The amazing diary of Ingrid Jo Boissevain

Normally I’m reviewing diaries published in book form but, when scrolling through google search results for “my teenage diary”, I came across an absolute gem!

1967-1968: Diary of a Posh Schoolgirl is a coming of age narrative with detailed excerpts from Ingrid Jo Boissevain’s diary kept in the year when she sat her O-Levels, turned 17 and obsessed over the French pop star Polnareff.

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Ingrid has quite a privileged upbringing as part of a loving family with Mum, Dad and 11 year old sister Chump. They’re having a swimming pool built, and have a tennis court, taking frequent trips on their boat. They have plenty of holidays in Europe, trips to the fashion shops of London, the theatre and parties. This is all recorded in such detail that, whilst perhaps not typical of the times, it’s really fascinating. It’s also recorded with great humility and at no point do you feel Ingrid takes what she has for granted.

Ingrid
Ingrid with her father’s pipe on their boat

I don’t want to give too much away but, attending an all-girls school, boys, or the lack of them, become a real obsession “We kept bumping into those horrible mods, and also this lair of six creepish creeps!”. And it’s hilarious how a fleeting exchange with a German lad while on a skiing holiday becomes the missed opportunity of a lifetime according to Ingrid!

Perhaps unusually she’s obsessed with French pop stars, it being a diary there’s no explanation for this, but she listens to French radio a lot and ends up ringing up hotels in London to see if her idols have made a reservation. One of my favourite entries is Saturday July 15 “THE POLNAREFF PILGRIMAGE”

We fell completely in love with the hotel, it was such a peaceful and friendly little place.  Before we left we touched the door knobs of rooms 1, 2 and 3 and took in all the details – the “thick flowered carpet” they describe in S.L.C. is red with fern patterns. We were in such a swoon the rest of the day we didn’t look where we were going, even crossing the roads. In a Polnareff vacuum, we managed to find our way back.

There’s also tons of historical social detail including what they ate at meals and in restaurants, how much things cost, what was on TV and what they thought of it. There’s detail on the lessons they had at school and O levels, as well as critique on current affairs and social changes which are fascinating. Here’s an example on the legalisation of marijuana – a debate as relevant today as it was 50 years ago.

For radio enthusiasts there’s a lot about Johnnie Walker and Radio Caroline (while the opening of radio one gets the briefest mention). Diary 3

As a child of the eighties the sixties are something I hear about as the place where it all started. Being able to read a teenager’s first hand account is a gift. The rise of the mini skirt, the popularity of the Monkees, the good and bad in the charts and on Top of the Pops. It’s all there and documented without inhibition.

Diary 1

I get the impression the diaries are quite heavily edited which I find a bit disappointing, because I want it all, but what is there is absolute gold. Read it – you won’t be disappointed and it’s definitely worthy of publishing in book form. And we simply must bring back the word snaz!

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You can start the diary here on 1st January 1967.

How Not To Be a Boy by Robert Webb

4159JIpmssL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_The latest (kind of) diary I’ve read is How Not To Be a Boy by Robert Webb. Really is a memoir but it includes some extracts from the diaries he kept as a teenager. I wish there had been more, he clearly relied on them quite heavily to remind himself what he was like and what had been happening in his life, and they were funny. Anyway, here’s my review from Amazon:

 

This came recommended to me by someone who’d listened to the audio book version and knows I’m “into diaries”. I had quite high hopes for it; I’d heard him be entertaining on Rufus Hound’s ‘My Teenage Diary’ radio show and I thought the premise of the book was interesting, the title alluding to an alternative approach to a bloke finding his way in life.

However, and I hate that there’s a however, it didn’t really work for me.

As an essay on gender stereotypes, set against his own experiences, it had some success, as did the autobiographical elements, but when merged together it was a bit jarring and meandering at times.

Also his style flitted from straight narrative, to journalistic research, to poetic prose. It meant that I was confused at times; why was the room wet? Oh, right, he was crying… It just didn’t sit well in the overall context. Also although the autobiographical elements are generally in chronological order they weren’t always and, as this is predominantly about his youth, I was unclear about what experiences happened when which was distracting.

