I’ve always been a chatterbox. Words have gotten me in to trouble I suppose (for talking in class etc) but mostly they’ve come to my aid. Fast talking for excuses, well pondered words for sympathy. Soon after I started to date DH, he had a wobble, was on rebound anyway and maybe because he felt I was the One, he wanted to bail. I got a message to meet him at The Cafe Royale in Piccadilly. For my marching papers, DH admitted years later. But then I spoke. I don’t remember much of what I said. I had my pride too but I knew that what I would say, my riposte would decide our fate.
I can’t put a date to it but I do remember from very young a realisation that words were powerful. That using the right words wielded power. And writing the words down, perserving them for prosperity made them all the more precious. My first diary was an Enid Blyton pocket diary with seven days spread over two small pages. There wasn’t much scope to record news and certainly not in the scrawl of a young child. It was a birthday gift from a neighbour and started off a burgeoning practice of recording details from my young life. It also coincided with my years battling OCD. This explained the regularity of my entries. There were some years when I genuinely believed that skipping a day would mean certain death for me and my family.
Just as a year was coming to a close, I’d use those few blank pages at the back to capture a moment in time. I would sit with my diary on my lap at 11.59 on 31 Dec and quickly scribble the fact. ‘It is now 11.59 on 31 December 19–‘. Then a minute later I’d depict the passing of time by writing just below it: ‘It’s now 12:01 on 1 Jan 19–‘. What was the point of that, eh!
That practice wasn’t just reserved for New Years. I’d follow the same steps on the eve of my birthday or some other milestone I’d identify.
When I was thirteen, my next door neighbours – the Enid Blyton diary gifters actually – invited me on holidays with them – 6 weeks camping/motoring in France. I used to babysit their three small children, the oldest just 6 years younger than me. We travelled in a red Datsun and slept in a blue canvas trailer tent. As well as my pocket diary I brought with me a new copybook and had my first stab at a travel diary though I recorded the most bizarre thing – namely my daily ‘movements’. What I did, when and where. So a typical entry might be….Number 2, M1 motorway services near Leicester (we drove through the UK) on 30 July. Again, held hostage by my OCD, I didn’t omit a day or a toilet stop. All my diaries were secured by a curse. My sisters knew that any intrusion would bring about certain misfortune. I think I would have been more mortified if they’d read my poo diaries than them finding out I had a crush on Bertie Daly.
That trip was my first absence from my family and my first time abroad. I look back now and wonder how anxious I really must have been.
Before major school exams I’d jot down the results I predicted – an optimistic column (which was really the realistic one) and a column I headed ‘expected’ which really should have read ‘cautious guess’. I’d track my pals in this way too.
Soon after entering my twenties, my diary entries trail off. I had finally conquered my OCD so the compulsion to write wasn’t as strong. But mostly I stopped because I was in a darker place that I didn’t want to mark. I wasn’t there for very long, but long enough to break the chain. Intermittently I’d start and abandon diaries.
I found it easier during that time to start novels (never to be completed) and write short stories. Or I’d simply scribble in notepads and fill them with new-to-me words and their definitions.
With the arrival of my children I started baby journals. They were tasteful gifts (Goodnight Moon is an American classic from the fifties) from my lovely American cousin. Though intended to record the first year, I plan on squeezing a couple of decades of observations on to the bumper books.
I met DH at a writing class. An early excursion together was spent in the reading room at the British Library. Many of our dates were tagged on to book readings. I’ve heard some of the Greats read from their own work – Joseph Heller, PJ O Rourke, Hilary Mantel, Richard Ford, Annie Proux, Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, Jimmy Carter are among them.
Words have been my constant. Written, read, spoken.
There have been periods when I have been lazy and idle or frantic and preoccupied. And I might not have used my lexicon arsenal. Mea culpa. But words have yet to fail me. Though I am struggling at giving this post a title…