Island Blog 168 Travelling Light


I pack my bag and in it I put……..

Waaaaaaay too much.  But, I pack light, remember?  So what is all this ‘way too much-ness’?

I know that I can borrow kit from my African daughter-in-law.  I know I can buy whatever I need in Hoedspruit, only a short drive from Dumela Lodge.  And yet, still I gather together too many articles of clothing in a frenetic sort of panic dance.  I might need this, oh, and this, and I forgot I even had this…………

Truth is I wear the same things over and over, so that, when travel looms, promising me a different climate and different vestal requirements, I am transformed into a tumbleweed.  My movements, thoughts and behaviour have me jitterbugging upstairs, downstairs, around corners and into the depths of my suitcase until I feel somewhat un-hinged.  It gets worse as the departure date moves closer, looming like a spectre with its finger pointing at me, me, the one who will be unable to go on safari dressed ‘like that’ and thus left behind to do the housework, a laughing stock.

I also have to clean my house, pack stuff for the dog sitter, make sure the notes for plant-watering, bird/fish feeding, fire lighting, TV remote, leak buckets if it rains, doors to close if a hurricane comes this way and so on and so forth and fifth and sixth and by the time I get out the door I am in dire need of therapy.

Next hurdle will be the Water Works which were due to commence in the village yesterday, only nobody showed up.  ‘Expect Delays’.  The big signs are there, and they tell me nothing about how long these delays might be.  Do we set off at 5 am for the 11 am ferry or the night before perhaps, or do we not expect delays at all, believing that it is all a hoax, based on the fact that nobody appeared to tear up the road yesterday as the sign promised.

Then comes ‘check-in’ and that X ray archway that rarely lets us through without a lot of beep-and-flash.  Suddenly, those things that lurk in back pockets and in corners of bags become lethal weapons and the cause of much embarassment as we hold up the 2000 people all trying to fly somewhere in the same flapdoodle as me, those who are even more flapdoodled thanks to me and my tube of lip salve. And all the time I am on edge, my teeth are curled, my indigestion sounds like new age percussion and my eyes are constantly scanning the list of flights for our gate because, and I can be almost certain of this, our gate will be 3 miles away.

I can be so very calm on behalf of another, so wise, so phlegmatic.  I consider this, and conclude that, although I am that woman who would gentle another into a smile around their imagined fears, I take my own very seriously indeed.  If another speaks of inner turmoils, I would encourage them to lighten up, but when I try that on myself, all I get is a Ya-di-ya and a return to the jitterbug.   My inner turmoil is not for turning.  In fact, it is determined to be certain that I will get it wrong, inconveniently, consistently, absurdly, predictably.

Fears like these are beyond ridiculous.  I know that, to be as prepared as possible is enough.  ‘Possible’ will happen with or without my fretting.  I am outwardly calm, but, like the swan, paddling like mad under the water.

And this is me being honest about something that always goes on, pre travel.  I am about to move into unknown places and situations (and clothes, because I never wear half of what is packed) and this is good for me.  This is new air to breathe, new sounds to hear, sights to see and, if I don’t have the right clothes I doubt very much that the elephants, leopards, lions, hyenas,impalas, rhinoceroses (or is it rhinoceri?) and brightly coloured birds will give a monkey’s.

Travel light, I tell myself and myself (now exhausted) cocks an ear.  In this life we never know what is around any corner, I say.  Laugh at life as you head into the unknown. Make preparation, pack light, eyes to the future, feet in the present.

Much better now.

Myself and I are off upstairs to unpack (again) and to refine our choice of content having thoroughly banished all ridiculous fears. All we need is a wash bag, 50 factor suncream, closed shoes and all the rest in neutral colours so that, if we find ourselves between a water hole and a thirsty lioness, she’ll think us a tree.

See…….told you I was wise.

Island Blog 167 Reason for Change

what love is

I am thinking much about change these days, about how it is both something we resist and something we cannot stop.  Our world is always on the move, requiring us to move with it.  It is the very nature of life to change.  Seasons come and seasons go, cultures adapt to new information, new members and if we as people of the world remain in the past, we will be left behind.  Oh, we might not feel like we’re being left behind, but we are.  Spouting off about the old days, how things are in chaos right now across the globe and it wasn’t that way when I was young just make fools of our intelligence.  We do have it, intelligence.  In fact, are we not the intelligent species, the one with a large brain, able to imagine, to think, to reason?

