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Clarkson on Cars

By Patrick Payne,2014-11-04 20:24
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Jeremy Clarkson is the second-best motoring writer in Britain. For twenty years, he's been driving cars, writing about them and occasionally voicing his opinions about them on the BBC's Top Gear. No one in the business is taller. Here, he's collected his best car columns and stories in which he waxes lyrical on topics as useful and diverse as: bull; the perils of bicycle ownership bull; why Australians - not Brits - need bull bars bull; why soon only geriatrics will be driving BMW's bull; the difficulty of deciding on the best car for your wedding bull; why Jesus's dad would have owned a Nissan Bluebird bull; and why it is bus lanes that cause traffic jams Irreverent, damn funny and offensive to almost everyone, this is writing with its foot to the floor, the brake lines cut and the speed Published by Penguin on 2006/08/30

    Clarkson on Cars

    Clarkson on Cars

    Clarkson on Cars

    Clarkson on Cars

    Part 1

    Dear Diary

    I do not wish to regale you with tales of my movements towards the end of this month, for tworeasons. Firstly, you would be unutterably bored; and secondly, I will miss most of theengagements involved anyway.

    I will miss them because I have not written them down anywhere. People have rung to invite mefor a weekend’s skiing, for a two-day trip to Scandinavia, for dinner, for whatever.

    Not being used to such popularity, I have said yes to everything, without really knowingwhether anything clashes or, to be honest, when anything is.

    It is a minor miracle if I ever manage to get anywhere in the right decade, let alone on theright day.

    The reason for this shortfall is that I have never kept a diary. Oh to be sure, I’ve startedmany a year with every good intention, filling in my blood group in the personal section andentering things that happened a week ago so that if anyone peeps, they’ll be gobsmacked atwhat appears to be a gay social life.

    By February the entries are getting pretty sparse. By March I’ve lost it or Beloved, in aflurry of domesticity, has fed it, along with the odd airline ticket and several cufflinks, tothe washing machine. You may be interested to hear that I have the cleanest cheque book inChristendom.

    Most of my time on New Year’s Eve was spent dreaming up all sorts of resolutions. This year,in among things like a four-weeks-and-already-broken ban on alcohol, and a fairytale promise toget fitter, I vowed to keep a diary.

    The question was, which one? In the run up to Christmas, any number of motor manufacturers sentsuch things. And, as they say in Scunthorpe, very nice too.

    Slimline and quite capable of fitting in a jacket pocket without making me look like an FBIagent, they do however face some stiff competition.

    First, there’s the Peugeot 405 Fil-o-fax-u-like. Now, these things are of enormous benefit tothe likes of Beloved, who has simply millions of absolutely lovely friends and needs to remindherself when my Visa card needs a wash. But to unpopular people like my good self, they’rerather less use than a trawlerman in Warwick.

    With just five friends and, on average, two party invites a year, there’s no realjustification for me to be strolling around the place with something the size of a house brickunder my arm.

    Besides, it has a section for goals, which I presume refers to ambition rather than football. Ihave several ambitions but writing them down won’t get me any nearer to achieving them. I wantto be king, for instance, and being able to see tomorrow’s racing results today would bepretty useful too.

    Then there’s my Psion Organiser. It’s advertised on television as a sort of portable computerthat fits neatly in a briefcase and acts out the role of diary, alarm clock, address book andcalculator all rolled into one.

    As far as I’m concerned, though, it is of no use whatsoever, because I can’t be bothered tolearn how it works. The instruction booklet is bigger and even more boring than the Iliad andanyway I think I’ve broken it by getting into edit mode and telling it to bugger off.

    Casio do the Data Bank which is disguised as a calculator. It can even be used as one butbeware, those who even think about entering an address or an appointment will screw up theinnards good and proper. Well I did anyway.

    These electronic gizmos are all very well but I want to know what is wrong with a good oldpencil and a piece of paper?

    I mean, if someone rings up (chance’d be a fine thing) and asks me to a party next week, Icould have it written down in what; two, three seconds? I would need a team of advisers and afortnight’s free time even to turn the Psion on.

    The advantage is that it does have an ability to remind me audibly when I’m supposed to begoing somewhere. This is where Pepys’s little tool falls fait on its face.

