Monday, 30 January 2012

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Pen Spotting

There’s more than meets the eye in Tinker Sailor Soldier Spy, Tom Alfredson’s cinematographic story of espionage wars and betrayal. Behind Smiley’s (an Oscar-worthy performance by Gary Oldman) impenetrable face and in the dark recesses of MI6 many stories remain untold. There are furtive glances that connect like the tracks of the night train and there’s the incessant elevator that shifts documents in slowly clanking intervals. In between the lines and in between the scenes whole stories come to pass. Glimpses of death and torture, double talk, forbidden love, and love unrequited come to pass behind transcriptions of phone calls and the trembling nib of an Osmia pen with which Control (John Hurt) signs his resignation following the supposed death of an agent in Operation Testify.

Palimpsest could not resist, dear Readers, to notice, nay to celebrate, the writing instruments which also slipped unnoticed between takes. With the exception of the Osmia perhaps to which a whole screenshot is dedicated in one of the opening scenes of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. A trembling C is the only mark the fountain pen’s 14K gold nib is seen to make on the white crisp typewritten paper. It is then laid down in all its black and gold magnificence bearing the Osmia name and diamond trademark on its body and the number 223F. The pen is not in time with John Le Carré’s 1974 novel but with the 1950s and 1960s Cambridge Five revelations (Osmia trademark stopped being used already in the early 1960s).

Another 1950s/60s classic the black leather desktop pen stand and golden perpetual calendar (identical in fact with this one) can be seen in two occasions: on Control’s desk and in front of the sleeping employee in the scene when Ricki Tarr communicates with MI6 from Instanbul. However, it looks like the second pen stand features a globe in the place of the rectangular perpetual calendar.

Back to the early 70s I think with the following writing instrument used by the female employee (a “Mother” you would call her) who listens in and transcribes phone calls. 

It looks like a plastic-tip disposable pen with fibre-fed ink – similar to Ball Pentel which first came out in the early 1970s. Correct me if I’m wrong.

And there is the teacher. A slice of Peter Guillam’s secret life – a glimpse so intimate in the comfortable familiar routine it describes – Peter Guillam’s partner correcting student essays on the kitchen table with a red Bic Cristal and crossing out the mistakes, and Peter standing there knowing that he has got to let him go.

And then there is a bunch of writing instruments in Prideaux’s apartment and lo and behold pencils too! Palimpsest detects a box of Faber Castell 9030 Grade H and a box of mechanical pencil refills Faber Castell 9071. A bottle of ink of unidentified make, perhaps a chinagraph pencil and do I detect a grey Conway Stewart?

A pen on a chain couldn't but make its appearance and this is used by Guillam who is on a mission to get some inaccessible file for Smiley. Guillam presses the tip  hard on the book, puts the pen back in the holder, the chain dangles for a moment, the heavy sellotape dispenser standing guard as Guillam hands in his suitcase to the man. The air is thick with tension.

The Osmia pen sits contented on the desk concealing, sealing, sanctioning. Writing instruments have their own small stories in the wars of meaning.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
Director: Tom Alfredson
Starring: Gary Oldman (Smiley); John Hurt (Control); Benedict Cumberbatch (Peter Guillam); Colin Firth (Bill Haydon); Tom Hardy (Ricky Tarr); Mark Strong (Jim Prideaux). Responsible I assume for the selection of writing instruments: Simon Riley and Tom Riley (Props). Screenplay after the novel of John le Carré, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, 1974.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Futile Ink and the Flying Facts by Dickens

Mr Dick is working at his Memorial. He is doing this to keep King Charles I's head out of his mind. It is an image that torments him: the troubled mind of the decapitated king has found its way into Mr Dick's. But in vain, in vain. The Memorial will never be finished. But at least the facts can fly away.

"I found him still driving at it with a long pen, and his head almost laid upon the paper. He was so intent upon it, that I had ample leisure to observe the large paper kite in a corner, the confusion of bundles of manuscript, the number of pens, and above all, the quantity of ink (which he seemed to have in, in half-gallon jars by the dozen), before he observed my being present.


"What do you think of that for a kite?" he said. ... "I made it. We'll go and fly it, you and I," said Mr. Dick. "Do you see this?"

He showed me that it was covered with manuscript, very closely and laboriously written; but so plainly, that as I looked along the lines, I thought I saw some allusion to King Charles the First's head again, in one or two places.

"There's plenty of string," said Mr. dick, "and when it flies high, it takes the facts a long way. That's my manner of diffusing 'em. I don't know where they may come down. It's according to circumstances, and the wind, and so forth; but I take my chance of that."

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, Oxford University Press 1981.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Dirty Ink by Dickens

I gazed upon the school room into which he took me, as the most forlorn and desolate place I had even seen. I see it now. A long room with three long rows of desks, and six of forms, and bristling all round with pegs for hats and slates. Scraps of old copybooks and exercises, litter the dirty floor. ... There is a strange unwholesome smell upon the room, like mildewed corduroys, sweet apples wanting air, and rotten books. There could not well be more ink splashed about it, if it had been roofless from its first construction, and the skies had rained, snowed, hailed, and blown ink through the varying seasons of the year.

