Monthly Archives: April 2012

Moonraker by Ian Fleming

I am writing about James Bond and I can almost hear your groans from here. What is there that can possibly be left to be written about Britain’s favourite secret agent that hasn’t already been said a million times before, by feminists, by film reviewers, even by distinguished literary gents? I thought it had all been covered so completely that it could be taken as a given until, screening Goldfinger at Christmas with friends, someone confessed to only then understanding what the Austin Powers films were poking (ooh, baby!) fun at.

My suggestion of a Bond film after Christmas dinner was testament to how far I have travelled since my teenage days. Back then, the festive Bond would usually see me with head buried in a book, occasionally glancing up to sneer disdain at another cheesy line from Roger Moore as my family groaned and chuckled around me. I thought Bond was dreadful, so hackneyed in its clichés – the women only sassy up to a point to make the inevitable surrender greater sport for the hero, the gadgets, the comedy characters – that it was better off ignored. I thought I knew it backwards but didn’t enjoy the knowledge.

Until Casino Royale, that is.

The vow to never watch another Bond film was taken after witnessing the Brosnan incarnation waterskiing down the side of a glacier in Die Another Day. Despite the absence of anything with teeth in the scene, that was my ‘jumping the shark‘ moment. After all the incredulity I had thrilled over as a child – the human Jaws biting through a cable car’s wires, death wielded by bowler hat, spiked shoe or gold paint – I could bear no more.

But Casino Royale was intriguing. A good story well told, unlike some of the others, needing no gimmicks to distract attraction from plot holes you could drive an invisible car through. Daniel Craig’s Bond a vulnerable, often wrong, sometimes out-of-control human being rather than a wise-cracking caricature. Talk was of how this was as the author had intended, the producers returning to the source material having receiving a Jason Bourne-inspired scare. Post 9/11, it was felt, we needed more humility from our secret agents and the Broccoli family – always astute readers of an audience’s moods – delivered.

Softened up by that cinematic experience, it was perhaps inevitable that when a copy of the book came into my hands via a secondhand store in Tokyo, I would fall for Bond faster than a mini-skirted SMERSH agent sent to kill him. As ever, the rogue’s charms proved difficult to resist. So when I was offered a windfall in the shape of an almost complete set about to be thrown out, I grabbed at them. With that pleasing old book aroma and cover art calculated to have any teenage boy’s blood racing – girls! guns! rockets! – this was my chance to see if the rest of the series could live up to Casino Royale’s promise of a more appealing, albeit less charming, Bond.


What you know are to become key elements of the films already exist in the book. Bond’s love of gadgetry and the high life are evident, whether that is fine tailoring, his Ronson lighter for use on his own blend of cigarettes, or the little flat off the King’s Road. He drives a Bentley, rather than an Aston Martin, an older, classic model he takes pride in racing against foreign engineering, at least until he totals it.

Yet while aiming for effortlessness in all this acquisition, Bond is only one loss at cards away from ruin. We see him chafing at the daily routine and ploughing half-heartedly through the paperwork just like any other office worker, although in the privileged position afforded to a senior civil servant, he is no idle playboy. When away from London on operations, he has a Leica camera in one pocket and a Beretta in the other but perhaps more telling are the gadgets he lacks: having to drive to the next town to telephone allies in Scotland Yard or waiting for essential information to arrive by telegram.

Also lacking is any contact with anyone he isn’t working with or for. Perhaps this lack of companionship is compensated for by being surrounded by women, of course possessed of a beauty that mere mortals can only dream of. Whether it is the carefully selected waitresses of the gambling club M frequents, the steely Secret Service secretaries, or a ‘severely competent’ police woman, the lucky fellow rarely encounters a plain woman. Yet central female characters Gala Brand and Loelia Posonby – though crazily named – are also blessed with a quiet strength, essential to keeping the battered and broken Bond on his feet throughout the action.

Though Fleming laments that Posonby is approaching an age where:

Unless she married soon, Bond thought for the hundredth time, or had a lover, her cool air of authority might easily become spinsterish and she would join the army of women who had married a career.

