Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Bond Equipe GT

The usual exquisite boredom of flight was mitigated by Classic Cars, a nice bit of car porn that included an article on the Bond Equipe.

It was the first sportscar I ever rode in and it was one of the early pretty ones, built between 1963 and 1967.

It belonged to my father’s senior partner in the practice; I have no idea why he bought it. Presumably it was a fun car to drive and a fun car to own; the early single headlight Equipe isn’t a bad looking car even today, especially from the front and ¾ sides.

My memories of it are hazy; it was in a sort of gunmetal grey that was extremely fashionable in the 1960s (see a certain spy’s Aston Martin). It also had a non-standard chrome mascot of a show jumper bolted on the centreline between the handsome cupped headlights – reminiscent of so many sports cars of the period from MGs to Ferraris. It may have had wire wheels or I may be imagining that; we are talking some of my earliest memories here; perhaps pre-1968.

I can only remember one or two rides in it; presumably when my father’s Mini Traveller was being serviced. After the Mini the interior seemed luxurious; I believe there was a rev counter, a wooden dashboard, bucket seats and a rather lovely wooden steering wheel. It also sounded rather gorgeous – manufacturers were unrestrained by noise requirements back then and could tune exhausts to make the most agricultural engines sound really rather potent and sporty.

There’s one specific moment I can remember clear as day (so it must have been very vivid). I remember asking Dad if we could overtake the car in front, and he said “Oh yes, easily.” Then he dropped the Equipe down a gear or two and we stormed past something like a Morris Minor on wave of torque and somewhat strained revs.

There’s a happy postscript to the story. As far as I know the Bond is still with the original family and was due for restoration a few years ago.

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The Constant Gardener

Having a few days off gave me the chance to crack a book or two; amongst several was John Le Carre's The Constant Gardener.

Le Carre is a really fine writer, and if he didn't limit himself to genre novels, typically espionage fiction, then I suspect he'd be regarded as one of the best British writers of the 20th century.

The Constant Gardner is largely set amongst the diplomatic community of Kenya, but the whole aid business gets a stern examination by the liberal yet very cynical Le Carre.

There was one passage that really impressed me. It goes a long way to explain the allure of aid work and why people do it. A British Indian lady who works at the embassy visits an aid centre called Loki:

Shrieks of delighted recognition pierced the evening air as aid workers from distant places rediscovered each other in different languages, embraced, touched faces and walked arm in arm. This should be my spiritual home, she thought wistfully. These are my rainbow people. Their classlessness, their racelessness, their zeal, their youth are mine. Sign up for Loki and tune in to saintliness! Bum around in aeroplanes, enjoy a romantic self-image and the adrenaline of danger! Get your sex out of a tap and nomadic life that keeps you clear of entanglements! No dreary office work and always a bit of grass to smoke along the way! Glory and boys when I come out of the field, money and more boys waiting for me on my R and R! Who needs more?

That's not bad for a white middle class writer approaching old age who (to my knowledge) has never worked for a second on humanitarian aid work. The observation and insight are impressive.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Christmas




I'm off to some sun and sand and reinforced concrete for the next few days.

In the meantime... Have a happy Christmas and thanks for reading the blog.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Ascent



Jed Mecurio is one of those irritatingly talented people that could have had at least three rewarding careers.


A qualified doctor, he is also an RAF trained jet fighter pilot. But he's achieved fame and fortune in neither of those fields - instead he's a novelist and TV dramatist.


In 1992 he wrote and helped produce the best medical television drama ever; Cardiac Arrest. Some years later came the second best medical television drama ever; Bodies. If you've never seen either of these series, I suggest you buy the DVDs and then draw the curtains and forget about going out next week-end.

Both series were written with a high degree of expert knowledge, and it's this sense of technical accuracy that links them with the novel Ascent. It is a beautifully written, terse and yet harrowing story of a fighter pilot who becomes a cosmonaut just as the United States is finally drawing ahead in the race to put a man on the moon. The most unexpected effect of the book was the admiration I began to feel for the Soviet space program.

Built literally on the rubble of a smashed country (26,000,000+ dead in 1941-45), unable to draw upon great financial or technological strengths and handicapped by a cruel and stupid political system, the program relied on inspired engineering and tremendous courage.

Amazingly, for the over a decade the system worked; from Sputnik 1 (1957) to Soyuz (1966) the U.S.S.R was "the" space nation with a string of firsts and record breaking missions.
Ascent celebrates and commemorates technology and people, both of which manage to transcend the vile system that nurtures them. There's also a great sense of reality, whether it's the feeling and effects on the body of pulling 6G in the cockpit of a MiG 15, or the sensation of sickness and disorientation while performing an EVA in the cold blackness of outer space.

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