Newsletter Christmas 2008

My Christmas tree

So here it is. The latest Christmas newsletter. It seems a little odd to be writing another newsletter so soon after the last, but then again, I do like Christmas, and it's a good time to send messages and newsletters out!

And there have been some interesting contacts recently. Several have been bemoaning my lack of responsiveness.

Profuse apologies for this. Apparently there has been a technical issue. My website administrator assures me that it's to do with an ISP (SBCglobal). The error message I keep getting says that "Excessive userid unknowns from" which apparently means someone (not me) is sending spam to addresses at the ISP site. Therefore the ISP has blacklisted a server somewhere in the internet firm which my emails are sent through. Which means I have to use a different mail system. Apologies again, but there's a fix, which is the main thing - I have to start using the webmail system on my servers, which should cover it. Let me know if you still don't get replies, though! I will reply within a day generally to all emails. If it takes a week, there's a glitch.


And so to happier emails.

One has lead to a special request to all my readers: Help!

Of course, anyone sensible would have the books on disk so that they could be plugged into a computer, wouldn't he? If you are one of those who's spotted this technical failing on my part - well, it's a sad fact of life that I don't bother to keep all my books on disks or tapes. Not any more. And not solely because I'm a twit, either.

The first books were written on an IBM PS2. That was a great machine, but it went the way of all computer hardware long ago. After that, my books were written on a 286 laptop made by a firm called AST. That was good, too - but the keyboard sucked. I had to buy a replacement - an external one with full-sized keycaps. The next stories were typed on a Toshiba, which I still have (the kids have it now), and the last ten or twelve have been typed on Apples. And the funny thing is, how technology has changed. The PS2 and the AST both used funny little floppy disks. The PS2 died, but I could still access the data from the AST. Until I one day had a brainwave and bought a disk head-cleaning kit. I cleaned the disk heads - and all my old backup files became useless.

Apparently the friction of the cleaner would reset the heads to different locations. From that day on, all my disks were so much clutter - I could read none of them. And with the Apples there were no floppy drives anyway. At least all my recent books are here. Apples are really marvellous machines.


The latest ones have these fabulous, beautiful, soft and elegant keyboards. I don't know if they'll last as long as old-fashioned sprung keys - but this wireless one is stunningly: gorgeous to look at and use, and the only failing seems to be that one book, one radio play and a few other odds and ends mean that the keys are already nice and shiny. All the little stippling has worn away.

The second delightful email I've received recently was from Edward. (You know who you are!) He's commissioning a friendly armourer to replicate Baldwin's sword. I am really fascinated to see how this project goes, and with luck, as soon as the thing is done, I'll be able to get you a picture of it on the site here, if Edward doesn't mind.

I've mentioned technology. Well, there's one new piece of software I have to mention. This is the wonderful software package called Scrivener. If you aren't an Apple afficionado, this is not for you - it only works on Apples. However, if you're in the business of writing, like me, large chunks of text, Scrivener is a huge eye-opener. I had thought that there was nothing suitable for authors and novelists. This proves me wrong. Check it out at Literature & Latte.


As if that wasn't good enough, I have another great little site for you. There is a wonderful lady to whom Ian Mortimer introduced me last week.

She calls herself Alianore, and has a really fabulous blog spot at which looks at the life and death of Edward in a great amount of detail. You can tell, from her site and the blog, that she is a trained historian with a fascination with Edward's reign. Her research shines through all her writing. I recommend it.

Another site which I intend investigating in a lot of detail is Lady Despenser's Scribery which is, as the name suggests, much more focussed on Despenser. Ye Gods, he was a nasty little man. But very interesting. And it cannot be denied that he was not unique. After all, as soon as Mortimer took power he demonstrated that he was as avaricious and determined as any other tyrant. None was perfect in those days. Their primary loyalty was to their families - no one else.

Well, at least they have all given me infinite possibilities for inventing my own little tales, firmly grounded in their experiences.

A bauble on my Christmas tree

These sites are full of useful, researched information. They are what has made the internet such a wonderful tool.

However, there is another site I should mention. A few days ago I received a very pleasant complaint. This reader hit on a word in a book of mine which drew her up short, and she wasn't convinced it was authentic, so she went to a website hoping for enlightenment.

Now let me digress a moment. I was talking to my mother-in-law last week, and she spoke about her local library. It's being closed because the space it occupies will apparently be better utilised by a swimming pool. Sometime in the future, maybe, they'll put in a new library, but meanwhile, they're selling off books because there's nowhere to store them.

There is a move in the UK to close libraries. And those which aren't closed are now being radically altered. Computers are arriving, and the books are being moved out and away.

This should, of course, be a good thing. Computers are lovely, sexy machines which access the internet. There is a wealth of information out there. And there is the chance for people to log on and use this data - and even send their own emails, when they want. That is good, right?

Wrong. First, I see no politician suggesting that libraries should be giving away free postage to all comers. Communication is not something that should be elbowing books out of libraries. So perhaps the only reason for libraries to have computers is this new idea of information being available to all.

The Christmas tree in Crediton Church

Let me return to my email from this very polite, very pleasant lady. She was complaining about the term "posse" because, she learned at her dictionary website, it was originally used in 1575-1585. Thus I was using it two hundred years plus before I should have.

Now, I am lucky. I have the full version of the Oxford English Dictionary. Her email caused me some concern, so I referred to it. Du Cange used the term "posse" in 1246, and it was regularly used in statutes, certainly from the time of Edward I. It was a relief to be reminded, and I was glad that my response to her didn't upset her or make her think I was arrogant - but it made me think. That lady did everything right. She has a questioning mind. When an apparent anachronism appeared, she checked it with the best tools available to her. As one should. But the tools themselves were blunted.

It is a cause of profound sadness to me, and should be one of immense concern to all of us, that libraries are throwing away (literally) books which hold the wealth of knowledge which has been gathered over centuries, and replacing them with computers which are themselves technically fallible, and which provide access to sites which are full of inaccurate information. Our children will be given such information and will believe it to be true.

I said my mother-in-law spoke of visiting her library. There she saw a complete copy of Encyclopaedia Britannica, boxed, ready to be sold. The librarian said it wasn't needed any more. But when the books have all gone, where will we then be able to validate data of any sort? It is a scary thought.

But that's enough of this tedious and miserable stuff. The main thing about my Christmas email should be to keep in touch with people and wish them a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year. Not to depress them.

2009 looks like it'll be a hard year for many. I hope that it doesn't bring too much hardship to you or those you love, and that you survive, enjoying life with whatever pastimes give you the most pleasure.

Merry Christmas to you all.
Mike Jecks

PS - the big tree here was inside the church below - the Collegiate Church of the Holy Cross and the Mother of Him who hung thereon. Many thanks to Nigel Guthrie, Rector, for a wonderful service there today!

Crediton Church

North Dartmoor
December 2008