Saturday 10 June 2023

Reading/Time No. 1 | February 2023 - The Book/s I Read, The Watches I Wore, Etc.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I figured I'd read a little more this year. It's a pastime that I used to partake of more in my younger years, when it seemed that I had more free time. Even once the kids came along, I still managed to get some reading done in bed before lights out. 
In recent years, though, I've fallen into the trap set by the little black rectangle, checking emails, Instagram and other non-urgent online crap before lights out.
So, I felt it might be time to get a little more mature with my nightly routine and get back to reading. 
Also, I wanted to tackle espionage fiction in particular, as it's always been a favourite genre of mine, and there are a slew of titles that I'd like to read. And, as a way of perhaps doing a little more blogging, I figured I'd write a little something about these books. I should mention that I won't concentrate too much on their plots. I'll most likely be talking more about the writing, pace and readability (in my humble op) of the books. I'm no critic, mind you, so it's more than likely just gonna read as an opinion piece.
So, time to get started.
                                                  - What I read in February - 

                                  In my previous post, I mentioned that I had read The Trinity Six, by Charles Cumming.  That was a nicely written book, with a plot that reminded me of something that John le Carré might have written in his later years. It should be noted that le Carré didn't solely write espionage. Very often, his main plot would have to do with the nefarious dealings of big business or government, with a main character not being part of the secret intelligence world. 
Next book that I read was a novella by a favourite modern spy author of mine, Mick Herron. He's been writing for twenty years, and his first couple of books were mysteries, but he hit his stride in 2010 with the release of Slow Horses, about a forgotten and neglected division of MI5 where agents who have messed up are sent to perform menial and unimportant administrative tasks, in the hopes that they'll become so bored and unfulfilled in this dead-end department that they'll hand in their resignations. 
They are stationed in a series of shabby offices in a building called Slough House, and the intelligence operatives at MI5 HQ in Regent's Park refer to these has-beens as the slow horses. 
Leading this rag-tag team is one Mr Jackson Lamb, complete with a steady supply of cigarettes, Scotch and insulting one-liners directed at his team, or 'Joes', as they are referred to in spy slang. He has a paunch, which strains the (probable) polyester fabric of his food-stained shirts, an unfiltered potty-mouth, and an unrestrained lack of decorum which sees him break wind in any given situation. 
James Bond he ain't.
What he is, however, is a wonderfully drawn character with a sharp mind, a former Cold Warrior who was stationed in Berlin when The Wall was still intact, and was captured by The Stasi at some point before coming back to Britain a different man. The details of this have only been hinted at in the three books I've read so far. 
Lamb seems to be playing two moves ahead of everyone else, including Diana Taverner, acting Head of MI5 and his former boss. 
The Slough House series has since been turned into two seasons of a mini-series for AppleTV. I won't say any more about it, except to say that they have been excellent, with a wonderful cast and great cinematography.
Getting back to the novella that I read, The Catch concerns John Bachelor, a not-very-successful former operative of MI5 who has been cut down to part-time status and farmed out to looking after retired assets in their twilight years. He basically just has to check up on them every few weeks or so, to ensure that their fridge has enough food in it and that they are living out their final years without selling whatever secrets they may still possess to the other side. 
Bachelor gets called in by HQ and is tasked with finding one of his charges, whom he hasn't checked up on in some time, like he is supposed to. It appears the old boy has gone AWOL and who knows who he could be talking to? 
It's a short book, but the characters, some of whom appear in other Slough House books in the series, are well-drawn, and John Bachelor, despite his numerous shortcomings, is a three-dimensional and sympathetic character. 

Wristwatch-wise, I wore the recently-arrived Longines Spirit. This model is 37mm in diameter and therefore sits nicely on my small wrist. This smaller size gives the impression that the watch might have been made in the 1950s or '60s, which is kind of the vibe I was going for. I came to the realisation about a year or two ago that I prefer certain styles of watches to be a certain size. That's a blog post on its own, for sure, and I'll get around to writing it at some point. This watch's size makes for a nicely understated piece, one that stays out of sight until needed.
The Catch was a short book, which I had finished by mid-February, so I was now ready for a book that I had bought about two years ago and had yet to read. I took a week's break and then started on All The Old Knives, written by Olen Steinhauer.

AMERICANO COCKTAIL - Bond's first drink*

Into a highball glass, add a decent amount of ice. Then pour in;
1 ounce (30ml) of Campari
1 ounce (30ml) of Sweet Vermouth (Cinzano Rosso, Martini Rosso, etc. Basically, red vermouth)
Top up with Soda Water of choice. Mineral water works just as nicely. 
Add a slice of orange. 

