Heading Out

•15 May 2017 • Leave a Comment

Heading for the AT tomorrow. Starting in Harpers Ferry, heading north.

I will be traveling under the trail name of Axel. Because, c’est moi.

Pack weighs in at almost exactly 3kg, less food and water (and assuming that warm gear and rain gear are both fully worn – otherwise, closer to 4kg). Not a minimalist packout, just a light one. Only real indulgence is a Kindle.

I have 75 days until I must be back at home to perform Rosie’s wedding. Fortunately I will be walking right towards it.

Then I have 30 days until I officiate for Zach and Mary.

If I average 11 miles per day, I will reach Mount Washington at the very end of July. I would consider that to be a mighty good showing. I should be so lucky.

If I returned to the trail in August, 11 miles per day would take me from Mount Washington right to Katahdin. So that would work quite well.

In order to reach Katahdin in 75 days, I would have to average 15 1/2 miles per day. Lord knows there are plenty of people for whom this would be easy. Whereas if I make it 100 miles in 10 days without ending up a small broken pile of fellow, I shall consider myself to have given an honorable showing.

If I do this, I would have all of August at my disposal. I could hike the Long Trail (273 miles – a perfect length for a month of hiking at 11mi/day). Or I could head back to Harpers and begin a Sobo. But this would be logistically difficult and also very expensive – quite not worth it.

Either way, I very much daydream that on September 5th I will be able to begin the flop of my flipflop, flying back to Harpers Ferry and pointing my boots south. I will then have 1000 miles to cover. To complete them by Halloween, I would have to average about 17 miles per day; at 11 per day, the end of November. With any luck the former will be, at that point, within my competence. The latter would not be impossible, but it would require carrying a bit more gear – two pounds more of sleeping bag and thermals, at the least.

In any event – this is all daydreams. To go a week without suffering grave and irreperable bodily injury will be counted a success, I’d say. Still, I would very much like to take the entire Trail this season. Then see what my situation is, and how I feel.

 

 

 

Full Aspirational

•14 May 2017 • Leave a Comment

And if we were to dream of millions?

Two homes: an apartment in Manhattan; a mountain-house above Oaxaca.

The apartment: small, with a view of the city. Skybox windows, quartersawn floors. Gym in the building, doorman to take deliveries. A little bit of grass on the roof.

The house: small, with a view of mountains. Same wood, same design. Throw in a window-seat or two. A little tiled patio out back. A pergola draped in grape-vines. A backyard wrapped in a high fence. Farmbots culling vegetables, cut trees for mushrooms, trees giving fruit.

Both: Decorated inside with campaign furniture, white oak and chestnut leather. Chairs and tables and desk, all collapsible. Chests with stout handles. Butcherblock table. A heavy couch.

Kitchen: Block of Miyabi Birchwood knives, pantry of Le Creuset and hammered copper. VitaMix, NeuroFuzzy, La Pavoni manual espresso pull, ROK table grinder, pourover cone. Several tea sets: iron, porcelain, raku.

Living-room: Preposterous television. Speakers and soundbar. Excellent computer. Little bar with mezcal and armagnac, grappa and Calvados, Luxardo and Curacao, Oban and Laphroaig.

To move between the two:

Computers: Excellent laptop (X270 with lulus). Headphones, Sennheiser HD800S.

Bikes: Road bike (S-Works Venge). Mountain bike (S-Works Epic FSR). Touring bike (7Cycles triple-butted ti).

Camera: D810, 20mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.4, 105mm f/1.4, 200mm f/2, 400mm f/2.8, 800mm f/5.6 with 1.25x and 2x teleconverters. Studio tripod, travel tripod.

Luggage: Ghurkah, sets in both chestnut and walnut. 83, 95, 97, 98, 187, as needed. Also custom fountain pen case, custom watch strap, custom laptop bag. Also an LVMH porte-documents, blue grey.

Watches: Two Patek Philippe 5270s, in platinum and rose gold, no tachymeter. A 5711/1A-010 jumbo naut, and a 5990 travel naut.

Jewelry: Cufflinks, belt buckles, tie bars and clips: rose gold and platinum. Also the Patek set built around the blue naut – and tie clip and belt buckle, bespoke.

