Island Blog – Extraordinary Women

I just sat outside in the African sun, beneath the shade of a Flamboyant Tree, watching the birds and the rainbow iguanas and coloured-up insects and raised a glass (well, it is New year’s Eve and we are 2 hours ahead) to one of the above.  We collided at the coffee station one morning a month ago at five am.  She had long white hair and I am shaved at the best of times; she had freckles, delightfully spattered whereas mine are more like blobs with no pattern.  She had a job to do that morning.  She was off on a game drive with her camera, along with others way younger than she.  In fact, she and I were the grandmas of the troupe.

We went outside together to sit and drink our coffees beneath, this time, a fig tree that was full of monkeys.  I should have clocked the message right off.  As the young and fearless ones, scooted along the skinniest of branches to get the best fruits, the mothers, with another young attached beneath her belly, holding on with every available limb, modestly attended the easier branches.  The male, until now absent, and who has luminous evidence of his masculinity, suddenly arrived sending the whole lot into disarray in a dive for safety.  This dive sent a rainstorm of tiny figs into our cups, onto our heads and all about us, like laughter. I’m not sure what he gained by being such an autocrat, but that’s not the point. My new friend snapped away with her big lens whilst I covered my head.  She had a job to do.

Today she left, but not without being completely changed.  Africa changes everyone and particularly here as a valuable team member of a conservation project.  But she has found a new passion.  My age, and the other side of a lifetime, she is a child again.  Her excitement about pretty much everything was intoxicating to all, the guides, the project leaders, the volunteers………and me.  She sees nothing now of what was, but only what is.  And what is, is infinite.  Not only that, it’s possible.  I haven’t thought that way for ages, but now, thanks to her, I can see what she already knows.

For all her time here, she was Grandma to all.  I caught her, nestled in among the eversoyoung many times, from five am to last call, listening, making them laugh and reassuring them and it made my heart smile.  Oh…..I wanted to tell them…….you have no idea who is with you right now!  This ‘old’ woman has changed her direction entirely.  She has enough sense of self, beyond the domestic, beyond the old age wither-ness, beyond, well, the stars.  She, my friends, is beginning all over again, and all by herself, alone.

An extraordinary woman.  I miss her already, her wisdom, her crinkly face laugh, her inspirational energy and sense of fun, with no infuriating teaching that can come with ‘old’ age.  I never saw it, not once.  But she who could so easily crumble and fade, will have none of it.  Barefoot and snapping at monkeys with her big lens, entranced, focusing in, watching, learning every moment of every day……….well, she has taught me.  I watched her for a month, but she will stay close to my heart for ever.

We are all extraordinary women, if we so choose.  I salute all my sisters.

Happy New Beginnings to you all.


Island Blog – Windows of Opportunity

So here were are again.  Christmas Eve is come with all its magic and excitement.  Everyone is buzzing with anticipation, everything last minute is right now.

I shall be cleaning windows.  Well, we got the house in the shippest of shapes with a home-made tree, fashioned from a cat climbing frame with bits of wood attached for branches.  Bells and balls and gold sprayed African seeds (big enough to crack your skull should one choose to land upon it) and little lights that think me of fireflies.  All surfaces thoroughly shined up, all rubble wheeched away into a bedroom, and candles at the ready on the dining table.  And, then, we noticed the windows, which definitely flagged behind the rest.  Not the same standard at all.  We could just make out the kitten’s face through the grub but not much more.  I am equipped with Mr Windows, or whatever they call it out here, and various cloths, with a squirl of newspaper for the final touch.  Actually, there are loads of the flipping things, windows I mean, including two of the french variety so I’ll be tied up awhile.

I didn’t plan to write about windows, but having done so, they are loitering in my head.  Windows are how we look out, and how we look in.  What do we see as we look?  Do we see the grub or do we see the face of a little kitten?  Do we see rain and slush looking out, or do we see the chance for a jump or two in a muddy puddle?  From outside, do we see things we haven’t done, should have done, wished we could do, or do we rest out eyes on a warm inviting comfortable room?

This has everything to do with choice, and with thankfulness.  As the eye hits the glass, there is a choice, always a choice.  Such a way of thinking is a decision, even if the sofa is old and torn and not all that comfortable, because at least it is there.  And, yes, it might be cold outside, but looking at it won’t alter a thing.  Choosing to see something in a positive way might sound like hard work, and, it can be, at the beginning.  But, surprisingly soon, I can look that way, by choosing the how-I-see thingy, at absolutely everything, and everyone.  It is deliciously freeing, even if it does evoke a derisive snort or two from those who refuse to choose, thinking instead that life is a dull sort of process and that it always rains and that the world is in a right state of collapse already.

