Island Blog 90 – Mindfulness

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I just walked down to the shore to cool off the little dog after a surprise afternoon of hot sunshine.  I just hope it will come again tomorrow for our Island Show, although it will make the cows, horses and sheep overly hot in their judging pens.  It is quite a sight, all those scrubbed beasts, polished to a high shine, captured together on a small field just above the shoreline.  People, even now, are scrubbing and polishing and not just the beasts, but also the hens and cockerels, the dogs, the artwork and the produce, although I’m not sure you can polish a cauliflower.  Judges from far afield are making their journey towards us, and families are planning a day out, making picnics, sorting sun cream and midge repellent and wondering when it will be best to arrive.

As we pushed through the tall bracken, the hazel scrub and all those wild flowers and grasses, I watched butterflies pirouette among the blooms.  Red Admiral, Painted Lady (my sort of girl), spotty ones, white ones, blue ones, I paused to notice their fragile beauty.  Well, actually their beauty isn’t fragile, but they are, and yet still they breed and multiply year after year to lift our hearts if our eyes are only looking.  I watched two in a game of chase and laughed out loud as they tumbled into the dense foliage.  Ladybirds, red ones and black ones with white spots, whizzed from leaf to leaf and overhead an eagle slid across the wide blue sky.

Arriving on the rocks, we startled a pair of curlews, who lifted into the warm air calling out in alarm.  I hear them calling all the day, but rarely get this close.  Perhaps they were feeding on the mussels, if, indeed they eat mussels.  I can hear families of greylags chattering to each other and the sound of cockerels, not being polished, but just competing with each other as men always do.  The echo of their calls bounce back at me, for there is a great echo here and it distorts sound so that sometimes one thing sounds like quite another.  Two cormorants fly lazily overhead on their way out to sea and a lone canoeist moves along the coastline towards me, his bright turquoise paddles as vibrant as new paint in the sunlight.  Behind me, the whin bushes pop their seeds in the heat, sounding like a boy in the bushes with his cap gun.  The rowan is turning, the witch’s tree, and the red is the colour of new blood, although soon it will darken as each fruit matures and then it will heavy the branches, waiting for the redwings and thrushes to fill the sky with a whirl of wings and chatter as they fly in to garner Nature’s Autumn larder.  The smell on the sea breeze is of seaweed, salt and within its invisible flow I can hear voices of others, from far-off lands, and it matters not one bit that I don’t understand it.  It is enough to know it is there, and that I can take it with me, all of it, as I wander back home again a different woman.

In my younger days, caught up in the to-do lists of the day, I might not have given all this magical beauty its due attention, for it is not that they are all there that fills us up, but that we notice them, mindfully.  These days I find myself stopping often to breathe it all in, to notice and to watch and to marvel at Mother Nature in all her abundant glory.

Last year at the Island Show, I watched those who had entered their animals to be judged.  I felt the flanks of a highland heifer, her coat brushed and shining and it was as soft as baby hair under my fingers.  As they are led around the ring, I could see the flat backs, the good distance between the back legs, the handsome heads and proud gait of each beast and I felt admiration for their owners.  We never entered anything for the show in all our years here, but I honour those who do take the trouble and care enough to make the effort.  Each judge takes time to make their choice of winner, and I honour them too.  I stood to watch the iron worker creating his filigree rolls, effortlessly, ran my fingers over the mosaic on the mirror frames, all the while marvelling at the care and concentration that had gone into each and everything on show.

Mindfulness.  People who care.

In a busy life it is easy to stay indoors.  Not just inside the house but inside our small lives and never to reach out, take a risk, make an effort to do something different.

I once visited an old house on another island, a small one, not rich looking at all, until I walked inside.  There, in every corner, lay beauty.  The cushions were not new, but recovered by hand in an patchwork shout of colour.  The table, old and wonky, was laden with jars of home-made jam beneath brightly coloured waxed material never bought in any shop.  Hangings and drapes were made of blankets, to keep out the winter chill, and decorated with fabric paint and adorned with shells and driftwood bits and pieces so that drawing them at night meant music.  Wherever I looked I saw effort and mindfulness.  The owners had little cash to buy their furnishings, but it obviously didn’t stop them.  It was a welcome in itself and one I won’t ever forget.

We can all make beauty, if we have a mind to, regardless, either of our circumstances or the government currently in power and it has nothing to do with whether or not we are ‘good’ at this or at that, and everything to do with effort.

