desert island discs – my votes

Well it all started with a conversation I had with Nick Lawrance after the Top Eight Books were published. It went along the lines of:

Nick:    So, can we do top ten albums next, then? Can we?
Me:      Oh, go on then.

So, here we go then. The rules are: 

1.      No greatest hits or compilations or various artists except for item 2 below.

2.      Soundtracks are allowed (I relented after a serious onslaught by Orlando over a full weekend away in Brisbane).

3.      Where possible, be specific about the version of the album you are talking about (eg, the original on vinyl, or the 2004 remastered edition).

4.      Albums don’t have to be in order (ie favourite at number one), just the ten last albums you would like to be left with in the world.

5.      Give a reason as to why it makes your list.

6.      List your favourite track on each album if you have one.

Answers by email please. You have until 31 October 2006 to respond, then I will collate the responses and publish here.I have created my top ten for starters. You will find a link to my list on here.

1.      Boz Scaggs                             Silk Degrees                                       1976

This album reminds me of my brother. More specifically, it reminds me of my first ever trip to new York in 1989. I stayed with Bernard and Naomi in their house in Amityville, Long Island (it was right around the corner from the Amityville Horror house) and played his records for three weeks. Almost twenty years later – and a full thirty years after its release – I still listen to this album in its entirety probably every month or more.

Favourite track: Harbour Lights

2.      Buena Vista Social Club         Buena Vista Social Club                     1997

I first heard this album on a hot summer’s afternoon in a friend’s London garden. Even now, the first bars of “Chan Chan” make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Pause and allow the richness of the music to transport you to Cuba. A genuine masterpiece.

Favourite track: Chan Chan

3.      Earth, Wind & Fire                  All ‘n’ All                                               1979

This was a toss-up between I Am and All ‘n’ All (in the absence of a Greatest Hits). In the end I simply counted the tracks on each I couldn’t do without, and this album won by a hair. EWF make joyful, intelligent, soulful, uplifting music capable of lifting anybody’s spirits.

Favourite track: (if I must) Jupiter

4.      Maxwell                                   Urban Hang Suite                               1996

This is one of those albums I played on constant loop for months after I bought it. Maxwell’s voice is angelic, and the full-band, heavily-produced R&B sound is rich and sweet.

Favourite track: Whenever Wherever Whatever

5.      Michael Jackson                     Off the Wall                                         1979

Probably one of the best albums ever made. Destined to make you get up and dance, this was, in my opinion, the best album Michael Jackson ever made. The depth of emotion he conveys in this soulful, funky album is complete: his unselfconscious whoop of laughter in the middle of “Get On The Floor” is completely infectious, and contrasts with his tears whilst singing “She’s Out Of My Life”. The remastered version you can buy now has interesting interviews with Quincy Jones, and a couple of demos where you can hear Michal bickering with his siblings.

Favourite track: sorry, can’t choose

6.      Missy Elliott                             Under Construction                             2002

This was the first Missy album I ever bought. I’m not a natural hip-hop fan but I love Missy’s in-your-face attitude, her confidence, her humour. Under Construction is a lot mellower than most of her previous work (she was grieving for her friend Aaliyah at the time) and there are some great old-school-sounding songs on there.

Favourite track: Work It

7.      Planxty                                    Live 2004                                            2004

Never mind U2: Planxty was Ireland’s very first super-group. They broke up in the early 80s and we thought we would never hear them play together again. Twenty years later, they got together for some low-key sessions in Lisdoonvarna, and finally played the tiny Vicar Street in late 2004. It wasn’t enough. The Point Theatre was booked and six nights sold out in one day. Hearing these men play again is like a homecoming for most Irish people: we are privileged to have lived when they collaborated. When Liam Og O’Flynn chimes in with the uileann pipes about a minute into the first track, it’s magic. 

Favourite track: The Starting Gate

8.      Prince                                      Sign o’ The Times                               1987

It’s hard to pick just one Prince album when you possess his entire back-catalogue. This is one of his most eclectic albums, from the pure funk of Housequake to the pure romance of Adore. His humour shines through, he doesn’t take himself very seriously, and, above all, his musical genius is all over this album.

Favourite track: Housequake

9.      Talking Heads                         Stop Making Sense                            1984

The 1983 movie Stop Making Sense played a midnight show in Dublin’s Ambassador Cinema for years. This was break-through New York conceptual art meets the Top 40 and we loved it. The album (re-released in 1999 with almost all movie tracks on) is still a classic. David Byrne’s reedy voice adds a weirdness to the already complex funk of the melodies. And who can forget the Big Suit?

Favourite track: Girlfriend is Better

10.  Luther Vandross                      Give Me The Reason                         1986

Ah, Luther. What will we do without you? This was almost the point at which I broke my own “no greatest hits allowed” rule. How do you choose when considering an artist who was better known for his individual hit singles than his albums? How do you select only a tiny handful to listen to for all time, and forget the rest? This was almost an arbitrary selection in the end, but as seven out of the nine tracks were released as singles, it was the best value I could find. Nobody will ever sing a love song like Luther.

