Island Blog – A Dance with Grace

Inside this waiting game lie many stumblers and many graces. In my art lessons I learned there were only 3 Graces – rather glorious looking women in long frocks and with bare feet, all looking like nothing ever broke them or interrupted their gentle dance. I know different now. Even back then I reckoned 3 Graces was nowhere near enough. Not only are there a million Graces available to all, but I realise now that in order to access said Graces, it is necessary to be broken. Grace is all about living with the cracks and sharps and yet still able to frock up and to gently dance. I expect there will be a song or two involved, lovely words that string and sing and teach and confess; inspiration, the glue that binds together the edges of what once was whole, but was whole in a way that only children can claim as their truth.

My eldest grand-daughter visited me this morning on her schmancy bike. She knows I wake early (4 am today, a lie in!) and has permission to visit whenever she likes. They all have that permission, but it is a rare treat to have this one to myself. Bambi legs and a beautiful face and so fresh in love with life, she told me tales of her recent activities, all of which involve a lot of leaping and bounding, climbing hills and playing ball with school mates. An hour of adventures filled my ears as, behind my smile, I tried to remember such times in my own life. She thinks me of something so lovely and light, any problems so easy to fix, and, if she cannot fix them, then mummy or daddy most certainly can. This is the time in a young life just before the breaks begin to hit, when a heart is pumping strong and everything can be taken for granted, each morning a new burst of opportunity, flower bright, sunshine warm and safe from danger.

This enforced period of being home alone is an oddball in my hands. One minute I am dancing and singing with the light open freedom of life without having to consider anyone but myself. I can fling wide the windows, dance to loud tunes, re-pot a plant without being told I am doing it wrong. I can eat any old time, any old thing without having to plan something palatable for himself, nor where he will sit, whether he is too warm, or, more likely, too cold. I don’t have to consider what he needs at all. The nurses will be doing that for me. No carers come through the door, bright, breezy and efficient. Time moves slow. Then a stumbler trips me. How will I relearn how to live when he comes home? Will he be suddenly stronger with a pacemaker or a stent or whatever the consultant decides he needs, or will he be knocked right back, weaker, more needy, more scared? Does something like this kick the dementia down a notch? And, what if he doesn’t make it?

Perfectly normal inner questions. There are many of us who ricochet from guilty thoughts, exhausted from long term caring and denial of ourselves. There are over 60 of us on this island alone, all fixing on the slap and buttoning up our hearts to make smiles in another day, and another, and another as we watch the cared-for one slip away bit by tiny bit. We pretend everything is fabby doo. We have to, for them, for ourselves. Broken yes, but grabbing Grace by her floaty frock as she dances by, singing her soft song of hope and acceptance. For a hug. We even pretend to our nearest and dearest, because to admit any sense of defeat is not acceptable. I have armour plating around me, big high walls, hiding myself on the inside, my thoughts chained in the dungeons. I know others live this way because we talk. We have something in common, something others do not have, and we can let down the walls.

For now, there is lamb to cook and a bramble and apple crumble, all crunchy topped and cooling, deep crimson berries from last Autumn – last Autumn when none of what is happening now was even a part of our song and dance. Easter eggs will roll, crazy painted and followed down the hill by shouts and whoops and little running legs. Chocolate will be the dream in young happy heads and probably all over the cushion covers too.

Grace dances on.

‘Every girl, if you leave her alone long enough, will eventually sing and dance.’ Atticus

Island Blog – There, Not Here

On waking, the house creaks her usual creaks and the birds twitter the little garden into a new day. Last night I was woken by the geese. Either they were up partying too late, or something was stramashing them down by the shore. It went on for quite a while and geese are not quiet about anything. Even flying in a pair seems to require a noisy interchange of information as if the sky needed to hear something essential. I always wanted to be Dr Doolittle, understanding all the words of all the birds, the growls and barks of the dogs, the steep sharp cry of a fox, but, instead, all I can do from inside my earthly limitations, is to imagine what is being said. And, I do. I have to do it with my smallest grand-daughter too. We all do. She can blabber on for minutes with all the hand movements and up/down inflections as if she knows exactly what she is saying, which, I imagine, she does. Her sentence construction is so believable that, on asking what she understands is a question (head on one side, eyes on mine) I just have to guess an answer, for only an answer will satisfy her. Good, she replies, which almost convinces me I guessed aright. And off she runs.

