Monday, April 11, 2016

Captain Slow, My Captain (a slightly ranty open letter to James May from a fan)

Glacier, Patagonia - December 2014
Dear James May,

You don’t know me, and I don’t know you.  But I am familiar with your work (you are welcome to Google mine, such as it is) and, for the most part, I love it a bit.  Sorry, I mean I love it to bits.  Your Toy Stories series brought out hitherto repressed nostalgia in tearful sobs, your boozy tours with Oz Clarke left me thirsty for road trips of my own.  But most of all your recent The Reassembler series reminded me of all that was good, and some of what was a bit silly, with engineering and design of the past.

It strikes me that you are the kind of man who thinks fondly of a time when we didn’t just throw things away when we were bored of them; instead we repaired, recycled or reimagined them.  You probably even remember a time when a person in a white coat (and possibly a cap) driving an EV delivered milk packaged in a re-cycled container to our doorstep and then took the empties away to recycle again.  Perhaps you, like me, wail in despair that a time when firms used to get paid to have their rubbish taken away and recycled is not our present nor our future, but a dimly remembered past.

Anyway I’m rambling, my reason for writing this letter is not really to do with any of that.  Instead I am worried for you, and the way future generations will think about you, and this is mostly because of another part of your work with about which I am feeling increasingly queasy.

I can’t claim to be a fan of the motoring programme, but I have been mildly entertained by it at least four times in the past.  I can’t bring myself to watch it anymore though. Even if I could afford an Amazonion of my own, I wouldn’t tune in.  And just to be an equal-opportunities offender I won’t be watching Chris Evans’ offering either, although in classic passive aggressive style I will probably read about both new shows in The Guardian and tut under my breath.

Permit me to explain why I feel this way.  Recently on returning from a rather splendid holiday in Chile I was intrigued to watch your latest offering filmed in Patagonia. But the more I watched the more I found that the sight of rusty metal (other materials may have been involved) boxes driven by the internal combustion engine churning and guffing their way across one of the most beautiful parts of the world left me feeling rather sick.  The thoughts of miscellaneous vehicular body parts and fluids being dumped willy and, more than likely, nilly, in this paradise were really all too much for my lily liver.  I won’t even go into political nonsense, but trust me; it didn’t make me feel any better.

It began to dawn on me, that for me this represented a kind of nadir. The very bottom scrapings of the barrel for this dangerous, smelly, polluting and inherently, mind-numbingly selfish fossil fuel powered personal transit unit, or car, as I guess everyone calls them.

Worse was to come! I began to imagine a dystopian future when our children and their children look back at the excesses of our age from the flooded ruins of Miami and/or London and wonder just exactly what the frack we were thinking.  I cannot imagine that re-runs of shows featuring vehicles being driven over beautiful, unblemished countryside (or just round and round in circles to no good purpose) will be looked on with any sort of delight.  I genuinely think they will gaze with the sort of horror we now reserve for the casual sexism and racism of 70s TV.  My expectation is that the people that participated in all this frivolity will end up pariahs of a sort - emblematic of everything that we failed to prevent.  Made all the worse by appearing to be having a good old guffaw in the process.  I confess I care little for how they think of Clarkson, The Hamster or even the ginger usurper, but for some reason, I do care about how they choose to think about you.

Frankly I have no idea if you are a climate change denier, I know you have an electric car and prefer hydrogen based alternative fuels.  It’s my belief you consider yourself a man o’science, so perhaps not.  But in a way it’s irrelevant whether you believe or not, climate change is here and it’s not going to be a barrel of laughs.  So for the sake of your reputation and behalf of all of us in the age of unparalleled waste perhaps you would consider putting your unique skill set to a different kind of use?

We need to see radical change in the space of barely half a generation: we need to break our addiction to plastic, eat less meat and master alternative ways to produce our energy (fortunately beer consumption levels can probably remain at roughly the current level).  I think that the UK is perfectly placed to achieve that with our mix of creativity, engineering and scientific expertise plus the kind of self-deprecating humour that will be needed to coax the bored and disinterested into playing along despite themselves.

We may never be leaders in manufacturing again, but we can lead the world in these new technologies and, whisper it softly, perhaps even drag the rest of the world kicking and screaming along with us.  Ideally we need to make reuse and recycling sexy, or failing that at the very, very least: funny.

And there, Captain Slow, my captain, is where you come in.

What could possibly be better to get the next generation of young (and not so young) engineers, architects and inventors off of What’s Snap or Facepalm or whatever and into coming up with clever solutions to real (and urgently needed) problems than, dare I say it, a TV Show.  Hey, let’s go wild - maybe a mini-series.

Hopefully I’ve laid out a pretty good case (see above) as to why you should be the man to front it or, if you’re really not up for it, perhaps Guy Martin is at a loose end?

Will you, at least, have a think about it?

The future might be very thankful.

Yours sincerely,


PS I am available for a pint any time to discuss this more, lovely boozers in my neck of the woods dontchaknow.

PPS Don’t suppose you have Guy Martin’s email address laying about anywhere?

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