Monocle Husky


As usual, I was ashamed to find that the film I most wanted to see at this year's London Film Festival was an ancient one rather than a new release. In this case, I Know Where I'm Going!, which callmemadam names as her favourite Powell and Pressburger film.

I loved it too: the Scottish traditions rubbing shoulders with modern warfare, and the heroine who has to choose between the comfortable, planned path her life is taking and an attractive stranger. John Laurie in a small role (and also thanked in the credits for his assistance with the ceilidh) was a bonus, as was the cameo by the two spaniels I now know were Michael Powell's and pop up in several of his films.

I did also go to see a new film, though! Benediction is about the life of Siegfried Sassoon, and if that wasn't enough of an incentive for me, Peter Capaldi plays the poet in his later years. When I arrived at the Curzon Mayfair, I joined what I thought was a queue to get into the cinema but turned out to be Who/Suicide Squad fans waiting for a glimpse of P-Cap.

The story of Siegfried Sassoon, as far as I can gather, is that he really wants a loving, stable relationship, but keeps falling for total bastards, so has to marry a woman, which doesn't go well for him either. The film was made with the blessing of his son George's estate, which made me wonder about the other real people in it, many of whom (e.g. Ivor Novello) did not come across in a flattering light.

Most accounts of his life concentrate on the Great War; this went decades beyond it, but there were plenty of flashbacks to show the war never really left him. This is a sad and moving film, though it was Wilfred Owen's words that made me burst into tears towards the end.

I thought Jack Lowden, who plays the young Sassoon, was superb, so I was delighted when I looked him up on IMDB and discovered he is to be River Cartwright in the upcoming TV adaptation of Mick Herron's Slow Horses series of spy novels, which I love.

After the screening, the director came on stage for questions, along with some of the actors. This was, of course, chiefly exciting to me for the chance to gaze at Capaldi in the wild (shorter than he seems on TV):

Cast and crew of Benediction on stage
Casino Royale


The wait is finally over and Daniel Craig's final Bond film, No Time To Die, has been unleashed on the world a mere two years late.

There's been a lot of debate in the fandom about where to see it and what to wear for the occasion (yes, really). My chief consideration was seeing it with Howard, as we've watched all of Craig's tenure together, starting in 2006 with Casino Royale.

My local cinema, the Everyman, was doing an Opening Night Event on Thursday with black tie and cocktails, and since it's a couple of minutes' walk up the road, I went for it. We enjoyed martinis and canapés before settling down in our double seat and waiting. And could order more drinks from your seat, and people were also wandering back to the bar. Eventually a member of staff came out and told us the bar was closed so the film could start.

"Are you ready for 25 minutes of ads and trailers?" he asked.

"No!!!" we responded.

"Oh, you want to wait some more?"

Then the lights went down and, mercifully (for the film is nearly 3 hours long), we went straight into the roaring MGM lion.


No spoilers but I loved it. I don't think it will settle into my top ten, but as a first watch I was captivated. I stayed till the end of the credits to find out whether JAMES BOND WILL RETURN, and cheered when it transpired he would. I can't wait to see what form he will take next and where the story will go. (I have Theories.)

I'd taken Friday off, and spent it dragging Howard around central London to look at all the exciting Bond things. The Burlington Arcade is currently given over to 007, featuring luxury Bond brands: Omega watches, N. Peal knitwear, Bollinger champagne. The Omega shop has acquired M's desk and will let you sit at it for photos, under portraits of Bernard Lee and Judi Dench.

Everywhere we went, people wanted to talk about Bond and if we'd seen it and what we thought. My Twitter feed has been little else all week. I've not known such excitement about a film since...well, since GoldenEye, which came out in 1995 after a six-year Bond drought (it is also six years since 2015's Spectre). I'm sorry I missed mid-Sixties Bondmania, but this will do.


Casino Royale

Weekend Bonding

So, I don't know if you've heard, but there's a new Bond film out this week. And people are pretty excited about it, perhaps because it's been delayed for so long (originally scheduled for November 2019), perhaps because there hasn't been much to get excited about lately, or much that is British that merits excitement.

This weekend saw a couple of Bond events, and I indulged myself by going to both.

Saturday was Bond Day at the Shuttleworth Collection, featuring an autogyro fly-in and a large presence from the Aston Martin owners' club.

