A literary amusement by Jacques Stewart
They say one should never meet one’s heroes.
Curious. Meeting one’s villains must surely be avoided, unless you’re a fictional vigilante billionaire with repetitious escapades to feed to the jaded. A psychotic orphan assaulting a greasy clown isn’t entertainment. Usually. Equally, a STD-riddled orphan tackling a “Fos-Ter Bro-Ther” bodes ill. Those neither heroic nor villainous aren’t sufficiently interesting to bother with so, dragged to one logical conclusion, the proposition means one never meets anyone. Dragged to an illogical conclusion, it means no more ickle babbies. Dragged to a preposterous conclusion, it means that to engineer our extinction one needs not hijack spacecraft, cultivate toxic blooms and curate a galactic brothel; just invent the internet and wait for nature to take its course as humanity isolates itself. Still, the prospect of reading piffle like this could justify cracking out the orchid gas to accelerate the process. The more one coughs along life’s long belch, the more one wishes Moonraker comes to pass.
The idea is we risk being disappointed by those onto whom we transpose our delusions of a better self, whether they know / care we are so doing or would welcome it rather than injunct. Heroism – worship of any sort – must justify the pedestal. When one does unscab one’s hero’s flaws, whose fault’s that? Theirs. They’re to blame for being shorter / smellier / heterosexualier than one was manipulated into believing, and as insignificant, frail and as much of a git as anyone. When that Mr Craig said he would rather slit his wrists than do 007 actoring again (nurses claim they have it hard), even those who habitually forgive his patented truculence on the off-chance he would ever thank them for it, struggled to “defend” the grumpy line-reciter for this one. They needn’t have bothered. The wisest approach would have been to invite him to get on with it to see if that entertained us more than his latest film, as his life is ours and all he is for is to deliver us from ourselves. That he did not do so was presumably in fear that his bid for oblivion would have engaged more than “SPECTRE” (not unduly challenging) and thereby realisation, at the drip of the last drop, that all his ostensible achievements had wasted time, ours most importantly. We do hate to be wrong, and their being not what we imagined them to be is patently their responsibility. We’re better off not idolising anything at all, so we can’t be disappointed when bad things happen despite all devotion paid. How can God let bad things happen? If you don’t believe in God, you can’t anger about that: peace on Earth and goodwill to all men ensues. Maybe we don’t want that. Having deluded expectations of others dissatisfied gives us purpose because once we’d solved poverty, famine, global warming, racism, child labour and cured both cancer and the cruel torment that causes millionaires to self harm because they have to learn some dialogue and jump about a bit once every three years, we needed something to bitch over lest we became overwhelmed with our brilliance.
Idolising fictional characters is yet more preposterous: what life guidance can one draw from the likes of (random pick) James Bond? He’s not real, y’know; at best, a blithely rapey imaginary chum whose all-over-the-place attitudes are guided by A Word From Our Sponsors, a corporatised committee-designed avatar commoditising gullible, rationed wish-fulfilment, corrupting us into coveting souldevouring consumer items because if we do, we too will face down supervillains, pull always-initially-stroppy dolly birds and generally “win”, and this is a better use of our time than dragging drowned refugee children from the sea or ensuring an elderly neighbour has company and food on their plate. Ah, they say (“they” say a lot, and it’s habitually bollocks), but liking and – insofar as one’s budget and moral desolation stretch – emulating Bond is escapism from such real horrors and, further (they’re on a roll now), escaping from those things recognises they exist, not deny. Yeah, but… is running away something 007 would do? His inspiration has meant nothing. If there’s any metaphor to this tosh, surely it’s that one faces moments of crisis, not scarper and self-indulge in corrupted spinelessness. Consumption is cowardice. This might have been lost amongst all those cars and watches. Wear that Omega and people will think you’re like James Bond. True: James Bond’s a colossal tit, too.
Why start this so sourly? Other than instant(-ish) reaction to fleeing SPECTRE livid at its cynical profligacy, call it bracing myself for pain, something I haven’t done since lying fearful in my schoolyears dormitory. Indeed, a reversion to vivid childhood incident is appropriate, given that it’s time to consider Nobody Lives For Ever (not a phrase regularly used) and much – indeed, arguably all – of this is Nobody Lives For Ever’s fault. Had I not, as a stripling of twelve possessed of a half’s worth of hush money (£8.95: I was tremendously good value) purchased the first edition – where it’s “For Ever”, and so it shall remain – and a dozen Wham bars and then spent a joyous day lying on a pebbly beach, enthralled and engaged and cultivating diabetes, had I not felt even then that it was a formative incident that would dictate girthsome dollops of my life (whether I so articulated it is moot, but I was a pretentious little measle and little has changed), had I not enjoyed the book so damned much then we would never have “met” and you wouldn’t be reading this, and I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that makes the wizened, hirsute old smeller who sold it to me a hero or the pinnacle of villainy that its unwise choice of face would tend to suggest.
