Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson on: the system

Clarkson on: the system

Back in the winter, when the snows came and the radio reports were telling us that Britain was locked in ice chaos, a 40-year-old man called Simon Lewington decided to tow his son on a sledge behind his pick up truck.

Unfortunately, he towed him right past a police station and so, last month, Mr Lewington appeared in court where a judge said a custodial sentence was being considered. I'm sorry? Prison? For towing your boy on a sledge? At no more than 8mph? These are indeed strange times.

And there's more. On the very same day I read about Mr Lewington - who I think should be Dad of the Year - I heard that police officers in Bournemouth have been given sophisticated laser guns to catch cyclists speeding on the sea front.

Apparently, they are not allowed to travel at more than 10mph, but cannot be prosecuted if they do since bikes don't have speedometers and therefore there is no way for the individual to know he's breaking the law. Hmmm. The purchase of the laser guns does therefore seem like a lot of tax payers' cash down the drain. And that's before we get to the complete waste of police time.

Let me give you another example. Someone I know was recently loading her car with various heavy household items when a traffic warden, or parking attendant as we must call them these days, started to write out a ticket. My friend appealed to the warden's heart explaining that she couldn't possibly carry a fridge freezer to the nearest legal parking space and that she'd only be a moment.

But, of course, wardens don't have hearts, the ticket was written and my friend called her big, fat and the worst word in the world. Fair enough, you might think. We pay the wardens' wages. They are therefore, quite literally our servants, and we are allowed to call them whatever we wish should their behaviour be unreasonable and stupid.

It seems not. Because later in the day, my friend was visited by two police officers who issued her with an on-the-spot £80 fine for being offensive. But it wasn't offensive. The warden in question was big. She was fat. And if she's going to issue a ticket to someone loading their car with a fridge, then she is also the worst word in the world.

And anyway, how can it be against the law to abuse state officials? At this rate, you would not be allowed to call an idiot who's Scottish and one-eyed a "one-eyed Scottish idiot".

I am employed by the BBC and when I say or do something with which you disagree, you are perfectly entitled to write to me saying whatever comes into your head. Indeed, if I rang the police every time someone called me the worst word in the world, I'd get a loyal service carriage clock from British Telecom.

What worries me then is that the state is completely out of control. Imposing whatever laws it sees fit, and then hammering anyone who dares to even disagree. I heard recently they were thinking of making climate-change denial an offence.

The fact is that when I was 17, I used to sledge behind cars and not at 8mph either. Once, some friends and I did it on the M6 at 50mph. And none of us was even slightly killed.

"An accident is something which, by its very nature, cannot be prevented. But no one has got that. Which means that everything now comes with a hard hat"

I have also ridden bicycles at enormous speed through Burton on Trent where many of the locals are drunk on the town's home brew. And to my certain knowledge, neither I nor anyone else died as a result.

In fact, I simply don't have the space here to list all the fun things I did as a kid which simply aren't allowed today. Nicking sulphuric acid from the school labs to spice up water fights, doing 70mph in coned off sections of the motorway, playing conkers, canoeing into the outlet pipes of a power station, lighting fires in the woods, scrumping... and not just apples or rhubarb either. Once, I scrumped a nun's habit.

I remember too when indoor go-karting first took off. God, it was fun, whizzing about in an old warehouse. And it remained fun right up to the moment when one of the chaps on the other team flipped right in front of us. And then caught fire.

It was a big fire and he was very badly burned, as was the extremely brave chap who attempted to beat out the flames with his bare hands.

Could the accident have been avoided? For sure. The kart could have had a protective strip around its wheels to minimise the chance of a roll. The fuelling system could have featured fewer empty squeezy bottles. The driver could have been forced to wear a Nomex suit, not jeans and a t-shirt.

Or, if you keep this going in this vane, the sport could have been banned altogether.

This is the problem. If you do anything at all, you stand the chance, no matter how many precautions you take, of never being able to do anything again. An accident is something which, by its very nature, cannot be prevented.

But no one has got that. Which means that everything now comes with a hand-rail and a luminous jacket and a hard hat and steel-toe-capped boots and a banksman and ear defenders and protective strips and beeps and bongs and warnings and notices and rules, and that means nothing is quite as much fun as it used to be when you could make a buggy from bits of an old pram and see how fast it would go down a steep hill.

Most people blame health and safety for everything that's gone wrong since those glory days when we were free. But, actually, that's like shooting the messenger. Because let's not forget that health and safety people with their clip boards and their adenoids and their horrible shoes are employed by companies to examine all the risks, and eliminate all the risks, so that the company in question can tell a judge, if someone is injured and they are prosecuted or sued, that they took all possible precautions.

So it's not the company that's to blame. They don't want to cough up every time someone stubs their toe on a paving slab. And it's not the health and safety bods who are simply doing of them what is asked. No. What's at fault is the system. The whole damn shooting match. The culture that says anyone who's injured must be able to sue someone, and that if they won't the State can step in and make a prosecution. Which will be successful unless the company in the dock can show it employed a man in a high-visibility jacket.

Just last week, while filming for Top Gear, the car I was testing suffered a terrible accident. I won't say more than this because you won't have seen it yet and I don't want to spoil the surprise. Whatever, to have continued with the filming would have been stupid. There were jagged bits of metal everywhere and a worrying smell of fuel. Every health and safety man in the land would have ordered me to step away from the vehicle and go home.

But if I'd done that, the shoot would have been over, and thousands of pounds of licence payers' cash would have been wasted. So in I got and off I set... into a world populated only by pain and lashings of blood. I could sue. But I'm not going to. It's not the way of the gentleman. It's not the way of Top Gear either.

And if anyone wishes to call me the worst word in the world, feel free. I am to be found in my paddock teaching my 10-year-old daughter how to do a hand-brake turn in her £50 Ford Fiesta.

 

Jeremy Clarkson, Top Gear TV

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