Fundamentalism is a dangerous ‘ism’ to be stuck in.  Adhering to old rules and regulations, to old beliefs and old working structures without considering the world as it is this very day, will always lead to exclusion, and exclusion only ever leads to war.  From inside the home to inside a country, excluding me because of who I am alienates me and that feeling of rejection will burn inside me like an all consuming fire.  It could break my heart, it could mean I cannot move forward either to a new place, a new chance, a new life.  It could paralize me.  At the very least it will tell me that the excluding body considers itself above me, the judge over me, even if I have much to offer, many skills and talents that could, if allowed in, benefit said body considerably.

When we apply for a job we are assessed on our relevant skills, our manner, our reasons for applying.  We are asked (I loathe this phrase) for what we can bring to the table.  All of this is fine and good.  But, if we are not offered this job because we are black or gay then this is very far from fine or good.  The same goes for membership of a club.  In so-called high circles (aka being born of old money and station in life) exclusion runs rife.  In the male dominated world of business (oh yes it still goes on) powerful women are kept at arm’s length, offered less pay, less high profile jobs and if this woman has come out and stands tall in her own skin, then the chances of her moving up the ladder are probably very slim indeed.  Even if the ‘boss’ doesn’t bother about her sexuality, then her work colleagues well might and the mutterings in corridors, the exclusion from get-togethers can break a person down more effectively than any refusal of employment.

In old school days, if you were left-handed you were forced to learn to be right-handed.  When I went for an interview as a mother’s help, I was quizzed on my O level results.  When I said I had 7 good passes including Latin, the smiles around the room turned my stomach.  I was young, but could still spot falsehood.  Needless to say I turned the job down. A friend applied to join a rowing club, but was refused.  Later he discovered it was because he was gay and hadn’t concealed the fact.

I wonder about us, I really do.  We have refugees desperately seeking shelter and a chance to live a new life and yet we panic about being taken over by an influx of undesirables.  There are closet gays and people of all colours and faiths waiting tables or stacking shelves, feeling angry and broken, when their brains, skills, abilities and motivation could really move us forward, if we just let go of fear.  Where is love in all this thinking?  Where is tolerance and acceptance, inclusion and compassion?

Our world moves forwards in leaps and bounds as we understand more and more about our origins about our world and its place in the vast cosmos.  Without people, none of this means a thing.  People make up this world of ours, not things, not new sofas, big houses or money, but people.  We can amass great wealth, live behind secure fences, plan our little lives just for our little selves and we can starve to death for lack of human warmth.  We can speak with authority against inclusion spouting no end of reasonable reasons, all quite unreasonable, because reason is not stuck in fundamentalism at all.  Real reason is all about change and adaptation to change, whether welcome or not.  Life as it is now, is a trillion light years away from how it was just 100 years ago, never mind back to biblical times and beyond.  The dictionnary definition of the word ‘reason’ has a few options, but the one I choose is this:

‘Reason – the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgements logically.  There is close connection between reason and emotion for humans do not reason entirely from facts.’

Whether we embrace change or not, it is coming, for it is always coming and the key is in our hands.  We must rise above our ridiculous fears and live like the warm-blooded sensitive intelligent beings we are.  We must learn to welcome, to include, to learn from each other, to see reason.

This is what Love is.

Island Blog 166 – Grand Parenting


When you look after grandchildren, you embark on a journey, much like the one Pi found himself in the middle of.  All of our routines are blown to pieces.  We are two who left the immediate knowledge of competent parenting behind us years ago.  We are exposed.  We are at the mercy of the ocean of it all.

Going to bed, for example.  When?  Oh, anytime…..

Well, anytime was 7pm because Granny was on her knees by then, even though my son warned me they would be up at dawn.