Favourite track: So Amazing

top ten books

Imagine your child, your god-child, or perhaps a child you know will become the leader of the free world, can only ever read ten books in their lifetime. What would those books be?

Thanks to all who contributed to the experiment. I received some wonderful lists from people, many of whom also gave their reasons why they chose the books.

In the end, we didn’t have a full top ten. There was a handful of books who were nominated a number of times, and a clear number one book. But the rest of the books nominated make such a great collection that I have listed them all here. Click here to buy any or all of the Top Eight from Amazon. Enjoy!

Number 1 – four votes

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Nominated by:

Nick Lawrance        
“Read this book firstly as a fairy tale”      
“To be read a second time immediately after The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx, as an allegory of how power corrupts and all that”

Mairead Doyle                                                                                        “This book can be read again and again in life to appreciate its many layers”

Katea Downie

Joint 2nd

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Nominated by:

Manu Pillai
Katea Downie
Mairead Doyle         
“The ultimate cautionary tale for our times”

Joint 2nd

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon

Nominated by:

Nick Lawrance        
“Because mental health problems are just health problems”

Eileen Kershaw
Mairead Doyle

Joint 4th

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

Nominated by:

Sam Evans  
“Read this book and you won’t have a great view of humanity; like no other book it reveals the human cost of wars and why they should never be fought”

Mairead Doyle         
“Probably the best war book ever written”

Joint 4th

Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

Nominated by:

“A modern Australian flavour”

Sam Evans  
“An Australian masterpiece, amazingly written book about two poor families in western australia that suffer catastrophies but live on – wonderful use of Australian rural language”

Joint 4th

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Nominated by:

Katea Downie
Katharine Haines

Joint 4th

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Nominated by:

Katea Downie
Mairead Doyle         
“A powerful story about growing up in an imperfect world”

Joint 4th

The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama

Nominated by:

Manu Pillai

Sam Evans  
“Helped me get perspective – I think I’ll need to re-read this every few years to keep its messages fresh”


Ref. Title Author Nominated by
1 100 Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez Suzanne Parsons
2 A Shropshire Lad AE Housman Katharine Haines
3 A Well Dressed Gentleman’s Pocket Guide Oscar Lenius Orlando Gibson
4 Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy Sam Evans
5 Art of War Sun Tzu Manu Pillai
6 Between You & I James Cochrane Orlando Gibson
7 Bhowani Junction John Masters Hayley Burchill
8 Bible Reference Lesa Campbell
9 Black Beauty Anna Sewell Louise Beechey
10 Black Dogs Ian McEwan Bres
11 Bonjour Tristesse Francoise Sagan Katharine Haines
12 Brave New World Aldous Huxley Manu Pillai
13 Bridge to Terebithia Kathrine Patterson Alison Crimmins
14 Brotherman Herb Boyd & Robert Allen Orlando Gibson
15 Captain Correlli’s Mandolin Louis de Bernieres Louise Beechey
16 Catch 22 Joseph Heller Nick Lawrance
17 Catcher in the Rye J D Salinger Katea Downey
18 Change the World Robert E Quinn Dean Campbell
19 Computer Programming for Dummies Reference Orlando Gibson
20 Crime & Punishment Fyodor Dostoevsky Louise Beechey
21 Danny, Champion of the World Roald Dahl Nick Lawrance
22 Definitely Atlas Shrugged Ayn Rand Alison Crimmins
23 Dracula Bram Stoker Nick Lawrance
24 Elizabeth – Red Rose of the House of Tudor Kathryn Lasky Kathryn Fridman
25 Endurance Alfred Lansing Sam Evans
26 Famous Five or Secret Seven Enid Blyton Eileen Kershaw
27 Fast Food Nation Eric Schlosser Katharine Haines
28 Howl’s Moving Castle Diana Wynne Jones Kathryn Fridman
29 I Capture the Castle Dodie Smith Katharine Haines
30 I, Coriander Sally Gardener Kathryn Fridman
31 If This Is A Man Primo Levi Katharine Haines
32 In Praise of Slow Carl Honore Katharine Haines
33 In Spain Ted Walker Annette Doyle
34 Journey to the River Sea Eva Ibbotson Kathryn Fridman
35 Les Miserables Victor Hugo Louise Beechey
36 Lord of the Rings J R R Tolkien Sam Evans
37 Lyn: A Diary of Prostitution Lyn Madden Annette Doyle
38 Maid of Buttermere Melvyn Bragg Louise Beechey
39 Martin and Malcolm and America James H Cone Orlando Gibson
40 Master and Commander Patrick O’Brien Hayley Burchill
41 Mayor of Casterbridge Thomas Hardy Louise Beechey
42 Midnight’s Children Salman Rushdie Mairead Doyle
43 Mr God This Is Anna Finn Mairead Doyle
44 Northern Lights Philip Pullman Kathryn Fridman
45 Noughts and Crosses Malorie Blackman Mairead Doyle
46 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service Ian Fleming Nick Lawrance
47 Oxford English Dictionary Reference Orlando Gibson
48 Parade’s End Ford Madox Ford Hayley Burchill
49 Pilgrim’s Progress John Bunyon Hayley Burchill
50 Pole to Pole Michael Palin Katharine Haines
51 Puffin Book of Utterly Brilliant Poetry Various Louise Beechey
52 Rachel’s Holiday Marian Keyes Annette Doyle
53 RHS Gardening Manual Reference Hayley Burchill
54 Romeo and Juliet William Shakespeare Katea Downey
55 Schindler’s Ark Thomas Kenneally Mairead Doyle
56 Sophie’s World Jostein Gaarder Bres
57 Teach Yourself Chinese Reference Orlando Gibson
58 Teach Yourself Spanish Reference Orlando Gibson
59 The Butcher Boy Patrick McCabe Annette Doyle
60 The Communist Manifesto Karl Marx Nick Lawrance
61 The Constant Gardener John le Carre Suzanne Parsons
62 The Five People You Meet in Heaven Mitch Alborn Bres
63 The Horse Whisperer Nicholas Evans Annette Doyle
64 The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini Suzanne Parsons
65 The Lady Grace Mysteries – Assassin Patricia Finney Kathryn Fridman
66 The Lonely Planet – India Lonely Planet Annette Doyle
67 The Lost World of the Kalahari Laurens van der Post Katharine Haines
68 The Mousehole Cat Antonia Barber Louise Beechey
69 The New York Trilogy Paul Auster Bres
70 The Once and Future King T H White Katharine Haines
71 The Piano Tuner Daniel Mason Hayley Burchill
72 The Prophet Kahlil Gibran Annette Doyle
73 The Reader Bernard Schlink Nick Lawrance
74 The Silent World Jacques Cousteau Louise Beechey
75 The Star of Kazan Eva Ibbotson Kathryn Fridman
76 The Treatment Mo Hayder Annette Doyle
77 The Worlds of Chrestomanci – The Magicians of Capriona Diana Wynne Jones Kathryn Fridman
78 Time Bandits Michael Palin & Terry Gilliam Orlando Gibson
79 Twinkle Annual Eileen Kershaw
80 Veronika Decides to Die Paul Coelho Annette Doyle
81 Vile Victorians (Horrible Histories) Terry Deary Kathryn Fridman
82 Voyage of the Dawn Treader C S Lewis Nick Lawrance
83 Winnie the Pooh – Complete Collection of Poems and Stories A A Milne Mairead Doyle
84 Women’s Room Mariyn French Annette Doyle

