Island Blog 196 Keep Talking


The morning is crisp and peaceful, a slight frost holding to the grasses, making them look a bit startled.  Nothing moves but the smokey grey clouds in a pink peppercorn sky.  I walk out to join the dawn as a soft breeze begins to ruffle the sea-loch and a noisy line of curlews pipe in the new day.

I fill the bird feeders.  For a few days now I have heard the change in bird song.  There is a spring in their voices now, and feeding time is a mad dash of grab and scuttle as male blackbirds fight for their dames and little coal tits play a romantic hide and seek among the the little trees, ghost bare for now.  I know it immediately, when the song shifts from winter minimalism to a spring aria, and it smiles me.  There are snowdrops flowering, a bonkers daffodil or two in a sheltered spot, crocuses and even primroses, butter yellow jewels along the old drystone wall.

I get to thinking about language and communication.  It seems effortless between bird species, the pecking order clear, submission and deference, fight or flight.  Not so with humans.  How someone says something often overrides and negates the initial issue as a discussion declines into a battle of wills.  Semantics cause endless strife, the understanding of a word, what it means to each individual, what its root source is in their own past, how it filled their young ears.  I remember calling my much younger husband a slob once.  To me it meant he was being lazy when I was rushing about doing all the domestic chores.  To him it meant something very different, a label he refused to wear, pertaining, in his mind, to a useless lummox who hung around street corners pinching handbags and spitting and being rude to old ladies.   He was upset for some days after.

As we learn to live with dementia, he and I, language and sentence delivery require a greater consideration than before.  It is a test of the powers of adaptation, and a welcome one, for it has taught me much about being careless with word usage and timing.  In my own birth family, we learned from our mum how to outdo each other with sarcasm and sharp wit.  There is no place for that now, and what I have found is that I am far more respectful than ever before, quicker to apologise for being rude or dismissive, humbler. I wish I had learned this sooner, for it sits well with me, being respectful and kind and patient instead of flashing my talons in defence of my small corner. It all seems so silly now, with hindsight, such a waste of time and energy.

It is true, because I know it from experience, that when I need to adapt my language and behaviour because someone else has changed their song, or it has been changed for them, I find myself at peace.  The rythym of the day is a soft beat, soothing and calming, sort of calypso, my favourite.

All we have to do is listen for a change in someone’s song, and find the harmony.

Island Blog 195 Ordinary Days


I love ordinary days, days when I have nothing in the diary and nowhere I have to be.  As I wake, I savour the feeling of ordinariness.  I dress and send up my thanks to God for another new morning.  Coffee and a whizz pop (not what you think) made with spinach leaves, rocket, ginger, soft fruit, goji berries and apple is a green delight that I just know sets me up for the day.  There is a newly delivered bag of locally sourced forestry firewood to unload, so I lift the barrow from the back to the front and don my splinter-defence gloves.  I love such physical work and the regularity of such work strengthens and empowers me.  After all, I can do anything, for I am Woman.

Prior to the unload I fill up the bird feeders with nuts and fat balls and seed for the birds that have been lining my fence awhile now, since first light, in fact, chirruping their encouragement with increasing volume and impatience.  They depend on me and my fat balls etc, and if I am away, I feel guilty.  It takes them a day or two to return after I’ve abandoned them to Winter’s meagre pickings.  This morning I watch a goldfinch alight on the peanuts.  I see his rainbow colours flash as he pecks at his breakfast, seeing off any cheeky tits with a few swear words.  I learn that he is higher than they in the pecking order, for they only try to move in once, dashing back to the wire, like reprimanded children, to wait their turn.  There is a feeder full of nijer seed, but the goldfinch hasn’t found that yet.  I hope he will, and that he will bring his friends along for the joy of a goldfinch is something to lift a heart every single time.  I make a note to clean the feeders for the diseases old wet seed can develop is fatal to our garden birds.

Gulls wheel over the sea-loch in the fine smoky rain, calling to each other, talking of fish and tides, freedom and flight.  Although I don’t speak ‘gull’ my imagination can tell me anything I want it too, and it is here, in my imagination that most adventures are born.  I can make an adventure of any situation and I always could.  There are some grounded folk who believe that what you can explain is the real truth, but I disagree with them, although I don’t refute their knowledge of the facts, but, more, find  it limiting.  Einstein believed that the imagination is of more value than the proven fact and if he believed that, with all his scientific brilliance, then so can I, little old me, small but dangerous, living my ordinary days out on the island.

