CommanderBond.net
  1. Sir Roger Moore, 1927 – 2017, RIP

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    Today, along many terrible news, it is my sad duty to report the loss of Sir Roger Moore.

     

    You will, in all likelihood, be aware that most obituaries are in fact written long in advance, sometimes years. And at times – hopefully – even many years. It’s simply a custom of the trade; a sad duty, but evidently one you cannot escape.

     
    So when you are tasked with the assignment to write Roger Moore’s obituary you sit down one foggy morning in November 2015, a couple of memoirs and a stack of notes by your side – and only then you realise how daunting and depressing a task this is, to write a living person’s obituary.

     
    You start writing, go over the obvious facts, born where and when; grew up somehow; survived the war somehow, miraculously; education; career; early work. You mention the studies at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (where you cleverly let slip that Lois Maxwell was his classmate), you go over the first few step-stones (pebbles more like) of his budding career as extra, move on to small parts, arrive at his television work, Ivanhoe, Alaskans (do people even remember this?), Maverick. The Saint. The Saint. And more The Saint. Six seasons of TV history and you go on at great length how Moore spread out his charm and his presence over these years, how he gained worldwide fame, how he made the character his own and recommended himself for further parts.

     
    And on you move, the time is short, to Bond. To seven times of 007, twelve years of his work that would henceforth – in the public’s eye – overshadow everything else he did, whether it’s his non-Bond work or his private life. You mention the difference between his depiction of Bond and the literary character. You mention the famous raised eyebrow and how Moore, with his characteristic understatement, sold his own acting short to three expressions; and in so doing you illustrate his noble spirits and his sense of humour. And also how he was frequently underrated in his work. Not many actors can look at you from the wrong side of a set of crocodile teeth and keep a straight face. Moore could.

     
    Then you go on with the non-Bond parts and the work after Bond. With his commitment as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, which he was appointed in 1991. You stress how he supported the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund by visits to Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras, where he saw in the field the desperate conditions under which children in these regions often had to suffer. How Roger Moore spoke out to raise awareness to these circumstances, how he became a voice on HIV/AIDS and the horrors of landmine terror in war torn regions around the globe. How he became an important public voice and fund raiser for numerous UNICEF projects and initiatives and how his activities helped the poorest and weakest, those most in need of protection and support. Our support.

     
    It was for these activities Roger Moore was awarded the C.B.E. and later the K.B.E. Rightfully so he was immensely proud of the recognition since this work more than anything else in his career directly influenced the lives and fates of a great number of children for the better.

     
    You cut the personal life paragraph about spouses and family short, mainly because it’s none of our business; also it’s a bit yellow-page-ish. Leave that to the others.

     
    And then you arrive at the end of the page, a whole life of 89+ years in a couple of paragraphs, mostly filled with facts anybody could look up on the internet today.

     
    And none of it would really capture how Roger Moore – Sir Roger Moore – has influenced so many of his fans. How in nearly all of his roles there was a basic humanity shining through, something that (for lack of a better word and doubtlessly betraying my naïveté here) I would like to call a ‘quantum of nobility’ – a kind of empathy and strive for the good we all would be capable of. Whether in his Ivanhoe armour or his Simon Templar three-piece suit, there always was a trace of it present. Not a doe-eyed ‘I’m-the-good-guy’ bigotry either, Moore never missed a chance for a quick mischievous wink that told us not to take him too seriously.

     
    But there definitely was a reason writing colleagues used the phrase ‘gentleman spy’ back in Moore’s day. And it had nothing to do with the dinner jacket. Or much less than people like to think today. Though the mere term “gentleman” seems almost so outdated now it’s probably on the verge of becoming one of the big insults of our brave new world – with Roger Moore many fans felt a grain of just this quality, the gentle character, the humane spirit, was always present. And not as a part of the role but as a part of the man himself. The kind of gentleman that didn’t disappear with the dinner jacket.

     
    Roger Moore did more than just depict the hero on screen; for the fans of my generation he was often also a first role-model – and surely not the worst you could think of. The absence of Roger Moore – a noble man in the best of ways and long before the ‘Sir’ was added – will also mark the end of an era.

     
    And finally you arrive at this sentence. And you realise you also arrived at the end of this obituary. And you are deeply sad for the loss that is yet to be, hopefully far in the distance. And you put the piece in the drawer and hope.