*Weaker, but cooler than a Negroni (IMHO), this is the first drink that we see Bond order in 1953's Casino Royale by Ian Fleming. You can bump up the measurements to 45ml each if 30ml doesn't provided enough kick. 
This is a great drink for a warm Summer afternoon. 

The Longines Spirit is also seen in the frame up above. All The Old Knives concerns two CIA operatives, who were once in a brief relationship, who reunite to discuss an old mission that went wrong. 
Henry Pelham is still with the CIA and he has arranged to have lunch with his former flame Celia Harrison (nee Favreau), who was stationed in Vienna at the time of a hijacking which ended in disaster. 
Pelham has been assigned to investigate whether or not a mole inside the Agency may have caused the failure of the hostage rescue mission, which resulted in the deaths of over 200 passengers and crew on board the plane. 
The story is told in 1st person present-tense, which I normally steer clear of, but Steinhauer's such an adept storyteller that I can forgive this aspect of the writing and was soon swept up by it. The chapters flit back and forth between Pelham's version of events and Celia Harrison's recollection of them and each chapter gives the reader little tidbits here and there without being led by the hand.
It's a nicely plotted book and for me personally, a second read of it would reveal more to me, as I think I was slightly distracted by my foot troubles while reading it. 
In saying that, it was a worthwhile read. Not a true spy story in the strictest sense, but very well written. 
And yes, this is another spy book that has ended up on screen recently, via Amazon Prime. I'll have to catch up with it someday.
This here is a circa 1963 Tudor Oyster, which I hadn't worn much in recent years because the seconds hand kept binding against the minute hand, resulting in the watch stopping while on the wrist. This is not actually something that you want a wristwatch to do. Kind'a defeats the purpose of a wristwatch.
The seconds hand would need to be re-positioned on the central post or it might've required some slight 're-forming' so that it would sit a little higher and, therefore, sweep over the minute hand without brushing against it. 
The watchmaker that I work with had a look at it and got it sorted out quickly. I wore it the next day and it performed like a champion. It was good to have it back on my wrist. 
My wife found this watch in a Thrift store about 20 years ago. She paid fifty bucks for it. It wasn't running, the crystal was all scratched up, the winding crown wouldn't screw down into the case the way it was supposed to. 
I then spent another $350.oo getting it serviced and fixed up. I could have sold it for four times that figure, at least, but this was the first (and only, to date) watch that my wife has ever bought me, so this aspect alone makes it a keeper. 
At an opposite end of the spectrum is the 2007 Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean. This watch doesn't see as much time on the wrist as it used to, most likely due to its 42mm diameter which, while it sits okay on my wrist, is probably just a tad larger than I'd prefer it to be. 
My tastes have shifted in recent years. I've been collecting watches long enough now to know what works on my wrist, what doesn't, and what my evolving preferences are. I can tell that I'm reaching that point where I know exactly what kind of watch I like, in terms of both style/type and sizing. Took me long enough!
Having said all that, whenever I do put this watch on, I fall in love with it all over again. 

Okay, that's maybe this post done and dusted. I might get started on the next one soon, which will cover the month of March.

I hope you've all been well and thanks for reading!

Saturday 3 June 2023

June 2023 - Post-Op Recovery: Short Dispatch No. 7 - Taking a Little Longer Than I Thought (+ the Watches I Wore & the Books I Read)

Saturday June 3rd, 2023

                                       I actually started this post back in April, and then things got busy.

When last we spoke of this foot mishap, I was strapped into a moon-boot, which I would have to wear for approximately four to six weeks. 

See my post before-last...or if you're too lazy to scroll down, here's the link;

Feb 2023 | Post- Op Recovery: Short Despatch No. 6 - A Slight Hiccup. (And a Tetanus Shot!*)

Anyway, I wore the moon-boot for just on six weeks and then I had another round of x-rays and an Ultrasound. A couple of days after that, my podiatrist sent me a text message to say that the x-rays 'looked good' and I could take off the boot and get back into my normal shoes, but I was instructed to take it a little easy for a few weeks. 
The moon-boot came off on March 22nd and I went along my merry way, but my left foot was still hurting a little. To be expected, I thought, as I figured that it might still be a few weeks before it was fully recovered. 
Problem was, it was now a month later and I was still limping along. My foot was swollen on top near the toes and it still hurt throughout the day as I walked.

