Clarkson: The Weekly Times Comment Column by Jeremy Thread

Elijah B.

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"You had the Panda, the Strada, the Stilo, the Croma, the X1/9 and so on."

I suppose in Clarkson-speak that last one would be the "Ex One Forward-Slash Nine".
 

Ayman

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"You had the Panda, the Strada, the Stilo, the Croma, the X1/9 and so on."

I suppose in Clarkson-speak that last one would be the "Ex One Forward-Slash Nine".

So I'm not the only one who read it like that.
 

Revelator

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This week's flagship column:

I'll just run this up the flagpole: we've let the Union Jack go to pot (12 July)

Last weekend a chap draped himself in the flag of Isis and, with a young girl on his shoulders, went for a walk past the Houses of Parliament. Onlookers were, we're told, a bit surprised by this brazen act, but the police decided that he hadn't actually committed an offence and allowed him to carry on.

Naturally the incident caused a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth in the Daily Express, with many horrified readers asking what would happen if they went about their business draped in a swastika.

The answer, distressingly, is "not much". Because flag-flying in most of Britain doesn't really trouble the forces of law and order. You want to decorate your Uber cab's dashboard with the flag of Pakistan, or hang a gay pride emblem from the window of your amazingly well-furnished apartment in Brighton? Well, go right ahead.

Oh, and if you feel moved to set fire to the Union Jack in the middle of Parliament Square, that's allowed too. You can't urinate on it, though, because then you'd be prosecuted for displaying your penis.

Elsewhere in the world, flags are a rather more serious business. If you were to damage the national flag in France, for example, you would be in a lot of bother. It's the same story in Germany. In Greece, if you argue with a policeman, he will arrest you for insulting the flag. I know this from personal experience.

Most countries have extremely strict rules on how a flag can be displayed. In America, for example, you can fly the state flag if you wish, but it has to be to the right of the Stars and Stripes, and it can't be bigger or brighter or in a better condition.

And if a hotel wishes to demonstrate its international credentials by flying the flags of many nations outside its reception area, the Stars and Stripes must be raised first and lowered last. But it must never be allowed to touch the ground.

Flying it upside down is a really serious business, a point demonstrated with much poignancy in the recent House of Cards series. Do that and you're telling the world that the country is broken and urgent help is needed. But only the Philippines will come to your aid because that's the only country that recognises an upside down flag as an actual distress symbol. Everyone else sticks with things such as flares and people rushing about shouting, "Help. Help. I'm on fire."

There was a huge brouhaha in America last week after the state of South Carolina decided, in the wake of the racially motivated church shootings, to stop flying the Confederate flag.

Its fans are horrified. "Yes," they cried. "We know that the young man who shot all those people in that church was photographed holding the flag in question, but we want to fly it so that we are constantly reminded that our side lost and that today we are slavery enthusiasts with a penchant for attack dogs and unnecessarily noisy cars."

It's strange, isn't it? A flag is only a bit of material fluttering in the breeze, but it's seen all over the world as a powerful symbol of pride and history. Someone could have an iPhone 6 in his pocket and a Google Nest "smart home" system indoors, but present him with a flag and he comes over all dewy-eyed and medieval. And it's hard to see why, because the idea of a national emblem didn't really get any traction until the middle of the 18th century.

Yes, Denmark's was around 400 years before that, but Afghanistan has changed its national flag nearly two dozen times in the past hundred years. And how can the people of Romania get exercised about their flag when it's exactly the same as Chad's? You certainly need to be very careful when you're in Canada, because its rules about the Maple Leaf are long and complicated. You can't, for instance, use it to make a cushion or a seat cover. You can't sign it or mark it in any way. And you are advised not to use it for decorative purposes.

In India it's even more complicated. The national flag may not be made from synthetic materials and can be used for carrying nothing except petals. And if you drop it in a puddle then you have to go to prison for a year.

Things are a bit different in Britain, of course. You can turn it into a T-shirt or a pair of knickers. You can write on it and, as the Sex Pistols demonstrated, use it to mock Mrs Queen.

However, things get tricky if you want to actually put it on a flagpole, because then you are immersed in a world of bureaucracy, health, safety and planning permission issues. For example, you can fly a flag on the roof of your building but not -- at least without consent -- if you are already flying one from a pole projecting from the wall. It doesn't say why.

