One item I own is my mother’s father’s diary for 1903. He has an entry for almost every day, written in miniature handwriting. (He was said to be able to write out the Lord’s Prayer on a piece of paper the size of a sixpence, and I can quite believe it.) Quite why only 1903 has survived, I don’t know. It’s one of those random things, perhaps: or perhaps some of the sentimental things in it were the reason it was kept. Each time I decipher it, I find some new little nugget: presumably because I know a little bit more each time. Several of the names mean nothing to me, but at least twelve of them now make some sense.
Brought up as he was by his grandmother’s unmarried sisters, who were called Grace and Mabel Broom (and whose own grandfather had rejoiced, as was probably not the case, in the name Humble Broom), he had learned, I guess to keep his own company. His own parents are hardly mentioned – there is a mention of a single visit to see them, and a note that his mother and the elder of his two sisters attending Mabel Broom’s funeral – and his two sisters are respectively mentioned once and twice, although he remembers to send a postal order to one of them on her birthday.
What is touching – he was 23 at the time of writing – is his complete focus on his wife-to-be, Annie, that is, my grandmother, whom I never met, since she died just two years before I was born. On most days of the week, he spends an hour or two, and sometimes longer, visiting her house (with her ‘grumpy’ father), or going for walks. (Any walker puts me to shame, but he notes down his average speed for a walk back from Newcastle to Roker on one occasion: a brisk 5 m.p.h. for the 15 miles involved.) They are by this time, or at this time, engaged, since he buys the engagement ring during the year, as he also buys his wife-to-be other trinkets, including hats. Two of his wife’s five brothers are mentioned – her eldest, Jack, who has achieved respectability by teaching in Moresby in Cumberland (where my mother erroneously believed her family originated), and another brother, Tom, who, we are told, ‘has got himself into trouble and is to be married next month.’
His accounts are meticulous. If he goes anywhere, the cost of the travel is noted, and at the end of the year, he tots up every last item of expenditure, and every last amount of income. He is £10 to the good at the end of the year. He is already the choirmaster at the local Congregationalist church, as well, and his Sundays comment on the quality of the choir. There are also occasional references to his writing to a Miss (Bertha) Roberts, and her replies, and it is said of her that Annie was often just a little suspicious.
I have to say I admire diarists. This blog, now 300 days strong, is the closest I’ve ever come to writing one, although it is generally not a record of what I do, more of what is straying through my brain.
I half-hoped there’d be a reference to his cousin Frank Frail (whose two children I have now discovered, alive, well, and who have written me a very generous letter), but you can’t have everything …