Since around the age of nine I have experienced an urge to write – about my life, and about other things – that I have not tried to repress. From 1996 until a few years ago I had a series of spiral-bound notebooks which served as a dumping ground for all sorts of things – poetry, short essays, doodles, autograph practice and so on. I had a look at them over Christmas and they are almost without exception an utter embarrassment. Nowadays it’s for the blog as much as for anything else that I write. But it started when I began keeping a diary in 1993.
I kept diaries in 1993, 1994 and 1995, from the ages of nine to eleven. All were abandoned well before the end of the year, but in 1993 at least I made it as far as the start of August before giving up. The extent to which they make entertaining reading has surprised me, given the meagre returns of my adolescent notebooks. Perhaps the absence of teenage angst is pertinent. By and large my writings in the early ’90s were motivated more by TV, music and sweets, and by the dual hardships of school and church, both of which I was keen to abandon as soon as possible (and eventually succeeded in doing, so all this has a happy ending), than by sex, alienation, persecution complexes and the like. Which is as it should be.
My inspiration to revisit these diaries a month or two ago coincided with a Radio 4 series where celebrities did the same. There’s a fun piece by the lovely Victoria Coren here about her appearance on the programme. It’s interesting, looking back at what I wrote all that time ago, to try and gauge to what extent the child is father of the man.
I suspect I may have been motivated to delve into my past by The Age of Uncertainty, a blog written by a seller of second-hand books who occasionally chronicles the interesting items that find their way into his shop. In recent months these have included several volumes of what must be among the most entertaining and moving diaries I have read, kept by a local government officer and Mormon named Derek. If you have a spare twenty minutes or so, please try them out. The relevant entries can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
There’s enough material in my own diaries for one or two further posts, assuming they don’t bore everyone stiff, but the most immediately striking thing about them, which I will write a little about here, is just how much time I took off school in my boyhood. I wasn’t an abnormally sickly child, but somehow in the first six months of 1993 alone I managed to wangle nine days off. I’m glad to say that figure decreased markedly in 1994 and still further in 1995, and now I am quite conscientious about going to work except when at death’s door, but eighteen years ago I was evidently the worst kind of skiver.
A momentary diversion:
Cecily. I keep a diary in order to enter the wonderful secrets of my life. If I didn’t write them down, I should probably forget all about them.
Miss Prism. Memory, my dear Cecily, is the diary that we all carry about with us.
Cecily. Yes, but it usually chronicles the things that have never happened, and couldn’t possibly have happened.
Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest, Act 2
The thing is, where it comes to matters of sickness, I suspect most of the things my diaries chronicle never did happen. The fact that I know I used to exaggerate illness means I am now sceptical about even the most earnest pleas of feeling sick in my diaries. How credible are these entries, really?
Thursday 28th January 1993
Had a temperature. Stayed at home. Played some music on records. Made brown bread. It was yuk!
Friday 29th January 1993
Not well enough to go to school. Timelines on T.V. Recorded it. Well again. Went out to get Peter from school.
Thursday 4th March 1993
Was shivery. Not well enough to go to school. Recorded classical music onto tape including Ravel’s “Pavane for a dead infanta”.
I feel sure these protestations of being unwell were written simply to guard against my being justly accused of faking if any honest diary entry were discovered.
It is possible to view the following entries as doubly devious. Surely I wouldn’t have written what I wrote on Sunday if not as a safeguard for Monday’s sickness, which I had planned in advance?
Sunday 23rd May 1993
Have a temperature. Looking forwards to our Act of Worship tomorrow.
Monday 24th May 1993
Virus. No school. And it would have to be today, wouldn’t it? Played music by Prokofiev.
The following year I acquired a taste for the gruesome.
Thursday 19th May 1994
FEEL VERY PUKY
Friday 20th May 1994
STILL OFF COLOUR
Thursday 3rd March 1994
Last night I Projectile vomited all the way down my bedroom wall. Had a bath at midnight. NO SCHOOL!
Presumably there’s some truth in the last one, though I think ‘projectile’ may have been poetic licence.
But the best entries are those which show what a drama queen I must have been.
Tuesday 20th April 1993
Woke up. Was very numb. No school. Recorded Playdays video to tape. May buy cds: Canteloube: Auvergne, Rossini: Overtures, Copland + Bernstein, Elgar: Enigma variations etc.
Wednesday 21st April 1993
When I put my bag on I couldn’t walk. No school. May buy cds: Mendelssohn – Symphonies 3 + 4 + 4 Seasons etc.
And the crowning glory:
Thursday 18th March 1993
Missed the bus. Came home in state of stress. Unable to go to school. Beat my score on “Stack Challenge” by nearly 10000 points.
This is straight out of Adrian Mole (which I had read by this point and which influenced my writing style – there are phrases elsewhere that are lifted direct from the book). I would like to think it was intended to amuse. Either way, pity my parents.