Island Blog – Mouse Power

Mice. Little creatures that move in silence wherever they please. Behind walls, in the loft, the garage, the kitchen cupboards, and upstairs among the frocks and heels. I don’t mind living alongside them, for they inspire me, as well as infuriating me when I discover holes in the bottom of my suitcase. I even discovered, once, a jacket in shreds, one that hangs in the garage, a waterproof. I wonder what that tasted like? Oil, general grub, fish scales, garden earth and yummy plastic. I don’t suppose they actually swallow, but they might.

Sometimes I hear them scurrying about over my head, in the loft. I think, wistfully, of all those boxes of books up there losing words, perhaps whole sentences to those determined little teeth. Does that mean the words are gone forever or does the mouse learn something new as he or she ingests their wisdom and guidance? I can’t remember what books are up there anyroad. Old ones, leather bound, tales of pioneers and flower arrangers and naughty rebels who broke rules and found new lands when the world insisted it stopped on the shore of the Barents Sea.

Inside the drystone wall that tells the neighbour where he ends and we begin, there is a family or two. I see them hurtle out from the smallest of cracks to pinch the bird seed from a feeder. The hunter/gatherer will leap onto the perch, it’s little back legs swinging free whilst the other end of it grabs a bite. It drops down, pouch full, and disappears back into the stonework. A field mouse. Not a house mouse, although I am unsure of the difference. It smiles me, watching wild Nature go about her endless routine. There will be new blind babies down there among the old granite, hungry and trusting. Good luck, I whisper, for their life is so precarious. Buzzards, sparrowhawks, merlins, kestrels and goshawks are always hiding somewhere, watching and waiting with hungry babies, back home and trusting.

Mice think me of power. That may sound silly but the impact they can make, in absolute silence, is astonishing. We tend to think that bigger is better, but I disagree. It is the little things that make the most impact, little things and the repetition of those little things that can change darkness into light. It is easy to throw money at a problem, if you have it to throw, and so much harder to believe that a little thing will make any difference at all. What little thing can I do, today, right now? I look at my problem, whatever it is, and it is the size of Russia. How can my little thing make any change to it?

We are not mice. We do not scurry and hide or eat suitcases or jackets. Most of us, anyway. We are humans with agile brains and we can choose our thoughts. This Russia sized problem looks forbidding, menacing, overwhelming, like it could darken us for ever, eat us up, take us over and yet it can never do that, not if we choose our thoughts. If a mouse gave up on pinching bird seed because the bird feeder was empty or gone, with a hungry family waiting at home, it would immediately go in search of an alternative, such as my soft pumps or a few more words from the loft. We, on the other hand, sit down and burst into tears, as if our problem is insurmountable #theend. It isn’t. It never was and it never will be. Everyone has a Russia sized problem at some point in their lives. Everyone faces shockhorrors along their path. Everyone is let down, let go, everyone. Those who think ‘mouse’ keep moving, keep looking because on the other side of us, there is light, if only we would turn around. The power in any set of circumstances lies in the little things, the tiny steps, over and over until those little things grow into something wonderful and warm and radiant with hope.

And everyone can do a little thing.

Island Blog – Summerlight

I am loving the light mornings. Waking, as I do, at silly 0’clock, has been challenging until the light mornings. Although I could bring in the wood and feed the birds with a head torch on, there is something so exciting about the day starting when I do. There is hope and there are possibilities in the light, even if it is beginning to rain just when the roofer said he would come to begin tearing off the old lead and affixing the new. In theory, this could mean that the internal leaks will be arrested mid dribble, that the ceiling will dry and that the painter can come to paint. This old house may have 3 foot thick outer walls, but these walls have stood strong since 1837, and I might be leaking too, if I was that old.

The light is not the only thing that has changed. The air is softer and the wind has lost its bite, for now, although we can never be complacent on the island until about May 3rd, sticking out, as we do, into the wild Atlantic. Her fractious moods can do a complete 360 in half a day. That bite could return; the snow could fall again and we may yet be pounded into powder by hailstones #golfballs.

