A Few SPECTRE Thoughts

If I had to define my relationship with the character of James Bond, I would probably have to say “It’s Complicated’. As I’ve covered elsewhere, I grew up with him, through all his incarnations, and I have regularly (but not always) been excited by the prospect of seeing the latest one, be it in book or movie form.

I saw SPECTRE on Monday evening, at the same time as the London premiere. That gave me the unusual luxury of seeing it before a general consensus about it seeped into my awareness. 

Seeing it caused me to ask myself, what is a James Bond movie now? What is it seeking to be?

Primarily, it’s seeking to make money. Let’s not be naive. But one feels the current team are trying to make money with a large quota of integrity and care thrown in. For that reason, it’s not overly silly to probe a little deeper into the motivation.

I think James Bond is now a fairy tale. Perhaps it always has been. It is a prince slaying a dragon, winning a comely maiden and claiming the spoils. I think the people who make James Bond are trying to continue to sell me this fairy tale, as an adult, without making me feel unduly childish or dim.

The Bond people have a number of tools which they employ to try to engage me in their fairy tale. These include, spectacle, a level of edginess, a dash of humour, an involvement in the actual making of the fairytale a sprinkling of human truth and, perhaps most powerful of all, nostalgia. If these things are administered correctly, the result can be a Bond film that, literally, plays fast and loose with everything but which also takes me along with it, diverted, entertained, and not made to feel like a fool.

Here, then, we have SPECTRE. 

For me, the film succeeded very well. By employing all those devices I mentioned, as well as a few more, it succeeded in carrying me along with the fairy tale one more time. Casino Royale is still the best of these modern fairy tales, and I don’t think it can be bettered, but I would go so far as to say that SPECTRE did it better than Skyfall did. I enjoyed Skyfall at the time I saw it but the effect dissipated somewhat the further away from the cinema I got. Grown men eaten by casino lizards, Loads of posturing on buildings and boats, and the worst Scottish plan ever devised all rather served to blow the fairy tale away. 

Perhaps that will happen with SPECTRE too. Strike that, of course it will. I’m a grown man and, as a little times progresses, the silliness will rise to lessen the effect of the fairy tale through inevitable DVD, Netflix and TV viewings. What will be the first thing to dispel the fairy tale? Will it be that unlikely costume change on the train. Or perhaps it will be the 48 hours of mission leeway that must have been mostly wasted by driving a posh car to Italy? Who knows?

But, hey, on the night, in the crowded cinema, far too close to the screen, there where times when I was a little bit like a boy again except this time I was enjoying the technicalities and the huge dollops of nostalgia, as much as the action.

A word for Craig, who has worked his way into becoming James Bond in a way nobody else ever has. Connery had all the advantages of being the first and thus the ‘real’ Bond. But Craig has struggled to make it fit him and by gosh he’s done it in spades.

I’ll finish with a prediction, like they do at the end of all the James Bond titles.

Daniel Craig will return, just one more time.

And the next movie title will, like the previous two, have seven letters… 

… and it will start with a ‘B’.

Is It Growing On Me or Am I Shrinking Into It?

I was asking myself this question yesterday. I don’t think I’ve come up with an answer yet but sometimes when I type it all out there is some sense at the end. Not always. Let’s see.

It’s not an earth-shatteringly important question or anything so, if you’re after one of those, you'd best rush back to Twitter because there’s probably another one due along at any minute.

It’s just about songs... and maybe some other stuff. Sometimes I hear a new song and I don’t like it very much. Then I hear it again and again and, yes, again and, suddenly, I seem to like it a little more and then a little more than that. It grows on me. Or does it? Is the song growing on me or is it more the case that I am shrinking myself into it?

Let’s take a case in point. The new Bond song. ‘The Writing’s On The Wall’. I heard it. I did not like it. I thought the higher range parts sounded strained and uncomfortable and that is was without the subtle edge that one expects from this type of thing. I heard it again, I did not like it. I heard it again, still no.

Then, on Friday night, after not hearing it for quite a while, I saw Sam Smith singing it on Graham Norton’s show. Wait. Stop the presses. I liked it a bit. Since then, it’s been in my head, I’ve been humming it a bit. The bit I like best is when it goes from the upper register to the words ‘’For you’. I still don’t love it, nor do I even like it a lot but there’s no doubt I now have more time for it that I did when I first heard it and hated it.

