Book Of A Lifetime: The Diary of Samuel Pepys

One's book of a lifetime should become a total obsession – a work that leaves you seeing the world through different eyes. For me, it's the unexpurgated 'Diary of Samuel Pepys'. Completing the 11-volume set challenges even the most dedicated, but the entries are so vivid and comprehensive that the readers feel almost as if we're living a parallel life.

Written between 1660 and1669, the daily diary seems to have become an essential ritual for Pepys. Nothing escapes notice - whether a meeting with the king, the goings-on at the Navy Office, kissing a pretty girl, or the number of farts Pepys passes. Through it all we track Pepys's astronomical rise from impoverished young hopeful to the most influential mandarin in the Navy bureaucracy.

Covering the Restoration, the Great Plague, the Great Fire of London, and the invasion of the Dutch, the 'Diary' encompasses arguably the most turbulent period in London's history. And the worse things get, the better Pepys' sex life becomes. His philanderings are legendary, but it's the rich and complex relationship with his wife Elizabeth that often makes the entries unputdownable.

Pepys is no bit player in the great events of the day. He helps bring Charles II back to England, follows bodies to the plague pits with morbid fascination, and frantically buries his Parmesan cheese in the garden as the Great Fire approaches. In later life he became president of the Royal Society, and some of its more extraordinary early experiments are documented in the diary's pages.

And what a London acts as backdrop to all this! Public toilets do not exist and the water's undrinkable, so for the young Pepys it's beer for breakfast and lunch, and wine – if he can afford it – for dinner. In the Navy office, the management of accounts is almost as sozzled as young Pepys. Somehow he finds himself giving up the rowdy lunches with his fellow clerks and coming to grips with the Augean stables that is Navy business. By the diary's end, under Pepys's guidance, we can see the infant glimmerings of a modern Navy taking shape.

For all the unfamiliarity of Restoration England, there is something very modern about aspects of Pepys's life. Anyone familiar with 'Yes, Minister' will recognise many of his work-life dilemmas, while any spouse will sympathise with the agonies – and perhaps secret triumph – of Elizabeth when she catches Pepys in flagranto delecti with the maid. Certainly, their make-up sex would not be out of place in a racy television drama.

Even though so much has changed, on visits to London now I see the city in part through Pepys's eyes. And there's one place of pilgrimage I invariably visit: St Olaf's church, where Pepys and Elizabeth were buried. It's also the place where the great diarist gazed unabashedly upon the local beauties, while he mastered the art of masturbation without using his hands. In the end he got so good at it that he could even climax without blinking.

Tim Flannery's 'Here on Earth' is published by Allen Lane

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect