Island Blog 86 A Big Stretch

Island Blog 16 (1)



In the early hours of this morning, I wake.  It isn’t night and yet it isn’t day, not quite, although a weak light through the curtains tells me that it will be soon.  I check my clock with my little torch.  3.30 am.  In an hour, I will hear the sparrows in the creeper begin their chattering and the neighbours cockerels, sounding a little gagged from within the thin walls of their wooden huts, will begin to greet the morning.

I stretch and can feel the familiar cramp begin sort of half way down.  This time, I let it come, but it rises too high and I am forced to shift and bend my knee until it ebbs away.  I lie thinking of how I need to stretch, and not just my limbs, but my mind too.

As folk gain the weight of age, I notice many stop stretching.  We’ve done our stretching, they say.  Now we don’t do that any more.  And they begin to compress and to rust.

Although our bodies have the most wonderful capacity to repair on a day to day basis, we do have to work harder to stretch, to keep supple, but we also must understand that our repair mechanism will never be as efficient as it was when we were 30, or even 50.  And why should it?  Bodies break down, of course they do.  Not one of us can live for ever, and our own aging process is just the way it is, for us.  Some are ‘lucky’ some are not, but we all must face it and accept it with grace.

However, and I always have plenty of howevers up my sleeve, this is not the same with our minds.  These hidden computers can kick ass long after our bodies, and this is where we must sustain the stretch mechanism.  We must oil it and work it, love and cherish it, make it new every morning, no matter what.

When I face something I don’t want to tackle, I am sorely tempted to push it away.  Nobody would judge me for that, or even know, or perhaps, even care, but I would, and there’s the rub.  Is it just me who thinks that to stretch is to reach, or, at least, to try?  Not to stretch is not to know and then to wonder and then to regret.  For me, anyway.  I don’t want to waste a single moment.

As a young woman I thought I would live without effort.  I don’t mean that life was without effort, quite the opposite in fact, but I spent no time bothering about my physical or mental demise.  Nowadays, with two close friends gone too soon and too young, I understand both the fragility of life and its strength.

And its strength lies in my control to a great degree.  Not by re-action to whatever life sends me, but by action.  Not ‘waiting to see’ but watching and grabbing everything that comes along with a can-do attitude, even if, after trying, I can’t do.

I think, in answer to a recent question, this is how self-confidence grows.  Not because I am brilliant at this, or at that, but because I gave everything, every single thing, my best shot, and each time I do, I feel good about me.

And then, if I miss the target completely, I can laugh at my failure, because nobody minds and nobody remembers it.  What they remember is that I made that stretch.

Island Blog 85 – Coming Home

2013-07-25 09.56.40When I go anywhere I take me with me.  Now I know that sounds, at best, numptyish, at worst psychotic, but I don’t mean it physically.  It is obvious on a human level that I am pretty much stuck with me till death do us part.  But the natural desire to escape my inner self, that part I cannot see, can sometimes overwhelm.

No-one admits to it of course.  Well, it is possible to keep this tricky creature well and truly hidden, and for a whole lifetime if I so choose, which I do not.  As I ‘open my heart’ to someone, I let them glimpse into my very soul.  Sometimes it really helps.  Sometimes I regret it.  I can feel trampled.

As I skitter about the country on this new adventure, I can feel as light as a bird, catching a ride on the thermals, soaring through the clouds and into wide new skies, or I can feel like a desert tumbleweed with sand in my eyes till I’m blind.

What I have worked out is that it has less to do with whatever I meet on my journeys and everything to do with how I feel about me.  Not in a ‘will I be good enough for them? sort of way, but more…’will I be good enough for me?

For it is always me who judges me, and my judge has a knife for a tongue.  When I meet new people, they don’t hear my judge.  In fact, if I was to tell them what she thinks of me, they would laugh out loud.

Now, if I, with all my confident energy, who can write, paint, sing and dance my life…..if I am still trying to co-ordinate the inside with the outside of me, in my final trimester, what on earth is it like for the rest of the world? And why is it we have this constant search for peace?

