Sunday, 13 July 2008

Now we’re for it: we’ve stopped behaving badly

From The Sunday Times

July 13, 2008

Jeremy Clarkson

There have been many very different reactions to Max Mosley’s basement bunk-up. Some have been offended and some unmoved, but most people, since it’s so Carry On up the Khyber, have read the reports and sniggered.

Hmmm. I wonder if I’m alone in having a bit of respect for the man. I mean, there he is, a 68-year-old pensioner getting it on with five girls in the middle of the afternoon. Fair play to you, fella.

I felt much the same way when I heard Prince William had put his chopper in Kate Middleton’s back garden. Oooh, there was a lot of harrumphing – but come on, chaps. The man’s a prince. All he did was borrow one of his granny’s helicopters to drop in on the floozy. Wouldn’t you?

David Cameron laid out a new set of guidelines last week to which all Tory MEPs must now adhere. They fill me with horror and dread because it means we’re soon to be governed by a bunch of people who go to bed at 10, only drink ginger beer, never try to look up their secretaries’ skirts and are quite happy to get paid £4.50 an hour. In short, we’re going to be governed by bores and failures.

Why is this a good idea? No one says of their friends, “I chose them because they are all so kind to animals and they do good works.” We like people who like to laugh, to have fun, to break the rules once in a while.

Trouble is, it’s hard to find people like that any more . . .

In the olden days Private Eye was full of stories about journalists who’d ripped off their employers for 40 grand and been in bed with a hooker when the story they were supposed to be covering broke. Now, it’s just an endless parade of mild hypocrisy. Eighteen months ago the Daily Mail said this. And now it’s saying the exact opposite. So what.

The maelstrom of expenses fraud and serial shagging has become a gentle eddy of honest-to-God mistakes. And whatever happened to the long lunch? Today, whenever I order a glass of wine in the middle of the day, people look at me as though I might be a Martian. And that’s before I step outside for a cigarette.

This brings me on to Amy Winehouse. Has it occurred to anyone that she might be having a jolly good time? In the 1950s and 1960s, before the world became so po-faced, the rich and the famous would gather in Mustique and the south of France for debauched, drug-fuelled orgies and no one batted an eyelid. Today we tut because Russell Crowe has thrown a telephone at someone. And look what happens when an Old Etonian tries to make some governmental alterations in Africa. Instead of a statue in Trafalgar Square he gets 34 years in the slammer.

Imagine if we had someone like Winston Churchill in power today. A smoker. A drinker. A man given to Herculean bouts of depression. Under a hailstorm of criticism he wouldn’t last a week. Look at poor old Charles Kennedy. Gone now and replaced with someone who, I feel sure, would get a dopamine rush from taking his dog for a walk.

It’s the same for all of us. You can be ostracised by your neighbours for putting your refuse in the wrong-coloured bin, you can have your car vandalised if it has four-wheel drive and last week there were calls for cyclists to be jailed if they attempted to enliven this ludicrous means of transport by getting a move on.

Worse, the town of Redruth in Cornwall has imposed a 9pm curfew on all under16s, which means that every 15-year-old boy must now be at home each evening with his parents watching Panorama. I fear the Cornish courts had better brace themselves for a massive increase in cases of matricide.

I look sometimes at the microcosm that is my own life and it’s terrifying. Because in recent years I have been criticised for bumping into a horse chestnut tree; I’ve been called a berk, on the front page of a national newspaper, for using an iPod while driving. And only a couple of weeks ago I was “blasted” for enjoying a gin and tonic while at the North Pole.

There’s a constant bombardment for me to sit up straight, eat my greens, comb my hair. It drives me mad. Honestly. Next time James May and I are at a Pole, we’ve decided he’s going to mainline heroin and I’m going to shoot a baby polar bear in the face. For fun.

I fear for our future. I worry that bad behaviour is being erased from society, and that unless the trend can be reversed somehow we’ll all have to go through life on the Planet Stepford, a rictus grin masking the boiling turmoil of desperation inside. I yearn sometimes when I encounter a neatly stacked pyramid of tins of beans to push it over. Don’t you? Wouldn’t it break the monotony of having to drive at 30mph and eating a wholefood fair-trade sandwich at your desk.

Recently Annie Robinson and I dreamt up a TV show that would serve as an antidote to the endless parade of hectoring and finger-wagging programmes we get today. Instead of running down the street after a cowboy builder who’d charged an old lady a million quid to build a fireplace, we would go after the victims.

It was to be called Sucker and it would celebrate the ingenious while pointing the finger and howling with laughter at the stupid, the gullible and the fat. Never has the nation needed such a show more. And never has such a thing been less likely to get commissioned. Unless, of course, we could get Max Mosley to present it.

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