I'M ALL in favour of China's growing economic strength and its penetration of Western markets, but I don't feel this because of any altruistic motives such as thinking that we need another superpower to balance out the United States or anything. My interest in China is prompted by the thought that I might one day want to revive my stand-up comedy career.
See, back when I started out as a comedian, a fair part of my act was about cars. That line that people are still using to this day, about how "you really need a four-wheel-drive to go down to Sainsbury's..." was coined by me after I noticed how many of those little Suzuki SJs were hanging about Fulham where I then lived.
Then there was my novelty hit record "Ullo John! Gotta New Motor?" and the Arena documentary I helped make, all about the Ford Cortina, which got something like 7 million viewers. I could get a five minute laugh just by saying "Volvo" in a funny Scandinavian voice. People were identified with and judged by their car. It was a sacking offence for a social worker if they drove anything other than a Citroën 2CV, a Renault 5 or a Fiat Uno. Similarly, somebody in the City had to drive a BMW or a Porsche unless they wanted to be dragged into the boss's office to be accused of latent communism.
Cars back then really were distinct from each other and so you could state who you were by the car you drove, 2CVs were underpowered and tinny and proclaimed your essential disdain for motoring and love of the environment, while BMWs and Audis had a clinical efficiency that seemed fascistic. Now all manufacturers proclaim their environmental credentials, and from budget models upwards cars are well made, so there's no comedy mileage to be got in doing stuff about what people drive.
That's where the Chinese come in. I love those magazines that show you all the cars made in the world and I got a particularly good one for Christmas that had blurry photos of all the cars that aren't imported here. They show locally assembled Brazilian Renault Clios with boots added that are used as taxis and with engines that run on locally available fuel made out of corn. In a similar vein were the Colombian Mazdas, powered by cocaine, which go very fast for 30 minutes then stop and turn nasty.
Flicking through this magazine, it seemed to me that the cars built in China showed an eccentricity both in naming and exterior design that boded well for comedians when they start importing them into Britain. I can imagine that you could get an easy five-minute bit out of people driving Qindong Chubby Boys or a hatchback called a Shanbang Wombat CarKass. I feel that I would be entitled to do it too, because I have been buying goods made in the People's Republic of China for much longer than nearly anybody else. In my early twenties I was in a Maoist communist group and we felt obliged to purchase anything from the nation that was our beacon of hope. Their exports largely consisted of leaky enamel vacuum flasks with flowers stencilled on the sides, and over the years I got a lot of soup stains on my clothes for the good of the proletarian revolution. Now it's payback time.Reuse content