Gyles Brandreth, Kenneth Williams, Lord Alanbrooke, Alan Clark, even ex-Torquay manager Garry Nelson – all diarists whose published works are on my bookshelf up against assorted Margaret Atwood novels and back issues of High Voltage.
Reading and writing published diaries has been the subject of some recent programmes on BBC Four. Richard E. Grant questioned whether Kenneth Williams had ever written a true word throughout his acerbic journals; Mariella Frostrup wondered if fictional diaries contain thinly disguised truths from the author. And then there are the likes of me, whose scrawled jottings and inspired mutterings, not to mention bad poetry, has been a largely secret record of the events of the past with varying degrees of accuracy and proportionate emotion. At least the poetry appears to have stopped.
With only a 17-month break in 10 years – that gap spanning the period from my grandmother’s death to the first Weatherspoon’s breakfast of 2010 – my diaries are as much or as little a valid record of the 21st century as the countless real-time online message boards and blogs covering the same period. Diarists are fairly odd sorts, with their daily duty (or chore?) involving no more equipment than a pen and a Collins page-a-day.
If my keeping a diary is because of the frustrated writer inside me, the only reason why I keep a penny-jar is for the teaching of a little restraint. People who know me will be quite surprised to learn that my diaries haven’t been torn to shreds in a fit of pique; it must be picking-up-from-the-floor-time when you all discover my cup of loose change hasn’t been thrown at a wall or carried to work for a splurge on meat pies and Manchester Tarts.
Having had the snooty treatment from bank clerks who think the changing of change is somehow beneath them, I will cart my screw-top jar of shrapnel to the nearest supermarket magic machine sometime summer-wards. Money tends to burn a hole in my pocket, so anything which promotes restraint can only be beneficial. Heck, I’ve knocked the glass over enough times to think, “Screw it, you are coming with me to Tesco and you’re going to get spent.” When full, the contents of the glass will be transferred to the screw-top, and the whole process will begin again.
Unlike blogging – where the author expects readership, maybe comments, possibly recommendations and quotations – diary writing can be as insular or full of expression as the writer dictates. It’s no more “self obsessed” than the first-time author getting his characters to mention in-jokes halfway through a chapter. Penny-jar husbandry must seem just as alien, some outdated act alongside making pastry from scratch or sewing buttons. There is something to be said of the age when the walk from my house to the bus station can often result in a £1 profit from the haul of the previous night wallet-fall.
I don’t keep a diary “so as to have something scandalous to read on the train”. Nor do I put 20p coins in a jar to kill off the sudden pang of hunger for Fox’s Creams at the dead of night. It’s how I go about wandering around this great big cloister-fach of a gameshow we call life, if it’s anything at all. If the opposite of doing either is spray-painting my name on bus-stops or slotting every last penny into an arcade machine, then I’ll carry on being uncool.
Oh, and the Garry Nelson diaries, “Left Foot In The Grave”, are very good…but I donated them to one of the solider charities at Christmas…Sure some brave boy out in Helmand really wants to know about the daily life of a lower league football club…