Why Dalton Was Good

Here’s the truth about James Bond movies… well, my truth anyway.

James Bond movies are like white sliced loaves of bread – you have to catch them first while they are very fresh.

The key word in that statement is ‘first’.  If you get a nice fresh loaf of bread and it slowly goes a bit stale on you, you can still use it.  You can perhaps toast it or grate it up for breadcrumbs or… well, you get the idea. 

If it was somebody else’s loaf of bread, you wouldn’t dream of using it.  You would just throw it out.  But this is your loaf, you knew it when it was fresh and tasty, it has aged and hardened under your watchful eye and so you still hold some deep-seated affection for it.

Let’s face it, most of the James Bond movies are very much like loaves of bread.  They are conceived and executed to be at their best on the day that they are released.  They use ingredients which date and age and lose their quality quite quickly.  They become hard to swallow.

The early ones are the exception to this little rule of mine.   Whether that’s because they weren’t trying so hard to be ‘of-the-moment’ or whether it’s because they come from a time when many of the fans weren't actually born – thus allowing a greater deal of respect - well I’m not sure.  It’s probably just because that young Connery was so damn good that all other considerations pale.  Whatever the reason, those first three do buck the trend and they remain eminently watchable.

So, having said all that, let me present my defence of Timothy Dalton as James Bond.  Many of you will disagree.  That’s understandable.  Dalton, you see, was my ‘Loaf of Bread’.  It’s quite possible that he wasn’t yours.

For me, Dalton’s first Bond film, The Living Daylights, arrived like a super-refreshing bolt-from-the-blue.  Roger Moore had ceased to have any relevance, to anything, several features before he finally bowed out and, as a result, the franchise was two stages past being on its knees.  

Casting Dalton was a brave and imaginative move and he threw out most of what had gone before and made the part his own.  The music was brilliant, the film looked fabulous on the big screen.  It was, at times, romantic and sweet in a way that no other Bond film was ever brave enough to try and it had a re-worked hard edge to it that the Moore Era had successfully worn away over such a long time.  Plus Maryam d'Abo was a lovely Bond girl.

But, just because I like my own loaf of bread, that doesn’t mean that I can’t see that it has gotten stale over time.  It is a fact that Bond movies go stale and, when they do, our affection for them comes down to our memories of how we were when we first saw them – it is this which keeps a particular one high in our esteem and allows us to remember how good it once used to be.

So let it be with ‘The Living Daylights.”

When I see it now, I see the staleness.  I see the rather insipid villains, the unconvincing Mujahideen sequence, the milkman with his exploding bottles… I see how it probably won’t convince anyone who sees it for the first time now.

I also see the value in other people’s loaves of bread, even if they are not mine.  For me, Craig’s Casino Royale remains a stunning and almost flawless reboot and I will not argue with anyone who puts him second best.  I will, perhaps, quietly point out that his second outing ‘Quantum of Solace’ is almost grindingly boring from start to finish (I watched it twice to confirm this) but I will also accept that Dalton’s second attempt ‘Licence to Kill’ was also quite poor.

So, for those of you who will doubtless say that Craig in Casino Royale is the best thing ever, and for those of you who say Brosnan in Goldeneye is the one, think for a moment about my little analogy.  I just bet your favourite (Connery excepted because he wins everything) was the one who arrived fresh and new for you…

…your own personal ‘Loaf of Bread’.

I just bet it was.

Nowhere to Hide

I hate looking at myself in pictures.  I really do.

I don't really know the reason why but I imagine it's complicated.  These days I am older and wider that I used to be (no, that's not a typo) and I could easily put that down as the reason.  But when I was younger and considerably less wide, I still hated seeing myself in pictures.  I think the most likely answer is that nearly all of us hate looking at ourselves in pictures - our own mental image of ourselves does not match the truth which the camera displays... I think that's probably it.

Anyway, I've become pretty damn good at avoiding getting into pictures.  One of my top tips is to always bring a camera with you to whatever event you're attending.  Then, when the picture-taking starts, you can be in the crowd taking them rather then in the crowd being taken.  It works a treat.

This week, though, was different.  This week there was nowhere to hide...

The Budget is coming and still-more savage cuts will need to be made.  If, however, the Arts are targeted as being some kind of  soft touch for cuts, it will be disastrous.  Not just for the people who work in the Arts, not just for the people who most enjoy the Arts but for our country - which earns much from its deserved international reputation for excellence in the Arts.

So, anyway, my great pals in The Linenhall Arts Centre decided to create a very short video to launch on YouTube as part of County Mayo's contribution to The National Campaign for the Arts 'National Day of Action' which was held on Friday last.  I helped a bit with the writing of the thing and wouldn't say no when I was asked to say a line or two for the video

So here's the video:

Oh, before that, you might well ask, if he hates looking at himself so very much, why is he now plastering his mug all over his own blog?  

