Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Come and Have a Go if You Think You're Hard Enough!!!

Just a quicky to inform any potential spammers of this site that if I get just one more message informing me (and, as a consequence, my readers) about where they can get, you know, a bigger dick, or "spare auto-parts", or a Russian bride on the cheap, then I will take great pleasure in spam-bombing you chebs back the bloody dark ages.

I am, as anyone who knows me will tell you, a pretty reasonable guy ... most of the time. But (and, it's a damned Big "but") when somebody pisses me off - particularly if it's done deliberately and maliciously - then I can become really small and vicious and terrifying in my unquenchable thirst for intricate and stylised revenge upon their sorry ass(es).

Put simply, I can bear grudges longer than the reign of the average Pope if I'm given a reason to. There are people who caused me momentary pain in 1986 and who STILL haven't made it off my shit-list yet.

So, please remember, you have been warned.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Boy Are Back in Town


Hello! And a belated Happy New Year to all of this blog's six lovely readers. Keith Telly Topping hopes that you and your collective families - and other assorted riff-raff you call friends - had a good one. Me, I've been a bit busy with work so far this year and, thus, this is my first opportunity for a rant in 2007. And it's a goodie, trust me.

This Sunday evening, along with something like six million other people, or more, I shall be watching the return of Top Gear to Beeb 2 for its first show since the dear old Hamster nearly bought The Big One late last year. As Julia Hankin said to me when I was previewing the episode on the radio the other day, 'you'll be in TV Heaven over this.' I am, indeed, really looking forward to it - as, I suspect, all of the shows many fans are. This, despite the fact that I - along with a small but highly passionate section of Top Gear's audience - have little or no real interest in cars themselves. (I can't even drive - as a city kid, I've always used buses and so I never bothered to learn.)

Nevertheless, I find Top Gear to be one of the most addictive, amusing and clever shows on TV. It has a terrific wit, audacity and pace to it and I like the interaction of Jezza, Hamster and Cap'n Slow very much - they're three of the best stand-up comedians working in Britain today. The show is also presented with a genuine enthusiasm and passion for the subject, something that I find attractive in all of the factual TV that I watch - from Time Team to the output of the BBC's Natural History department, if it's done with enthusiasm, wit and style then I'm usually a sucker for it.

Now, here's a funny thing. In the day or two immediately after Richard Hammond's crash late last year, many people in the UK media seemed to completely underestimate the depth of empathy that Top Gear had built within its audience - and, indeed, within the wider general public at large. (For example, my mother has never really watched the show except for catching odd glimpses of Clarkson shouting 'Power!' at lot when she's been round My Gaff and an episode has been on UKTVG2. But, even she was somewhat moved by the story of the little fellah and his epic fight for survival.)

The massive wave of public sympathy after the crash - 'poor Richard, I hope he's going to be all right' instead of what many commentators probably expected from the public, something along the lines of 'the stupid bastard, he deserved everything he got for getting in a jet-car in the first place' - seems to have, mercifully, silenced (at least for the time being) some of the more whiny liberal-hippie-communist tossers in the media and elsewhere and the irritating nonsense that they spout when the subject of Top Gear crops up.

'It encourages fast driving and irresponsibility... Whine, whinge, blah, blah.' There are, I should stress, very few things in life that I genuinely hate quite as much as whiny liberal-hippie-communists tossers. Chiefly, because, I freely admit, I used to be one ...

Of course, we all expected the sodding Gruniad - 'no we haven't got any agenda, honest guv' - to pull in a few alleged celebrity experts - from the BBC bar, probably - who should've known better than to pass comment on the 'dangers of doing stunts' on TV. (Yes, you Ray Mears - I sincerely hope you don't get eaten by something with Very Big Teeth next time you venture into a jungle for talking such utter tripe-bollocks about stuff that's got absolutely nothing to do with you or whatever it is that you actually do on TV.)

