Island Blog 62 – Saying Yes

Island Blog 62

There are two of us leaving the island tomorrow.  One is me heading to Edinburgh for a book signing day in quite a few goodly bookshops and then on to Glasgow for my interview with Sally Magnusson on Friday for her programme ‘Sunday Morning’ which will air at 7.05 am on Sunday June 2nd.

Note for diary.

And the other is my little red laptop because she has decided to air her rebellious female side and has taken the initiative to add extra letters to the words my fingers ping out on her shiny black keyboard.  Although I do like a rebellious woman, am one myself and recognise the song of another in a crowd of hundreds, to this behaviour I have to say NO.

Now don’t get all ‘aw’ about it.  She is my tool and I need her to stay in line.  When I am writing a song, a blog a tweet or a piece for a monthly (is that why they are known as ‘periodicals’ one wonders……?) I must know that what I decide to lay down as a word smith, is what is laid down.  I cannot have random violations of that rule, any more than a pianist can have a sixth finger ping out a discord right in the flow of some enigmatic cadenza.  It just wouldn’t win the audience.

So, my lady in red is off to Germany for the second time.  As you may remember from her last ‘collapse’ into depravity, I diddled about for ages in the worldwide web to find the Laptop Hospital.  This time I knew my way and answered all the questions correctly.  I know this because that rather handsome delivery man is coming to collect her in the morning and I have the Collection Number.

I thought me a bit about saying No.  I think we women find it hard.  I know we do.  It’s something to do with our mother’s mother’s mothers who rarely said no to anything, just to keep the country going.  I honour their way, but it doesn’t work today, and it may not have worked for them, but they were way too good at stepping back into the wallpaper without a murmur and giving their lives as a gift for just about anyone who stepped into their space.

Not us girls.  I say ‘girls’ and laugh at myself with all my wrinkle potions, but you know what I mean.  Saying no is still hard.  Oh, I can be so very wise with someone else’s No dilemma.  I can advise them into a very tight corner, where all they can do is nod because the rest of them is pinned down by my Wise Words.  It doesn’t change them, even if they recognise the wisdom and hope they can walk it out into their own lives, but when they leave thinking how remarkable I am, I think for a moment about how well I manage to say NO at times in my own life when I am scared of rejection and judgement.

The answer is that I am full of wind (as they say up here) and the work I need to do on myself is still there.

But, what I can tell them, all these women, young and old, who fight to say NO to something, someone and to rise beyond the fear of rejection and judgement, is this:

Try it.  Just once.  And taste it.  The freedom of it.  The wild crazy headiness of it.  Ok, the person you said No to didn’t like it.  Of course they didn’t.  Would you?  But they coped with it and they reset their internal picture of you and they left feeling weird but really rather intrigued.  They might have said…….wow, good for her!

Because, what I do know, is that when you say No to someone else, actually say it, gently, without anger or blame (recognising that you have fed this all along) and with love in your heart for them, for yourself……..

You say YES to you.

Island Blog 61 – Reading and Believing

Island Blog 61

As of this blog I have now surpassed myself.  In age I mean.  I have yet to experience the dizzy delights of turning 61 and yet, quite without the right boots, here I am.  Post Woman’s Hour.

My mum used to listen to Woman’s Hour a hundred years ago whilst I enjoyed Listen With Mother, sitting as comfortably as I ever could manage.  I loved the stories of Creatures and Fairies and Kings, and Animals with huge brains, and a great sense of right and wrong.  Noddy and Big Ears, The Famous Five, Rupert the Bear, although, to be honest, Rupert was more a boy’s bear.  Winnie the Pooh, on the other hand was anybody’s bear.  Something to do with his lack of public schooling I think.  He just bumbled about in Hundred Acre Wood and got stuck in doorways and had bonkers ideas that always made me smile.

Now it is not only I who listen to Woman’s Hour, but I was actually one of Jane Garvey’s guests last Monday May 27th, talking about my own book, Island Wife, published by Two Roads.

Who would have thought life could become as it has?  From that little uncomfortable girl to a 60 year old with a book hitting the shops, a blog, some new songs in the making and book signings ahead next week in Edinburgh.  A full day, in fact, beginning at the Edinburgh Book Shop at 9.30 and spinning through many more by bedtime.  The next day, I have to be at the BBC Studios (again!) for an interview with Sally Magnusson for her programme ‘Sunday Morning’.

