Island Blog – Time Standing

Some days Time stands still here. There are four old clocks tic-tocking away, all saying different things, but I am used to that. Old clocks and Time have a personal relationship of which I know nothing. They are of another century, and we all know how indulging we are around those of another century. One of them shoots off into the next hour without any guilt, clutching on to youth perhaps, whereas another holds back and arrives with a ding dong ages after the hour has passed. I used to faff and fiddle about correcting them, like, this is Wednesday and Wind Up day and you are almost a day behind/ahead…………but, now, I don’t bother. They are free to do what they like. I like their perception of Time. And, it is, to be truthful, only ever a perception. God thinks in gazillions of centuries and we ferrety little mortals who imagine that our life is THE life, get our panties in a knot over minutes, even seconds. Late for work = nil points; early for a first date = overly keen. Always a negative judgement in there somewhere.

Anyway, back to me. The mornings are busy tiddley-pom with washing and wiping and firing up and laying out, not the dead, but the ship-shape plan for the day. Easy. Done. Then comes lunch and that’s when Time gets weary, and, sometimes stops. I crawl on till 2pm and when we get there, me and Time, I wonder if 2pm isn’t a dividing line between Everything’s Fine and Oh Crumbs! I think it is. I recognise it from Babyhood, not from my own, but around my many children, that lapse in the day when a 6 am start, parked light years in the past reached out to meet the afternoon/evening/night demands that felt like an oncoming army of Borg, with me in their sights. Resistance, as they say, is futile. And then there was me in the middle, confounded by Time, ruled by it, defeated and then elevated by it in equal measure, because, of course, once Time says It’s time, I am up and running like a sleekit cat across the hills of resistance and on, on, on, into the necessary.

However, now that I am a carer and the days are s l o w m o v i n g, I find 2pm a right pain in the aspidistra. I think, Oh Golly, there are many hours between this and bedtime and the afternoon yawns in agreement. Well thanks for that. I do a bit of this and a bit of that. I re-pot, plant out, bring in washing, sweep a floor, go upstairs to come downstairs, wipe something, read a bit, knit……Oh KNIT! Well, this knit thing has become my saviour. Between Yawning 2pm and Thank Goodness Bedtime at 8.30, I have discovered knitting. I have no idea what this length of knit-ness is, but what I do know is that is soothes me into the marvellous. All my troubles seem so far away whilst I knit a load of nonsense in the colours of the sea. It’s like I am knitting my own ocean and the feel of it in my hands is wild, when I think like that. The l o n g hours between 2pm and bedtime are fooled. Ha! I tell them. Do Your Worst. I have found a way around your irritating yawning and indolence. I a m b u s y knitting an ocean and I bet you have never managed to do that, you over there playing games with Time and thinking you are in control…..the pair of you…..one upstairs, still in yesterday, and you, half way up like Christopher Robin, lurching step by step into tomorrow……….

Well I am in Today. It is all I have, and it is my best shot at living. I know that. Everybody knows that.

Island Blog – Lead, Kindly Light

The light around the window is but a shuffle, as though a child has drawn it and then tried to rub it out. 4 am, and the first bird is already out and about. Slowly the light strengthens, becoming more defined, more itself. Morning has broken. I rise to let her in. She floods my wooden floorboards and illuminates the room. There is no sign of darkness. Night has flown. I shower and dress, slap on the slap and head down for coffee. There is only me awake this early, only ever me and in my story, this isn’t early at all. I am diurnal as a member of a diurnal species, but I inhabit the darkness too. I may be unable to see with my eyes but my mind can always see, and what I see may be a bit dodge at times.

What we see and how we see is everything. Light is light and we take daily light as a given, for granted, for it will always come until it doesn’t any more, either when we die or when the world ends, and not one of us has a scooby when either will come to bear. For now I am not dead, and the world is still the world, spinning slow, rising and falling through the seasons, the wars, the disasters and the joys. We need the light to see the weeds that need pulling out, to see the smile on another’s face, to do our homework. But for those who live in constant darkness there is no outside light. For them, the inner light will lead. For the blind, the broken, the abused, the war victims, the abused, rejected and the starving, there is only that inner light, one that we who suffer not as they do, take for granted. We think this is it, this is all we need, this light from the outside, but we are wrong in our thinking. If we expect to be illuminated from any source other than our own hearts, we set ourselves up for disappointment.