Before reading this I didn’t know anything about Robert Webb, other than he was part of ‘Mitchell and…’ and danced brilliantly to Flashdance for Comic Relief, and now I know a whole lot more. And I’m glad I do, and I’m glad I read it, although it didn’t rock my world. It would have been much better if the essay on gender stereotyping was not combined with biography. On their own they could have been something insightful and special. Together they were not.

I feel like I’ve been quite hard on it in the review, as I did enjoy it, I just felt it could have been more than it was. I’m currently reading The Diary of a Bookseller and it’s utterly amazing. Will, or course, be reviewing it soon!

The Diary of Two Nobodies by Mary Killen & Giles Wood

Giles Mary bookThe latest “diary” that I’ve finished reading is the one written between 2016 and 2017 by two charming characters from the Channel 4 TV series Gogglebox. If you’re not from the UK you’re likely not to know much about them or the TV show. It’s basically us watching other people watch TV. Sounds insane doesn’t it, but it’s brilliant. Even if you don’t know them or the show I think the book would still hold interest as Giles and Mary are so entertaining.

Here’s my Amazon review:

If you know Giles and Mary from gogglebox you’re part way to knowing what to expect in this book; if you don’t you’re about to be introduced to two beautiful souls; gentle, intelligent, considered and genuinely hilarious.

This isn’t a traditional diary with day by day accounts of what they did and nor will you get any insights into the inner workings of the gogglebox process. Instead it’s a year in their life from which they use the events that happen to them as a stimulus to describe their view on the world, each other and their relationship.

The prose is delightful with Mary’s entries in particular displaying a tight and intelligent use of language making it instantly relatable and engaging (her description of Giles’ mother as having a “sharp and well stocked brain” still sticks with me). Giles creates vivid pictures and smartly observes many things that are wrong in the world (including ineffective toasters at hotel breakfast buffets that are “medieval-type instruments of torture that use a process akin to briefly waving a slice of bread past a three bar electric fire”)

It’s full of self awareness yet is self deprecating (Giles, “my strength is complaining”) and their character comes through strongly. They share their idiosyncrasies, their amusing nicknames for things (twentyfirstity, seancespeak, hatrolallia) and how one copes with the other.

It’s a genuinely lovely book, intelligent, rye, perceptive and funny but ultimately they’ve written a love letter to one another and together prove that everybody is a somebody.

Giles & Mary
Giles and Mary as we see them on Gogglebox

Friday 16th March 1990

Something absolutely massive and major happened today. I came home at dinner time because I had block release. I tried to use my school pass on the service bus and the bus driver took it off me. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t do anything straight away. I just sat down and thought what I could do to get it back. I thought the best plan was to ask for it back and eventually when I’d argued long enough he would show me the rules and regulations on the back and then I would snatch it off him. All the time I just kept thinking, “assert yourself! Don’t get off until you’ve got it from him. Don’t let him get away with it – be strong!” It sounds a bit stupid I know but I think it helped.

So when it came to my stop in the village I asked him for it back. He said I couldn’t have it. I asked why and he started telling me all about that it was for the school special only and that I couldn’t have it back. Every time he finished telling me that I couldn’t have it back I asked again, he said no, and I asked why. This went on for ages. It was quite lucky because there was a woman waiting to get on so he couldn’t drive off or anything. I was being a right little bastard and I must have got on his tits so much. Then this woman started to join in saying he should have given it to me. Then she said I should take his name and his number and go all the way to the depot and take it up with them there. I said I didn’t need to because he was going to give me it back and I was going to get off there. He started saying that if I was going to get off there then I’d better because he would take me all the way to the depot it was no skin off his nose.

