The Spy Who Loved Me

Where Has Everybody Gone?

"Where did you say you and your friend were going?" asked my flatmate.

"Oh, a stately home with nice gardens."

"...annnd?"

"...and it's a Bond location."

I had the day off, and had arranged to meet my chief Bond-nerd pal M at Stonor Park, best known to me and countless other fans as the MI6 safe house in The Living Daylights whence the defecting Russian general is snatched by baddie Necros disguised as a milkman.

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You can't currently tour the house, but you can explore the grounds and walk round the gardens, and really it was just an excuse for a day out in these limiting times.

I was surprised by what a real and magical thrill it was to sweep up the drive and catch sight of the house just the way James Bond does (I'd somehow assumed there would be a separate entrance for tourists).

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I was late due to missing my exit off the M4, but met M in the car park, where we caught up over our packed lunches and Jack Wolfskin flasks of coffee before walking round the pretty walled garden. Tourism done, it was on to the nerd part.

I had brought the model Huey I built in lockdown, carefully swaddled in bubble wrap, so I could take its photograph at the location it appears in the film. Here it is: the nerdiest forced-perspective shot:



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As we searched for a good spot I accidentally attracted some free-ranging chickens, and they followed us about.

Half a mile up the road is White Pond Farm, now a B&B, where Necros kills the milkman and steals his float in order to infiltrate the safe house. We made a quick photo stop here, and got a smile from one of the residents, who is probably used to this sort of thing.

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We parted after this, M heading north to pick up the M1 while I went back the way I had come, through Henley-on-Thames. It was a silly, fun, nerdy day out and I loved it.
Swimming

Deep Waters

I've been continuing my open water swims in the Beckenham lake. We'll see if I keep it up as we move into autumn and riding home in bike gear over swimming gear becomes even less appealing than it already is.

As a possibly ill-advised challenge, I have signed up for a 1 mile open water swim at Hever Castle in Kent at the end of September.

("That doesn't give you much time to train!" says my flatmate.

...'train'?)

1 mile is the shortest distance option, but I've never done anything like this before and frankly I'm bricking it a little. Although I can swim front crawl perfectly well, I mostly do breast stroke outdoors because who wants to stick their face in a lake? So I imagine I will be immediately left behind and humiliated by a pack of superfit greased-up triathletes.

To ensure I turn up on the day and don't back out, I'm doing it as a fundraiser for a former colleague.

Sam is a lovely bloke who lost his wife Lauren to cancer in August, and was made redundant in July. He's looking for a way he can balance working with taking care of their young daughter Molly as a lone parent.

The #HelpTheRobinsons fund was started so Sam, Lauren and Molly could afford some special trips to make memories in the time they had left. Now it's helping Sam look after Molly without having to worry about money for a while.

Take a look, and donate if you wish!

Obviously I will share a thrilling account of the event here when it's done, and probably post a swimming-costume pic for your amusement. If I reach my £250 target, I won't even suck my tummy in.
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It's A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood

I've been watching Daniel Tiger's Neighbourhood, a gentle educational cartoon for preschool children, as an antidote to everything else in the world being so horrid.

My flatmate has got pretty into it too, and we spend a lot of time advising each other to "use your words!" or "try new food cos it might taste good" (she got me to eat a tomato this way. It did not taste good). This morning I found myself singing "Pick up, clean up, put away / Clean up, every day" while putting things in the bin.

We are also a little too interested in Prince Tuesday, the Land of Make Believe's resident teenage hottie.



Anyway, thank you all for being my neighbours!
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Swimming

Something Cooling

It was scorching at the weekend, and I was very glad to get out of London and hit the beach. This is Osmington, near Weymouth in Dorset. It's rocky and seaweedy, with a steep path to the beach and not much parking, so it was reasonably quiet. And once you get in the water, it's lovely. Here's the sea. Background: Portland and some cruise ships bobbing around with nothing to do (there were 8 in total).

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We even got a small flypast from this chap, which I think was a Boeing Stearman.