Book and Watch

I decided at the beginning of the year that I was going to make an effort to read more. And I also decided that the bulk of what I read should be espionage fiction, since A) I have quite a bit of it on my bookshelves, and B) it's a genre that I like to read.
So, I started off with Charles Cumming's The Trinity Six. It concerns an English Professor of Russian Politics, Sam Gaddis, whose latest book hasn't exactly set the best-seller list on fire. His ex-wife is pressing him for more financial support and his editor is asking about his next book, suggesting that he perhaps try his hand at less academic (and more sellable) literature. 
Meanwhile, a writer friend of his tells him about an elderly gentleman who claims to know the identity of the sixth member of the Cambridge spies who caused so much damage to British security during the war and in the Cold War years which followed. 
The Cambridge Five consisted of Harold 'Kim' Philby, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, Anthony Blunt, and John Cairncross. 
Run a Wikipedia search for 'Cambridge Five' to get a good synopsis of this famous episode in espionage history. Kim Philby is perhaps the one who has been written about the most, and a recent book by Ben Macintyre, entitled A Spy Among Friends, offers further insight into Philby's duplicity during his years in British Intelligence. 
The Trinity Six follows our hero, Sam Gaddis, as he conducts a series of clandestine interviews with this elderly gentleman in order to uncover the truth of his claims while the KGB road-blocks all avenues open to Gaddis because they don't want this sixth member of this group of double-agents uncovered. The characters are well-drawn and the book is nicely written. Author Charles Cumming takes a deserved place at the table occupied in the past by the likes of John le Carré. 
The watch in the photo is the early '90s Tudor Prince Oyster Date. It needs a service, and a new crystal (glass) because the existing one is a cheap after-market one and the date magnifier offers a distorted view of the date numeral. This is something that would not occur with a genuine Tudor crystal. 
The watch measures a wonderful 34mm in diameter, which is considered small by today's standards, but was a standard men's wristwatch size for over 40 years, and it suits my small wrists just fine. 
Tudor was created by Hans Wilsdorf, the founder of Rolex, as a less expensive alternative to Rolex, and aimed at the working man who wanted a dependable and well-made watch. 
All parts, except for the movement, were made by Rolex. 

Your wristwatch snobs will say that Tudor was invented for people who can't afford a Rolex. 
And your point is?
May 29th - OFF-TOPIC: Since there's some empty space here, I figured it's a good spot to apologise to my regular readers for the long gaps between posts. Life is a little hectic, work is hella busy and consists mainly of staring at a computer screen for most of the day. 
kiojuh - okay, my cat just walked across the keyboard and typed that word. Ha! These letters are all close to each other on your standard qwerty layout. I think I might as well leave it in.
Where was I? Oh, yeah, my workday consisting of  staring at a computer screen all day long. 
As such, by the time I find myself in the quieter moments of the evenings or weekends, getting back in front of a computer screen has less allure than it used to have. 
Still, I'll see if I can post a little more often. More importantly, I'll see if I can keep it interesting. 
Since I've started reading a little more this year, maybe I'll write  about the books I've gotten through. I'm no book critic, mind you.  I have some classic spy authors still to read and there are also some modern authors whom I've never read, but ought to. 
Oh, and on the wristwatch front, two watches have gone and two watches have come in, at the time of writing, but more about these in due course. 

Okay, so following on from the typecast above, I was about to make an appointment through Priority Care...

Okay, that typecast was a month ago. So, I had the x-rays taken, and went and saw my surgeon in the first week of May. I gave him the rundown on what had happened with my feet since I last spoke to him back in December last year.
He checked my feet and was happy with the range of motion in my big toes, although he did say that the operation will have staved off any joint fusion surgery for about five years. I do have osteoarthritis in my toe joints, after all. Hell, I was hoping to avoid that type of operation. 
Still, I felt much relieved to be speaking to him about all of this rather than having to go through it all again with some other surgeon. 
Anyway, he told me running is a no-no for the time being. That's okay. I don't run. And he said no push-ups, either. Now that's a shame, but I think I can work around it by resting the in-steps of my feet on a foam roller '. I tried it one day and felt my stomach muscles ache after a minute or so. Good. Might get a stronger core. 
And it looks like I'll begin leaning a little more heavily towards a Mediterranean diet, which relies more on white meats (especially fish which contain high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids) and legumes which have anti-inflammatory benefits.  

