Desert Island Dreams Of Manhattan And London

There is a radio programme in the UK called Desert Island Discs where a “castaway” has to choose 8 recordings, a book and a luxury to make life bearable on that mythical desert island.

I have always been obsessed by the show and the choices.

This week, when I have been moaning away about politicians, I did begin to think that it would actually be a really good time to find that island.

My problem used to be, in the days when I smoked something like 40 cigarettes a day, that my luxury would have to be a very very large crate of cigarettes and an infallible source of flame.

That meant that I would be deprived of any real luxuries except, of course, for that book and the 8 discs. Not enough, I thought.

Well the world moves on and the ipod solves that 8 disc dilemma and I have been an ex-smoker, or recovering nicotine addict for a long time. So there is a real option for me to find that island now.

The trouble is there is still only one luxury allowed.

It would be a Concert Grand Piano – a Bluthner, I fancy with its wonderfully receptive “piano” touch and grandly powerful “fortes”. It would have to be one that will never go out of tune and which comes with a piano stool with a compartment which is filled with the piano works of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin and Schumann and which has a candelabra with candles which never need replacing so I can play at night when the Moon is hidden by tornado clouds.

You see – I am a natural cheat.

Even then, would I be satisfied?

The book would be difficult too.

Of course, the modern world has solved that one too – the luxury of luxuries, the internet. It is not allowed on the programme but in my real life desert island, computer technology would make me a free man as long as we could find a cheap power source.

Old hippies were saying that forty years ago of course. When everyone was writing them off as failed utopianists, some of them were becoming self-sufficient, computer literate and environmentally avant-garde.

Maybe it is time to piece some of those thoughts together.

OK, I might not be allowed that piano (oh please let me!) but all the rest really could make a foundation for a better life than most of us live these days.

Politician free that is.

I had my haircut this morning with my friend, a Venezuelan who works out of a barn in deepest Sussex. He was telling me about a week he spent in Cuba.

Is that the desert island, I wondered?

Fidel Castro, the ailing leader who has to be admired whatever your politics, has until recently precided over a country which has an excellent health service (one of the best in the world), an impressive education system and enough weapons to stop even America interferring with it.

He impressed me most though by the thought that he doesn’t live in some fancy palace or swish around in designer clothes. He like his fellow countrymen live without the consumerist tat that accounts for such a high percentage of every Westerner’s income.

I may well be romanticising Cuba here but let’s go with that in the interests of the argument and anyway, any country that has such cool music must be OK.

What do we really need from our politicians? Maybe it is just a health system for all, a good education for all, and some method of defending ourselves until the rest of the world either leaves us alone or joins us.

I want to go to Cuba – NOW – before it changes. Before our supposedly superior values corrupt it and make it just another tourist destination where you can get fat on the beach and then airbrush your holiday snaps when you get home.

If this is delusional then it could still be a dream worth dreaming when our politicians start their electioneering, telling us about their brave new world and how we should put them in charge.

Then, just possibly, if that dream came true, Britain or Manhattan, say, could be a desert island too but without all that sand.

Then, I am enjoying this now, I could have that recording of Ella Fitzgerald singing Manhattan and it really would be an “isle of joy.”


  1. Oh Wolfie!

    Roy Plomley would never let anybody take a *grand* piano: they could use it as a shelter. I think if people got a grand piano, they had to promise not to use it as a shelter.

    Ella is wonderful, but she was having problems with the lyrics. Odd, as I would have thought she would have sung it hundreds of times.

    The Ella Songbooks are guaranteed to make me feel happy. And I strongly recommend "Ella Sings Broadway".

  2. I promise not to use it as a shelter – ok!

    I am a cheat though as I told you.

    I must get hold of Ella Sings Broadway though I am still hooked on her singing Rodgers and Hart. I seldom play anything else.

  3. "Ella sings Gershwin" is fab.

    "Ella sings Berlin" is great.

    "Ella sings Mercer" is wonderful.

    "Ella sings Kern" is excellent.

    "Ella and Louis sing Porgy and Bess" is always a treat.

    But "Ella sings Cole Porter" is like the greatest thing you can imagine, with a cherry on top with a chocolate flake and brandy-soaked cherries. And it has "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye".

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