Island Blog – Surprise!

It was most certainly one for my daughter-in-law. She knew she was turning 40, but had not a scooby about the plans forming around her. They fluttered like scarves in a breeze for weeks, months, between those of us in the know, secrets on a huge scale, a mighty gathering of family and friends from faraway lands. So very easy to name one of them in error, a slipped word, a ‘see you next weekend’ kind of slip, but no-one did. She had no idea. Continuing with her busy life, her children’s dancing dates and what to cook for dinner, the dog, the cat, the husband, the ordinary hysterics and calm in a young family’s daily life, she must have had moments of questioning. Why was her man being so furtive, disappearing off to meetings from which she, as business partner, was excluded? Perhaps he had gone off her? Was he heading for a breakdown, perhaps, because he sure sounded like he was going to explode any time soon?

As we all hid in the hallway and up the stairs in silence, she arrived. Her face was a picture and it was worth the travel just to see that. Her dad and brothers from the Netherlands, her aunt from the States, my huge family, her friends from Englandshire and a turbulent bundle of little boys and girls all erupted into Happy Birthday to You, in various keys. Let the weekend begin. Let the sun shine. And it did.

Each part of each day was to be a surprise. The meet for lunch in a lovely beach café for fish and chips; the games on the sand, the dogs romping in and out of the waves, the talking, laughing, sharing. The first night in a stunning pine built lodge with enough food to feed a whole village. I met up with young friends I had first laughed with many years ago, before they had partners, before children and the ‘behave yourself’ life took a hold of them. I could still see the fun in their eyes, that party sparkle and I could see them in the faces of their little ones. The woodburner warmed the big room as we settled into the evening. And, still, there were secrets.

CrossFit. Well, I wasn’t going to join that bit of the morning, a 0600 start, but many did and they returned flushed and panting and wanting to go again. I don’t think I was ever like that, even as a young woman, and I am impressed that anyone does it at all, let alone joining in Spartan Races and the like. Running up mountains with bricks on my back just isn’t me, but I could see how the challenge and the being together through it all is so much more healthy than meeting at the pub for a pint. We had an hour or two to rest up before having to be on site by 6pm for the next secret. Dressed for a dazzling night out, we teetered through a spiteful wind and into the venue. It looked like Disneyland. Tables laid, lights flickering, the band ready to go and fizzy pop in fine tall glasses as a welcome. Suddenly, the word came through that everyone, that is EVERYONE!, needs to sit down right now. The guest of honour will be here in five minutes. Through the glass doors, we watched, again in silence, all 130 of us, as she walked into the courtyard on her husband’s arm, looking like she was on the catwalk, which she often is and wearing heels that lifted her head into the clouds. She and her friend had a thing going about heels. Something to do with a long history of who-is-the-tallest-model-in-the-room. I got a stiff neck talking to either of them, standing, as I do, barefoot and shortarse. As we all rose, on command, to our feet, still in silence, she caught sight of us. Well, you can hardly miss 130 pairs of eyes all staring out at you. Her lovely face crumpled with emotion as the light dawned.

There was music. There was dancing. There were speeches, videoed messages from those who couldn’t come and a group of ballerinas from the Edinburgh Academy who performed a very moving piece. My favourite bit was the video of my two little grand-daughters, with their dad, singing (in a recording studio) that lovely song from the Greatest Showman – the one about a thousand dreams. Not a dry eye in the house for that one.

And so it went on.

Making the journey, in secret, was worth every complication. To gift such a gift takes an enormous amount of planning and a can-do attitude. It takes careful consideration, furtive meetings with caterers and venues and helpers and co–ordination of a hundred different facets. But he did it. He did it for her. And that is the most wonderful thing of all.

The young guests, whose partners are nearing this golden age of 40 are now wondering if Tea with The Neighbours is going to be enough. In fact, I think it’s bothering them a lot.