Furthermore, you can't have a flagpole that is more than 15 feet tall. And you can erect it only after you've convinced the local health and safety executive that nobody could be injured as a result. Quite how anyone could be injured by a flagpole, I don't know, but those are the rules.

You can, if you wish, drape an English flag from the window of your council house, but only if you are prepared to find yourself being taunted on the internet by various Labour politicians. And while you are allowed to burn your flag as a protest, you may be prosecuted if it's made from synthetic materials, as they will give off a toxic smoke.

The upshot is, then, that you can walk about London wrapped in an Isis flag and you can use a Union Jack to wipe your bottom. And if you fly it upside down, the only people who'll complain are a few elderly pedants in Tunbridge Wells.

But if you want to fly our national flag, the right way up, from the roof of your house, it's not worth the bother.

The automotive column is here and someone has also made available Jezza's Sun column.
 

Ayman

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Elijah B.

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This is where Japan and Israel have it all over everyone else: turn their flags upside down and nobody will notice the difference.
 

Elijah B.

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My knowledge may not be complete but as far as I know the idea of attaching a symbolic meaning to something to be carrying around for inspiration was introduced by Gaius Marius in the late Roman Republic. He had silver eagles [aquilifers] set on top of poles which were carried into battle by the best soldier dressed in a lion skin, a position of great honour. The eagle was the symbol of the worth of the legion and could be seen by all the legionaries to draw inspiration in the heat of the battle. The Romans took their standards very seriously and would go to great lengths to protect them or recover them if captured by an enemy. Because the Romans so revered the eagles their enemies took them seriously too, and were delighted if they could capture them.

A symbol is what you put into it. If people didn't attach significance to a flag then burning it wouldn't upset anyone and therefore it wouldn't be done. However, we have been trained to venerate flags from childhood so many of us are vulnerable to those who seek to offend us by burning or desecrating them. Seldom is the concept of statism questioned.
 

Elijah B.

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>Previous undeserved pearl withdrawn.<
 
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Tzarrim

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Personally I find adoration of one's flag and country to be rather small minded, very much an "us vs them" mentality that leads to nothing other than trouble.
 

MWF

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Personally I find adoration of one's flag and country to be rather small minded, very much an "us vs them" mentality that leads to nothing other than trouble.

I quite agree. It's blind jingoism that has caused such strife over the years just as religion has. Or at least is used as an excuse. Mainly so people can find some thinly veiled justification for behaving like complete arseholes.
 

Revelator

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The usual column, followed by an unusual one.

Spare me the 57 varieties of Angela who think they make a better ketchup (July 19)

Naturally, we are all very smug about the economic situation in continental Europe because in Britain everything is going jolly well. Or is it?

We keep being told that unemployment is low because everyone has set up their own business. But what do these businesses do? Make nuclear reactors? Smelt iron ore? Deliver anti-submarine laser weapons into a geostationary orbit?

I'm afraid not. Because so far as I can tell, every new business in Britain is selling extremely twee home-made tomato ketchup to country pubs.

You must have noticed. You've ordered the beer-battered cod, which is served, according to the 6ft-square handwritten menu, with hand-cut, twice-cooked chips, and a minted pea puree, and when it all arrives, you ask for some ketchup.

It comes in a worryingly pretty little bottle with a ghastly hand-drawn trug-and-muddy-veg label, but you are assured that it really is ketchup and that it's made locally by a lovely local woman called Angela, so you spoon the contents all over your food, which will immediately render everything you've ordered completely inedible.

I admit, I am not even on nodding terms with the concept of cooking. To my smoke-addled tongue, fish tastes pretty much exactly the same as chicken. And red wine is indistinguishable from beer. But I do know this. No ketchup is a match for the real thing. And the real thing is made by Heinz.

I appreciate that there are a lot of lovely and bored middle-aged women who've spent a lifetime becoming very good cooks. And I'm not surprised that when their children leave home, they feel the need to make a few quid from what is a labour of love. But why do these people think that they can make a better ketchup, on their kitchen table, than Heinz? Nobody looks at a pair of training shoes and thinks, "Hmmm. I reckon people would like a pair of homemade training shoes instead." Nobody has ever started a business selling home-made pencils. Or home-made telephones.