Pens: ST Dupont “Defi” in brown leather; Omas “ART” in blue guilloche; a black Montblanc; a silver something.

Desk sets: black leather and white gold; chestnut leather and rose gold. Another in stainless and smoky blue.

Shoes: Custom cut. Chukka, wholecut, plaintoe with medallion, wingtip with heavy brogue – black, chestnut, midnight navy.

Suits: Fresh cuts each year. Two each in black, charcoal, mid grey, light grey. Other garments to match. Accessories in black, chestnut, and blue to match the jumbo naut. Long coats, light and heavy, same scale of grey –  plus three in leather to match the three-color spread. Umbrellas to spread as well.

Anything else? I’ll surely think of something. But for the moment, this is all that’s yielded.

 

EDC

•25 April 2017 • Leave a Comment

On my first day of a white-collar job, I will need to go in armed and armored. I would like to be prepared with multiple armor-sets. Loosely speaking: several suits, all (most likely) in enticing shades of mid-light grey. Accessories will be grouped into Black, Chestnut, and Blue. Some things will not need to be matched to dress. Some will.

Things I’ll need to buy are in bold.

MATCHED TO DRESS:

Briefcase: ChestnutGurkah counselorBlack: The same in walnut. BlueLV.

Pen: Black: My Cross, or a Montblanc Meisterstück 149. BlueOmas ART. ChestnutDupont Defi. Inks to match.

Notepad: Moleskine “Volant”, light grey or dark; maybe something lighter to match with chestnut.

Casual watch: I can put my Desk Diver on steel, my Timex flieger on chestnut, and my Radiomir clone has leather bands in black, blue, and brown – God bless China.

Formal watch: Dress on leather (black, brown, blue, or chestnut – I’ve got ’em all).

Wallet: Chestnut: Gurkah passport. Blue: Bellroy slim-sleeve or Gurkah classic. I have one in black, or I will replace with another Gurkah.

Shoes: Black: Allen Edmonds “Cornwallis”. Chestnut: Stacy Adams “Corrado”. I also have a pair of blue strandmoks, grey Bass brogues, and oxblood Cole Haan monkstraps – but all are rather casual.

Belts: The three colors of this LV would work – but God that’s expensive.

UNIVERSAL:

Phone: Samsung S7 Active with 256GB MicroSD

Laptop: Lenoxo X270, maxed out

Multitool: Leatherman Style CS OR Skeletool CX

Springbar tool: W&W mini

Flashlight: Olight 90, battery, OR Thrunite 1100, rechargeable

Compass: Suunto clipper

Magnifier: Pocket fresnel lens

Battery pack: Lumsing 10400mAh, with quickcharge plug and cable

Towel: PackTowel “Nano”, grey

Toiletries: Deodorant – hand cream – sunscreen – lip balm

Collar stays: Exuvius titanium multitool

Ties: Yeah, I’m good.

 

To do this from tip to tail will cost me about eight thousand dollars. The best that can be said is that these costs should all be amortized over a minimum of a decade, quite possibly 3 or 4. And I will have the true pleasure, in every occurrence, of buying the best – which ain’t nothing.

There would be other expenses. Five suits, ten shirts, ten pairs of underwear, ten pairs of socks – at a minimum. Call it another three grand right there. But such is life.

Of course I could get away with doing things more cheaply. Deciding to only wear one color of accessory, instead of all three, would cut three or four grand from the above. And I could wear cheaper suits. But I would not want to. It would reflect poorly, on me and on my company. Can’t have that.

 

All Earthly Happiness

•22 April 2017 • Leave a Comment

Here’s my ideal life, then:

I live in a little apartment. It’s got a 15×15 living room, a 15×10 loft with a little staircase. Big windows, hardwood floors. Nothing more.

A kitchen at the back of the living-room, gas stove and big fridge and dish-washer. A pair of closets at the back of the loft. Central air.

In a perfect world it would be high enough that the windows would let you see some building-tops, a little sky. Or failing that a roof that does the same. But it’s not necessary.

The building has a safe space to park my bicycle. It has a gym for residents. It’s just a few blocks to work.

