Northern Ireland

Paper calendars - why they are not in the dustbin of history

Picture from Belfast International Airport firefighters calendar 2017 Image copyright Jim McGann
Image caption Belfast International Airport's firefighters have made one of Northern Ireland's hottest 2017 charity calendars

They are as traditional as mulled wine and minced pies. But in the digital age, what is the appeal of the paper calendar?

Everyone has a favourite. Whether it's Liverpool FC, Labradors or Lamborghinis, there'll be a calendar for it.

Every discerning cat breed, pop star and football club will have their own. There's even Goats in Trees 2017.

Until the last week of 2016, the year's top three best-selling calendars in Northern Ireland were not Little Mix, Justin Bieber or Daniel O'Donnell (though they all featured in the top 30.)

Number one was Liverpool, two was Northern Ireland scenery and three was Manchester United.

It appears the people of Northern Ireland also like Schnauzers (number eight), Elvis Presley (number 14) and Bible verses (number 17).

Image copyright Jim McGann
Image caption When smoke gets in your eyes. The firefighters' calendar is raising money for charity

The rankings come from Calendar Club, whose shops pop up all over the UK during the festive season. They had 277 in 2016 - 33 in Ireland.

It's a US import which came to the UK in 1998 with 12 shops, none in Ireland.

Three years later the first one opened in Belfast's CastleCourt shopping centre. It is still going strong and is stocking about 1,100 calendars for 2017.

Making snails sexy

Bill Nettelfield has been with Calendar Club UK from the very beginning and says its range has made "calendars what they are today".

"Mums used to have a freebie calendar from the milkman on the kitchen wall. Now there's a calendar for nearly every dog breed."

He says there are particular regional titles that sell very well in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland - namely anything to do with farmers, tractors, humour and local panoramas.

The Grassmen calendar was riding high in the charts, and the best-selling calendar in the Republic in 2016 was Irish Farmers (which was number 25 in the Northern Ireland chart).

Dubbed "agri-porn", the calendar is now in its eighth year and has branched out into a book. It claims to be "100% Irish beef" and in addition to the usual topless farmers in comic poses, this year's calendar tries to make snails sexy.

Image copyright Ian Shipley
Image caption Meet Farmer February, Norton Greene
Image copyright Ian Shipley
Image caption November is a bonus month, with three farmers and a dog

For contrast, the top three-selling titles in Waterstones in 2016 were Banksy, Mum's family wall calendar and Pokemon.

Last year's top selling Calendar Club title around the UK was Justin Bieber; the year before it was One Direction.

'Ping a reminder'

People buy calendars for various reasons - they're pretty to look at, they bring back happy memories or they induce laughter are three main reasons. Trying to keep a grip on the hectic pace of life is another.

"Our family organisers sell in big numbers, with spaces for mums, dads and the kids," said Mr Nettelfield.

"They want to be able to see a whole month at a time not a phone that will ping a reminder about the dentist a few hours before.

"There used to be just one per household, now there are four in different rooms. Kids put calendars on their wall as posters".

Image copyright Ronan McGrade Photography
Image caption Ballinamallard United captain James McKenna and Johnny Lafferty are feeling the heat on the pitch

Calendars are also big business for charities. The Women's Institute calendar was the one that started it all in 1999. Immortalised in the film Calendar Girls, the tastefully naked Yorkshire ladies raised a load of cash for a cancer charity.

This year's offering from Northern Ireland includes a calendar starring firefighters from Belfast International Airport.

While it naturally contains the tongue-in-cheek topless men, hoses and raging fires, it also features female firefighters and a dog.

"The calendar is raising money for kids so it's more fun and a bit PC," said Watch Commander Evan Taylor.

Mr Taylor, who admits his "whole life is on his iPhone", says those buying the calendar can be divided into two camps - women for stocking fillers and secret Santas, and "a certain age group who still like something on paper".

Image copyright Jim McGann
Image caption There is more to the firefighters' calendar than men minus their shirts

From firefighters to footballers. The players, management and backroom staff at the Irish League Premiership club Ballinamallard United, in County Fermanagh, have produced their first calendar to raise money for charity.

Club captain James McKenna said they thought "the gaffer" was winding them up when it was first suggested, but making the calendar proved to be "fun" and a "pleasant change" from training.

Image caption Popular titles for 2017 include the hit monster game Pokemon and the artist Banksy

Claire Bradshaw, head of communications at NI Hospice, says its calendar is as popular as ever, selling about 3,000 every year.

For 2017, the charity asked people to contribute pictures of well-known landmarks or places of interest from across Northern Ireland.

"Despite modern technology, calendars still remain a firm favourite with our customers," she said.

Without a doubt calendars make great gifts - personalised calendars have also become increasingly popular - and so it would seem there is still a place for them in 2017 and beyond.

Calendar Club sells about 4m calendars annually, and while it has become crowded, the calendar market is holding its own in the digital age, says Mr Nettelfield.

"On 1 January, people take the old one down and put the new one up," he said. "They need something to put in the space".