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The Sunday Times - Style Magazine 8th December 1996

Sunday Times Style MagazineDiary of a somebody

Buying a little something for an aristo? It's easy, all they want is a Dodo-Pad

I had always imagined that the inhabitants of our stately homes give one another welly sticks for Christmas, or huge vats of silver polish for all their neglected candelabra.

The truth is far stranger. While you and I have been busy flitting between Filofax and electronic organiser, the Barbour jacket brigade have developed a much more eccentric passion. They have fallen in love with the Dodo- Pad.

For those of you who are not yet in the know, the Dodo-Pad, which takes its name from the word doodle, was first invented more than 30 years ago by the painter and writer Sir John Verney, as he sat scribbling away during a particularly dull meeting of Surrey Farnham Council. A large, spiral- bound book, the Dodo-Pad - which sets back the cash strapped gentry just 8.99 each - acts as a quirky personal organiser for a family of up to five people, but is also packed with silly sayings, odd anniversaries and off- the-wall cartoons. There are even limericks: "The thunder god went for a ride / Upon his favourite filly / "I'm Thor" he cried./ His horse replied, / "You forgot your thaddle, thilly".

Dodo-Pad's customer list reads like a Who's Who of the aristocracy. This year, for instance, the Duchess of Northumberland has bought 11, while the Hon Lady Shuckburgh has ordered about 20. "I have always bought them," says Lady Legge-Bourke, grandmother of Tiggy, the Prince of Wale's little helper." I give them to my nieces. They're such fun, unique and so different from everything else."

" I love their zany sense of humour," echoes Lady Atcherley, of Long Melford, Suffolk, whose friends and relatives would, she insists, be extremely disappointed were they not to find a Dodo-Pad under the Christmas tree.

Sir Julian Critchley, the writer and Troy MP, was given his first Dodo-Pad by Sir John Verney himself and has been a fan ever since.

"There aren't many advantages to being an MP, but one of the few is that you get sent so many diaries." He says. "The Dodo-Pad is the only one I buy. It's whacky, it's fun to turn the pages, and it is shot through with a light and civilised touch."

Needless to say, Lady Legge-Burke and Co were extremely relieved when the Dodo-Pad was recently saved from extinction. Three years ago Sir John Verney died, having passed the Dodo onto his daughter Rose. She, in turn, passed it on to the cartoonist B. Peak. But when HarperCollins decided to sell off its diary interests, it looked as if Dodo addicts - at the peak of its popularity there were 30,000 - might have to look elsewhere for organisational wherewithal.

However Peak, the diary's current compiler, together with a former Saatchi & Saatchi marketing expert, have come to the rescue. They now hope to broaden the Dodo's exclusive coterie of customers.

"I couldn't bear to think of the Dodo-Pad dying out," says Peak, who puts it together in just three months. "I suppose its appeal lies in the irony of the fact that it is an anarchic way of organising life. With its bright cover, it's easy to find and, because it is designed with doodling in mind, once you have customised your Dodo, it instantly becomes your own property. What good are those huge diaries with glossy pictures for writing in?"

In short, a present with real cachet, and one that doesn't involve a bank breaking trip to Gucci.

Rachel Cooke

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