Well... The Arts are important...

... more important that my desire to hide.

What Did You Do on the Weekend?

Well, funny you should ask…

Two weekends ago, a friend of mine, Simon Ricketts, called, a bit out of the blue, and said he was passing through Mayo and could we perhaps meet up for a while?  He was over from England, touring the country for ten days or so and Castlebar was on his route.  So, hell yeah, I could meet up.

We took the day and we spinned around my (adopted) home county of Mayo in my car.

Before he arrived, I was in a bit of a quandary.  What do you show visitors in Mayo?  I don’t do an awful lot of this kind of thing.  I knew Simon would be happy with a meet up and a coffee and a bit-of-a-chat but I wanted to show him around a little and I wanted to hang onto him for longer than an hour while he was here, cause he’s a really sound chap.

But what do you show people in Mayo?

I learned a couple of things on our journey through Mayo a few Saturdays ago.  I learned that seeing a place is not necessarily about going to a particular monument or vista, it’s not about ‘taking something in’.  It’s much more about simply being in the place, moving through it, nosing around it, smelling and hearing it too.

We drove around for hours on end.   We stood on deserted beaches and under cloudy mountains, we sipped a drink in a roadside hostelry, watch kids dipping in a drizzly evening harbour, heard some music in a crowded friendly pub and had a late pint in a sociable corner.

We didn’t see anything that would qualify as a show-stopper or a big event.  We just took a little time and had a good old nose-around and, you know what? It was bloody great.

So that’s the first thing I learned: don’t just see the high-spots, try to ‘be’ in a place.

The second thing I learned relates to how very lucky I am to live in a place like this.

We’re like rabbits, aren’t we?  We cut a track in the grass between our burrow and the places we go out into, to eat and to shit.  We often don’t deviate much from those tracks.  But to do it – to stray off the beaten track, even if for only a day – can open your eyes to where you are.  It did for me anyway.

For instance, we drove down the ‘Atlantic Drive’ towards and then onto Achill Island.  My God, what a wonderful road!  Edging along the ocean, dotted with fearless defiant sheep. It is a high road, a slender road and, by God, an isolated one.  I’d been there before but I was going somewhere else, I wasn’t there just for the sake of it.  To do that... it was an eye opener for me.

Even to be in the pub, with the music playing, and to look around and see all the people having a good time and knowing I’d usually be dozing in the recliner by now.  There’s a life to be lived just outside of our rabbit runs and it’s in your place just as much as it is in mine.

So thanks, Simon, for coming by.  I kind-of alluded to it on the day - and I know it sounds odd - but there’s a genuine feeling that, by coming to my country and driving and eating and drinking and chatting and… just… seeing… well, you honoured us.  Yeah, yeah, I know it sounds stupid but I did feel something like that.  You were enjoying yourself so well that you were doing us proud.

So thanks mate, come again soon, eh?

FOOTNOTE:  Simon kindly provided me with this link to some of the live music we heard in Matt Molloys in Westport on the Saturday evening.  It's here.

Story Cubes 2 – The Revenge

When I tried the Story Cubes for the first time a few weeks ago, a little story emerged and you were very kind about it.  Thank you for that. 

(That story, as well as a more detailed explanation of exactly what I am playing at can be found here).

One thing troubled me about that exercise though.  The story that emerged was unremittingly cute and cuddly.

I wondered whether the very nature of the cubes, with their pretty little pictures, would always point me towards a sweet and shiny outcome.

When I decided to throw them again today, I resolved to give myself one additional challenge, a ‘tenth dice’ if you will.  I resolved that the story would have to be darker and less cutesy.

So I threw the dice.

My rules for myself are quite strict.  I get to throw them only once - if I don’t like the outcome that’s tough shit.  Also I don’t get to think about my options for days on end – throw the cubes and get writing.

So, here goes…

The nine cubes are now showing me the following:  A Learner Plate, A Walking Stick, A Sheep, A Flower, An Eye, A Dice, A Tent, An Arrow, and a Speech Bubble.

(The following owes much to The Dice Man by Luke Rheinhart. )

(It also relates to this true story of mine)

Something Big

I had been actively throwing the dice for a full fortnight before I realised where I had been going wrong.

Up until then, I had enthusiastically been using the dice to make my decisions for me and it had been going rather well.  I would write six options on a sheet of paper, numbered 1 to 6, and then I would throw the dice and do whatever number came up.  Just like Luke Rheinhart told me to.

My life had been completely adrift and without direction before I found the old paperback book buried in my back garden in an oilskin wrap.  It wasn’t my normal reading fare but finding ‘The Dice Man’ interred in your rhubarb patch was reason enough to at least look inside and, before long, I was engrossed.

