Get hold of a skull, nutmeg: Leonardo Da Vinci, Bruce Lee and the art of the List

Bruce Lee's achievement list (1969)

Bruce Lee’s career to do list (1969)

This week’s Something Understood for Radio 4 focusses on the human passion for lists. My elder brother, an obsessive list maker, started me off on my first — a film diary with each film dated and rated kept since I was 8.

A recent trip to Hong Kong uncovered the rather poignant career ambition list martial arts star Bruce Lee wrote himself only four years before he died (above). And again and again producer Caroline Hughes and I found ourselves drawn to lists which revealed the self-determination of great minds. The most intriguing item on the list by Da Vinci, which features skulls and a number of investigations into animal anatomy, is the most trivial — nutmeg. What was it for?

Composer Eric Satie’s obsessive-list making takes us into the realm of mental distress.  But much listmaking music was just about joy. When I put out a request via social media for suggestions about songs, I wanted to avoid the obvious – 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, for example – which are just rhymes. Frank Cottrell Boyce was among those who responded with excellent suggestions. Though I thought Ian Drury’s Reasons To Be Cheerful might not pass as it has some rude words in it, it turns out I was wrong. (Listen carefully) So thankyou, Frank.

Also a suggestion was The Divine Comedy’s The Book Lovers, which bring us into the realm of the list that makes us feel inadequate. Not the 10 best books, but the 10 most important books you must read before you die. And yes, I really did only get as far as page 4 of Orientalism by Edward Said, and yes I did finally give it to charity.

There’s a lot of the music from the programme on this Spotify list. And a fair bit more, including The Pillow Book album inspired by the lists of Sei Shonagan – the Japanese courtly lady who gave me the framework for the whole programme. Plus the Half Man Half Biscuit’s 24 Hour Garage People listing some of the exciting crisp and sandwich flavours you can buy in a garage shop, which I really wish we could have got on air. I don’t fancy the idea of a cigarette that bears a lipstick’s traces, but there is a list within the Spotify list of versions of These Foolish Things. Let’s face it, everything reminds you of him or her when you’re madly in love. Thanks for all the suggestions.

You can hear Something Understood via this link on Radio 4 on Sunday February 8th at 6am and 1130pm and on  iplayer for 30 days after.

My Spotify list: Music from Inventories for Life



About samiraahmed

Journalist. Writer. Broadcaster.
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2 Responses to Get hold of a skull, nutmeg: Leonardo Da Vinci, Bruce Lee and the art of the List

  1. Just listened to this and thought it was absolutely wonderful. What a great job you did! Thank you.

    • samiraahmed says:

      Thankyou so much. Its a great programme format to play around with ideas and see where they lead you. Will pass on your kind words to Caroline Hughes, too.

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