Island Blog – Fractal Fracas

There are many F words that are ok falling out of a mouth and these two capture me, for they aptly describe my thoughts and feelings just now. As I wander along the sunlit track in a strappy frock and jack boots, I know my eyes are hungry. They dart like swallows over the ground, up through the leaf canopy that divides the sky, fractal like geometry. I watch the shapes, the movement as the breeze catches the leaves, which, I swear, tinkle. The Turning. Dappled ground leads my looking deep into the overblown rhododendrons making me wish I could drink and shrink, like Alice. Then I could just walk in to the darkling promise of adventure. What will I find in there? Spider, mice, birds, slow worms what? Small quiet things that hide a lot, I’m guessing. I wonder how deep I will go before the dark closes behind me. And that, my friends, is a life question.

It is a month since he died. Since then various and manifold emotions have barrelled me into the shrubbery. Along with the understandable sense of loss and emptiness tinged with a brief snatch of guilt at the moving on of his mobility aids (so quickly), what has made me stop in my tracks is that I am finally able to see who he really was. He was a pioneer, a forger of new paths, new businesses, new this new that and he was also the most complex and difficult man I ever met. He used to tell anyone who was listening that he was a simple man. At this, I snorted. He was far from simple. It thinks me.

We are all the result of our parental guidance/neglect/control, for sure. We also carry within our bodies any trauma our forbears have experienced, even if we cannot ever explain it, never mind know it is there at all. Then Life gets her grabby mitts on us and there is even more shaping and moulding. We meet troubles, challenges, disasters and loss during our adult lives, within which we are expected to be authoritative and decisive. Well, that’s a big ask, don’t you think? Most of us are children in adult bodies at such times, feeling the fear, the loss, the impotence in the face of an onslaught way bigger than we are, and, yet, we, standing taller than the rest are required to make it better.

Living all those years with a paragon of brilliance meant something. A lot of somethings. I know only too well how valuable I was. The gofer, the runner, the doer. To be a visionary, a dreamer, means nothing without a me. It didn’t mean I didn’t have my own dreams and visions, not at all, but it did mean, for me, for us, that my own plans took the back seat. Some of them got bored and left the building, many did not. I value their loyalty and thank them daily. Now, it seems I have a chance. I can unhook my wagon from his star and that feels fine. I can miss his presence and still remember all that he was, all the demands and difficulties, all the fun and the parties, the spontaneity of everything, the immediacy required for action.

This is what is real. This fractal fracas.

Island Blog – Animation

This night my African son tells me he is going out for dinner with his wife and her folks. I know the place. Its all sand drives and security controlled, a sort of housing estate but without living too close to anyone else. In the mornings and evenings, they watch giraffe, zebra, warthog and a million rainbow birds who come by in their search for water and possible food. The local shop sells wild animal food pellets and, although none of the above agree with feeding wildlife, it is tempting. It means the animals stay awhile and I get that. Did it myself when I was there.

On the ‘estate’ that flanks a big croc busy river, lies Kruger park on the other side and fenced high. From viewpoints we can see elephants, leopard (if we are lucky), crocs, hippos, kudu, giraffe, zebra and so much more. It is quite intoxicating. They seem so near and so safe and yet not one of them is either. There are a few restaurants, all a big sandy drive away, and some offering eventide views of the big five coming for water, for it overlooks a freshwater pool (when there is rain, which is not often). Some restaurants are nestled in the bush, and the sounds of cracking branches and birdsong, like we never hear in the UK, interrupt and cause us to look here, or there for a catch of rainbow or the big butt of a rhino just minding her own business, for we are are on her territory.

It thinks me. It has been a very long time since I felt that flutter of anticipation, knowing I was going out for dinner; what dress to wear after a shower, what boots to wear, what perfume? Like an electric pulse but not one that hurts. If I knew in the morning, it fizzed me all day long. If, as was often the case with me and Popz, it was 30 minutes warning but nonetheless the electricity fizzled. He might say (way back in the day) What’s for supper? I might say Ah I don’t feel like cooking tonight and he would respond immediately with Let’s go out and I was hooked, line and sinker. We have…..had…. superb restaurants on the island, brilliant ambience and excellent chefs and I knew he was driving so I could just enjoy my wine. We went oft in the summer months. I loved that. Needless to say we didn’t go out (for some time) once he became compromised with what he could eat, the amount of voice ‘noise’ he could bear and the whole faff of driving out when he was really ready for bed. It happened like a season. Slow, gradual, almost not noticed.