Perhaps this is not the terrible fate he makes it out to be, and it is arguable if a quick tumble with 007 would be a better one, especially as he is facing a similar destiny. His own prospects for a long and happy retirement seem slim, after all. Although contemplating certain death with hopelessness after torture and near defeat, he never questions the rights and wrongs of the power the Service wields over his life. He is good at the essentials of his job, his boss is decent, that is enough. Bond is far more of a bastard than you remember, quite a lot rougher around the edges and unafraid to fight dirty if circumstances dictate. Able to pass with the Lord Basildons of this world, but not quite of them:

Bond knew that there was something alien and un-English about himself. He knew that he was a difficult man to cover up. Particularly in England.

Perhaps it is his misfortune that the exotic locations so fundamental to the films are passed over for this tale, which largely happens within sight of the White Cliffs of Dover in the usually sleepy South of England. Moonraker’s plot delivers such atomic age fears as a rogue scientists, cities laid waste by the most powerful rocket ever built and an unsettling yet impolitic mistrust of those who have gone from enemies to allies in the blink of an eye.

It is a cracking read, belting along at a great pace and lending a warmth and a human side to its characters that you would perhaps not believe existed if you had only watched the films. You may think you know all there is to know about James Bond, but you won’t until you experience him on the page.

ten minutes hate and the mortal bath are reviewing all of the James Bond novels, (sort of) in order. Track down the others here:

Casino Royale (tmb)

Live and Let Die (tmb)

Moonraker (tmh)

Diamonds Are Forever (tmb)

From Russia With Love – COMING SOON!

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Friday May 11th, 8:30 -10:30 PM The Teas that Bind by J.C. Greenway at Biscotti Tapas

Originally posted on The Cat's Meow:

The Teas That Bind

by J.C. Greenway

May 11th, 2012

8:30 -10:30 PM

Biscotti Tapas

¥3,500 (includes welcome drink, snacks, & a book)

What happens when the adventure you signed up for is a whole lot more adventure than you expected?

Join us at the Cat’s Meow for an intimate conversation and reading with J.C. Greenway, author of The Teas That Bind which answers the question, “So, the big earthquake then. What was it like?” and much more.

In her own words:

The Teas That Bind is the story of my year in Japan before and since the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011, living, observing and questioning what goes on around me.

Comprising posts written for this website – along with emails, tweets and status updates, as well as previously unpublished material – the book covers the days following the disaster and the months beyond, including my involvement…

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Stirring the pot

Abiko is an often unloved and unremarked upon corner of Chiba Prefecture in Japan. Proud owner of what until recently was the dirtiest lake in Japan, at times it must have appeared as if this ‘Kamakura of the North’ (are you SURE about this? – ed.) was missing out on distinguishing features, even to those of us lucky enough to have experienced its charms.

No longer.

Now it has the Abiko Free Press, the great minds behind Reconstructing 3/11, aiming to put quality fiction and non-fiction writing about Japan in your hands by whatever means they can. If you haven’t already, you should get a copy of their latest, containing expert reflections on the 12 months since the Great East Japan Earthquake.

And also head over to their website, where I was interviewed recently about everything to do with writing, publishing  and promoting The Teas That Bind. If you like what you read there, its available now on Lulu, Amazon and Smashwords.

Perfect reading for your Friday tea-break!

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All Together Now – the Football Quarter

If you were following the Twitter #banter during Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final between fans of local rivals Everton and Liverpool, you might be forgiven for thinking it was all a little charged:

In reality, we manage – despite our allegiances – to be most of the time the best of pals. In Liverpool, the line between Red and Blue is often drawn between siblings, cousins, colleagues, mates or even spouses. It usually remains fairly well-mannered, although family gatherings after a result has not gone your way tend to be approached with the same sinking in the gut as a trip to the dentist for a root canal.

So derby day is always fraught with excitement and trepidation. I have been lucky enough to attend a couple of derbies at Anfield and it is exactly as you would imagine: an electric atmosphere. The result is almost secondary to winding up the other fans with an array of chants about the misdeeds and missteps of their players. There are usually a few sendings-off as the teams get caught up in the occasion, which everyone pretends to disapprove of but is secretly happy about, for proving that the players know what is at stake. I remember once yelling at the Everton fans for 90 minutes before calling into my grandparents’ house on the way home to find the Blue half of the family already installed, drinking tea and laughing over the insults they had been flinging back at us. Good times!

