheese slice.

Here’s the best bit, though. You can accelerate — hard — through first and second and third. You can go from 0 to 62mph in less than five seconds and then keep on accelerating to 148mph, and not once will you soil yourself. This is not a frightening car and nor is it big. It’s an Alfa, and when you’ve driven it, you’ll understand what that means. They’re different. They feel alive.

There’s more too. In a modern supercar you are constantly aware that you’re not quite as good as the systems that are keeping you on the road. You are just meat in the room. But in the Alfa you feel like you’re part of a man-and-machine team. The handling limits are set not by the car but by you. That’s an important factor if you are a petrolhead. And it’s why racing used to be so much more fun to watch, because with a bit of red mist you could make your car do things it should not be able to do.

Then there’s the noise. It doesn’t come from electronic witchcraft in the exhaust. It’s a joyful, snorty-rorty cacophony, and it comes from the engine. It sounds real and it made me feel very special, very nostalgic and very happy. I adored the GTA-R more than is decent, or even healthy.

It also gave me an idea. There are tons of people my age who’d love a 3-litre Ford Capri or a Lancia Fulvia or a Triumph TR6. But they are put off by the promise of all that incontinence and unreliability. So, surely, there must be a market for people to start doing them up and selling them to hedge-funded petrolheads who no longer lust after a Lamborghini.

One such man recently asked Alfaholics to make him a totally rebuilt and modernised 101 series Giulia Spider. He then took away 22 slightly different shades of light blue paint to see which worked best in the light in London. And then he took the best five to his house in the south of France before deciding.

I’d like to do that one day.

The Clarksometer
Alfaholics GTA-R 290

Engine: 2200cc, 4 cylinders, petrol

Power: 240bhp @ 7000rpm

Torque: 200 Ib ft @ 5400rpm

Acceleration: 0-62mph: 4.9sec

Top speed: 148mph

Fuel / CO2: 23mpg / n/a

Weight: 830kg

Price: £320,000

Release date: On sale now

Jeremy’s rating: ★★★★★


And here's the Sun column: "US is heading for another civil war but this one will just be pathetic"
Let's take back control — of cheap, nasty food: Most British shoppers don't give a fish finger for expensive homegrown grub. If we lowered our welfare standards, we might just make a living (Nov. 15)

The government's Eat Out to Help Out scheme was designed to prolong the life of Britain's seemingly doomed hospitality industry. But it had another effect. It allowed hard-up families to eat food in restaurants they could not normally afford.

I was at my quite expensive local when one such family sat down for lunch. And straight away they were unhappy because one of the items on offer was wild Scottish langoustine with burnt lime. None of them could understand why you'd want to eat something that had been burnt. Or why the owner would want to advertise his chef 's incompetence on the menu. They were also "disgusted" by the devilled kidneys, because who'd want to eat a kidney? And they had absolutely no idea what the hell gnocchi was.

When the food arrived they were even more cross because the steak was still bleeding, the chunky chips were nothing like the "proper" chips they got from McDonald's and there were leaves on the plate. Actual bloody leaves. Eventually the father exploded. He did a lot of shouting, explained that he wouldn't be paying even his reduced share of the cost and drove away so vigorously that I half-expected the ladders to fall off the roof of his Vauxhall.

We have seen this kind of thing before. When Jamie Oliver started his healthy school-food campaign, mothers in Rotherham responded by turning up at the school gates with "proper" food for their kids. Cheese slices. Crisps. Fizzy pop. And a nice bar of lard dipped in milk chocolate. Interestingly, one of the people who backed them was Boris Johnson.

An Irish court recently decided that the bread in a cooked Subway sandwich contains so much sugar that it cannot legally be described as bread. The Sunday Times food writer Marina O'Loughlin went off to try one and said the artificial taste "lingers like herpes". This may well be so, but the fact is that there's always a queue outside Subway. Many people like their bread to be sugary.

