I’d forgotten one of the great January traditions until I saw my mum at the weekend and she showed me a diary that she started 30 years ago this month.
A new diary for a new year – how much nicer a resolution promising to write an account of each day is than the endlessly negative givings up and losings of things.
Her old diary is rather wonderful, both inside and out. It has a spine and corners of embossed, maroon leather and is bound in red Chinese silk. Its pages have illustrations of birds and blooms around the edges, and my mother’s lovely, swirly writing – a hand that I ripped off as a teenager – in the middle.
Having stumbled on it during a tidy up, she’d lost a morning to reading it. She then shared some of the bits that mentioned me. Visits to my late great-grandmother when I’d been a good girl. New outfits my mum had bought me (“red cord jeans that Becky says are too tight”) that she still remembers shopping for to this day. Mum preparing for a trip to Paris with me and my dad, which was, for me, a bit like looking through a telescope from the wrong end because the oldest picture I have of myself – and one of my earliest memories – is from that trip. It’s me skipping along a Parisian park with a purple balloon, aged three.
I’m afraid it wasn’t all good. I was going through a “huffy” stage. I was a bugger for going to get my pyjamas. My mum reported that one afternoon she heard me shouting at some recalcitrant Duplo that wouldn’t bend to my will. “I’m going to bite your tail off!” was what I told it at top volume.
It was sweetly obvious on certain days that my mum had told herself to include some current affairs in her entries. So after recording that week’s weight loss (two and a half pounds) or worries about my dad losing his job, she’d casually drop in the headlines about Nigeria, or mention that car seat belts had become compulsory.
Mum hasn’t kept a diary for years now. Her reasons were the same ones that I gave after avidly chronicling my teenaged years in a series of hard-backed notebooks: not wanting anyone to read it, and anyway, not having anything worth saying other than the usual litany of worries and whinges.
But it’s this minutiae which is what makes a diary so valuable. If Pepys hadn’t bothered writing about his terrible day at the office, our world would be a poorer place. The devil – and the delight – is in the details.
Which is why my mum has just been to buy a new diary. I look forward to the highlights in a few decades’ time.