I Wish I Was A Wizz

Or should it be: I Wish I Were A Wizz? Suspect latter, but grammar purists free to comment/vote. Unlike UK Parliament at the moment. If I was or were a Wizz, I would no doubt be able to sort out what was going on, politically speaking. Or perhaps only a Sorting Hat could do that.

I always had a bit of a thing about wizards. Not witches, for some reason. I saw myself as a bit of a wizard, only I was a green (with stars) robed wizard, not a blue one. Suspect green is more elevated and wonderful than mere blue, in my imagination. Well, if you’re going to have fantasy fantasies, you might as well be the hero.

It’s been a funny old day. I was meant to go to some sort of ‘do’ at the Over 50s, which is now not, technically, the Over 50s but the Tea and Bingo Club, or possibly the Bingo and Tea Club. All ages welcome. As it turns out I didn’t quite make it to the meeting, in the Scouts Hut in the next village, but suspect 99% of the members playing Bingo and drinking tea will still be Over 70, just as they were when they were the Over 50s and met in the pub.

I did try to go, even though I didn’t want to. It was the Christmas one and would have involved purple tinsel, Christmassy paper plates with red and green elves and reindeer on, and Christmassy tablecloths. I know because I helped with the sourcing of these items in one shop after another in town, and the lugging of them around afterwards. And the driving of them home in the boot of my car, and later re-delivery.

I gave myself a good talking to all morning, trying to work up the enthusiasm.

You know you’ve got to go.

It’ll only be a couple of hours – or three, or four… time will soon pass.

It might be fun, you never know. There’s always a first time, in a fun-less lifetime, for something to turn out to be fun.

They might have made special vegetarian sandwiches for you, the only vegetarian. What are they going to do with a mountain vegetarian sandwiches if you wimp out?

And so on, and so forth. And I did set out, honestly. I drove all the way over to the next village, repeating the above backbone-stiffening mantras in the car, and wound my way through the snarled and tiny streets in the hope of a) avoiding loss of wing-mirrors and b) finding a parking space.

And there was a funeral on. Outside the little, scenic, Christmassily decorated church, a horde, a veritable Ghengis Khan’s Army of self-conscious, shoe-polished, black-clad mourners.

I did try the tiny car park outside the Scouts Hut but, as anticipated, it was clogged to the muddy fences with large, shiny mourners’ car, everything double-parked and blocking everything else in. With difficulty, I extracted myself from the car park and, with even more difficulty, got back out onto the village street again without losing a wing mirror or getting dented. Dented already, of course, but that dent was self-inflicted, which is different.

And I did look for an alternative parking space in the narrow village street, honest, but there was nothing I could get into without parallel parking skills or one of those cars that does it all for you.

And so I panicked and came home. Unlike the Prime Minister, I am not Admirably, but Quite Exhaustingly, Limpetishly Resilient. Or it may be that when I see quite clearly that something is not going to work – never, ever going to work – I instantly give up. Make a new plan, Sam. Hop on the Bus, Gus. Don’t need to discuss much… Etc.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

A Einstein

And so I went home, texted

(apparently only old people say texted, everyone else says, ungrammatically ‘text’. I text… the ‘ed’ which would have made it clear that I am not texting right this second but actually text some hours ago – being silent)

my plate-and-tablecloth buying friend and told her the plain truth, that the funeral had prevented me parking. Which she will not believe. Sigh!

And then, as if in retribution, the Jehovah Ladies turned up again – smiling, anxious, warmly wrapped up against the cold. I have written before of the Jehovah Ladies, who like me. I usually manage to deflect them into discussions of cats with three legs, the weather, my-mother-in-the-home (they had it on their secret card index system that she was passed or gone beyond or whatever and I had to correct them on that – still technically alive). This is where being probably ADHD is an advantage – your mind works on digressions and cul-de-sacs. A veritable quagmire, a bottomless pit of irrelevancies and non-sequiturs is at one’s command… Normally, the difficulty is to avoid sinking into it…

So I got my coat on and stepped out into the back garden to have the usual little chat and accept the limp leaflets – two, this time, because they missed me last time. I don’t actually listen to what they say, to be honest, but I value the fact that they care about my soul, and my salvation. No one else does.

