- When spying on someone from a balcony, window or stair landing, use a mirror; put it at an angle where it shows what goes on below and you don't have to expose yourself to see it.
A code. Choose a word (with only one of each letter in it) and write it down; say, AGENT. Then write down the other letters of the alphabet. Underneath write all 26 letters normally. You've got a code.
When hiding, hide above or behind the pursuer and don't move at all, don't breath often, and make no noise whatsoever. The probability is they won't look up or behind.
If any, have two or maybe three guns; 1 on you 2 in your car if have one, 3 in the room you are staying, if 4 for specific uses. Keep loaded at all times.
Notes. Take them at all times - but don't do anything that looks suspicious.
Who wrote the above and the 'Manual for Spies' they are taken from? Len Deighton? Baden Powell? James Jesus Angleton? Dusko Popov? Sidney Reilly? No, the answer is I did, aged 8.
The recent rediscovery of Manual for Spies, previously thought destroyed with many of my other early papers in the Great Terrible Spring Cleaning Disaster of 1988, is probably the most important literary event of the decade. Given the nature of the work, much of it must naturally remain classified for now - there are those of us who still believe Stella Rimington should have been drawn and quartered for telling all so cavalierly - but here are a few other snippets that have been cleared for broadcast on an open channel:
If your mission is illegal go with a partner; Let him carry your equipment while you pass customs
When trapped in a room or cell, shout to the guard 'Fire, fire!' He should let you out.
If involved in a robbery of any sort, burn everything used. Except the money.
When you begin a fist fight, strike at the stomach, and then kick the shins. If this doesent end it repeat it and add a karate chop.
When in another country without their consent ALWAYS OPERATE SILENTLY
When staying at a hotel, if you feel a bit peckish just before dinner time, go into the dining room + take the middle of a piece of bread. Then just put it underneath the others. No-one will know.
What a sneaky little bastard. There are pages and pages of this stuff, half of them written in a code I haven't been able to crack. There are combat evaluation tests, recommended diets for agents (positively spartan - 'Dinner: steak, water'), tables of pay grades and security clearance levels, lists, diagrams and instructions for use of spy kit:
Revolver... silencer... small telescope... pocket radio shaped like cork or pen... spy disgys kit [drawing of glasses and various false noses]... pen + paper (swallow when used)... small map (swallow when used)
My favourite is the 'Criminal Records' section, which runs to several pages and I believe must be my very first enemies list: naturally my sisters are on it and a couple of thinly disguised teachers and neighbours. But most of it consists of capsule dossiers on the various adversaries populating the world of the fictional espionage department the manual purports to be an induction course for, and a gruesome bunch they are too:
M-15 Brian Doad. Hardened Murderer. 7 foot, always masked. Caution.
M-22 Rob Richards. 8 foot murderer. Lethal. To be avoided.
L-31 Richie Down. American cheat. Caution.
M-34 'The Mutant'. Murderer? Thief? Spy? No. He's an innocent man wrongly convicted. Help him.
M-35 Name unknown. If you see a 5"9, fat, happy gambler he might be him, so be careful
L-12 'The Bug'. So called because he is so small: 4 foot 4'. Very hard
L-35 Unknown arms smuggler. Caution. Hardened very much
There are a Korean Warlord, an American President's sinister double, an evil computer created by a German war criminal, a deadly female assassin called The Cat, an ex-bank robber who is now a Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard, an IRA terrorist, defectors and diamond smugglers and cheats and hardened murderers of the most suprising shapes and sizes.
Manual for Spies, it turns out, was intended as a companion book to the stirringly-titled thriller Crusade, which was not quite my first attempt at a novel but easily my worst. I have just finished deciphering Crusade's hundred or so hieroglyphic pages and it has left me stunned and reeling.
Of course it is a thing of crapness and of course one doesn't expect Gorky Park from a child of that age. It would hardly be gentlemanly of me to sit here and mock an 8-year-old's writing per se, even if it is my own. As a matter of fact, while not showing any talent whatsoever or being remotely readable in any way, it is far from being gibberish. There is a plot of sorts and there are many lively characters. The spelling is fairly good apart from tricky words like 'necessary' which can still trip me up, and 'quote', which when I was eight I spelled 'qoute', and used meaning 'quoth', as in, 'qoute he', which I seem to have enjoyed using in place of the much duller 'He said.'
