A diary of diaries - 2017




I went to the British Museum today to see their new display 'Moving stories: three journ



I discovered the work of the painter Ray Atkins at the Reading Museum today - and also discovered that he's a diarist. Alongside many of the paintings on display are observations he made in his notebook at the time. On 1 September 1969, for instance, while working on his painting 'The quarry, Playhatch, No. 1', he wrote: 'Art must be timless. Sometimes one's worst side says what one has done is old-fashioned - just because it has nothing to do with the art that is in fashion. It's mad! Just because it can exist and say what it has to say at any time. It has nothing to do with 1969. What it has to do with is the first of September and Ray Atkins and a quarry at Playhatch.'



To Oxford to meet Mike Webb, author of 'From Downing Street to the Trenches', which draws heavily on diaries from the time of the Great War. Afterwards I took the opportunity to ses the new 'Volcanoes' exhibition in the Weston Library, where several manuscript diaries are on display, including Mary Godwin's diary from 1816 - 'the year without a summer'.

It's now known that that year's dreadful weather was caused by the largest volcanic eruption of the last 500 years: the volcano Tambora in Indonesia. Its effects were felt as far away as the shores of Lake Geneva, where Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and Mary Godwin were kept indoors for days on end by the wet dreary weather, and where 'to amuse themselves they wrote ghost stories, and Mary started the work which would become her gothic masterpiece "Frankenstein".' 



Today would have been Virginia Woolf’s 135th birthday, and on BBC Radio 3 today I heard mezzo-soprano Alice Coote and accompanist Julius Drake performing music from Dominick Argento’s opera ‘A Music of One’s Own: From the Diary of Virginia Woolf’. The libretto consists entirely of words taken from Virginia Woolf’s personal writings, and the opera ends with a setting of a diary entry from March 1941, just before she committed suicide.

And this is an issue that has been much on my mind today, following some heartbreaking news from Australia this morning. RIP Jamie, you sweet-natured, gentle boy – gone from us far too soon.

2016 diary

2015 diary