Clarkson on: pain and road safety
I’m in extreme discomfort. Any attempt to move sends a shard of agony searing through my left shoulder blade, all the way down my arm and then out of the palm of my hand in a gushing spout of face-bending pain.
Any attempt to stay still results in the pain being doubled. Sitting down is especially uncomfortable, as is watching TV, eating, standing up, talking, listening, typing and driving. Sleeping is right out.
Obviously, I went to the doctor and, being the world’s worst patient, informed him solemnly that I’d caught cancer and that nothing could be done. He wasn’t so sure, however, and having poked and prodded a bit, announced that I have something in Latin. “There are”, he said, “three painful conditions in medicine: childbirth, passing a kidney stone, and what you’ve got.”
In childbirth, women get to scream and yell and sweat and shout abuse at their husbands. When I’m doing the TV show, I have to sit there calmly and interview David Dimbleby. How brave is that?
According to one of the many osteopaths I’ve seen in the last week, the cause of my injury – and it’s spinal by the way – is oversteer. He’s watched the show and noticed that I spend the whole time going sideways with smoke pouring off the tyres, and that to stay upright, I’m always bracing my head against the g forces and I’m suffering as a result.
This is a problem, because if I can’t do the oversteery stuff any more, Top Gear TV is up a gum tree. Hammond can get a car sideways, but by the time he’s got it straight again, he’s in Berkshire, and May doesn’t like it at all. He thinks oversteer is a left-wing plot of some kind.
The only solution then, was for me to take every single drug ever made by any company in the world, in the hope that one would stop the pain.
The doctor was very obliging, writing out an endless stream of prescriptions and giving me all sorts of anti-oversteer pills from his big black bag. “None of them will make me drowsy?”, I asked “because it’s hard to record the studio section of Top Gear when you’re in a deep sleep”.
He assured me that none would, and he was right. But he forgot to mention that one of them would make me a bit spacey. Yesterday, for instance, I thought I was Kofi Annan. And now? Now, I’m fairly sure that I’m a Harrier Jump Jet. No matter, at least the pain is manageable. I even managed to make Live8 where, in the backstage bar, I discovered an even better cure than prescribed drugs. It’s called alcohol, and if you take enough, you become so numb you forget your pain. You even forget to be nasty to David Beckham. I did.
There’s another cure too. Watching Pink Floyd. During their set, I ventured out among the great unwashed where, for 20 glorious minutes, I forgot that I was an invalid. Sadly, it’s impossible to go through life with a Seventies supergroup in constant attendance, so it’s back to the pills and the booze. Which might explain a brainwave I had last night...
You may have read this month that the death toll on UK roads fell last year to its lowest level since records began in 1926. That’s truly astonishing because in 1926, there were only 17 cars on the road and, mostly, none of them would start if it was hot, cold, wet, windy or dry. And even if they did start, they had a top speed of about seven.
“The doctor said, “there are three painful conditions in medicine: childbirth, passing a kidney stone, and what you’ve got””
Now, there are 31 million vehicles on the road – one million of which are driven by people from countries where, to pass the driving test, you give someone in a uniform an ox, for example, and they give you a permit to drive a car.
Even so, the number of people killed last year on our roads was just 3,221, which means we have just about the best record of any country in the world.
Of course, those of a baggy-breasted disposition point out that we were beaten by countries such as Iceland, Canada, Monte Carlo and various other places which only exist to give statisticians a headache. Then there’s the Vatican City, scream the wiry haired cyclists, where last year, no people at all were killed. ‘That’s what we should be aiming for’.
They say that despite the improvements, nine people a day are still wasted by motor vehicles and that this is too many. As a result, they want lower limits, more buses, more Gatsos, more mobile patrols, greater penalties, a lower drink-drive limit, no 4x4s and more congestion charging.
And they’ll probably get it, since there’s nothing Tony and Cherie like more than a baggy-breasted adviser in organic shoes. Especially when her ideas are likely to generate more fines, which means more money for Gordon Brown to spend importing more people into the country to pay more fines.
Unless, that is, someone has a better idea. And that’s where my drug induced brainwave comes in.
At present, I have to drive round the western fringes of the M25 a lot and I’m constantly staggered at the variable speed limits flashing up on the overhead gantries, because they bear no relationship at all, ever, to the prevailing traffic conditions. This is because they’re chosen by some clot in a control room, probably in Bangladesh, whose data comes from Mars, probably.
Then you’ve got the roadworks, where the limit moves endlessly from 40 to 50, partly I know, to make sure everyone goes past the cameras too quickly, but also because the people who decide how fast we should be travelling are stupid.
Forty miles per hour, on a road with no pedestrians, where everyone’s going in the same direction is silly. And on the M25 it’s worse than that because you’re either not moving at all, or it’s clear enough to drive at 208.
So how’s this for a plan? Currently, there’s no fixed link between the euro and the pound. They move depending on how well or badly the economy is doing. Well, why not apply this to kilometres and miles? At the moment, there are about five miles to eight kilometres. Why not make this variable? So, when the German economy finally hauls itself out of the doldrums, bringing the euro with it, there will be more kilometres to the mile and as a result our speed limits will fall. This will cut the death rate and, at the same time, produce an incentive for Britain’s businessmen to pull up their socks, so they can get to work more quickly.
I have another idea. Ban radial tyres and make us all drive around on crossplys. This way, no one would want to break the speed limit, because you can have just as much fun at 40 on a crossply as you can at 400 on a low-profile Pirelli. Even James May could power slide a Morris 1000.
Oh, hang on, I’ve just remembered, he couldn’t.
Anyway, the big benefit of my crossply plan is that none of the fun of driving would be lost, but speeds would come down, the number of deaths would come down and best of all, g forces would come down. Which means an old man like me can continue to hang the tail out without breaking his spine in the process.