And, of course, we all knew that the good old Beeb-loving Daily Scum Mail [spit] website would have an absolute field day, including putting up a headline on their website within hours of the crash proclaiming that 'Thousands of TV viewers join MPs in demanding and end to Top Gear!!!!' (This, despite the fact that this revelation was, seemingly, based on their own online message-board which, at the time that I looked at it - long after this headline was there for all to see - had actually received just 650 comments, the vast majority of which were things like 'get well soon, Richard' or a varient.) Nice bit of lies there, you jack-booted scum thug Tory twat-bastards. I hope you all suffer, painfully, from some really distressing disease of the arsehole. (Wasn't it Stephen Fry who once asked 'How can one not be fond of something that the Daily Mail hates?' Damn straight.)

Such comments from those particular organs were to be expected (even though these two examples, surely, provide us with the strangest of strange bedfellows ever recorded as being in a strange bed together). But the one that really shocked me and, seemingly, shocked Clarkson as well judging by some impassioned comments he made soon afterwards in his newspaper column, was when the BBC's own website seemed keen to get in on the debate by holding a readers poll on whether the show should continue ... whilst poor Richard was still in a bloody hospital bed in Leeds with his brains leaking out of his ears. So, it's jolly nice to see the self-same website thoroughly brown-tongued and rimming-up the new-series like it's The Second Coming for the last week. Hypocricy? Surely some mistake?

There does seem to be an awfully faux-naïf assumption within the more radical sections of the environmental lobby that all of the world's problems with regard to carbon emissions started just forty or fifty years ago and that if we simply managed to disinvent the Internal Combustion Engine everything would be lovely and smashing and just like the Seventeeth Century again. Which, to be fair, it probably would; we could go back to whole families of fifteen trying to live on ten shillings a week and never venturing more than two miles from their ramshackle hovel in The Village during their entire lives.

That, tragically, was the kind of back-breaking monotony of a life that both of my great-grandfathers' had to look forward to (in Crosby-on-Eden and Snape, respectively) before they escaped to work in the Dark Satanic Mills of Newcastle. It is most definitely not one that I want to share. (Not that I particularly want to work in a factory either, but that's beside the point!) I seem to be in a small minority here (though, to be fair, Clarkson's in here with me), but I'm actually quite glad that the Industrial Revolution happened. Clarkson's heroes are Brunel and Charles Babbage, two of mine are George and Robert Stephenson - between them, those four men largely built the modern world as we know it today. And now some liberal-hippy-communist tossers want to throw all that away and go back to Constable's The Haywain as their model for society. Pastrol. Lovely. But, you know, you can't get to New York on the back of a horse and carriage. It's a fact.

I think that environmentalist will find that the problems of climate change have a bit more to do with three hundred years of industrialisation worldwide belching shite into the atmosphere than anything specific that the car (or, indeed, the aeroplane - the environmentalists current number one target for fury) is responsible for. As noted on Top Gear a couple of years ago, a cow farts more methane in a year than an unleaded Range Rover produces in exhaust fumes. I'm really - and I mean this genuinely as a fully-paid-up member of the 'Global Warming, I'm against it, me' collective - proud of the fact that Britain has hit most (if not all) of the targets that it set for itself at the Kyoto Summit in the nineties.

But, and here's the really big problem, China haven't. And India haven't. And the United States haven't and show no intention of doing so. And, there does reach a point where you simply have to ask 'why the Hell am I trying to be all environmentally-rite-on and questioning whether I really need to make this flight to San Diego in a couple of weeks time (I'd love somebody to show me an alternative transport route, by the way, cos fourteen hours on three planes REALLY isn't my idea of fun) and then planting a tree when I get back to offset my own percentage of these emissions when there are 1.2 billion Chinese cheerfully burning fossil fuels like there's no tomorrow. And, thus as a consequence, cancelling out all of the sound stuff that we're doing here in the Europe?'

It's a completely valid question, I'd suggest. And it's one that nobody seems to have an answer to. So, I'd like to propose a practical solution. Instead of burning fossil fuels, next time you want to have a barbie, burn a hippie instead - they're biodegradeable, apparently. It's simple, it's efficient AND you're helping to save the planet (on all sorts of levels). See, everybody wins.

As for Old Jezza Clarkson, I don't agree with everything he says by any stretch - I suspect that, if I ever met him at at party I'd violently disagree with him on many subjects - politics, particularly. (Though, bless him, I would never try to chin anyone who loves The Who as much as he does ... Besides, he's about a foot taller than me and once floored Piers Morgan - reason enough for canonisation, I believe.)