Okay, enough of the serious stuff. It gets dealt with on a daily basis already. It's called 'life'. 
This post has run out of puff, as far as I'm concerned, so I might just wrap it up and start on the next one. 
Although, I'll add a little here about a watch that I picked up back in early January. 
A little backstory first -  Back in early February last year, I worked briefly for Longines, as a Customer Service Officer, dealing with repair enquiries on a daily basis. Prior to starting in this role, I did a couple of weeks training at one of their boutiques. I already knew enough about the brand, having sold them for over ten years at a watch boutique back in the Noughties, but it was interesting to see what the current Longines watch line-up consisted of. 
The brand had released the Spirit range of Pilot's watches back in 2020 and it had done very nicely for them. As a refresher, a Pilot's watch tends to feature a dark dial with luminous numerals all the way around. Often, they will have a slightly larger or oversized crown, to make it easier to set and wind the watch while wearing flight gloves. 
This was, obviously, aimed more at the pilots of yesteryear, but this style of wristwatch has remained popular over the decades since they first gained prominence in the cockpit. 
Anyway, Longines released this new Spirit model in 2020;
picture courtesy of, from this write-up;
It was a great watch, but it didn't really grab me because I felt it might be a little too similar to my Hamilton Khaki Field Automatic, seen below.
Both watches have numbers 1 to 12 on the dial, both have date windows, and both are 40mm in diameter. 

So, I didn't really give the Longines Spirit another thought. I thought it was a beautifully realised watch, but I didn't want a 40mm Pilot's watch. They had also released a 42mm version, and I was gonna well and truly stay away from that one.
And then, Longines released a 37mm version sometime in early/mid 2022, and I began to take notice, despite the fact that all of the marketing around this new smaller version was aimed at the ladies. 
Having been into watches for much of my life, and having worked in the watch industry for over 20 years, I have seen fads, designs and tastes come and go. Watches started getting larger 20 years ago, circa 2003, with the first two culprits being the 46mm IWC Big Pilot, and the 43mm Breitling Crosswind models. These two brands ushered in a mad wave of BIG watches across most of the major brands. 
Thankfully, I have seen a shift back towards more sedate sizing, albeit a slow shift back, but a shift nonetheless. I'm all for there being some choices when it comes to watch sizes, but personally, once you go beyond a certain diameter, it's no longer about watches. It's about flexing, showing off, a pissing contest. 
I too fell into the big watch craze about ten years ago when I bought a 44mm Hamilton Khaki Officers Mechanical. It was comically large for my wrist, but I was aiming for a watch that looked like a wartime spy's piece of kit. I reviewed that watch and had some fun doing so. The review is here on this blog for those of you who want to read it. I've been tempted to 'remake' that review with the newer Hamilton Khaki, but...
Anyway, Longines released the Spirit model in 37mm and I knew I was in trouble. 
The new models were available in black, champagne-silver or sunray blue dial. I opted for blue, in an effort to break up the 'black dial heavy' collection a little. 
This watch punches well above its weight. Here's a dial close-up;

The numerals are applied, which means they are attached to the dial with prongs that slot into holes drilled into the dial. Very nicely done, and they appear to 'float' on the surface of the dial.  The numerals are hollow and filled with Superluminova, the luminous compound that allows the numbers to glow in the dark.
The chapter ring, that outer edge of the dial with 5,10,15,20, etc, and the minute markers on it, has a little diamond-shaped cut-out at every hour marker. 
The red-painted seconds hand has a diamond-shaped tip which passes directly over these diamond cut-outs, obscuring them for a brief moment. 
The blue sunray/sunburst pattern on the dial reflects light at certain angles, and can look black in low light to a vibrant cobalt blue in bright sunshine.
The date window is down at six o'clock, making for better symmetry to the dial.

And that's just on the outside. Under the bonnet, this thing houses the Longines  proprietary Calibre L.888.4 movement, which offers a wonderful 72 hour power reserve AND is Chronometer Certified. The balance spring, which is most susceptible to magnetic interference in any watch and can cause excessive gains in timekeeping, is made of silicon, so that takes care of that possibility. 

There's a lot to like about this watch. The 37mm diameter sits nicely on my slender, school-girly wrist and the end-link on the bracelet has a small button on its underside which allows you to remove the bracelet from the watch without any tools. One added touch that I find cool is the LONGINES name engraved horizontally along the length of the clasp.

Man, did I say I was wrapping this post up? Sorry.

All in all, a very well-made and nicely understated watch, and  one that fills the Pilot's watch category very handsomely. This 37mm size gives off a wonderfully old-school vibe. Those of you who are regular readers of this blog would know that this is the kind of feel that I generally aim for when it comes to wristwatches. 


Okay, all for now. I'll get started on my next post soon. 

Thanks for reading!