Richard Hammond

Richard Hammond

Richard’s guide to geekdom

Congratulations on being prepared to risk being exposed in your dirty, shameful secret by stepping forward to read Top Gear magazine. You don't actually have to buy the publication furtively, praying that a vicar or an old school teacher doesn't turn up in the queue behind you at the till, but come on, admit it, liking cars is not something of which you can be overtly proud. I'm not talking about the eco-issues; that's something for debate and discussion. No, I'm talking about the simple fact that admitting to an interest in cars is socially akin to admitting liking bear baiting or Morris dancing.

It happened again to me recently; that moment when conversation with a group of interesting, informed and ordinarily well-mannered people lulls and one of them glances over at you. You watch their eyes glaze over as they sift through their doubtless superb and capable minds for something they can discuss with a witless, oil-streaked car fanatic such as the one standing in front of them. I rather enjoy that moment: I like watching them scrabble about for something car-related and then come up with a useless question about which Audi to buy. But I began to think after this latest outbreak of hobby-snobbery that perhaps it was time the balance was redressed.

Having stood and stifled yawns through an endless cavalcade of conversational titbits about politicians, sailing, golf and bloody coffee, I would have quite liked to engage in a spot of banter about the forthcoming Ferrari. It might have been nice to talk about the fact that my Morgan Aeromax has finally come home to roost after an extended stay in hospital due to a small - and fantastically expensive - altercation with a Nissan Almera. But no, not once was I able to suck in a lungful and hold forth on my favourite subjects.

The blokes around me, grown men with mortgages and children and jobs, rambled on about stabbing a bloody worm with a bit of wire and dangling it in the water in case some hapless salmon mistakes it for lunch. They spoke quite openly, and at some considerable length, about hitting a ball with a stick in the hope that it falls in a hole in the lawn. But could I mention the fact that the blown heater matrix on my Mustang has turned out to be due to the fact the head gasket's gone and is causing the engine to pressurise? Could I hell. The glazed looks would have been replaced with sneers and snorts of patronising pity and disbelief.

"You or I may be forced to duck into a car accessory shop like a middle-aged gent nipping into a sex shop"

If this attitude was confined to sniffy dinner parties, the answer would be simple - don't go to them. But it spills into the high street where other enthusiasms are given window space without so much as a blush of shame. A chap can spend hours poring over signed, black and white, vintage posters of footballers. He might then parade into a furniture shop and suffer spasms of lust for a bloody table before ending up in some coffee outlet where he will be reduced to a quivering wreck by the presence of a particular species of roasted bean. And yet at the same time, you or I might be sidling down the same street forced by social pressure to duck into a car accessory shop like a middle-aged gent nipping into a sex shop.

I became filled with rage at this injustice and overwhelmed with a desire to right this wrong. The telly is bursting with programmes about posh food, sport, music and clothes. You can watch shows where they compete to host the best dinner party or find the old vase worth the most money. But there's only one car show and, well, I'm on it, so that's no good for me. Furious, I stumped into my office and sat down, ready to write myself into a fury at this unfairness and injustice.

Whilst the computer fired up, I picked up a copy of a car mag, and I leafed through it to the classified pages. I saw there adverts for pimping up Bentley Contis and Range Rover Sports, I read the smallprint in another advertisement for a special kind of dehumidified bag that keeps your classic in top nick and I spotted that you can now pick up a mint Mazda RX8 with 10k on the clock for about seven grand.

I read it all, took in the pictures and words and breathed a sigh of relief; of course they don't like us, we're dreadful. And long may it remain so. I don't want to mooch about in some high street car parts ‘boutique', longing for conversation with someone over what spark plug might go best with which distributor cap. Let them get on with their thing and let us get on with ours.

I've booked the 'Stang in for a new head gasket, caned the arse off the Aeromax in between the rainstorms and am seriously thinking of buying one of those new Nortons being made in Derbyshire. I don't think the company of someone talking about golf clubs or coffee is going to enhance any of that.


Richard Hammond, Column

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