I thought that I couldn’t be arsed going to the depot so I started to back down the steps. I must point out that it was a single decker but it was absolutely jam packed with people. Quite a few people who I knew. I don’t know their names but I did recognise them. Anyway, he still refused to give me my pass so I started to get off and was sort of halfway up and down the steps. At this point I was not off the bus. I was really cross because he was such a little Hitler and I had no power at all. So as I got off I said, “well I think you’re just a twat.” I could have used some much stronger words but I thought it was in my interests not to. He said, “well you can think what you like, I think you’re an idiot.” I said, “I don’t care what you think, you’ve just done even more to put the name of metro in the dirt.”

You’re not going to believe what happened next, I certainly couldn’t. He leapt out of the driver’s seat and started to try and push me off the bus. He was really rough and got me by the neck with his arm. I was really shocked, I said, “that’s assault, I could have you for that!” He said, “I’m not having you calling me a twat”, and here comes my favourite part of the whole story, I said, “I just did, and I will again, you twat!”

He still tried to push me off and I was saying get off, get off me. While all this was happening the bus was deadly silent as everybody watched and the handbrake was off so the bus began to move up the main street, it didn’t get very far, maybe 20ft or so. It was very dangerous though. At this point he got back in the driver’s seat and I had to jump off. I still can’t believe he actually did that. I really managed to keep my cool I thought. He thought he was so clever as well taking my bus pass. He was wearing dark glasses and he had awful shitty teeth.

I was shaking as I walked home and didn’t think that I’d dare tell Mum and Dad. The first person I had to tell was Vicky. She just sort of said that she was really glad that she wasn’t there. Everyone else from school that I told wished that they’d been there. I told Mum and Dad, they weren’t pleased that I’d called him a twat but they were on my side and that was really nice. Mum rang up the bus headquarters and explained what had happened. They’d said that he shouldn’t have taken my pass and definitely shouldn’t have tried to push me off the bus. They said that they’d get my pass back to me by Monday morning. Mum said that if it hadn’t come by Saturday she was going to ring up again. I am really surprised about the whole thing, anyway it was just the way things were going to go that weekend.

I felt strong after the incident with the bus driver. It sounds really stupid but it was right. It felt like it was the right thing to happen. Cathy said she was very proud of me for sticking up for justice. It’s definitely keeping the New Year’s resolution not to let people shit all over me.

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I got all hot and flustered! – Meeting Tess Simpson

TessTess Simpson (who is most definitely not a twat) has been aggressively writing ‘BYE!’ at the end of the day since 1995. She’s also been sharing what she wrote back then in her brilliant blog If Destroyed Still True. Here she tells us about how all that came about as well as what it all means to her.

 

You’ve been blogging your diaries since April 2014, how did you get to a place where you wanted to share your diaries with the world? I first started thinking about it during the Somerset Levels winter flooding in 2013-14. I wondered what possessions I’d be most upset to lose in a flood or a fire and realised I’d be very sad if didn’t have my diaries. They’re so full of little memories (often in minute detail and sometimes with diagrams!) that I’d never remember if I hadn’t written them down. For example, I would never have remembered what the house of my first crush looked like from 2 different angles.

Me at about 12 or 13

How old were you when you started keeping a diary and what made you start? I was 12. My friend Hayley gave me a little diary as an early 13th birthday present in 1995 and I wrote in it the next night to record how shattered I was after my early birthday sleepover. It got a little bit more interesting than that as time went on once boys had entered my radar.

 

What was your life like at the time? I lived in a very safe village with my very stable family, hence my diary worryings were about extremely minor things like who I’d have to sit next to on the bus and why a boy might have smiled at me. I spent a lot of time outside on my bike with my sister and friend Emma, which gave us plenty of time and space to plot mild stalking missions away from nosy parents.

How many years did you write your diaries for and how difficult was it to keep them going for that long? I haven’t stopped writing diaries. It’s not been a difficult thing to keep up because it’s become a habit. There are days when I can’t be bothered or I don’t have time but when something is worth remembering or is worrying me then I reach for a pen and my diary without really thinking about it. I’ll still mull things over when I’m trying to sleep but writing it down definitely helps. It’s therapeutic to rant somewhere that no-one will read it… until I put it on the internet 20 years later.

