This is the time of year when, twenty years ago, I would have begun keeping a diary. Well-intentioned though I was, they rarely lasted beyond February or March, though one made it as far as June before abandonment. I don’t keep diaries now. I write what’s happened to me when I feel it’s worth writing down, but I don’t have a regimen. That’s a shame, because a diary is almost always an interesting thing. It helps if you’re a good writer, of course. I’ve been revisiting Alan Bennett’s 1980s diaries recently, and almost every entry has something remarkable or beautiful about it. Look at this one. If he hadn’t written them down, these events would have been forgotten about and lost; as it is, they have been published and republished, their semi-permanent posterity seems assured, and the world is a tiny bit happier.
11 November 1988.
To Weston to see Mam. Two of the other old ladies in the home are having their hair done. One of them shouts above the noise of the dryer, ‘They keep telling me I ought to have been a Trappist nun. I didn’t want to be a Trappist nun. My father had Friar’s Balsam in the medicine chest, but that’s as far as it went.’
The train back is crowded, and at Bath a bunch of schoolboys get on, either from a prep school or from the lower forms of a public school, Monkton Combe possibly. They are talking of the football team. ‘Tim’s in the A team,’ says one, ‘but he’s only hanging on by a needle and thread.’ There is a pause. ‘Actually,’ says the other, ‘I think it’s just “thread”. You don’t have to say “needle”.’ This is said with perfect solemnity and kindness.