I have my kitchen gear: gyuto, stand-mixer, rice-cooker, sous vide. I have my coffee and tea kits. I have my apothecarist’s wall of spices. I have my Weck jars, my china, my silly little glasses.

I have my computer. I have my headphones and that’s really all I need. I position my biking gear, my hiking gear, my making gear.

I’d need a few things. I’d spend a hundred dollars at the grocery store, I’d spend two hundred at the liquor store (mezcal and calvados, Luxardo and Laphroaig). I could use a couch or the Ikea equivalent – but I could live without.

I’ll need a few new pieces of clothing. By the end of the summer I hope to need a new most everything. Five new suits, ten new dress shirts and boxers, a few polos and and clothes to exercise. But that’s about all I’ll need. Shoes and watches, hats and ties; these are things that don’t change size.

It looks like such an apartment, in Manhattan, would cost about three grand a month. I could live on ten a year in food and wine. If my job gives me health insurance, I’d need to clear fifty grand after taxes just to break even. Call it 60 a year, just to live.

But that’s all I’d need. I don’t have student loans to pay. I don’t need to save for retirement just yet. I don’t need fancy dinners and fancy wine. Just a clear route to the Hudson bike trail on weekends, or maybe a membership at the Frick for a rainy day.

Could I spend a thousand bucks on a new pair of Sennheisers, two thousand on a Lenovo two-battery? Could I buy a leather campaign-chair, a cedar blanket-chest, a Frankl skyscraper in black walnut and white maple? Could I buy three new pairs of Allen Edmonds, a camel-hair overcoat, a Gurkah Counselor Could I buy a Nautilus, a 5270G? Sure. But I don’t need to.

This, right here, is what I need to make a life.

So let’s talk about the life. That’s easy. I want to WORK. I want to make money. I want to work towards the possibility of earning a very large amount of money.

In my ideal life, I would wake up at 6:30 every morning. I’d drink a long tall tumbler of iced green tea. I’d go downstairs and spend an hour in the gym, half on weights, half on the bike. I’d come up and shower and suit up. I’d be at the office by 8.

I’d then work for twelve hours. I would work hard and I would GET PAID. Most likely in finance. Maybe at a law office. Maybe in business or VC. But I would WORK. I would GET PAID. I’d make more than the sixty that I’d need.

I’d work from eight to eight, twelve hours a day. Then I’d come home and call the day all done. I’d go for a walk. I’d go for a bike ride. I’d go down to the bar and have a beer. I’d sit in bed watching television through the V of my feet and that would be fucking fine. Because I want to work, and everything else is so much saffron. And that is what I would do, seven days a week.

If I made more money, would I spend it? Probably not. There are a few things I wouldn’t mind owning but they’re not necessary. If I had a million dollars, would I buy the X6 and the Super Record and the 5270G? Maybe. But it doesn’t really matter that much to me.

Would I get a larger apartment? Maybe. I don’t think so. I wouldn’t plan to be there very much. I want to work. I want to know I’m EARNING. That is the reward in this life. That’s for me.

 

Cheap Living

•21 April 2017 • Leave a Comment

Sally Greubel decided she really liked hiking. She didn’t really like anything else. So she set herself to figuring out what she would need for fifty years of such a life.

She’d need a base of operations, really. A place to store her stuff, a place to come home to. She could pick up a little house in a dying little town for ten grand, tax value of thirty. Five hundred bucks a year in state and municipal taxes. Five hundred bucks a year in utilities – she wouldn’t be there all that much. Five hundred a year in upkeep is more than she’d need. Call it eighty grand for a lifetime, tip to tail.

And to live, herself? A thousand a year would keep her in minutes, data, and a new cell phone whenever she needed. The state would cover her health care. Fifty grand to live the life connected.

Hiking, then. She’d have expenses. Clothing and camp-gear. Call it two thousand a year to have a margin of safety. Food and expenses. A thousand a month would do her well. And another thousand a year in bus fare and plane fees, getting to Point A so she could hike to B.

Eight hundred and fifty grand. By the time she saved that, she’d be too old to hike.

Retiring

•20 April 2017 • Leave a Comment

Bill Forsey was twenty years old and starting to make plans. He sat down with a pen and a joint and he did the math on his retirement.

