Tuesday 7 November 2023

Reading/Time No. 3 | May to September 2023 - The Book/s I Read, The Watches I Wore, and a New Watch Alert!

From my last post, of July 8th;

I'll start on the next post sometime in the next week or two.


Actually, the more I think about it, the more I realise that this could become a very long post, so I think I'll write it as a two or three parter. 

May to November is a long stretch of time and it feels like much has happened, to say the least, so splitting a long post into a few parts might make a little more sense.

It's been a busy 2023 so far. Work has been hectic, but in a mostly good way. My feet are okay, except for the slight-to-noticeable degree of pain that I experience with my left foot where I fractured a metatarsal bone back in February. I'm hoping that this will fade over the next six to twelve months. Otherwise, I feel more surgery may be required.  

Most importantly, we had to put our wonderful cat Dussy to sleep a couple of weeks ago, after her health went downhill rapidly. I spent the rest of September feeling miserable about it. Truth be told, I'm still not over it.

I did write about her in my previous post, as I felt I had to get the experience out of my system. She was an extraordinarily wonderful cat that I will love and miss forever. 

However, not to dwell on it here.

The 37mm Longines Spirit got quite some time on the wrist over the last few months. 

Over the last year or so, I've reverted back to smaller sized watches in certain styles. I've been thinking more about the types of watches that I like, and the kind of size that I feel best suits my wrist. I've basically broken it down to a few categories. This is something that I began doing a few years ago and my aim is to end up with a definitive collection of three or four types of watches, in a tight range of sizes. 

For example, the Dive watch. I've been collecting watches since the mid-'90s. I've tried numerous case sizes over the years and have decided that a circa 40mm diameter diver works best on my 6.5 inch wrist (in my humble opinion). Sure, I can carry off a slightly larger size, but I seem to be most comfortable with 40mm, with a give-or-take of 1mm either side. So, 39mm to 41mm tends to be my preference, but I can push to 42mm depending on the watch. My Omega Planet Ocean, Seamaster 300 and Seiko SKX009 are all 42mm and they can tend to dominate the top of my wrist, but that's okay to me because they're such perfectly designed and balanced cases.
Books read in May to September
I've been on a spy novel binge this year and have predominantly churned through more than a few of Mick Herron's works this year. 
Prior to this, I was slowly trudging through Kim Sherwood's modern Bond story, entitled Double Or Nothing and got two-thirds of the way through it before it (or I) ran aground. More about that later.
I had already listed my gripes with this book in my earlier post from July 8th, so I won't go back into them here. Sherwood writes well enough, without a doubt, but I had to wonder if she was writing this book with a 'literary' writer's idea of how a Bond story should be. Writing Bond can be a razor's edge or tightrope walk, as it can be easy to fall into cliché or pastiche if one isn't careful. A few previous Bond continuation authors have lost their footing, in my view. Sebastian Faulks (Devil May Care) and William Boyd (Solo) spring to mind. 
Very well written, but not memorable. 
Oh, before I continue about books, how's about a typecast about the new watch that I got in the middle of May?

With this new iteration of the Explorer model, Rolex has applied the numerals and filled them in with their proprietary Chromalight lume so that they glow in the dark with a nice pale blue hue. In normal lighting, the markers, hands and numerals are a stark, bathroom-tile white. In the dark, they go an icy blue.
Looking at this photo here, you can see the attention to detail in the lume-filled markers and numerals. 
Very sharply done.
Why the Explorer, teeritz?
A few reasons. For one, Ian Fleming wrote a similar watch onto Bond's wrist in his second OO7 novel, Live And Let Die, back in 1954. Referring to it as the "the Rolex Oyster Perpetual with large phosphorous numerals", many watch nerds speculated that the watch was an Explorer. 
My theory? Well, Fleming was a stickler for details. Aside from his recipe for Bond's Vesper Martini, he specified the type of car Bond owned - a 1930 Bentley 4-and-a-half litre - right down to the engine modifications made to it, stipulated that Bond like his hard-boiled eggs - speckled eggs taken from French Marans hens - cooked for three-and-a-third minutes and served with Blue Mountain Coffee and toast with Oxford's English Marmalade. Fleming being Fleming, if Bond's Rolex had been an Explorer model, with the word 'EXPLORER' printed across the upper half of the dial, I suspect that he would have mentioned it. 
And I say this even despite the fact that Fleming himself owned and wore a 1016 model Explorer throughout his life.
Methinks that Bond's watch may have been the pre-Explorer watch, the Reference 6150;