     
    Today, it was my sad duty to open this drawer and report the loss of Sir Roger Moore. We will miss you.

    Helmut Schierer @ 2017-05-23
  2. The 007th Chapter: Role of Honour – Rolling Home

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    A literary musing in several paragraphs, cunningly delivered by Jaques Stewart.

     

     

    Through sad eyes clouded by disbelief, one often sees superfluous continuation 007 novels reviewed – with a pun I’ve just realised is a pun (bit thick, me) – as “gilt-edged” Bond.

     

    This is a guilt-edged 007th Chapter.

     

    You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.

     

    There are worse enterprises than these bolt-on Bonds. To some they bring joy, and a measure of pleasure to detractors; otherwise why read them? Masochism has more nourishingly gigglesome sources than “reading”. Is it for a “fan” to pick at (…potentially) well-meant endeavours, and sow undermining thoughts? Rest of humanity has established it needs no opinion of these books as it scrabbles for food, water and huge televisions. Is mine so necessary a pose? Pose is all it is; lazy sneering testing no orthodoxy, inflicting doubt in my intended victim – that’s you, hi – via the sly pretence of strained preening about a book. An onslaught with nothing to slay, and less to say. What purpose iconoclasm that dismantles no icon? Beyond a shrinking circle, these books pester few. Or is that the justification? “I wouldn’t, if you were better”. That’s bullying. One stares at the screen, wondering what one would “write” about a real concern. The screen stares back with “fnarr” and “Hotels; again” and points its accusing cursor, we two mutually aware that tackling something challenging would, as it cannot fail to do, expose paucity of intelligence and lay bare great fear. Instead I inflict frustration onto a subject inconceivably a deserving recipient of whatever it is I think I’m doing. I jump willingly into my oubliette of writing silly things via a perfidious avatar. At least I’m not posturing on Twitter; a sole redemption, with an added bonus that I cannot crave further attention by announcing that I am leaving it.

     

    The converse must, though, bear truth: celebrating these books is equally pointless, and hasn’t worked. Persons favouring them can (and do) suggest there’s responsibility as a “Bond fan” to laud provision of “more Bond”, but this exposes their irresponsibility in avoiding the issue whether these are sufficiently “Bond” to merit the word “more”. It’s not as if without these volumes “James Bond” will disappear from a public consciousness to which it is decades-nailed as lazy shorthand for gullible consumerism. Arguably, “Bond” is so much a cultural touchstone that it has outgrown the books and films. One view has it that continuing 007’s exploits in either medium is unnecessary as it has gone beyond both sources into some metacultural state and is dependent for survival not on the print or screen iterations, but on its continued adoption as a convenient style barometer for suits, cars, exotic holidays, music, advertising, contemporary sexual mores (hopefully), sunglasses, handguns (regrettably) and wristwatches (even more regrettably). Another, that such media may as well continue to be flung at us and do any old thing because if Bond is now independent of its dual genesis and viral within so much else, what damage can the occasional duff book or film really cause it? No-one’s going to care that Role of Honour isn’t super or SPECTRE is $300 million of Bond film and that’s all it is, when there are baubles to buy and subliminal personal delusions to feed. Perhaps that’s why new Bond often gets a “pass” despite its quality: we would shake our own purchase-cultivated self-worth if we were to think it crap. Some say it’s always best to be positive; presumably they’ve never had a blood test.

    continue reading…

    Helmut Schierer @ 2017-05-07
  3. …gilded tombs do worms enfold.

    The place Ian Fleming came to was peculiar. It had an Adam facade, yet it also was much larger than Boodles. It lay in the mid of woods stretching to the horizon, yet there also was a vast park with a golf course, and a beach reminding him of his own on Jamaica. And at times the place was situated at the side of a mountain range, peaks showing white against the blue skies. This recalled memories of one of his favourite books, though Fleming couldn’t tell exactly which one, or even whether he had written it himself or not. It occurred to him the question simply wasn’t important, and so he didn’t ponder it.

