I remember a Victorian woman traveller I once wrote about – I think it was the indomitable Flora Annie Steel – vowing that she would far rather wear out her life, than die of rust. I feel horribly rusty right now, but comfort myself that it’s not really due to laziness. We had a family bereavement shortly before Christmas which, though expected, was and is none the less upsetting. More happily, the boys were home from Uni; we all went to Berlin for five days, and I had to read through the ms. of my illegitimacy book again before finally summoning up the courage to press the button dispatching two years’ work on its ethereal and irrevocable journey to my agent and my editor. All this means that I haven’t tweeted, and certainly haven’t blogged – haven’t even written anything – for about a month.
As I suggested in my previous post, it’s a bit of a weird time, this post-book period. I have suppressed the anxiety of wondering what impression the ms. will make on its first two readers (apart from me) by sorting out and redecorating my study. Now it’s sugared-almond pink. So pink, in fact, that it makes me feel faintly nauseous. I still haven’t managed to tidy away the whopping great elephant squatting in a corner of the room, however. He’s looking at me reproachfully, and will continue to do so until I decide what to choose for my next project.
Meanwhile, I found a forgotten treasure whilst re-organizing my bookshelves. It’s a timely discovery: about 15 years ago in a Yorkshire charity-shop my mother found a short, hand-written diary, running from September 1914 to August 1915. There’s no name, but it seems the author served in the 10th King’s Royal Rifle Corps. He wasn’t a reflective chap – probably couldn’t afford to be – and most of the diary entries are terse accounts of who has relieved whom, and where they all are.
In Spring 1915, he becomes a little more expansive. Here’s his entry for 22 April:
Rose at 2 am, duty till 3-30. Worked at cover in communication trench for 1 hour. Breakfast at 5 am. 2 aeroplanes up before 6 am. A mine exploded. Some amount of rifle fire in vicinity of explosion. Heard cuckoo for 1st time this year. 2 aeroplanes up jusrt after 8 am. Factory set on fire by shell-fire of Germans. Paid out 10 francs. Duty 8 pm until leave for billets. Leave for billets at 10 pm.
I should perhaps give this diary to the National Archives, who are doing such a brilliant job digitizing the diaries they already have (http://nationalarchives.gov.uk/first-world-war). I need to live with it a while first. Maybe try to find out who wrote it, and what happened to him. The diary returned from the trenches, but did he? And why did such a precious document end up being sold to a stranger in a thrift shop for 25p? Time for a little meditation, I think, on the nature of value and priority. Move over, elephant.