Lists. At this time of year, it's all about the lists. I've got so many I've had to make a list of my lists. For the past week, and for the next 72 hours, life is marked out by words on lined paper, to be added to and scored through. What's that you say, first sign of madness?
What food to buy, and when to start cooking it. Who to get presents for, and what they need/want/ don't need/don't want. Who to send cards to, and the names of their children (to prevent hokey "...and the little ones" greetings). Which neighbours need looking in on, and which dog food will make Millie the boxer (ours for two weeks) curl her considerable lip.
There's also *SPOILER ALERT* the crucial stocking list. Those readers who have more than one child will know about this list. Each child must receive The Exact Same Number Of Gifts. Otherwise... well, it's too horrible to contemplate but put it this way, you won't get anyone to eat sprouts through their clenched, angry jaws.
This year I've had to create an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of everything. I'm well aware that that makes me sound like the very worst kind of Polly Filler columnist but it's more about fairness and frugality than ruthless organisation and lavish spending. Yes, really.
Child one wants only cash (a teenager – you understand). Child two wants myriad things to do with baby dolls. So you see, the array of presents could easily look a little one-sided. I have a cunning plan to even things up, appearance-wise, but shan't reveal it here (he's supposed to be reading as much non-fiction as possible before the English GCSE in January, so there's a faint possibility of him reading this).
There are lists beyond the realm of the Markwell Christmas Planning document, of course. It's the time of year in newspapers and on TV for bests and worsts, names to look out for and events to look back on. Next week there are some corkers in i to enjoy.
But the tyranny of the list is no longer restricted to the Christmas period. For 2012 seems to be shaping up as the year of the prescriptive list. From the mousemat that doubles up as a to-do list to computerised reminders that pop up on screen when you least want them, nobody will be able to easily forget anything (well, as long as it's noted down in the first place). There's what to eat, when, and what to see, from gigs to natural wonders. This is what we call list fatigue.
I'm going to swear off them myself. Just as soon as I've forced my children to make their list of thank-you letters... And won't their little faces light up at the thought?