Clarkson on: rallying
This is what it said on the first page of my joining pack for the world's weirdest motorsport event.
‘Rallying has never featured very significantly in the lives of blind people.'
No, and neither will it. Men can't have babies. Fish can't design submarines. BBC producers can't make up their minds. And blind people don't make very good rally drivers.
However, they can navigate. More than that, in the last six years there have been 25 rallies in India where the co-drivers have had more in common with a bat than Tony Mason.
Now, to be perfectly honest, I'm not talking about the sort of rally where the car's wheels only ever touch the ground in service halts. No, this sort is best desbribed as a treasure hunt.
Even so, disappointingly, there are rules, the worst of which is that all cars must be fitted with seatbelts. This meant that when I took part there were only 66 competitors, which isn't good enough in a country with nine million blind people.
But hey, I'm used to rules and the best way round them is to indulge in a bit of Boss Hoggery. I figured that if I nicked the notes from the navigator, he'd never know and we'd win. But the organisers had that one covered; all the directions were in Braille, a language which means as much to me as Swahili or German. Like everyone else, we had to use the force. But unlike everyone else, we went wrong at the very first turn.
Let me explain. The Braille was in English and this was not a language that featured on my co-driver's CV. So he spelled out each instruction, letter by agonisingly slow letter.
Thus we left the base and headed off towards the centre of Madras in our Maruti Gypsy, with Mr Pad-manabhan muttering t-y-r-d-i-n-a-k-l-m-t-e-y-r-l-e-f-f. Which, if you have a pen and a piece of paper, and a fortnight, you could work out meant turn left in a kilometer.
"I'm used to rules and the best way round them is to indulge in a bit of Boss Hoggery"
Trouble was it took me nearly five miles to figure it out, by which time we were completely and hopelessly lost. Not only do I not speak Braille but my Tamil's not that good either. And there I was, with a blind man, in a city that I've never been to before (and never want to go to again incidentally), on the same land mass, worryingly, as Portugal and Yemen. Things could go wrong here.
We'd be drifting down a road and, all of a sudden, Mr Padmanabhan would look up from his notes to ask: "What is l-k-j-r-i-j-l-s-s-s-a-e-q-j-t?" And to be honest, there isn't -really much of an answer.
But somehow, and I guess quite by chance, we did happen upon a check point. Relieved, I wound down the window and asked just how far behind we were. But here's a funny thing; they said we were the first to come through, which was strange as we'd been the last to leave.
However, it all became crystal clear when they told us that we were at check point six and that we had somehow missed one to five. I knew damn well how we'd missed them. We'd been in Tibet.
Nevertheless, we ploughed on until suddenly I was told to stop. "We are now at check point seven," he said. But we weren't. We were in the middle of an industrial estate, and it's hard to point out to a blind man that he's gone wrong. Again.
"I'm sorry," I said, "but we're not." "Yes we are," he insisted. And to avoid hurting his feelings, I had to leap out of the car to get my card stamped by a non--existent official at a check-point which wasn't there. "Told you so," he said when I got back in the car.
Back at base, the event over, we learned that we'd been scrubbed from the running order altogether, on the basis that we'd only found one of the check points. They all figured we'd given up and gone home. We didn't even get any lunch, which was no bad thing because it seemed to consist of still-born blackbirds which had been trodden on then coated with curry powder, bay leaves and ginger.
Oh how we all laughed as the navigators tried to pick bits of beak out of their teeth. And oh how they all laughed as they reminisced about how hopeless all their drivers were.
We must see this sport in Britain. All you Round Table, Rotarian-types, stop pushing beds up the high street, jack in the three-legged pub crawls and give the RNIB a call. And then call me to say where and when.