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Clarkson - up to his usual tricks
on 16 November 2011
Undoubtedly, Clarkson is a marmite personality, but, love him or hate him, he is intelligent, knowledgeable and difficult to ignore as he keeps popping up in places where you least expect him. As a "Sunday Times" reader, I have read his columns often and, over the years, have learned that if I only want to find out about the cars, the final three paragraphs and the summary are sufficient, whereas in his other will-o'-the-wisp column, he could be anywhere writing on anything, such is the slack he has been cut by the editor.
No matter what his opinions, he is a good writer having learned his trade early on some northern paper, i.e. the style and structure are journalistically sound, with a wide range of unusual metaphors. (You may be able to tell I have linguistic interests.)
"I Know You Got Soul" is a wonderfully ambiguous title which could refer to the reader or the objects he has chosen; personally, I believe it refers to both. As well as being a good journalist, he is fascinated by engineering in its many forms and has personal heroes in that realm, e.g. Brunel, which is the genesis of this book - the fascination with machines and the reverence he has for the supreme machines and the people who built them. Usually, while in this form, he is also a great advocate and advertisement for British inventions and products.
Looking down the list, I found myself agreeing with his choice and thinking I might have chosen quite a few of these too, e.g. Concorde, Rolls-Royce, Riva, Millennium Falcon, Flying Boat, SS Great Britain, Arthur, 747, AK47, Zeppelin, Flying Scotsman, B-52, Hoover Dam, aircraft carriers, Alfa Romeo, Blackbird, submarines, Space Shuttle, GT40, Yamato and the Spitfire. Each has an essay attached coupled with some very good photographs or other illustrations. The varied list shows he has been given free rein to write about anything which takes his fancy, such is his popularity and bankability today.
He writes of the 747: "The Jumbo has become a modern-day yardstick in the lexicon of superlatives. Like football pitches, Nelson's column and Wales, it is now an established unit of leasurement." (P 102)
Of the Alfa Romeo 166: "By any logical standards the Alfa Romeo 166 is not a very good car. Compared to, say, a 5-series BMW. It is not especially fast, spacious, economical or well equipped, and it doesn't handle well either" and so on to a glow report.
On the Blackbird: "On full throttle, two giant blue plumes are left in the Blackbird's wake, each framing a series of blue balls of equally perfect energy. You watch it and think, 'God almighty. How did man ever create a sight like that?'"
The final sentence is the "raison d'etre" of this book and I can just hear and see Clarkson saying it, wide-eyed, open-mouthed like an admiring schoolboy, which is what he is some of the time when he is not being the other Clarkson which seems to irritate so many.
I enjoyed the book, share his wide-eyed, open-mouthed wonder at all of these creations and recommend it to anyone who has this fascination too.
PS I know he has written about all of these before or produced a television programme on them and there is another wonder; how good it must be to be able to repeat yourself on subjects you enjoy and get paid at least twice for doing it. Clever, eh?