Virginia Woolf beats up the waters of talk

Occasionally, a single passage from a single diary entry can floor you. This one from Virginia Woolf was quoted at Diaryfest recently and I just love it so much:

Wednesday June 13th, 1923

“…and then I went to Golders Green and sat with Mary Sheepshanks in her harden and beat up the waters of talk, as I do so courageously, so that life mayn’t be wasted.”

That turn of phrase – to beat up the waters of talk – is just so evocative and stirring! One thinks of conversing in this style, like being waist-deep in water, slapping the surface chaotically, stirring things up. One can imagine the disapproving looks on the faces of nearby bathers…

But this entry – this singular turn of phrase – isn’t the first time Woolf’s diaries have stopped me in my tracks.

From Michael Palin’s diary of 11 September 1985, he notes another of her clever observations:

“Have been dipping into V Woolf’s extraordinary diaries over the last few days and found a neat phrase – to ‘rout the drowse’. Sounds like street talk, in fact it describes what a good walk does for her creative energy. So, as I feel increasingly addled, I eventually go for a run, which routs the drowse most effectively.”

I’ve referred to this passage before somewhere. But it’s too good not to share, particularly in tandem with the other quote above. Whether beating up the waters of talk or merely routing the drowse, Woolf never fails to impress.

On a related note, I was immediately drawn to the above quote due to its mention of Golders Green, near to where I work. Indeed, the quote goes on: “the fresh breeze went brushing all the thick hedges which divide the gardens,” which immediately makes me think the passage refers to a meeting either just within Hampstead Garden Suburb or just without; hedge-lined gardens remain a prominent feature – indeed, a requirement – of most Suburb homes a century on.

Michael Palin on the diary habit

Have made a decent start at documenting this wonderful weekend away. Next: sorting the photographs. 😊

Michael Palin’s recently-launched website,, features a fun selection of new writing which I hope will be added to over time. They don’t appear to be in the form of blog entries, but have the feel of them.

In one, the avid diary-writer explains how the habit makes him feel, and encourages others to take it up:

When I’m not travelling I keep my hand in by writing up a daily diary. I like the fact that I have to take some time over it. It’s personal and doesn’t ask for replies or re-tweets. It’s only between me and myself, so I can take as little or as much time as I want. I find my daily diary entry is like doing morning exercise. The equivalent of a shot of Pilates. Something you do each morning (or each evening) that makes you feel better.

If you feel the same way as I do, then go out and buy yourself a good-looking note-book, put the year and the day’s date at the top of the page and start remembering tomorrow. It’ll be hard at first. There are so many reasons to give up, but, believe me, if you persevere, you’ll never regret it.

I have similar thoughts about my own habit.

I have kept a diary in one form or another for about thirteen years. Although it’s sometimes rather less than daily, I always feel better when there is a steady trickle of entries, and confess to feeling something akin to anxiety when I know I’ve gone a while without an update.

When you read Palin’s post, above, in full, you’ll see that he suggests writing longhand is a more involved but ultimately more rewarding process. I have mixed feelings on this – and my diary is a testament to that.

While I was at university, I tended to keep my diary in longhand. I had more time to reflect, and to write, and I took great pleasure in sitting down with a fountain pen to scratch into a ruled, spiral bound notebook.

These days I use Day One, a Mac and iOS app, and make entries on iPhone, iPad, and Mac. I find I can type fairly quickly, and I enjoy the ability to pull out the tool nearest to me and quickly tap out a few lines, knowing that the content will be added to one central collection. The added metadata on each entry – such as weather or location – is also a bonus.

Before I used Day One, I used a variety of online tools like Livejournal and DiaryLand, as well as a blog. Thanks to others more clever than me, I’ve been able to convert those entries into one format, before ultimately re-assembling them all in Day One. This gives me a database of entries – all except the handwritten notebooks – that I can search by keyword with ease, and that I know is backed up in multiple locations.

The keyword lookup isn’t something I use terribly often, but whenever I’ve felt the need, it’s been a massive reassurance to know that I could. Sometimes it’s to remind myself when I first did something, or went somewhere. Other times it’s to jog my memory in another way. Occasionally it’s been an enlightening revelation that, no, I didn’t actually write about a particular Life Event which I’ve later come to understand the importance of.

I recently went away for a beautiful long weekend to celebrate my thirtieth birthday, a wonderful treat from Megan. Knowing that we would effectively be ‘off the grid’ for a few days meant that I bought a little notebook (seen above) to record our time away. I could have written the entries locally on my iPhone, but I find that when I’m away, or travelling, then that is the time to fall back on notebook and pen. It vexes my archivist’s mind in terms of the digital/analogue split, but I’ll worry about that on a rainy day.

For now, however, I know I have the diary-writing itch, and I’ll continue to scratch it whenever I feel the need to, and in whatever format.

Volume 3 of Michael Palin’s diaries

A few months ago, when I blogged about the upcoming release of volume 3 of Michael Palin’s diaries, Travelling to Work, I had some thoughts on the kinds of stories we’d find within. I somehow missed this excellent little video preview of the diaries from the man himself:

Palin explains what sort of events will be included, from the well-known to the less so. I cannot wait!

Volume 3 of Michael Palin’s Diaries – Travelling to Work – Out this September

Travelling to Work: Diaries 1988-1998

TRAVELLING TO WORK is the third volume of Michael Palin’s widely acclaimed diaries. After the Python years and a decade of filming, writing and acting, Palin’s career takes an unexpected direction into travel, which will shape his working life for the next twenty-five years.

Read on: Michael Palin – Travelling to Work – Orion Publishing Group

I love Michael Palin, and I love diaries. So you can imagine that I love Michael Palin’s diaries. In fact, this combination led me to asking the great man to participate in the research for my final year project for my Information Management degree. Palin, along with many other friends and associates, kindly took the time to answer a series of questions relating to their diary-keeping habits.

Having read the first two volumes of Michael Palin’s diaries, I’m eagerly awaiting the third. In fact, I’m currently on my second read-through of the second volume. The hardback editions are beautiful, weighty tomes that look lovely on my bookshelf – but they’re also a little bit hefty for stuffing in an overnight bag and so on. Fortunately, the Kindle editions are nicely put together, and allow me to highlight passages which are particularly funny, poignant, or otherwise of note.

The transition from volume 2 to volume 3 is particularly interesting, as the cross-over point is a real cliff-hanger: Palin is about to embark on the first of his celebrated travel film journeys – Around The World in 80 Days.

I was intrigued when I started thinking about this – I am often intrigued by quite mundane things – as there are companion books for all of Palin’s journeys, and they come in the form of a diary. They’re a fascinating insight into the trips, with extra information and a host of photographs to complement the films themselves.

But from the looks of volume 3’s subtitle, 1988-1998, it sounds like Palin kept a private diary in addition to the notes that ended up being released as companion books. Fabulous! Indeed, the title of the volume itself, Travelling to Work, really points to the consistent theme for the decade covered within.

Volume 3 of his diaries is published in hardback and ebook editions on September 11 this year. I’ve recently hit January 1988 on my latest run-through of volume 2, so I think I’ll re-read the Around The World in 80 Days book next to tide me over.