Wednesday 12 October 2011

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – Steve Jobs and Brain Pickings

I could never get to grips with John le Carre’s 1974 novel ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’, so when the new film came to town I took myself off to see it.  I expect most of you are at least aware of the plot whereby a former Cold War spy who is hired to seek out the identity of a Soviet mole hidden within the upper ranks of MI6 – the Secret Intelligence Service responsible for supplying the British Government with foreign intelligence.

Millennium Bridge, London looking north
to St Paul's Cathedral and the City
I still couldn't quite work it out!  But what did stand out was how well acted it is, and as one journalist noted ... “it is a wonderfully stylist visual evocation of a vanished England ... drenched in Scandinavian melancholy and Philip Larkin gloom”.

I would agree having had a father who wore a bowler hat, marched with an umbrella during the era of pea soupers (thick fogs!) in London, while I worked with an ex Russian organisation exporting capital plant and machinery to Eastern Europe ... I was transported back  ...

Nelson's Column during the
Great Smog of 1952
... to those monochrome times ... full of antiquated predigital pieces of equipment ... the telex machine tick-tackering away – I loved sending telexes – very therapeutic – then the wait for the lightbulb and the clickety-clack of ticker tape coming the other way.

I went to Prague in about 1975, then on to Brno, where we exhibited our wares at an East European Fair ... I was followed everywhere, we weren’t allowed to talk to Czech locals etc etc .. on top of that I couldn’t read any of the signs ... 

Wenceslas Square, Prague
... Prague was covered in plastic .. it was dowdy, dusty and miserable: interesting ... that when import agents (not the spy sort) visited us in the UK, they always travelled in at least pairs.  Very sad – but that was life.  ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ is atmospheric to say the least.

To tie in with this I read Brain Pickings Maria Popova’s revealing account of Steve Jobs’ life – that she experienced from the ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ Bulgaria in the 1980s ...  I’d like to print it here – but it’s too long – it epitomises what ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ expresses in the book and shows in the film ... here is some of it:

Vitosha mountain massif in the National Park,
as see from Sofia
Apple and the Bananas: A Steve Jobs Personal Remembrance

In the 1990s, Maria’s mother joined the only official dealer for Apple in Bulgaria ... when Maria says they got their first Mac at home she was handed a portal for curiosity and exploration that helped her lean into knowledge in a way that has since become the fundamental driving force of her intellectual life.

Please read the rest of her post “From Jules Verne to the Iron Curtain, or why ‘bondi blue’ is the defining colour of my curiosity” .. here’s another section:

Finally (now in the US), one fine day in 2004, I bit the bullet and walked into the campus bookstore, which had an official Apple section. I was working three jobs at the time, to pay my way through college, so I ended up eating canned tuna and store-brand oatmeal for a couple of months to offset the expense, but I did walk out with a brand new iBook G4.

Plovdiv - Roman theatre: the oldest city in
Europe (Bulgaria), and the 6th oldest
in the world
It was promptly named Francis by my friends, since I was going through my Frank Sinatra period and that’s all that streamed from my iTunes, the same iTunes through which I discovered Sinatra in the first place.

It was like I had undergone a personal Renaissance. I started taking Francis to all my classes and, often, classes I wasn’t actually enrolled in — curious lectures across various departments, from criminology to nutrition to design history,  that I would drop in on.

I never thought much of my secret hobby, until I heard Steve Jobs’ now-iconic 2005 Stanford graduation address. In it, he recounts the power of a serendipitous visit to a calligraphy class he wasn’t enrolled in, which went on to shape his landmark contributions to design and graphic interfaces.

At the end Maria ties her post up: 

This is the true legacy of Steve Jobs. He didn’t just transform technology, design, and entertainment — he transformed our expectations about technology, design, and entertainment. He not only made us eager to line up for the bananas of our time, but also made us willing to step into the Nautilus library of fascination and never want to leave.

Rolling hills of Kralicky Sneznik, Czech Rep
Thank you Maria for posting such an interesting update to the Steve Jobs’ story – as well as allowing me a link through for the East European tie in ... here’s an (amusing) little story – applicable to this day 51 years ago ...

Nikita Khrushchev was at a United Nations Plenary Meeting and got very rattled by the Filipino Delegate accusing the Soviet Union of swallowing up Eastern Europe depriving the population of “the free exercise of their civil and political rights”.

Apparently he banged his table so hard that his watch fell off .... then to compensate he bent down took his shoe off and used that as his banging instrument instead ... after all the kerfuffle ... the United Nations head to finalise the session then bashed his gavel so hard on his desk – the head fell off – all in that bastion of quiet diplomacy.

A typical Hetzel cover
for a Jules Verne book
(for more see Wiki)
That’s (almost) that ... stories from Eastern Europe that we can marvel at all these years later, while knowing that an exceptional Maria Popova – has created the marvellous Brain Pickings blog – to which creativity she credits Steve Jobs, sadly as she says lost ...

Thank you, Steve, for shaping my childhood, my curiosity, and my creative and intellectual destiny. May you rest in peace 20,000 leagues under the sea.  (Maria Popova)

Nautilus hemishell showing
the camerae in a
logarithmic spiral

One last item that deserves to be read:  Spies – criminals ... blurring the line once again adapting legitimate methods to their own dark deals:

Big Think:  From Crowdsourcing to Crime –sourcing: The Rise of Distributed Criminality by Marc Goodman.... this is a very aware-making article on other ways criminals are using “The Cloud” and getting unsuspecting members of the public to co-operate with their new illegal methods and activities ... it is 7 pages long, but even read or scanned – it is interesting  – and it’s here if we need to come back to refer to it. 

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


quilthexle said...

How inspiring ... thanks for reminding me of the times when my home country was split, and it was not so easy to travel to the eastern parts of Germany!

Davina Haisell said...

Hilary, your posts are like a medley of hit songs :) And it sounds like they're a medley of memories to you. I love the rustic atmosphere of this one.

Had to smile at you taking in lectures you weren't enrolled in. Criminology is something that has always interested me. I wonder if you can recall taking in more in those lectures than in ones you were enrolled in. I have a feeling I know the answer because I would have felt the same way.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Frauke .. very glad you appreciated this post - coming from Germany, that's good to know. The nationals who went back to work behind the Iron Curtain in their role as Export agents for British organisations .. were an interesting bunch: it was a good job.

@ Davina - sadly I didn't go to University .. didn't make the grade - no where near it. There was a programme on Pink Floyd .. and the song name Dark Side of the Moon tied in with the post (I thought)!

Not me .. that's the clever lady Maria Popova from Brain Pickings - one of the best blogs in my opinion - her subjects cover everything .. I get quite a lot of my ideas from her .. she's brilliant ... my shining light comes from recognising her brilliance!

Now of course I'd go to every lecture I could .. as you know - a trip to Oxford this weekend - to hear a cousin lecture about her aunt, a Cornish woman (Emily Hobhouse) who was an opponent of Kitchener and the British Government over the concentration camps in the Boer War and First World War .. will be interesting ..

So in some ways you're right .. just a few decades late for me! Still never too late to learn - apparently ..

Great comments Frauke and Davina .. thank you - Hilary

MorningAJ said...

It's always fascinating stuff on your blog. I love the 'Cold War' stuff. My dad worked for GCHQ and when I chose to be a journalist it created a few waves!

Marinela said...

Great post Hilary...A pleasure to be here as usual :) :)

Marinela x

Old Kitty said...

Now I really and truly want to see this new version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy!

Take care

Davina Haisell said...

Oops, I clearly misread that. Apologies, Hilary.

I must check out Maria's blog now! I've no doubt that your upcoming weekend will be interesting. I bet you'll get some inspiration for your blog after listening to that lecture. It sounds like something that's right up your alley.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Morning AJ .. many thanks - oh interesting that your Dad worked for GCHQ .. I know they don't like the cross works .. I apparently wasn't popular either .. but that was then - paranoia ...

@ Marinela - many thanks ..

@ Old Kitty - well the Film Society people will be pleased to hear that Tinker Tailor is on your film list to see .. it was v good ..

By the way the new Jane Eyre is very very good too ...

@ Davina .. no worries .. I talk in many tongues on this blog - I don't understand myself sometimes .. I try and make it clear - but I appreciate not always.

Maria Popova's Brain Pickings blog is brilliant - enjoy .. I love reading it - can't do it all and need to be selective - but that's the way it works.

Yes - the lectures will be very interesting ..

Cheers Morning AJ, Marinela, Old Kitty and Davina .. many thanks - Hilary


Most inspiring post Hilary, I could never understand the TV series years ago. I really enjoyed the read.
Take care.

klahanie said...

Hi Hilary,
Another informative and detailed posting by your good self. You cover an awful lot in your articles and I'm curious to have a gander at John le Carre's, 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy'. I've never had a read of it.
And it has been years since I last went to the cinema. I recall the film was in black and white and some guy was playing the piano, just in front of the seats :)

Betsy Wuebker said...

Wow Hilary - This one is chock full of interesting tidbits! I'm a fan of le Carre. Loved The Constant Gardener; those days are not long gone, are they?

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Yvonne .. the tv series of Tinker Tailor .. must have happened in the 80s when I was in South Africa - I don't remember it - and I guess it wouldn't have enlightened me further. Thanks for your comment.

@ Gary - the movie is very good and was still mainly in black and white! and I'm sure there was a piano - where is unknown! .. I think you'd enjoy the film .. if you can face it! Or the book .. Let us know how you got on ..

@ Betsy - the Constant Gardener - I loved the movie, but the book I have not read .. I think "all those days" have gone .. so much has changed ... but new ways are around - as the Cloud Computing article shows.

Thanks Yvonne, Gary and Betsy .. lovely seeing you .. cheers Hilary

Martin said...

This post reminded me of a short trip I took in 1971, to Berlin. We had occasion to cross into the eastern sector via Checkpoint Charlie. An experience to remember.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Martin .. it was so different wasn't it .. Did you ever see the film Good Bye Lenin! - a brilliant film .. tragicomedy - see Wikipedia for the plot - I really enjoyed it - totally showed both sides of life.

Many thanks for stopping by and commenting - Hilary

Unknown said...

I really want to read the Carre book before I see the movie. And I really want to see the movie. Especially since Firth and many other great names share the credits. I also want to read and see Constant Gardener. I have so much reading to catch up on.

It's sad to read about Job. His contribution to the technology world is great and he won't soon be forgotten.

I will check out the document. It sounds interesting.

Karen Lange said...

I like what Davina said about your posts being a medley - that's right and a very good way to put it! I was thinking along those lines as I read; that you offer these wonderful tidbits and treasures for us to enjoy. Thank you! :) Have a wonderful weekend!

Manzanita said...

Hi My Dear Hilary, "I still couldn't work it out." I'm glad you said that. I gave up on spy films years ago. I'm always lost. If anyone is with me, I drive them crazy, asking questions. Often I think they won't answer because they don't know either. :) The lighting in the films is always too dark for my eyes. Why can't spies operate in the sunshine and take a few pratfalls once in a while, just for contrast?
Mystery and intrigue has always dominated my favorite stories but I just can't follow films.
The Crowd-sourcing to Crime-sourcing ...article wouldn't come up. I'll try later. Sounds interesting.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Clarissa - You're right on both scores .. there are some exceptional actors in it. The Constant Gardener too ...I think I must now read both books again .. sometime!

Maria's tribute to Steve Jobs is different ... I've changed the crowd sourcing link .. and hopefully it works. The new spy way is 'good' to know about ...

@ Karen - delighted that you enjoy the pieces I write .. it's good to send ones thoughts in different directions I think ... Mum and I had great times doing exactly this in her early days of being ill: stimulated the conversation ...

@ Manzanita - oh good! glad someone else struggled with this particular film .. it was a very dark grey film that's for sure!

As my post says it was the days of smogs and everything was grey after the war - and certainly eastern europe was grey. You'd love the film Good Bye Lenin .. that shows you the difference between east and west ...

I've repaired the Crowd Sourcing article - it clicked through a minute ago .. so hopefully works ok now ...

Thanks Clarissa, Karen and Manzanita .. have good weekends .. cheers Hilary

T. Powell Coltrin said...

This is so very interesting. Me too on the medley but I'll add, I think your posts are like an entire concert with string intstruments--very awesome.

jabblog said...

It's easy to forget the smog and the dark days of the Iron Curtain and the cold war.
As for spy films, my attention always wanders and I miss crucial information wondering at the architecture, the furniture or the hairstyles.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Teresa .. well I'm very happily shocked at your comment .. wonderful - thank you so much. I don't even 'do' music .. but totally appreciate what you're saying - very honoured.

