Ian Mortimer


 

What's New?

Now that I am no longer updating twitter, I will update this page of my website more regularly. It makes sense to use an outlet I can control. If you wish to comment on any points, I have left my twitter account set so that direct messages will reach me, until I can set up an alternative.


28 November 2022
Spanish edition of my Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England

Today is publication day for the Spanish edition of my medieval Time Traveller's Guide, translated by Tomás Fernández Aúz. It is published by Capitan Swing under the title Guía para viajar en el tiempo a la Inglaterra medieval: Un manual para todo el que visite el siglo XIV (ISBN: 9788412554083). This link will take you to the relevant amazon.es page. I hope it does well - it's the first title of mine to appear in Spanish.


23 November 2022
Three-hour interview

Recently I had the very great pleasure of chatting over a video link to Chris Edgerly in California. Our conversation went on for over three and a half hours. Chris has now edited it down to 2hrs 50mins and made it available on youtube. He has also painstakingly broken it up into sections, as you will see on that page. Or, if you want to listen to the the whole thing as a podcast or other audio file, it's available on anchor.fm. Many thanks to Chris for all his hard work on this.


22 November 2022
Mad world

I think it must be a mania, or a phase I am going through - and from which I will never emerge. More commonly called 'intimations of mortality'. Today marks another 22nd of the month, which means another month knocked off for me. Not long ago I realised with a shock how we live only about 1,000 months. Today saw the end of my 662nd. So they're getting rare. No time now for sport or idle reading. These days, frankly, unless there's lots of fun, great music, intellectual stimulation or large amounts of alcohol attached, I would rather be at my desk. For thirty years I followed the motor racing Grand Prix season; then an official decided to take Lewis Hamilton's World Cup away from him by re-inventing the rules witb one lap of the last race of the season to go - and I thought, 'life is too short to waste it on watching idiots playing stupid and unfair games, not knowing what they're doing'. Not long afterwards, the world's leading tennis players decided that it was wrong to bar Russians from the sport - despite that particular nation proving itself fully in favour or behaviour as barbarous, cruel and vindictive as that of Nazi Germany. Despite having followed the sport since attending my first Wimbledon final - Borg vs Nastase in 1976, when I was eight years old - that decision by the over-privileged players killed the fun of it for me. Now I am just mindful of the months ticking by - and what I want to learn and write in whatever time I have left on this planet.

As some of you may know, I have no time at all for Elon Musk. My participation in Twitter has now come to an end. Sadly, I've mothballed my account. I won't delete it but nor will I add to it. A man with that much money and that little humility could do an awful lot of damage - and, as far as I can see, he fully intends to do whatever he wants on the spur of the moment, regardless of the consequences. He's a bit like that motor-racing official - making up the rules anew with one lap to go and everyone watching. Nothing Musk plans to do will enhance the world in the slightest. And based on past performance, he does not particularly care.

More positively, Medieval Horizons is finished. Second stage proofs have been sent off to the publisher. Index completed. It will appear on 23 February 2023 in the UK. Next three books already underway.

But it's strange, isn't it? Here we are in the West, living with daily updates on the collapse of civilisation and the rule of law and order in eastern Europe, which reminds me more and more of the ruthlessness of Viking warfare in the late tenth century - except with more dangerous weapons - and, at the same time, we are trying to carry on as normal. Which means doing things like appreciating vintage wine, collecting rare records, going to the cinema or running your finger along an antique piece of furniture - all of which seem pointless when the world is teering on the edge of armageddon and a whole nation's population is being blown to smithereens or frozen to death by Russians nationalists. I hate the bizarreness of life in these circumstances. I detest Putin for his killing, his lack of compassion and his destruction, obviously, but I also detest him for how much he has taken away the sweeteness of ordinary days here. I look at my much-loved possessions and think of all the thousands of people in Ukraine who have had to leave everything behind simply in order to stay alive. It removes the joy of it, to be honest. I have to put a record on or look at a book or a painting and remind myself of the here and now just to retain some balance.

