Hiya, love! It’s TV’s Beth Rylance here (pictured above), and I’m here to talk to you for a very important reason: that’s right! About diaries.
Oh bloody hell, here she goes! Off on one again! Well, yes. Sure. I absolutely reek of being an avid diary keeper. You can smell it a mile off. I probably cry while I write them as well.
I have had a diary since I was knee-high to a pig’s eye, and I’d write in them weekly if not daily (depending on how much I fancied someone at the time). Having said that, the last proper diary entry I made was… (I actually went to go to a drawer to find my diary and check during this gap)… TWO YEARS AGO! That is a long time.
I tend to note things down more on my computer or in my phone notes now than with a pen and paper. In fact, I haven’t touched a pen, let alone written with one since the late 80s! And I wasn’t even born then!
But I got to thinking the other day about diary writing. And how interesting and important it is. Diaries can tell a very personal story, or they can tell a small part of a much bigger one. Diaries make history. Diaries tell history. (Or herstory. #NotAllMen). I started thinking about things like who are you writing it for? And why? And where?
Well, not really that last one. Unless you’re writing it in Space, which is pretty cool, in which case you’re probably writing it for NASA, so that answers most of those questions.
My childhood best friend and I used to write ours together, in fact, and then show them to each other on the weekends. I suppose it was like an early, much more personal version of the Daily Mail Showbiz, where we would just rip each other to shreds with comments like ‘Beth was such a bitch this week’ etc and noting down what it was like starting your period and/or when our Mum’s had read our diaries and how much we hated them for it. Really juicy stuff. In fact, my friend found one of her diaries a few years ago when she was clearing stuff out at her parent’s house and she sent me a photo to remind me of the good old times we had:
Ah, childhood memories!
As you can see, she had very strong feelings about something I had told her in utmost confidence, and coming from a girl who had stickers of Gareth Gates plastered all over her diary, I personally don’t think she had a leg to stand on. I would also like to stress I didn’t fancy him, I just thought he had a certain je ne sais quoi and very piercing eyes and have since moved on from this fleeting ‘crush’. Don’t @ me.
As I’ve written in almost every blog I’ve ever done, I had a very difficult relationship with my step mother growing up. And this mixed with secret diaries did not go very well. One of my earliest memories of this is being on holiday aged 9, and having, less of a diary, more of a note book, where I’d just write down bits and bobs. To set the scene of what kinda gal I was at the time, my summer reading that year was in fact ‘Chicken Run: Book of the Film’ (PHWOOOOOAR!) which I very quickly finished (I mean, the film is only 84 mins long) and had to read my cousin’s copy of the Prisoner of Azkaban, having not read any other Harry Potter books previously, and with very little understanding of what was going on. That’s right, boys. I was a smokin’ hottie.
BUT. The point of this story is, in this notebook I had written down a list of things I loved and things I hated. I don’t really remember what I had written in the ‘love’ section (probably something like ‘marmite sandwiches’, ‘pencil cases’ and ‘Chicken Run: The Movie’) but in the ‘hate’ section I had put ‘vests’.
God I hated wearing vests. All year round with this weird too hot undergarment underneath my school dress. What purpose did it serve? Maybe it’s the reason I’m such a fan of plunging backs on tops these days. Can’t wear vests with those, CAN YOU MUM!?
Having innocently left this notebook next to my bed to continue filling in my likes and dislikes, my step mum went through it with a biro and crossed off all of the things on my list that I ‘wasn’t allowed’ to hate. Vests being one of them.
She MADE NOTES in my diary about what thoughts and feelings I was allowed and not allowed to have, and that it was rude to say I ‘hated’ anything. It was a huge invasion of privacy, even for a 9-year-old. From then on I was always aware that if I was keeping a diary, I may not be the only reader.