But I have to say that, even allowing for age and lack of skill, some of the narrative choices are frankly astonishing. To the extent that it apes the Saint books or the Bond films or The Professionals it is merely inept. But in the places when it steps beyond or upturns the conventions of the secret agent genre it becomes not only bizarre but deeply interesting to me, and more than a little disturbing and embarrassing, as a psychological insight into my childhood self. To put it bluntly I was a neurotic and deeply flawed little wretch in several ways, the most unsuitable child to write an adventure story that can be imagined, and it shows.
Crusade opens briskly enough with a team of policemen being briefed for an operation which seems to be of the utmost importance but no real urgency:
"The time, to be precise, is 28 minutes past two," said chief inspector Calvin Johnson. "The date is the 3rd of June 1979. In two days, three hours and ten minutes you will begin your search."
At precisely 5.38 on the 5th of June 1979, then, they are to cry 'Coming ready or not' and start looking for a pair of Russian defectors last seen in the East End of London who are already being stalked by a group of mysterious but deadly Koreans. Inspector Johnson gives a list of the various armaments everyone involved will be carrying and admonishes them, 'Whatever you do you must work in silent conditions.' (The need for silent operations is stressed several times in both Crusade and the spy manual; I was a neurasthenic little milksop and presumably didn't care for a lot of loud noises and disturbance.)
Enter the hero, Johnson's nephew, who accosts him in the street and asks to tag along on the search. His name is Brendan Abraham. Which I admit made me blink at first, but really there is no reason at all why a suave debonair Bondean super-agent should not have the surname of a Jewish patriarch. Or indeed reminiscent of Father Abraham of Smurfs Song fame, the only conceivable place I can think of having picked up the name. His main sidekick, by the way, is called Randy.
Abraham is a smooth self-assured he-man very much in the mould of Bond or Simon Templar, except when he isn't. Hints are given to his mysterious past; he worked on something called Project Delta and was once forced to 'completely vapourize a ship smuggling explosives to the Japanese', (who I may have thought we were still at war with, or perhaps they wanted the explosives to hunt whales or something.) He seems to have had some military training and certainly knows his way around firearms as a later passage makes clear:
'He always made a note of messing around with ammunition and safety catches etcetra, etcetra before hand. Sometimes that could be a life saver...'
(Incidentally I cunningly use the 'etcetra, etcetra' formulation quite a lot to hide my lack of specialised knowledge. E.g., 'Search for clues, etcetra.' 'Inform Police, Security, etcetra etcetra.' )
Later on he lets slip that he has seen combat in Northern Ireland, Newcastle, and the Lake District. In fairness to my juvenile self, this would have been pre-urban-regeneration Newcastle, and as for the Lake District... mountain country. Bandits. The thing is I've always been a stay-at-home type and tend to regard anywhere more than a few miles from where I live as fraught with peril.
Currently Abraham works for a super-secret Security Department. But... here is where the first of the disturbing bizarreness creeps in. Frankly he is the least motivated secret agent of all time. He has less work ethic than I do. He is a proto-slacker-cop, and the fact that I would create someone like him makes me realise what a lazy, lazy bastard I have always been. Just listen to this:
'Just thought I'd tell you, I've got a position in Security Department. Only part time, I made them give me that.'
'Congratulations,' said Inspector Johnson. 'How much are they thinking of paying you?'
'Depends how much I turn up.' Brendan strolled over to the steps. 'Not that I'm doing it just the odd day. Lets see. Well... Sundays and Wednesday afternoon I'm off... Saturdays, Mondays and Tuesday mornings I act as if I'm off, but they can give me a call if they need me and if I'm in a good mood I'll check in with 'em... And the rest of the time I'm officially on duty.'
This pattern of behaviour would definitely ring a bell with a lot of my ex-bosses. You see what my dreams are? You see what a sluggish lump of inertia I was even at the age of 8? I can't even fantasize about being a secret agent unless I get half the week off.