So perhaps with all these family ties it shouldn’t cause too much surprise that fan organisations Keeping Everton in Our City (KEIOC) and Spirit of Shankly (SoS) are working together to promote plans for turning the area of North Liverpool where both clubs are based into a ‘Football Quarter’. This aims to create an attractive destination for the thousands of visitors who attend matches at both clubs each season, as well as providing a greater quality of life for the residents of Anfield and Walton.

The scheme was launched just after Christmas, with a prospectus put together by Capita Symonds, backed by local MPs and available to read here. It looks like an attractive option for what has remained a chronically neglected area of the city in all the redevelopment that has taken place in recent years. Despite the millions spent on the river-front, new hotels and shopping centres in town, other parts of the city have missed out. A grand regeneration project which stalled has seen families moved on and streets of houses boarded up awaiting demolition, with no progress being made towards their replacement.

Liverpool’s recent history is so full of plans which promised the earth and delivered little more than destroyed communities, that people there are right to be suspicious of the idealised daydreams contained in the drawings of planners. For the Football Quarter to avoid the pitfalls of these earlier grand designs, it must bring together the competing interests of local and central government, businesses and investors, residents and visitors to the city, not to mention the two football clubs.

It is truly ambitious in scope. And if done right, it represents the best chance in a long while to build a future for a neighbourhood which is currently both world-famous and close to derelict. For that to happen, everyone needs to know about it. So whether you live in L4 or make the pilgrimage there to watch your team play, read the prospectus and pass it on. Please show your support and sign the associated e-petition. Let’s make sure that this proposal involves as many people as possible who have reason to love this corner of the city, whatever the colour of their scarf.

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When you walk through a storm

One day soon, within my lifetime I hope, the tone of my annual posts about today’s anniversary of the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster will change from an update on the Hillsborough Justice Campaign to a simple act of remembrance and sympathy with the families of the 96 people who died.

That day seems both closer – with The Hillsborough Independent Panel (HIP) chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool set to report on its findings in the autumn – and further away than ever, as another tide of misinformation washes over the city in the wake of Alan Davies’ spectacularly insensitive comments and the reaction to the reaction to them.

Alan Davies

The TV star decided to use a football podcast to talk about Liverpool’s position of not playing matches on 15 April in largely unsympathetic terms. Since the disaster the club has received special dispensation from The Football Association (FA) not to have their league games scheduled for the date, and in 2009 even the European ruling body UEFA were happy to rearrange a Champions League fixture for the club, noticeably without attracting the ire of Mr Davies. This year, however, another potential clash arose when Liverpool secured a place in the FA Cup semi-finals set to take place this weekend. The two matches were to be played on Saturday and Sunday, with the Liverpool v Everton game eventually arranged for Saturday lunchtime. This decision seemed to cause the comedian a great deal of upset:

Liverpool and the 15th – that gets on my tits that shit. What are you talking about, ‘We won’t play on the day?’ Why can’t they?

Do they play on the date of the Heysel Stadium disaster? How many dates do they not play on?

Do Man United play on the date of Munich? Do Rangers play on the date when all their fans died in that disaster whatever year that was – 1971?

I understand – Hillsborough is the most awful thing that’s happened in my life in terms of football. It’s one of the worst tragedies in English peacetime history but it’s ridiculous this, ‘We refuse to play football on this day anymore’.

Every interview he’s [Kenny Dalglish] given this season he looks like he wants to headbutt the interviewer. This tight-mouthed, furious, frowning, leaning forward, bitter Glaswegian ranting, ‘Liverpool FC do not play on April 15th’.

Yet Liverpool’s desire to avoid playing on this date is no attempt to wallow in the self-pity we are often accused of by outsiders. Instead it is out of respect to the families of those who died, many of themselves fans or season ticket holders at the club. Today, as every year since, there will be a memorial service at Anfield and our senior players and club staff will attend. Like many Liverpool fans, I can’t imagine caring about the result of a game played on the 15th. It is a day when our thoughts are elsewhere. To believe the myth of melodramatic Scousers is to demonstrate a complete lack of awareness of the key issues of the Hillsborough Disaster and its aftermath, which ensure that it remains a raw subject, despite the passage of 23 years.