The seedlings in my conservatory are ready to spread and it is so tempting to plant them out, to set them free, but I won’t risk that for a while yet. There is, nonetheless, a restlessness in this new light and this softer wind, that argues with logic. It’s a feeling, a flying inside, a need to clean out dead leaves and the old bones of winter, to strip down to shorts and frocks and to lean into the promise of warmth and sunlight. Somewhere underneath this fisherman’s woolly jumper, there is a me longing to escape, much like the seedlings. This longing is everywhere. We are all sick to death of fisherman’s jumpers and thick socks and noisy waterproofs. We want to float, to sit outside among the birds and to feel the soft wind fingering our faces. We are tired of hot chocolate indoors with a rug over our knees. We want home-made lemonade and a garden bench and the sounds of natural life filling our ears. We are tired of the news that our country is in chaos, and we long to hear new stories from the natural world, stories being told as they happen around us, stories of new life, of hope and light and the world turning still, as she always will until she fizzles out, and we all fizzle out in the end.

But, we must be patient a while longer for the summer days will come eventually. And, for now, there is a wealth of wonder in my life, and in yours. A wealth that begs acknowledgement and gratitude. As turmoil abounds, at home and far away, we have the chance to be very thankful for what we do have, and to show and tell it to everyone we meet. Being a light giver is a task we can all take on and the only way to do that is through thankfulness. I thanked my bed this morning for a good night’s rest. It may sound riddickerluss but I promise it works. Although it is easy to focus on Brexit or the horror of a cyclone or something closer to home like not enough money for the month, I recommend a realignment of thought. I recommend the noticing of every single good thing, and there will be plenty just longing to be noticed. I’m tired of my fisherman’s jumper, but at least I have one and it keeps me very cosy. I am longing for more sunlight, but at least I can don my noisy waterproofs and walk or run (if absolutely necessary). I can reach out, touch and smell the fragrant daffodils; I can hear sounds of life around me. I can move freely. I have boots for my feet and hot water on tap. I have friends and family, a working telephone, a caring job, food on the table, music enough to fill all the rooms, a car, and choices. I am wealthy indeed.

So instead of longing for more light, I plan to be thankful for the light I have around me, right here, and right now. And then, I shall carry that light into someone else’s darkness, so that together, we bring summer in.

Island Blog – Surprise!

It was most certainly one for my daughter-in-law. She knew she was turning 40, but had not a scooby about the plans forming around her. They fluttered like scarves in a breeze for weeks, months, between those of us in the know, secrets on a huge scale, a mighty gathering of family and friends from faraway lands. So very easy to name one of them in error, a slipped word, a ‘see you next weekend’ kind of slip, but no-one did. She had no idea. Continuing with her busy life, her children’s dancing dates and what to cook for dinner, the dog, the cat, the husband, the ordinary hysterics and calm in a young family’s daily life, she must have had moments of questioning. Why was her man being so furtive, disappearing off to meetings from which she, as business partner, was excluded? Perhaps he had gone off her? Was he heading for a breakdown, perhaps, because he sure sounded like he was going to explode any time soon?

As we all hid in the hallway and up the stairs in silence, she arrived. Her face was a picture and it was worth the travel just to see that. Her dad and brothers from the Netherlands, her aunt from the States, my huge family, her friends from Englandshire and a turbulent bundle of little boys and girls all erupted into Happy Birthday to You, in various keys. Let the weekend begin. Let the sun shine. And it did.

Each part of each day was to be a surprise. The meet for lunch in a lovely beach café for fish and chips; the games on the sand, the dogs romping in and out of the waves, the talking, laughing, sharing. The first night in a stunning pine built lodge with enough food to feed a whole village. I met up with young friends I had first laughed with many years ago, before they had partners, before children and the ‘behave yourself’ life took a hold of them. I could still see the fun in their eyes, that party sparkle and I could see them in the faces of their little ones. The woodburner warmed the big room as we settled into the evening. And, still, there were secrets.

