As some readers of this blog will know, four months ago I came across a large box of journals written by a man called Derek. They were about to be thrown into a skip, as they had no resale value. But when I started to look through the foolscap files of typed A4 pages, I realised that I had found something special.
At first I laughed at Derek's diaries for their Pooterish prose; but as I got to know him, I felt a growing respect for this seemingly ordinary man who was plagued by extraordinary thoughts and desires.
In addition to his devout Mormon faith and passion for books, Derek's diaries reveal a man of eclectic tastes, from this:
To this programme from 1975:
I can imagine Derek enjoying an evening of jolly fol-de-rols with the King's Singers, but his passion for wrestling took me completely by surprise.
The saddest thing about Derek's diaries was his constant use of the word posterity. Derek clearly believed that his carefully-typed pages would be cherished by his descendants, but instead they were disposed of as part of a job lot with his book collection.
I have just finished reading Derek's diaries from 1988. Here is a typical extract:
The day is cold and gloomy, though dry. I spent the morning repairing one of my temple garments; I also hit the street to renew a book at the library and also buy some oats and peas for the rabbits. While I was in the shop, a man in motor cycle gear asked me if the oats were for rabbits. He spoke curiously. Anyway, he then ordered two pounds of mixed molasses. I asked him if they were for a lion. The girl serving us broke into laughter; he did not.
I repeated my fatuous remark. He then said "I do not understand what you say. I am deaf." No answer to that!
Bikers were obviously a problem for Derek. On another occasion he wrote:
Over the weekend the town has been full of "bikers", scooterists from all parts of the country, who foregather in the open spaces and spend their time drinking endless cans of lager.
This would have been a perfectly innocuous sentence, but the addition of two words - scooterists and foregather - inject a Pooterish element into Derek's prose.
Derek desperately wanted to be a writer and as he approached retirement, joined a creative writing class:
Well, I read out my piece of work on the history of the View through a Window in class today, and Mrs Jones suggested that I either offer it to the local newspaper or send it to Pilkington's house magazine. But read out to Brenda at dinnertime, it did not seem to have the same quality; I thought it a trite piece of work, Try as I may, I seem unable to get into my writing that density, that texture that is the quality of true writing. My piece seemed only like a clever piece of sixth form tomfoolery.
I felt rather like Charles Ritchie who wrote in his journal: "...always this piece of staring white paper in front of me with the few and feeble words strung across it. Nothing could be more stubborn than my devotion, nothing more stupid than my persistence. After all, I have written nothing - I will write nothing. Twenty years have not been enough to convince me of my lack of talent."
And yet I have prayed about this matter, asking my Father for time and opportunity to write if my talent is real. I believe he has answered that prayer. I cannot believe that he has blessed my efforts to retire in order to cast me on a barren shore. There are riches here if only I will persevere. But it will involve me in taking life far more seriously than hitherto.
But I would argue that Derek's weakness as a writer - his constant use of Biblical words and phrases like foregather and persevere- is that very thing that makes his diaries so appealing. Derek has a voice that is very much his own and thanks to the internet, some of his writing can now have more readers than he would have dreamed possible.