Island Blog – Rest and be Thankful

It is 4pm, or it was when I thought to write this. Then two lovely men delivered me a huge double glazed window and quite entertained me with their efforts and genuine smiles. It lifted my spirits, even if it was pitch black out there and they were two hours late. Yawning like a giant the evening feels like a big black hole, and, yet, I am warm, well lit with twinkly winkly lights and fat church candles on pedestals. I have good food, a merry little log burner and, now, a huge double glazed window for the fitting. We are all safe. You will guess there is a ‘but’ and here it comes.

I notice, these days of early widowhood, the shock of sudden absence. Oh, I am still here and so it Poppy dog, although she is not the whole shilling these days. Grieving, perhaps. I don’t question her, nor she me. We just abide in this strange new world of silence. This silence is fillable, of course, with music, talking books, lovely delivery men, the postie and passers by, people I know and could have rushed out to hug, would have. Can not now. We communicate through arm flapping and blown kisses and they are gone. I turn back. To the kitchen, to the log burner, to the Poppy dog, to good food for one and the evening yawns on.

I think back to all the times I was irritated, scratchy, demanding my own space, yelling for the kids to stop yelling, throwing out barking dogs into the night for a cool down and completely engaged with a life I did not appreciate enough. Now I realise how precious that time was; now I realise, moving on through the years as children left home, one by one until there was just me and just him, how precious that was too. My dad once said to me, as we chatted while he packed for another long haul trip to sort rich men’s chickens, usually in the desert, that it was quite something to be in that place. He questioned the rightness of it. We met and fell in love, he said. We brought forth children (he was a man for uptown wordage) and then got on with life. As they grew wings and flew away we found ourselves staring at each other and thinking…..remind me…….who are you? I had no experience to lean on and probably didn’t get it, but I do now and I did as that time came for me. When the ones who kept us together with all their teenage opinions and rights and that passion to change the world, left, it was just us and we were strangers. We had both gone through things together and many things alone. This will not be breaking news to any who recognise this awkward place of reconnecting, or not. Over those turbulent and demanding years it is inevitable that a couple will pull apart, pull together and pull apart again. We change according to our circumstances and circumstances alter facts. I was this young woman, he was that young man and then kids blew the whole dynamic to powder and shrouds. We lost ourselves to them, on both sides of the bed.

Now I sit here in the early dark (by 3.30 pm here) and consider it all. I can do this now with yawning evenings and so many days ahead of just me and just Poppy. I took the time with him for granted, those latter days when he was always here and so was I. Do you think I could shift this planter to a better place for wind protection? Can I go for a walk now (looking at those burgeoning rain clouds) or should I wait? He would check the sky and say, You have ten minutes, or, if you wait for five, this shower will clear and give you twenty. Shall we play scrabble, eat this, watch that, talk about this child, or that? It was like nothing, like breathing. It came and went as a natural part of a naturally shared day. Now it is just me and Poppy and she doesn’t play scrabble, nor care much what I eat or watch and has a similar diffidence to incoming rain. But it isn’t just someone missing. It is the historical other part of me, the one who, for all his faults and failures that infuriated me, the ones I commented on, sulked at, stomped around in, in loud boots and all to no avail, it is he who is missing and there are times the silence is so loud I am deafened.

I don’t want him back. Poor soul at the end, he had had enough and chose to go. But the yawning evening speaks volumes about all I took for granted, all that bothered me at surface level, all I had no idea I would miss so much some day. So, my point is this. If anyone out there stops to think about how lucky they are to have a someone, even an infuriating someone who shares their history, then it might be time to recognise that, to be thankful and, better to speak it out. When I ranted on about himself to my old mum, years ago and once she was widowed, she rounded on me. At least you know he is coming home, she said.

I rest my case.

Island Blog – Coming out, Irony and Eye rolling

‘Coming out’ means something in contemporary language, I know, and I don’t mean it that way. However, the process of coming out, of walking into the spotlight and of facing down the imagined and, perhaps, very real reactions this coming out may bring is what I am doing.

Since a long time I have self-medicated with red wine, too much of it. I had good reason, I told myself, as I pushed on through a difficult marriage and then dementia caring, but that good reason has lost its truth. To continue to self medicate when the husband is gone, along with any caring demands, is just lunacy. I don’t want it any more. I don’t want the guilt, regret and sheer terror each morning after a bad sleep full of nightmares. So, I have reached out to an addictions counsellor and our work is beginning. Although I am 67 and old (in my opinion) it doesn’t mean life is now a slow slip down the slope, not at all. There is another book in me, after all, more songs perhaps. I haven’t sat down at my piano for ages. It sits there, open-mouthed, ebony and ivory and beckoning. Why on earth not? Well, I am guessing that this self-absorption is taking over my mind on a daily basis. How blissful might it be to just get the heck on with life, with Life? I imagine wonderful, freeing, energising, peaceful.