I always planned to be one of the lucky ones. That is why I do what I do, and why I live where I live. Both those things give me great joy. Only now, I feel guilty to realise how lucky I am.


19 October 2022
Update

I turned fifty-five a month ago. Shifting into the second half of my fifties is reason to pause for thought. But there are so many reasons to stop and think now. The Ukraine War continues to plague all our lives - from worry about the destruction continuing, drawing in other countries, to prices increasing beyond the reach of many people as winter approaches. The situation in Iran seems simply awful. On a personal level, an ongoing argument with a journal and the society that publishes it - about an academic subject – causes me no small amount of stress. Also, my wife and I now find ourselves alone at home after our younger two children have departed for university. I used to mock people who suffered from ‘empty-nest syndrome’ but, frankly, it's difficult. You realise that the best days of family life are behind you and your own part in the family project is done and dusted, so you are largely redundant.

Having said all that, there are reasons to be cheerful. For a start, the proofs of my next book, Medieval Horizons: Why the Middle Ages Matter are here. I'll be checking those over the next few days, and then indexing the revises next month. Publication date is set for the rather pleasing date of 23/2/23. The envoi was only finished recently, when on a holiday in France. The original version (of the envoi) was not up to scratch but in Le Mans Cathedral, I was inspired. In fact, the whole holiday was inspiring, from the vintage wine to the medieval towns and villages we saw.

I’ve been speaking about the book at a couple of events, one at Tywardreath in Cornwall and the other at Barton St David in Somerset. The latter occasion was rather special. In 2019, the founder of the history group, Peter Robinson, decided to invite me to speak to the members to celebrate their fifth anniversary. Unfortunately, Covid-19 intervened. Sadly, Peter died in 2020. The rest of the members decided to institute an annual memorial lecture – and decided that I should give the first lecture. I received a lovely card from Peter’s artistic widow, Penny, and a present that he chose for me when he was anticipating my visit. On top of that, it turned out that one of Peter’s sons-in-law was at school with me in the 1970s, and we hadn't seen each other since 1980. It was a real pleasure to meet him again after 42 years.

Another good thing: an interview I recorded a few months ago is now available. This was done for the podcast What's Her Name. I spoke to Dr Katie Nelson about a whole gamut of subjects. The woman on whom I focused was the extraordinary Harriot Mellon - the most extreme rags-to-riches story I have ever heard. I featured her in The Time Traveller's Guide to Regency Britain.

As some readers might be aware, I run to keep fit and occasionally I run competitvely - for fun. I have to admit, I’ve let things slip a bit recently, and it is a long time since I’ve run a decent time over any distance. But early in October, my younger son, Oliver (19), did his 200th parkrun at Southampton. His elder brother, Alexander (23), went down to join him because he was also doing an important run – his 100th parkrun. Knowing this, I could hardly not join them. I was so proud of them. Sophie and I cancelled all our engagements for that weekend and got up at 5am to drive there to join them. We arrived in the nick of time and I ran the course with the lads. A joyous occasion. For a short while, I quite forgot about the world's troubles.


17 August 2022
Stephen Read

I have added the eulogy to my cousin, Stephen Read, which I read at his funeral on 10 August, to the essays and notes page of my website. Click here to go to it.


2 August 2022
Mixed emotions

This year keeps on giving - and keeps on taking away. Very sadly, my cousin Stephen Read died recently, from the same family disease that killed my father. He was a talented artist, a much-loved husband, father, brother and cousin. I looked up to him in youth and, when he was nearing the end of his life, found myself listening to him all the more. He was a creative man who inspired others, and that is a blessing. He will be much missed.

The year keeps on giving too, though. At present I am deep in the throes of editing my next book, Medieval Horizons: Why the Middle Ages Matter (click on the cover below for details). It is scheduled to be published on 23 February 2023. It presents the period from the eleventh century to the sixteenth as a revolutionary era, quite the opposite of what most people assume.

