The diary I filled in at the start of 1957 was the last one I kept at my school in Sheffield. Within a few months I would be sent away from home to boarding school in Shrewsbury, and five years later, even further away from home, to university in Oxford. This was the last real attempt at keeping a diary for the next ten years.
Though I started keeping a regular diary in 1969, when I was 25, I, like many people, started much earlier than that. Every year of my middle childhood my parents would give me the Lett’s Schoolboys Diary and I would try hard to fill in each day. I usually got bored by the end of February, but sometimes I kept going. Once I got almost up till my birthday in May. I’m so glad I did persevere. These school diaries are really the only evidence of what life was like for a Sheffield schoolboy when no-one had even heard of Elvis Presley. If you’re ready for Palin’s pre-pubescent ramblings, then this is How It All Began. It’s January 1955 and I’m eleven and a half years old.
Diary Corner is a place where I want to share my experiences of keeping a diary, and to hand on any advice I can give (Don’t worry, it’s not too serious) to any of you out there who want to celebrate your day by Writing It Down. Hope you’ll enjoy watching.
I’ve always enjoyed the physical act of writing. Not typing at a keypad or fingering a smart phone but taking a pen in hand and making marks on a piece of paper. Handwriting. It sounds old-fashioned but it has a lot going for it. Handwriting is a mark of your own individuality. Handwriting is expressive. It reflects changes in your mood and your emotions which typing often conceals. Handwriting is playful. It lends itself to decoration, to spontaneous squiggles and drawings and doodles. Handwriting gives you time to stop and think.
For all these reasons I value letters from my few friends who still use pen and paper and I love getting out my Mont Blanc fountain pen to reply to them. But like most of us in this era of instant communication I all too often find I just don’t have time to say what I really want to say. Which is why I feel it so important to stop, think, take a breath and Write it Down.
When I was travelling I always used longhand to jot down the day’s events in my notebook. Looking back at those notebooks now is more exciting than reading any typed transcript. Grains of desert sand are stuck between the pages and wine-stains and the smear of a crushed insect bring back powerful memories. I know what I was doing from the way I write. Neat hand at a breakfast table, barely decipherable entries written in a bouncing vehicle, and the sprawling, flowing, occasionally wobbly script which means a few drinks at the end of a hard day.
When I’m not travelling I keep my hand in by writing up a daily diary. I like the fact that I have to take some time over it. It’s personal and doesn’t ask for replies or re-tweets. It’s only between me and myself, so I can take as little or as much time as I want. I find my daily diary entry is like doing morning exercise. The equivalent of a shot of Pilates. Something you do each morning (or each evening) that makes you feel better.
If you feel the same way as I do, then go out and buy yourself a good-looking note-book, put the year and the day’s date at the top of the page and start remembering tomorrow. It’ll be hard at first. There are so many reasons to give up, but, believe me, if you persevere, you’ll never regret it.