I cannot conceive — and I doubt even writers more serious than me (sic) could conceive — of putting pen to paper except in hope of readers. You might as well expect a plumber to plumb without anyone to plumb for.
The Sunday Times, Tuesday, April 4, 2023
by Matthew Parris (who) joined The Times in 1988. He worked previously at the Foreign Office, as Margaret Thatcher’s correspondence clerk, and as Conservative MP for West Derbyshire. He was the paper’s parliamentary sketch writer for 13 years and he now writes a diary column on Wednesdays and an opinion column on Saturdays. In 2015 he won the British Press Award for columnist of the year. Matthew is also a regular columnist for The Spectator and presents the biographical program Great Lives on BBC Radio 4. He has written a number of books, including Chance Witness: An Outsider’s Life in Politics, his autobiography, which won the Orwell prize in 2002.
One hesitates to contradict a writer of such eminent esteem as Matthew Parris.
Yet I must.
In early September, 1963 I was dropped off with my luggage by a uniformed driver in a nondescript black car at the front of MacDonald House, St. Andrew’s College. The school is located in Aurora at the outskirts of Toronto, north of Thornhill and Richmond Hill, south of Newmarket (whence hailed Sir William Mulock’s ancestor Bill “Moo” Mulock who was a classmate of mine). The boys’ boarding school had begun in Toronto (Rosedale) in 1899 but then moved to the country. It was by design my parents sent me there instead of to Upper Canada College on Avenue Road in Toronto because UCC had a smaller boarding contingent than SAC which was predominantly boarders. MacDonald House (where the driver deposited me) was the Lower School dormitory. I was headed instead to Fourth House in the Upper School. I was then 14 years old.
Previously that summer my parents, sister and I had left Montréal, Quebec on board the SS Arkadia (a Greek Line), First Class across the North Atlantic Ocean to LeHavre, France (via somewhere in Ireland) then onward (I suspect by plane though I cannot now recall) to Stockholm, Sweden where my father was Attaché to the Canadian embassy.
That Christmas I traveled in northern Ontario to visit the parents of my mother and those of my mother’s friend Betty MacKinnon. Before I left my digs in Fourth House I received a package of Christmas gifts among which from my sister was a small book of lined blank pages bound in stuffed green plastic with golden lock and key. The entire diary may have been 4” square.
When I got back to St. Andrew’s College I had lots to write about. Almost everything that had happened to me since the previous September was new to me; and, I suspect as significantly, there had been no one with whom I was well enough acquainted or familiar to share my percolating private thoughts. Now it was just me, myself and I. It was in that context that I began to “keep a diary” in the little green book given me by my sister. I wrote then, and have written practically every day since then, in a diary of one form or another.
This erstwhile teenage literary undertaking seamlessly morphed into larger handwritten and typewritten books, some in bespoke brown leather with gold-plated 3-ring binder and embossed gold lettered name, others in legal-size or regular-size blank lined hardcover books; eventually graduating to computers and the internet where I commissioned the creation of a website in addition to cultivating my own numerous blog ambitions through Google. Towards the latter end of this evolution I wrote and published (privately naturally) an autobiography and a history of Mississippi Lodge No. 147 chartered by the Grand Lodge of Canada July 20, 1861. Related to that history I wrote a summary biography of those whom I called the “Brighter Lights of Almonte”. For 7 years I was a contributing columnist to our local newspaper The Millstone shepherded by Edith Cody-Rice; Proprietor.
To conclude this prattle allow me to note that from the age of 14 years, apart from visiting my family, I never returned home to live. Even for example in the earliest period when I returned to Europe for the summer, I either spent time on the Riviera, in the Arctic Circle or at Alliance Française in Paris, France. In Canada I spent the summer at 108 Bernard Avenue in the Annex neighbourhood of Toronto as fund raiser for Christian theatre company Creation 2 led by Louis Capson.
Otherwise I was in residency at St. Andrew’s College, Glendon Hall in Toronto, Ontario where I earned my Bachelor of Arts (Philosophy) or at Dalhousie Law School in Halifax, NS.
The only thing common to all these exploits (apart from me, myself and I) was my diaries. Pointedly when my partner and I downsized our 4-bedroom home when I retired in 2014, my collection of handwritten and typewritten diaries were shredded. I only retained the on-line material.
What this illustrates to me is not my predominant interest in readership rather the mere cathartic necessity of it all. In the past six months I have experimented with Substack. It is a platform for publication of one’s writing – geared to retail exchange (though I only ever had free subscribers and I never encouraged otherwise). I have abandoned the Substack platform because it confused the personal nature of my writing with its public focus.
To be clear what has motivated this literary enterprise from beginning to date is not some mournful disappointment. In fact just the opposite. I was then and I am now animated by an indescribable longing to communicate my unending marvel at the fortuity and serendipity of every unfolding day. The magnificence and glamour of these days is in plain terms notable!
Curiously I seldom re-read anything I have written. My interest is devoted to capturing the moment. I have convinced myself that my writing skills will improve with repeated ritual daily writing dedicated to expressing as best as possible “what I know”. My only concession to publicity is occasionally sharing an article with a friend or acquaintance whom I imagine would be interested in a particular piece. But I confess I approach this magnanimity with extreme caution and a guarded sense of mutuality and sociability. Whatever the public nature of my writing, the private nature will prevail unhindered. It is an accessory to my Nomadic history – even as I write at 74 years of age on Key Largo beneath the azure sky, amid the balmy Ocean breeze and subtropical temperatures. And did I mention my partner’s compôte of fruit, berries, prunes and triple cream vanilla bean Greek yoghurt!