Friday, March 12, 2010

Desert Island Things

When I very first came to London, I was fifteen.  I'd been shipped off, alone, to take care of a great aunt with epilepsy.  The original plan was that I would be there for a year; I made it four months.  (There are so many aspects of this story that cast my immediate and extended family in a poor light that I won't even bother discussing them.  Pretty much all the people associated with that lunatic decision 40 years ago are dead, so what's the point.)

I liked my great aunt Dora (family nickname: Dorcle in the Germanic tradition of adding "le" on the end of names) well enough, but with a 60+ year difference in our ages it wasn't an easy relationship.  She'd married quite late in life and hadn't been able to have children.  Dorcle was an artist whose sculptures were just okay, but whose needlework was pure genius.  Unfortunately, fiber artistry (she designed her own allegorical needlepoint scenes, for example, confounding the snobs at the Royal School of Needlework) hadn't been recognized in the early 20th century, so she didn't enjoy the success she should have.

There were some fundamental problems with the arrangement of having a very sad American girl keeping house for a rather opinionated and distant relative, although there were some benefits as well.  (Notable among the benefits was the proximity to a Danish artist living in a tiny mews studio space across the courtyard; Inger would stay up later than Dorcle and invited me to come watch TV with her.  I think she could tell how I wasn't doing very well emotionally.  I recall her loving lectures to me on how I needed to behave better -- ie., be less depressed -- but I suspect she spent most of her time with me being quietly loving and accepting: balm to my spirit.)

One highlight to my time with Dorcle, though, was Desert Island Discs, the BBC 4 radio programme hosted back then by Roy Plomley in which guests would pick the eight musical selections they would want with them on a desert island.  (They also got one book other than the Bible and Shakespeare, and one luxury provided that luxury couldn't aid their escape from the island.)  Dorcle and I would listen to it faithfully every week.  Back then, almost all the guests were the sort who picked classical music for their 8 discs; I shudder to think what Dorcle would have made of current guests, who only occasionally have some classical music in with all the more modern stuff.

I listened to part of Desert Island Discs today.  The guest was Maggie Aderin-Pocock, a British woman of Nigerian descent who specializes in space engineering, in effect.  The show is only on its fourth host (Kirsty Young); and there's a fascinating discussion on Wikipedia of why for so long the BBC couldn't permit listeners to access the program through the Internet.  It turns out that Roy Plomley actually owned the copyright to the name "Desert Island Discs" and his heirs just came to an agreement with the BBC about rebroadcast rights in 2009.

Where this intellectual property dispute leaves the nice people who came up with the phrase Desert Island Keepers (DIK) to refer to those books you just couldn't live without, I have no idea.  I'm also not sure who did come up with that phrase, so I'll just link to as many as I can find: here, here, here, and here.  (Just to name a few...)  Interestingly, All About Romance seems to have folded their DIK reviews in with everything else.

If you are reading this and thinking, "Wow, I didn't even know there was a precursor to Desert Island Keepers," then I recommend you listen to Desert Island Discs just once.  Only recent programmes are available as podcasts, but you can read what various people picked as their eight discs, one book and one luxury.  Check out George Clooney's answers, for example (he knows from luxury), or Stephen King.

In the forty years since I first heard Desert Island Discs, I've spent more time trying to narrow my musical choices to just eight discs than I've spent figuring out which books I would take.  How about you?  Anyone have their list of music/books ready for that Robinson Crusoe experience?

1 comment:

  1. Here's my list of 8 books from off my shelves that I'd pack:

    Bleak House by Charles Dickens
    The Trustee from the Toolroom by Neville Shute
    The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul by Douglas Adams
    Caroline's Waterloo by Betty Neels
    The Testament by John Grisham (nothing says vacation/beach reading like J.G.)
    The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R.Tolkien(yes, I have a one-volume edition)
    The Complete Works of Jane Austen by Jane Austen (yes, I own that unwieldy tome)
    The Jeeves Omnibus by P.G.Wodehouse

    (after looking at my list, I'm tempted to take out John Grisham and replace him with another author...all the other author's are Brits.)


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