Girls vs Women – Update

So, we women don’t mind being called girls if the context is right. Or, Bonnie Grier had her knickers in a twist, and the whole thing was political correctness gone mad.

The final result of last week’s poll on Girls vs. Women was a dead heat in favour of these two opinions, and only a small minority thought being called a girl was something to be offended by. Great to see that the women who read this website have their heads firmly screwed on, and their senses of humour in place.

Favourite comments included:

“The term ‘girl’ can only be seen as condescending if the receiver sees it thus….Have you ever heard a man complain about being called a ‘lad’ ? Or ‘one of the BOYS’ ?” (Mena from Melbourne)

“I was going to rant about this harridan’s inability to notice that she’s living in a different country to the US, and that she should cease the usual American practice of trying to homogenise every “foreign” country into a facsimile of the land of the free as a means of causing less confusion in her tiny little brain.” (Nick from London)

“I think I’ll reserve the title ‘woman’ to when I have earned it…hopefully sometime in my future when I am wiser and can reflect on a more fuller and more participatory life !!! Until then I remain happy to be called ‘girl’…so Go Girl! Be proud, be fearless and live life!” (Mel from London)

Thanks for the great debate all!

girls vs.women part 1

To highlight the ongoing inequality of women on International Women’s Day, US-born Bonnie Grier raised the issue of British women being referred to as girls on this morning’s Today programme. 

“It was one of the first things I discovered when I moved here 20 years ago”, she said. “I found that quite shocking, to see grown women call themselves girls and to allow themselves to be called girls.”

Politician Ann Widdecombe stoutly defended her right to be called a girl, and branded Bonnie too politically correct, asking “Haven’t we got more important things to worry about?”

See this BBC link for more on this interview.

This was quite a relevant story to me, because as some of you know one of my New Year’s resolutions was to stop referring to myself as a girl and start calling myself a woman. This was for no other reason that I am closer to menopause than puberty and really had to start facing the facts!

So, what are the views of the honourable readership of Is Bonnie Grier a ridiculous Yank who has let political correctness go to her head, or is Ann Widdecombe ignoring the fact that women continue to be confronted with prejudice and condescension in the workplace? Are words like this so important, or is it all in the context? Go to the Girls vs. Women page and vote, or use the Guestbook to make your statement!
Vote on the buttons below and let’s see what the majority thinks!

Or use the guestbook to have a good old rant!

I have put together my favourite photos of women taken over the years – mostly from my travels in India and Mexico – and put them together in a new photo gallery on the next page. 

I would love your contributions to make this a memorable gallery in celebration of women.

Email me with your photos to

International Women’s Day in Pictures