I was doing a book reading a few weeks ago and a man came up to me and reminded me of something that had happened back in 1984. That was the year of my novelty hit "Ullo John! Gotta New Motor?" and the week it went into the charts I got the call to appear on Top of the Pops. Unfortunately, the evening of the recording at TV Centre was the same as the first gig of my live tour at Warwick Arts Centre.
It was decided that the only way I could do both was to put back the opening of the show so that I could do "The Pops" and be driven at high speed up the M1 to Warwick.
The man at the book reading had been the driver on that trip. He was told by the record company that they would pay any speeding tickets he picked up and the car, of course, was an S-Class Mercedes. As we rocketed northwards I recall a feeling of security of a kind that I wouldn't have experienced in any other car.
More than 20 years later there is still no other limousine that anybody important would want to entrust their life to, and the particular model they'd be most likely tp choose would be the £108,000 Mercedes S600 - the one I've been driving this week.
The six litre V12 provides effortless surging power, the ride is smooth and silent, retractable black mesh screens protect the VIP passenger from the intrusive gaze of the masses, the dash is covered in soft stitched leather, the rear seats recline and massage, there is acres of legroom and every conceivable luxury, yet despite all this and my happy memories of S-Classes, I found the Merc a hard car to like and I don't think it was just me.
I've always thought that people who drive certain cars - Porsches or Jags, say - and who complain about antipathy from other road users are just projecting their own insecurities onto others, but for the first time behind the wheel of a test car I did get the distinct feeling that, while there were those who were openly admiring, there were others who would scowl or refuse to let me out of a junction - who felt a real, visceral frisson of distaste when the chunky, black shape of the S600 with its enormous, chrome, sloping grille slid silently past.
I live in a particularly left-wing part of London with something like 90 per cent African parking attendants, so I suppose the kind of car Robert Mugabe would be driven around in is likely to attract opprobrium, but I was still surprised to get a £100 ticket for "Parking with Excessive Pomposity". Yet when I complained to the London Borough of Camden they showed me the regulations and it was right there, just before "Driving While Under the Influence of Divisive Ideas Concerning Gender Difference" and after "Owning a Car Likely to Glorify Imperialism".
Nevertheless, there was one feature on the S600 that made me laugh even more than the device on the Citroën C5 that punched you in the bottom when you strayed over a white line. This feature was the £1,200 Night Vision Assist option. Press a button while driving at night and, in front of you, where your dials were, there is suddenly an infra-red camera giving you a bright-as-day picture of the road ahead. With its spooky, black-and-white, heat-sensitive imagery it's as if an episode of Police, Camera, Action!, starring you as the pursuing police car, has abruptly appeared on your dashboard.
I'm not sure what use this is: the first thing I tried to do was to switch the headlamps off and then drive using only the Night Vision Assist as if I was some kind of stealth bomber, but of course Mercedes has thought of that. As soon as you switch the headlights off the infra red goes off, too. In the end, I parked on a dark road and then got out and did a mad dance while my wife watched me from inside on the screen. I expect Robert does the same for Mrs Mugabe.Reuse content