June 17th – Diary Day

Every single year for his birthday, Timothy Bradley was given a diary. ‘Thank you!’ he would politely say to his grandmother, the gift giver, and then place it under his bed with the others, completely unused. He was more likely to be climbing trees and fighting with sticks than sitting down and writing anything. His childhood was made out of grazed knees and grass stains. His little brother, Maremor, was a little quieter.

Timothy didn’t really think much about where the diaries went, nor did he really think much about them at all. There were girls to be chased, fires to be lit. In fact, he didn’t notice at all when the diaries began to go missing, even though Maremor was scared he might. He was never going to use them, so it wasn’t stealing, it was repurposing, recycling. Good words. Things to be encouraged. Maremor was given his own diaries, but he got through them extremely quickly, despite his tiny, cramped handwriting. When he ran out of paper he used sections of newsprint, old pieces of cardboard packaging, anything he could find. He spent all his pocket money on paper and notebooks.

Part of what makes Maremor Bradley’s writings memorable to this day was the times in which he lived; these were frightening times, the monarchy had just fallen and civil society was only just beginning to re-emerge. Commodity shortages were common, as was violence for the first few years, before the remnants of the monarchy were stamped out or rehabilitated into civilised ways of living. Yet perhaps what is more important was the fact that he was a child, yet wrote with such startling clarity, and in such a prolific manner.

Maremor wrote about everything, anything which encroached on his expansive field of vision. He wrote about those events with seeming importance, the school trips, holidays and exams of his short life, but more space was dedicated to small details; to the particular cadence of the birds outside his window each morning, the feel of old dry leaves underfoot, the fear that one might tread on a hedgehog hiding within. The way grandfather looked at his mother that time, when she gave him extra ice cream, as if she had done something mortally offensive. What Timothy had been arguing about with his friends as they left the house to go ‘fishing’ (an activity which, Maremor rightly observed, was actually just attaching an old piece of twine to a stick and dangling it in the water).

There is a certain sophistication to the style of his writing, it is not the tiresome, interminable lists of actions found in the scrawlings of his contemporaries (‘and then we went to the park, and then we fed the ducks, and then mummy said…’), yet the observations he makes are simple, pure even. Where his insightful descriptions are cutting about their subjects there is no malice, just truth. It is certainly the world of a child he presents, and yet there is no mistaking the strife which surrounds it, in the adult world that frequently encroaches into that detached zone of childhood summers. Lack of food is a constant annoyance of the children around Maremor, although he seems unconcerned. ‘I have seen my first dead body,’ writes Maremor at the beginning of one entry, ‘Timothy said he saw one last year but I don’t know if I believe him. It used to be a lady, she was killed by monarchists, the doctor said. Her face was grey and sad. The doctor seemed very concerned for me, when he saw me looking, but I lied and said I had seen one before, which seemed to make him less worried.’

Tragically, it was this violence about which Maremor seemed so nonchalant about that claimed his young life. He was only sixteen when a monarchist bomb went off at a bar frequented by Revolutionary veterans which he happened to be walking past at the time. He was crushed to death by flying masonry. They were troubled times. It was three days later, whilst Timothy was helping to clear out Maremor’s things from their once-shared bedroom, that he found the diaries, reams of them heaped beneath the bed. At first he thought they were his long-lost presents, still untouched, but then he noticed the dog-eared edges, the cracked spines. Maremor had somehow kept them hidden from the family for the entirety of his life.

Timothy spent the next five years reading the diaries, his brother’s ghost a constant presence beside him in textual format. ‘He made much better use of the diaries than I ever would have,’ said Timothy later, ‘my words would be mortifying, trite, simply boring. Yet somehow he managed to perfectly capture the time, and himself, between those sheets of paper. After he had read them all, he read them again, and then edited them into a book, Maremor’s Memoirs; Growing Up in the Communal Reconstruction. It was an instant hit.

Today, the anniversary of Maremor’s birthday, youngsters all over the City will be given diaries and encouraged to write in them. They will read from the Memoirs, and from the works of other famous diarists. They are told they can write about anything, whatever seems important or interesting at that moment, and are told that they don’t have to fit everything in. ‘Better that you fill up fifteen pages writing about one ice cream than trying to recount all the different places you went,’ was the advice Timothy gave his own children. He was the driving force behind the donation of the diaries across Buentoille, and even today they are still funded by sales of the Memoirs. He made sure that one was given to every Buentoillitant child, even if they didn’t want it. ‘Remember, even if you don’t want to write in it, perhaps your little brother or sister might.’

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Bashful Apprentice
  • The Ring of Gold Festival
  • Willow Withy Day