CrossFit. Well, I wasn’t going to join that bit of the morning, a 0600 start, but many did and they returned flushed and panting and wanting to go again. I don’t think I was ever like that, even as a young woman, and I am impressed that anyone does it at all, let alone joining in Spartan Races and the like. Running up mountains with bricks on my back just isn’t me, but I could see how the challenge and the being together through it all is so much more healthy than meeting at the pub for a pint. We had an hour or two to rest up before having to be on site by 6pm for the next secret. Dressed for a dazzling night out, we teetered through a spiteful wind and into the venue. It looked like Disneyland. Tables laid, lights flickering, the band ready to go and fizzy pop in fine tall glasses as a welcome. Suddenly, the word came through that everyone, that is EVERYONE!, needs to sit down right now. The guest of honour will be here in five minutes. Through the glass doors, we watched, again in silence, all 130 of us, as she walked into the courtyard on her husband’s arm, looking like she was on the catwalk, which she often is and wearing heels that lifted her head into the clouds. She and her friend had a thing going about heels. Something to do with a long history of who-is-the-tallest-model-in-the-room. I got a stiff neck talking to either of them, standing, as I do, barefoot and shortarse. As we all rose, on command, to our feet, still in silence, she caught sight of us. Well, you can hardly miss 130 pairs of eyes all staring out at you. Her lovely face crumpled with emotion as the light dawned.

There was music. There was dancing. There were speeches, videoed messages from those who couldn’t come and a group of ballerinas from the Edinburgh Academy who performed a very moving piece. My favourite bit was the video of my two little grand-daughters, with their dad, singing (in a recording studio) that lovely song from the Greatest Showman – the one about a thousand dreams. Not a dry eye in the house for that one.

And so it went on.

Making the journey, in secret, was worth every complication. To gift such a gift takes an enormous amount of planning and a can-do attitude. It takes careful consideration, furtive meetings with caterers and venues and helpers and co–ordination of a hundred different facets. But he did it. He did it for her. And that is the most wonderful thing of all.

The young guests, whose partners are nearing this golden age of 40 are now wondering if Tea with The Neighbours is going to be enough. In fact, I think it’s bothering them a lot.

Island Blog – Birthdays

I follow my son’s tail lights through the scary ebb and flow of Glasgow and on, on, up and up, around the swirls of Loch Lomond. Tight fit, those swirls, and too many fat buses with sticky out side mirrors choose that time to challenge me and Maz. Maz is my mini, and she is not ‘mini’ at all, but a wide shouldered broad, with sass. Black and sturdy she is, thinking me of many black, sturdy, sassy, wide shouldered African women. She has Sport Mode, whatever the hec that is, and Cruise Control which thinks me of unfastening my seatbelt at 60,000 feet. I doubt I will press either button. In fact, I am hesitant to push any button, however exciting it says it is on my flashy dash. I manage Radio Two, and Steve Wright is most encouraging for quite a decent distance. He makes me chuckle with his quickfire nonsense. Just for the record, Stains and Staines are not spelled the same. I wonder if anyone will put him wright, or if it doesn’t really matter at all how you spell anything much, unless you’re my dad.

We arrive #knackered at my son’s house at 6pm. Feed me wine. That’s what I said. It is the eve of my birthday and I have achieved much in this lead up, being ‘lead up’ by one of a mother’s strongest allies – a son. The other is a daughter. Can’t beat ’em, and I would recommend everyone has a try for both. We eat a delicious stir fry thingy and are in bed before Corry, not that either of us watch it, but my mother-in-law was a devotee and a visit around that time was stonewalled, so it’s clocked in my marital DNA, even if she did die in 2002.

I manage, pre early bed, to book Maz and me on the 12pm ferry home. Twice. I also booked, so they tell me, when I arrive at the ticket office, on the 2pm. Pretty damn fine I reckon for a 66 year old birthday girl. Let’s do everything in style, shall we? I choose the booking with the prettiest colours and I line up in Lane One. I’m super knackered now. It has been a wonderful adventure and wonderful adventures can take it out of you once they are definitely parked in yesterday. Perhaps I should take to wearing lycra. As far as I can tell, lycra has hidden energy-giving qualities, or so it seems to me, as I’m dazzled by the shiny slink of it sheathing the lithe bodies of high sport achievers or Munro baggers.

On the ferry (with the prettiest booking) I sink into a seat, feeling a tad flip-flop, until a woman rounds the corner, her eyes scanning the room. I haven’t seen her for well over a year so I stand and make her want to sit with me, like Ra the snake. I don’t think my eyes are revolving, but what do I know? I’m not looking at them. It works, anyway. She is someone I don’t know well, but one I liked at first contact and she seems willing enough to join me. The next 45 minutes does something remarkable. All we do is to share chat about our lives. I ask about hers, and she asks about mine. Neither of us dominate the conversation. We talk of dementia, of caring, of dogs, kids, siblings, mums and dads. As we talk, I find an answer to something, a something that was never even raised nor placed on the little round fixed-to-the-floor-for-safety table. I don’t get it till me and Maz drive onto the island and then it comes, like a bolt from the slurry skies, aka, one minute blue, next minute flat white with the threat of something only the flat white knows……for now.