Well, I think it is what life is all about.  I don’t think anyone has it sussed, lives a perfect life.  I don’t believe in material wealth as the answer, nor academic brilliance.  Most of us don’t remember those who made no impression on our lives, and remember clearly those who, through struggle, did something different, made something happen.  These people, the ones we do remember had the same judge we all have.  Some people call it the devil.  Some people think it’s what they eat, or where they live, or who they live with, but I think we are all born with it all fankled up in our DNA and it’s quite impossible to hide from.

The good part of it tells us to be careful, to watch our step, to consider our actions.  In balance this is all good.  Out of balance, it becomes growing self-doubt, and, if we keep feeding it, it takes over our inner garden, rising high as weeds that eventually block out our sun.

What a waste.

Well….. I have said, What a waste to myself a million times and still crouched there behind the weeds, peering out at a passing crowd of confident others and snivelling into my pocket handkerchief.

Travelling through new lands I get time to think things through.  I never thought anything through for decades as there was never more than five minutes available for such indulgence.  But now, I can, and I do and its very exciting and encouraging, because I realise this.

It is never ever too late to begin again and I begin with one conscious decision.

To get on with it.

To thank the judge for her protective presence, but to take charge of her.  To listen, but to respond with confidence.  When she tuts and shakes her head and says in that ‘I know what’s best for you dear’ voice…..’You can’t do that.  You never did it before and got it right.  Just give up the idea and stay where you are…….’ I will stop, turn to her and say………

Just watch me!

And then I will spin on my sassy heel and step into my life.

Island Blog 84 – Surprises

helping hands


So I come down to the South.  Bears live here, and snakes, and dangerous people with sculduggery on their minds 24/7.  Even with my intelligent 60 year old head fixed atop my human frame;  even mindful of the fact that my imagination is more at home in Mordor than it ever is in the sleepy wolds of Great Snoring, I still hold onto the idea that a few miles south of Carlisle, everything goes to pot.

When I was a little girl I was terrified of the dark;  couldn’t sleep, couldn’t close my eyes in case the bad things came to collect.  And, of course, they were all after me.  Not her, over there, or him, the other way, but me.  Because why?

Heaven knows.

In my adult thinking, with the culture, of in-depth psychology infiltrating my every sideways glance, I imagine it is something to do with an overactive ego.  An elevated sense of my own importance.

Well, phooey.

Anyway, the point is that I came here into a strange place, with no natural leaning towards geography (was expelled from the class I seem to remember) or road maps, I have found my way all the way from the island to the recording studio and not one step of this journey was without help.  Oh, I didn’t stand at a crossroads and burst into tears.  Indeed not.  But, at each point, where I faltered and wondered, some kind person asked if they could help.  More than that, they walked the mile with me.

From car ride to guide, frome breakfast to supper, every single step.  I was not pushed or pulled. Just lovingly helped, and it looks to me like all these people do it naturally.

It is a gift.  And I never knew it was there, till I stepped out and opened my eyes.

Island Blog 83 Travelling

Most of the time life is predictable to a degree.  Not a huge degree, out of choice, for me, but there is something calming about a routine, until it becomes boring which is quite a different feeling altogether.  A lot of us, I notice, live alongside ‘boring’ doing everything we can to cheer it up into a fizzbangpop now and again, to add colour and texture with a weekend social or a new frock, or, more recklessly, a Wednesday dinner date.  For the rest of the time, we allow the long chain of endless weeks to pull us along in a sort of mindless stupor, our eyes searching the week-day gloom for a glimpse of the weekend- those two short days when we can really be ourselves.

It is hard to be myself in an uncomfortable suit, one that grabs at various bits of me whenever I sit down and overheats and confines me until I fear I might have turned into a lizard.  I must bow and scrape to those I don’t even like, never mind respect enough for any such bowing and scraping.  I must hear things I don’t want to hear, witness unkindnesses about which I feel I can do nothing, and, finally, at the end of this day, I must push my way home for a short rest, if I am lucky, before doing it all over again the next morning.

Now, I know this doesn’t apply to those who love what they do and have made their life into the right shape for them, but I really believe these people number few.   What they have done is to say ‘ How can I make life fit around me?’ and not ‘How can I make myself fit into life?’

