Island Blog 147 If Not Now

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Today is Halloween and I already have a witch or two in my head, and if crossed, in my mouth.  Not a really bad witch, but one of those ones that knows her power and won’t take any messing.  I like her.  She is a tad unpredictable, but we work together pretty well in the main, perhaps because I am also a tad unpredictable.  Witches are really ‘storybook’ to me, I don’t do black magic at all, although the white ones are worth a second look. I pull them in and shape them up for whatever hurdles I need to cross on a daily basis.  My witches are humourous and feisty, clever and quick, kindly but firm, independent, solo, and able to lift above any situation with a switch of a wand.  They don’t sport warts, nor crooked chins, nor do they cackle unless it’s whilst watching the ‘bad’ guys fall into their own come-uppance, in which case, I cackle too.

My time on Skye was wonderful.  Every time I travel to new places, I meet new people and people fascinate me.  I watch them and I listen and I learn.  I stayed as a guest in a lovely home overlooking a sea-loch that raged and spat for days, driven mercilessly into a right stooshie by strong winds and heavy rainfall.  The rain travelled sideways, whipping into my face and grabbing the breath out of me.  It was hard to stand up whilst walking two lively spaniels whose main aim was to find rabbits and chase them, not possible whilst held firmly on a lead, but nonethless, their aim.  When we had the rare sighting of a car approaching along the single-track road, we had to bundle into the grass in a fairly undignified heap, the spaniels panting for breath and the blood cut off from my lead-holding fingers.  Waving was tricky, lifting just my hand and not a whole spaniel into the air.  I was treated like royalty and yet welcomed as part of the family and now I have new friends, new people to learn from, a new bond between us.  Just as an aiside, I belong to the Scottish Book Trust who can sponser such trips and I am always delighted to be invited anywhere in Scotland to talk about Island Wife, to sing my songs, to reach out to people who relate to my story, in book groups, libraries, or at any public event.  I know, shameless marketing!

Moving on…….

In every area of life, there are people.  Machines do a hec of a lot to assist communication, its reach and the speed of it, but we need people or there is no heart.  Talking of hearts, I believe hearts are inherently good, even when the outside of someone challenges that theory.  Nothing is black or white, we are all both, plus all those rainbow colours in between.  Of course, life can throw us from time to time, but none of us want to be remembered, or pidgeon-holed at such times, especially if the outside of us says different.  But we can and do define people, if we’re honest, by their behaviour on a certain day/week/month or year.  We may be asked to describe someone.  We may say…..well, she is very good at her job but dreadfully overweight.  Now why do we add that last bit?  Is it that we must balance a good thing with such an unnecessary comment?  It’s irrelevant to the profile of that person and, sadly, the one thing that will be remembered.  Her overweight is something she doesn’t like either, we can be sure of that.  I have heard such defining often and, to my shame, said nothing.  I remember one of my boys saying once ‘I wonder why we don’t stand up for each other’ and he is right.  Why don’t we?  Perhaps we don’t want to be the reason for any awkward feelings.  After all, we can just remove ourselves can’t we and think how judgemental that comment was and the person who made it.  It’s easier that way.  But aren’t we judging too by keeping quiet?  It has a name this keeping quiet thing.  Although we didn’t directly commit the crime, we affirmed it by omission.  We omitted to stand and be counted.  In this climate of not standing, we need to make changes.  I have a rule for myself.  If I wouldn’t say something direct to a person, then I won’t say it at all.  I can’t always manage it.  I am human.  But what I aspire to, and practice, will eventually become a habit.

We are all doing our best to manage our lives.  We fall, we falter, we stumble and we crack, but we are not china cups and we can mend.  Not one single one of us knows what it is like to live another’s life.  The saying that we should not judge another man till we have walked a mile in his shoes, is a good one.  Even living closely with another human being tells us little of what lies in their hearts, what dreams are shattered, what disappointments hurt, what shame or oppression has done to their sense of self.  Little choices make up our pathways, but we cannot all walk straight and tall if those pathways are not going the way we want them to.  We redress the balance as best we can, and it takes time to find the normal, sometimes a long time, often a long time.  If I have learned anything in my life it is that I am not an island.  Although I love solitude and am happy on my own, I still crave a warm smile when life feels like it’s wrapped me in chains and thrown a tsunami in my face.  Stopping to smile back, to ask How Are You? and to listen to the answer can lift me far higher than any job-well-done will ever do.  I may rush by you, Can’t Stop, and you may understand my busyness, and I may complete the housework in record time, but, I am smile-less deep inside and not lifted up at all.  Better, by far, that I dally a while with you beside the dried goods and coffees for a human encounter.  We are dead a long time.  Life is for us to live or it will carry on without us.

If not now, then when?

 

Island Blog 146 Travelling Light

suitcaseAs I pack my bag for the trip to the Reader Room on Skye, I meet all sorts of thought tangles. What to take, what not to take and in which suitcase. The big stripey one or the smaller spotty one? Both have noisy wheels and both weigh too much empty. I won’t need much, will I? Just jeans and tops, a warm jumper, walking boots, books, notes, wash things, face paint, a frock for the night, leggings. The smaller spotty one will do. Until it won’t.

Travelling light is a dream of mine, almost a passion. I want to be light and flexible, easy to move along please, to glide through doorways, over metal bridges without needing CPR on the other side. I want to fit into that space the huge-suitcased lumberers leave between themselves and the dangerous side of the pavement or platform. To scurry, hurtle, dash with momentum and forward thrust. I want to be at my destination before half of these goodly folk have reached the ticket barrier. I catch earlier trains that way, denying myself the takeaway coffee, the creamy bun. I don’t push or shove. I am perfectly respectful of the Overladen, but my constantly working mind maps out the fast route and my feet take me on. I don’t mind queuing at all and must be the only Brit who doesn’t. I just factor it into my dash to wherever I’m going, and speed up where necessary when momentum is paused.

Travelling light, I tell myself, is a state of mind, a decision. Taking too many changes of clothing, just in case, comes from a place of fear. Will I have the ‘right’ thing to wear? Will I be too cold or too hot? Have I the right shoes? All of this is dithering and arrives me laden, out of breath, hot, bothered, and with a load of unnecessary vestments, not one of which gets beyond crumpling itself in the dark depths of my suitcase. But we all do this dithering, if we’re honest.

When I first decided to travel light, it was to a funeral in Yorkshire. I just needed the gear for the church, and mufti. We said bye bye to the kids, minder, collies and cats and left Tapselteerie. It was coming into York that we discovered we had left the cases in the front hall. As our life had always been lived by making good decisions quickly in the face of adversity, we dived into a dress shop and bought this and this and that, then shoes, and arrived at the funeral with the labels still attached. Nobody cared. It was enough that we had made the journey.

The second time was when I went South for a different occasion, on my own. This time, I did have my lightly packed suitcase with me, too heavy even when empty, and handed it over to the nice Easy Jet steward at check-in. I arrived, my case did not. Mum and I dashed to Sainsbury’s, picked this and this and yes, shoes, and off I went to my date. Nobody cared. It was enough that I had made the journey. My case arrived home ahead of me, minus a handle, rendering it completely pointless.

It has happened since, the careful planning, folding, fitting into a small space, all that I think I might need, in case of shipwrecks, strandings, sudden invitations to a military ball, a funeral, a heatwave in October, that my luggage has abandoned me. I have always found a laugh in it, after my initial fish wife impression. I have borrowed clothes I would never buy, applied make-up all wrong for my small pale face, shared toothpaste, boots and even underwear, but, most of all, I was given the chance to find my sense of humour and to lean on it as my support. In the absence of things, I found people, and people can rise over things every time. It’s boundless, the human spirit, warm and strong and constant. Their handles don’t fall off, and in the main, they do what they say they’ll do, and much, much more.

But we forget don’t we, as we live out our lives as islands.  We think we must have everything we need with us, just in case.  We imagine, with horror, the disaster of being cold, or hot, or lost, or stranded, of our train/ferry/plane being late or worse, cancelled, and yet, in all of those circumstances I have found human warmth and friendship.  I have found team spirit, good attitude and kindness.  In times of trouble, we look to each other.  Sometimes we might consider doing that every day, troubled or not.  It might make us less fearful.  We might engage in sharing ourselves with others until it’s easy to do, natural, uncomplicated.  All of us are alone, but we can travel side by side.

Now I’m going back to fret about packing, about the ferry being cancelled due to gale force 22, the bus breaking down on the way north, and, finally, me arriving on the wrong day.

Island Blog 145 Standing on Wasps

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This is the time of year when our little home welcomes (not) a host of eejit flying things in search of food and warmth.  They find warmth sure enough, more than they bargain for as it happens thanks to our electrocution chamber, set high on the kitchen units.  It’s blue light bars are obviously very seductive and we often stop our daily round in response to the fizz and spark a fly creates when making contact with 100 volts.  We know when a wasp has made such a choice, because the fizzing and sparking goes on for yonks, backed by an appalling stink of burning flesh.  Sometimes the shock is enough to spin the fried creature to the floor and my bare feet must be careful not to walk on wasps.

I know this all sounds deeply cruel, but it is mostly pretty quick, although not for us with a good sense of smell.  Prior to the installation of this high voltage addition to the kitchen white goods, we were inundated with bluebottles, greenbottles and all other bottle-named egg-laying irritating summer visitors.  I could rarely leave any bit of food uncovered.  We don’t really understand why, as we don’t live next door to a chicken farm, nor are there horses in next door’s garden.  The house is kept reasonably, but not obsessively clean, and the kitchen bin is small and emptied often.

This morning, as I woke to the first frost of winter, white-laced fingers of cold stretched over Tommy’s field, I thought about making choices.  Yes, I know it’s a bit far-fetched to suggest that a fly with huge eyes and a very small brain could possibly say, with hindsight, that perhaps diving into the fire was not it’s finest decision, but, we could, for we have small eyes and a huge brain and thus decide our own fates, to a great degree.  I thought about all my poor decisions, and ran out of fingers.  Fortunately, I cannot remember them all, for there were many and will be more.  Thing is, we make choices based on not just the situation, but how we feel about it.  Sometimes it is mighty difficult to be objective in an assessment of those two uncomfortable bedfellows.  Assessing a situation, well, that’s okay, I can do that.  You may not see it the same way, but at least we both have something visual, something solid to poke at, to give shape and form and texture to.

But how we both feel about it, well that can change everything.  You might say I am wrong to feel the way I do, referring back to the situation, the physicality of it’s form.  Even if we both completely agree on how we see it, a different emotional response is inevitable, and those emotions are what guides our hearts.

Perhaps the key is to keep quiet and say nothing.  Perhaps this keeps us all safe from attack.  But surely, if I keep quiet and you keep quiet, how can we move on, with all those emtions racketing round our insides like trapped wind?  I don’t have an answer.  Many of my poor decisions involved speaking out, and thereafter spending whole days in regret, madly trying to pull the foot out of my mouth.

What we choose to say and choose not say is up to us each one.  Speaking out is an action.  I remember being urged by one son to ‘hear the words behind the words’ when I was raging at some comment aimed at me by Granny-at-the-gate.  She just said whatever she wanted to say, and I was sometimes in the cross hairs, but the real woman was a flaming marvel.  She was loyal, supportive, funny, creative.  A woman who taught me a great deal of things through her wisdom and experience.  He, my son, saw her words as one thing, I, with all my hang-ups and a deep sense of always slightly falling short of the mark, as another.  Without his view on things, I might have spent all week walking on wasps, whereas Granny-at-the-gate had forgotten it all by coffee time.

Back to the flying eejits.  Although I have killer white goods in my kitchen, I also have compassion.  If I see a flying insect caught in a spider’s web, I will leap up to free it.  I know, it’s ridiculous of me, especially as I am so fond of spiders.  I just hate to see anything trapped and struggling to escape.  I feel the same about humans, not that I see many of them caught in spider’s webs.

Compassion is the key here.  However differently we see a situation, however polar our emotional responses, if we have compassion, we can allow that difference.  The situation doesn’t change, but we do, and, in the wake of that change, we meet the peace of acceptance.

And then we can look up to the great wide sky of things once more, and move on.

unlike the flying eejits.

Island Blog 144 Cake Wrecks

 

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Okay so I fell out with my almost new mixer.  To be completely honest, it was mutual dislike at first sight.  You see, before this alien arrived in the tanned arms of Dennis the Delivery Boy, who left boyhood a wee whiley back, only nobody wanted to upset him by saying so, I had an old Magimix.  It had worked for the dangerous granny for years, even had a customised red gingham skirty drape made to pretty it up on the kitchen counter, and, for the life of me, I cannot think why I moved it on at all.  It was still working fine when I did, which makes it even more dreadful.  I generally never move things on at all.  They fall apart right here on my patch and are flung in the bucket, unless there are some attractive parts that might serve as bird scarers or dingle dangles for my mobile collection. On the rare occasions I have moved something on, it would have been something I no longer, nor ever would again, need – such as 8 inch platform PVC boots or tooth whitener (way too late), or perhaps a box for buttons marked Buttons which I never unwrapped, being an olympian button owner and requiring a school trunk at the very least for my supply.

This mixer and I growled at each other a lot.  I even resented the fat smug way it’s oversized bottom took up way more room than it needed forcing me to squash up my vitamin collection, spice and herb racks and the butter dish which now doesn’t stay in line at all, jutting out like a naughty dinghy in a race line up. Every time I walked past this disorder I felt cross.  I did try to make peace, at first, but the flaming bowl would never assemble without making a HUGE fuss and resisting any connecting with the launch pad.  ‘The motor will not work unless the bowl is fitted correctly.’  I know this.  I know this a LOT!  Finally we make some sense and the damn thing is correctly fitted and I am moderate to fair backing gale force 8 but, nonetheless, we are running and although very little is moving beyond the slicing blade, I am confident we will become friends one day, or, at the least, unhappy colleagues.

At least ten times, during what was a quick whizz in dangerous granny’s magimix, I must twist off the lid and free up the glued on cake mix from the sides.  Ten times I fit the bowl incorrectly, twist on the lid, turn the knob into a long silence (all the way up to 6), turn it back, twist off the lid and fit the bowl….well, let’s say eventually I get it right.  By the time I have added the eggs, and flour and gone through the whole gluey infuriating process again I have gone right off baking.  As the cake rises (probably in a temper) in the oven I wash up 37 pieces of a mixer I loathe with all my heart and re-connect it with its large bottom, cussing like an old fishwife.

After a reasonable cooling off period I try again.  Cake tins are empty throughout the land and folks are beginning to revolt.  Well, himself is, anyway.  I begin.  Nothing has changed.  This mixer has no shame.  Half way through the dreadful process the motor dies.  No correct fitting tactics work.  I am apre eggs and pre flour.  In other words, a sloppy curdled mess.  I make a decision.  Tipping and scraping out the yellow goo into a big bowl I march the offending mixer out to the wheelie bin and throw it in with all my strength.  I then march back to collect all the attachments, the dough hook, the meringue beater, the juice extractor, the julienne, if you don’t mind, plus all other disks and the instruction pamphlet in 17 languages, none of them English, and throw them in too.  Feels fantastic.

My next attempt at cake making, is ably assisted by my lovely neigbour who lends me his super duper Kenwood.  It purrs along, sounding quite in control and not minding much about being fitted incorrectly at all.  I turn the speed up just a tad, turn my back and turn it back again mighty quick at the flash, the crash and the smoke pouring from the motor casing.  Not only have I blown up my lovely neighbour’s super duper Kenwood, but I am, once again, half way through a cake.  I will have to make amends for this expensive disaster I know, at some point, but, for now, I must carry on regardless and not give up, however tempting that may sound.   I select a large glass bowl, pour in the mix,  grab my wooden spoon, flex my muscles (I kind of remember where they used to be) and begin to beat.  It’s flipping hard work, by the way and to think our grannies had no choice!  After one bout of fast battering, the bowl falls neatly in half, the falling half landing squarely on my bare toes and spewing floury contents all across the kitchen carpet. (Never go for kitchen carpet.  It’s got to be lino every time).

Now this is me – undaunted by such ghastlies.  I scoop the carpet-flavoured cake mix into a plastic bowl this time, adding the rest and beat on, quite admiring the red flecks of carpet and inspired to add cherries and almond essence for the hell of it.  It can hardly rise, this unfortunate.  It doesn’t, well, it does for a while, then sinks like it’s worn out putting on a face.  They said it tasted weird, but none was left over at the end.

My lovely neighbour was most understanding, albeit sad to think of a cake-less future.  I, for one am happy my cake-baking days are over, for I will not beat by hand again, and nor will I spend a fortune on a load of futuristic rubbish that makes a huge stooshie out of everything it does, or doesn’t do, and then dies when it feels like it which is just after you’ve thrown away the packaging and receipt.

Oh Granny (that’s my granny, not the dangerous one), how I wish I had never ‘moved on’ your lovely wedding gift of a Kenwood Chef with it’s clundering attachments, big sturdy bowl and great attitude!

Does anyone have it?

 

Island Blog 143 Own Hair and Teeth

 

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Just in case you are wondering if I’m still at sea, like half-way to Norway by now, let me tell you it’s not true.  I have just been busy with lifey things for a while and somewhat strapped for words, but as I tootled back north the other day after a lively visit to my old ma, I heard them all (the words, that is) stomping back into my brain like old and welcome rellies.  Now there’s a thing!   I captured a lot of them on paper, laying them down word by word and I swear I heard them all sigh with relief.  When your words take off like that, it may not have been entirely their fault.  If anyone, or anything feels neglected and unloved, then I don’t blame them for pulling on their stout boots in search of alternative warmth and friendship.

The down south bit was fun.  I was reminded of delays, of queues and of road rage, of warm locals filled with locals, a merry fire blazing in the grate and good hoppy beer on tap. I became re-aquainted with the red and green man who tells me when I can cross the road, saw babies in catwalk clothing being propelled along in buggies the size of small cars, of business women in heels and pencil skirts, with strident voices and sassy black ear pieces, talking to themselves, not an anorak nor a dither among them.  I wandered through supermarkets sporting foreign sounding pulses, sauces and I marvelled anew at the down south size of parsnips, pidgeons and farm machinery.  Even the brambles are huge which is why they’re called blackberries.  Down south, brambles are those sharp things that tear your stockings when you take short cuts home.

I made friends on the trains.  I say ‘trains’ because to get to Norfolk is not for the faint-hearted, not on public transport. Four trains to get down and four to get back and by the time it was over I was well-practised in minding the gap and in avoiding those delightful old darlings who hump their suitcases onto the platform and then stop dead to pull on gloves or to re-arrange their scarves, causing a massive pile up and not a little tutting.

Annie and Damien were (and probably still are) a delightful young couple on their way to a relative’s wedding plus a few family visits.  I knew Annie was going to be fun when she said, as she reached up to the luggage rack, and her flat, firm midriff was revealed, that her granny used to warn her that her kidneys would fall out.  I told her that’s exactly what I was going to say and we were firm mates for 3 hours from that first chuckle.  Of course I gave her the lowdown on island Wife and of course she said she would Google me.  Ten years ago that would have sounded insulting.  Now it’s something to be proud of, the fact that you are Google material at all.  I was sad when we said goodbye in Peterborough.

My next new friend was on the journey north, two fine young men (everyone’s young to me) en route for a presentation in Stirling.  At first, they sat opposite each other, squashing me and a very charismatic pastor against the window, until we established between us that they were going to have to keep whizzing the laptop round in order to complete their work, which would drive me and the charismatic pastor nuts long before Ely.  I swapped seats and then started chatting, which wasn’t all that kind or sensitive, as they had work to do, but they were gracious enough to indulge me as we swapped life histories, zip folder sized.  One of them South African John was most intrigued about the Island Wife bit and instructed his wife, via text or whatsapp or something, to Google me too and then to buy the book.  I hope their presentation went well.  I was rather sad to see them go too, even if it did allow me and the charismatic pastor to spread out a bit.

Growing older is not always fun.  My old ma is pretty tired of waking up every day to the same number of hours alone.  Most of her friends have sailed heavenwards already and those that haven’t might do any day, even if they do still drive and play scrabble like champions right up to the cocktail hour.  However mum still jokes with the postman, milkman, paper boy, delivery man, etc and they all adore her.  There she is, this silver fox, with a ready chuckle in her mouth and smart as you like when off to see a movie (only she calls them films of course).

What I love about the little train from Glasgow to Oban is that I know all the guards and trolley dollies.  I also find most endearing (and seek it) the station announcements that are always a station out.  As we pull into Crianlarich (where this train divides) the nice woman tells us we are now arriving at Gairlochhead, astounding anew the visitors who look around a lot and stare hard at the station sign just to be sure.  She, the nice woman, has been getting it wrong for months now and nobody official seems to mind or notice.  The trolley runs out of sandwiches in the summer, ever single summer, long before 2pm and those who lingered over a glass of French red regret it for miles.  Those of us in the know purchase our baguette or our meal deal in the station and some of the older ones (including me) get up early to make our own. What I don’t like about our little train is the state of the WC (I refuse to call it a toilet, having rebelled against the word somewhere in my teens as it sounded way too grownup and proper), although WC is pretty ridiculous if you think about it.  Water Closets date back to Victoria Regina and she’s long gone.  On trains down south some eager official sorts out the loo at regular intervals, but this is obviously deemed unimportant or ‘not my job’ on the west highland line.  On a friday evening, it is actually dangerous to need a pee beyond Taynuilt, going either way.

Going back to the growing older thing, I find I rather like it, even if I do have to remind myself when leaving this train, with all my belongings, not to stop as soon as my feet hit the platform.  People are getting heavier these days and a collision might land me in A& E – or them, but either way, it would, or could, be messy.  When someone hears my age, they always tell me how young I look, and I don’t want to hear that.  I know I am an OHAT woman (own hair and teeth) for now, but I am proud of all those years at the back of me and if everything is about looking young, then does this mean I am more seriously OTH (over the hill) than I already thought?  Is being older a bad thing?  I hear so many folk say they don’t want to grow old, but they are saying this through pert lips and still with the ability to run for cover, whereas many of us need to bring our own because the chances of finding it (cover) let alone being able to run for it, is way in our past.

In Sainsburys, that massive animal with every conceivable foodstuff couched in its belly, I bought, without specs, a seed mix.  When I sprinkled it on my morning muesli and poured on the half fat milk it turned brown.  On further investigation (specs on) I discovered the seeds had been roasted in soy sauce.  I laughed and laughed and ate it all.  This is the fun of growing older.  Let not this cup be taken from me as it has so many others, for I will cause mayhem for as long as I possibly can, whether I intend it, or not.