Nothing much happened, but of course everything happened – Meeting Mere Pseud

Mere Pseud has been blogging the diaries he kept as a teenager, growing up in the early eighties, since 2008. I had a chat with him about this, his dairies and the process of making your innermost thoughts available to the world.

Tell us about yourself and how you got to a place where you wanted to share your diaries with the world.

I blog under the pseudonym Mere Pseud at a blog of the same name. I’m a 53-year old Brit who lives in the Midwest, in the same little college town I’ve lived in since my mid-20s; I’d just changed jobs and become an administrator at the local university after teaching there for twenty five years—mainly American literature and literary theory. Cue identity crisis. I’m married, with a dog, a parrot, three goldfish, a mortgage and a dying station wagon. I live in the suburbs with a nice view of the western sunset skies. My daughter lives in New York City. I’m a Zen Buddhist and I play drums in a psychedelic band in Toledo, Ohio: we play a style of music I call “Bo Diddley raga.”

I’m also an obsessive diarist and notebook keeper.

The diaries in Mere Pseud cover the period 1980 to 1985, from the ages of 16 to 21. When I moved to the US, the diaries, half-a-million words spread over twenty-five hundred pages and ten 9”x7” card-bound notebooks, languished in a box under the bed in my old room at my parents’ house, wrapped in newspaper, half-forgotten. There they stayed for twenty years, while the Mere Pseud waited, biding his time.

I was going to go back home after a year, but as it so often does, life hatched its own plans; one year turned into two, then three, then five . . . women, wine, weirdness, the old, old song. The years slid by. Ten, fifteen, twenty years gone, almost like a dream. Dead lovers, heartache, endless Ohio nights and spinning days, teaching and taking classes, friends and the local music scene, dissertations and back-of-the-envelope plans, punk rock, bar-room ecstasies and marijuana mysteries. Marriage and a baby. Then separation and divorce, more heartaches and joy, winters, inexorable seasons and semesters blurring into a life, second and third selves, each grafted onto the ones that came before. Horizons of corn and houses and strip malls, golden arches silhouetted by the sun, the sky an ocean of bright and stormy clouds.

And all these years “home” was a mirage carried in the heart, a memory shaped around that secret word hoard hidden under a bed in the front bedroom in a prewar semi- in Shipley, West Yorkshire.

As often happens when you get older, I started to feel the past tugging at my sleeve. One day I asked my mother to send me the diaries. They arrived in the mailbox one–by-one, wrapped now in brown paper (I think she’d started to read them, was shocked, and thought better of it). While my daughter splashed in the local pool with her friends in the white light of a hot Ohio summer afternoon I loitered in the shade, reading the diaries again voraciously, drinking in the mouldy night smell of the paper and feeling the ribbed pen scratches beneath my fingertips, traces that transported me back across the years to a self who once lived and was now captured, like a fly in amber, a fragile yet perfect facsimile, by the very words whose approximations I’d once cursed.

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After all that time, some of the notebooks were beginning to fall apart, their flimsy cardboard spines separating from the binding, the covers flapping like broken wings; I knew I wanted to preserve them digitally, and I started the tedious task of typing them up. This process was made bearable by a whimsical decision I made to turn them into a blog.

I decided to post each entry in real time, and the events of Mere Pseud started to unspool in eerie parallel to my twenty-first century life. I posted each entry twenty-eight years to the day after it was written, and weirdly enough, June 8, 1980, the day I started my diary, and June 8, 2008, the day I started the blog, both fell on a Sunday: so it was my teenage years rose from their slumber and stumbled along beside my ‘regular’ life in the here and now, a strange haunting, an undertone to present day reality. The two times, then and now, mingled together, staining one another by their proximity.

I’m on my second cycle through the entries now, so this time the gap between the world of Mere Pseud and ours is thirty-four years. Maybe this cycle will continue endlessly, my teenage self locked forever in a closed loop in time. An eternal recurrence.

Where does the blog name Mere Pseud come from?

I called it Mere Pseud after a song (“Mere Pseud Mag. Ed.”) by the English postpunk band The Fall, whose music I love and whose songs and lyrics function a bit like a soundtrack to the diaries. The Fall’s music evokes for me the stain of a very particular place at a very particular time—the North of England in the early 1980s.

