Wednesday 27 March 2024

Reading/Time No. 4 | September - December 2023 - The Book/s I Read, The Watches I Wore, and One Typewriter Leaves While Another One Arrives


Oh, one typewriter that I’m most likely gonna shift - I have an Olivetti Lettera 22 that has always been problematic, but seems to have gotten worse recently. The ribbon doesn't seem to advance any longer. Aside from that, the original problem was that the carriage locks up when it gets to the end of a line and the bell rings. So, rather than spend time, energy and money on getting it dealt with, I think I'd rather just get rid of it as a fixer-upper or parts machine for somebody else.

October 2023
I didn't read much throughout September. Our wonderful cat Dussy's health deteriorated rapidly in the first week of that month and we made the painful decision to put her to sleep. See my post from around that time, as my eyes are welling up a little as I write this. I spent a couple of listless weeks concentrating on work during the day and not much else once I got home. I may have gotten a little run-down too. Thought it was hayfever, then suspected it might be Covid. Did a test. It was Negative. Went to the doctor. Turns out it was a 'flu. My wife and I would be going to Vietnam a week later, so I took things easy. Felt back to normal a few days later.
Okay, the books I read. After finishing London Rules, I sped through two more of Mick Herron's books. These two aren't part of his Slough House series, but they do still take place in the corners of that world, with some guest appearances from characters and/or departments that are touched upon in previous novels.
Nobody Walks concerns Tom Bettany, an ex-MI5 operative now working at an abattoir in France. As far a cry from his former life as possible, when he gets a message telling him that his estranged son has died in London. He heads back to England and finds that more than a few people from his former life are interested to learn that he’s back in town. This book has a le Carre feel to it in terms of mood and plotting. I don’t normally look at what’s occurring between the lines when I read a book but this one had a strong theme of ‘closure’ permeating throughout the narrative.

The Omega Seamaster Professional 300m, which I purchased way back in November 1999. This watch hasn't seen much time on the wrist in recent years. Most likely due to the skeleton hands, which I've found tricky to read in low light as my eyes age, along with the rest of me. I do think there are aspects of this watch that have dated over the years, such as the aforementioned hands. I've also found the wave pattern of the dial to be another element of this watch which firmly plants it back to the late Nineties, although it doesn't tend to stand out as much now as it used to. Those hands, however, had been on my mind whenever I'd wear the watch, but I had a plan to do something about them. 
More about that later in this post - if it's a short one - or in the next post.
The next Herron book that I read was called Reconstruction, and it starts with a young man on the run who busts in on a kindergarten and takes a group of teachers and children hostage, demanding to speak to Ben Whistler, who works for the Accounts Department. The first few chapters establish each of the characters caught up in this hostage situation. Again, looking for a theme of the book, the phrase 'nobody is really who they seem to be' kept flittering through my head. With the exception of "Bad" Sam Chapman, Head of MI6's Internal Security Division, otherwise known as 'The Dogs'. He's a chain-smoking cynic and he remains so throughout this book and other Herron novels set at Slough House. 
I like Herron's writing style. He's hammered out 19 books since 2003, beginning with a mystery thriller called Down Cemetery Road. He wrote Reconstruction in 2008 and began his Slough House series in 2010, with Slow Horses. He has stated in recent interviews that he's given some thought to ending the Slough House books which, to me, would be a shame. Although, an author does run the risk of churning out crap if they start to feel a little burn-out regarding a long-running series. 
Once I'd finished these two Herron books, it was time to revisit a novel that I first read when The Wall was still up.


It would be fair and justified to say that le Carré's books should be viewed as literature as much as espionage fiction. Which is why so many of his works are considered classics.

In some ways, this book first appears as a 'small story' which concerns the efforts of CIA operative  Claire Saylor as she  attempts to meet with East German Stasi intelligence officer Emil Grimm so that she can convince him to  steal some of these decommissioned files before the Stasi destroys them. 
The story moves at a good pace and paints a good picture of Berlin in the post-Cold War months as East Germany begins to crumble. Fesperman is an accomplished espionage author with a prolific back catalogue of titles and his journalistic background lends a deft hand to his writing an research. 

After finishing the Fesperman book, I decided to read another book that I hadn't touched since the mid-Eighties. Aside from spy fiction, I was also heavily into hard-boiled crime fiction of the '30s and '40s. Reading through much of Dashiell Hammett's works eventually led me to his last full-length novel from 1934, The Thin Man.
The story concerns ex-private detective Nick Charles, who's married to railroad heiress Nora. Nick spends his days as an executive for this railroad company when he and Nora visit New York prior to Christmas. 
He bumps into the daughter of a former client and gets roped into looking for her father, who hasn't been seen or heard of for some time. 
It's a fun book in a lot of ways. Within the first ten or fifteen pages, I'd lost count of how many drinks the Charles couple partake of. 
Hollywood churned out six Thin Man movies throughout the '30s and early '40s, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora. It's fair to say that this book, and the subsequent films, cast a very long shadow, as their influence can be seen in TV shows of later decades, such as Hart To Hart and Moonlighting.
Re-reading it now that I'm much older, I found myself preferring the characters and dialogue rather than the story itself. It's a shame that Hammett never wrote a few more of these Nick and Nora books, as their lightness of tone was vastly different to his earlier detective stories. 
Finally, the Omega Seamaster Professional 300m that I mentioned earlier.
First introduced in 1993, it replaced the Omega model Seamaster 200, which had been in production since the mid-Eighties. This new version did respectable business upon its release, but it wasn't until it adorned Pierce Brosnan's wrist in his first OO7 outing Goldeneye in 1995 that sales began to soar. 
I began working in the wristwatch industry back in late 1999, a few weeks after I bought this watch and over the next decade, I saw just how popular this watch was. 
It's a well made and robust dive watch which walks that very fine line between dressy and sporty. No mean feat.

In recent years, though, I found the skeleton hands a little difficult to read in low light, given the sparse amount of luminous paint used on the hands. 
I knew that there were a few things I could do about this. One option, which I had seen done by other owners of this watch, was to use the hand-set of the other Seamaster model of the era, the 2254.50.00 model;

I gave this option some serious consideration, but found that this hand-set's hour hand appeared a little too short on the Bond model. Also, I wasn't a fan of the way the minute hand tapered down towards the middle of the dial.
I was about to give up when I read of another collector who used the older hand-set from the vintage Seamaster 300 model of the 1960s. I have one of these;
Notice that the minute hand on this model retains its width, like a picket-fence paling. 
Hmm, that might work very nicely indeed, I thought to myself. 
Next day, I discussed it with the watchmaker that I work with and he said he had a set of these hands lying around somewhere at home and would take a look for them. 
One thing though; while the hour hand's hole will slot right into position, the hole at the base of the minute hand needs to be 'breached' slightly in order to fit on the central pipe that the hand attaches to. Basically, it needs to be filed/reamed a little.
My watchmaker didn't see a problem with this. It's the sort of work that he's been doing since the early 1980s. 
And so, a few days later, he found the hands and I brought the watch in to work. 
No rush, I told him. He had it done by next day. He's a terribly nice guy. 
Anyway, the end result;

And we end up with a super-legible hand-set. Not only that, but this hand-set design harks back to the classic military Seamaster 300 and Rolex Submariner dive models that were issued to Royal Navy divers back in the 1970s.

In a further attempt to de-Bond the watch a little more, I may look at changing the bracelet. All of these changes are easily reversible, which was my main concern. 

Either way, I now have a watch that I can easily read again. Because that's what a watch is for.

I hope you've all been well.
Thanks for reading!