I’ve maxed out lairy AMGs on Germany’s Autobahn at speeds more than double what is permissible in South Africa. I’ve skidded Volvos across frozen lakes in snowy Sweden. I’ve driven SUVs in self-defense in the bumper-to-bumper mayhem of India using nothing but gratuitous bashing of the hooter to save myself from disaster. I’ve barreled up hill-climbs and scythed through miscellaneous mountain passes in the most random corners of the planet, not to mention piloted fierce metal creatures around unfamiliar race tracks, oft beyond my skill level. I’ve driven 3000km across South Africa in a face-melting KTM X-BOW, yet nothing had prepared me for the white knuckled ride that lay ahead.
I would be the fourth participant, out of six. I was struggling to recall how I’d gotten myself into this ordeal. My fingers curled tightly around the handle of a too-small coffee cup, my eyes darting from the obligatory side plate brimming with sugary biscuits to the event program ahead of me. Specifically the title, large and bold – ‘7th Grade Career Day’. This was my nightmare. See, my niece, Talisa might have invited me a couple of months ago to say a few words to her class about what I do for a living. “Sure,” I immediately replied. I mean, how hard could it be? Who doesn’t want to be the cool uncle, and I guess I have a pretty groovy gig so, job done, right? “And now I’d like to call up Mr Fisher, who would like to tell us about his career.” Oh dear.
There I was, gripping the wooden edges of a school podium, tapping into the microphone as they do on television – the telltale sign of a man who has no idea what he’s about to say to a packed hall. In front of me sat 108 yet to be jaded young minds, just waiting to be inspired. There’s a reason I write. Simply put, it’s because I can’t speak publicly. Also, I fumble over words and have a voice that sounds like a frog farting through a cannon. These were kids though. I’ve interviewed Formula One and rally drivers, old Stig, industry legends like the Jaguar design boss, Ian Callum. “This would be a cake walk in comparison,” I tried to convince myself. But in truth it wasn’t. Not at first anyway.
Kids. Odd little things. Scary. The way they can stare into your soul, the manner in which they can smell fear. Despite this, I painted an illusion of someone who knew what they were talking about. I bandied about a pair of back issue TopGear Magazines, which I ultimately gave away as prizes to further endear myself to these bright young things. I put everything into wooing them, telling them to read books and follow their dreams, stay away from drugs and One Direction and all the other things they’ve been told religiously since the day they picked up their first crayon at the age of three. And you know what, it eventually worked. I was being pelted with questions, enthusiastically flung by enamoured petrolheads in their formative years. I was preaching to the sort who’d in my day pin Lamborghini Countaches and Ferrari F40s to their bedroom walls. I was chuffed, and having to field questions such as “Sir, what’s faster? Insert-exotic-supercar-here versus insert-exotic-supercar-here.” also, weirdly “Mr Fisher, can i please go home with you?” So. Very. Awkward. But something was bothering me, subtly nagging, gnawing at my chuffed state. It was only when the next speaker mounted the podium that I realized my ignorance.
Now I should mention that my peers had much less exuberant callings in life. An IT Technician, magistrate, bank consult and optometrist – all very valid career paths, but not exactly the Village People. So it shouldn’t have surprised me when Speaker #5 (and #6) segued into their PowerPoint presentations with an apologetic “now my job isn’t quite as fun as Mr Fisher’s but…” as they screwed their faces up into overtly sad emoticons. In that moment I realized that they hated my guts. Yet, by now I didn’t care, rather I continued to revel in the adoration of these young pups, despite the fact that the other professionals were in a better position than I to afford the kinds of cars we feature at TopGear riding on clouds of tyre-smoke and armfuls of opposite lock. The thing is, at TopGear we are not saving the world and we’re certainly not saving lives. But I dare you to tell me we’re not improving your quality of life by sheer virtue of motoring entertainment alone. Plus, I bet none of those other parents can hold a powerslide for longer than five seconds either. ‘Cool Uncle’ status then, verily and permanently attained.