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I commissioned this artwork a while ago from jetsetspy, and it was opportunely finished at the perfect time to enjoy it. It's based on this 1969 swimming-pool design by Verner Panton, which is very much my happy place.

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The Spy Who Loved Me

Scaling New Heights

I've mentioned before that lockdown has helped me rediscover my love of model kits. Yesterday I finished my latest project.

Citroën brought out the 007 Edition 2CV to tie in with For Your Eyes Only, in which James Bond drives a yellow 2CV through the Corfu countryside.

When I found out there was an aftermarket set of 007 decals, and resin headlights in the 1970s/80s square style, designed to go on Tamiya's 1:24 scale 2CV kit, I was hooked.

I took a lot of care over this one, dry brushing the seats to give a worn effect, using masking tape to do the chrome trim, and spending hours applying the tiny bullet hole decals (including my initials in Morse over the left rear wheel), and I'm really pleased with how it's turned out:

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Cat Air

Responsible

Way back at the start of lockdown, I registered for the NHS Volunteer Responders scheme - partly because it seemed like the right thing to do, partly because it would allow me to go out on my motorbike at a time when non-essential travel was frowned on.

You can volunteer to give patients a lift to hospital, deliver prescriptions or chat with people in isolation. Since it wouldn't be appropriate to give vulnerable people a pillion ride, and the idea of ringing a total stranger for a chat fills me with horror, I signed up as an NHS Transport Volunteer and downloaded the Good SAM app to my phone.

Nothing happened for several months, then a couple of weeks ago a siren alert sounded, scaring the pants off me, and I fumbled around in the app trying to find out what to do.

I phoned the person in need, who couldn't hear me properly, had no idea who I was and what I wanted, and was clearly worried by the whole thing. (I had assumed I would be talking only to pharmacists, not actual people.) I hung up, selected the option to pass the call to another volunteer, and was so traumatised that the next couple of times I got an alert I refused it immediately.

This morning I got another alert, for someone just a couple of streets away, and decided it was time to change. I called the provided number, established that their prescription was waiting in the pharmacy at Sainsbury's, collected and delivered it.

An hour later I got another alert and accepted it. It turned out to be another Sainsbury's job, so I regretted being so eager on the first one.

I'm not sure why things have suddenly kicked off after months of silence, but I signed up to do my bit and now I'm finally doing it.
Swimming

Go Jump in a Lake

Outdoor swimming-pools are one of the things that have reopened, and as I've been missing swimming a great deal, I booked a slot this morning for the swimming lake in Beckenham Place Park.

The lake opened last summer and I kept meaning to go but didn't get round to it. This year has taught me many harsh lessons about making time for the things you want to do.

Reading the regulations, and surveying the swimmers on arrival, I was pretty nervous about it. I don't own a wetsuit or a tow float. I couldn't find my prescription goggles. I was probably gonna drown, or get shouted at, which would be worse. (In the end I swam in my glasses, which looks super dorky but at least ensures I can find my clothes again.)

It was fine, of course. I was given an orange inflatable float to clip round my waist, I took off my bike gear on the grass and waded in. There were very dedicated, serious triathlete types and there were people just going for a nice gentle circuit, and there was plenty of room for all. Big dragonflies and little blue damselflies darted above the water, while teenage coots dabbled about.

I arrived home just in time to attend an online meeting while wearing a towelling robe.

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Cat Air

Adventures in Space, Time and Plumbing

Last night I went to an Actual Pub for the first time since March, which was very exciting. When the opening of pubs was announced, I joined most people in saying 'that sounds like a terrible idea', but my local, the Alma, seemed to be doing a responsible job, so I met two friends for a post-work pint.

When I entered I was asked to sanitise my hands, and had my temperature taken with a scanner. Orders were placed at your seat, and paid for, cards and contactless only, on delivery. It was reassuring, civilised, and nice and quiet. Might try a meal next time.

