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“I just heard on the radio that May 12th is National Diary Day or National Dairy Day as it always comes out in my emails. It was with rather a shock that I calculated that I’ve been a regular diarist for over fifty years. Monty Python hadn’t been heard of when I made my decision to give up smoking and keep a diary instead.”


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The Mass Observation Archive was set up on May 12th 1937, the day of the coronation of King George VI. Its purpose was to invite people from all parts of the UK to record everything they did on that day from when they woke up in the morning to when they went to sleep at night. The resulting diaries provided a glimpse into the everyday lives of people across Britain and with the archive continuing its work to 1961 it became an invaluable resource for those researching countless aspects of modern history. The archive was revived in 1981 at the University of Sussex.

To mark the 84th anniversary of Mass Observation, on the 12th May 2021 the Archive repeated its annual call for day diaries, telling the story of everyday lives of people across the UK. Last year they received over 5,000 diaries. The written diaries will be stored in the Archive and used by a wide range of people for research, teaching and learning. Here’s my contribution for 2021…


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I am yanked out of bed at 6.20 am by the alarm and the dustmen rattling the bins outside. I get up, dress and go downstairs to make a flask of coffee for my wife who works as a volunteer at Kew Gardens. She has to leave at 8.00 am but I am already out of the house by then on my way to Tesco. In my hand I have the shopping list she gives me, in the same way as you might throw a stick for a dog .”Fetch, Fetch!” I once knew my way around the store blindfold, from Bread to Butter, from Tissues to Toilet Paper, but those days are long gone. The unseen brains upstairs, a.k.a Management like to move things around to keep us on our toes and to introduce us to new products we don’t want. By 9.00 am I have completed checkout, picked up a lottery ticket and am on my way home. I have breakfast, read the paper and then spend the next 30 minutes putting the shopping away… and there’s more to do. Press my Scout uniform, Wednesday being Cub night, wrap up for return some shoes ordered on eBay that was delivered 3 sizes too large, drop the parcel off at the post office, pick up my bike and its new saddle from the cycle shop in Crown Road and check the weather forecast. Ever since COVID struck last year we have been obliged to run our Cub Scout evenings outdoors in Moormead Park rather than inside St Stephen’s School Hall. “Be Prepared” these days means bring a waterproof and wear some decent shoes… oh, and don’t forget to use the lavvy before you leave home.

6.00 pm

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We gather for Cubs. First, the Grand Howl, followed by calling the register and Badge Work. Today we are trying for Athletics. This means a Relay Race, a Long Jump, Throwing a Ball - who can do it further? - and an Egg and Spoon Race.

7.00 pm

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We finish with an Investiture during which 3 ‘newbies’ are formally and ceremonially introduced into the Pack. Each are given 3 badges - one to show that they are a member of the international Scouting movement, one to show that they are part of the South West District of Greater London and a shoulder tag to show that they are members of the 1st St Margarets Cub Pack. Then they make a promise to do their best. It doesn’t rain and we all go home, they to their beds and me to a pizza and a beer. It was a good day. Wednesday 12th May 2021.

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The Mass Observation Archive is a collection of the memories and opinions of ordinary people living through the ordinary circumstances that often make up unordinary lives. It is a document of the often forgotten social history of Britain and now forms one of the most important sources available for qualitative social data in the UK.

– from Martyn Day