Lucy Flem­ing vis­its the Ja­maican home of her un­cle Ian, cre­ator of the debonair Agent 007

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - News -

T was 1943. The BOAC Stra­tocruiser was on its way from Ja­maica back to Lon­don, prob­a­bly via Nas­sau, Ber­muda and Shan­non. A naval com­man­der turned to his friend and said: ‘‘ When this blasted war is over I’m go­ing to live in Ja­maica. Just live in Ja­maica, lap it up, swim in the sea and write books.’’ And he did. The man was Ian Flem­ing. He’d been there rep­re­sent­ing naval intelligence (he was as­sis­tant to the di­rec­tor of naval intelligence, John God­frey) for a con­fer­ence about the U-boat threat in the Caribbean. It rained in­ces­santly but he fell in love with the is­land.

In 1946 Ian bought six over­grown hectares on the north coast near the small port of Ora­cabessa. It had been a don­key race­course and on the site where the ba­nana dumpling stall (which dou­bled as the bet­ting shack) had been he built a low con­crete house that he re­turned to ev­ery year for the next 18 years un­til he died in 1964. He drew the plans of the house him­self and de­cided to call it Gold­eneye (Ora­cabessa mean­ing Golden Head, and af­ter a wartime op­er­a­tion he had been in­volved in). Ear­lier ideas for names had in­cluded Shame­lady or, as one of his friends sug­gested, Rum Cove.

The house had enor­mous glass­less win­dows (the idea was to feel out­doors) and quite spar­tan fa­cil­i­ties. There was a small private beach. The first pay­ing guest was Ian’s friend Noel Coward, who said that it was ‘‘ a per­fectly ghastly house, no hot wa­ter, pic­tures of snakes plas­tered all over the walls’’. Later he said that it was ‘‘ the hap­pi­est two months I ever spent’’.

Ian Flem­ing was my un­cle. This be­ing the cen­te­nary year of his birth and, as March winds did blow, I felt it was time for my first visit to the house that Coward had called ‘‘ Golden Ear Nose and Throat’’. We stay for a few nights at the time­less and re­ally de­light­ful Ja­maica Inn, where the stun­ning peri­win­kle-blue and white suites sur­round a per­fect beach.

The re­mark­able Mary Phillips runs it ef­fort­lessly like a coun­try-house chate­laine; the cro­quet lawn, polo down the road and Shadow, the pant­ing black labrador, adding to the feel­ing of scant change since the ho­tel was built in 1950. The colo­nial at­mos­phere is wel­come and the ho­tel staff are charm­ing and funny. Mary’s fa­ther, I later dis­cover, was Ian’s lawyer.

Af­ter a cou­ple of days, hav­ing un­wound in the pri­vacy of the stun­ning but unimag­i­na­tively named Cot­tage 4, we head along the coast to Gold­eneye. I am slightly ner­vous as I have been an­tic­i­pat­ing this visit for many years. Will I be dis­ap­pointed? Will I be sur­prised? Will I find ghosts?

I don’t find ghosts but I do find Ram­sey. He was Ian’s gar­dener for four years, from the age of 17, and he gives us the con­ducted tour. He is charm­ing and doesn’t seem to mind (or hear) my in­ter­rup­tions. We start in the gar­den with the tree that An­thony Eden planted.

‘‘ When he was rest­ing af­ter the Suez cri­sis,’’ I state.

‘‘ When he was restin’ af­ter Suez trou­ble,’’ Ram­sey in­tones. Ap­par­ently lo­cal taxi driv­ers were fined if they hooted as they passed the house so that Eden should not be dis­turbed. The house is pret­tier and big­ger than I’d imag­ined, el­e­gant, if sim­ple, with the vast win­dows fac­ing the sea, and soon we are inside, in a big L-shaped room with one enor­mous win­dow fram­ing the sparkling views of gar­den and sea like the best oil paint­ing in the world. Ram­sey is show­ing us Ian’s desk. ‘‘ This is where Com­man­der his films.’’ ‘‘ Books,’’ I squeak, in­dig­nantly. ‘‘ Yes, ma’am. This is where Com­man­der

wrote wrote all his films.’’ But some­thing is wrong. We have pic­tures at home of Ian writ­ing at a semi-cir­cu­lar desk, in the cor­ner of a room, much smaller than the one we are look­ing at. ‘‘ Didn’t he write in his bed­room?’’ I ask. ‘‘ Away from his guests, fac­ing the wall with the shut­ters closed so that he wouldn’t get dis­tracted?’’