What’s that all about? Am I becoming more open with each listen to the tones and nuances of the production or am I just a big slut, falling for something that is being repeatedly thrown into my face?

There were a few elements at play on Friday night. Firstly, I didn’t really know anything about Sam Smith. I knew he sang songs and has been noted as a vocalist but I hadn’t really come across him much except in passing radio tunes. I thought he presented as a very likable person, nervous, vulnerable, a bit overwhelmed and chuffed and then he went and performed his song very well. I found myself on his side. Plus, he had a mid sized orchestra, all giving it heaps, some good lighting and a widescreen cinema format. I like all of these things. Add to this the fact that I knew the song a little now and I could almost feel my brain walking along the peaks and troughs of the melody as it was being sung. There is not doubt, I was being brought along gently and it was working. Also, I’m an unapologetic James Bond devotee and I’m looking forward to seeing the new one on Monday night at the same time as the World Premiere is happening. All of this contributed to an almost hypnotic state wherein I found I could at least find peace with the song.

Looking at all the evidence, I can’t help but feel that it is me who is getting more compliant in my acceptance of the tune as opposed to the wonder of the song being gradually revealed to me. It’s like an advert on the telly, which I might see over and over again, and then end up singing happily along with. It’s like that.

There you go. We got an answer.

But, wait, it’s not the only answer. There are definitely times where I gradually come to respect and, yes, love, a song where first I felt nothing for it. I’m trying to think of an example and, as I do, it’s Tom Waits who I inevitably think of. I’ve been a huge fan of Tom Waits since I was a teen and I love much of his work but, sometimes, when he brings a new album out, I don’t get what he’s doing. The work can seem gratuitously arrhythmic and random. Then, after a time, I start to see the value. Take for instance on ‘Frank’s Wild Years’, Tom has a song called ‘Please Wake Me Up’. At first it seemed impenetrable and slight but slowly the melody and the value emerged for me until now it is a personal favourite. You could look at ‘Green Grass’ from the album ‘Real Gone’ in the same way.

So, you see, sometimes it’s a real thing, this 'growing'.

I think the truth of the matter may be quite simply stated. Two people said it to me at the same time when I asked this question on Twitter yesterday. They said: It depends on the song.

That’s probably it. It depends on the song. Sometimes you fall in love legitimately, sometimes you get duped, and sometimes it’s a little bit of both.

As I told you at the start, this may not be just about a song. 

Nothing to Say

Occasionally, there comes a time when I have nothing to say. This morning is one of those. Usually there’s something in the course of a week that causes a tiny spark and you say, “Yup, I can write a little something about that,” and then you’re sorted for that week. A blog post will evolve.

But some weeks – like this week – nothing gels or, sometimes, too many things gel such that you can’t nail one down. I’d be bluffing if I said this was one of those weeks. Nope, it’s a nothing week, really.

The temptation, this morning, was clearly to write nothing at all for the blog. I’m writing quite hard on another thing so it’s not like writing would not be done. Plus nobody is going to give a flying feck if something turns up on the blog or not. It’s fine if it does and it’s equally fine if it doesn’t. The only person who cares is me. It’s a long standing part of my writing regime and if I don’t get it done, I’ve failed. 

I was going to write nothing but a creeping sense of laziness and failure has been rather spoiling my morning here and interfering with the myriad other things I have to get done. So, rather ironically, it seems that the only way I can get my important stuff done is to do this singularly unimportant stuff first.

It’s an odd feeling. Typing a line and not really having a clue what the next line or paragraph will contain. I’m usually reasonably well ‘road-mapped’ out and I nearly always know where I’m going to end up. Not today, bud.

The whole blogging thing has rather died a death anyway, hasn’t it? I enjoy the habit and I have some measure of pride in the body of writing that has slowly amassed over the years of doing it. I think it presents as good a snapshot of me as there is in the world. That’s all pretty good. But the idea of blogging to be read by others has largely fallen away. People get their fix of stuff directly from Social Media now rather than following the trail of links down to some cul-de-sac overblown diary entry. This removes some of the motivation for writing the thing too. You write it and polish it up a bit and, really, it’s ninety percent for yourself. There’s no bitterness or disappointment in that, it’s just hard not to arrive at a particular Sunday and say, ‘fuck it, let’s do something else instead,’

But I’d like to keep on. I think it helps my other writing, this weekly collating of a thought or two into eight hundred semi-coherent words. It’s like lifting a small weight to keep a bicep in trim, except the muscle in question is the elusive writing muscle.

