Island Blog 52 – I Rise

Island Blog 52

 

After the weekend and turning to face another weak, sorry, week, I can come over all peculiar.

There seems to be a flurry of panic in my head, like bats disturbed in the quiet of their belfry. Bringing it forward to my frontal ‘Fight or Flight’ mechanism rarely helps.

There is a whopping list of to-do’s for starters, followed closely by another whopping list of how I can’t possibly  do any of them because I am not good enough.  By the time I have dithered through a few tasks half-heartedly, I am now quite certain of the fact.

And it’s only 9.30.

The path I walk now divides.  I can see it, feel it.

One me, with bats in my brain, and Two Roads.

What do I think I should do about all this chaos and confusion?

Go back to bed?

No.  I think I should harness it.  After all, isn’t there a powerhouse of energy racking up to storm force ten in this daft head of mine, and  am I not more than able to grab it by the goolies, flip it round and set it on a new trajectory?  After all, who is to stop me?

Only my inner doubts and bat-like fears.

In days of yore, when I was young, and everything scared me half to death, I would begin an inner conversation between the whinging little Wuss and the confident, outgoing, talented Wonderwoman.  (There’s probably a book title in there somewhere).

In the dark corner, curled into a ball, as best she can with her arms full of imagined judgements, the Wuss cowers and says things like ‘go away’ and ‘please ignore me’ and ‘don’t tell my mother.’

In the light bright corner, standing tall and dressed in wild colours, sporting a wide smile, great teeth and  twinkly winkly eyes, is the confident (etcetera) Wonderwoman.

It’s all over in the first round.

Get up!  barks Wonderwoman who is always up, herself.  Get up and get over your whining.   Scared people do nothing, achieve nothing, if they sit in dark corners and let fear win.  You aren’t even rising to the fight, you wimp.

In the darkness, I, currently the Wuss, begin to flex my fingers, curl them into a fist.  She moves nearer, goading me.  Her boots are gleaming, her legs look like they know where they’re going.

She adopts her ‘diddums’ tone.

So, your mother was a bit harsh, so what!  So, you feel a lickle bitty tired, poor lamb, and you don’t like dusting, or find cyberspace a bit difficult to navigate, boo flipping hoo!  And those self-doubts…..all your own fault.  I had mine removed. No time for them. And what makes you think you can ever achieve anything anyway?  It’s laughable to be honest.    You are way too stupid and chaotic, and your chin is weak, like you.    You’re pathetic.   A waste of space….

That’s when she takes off, backwards, on the other end of my fist.  It’s spectacular to watch in slow motion, as she sails through her own stale air and lands with a thump on the ground to lie quite still.

It is just fine being scared, I tell her as I stalk away; okay to be filled with doubts and panics and with a great big wish that the day will ignore me completely.  It’s ok to be overwhelmed by fears and tearful at nothing.  I feel wonderful now and am ready for whatever comes, although the bruising on my fingers will take a while to go…….

Island Blog 51 – Stirred Not Shaken

Blog 51

 

When I am home again on the island, after a time away, I spend the first day remembering.

I remember a sudden smile on an old familiar face whilst sorting through the washing to be washed.  I hear again a comment, made days back and long forgotten by the one who made it and whose mouth has filled with many words since.  For that person, it is gone forever, but not for me, who heard it and held it and find it still inside my head, and sometimes my heart.  Lisa from Two Roads, for example, who spoke out before all those who came to the second book launch of Island Wife in Norwich, the home of my formative years, although, to be honest, I would question the formative bit.  It’s not like I stopped forming once I left, frozen in time as ‘her’ because ‘her’ has changed a whole lot since then.  For beginners, ‘her’ no longer wears shiny hotpants, nor does she feel like a bit part in someone else’s play.

Back, as they tell me ALL the time…..to the subject……..

Lisa stood up and said things about me as a person that made me feel like I was really something.  She talked about the book, about Island Wife and how it came into her hands and how Hodder multiplied it thousands of times over, flying out into the world on its own wings.  Karen, Queen of Publicity, came too and spoke of new avenues, new ideas, new hopes and plans for my story as we shared a cream tea in a smart town hotel.  Actually, I didn’t share mine, but that is so not the point.

Old friends I haven’t seen for 3 decades bought first editions and invited us for coffee, tea, supper and lunch, taking us on journeys through little Norfolk lanes lined with old red brick cottages and a lot of history, and the sun shone the whole time.