Everywhere I go, when I see someone out of kilter with their work, their lives, I will ask them what they want to do.  Many will shrug and say they have no choice, are in too deep now, too committed with a mortgage or debts or schools or whatever, but I will challenge that.  It isn’t always a popular challenge, and I am not in the least bit surprised.  When a person challenged me, at a time when I was trying to squeeze myself into a life two sizes too small, I would flap them away as I would an annoying wasp.  And all because their questions touched me deeply, threw me off balance and into a black hole from which I could see no way out.

How do I go from here, where I don’t want to be, to somewhere else, when I can’t see my way ahead?  I don’t even know what I want to do, how to make my life fit me.  All my clothes are two sizes too small and I have no cash to buy more.  Nor do I want to admit the defeat I will inevitably feel when my friends challenge my crazy idea.  It just isn’t sensible.

How do we define sensible?  Is ‘sensible’ just a word made acceptable by the world we live in now?  A hundred years ago, the way we live now would have been considered completely un-sensible by every living soul.  So, which meaning do we choose to believe?

If I know anything now, I know that if a person lives with stress that leads to unhappiness, they will become unwell.  Learning to manage stress is saying ‘I am not important enough to honour myself and how I want to live.’

It takes courage to make big changes.  The fall-out can range from disapproval to downright rejection, but this blows away in time and is forgotten.  Whenever I find myself doubting on the shores of a new ocean, I remind myself of the time I walked away from work with no income.  I remember the reactions around me.

I also remember the smiles and admiration from the same people when I made myself a new life.

If this is the encouragement you need.  Take it.  It can be your truth too.

Island Blog 82 Light and Dark

Sunlight and Shadows

In the sunlight everything changes and not just the light, although light is always good.  But what about the other side of light?

Is it ‘dark’?

Well, I wonder…….

In the life I lived as Island Wife, and the short wifely part before the Island came to me and I to it, I learned about the circles.

Circles of life and death, or dark and light, of hope, humour, faith lost and found and lost and found and round and round we go again.

And again.

In the very olden times, long before Christ, long before me, people were here.  People who lived and loved and lost and found, just like we do.  In ancient times, ancient rites of passage, the circle of life was felt, sometimes sharply, sometimes like a warm and gentle breeze.  The taste of it was on every tongue, it’s sound in every ear as days, seasons, months, years and generations rose and fell and rose again.  Circles, carved into stones marked the way over mountains, through thickly wooded valleys and across wastelands.

Sometimes I meet a stranger and just know that his or her circle has just bumped into mine, overlapped, even, and we speak as old friends.  It has little to do with anything.  I may know nothing about them, nor they about me.  We may not appear to share very much common ground, nor life experience, and yet we both feel it, this connection, and we see it in each other’s eyes, as we touch on another’s very soul.

Coincidence, is a modern word.  Not one that any of our wise old, land/sea-living forebears would ever have felt in their mouth.  Minds knew little about their own mathematical design, but were honoured and accepted as a vital part of every person, from young child to old crone.  People were listened to and heard in the quiet sway of life’s sweet turning.

Oh, I am not saying life was a breeze, far from it, but inside any hardship a man or woman would take their place and work it for the best.  Music and dancing, laughter and conversation, sharing and visiting, all these played an essential part.  We, in this life, have crowded our heads with our own loneliness.  We have filled the air with raucous pings and beeps that drown out the birds.  We walk with headphones on looking straight ahead towards our goal.  We miss the ‘gentle.’

But, the good news is that we can change.  Not as a collective, but as individuals.  Wherever we live.  And, if our life is slowly taking us further and further away from all that we know we need, we can change it.

Trust me, I’ve done it.

One day years back, we arrived at the ferry a little late, a little fraught, our long journey in our minds and mine full of what I might have forgotten to pack.  The ferry was delayed.  Murphy was out that day, for we had deadlines, as the others in the big queue may also have had.  As we walked up and down the line of cars, we could feel the irritation, the frustration.  People sighed and tutted and kept checking their watches, their mobiles.  Suddenly, through the open window I heard a fiddle.  We went to investigate.  A group of musicians were playing a jig and people started to dance along the pier.  Car doors opened, people came out with their mouths open.

And we danced.  As the ferry rolled in, passengers lined the decks, smiling and pointing.