But I use ‘mere pseud’ because the phrase also evokes that almost-debilitating self-consciousness I read in those younger versions of me, wrapped up as they are with a grandiose (but sincere!) belief in the life and death importance of the rather ordinary things I experience and write about. Unintentional, pretentious hilarity. Trips to buy trousers, wondering what’s for tea while denouncing my dad as a bourgeois lackey, moments of crisis and existential dread in-between Top of the Pops and games of Scrabble. Football and Dadaism, Nietszche meets Top Shop. Hence the subtitle “teenage modernist.”

Your blog starts in 1980 when you were 16, is that when you started keeping a diary and what made you start then?

Wednesday March 24, 1971. “I got up early.” This is my first recorded diary entry and it sets the tone for what’s to come. I was three months shy of my seventh birthday. I kept that diary for a few months. I have another fragment from 1977, when I was thirteen, and then another from the second half of ’79; I can’t say what precisely it was that prompted me to start the diary that turned into Mere Pseud, but I’ve always enjoyed keeping lists and notebooks, and I suppose keeping a diary was a socially acceptable way of expressing what, as I’ve aged, has revealed itself as a compulsive, perhaps even obsessive side.

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I remember going through a phase as a child where I had to repetitively count the corners of my bedroom before I would allow myself to go to sleep. But wherever the diary keeping came from, it’s clear now that some thing was struggling to be born: perhaps some sort of self who believed  that, if he drilled down deeply enough into the grain and the texture of the everyday world, he’d find a pearl, or that the warp and weft of  an ordinary magic might reveal itself. “Here then is the pattern in my carpet” says Welsh horror writer Arthur Machen, “the sense of the eternal mysteries, the eternal beauty hidden beneath the crust of common and commonplace things; hidden and yet burning and glowing continually if you care to look with purged eyes.”

What was your life like at the time?

“A certain kind of ordinary English life” I’ve described it elsewhere. And ordinary it was, although looking back it had its weird bits. Nothing much happened, but of course everything happened; anxiety-ridden afternoons at the local secondary school, fitful fretting about the future; sidelong glances a girl who was a friend and nothing more, a slow and awkward turning towards counter currents in music, in politics, in art, in stuff I’d never been exposed to before. The excitement of books—the Beats, reading Kerouac in the bogs at school. Jazz. Post-punk. Psychedelic rock. Socialism. Anarchism. Secret escapades with friends in abandoned places, empty factories and weed strewn postindustrial car parks, derelict shops and overgrown cemeteries, while the workaday traffic rumbled by. I stood at a threshold, at many thresholds, of worlds opened up on walks, in pages, on turntables, by booze and friends. Worlds of the imagination.

And, of course, the life I lived ‘for real’ was largely chosen for me by others—by my parents, my teachers, by the deep-rooted lower middle class formation of which I was a part. It was an ordinary life.

Like millions of other postwar English kids I was shaped by the expectation that I succeed and do so in conventional, understandable terms, that I do well, be a ’success’, “pass my exams,” and so on. I did so, but I was pretty lazy. It was all fairly easy, looking back, fatally so in some respects. I was the third child, the accident, and lucky enough to grow up with a family who loved me (spoiled me in fact) and who, by the time I came along, was a bit better off than they’d been when my brothers were young. My house was filled with books, with weekend walks in the Yorkshire Dales, amid horizons I suspected were a good bit wider than those of the other kids I rubbed shoulders with at school. I remember my shock at visiting a mate’s house and discovering his family apparently owned no books. How could that be?

Something had snaked its way up the cultural and chromosomal ladder from a nineteenth-century English sensibility that prized a certain kind of bookish education of which Matthew Arnold might be proud, a sensibility that even then was under siege by the distractions of an accelerating consumer age. My maternal grandmother, whose formal education ended at fourteen when she left school to go and work in the mills, was an avid reader all her life, and in her late-seventies wrote a two-hundred page account in the notebook I’d given her one Christmas, in which she recounts her everyday life growing up poor, struggling to make ends meet as a widow during WWII. Closer to hand perhaps, the impulse to write came from my father, policeman and poet, a hopeless nostalgist and amateur historian, a day dreamer himself. On a recent visit to Yorkshire I brought back his own hand-written account of his life from the years 1929 to 1966, all twenty-four hundred pages of it. My oldest brother kept a diary too.

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I like to daydream, and I think my diary impulse was born from this. My diary-keeping spoke of a compulsive need to write my way out of a narrowly defined vision of a lifeworld bequeathed to me by parents who, bless them, at times found my emerging cultural and political imaginings a bit mystifying. I was drawn to ideas, to radical imaginings, to weird sounds on the margins. I went to see Crass, The Fall, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Psychic TV.