At the launch, someone tapped me on the shoulder.

I’m June, she said, and I knew her face at once, although on another’s shoulders, for she is the youngest daughter of the Old Horseman in my book.  We talked a little, whilst we could, and she went away with her signed book.  I had tried to find the descendants of those who gave of their best to us on the farm, and her unexpected visit (I hadn’t managed to find her) lifted my heart the highest.

The other lifting thing was that I realised among old friends, that, although we are all older, I am still the daft eejit.  Some long to be daft eejits, and some are jolly glad they aren’t, but, for me, it says just the right thing about me.  However tough life is, whatever comes our way, tries to break our spirits, confound us, shake our confidence, we always have our inner spirit, and it is our own.  My confidence shaker may be different to yours, but I still experience the shake.

May as well make it one with ice cream, fresh strawberries, mango juice and champagne.

 

With Two Straws.

Island Blog 50 – Afters

Blog 50

Well here I am after the event. There is something about after the event that rings of disappointment…..you know the song ‘After the Ball is Over?’
It’s about breaks of day and cold porage and most probably someone lost and not much found.

Well this is not the case for me on this sunny Sunday.

We had the best fun (whoop whoop) at the launch of Island Wife in Norwich!

It all began with me getting trussed up in my frock and stockings just after lunch which feels a tad early, to be honest, then into the car, chauffeured by my little sister, and whizzed down to the BBC Studios in her smart car complete with satnav and toffees in the glove box. I tottered up the steps in my foolish heels trying not to look like a drag queen arriving for a shoot. I was greeted and welcomed by the producer’s lovely assistant and guided upstairs to the studio. Black Watch (make a note about them!) were being interviewed before me and I noticed how the producer, Stephen, showed what looked like genuine interest in his guests, and I loved that, for it told me that the cynics of the world are wrong.

Again.

Next up was me and I enjoyed a delightful half hour with a really good guy (who may well actually read my book now)
Then we met up with Lisa my publisher from Two Roads, who said some lovely things about me, and Karen (publicity, Hodder) for a cream tea and a catch up.
So stylish.
There’s no copy of Island Wife on these shelves, Lisa said, so I signed one and we left it.

So many old faces came to the launch, such as descendants of the farm workers who had given of their best to us all those years ago and friends, now grey haired, but still recognisable in a heartbeat and with lovely well-remembered smiles.

Jarrold’s sold out that evening, and as we walked to the Last Wine Bar for a superb dinner, we talked of all that is wonderful in this life. It was a night that we will take home with us as we begin our long journey back to the island, one we will talk over for many days to come.

Island Blog 49 – Flight

Sometimes a story unwraps like a ribbon. The words just tumble out in the right order and, better still, reflect what I want them to reflect. But not today it seems.  

I blame last night and that whistling wind and the clack of the plastic air vents and the scritch- scratch of Virginia creeper, not yet softened with leaves, sounding like the bony fingers of a witch against the window glass. Today is a big day.  

It’s launch day for Island Wife, my book published by Two Roads.  Actually, to be correct it is Launch Number Two.  We already held one on the island, for the folk who see me often and I them for over 35 years now.  

The people, who will come this evening to Jarrold’s Book Department in Norwich, will wear faces I haven’t set eyes on for 3 decades.  

I guess, like me, they will look older, a bit worn, a bit broken too, but we will know each other in a heartbeat.  Faces, hair colour, shapes may have altered dramatically or barely at all, but voices stay the same.  I could close my eyes all evening and still know exactly who speaks, even if I have to dig deep into my memory bank.  

So many voices and no two the same. There won’t be time to hear the stories, the tales of joy and sadness, the lost and the found in that short 90 minutes, but when it is done and books are signed and drinks are drained, I will walk out with those voices darting around inside my head like swallows just back from Africa. And they?  

Well, they will drive or walk or catch a train back into their own lives with a new book in their hands. I may never know their stories, but from tonight, they will all know mine, perhaps hearing my voice for the very first time.

Island Blog 48 – Mother Love

Island Blog 48

 

This morning way too early I wake and step through the automatic doors of the hotel to say hallo to the new day.  The sky is closed, a thick pale grey over the wasteland which calls itself an industrial estate, perhaps in the hopes that it will be once industry moves in.  Outside a young woman smokes a cigarette and shivers.

I live here, she tells me, as I am homeless.  I must have looked surprised, thinking, as I did, that a hotel is not where I would expect to find a homeless anyone.  She says she has a little boy, aged six and the council have lodged her here temporarily whilst they find her a place to live.

I know my jaw drops, for it suddenly seems so huge, being homeless with a young son.  I ask her about his father and she tells me that he had hit the boy, just once, but once was enough, especially as she gave him 3 days to show remorse before leaving.  She says in that split second, what love she might have felt for him left her and stayed gone.

Her family lives in Cornwall which is light years away from here, but she won’t go home as it would disrupt the child, who loves his school, and, by the way, his father lives up here.

I thought about mothers.  What we do, what courage we find, what love we show.  We may get it all wrong, but that strong protective fire deep inside us burns bright from the moment of birth and stays with us for the rest of our lives.  Nobody, not even the child’s father, stands a chance against such a powerful energy.  We would give up our freedom, our quality of life, our life itself for our children and, if asked, we could not explain why that is.  It is both a gift and a life sentence and we have no defence against it, nor can we escape its hold on us.  Most of us, regardless of personal cost, wouldn’t want it gone anyway.  It becomes our drive, our reason for waking every morning to bring out the sunshine, even if the sky forgets to.

She finds herself some breakfast and eats alone among a scattering of strangers, all dressed crow black for the working day ahead.  I’m going back to bed now, she says…..my boy cries at night, doesn’t sleep good and I stay awake to hold him.

The cleaners will wake her around 11 and she will wait here, beneath the wide screen set to silent, with the hotel muzak beating out its quick fixes, until school is out.

Island Blog 47 – Upsettings

Island Blog 47

Yesterday, just as I was finger-tap dancing out my new blog, my almost new laptop made a groaning noise, flickered her eyelids a few times and disappeared into silence.
Apparently she has died, which is not game on at all, at only 4 months old.

This is when I realise with a jolt, that there is a body of ocean between me and a laptop hospital. It matters not one jot how brilliant the technology is, how fulsome and encouraging the communication, which by the way was first with Jamaica, then Holland, then India. I felt quite well travelled after visiting all those countries, and in such a short space of time, and I believe I made a couple of new friends, one of whom is definitely looking out for Island Wife to be published in her part of the world.

Are you sitting there in skimpy shorts with a Coolade on the rocks? I asked her and she laughed uproariously.
Not one of the questions I am supposed to answer! she replied, and that is when I mentioned my book, knowing I could say anything I liked at that point and she would be bound to listen, even if that piece of information wasn’t on her Answer Sheet either.

Today I feel a bit odd, to be honest. My nice new red laptop sits in silence, with her flaps shut, on my desk and there is no sound of that thinking hum with which she has, to date, filled the room. Perhaps that’s the problem. She has been way too cheerful working with me and somebody doesn’t like it.

When I spoke to that nice young Dutchman, he did suggest various attempts at CPR, such as flipping the laptop over….
Sorry, I whispered…..such indignity…….and taking out the battery. Then replacing it after a number of seconds and pressing the on button 10 times (exactly). Then he asked me to do something requiring a lot of pressure on the Delete button that upset all her settings right back to the ones she came with, and they took long enough to get rid of when she first arrived.

I didn’t know her at all after that, and so the bereavement process will be shorter I believe. All my orderly little icons and boxes are quite gone now, and it is only with foresight that I had asked my husband to back up all files and documents and pictures and so on onto some flashing box that normally drives me mad on dark nights when it suddenly springs into life and turns the sitting room a luminous green.
I won’t moan about it ever again I promise.

So, the box sits on the ground, complete with warranty information and laptop-shaped polystyrene in a fetching green, and all we need now is for Miss Jamaica, or Mr Holland or even Madam India to call on Monday with a return address. However, I doubt it will be Madam India, as I was fairly sure after a confusing exchange of information, that I had dialled a Flight Booking Service and almost took myself and the laptop to somewhere south of Mumbai.

Island Blog 46 – Frozen

Island Blog 46

A friend and I play writing games together.  One of us picks a phrase, a subject and we both have to write for say five minutes, or ten, on that phrase or subject.  We are not supposed to think, or lift our pen from the page, but just to let our creativity flow unimpeded.

We have had some interesting projects.

‘The day I didn’t call’  was one, I remember, and another, ‘this exquisite wounding’.

A recent one was entitled ‘Frozen’

Just that.  Could lead you anywhere.

