How would Fleming or Bond have coped with the smoke-detectors in the loos, I wonder. Would they have donned Virgin’s complimentary “sleep suit”? Surely there would have been a wry comment about the instruction: “Don’t Convert Bed in Turbulence.”
Columbus thought Jamaica “the fairest land that eyes have beheld”, but then he would say that, wouldn’t he? As with any island nation, Jamaica’s history reads like a visitor’s book left open on the hall table.
Notably, for Bond fans, in the 17th century the Welsh pirate Sir Henry Morgan lived the life of Riley here in Port Royal, “the richest and wickedest city in Christendom”. And in Live and Let Die Bond’s mission is to track down what M believes is a residual hoard of Morgan’s gold being used to fund SMERSH’s activities in America.
Nowadays tourism supports the economy, and there is much to recommend, over and above a pilgrimage to the birthplace of the world’s favourite spy. High on the list of things to do is obviously a trip to Montego Bay, where we can all feel young again among the Bob Marley memorabilia. After that there are plenty of adventure parks for budding Bonds to hone their skills and where we can all feel old again.
James Bond pronounced Blue Mountain coffee “the most delicious in the world” – so have a cup while you watch the sun go down… or come up. And of course there’s the rum, shaken or stirred or put in a punch – wicked.
As we drive north from Kingston on the A1 through Middlesex, there are plenty of vivid reminders that I am actually in Jamaica. During a pit-stop in the island’s dense interior I imagine that it is here that Mr Big’s voodoo drums frightened off the local residents in Live and Let Die. I wonder which mountain it was that housed Dr No’s hideaway? Are those the swamps that were terrorised by his amphibious flame-throwing “dragon”?
We are staying at the Jamaica Inn outside Ocho Rios, a pocket-handkerchief paradise built round its own cove. The main house is a colonial-style building with elegant bungalows skirting the bay; ours is on a promontory and has its own steps down to the sea – my first skinny-dip nearly ends in embarrassment as the current sweeps me round towards the main beach. Was this going to be my Ursula Andress moment?
The hotel is run with great charm and efficiency by Mary Phillips, and we are instantly treated like weekend house guests. “My father was your Uncle Ian’s lawyer,” she tells Lucy. In the bar is the piano where Noël Coward used to play in the evening. He had a house called Firefly not far away, where he sat during his exile after the war and wondered how to reinvent himself.
The food at Jamaica Inn is terrific, the seafood in particular. Sadly the weather is “mixed”, as we in showbusiness call poor reviews, but the maître d’hôtel tells us the rain is just “liquid sunshine”.
What a joy it is to fall asleep under the hypnotising whirr of an overhead fan (in the morning there is a lizard on the ceiling equally enthralled with it). And it would be bliss always to have breakfast on your private terrace watching a heron going about his business on the reef.
Music mogul Chris Blackwell is the local international hero who now owns Goldeneye, and we are invited to visit the house and have a look around. We are met there by Ramsey, Ian’s delightful old gardener – perhaps he was the inspiration for Bond’s trusty Jamaican sidekick Quarrel. He has plenty to show us and giggles as he confides a terrible truth – that Ian’s car was a common-or-garden Hillman Minx.
Now that it’s covered with greenery, the house is less ugly than it must have been at first – Noël Coward dubbed it Golden Ear, Nose and Throat. Part of the estate had been the horse and donkey racetrack and the site of the house itself was the café from which the punters could buy coconut oil and banana dumplings.
The garden is full of trees planted by guests over the years; donors include Princess Margaret, Anthony Eden and Bill Clinton, and there’s a sweet little guava tree from Johnny Depp. I liked, too, the papier-mâché Buddha sitting robustly under a wild cotton tree.
In Ian’s day the huge windows were glassless, and the house sparsely decorated. The rooms are now all beautifully done, with bright colours and comfortable furniture, and a sofa longer than a cricket pitch that is covered with bright cushions. Sadly, Fleming’s desk is on loan to the Imperial War Museum as part of the For Your Eyes Only exhibition, but its understudy is very convincing and it is easy to imagine Ian sitting at it, fresh from his morning swim with one of his 70 cigarettes a day lodged in its holder between his teeth.
Like many writers, he dared not risk the spectacular view and chose to write facing the wall for creativity’s sake. When his old Imperial typewriter wore out he commissioned a gold-plated replacement from The Royal Typewriter Co in New York.