    It’s all very well remembering to write something down but this is about as much good ascleaning your shoes with manure if you don’t look at the diary on the day in question.

    Even so, I’m a man of my word and, consequently, I’m keeping a diary like a good little boy.

    Choosing which book to use was not easy. I have the sex maniac’s diary, which tells me wherein the world I can have safe sex, how to apply a condom and on what day of the week I canindulge in what they call the Strathclyde muff dive.

    I also have the Guild of Motoring Writers’ Who’s Who diary but it is full to bursting withbad photographs of people in brown suits.

    The International Motors’ diary – they’re the people who import Subarus, Isuzus and High andDries – is a convenient size and has all the usual Letts schoolboy stuff in it abouttemperature and time zones and Intercity services.

    But I do not urgently need to know when the main Jewish festivals are. Nor, frankly, am Iterribly bothered about when Ramadan begins.

    Toyota’s diary begins with a lovely shot of their Carina car in front of the Pont du Gard inthe Ardèche, skips blissfully over the Letts schoolboy behaviour and gets straight on to pageafter page of slots for the parties.

    But far and away the most tasteful offering for 1989 comes from those Italian chappies at Fiat.Largely, the editorial section at the front of their book is taken up with a list of decentrestaurants.

    It doesn’t say they’re decent though, which should make for some fireworks when a traineeFiat mechanic from a dealer in Bolton comes to the capital on an Awayday and gets presentedwith a ?60 bill at Poons.

    You can tell Fiat have aimed their diary at men near the top. But this one is no good to meeither, because the allergies section on the personal page is far too small. I am allergic tocats, penicillin, pollen, house dust, nylon, trade union leaders and that man with the Tefalforehead who masquerades as Labour’s health spokesman.

    Ford’s gives no space at all to allergies and is full of all sorts of stuff I never knew Ididn’t need to know – but this is the one I’ve selected. Instead of giving each week a pageof its own, Ford have crammed an entire month on one double-page spread.

    This means I can do my shoelaces up on 4 April and feed the hamster on 16 May, and those whopeek into the book will think I’m as busy as hell.

    Clarkson on Cars

    Golf GTi Loses Its Crown

    At this rate, the weightlifting gold at the 1992 Olympics will be won by a paperboy fromBasildon. And apart from having arms like the hind legs of a rhino, he will believe the worldis full of cars that can go faster than 300 mph.

    Since the advent of what the publishing industry calls new technology, it has become a greatdeal cheaper to produce the printed word. This is why one now needs the anatomical propertiesof Kali to read the Sunday Times, and why the shelves at your local newsagent’s are groaningunder the weight of perfect-bound, laminated forestry.

    You may have wondered how the producers of Successful Cauliflower magazine make any money. Theanswer is, they don’t, but seeing as it costs naff all to make it in the first place,nobody’s complaining!

    Not so long ago, people bought their favourite magazine for a decent read on the bus. It wouldbe stitched together from shoddy paper and when it was finished, it could be hung on a clip bythe lavatory. Not any more.

    Take Country Life. Full of ads for houses that no one can afford and no one wants; you don’trad it, you arrange it on the coffee table as you would arrange a bunch of flowers. You mayeven feel the need to iron it occasionally.

    It is not a magazine. It is a statement. It says that while you may live in a neo-Georgian semiwith a purple up ’n’ over garage door, you are fully conversant with the delights ofhopelessly expensive manaor houses in Oxfordshire.

    Or Horse and Hound, with its nonsensical line, ‘I freely admit that the best of my fun, I oweit to Horse and Hound.’

    Nowadays, there are a million country-house and interior-design glossies full of curtains whichcost ?8000 and would look stupid anywhere but Castle Howard.

    Two luminaries in this domain are Tatler and Harpers and Queen, which are read a bit, but onlyby the middle classes scouring ‘Bystander’ or ‘Jennifer’s Diary’ for photographs of theirhorrid, frilly-dress-shirted friends.

    But the best of all are the car magazines.

    There was a time when they treated the car for what it was – a device which used a series ofsmall explosions to move people around. But now, it is an artform. The days when you could getaway with a front three-quarters shot taken in the office car park are gone.

    Then there are the front covers. How many times has the Golf GTi lost its crown? To my certainknowledge, the Escort XR3 was the first to steal it, yet when the Peugeot 205 GTI came along acouple of years later, somehow, the Golf had got it back again.

