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July 11, 2007

Tail-end charlie

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Flea-idol, Jeremy Clarkson and Top Gear - the best show on television - have been accused of eco-crime for driving about the lifeless salt plains world's last pristine wilderness, the Makgadikgadi salt pans of Botswana. The crime? Failing to drive single file thereby having a laugh scarring the fragile local ecosystem. Now, one might expect this sort of caddishness from Imperial Storm Troopers (everyone knows the Sand People ride single-file) but from the BBC the same hijinx leaves delectable traces of hypocrisy given the Beeb's mind-numbing eco-puritanism.

Of course it would help if the accusations were not utter nonsense. The real target here is a popular television series known for its "petrol head" politics and unashamed love of toys for boys. Can't have that; thought-crime. Meanwhile, a casual perusal of Makgadikgadi images via Google reveals a whole lot of non-single file going on. This includes an image posted by the government of Botswana and - my favourite - a majestic seven abreast from Pangaea Expeditions (above). Some may say tire-tracks in caustic alkali sands are a problem; of course, the next time it rains they will be left with nothing to complain about. But by then, I expect, they will have found some fresh witch to burn.

The critics might also have thought to refer to Clarkson's own description of the instructions he and his crew received before crossing the wasteland.

If you want to kill your children, there's no quicker way that I can see than buying them one of those 50cc jobbies you sometimes see at garden centres. My son went on one the other day and in less than two minutes, he and it were in the swimming pool. And yet, there I was, on the edge of the Makgadikgadi, on a bitterly cold pre-dawn morning in August, with my wife, my three children and two guides - the ridiculously good-looking Ralph and an 18-foot Zulu called Super. No, I'm not joking. Super is his real name.

Super was going to be tail-end charlie for our 250-mile trek. But first, he had a health-and-safety lecture to deliver, Botswana style. Two weeks later I'm able to quote the whole thing verbatim. It went like this..."Let's go".

There were no helmets, no high-visibility jackets, no disclaimers to sign, no lectures on what to do if you were to be hit in the face by a giant meteorite and no reason that Super could see why our seven-year-old shouldn't drive her bike the whole way if she wanted to. Which she did, very much.

And not a word of outrage from the thin of skin. Still, the complaints let me learn about the pristine wilderness of Botswana, its Australians on three-wheelers and its primordial concrete aardvarks. Et in Arcadia ego.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at July 11, 2007 07:23 AM