One more page or just up until the end of the month, I told myself as I browsed. Then I would get back to the task in hand, selecting snippets from my best days with Andy to be sent at regular, frequent intervals as aid parcels.
No recourse to lazy electronic search mechanisms was possible. The thousands of hand-written pages had to be leafed through manually. As I lingered over certain periods or became caught up in crazed cross-referencing over years pursuing some whim or curiosity, my feelings were anything but jubilant or celebratory.
Instead, these pages had an oppressive effect, the weight of the routines and incidental details pressing down on remembered highlights. Or, perhaps, it was a deep sadness engendered by visible proof of the passing of time, of the inaccessibility now of our youth
The future was all ahead of us then, now it was a set of diaries, sagging, splitting and gathering dust on my shelf. Had I wasted too many opportunities and too much of my irrecoverable time?
I went back to my early diaries yet again and once more noticed the sadness that these generate in me, an emotion born I think from the realisation of how much of my life has passed
Could I just junk the lot? Would life feel simpler, cleaner and clearer, without them? Would I be able to live in a less intense relationship with the future and the past if these stubborn reminders of the solidified present were no more?
Putting them to the fire had its attraction but also felt like a dangerous negation of my time on Earth.
If I couldn’t be rid of them was there some other option?
Once the thought came to me my mood lifted. I would embark on the task of editing down these diaries into something of a more manageable size. Once this selection was digitally stored I could then, if I wished, destroy the physical manifestations scowling at me from my shelves.
Once I had begun to entertain this prospect, one dilemma after another sprang to mind. Do I just extract the same number of pieces from each year? Say, three or five or whatever, to give a flavour of that year? And what does ‘flavour’ actually mean? If one year contains far more life events, – either personal in terms of births, deaths, marriages, career, holidays, or world-shattering political and cultural phenomena – then shouldn’t that year merit more extracts than a humdrum, keeping-one’s-head-down and cracking-on sort of year?
Perhaps organising my material as a sequence of chapters might prove more workable? There would be one on family, obviously, another on career. I would include one on politics or news items more generally, especially my observations and reflections on events as they had unfolded. Hobbies, especially climbing and walking, would have their own, fairly major section but so too would friends and probably, especially more latterly, the books I had read. How would I begin to tackle the ups and downs of my love life? Should I, in fact, even attempt to do so?
As I mused on various formats, the sheer presence of this total amount of words again began to weigh on me. If I wasn’t careful my various editing schemes would result in a rearranged body of prose almost as long as the original.
Since then I have accumulated thirty-one volumes.
– Fourteen of these are in ‘page-a-day’ format. A further twelve take two days per page, my settled, regular format between 2001 and 2014.
– The years 1968 to 1975, I approached on a ‘write when you feel inspired to record something basis’, as I have done again since 2014. These amounted to six volumes, of which three are incomplete.
– Two volumes of my page-a-day discipline, 1967 and 1977, also petered out before December 31st.
In addition, I have two separate travel diaries – the Annapurna Circuit walk in 1988 and the Tour de Mont Blanc in 1989 – and a flimsy record of a climbing trip to California in 1990. I was either too exhausted or too drunk each evening during the American trip, in fact usually both, to summon up the focus and to pick up the pen. A cheap little exercise book, sad and angry in tone and completed after the end of a relationship, is a lonely little addition to my collection, saved only from the shredder by my sometimes-dubious need for completeness.
At the time of writing, there is an entry provided for 9,062 separate days.
The grand total of words written I estimate to be in the region of 1,627,300. I’m reasonably confident the exact figure lies somewhere within 10% of either side of that figure.
On my shelf, the books measure 2ft 3ins from end to end, spanning the fifty years between 1967 to 2016.
And while I’m at it, all together these books tip the bathroom scales at 26 lbs.
They have been transferred between the various flats and houses in which I have lived, their bulk increasing with each recorded year and leaving a fossilised trail, like that of some huge, gnarled lizard lumbering on through a shattered landscape towards extinction and an agitated, blood red sky.
‘THE RAGGED WEAVE OF YESTERDAY’ by Andy Christopher Miller will be published on 4th April 2017