And us?  Well, we had become the music and, as we circled and spun, not one of us remembered the delay.

Island Blog 81 – A Different Day


One day I’m feeling like a snail.  Everything is heavy and troublesome and there’s a lot of can’t be bothereds hanging around the house.  It’s nothing to do with weather or the daily round or because there’s nothing in particular to look forward to.  I just wake up with it and it gets dressed with me and follows me downstairs.  I can feel it on skin, taste it in my mouth and, although I can and do distance myself from it by refusing to engage with it, or even mention it, it won’t sleep till I do.

The next is completely different.  I follow the same basic routine.  I’m not going to meet anyone for lunch, or to browse the shops or to have my legs waxed.  Nothing exciting at all, in fact, and yet everything is.  Today, it’s fun to plan – what to cook for supper, whether to walk now or later, or both, which radio station to tune into.  The cobwebs of yesterday, that hung like black reproaches between everything that doesn’t move, are all but invisible, and I didn’t move them.

When I walk, I almost dance along.  The flies still bazz about my face, but I don’t mind them.  I notice the trunks of the ash trees and think they look like giraffe necks with their polka dots of lichen.  Yesterday I wouldn’t have seen that at all.  Yesterday, they were just the same old trees.

Down on the shore I watch the flood tide rising ever so slowly, the meniscus line curving against the black basalt, trembling in resistance until the force of salt water behind it is too great, and I can hear it sigh in defeat, as it lifts another centimetre or two.  Then is does it all over again and will until the sea spills onto the land, claiming it for herself.   For another six hours, these shells, these otter-crunched mussels, last nights goose droppings and these bunches of thrift, now past their bloom, will disappear.  The sun-dried sea-weed will fill again with water, whereas now I can turn them to powder between my fingers.

I haul a broken ash limb to the side of the track, and stop to wonder why it suddenly parted from the trunk when there was no storm to tear it away.  I follow the tracks of the night creatures, the deer, and a calf by the looks of those little light hoof prints. I watch the triangular bees (they’re not bees, but they are definitely triangular) dip their long tongues into the vibrant purple blooms of the wild thyme.   I look up to watch as a group of noisy Shell Duck run all the way along the surface of the sea loch, their feet barely touching the water.  Where the loch widens, they sink into a gentle swim and grow silent.  Above the high water line, marked by deep deposits of blackened kelp, seeds of gorse pop like corn and, somewhere behind me, a bird dashes a snail against a stone until the shell finally  breaks.   A small fishing boat speeds in through the narrows after a fishing trip and, as the men sort the catch, a bicker of gulls dive and swoop for the scraps, upsetting the water, until all is gone and the sea lies down flat once more.

All is still again.

As I wander home, I can make no sense of the difference a day makes.

Island Blog 80 Acorns


Let’s say I have a dream.  Not one that requires a fairy and a wand, but  more like I’ve felt a change in the wind and I need to tighten my sail.  Oh, I’ll still arrive at the next shore in the end, but I could make all the difference to the quality of that arriving, if I made a correction or two.

Well that’s fine.  In the bag you might say.  After all, my big and agile brain has come to this conclusion.  I can just sit back now and watch it happen.


As the day begins I am a veritable bounce of good intentions.  I go about my list of tasks in the way I usually go about my list of tasks, but this time my step is lighter and my inner movie is definitely Disney.  I reel in the line of hours, wind them around my spool.  Done.

Ahead of me, I can see the old habit coming closer.  It’s part of the pattern, of course, so it will come closer and closer until it is right in my face and looking at me expectantly.

This is when I begin to tell myself that the whole commitment thing is pointless.  Who’s looking anyway?  Who cares?  I am still dashing along with verve and vigour, sails full, ahead of the game, aren’t I?

But I know different.  So how to make this change, that’s the question, and the answer is, baby steps.  I just need to correct my sail once, just once, and then to feel the shift and tell myself, Well Done!

Then, do it again the next day.

People we admire are always those who overcome themselves.  We all know what it is to be ‘ok’, doing away, not bad, and other such beige states of being.  We also, I think, imagine that those who overcome themselves, and therefore the mountains that block out their sun, are just lucky.

Lucky Schmucky.  No such thing.

