Clarkson on: petrol

Because I own a teenage daughter, the television in my house is almost always tuned to a music-video station on which a selection of furious young men in stupid trousers urge their followers to take up gardening. It’s a non-stop stream of instruction to “kill a pig” and “do some hoeing”.

Strangely, there seems to be very little actual gardening in the videos, but there are a lot of cars. And here’s something I’ve noticed. The chaps in their enormous baggy gardening trousers drive around incredibly slowly. More slowly even than Percy Thrower, who, of course, is dead.

This is a disturbing development. There was no such thing as a music video when I was growing up, but I feel fairly sure that if Led Zeppelin had made such a thing, and they had felt inclined to feature a car – which is unlikely – they would not have been pottering about at 12mph.

Proper rock stars who could actually play an instrument had Ferraris

which they drove at preposterous speeds, usually into a swimming pool. And it was the same story with people in the movies. James Dean was not doing 12mph when he hit Mr Turnipspeed. And Steve McQueen did not dawdle round San Francisco in his Mustang. He flew. Literally. Speed was good. Speed worked.

When I was growing up, we all wanted to drive fast. Driving fast and doing handbrake turns and spinning the wheels when pulling away from the lights: none of these things had been proven to win a girl’s heart, but we knew from the way they giggled as we flew by that they loved us for it. They thought we were real men. So we went even faster until we crashed.

A car’s top speed was everything. Everyone had a mate called Kev whose Fiesta could do 150. We all had stories about beating Porsche 911 turbos on the ring road. And traffic lights weren’t signals to aid with the commuter flow of a morning. They were start signals. Red: rev. Orange: rev more. Green: dump the clutch. In my mind, that’s what it said in the Highway Code back then.

The first time I was stopped by the police for speeding – and this happened very infrequently – I was so embarrassed that it had only been 88mph that I told my mates it was 118. And even then, they weren’t impressed because, as we know, all of them had a mate called Kev whose Fiesta could do 150.

Now, at this point you are probably expecting me to call for the young people of today to put away their cycling helmets and their high-visibility safety vests and get a bloody move on. But I’m afraid there’s absolutely no point. Because it’s impossible.

It’s not health and safety that’s slowing them down. Young men are not programmed to tip-toe when they can tombstone. And nor is it those young role models on MTV or whatever it’s called these days. If youngsters really were listening to what that lot had to say, they’d all be out in the garden, rearing pigs for market and weeding the veg patch. And they’re not.

It’s not the government’s relentless war on speed either, or Jonathan Porridge running about telling everyone that the ice cap is melting, because of course, we now know that this year, the volume of polar ice has increased dramatically.

No. The real reason that kids in music videos – and in the real world – don’t really drive fast any more is that, with petrol at £6 a gallon, it’s simply too expensive.

And it’s not just kids either. Formula One drivers go slowly – they say – to preserve their tyres. But this is nonsense. It’s because Vodafone can’t afford the fuel bills.



Clarkson on: petrol