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Wednesday, 09 December 2009

Stirred but not shaken

Me, taking part in a Santa Fun Run, to raise money for charity, last December."

Did I ever tell you that I’m a secret James Bond fantasist? Well, I guess it’s not much of a secret now that I’ve told you and half the world, is it?

I was an adolescent when Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels were first published during the 1960s (some people I know might suggest that I still am!). I devoured each one as it came out in paperback, and I could hardly wait for the next one. Then they started making the movies, and suddenly the glamour of the books was up there on the silver screen in glorious colour.

You see, Britain was a rather dull place in the early 1960s. To me it was not so much the dangerous situations or the thrilling adventures of James Bond which excited me, and certainly not the violence. It was more the exotic locations, the luxurious lifestyle, the glamorous women and the fast cars – especially the fast cars.

I really believe that my lifelong love of travel to exciting places grew out of my fascination with the foreign place-names I read in Fleming’s books: the Caribbean, Russia, Japan, the USA. I used to love it when Miss Moneypenny handed Bond his plane tickets, saying: “We’ve booked you on the next flight to Miami, James.”

I lived in a dark and drizzly northern town. I thought the sun was a myth, like fairies and Santa Claus, until I left home at 18 and discovered that there really was a golden ball in the sky which gave out glorious light and beautiful warmth. It just never shone on my hometown. The thought of taking the next flight anywhere excited me.

Bond’s suits were hand-made especially for him. He smoked his own personal brand of cigarettes. He knew about good food and wine. He wore knitted silk ties. Oh, how I envied him (hey! gimme a break, I was only 13).

I saw Goldfinger seven times in the week it was released. I started to smoke (idiot boy!) and found a brand of Russian cigarettes rolled in black paper with gold tips. At seventeen I managed to afford a hand-made suit by working in a shop on Saturdays and after school. I bought knitted ties (unfortunately, not pure silk). I once owned a pair of rhino-skin shoes. And I still never got the girl!!!

Of course, I would never be able to afford the Aston Martin – my dream car. But I have always had pretty powerful and pretty smart cars – cars I could never really afford or justify. Right now I still have my Mini Cooper ‘S’ Convertible, in gunmetal silver (a typical Ian Fleming colour for a car), and a small handful of speeding tickets of which I am not proud. I keep it spotless (I’m making myself sound like a total nerd, I know) and, in fact, I rarely drive it. Driving in London makes no sense. Keeping this car doesn’t really make much sense. Lucy is at university, and in any case she doesn’t have a driving licence. But even if she did I wouldn’t let her drive my car: it’s too powerful and not a sensible car to learn to drive on.

Why am I telling you all this embarrassing (and possibly quite boring) stuff? Well, it was my birthday a few weeks ago and someone who knows me quite well bought me a rather special present – a half-day at Silverstone, Britain’s motor racing Grand Prix track, driving – you’ve guessed, haven’t you – an Aston Martin DB9 Vantage!

After a half-hour briefing they let me see the car. The fire-proof balaclava felt rough. The helmet was heavy. Sitting in the car, I could see very little: it’s extremely low. An instructor gave me advice while I drove my first lap. Then I was allowed two laps at full speed – over 300 kilometres per hour on the straights.

It was all over much too quickly, and I was practically speechless with the exhilaration of the experience. I would happily have continued driving that magnificent car all day. Taking it home that evening would have been even better, of course. Was it dangerous? I don’t think so. I wasn’t shaken but I was certainly stirred. Now, how about a flute of Dom Pérignon to celebrate? Cheers!

PS: Some better photos next time, I promise!
PPS: Thanks SO MUCH to everyone who has posted comments. I will reply to some of them in my next blog on 17 December.

Mini Bond Quiz
1. Which of these was the first James Bond novel?
a. Goldfinger b. Casino Royale c. Thunderball
2. Which of these was the first James Bond movie?
a. Dr No b. From Russia With Love c. Goldfinger
3. Which Bond movie does this dialogue come from:
JB: Do you expect me to talk?
AG: No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die!
4. Which famous cabaret singer played Rosa Kleb, in From Russia With Love?
5. What was Ian Fleming’s house in Jamaica called?
a. Palmyra b. Goldeneye c. Blades

Some useful words and expressions
Stirred but not shaken

James Bond’s preferred method for mixing a martini (cocktail) is to have it shaken (i.e. in a cocktail shaker), not stirred (with a spoon, for example). I have reversed that expression here, to illustrate how my drive in the Aston Martin stirred me (i.e. gave me an emotional thrill) but didn’t shake me (i.e. was not uncomfortable).

a young person who is no longer a child but not yet an adult

literally, ‘ate greedily’, but here it means read quickly and very enthusiastically

came out
were published

in paperback
a ‘paperback’ is a book with a paper cover. Books are published in paperback or in hardback.

attractive and exciting


a state of being extremely interested in something

Miss Moneypenny
‘M’ was the head of the British Secret Service, in the James Bond novels. Miss Moneypenny is his secretary.

drizzle is light, misty rain. A drizzly town is a place where it frequently drizzles.