You don’t get through to the Olympic team by luck, nor to Wimbledon, nor to the finals of The Voice.

What those ‘lucky’ people chose to do was to tighten their sails every single day and often during it.  They pushed themselves when others sat back in the sun with a pint pondering the meaning of life.  Over long lonely hours, they kept practising over and over and over again until they stepped out into the light with a Da-dah! and we all marvelled at their superhuman-ness, something each one of them would deny with a derisive snort.

I may not want to play at Wimbledon, join the Olympic team or sing on TV, but there will be something in my life I just know I want to change, if only that fairy would appear with her wand and make it happen.  If I do nothing, nobody will know.  But I will.  And when the fat lady sings, will I know that at least I tried?

We found an acorn and planted it in the woods, just pushed it into the soft peaty floor and moved on.

So did the acorn.  Now, it’s shade from the sun and shelter in a rain shower.

Island Blog 79 On Waiting


There is something about waiting that can create an internal chaos.

Waiting for a train or a flight.  Waiting for a day to come or a person.

Waiting for life to change, or start, or end.  Waiting for seeds to grow, for my turn to come in or to go out.  For guests to arrive or leave.

For a new baby.  For test results.

That last one has to be the worst.

I knew a very old lady, once, who had been a maid all her working life.  She was deeply proud of being a maid, and would make sure you got it right, the title right, if, perchance you got in a fankle over political correctness.  This woman had no time for such malarky.  Just say it like it is, she would say, wagging a bent finger under your nose.  Maid is maid, however you try to say it.

She used to name certain days, waiting days.  These days, for her, as a country girl, were usually connected with the weather.  A waiting day meant the sky was shut, the wind all blown out, everything just standing there or hanging there……waiting.  Of course, the weather matters a lot when your family are land workers, which hers were.  Whether to plant, of plough, harvest or lay out in rows to dry, all dependant on the weather, and if the weather was waiting for something to happen, it never explained what.  Could be rain.  Could be there was a kick-ass gale in the planning, just off stage and hidden from human view.  In her day, there was the wirless, but no fancy satellite information about high pressures over Iceland.  Just the local yokel out with his moisture meter – or his eyes looking up and his own gut feeling.

On her waiting days, she would do something.  Clean the silver (not her own) or pull out the beds for a good ‘doing’ or tidy handkerchief drawers, that sort of something.  Anything, basically, to fill in the waiting time, and, in the doing of something, she might calm her own anxieties.

We can learn from her.

If, whilst waiting, we focus on what we are waiting for, knowing with perfect clarity that, in doing so, we make absolutely no difference to the thing, but only serve to discombobulate ourself into a right stooshie, we might consider a different approach.  Of course, if the thing we wait for is scary and deeply buried in the underworld, such as the results of a medical test with an alarming set of possibles attached,  we will be unable to erase it completely from our thinking.  But the mind is quite easily led, I have found, and can be eased into a different place, at least for a little while.

I agree that giving the silver a clean, supposing we have any in the first place, or pulling out the beds for a good ‘doing’ are hardly exciting options, but that, I believe, is the key.  Dullard tasks can soothe our brilliant and dangerous minds into a calm humdrum.

It doesn’t take the worry away.  It doesn’t change the end result.  But it does ease the path from breakfast to lunch, from hour to hour, from Monday to Friday.  It won’t be a smooth one, nor easy, but when the demons trip us up and make us fall, the best we can do is get up and try again.

Island Blog 78 – Reality Check


I have sailed the seas in a ship made of diamonds

pearl coloured sails and the moonlight to guide

I have swum in the depths and played in the shallows

felt the child in my womb jump for joy in the night

but wherever I go, that’s where I’ll find me

there’s no running away.

For I always need to come home again

even if voices may beg me to stay.

When I write a song, I just let the words flow.  Nonsense a lot of the time, but this doesn’t bother me.  Nonsense never did.  What bothers me is what the world calls reality.

If I set off into reality, to scrub a bathroom, say, or plunder the veg counter in the local shop, I can call it whatever I want.  If it’s me, which I usually am, I will find faces among the brassicas and patterns in the legume basket.  Bananas are definitely grammar (( as are the full stops of blueberries, although the mushy ones could be commas.  In the bathroom, I can set up quite a rhythm with the loo brush around the bowl, and a serious counterpoint if I add the squirts of cleaner at just the right moment.  Over at the basin, there is a splendid piece of art going on with shaving foam droplets and toothpaste in a lovely concave composition, one I almost don’t want to wipe away.

