»  National Review Online

February 13th, 2001

  Begging Your Pardon


'Tis the season to be pardoned, and I am looking for some of the action. Gentle readers, I beg your pardon. To be precise, I beg the pardon of the 698 of you who e-mailed me between December 9 and February 9. During that time my main computer was down and I had no access to my e-mail. Last Friday I finally got up and running again. Yes! — the cry goes round the chancelleries: "Derbyshire is back online!" If the noble editor and the kindly webmaster have heeded my pleas, there should be a wee button right about here with the invitation to "E-mail Derbyshire." (I'm surprised, en passant, that hyphen is still there in "e-mail." An academic in the field of linguistics once told me that hyphens rarely last more than five years in commonly-used words. Why aren't we all writing "email" by now?)

I am better than merely back online, in fact. I have a spiffy new machine: 1 GHz chip, 60 Gb hard drive, DVD, CD/RW, oh my. As they say in New York: this thing eats and evacuates. (Well, they don't say exactly that, but you get the idea.) Of course, after the thrill of unpacking all those shiny new components came the agony of installation. I didn't do too badly with this, only had to "restore to factory settings" once. That, however, was after I'd downloaded my email (ha!).

I was wrong about my email. I thought my mailbox would fill up after a week or so and refuse to accept any more. Not so: when I finally got up and running, I had nearly three thousand unread items. I created some folders and got them all classified into the right folder, planning to deal with them over the coming days. Then I hit the speed bump and had to "restore to factory settings."

Why am I telling you this? Because one of those folders was titled "Readers." In it were those 698 emails from readers, most from my web column. I was going to go through & at least acknowledge them all, honestly I was. I had in fact read a good part of them — around 200, I think. Then Hewlett Packard struck. How can a firm make such wonderful hardware, yet such crappy software? Have you ever tried re-installing HP drivers after a system crash? The worst device to do this for is the Colorado tape backup drive, which of course is the first thing you want to re-install! I have 8 gigabytes of stuff backed up on a Colorado DAT & can't get at it because I can't install the damn bloody stinking tape drive. (This is being written at the weekend, when HP has no phone support for the wretched thing. For crying out loud, Mr Hewlett and Mr Packard, either get some decent programmers and support procedures or else outsource the software side of the business to one of those outfits in Bangladesh that actually knows how to do it.) Any attorneys out there? Do I have a casus litis here? It's a backup device, for goodness' sake! Anyway, it wasn't the Colorado re-install that brought me to the Blue Screen of Death, it was the HP ScanJet. I had to "restore to factory settings," and I lost all those reader emails.

I am sorry, truly sorry, and I beg your pardon. I most especially and particularly beg the pardon of all those readers who sent in emails telling me how much they like my stuff. That includes all those who restricted themselves to one-liners like "Right on!," "Knock 'em dead, Derb!," "Great piece!" and such like. To each and every one of you, cead mìle fàilte, the Lord bless you and keep you, and may your motherboards never fail.

If I may insert a paragraph of cold commercial interest, I next want to beg the pardon of the lady who sought to buy my poetry CD but couldn't get to my web site. Thank you for your interest in real poetry. Please try the link again, and if it still doesn't work for you, phone 1-800-997-2972 from 9:00am to 5:00pm EST, Monday to Friday, with a credit card handy, and ask for 36 Great American Poems. It's a terrific collection, and a snip at $12.95 plus etceteras. Listen to Poe, Longfellow and Elizabeth Bishop in your car. Buy half a dozen, they make a great gift …

I beg the pardon of the other lady who wrote to ask the correct pronunciation of my name, which was causing strife at the dinner table in her household. I don't make a fuss about it, Ma'am, but the people that actually live in the proud, handsome, rugged (are you getting this?) county of Derbyshire say DAH-bi-shuh, and I follow them. (The rest of England amuses itself with the ditty: "Derbyshire born, Derbyshire bred, strong in the arm, weak in the head.") From this day forth, may no more harsh words fly over your pepper mill and gravy boat. These things are very tricky, though, which is why I don't believe in making a fuss about them. I just did a review of two books about James Boswell, the great 18th-century biographer. In my review I chid both authors because neither had seen fit to tell his readers that the name of Boswell's estate, Auchinleck, is pronounced "Affleck" by the locals. The editor of the magazine phoned me to say that while this may very well be so, the WW2 British Field Marshal, Sir Claude Auchinleck, pronounced himself "Ockinleck." I wouldn't be surprised: I attended college with a chap named Strachan, pronounced "Strawn," and went on supposing that was the only and approved way until I was corrected by a different Strachan who said he preferred "Strackan." You can never get this stuff right.

I beg the pardon of the 157 (or whatever it was) readers who wrote to tell me I had screwed up that remark from Macbeth, and to the half dozen who instructed me that when a sentence ends with a quote, America always puts the period inside the quote. This seems to me bizarre, but the New York Public Library Writer's Guide to Style and Usage confirms it and I shall try to be a good American in future. I'm not being sarcastic here. You learn a lot from readers. I went through life writing "2001 a.d." until a reader pointed out that it should properly be "a.d. 2001," and I have now corrected myself.

I beg the pardon, though of course not very abjectly, of the dissenters; notably to Rob of Athens who writes at great length to disagree with absolutely everything I say, though not rudely. As a word person, I hate to see wasted words; but do, please, have another try at getting a life, Rob. I even beg a teeny bit of pardon from the legions of homosexuals who write to me, more in sorrow than anger — homosexuals seem to be very polite people — every time I pass a derogatory comment about their disgusting and pathogenic lifestyle. Time must hang heavy on their hands, poor souls, without the long, gruelling process of heterosexual seduction, or the subsequent presence of young children, to rob them of it. Homosexual seduction, I am told, rarely lasts more than fifteen minutes, and there are of course no issue.

The only people whose pardon I do not feel like begging are the hate-mail crowd, with their very peculiar speculations about my sex life (hate-mailers never take more than 50 words to get round to your sex life) and their odd fixation on Hitlerism, which, according to them, is waiting to spring back into triumphant life the instant they relax their vigilant supervision of right-wing fruitcakes like me. Whatever else Hitler was, he was surely History's greatest gift ever to the bedwetting Left.

And now, back to business, to what the late Auberon Waugh, one of the best opinion journalists of our time, called "the vituperative arts." In respect of which, among the first emails I actually could respond to after the Restoration were a couple asking to see my full 3,000-word response to Roger Clegg on racial profiling, the one our kindly but niggardly webmaster made me chop down to 1,200. Glad to oblige: I have put long version up on my personal website.