“Oh, keeping reasonably busy. … I’m building a long dwarf wall with mellow second-hand bricks in the flower garden at the back of my cottage in Wiltshire. It’s my first effort at laying bricks, and I’m painfully slow at it, but if you want a great sense of satisfaction, Kim, build a wall.”
(The Night of Morningstar, chapter 6)
This week it so happened that Gogol’s Circus was in San Sebastian, just over the border, and Willie’s host and hostess had greatly enjoyed being taken behind the scenes for an hour or so before a performance. To provide a special treat for Consuela, who was artless as a child in many ways, Willie had conspired with Georgi to put on an extra act that evening. As a result, Consuela and Etienne were puzzled when both Modesty and Willie vanished during the intermission; and later, between the trapezists and the big cats, they were astonished to see Modesty appear in spangles, fishnet tights and heavy make-up, to act as target for the knives, machetes and tomahawks hurled alarmingly close to her by a character Georgi announced as Pancho Caramba, the World Famous Thrower of Knives. Wearing an enormous Mexican sombrero, a red shirt, black trousers with silver buttons down the legs, and a ten-inch drooping moustache, Willie Garvin had hammed his way outrageously through a six-minute act to leave Consuela weak with laughter.
(The Xanadu Talisman, chapter 1)
His experience with the circus that he partly owned had given him no liking for cats, but he had learned a little about them. What he knew about the panther was not reassuring. It was more malevolent and more intelligent than a lion or tiger, and not much inferior to either in fighting ability. Because it was smaller, it would not normally attack an adult human unless provoked, but occasionally could become a man-killer. Hungry, frightened, and recently uncaged, this one would be likely to attack anything it could reach.
(The Xanadu Talisman, chapter 10)
“Yes, didn’t you know? Willie bought a half share in a travelling circus soon after we retired. It’s mainly run by his partner, Georgi Gogol, but Willie usually spends a few weeks with it every year, sometimes here if it’s touring Britain, sometimes abroad. I’ve done a few odd jobs there myself on occasion. It’s truly fascinating.”
(Dead Man’s Handle, chapter 2)
“Steve was at a business meeting when I took Dinah to the circus at Guildford, so he’s never seen you do your knife-throwing act as El Cazador and he says it’s his overwhelming ambition.” She pulled a wry face in the glass. “What he actually said was that though he has unfortunately had occasion to observe your expertise with trenchant weapons, which is why he could easily pass for a geriatric, he has never yet had the pleasure of seeing you throw to miss a human target.”
(Dead Man’s Handle, chapter 4)
Modesty takes Crichton clay-pigeon shooting.
Luke Fletcher enjoyed the stables, the walk across the small meadow and back through the copse, and the bright colours of the untidy flower beds. He did not react at all to the workshop in the converted barn, and looked uneasily at the clay pigeon layout.
(Dragon’s Claw, chapter 5)
‘Oh, cricket!’ Again he had surprised her. She searched her memory. ‘England were 297 for six wickets at close of play yesterday.’
‘You’re a fan?’ he said with pleasure.
‘Only for village-green cricket, I’m afraid. But Willie Garvin likes the more sophisticated stuff. He managed to pick up an English news broadcast on the car radio last night.
(A Better Day to Die)
‘I’m not asleep,’ said Modesty. ‘I’m listening to cricket, like Dinah. It’s a beautiful collection of sounds. Try it, Steve.’
The wicket went down with both batsmen in mid-pitch. Applause pattered round the ground. Dinah said, ‘What’s happened?’ Modesty began to tell her.
Batsmen, fielders and umpires were walking to the pavilion, all except the fielder at square leg, who made for the leg boundary.
‘Enter William Garvin Esquire wearing the new mid-calf trousers,’ said Collier as he approached.
(Last Day in Limbo, chapter 16)
When Willie and I have had a work-out we like a quiet evening. After he’s taken a shower we’ll have some tea and read the Sunday papers. Then we’ll go out in Willie’s boat. He’ll spend an hour or so fishing, and I’ll just lie in the boat and doze.
(Sabre-Tooth, chapter 3)
‘Could you fly that de Havilland Dove, Willie?’
He shrugged. ‘I’ve never flown one before, but I’ve ’ad plenty of flying-time on a Beech-18, and there’s not a lot of difference. All I need is ten minutes to look over the controls.’
(Sabre-Tooth, chapter 15)
At the start of The Impossible Virgin, Modesty has rented a Piper Comanche, described as ‘a sturdy, elegant little aircraft’, to fly from England out to Durban to meet John Dall, but has to land in Tanzania where she befriends Giles Pennyfeather.
“I found out about the helicopters. The big one’s called a Sikorsky, but that flew out today for some special stores, and it won’t be back till tomorrow. The other’s called a Gazelle, and it seats five.”
Modesty, sitting wrapped in a blanket, answered casually without glancing at the guard who stood in the open doorway. “That’s good. We’ve both flown a Gazelle.”