Here’s what I wrote:

‘Whenever I walk past a statue in some public place, I wonder what was happening to that person before someone froze them forever.  Did he or she live out a mostly ordinary life?  Was that laudable (obviously) moment in time their only laudable moment in time, or was it all so laudable that we, living out our ordinary lives have to keep being reminded of our ordinariness every time we walk by?

Did his or her feet ever ache in badly made shoes, and were they ever late for school or work or choir practice and did their teeth hurt eating ice cream? Were they kind to others, loving in their homes, humble in opinions?  What made them so remarkable?  And what would they think of the pigeons who perch on their horizontal bits and shit them white and greasy grey, or the homeless wanderers who slump beneath their lofty limbs?

Sometimes I read the plaque that tells of their achievement, but usually I just march by in my badly made shoes, avoiding pigeon shit and homeless wanderers on my ordinary way from A to B with deadlines in my head and a dirty rain threatening.

In Amsterdam, one moved.  A statue, I mean, and I did stop then.  Suddenly nothing was ordinary at all and I laughed out loud as the pigeons burst into the sky and an old man on a bench unfolded himself and laughed with me before sinking back down into the folds of his oversized coat’.

Island Blog 45 – Small Giants

Island Blog 45I am an old fashioned sort of girl.

Big statement that.  Sounds like it defines me, but don’t stop there if you please.  I can be new fashioned in many ways when it suits me.

The thing about Big Statements is that they can confuse.  For instance, if I were to say ‘That man over there is an irascible old bore’  and you didn’t know anything about him, you could think that being irascible, old and boring is the sum of the man.

Which it most definitely is not.

Nobody is that simply wired.

I love language, the rise and fall of a phrase, especially, in the way my dad used to deliver them for maximum impact.  He used short words now and again, when he was playing the irascible old bore and the tonic water wasn’t cold enough, but in the main, he made language sing and he taught me well how to communicate.  This is not to say that in order to communicate we need to be graduates in English, or Scottish, or any other language, for that matter.  Words in the wrong mouths however cleverly phrased and delivered, can be as welcome as a fire in a paper factory, and as destructive.

In the world of technology, this new crazy fast non-human way of communicating, I find the old fashioned girl in me lurching into the foreground.  I know it is the new way to tell out our latest product, opinion, story, but it is not the only way.  We do not need to drown our voices in an ocean of electronics.  Deep inside every one of us, is the need for human contact, for the soothing velvet sound of a loving voice, for the kindly helpful efficiency of a stranger on the other end of a telephone.

No electronic recorded voice can do that for us.  We need voice to voice in order to reach a new place together.  Yes, a recording can guide us through a button-pushing and monotonous process as we plod our way to submitting our white meter reading for the quarter, but oh what joy it is, what heart-lifting warmth fills us when a real person says those loving human words ‘Mary speaking, How may I help you?’  I can almost hear the angels in the background, as she pauses for my reply.

I remember meeting my first robot.  She (was it?) answered with tick-tack words and no music to her phrasing.  I thought, this’ll never catch on.

So, Big Statement.  I am an old fashioned girl in the world of Communication.

I can also dance you off the floor when the DJ racks up the beat, and I can weep when Piglet gets blown off his feet in the Hundred Acre Wood.

Island Blog 44 – To Live Again

Island Blog 44

Sometimes, in ordinary conversation, a friend might ask me if, given a choice, I would live my life over again.

I think back across the millions of miles of it, the lush richness, the deserts, the rainbows of success and the stumble-grounds; the learning and the laughter, the birthing and the dying, the joy,grief and inner growth.  Particularly the inner growth.

It is not a logical question, or answerable using logic, so you can guess that there are no men present, although maybe that’s just the men I know who, bless them, would say it can’t be true unless it’s been proven.  I know what ‘proven’ means to me.  It’s that point in the process of bread making, when the dough has risen as high as it can without pushing open the skylight.  The point when it requires further bashing and twisting and pummelling into shape before being popped into an extremely hot oven for a permanent shape-arrestment and a nice brown crust.

Anyway, answer the question you daft island wife….

Well would I? Live it all again?

My first feeling is one of huge tiredness.  It is not easy to imagine, let alone believe in, the energy required, not just to go through it all again, but to know what I’m going through as I go through it and worse, to know what comes next!

My head is reeling at the very thought.  So, park it for now.

