Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson

Clarkson on: books

Quentin Willson has read a great many books and is prone to inserting large and complicated pieces of Shakespeare into normal conversation. My wife's bedside book table, on the other hand, is filled entirely with those orange-spined Penguin Classics, all of which are about women in beekeeper hats who walk around fields full of poppies, doing nothing. These make for good bed-time reading, only on the basis that you need to go to sleep. "A Saturday afternoon in November was approaching the time of twilight and the vast, unenclozzzzzzz..."

With Quentin's books, I'd have to spend the whole time buried in a dictionary, finding out what all the words meant. The guy reads Chaucer for fun, for Chrissakes!

All my books have either a sub-marine or a jet fighter on the front and they're full of goodies who seem like they're going to lose but who, on the last page, do in fact win. I like plots, and Hardy wouldn't recognise a plot if one jumped out of a hedge and ate his foot. A book is no good, as far as I'm concerned, unless I just cannot put it down. I missed a plane once - on purpose - because I was still sitting at home finishing Red Storm Rising. If Princess Diana had walked into my bedroom naked as a jaybird just as I was three quarters of the way through The Devil's Advocate, I wouldn't have looked up long enough even to tell her to get lost. My wife, however, has just taken two years - yes, years - to read Wild Swans, which is about a woman in China who has a daughter who goes to live somewhere else.

""I missed a plane once - on purpose - because I was still sitting at home finishing Red Storm Rising"

But I have just read a book which has no plot, no F-16 on the cover, no goodies, no baddies, and I absolutely loved it. Which is a bit of a worry. It's called Rivethead and it's by an American person called Ben Hamper who, in the review section, describes it as ‘an enormously enjoyable read. I laughed. I cried. I learned. I got naked and performed cartwheels for my repulsed neighbours'. My kinda guy.

Basically, Rivet-head is the story of one man; a man who gets up every morning and goes to work at the General Motors truck and bus plant in Flint, Michigan. Really, it should have an orange spine, but mercifully it doesn't. Because if it did, I never would have heard about GM's answer to the Japanese threat. You see, when American cars were being sold with tuna sandwiches under the driver's seat and coke bottles rattling in the doors, GM decided it must impress on its workforce the need for better standards. The workforce, largely, was a doped-up bunch of ne'er-do-wells who thought only of their weekly pay cheques and how much beer they could cram in at lunch-time, which is why GM's decision to have a man dress up as a cat and prowl the aisles, spurring people on, is a trifle odd. That they called him Howie Makem is stranger still.

Equally peculiar was the later scheme, which involved the erection of several sizeable electronic notice boards all over the plant. These kept the people informed of sales, production figures and such, but could also be used for messages. One day it would say: ‘Quality is the backbone of good workmanship' and on another: ‘Safety is safe', but Hamper saves his vitriol for the day when he looked up from underneath a suburban pick-up to see the sign: ‘Squeezing rivets is fun!' He goes on to wonder whether, in the local sewage works, there are boards telling the guys that ‘Shovelling turds is fun'. And asks why, if the ‘demented pimps' who had dreamed up this message thought riveting was so much fun, they weren't all down on the line every lunchtime, having the time of their lives.

Hamper also lays into the likes of Springsteen and John Cougar Mellonfarm, asking what they know about the daily grind. He says they should be forced to write about things they understand, like cocaine orgies, beluga caviar and tax shelters.

I made an exception and read this book because I am interested in the car industry, but I can recommend it to you even if you have never been in a car plant, and don't ever intend to.

I tried to get Quentin to read it, but as the first word is ‘Dead' and not ‘Sibilance', he said he couldn't be bothered... and asked how Janet and John were these days.


Jeremy Clarkson, Column

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