My internet friend and fellow Bond and aviation enthusiast Gary was there with his wife, dad, sister and nephew, and invited me to join the family party. We had a lovely picnic, then wandered up and down the rows of cars, marvelling at their beauty and how much they must cost. Our favourites were the older ones; there were DB-4s, a 3, a 2, and one pre-First World War model from when the company had only just become Aston Martin rather than Bamford.

There was a car kitted out with fun Bond accessories, including an 'ejector seat' that flipped a plush Gromit a foot in the air from the passenger seat, and there was a genuine film star, the Volante B549 WUU from The Living Daylights.

On the autogyro front, Little Nellie from You Only Live Twice, who lives at the museum, was on display, along with over a dozen autogyros flown in by their owners for the occasion. We saw several of the funny little things in flight and it was thrilling.

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On Sunday, I met Howard down in Sussex for Amberley Museum's James Bond weekend.

The museum's site was once chalk pits, and it was used as the location for baddie Max Zorin's Main Strike Mine in A View to a Kill. Amberley retains the mine entrance, train and trucks alongside its vintage vehicles, electrical appliances, craftspeople, exhibitions documenting the area's industrial heritage, and more.

The first thing we did (after lunch) was to board a sweet little steam train that chugs along a track with three little stations. As we travelled we found ourselves overtaking Zorin's train on the other branch, which delighted me.

I loved the 'Electricity' hall, full of electrical items from days gone by that all looked like utter deathtraps (portable electric bath, anyone?). I was especially taken with the 1930s nightlight shaped like a Scottie with light bulb eyes, just the thing for comfort after dark and not terrifying at all, and a display entitled 'A century of domestic light switches'.

Then we visited Zorin's train, where museum staff in coveralls and Zorin Industries hard hats showed us how the controls work and let us pose on the engine for photographs.

We watched the Astons set off for a lap around the grounds, attended a talk by Bond stuntmen then headed home.

Keeping my fingers firmly crossed until I'm actually seated in the cinema watching this film, mind.


Cat Air

(no subject)

It was my birthday on Thursday, and I took a couple of days off because why not? I had also been promised a very great treat on Friday if the weather was kind.

It was!


My friend David gained his pilot's licence last year despite everything else that was going on, and is now the proud part-owner of a four-seat Cessna 172. Howard and I boarded at Elstree, in north London (I got to go in the front because it was my birthday) and flew to Old Buckenham in Norfolk for lunch.

The Cessna was built in 1977, making it the same age as me. I chose to find this delightful rather than worrying. It wasn't my first time in a light aircraft but it's always strange. Passenger comfort and legroom are about what you'd expect in a small family car from the same era, and it feels, if anything, less sturdy, because there isn't much to crash into up there.

The takeoff, after rigorous pre-flight checks, was rapid, and I lost sight of our starting point almost immediately. From this height, below the clouds, there was plenty to look at: cars on the M11, fields bordered by hedgerows, swimming-pools in gardens and, excitingly, a line of Apaches on the ground at RAF Wattisham. Meanwhile David switched frequencies as we passed from one sphere of air traffic control to the next, reporting our height and flight plan and receiving occasional instructions in return.

It was quite something to walk into the clubhouse at Old Buckenham through the airside gate, rather than from the car park as I have done previously. We had lunch and strolled around the little museum dedicated to the USAAF 453rd Bombardment Group, based here during the Second World War, whose members included James Stewart and Walter Matthau.

Our return flight took us as close to Duxford, where the Battle of Britain Air Show was in progress, as the tower at Cambridge would let us. I spotted a white and red biplane below us, our relative speeds making it look stationary, and we listened in as the pilots of a Spitfire and Mustang talked to the controller.

We landed back at Elstree in the perfect golden light of late afternoon. We'd logged under two hours of flight time, yet it was a full and wonderful day.

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Pertwee bike

The Dalek Factor

I have a BFI membership for two reasons. Firstly, to support the great work they do, and secondly because anything Dr Who-related sells out before tickets go on sale to the general public. (10% off drinks at the bar is nice, too.)

This weekend, my friend Hannah came down from points north to see The Evil of the Daleks with me.

