A few years ago bookseller Steerforth came across a remarkable diary, which he began to publish on his blog and which we now serialise on The Dabbler. If you’re new to Derek, you can catch up with the previous instalments here…
I looked at frilly nightdresses and underclothes today in a shop window. I had a strong urge to buy them all for Brenda.
Derek suffered at the office:
The office was rather startled on Friday afternoon. Mr Sumpter required me to go out into the country with one of the ladies to get an error corrected. I said that I was not happy to do this if it meant travelling alone with her. Several heads shot up. But the point was made, and now Mr Spry is going with her. One has known too many evil situations arising in the past caused by married persons being thrown together in lonely situations.
And then in the bus station, Jacki Richards jumped out on me. It was more than I was willing to endure. With some force I told her to stop haunting me, that she was making a laughing stock of herself and that I was a married man who was twice her age and more and not prepared in any way to compromise his marriage even by a shadow of a relationship with another woman. She turned pale and said that it was my friendship she wanted.
We then got on the bus and I invited her to sit next to me. She started to make banal conversation. I told her that such conversation was an anathema to me. I then got out my book and started reading. She fidgeted.
Some of Derek’s entries are unintentionally funny, but others are disarmingly honest and poignant, such as this heart-wrenchingly honest account of married life, written in 1986:
Brenda looked most attractive yesterday. She made a new dress for herself on Saturday, and matched it up with green, heart-shaped earrings, and a green necklace. I suppose the colour was turquoise, but that is a difficult word to spell, so I have called them “green”. Anyway, among the new choir members she shone like a star.
It has been good being at home with just Brenda. We have a natural comfort in each others company. We are like well-worn slippers. If there were only a physical relationship related to this fellowship, I should be the happiest of men. As it is, I weep inside and suffer quietly. A covenant is still a covenant.
We had great concern last night. It seems that the marriage of Mike Sheepwash and Hermione has run into major problems. Mike has been sacked from his casual job at Sainsbury’s for daring to ask for some time off. I cleaned the bathroom before tea; during my eating, I watched a film on televsion: “The Battle of Midway” and became quite angered by the unnecessary blasphemy that it contains. But the battle scenes were good.
I am not sure of my life at the moment. It seems prosaic and empty as though I had reached an end of things. Certainly I seem inhibited with the same old problems that have haunted me for years. I am a rotten missionary, do very little compassionate work, and seem hidebound by patterns and habits that I seem not to have the energy to break. The failures and disappointments of this year are heavy upon me. I seem to have nowhere to go in my life except the grave. And yet I have so much! Why must I be so hidebound by a sense of continuing failure? Surely there ought to be some fight left.
I browsed in my old journals this afternoon and perceived how boring, how inadequate a record they were. It is all such a mish-mash. Still, perhaps my children will find some comfort and joy in it. But I see now that I could never have made a living from writing.
Here is a man in middle age, disappointed with both himself and his life. Derek clearly loves his wife, but feels starved of affection, let alone anything else. In one terribly sad entry, Derek notes the rare pleasure of receiving a hug from Brenda.
Then there is this from 1981:
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.