Clarkson on: Norfolk
In a previous life I spent a couple of years selling Paddington Bears to toy and gift shops all over Britain. Commercial travelling was a career that didn't really suit - because I had to wear one - but I have ended up with an intimate knowledge of Britain's highways and byways.
I know how to get from Cropredy to Burghwallis and from London Apprentice to Marchington Woodlands. I know where you can park in Basingstoke and that you can't in Oxford. However, I have absolutely no recollection of Norfolk. I must have been there because I can picture, absolutely, the shops I used to call on in, er, one town in this flat and featureless county. And there's another thing, I can't remember the name of one town.
The other day I had to go to a wedding in one little town in Norfolk. It's not near anywhere you've heard of, there are no motorways that go anywhere near it, and God help you if you run out of petrol.
For 30 miles, the Cosworth ran on fumes until I encountered what would have passed for a garage 40 years ago. The man referred to unleaded petrol as "that newfangled stuff" and then, when I presented him with a credit card, looked like I'd given him a piece of myrrh.
"The spoiler fascinated them because they reckoned it might be some sort of crop sprayer"
Nevertheless, he tottered off into his shed and put it in the till, thus providing that no part of the 20th century has caught up with Norfolk yet.
This is not surprising because it's nearly impossible to get there. From London, you have to go through places such as Hornsey and Tottenham before you find the M11, which sets off in the right direction, but then, perhaps sensibly, veers off to Cambridge. And from everywhere else you need a Camel Trophy Land Rover.
Then, when you get there and you're sitting around in the hotel lobby waiting for the local man to stop being a window cleaner, gynaecologist and town crier and be a receptionist for a while, you pick up a copy of Norfolk Life. It is the world's smallest magazine.
In the bar that night, when we said we had been to a wedding in Thorndon, everyone stopped talking. A dart hit the ceiling and the man behind the counter dropped a glass. "No-one," he said, "has been to Thorndon since it burned down 40 years back." Then he went off, muttering about the "widow woman".
Moving about Norfolk, however, can be fun. I am used to having people point as I go by. Most shout, "Hey, look, it's a Cosworth!" but in Norfolk they shout, "Hey, look, it's a car!"
Everywhere else people want to know how fast it goes, but in Norfolk they asked how good it was at ploughing. The spoiler fascinated them because they reckoned it might be some sort of crop sprayer.
I'm sure witchcraft has something to do with it. The government should stop promoting the Broads as a tourist attraction and they should advise visitors that ‘here be witches'.
They spend millions telling us that it is foolish to smoke, but not a penny telling us not to go to Norfolk - unless you like orgies and the ritual slaying of farmyard animals.
The next time some friends get married in Norfolk, I'll send a telegram. Except it won't get there because they haven't heard of the telephone yet. Or paper. Or ink.
Want to comment on this?
Okay, being native from Norfolk I admit, we haven't got much in the way of landscape. But Mr Clarkson, having been an fan of yours for several years I can't believe you'd be in the same boat as John Prescott in bashing this sparsely populated county. It may be famous for Delia Smith and thats about it but come on, the people aren't so bad...many may be slow and a bit tricky to communicate with but that's what gives it character. Just don't hold it against everyone from Norfolk, unlike others, some do venture outside the county and experience the real world with cars, tv and little boxes that people talk into whilst walking down the street!