Well I choose to see the sparkle in whatever and whoever I meet.  There may be some twinkly-winkly lights in my DNA, but I still have to make a point of deciding the state of my heart, as an adult living in the same world as everyone else.  And, I am so very thankful to have met, through this blog, through those who have read my book, a band of loonies who also choose to see the world through sparkly windows.

Thank you all.  Keep choosing……..every single moment, no matter what happens, or doesn’t happen.  Keep seeing fairies in the trees and lights in a stranger’s eyes, particularly the grumpy ones.  They need our magic, in order to find their own.

Have a wonderful, magical, twinkly-winkly, thankful Christmas, wherever you are, my lovely friends.  And keep dreaming………..

‘A person is not old, until their regrets take the place of their dreams.’ Anon

Island Blog – A New Field

Only a few more days till Christmas, and that thinks me.  I guess we all find ourselves looking back over the past year at such a time, reflecting on those things we did well, and perhaps feeling a little remorseful at the memory of things we either didn’t do well, or didn’t do at all, or, worse, did do and now wish we hadn’t.

However, if you’re anything like me, you might look too hard at the latter, and therein lies our mistake.  I don’t have any language to explain the human tendency for self-flagellation, nor do I understand why it is just the way we are.  I don’t know why a person will list all the things that went wrong before being able to locate anything that went well.  I think it is just in our culture to feel inadequate to life’s vagaries, to feel harmed or disappointed or let down.  It takes absolutely no inner work to moan and a lot of inner work to shine the sunshine on the past.  It’s like a big pile of dirty laundry on top of sparkling gems when we can only see the dirty laundry.

Some of us are naturally positive about everything, but these folk are rare among us.  Some love the misery and make it their friend.  Many go through life wishing things were different but make do anyway with pained expressions and the inevitable results of holding on to sadness manifesting themselves in sore backs and sleeplessness.  And then there are folk like me who learn through reading that it is okay to feel sad, or disappointed or let down as long as I don’t stay there.  Oh, blimey, you mean I have a choice?  Yes, indeedy.

Feelings come unbidden.  They just come, but they come for a purpose.  Fight or flight, fear, sadness, revulsion, all are responses to whatever we face whenever we face them.  Some folk push said feelings away but in my experience, they don’t go far. They lurk in the wings only to rise again in greater strength.  Sitting with those feelings is uncomfortable at best, and speaking them out even more so.  We don’t want to admit such ‘adverse’ feelings to anyone for fear of appearing weird, or ungrateful or just plain miserable.  Someone, in other words, to be avoided in the street.  ‘Don’t ask her how she is, for goodness sake or you’ll be stuck for days in her grumbling!’  Ever said that?  I have.

I get that nobody wants to be so defined.  What most of us do is pretend, even to ourselves, that our lives are all we hoped they would be, which is nonsense.  So, let’s start right there and move on – not away – but on.  Let’s take a wander back through the past year, with a clean sheet of paper and a pen.  Let’s list all the things we achieved, however small, that made us proud.  Was I kind to that grumbly woman?  Did I listen and encourage, make her feel better?  Did I make a difficult decision, one I didn’t really want to make, for someone else’s benefit?  Did I write a letter to a person who I know to be housebound and lonely?  Did I make a decision to do something differently and did I take action?  In an escalating situation, did I bring some calm?  Did I do what I said I would do that day?  Did I climb that hill, make that call, welcome that neighbour who irritates the bejabers out of me, help that friend take down her ghastly overweight curtains and then hang the horrors up again after cleaning?  Did I stop and sit with someone to say what I admire in them when I really had to dig deep to find anything at all?  Did I suggest sharing a journey when all I wanted was to be alone?  Did I do something fun with my kids on a rainy cold afternoon?

You make your own list.  I have and it took me ages but once I got through the dirty laundry, I found the sparkly gems.  However, there is one proviso to this list writing, and that is there must be no could-have-done-better thoughts flitting about.  Chuck them out.  Take a mental broom, affix a small cute gnome to the handle, pop a cheery song in his mouth and have him take the business end to the rubbish.  Picture the loft of your mind as an airy light, dust-free place.  Open the dormers and let the sky in.  Feel the new breeze on your face.

And now……..begin again.

‘Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field.  I’ll meet you there.’  Rumi

Island Blog – The Question

Ten days to go till Christmas and the whole world is in a flapdoodle about something.  Last minute gifts, the infuriation of a late delivery, an upcoming party in an outfit that is so last year or that old dread of what-on-earth-we’re-going-to-do-if-Granny-hits-the-sherry-bottle.  I remember it well and it seems like a dream out here in the heat of Africa.

I have never left my Christmas post before, not once in 46 years.  So, as I sit here on the stoep in the very early morning listening to lions roar on the other side of the Kruger fence (the best way I always think), I feel a bit disorientated.  It’s such an important time, after all and who on earth said it was okay for me to stay out here with no responsibilities whatsoever?  Well, I did.