Finding ourselves near Westminster Bridge, we took the opportunity to visit the spot where George Lazenby posed for publicity photos:

The story we viewed is a Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) adventure, one of many whose original recording has been wiped so only fans' off-the-telly tapes of the soundtrack existed. The sound has now been polished up and added to an animated interpretation of the visuals. It's also the story that introduced companion Victoria.

I enjoyed the reanimation of The Faceless Ones, which I saw at the BFI near enough to the coming lockdown for special guest Anneke Wills to announce that she wouldn't be doing hugs or handshakes, and I had high hopes for this one. It was beautifully done, and I found the Daleks properly menacing as they glided smoothly around (rather than clunking and wobbling as I suspect they did in the original version). There were, once again, little visual jokes in the background: [Spoiler (click to open)]one of the coats of arms in the mansion house was labelled ECCLESTON, so I started keeping a careful watch on the others. And the story is a cracker, in which the Doctor is forced to inject the 'human factor' into some test Daleks so they can figure out why the humans keep winning, with some unexpected results.

Afterwards we had a drink in the BFI bar, which was open, busy and reassuringly normal-seeming. Then we had another drink because the train Hannah had been planning to catch had been cancelled and there wasn't another for an hour.

Mallory Park

A View To A Swim 5: Wednesday

All good things must come to an end, and it was time to plan a route back to the Eurotunnel. Well, after visiting the supermarché on the other side of the roundabout and buying so many French treats I had difficulty carrying my bag down to the bike.

I stopped at a bar in a tiny crossroads town for a coffee and a chocolate-coated almond, planning to have lunch somewhere around Abbéville. I thought this would probably take the form of a supermarket sandwich, perhaps an omelette or croque-monsieur if I was lucky and passed the right place at the right time.

Instead, I happened upon a restaurant with a big OUVERT sign and easy parking on the pavement outside, and decided to give it a go. And so I lunched at La Picardière in Épagne-Épagnette, and had a wonderful meal.

I ordered dorade royale with the vague notion it was some sort of fish, in hollandaise sauce because I overheard a diner at the next table ask for that. It arrived under a silver cloche, accompanied by neat little cubes of dauphinoise potatoes, mashed vegetables, and cabbage wrapped in bacon.

callmemadam asked me if there were pink tablecloths, this being her definition of French fine dining. There were. I asked for coffee and was given the coffee menu so I could choose which variety of beans I wanted. Around me, groups of friends or family talked quietly over their leisurely meals.

The proprietor wished me Bonne route, and I was on my way again. I arrived at the Eurotunnel in plenty of time for my train, even hopeful of catching an earlier one, but the queue for passport control put paid to that ambition. Another biker joined me as I waited for the call to board and we started chatting, as bikers will. He turned out to be heading back to East Dulwich, about ten minutes away from my place.

I arrived home having covered 500 road miles since Friday...not to mention 2.5k in the water.
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A View To A Swim 4: Tuesday

On Tuesday, I set off to do something I'd wanted to do ever since slemslempike posted about it years ago.

I was going to Parc Astérix.

I was a little cheesed off to be charged for parking a motorbike, a first for me in France (in fact, charging for parking at all seems mean, since you'd only be there to visit the park), but it wore off as I walked through the entry and saw the charming, themed shops and stalls spread out before me, with a giant Asterix overseeing his kingdom from a mountain peak like a benign Olympian. I got a coffee in a paper cup with Dogmatix on and sat down with a map of the park to plan my attack.

The first thing I saw was a Roman centurion putting her legionaries through their drill. Of course, they all got it wrong and had to do press-ups. I retreated when they started looking for recruits, and joined the queue for the '4D cinema', where 3D glasses, moving seats and splashes of water let you experience life in the Gaulish village and a fight with some Romans.

Most of the rides I went on were family-friendly; my favourites are the kind where you are transported gently round the park looking at scenes and characters, or ride a slow-moving carriage that eventually trundles into a pool of water and soaks you (I had wet pants for much of the day). But right at the end I queued for the mighty 'Tonnerre de Zeus', an old-style wooden roller coaster that rattled along magnificently and was thrilling without being terrifying. I also loved sitting at a circular bar with my legs dangling, drinking a virgin mojito, while the whole outfit slowly climbed into the air and began to revolve for a panoramic view of the park.

The day flew by, thanks in part to how much of it I spent in queues. A quick trip to the gift shop, where a cuddly Dogmatix insisted on following me home, and I headed back to my hotel to take a COVID test and upload the (negative) result in the hope I would be allowed back in the UK the following day.