The Jackson Pollock-esque paint spatters on my Adidas school bag were a bit hard for my mother to understand, this the woman who grew up lugging a gas mask to school, who endured poverty and the Depression and Luftwaffe bombing raids and whose byline in my teenage years was “It’s smart to be smart.” For her, normality was a longed-for marker of security and familiarity: for me, it was something to squirm against, to resist in all the subtle, polite ways I knew how to. Once, when I was a student in college, she publicly disowned me in the street, so acutely embarrassed was she by my thrift-store overcoat, combat pants, and purple shoes.

How many years did you write your diaries for and how difficult was it to keep them going for that long?

I kept the diaries going, every day, for about four-and-a-half years. I was diligent, compulsive. Sometimes I might write just a sentence or two: other times I’d write pages and pages. But I was quite strict with myself at the beginning and wrote every day. Often, when I was doing something, I’d catch myself thinking about how I’d describe it later in my diary. Eventually, I started to miss days here and there, but even when I did so I still felt it was important to cover the events of every day, in chronological order. I don’t know why I felt such an urge to record reality as it unfolded, right under my nose, but it was definitely a real impulse, and one that remains. I was excited to discover, in graduate school and beyond, that there are sociologists, cultural theorists, psychogeographers and novelists who’ve devoted themselves to the exploration of “everyday life”: Michel de Certeau, Georges Perec, Nick Papadimitriou, etc.

By the mid- ‘eighties, I started to feel as if the cone of possibilities in the diary writing seemed to shrink a little with each passing year. I struggled with why I was writing, what it was I was hoping to “achieve.” Somehow, the thought I was just keeping a diary wasn’t enough; I suppose I wanted to be a writer, but didn’t or couldn’t fully acknowledge that to myself. I wanted the writing in the diary to be something more than it was. I fantasized about abandoning lined notebooks for ones with blank pages, to free me from what seemed like a slavish devotion to the chronological, line-by-line format of a written diary. I fantasized about adding collage or drawings, poetry or prose bits, but somehow never had to guts to leave the diary form. That’s one of the subtexts of Mere Pseud: the urge for what I’m doing in the writing of it to be something more—the desire for ‘something more’ is a subtext in the diary as a whole I suppose. I started to get a bit sick of it.

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I wasn’t a writer after all. I was just keeping a damn diary. Sometimes two weeks, or a month would go by until guilt forced me back, desperately trying to remember the backlog of everything I’d missed. Eventually I gave up altogether. What was the point anymore? University done with, I moved back home, back to those people and places I’d run away from three years before, dragged back by that claustrophobic sense of self I’d tried unsuccessfully to write my way out of, back to a grim apathetic year of no social life and aimless, unemployed, self-loathing, reinterred once more in the privet-lined family plot while friends found jobs and adventures, lives and lovers. Desperate, I made a break for it, took a train again to my college town to shack up with a friend and start over, another “joyous shot at how it ought to be” (as Philip Larkin puts it) only to go back North two days later, sheepish, hung over, two broken teeth earned on a drunken bicycle ride around a flowerbed. The original diaries petered out. The mere pseud era was over.

 How did you feel when you first began to read the diaries in adulthood?

Well it’s always embarrassing to be confronted by your younger self, especially in such intimate and painful detail! There are grating moments of self-regard, of thoughtless and casual othering bordering on racism, of sexism, of unacknowledged privilege. But I was a teenager, a (very white) boy, and it was a different age, so I suppose that’s to be expected. I’m struck by my innocence, my lack of guile, but also by my sweeping ambition, thwarted and directionless as it was. I was really searching! And as an adult with a regular meditation practice, and some sense of what what daily practice involves, I’m struck too by the spiritual dimensions of those long ago teenage struggles to make sense of impermanence, of the fact that everything’s always changing, of the suffering that arises when you try and hold onto things, onto states of mind and ways of being. I never encountered a real teacher, someone who could show me a saner way. So I redirected all those anxious feelings into the usual distractions, like booze, drugs, etc.

Why did you decide to publish your diaries and what approach have you taken?

It was a convenience really. It made the task of typing them up a bit more palatable. I decided early on to fictionalize names and places and, in a few instances, render separate people as composites. I wanted to save people who are still alive, still my friends, from the embarrassment of being confronted, perhaps unwillingly, with a version of themselves they might not want to reacquaint themselves with—in the later entries especially, there are also some flirtations with illegality, some things we did that are a bit, um unethical.

