This whole spy malarkey - how difficult can it be?
Frankly, I've always been a bit scathing of these big screen action men - the Jason Bournes, James Bonds, Austin Powers (baby!) of this world, most recently Jeremy Renner in The Bourne Legacy. After a while, they all seem to stop smiling in photos, like they've started believing they are actually secret agents in real life, not grown men fighting for mirror-space of a morning, and getting their hair professionally blow-waved, for heaven's sake.
I mean - how difficult can it be to rock up to a film set, be given a gun and PRETEND to fight for one's country against a rogue enemy, possibly across a rooftop or two, put one eye to the telescopic sight of a gun, squeeze the old trigger convincingly and still come out looking cool and impeccably coiffed?
Well, I was given the opportunity to see for myself on a recent day out to that well-known intelligence-gathering centre of the world, Milton Keynes, for a day of... spy training (other corporate entertainments for alpha-males tired of competing in the work place are available).
We were put through our paces by a group of tough, friendly, former military professionals - well, they said they were, they were wearing those woolly hats you normally see on screen, and I wouldn't have messed with any of them. I was pretty intimidated, when all they'd done was shout at us to get out of the minibus and put our bags down. They softened up long enough to tell us our plan for the day and, more importantly, where we could get "a brew" - military-speak for a cup of tea *taps nose.
First, we were given an insight into the loneliness of the long-distance sniper. The target wobbled around in the wind, as did I, so I decided it would be prudent just to close my eyes and fire between the wobbles. More by accident than design, my pellets found their way to the target - words like "ninja assassin" were bandied around, but such newfound military confidence in my abilities did not prove long lasting.
It was time for some drill, where no amount of bluffing it with some pellets could make up for my lack of fitness, as we charged around the field like Dad's Army, the legs crying out in protest. I was labelled "Alpha", but there had to be a proverbial weak link in the chain, and I was it - think Private Benjamin, just with fewer skills.
The day passed by in a blur of hard learning, moving from un-armed combat skills, through surveillance techniques to handling a pistol. I'd been looking forward to this bit - bit more ladylike, bit more Agatha Christie - but the reality of handling the smaller 'piece' proved just as complicated as its bigger brothers, and I was starting to garner a fresh respect for Messrs Renner and Co, just for staying on their feet through all this. And my goodness, it made a big bang.
Finally, the mission, where we put all our learning into action.
In a wonderfully contrived set piece, we were all seated, with a lovely cup of warm tea, to "watch a video and have a rest"... for all of five minutes until some interloper burst into the room, sprayed us with pellets and took one of our number hostage.
This was our cue to jump in a Land Rover - did I mention the legs? - drive into an aircraft hanger, hide behind a saloon car straight out of the Sweeney, do some running, shooting, general chicanery, and run around like mad men. There were obviously some tactics involved, which I blithely ignored for the sake of self-preservation. "Where's Alpha?" came the cry. Sitting on the floor staring at a bright orange AK-47 in bits with white foam pellets spilling out of it, that's where.
Strangely, despite the lack of Alpha's much-needed presence from the point of contact, the hostage was somehow rescued from the enemy territory (a van in the car park), and it was pats on backs all round while we debunked ourselves of approx. 6 kg of gear (apparently, those real chaps wear more than 40 kg, which feels like a staggering amount now I've had a little run around). We were told we were one of the best bunches they'd had, which warmed the cockles of my heart, even if I have the sneaking sensation they may have said this just a few times before.
So, based on my newly-acquired eagle eye, speed in the field (sort of) and general military wherewithal, will I be handing in my application form to MI6 any time soon? Probably not, even if I have discovered the delights of a cup of tea out of a big silver urn - a brew, as us veterans would have it.The Bourne Legacy is in UK cinemas now. Watch the trailer below... EASY!