And all this causes me to arrive in a state of confusion at one of the many dilemmas vexing our beloved leaders. It's this. If we are going to do trade deals with America and Australia, we can't very well say, "Oh, and by the way, if you want to sell pork here, can you give your pigs hot-water bottles and read them bedtime stories, because that's what we make the farmers do at home?"

When we leave the EU, the plan is that supermarkets will be able to import food that has not been produced to anything like the standards imposed in the UK. Put simply, you may well be eating chickens that have been doused in a bucket of chlorine to kill any of the bacteria they picked up during their short, cramped and miserable lives.

Horrific, you say. But hang on a minute. I know that if you are into fair trade, peace and veganism, or if you work on a submarine, chlorine is seen as a bad thing. But most normal people experience it only if they go swimming, and they like it, because if the water is teeming with chlorine it demonstrates that it's not also full of kiddie wee and chlamydia. They therefore won't mind if their chicken has been basted in the stuff. If it has then been infused with enough sugar and salt, it's possible they won't even notice.

The fact is this: food made to lower standards than we have in the UK will be cheaper. And, whether we like it or not, cheapness is what matters most of all to most people. Yes, everyone here wants to eat British food, but if an Israeli chicken costs 50p less than a chicken reared down the road, the Israeli chicken is going to go in the trolley and the British farmer is going to go on the dole.

There are noisy calls being made at the moment, mainly by the National Farmers' Union (NFU), for a trade standards commission to be set up. They want a panel comprising ecoists, animal enthusiasts and boffins to decide what can be imported and what cannot.

It is a noble ambition and I can see why it is supported by so many chefs, foodies and farmers. I support it myself. But what it will do is keep the price of food higher than it could be. So I have an alternative suggestion. Instead of ensuring British quality standards are imposed on food coming from abroad, could we not lower our standards to make farming here less expensive?

Most people think farmers pour industrial levels of chemicals on their wheat fields and shoot bees for sport, so why not simply do that? Because that way the cheapest chicken on the shelves would be British.

This would be good news for the farming industry, which would have fewer rules and better profit margins as a result. It would be good news, too, for the mothers of Rotherham, good news for the government, which could have its trade deals, and good news for that chap at the restaurant, who can spend the rest of his life feeding his fat kids with Bhopal-infused oven-ready British shit.

Yes, some people like good, well-made food. Every week in this magazine we see lots of recipes, and in the pictures there are always plenty of pine kernels and coriander seeds. There is definitely a market for this kind of stuff.

The butcher I use when I'm in London sells chickens at £28 a pop. I'm not making that up. And people buy them. People also come to my farm shop, where a jar of honey is just shy of a tenner. And many drool when I tell them that the wheat I grew was turned into flour at a mill three miles away and then into bread at a bakery at the end of the road. They like the localness of it all and are prepared to pay a premium for the loaves that result.

But let's not get deluded by this farm-to-fork guff. It's great and I'm going to do more of it, but I know that for every customer I have, Aldi has about 17 million. Because most people simply can't afford to eat what we call well.

I can see why you would want to make sure that all the food sold here has been produced with love, care and one eye on the environment, but that would be like me saying that we should ban crappy Hyundais and Peugeots in Britain because it would be much nicer if people drove Jaguars and Land Rovers instead.

The fact is that most families do not sit down around a table to eat supper. Many do not even have a table. They simply slam something from the freezer in a microwave and then wolf it down in front of the television. Or they call Deliveroo. Cooking? Only a quarter of us know how to make more than three things, and one of those things is bangers and mash. Which isn't really cooking at all.

So let's be realistic. If you say to someone who's filling his face while watching a soap opera that he should have paid a bit more to ensure the pig that made his sausages had a happier life, he'll stick his fork in your eye.

I wish the NFU well. I really do. But I fear they are selling an idea that appeals to about 12 people. Everyone else just wants some fish fingers.


