Marking time in the bookshop

Imperial Calendar 1901 (Copy 1/168)

Imperial Calendar 1901 (Copy 1/168)

Tempus fugit and all that. In retail land it has a tendency to fugit ahead of itself too as we are forever getting in stock for the coming season. The crumbs from the mince pies are barely swept away before shelves need to be stocked with hot cross buns, the red roses of Valentine’s Day are pushed aside to find space for the Mothering Sunday cards, a brief flurry of flag waving for St George’s Day and then it’s Father’s Day again and so on and so on.

And indeed just in case we were tempted to sit back and rest, maybe garner a little energy for the coming Christmas season, this week we are unpacking the calendars and stocking up on diaries for next year. Over a quarter of the year to go but it is already time to start thinking about the next one. The arrival of calendars seems earlier every year, although possibly like policemen getting younger and a tendency to bewail the poor spelling of new job applicants, this could merely be a symptom of one’s own advancing years.

I’m not that much of a regimented forward planner myself. If an event is proposed more than three weeks ahead I tend to blithely agree to it in the spirit of bonhomie, thinking I’ll sort out details andor excuses closer to the time. This can work, although if you have failed to make a note you can find yourself with clashing commitments. Or, indeed, if the appointment is not brought to one’s notice until just before the occurrence and good manners prevent one from cancelling, it will prove necessary to follow through with gritted teeth and a spirit of come-what-may braggadocio (I cite black water rafting in the Waitomo Caves and my first marriage as examples). Hum, perhaps I should buy one of those new diaries now.

We had a long discussion on stock levels for diaries and calendars this year (I know… but we are booksellers and don’t watch Strictly so we have to talk about something to fill in those awkward gaps between pencil sales). The big question, do people use diaries any more ? Don’t they just put everything in their iPhone ? We canvas the customers, we talk to colleagues and we have concluded that yes, it is still worth stocking calendars and diaries. They have a life and a utility which is beyond merely the recording of appointments.

British Library diary cover 2015

British Library diary cover 2015

We have some lovely wall calendars this year. Illustrated with pictures of antique maps or retro railway posters they show a month at a time. It’s handy to have one on the wall setting out your forward plans (at home we have ours in the kitchen). A glance en passant to the coffee machine every morning and you can think ahead to the delights in store next week, or stay your hand as it reaches towards the bottle of chilled white in the fridge, recognising the wisdom of few days sobriety to prepare for a debauch to come.

It is also indispensable in maintaining cordial relations with ones nearest and dearest. No need to bicker about whether to go to his parents’ golden wedding or your sister’s Bat Mizvah with the endless plaint of I told you it was on the 14th and I promised we would both be there. If you write it on the calendar first then you have priority. Job done. Just make sure you do it in biro not pencil to prevent furtive rubbings out. Mark down those nights out with the girls (or boys or small furry animals – your life, your preference) then you don’t need to have that ‘you didn’t tell me you would be late, I cooked’ accusatory conversation at two in the morning when your wits are not at their sharpest. It’s on the calendar you sing as you stumble towards bed. You do have to buy them now though, those halcyon days when your local garage or grocer handed out free calendars every year are long gone.

Diaries too have their role to play. A little pocket diary fits easily into your handbag and never runs out of batteries. For 2015 my favourite is the British Library’s pocket diary, beautifully illustrated with classic book jacket illustrations, it will be a pleasure to leaf though whilst you await the arrival of that friend whose timekeeping needs work. The flexibound Imperial War Museum one is good too – it has a wipe-clean cover so there is no need for concern if you inadvertently place it in that puddle of wine on the pub table whilst planning a future frolic, it won’t short out and take your life with it. Just give it a bit of a wipe. If your life is more action packed than mine (not difficult to believe) then maybe go for a desk diary with a little more space to record that mad social whirl. I also find a diary more useful than the phone for flicking back, easier on the eyes than all that mad scrolling – you can just flip over the requisite weeks to see just how long it is since you last wormed the cat or visited great aunt Maude.

And finally (and never underestimate this in the coming weeks). They make great presents. They are pretty (if you choose well), quirky or interesting or pay homage to the wider interests of the recipient (be it train spotting or horse riding). They are inexpensive. The gift of a diary cannot offend. It implies you believe the intended recipient has a life jam-packed which needs to be recorded. They are reassuringly easy to wrap. The person you get a diary for doesn’t have to find a space for it on the mantelpiece or wear it out next time you meet, you won’t be offended if they throw it out after a year. When the moment comes (and come it will, usually third week of December) when time is running out and you simply can’t think what to get your boss, your uncle or your granny for Christmas, buy a diary. or a calendar.

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