I don't suppose that it has ever occurred to any of his detractors that the personality of Jeremy Clarkson as seen on Top Gear (and, in most his other TV appearances for that matter - see, for instance, some of his impressive and thoughtful contributions to the wonderful Qi) is, largely, 'a performance'? That he's playing a deliberately O-T-T 'character'? One thing Jezza certainly isn't, is an idiot. He's a very sharp cookie indeed - as his column in The Sunday Times ably demonstrates. He is opinionated and he is rather entrenched in some of his views. He's also the presenter of a TV show in which his 'character' (and those of his two excellent co-presenters) are frequently the butt of much brilliantly self-deprecating humour (see the boat-car segment from last season for example), something that seems to fly right over the heads of the show's more loud-mouthed and equally entrenched naysayers.

The environmentalists' argument seems to be that the BBC has a moral obligation to include in Top Gear items of that stress the benefits of environmental motoring. Why? That's not what the show is designed for and that's certainly not why people watch it. That's like suggesting that, because it's music and some people buy it, Top of the Pops should be required to feature a classical symphony each episode. Does Watchdog have an obligation in each of its episodes to devote ten minutes to all of the thousands a firms who don't rip their customers off? Do Waking the Dead or [spooks] have an obligation to make at least one episode each year in which no horrible murder takes place because, in reality, there are days like that? Does Parkie have to interview some bloke off the street whom nobody has heard of in the interests of balance?

The argument - and it is one that I've heard coming from people who, in most other areas, I really respect, like Michael Palin for instance - is completely spurious. Top Gear is a show about fast cars and three blokes to use James May's wonderful phrase 'cocking-around' in them. That's why six million people or more watch it every week. If groups like Transport 2000 and Friends of the Earth wish to get together with a television production company and make a show stressing the more environmentally-friendly aspects of driving (Second Gear?) then I'm sure a broadcaster somewhere will be more than happy to pick it up and screen it. (Channel Four haven't got a car show, for example. And they're going to need something to fill the gap when Shipwrecked: Belsen Was a Gas ends.) It'd be 'tastic, so it would - their version of The Cool Wall would be full of Toyota Priuses.

Even better they should schedule this hypothetical show against Top Gear. Of course, the problem there, as I suspect such groups know full well, is that whilst Top Gear is getting an audience of six million they will get an audience of, like, six. And they'll all be beardy-hippy-liberal-communist-sandal-wearing-caravan-towing-Citröen-driving social workers from Hampstead who knit their own yoghurt and having 'nothing but total respect for Annie Lennox.' That's why these people don't want to make their own show but why they complain that they don't get any air-time as part of an already successful formula. Just as they complain every time Clarkson uses the word 'gay' (in any context) or James May makes a comment about Jezza building a car 'like a pikey' or when they found they had 'Jesus' in the audience that time.

The gay one was especially interesting and especially irritating (for those who missed it, Clarkson described a car as 'a bit ginger beer'). Four people complained to the BBC and to Ofcom. FOUR. And it was upheld by those cowardly and wretched lice on the sixth floor at Television Centre. That, just as a matter of pure mathematics, is approximately 0.00000008% of the audience for that particular show. Could someone please tell me in which other field of life such a tiny percentage of tight-arsed busy-bodies are able to dictate the content of ... well, pretty much anything? I'd love it if politics worked that way. 'Conservative Central Office? Me and three of my mates down the pub reckon that David Cameron is a right dickless berk. Get rid of him.' 'Rightio, skip, we're ON the mother...'

It's symptomatic of the venal and SICK victim-culture that is so prevalent in this country at the moment. Every single thing in life seems to be someone else's fault. I always remember a few years ago during one of that winter's particularly heavy floods some house-owner whose living room was currently under two foot of water bewailing to a hapless TV camerman 'why isn't The Government doing anything?' I'm not sure exactly what she thought that The Government should be doing. Stopping it raining, perhaps? I wasn't unsympathetic to the horrible situation that the poor woman was going through but, you know, if you buy a house near to a river then you have to accept the possibility that you might get flooded during times of high rainfall. It's a simple trade-off. But, of course, that's far too common-sense an attitude to have when you can, just as easily, apportion blame for all of your woes on the Great 'They' (you know, the ones who are in charge of 'The Almighty Whatsit'?)