‘‘ Yes. Com­man­der write all his films at this desk.’’ Ram­sey is res­o­lute. Later I re­alise that the red bul­let-wood desk, familiar from pho­to­graphs, has just been shipped to Lon­don for the ex­hi­bi­tion about Ian and James Bond at the Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum.

Now we are in the main bed­room, which has an­other gi­gan­tic win­dow, and I can see where Ian would have wo­ken each morn­ing, the view laid out be­fore him, and I un­der­stand why he loved it so. I stand for a mo­ment where the desk would have been, imag­in­ing Ian, his six-fin­gered typ­ing pro­duc­ing 2000 words a day. His in­cred­i­ble imag­i­na­tion whisk­ing Bond at break­neck pace from M’s of­fice round the world to ad­ven­ture and dan­ger, sav­ing the girl and, quite of­ten, the world from some won­der­fully evil vil­lain.

Four­teen books, one a year; each book fin­ished in six weeks. The rather large palm that has re­placed the desk doesn’t help, but I have my mo­ment to thank my un­cle for his hard work and much-loved cre­ation.

Ram­sey takes us down to the beach and shows us a small rock­pool that Ian had formed for his small son to swim in safely. ‘‘ This is where Com­man­der made a pool for his son Jasper to swim.’’ ‘‘ Cas­par,’’ I pipe up. ‘‘ Yes, ma’am, for his son.’’ We climb some new steps. Later we snorkel off the tiny beach and I imag­ine I see Com­man­der’s Oc­to­pussy lurk­ing un­der his rock. We have a de­li­cious tra­di­tional Caribbean meal in the gazebo. Ian used to go there to jot down ideas for plots, names, char­ac­ters and so on.

It has been en­larged with a pretty wooden struc­ture but there is a threat that for the fu­ture de­vel­op­ment the orig­i­nal gazebo will be pulled down to make way for a hol­i­day home. This would be a ter­ri­ble shame. Later I dis­cover that dur­ing Eden’s stay a di­rect teleprinter link with No 10 Down­ing Street was set up in the gazebo.

I have one fi­nal ques­tion ‘‘ What car did Ian drive?’’ ‘‘ Hill­man, ma’am.’’ ‘‘ Minx?’’ ‘‘ Yes, ma’am.’’ Dis­ap­point­ing. One of the first bits of furniture that Ian had in the house was an old card ta­ble lent by the gov­er­nor’s wife. I stay for one night in the Gov­er­nor-Gen­eral’s suite at the Royal Plan­ta­tion Ho­tel near Ocho Rios where the staff could not have been more charm­ing, and the food and ser­vice are ex­cel­lent.

Ian was al­ways sad to leave the is­land. He loved it: the peo­ple, the weather, the flora and fauna (his hero­ine in Live and Let Die , Soli­taire, was named af­ter a lo­cal bird). He par­tic­u­larly en­joyed the swim­ming; he found a new ad­ven­ture play­ground in the sea that he re­flected in his writ­ing. He even found his hero’s name on the cover of one of my Ja­maican bibles, Birds of the West Indies by James Bond, an or­nitho­log­i­cal clas­sic.

Ian wrote, ‘‘ Would th­ese books have been born if I hadn’t been liv­ing in the glo­ri­ous vac­uum of a Ja­maican hol­i­day? I doubt it. James Bond may have been con­ceived in Room 39 of the Ad­mi­ralty but he was born in Ja­maica.’’ As Ian said of Bond, ‘‘ He’d grown to love the great green is­land and its staunch hu­mor­ous peo­ple.’’ I wish I had time to see more of it. The Spec­ta­tor


for Ram­sey. Gold­eneye is run by Is­land Out­posts as an exclusive 12-room ho­tel pop­u­lar with pri­vacy-seek­ing celebri­ties. More: www.gold­eneye­ho­tel.com. For Your Eyes Only: Ian Flem­ing And James Bond is on show at the Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum, Lon­don, un­til March 1 next year. More: lon­don.iwm.org.uk. www.ja­maicainn.com www.roy­alplan­ta­tion.com www.vis­it­ja­maica.com Susan Kuro­sawa’s Depar­tureLounge col­umn re­turns on May 17-18.

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