Soothing words

Sally Lake with the journals she kept on her last holiday. Writing them drained the ink out of three pens.

“WRITE it down,” Highgate resident Sally Lake is imploring people living through uncertainty and fear in the era of Covid-19.

The former Vincent councillor is encouraging everyone to keep a “journal of the pandemic” to record feelings, observations and experiences.

Ms Lake decided to start writing when the weight of sad news became too hard to bear, having got the idea from a book she recently read about a UK woman’s experience during World War II.

In 1937 a “mass observation” trend took off in England, with a poet, an anthropologist and a polymath encouraging people to keep a daily diary to record things that would otherwise never make it to the official archives. People wrote about their private lives, personal grooming, bathroom habits, and even slang and gestures of the day. The diaries became a valuable record of everyday life, especially during WWII, when the official records were filled with Churchillian self-promotion and skewed by propaganda.

Ms Lake says social media has been great for keeping in touch with people while staying at home, but “what we put on social media is often edited” and a personal diary can be more honest.

Along with the sadness of illness, death, and people struggling and losing jobs, Ms Lake will be documenting the positive side of the Covid-19 era: “There’s lovely things happening… I just went out the front and sat on the steps with a cup of tea, and I realised that everyone in our row of terraces happened to be on their verandahs. That aspect is really nice.”

Ms Lake has decided to backdate her diary to the day of the Highway to Hell event on March 1, the first day coronavirus had an impact on her behaviour. With the news reports telling of situations worsening overseas, and mass gatherings being identified as a major source of outbreaks, she and partner Dudley Maier wondered whether they should even go.

They decided they would, and just try to keep their distance from people.

“That’s the first day I refused to shake someone’s hand,” she recalls. 

Some people might want to keep their diaries private forever, but Ms Lake hopes many will be keen to submit them to an archive as a record of these days.

Ms Lake has set up a facebook page for tips, mutual support, and more information about the mass observation concept at facebook. com/journalsofthepandemic

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