Sunday, 11 January 2009

Word Worlds and Desert Island Discs

January 11th 2009

BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs held a treat in store today, as the guest of honour was my friend Ruth Padel, Charles Darwin’s great, great granddaughter, a hugely admired poet and a rightly much-mentioned name in the search for Britain's next Poet Laureate.

Whilst her choice of discs illustrated a profound love and understanding of music from string quartets to blues, what was most interesting was her ability to use the interview format of the show to create beautifully evoked 'word worlds'.

In a brief 45 minutes Ruth took listeners from the forests of Siberia where she was in search for the fast-disappearing Siberian tiger to the lush jungles of Sumatra in pursuit of another feline sub-species. These experiences were part of her research for "Tigers in Red Weather", a very personal travelogue, published in 2002, that encompasses the science of conservation, natural history, myth and poetry that was to my mind that rarest of books, an instant classic of enduring appeal. Her comment on the irony that her forebear wrote of the great explosion of species and just four generations later she is now writing of the appalling reduction in them tore straight to the heart of the issue.

She then took us to another world entirely and re-created in miraculously few words a mid twentieth century country home of her childhood where wood walks alone with a dog, unkempt mazey hedges and a book-laden school room were conjured for the listener, taking us back to a time when such issues as our treatment of the planet and its inhabitants had yet to impress themselves on our conscience.

I am getting to an age where people I know or have known are appearing more frequently on Desert Island Discs. Another recent example was the delightful Professor A.C. Grayling, reader in Philosophy at London University's Birkbeck College and one of the most graceful, kind and evolved men I know. During his edition he utterly altered the perception I had of the duration of life by saying: 

"that the human life-span is fewer than a thousand months - and with our time so limited, it is incumbent upon us all to use it thoughtfully and well."

It is perhaps not surprising to learn that his ethos is to take philosophy out of the ivory towers and into people's homes as a tool to help us live richer and more fulfilling lives of thought and consideration.

Grayling's choice of luxury to take to the imagined desert isle of the programme was a good piano. Padel's was a herd of deer that to my mind seemed wonderfully in keeping with her love of the natural world. Sadly her choice was disallowed - luxuries are supposed to provide no aid to survival - and so she settled on pencils and paper.

There are many good poets, both men and women, whose names are being mentioned as potential successors to Andrew Motion, the current and highly successful Poet Laureate. All of them would certainly bring much to the post. I harbour a hope that those whose unenviable task it is to make the choice will select a woman for the first time and that that woman will be Ruth Padel. She would be a timely choice for the post in a world where our connections with and abuses of the planet are becoming ever more critical and I like to imagine that she would take her pencils and paper to some of Britain's own desert islands and so create more word worlds for us to enjoy. But that's just my opinion. You could of course listen to BBC Radio 4 at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday the 27th Jan when Ruth will be presenting a four-part show "Darwin my ancestor" and form your own opinion. I hope you do.



No comments: