The New Engagement Book

Twelfth Night was over; the decorations were down; Christmas (which, like all extremes, dates easily) seemed as démodé as a hat in a passport photograph: and still Mrs. Miniver had not bought herself a new engagement book, but was scribbling untidy notes on the fly-leaf of the old one.

As usual, she had meant to buy one before leaving London for Starlings; but as usual, there hadn't been time. It is a thing, she knew, which must never be done in a hurry. An engagement book is the most important of all those small adjuncts to life, that tribe of humble familiars which jog along beside one from year's end to year's end, apparently trivial, but momentous by reason of their terrible intimacy. A sponge, a comb, a tooth-brush, a spectacle-case, a fountain-pen -- these are the things which need to be chosen with care. They become, in time, so much a part of one that they can scarcely be classed as inanimate. Insensitive, certainly -- but so are one's nails and hair. And although some of them can be given away if one takes a dislike to them, with others the only remedy is destruction ; and there is no case on record of anybody, however rich, being strong-minded enough to throw an almost new sponge into the fire. Meekly, one puts up with its inconvenient shape, its repulsive texture, and the cretinous face which is discernible among its contours when it is lightly squeezed. Eventually, thank goodness, it will wear out; or with any luck one may leave it behind in an hotel.

But an engagement book, once used, is a far worse problem. To give it away is impossible, to lose it is disastrous, and to scrap it and start a new one entails a laborious copying out of all the entries that have already been made. Unless, of course, one is prepared to leave the first part of the new book blank and risk giving one's biographers -- if any -- the impression that one has suffered from a prolonged attack of leprosy. Or worse.

So it wasn't until well into January that Mrs. Miniver, up for the day from Starlings to go to the dentist. found herself in a stationer's shop with enough leisure to give the matter the attention it deserved. She stopped in front of the rack marked "Diaries" and prepared to enjoy herself

The first book she picked up was bound in scarlet morocco. Rather nice; but it turned out to be one of those unnatural affairs which show two weeks at an opening. A fortnight, she always felt, was an impossible division of time, relevant neither to God's arrangements nor to man's. Days were the units which mattered most, being divided from each other by the astounding phenomenon of losing and regaining consciousness. (How brave, how trustful people are, to dare to go to sleep!) But a day at an opening was no good -- too much for an engagement book, not enough for a real diary. A week was what she wanted: a nice manageable chunk of time with a beginning, a middle, and an end, containing, if desired, a space for each of the wonders of the world, the champions of Christendom, the deadly sins, or the colours of the rainbow. (Monday was definitely yellow, Thursday a dull indigo, Friday violet. About the others she didn't feel so strongly.)

Of the week-at-an-opening kind, there were only three left. That was the worst of leaving it so late. One was bound in crimson leatherette, one in brown calf, and one in green lizardskin. She rejected the leatherette at once. In a spasm of post-Christmas economy, she had once bought a very cheap engagement book, and it had annoyed her for twelve months; everything she put down in it looked squalid. The green hazard, on the other hand, was marked seven-and-sixpence, which seemed a fabulous price to pay. She decided on the brown calf, at three-and-nine: a smooth, pleasant little volume, an honest and sturdy companion for a year's march. It would wear well; she could not possibly, she knew, take a dislike to it. She paid, put it into her bag, left the shop and stepped on to a No. 11 bus. She would catch the train back to Starlings with twenty minutes to spare.

Half-way down the Pimlico Road she suddenly pressed the button and jumped off the bus.

"Forgotten something, " she said, smiling apologetically at the conductor. There was no other bus in sight, so she walked back to Sloane Square as fast as she could. At this very moment, perhaps, the green lizard-skin diary was being bought by somebody else -- some wholly unsuitable person who merely wanted to get one in a hurry; a rich, earnest woman who would fill it with committee meetings, or a business man who would not even glance at the binding when he opened it to jot down the words "Dine George. " While she herself with all her dearest activities soberly confined in brown calf, would be thinking about it in an agony of regret.

But it was still there. She produced another three-and-ninepence and bore it away delighted. After all, the difference was very little more than the price of a taxi. (But she had to take a taxi to Charing Cross as well.)

In the train she pulled out the little green shining book and entered in it, from memory, the few and simple appointments which the year had so far contained. "Meet Clem, 2.27. " "Pike-fishing with Vin. " "Lunch Bucklands. " "Bridget for week-end. " Bare and laconic; yet those first days had been crammed, like all other days, with feelings, ideas and discoveries. And so it would go on until the book was complete -- a skeleton map of her year, which to anybody else's eye would convey no picture whatever of her mental landscape. But she, glancing through it twelve months hence, would be able to fill in many, though not all, of the details; how, on the way out from the station, Clem had told her about the new Gloucestershire job; how she and Vin had seen a heron ; how the Bucklands had given them home-cured gammon with pickled peaches; and Bridget's fascinating story about her cousin, the threepenny-bit, and the deaf chimney-sweep.


Return to the Title Page - source of this work. Link to Source - Jan Struther's "Mrs. Miniver"

Internet Edition © 2001 The Estate of Jan Struther