Would you be in the B-Ark?

I may have a weird sense of humour but I particularly like a race of beings that appear in Douglas Adams’ book The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. They are called Golgafrinchans and they originated in “a red, semi-desert planet that is home to the Great Circling Poets of Arium and a species of particularly inspiring lichen”. The story is this. At some point in their history the Great Circling Poets decided they wanted to get rid of the useless third of their population. So they invented a story that the planet Golgofrincham would shortly be destroyed in a great catastrophe (by a “mutant star goat”). The useless one third of the population were packed into a spaceship know as the B-Ark – supposedly one of three giant Arks – and launched into space. They were told that the remaining two thirds of the population would follow in the other two Arks.

Of course the remaining two thirds did not follow – there were no other Arks – and the B-Ark was programmed to crash land on a remote planet on the spiral arm of the galaxy – which happened to be Earth. So they crashed. The Golgofrinchan societal rejects mingled with and usurped the native cavemen and became the ancestors of humanity.

But who were the useless third? According to Douglas Adams they consisted of hairdressers, tired TV producers, insurance salesmen, personnel officers, security guards, management consultants and telephone sanitisers.

I have always assumed – being a gloomy sort – that I would be included in the “useless third” and would find myself on a spaceship hurtling towards relative oblivion. But then I started to wonder – how do you define “useful”? Surely “useful” itself is relative, since it depends on the society you happen to find yourself living in, and the relative needs of that society? And doesn’t it depend on the intelligence of the individual, his or her store of arcane knowledge, unused skills and potential to change or adapt?

I mean, in some societies there is little choice. In our own, for instance. There are many pretty trivial jobs but most people need a job of some kind.  Inevitably this means quite a few will be left with no alternative but to become – telephone sanitisers or whatever. I’m pretty sure those bored gentlemen forced to stand/pace around for hour after hour in stores in a silly uniform as a deterrent to shoplifters, don’t really want to be doing that. They do it for the money, and for security.

Hairdressers – well, yes, in an apocalyptic situation or primitive society you wouldn’t need hairdressers. It is quite possible – as I have discovered – to cut your own hair after a fashion – at least well enough to keep it out of your eyes – or just to let it grow long. In our current society, hairdressers are somewhere between a necessity and a luxury: their function is to make people look and feel better; a good hairdresser is an artist in his or her own right. Do we really need musicians? Do we need artists, or tailors, or comedians? No, we could survive perfectly well without them if they all suddenly disappeared in a puff of green smoke.

If I were to be marooned on a desert island with a brilliant violinist, would he or she be able to save me from starvation and the encroaching tide? Probably not. On the other hand that same violinist might be good at maths (musicians often are) and might be able to calculate the tides around our island, so that we knew the most fortuitous time to set off on our raft – which he/she might even have been able to help me construct. Because being musical does not preclude you from having other talents – simple construction work, for example. That telephone-sanitiser might happen to know how to weave, or paddle a canoe. Or they might have qualities not previously utilised – a clear head in an emergency, people skills, courage under fire – whatever. Until you are tested, you don’t know what you can do.

So I would say, be careful who you write off as useless. Do not write off disabled people, autistic people, artistic people – or people who have never had much of a chance in life and so are forced to accept trivial or low-status jobs. Do not assume that that is all they are, or all they could be if circumstances were suddenly to change and a new and different version of society come into being.

It is a risky thing to define any skill or occupation a “useless” – we do not know enough, about the present, let alone the future, to be able to make such value judgments with any confidence.  Fate has a way of taking its revenge on those who are absolutely sure they know best.

According to Douglas Adams, the Great Circling Poets of Arium were eventually wiped out – by a virulent disease contracted from a dirty telephone.

Trumpitty-Bumpitty / Bumpitty-Trumpitty (you decide)

Several things have happened today. Well, several things happen every day but you know what I mean…

President Trump has decided against visiting himself upon us this February in order to ‘cut the ribbon’ on the new US Embassy. The new US Embassy is rather an incredible building, but apparently he hates it and it’s all President Obama’s fault for selling off at a ludicrous price prime real estate in central London for such a monstrosity in an ‘off’ location. He hates it, so he’s not coming to cut the ribbon.

Everybody here breathes a sigh of relief and tears up lists of possible things to throw –

rotten eggs – always popular?

yellow paint, maybe?

flour bombs?

or maybe umbrellas. Maybe we could litter the road in front of his car with unfurled yellow umbrellas. I just thought of that, but of course he would probably see it as a tribute.

UK Citizens showering me with golden umbrellas. Local custom I believe. ‘Nice’ of these peasants, but Sad!

Now we won’t get the chance, which is a bit Sad (though also a Relief) because we have a long creative tradition over here of being Gently, Incredibly Rude to people we regard as crass, common or beneath us in some way. Just read Jane Austen. Possibly Trump has been warned of this but by now he will have forgotten.

At least the Old Horror won’t be coming on the informal visit, but there is still the State Visit to contend with. Why exactly She rushed to offer him a State Visit – an honour American Presidents are usually only accorded in their second term of office – trade deal or no trade deal – so soon – at all, even – nobody knows, but now we are stuck with that dire event, looming on the horizon.

Admittedly both sides are doing a very good job at the moment of something I believe they call “kicking it into the long grass” or “kicking it on down the road” – in other words, failing to set a date, procrastinating, making no firm plans as yet…so we may escape.

If he does have to come over here (in which case rotten eggs, unfurled umbrellas and flour bombs will be the very least of his problems, protest-wise) I think the Queen herself may have supplied the answer.

She has recorded a TV programme about Coronations, which I believe is going to be shown tonight. I just saw a clip. There she sits, and they bring in the great Coronation Crown from the Tower of London, and place it reverentially in front of her. She leans forward, curiously. This is the first time she has seen it herself, up close, for many years.

She talks about the Crown, how heavy it was, back in 1953 when she was a mere 27 years old, and how lucky that her deceased father and she ‘both had the same shaped head’ so it more or less fitted her. She explained that it weighed such an awful lot – so much, in fact, that she had to remember to lift her speech to eye-level to read it, for if she had leant forward the weight of the Crown could have broken her neck.

She also talked about the Golden Coach. It was very uncomfortable, she said, and she was driven all round London in it – at least five miles. The coach had only leather suspension, which meant the occupants were constantly jolted about and felt every bump in the road. And it went on for ever because the horses could only go at walking pace – the State Carriage was far too heavy for them to do anything else.

So it seems to me that, if and when our civil servants (famed for their numerous and subtle delaying tactics) finally do run out of excuses to “kick it on down the road” and he really does insist on a Visitation of Himself upon Us, the best response would be to be All Smiles and Obsequity and arrange for him a very long sight-seeing trip around the many wonderful sights of our capital city.

He could visit our beloved Big Ben (whose ‘bongs’ are currently silenced due to a lengthy maintenance programme) and be driven around – and around and around and around – Nelson’s magnificent, pigeon perch of a Column. He could be taken to see the London Eye and Tower Bridge, and maybe that historic old ship they run past on the Marathon – even some of the outlying suburbs – ideal sites for new golf courses – and then there must be quite a few other historic buildings, plus of course that splendid new American Embassy…

embassy

Probably he doesn’t have piles – he looks pretty healthy for a man of his age, in spite of the fast food diet – but you never know.

Maybe we could arrange for it to also to be raining on the day of the Golden Coach. That really wet English rain that drives in through windows and soaks you to the skin. Almost certain to be raining, in any case…

Maybe he might even be allowed to wear the Coronation Crown, in the very uncomfortable coach, in the extremely wet rain, all the way round the sights of London and Greater London. He’d love to be the first American President to wear a Crown – can you imagine the tweets?

And with any luck it might just slip his mind about the hazards of that mighty jewel, and he might just forget and bend forward for a tiny moment…

Of sadness, shower-gel and intergalactic fire extinguishers

Here we are again…

(…Happy as can be / All good friends and / Jolly good company… as the song goes)

and it’s 2018. How did it get to be 2018 more or less without me noticing? Although I did notice a whole succession of firework displays on TV, starting with Australia – or maybe New Zealand – and wondered what all these successive fireworks-es must look like from outer space. Pretty impressive I imagine, though how a visiting Martian might interpret them. He might assume the planet was about to explode and train his all-powerful intergalactic fire-extinguishers upon us…

On my visit to the Home today I attempted to explain to Mum (goodness knows why) that it was the first day of 2018. Today I was the bringer of shower-gel and deodorant, which the carers inform me (practically every time!) that she has run out of, even though she has a constantly-replenished account with them for everyday expenses, which one might have thought would include shower-gel and deodorant. But they say the shops are not convenient for them to get to and so they ask the relatives.

I mentioned to a passing cleaner (again, goodness knows why – just for the pleasure of speaking to someone who could understand me, I suppose) that I had brought the shower-gel, and would have brought it sooner had I not been too ill over Christmas. She said she had noticed earlier this morning that I had brought it. But I had only just arrived, and the en suite bathroom shelves had been absolutely empty.  Seeing the look of bewilderment on my face, she must have realised her mistake. “Er, you’ve just brought them, haven’t you?” I nodded.

“I expect it was another room.”

What I reckon is, it’s a scam. They’re selling whatever they can inveigle relatives into bringing in that pretend shop of theirs on the first floor – it’s so that the dementia patients can feel that they have “gone outside” or “gone to the shops and bought something”. Or worse, at boot fairs on Sundays! God preserve us.

Mum didn’t understand about 2018. She didn’t understand why I was soaking wet either even though I pointed out of the window a number of times to indicate that torrential rain was, in fact, falling. She was quite talkative though, and pointed out things on The Simpsons to me. I think she likes that they are yellow and brightly-coloured. She said several times about the colours. She said she wanted a new calendar and I promised to bring one with me next time. So perhaps she does know it’s 2018 after all.

On the way out I had a chat with a lady about my age who had been with her Mum in the room opposite. She said her mother had been in this and other care homes for eleven years, and she had been visiting all this time. She disappeared into the deluge on foot, and I made a splashy run for the car.

I don’t usually write about sadness because I suspect I don’t often allow myself to feel it. Anger, yes. Exasperation, yes. Generalised Winter Gloom, yes. But there’s something about sadness, isn’t there? It seems to bring along with it a lot of things you don’t want to know, and you have to actually know them. Canadian Sister just phoned and something she said made me realise that English Sister and I really are estranged now, at least from her point of view. And I do feel sad, because I really don’t understand why and I suppose I always thought she would be there – we would be there – if not exactly thinking along the same lines or being much alike. You just assume, don’t you, that things will go on as before, and then one by one they all seem to have tiptoed out of the room…

Even the lady I was volunteering to chat to seems to have vanished. I got a phone call to say she had been taken into hospital over Christmas, but they couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me why, or which hospital. Nothing to be done but to send a Get Well Soon card to her home address and wait to hear, if at all.

And so I say to you, keep hold of your family. Put the work in to keeping in touch even though there doesn’t seem much point. Looking back, I wish I had spent more time trying to communicate with my family, or at least making the most of their presence while they were still around – and less time trying desperately to cling to people (hah, mostly men, to be honest) who were never going to be worth the effort and who should have been ‘excised’ (redacted?) – ruthlessly or otherwise. But there, I suppose that’s the point of growing older: you can reassess, put your past life into perspective and finally let yourself feel what you feel.

A “Two Soups” kinda day

If you’ve never seen Victoria Wood’s “Two Soups” sketch, I’ll briefly describe it to you. A couple are engaged in some sort of tense discussion whilst awaiting the arrival of their meal – or at least the first course of their meal. Cue Julie Walters as an ancient waitress with scary false teeth and an old-fashioned hearing-aid cord dangling from her ear.

Asked what the soup of the day is, she totters backwards and forwards from table to kitchen, kitchen to table, crabwise, a seemingly infinite number of times, so  incredibly slowly, forgetting the question en route. When she finally emerges through the swing-doors from the kitchen with the two plates of soup she manages to empty both plates onto the floor, but brings them to the table nonetheless. Best just to watch it – it’s not that long, and it’s on YouTube.

Well I had that kind of day. The infected hand had brought me to the hospital for one last time, or I sincerely hoped so. Sign me off, sign me off. Oral antibiotics please was the refrain running through my head as I queued in the Friends of the Hospital shop for tea, and a cheese-and-pickle roll. And lo and behold an ancient female Friend of the Hospital was engaged in re-supplying the coffee machine. Standing on a stool with her back to the queue she was tremulously attempting to open foil bags full of coffee beans that wouldn’t open, and find various other bags of stuff that needed to go into various slots and canisters in the innards of the machine. I felt sorry for her, but I have never (since the Two Soups sketch) seen anyone do something so very slowly and so very badly. But after all, she was a volunteer.