Next Sunday 07:05 BBC Radio Scotland (add it to your diary now so you don’t miss out)

All I did was write down my life.  The feedback, the comments tell me it is unusual to write with such honesty, but I have nothing to hide as you will see when you buy your own copy.  As stories I read during my own years on earth have helped and guided me, so I hope mine will help you in some way.  Someone once said, wisely, ‘we read to know we are not alone’ and that person was spot on.  It could be Avatar or Winnie the Pooh.  It could be a quest to Everest or a lone woman canoeing the Amazon.  It could even be a text book although all those proven facts worry me somewhat in a world where nothing is as it seems.  I can lose myself in someone else’s life, picnic, journey, song and there will be something inside it that touches me, lifts me, teaches me something I may have known but didn’t know at all.

I don’t know what I thought my life would become, although I always knew the Hundred Acre Wood was an important part.  When a writer lays down a story for children, he or she is not a child, but is looking back through their own lives to take hold of truths they still hold dear.  The sparkle and twist of a sugar spun tale comes from experience and it is a gift we have who can bring it into today’s light and make it sparkle anew.  We seek the values that take us out of our ordinary lives and into one that makes us dance.  We read on because we want to know what happens in the end.

And when it does end, what then?  Do we lift our sights higher, consider how we might change the parts of our textbook lives that bore the shenanigans out of us?  Or do we put the book aside and do nothing?

It takes courage to step out.  But therein lies the key.  We don’t have to know how to do anything.  We just have know why we want to do it.

That’s when Lady Providence steps out of the shadows to walk beside us.  Inside every one of us lies genius.

We just need to believe it.

Island Blog 60 – Rainbows

Rainbow-Charlie-Chaplin1

 

Whenever I return from a visit to the mainland I bring the echoes back with me. They linger for a day or so, sometimes more, depending on the event, and then they scatter away like dust in the wind. I hear voices, comments and parts of conversations. I smile again at shared laughter, wonder again at a vision of loveliness in shiny hot pants (that’s shorts to you young innocents) with animal print leggings underneath and a summery frou frou topping through the skinny layers of which glows a Glasgow Tan and a million purple goose bumps, all rising valiantly to greet a wind from Siberia.I remember random acts of kindness, such as the woman who offered me one of her fruit pastilles on the train and I wince again at an act of cruelty, a side-swiping kick against the naked shins of a hooded beggar who shivered in the shade of the cold station steps. I sit again in the recording booth at BBC Glasgow, awaiting my turn to be interview for Woman’s Hour and remember the taste of my cooling coffee and the strangeness of talking into a microphone that has caught my voice, my responses to the questions Jane Garvey asked of me, and of the equipment somewhere that holds my words captive until Monday, May 27th at 10am, when they spill out into many homes in many parts of the land. I hear again the dominant voices of a group of young, clean cut Americans on the journey home. I thought, at first, I can’t sit here for 3 hours with those loud Southern accents interrupting my reveries, but I did stay and I did watch the dynamic between them and saw that they were just excited kids on a wild adventure. Where are you going to? I asked one girl. ‘Oh, she said, Mull……..we’re staying in the cottages.’I smiled. There are hundreds of cottages, and the island is a long stretch on foot without an address. She looked a bit crestfallen at that.I am sure someone knows where you’re going. I said.As I drove Miss Daisy away, I saw them all huddled in the spot where a bus would have been had the ferry not been so lengthily delayed. And I wonder about the impact we have on each other, whether knowingly or otherwise, and whether that impact takes us off a different path, or if it leaves us untouched and staying just the same as before. I can only speak for myself, and yet that hardly seems enough, or even adequate in an ever-changing world. But each encounter, each time I notice something or someone, a little act of awakening sparks inside of me. This spark, once settled, can become a part of me, not as I am now, but as the woman I aspire to be. The trick is to notice, to be aware, to be awake.

Always.

Island Blog 59 – Dolphins

Island Blog 59Never let it be said that journeying is for the young. I never journeyed so much in my life as I am these days and all because I wrote down my life and Two Roads Published it. It is not just the trip tomorrow down to Glasgow for an interview with Jane Garvey in the BBC Studios – Woman’s Hour ‘Celebrating Extraordinary Women’ (oo-er) May 27th 10 am; it’s not just the trip the following week for an interview with Sally Magnusson, a sort of Desert Island Discs for Radio Scotland on June 2nd, called Sunday Morning; it’s the journey my mind is taking, and my body, both of which, to be honest, have obviously been resting for quite some time.

The trouble with growing older is that we ‘allow’ ourselves to step out of the slipstream. And everyone around us allows it too. When something or someone requires us to step back in, we begin, at first, to spin, understandably, having not had so much exercise for years. We resist and fall back onto the verge, wheezing and flapping our hands in the air, laugh, if we have the breath and say something like…….oh I’ll just wait here for you and admire the view…….!

Not an option for me.

So how does a woman, like me, part way between young and old (not saying which part) find her way back into the slipstream, the rush and tumble of life, a life where people and things become faint memories overnight?

Colour. Attitude. Confidence. Letting go.

I remember learning once this wisdom. ‘Fake it till you make it.’ and I instantly liked that way of turning life on its head. I realised that just because I might feel frightened, or unsure or too young or too old and wheezy, I could, if I so chose, act a part. Now, you will know, if you have read my book, Island Wife, that acting a part was something I did often as each challenge rose up before me, like a Rachel Whiteread sculpture, blocking all exits. It requires not my own strength, not my own experience, even, but simply a willingness to let go, and to find quiet moments in which to sharpen my sword/teeth/wits as preparation for whatever comes next.

I couldn’t cook until hungry guests arrived expecting dinner. I had no maternal instincts until I gave birth. I knew not the rules of engagement, nor of wifedom until they took over my life and woke me each morning with a to-do list. I had no idea when I wrote down my life that so many others would want to tell me how my story sang out to their own, thus creating a new harmony, one that cannot be contained or filed away, for it has taken wings and will make a new journey, all of its own into new skies and over uncharted lands.

Maybe, just by refusing to wheeze and flap and admire the view, I have become the pioneer I always secretly hoped I might be.

And dolphins often play in a slipstream.

Island Blog 58 – Through a Glass

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You know you’ve got it right when you leave someone feeling better than they did before you came.  I hope I can do that for another but I know for sure someone can do it for me, and not by trying to. It’s all about your heart being right.  I have spent some time observing and reflecting on this and know for certain that if a person is the same on the inside as they are on the outside, then there is no fog of confusion around them.  Let’s bring this into focus…. If I wake in a frightful grump and want to bash anyone who gets up my nose, then let me be honest about it.  Let me not answer, when I hear the nervous question from a shadowy corner of the terrified room, ‘FINE!’ to their ‘What’s wrong?’  thus creating a gale force wind in a confined space and sending everyone to the Fire Exit doors on winged feet. Everyone loses this way.  I who breathed fire am now extinguishing the blaze with copious salty tears and they are outside in the fresh air wondering what needs doing in the garden for the rest of the day, and still none of us knows what’s wrong.   If I had the courage to admit my failing, which is how I really see it, and to pre-empt the ‘what’s wrong’ question (one I deeply hate) by stepping up and telling it out, I would probably have been off on a lunch date by now.  Instead, I can hardly move in the kitchen for elephants and you, who were blasted forcibly outside, are now whistling tunelessly in a most irritating manner, one which will eventually make the whole thing your fault entirely. When someone comes to stay or just to play, they bring good intentions, as a rule, but they also wear their own lives about them, their own troubles and concerns, and if they have never learned to address them in private, to shake hands with each one and listen to what it has to say, these troubles and insecurities will spill out from the darkness and into the room at the most inconvenient times.  If a couple visit and he doesn’t like the way she corrects him, and this happens, her anger will rise and surprise us all.  Now she appears domineering and rude and he is upset and nobody wants to hear the end of the story which by now is quite forgotten.  The root of this lies in childhood, as it always does, and she thinks she has grown up and left childish things in the way back when.  If, however,  she took the steps to walk back in time, to find and recognise, admit to and release the way she felt when she was publicly ‘corrected’ (thus inferring she was a silly twit) it would never ever rise again. We are human and deliciously so.  We are awkward and clumsy in our loving, but life is not something that happens to us.  We happen to Life and therein we have considerable levels of control.  We know who we want to be, to whom we aspire.  We are all basically good people, kind generous-hearted people, but we are much mistaken if we think we can float through and be accepted warts and all.  If raising children requires the employment of intelligent energy and dynamic thinking, and if our jobs require the same to a different degree, do we not realise that our own self demands no less?   The wonderful thing about the inside and the outside of each one of us, is that when there is a mis-match, everyone can see it.  Whatever we might say, it’s who we are that speaks louder and with greater clarity. If we have done the inner work, really paid attention to our own face in the mirror instead of hardly bothering to look and expecting others to allow it, we won’t have to think about what to say next.   ‘Whatever is in your heart –  that is what will spill over.’ In my childhood, there was a woman who made out she was something she was not.  She made my mother feel frumpy and old-fashioned which could not have been further from the truth. Don’t mind her, my granny said.  She’s all fur coat and no knickers.’