1989

Facts which are already starting to be lost in the fog of time and misinformation include these. Full details are available – along with audio clips and video footage – at this excellent and informative site. For the match, an FA Cup semi-final, Liverpool had been allocated the smaller end of Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium, despite being widely accepted as having a larger travelling support than opponents Nottingham Forest. Transport delays between Sheffield and Liverpool meant that as kick off approached, many fans with tickets were waiting outside the ground and the build up of the crowd around the small number of turnstiles created a bottleneck that lead to crushes. Everyone who has attended a popular sporting event or music concert has probably experienced the fear and pressure of a crowd building up which you are unable to escape. A request to delay the start of the game was denied and eventually the police took the decision to open the exit gates to allow faster access to the stadium.

This allowed fans to escape the crush outside only to find a much worse one waiting for them. The central pens of the Leppings Lane stand were already nearing capacity, but with no stewards positioned to direct people towards the less crowded side areas, another – fatal – bottleneck was created. Inside these central pens, people were dying of suffocation within shouting distance of members of the emergency services. Some managed to climb out, others tried to break down the fencing with their hands to relieve the pressure. The authorities’ response was to send in reinforcements to contain this ‘pitch invasion’.

The victims

In a moving tribute created for the twentieth anniversary of the disaster, the football club’s website featured the photographs, names and ages of those who died. They are a cross-section of Liverpool’s population, of any city’s inhabitants. A third of them were under the age of 18, the youngest – current club captain Steven Gerrard’s cousin – was 10 years old (a year younger than I was at the time). Two teenage sisters were killed. Friends died together, a boyfriend and girlfriend were among the dead, as were an uncle and nephew, while one family lost two sons.

One victim was on a life-support machine for four years after the disaster; he never recovered. Surviving family members speak of bereaved relatives dying in later years, having never got over the shock of losing their loved ones in such circumstances. There have been a number of suicides, including that of a man who sold his ticket to a friend who died and a Nottingham Forest fan unable to come to terms with witnessing the sight of bodies being laid on the pitch.

The aftermath

The police response as the disaster unfolded was severely lacking and later criticised by the Interim Taylor Report as ‘a failure of police control’. Placing crowd control above safety led to shocking tales from survivors of escaping the carnage, only to be pushed back into the pens by police officers. Ambulance crews were denied access to the ground as the police told them it wasn’t safe to enter due to crowd trouble. Few of the injured were admitted to hospital, with reports of fans trying to resuscitate the dying and people being taken to a makeshift morgue while their lives could perhaps have been saved if they had received medical attention.

‘There was no organised response there at all… There was nobody in charge, no plan, no organisation at all… There was no resuscitation equipment there… The scene was just absolute chaos.’

- Dr John Ashton, Professor of Medicine at the University of Liverpool, who was at Hillsborough.

The blame game

People had hardly begun to bury the dead before the cover up began. By the instruction of senior officers, comments unfavourable to the police operation were removed from police constable’s statements, as one handwritten instruction quoted by The Guardian notes:

‘Last two pages require amending. These are his own feelings. He also states that PCs were sat down crying when the fans were carrying the dead and injured. This shows they were organised and we were not. Have [the PC] rewrite the last two pages excluding points mentioned.’ [Emphasis added]

Key witnesses were not called at the inquests or cross-examined, instead police officers read out summaries of evidence of where and when people died.

Before that, and while the city of Liverpool was still numb with shock, as funerals were taking place and the pitch at Anfield became a sea of flowers and scarves left in tribute – including by Everton fans – along came Rupert Murdoch (proprietor) and Kelvin MacKenzie (editor) of the S*n newspaper, with what they considered to be the real tale of Hillsborough. As Liverpool manager (both in 1989 and again today) Kenny Dalglish remembered in his autobiography:

The press coverage was difficult to comprehend, particularly the publication of pictures which added to people’s distress. There was one photograph of two girls right up against the Leppings Lane fence, their faces pressed into the wire. Nobody knows how they escaped. They used to come to Melwood every day, looking for autographs, and that photograph upset everyone there because we knew them. After seeing that I couldn’t look at the papers again.

When the S*n came out with the story about Liverpool fans being drunk and unruly, underneath a headline ‘The Truth,’ the reaction on Merseyside was one of complete outrage. Newsagents stopped stocking the S*n. People wouldn’t mention its name. They were burning copies of it.

The Hillsborough Justice Campaign

People wondering why the Hillsborough Justice Campaign needs to exist after so long and following a number of official inquests and inquiries in the past should know that many of the families still do not know the full details of what happened to their relatives. Key questions still remain unanswered.