The kindly light within is constant, day or night and we all have access to it. This light is not snuffed out by outside influences, or not for long, if it is tended and treated with loving care. This is the light that leads us through life, whatever life we are asked to lead. This light will guide us through any depth of darkness, any despair, any doubt, worries or wars. It will feed us when we starve, give us sight when we are blind, warm us when rejected or abused for it is a kindly light. External circumstances can chill us to the bone, can leave us lost and confused, but if this inner light is nourished, we will come through it all. Inner light is self love, compassion for others, a gentle acceptance of all things, all people. It is belief and belief is faith and faith is trust, not in what we see in daylight, but in what we cannot see.

So, lead, kindly light. It matters not what life asks of us. We are so much more than our circumstances and inside each one of us there is this shuffle of light that, with recognition and trust, will strengthen until it defines who we are and what we are really capable of.

Island Blog – Homecoming and Rust

Last night around ten I heard them pull into the drive. I was floating in and out of a much needed sleep but I know the sound of my own gravel and, besides, nobody drives this way that late. I heard the male voices somewhere in the woozy distance and rested in the sure knowledge that I wasn’t needed. Not this late. It thinked me of all those times before when the mariner returned from the Mara and I would leap out of bed ashine with welcome. It was what a goodwife did. Something to eat? Tea? It didn’t matter that I would be up again through the night with small child and up again as the first bird sang in the morning. I was a good wife. Now, this time, however, I allowed my own exhaustion to take over, feeling somewhat guilty. I am enough and the morning will come soon, the day rolling out like a new carpet and taking me, us, in a new direction.

Home is where the heart is, the wife is, the safety and warmth is. He will have been so happy as the car pulled up and that lovely sigh rises like a sun into his mouth. Aaaaaah……….at last……home! After such a diplodocus of a week, starting with many flooral connections, pale faced, unsteady and scared, an ambulance journey, two hospitals and enough wiring affixed to light up Wembley Stadium, he is now safely re-paced. We, who waited and wondered, who drove miles, flew more miles, made endless phone calls and spoke to consultants, doctors and nurses, are, understandably, bejabered. And relieved.

The day breaks soft, but I did encounter a rather snippy cold wind as I rounded the house to feed the birds. My sweet peas are planted out in a sheltered corner and I know it’s a bit early for this wild place. Although I doubt there will be a frost, my doubting has made little difference in the past and I have stood before, mournfully, above little seedlings, out too early, darkened and flopped over thanks to a sneaky overnight drop in temperature. However, I am hopeful, and the peas are already wrapping strong tentacles around the verticals of two quirky spiral things with knobbles on, things that rust naturally and I love rust. We all rust eventually and it looks to me like a perfectly natural process. The weathers of life will shine on us, batter us, flaw and flake us, but we are beautiful at every stage. Our obsession with youthfulness denies us the pleasure of rusting. It isn’t real, nor possible to de-age ourselves, and when I meet someone who embraces his or her rusting, it is a beautiful thing to see.

My dangly thing didn’t do the trick. Jack Sparrow saw right through it. Now (and fingers crossed) I have stuck on a sheet of window frosting that breaks up the flat clear of glass and turns it into a diamond-shaped light mosaic. I think it might work, well, once I’ve flipped the window round to re-attach the top left corner. Fixing it on the inside didn’t work so I had to stick it to the outside. Outside there is weather and weather will pick and fret at outside things until she wins the fight. Everybody knows that. Everybody who accepts the rust and adorns it with flowers.


Island Blog – On Reflection

The sparrow, now named Jack, keeps on knocking. I called a friend and have discovered why. It seems he sees his own reflection in the window, the one just below his nest under the slates. He believes this reflection to be a rival male, hence he flings his little body at the glass over and over again, glass that is now well and truly beaked. Evidence of his relentless collisions is peppered over the whole pane. I hang cloth on the inside, darkening the stairwell but he still sees himself, still wakes me at dawn. His beak must be quite rounded off by now. I’m not sure I can go through a whole nesting season with his percussive accompaniment. His wife watches from where she perches on the gutter. She might be jolly proud of his manliness for all I know. I don’t speak sparrow. This morning I pull down the darkling cloth and screw a cup hook into the recess. Balanced on steps, I affix my bejewelled dangly thingy. It catches the light and moves gently in the breeze. So far so good. Either he is off somewhere collecting bits and bobs for a soft landing, or he has been fooled by bling. I am hopeful. I just want him to stop beating himself up. It is hard enough to go through the annual palaver of finding a mate, building a nest and rearing his young, without the added extra of having to fend himself off, dulling his beak in the process.

