James May

James May garage sale illustration

Stuff and nonsense

I’ve said before in Top Gear magazine that the price of fuel is actually an irrelevance. By the time you’ve bought a car, insured it, taxed it and put some aside for repairs, the cost of filling it up amounts to little more than a hill of beans.

Yes, occasionally the price of petrol goes up a bit, and we all moan about it, but then we continue to pay up and drive on. Same with beer. Same with smokes. Same with stamp duty. None of it really matters in the grand scheme of things.

But I’m now wrong, because all of a sudden, the price of fuel does matter, the sodding stuff is so expensive. Since you’re reading this magazine, your car is probably very important to you. And, chances are, you’re as depressed as I am by the fact that fuel is suddenly so disproportionately pricey. But don’t worry, because I have some great advice for you.

So far, most advice we’ve had on tackling the fuel price crises has been pretty hopeless. As we demonstrated on the programme a few weeks ago, there’s no point chopping in your car for something more frugal, because the amount of money you lose on the sale will far outweigh the savings you make through driving around in a diesel hatchback feeling miserable.

Neither can you realistically change the way you drive, because economical driving is defeatist and boring and unbecoming of anyone who enjoys cars. So it looks as though you’ve been right royally stuffed on this one, but you haven’t. There is an answer. What you need to do is change the way you live.

This thought came to me in, of all places, my kitchen, when I was rooting through its drawers and cupboards looking for something. I came across a device for forming mashed potato into balls, which was popular in the Seventies. I’ve never used it.

Neither have I used the spirit-fired sauce-warming device, the big flat thing for fish, or the rotisserie attachment for the cooker. I even own a small food mixer, but I can tell by looking at it that the last time it was used was for mixing paint.

“I came across a device for forming mashed potato into balls, which was popular in the Seventies”

So if you’re about to set up home or become a student, I would suggest this. All you really need in the kitchen is a medium-sized sharp knife, a big pan, a small pan, a frying pan, a pie dish, a cheese grater, a kettle and a toaster. You will never need the Nigella casserole, the Ken Hom wok or the Gordon Ramsey apron. You definitely do not need the thing for making parmesan shavings. This will probably save you a couple of grand over a lifetime, all of which can be spent on petrol.

I moved on to the wardrobe, where I discovered 1,001 shirts that haven’t been worn for a decade. All you really need are two smart shirts, a couple of T-shirts, two pairs of jeans and a suit for weddings and funerals. All the cash you were going to waste at Abercrombie and Fitch can now be diverted to the petrol station.

Same with shoes. You can only wear one pair at a time, so you need a black pair (for the funeral),a brown pair and something floppy for holidays. Put the rest of your shoe budget in the tank, and make the shoes you have last longer.

This is the great irony of the current fuel crisis. Here we are begrudging the cost of a mere consumable, but spending far too much money on material things that we don’t really need and that are just landfill-in-waiting. Even the greenies can’t argue with this one. Driving around will do less environmental damage than filling the world with junk, all of which has to be manufactured and distributed. And what do you get at the end of it? A trendy table lamp that your grandchildren will take to the dump when you peg it. You could have gone for a nice drive.

The trouble is that this doesn’t become clear until middle age, which is where I am now, and which is why I’m trying to warn you. Looking around my home, I can honestly say that, barring food, I need never buy anything again. Anything. Even if I live for another 50 years, I will never wear out all my shoes and shirts. I have too much furniture. There are at least 50 books on the shelf I haven’t read, and I am never going to make a coddled egg. I doubt I will even use up all the ballpoint pens in the drawer of my desk.

In fact, I’m beginning to wonder what I’m going to spend my money on. Beer and petrol, by the looks of it.



James May, Column

What do you think?

This service is provided by Disqus and is subject to their privacy policy and terms of use. Please read Top Gear's code of conduct (link below) before posting.