Island Blog 23 – Fur and Feathers

This morning I watched a magpie fly against the luffing of a growing wind with a twig in its beak. 

It’s January!  I called into the sky.  You daft eejit.

But, it was warm this morning, warmer than of late and as I stopped to notice the birdsong filling my ears, I realised they were all at it.

Spring talk.

When we lodged briefly (but not briefly enough) in Glasgow, in a third floor flat on the south side, this blackbird kept me awake at nights.  I would stomp to the window in a sleepy grump to fling open the curtains with a view to barking some ‘shut up’ comment, as if that would have made any difference.  Instead, I watched it on a branch, its beak working away and from that small assemblage of bone and feathers came the most beautiful melody.  Of course, I thought, its those awful street lights that confuse you my friend.  They confuse me too, shining like super troopers right outside the bedroom window so that even the nasty chocolate velour curtains can’t hold back the noisy orange shout of light.  I come, after all, from an island where day is day and there’s a brightness about those hours, whatever the weather, and where nights grow gently dark, falling into a soft black that blinds us all and sends us running home for tea, to warm fires and golden lamplight and something to watch on the telly.

Back to the magpie.  It landed in the top of a big pine tree. The outstretched branches floated about like tentacles underwater as the wind grew muscle.  I listened to the squeaking of wood on wood and wondered where on earth among those dancing limbs this daft magpie planned to lay its first stick.

As I watched, another magpie disappeared within the, now frantic waving of needled arms, and for a moment all was quiet.

Then I saw the squirrel.

It hurtled up the trunk stopping every so often to wiggle its tail at no-one in particular, although if I know anything at all about tails, a certain sort of wiggle is definitely a warning.

Still no action from the magpies, although I could hear their conversation somewhere out of sight.

Suddenly the tree exploded.  There was a great deal of animal shrieking and swearing, and two magpies burst outwards from the tree, flipping out and over and away leaving behind what sounded like a trail of expletives.

I waited.

The squirrel appeared and ran along one of the upper branches, one particularly outstretched one, now completely at the mercy of the wind.  As it got almost to the end (to see where the magpies had gone perhaps), a big gust caught the branch and turned it into a trebouchet with the squirrel as ammo.  Catapulted into space it made a perfect flying arc and disappeared into the neighbour’s garden.

I giggled, although I don’t suppose the squirrel did.

Moments later it appeared on the fence and chirruped something at me; something, I fancy, like

‘What the hell are you sniggering about lady?’

How to Win Friends and Influence People sprang to mind, but I said nothing.

Time for coffee.

Island Blog 23 - Flying Squirrel - funny-pictures-feedio.net

 

fig via: funny-pictures.feedio.net

Island Blog 22 – Colour me Purple

A young friend, half my age and still scampering through her life, arrived the other day with perfectly painted toenails, a crisp bright red and not a single mistake.  I had to put my specs on to be sure.  Not only was the polish perfect (she had painted them herself, whilst her children ate their coco-pops), but so were her toes.  I looked down at my own unpainted, bent battered toes and had a little sigh to myself, but only a little one.  I remembered carrying all those babies, those half hundredweight sacks of potatoes, and all that marching up and down the hill, all that stomping around in various stages of outraged indignation and I thanked my bent battered toes for their unquestioning loyalty to the rest of me.  She, of the perfect toes, is careless with her youthful vitality, just as I was.  I never thought, for one minute, I would cascade into a heap of wrinkles, because it just seemed impossible. It seemed so unlike me.

Well here I am, and it’s hilarious most of the time.  What I have found, in these purple years, is the wonderful humour of women. More precious than any jewels, we are born with it and we can always access it when faced with challenges.  We can rise, as we always have, to the occasion, joshing with each other, encouraging and teasing, propping each other up, accentuating the positive.  Even when this ageing process brings us up short and sharp and sore, there is a woman near to hand to help us laugh at ourselves, in a gentle and sensitive way, because she knows exactly how we feel about our five stomachs and the cold in our bones, and our rheumatic fingers that used to play Rachmaninov and now have trouble peeling an orange.

Well I say this to all of you fabulous women.