The 600mph Hyperloop will arrive four minutes after departure. What's the point of HS2 again? (Nov. 15)

When I've travelled on the train from London to Liverpool, I've never once thought, as I arrived at Lime Street: "Well, I wish that hadn't taken so long." You sit down at Euston, you read two chapters of your book and you're there.

That's the reason I've never really been a supporter of HS2. Why machete a huge diagonal slash across Britain's abdomen just to save a few minutes on a journey that's lightning fast already? I mean, it's not as if people in Chelsea are going to say: "Come on, kids. Now Liverpool's only 94 minutes away, let's all go and live in Toxteth."

Right now, of course, it looks a genius idea. In the same way as America built vast amounts of infrastructure after the Great Depression, Britain will need big capital projects in the coming recession to keep people occupied. Or else they'll hang around in town centres moaning and stabbing policemen.

But a new railway line seems so old fashioned, so Dickensian. It's like investing in a new tin mine. Or a biplane factory. And — let's face facts — it won't be finished, according to the latest estimates, until 2040, by which time we shall all have been killed by some kind of climate catastrophe, or we'll all have our own personal hover-drones. I dunno. It just seems a huge waste of how many billion? Forty? Sixty? Eighty? No one knows.

To hammer the point home, Sir Richard Branson announced last week that preliminary tests of his new Hyperloop transport tube had gone jolly well. The pictures would suggest he has a point, because on board were couples of the sort you see in mortgage company ads, sitting back and relaxing in jeans and casual tops as their capsule whizzed them across Nevada at an experimental, toe-in-the-water speed of 107mph. Eventually, it's hoped it will reach 620mph. Which, of course, is close to a PR-friendly 1,000kph.

At 600mph you could get from the centre of London to Gatwick in four minutes. That got your attention, didn't it?

The principle behind the Hyperloop was first mooted more than a hundred years ago and was used until quite recently to move paperwork round Selfridges. It was then revisited as a transport proposition by the marijuana enthusiast Elon Musk, who subsequently passed the baton to beardie Branson. It does seem a brilliant idea. You have a tube in which there is nothing at all, not even any air. Well, not much. And because it's a near vacuum, the pods in which people sit as they whizz along are subjected to a thousand times less aerodynamic drag than a train or a car at sea level.

There isn't much friction either, because the pods float in the tube, held away from the sides by giant magnets. Propulsion comes from a linear electric motor, which shoots the pod up to its top speed and then shuts down. This means there is no noise, and no emissions either. Think of that. Silent, fast, clean transportation. And remember: it's not a pipe dream. There's a working example, up and running, right now.

However, before you make a Swampy placard and head off to Buckinghamshire to demand the HS2 project is stopped immediately, I should explain that there are one or two issues with the Hyperloop that will need addressing. Cornering, for a start. Oh, and it's extremely expensive and extremely dangerous. Because if something went wrong, passengers would be trapped in a sealed tube, hundreds of miles long, with no air.

There's another issue too. At 600mph you could indeed cover the 40 miles from central London to Gatwick in four minutes. But this assumes you'd be doing 600mph all the time. You'd begin, and instantly you'd be doing 10 miles a minute. Then, when you arrived, you'd have to stop without slowing down first.

Now, I once landed on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier, and when my jet hit the arrester wire, it felt as though both my eyes were shooting out of the front of my face. Later, when I was hurled off the deck by a steam catapult, they went so far backwards into my head that for a few moments I could actually see my own frontal lobes.

I've also been taken to a sustained 5G in a centrifuge, where my heart became the shape of a kidney bean, and I've experienced brief bursts of 9G in stunt planes. Once, I went in a jet fighter that climbed from 1,000ft to 18,000ft in 11 seconds. It then did a negative-G manoeuvre that caused a lot of sick to come out of my mouth, quickly followed by another manoeuvre that caused it all to go back inside again.

