"I have no heart for camping. I would rather be amongst my books in some cottage."
Most of the books I deal with at work are titles that have failed to sell in charity shops. That might not sound very promising, but my employers have built up a successful, multi-million pound business selling books that used to be dumped on landfill sites.
Occasionally we also receive the contents of house clearances, where the owner of the books has either died or moved into an old people's home. It can be rather depressing wading through someone's book collection, realising that however erudite and well-read they were, this is how it ends.
On Monday we received a huge delivery of house clearance stock, most of which had a religious theme. The books were mostly conventional titles about Biblical history and the Gospels, but there were a few that were more off the wall. I noticed a recurring theme of lost civilsations and in addition to the usual titles about Atlantis, there was one book that tried to prove that humans and dinosaurs co-existed. Who owned this strange collection?
The answer lay in a box at the bottom, which contained the personal diaries of a local government officer called Derek.
Why were Derek's journals sent to us? A few of his diaries from the 1950s could have been mistaken for books, but not the thick, foolscap binders from the 1980s, with their typewritten pages.
These diaries were of no use to us and were almost binned, but I couldn't bring myself to throw someone's life into a skip. I rescued the box and later, started to browse its contents.
This is Derek in 1956:
If he looks like this in the mid-1950s, then we can assume that Derek was born at some point between 1925 and 1935.
When Derek's diaries begin, he is in love with Brenda:
Derek marries Brenda and they have a son. They also become Mormons, and the recurring theme in the diaries is Derek's personal battle against sin and temptation. This extract is from 1987:
"I was much troubled by evil dreams last night. I tossed and turned upon my bed in a way I have not done for many years. I dreamt that I was at the office and kept calling the female staff by titles and names that were blatantly sexist and in transgression of the County Council's instructions in this matter."
The Pooterish tone of the writing results in many examples of unintentional hilarity:
"On the way to Bristol this morning, Elaine Hamilton and I got to discussing her daughter's hay fever and I suggested that susceptibility to such things could be dependent upon the density of the hairs in one's nose. It was a novel suggestion that gave her some thought!"
"Eric the Barber, with his lady assistant, was sitting in his shop idle when I passed by with the hamster. He called out to me, so I went in and showed the scrap to them. Eric thought that hamsters would live amicably together in the same cage. I soon disillutioned him of that myth. I also told him that they were a great thing to have in the house if one were plagued by mice, since mice are scared beyond measure by hamsters."
Hamsters obviously play an important role in Derek's household:
"When we got back home, we said hello to Brenda, Richard and the hamster."
The Pooterish theme extends to the cast of characters: Mr Sunter and Mr Limpett, Oliver Dewsnapp, Gerald Ramsbottom, Mrs Moncrieff, Norman and Joan Farbass, Warwick Kear, Steve Fagg, Pam Bolloch, Julia Sleat and Malcolm Satchel. All real people.
But it would be so easy to save Derek's diaries just so that I could use them as comic material, whereas the truth is that the humorous moments are only a small part of the whole. Derek comes across as a decent man, trying to live the good life according to his beliefs. He is plagued by self-doubt and his journals bear witness to the struggles of an ordinary person who is regularly plagued by extraordinary feelings:
"I set my lip on fire the other morning. And on Sunday night I had a dream. I became acquainted with an attractive woman with curly hair, but undefined facial features. I was much tempted by her and took her back to a basement with rusty radiators..."
And what of the diary itself? Why did Derek faithfully maintain his journal for at least forty years?
"Why I keep a journal is often a mystery to myself. There is an inward compulsion - some would call it egotism - that will not rest until my life is recorded. Of course, the Keeper always imagines that any journal he keeps will be of inestimable value to future generations; will be a work of intimate revelations that will declare his glory to endless decades. And that is a foolish dream hardly worth the paper he has kept it on. "
I don't know what to do with Derek's diaries, however I can't bring myself to throw them away. But if not now, when?