My next thought/feeling/response is that, had I not been gifted the life I lived, there would  be no story, dynamic and whacky enough to have led me to write it down;  to have been guided to an experienced agent and through her, to have found a well established ‘we-don’t-take-on-books-unless-they-are-top-quality’ publisher.  And if there had been no madcap story, just a regular law-abiding disaster-free life, kept under militant control, I probably couldn’t imagine wanting to go through it all again.  The very idea would just have made me wriggle my ageing butt deeper into the sofa cushions and pull out my knitting, thankful that all those requirements to jump about and be adaptable are just blurred memories.

Instead , look at me learning to Tweet and Blog and answer messages on Facebook (for goodness sake) and feeling rather like I hoped I might feel, but didn’t, at the age of 17.

Is this, I ask myself, because you are being stretched when others are shrinking?  Or is it just that I am still living this life, instead of peering back across it all from the soft plumpy feathers of my wide-mouthed armchair?

So ask me now.  Would I live my young life over again?

Absolutely N.O.T.

But….. I wouldn’t change one bit of it, except, perhaps, that one time I drove right over a roundabout near Greenock because I didn’t know it was there.  Men were digging up the road and the leading lights had failed.  It was a splendid performance and I came to rest in a field with my headlights illuminating the bottom of a large white bull.

You can’t park here!  Said the roadman after chapping on my window.  Yellow rain streamed down his face and a furious gale played skittles with the traffic cones.

No mention of the roundabout.

 

Island Blog 43: Talking in Tongues – Congruence, etcetera.

She and me - Blog 43

It is the beginning of a new week.  Schools are going back. Folk are heading off to work, etcetera.

Etcetera.

That word sounds so good in its entire fulsome length, like tinkling water over river stones, although we rarely see it written thus. In our hurrying lives, there are many words we shorten and cut off so that they no longer bend around corners or form a splendid arcing bridge over a blank space.  Sometimes the shortening is necessary, poetic even and I am the first to employ such a technique should it be required or just for fun, using a different tone, or note, or key or octave according to what I want to convey.  And, of course, words sound different again in different mouths, and different again according to the tone of a voice.

In those bad moods of my past life, I could make it very clear how I felt.  I could thump down dishes, slam cupboard doors, bark at the dog, consider extra mustar
d hidden beneath the ham in a husbands sandwich, and yet, if challenged with a ‘What’s wrong with YOU?’ (delivered in B sharp, if I remember correctly) I would rise, pink-faced and steaming.

‘I’M FINE!’ I hissed, confusing the whole room and loosening my own teeth.

I look back on such times with a snigger, although I never do the sniggering thing if I observe a similar lack of congruence today.  No, I feel compassion, because I know how it is to be so utterly miserable about something and to have nobody to tell who won’t bring out their Fixit Kit and start unscrewing my breastplate. Nowadays, should a lurking bad mood ensnare me on waking, I no longer yell that I am fine, but that I am NOT ONE BIT FINE, and that is FINE by me! And..I will sort out my own breastplate thank you very much.

It is also possible, I have found, to add tone to a text message – that is, giving ‘sound’ to ‘silence’.  I can uplift you or take your head off, with one digit.  I can be a thousand miles away so you absolutely cannot hear me, and yet I can bring this sound into your shell-like and change your whole day.  You can ‘hear’ my tone, even though you cannot.

If I have something to say that is contentious, or aggressive, or even just interfering, I should never write it down.  In a perfect world I wouldn’t even speak it out, not to you, not to anyone.  In fact, in a perfect world, I wouldn’t even want to, because my heart would be right, not just my intentions, and if those two are not working together there in no congruence.  How often have I heard clearly, from someone’s tone what they wanted me to hear, and then been told I imagined it?  That their intentions were good?  Sounds like me, back in the Days of Grump as I broke up the morning for everyone else and denied I had anything to do with the inevitable capsize.

Incongruence.

I am saying one thing with my tongue, another with the rest of me, and the result is mayhem.  Nobody knows what to do or where to look.  Families are controlled this way relationships too.  I know, I did it.

So now, in yelling out that I am NOT FINE might be noisy and may unsettle the dog, but at least it is honest.  Sometimes I think the hardest struggle we ever have to face is that we are human and therefore fallible.  We are also magnificently assembled creatures of intelligence.  One has a lovely sweet taste, the other, bitter.  But we are both and if we can learn to accept and cherish the bitter and the sweet, we may be hoarse, but we will be free.