A year ago, I wrote that the curators of the Mass Observation Archive were making their annual appeal for our 12th May diaries.
Here we are again, twelve long yet quick months later, and the Project is keen to know how we have fared. Its aim remains to collect glimpses of our lives on one single day, and unearth a diversity of opinions and habits, hopes and fears, as well as the commonalities that thread us together (and amass material for those with future niche interests in the rise and fall of banana bread and the etiquette of hugs, etc).
Last 12th May, a nine year old talked about lockdown, homeschooling and happiness:
“… at the moment I feel lonely and sad and happy all at the same time. It’s quite tough because you don’t know whether you are coming or going with being locked in the home all day.“
Others wrote about the monotony of sustenance:
“We order wine by the case and I talk about meal planning. It’s a daily topic of conversation and it really is starting to bore me to tears.”
And there was loss and grief as well as ongoing concerns:
Two lockdowns later, it is impossible to encapsulate a year in a day, but the tone, focus and minutiae of individual existences will indicate how life has changed (and how it has not). Diaries have already been submitted (amongst others) by a keeper of donkeys who stops the local traffic when he takes them through his village, and a grandmother who had her grandsons to breakfast for the first time in an age, and all they wanted was frozen peas.
My yesterday was pretty ordinary (no donkeys, but we did eat peas), and is yet unwritten, but perhaps something in my account might chime with someone else one day. Just as I can empathise with the parents of this writer from 1938:
‘There was some talk during the [Easter] meal with my parents but it should not be termed conversation as I understand the term…I was probably reading most the time and throwing in a monosyllable here and there.’
At least he or she was kind enough to chuck in some monosyllables.
I shall detail my daily walk (which has become a thing of necessity): the dogs that outnumbered their owners; the bluebells past their indigo-blue best; and a man and an older woman (his mother?) walking one behind the other, as if not together. He with his eyes on his phone, hers on the ground, passing me by without a nod or a smile on a lonely but well-trodden path.
I may relate what the news feeds me: the Israel-Gaza violence, the Russian school shooting, the battles with coronavirus in India. Or the success of forest regeneration, without forgetting the flip side. There are plenty of stories to choose from, and many others of merit that receive less attention.
Which is what makes each and every insight sent to the Mass Observation Archive invaluable.