How I came to be on that beach on that day is adrift on the space-time continuum and it’s a holiday otherwise unremembered. Odd; it was the last one before my father died. Don’t remember much about that. On occasion, when observing my offspring wrapping their lips round an organic pomegranate or hammering others’ tedious sprogs at Real Tennis or reciting their way through the third conjugation (their middle-class pretension is, if anything, much worse than mine: I blame their mother, very quietly) I have wondered whether it’s that sort of incident that they will remember more vividly than they will recall me, in much the same way as my mind’s eye is full colour high definition when it comes to the pleasure of losing myself in an objectively unremarkable cash-in novel, but very foggy on paternal details, such as trying to remember what the old maggot looked like. A child psychologist (I’ve met – been obliged to meet – several; habitually charlatans) might observe, justifying their “diploma”, that my latching onto a moment of glee and over-emphasising a humdrum episode – I read a book and I liked it – is a prime example of escapism, a deliberate suppression of worse memories of a (probably) horrid period. A spectacularly trite diagnosis, but it suggests that the meaner I am to my children, the more they will value with happiness the opportunities my staggering munificence has bestowed upon them in order to blur remembrance of my naughtiness. The worse I behave, the happier they will be because they can latch on desperately to something else to take the pain away. This gives me carte blanche. N.B. I won’t be giving them Carte Blanche: evil I might be, but I draw the line at banal cruelty.
The problem as I see it is this: I read Nobody Lives For Ever nearly thirty years ago and haven’t since. Although I gave the likes of Goldfinger a go at an early age, and had seen a couple of the films, it was this book that sold me on, and perhaps to, James Bond, and three decades’ worth of corruption ensued. I’ve done other stuff, and other people, during that time but Bond appears throughout my gasp like pernicious dry rot in the foundation stone of the Monument of Me (it’s an impressive erection, more impressive than that knob gag, anyway). Given the (often challenged) pleasure I have derived from 007 over time, I must have something for which to thank the fifth Gardner. This exposes the quandary: for the sake of these specious pieces, it’s time to revisit the book and the possibility that it’s ectually terrible and my reaction to it at the time was simply sugar-bloated avoidance of a surrounding circumstance. The contextual parallel is anyone introduced to Bond via GoldenEye eventually waking up to the godawful spavined crap it undoubtedly is. There are support groups. The risk is that in meeting Nobody Lives For Ever and now, not twelve years old, considering it poor, will set me off wondering why I wasted such time on Bond when there was a thesis on the Thirty Years War to complete, a planet underexplored, apes to save, schools to build, wells to dig and The World is Not Enough never to see. Accordingly, the chance is that I end up resenting the book and all that then followed for wasting my life, and descend into self-indulgent misery (it’ll surprise you that I am prone to same). It won’t be my fault for a bad choice. Never is.
But, “they” will say, consider it as meeting a friend you haven’t seen for thirty years. Hm. There are reasons I’ve discarded people; for one childhood pal it’s his imprisonment for manslaughtering, the daffy scamp, and three more are irresponsibly dead. When I happen across old chums – I sometimes lob a florin into their open guitar case, or buy The Tramps’ Times or whatever it’s called out of pity for their sad dog – our mutual disappointment at how much our wrecked physical state reflects on each other never births a comfortable encounter. Nor does my demand for the correct change. There’s nothing more confirmatory of one’s own decay than meeting someone you had fixed in your mind’s eye as being young and lively and firm of thought, sinew and buttock, yet encountering instead a raddled, sad-eyed flump pressed down by the deadweight fist of dreams unpursued. Also, the people I knew aged twelve, and the few I liked, had qualities that endeared themselves to a twelve-year-old me; I’ve a feeling my demands of others’ characters – and the potency of cheap literature – have changed considerably, not least through having produced some twelve-year-olds along the way and having been subjected to their absurdity. I wouldn’t trust any of my offspring at that – or any – age to recommend me a book. I’m not convinced they’re read many. For them, life’s just hula-hoops, be-bop jazz, coffee bars and skiffle degeneracy, as we were all warned Ian Fleming would bad-influence them to be, just as his diverting adventure stories formed their views on race, women, Bulgars, GERMANS, flagellation, homosexuality and The Korean. Ban this sick filth now.
Displacement activity then – I knew m’dad wasn’t long for the world; nobody lives for ever – and displacement activity now in all this guff. Let’s get on with it, albeit wary of the possibility that any positive comment will be me clinging onto the past and seeking to justify choices I made thirty years ago because the contemplation of what else I could have achieved is depressingly overwhelming. Perhaps that’s all fandom is. We have to be right otherwise it’s a cold waking up to the fact James Bond or Doctor Who or Stars both Trek and Wars are all filmed in a shed by paunchy men bickering about resources, and we might only have lived out our one chance vicariously. Cosplay that.
Time to put one’s self into a child. Not like that. Tsk. Thirty years ago… the twelve- year-old me contemplates Nobody Lives For Ever’s first six chapters: Drownings! Secret compartment! Rescuing pretty crumpet! Smacking muggers about! Bentley! Exploding BMW! And that’s just the first chapter!! Cor! Paranoia about short people! He has a CD player – in his car! In 1986! Insane! Making unforgettable love by moonlight to an Italian countess! I don’t think this is suitable! Brill! And skill! Slit-throat death in a churchyard! “I prefer dutiful women”. Mad food! Snoggery! Head Hunt! No-one had told him so that’s really suspenseful! Kidnapping! Striptease! Mad autobahn mass destruction car chase shoot-out! Renault 25s are rubbish! Weapon / willy badinage – phwoarr! Carnage! The Hook! Big man, small hands – ooh, shivers! How’s he going to get out of this one? This is absolute chock! (genuine 1986 slang; it meant “good”. At least that’s what I was told).
