Today I received a letter from Claudia Gunter at West Meon Probation Services. The letter was reminding me that under the terms of my probation I need to keep a ‘journal’.
She sent a template for me to follow, as though I were some illiterate.
This annoys me. I’ve been keeping a diary for more than half my life. It’s true that some of the earlier entries were a little rough. I read back through them last month and it was mostly self-pitying rants about not being allowed to watch the snooker (why did I even ever want to?) or having to go to bed before I’d finished sorting out my stamp collection. I’m aware that keeping a diary is considered part of the female domain, but in my life, with the family and friends I’m stuck with, it is the only reason I haven’t run away and gone to live in the woods.
Anyway, I clearly remember telling Ms Gunter about my diary during our interview after the court appearance so I assumed there’d been some sort of mistake. I phoned her on the number at the bottom of the letter. It took an age for her to come to the phone and she seemed a little distracted when I explained who it was.
‘Who? Fletcher? Oh, hello, Ben, how are you getting on?’
‘I’m well, thanks, but I think there’s been some confusion with the letter.’
‘What letter?’ she asked.
‘The letter I received today asking me to keep a diary.’
‘Oh, OK,’ she said. ‘The computer sends those. It’s just a reminder.’
‘I told you in our meeting of the 7th June that I already keep a diary.’
There was a slight pause. Did I detect a sigh?
‘Well, that’s fine then, isn’t it?’ she said. ‘Just keep going with your normal diary.’
‘But there’s a template attached to the letter. And the letter says I need to hand it in at the end of the probationary period.’
‘OK,’ she said slowly. ‘What’s the problem exactly, Ben?’
Claudia Gunter is clearly a busy woman, which perhaps explains why she was being a little slow. I pointed out that I couldn’t very well keep going in my usual diary if I had to hand it in. It’s leather-bound.
‘Should I stop writing in my usual diary,’ I went on, ‘and switch to the template?’
‘You can’t do both?’ she asked, sounding tired.
‘I write a lot and won’t have time to do both. I’m doing AS levels this year.’
‘So use the template,’ she said.
‘But then I’ll need to hand it in,’ I told her. ‘And I won’t have it any more.’
‘Can’t you photocopy it?’ she spluttered. ‘Look Ben. You’re a bright kid, if slightly . . . unusual. I’m not really that worried about you, to be honest, I have a hundred and four other clients, most of whom don’t speak English, some of whom have murdered people. One of them killed an ice-cream vendor and ate his kidneys out of a waffle cone. Just sort it out, OK?’
I told her I would and hung up.
3 Standish Place
As part of your Fresh Paths Social Contract Probation Journey, you have been asked to complete a personal journal, giving as full an account as possible of the events of each day and recording, in detail, your thoughts, concerns and feelings. You are expected to complete at least two entries a week for the full term of your Probation Journey (twelve months). At the end of this period you will be asked to hand the journal to your probation officer. Please be assured the contents of the journal will be strictly confidential. Whilst the Home Office may use the information therein for statistical or research purposes, your name will not be attached to the document. You should therefore feel free to write whatever you like about your life, your family, your school and your circle of friends.
Research shows that only a small minority of teenage boys keep diaries and we realise this may be a daunting prospect. To help we have attached a series of simple guidelines to help with your initial entries. Feel free to adapt or ignore these template suggestions if you feel confident to write the journal in your own style, remember, this is a private dialogue between you and your diary. As long as the writing is legible, it’s up to you how you control the format.
I wish you success in your endeavour.
West Meon Probation Service
Introduce yourself to your journal – remember, your journal does not know who you are, it can’t see you, it only knows what you choose to write in it.
My diary knows very well who I am, thank you. But for the purposes of the exercise, I’ll go along with this for now. I’m all over the template idea, believe me. Call me Mr Template. Otherwise known as Ben Fletcher. My friends sometimes call me Bellend Ben which I’m not so keen on. I am small and thin with black hair and brown eyes. I don’t like sports, though my Mum thinks I like football. I don’t like cars, though my Dad thinks I like Jeremy Clarkson. I don’t like fighting, though Lloyd Manning from school thinks I like being punched in the back of the head. What do I like? I like writing and reading and maths and organising things. I sort of like spending time with my friends, though I’m constantly worried about what new trouble they’re going to get me into.
Why have you chosen to keep a journal?
Again, and without wishing to belabour the point, I’ve been keeping a DIARY for years. Now here comes West Meon Probation Service with their fancy template arrangement. The reason I chose to keep a DIARY was because sometimes my head is so full of thoughts and worries and confusion that the only way I can make sense of it all is to write it down on a clean, lined sheet of paper. Once it’s written down, it’s sort of locked into place and I can stop worrying about it for a bit. I suppose that at the heart of it, I keep a diary to try and bring a bit of order into my mad world.