How long do you think you will keep blogging them for? IDST was only supposed to be my teenage diaries but I hadn’t thought this far ahead and I’m now 17 diary-wise. I don’t know what to do when I hit my 20s diaries. I intend to keep typing them up somewhere because I want to preserve them for myself but I don’t know if adult diaries are quite the same as teen ones. Although I was still utterly cringe-worthy as a 20-something and probably am as a 30-something.

Me at about 15

How did you feel when you first began to read the diaries in adulthood? Ugh. I couldn’t cope! They made me laugh but want to hide. I’d read a few lines then have to look away or retreat cringing into my jumper. I also flitted between feeling glad and horrified that I had everything I did written down depending on the entry I was reading.

What kind of challenges have you faced along the way? In true diary style, I shall give this answer as a list.
– People I went to school with finding out when I accidentally posted a link to an IDST post on my personal Facebook page. That set me off worrying about what I’d said about people and what the hell they’d think about it.
– As of the other week, I found out one of the boys I wrote waaay too much about has been reading it. I’ve not cringed that much in a very long time!
– Blog and reality crossing paths and losing complete anonymity when I was asked to read my diary on stage. Live reading was NEVER something I thought I’d do but I agreed after half a jug of sangria and then couldn’t back out.

How did it feel when you first let someone else read your diaries? I didn’t really expect anyone to read IDST but when they did and someone actually commented, I got all hot and flustered! They were never meant to be read by anyone until I was long dead. It’s a warts (spots) and all account of growing up in the 90s/00s, thinking you’ve got all the biggest worries in the world, like not being allowed to stay up late to watch Pride and Prejudice, having 50 million spots and probably never getting a boyfriend.

What kind of reception have you had and how does that make you feel? Really good (so far). Surprisingly good! Most people can recognise themselves in bits of it, I suppose. Everyone was horribly embarrassing as a teenager, it’s just that not everyone has the hard evidence to prove it. The reception has been a relief. I was really worried (and still am) that people would think I’m a twat.

What do you think your diaries mean to those who read them? I’ve been told that people relate to them and, even though the situations were different, the feelings, worrying, over-analysis and reactions are all very familiar. Everyone felt self-conscious about something, everyone fancied someone that didn’t fancy them back, everyone had to snog someone for the first time.

How do the people who you wrote about feel about your blog? I don’t really know who knows about it or who reads it amongst people that actually know me. My sister and my friend Cat who both kept diaries at the same time (sometimes about the same things) find it funny and cringe-worthy in equal measure. The school friends that I’m still in touch with find it amusing as it reminds them of things they’d completely forgotten about. My first boyfriend is still coming to terms with it I think, after discovering it by chance and mentioning it to his workmates without thinking that he’d, of course, feature sooner or later. In detail.

Anything you haven’t felt brave enough to share? Not yet! The only bits I’ve left out are a few lines here and there that were too personal about other people and would be upsetting to them. I’ve changed everyone’s names and local places too. Thankfully I went through my diaries before I went to university with a big, black marker pen and redacted anything… er… graphic just in case my family found them while I was away. I reckon if I hold it up to the light I could still make out what it says though.

Do you have any favourite entries you want to highlight? I quite enjoy/cringe horribly at the ones with diagrams or drawings of people. The ones that spring to mind are The Full Monty school assembly one (that seems really dodgy now!) in which I not only listed the boys in order of fitness but also drew them. My friend Cat and I were also thrilled/horrified to discover that we had diary entries about the same party and the Cat-based MAJOR GOSSIP that ensued.

Barn owlWhat do you think of yourself when you look back at what you wrote? I actually think I’ve not really changed that much as my brain still works overtime worrying unnecessarily. I’m not as spotty and stalker-y but I do still really love owls.

If you could return to the late nineties and give yourself any advice, what would it be? STOP WORRYING! Also, stick a bet on Man United winning the treble in 1999.

Finally, I’ve published my diary in full in book form – is this something you would consider? This is the first time I’ve thought about it. I’m not sure I would. At least with IDST I could delete the lot if I one day regretted sharing everything with the world!

BYE