It bizarres me. First off, it was no coincidence that she and I would meet on that ferry on that day at that time. As you already know, I had booked on quite a few. Second, we never touched on that subject. And yet, and yet, well holy milk bottles…….I got an answer! I also notice that my flip-flop has turned into lycra. So I drive back home through the Glen #nocarsatall, arriving home to a birthday dinner invite. I light the fire, tidy up, unpack, la la la and then off I go, me and Maz, a short distance up the track to find balloons, dinner, champagne, music, cake, another son, his wife, two crazy wee girls (one naked, just how she likes to be), a roaring fire and me being celebrated. We, me and the girls, one naked, open the presents and the dog eats the wrappings. I have no idea who gave me what as it happens in a hysterical heartbeat and, besides, I was laughing too much at the show of it. We dance, we flip crazy girls, we sit by candlelight and forget all about the ‘acceptable measure of alcohol for a woman over 60’ thing.

I am going to collect my old car from the ferry terminal this morning.

Best not, says the Voice in my Head. That birthday, dear girl, was one hec of a cracker. I agree. The best in many years in so many ways.

Island Blog – Travelling

‘And it’s from the old I travel to the new – keep me travelling along with you’.

That’s a line from a bouncy hymn, and it’s one I like for the pictures in my mind. Travelling from the old towards the new sounds like a plan, a daily one. I will be travelling, literally, tomorrow, to find my new car, a mini, my own car, my own choice. As I know very little about cars beyond the obvious requirements necessary to drive one, my son is coming with me. He, like most boys, does know cars. Where I could be dazzled by the colour or the shine or the alloy wheels, his head will be under the bonnet. Where I fall short, he will stand tall, asking the right questions about emissions and mileage. I could fall for sleek black or wild red and not discover a thing about emissions or mileage. It doesn’t mean I am a fool in such matters, but by travelling along with him, we can cover all areas effectively, bringing this thing to a satisfactory conclusion. The right colour, the right price and the emissions and the mileage at a satisfactory level. Many times in my life I have been quite certain that I could and should do everything on my own. If I ask for help, I show weakness. I was so sure of that. Eventually, however, I did learn that in not asking for help, I was depriving someone else of the chance to be valued. We all like to be valued and if a person asks for help, we feel chosen, honoured. I had forgotten that in my drive to be singularly successful, and it proved to be a lonely old place, even if I did feel a tidal wave of smugness wash over me on completion of a difficult task. Sometimes it is wonderful to overcome a challenge all alone, such as assembling a wooden flat pack garden planter without help, a task I completed yesterday. I had to guess what went where, however, as there were no instructions in English. Polish, Russian, Japanese, Eastern European, yes, but not a word in a language I could understand. It looks marvellous now, even if I have screwed it together upside down so that the ‘easy-lifting’ handles are at the bottom.

Prior to employing a weekly cleaner, I wrangled with the sense of failure in me. I have time, after all. I can work the hoover and the duster and the eco window cloth. So why am I asking someone else to clear up my mess? Am I being lazy? On sharing my angst with another son, he wisely pointed out that, by employing said cleaner, I am valuing her. I am helping to put food on her table. Both of us win. I have a super clean house and she has money in the bank. I also have someone to cut my grass. Yes, I could do that too, even if I hate doing it, but I choose not to. I choose to value his work and he makes a very good job of it, and the hidden benefits of sharing a work load lie in human interaction. Alone, I would grump my hoover down the stairs and curse the dust that gathers in 6 short days, but when Thursday comes I get to laugh and chat with a woman of whom I have become very fond. On grass cutting days I can discover what goes on in the gardener’s life and what he thinks about any topic arising. Those encounters stay with me and influence my mood. They lift me, and maybe I lift them too. I felt the same on agreeing to help with dementia care. Those girls work hard, and their work is tough and demanding, physically and emotionally. I can do all the things they do for me, all by myself, but, in being all by myself, I am lonely and sometimes overwhelmed. Although they might have to walk here beneath inclement skies, or have to drive miles over switchback roads, I now see clearly that we all win. I don’t have to do what they come here to do and, when they do come, they bring in the light.

