Clarkson on: mopeds
Sometimes, you just want to run around the fields, screaming. We’ve got the Green Party hosting its annual conference in the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, not because it’s convenient or because it’s an especially eco-friendly building. But because it’s got the word ‘African’ in the title.
And the Greens want a law which forces television companies to screen their party political broadcasts. Give me strength. Honestly, I’d rather watch Hollyoaks than this lot with their chunky jumpers and their fair-trade teeth.
Then you’ve got the government. Did you know that since the Labour Party came to power in 1997, it has introduced 3,605 new laws? That’s nearly one a day. As a result, you are no longer able to disturb a pack of eggs unless instructed to do so by an authorised officer. Nor may you sell a game bird killed on Christmas Day.
But while they are very good at bossing us about, they plainly don’t have the first idea what to do about anything else. Take transport as an example. Gordon Brown wants us all in battery-powered cars by a week on Wednesday, but does he have a clue where all the electricity that will be needed to power these cars will come from? Does he hell.
He’s got half the Green Party on top of every power station chimney in the land, and the other half living in trees where he plans to build some more. Nuclear power? Yes, he likes that very much, but sadly, despite his completely mad predecessor claiming that the three most important things in the country are “education, education and education”, nothing’s actually been done, so now the number of people in Britain qualified to design and build a nuclear power station is about none.
As a result, we’ve had to go to the French who are behaving like those Froggy soldiers in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Sniggering a lot and telling Mr Brown they’d love to help him build his shiny new power stations, but it won’t be possible for another 400 years because they’re a bit busy at the moment building them for countries they actually like.
And as our politicians dither about, making silly noises, and oil prices continue to scream toward the heavens like they’re trying to beat some kind of altitude record, everyone in the country is facing a simple choice. Shall I spend this week’s wages on a pint of fuel for the car, or on a pizza for the kids’ supper?
Then, last month, some jumped-up little pipsqueak waded into the debate, wondering why demand for expensive organic food is down 19 per cent. Well, let’s think...
It’s because people haven’t got any money, you twat. When your house is worthless, food costs more than gold, you are facing redundancy and petrol is a million pounds a gallon, you are hardly likely to spend a hundred quid on some shrivelled up mushroom just so a polar bear can have a bigger playground.
Happily, the only place I like to see a polar bear is without the meaty bits, in front of my fire. With Cameron Diaz on it.
I don’t care about how much carbon dioxide is in the upper atmosphere, I don’t care about genetically modified crops, or whether the Olympics will be sustainable or not. I don’t care about whales, or Tasmanian tree frogs. Because really, all that matters, is getting people to and from work easily, so they can earn money, which they can use to buy food and heating oil. The end...
Except it isn’t the end, because you join me now in Hanoi, which is the capital of Vietnam. This is the 57th poorest country in the world. The average wage is £500 a year. People live in one room, with their pigs and a buffalo. It is exactly the sort of place, then, to which stupid do-gooders come to see if they can teach the locals the ways of the West.
"I do not wish to do 0 to 60 in two seconds on a machine that can’t stand up by itself"
Strangely, however, I think we’d be better off seeing if we could learn a thing of two from them.
You see, despite Vietnam having a population of 86 million, a habitable land mass about the size of Luxembourg and very few roads, you never encounter what we’d call a traffic jam. This is because in Vietnam there are almost no cars. But 20 million motorbikes. And that number is growing by 3.6 million a year.
As you know, I am no fan of the motor bicycle. I do not wish to wear a leather romper suit. I do not wish for my spleen to end up in someone I don’t know, just because there was a diesel spillage. And I do not wish to do 0 to 60 in two seconds on a machine that can’t stand up by itself and which is utterly bamboozled by a small pothole.
However, the motorbikes in Vietnam are not the R1s and Fireblades that we have here. They are small; 125s mostly, with a top speed no one even tries to reach because, when you earn £500 a year, you simply don’t have money to blow on a thrill.
No. The motorbike is simply a tool. It is a device which transports you, your family, and your cattle to the market. I jest not. You often see people wobbling down the road on a Honda Dream, with a live cow on the back. They are even sold as family saloons, and you see them being used as such with five people on board. Mum, Dad, the two kids you’re allowed to have, and Grandad on the back.
They are also delivery trucks. Need a 50-foot length of pipe delivering? Call someone with a Dream. Need a fridge freezer popping down to your chum’s gaff? Call someone with a Dream. Over there, nothing is so large that it can’t be fixed to the back of a Honda.
It all sounds like mayhem, but it’s not a free-for-all. There are rules. If you are over seven, you must wear a crash hat, although it doesn’t say what the hat must be. So anything goes. Flower pots. Burberry baseball caps. Kettles. Anything that stops the police pulling you over and demanding a $2 fine.
Sadly, because of the headgear issue, the casualties are fairly high. About 15 people a week get wasted. But despite the sheer number of bikes, the system never jams up.
Here, for instance, is how the Green Cross Code works. You arrive at the pavement and simply set off without looking. So long as you neither speed up nor stop, you will not be hit. The bikes simply flow round you like you are a rock in a mountain brook.
At roundabouts, you pull out when you get there. And if you can’t be bothered to drive on the right, don’t bother. Use the left. Then, when it rains, which it does for months at a time, and hard, you simply pull a plastic sheet over your Burberry flower pot and keep right on going. Buses? No need to worry, because, in the whole country, there are about three.
It is very obviously a system that works. Even my 12-year-old son worked that one out, all by himself. “It should be like this in London,” he said. Unfortunately, he’s 12 and is therefore precluded from becoming Britain’s Minister of Transport.
The funny thing is that Vietnam is Communist and has recognised that mass public transport is not really an alternative to private transport. So they are building more factories to build more bikes. We, on the other hand, get bus lanes. And that’s because who we’ve got in power are worse than Communists. They are fools.