Twenty years old. He’d need enough money to last until he was eighty at least.

For a hundred thousand dollars he could buy a nice piece of forest, a mile to the nearest house, ten to a gas station, thirty to a Wal-Mart, fifty to a hospital. Clear enough land for a house and a little yard. A nice little house, big windows, hardwood floors, screened-in porch behind. Of course in a lot of places in America he could get a house for a fifth of that. But build from scratch and he’d have what he want. And he’d pay less for it, in the long run.

A hundred thousand dollars. So for tax he’d pay between $250 and $2500 a year. Call it a thousand bucks. Sixty grand.

How about upkeep on the house? A fresh-built house using modern techniques is not a money sink. But call it two thousand a year, year in, year out. A hundred and twenty grand.

Utilities? Five hundred a year for internet. Same amount for cell. Sixty for a life. Water and electricity, septic, maybe wood for a stove. Another thousand a year. Sixty for life.

So over a life, that house might cost four hundred grand.

What else would he need? A thousand bucks a month for food would surely be more than he would need. But call it that. Twelve a year. Six hundred for a life. And we’re at a million.

You’d need a car. So a new car every ten years, twenty grand, hundred twenty total. Thousand a year for insurance. Two in gas. Thousand in mainternance.  That’s two hundred and eighty thousand dollars for a lifetime of driving a car.

You’d need technology. A new laptop every three years, that’s twenty grand worth of laptops. You’ll need the occasional new pair of headphones, cell phones, television, kitchen stuff. Call it fifty grand, decade to decade.

Clothing? Some, sure, here and there. Call it a thousand bucks a year.

Health insurance. Assume we’re on Medicaid, that could be zero. Assume we’re paying for it and that’s five grand a year. Call it five a year, three hundred for a lifetime. Add another hundred to pay out deductibles.  And we’re at one point eight million.

Two million, then. That gives the barest margin of safety to live an entire life, alone, for the rest of his life. To own a home. To hunt and fish and play. To read and watch and listen. To cook and plant and harvest, as much or as little as he wanted.

Bill Foresy had more than that in his trust fund. But it sounded awfully boring. So he moved to the city and lived his life instead.

Roper’s Spitfire

•18 April 2017 • Leave a Comment

There is a website, http://watchesinmovies.info/, where people spot the wristwatches worn in films and try to identify them. A veneer of horology is pulled back to find Internet People who have turned product placement into an interactive sport.

But the world of luxury goods is created by advertising – especially the curiosity that is the mass-produced luxury good, where depiction can incite a purchase in the same mall that houses the theater. The apotheosis of this occurred on the wrist of James Bond in 1962. Since then, Madison Avenue has been at pains to make the lightning keep striking the same place, again and again and again.

But a character’s wristwatch might speak volumes about them. This is most true in Hollywood, for a person in real life might choose to spend their money on something other than The Watch That Defines Them As A Person, but no prop department would countenance such a thing.

In the recent miniseries The Night Manager, Hugh Laurie’s character wears an IWC Spitfire, in gold. This is a microcosm of his character, and of the moral question of the entire story. The prop manager deserves to be bought a beer.

ONE

In The Night Manager, Hugh Laurie plays Richard Onslow Roper. He is an arms dealer. He smuggles guns and bombs and toxins, playing fast and loose with international law and fanning the fires that rage in the third world. And he does it from breezy beautiful hotels in the Mediterranean, because there is nothing so English as heading for Europe and never looking back. From acts to aesthetics he is the picture of a revisionist James Bond. But that doesn’t make him Blofeld. Is he, in short, a villain?

He sells canons and cluster-bombs. But he sells to the governments of sovereign nations. Those bombs are made in other sovereign nations where their production is legal. As an Englishman he is the citizen of one such nation. As an American, so am I.

He bribes members of the British government. But he also works with the connivance of policy-makers. They want him to sell arms to their friends. He is an instrument of national policy. His payments seem somewhat less like the purchase of friendship than the reward for it – a part of a dark system, but not the corruption of a light one.

