Harold Nicolson’s Diary 31.1.32

Harold Nicolson’s diary, this day in 1932:

There is a dead and drowned mouse in the lily-pond. I feel like that mouse – static, obese and decaying. Vita is calm, comforting and considerate. And yet (for have I not been reading a batch of insulting press-cuttings?) life is a drab and dreary thing. I have missed it. I have made a fool of myself in every respect.

Surely there was a time I might have trod
The sunlit heights, and from life’s dissonance
Struck one clear chord to reach the ears of God?

Very glum. Discuss finance. Vita keeps on saying that we have got enough to go on with. But when one goes into it, that represents only two months. I must get a job. Yet all the jobs which pay humiliate. And the decent jobs do not pay. Come back to Long Barn. Arrange my books sadly. Weigh myself sadly. Have put on eight pounds. Feel ashamed of myself, of my attainments, and my character. Am I a serious person at all? Vita thinks I should make £2,000 by writing a novel. I don’t. The discrepancy between these two theories causes me some distress of mind.

A Flapper’s Diary 30.1.22

The diary of a flapper, this day in 1922:

Went out flapping, wearing my cloche hat, a straight loose dress, and unbuckled galoshes. Thrilled to the hot new jazz sounds at the Hot New Jazz Sounds Club, smoked lots of cigarettes, with a long cigarette holder, drank cocktails, and then drove an automobile at high speed through the city streets while laughing my head off.

One day, far in the future, I will be a toothless crone, slumped in an armchair surrounded by knitting and cats. But even then I shall not buckle my galoshes, and I will always be able to look back and remember how I flapped, oh! how I flapped!


William Tayler’s Diary 29.1.37

The diary of William Tayler, footman, on this day in 1837:


Had a Lady to dinner here today. The Lady’s maid is taken very sick today: I sopose she has been eating too much or something of the kind. But she is very subject to sickness. Last summer, when we were coming home from Canterbury, she actually spewed all the way, a distance of sixty miles and not less time than eight hours. The people stared as we passed through the towns and villages as she couldent stop even then. It amused me very much to see how the country people stood stareing with their mouthes half open and half shut to see her pumping over the side of the carriage and me sitting by, quite unconserned, gnawing a piece of cake or some sandwiches or something or other, as her sickness did not spoil my apatite. It was very bad for her but I couldent do her any good as it was the motion of the carriage that caused her illness. I gave her something to drink every time we changed horses but no sooner than it was down it came up again, and so the road from Canterbury to London was pretty well perfumed with Brandy, Rum, Shrub, wine and such stuff. She very soon recovered after she got home and was all the better for it after. It’s eleven o’clock. My fire is out and I am off to bed.

Captain Nitty’s Diary 28.1.54

The diary of Captain Nitty, for this day in 1954:

Last night it was my turn on duty for the nocturnal pig watch. Brandishing my Alpenstock, I set out across the tarputa as night came crashing down. Some say it is an affectation of mine to use a Swiss stick designed for mountainous terrain when crossing the flat wild bleak desolate windswept tarputa. Perhaps it is, but I never leave home without my Alpenstock these days. Some say, also, “Why are there no twilights any more, no dusks?”, and it is true that nowadays day turns to night in a seeming instant. I cannot account for this, so I do not try to. Conjecture would prove fruitless, I fear, and would make no difference. The fact is, as I grasped hold of my Alpenstock and opened the door, there was daylight, and then I stepped out, and as I pulled the door shut behind me, so it was night.

Night – the time when we must keep watch for pigs. It has not always been so. Years ago, if you can believe it, there was not even a Nocturnal Pig Observatory on the tarputa. Apparently, people used to just turn down the lights in their huts and chalets and lie down in their beds and sleep untroubled sleep. It is hard to credit, is it not? Yet it was so. Where the Nocturnal Pig Observatory now stands, “a triumph of filigree in cement” as it has been described, was nothing more than a stretch of flat wild bleak desolate windswept tarputa, identical to the flat wild bleak desolate windswept tarputa surrounding it on all sides as far as the eye can bear to see.

Hammering on the door with my Alpenstock, I summoned the duty pig observer whose shift was at an end. He handed me the cap and the dockets and flips and flaps and scrippies, unfurled his umbrella, and headed out across the night-black tarputa. I settled myself at the console and adjusted the pig scanner. There was a pong from the oil heater but at least I was warm. Outside the wind was howling and the stars were quivering in the heavens. I thought of Beerpint’s poem “Wobbly Stars”.

