Island Blog – A Heart and Hopscotch

Last evening we chatted about the ordinary things sparkled with extraordinary things as is always the way when little interruptions, with long hair, laughing eyes and demands for attention bring us all quick quick back into the moment.  I always hope, when having time with my children, that there will be more than enough time to explore how we feel about this, about that, about dementia, but it is a hope that cannot be fully brought into the light.  Not when real life is the way they live, as it was for me, when my children were around my feet like scatter balls, all speaking or shouting at once and all of them saying, and shouting, different things, things that needed my attention right then, right now.  

Of course, there are times when little ones are at school, or at nursery, but those times become space for the busy parent to work, or to think about work, or to shop, or to think about shopping and the plan for later when the scatter balls return with a blast of doors, bringing inside all their news of the day, all their needs for right here, right now, and the ordinary puts his crown back on to rule once more.  These times in between need grabbing with fast talk and fast listening.  And we do it, all of us, but we only ever get a glimpse of how life is for one another.  How can it ever be otherwise?  I hear what troubles and what joys they are living alongside, and they hear how I manage, cope with, caring for their dad, my kindness, my compassion, my horrors, my weariness.  But we cannot fix each other for our worlds are worlds apart.  All we can do is take what we have learned and, if we so choose, develop it inside our own minds once the collision of a short visit becomes a memory.  

I suspect I hope for an epiphany.  It might, I tell myself, lie in exercise or oat milk or gluten free bread.  It might lie in yoga practice, a meditation programme, cleaner windows, a warmer duvet.  But, I say, I have tried all these, spent money on all these, felt an absolute certainty that this ‘thing’ is IT, that all is now sorted.  But there is the underlying truth that hides like a snake in the grass and that snake is home, is caring, is the same difficult man to live with, only worse and getting worser.  They get that, my children, but they cannot know what it is really like.  How could they?  Nobody can unless they turn into me and take on my life with all its history, experiential learning, timelines and the story in my heart.  In other words, an impossibility, and not only that, for there is a natural disinterest in all human heads, one that can take so much and no more of another’s tale, because their own tale is the one they have to write every single day and that is their focus.  As mine is mine, although, as a mother, I can take on all five stories with ease.  That is motherhood for you. A mother can spread like Flora across all her children’s lives, guiding, listening, supporting and caring, even when she is many miles away and many weeks or months or even years apart from them.  She can hold each story, each precious life in her heart, bringing each one into the light for another look whenever she chooses, held as she would hold her most treasured thing.  She can feel the pain, lift with the joys, cry with the sorrows, and all this without being able to change a thing.  

Today I hear the cows bawling from the other side of a green hill.  Geese and ducks chatter and squalk around the pond and the wind sings around the solid walls of this sandstone home.  It is autumn already, colder too and I have brought summer clothes.  I’m wearing most of them right now,  a curious combination of jeans, vest, long sleeved top and dress.  An eccentric look they might say.  Anyone seeing me out in the town could define me because of my clothing, having no idea why I wear what I wear.  And that is how it is in the world.  You see me, you decide.  I see you, I decide.  And there is a very strong likelihood that we are both wrong.

Eggs on toast for breakfast.  Only 2 glasses of wine last night.  Board games before bed.  Bed by 8.  Warm, cosy, comfortable, sleeping till 5.30, then sleeping again till 7.  I never manage any of this where I live, where the demons await me, as they have always done.  Notwithstanding, I will go out, as I always do, among people, friends, children and strangers, and I will sparkle and laugh, chat, show interest, learn new things.  I will keep bringing light to everyone I meet.  This is my way.  This comes from my heart, my poor broken and scarred heart, one that has kept me alight and alive no matter that cruel winds burned and froze me, or harsh words, neglect and rejection tried to disappear me, this faithful heart is a beacon, a light in a wild and angry ocean, guiding me back to me. And this is home.  Me is home.

Father James said something to me as we shared a table on the ferry.  ‘Each person has to make the ultimate choice in this life’.  Taking the cruelty, the hardship, the hunger and the pain of a life and deciding between two paths.  One is to spend that life in anger, bitterness, self-protection and revenge.  The other is complete selflessness.  One is holding on.  The other, letting go.  Of everything and everyone’.  I saw a little girl in black and white, like a drawing, holding a red balloon.  As I watched her, she laughed and let it go, turning her face to the sky as it climbed into the clouds.  When it had become a tiddlywink she looked down at her feet.  I thought she might be sad, but no, she hopscotched.