Thirty years on…the forty-two-year-old me contemplates the same: That first chapter is still gleefully loopy, with more incident than Role of Honour as a whole, one suspects John’s making a point there, but on closer scrutiny… expandable baton. Secret bleedin’ compartment. The surely-now dead, or at least “allowed-to-retire-and-not-kept-on-cruelly-as-a-domestic-slave”, May. Crimson fireballs, again. Scrambler in briefcase. Again. Hotel room. Again. Transworld Exports (?). “…his silk travelling Happi-coat” (?? Trace element Ken Spoon up to that, but there he bursts out). Statutory Royale-les-Eaux. Killers with clumsy nicknames. Impossible coincidences. Hotel room. Half a page on the CC500 scrambler: what it does, it does boringly. “I prefer dutiful women.” John’s been on holiday and is telling us his menu choices. Pomposity. Alliterative names. Another new name for the KGB. Bond has to contact SIS to eke out details of something they haven’t bothered to tell him despite affecting him directly, which is a ) weird and b ) suspense contrived into a plot that doesn’t really need more but c ) frickin’ typical because Gardner does that a lot; whilst the technique gave the otherwise flaccid Icebreaker and Role of Honour some tension, it’s an unnecessary and distracting strategy here as the basic plot is solid enough on stand on its own. Strange retro-story arcing with the detail about Sukie’s step-brethren, who turn up in COLD and perform so unmemorably they put the naught into naughty.. Oh, John’s killed off Draco. Weird snobbery about the Renault 25 (from a SAAB driver). Casual slacks. Oscar Jacobson jacket. Hotel room. Bond’s curious ability to recognise and (relentlessly) reel off fashion labels (???). Inexplicable decision-making, swallowing any old cock… and bull. Pausing action to tell us all about Glaser Slugs, at immense length. John, it’s what the guns do that is interesting, not what the guns are. Another crimson ball; perhaps the Happi-coat’s chafing. Yet more scrambler. Giving us the same information umpteen times within a few lines i.e. how this “Der Haken” got his nickname. Remove the “h” from “chock” and you’ve arrived at your destination. Please disembark.
I plainly have to talk some sense into my younger self.
The 007th Chapter – Nobody Lives For Ever: The Hook
We are not in a hotel room. Always thought this a good ‘un. Well done, pre-pubescent me for recognising it! Good lad. We are indoors, though, inside the Bentley and subsequently in an apartment; crippling agoraphobia still afflicts, although to be fair we’ve just had a massive open air shoot-out, crimson fireballs and everyfink, albeit so relentlessly described the reader isn’t trusted to imagine any of it and as a result ends up as knackered as the participants.
The Thirty Years War: Legacy and Impact. Thesis for D.Phil. Stewart, J.
July 1986. A dark-skinned, increasingly plump boy sits on a shingle beach, reading and cramming his maw with industrial by-product. A man in a wheelchair approaches. They could be related. That lot all look the same, don’t they? Mere statistics in yet-to-be-written hospital records replete with shocking things, let us label them J12, the boy, and J42, the “man”. The boy ignores the man (deep on several levels, that), and reads on, engrossed. The man looks about, furtively; not wishing the boy ill but to check that the emitters of Back to the Future II have not made it through the same wormhole, nor their “attorneys”. The man clears his throat. He sounds as well as he dresses.
J42: What’re you reading?
J12: (Looks up, annoyed at being interrupted, especially by someone who will doubtless ask to “borrow” money for “a cup of tea”) It’s called a book.
J42: (Resists the urge to club this uppity youthlet to death, accepting that this causes problems to his own existence: instead, through few remaining teeth a-gritted…) Ha! Very good. That might be the best joke you’ve told. Or will. What I meant is – what’s it called?
J12: (Embarrassed, accepting he should be reading something with a less generic TV-movie title) …Nobody Lives For Ever.
J42: Oh thank Min, I thought I’d landed in 1990 and would have to watch you try to appreciate Brideshead Revisted and fail, embarrassingly.
J12: (Hasn’t heard any of this because a ) he is enjoying the book and b ) he doesn’t listen to anyone older than him. Not a bad ruse. Older people are idiots and to blame for everything)
Would you like to see some puppies? And what’s that you’re eating?
J12: (Mouth full of tooth-rot): Mmopffwhhdm.
J42: You’re better off with fruit, y’know. Seriously. You’ll thank me in the long run. Not that you’ve ever been for a long run. I’ve brought some along. Here; an organic pomegranate. No, 1986, they haven’t been invented yet. Damn, these bloody seeds get everywhere. Hm. I know, take this; masticate my banana.
J12: (sotto voce) There’s never a policeman around when you need one, is there?
J42: I heard that. But good work on “sotto voce”; practise your Italian; it’ll come in handy. Usually to work out what your in-laws are saying about you.
How does someone “possessed of a latent insanity” “appear” such? If it’s latent, there’s nothing apparent. That’s what the surveyor I’m suing asserts, anyway.
J12: (Increasingly uncomfortable with this encounter. Justifiably) My mother said never to accept things from strange middle-aged men.
J42: (Stifling a sob at “middle-aged”, rather than “strange”) OK but a ) how otherwise have you managed to afford to buy that book?; and b ) didn’t follow her own advice, did she?; and c ) in about five years’ time you’ll discover that much of what your Mother told you was mendacious rubbish.