“I’ll just have the cheese-and-pickle roll,” I said. I only had half an hour.

I don’t do queueing up. That is, I do queue because everyone in this life is forced to wait and wait for all manner of vital goods and services, especially in Britain. Everyone queues in Britain, and the odd foreigner who pushes is regarded with horror, and proof if proof was needed that British civilisation never did reach other parts of the European Union, nay, not even as far as Calais on the boats.

I queue because I simply have to, but mentally I suffer. Over the years I have perfected my Patient Face, a mask of ethereal, Mona Lisa-like serenity to be worn whilst staring into the middle distance. Inwardly, like everyone else, I seethe.

In the clinic I tell them my appointment is at 10 o’clock, knowing I won’t be seen until at least half past and maybe not for several hours, if it’s a particularly bad day in A&E. This clinic is where the walking wounded of A&E end up. I wait with people who have bad feet, slipped bandages and bad stomachs, with fretful, feverish children and people who arrive in wheelchairs that take up half the floor space. The man next to me screws his eyes tight shut and clutches at his heart. He is obviously trying not to groan. Why have they sent him here? I wonder. Surely he is dying of a heart attack? But there is nothing I can do.

And then I am sitting in the squeaky plastic chair next to the nurse/doctor. She is typing,  possibly updating my notes prior to (please God!) discharging me back onto oral antibiotics. She types with one finger, at the speed the Two Soups waitress walks. She does not talk to me while she is doing this. I can feel my heart racing just from the sheer tension of this silent wait. Then she turns to me, as if surprised that I am still there. “I am finished with you,” she announces. “Season’s Greetings.”

And then I am sitting at another hospital – the local one – awaiting a blood test. I have taken my ticket which says B59. They are the same tickets you get from the delicatessen counter at Sainsbury’s, when you’re after some non-standard type of cheese. Everyone in front of me in the queue turns out to be very, very old, and not to be able to get their arms out of or into their coat-sleeves. Outside it is icy. There are very many layers to shed/don. Then there are the elbow-crutches. Don’t get me started on those.

And now I am sitting at home. I have had to scribble out a timetable to accommodate the ingestion of more tablets than I have ever had to ingest in my life. One lot has to be taken three times a day with food, another three times a day but no specific instructions re food, and the third set has to be taken either one hour before or two hours after a meal, four times a day. This proves almost impossible to fit in with my normal eating times, so I am having to stretch out the times between meals, unnaturally.

I am very hungry, but hey – I see there are only ten minutes to go. By the time I get downstairs and have microwaved one of those tasteless old-person’s meals, it will be OK to eat. OK to eat!

And not soup.

Hospit-ality

Hospitals are not my natural milieu, you might say

(she types, wincingly, with injured paw).

I mean, I just don’t go with the décor. Sitting in the Friends of the Hospital shop toying with a Styrofoam cup of unlikely-coloured tea with rapidly submerging tea-bag

(the dangly bit fell in)

is not my idea of Christmas Eve. I have bought a TV listings magazine to pass the time until I make my way to the clinic for my appointment

(if you don’t arrive before ten a.m. there are no parking spaces till tomorrow before ten a.m.)

but it contains nothing but staged photos of soap-opera actors pretending to be anguished, because it’s Christmas, and everyone knows Christmas is the perfect time to murder your missus and bury her beheath the patio.

(I hate soaps.)

At least it’s different. I mean, what else would I have been doing over Christmas? Compared to sitting in the conservatory with my mother for three silent hours listening to the clock ticking, and maybe knitting a row or two, driving 23.3 miles to the nearest A&E hospital

(and the same back)

four days in a row

(yes four, including Christmas Day)

to have my bitten hand prodded and redressed and antibiotics injected into some miniature piece of yellow or blue plastic bandaged into to my arm for the duration, this is actually quite exciting. This hospital is almost beginning to feel like a Home From Home. Like Home, without the cat litter and the non-functioning lightbulbs

(they are packing up in some mysterious sequence – it may be a code)

and Bertie ringing me up at 1.30 in the morning saying he thinks he’s dying but he’s not sure what of and it could be his waterworks but it might be his throat… or his psoriasis… and now I’ve got a car would I mind driving him to the hospital because an ambulance will never arrive in time… but that’s another story.