Firstly, you really are fabulous, every single one of you, and younger women need to see us plucky old girls with a smile on our faces.  It takes longer, I agree, to elevate the wrinkles, but it’s still possible, and, besides, we can smile with our eyes, our humour, our experience of life.   Getting older is getting better, if we decide it is so, and what about this childlike sense of devil-may-care?  That desire to jump on sandcastles and run a stick along someone’s railings, or pinch an apple from their tree.  Where did that come from?  I think it arrived when I turned 50 and I believe it to be the Great Consolation.

So, I’m going to make the very most of this delicious ageing process, and, when I am really old, which is a very long way off, I don’t want to be a sweet old lady.  I want everyone to be saying……….oh glory, what IS she up to now?

Dance as though no-one is watching....

Dance as though no-one is watching….

Island Blog 21 – To Travel Hopefully

Island Blog 21

As the outside shoots past my grubby window, I take in my fellow travellers.  I know where I’m going, of course, and they are going somewhere too, somewhere that requires them to pack a sandwich and a bottle of mineral water, pick up their book or kindle, their music machine and their mobile phone, just as I did first thing this morning.

I unpack my picnic and sigh quietly (I am in the quiet coach) at the squash of bread and lettuce and crumbly cheese, all gloopy now with the mayonnaise smearing up the window of my cleverly designed sandwich bag with a seal-again top, which I can never seal again, by the way.  You have to match the tram lines or it just won’t seal and it always ‘just won’t seal’ under my fingers.  I could put my specs on, but decide, instead, as I am too hungry, that I won’t bother.  I’ll just post it into my mouth in fingerfuls and chew it…..quietly.

The woman across the way from me is texting.  She has been texting for 40 minutes now and her buttons must be quite worn out.  Her keypad pings with each letter and she obviously can’t spell because, every so often, I hear her puffs of exasperation escape into the warm air of Coach B.  The man behind me has a dry cough, and I feel the punch of each one hit my shoulder as if he is firing peppercorns between the seats.  I shift a little, although I don’t want him to think me rude.

And then there are the whispering people, who hardly move for fear of breaking the rule of silence.

Where are they going? I begin to wonder.  Are they going to or from?  Is one of them running away, or running towards something or someone, and is there hope in their hearts or the foetid drudge puddle of exhausted defeat?

Do they love and are they loved?  Do they sing or write or make the best parsnip soup in the village?  Do they have regrets?

I like to answer some of my questions myself, for I could never speak them out into the polite air of the quiet coach.  I pretend the man with the cough has finally walked out on his over-bearing wife, having told her the thing or two he’s been wanting to tell her for years.  That’s why he has a cough now.  His vocal chords are astonished.

I continue this reverie, developing it to such a degree of joy and happiness on his behalf, that it’s all I can do not to swing round and congratulate him.  Instead, when its my turn to leave, I flash him my widest smile and alight, minding the gap.

Island Blog 20 – On Relations and Ships

Island Blog 20 - Dude Dog

 

I’ve been thinking about relationships recently, about the width and length and depth of them, about their shape and colour.  They are randomly dotted throughout our lives like wild poppies in a cornfield; bright, nourishing, individual and personal; at work, at home, at school, in our village street and every relationship unique as a snow flake.   Relationships matter from the moment we rise until the moment we lay us down to sleep at night, and, without them, or with destructive ones, we humans falter and weaken in spirit and confidence. We wander as lost souls in what looks like a cold and unfriendly world.

Which it isn’t.

As a child I don’t worry about the dynamics of any of my relationships for the language is not yet grown in me,either to explain or understand.  I just am.  I run and play my way through my days, trusting (although I don’t even know that word yet) that I will be dressed and fed and loved and cared for.  As I move into the angst-ridden and angry teenage years, I begin to question, I begin to understand, but I have not yet learned how to communicate, other than with my peers in ways that cause my elders considerable puzzlement.  If I am a boy, I grunt in varying keys and laugh in staccato bursts, often rather unsure of the joke. And that’s about all I can say about boys, not being one myself.

If I am a girl I learn to talk a lot and giggle infuriatingly every time anyone opens their mouth. I have a little more awareness of the world I have arrived in, but fight a daily battle with myself over the size of my bottom or the spread of my toes, or the fact that my girlfriend is allowed to turn the tv on without having to make a request in writing, giving due notice.

I am full of envy of pretty much everyone else in my group and I run the very real risk of turning green.  If I am lucky enough to have a mother who remembers her own uncomfortable struggle with hormones, and who can watch me through compassionate eyes, I am one of the lucky ones.  If, on the other hand, my mother never concerned herself much with the discomforts of teenage life, then my relationship with her will be a very different one, defining, to some degree, all future ones.  I seek understanding and I don’t get it, and so I turn away into my lonely self or out to my peer group to forge friendships that may not be healthy ones.

Then I grow up (in theory) and everyone thinks I’m an adult because I now look like one, but my outward appearance belies the inner truth.  I am as insecure as I was in sentient childhood, but I must keep it a secret, or I might appear to be too small for my skin.

If my primary relationship is all the right colours and the perfect shape, I find I can do anything, go anywhere, flow naturally, be myself, but relationships, any of them, need both parties to be aware and interested in the collective result.  Otherwise, we are just tumble-weeds in the desert, at the mercy of every capricious wind.

I like to divide up the word.  Relation and Ship.

One sounds grounded, one wild and free and fizzing with adventure.

Too caught up in worldly cares and I grow brown and dull.

Too wild and colourful and I may find myself  locked up.  I need to be the link between the two and hold on tight.

What I want is a ladder to the moon.

Blog 20 - Full Moon

Island Blog 19 – On Character and Wheedling.

They say that we are born with our own personality and that we grow our character.  I am watching ‘character’ appear daily in a little baby. Each little ‘quirk’ lands on me like a feather, the tickling kind, and I laugh out loud.  Even at this early stage of life, it seems, a human creature has something personal to say in response to the world, to us who care for her, and her statements lift into the air and become a new piece in the puzzle.  Not that we are puzzled, but more, captivated and enchanted at the way this child is sinking her flag into the land, claiming her stake in it, singing her own song.

I know that the world will affect her growth, that stuff will block her chosen flight, or hem her in and limit her choices, but that is an old chestnut in my opinion, for we can all fly if we just open our wings, whatever life we land in.

 

As my five kids appeared and began to show their colours, I wondered, not a little, how much colour any mother could take on.  It sometimes seemed as though the whole house was like a wild abstract multi media canvas and I needed shades to look at it.  How, I asked myself, as nobody else was listening, can there be five completely different characters born from me and their father, when we are just us with limits and baggage and issues and no time to talk about any of them?

 

I never got an answer, but I can tell you, that life was both hilarious and scary at one and the same time.

The way to work with such an abundance of personalities was in the collective, or so I thought.  We called them ‘the children’ and stuffed them into the Landrover along with the dogs and sometimes, a pet lamb or two.  When the older ones (by a short leg) made their claim on later bedtimes, or specific opportunities, denied the ‘little boys’ it seemed like a very big deal, not least in the required explanation and subsequent justification of this new treat.  Stretching the day a little, a later bedtime, a larger portion of supper, an excuse from washing dishes because of Important Homework (as opposed to reading 3 more pages of Enid Blyton out loud with particular attention to commas and full stops) required a brain shift, well-toned arms and one of those calm strong voices that always sounded like a sqwalk from my mouth.  I remember having to stand on a chair as they lurched uncomfortably into the teenage years, just to look like I was taller and therefore, in charge.  But I never felt ‘in charge’, not really, and often, when I looked back, after an encouraging wheedle or two, the only living things following me were the faithful collies, the pet lambs and Isabel the hen, not one of which had the slightest clue what I was wheedling about.

 

Now I look at my five rebels and see fine young adults, with buckets of humour, common sense and character.  So maybe they were following after all.

 

Blog 19 (V2)

Island Blog 18 – Words on a Feather

This morning I heard a woodpecker in the trees nearby.  I have seen his vibrant colours before now, his looping flight drawing semi-circles in the morning sky, but not until today have I heard the sound of him seeking grubs from the bark of a dead tree.  Poor bugs I thought at first, all cosy inside the winter bark.  A rude awakening for sure – that sudden battering against the walls of sleep like someone firing an Uzi in the bedroom.  But the woodpecker must feed and if you happen to be prey for a predator, then this is part of your life, and your death.