     

    When he arrived Fleming felt very anxious at first. But soon he calmed down. Everything was very civilised here, there were proper meals – though Fleming wasn’t all that fussy about food – there were other people, some of which were friends and loved ones, others just amiable chaps he had interesting conversations with. Fleming played golf often, alone and in company. He took long walks through the endless woods or along the paths between the mountains. He swam often and read a lot. Drinks were a pleasure again, without each glass calling for another. Fleming’s sleep was deep and quiet; his dreams never left a troubling aftertaste when he woke the next morning. In fact he didn’t remember having any dreams at all. Ian Fleming was at peace with himself and enjoyed being here.

     

    At times part of him did wonder what kind of place this was. But every time the question formed itself in his mind it just as soon lost all relevance. What did it matter? The days and nights went by, turned into a pleasant sequence of golden blurs, and Fleming admitted to himself he was much more at ease than he could remember having been for a long time.

     

    One day the usher appeared with a man at his table.

    ‚Ian Fleming?‘ the man asked.

    He seemed vaguely familiar and so Fleming rose.

    ‚I am. And you would be…? Please help me out, I have a feeling I should know you,‘ he said as they exchanged a firm handshake and his visitor accepted a seat at his table.

    ‚I am James Bond. I am your James Bond, the secret agent you invented. In a way you are my father.‘

    continue reading…

    Helmut Schierer @ 2017-03-21
  4. The 007th Chapter: Icebreaker – Rivke

    A literary meditation by Jacques Stewart – this time cunningly presented as a rerun. It’s summer time after all…

     

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    A famous episode of Hancock’s Half Hour is “The East Cheam Drama Festival”. Hancock, Hattie Jacques, Bill Kerr and Daniel Craig Sid James grapple “Look Back in Hunger” and “The Life of Ludwig van Beethoven and the songs that made him famous” and, titweepingly magnificently, “Jack’s Return Home.” In a coruscating exposure of the zeitgeist, poverty-stricken Joshua (Hancock) and wife Martha (Hattie) are menaced by landlord Jasper Stonyheart (Sid). It’s complex. Their son Jack is presumed dead – impaled by “the Zulus” – but Martha claims she insured his life, so all is well. Inopportunely, Jack (Bill) returns home, penniless. So Martha shoots him. ©BBC Worldwide, amongst others (prob’ly).

     

    Hancock: Aha, me old darlin’, you’ve shot Jack.

    Hattie: Yes, and I took out a policy on you as well, so watch it.

    Hancock: Wait a minute, I have a surprise for you. For thirteen years, you have thought I am Joshua, your husband.

    Hattie: Well, aren’t you?

    Hancock: No; stand back while I take my wig off. There…

    Hattie: Good heavens! Frederick!

    Hancock: Yes, Frederick. What do you say to that, Jasper Stonyheart?

    Sid: I’m not Jasper, I’ve been wearing this wig and pretending to be Jasper. This is who I really am. There!

    Hancock: Good heavens! Jonathan!

    Sid: Yes, Jonathan. I didn’t trust either of you, especially you, Martha.

    Hattie: And you were right not to, Jonathan, for you see, I am not Martha!

    Hancock: Not Martha?

    Hattie: No! There, now do you recognise me?

    Hancock: Gad! It’s Gladys.

    Hattie: Yes, Gladys, the girl you wronged.

    Hancock: Then who pray is the poor wretch we’ve killed?

    Bill: Fear not! You didn’t kill me! I was saved by my silver cigarette case. There! Do you not recognise me without the wig?

    Sid: Yes, I should have guessed – Ronald!

     

    Welcome to Icebreaker.

    continue reading…

    Helmut Schierer @ 2016-07-12
  5. The 007th Chapter: Licence Renewed – King of the Castle

    A literary meditation by Jacques Stewart (yep, this one should have come before For Special Services, you get a cigar…)

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    In my youth (that’s not a location update) I set a “quiz” for my College. Brain-mashers like “Abbreviations excluded, name the only U.S state written using one line of typewriter keys” (Alaska; no-one knew (no-one cared)) and “Name the only country written using one line of typewriter keys”. Peru, but some “body” said Eire (fair point), another that “it’s Republic of Peru, actually, I know thart, actually, because I gap-yeared tharh, actually, licking yurts, communing with my spirituality, yah, and photocopying for my uncle at KPMG Lima.” There was such a fight. I encouraged it. Ectually.

    I also had a round on “James Bond”. This was 1993 (hence “typewriter”), with 007 as relevant and welcome as anything else dead for four years that sane folks hoped would never return, like Eastern European communism, that Dr Who children’s programme or the Ayatollah Khomeini (give him time). Select questions went:

     

    1. Which two Bond films to date do not feature a helicopter? (Child-like optimism to say “to date”, but child-like I was (rather than current lifestyle choice of childish), and brilliant. Precocious, smackable little weasel)

    2. Why is A View to a Kill unique amongst the Bond films? (Keep it clean. In early 2015, this answer still holds)

    3. Which author has written the most James Bond novels?

     

    There were others, such as Q’s I.Q. to the nearest five points (it’s five; trick question), something something watches something (it really doesn’t matter) and Anne Fleming’s inside leg measurement (loads of people knew it; some reputation, that) but I’ve forgotten the rest.

     

    Question 1? Yes, you, with the mittens…

    continue reading…

    Helmut Schierer @ 2016-05-09
  6. The 007th Chapter: For Special Services – Invitation by Force

     

     

    A literary meditation by Jacques Stewart – cunningly presented out of sequence…

     

     

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    Contains huge spoilers. Of a book over thirty years old. Isn’t it terrible, that news about The Titanic? Bet you can’t guess who Darth Vader really is. I think I’ve drunk wine younger than this book. Once, with regret. 

     

    I’m thinking… Ronseal.

     

    I haven’t succumbed to product placement (yet) but as I age, I dwell on how to keep wood. If none-the-wiser, or just aghast at the squalor of that joke, Ronseal is a creosote (this won’t get more exciting). Other brands are available but Ronseal stands out for possessing a bouquet that smacks-up dead quick dirt cheap, and having been advertised with the slogan “it does exactly what it says on the tin”, a phrase that has entered the wider lexicon, like those “Keep Calm” things – Keep Calm and Drop Dead – and “A Mars a day helps you work, rest and cultivate Type-2 diabetes”.

     

    This springs to mind not through an urge to paint the fence – one engages the little people for that, how charming they are with their “vans” and their “views” – but because I hold a-mitt a 1987 Coronet UK paperback of For Special Services. It looks chewed. There’s a distinct – dog?  – toothmark at the moment Bond eats a tuna sandwich and drinks Perrier. I might be blaming the hound unfairly; could have been me, enraged at this dumbing-down / plebbing-up of 007. There’s another incision just as Bond crams his gut with “chicken pie” and Apple Jonathan – presumably not Sir Jony Ive, although since Bill Gates gets an oblique reference in Role of Honour one can’t dismiss the thought. Fair’s fair, both meals are comforting beige stodge, so I might have been trying to join in. “Beige stodge” seems apt, somehow.

     

    Back to the “point” – the selling (or selling out) of Gardner Bond. Can’t judge a book by its cover, say “they”. Codswallop: the cover has “James Bond” in letters larger than both title and author, there’s a silhouette of a dinner-jacketed man taking aim and the base has “007”, big and bold. Little else upon which to judge it, frankly. It does exactly what it says on the tin. The book has James Bond 007 in it, although moot whether it’s ectually Ken Spoon (or Ron Seal). For Special Services might be open to many criticisms – on their way, lovey – but terminal ambiguity is not one. There is nothing else this could be. Anyone spotting you reading it – once they’ve stopped pointing fingers and whispering (although that’s nothing to do with the book and you know it) – would be in no doubt about what it was; similar absence of doubt in their deciding to flee, chop-chop quick.

     

    The back cover risks undermining this single-mindedness, instilling anxiety whether such tin-based-promise will come true. Things start “well”, boasting that Bond comes armed “with a new pair of Sykes-Fairburn commando daggers and a new Heckler & Koch VP70 hand gun”, as if that can impress non-mental people, and evidence of a burgeoning trend that hardware gets top billing. Still, the book delivers, narrating inanimate serial-numbered murder-things in greater detail than its characters. Possibly the point is that 007 is just an inanimate serially-numbered murder-thing too. Mr Gardner, you scamp. As if that wasn’t enough tedious name-checking of story-hijacking objects, the “turbo-charged silver SAAB 900” clanks back. The author’s note thanks SAAB (GB) Ltd for “proving that the James Bond SAAB really does exist” even if they don’t any more. Karma caught up with them. Because it wasn’t driving a frickin’ SAAB.

