Lanky twat

At Christmas I was given a present of The World According to Clarkson 3: For crying out loud. A collection of Jeremy Clarkson’s articles for the Sunday Times published between January 2006 and December 2007. The series has been going since 2004 and has sold millions. I’ve enjoyed them all. Bite-sized and conversational. It’s easy to keep reading onto the next one. And then the next. And so on. But this latest instalment is not as good as the first two. I found the appeal of some of the articles to be narrower. They seem to be written specifically for Clarkson’s well-paid, good-living chums to chuckle over while they wait for their Range Rover Vogues to be serviced. Prior to picking up the shampooed shaggy haired kids from being polished at a private college for young gentry. On the way to Sainsbury’s Gold to buy Lampreys and half a dozen Emu eggs. Because according to these essays, Clarkson lives in a world of plenty and celebrity. Albeit not the vacant empty universe of Big Brother. No, none of that Z list crap for Clarkson. He’s out fox hunting on quad bikes with Pink Floyd. Armed with spear guns. Rough shooting Morris Dancers with Damon Allbran. Coursing comprehensive school kids with dogs across the rolling Cotswolds with Marco Pierre White. That’s Clarkson’s world. But is it yours and mine?

 

Throughout the book he celebrates his good luck. Of being rich. Of being tall (he’s 6’ 5”, you know). Of eating good food exquisitely and expensively cooked. Of travelling first class. Of owning a big house. Of having a fun career. Of being CLARKSON. Good fortune is championed as a form of natural selection. Survival of the richest. The origin of the specious. The theory comes into its own when he can compare himself to someone less fortunate. With bad teeth. Cheap clothes. Who owns a Vauxhall. Who lives in a council flat. Who is not Jeremy or one of his celebrity pals but persists in having the shameless temerity to breathe the same air. When he can nudge Rod Stewart or Simon Cowell and say: ‘We know that the working classes do not eat strawberries because they do not eat any fruit or vegetables, which is why they are all so ugly and malformed.’ In this narrow, subjective way Clarkson is becoming intolerably smug. And surprisingly irrelevant. So what?! he declares. I’ve been loved for my smugness for years! I can afford to be! Perhaps. The modern media loves a dancing bear. And Clarkson is a good parlour trick. Readable in print, watchable on TV. Bankable. But his smugness (throughout this collection of articles in particular) – the quality that he’s been celebrated for during the past fifteen years or so – now seems to be turning in on itself. Or, rather, turning against us. ‘Ey up, here’s Jezza, hold onto your hats! He’s going to poke fun at Greenies and fatty two Jags John Prescott! He’s going to advocate us burning the Germans for fuel! While driving a prototype Mercedes down the Autobahn at 200mph. Steering with his feet. And smoking…

 

But where previously Clarkson would rant because those dour faced busybodies from the Health and Safety Executive were insisting that we don hard hats in the shower. That we had to wear steel toe-capped boots when we carried the shopping in from the car.  Or would be taking a pop at ‘that lot’ at Greenham Common for saving the whales by knitting coats for polar bears. Now Clarkson is more likely to moan because someone at the local council has said that he can’t plough his four by four through a modest semi-detached house’s back garden for a short cut. Bloody job’s worth! But I’ve work to do! I’m in a hurry! It’s only a Barratt home, for God’s sake! And a starter one at that! I’m giving Nicky Clarke a lift so he can cut Charlotte Rampling’s hair!  Clarkson objects. Clarkson checks his watch. Clarkson puffs and blows. I’m working to a timescale here, you know?! I’m road testing a Ferrari against a windsurfing nudist this afternoon! With Bruce Willis! The world Clarkson rages against is suddenly the one that we live in. He objects to us. Because we’re not Steve Coogan. Because we don’t earn £250K a year. Because we don’t live in a barn conversion with five acres of pasture and a horse paddock attached. Because we don’t drive three Lamborghinis. Because we don’t send our children to private school. Because we eat chips. Because we’re poor and buy settees from DFS or Ikea. Because we pay for our cars in instalments. Because we once ate a KFC. Clarkson leans against the wood burning Aga (logs from his own forest), drinking coffee whose beans were chewed to release their caffeine freshness by orphans in Peru. Smoking some thin, unfiltered Italian cigarettes. Rich man’s gut hanging over his Levi comfort fit. White undershirt. Denim shirt over the top. He is Maverick from Top Gun. He shakes his head. His long jaw sticks out. ‘Crazy, eh? What’s happening with the world? What are these people like?!’