Now, the waking up process.  This morning, unlike most other mornings, I became engaged in a conversation about the fact that a triceratops is very similar to a rhino, at 6.31am.  A fight between the two would be interesting to watch……apparently, although from the folds of my pillow, the best I could manage was an ‘uhuh.’ I later discovered, having given in and dressed, that a woolly rhino, long extinct was the rhino in question.  I suggested a visit to the Ipad and Dinosaur One, whilst I did a bit of this and that.  In a very short (and noisy beep beep bang crash) time the pyjama-ed hunter managed to kill off at least two woolly rhinos, a fact that, when conveyed to his uncle who manages a game reserve in the Limpopo Valley, caused some consternation.  Even when I clarified that the ‘hunter’ had fired from a spaceship, and did that make it better, the consternation remained.

The day before, collecting the children from school, I filled my boot-back with more kit than I plan to take with me to Africa.  On unpacking, a wailing cry went up from one who maintained he could not, would not play with his lego because there wasn’t a person.

A person?  I queried, my heart already sinking.  Yes, he said, there’s no person, only animals.  I suggested making a person from animal parts and was treated to the death stare.  Slinking back to the kitchen, thoroughly chastened, I considered driving back along the alpine single track to get said person, then told myself the thought was nonsense.  The child should use his imagination, accept his grandparently confines.  The fact that he was bored by 8.17 am today did not sway me.  He had woken in the night yelling about light and dark, because, of course, I should have left the landing light on.  What a dreadful granny.  But, these kids came with no instructions at all, and there are so many required.  With my own around my feet all day, I knew the ropes, I’d laid them out, it was my lattice work, but now?

One eats bacon, one doesn’t.  One eats bread, one doesn’t.  One likes beans and the other doesn’t, or didn’t until he saw his sister tucking into a plateful, whence he conceded. One wants this mug, but so does the other one. No, they don’t like The Night Garden.

What I feel when left with my grandchildren, is both honoured and scared stiff.  Children are so very definite about what they don’t want and that seems to be a lot.  A walk…….no thanks.  Drawing… thanks.  But can we go home to download this new game?

No we cannot.

It made me reflect on how much we crave being liked, even by small-panted woolly rhino hunters in spaceships.  It defines us, if we are not very careful, and turns us into something less than we really are.  Saying No is never easy, although I remember saying it a lot to my kids, for all that it ever stopped anything happening.  If I run around after you often enough, for long enough, will you ever be satisfied?  There is a theory (possibly a fact) that any ‘addiction’ grows, it always grows, unless we realise it has taken hold and kick it.  The need to be liked by all is a silent one and often fits like a dream  for years cleverly disguised as Goodness.  Well it isn’t ‘goodness’ at all.  It’s an addiction.

I am able to be so very definite about this because it was my addiction.  Fitting in and working around and putting others first is wonderful in balance, but it so rarely is, and the residue it leaves in the heart is bitter because the other side to this over-giving is expectation.  I want something back.  I want you to love me as I love you, care as much as I do, give as much, sacrifice as much.  But you don’t.  Of course you don’t, and the fault is not yours, but mine.  I am not respecting my own self in our relationship, whether it be with parent, partner, child, sibling or grandchild.  If I don’t look after me, why on earth should you?

My grandchildren, all 6.5 of them are taught manners and graces, despite this culture of letting the children run the household.  The children know ‘NO’ and even if they don’t like it, they know its the end of that particular line.  However, I am Button Granny and over there is Popz and we are fair game, much like the woolly rhinos. It is up to us to make new patterns according to our rules.  Okay it won’t happen the first time, but with practice, I might find they like staying here, even without a lego person.

Island Blog 165 – Broken Pieces

starry night mosaic

When something breaks we chuck it into the wheelie bin.  It, whatever it is, is of no more use to us, unless we can repair it, but nowadays, repairing things broken is both an art and an opportunity for the introduction of a Health and Safety scare.  A broken ladder might be repairable, but how will I feel each time I climb it?  A mug with a glued on handle is asking for the third degree and as for a chip in the rim, well goodness me no!  The glue always goes brown anyway. A garden chair, tied up with string might collapse under my neighbours backside and I might be sued.  In truth, the dump sites across our land are rising into the clouds with all those broken things nobody cares to mend. It was our forbears who mended things and that was because there was a war on, so they tell us.

