Richard Hammond and I have often indulged in a lengthy and drunken debate at the end of which we conclude that 95 per cent of everything is rubbish.
This actually stands up surprisingly well. History has bequeathed very little to us, compared with what it produced, so all the wooden furniture, computer coding, watercolour portraiture, and curry recipes that went in the bin must have been a bit sub-optimal, or we’d still have them.
Think how many books have been printed, and kindle files uploaded. It’s an unimaginable number, and most of them have been converted into bog roll (or the digital equivalent) because they were rubbish. I know this for sure, because I have been responsible for some of them.
The ‘95 per cent’ theory is very robust, but, even so, I’ve decided to revise it. I now think that 95 per cent of everything is actually untrue. A fiction, of sorts.
Let’s take art - always a contentious one. At the apogee of the art pyramid, we might find The Truth. This is why truly fabulous art is a priceless commodity; it represents, better than anything else, what we seek, and is in obviously finite supply. But the rest of art is little more than a trick, a technique for duping your brain into believing that Ted Nugent, the offspring of a virgin, is actually there on the wall, or page.
Now I think about it, much of what we imagine to be the universal glue of the human condition is a myth, and really just stuff we’ve agreed to agree on. The value of diamonds, for example; complete bollocks, and just part of a belief system. In reality, rice and potatoes are much more valuable, for which would we rather do without, for ever? Nationhood, political theories, economic systems, religions, brand loyalties - maybe they’re all just convenient above everything else. They’re not real.
So where does that leave cars, 95 per cent of which will be forgotten? I’ve often argued that the most important attribute of a car is the way it looks, because when its relevance as a transport commodity is exhausted, it might still (if it’s good enough) earn a lowly place in that pyramid of art we met earlier, and become a part of the story of how things looked.
But in the moment, what we love about cars is the way that driving them feels. We imagine that it’s an emotional response, but actually it’s down to physics. Physics, ironically enough, is full of so-called ‘fictitious forces’, the centrifugal one being an example, and the one that thrills us in corners. But physics on the whole is perfectly true, and was the first thing to exist. And if a modern sentient human could be transported back to the cataclysmic bang that began everything, acceleration would feel the same as it does now.
Our love of cars is quite literally a gut reaction; a direct communion with the purest and most steadfast truth we know. But always remember that, perforce, 95 per cent of everything I’ve just said must be crap.