Then I celebrated my successful trip with a nice meal outside a bar, on the town square, by the fountain, as the sun went down. This was the sort of thing I'd missed.



Casino Royale

A View To A Swim 3: Monday

Because swimming is a low impact sport, I slept well and woke up ready for a day out.

I had booked a ticket to tour the chateau, so I could see it at my leisure. My chief interest was finding bits used in A View To A Kill, but I also enjoyed the story of Psyche and Cupid told in stained glass, the collection of Books of Hours, and the many sculptures of dogs. I walked along the Grand Canal for a bit, marvelling that the day before I'd been in it.

Monday turned out to be the day all the shops were closed, but the cafés were open, and I had an ice cream with whipped cream on top. (Whipped cream is 'chantilly' in French, so how could I not sample this famous local product?)

The previous day I'd noticed a little free library in a box outside the station, so today I brought along a spare Bond book I'd packed for this very eventuality. By pleasing serendipity, I was able to swap it for a Saint novel in French.

Then I hopped on a local train, and two stops later I was in Paris!

Mut met me at Gare du Nord and we wandered along the Seine. I had, inevitably, requested we check out another couple of AVTAK locations, but really this was just an excuse for a nice stroll in the sunlit early evening, while I marvelled at landmarks. We ended up at an outside bar right on the river, sharing a charcuterie platter over drinks and catching up on the couple of years since we'd seen each other.

I was back at the station in plenty of time for my return train, and went to bed much tireder and stiffer after all the walking than from the previous day's efforts.


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A View To A Swim 2: Sunday

Sunday was event day, specifically the 2.5km swim at the Chateau de Chantilly, part of the Castle Race Series of sports festivals.

I'd signed up when I realised Chantilly features in A View To A Kill as baddie Max Zorin's French HQ and horse-racing base. What a fun way to visit a Bond location and perhaps raise some money for charity! I selected Unicef for the latter, as the late Roger Moore was one of their ambassadors for many years.

I was a little sad and daunted at the prospect of doing the event without Howard to cheerlead, take care of my glasses, and stop me from freaking out too much. Luckily, I discovered that Chantilly is just 20 minutes by train from Paris Gare du Nord, which meant my Paris-based pal Mut was able to join me on the day.

We met at the station and made our way to the venue, where I negotiated the maze of registration, COVID documentation and temperature check, collecting my race pack, changing into my wetsuit, and presenting myself at the start line when they called for les bonnets bleus to come forward.

Here, a jolly French gentleman cheered us into the water in turn: "Alice, from London! Trois, deux, un...ALLEZ ALLEZ ALLEZ!"

I slid into the Grand Canal and began two laps around a series of inflatable buoys, accompanied by a spotter in a kayak to help out if I got in trouble and steer me round the course correctly.

The first bit is always the worst. It's cold, I'm tired already, there is no way I can keep this up. Then you get into the rhythm, the next buoy slowly approaches, then you're past it and looking ahead to the next one in the distance. Slowly, weed wrapping itself around my face and legs, I made it round the outside of the T-shaped course and on to the second lap.

By this time I knew I could do it; I just had to keep going, and breathing, and moving my arms and feet. As I motored down the final straight towards the green finish arch, the kayakers yelled encouragement and applauded. A kind French woman gave me her hand to haul me out, and I was done. Mut found me clutching my medal, a banana and a paper cup of water, and reunited me with my glasses.

I had warned Mut from past experience that after the swim I would be tired, talkative, clumsy, eat everything in sight and make poor decisions. He guided me gently to a creperie, where we had savoury pancakes with cheese and ham, then I saw him off at the station and went to see a French film.

Going to the cinema in a foreign country is something I've always wanted to do for some reason, and when I saw there was a screening of retro spy spoof OSS 117: Alerte Rouge en Afrique Noire, it was as if they had put it on especially for me. Some of the dialogue was beyond me but most of the gags were visual, and I had a good time.

My final adventure for the day was getting a Chinese takeaway and eating it in my hotel room.

Here, I was overwhelmed to discover that my very generous friends and family had more than doubled my fundraising target amount, with the total currently standing at £1,225 (and my JustGiving page still open for business).

Mission accomplished. Now I could relax and have some fun with my remaining two days in France.

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