 

And throughout the book Clarkson seems to be at some pains to stress his masculinity. His bloke’s blokiness. No pink shirts, deodorant wearing puffiness for him. No, sir. OK, he may have gone to a public school but nothing happened. He listened to some Focus, he grew his hair long, he did some rebel japes. But nothing happened, OK? Man’s man. A bloke’s bloke, got it? He’s going seal clubbing with Rick Wakeman later. On Harleys! Without helmets! While listening to the Heep! Proper bloke.

 

There are many articles that I enjoyed. ‘The united states of paranoia’, ‘Arrested just for looking weird’, ‘How to make a man of Mummy’s boy’, ‘There is a literary future in iLav’, ‘Drip drip drip of a revolution’, ‘Binge drinking is good for you’ and ‘Make my day, sir, shoot a hoodie’ were favourites. I agree with Clarkson that the horrendous floods of 2007 were more to do with the government’s obsession with linking economic prosperity (and so the government’s success) to house building than they were to global warming. So that thanks to Tony and Gordon the old flood plains are covered in little boxes of mortgaged happiness. In negative equity. I agree that there are too many rights and not enough responsibilities. But a lot of it read like an educated man’s collection of columns from Hello!

 

The Times touts Clarkson for Prime Minister. ‘Perhaps the most popular choice for PM never to run.’ Once, maybe. When he was espousing common sense solutions for everyday experiences while driving his own version of the Pope mobile adapted from a 1987 Fiat Panda across the Gobi desert. When he advocated bringing the rest of Europe into Sterling as he drove an Audi RS4 up the side of Mont Blanc whilst dragging a caravan full of hooded youths behind him. But not now. Not when his idea of the UK is a fiefdom where the rich offset their carbon footprints by culling the energy equivalent of pensioners that it would take to run an outdoor heater, and cars below £100,000 aren’t allowed on the road so that he and Jay K can more easily race down the M1, each in a brace of Aston Martins. While listening to Steppenwolf.

 

Hmmm. That might be worth watching.

Eh?

The Dyson Airblade™. What is that all about? Have you seen these things? They’re popping up everywhere. It’s a hand drying revolution. They have them in the gents toilets at Meadowhall. I’m not convinced.

OK, here’s the science bit.

For all intents and purposes the Airblade™ does the same job as an old school hand drier. But rather than the machine simply having a blower that points down, instead you tuck your hands into what seems to be an adapted magazine rack and ‘air is forced through two continuous apertures the width of an eyelash – creating sheets of air travelling at 400mph. Water is scraped from hands in just 10 seconds.’ Yippekayay. The Airblade™ further claims that ‘it’s hygienic, too, purifying the air before blowing it onto [your] hands.’

Hmmm. Just a minute. Let’s review that – after using a public toilet and washing your hands in tepid water – that squirted on and off for all of a nanosecond – you queue up behind a bunch of strangers who’ve also just used the facilities and then rinsed their hands briefly as well. Once the people in front of you have shuffled forwards and used the Airblade™ , your turn comes to step up to the plate and you put your sopping wet Danny boys between some plastic and air gets blown onto them. Right. OK. Erm. How can that ever be hygienic? I’m not talking about the air, I’m sure that’s purified through certified, safety approved filters and all that, just as they claim and comes out cleaner than the breezes high above a Tibetean monastry. I’m talking about the device itself. Because I’ve tried the Airblade™ and there’s no space. Clearance between your skin and the plastic on either side as you try to tuck your hands into it is about a centimetre. And it feels less. There’s very little margin for error. This is like a public lavs version of the 1970s kids’ game ‘Operation’. A challenge of nerve and dexterity. This time, you touch the side and instead of an electronic beep and a red light, you get someone else’s sticky piss on your hands and catch conjunctivitis.

