M looked across the solid oak desk over which so many life altering decisions had been made, so many world changing orders given. He was having trouble disclosing to 007 the details of his latest assignment. It was not an easy a part of the job at the best of times, a duty he was required to handle with a considerate, ‘gentlemanly’ balance of sensitivity and impassiveness.
But today he seemed reluctant to meet Bond’s gaze, as if direct eye contact was making him anxious in some way. It was unusual, this avoidance, especially as there must clearly be something of importance to be addressed. M would not have otherwise called him in on a more trivial matter.
Bond studied the one face which remained, after all these years, adamantly unreadable to him. A mixture of respect, deference and unconditional loyalty left him in reverence of the man, under who’s spell he was kept humbly servile.
Bond studied the old man’s face, a craggy, expressionless visage with a stony countenance which looked as if it could have been carved from granite. To Bond it remained indecipherable as ever. After all his years in the service, M was still somewhat of an enigma, one to whom he felt a sense of awe and wonder, borne out of unquestioning loyalty, fear, and the utmost respect. No clues, no ‘tells’, no nothing. He simply couldn’t fathom it.
He sat there racking his brain. Then he understood. M was embarrassed! Yes, he could see that now. The awkward, disjointed preamble of his speech was unmistakable. Bond sat still and waited patiently. He didn’t want to make the situation any more uncomfortable than it currently was.
‘This er.. well it concerns your health, double-0 seven. Now…’
M went on without pause for breath, anticipating an immediate outburst reaction from Bond.
‘I hate to have to go through this with you at such an early hour. Lord knows I myself would shudder at such a lecture at any time. But, er, the fact remains I simply must consider these unsavoury particulars.’
Shuffling in his chair, Bond waited for M to continue. This wasn’t so bad. He had been expecting worse, news of some megalomaniacal despot in the throes of causing global collapse, for example. But no. This was a personal matter relating to his own physical condition. A subject, in fact, he approached with great interest and importance.
‘You’ll understand my feelings when it comes to all my agents, in particular my top men,’ Here he stabbed towards Bond with his pipe, ‘And I don’t have to tell you, double-o seven, that you fall into that latter category.’
Good grief! thought Bond. Some undisguised praise? M must really be struggling. Such an open compliment was rare, even unheard of. He could count on one hand the number of times he could recall it ever happening during the whole of his long tenure.
M continued. ‘It is of course my responsibility for their wellbeing and to make absolutely certain I can guarantee the optimum capability and effectiveness and of the service.’
‘This morning I had a long discussion with chief of staff who, in turn, at my instruction, has collated reports with our medical, firearms and combat officers. The results are impressive, excellent in fact. Combat training in particular showed a high level of competence, as was to be expected. Even your overall health and fitness were above the top recommended threshold.’
Bond, still a bit bemused by this sudden eulogy, was nevertheless enjoying what he was hearing. But he was none the wiser listening to the old man, who had started to get further into the analytical data within the pile of documents strewn on the desk.
He couldn’t see where this conversation was going and began to sense trouble ahead, for already M was struggling again to get his words out, tripping up on the forced chitchat, intended to be jocular and banter-like, but instead the words landed like dead-weights.
‘Your health and physical fitness seem good. But, er, of course..’
Here M paused briefly, reluctant to spoil his loquacious tribute.
‘They could be better still. There is always room for improvement. That’s why I’ve decided to send you away for some extra treatment, shall we say. Place called Brushlands, down in Kent, near the south coast. Been running for the past ten years or so. Originally set up by this lady Dr Waynetta. She’s considered somewhat of a ‘health guru’ in the profession.’
Bond’s ears pricked up. Dr Waynetta was a practitioner he was very much aware of, having a natural interest in her pioneering methods. He had even read her book, Nature Call Explained.
M went on. ‘Waynetta was very much in the vanguard of the natural and organic lifestyle movement, which seems to have grown tremendously since then, and with no signs of it tailing off. No doubt you can’t have failed to notice its influence creeping more and more into wider society.’
M sneered slightly with this last statement. Wellness indeed! It could be no more than a fad, surely, a niche market for demonstrative self-righteous types seeking congratulation for their virtuous endeavours. From an outsider perspective it seemed more to bring out the one-upmanship, competitive side of people, whose attitude was more holier-than-thou, rather than a purer desire to achieve nirvana, or at least co-exist in spiritual harmony.
