Friday, August 1, 2008

The Key of the Kingdom

Today I saw a collection of keys set out on a friend’s kitchen table. The one that caught my eye was a tiny grey key attached by a ring to a small padlock with metal clasps on the sky-blue body of it. The metal clasps were designed so that they held the blue like lips. It reminded me of the key and padlock that used to belong to the lock diary I had as a child.

I wanted to be like Anne Frank with her imaginary friend, Kitty. But the lock diary was a heavy, plastic, embossed brick of a thing from Woolworths and each day was sectioned off, a small space, because it was a five-year diary. So the things I wrote were small and unelaborated.

I went to Primrose Hill today.
Deirdre came and we had cake.

Deirdre was the masseuse who came to give my mother treatments. Her husband was a political prisoner in South Africa. After the massage treatment she would sit on our living room floor which had under-floor electric heating and eat cake and talk. She always stayed a long time. She said her life was hard, she had two daughters and didn’t know when she would see her husband again. She was fat and cheerful as she spoke but she said she just had to take each day at a time and that was how it was to live with a broken heart. I didn’t put any of that in my diary – there wouldn’t have been room, and even if there had been, would I have set it down? I wanted to be passionate and upbeat like Anne Frank. Even when she was railing against the unfairness of the adults and saying how it was to live hidden away in an attic for so long, she had a voice that sang in full-throated relish of life and all its particulars. A five-year diary with a small space for each day would have been no use to her at all. It allowed no room for the particulars or for reflection.

If I’d had the kind of writing book that existed in my imagination, what might I have written? The key to the kingdom of the articulated inner life was not yet forged. The small diary key did not, in any case, really provide a safe and secret place. It was held shut with a thick band the same colour as the cover. At my boarding school some girls nearly cut it so as to look inside – the temptation to look into secret places is strong. And anyone could have bought an identical diary from Woolworths and used the key to look inside. This happened to a girl I knew, and so her mother found out that she had let a boy put his hand inside her knickers.

I lost the key to my diary and had in any case abandoned it. It lived for a while in the loft of my mother’s flat and then I don’t know what happened to it. Perhaps it still exists somewhere with the words that were written into it:

I went to Primrose Hill today.
Deirdre came and we had cake.
Daddy sent me a postcard.
I have got a new red beret.


Zhoen said...

I wanted to write, and was given one of those. Being a rule following child, I stayed within the few lines, only breaking free after several years of crabbed and intermittent writing. By then, the little book was rather messed up, and I lost interest.

This is why I now love blogging.

Reading the Signs said...

Hi Zhoen,

I still like the feeling of pen on paper - but the spiral notebook has taken the place of the five-year diary.

Absolute Vanilla (& Atyllah) said...

Lovely post, Signs!
I had one of those five year dairies as a child - I always thought the space was far too small to write in, so never bothered. However, when as part of a school project, following on the reading of Anne Frank, I was told I had to keep a diary, which would be read by the English teacher, I thought it was a deeply foolish idea and insisted that I be allowed to write my autobiography instead... There's not really a lot to say when you're twelve. I thought it was a pretty cunning move to keep teachers out of my private life!
I still remain deeply suspicous of the idea of keeping a diary or a journal. Um, a blog doesn't really count, does it. Does it...?

Reading the Signs said...

Hey Vanilla, yes, I remember those school diaries. Even so, I think Anne Frank would probably have found plenty to say. Truth is I was much better at writing stories than "real" things. Somehow the same constraints didn't seem to apply.

Kahless said...

I wish I had kept a diary as a kid, but I was never one for writing as a child; numbers being more my thing. I love writing now though!!!

Sorry Son got knocked out btw.

nmj said...

Signs, This is uncanny, only yesterday I was thinking of my old five-year-diary, the one I kept at school, bound in a cheap red plastic cover, & with a tiny wee lock, and a key that bent too easily. I was wishing I still had it, I have no pre-ME recorded thoughts, & I was thinking of the words I used to squeeze into those small sections of page, hardly adequate to record anything really... re. your daughter fainting, it has been so hot & muggy here, I hope she takes care & doesn't over-do it, but I know that is more easily said than done. Btw I was gutted Last Minute didn't get through. They were my favourite from those I saw.

word ver: jadab

i love it


Reading the Signs said...

Kahless, speaking of Son (and yes, it's a pity they got knocked out so soon), he too loved numbers and used to fill up notebooks full of mathematical thingies, quite beyond me as I never even got to grips with long division. But now he keeps a daily journal.

NMJ, what a shame you lost that red book. Come to think of it, I'm suddenly aware that I don't really have any pre-ME recorded thoughts either. What a thought!

Daughter is fine now - she was just overdoing it. Apparently Three Weeks is going to give the show a five-star review - she's over the moon about that.

I feel the same about Last Minute - and know I would even without being the mother of one of them. They were good. I did really enjoy Cry Me a River by Sense of Sound as well.

I love the word ver leprechauns :)

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