an untrue belief or explanation

wished I could be like

gimme a break
a slang expression (‘Give me a break!’) meaning, ‘Give me a chance’, ‘Don’t be too critical’.

the third Bond movie

if you can afford something, you have enough money to be able to pay for it

Aston Martin
a hand-build, high-performance, luxurious and extremely expensive (British) sports car. In Goldfinger, James Bond drives an Aston Martin DB5 which is specially equipped with weapons and other hi-tech equipment.

rather; quite

give a good reason why it is sensible or necessary

speeding tickets
penalties given by the police for driving over the legal speed limit

extremely clean

an obsessive person with little charisma

Grand Prix
a race for powerful racing cars

lesson; a meeting where you are given instructions or information

a close-fitting hood which covers every part of your head except your face

a complete circuit of the course

unable to speak

extreme thrill; extreme excitement

frightened; shocked

affected by strong emotion

a wine glass designed especially for champagne

Dom Pérignon
James Bond’s preferred champagne

PS: Did you find the hidden Beatles’ song title in this blog? Answers in my final blog on 28 December.

Mini Bond Quiz ANSWERS:
1b, 2a, 3 Goldfinger, 4 Lotte Lenya, 5b


Stephen, thank you for the lovely post about all these James Bond stuffs! It's so interesting! And I really like to listen to smbs when they speek about their favourite things. I think such talks put in you, a listener, so much enthusiasm. And you, Stephen, don't seem nerd at all :) Rather passionate man.

Hello, Stephen. For your game with the titles of the Beatles' songs, do you consider your blog being the whole thing you write? Something can be found twice among the useful words. If it's only the story that counts, I saw one title and did not look for any more – I'm a lazy girl, you see. As for the picture of you as Father Xristmas it reminds me of when I was in similar clothes. A friend had asked my twin brother to be Santa Claus in their house and he didn't want to, so I volunteered. I had one km to go to the place and never have I seen the streets so empty, but for lots of Father Xmases running hither and thither, as in the background of your photo. Ho ho ho ho.

Hi Stephen, My teeny weeny son: who is that guy? I: He’s my Santa Claus, and he sends me a letter. My son: do you like him? I: I think so… My son: why do you like him? I: because he’s very intelligent and witty and he helps me improving my English. He also likes fast cars like you. My son: do you think he’s better at knowing fast cars than me? I: I feel a bit playful so I say mum’s Santa is a petrol- head, car bonkers( not a good word to say to a child but my son has already learnt the meaning from a song by Dizzee Rascal) and he knows all about cars. My son: I don’t think he’s superior than me because he didn’t say that Aston Martin DB9 has got a big sister called Aston Martin DBR9.It has competed at the 53rd Annual 12 hours of Sebring. Oh, my clever son, please, give my Santa a break, will you! I won’t stop him being a car nerd even though he’s watching races in TV a lot or goes somewhere due to watching rallying with his daddy. Because you prove me a healthy lifelong love of something makes person’s life more gleeful.take good care of yourself!

Hello Stephen, what an interesting post or rather I would say I could make a picture of the young Stephen and his loyalty with James bond. Adolescent is a phase of life which is full of fantasies and funny dreams and that's the best part of this period. Naheed

Hi „Santa“ Stephen, nice to learn about Bond's beyond. There is certainly more that would fascinate a Bond fan. What i like mostly, in the films, his enduring flirting trials to persuade Miss Moneypenny to go out with him while going into „M's room". With that all himself being cool but not cold at all...That has stigmatized his character. Those 10 second fliting that ends up with Miss Moneypenny's opening the door.

Hey Stephen, does the song have something to do with Paperback Writer or any similar thing?

Hi Stephen,Happy to see you. Your blog really enthralls me. So I awaits your blog impatiently. Here in north India, we experience extreme heat upto 45 Celsius degree and extreme winter ranging 4-25 degree Celsius (but never without warmth of Sun). In winter season (October to March) there may hardly ranging between 5-10 days when we not see Sun due to fog,clouds for whole day. In summer season, I curse Sun and in winter I like Sunshine basking and there is need to wear thick woollen jackets and use warm water to bath and use electric heaters in office. November and March are very friendly months. July to Sept are very tough months. Wearing Shirt and Pen only in Nov and Feb if you stays indoor, you feel cold and if you stay outdoor beneath the sun, you feel heat. It is strange atmosphere. Infact, till date, I never conceived life without Sun. You not named your native place. So it sounds like a fairy story that you never saw Sun upto your 18 year age. Kindly never think about word "Bore”. I always await your blog and read word by word, again and again to master the nice words and sentence structures written by you in a friendly and talkative way. Name of James Bond quietly figured in English Newspaper here.Thanks a lot. Have a nice day.

