Have you heard of the Mass Observation Archive? I hadn’t until someone alerted me to the fact that I could record May 12th for posterity.


‘This year the Mass Observation Archive will be repeating its annual call for day diaries, capturing the everyday lives of people across the UK.

The diaries will be stored in the Archive at The Keep and be used by a wide range of people for research, teaching and learning including academics and students, schools, writers, producers, artists, community and special interest groups and the general public.

In 1937 Mass Observation called for people from all parts of the UK to record everything they did from when they woke up in the morning to when they went to sleep at night on 12th May. This was the day of George VI’s Coronation. The resulting diaries provide a wonderful glimpse into the everyday lives of people across Britain, and have become an invaluable resource for those researching countless aspects of the era.

May 12th 2014 is likely to be quite an ordinary day, but for those researching, the ‘ordinary’ can often provide extraordinary results. The diaries will be held and used alongside the 1937 documents. We would be very grateful if you could document your May 12th 2014 for the future.’

I decided to take up the challenge! Here is a shortened version of my May 12th.

I get up at 6.30, put the Wifi on and go back to bed. I’m going to finish reading ‘Island’ by Jane Rogers on the Kindle app on my tablet. But first I want to check my emails, the Open University website and my Facebook account. Since I retired four years ago it’s become a morning ritual, and I acknowledge it may replace going out to work with another kind of connection to the world. I get to know who else is a lark and can wish someone a happy birthday with ease. Now there’s even a pink gift-wrapped box with the person’s name that comes up in my ‘notifications’. Touch or click, all done.

My OH sleeps for another 2 hours and I finish ‘Island’ by eight. It’s a book that’s featured in my Open University Course ‘Advanced Creative Writing’ , which explores the links between drama and other forms of writing. Jane Rogers writes scripts for television and radio as well as novels. ‘Island’ is so well written, with unusual characters and a particularly disturbing narrator. It’s set on an island near Skye, and of course I check Google maps to try to identify it. I think it’s Raasay. She calls it Aaysar, so I might be right.

I get up at 8.15, make Lady Grey tea and switch on Breakfast Television with Bill Turnbull and Louise Minchin. The Queen’s Baton for the Commonwealth Games has arrived in Jersey, which like most events these days is described as ‘incredible’, ‘fantastic’ and ‘amazing’. I hope it gets better weather than the Olympic Torch. One of the things I reflect on when I watch television is the way language changes, not just in the vocabulary used, but in the pronunciation. It’s never long before I hear a few dropped ‘t’s, sadly even from BBC news reporters. Oh yes, everyone’s ge’ing be’er a’ i’.

I have breakfast and log on to my Open University website. We’re coming to the end of A363 ‘Advanced Creative Writing’ now, and at this point we’re providing critique on each other’s work for the final project. Some are doing short stories, some are doing scripts (film or radio). My tutor group has about eight people who contribute regularly, and it’s a fascinating process; we are all different ages and from different backgrounds and this comes out in our writing! This workshopping is a normal part of a creative writing course and has the effect of nudging you into changes you might never have considered. I’m nearly at the end of my project. A family diary written in 1905 has inspired a radio play set in Edwardian Glasgow; it has been transformed into 42 pages of script, 3 pages of commentary and 3 pages of references. Distance learning has definitely enhanced my retirement!

I reward myself for nearly finishing my assignment by booking into a historical fiction writing retreat in November. I have the aim of using the radio play as the basis for a novel, so it’s time to start planning!

At 10.30 I meet three friends (former work-colleagues) for coffee at Country Harvest, Ingleton. It’s a large shop and café complex in Yorkshire barn style. It has just one door; you have to walk past a large array of gifts and food products before you finally reach the café. The table cloths are Cath Kidston, the floor is flagged, the tables are pine and the windows look out on to rain-washed green fields dotted with sheep. We talk about holidays, people we know, ailments, our fear of the NHS as we get older and how we switch off those Panorama programmes about the elderly.

We should be in France this week, but our plan changed in the nanosecond on 4th May when my OH damaged knee cartilage in a tennis match. To make up for the loss we head to Ambleside in the afternoon. Someone has recommended the film ‘Tracks’, which is about a woman, a dog and three camels crossing the Australian Outback. There’s a screening at 3.30, and we’ll follow it with an early meal at Zefirelli’s. There are seven people in the cinema, all our age group. My OH has a stick of course, which makes us feel like real pensioners. We never used to go to films in the afternoon, but there comes a time when you realise you’re quite alert then. The film gives us an enjoyable two hours in the Outback and some food for thought. We talk a bit about the construction of a journey film. Inevitably, there are life-enriching flashbacks for the heroine as we travel. Sometimes the camels cross the screen from left to right, sometimes from right to left. Every so often there’s a crisis, and when there isn’t a crisis you wonder when the next crisis will come. The crises in this film are solved rather quickly. One is very sad, though, and will linger with you if you go to see it.

The meal is vegetarian and we share an antipasti platter and a ‘Rainforest’ pizza. This descriptor doesn’t refer to the topping, but to the fact that a certain percentage is donated to saving the rainforests. The serving staff all come from other EU countries. At first we think our waitress is local, but as she chats we discover otherwise. ‘I’ve forgot me Russian,’ she says in a Cumbrian accent. She’s been here since she was 12 and has only been back to Russia once in 6 years.

The countryside on our trip to Ambleside is looking beautiful; the trees have that fresh green foliage, the hue of the copper beeches is still light, and there are flashes of pink, red and orange from azaleas and rhododendrons. I console myself over the loss of the Provence trip. They don’t have bluebell woods there.