On days when I am most aware of my broken-ness, it feels like there are a trillion biting ants on the inside of my skin.  I am restless, distracted, flitting from one small task to another to fill in the time till lunch.  I am without purpose and being without purpose is the scariest (and most illuminating) feeling of all, because my monkey mind (that’s the bad dude within) begins to speak, with volume, authority, assertion.

‘What you should be doing is this.  Why aren’t you?  Because your’e lazy, that’s why. You always were.  You’re putting on weight too, just look at that flubbidy belly, and those old lady shoes you bought make you look like Olive Oyl.  You should be re-writing that novel, not persuading yourself this isn’t the right time.  Why aren’t you?  You always did waste time, your mother said so, all that reading and thinking and staring at clouds did you no good at all.  Look at that person over there or look at him!  They have purpose in life. See how busy they are.  They’re not lazy. You’re hopeless.

And so on.

Often, I have believed in monkey mind, and the listening to what it says takes me way down into a pit.  Trouble is, most of what it says I agree with, a bit.  It is so much harder to counteract that ceaseless babble with ‘Things I Could Say To Myself’, such as ‘you are wonderfully made, unique, perfect for this life you lead, you are more than enough, I love you.’

Sounds like poppycock, even as I’m saying it, to the raggedy torn up inside of me with my fizzing head and my flat  feet (in  Olive Oyl shoes), but I am learning, inch by inch (do we still know inches?) to stop, to stand or sit still, to keep myself right in the present moment, the horribly itchy raggedy-anne moment, and to wait.

For what, you might ask?  For the angels to swoop in like swallows with big smiles on their faces?  For the phone to ring with news of a painting sold, or the offer of  a regular article slot for a magazine with a big readership?  Well, no.  That might have been my hope in the past, but now I know that when something suddenly lifts me away from this discomfort and pain, all that happens is that I am temporarily relieved of looking at it, at myself, of being alone with me.  The itch will always come back because I am still broken and not accepting that I am.

To sit and to stay sat-sitting is not easy, not without a book, a friend, a tv programme, a knitting pattern, a hem to sew up.  In fact, my old mother in law would have something to say about any such pre-lunchtime sitting.

‘Idle hands are the devil’s workshop’ for one, and ‘I’ve got a job for you as you’ve obviously nothing to do!’ another.  From childhood onwards there is noise, activity, stimulation and we are taught drive and motivation, that time is not for wasting, it’s the early bird that catches the worm etcetera etcetera.  Who teaches us how to sit, to reflect, to watch, to say nothing, hands quiet, mouth closed, eyes, ears and heart open?  Glory heavens…. the country would have collapsed by now had such nonsense been allowed!

I cannot meditate because it just makes me laugh. I see myself as ridiculous and can’t erase the image from my mind, even though I know meditating is something rather wonderful.  My mind is never quiet, not even in sleep. There is always noise inside that shorn drum.  It’s like a farmyard at feeding time.  Knowing that this chatter has a lot to do with my broken-ness is a start.  Knowing that it is only in the quiet places, the still moments, that the higher spirit inside of me, inside us all, gets a chance to say a word or two is another step along the road.  But the world, the monkey mind is strong, powerful, believable and cunning, and not just in me. It is tempting to run fast, and to run faster.  It is tempting to fill every minute with jibber jabber and small tasks, to be like others, to fit in, to kid ourselves everything is okay.  It is tempting to run away from looking inside and, besides, it’s messy in there.  However, this running is not away from anything but our own broken-ness, our own hurts, rejections, betrayals.  Running is….. Us avoiding us.  You avoiding you.  Me avoiding me.  And yet, in our stopping, in our acknowledgment of this broken part within, lies the real hope, hope that has nothing to do with our plans, nothing to do with our cashflow or the area we live in, the partner we choose, the school we went to.  In pulling out that brick from the wall around me, I let go, relinquished control. All i could see was wall anyway, but now I have this spectacular view and no idea what to do with it.  It’s new land to me, new sky.  There might be dragons out there, thieves and plunderers, villians and demons, disaster, destruction.

Or, there might not.

Being broken to whatever degree and for whatever reason is not a state of permanence.  Unlike the ladder or the cup or the garden chair, admitting to our broken-ness and accepting it heralds a new beginning.  Unlike ‘things’, we glorious human beings with our colours and our light and our unique and beautiful inner spirit, can re-build into something even more wonderful with no glue showing at all.

And remember this…….. the most beautiful mosaics are made with broken pieces.

Island Blog 164 This Human Spirit

Human Spirit Wall

I was talking the other morning, over good coffee, with a friend. We discussed many things and one of them was our broken-ness.  Not specific to either of us, nor to any particular situation, but more the general broken-ness of all humans and the fact that it doesn’t stop there.  We don’t stay broken.  What we learn, as things break down, as they always do, is that this is the only time the huge power of the human spirit finds its feet.

When life bounces along, like a big bright beach ball, full of lift and colour, there is no call for this spirit.  There’s nothing to be fixed or cured, to be assessed or repaired.  We just bounce along.  All is well and we badly want it to remain thus.  It never does.  Now, somewhere, someone at some time will have considered this, spent sleepless hours considering it, defining it. And yet this mystery defies definition, for it makes absolutely no sense at all.

Life is good, we are doing all the right things, such as limiting alcohol, or giving it up completely; cutting out dairy or wheat, exercising our socks off, reading ‘best seller’ books on How To Be Happy, that guide us, page by page into the Elysium fields, if, that is, we, a) believe it works and, b) have the willpower to sustain such a disciplined life.  The trouble is that most of us, if we are honest, cannot keep it up and the rest of us don’t believe it anyway, because at some point life is going to shaft us, no matter what regime we embark upon.

Well, welcome to the human state!  And welcome, also, to the broken-ness in you, because, trust me, it is there.

I am interested, nay, fascinated, not with the beach ball but with what happens when somebody’s terrier bursts it and all the children weep.  I admit, freely, to being a member of the Broken and have found, to my delight, that this is not something I have earned through misbehaviour.  I haven’t racked up any more black marks than most, well, maybe a few more, and I do not believe in that sort of karma.  I think we are born with it and what is more, I believe it’s quite intentional.  Whether we believe in the God of creation, or our evolution from apes, our fundamental wiring is pre-set from birth, for all of us.  Of course, there are subtle differences, such as skin colour, location, facial features, talents handed down from our forbears, but some things are just a part of us all, and one of these is our broken-ness.

I used to think that mine was my fault and that led to self-flagellation, guilt and regret.  At each knock-down I would send my mental mouse scurrying through my mind in search of all the things I had done wrong, dragging each of them out from the shadows and assessing them again in the light.  I built on them until they were growling bears and jaw-snapping wolves and sometimes, they overpowered and consumed me.  ‘If only I was a different person, measured and not impulsive, steady and controlled instead of compulsive;  If I talked less and listened more, if I stopped showing off, if I could just control this constant urge to fly away, be like my grounded mother, my steady sisters; if only I could manage my affairs better, if only I liked joining clubs and groups, if only, if only……..’

Most of us don’t even look at it, our broken-ness, for it is way too scary. And yet, it is exactly where we should look.  Not our aching joints but our aching hearts.  It is a subject most avoid, and I have cleared rooms, and certainly silenced tables whenever I rise the subject.  When someone asks a question, a difficult one, I can see the respondee mining his head for a tactical response, one that deflects attention away from the personal element of the question, from any light shone on his broken-ness.

When did we learn to be so dishonest?  Who can really say, I failed you, I am sorry?  Who doesn’t seek to levy blame on the weather, the traffic, the clock change, the children, the plumber, the husband?

When we learn to admit to our weaknessess, our broken-ness, our humanity, we allow the spirit in us to begin work.  The human brain is a million times bigger than we think, capable of almost everything (although I still can’t fly) and we barely use it.  Admitting to failure, admitting to fault is like pulling out one brick in the wall of our defences.  Of course, this could mean, will probably mean, that the whole wall will crumble.  We are left with no wall, open to the soft winds of change, and the view, my friends, is breath-taking.