Sunday, 5 September 2010


Will you or won't you? Should you or shouldn't you? Could you or couldn't you? Or maybe you've already gone and done it.

Bought the book, I mean. And read it. That one just published, you know, by that ex Prime Minister of ours, Mr Blair. We're all a-flutter over here in the UK, because you kind of want to read it, but you kind of don't. It sounds fascinating, but to be caught flicking through the latest ex PM's offering could be seen as a lapse of taste.

I suppose it's inevitable that if you've been a PM you will succumb to the urge to pen your memoirs. Most of them do, and some of them are good reads. But this particular example is apparently rather startling, revealing all sorts of indiscretions about the PM's colleagues and acquaintances that leave the reader wincing. All the political correspondents and journalists who have spent years covering the goings-on at Westminster are shattered by it, their eyes watering in disbelief at the cringe-worthy dedicated soul offered an honest apology to his listeners and viewers, saying that he was sorry he had reported mere rumours and tittle-tattle because the truth was FAR worse and he should have been more 'on the case'.

The especially jaw-dropping aspect to these memoirs is the manner in which our former PM reveals the thorny relationship he had with his Chancellor, and ultimately his successor, Gordon Brown. Having met one protagonist, but not the other, I can only say that one is rumoured to be absolutely charming, while the other IS absolutely charming, but not necessarily rumoured to be so. To read an account of the relationship between the two would feel like being forced to examine their dirty washing, an experience I feel I can live without.

We all know politics is fraught with argument and discussion, and riddled with strong characters firing off on ruthless ambition. No, what shocks us is the blunt, unforgiving indiscretions, the seeking of excuses, the terrific effort to ensure that the narrator of these memoirs carves out the right sort of historical legacy for himself. It's all so horribly undignified and the very antithesis of statesmanlike behaviour.

The national consternation at these memoirs has left me wondering about the manner in which people write about their own lives. A second, extremely distasteful political story of the week, which I shall not recount here, was initiated by the thoughts of one of those dreaded now, bloggers are being reported to be bitter, vindictive, talentless losers. And I cannot deny that SOME blogs appear to fall into that category...but not all (we live in hope).

But why do so many of us feel the need to write memoirs, diaries, and now blogs? Undoubtedly such scribblings can offer a place for the writer to record events, to 'download' their feelings, and unfankle their thoughts. They may even offer a form of comfort and therapy. But memoirs are of course intended for public consumption, and so inevitably contain a level of spin, as in Tony Blair's case, where he is apparently desperate to explain himself in order to alter the public's perception of his time in office. But such works do not necessarily make the best reading. If we're talking politics, you can't really beat the Diaries of Alan Clark, Conservative MP, self-confessed snob and bounder....the intrigue, the back-stabbing, the bullying of Westminster is there for all to see, but perhaps most-surprising of all, he admits to his endless love/lust for Margaret Thatcher, not something most people would admit to if they were seeking 'spin'. But what a writer.

By way of diversion, I have been following the Diary of Samuel Pepys, handily presented every day on the blogosphere. He recorded his daily life in the London of the 1660s, a life led on the fringes of many important parliamentary, state and other events, including the Fire of London in 1666. He wrote in code, so clearly his diary was is therefore extremely honest, personal, and opinionated. But as he left a key to the code hidden in his library, he must have meant it to be read after his time. Perhaps he knew, in the back of his mind, what a significant historical account he was creating for the future.

However, if you've had enough of politics and affairs of state, I was thinking about one of the most charming and successful memoirs I know, and one which gives a personal but well-observed account of family life and social change in Scotland in the 1840s. 'Memoirs of a Highland Lady', written by Elizabeth Grant (1797 - 1886) concerns life on and beyond her family's estate at Rothiemurchus. It remains proof that not all of us who record our lives are doing so with 'spin'.

I am interested to learn of any other favourite memoirs or diaries. Let me know.

1 comment:

  1. This year I am reading Roger Deakin's Notes From Walnut Tree Farm, and it is a real joy.