 

Next, I am planning to record an audiobook of the A to Z speeches that I performed when promoting my Time Traveller's Guides. They were such fun to do, it would be a shame if they were to vanish altogether. And now seems to be the right time, before they fade too much into my past. I find it alarming to think I had the idea almost thirty years ago - and the first one (Medieval England) was finished fifteen years ago.

Looking further ahead, I have four other projects underway. One is the long-awaited biography of Richard, duke of York, entitled The Warrior of the Roses. A preparatory piece for that book, a research article on the origins of the supposed traitor Sir John Mortimer - executed in 1424 - is complete and due to be published next year.

I've already written on this page about The History of England through the Windows of an Ordinary House - a history of the country as it would have been noticed by the people living here in my house in Devon, being a blending of social, political and local history. Recently, a dendrochronologist came here to take samples of several timbers, to give me a better idea of when the key deevlopments took place, so I can describe the changing standards of living enjoyed by the inhabitants. Now I just have to wait another six weeks for the results. (This is a test of patience...)

Some people will be pleased to hear that I am returning to the death-of-Edward II fray, as (like many people) I am tired of academics putting forward amateurish excuses for ignoring my research, such as 'we will never know for certain what happened' or 'it is safest to say that Edward II died in Berkeley Castle'. No. We might not be able to 'be certain' in the sense that we cannot visit the past and see for ourselves but we can be certain with regard to whether historians are doing a good job or not, to professional standards, and the traditionalists are not.

The fourth project I am working on is a joint investigation with my wife, Sophie, of all the medieval pubs in England. Many people laugh when they hear we are visiting hostelries around the country for work, but, believe me, when you have to see eight, nine or even ten pubs in a day - and can't drink because you're driving between them - it is indeed work.


7 March 2022
Unhappy Year

I wrote below that my first glimpse of 2022 was 'definitely not love at first sight'. I then got Covid the day I was meant to go and join my brother for his fiftieth-birthday celebrations and so missed that event and my younger son's 19th. But that period of self-isolation was nothing compared to the growth of dread since 24 February, which is probably true for everyone who follows the news. From the moment my wife Sophie got up that morning, checked her phone, and prefaced her comments about Ukraine with the words 'Oh no!' it has not been going well. The events in Eastern Europe are the most distressing, dangerous, threatening and disturbing of my lifetime. I am sure that the current conflict in Ukraine is largely the result of Putin's desire to provoke the West - NATO in particular - into attacking Russian troops, thereby giving him the excuse to respond with large-scale lethal force, probably with a series of nuclear warheads on Western military bases in Europe. In this way he will be able to claim to his tribe that he was the leader who stood up to the West. And if we attack him in response, the more noble that decision will appear to his tribe.

I think the Russian president took a look back over his career a few years ago and realised that future historians will one day point to him as the man who weakened Russia - who ruled for more than twenty years during which time the whole of Eastern Europe, including Russia itself, grew closer to Europe and America and further from Soviet ideals. I think his decision after a long period of self-terrifying reflection was 'fuck it - let's just roll the dice and see what happens. And if there's a war, at least my people will remember me as strong.' Because he clearly has a chip on his shoulder about that. So I reckon that within a matter of weeks we will see a dramatic escalation of the violence.

Given the importance of the UK's untracackable Trident nuclear submarines to the entire NATO strategy of deterence, I reckon that means there is a heightened risk of an attack on Plymouth, thirty miles away from here. Perhaps Putin will choose instead to launch an attack on a Ukrainian target, to demonstrate his strength and provide a warning to the West. Either way, an escalation to using weapons of mass destruction means tens if not hundreds of thousands more deaths and a rewriting of our experience as a people and the meaning of what war means. Even if I am wrong - and I hope to the highest of the high heavens I am - the invasion of Ukraine means untold unnecessary suffering for Ukraine itself, plus the Russians who have seen their way of life change overnight with the replacement of safety and prosperity by sanctions-induced poverty and the threat of the bullet and the prison camp. Putin will have to rule with censorship and grinding authoritarianism until he dies, otherwise he is going to be made to pay for his failure. The whole of Europe is suddenly alert to a need to increase defence spending massively. That in turn will diminish the budgets of healthcare, social care, higher education and the arts. It means a more socially divided state, with greater wealth inequality as costs of living leap. Prospects of a sustainable future, which were very thin to begin with, now seem impossible. Frankly, who is going to worry about 3-degree climate change devastating the world in 100 years' time when a self-obsessed dictator with a nationalist country behind him threatens to deploy some of his 4,000+ nuclear warheads before the end of the month?