Looking back I remember the wild times. The suddenness of action. Pick up your bed and walk, kind of thing. I got really good at looking marvellous in minutes. I can do it now, but now there is covid and fear and all restaurants closed and the ferry a threat and, although I thank this isolation time for the chance he and I had to re-connect as friends, I would choose it gone.

Once, on my chance for escape, when day time carers were enough for him, I took myself to Glasgow, to the river and to a flat on the quayside. It was a few minutes walk to about four excellent restaurants. In the morning I wandered out to choose my place for the evening meal, the lights, the buzz, the life. I had no problem at all booking a table for one.

I wonder if I will find this place again, this animation, this lift of independent life.

Island Blog – This Day

This day I would like to wander through a wood. Looking up at the map of the sky, fragmented by the leaves of the canopy, and then down at the dappled light on the autumn ground, I see my boots, one step at a time. And I love them all over again, for they are my favourites despite the chunk ripped out of one of them by an excited puppy with razor teeth and fast legs for running away. I can see him now with my boot clamped in his jaws, looking back to see if the puffing shouter was keeping up. She wasn’t.

In the wood I look for fairy homes, little round holes in the tree moss and I whisper a hallo. It’s always best not to irate the fairies I find, so a polite acknowledgement of their whereabouts is quite enough. I hear the sound of a wind combing the pines, singing with them, perfect harmony. Beyond the wood the tide rushes in, funnelled through nip-tuck lines of granite and basalt, ancient and immovable. Butter yellow lichen coats the faces of these rocks, as if the sun just landed there for a while, for me to see. Bubble, burble, swish and tumble, the mussels cling on tight. There are hundreds of them and, at low tide, I can slither across the slipper rocks to garner a feast. Wild thyme still blooms, scabious too and the flash of blood shows me where the rowans grow, their shout for attention, their hallo to the sky.

After my wander, I know where I’m going. There is a delightful tapas bar down a skinny side street, tucked in between a second hand shop and someone’s front door. The patron is big and very Spanish and his welcoming warmth greets me as I push through the door. Tables line the wall and tapas dishes, the counter. Bright smiles, a proffered glass of dry white with olives and crusty bread Señora? Si, gracias. I wait for friends to join me, for I am a bit early. As I sit my eyes roam the walls. There is a big painting of the bull run through Pamplona streets, the festival colours bright and full of sunshine. A portrait of the patron’s wife, now deceased, fills a side wall. She is very beautiful and there’s a sass in her eyes. Her hair is tumble free and dark around elegant shoulders. He has spoken of her with me, probably with everyone, for she was his one true love.

After a long and merry lunch, I wander through the streets, watching little gardens pass by. Voices lift in the air around me, ordinary people talking ordinary things. Where did we park? What’s for dinner? Where’s Wally? And yet not one of them is ordinary for we are, each one of us, unique, with our own life to live and our own frustrations, our own dreams. Who will live that dream? Only the brave.

I find my way home. Opening the door I smell the familiar smells and I breathe them in. This is where I live, where I am entirely myself. I may be alone now but I know who I am. Softly I relinquish the ties that bind, hanging them over a chair like a well loved cardigan. I put on some music, Sibelius. The swan of Tuanela was his favourite. Sinking into a chair I watch the day fade into dusk and I am filled with memories and gratitude as the beautiful and evocative melodies flow through the room, through me.

It is good, this day. And all is well.

Island Blog – Inspiradiation and Adventures

Days roll on, some good, some ok, some awful. Now that I have my independency I have no idea what to do with it. I know about baby steps and how to eat an elephant but the reality of being so thrown into empty space is not something I really understood, till now. Perhaps ‘understood’ is the wrong word because I don’t really understand it yet. Yesterday I crawled along with the hours, lost and jumpy, itching and pacing the silent rooms. I washed this, swept that, emptied something and filled another thing up. I sewed a bit whilst listening to a talking book, relieved to be inside someone else’s story, thus avoiding my own for an hour or so.

I know these days will keep coming as will the okay days and the good days. It is all part of grieving, I am told. When a person has been a part of ‘We’ for as long as he or she can remember, the longed for ‘I’ can feel like a stick of ice down a warm back. I know that I fought hard for my independency from day one of marriage, furious it was not offered as a personal freedom and eventually accepting that, in a traditional pairing, the wife is required to always play second fiddle. I remember himself saying to me, quite seriously, that I was allowed to make the small decisions in life whilst the big ones were his alone. I also remember searching his face for the joke in this and finding none.

Finding acceptance in such a situation was not a breeze for me. I have too much Amazon in me, too much feist, bite and suffragette to find this acceptable. Part of him loved this in me but not if it stood tall against him and his big decisions, implacable, square, solid. I often backed down, however, feeling stupid and pointless and full of impotent rage. Now, in the light of survival and with the emergence of kindness, companionship and history in the latter years, I know it was just the way it was, he was, we were.

I inhabit this new space like a wide eyed child. I am curious, interested, sometimes puzzled, sometimes lost, sometimes found but not by anyone else. Just by myself. Trusting in my own decisions, saying ‘I’ instead of ‘we’, moving independently and with confidence, feels okay. After all, who was it who played second fiddle so well for so long, developing his visions, walking them out, repairing door knobs and hurt children? Who was it who went the extra mile, worked all the hours, cared for endless guests and found 100 inventive ways to cook mince? Who was it who kept everyone warm, who made the calls, drove the miles, sorted the troubles out and had a ‘Yes we can’ attitude to pretty much everything?

Well, that was me. That was I. and there is is no ‘was’ about it. I am still that woman, one who now must turn to herself for answers. A new learning, a new day in the life of me. It smiles me. There is the smell of adventure on the wind and my nose is twitching. He taught me, despite his need to control everything, and, perhaps because of that need, that I did have my independency all along; that although I will miss his presence sorely inside this little island home, I am that strong Amazon and I will find those adventures he always looked for, found and loved. But, this time, they will be my adventures.

Island Blog – Silence, a Woodland Choir and the Moon

It’s raining today. It should have rained for the funeral, spilling into the next day, the day we sent his wreath out on a rip tide, and on into day 3 when we all cried and hugged and farewelled in sunshine. So it is perfectly okay for the rain to rain today. In fact, it must be a relief for all those Cumulus clouds, pregnant with 1.1 million pounds of water, the equivalent of 100 elephants. Thank you, I tell them and get soaked, as I wander down the Tapselteerie track heading for the woods.

There is a wind blowing. Nothing whooshy that might tip me over and send my wheelie bins into Lucy’s garden, but just a woowoo sort of wind, warm and damp. It shivers the woodland canopy, making it sing. All those leaves twiddling, catching the air on their dying surfaces, lifting it into sound, into music, into song. I am walking underneath a choir and the piece they are singing is delightful. My moving feet create the percussion in dry spots where the fallen leaves and stalks are dry, and a marvellous squelch where they are not. It’s danceable to. I don’t, however. I never found it easy to dance in waterproofs. I am more of a lycra/bare foot sort of girl when it comes to dance.

I stop to stare up at the vanishing point, where the trees appear to bend towards each other in their final moment before touching Sky. Clouds move without argument, pushed by the wind and birds tilt and skitter among the fir trees, picking at cones, chattering to each other. Flit, chatter, chat, flitter. The wood is alive with life. And so am I. For I am not the one who died, the one who had marvelled at this natural magic for 77 years, captivated by that over which he had no control. The one who now rests in the goodly ground he tended, planted, developed and cared for all his life.

The sea chops, ruffled by the wind, catspaws. The rain on my face is soft as I push into it. Lichen abounds on the trees lining the track and star moss fills the ditches, sparkling with droplets, a diamond catch. Back home the fire warms the rooms even if the towels still aren’t dry on the kitchen pulley. I am resisting the autumn re-light of the range, holding on to the full tank of fuel, for the winters here linger longer than in other places. We can have snow at Easter and the cold finds its way into every crack and cranny for many months. By the time I have exposed my arms to sunshine, the rest of the country is tanned bronze. But I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Seasons here are magical, natural, and the land beyond the busy tourist season is left to itself, not needing to submit to human will nor to compete with the sounds of vehicles, sirens, bells, elevated voices.

He loved all of this too. Peaceful is the way to live, he said. And, in the end, peaceful was the way to die. A perfect circle, like the moon, the moon who decided his every single day. What she says, goes, he said. Tides, weather, wind, rain, all of it. Even the Father Sun backs down when she decides to rise.

Sounds like a fine plan to me.

Island Blog – And….Rest

I remember that being the end game in some ballet practice. It was always a relief. All that agonised teetering en point and those two words meant heels to the floor and the exhale of tense breath.

Much like it was as we lowered the big man into the earth. Wouldn’t want to have fallen in. It looked dark down there and a hard landing, but not for the Admiral, Popz, Dad, Fairbs, Grandad, Topz et lala. I am relieved that I only have 3 names, my own, Mum and Granny/Gaga (that’s Lady Gaga, not gaga to you).

Today we all feel a great sense of relief. After many years of angst, intensified over the past 2 or three and racked up to a state of nuclear fission in the last 3 months, we can all breathe again. Father James said to us that this time heralds the freedom of a new beginning and it sounds right to me. Although nothing and nobody will fill the hole he left, nothing and nobody needs to. We will all grieve at times, for times; in the lyrics of a song, the kindness of a friend, a view and, for us in particular, out at sea among the wild things because that is where they are, and out there was music to the Father of Whales.

Today we all meet at the shore with a flask of tea, a barbecue and sausages, music and the wreath we ordered for the purpose. We pick an ebbing tide for obvious reasons, We don’t want it to end up stuck under the village bridge but, instead, floating way out where the wild things are. Perhaps someone will spot the colours through binoculars, or pass by it in a boat and they will wonder. We like that, for we are all wild things too.

Yesterday was made perfect by so many people and so much thought. Even a pair of sea eagles flew overhead as we walked from the grave, as if they knew. We all know his spirit left him with his last breath. There is no sign of him here and that feels fine. I believe that he is safe now, out of suffering and doubt, fear and pain and in a world which isn’t even a world. It is way bigger than that. Bigger than anyone could ever conceive. Bigger that our imaginations. He has done his work on earth. He has grown five extraordinary wild things and they their own. This house is a-bubble with chaos, laughter, goes on the chairlift and the electric chair. They play the piano, laugh loudly, call out like birds, paint pictures on the windows, run free. There has been none of that for years, perhaps for always. We like it, we wild things.

Farewell Big Man. Rest Easy. We have this now.

Island Blog – Ups and Downs

Changing the furniture. That’s what I am doing. I am free now to make this little house more homely. For years it has looked like a nursing home with most of the tables and chairs stacked in what used to be the office, out of the way of your wheelchair manoeuvres. The carpet cleaners came to lift the tracks across the sitting room with a big noisy machine. The painter came to re-decorate your room and it smells quite different now. Your hand prints are painted over, so only I will remember all those times you held on to the wall for support. Your favourite mug is at the back of the cupboard and our little dog no longer sleeps in what was your room. She doesn’t sleep in mine, either, choosing instead to curl up on a chair downstairs. When you were dying, she wanted to be close and spent many nights tip-tapping between us, bothered, pacing, if a border terrier could ever manage anything as big as a ‘pace’.

Music plays all day now, all sorts, classical, country, ballads, blue grass and as loud as I want for there is no-one here to yell at me to pipe down. I even play women singers, screechers to you, even repeating a song three or four times. That would have driven you to eruption, as you did erupt, Vesuvius, suddenly, and at full volume, causing Poppy to bark and me to drop something that probably broke.

I light the fire, no longer concerned that you will be too hot within minutes, demanding open windows and water to put it out again. There are no wires across the cleaned carpet, no phone chargers, of which, by the way, you seem to have been the proud owner of about ten, all plugged into an plug bank, all ready for active duty. You had one phone. No, that’s not true. You had 6 phones but 5 of them lie, rejected, in the cupboard under the stairs, along with enough wiring and enough headphones for a large choir in an even larger recording studio. What will I do with all this stuff? Nothing, for now.

The washing machine is bored. She has enjoyed a lot of spinning and sloshing for months and she stares at me, open mouthed each time I pass her by. It takes a few days for me to fill her maw, but when I do, when I pour in the wash liquid, add the conditioner, select the cycle and press Go, I swear she squeaks with delight. The fridge is almost empty, the draining board very quiet and I only have to sweep the floors every four days instead of four times a day. It all feels both great and sad, for who am I now? What do I do with my lack of purpose, the one that has driven me (to distraction at times) for years? I suspect it will come to me, over time.

