Saturday, 19 September 2009

C'mon everybody, Lett's Diary!

I've been wondering about this blogging business since I started it, and even quite a time before that. It has to be admitted that there is an element of Vanity Press about it, and most of us just love listening to the sound of our own voices.

I've delved into Pepys's diaries again recently, and this has been made much easier by a box-set of CDs - read very well by Kenneth Branagh - which I bought cheaply at Wells Market a few weeks ago. I don't think there is any indication that Pepys himself thought that they would be published at any time after his death, let alone be the success they have been for around 300 years.

He even goes so far as to try and disguise the saucier bits of his indiscretions by using a language which I haven't yet identified, but can only think is an early form of Esperanto, though it may have been Latin. In any event, I don't think he needed to have converted various key words in amongst the English ones to put us off the scent, as - even today - a phrase like, "I placed mi hand upon her cunny..." does not take a classics degree to comprehend.

What everyone loves about Pepys is that it gives us an invaluable insight into day to day life in the mid 17th century, and how people like him actually made their way in the world and climbed the social ladder without having any identifiable salary, whilst forming the English Navy and fighting off the Dutch. Nobody really gives a toss about his affair with his housemaid, other than that it shows that he was a man like any other, and the age-old lusts and jealousies were being felt just as keenly then as now, nomatter what your social status was. There are also first-hand accounts of the Great Fire of 1666 which of course are invaluable - for some reason.

He says things like, "Up and by water to the office, where I did a deal of work until midday, which will serve me mighty well .... Happened across the King, who was walking with the Duke of York in St James's Park..." Fascinating. He relates an account of himself ordering a book which he has heard of (publish on demand seemed to be the order of the day), and - finding it to be extremely lewd - decided not to take it home, but read it in the office, then he burnt it when he had finished.

I've never read 'A Year in Provence', mainly because I believed that it was directed at the first influx of second-home buyers with expendable incomes that would identify with accounts of untrustworthy plumbers, intractable locals and olive groves which they had all experienced when trying to develop a little Gite in France, and - quite frankly - it didn't really resonate with my hand to mouth existence here in Britain. (sorry Roger - no offence, I love yours!) Nevertheless, it was a smash-hit best seller.

We wouldn't know much about Socrates if it were not for Plato, and we would know a great deal less about Samuel Johnson without James Boswell's diaries. We would also know a lot less about life in the 18th century Scottish Highlands without Boswell keeping an account of his tedious journies around them. I've just heard a quote from Johnson which describes Boswell as using his journals to test his own attitudes, in much the same way a woman uses a mirror to test a new gown.

Laurie Lee's 'Cider with Rosie' is absolutely charming and riveting, but - if the facts are as unreliable as they were in 'As I Walked out One Summer Morning' - would they have discontinued it's use as part of the school curriculum? I doubt it, it's just far too relevant and evocative.

That's the thing, really - it has to resonate with your own life before it becomes personally useful, and the reasons for identifying with another's thoughts or experience can be varied, so it's best to keep the whole thing as vague as possible. Unless of course, you want to spice it up with fiction. Herodotus was known as 'The father of lies' as well as 'The father of history', but - in today's small world, it is quite easy to distinguish between the two in his book, which was written with future funding in mind. For the same reason, the Vikings named the freezing wastes in the Artctic Circle 'Greenland' in their saga - they needed to attract settlers.

The schoolboy diaries of John Lennon would be priceless to society, even if they were as boring as anyone else's, and the Hitler Diaries certainly did command a high price before they were denounced as fakes. Most people would give their life savings for the volumes of personal diaries which may have been kept by their deceased parents, nomatter how mundane or uninteresting to others - in short, unpublishable. I know I would, but I haven't two brass farthings anyway, so that doesn't mean a lot.

So, for the sake of posterity, I solemnly vow never to let the truth get in the way of a good story, if the factually accurate one is not (in my view!) worth relating. I'll leave it up to anyone else to decide which is which, and what was or what wasn't.

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