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Wildlife Camera » The Man with the Golden Binoculars

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Forget birdwatching - it’s birding and it’s big »

The Man with the Golden Binoculars

26 November 2009


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Frigatebird

When I’m packing for a trip to the Caribbean, the first thing that goes into the suitcase is the James Bond book.

It’s getting a bit battered now – it has seen a lot of miles – but it is still the best. Ian Fleming thought so too. The book is The Birds of the West Indies. The author is James Bond. And when Fleming was writing his first 007 thriller in his hideaway in Jamaica, he “borrowed” the name of the ornithologist for his hero in Casino Royale.

The borrowing happened in 1952, over breakfast in Fleming’s favourite room in the villa at Goldeneye, with its view under the shade trees to the sea. The book was on the table, beside the binoculars, and Fleming found his inspiration.

He said later: “I was determined that my secret agent should be as anonymous a personality as possible. It struck me that Bond’s name — brief, unromantic and yet very masculine — was just what I needed.”
 
The original James Bond’s best-selling birdbook is still in print, and has been ever since 1936. Like Casino Royale, which has run into numerous editions and which was recently filmed again for 21st century audiences, its popularity has never faded.

The birdbook even features in the movie Die Another Day, when Pierce Brosnan, playing the part of Bond, arrives in Havana and picks up a copy of Birds of the West Indies — by James Bond. With the help of a pair of binoculars, Brosnan then passes himself off as the famous ornithologist, one of the many in-jokes in the series.

And today it is fun to take a cruise around the Caribbean enjoying some of the places which featured in the lives of both the birdwatcher and the thriller writer. Fleming wrote all 13 James Bond novels in Jamaica, with the island as the setting for three of them – Dr. No, Live and Let Die, and The Man with the Golden Gun – so it’s a good place to start. Numerous cruise lines visit, but if you want to get the real flavour of Fleming’s way of life, you’ve got to spend some serious money and stay at Goldeneye.

The villa he designed for himself  – “spare and simple” – on the island’s north coast near Ocho Rios, was gloomy and not at all attractive in its early days. In fact, Noel Coward, who stayed as Ian Fleming’s guest, thought it was “a perfectly ghastly house” which looked like a hospital outbuilding, and he dubbed it the “Golden eye nose and throat clinic”. However, he loved the holiday, and the villa has now been transformed into a very upmarket holiday house at the heart of a beachfront estate owned by Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, the man who promoted Bob Marley’s career.

To stay at stylish Goldeneye today and add your name to the guest book alongside Harrison Ford and Johnny Depp, Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss, Errol Flynn and Evelyn Waugh, you will have to add $4000 a night to your platinum card. The three Oriental-styled bedrooms are numbered 007, 008 and 009. You get a media room with theatre-sized screen, private pool and steps down to the beach where Fleming imagined Ursula Andress emerging from the surf, the memorable moment of Dr. No.

There are other villas for rent in the grounds of the estate, now renamed the Goldeneye Resort, and more are planned. The selling agent, Island Outpost, claims that many celebrities, including Hollywood star Scarlett Johansson, are interested in buying.

This is one of the “25 Sexiest Places on the Planet” according to GQ Magazine, and OK thinks it is “Double Oh Heaven”. The setting is still inspiring: Sting wrote Every Breath You Take while staying at Goldeneye, and it’s among the very few places where I have seen a genuinely star-sprinkled guest book. It has cachet.

The tropical lushness of Jamaica is one of the pleasures of taking a Caribbean cruise, and another pleasure is that a week of all-in luxury on the ship, including flights from the UK if you pick a fly-cruise, will cost no more than a one-night stay at Goldeneye. P&O’s glamorous fleet are in and out of these island ports all winter, one of the best ways of re-charging your batteries in the dull season.

Arcadia often visits Nassau and the Bahamas, the setting for some of the outdoors action in the recent version of Casino Royale, starring Daniel Craig as the sixth 007. (Fans of these brilliant beaches will be most disappointed that the islands were cast as Madagascar in the movie.)

I take along the birdbook because the Caribbean is one of those places where wildlife turns up everywhere, with dark primeval Frigatebirds (above) patrolling over the harbour at Grenada or cheeky yellow Bananaquits climbing into the sugarbowl during your afternoon tea in Barbados. With the help of the original James Bond, you can put names to all these exotic creatures.

But the real pleasure of a Caribbean cruise is the contrast between a northern winter and the tropical sun – and the best cure for the blues is a dose of vivid blue sea. Not just dark blue, or even middling blue, but brilliant-aquamarine-dazzling blue breaking into white surf on hot white beaches. It’s all a cliché, but no one can deny that it feels wonderful. There are lots of “natural” cures, this is the tonic that works.

Combine the sun with the good life aboard a cruise liner, where they know about service, how to prepare a varied menu, put on a professional show and get you to the port on time, and you have the ingredients for the very best kind of winter break.

To quote a useful phrase from the vocabulary of science, there often seems to be a negative correlation between “service” and “sunshine”– in other words, if you get one, you can’t have the other. One of the main exceptions to that rule is found aboard a big white cruise ship. Everything runs like clockwork and, if you pick the right season, the sun shines too.

It’s all very friendly. People who have not been on a cruise tend to worry about snobbery and the them-and-us thing. Today’s P&O passengers are just as likely to be North Country folk as Home Counties persons. And on no-port days they shop for gold chains in the ship’s souk and watch football on satellite TV. The motto is: do what you enjoy.

The brochures for cruise lines always show you the outside – the ship, the view, the ship and the view. The big test is inside, of course. And I have to report that on Arcadia the suites are superb.

When I first started writing about travel, the editor called me in to give some advice. ‘The important thing is the hotel,’ he said. ‘Good hotel equals good holiday. And the most important thing about the hotel is the room.’

At the time, I thought he was well wide of the mark. What about fascinating destinations, exotic people, culture, adventure?
 
Many hundreds of thousands of miles later, I have come to realise that he had a point. Base camp really is important: comfortable bed, space to spread yourself out, relax, keep suitably warm or cool, enjoy yourself.

Arcadia’s mini-suite passed the editor’s test. Immaculate, well-designed, quiet and welcoming.

James Bond is fond of brand names – everything from Dom Perignon to Aston Martin reflect his elegant tastes. And I’m sure he would love to drop Arcadia’s name into the conversation. (And if you’re quick, you can join her when she sails from Southampton on 18 December for 23 nights in the hot Caribbean sun.)

(Text copyright Willy Newlands, edited from archive; photo of frigatebird from iStockphoto.)

  
 


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