A moment of inattention and they had managed to wrangle me back from three-legged cats, vets, mother-in-the-home, weather etc – to tell me that I need not worry. The world appeared to be in a dreadful state but God would step in. God was just waiting for his opportunity to step in and save us all from ourselves. Didn’t I find that comforting? I would find that comforting indeed, if I could only believe it.

Maybe I should try the back-stiffening mantra thing, as above:

God will fish all the plastic out of the sea…

God cares what happens to us stinky old polluting naked apes…

We really don’t deserve to make ourselves extinct, the sooner the better…

And then they told me the story of Adam and Eve, and how Eve ate the apple because the Devil was disguised as a snake. Strangely enough, I knew that. I remarked that people will always feel compelled to do the one thing they are told not to do, it’s like children. And cats.

And then I foolishly remarked that that would be all very well but it said in the Bible that God granted man dominion over all the animals, which was why man felt entitled to eat said animals and perform horrifically cruel experiments on them. They said ah yes, but dominion only means caring for. God instructed us to care for all his creatures, to love them as He loves them. I said I thought dominion didn’t mean that at all.

So they tried me on another word, subjection. They showed me the relevant verses in Genesis, though none of us had our reading glasses on so it was all a bit out of focus. And they said subjection also meant caring for. And I said, to me subjection meant more or less the same as dominion, it meant imposing your will on something or someone weaker than yourself because you felt you had a right to.

But no, apparently subjection also means caring for.

And then I think I managed to non-sequitur them back to cats, and the price of cat food.

Do you possess a Bible, by any chance?

Actually, yes. Do you possess a cat?

The Wonderful Everyday

I have always been fascinated by the story of the village sisters Mary and Martha – how Jesus came to their house one day, and whilst Mary settled herself at his feet to listen Martha slaved away resentfully in the kitchen unaided. I even renamed two of my rescue cats Martha and Mary – well, they were Fluffy and Tiny. Actually, Fluffy and Tiny describes them just as well, though Tiny has put on a pound or two since then and Fluffy, for reasons best known to herself, has licked away most of her back fur, so she now resembles the Last of the Mohicans, or Baldy at the Back, Fluffy at the Front.

I used to see myself as a Definite Mary – the spiritual one. Not the drab, cross one fretting about a mountain of washing up in another room. But things have happened to me recently which have made me reassess my attitude to everyday life and value two items – the company of my multitude of cats, and the endless tiny repetitions of simple tasks – the drudgery, if you like, of everyday life. Indeed these two threads are intertwined since ninety percent of the drudgery is generated by the many cats!

Twice a day I pick up twenty empty, or half-empty, cat-food bowls and scrape them into a green waste bin. (It should be nineteen, since Rufus left us for those sunny meadows in the sky on Christmas Day – but I can’t be bothered to divide tins of Whiskas into precise fractions-of-a-tin first thing in the morning. When we get back to even numbers again, I’ll do the math. Probably.)

Twice a day I put out twenty more bowls and change four bigger bowls of water.

Twice a day I wash up those twenty bowls, plus a lot of other stuff that seems to have accumulated by the sink. In between, I clean out dirt-boxes, dispense medicines, mop up piles of sick, separate those who would murder one another and unhook various hapless creatures from items of soft furniture to which they have managed to hook themselves irretrievably. Twice a day day, just when I collapse on the sofa with a cup of tea and a biscuit, under the impression that I have finished my ‘duties’ for the time being at least, more muddle materialises.

And then there is that Zen tale, of the monk who was repeatedly told, after eating his rice: Wash Your Bowl”, upon hearing which he was Enlightened. The idea is, I would guess, that you should avail yourself of any passing opportunity to be existing ‘in the moment’. After eating your rice, wash your bowl. Do not decide to wash your bowl, or wonder why you are washing your bowl, or resent having to wash your bowl. After eating, wash your bowl: it is a form of meditation.

So maybe the tale of Mary and Martha isn’t so black and white after all. Maybe Martha wasn’t the villain – or wouldn’t necessarily have been if she hadn’t got all self-righteous and started whingeing. Maybe both sisters were heroes, and the contrast between them shows that there are many different ways of focussing on what’s important; more than one way of Being in the world.