Yesterday via WhatsApp, the old sea dog and I had a chat. Fancy a game of scrabble? he texted. Sure, I said, you start. He did. It went thus…….

Him -Establishment.

Me – Chaos.

Him – Tavstoop

Me – oh good word!

Him – Just invented it.

Me – you were always good at that.

Him – Arianism

Me – Show off

Him – yea feels good

Me – That’s 3 words. Not allowed.

Him – oops didn’t fink you cud count

Me – Next word please?

Him – Gardener

Me – Devotion

Him – Amarylisp

Me – Pelargonium

Him – God one

Me – actually God is here just now. Jehovahs are knocking

Him – Good luck

Me – Tulip

Him – Lively Tulip

Me – Lively indeed.

Him – Tired of 1 finger typing

Me – off you go and rest. You silly old fool, frightening us all like this.

Him – I’m here not ther.

Me – not for long. Sleep tight. x

Words are like bridges between us, a network of ribbons connecting, flying out like geese across the water, through the sky and above the earth, brilliants in the cotton wool of circumstance. Noisy yet silent. Reassuring. A link between There and Here.

‘It is a lonely thing, protecting a breakable heart.’ Atticus

Island Blog – Cobbled Road

A few days ago, everything changed. After falling seven times in four days, we all knew something was wrong. The old sea-dog is strong as an ox but his body was failing him. One minute upright (ish), the next kissing the floor. Eventually, I called an ambulance and the paramedics, lads I know well, did various tests and made their decision. Now the big man is in hospital with a faulty heart and a pacemaker ahead. Meantime, he is being watched carefully, in a high dependency unit and things could go any which way whilst we all wait and wonder, as does he, although my last conversation with him made us laugh. He will NOT consider any hospital that doesn’t have Wifi. Well, I said, you had better inform the ambulance driver when he comes to uplift you to a bigger place, equipped for heart surgery. He said he would do that.

As we wait, we are all thinking, and all our thoughts will be our own, based on history, relationship and familial construct. I am peaceful here, and relieved he is where he needs to be, instead of on the floor under my feet. Those days were seriously cobbled and I was barefoot and running. Not a good combination. Not knowing what to do next is like the biggest ditherment ever. He says I’m not going to hospital. I say, yes you are, and that bumpy wrangle is exhausting. Kids arrive with worry lines across their faces and practical words in their mouths and everyone thinks a different think, has a different good idea whilst internally wetting their pants. I found myself carrying on. I swept and cleaned and washed and re-potted cuttings. I fed the birds and chopped the wood and watched the sun rise red over the mountain.

Now that he is in safe and professional hands, I am turning off the frenetic in me. The house is quiet, like a clock that has run down before Wednesday Wind Up, so that I suddenly hear the silence of it. In this silence I consider the cobbled road of our lives thus far. Almost 47 years of cobbles, some tripping us up, some smooth and warmed by sunshine, a long old road and I still see it up ahead of me, even if nobody knows whatwhat just now.

Although everyone says they don’t want to grow old, there is a peace in getting there. All those furious ‘discussions’ lose their grip and an acceptance glides in to the mix. It’s so much easier to live this way. Yes, the collapse of the body or the mind is messy and not pleasant for the collapsee but life is life and death is death and in between, we die just a little every day. The key is to live every day at the same time, to really live, no moaning. I haven’t managed that all the time, hands up, but by jings I understand it now.

I watch the children around this time of waiting and wondering and biting of fingernails. I notice my own feelings rise and fall. I remember my own dad in sickness, and in health, when he could take out a room with one roar whilst capturing all our hearts with his musical wit. The confusion around a parent is legion. Nobody escapes it. What it comes down to, what it must come down to is Love. The shoulds and woulds of history, relationship or familial turbulence are like a plague of mosquitos in a hurricane. The good times outweigh the bad times if we have the eyes for looking, even if we do spend inordinate amounts of critical energy on assessing each other. It’s natural.

The sun rises again. A high dependency unit winds into life once more. Decisions are made. Some leave in relief, some arrive in fear whilst starched and smiling nurses make a smooth running for all the hours yet to come. And here…….we wait beside the cobbled road.

‘You and I will be lost and found a thousand times along this cobbled road of us’ Atticus

Island Blog – Light Keepers

There is an unique peace in a light-keeper’s cottage. For starters, you won’t find one in the middle of a city, nor in an easily accessible place. Chances are, you will need a boat or legs for walking. Out, out, out on some spit of rock, the lighthouse will beacon both a warning and an encouragement to passing ships-in-the-darkness. It therefore has to be constructed in a wilder place, wilder than any spread of inhabitation beyond the birds, the whales and the boats, or it would be as much use as a torch in sunlight. This light stands alone and it needs the darkness. Behind it, snuggled into the protection of the rockface, the cottage smiles with warmth and safety.

Oyster-catchers pipe me awake early doors. Dawn is the start of their day and they are busy already. I hear the generator kick in, sometime around 7 am. That reassuring growl of power, somewhere behind me in a shed with a blue door. Everything arrived here by boat or on the backs of strong men, from that generator to the fitted cupboards in the bright little kitchen. The cliff track is too narrow for any vehicle, with sheer drops around each twist and turn, each one revealing another breath-taking view. Swathes of wild garlic drop away down, down to the shore and primroses peek out sunshine faces from sheltered dips in the bank. You don’t want to run low on milk out here. As night falls and the darkness is complete save for the moon and the stars and the rhythmic flash of the light out there on the cold black rocks, we light the wood-burner and pour the wine. Surrounding the cottage is a high drystone wall that keeps the Atlantic winds and cheery walkers at bay. I can hear both as I sit on a driftwood bench in a sunny corner of the garden, but neither can get to me. I am invisible, like a secret, and it smiles me.

We pick our way along the shore over wide basalt and granite rocks that slim to pebbles at the water’s edge collecting plastic bottles, string, cans and netting thrown up by the last full tide. Sea Eagles float high above the cliff tops, mobbed by ravens and crows, impervious to the taunting. Fishing boats leave the harbour and then return. An early season yacht, bright white in a capture of sunlight, inflates her sails for the long reach out to sea, the capricious wind in her favour. Children laugh and swoop like grounded birds as all children do when the sea is in their eyes, whilst their parents call caution. Huge container ships rumble by, their engines vibrating the air, rippling it, and then are gone to who knows where, leaving only a flurry of frantic wavelets to chatter over the pebbled shoreline like pizzicato, until the slow rhythm of the sea begins once more.

Time is not here. There is one clock on the kitchen wall and nobody looks at it. We rise when we wake, eat when we are hungry and sleep when we are tired. It is so nothing like home that my tensions just fall away. Bare stone floors, calypso rugs, simple furniture, carefully chosen artwork on the walls. No heavy dark inherited stuff to block the flow of light, no burden of old and suffocating clutter, all of which I would jettison, given the chance. I would clear the lot out and let the light remaining guide me. Divorced from duty, I would sit in the space until something asked to share it with me. A chair here, a table there, a rug or two, a painting on a wall, a lamp for the darkness.

The sun is rising now, the white paint of the lighthouse almost blinding. Across the water I can just make out a peppering of tiny houses against the black rocks. They gleam in the early light. I wonder who is waking over there. Are they happy, well, fulfilled? The hills will change colour soon as Spring touches this land with her silken fingers, painting heather purple, willow green, primrose yellow across those brawny old shoulders, like a beautiful scarf. And travellers will gasp at the beauty of this rugged place, as I have gasped for over 40 years and will gasp again. Life may be tough here, lived alongside a volatile ocean and often in the teeth of hooligan winds or drenching rain, but it is the only place I want to live. The rigours of a wilder life, the glory of solitude and reflection, a place strong enough to stand resolute against all political and environmental changes, and still able to throw a sudden beauty into a human soul, well…….that’s for me. The light, the dark, the steady turn of seasons, the laughter in the land, the sea and the endless sky. It is enough.

Dusk, and a darkling sky. We walk across the rocks down to the shore and sit, just us, all alone. The birds quiet and all we can hear is the heartbeat of a uninterrupted sea. Suddenly the surface splits and a big dog otter lifts his head to where we sit, gasped into silence, our breath mid breathe and held. He dives once, rises again and is gone. The final gift on the final day.

‘We are all frustratingly earthbound; destined to walk through the banalities of reality; brilliants trapped in the cotton wool of circumstance.’ Dan Boothby

Island Blog – To do, to be, to what?

Yesterday we took delivery of a mobility scooter that looks like something from Back to the Future. Very schmancy, with a weather-proof cab for weather proofing. With this delivery and the subsequent freedom it brings, himself is happy. Now, he can go down to the shop for milk or chocolate bars, or broccoli, thus freeing me up from the sole role of Shopper. One less task for me. However, for me, this free feeling doesn’t come without an entourage. Now he will be ‘out there’ in among the tourist drivers who still think they are driving the M8 with all its accompanying opportunities for impatience. These buggies are slow, and fat enough to claim the single track width on the island roads. Himself plans trips that cover quite a few miles and my heart freezes at the thought. The buggy is safe enough, but the brain of someone with progressive dementia plays the lead part in any decision making, and I remember well the flapdoodles this man and his brain got in to when perched like a parrot atop the bright red electric trike. I confess I was relieved when he decided he was no longer safe riding it, even if it did mean I became the Sole Shopper.

I am also the Sole in most things, and there is autonomy there, to a degree. It is often exhausting, however, being the only one who can hear, find and answer the telephone, or rise to greet delivery men and visitors, or guide a carer through the chaos of my airing cupboard, or pay the bills online, wrap a parcel, discuss the vagaries of the BT line, reset the timers after a power cut, find the right meal for dinner, wash the dishes, order and stack the wood, fill in all the disability and dementia forms that surely must mean the rain forests are completely gone by now, whilst also making sure there is nothing to trip over 20 times a day. Oh, and to sound cheerful and upbeat at the endless calls for help. This list is just a piddle in an ocean of daily tasks, all of them requiring a good attitude. And, in among it all, anxieties swim like a shoal of sand eels moving this way and that, bunched together for safety and well below the water line.

Here, God, you take them, I say, and often. Well, I can’t manage them all by myself and I know that he can. My anxieties and demands are nothing compared to everyone else’s and there is only one recourse in my book when the overwhelmings overwhelm. I have huge earthly support and if I didn’t, I would be in a right muddle by now, but none of what they do, the carers, the children, my siblings, my friends, is enough to quiet the anxious pecking at the window of my heart.

There is a sparrow. I think he has dementia. Tell you why. For days and days now, he flies at the little window half way up the stairs, pecking at the glass. He begins at dawn and continues throughout the day right up to Wee Willie Winkie time. I stand on the other side and tell him he’s a twit, but it doesn’t stop him. Go back to your wifey, I tell him, she’s just above your head in the eaves where your nest is. I bet she is rolling her eyes and snorting. I know I would. I have absolutely no idea why he is doing this but his persistent pecking thinks me of my anxieties, because that’s what they do.

When I go away on respite, by the time I do, I am heavied with them. I take them with me, all those I can fit inside, whilst those that can’t fly about my head like angry bees. It take 3 days to unwind, to let go, to trust that all will be well; that himself will not cause a 20 mile tailback on his Popzmobile nor an accident that hurts; because the power is off all day, it won’t matter that the towel rail beeps, the heating comes on at midnight or the nice lady from Edinburgh keeps calling out until the power returns. The stairlift won’t work, the kettle won’t boil, and the phone goes dead. What’s the worry? Let it go, I tell myself. If you weren’t here, someone else would be, but that someone else needs to be alerted, don’t they?

The trouble with what-ifs is that they are always imagined and always take the shape of catastrophe. They are also liars. But that doesn’t guide me on how to deal with them. They come, unbidden, unsought and unwelcome. Here you go God. Here’s another load. Yes, I know it’s the 15th today and it’s only 8 am, but I don’t know what to do with them and, apparently, you do.

I would like, please, to know that in doing my best, I am enough. The words themselves, when I repeat ‘I am Enough’ a hundred times, just don’t sink in. there’s a pane of glass between me and those words. I can see through, but the glass is resolutely fixed and firmly shut. I could open it. I could let the anxieties out and the encouragement and affirmation in, but I would also gain a sparrow in a huge wing-bashing panic and that doesn’t sound like a good idea at all.

In writing my blogs I find friendship and freedom. So much of a caring wifely role is kept inside for the protection of everyone else. Rarely does anyone hear the whole truth of it, of me. Besides, nobody can do anything about anything, not really. We carers are lone soldiers and we will be until we reach base camp once again. We will cross deserts and swim oceans; we will battle enemies, mostly internal ones, make dreadful decisions and fall into the mire of despond many times. We are broken, damaged and confused, overflowing with arguing emotions, with anxieties and self-doubt.

But, Spring is here and the sparrow still greets me, the daft eejit, every time I climb the stairs with my teddy bear under my arm, to find my quiet place, my room, where I can sink down and give God (such patience) another load of things that seemed huge downstairs, catastrophic even, but which somehow disappear like smoke, once I’ve handed them over.

For now, that is……

Island Blog – Inside a Night

Sunday began as usual with black coffee and poached eggs on toast. Island eggs from tartan hens and sold from a roadside box. Then I drive the switchback into town (too big a word for it) to meet visiting friends for coffee and a load of chuckles. En route, I meet nobody, but my return loop-the-loop is halted many times by oncoming tourists with big smiles, because it isn’t raining and the air is soft #almost sunkissed, and because neither of us fancy falling into that pothole to our left. It’s a sort of nervous smile to be honest, on their part, that morphs into a new moon of relief when neither of us do. Home again and a short while till we need to leave for a lunch date with old mates, in a high hill house overlooking a bay – a wide curve of glitterwhite sand, that tongues out into the Great Atlantic. She is in good humour today. Little laps of salty clear flop onto the beach, no loud crashing, and as pin people wander, dogs bound after balls, frisbees and seagulls.

Lunch is a full roast dinner and when it’s finally demolished my belly expands like Christmas. We tease and laugh and admire each other across the big pine table, upon which there isn’t even room for so much as a walnut between the plates of delicious food. The warm fuzzy follows us home again, whereupon I lasso the small dog and waddle out for a short walk, giving her enough time to bark at everything; a blackbird, two sheep, the estate gardener felling a diseased horse chestnut and other things I cannot see and doubt she can either. It’s a small dog thing, this barking, infuriating during a roadside conversation but quite intriguing too. Perhaps she is allocated a certain number of barks per day, and, what with us being heavily lunched for 2 hours whilst she remains at home, she hasn’t quite fulfilled her bark quota. By 7pm I am barely able to stay awake and retire to bed at 8. Tonight, I think, I will sleep the whole night through, unless that nice lady from Edinburgh gets the red light flash and makes contact. I wake, ready for the new day at 11pm. Hallo God, I say, as I float back into the room. I always say that on waking, just to let him know that I know he’s there. It’s reassuring. I lie down again but sleep is a fickle friend this night. Waking a second time at 1am (hallo God) and then at 2am (ditto) I decide to get up and do something – quietly, needless to say. So here I am. A nice mug of tea steams beside me, although I laugh at the unnecessity of that adjective (quietly). Who on earth would make a nasty mug of tea? My thoughts are all about the lovely day with friends and pothole avoidance and smiles and roast pork with all the trimmings; of soft air and little waves and the Lowry folk on the glittersand.

Tomorrow……no, today……will bring whatever it brings. I know that I am always given no more than I can manage, never too much, although I may consider it way too much when it marches through my door. I have extraordinary stamina, some of it bequeathed from my mum, some of it learned during the days of Island Wife when the days were many miles long and mine were the feet for the running of them. Not being asleep is really just being awake and being awake is an exciting thing. I can always snatch a mid-day doze if needs be. The truth is, Life bubbles through my veins and I never was very good at being a grown up. ‘ Over enthusiastic, with too vivid an imagination’ was written on my school report, not once, but many times, as something requiring immediate attention, preceding a subsequent course of action. It smiles me now, but back then, well below the age of consent, I agonised about it. Did I need surgery, or locking up, perhaps? When such nonsense was laid down on a report of one of my children, it made me laugh. Good! I told the downcast youngster. Ignore it. the teacher is just jealous.

