Some day someone will read your journal of record

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The Independent Online
I am seriously thinking of trying to keep a diary this year.

Do you have any hints?

The most important thing to remember is that diaries perform two quite different functions - indeed, two quite opposite and contradictory functions - and you must decide which yours is to perform. In one kind of diary you write, well before the event: 'Dentist 11.30.' In the other you write, after the event: 'Went to the dentist this morning. He still has the same intricately bawdy poster stuck on the ceiling to amuse his patients as they lie back in the chair. I am so sick of staring at that poster. I asked him afterwards if people never objected to it, and he said that most people hated it passionately. 'Why do you keep it up, then?' I asked him. 'Because rage acts as a mild anaesthetic,' he said.'

So one is an appointments list and the other is a journal of record?

Exactly. Which means that you should choose your diary carefully. For instance, I think we can assume that when Alan Clark wrote his diaries, he didn't write them in a W H Smith boys' pocket diary.

What did he write them in, then?

He wrote his diaries in a priceless 15th-century set of Renaissance vellum books that his father, Lord Clark, had nicked from a museum in Florence.

Is that true?

No. But it sounds true, and that's always important if you want your diaries to be published eventually.

Well, I won't be writing my diary for anyone else to read.

That, of course, is balderdash. Everyone writes their diary to be read by someone. That is why they write them. What you have to decide now is who exactly your reader is going to be.

Hmm. What are the options?

Well, for a start, you yourself may be the reader. In a year or two you will find this diary and look back to see what you felt about things and people at the time. Almost certainly you will not have indicated how you felt about anything, so you must remember now to put in lots of emotional reaction to your daily life.

But I tend to keep my emotional reactions fairly private.

Then you shouldn't be keeping a diary. All you will end up with is a list of where you went and who you met. But the important thing is to write what you felt about where you went and who you met. If necessary, get yourself in the mood when writing your daily diary entry by starting: 'Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God]]] This is dreadful]'

What is dreadful?

Your daily life.

But it's not dreadful. It's quite good fun.

Then put instead: 'What a great day] Thing's are going well]'

What things?

Dear God, give me strength. Now, the second option is to write your diary for your nearest and dearest.

But I wouldn't want my nearest and dearest to read my intimate diary.

One thing you will have to accept is that sooner or later your nearest and dearest will always get to read your diary, especially if you try to keep it from them. Have you ever read the diary of your nearest and dearest?

Well yes, I suppose.

Well, there you are then. The only thing you have to decide is what impression you want to create, and write your diary accordingly. For instance, if you are having an affair and don't want your partner to know, don't mention it. But if you want your partner to think you are having a torrid affair, even if you are not, then make it up and put it in your diary.

How will I remember if what I wrote is true or not?

With difficulty. Now, the third option is writing for posterity, in which case it must either be very interesting or full of gossip.

I have no intention of having my diary published.

Everyone says that. Most people are right. But do remember that when people say, as they said of Kenneth Williams's diaries, 'I wonder if he would have wanted people to read them', the answer would certainly have been, 'Yes, especially Nicholas Parsons.'

Why especially Nicholas Parsons?

Because Kenneth Williams was very rude about him, and it seems to be a funny rule of the game that people don't sue diaries for libel. That's one of the great reasons for writing a diary, of course. To be rude to people. Somewhere in Alan Clark's diary he describes John Selwyn Gummer as a sanctimonious little creep. The pleasure he derived from writing that must have been doubly enhanced by seeing it published in his lifetime. He may well have written the whole diary just to slip that little character sketch in. But so far as one knows, Gummer has not sued him.

If you call Gummer a sanctimonious little creep and make it clear that you are quoting Clark, will you get away with it too?

We'll have to find out, won't we?

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