J12: (Putting down book, annoyed because he’s mid-crimson fireball) Wha’evah, Grandad…
J42: (Grandad? Not that big an age gap, surely? Cornwall, though) I don’t think that phrase is historically accurate.
J12: As if you’d know about historical accuracy, given that incomplete thesis of yours.
J42:…OK, this is getting weird now.
“The grotesque Inspector Osten smelled of something else…” Is this “something else” the hyperbolic use of the expression, smidge camp for stolid, manly Gardnerprose, or something other than “evil”, the presence of which Bond has been… feeling. Forty-two-year-old me giggled at that. The younger me wasn’t so childish.
J12: I was wondering when you’d arrive , to change my mind about liking James Bond and divert me instead into doing good works which will assuage your middle-class guilt at having wasted your life. You’ll struggle – I mean, this one’s got a vampire bat and guillotines. Still, if thirty years of liking Bond has made you look like that, it’s job done. If this is how it turns out, I’m putting the book down and walking into the sea. And it won’t be like the start of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but that’s because I haven’t read that one yet so have no idea what that means.
J42: …I don’t remember this happening this way at all.
J12: Look, just hand over the Sports Almanac 1987-2014, then bog off.
J42: But the film you’re referencing doesn’t come out for a few years yet… how would… how would you know…? Although do write this down and then shriekingly claim thirty years later it was your idea… that always works.
J12: You’re not the only one with experience of wormholes.
J42: Now that I do remember. Ow. Thanks so very much.
J12: It’s “latent”. Benefits of a classical education.
J42: You might want to write that one down, too.
Not-too-badinage ensues between Bond and Osten / Der Haken, the choice of name apparently interchangeable. Slightly odd why Bond calls him “Inspektor” with a k given that they’re speaking English. On “English”, classic Ken Spoon prissiness in correcting Osten’s characterisation – sorry, karakterisation – of May’s nationality, and klassic Fleming to give the man doll-like features, the usual between-two-stools (..hmm) phenomenon that’s kome to karaketerise the Gardners to date. At least there’s some tangible Fleming in there, although when Bond replies “…with some asperity” it’s back to the World of Podgy Pomposity. I’d shove that hook up his kolon right now.
J12: Don’t like bananas anyway…
J42: They’re not still throwing them at you when you play rugby, are they?
J12: (Goes quiet, bites lower lip)….No. Anyway, haven’t you got anything else to eat?
J42: (Opens Daniel Craig lunchbox prepared for him by Mrs Jim) Quinoa with acai berries, sunflower seeds and a guava & lemongrass smoothie.
J12: Was there a nuclear war, after all?
J42: No. Not yet, anyway.
J12: What’re you eating that crap for, then?
J42: …Y’know something, that’s a really good question.
J12: Also, what the chuff’s that… thing on the front of the box?
J42: Equally good.
Bond’s bluster might well be a kover, playing “enraged diplomat” in much the same manner as he gave unto us this generation’s definitive reading of the komplex role of Professor Joseph Penbrunner, but the koncern is that Mr Gardner finds this persona much easier to write than the dissipated ennui that is James Bond. The koncern becomes reality in a few books’ time when Kaptain Boldman takes over Bond’s identity kompletely.
J12: Is that how you’re meant to eat a pomegranate, then?
J42: Mind your manners, Podge. Listen, this is important. You are at a crossroads…
J12: I’m on a beach.
J42: Jesus H Juice, I’m insufferable. Already. Look, shut your droolhole and pay attention. You are holding in your hands a potent weapon that will sow seeds of misery for you and others for many years to come. Now put it away, and pick up the book. As far as that goes, it too is going to provide momentary pleasure but will only result in longer-term pain and disappointment.
J12: I don’t see how that can be. It’s really stimulating.
J42: We are still talking about the book, aren’t we?
“Casually, the man they called the Hook…” a ) We’ve been told this n times already and b ) they are kalling him this in English now; linguistik minefield, this… “…leaned over, his long arm stabbing forward…” Kan one kasually stab? Apple cheeks, reptilian forearms, doll hands, bad hair: a kredible Bondesque grotesque. “I have an international licence to carry the gun”, klaims Bond, a hootingly funny koncept for a sekret agent. Karry it, yes. Fire it, apparently not.
J42: Aren’t you finding the style turgid, contrived, tediously digressive and clumsily overwritten to disguise the innate lack of substance?
J12: No. It inspires me to emulate those characteristics in my own writing.
J42: Shut up. Shut up shut up shut up.
J12: Well, that’s a compelling argument.
J42: On reflection, that opening chapter is an absolute hoot, granted. But you’ll never capture the first thrill of enticement and spend years moaning about any fresh development that just isn’t quite the same and the frustrated and fruitless pursuit of a historical fleeting happiness will eat your soul, time and money. The last one being the most important, obv. That’s Bond fandom.
J42: No, my mistake – that’s marriage. But Bond will be like a betrothal. The longer it trudges on the more you overlook crippling flaws inflicted by time and the finite amount of things to say, in the ludicrous hope of recapturing the initial spark and occasionally glimpsing it but deep-down reconciled to it never really happening, but so entwined that only death will do you part. Attempts to inject life into prolonging it make you feel grubby and used.
J12: Full of fun today, aren’t we?