When I first booked my ticket out, via Dubai and the biggest duty free I’ve ever walked through, I was nervous of one month away from the apron.  Then as I began to move to the beat of the African drum and found my self coming back together in the right order, a second month felt like a reasonable choice.  It meant not being home for Christmas, yes, but I would be back just afterwards, back into the cold and slush and high winds holding ferries tight to the quayside whilst my fellow islanders become stranded on the wrong shore without a toothbrush.  I’ve been there too.  It meant no gifts for my children or grandchildren, for everyone knows that, no matter how carefully a gift is wrapped nor how diligent the insured postal process, nothing ever arrives.

Abandoning a post is so much easier from a distance.  Imagined duty loses its grip.  The oughts and shoulds are just words, and neither of them is my friend anyway.  Although I am a fan of duty, to a degree, because it keeps me inside its walls of safety, I do need to question it once it has grown too big for its boots, which it does eversoslowly over a period of time, like 46 years. If duty prevents me from making my own choices, then I am walking out of kilter with myself.

However, when asked ‘What do you want to do?’  my inner response is always this:-

What does that have to do with anything?

A conditioned response, but I caught it before it spilled out of my mouth.  I want to stay, I said, even if the words felt needley sharp on my tongue.

I don’t think it’s just me who gets stuck in duty.  Noticing that I have is opening up a new world in my head.  I get that many dutiful women will never question their own degree of duty because it is scary, not least because it might lead to something dangerous such as buying a motorbike or joining a travelling circus.   I felt like an Impala on the same side of the fence as those roaring lions.  Until, that is, I worked it out.  The only person shoving duty in my face is me.  My husband is fine about it.  My kids are fine about it.  Time I got myself fine about it.  So how do I do that?  Lots of inner work, that’s how.  Books, books and more books, my best friends, my guiding voices.  And, above all, Noticing My Thoughts.  I never bothered with such fanciful nonsense before, but practicing this is the walk to freedom for anyone.  If I just trudge on through my life, doing what I oughta and wishing for things that (I decide) are for others, I am just a robot.  My incredible brain yawns with boredom, grows wrinkles and a wide bottom and forgets how to really live.  It doesn’t mean I run away, but exactly the opposite.  Noticing my thoughts, my emotions, my own dreams and then writing them down, discussing them with myself intelligently, asking difficult questions, not spoken out to anyone else, but just to myself, frees me just where I am.

We should learn all this at school.  It irks me that I have to be this old to ‘get it’, but, perhaps that is the point of life.  Questioning duty, questioning any aspect of a ‘linear’ life requires a lot of letting go, of the past, of what-I-didn’t-do-right, of old choices that led me here and so on.  Doing something differently demands courage, a step into the unknown, into the Maybe of infinite possibilities.  I don’t see them, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there.  That, in itself, is sort of weird, but a compelling one.

All I need to do is to question.


Island Blog -Time for Change

I’ve been reading.  A lot.  Around 8 books so far and, if I so choose I will read for most of the day.  My passion is for a beautifully written novel with an interesting back drop such as war or abuse or some other big struggle.  My interest lies in the ways a person, usually a woman, pulls herself out into a new daylight, learning many big life lessons en route.  Yes, she will have to have courage to take every step of the way, fight for her freedom, fight for others, keep the song singing in her heart, reminding herself, in the face of derision, the rattle of old chains, menace and physical threats, why she is doing anything to rock HMS Polite Acceptance in the first place. She will face loss and pain and sadness.  She may risk poverty, danger, loneliness and a lot of fear, but something so strong will not be denied from way down inside of her.  Nothing drowns out that voice, the one that says Only You Can Do This, Only You.

Well dammit.  Can’t somebody else hold this hot candle for a bit?  I wish I’d never started any of it.  Life wasn’t so bad, was it…… under someone else’s regime/tyranny/control?  Prejudice and domination are acceptable, aren’t they, for those who don’t challenge, like most of the rest of the world, or, at least, a lot of the women I know, those who stick to the man-made plan and just grow great tomatoes underneath their glass ceiling.

Trouble is, this isn’t living for she who will not be kept down, she who has a gift to offer and a subsequent duty to lead by example.  She has chosen herself, and now it’s way too late to go back to straightening the antimacassars. She doesn’t have to be Joan d’Arc of course, cutting swathes through armies, trees and kingships, but she does have to keep going.  It may be on a bike, or on foot, or crawling at times, but she can not give up.