Yesterday the old sea-dog was fitted with a pacemaker. It all went smoothly and he sounded fine when I spoke with him afterwards, if a little groggy. Today he returns to the island, all being well, and, knowing him, all will be. There is a sense of relief tinged with apprehension among the family. Although his heart will now work as it should and he will feel stronger, he still has dementia and I am still practising the true art of caring. My days will go back to what they were and however much I practise, I will never be perfect. This swingle of conflicting emotions thinks me of the sparrow attacking his own reflection. And no bling will fool me. One minute I am wishing this was over, and the next beating myself up. It’s like tennis in my head, back and forth and it never stops. Between the family members there are differing opinions, maddened by high velocity emotions and there’s himself heading down the road to nowhere. And then there’s me with a dulled beak and a load of guilt, hurling myself at my own reflection.

Each day there is more colour across this land. Gorse explodes in a rapture of butter yellow across the bare hills that once stood forest tall. Willows push out new leaves and birches flash silver at the kiss of sunlight. I see deer graze on the skyline, chestnut brown against the winter grasses, slow moving, bellies rounded with new life. I hear the birds and I watch them colour up the little garden as they dart down for food. The air is gentle, the sun warm, the sea-loch a tad bumpy. Today, a beach walk across the white sands and a long listen to the heartbeat of the sea. I will whisper my words into the wind and watch them fly far out to where salty boats punctuate the horizon.

‘True art comes from flying with the madness so close you burn your eyelashes.’ Atticus


Island Blog – The Moon, The Blackbird and Joshua

The moon is loud. I know she is no longer full but she shines through my curtains like a morning, and, this morning, I am fooled awake. Wide awake. Lets-get-on-with-the-day sort of awake, not a single yawn in my mouth nor a blear in my eyes. Rats.

Ok, music. Joshua Bell’s Romantic Violin will more than do and there’s no risk of waking my neighbour, no thumping Def Lepard beat to bump against the dividing wall, which purports to be solid stone, but obviously isn’t. I can hear him open the door of his aga at his supper time when I am reading in bed. I remember we once had a chimney fire, pre wood burner with lined chimney, and the smoke came through into his airing cupboard.

The sea-loch is green lit. Moon colour, mixed with flat dark night, and metal grey water, water that lifts in a rippled response to the wind. I think of the little seedlings out there being reshaped too early. Everything here gets reshaped eventually because there are always winds blowing in from other worlds gathering speed across the ocean until they crash headlong into whatever is taller than a church mouse. I wonder if my enthusiasm for summer hasn’t jerked both me into foolery, and the seedlings into those annoyingly reshaped plants that grow sideways for months, if at all.

Today my youngest son was born, the African one. We shall birthday him well, in spite of the limbo we are all glooping our way through, as we wait to hear from the latest hospital what will be done, and when, and if, for their old dad. We keep dancing, but our feet are stuck in glue half the time and our heads never shut up. Mine jabbers on all hours, although I did manage to find an irritating melody last night that kept me entertained. It wasn’t irritating the first time around, of course, but, after four hours of repeat, I just had to get up. You stay there, I told it, and pulled the duvet back up as I left the room. It seems to have obeyed me.

Birds are singing now and the moon has turned pink. I can see the mountain shadows on her face and it smiles me. I’m not alone. I have the moon, the blackbird and Joshua. Soon the island will wake and the new day will bring whatever it brings. A light flickers into life across the water. Someone is rising, as I will soon to find another log for the fire. And in a hospital miles away, the night shift sorts and calms and tidies. Then prepares for home.

Island Blog – A Dance with Grace

Inside this waiting game lie many stumblers and many graces. In my art lessons I learned there were only 3 Graces – rather glorious looking women in long frocks and with bare feet, all looking like nothing ever broke them or interrupted their gentle dance. I know different now. Even back then I reckoned 3 Graces was nowhere near enough. Not only are there a million Graces available to all, but I realise now that in order to access said Graces, it is necessary to be broken. Grace is all about living with the cracks and sharps and yet still able to frock up and to gently dance. I expect there will be a song or two involved, lovely words that string and sing and teach and confess; inspiration, the glue that binds together the edges of what once was whole, but was whole in a way that only children can claim as their truth.

