Richard Hammond on: car geeks
One of the team making our telly show – I shan’t name him (it’s Richard Porter) – knows everything there is to know about cars. It’s as simple as that. His mind is largely a device for storing information about cars. He can tie his own shoelaces, operate a computer and he recently became a father, so he has other functions too, but mostly his brain is a sort of fleshy cupboard for car trivia... although this nameless man (it’s Richard Porter) would refuse to recognise the automotive clutter in his head as trivia.
There’s so much of it in there that sometimes it spills out spontaneously. Should a question regarding an old Cortina or the designer of an Italian bumper crop up in a planning meeting, this man (it’s Richard Porter) has absolutely no control over his mouth. He simply supplies the answer. Immediately. It’s a reptilian response as automatic as a crocodile’s mouth snapping shut on its prey. Only a crocodile doesn’t make itself look like a tit when he does it.
I’ve counselled this man (his name is Porter, Richard Porter) against these outbursts, pointing out that in any social situation beyond a Top Gear planning meeting, which leaves a pretty broad spectrum of situations really, showing himself to be a man whose head houses a Big Book of Car Facts instead of an actual mind, leaves him open to accusations of anorakacy and chumpishness of the first order. But he can’t help himself.
Here’s the thing, though. During the recent World Cup, I took my first, tentative steps into the world of football fandom. I’d never paid any attention to it before, not because I was uninterested in the game – it looked to be really rather good – but because I was scared off at an early age by the way everyone around me seemed to know all about it. They could recite lists of names and criticise the bearer of each name for their performance in a certain match decades ago.
Some of their talk wasn’t even about playing football but was, from what I could gather, teetering on the periphery of their circle, mostly about the various businessmen standing around in grey suits and terrible coats at the side of the pitch. A clash between two teams was, for them, as redolent with meaning and context and history as the Bayeux Tapestry is to David Starkey. Their minds were, like the man in the office (R Porter) given over entirely to the storage of facts pertaining to their chosen enthusiasm.
In front of such a panel of expertise, daring to raise my voice with an opinion during a discussion in a school playground, I would have felt like a mouse shouting into a hurricane. So dipping my toe into the shark-infested, thrashing waters of football fandom was a nerve-wracking moment, but I did it anyway.
As I was away on tour with the TopGear Live show, matters were made rather more intense by the fact that I would be popping my football fan cherry in the company of m’esteemed colleagues on Top Gear. We watched a few of the early matches in hotel bars, and I slowly built up the courage to squeak my approval of a certain shot, and even to shake my head and tut quietly at what I considered to be an ill-considered pass or a ballsed-up shot on goal. Naturally, there came a moment when my humble squeaks and mutterings were picked up by the bigger, more seasoned fans around me, and, yes, I came in for some stick.
On a match we watched following an informal, garden kick-about of our own during which I had demonstrated exactly the ineptitude as a footballer that left me standing lonely and unpicked before every match I ever nearly played at school, it was pointed out by someone in our crowd that I was suddenly drawing on my own experience as a player to criticise those playing on the TV in front of us and that this was, perhaps, a bit ambitious. I threshed about a bit in the ensuing tsunami of abuse, panic rising with the waves around me. And then assistance started coming from a most unlikely direction.
A certain one of m’colleagues (it was Jeremy Clarkson) threw me a rope, pointing out good moves, agreeing with some of my opinions on tactics and play and pointing out where I might, perhaps, look closer and understand more.
Jeremy also came late to football fandom and perhaps had weathered a similar nerve-shredding baptism – though I can’t imagine it. My point is that we should sometimes stop and consider what effect our fact-packed observations concerning cars have on those who might, perhaps, carry a fledgling interest in the subject, but be scared of sharing it in case they do so in front of a Richard Porter who stammers and sputters with disbelief that they don’t know the name of the man who employed the designer of the wheels on the Lamborghini Miura – he will know that, by the way, definitely.
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I for one, whilst possessing a mental filing cabinet a thousand drawers short of Porter’s towering edifice, shall wait a moment in future before sneering at someone’s misidentification of a car. I have learned through my baptism into football fandom that the tiny candle of initial interest is very easily blown out. And that might be a shame. Somewhere there is the person who will one day solve all our car problems, sorting hydrogen fuel cells or anti-gravity wheels, but right now they may have got no further than thinking, “Ooh, I quite like cars. Wonder what my mates think?”