And so I gazed. I gazed, now at the monitors, now out through the reinforced plexiglass pigproof window. I saw no pigs. It was a small mercy. But we must snatch at small mercies, and coddle them close, and cherish them. For not all nights are pigless, on the flat wild bleak desolate windswept tarputa.

Hallucinating Hoon Hospital In-Patient’s Diary 27.1.12

The diary of a hallucinating in-patient at the Hoon Hospital, on this day one year ago:

I woke up this morning with a head full of verse
And at once I called out to the stationery nurse
“Bring me pencil and paper and pray don’t delay
For I have significant things I must say.
In my dreams I’ve had insights both deep and poetic!”
But the nurse dosed me up with a powerful emetic
And I vomited my breakfast before I’d even eaten
A splurge all eggy and branny and wheaten.
“Lie back,” said the nurse, “Let your ravings cease.
You are in the throes of a terrible disease.
That’s why you’re in hospital, you foolish clot.”
And she felt my forehead and my forehead was hot.
“But where is my pencil and where is my jotter?”
I cried as my forehead grew hotter and hotter
Then doctors swept in and prodded my head
And I let out a groan and sank back on the bed.
But inside my brain the verses came teeming
Of Zeinab Badawi, Anna Ford, and Jan Leeming,
Of television newsreaders no longer seen
Reading the news on the television screen,
Reginald Bosanquet, often drunken and earthy,
Where now we have bumptious Krishnan Guru-Murthy.
Then my head emptied out and I fell into swoon
In my hospital bed in the clinic at Hoon.
So the world must cope somehow without my verse
Is that a blessing or is it a curse?
“A blessing for sure” said a voice stern and grim.
“You’re not Dennis Beerpint, you just think you’re him.”
I woke. It was true. I’m not Beerpint at all.
I turned to gaze at the white clinic wall.
Then the nurse announced it was time for my bath
“By the way.” she said, “Nor are you Sylvia Plath.”

Papa Kutschera’s Diary 26.1.05

A Tyrolean fellow’s diary for this day in 1905:

Phew! What a day! I went out in the morning to inspect the medical facilities in this small Tyrolean village, and quite frankly, I wouldn’t trust them an inch. My wife is heavily pregnant, and I am not convinced that giving birth here is a good idea. So I made a snap decision that we should go to a hospital in Vienna. No sooner had the train chugged out of the little village station than my wife went into labour, and our daughter was born before ever we arrived at the Imperial capital.

Once I was assured the baby was whole and healthy, I sloped off to the smoking carriage to light up a celebratory cigar. It was there I was accosted by some sort of Tyrolean Woohoohoodiwoo Woman, all bangles and scarves and with piercing blue eyes.

“Cross my palm with Austrian currency,” she intoned, “And I shall reveal to you what the future holds for your daughter who has just been born aboard this train.”

I rummaged in the pocket of my Tyrolean jacket for a few schillings and pressed them into her outstretched hand. All at once her countenance grew horribly grim, and I feared the worst for my infant. The Woohoohoodiwoo Woman read my thoughts.

“Don’t worry about your daughter,” she said, “You need not dash back along the train corridor to be at her side. Sit back and enjoy your cigar. No, the horrible grimness of my countenance is occasioned not by your daughter’s fate, but by yours, and that of your good wife. For the pair of you will both be dead seven years hence. And your daughter, an orphan, shall be cast into a nunnery. But there she shall cause great trouble and vexation and the Mother Superior will be at her wits’ end to know what to do with her. Thus she will be ejected from the convent to take up a position as governess to the seven tiny children of a widower baron, a baron who will bear a striking resemblance to the as yet unborn Canadian actor Christopher Plummer, among the highlights of whose career will be his portrayal of Atahualpa in The Royal Hunt Of The Sun. And your daughter will wed this baron and teach the tinies to sing their little hearts out on concert stages across Austria. But then a darkness will descend upon the land in the form of bad, bad Nazis, and your daughter and the baron and their singing nippers will flee across the mountains in the night, and eventually end up in the United States of America, and showbiz legend.”

“That is all very interesting,” I said, contemplating my imminent, or imminentish, death, “But pray tell me more about this Atahualpa fellow.”

But the train screeched into a tunnel, and the lights went out, and when we emerged, I was all alone in the smoking carriage. The seat the Tyrolean Woohoohoodiwoo Woman had occupied, opposite, was now empty, but for a sprig of Edelweiss.