It was no mystery how the book had got there.  When I was eleven, I contracted the Measles for the third time in my life.  This is, of course, a medical impossibility but that didn’t seem to dissuade my metabolism.

I was an avid reader even then and, after three days in bed, I had read the house dry.  My mother, anxious to satiate my need for literary stimulation, ransacked an old cupboard and came up with an even-then battered copy of ‘The Dice Man’.  It was far too adult for me but I read it anyway and rapidly tumesced my way back to health.  Afterward I was better, I couldn’t give the book back to Mum in case she read it herself and saw what I had been imbibing so I buried it in the back garden along with the book of disgusting limericks which the school had mistakenly awarded me the year before for coming second in English class.

Now, thirty-five years later, alone and bereft in the house of my youth, the book came back to me as I tried to put shape on my garden.

It spoke to me in a way no other book ever had.  As soon as I finished it, I went out and bought a heavy expensive dice in a specialist game shop and I set about putting order on my life.

For two weeks, the dice decided everything for me.  I ate, slept, washed, turned in for work, all on the basis of a throw.  I seemed to have more order and purpose than at any moment since the night when Shiv and the boys had driven away. 

But something was missing.  I knew that but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was.

It was a strange sort of automatic writing incident that finally pointed out the error of my ways.  I was sitting over my sheet of paper, setting out my options for the impending Saturday night.  They included, ‘takeaway’ ‘cinema’ ‘long bath’ ‘pub’ when, suddenly, something appeared on the page after the number 6 and I swear I never wrote it at all.

It simply said, “Kill Something’.

I stared at it and shivered.  I reckoned I must be over-tired and I reached for my eraser to get rid of it.  But then I stopped.  “Why not,” I thought, “my problem is obviously that I am choosing placid options all the time, that I need to inject a bit of danger into the proceedings.  Besides, what is the worst that could happen?  If it came up, I could find a spider or a fly or a worm for Christ’s sake.  Something to kill would not be a major problem.”

So I left it on there as option 6 then I went away and got myself a can of diet coke from the fridge. 

When I came back, I threw the dice.  It came up with option four, which was ‘take a long bath’.  But I didn’t fancy that option too much so I took the liberty of throwing the dice again.  This time the number six came up.  

You know what that said… except somehow the word ‘Big’ had now got added on to the end of the instruction.  

I really have no idea how.

    *        *        *        *

The country laneway was dark and deserted as only a three a.m. July laneway can be.  I was wrapped up against the drizzle and the gloom and I wished with all my heart I had stuck with Option 4 but either I was going to honour this deal or I was going to fall back into my wayward and self destructive ways.

I came to a steel gate which hung askance on a piece of rope and I heard the noises and saw the fleeting grey shifts in perception that told me I had climbed the hill far enough.  I climbed over the gate and went into the field.  I had a bunch of ragged petrol station forecourt flowers with me, like the most pathetic suitor in the world.  I now offered then forward into the darkness, clucking gently.  With my other hand, I brandished my blackthorn walking stick and waited for something to emerge from the darkness.

Soon enough, the sheep wandered over.  If there are only been one, I would have brained the witless beast and been on my way but that’s the thing with sheep, isn’t it?  They so rarely arrive alone.  In face they came in a drove, appropriately enough, and seemed more interested in me than in my primroses.  Flowers like mine were alien to them, I suppose, but a human was normal and often came bearing hay.

They milled around me and brushed their shitty wool sides against me and I lost patience and lashed out, catching one squarely across the back.  His mates dispersed then, into the dark but the one I had hit was flattened momentarily and disorientated.  I raised my stick and creased in its head with a single blow.  The beast scrambled about and kicked my shins furiously.  I swore and hit it again and again and once again.  I could see in the gloom that one of its eyes had fallen out of its socket but even that didn’t cause me to stop.  The beast lay still now but I continued to pulp its head with my stick.

“Hey what are you – oh my God!”

Somebody had come, out of the depths of the field.  As he came towards me I could see something of him through the slack-jawed shock of his face.  He was too clean and too thin to be from this locality and, even now, over his shoulder I thought I could detect the unnatural billow of his tent.  How unlucky was that?  To choose the field with the camper in it.

He was up close to me now and his face darted from me to the mess on the grass and back again.

“What have you done?” he said again and his accent was mid European for sure.

He looked at me more closely then and this time he did not look away.  I watched carefully as he detected in me something that I was only just beginning to detect in myself.  The shock and outrage on his face fell rapidly into something more pitiful, something more defensive, something entirely more justified.

I didn’t speak to him.  It would have just been throwing words into the void, wouldn’t it?

Instead I raised my stick high once again and made a mental note that, next time, when it came to the number six, I would write down something a little less messy.