... The rest of the half-year is a jumble in my recollection of the daily strife of our lives; of the waning summer and the changing season; of the frosty mornings when we were rang out of bed, and the cold, cold smell of the dark nights when we were rung into bed again; of the evening school room dimly lighted and indifferently warmed, and the morning schoolroom which was nothing but a great shivering-machine; of the alternation of boiled beef with roast beef, and boiled mutton with roast mutton; of clods of bread-and-butter, dog's-eared lesson-books, cracked slates, tear-blotted copy-books, canings, rulerings, hair-cuttings, rainy Sundays, suet-puddings, and a dirty atmosphere of ink, surrounding all.

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, Oxford University Press 1981.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Here I am

"There is, thank God, none of that accursed distraction and doing-things-for-a-change. Here I am, and here also are pen, ink, and paper - we all send you the warmest greetings.

Your loyal son

Friedrich Nietzsche"

Nietzsche to Franziska Nietzsche, Splügen, October 1, 1872

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Sympathetic Ink by Henry James

"Whatever becomes of such things, in the long intervals of consciousness? Where do they hide themselves away? In what unvisited cupboards and crannies of our being do they preserve themselves? They are like the lines of a letter written in sympathetic ink; hold the letter to the fire for a while and the grateful warmth brings out the invisible words."

Henry James, "Diary of a Man of Fifty", 1879
Ink used: Waterman's Carnation Red
Nib: Sergent Major No. 500
Paper: Sennelier ink & calligraphy 125g

Friday, 13 January 2012

Ink-fragments from the Restoration

Today’s ink-fragments come from the Calendar of State Papers of Charles II, 1675-6, and from the film Libertine inspired by the life of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester. Wilmot was “the toast of the Restoration court” of Charles II (so-called Merry Monarch) and a “writer of satirical and bawdy poetry.” Lascivious himself, Wilmot had accused Charles II of being sex-obsessed (Charles II acknowledged 12 illegitimate children by various mistresses).

The ink-extracts from the Calendar of State Papers are intriguing. Who is “him”? Where does the bottle of ink come from? How good was it?

....Requesting him to accept this little bottle of bright ink, it being an established fact that in all this city, there is no good ink to be had.......

A subscription to British History Online is required if one wants to find out more. Tempting.

And for our final ink-fragment

John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester (played by Johnny Depp in Libertine) exclaims:
Rochester: Ink! Ink! Bring me ink! 
[Alcock brings him wine] 
Rochester: Not drink, lump! Ink! 

Image: Edwart Collier, Still Life 1697.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The pencil of Virginia Woolf

"No one perhaps has ever felt passionately towards a lead pencil. But there are circumstances in which it can become supremely desirable to possess one; moments when we are set upon having an object, an excuse for walking half across London between tea and dinner. As the foxhunter hunts in order to preserve the breed of foxes, and the golfer plays in order that open spaces may be preserved from the builders, so when the desire comes upon us to go street rambling the pencil does for a pretext, and getting up we say: “Really I must buy a pencil,” as if under cover of this excuse we could indulge safely in the greatest pleasure of town life in winter—rambling the streets of London. ...

The hour should be the evening and the season winter, for in winter the champagne brightness of the air and the sociability of the streets are grateful. ...

It is always an adventure to enter a new room for the lives and characters of its owners have distilled their atmosphere into it, and directly we enter it we breast some new wave of emotion. Here, without a doubt, in the stationer’s shop people had been quarrelling. Their anger shot through the air. They both stopped; the old woman--they were husband and wife evidently--retired to a back room; the old man whose rounded forehead and globular eyes would have looked well on the frontispiece of some Elizabethan folio, stayed to serve us. “A pencil, a pencil,” he repeated, “certainly, certainly.” 
He spoke with the distraction yet effusiveness of one whose emotions have been roused and checked in full flood. He began opening box after box and shutting them again. He said that it was very difficult to find things when they kept so many different articles. He launched into a story about some legal gentleman who had got into deep waters owing to the conduct of his wife. He had known him for years; he had been connected with the Temple for half a century, he said, as if he wished his wife in the back room to overhear him. He upset a box of rubber bands. At last, exasperated by his incompetence, he pushed the swing door open and called out roughly: “Where d’you keep the pencils?” as if his wife had hidden them. The old lady came in. Looking at nobody, she put her hand with a fine air of righteous severity upon the right box. There were pencils. How then could he do without her? Was she not indispensable to him? In order to keep them there, standing side by side in forced neutrality, one had to be particular in one’s choice of pencils; this was too soft, that too hard. They stood silently looking on. The longer they stood there, the calmer they grew; their heat was going down, their anger disappearing. Now, without a word said on either side, the quarrel was made up. The old man, who would not have disgraced Ben Jonson’s title–page, reached the box back to its proper place, bowed profoundly his good–night to us, and they disappeared. She would get out her sewing; he would read his newspaper; the canary would scatter them impartially with seed. The quarrel was over.
In these minutes in which a ghost has been sought for, a quarrel composed, and a pencil bought, the streets had become completely empty. Life had withdrawn to the top floor, and lamps were lit. The pavement was dry and hard; the road was of hammered silver. escape is the greatest of pleasures; street haunting in winter the greatest of adventures. Still as we approach our own doorstep again, it is comforting to feel the old possessions, the old prejudices, fold us round; and the self, which has been blown about at so many street corners, which has battered like a moth at the flame of so many inaccessible lanterns, sheltered and enclosed. Here again is the usual door; here the chair turned as we left it and the china bowl and the brown ring on the carpet. And here—let us examine it tenderly, let us touch it with reverence—is the only spoil we have retrieved from all the treasures of the city, a lead pencil."

Virginia Woolf, Street Haunting: A London Adventure, 1927