An Ignorant Ornithologist’s Diary 25.1.46

The diary of an ignorant ornithologist, this day in 1946:

I had arranged to spend the morning birdwatching with Dennis, so shortly after daybreak I met him as arranged at his “hide”. This is a small, low, concrete pillbox at the edge of the marshes, from within which one has a sweeping view, but cannot oneself be seen. I was very impatient to spot some birds, so no sooner had we made ourselves comfortable than I snatched Dennis’ binoculars and peered through them.

“Gosh!” I cried, “A marsh warbler!”

“Really?” said Dennis, “Let me take a look.”

And he snatched back the binoculars and peered through them. Then he emitted a great sigh, expressing all at once pity and exasperation, bafflement and resignation.

“Cleothgard,” he said, turning to look at me, “Just because it is at a marsh and is making a warbling sound does not make it a marsh warbler. Look again -” and he handed back the binoculars, “- and tell me, is it bewinged? Does it have a beak and feathers?”

I peered again, rapt, but had to confess that I was unable to see any of these telltale bird features.

“What you can see,” said Dennis, “is not a marsh warbler. Granted, it is a living thing at a marsh making little warbling sounds. But what in fact it is, is a little orphan child, out roaming the marshes at daybreak, and warbling, or singing tremulously, perhaps because it is a naturally cheerful orphan, or more likely from a nerve-racked desire to drown out the eerie morning marshland sounds of gust and creak and slosh. Hark now to the words of the little orphan’s warbled song, and you will gather why he is afeared.”

I pricked up my ears and listened carefully.

Tra la la, tra la lee, sometimes I warble and sometimes I sulk
I hope I’m not accosted by an escaped convict from the hulk

And sure enough, as I watched I saw the orphan of a sudden accosted by a fierce bedraggled chain-clanking convict, newly escaped from a hulk moored out beyond the marshes. He bore a distinct resemblance to the Scottish actor Finlay Currie.

“Gosh!” I said, “A cassowary!”

Dennis thumped me on the head with a brick.


A cassowary and a marsh warbler

Norwegian Traffic Alert

So there I was, standing by a Norwegian roadside as smoke from a blazing consignment of Norwegian goat cheese billowed in goaty cheesy gusts. Luckily, standing next to me was Kjell Bjoern Vinje of the Norwegian Public Roads Administration.

“Tell me, Kjell Bjoern Vinje,” I shouted, “Can you recall any previous occasions when cheese has caught fire on Norwegian roads?”

I did not catch his reply, but a BBC News reporter did.

[Thanks to Glyn Webster.]

Blodgett’s Diary 24.1.46

Blodgett’s diary for this day in 1946:

Pucker crunched duct. Hod tap askew, righted, fumbled. Pit gawped ope, shoved funnel up. Tawny pipit stuck w/ birdlime to spruce. Gnarled bole. Hacksaw honed, whetstone cracked. Figs in punnet. Jug on sill caught light ‘n’ odd, flat ant. Modern barber called. Chopped at tresses and flicked flecked highlit strands. Infected cow udder. Crumpled rag in bin. Bin beside sink. Barbaric gusts. Lemsip. Kite in ash. Go-go dancer in boat on lake in twilight. Noggin puttered. Putter slack. Gutta percha in gunny sack. Milk spilt, night soil sloshed. Stove exploded. Hooves clattered. Dots pricked. Gummed up shrift. Go to work on an egg.

Erasmus Stribbling Trout Shue’s Diary 23.1.97

A diary from Greenbrier County, West Virginia, this day in 1897:

Today I murdered my wife. I mashed her windpipe and broke her neck, which might seem an overreaction to the fact that she had not cooked any meat for my dinner, but then, as my first wife would tell you, I am a cruel and horrible and violent man. My second wife would probably say the same, had she not died in mysterious circumstances shortly after our marriage. Zona, who I killed today, was my third wife. I hope to have seven eventually.

I won’t get a chance to marry a further four wives if I am hanged or imprisoned for murder. So I took various steps to cover my tracks. I laid Zona out on the bed and dressed her in a high-necked dress with a stiff collar, and placed a veil over her face. When Dr Knapp arrived to examine the corpse, I sobbed and wailed and cradled Zona’s head in my hands. That did the trick, and he did not inspect her too closely, noting that death was due to “everlasting faint”.

So everything went according to plan and I seem to be in the clear, free to find a fourth wife to terrorise and/or kill. The worst that could happen is that Zona might appear as a ghost, to her grieving mother, and spill the beans, and prove that I broke her neck by rotating her ghostly head in a full circle atop her ghostly body. But even if she does, repeatedly, over four nights, and Zona’s mother goes babbling her tale, an American court of law in the enlightened 1890s is not going to accept the testimony of a ghost. Is it?


[It did.]