I never finished Middlemarch. I was required to study it in my final year at university, and failed to make it past page two hundred: it became a question of whether my brain was going to turn into soup and drip out of my ears, or whether I was going to put the book down. The memory of sitting on my bed trying to digest this enormous slab of nothing, while out of the corner of my eye I could see a shelf of tantalising, brightly-coloured books (books with characters that didn’t make me want to poke my own eyes out just for something to do) came back to me this week. I am ashamed to say that the horrible writing that prompted this was my own.
Regular readers will recall that I am continuing to trawl through my teenage diaries, and have just finished reading volumes two (July 1992-May 1993) and three (May-August 1993). Volume two has proved to be considerably less entertaining than volume one; indeed, I struggled to find anything of any interest in it at all. It started promisingly enough, with my trademark comments on a holiday, consisting only of i. the number of times I have vomited on the trip home; and ii. some kind of encounter with a domestic animal (August 1st 1992: ‘Home at last. Wasn’t sick, hurray for me. Saw a Pharaoh hound in a layby’). It all goes downhill very swiftly, however, degenerating into nothing more than unedifying comments on how I am getting on at school (‘74% in the French test today. This is slightly better than last time’) and the rollercoaster ride of a truly pathetic crush that I had on a boy called Peter Richardson, who played the drums and spoke to me a handful of times during the four years we were at school together. These entries are so trite and sloppy that one example must stand for all: ‘Saw PR in the corridor outside English today. This made the whole day worthwhile, even though he called me ‘Jenny’ and didn’t come to wind band after school this week. He is so adorable!’
What happened to the sarcastic, slightly grumpy girl of volume one with her lists of how many curlews she saw on the way to school and her precocious vocabulary? Volume two is all very dreary, with endless mooning about Peter Richardson and his ‘strong, drum-playing hands’ (I kid you not) broken up with apparently endless and often highly detailed accounts of my dreams, none of which are interesting enough to record here (January 5th 1993: ‘Last night I dreamt I was being attacked by a tapir’. Recording the rest of the dream takes a full two pages, at the end of which I muse, ‘what does it all mean?’). I appear to be growing up in a vacuum: the rest of the family barely feature, and the only indication that I was living in the countryside comes from entries name-checking farmyard creatures (January 7th 1993: ‘Joe’s Grandpa has broken his arm. Dad says he had a fight with a cow’), and my feelings about any additional animals that my parents felt the need to purchase (February 2nd 1993: ‘Today the sheep arrived. They are enormous. Dad says the one that leads is going to be called MacDuff, but he is not a pretty chicken. I expect Father has been trying to give up coffee again’). The only thing that gives any real hint of my developing character is the following description of an attempt that my brother and I made to sleep outside:
August 12th 1992: Spent yesterday in tent. Put it up without any help. Got into sleeping bags. Then realised from looking up at the way the seams lay that the flysheet was on backwards, so had to get up, take it off and put it on again. Got back into sleeping bags. Then it started to rain and it turned out we had missed out the thingies that separate the flysheet from the rest of the tent and it leaked all over both of us. Took flysheet off; put separators in; put flysheet back on for the third time. Just as we got back into our sleeping-bags, Mum and the dog arrived to see if we wanted to give up and come inside (we did, but said we didn’t because, you know).
Several entries start with exclamations, such as ‘Honestly!’ or ‘As if!’; others begin with terse, unexplained statements like ‘Not speaking to Chantelle. Not after the way she behaved today’. The vast majority, however, are simply dull from start to finish: ‘The day started amicably enough. We have got our results from our Maths tests and the Science test on microelectronics. I got the highest mark in my class of bozos and tossers. Also finished second in the long jump today’. Snore. Overall, I am bitterly disappointed by (specifically) my lack of ability to put a tent up correctly at the first attempt and my lack of pragmatism when offered a warm bed for the night; and (generally) the terrible deterioration in how interesting what I wrote was.
However, all is not lost, gentle reader. There are two things from which to draw comfort. One, I got over it (volume four is a corker). And two, volume three contains the following gem, which just goes to show even the most tedious reading matter can contain something of worth:
June 1st 1993: We spent the day playing Consequences with S and E. We tried the usual stories for a while, but decided letters might be fun. I was going to copy them all out, but that would use too much paper [clearly I was saving the pages for a breathless account of my next utterly pointless dream, in which no doubt I was expecting to be menaced by a sinister dugong]. So instead I have cobbled all the best bits into a single letter, as follows:
‘To my beloved father,
‘I am writing to myself as I have no-one sensible to talk to. As a result, I have mislaid my last letter. Before I get started on my main topic, how are you? I hope you are well, because I’m not. I have been ill with the plague. Fortunately, the doctor says that all he needs is someone to let the dog out in the morning. The dog expects me to make a full recovery.
‘I want to write to you and apologise for the fact that whenever I write to you, it is always a letter of apology. Cook is still very upset. I have tried to apologise to her for my bout of indecency at your party last Saturday, but she just cries and makes endless vats of awful stew. I am sorry to have embarrassed you and I hope you have forgotten all about it (until just now when you started reading my letter, which perhaps you should stop reading and certainly not reply to). Despite disgracing myself, it was a wonderful evening and I had a thoroughly enjoyable time. However, I do not know how you have been feeling. Life is made slightly awkward by this matter and I fear your reply.
‘Yesterday we went rowing in the rain. It was brill-o, but a pity about the rain. Aunt Madge came along and brought gifts for all of us (she’s such a kind woman). Anyway, we gave her tea and were just sitting and talking when the doorbell rang. You just won’t believe who it was: Bruce from the house next door. He wanted me to go to the bathroom during the concert and was very distracting. Douglas is also getting very restless, as he has nowhere to store his cigars.
‘I feel that I should mention that I am writing to you from a spot of quicksand I have fallen into, and the paper keeps getting out of bed. I tripped yesterday and have broken my ear off. I am seriously inconvenienced without and wondered if you could mail me another?
‘To close, I suppose I should ask whether you wife is well? Mine is not. She’s sick in bed at long last, and we’re all wondering when she’s going to hop off. Anyhow, I will just say that I enclose a bomb, so do be careful.
Your puzzled friend’
 It’s Casaubominable.
 ‘Nobody wants to hear about Vanessa / and the terrible thing Vanessa has done to me.’