If I came to be stranded on an undiscovered island, I'd hope to find it peopled by inhabitants that epitomised words I hadn't before seen or heard; words that in my land hadn't been used for a very long time, that had, in fact, been abandoned then forgotten. Cast off to this unknown isle like convicts sent to Australia. The English then were very good at that: ignoring or removing problems. Some people might say they still are.
the question asked is: what three items would you take to a desert
island? Some respondents give practical answers like a penknife, a
lighter and a fishing rod; others provide replies in pursuit of
leisure: a hammock, an mp3 player, a Kindle Paperwhite with crisp
high resolution display, whilst some make outlandish selections in
expectation of a utopian state. They will reside in a Paradise where
all God's creatures are non-violent and nature is bountiful.
Experience harmonious living on peaceable ground. They can't imagine
the ill-winds that might blow or what dangers might lurk. The
potentiality of poisonous snakes, spiders, fruits and plants. Real
risks don't exist in a land you've created.
lies the problem, my problem with the question posed: it allows the
interviewees to choose. It's a planned excursion like a billionaire
renting a private island for a party of exclusive guests. It's too
neat, it's too tidy. The landscape swept clean so that it closely
resembles a watercolour painting. There's luxury huts and staff
clothed in flowered sarongs who cater to every guest's whim. You can
do whatever you want, however, whenever you want to. The surrounding
seas are always calm, the sun is always shining. There are always
zephyr breezes and time always goes blissfully slow. It paints an
untrue picture of unmapped territory because its location has already
been staked: named and impaled on the globe by another Christopher
Columbus, or by someone who's read Daniel Defoe and thinks they're
the next Robinson Crusoe.
respondent has to do is decide on which three items to pack. The
island pre-exists; they don't even have to worry about how they will
get there because the itinerary says by big plane, then small plane
and/or boat. Creative thinking gets cancelled, but then this
hypothetical question alienates life's common players because it's
mostly put to the rich, the famous, those on some kind of celebrity
prefer to conceptualise what sort of island I'd liked to be washed up
on. That's how I visualise it: being washed up like a folded message
in a screw-top bottle, never mind the reason, how or why, just
opening my eyes and finding myself there: beached on a foreign shore.
If there's a mainland it's not in sight, and in the sea there are
floating words, bobbing like life buoys; some have run aground, and
the sand is pebbled with sun-dried papers on which their definition
is printed. The perpetual student in me starts to collect them,
assembling them in a disorganised pile, as other more sensible exiles
might gather wood for an impromptu camp fire. I will then sit down to
read with my back against a palm tree until all daylight naturally
fades, where under the cover of stars the sound of waves will lull me
morning, I awaken to a clamorous, mocking woman standing over me,
peering at me as if I were a museum exhibit. Her prattle one
continuous stream, some of which I think might be insulting, as she
studies me with a quizzical crow-like expression. She gives up,
trudges to a marooned word and points to it, then herself; it, then
herself; herself, it. I scramble to look the word up amongst my newly
Ill-bred, rude and noisy teasing woman.
mouths, gesticulating wildly. She's a late nineteenth-century native
of the type found in an H.G. Wells novel.
nod and smile, smile and nod, I would think that I could quite
happily live in this paradisal glossary of my own creation.