Friday, August 13, 2010
Derek at 50
If you're new to this blog, please click here to find out why the diaries of a local government officer called Derek have become so popular.
This week's installment begins in 1981 - the year of Charles and Diana, inner city riots and New Romantics. Apart from a brief entry about the virtues of bringing back capital punishment (presumably for rioters rather than New Romantics), Derek has very little to say about current affairs. However, he isn't completely cut-off from the cultural zeitgeist:
'I bought Brenda a record yesterday: the theme music by Vengalis (sic) from the film "Chariots of Fire". Marvellous music it is - the sort that fills one with heroic visions and deep thoughts that bring tears. We like it very much.'
Like the other volumes of Derek's diary, this one is largely a chronicle of the internecine squabbles within his local Mormon church, with frequent references to admonishments and expulsions. I had no idea that the Mormon church were so pedantic. Given the efforts that they put into converting people, I'd naively assumed that abstinence from alcohol and a liking for the Osmonds would be enough to guarantee liftetime membership of the Mormons. I was wrong.
One of the curious things about Derek's diaries is how normal and mundane they can seem until suddenly, without any warning, he'll casually mention that he is stocking up on tinned food because he is expecting the End Times. This seems to be the prism through which Derek views the world. When some local boys vandalise a playground, it is sign of Satan's growing power:
'When it comes to having an evil brood of children, Mr Supter's two adopted children must surely take the prize. They fulfill to the letter the Apostle Paul's prophecy about children in the last days being "disobedient to parents and without natural affection".'
Derek and Brenda also hold some unconventional views about the age of the Earth - one of the books I inherited from Derek's library asserts that dinosaurs and humans coexisted a few thousand years ago. When Brenda decides to do an environmental studies course, this leads to some lively exchanges with her lecturer:
'Brenda attended her class last night. Much of it is based on the theory of evolution, and that really gets up her nose; but she does not let it pass unchallenged. Her lecturers will come to dread her arrival before the course is over. One of them was expounding the theory of tectonic plates, and asserted that the British Isles were not only moving but also sinking. Brenda asked whether it was not the time to drop anchor!'
I was also intrigued by this anecdote from Derek's church:
'This evening has not been an easy one. At seven o'clock I met with Jennifer Griffin at the chapel, and introduced her to the science of psycho-cybernetics. Slowly but surely she is beginning to change for the better.'
During the last few months I've been gradually building a picture of Derek's life. I now know where he grew up, how he fell in love with Brenda and left the Midlands to enjoy a new life in the West Country, but there was one thing that kept nagging. On the strength of Derek's diary entries, he enjoyed a good relationship with his son and they enjoyed many activities together, but I couldn't help feeling that something was missing. Today I found the answer:
'Richard is, despite his handicap, a witty lad who comes out with some priceless remarks on many occasions. Last Saturday morning, he came into our bedroom and had his usual preoccupation with death. As we discussed the matter, I pointed upwards and told him that he was too young to go up there. Quick as a flash he said "Up on the moon?" Later in the same discussion he said, "I want to go up where Jesus are." You and me both, son!
Sometimes we go a little mad and, hand in hand, leave the house by the back door and walk down the street to the front door and there ring the bell persistently until Brenda or her mother answers. We did this on Satuday morning in our slippers. As we were walking down the pavement, he burst out laughing, and when I queried the matter said "Look at my feet". I did, and they were slipperless. I looked back up the street; and there the slippers were sitting in the middle of the pavement like a couple of orphans.
Though he demands much patience, one cannot imagine life without him. He is a joy and delight in so many respects. We love him dearly. We have been well-blessed in that his health is not the problem that it was. Even so, his life is a precarious one. We thank the Lord for him from day to day.'
When Derek wrote this entry, Richard has just celebrated his 20th birthday.
The volume ends with fleeting references to the Falklands Conflict, before finishing with this brief paragraph:
'Today Brenda and I celebrate 25 years of married life together, which in these cynical times is a real achievement! This weekend the whole family are coming down to celebrate the event; ironically I shall not be there; I shall be at the Priesthood meeting in Manchester.
And what shall I say of those years now past? Have they been a blissful ecstacy? By no means. Each one of them has been a test and a trial. Were it not for the testimony of the Gospel and the sacred covenants made at the altar of the temple, I am sure that our marriage would have failed. I thank God that despite the difficulties of the past, we do live in peace together and enjoy many things together.'
After reading this, I picked up a volume from 1955 and was touched by this passage:
'This evening Brenda and I lay in the churchyard and muttered to each other. She has had her hair done and looks wonderful. I am not going back. I am going to set up a home - with an open door - and I am going to marry the girl. I have an eternity in which to live with Brenda.'