The garden birds are both hungry and thirsty within our frozen landscape and they need our help.  This weekend is the official Bird Count and I hope everyone will take part, for our garden birds are under threat.  It shocked me to discover that many of the ordinary visitors to the garden are now marked as amber or red on the RSPB web site, indicating their demise, and it may not be something that will get better, not without human interest and support.  Sparrows in huge and chattering groups make a thinner sound in our hedgerows.  Why is that?  Because we have taken the hedgerows down clearing land and clearing land again for new houses, offices, big settlements with concrete pathways and fat houses for the hungry home-dweller market.

Birds, like us, are creatures of habit.  Swallows, swifts and house martins, wintering in Africa, fly over thousands of miles to nest in the same place they nested the year before, in barns and empty buildings, that can be razed to the ground in a day, leaving them lost and wondering.  Owls have no place to rear their young, unless some wise man has fixed up a nest box in safe, quiet woodland.  Is there any safe quiet woodland left I wonder?  Thrushes are dwindling and even the blackbird and the robin, so very common in our thoughts, are less in number country wide.

But, this is not about doom and gloom, for we can all do our bit.  We can’t stop progress, nor should we, for this is the turning wheel of life and we must turn with it.  We have no choice.  But, we can do our own small bit to help.

In winter, birds need water, and not just to drink.  They must be able to wash and clean their feathers on a regular basis.  A shallow bird table, freshened through the week will not only bring more birds to our gardens for their own good, but for ours as well, for birds are enchanting to watch as they go about their normal lives.  Fat balls and good quality bird seed on a table will save them from wasting precious winter energy flying miles in search of something to eat.  Food scraps, and tired old fruit are a good food source too.  Check the RSPB web site for more information.

The ground is like iron just now, so the earthworms are safe for a while, but not the birds that depend of them for food.

Let us pay attention and not turn away from this because of our busy lifestyles.  We can all do something, and that is what excites me about this crazy life. We may think this doesn’t really matter to us, but without birds a lot of our wild flowers and trees would never seed in the first place.  I don’t go with those who say the world is on an inevitable downward spiral into the black hole of time,  but I do know that if we all do a little bit, form a new habit, we, you and me in our ordinary lives, in ordinary streets and houses, can really make an extraordinary difference.

Island blog 18

‘The Woodpecker has to go!’  

 www.funny.com

Island Blog 17 – Moon Talk

What I like to do around this time is step outside with a glass of red wine; any time of the year, makes no odds to me, for what I am wanting to  join in with is the evolving of day into night, when bustling daylight gives way to the gloaming (Scottish word) and everything around me begins to settle.  The only bird not already in bed is the blackbird, and sometimes, a late robin.  Even if I can’t see them I know their song, and their song changes at dusk (explanation of Scottish word).

Actually, their song changes at other times, like in early Spring when they are rivaling for a mate.  But that’s another blog, another time.

If it is raining hard, I may only manage stepping into the garage, with its open maw, but, in the main, I can stand for a little, watch the sky and let myself both absorb, and be absorbed, by the coming night.  Tonight the moon is wonky, not that she feels in the least wonky, but she looks that way to me, for her fullness is coming, but not just yet, making her an oval in the black heavens.  Full moons mean something when you live by the sea, and I don’t mean beside it, but ‘by’ it.  When your next move must shift to accommodate the powerful pull of the moon and she, the moon, is always guaranteed to make a big statement.  The tides are very high and very low at ebb and flood, and if you work with a boat, you have to know this, or you land in trouble.  Big winds, grumpy weather leading to grumpy seas, high winds and sudden squalls all work together at full moon, to unsettle mankind and remind him he is not in control at all, however much he may think he is.  And women change at full moon.  Have you ever worked that out?  I know that, when I did, it made me laugh and that knowledge settled inside me like a loving hug (for me) and a warning to my man.  Now he knows, and so do I.  I am a creature of the moon mother and now that we accept this inevitability, we can both be sensible, most of the time. In real life, that is, the life where we accept, even if we don’t understand, the balance between our physical and metaphysical selves, we can move easily within that life, without trying to fix or alter it, but, instead, to love it and claim our part in it, for it is wonderful indeed and, by the way, our only chance to shine like the moon in someone’s sky.

 

One man and his dog