On truth being stranger than fiction

This evening, in the one hour hiatus between the end of Stargate SG1 and the start of the new Stephen Poliakoff drama Close to the Enemy (I never miss a Stephen Poliakoff) I switched off the TV (yes, occasionally I do), put on a curate’s egg of a Jorma Kaukonen CD (Quah – one brilliant track, one ear-wormy, the rest, hmmm….) and dipped a cautious toe into a book I never expected to be reading at this stage in my career – Writing Short Stories by Zoe Fairbairn.

I long ago grew weary of How To Write books. Also, I have had short stories published, if only a few and mostly in out of the way places. I have in the past been better at winning short story competitions than getting things published on a bread-and-butter, i.e. money-making, basis. I have very little sticking power and am easily discouraged.

For the longest time, as my Canadian sister says, I posted story after story to women’s magazines – and got them all back. Most of them are on this site as a matter of fact, if you want to know what a woman’s magazine reject looks like, though there quite a few that have been written specially for ‘here’ and have never been sent anywhere. Virgin stories – tee hee.

On the other hand I came first, second and third in one competition. Anonymous, you see – they thought I was three different people, one of them a man because the story happened to be written from a man’s point of view. And I was one of six finalists in a BBC End of Story competition. Last time I looked there was still an awful photo of me buried in their archived pages. I am very pink, not quite so old, with a terrified, lopsided grin and falling-down bird’s-nest hair.

And I did get that thing about the dying witch in The Cat that time. She was dying with a cat, of course.

But recently – well, I wrote about it a few days back – for one reason or another I stopped reading and then stopped writing. It was a kind of Old Testament feeling, like that story about Pharoah’s dream of the seven lean and ill-favoured kine (Genesis 41:27 for fellow text-obsessives). Yes, I felt as if I had entered a sort of shrivelled cow phase.

I started reading again by going back in time to young adult books, fantasy and science fiction: easy reading and my imagination’s natural home. And thinking that what worked for reading might also work for writing I ordered the aforesaid beginner’s short story-writing book.

(Sigh!) I hate all those exercises they give you. I never want to do them. However – onwards and upwards – the first exercise was What happened to you yesterday?

What did happen to me yesterday? I couldn’t remember a thing that happened yesterday. This is not, I think (I hope) down to failing memory. More that every day is the same nowadays. I have no job, Mum’s in a Home, one sister in Canada, another not requiring my company and neighbours who now view me as a hermit. I’m working on it, certainly.

So, I’m indoors in November with twelve cats and no central heating. Of necessity my days are dominated by zoo-keeping activities, and keeping warm. I heat one room and stay in it. Seven out of the twelve cats also stay in it. They rather like the plug-in radiators. In between zoo-keeping, housework and ‘admin’ I watch TV, knit, read, tiddle about with this blog. Could I be doing more? Who knows. Anyway, it’s much the same every day.

Maybe I could write a story about an old biddy living in one room with a lot of cats who can’t remember what she did yesterday, I ponder. Ah…or maybe I could write about an old biddy who discovered, in the early hours of the morning after very little sleep, that a man with an orange face and a startling blonde comb-over who used to be on reality TV and wanted to build a wall between America and Mexico had just been voted into the White House.

Nah! They’d never buy it.

 

Featured Image: Jorma Kaukonen in longer-haired days. I do believe he’s 75 now. Time flies.

THE BIRD OF LIGHT (Angels & Other Occurrences 1)

At the midway point in the ancient spiral staircase, looking down into the little courtyard with the fountain, Martina paused. She liked to keep an eye on her staff, but discreetly. What was he up to now? Zak appeared to be enraptured – staring into space. For goodness sake, she thought, how difficult can it be to go in with a plastic bucket and a little shovel and remove a year’s worth of coins from a fountain, skim off a few floating leaves? Not exactly rocket science, even at his age. At once she felt guilty. Fifty-eight wasn’t that old, and what she had just thought was ageist. Fierce, when necessary, Martina did at least try to be fair to her staff, and honest with herself.

