My Own Desert Island
I used to keep a list, in my mind, of the eight tracks I would take with me on my desert island. Just in case I was ever asked. I even made a tape, once, with wheezing breaks in between. The list moved into the digital age and became a playlist on my iTunes. It’s now got over forty tracks on it. I guess I’ve given up expecting to be asked, but you never know. I’d still start with the same one. “So what’s the first track we’re going to hear?” “Kirsty, it’s Twist and Shout, by the Beatles.” It puts you right there. You’ve got to start with a bang. And then the silence, after that final crescendo bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam — BAAM! My spine’s tingling already. “And, so, tell us about your family? . . . ”
I don’t how I’d ever get invited on. “Our castaway today is Stephen Moore, who once spent a year volunteering for Friends of the Earth and whose T-shirt design for Coram’s Fields is still selling strong.”
“The children’s version, actually, Kirsty, it still sells a few.” It’s not a strong claim to fame, not really. Maybe it’d be because of all those long hours in small rooms with Swiss bankers, negotiating over ‘will and would and must’, batting for England, so to speak, or at least the City of London. No, maybe not that, either.
“I read that you’ve taught dozens of folk to meditate, at Glastonbury and elsewhere. Is that right?” “Yeah. That’s right. But we don’t know what happened to them afterwards” “I’m sure you’re being too modest! Next piece of music, then. We’re on disc number two.” “Well, it’s Ella Fitzgerald. I just remember her voice, on the wireless, in the 50s, 60s, she sounded old-fashioned then, but really she’s kind of timeless. And my Mum was called Ella. And my Daughter’s called Ella, so . . . ”
Perhaps I’d have a novelty disc, an update of Pete and Dud working out where they came in line to the throne, only instead it’d be me, calculating that I’m roughly seven millionth in line to be asked onto Kirsty’s island. You can always dream. It’d be a peep into my life, checking the score so far, the sins of omission.
The books could be a bit of a problem, too. “We offer you the Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare . . . ” I used to think I’d jump in there, get a bit uppity “No, I don’t want the Bible!” But these days I’d rather not create a scene, not after waiting so long. And, anyway, it’s the King James. “ . . . . And you’re allowed to take another book.” I like the way she says ‘boook.’ But it’s difficult. You don’t want to seem too pretentious, “The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton, unabridged” or populist, either “I’m a big fan of John le Carre, Kirsty, if I could have his all his Smiley books in one volume . . . . ” That’s cheating, too, really. But I notice Kirsty’s not so strict on these things as Sue Lawley. No, I’ll have to come back to it. It’s always the last thing I pack, a book or two.
“And we allow you a luxury, what’s it to be?” At this point, I’d be starting to think I’d miss Kirsty, but I wouldn’t go there. A luxury. Would I join Karen Armstrong in few glasses of very cold Sauvignon Blanc? Or how about a game of Subbuteo with Terry Venables? Kirsty let Keith Richards take a machete; no way is that a luxury.
I thought, if any one thing said ‘me’ it was my one-cup mocha stove-top expresso machine, “And an endless supply of Lavazza Crema e Gusto. I was put onto it by my wine merchant” – I really mean the Italian who runs the local offie – “it’s got a blue label, but it’s not the decaffeinated.” God, I’d be worried sick they’d get me the decaffeinated. But, on the other hand, that’s not very creative, is it, just drinking coffee? No, so how about loads of sketch books and note books and something to write and draw with? That’s better. It says something about me, on the island. She’d probably want to know the brand, Kirsty would. I’d have to be ready for that. Moleskin, Faber-Castell, maybe. But, then again, why not think really big, if I could have anything? After all, it’s a once-in-a-life-time chance.
“I’d like the Tara statue from the British Museum please, Kirsty.” All in one breath. She’d probably pause, “Ah.” Then, “I’m sure we can arrange that.” Of course, this is the BBC. But I don’t think she’d ask me why, she’d wait for me to say something.
I could say something about the infinite, finding form in the finite. That the craftsmen who conjured her up are kinds of shamans, showing us a truer world. But this is Desert Island Discs, not Thought For The Day. The first thing is, she needs to be freed. In the British Museum she’s like a mermaid cast up on shore, standing unsteadily on show, nakedly out of her element. And if I can free her from that well-meaning prison, she can free me. I could make a bit of a joke of it, “Well, that way I’d know the British Museum would try and find her, and rescue me, too.” But I wouldn’t mean it. No, I’d want some time together.
I’d set her up, somewhere on the beach; I can see her beginning to shine, gilded and brazen, leaving behind the enforced modesty. Perhaps she’d seem to grow, she’s all but life size, with that wonderful headdress. There’d be some kind of ritual, I don’t know what, they say ritual re-enacts a sacred event, a theophany. That’s what it’d be. The coming to the Island. But you can’t force it. Animism, idol-worship, silence; I don’t mind. Is she stepping forward, is she dancing, is she waiting, waiting? I wouldn’t be alone. There’d be God, of course, with all his deeds in the big black book, and Will with his histories and tragedies and sonnets, and the Fab Four and Ella Fitzgerald and the rest of the band. And the craftsmen, as I’ve said, and all the worshippers from India and Sri Lanka, and the guards and grey experts of the British Museum and the tourists with their selfies, and Neil MacGregor and Kirsty and the listeners. And Minerva and Venus and Diana and Proserpina and Ceres and Juno, Bellona, Hecate, and Queen Isis, the Mother of Gods, and Tara, Tara herself.
I wouldn’t want to be rescued until I’d been saved.