    And therefore we read in 72-point bold that the Golf GTi had lost its crown again, this time tothe 205 GTI.

    So the Vauxhall Astra, you might imagine, would have to pinch it from the 205; but no, at somepoint Peugeot had given it back to VW – who reluctantly had to hand it over again, this timeto Vauxhall.

    Then in no particular order it has been worn by the Peugeot 309 GTI, the Astra GTE 16v, theEscort RS Turbo, the Delta Integrale and the Corolla GTi. But for some extraordinary reason,the prized headgear never gets handed directly from one winner to the next. It always goes backto VW in between times.

    For now, it is being worn by the 16-valve Astra but you can bet your bottom dollar that VW willhave it back in time to lose it to the new 16-valve Integrale.

    The Quattro has been through a similar series of machinations. The Delta Integrale pinched itsnumber one slot but had to give the crown back to Audi shortly afterwards because it waswearing the Golf’s at the time.

    Audi held on to it for a bit but only a couple of months ago, relinquished it to Porsche’s 911Carrera 4.

    And aside from dispensing crowns on a weekly basis, headline writers have become obsessed withspeed.

    ‘WE DRIVE THE 220-MPH JAG THEY DARE NOT BUILD’ is the latest game. Not to be outdone, a rivalpublication, you can be assured, will drive a 230-mph Jag that can’t be built the very nextweek. And so on towards infinity perhaps.

    We smirk when we read that Freddie Starr ate someone’s hamster, yet we are expected to believethat some scribbler has driven a Jaguar that no one has built at a speed that current tyretechnology won’t allow anyway.

    I have driven a BMW 750iL at an indicated 156 mph on the autobahn and believe me, it is abowel-loosening experience I do not wish to relive. Sure, I enjoy going quickly, but the notionof driving something like a Porsche 911, which has been tuned by a foreign grease monkey, atthe speed of sound in a Welsh valley, appals as much as it amuses.

    The thing is that if you have a magazine on your coffee table that talks on its front coverabout a car that hasn’t been built doing 300 mph on the Milton Keynes ring road, visitors toyour home will be impressed.

    If you leave motoring publications lying around which talk about how seatbelts save lives,those same visitors will drink their coffee very quickly and leave.

    Business-speak impresses too. Honda have smashed Porsche 48 times and Toyota have bludgeonedBMW to death on a weekly basis for two years. And all this smashing and bludgeoning hasresulted in every move a manufacturer makes being seen as utterly crucial.

    As in, ‘ON THE LIMIT IN ROVER’S LIFE-OR-DEATH MAESTRO’; or how about this recent gem:‘LOTUS’S MAKE-OR-BREAK ELAN.’

    Lotus are owned by General Motors, who are one of the world’s biggest companies. Their R&Ddepartment is universally revered, with lucrative contracts from such financially secureoutfits as the MoD.

    The Elan, successful or otherwise, will neither make nor break the company. It might on theother hand pinch the Golf GTi’s crown. Clarkson Decides.

    Clarkson on Cars

    Dishing It Out

    It ought to be safe to assume, I thought, that if 60,000 Brits go to France and sit in a fieldall weekend, BBC news editors would be intrigued. They would, I was sure, despatch their bestavailable crew to find out just what had driven so many people to do such a thing.

    After all, when twelve women with short hair and dubious sexual preferences camped outside anOxfordshire air base for a few days, they were besieged by TV reporters.

    When a couple of hundred Kentish ruralites wandered down to the village hall to hear a man fromBritish Rail explain why their houses must be pulled down, they emerged two hours later,blinded by camera arc lights.

    When one man set up shop on Rockall, both the BBC and ITV hired helicopters at God-knows-how-much-a-minute to film the weird beard’s flag-waving antics.

    And the South Ken embassy zone is permanently full of film crews, furiously rushing between thetwo people who have turned up to protest about the treatment of badgers in North Yemen and thehalf dozen who think the Chilean milk marketing board is overcharging.

    So, how come when 60,000 Brits formed part of the 200,000-strong crowd at the 24 hours of LeMans, it didn’t even get a mention on the BBC News?

    Rather than turn up for work on the Monday morning and face ridicule for not knowing who hadwon, I set aside twenty minutes on Sunday evening to find out.

