New Year 2018 THE FOLIO SOCIETY DIARY
Often at Christmas I receive a beautiful diary for the coming year. I have developed a habit, or perhaps a phobia, whereby I never use them as diaries at all, because they are too precious. To write on the details of everyday life would surely be to deface them. Like some dreadful kind of graffiti. There seems to me to be an unbridgeable gap between the spirit of the pictures, the skill, the colours, the subject matter, and the facts of appointments with friends, family, dentists and hairdressers. I keep track of those on my phone, laptop, and in dreary ‘planners’ designed for the purpose. On my bookshelves I have several of the fancy diaries from past years, pristine collections of photos of the works of Gaudi, the Lady and the Unicorn, paintings of Australian birds, botanical illustrations.
This year my daughter gave me a diary from the Folio Society. Gorgeous. Small hardback. On the cover is an embossed image of a leaping stag from the Liber Bestiarum held in the Bodleian Library and made in the thirteenth century. The left hand pages show, in strangely soothing colour, on pleasing thick creamy paper stock, images from works of art made in the fifteenth century or earlier. A dreamy selection of fifty-five medieval sights from prayer books, maps, frescoes, manuscripts, herbals, music scripts. I sat down beside the Christmas tree and became lost in a sweet, slow contemplation of the pictures. A detail from the Lindisfarne Gospels, a man catching bees from a Book of Hours, a snowball fight from an Italian fresco.
When at last I closed the diary, everyone else had gone for a swim. I started to think – will I put the diary on my desk and just look at the image for the week? Will I put it on a nearby table and look at it from time to time? What if – it came to me as a revelation – what if I got a nice soft forgiving pencil and wrote appointments in it? Surely not.
On the eleventh of January 2018 I have an appointment with my hairdresser. I turned to the relevant page, where there is a facing picture of Christine de Pizan in her study, painted in the early fifteenth century. The blue of her gown echoes the blue of the cover of the book. Her hair is concealed beneath the sails of a crisp white head-dress. Her tiny white dog waits obediently at her feet. She sits on a chair that resembles what is often known as a Savonarola, in a stone archway. Her book, covered in handwriting, is open on the table. She has some sort of writing instrument in each hand, and she has almost reached the bottom of the page. Her gaze is thoughtful. What will she write next? I picked up a soft pencil, and in the narrow space provided for events scheduled for Thursday 11, I wrote: Hair 2.15.