Milly calls in to say hello. Now she’s reached teenage, I don’t see so much of my middle niece. This is natural, but I’ve lost the knack of easy conversation with her, and find myself falling back on the kind of questions I remember being asked at that age, such as: ‘How are the holidays going?’
Milly shrugs. This I translate easily. ‘Bored?’
‘But you’re all going off for a few days tomorrow, aren’t you?”
‘That’ll be fun,’ I say, ‘won’t it?’
‘They’re forecasting two days of rain,’ says Milly. ‘Six of us, stuck in a caravan. Yeuk.’
‘I’m sure there’ll be places to visit,’ I say. ‘Or you could play board games.’ I try not to hear the word bored as I say it, but I can still remember the horror of family holidays in those ‘nearly adult’ years.
‘You’ll have plenty of time to draw, then.’ Milly loves art and design. She shrugs again. Remember when words seemed irrelevant, even insufficient?
I have a eureka moment. ‘You should keep a diary.’
‘It never works. I forget after a few days.’
I nod. ‘Me too. But it doesn’t matter,’ I say, and I try to describe how wonderfully those few lines will read in ten or even twenty years time.
Diaries, huh? I do know people who regularly write them. I’ve never managed more than a few consecutive weeks, and they are defiantly private: excruciatingly embarrassing even to me. Yet I’m grateful to my younger self for the fragments. Not just so I can remind myself of events, but because I can immerse myself in preoccupations I’ve grown away from.
My old diaries are, like those of Gwendoline Fairfax and Cecily Cardew, something sensational… No matter how patchy. Through them I experience an echo of the pains, frustrations, joys and excitements of earlier ages. I can reconstruct memories and transpose the emotions. How do we write convincing fiction? We feel it.
So thank you for the quote, Mr Oscar Wilde. Which leads me to wonder whether Milly is old enough to appreciate the subtleties of The Importance of Being Ernest yet?