    I noticed with glee that the newsreader chappie hurried through the usual bits on China and theMaggon’s opposition to European monetary union and I fully expected the saved time would beused to show us how bronzed men and true had thrilled the crowds in what is easily the world’smost famous motor race.

    But no. We had an interview with a cricketer who had hurt his cheek and couldn’t play. Lots ofpeople hurt their cheeks and can’t do what they want as a result. I rubbed a chilli in my eyelast night and they didn’t send Michael Buerk round to find out how much it hurt. When theybeamed us back to the studio, there was the presenter with the Refuge Assurance Sunday Leaguecricket results.

    We heard how Mohammed from Leicester had scored 72, how Gary from Essex had bowled out sixpeople and how Yorkshire were top of something or other.

    I kid you not. They devoted more time to cricket than they did to the slaughter of 2600 peoplein China. And, of course, there was not one word about Le Mans. In the next day’s newspapers,it was the same story, with page after page about cricket followed by a brief paragraph thatsaid, ‘Merc won Le Mans and Jag didn’t.’

    Now, the argument that cricket fans trot out at times like this, and we can safely assume thatthe BBC’s news editors are fans, is that cricket has a bigger following in Britain than motorracing.

    Bull. The Test and County Cricket Board tell me that in 1988, 137,583 people turned up to watchSunday league cricket. That means the seventeen teams each have an average weekly gate of 1074.They get five to ten times that to watch a Formula Three race at Donington.

    A Test match at Lord’s can pull in about 80,000; the British Grand Prix manages almost exactlydouble that number of spectators.

    The Cricketer magazine has a circulation of 35,000 a month. Motoring News sells 78,000 copiesevery week. And then there’s Motor Sport and Autosport.

    Those who claim cricket has a bigger following than motor racing are the sort of people whoclaim that fish are insects and that the Pope is a water buffalo; they should be made to livein rooms with rubber walls, and to wear suits with the arms sewn on sideways.

    You will never convince the old boy network that runs things round here that cricket should bebanished from television and replaced with motor sport; but you could buy a HAL 9000 satellitedish. Mine is sculpted into a two-fingered salute and pointed at Broadcasting House. Thereception is awful, actually, but it amuses all the neighbours.

    Quite apart from the fact that Sky is prepared to show us breasts and bottoms on a regularbasis, it has two sport channels which devote a proper amount of time to the world of motorcars.

    Now, you know about how the satellite dish and the scrambler and the installation will cost you?350, and you probably know that Rupert Murdoch runs the whole show, but you probably don’tknow that, at any particular time of day, there will be some sort of motor sport beingbroadcast on the box. So when you’re bored with Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger sweating theirway through another game of tonsil hockey, simply hit the force and watch Al Ulcer and MarioAndrocles Jr slogging it out Stateside.

    Tonight, you will go home for a diet of cricket, interrupted briefly at 7.00 p.m. for Terry andJune and again at 10.30 p.m. for Little and Large. After The Terminator, I will watch someIndycar racing followed by a bit of in-car action from the CRX Challenge.

    If you want to protest about the Beeb’s apathy on the motor-sport front, then for heaven’ssake, do absolutely nothing. Stay at home. Tidy your sock drawer out. Grade your grassclippings according to length. Do anything, but certainly do not form yourselves into achanting, 60,000-strong mob or else the news crews will choose to ignore you.

    Fear not though because I know exactly how to get coverage. Tomorrow, the six of us who havebeen converted to USS Enterprise space television will become homosexuals and make camp outsideBroadcasting House. We will have our heads shaved and refuse to eat anything except almonds andwatercress.

    The day after, if the TV crews start to look bored, we will set fire to David Gatting.

    Clarkson on Cars

    Cars in Review

    Vauxhall Belmont SRi

    On the basis that children should neither be seen nor heard, it seems absurd that airlines andother people movers do not provide soundproof boxes into which they can be inserted.

    There are even people out there who, when buying a car, actually consider the well-being oftheir offspring. Manufacturers like Mitsubishi and Volvo use them as active selling aids even.

    But why on earth should you worry about the comfort and safety of something that will donothing on the entire journey other than fight with its sister, vomit and make loud noises?