I may not tell it. Maybe it would be unkind? It probably would be unkind. But I may still tell it, because in spite of the nurse telling me I was a kind person, really I’m a bit of a moo.

I might tell it…

Suffice it for now to say that Nurse has instructed me to instruct Bertie next time he telephones in the middle of the night that the Nurse has ordered me to conserve my strength at the moment or my hand won’t get better. She says the technique is to be apologetic, kindly, sympathetic but not of any actual practical use over and over again. Eventually, she says, the person gets the message.

(I do not think Bertie is of a constitution to get any message, ever, but maybe her advice would be worth a try. It was kind of her to offer it, whilst slowly squeezing cold stuff into my arm from an enormous syringe.)

You will be please to hear

(I hope you are not reading this over your Christmas Dinner)

that although my cat-savaged hand still looks like the surface of some distant red planet, with scattered, erupting volcanoes, and feels as sore as the surface of such a planet must feel after aeons of being erupted under and onto by volcanoes, the hand itself has now returned to normal size. It originally swelled up and looked like the puffer fish featured above, without the mouth and the funny little fins. And at that point, of course, I could not drive although the taxi driver

(I have met quite a few taxi drivers in the past few days)

did explain to me that I could probably change gear for 23.3 miles by pushing the gear stick with the puffer-fish-type hand. He has obviously had to drive this way in the past so as to maintain his livelihood. A truly scary thought.

There’s a few good things about stuff like this. You get to chat to people you would never have chanced to meet, in your life. This morning, for example, I spent a couple of minutes with a middle-European lady who was allergic to painkillers, who was suffering from the most agonising bad back I have ever witnessed someone trying to walk along with. I think she must have slipped a disc. Even sitting still, talking to me, she was pausing to scream at intervals. I wished – I jut wished, at that point – that I possessed those healing hands, the sort you can just lay on or hover above people, to take away their pain. But hopefully they will find at least one painkiller she is not allergic to.

You may find out things about yourself you would never otherwise have known. I discovered via the blood tests that though  I may not have sepsis (may not, presumably I’d feel a bit iller if I had) I do have anaemia. So now I have iron tablets. How exciting! This may be the beginning of the inevitable metamorphosis into one of those old ladies with a medicine cupboard bursting with cardboard boxes of tablets for this and tablets for that…

And you get to master new skills, if only tiny ones. I am a coward, you see. I tend to avoid doing stuff that’s stressful, and for me, anything I haven’t done before, anything new, tends to get avoided. New cars contain many such skills, and I have been avoiding learning them all. In case I couldn’t. In case it was stressful.

But last night, thanks to Bertie and his hyponchondria/panic attack demand to be whisked to the Community Hospital (only about 6 miles away) I was forced to work out where the button was to switch on the headlights

(yay!)

and this morning, in anticipation of having to retrieve a car-park ticket from one of those scary yellow machines via the car window so that the barrier would lift, I had to devote some time to deducing how to open windows in a car so very modern it has no handle to wind. At all. And then I managed the drive to the hospital, round one of the worst-designed many-laned roundabouts of all time

(get in your lane well in advance and don’t whatever you do move out of it till you get to the other side: taxi driver)

and bought petrol, even though the petrol place is on completely the wrong side of the car and there is no cap just some sort of hole

and found my way on Christmas Eve through dense traffic in an unfamiliar town, and actually found a parking space, and then actually managed to reverse the entire sequence

(apart from buying petrol, which would have been silly)

on the way back.

A woman needs a bus like a fish needs a bicycle

I think Bertie-bus-stop must be in one of his low phases at the moment . I’ve noticed he swings between talking (a terrible lot) and staring out bitterly at the sea – or what would be the sea if the huge grassy bank of the sea wall wasn’t between us and it, since we’re below sea level. When the tide is up you can actually see boats and ships and stuff floating along on some invisible surface/horizon above your head. It’s weird.

This week he has had a permanent half-a-beard. Not designer stubble, I think, but maybe the result of shaving every third day, or chopping off tufts of beard with the kitchen scissors. The day before yesterday he was on an upswing, telling me in microscopic detail about the method of propagation for wallflowers. He has a family of wallflowers in his conservatory, not that I’ve seen his conservatory. But today it’s low tide and he’s at a low ebb, and he glares out at what would be the sea, if he could see it.

