I recommend keeping a journal – the process can be cathartic and rewarding. It’s a form of creative writing that doesn’t use imagination to produce a story, novel, a poem or play. Instead, this is all about keeping track of people, emotions, events and circumstances and recording them for the future – either for your eyes only, or for sharing with a wider audience as memoir.
There’s something very comforting in knowing what I had for dinner exactly three years ago, or what the weather was doing four years before that, or what day I broke not one but two fingernails (oh, the trauma!).
Actually, I write all kinds of rubbish in my journals – and I’ve kept them for years, so that’s a lot of trivia recorded for posterity, although I usually refrain from documenting nail breakages, even when they come in pairs.
I keep different journals, notebooks and diaries, every now and then venturing into a food diary, or a holiday scrapbook, or an annotated recipe book. But my favourite is my bog standard Confiteor, the journal I write in to record the day/week/month’s highlights. I mostly write daily, but I don’t get too hung up about missing a few days.
Last week I was laid up with a nasty dose (Irish for a head cold, not a random STD), so all I had to write about was how wretched I felt and how many bins I’d filled with damp tissues. So instead of writing, I took to reading some old journals.
I found one from 2002 which I’d begun with a nod to the styles of Peter Mayle (A Year in Provence) and Carol Drinkwater (The Olive Tree) about my family’s plans to uproot from rural Worcestershire. I wrote about the des res heavily disguised as a cowshed which we bought in rural Ireland and our plans to import a herd of alpacas and grow organic cabbages. Not quite as glamorous as the Mediterranean, although we’ve had our moments.
In my journal, I’d made all sorts of observations about the Irish way of doing things, and about our feeble attempts to fit in. Irish dogs and their inclination to snap at passing cars had me passing comment:
‘Mud splattered Rex and Rover, out in all weathers, race to snap and growl at passing car tyres. The first time we ever encountered an Irish car-chasing dog nearly a decade ago, we slowed almost to a standstill fearful the animal would get tangled in the machinery and our small children in the back seat would never recover from a bloody dog squashing trauma.
‘The dog was clearly confused, since it’s usual to speed up, not slow down, so it turned tail to slink back to the bushes. But then an old lady emerged from the hedge and began shaking her fists in our general direction. Not sure of the Irish etiquette in such circumstances we revved up and roared away, just in case the fists were intended for us.
‘But ever since I’ve wondered if the poor dog got its ears boxed for not performing its proper canine duty? Because we later discovered that every self respecting Irish hound is expected to outrun a modest family saloon with the back seat occupants shrieking: “He’s gaining on us Daddy, go faster!”
‘You won’t catch a cat chasing cars…’
Still true after all these years!