Saturday November 21st – Day 17


The shortest day can’t come too soon. Up early this morning, driven out of bed by a desire to get the work done and watch the international rugby this afternoon. Fly in the ointment was that I hadn’t realised daybreak was set to pitch up at 7.30am and therefore I had to wait a while before going out for a walk. My gilet, hat, jeans and trainers are dark in colour and I did not want to be mistaken for a cat burglar or other nefarious prowler! However, the hour at the desk before I went out and put the frighteners on the denizens of Chertsey meant that by the time I got back I knew exactly the day’s task: one chapter – now attending to individual chapters rather than overall output – and three perhaps four to go. There is, though, no doubt that the mind is both fertile and liberated through the early hours. As it was, just after the sun rose behind a blanket of grey altocumulus, I strode round the corner by Bates’s boatyard and surprised a couple out walking their English Bulldog, Winston. Yes, I know: Winston! You couldn’t write it!

As I walked, the subject of poetic licence came to mind. Why? In two words, The Crown, or rather the series currently showing on Netflix. Is it Season 5? I enjoyed the first two and lost interest after that; probably something to do with Claire Foy’s brilliant acting and Vanessa Kirby’s masterful portrayal of Princess Margaret. Now, here’s the thing, as they say in all the biopics of Hollywood directors. I have a confession to make and it is this: I have issues with films and television programmes which feature some script writer’s view of real, living people. Call me old-fashioned, but I just don’t get it. Only those to whom the Queen talks know precisely the conversations they shared; the rest is pure conjecture, if not ludicrous, populist fantasy. Enough said. If I have offended, I apologise, and I get it that one man’s meat is another man’s poison – er, are we still allowed to say that? I’m not sure. The thing is – yes, another thing – I get the hump with movies that manipulate history. Whoa, I’m not naïve enough to think that many great, historically-placed and highly enjoyable movies haven’t bent a fact or two. Lawrence of Arabia directed by David Lean was a fabulous piece of story-telling, as was The Seven Pillars Of Wisdom written by TE Lawrence, the basis for the movie, and both versions contained historical inaccuracies and stretched truths. Yet, the essence of both was fair and directly related, and if you write about characters long departed, very few of your audience will be able to stand up and tell you it wasn’t so. A Perfect Storm, a movie about the crew of a trawler lost to a hurricane, was advertised ‘based on the truth’ when the events post loss of radio communication have to be taken as complete fiction; a melodrama dreamt up by a studio. If people need a diet of historical inaccuracy, then that’s up to them; it’s a free country and people are therefore free to believe whatever they prefer to believe. Putting words into the mouths of living people, words likely to influence those more easily influenced, is dishonest. You could level the same accusation at me with my inclusion of Queen Elena of Italy in Constant Tides; however, I was careful to cast her in a sympathetic light, a light garnered from weeks of studying The Times archive, tracking down eyewitness testimonies and locating many reference books. I hope, in a dewy-eyed way, my portrait served her well.

The film U-571 told the story of how an American submarine captured a German submarine from which an enigma code machine was recovered, thus altering the course of the war. For a start, in May 1941, it was not an American submarine that captured the German, it was HMS Bulldog, H91, a British Destroyer. I often wonder whether the crew nicknamed their beloved B-class destroyer Winston. Or is that stretching imagination too far?

Ciao. Until tomorrow.


  • Diary Day

Further Reading

What You Don't Know About Me

Constant Tides

The Wind between Two Worlds

The Truth in Fiction

Ontreto: A Novel of Lipari

Boarding House Reach

Mazzeri: Love and Death in Light and Shadow