TRIED & TESTED: DATES TO REMEMBER

Diaries come tailor-made for every kind of enthusiast. But which is most useful day-to-day? Our panel tries nine
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The Independent Culture
WHILE SHOPPERS browse for next year's diary, editions for 1996 are already about to roll off the publishers' presses; editors have spent the year carefully updating religious holidays, phases of the moon and lighting-up times.

We asked a panel of four busy people whose diaries are crammed with appointments to assess a selection of diaries for 1995 to see which is the most practical, useful and attractive. Some are crammed with such trivia as the date of Primrose Day (observed, apparently, by Tories who support the ideas of Disraeli; it was his favourite flower) and of Fergie's birthday - an occasion fated, perhaps, to be purged from future editions.

THE PANEL

Harriet Pennant-Williams, group sales head, Mac-millan Magazines; Ken Rowe, director of YSC, corporate psychologists; Suzanne Ford, theatrical agent at Christina Shepherd Ltd; Lindsay Wittenberg, principal, Europe for Business.

THE TEST

The panel gave the diaries marks for how convenient and practical they were to use, how useful the information was, how attractive they were, and their value for money.

LESLEY ANNE IVORY'S CATS DIARY (RANDOM HOUSE)

£5.50

This diary, illustrated with pictures by the American artist Lesley Anne Ivory, is strictly for cat enthusiasts - and none of our panel came into this category. It has almost no information and little space for entries - and the panel did not even particularly like its design, which one might expect to be the diary's chief selling point. "I hate cats and found the introduction by the artist nauseating," said Suzanne Ford. Harriet Pennant-Williams was slightly less critical: "The pictures are attractive and it would make a good present for someone who, unlike me, does like cats."

****LETTS EXECUTIVE POCKET DIARY (CHARLES LETTS & CO)

£11.50

This diary, the most expensive of the lot with its soft black leather cover, was voted the most practical and by far the best to look at. Harriet Pennant-Williams said: "My favourite by a long way. The other sales executives in the office loved it. I wouldn't be embarrassed to bring it out at a client meeting. I loved the pen that comes with it." Its small size made it easy to carry, although Lindsay Wittenberg felt, "If it were bigger, it would be more convenient for business." Panellists also praised its road maps. But Suzanne Ford found its pages of general information weren't much use: "There's no theatre, cinema or restaurant information."

***AA MOTORISTS DIARY

(CHARLES LETTS & CO/AUTOMOBILE ASSOCIATION)

£4.99

As well as the usual general facts and figures and more specialist motoring information, this diary has pages to fill with meticulous details about your car, such as the chassis number and renewal dates for your tax, insurance and MOT - not to mention your AA subscription. Panellists were keen: "A down-to-earth diary - the spark plugs almost jump out of it. The calendar for 1997 is a brilliant idea. The international information is also very good, but why are there no international maps?" said Lindsay Wittenberg. But Harriet Pennant-Williams, despite frequent business travel on the road, found much of the information redundant, because most of her motoring needs are taken care of by her comp-any. "The only useful part is the distance charts to calculate business mileage," she commented.

***PEPYS LONDON DIARY

(NEALE DATADAY)

£6.25

Not only our three Londoners found this slimline diary useful, but also Brighton-based Lindsay Wittenberg. "I loved the obscure information on London and the maps; the international holidays are helpful too," she said, although she thought the diary needed more room for addresses and notes. Not surprisingly, theatrical agent Suzanne Ford liked the listings of London restaurants, hotels, and both fringe and West End theatres, though she thought it covered too much sport: "Surely greyhound racing isn't vital for a diary?" she asked

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**THE USEFUL DATA DIARY

(NEALE DATADAY)

£4.90

The diary for trivia junkies: if you want a list of English monarchs from 995AD or to know the difference between gorgonzola and gruyre this is the place to look. It also has plenty of information more likely to be useful. The panel thought this small diary, although it would fit easily in a pocket or handbag, might be easy to lose. "There isn't much space to write in and I would lose it within a day as it's so small - but at least now I know what to do about an overflowing cistern," said Suzanne Ford. "Will appeal to those who want a proper `adult' diary," said Ken Rowe.

***OXFAM SLIMLINE DIARY

(OXFAM/CHARLES LETTS & CO)

£2.99

The main advantage of this one was the low price and an attractive cover, based on Kashmiri lacquer paintings. But most of the panel found the information, largely publicity for Oxfam, not very useful to them. "It could have been more creative and interesting," said Ken Rowe. Suzanne Ford was the exception: "A good diary, with interesting information. Excellent value for money and it looks lovely." Oxfam told us the charity gets all the profits, after production costs, for this diary.

**PRIVATE EYE CARTOON DIARY

(RANDOM HOUSE)

£4.99

Its size makes this more a diary to keep by the phone than carry. Opinions were divided about the standard of the cartoons; Lindsay Wittenberg found them disappointing, "considering the usual calibre of Private Eye", while Suzanne Ford enjoyed them and thought the lack of information no disadvantage. "It would make a great present," she said. One of two diaries (with the V&A one) to give the wrong date for the May Day holiday (changed next year to 8 May to coincide with VE day).

V&A POCKET DIARY

(RANDOM HOUSE)

£5.50

Another diary to choose mainly for its looks - it is illustrated with V&A artefacts such as a Chinese snuff bottle - but with little information or space for entries. Our panel mostly found that it would not suit their packed lives. "Quite nice to look at, and a convenient size, but not at all practical to use as a diary for work," said Ken Rowe. "Pictures are nicely presented and selected, but get in the way of the purpose of the diary," commented Lindsay Wittenberg. But it was one of the Suzanne Ford's favourites: "It's got absolutely no information in it, but it looks lovely," she said

**ROYAL HORTICULTURAL

SOCIETY GARDENER'S DAIRY

(CHARLES LETTS & CO)

£4.99

Another enthusiast's diary, which concentrates on specialist events such as the RHS annual camellia competition. Less expert gardeners wanting basic tips will be disappointed. Our panel found it too specialist. "I can't envisage any circumstances in which I'd need to know about the viola and pansy," said Lindsay Wittenberg. But Ken Rowe liked the diary: "Attractive to look at and interesting information - almost enough to make me get out my spade and trowel."

STOCKISTS

The Cats, Private Eye and V&A diaries are available from all good bookshops or gift shops; Letts executive pocket diary, AD diary, and RHS Gardener's diary from John Lewis Partnership, Owen & Owen, Allders, House of Fraser, John Menzies, WH Smith, Selfridges, Harrods, Army & Navy Stores; Useful Data Diary and Pepys London diary from WH Smith, department stores and newsagents; the Oxfam diary is available from Oxfam shops.

NEXT WEEK: DOGS' TOYS

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