220px-maulwurf_gefangen2007Moles are small creatures that live underground. They rarely surface in the clear light of day, but throw up evidence of their presence as they tunnel seeking mates.

They are considered vermin highly destructive to crops, and have been traditionally hunted down for centuries.

Wikipedia, as well as providing this photograph of a captured creature, tells us that ‘traditional molecatchers travelled from farm to farm. The molecatcher’s customers would provide food and lodging, as well as a fee for every mole caught. The molecatcher could also earn money by selling the moleskins to fur dealers.’

Today I finished reading, for the second time, John Le Carré’s 1974 novel, ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’, the first of three works featuring George Smiley, who is possibly as well known in British espionage culture as James Bond, largely on account of the 1979 BBC TV series and the 2011 film starring Gary Oldman.

You could be forgiven for wondering what this has to do with moles. Well, the book features a cast of moles, or spies who work undercover and insinuate themselves into positions of power in other countries. The Cambridge five were KGB moles in the British Intelligence Service of the 50s and 60s. Characters in Le Carré’s novel are inspired by these five Cambridge University men. His story tells of the convoluted lives of such agents. The work is, unlike the 007 tales, actually undramatic. It is superbly crafted, largely through the devices of retrospective conversations and interviews. Even on second reading I had trouble working it all out.

Tinker Tailor ...1Tinker Tailor...2

My Folio Society edition is cleverly illustrated by Tim Laing whose monochrome drawings exhibit obfuscation in keeping with the book’s theme of mistrust and deception.

Tinker Tailor.....cover

Similarly appropriate are the anonymous silhouettes on the front cover.

This evening Jackie produced a well filled mushroom and onion omelette, chips, and baked beans, with which I drank sparkling water.


  1. Funny you posted a post on Moles Derrick.. I have one under my lawn at the moment and to say it is only a small little beauty, he is making giant moles hills.. 6 now.. 🙂 xx
    Love those illustrations too Derrick xx

  2. Between the moles pushing up (upwards of fifty per week over the 2500 m² I mow) and the dogs digging down to fail to catch them, my acre of France looks like a battlefield!

  3. They are looking for mates ? I guess I just assumed they were looking for food. Thanks for the info. Nice connection to the moles of espionage. I was also projecting to those skin ailments. ?

  4. Excellent book, Derrick. I’ve read the trilogy. Le Carre writes such complex stories that sometimes I know I have to just keep reading and not try to sort it all out, but just hope it will make sense at the end. His writing is beautiful though. The illustrations in your Folio Society book are really wonderful.
    I believe Le Carre introduced the general public to this use of the word “mole” (and many other terms). The series with Alec Guinness (THE George Smiley) was also excellent. Several years ago, my husband and I re-watched it. (The more recent movie was also good, but not as good as the series.)

  5. I love moles. Though in fairness if I were a farmer or market gardener I would probably love them less. When I was at school and the careers officer held her weekly surgery where we supposed to come with viable ideas for our futures that she could then input to and guide us I once out of sheer boredom (honestly she was awfully dull) announced I would like to be a mole. I meant the Le Carré kind and really I just wanted a glamorous life in espionage. I earned a scowl and a detention as she apparently thought I was alluding to her unchanging attire … A dark brown suede skirt suit which was quite unbecoming to her rather dumpy figure.

  6. I have read T,T,S,S and maybe two or three others of Le Carré’s books but will have to re-read to remember them. I used to read a lot and swallowed them whole instead of savouring them. Recently I found the TV series on Youtube and enjoyed those episodes.
    We don’t have moles (the furry kind) here but people are always poking holes in their lawns to aerate them so I think moles are doing a public service.

  7. I’ve only ever found a dead mole. His coat was made from short hair, that stood on end, presumably so he could move forwards or backwards with equal ease.

    1. You’re right. I have seen only one live mole, a young one, so pinker than typical. It was in the garden of an Open Art Studios event, and the creature was so unfazed by the light that punters got more interested in its progress than in the exhibits!

  8. I am reading a biography of John Le Carre at the moment. It’s a slog I have to say. But it frequently refers to his artistic talents, so for a moment I thought those wonderful drawings were his.

  9. I like the illustrator,Tim Laing’s work and I feel sorry for the moles, but then I don’t deal with them either. There has to be a reason for their existence and it seems that it must be, as Mary Tang said above, to aerate the soil and to eat Japanese Beetle grubs. I shouldn’t like to watch a mole eat his supper.

  10. When I was a teenager, we had a dog, Boots, who was a champion mole catcher. I remember one that she caught that must have died of fright as it was unmarked. The fur was unbelievably soft. And of course it had those little digger hands. The world is full of marvels. One of them could very well be Le Carre.

  11. We don’t have moles here. I can see why they would be thought vermin but what extra-ordinary creatures. The fact they don’t have eyes yet can tunnel through the dark is a great metaphor for personal development.

  12. Le Carre’s writing is so darned dense…as you say, all parts hard to unravel and decipher sometimes, plots ad characters are so intricately designed. But what a writer, nonetheless. Moles do the work more or less intended, I suppose, whichever sort.

  13. I much prefer Le Carre’s work to Ian Flemings, more real, more chilling, great stuff. Bond is gun and fames as Bristow would have it. Tell me do the Bristow cartoons still appear?

  14. Loved the movie with Gary Oldman. I’ve never read any of the books. Lots of moles at the little house in the big woods. We just let those moles be. After all, they are not revealing any state secrets 😉

  15. I liked the movie better than the book, Derrick. I know: “Heresy!”
    I find Le Carre’s writing very dry and perhaps I have such a busy life I need action over dialogue and character development. Smiling and hopefully not banned from your blog or book discussions.
    I love onions, mushrooms and Swiss cheese in an omelet, with whole wheat toast with butter and orange marmalade. My Dad loved this or raspberry jam, which I also love. xo

  16. Moles are all very well in their place but as we drive past Car Colston Cricket Club (the last club in Notts to play on a village green) they really can make a mess in just one night. Swings and roundabouts…

  17. I remember my grandfather’s traps, they were quite successful. After the drainage works in surrounding wetland the moles moved away from the farm to the meadows.

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