So travelling along together is, I have decided, the way to go. Not always, for I love and protect my solitude, as I value completing a challenge alone. But…… there are times I think we miss out on the hidden benefits of sharing a problem by letting someone else in. The concerns we feel about this or that, once shared, can find their own way home. Alone we can worry an issue into a tangled web. I’ve done it a million times in my life and all I end up with is exhaustion and sleeplessness. Worry is a fool’s friend, after all.

I have created monsters through worry and not one of them ever became the truth, once I reached out for help by letting someone else in. Travelling together is what we are meant to do, be it for a new car or for help in difficult circumstances. It amazeballs me that we can resist it so much, thinking we have to do everything ourselves.

Today I recommend reaching out to a fellow traveller. The unseen benefits can change a life.

Island Blog – Methinks

I like wild places and children’s faces. I like paths that narrow and then disappear into trees or over a hill, like a beckoning. I like red wine and black coffee and avocados greened by the sun. I like jackboots and horses crazy running and free. I like snow and sunsets that turn old pine trunks orange. I like quick decisions and slow mindful thoughts, bare feet and spontaneous joy as it lights up a moment. I like classical music and dance beats, flowers in surprising places, people, solitude, soft lighting and comfy armchairs. I like hot baths and icy water from a mountain stream, tomatoes chopped in olive oil and basil, climbing fences and being blasted in the face by a freezing Atlantic wind. I like doorways and sitting on kerbs. I like change, colour, and clouds, and I like finding something when I was looking for something else.

Like that male hen harrier canting on a rising gale, hunting, perfectly balanced. I was lighting the woodburner, looking for kindlers, in a clifftop cottage far out into the mystic, and listening to the punch of a north easterly gathering strength. The sheep were hunkered behind drystone walls and the goldfinches, sparrows and other small feathery tots held fast to the branches of the bent-backed hazels, all talking at once like women in a Glasgow bus shelter. That white magic, his flight, his caring less about me, eyes on the chance of breakfast, took my breath away. In moments, he was gone, sliding through the wind. The day lay ahead. Shall we walk this way or that? Shall we sit and contentedly knit and sew now or later? We could choose whatever we wanted, my best friend and I because we had 6 days of this wild freedom, just us and her dog and the wild things all around us. We could talk for hours without interruption, although the return of the snow white hen harrier would have been a welcome one. We could eat lunch at breakfast. We could move mindfully, laugh uproariously, tell each other secrets and the best way to make lemon cheesecake. We could share tales of children and grandchildren, remember together long past memories of people, places, happenings. We did all of those things as Time decided to move at double speed through the days. And, suddenly, it was over.

I like transitions and dogs, hand-made rugs and chilli jam for breakfast. I like old boats that have turned into skeletons. I like reading and to overcome, cats paws on the water and women who look different to all the rest. I like geese cutting through the sky, cloud dancers and the meniscus of the world as I stare into the distance. I like being woken by the full moon or the soft honk of night-flying swans going somewhere I will never go. I like that Nature carries on, whatever may happen to me. I like sharing and I like friendship.

Although our time was too short, we changed each other just a bit. Every encounter with someone who holds my trust changes me, just a bit. And ‘just a bit’ is a good starting point. All our conversations, from lemon cheesecake to family troubles found a place in the space between us. Carried most carefully back home, she to Englandshire through snow and traffic jams and I, well, to just a few miles away without snow or more than 3 cars (which could never be a jam), our shared time will think us both for a long while. Back to our own lives outside of each other’s, we will remember it all with smiles and contemplation.

I have no plan to make lemon cheesecake, nonetheless.

Island Blog – Notice and Think

On the ferry coming back from #housemoving, I listened to the announcement on the tannoy. Is it still called that? Anyway, I have heard it and not listened a thousand times on my many forays into the so-called civilised world – and back again.