* * * *

I’ve been on one of my John Barry kicks this week. I think it’s a heady mixture that keeps me coming back. In one part, it’s obviously the wonder that is his film music but, on an equal footing, it’s the way his film music ties inextricably into my life and how it continues to evoke moments and memories from times when the music first played. One of the stand out tracks, this week, was the end theme from ‘High Road to China’. I remember seeing it on the Friday Night Late Show in Sligo back when it first came out. I have little memory of the film but (am I projecting here?) I seem to remember a quiet satisfaction with the romance which the film contained. Listening to the music now, I can see how to feel that would have been almost unavoidable. Like his work for ‘Somewhere in Time’, John Barry often seemed to elevate the basic filmic material far beyond any place it could have ever got to without him.

* * * *

I’m currently plotting a thing. A writing thing. Everybody has different ways. For me, I can’t successfully plot until I start writing. I can do cards and matrixes and spreadsheets and wall charts and it’s all just for shite until I actually start writing. I must write something, anything at all, to get the process started. Then the jigsaw pieces start flying all over the place, multiplying, subtracting and, occasionally, satisfyingly, falling into place. It’s fine. I just wish I could remember this for the next time and stop trying to work everything out before I get going. I’ve wasted so much time trying to do that. I know it’s works for you but this is me here and I’m odd.

Have a nice day. 

Bursting Balloons

As I was telling you in last week’s post, my son John overcame a considerable fear of loud unexpected noises by seeking a little professional help. It is something I would wholeheartedly recommend you do if you have a fear or phobia that is hindering you in life.

One aspect of John’s success was a gradually increasing exposure to the stuff that bothered him. I probably shouldn’t even say that because, before you begin, the very idea of being in any proximity to the object of your fear is probably enough to keep you away. But, please rest assured, the exposure was done at a pace designed to be comfortable for the subject and, indeed, was lead by the subject at all times.

To give you an idea of the process. The first week of exposure was with balloons which were not even blown up. This may have seemed patently silly to all concerned, as indeed it did to us, but it also served a useful purpose. It made a statement that nothing hasty of threatening or pressurised was about to take place. As John and I sat with our flaccid balloons, we both felt rather idiotic but we both self safe too and that was a great place to start. 

In subsequent weeks, the exposure slowly expanded, as did the balloons. Balloons were a ready source of potential unexpected bangs and, indeed, were a particular bugbear of John’s so they were good to work with. Over the weeks, we spent a lot of time with balloons, individual balloons, pairs of balloons and, ultimately, rooms full of balloons. Eventually familiarity began to set in. A level of comfort was gained. 

We moved on to bursting balloons. First I did them all then eventually John would burst his own balloons. Then there were unexpected balloon bursts all over the house. Week by week, the exposure comfortably increased as, by inverse proportion, the problem lessened.

There was never a tangible ‘eureka’ moment. It was just an easy series of progressions towards the eradication of a problem that had, at first, seemed totally insurmountable. Perhaps the moment when the immensity of the improvement really sank in was a few years later when John emerged from a huge rock concert, having spent the entire time right at the front, loving the full assault of the earth shaking noise. If you have to start with the relative foolishness of a limp balloon to get to that then I’ll take it every time.

My abiding memory of the entire process is from the evening that John and I resolved to burst our very first balloon together. We had spent weeks, by this time, just spending hours in the company of balloons and they had become second nature to have around. Nonetheless, the bursting of one, even at an agreed moment, was still quite a considerable step forward. 

We sat on the bed and I held on to the balloon. It was agreed that, when John felt ready, he would count down from three and I would then burst the balloon with the long thin sewing needle I had at the ready. It all felt very safe and controlled. No problem at all, just the small matter of a balloon to be burst.

It took a while but John eventually got himself in the place where he could start his countdown to the bursting.

“Three, Two, One.”

I prodded the balloon with the sewing needle. 

It didn’t burst.

Oh damn. This was a critical moment. We had got to this milestone at last and I couldn’t even pop the bloody balloon. I gathered myself quickly, held the needle tight and plunged it as hard as I possibly could into the taut skin of the balloon. It burst with a satisfyingly loud bang. 

