Clarkson on: choice
Until quite recently, it was possible to decorate your house once and then spend the rest of your life eating cheese and drinking wine. But because this is no longer possible, I have just installed a completely new kitchen.
The trouble is, every time you turn on the telly, you have Kevin McLoud, who is a genius, telling you that your oldeworlde farmhouse ways - and all your grandfather's hand-me-down furniture - is horrid and must be burned immediately.
Then you go to the newsagents where, in the olden days, you had a choice of Horse or Hound. Not any more. Now you have Interior Design, Design Interiors, Home Design, Design Home, Interior Home, Country Home, Country Home and Interiors. And the one I can never resist: Wallpaper*. This is Men Only, in zinc and lightened ash.
It is full of angle-poise lights, all of which cost a million pounds, and rugs which are usually a tiny bit more. And there's no escape when you walk round London these days, because it's rammed with furniture shops called BO and VD. All of them will go bankrupt when the economy slides into recession, but for now, they're winking at me as I walk by, like a parade of hookers.
I went in one the other day and bought the skin of a springbok which had been dyed orange. It looked great and was very reasonably priced at a mere £4,775,000. The result of this onslaught is no one can ever be truly satisfied with where they live. Which is why I've just removed an extraordinarily well made Mark Wilkinson tongue-and-groove farmhouse kitchen and replaced it with something so clean and clinical I'm certain I could operate on your family in there with no fear of them catching MRSA. Although they might get sewn up with a tea bag still inside. That can happen if you remove someone's appendix on top of a dishwasher.
Anyway, my new kitchen is made by a German company called Poggenpohl and, disappointingly, it's fairly terrible. Oh, it looks wonderful, a forest of right angles and brushed aluminium, but it was mind-bogglingly expensive for what is basically a lot of poor-quality wood, and, worse still, I have a sneaking suspicion, it's not very well designed.
The Germans may be able to make a car door that can be opened a million times a minute from now till the end of time, but I suspect the life expectancy of the doors in my kitchen will be measurable in minutes. Which, of course, is a good thing, because by next Tuesday, I shall have seen a new kitchen in Wallpaper* and I shall want that.
In fact, I've caught the interior decorating bug so badly that even as we speak, a new orange sofa is on a boat over here from Spain, a woman in Norfolk is making me a new bed-head, a local architect is designing an all-glass extension and I've accidentally turned the children's playroom into a utility space so sharp you could use it to crease Ozwald Boateng's trousers. Did you know you can now buy a metal tube which can be used as a Thunderbirds-style means of getting from the top floor of your house to the bottom? Or that you can now mount speakers that go behind your home cinema screen. Or that Farrow & Ball offer approximately 6,000 different shades of what to the untrained eye is royal blue?
"My new kitchen is made by a German company called Poggenpohl and, disappointingly, it's fairly terrible"
I'm not joking. The choice of things you can do to your house is absolutely endless. And this, naturally, brings me on to Jaguar's website. Since about 15 per cent of my inner being quite fancies an XKR, my eye was caught by an advertisement recently for a new version called the XKR-S. Intrigued by what sort of treasures this car might have in store, I went to their internet page and discovered that it is only available in black, only available as a hard top, only available with a piano interior and only available with an automatic gearbox and I couldn't help thinking; why? Why, if John Lewis can offer me two trillion different sorts of kitchen chair is Jaguar so belligerent?
And it's the same story with Mercedes. Fancy a new SL63. Right. So how many colour options do you suppose they offer on this £101,000 car? A million? A hundred thousand would seem to me to be a bit mean. But the actual answer is 11. Three standard colours and eight metallics. Although, of the eight, two are black, three are silver and that leaves you with a nasty red, a dreary grey and blue.
Then you get to the massive range of four different interior colours. So you select one and are asked to wait a moment while the Mercedes electrons decide whether that interior is possible with the exterior shade you've selected. What do they mean by this? Why would it not be possible to combine any two options? Are they really saying that it is unacceptable to have a blue car with red seats? Because I'm sorry, these people are German. I've seen their jackets. I've seen their shoes. And I will therefore not be lectured by them on what constitutes good taste.
Wheels are the most important part of the way a car looks. The Honda Civic appeared in early photographs to be excellent, but then it crept into the showroom wearing a set of castors, and I'm afraid the whole package was ruined.
So, Mercedes offers a choice of three different wheels for the SL, one of which adds a huge £910 to the price. I'd like to see how these might look on the car, but oddly, that isn't technically possible. I'm picking on Mercedes here, but, truth be told, all car firms are just as bad. Mean in what they offer and meaner still in how those offers are displayed. For instance, if you are thinking of buying an M3, which is excellent, you will go to the BMW site where you are invited to build your own car.
So you click the link, and the screen immediately says: "The BMW Car Configurator uses Java Applet technology for which you require a Java plug-in for your browser. Please check this plug-in is installed and enabled. In the menu option 'Tools' go to 'Internet Options' and then 'Security'. Click on 'Custom Level...' and scroll to 'Microsoft VM'. Under 'Java permissions' click on 'High safety'. If there is no 'Microsoft VM' entry, the virtual machine is not installed. You can obtain this plug-in at: http://www.java.com/en/download. You may require administration rights on your PC to carry out the installation. If problems occur following the installation, please contact email@example.com."
What the hell does that mean? No one ever got rich enough to spend £50k on a car by spending half a day whittling away at the electronic wet dream of some nerd in Bracknell. Just put the car on the screen and shut up. Or we'll buy RS4s instead... except we won't, because the RS4 isn't listed on the Audi UK website. A site where you are invited to design your car, submit the ideas to the factory and wait while it decides whether such a car can be built. I therefore have a plan which might come in handy as the Badger and his cruel Scottish boss lose ever more control over the nation's wealth. We know from the world of interior design there are a great many people who will pay a great deal of money for something unusual, something different.
Therefore, someone should set up a business which takes new cars and tailors them precisely to a customer's requirements. Wheels. Window tinting. Electronics. Leather. Paint. You could even do a deal with Audi, BMW, Merc and Jag whereby unpainted, untrimmed shells are sent to your workshop for the last, and most important stage of manufacture.
The future's bright. You could make it orange too.
This article was first published in July 2008.