Downstairs, the new washing machine having finally laid down moorings (I found the spirit level), hums and sloshes and the washing powder tin on the shiny white top, thrums a little to itself.  In the kitchen, I can whizz, chop, stir fry or simmer.  The fridge, faulty, bless it, but still going, hums and burps and emits sudden gurgles, much like a happy baby.  When the man of the house makes a sandwich, the floor takes on a wonderful speckle, that looks as if we had an early flurry of snow, and when the little dog laps her water, the spilled drops reflect the sunlight and sparkle like jewels.

On the line, the breeze pulls and pushes at the washing, slowly, at first and faster as the water moisture lifts back into the sky, whence it came, via the tank in the loft, of course.

I have flown as high as the geese and then higher,

burst like a seed through the hymen of space

I have watched a star explode into millions

new lights for the darkness, in patterns of lace

But wherever I go, that’s where I’ll find me

there’s no running away

for I always need to come home again

even though voices may beg me to stay.

lucky that.

Island Blog 77 – On a Wire

Bird on a Wire

Yesterday I decided to make the trip into town first thing, before the sun turned Miss Daisy into a hot chick.  I set off with my list, a short one, and Sula and my water bottle.  Fleetwood Mac exploded from the speakers and as I sped my way over the hills and round the bends, I sang along, my words whipping out of the open windows to startle Oni’s slow sheep.  They face another day of seeking shelter from the heat, poor things with their flanks heaving and their faces attacked by clouds of flies.  There was almost only me on the road, apart from an early harrier hunting in the heather and high high overhead, a golden eagle, lazy on the thermals, sliding across the sky.

In the harbour, the sea mist had erased all the boats.  Although the sun would soon burn it off, for now, the bay was mysteriously empty of all but the crying of the gulls.  Parking spaces were plentiful and I watched people in their summer clothes moving along the pavement, in and out of picnic shops, excited and smiling, with the sun twinkling their eyes.  Today, I thought, it is easy to forget bad weather, troubles, niggles.  Today, beneath the wide cerulean blue, we can all see the best in everything, even in each other. I met some people, greeted old friends, shared snippets of my life with them, as they did with me.

Weather affects all of us.  When it is bright and sunny, we smile and laugh and feel like we can take over the world, our own little one, anyway. When the cold bites our very bones and the rain threatens to dissolve us, we notice things we never bothered with under the warm sun.  Bad weather can be a synonym for the bad times, the times in our lives when we face demons, disasters, worries and fears.  The death of a loved one, the cruelty of unkind words; illness and despair, debts and doubts.  Bad weather.  These times come to all of us.  Nobody escapes them, but I have observed very different ways of living those times out, and I have wondered to myself……….does this person just have a natural ability gene, one that lifts them from despair, and, therefore, is it just a question of having this lucky gene or not having it?

I have decided not.

So what is the key?  Glass half full, glass half empty?  Yes, I know that one, but those whose glass is half empty rarely recognize it in themselves.

I believe that working through the bad weather times requires a certain attitude, one that does not expect life on a plate.  These people understand that bad times will come, and have learned not to take the good times for granted.  I am not talking about squirreling away bags of wonga for all those rainy days, nor any other form of holding on, but of quite the opposite.

Of letting go.

Of generosity of spirit and heart.  Of sharing both a feast and a famine with others.  Of a welcome in our eyes, whether sparkled by the sun or the rain.  Of giving and giving more, not materially, but of ourselves, our time, our compassion, our love.  And when the piddling niggles about who ate the last piece of cake threatens to bring back a storm of ancient grievances, we might lift ourselves onto the wire and look down on our little lives and ask ourselves this:

What will I be remembered for when I am wiped out like the boats in the harbour?  Did I shine warmly on others, enough to lift the mist?

I missed Jimmy Molloy as I drove out of town.  I remember him in the sunshine, his twinkle, his kindness, his cheeky remarks.  He shone enough to lift any mist.