But all of that will be nothing compared with what people would endure in Branson's pod if it tried to get from Charing Cross to Gatwick in four minutes. Your heart would come off, you'd have six aneurysms and your innards would instantly adopt the consistency of soup. Trolley service would be difficult, that's for sure, and you definitely wouldn't want to be standing up when it arrived at the north terminal, because you'd definitely fall over.

To get round these, let's be honest, sizeable issues, the linear electric motor will have to be gentle, easing the pod up to its top speed in such a way that the passengers' hair isn't ripped out. And the truth is that it would get to only about 50mph before it would have to start slowing down again.

On a longer journey this wouldn't be a problem, as there'd be time to get it up to top speed, time for some silent, clean, superfast running and then time to slow down gracefully at the other end. It would therefore work well going from Los Angeles to Vancouver, or across the desert from Dubai to Abu Dhabi.

Or — let me toss this one out as an idea — under the middle of England from London to Liverpool.


And here's the Sun column: "Must all progress be halted so a few weird beards can sing Kumbaya at summer solstice?"
James May on the Tesla Model S: ‘It’s polite, the costs are low and it feels progressive’

By James May (Sunday Times, Nov. 15)

I’m not one of those Tesla evangelists. I like mine — a Model S 100D Long Range — and electric motoring has much to commend it. It’s polite, the day-to-day costs are low and it feels progressive, even magical. But I’m not blind to its shortcomings.

The S is nothing like as robustly built as my Toyota fuel cell car, and at times it feels something of a novelty item. It’s also a bit too big for UK use (the Model 3 is much better in both these respects) and, even by present standards, comes in a dreary range of colours. But it does have the longest range of any electric car now on sale, which is why I bought it. There are millions of reasons for choosing a conventional car, but electric cars are bought because they’re electric, and range is what worries people.

Should it worry us? It’s not actually the main issue, which I’ll come on to. The Teslerati maintain that most people don’t drive very far, so can enjoy the convenience of charging at home overnight, which is cheap and removes the need to stop at petrol stations. If you drive for 300 miles, as mine can on a full charge, then you’re ready for a break and can replenish the battery with one of Tesla’s excellent superchargers while you use the loo and have a cheeseburger. This is good logic, but actually nonsense.

It presupposes you will reach 300 miles as you arrive at a supercharger, which is highly unlikely. Despite the figures bandied around, Britain has very few superchargers and they might not be where you want them. Conventional public chargers are woefully slow. And there aren’t that many of them, either.

So, regular commuter with off-street parking? Go electric, because it’s the logical choice. Travelling all over the country selling encyclopaedias? I urge caution. You will end up recharging because you can, rather than because you’ve exhausted your range, and if you stray from the main roads you will find yourself going the supercharger route, rather than directly.

For example, even when I am allowed into Wales, I will have difficulty touring the country by Tesla. I should also point out that if you have to resort to a conventional domestic socket, a full charge of my S takes two days. That’s not lovely.

A short-range electric car would not be a problem if it could be recharged quickly and everywhere, but this isn’t yet possible. So we look for long range. But range is not the real issue, and neither is the capacity of the grid or the origin of the electricity. The issue is the charging technology and infrastructure.

There was a similar problem with petrol in the early days of the car. Demand and supply have to chivvy each other along. Cars driven by electric motors are definitely the way forward. But we mustn’t kid ourselves about the readiness of the battery electric car to take on the world. Driving one still feels like being part of a beta focus group.
I was having a field day until I came to a field
The Clarkson Review: Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 4Matic+ (Nov. 22)

The Audi Q5. The BMW X3. The Lexus UX. The Porsche Cayenne. I pretty much loathe them all. They're just saloons in platform shoes, pointlessly tall, pointlessly heavy and, as often as not, equipped with pointless off-road abilities that will never be used.

They are, to the world of cars, what those £19.99 gardening trousers you see advertised at the back of The Daily Telegraph are to the world of fashion. Or what a petrol station pork pie is to the world of cuisine. They're low-ambition transport modules for people who just want four wheels and a seat.