We look at the iPhone and we think, "Hmmm. Even though I can buy all the components for this at my local electrical store, I'm fairly sure that if I tried to turn them into something that can receive pornography from space, it would be a disaster." And yet, people fork Heinz ketchup into their mouths and think, "I can make a nicer tomato sauce than this." Well, you can't, so don't.

I therefore say this to the nation's pub owners. If a well-to-do lady with expensive hair and summer frock comes flouncing into your establishment with a wicker basket full of stuff she'd made in her own kitchen, explain politely but firmly that you're not interested.

They don't, though. They actually buy the stuff she's made because they think it's un-posh to serve stuff made by Heinz. Well, it isn't. And it's the same story with HP sauce. Nothing. Else. Will. Do. OK? Ask Richard Branson. He knows.

In the early 1990s, he was approached by a Canadian outfit that reckoned it had produced a drink that was even more zesty and refreshing than Coca-Cola. Now, you know and I know that this is impossible. On a hot day, or when you have a major-league hangover, there is simply nothing to rival a cold can of Coke. The black doctor in the red ambulance is what I call it.

Sadly, however, Branson didn't know this, so he invested a great deal of time, money and effort into launching Virgin Cola. He introduced it to America by arriving in New York's Times Square on a tank. And he made it the beverage of choice on his aeroplanes and trains. And yet despite all this huge marketing push, it flopped. "I consider our cola venture to be one of the biggest mistakes we ever made," he said.

There are certain things in life -- Google springs to mind here -- that are nailed, things that are so good and so ingrained into the human psyche that nothing else will ever come close. And that brings me back to Heinz tomato ketchup and what I hope is a helpful idea to ensure the green shoots of Britain's ketchup-based recovery continue to grow beyond next Tuesday.

First of all, why tomatoes? If you must make a ketchup, why not use mushrooms? Such a thing is commercially available through a company called Geo Watkins but you haven't heard of that, have you? No, and neither has anyone else, so there's an opening. Or, because mushroom ketchup does look a bit like diarrhoea, why not marrow ketchup?

Or carrot ketchup? Or sweetcorn ketchup? Or, why not make household waste ketchup? Simply pour the contents of your under-the-sink bin into a vat of vinegar and lots of sugar and stir it all up until it has the texture of wallpaper paste. And then -- here's the really clever part of my plan -- serve it in a bottle that harks backs to the Heinz original.

We in Britain love stuff that doesn't work. Red phone boxes. The original Mini. The House of Lords. And we miss having a sauce bottle that refuses to deliver its contents. It's why we buy so many Gillette razors -- because they come in a packet that can only be opened with Semtex.

Today, Heinz sells its tomato ketchup in squeezy bottles and that's no good at all. We need glass bottles with a neck that is precisely 2mm narrower than the width of the average kitchen knife. And the contents need to have a viscosity that enables them to sit completely still unless you hit the bottom of the bottle with a force slightly greater than the breaking point of the human trapezoid bone.

This way everyone can sit in country pubs, delighted that they are reliving the old days, shaking away at a bottle that will never give up its contents. And as a result, never finding out that the sauce in the bottle is made from old tea bags, some prawn shells and last night's leftovers. Or paella, as the Spanish call it.

Instead of the car review column, we have something special:

The condemned man has a final smoke on the track (July 19)

Note: Rubber burns and fond memories flow as the deposed Top Gear ringmaster takes a few of his favourite cars for a final breakneck spin around the test track at the heart of the TV show he created.

It took a while for the BBC's senior management to understand what I was on about. They'd just canned Top Gear and couldn't really understand my plans for bringing it back.

Eventually, though, I managed to get a bit of face time in Jack Barclay's Bentley showroom in Mayfair with Jane Root, the controller of BBC2 at the time. Over a glass of wine I said that the show would have a studio, which would be in a hangar, and that outside there'd be a test track, where all the corners would be named after soft rock bands. "It'll be a place," I said, "where car things happen." And the penny dropped.

With her backing, Andy Wilman, the producer, and I set out to find the "place" where these "car things" would "happen", and ooh it was tricky. Britain is festooned with airfields and empty hangars, but everywhere we went it was the same story. "I'm afraid the RAF still needs it." Or: "You'll never get planning permission for that."

