Clarkson on: gardening
When I bought my house, seven years ago, the previous owners left behind what can only be described as a tropical rainforest in the conservatory. There were plants in there that would have left Attenborough breathless. Ray Mears could have filmed an entire series in one corner alone. It was wonderful.
And I was determined to look after it, so every day my wife and I fed those plants and read them poetry. We nurtured them so much that within two years, all of them were dead.
Undaunted, we went to the garden centre and bought a whole new selection which were planted and nourished with the sort of loving care normally only found between a parent and their child. They died too.
So we bought more, which were attacked by a beetle that made all their leaves sticky. To prevent the disease spreading, we moved them outside where they were killed by the frost. Even the pots they were in shattered. You've heard of cot death? Well, this was the far more lethal ‘pot death'.
Then we got serious. We sought expert help, bought books and had electric blinds fitted so that it was never too hot in there, or too cold. And that was just the start.
We ripped up the floor and installed hot water pipes beneath grates so that you could go in there with a hosepipe and all the spare water, when it hit the pipes, would turn to steam. It was a sauna and massage parlour. A little bit of equatorial Brazil in the middle of Chipping Norton. It was perfect, except for one small thing. Everything died.
"Our conservatory? It's the Killing Fields of the Cotswolds, a little bit of Paschendale, brought to North Oxfordshire"
Well, not everything. There's one forlorn thing which is clinging to life about as adroitly as it's clinging to the stone work. And I'm assured the orchid isn't technically dead yet, though you could have fooled me.
Otherwise, each pot is full of dead leaves, butt ends (from ffrench-Constant's last visit), a bit of cracked and whizened soil and a pointless twig. Our conservatory? It's the Killing Fields of the Cotswolds, a little bit of Paschendale, brought to North Oxfordshire.
Why? We know the previous owners could manage it perfectly well. We have the books, the know-how and the wherewithal. And we have the perfect south-facing spot. Everything is fine, and yet everything still goes and dies.
The board of BMW must feel the same sort of despondency when they look at their soon-to-be-axed Z8. When it was being born, they knew pretty well everything there was to know about sports car design. They had the best brains in the business and one of the best looking shapes. They had the M5 engine and free use of the trick Z axle. Yet when all these ingredients were mixed together, they ended up with a bowl of ice cream and gravy.
The Z8 was the same as David Bailey getting his pictures back from Boots with a sticker on each of them: ‘This picture is fuzzy because you had your thumb in front of the lens, or because you forget to take the lens cap off'.
And it's not just the Z8. The Audi A2 must have seemed like a marvellous idea on paper - take the Audi badge and apply it to a super-light aluminium body which, despite its small size, is big enough for four and their luggage. Serve with tasty little diesel engine et voila.
Et voila, indeed. Somehow, the finished product was like my orchid. A lot of moss and roots with very little flower. I'm told the new boss of Audi, Burnt Fishtrousers, is not a fan either. On his first morning at work, having come from BMW, he pointed at the smallest car in Audi's range and said, "You can get rid of that for a start." Or words to that effect.
Then there's the Peugeot 607. Take one piece of bread, one toaster, one knife, some butter and Gordon Ramsay's toast chef. That's what Peugeot did... and they ended up with some cream cheese, served on a bed of dark chocolate McVities Homewheat biscuit.
Actually, I feel sorry for Peugeot. You get the impression they didn't want to make the 607, but the French government said: "Look, the Germans can turn up at EU meetings in a Mercedes and the British in a Range Rover. Even the Italians can go in an Alfa 166, so there is no way we're rocking up in a Clio. Build us something big".
So, that's what they got. The best way of describing the 607 is ‘something big'.
Jaguar falls into this category as well with the X-Type. They had access to Ford's lucky dip parts bin where every prize is a winner and they had Ford's cheque book too. They had a factory where the car could be made, and a workforce trained for the job. However, there's an X factor that went missing in the mix, so that whenever you're in an X-Type, you find yourself saying "I can't believe it's not a Jaguar". But it isn't, somehow.
The problem is, of course, that you can have as many committees and as many computers as you can fit in the building but cars, like everything else, are designed by people, and people make mistakes.
Every week, for instance, we put Top Gear together at the BBC. Half the office knows everything there is to know about cars and the other half knows everything there is to know about television. Between us, we can work out what should be on the show. And pretty well every single week, we get it wrong.
Last month we kicked off with the Rolls-Royce and moved moments later into the Rover P5B. It looked like a great idea on paper, covering the last word in luxury and then explaining how you can have the same sort of thing for £8,000. But I looked at my seven-year-old son halfway through the programme and he was fast asleep.
I therefore don't blame Lexus for the SC430. They tried and they made a pig's ear of it. I even feel sorry for them because they can't say ‘whoops' and move on. They have to pretend it was what they wanted all along.
Only after a car goes out of production do you hear the manufacturers saying "Jesus Christ, we got that one wrong".
Interestingly, I still haven't heard anyone from Vauxhall admit that the last Vectra was off beam. Indeed, it'd be nice if someone from the company said the entire range - Corsas, Astras, Omegas and Vectras - was like my conservatory, a room full of dead twigs.
It seems, though, they have a better idea. With the Aussie V8 Monaro coupe and the new sports car waiting in the wings, and the Signum and VX turbo here now, it seems they're forgetting what's done and showing the world what's to come. I am too. My fuscia's bright. My fuscia's orange.