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Authors: Mike Gayle

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The To-Do List

BOOK: The To-Do List

The To-Do List



Mike Gayle


First published in Great Britain in 2009 by Hodder & Stoughton

An Hachette Livre UK company


Copyright © Mike Gayle 2009


The right of Mike Gayle to be identified as the Author of

the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with

the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored

in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without

the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in

any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and

without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.


A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library


Epub ISBN 978 1 848 94140 3

Book ISBN 978 0 340 93674 0


Hodder & Stoughton Ltd

338 Euston Road

London NW1 3BH


In memory of Barbara Richards

who knew more about getting things done

than I’ll ever know.






Thanks to the following: Sue, Swati and everyone at Hodder; Simon and all at United Agents; Jane B.E; the Sunday Night Pub Club; Mark Forster aka The Time Management Guru, Alexa the Canadian, John and Charlotte; the O’Reillys, the Board, Team Gayle, Susie Dent, Jackie, Danny, Sam, Hassan, Nadine, Chris McCabe, Sharon, John, Richard and everyone everywhere that I might have missed out who helped out during my year of To Do Listing. The drinks are on me!


I don’t like the sound of all those lists he’s making –

it’s like taking too many notes at school; you feel

you’ve achieved something when you haven’t.


Dodie Smith,
I Capture the Castle



It feels odd packing my bags for a trip that’s going to take me so far away from my family. Before Claire and I had kids going away on my own used to be easy. Exciting even. Who wouldn’t have been thrilled at the prospect of a work jolly abroad? Getting ready for these trips I used to throw a few things into a suitcase, happy in the knowledge that Claire would use her time living in a Mike-free world to indulge in a spot of part-time bachelorette activity featuring long baths, hour upon hour of
America’s Top Model
, marathon phone conversations with her friend Charlotte and the opportunity to get a good night’s sleep without having to wrestle the duvet from anybody.

Now of course things are different. Not only does my going away even for just a couple of nights to somewhere as close as London make life difficult for my wife in terms of looking after the kids (although thankfully for this trip Claire’s mum is at hand to help out), it also feels like the hardest thing in the world to do. What if something happens in the middle of the night and one of the kids needs me? What if I’m not there to witness first-hand some new and amazing development in Maisie’s abilities now that she’s already started walking? What if I just miss the everyday to and fro of family life? In recent years I’ve turned down trips abroad for these very reasons so why is it that I am about to fly all the way to America for the sake of a $12 coffee mug? The answer, to me at least, is simple: love. I’m doing it all for love. Because no matter how you say it and how often it gets said, actions will always speak louder than words and right now, though some might call it pointless, frivolous, or just plain stupid, flying to the other side of the Atlantic for the sake of a $12 coffee mug is the one thing I want to say in the loudest possible way.




(During which a birthday, some new neighbours and a toothpaste-encrusted T-shirt led me to write a 1277-item-long To-Do List)





Chapter 1: ‘Realise that you’ve got a problem.’

The events that led me to jump on a plane to New York in pursuit of a $12 coffee mug had their origins in the Saturday before my thirty-sixth birthday. It was just after six in the morning and I was lying on the sofa in the darkness of the living room watching TV. By which I actually mean that I was slavishly working my way through the DVD box set of the second season of
which I had been given for Christmas some two years earlier. In the course of those two years I had not only failed to watch a single episode; I’d also failed to so much as remove the polythene wrapping. Every time I walked past the shelves in the living room where the DVDs lived I’d immediately feel guilty. I’d wanted that DVD box set more than anything. I’d imagined some unspecified point in the future when I’d have nothing better to do than sit down and catch up with the latest antics of Jack Bauer and his Kevlar body armour, yet that time was still to come around. The box had sat unloved and unopened for two whole years. Still, it was in good company. There was a box set of the first season of
The Wire
, the US import version (that’s how badly I’d wanted it) of the
Die Hard Trilogy
and the first series of
. All unwatched. All still in their wrappers. And all making me feel guilty. So guilty, that having woken from a restless sleep at three o’clock in the morning, my first thought was whether I could get up early every day for the next twenty-four days, watch an episode of the second series of
, and still find the energy to work, play with my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter Lydia, spend time with my pregnant wife and undertake the hundred and one different tasks that found their way onto my daily To-Do List. Reasoning that in my current state of mind I was never going to get back to sleep and finding myself in agreement with the adage that there’s no time like the present, I slipped out of bed, headed downstairs, turned off the burglar alarm, made my way to the DVD shelf in the living room, unwrapped the second series of
, slid the first disc into the DVD player, settled myself down on the sofa and pressed ‘play’.


When the hinges on the door behind my head screeched open I paused the on-screen action and made yet another mental note to buy a can of oil the next time I was somewhere that sold cans of oil and sort out the hinges. It was only a small thing, not exactly the hardest task in the world, yet it had remained unchecked on my mental To-Do List for the best part of five years.

‘Morning, babe.’ My wife entered the room. ‘You’re up early. Couldn’t you sleep?’

I shook my head.

‘What time did you get up?’

‘About three. It’s getting ridiculous. This is the third day in a row. No matter what time I get to bed, come three o’clock I’m wide awake and there’s not a single thing I can do to get back to sleep. I mean, what time did we go to bed last night?’

Claire stretched and stifled a yawn. ‘We had dinner at five, played with Lydia for a bit before taking her up for a wash, then we read her stories and put her to bed, then I came down and tidied up while you did some work in the loft and then Lydia called down to say that she’d done a poo so I went back up to deal with that, and then she said that she was thirsty so I got her a cup of water and then carried on tidying up and you came downstairs and said, “Let’s watch telly”, and so I asked you what you wanted to watch and you said, “Let’s watch stuff that makes us want to shout at the TV,” so then you found an old episode of
Property Ladder
, and the couple they were featuring was really annoying but during the ad break you said that you were going to close your eyes for five minutes so I did too and the next thing I knew it was ten to ten and I said we should go to bed and you said, “Just five more minutes,” so I closed my eyes again and then the next thing I knew it was ten to eleven and you were waking me up saying that we should go to bed.’ She paused to laugh her beautiful laugh. ‘Did I leave anything out?’

‘No, babe, I think that’s pretty much everything.’

This way of life had been pretty much
de rigueur
for Claire and me ever since we first became parents three and a half years earlier. Not that we were living a rock ’n’ roll lifestyle before that, far from it – we were probably the least rock ’n’ roll people you could hope to meet – but at the very least life pre-Lydia used to consist of a bit more than falling asleep on the sofa in front of the TV.

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