    continue reading…

    Helmut Schierer @ 2015-12-24
  7. The 007th Chapter: Colonel Sun – Not-So-Safe-House

    A literary meditation by Jacques Stewart

     

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    Kingsley Amis, with six double whiskies inside him, sat in the final departure lounge of Acapulco airport and thought about killing James Bond with a bazooka. It could have happened…

     

    Apologies if you sacrificed a disappointing child to ensure that this had ended. Can’t claim that continuation 007thChapters match the originals (for good or ill) and even a sympathetic reader filled with milky sap will conclude that I’ve exhausted an idea of debateable sustainability, given the knotweed of ennui throttling the initial run. You go spot a parallel, you clever old you.

     

    I recently acquired a 1970 paperback Colonel Sun for 25p, coincidentally its price at the time and, like all books, more expensive in Australia. Why does it cost so much to stock a prison library? I suspect the bookmonger involved rejects decimalisation, and soap, but troglodytes have their uses: the book is in good condition and worth the princely sum. Second-hand bookshop for second-hand Bond: fitting. He (probably a he) muttered, through a greasedribbled beard / nest, “It’s not a real one”. I replied that he was therefore fencing counterfeit goods and I would report him to the Bizzies. Cracking him across the for’ead with me alabaster swordstick, cape a-twirl I sashayed from the emporium, the gay applause of other customers a-ringing like a peal of church bells heralding savage war, and my way festooned with seasonal blooms. Ectually, I didn’t do any of that and, in shuffling out into the drizzle, tripped over a pile (apposite collective noun) of Clive Cusslers meeting their natural fate by stabilising a table. The truth in this escapade is only in what he said, this “person” who – in principle – would be assumed to “know” books. Unrealistic to expect he had read all his wares (and, with the Cusslers, heartless to require it), but an interesting attitude. He didn’t try “Kingsley Amis wrote that”, suggesting he didn’t know / care and his ignorance / apathy had cheated him of, ooh, another five pence (max). I assert not that this is the approach of all booksellers but since in five years’ time the World’s only bookshop will be a warehouse staffed by exhausted dead-eyed polo-shirted slaves on six-hundred hours per week, I can’t expect knowledge going for’ard.

     

    What is it – that the Flemings are “real” and the “not Flemings” are…imaginary? Imagining Colonel Sun I can accept, but dreaming up High Time to Kill? Jee Harvey Christ; must lay off the Moldovan Wait Wayne. Such examples cause pause. Colonel Sun. High Time to Kill. Same “thing”, ostensibly. Wow. OK, the Flemings fluctuated, and the films “vary”, but as widely as that? A hell of a chasm right in one’s face. I do feel it in my face. It’s hurting my nose. Perhaps I shouldn’t turn it up so high.

     

    My purchase contained an insert from 1968 for “the Companion Book Club”, promising members a saving of 14/6 on Colonel Sun’s price (if reading in “American”, five trillion dollars). Further discounts were available upon introducing a friend (unlikely) to the cabal, who could claim a gift of a “Horrockses set” (not a clue), a Food Can Opener (canned food? For humans? Is that really a thing?) or the LP “It’s Easy to Remember” by George Shearing, even if it’s not easy to remember George Shearing. An insight into the persons at whom these books are aimed, or thrown. There’s a list of members – including Major R. G. H. Savory (mmm) – and mugshots that would now be silhouetted in a tabloid. N.J. Prentice of Drumadd, Co. Armagh, says he “enjoyed” the club’s choices, his photo betraying that N.J. Prentice of Drumadd, Co. Armagh’s concept of enjoyment is swallowing a whole Mars bar sideways whilst being told that his doggy is dead. A. Phillips of Pitlochry congratulates “a high standard of diverse yarns”, quaint, like his “face” and Mr T.B. Vadge (I’m not making this up) of Burton-upon-Trent (surely he’s suffered enough?) says “…your books are the envy of all”, but only because he introduced reading to Burton-upon-Trent but, considered a fad, it never caught on.

    continue reading…

    Helmut Schierer @ 2015-04-08
  8. The 007th Paragraph – Octopussy and The Living Daylights

    A literary mediation by Jacques Stewart

     

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    One has to pick the right moment to say goodbye.

