Jeremy on: appreciation
Devout enthusiasts of the baby Jesus would like us to believe that everything on earth was designed by God. All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.
I was thinking about this on a beach in the Seychelles last month. Fluttering in the deep blue sky was a small white bird. It's known simply as the white tern, and it is, almost certainly, the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. Some birds are larger, some are faster and many have more spectacular plumage, but the way this one flitters about is quite extraordinary.
It ducks and weaves and turns with the delicacy of a Lotus 49, but with the silence of a military remembrance service. And as it does so, its whiteness seems to become almost translucent, as though it's made, not from feathers and meat, but extremely delicate porcelain.
I became obsessed with this bird because it raises a big question. If God is capable of designing such a thing, what was he thinking when he did Piers Morgan. Or the rhinoceros?
He fitted it with armour plating, a massive spiky horn and the strength to roll over a Land Rover. But then he made it a vegetarian. What's that all about? That'd be like giving a nightclub bouncer ballet dancer's feet. And, as a final insult, he fitted its eyes far too low down in its face, and didn't connect them up to the brain properly. So it's pretty much blind.
We see an equally disastrous set of issues with the marabou stork. It was given what looks like a porn star's scrotum under its chin, and bald legs. Which wouldn't be so bad if it lived in Scotland. But it doesn't. It lives in Africa, so the only way it can keep its pins cool is by urinating on them constantly.
And what was on his mind when he did the lobster? Not his work, that's for sure. Because why would you deliberately make a creature that's ugly, stupid and delicious?
On Top Gear's most recent big adventure, we went through the mountains of south-west Uganda, and the views really were stupendous. Heavenly, you might say, in fact. And I've seen equally stunning vistas in northern Iraq, New Zealand, Arizona, Chile and Yorkshire. So how, if God is capable of making scenery as jaw-dropping as this, do you explain Dunstable?
We see this conundrum all over the natural world. You have trees as big as the giant sequoias, as ingenious as the basket tree and as pretty as the blue jacaranda. The man who created such things is plainly extremely gifted, and yet he also did the lime. Which is ugly and dribbles glue onto your car.
Then there's me. I look at myself in the mirror sometimes and imagine that if I'd been made in heaven's assembly plant, it must have been last thing on a Friday when they were running short of parts. "Oh, go on, God. Let's just make one more before we knock off." "But we only have these reject legs and this massive stomach and we've no head hair left at all. We'll have to put pubes on his bonce, and that would look ridiculous." Seriously, if the people factory up there beyond the clouds can make George Clooney and Daniel Craig, why did it choose to make such a mess of me?
God is portrayed by those who believe as a man of infinite wisdom and goodness. But the truth is that, for every white tern, and every child's gurgle of joy, there's a killer virus and a wasp. A point that was made extremely well by Monty Python's alternative version of the hymn ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful'. Search for it here on the interweb and have a listen.
Naturally, this brings me neatly to the steering wheel of the Riva Aquarama. Nobody is suggesting God did that. It was made up of parts he created - cows, trees and iron ore - but the assembly, the shape. That was us.
We demonstrated with this Sixties speedboat that we as a species are capable of creating immense beauty. And we did it again 20 years later with the Humber Bridge. And again, more recently, with the Jaguar F-Type. The white tern among cars, the automotive world's Bwindi. George Clooney with windscreen wipers.
So why, if we are capable of producing things this good, did someone at Pontiac do the Aztec? When they had finished, did they sit back and say: "Yes, that's absolutely perfect. A rival for anything from the hand of Leonardo."
Or the Ford Scorpio. At some point, the man who designed it must have walked into the boardroom with his clay model and said, "This is it." And instead of saying, "You are sacked," the board said, "Fantastic." I can only assume it was late on Christmas Eve, and they all wanted to get home.
I look now at all the cars driving past my window, and almost all of them make me feel poorly. The Mercedes-Benz E-Class: why does it have that completely unnecessary crease down the rear flank? The new Range Rover: what's with those gills in the doors? The Honda CR-V: was it a bet? Then we have the new Ford B-Max. I bet that after they'd created a car with no B-pillars and a very clever 1.0-litre engine, they were so pleased, they completely failed to notice that it's one of the stupidest-looking cars on the market today. It's far too thin.
The only car that's even more stupid is the Nissan Juke. You just know that, if this were a person, it would turn up for work wearing a stripy jumper and that, back at home, its hard drive would be of great interest to the police.
In every single sector of the market there is a good-looking car. The Fiesta's a fine-looking small hatch. The BMW 5-Series is a handsome saloon. The Kia Sportage has exactly the sort of Tonka-toy styling you'd expect from a soft-roader. So, just when someone is saying that a certain type of car can't be good-looking because it needs to be practical or whatever, someone else is out there proving them wrong.
In short, there's no excuse for a bad-looking car any more. But we continue to churn them out anyway. This is because to have the good, you need the bad. There needs to be a gap. God knew this. And now the car manufacturers are simply carrying on with his work. You wouldn't appreciate the white tern if you didn't have the lobster. And you can't appreciate the Jaguar F-Type without the Ford B-Max. In the same way that girls wouldn't swoon over Richard Hammond if he didn't present Top Gear alongside May and me.