Island Blog – Birthdays

I follow my son’s tail lights through the scary ebb and flow of Glasgow and on, on, up and up, around the swirls of Loch Lomond. Tight fit, those swirls, and too many fat buses with sticky out side mirrors choose that time to challenge me and Maz. Maz is my mini, and she is not ‘mini’ at all, but a wide shouldered broad, with sass. Black and sturdy she is, thinking me of many black, sturdy, sassy, wide shouldered African women. She has Sport Mode, whatever the hec that is, and Cruise Control which thinks me of unfastening my seatbelt at 60,000 feet. I doubt I will press either button. In fact, I am hesitant to push any button, however exciting it says it is on my flashy dash. I manage Radio Two, and Steve Wright is most encouraging for quite a decent distance. He makes me chuckle with his quickfire nonsense. Just for the record, Stains and Staines are not spelled the same. I wonder if anyone will put him wright, or if it doesn’t really matter at all how you spell anything much, unless you’re my dad.

We arrive #knackered at my son’s house at 6pm. Feed me wine. That’s what I said. It is the eve of my birthday and I have achieved much in this lead up, being ‘lead up’ by one of a mother’s strongest allies – a son. The other is a daughter. Can’t beat ’em, and I would recommend everyone has a try for both. We eat a delicious stir fry thingy and are in bed before Corry, not that either of us watch it, but my mother-in-law was a devotee and a visit around that time was stonewalled, so it’s clocked in my marital DNA, even if she did die in 2002.

I manage, pre early bed, to book Maz and me on the 12pm ferry home. Twice. I also booked, so they tell me, when I arrive at the ticket office, on the 2pm. Pretty damn fine I reckon for a 66 year old birthday girl. Let’s do everything in style, shall we? I choose the booking with the prettiest colours and I line up in Lane One. I’m super knackered now. It has been a wonderful adventure and wonderful adventures can take it out of you once they are definitely parked in yesterday. Perhaps I should take to wearing lycra. As far as I can tell, lycra has hidden energy-giving qualities, or so it seems to me, as I’m dazzled by the shiny slink of it sheathing the lithe bodies of high sport achievers or Munro baggers.

On the ferry (with the prettiest booking) I sink into a seat, feeling a tad flip-flop, until a woman rounds the corner, her eyes scanning the room. I haven’t seen her for well over a year so I stand and make her want to sit with me, like Ra the snake. I don’t think my eyes are revolving, but what do I know? I’m not looking at them. It works, anyway. She is someone I don’t know well, but one I liked at first contact and she seems willing enough to join me. The next 45 minutes does something remarkable. All we do is to share chat about our lives. I ask about hers, and she asks about mine. Neither of us dominate the conversation. We talk of dementia, of caring, of dogs, kids, siblings, mums and dads. As we talk, I find an answer to something, a something that was never even raised nor placed on the little round fixed-to-the-floor-for-safety table. I don’t get it till me and Maz drive onto the island and then it comes, like a bolt from the slurry skies, aka, one minute blue, next minute flat white with the threat of something only the flat white knows……for now.

It bizarres me. First off, it was no coincidence that she and I would meet on that ferry on that day at that time. As you already know, I had booked on quite a few. Second, we never touched on that subject. And yet, and yet, well holy milk bottles…….I got an answer! I also notice that my flip-flop has turned into lycra. So I drive back home through the Glen #nocarsatall, arriving home to a birthday dinner invite. I light the fire, tidy up, unpack, la la la and then off I go, me and Maz, a short distance up the track to find balloons, dinner, champagne, music, cake, another son, his wife, two crazy wee girls (one naked, just how she likes to be), a roaring fire and me being celebrated. We, me and the girls, one naked, open the presents and the dog eats the wrappings. I have no idea who gave me what as it happens in a hysterical heartbeat and, besides, I was laughing too much at the show of it. We dance, we flip crazy girls, we sit by candlelight and forget all about the ‘acceptable measure of alcohol for a woman over 60’ thing.

I am going to collect my old car from the ferry terminal this morning.

Best not, says the Voice in my Head. That birthday, dear girl, was one hec of a cracker. I agree. The best in many years in so many ways.

Island Blog – Travelling

‘And it’s from the old I travel to the new – keep me travelling along with you’.