Hello Stephen, As usual you are so eloquent and stylish. I like reading your entries and I missed them very much. Enough new words and phrases and interesting story at the same time. Thank you! That is my image for a perfect teacher. I am Fleming's fan too. Frankly speaking,I like books but don't like movies. Actually, they look very flamboyant for me. But I adore Fleming's language. I have read "From Russia with love" in original, printed in 60's. Pages yellow with age, made me feel strangely. Wow, you got really special gift for your birthday! I haven't forgotten some of your passions - wine and cars. I suppose you have felt like in heaven and it is understandable. The only hidden Beatles' song title that I can think of is "Birthday". But I suppose it is not the right answer. Thanks for amusing post! Take care! Diema

Hello Stephen, As usual you are so eloquent and stylish. I like reading your entries and I missed them very much. Enough new words and phrases and interesting story at the same time. Thank you! That is my image for a perfect teacher. I am Fleming's fan too. Frankly speaking,I like books but don't like movies. Actually, they look very flamboyant for me. But I adore Fleming's language. I have read "From Russia with love" in original, printed in 60's. Pages yellow with age, made me feel strangely. Wow, you got really special gift for your birthday! I haven't forgotten some of your passions - wine and cars. I suppose you have felt like in heaven and it is understandable. The only hidden Beatles' song title that I can think of is "Birthday". But I suppose it is not the right answer. Thanks for amusing post! Take care! Diema

Hi Stephen It is very nice to read your blog. When I was a child I remember most of boys and man wanted to imitate James Bond, his behaviors, dressing style,... etc. Books and film are important our life and have a big impact,While choosing our job, hobbies sometimes building up our personality. I was very young girl in last 70's early 80', Tv and Tv series were very important for me.. Some tv series came my mind, Arsin Lupen, gentlaman Bburgler, Avengers, Mission İmpossible... They would be on the screen once week. I would wait impatiently for another one." Avengers" was very important for me. Why? Diana Rigg was playing. I remember like today she had long leg in leather trousers.I admired her as a young girl like new generation girls admire handsome vampire man. Life is like that... :))) I want to share the real story. There is turkish tv series which is very popular. There is a player in it well known- everbody wants to be him because he is very strong and brave He helps the people in need - One of the audiences of this tv series doesn't have got any jobs. He goes to the Big Bank and says the Player(kind of hero for him) sends him and He wants the manager of the bank to give a job..It is a real story..This is heart breaking... We need some heros in real life everything We missed will give...I hope I could get the story across. Thank you..

Mr. Bond is certainly hot stuff, although he is a mere fantasy. Stephen I forget what was your hometown as an adolescent? Your day at Silverstone sounded great, if you pardon me saying so, it must have been a great boost for a man:)kind. Best wishes for Christmas time :)

Hallo Stephen, I like reading your blog. Have you ever heard about Young Bond written by Charly Higson? He writes thrilling books about the young James Bond.Although they were published for young people, I like the books very much. Last summer,I got an invitation to the Nürburgring.It's a famous racetrack in Germany.It was great. Take care Linda

Dear Stephen! First of all, let me wish you many happy returns of the day! I have read your entry with great interest even if I am not a James Bond fan myself. Diema and Adriana have already come up with their Beatles' song title's tips (Birthday and Paperback Writer). I would like to add another one: 'Drive my car'. Looking forward to your next entry. In the meantime, take care!

Oh, how I envy you, dear Stephan! I quickly read your posting telling us how you realize your dreams and your desires. I particularly liked your sense of humour and your way of telling about your life. Furthermore it seems to read in my mother tongue! Anyway, I keep fighting with my definitely incapacity to understand spoken English and I also have trouble when I try to speak English. Can you help me? Can you give me some advice? Some years ago I decided to go to London for improving my understanding of spoken English. I left alone without Italian friends, or else I could speak Italian all the time. I arrived to London on Saturday and my English class must have started on Monday. Unfortunately, the college near the school provided the accomodation for all new students by Sunday, so I booked a room for one night at another college in Camden. Anyway, Mr. John, the director of my English school in Italy, gave me some advice about going from Stansted airport to Ifor Evans Hall in Camden Road. I felt nervous, because I wasn't very good at English and I was afraid that I couldn't make myself understood. When I arrived to the college, I was really disappointed, because the accomodation wasn't as good as I expected. The room was dirty, the streets around the college were desolate and I felt lonely. By the way, there was a nice garden outside the college. I sat at a table in the garden with my guidebook about London and a snack. While I was reading, a girl arrived and sat at a table near me. She helds some papers in her hands and she looked at me. She told me something, but I didn't understand anything. She kept reapiting something, but I said "I'm sorry, but I don't understand what you said. Where are you from?". She kept reapiting some words, until she gave up the idea of making herself understood after many unsuccessful attempts. I felt so depressed, but I kept reading and eating my snack. Suddenly, I heard the girl speaking alone. She sometimes shouted and sometimes muttered, she looked as if she was talking with someone. But there wasn't anybody there! I was surprised and frightened and I caught a glimpse of her face as she cried. Than she stopped talking nonsense, looked at me and said: "Don't worry! I'm studying drama." I smiled and I cheered her, because it was the first sentence I understood in London! I'm afraid you start to get bored! Very warmest best wishes to you and Lucy.

Thanks for all your contributions. This blog has now closed and can no longer accept new comments.

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