Sunday, October 16, 2022

arselebrity beardylikey of the day

A bit of background for this first one, although I suspect you'll be ignoring it as you'll already be mesmerised by the photo. I'm going to press on anyway, though, just in case anyone's still reading. Nia went on a residential weekend with the school a couple of weekends ago to the Urdd centre in Llangrannog in west Wales. Lots of exciting outdoorsy stuff that was right up her street including go-karting, zip-lining, various muddy assault courses and some leaping off a high-ish tower onto a giant inflatable landing mat. This mat came equipped with some odd orifices at the sides which I assume are to allow venting of air at the point of impact to prevent damage, but which could fulfil a completely different function for all I know. They certainly have the look of orifices which fulfil a different function, specifically the hindquarters of various species of ape in full oestrus.

Secondly, my old mate and former work colleague Harry (and his rather magnificent lockdown beard) and the late Dusty Hill, bass player and occasional vocalist (on some of the shoutier numbers) with Texan blues-rockers ZZ Top.

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

the last book I read

On Her Majesty's Secret Service by Ian Fleming.

The name's Bond; James aaaaahh well you know the rest. Hush hush, double-0 status, licence to kill, all that malarkey. Plus all the willing women you can eat, of course. But shut up, because this time Bond has met a Proper Lady, and she's a corker. Cool, enigmatic, drives fast, lives dangerously, plays cards, absolute FILTH in the sack, all the major boxes ticked. But it turns out she's got some psychological issues and Bond ends up having to rescue her from topping herself by walking into the sea at the exotic resort of Royale-les-Eaux (which you might remember from Casino Royale).

No sooner has Bond wrestled Tracy out of the surf than they are set upon by some goons and spirited away by boat to some secret location where Bond assumes they will be summarily executed and he will have to cook some fools in order to escape. Not a bit of it, as it turns out, as the abduction turns out to have been organised by Marc-Ange Draco, who is not only the head of the Corsican mafia but also, as it happens, Tracy's father. He explains the circumstances of his meeting and courting Tracy's English mother (a bit more rapey than most modern courtships) her subsequent death, Tracy's struggles with depression and his firm belief that what she really needs to keep her on the straight and narrow is the firm hand of a strong man to slap some sense into her and occasionally administer a brisk corrective rogering, and, moreover, his belief that Bond is that man and that he will pay him a million dollars to keep her safe.

Bond refuses the money, but agrees to keep an eye on Tracy on the condition that she undergoes some proper treatment for her depression. Meanwhile, work considerations intervene. Bond has been engaged in a cat-and-mouse battle with the shadowy SPECTRE organisation and its kingpin, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, but the entire crew seem to have gone to ground. With a bit of help from Draco's European network of contacts, Bond gets wind of a mysterious count occupying a mountain-top retreat in the Alps who is currently engaged in a correspondence with the College of Arms to determine his right to the hereditary title he's claiming. Could this be our man?

After a quick five-minute visit to gain the rudiments of knowledge about genealogy, the British aristocracy, heraldic symbology and what have you, Bond assumes the identity of Sir Hilary Bray, Shield-Wrangler Pursuivant or some such nonsense, and cooks up a pretext for a personal visit to check certain aspects of Blofeld's claim in person. When he arrives, he finds that the count (who makes no secret of his identity as Blofeld) is running some sort of clinic for rich young women to cure them of their phobias by a combination of fresh air, exercise, some slightly odd hypnotic techniques and of course The Drugs. While providing a convincing veneer of doing genealogical research and interviewing Blofeld about his ancestry, Bond strikes up friendships with the girls to try and work out what kind of supervillain shit Blofeld is really up to. As luck would have it one of the girls, Ruby, not only seems keen on him but has a bedroom just down the corridor, so Bond sneaks out of his room one night, gives Ruby a teeth-rattling seeing-to and then listens in while she slumbers post-coitally and the hypnotic tape plays. It's a bit disappointing, though, just some shit about not being afraid of chickens.

The shit hits the fan pretty soon, though, when another Secret Service operative is captured snooping around the complex, brought before Blofeld, and clearly recognises Bond. Bond manages to shrug it off as the ravings of a badly-beaten madman but knows the jig will be up as soon as the thumbscrews are applied and the other guy talks. Sneaking out of his room in the dead of night he manages to steal some ski equipment and speed off down the mountain, hotly pursued by Blofeld's goons. He manages to outrun them to the nearest town where who should he literally run into but Tracy, seemingly having regained her marbles and just gadding about on the slopes. She helps him escape and return to England where he debriefs M and some chaps from the Ministry of Agriculture who are interested in one of Blofeld's previous patients and the outbreak of fowl pest that happened near her home just after she returned. The man from the Ministry is a pretty sharp cookie, as it turns out, and soon joins the dots to reveal Blofeld's dastardly scheme: hypnotise the girls to spread various crop and livestock diseases on their return to Britain, crash the economy, and make a fortune shorting the pound and anything else he can think of. 

Obviously Blofeld's monstrous scheme must be stopped: but how? Well, fortunately Bond has a list of all the girls' names, so they can be tracked down and detained and relieved of any anthrax they may happen to be carrying. But how to take down Blofeld's mountain lair? At this point Bond calls upon Draco again to rustle up a helicopter and some hand-picked Corsican badasses and mount a raid on the facility. This they do, but Blofeld has thought ahead and concocted an escape plan involving hurling himself down the nearest bobsleigh run on a tea-tray. Bond grabs his own tea-tray and pursues him, but loses him. The mountain-top lair is blown up in a satisfying way, though. 

After the dust has settled, Bond applied himself to other matters, specifically marrying Tracy and setting off on a honeymoon. As Bond stops the car to remove some of the wedding streamers and ribbons, however, a Maserati speeds alongside and empties a hail of bullets into the car, killing Tracy. 

As with Casino Royale it's hard not to view this through the prism of having seen the film several times. In this particular case the film (George Lazenby's only outing as Bond) follows the plot of the book pretty closely, and where it does diverge from the plot - to provide some opportunity for Blofeld to do the Let Me Explain My Evil Plan thing, and be a lot more specific about what the girls are being hypnotised to do - this actually helps quite a bit, as the book's having the guy from the Ministry extrapolate the whole plot from Bond's flimsy evidence was a bit implausible. Also a bit odd is the idea that neither Bond nor Blofeld would recognise each other, particularly jarring in the film when the audience knows that they've met in previous movies, even though it's masked a bit by both characters being played by different actors from previous films. It works in the book because in the only previous book to feature Blofeld, Thunderball, the two characters never actually meet.

Anyway, it does what it says on the tin and it's a better book than Casino Royale, though probably not quite as good as Dr. No which remains my favourite. My venerable pre-decimalisation Pan paperback has been on my shelves for probably upwards of 25 years.