That’s a line from a bouncy hymn, and it’s one I like for the pictures in my mind. Travelling from the old towards the new sounds like a plan, a daily one. I will be travelling, literally, tomorrow, to find my new car, a mini, my own car, my own choice. As I know very little about cars beyond the obvious requirements necessary to drive one, my son is coming with me. He, like most boys, does know cars. Where I could be dazzled by the colour or the shine or the alloy wheels, his head will be under the bonnet. Where I fall short, he will stand tall, asking the right questions about emissions and mileage. I could fall for sleek black or wild red and not discover a thing about emissions or mileage. It doesn’t mean I am a fool in such matters, but by travelling along with him, we can cover all areas effectively, bringing this thing to a satisfactory conclusion. The right colour, the right price and the emissions and the mileage at a satisfactory level. Many times in my life I have been quite certain that I could and should do everything on my own. If I ask for help, I show weakness. I was so sure of that. Eventually, however, I did learn that in not asking for help, I was depriving someone else of the chance to be valued. We all like to be valued and if a person asks for help, we feel chosen, honoured. I had forgotten that in my drive to be singularly successful, and it proved to be a lonely old place, even if I did feel a tidal wave of smugness wash over me on completion of a difficult task. Sometimes it is wonderful to overcome a challenge all alone, such as assembling a wooden flat pack garden planter without help, a task I completed yesterday. I had to guess what went where, however, as there were no instructions in English. Polish, Russian, Japanese, Eastern European, yes, but not a word in a language I could understand. It looks marvellous now, even if I have screwed it together upside down so that the ‘easy-lifting’ handles are at the bottom.

Prior to employing a weekly cleaner, I wrangled with the sense of failure in me. I have time, after all. I can work the hoover and the duster and the eco window cloth. So why am I asking someone else to clear up my mess? Am I being lazy? On sharing my angst with another son, he wisely pointed out that, by employing said cleaner, I am valuing her. I am helping to put food on her table. Both of us win. I have a super clean house and she has money in the bank. I also have someone to cut my grass. Yes, I could do that too, even if I hate doing it, but I choose not to. I choose to value his work and he makes a very good job of it, and the hidden benefits of sharing a work load lie in human interaction. Alone, I would grump my hoover down the stairs and curse the dust that gathers in 6 short days, but when Thursday comes I get to laugh and chat with a woman of whom I have become very fond. On grass cutting days I can discover what goes on in the gardener’s life and what he thinks about any topic arising. Those encounters stay with me and influence my mood. They lift me, and maybe I lift them too. I felt the same on agreeing to help with dementia care. Those girls work hard, and their work is tough and demanding, physically and emotionally. I can do all the things they do for me, all by myself, but, in being all by myself, I am lonely and sometimes overwhelmed. Although they might have to walk here beneath inclement skies, or have to drive miles over switchback roads, I now see clearly that we all win. I don’t have to do what they come here to do and, when they do come, they bring in the light.

So travelling along together is, I have decided, the way to go. Not always, for I love and protect my solitude, as I value completing a challenge alone. But…… there are times I think we miss out on the hidden benefits of sharing a problem by letting someone else in. The concerns we feel about this or that, once shared, can find their own way home. Alone we can worry an issue into a tangled web. I’ve done it a million times in my life and all I end up with is exhaustion and sleeplessness. Worry is a fool’s friend, after all.

I have created monsters through worry and not one of them ever became the truth, once I reached out for help by letting someone else in. Travelling together is what we are meant to do, be it for a new car or for help in difficult circumstances. It amazeballs me that we can resist it so much, thinking we have to do everything ourselves.

Today I recommend reaching out to a fellow traveller. The unseen benefits can change a life.

Island Blog – Methinks

I like wild places and children’s faces. I like paths that narrow and then disappear into trees or over a hill, like a beckoning. I like red wine and black coffee and avocados greened by the sun. I like jackboots and horses crazy running and free. I like snow and sunsets that turn old pine trunks orange. I like quick decisions and slow mindful thoughts, bare feet and spontaneous joy as it lights up a moment. I like classical music and dance beats, flowers in surprising places, people, solitude, soft lighting and comfy armchairs. I like hot baths and icy water from a mountain stream, tomatoes chopped in olive oil and basil, climbing fences and being blasted in the face by a freezing Atlantic wind. I like doorways and sitting on kerbs. I like change, colour, and clouds, and I like finding something when I was looking for something else.