But I’ve had a lot of fun playing around with the fictional qualities of (re)creating this place that had lived so long in my memory and my imagination. This is how Easterby was born, a fictional place that was nonetheless real, lived in by characters whose dimensions cast shadows made somehow deeper by their distance from the glare of a period I’d lived through in miseries of self-consciousness and a sort of quiet desperation. Easterby, a whole map, a whole culture, grew before my eyes, a ghost-hued dream record that reads now as though its drawn from the memory of someone I sort of know.

I set the university part in Watermouth, which is a fictional seaside town novelist Malcolm Bradbury uses as the setting for his 1970s satire on British university life The History Man (Bradbury’s protagonist Howard Kirk even makes a cameo in Mere Pseud). I studied the novel and reshaped the locations of my real campus experiences to fit his imaginary geography. That was fun. I also populate the campus with figures drawn from similarly themed British novels—there’s a character in there from David Storey’s Pasmore, and one of David Lodge’s campus novels. You get the idea. I also share a residence hall corridor with Rowan Morrison who’s the bait for Edward Woodward in Robin Hardy’s 1973 folk horror cult classic The Wicker Man. She’s all grown up and a bit disturbed, a traumatized survivor, as anyone would be having come from a place like Summer Isle!

An unintended side product of the project has been the imagery I’ve create to accompany each entry. I’ve really got into these pictures; I’ve made almost a thousand by now and really enjoy making them—they’re visual analogues to the entries themselves, image-meditations on memory, the passing of time and the inter-mingling of present and past. In a weird sense, the images bring to fruition all of the unexpressed ambitions I tried to squeeze into those thirty-year old diary words. It’s as if the potential I tried to explore and express back then is finally coming to pass.

What do you think your diaries mean to those who read them?

I think there’s a familiarity there for anyone who grew up in that era, late-70s, early-80s Britain. This was the era of the Miner’s Strike, and Greenham Common, and Rock Against Racism, of Thatcher and the Falkland’s War and mass unemployment: it marks a turning point for British society, the rise of what’s been called neoliberalism. What all that rhetoric of consumer ‘choice’ masks of course are the grim contradictions of a society that’s been increasingly torn apart by inequality, austerity, by a sustained assault on the fortunes of working people and the poor.

Not that I grew up poor (although my parents did). But what Mere Pseud chronicles are the closing years of a certain post-WWII ideal of social democracy. And I think my diary entries register something of the tensions of the era, the struggles over politics and an idea that society might be organized in ways that address the common good. I’m always arguing with my Dad about politics, or fretting about the Revolutionary Communist Party, a Trotskyist group that a few of my university friends flirted with. I’m struck by the contradictory ways in which my adolescent consciousness of politics is displaced into acts of aimless consumption—of clothing, of records, of books, of posters. My sense of what’s possible is framed for me by family, friends, and the subject positions I inhabit, even as I secretly yearn for grandiose, sweeping gestures and commitments. I’m forever catching the bus into town to trail through the windswept brutalist precincts and plazas to look for something to buy, even as I’m aware of how empty and futile it all is, of how consumerism is distracting me from the important questions of the day.

 How do the people who you wrote about feel about your blog? Anything you haven’t felt brave enough to share?

The first time I posted the blog (2008-2013), a few of my friends who show up in the diary entries read along as I posted. I think they enjoyed encountering again that part of themselves they thought had been lost to time and memory.

There’s some stuff I’ve deliberately not put in there—about my sexual frustrations, stuff too mortifying to ever see the light of the day. Some things should stay secret. I also omitted a few events and commentary to spare the blushes and feeling of friends—teenage unkindnesses and the like; stuff that doesn’t need to be memorialized. And some other material that now, when I think back, is pretty close to the bone. Nothing abusive or nasty, nothing like that, but some dark, morbid unhealthy stuff that’s best left buried.

Do you have any favourite entries you want to highlight?

I’ve created audio versions of a couple of my recent favorites which you can listen to on my Soundcloud page.

The most recent entry tends to be my favorite, although I like the ones that capture a particular sense of melancholy and memory, an awareness of time passing, of life passing by. It’s a sense often evoked for me by a landscape, or a quality of light—sun stained clouds at sunset, long shadows in a field, a light-shape on the floor. Michael Bracewell, in his novel Perfect Tense, says that, for his protagonist, “The beginnings of the answer seemed to lie in that trembling patch of sunshine on the wall.” That comes close to what I mean here.