So I really wasn't expecting to enjoy my week in the Mercedes GLE. Especially as it arrived with AMG badging. Because here is a massive seven-seater that is trying to be something it cannot be: sporty. You can put go-faster stripes on a wellington boot but it will still be a wellington boot.

There's more, I'm afraid. Instead of a conventional dashboard you get what airline pilots call a "glass cockpit". I know why Mercedes has gone down this route: money. Because if you take a normal dashboard apart, there are thousands of pieces: needles, springs, dials, slider controls, knobs, tiny little screws, hundreds of washers and a million miles of wiring. Whereas with glass all that's gone. And that's a big saving.

There are two big screens with options you can tailor from a menu that's even longer than the breakfast choices in an American diner. On and on you go, choosing whether you want a proper speedo or a digital readout, and then what other sort of information you'd like. I found one set-up that made no sense at all — it was like staring into the warp core of the Starship Enterprise. And that's before I started playing with the colour of the interior lighting.

I pretty much loathe all this too, because I don't trust it. I'm building a house at the moment and spend most of my life trying to explain to the project manager and the architect that I don't want a bath that can be run from my iPad when I'm in Milan, or a cooker that lowers itself into position from the ceiling and is operated by ground-sourced heat. I don't even want dimmer switches. I especially don't want electrically operated garage doors, because when grit or gravel gets into the runners — and it will — an electric motor cannot cope. Whereas human heft can.

The thermostat is also a big bugbear, because I don't want a digital menu on the control panel. I don't want 5,000 options. I just want a knob made from brass or Bakelite that turns the system on and turns it off. Because that's the thing with central heating: you either want it or you don't. And mostly I don't, because it's cheaper to wear a jumper.

I also don't want Sonos. I'm aware that everyone else in the world can make their phones talk to some invisible record player in the sky, but I can't. Which is why I have bought a table instead, on which my deck and amp can sit. The speakers will not be installed in the ceiling, because then they'll be too small. Speakers should be big. And made from wood.

I have a similar view about gearlevers. I also reckon they should stick out of the centre console and not, as you find on the Mercedes, be operated by a stalk on the steering column. Because that suggests the gears are being controlled not mechanically but by electricity. And as anyone with a wifi router knows, electricity cannot be trusted. Certainly, if the wifi in my cottage were put in charge of the gearbox in my car, it would wait for me to pull on to the M40 and then, without warning, select reverse.

It had a row the other day with my television, which meant some poor man had to come out on a Sunday morning and reset my whole Sky system. Which means I've now lost everything I've ever recorded. That never happened when we had VHS tapes.

I'm getting sidetracked here and I'm sorry. I'm also sorry to have been so prejudiced about the Mercedes, because, actually, its glass screen system works very well. Once I'd selected green interior lighting and found an option that let me have a rev counter and a proper speedo, it was great. And here's the next surprise. So is the car.

You might imagine that, because it's called a 53 4Matic+, it has a 5.3-litre engine. In fact you get a turbocharged and supersmooth 3-litre, in-line straight six that dispatches 429 horsepowers through a nine-speed gearbox to all four wheels. This is a fast car, and not just in a straight line. Perhaps because it's lighter than you might expect — it's only 2.3 tons — you can actually hustle it.

My only real complaint — apart from the fact it would be better still if it weren't so tall — is that on a motorway the big quad exhaust system never really stops shouting.

That aside, it's a relaxing place to be. The seats are big and comfortable, the ride is smooth. I love the twin panic handles on either side of the transmission tunnel. In a Lamborghini Miura you only get one. I also like the look of the dash. And I especially like the layout further back, where there's lots of legroom. Right at the very back, in the boot, there are two diddy seats that can be lifted from the floor, and even when they're raised you still get enough space for a dog, as long as it's quite thin.

Halfway through the week, as it began to dawn on me that I was actually enjoying an SUV, I went to check on the price. And I was a bit startled to learn the version I drove costs just over £81,000. Which is significantly cheaper than many Range Rovers.

I was midway through fermenting a thought that it was the better car when I had to use it for a spot of light farm work.

And immediately the downside of that spirited on-road performance became clear. It's too stiff, which means that on a track it's too jiggly. Driving against the furrows in a field of stubble was like rollerskating over a corrugated iron roof. I'm surprised my eyes didn't fall out.

I guess Mercedes would say it has the G-class for people who want to do estate management or shooting and that the GLE is more of a fancy school-run car, in the mould of a Volvo XC90. Which means you face a tough choice.

I don't particularly like driving the Volvo, or being in it, or looking at it, but my children were brought up in a selection of them because in the UK not a single person has died in one as a result of a collision with another car. That's a powerful argument.


Here's a blockbuster idea: a lie-filled show about a TV boss's family. I bet the Queen would watch (Nov. 22)

I am three-quarters of the way through the latest series of The Crown, which is being shown on Netflix, and so far I've seen the funeral of Lord Mountbatten, overlaid with the soundtrack from an IRA statement on British oppression in Ireland. I've watched Princess Diana vomiting noisily and often. And I've heard Michael Fagan, the man who broke into Buckingham Palace, explaining to the Queen how so many lives were being ruined by Mrs Thatcher's policies.

Meanwhile, the Queen Mother has not yet uttered a single pleasant or kind word, Prince Andrew has told his mother about what his latest girlfriend did with an aeroplane joystick, Prince Charles has been perpetually wet and useless and Mrs Thatcher has explained she doesn't like women, not even her own daughter. As soap operas go, it's up there with Dallas, and it's given me an idea.

I'm thinking of writing a TV drama series based on Reed Hastings, the American billionaire who co-founded Netflix and who, therefore, is responsible for The Crown being made and shown.

We shall look at his mother, Joan, who was descended from Edward I, and we shall speculate on why she turned her back on the debutante society in which she was brought up, and why she raised her children to hate it as well.

We shall delve, also, into why Reed and his wife, Patricia, needed marriage counselling all those years ago. And we shall intercut a scene of him taking delivery of his first Porsche with shots of poverty, and hopelessness in Detroit.

I know absolutely nothing about his two children but that won't stop me writing scenes in which they appear at pro-Trump rallies, brandishing AR-15 assault rifles. Nor do I know why Mr Hastings donates so much money to schoolchildren. But I'll have a couple of scenes of him hanging around the school gates anyway.

And we'll see how he likes it. Not much, is my guess. He would almost certainly sue, and if my defence were, "Well, it all happened that way in my head," I'd lose the case and look like a bit of an idiot.

I simply cannot enjoy this series of The Crown at all because I keep thinking that the made-up scenes could be watched by Harry and William, or Charles or Camilla, or Carol Thatcher, and even if they are not watching — which seems likely — they will know that wherever they go, the people they meet will have, for sure.

But truth be told, I've dished it out. A few years ago, I made a wartime documentary about a doomed Arctic convoy called PQ-15 and I was forced, at the end, to take sides and point a finger at Sir Dudley Pound, the first sea lord, who, I thought, was to blame for the debacle.

I hated doing this because I knew that Pound's grandchildren could be watching as I calmly offered an opinion that their beloved grandad had been responsible for the deaths of 153 merchant sailors. It hurt.

Only last week, I had the same wretched sense of toe-curling embarrassment when I read a story about the "Monuments Men", the soldiers who were charged, as the Second World War ended, with trying to save all of Europe's precious art. Six years ago, George Clooney made a blockbuster film about these wise and brave Americans, who had dodged sniper fire and shelling as they tried to ensure that Europe's culture wasn't wiped out or looted or stolen by the advancing forces of Stalin.

Clooney said later that "almost" all of the scenes in the movie had happened, and that these guys really did save works by Caravaggio, Botticelli, Rubens and Michelangelo. So it was all jolly noble and I'm sure the descendants of these men felt proud as they left the cinema.

