Thursday, March 09, 2006

(137) Never say never again

At around 4.30 p.m. on June 30th 1997, I went to the High Street Post Office in Hastings Old Town to send a copy of the book, The Newtonian Casino, as a gift to Nicholas Foster.

This was a most disrespectful act towards my erstwhile work colleague, Anthony Andrews, for in late 1991 he had given me the book as a gift.

I paused to glance at the newspapers, and this allowed a lady to go by me and take a place in the queue.
When her turn came to be served at the counter she announced that she would like to have back a long tubular parcel, which she must earlier have passed over the counter, because "My arithmetic was wrong."

She also asked, "Have I missed the post?"

I twisted my head to peer at the address on her parcel.

It read:

Robert Noel
"Bluemantle Pursuivante"
College of Arms
Queen Victoria Street,

The man behind the counter returned it to her and she stood to one side amending the postage. (Mr Noel is one of the four Heralds of the College of Arms.)
I sent my parcel and returned home to watch the TV game show Countdown.

A lady guest called Meryl told a brief story about an English perfume manufacturer based in Paris in the 1840s who had provided perfumes to Queen Victoria.

One was called Je Reviens and she concluded her piece by pointing out that it was an Englishman who got the company (Worth) started.
The programme’s host, Richard Whiteley, remarked that this perfume was "the sort of thing that you send to your mother at Christmas".

Whiteley commented also that Je reviens means "I will be back" in French, and mentioned a couple of people who had used that line, one of them being Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film The Terminator, before commenting that the programme itself would be back right after a commercial break.

After Countdown the next programme was The Montel Williams Show.

It began with Williams saying that one of the star performers of his previous series had been hypnotist, Paul McKenna.
He then announced "He’s back by popular demand!".

McKenna then proceeded to entrance various volunteers who had seen him on his previous appearance on the show and now wished to be hypnotized.

At one point Williams asked McKenna how we know that the crazy antics the hypnotized people were pulling were genuine. How do we know that they really are hypnotized?

He replied that there is no way of proving that the hypnotic state exists, but equally there is no way of proving that waking consciousness exists neither.

At 7.20 that evening I took down the copy of The Origin Of Species which my wife had given me the year before, in order to, for the first time, use it in making anti-Darwinian notes.

The inscription reminded me that it was a Christmas gift.

The following evening I watched a video recording that my wife had made earlier that day of the TV programme The Paranormal World of Paul McKenna.

It began with McKenna saying that one of the star performers of his previous series had been Valery Lavrinenko, and that his feats of mind over matter had aroused scepticism.

He then announced that tonight "He’s back!"

One power that Lavrinenko had previously displayed was his ability to alter his heartbeat.

This time he did it again but, to counter the sceptics, he had three different monitoring devices attached to his heart and there was also a medical doctor in attendance.
In front of cameras and a studio audience, he first sent his pulse to over one hundred and forty per minute and then down to forty.

The next day I was again watching Countdown.
In one game the two contestants were attempting to permute the longest possible word from a random selection of nine letters, and the word A-U-R-I-C appeared.

Whiteley commented that this word had also cropped up on an edition of the programme from a few days earlier. "Strange but true", he said.

As six editions of Countdown were recorded per day, it probably meant that the word would have appeared in two editions recorded on the same day.
Auric refers to trivalent gold. I also note that it is the first name of the Bond enemy, Goldfinger.

Also on July 2nd 1997, at 8 p.m., ITV broadcast a repeat of a programme about a Russian circus strong man called Dickl who had broken his back and been told by doctors that he would never walk again.

But he had gone on to confound medical theory by devising a set of strenuous exercises which had resulted in his making a complete recovery.

Dickl had resumed his act and was also the pioneer of his own self-created and self-demonstrated therapy for severe spinal injuries.

It ended with a young Englishman, who had broken his back, returning from visiting Dickl in Russia and setting about his own course of the strongman’s therapy.

In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (see Entry 128) the operation to detect Blofeld is codenamed ‘Bedlam’, and Miss Goodnight informs Bond that the College Of Arms has information on ‘Bedlam’.
Bedlam is the old name of the St Mary of Bethlehem Hospital (now London’s Great Eastern Hotel).
... ... ...
In late 1990, I was playing backgammon with Nick Foster when he used the word "atavism" to mean greed.
I corrected him by pointing out that it actually means "reversion to ancestral type" or "coming from a long way in the past", and indeed that in parts of the world where belief in reincarnation is predominant they will even refer to an atavistic impulse as stemming from a supposed previous life.