Island Blog – The Turning

It seems like yesterday I stood here in my little garden listening for the first cuckoo call. And, now, a whole summer is behind me, not gone but going. August has always been the turning point for us on the island, that month when flower stalks push out less buds so that I can pick longer stems to delight the inside of my home. All summer long I have placed vases in each room so that on entering a person can breathe in a scent so heart-lifting as to whoosh out in a happy gasp. Contained inside thick walls of ancient stone, these chosen blooms can fill a whole room with the lush fragrance that still calls in a bumble bee through the open door, sending me a-dash for my empty jar and my postcard to free them once more. But only when they’re done sipping the nectar. I never rush them. They, after all, have a very important task to undertake. All that life-giving pollen, that golden dust, will help to ensure new growth next year as long as they are free to deliver it.

Nature has no trouble with the turning. It just, well, turns, quite without the panic we seem to feel as the skirts of summer begin to rustle. No! we cry, Don’t Go Yet……as if summer is our answer to everything. But nothing stays summer, not the season, not a relationship, not even a whole week inside a life because we too are always turning, always changing. We have moods. I recall that being a very bad thing when I was having a lot of them as a girl. A moody girl had something decidedly wrong with her and that wrong needed righting and many heroic attempts were made to accomplish just that. It laughs me now as I reflect upon the methods used to contain me and the bars and chains employed to keep me in. It was a pointless process and proved little beyond the certainty that they were going about this all wrong. If I am a purple flower I will never grow red. If I am a daisy I will never turn into a pine tree. I am who I am, was who I was and no amount of remonstrative logic will make one iota of difference. But who was listening within that culture of spare the rod and spoil the child? I just learned how to keep my colours, my changes, quiet, and that was the best I could do against such a power.

Although I do agree that the balmy days of summer are a salve to any soul, I accept completely that such perfection cannot last. In sending out less buds, each plant or shrub knows this. There would be no point continuing to bud up as the turning sends her message on the back of a changing breeze. They hear it as do we, but they don’t fight it even as they flower on for our delight. The birds have fledged now and grown tails and a heightened awareness. Even the second sitting of hatchlings have learned the ropes. This time is not a time for beginning life, not for them. They must learn about shelter, which berries to pick, how to keep eyes peeled for attack. It is a time for developing strength and an eye for opportunity in preparation for the colder days and nights ahead. The flower stalks will turn slowly brown, drawing themselves back into Mother Earth for a long and well deserved sleep. Some will rise again next spring. Some are just for one season only.

And we can follow their example. Not only can we accept that the turning is moving closer but we can take pleasure in it. Instead of looking backwards we can prepare for forwards, as nature does. Although I am guilty at times of a wistful staring at what was, I know that a joyful letting go means freedom. Nothing can bloom for ever. It would be exhausting for starters. Letting go is a dying in a sense. Practising CPR on a fading flower is quite pointless when I could be making soup or walking among the grasses, whitened into a froth of beauty just because their stems are dry. That fading flower can represent anything in my life like something I wish would live on to beautify my life once more, something that turned when I wanted it to live for ever.

In the turning of Nature, I turn. In the changes, I change. And there is music and colour in such a harmonic dance.

Island Blog – Footprints and Stars

These past couple of days I have revisited old haunts. Haunts is a good word. It speaks of ghosts and memories, both good and bad, and, in revisiting ghosts and memories I find the chance to see things differently, not least because my life has moved on since the original encounter. However, within that moment or those moments risen up by my feet crossing familiar ground I can choose how to respond in the nonwnow as they call it in Africa. Now is one thing, nonwnow is quite another, more flexible in that it could mean In A Few Minutes or When We Next Meet or even Right This Minute. Responding to a sharp-toothed memory can mean a repeat of the awfulness of it, as it was when I walked right into it the first time, or it can offer me the chance of a tidy up, a reset of perspective based on the length of the timeline, the bungee that connects me to it and always will, the one I can cut with the scissors of today. Time has passed and old crimes have old teeth, blunted as teeth will blunt over the years.

Walking with an old friend up to Tapselteerie House and around her flanks, of the house, not my friend, I made for the shoreline and the old fisherman’s cottage, now just a shell. As we wandered through lands we both know so well, land we walked over so may times, leaving footprints as we moved through our busy lives. Running a hotel, catering for the visitors, the boat trips, the self catering estate cottages, the five feral children, we have much to share on this wander down memory lane. This time we were on a mission for photographs of me in the hope of finding The One for my song album cd cover. My friend (Maddy in my book Island Wife) is the punch behind me making a singer/songwriter collection at all. She is also a fab photographer. She and her partner have created the space and the musical imagination for me to write and record words that came to me as words always have and with their skills on how to build gravitas from a single melody line, together we created a phrasal melodic cocktail. Together we worked to develop them into whole songs about my life, my loves, my fears and my messages of hope. Maddy is a fierce producer and a gentle encourager. Sit on that rock, she said, and let me catch that sea-light. I scramble as elegantly as possible onto said rock and lower my butt. I won’t say ‘back a bit’, she laughed. Promise! I peered down into the water some 10 feet below and rolled my eyes. She clicked. Not that one please………

We watched the sky. We let our eyes float over the scurvy grass, sweeping up to the hills, hills that once were speckled with our cheviot sheep, our galloway cows. Dapples of sunlight caught the snow white grass tops as they swayed like dancers in the soft breeze. I looked towards the bog and felt a sharp stab of memory, one that still haunts me. Duchess. Big, soft Duchess sunk to her belly in that bog, no hope of escape whilst a freezing hail-heavy blizzard battered her face. She wouldn’t have known about bogs, being a 3 ton Suffolk punch with meatplates for feet; had no instinct to warn her off those tempting green shoots of early spring grass. By the time we found her, it was too late and we should have called the vet right then, but we didn’t. She died 3 days later, having been hauled out with ropes and a digger and it is my biggest regret that we put her through that alongside the other regret that she was out at all in such weather and at such a cruel time of year. In short, we were negligent, poor farmers, ashamed. I whispered my ‘sorry’ again to her memory and turned back to the camera.

The following day we headed out again, this time into grasses and hills and mostly sky. Maddy snapped hundreds of shots, moving me this way and that, back a bit, forward a bit, look at me, don’t look at me and in between we reminisced and laughed and made more footprints and filled the sky with more stars. I love the image we chose as IT and will smile when I see it on the cd cover, somewhere in the autumn, by which time the colours will have changed into a spectacular dying, one that sings diva colours to the colding sky before they fall into the long sleep of winter. And even then, even inside that frizzing clutching ice, there is the newspring of life already warm inside the womb.

Island Blog – A Perfect Fit

I have discovered something important about duvets. It’s an odd one when I come to think about it. Actually, no, it’s infuriating.

Things we need inside a home are usually a standard size, things like light bulb sockets, soakaway pipes, curtain hooks and duvet covers. If I have a double duvet, I’m going to hunt for a double duvet cover. Simples, you think, but you will be wrong. I was wrong for decades, wondering, as I wrestled my way through the menopause (should be named womenopause), what on earth was wrong with me. Sleepless nights, wrangled bedding, hot, cold, covered, uncovered, good lord how much longer will this ailment assail me, and then some. It must be me. of course it’s me. It always is. Every other women is in control of her duvet. I know this because we talk about it.

Many years too late I have a thought as I shake the duvet back into the corners. Now wait just a minute here. As I observe the ridges of clumped feathers around the edges of the cover and that flat meadow in the centre I begin to wonder if a standard single duvet cover is standard at all. I get my tape measure, remove the duvet, lay it flat on the floor, measure it. Ditto the standard single duvet cover. There is a discrepancy of two inches total, two inches not enough for the inside to rest comfortably flat within the outside. This is a crime. This is confinement and we have been in jail for years, me and my duvet.

I begin my research. It seems that, although duvet covers in the UK are one standard size (unless you click on the ‘super long’ or super wide’ box prior to purchase) whereas duvets are from somewhere else altogether and sized according to an EU ‘standard’ which is bigger. I wonder how many others have discovered this nugget of gold information buried deep in the mines of confused marketing? Nowadays I purchase a double duvet cover for a single duvet and am freed once and for all time from my nightly prison. It thinks me, this insidious confinement over time, the one that didn’t introduce itself nor explain, the one that kept me in the dark and withheld vital information from me, such that could have seen me free a long time ago.