@ Janice .. I hear exactly what you're saying .. do we learn lessons from those days I wonder ..

I'm not sure what I watch in the films .. there's usually something major happening I don't get time to dwell - perhaps I should see it again .... I saw the arcade, coffee tables, the body and the floor .. then I was swept up!

Thanks so much Teresa and Janice - so pleased you came by to comment .. cheers and enjoy the weekend (I'm in Oxford).. Hilary

Sylvia Ney said...

Wonderful observations - thank you for sharing!

A Lady's Life said...

I remember the story when Khruschev banged his shoe on the table . People thought he was out of control back then lol
I think I remember that movie tinker taylor soldier spy. It was a good movie if it is the one I remember.Steve Jobs did a good thing but then he also did a bad thing in that he eliminated a lot of jobs and as for kids, well they depend way too much on technology and will not know how to function without it.
But I love it today because I never have to leave home to get info which again may be not very good because when I had to leave I was outside having exercise and fresh air. lol
Anyway his job is done and God took him. rip

Anonymous said...

Everything in your post today, Hilary, is atmospheric. I have never tried "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." If it boggled you, it probably would me too. I vaguely remember The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (1963). It sits far back in my memory as "atmospheric." I recall being upset at the end. I must see it again! I wouldn't be thinking of it if I hadn't come over here for bowlers and pea soupers....transported back to a time. And then today, Steve Jobs whom I never knew until now...he's the reason we're posting on our blogs, because of his incredible mind. What fascinating things we have seen, Hilary, and still see, esp. through your eyes. That story of Nikita Khrushchev...that left me smiling. His face was part of my childhood, the Fifties, the "Cold War." May they all rest in peace "20,000 leagues under the sea."
Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror, A Memoir of Shattered Secrets

Slamdunk said...

Good topic Hilary.

I was not familiar with the story that you mention Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and the film sounds interesting.

My mother (who passed away a number of years ago) was employed by the CIA and met and married my father, a military man, in Somalia. As a result, I grew up hearing lots of the spy games that went on back then.

Empty Nest Insider said...

I enjoyed Maria's tribute to Steve Jobs. I would also love to hear more about your interesting work experiences traveling the globe! Julie

Unknown said...

I love the Steve Jobs tribute. As one who is surrounded by my Mac, iBook, iPhone and iPad, I was so sad when he died. He was far too young and I wonder what else he'd have given the world if he could lived for another two or three decades.

Your post reminded me of a trip I made through Germany and Poland as a youngster. It could have been a different planet. I'll never forget the bread queues in Poland. So different today but Eastern Europe is still one of my favourite destinations.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Syliva .. glad you enjoyed them.

@ A Lady's Life... interesting you remember the Khruschev story .. and a little odd as you say. This is a new version of the original movie - that's just been released in Britain.

I just know that Steve Jobs seemed to manage to find new ways of doing things .. and change is always going to close doors and open new ones. Technology was happening anyway .. he just seemed to make it more fun.

At least you can appreciate technology .. and we can find things out which is very helpful. Though exercise on the posterior is a little difficult I agree!

Thanks for your thoughts Sylvia and A Lady's Life .. Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Ann - I didn't see The Spy Who Came in from the Cold with Richard Burton from 1965 .. but I imagine a similar style. Glad I've triggered a memory for you to see an old film to whet your appetite for a similar feeling. Bowlers, umbrellas and pea soupers .. certainly conjures up those times ..

Steve Jobs is as you say an influencer of our times .. many thanks .. I just mix and match or give a medley of thoughts.

You're right about the bad-man face of our childhood .. Khruschev .. we had 11 years of him - Bay of Pigs (1961) and all ..

Yes - and I loved Maria's finishing link in to the Jules Verne stories ..

@ Slamdunk - thank you and lovely to see you here. When it comes out in your part of the world .. the film is well worth seeing.

Your stories must be interesting .. have you jotted them down .. ? They'd make fascinating reading .. especially if you were in different parts of the world .. we'd get a glimpse of life back then. Hope you do ...

Thanks Ann and Slamdunk .. great comments .. Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Julie .. glad you got over to read Maria's tribute to Steve Jobs - it's a different aspect to the life of the Mac.

Thanks Julie - appreciate the wish to know more .. I haven't done too much travelling - but it's always interesting to hear different aspects .. I'll remember and try and write about some others ..