It may be the psoriasis, of course. It seems to be running away with him at the moment. I am not laughing. English Sister gets psoriasis at intervals, when stressed. It seems to start in her hair and creep down onto her forehead, meaning her scalp feels as if it is tightening up and holding her in a vice-like grip. She had to give up swimming because of it. Bertie has it on his hands, which he has shown me, but also – I now see – on his face. He says it’s from using bleach and other chemicals to do cleaning. I am not sure whether he means household cleaning or whether he is a cleaner.

Last time he mentioned the psoriasis I suggested those purple neoprene gloves, but he said he didn’t like wearing rubber gloves because he couldn’t feel what he was doing when cleaning toilets. I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to be able to do when cleaning a toilet is to feel what I am doing. I am very, very squeamish and get through all such tasks by trying to ‘move my mind’ elsewhere, to contemplate infinity, to replay the plot of whatever book I am reading or film I saw last. Most of the time (confession time) I just squirt loads of bleach and limescale-remover down there and wander away, until forced to remember and do something about it.

But people do what they do, and don’t do what they don’t do, and I suppose he’s plumped for the psoriasis. And so we both stare at what would be the sea, if we could see it. And the bus doesn’t come, and it doesn’t come and it doesn’t come. Two more people join us, and still no sign of the bus.

Bertie walks up the road a way, posting himself as lookout. He always does this. He has good eyesight and enjoys being ‘bus monitor’. I inspect the scruffy piece of tarmac outside our one and only Store in some detail. How does so much litter manage to miss the litter bin? Once upon a time it would have been used condoms. Nowadays it seems to be cigarette butts, olive green cigarette packets (it makes them less attractive) and lots of little empty plastic tubes. I suspect holidaymaking teenagers may have used these to inhale some recreational substance during the night.

I have Arthur with me, balanced on the damp brick wall, in the pet carrier. We have an appointment at the vets two settlements over, for his claws to be done. The latest pet-carrier is ideal for both the bus journey and the rough terrain round here, normally. You can heave it up onto your back and wear it like a rucksack or you can put it down and pull out a handle, and it has wheels – it turns into a trolley. The cats don’t seem to mind it.  You’d think they would.

But’s it’s been a struggle with Arthur because he’s so heavy. I have staggered the twenty minutes down to the bus stop bent forward under the combined, considerable weight of Arf and the carrier, feeling like Good King Wenceslas’s page in the song, or some venerable crone sent out to gather a bundle of wood in a fairy tale.

Arthur is patient. I can just see his little green eyes peering out of the mesh sides at me, all the rest blending in with the darkness. But he’s been out here for ages, and the bus is twenty minutes late. We’ll not get there in time now, and if we get there late we’ll miss the usual bus home, and that’ll mean an hour and a half or something like, waiting in the draughty bus shelter on the other side of the road. You can’t expect a cat to hold off on the wees-n’-poos indefinitely, especially an old boy like Arthur. And then… squelchy-cat! No getting on a bus for us, in that condition. Or a taxi, for that matter. What do we do then? Totter the six mile back? Squelch, stagger, squelch, stagger…

I give up and ring the vet to cancel the appointment, then bid farewell to Bertie and the two other people waiting, the mousy-looking woman with the shopping basket, and a vaguely familiar local wench – she with the raven hair, the leggings, the lots of eye make up and the computer game that makes goldfish noises.

Maybe the bus arrived, eventually, or maybe it didn’t. Most likely it was one of those days when the driver decided not to come down our road at all. Sometimes the prison ‘gets it’, sometimes we do, and sometimes the next village is arbitrarily bypassed and all the elderly and disabled folks left to wait for the next (hourly) bus, assuming that doesn’t bypass them too.

Now I remember exactly how lovely it was to have a motor-car. I wonder – could I still balance on a bicycle?fish bike

Pas de cherry-peeking, Breets ridicules!

Now that’s set your teeth on edge, hasn’t it, proper French speakers?

I had a very unoriginal thought today.  I googled it and discovered that it was in fact even more unoriginal than I imagined. I was looking at my books, all 2,000 of them piled vertically now (for cat fur/ease of hoovering reasons) into a high stack of de-shelved book cases.  It suddenly struck me, if I had to take the complete works of a very limited number of authors to a desert island with me – say, ten – which authors would I choose?

