ALL the great things are simple," opined Winston Churchill. "And many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope."
It's a good line from the king of good lines, but I think Churchill really cared about the freedom of British people, specifically from the Nazi menace, but also, I think, from the tentacles of an unfettered and intrusive state. When the Labour Party won the general election in 1945, Churchill warned that the party would introduce "some form of Gestapo, no doubt humanely administered in the first instance". This has, to some extent, been borne out.
The symptoms are many and varied, from the notion that the content of your e-mails and phone conversations are there for rummaging through by the state should it feel the need - to the under-the-radar cloyingness of restrictions on freedom "necessitated" by matters of that awfully convenient catch-all for snoopers and interfering mandarins, "health and safety".
William Pitt had it thus: "Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."
I'll bet Churchill and Pitt would have had something especially colourful to say about the news recently that police in Bangor, in north Wales, have imposed a 9pm curfew on young teenagers. Is it because of serious and widespread violence? Is a Welsh Spring in the offing? Are armed militia roaming the streets in Toyota double-cabs and unleashing their weapons at the Conservative Club, vowels, and other totems of English imperial aggression?
In fact, it's far worse than that. According to the Daily Post, the problem is "under-age drinking" and "scooter riding". Well. Heaven help us indeed. There's necessity right there. It's imperative this scooter-riding bedlam be bought under control. A curfew is the only answer!
According to the local rag, "a dispersal order came into force .... Under its terms no one under 16 is allowed in the area without an adult until 6am".
It's been a bit controversial. But not controversial enough. There has been debate where there should be outright fury. This is a beautiful, gleaming example of what happens when the thin end of the wedge ends up in the hands of doltish state worthies. It's a scandalous imposition on innocent people who have been convicted of nothing. It's illiberal in the extreme. It's Soviet. If I was a 16-year-old who wanted to walk home from doing some homework at a friend's house, at 9pm, and was arrested for it, I'd not feel terribly free at all. I'd think I'd had a taste of what it's like to live in North Korea.
Policing deprived areas isn't easy. The solution, however, is not to criminalise everyone who lives there. Marking "here be criminal scum" on the map and locking folks up in their own houses is not a solution.
Lots of law is bad law. That this is possible in an allegedly liberal democracy is a scandal, and a warning to those of us who live in poorly-led countries with demagogic tendencies.
The balance of power between the individual and the state always needs policing, because stuff like this Bangor curfew can happen so easily.
An excess of power, however, in a car, is an absolute hoot. So how about a Mercedes-Benz C-Class that happens to produce 380kW? Oh, there I go with the meaningless numbers again. That's the same power you get in a V12-powered Aston Martin. That's just 10kW less than a Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera. In a C-Class.
The result, as you might imagine, is somewhat monstrous. The car's called the C63 AMG Black Edition, developed by a team of mad boffins deep in the bowels of the Mercedes-owned Skunkworks at AMG. Obviously the car is modified to handle this simply outrageous power. It's got a widened track, it sits low on some serious-looking rubber. It's got up-rated brakes and tuned suspension. It looks magnificent.
And, God, what an experience to drive! It's magnificently loud, popping and spitting in fury on over-run, growling at low speeds and thundering its V8 rage under hard acceleration.
The day the car arrived it was raining in Cape Town and the thing was frankly a handful. On a dry day the rear wheels spin when changing up into third gear, so in the wet it felt like riding a racehorse across an ice rink. The tiniest application of throttle was to invite wheelspin and the intervention of the car's internal nannies.
But after a while you get used to it. When it's wet you just keep the thing in automatic take-it-easy mode. But in the dry you can unleash the fury of those many kilowatts, and then, my goodness, this thing flies. It'll drop 100km/h in 4,2 seconds, which is supercar-fast, and has a top speed of 300km/h, which, Mercedes is at pains to point out, is an electronically limited top speed. After all, they wouldn't want you to drive dangerously fast, would they?
It's like riding a wall of power and noise. The acceleration G-forces are like being sat on by an elephant. Cornering is good, but there's so much power under your right foot it's a brave soul who, on a public road, really gives it the beans. It's quite exhausting.
It's not a relaxing car, this. It's like any extreme sport. It's fun, but you can't make a mistake or take it easy. The ride is impossibly hard, the throttle super-responsive and the steering fast and merciless.
So, indeed, a car for the weekend, because commuting in this maniac would ensure you arrive at the office pumped full of adrenaline and all a-twitter. That's okay if you're a gym instructor, but not much use if you're an investment banker.
It just goes to show. Too much power all of the time can lead to all sorts of problems.