Everyone has a book in them. I wrote my book when I was about thirteen. It was a chunky A5 size garishly-floral five year diary which I kept at the back of the bottom drawer.
I recorded my life. There were no statistics, no graphs, no pie charts. I don't do numbers. I do words and pictures. It was the roller-coaster of teenage emotions; as much a cliché and more so than that last phrase. Home life, school life, personal life, very personal life, meals, music, friends, enemies (there were none, actually but I was very afraid that psychotic first year Mandy Phillips who I saw every morning on the way to the school bus would one day catch my eye, take some mysterious offence and duff me up thoroughly).
I wrote in it every day and shared my innermost thoughts. It might have been a publishing sensation. I was a diarist of the Wilde school.
“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensation to read in the train,” he said.
Mine was no-holds-barred. No point otherwise. I wouldn't have taken the risk of reading it in public, mainly because it was so obviously a diary with its yellow orange green and black padded flowery cover.
So it was with some interest that I noted the review of a new book out today – Cringe: Toe-Curlingly Embarrassing Teenage Diaries, Letters and Bad Poetry, edited by Sarah Brown – a brilliantly simple yet amusing collection of teenage diary extracts.
This, from Pip Hawkes(14) rang a few bells. "I’ve just decided —– well — not decided — but found out — I’m nihilistic! God – Dad’s just come in and told me to tidy my room — it is BLOODY TIDY!! He must have had a bad day at work — WANKER. "
Liz Banks, at 15, was a little old to have written this, but I completely sympathise about Rob Andrew. "Why am I unhappy?
Because mum and dad row Because I have school work to do
Because Rob Andrew [England rugby union fly half] and Graeme Hick [England and Worcestershire batsman] are married Because I have GCSEs next year
Because I am ugly
Because Adrian didn’t fancy me
Because I’ve done no art [I was referring to art homework, rather than art generally. I think.]
Because I have no friends I like
Because my room’s a mess
Because there’s a Conservative government."
I like a lot of the extracts from this book, which is odd because I don't tend to have much empathy with other people's diaries. I didn't recognise the Adrian Mole thing. Similarly I couldn't relate to Bridget Jones (although I did enjoy the film) and the singleton's obsession with control over cigarettes and chocolate.
But I did recognise some of my old self – or should have been young, only partially developed self? - in these extracts.
The blindly polarised black-and-white emotions of my teenage years are all there, albeit expressed differently.
This, from Jo Wickham is a perfect textual strop. “I hate Mum. She said I can’t have a coat as I still fit in my old one. I’m gonna feel like a prick if I wear a coat everyone was wearing last year. She’s such a bitch. It doesn’t cost that much and I need a coat. She’s such a slapper. She’s only doing it coz I get most things I want so she wants to say no, so I’m not spoilt. She’s such a bitch. And I’ve lost my keys and she’ll have an eppy if she finds out. Oh I hate her and I hate myself for losing them. God I’m pissed off — I know it’s only keys but if I’ve lost them I’ll go mad — I hate losing things but I do a lot. Oh I’m soo mad.”
I was too much of a bolshie control freak to ever smoke or try drugs but Claire Bateson (18) illustrates the breathtakingly self-obsessed dream-world of LSD: “I am writing this on acid, the tail-end of a trip. I need this time alone with pen and paper to express myself. I feel really happy to be me – more gorgeous and beautiful than ever before, me in all senses. Feminine – oh so feminine – and the prettiest, most beautiful girl that ever lived. I am so pretty tonight, in the red light and the flickering of the candle. I am a goddess, and only James has truly seen and appreciated this.”
My diary was much more likely to have read “I hate my dad. It's so stupid having to be home by 9pm. It's sooo unfair. My brother is an idiot. I keep telling mum I hate kidneys but she keeps making me eat them. I saw Alison being bullied today and didn't do anything about it. I hate them smoking on the bus. It makes me smell terrible. Roger P. looked at me today, I'm sure he did. He is still wonderful. I wonder what his voice sounds like. Mr Davis has never heard of Bigbury. Mr Cross leaned over me again in Eng Lit, too close. I could smell his breath. Wrote a love letter to Roger. Finished my portrait of Elton John..... Steve gave me Enigma Variations. We were on the phone later for 94 minutes. A new record. Just as well it was free.”
I don't keep a regular diary now but if I'm emotionally fragile, the first thing I do is reach for a pen or the keyboard and write great wodges of stuff. Seems to work and I leave these scrolls hanging in cyberspace like so many Serrano hams – tasty chunks of perfectly expressed consciousness never to be found.
Distance, instead of lending enchantment, lends a particular ludicrousness. Reading back a month later always reveals the pathetic cow. There are still lingering traces of the bolshie teenager but I argue more with myself these days.
I was fond of writing in code for a while - code as recommended by the I-Spy Book of Spycraft. It held up the writing though so I reverted to plain old English.
The raw undisguised, uncoded truth proved to be my undoing. My sainted mumsie did the one stinky, misguided – and subsequently regretted - thing she ever committed in her life; she read my diary.
I got home from school one day and she confronted me, white as a sheet, zombie-starey-eyed, shaken and ranting incoherently. I gathered she had found the diary but she was unspecific as to which bits had particularly shocked or offended her.
It could have been one of several things. She'd led a sheltered life up until then and had mistakenly presumed I was doing the same.
She hadn't told dad, which was just as well. I asked for it back but she announced “I've burned it.”
I believe she did. It was that good.
All for the best though, probably.
This was back in typewriter days when a computer would have taken up the entire first floor or the house.
If it had been now, I would have been spilling my guts all over the internet. Oh what a foolish and regrettable thing to do...
And lastly, his sweetly illustrates the tribulations of the romantic cyclist:
Andy Foster (15) Sunday, February 23 [after church youth club]
"There was no push away when I put my arm around her. But ahhhh I didn’t get a kiss off Gemma at the end because I was on bicycle and couldn’t get off in time before she’d disappeared"