All children are to be restrained. Dogs too, only, for them, a harness or lead. What on earth else would you restrain a dog with? A garden hose? And what does it matter what any dog owner chooses to use as restraint? It is nobody’s business but theirs. Now, children must not be lifted over the rail. Well, thanks for guiding me there. It has been tempting, in the past, to lob my children over the side, but I resisted the urge, in the light of the fact that I am not a monster and do completely adore my children, however much they might have made me want to scream along with their current tantrum. These announcements come in two languages, just in case we only speak Gaelic, and it takes a few nautical miles to shut up. Nobody listens anyway. The urge to stay calm if the ship is sinking is almost a joke. I doubt there has ever been one soul who stayed calm at such a time.

It thinks me of this Nanny State. Everything needs to be said twice and there is no rule bending. I asked the woman at the tiny wee village shop if she could spare me a spoonful of coffee as I was dying for a fix and had forgot to bring the jar with me. She replied that she was not authorised to do that. Another time, another shop, I asked the woman behind the counter, after purchasing my purchases, if she could put this scrunched up bit of paper in her bin. I could see her bin, right behind her, its maw open, its belly barely half full. No, sorry, she said, I am not authorised to accept anyone’s rubbish. Well, I thought, on my smiling departure, nor am I. I’m sure it’s written in my DNA somewhere.

This week was a riot of Social Service visits and the guy to fit the personal alarm. Of course, the alarm thingy went wonkychops. Because the phone line now goes through the alarm, everything turned on its head. Rising suddenly from an afternoon doze, I heard my daughter’s voice. She lives over 100 miles away, so it was a surprise. Hallo Mum, she said, hallo……? Thinking she had turned up unexpectedly, I leapt up and went in search. She was nowhere, but the alarm, which connects with HQ in the civilised world carried her voice. Puzzled, we chatted for a bit whilst I expected the alarm dudes to interrupt with an admonishment. Since then, the phone hisses like a snake, telling me quite clearly that we have a fankle. Needless to say the alarm fitter doesn’t live on the island, so he and I had a wee chat about things and he guided me through an unplugging and a re-plug somewhere else. It worked to a degree, as the alarm is now back to itself, even if the phone still snakes at me like a python pre-strike. I am not authorised to sort such complex fankles, and, yet, I can, with guidance, and I did. The python might beat me however.

It is tempting to fall into line (pardon the pun). It is so easy to say NO, without recourse to even a wobbly yes. I have learned from my mammy’s knee, to be practical, to use my common sense and I am glad of it, because those who allow the ridiculous All-For-One rulebook to, well, rulebook them, just stop thinking for themselves Our brains are huge. Even when in the grip of dementia, when each little carrier of blood closes for ever, the brain is resourceful. There are so many ways to move forward, if we employ this hugely intelligent organ, but it is our own choice. I don’t believe that an All-For-One rulebook will ever make the best seller list, because each one of us is different in a million ways. We are not one. We are not we. I am I and You are You. It is a very encouraging thing to remember, especially when one of us feels strongly that we don’t fit because we don’t agree with the rest. Actually, on interviewing ‘the rest’ I found many discrepancies of thought and belief. What puzzled me was the need to comply and it is out of fear, every time. If I stand for what I think, I will be left all alone on this dodgy rock with the moon filling up and a Spring tide on the rise. That, my dears, is Fear talking.

So, although I am not going to raise anyone over the rail of the ferry, nor let my dog run riot between the decks, I will still fight the All-For-One rulebook when I come face to face with the ridiculous. I will question everything and then choose my actions. As a teenager I was a rebel without a cause, apparently. I just knew everything was nonsense but did not have the intelligence to explain it to myself, let alone anyone else. Now, I am older and wiser and have worked out a braw expanse of space in between Notice and React. I recommend it to everyone. It’s called Think Space. Inhabiting it allows me to accept what I see and, then to question it, and, finally, to react. We are told to ask questions, to question everything. Buddha, Jesus, Mandela, Luther King, and hundreds more of the deep thinkers, who refused to go along with a One-For-All rulebook, all urged us to question. I want, sometimes, to shout it from a rooftop. Don’t become a people who accept everything. Don’t take the easy way and fall into grumbling. I am not calling for a riot. I am asking myself, and you, to use that spectacular piece of kit inside every head, the one that could decide to die at any time, as it has done right here in this wee island home.

Think on that. And then react.