Needless to say, I am finding it rather hard to concentrate on the past right now. I am planning future work and experimenting with audiobook versions of some past keynote speeches, which I want to be preserved. Right now, our entire culture feels so vulnerable, it is difficult to be sure what will last. The world in which I grew up has suddenly been threatened like never before. I find myself wondering whether the routines of life matter anymore - is there any point planning for old age when I might not make it to 55? But at the same time there is an added importance to the guidleines by which we live our daily lives. The structure they offer gives some reassurance. Otherwise every day is a case of looking about as if the relentless tides of history are about to wash over us with a terrible finality.

My heart goes out to the people of Ukraine. I am thinking of them all the time. Zelenskyy is a hero and an example to us all. But soon, I wonder, will the pain Ukraine is suffering come crashing down on Western Europe too? My suspicion is that it is only a matter of time.


6 January 2022
Happy New Year?

Hello, 2022. Pleased to meet you. Better than not meeting you. As for whether I like you, I'm reserving judgement. Given that it's cold and wet, and everyone is terrified of Covid-19, it's definitely not love at first sight.

What do I expect you'll deliver? Well, I suppose a lot of that is down to me.

Workwise, I've just sent off a couple of articles to academic journals, which is a pleasing feeling. I've drafted my chapter on Sir John Mortimer (d. 1424) for the book on the medieval Mortimers to be produced by the Mortimer History Society in the autumn of 2023. My wife are I are getting on with our study of old pubs (Cornwall, Devon and Dorset are done; Somerset next). The next book, Medieval Horizons is with my editor and will come come back to me for revisions at the end of January, with a view to it appearing in March or April 2023. My next next book, A History of England through the Windows of an Ordinary House, is about one-third done; I'm about to start work again on that and hope to finish it by the end of the year. I'm planning to create an audiobook of The Greatest Traitor soon. I continue to think about historical methodology, and writing something about what I have learnt about that over the years. And I'm hoping that my eldest son will complete the editing of my second album of my songs, which were recorded in 2016 and 2018. No rush on that last one.

New Year's resolutions. I'm not making fifty again, as I did in 2017. I am continuing with one that I started that year, though: the resolution to have a minimum of three alcohol-free days every week, without fail or excuse. This is the sixth year of that continuing, and I swear by it. (It only gets really difficult on holiday and at Christmas.) I've also resolved to run a half-marathon once a week, to volunteer at parkrun once for every two runs I do, and to attempt to hit a 75 percent Age Grade at a 5K race. That last aim entails me running the distance in 20:18 this side of 22 September. My fastest time in 2021 was 20:27, so it should be possible. It would be nice to think that I could run the distance in under 20 minutes again but that would take a lot of effort and dieting, so don't hold your breath. Next competitive races will be 5 miles in Exmouth on 1 February and the Exeter City half marathon on 12 February.

So, 2022, what else will you bring? My brother's fiftieth birthday, my daughter's 21st and my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Things to celebrate. A weekend away researching pre-1500 pubs every month. Visits to Bristol to see my elder son and to Southampton to see my younger one. Some archival research, I hope. More music purchases on vinyl, more pints in the pub, more friends dropping by or welcoming me in, I hope. But most of all, as this list suggests, I long for a degree of normality. I might have a PhD in the social history of fatal diseases but I really could do without being reminded, on a daily basis, of Covid-19.

Yes, New Year. For once, I just want you to be 'happy'.


 
What was new in other years
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