When I was fifteen or so, on a family holiday in Majorca, I befriended a group of local Spanish kids. They were older than me and led by Juan, an eighteen year old whose father was one of the richest men on the island. Juan drove Number Five, a Ferrari red catamaran that his father had co-piloted to third place in the world speedboat championship a few years before. It was a monster.
I mention this because my research trip to Monte Carlo last week (see Toilet Humour
), reminded me that for most men, the meaning of life (beyond beer, football and sex) is really the pursuit of as many "Bond moments" as possible. Bond moments like the one where I dived off the rocks in front of the villa where we were staying, swam across to where Juan, his girlfriend and the girl who'd caught my eye down at the harbour were waiting for me on Number Five, twin Lamborghini V12s idling, and then roared away to a hidden inlet where we moored up for the day. Double O-tastic!
Monte Carlo was, of course, the basis for the fictional resort of Royale-Les-Eaux in Casino Royale. And I have to admit our trip (I was with the missus) did start auspiciously enough, as we were whisked away from cattle class on sleazyjet to a waiting helicopter and the five minute dash along the Cote d'Azur. We arrived at the hotel, as you can imagine, shaken but not stirred.
A day at the pool was followed by dinner up in Eze - a beautiful medieval village perched on a rocky outcrop that can only be reached by a bridge. Again things went well - the Maitre D' greeted me with the classic Bond line - "Welcome back, Mr Twining. Your usual table?" He showed us to a small table on a private balcony with an unbelievable view over the sea. The Sommelier even complemented me on my choice of wine - "Excellent choice, Monsieur Twining. The spiciness will offset the richness of the beef perfectly" - as if I was Robert Parker. So far, so Bond.
And then I got the bill.
All 565 Euros of it. That's $895 or £448 in real money. Victoria's bloody caviar had cost 300 Euros. We'd misread the menu and thought it was 10 Euros for ten grams, not 10 Euros a gram. That's almost a street price. Bond, of course would have just won the necessary cash in a bet with a crippled megalomaniac or had it flown in by a busty intern at the Treasury. No such luck for me. Instead I had to play it cool and make it look like this was the sort of bill I regularly fielded. A sort of Monte Carlo equivalent of a trip to the local chippy.
Things got worse when I got back to the hotel to get changed for the casino. Don't forget that this was to be the realisation of a long held ambition to play the tables in the most famous casino in the world. Not to mention adding to the list of Bond locations I've visited (what do you mean that's sad?) Then I realised. I'd forgotten my cuff links. My big Bond moment, and my cuffs were flapping around my wrists like Austin bloody Powers. It was too late to buy any replacements as all the shops were shut. So I had to wear paperclips instead. Double O my ass.
The casino itself was beautiful. Truly amazing. The clientele a little less attractive - the men (mostly Russian) were as old and fat as the women (mostly knockout) were young and thin. But as you can imagine, feeling somewhat self-conscious that everyone would think I was being sponsored by Staples and having seen Victoria hoover down 300 Euros of raw fish eggs, I wasn't exactly feeling like bigging it up on the tables. Even so, we decided to chance our arm and in true Bond fashion, gamble our way out of trouble. We lost a hundred Euros in about two minutes flat. License to lose.
With the gambling not working out, I headed to the toilets to research their layout and complete my original mission. Anyone interested in seeing what they actually look like should click here. I hope you like them, despite having to turn your head sideways - they cost marginally less to produce than the first surface shots of the moon. With the "blueprints" safely stored away for future use, I returned to the table for one last spin of the wheel. But as I placed my pathetic little chip on the table and prayed for a miracle, the man next to me smiled through his cigar smoke and whispered conspiratorially.
This was it. The code word from the Russian sleeper agent I'd been praying for. What was the correct response? Breakfast? Lamp? Then I realised he was looking down at my cuff links.
"Tiffany?" He repeated?
"What these?" I smiled, nonchalantly, then lied. "No I have these made by a man in Vienna."
He nodded wisely.
"Very nice," A pause. "I have a man in Vienna too. He makes my ammunition." He gave the slight bulge under his left arm a longing pat.
I looked around, desperate for someone to have witnessed or overheard a classic Bond exchange. But Victoria was gazing dreamily at the Formula One driver across the room betting the gross domestic product of Liberia on the turn of a card.
But then that's the thing about the best Bond moments. No-one ever gets to see them but you!
P.S. Report from Harrogate and my Bond panel soon!