Our desires our bones


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Category: Reflections Date: 05 Jul 04


"Some truths are little, some huge, but all of them compelling for the commonplace can seem as crucial to life as the earthshaking."


Thus The Observer sums up ‘The Assassin's Cloak’, a mind-blowing collection of diary entries that takes us to the deepest chambers of the minds of 170 extraordinary people spanning centuries. Along the way we meet people like Leo Tolstoy, Simone de Beauvoir, Franz Kafka, Virginia Woolf, Queen Victoria, Anne Frank and dozens of other diarists, from prime ministers to prostitutes. The range of humanity is here.


It's humbling yet exhilarating to be reminded as you dip into this book that the juggernaut of centuries rolls on, over us, inevitably turning our desires and bones to dust, that people, whether they are Queen Victoria mourning over the death of a child, or Leo Tolstoy worrying about money, are much the same, governed by the impulses of love, brutality, vanity.


I ask you to follow a random trail of this mountainous book, where the air is misty and fresh, the view, long, panoramic, circular. Exquisitely human.


July 4, 1965

On Sunday night I went to see the Beatles. The noise was deafening throughout and I couldn't hear a word they sang or a note they played, just one long, ear-splitting din. Apparently they were not a success. The notices were bad the next day. I was truly horrified and shocked by the audience. It was like a mass masturbation orgy, although apparently mild compared with what it usually is. The whole thing is to me an unpleasant phenomenon. Mob hysteria, when commercially promoted, or in whatever way promoted, always sickens me. To realise that the majority of the modern adolescent world goes ritualistically mad over those four innocuous, rather silly looking men is a disturbing thought. Perhaps we are whirling more swiftly into extinction that we know. Personally I should have liked to take some of those squealing young maniacs and cracked their heads together.

-Noel Coward


January 9, 1821

The lapse of ages changes all things - time - language-the earth - the bounds of the sea - the stars of the sky, and every thing "about around, and underneath'' man, except man himself, who has always been and always will be, an unlucky rascal. The infinite variety of lives conduct but to death, and the infinity of wishes lead but to disappointment. All the discoveries which have yet been made have multiplied little but existence.

-Lord Byron


January 7, 1933

Brian Lunn took me to lunch in the Inner Temple. I found him in a little wooden room, reading old divorce briefs. One contained a verbatim report of a telephone conversation a husband had overheard between his wife and her lover. He claimed that it proved adultery because, in this conversation, she used the same pet name for penis as with him.

-Malcolm Muggeridge


January 1, 1866

Travelling in France, it is a misfortune to be a Frenchman. The wing of the chicken at a table d'hote always goes to the Englishman. He is the only person the waiter serves. Why is this? Because the Englishman does not look upon the waiter as a man, and any servant who feels that he is being regarded as a human being despises the person considering him in that light.

-The Brothers Goncourt


1979 (in Barlinnie Prison)

3.14 a.m. I've been wakened for over an hour. Am irritable and restless. Pop music is blasting in my ears and I marvel at radio and how it must comfort lonely people.

-Jimmy Boyle


January 10, 1920 (Berlin)

Today the Peace Treaty was ratified at Paris; the war is over. A terrible era begins for Europe like the gathering of clouds before a storm, and it will end in an explosion probably still more terrible than that of the World War. In Germany there are all the sense of a continuing growth of nationalism.

- Count Harry Kessler


January 8, 1934

At Marks and Spencer's I bought a peach coloured vest and trollies to match with insertions of lace. Disgraceful I know but I can't help choosing my underwear with a view to it being seen.

- Barbara Pym


January 6, 1836

A brig called "The Agenoria'' arrived from St John's bringing 11 men, from the crew of a timber vessel. They were capsized in a tremendous storm. Their provisions were washed overboard and they endured starvation and misery.

They came to the decision of drawing lots for who should die for his comrades and a young man of 19 was the victim. After prayers they cut his throat and drank the blood and devoured a considerable part of the body before it was cold.

-Barclay Fox


January 4, 1664

To the Tennis Court and there saw the King play at tennis and others; but to see how the King's play was extolled without any cause at all was a loathsome sight, though sometimes indeed he did play very well and deserved to be commended; but such open flattery is beastly.

-Samuel Pepys


January 7, 1969

Dashed home to change hurriedly for the Buckingham Palace reception for the Commonwealth Prime Ministers. It was an awful nuisance having to dress but the only way I could see of meeting my old friends during my frantic week.

It was nice to see Indira Gandhi again: I warm to her. She is a pleasant, rather shy and unassuming woman and we exchanged notes about the fun of being at the top in politics.

- Barbara Castle


May 11, 1654

I now observed how the women began to paint themselves, formerly a most ignominious thing, and used only by prostitutes.

- John Evelyn


January 12, 1938

A month ago today Nanking fell into the hands of the Japanese. The body of that Chinese soldier shot while tied to a bamboo sofa is still lying out in the street not 50 yards from my house.

- John Rabe


1945, Bergen-Belsen

We are living amid the lice. For months I have not been able to change into clean underwear, nor had a shower. We suffer terribly from the cold. Deaths, deaths, deaths. For how long? The persecution of the Jews continues. Never the less we are a year nearer to peace than on 13 January 1944.

-Abel J Herzberg


January 10, 1995

Generally my feeling is towards less: less shopping, less eating, less drinking, less wasting, less playing by the rules and recipes. All of that I want in favour of more thinking, on the feet, more improvising, more surprises, more laughs.

-Brian Eno.


And with that let's gather up the threads of our own lives.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur