During the last 18 months I have read all my diaries from the first laconic entries to the last. It is poignant to read a personal journal many years later, in the tolerant leisure of old age. Like Sir Bedivere, one revolves many memories. (“Ah! Dreams and the dreams of youth!”)
Looking back, it is incredible how I worried about piffling things and the opinions of other people. Now, I do not care a damn what other people think of me! If I was writing now, I would insert far less of miserable introspection and much more of humorous observation. The latter is more enjoyable in reading and in recollection.
Indeed – no regrets! - but I would have given my whole outlook on life a more humorous slant, if starting all over again. Life is not a thing to be laughed at, but with all it's wilful, wayward charm, it is to be smiled at, surely?
A few years ago, my daughter, Nina, had occasion to read the last few pages of my 1944 diary. She has an alert mind and immediately asked two questions: first, why did I stop keeping a diary? Secondly, did I know, on the 15th July 1944, that I had made the final entry?
I could not and can not answer either question. It remains an insoluble puzzle, even now. The NB of 19th June 1944 did predict the possible end of diary keeping after this book was filled, but subsequent entries seemed as effortless and observant as before. Perhaps, now married and settled, I had very properly become less lonely and introspective? These are indeed useful qualities in a true diarist!
However, I regret that I did not fill this last book and bring the long years of journals to a satisfactory and rounded termination. Perhaps, that is what I am doing now!
There is a fair amount of scenic description in the diaries, but I wish there had been more, so that some distant reader could have seen those far off places as they were. Particularly, of all my lovely places, Egham and Runnymede and the white Paripan Works with the flag flying; Cooper's Hill; the River Path to Staines, Frank's Boathouse, Egham High Street. All this is changed, more than any other place of my youth has changed. I should have described it all as it appeared through the eyes of a stranger, in September 1933.
It is too late now.
I hope that one day, someone will read these diaries from beginning to end. Otherwise all my words have gone off into the silent dark.
If there is an unknown reader, here is a thought: although human life is apparently inconsistent, there is a strange pattern to it, partially revealed when one reads diaries covering several years of a human life.
Consider the late summer entries for three years – 1933, 1936, 1939. There is a sadness in these entries, a feeling of imminent change. This is conveyed strongly when re-reading the account of those summers – Sudbrooke in Lincolnshire, 1933; “Kapai” in Egham Riverside, 1936; Essex in 1939. It is like the feeling of the fated long Edwardian summers, so beautifully portrayed in many books and films.
Re-reading old diaries, revives the memory of things, people, incidents and conversations which had been forgotten. There are many incidents etc. vividly remembered in the mind but never recorded for some reason or other in these books.
Eternal mystery surrounds those people or places or events which remain forgotten, lost, even with the stimulus of a diary record, re-read and pondered.
For instance, who were the friends who camped at Maidenhead and whom I had visited twice in 1934? (If only I had mentioned their names!) Who was the kind Mr Beach, occasionally mentioned in the Thames Valley years and to whom I went to say good-bye in the last week of Egham life? He would not be the Mr Beach of Paripan – mentioned once or twice, Was he a Toc H member? However, I cannot “see” him and now he must be dead, long since.
Finally, another instance, the cafe with the tangled garden, near the derelict tramway track at Gosforth, discovered on the 2nd May 1944. (I wish I had found it earlier, instead of during my lost, last days in Northumberland. It would have helped.) I have no recollection of this dream-like, windless refuge but it must have been real. Perhaps one day, I'll drive up to Gosforth and try to find the route of the old tramway track and so trace my way to the pace where there was once a cafe. I even noted the trees that stood around it!
“Let not the eyes grow dim; look not back but forward.”