My eldest grand-daughter visited me this morning on her schmancy bike. She knows I wake early (4 am today, a lie in!) and has permission to visit whenever she likes. They all have that permission, but it is a rare treat to have this one to myself. Bambi legs and a beautiful face and so fresh in love with life, she told me tales of her recent activities, all of which involve a lot of leaping and bounding, climbing hills and playing ball with school mates. An hour of adventures filled my ears as, behind my smile, I tried to remember such times in my own life. She thinks me of something so lovely and light, any problems so easy to fix, and, if she cannot fix them, then mummy or daddy most certainly can. This is the time in a young life just before the breaks begin to hit, when a heart is pumping strong and everything can be taken for granted, each morning a new burst of opportunity, flower bright, sunshine warm and safe from danger.

This enforced period of being home alone is an oddball in my hands. One minute I am dancing and singing with the light open freedom of life without having to consider anyone but myself. I can fling wide the windows, dance to loud tunes, re-pot a plant without being told I am doing it wrong. I can eat any old time, any old thing without having to plan something palatable for himself, nor where he will sit, whether he is too warm, or, more likely, too cold. I don’t have to consider what he needs at all. The nurses will be doing that for me. No carers come through the door, bright, breezy and efficient. Time moves slow. Then a stumbler trips me. How will I relearn how to live when he comes home? Will he be suddenly stronger with a pacemaker or a stent or whatever the consultant decides he needs, or will he be knocked right back, weaker, more needy, more scared? Does something like this kick the dementia down a notch? And, what if he doesn’t make it?

Perfectly normal inner questions. There are many of us who ricochet from guilty thoughts, exhausted from long term caring and denial of ourselves. There are over 60 of us on this island alone, all fixing on the slap and buttoning up our hearts to make smiles in another day, and another, and another as we watch the cared-for one slip away bit by tiny bit. We pretend everything is fabby doo. We have to, for them, for ourselves. Broken yes, but grabbing Grace by her floaty frock as she dances by, singing her soft song of hope and acceptance. For a hug. We even pretend to our nearest and dearest, because to admit any sense of defeat is not acceptable. I have armour plating around me, big high walls, hiding myself on the inside, my thoughts chained in the dungeons. I know others live this way because we talk. We have something in common, something others do not have, and we can let down the walls.

For now, there is lamb to cook and a bramble and apple crumble, all crunchy topped and cooling, deep crimson berries from last Autumn – last Autumn when none of what is happening now was even a part of our song and dance. Easter eggs will roll, crazy painted and followed down the hill by shouts and whoops and little running legs. Chocolate will be the dream in young happy heads and probably all over the cushion covers too.

Grace dances on.

‘Every girl, if you leave her alone long enough, will eventually sing and dance.’ Atticus

Island Blog – There, Not Here

On waking, the house creaks her usual creaks and the birds twitter the little garden into a new day. Last night I was woken by the geese. Either they were up partying too late, or something was stramashing them down by the shore. It went on for quite a while and geese are not quiet about anything. Even flying in a pair seems to require a noisy interchange of information as if the sky needed to hear something essential. I always wanted to be Dr Doolittle, understanding all the words of all the birds, the growls and barks of the dogs, the steep sharp cry of a fox, but, instead, all I can do from inside my earthly limitations, is to imagine what is being said. And, I do. I have to do it with my smallest grand-daughter too. We all do. She can blabber on for minutes with all the hand movements and up/down inflections as if she knows exactly what she is saying, which, I imagine, she does. Her sentence construction is so believable that, on asking what she understands is a question (head on one side, eyes on mine) I just have to guess an answer, for only an answer will satisfy her. Good, she replies, which almost convinces me I guessed aright. And off she runs.

Yesterday via WhatsApp, the old sea dog and I had a chat. Fancy a game of scrabble? he texted. Sure, I said, you start. He did. It went thus…….

Him -Establishment.

Me – Chaos.

Him – Tavstoop

Me – oh good word!

Him – Just invented it.

Me – you were always good at that.

Him – Arianism

Me – Show off

Him – yea feels good

Me – That’s 3 words. Not allowed.

Him – oops didn’t fink you cud count

Me – Next word please?

Him – Gardener

Me – Devotion

Him – Amarylisp

Me – Pelargonium

Him – God one

Me – actually God is here just now. Jehovahs are knocking

Him – Good luck

Me – Tulip

Him – Lively Tulip

Me – Lively indeed.

Him – Tired of 1 finger typing

Me – off you go and rest. You silly old fool, frightening us all like this.

Him – I’m here not ther.

Me – not for long. Sleep tight. x

Words are like bridges between us, a network of ribbons connecting, flying out like geese across the water, through the sky and above the earth, brilliants in the cotton wool of circumstance. Noisy yet silent. Reassuring. A link between There and Here.

‘It is a lonely thing, protecting a breakable heart.’ Atticus