Innit typical? Want, want, want - want it all, want it now, heaven forbid that I actually have to pay for it.

One of the main reasons why I love Top Gear is precisely this: That it gets right up a few snooty noses. Long may it continue to do so and to get millions of viewers and International Emmy awards into the bargain if only cos it pisses off a bunch of a sandal-wearing, caravan-towing, blame-it-all-on-Blair, stinking-old-beady-liberal-hippy-communists like Bill Oddie. Good. Thank Christ that there's someone on television these days who actually has an opinion worth at least considering. About anything (even if it isn't necessarily 'right' per se). In these dreadful days of celebrity-by-ignorance-and-non-entity, and of the utter nonsense that passes for 'entertainment' on say, Channel Four, I warm to anyone who has an ounce of humanity, passion and soul about them.

(Incidentally, I am desperately awaiting some politician - of any persuasion - who is being grilled by that rank gobshite Jon Snow on Channel Four News to casually ask the arrogant pillock 'excuse me, but what the Hell right have you got to ask me about anything? You're employed by the company that broadcasts Big Brother and tells the nation that it's okay to be an ignorant racist scumbag.')

Give me enough money to form a Common Sense political party and I'd fill it with people - from all spectrums of the political divide - like Clarkson, Hammond, Stephen Fry, Tony Robinson, Will Self, the late John Peel (okay he's been dead for a couple of years but he'd still have more bright ideas in his head that half the House of Commons put together) ... plus a few Hard Lads from Scotswood Road for use as enforcers, and we'd totally put the country to rights in five minutes flat. Actually, no we wouldn't. But, at least have a right good laugh whilst failing miserably.

Post script (30 January): Just an addition to celebrate the astonishing ratings success for the first episode of Top Gear's ninth season - eight million viewers (beating the Big Brother finale into the ground - stick that in your craw and chew on it, you wretched effing Daily Scum Mail vermin). And an Audience Appreciate Index figure of eighty six. So, not only did millions watch it but, most of them really enjoyed it too.

Of course, the first episode also got the inevitable complaints too - from a head-injury support group delighting in the gloriously un-PC name Headway - who seemingly didn't like Clarkson asking Richard 'are you A Mental?' (The fact that Hammond himself didn't seem to mind being, apparently, besides the point.) And, also, from a group called Brake who seemed to be upset that Hammond actually escaped from his crash without so much as a scratch when other people, you know, don't. Perhaps they'd prefer it if he got back in his jet-car and did it again and this time died? And, I confidently expect, because they usually have a backbone the consistency of jelly when it comes to stuff like this, that the BBC management will uphold one or both of these complaints. Or, if they don't that unelected bunch of knobless nobodies Ofcom will. Cos they like doing stuff like that. Not that it will make the slightest difference to the show, of course. It will simply move the day that Andy Wilman and Clarkson decide 'sod this for a game of soldiers, we're off to Sky for more money and less interference from glakes' that wee bit closer.

Remember, kids, speed doesn't kill ... it's the 'coming to a sudden unexpected stop' that can prove fatal.

As for the show itself, I wonder if there was anyone else who, like me, was almost tearing-up when Jezza hugged the Hamster at the start. That's just about the first time I've seen Jeremy Clarkson display a bit of warmth towards another human being who wasn't, you know, some dead Nineteenth Century builder of bridges ... well, ever, basically. (And, the revelation that he's an RSPB member and grows barley specifically to provide a nesting ground was a further example that one should never take things at face value in any walk of life.)

The episode was pitched with just the perfect mixture of fluffy-lovey-male-bonding and terrific self-deprecation (something that, as noted above, Top Gear does better than almost anyone on telly). And as for the introduction of The Stig by Clarkson, that has to be one of the finest one- liners you're going to hear this year - on TV or, indeed, anywhere else: 'Some say he once threw a microwave oven at a tramp. And, that long before everyone else, he knew Jade Goody was a racist, pig-faced waste of blood and organs.'

God bless yer cotton socks, Mr Clarkson, we've all missed you dreadfully! They should name a moon of Saturn after the bloke. Or, you know, a continent. A month of the year at the very least. 'Top Gear will return on Sunday the fourth of Clarkson.'