All right, you could say I’m quite finicky when it comes to using public toilets. I am. Call me cynical but I don’t think they’re the most hygienic places in the world. And I’ve been known to paper the seat from time to time. To operate the flush with my foot. But I don’t believe that my wary attitude is unreasonable when it comes to other people’s bodily fluids. Dyson engineers spent three years developing, testing and refining Airblade™ technology. Three years. And in all that time they didn’t identify other people’s piss as a problem? No? Obviously not because they created a plastic gap that you have to place your wet hands inside. Come on. Piss. Stools. And that’s before we even consider that George Michael and his mates might have been in there already. Think about it. Put down the Sodoku, the Rubik’s cubes, the Brain Training and reason it through. How can that be right? But that’s the Tefal head syndrome for you. The Airblade™  represents a problem cracked in splendid scientific isolation. ‘Dyson is about developing new technology to solve everyday problems.’ In this case, totally removed from the day to day practicalities of those problems. Like the artificial knees developed for the NHS that hinged upwards because they seemed more practical for long haul flights and clearing low walls. But you could only walk backwards with them. Because part of the trouble is that scientists don’t product test. They problem test. Can you develop something that dries hands and is cheap to run? Some flip charts, a few technical drawings on squared paper, a couple of scale models and three years later they come up with the Airblade™. Voila. I can see the boffins putting the Airblade™ through its paces in some white room. Oh, that works fine, Tim. The Dyson engineer holds his hands aloft. Buffed. Snuff dry. Method, results, conclusion. Dry as a bone. I think we’ve cracked it! But I bet they didn’t have a shambling alcoholic in the lab, did they? Who’s got piss up to his elbows and walks like the tectonic plate has just shifted beneath him. No. Do you think Einstein would want to slip his hands into the Airblade™ after Alky Ted from Sparrow Park has had his rancid mits inside it?

I appreciate inventiveness, whether it be the Apple iPod or Lady Heather fleecing Sir Paul for twenty-four million quid, but sometimes you can seek out ingenuity just for the sake of it. Like the Star Wars prequels and the European Union. Now, don’t get me wrong, Airblade™  inventor James Dyson did us all a favour when he came up with the idea of the bagless vacuum cleaner (can we still call them Hoovers?), the suction was great and they looked kind of stylish as well. Sexy vacuums. Then he took that concept, thought outside the box, and stuck a ball on the bottom of it to give the cleaner more mobility. It works. Clever stuff. But I feel Airblade™ is Dyson’s own Operation Market Garden. He’s gone a Bridge Too Far. It’s this whole – hand in a box/other people’s piss thing. It puts me off. I feel there’s a flaw in there somewhere. Though obviously, in this day and age, being clever and simply functioning successfully is not enough. The Airblade™ is also going to save the planet. It’s all about the carbon footprint. The Airblade™ uses speed rather than warmth to achieve its ends. It aims to dry nineteen pairs of hands for the price of a single paper towel. And to accomplish its mission Dyson calculates that the Airblade™  uses 80% less energy than traditional warm air hand driers. Which is good. I’m all for it. Up to a point. But not if it means that I’ve got have someone else’s dirty wazz on my pandies. In which case I’ll stick with wiping my hands on the back of my jeans, ta.

Wonderful things…

I love Time Team. I know that nothing happens. I know they never find anything. I know it’s sixty minutes of watching somebody dig a hole in a field and then cover it back up. I know, if I’m honest, that most people find it boring. Because often nothing much happens. For an hour. But that’s the point. Or part of it, at least. It’s expansive TV. It’s TV to lounge in front of on a lazy Sunday afternoon. With my feet stretched out on the sofa. It’s the televisual equivalent of cricket. Which I also enjoy watching. And in which nothing much happens either.

