I had high hopes for this diplomatic incident masquerading as a TV travelogue through Scotland. Fingers crossed, patriarchy’s answer to Katie Hopkins and the Cheeky Girls would get chucked out of Scotland just as they were from Argentina while filming Top Gear. During that 2014 debacle, Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond were attacked for driving a Porsche whose number plate – H982 FKL – was deemed a reference to Britain’s victory in the 1982 Falklands conflict. In the resulting unpleasantness, the three presenters took a helicopter to safety, like the last chopper out of Saigon, leaving the crew to defend that oxymoron, British honour.
Indeed, there is surely nothing more apt to make Nicola Sturgeon unleash the ancestral claymore than the sight of three English muppets in gas-guzzling Yank tanks (Lincoln Continental, Cadillac Coupe de Ville and Buick Riviera, each more productive of Greta Thunberg’s tears than a cormorant with its beak stuck in a can of Irn-Bru) heading north from Berwick-upon-Tweed.
As soon as the convoy passed the border, the scripted bants began. “Welcome to McScotland,” said Clarkson into his walkie talkie, while May and Hammond cackled like fiftysomething Beavis and Butt-Heads in their vehicles. Why the McPlods (oh dear, this is catching) didn’t ticket the infantilised Murdoch lackey for driving while using a handheld device is beyond me. Presumably, normal rules of the road were waived for this Amazon production, which is not something I imagine the first minister signing off on. If Donald Trump can build golf resorts in Aberdeenshire and Clarkson can roll through the majestic Highlands babbling anti-Scottish slurs and manifold fatuities, clearly her powers to stymie toxic middle-aged man-babies realising their unedifying dreams need enhancing.
PG Wodehouse once claimed it was not hard to tell the difference between a Scotsman with a grievance and a sunbeam. May embellished this theme, suggesting that Scottish police officers never have occasion to say “You’re nicked, sunshine” because – do you see the punchline yet? – there is no sun in Scotland. To be fair, the permadrizzle was unrelenting.
And then there were the meals, prepared by May, in which every item from kipper to carrot was battered. That said, Clarkson cleared his plate and Hammond hailed Scottish culinary genius for congealing peas, so tricky to eat with a fork, into battered clumps.
As a white, increasingly desiccated middle-aged Englishman, I should be in The Grand Tour’s demographic. But I’d rather read Iris Murdoch than watch Clarkson’s belly shot in profile wobbling from Auchtermuchty to Drumnadrochit in sync with the undulating terrain (proof that spending one’s career on, effectively, a series of La-Z-Boys on wheels is deleterious to one’s posture). If I were a middle-aged Scotsman, I’d have been further affronted by the carnage wrought on my homeland. Let’s review: three wrecked caravans, one left unacceptably in a wooded glen; the appalling fumes; the walls in Edinburgh’s old town; the boat sunk off the Hebrides; a pontoon bridge left bobbing off North Uist. None of the trio spoke to a Scottish person on screen, demonstrating, once again, how tourism narrows the English mind.
But what would have narked me most of all if I were Scottish was that my country was here busted down to an away venue for a proxy war between the US and the Soviet Union. Which of these two polities was responsible for manufacturing the worst car known to humankind, Clarkson asked. Oh, obviously the Soviets, you reply. Have you ever tried to put a Lada through hairpin? Of course you haven’t, because the Queen Mary has a tighter turning circle.
In truth, Clarkson was right about one thing in his life: the worst car in the world is American. In a field, six cars including two Chryslers and a Pontiac Aztek raced in circles in a kind of ground-based balloon race cum demolition derby. The loser would be the first car to crash out. It was the Pontiac (a car so terrible it figured in Breaking Bad as Walter White’s ride of choice to show what a loser he was) that was proven – scientifically, mind – to be the world’s worst car.
As the credits rolled, there was time to reflect on the show’s genius. Its success will be measured not by ratings, but by a spike in support for Scottish independence. It makes the SNP’s case more powerfully than Boris Johnson on a meet and greet in Sauchiehall Street. Watching this, Sturgeon must be laughing harder than she did during the England-Italy penalty shootout. Way to break up the union, you McPlums.