My favourite read of 2009 was Diary of a Nobody, by George and Weedon Grossmith. I suppose few people actually read the “diary” anymore, but in its day (the turn of the last century) its “author”, one Charles Pooter, was as well-known as Adrian Mole (“Who?”), and Pooterish was an adjective used to describe a distinctly ordinary person who took himself altogether too seriously (actually, I probably first heard the term years ago in reference to Mole).
Charles Pooter begins his diary with the conviction that his life is just as eventful as anyone else’s. But it isn’t really, and Pooter, in his constant striving to be more middle-class than anybody else, misses most of the real life unfolding around him. This was heady stuff in the late 1880s, when the Grossmith brothers began running ‘extracts’ from Pooter’s diaries in Punch. The series was a hit, and in 1892 the columns were compiled into a book which, while no longer remotely a best-seller, has rarely been out of print.
I read it in dribs and drabs each night before bed this summer. It’s a short book, and I was rationing it for maximum enjoyment. The relatively casual language makes one forget how long ago the book was written (when Pooter mentions catching ‘cabs’ and ‘buses’, I had to remind myelf that he was referring to the horse-drawn variety). He complains about his son’s trendiness, his younger co-workers’ lack of respect and slovenly language. He rambles on about his enthusiasms and methods for self-improvement, tells very bad puns which crack him up, if no one else. In short, he is the timeless, middle-aged, middle-class bore, which was new to society then, but which has never gone extinct. You see him on the train every day.
The only problem was, after reading and enjoying the book, I found it really difficult to sit down at my computer and write a blog entry. Because Pooters don’t keep diaries anymore: they update their weblogs (everyone else is Tweeting). Every idea that came to my mind sounded pretty trivial now: who cared about my annual health check or my neighbour’s latest inane comment on the elevator, or my school director’s Michael Jackson obsession, or the growing popularity of Hallowe’en in Osaka? More to the point, did I? What’s it got to do, as my grandfather would say, with the price of eggs?
Hence the silence lately. But I’m over it now, maybe. What has anything got to do with the price of eggs? It’s nearly 2010.
I’ve embraced my inner Pooter. You have been warned.