Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A little bit of James Bond nostalgia

Recently, I found a title in a second hand book stall that I first read when I was a teenager: “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, by Ian Fleming, one of the incomparable James Bond series.

As anyone of a certain age will know, the James Bond books were a phenomenon when they first appeared in about the 1960s. Since then, they’ve been made familiar to countless movie goers through the films that were made of them starring, initially, Sean Connory as Bond, and later such worthies as Roger Moore, George Lazenby and Pierse Brosnan, to name but some. Even David Niven had a go at it at one stage.

But it was the written word in Fleming’s books that did it for me, and many others. Bond was a connoisseur of only the very best, and Fleming dropped brand names like mad. Everything from Hermes bags and other products, Aston Martin cars, Mouton Rothschild ’53 with the most routine of meals and even, on at least one occasion, Waterford Crystal glassware – James came across them all, and many, many more, in the course of his travels.

And there was more than a hint of sulphur about James Bond books. For my part, it was necessary to hide them, often in the garden hedge, as to be found reading them by parents in the early sixties was to invite trouble.

So it was nice to be able to dip into “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”. James is up to all his old tricks, smoking his head off, drinking only the best and gambling for huge stakes at a really stylish casino. By the end of chapter three he has, as expected, partaken of some serious rogering, even before he gets into the adventure proper.

But the quaintest paragraph of all comes in chapter six:

“It was at this moment that the Syncraphone in his trouser pocket began to bleep…The Synchraphone had recently been introduced and was issued to all officers attached to headquarters. It was a light plastic radio receiver about the size of a pocket watch. When an officer was somewhere in London, within a range of ten miles of Headquarters, he could be bleeped on the receiver. When this happened, it was his duty to go at once to the nearest telephone and contact his office. He was urgently needed”.

Whatever would Ian Fleming have done with the Internet?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The swan takeoff - what a pilot

Click on the image for the video

I was walking alongside the Grand Canal in Dublin towards the LUAS tram line bridge at the Charlemont stop, which is also close to the Sixth Lock canal gate on the other side, and I stopped to watch a swan swimming strongly towards me. Hello, I said, this bird is going somewhere. Her speed through the water made a prow wave either side of the swan’s breast and a wash behind. There was a real sense of purpose here.

Then the swan turned in. To feed, I thought. No, it went slightly into reverse, legs maneuvering underwater, and I realized that it was making a one-hundred-and-eighty-degree turn, to face in the direction I was walking. Then, without any further ado, it started to take off. I was right beside it. Wings flapping so that the tips actually beat the surface of the water, it rose slightly. Then the webbed feet gave additional forward thrust by seeming to run along the surface of the water. Slowly, it rose, but was also heading for the LUAS tramway bridge.

It got gradually higher, wings working away, but swans are not pigeons – because of their weight they’re ponderous in the air. In fact, I believe they are the largest bird that can still fly. The ostrich and some penguins are bigger but they’re water or earth bound. Now it was rapidly approaching the bridge and for a second it looked like it might collide with it - and that was even before it had gained enough height to clear the overhead cables that power the tram. But then there was a last, powerful surge from the wings and it was high enough to be above everything in its way. A few seconds later I saw it landing on the other side of the canal lock.

It was a magnificent spectacle. But for me the wonderful part was the obvious confidence the swan had in the distance from the bridge it knew it had to allow so that it could get over it. It seemed to know exactly where to turn after swimming away from the bridge in order to create an adequate runway for itself. Does it make that judgment every time, or has it, through trial and error in the past, established a landmark on the bank? I think the latter, because when I saw it swimming it never once looked behind – it just stopped at a certain point and turned.

I have been able to find videos of swans taking off and there is a link to one above. For me this is one of the many wonders of nature, but most times they have lots of space in which to get airborne. The takeoff I saw was special.