Each year, as a child, I would be given a Letts schoolgirl diary for Christmas, and on the first of January, I would begin diligently recording the many fascinating events that made up my daily life. A typical entry might read: "Jan 8th: Went to British Home Stores with mum. Almost bought a skirt, but didn't", or: "Jan 26th: Went to school. Did skipping. Made butter."
Of course, the passage of time has lent these entries a certain bathetic charm, and now my diaries form a significant part of the canon of "stupid mummy" stories my children so enjoy. They are particularly fond of those that reflect my early forays into hypochondria, such as: "Feb 12th. Had stye. Wore eye patch to school." And the inevitably grisly consequence: "Feb 13th. Stye burst." Little do they know that I have been squirrelling away their own diaries, the ones they write in school on a Monday morning detailing what they did at the weekend. I would hate to think of possible future generations missing the chance to laugh at their parents over such gleeful entries as: "I went to Rome and The Pote (sic) waved at me", or: "We went to Bath, which is a museum tipe thing."
I myself keep an altogether grander diary nowadays, a gaily coloured journal to which my husband extravagantly treats me every Christmas. I have no idea how much it costs, but I have noticed that every time I rip out a handful of the blank pages at the back to play noughts and crosses with the children over dinner, he visibly winces. Although I never manage to write in it every day, the fact that I use it for notes and memos makes for an eclectic read. Picking a page at random, I find a list which reads: plumber, putty, smear test and tag rugby. I assume and hope that those items were unrelated.
But within my family, it's my father who has elevated keeping a diary to a fine art. I'm not talking about his actual daily diary, which, though religiously kept, is chiefly preoccupied with the weather and what time the post arrived. But my dad, as an artist, never goes anywhere without his sketchbook, and over the years these sketchbooks, being his constant companions, have become used increasingly as memo pads, jotters for random thoughts, and scrapbooks. He is also a great reader, and will often write down, in his beautiful italicised freehand, long passages from whatever he happens to be enjoying at the time. He still uses them for their intended purpose too, so when you open a typical page you might find a line drawing of a man asleep on the Tube next to a passage by Dickens and a ticket to the cinema.
He's a modest chap, my dad, but every so often he can be prevailed upon to get down one or two of the dozens of volumes he must now have, and let you have a browse. I could lose myself in there for hours. In fact, when he asked me a few years ago if there was anything special I wanted for my birthday, I asked if he'd do one for me. I can think of no present more uniquely personal. In the old days, this sort of fusion of a diary and a scrapbook was known as a commonplace book, and I urge you to try keeping one as one of your New Year's resolutions. There's no page-a-day element to it, so you needn't feel guilty if you miss an entry. Just grab a biggish notebook – note to husband: cheap is fine – and put something in it. Anything: a recipe, a joke, a description, a clipping from a newspaper.
What you put in it will tell you an enormous amount about the inner workings of your mind, of course, and help you to see yourself as others see you. If, when you look back at the end of the year, you find pages littered with junk mail, repeat prescriptions and parking tickets, it might suggest a somewhat negative world view. Too upbeat, and you'll look like one of the Waltons. But the important thing is just to do it, without thinking about it too much, and I promise I won't show you mine if you don't show me yours. In the meantime, I will also try, and doubtless fail yet again, to keep up a normal, regular, daily diary. Today's entry may read something like: "Tried to write column for Independent. Drank whole pot of coffee and two teas. Emailed friends. Spent too much money on iTunes. Looked out of window and saw owl, or possibly fat pigeon. Spoke to agent, can't remember what about..." You know, this page-a-day business isn't doing me any favours.