The Isolation problem
Sun, 10 Dec 2017
I was woken early one morning by a hammering on my back door. I quickly dressed and rushed downstairs to find Alun in an excited mood.
"It's the Off-Mainlander Magazine, Jed," he said. "They've listed us as the most isolated island."
"Are you sure?" I said, it seemed unlikely. "I admit that it's been several years' since a mainlander has stepped foot on Happy Island, but we do at least have the daily visit from the boatman. Besides, there are over a hundred off-mainland islands that aren't populated at all, surely they're more isolated than we are."
"You can see for yourself, Jed, the table on page 33. We're number one."
Alun must have bought the new Off-Mainlander from the boatman. Sure enough, there on page 33 was a list of the most isolated islands, and Happy Island was sitting there at the top, just above Nobody's Ever Visited Here At All Island.
Later that day I was busy cleaning out my spare shed when I was interrupted by a knocking on my back door. I quickly dressed (there being a Happy Island tradition that you clear out your shed in the nude) and answered the door, to find one of the world's most renowned and famous poets standing there.
"Good day!" he said, "I'm one of the world's most renowned and famous poets and I'd like to do a poetry reading on Happy Island tonight."
"Here on Happy Island?" I said. "But why?"
"I'm writing a coffee table book about travelling around the country doing poetry readings in unlikely places. I've done an abattoir, a rabbit sanctuary, a kentish whorehouse and a knifethrowers' convention. I've even read to a group of poetry students at The Big Mainland University."
"How did that go?"
"Terribly, nobody turned up at all. I wasn't on the syllabus and attendance wasn't compulsory."
"Well if you really wanted to give a reading I'd be happy to come. We could use the Poetry Reading Room in the Empty House."
"You have a Poetry Reading Room? Do you often have readings here?"
"You're the first. To be honest I wondered what the room was for, but now I know." The Empty House is like that, it has dozens strangely-named rooms that it seems will never be used, which always turn out to have purpose, like the Ken Dodd Tooth-Extraction Chamber (See the Ken Dodd Problem).
"How many people live on the island?"
"Just me," I said, without hesitation. Alun hates poetry with a passion. He has an early-Wittgensteinian view of linguistics and believes that the function of language is merely to refer to facts and objects, he has no time for the puff and perfume of poetry, with its similies and metaphors.
"Excellent, just what my editor wanted. People want their coffee table books to be about famous poets visiting isolated islands inhabited by a solitary resident who's never seen a poet before. Can we do the reading in an hour's time, as I need to get the ferry back to the mainland. I don't want to spend the night here if I can help it."
"That's fine," I said. "I was going to tidy my shed today, but I'm dressed now."
"Excellent. I need to email my editor and let her know the gig's going ahead. What's the wifi password?"
"We don't have wifi here, but if you walk to the south side of the island you can access the wifi from Hi-Tech Island. The password's 'wehatehappyisland'."
I couldn't let Alun know we had a poet on the island, as I didn't want there to be a fight, which is why I sent the poet to the south of the island, where Alun never ventures following a certain embarrassing incident (see The Mermaid Problem).
The reading was terrible. The poet loved the sound of his own voice and his poems went on and on. Most of the references meant nothing to me, his poems were about city life, poetry, the mainland, things I knew nothing about. I was pleased to bundle him aboard the evening boat.
'There's a lot to be said for isolation', I thought to myself. However, the isolation didn't last long, as Mick Jagger got off the evening boat with an entourage of twenty or thirty people.
"Is this Happy Island?" he said.
"Yes. What on earth are you doing here?"
"I'm writing a coffee table book about playing gigs in unlikely places," he replied. "I saw this was the most isolated island and had to add it to my itinerary. So far I've played a rabbit sanctuary, a knifethrowers' convention and an abattoir."
"What about the kentish whorehouse?"
"That's next Tuesday. Is there anywhere on the island I can stay?"
"Well there is the Mick Jagger Suite in the Empty House," I said. I always wondered what that was for. "It's easily big enough for yourself and your entourage."
I told Alun about Mick Jagger first thing, when he woke me early to tell me about the stand up comedian who'd arrived on the early morning boat as part of his tour playing unlikely places as part of research for his coffee table book and subsequent tour. The comedian did his gig in the afternoon followed by Mick Jagger in the evening. We even managed to fit supper with the famous politican who was travelling the country meeting voters in unlikely places, as part of research for a coffee table book his researcher was writing in his name.
The next year was chaos. We were besieged by famous visitors from all specialities, all writing coffee table books about their visits to unlikely places. We had an astronomer writing a book called'the isolated sky', a famous TV doctor, doing a TV series (and coffee table book) about the medical risks associated with living in unlikely places (Happy Island tonail, it transpires, has killed as many as three people living in isolated islands, though happily none of those had any association with Happy Island and why the condition is so named remains a mystery). We had a knitting session from a celebrity knitter, free coaching from a former tennis champion and we had lessons in snow-shoe manufacture by a celebrity snow-shoe manufacturer who happened to be passing.
Finally the year was up and the new list of isolated islands was due to be published in the following day's Off-Mainlander Magazine.
"We're bound to be off the top spot," I said to Alun. "We've been visited by so many people this year. Hopefully without the title of most isolated island nobody will bother coming here. After all, there are far more interesting and isolated places they can go to."
The next morning I was woken early by a hammering on my back door. It was Alun.
"It’s the off-mainlander magazine, Jed," he said. "We’re no longer the most isolated island."
"Well that's a relief. We should stop getting celebrity visits now."
"No we won't Jed. Look at page 33."
I turned to page 33 and he was right, there on page 33 was a list of the most visited islands. Sitting at the top of the list, just above Free Sex Here Island, was Happy Island.
"Jamie Oliver’s already booked to give us a free cooking lesson as part of his ‘coping with popularity’ tour, Jed," Alun said.
"Most visited island! Who does these polls? It's almost as if someone was deliberately inventing lists purely to attract celebrity freebies."
Alun looked decidedly sheepish at my suggestion.
"It’s you isn’t it? You’re behind all of the dodgy polls in the Off-Mainlander Magazine."
"Well Jed, we had to do something to attract visitors. Frankly I was getting bored. Nothing ever happens here."