Some deadweight prose kompressing all the tourist sights of the city into a few knobbly lines to konvince us that we are in Salzburg and not Sutton Koldfield, and Bond drives “down into an underground car park”, suggesting that “up” was an option, otherwise why say that? Bond “expected to be guided towards police headquarters…” Really? How has anything – especially the “presence of evil” – possibly nurtured that as a reasonable belief? “A sudden uneasiness put Bond’s senses on the alert.” Yes, it’s been all super-duper lovely pals so far, hasn’t it? Klown.
J42: Other advice. Don’t get into a car with a chap called Hugh Finistere (RIP). When you marry, and it will be to a woman despite all those naughty rumours, try to remember your mother-in-law’s name during your speech, and cut a couple of the knob gags. What else…I had a list…That night the police come calling, stick to your claim that you were easily confused and did mean to take the children snowboarding, not waterboarding. Never eat marzipan. Never drink cheap wine. Never send flowers. Never dream of dying.
J12: Those last two sound interesting.
J42: Forget I ever mentioned them. Please.
“Instead he was faced with a very unpleasant…” ooh, bitch, “…and probably corrupt policeman.” Look, Ken, you’ve already been told several times he strings people up by hooks. “Probably” korrupt. “Unpleasant”. Yeah. What a rapskallion. “…an apparently prearranged plan to bring them to a private building.” Pfenning’s still not dropping, is it? “Heinrich Osten nodded his oversized head repeatedly, like a toy in a rear car window.” A stunningly prosaik similie, deliberate antithesis of aspiration: essence of John. No longer the world of chilled goblets and kaviar so deep one’s spoon kannot reach the base of the bowl: now it’s nodding dog ornaments. “Bond clipped out the words, as though they were parade ground orders.” Military throwback, polo-necked, Happi-koated, middle-aged, high-and-mighty stolid pompous buffoon Ken Spoon bekomes the author of all my pain.
J12: So you’re setting this in the past but infusing it with ironic contemporary liberal sensibilities and solecisms because you’re too lazy to research it properly?
J12: Do I become Sebastian Faulks, then?
J42: 1986… only one book published so far… probably not my sort of thing, if John Gardner is… How do you know about Sebastian Faulks?
J12: Benefits of a classical education.
J42: Don’t overuse that line. People will think you’ve stolen it from somewhere.
J12: Have I?
J42: Not yet.
“By the very fact that I am the representative of the law, and you have an Uzi trained on you, you have no rights.” Not sure that’s right. Sektion 76 of the Police and Kriminal Evidence Akt might have something to say about this.
J42: Come on, you can’t really be enjoying that book, can you?
J12: Yeah. It’s whippin’
J12: Genuine 1986 slang.
J42: Really don’t remember that. Hasn’t aged well, has it?
J12: Better than me.
J42: You know that curious scar on the side of your neck?
J42: (Clips boy round the ear). Now you do. (Pause) Ow.
J12: There y’go – latent.
J42: They’re so precocious these days.
“A remarkably tough lady, he thought: tough and attractive in a clean-scrubbed kind of way.” I’ve folded that over in my brain numerous times now and still have no idea what he’s getting at. “The elevator arrived with a brief sigh…” It’s read what’s going to happen next, which is John reeling off a palette of modern artists, something he’s done across the four preceding books and if memory serves, will kontinue to. There’s an argument that there’s been more original Hockney than original Bond so far. “A police officer stood in each of these [archways] as though on guard.” What else would they be doing? Admiring the art? Of which there is… loads. Good to know Hohensalzburg is still floodlit; was fretting as we hadn’t been told that for four pages.
J42: Do me one favour, along with the fruit-eating. Write down the following. DNA-replacement therapy. Madonna. Invisible car. Computer-generated stunt sequence. Pierce Brosnan. Take two copies; send one to Eon Productions and one in a sealed envelope to yourself.
J12: To claim these were all my idea?
J42: Can’t recommend that. No, it’s to injunct them if they ever try to use them. It’ll force them to come up with better ideas.
J12: What’s a “Pierce Brosnan”?
J42: I’ve forgotten. I think everybody has.
“He turned to face the inspector…” now with a c… “Bond scowled, just beginning to appreciate what Osten intended.” He’s none too bright, is he? “…the glassy stare broke and splintered.” Nope, no idea. “The grave, Mr Bond. You will be haunting the cold, cold grave. You will be nowhere.” Apart from the kold, kold grave: I refer the dishonourable gentleman to the answer he gave some moments ago. “It will be as though you had never existed.” If I’ve understood Head Hunt korrektly, that isn’t the point; rekalling it’s something about Bond’s head on a platter for the World to see, served with a kress garnish and some spring veg. Spuds is extra (£8.95).
J12: …”…and take every opportunity to maim cats.” Hm. Anything else on this list of yours… mine?
J42: For pity’s sake, don’t write on the book, that’s a first edition! And please – please – don’t bend the pages over, use the dustflap, that’s what it’s for. Tchoh!
J12: But it’s only a John Gardner first edition.
J42: At least he got published.
J12: Stop being so mean.
J42: OK. (Starts to fade from view). No. (Fades back into view).See? Purpose.
J12: That’s a fun game. Let’s see… OK, from this day forth, I renounce James Bond and all who sail in her.
J42: Good lad.
J12: …You’re not very fadey yet, are you?
J42: Hmmm… no…
J12: Might that mean that James Bond isn’t as significant to your life as all this posturing claims it to be and you have merely used your passing interest in it as a vehicle for abusing other people, delivering embarrassingly underweight amateur-hour philosophising and spewing cheap gags at the expense of those more successful than you?
J42: And you wonder why you’re sat here alone?
J12: I mean, I could just say “I like Dr Who” instead. Not too loudly, but see? No perceptible difference.
J42: Well, one the one hand both are being currently done on the cheap and then disappear for a while to return but in due course just keep going over the same tired stuff, just more expensively. On the other hand, you can’t do that to me.
J12: So you’d prefer to be a Bond fan? I wonder if that’s because of the ostensible panache, style and sheen you affect to sneer at?
J42: Patently the sneering is what keeps me alive.
J12: No. It’s what keeps you alone.
J42: Don’t write that one down; it’s awful. And stop being so mean. (Begins to fade). On second thoughts, don’t. (Fades back into view). Cocknobs, I’m doomed.
J12: Might as well cease your snivelling and just try to enjoy it then.
J42: (Going for the BAFTA)… I think I’ve forgotten how.
J12: Along with the fact this is meant to be a review of the long 007th chapter of the book and you’re patently not as interested in doing that as this self-indulgent rubbish, possibly giving this book an easy ride because otherwise some sort of temporal occlusion gravitational wave apocalypse ensues.
J42: (Awarded the Razzie instead. The Actor Jacques Stewart) But. (breath) What’s? (breath) Remotely appealing about? (wheeze) The. Book? (breath)
J12: I saw A View to a Kill. James Bond is a gentlemanly, late middle-aged arthritic bloke in a blouson and basically nice, if stodgy. That’s what I’m reading here, too.
J42: No, no, no, no, no. That’s not Bond. At best, it’s Ken Spoon.
J12: … Are you drunk?
J42: Regularly. But I seem to remember that you gave the first few chapters of Goldfinger a go, few weeks back?
J12: I didn’t like that. It just seemed to be an exercise in being as horrible as anyone could be, to everyone.
J42: (Wistful) …Yeah.
J12: I’m really not sure any of this Bond thing is suitable for me.
A most pekuliar paragraph klunks into view, in which John tells us about two television adverts, during one of which a young man “arrived hatless”, the utter bastard. We’re not told Bond’s cynicism-stifled reaktion to any of this. We’re just told things. Many things. “The full impact of the inspector’s plan had struck home.” Not so much strukk (?) as meandered home, really, taking in a few sights and a bit of telly on the way. “It seems you know what’s going on.” Seems.
J12: Am I not simply allowed to enjoy something? You bang on with your pseudo-intellectual, barely literate, quasi-flippant dross and all that’s achieved, apart from boring half a dozen innocent folks, is preventing yourself from actually enjoying any of it. A defence mechanism disguising such inadequacy.
J42: You might have a point but I have to draw the line at your quoting Die Another Day.
J12: Do Another What?
J42: Best you never find out.
J12: You started it.
J42: If you ever post that envelope, I suppose I will. Rats’ cocks, this is complicated. And unnecessarily protracted.
“I have kept a pair of white VWs with detachable police decals and plates for a long time, in case I should need them.” I’ve a few Allen keys and pieces of old jigsaw in a drawer; same idea. “You’re very well informed.” Don’t make me laugh. “The people offering the large prize gave me the impression that you were in the dark…” A stunningly meta moment, that. Unless the shocking twist is that M’s behind it all. It’s not the shocking twist. There are Gardner-standard traitors, though. Didn’t see them koming at the time. Might have done if I’d read Icebreaker first but if I’d read Icebreaker first, I doubt I would have kontinued.
(There is a sudden rush of wind, and it’s not that organic pomegranate kicking in. Clattering into view comes an old man, grey of hair and gnarly of nose, riding a giant cyborg tarantula (eco-hybrid). We shall call him J72).
J72: (Struggling to control the beast) Woah, Benson! Steady, steady.
J42: (Camply peeved, as only he can be) And what fresh hell is this?
J72: You’re not the only one with a wormhole, matey-moo. Keeps me up half the night. Anyway, I’m here from the year 2046 to stop this half-hearted attempt to alter your passage.
J42: I haven’t touched him.
J72: How richly comic.
J12: We shouldn’t touch anyway, as that will disrupt the time stream and lead to the end of the Universe.
J42: No, no, no: that was all made up by someone sitting at a laptop with a production schedule to satisfy and cheaply-biscuited meetings to attend.
J72: You really do bring things down, don’t you?
J12: What’s a laptop?
J42: Type of computer you rest on your groin if you want to irradiate your chocdrops.
J12: But, desperately trying to bring this back to the point, it says in this book that each micro is an area the size of Wales. Is that why you’re in a wheelchair, then?
J72: Are you going to tell me or am I?
J42: Let’s do it whilst the next bit’s on.
Kurious kouple of pages ensues in which, under no pressure from Bond whatsoever, one of Osten’s men proceeds to deluge exposition about the kidnapping and various sundry matters Bond’s allies have neglekted, in their habitual fashion. Bond does not question any of the detail even though it’s a prime opportunity to mislead him kompletely. Even the evil minions take pity on how badly briefed Bond is. I’m assuming this is some sort of joke on Mr Gardner’s part. It seems most unlikely, although there’s a neat kharacter note in that the konversation is apparently in German, albeit bearing konsiderable idiomatic English; unlikelier still. That Osten has wandered off is terribly, terribly konvenient: kompetent when he needs to be for the plot, fortuitously a kretin when that suits the story yet more. This, of kourse, is true of all the killers hunting Bond through the book: when ganging up in multiples, they bekome progressively more inept. It’s like that Batman film from the 60s. Or the 80s. Or the 90s. Or the last one. Or the next. And the one after that.
J42: This is getting farcical now.
J72: I remember this day…twice. Shame that Cornwall had to be…ah, better not say.
J42: So, and I guess I have to ask this, what happens with Bond in the thirty years between me and thee?
J72: You’re more interested in how some specious light entertainment plays out rather than what’s going on around you and learning about how all plant life on Earth was destroyed by some spilled pomegranate seeds… from this very beach, oddly… hm… and everyone was rendered sterile as a result thus blissfully curtailing the human race. The Second Coming. The Second Crucifixion. Coming Three: Sometimes They Come Back… For More. Still waiting for the next edition of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang magazine. The disappearance of an area the size of Wales… being Wales (finally!). The perverse and sebaceous implosion of all of Ottowa’s dogs. That time we ran out of chives. The skirmish with Venus. The abolition of Wednesday.
J72: …missing the opportunity much? You don’t think that this introverted trivial self-indulgent complacent obsession is just sowing the seeds of the glorious socialist revolution and burning of the banks and slaughter of the web-dependent T-shirted fatties, of 2022?
J72: Or perhaps how your children progress?
J42: Not interested.
J72: Probably best, given “the tyranny”.
J42: I want to know things so I can claim on a message board that I was the first to do so, and I then win undying love and respect and a little medal, or something.
J72: I despair. If you really want to know, then [massive spoilers]
J42 and J12 (simultaneously, as if one and the same): No way!
J72: Way! Odd how that one came back into fashion. I’d forgotten; there was also [apocalyptic spoilers, especially THAT CASTING DECISION IN 2038 THAT MELTED THE INTERNET]
J12: What’s the internet?
J42: Ssh. Well, although amazed the tired old guff lasts another thirty years, that sounds reassuringly mediocre, so I guess it proves my point.
J72: On the contrary, worm; if you now took the decision not to be interested in Bond any more, how could I have informed you of all that?
J72: In fact, if this little scheme of yours works, how come you needed to do it at all? Think about that. If you had any influence over your younger self – and you, sprog, get some bloody exercise – you’d surely currently be wondering why you were here. Bit like whenever I go upstairs for a wee. Time travel – so tricky.
J42: So utterly fictional.
J72: Oh shut up, you miserable cow.
There’s a lot of chitter-chatter in this chapter, isn’t there? Yet, be fair, it’s not representative of the early stages of the book, which is one long harum-skarum chase and a body kount that would make Mugabe moist. He’s already picked up two women, however unreal the cirkumstances, and prodded them with pompous verbiage. The Gardner Bond: fan of tedium and young women. A tedophile, then.
J12: Can’t you get that spider of yours to stop clicking? It’s really annoying.
J72: Lots of what Benson does is, bit cheap but’ll have to do, but that’s not where the noise is coming from. It’s from my replacement iKidney.
J72: Yes: Apple had been taking the piss out of people for so long they decided to do it for real.
J42: Have you really travelled back 30 years for the sake of that weak joke?
J72: No idea; I’m not the one writing this.
J12: Or am I?
J42: My brain hurts.
J72: Yeah, that was the other thing I had to tell you. See this huge scar on my badly-shaven skull?
J42: Oh yes… Ow…
J72: There y’go: latent… from the future.
J42: How on Earth is that even possible?
J12: Neither of you are making getting old sound much fun, y’know. I might as well get in the sea right now.
J42: I wouldn’t. it’s full of turds.
J12: How’s that very different to here?
J72: Any more of that lip, Humpty, and I’ll set Benson on you.
J12: What’s that like?
J72: Generally you’ll feel nothing but then suddenly something grostesquely sexually invasive will occur.
J12: Bit like rugby, then?
J42: More Nuneaton, but close enough.
“…the only tools he had hidden on him were small.” Oh yeah? Oh, here we go again. “Oddly for a policeman, Osten had left him with his belt.” What luck, and thank you very much for bringing it expressly to our attention that it is odd, which only heightens the improbability. Guess what: he’s got a SEKRET KOMPARTMENT in there. Inkluding some explosive, so risky given the proximity to his Hockneys. ‘Mazin how the tools are precisely the ones he needed.
J42: Seem to have written us into an underthought corner with this one, haven’t I? You. Us. Not very competent.
J72: Calmly, Benson, calmly! He wasn’t talking about you. This time. Sssh, there’s a good girl. Now, I have a solution. Your father never told you what happened to your foster brother.
J12: He told me I killed him.
J72: (Moving swiftly on) No. I am your foster brother. And additionally, the author of all your pain. And other such. Etc.
J12: No! That’s impossible!
J72: Obviously. But from what I remember, you swallow any old thing.
J42: (Wrenching the “plot” back from traumatically inappropriate material for “jokes”, albeit a bit late in the day). That seems a rock-solid get-out. With one bound we are free!
J12: Free to be treated with absolute contempt, anyway.
J42: You should be used to that.
J12: Stop picking on me. (Both of the others start to fade dramatically quickly). Um…keep picking on me? (And they’re back). Hang on, I’ve just realised I am my own worst enemy.