I needed a pint in me for the evening's entertainment. Earlier this week, someone on Twitter posted a clip from a half-hour documentary promoting Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and hosted, for reasons unknown, by Pierce Brosnan, who goes absolutely overboard on the drama ("He is a legend...that goes by many names...").

Since apparently I am Twitter's go-to person for making affectionate fun of Pierce, several people pointed it out to me with the suggestion that it would be fun to watch together. We agreed on 8pm Friday, and I think about a dozen of us hit Play on YouTube simultaneously so we could appreciate it in likeminded company.

Favourite line: "At that time a full-grown cow would have been the size of a Great Dane!"

Here's the full thing (not much Alan Rickman content, callmemadam, sorry).



Today's adventure was getting to know a little more about how taps work, since a few days ago the cold one in the kitchen became stiff and would only produce a dribble of water. I consulted the internet, shut off the water supply under the sink and took the tap apart. There was nothing visibly amiss, so I cleaned out the gunk and made sure all the parts were moving, then reassembled. It's behaving properly again, though I'm watching it like a hawk in case it tries any funny business.
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More Zoo

Because zoos need our support to keep taking care of their animals (as one zoo owner put it in an interview, "you can't furlough an otter", I felt I was doing no less than my duty in going to two zoos within a week.

Wildwood near Herne Bay in Kent specialises in British animals, including animals we used to have before we killed them all off, so wolves, lynx, bison and brown bears. On Saturday I went along to one of their evening sessions with my old flatmate Calgor and his partner.

It was a cool, sunny evening after a grey and rainy day, and the light was particularly perfect as we photographed the fallow deer.

We walked through the red squirrel enclosure without seeing any red squirrels, and took the rope bridge (enclosed!) across the bear enclosure, where we very much did see one of the bears strolling up and down by the fence. We lingered for as long as we felt we could (social distancing meant little knots built up behind you if you stood still too long) looking down at the wolves, who were mostly loafing about while one fellow trotted around on important wolf business. I also loved the arctic foxes, who were snuggled up next to each other.

Once again there were timed entry slots, a one-way system and no indoor exhibits, but they were more relaxed about eating and drinking on the premises, meaning I could fortify myself for the ride home with a hot dog and a latte. It was very good to catch up with friends I hadn't seen since before lockdown, and I hope we can have a socially distant barbecue or something soon.

Arctic fox rolls
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Fallow deer
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A wolf who's apparently seen something interesting behind it
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Leggy lynx
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:)

Going To The Zoo, Zoo, Zoo

I took yesterday off to see my friend M for the first time since lockdown. Our original plan was to meet somewhere off the M11 and go for a country walk, but his local zoo, Shepreth Wildlife Park, announced it was opening, so we booked tickets.

The lockdown rules included timed entry and no eating or drinking in the zoo itself, so we met half an hour before our entry time to enjoy a picnic in the car park. We were tremendously excited to see each other and at the prospect of animals, and the stroke of noon saw us marching through the gates.

The otters were snoozing in a sunny pile, as were the meerkats (except for the poor soul on guard duty). The tiger, with a huge enclosure full of grass and toys, was lying on the concrete by the gate of its enclosure, presumably because that's where lunch arrives.

There was a one way system in place, but as long as you obeyed it you could go round as many times as you liked, so we did a second circuit and were lucky enough to see some of the animals that had been elusive on our first go.

The red pandas and Scottish wildcats were having their enclosures cleaned, so they were more active, and peering into one dark hutch revealed the pretty pardine genet, which looks just like a cat until you see its face.

The big treat, though, was a maned wolf. These are one of the zoo's main (mane) attractions, but a sign told us they're shy and you are unlikely to catch them outside their shelter, so we were delighted to see one lying in the long grass, moving its huge fluffy ears around like radar dishes.

Although the inside exhibits were closed, and you couldn't pet the bunny rabbits, we still managed to spend two and a half hours in there. The rules also included no sitting down, so we were pretty tired by this point and needed another small picnic before we could take to our separate vehicles for the journeys home.

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