Trending: Find human skull. Buy sunbed. To-do lists of the gifted

 

Towel? Check. Glasses? Check. Fine-tooth bone saw? Mustn't forget that. Leonardo Da Vinci, artist, scientist and keen dissector, was also fond of the to-do list. An example, from a 16th-century notebook, goes on display at Buckingham Palace next month. It includes a packing list for a study trip, as well as reminders to, among other things, "get anatomy books bound" and, "find a human skull".

To-do lists like these remind us that even geniuses need gently to remind themselves of mundane tasks (as well as occasional skull searching). They can also reveal more than a diary could about the quotidian lives of the brilliant, the brainy and otherwise inscrutable.

A list written by John Lennon which came up at auction last year included a reminder that a TV repairman was due between three and five and an almost lyrical instruction to buy marmalade because the Beatle had "enough jam for Noah's ark already".

There is now a tragic sense about a to-do list written by Amy Winehouse the year before the singer found fame and 10 years before she died of alcohol poisoning. "Buy flat in London," she wrote. "Get teeth done... buy a sunbed to put in my flat... Live like the bombshell I really am."

The Italian thinker Umberto Eco is a list man. He has called them the "origin of culture" because they help "make infinity comprehensible".

But if there is art in list-making, its greatest practitioner was Woody Guthrie. In 1942, the American songwriter wrote a 33-point plan for living that serves as a guide to us all. It says: "Learn people better... Wake up and fight," and... "Change socks."

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