It is important to note that the campaign is not a historical one. This is an ongoing desire for justice for people like Anne Williams, who has evidence that the information presented at her son Kevin’s inquest was false. The coroner ruled that all victims were dead at 3.15pm – but medical personnel present at the makeshift morgue in the ground have testified that 15-year-old Kevin was alive at 4pm.

People like John Glover, quoted in this BBC story, now dying of cancer, but who wants to know what happened in his son Ian’s final hour. Since April 1989 there has been a concerted effort by South Yorkshire Police, the Thatcher government and the S*n newspaper to spread disinformation about the disaster to allow the victims to be painted as deserving of the treatment. And now the campaign is taking great strides forward – the recent parliamentary debate and the decision to release all classified Cabinet papers to the HIP inquiry – all of a sudden people like Alan Davies are popping up to condemn our inability to ‘get over it’.

Today’s anniversary

What is perhaps most saddening about the Alan Davies storm is how fans of other clubs now seem to view Hillsborough and the fight for justice as a uniquely Liverpool issue. Never mind that all fans are kept safer as a result of the change in attitudes to policing large crowds or the improvements to stadiums made after the disaster. Let’s not forget that the support received by Liverpool from fans of other teams – including our at times bitterest rivals Everton, Manchester United and Nottingham Forest – has been outstanding. But there remains a core of people who believe that Liverpool whinge about this too much, that we need to move on and renounce the ‘mawkish sentimentality’ of marking this occasion. I believe that they are wrong.

Late last night, while researching some of the points I make here, I had a frank but well-reasoned exchange of views on the subject with a writer I very much admire, Ben Six of Back Towards The Locus. In the comments below the post, Ben echoes this article by Times journalist Tony Evans, noting that Davies’ comments are not the real controversy. As Evans writes:

why, 23 years on, do we still not know the truth about a police cover-up that reached Cabinet level?

So today, as we remember those fans who went to a match and never came home, those who mourn them and the people whose lives are still scarred by the events of 23 years ago, let’s try to put the mis-spoken words of idiots out of our minds. It is all consistent with what Liverpool MP Maria Eagle has called the ‘black propaganda campaign’ orchestrated by those responsible after the disaster. Instead, fans of all clubs should come together to ensure that the 96 families – along with everyone who loves the passion and joy of attending football matches – do not have to wait too much longer to discover ‘The Truth’ of Hillsborough.

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That time of year again

It is that time of year again, when every corner of the city looks gorgeous; when the large, famous parks draw the crowds but single trees tucked away down side streets are equally as appreciated and likely to be immortalised by the smartphone cameras of passing commuters.

There is something about the heady mix of sunshine, sakura and a huge pile of food and drink to be shared with friends under the boughs that acts like a shot of something pure delivered right to the brain after the chills of winter. I don’t think I could ever get cynical about this season and all it brings. New term, new jobs, new projects: January may be the start of the year, but April is when everything begins again in Japan.

So hard to believe that by next week it will all be gone. With the sakura, as with all the good things of life, be sure to enjoy it while you can!

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Something for nothing

You don’t get something for nothing, as Portishead once sang:

But if you did, well, it could indeed be sweet, as the Bristolians note. So today could be a very lucky day, if you head over to Lulu and add The Teas That Bind – my new book about Japan, earthquakes and the power of a good cuppa – to your basket.

Lulu’s mystery sale means you will receive a lovely discount on the purchase price of the paperback version of the book.

You don’t need a coupon!

You DO need to buy before 6 April 2012. So don’t hang about – make sure you grab your copy soon.

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‘ebooks are democracy in action’

Creative force behind Quakebook, Reconstructing 3/11 and the Abiko Free Press, Our Man in Abiko is interviewed here about his thoughts on ebooks, publishing, crowdsourced journalism and, er… cats. All very Haruki Murakami.

In amongst the cat jokes though, there are serious points made about that thorniest of questions for all who love books – both writing and reading them – where do we go from here? It is perhaps too soon to say what this bold new publishing dawn will herald, but if you are interested in the kind of quality insight that newspapers once used to provide, this interview will provoke some intriguing thoughts.

My recommendation for a well-spent Sunday would be to check out the interview and then be sure to grab your copy of whichever of these cracking reads you are yet to buy.

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