Like that male hen harrier canting on a rising gale, hunting, perfectly balanced. I was lighting the woodburner, looking for kindlers, in a clifftop cottage far out into the mystic, and listening to the punch of a north easterly gathering strength. The sheep were hunkered behind drystone walls and the goldfinches, sparrows and other small feathery tots held fast to the branches of the bent-backed hazels, all talking at once like women in a Glasgow bus shelter. That white magic, his flight, his caring less about me, eyes on the chance of breakfast, took my breath away. In moments, he was gone, sliding through the wind. The day lay ahead. Shall we walk this way or that? Shall we sit and contentedly knit and sew now or later? We could choose whatever we wanted, my best friend and I because we had 6 days of this wild freedom, just us and her dog and the wild things all around us. We could talk for hours without interruption, although the return of the snow white hen harrier would have been a welcome one. We could eat lunch at breakfast. We could move mindfully, laugh uproariously, tell each other secrets and the best way to make lemon cheesecake. We could share tales of children and grandchildren, remember together long past memories of people, places, happenings. We did all of those things as Time decided to move at double speed through the days. And, suddenly, it was over.

I like transitions and dogs, hand-made rugs and chilli jam for breakfast. I like old boats that have turned into skeletons. I like reading and to overcome, cats paws on the water and women who look different to all the rest. I like geese cutting through the sky, cloud dancers and the meniscus of the world as I stare into the distance. I like being woken by the full moon or the soft honk of night-flying swans going somewhere I will never go. I like that Nature carries on, whatever may happen to me. I like sharing and I like friendship.

Although our time was too short, we changed each other just a bit. Every encounter with someone who holds my trust changes me, just a bit. And ‘just a bit’ is a good starting point. All our conversations, from lemon cheesecake to family troubles found a place in the space between us. Carried most carefully back home, she to Englandshire through snow and traffic jams and I, well, to just a few miles away without snow or more than 3 cars (which could never be a jam), our shared time will think us both for a long while. Back to our own lives outside of each other’s, we will remember it all with smiles and contemplation.

I have no plan to make lemon cheesecake, nonetheless.

Island Blog – Notice and Think

On the ferry coming back from #housemoving, I listened to the announcement on the tannoy. Is it still called that? Anyway, I have heard it and not listened a thousand times on my many forays into the so-called civilised world – and back again.

All children are to be restrained. Dogs too, only, for them, a harness or lead. What on earth else would you restrain a dog with? A garden hose? And what does it matter what any dog owner chooses to use as restraint? It is nobody’s business but theirs. Now, children must not be lifted over the rail. Well, thanks for guiding me there. It has been tempting, in the past, to lob my children over the side, but I resisted the urge, in the light of the fact that I am not a monster and do completely adore my children, however much they might have made me want to scream along with their current tantrum. These announcements come in two languages, just in case we only speak Gaelic, and it takes a few nautical miles to shut up. Nobody listens anyway. The urge to stay calm if the ship is sinking is almost a joke. I doubt there has ever been one soul who stayed calm at such a time.

It thinks me of this Nanny State. Everything needs to be said twice and there is no rule bending. I asked the woman at the tiny wee village shop if she could spare me a spoonful of coffee as I was dying for a fix and had forgot to bring the jar with me. She replied that she was not authorised to do that. Another time, another shop, I asked the woman behind the counter, after purchasing my purchases, if she could put this scrunched up bit of paper in her bin. I could see her bin, right behind her, its maw open, its belly barely half full. No, sorry, she said, I am not authorised to accept anyone’s rubbish. Well, I thought, on my smiling departure, nor am I. I’m sure it’s written in my DNA somewhere.

This week was a riot of Social Service visits and the guy to fit the personal alarm. Of course, the alarm thingy went wonkychops. Because the phone line now goes through the alarm, everything turned on its head. Rising suddenly from an afternoon doze, I heard my daughter’s voice. She lives over 100 miles away, so it was a surprise. Hallo Mum, she said, hallo……? Thinking she had turned up unexpectedly, I leapt up and went in search. She was nowhere, but the alarm, which connects with HQ in the civilised world carried her voice. Puzzled, we chatted for a bit whilst I expected the alarm dudes to interrupt with an admonishment. Since then, the phone hisses like a snake, telling me quite clearly that we have a fankle. Needless to say the alarm fitter doesn’t live on the island, so he and I had a wee chat about things and he guided me through an unplugging and a re-plug somewhere else. It worked to a degree, as the alarm is now back to itself, even if the phone still snakes at me like a python pre-strike. I am not authorised to sort such complex fankles, and, yet, I can, with guidance, and I did. The python might beat me however.

It is tempting to fall into line (pardon the pun). It is so easy to say NO, without recourse to even a wobbly yes. I have learned from my mammy’s knee, to be practical, to use my common sense and I am glad of it, because those who allow the ridiculous All-For-One rulebook to, well, rulebook them, just stop thinking for themselves Our brains are huge. Even when in the grip of dementia, when each little carrier of blood closes for ever, the brain is resourceful. There are so many ways to move forward, if we employ this hugely intelligent organ, but it is our own choice. I don’t believe that an All-For-One rulebook will ever make the best seller list, because each one of us is different in a million ways. We are not one. We are not we. I am I and You are You. It is a very encouraging thing to remember, especially when one of us feels strongly that we don’t fit because we don’t agree with the rest. Actually, on interviewing ‘the rest’ I found many discrepancies of thought and belief. What puzzled me was the need to comply and it is out of fear, every time. If I stand for what I think, I will be left all alone on this dodgy rock with the moon filling up and a Spring tide on the rise. That, my dears, is Fear talking.

So, although I am not going to raise anyone over the rail of the ferry, nor let my dog run riot between the decks, I will still fight the All-For-One rulebook when I come face to face with the ridiculous. I will question everything and then choose my actions. As a teenager I was a rebel without a cause, apparently. I just knew everything was nonsense but did not have the intelligence to explain it to myself, let alone anyone else. Now, I am older and wiser and have worked out a braw expanse of space in between Notice and React. I recommend it to everyone. It’s called Think Space. Inhabiting it allows me to accept what I see and, then to question it, and, finally, to react. We are told to ask questions, to question everything. Buddha, Jesus, Mandela, Luther King, and hundreds more of the deep thinkers, who refused to go along with a One-For-All rulebook, all urged us to question. I want, sometimes, to shout it from a rooftop. Don’t become a people who accept everything. Don’t take the easy way and fall into grumbling. I am not calling for a riot. I am asking myself, and you, to use that spectacular piece of kit inside every head, the one that could decide to die at any time, as it has done right here in this wee island home.

Think on that. And then react.

Island Blog – Transitions and Thoughts

They can be fun, transitions I mean, and they can be very difficult indeed, all the ones we go through during our lives, from a new school, a change of home, a change of life, acceptance of something we never asked for, and so on and so forth and fifth.

I spent the past five days helping my son move home. The weather was superbly kind, the trailer didn’t blow a tyre, the help turned up and so did the grannies and grandpas. We all just seemed to fit into whatever role we chose and we worked in harmonious sync. Good name for a band, that. I dedicated my hours to cleaning out the old flat, having boxed and bagged all the stuff of life lived. Once you start cleaning, you realise how much more there is yet to do. I mean, who cleans corners with a toothbrush? Who ever notices little finger marks on big walls, or takes wire wool to the cooker shelves? Well, not me in an ordinary day, but this was not an ordinary day and the landlord will inspect very soon. Leaving a place better than you found it is a golden rule for me. It applies to encounters with people too.

As I walked between the old and the new, carrying buckets or empty boxes for the filling, I thought about this transition and what it represents for the ones moving out and then moving in. As I smiled a welcome to a passer by and received one in return, I wondered if they wondered about me, as I wondered about them. Where is their life lived? Is their home a happy one, their life good and strong, their little dog curled up in his basket, their child at school? All I see is what they show me, in passing. All I show them is the same. What stories could they tell me and I them? Back in the new house with the view across the tidal rip and on towards the ancient hills, I saw geese and ducks fly, gulls and shags skim or dip the waters. In the pines behind me, goldfinches chattered and in the eaves of the house, sparrows built their nests. Everything here is new to the young folk moving in and they are new to everything in return. Together they will learn to move in harmonious sync as the seasons unfurl, as the flowers bring colour to the garden, as the trees fill with nests and the chatter of children. A transition for all and not just one. The shop is now not across the road. Travel to the city is a shorter distance and the neighbours are yet to be discovered. As the moontides ebb and flow, the cycle of life rolls on like a never ending story, as it always did and as it always will.

