Beneath the bonnet of the geek's geek

<strong>CAR FEVER</strong><br />BY JAMES MAY<br /><strong>Hodder &amp; Stoughton, &pound;18.99</strong><br /><br />HE might not have quite such a high profile as his co-presenters on the BBC&rsquo;s Top Gear programme, but James May is the most likeable of the three, less cocksure and sneering. He appears to live in a world of bad shirts, where chummy &ldquo;mates&rdquo; play darts in pubs and &ldquo;men in sheds&rdquo; tinker with engines. Juicers, gastropubs and anything else that smack of London trendiness are evil for him. May is the champion of the suburban British male. <br />On the evidence of this collection of journalism, he is also a natty writer. He bemoans the passing of the old police car with its flashing blue light and siren. &ldquo;Now police cars feature the light show from the Village People concert and the whoopsie siren can only be impersonated by someone who almost got the lead role in Some Mothers Do &lsquo;Ave &lsquo;Em.&rdquo; The Smartcar resembles &ldquo;two frogs mating&rdquo;.<br /><br />The ideas are amusing &ndash; in one piece, he gets to drive the Queen&rsquo;s car (a 1972 Rover P5, since you ask) &ndash; but the thing that keeps it fresh and lively is that he is no boring old reactionary tutting at airbags and seatbelts. New motors are better than vintage ones. Nostalgia is overrated.<br /><br />You come away with the feeling that May is wasted on these topics, and that beneath the blokeish bonnet is a sensitive soul. He lets slip at one point that he owns a piano, and a diesel engine is &ldquo;as fragrant as one of John Donne&rsquo;s mistresses&rdquo;. He seems a likeable, interesting bloke who&rsquo;d be fascinating to have a pint with. Failing that, this book is a pretty good alternative.<br /><br /><strong>Jeremy Hazlehurst</strong><br /><br /><strong>BESPOKE</strong><br />BY RICHARD ANDERSON<br /><strong>Simon &amp; Schuster, &pound;14.99</strong><br /><br />THERE&rsquo;S a romance to Savile Row, particularly in the age of the high street one-stop-shop.<br /><br />Richard Anderson, the youngest head cutter ever to grace its shops, is a poor boy made good on the Row and now tailor to the rich, famous and deeply posh. In this memoir he tells us how he -began as an apprentice cutter at the prestigious Huntsman at 16, having previously worked at a discount jeans store in Watford. Although he&rsquo;s now the best there is, he (amazingly) says that he didn&rsquo;t even seek out tailoring. His father, a boiler engineer, saw the job advertised, made the appointment and dragged Richard along to an interview. He was taken on because he was &ldquo;young, mouldable and looked the part&rdquo;.<br /><br />There is plenty of workroom nitty gritty about the process of suit-cutting, with cloths, colours, and cutting galore. There is name-dropping and boozy lunches and anecdote after anecdote of what it&rsquo;s like to construct fine suits for an important and harried customer base.<br /><br />It is an impressive, highly detailed viewpoint. But the history of Savile Row &ndash; indeed the industry and how it has developed &ndash; is surely among its greatest points of interest. A bit more of that and less of Anderson and this might have been just what the tailor ordered.<br /><br /><strong>Zoe Strimpel</strong>