In the end, while I was looking at a potholed and pockmarked option somewhere in the north, Andy rang from a place called Dunsfold in Surrey ... and the rest is history.

It was an active airfield, but the perimeter road was in good nick and the owner said we could paint a few lines on the main runway to mark out a bit of a track. To help us out with that, we called a Lotus test driver called Gavan Kershaw, who came down from Turnipshire and worked out the corners that are now so familiar to millions of people around the world.

We were especially pleased with Hammerhead, which, for no reason at all, wasn't named after a soft rock band. It was a quick left followed by an opening right and it would, said Gavan, cause a badly set-up car to understeer. Weirdly, the car that understeered most through there was the Lotus Elise. And anything on Pirelli tyres. Everything else kicked its tail out and went through, sideways, trailing a thick cloud of tyre smoke. I loved the Hammerhead. But then I loved all the corners. It'll always hold a special place in my heart, that track.

Which is why, last week, I was feeling a bit choked as I went through the gates for the very last time.

The Top Gear portable office was locked to stop me taking even a small souvenir. The hangar was empty. But the track was full of enough memories to keep me going. The missing lamp where Black Stig went off in an Aston Martin Vanquish. The tyre wall rendered cockeyed by the first White Stig's Koenigsegg moment. And the two furrows left by me after a quarter-of-a-mile spin in a BMW 1-series.

The longest accident, however, made that look like a parking bump. One of our drivers -- I shan't name him -- had been asked by a director to get a shot of a Lamborghini's speedometer reading 200mph. So off he went, in the pouring rain, to oblige. And he finished up more than half a mile away, pointing backwards, just yards from a primary school playground.

Then there were the celebrity moments. Lionel Richie was our first big-name American guest and we'd rented him what was described as a luxury motor home. What made it luxurious was that it had a picture on one of the walls. A picture, much to our American friend's distress, of the Twin Towers. And it got worse, because while he was out on the track, trying to set a time in the reasonably priced Suzuki Liana, the front wheel fell off.

Then we had Sir Michael Gambon bloody nearly rolling while doing the last corner. And Tom Cruise, who did exactly the same thing.

As I said. Many memories. So I wanted to enjoy my last moment out there, which is why I was so very grateful to Ferrari for shipping a brand-new 488 over from Italy.

I'd brought some guests. People who'd donated, between them, ?100,000 to charity to be there for my last hurrah.

Or so I thought. In fact it turned out that what they'd really bid for was the chance to be driven round in the Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason's LaFerrari.

While we waiting for a go in that, I took them round in the amuse-bouche, the 488, and ooh it was good. Many people have said that because it's now hurled along by a polar-bear-friendly turbocharged engine, it's lost the magic of the naturally aspirated 458. But it hasn't. It really, really hasn't.

Yes, you sense there's been some marketing-led jiggery-pokery to make it sound "proper", and the engine bay does look a bit empty, but from behind the wheel it feels pretty much identical to the 458, which means it feels better and more exciting than all its rivals. There's a lightness in a Ferrari, a delicacy, that McLaren and Porsche and all the others just can't match.

There's a lot of speed too. Had I been so inclined, I could probably have done my fastest-ever lap in the 488. But I wasn't so inclined. I was there to have fun, to kick the tail out and burn some rubber. Which is why Mercedes had sent along an AMG GT S. The Ferrari is a wonderful thing -- make absolutely no mistake about that. But the Mercedes is more ... how can I put this? It's more me. A big engine at the front, a gearbox at the back and a big smiley ape in the middle, shouting, "Power!" for no apparent reason every few seconds. The Ferrari is a quail's egg dipped in the finest celery salt. The Merc is a great big steak, dripping in blood and horseradish.

So I did a few laps in that, looking out of the side window at all the places where people had come off, and then it was time to choose. Which would I use for my final lap? The answer was obvious. It would have to be the Ferrari the Ferrari. Nick Mason's million-quid hybrid.

And so off I went for one last go in what most people would say is the greatest, most exciting car yet made. It's up there, certainly. But I did look a bit quizzical when I first put my foot down hard, because while the acceleration was prodigious, it didn't feel quite as savage as it had done in the McLaren P1.

