Saturday 3 December 2016

The stuff of people's lives is what really matters in the end

Published 01/01/2011 | 05:00

The great diarists manage to record the events of their daily lives while at the same time giving a valuable insight into the political and social climate of their times.

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Samuel Pepys, Tony Crosland and Alan Clark, for instance, all contrived to be both personal and public in their writings.

An end-of-year perusal of my own diary reveals very little about the great economic and political upheavals that have convulsed the country over the past 12 months.

There is, however, quite a lot about the weather, rugby, cricket, the doings of my daughter, and attempts to quit smoking and drinking.

It reads like a cross between Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason and Wisden. (More recently, after two weeks of being snowed in, it's starting to resemble The Diary of Anne Frank.)

In June, for instance, I confided to my diary a long description of facing a Pakistani fast bowler in a match at College Park.

The long run-up of the bowler, the fizz of the ball through the air, the terror as it reared to head height, and the relief as it passed my nose, cleared the wicket keeper and went for four byes are all recorded in detail.

In July, I was describing the beauty of the train journey from Dublin to Wexford, where I was working on a project for the Wexford People.

It was sunny, and the sea on one side and the Wicklow Mountains on the other made me remember what a beautiful country we live in.

Journalists on provincial papers seem so normal and relaxed compared to those on the nationals. Does ego increase the nearer one gets to the capital? I asked my diary.

My journal for 2010 is peppered with references to teaching -- from the rarefied heights of DCU to the more challenging environs of Crumlin VEC.

The irony of a bald man teaching 27 Crumlin hairdressers was not lost on me, but somehow I liked the unselfconsciousness of the VEC students compared to the too-cool-for-school air of some Glasnevin undergrads.

The summer saw me shovel and barrow five tonnes of topsoil (the figure in heavily underlined in the diary) into my wife's allotment.

It was also the time when I became involved in a community garden in the square where we live.

Another five tonnes of earth to be moved reminded me (or so I told my diary) of PG Wodehouse's favourite headline: "Sons of toil buried under tons of soil."

It was a busy time too, on the GIY front. My wife and I got involved in our local Grow It Yourself group, and I found myself helping to build the GIY garden at the Bloom Festival.

Cleaning a greenhouse with old newspaper may not seem the most glamorous of occupations (it isn't), but that stolen afternoon in the Phoenix Park sunshine was somehow special.

My diary account drips with the thrill of going backstage at a big event, the excitement at talking to the garden designers and borrowing a secateurs from Diarmuid Gavin.

Elsewhere, my diary is concerned with a family wedding, the visit of German friends, a charity cycle from Bray to Howth with my daughter on the back which nearly killed me.

There are play-dates, pantos, summer camps and the loss, just the other day, of my daughter's first tooth.

"Do you want to see what I learned at camp today, dad?" she asked me on June 25 last. She drew back her fist, extended the other arm in front of her, and delivered a pretty good karate punch to my midriff. And I'm paying money for this, I thought.

It is inconsequential stuff, but it is the stuff of people's lives. This is what we talk about: family, friends, the weather. It is what people have always talked about.

The big issues -- the economy, the banks, the decline of Fianna Fail, the IMF -- matter, of course.

They're just not important enough to get into my diary.

drobbins@independent.ie

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