    When I produce children, I shall buy a Vauxhall Belmont. In order to fit in the back even halfproperly they will have to screw themselves up like one of those magician’s foam balls. Eventhen, they will not be able to see where they’re going because the Vauxhall has headrests likeblackboards.

    There are more comfortable fairground rides than the Belmont.

    Eventually, they’ll beg to be put in the really rather commodious boot. Which is where theyshould have been in the first place.

    Toyota Camry V6

    This time next year, if someone were to ask if I’ve ever driven a Toyota Camry V6, I will lookgormless for a minute or two. Then I will say no.

    This will be wrong because I have driven a Toyota Camry V6 – the Bob Harris of motordom.

    Turn on the engine, there is no sound; press the accelerator and still the only noise you canhear is a chaffinch, 50 yards away, rummaging through some discarded fish-and-chip papers.

    In a temper, you engage D on the purrundah gearbox and bury the throttle in the pleblon carpet.The chaffinch looks over to see what the chirp was and goes back to his rummaging.

    You could drive this car round a library and no one would look up. I live twelve miles fromHeathrow, yet the sound of jets on their final approach is enough to warrant the evening TVbeing turned up. When Concorde is bringing Joan Collins’s hairstyle over again, a full-scaleJudas Priest concert is unable to compete.

    What I want and want now is for Toyota to buy Rolls-Royce, Pratt and Whitney and that Frenchoutfit that doesn’t know its left from its right.

    I want them to show Europe and America that it is entirely possible to build an engine thatdoesn’t make any noise at all.

    Volkswagen Passat 1.9 Diesel

    If you need to get from A to B in a hurry and the only car at your disposal is a Passat 1.9diesel, then might I suggest you try jogging.

    We are talking here about a very slow car indeed, o to 60 is possible, but only just.

    At its launch VW talked at some length about how clean the new engine is. They used graphs toshow what they were on about but these looked only like Luftwaffe air traffic in the 1940s.

    They were at pains to point out that the new engine has not been designed with speed in mindbut glossed over the fact that it’s barely capable of independent movement.

    And to cope with the power it gets two first gears, a third and two very high fifths.

    Mark my words, the trees’ll love it.

    Proton Saga 1.5 SLX

    This is how the steering in a Proton works. You twirl the wheel as quickly as possible and twowhisks attached to the end of the column stir up a sort of box full of yoghurt. When theyoghurt is spinning fast enough, centrifugal force rotates the box and the wheels turn.

    Volkswagen Corrado

    The brown-suited wise men of the motoring world have been saying that the new Corrado shouldhave the 200SX’s chassis, the Celica’s equipment, the Piazza’s price, the Prelude’s engineand the 480 turbo’s computer.

    But their opinions go for nought because in the coupe market, it is style that counts.

    Which of the following answers would you like to give if an impressionable young lady were toask what sort of car you drove? a) a Nissan b) a Toyota c) a Volkswagen d) an Isuzu e) a Hondaf) a Volvo?

    She equates VWs with Paula Hamilton and Nissans with zero per cent finance; thus the Corrado isbound to be more sought after than any Japanese competitor, no matter how many horsepower areentrusted to their rear wheels.

    Clarkson on Cars

    Big Boys’ Toys

    It seems to me, Sir Isaac Newton could have been more gainfully employed. Any man who has thetime to sit around in an autumnal orchard wondering why apples don’t float around in spaceonce they part company with the parental bough, ought to be out looking for a proper job.

    Maybe it was in the hobbies section of his c.v. or maybe employers in the seventeenth centurywere a trifle anti-Semitic, but either way, Isaac never did get a proper job and went oninstead to design what was marketed ten years ago as the Ballrace, or Newton’s Cradle.

    It set the scene for a host of so-called executive toys and relied for sales on the premisethat the average high flyer doesn’t have anything better to do while at his desk than sitwatching a load of chrome balls bash the hell out of each other until it’s coffee time or thephone shrills a cheery message that his wife’s burnt supper again.

    Newton’s thingumijig is, however, confined to page seven of yesterday’s news now – itsheadline grabbing antics of yesteryear fulfilled, in these days of war, hunger and crisppackets without little blue salt sachets in them, by a veritable myriad of toys all of whichare jostling for pole position by the blotter.