Obviously, you need an interest in history to get anything out of Time Team. To be curious about the past and the people who populated it. The personalities and the stories. About the landscape they occupied. But what makes Time Team as a programme is the characters. Roly-poly Robin peering over some dusty diary from the local archives. Darby like a beach ball. The text book librarian’s bow tie. The buttons of his waistcoat a constant worry to the Health and Safety Executive. If they go, they could have someone’s eye out. He chuckles. He smiles. He draws us in with the salacious details. The historical gossip. Well, he was a bit of a rotter, was old Sir Aethelstan. He shut his rather naughty wife up in a chastity belt and pulled her lover’s todger off with red hot tongs! And then made her eat it, fried for breakfast with quail’s eggs and bread soldiers! Gerrin! Cider-quaffing Phil Harding with his wisps of long ginger hair and cowboy hat with a feather in it, talking away about soil stratification like one of the Wurzels. The ins and outs of pre-historic flint napping. Wrestling with the complexities of an Anglo-Saxon dyke. It’s fair got me flummoxed, Tony! Always in shorts even when its minus fifteen and the wind’s coming in from the Urals across some barren field in the Lincolnshire flatlands like a rampaging Mongol army. Tony, I think I’ve got a Cromwellian brick kiln! he roars, waving his trowel in the air. Pass me a pint! There’s Bridget and Raksha filmed from above in strappy vest tops giving us a glimpse of bouncing cleavage as they bend over to trowel some clay. A couple of points of interest in this trench, Tony. Cheeky look up to camera. A thumbs up from Tony. Cheers, girls. That’ll have the blokes watching from the couch after Sunday lunch and a few pints down at the Dog & Partridge. I love the visits to the pub for flagons of Old Swipe, maps laid out, Geo-fizz arguing with everybody but in particular Phil, over a print out that just looks like the photocopier is faulty. Definitely an enclosed ditch. I’m thinking domestic habitation, says John Gator. John with his tinted lenses and his repressed ego. Oh, right. An enclosed ditch. I’m on the sofa, wiggling my toes and reaching out for another Hob Nob. No it isn’t, argues Phil, slamming down his scrumpy. The Hob Nob pauses above my coffee. It just means the toner’s getting low! Laughs all ‘round, daggers drawn. All held together by pocket-sized Tony Robinson with benevolent eye from the big chief archaeologist Birmingham-born Mick Aston.

Vindolanda

I went to Vindolanda in May 2006. Up beyond Hexham in Northumbria. They’ve just got electricity. They fear a Scottish invasion. Midway on the A69 between Newcastle on one coast and Carlisle on the other. The A69 laid down in the 1990s that runs parallel with the old Roman military road. Now the B6318. Straight as a dye, taking no notice of the dips in the landscape. Watch your exhaust. Vindolanda lies just south of Hadrian’s Wall, near the tree where Kevin Costner fights Guy of Gisbourne in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. You can see it on your left as you drive down to the site. I did a week’s digging, staying at nearby Bardon Mill. Vindolanda is the site of several Roman forts, built one on top of the other during the occupation, and famous for the Vindolanda tablets. The tablets are Roman post-it notes. Brief letters and messages written on tiny wooden plates that were discarded two thousand years ago. Now they’ve been dug up and read via x-ray. They are wonderful. In 2004 they were voted Britain’s greatest treasure. Above the Snettisham Hoard, the Mold Cape and Bruce Forsyth. One of the most famous tablets is the birthday invitation from the garrison commander’s wife, Claudia Severa, to her sister Sulpicia Lepidina. Written some time around 100 AD, it reads: ‘Claudia Severa to her Lepidina greetings. On 11 September, sister, for the day of the celebration of my birthday, I give you a warm invitation to make sure that you come to us, to make the day more enjoyable for me by your arrival, if you are present. Give my greetings to your Cerialis. My Aelius and my little son send him their greetings. I shall expect you, sister. Farewell, sister, my dearest soul, as I hope to prosper, and hail.’ The power of the written word to reach down millennia. To leave something of ourselves behind. A moment. A thought. A memory.

During my time at Vindolanda I found a bit of russet-coloured Samian ware. A millstone.  I got a tan. I ate and drank in the Twice Brewed. I met Robin Birley, the man who first discovered the tablets – jovial and chain smoking. A voice that rumbled like Jove across the vast Northumbrian moors. I walked a stretch of Hadrian’s Wall. I visited the wall fort at Housesteads, now sentried by sheep. I touched the physical past. All because of Time Team.