The main gates should have opened five minutes ago. Gatehouse had radioed up – punters queueing nine deep outside. Pushchairs, kiddies and cameras all over the place. It was the end of September and the start of the castle’s Autumn Flower Festival. Sunny it might be, with that low, intense sun of autumn, but it was none too warm to be standing about outside. The castle looked fantastic at this time of year – red, orange and gold leaves carpeting the lawns and lakes outside; and in every room that was open to the public, one and sometimes several huge, dramatic displays of autumn flowers and foliage supplied by all the top groups in the county. People looked forward all year to this Festival; they wanted in – and in was where she needed them to be. The castle had lost money last season – combination of a dismal British summer and the failure of the static balloon as an attraction. Unfortunately, that had been her idea. Balloons went down a storm back home in the States but for some reason people here didn’t seem to want to pay £25 for a ticket, to be tethered at treetop height, not flying anywhere. It had been a blunder, and she was desperate to make up for it. No one, as the Foundation had obliquely pointed out, was indispensable.

They were waiting for Zak, just Zak. What on earth was he staring at, sat on the edge of the fountain, bucket and shovel in hand? Oh come on Zak, she thought, don’t make me come down there and tell you off. I don’t have time.

Zak was looking at the Bird of Light. There was always light in the central courtyard. It was a strange place for that. When the sun was shining it reflected randomly off the leaded glass panes of the surrounding windows. Sometimes the light dazzled him (his eyes were not too good, nowadays). Sometimes the windows looked blind, like they’d grown cataracts. Cataracts of light. It had been, for him, a place of worship, yet what he was worshipping he could not have said. But suddenly, today, there was the Bird.

He had turned his back, to begin on the coins and leaves, but somehow he knew it was there. He knew something was there. Just afraid to turn round. Terribly afraid. It was watching him. Even with his back turned he could see… unusual light. Light cascading off the walls, bouncing off the cobbles. Light shining on the fountain, light crashing into other light. He couldn’t explain it. It wasn’t natural.

Turn, Zak.

It was a soft voice, but he hadn’t turned.

I am here, Zak. I have something to say to you.

He kept trying to shovel up the coins. Delusions? After all these years? How long have I been sober? Will it never let me go?

It’s good news, Zak. Please turn.

It was the ‘please’ that did it. He turned. And saw the Bird. At least that’s what it looked like. What it might have been. Except it was so tall. Could birds be tall. White wings, but they gave off light. It must be…

It’s about Beth.

And now it was replaying in his mind, the night he met Beth. It was if the Bird itself was controlling his memories.

They had met in the Station Hotel. He’d been drunk, as usual. He was rehearsing his last order. Time for another one, Joe? He was rehearsing his walk across the room to the bar which, by this time of night, felt like being on a fairground ride. So many chairs. And the chairs seemed to tilt and move. So easy to trip and then… there wouldn’t be another one. Joe would tell him he’d had enough. Joe would call him a taxi and pay for it himself. Joe was a good bloke.

But this night, there was this girl. He didn’t remember her coming in but there she was, perched on a bar stool, chatting to Joe as if they were old friends. Yet she’d never been here before, he was sure of it. She had long hair. Fair. Real fair, not dyed, that almost-mouse colour. She had dropped her carpet-bag at her feet. It was battered, that bag. She had been places.

And there was that picture again, the one he had seen before. He had seen her in some African market, or somewhere like Zanzibar. She was ahead, then she turned and smiled. Such a beautiful smile, and for him. And at her wrist there were bangles of all colours. They glittered in the sun, and the sky behind her head was so very blue, like no sky he had ever seen before. The Bird brought this back to him.

And then something strange had happened. Her train pulled in and he watched her get up to leave and he was thinking, that’s it then, she’s going, but she didn’t go, or least not at once, no, she stopped and came over to him, and she stood in front of him, looking into his eyes, and she said, My name is Beth. Come with me.

And then she was gone, and he couldn’t believe it had happened. He must be imagining. And then… Zak was up and staggering full pelt towards the door, chairs scattering in all directions as the room rocked and swerved around him. He was running across the gravel, he was heading for the platform. The whistle blew, train doors were slamming. He had to make it to that train; he had to catch her…

He had something to say to her. Good news. Such wonderful news.

She was fifteen years younger than him, but after that she never left his side. They had travelled the world for a while, then did what others do. They found a house and married, and tried for children. But the children hadn’t come.

They’d had all the tests. He’d assumed it was him, being so much older, but it wasn’t. There was something wrong with her. She’d had operations, and tablets, and tests. Nothing worked. Beth hardly ever mentioned it nowadays, but he knew it still hurt. Yes, he had wanted children by her, but she… It was something different for women, a greater grief.

