I was quite looking forward to celebrating Trafalgar Night in France. This weekend, I was meant to be attending an international colloquium on 17th century European dockyards in Rochefort (yes, some of us know how to live the high life), and thanks to the oddities of Ryanair’s La Rochelle schedule, I was meant to have flown out on Wednesday for an event beginning on Friday. I’d booked into the hotel converted out of part of the Corderie Royale, the great ropewalk built to service Louis XIV’s warships. The plan was to order rosbif for dinner (what else?) and loudly toast the Immortal Memory, possibly singing ‘Rule Britannia’ as well if sufficient Merlot had slipped down the ways. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, though, the event was cancelled at the last minute because even many of the French delegates couldn’t get there, thanks to petrol shortages and transport strikes stemming from the ongoing protests against President Sarkozy’s plan to raise the retirement age to sixty-two (which, in terms of the average number of hours worked per week, probably translates into a British equivalent of about forty-five).
So here I am at home, contemplating the tragi-comedy of the ‘Strategic Defence and Security Review’ - more on my other blog – and reflecting on last weekend, when I attended the Historical Novels Society conference. This was a really enjoyable and useful event: those who write and read historical fiction are clearly much more fun than many of those who attend academic historical conferences! I also attended a Q&A session with Bernard Cornwell, who gave some valuable insights into how he works as well as convincing me that I should add his latest book, The Fort, to my Christmas list. The only real highlight in my recent reading has been C J Sansom’s fifth Shardlake novel, Heartstone, which culminates in the sinking of the Mary Rose. It’s a good read, but I don’t think it’s Sansom at his best: with the best will in the world, a plot centred on the complexities of 16th century wardship law faces an uphill battle, and Sansom’s lack of grounding in naval history is apparent in his scenes aboard the doomed ship. The sinking itself feels rushed and almost an afterthought. Even so, it’ll be fascinating to see how the Shardlake novels are adapted for TV; the casting of Kenneth Branagh as the title character raises one’s hopes, and let’s face it, they wouldn’t have to do too much to better the current adaption of The Pillars of the Earth on Channel 4, which seems to contain more ham than all of Sainsburys, Tesco and Waitrose combined.
Finally, probably the last-ever traditional slipway launch of a British warship took place on 11 October when HMS Duncan took to the water in Glasgow. Having written a biographical essay on the man after which she’s named, I thought I’d provide a link to the film of the ceremony. We shall never see its like again.