His private life is warm and respectable. He has a family. He has a young son who he adores. He has a girlfriend who he adores. He has several members of an inner circle to whom he is both employer and friend. They travel together with their children who play together. It feels a little bit feudal, but I would hesitate to call the cold distance of a corporate structure somehow superior to the warmth of the king’s table – nor is there much distinction between the worse parts of boardroom and palace life.

It is easy to condemn him if one condemns the entire system of which he is a part. This is very easy to do from an arm-chair. By this same turn it is difficult to condemn him as being a cancer upon a good system. Perhaps he is amoral – a Zaharoff who just happens to look like a Reilly. Perhaps he is immoral, as is his work. Perhaps he is a patriot, to his country or to the dirty world. Perhaps that is the question being asked.

So let us look for answers in the story.

TWO

The inciting incident comes when a subsidiary of Roper’s is found to be offering weapons to Mubarak during the Arab Spring. These weapons could be used against the protesters. The subsidiary’s mistress steals proof of the offer and gives it to a stranger to keep hidden for her. Against her wishes, the stranger turns it over to British Intelligence. The girl forgives him, but then is killed. MI6 informed Roper’s organization. The organization informed the subsidiary. The subsidiary killed the girl. The stranger sets out on a quest for vengeance against Roper.

Let us take this in parts.

First: a private company was offering weapons to Mubarak. Private companies had been selling weapons to Mubarak for the last three decades with the connivance of the western powers. It helped him keep power, which was not a side effect but the central goal. Hell, the American and British governments had made Mubarak gifts of weapons for precisely this purpose: use against his enemies, without and within.

Two: the offer of weapons was during the Arab Spring. They could have been used against peaceful protesters. No doubt they could have. Or they could have been reserved for use against violent protesters. Or they could have been kept as a check against external actors seeking to encourage, or profit upon, the chaos. Or they were being offered as a matter of routine with no thought at all to the revolution underway.

Even if they were being offered for the explicit purpose of being used to suppress the revolution, I have some trouble condemning this. Much as I have trouble saying that a bullet salesman has the responsibility of investigating the motives of the guy who buys a round. That is a governmental function. And as the series shows, it is not clear that Roper is actually subverting his government. They have been propping up Mubarak for decades. His regime teeters. They might be able to set is right. His company will effectuate their decision.

Nor must I support the revolutionaries. The protagonist says to the British agents, don’t we want the Arab Spring? They are noncommittal. A government who doesn’t want a friendly government replaced by a revolutionary movement? Dear me, what are the odds. Not the least when it comes from the government of the Pitt who fought Napoleon, who saw Cromwell changes the king’s R to the Protector’s P. In point of fact, the overthrow of Mubarak led to the presidency of Morsi, whose overthrow in turn was not exactly condemned by the western powers. The current regime has been the beneficiary of much Western largess – including what Reagan would have called ‘goodwill gifts’ – weapons.

This is a strongly ambiguous issue. The proper party to resolve the ambiguity is a government. So the protagonist does the exact right thing. He passes along the information to his government. He has no further part to play in geopolitics; he is an average person, and as Bismarck instructed, one cannot treat the acts of nations like the behavior of common men.

Whatever the morality, problems occur. The British government informs Roper’s people of the leak. Roper’s people inform the subsidiary. The subsidiary figures out where it came form, and kill the girl.

The girl said that she knew what she was doing was putting her life at risk. She did it anyway. But it goes deeper than a simple assumption of risk. She betrayed her lover. She put him in mortal danger and she knew it. In passing along this information she clearly wanted her lover to be caught and arrested and punished. I am not at all surprised that he killed her. Neither was she.

Perhaps she did it for noble motives, for her people, for the revolution. Perhaps she died a hero. Her sacrifice should be venerated. But it was a sacrifice. And it was not a clean one.

The protagonist desires vengeance. So he goes after Roper.

Seeking vengeance against the subsidiary is kind of justifiable. He did actually kill the girl. But she betrayed him, both professionally and intimately. She sought to thrust the police like a dagger at his heart. So he killed her. I can’t quite bring myself to condemn this – not to the point of saying that he deserves to die as well. A case can be made that he deserves it. But a case can be made that he does not.

But seeking vengeance against Roper is a far harder case to make. He did not kill the girl. He did not order her killed. It is a leap of faith that he has any of her blood on his hands. Perhaps he benefited from her death. Perhaps she died for his peace of mind. That does not make him a murderer.

His real culpability comes from the fact that he is an arms dealer. If he runs a criminal conspiracy, it seems likely he would have approved of her murder. Then it is easy to say that he deserves vengeance as if he did the murder himself. (This lawyer shudders).

But as said above, it isn’t so clear. The series seems less like an attempt to secure evidence against a man known to be guilty, than it is an attempt to catch the man doing something so that we can finally feel good for having gone after him in the first place. It is a quest, not for vengeance, but for its justification.

At the very end of the series, Roper finally gives us that justification. He is about to kill his girlfriend. But he’s brought to this pass because she has betrayed him. She has acted precisely the same way as the mistress of the subsidiary – she betrayed her lover, placed him and his in risk of life and limb, and was praying that she would survive but that he would not. It’s not just that she assumed the risk; she hoped that her actions would see him die. This is no new justification. Nothing has changed.

Except that it turns out the second time’s the charm! Roper is brought down, the girl survives, and the protagonist calls himself washed of his sins. They all live happily ever after. Except Roper’s child who loses his father, and the British government who lose an instrument of national policy – for what must be the eight whole minutes it takes them to anoint a replacement.

THREE

Now let us look at his wristwatch.

Our Mr. Roper’s watch is a IW387803. It is made by IWC Shaffhausen. It is a mechanical watch with an in-house movement. It is a chronograph. It is a pilot’s watch. And it is gold.

-First of all, it is a mechanical wristwatch. In the world of cell phones there is no reason why a man must wear a watch. In the world of quartz and the digital there is no reason why a man must wear a mechanical watch. But many men do – I do.

I wear a mechanical watch in part because the cultural position of the wristwatch – created by necessity and bolstered by advertising – has not yet faded in the glare of the cathode ray. I wear a mechanical watch in part because it is jewelry that a man can wear. I wear a mechanical watch because it may be depended upon apart from modern contrivances. I wear a mechanical watch in part because it is a very expensive thing that one can flash: it is Veblen sitting upon the vein, waiting to be mainlained.

But in large part I wear a mechanical watch because it is archaism celebrated, not by appreciation, but by use. To own such a watch but not wear it, to keep it as a relic like a potsherd or a scimitar, would be a constant reminder of days-gone-by. But that would be the most powerful fulfillment of Swinburne’s grand denouncement of those “who appraise[], adore, and abstain.” To own a watch would allow appraisal and adoration; to wear it abhors abstention with utility.

This latter might be one of my little considerations. But the former all apply to our Mister Roper: a little wealth, a little vanity, a little self-reliance, and a little bit of the misplaced glory of a time gone by.

-Second, Roper’s wristwatch is made by IWC. The company’s full name is IWC Schaffhausen and it is Swiss as chocolate. But originally the company was founded in England by Englishman. Manufacture was moved to Switzerland purely for economic purposes – the Swiss made lots of cheap watches, they undercut the market, and only then did they begin to build their reputation for haute horologie. The name “International Watch Company” added an air of English charm to cheap Swiss watches, just as “IWC Schaffhausen” summons notions of Swiss quality.

Our Mr. Roper is an Englishman by birth, who settles upon the life of an expatriate due to the demands of his particular business. Nothing could echo more strongly of IWC. We then are forced to wonder whether he is acting for his own extranational interests, or whether he is really an agent, however disavowed, of British policy. Is he a foreigner still claiming to be English, or an Englishman pretending to be foreign? The watch and the man are the same.

-Third, it is a pilot’s watch. These are modern watches based upon the designed of the second, or first, world war, when the watches given to pilots required the highest levels of horological precision for the purpose of timing maneuvers and charting their positions. (One might compare the marine regulators of the longitude-by-chronometer age, or the trench watches of the synchronized-bombardment age). Such watches prize legibility of the dial, usually favoring Arabic numerals (instead of little markers) at every position (rather than just those at cardinal directions). They are a popular style in modern wear, but are often seen as a little informal, a little simple, a little archaic, a little schoolboyish.