Island Blog 57 – A New Song

Island Blog 57

 

There’s a young man that I know……

Well THAT’S bad grammar for a start!  It should read…….There’s a young man whom I know……..no…that sounds heavy and requires too much lip puckering. It also sounds like the plural of hummus.

I know why the songwriter chose to forfeit the English Prize – some words are really hard to sing in certain combinations, and it sounds different again when you listen back to it through a fancy recording thingummyjig.

We were writing songs, me and two professionals from Wild Biscuit, in a lovely farmhouse in the middle of nowhere.  There was a beautiful dog called Blossom, a bonkers horse with wild eyes that dashed by every now and then in a tartan blanket, ignoring any wheedles to come in for the night, and a loudly colourful pheasant from a hot country who (or is it whom?) appeared outside the kitchen door one morning and who now resides in the yard, fed on porage oats and leftovers. Swallows busied themselves with nest building and chattered me awake in the early mornings.  I watched a dipper on the pond and heard the Bark Chorus from the kennels across the valley.

Everyone knew this place already, but I didn’t.  My bed had soft white cotton coverings, and there were daffs from the garden in a little vase.  I sat down with my writings and John said Pick a line, so I did.  ‘Hey did I get here early?  I see you’re packing up the car.’  and we were off, me with my pencil and he with his guitar and recording thingummyjig.  When Mags came in to see if we wanted coffee, we already had the bones of a song in shape and my sore throat had quite forgotten itself in the excitement.

It was the same the next morning.  Only this line was ‘Sometimes I feel beautiful, easy in my skin,’ because I do sometimes, and I did that day looking out this time on sunshine and promise and that bonkers horse shooting by to interrupt my reverie.   By mid-afternoon we had two songs down, and harmonies and different instruments that rose into place with the push of a button.  I loved losing myself in the music, singing into a microphone for the first time in years, hearing the reverb and the feedback and remembering to free one ear so I could hear my voice in real time as well as the enhanced one, that sang me like a boy in a cathedral, with those high ceilings and big echoes and time standing still. There was even  Photographer Bill to capture the magic of all this creativity.  I gave him a copy of Island Wife and he said he would write his own story one day.  Shame, I said, you can’t photograph sound as I scrambled through another verse sounding like a donkey.  The next day I would be horse.

It’s a beginning, which is why we call it the ‘Imagine Sessions’. I am already writing a third song in my head and listening back to the cd I brought home of the first two, to think more on rhythm, beat, musicality, harmonies and lyrics; to practise, to lift a word clean away, or shift it, or lay down a new one altogether.  And the cough has nearly gone, for on mental tiptoe I can reach the high notes again.

A new door opens and I am stepping through.

Island Blog 56 – Half-Remembering

Island Blog 56

 

Rising from a dream I bring half a name from another world.  One half of a name is no use to me, not lying in this bed with morning singing at me in blackbird.  I try to reach back to find the other half, but it is too late, the gate has swung shut and I am on the outside of the dreamworld for another stretch of daylight hours.  When I resume this position later on tonight, it may be another door I go through and that half of a name will be waiting for a girl who won’t show up.

Not this night anyway.

All morning I try to remember, as I go through the daily round of husband-dusting, dish washing, floor cleaning, blog writing.  My head is full of daylight things such as What’s for Lunch and What time is it and How do I upload photos from my fancy phone with orange surround and a tailor made screen cover to cover the screen?   From time to time I remember that I am trying to remember a half-remembered name, and then, like dust, it is gone again, breaking up into tiny motes and landing in someone else’s eye.  I can’t see it any more so I should probably give up.