Fleming once said, “writing makes you more alive to your surroundings.” Perhaps that’s why three of his books lead 007 to Jamaica – Live and Let Die, Dr No, and his last, The Man with the Golden Gun. Here, anyway, is where all those characters were born.
Fleming’s flair for names was unrivalled: some of my favourites include Pussy Galore, Auric Goldfinger, Tiffany Case, Kissy Suzuki and, of course, the infamous, three-nippled Scaramanga. Decades ahead of the placement game Fleming was also sharing with us the brand names of the jet set: Morland Special cigarettes, Pinaud’s Elixir shampoo, Guerlain, and so on.
Blackwell has plans for a wonderful development – a kind of postmodern Portmeirion set round the James Bond Beach, with every activity imaginable. We resist the jokes that he is merely jumping on the Bondwagon or that his visitors will be in 007th heaven.
In the bay nearby, where the banana boats used to sail from, there is a huge cabin cruiser that puts me in mind of Bond’s heroic underwater swim to place a limpet mine on Mr Big’s boat at the end of Live and Let Die. After lunch I snorkel round looking for a coracle as beautiful as Octopussy.
Fleming writes in Dr No: “For a moment the melancholy of the tropical dusk caught at Bond’s heart.” I feel it, too, as I walk along the beach later. There is a soft breeze and I wonder which one it was; according to Quarrel there are two winds in Jamaica: the offshore Undertaker’s Wind that “blow de bad air out of de island night-times” and, in the morning, “the Doctor’s Wind that blow de sweet air in from de sea”. The phonetics aside, it is this kind of local detail that brings Fleming’s stories alive and allows us to accept the more fantastical bits.
I remember my teenage fantasy of Honeychile Rider emerging from the sea and approaching me with her conch. Actually in the book she was naked, which only goes to prove that the camera, if not a liar, is certainly a spoilsport.
Another of my teenage fantasies was to be at Sabina Park watching an England cricket team knock the hell out of the likes of Wes Hall and Vanburn Holder, and as we drive past the hallowed ground our driver explains with a chuckle that the Windies current losing streak is “ just coincidental”. The charm of the people is as irresistible as the island itself.
Serendipitously, I note that our homeward flight number is VS 007.
Seasons in Style (01244 202000; www.seasonsinstyle.com) offers seven nights at Jamaica Inn from £1,290 per person, including accommodation in a Deluxe Veranda suite, transfers and flights with Virgin from Gatwick.
The kittens, frogs, bunnies, marching band of mice, and two-headed lamb were uprooted from a Sussex village almost a century ago, and moved several times before being bought by the Jamaica Inn in Cornwall 16 years ago.
The lonely and isolated inn on the edge of Bodmin Moor that inspired Daphne du Maurier's novel is nowadays haunted only by coach parties. The pub in Bolventor needs more tourist accommodation, and, since it also houses a waxwork display illustrating its history of ghosts and smugglers, the stuffed animals have to go.
Mr Potter's Museum of Curiosities is one of the most elaborate surviving examples of a 19th century craze for winsomely posed stuffed animals. It so epitomises the taste of the era that some of his pieces were lent to the big Victorian exhibition two years ago at the V&A in London.
Walter Potter was born in Bramber, a West Sussex village, in 1835. His life's work began as a teenager when a pet canary died. He carefully dissected and stuffed the bird himself: the slightly lumpy result of his first essay in taxidermy is still on display.
A dozen taxidermists exhibited at the Crystal Palace exhibition in 1851, many with complex anthropomorphic displays - frogs playing billiards, or kittens dressed as brides and bridesmaids.
Millions of day trippers visited the exhibition,and Potter may well have been inspired by what they and possibly he saw.
He opened his museum 10 years later.
The collection in his home expanded to thousands of little furry corpses, stuffed, dressed, and posed in tableaux - a school room, a drawing room, or a cricket pitch. Apart from charging two old pennies admission, he made a useful income stuffing expired pets.
What was once quaint and charming now strikes many as barbaric, but even in Mr Potter's day it turned a few stomachs: the collection displayed a reassuring notice that no animal had been deliberately killed to add to the throng. The collection has grown while in Cornwall, and includes Steptoe and Son's moth-eaten stuffed bear, rescued from their junk-room home in the TV series.
No price has been set on the collection yet, but the owners - who would like it kept together - have had several expressions of interest from America.