Saturday, 11 May 2013

Song of the Caca - Cathy Butler

In my last post for ABBA I wrote about the little goblin-like Secretary (I picture him cross-legged like a tailor) who sits on the shoulders of writers, furiously taking notes on every experience, no matter how tender or intimate, in case it should be of use in some future writing project.

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.’
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!’
 And, most poignantly, at age seven:
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?


Lynne Garner said...

I've never kept such a book but think it's a wonderful idea. Some of those sayings would make a great kids book.

Anonymous said...

My Dad also likes taking photos, although it does get boring when you are standing there for ten minutes because he lacks skill with a camera! My Brother and I would just get back on with enjoying ourselves again afterwards. However, now I am older I am glad, because as I am forgetting my younger memories, I always have pictures. !!

Anonymous said...

I suspect lots of parents now record similar pearls of wisdom from their offspring via social media these days. But will they still be there to be looked at in say, twenty years' time? (Would we want them to be?)

Katherine Langrish said...

I did keep a diary about my children from babyhood to about ten. I'm glad I did, as there are lots of things I'd have forgotten otherwise. I think a diary is observation without interaction, whereas a posed photograph does, as you say, alter the dynamic! But I would never use any of those diary entries in a book. On the other hand, I kept diaries off and on for decades which were really writing notebooks - boiling down bits of dialogue, describing scenes, weather - and may of those notes are very useful indeed to me now.