Flight Paths stowaway

10 June 2010 in Flight Paths | Comments (0)

Yesterday the banner front page headline in the London newspaper, The Evening Standard, was STOWAWAY’S ROYAL JET TO HEATHROW. 

It transpires that a 20 year old Romanian man had slipped through a wire fence in Vienna on Sunday 6 June and climbed up into the landing gear of the plane.  He’d chosen the first plane he could get to - a private jet belonging to the Dubai royal family - without knowing its destination. The flight took 97 minutes and, because of bad weather conditions, it flew at much lower altitudes than normal - 25,000 feet instead of 37,000 feet.  He has no injuries.  Today the Standard is reporting that he has ‘vanished’.  He was not arrested, and, as an EU resident, he’s allowed to entry to the UK.

I wonder what the circumstances were for this young man.  Was it simply that he wanted to leave Romania but couldn’t afford the airfare, and had heard that you could stowaway inside a plane by climbing up through the landing gear?  Or was he desperate to get away from something?  How desperate and/or ill-informed would you have to be to consider stowing away on an airplane like this?  Did he think he’d be able to climb inside the airplane?  Or did he think that he’d be able to tuck himself away behind the landing gear and ride all the way to the plane’s destination without getting inside the plane.  He was so lucky in so many ways with this journey - only 97 minutes, flying at much lower altitudes than normal - what can that 97 minutes in the air have been like? 

All fascinating stuff for me and my project Flight Paths, and the new book I’m currently attempting to start writing.

I could do better myself

9 June 2010 in | Comments (1)

Last night I was lucky enough to be invited to the Residence of the Canadian High Commissioner, Jim Wright and his wife Donna Thomson, for a reception to meet the Queen and Prince Philip in advance of their trip to Canada this summer (she’ll be in Ottawa for Canada Day). 

The whole evening was huge fun - loved every minute of it - and I got to meet several people I admire, including the designer Erdem, journalist Lyse Doucet, and anthropologist and film-maker, Hugh Brody. 

But the highlight of the evening was, of course, meeting Themselves.  When told I’d won the GG the Queen said ‘How nice. You must be pleased,’ and then moved along; Prince Philip, however, uttered the immortal words, ‘I don’t like novels.  I always think I could do better myself.’ 

Historical Fiction vs Historians Again!

4 June 2010 in The Mistress of Nothing | Comments (3)

It sounds like heavy-weight historian Antony Beevor and right-wing historian Niall Ferguson have been bigging it up at the Hay Festival, condemning fiction that deals with history to the dustbin yet again.  According to reports, Niall Ferguson says he never reads historical fiction because it ‘contaminates historical understanding’; Beevor says he thinks that historical novelists ought to mark in bold type ‘the bits they made up’. 

Nice to see two such hardy fellows claiming their unparalleled access to the truth. 

The same day I read about this, I also happened to read an essay by Arthur Schlesinger Jr, ‘History and National Stupidity’.  You can read the beginning of this 2006 essay online at the New York Review of Books, though I came across it in a book of collected NYBR essays called ‘The Consequences to Come:  American Power After Bush’. 

Schlesinger’s essay is remarkable - short, pithy, and very moving.  In it he discusses his own book about American President Jackson, ‘The Age of Jackson’, which Schlesinger wrote in the 1950s, in relation to a new book about Jackson and the causes of the Civil War by Sean Wilentz.  Schlesinger pithily and mercilessly lays bare the problems with his own book which, as he explains, was a product of a certain time and place, as all books - history and fiction - inevitably are.  Schlesinger says ‘I was hopelessly absorbed in the dilemmas of democratic capitalism made vivid for my generation by FDR and the New Deal, and I underplayed and ignored other aspects of the Age of Jackson.  The predicament of slaves, or the red man and the “trail of tears”...the restricted opportunities for women of the period… were shamefully out of my mind.’ 

Schlesinger begins this essay with the following statement:  ‘History is not self-executing.  You do not put a coin in the slot and have history come out.  For the past is a chaos of events and personalities into which we cannot penetrate.  It is beyond retrieval and it is beyond reconstruction.  All historians know this in their souls.’

This is why history is fascinating.  This is why each generation reconstructs the past anew.  This is why there is room for yet another book about D-Day, and yet another book about power and money.  This is why my attempt to write the ‘true’ story of Sally Naldrett, a humble maid, made homeless and jobless by the employer to whom she had devoted her life, is a worthy topic for fiction.  And, as anyone who stoops so low to actually read fiction that deals with historical subjects knows, this is why fiction can sometimes be the only way to tell the truth.