A funny thing happened at BeerDock in Crewe during December. Grabbing a pint and enjoying a chinwag, attention was drawn to a familiar figure, sat nearby, who was scribbling furiously in a notebook. Curiosity got the better of me…
Polish Paul*, not his real name – well, the Paul bit is – has been a regular visitor to a few of Crewe’s finer drinking establishments over the last decade. I see him in Hops, around the centre, and often in BeerDock on the Nantwich Road side of town.
This evening was like many others. He rolled up, big smile and a swish of his elegant pony tail, ordered a craft beer, swapped pleasantries, then took a seat. He’s a lovely chap, speaks excellent English (which is handy, as most of us lack even the most basic Polish language skills), and is very modest. He then opened his book.
The writing is nothing new. I have seen Paul making notes before. I assumed that he was a writer, or perhaps making a list. I’d never thought to probe further. This time I did, asking point blank what he was writing about. Nosy sod, I know!
He closed his book, looked up, and smiled. “It’s a diary,” he told me. “Just personal things. Every day.”
Fair enough. But to add further colour to this already endearing image, Paul’s diary entries were done meticulously with a fountain pen – you know, one of those old-school beauties with an interchangeable nib and a small pot in which you could dip and regulate the amount of ink transferred to the page.
As an aside, my mother was an artist of the Copperplate era, and she helped me perfect Gothic and Italic calligraphic letter forms. So I was fascinated by Paul’s beautiful handwriting style, and his patience. A few fumbles on the keyboard these days and I’m getting frustrated.
“So, what kind of diary entries?” I asked. I mean, there are diaries, bullet-point recordings of events, and then there are ongoing stories, real insights into someone’s life. I wanted flesh on the bones.
“I just write about what happens, to me and all around me. My thoughts.”
“How long have you been making these entries,” I enquired, assuming a few months, maybe a little longer.
“Over forty years,” he replied.
I nearly dropped my pint. Forty years!
“Hand-written, in many books I assume, every day?”
“Most days, but not always.”
“Have you ever shown anyone else what you write?”
“Have you transferred it to computer, typed it up so it can be shared one day?”
I was silent for a few moments. Sat with Chris, father of BeerDock’s impressively bearded Sam, we were lost for words. Anyone that knows us will appreciate that such silences rarely happen. It was a magical moment. Paul’s diary was therapy, something very personal, something old-fashioned, precious, a gold mine of material no doubt, spanning decades across several countries where his life had played out.
We chatted further, but it was obvious the material was not for sharing. Quite right too. These days we’re accustomed to seeing and hearing the most minute details of friends’ lives (much like this blog), whether we want to or not.
Here was Paul, shy almost, private, happy that his notes were his, not for uploading to social media.
So, whether a diary entry or a beer each day keeps the doctor away is open to debate. Still, probably a few years older than yours truly, Polish Paul is looking good and staying fit.
It’s his call, but those notes will hopefully see the light eventually, as I’m sure there are some cracking observations of a life well lived. Just not yet…
* Although I took a photo of Paul in BeerDock, having come away and pondered the subject matter of this short article, I decided that it would be inappropriate to post his image without permission, although he posed briefly for the picture and didn’t object on the night. So we’ll leave it at that. Still (relatively) private.