The children are beginning to gather, the first arriving later today and the others tomorrow, for your laying to ground on Friday. The weather forecast promises rain and wind so we are searching for wellies and umbrellas. You always loved the wild weather, we all remember that, especially at sea when the waves rose to the clouds and the clouds answered back, soaking everything including everyone’s sandwiches. You just laughed. In your element, you were. The wilder the better. However, it might have been kinder on us to have organised something sunny and soft for Friday, for we will all be on that hill for as long as it takes to lower your body back down into the arms of Mother Earth. We are even discussing how to waterproof our readings because, as you know, rain on the island never falls straight. It curves and whips and flips and shoots up noses and skirts and kilts. I can hear you say ‘So?’. And it makes me smile.

When the children leave, I will stay. The Autumn will come, and then the Winter bringing darkness and cold and long spaces in between everything. And I will miss your wisdom. ‘We must close the garage door tonight. The wind is in this direction.’ Or ‘That drain needs scraping out’. Or ‘The gutters will need a clean now.’ Even when you couldn’t do these tasks yourself, you knew when they needed doing. Now I will have to work them out for myself and that feels scary. I tell myself I am no fool, that I will learn new ropes, that I am strong and independent and practical. And it’s true, I am, but there is always that little voice of doubt in my head.

So, my old gone husband, I will keep missing you, even though I know life will be easier from now, even though I can do what I want to do whenever I want to do it. After we lay you down whilst we stay up, keep an eye on us from your new home in Neverland. I’ll wave at you on a starry night. We all will.

Island Blog – The Missing

I’ve been thinking about the Missing. A lot. Like all day long and deep into the nights, nights that no longer call me from my bed about 4 times to give assistance to a dying man. In conversations with my kids and through old and resurrected conversations with my late mum (she was never late btw) I can see how the rose-tinted specs get pushed on to a widowed face.

Who would want to remember the bad times? That’s where I got to. There were plenty. Aren’t there always, in a long marriage, or even a short one, come to think of it? During the years of demise, 10 in my case, when dementia (no capital D for it) slam dunks a wild and living soul, I remembered the bad times too often. I was never sure if the behaviour was what it had always been, or was, now, compromised into something I was required to allow. I still don’t know. What we are as young, we become more so, as old. I have heard that, read it and believed it as I watched my dad demise, my mum and my granny who smiled her lovely smile as her last breath left her body.

However, notwithstanding and by the way, my husband who had been a grumpy so-and-so, at times, over the years, mellowed into the man I first met. Now, I know, perfectly well, that once the prize melts into strong arms, she is both cherished and compromised. Her own identity struggles to breathe at times and I was no different. However, at first I was IT, the Golden Girl, the Answer to All Problems, the Filler of the Black Hole in him and, latterly, I walked with that crown upon my white head. Oh, there you are, I told him, and he smiled like he knew what I was talking about. And, maybe he did.

Over time, life trashes us, or does her best to do so. The world and all her demands, chips away at our ideals and our dreams. We are lost, confused and angry and the one person who gets the gut punch is the one closest. I was always the closest. It is, was, puzzling. In a perfect scenario, that person would be unpunched for decades, but this is not how it works.

Notice that I give both Life and the World the ‘she’. I don’t do that by mistake. She’s can be manipulators, dividers, hoodwinkers. I know I was and it was survival, although I am not overly proud of such a tactic. Women come from a place of caring, of protecting, of surviving in a world that is still (for goodness sake) a man’s world. Men forage, hunt, grunt and fight for their space, oft clumsily, oft without the depth of human understanding that their women have. I have no idea who thought this was a good plan. If you believe that God made Eve from Adam’s rib, then she is already sunk, like for over 2000 years for she can never really be herself, joined as she is by history and an idealistic plan.

So, the remembering and the missing. I choose to focus on all the wonderfulness of my life with this exhausting pioneer, as did my mum. I know who he was. I have the scars. But without him, I would have been a nothing in particular and thus I am proud and glad to have known him. In the last days, when he came down for breakfast, me having washed and dressed him and scooted down ahead of his extremely slow chair lift, my arms full of bed sheets and so on, he would always coracle through in his wheelchair, all rosy-cheeked and looking like a little boy, and say Good Morning, with all the enthusiasm of one who loved every single day of his long life.

