I’ve set myself a challenge. It’s based on one of the longest running BBC radio shows, Desert Island Discs, which I like to use for teaching from time to time. For those not in the know, the show has been on the airwaves since 1942, and each week a guest, also known as a “castaway”, comes on the show to talk about their life and eight songs which hold a great importance in their life, as well as choose a luxury item and a book. They are interviewed by the sweetly soft seductive voiced, Kirsty Young; always nice to listen to on a lazy Sunday, along with the opening tune By The Sleepy Lagoon, which begins with the sound of seagulls that reminds me of childhood holidays in Cornwall. I like to think that the castaways, which have included the likes of Noel Gallagher, Dustin Hoffman and George Clooney, are being interviewed in a little art studio in St Ives. You get an intimate yet insightful view of their lives, where they can describe their rise or fall from fame and the habits and their loves and hates, without the silly tabloid tattle. There are literally hundreds of interviews on Youtube, which could very well have a few of your most admired artists, actors, musicians, writers, politicians, etc. I don’t partically like being nationalistic or patriotic (much of the time it invites poor excuses to be racist or have an undeserved satisfaction for being proud of a heroic success that you have no part in the making), but this show does make me proud to be British and is a great way of curing homesickness, whenever ever I might feel it. It also reminds me of school days, when I would do my homework in the kitchen while my mum prepared the Sunday Roast and listened to the Castaways, and sweet aromas of meat would float up nose. It’s a truely unique show.
A quick side step for teachers. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but this show is a great for ESOL classes, especially for break-the-ice activities or just enabling students to practice expressing themselves, and doing it through music gives an extra incentive. It’s not an easy activity but it gets students buzzing and talking. Intermediate classes and upwards, and for students of all ages.
Back to the grind, I am going to try and do this but by choosing books that for one reason or other have had a profound impact on me. Also, I’m cheating a little by choosing ten books, not eight, which would probably being used for fuel for a much needed fire anyway, if I were to ever happened to end up deserted on an island with these books. I hope the list inspires reading or inspires you to create your own list. Either way, the internet is full of lists, but for two good reasons. 1) people love lists. 2) SEO guidelines advise it to for google crowdsourcing.
Here is goes.
1. Thomas the Tank Engine by Wilbert Vere Awry
My earliest memories of reading or being read to with books that had an impact on me. There were Ben and Lad books to practice reading at school by they were so numbingly boring and teachers struggled to make them exciting or find a level that the child was at. They cause more of a stunt in reading than anything. I read Topsy & Tim but I can only remember one book about them collecting sticklebacks and putting them in jars, so I don’t think it had the same impact as Thomas. And because I found Tim a nauseating little git and such a cry baby that it made Topsy cringe, it started off an aversion of all people called Tim which exists to this day. People called Tim I find annoying. If your name is Tim, you probably are really annoying and I hope you’ve had to live with Timotei shampoo jokes all your life and it’s brought you down an annoying peg or two because you no doubt needed it. YES. Topsy & Tim inspired me to hate.
Thomas the Tank Engine, though, was the bomb. Set on the fictional island of Sudor between mainland England and the Isle of Man, this chirpy little place probably had more trains and locamotives than required on island so small and so full of railway lines (one of the most intense railway structures in the world, no one would have needed their own transport and impunctuality should have been near on impossible, if not for the catastrophic amount of natural disasters always falling upon the poor people of Sodor. Snow blocks and landslides were seemingly a daily occurance there. But the Sodorians seemed very resiliant and happy in fact, because not once did they try and commit suicide by jumping out in front of Thomas and friends. The rest of the world should have taken note on the excellent services provided by NHS Mental Health Services of Sodor) that it probably inspired Maggie Thatcher to try and privatise the then defunctioning National Rail for having made so many impractical decisions on such a tiny imaginery place. I felt it was real though, a type of magic realism that came long before Gabriel Garcia Marquez became attached with the genre, and I always had to wave at the trains rolling into Hall Green Station when I was small. Trains and helicopters and cars, robots in other words, that talk and have a soul. I suppose it has an element of sci-fi, an indirect inspiration to many movie makers today maybe, maybe not, but it touched accord with me and I was captivated, as were many other millions of kids, as the books were made into television series narrated by Ringo Starr, which are still on TV today and now famous in the US, I believe. There were model railways, too, which began other hobbies in childhood.
Thomas himself was too much of a goody two shoes and a bit of a brown-noser to the Fat Controller and his coaches Annie and Clarabel were a bit apathetic in not letting the little blue arsed engine know. However, I found Gordon’s cruelly sarcastic remarks fascinatingly hilarious, always ready to say something to wind up Thomas and the Fat Controller. Henry the green locamotive most have inspired many lazy stoners, and Percy was Tom’s green sidekick but there was something deceitful about him, and his name sounded too much like the establishement for me, a sly grass, too Tory for me. For me though, the engine that really made me laugh, that inspired me the most, was James. He was nice, but a cocky wind-up and took the piss out of all the small and big engines. Karma always seemed to catch up with him though; a message that I didn’t pick up when I was young. His name also inspired two names for budgies. An entertaining side character that I always like to see in novels today, that make me giggle. You can see the devious look on his face below. Genius. What an engine.
All these were read at my 7 to 8 o’clock bedtime and I think my parents loved it just as much as I did, delving into Sodor, and I will always be grateful to them for inspiring me to read (and write) with such amazing stories.