I’ve been a fan since it was first broadcast one Sunday evening in January 1994. I enjoy its picaresque quality. The tour of the country. The views. The good weather and the bad weather. I like to watch Tony rushing from one trench to another trying to drum up a bit of excitement. His little legs in wellies, arms flaying, talking through the third wall. Speaking to us like an old pal. The morning of day two and this could be the find that opens up this site! Out of breath, he puffs up to trench three and gets handed a plastic bag with a bit of pot in it. You see his face. He stares. For a moment he can’t speak. Incredulous. Is this it? You’ve radio’d me to jog over here for THIS? Tony wants gold. He wants torcs. He w
ants hoards of Roman coins. He wants Sutton Hoo. He wants Fishbourne Palace. Tony wants a chariot burial complete with silver armour and Boadicea on a battle stallion. Tony wants Excalibur. Tony wants the Holy Grail.

Tony is Time Team’s Everyman. Like Martin in The Office. Like Dr. Watson in the investigations of Sherlock Holmes. He’s there, trudging around in the dirt and the broken footings, on our behalf. Enthusiastic. Sceptical. Disillusioned. Gullible. Optimistic. Infuriated. Loving every minute of it. The sun. The deep prospect across the countryside that’s reinterpreted for him by landscape archaeologist Stewart Ainsworth.  Well, Tony, what you’re looking at is the result of Norman strip farming. The dimensions also gave us the standard English cricket pitch… The wind. The driving rain. The mud and the mystery. Picking bits of jargon up along the way. So this post hole could mean we have a ring ditch?  But I sense that Tony realizes that the programme is on borrowed time. That they have to have something to show the accountants and the commissioners at Channel 4. They need finds. They need glitter and gold. Because modern TV is all about sound bites. Power pills of adrenaline that last a few moments and are gone. Sensationalism. Tabloidism. Shite. Time Team is a relic of another age. It is television that wanders off the path. It’s TV where nothing much is allowed to happen for an hour. It’s a more literate version of reality TV. Television doesn’t get much better than this. The programme begins. Tony’s stood in a copse. England over his shoulder. Mick strolls over, stripy jumper, a matching woolly hat if it’s a bit cold. Brummie accent. ’Ere, Tony, that’s a bit of all right, innit?! Tony says: ‘Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t We just have three days to find out..’ And I know that I’ve got sixty minutes of comfort before me.

And did you know that Hollywood blockbuster Stargate, featuring a flat-topped Kurt Russell and geeky hieroglyph expert James Spader, was based on a real-life episode from the biography of Time Team stalwart Mick Aston? Digging the past. For marketing purposes the action was shifted to Egypt and America, though the actual Stargate was discovered just outside Nether Stowey in Somerset by Aston in 1974. On the same dig Mick also excavated a small shard of pre-Romanic pottery, which the bearded, stripy jumper-wearing Archaeologist says he prizes more than the galaxy-hopping portal as it really shows how people lived in those days.

With lottery funding it is anticipated that the Stargate discovered by Mick could be up and running again sometime in the near future.

This week Tony and the team are in Wiltshire investigating a field outside Salisbury. The farmer’s ploughed up some interesting stuff and then got in touch with the programme. The site’s possibly Roman. Possibly a temple complex. I’m thinking mosaics. Hypocaust system. It could be interesting. Bridget’s got a tight, low-cut top on. Nice one, Tony.

Things I hate #7


WARNING: SCATALOGICAL

My bladder capacity. Because it is, I have to admit, miserably inadequate to the demands I put on it. The fact is that I have the bladder retention of an incontinent five year old. On a long trip. In a small car. On a packed motorway. On a Bank Holiday. After drinking four litres of ice cold Tizer. It’s not pleasant. For anyone.

Take last week, for instance. A simple trip to town. No big deal. We’re not talking about an expedition to the Artic or anything like that. Pop into the bank to pay some bills, do a bit of browsing. Steady away. I got ready, picked up my mobile ‘phone, wallet, car keys. The burglar alarm is beeping and I had my hand on the front door handle when… ‘Just one more before I go…’ So I’m back upstairs, to the toilet. Bearing in mind this is ten o’clock and I’d already been three times. And no, I’m not a diabetic.

I finally get out of the front door, into the car. I get to the end of the road. Pause at the junction. Michael Head has barely launched into the opening verse of ‘Undecided’ and the heater is still thinking about warming up when… ‘Bloody hell, I could do with a wee.’ Thinks. Considers. ‘Sod it, I’ll be all right until I get into Barnsley.’

By the time I’d driven the four miles into the town centre I was frantic. Teeth chattering. Razor blades in my groin. Thumping the steering wheel, screaming at pedestrians to ‘get out of the fucking way!’ Cursing the red traffic lights. The slow moving Fiat Punto on the Sheffield Road roundabout. Yeah, you, you stupid twat! Are you fucking pedalling that or what?! I couldn’t cope. I was cold. I was desperate. Shivering. Mouth dripping with saliva. Shaking. Because I needed a PISS!

From Graham’s Orchard car park – BMBC, robbing twats – I barged other shoppers aside and headed quickly for the rather attractive, Grade listed, underground lavs in Peel Square. All Victorian porcelain and finicky detailing. Obviously spot lit by the usual anti-smackhead blue lights. Up to the urinal, pants opened.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Bliss. Sheer, unadulterated relief. A huge smile on my face and the pleasant sensation of my teeth slotting back into my gums. I could breathe again. It was bloody great.

I was stood there having what I can only describe as a ‘donkey piss’. It was like a fire hose going full tilt at a raging inferno. This on a bowl of cornflakes and a glass of orange juice. Where the bloody hell had all this fluid come from? After what felt like five minutes I started to get concerned. After a further five I was seriously worried. I looked at the shallow gutter, the Century old copper piping. And I was still going for it. I saw a problem looming. ‘If it keeps on like this the system won’t be able to cope and I’ll be ankle deep in my own piss and other people’s chewing gum and dog ends.’ Call for help. A doctor. Or maybe a plumber.

Finally finished, I stepped back up to ground level. A bound in my step. A song in my heart. And as I walked down Cheapside towards WH Smiths for the latest copies of Golf Punk and Marvel Legends, I was struck by a thought, prompted by a faint sensation deep within my groin. ‘Hmmm,’ I murmured to myself, as I dodged the Big Issue seller by Marks & Spencer, ‘I’m ready for another wazz.’ Already. Now I know we’re in the middle of an incredibly cold winter, but I’d barely walked fifty yards.

And this is how it is. My life is balanced on a see-saw that I can never keep level. Between hydration and the nearest toilet.

On nights out it’s even worse. Two pints of Guinness under my belt and I’m in agony. And what’s the worst thing you can do? Yield to it. After that I might as well just spend the night in the bogs. Because, as some borderline alcoholic who’s out in town every night of the week (and the odd afternoon) and who last passed water the week before 9/11 will tell you: you’ve broken the seal. After that there’s no turning back. Every drink I consume doubles in size by the time it hits my bladder thirty seconds later and has to be immediately got rid of. And as someone who got a ‘C’ at GCSE chemistry will smugly inform you: ‘Alcohol’s a diuretic.’ Is it really? Thanks for that, fucking Einstein.

Added to this there’s the after burn. Do you know what I mean? That thimbleful of urine that lurks somewhere deep within your plumbing and that makes an appearance only after you’ve pulled your pants up. I always get it. Sometimes as I’m washing my hands. Sometimes as I head to the door. More often than not its immediately after I’ve zipped up. My shoulders drop, my head falls. Fucking hell! No matter how much shaking I do, no matter what artful twists and tugs I employ, it still fucking happens. And it feels like a bucketful in your undies. Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! The sensation in itself is bad enough, together with the embarrassing possibility of a stain going all the way through to your trousers, but what’s worse is that I’m always troubled by the thought that by mid-afternoon I stink of piss. Like the corridor of an old people’s home.

Maybe Tena Lady is the way forward. A few of them strapped together and plastered to my nether regions. Or big industrial nappies to pull on for work? Or catheterizing myself before nights out? Who knows? There’s a fortune in it if anyone comes up with a viable solution to the adult male’s constant battle with incontinence. I tell you something though, I’m going to have to go. I need a wee.