Jeremy on jobs in motoring
Very regularly, I receive correspondence from a car enthusiast who wants to get a job on the TopGear production team. Possibly, they imagine it's a life of Lambos, a firestorm of Ferraris and a non-stop orgy of g. But if I'm honest, it's really more about t. I take mine with no sugar. Richard, betraying his roots, has six. And you best not get that wrong.
Of course, you will be surrounded by many supercars. But your job, after you've emptied the contents of a Tate & Lyle tanker into a mug for Richard, is limited to washing them. The only car you'll ever actually drive is a rental-spec Corsa.
If you are still interested, the qualifications are as follows. You will be immune to all illnesses, you will work 29 hours a day, seven days a week, you will pay for permission to come to work, you will be shouted at by Richard for not putting enough sugar in his tea and you will have a first-class honours degree from Oxford or Cambridge. Leeds? Exeter? Pah. You'll be wanting Countryfile.
I'm sorry to be so brutal, but the fact is that if you want to work with cars - unless you are seriously special, and a little bit special needs as well - you really have to look elsewhere...
In the olden days, that was easy because cars went wrong all the time and could be fixed with a hammer. So you simply rented a bit of space under a railway arch, put an ad in the local paper and waited for someone to come round with a spluttering Cortina.
Now though, things are very different. You need diagnostic equipment, which costs about £700 million, a sum that cannot be borrowed from the bank and which can never be repaid because when it identifies the problem - and you reveal the cost of fixing it to the customer - they will simply throw the car away and buy another.
This is true. It seems like only yesterday that the roads were awash with Ford Sierras. But if it were yesterday, there'd be an army of mechanics on every street corner keeping them going. There isn't, though, because it's today and all the Sierras have been turned into kettles and washing machines.
We throw away our razors and our cameras and our mobile phones when we are bored with them, or they show signs of trouble. And now we are doing the same with our cars. Which means there is no opening for the bright young thing who wants to spend his days elbow-deep in a BMW's number-seven cylinder.
It's much the same story with motor racing. In the past, there were many rich men who would employ you to nurture and fettle their race cars for the days when they would don a leather swimming cap and have a Pimm's-fuelled dice with Carruthers and the blighter from Harrow. Not now.
You want to work in motor racing today? You need to have a letter from NASA saying that, in their view, you are overqualified to work for them. You need to be an aerodynamicist, an engineer and a computer programmer so amazing that Bill Gates calls you every Tuesday for advice. Plus, you need to be willing to wear a nylon shirt with Anusol written on the back.
And, if you do meet all the requirements, you'll end up working at a factory in Woking where you are not allowed to speak or smile, and every other weekend when your mates are taking their hotted-up Civics to the pub, you will be in a sweat box on the other side of the world, pointing a hairdryer at a bolshie German's front brake disc. Or you will be at Mallory Park, fitting a crotch strap to a young man with silly hair who seems to be enjoying your efforts more than is appropriate.
Of course, you can still get a job selling cars. But for this you need to be prepared to wear gel in your hair, much jewellery and a very cheap suit. You must also have the patience of a saint. And it gets worse, because while you may be called upon occasionally to move a car from one side of the showroom to the other, this will really be the limit of your exposure to the Kingdom of Petrol.
Because, actually, the modern-day car salesperson is no such thing. Mostly, he or she is just a front man for a finance company, an organiser of hire purchase. The only thing they ever actually sell for cash are floor mats.
Delivery driver? Yes, there are many whose job is to take new and expensive cars from one dealership to another, or from the importer to the home of a motoring journalist. Sounds good, yes? And it probably is, if you like driving all the way to Hartlepool to find the recipient is out, or in Devon, or has died.
And remember, you drive there, but you must make your own way back. Which means you'd better have some stout shoes and a comprehensive understanding of how the train timetable works, because for every hour you spend in a big Jag, you'll spend 43 on Peterborough station. In the pouring rain.
I'm being very pessimistic, I know, but there is hope, a point that was demonstrated very well when the motor-mad Romanians, creators of the awesome Dacia, started arriving in Britain. They demonstrated that they could make a living working with cars by standing at a set of traffic lights with nothing but a Brillo pad and a bucket of mud.
This worked jolly well, until people started to realise that they didn't actually need to pay a pound to have their windows cleaned, as their car, no matter how cheap, was fitted with washers that could be operated for nothing.
And, anyway, because the water companies decided it's best to house all the country's water in the North and pump what little there is in the South into the ground, it's now illegal to wash a car, or even a part of it.
Happily, however, on a recent trip to Cape Town in South Africa, I came across a solution to all these problems. Every street is lined with people in fluorescent jackets who are there to help you park your car as quickly and as neatly as possible.
What a brilliant idea. Many people struggle when it comes to parallel parking and would gladly hand over a couple of quid if someone would do it for them. Especially if they have a Lamborghini. So, simply get yourself a uniform with ‘Parking Assistant' written on the jacket, and you'll be able to drive more cars in a day than I do. Albeit mostly backwards.
Just one word of warning. In Cape Town, some streets are more likely to attract bigger tippers than others, and these are highly prized. That means there's a bit of a turf war going on.
Time and again, I'd watch someone carefully guide a BMW into a parking space, and then get punched by a rival. So, be warned - if you want to make a go of it here, you'll need to be polite, good at parking, quick-witted and, most of all, handy with your fists.