Monday, 13 October 2008

Revelations from childhood diaries

Caitlin Moran wrote a hilarious piece on childhood diaries in the Times today. It inspired me to dig out my diaries to see if what I'd written as a child was quite as self-involved and tediously dull as Caitlin suggests all childhood diaries might be.

She was right.

But my diaries had a few revelations for me:

a) I'm a starter, not a finisher. My main diary was started with scrawled handwriting on 10 December 1983 - age 10. I then wrote in it daily for 12 days. I took up the mantle again 28 Feb 1984 followed by my birthday entry the following day. Writing about all my birthday gifts must have wiped me out as I next grabbed a pen on 17 June and again 23 Sept that year. Those were not particularly special days. I'd obviously just stumbled upon the book, jotted down a few banal facts about my day and moved onto other more exciting things. I then wrote one entry on 28 Jan in 1985, one on 8 July 1986 and one on 4 March 1987. Not exactly a stunning track record although at least I had kept up one post a year for four years.

b) I have had and always will have shockingly bad handwriting. It looks like a drunken wood lice has stumbled its way into some ink and then careered over the page looking for somewhere to hide.

c) It's the little details that are important to children. Presents and food in particular feature highly. Diary entry of 15 December 1983, for example reads: 'I had to make lunch. We had bread, sausages, eggs and salads. Mommy and company went sailing. We went to the shop. I bought a chomp and four nickerballs.' There are several points I want to make here. 1) That's a pretty impressive lunch for a ten year old to lay on. 2) Having used their child as slave labour, my parents buggered off and went sailing. Nice. So no childcare then? 3) A chomp is a South African chocolate and Nickerballs are not in fact gentleman's genitalia in some lacy briefs. No. Worse than that. They're black gobstoppers delightfully named 'Nigger balls' for their obvious resemblance to the aforementioned genitalia and being South Africa in the 80s,was a completely and utterly acceptable turn of phrase apparently. Luckily as I was a child I had no idea what the N or B words meant so merrily came up with my own interpretation. I apologise in retrospect on behalf of all South Africans.

d) Kids are mean. Take this entry from the day before the last: 'When we came back from swimming, we found Michelle in our tent. We told her to come swimming with us and when she started swimming we ran away.' I have no idea who this Michelle was but she's probably racked up huge therapists bills to discuss her feelings of abandonment.

e) Age 11 is when you start to navel gaze rather than factually report the mundanities of life. You also feel desperately sorry for yourself. Take the entry from June 1984 in which I proclaim that I have terrible news (we were moving from my childhood home to the Transvaal, away from my father and friends). It ends as follows: 'I am beginning to grow up now. I must be able to stand the hardships of life. ' Then a corner of the page is turned over with a intriguing note 'For Me Only' written on it. Lift the flap and I've rather earnestly written: 'God set us all work to do so let's do it.' I would very much like to go back to 17 June 1984, grab me by my ponytail and smash my face into a desk for being quite so cringe-worthingly woebegone.

f) Broken hearts are tough no matter your age. In 1987 (age 14) I wrote of my first true love the following: 'I've had a couple of problems recently. Craig said that I was childish so now I'm not going out with him anymore. I don't know why but I'm really confused, upset and in love still.' This outpouring of deep feeling was promptly followed by: 'I've gained another very good friend. Michael. I call him brudda. He calls me sista. He gave me a care bear for my birthday.' Gosh now that is mature. Not sure what the other bloke was on about.

g) The really, really important stuff doesn't need embellishment. This diary entry was written on a piece of paper (before I owned a diary) and was pasted into my diary at a later date. It went as follows (verbatim):

Age 10.
5 August 1983 (Friday)
Mommy + Daddy decided to get deforced. We were all very sad, But they tried to make it sound nice. Mommy said I could get my own dog. We were going to live at 24 Deare Str and daddy was going to live at 24 Towpath. I will always remember this. Time. 4:40pm

Even then, even at the biggest moment of my life to date, I captured the important stuff. I was going to get my own dog. Self involved? Me?

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