It was fine. The bang had been entirely expected and the flinch was nothing more that any of us would do in the same circumstances. It was a huge success and an undoubted key stage in the whole process. 

“Great,” I enthused, throwing in a hug for good measure, “you head off now and congratulate yourself on how well you’ve done.” 

John headed off, every bit as pleased as he deserved to be. We burst many many balloons together after that first.

As for me, after my failed first attempt at the balloon, I had perhaps been too desperate to succeed. I had hit the balloon so hard with the needle that my attack had followed through, striking the top of the bed and I had driven the back part, the eye of the needle, right through the fleshy part of my index finger. The eye had been forced in one side of my finger and out the other. I had needed to keep this on the ‘down low’ in case it became a new unwanted association with balloons. As soon as John was gone though, I was able to hop around and swear as much as was needed to punctuate the shock of seeing my finer impaled on a sewing needle. 

I pulled the needle out and it bled like a stuck pig for a while but it was fine. Subsequent balloon/needle-work was carried out using a heavily sellotaped needle. 

Oh, and my finger swelled up like a balloon, which was ironic. 

Facing Things That Scare You

One of the best parts of this year came via our eldest son John, who finished school this year and has now moved on to University. Near the end of the school year, he and three other students were asked to write and deliver a speech to their peers about where life might take them from here. John chose to speak on the subject of ‘Being Brave’. This was a memorial speech for a much loved teacher who had sadly passed away the previous year. 

At the final formal gathering of the year, the school principal quoted heavily from this speech and finished by saying that John was ‘wise beyond his years’. We, in this house, tend to concur on that point.

John’s speech talked about the importance of being brave in pursuing the things hat you are passionate about rather than those matters that society might push you towards. But the speech also went somewhere a bit more personal. 

At the podium, poised gracefully on the end of a length of string, stood a large red helium-filled balloon. Near the end of the speech, John took a long needle and burst this balloon, full in his own face. 

As a demonstration of personal bravery and of conquering one’s own personal fears, this could not have been more apt. When John was only a little mite, he had a balloon accidentally burst in his face at a family gathering and this was the start of a childhood/teenage existence defined by a very real fear of loud, sudden, and unexpected noises. 

You might say, “we all have that”, and, indeed we probably do but not to the degree where one could not remain in a room where there was a balloon or where thunderstorms brought enormous anxiety and discomfort. It was a childhood of turning up at parties and going home again on account of the decorations, of enveloping oneself in headphones when the weather was stormy, of sitting in the movies with fingers in ears until the initial burst of the advertising slogan had ended.

It might not sound like much but it was a thing which subtly coloured many other things. So subtle that it was difficult to say exactly what they were. They only came clearer when John sorted the problem out, moved on, and everything got a little bit better. 

Because that’s what he did. He sorted it and moved on and that’s the point of this week’s post. If you’ve got some kind of phobia or dread fear, it is easy to think that any potential cure is a quack remedy that will invariably fail. This is not the case. Although there are undoubtedly gimmicky quack practitioners who delight in dramatic outcomes, the professional, qualified approach is level-headed and thoughtful and it brings results. It’s the reason that John could stand in front of his classmates and burst a huge balloon inches from his face. It’s the reason that that which was once unthinkable was achieved. 

“How was it done?” you might ask. There was no magic potion or trance or Voodoo of any kind. There was a series of sessions with a psychologist (which I also attended, so I know how they went), there were discussions and exercises and a series of gently escalating exposures to the object of the fear. There were coping mechanisms for times of stress and there were clear explanation that there was nothing wrong here that could not be fixed. 

It took a few months, once a week. It was never terrifying or uncomfortable. It worked.

Very few people would actually relish having a balloon burst in their face or to be stuck in a violent thunderstorm and it’s fair to say that John probably wouldn’t relish it even today. But he could deal with it much easier now. Much easier.

It is also important to note that, even in the height of his phobia, John would always brave things whenever he absolutely had to. If he had to be in a room with a bunch of balloons, if he had to be close to a firework show, he always made it work. But the sweat-popping stress of it, and the toll it would take, made it something we could never ask him to do.  

It needed a little outside help and that outside help worked a treat.

My advice? If you have a kid who is fearful of something, find a little gentle qualified help for them. You won’t regret it.