Jan Morris, at the start of her tenth decade, has written a 188-day ‘thought diary’, ‘having for the moment nothing much else to write’. It is a splendidly quirky confection that mixes the trivial with the serious, like life.
Some of the entries have been published before, as pieces in the Financial Times or the Welsh-language O’r Pedwar Gwynt. Many, as readers might expect, chew over topics that have long fascinated her, including what she calls the ‘ambiguous epic’ of the late British Empire, the ‘swank’ of which she still enjoys, while acknowledging ‘that it was founded upon fundamental injustice’. Among the events covered by the diary is the appearance of her most recent book, the delightful Battleship Yamato (Pallas Athene), a reflection on the ironies of war examined through a portrait of the Second World War Japanese battleship of that name. Morris confesses to feeling the same excitement at seeing it in print as she felt when her first book appeared in 1956. In the preface to Battleship Yamato, she refers to the book as ‘a sort of illustrated reverie, a literary meditation’, a description that equally well sums up her overall style.
On a gloomy afternoon in her longtime home in north Wales (‘between the mountains and the sea’) she fishes out some Irving Berlin tunes and, while playing them, ruminates on the composer. When she was on Desert Island Discs, every one of her choices was by him, a characteristic dash