J42: Then if the opening to this claptrap is true, I should never meet myself.
J72: You haven’t understood any of this, then.
J12: Don’t think anyone has.
How inkredibly fortuitous that Bond has a miniature arsenal in his hard-wearing Gentleman’s aktion slacks. How inkredibly useless it is in taking about forty-five minutes to achieve anything. It’s announced that he wears a Rolex, which is apparently a wristwatch. If this is the sort of person that does, unkonvinced I want to emulate him. I’m sure it goes well with the Happi-koat. I suppose if reading this for the first time I would have been amused and excited that James! Bond! Has! Gadgets! Now it’s just routine Gardnerdishness. “Five minutes passed before he managed to get one screw off.” Five minutes? The virility ebbs, poor old soul.
J72: Anyway, can’t stay long. Mrs Jim’ll unleash another plague.
J42: And you have to stop it?
J72: … If I do, we all disappear. So, no. I have to get back and help.
J42: You’re more machine now than man. Twisted and evil. Whippin’. Or chock.
J72: You cannot escape your destiny. Anyway, here y’go sonny, present from the future, only food that survived Trump Holocaust. Wham bar.
J12: Thanks… Hang on, I recognise you, don’t I?
J12: You’re one of the shop-working class, aren’t you?… A wizened, hirsute old smeller… It’s you that sold me the book two hours ago, isn’t it?
J12: I thought there was something wrong. I mean, that hooded cloak and cackling voice. And the giant brushed chrome arachnid. And the bra.
J42: You absolute Brosnan. I thought I was getting somewhere in grooming this lad… OK, could have picked a better word… and now you’ve come along and undone it all. Why?
J72: Well, all that pseudo-liberal guff about doing other things like whale-saving and building yurts for the starving that you claim would be a better use of time…
J12: …coupled with lashings of boring codswallop when all people want to know is “Book Heap Good” or “Book Heap Bad”.
J42: Blimey, a pincer movement…
J72: Have you never stopped to think that other stronger, fitter and more committed people have done it and still failed disastrously and therefore it is extreme arrogance on your part to contemplate making any improvement whatsoever. You really might as well not bother. As indeed, you won’t.
J42: I seem to have become terribly right wing in my old age.
J72: Happens. All that time on message boards had to rub off.
J42: Seems such a fallow life, though.
J12: So ultimately you’ve chosen to corrupt yourself, but are lashing out wildly looking to blame someone or something else for questionable decision-making on your part.
J12: Blaming others for your Bond addiction.
J42: Not an addict; a user.
J12: Bet that’s not the only time and context I’ll… we’ll… you’ll be using that line.
J72: It isn’t. Hence the scars.
J12: Why don’t you two just bloody grow up?
The idea of a roster of International! Villains! all killing each other off in a desperate attempt to klaim the booty – I suspekt the meaning of that word’s changed over thirty years – is still a fun one, especially as (spoiler alert) I rekall it being a konvenient ruse by SPEKTRE to rid themselves of a lot of kompetition along the way and kill Bond at the same time. Skoundrels.
J42: Well, it’s been awfully nice to see me, but time to bring this to an end.
J72: As if you’re in control. By the way, you never do read the book in full again.
J12: Perhaps I was busy?
J72:…nah. Anyway, where we’re going, we don’t need acute schizophrenic episodes! Avanti, Benson! (A clump of unengaging effects). ‘Scuse that, just a brief bout of Corbould’s Syndrome. Tatty ‘bye. (Disappears in a poof. Draw your own conclusions. You already have. In crayon).
J42: What an eccentric person. Right, well, I’ve enjoyed our little chat, even if I haven’t. Before I go, here’s a five pound note. Yes, I know it’s a lot of money and no, calm down, I don’t want anything for it. Put it away. Just promise me this: there’s a chap called Berners-Lee, at CERN. Find him and give half as an investment. Say you want a share. That’s all.
J12: And the other half?
J12: That’s meaningless.
“Challenging the most Bat-aklysmik kollektion of super-kriminals ever” vibe aside, still think this is a good idea for a Bond film, and given that the films have now looped into self-referencing a legacy that they then proceed to stamp all over, to have the Union Korse and – oh, I dunno – whatever’s left of Dr Kananga’s krew or the Janus Syndikate chase Bond around only to get bumped orf by SPEKTRE in ever more kreative ways might just meet the kurrent objektive of stroking our memories before shoving a long, sharp butcher’s hook right through them. Talking of which, although it was obviously koming, how Der Haken ends… ooh, TREMENDOUSLY nasty. Definitely an upping of the sadism, there, preparing us for the absolute karnage that is Skorpius. Delicious. You kan see why it appeals to lonely, impressionable twelve-year-olds desperate for a distraktion.
Postscript: Nothing changed. I lost that first edition, I lost my father and most distressing of all, I didn’t prevent Die Another Day (I’d apologise but I would disappear entirely (don’t cheer)); additionally, the five pound note I gave myself wasn’t issued until 1990 and therefore wasn’t legal tender at the time. Also, that Berners-Lee man donated his research for free. Kobblers.
James Bond will return in the 007th Chapter of No Deals, Mr Bond. Jakques Stewart often wonders what does happen to Kornwall. This is a konvenient exkuse never to go there again. Although it appears that he will. Or something. I don’t know. You kan’t expekt me to have understood any of that krap.