It’s about Beth. Good news.

When he emerged from the courtyard he was dumb. The Bird had punished him for his disbelief. How am I to know? Zak had asked. What proof can you give me? I am getting old and Beth – she’s getting on. Forty-one next birthday. How can this happen?

His name will be John, said the bird. His name will be John. He will touch no drink. He will give you both great joy. He will be filled with light – this light. He has come to prepare the way.

The way for what? Zak was trying to say. Only no sound come out.

*

Today of all days, thought Martina, as she followed Zak in the ambulance. She guessed it must have been a stroke – something in the brain department – yet he was walking OK – in fact there was a  spring in his step. But, she thought, people don’t just suddenly forget how to speak if they’ve got nothing wrong. Maybe something less scary, like laryngitis. But it wasn’t as if he’d had a sore throat, even – not that he’d mentioned. And the man seems so ridiculously, insanely happy. Positively joyous. What sort of lunatic would be happy on their way to hospital? Poor Zak, she thought, he’s got a wife and… now she thought about it she wasn’t sure. He had never mentioned a family. But definitely a wife.

Martina reached across and laid a hand on his arm, hoping to reassure. For all his faults, she had a soft spot for Zak. He was a sweet old guy. He smiled at her – the biggest and broadest of smiles. And there was this weird kind of shining-ness about him.

AND SHEPHERDS STILL TO DO

No, I don’t know why I’ve got a picture of a meerkat in a blog that’s mostly about cat-cats, and under the title And Shepherds Still To Do. My normal approach is to look for a picture that matches the story, a picture that tells a little story in itself, a picture that inspires a hitherto unthought-of post or a picture that contains some oblique little jokey reference for the connoisseur of visual obliquities. Occasionally, I can’t find a picture to fill any of those categories and if in doubt, I always say, insert a cat. What’s not to enjoy about a picture of a cat?

But this little meerkat has been jumping out at me for some time. Probably he reminds me of the eight (or so) month struggle I had to persuade my free Aleksandr Orlov toy to cease his endless travels and turn up at my house. As you may know, there is a particular comparison website (I will include a link in case you’re interested – not being paid to advertise them, honest) which has been running a long and successful advertising campaign featuring eccentric meerkat characters, and the meerkat of all meerkats is Aleksandr Orlov.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compare_the_Meerkat

The idea is if you use their comparison website and actually change – I can’t remember what it was – electricity providers, say – you can apply for a free fluffy meerkat. I’m not a great one for soft toys – since my mother broke my twenty-one year old heart by giving my teddy to Oxfam without my permission I have never felt quite the same about them. The only other one I have is a tiger called Kevin. He has been with me for years and is getting rather dog-eared and dusty, up on the top shelf.

Aleksandr sent me one charming email after another, all in his colourful Eastern European version of the English language, explaining that PostKat was in fact on his way with my free meerkat toy, but had currently made a detour to ski in St Moritz, or was touring Rome. There was even a map, upon which you could track his meandering progress around Europe. What really got my goat was when the map revealed that PostKat had got as far as Calais but had chosen to veer off to view the spring bulbs in Holland then peruse noir detective novels at some Scandinavian bookfest or other instead of just nipping across on Eurostar to deliver my Aleksandr.

I mean, it started off amusing, but one did begin to wonder – does Aleksandr actually exist? Might Postkat be a figment of some cynical ad-person’s imagination? Was it possible that these emails were coming from a warehouse in Milton Keynes or Blackburn, Lancashire as opposed to the Russian village of Meerkovo?

That aside – Shepherds Still To Do. What’s that all about then?

Well, I’ve been working on a sequence of Christmas short stories for this blog – kind of nativity re-tellings set in London, East Anglia and – well, they could end up anywhere in the UK, I haven’t yet finished the sequence. They won’t appeal to everyone – and please don’t think I’m trying make everyone a Christian and that every future post will be full of earnest debates as to how many angels might fit on the head of a pin. I’m not at all sure that I’m a Christian. I don’t know what I am, if anything. I went, or rather was despatched, to “the Methodist” every Sunday morning as a child. After that was Sunday Dinner with Nan and Grandad, which I looked forward to rather more. My parents were professed agnostics (they were always everything together, no separate opinions). I expect they just needed a few hours of peace and quiet. I expect I was terminally annoying as a child, or maybe they were just looking forward to manufacturing a couple of sisters for me.