Island Blog 89 Wav-er-ing

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You know the thing where people ask……well is it THIS or is it THAT?

Well I think that question is limiting, for, although there is, indeed, a THIS and a THAT, there are miles of wasteland in between just waiting to be claimed.

I don’t mean that when asked, Would you like tea or coffee, you can step into this wasteland.  I know people who do it, mostly women, and it drives me bonkers.  I want to yell at them to make up their minds before the kettle water settles and begins to cool, and, by the way, I didn’t invite you for a week.  I have dithered the same way myself, and the reason I believe it is mostly a woman thing, is because we have not allowed ourselves to be decisive.  Decisive is for our men and we have no place being so outrageously forward.

I can hear the young women murmuring dissent.  And hallelujah to that!  But, I speak from my 60 yr old mind, one born in a time when those of us who decided to be ‘different’ from our fellow females, gained labels.

In a primary relationship – oh for goodness sake, let’s forget trendy counselling lingo and say it like it is – in a marriage (or equivalent) there is plenty of waste ground, and it is often wasted. All ground is waste ground until somebody develops it.  When two strangers decide to hook up and stick, with almost no knowledge of what it will be like to live together, the initial period of time is often pregnant with gifts of demonstrated love.  Tenderness and compassion, unselfish acts of generosity, use of the communal car, allowance for mistakes, dinner dates and thoughtful gifts may allow each one to think they had stepped on board the glory train headed for heaven.  This is it.  My soul mate.  No effort required.  Just magic.

And then real life, having been kept outside the door with the wellies and the dogs, sneaks back in and pulls up a chair.  And thank goodness it does, because now we begin the work of learning how to share our own selfish life with another who, by the way, doesn’t agree with a whole lot of things we thought were without a single flaw, and therefore, the right way to be.

If this makes us unhappy, we now face the waste ground and, as I said before, it is not dangerously peppered with mines, as we may have been led to believe, but empty and fertile and longing to be claimed.

Tempting thought it might be to scurry back indoors, to allow the other to make the rules and therefore to define us by exerting a stronger desire to lead, we are doing the relationship no favours by folding like so much material.    This, again, is more of a woman thing in my experience and it is not through lack of character that we fold, but because our natural longing is for peace.  We think that, by becoming part of the wallpaper, we are achieving what our men want.

We are wrong.  But how to change things?

Well, we don’t.  Change things.  We change ourselves.

One day we do something different, with gentle grace, no teeth, no claws, no accusations, no bitterness.  We just quietly take action.  I can’t tell anyone the what or the how, but I can promise it works, in time, albeit with many false starts and plenty of self-doubt.

I remember when I decided to go to art school.  It was thoroughly inconvenient, not least because my interview was on Monday and the first class was on Wednesday.  I had no spare cash, no car to drive the distance to college, and no pencil case.  I spoke to a friend who knew of someone selling a little car, saw it and had just enough to buy it.  By Wednesday morning I was ready.  No, I wasn’t, I was terrified of everything.  I drove the whole way in third gear and almost along the grass verge.  But, as I claimed my own bit of wasteland, day by day, things changed.  Resistance mellowed, confidence grew from its tiny seed, colour and movement, texture and composition, a new ritzy rhythm beat in my scared heart.  And the wasteland is wasteland no more.

Island Blog 88 Flying High

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I am just back from the Island Wife Book launch at Waterstone’s of Oban.  Arriving off the 5pm ferry yesterday we arrived to such a wonderful welcome from Ian the manager and his lovely team who had laid out a table of drinks and nibbles and a room full of chairs, some of which were already filled with people, just waiting for me.  A few, I knew, most I didn’t.  There is a strange buzz about that.  These people had planned to be there just to hear about me and my book.  It is humbling.  Gillian, from Hodder publishing was there too, full of twinkles and enthusiasm and utterly professional, as always.

I was introduced and then began to talk about how and why I wrote the book, my story.  I want to say so much, all of it with a thankful heart, for it is one thing to live a life, and quite another to have it lifted into a new sky by my publisher Lisa Highton of Two Roads and all at Hodder and Stoughton.  Then there is another step, when the book is printed and bound and then another when it turns into thousands of paperbacks, boxed and already being unpacked and displayed in bookshops all across the country.  People who never knew me, do now, although I will only ever meet a few.

I read an extract from the book, the chapter called Isobel the Hen.  Isobel was named after a wonderful friend whose impersonation of a hen laying a football made us laugh every time.  She could also play the whistle and the guitar and did so often for me to sing to, after a long and busy day looking after guests, farm animals, cleaning cottages, taking visitors out to Puffin island (my name for it) or to watch for whales and dolphins.  She came to us, as they all did, on a new breeze, rolling into our bonkers family life and joining it without a seam.  After she left us, she took up flying (well, she would….) and sadly made a bad choice one day as she tried to gain height, and failed.  She died in the pilot seat, which was where she would have been most happy.  She loved the sea and she loved the sky.  She taught me so many things.  Her ability to laugh at life when hers had been far from easy, turned my spoilt little head, and she would always find the humour in whatever drudge we shared, with a sharp wit and an eye for mischief.  She gave our guests naughty names, such as Lady Widebutt and Mr Puffnose and when two very small people from Ireland arrived, they became the Hobbits.  I really had to fight to call them by their correct names, and often caught the wrong name behind clenched teeth, and only just in time.

I cannot say that my life has been a solo thing, that I am who I am because of me, because it wouldn’t be true.  The people who came to visit us over all those years and who stayed, for a day or for months, even years, changed me.  And it is the same now, in this new sky, as I lift on wings I never knew I had, with new horizons, new friends, and a new song in my heart.

I take nothing for granted.  I am only so very happy that this book, my life, out there now in the world, can lift others as they catch sight of their own lives inside the pages, and believe that  even if this life may be our only one,  it is such a gift.

And it is teamwork.  We are not alone, because we have each other and every one of us can fly.



Island Blog 87 Dancing on the Edge


Today I am dancing.

Yesterday my almost new microwave stopped waving back and I was momentarily arrested in my dance moves.  Things should work, I said to myself, however cheap they might be, and this little machine was cheap.  But, if something is created, and packaged and marketed, it should make no difference at all how much or how little it costs me.  You get what you pay for was a comment from someone and I thought about that a bit, and then found my retort.


If I, in good faith, agree to a contract, which is what I do when I purchase a thing from another person or company or whatever…. inside that contract, written or not written is a promise.  If I find a bargain, for want of a better word and buy it, am I risking disaster because it IS a bargain?  I don’t think so.

Anyway, I contacted the seller who was extremely apologetic and who has already organised a replacement.  So, they didn’t expect it to fail, this little, cheap microwave, now did they?  And nor did I.

Moving on from things, to people………

In every area of my life, I make contracts with other people.  It may be that I agreed to sell raffle tickets for the local agricultural show, or that I said I would pop in this week.  I might have a pheasant called Robin who expects me to throw him grain of a morning, or a cousin who needs to hear my voice as she faces illness and fear.  I can’t be everywhere at once, but I can be somewhere and I can organise myself quite easily to complete my contracts if I take my eyes off myself and point them out into the world.

I have said, in the past, I don’t have time.  Now I wouldn’t allow those words out of my mouth, because it is nonsense.  We all have the same 24 hours in a day.  What I am really saying there is that I am too self-absorbed to take stock and reorganise myself.

When I was young, I danced every Saturday at a local dance school.  Ballet, Modern, Character, Ballroom.  I gained certificates, although heaven knows where they are now.  It doesn’t matter.  I know they once existed and that, apart from the bits I didn’t like, I loved to dance.  As I moved through my life, my footwork got a bit rusty, but what I realised is that I can still dance in other ways.  I can dance through a Saturday changeover, or when baking a cake, or when talking to a seller about a faulty microwave.  Instead of dragging myself along, I can rise on my mental toes and hear the drumbeat of my heart as I move through the ordinary.  Once I begin, my own voice lightens up, my laugh begins to rise and sparkle, and my eyes see only good things.  And, as we all know, Good is always brighter and stronger than Bad.

Once I have practised this a bit, feeling, possibly, a tad foolish at first, I will find it more and more natural, until one day I find myself dancing on the edge of ordinariness with a wild music playing in my heart.  Still feeding Robin the pheasant, still baking cakes, still making a call, or selling raffle tickets, but there is a difference and it is nothing to do with circumstances, and everything to do with the dance in me.

Years ago I had a dream that I would walk by a Waterstone’s window and see my book presented there.  I hadn’t written a single word, nor chosen a story.  Today that dream is in my hands.  Today is the launch of the paperback of Island Wife, my story which will now be sold in big shops and small shops, ferries and visitor centres, both here and abroad, and you know the best thing about all of it?

That through reading my story, someone else may catch a glimpse of themself, and be inspired to put on their own dancing shoes.