A little while ago, I wrote to you to explain that “personal circumstances” meant I was suspending publication of the newsletter. Some subscribers took this deliberately vague phrasing to mean that I was at death’s door — as subscriber Keith McCartney put it, that I had just written my Captain Oates message. (If you don’t get the allusion, look him up, and then face south and salute a man who was more brave than I can imagine.)
I have indeed been less than healthy and this week have had an operation. But it was to correct a serious misalignment of my foot, so hardly life-threatening. I was operated on and excellently cared for at Southmead Hospital in Bristol and was brought home by three cheerful ambulance men for whom nothing was too much trouble. I’m writing this with one leg in plaster propped up on a stool, with strict instructions not to put my weight on it for a fortnight, in a house that an occupational therapist has reconfigured for an elderly unfit hop-along casualty. None of this cost me a penny piece, thanks to the National Health Service.
This has almost nothing to do with my decision to cease writing World Wide Words. Truth be told, after 930 issues I was becoming written out. Every week that passed made writing more of a chore and less of a pleasure. About a year ago, closure of the freelance reading programme of the Oxford English Dictionary, to which I had contributed since 1992, meant that I had lost a key stimulus for investigating and writing about new words and — more recently — access to the online OED. Cuts to local authority library services have very recently severed access to a key British Library newspaper database.
I began to think that somebody was trying to tell me it was time to stop.
The clincher was my recent and rapidly growing association with a group building a local heritage railway: one which seeks to recreate a former period in British rail history using restored steam locomotives and rolling stock. I’ve taken on the job, as a volunteer, of organising the conservation, documentation and move of the large collection of a recently closed railway museum. This goes back to my earlier and longstanding involvement with museums, heritage interpretation and railway history. It’s a challenge that I would be constitutionally unable to walk away from, even if I could at the moment.
So I’ve decided to make my temporary suspension of the newsletter permanent. However, the World Wide Words website will continue as an archive and reference, as will the separate Affixes site. The 3,000 pieces on the Words site should provide you with reading matter for a while.
For me it’s not only an ending but also a beginning. I hope I move on with your good wishes.
Thanks go to everybody who has contributed to the newsletter since its faltering genesis in 1997 and helped to make it the success it became. And thank you for reading it. I wish you all the best in the future.