I take my time to light the woodburner, watching the flames catch the spindly kindling.  I blow the dust off the mantel and the dresser, watch the motes catch and reflect a flash of light from the fabulous and subtle Christmas lights I decided not to lock away for the mice to chew.  I have no idea what time it is and I don’t want to know.  My stomach will tell me when lunch is required, or if I need more water to drink.  We all need more water to drink and most of us ignore that sound piece of advice, choosing coffee and tea instead whilst our poor minds and bodies quietly and politely dehydrate.  I consider the small list of tasks I must complete this day and my eyes lift to a card I received from a friend.  Believe in Magic, it reads, and I place it in full view, in between Sisi the colourful beaded giraffe from Africa and the drip bucket for the leaking ceiling.  Another card-to-keep, from my sister, placed beside the other reads thus:- ‘Don’t you hear it? she asked and I shook my head, no, and then suddenly she started to dance and suddenly there was music everywhere and it went on for a very long time.’

I consider whether or not to make a seafood risotto or some soup, or neither.  This is how a day without deadlines can be with choices to do or to do not, a day to dance or to read or to sit and watch the birds, to count the raindrops, to hear the gulls talk, to open my heart and my mind and to absorb it all, this life, this earth, and to be oh so very very thankful that I am here, that I am me, that I can be whoever I want to be.  I have known deadlines and tension, pain and sadness, sickness and death.  This is what a life is all about.  Nobody has an easy one.

There is magic in ordinary days and in ordinary things, if we choose to seek it out.

Island Blog 194 Returns


January is all about returns.  We return to our homes after the Christmas celebrations.  Children return to school, adults to work.  The Christmas tree is returned to the ground, whence it came, and the bells and baubles are returned to the big box, which, in turn, is returned to the cupboard under the stairs, for the mice to enjoy through the long cold winter months.  It’s quite fun to discover half a fairy or a guddle of tinself that once was a long unbroken line of shimmering nonsense.  How a mouse can possibly enjoy shimmering nonsense is beyond me.  Must be one hec of a chewing job.

Amazon and other gift companies will probably define their January by the number of returns they receive.  The wrong trousers, the faulty toys, a dress size too small, or, joy of joys, a size too big. Slowly and gradually we begin to rid our lives of packaging and cards, of old bones and stale buns, and most of us go further.  We decide to tidy up our lives, beginning, perhaps, by emptying our tee shirt drawer onto the floor for sorting.  If you are like me you only ever access the favourites anyway, the upper layer of lycra/cotton mix, the strappy ones that come down over my bum and stay there.  The ones that ride up or gape in the wrong place or strangle me by the armpits, all are left in the dark to grow smelly from lack of use.  But I keep keeping them just in case.  In case of what?  In case I suddenly grow gappy in the same place, or my armpits shift up a notch, or my bum lifts higher?  Fat chance is the truth, but still I hold onto them.

What if there’s an apocalypse?  Well, if Trump has his way, there just might be.  Nonetheless I doubt any shape of tee-shirt would save me.  No, what I must do is return them to the tee-shirt holding place – in other words, the charity shop on the island, having first washed the smell out first, of course. I think I need 45 of them when in fact I need 2 or 3.  What is this fear of letting go?  It isn’t just about tee shirts either, and when I consider the plight of my fellow women across the world, I am ashamed.

As I walk out into the wild, picking my moment as the last hail gale moves on to blast another’s afternoon, and with 20 minutes before the next one gathers in the north, I think on the movement of everything.  Everything in Nature moves on, moves out, returns another day.  This circular pattern means that this cold wind that tips my wheelie over and coats the ground with a wet white carpet of crunch carries on its wings, the breath of the Northern Folk.  I look behind me as it passes by as if I might see my own breath joining theirs.  What dreams, what stories, what whispers just touched me briefly, and moved on?  Can I smell the high mountains, the pine trees, the ice rivers swollen with snowmelt and rain?

When the wind changes direction, coming from warmer climes, the stories change, the pictures in my head.  Tides ebb and flow, the moon waxes and wanes, and all is a circle, many circles, constantly  moving, turning, returning.  Sometimes when I make contact with a new person and feel, as she does, that we know each other very well, I consider the circle of life, the winds that blow between us, around us, through us, and the stories we hear that sound like our own.  I know you although we have never before met.

Or did we?

Clearing out tee shirt drawers and cupboards and garages and so on might seem like a chore, like a very small task but in truth it symbolises the willingness to lay myself open to something new.  Creating room is my job.  As is paring down my material grabbiness and the clutter of centuries.  What we need is never what we have around us.  What we need is shelter, food, friendship and God, or, if you prefer, spirtual openness, a vulnerable heart and ears to hear another man’s story all the way through to the end.