The best entries capture, well . . . it’s hard to put my finger on it precisely, but there’s a quality of drift, an everyday sort of strangeness. It’s like a sideways glimpse of something ordinary but important, that certain angle of light Bracewell talks about, a momentary arrangement, a juxtaposition noticed in passing but remembered. “The occult is not in Egypt, but in the pubs . . .—on your doorstep basically” says Mark E. Smith. It’s hard to explain, because after all, words are barely up the task. I was always trying to capture that sideways step, that slantways slide through places, spaces, and states of mind. That lamppost, those paving stones, these spoons. A neglected tuft of grass, waving in the wind, hidden in plain sight, unnoticed by a world that knows where it’s going, has places to be.

There’s a scene in Grizzly Man, Herzog’s film about Timothy Treadwell who was eaten by bears in Alaska. Treadwell has the camera set up on a tripod and he runs out of frame to make an adjustment and leaves the camera running, and the shot is just a patch of grass, waving in the wind. And the shot is held for what feels like an age. It’s just . . . there, the wind, the grass blowing, and there’s something so unspeakably mysterious about how there it is. Machen’s pattern. Does this make any sense? It’s that quality the best entries in Mere Pseud aim for—they always fall short, but they aim for it nonetheless.

What do you think of yourself when you look back at what you wrote?

I was a neurotic teenager who needed a job, a girlfriend, and a teacher.

If you could return to the early eighties and give yourself any advice, what would it be?

Lighten up! I took everything way too seriously. I think I missed out on the joys of being eighteen, nineteen, with nothing much to do. It’s shocking looking back how little I actually had to do, and I wasted vast amounts of time fretting about wasting those vast amounts of time. I worried too much about what I should have been doing instead of cultivating an awareness of what I actually was doing at a given time and place. I needed some kind of a practice to bring me out of my head and into the present moment. I suppose in one way Mere Pseud was my practice at that time. So much seemed out of my control, when really it wasn’t!

I’d also tell myself to learn a bit about discipline. And not to daydream so much!

Finally, I’ve published my diary in full in book form – is this something you would consider?

Definitely! Although I wrestle with form. How can I maintain fidelity to a 500,000-word original in a tenth of the space? I’ve also thought about other versions—a graphic novel maybe, or a stand-up performance piece. This past summer I started making audio versions of some of the entries. I post them to Soundcloud: you can find the links on the blog. That’s been fun.

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You can follow Mere Pseud on his blog, instagram, twitter and Soundcloud.

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Sunday 3rd December 1989 (Dear Jessie:Deary me)

Diary CoverI was delighted to be asked my Sarah Lewis at My Eighties to choose my favourite five records from the eighties for her radio show. It’s not an easy task but after much anguish I told myself to not take it all so seriously and just have fun with it.

Which is why the 5th track I chose was Madonna’s Dear Jessie. As you can hear in the interview, I chose this as a kind of a joke to myself. It’s a fun pop song but it lacks the depth I thought it did when I was 16. Like A Prayer, with its patchouli scented inner-sleeve, remains a superb album but Dear Jessie is not its standout track, even if I thought it was at the time…

Saw the new Madonna video for Dear Jessie. It was much better than I expected. I think that they should have shown a little girl listening to the radio and being read a story and then going into dreamland. Madonna should have been in the video though. Doing it real with animation on or all real would have been real. With pink elephants and leprechauns and mermaids.

Oh I love the song so much. I don’t know, I feel really passionate about it. I feel all tingly as well when I hear it. All the words seem perfect and the music, it all seems so perfect. I’m so glad that they decided to release it as a single and I really hope that it gets to number one. Loads of people like it who normally don’t like Madonna so maybe it will.

I love that song with all my heart. It is the best song ever made from the best album ever made.

(Not) Quite.

The Orton Diaries edited by John Lahr

blitz98.jpgIf like me you were a child of the seventies, who grew up in the eighties, you might remember a magazine called Blitz. It was like a sister magazine to The Face, full of culture and art and grown up stuff. In March 1991 they published a “sex” issue, it was the month I turned 18.

It made a fascinating read and some content that particularly stuck with me was the 10 sexist books. Included in these was the Orton Diaries. Even back then I was a nosy bastard and despite not having a clue who Joe Orton was I bought a copy from my local Dillons bookshop.