     

    Also, the proper goodbye to say, be it to a beloved pet in a ditch-bound binbag, to a less-beloved relative going alongside it (bag one, get one free, too tempting to ignore), to one’s children scattering to University and to one’s money disappearing with them. Goodbye is not the hardest word to say; the hardest word to say is “specificity”. Goodbye is a hard thing to mean, if you misjudge what you inflict with it. At one end, it shorthands “Oblige Me By Fornicating Off and Dying in Pain, Immediately”, in the Goodbye, Mr Bond sense, the opposite of the oily dollop within Goodbye, Mr Chips (unless I’ve misunderstood both). Between, betwixt and around those gambol:-

     

    – the casual b’byes one uses with “friends” (whatever they are), with re-helloing imminent, although I tend to be in the Goodbye, Mr Bond bracket as articulated above;

     

    – ending a ‘phone call, although I tend to be in the Goodbye, Mr Bond bracket as articulated above;

     

    – the apology at the end of a relationship, having failed to worm one’s way out by all other means including “some” poison and “some” knives, although I tend to be blah blah blah…;

     

    – the celebratory goodbye as one watches a mighty Longship burn in the bay; and

     

    – the equally final type when you spot one of your sprogs aboard it, screaming and a-smoulder, increasingly combustible. Although I tend to be in the Goodbye, Mr Bond etc…

    continue reading…

    Helmut Schierer @ 2015-03-25
  9. The 007th Chapter: The Man With The Golden Gun – Un-real Estate

    A literary meditation by Jacques Stewart

     

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    Start over, and simplify.

     

    Often dreamt of by chaps sliding towards their forties, therefore not unusual for James Bond. True, it’s more commonly contemplated when staring into a ready-meal and the ready-meal stares right back, rather than after killing a maniac, impregnating a film star, unwittingly faking one’s own death and trying to kill the boss. Frankly, that lifestyle sounds titillating and a place one escapes to rather than from (possibly its original point) but perhaps even its view palls, in time.

     

    Given the opportunity, what would I do differently? “Rabat 2001”, definitely. Ectually name one of the offspring “Remnant”. Avoid that encounter with [not telling], although it’s now a divinely grubby anecdote since his conviction, so I’d think carefully before dropping it completely. Would drink better wine and get that ptarmigan tattoo I promised meself. A life still too short to learn Welsh, or to contemplate using public transport. Using the public as transport… wholly different matter.

     

    Not much else.

     

    Especially if this reboot requires electrocution by my chums (I have three; possibly four if Torquil returns my pinking shears). Call me selfish, call me a coward, call me Bwana (eccentric, but so tremendously sweet of you) but the prospect of twenty-four zaps at my brain over the course of thirty days doesn’t thrill. Telling me about it would pass quickly, though. Bond’s reconditioning in The Man with the Golden Gun, his own side microwaving his mind and cynically taking a gift of an open-goal to re-educate him, telling him he’s been brainwashed and to Kill! Russians! but markedly not reminding him about the dead wife or that his real name’s David Webb, lasts less than a page before he’s Bourne again and let loose to disrupt the scheme of a… a naughty hotelier.

     

    In both, one recognises the common perception of this novel as unfinished. What of Bond’s rehabilitation? Where is the villain’s outrageous apocalypse? Where are Bond’s reawakening memories of his marriage and realisation that his own side have done him more damage than Colonel Boris ever did? Why is it about an away-day board meeting / team-building exercise for conned investors? Where’s all the digression about shrubbery, for frick’s sake? However, Weir of Hermiston this is not. It is finished. There’s an ending – clue.  What it is, is unpolished. Arguable evidence of “unfinished”, in that Fleming had yet to apply louche but increasingly ill-disciplined extravagances before his days were rendered unprolonged. Raises contemplation: this is Bond in raw form, uncluttered with “views”, light of diversions into the author’s medical history or whatever he had read, liked and then pinched. Terser, harder, quicker. Just as juvenile – the sexually foggy villain has three nipples and a big gold gun – but blunter overall.

    continue reading…

    Helmut Schierer @ 2015-03-01
  10. The 007th Chapter: You Only Live Twice –

     

    A literary meditation by Jacques Stewart

     

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    Previously, on James Bahnd…

     

    Bezants! Syphilis! Girls! Chickens! Christmas! Microbes! Earlobes! Bobsleighs! Wedding! Bang!

