Ian Mortimer


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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'.

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