What does surprise you is the way you think it absolutely must be time for a gearchange but the rev counter suggests that the petro-Faraday motor is only just starting to gird its loins. On and on the power comes, in a never-ending stream of relentless noise and thrust.

When the dashboard and the steering wheel finally start to light up like the control room in a stricken nuclear power station and you pull on the right paddle to change up, you get your second surprise, because ooh it's quick. Not blink-of-an-eye quick. Way faster than that. And then you're in the next gear, and on and on comes the power again.

Then it's time for the tricky second-to-last corner, the one that caught out the celebrities because you're going from a wide runway that dulls you to the sense of speed to a tiny slip road where everything feels much faster. You need to brake hard in a Ferrari the Ferrari, and that's OK because it slows down the way it changes gear: immediately.

Through the bends? Well, it was Nick's car and it was my last-ever lap and I didn't want to bin it, so perhaps I wasn't pushing quite as hard as I should have been. But I dunno. While it felt sublime and planted and wondrous, I do seem to recall that Porsche's alternative, the 918, has just a tad more grip.

Let's not forget McLaren never wanted to see its P1 race the 918 around Dunsfold. It had done the maths and worked out that in those tight corners the Porsche's four-wheel-drive system would give it the edge.

We will find out one day which of these three cars really is the fastest. It's on the to-do list. But for now it was time for the last lap. And I made it a good one. A smooth one. The sort of lap that would have made the Stig proud.

And then it was over. And back in the car park everyone was packing up to go home. And there was one of the guests left, saying she hadn't had a go. And the only car that hadn't been loaded onto the trailer was the Mercedes. So I took her out in that. And went nuts.

My last lap, then. It was smoky. And I'm happy with that.

The money raised from auctioning Jeremy's last lap went to the Roundhouse, a charity based in London that supports disadvantaged young people. So who accompanied Jeremy Clarkson on his final laps of the Top Gear test track? Step forward Zak Brown, co-owner of the United Autosports racing team, one of two winners who bid an eye-watering ?50,000 charity donation each for the privilege. Last week Brown and his two sons were at Dunsfold to savour the moment.

The cloud is low, there's drizzle in the air and on the track visibility is near zero -- although that's mainly due to the huge cloud of tyre smoke pouring from the rear of a Ferrari 488 GTB.
"These are once-in-a-lifetime memories," says Brown. "They are particularly hard to come by these days. The kids have had a great time and it's for a great cause. Absolutely, it's been worth it."
His sons agree. After one lap, Max, 11, climbs out of the car grinning from ear to ear. "After you slide, he looks at you, smiles and puts his thumbs up," he says.
When he has finished with the Ferrari, Clarkson makes his way to a Mercedes-AMG GT S. "We'll fire up the Merc now," he announces, "and burn some rubber."
 

jackbauer24

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"The Top Gear portable office was locked to stop me taking even a small souvenir." Seriously?! What the hell was he gonna take, a bag of crisps? Damn.
 

GRtak

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"The Top Gear portable office was locked to stop me taking even a small souvenir." Seriously?! What the hell was he gonna take, a bag of crisps? Damn.


Could it be locked all the time when not in use?
 

Elijah B.

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One item Jezza neglected to mention is that after beating the daylights out of the base of the upside down glass ketchup bottle for a full minute the contents will suddenly succumb to gravity and anoint your food, the table cloth and your trousers with rich, vinegary wholesomeness.
 

GRtak

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Best action some people get. :drums:
 

Chibouki

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"We will find out one day which of these three cars really is the fastest. It's on the to-do list."

Glad to hear that.:rolleyes:
 

Revelator

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The Sunday Times Driving website seems to be uploading the columns a week after they premiere, so I recommend checking the site next Monday for the car column. And now here's the regular column. It suggests Jezza is contemplating a career change...


Before you make a fool of yourself, Mr Midlife, try this for a real buzz (26 July)

By and large we do not pour scorn on teenagers for having spots and sitting about all day being sullen and uncommunicative. We understand that in those difficult years their brains are being soused by more chemicals than you'd find in the evidence room at a Bogota police station.

And we know that it's impossible to keep a bedroom tidy or have decent table manners when you are nothing more than a life-support system for your testicles.

