Do you keep a diary? This slightly battered velvety green one was my first. I got it for Christmas 1977 and faithfully wrote five lines a day from 1 January 1978 to 31 December 1982. Some of the entries are pretty funny, like this one:
Had a shower.
(This was England in the seventies. Showers were new!) Or this one:
Had a long think.
It’s funny because I was 12. I wish I’d written down what I was thinking about. But most entries are factual:
2-all draw in netball against Edwinstree. Did homework. Listened to a tape. Watched Starsky and Hutch. Ate a Creme Egg.
The diary entries act as reminders now. Those short sentences trigger richer, fuller memories of what happened back then. Sometimes they’re surprising: apparently we were short of money in 1979, which is when we applied to emigrate to Australia. The story I’ve remembered is that Margaret Thatcher came to power and my parents didn’t like the way the country was going, we lived in a cottage with low ceilings that depressed Mum, and Dad wanted to further his career; that’s why we moved. Now I see that there was more to it.
After a lot of form filling and trips to London for interviews and medicals, we got the big tick from the Australian government. Dad went first, flying off around the world to set himself up in a job and find us somewhere to live. Mum stayed behind with the kids to sell the house. It took six months. I found out years later that her best friend’s husband had gone to New Zealand at the same time, decided to start a new life for himself, dumped his wife and kids back in England and found another wife. It must have been a long, unnerving six months for Mum.
Here’s Dad, checking in at the start of his big adventure in February 1980. My grandma took the photo. She trimmed all her photos with pinking shears. No-one knows why:
We waved him goodbye then went to McDonald’s in Piccadilly Circus for a burger and a thick shake, which was a HUGE treat because there was no McDonald’s anywhere near where we lived. Mum had just taken a bite of her quarter pounder when she said, “Dad’s got the keys.”
We’d left the car on the outskirts of London and caught the train in that morning. Getting home was a bit trickier. The keyless car stayed where it was. We caught two trains and a taxi home instead. Because the house keys were also on a plane on the way to Australia, getting into the house demanded ingenuity. Mum climbed onto the pebble-dash coal bunker in the back garden and took a fruit knife out of her handbag. (Coal bunker? Fruit knife? Does anyone have such things now?) She prised open the kitchen window, we boosted my sister in to unlock the door, and Mum phoned friends to come and look after us and drive her back to London to pick up the car. My diary entry says: “WOT A DAY!”
Six months later, off we went. Grandma cried. My aunty cried. Mum cried. “It’s not as if it’s the other side of the world,” my cousin said. We flew to Australia via Washington DC to see some friends, and then via Disneyland. America was an eye-opener for me, a shy, bookish teen from a little English village where everyone minded everyone else’s business. In DC the temperature was 100 degrees Fahrenheit. People wore shorts. Kids played street hockey and went to Dairy Queen for ice-cream. There were huge black insects in the trees that went “brrrreeek”. We touched moon rock in the Smithsonian.
Then we went to Disneyland, which my diary says was “absolutely FANTASTIC!” We rode on the thrilling Space Mountain roller coaster and took the funny jungle cruise. We saw Mickey! And Minnie! And Donald! We went on the looong ride through It’s a Small World. Let me tell you, that tune never leaves you. I often find myself humming it even now. We ate frozen chocolate-covered bananas and drank pineapple juice.
That night, in our motel in Anaheim, we dragged my sister out of bed to watch the Disneyland fireworks. In her sleepy excitement she pulled out one of the louvres from the window and dropped it on my toe. I was so busy being awed by the fireworks that I didn’t notice until the blood made my foot stick to the carpet. I still have the Disneyland fireworks scar.
The next day we checked in at LAX to fly to Sydney. Leif Garrett was checking in at the next desk, but I was too shy to ask for his autograph. The flight was “v long and boring” but “I made friends with 2 nuns”! When we landed in Sydney, people cheered. Men from Customs boarded and sprayed something throughout the plane while the nuns covered their mouths and noses.
On our first night in Australia we went to McDonald’s again, a neat circle back to that day six months earlier. We truly knew then that we were in a new country because McDonald’s was in our suburb! We could go there any time! A couple of days later we went to see the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Teens can be hard to please. Here’s my assessment of the world-famous architectural icons of Australia’s biggest city:
That was this week, a long time ago. I don’t keep a diary now. I stopped in my late twenties. There was too much going on. It’s painful now to read back over the diaries from the teens and early twenties. All that angst! All that emotion about people and situations! I had strong opinions that make me wince, here in the future, where I know that there are two sides to every story and that so many hidden factors influence how people act, what they say.
I stopped diarising because I wanted to go out and live. As Thoreau said:
My life has been the poem I would have writ
But I could not both live and utter it.
To a certain extent, I still feel that way. Writing is a solitary exercise. You can get stuck in your own head if you spend too much time scribbling. At other times, when you want to write, life gets in the way. Over the past fortnight I considered giving up blogging. “Do I have anything left to say?” I thought. “There are so many other things I need to make time for. Why am I doing it?”
In a way, though, blogging is a form of diary-keeping, isn’t it? I’m not here to sell anything; I might post the occasional recipe or book review, but mostly I’m just writing about life. So while it suits me to keep documenting my days, I’ll keep popping in here every so often to do just that. I hope you’ll keep popping in too. Thanks, as always, for reading.