Our Mr. Roper was once a British schoolboy. He reminds us of this fact by introducing himself, from the very fore, as “little Dickey Roper” – whether he is or is not an “honorable schoolboy,” in LeCarre’s earlier phrase, is the great question of the story. His informality is central to this consideration. He is just a businessman, with a wife and a young son, and he wears open shirts and eats and drinks on the shores of the Mediterranean. He is just a man.

But this should not obscure all of his power. He holds court. He has a king’s retinue. Any difference between his dinners and the feasts of sworn swords in a castle hall are cosmetic alone. He is a princeling, not of any country but of the world, with power of life and death over his subjects and over others. In a previous era his authority would necessitate pomp and circumstance; in this era it does not. His particular business might benefit from, or even require, a studied informality.

Here one might look at the price of the watch. An IWC Spitfire chronograph, in rose gold – call it ref#IW387803 – sells for about $19,000 on the secondary market. It’s a very nice watch. You can get a little Rolex for a tenth that amount, or a humble Seiko for a hundredth. But Mr. Roper is a man of world-class means. He could wear a Patek Philippe 5270G for ten times the amount, or a 6002G for a hundred. For a man of his wealth, his wristwatch is restrained.

So is he dastardly or debonair? Is he just unprepossessing, or is it all an act? This might be the very question of the series.

But upon consideration, I do not think it is. Because the most likely answer is that it doesn’t matter; to think that the natural has primacy over the intentional is the stuff of childhood. Perhaps his potential disingenuousness is meant to engender the same kind of knee-jerk disdain as the armchair moralist attaches to an arms-dealer. But as I argued above, I think such judgments are so much bougie bathwater. Reality is far more complicated – defying, perhaps, the comfort of condemnation.

-Fourth, then, Roper’s watch is a chronograph – a stop-watch. I cannot fathom a symbolic distinction between a time-only watch, or a watch with date complications, and a watch with the chronograph complication. If anything I would say that it reinforces the theme of utility. But really it’s just that chronographs have strong associations with auto racing from the 1960s (the Heuer Monaco, the Rolex Daytona) and as such they are aglow with masculinity. Whereas time-only watches tend to be considered dress-watches, and so are decorative, and jewelry, and femininity.

-Fifthly and lastly, it is a gold watch. In and of itself, this goes to the themes of vanity and the Veblen discussed above. But there is another layer. The historical pilot’s watch would have been made of steel, and nothing but steel. It was a tool-watch, and making a tool out of gold is as silly on the wrist as in the workshop.

Silly, perhaps – but as said before, wearing a mechanical watch is a bit of a silly thing. A chronometer is anachronism from the get-go; departing from the historical hardly compounds the sin. Roper’s watch pays homage to the pilots of the World Wars; he is not a reenactor in Tommy drag. One wears a watch as jewelry and a show of wealth. Hard now to complain about gilding the guilloche.

This is the great microcosm of Roper’s character. You have taken this tool of the military – made so that soldiers might fight for king and country – and cast it in gold. Is this perversion, or apotheosis? Is it greed or is it glory? Has a death-merchant taken the noble soldier’s work and twisted it for profit, or has a soldier risen through the ranks sufficient to become the master, as every soldier dreams of and is dreampt of for every soldier?

That is the question which every Briton must ask themselves when they look at their Roper and his Spitfire. His work appears to be the logical continuation of militarism; the arms-dealer is but the extension of war by other means. Does this make him evil? Can one condemn him without condemning all of warfare – and if one does, is the condemnation not spread as thin as tissue, with no more settling on Roper than on any corporal or corpsman or camp-follower? Can one ever fault the supplier when there exists demand? And what place has a single citizen to condemn the demand, natural and even necessary, of a sovereign state?

I am unsure. I cannot condemn nor can I condone. Nor do I think that either would be appropriate. The casual observer, the individual citizen attempting to be a good one, should not be so casual with their condemnation. To consider the question is citizenship; to answer it is too easy, and is tedious.

CONCLUSION

The gold in Roper’s Spitfire is both corruption and crowning glory. Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Mr. Churchill – and that is John Le Carre at his heart. I should prefer to note that the crime is not the winning of the game, but rather the game itself; to hate the gold is to obscure the true evil, which is the tool of warfare it encases.

 
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