Yesterday the sun shone like a fireball and we decided to head for a beach. There are many stunning island beaches, and the one we chose is not easily accessible. Less people. Less confinement. Picnic packed, rugs, buckets and spades, suncream and extra nappies and we set off. The beach we chose is down a long track that snakes the rocky shoreline and runs between granite rock risings and emerald grasses. Bumping our way onto a flat-ish plateau we disembarked and began the walk down to an enchanting bay, one I had never visited before despite living just across the water for over 40 years. Tapselteerie days were not for me to play in. Whether or not I was confined to the domestic, I felt that I was. It was always someone else who took the children to such idyllic places. The little ones stripped off to run pellmell down to the receding tideline, grabbing nets and spades and screeching with excitement. Unconfined. And we relaxed, stretched, breathed in the salt air as the sun warmed our faces, a feeling of freedom washing over us both.

For a few short hours we watched the play, paddled among rocks and fingers of kelp, caught hermit crabs and released them back, built castles and buried toes. As I sat alone, watching the grey clouds build overhead, I heard the eerie song of the seals somewhere in the distance. The sound, like wailing flute music made me smile. Sailors captivated by this sound have foundered their boats on rock teeth, and those who survived spun stories of Selkies, creatures half woman, half seal, who lured ships to their end, greedy for sailor husbands. I close my eyes and let the siren call fill my mind. On this island, busy as it may be during the summer months, we hold history and mystery in both hands. Beaches like this one accommodate seabirds, waders, otters, sandpipers, plovers and seals. There is room for all of them including us. Scurvy grasses line the shore, black basalt rocks lift their snouts to the elements, their faces coated in white and gold lichens etched in intricate designs.

As the tide slinks further away, we pack up to leave. All that is left are footprints and they will be dissolved by tonight leaving only space, unconfined, timeless, a perfect fit.

Island Blog – And…..Rest.

The morning opens pink and blue, soft-clouded in a smokey grey mantle. Today will be another warm one, once the sun gains height and fire. These days of soft air and buzzing insects are dreamy. As I watered the planters last evening, the air still sunshine hot, I watched the flower heads standing quite still, the shrubs upright and elegant, proud to show their colours to the sky. No bashing wind to tear away delicate petals, no strong fingers pulling at their stalks until they bend or break in defeat. I could hear every sound without interference and I stopped awhile to listen. I could even hear my own heart beating. It was like the world had stopped to rest.

It is easy to urge others to rest, to take rest very seriously. I wonder sometimes how on earth we think it’s ok to move faster, take on more, say yes to anyone who asks, but not quite so ok to rest in equal proportions to the demands set before us. I remember my mum saying I’ll rest when I’m dead, and laughing with her as she did. But there is a truth and a nonsense in there somewhere. I give rest a high importance sticker in my life now, but as a young woman juggling a thousand plates and foolishly thinking they would all crash and break if it wasn’t me who kept them high.

The sidelines of weary rising to exhaustion manifest themselves in many different ways. First of all comes the snap of a tongue lash, a sudden bursting of the blister. Long before someone sinks to the ground there can be eating disorders, sleeplessness, worries that tie and bind a troubled mind until it’s very hard to work out the knots. Frowns that form tramlines on a face, thinned lips, ground-down teeth, weight loss or gain, strange choices, introversion, excess and many more delights come as the mind and body scream for rest. I was crap at it, the resting thing and nobody could tell me, or, rather, people did but my ears were full of demands so that I listened not to the still small voice of calm, but instead swatted it away like a fly.

Oh the wisdom of reverse looking! How we oldies can see what we did wrong and how completely disinterested is the next generation in what we say, rolling their eyes as we had rolled our own eyes at such wrinkly advice. That was your time, they say. Life is different now, faster, louder, more demanding, more competitive. They have a point. But didn’t we say the same thing when we were young all those years ago, thinking that ‘if it is to be it’s up to me’? I certainly did. And although I got safely enough through my own life, I still wonder if it might have been an easier sail, had I let go of the helm at times instead of leaving it way too late. I’m down here! I would cry, from my collapsed position on the floor and then someone would have to pull me back up. All I felt was shame, not because I left it too late to ask for help or admitted ‘I am not enough’, but because I collapsed at all.

I watch my children run too fast, missing the garden still of their days and I can do nothing but watch. I point out some holes in a fallen trunk. Fairy homes. There are fairies in these woods. Let’s look for more, shall we? But there is the sound of a message coming through, a ping that demands attention from a mobile phone and the only ones joining me on this fairy hunt are the little ones.