But I don’t give up easily.

That name belonged to somebody, somebody that played a part in my dream.  The fact that the dream itself never travelled the distance from dreamlight to daylight doesn’t seem to bother me at all.  It’s the name I want.

Who was it that tried to come with me as I journeyed between worlds?  And why does it matter so much?

As I fed the birds this morning, in a warm spring wind, I asked the sheep if they knew, but they just stared, mid-munch.  I don’t suppose ‘mattering much’ is easily translated into sheep.  A bit long-winded and fancy when all you ever say is ‘Baaa’.  To be honest, I would have fallen straight into the corn barrel if one of them had said……How interesting……let me give it some thought.

All afternoon I look out at the hills, the cloud shadows moving across their winter flanks, in search of inspiration.  I watch the gulls spin over the rumpled sea-loch and hear their cries, not one of any help to me.  The washing machine whines in endless circles, but there is no answer there.  Gradually, the half name dwindles and I fear I will lose it altogether, so I write it down on a snatch of rough paper and fix it with a sea stone, garnered from a jewelled shore after high tide.  Perhaps I think the stone will stop it blowing away, this half name.

I read it out.  Means nothing to me, makes no sense.  I feel no tug from any harbour in my mind and I know I must accept that this name has no desire to be found.  Not yet.

Soon it will come again, the dreamlight, when candles can be lit and the wood burner coaxed into soft flames and I will sit beside them all, and watch their echoes dance across my wine glass.

And I will wonder if this night will lead me back to that same door, behind which a half-remembered name waits for me.  Perhaps, this time, with a face.

Island Blog 55 – Islands

Island Blog 55

This bank holiday whilst the whole world basked in barbecued sunshine, we took on the rain.  We’re nice like that up here on the west coast.  Our coats are shinier and fluffier than everyone else’s and our skins softer, more luminous.

It’s the rain what does it; that, and the lack of hectic streets and hypermarkets and flat-down pavements so you don’t trip over.  Our pavements are all wonky, because the land is wonky, although in the nicest possible way. We know how to get around things up here like big rocks and slip-down cliffs and difficult situations.

There is something lost in a life where all is perfect.  Wifi connections flow effortless as water and buses arrive on time. Supermarkets never run out of chicken legs on a Friday afternoon and the papers are delivered on time.  The smallest thing can throw a person, almost over backwards.  I’ve seen it with my own eyes.  A door is left unlocked, a school bag forgotten and you would find yourself looking round for an Apocalyptic Horseman.

I watch, in astonishment, this organised, orderly, efficient, calm person turn into a firework display….. and I want to say:

What on EARTH is the fuss about?  But I don’t.  It might be dangerous.

Instead, I go back to the people who make little fuss about anything much.  I don’t mean to imply we all live here under the lowest possible standards, oh no indeed!  Quite the opposite, in fact. But the approach to miniature disasters, such as catching the snake-winding bus into town and discovering on arrival that one is without purse, never seems to bring on a hissy fit, but, instead, a way round it.  There will be someone in town who will lend a tenner with a smile to go with it and a chuckle at how daft one is becoming as one ages, and someone else, again, to buy a frothy coffee.  Then, lighter laden that we thought we would be, we pop onto the returning bus, some hours later, to share the merry tale all over again with the other passengers. By the time we arrive back in the village, we are short on groceries and long on laughter.

Perhaps that’s the key.  Perhaps, although we live on an island, we are not islands ourselves. And before you say it, this has diddlysquat to do with location.  I remember finding just such teamwork in a block of flats in Glasgow.  Downstairs baked pancakes, brought them upstairs, and upstairs helped carry heavy shopping in and made a cuppa.  Mid-stairs was a bit distant, but we could hear her, all of us, upstairs and down, in her high-heeled boots as she marched over her wooden floors with many miles to go before sleep.

It isn’t that things come too easy that make us over-react when they go wrong.  It’s the fear we will be alone in facing it.

Island Blog 54 – All Roads Lead

Island Blog 54

 

I had arrived as a surprise.  My daughter met me in the hallway and we hugged and exchanged greetings.  A little voice from deep inside the house asked ‘Where is Granny talking from Mummy?’ and we both laughed, as did the little girl once she found me.

