Figurative secretaries are one thing, but some of us have also had flesh-and-blood ones. For example, my father kept a notebook in which he jotted down the infant sayings of my elder brother and myself. This certainly didn't bother me at the time: I remember him producing it occasionally when I was an older child, and being charmed by the cuteness of our former selves. It also provided intriguing hints as to our futures. If it weren't for that notebook, I would not know that on 7th September, 1962, my brother (now a university music professor, but then aged two and half), heard himself farting and commented: "My caca is singing!" In January of that year my father records: "During the day he could not contain himself for energy, standing on his head, rolling about, etc. Suddenly, he said to [my mother], ‘The band has stopped now.’ He paused for a while, then continued his antics as before."
As that entry suggests, there's an anthropological quality to many of these jottings. My father seems to have kept the book partly for amusement, partly to record the ways we tried to force the world and language together like an ill-fitting jigsaw. My brother again:
2/63 Watching baby being breastfed: ‘Go on, sonny, have some!’
64. His ball lands on the flower beds. ‘It’s not my fault – it’s this ball. It doesn’t seem to care!’
9/64 Witnessed Canon Norris, resplendent in his vestments after a fashionable wedding. Said, ‘Nana, I know the man inside that!’
By the time I reach speaking age, my father’s enthusiasm has clearly waned somewhat, and the entries are sparser – or perhaps I didn’t say as many things worth recording. What there is, however, sounds characteristic:
5/67 [aged four] ‘It’s funny – if you die on the ground you go up. If you die in the air you come down. I suppose it’s fair.’And, most poignantly, at age seven:
6/9/67 Playing draughts, achieves a King. ‘I’ll be back in a minute to have it made into God.’
3/68 Dresses self but pullover is at times back to front. Will not change it. States: ‘As I dress, I stay!’ Also, at about this time: ‘As I end up, I am!’ ‘As I say, I do!’
6/68 Crying in bed: ‘Martin said I wasn’t ambidextrous!’
7/6/70 ‘You know, at my age you have such grand plans, but you seldom carry them out.’
Not just when you’re seven, kid.
When I had children of my own I seriously considered keeping a similar notebook, but never did. Partly this was due to laziness and inertia, but partly it was the feeling that the moment would be spoiled by too earnest an attempt to record it. How many spontaneous pleasures had been rendered awkward in later years by my father's attempts to pose photographs of us enjoying them? On the other hand, I'm glad now to have the photographs he took, and the notebook of sayings too. And my children, when they ask what amusing things they said when they were little, are disappointed at my lack of a ready store of similar anecdotes.
What about you? Do you, did you, keep books like this - or have them kept about you?