But now comes news that alongside the American Monuments Men were — surprise, surprise — a group of Englishmen called, rather predictably, Hilary, Humphrey, Roger and Harry. I think we're not talking Stallone and Schwarzenegger here. They had all studied classics or history, and while other soldiers were doing PE or target practice, they had been in a basement, learning how to restore documents.

And it turns out they had no time for their gung-ho transatlantic counterparts. In a recently unearthed letter, Humphrey said: "It appears that the American archivist can flourish like a lone palm in the desert — without a trace of cultural background."

It's wonderful, of course, that their efforts have been uncovered, and great work from the historians, but I do feel for the descendants of the Yanks who have basically been told that Grandad was so thick he accidentally wiped his arse on a first edition of the Bible.

There was another story last week about why the dinosaurs grew to be so tall. It was so they could reach the leaves of the conifers that were among the few food sources to have survived the global warming back then. Obviously it was written by silly lefties who feel the need to blame climate change for everything, but it doesn't matter, because the descendants of the dinosaurs — the red kites and the buzzards — won't really care. It all happened so long ago.

It's the same story with King Harold. If you think you have a case, go ahead and suggest he was late to the Battle of Hastings because he'd been on a wifeswapping weekend. Likewise, you can make a movie suggesting Queen Anne liked a spot of sapphic activity at night and kept a fleet of rabbits in her bedroom because, again, time has passed.

But I do think that when you are documenting events that happened in the 1980s, you do need to be sure of your facts, and your moral compass, before you allow a first assistant director to shout "action".


And here's the Sun column: "Lock up at-risk fatties ’til they lose weight, and start with me…"
The Clarkson Review: Land Rover Defender
An off-road Rambo with mud in its veins
(Nov. 29)

Over the past six months this column has sometimes been about farming and sometimes about cars. And now it’s about both at the same time, because today I’m writing about the new Land Rover Defender.

It has been designed by the company’s chief stylist, Gerry McGovern, to look like the old Defender, and I can’t see why. When Apple was designing its phone, it didn’t say: “It must be red and 8ft tall, and it must smell of urine and be full of ladies’ phone numbers.” It went ahead and did something different.

But Gerry, a little man who hates me because I’m so much taller than him, may have been wise on this occasion, because he understands the British don’t like different. The last Defender was launched just after the Second World War, then not really altered at all for 67 years.

And when the company did pull the plug, lots of Brexit-type people rushed about saying they would put it back into production themselves, so that proper British men — men, d’you hear — could continue to drive a car that smelt of damp dogs and was full of sharp edges.

I was never a fan of the old Defender, and because the new one is so obviously designed to be a modern-day interpretation, and has been styled by a small man who hates me, I was determined to dislike it as well.

Initially this was a struggle, because it does look good. I had the short-wheelbase Defender 90 model and there was definitely a Tonka-toyish charm allied to a hint of meat. The meat’s real too. This is a car that can wade through water nearly 3ft deep and is fitted with electrics so robust they can be submerged for an hour and still work. It is not, then, just a Range Rover with right angles. It’s been beefed up everywhere to cope with everything.

And that was good news, because the day after it was delivered to my farm, men came with machines to resurface my drive. This meant that for a week the only way into the world would be via what we call the brown back passage.

It is a very muddy track, and sometimes it’s very muddy without being a track at all. And I could not believe how well the Defender coped. Even my tractor slithers about in one notorious 200-yard slab of clay, but the little Land Rover kept on going.

I didn’t even need to employ any of its “special programs”, which is a good thing, because to engage these you must first press a button on the dash and then use an iPad-style touchscreen thing to make your selection. That’s only going to work if you’re 12.

Later that afternoon I heard gunfire on the other side of the farm, so, fearful that someone was shooting my deers, I set off up the brown back passage and into the woods, where the 90’s smallness meant I could zip about easily between the trees. It was also extremely comfortable, and although my test car had the 2-litre petrol engine, and not a torquey diesel, it was sprightly and gutsy too.