I could have been using skype as my road, or the house phone on loudspeaker.  Her last thought was that she would round the corner and find me standing there.

But there are many roads we cannot see, such as a span of years or a scene from the past.  We can only find a shape to those inside our imaginations, and no two imaginations will find the same route, although the destination is the same.

Driving Miss Daisy the other day, through the wintry  island wasteland,  I pointed out a wonderful stone formation, obviously man-built as support for the rise of a narrow track, that wound its way down towards the Atlantic shoreline.  There was not a drop of mortar holding it together, but only the skill of the dry stone builder.

We considered the time when this track would have carried man and his animals, and nothing weightier than a pony and cart loaded with hay or feed for the hungry animals. We could hear in our imaginations, the slow march of a day long gone by, the lowing of the cattle, the call of a ewe to her lambs, the odd shout or whistle of the shepherd, and the bark of his dogs.  For a moment we could count the day in hours, smell the changing seasons, according to the rise and fall of the sun, or the flow and ebb of the moon tides.

But our pictures would have been very different.

Sometimes in the clipping season, or when the ewes are brought in for dosing, the hill road from the little town grinds to a halt. The local shepherdess is gathering her flock and calling for them to follow her, through the open window of her truck.  Those of us forming an ever-growing snake are required to dig for patience as we lurch and stall in the wake of a hundred woolly legs. There is no opportunity to overtake, and no possibility of speeding up.

Some of us click our tongues and roll our eyes impatiently.  Some of us smile, knowing we have arrived in an afternoon where time is not the issue, and to hurry along would be to risk lambs becoming separated from their mothers. And we can notice, at this slow pace, the first buds on the heather, the marsh harrier overhead, the way the clouds change and reform into new shapes above the gentle roll of the hills.  We can catch the soft calls to ‘follow!’ as they float back to us on a breeze.

And we will all arrive at our destination.

In the end

Island Blog 53 – The Colour of Children

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In the night I listen to the wind rising up like an angry woman.  By 3 am she has bullied the curtains into a right state.  The snapping of upset floral chintz wakes me with a start.

Gunshot, I tell myself as I burst up from another of my apocalyptic dreams.  I had just been wandering across a dead grey wasteland, somewhere beyond Thunderdome, and looking for my children. I can’t go back to sleep to find them once I’ve left the dream.

The curtains lift out into the room exposing the window glass, but no light falls in, for this night is just plain black.  The only light, if I can name it such, sneaks up the stairs from its source- that disco ball of a mouse.

You would think, wouldn’t you, that shutting down my laptop would shut the rodent down too?  But nothing will persuade it into sleep and on it glows, red and blue, all night long, but irritating me a little less tonight, as it lights my way down the stairs and all the way to the kettle.

During the day we had visited a little school over the hill.  The sun was warm and yellow (well, maybe not warm) and the sky ice blue with scuds of snowy clouds as we climbed our way up, over and down the hill.  The little isles were still where we remembered them to be, but faded a little inside a veil of mist. Ewes with their bright white lambs, peppered the roadside and, behind a wonky fence, slow cows peered at us through long russet fringes.

Neither the island husband nor I had remembered to make packed lunch.

We spent an hour in the light bright classroom on little plastic chairs, discussing her plans to decorate a school shed with beach gatherings;  bits of fishing net, bits of rope, colourful plastic, shells and so on.  The children do many beach cleans during the summer and after a big tide, pickings are treasure for those who care to think so.  Ideas flew like swallows around that little classroom and we could just see how wonderful it would be, once we got beyond talking about it, of course.

The children came back from some outside adventure just as we were leaving, all breathless and excited, their cheeks rosy and their mouths full of chatter.  We watched them settle in their places around the wide tables.  The teacher introduced us, and explained the hut project, the abstract design ideas, the use of shape and texture and lots of colour.  I wondered if those little heads could imagine what we had imagined.

I burped ten times.  said one little girl a propos of nothing.

Green burps, she continued, then furrowed her brow.

No, not green………what’s that big colour Mrs Eden?

The big colour?  We were all wondering.

Big as your dad?  asked a little tousle-headed boy.

No, silly, she replied.  Nothing’s big as that.

As we drove back along the little winding road, sucking toffees to quiet our growling stomachs, we considered big colours a bit smaller than a dad, and we felt the awe of it.