The ferry travelled me home through spectacular views over a flat calm sea. Few visitors were aboard and I sat on the deck, my face warmed by the sun. This is another transition, I thought. Not only am I traversing wild ocean, ocean in a good mood today, but I am also going back home to my caring role. Various emotions fought for supremacy at that thought. Let it go by, I told myself. Let my heart lift at just this, the wide sky, the call of the gulls, the ancient hills and the Lismore light. Let my heart lift at the thought of my cosy little home, the people in my community, the change in birdsong all around me, the first push of summer colour in the faithful old trees. All that bothers me is dust in the wind so don’t develop it.

I remember once hearing a speaker say that everything comes from fear or love. It made things over-simple, I thought at first, but on deeper reflection, I agree. When I begin to get hot and bothered about a thought or allow myself to develop a worry, I know it is fear taking control. Inside love lie many good things, all good things in fact, and one of them is trust, trust that all is as it should be and that all will turn out for my own happiness, in the end. Possibly long before the end. Who can tell me otherwise? Nobody. Not one living soul. Hanging on to the negative of anything at all, is a waste of living. It blocks the possibles of any situation. If it could go wrong, this situation, this worry, then why on earth could it not go right? Imagining doom and gloom is something we are all good at, and yet what we are doing is buying into fear, fear that does have its place if we are being stalked by a leopard or a serial killer, but not when the object of our fear is only real in our imaginations. Well, hmmm, but this could go horribly wrong, or that. Yes, it could, but it could equally well go wonderfully right. The first is fear driven, the second driven by love.

And it is all in the thinking.


Island Blog – Graffiti

It has been a busy week. Wood delivered, and requiring me on the business end of a barrow. With a punctured wheel. No matter, a friend suggested a new wheel, one without an inner tube, duly purchased. Nurses came in to take bloods (standard checkup), Marvellous May, the cleaner made a ‘lot of noise’ with the hoover, as if it was ever possible to make none at all, and we made a trip to the optician. Yesterday the guy came to set up a personal alarm for His Nibs and recommended that he shouldn’t push the red button if I am in the next room.

I love when there is nothing in the diary. There is something so peaceful about nothing in the diary, like I could willow-the-wisp in my scumfies and slippers for days on end. However, it doesn’t often happen that way. In between events there is space. The key is to be able to notice that space before the old brainbox gets busy filling a natural hole. It is surprisingly difficult to s t o p. To sit, to watch the clouds, and not to see that the floor needs sweeping, again. I practice it, this art, endeavouring to stop the white noise in my mind. However, I have now learned that trying to stop anything is a waste of energy. Resistance according to the Queen of the Borg, is futile and she is right, because in the resistance process the only thing that fronts the mind is the very one I want to resist.

For example…….I came home to a new wet room. I alone chose the colour scheme, online, and thousands of miles from here, although the word ‘scheme’ is hardly the truth of it. The walls, a swirly beach, called Moonlight on Sand and bearing truth to its name, are fine with me. The floor, called Beach Hut, (you would think all is well at this point) turns into a wide spread of pale lilac. Hideous at best. I am not a lilac girl at all. The floor and the walls and, in fact, the whole wet room is a very professional job. I have nothing but praise for the builder who, bless his big heart, met endless troubles during the work, including a leaking water tank in the loft. The floorboards are wonky chops and the plaster is flaking off the 184 year old stone walls and he had to deal with all of that and more. He is, simply, the best. But, I still have a rise of nausea whenever that expanse of lilac brilliantine’s my eyes thanks to the very bright overhead safety lighting for safety lighting.

What can I do? Well, I can spend a mint changing Beach Hut to something that co-ordinates with Moonlight on Sand. I can stop looking at the brightly lit lilac dance floor, keeping my eyes on the Moonlight. I can sigh and get over myself. Or, I can add a little something of my own, something that will make me smile whenever I encounter the clash. Not a resigned resistance, but something that rebels against the ‘scheme’ without compromising safetynessment. Something nobody can trip over or struggle to negotiate.

Graffiti. I love graffiti and always feel a little sad when I see council workers madly scrubbing it off bridges or tenement walls in the pouring rain in luminous jackets. Why take it off? It’s art and it’s prophesy after all and besides, neither the concrete bridge, nor the grey tenement walls had much going for them in the first place. However, my graffiti will not be aggressive, nor accusatory. Mine will be uplifting, like daffodils in early Spring, giving the reader, whose bottom will be on the high-rise toilet for safetyness, at the time, inspiration.

I grabbed a permanent marker, and I began.