Later on Brendan presumes to give career advice to his cousin, warns him not to make the mistakes he has made lest he end up in the same terrible situation. His cousin intends to drop out of school.
'You don't know what you'll miss though. And anyway, what d'you intend to do when you leave?'
'I dunno. Life'll fall into place I s'pose. It did with yours. Didn't it?'
'It did. But now...' Brendan sighed.
Well might he sigh. He has to work all day Thursday and Friday.
At another point, Abraham laconically lists his occupations as including 'Standing in the dole queue.' This I find frightening, considering the way I spent much of my teens and indeed twenties. How many eight year olds have even heard of the dole? Yet apparently I was already keenly looking forward to it.
Anyway. The lethargic superspy in a rare burst of energy persuades his uncle to let him join the hunt for the defectors. Then he offers Inspector Johnson a lift. Johnson accepts. And here we come to another unusual deviation from the canons of the genre.
Abraham drives a Porsche 928. No flies on that. Quite a nice set of wheels. Appropriate for a secret agent; not out of place for a suave man of the world. He jauntily refers to it as 'the old tin can', which is his prerogative.
Only the thing is, it isn't his car; nor was it furnished by his department. It's his brother's car. His brother, it is explained, bought the Porsche after a big Pools win a couple of months back, and Brendan has borrowed it to do his spying in. He does not have a car of his own, nor are his department in a position to give him one. So all in all I call his brother's Pools win a fortunate thing. However, later on, at quite an exciting juncture, he has to interrupt his adventuring because his brother needs his car back, and he has to go and give it to him, and is then without transport, and has to get lifts off people.
But this is only the beginning of this particular piece of unusualness. There are plenty of cars mentioned in Crusade, usually fast and desirable ones and lovingly described. But they are not, as in Fleming or Charteris, symbols of virility, freedom and adventure. Rather they are the occasion for endless dreary requests for the people who have the cars to lend them or give lifts to people who have none, and the making of protracted arrangements for people to be picked up and dropped off. I estimate that maybe five or ten percent of the book is taken up by conversations of this nature.
The thing is that throughout my childhood cars were a source of angst. We never had enough cars in the family and they never worked for long. Their exhaust pipes or doors would fall off, usually on motorways, or they would cease to steer or spontaneously go on fire at the worst possible moment.
So I was really only being true to life as I had known it by filling the book with this kind of thing:
'Want a lift?'
'Well you could drop me off at the Lion, and then pick up Jason and take him home.'
'Major Jones wants me to come in again on Friday, but I think I'll have the car for then.'
'Barry wants the car back by Tuesday.'
'I've gotta get to HQ.'
'I'm going - well I think I'm going that way when we go to the childrens open night. I won't be ten minutes.'
This is from another story featuring suave super-agent Brendan Abraham written a year or so later:
Abraham couldn't wait to get his Escort RS 2000 out of servicing, and not have his travelling restricted to the times of buses and trains.
Be that as it may, his brother's Porsche at least works while he has it, and en route to dropping the Inspector off there is quite an exciting car chase with a saloon filled with gun-waving Koreans (who are probably car-pooling.) They lose them and Brendan duly drops off the Inspector and then goes to pick up his cousin Jason at a disco... and now we come to the next unusual departure.
As I say, I was entirely the wrong child to write a gritty spy-thriller. I was a wimp and a mother's boy and scared of many, many things. In particular... it was 1978. And I was scared of punks.
And two-fisted Irish-Jewish he-man Brendan Abraham is scared of punks, too.
Abraham goes to collect his loose-cannon cousin Jason:
The disco was a place for punks, and that was why Jason Johnson went there at least twice a week - That is to say, when he wasn't buying cigarettes.
The horror, the horror. It goes on:
Brendan knew he was quite strong but he still had a superstition that one day he might get killed there.
However, being a fearless super-agent Brendan bravely endeavours to infiltrate the punk disco. He tries to pass.
He parked by the rear entrance, ruffled his hair and put a gruesome face mask on, remembering how last time he'd been thrown out because he didn't look a punk. He spilt some dye down his shirt and strode in.
