I was staring down the barrel of a .38. As a seven year old it’s not something you expect. It’s not something you know how to deal with. The man at the end of it was well groomed. He was dressed in a dinner suit with unusually large lapels and pants that flared out into bell-bottoms.
He didn’t make eye contact until the last second. His right hand brandished a Walther PPK handgun and discharged it in my direction. The gun shot left bloody-crimson spilling down the screen.
Compared to the rainbow coloured, gimp-suit wearing Power Rangers or the collection of super hippies with their rings of environmental power and fearless blue leader and his Brunswick-green mullet – Go Planet – a well-dressed man shooting the television dead was realistic.
Based on an early edition of Ian Fleming’s spy series, Roger Moore’s portrayal of Commander Bond in For Your Eyes Only would lay the foundations of my own self-discovery and my pursuit of adventure, which I would come back to emulate over a decade later.
Was it Moore’s quick wit and humour that appealed to me? Could it have been his romantic association with the stunning Melina Havelock that I was most drawn to? Probably not. I wasn’t that clever as a seven year old, or that much into girls. I didn’t understand the suggestive context in which most Bond movies are built on. Luckily for me such suggestiveness was fairly limited in this Roger Moore installment.
Bond: Don’t you ever come up for air?
Bibi: That’s why I’ll get the gold medal: breath control.
Bond: You can’t loose.
Dad had chuckled to himself, but cleared his throat to avoid answering the awkward question he thought my brother or I would ask. We didn’t ask. We grabbed our cap guns and tried to kill each other. As magic as the movie was, it wasn’t captivating enough for two hyperactive kids to watch it from start to finish. Watching Bond was only ever interrupted, in my defense, by Bond-related activities.
I searched through the corridors of my house carefully inspecting each room, looking under beds, behind doors and inside the inbuilt wardrobes. I tried to reenact as best I could what I had just seen on television. An erratic red-and-white Bell 206 Jet Ranger chopper had been droning towards the algae-plagued waters of the River Thames. A crippled madman vaguely resembling Dr Evil all the while had been sitting on the roof of an abandoned factory undertaking an overly elaborate plan to murder Bond. Bond had incredible success avoiding death. I wasn’t so lucky. I heard three shots from my brother’s gun and turned around to see the smug smile on his face.
I’m not sure if the success of Bond is directly related to the suit-wearing, scotch-swilling, martini-sipping, womanizing 1950s ideal gentleman who Ian Fleming may or may not have based loosely on himself. The success of the franchise could have been bolstered by the unique attributes the cinematic Bond actors interjected into the role from their own personality. The different Bonds, between Connery, Moore and Craig, allowed me to pick and choose attributes from each that I wanted to embody. But the basic outliers of Fleming’s Bond were what I most thought to identify the ‘gentleman’.
I don’t discredit the Pierce Brosnan era. He did justice to an aging cold war spy, with the corny one-liners and some poor acting in part. To me it seemed like the franchise was trying to rehash the best parts of Connery with the gadgetry power of Moore’s Bond. Daniel Craig’s portrayal is so refreshing, as agreed upon by his predecessors, because the franchise didn’t try to do what it did with the Brosnan Bond. It was Moore’s comment about Craig that to me displayed an honesty of Moore’s own character and highlighted a truth behind Craig’s portrayal.
‘To me, he looks like a killer. He looks as though he knows what he’s doing. I look as though I might cheat at backgammon.’
I never wanted to look like a killer myself. I just wanted some adventure and to occasionally experience the finer things in life.
‘Hey dickhead, are you ready?’
We were halfway down the black run when we noticed the majority of skiers and snowboarders had slowed down, cautiously approaching the final steep descent. I peeked over to see the almost vertical 300-metre slope. Memories of my skiing accident popped in my head, a tingle in my back reminding me of the dangers that crap skiers and living slabs of timber possess. I sized up the pine and birch trees that bordered the run.
Could it happen again?
I wasn’t in the ideal position of being a professional skier. This was my second time skiing in eight years, but standing still was doing me no good. Millions of tiny flakes floated through the sky, their unique patterns easily identifiable by the naked eye. It was verging on two minutes and the cold was pushing me to jump. Icicles formed on my eyelashes and moustache and the tips of my ears and nose were becoming solid.
‘Fuck it’s freezing.’
I glanced at Sammy. The rosy glow of his cheeks were all that was visible underneath that wool blend balaclava and goggles.
I’m not sure why it popped into my head. Maybe it was the hypothermia setting in, but suddenly I remembered the ski scene in For Your Eyes Only. The energetic disco-themed score, similar to the Rocky music, followed Bond down the slopes of the Cortina d’Ampezzo. Unlike Bond I didn’t have to worry about black clad, henchmen on Yamaha XT 500 motorcycles, with metal snow spikes and rotating machine guns, while weaving in and out of bush land and over picnic tables. I was actually the one doing the chasing because my friends were already halfway down the mountain.
By nighttime the mid-January temperature dropped to minus-thirty. The wind had picked up and I was waiting for the bus to the airport. I was due in Stockholm by mid-afternoon the next day. I had the option then of either saving my money and finding an empty bench in the departure lounge, spooning my backpack, while the smaller one watched, or finding a hotel.
By this time the whole Bond thing was at the back of my mind so it came down to choosing comfort and class over cost. It just so happened that the Hilton Hotel was a five-minute walk from my gate.
Standing at the lobby desk I felt out of place, surrounded by the formal-suit- and dress-wearing business people that made up the hotel’s clientele. I was that lost person who had managed to Bear Grylls his way to civilisation.
