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"How did I get into this mess?"

"How did I get into this mess?"

Every so often, there comes a point when you look around, and you wonder how you got into a certain situation.

For instance, like driving a Ferrari on the wrong side of the road and into traffic islands across the city of Houston, at 3am on a Saturday night, a bit the worse for wear on a malt liquor beverage.

It was 1994, and I was an exchange student at Louisiana State University, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, America. The friends I was hanging out with decided that since there apparently were no nightclubs in Baton Rouge, we should make a weekend of it and go to the next nearest major city. Alas, New Orleans (the logical choice) was nixed, and thus the destination was set for Houston. Six hours away. I hadn’t realised that the parents of my cohorts were so rich that they had tiny Ferraris, but they did, and I was in the back seat for six rumbling hours.

It was somehow decided that we didn’t have time to check into the motel that we’d organised, so instead we drove straight to the nightclub, arriving for about 9pm. Whereupon, with my training in British student bars, I headed straight for the bar and ordered a bunch of Zimas – then the coolest “malt liquor” drink being advertised on American TV.

Fast forward to 2am, and the group gradually assembled for the drive home, all of us a wee bit the worse for wear. Astonishingly, the main driver announced that he was too drunk to drive, and as I was the most sober person in the group, I should drive us home back to the motel. Even though I was still quite drunk, it was a sports car, and I pointed out that I was used to driving on the left side of the road. My objections were blithely over-ruled – and hey, how often do you get the chance to drive a sports car? – and I got in.

The group’s general assumption that i would be fine to drive were almost immediately quashed when I reversed the car, and turned it to the left – which is what you’d do in the UK. But apparently not in the US. The screams were almost comical, but fortunately we didn’t hit anything.

Unfortunately, over the next few minutes, I did scrape along the kerb, hit a traffic bollard, and mount a traffic island. In my defence, there’s not actually not much windscreen space in a tiny sports car – and of course, I’m not used to driving on the wrong side of the road. Fortunately, I was driving quite slowly, until I got the hang of things. After a while, the group calmed down enough to realise that I was asking for directions they didn’t have, so we all ended up looking around for signs to an Interstate or highway of some sort.

Eventually, we found one, I finally had the confidence to put some gas on the pedal, and somehow we managed to arrive at our designated motel. Why the hotel staff didn’t raise alarm bells at seeing a Ferrari pull in at 2am and four kids get out, clearly the worse for wear, is beyond me.

What was worse was the same six-hour journey back across a rumbling highway, crammed in the backseat, but this time all of us hungover.

Unsurprisingly, these days, when there’s an evening of drinking to be had, I get a taxi.

Has Richard Hammond gone all girly?

Has Richard Hammond gone all girly?

Richard Hammond on Top Gear 7 Oct 2007

So on Sunday night I settled down on the sofa, like most of the British population, for the new series of the fantastic Top Gear – the programme for people who like silly blokes.

But oh dear oh dear oh dear. What on earth is Richard Hammond wearing? I know he’s the girliest presenter on the testosterone-laden programme by a long shot, but even so someone should have had a word in his ear about that jacket. Whatever was written on it, it looked too well-designed, as if it was a jacket from Top Shop that a girlfriend had bought for her reluctant fella. Which, come to think of it, is probably what happened. (bear in mind I’m not usually moved to write in an angry fashion about what television presenters are wearing!)

But it gets worse. During the film the presenters made driving around Europe in super sportcars looking for the ideal road, Richard is always seen wearing a namby-pamby necklace. Not a silver or gold one, but a chunky black one. Just like the kind of necklace I was reluctantly persuaded into wearing during one summer weekend in Italy. And it looked as wrong and girly on him as it did on me.

He’s a television presenter. He’s run PR agencies. He ought to know what is relatively acceptable and unacceptable to a Top Gear audience. What gives?

And another thing, the Top Gear team seem to have decided that what makes a great road primarily consists of steep bends and turns up and down sheer mountain peaks. Have they ever tried driving into mid-Wales late at night? It’s not exhilerating then, let me tell you – mind-numbingly dull, tedious and dangerous comes to mind. Give me six shimmering lanes of concrete any day of the week!

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