It will surprise no-one who reads this blog on a semi-regular basis, that I lived for fifteen years in the Netherlands. What may surprise some Dutch readers is that, during this time, I never once owned a diary.
Dutch people are quite militant about their diary. It is a device that gives then structure and schedule. It allows them to regiment their day. That’s what a diary is meant to do after all. As they enter the world, it could well be true that after being introduced to their loving parents, that the next event in their spanking new life is to be issued with, an agenda. A leather bound book, that fits in either a pocket or handbag, and which is as essential to daily life as your front door key.
It makes sense. People have busy lives (or so they keep saying – I am not fully convinced. Considering the amount of Netflix series and television box sets watched by certain colleagues, I am not entirely persuaded by their claims that they barely have time to breathe.)
So to have a book with a page for each day of the year, in which you can schedule events far in advance, is a very clever idea. As it is portable, and instantly accessible from the depths of your stylish man-bag, it means you will never double-book (or at least you’ll be aware of an impending one).
Possession of such a book can however, lead to a rigidity of schedule. An inflexibility when it comes to plans. It can stifle spontaneity. Once it is in that book, then it is a concrete plan, and alternative arrangements for a particular date or time will not be allowed. Perish the thought. The idea won’t even be entertained.
Thanks to the national addiction to diaries, it is a fairly commonplace occurrence in the Netherlands to make a plan to meet for coffee, six weeks in advance. And that the appointment will be of forty five minute duration, precisely.
It’s certainly practical – and my Dutch lovelies are nothing if not practical. It also seems a little clinical. Which is why I resisted the urge to invest in one.
Actually that is a bare-faced lie. I never had an urge to buy one. I am so disorganised that it never entered my brain. It has only been in the past year that I have discovered the magic of a wallet. Imagine – a little container that holds all your cards and money in a convenient compact container? Better than chucking them at random into your cavernous satchel, and scrabbling to locate them when needed.
I used occasionally wind up some Dutch people, by calling round – unannounced – for a cup of tea. If they answered the door they would look bewildered and confused as they consulted their diary to see had they missed the appointment. More often than not, they would simply refuse to answer the front door. They were home as I could hear them. But the door remained unanswered. You book in advance, or you will be ignored.
Well this week has taught me the error of my ways. On Monday I offered the use of my apartment as rehearsal space for two of the plays I am performing in later this month. At the same time. Naturally. While my flat is spacious enough, it is certainly too compact to accommodate the number of people involved. I had to flake out on one group. I felt wretched.
Two weeks ago I made a plan to see a play with some friends. Tonight. Thursday. An interesting piece being held in the Olympia Theatre. We arranged it via Facebook. In my mental diary, I incorrectly recorded this as a Friday appointment. Sure where else would I need to record it?
Last week at the end of my driving lesson, when scheduling my next lesson, I agreed to this Friday evening for my next class. Why not? In my mental diary, I was free, having forgotten about the incorrectly remembered Friday theatre appointment.
Eventually realising that I was double booked for Friday. Of course I wasn’t – I just thought I was. I rescheduled my Friday driving lesson for Thursday.
So driving on Thursday. Theatre on Friday. All is clear.
Thirty minutes later, a reminder from my friend about the Thursday theatre event.
Oh shite. Praise Dolly my driving instructor could still reschedule back to the original Friday slot. He may be flexible. But he doesn’t offer refunds.
All is now settled.
Sorry for doubting you, Dutch people. You were right all along (and I know you won’t she shy or retiring in confirming that). I will buy a diary. I will use it.
And as Dolly is my witness, I’ll never go double-booking again.