We are similarly tolerant of the elderly. We recognise that as the crooked hand of winter casts its shadow in a person's head, he or she is going to smell a bit and forget stuff. That's why we don't push old ladies out of our way on the pavement or laugh at old men for wearing zip-up slippers. Because we know that comfortable footwear is simply nature at work.

And yet we seem to have no sympathy at all for a middle-aged chap who wakes up one morning and thinks instinctively: "Right. I must have an affair with my secretary and buy a Porsche."

When a woman of good character decides one day to go shoplifting, we sympathise. Or at least we should. Because she can't help it. She is going through the menopause.

It's the same story with periods. Every 28 days a woman becomes so mad and irrational she doesn't even know she's being mad and irrational. And if anyone suggests she is, she replies by shouting and swearing and throwing frying pans at your head. And we don't get cross or impatient when this happens because it's a fact of life.

Well, so is a man's midlife crisis. He knows that he is designed to have been eaten by a lion by the time he reaches 45, and that it's only science and maths that are keeping him alive. He's done everything he was designed to do. He's procreated and provided. And now? He's just meat.

To make matters worse, his children aren't speaking to him. His parents are drooling into their Shackletons wingbacks, his wife is out shoplifting, he can hear the Reaper's approach and he feels as though, if he's going to be kicking around for a little while, he may as well use the bits of his body that haven't stopped working.

And when he does? Well, the world turns on him and points the accusatory finger of love-rat condemnation.

This is unkind. We are horrified that Alan Turing was chemically castrated to "cure" him of his homosexuality. And today we would be appalled if anyone told a gay man to stop being gay. And yet it is socially acceptable to openly laugh at a 50-year-old man who's hurtling around the dancefloor at a techno club with his 22-year-old secretary.

He doesn't want to be there. He hates modern music and his legs hurt. But he can't help himself. And it's not just the secretary thing either. When a middle-aged man goes to the barber and asks for a dramatic rug rethink, he knows he's going to emerge from the shop looking absolutely ridiculous.

Every fibre of his being is well aware of the fact that a thick, luxuriant barnet does not go well with a chicken-skin neck and droopy moobs, but his pant compass is saying: "Get a hair transplant." And it's a message that cannot be easily ignored.

I spend all day thinking that I should take up deep-sea diving.

The call is powerful. I fancy myself down there in the deep wrestling sea snakes, and emerging from the surf looking like the hero in a Wilbur Smith book.

And then I have guilt when I spend the day instead playing solitaire on my computer and looking out of the window. The guilt is dreadful. It's all-consuming sometimes. I know that the Reaper is on his horse and heading my way at a decent canter. I know I have only a short time left and that I should fill it with as much excitement as possible. But I get out of breath quickly, and if I'm no good at something after two minutes, I give up. Which smears the sense of guilt with a veneer of shame and regret.

If I were a woman, I'd cheer myself up by stealing a ballpoint from WH Smith, but I'm not, which is why, last week, I went canoeing. I used to like canoeing. I was even quite good at it. But, I dunno, something seems to have happened in the past 40 years so that after half a minute of paddling, all I could think was: "Why doesn't this bloody thing have an outboard engine?" Later, as I was being revived, a local man -- I'm in Australia -- asked me to try some of the honey he'd made. He puts his hives near the karri tree, which flowers only once every 8-10 years. And I have to say that it was the second-nicest thing I've ever put in my mouth.

"You have expensive taste," he said with a smile. "That stuff costs about Pounds 1 a gram."

And that's when the thought hit me. A man enters his midlife crisis because he has been plodding along in the same direction for 30 years and he starts to believe that unless he does something radically different, he will waste the extra time that science and maths have granted him.

Normally, what he does to relieve the pressure is try to recapture his lost youth. But instead he should welcome the onset of autumn by embracing the future. In short, he should get a hat and take up beekeeping.

It's gentle, sedate and harmless and if you place your hives near some kind of exotic bush -- bees may have a reputation for hard work but they are fundamentally lazy and will go to the nearest flower to their house -- you end up with a honey that you can sell for a great deal of money.

There's a dignity to that. Which is what makes it better than spending the rest of your days trying to keep up with your new wife, who's 19.
 
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