So I went; I got stars for regular attendance in my little blue book; I got a copy of the Bible, now falling to bits and replaced with a Hagrid-sized paperback version, complete with Apocrypha, which I have not tried out yet. I don’t think the Methodists approved of the Apocrypha – at any rate it wasn’t in my old Bible. I relished the stories – as I would come to relish all stories, read, told or for the telling – and loved being able to sing great old hymns and carols somewhat out of tune at the top of my voice. I stopped going at the age sixteen because it clashed with strawberry-picking and a rather handsome farm manager, and never went back (well, I did go back with my sister, on one memorable occasion, but that’s a previous post and I can’t remember what I called it, off the top of my head).

Subsequently I got into Buddhism, and Mysticism, Philosophy, Particle Physics (please don’t test that out – I’m not pretending to have understood it, mostly) Neuroscience (ditto) and New Age timey-wimey stuff generally. I read and I thought and I wondered and I tried to fit it all together, tried to make sense of it all. (Still failing at that.) But just recently those Bible stories have come back to me. I just need them again. Maybe they’re comfort food for my declining years adrift in this chill, dank decade – the literary equivalent of tomato soup.

Which I loathe with a passion.

The first of the new story sequence is scheduled to come in on 1st December, so next – whatever – Tuesday? They’re all based on the gospel of Luke, by the way. Luke was my favourite as a child. If I’d been a boy I was convinced that would have been my name. So far I’ve completed my versions the annunciations – to Zacharias and to Mary, and the nativity itself, which covers three posts. Still to come – the Shepherds – oh no – and the Three Wise Men. And unfortunately (for me) the Wise Men are holding out for a post each – and time is catching up with me. I’d like to finish the sequence before the scheduled posts run out, thus effecting a seamless segue (I love that word, whatever it means). I said to them – couldn’t you all squeeze in together? It’d be much tidier and then I could get on with something else. A bit of non-fiction, perhaps? No way, they say.

PS: I should warn sensitive readers – there will be an ice-cream van. It’s the equivalent of the donkey. I didn’t ask for an ice-cream van – it just arrived in the plot, thankfully not playing Popeye the Sailor Man. And I mean, there aren’t so many donkeys wandering free in East Anglia nowadays.

Eight tracks, one book and a luxury item

I don’t know how many people outside the UK will have heard of Desert Island Discs? It’s a BBC Radio 4 programme which has been running since January 1942. It’s a British institution along with Doctor Who, the children’s programme Blue Peter, the sacred Shipping Forecast and that ghastly, never-ending Northern soap Coronation Street. All are much loved, much mocked and never likely to be forsaken by viewers and listeners. This little cluster of programmes is infinitely reassuring to the British. Whatever else may change – terrorists threatening to blow us up, immigrants battering down our borders, farmers releasing cows in supermarkets to protest at the price of milk, an unlikely person with a beard being elected as Leader of the Opposition, weather forecast data no longer to be supplied by the Meteorological Office – as long as we have this handful TV and radio programmes we are going to be OK. No need to worry. Have another cup of tea. All’s right with the world. Underneath, we are a very nervous nation.

The basic premise is this: each week a guest, called a “castaway” during the program, is asked to choose eight pieces of music, a book and a luxury item that they would take if they were to be cast away on a desert island, whilst discussing their lives and the reasons for their choices. (Thank you Wikipedia for the definition).

Why discs? These pieces of music would once have been encoded on gramophone records, children. Gramophone records were black discs originally made of something called shellac. Shellac was easily breakable, as I can attest, having accidentally parked my teenage posterior on my ancient shellac disc of Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly’s True Love – oh, I loved both the song and Bing Crosby. I’m sure sitting on and shattering them set an unlucky precedent for the rest of my life .

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PAO8vlvPS88

Latterly shellac was replaced with plastic, and plastic was replaced by downloadable tracks. Unless something has replaced tracks? Forgive me, I’m old and still listening to CDs with occasional recourse to a Tesco generic MP3 for yomping along the sea-front. Actually, I don’t so much yomp as totter nowadays but the fresh air is good for me.

Guests are invited to imagine themselves cast away on a desert island, and to choose eight pieces of music to take with them. Excerpts from their choices are played or, in the case of short pieces, the whole work. At the end of the programme they choose the one piece they regard most highly. They are then asked which book they would take with them; they are automatically given the Complete Works of Shakespeare and either the Bible or another appropriate religious or philosophical work. (Wikipedia again. Why bother to rewrite something when it’s perfectly well-written already?)

There’s one final element. Guests are allowed to choose one luxury item to take with them. It must be inanimate and can’t be something you could use either to escape from the island or to communicate with the world beyond. Comedian John Cleese of Monty Python’s Flying Circus fame was allowed to take Michael Palin with him on one condition – that Michael Palin would be dead, and stuffed. People tend to ask for pianos, and champagne, for example. If you’re fascinated to see a list of what people actually do ask for (I love lists, don’t you?) here is the link:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Desert_Island_Discs_episodes_(2011%E2%80%93present)

The above list answered one of my questions – what about electricity? I suspect the desert island must be attached to the mains by an underwater cable, since people have asked for electric guitars, cappuchino-makers, a Sex and the City DVD boxset (why on Earth…?), though others, when requesting laptops and i-pods, and taking the whole frivolous concept ultra-seriously, have been careful to specify solar-powered.

Working out and Desert Island Disc list is something I have never attempted before but, for your edification and delight, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am going to attempt it now. I suggest ‘Desert Island Discs’ as a good game, perhaps for power-cuts, or at Christmas when full of brussels-sprouts and Yorkshire Pud, or to amuse the children on a rainy Saturday afternoon. As long as you take it seriously – but not necessarily so seriously as to suggest solar-powered laptops – you might discover a few profound somethings about yourself and your fellow players. It might also be an idea to repeat it every ten Christmases or so (concealing the previous list from yourself) to see if your tastes have changed.

So, my current eight Desert Island tracks would be:

  • Spem in Alium by Thomas Tallis, Tallis Scholars version
  • Fire at Midnight by Jethro Tull (Songs from the Wood)
  • True Love by Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly
  • Famous Blue Raincoat (Leonard Cohen, but Jennifer Warnes’ version)
  • Another Monday – instrumental, by John Renbourn from the album of the same name
  • The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams
  • Eternity by Dougie MacLean
  • Who Will Sing Me Lullabies by Kate Rusby

My ‘most highly regarded’ would have to be Spem in Alium. I have blogged about that before. Also about desert islands, actually, though in a slightly different context.

I won’t go into all the reasons for my choices. Quite often these are down to personal/ sentimental associations with the tracks as much as the tracks themselves. And by now I am sure you are no longer listening and are busy disagreeing, arguing amongst yourselves or compiling your own list.

How I could manage with only one book I don’t know, since at the moment I have about 2,000 and will never get to the end of reading them. However, the best thing seems to go for value for – not money but words. Mercifully I’ll already have the Bible and Shakespeare – there’s an entire desert island’s-worth in the Bible. Shakespeare is just the icing on the cake.

My first thought was to go for Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill – a fearsomely abstruse book on a subject that interests me greatly. I feel that reading it would be greatly to my spiritual benefit, but wonder if I actually would read it in my changed circumstances, given that it is so challenging, both in terms of subject matter and a thorn-thicket of elaborate and antiquated English. After all, if you can’t meditate and attain a state of higher consciousness on a desert island, with blue sky above, the sound of the sea and a warm, sandy beach, where can you? So I decided to follow the example of many other castaways and ask for the biggest possible anthology of poetry. Poems have such potential for entertainment – not just savouring and studying them, but learning them by heart, making up tunes and singing them, discovering hidden messages in them by opening the volume at random (also possible with the Bible and Shakespeare, of course) declaiming them aloud to the seagulls so as not to forget the sound of your own voice…

And for my luxury item, a solar-powered… no, it would have to be a giant, inexhaustible, damp- and weather-proof store cupboard or underground vault stacked from floor to ceiling with green and yellow A4 writing pads, wide feint, cardboard-backed, and an equally inexhaustible supply of top-quality 2B pencils, with pencil sharpeners. Maybe a ring-binder file or two… and a box of paperclips…