On Radio 4's Saturday Live last week I learnt of Dr.Irving Finkel's Great Diary Project which has so far accumulated 6,000 unpublished diaries. He rightly maintains that journals kept as a personal record, and not intended for publication, can be far more interesting than, say, Simon Cowell's. (My example.) The Rev.Kilvert's diaries are amongst the best of these unintended treasures, a searchlight reaching deep into the past of 1870's Welsh Borders and Wiltshire.
All this made me return to a diary I picked up from an antique stall last year. Firstly because it's such a delightful object in its own right ,(leather cover, beautiful gilt script and marbled endpapers),secondly because there are full entries in blue fountain pen ink on virtually every page, written in a very neat if occasionally illegible hand, and lastly because it's for the year I was born. (Surely not? Ed.)
I have to admit I got totally absorbed in the everyday life of a young female nurse living and working in London. Nothing earth shattering, but another searchlight into the minutiae of an anonymous life. The rigours of working in a London hospital in post war London, her worries and desires, the occasional cocktail party. Interspersed with mad dashes by Southern electric train to go sailing on The Solent.
Naturally the first page I turned to was my birthday; so I learnt that as my mother was bringing me into an unsuspecting world in the back bedroom of a Victorian house near Leicester, Nurse X (her address in the back is under 'Myself') was getting her hair done and wondering how she would get one with the new 'moderately attractive' Ward Sister. One thing she wouldn't have thought of was that a baby being born as she did her duties would read her diary 67 years later.
All very thought provoking. The next thing to do is to get it transcribed and then to try and piece together all the clues that must be hidden within as to who she might have been.
I am a designer, writer and photographer who spends all his time looking at England, particularly buildings and the countryside. But I have a leaning towards the slightly odd and neglected, the unsung elements that make England such an interesting place to live in. I am the author and photographer of over 25 books, in particular Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2006), More from Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2007), Cross Country (Wiley 2011), The Cigarette Papers (Frances Lincoln 2012), Preposterous Erections (Frances Lincoln 2012) and English Allsorts (Adelphi 2015)
"Open this book with reverence. It is a hymn to England". Clive Aslet
"Enchanting...delightful". The Bookseller "Cheekily named" We Love This Book
The Cigarette Papers
"Unexpectedly pleasing and engrossing...beautifully illustrated". The Bookseller
"Until the happy advent of Peter Ashley's Cross Country it has, ironically, been foreigners who have been best at celebrating Englishness". Christina Hardyment / The Independent
More from Unmitigated England
"Give this book to someone you know- if not everyone you know." Simon Heffer, Country Life. "When it comes to spotting the small but telling details of Englishness, Peter Ashley has no equal." Michael Prodger, Sunday Telegraph