     

    Exhausting.

     

    Chap’d need a holiday after that. Touch of sightseeing, a wander around an exotic garden, visit a castle, perhaps a mud-bath or a swim-swim. Pick up local customs, pick up a local, enrage them by behaving as a Brit abroad, complain about the food, have a fight, throttle someone, go crazed in blood lust and, when it’s time to go home, forget it all and defect. Have had similar city-breaks (ah, Paris) except for the last bit. James Bond has to go that one stage further, doesn’t he? Show-off.

     

    Mr Grumpy goes to Tokyo, then. I accept he has reason to be miz. However appealing a short-term solution to impeded freedom to do whatever and whomever one wants, losing one’s spouse cannot be fun. In vowing to be true until death does you part, one’s not expecting that to happen within an hour, before the weak buffet and witnessing an elderly relative get whammed and claim they invented the lemon. Won’t have even have had time for photographs of hair and faces both questionable when viewed a decade on; I mean, who the F*** is that bloke, there, next to your ferociously slutty fat friend with the tattoo of Harvey Keitel on her pockmarked whalethigh? What do you mean, how do I know about that? Look, there, atop those veined legs reminiscent of cheap Stilton. Agreed, it could be some cake, but it looks like Harvey Keitel. So does she.

     

    That said, Bond didn’t so much lose Tracy as have her removed from him, and only shortly after they’d met. Given that she was practically a stranger, is it more the traumatic manner of the separation (bound to tend to upset) rather than the loss itself? If so, arguably Bond could be happier: he had yet to observe the way she ate eggs, or cut her toenails whilst watching television, or [continues in this vein for umpteen tedious paragraphs of trivial domestic irritations] or the annual one-day interest in “sorting out the garden” despite patently not knowing a weed from a banana. All these things James Bond is blissfully denied and then he gets a knock on the head and forgets about his marriage anyway. I’m struggling to see the downside.

     

    So’s M. Not the most sympathetic of reactions, referring to Bond as a “lame-brain” and being “under the weather”, the brutal old blister. Bond’s more than that. The desperate, death-dripped recounting of a sweaty, out-of-condition James Bond shuffling around Harley Street practitioners trying half-heartedly to get well but trapped in the countdown to his next drink, resonates bleakly with what one knows of Fleming’s imminent fate. Possibly the saddest piece of writing in all the books, the loneliness in a crowd of a dying man and, more than that, a man who knows the game’s up but cracks a forced smile to try to convince others, and himself, to the contrary: heartbreaking. Possibly literally. Wasting one’s days in trying to prolong them, despite death addiction. All that work Fleming has been doing to undermine Bond’s appeal and I feel sorry for him now. Looking death in the face with a pointlessly brave one of his own; might be a second life, but it’s not much of one. The medical history Fleming ascribes to 007 one suspects is voluntary disclosure of his own records, embellished.  The autobiography turns bitter. Just not up to it any longer and the demands of the job increasingly beyond him. A couple of Bond’s recent missions have failed; stretching it perhaps but authorial reflection here on the trouble surrounding Thunderball and the reception for The Spy Who Loved Me? The expectations – the demands – of others have turned it sour and unappealing.

     

    What is required of Bond is required of Fleming: a supreme call on his talents in the face of an impossible job. You Only Live Twice tackles this need for energy by appearing to turn in the drowsiest novel of the run. That’s a disguise, and better than the one Bond adopts. Admittedly, the atmosphere is so dense one could dig into it with a spoon, but everything’s here, deceptively muted by oppressive melancholy and a pace that for two-thirds of the book might frustrate those seeking “thrills”. Fleming always was one for structural whimsy, was he not? Look carefully: what he’s ectually doing, skin tinted much darker but palpably there, is taking familiar tricks by the hand and skipping merrily over the top with them. A final wild fling for the old ways. The path may lead towards rebirth but before one emerges there washed of brain and identity, before one sloughs the old skin, all the characteristics of your first life get an outlandish, bacchanalian wake. For example –

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    Helmut Schierer @ 2015-02-21
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