Monday, June 9, 2008

James Bond, Ian Fleming and the Spy scene!

I don't really fit into the Elderhostel scene though there are some interesting people who travel with them.  This was my fourth experience with Elderhostel:  two daytime workshops and a trip to Sedona and the Grand Canyon predated this excursion.  Plus this  was about my 20th trip to London  and my second to Cambridge.  Love London! 

It was  the topic that brought me:  the 100th birthday of James Bond/Ian Fleming plus the Cambridge spies. Eight days in London (staying at a most elegant hotel near the old Tate Museum) and three days in Cambridge (another 4* hotel), this time focusing on the Cambridge spies and the SIS. 

I flew in four days early and booked a room at my affordable  2* establishment in Bayswater with facilities down the hall.  I had tickets for the Royal Ballet (Robbins' Dances at a Gathering and Ashton's The Dream) and one of their New Works series, sux short ballets done by young choreographers.  These were the high points of the trip.  I also had a ticket for Jeremy Iron's portrayal of Harold MacMillan in Never So Good, a real tour d'force. 

Saw a couple of other plays:  39 Steps, a comedy based on John Buchan's adventure story,  Brief Encounter, a muti media version of Noel Coward's play. and Tim Piggot-Smith in Shaw's Pygmalian.  A night at Royal Festival Hall with the London Philharmonic and a Sunday noon concert with a chamber orchestra at the Wigmore completed my cultural journey.  Did it on the cheap by eating at take-aways and the theatre cafes.  Happily walked all, except when it came to moving from Paddington to the Westminister hotel - that was done via tube.

I was odd woman out!  I was an "enforced single"; had the room to myself though I had paid to share.  The oldest in the group was a 86 woman, most attendees were retired, almost all had been professionals - doctor, lawyer, educator ,plus a couple of former NSA types.  Several were seriously into Bond and could recite chapter and verse from the movies and films.  Then there was me who hadn't seen any of the films but had. in my salad days, read all the books - and remembered little from them.  I was much more interested in the Intelligence history.

The leader of our motley band of fifty  was Nigel West, author of several dozen books on espionage (of which I had half a dozen plus another dozen by other authors).  He was knowledgeable, articulate and could talk indefinitely sans any notes.  His supporting cast included Andrew Lycett, a Fleming biographer (had that book), Boris Volodarsky, a Russian defector, Corelli Barnett, a rather pessimistic British historian, Andres Lownie, a John Buchan biographer (had that book too; love Buchan!), and  Kate Westbrook who talked of her experience in putting together the MoneyPenny series.  There were several others who talked about the Bond films and the Bond books.  We also spent time at the Imperial War Museum, where the big boys' toys are on display.  The Bond exhibition was okay but I really enjoyed The Secret War section which had bits and pieces of things from MI5, MI6, SOE and the Special Forces (SAS being another of my interests).  Lording over all  was one of T E Lawrence's beloved Broughs.  I passed through the Fleming Collection of the Book Covers and attended the Reception and Gala dinner at Gladstone's Library.  It was enough:  I was well Bonded. 

While in London, I had tea with the son of a good friend, who had just had his Master's thesis accepted, met with my roommate from the Jordanian portion of an earlier Middle Eastern trek and saw the tail end of a bike race that had gone from the UK to the battlegrounds of France to raise funds for a charity for veterans - it seems as if hundreds had gone, civilians to military riders.  Bagpipes were playing which always bring tears to  my eyes.  I did make my obligatory visit to the British Museum and got up to the National Geographic Society and British Library with its Ramayana Exhibit.

By the time we reached Cambridge, ten partipants had dropped out and I acquired a very compatible roommate.  West was the lecturer the entire time:  talked about the Cambridge bunch and how they interlinked as well as spent some time discussing the NKVD Illegals.  We wandered about Cambridge, one time  on organized  tour and the rest disorganized.  West spend an evening reviewing Cold War films and then showed Tinker Tailor - four of us hung on through all seven segments, to the bitter end, trudging to our rooms at 2 AM.  I remember seeing this on PBS, trying to recall the plot line  from week to week.  Great to see it in one fell swoop. particularly as I remembered who the Bad Guy was.  And Guinness was such a magnificant actor; who else could be "Smiley"? 

The final piece d'resistance was the aftenoon at Chicksands Museum.  Chicksands was a USAF base and is now an active Military Intelligence School.  Included  was a collection from Brixmis, cold war intelligence gathering (I had just finished Tony Geraghty's book about it) and all sorts of photographic and radio equipment  - Fascinating displays. 

This was a more expensive trip than usual: With airfare and all, I estimate $6000 for two weeks.  I suspect I'm the only one, who in the evaluation, suggested they could down grade the accommodations.  I mean, I did not need my own individual computer in the room - I'd settled for a shared freebie at the hotel.  A 2*/3* hotel would have been fine.  But considering my interest in  Intelligence services and Special Forces operations and my need to return to London,  it was  worth it. 

The July Kenya camel trek is off; I'm returning to Ethiopia instead, this time south into the  Omo Valley. 

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