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Why my secret thoughts as a wife and mother are destined for the fire

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 Bridget Jones is a big fan of diaries

Bridget Jones is a big fan of diaries

Bridget Jones is a big fan of diaries

Diaries are not always chronicles of our lives but the parts we were struggling with at the time. Inset, Sheila Hancock destroyed the journals. Chronicles of love and pain are of no relevance to anyone but their authors . . . that's why I'm destroying my stash of diaries

NOWADAYS it's all very pedestrian. I have a desk diary in which I write what I have to do for the week, who to call, what to buy. I put down the date of my NCT and make a note of anything out of the ordinary. But there really isn't too much out of the ordinary.

Every January the previous year's diary gets relegated to the cupboard over the computer. There's about a decade's worth of work notes and reminders to order school books and buy sugar. When I need the shelf I'll throw them out. They're simply not of enough interest to justify storage space.

Once upon a time my diaries were much racier affairs. That was back in the day when I actually did interesting stuff. Day and date designations would have got in the way, no pedestrian details of appointments or shopping besmirched the pages. It made for infinitely better reading than any recent diary, but those journals have long since been disposed of.

Actor Sheila Hancock inspired a mixed reaction when she said that she'd destroyed the lifetime of journals on which she'd based her memoirs. The journals of famous people are often published and these would have had special importance to fans of Hancock and her late husband John Thaw.

 

Striptease

But Hancock's logic was that she had distilled what she needed from them, and, having converted the rawness of her diaries into the more palatable form of a book, she didn't want her family to see the things she had written about them in the heat of the moment.

Some regard diary-keeping as a wilfully contradictory behaviour, at once secretive and self- revealing. A sort of emotional striptease, in the teasiest sense of the concept. Perhaps, such an opinion is based on the somewhat self- conscious style of a usually younger diarist who seems to be writing carefully for posterity.

When I was 12 and got my first lock and key journal in which I'd make careful, socially acceptable and, it must be said, edited notes in my best handwriting, then, yes, I was writing with the self-absorbed (and deluded) certainty that this would make interesting reading. But for as long as I can remember there were the other sheets of paper, the other notebooks, scrawled and half illegible, equally self-absorbed but instead of a record of cute of reminiscences it was a repository of all the things I couldn't say out loud. The old AGFA diary from 1981 with sporadic entries like "went to school. BORING!!!!!!", devoid of any factual interest as it was, had a far greater life expectancy than the acres of foolscap truths and dilemmas that might have had more value in one way.

As I get older, and allegedly wiser, I believe the key to happiness is to let go of bad memories. As you may have been told by a t-shirt in the eighties – sh*t happens. And it happens to us all. Our memory's natural tendency is actually to focus on the good stuff, focusing on the bad is counterintuitive and counterproductive.

A few years ago, someone asked me for a very old address and the only place I thought it might be was a box in the attic. Up I trundled and out it came. It was a black Waterford Crystal box that had been home to a wedding present and was now, sealed with masking tape, keeper of keepsakes. I'd sealed them away after we'd married so I obviously reckoned then that they belonged to a different me. I found the address book that I carted round for years, it was filled with people I no longer knew. But I also found a stash of diaries. If I could sift the past into good and bad memories I would keep the good and the happy from those diaries.

 

NUTTER

Mementoes of pain aside, those diaries were of no interest to anyone but me. And what's more, I didn't want anyone else finding them after I had shuffled off this mortal coil. Largely because I'd sound like an unreconstructed nutter and wouldn't be around to explain.

But it made me realise that the diaries I had been keeping as mother and wife were far more explosive and potentially damaging. No-one who might be sifting through my possessions would have known the cast of characters that populated the early journals, what matter what I had called Pedro in 1989? But the later ones often featured the people who'd be reading them after I died.

Again, these were not chronicles of my, our lives, they were vomits of things I was struggling with in tough times. Anyone who tells you marriage and parenthood is easy is not only a liar but, in my experience, most likely to divorce. When things were tough or I was depressed or confused or battling in whatever way, I wrote. So whilst it's an accurate chronicle of how I felt when I felt bad, it is not an accurate barometer of how I felt all the time.

Apart from the fact that things look harder in black and white they are especially hard when the person who wrote them is not there to explain. Diaries of woe could take on far more significance than they deserved. So I reread everything, I honoured the dead memories and cremated the evidence. I have less of a need to write my head straight now, but if the need does arise I burn the paper straight away.

In the same vein when you become a mother, and it does seem to happen to women more than to men, you're no longer entirely your own. It feels like everything from your body to your time is predicated on someone else's needs. A certain mindset doesn't have a problem with that, some people like to be defined by their marital or reproductive status, others not so much.

That feeling definitely eases as children grow older, and, presumably, as you just get used to it and memories of any other way fade, but I believe that having had children you are never your own self again. The only places you can really call your own are your head and your past. And whilst I certainly wouldn't swap then for now, I do need to know that I had something that was just mine.

In one way, keeping things is holding a door open. Getting rid of them is shutting that door and making a tomb.

No-one else can access that thing that was yours. Perhaps it's why some people choose to burn their love letters. Even love letters from men and women they went on to marry and have a life with. If that life involved children, the logic is maybe that they gave everything to their children with an open heart, but those love letters were treasures from a different time.

 

PASSION

I can see the appeal of sitting in a rocking chair reading gorgeous love letters written many years before by people long absent. But reconjuring moments of passion and love is entirely different to reliving pain, to revisiting the tormented thrashings of a shredded head and heart.

In my stash there weren't any love letters and, given that this was all during pen and paper days, I can only assume I either went out with blokes who couldn't write or my slash and burn principle applied to letters before I branched into diary cremation.

I have kept cards from this life, from my Beloved and my babies, it seems better to shed mementoes of what was sad or what is gone and to treasure instead the things I want to keep in my life.


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