    My rare sorties to the world of big business and, rarer still, my visits to the offices ofthose that control it, have revealed a constant.

    Whether the executive has plumped for red walls, white shag pile and chairs shaped likemattress springs or traditional oak panelling, leather seating and standard-lamp lighting, thecentre-piece of his room is always an absolutely massive desk… a desk that’s as unclutteredas a hermit’s address book.

    To the right, there’s the telephone; to the left, an intercom. Dead ahead, beyond the equallyuncluttered blotter there are dog-eared photographs of his wife, taken in those salad days whenshe didn’t burn supper, and his children, taken when they were angelic rather than punk.

    Somewhere, though, there will also be a toy – not an Action Man or a Care Bear. An executivetoy has to be more than just fun to play with. It must also be an attractive, decorative itemwhich doesn’t look out of place in a professional setting.

    You have to understand that the street cred of a top businessman would be seriously impairedshould anyone bodyswerve his personal secretary, make it into the inner sanctum and catch himplaying with a Scalextric set.

    But if you broke in and found him struggling with a Puzzleplex jigsaw, all would be well. Thesejigsaws are extraordinarily beautiful objets d’art which, almost incidentally, happen to beinfernally difficult puzzles.

    Each one of these three-dimensional, wooden jigsaws is handmade, each is completely differentfrom anything that has gone before and, best of all, the manufacturer, an eccentric calledPeter Stocken, will create your puzzle in any shape you like – a car, a Welsh dragon, anartificial lung, anything.

    You need an afternoon to complete a simple one and about ?50 to buy it. For the more difficultvariety, extend the time allowed to a day and start adding the noughts.

    I must confess I was hugely tempted to invest but had I succumbed, I fear you would not bereading this and that my superhuman, week-long struggle to give up smoking would have beenthwarted.

    Another great puzzle is the much cheaper Philosopher’s Knot, the idea being that you have toextricate a larger glass ball from a surrounding web of knotted string. It looks even trickierthan that Hungarian cube thingy from last year.

    But the interesting thing about it is that were the ball made from shoddy plastic and thestring from something of inferior quality, sales to businessmen would be sluggish. It looksgood in between the telephone and the blotter on an executive’s desk.

    Similarly, I noticed Fortnum and Mason are selling a twisted length of black and white plastictubing for ?35 in their gift department. I spent many minutes poring over this most unusualcreation hoping an assistant would overcome any prejudices my tatty jeans were instilling inhim and volunteer an explanation.

    None was forthcoming and because I always feel so foolish when asking such people what variousthings do, I kept my mouth shut. If I were in their shoes and such a question were fired at me,I should want to know why someone would be considering the purchase of an item without knowingwhat it was or did.

    Thus, I reserve behaviour of this kind until about 5.25 p.m. on Christmas Eve when, indesperation, I have been known to spend a week’s wages on a device for melting the teeth ofdead okapis merely because ‘it looks nice’.

    The upshot of all this nonsense is that my notebook says ‘funny plastic tubing. Fortnum’s.?35’. If it is merely decorative, then it works well but costs rather a lot. If it has afunction, then I should enjoy being enlightened.

    I’d actually gone to Fortnum’s in search of a truly great executive toy – an 18-inch-highsuede rat in a blue leather coat and a felt hat. It is supposed to be Reckless from the CaptainBeaky gang but he seems to have died now the hype has all quietened down as no one seemed toremember the item in question or from whence it came.

    I recall it cost close on ?40 but, believe me, as a desk centre-piece, it had no peers.

    Unless, of course, you’re a gadget kinda guy in which case 1986 holds much more in the way ofexcitement than dear old suede Reckless ever could.

    Take telephones. Quite why an executive needs the 15-memory variety with built-in answerphone,hands-off dial facility, digital read-out, supersonic turbo recall, optic fibre laser and ledhandset, I know not.

    Especially when I consider all he ever does is pick the damn thing up and say to his secretary,‘Get me whatsisname of doodah limited.’

    Hands up all those who are familiar with the wide-open secretary who’s all set to transfer youto her boss until she finds out you’ve got something to do with his work when all of a suddenshe will announce, ‘He’s in a meeting.’

    Is he hell. He’s playing with his Philosopher’s Knot and wanting to know why his wife hasburnt supper for the eighth successive night.

