Diaries for your dates

It's worth investing a little money to keep your life in order and choosing the right diary is a cru

This time of year reminds me of going back to school. Girls, in particular, have a real thing about new stationery. I still love claiming ownership of a new book - exercise or address - by writing my name on it. But what I really like is buying my new diary each year. I'm not talking about the "Dear diary" kind, although I've kept one of those since I was seven (then it was all descriptive: "I am wearing my M&S knickers with the rosebuds on and had cornflakes for breakfast"). No, I mean a diary for appointments and notes that has a section at the front for your name, address, blood group and so on. Each year I've played around with new ones until, quite by accident at the end of 2003, I fell upon the most perfect one of all.

Guerlain had sent me a Christmas present of a Smythson Portobello desk diary (life is tough when you're an award-winning beauty journalist). It was bound in fuchsia leather, and one of the most decadent things I'd ever seen. I shall be honest and say I thought of selling it, or giving it away, until I convinced myself that it was OK to actually keep it. But I assuaged the guilt by gifting it to my three-month-old daughter and would write in it, every day, what had happened to her: "first tooth", "first taste of Yorkshire pudding", all the important things. But as I worked with it, I realised it was the perfect diary for me, and every year since, I have bought myself one.

This causes a lot of people angst because the diary costs - depending on the colour - about £150. Seasonal colours cost about 25 per cent more on top of that, but luckily I don't care about such things. I once justified its expense to a friend with a two-paragraph email, whereas now I just say, "Yes, expensive, isn't it, but don't you think I'm worth it?" I use it several times a day - it's the most practical diary ever - and it keeps my life in order. It also gives me a tremor of excitement every time I use it. Now that ain't bad going. But there are cheaper, smaller, handbag-sized ones available.

If you like to run a brisk kitchen and pantry, then the Daylesford Kitchen Diary is for you: recipe ideas, tips on organic gardening, seasonal food to watch out for. And all at a much more affordable £15. I plan to use mine as a gardening diary, however, which I think makes much more sense, because my actual kitchen doesn't need an agenda.

Organised mums or dads (though the latter will have to live with a name which, basically, says that dads can't be organised) might like the Organised Mum set of diaries: a Life Book or pocket-sized version, which helps you organise your whole household. You get tear-off shopping lists - fabulously useful - and you get stickers, which I find really rather exciting.

Annalisa Barbieri was in fashion PR for five years before going to the Observer to be fashion assistant. She has worked for the Evening Standard and the Times and was one of the fashion editors on the Independent on Sunday for five years, where she wrote the Dear Annie column. She was fishing correspondent of the Independent from 1997-2004.

This article first appeared in the 10 December 2007 issue of the New Statesman, How New Labour turned toxic

Show Hide image

The strange death of boozy Britain: why are young people drinking less?

Ditching alcohol for work.

Whenever horrific tales of the drunken escapades of the youth are reported, one photo reliably gets wheeled out: "bench girl", a young woman lying passed out on a public bench above bottles of booze in Bristol. The image is in urgent need of updating: it is now a decade old. Britain has spent that time moving away from booze.

Individual alcohol consumption in Britain has declined sharply. In 2013, the average person over 15 consumed 9.4 litres of alcohol, 19 per cent less than 2004. As with drugs, the decline in use among the young is particularly notable: the proportion of young adults who are teetotal increased by 40 per cent between 2005 and 2013. But decreased drinking is not only apparent among the young fogeys: 80 per cent of adults are making some effort to drink less, according to a new study by consumer trends agency Future Foundation. No wonder that half of all nightclubs have closed in the last decade. Pubs are also closing down: there are 13 per cent fewer pubs in the UK than in 2002. 

People are too busy vying to get ahead at work to indulge in drinking. A combination of the recession, globalisation and technology has combined to make the work of work more competitive than ever: bad news for alcohol companies. “The cost-benefit analysis for people of going out and getting hammered starts to go out of favour,” says Will Seymour of Future Foundation.

Vincent Dignan is the founder of Magnific, a company that helps tech start-ups. He identifies ditching regular boozing as a turning point in his career. “I noticed a trend of other entrepreneurs drinking three, four or five times a week at different events, while their companies went nowhere,” he says. “I realised I couldn't be just another British guy getting pissed and being mildly hungover while trying to scale a website to a million visitors a month. I feel I have a very slight edge on everyone else. While they're sleeping in, I'm working.” Dignan now only drinks occasionally; he went three months without having a drop of alcohol earlier in the year.

But the decline in booze consumption isn’t only about people becoming more work-driven. There have never been more alternate ways to be entertained than resorting to the bottle. The rise of digital TV, BBC iPlayer and Netflix means most people means that most people have almost limitless choice about what to watch.

Some social lives have also partly migrated online. In many ways this is an unfortunate development, but one upshot has been to reduce alcohol intake. “You don’t need to drink to hang out online,” says Dr James Nicholls, the author of The Politics of Alcohol who now works for Alcohol Concern. 

The sheer cost of boozing also puts people off. Although minimum pricing on booze has not been introduced, a series of taxes have made alcohol more expensive, while a ban on below-cost selling was introduced last year. Across the 28 countries of the EU, only Ireland has higher alcohol and tobacco prices than the UK today; in 1998 prices in the UK were only the fourth most expensive in the EU.

Immigration has also contributed to weaning Britain off booze. The decrease in alcohol consumption “is linked partly to demographic trends: the fall is largest in areas with greater ethnic diversity,” Nicholls says. A third of adults in London, where 37 per cent of the population is foreign born, do not drink alcohol at all, easily the highest of any region in Britain.

The alcohol industry is nothing if not resilient. “By lobbying for lower duty rates, ramping up their marketing and developing new products the big producers are doing their best to make sure the last ten years turn out to be a blip rather than a long term change in culture,” Nicholls says.

But whatever alcohol companies do to fight back against the declining popularity of booze, deep changes in British culture have made booze less attractive. Forget the horrific tales of drunken escapades from Magaluf to the Bullingdon Club. The real story is of the strange death of boozy Britain. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.