I was never very good at keeping a diary. I usually found one in my Christmas stocking, one year, two, – whatever was Santa thinking of – but it was rarely completed beyond January apart from a few birthday or holiday references. Fortunately, people in the past have been more persistent and I continue to find reprinted examples through the centuries when I trawl the charity shops. They offer a snapshot of ordinary lives often absent from history books.
The Oxfordshire Within Living Memory book records customs and daily life from around the county with contributions from the WI members of the time. It’s a year now since a small group of us started getting together to talk about how we might record our life stories. Simply writing from birth to present day is not the aim and indeed several members are reluctant to write at all. Visual records are the preferred option from simply annotating the photograph album to creating a work of art recording key events. The meetings are an opportunity to share stories and events with the chat stimulating lots of memories for individuals to record in their own way. We have a theme and I try to find something tangible to spark the conversation. Photographs are all very well but so much better to handle a school reading book, a piece of coal, a garment from another era and so on.
Diaries have also been discussed and it seems I was not alone in giving up at any early stage. However, there was one time when keeping a diary was important to me, albeit for a single week. A sailing trip on the Norfolk Broads during my teens was a highlight for many of us at our youth club. I was the one designated to write the report at the end of it for the local magazine. In fact I was the only one to even take a pen on the trip so it was used for writing all the postcards the group sent when we had stops to pick up supplies and stopped writing at all on our last evening. Despite this the report was written and that might have been that if it had not been packed away in a box in the loft of my family home.
When said home was cleared and boxes sorted I hung on to it to reread at leisure and this was the source of my recent article in Waterways World. There was enough detail packed away inside to work out the route, when funny incidents – and there were many – happened, and the culinary delights enjoyed on board. A couple of postcards home had survived but the only photographs had been taken on a Brownie 127 camera that produced 8 photos to a roll of film – and three of those were spoiled by light infiltrating the camera. So, for one short week of my life, I have a detailed record that has now been shared, not just with family, but also the wider world.
Writing about individual events or experiences is my preferred way of recording my life. Many of them have become published items, usually aimed at a specialist market. Snapshots of life like these are more likely to be published than a chronological account. However, for family I would need to rearrange all these short pieces and anecdotes into something more ordered for them to read.