Blitz.jpgThe Top Ten Sexiest Books as featured Blitz issue 98

Then, a bit like I did with Adrian Mole and Forever, I searched for the rude bits. After a quick flick through I was unable to locate his encounter with a dwarf in Brighton, or anything else about sex for that matter, and so, not really interested in a few months in the life of a London playwright, it had stayed untouched on the shelf until recently.

The diaries cover the few months from December 1966 up to August 1967 when Joe was bludgeoned to death by his boyfriend Keith Halliwell. Halliwell left the diaries with a suicide note that read “If you read his diary, all will be explained. KH PS: Especially the latter part”.

Reading the diaries in the knowledge that this is how they will end adds an altogether more poignant feel to them. I found myself looking for clues in how Orton recorded his relationship with Halliwell that might’ve signposted that ending; remembering of course that diaries are one version of events, and in this case potentially made all the more imaginative because he wrote them with the intent to publish them one day.

Yet they still make a fascinating read, filled with frank, no holds barred accounts of his sexual encounters, amusing retellings of conversations had and overheard, and insights into his new found fame along with the celebrities and artists with whom he mixed.

If you read diaries hoping for titbits, gossip and amusing anecdotes you won’t be disappointed. There’s plenty in here, including his friendship with Kenneth Williams. Orton was courageous and censorless in what he chose to record and thankfully they have been published largely unedited. A word of caution however, his salacious detail of the holiday in Tangiers, I’m sure in part the reason for its placing in Blitz magazine’s top ten ‘Sexy Pages’, may be too much for some.

theortondiaries1stedition.jpgThe Orton Diaries were edited by John Lahr and are still widely available

Those Were The Jamie Days

My Eighties

My special guest on this week’s My 80s radio show, choosing his Favourite Five 80’s tracks is Jamie Days. As a young boy in the Eighties, Jamie started to keep a diary, and has already published his daily musings from 1984. He has contributed excerpts from his diaries to The 80s Annual, vol.II, due out this November. I asked Jamie a few questions about his diaries and growing up in my favourite decade. 1984 Summer

What made you start to keep a diary at the tender age of eleven?

My nana bought me a tiny Grange Hill diary for Christmas in 1983. I’d had a little Paddington one before, in 1982 or 1983 I think, but I never stuck to it. But something in 1984 made me keep going.

How many years did you write your diaries for and how difficult was it to keep them going for that long?

I kept…

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Theft By Finding (3)

“In the UK, if you discover something of value and keep it, that’s theft by finding.”

[see the extract below from the Introduction of David Sedaris’ Theft By Finding]

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If you’ve ever done it, you’ll know that it’s an interesting conundrum you’re faced with when you decide to publish your diaries. They’re your diaries but a lot of their content isn’t about you.

How will other people feel about your versions of their history becoming available for public consumption? As I’m not in the business of upsetting people, or creating problems for them, I made the choice to check this out with those whose pasts were linked to mine.

Now considering what I initially published began in 1983, people weren’t that easy to get hold of. Facebook and other social media sites helped but I couldn’t find everyone. Those I did find, upon hearing what I was planning to do, came back with responses that ranged from utter delight that I was reminding them of halcyon days, to mild bewilderment that I would want to do such a thing. Overall people were really positive, even though some of them thought I may have been cruel about them as they, in their words, weren’t “that popular at school”. Some people, with mild levels of notoriety in local circles, understandably preferred anonymity but there was one response in particular had me thinking.

To paraphrase, they said that whilst they valued my friendship they respectfully requested that any events from their past not be used in any shape or form.

But whose events were they? I wrote them, so were they my versions of their events, or my events that they happened to be in? I didn’t know what to do. I felt this particular person had been a key part of my growing up. Someone I remember with huge affection, someone who I wouldn’t want to leave out.

I was also keen to remain as faithful and as true as I could to what I wrote about what had happened and the way I originally wrote it.

I thought really hard about how I would approach it, and how I could be sensitive to what they’d asked of me, and wanted to let them know this.  However my thoughtful, reassuring response couldn’t be delivered as the contact methods through social media were cut off…

So I did what I thought was morally right under the circumstances.

So if you’re out there old friend, the events I’ve shared in the pages of the diaries contain the influence of your lively, giddy, caring spirit, but not you. And I hope that’s OK.

My 1984 Diary is available now, 1985 will be published this autumn, and 1986 in 2018.