Which is a shame if you ask me, because it just means that you’re less truthful. And diaries can communicate so much. Even if what they communicate is not what’s written. If you read my early teenage diaries, from say the age of 12-14, all you would hear about is very polite statements about my step-grandparents at the time and how much I enjoyed going to stay with them in Norfolk, even though I absolutely hated every second of it. And that was all because I was worried my step-mum would be reading them and I would be once again given detailed notes on what thoughts and feelings I was allowed to have. This was of course in between entries focused purely on the boy you had sat next to in Art and were now worried you might fancy a bit because you both liked playing The Sims. I thought all the endless pages upon pages of how wonderful Norfolk is in the late summer would be enough to put anyone off reading all the way to the juicy ones. Probs not.
Once I grew a tiny bit of a back bone I actually began to write properly again and hiding my diary down the side of my bed. During this period of time, I actually unwittingly stumbled on a note pad of my brothers when trying to write down a phone number. They had been using a pad in the kitchen as one of their ‘diaries’, or more a book to express themselves in, whether through drawing or writing. They had written some very detailed and articulate thoughts on certain bands of the time, as well as their artistic interpretations of celebrities. One of my favourite of these to this date is Shirley Boobie, which was just a drawing of Shirley Bassey with around 8 boobs, and this:
I was so proud when I found it I immediately confronted them with it and they both looked scared and said ‘you haven’t found Shirley Boobie, have you?’ Yes, boys. Yes I had.
But what I’m really interested in is diaries you write for no one. Just for yourself. Because if you can write something that you truly think no one else will ever read, what a pure piece of communication with yourself. What a personal intricate look into your own personality and how you feel about yourself. Do you write to make yourself laugh? To remind yourself of mistakes not to make again? It’s a real sign of self-care. To want to preserve yourself and what you’ve experienced in writing.
Diaries can take you back to exactly how you felt when you wrote them, even if how you felt was that you fancied Daniel Radcliffe when you were 11 (it was VERYbrief.) But they can also be important to help us understand how other people think or thought. Diaries are your own personal version of history. There are historians who exist that purely study diaries. Diaries of normal people, from the 1700s, 1800s and 1900s which tell what might seem like the most boring, mundane details, but they paint an exact picture of how a person alive in that time felt to live there.
I came across an incredible example of this while at uni, of a midwife called Martha Ballard, who lived in 1700s Massachusetts and made over 10,000 entries in her diaries over 27 years. A historian, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, constructed a whole map of the village Martha lived and worked in and a timeline of all the births and deaths purely from reading Martha’s diary entries. She made a map of who lived in what house and who were neighbours, just from boring entries like ‘Popped over to Mr and Mrs So and So’s on Tuesday night for a bit of mead and a chin wag’. FASCINATING INNIT!
It’s incredible. All you could work out from my diary is that I was a big fan of using smelly gel pens and that someone at school had been a massive bitch at lunch. I bet Martha Ballard had no idea how important her diary would be when she was writing it. Just like mine will be someday… probably on a Channel 5 ‘WE LOVED THE 90s!’ talking head compilation show.
I was lucky enough to be able to read my Mum’s teenage diary when I went up into the attic once. My Dad kept a box of her books up there. Pages upon pages about her snogging some lad on the school ski trip. And then a dates diary from when she was older, where it was more noting down what she did that day, and sometimes more detail here and there about how she felt. My favourite entry was one where she said she’s been cleaning the flat on her own while my Dad had sat on his arse watching TV all day and it made me laugh because I felt an affinity with her. My Dad doessit on his arse and watch TV all day long sometimes, and she thought that too! God, it’s almost like we were related!
This isn’t a call to arms to get everyone to start writing a diary (except that it is). It’s just a mere thought I had while sitting on the tube the other day, writing something in my phone notes about how scared I am of death halfway through writing a list of what I needed to buy from Boots and I thought ‘God I hope no one ever sees this’ but also ‘God I hope no one ever sees that I buy FemFresh’. Oh and also that writing for yourself and to yourself are very important things to do.
The one thing I’ll leave you on is this: I’m sure Norfolk is a very nice place to go, I just hate it and will never go there again. And write in as many notebooks, pads, pieces of paper and iPhone notes as you can, cos they are always so funny to read back. And just make sure no one else ever sees them. Especially your daughter.