The cojones on the guy. Now get this bit:
It wouldn't take him long to find his cousin; you couldn't find many thin, six-foot, ginger-haired freaks, even in a disco.
And check his laconic comment when he tracks his cousin down:
'Funny, isn't it, cousin, that I find a horror in the house of horrors.'
Later on one of the main villains turns out to have the name 'Punk' Tony Bradlow.
Okay. Abraham takes Jason back to his, Abraham's, pied-a-terre. I'm not sure why - probably just so he can give him a lift somewhere in the morning, because he has a car, albeit borrowed. And here again, in Abraham's dwelling, we have something of a departure from the norms of debonair secret-agent-adventurer literature.
Not for Abraham the penthouse apartments of Simon Templar or James Bond. No, he resides in a glamorous bungalow in Central London. But then at that age I had a pronounced fear of heights. Mind you if you think about it a bungalow off Piccadilly would be quite a status symbol in a way.
He's rather proud of his pad. 'How d'you like it?' he asks Jason nonchalantly. I'm quite ravished by my description of the luxury:
A picture hung on the wall immediately in front of them. Oak cabinets went quite nicely next to the kitchen door. A tall rubber plant stood next to a T.V. set. A comfortable-looking armchair made the left side of the room look inviting, and a cocktail cabinet did the same to the right.
To show that he's just a regular bloke at heart, though, the knobs are stuck on the television and they can't turn it on. Or was it to show he was a regular slob? Was it in fact another disguised cry of pain from the author? For in my youth our tellies were often as knackered as our cars.
They find a threatening postcard from the opposition: 'KEEP OFF! signed, Korean clan.' Emboldened by escaping the punk disco intact, Abraham treats this with a fine contempt: 'If a man can't do what he wants, his life isn't worth living.' He impresses his cousin by shooting the top off a whisky bottle and they go to sleep.
Then comes this, which I find rather endearing for its precociously hard-boiled philosophising and the fact that I forget there is no downstairs in a bungalow:
Morning came, as usual. It'd be funny, though, if it didn't come. If you died in your sleep. Brendan got up, dressed and went downstairs. The gun was on the table, were he'd left it. It had to be if he'd left it there. Just like morning follows night, like danger follows blackmail.
Brendan goes out to fix the car; there is no explanation given for why it has suddenly become broken, but as I say in my experience they just did. The Koreans appear, machine-gun the house, and drive off again. Brendan manages to shoot out their back window, so when we next encounter them they are on foot having not been able to obtain a lift from anyone.
Then, a quite shameful episode wherein Brendan Abraham shows himself to be an early proponent of entitlement culture. Unlike Bond or Templar who treated underlings well and always had a handsome tip at the ready for services rendered, Brendan turns out to be a wheedling little conniver who expects people to work for him for nothing, specifically the man who comes to fix the bungalow window which the Koreans shot up:
Brendan was queitly arguing with the glazier about the price of a new window. He said 25 pounds was the lowest, but Brendan insisted it should be free in the circumstances, and in the end the glazier had to agree.
There follow several interminable pages of pure verbiage as various characters meet to discuss the thickening plot and make transport arrangements. The only high point is when Abraham arrives late for a meeting and casually makes the astonishing announcement that he's just been 'getting a whiff of fresh air on top of St. Paul's cathedral' when he spotted the Koreans standing right next to him. He says he chased them but they escaped. I have no idea why I didn't describe this thrilling sequence at first hand; probably my vertigo again.
At last the hunt for the defectors promised in the first chapter begins, at 5.38 on the dot. Luckily Abraham's time-keeping is excellent, because he has a digital watch. His brother gave it to him. I forgot to mention about that. It is explained somewhere that after his brother won the Pools, as well as buying himself a Porsche, he gave Brendan a digital watch. But he's allowed to keep it, he doesn't have to give it back.
Abraham and his sidekick Randy almost blow their part of a complicated surveillance operation when Randy goes to get chips. The Porsche appears to be put out of action after one of the targets throws a bowie knife which damages a head-rest. They see some Koreans and tail them on foot through back streets. At one point Randy, who has obviously read his Manual for Spies, manages to avoid being seen by standing immobile, not breathing often and making no noise whatsoever.
