Sound of the Week 29/01/2016

Sound of the Week 29/01/16

Desert Island Discs – Mary Portas
Produced by
BBC Radio 4


Click here for this episode.

Whilst this section should focus on film, this is a review with a difference. As part of the creation and fulfilment of my personal bucket list I have decided to immerse myself in the stories behind the people I love and admire most, and Radio 4 Desert Island Discs has been my no 1 ‘go to’ resource.

I’ve listened to the personal stories of so many people who, in their own way have shaped the world we live in, or should I say my world. For this particular review I have selected the story behind the retail guru ‘Mary Portas’… I adore her. I love her style, what she has achieved, the windows she has designed and the freedom of expression oozing from her being. She is an artist and a creative slave to fashion… In my eyes she can wear anything, anytime, and of any colour. She has transformed the visual image of Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Top Shop. She was a board member of Harvey Nichols at the tender age of 30. Her uniqueness affords her a non-comparable disposition… there is no one like her! Of course if you were a retailer you would want her to advise you on business… she is a master.

Pre the download of this podcast I had no idea of her backstory. It’s amazing the number of people who freely share their impression and perception of her without knowing of her transformational achievements, her bravery, selflessness and wisdom. I’ve listened to the story of her life over and over. All I knew before listening was what I saw on TV or read in magazines, yet the depth of her soul and commitment to family has always been there, just awaiting discovery.

Listening to Desert Island Discs, has taught me and hopefully millions of others the real lessons surrounding ‘judging a book by its cover’. Dare I say Desert Island Discs has taught me the art of assessment, of exploration and the use of open questioning… maybe these skills should have been gained by attending very expensive Advanced Communication Skills Courses, but throughout the life of my career, I have realised that my richest learning experiences are borne from real life rather than class based teaching programmes. Knowing what questions to ask and how far to probe is a skill and most certainly a skill necessary for working within a Hospice.

Most of the time, people share their stories with us because we are genuinely interested. Getting to know people is such a delight. Everyone is unique… no two people have lived life in the same way! Supporting people authentically and with love, requires knowing a little of what matters most and of course the experiences of life before illness.

I listen to the words people use to communicate themselves and their story, I observe facial expression and how body language and demeanour is used to communicate what is difficult to say in words. I love watching reality unfold, for example those moments when for the first time, someone shares an untold story.

As a society we don’t take the time to think of ourselves in a reflective manner. We rarely congratulate ourselves on our achievements, qualities and attributes. For some reason, it seems more fitting to remember the moments we regret and are sorry for. Life is precious, and as we only have one, reflecting on what matters most, what has been achieved and what is still left to do sustains hope, which is imperative to living a purpose driven life.

Mary reminded listeners of the temporality of life. In a moment life can change beyond our imagination and a path less travelled is set before us. For Mary, walking this path required courage, determination and trust. In a moment, her childhood disappeared… her mum died and in all essence, she lost her dad too. She was 16. She recounts being given little opportunity to grieve or remember due to the restrictions placed upon her and her siblings by their father… they didn’t speak about what had happened to mum… he just couldn’t. He had a breakdown soon after and then went on to die himself.

Mary became sole carer and role model for her younger brother by 2 years, Lawrence. Today she would be considered a ‘young carer’. Her responsibilities were fragranced with heart-brokenness and disappointment. The pause button of her life had been pressed. From her brief portrayal, it appears she bounced back as quickly and as skilfully as she could, grasping the best parts of life and memory along the way… music, love, creativity, style, fashion and ambition. On reflection she feels it was the making of her.

I love the music she selected to illustrate her life, which I won’t spoil… you may wish to download the podcast. Each piece is engulfed in meaning. The last piece of music she selected has become one of my favourites… ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ by Radiohead. It reminds me of the risk surrounding authenticity… to be different and to live life with individuality is threatening to some.

Mary has a lovely humour and heart felt gratefulness… following the death of her mum, she describes being supported by her local retail community. A community of awareness and love. ‘Independent retailers’ as she refers to them, remained open after school hours to ensure she had access to fresh produce for dinner… the butcher, the greengrocer and the baker! Whilst we often hear of the burdens of societal change, we are reminded of the beautiful pockets of care and compassion that exists within all communities.

She describes beautifully her first steps back into life following the death of her mum in such a poetic manner…

Come to the edge
we might fall
come to the edge
it’s too high
and they came
and he pushed
and they flew

Christopher Logue

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Previous Sound of the Week

15/01/16 – Truly Madly Deeply

22/01/16 – To Absent Friends…

29/01/16 – Desert Island Discs – Mary Portas