Clarkson on: choice
Have you tried to buy a pair of training shoes recently? I have and I don't want to sound like I'm a million-years old, but when I was at school, it really was terribly simple - for indoor work, you had the simple black pump and for outdoor activity, the Green Flash tennis shoe.
I'm aware, of course, that fashion has goose-stepped its way into the world of leisure footwear in recent years and that certain brands are now very uncool. This, however, was not the problem. Whether I'm identified with the bassist from Travis or one of the Sugarbabes does not interest me overmuch.
No, I had flown to New Zealand and realised that the penny loafers that I'd packed might be a trifle unsuitable for scrabbling up a chunk of giantised magma, so I hurried into a sports shop hoping that I might buy a pair of comfy size tens.
But it wasn't that simple. What did I want them for, asked the man in the shop. "Well, my feet really," I replied. No, no, no. What was I going to do in them? "Well, sort of walk about".
This wasn't good enough. He needed to know what sort of walking and on what sort of terrain. So I explained that I'll be starting off on a road, then I'll be walking up a well trodden path which will become progressively more rocky and Janet Street-Porterish.
This elicited a sucking in of air through the teeth. "Hmm," he said. "Road, track and rock. Now that's a tricky combination". By this stage in my shopping trip, my car had a ticket, and the New Zealand parliament was sitting to decide whether or not they should introduce some kind of tow-away scheme for persistent offenders.
I couldn't believe it. And I especially couldn't believe the shoes he produced. Finished in suede and leather and equipped with a price tag that appeared to have fallen off the space station, they had soles of such enormity that even a Ukrainian prostitute would have blanched.
"I can't drive in those things," I said incredulously. "No," he replied laughing. They're not for driving. You need another pair for that... and another for getting out of the car and another for getting to the side of the road and another for the light track and then, I could change into the leather and suede breeze blocks which would make me about 27-feet tall.
And what's more, none of these shoes could be used should I abandon the policy of a life time and do sport of some kind.
You don't just buy a shoe for running any more. You have to be specific. So you must say whether you want to do short, fast stints, or a long slow plod. Nike, for example, bills its Air Structure Triax as a shoe for the runner who needs motion control and cushioning without any sass.
What does that mean exactly?
There are now magazines devoted to the myriad of choice and in ‘road tests' the ‘journalists' talk about high rebound compound, rubberised GTO cushioning pads, thermoplastic devices in the midfoot, composite wave plates and my favourite, the DuoSole forefoot with blown rubber.
Did you know that training shoes are now so technologically advanced that there are industry recalls. I mean it. In July 2001, Nike recalled 425,000 pairs of Jordan Trunners because a piece of metal could protrude from the heel, causing injury.
It's all jolly interesting, chiefly because it's all rubbish. You simply don't need this amount of technology, or this amount of choice, in a bloody shoe.
And I suspect it's much the same story in the world of cars. Honda develops variable valve timing - the automotive equivalent of composite wave plates probably - and the damn thing is bought by a little old lady who never exceeds six miles an hour and doesn't know what the radio is for.
Then there's the question of choice. In the beginning, you had three cars to choose from: the saloon, the estate and the off-roader for farmers. Then along came the MPV. Then the Mini MPV. And then the Mini MPV with four-wheel drive. And strangely, in the case of the Honda HR-V, the four-wheel drive with two-wheel drive.Whoa there, boy. This is all too complicated. And that was before we got to the Renault Avantime, which is an MPV coupe. Or to put it another way, impossible.
"Did you know that training shoes are now so technologically advanced that there are industry recalls"
It got to the point where the simple saloon was looking awfully forlorn. Small children would climb inside and enquire: "Where are the wings, daddy, and how do we turn it into a submarine?"
The fact is, however, that the saloon, for all its alderman Fifties austerity, is actually a pretty good compromise. You get seating for five, a boot in which things can be locked and an engine in the front. You get, as a by- product of this, refinement because the noisy rear end is outside and you get, if the stylist knows his onions from his swede, good looks too. I like a nice saloon car.
And that's why I was delighted to see the Ford 427 at the recent Detroit Motorshow. Most people, of course, were drawn away by the air sole blown rubber Aston Martin V8 but I liked the simple Ford.
Finished in black to make it look sinister - "We want people to feel like they're doing something wrong even when they're not," say the designers - it has a seven-litre V10 engine. So actually, chances are you will be doing something wrong anyway.
The main reason why this car was there, though, was to remind people that Ford still does saloons. Because with all the Sports Utility Vehicles and Mini Sports Utility Vehicles and Sports Utility Vehicle Multi Purpose Vehicles, it's easy to overlook the Terry and June-mobile in the far corner. Overlook it at your peril, though, because let's not forget, shall we, that Ford's best car is the Mondeo.
Furthermore, the car everyone buys when they make it is not a Ferrari or a Lambo. It's an S-Class Mercedes-Benz saloon and the best new car I drove last year was the Mazda6. Which is a Green Flash tennis shoe with windscreen wipers.
The saloon car is like the saloon bar. You may be drawn to the fancy new bistro with its crisp white wines and its exotic nuts. But for a pie and a pint...
This article was first published in March 2003.