I know this all sounds like a historical drama but I believe that, in this age of consumerist suicide, there are women, and men of course, out there who see how isolation is slowly draining us of our life blood.  High earners live skyscraper high above their real needs, the things in life that aren’t things at all, such as time with family, no mobiles on the table, no TV blaring out sugary princess tales of utter nonsense.  I love the pixar movies myself, but they are no teachers of the truth if they are the only truth.  If parents are always too busy or too stressed to give time, play and teaching to the little ones, then nobody else will either.  I’m super glad my kids had the freedom from all of that, even if I was often too busy to play with them.  The toys they had were few and often made from whatever was kicking about the farmyard, waiting for them among the trees or washed up on the shoreline. For them as parents, it takes considerable effort to divide their time between workload and family needs.  There is so much distraction and way too many lonely children, teenagers, adults as a direct result.

Instant fame is unattainable to most of us. Glamour and a size 8 body, impossible in reality without starving for months and a big bank account, and yet just look at all those compelling images air-brushed into racks of glossy magazines.  Being the fastest, the brightest, the thinnest, the best, is not all it seems.  Just count the numbers who kill themselves on the way.  What brings us the most glorious contentment lies at home, among loved ones, friends, neighbours, sharing time and certainly not just at Christmas.

And, like those who said NO MORE in the face of huge pressure to retain the status quo, who risked derision and unaskedfor advice, who had no idea where to go, nor how to go there, we can all make such a choice.  We may be only human, but we are more powerful than we imagine.  All we have to do is to ask ourselves this:-

Am I running my life or is my life running me?




Island Blog – Fun and Monkeys

Today I will be painting.  Not a wall, but with acrylics on a board I prepared earlier.  It’s years since I picked up a painter’s brush and I must confess to feeling excited at the thought.  I have drawn a confusion of circles, squares and oblongs, and plan to simply play with overlays of colour.  Back home I would struggle to allow myself such a dose of fun, fun for its own sake.  I ask myself Why is that?  But answer comes there none.  It just wouldn’t fit into my schedule and would never be added to my jobs for the day.  This thinks me.

I walk back into the lodge for a top up of good coffee and discover a family of Cervet monkeys inside the food bins.  Monkeys are quick to take advantage when all humans leave the room.  They scatter as I round the corner, bar one.  I can see its tail hooked on to the side of the bin and I can hear it rummaging in the depths.  I clap my hands and its (very cute) face appears, a chicken leg in its mouth.  As I clear up the chaos, I ponder monkey fun.  Of course, it isn’t fun in their minds, but it makes me laugh, despite the mess they leave behind.  What happens to fun as we grow older, I wonder?  Is it only for the young?

Although I am on holiday (and when we’re on holiday, we do allow ourselves to play) I can see no good reason why I shouldn’t continue playfulness back home, and not just at weekends.  Even the dullest of tasks has an element of fun, if I can find it. However, life does change us.  Troubles, illness, sadness, work, all conspire to keep our heels firmly grounded and our eyes on the ‘sensible’.  I think it has a great deal to do with disappointment and a growing sense of failure and regret.  If we are very honest, we will admit that, back then, when choices were an option, we possibly wish we had made a better one, one that would have given us a different life altogether.  Maybe more than one;  maybe a load more than one.  This may sound like a waste of thinking time, but who defines waste?  Indulging in such a fluffy thought may not change anything on the ground, but what it does do is to make me consider my gifts, lifting them to the surface and into the light.  I remember that young girl (already on the brink of domesticity) with her bonkers dreams and ideals and I realize that I have managed to relegate them to the trash bin of disappointment.

I search for more things to look at.  There’s a deal of squished gooey yuk in this bin, but among it lie the gems.  The gems that tell me I could have done anything I chose to do.  If I had practiced my piano like a good little musician, I could play really well now.  If I had gone for that interview at drama school, I could be famous now.  If I had kept up singing lessons I might be travelling the world singing arias from the inside of a golden frock.  If I had come to writing seriously as a young woman, I might be on the Best Seller list by now.  So, what does this all tell me?  That I am wallowing in a wistful and pointless regret? Not at all.  It shows me my gifts and makes me look at them closely.  These ‘maybe lives’ are not mine, but neither is the real me a walking to-do list.

Talking with others, I ask them about their gifts.  Oh, I’m not gifted, is the usual response.  It seems that gifts are for others.  Ah, but you are gifted.  We all are, every single one of us, but the world has a rather mean way of defining the gifted word.  Prodigies, the celebrated, the successful, the geniuses, those whose names are plastered over billboards and on everybody’s tongue have the rest of us retreating into the background feeling, understandably, a little cheated.  But, if you do rifle through the waste bin of life in search of your gifts, you will find them.  By just looking, you have made a new choice.  I’m looking for me, is what you are saying, even if I very much doubt I’ll find anything.

You will. And when you do, you’ll remember who you really are.  And that is when the fun begins.