@ Shirley .. thanks - it's a good tribute for Steve Jobs isn't it. Yes I wonder what else his creative mind would have changed around and brought us new interesting technologies. You certainly have the family of Apple treats - don't you!

I'm not sure what else I "saw" on my trip to Czechoslovakia .. I'm sure there must have been queues for food etc .. and a great deal of poverty ..I think I was daunted by the whole work experience!

One day I must go back .. I've always wanted to go to the Croatian coast and islands, Budapest - always fascinated me .. two separate places on each side of the river .. your recommendation sounds good.

Thanks Julie and Shirley .. appreciate your additions to the comments .. Hilary

Rachna Chhabria said...

Hi Hilary...its nice to meet you. I really enjoyed your post. The book Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sounds interesting. I must confess that I had never heard about it.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Rachna .. many thanks .. the book was published in 1974 and was very apposite of Britain and the Iron Curtain .. so living in India and not being of that era - it's not surprising you haven't heard of it.

Perhaps if you do read it - you'll let us have your views ..

Have a good week - Hilary

Friko said...

As always, an interesting collection.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Hilary -

Don't tell anyone, but I remember the big hullabaloo when Mr. K banged that shoe on the desk. It was the talk of our community, state, and the nation for quite a long time.

Susan :)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Friko .. thanks!

@ Susan .. interesting that you remember the incident so clearly - I suppose it was in the States and so would have reverberated around the news sites and newspapers. Khruschev wasn't even meant to be there .. but had decided to lead his delegation.

I hadn't remembered it - just heard it reported on the news last week .. and thought that ties in well!

On the other hand I don't remember watching or listening to the news much in those days - I was away at school ..

Have good weeks Friko and Susan .. cheers Hilary

Anonymous said...

Lots of amazing commentary and information as always. I loved the idea of you in your Frank Sinatra phase. I had phases but not that one :O)

Southpaw said...

I love how your recounted your memories of "pea soupers". Time really does change everything, huh?

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Madeleine .. delighted you enjoyed the post - sadly it is Maria who loves Frank Sinatra (don't ask me why - I don't!) .. Cliff Richard in the early early days, the Beatles, then Freddie Mercury .. I'm realigning now! .. we all have those phases don't we - 'Imagine' seemed to be played constantly at one stage...

@ Holly - pea soupers and they were awful .. the worst I experienced were in Oxford, where I was this past weekend .. and times do change, all the time!

Good to see you Madeleine and Holly - cheers Hilary

Janet Johnson said...

Steve Jobs really was an amazing man. Amazing to see just how far his reach was. And that film sounds fascinating! I'll have to look it up. :)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Janet .. I just loved that the Steve Jobs story came out of Eastern Europe - and as you say his reach was far.

The film is new so may not be in the States yet - but I'm sure is not far away from being released over there. Enjoy it ...

Cheers - Hilary

Liara Covert said...

As you sense perceived boundaries, borders and views of separation between yourself and others fall away, you realize you are more flexible and see everything is a mirror of who you are. Notice what you are invited to see. You know what you are doing. You know what it feels like to be true to your authentic being. As you write, you follow silent pointers or signposts, sharing perspectives with love. Intuition guides you to a wealth of subjects that inspire.

Susan Scheid said...

Love the story of Khrushchev--isn't there another of his banging his shoe? What a guy!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Liara .. thanks so much - the subjects seem to pop up and open my world up, then I need to share them with you ... too true.

@ Susan .. I'm not sure if there's another .. he was certainly volatile - I just heard mention on the radio and as I was posting about Le Carre's novel thought it tied in, so added it to the post.

I've just been to see another East European movie - about the poet Joseph Brodsky, who won a Nobel Prize in Literature and was the American Poet Laureate in 1991 - the film is called A Room and a Half. Very interesting and I'm glad I saw it ...

Thanks Liara and Susan for your comments - Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi - I just wanted to add in here the link to the New York Times' Eulogy by Steve Jobs' sister .. it is worth reading ..

I found out about this eulogy via Delia Lloyd of Real Delia:

Cheers - Hilary

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Now I am really intrigued! And with Gary Oldman, I expect top notch acting.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Alex .. I hope you enjoy it - the acting was superb ... just grey! I definitely need to see it again at some stage to try and understand Le Carre! Cheers .. Hilary