Clarkson on: the Impreza Turbo
Strange but true. More people watch Top Gear in India than there are people in Britain. Yup, every week, the world's premiere motoring television show attracts an audience on the sub continent in excess of 60 million.
It's much the same story in the Middle East too. So when I went to Dubai the other day, I was prepared for the onslaught of autograph hunters at the airport.
There weren't any. But no matter. At the hotel it would be a different story. There'd be hundreds and hundreds of salivating fans queuing up to meet the motoring guru from the centre of the Empire.
I was shown to my room by a butler who explained how the Internet worked, how to draw the curtains without getting out of bed and how the jacuzzi would relax me after my long flight. Then, rather nervously, he asked if, perhaps, I might give him my signature.
"Of course," I said, reaching for my pen and a scrap of paper on the desk. Taking his name from his lapel badge, I wrote ‘To Ahmed, with very best wishes, from Jeremy Clarkson'.
He looked a bit bewildered and after a discreet cough said, "Er, no, I meant, could you put your signature on the registration form."
Well I was devastated. I realised that I'm living in a world far removed from reality and that I must catch the bus and the underground train back to ‘real world central'.
And so, while driving down Regent Street in London yesterday, I didn't even look up, let alone grin inanely into the lens, when a Japanese person on the pavement started to film me on one of those high-tech Oriental cameras that's also a phone, and a computer and an Internet, and a house.
But hang on. Why is he filming me? Top Gear was never very big in Japan. He doesn't know who I am. So, if he's not interested in me, he must be interested in... the car.
My suspicions were confirmed 200 yards later when another Japanese person, in another Burberry mac with another phone, Internet, WAP, house, garage computer camera started to film my progress. Well, I couldn't believe it. These people were within a stone's throw of Piccadilly Circus, one of the most recognisable landscapes on the planet, but they were ignoring the Coca Cola signs and Eros and choosing to film a Subaru WRX STI GTI IT Nutter Bastard Xi RS Turbo AWD Impreza instead.
Let's not beat about the bush here. On the absolute raggedy edge of adhesion, on a track, when someone else is paying for the tyres, and Tiff is at the helm, then yes, a Mitsubishi Evo MMCVII is better, but for everyday use, be in no doubt that the Subaru is completely and totally stunning. I f***ing loved it.
But it's no oil painting, is it? If you were a Japanese person on holiday in England and you only had so much tape to record your visit, you'd be better off pointing your WAP camera house at Blenheim Palace or Big Ben than you would at a WRX STI IT Nutter Bastard Xi RS Turbo AWD Impreza.
I mean, that spoiler on the back, and those decals, in pink if you please, and that colour scheme. It's not exactly the vision the folks back home have of little olde England, is it?
But there's something about the techno wizardry of the Scooby Doo which seems to make a Japanese person priapic with excitement. And this is interesting because just five days earlier I'd driven across London in a new BMW 7-Series. Yes iDrive blah blah, 700 functions blah blah Chris Bangle blah V8 power blah. But could Tojo give a damn? Could he hell as like. I may as well have been driving the invisible car so far as his Cinemascope view on life was concerned.
"The Subaru is completely and totally stunning. I f***ing loved it"
The brothers, on the other hand, went berserk. Every black guy from the Elephant and Castle to deepest Balham acted like I was cruising past in Bob Marley himself.
The driver of one bus left his seat, opened the doors and beamed the beam of a tropical crescent moon. Man. He loved that car.
I know that since some American rap artist whose name I can't remember bought a Lexus, the LS430 is supposed be the car of choice in South London. But believe me, nothing, not even a joint the shape and size of Ali G, could whip up such enthusiasm as a 7-Series. It is the king of kings. Second in command to Haile Selassie. Rasta Pasta for the soul. It is, to the brothers, what a Volvo is to the ringlet and trilby boys of Stoke Newington.
Whereas in Southhall, centre of the Indian community in London, I may as well have been driving a dog turd.
Here, there's only one car and it's the Nissan Bluebird. But when things pick up, the driver will go for anything, so long as it has a three-pointed star on the bonnet. It doesn't matter if it's a one cc, diesel C-Class coupe, with vinyl seats and rubber carpetry, all Benzes, to Johnny Indian, are better than all other cars. Full stop. A 600CL is not a car. It's a deity.
So where, in this pot-pourri of skin tones and churches, is whitey? Well on a bicycle, to be honest, pedalling to his civic office block where he spends the day dreaming up new traffic management schemes and congestion charges and bus lanes and speed cameras and tow-away trucks and drink-driving rules that cause your licence to be taken away if you've inadvertently driven past a newsagents that sells wine gums.
Multi-cultural Britain? I'm in.