Now this isn’t as easy as it seems. It would be no good taking to a desert island a book with a thrilling but memorable plot, for example. However good it was, what would be the point of reading it again?

No good taking anything too distinctive, either. Harry Potter, for instance. I loved reading Harry Potter, each new book as eagerly anticipated as if I had been thirteen and three quarters rather than middle-aged. But once you’ve read them the surprise is gone out of them – they were whizz-bangs when they landed on our bookshelves but now… they’ve fizzled.

Not really much point in taking thrillers or detective novels, for the same reason. You might not think you remember whodunit but as soon as you start to read, you will.

And humour probably wouldn’t travel well. Only so many times you can laugh at a conversation between Bertie Wooster and Jeeves whilst fishing in the sea with a piece of string and an improvised hook, or trying to persuade yourself that shredded palm leaves are edible. Jokes are best not repeated – to the same audience – yourself.

No, the books would have to be kind of meaty. The sort that, though they may be a bit of a struggle to get into, pay dividends on later reflection. Also books with plots so labyrinthine that it is impossible to remember them on re-reading.

But you’d also need an element of comfort reading. So some of your books would be there just because they reminded you of home in some way – winter afternoons by the fire and snow falling outside; long walks down country lanes kicking autumn leaves with your wellies – whatever.

I’m thinking that, as with Desert Island Discs, a few ‘master’ works should be taken for granted – found in a deserted cabin, chewed a bit by moths but still perfectly readable, say. I believe Desert Island Discs allows castaways to assume The Complete Works of Shakespeare and a copy of the Bible, and I would add the Complete Works of Dickens. (It’s my island, I can make Dickens be in the deserted cabin if I want to. Maybe I’ll put the skeleton of the previous inhabitant in there too…)

Of course, the books you take may also reflect the age you happen to be when cast away. If you are twenty, say, you will have longer to savour the books of your choice, but also longer to get heartily sick of them. If you are ninety-five you might want to be more rigorously selective still, or take rather more spiritually-inclined reading matter.

So this is my list, in no particular order Still a work in progress. As you will see at the end I still haven’t managed to whittle it down to ten. I did consider simply putting the total up to twenty, but that seemed like cheating.

  1. Isaac Asimov
  2. A S Byatt
  3. Neil Gaiman
  4. Annie Proulx
  5. Charlotte Brontë
  6. Rose Tremain
  7. Alice Munro
  8. George McKay Brown (non-fiction, comfort reading)
  9. Ellis Peters (comfort reading – how could you be on a desert island and not have Cadfael for company?)
  10. ….

And here’s where I’m stuck. I feel I should take at least one author that I always felt I should read but only ever got round to reading around the edges of – so I’m torn at the moment between George Eliot, Anthony Trollope and Aldous Huxley. Maybe Huxley would be a bit dated? Trollope would certainly be meaty but… as well as Dickens? And Eliot – is she perhaps one of those authors you feel you ought to read but Life’s Too Short for – like whoever perpetrated Moby Dick and War and Peace? Not to mention Ulysses. I carted that fat paperback of Ulysses around with me for years when I was a student: never managed to get beyond the first page.

I don’t know… I don’t know… And remember you have got to take all their works – pas de cherry-peeking, Breets ridicules! as I like to imagine they would say in Brussels. So you can’t take Howard’s End and leave the posthumous Maurice behind, or take the whole of Neil Gaiman except American Gods which is just too long.

To digress slightly. Having just discovered (after how many years?) that I can watch more or less unlimited dramas and TV series on my Kindle Fire for absolutely-free merely by tapping on that dull little icon top right – who knew? – I launched into American Gods on video, thinking I might find it more digestible.

They were putting each other’s eyes out! Severed limbs were flying through the air! I don’t remember that, in the twenty percent of the book I did manage to get through. So I plumped for The Night Manager.

To digress again. I read a comment on the internet by a girl who felt it should correctly be deserted, not desert island, since how many islands do you find in the desert? Duh! An island with nothing on it but a lot of desert-type sand and perhaps a wobbly palm tree and a man in faded rags with several weeks-worth of stubble – not an island rising majestically from the sands of the Sahara.

Anyway, enough. What would be your ten desert island authors? Or just the first one on the list…