12 December 2006


A man who takes great pride in his personal appearance, whose charm no one can resist, fond of gadgetry, prissy about how his drinks are made and ready to use his weapon at any opportunity … simply replace one of those villains with an evil bitch drag queen and we’re all 007-ed.

Suffice to say that it hasn’t taken Mr Daniel Craig to draw the latent gay subtext in the James Bond films to my attention. Yet despite good reviews - not to mention the superficial-but-by-no-means-inconsiderable physical appeal of the leading man- I can’t bring myself to see ‘Casino Royale.’

Perhaps the circumstances of my first encounter with the secret agent, when I was only 11 years old, have something to do with it.

My mother had been promising to kick our father out of the house for years, and had tried unsuccessfully on several occasions, although I had a feeling this time was different.

Unprecedented events had already made it a time when anything was possible. In spring of that year, our great-uncle died of cancer. He had been like a true father to my younger brother and I, not to mention my own suffering mother and her two sisters. His absence left an abyss in all our lives; everything built around him- held in place by his strength and our affection for him- teetered precariously on the brink of it, and the ground beneath our feet was crumbling away. Both aunts determined to leave our village – finding herself pregnant, one relocated to be with her partner on the west coast: the other reconciled to leaving Ireland with her husband and children– devastating changes that would have been unimaginable only a year before. Soon, it was going to be me, my brother, my mother and my father… left alone.

By that time, my father’s disruptive influence was kept to a minimum. I considered him then as I still do, a negative circumstance, with an equivalence to HIV: while he wasn’t a part of my day-to-day existence, I was aware of the danger he presented and did everything in my power to avoid him, appreciating that by some benevolent twist of fate a little good had come from living in the shadow of a constant threat. For his presence encouraged us to be duplicitous, and obliged us to be resourceful and strong.

As usual, it was left to my mother to organise everything, even his removal: bracing herself for a final confrontation on the night, she determined to get my brother and I out of the house. But where were we to go? Neighbours mustn’t know; my alcoholic grand-aunt couldn’t be trusted alone with us; my aunt was the logical choice, but had to work that night at the cinema…

So we sat, my 7 year old brother and I, with more sweets than two children can possibly eat in ninety minutes, staring up at the big screen. If there were adults in the audience who found our attendance odd, I wasn’t aware of it; I had other things on my mind.

For one thing, I had no idea what this film was about: I knew what an octopus was, and even understood what ‘octo’ meant, but what was an octo-pussy? Somehow I knew that it didn’t involve a cat with tentacles.

My stomach twisted as if filled with live snakes, so my brother helped himself to my share of the sweets, making noise until someone told him to hush and watch the film. Before long, my brother was bored, so all my efforts concentrated on keeping him still so that he didn’t disturb anyone else. He fell silent for gun-battles and car-chases, but there weren’t quite enough of those. I tried to feign attention to what was happening when there was dialogue, hoping to persuade him that a really exciting bit was coming up. Roger Moore spoke with the kind of posh British accent that still makes my toes curl, but I wasn’t really listening to a word he said.

For a while, that strategy worked… then my brother started to feel sick from all of the sweets, so I brought him to the toilet, let him run up and down in the foyer, before returning to our seats again: we hadn’t missed much, or at least I was still able to pick up threads of the story.

Inevitably, there was a love scene, and my brother certainly wasn’t interested in that: I can’t remember if he was still kicking the back of someone’s seat, or if he’d fallen asleep by this stage. My only interest was of a limited nature, instinctively knowing this scene rated the film as inappropriate for children, and I probably expected kudos from other boys at school for having watching it.

But what an anti-climax… What was all of the fuss about? A little kissing, a little heavy breathing, a little groaning… still no tentacles, and no sign of pussy.

My brother doesn’t even remember seeing the film. I watched it again on a visit to Udaipur in Rajasthan back in 1999, one of the film locations. James Bond is a big hit with Indian men; hardly a surprise as they all fancy themselves a bit of a smooth operator too, living in a fantasy world where western women want to jump on them at any given opportunity. Somehow 007 makes his way through the streets of India without once standing in a cowpat... never let me hear a westerner complain about corny Bollywood cinema. I felt like a secret agent myself after a few days there: whenever walking down the street, an auto-rickshaw driver came speeding right at me, running me off the road (usually into the ditch with a cow and several dead dog) at which point I’d discover that he wasn’t trying to kill me, he actually wanted to be hired to drive around for the day. And as for those other men run along the street behind, shouting wildly and brandishing swords, they're just trying to sell souvineers.

Octopussy was no more interesting second time around, but of course I found myself reminiscing about the first time- waiting for the final credits to return home, knowing that we were going to find our mother in tears, hoping that we were going to find her alone.

Whatever hopes or fears I imagined that night, never could I have imagined all that the future would hold.

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