Soon, I will wander back to bed and give sleep another chance, but, if it won’t come, I will read the beautifully written words of another with far too vivid an imagination and move into their story. With a bit of luck, it will be dawn the next time I surface to greet God and another marvellous day.

Island Blog – Spontaneous Crazy

That’s me. I thought I might have grown out of it by now, this urge to run/fly/burst into song at inappropriate moments. But no. When I look at the width, breadth and length of the world outside my window I want to be a part of every moving second. I can hear a bird, one whose song I don’t recognise. Where is it? I want to go find it right now, even if I haven’t yet pulled on my boots. I want to watch the tide rise and fall, to be a part of it. I wonder what it is like to be a mermaid or a fairy or another of those who live in the Otherness. I want to sparkle beside the stars, feel the intense cold of outer space, get as close as I can to the sun or to fly down a black hole. When geese lift, I lift too. When a tree is felled, I hear it cry out. As new buds burst into flower, I can sense the joy of the mother plant, and see her smile. Sometimes all these connections exhaust me. After all, I have enough to think about down here on the good solid earth without Otherness swirling tantalisingly through my limitations.

I don’t want to go shopping in Glasgow, nor do I want to knit with other women, however much I respect all women for the lives they are required to live. I don’t want the latest this or that, but I do want to buy something huge and wonderful for someone I love. I care not for a new sofa nor a new gadget to make my life easier, some bit of kit that requires a plug socket and fatling space on the kitchen counter. I must be weird. Perhaps I should have been a bird or a volatile planet, new to human eyes. I am open to the idea of a parallel universe, of Time shifting sideways when we all think she can only move forward or back. But, in truth, the worldly limitation of our thinking, our understanding, irks me. Although I could not stand my ground on any argument for Otherness, I know it is there. Although I cannot actually see fairies or mermaids I know they are there, for if there is really no Otherness, no dimension we cannot see, but only sense, then, well, gosh, how flipping dull!

A choice of belief, however, is not quite what I am getting at. I was born with spontaneous crazy running through my veins. Sometimes, it takes control of me and my inner parent needs to rein me in. What I consider possible is, very probably, impossible and could well be hazardous to health. But, and there is a but, if this gift of lunacy is for me, there will be a purpose to it. At the very least, our make up is a finite thing, held in by skin and bones, and sensible boots. They say we should keep our feet on the ground and our heads in the clouds. I like that, but it’s a tricky balance to maintain when all I want is to be up there among those clouds, boots an all.

I meet like-minded people from time to time, and, at others, I meet the flicker of spontaneous crazy in another’s unguarded moment. So, there are a few of us about. I’ve never asked how they manage to be sensible humans with the odd nod to spontaneous crazy, often well imprisoned in their past. They have ‘dealt’ with their restlessness, but not I. It wakes with me and messes with my sleep. It walks with me through an ordinary day, but is not a quiet companion. It picks and pokes at me and it has a voice and a persona. My mum always said she had no idea where I came from and I know well how flummoxed she was around me when this spontaneous crazy took the wheel.

On listening again to my dad playing Jazz and Blues as I drive Maz (sensibly) along the single track roads, I know he had this spontaneous crazy in him. He never read music but taught himself to play and there were so many wonderful parties where we all witnessed the depth and length and breadth of his natural talent. He lived in his sensible boots, had to with a family of five children and all the responsibilities of being the wage earner, but when that work was done and the candles were lit and the drinks poured, he became himself, became one with the keys of that honkytonk keyboard. I never asked him how he kept in balance with the sensible life and it’s too late now, but when he waxed lyrical about the Cairngorms and other wild places, or wrote his powerful poetry and let me read it, I met him there. Not asking him bothers me now, but back then it just wasn’t ever going to be a conversation.

So….….Dad…..just to let you know…..Spontaneous Crazy lives on. And, there’s a tree down there by the loch that is about to show a green light. I need to walk down to pay my respects. I’ll take you with me.