Why Britain is now a Third World Country - Jeremy Clarkson (Sept 2008)
BRITAIN is a rich and civilised country with many trains, a rule of law, benefits for the needy and much public transport.
Unfortunately, none of it actually works any more. Not the weather. Not the Government. Not even our useless national football teams.
And it gets worse.
Want a passport? I did recently and it took three trips to London before they finally decided what forms I actually needed. Small wonder half of Somalia has simply moved here without bothering to apply. Mind you, I bet Mr Njomo is now wondering if it was worth the effort.
You phone a bank to get some trivial detail about your account and after half a day you finally get through to a human who slams the phone down, and calls the police, because you call him a dingleberry.
They are repairing a bridge on the A40 into London. Work started in March 2007 and will not end until February 2009. That's nearly two years. You could mend a solar system in less time than that.
Three months ago, I ordered a new sofa from Spain. And despite the fact that everyone over there has many cows to stab and many donkeys to hurl from various tower blocks, it was here in a fortnight. But I can't use it yet because the cushions are being made in Britain. And they haven't arrived.
How can this be? Even I could make a cushion in three months and I drive a sewing machine like I drive a car. Badly, and with a lot of shouting. I can only assume the people at the cushion factory are so busy ensuring their carbon footprint is low and their jackets' visibility is high that there's simply no time left in the day to actually make any soft furnishings.
Meanwhile, the roads are jammed up with white vans doing a million miles an hour. But despite this, they never actually get to your house.
Seriously. When was the last time someone arrived when they said they would. It never happens. And we accept this is normal.
Same as we accept late trains, jammed roads, useless banks, a baffling tax system and schools where the kids have to be fat to prevent the knife wounds from reaching any major organs.
A couple of weeks ago, I landed at Heathrow and had to sit on the apron for half an hour because the girl who switches on the parking aids for the pilot had not turned up. Then, a few days later, we sat on the Tarmac for two solid hours, unable to take off because there was a thunderstorm over north London.
The next day, I landed in Vietnam in the middle of a fully fledged village-killing typhoon. No fuss. No drama. And only a tiny bit of wee came out as we landed in the sort of raging torrent that you normally only find in The Bible. In the following week or so, I took eight flights in Vietnam and Cambodia. Every single one arrived ahead of schedule. Every single one was met, immediately, with steps, fore and aft, and on every single occasion our bags beat us into the terminal.
And we think they're living in the Third World.
There's more. If I wanted a suit making here, it would take eight weeks and cost £3,000. Over there, I had one run up overnight, for £60. And when I spoke to the girl in the shop about how she copes with rising fuel bills, she explained that to keep her moped topped up, she's now working 14 hours a day, 28 days a month. For £600 a year.
Here, people are dealing with the credit crunch by saving money. Cutting corners and cutting their own hair. There, they are dealing with rising prices by working harder. The Dunkirk Spirit, it seems, has emigrated to Da Nang.
In Saigon, I needed a doctor for a savage bout of mouth ulcers caused by winning a chilli-eating competition with my son. 'This'll be good,' I muttered darkly to my wife, expecting a wizard to come through the door with a saw. But it was good. Within 20 minutes, I was visited by a doctor and a nurse who got the local chemist to bike over the medication. All for £32. And she explained on the way out that by far the best way of never getting mouth ulcers is to eat a guava fruit every day. I've suffered for 40 years in the First World. Ten minutes in Saigon and I have a cure for life.
The level of service you get in Indochina is genuinely incredible. At one hotel, reachable only by boat, my daughter lost Flat Toy, her soft dog. We checked out, with her in floods of tears, and set sail for the mainland. And when we arrived we found the chambermaid, having come over in a speedboat, waiting with Flat Toy. The next day, another hotel's laundry ruined the same daughter's new shirt. Did we get an apology? A denial? Nope. They simply went to the market and bought her a new one.
When you spend some time over there, in what is fast becoming the workshop of the world, you begin to realise that we, in the West, haven't got a hope in hell. They hustle and they bustle while we get fat and whinge.
For too long we've sat in our ivory towers buying sofas on the never-never and cars on credit.
And imagining that if we don't bother turning on the airport parking lights all will be well so long as we are wearing our hi-viz jackets.
It's been the same story in government. They've squandered the proceeds from the good times on idiotic, unnecessary and extremely expensive schemes to reduce global warming. Gordon Brown even sold off most of our gold reserves when prices were at rock bottom. Sitting in a Jacuzzi of cash, it was almost like he didn't care. But he will do soon. We all will. Because the world is a see-saw and it is inevitable that we shall sink into the pit of poverty as fast as the Far East rises.
For us, not having a plasma television is the benchmark of poverty. For them, it's not having a pig. But soon, mark my words, it'll be the other way round.
The London Olympic Games will be the first major example of this. They will be healthy and safe and environmentally friendly. But compared to what the Chinese managed, they will also be utter crap.