Nick argued over this, but later consulted a dictionary and conceded that I was right.

In the spring of 1991 I was working for Cornhill Publications when I noted two colleagues, Anthony Andrews (who was later that year to give me The Newtonian Casino gift) and Tim Preston, also agreeing upon the meaning of atavism as greed.

Again I corrected the usage of the term. Preston was adamant and even challenged me to a wager.

I proposed £50. He accepted, immediately consulted a dictionary, conceded that I was right… and refused to pay up!

Another colleague, John Fortesque, having observed that "that was a pretty publc bet", then asked, "What then is the meaning of the word avatar?"
I told him that it means the Hindu incarnation of a deity in human form.

Although this is the classic meaning, it can also refer to the visible manifestation or embodiment of an abstract concept or archetype or to any outstanding personality or event.

The word is of Sanskrit origin – avatara a going down, from avatarati he descends, from ava down and tarati he passes over.

On May 20th 1992, another Cornhill man, Russell Eley, wanted to show Preston up as someone who had welshed.
He asked me, in front of Preston and others, to detail the bet of the previous year.
I said that it was about the meaning of atavism.

Then Matthew Barnes asked me what the word ‘avatar’ meant. I told him what I told Fortescue.
It may be that both Fortesque and Barnes had been prompted by a reference to Gorbachev as an avatar that I had made in a letter published in the British Chess Federation newsletter in early 1991. I had been replying to criticism of my participation in a chess event in Johannesburg the previous year.

Both men had seen it when I had produced a copy in the office during a debate on sanctions against the Apartheid government, sanctions with which I did not agree.
I was not sure just what drew me to refer to him as such when writing that letter.
I myself had been uncertain of the precise meaning of the word, and looked it up after publication.

Obviously Foster, Preston and Andrews were all thinking of the word ‘avarice’.
... ... ...
On October 31st 1996, I attended a lecture in Brighton organised by the Sussex Book Group where Andrew Lycett spoke about his recently published biography of Ian Fleming.
Afterwards I chatted with him over dinner.

The next day I noticed a piece in The Daily Mail in Baz Bambigoye’s column called Friday First. It was headed:

Terence will Stamp on 007

It was rumoured that Terence Stamp would be playing the baddie in the new James Bond movie. Bambigoye said that he could reveal that this was to be called Avatar.
There was talk of Sean Connery, "an indelible former 007", being hired to portray the bad guy, but this has been termed as "absolute rubbish" by those close to the film: But with Bond flicks there’s always a tendency for surprise, so never say never again regarding Connery.
The title of the film, formerly known as Bond-18, is a Hindu term meaning the descent of a deity to earth. But in the Bond film, it refers to the earth’s reaction to a nuclear explosion.
Bond director Roger Spottiswoode plans to set Avatar on locations in Queensland, Australia, Hongkong, the Arctic Circle and Britain.
Avatar has just gone into pre-production and filming begins Down Under in February.

Before its release the film’s title was changed again to Tomorrow Never Dies.

On July 15th 1998, Tony and Kate Tyler lunched with us.

Tony’s first comment was that I looked different for having shaved off my beard. I knew Tony
quite well, but upon seeing him for the first time in a few months I thought that his nose and eyes were like those of Ian Fleming, and remarked upon this facial similarity.

He replied that years before they had stayed for several weeks in Ian Fleming’s house in Jamaica, Goldeneye, whilst Tony was writing a film script.
He had even written at the very desk at which the James Bond novels had been composed.

Apropos the similarity with Fleming, he remarked, "I am an avatar".
He was also somewhat misusing the word and meant that he was a kindred spirit or a kind of continuation of Fleming’s.

He knew nothing of my interest in coincidences nor the specific details of these Bond/Avatar incidents.

I promptly mentioned them and also printed some out to show him how his error fitted in.

On October 31st 2006 I read in Tony´s Independent obituary
that as he lay dying from a cancer that was diagnosed on October 17th and proved fatal 11 days later, he remarked that he was annoyed that he would never get to see the new James Bond film, Casino Royale, which would be starring his godson, Daniel Craig, as the new James Bond.
On July 30th 1998, British TV screened a 1991 film called Spymaker: The Early Life of Ian Fleming.
This was a semi-fictional biopic in which Fleming was played by Sean Connery’s son Jason.

Back in the frame?

And see Entry 159 for still more on the theme of Bond’s refusal to lie down, and indeed, of his anticipated arrival.

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