From yesterday's Sunday Times:
Jeremy Clarkson: Hello Greece, I am the plane spotter from hell
It sounds like some kind of joke. The Greeks lose their marbles and decide that the best course of action is to detain a dozen British plane spotters. Ha, ha, ha. We get the finest sculptures ever created and they get a bunch of weird beards.
But life for these nerds is not going to be funny at all. Greece may be a popular holiday destination for people who’ve had their taste buds amputated, but behind the veneer of those pretty beaches and Captain Corelli’s mandolin there is a savage police state. It sits in the European Union like a Third World Trojan horse.
Let me explain. For some extraordinary reason I once found myself in Crete with a girlfriend. Inevitably, we hadn’t been there 10 minutes before she was pounced upon by some bandy-legged waiter who was presumably fed up with the curious sexual practices of his own country’s womenfolk.
When she turned down the predictable offer of a ride in his brother’s fishing boat, he resorted to type and tried to plunge his hands up her skirt. She slapped him. He slapped her back. And I stepped into the fray.
So here’s the scene: me, 6ft 5in, 30 years old and from a country that thrives on a good scrap. Him, a weedy little bubble from a country where the national sport is sleeping. It would be a short, vicious, one- sided contest.
And it was. He decked me with the first punch, dragged me outside and in front of a large crowd proceeded to demonstrate his skills as a sailor by tying my arms and legs in a series of interesting knots.
This is a reef. This is a bow. And then I was a double fisherman figure of eight.
Mercifully the police arrived, but unmercifully it was me they bundled into the back of the car. I think they said I was being arrested for insulting the Greek flag, but it’s hard to be sure because from time to time various people kept opening the door and punching me in the face. And we couldn’t drive off because the policeman had broken the car’s key in its ignition. “Get out,” he said, “and push.”
This was to be one of life’s less enjoyable moments. I emerged into a hail of fists and phlegm and began to push the police car to jail for a crime I hadn’t committed.
From that day to this I have longed for the moment when the tectonic plate that created Greece finally sucks the whole godforsaken hell-hole into the Mediterranean. But since that’s not for another 3m years, I have been waging a one-man boycott of anything that is made there — not that much is because they’re a bunch of walnut-faced peasants who sit around all day waiting for the next EU subsidy cheque to arrive.
Now, though, I sense a real chance to be more constructive, to pick up where those plane spotters left off and reveal to the Turks precisely what the Greek air force has and where it is. So here goes.
The 337th and 348th squadrons, based at Larisa, have 76 Phantom F-4s, a fighter aircraft notable chiefly for having no gun. The 346th squadron, also based at Larisa, uses the F-16, a plane that can manoeuvre itself up its own tail pipe, but only above its own airfield. Range is a big problem here.
The Greeks have 79 F-16s. They would have 80, but one is in the States being repaired after its pilot lit his afterburner while taxiing and crashed into a tree.
The 340th squadron, based at Chania, and the 335th at Araxos use A-7 Corsairs, a plane designed in the 1950s and launched in 1962, so you don’t have much to worry about there. You could shoot one of those things down with a bow and arrow.
Happily, Greece has cancelled its order for the Eurofighter, not that it could have flown one anyway. Local air traffic control is so bad that on a recent Nato exercise in the southern Aegean the Greek pilots got lost three times. It was finally decided that it would be best for everyone if they simply withdrew.
So what about the Mirages, flown by the 331st out of Tanagra? It’s a good plane, but may I draw your attention to an advertisement being run on the Greek embassy’s official website in Washington DC? I quote: “Hellenic Air Force announces the sale of 24 aircraft Mirage F-1 and well as the sale of 35 engines . . . which are in full operational condition. Every information concerning the . . . aircraft and their engines will be available to those interested. For more information please contact Colonel K Ioanidis on 30-1 6593 110, or fax 30-1 6458 001.”
What are these people on? You can’t sell fighter jets over the internet, for heaven’s sake. “Hello, colonel. My name’s Osama Bin Laden. About these Mirages . . .”
Furthermore, how the hell can you lock people up for looking at an air force that is clapped out, past its sell-by date and up for sale? This could only happen in a country where you can get arrested for being beaten up.
I feel a great deal of sympathy for these plane spotters, so I shall now reveal how I escaped.
I pushed the police car to the top of a hill, gave it a shove down the other side and scarpered. And the fat, thick oaf in the driver’s seat never even noticed.