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Reform Magazine | November 29, 2023

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Do stay for tea and coffee: ‘Lists are how I get things done. Write it down, strike it off’

Do stay for tea and coffee: ‘Lists are how I get things done. Write it down, strike it off’

Paul Kerensa loves a list

I’ve noticed I’m relying a little more on writing things down. Lists are how I get things done. Write it down, strike it off. Of course, there’s that age-old tip: Start every to-do list with ‘Write list’, then you can cross that off straight away.

To be honest, my lists just help me remember things. I recently did that thing where I went upstairs, forgot what I went up for, but then came downstairs again, and forgot what I came down for (in hindsight it was because I was there to begin with). So I went upstairs again – and continued in limbo for some time, hovering around the mid-stair level till I thought of a good reason to go up or down.

If writing equals memory, there’s one piece of writing in our house that I treasure above all others. It began as a list, but soon found its way into a lined notebook – one of the many that people keep buying us as makeweight birthday presents. If ever you need a notebook, come and see us.

This is our family’s green book, which we’ve inventively nicknamed ‘The Green Book’: a scrawled collection of in-jokes and references, funny phrases and family catchphrases – because few catchphrases last forever, and things get forgotten. I won’t repeat them here; they wouldn’t make sense – in-jokes don’t, otherwise they’d be out-jokes.

The book began with our firstborn’s first words. I wanted somewhere to log those odd toddler babblings. The ones you can’t quite make sense of. So the first entry is simply ‘Aga’: my son’s first word. Granted, it’s more a sound than a word. We argued for days over whether he was trying to say ‘mummy’ or ‘daddy’, till we agreed he was suggesting we get one of those fancy ovens for the kitchen. Either way, it went in the book.

We wrote of the CBeebies lines he’d quote back and get a bit wrong. When my daughter arrived, her first words made it there too, and as they grew, their bedtime rituals went in. (‘Goodnight!’ ‘Goodnight to you too!’ ‘See you in the morning!’ ‘Not unless I see you first!’ etc – like Jim Carrey in The Truman Show, with his over-rehearsed ‘Good morning! And in case I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening and goodnight.’)

Anyone in the family can add to it, whether it’s the unfortunate order we asked for from that Majorcan waiter, to the misquoted Bible verse the kids emerged with after Junior Church, turning The Ten Commandments into a criminal’s To Do list.

As we celebrate fifty years of the URC, it’s a time to look back, and perhaps ponder at how it came together – from early scribbled notes to old church newsletters. What’s the oldest scrap of paper in your house? Shines a light on a different age, I’m sure.

As a broadcasting history fanatic, I spent the first working day of this year at Caversham’s BBC Written Archives Centre. I held in my hands the piece of paper where engineer Frank Gill first named that organisation, scrawling in pen ‘The British Broadcasting Company’. One person’s century-old scribble is today’s archive-hunter’s dream.

Write things down, keep a few. One day you might look back on it.

Oh and I’ve been educating my kids on BBC history too. One of our favourites is The Goon sketch, when Peter Sellers’ Bluebottle asks Spike Milligan’s Eccles what time it is. Eccles replies: ‘Just a minute. I’ve got it written down on a piece of paper.’

Paul Kerensa is a writer, broadcaster and comedian. His books include Hark! The Biography of Christmas and his touring show The First Broadcast: The battle for the Beeb in 1922 recreates the first BBC broadcasts.


This article was published in the October 2022 edition of Reform

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