‘As you aren’t on any assignments right now I thought now would be the perfect opportunity to get down to it. No doubt you’ll be pleased to spend a bit of time out of the office too, away from the paperwork, get some fresh air.’
‘Thank you sir. Of course, I completely understand. As you say, one should always maintain a clean bill of health. This will give me a chance to stay on top of things. Quite a grueling course though, it sound like.’
‘Yes indeed. In a way I regret subjecting to this level of gobbledegook treatment.’
It was as if M was playing through the abstentious implications it would have on his own lifestyle, having no shortage of vices himself, more even than Bond.
‘It will mean a complete detox of the system. You will follow a strict diet, completely meat-free, plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, and of course a total abstinence from alcohol. Whatever the staff dictates. Upon admission you will be assigned a personal trainer, who will manage your personalised routine until your departure. You will be entirely in their hands for the duration. To cheat them would only be cheating yourself.’
M shuffled through the papers in front of him.
‘Some of the things included they talk about here I haven’t even heard of, let alone understand. Let me see now, here we are. Meditation, mindfulness, pilates [he pronounced it pye-layts], flotation tank sessions, what the devil is a flotation tank? Acupuncture, psychotherapy, homeopathic medicine… the list goes on.’
‘Massage and yoga therapy.’
A thorough enough plan for a week’s course, thought Bond, who considered himself more knowledgeable than most on the subject. He had a lofty attitude when speaking with non-experts therefore, au-fait and condescending, though was careful not express it too outwardly, as it could easily come across as preachy. The general public, he believed, would eventually come around to the huge benefits to be had, it would just take time.
He was already imagining the opportunity to fully immerse and indulge himself in activities he already had a predilection for, an excuse to utilise the benefits and expertise of what he knew to be the cutting edge, indeed, the future of a better way of living.
He saw the week ahead stretching out in a glorious swathe of bodily and spiritual nourishment. It seemed almost unfair that he should be allowed to wallow in such pleasure at the company’s expense. It seemed less like work, more of a holiday.
Bond, keeping his excitement under control, said to M,
‘You’ve obviously given this much thought, sir. If you believe it’s for the best then of course I accept your decision. It does seem like a large proportion of time to devote solely to one’s own wellbeing, but…’ He tailed off for dramatic effect. ‘If you think the experience would be of benefit then I suppose it’s worth undergoing.’
M then got into the finer details of the practices and ethos behind the clinic, reeling off lists of wholesome activities and homeopathic remedies, all of which was music to Bond’s ears.
‘Meditation sessions, at regular intervals throughout the day; mud baths, to rejuvenate skin cells and cleanse the pours; massage and yoga therapy; transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation for muscular skeletal pain relief; and, as I’ve already mentioned, a strict detox diet, consisting mainly of vegan and raw foods.’
Only through sheer grit and determination was Bond able to hold a poker face, for inside his heart was jumping.
What luck! An assignment which afforded him a decent spell of righteous recreation and pampering. Guilt-free, prescribed from the head of the service himself.
‘When am I booked in, sir?’ He asked, rather overeagerly.
‘Your internment begins next Monday, although you’ll be arriving the evening before for a short induction session. Each course lasts a fortnight, with a follow-up session a month after completion. That will mean another overnight stay, but we can schedule that later, should any assignments arise in the interim.’
‘I see sir.’ Bond paused for a moment, wondering whether he should try and get M to send him down even earlier, so as to have possibly even the whole weekend to settle in and acclimatise. He decided not to push his luck. He was onto a good thing with this, best to quit while he was ahead.
‘Next week it is, then. And I’ll try and come out in one piece.’
‘I have every faith in you 007. And again, I’m only going by what advice I have from my superiors on these matters. It’s nothing personal. Who knows,’ He tried unconvincingly to sound upbeat. ‘You may even come back feeling like a better man.’
But the sentiment did not ring true, specially through M’s crusty tone. Oh well, thought Bond. Let him go on thinking that way. M was incapable of change, a man from a bygone generation. Coldly stoic and emotionless, though underneath the surly exterior beat a warm heart, the embers of which still burned with a flicker of passion after years of stifling repression.
James Bond knew and understood the twisted psychology and conflicted complexities of this formidable, almost paternal figure who had made such a monumental impact on his life. It was why he dedicated his life to the service, for king and country. It felt like family, it felt like home.