A faithful companion

Fortean TV's Father Lionel Fanthorpe talks to Jennifer Rodger about his favourite piece of technology: an Oasis IBM clone with a Pentium 166
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The Independent Culture
My computer is a bit of a mongrel. It's an IBM clone by Oasis Computers in Cardiff, but it started life as a simple 486 without trimmings. It grows. Over the years it has taken over, like the evergreens put in the front garden. Before you know where you are, they are shrouding the house.

I last upgraded it to a Pentium 166. That wasn't difficult and it took well, helped by one or two computer-sophisticated friends. I think that this particular water is too deep for me, but I am learning as I go on, and surprise myself. I have a new hard disk - it was originally a three and a half and I put on another five. They are riding on each other's backs. I added a modem, the US Robotics Sportster Flash.

I am on the Net more than anywhere else, what with researching other work and e-mails. I seem to spend half my life on there. My e-mail address is Fanthorpe@AOL.com. I am always happy not to have that private, being a broadcaster. It's where some of the best stories come from. I try to answer everyone as matter of courtesy, in due course.

Another thing massively helpful is a scanner. I am using an OpticPro 4800P. One of its most frequent uses is when people are kind enough to ask for a photograph. I quickly scan it in, use the colour copying facility on the scanner and it saves running down to the local "we develop snaps quickly" shop. Then I print on a Hewlett-Packard Deskjet 720C, which does a very, very good job. I am delighted with it.

In a competitive world, where perhaps there are 1,000 aspiring writers for every one published, you have to do everything you can to make it work. So the technical things are vitally important. For instance, I am also a poet and I am right in the middle of composing a confirmation card. I like to do it on a laser printer, NEC Silentwriter. That's the laser printer which produces fine, high-quality print that can be photographed straight away. It's camera-ready for the publishers to use. The Unsolved Mysteries books we have to send to Canada so they go in disk form.

One thing I do think is important is the Allsop Sight Saver protective screens. I think for anyone who uses them it is very important. Although radiation is minimal and well within safety, if you were a dental surgeon you would take precautions. It's a contribution to ecology, and I think we should take as many precautions as possible. For those who use computers for several hours a day, it stops all alpha and beta rays in their tracks; fewer than 1 per cent can get through. It's well worth having.

The best program I have is the Microsoft Autoroute Express, Version 6, GB 1998. It's by far the best travel planner program I have come across. For instance, I gave a lecture in Southend last weekend and this weekend it was Norfolk, but I could just pop the CD into the necessary slot and find my way. It's needed because I work hard and am under pressure.

It's unbelievable, the number of files I have for the different work I do. I use Microsoft Office, which I will upgrade to 98. My professional work involves so many branches - television, radio and writing. As a part- time volunteer priest, I have all sorts to look into. For instance, I had to look for an old Victorian hymn; a dear old lady of 93 has passed away, and her family said she loved this particular hymn. So I scrolled through a collection of hymn books and then could type it out, put the lady's name on top - and now it's personalised.

I also do World Marathons for charity. Life has been wonderful to me and if I can give a little back, I think we owe it. About seven years ago my friend Guy N Smith established a world record by a professional writer to see how many words of publishable quality you could write in 24 hours on a word processor. He did 18,000, and since then we have taken it off each other. I am currently the world champion, at 26,336. I couldn't do it without a word processor.

I love technology, I am a technofanatic. Occasionally, she has been known to crash. But I expect it's my fault rather than hers. I try not to blame the computer, and try to analyse the situation and think what I did wrong. It's like road safety - you analyse and avoid it.

Being a sci-fi writer, I am interested in unsolved mysteries. I am fascinated in progress for its own sake, so as soon as an upgrade is available, I'll be down in PC World.

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