 

1979 by Rhona Cameron

1979 tells the story of a year in the life of comedian Rhona Campbell when she was 13 and living in a small Scottish town. It chronicles her highs and lows and vividly brings back how she experienced her coming of age, shame and confusion about her sexuality and some unpleasant advances from the opposite sex. Satisfyingly it also includes exerts from the diary she kept sporadically throughout the year.

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I’d had this in the “to-read” pile for a while and chose it recently because I wanted something nostalgic and amusing. It delivered on both fronts with Rhona taking the piss out of her younger self fantastically, but also being startlingly frank in what she shared.

However I wasn’t prepared for how open and honest she was going to be about being a teenage lesbian and the bullying and victimisation she faced because of it. Cruelty at the hands of other girls and older boys is as infuriating as it is heart-breaking, but it seems she takes it all in her stride now as she did then.

Chapters that detailed her obsession with fellow female classmates were hilarious “Of course, it was important I kept all the girls I knew under surveillance and maintained dossiers on them all. Or ‘Fact Files’, as I labelled them” Of course, because we all did that! Maybe we did – but do we write it all down, and publish it in a book? It’s brilliant stuff!

The subtitle is “a big year in a small town” and for Rhona it really was. Genuinely funny and moving, a recommended read.

Image result for rhona cameronP.S. it was nice to read I wasn’t the only one cutting off my pubic hair because I didn’t want it. We’ll all find some comfort that we weren’t alone in our awkwardness with growing up in the pages of this book.

Sunday 19th November 1989 (part 2)

Diary Cover

Some musings from a long Sunday night diary entry on how I might get some sex, and who with, and how other people are getting sex…

 

It’s really weird because I feel very horny these days. In a way I’m woman mad. I just really want sex. After hearing about Chrissie’s sexploits and then Wendy Calvert on Friday I’m just so interested in sex and everything. Wendy is so open I mean I wouldn’t really tell just anyone. I haven’t written about this before but Chrissie told Wendy about having sex and everything. She lost her virginity to Paulo the Spanish lad she met on holiday. She says he forced himself upon her and she was saying no, she didn’t want to do it. They used no contraception or anything so Chrissie thought she may be pregnant. Really it’s very bad she could have caught anything! She bonks Phil who she’s going out with now. She says sex has never been better. Really it’s awful. Wendy Calvert lost her virginity when she was going out with Dan Spence. I think she was in the 4th year. She says she thought “so what? Gee bloody wiz. If that’s what it’s like you can stuff it”. It’s so weird.

I reckon that if I go out with Carla Long I’ll lose my virginity with her. I just have this feeling and I’m pretty sure that if I do go out with her we’ll end up bonking easily. Mind you I don’t know where we’d do it. I think Carla rang me while I was out at work. Dad said I was working and the girl asked where I worked. It can’t be anybody I know because they all know where I work.

We put our photos of Buckden House up in the 6th Form Centre on Thursday. On Friday morning one of me had been ripped off! You could tell that it had been ripped off and not just fallen off. It was the really good one where I’m holding the bottle of milk and laughing. I reckon it was Carla because it was the 4th and 5th year disco on Thursday night. I asked her friend but she reckoned Carla wouldn’t have taken it. I still think it was her though. I think tomorrow I’ll go see Carla and ask if she did take the photo and if she did phone me up. I don’t know whether I want to go out with her or not. I don’t know if I have time you see. However it is a bit of an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.

Posthumous publishing on Front Row

During Radio 4’s Front Row on 7th August John Wilson discussed the publishing of Margaret Forster’s diaries with her husband of 55 years Hunter Davies. Margaret died in 2016 and left a stash of writing in the attic. This included unpublished manuscripts along with diaries she had kept since 1973. She described these as domestic diaries, about the children and their ways, and as such they were never read by anyone as the subject matter wasn’t considered interesting.

However Hunter discovered they included details on the people she met, the books she was working on and her career as a Booker Prize judge and member of the Arts Council. There were also three school girl diaries she kept when she was 10, 14 and 16; the latter is being published in time for Christmas.

Asked whether she would want the diaries published if she were alive, Hunter believes not, “she was very private, [but] she never destroyed them, so she must have known they [would be] found. She also now and again talks about social history and she now and again has a remark in one of them about “why am I doing this diary?” Is it because somebody in the future will be like me, wanting to know about ordinary lives?”

