About a month ago I scooted off to the UK for a week of work-related meetings and frustratingly little sightseeing. But still I was able to stick to some priorities—I had a friend pick me up at the airport and we went straight to a pub called The George in Soho.
As I sipped on my Guinness, Gautam wondered aloud how the British, with their ridiculous food and pointless politics, ever managed to once rule the world from their ink blot of an island home in one corner of the world—he got his answer when we shared our tables with a couple of the locals. In less than 5 minutes we’d made friends with Chris and his unnamed companion—freelance helicopter engineers from Manchester. The blokes laughed and made jokes of everything: Gordon Brown, Lehman Brothers, economic meltdown, stupid Mancunians, knife crime in London and themselves.
For Crying Out Loud! Penguin, 288 pages, Rs395.
And what Jeremy Clarkson has done with his latest book For Crying out Loud!—the third in the The World According To Clarkson series—is to make a stupendous effort to keep that British sensibility alive. Which means its 288 pages are packed with indignation, political incorrectness and stiff upper-lipped pomposity. And debauchery, of course.
Clarkson’s day job is to host popular auto show Top Gear on BBC. But for a car-indifferent sissy such as me, the whole point of the show was Clarkson’s addictive wit and that superb theme music—Jessica by the Allman Brothers Band. Clarkson’s, however, is a conversational wit, one that requires tone and timing, and a difficult genre to confine to two-dimensional ink and paper. I’ve personally seen few humorists who manage to take vocal wit and translate it into print successfully. And vice versa, anyone who has ever listened to a Bill Bryson audiobook knows how the jokes suddenly sound a little flat. But for Clarkson, the twain do meet. Each piece, previously published as a weekend humour column for The Sunday Times, crackles with unrestrained venom.
Early on in the book, a piece titled “The worst word in the language” starts like this: “Wog. Spastic. Queer. Nigger. Dwarf. Cripple. Fatty. Gimp. Paki. Mick. Mong. Poof. Coon. Gyppo. You can’t really use these words any more and yet, strangely, it is perfectly acceptable for those in the travel and hotel industries to pepper their conversation with the word beverage.” What follows is unbridled hatred for the word “beverage”: “For crying out loud, I’m middle class. I went to a school most people would call posh. But if I came home and said to my wife that I wanted a beverage, or asked her to pass the condiments, she’d punch me.” Not indignant enough? Well, he hates people who use reflexive pronouns as well: “If you send a letter to a client saying ‘my team and me look forward to meeting with yourself next Wednesday’, be prepared for some disappointment. Because if I were the client I’d come to your office all right. Then I’d stand on your desk and relieve myself.”
Now there is a common problem with books that are collections of columns, especially humour pieces. They don’t give themselves very well to reading in long sittings. The humour devices can get tedious and after the first few pieces you begin to sense the looming punchline. No such issues with Clarkson’s writing. While his foul mood is a constant, he finds any number of things to unleash it upon including horrid pub food: “Often, these rural drinking pubs serve a selection of sandwiches and pies, but for nutritional value you’d be better off eating the little blue tablets in the urinals.”
Not only is it a spanking good first read, but the book has great repeat value as well. Clarkson is a splendid writer and we should do our best to encourage him by buying his books.