The Koreans are very villainous indeed as this passage shows:
The Korean walked into a newsagents. He followed. The Korean bought a newspaper - that is, he took it and put an assortment of foreign and old coins, milk bottle tops and buttons on the counter.
Fortunately our heroes are very virtuous indeed:
Before Randy followed he glanced at the price of the paper and payed it.
However, Randy is a prize buffoon. He loses the pair of Koreans he is tailing but notices a tall man standing just where they vanished. He asks him if he's seen them: 'Randy cleared his throat, strolled up to him and qoute: 'Excuse me, have you seen two men? one about as tall as you?' ' However, in the next second he notices that the man he is talking to actually is the Korean. Fortunately his faux pas goes unnoticed because the man is deaf.
Similar shenanigans go on for quite some time. Eventually Abraham stumbles across one of the Russian defectors they want. The man hands him a metal box which Abraham promptly shoots, which turns out to be a mistake as it's the key to the whole farrago. Fortunately it is undamaged and a recorded voice comes from the box explaining the whole plot. Unfortunately, the whole plot is bollocks and I have no intention of recounting it here. Suffice it to say it involves 'Punk' Tony Bradlow, a Korean warlord who is trying to sell stolen Russian credit cards, and a Security Department agent who is Punk Tony Bradlow's double and could therefore take his place, presumably by ruffling his hair and pouring dye over his shirt.
After that, fuck-all happens at all worth mentioning apart from Brendan's punk loose-cannon cigarette-smoking cousin stealing his toaster, until the summons comes for Brendan to drive up north to give his brother his car back. And this is where it gets really weird.
Brendan's brother turns out to live in 'a mock Tudor luxury house in Wigan.' Lest my readers find him a bloated plutocrat and start writhing in jealousy and resentment at this point, I hastened to point out: 'His brother wasn't greedy, but they needed a big house for him, his wife, Mother and Father in law, Sabrina 16, David 14, Gary and Gregory: twins at 7, Lisa 6, Fiona 3 and Tommy at 6 months.'
The touching scene of the brothers being reunited is worth reading in full:
Brendan sounded the horn. A second, and Barry Abraham came running out to meet him. 'Thanks,' qoute he.
Who would not come running out of such an overpopulated madhouse? And who would not just sit in the drive and peremptorily sound the horn rather than venturing in?
His brother tries to inveigle him in to say hello but Brendan is sensibly reluctant: 'Do you want some coffee? In fact I insist.' 'No thanks, I don't like coffee,' he prevaricates. But his brother prevails in the end and Brendan is ushered in to meet the brood. He is a hit with one and all and wins the hearts of the 7-year-old twins by making them a gift of a rifle and an automatic pistol. Naturally at this point his brother and sister-in-law ask him to babysit.
His brother's wife, by the way, is quite a precocious and subtle study in dialect on my part:
'That should quieten them for a wee bit,' said Tony, Barry's wife, who was Scottish. [The thing that should quieten them is the automatic pistol, by the way] 'Do ye want some supper? ...I'll be a wee second changing Toddlin' Tom.'
Anyway Brendan is left to babysit this appalling tribe while his brother escapes quickly in his car. I hoped at this point that the pace would pick up and some seven- or eight-foot Korean murderers would burst in and menace the family Abraham and that Brendan would fight like a lion to protect his loved ones - perhaps the youngsters could shoot them with their new rifle and automatic - or even that wee Toddlin' Tom would get his head blown off to give a hint of pathos and establish the revenge motif - but no: the babysitting appears to be the climax and the whole point of the chapter. What a girl I was. This is a Mandy magazine spy thriller.
I mean - why? Why? Why would I write something like that? What kind of wish-fulfillment does it serve? I don't have a brother and can understand fantasizing having one; especially a rich Pools-winning brother who would buy me digital watches. But why the hell would I marry him to a Scottish transsexual named Tony and populate him with kids called Sabrina, David, Gary, Gregory, Lisa, Fiona and wee Toddling sodding Tom? Whom I would give guns to and then babysit?
I can only speculate that perhaps I'd recently got into one of those 'I'm too old to need a babysitter' arguments with my mum and had been brooding about it. 'God I wish I was grown up... I'll show them... I'll be a babysitter... I'll be a great babysitter... And I'd be the one telling the people to go to bed... That would be ace... But I'd be a nice one, I'd let them play with guns...' And as is so often the way fiction had to compensate for the cruel disappointments of reality.
I recount the logistics of the child-care operation in meticulous and wearying detail. However there is one interesting development that disturbs this scene of domestic tranquility. A man visits from spy HQ. There is some windy bollocks to do with the plot and then he delivers the astounding message that his brother has phoned them, at HQ, en route to his night out to say that he has just had another Pools win and is buying Brendan a car of his own. Obviously Abraham, not to mention HQ, are delighted by this news as mobility is important to a secret agent.
So eventually Brendan turns up at security HQ. He is in his own car for once in his life and someone promptly hits him for a lift. The HQ...but I don't have the heart to go on with this any more. The plot gets more and more complicated and then the book ends abruptly without it being resolved. At one point the confusion reaches new heights with the appearance of a couple of murderous drug-smuggling villains with the not-quite-sinister names of Boris Hampshire and Brian Simon Whitmore. 'They smuggle the worst stuff: Heroin, Cocain, Cyanide.' The addicts they sell to have been dying like flies, which isn't surprising in the circumstances.
None of this, incidentally, was comically intended: about the only thing I didn't steal from the immortal Leslie Charteris (whom I still regard as one of the masters of the language) was his glorious sense of fun and, apart from the laconic would-be one-liners, the whole thing is in deadly earnest, with the possible exception of a landlady with a ridiculously long name no-one can pronounce and perhaps the character of one of Abraham's colleagues, a police photographer who is a clear forerunner of the surveillance state:
'Harvey was reknown for his habit of taking pictures of people who hung around banks, jewellry or watch shops and cars. Of course, only if they hung round for more than ten minutes, and they were over 9. His collection so far ranged from Teenagers to Old women. Thus he was also reknown as a lunatic.'
I found a few other shorter stories featuring Brendan Abraham, renamed Joseph Abraham just to make him sound more biblical, written a couple of years later, but on the whole they are not worth mocking as they are fairly efficient rip-offs of the source material and there is much more action and much less babysitting.
Crusade, alas, is doomed to remain unfinished. Unless... it strikes me that in many ways the book would be perfect for Hollywood. The choice of Koreans as enemies was prescient and in several other particulars, notably the alternating of thrills with homely domestic scenes, it was actually ahead of its time. 'Get this: he's a secret agent by day, see, but at night he looks after his brother's seven children... think James Bond meets The Sound of Music... makes him likeable, see? Shows he's got a heart, he's just a regular Joe like anyone... the kids love him... adorable kids, sure, wait till you read the Toddlin' Tom part... so he has this glamorous life as a spy but at the same time he's just a working guy with problems... he has this ritzy pad but the TV don't work and he shoots the tops off bottles, he's human, they'll identify... he gets into a labour dispute at work, he wants to work flexi-time but the bosses won't have it so he starts a work-to-rule... and he has this loose-cannon cousin he feels responsible for, he makes him stay in school and stops him smoking cigarettes, he drags him out of a night-club... a really rough night-club... full of street-trash, you know, real punks, but he has the balls to go in there and stare them down... and he's so well-liked in his neighbourhood there's this great scene where his window gets shot up and the guy who comes to fix it says, 'Your money's no good, it's on the house'... the bad guys? Koreans! Topical, right?... and they're vicious...great opening scene, this tall deaf-mute Korean walks into a shop and pays for a newspaper with buttons and such, I mean is that low or what? Right away we know this is a nasty piece of work... turns out they're pushing Cyanide to schoolkids... and there's a great chase scene on top of St. Paul's Cathedral...
'The car? You didn't like where he suddenly has to give his car back? But that's... he has problems, see? How about if the car gets towed? Repossessed? Wait, I have it - his Yuppie bitch of an ex-wife takes it in the settlement, perfect... Yeah, we can change his name... No, the eight-foot murderer stays, the author insists...'