This model tends to match Fleming's brief description. 
Anyway, for my money, the current model Explorer would be the closest match to what Bond might have worn in the novels. 
That is my flimsiest reason for getting this watch. 
FLASHBACK - Years ago, I got home from work on a warm Summer's night, and we finished dinner, packed the kids into the car and drove down to the beach for a stroll along the water's edge. It was a busy scene, with people in the water and parked out on the sand. A cool breeze blew off the surface of the water as I walked along with my wife, my sandals in one hand and her hand in the other as we kept a lazily watchful eye on the kids. 
A little later, we sat on the low blue-stone wall that separated the sand from the concrete walking path and I saw a middle-aged Asian man walk by. He was wearing a white T-shirt and light grey shorts that stopped half-way down his thighs. A pair of thin, black rectangular glasses were perched on his nose. His immaculate black hair was cut short and greying along the temples. His tanned arms were wiry. On his left wrist was a Rolex Explorer wristwatch, and I recall thinking that it looked sensational on him in the evening sunset light. Golden Hour is a wonderful thing. 
I began to speculate; was it his only watch or did he have a collection? I suspect it was  his only watch - don't ask me why - and it looked damned perfect. 
That image, fleetingly caught, has always stayed with me. 
And, another reason why I went for this watch is because it's just one of the nicer offerings in the current Rolex line-up. Simple as that. And it goes without saying that this watch got a lot of wear throughout the rest of May.

Okay, back to our scheduled program. And so, on to Mick Herron's books. I've been bingeing on them this year. I read three of his short story/novellas, The List, The Drop and The Catch. Each of these stories centres on John Bachelor, a low-level operative who has been relegated to keeping an eye on retired spies. Nothing Earth-shattering or of national security, he's merely meant to check up on them once a week, to make sure they're eating properly, taking their medications, keeping out of mischief, etc. Herron has a wonderful writing style, reminiscent of some of Len Deighton's work. The stories are atmospheric and to be taken seriously, but there's an underlying wit and sarcasm to them that counter-balances the trade-craft and spy stuff that occurs in the stories. 

John Bachelor tends to do the bare minimum of work required to keep his job, and he's of the notion that he'll one day be promoted or returned to the higher ranks of MI5, but he just seems not to do enough to increase his chances for redemption from the powers that be. Like the rest of Herron's characters, he's very well drawn. 

While skipping through these three novellas, I persisted with Sherwood's Bond book mentioned above and got two thirds of the way through. I started reading it in mid-April and gave up on it on September 19th. I have been haphazardly keeping a book journal and kept a record of what I've been reading this year. The fact that this book took me five MONTHS to get to page 286 should have told me something. 
Life is too short to waste time on a movie or book that you're not enjoying. 
This book also began to kill my love of reading, given that it was taking me so long to get through it. Coupled with a very busy workload in my job, I soon noticed that the thrill of reading was beginning to fade a little, which I suppose is why I jumped into reading the novellas. Bite-sized books kept me reading.
The Tudor Black Bay 58 has been worn a lot in the two-and-a-half years that I've had it. It has in many ways usurped the Rolex Submariner 5513 from its high perch in the collection. 
So much so, that I've been giving some serious thought to selling the Submariner and perhaps replacing it with a more modern model, possibly a Reference 16610 from the early 2000s. I'll have to give a lot more thought before I make a definite decision.
And so, back to Herron's works. To date, he has written eight books in his Slough House series. These books revolve around disgraced members of MI5 who have botched assignments in major ways. Rather than being sacked (fired), and to avoid Human Resources red tape and/or wrongful dismissal litigation, they are relegated by HQ to a poorly funded/maintained/empowered division of the intelligence services at Slough House, a drab group of offices located behind a door - that's never used - which is sandwiched between a Chinese take-away restaurant and a newsagent/grocery. The staff enter these ramshackle offices via an entrance at the rear of the building. Up a flight of metal stairs to a door leading in, which always requires a shove to get it opened or closed.
The offices are cold and poorly lit, the stairs creak when somebody takes them. The staff bicker among themselves. As further insult, they are nicknamed 'Slow Horses', also being a pun on the location of their 'headquarters'. 
In charge of this group is one Jackson Lamb, who drinks and smokes too much, doesn't shower often enough and treats them all like idiots, keeping them occupied with mundane and boring tasks, in the hopes that they'll quit the Service. Rumour has it that Lamb was once stationed in Berlin before The Wall came down, but this is yet to be fleshed out in any of the books I've read. 
He routinely insults them, reminds them often enough of the reasons why they are in Slough House, and belches and farts in their presence, but he has an extreme loyalty towards them all and this is evident when his crew are in danger. They are his 'joes', after all. It's a term used throughout these books to refer to field agents. 
Like John le Carré, Herron has created his own jargon. 