(The Xanadu Talisman, chapter 12)
Danny Chavasse said, “For one crazy moment I thought I heard Modesty say she was going to fly a kidney to somewhere.”
Dinah nodded. “That’s right. She’s one of the St. John Air Wing volunteers, and she’s on call this week. They make emergency flights to take medical stuff from A to B when it’s needed fast, like some rare blood group, or serum, or transplant organ. That must have been her co-ordinator on the phone.”
“These are all pilots who have their own aircraft, like Modesty?”
“Yes, that’s how it works. She brought her Piper Comanche down here to the airfield at Kingsbrook last week.”
(Dead Man’s Handle, chapter 2)
Hang-gliding and parachuting
The figures swooped apart, spread-eagled, slanting down and away from each other. At 2,500 feet the white and orange gores of the parachutes began to flower.
‘You’ve done a lot of it?’ Tarrant asked.
‘Quite a lot. Mostly in France. It was a big thing there before it got going over here. We thought it might be useful for a job sometime.’
(I, Lucifer, chapter 7)
In Dragon’s Claw Willie gives a hang-gliding demonstration at the fete. Later Willie and Modesty escape from Paradise Peak by building a hang-glider.
Sam Solon’s twin-jet Gulfstream was the only way of escape from Dragon’s Claw, and neither she nor Willie had flown such an aircraft.
(Dragon’s Claw, passim)
In Old Alex Modesty and Willie use hang-gliders to locate the sniper Skendi who has been sent to kill Modesty.
Modesty said: ‘Willie, be quiet,’ and tossed her ball at him. He caught it and set it down on a plastic tee for her. As they played the first hole Tarrant discovered that these two had taken up the game only twelve months ago. With their natural co-ordination of hand, muscle and eye, they were already very good—and might have been far better if their approach to the game had not been irreverent and experimental.
(Sabre-Tooth, Chapter 3)
Pot-holing and Fell running
„… For example, have you ever done any caving? Pot-holing?” He [Quinn] lifted a hand. “No, don’t shoot me down. I’m serious.”
She looked at him suspiciously. “All right. We’ve done very little. Carlswark Cave in the Peak District and Eastwater Swallet in the Mendips. Just to see what it was like. It didn’t have much appeal for either of us, so that was all.”
[Quinn, it turns out, is expert and can guide them to the Lancieux cave.]
(The Silver Mistress, chapter 8)
“… Weng makes the ridiculous allegation that Modesty and Willie have been navigating and running a thirty mile course through these fells today, and propose to complete another twenty tomorrow.”
“There is nothing ridiculous about it, Mr. Collier,” Weng said mildly. “Many people enter these events.”
“This one is the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon, and there are many entrants from all parts of the country, Mr. Collier.”
(Dead Man’s Handle, chapter 15)
Many of the stories and strips involve scuba-diving or free diving as a means of escape or rescue from the sea, from wells, from caves or from underground rivers. There is also Willie’s pearl-diving while assembling the necklace for Modesty, described at the start of A Taste for Death. In two cases we see Modesty and Willie enjoying scuba-diving for recreation.
She hadn’t gone soft in this last year. There had been plenty of exercise—a daily swim, the long rides at Benildon, and the occasional work-outs with Willie Garvin, for old time’s sake.
(Modesty Blaise, chapter 5)
‘She’ll go some place with Willie Garvin. She’ll take it easy, and she’ll sleep alone. Maybe they’ll do things, like swim or ride, or sail … or other things, like go on the town, dance, play roulette. And maybe they won’t. They know how to do things, those two. But they know how to be completely idle, and that’s a rare art.’
(I, Lucifer, chapter 25)
“Aye, Willie, I know. I take it she’s a good sailor?”
“Sure. And a first-class navigator.”
“Sometimes you make me sick, the two of you. You’re good at too many things, Willie.”
“Not really, but I suppose we’re lucky ’aving loads of time to spend on whatever it is. Modesty’s always setting ’erself something new to learn, and I picked it up from ’er. Hire the best teacher and then go at it pretty well full time for a month, or two months, or a year, or ’owever long it takes, whether it’s sailing or gliding or scuba-diving, or maybe learning a new language—”
(Dragon’s Claw, chapter 2)
… he always revelled in the pleasure of idling the hours away with her, talking, reflecting, never discussing operations directly, letting the subconscious work on problems, taking the hour-long swim in the pool with her, fifty-two lengths to the mile, relaxing, perhaps having a light combat workout, playing a game of chess or backgammon, listening to some music, talking, watching her move about the kitchen as she prepared a meal …
“Come Saturday morning,” she said. “I’ll make a paiella for dinner.”
(The Night of Morningstar, chapter 1)
I list only the girls from the books and short stories. My source, John Higgins‘ Modesty Blaise site, also lists their activities from the comic strips.