Monday 23 January 2012

For Want of a Nail

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

The references to horses, riders, kingdoms and battles in this old nursery rhyme indicate its English origins. One of the English Kings didn’t leave anything to chance! In 1363, to ensure the continued safety of the realm, King Edward III commanded the obligatory practice of archery on Sundays and holidays!
The earliest known written version of the rhyme is in John Gower's Confesio Amantis, dated approximately 1390. Benjamin Franklin included a version of the rhyme in his Poor Richard's Almanack when America and England were on opposite sides. During World War II, this verse was framed and hung on the wall of the Anglo-American Supply Headquarters in London, England.
The truth of this proverb was brought home to me in a big way this past week when I travelled from the west coast of Canada to Ontario via my favourite airline, WestJet.
If you’ve been to the beautiful city of Victoria, where I live, you know snow is a rarity. Of course, the day I chose to fly, a blizzard hit, and my flight was delayed four hours. WestJet staff handled the situation well, handing out food vouchers and arranging alternate connections.
I knew I would not arrive in Calgary in time for my connection to Ontario. Unfortunately, by the time my part of the line reached the podium to make other arrangements, the flight was being called, the weather having cleared, and I was reassured that WestJet customer service in Calgary would take care of me.
Upon arriving in Calgary, I discovered that, because of hydraulic problems, the connecting flight had not in fact taken off. The one flight a day to my destination would be rescheduled to the next day. Since I was attending a surprise 40th birthday party for my daughter the following afternoon, such an arrangement wouldn’t get me there in time.
Because of the cancellation of this flight and the terrible weather across Canada, the customer service staff at WestJet was faced with a very long lineup of disgruntled passengers. They handled everyone with aplomb and excellent skills, and I was offered a flight to a city an hour away from my destination and a bus ride. Wonderful!
I was reassured I would be provided with taxi vouchers once we touched down.
Alas! This is where the proverb kicks in! All of the sterling efforts of the WestJeters were to come unraveled because of the “customer service” person in the alternate airport where we landed at approximately 1 AM. Vouchers were refused and we were put on a bus. The temperature was minus 13 degrees Celsius, with a wind-chill of 30 below. There were three babes in arms among the group.
The agent told the bus driver in no uncertain terms that he was to take us only to the original destination airport. Since it is a small regional airport, way out in a rural area, it wasn’t likely to be open at that time of night, but she was deaf to our concerns.
At approximately two o’clock in the morning, we arrived at the locked airport. No taxis, no payphone, no way to contact a taxi. Thank goodness we had a cell phone and were able eventually to get connected to a cab company. This particular airport is several miles outside the city and it took quite a while for the cabs to arrive. Had it not been for the bus driver allowing us to wait in the bus we would have run the risk of severe frostbite.
It occurs to me that sometimes we as indie writers undo our own best efforts to have our books become successful. We spend a great deal of time marketing our books, yet many indie publications I have read recently are full of spelling errors, glaring punctuation mistakes, formatting errors and the like.
I’ve also been disappointed at the glut of novellas and short stories we’re publishing digitally, some of which are “padded” with multiple excerpts from the author’s other books.
It’s a great temptation to rush to publish, and I know from personal experience that it’s easy to miss errors, even for an editor. However, self publishing provides us with the capability of uploading revised versions relatively easily once we are made aware of these problems.
We don’t do our industry any favours by publishing second class work, especially if we’ve touted it as first class. For want of a nail...


  1. Nice post. I know that folks have found errors in my books, just as I continually find them in others (both self-pubbed and NY). Alas I have not updated them yet in my own books because I'm planning to add more content (to the story, not excerpts) and plan to have it all edited again by a fresh pair of eyes:-). Hopefully, I won't lose the kingdom but I'm bracing myself for a horse or two.
    I'm glad you made it safely to your destination. I hope your daughter enjoyed her party.

    1. Hi Linda
      It does sometimes seem like editing is a never ending process, doesn't it!
      Our daughter was indeed surprised and delighted to see us there.

  2. Great post. I love the old poem and how you deftly wind it into your tale.

  3. Thanks Jo-Ann
    It's one of those old rhymes in the back of my mind that seemed appropriate as I stood shivering!