The ladies at the desk didn’t bat an eyelid. They even upgraded me to include the full buffet breakfast, sensing that I hadn’t had a substantial meal since beginning my travels.
‘Oh, I am going to enjoy this.’
I had been travelling alone for a month, and when among people in between my destinations it wasn’t unusual that I would voice my thoughts for my own benefit. This generally got weird looks and cautious approaches to the elevators I was using from the people who saw me and possibly listened.
I slid that electronic key card in the door lock … Luxury.
Staring at the King-size bed in front of a 37-inch LCD flat screen TV, I was greeted with that clean hotel smell, as if sterility and homeliness were mixed in an aerosol can and emptied into the room.
My bathroom was bigger than some of the hostels I had stayed in earlier that month. Sitting next to the complementary soaps and lotions were towels. Not one towel. Towels. It was a full 42 degrees warmer inside, which emphasised the pleasant watching of the snow falling around the airport with a glass of wine in my Hilton slippers.
Luxury really agrees with me, it’s one of the main reasons outside danger and adventure that makes the Bond lifestyle so appealing. The only other times I got a glimpse of this sort of extravagance was getting to ride in an Aston Martin Vantage V12 and playing black jack at the Grand Casino in Monte Carlo.
* * *
Eight chandeliers hung overhead, perfectly symmetrical of the La Salle Europe, the artwork…
I glanced up at the Monegasque dressed in a custom tailored dinner suit, then back at my cards. I was too busy admiring the building’s interior and architectural design, not to mention a little thrown by the ten thousand euro chips sitting thirty centimeters from my right hand.
‘Oh, I’m sorry’
He gestured his hand towards my cards awaiting my decision.
I tapped the soft green velvet of the table, indicating my intentions. He looked puzzled. I looked to my right at the expressions of those around the table.
My knowledge of French was minor and a little shaky. Plus with my Australian accent he still wouldn’t have been able to understand.
‘Sir, seventeen is a good hand?’
I sensed he was taking pity on me, probably thinking I was an idiot. At a stretch I would say he wasn’t too far off. Gambling wasn’t really my scene. I’d only ever seen this game played in movies and I didn’t have the cash or skill to back myself up. I relied on dumb luck.
Deciding against advice I tapped twice for the card. The little nod of confidence may have had people believing I was a seasoned player, but we were about to see how that belief would pan out.
I sipped on my cucumber-infused Hendricks gin and tonic watching the dealer draw another card from the deck. The other players remained on 19 and 16 respectively.
‘Four of diamonds, congratulations Sir’
The dealer’s stern face and monotone accent hinted of insincerity but I didn’t care. I asked him to send over the waitress for a congratulatory drink. I may have only won been fifty Euros, but a win was a win.
‘Sir what would you like?’
‘Do you have Belvedere vodka?
‘Yes of course’
‘Can I grab a martini, please?’
I was still a world away from mastering the confident ordering skills of a 00.
Parked on the edge of the runway, the Cessna Grand Caravan was dwarfed by The Remarkables ranges only a few kilometers away. The single turbo-propeller purred patiently as the crew finished the last-minute safety checks. Wearing my white leather diving cap, my glasses and gloves tucked under my right arm, I swaggered out of the hangar towards the plane. I felt like Tom Cruise as Danger Zone played over in my head. The lush green airfield with all of its minor imperfections provided the bouncy takeoff that scrambled my delicate insides into a nervous knot of uncertainty.
My heart started beating faster. The roller door slid up. The wind blasted through the tightly packed cabin. Not enough to destroy the plane but enough to send a chill through my body. I watched the photographer step outside, gripping the small rail mounted on the Cessna’s exterior.
I looked over. Five years ago that was me, without the injured instructor. I had been the first to jump, fear-filled with no idea of what to expect.
And I moved down the cabin, getting ready for the jump. The forty second lead up had passed and before I knew it my brother had disappeared. I could hear the faint sound of the other jumpers yelling something at me, but between the wind and propeller noise I couldn’t understand.
Ready to go, we moved into position. I hung outside the plane, legs tucked under and leaning inside slightly. My hands were across my chest gripping opposite shoulders while my back was slightly arched. I got the signal. I threw myself forward, flipping out of the plane and into open sky. I caught a faint glimpse of the plane flying overhead.
That initial feeling of ‘what the fuck am I doing this for?’ was soon replaced by a smack of adrenalin. Suddenly I was hurtling back to earth at two-hundred kilometres per hour with only the little drogue chute keeping me from spinning out of control. The wind pummelled my face into all sorts of ugliness. My cheeks flapped in the breeze, with a drop of drool just hanging there like a St Bernard.
After forty-five seconds and seven thousand feet the harness had constricted my breathing. My lungs were almost completely drained of oxygen. The straps were loosened to allow me to breathe as I sailed through the cloud cover. I was viewing paradise as if from an airborne deckchair.
* * *
It’s weird reflecting back on how a fictional character has had an impact on the last seventeen years of my life. As I get older, the lewdness, extravagance and action have become more appealing than the reality that most people my age have embraced. The change from Fleming’s Bond (Connery is thought to be the closest) to Craig’s portrayal has given me the chance to develop my own individuality in amongst the joys of getting older.
I’m yet to go full Bond, still wanting to master certain characteristics and experience new adventures, but at the same time I don’t want to become the world’s greatest secret agent. The idea of Bond served me as a reminder that in amongst the complexities of life there is always more than one approach to dealing with problems. I now try to avoid the seriousness of an issue by taking a step back to enjoy the lighter side. I guess
‘It comes from not growing up at all’.