My Desert Island Book
I’ve been finding it hard to read. The news of impending redundancy has made me a jittery, C.V-redrafting, cake-seeking missile of worry.
Full panic has yet to take over as I have lots of notice, and have interviews lined up, so this could all work out fine. I even saw a job I could do with the library service, but unfortunately it was just part-time, but if a full-time one comes up I’m leaping on it and wrestling it to the ground. The problem is at the moment my mind goes in circles, kicking myself for things I stupidly said in last interview, mentally formulating responses for the next, there’s no room for sustained fiction.
However, there is one book I bought recently that’s perfect for dipping into, The Assassin’s Cloak, edited by Irene and Alan Taylor. It is an anthology of famous diaries, of doorstop proportions. And, as most of the contributors are long dead and suffered worse tribulations than me, it helps to put things in perspective.
There is everyone from Captain Scott to Byron, Adrian Mole to P.O.Ws. There’s also the expected diary heavyweights, Pepys, Alan Clark and Virginia Woolf. I love reading about how Tony Benn is trying to give up bread and sugar, and adore the special day entries, such as Christmas, where Evelyn Waugh wants to grow a mustache as he fancies a change and can’t afford new clothes, and Brian Eno is complaining about assembling toys that don’t come with ‘any pissing batteries’ and has to head to the corner shop.
Tolstoy is one of my favourite contributors, like Kenneth Williams he often kept it short, and often sharp (and often about STDs). A lot of Andy Warhol’s are longer and detailed (and apparently dictated to a secretary), with complaints about people not giving him lunch, and who does Jackie Onassis think she is, trying to live a normal life when she owes it to the public to have another big marriage, but he can throw out a funny gem. There are some heartbreaking entries from the wars, by people like Vera Brittain, waiting for telegrams, but here are some of my favourite cheerier entries. If you like diaries, this book is everything!
I had a lot of dates but decided to stay home and dye my eyebrows. (11th Mary, 1978)
I have fallen in love or imagine that I have; went to a party and lost my head. Bought a horse I don’t need at all. (25th January, 1851)
Twenty-five minutes ago the guns went off, announcing peace. A sire hooted on the river. They are hooting still. A few people ran to look out of windows. The rooks wheeled around, and wore for a moment the symbolic look of creatures perfoming some ceremony, partly of thanksgiving, partly of valediction over the grave. A very cloudy still day, the smoke toppling over heavenly towards the east; and that too wearing for a moment a look of something floating, waving, drooping. So far neither bells nor flags, but the wailing of sirens and intermittent guns. (11th November, 1918)
Today my life of poverty, chastity and obedience commences. My mother is purchasing a dog. (19th September, 1924)
Rev. James Woodforde
I caught a remarkable large spider in my Wash Place this morning and put him in a small glass decanter and fed him with some bread and intend to keep him… (15th October, 1774)