The last choices from the Desert Island Discs challenge. The BBC programme asks:
- If you can take only one of your eight discs to your desert island, which would it be?
- You have the Bible or another religious text, and the complete works of Shakespeare. What other book would you like?
- And you can have one luxury item. What would it be?
The one disc has to be Bach’s Mass in B Minor. It has everything: joy, pathos, serenity, drama and all manner of other reflections on the human soul. Perhaps it’s lacking in humour – it’s difficult to laugh at it – but I’d always smile at the memory of my struggles to learn the bass line.
The book. To fill the empty days alone on the island I did think of Anthony Powell’s “A Dance to the Music of Time”. It’s enormous – actually twelve volumes published between 1951 and 1975, and the Penguin edition has it at over 3000 pages. – but I’m cheating a little and counting it as one oeuvre. I read the whole thing about three years ago, laboriously at times because it does have its ups and downs.
Changed my mind though. I’m no academic but an abiding interest has always been the way words have changed their meanings as humans marauded, married, traded and migrated over the centuries. The blog entry of 12 August, “Roots and Routes” referred to Proto-Indo-European, that language of which we have no direct record but which we know existed because its vocabulary travelled into other lands and was transformed as it did so. Two examples were:
P-I-E: “ka” – “to like, to desire”. One journey to English was via Latin carus, so we have caress, charity, cherish. The other route of the root was via the Germanic family, still linked to the original meaning, but now whore.
P-I-E: “dheu” – “to rise in a cloud” from which we have fumigate, perfume, thurifer, typhus.
This is fascinating. It’s all in a 55-page appendix to one of my dictionaries. Not enough. I’d like a full, detailed comprehensive account of the correlations and relationship between individual words in our Indo-European languages. Haven’t got such a tome but they’re available and I’d love to have one, to dip into endlessly on the island. Any ideas?
And the luxury item. In the 4 November blog “Challenges …” I mentioned Baroness Trumpington who appeared on the programme and chose the Crown Jewels, reckoning it would increase her chances of rescue. I almost decided to choose a drone-with-camera. Never had one and don’t want one here in London but it would be really grand to fly one over the island regularly, to check on the terrain, animal life and resources; and over other islands if it reached that far.
But then I thought ‘No’: what I’d really like is a dog. I love them, other than the feral variety that regularly surrounded me in the Sudan (blog 17 May) and the one that scampered past me on a street in Valletta years ago, to be found sprawling round the corner, dying of rabies. Pet dogs take a liking to me, and I to them. Great regret that I’ve never owned one – travelling and living in Africa and the Middle East didn’t help, and now I’m in a top floor London flat with roof garden. Not impossible but not really easy. So on the island I’d like a medium-sized, intelligent, friendly and ready-to-be ferocious-when-challenged hound. What breed? Don’t know. Any advice?
So there we are on my island.. Eight discs; the B Minor Mass if I could chose only one; a good dictionary of our earliest known language and its relationship to today; and a nice dog. DID challenge over. Thank you for suggesting it, Nick. It’s not been as easy as I’d thought but it’s been rewarding, for me anyway. A Christmas challenge to everyone: choose yours!
One more blog entry and then a pause for The Season.