Lights, camera, excessive caution! We're back, but the Covid control freaks are running our show
By Jeremy Clarkson
, 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
By Jeremy Clarkson (Sunday Times
, 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