And that is the Missing.

Island Blog – Twister

03.30. I wake, come downstairs, make tea. I flick lights on. It’s cold down here. The rain makes the conservatory roof sound like it’s a floor for a troupe of small tap dancers. I stopped the oil flow for the kitchen range, ready for a Monday flue clean. I stopped smoking, something that made sense a few days ago and one that now wonders me. I turn Bon Iver, Holocene up loud. There is nobody here, now, to disturb, and the last line, ‘I can see for miles and miles and miles’ is both a taunt and an excellent description of my husband. He always saw for miles, oft missing the trudging en route to that distant dream. That was my work, Judy, Jude, Wife, Woman, Worker, married to Popz, Topz, the Admiral, Estate owner, Whale Father, Recording Engineer, Fairbs. The Dreamer.

Richard. He didn’t like his name. I thought that weird until I realised I didn’t like mine either, or didn’t relate to it. When I spoke his name he always said Uh Oh……am I in trouble? So, ok, can I call you darling? Honey? No. It was a minefield for years until he finally landed on Popz. Relief, for sure, but also a distancing for me, his wife, a shift he didn’t notice but one that estranged me. He was a complex man, warm around titles, cold around himself.

All this doesn’t stop the missing. Yes, I have the house back, my choice of music to play up loud, the chance to crunch celery anywhere I like but he’s been irritating me for decades and now I wouldn’t mind an irritation or two. What does a person do when there is no chance of that again? Move easily through the days? I never did ‘easy’. Life was never easy. Life was a twister. Life with Popz, Topz, the Admiral was a twister.

I will be glad to light the range again. Somehow the cold outside of me makes the cold inside of me colder. I guess this is grieving. A new housemate.

Island Blog – A Letter

Ten days since you died my husband. One week till your hillside funeral. All of your family think of you every minute, probably more often than even that. Memories come back, moments resurrect and stand tall, blocking our path. And yet we move on, doing normal things with an abnormal head on and a heart all flapdoodle but still beating. Mine feels like wings, as if there’s a bird trapped behind my ribcage unable to escape.

This morning I cleaned your room, now that all the hospital kit has gone. I took my palette knife and some white filler for all the many holes left in the walls, holes that remind me of hand rails and other attractive supports, no longer needed. Neither are the holes. There is a big enough one in me and in our little island home, even if I can move about more freely. The furniture is not pinned to the edges any more for easier wheelchair access. Actually, I did think you were a bit over the top in that particular demand. A wheelchair isn’t that wide, after all. Then I realised you had lost your innate spacial awareness and the evidence of that loss is scraped along doors and lintels and walls. You were pretty nippy in that chair, nonetheless, turning on a sixpence, making U turns and scoots forward when space allowed, and even lurching at great speed down the ghastly yellow ramp which is now looking for a new home.

The leaves are beginning to turn now. Conkers (we always looked for them didn’t we?) are landing on the track but I haven’t found a big one yet. You told me you always won conker battles and you also told me that you soaked them in vinegar overnight, making them like concrete. Scabious peppers the grassy banks finding the best sunshine spots. I saw 6 kittiwakes the other day, your favourite bird, flying seaward up the loch. I don’t think I have ever seen them here before. They came just for you.

The garden is looking a tad tatterlicious and the sweet peas gave up fighting the last big wind, but even broke-backed they bloom and their scent keeps wafting indoors, reminding me how much you loved them. I pick them for the house but soon they will be over for the year. Season rolls into season. You knew the sound of each one, its taste, its demands and its gifts. As one thing dies, another begins to live and that is how you saw life and death – the same circle, a never-ending story.

I am so happy that your dying was peaceful. No fight at all, no panic, no fear, just a soft leaving. And you wanted to go, you said so, to anybody who was listening. And so it is and was and ever will be when someone who cherished every second of a long adventurous life finds the living just too much. We didn’t want you to go but knew you did. We also knew that your living state was very compromised. But even at the last, your humour shone through those cloudy old eyes. Even knowing that the Great Beyond was calling you, hands held out in welcome, you whispered to me ‘ I don’t want to leave you.’

And then, you did.