Soon I forgot why I’d gone out, and was to be found trying to get it stuck in bogs and on muddy banks so I could be manly and use my tractor to pull it out. I was quite sad when I failed, but then happy the next day when someone borrowed it and called moments later to say that she was bogged down in some — not very — deep ruts. I won’t say who it was. Only that her name begins with an “L”. And ends with an “isa Hogan”.

Even more impressive than the off-road comfort and ability was the interior. It’s not completely “wipe clean”, sadly, and I hated the tiny man’s faux and pointlessly visible screw heads, but there are so many cubbyholes and pockets for things, you could play kick the can in there and never find anyone. It looks good too, apart from the stupid fake screws, which I don’t think I’ve mentioned. I especially liked the folding canvas sunroof. It made me think of the Tudor Webasto on my grandad’s old Rover.

After three days I was fairly confident that I would be buying a Defender soon, but then I checked the price and, er, I’m sorry. What? The car I’d had — the short-wheelbase model with the tiny engine — was more than £62,000 with the options factored in.

Even if you take away all the extras that had been fitted, it’s still at least 50 grand and, excuse me, but if I want a vehicle to cart around bales of straw and sheep — and I do, by the way — why would I spend £50,000-plus on a Defender, when for much, much less I could do what all farmers do and get a pick-up?

Certainly a pick-up would “bong” less. The Defender alerts you firmly and loudly when you open the door or don’t do up your seatbelt, and it becomes completely hysterical when you’re manoeuvring and nearing such terrors as blades of grass or a small shrub. This is all extremely annoying when you’re using the car as a tool.

The problems continued the next day when I drove to London, because on the motorway there was quite a lot of wind noise and the sort of constant diagonal pitching motion most closely associated with cross-Channel ferries in the 1960s. Is this a consequence of the excellent off-road ability? Or has it been “engineered in” to give drivers a flavour of the old car? Rover did it with the styling, so who knows?

In London it was the eve of lockdown 2.0 and absolutely everyone was squeezed into the tiny bit of the road network that hasn’t been turned into a cycle lane. It took three hours to get from the Strand to the River Café in Hammersmith and en route the Land Rover bonged at everything, convinced we were perpetually on the verge of a massive crash.

But everyone was looking at it and everyone was giving it the thumbs-up. I admit that, thanks to some clever details and the silver paint with the optional satin film, it did look good. The tiny man who hates me has seen to that.

His engineering department has done a bloody good job as well, because it’s not like those idiotic American backwoodsmen who dress up like Rambo and imagine they’re former Delta Force troops. This is the real deal. It’s a properly serious off-roader.

I was determined to hate the new Defender, then, but I don’t. Despite the relentless bonging, it’s a fine and clever car. Sadly, however, I can’t see the point of it.

For serious countrymen that price tag is too high, and for top-of-the-range models it goes higher still, to more than £80,000. I know there are “commercial” versions coming next year, and they’ll be less expensive, but for now I’m inclined to go for a cheaper, more tax-efficient and much more practical Ford Ranger Raptor.

You, on the other hand? Well, if you are a hedge-fund manager and you commute every Friday night to your house in the country, where there are cattle grids and speed humps and sometimes a pheasant to steer round, be in no doubt: the new Defender will be not as good as the Range Rover you quite rightly have now.

The Clarksometer: Land Rover Defender 90 P300 SE
Engine: 1997cc, 4 cylinders, petrol
Power: 296bhp @ 5500rpm
Torque: 295 Ib ft @ 1500rpm
Acceleration: 0-62mph: 7.1sec
Top speed: 119mph
Fuel / CO2: 24.6mpg / 262g/km
Weight: 2,140kg
Price: £50,930
Release date: On sale now
Jeremy’s rating


No Sun or non-automotive columns this week, which means Clarkson is busy. Working on the farm show perhaps?