    Or else he’s sitting back, eyes half closed and fingers steepled enjoying the strains ofBeethoven on the mini compact disc system with twin cassette auto play reverse and solarpowered volume knob. Oh, and it can play music too.

    This is usually located in the bottom drawer – a space which, in that bygone age before floppydiscs (which I will not spell with a ‘k’) and cursors, was taken up with things called files.

    These stereos fascinate me. The smaller they are, the more expensive they are to buy. I don’tsee what’s wrong with my simply enormous Rotel, Pioneer, Akai circa 1976 set up but evidently,it is miles too big – and judging by some of the prices these days, it didn’t cost enougheither.

    Having said that though, I was staggered to see a Sinclair flat screen telly in a dusty cornerof the Design Centre selling for just ?99.95. As is the current vogue, the screen was the samesize as your average sultana but the wiry bit round the back was encased in a washing machine-sized shell. No wonder old Clive had to sell out.

    Doubtless, he’ll soon come up with a television so small that you won’t be able to see it atall.

    When the days of invisible gadgetry are upon us, I may well take my place on the bandwagon andreap the benefits of being able to cover my desk with everything from a sunbed to a nuclearpower station without my work space being pinched.

    At present though I have just three executive toys, not counting my telephone which is astraightforward British Telecom Ambassador and therefore doesn’t count.

    Behind the Citroen press release to my left is the Waterford Crystal aeroplane I was given forChristmas by someone I didn’t like very much until I found out it cost more than ?50.

    Lost in the vicinity of a half-eaten packet of McVities dark chocolate biscuits – remember,I’m trying to give up smoking – and the designer-label notebook is a half-inch-high, hand-painted pig. Always have loved that.

    And occupying pride of place is my helicopter – a stunningly good toy made by Mattell in the1970s and foolishly dropped from the line-up a couple of years back. Tough luck you can’t buyone these days.

    The machine, which is genuinely powered by its blades, is connected to a central command postby a wire and flies round in circles with a hook dangling underneath poised to pick up emptymatchboxes and old Coke cans.

    Such precision flying requires 100 per cent Chuck Yeagerish concentration so, when I’mairborne, little thought is given to burnt suppers or indeed any of the rigours encountered indaily life.

    What lunchtime? What meeting? What Citroen press release?

    Clarkson on Cars

    Mobile Phones

    ‘Yes darling. I’ll pick you up at eight… No this time I promise… Well, I know, but lastnight was different… Yes, well the night before was different too… No, standing around onFulham Broadway isn’t much fun… OK listen, if I’m late tonight, I’ll buy you dinner at SanLorenzo. Bye.’

    Gulp. I’ve got an appointment in Twickenham at six.

    San Lorenzo costs twenty quid a head and that’s without going bonkers on the port and brandy.Then there’s the taxi and they don’t take credit cards so I’ll have to get some money outand the banks are closed.

    Now, my autobank’s a dodgy little blighter. Sometimes it enjoys Gettyish generosity and willplunge wads of Harold Melvins into the recipient maulers but on other days, for no apparentreason, it’s tighter than a Scotsman on holiday in Yorkshire and won’t hand over so much as adamn penny.

    ‘I wouldn’t mind if the green screen was polite and said something like, ‘Sorry old chap butyour overdraft’s a little excessive and it’d be more than my job’s worth to hand over thecash at the moment.’

    But ‘insufficient funds available’ is so terse; so final. And the queue behind, alreadyexasperated by my inability to remember my code number on the first attempt, is reduced to agiggling mess as I shrug nonchalantly and, fighting back the tears of humiliation, stroll awayas if it doesn’t matter.

    But with the threat of an ?80 experience among the stars at San Lorenzo hanging wearily aboutmy person, there is no alternative and I find myself approaching the damn thing, dripping likeageing cheese in an old sock.

    Inevitably there’s a queue. Inevitably a gang of screeching Hoorays fall in line astern of me.Inevitably I programme in the wrong number twice and inevitably I’m told, to the accompanimentof a crescendo of shrieks from the Ruperts, that I’m a miserable pauper.

    Boarding the tube at Sloane Square, I consider my predicament and weigh up the consequences ofa late arrival at Fulham Broadway. They are too dire to contemplate. Eighty quid is a lot ofmoney for a pauper. Oh God, please help.

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