John also asked Hunter about his motivation for doing it, “Margaret did lots of biographies, I’ve done biographies of people like Wordsworth and Wainwright, and I could never have written them without the letters and the diaries left by these people, or written about them. It’s absolutely vital to have these kept and retained and edited and then published. [They’re] an insight into the post war literary years and I actually think they’re entertaining and amusing and funny. In her books she was very serious but in her real life she was very funny.”

The discussion included insight from Virginia Nicholson, the grandniece of Virginia Woolf whose diaries were initially posthumously published by her husband in a volume that related to her writing. “It is within the capacity of most living writers to decide I don’t want that stuff published and burn it.”

On the ethics of making the private public without the consent of the writer, Hunter concluded, “Unless people destroy their diaries and letters they’re left to the world.”

You can listen again to the full conversation on the Radio 4 website by clicking the link:

Front Row

Sunday 19th November 1989

Diary Cover

The day after the party. I worked for some outside caterers and fell in love a bit.

 

Working today was really good. On the way though I saw Hannah. We were talking about the party. She said James was going mental trying to keep the place tidy and everything. By the sounds of it TJ got drunk. Hannah said she was very embarrassing, really flirting with Simon Martin and it was so transparent. She was also chucking peanuts everywhere. I can’t remember anything about TJ but Cathy had said that she really didn’t like her. Hannah was sound, at the party she was the only one who made any attempt to speak to us.

Well today at work we did an old bid’s birthday party. It was really good because the people had a cleaner who did all the washing up for us. It was only for about 30 but still it was really good that we didn’t have to do that. I mean the work wasn’t very hard at all. There was a really horny girl there who looks like Sammy Rogers from Brookside. She was really nice and we got talking very easily. It was really strange because I wasn’t sure whether she was my age or 25! She said she couldn’t believe that I was 16 too. She was really nice and she was definitely sharking after me. Emma S said that she thought she fancied me. She was called Rosie. I never got her second name. She kept following me, well not like that, but she kept coming to sit in the rooms where I was working. I was so surprised because never before has something like that happened to me. It certainly boosts your ego. I mean it’s not going to make me think I’m God’s gift or anything but she was very horny and interested in me. I didn’t put an act on or anything I was just myself and I’m sure she really liked me. One funny thing was though, we got talking about whether I liked my job and I was saying about getting tips and that. Anyway it was funny because usually nobody thinks about tipping. Anyway I was given a £5 tip from the people! Maybe she whispered in their ear. Who knows.

How different if this had happened in 2017 instead of 1989. I’m sure Rosie and I would have been following each other on Instagram and sharing intimate photos on Snap Chat before the Sunday Top 40 had finished!!

Theft by Finding (2)

Last February half term my wife had been out with the kids on a walk for a couple of hours. When they came back home and opened the front door, the kitchen door slammed as if it were caught in a breeze. Her first thought was that a window had been left open.

She stood staring at the smashed conservatory window wondering how it had happened. Had a branch blown into it some how, had it just shattered of its own accord? That had once happened to my brothers shower door after all.

Then my son came downstairs. His Xbox and laptop were missing. Then she noticed the up-tip in some of the rooms. We’d been burgled.

It’s cruel and heartbreaking that your home can be violated by strangers without conscious or care. However I do think we were lucky. Whilst my wife’s jewellery box, containing items of great sentimental value was taken, our home wasn’t vandalised, none of us were physically harmed and everything aside from the jewellery could be replaced.

Except my diary.

There were only about 6 weeks worth of entries for the start of 2017. But they were my personal thoughts. And why did someone want them?

I posted on Facebook about it, as I often like to do with curious matters, to get a sense of what others might conclude about this mysterious theft.

Were they reading about me and laughing at my life as they drove off with bags full of our possessions at their feet? Were they high on crack after pawning my daughters iPod for £30 and reading the accounts of my daily life as a 43 year old corporate whore? What had I written about other people in there? Could the other people be identified and would I be exposed for revealing some kind of massive secret?

We’ll never know. The police didn’t think anything of it. They thought we shouldn’t worry. But it is weird.

In hope that they’d tossed it out of the car window, once they realised what it was, we walked the roads, fields and streets around where we live, thinking we might find it discarded.

Ultimately we concluded they mistook it for a kindle in a case and just grabbed it. Then threw it away, along with my wife’s (empty) tatty oriental looking jewellery box in a wheelie bin when they realised it had no value.

No value except to me. It meant something to me.