I read books three and four back-to-back. They were Spook Street (2017) and London Rules (2018).
Spook Street begins with a suicide bomber detonating his back-pack in a shopping centre. Meanwhile, an attempt is made on the life of David Cartwright, retired spook (a term for spies) who may or may not be showing signs of dementia. His grandson is River Cartwright, one of the Slow Horses in Jackson Lamb's team, who goes to France to investigate the origins of the suicide bomber. 
Old spy David Cartwright's name is Herron's easter-egg/homage to John le Carré, who's real name was David Cornwell.
River Cartwright fumbled a training exercise in the opening pages of the first book Slow Horses (2010), although it is questionable as to whether or not he was at fault. Rumour has it that his grandfather was instrumental in pulling some strings to avoid his grandson getting booted out of the Service entirely, thus we find young River Cartwright relegated to the mind-numbing purgatory of Slough House.
The Longines Spirit was worn a lot during September when I was reading Spook Street. The 37mm diameter of this watch does sit quite perfectly on my slender wrist and its dial offers some nice, clear readability. Although, I do find that this watch has more of a 'Winter feel' to it and, therefore, I think it won't be worn so much over the warmer months ahead. I bought a leather strap for it recently and I'll put it through its paces when Winter comes around.  
Similar in some ways to the Explorer, this watch also features applied numerals on the dial which have been filled in with Luminous material. 
Applied markers as opposed to painted ones;

With applied markers, the dial has small holes drilled into it and the hour markers are then anchored to the dial, offering a three-dimensional aspect to the overall look of the markers or numbers. 
Whereas, a painted dial is just that. The hour markers are stamped onto a flat disc dial, often then painted over with luminous material. Either method works well, but I have to say I do like the extra effort that is made with the applied markers.

The events in the next book London Rules (2013) show some continuation from the previous novel, as the slow horses find themselves caught up in a plot involving a foreign hit squad that has arrived in London. Slough House's resident tech-head, a young IT whiz named Roderick Ho, goes missing. He's so conceited that he's of the belief that he was relegated to this dead-end team because he was too brilliant to remain in MI5. He's young and wears baggy denim and hoodies as his hands dance across computer keyboards while cans of energy drinks and empty pizza boxes pile up around his desk.
Meanwhile, River Cartwright is dealing with some revelations that he uncovered in Spook Street.
Herron is adept at characterisation. He gets you invested in the slow horses, even though, to keep things real, he kills off characters as the books go by. His dialogue is spot-on and his characters are consistent, with new one being introduced amid the skullduggery that goes in in the corridors of British Intelligence.
The Seiko SKX009K came in handy. There were some days when I was happy to be reminded of what day it was. The day wheel on this watch is in Spanish, hence the 'MAR' is short for 'Martes' (Tuesday), rather than 'March'.

And also, among all the Mick Herron that I read, I also blitzed through Charlie Higson's James Bond novella entitled On His Majesty's Secret Service. 
In this story, Bond is sent to investigate the affairs of a fellow named Athelstan of Wessex, who claims that he is, historically, the rightful heir to England's throne and he plans to disrupt the upcoming coronation of King Charles III. There's more to it than that, but I read it so quickly that I'm having trouble remembering it! I must have been in Slough House too long. It'll need a re-reading at some point. 
I have to say though that it was well written. Higson penned six Young Bond books earlier this century and they were well-received. He has a better understanding of the character of James Bond than many of the continuation authors who have taken a crack at writing a OO7 adventure. 
It would be interesting to read a full-length Bond novel written by him. 
We'll see.

Okay, so I'll park this post here for now. It got a little longer than I thought it would, but it brings things up to speed, as far as the last several months are concerned. 
My wife has been studying over the past two years, working towards a Master's Degree in Counseling and I have been pretty busy at work this year, so we decided that a quick break was in order. We figured a week or so of doing as little as possible might be a good idea, preferably overseas.
So, we organised a short holiday. 
More about that in the next post.

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

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