I write this because I am betting there are many folk out there caught in a similar trap. Addictions come in many shapes and sizes. Drinking, drug use, running, over-eating or eating disorders, spending money, and many more. It isn’t anything to be ashamed of because every single one of these is birthed from a deep inner pain, one that may well date back to childhood. At first, it feels great. At second it creeps silently in to claim more territory and before you know what’s happened, you cease to exist without it, cannot imagine a day without this addiction. However, the great news is that there is help out there, gentle, empathetic, intelligent guidance and support. Hallelujah!

I don’t feel shame writing this. Living covertly, unauthentically, is crippling and there comes a time to stand in that spotlight, to come out, not to shock others but to admit to being human and caught in a trap. So here I am. I know that once a person has the courage to admit, to speak out and to lay themselves bare, the healing has already begun, even if there appears to be no way ahead. This is faith. Faith in self, in life, in the power of experienced guidance and in believing that, no matter how old a person is, there is plenty more to achieve in this single glorious life. And, just maybe, someone else will read this and know that they, too, can claim back the ground if they can just find the courage to come out.

My son, Ruari, has just won the Spectator’s Innovative Entrepreneur of the Year for Scotland and Northern Ireland with his work on encouraging and supporting people (of all ages) who want to stop drinking too much; to turn their lives around. Check him out at http://www.oneyearnobeer.com.

The eyes of my brain are rolling with the irony.

Island Blog – Eating Crow and the Saltbreaker

This morning opens wide, unfractured by rain, rain we have enjoyed for what feels like weeks, although it is probably only days. Funny that, how much heavy rains weigh on a soul. The ground is soft and boggy, the puddles digging the ground deep as if a mighty spoon had dipped at random into the earth, tasting it, and leaving we-with-legs at a disadvantage. In among the trees, the stand-water is peaty brown and clear but for the drowning mosses, a vibrant green for now. Coppery beech leaves and sienna needles lay on their backs looking up. I see the sky in the gaps between, the arms of the overhanging trees, bare now, skeletal. On the track the puddles are the colour of milky coffee and blank, saying nothing much. The road mix does that when so rudely rained upon, releasing the concrete from the concrete bits and, then sulking. Jumping in these scooped out holes can be risky. I have lost half a small child before now and had to carry her home soaked and wailing in fury at this assault on her trusting young self.

Along the shore the freshwater springs bubble in excitement. They love heavy rain, as do the burns that slip over old rocks, tumbling into a wild froth as they plash into deep pools. Under the track, over the track and down the track this clear clean life-giving water flows with confidence, pausing only to navigate a fallen branch. I wade in to remove it and am rewarded with the music of uninterrupted water flow. I think on the endlessness of such a flow on the island and it gives me comfort. I tell myself that the turning of the world, the rise and fall of the tides, the lift and glow of Father Sun and Mother Moon all contrive to assure me that no matter what goes on for me, for the rest of us living out our lives, all these are magnificent constants. For all my sins and mistakes, for all my errors of judgement, my flapdoodles, my panics, doubts and fears, the earth keeps on keeping on. And I am instantly at peace. After all, can I add one day to the rest of my life by worrying about it? Obviously not! I am surely better to engage with the magnificence of life, reminding myself by walking out into its ever-changing beauty, regardless of the weather, paying focussed attention to every single thing I see; being curious; stopping to really look and to notice how I feel about what I see.

There is a crow in my garden. It entertains me daily as it heralds its appearance with flaps and caws. First it lands on the fence and looks rather stunning against the cloud-shift sky. It eyes me, black jet, and obviously decides I am no threat. Then it performs a loop and twist until it (just) manages to duck under the roof of the bird table, landing clumsily among the spread of songbird seed. It’s songbird seed, I tell it through my window, not crow seed. In fact, I thought crows favoured carrion and rubbish from dustbins. Not songbird seed. It ignores me and scoops up beakfuls of what does not belong to it, quite without guilt. I wonder what it’s like to be without guilt? I have no idea, being more than ready to feel it most of the time. Eating crow. It thinks me. The past is, well, past and I can do diddly squat about it beyond giving it my appreciation and gratitude. It did, after all, get me this far. It made me who I am and I am mostly okay with I Am. But, and here’s the rap, I must be consciously aware all of the time, of the power of inner heavy rain and drowning puddles. This is my work. This is my purpose. I am that purpose and from me will come many wonderful things as long as I am vigilant and curious, grateful and looking up and out, always ready to learn.

When saltwater meets fresh they work together. Saltwater is dense, heavy and a pushy creature; freshwater, bubbling spring water from deep deep down inside the earth is lighter but an equal to its cousin. Fresh water dilutes salinity, floats on top of the mighty ocean, reflecting the sky, bringing in nutrients and stories, creating more. The saltbreaker. I like that, this synergy, this endless, boundless wealth of water, and it reminds me that all of this is living inside me too. The ebb and flow of days, the wax and wane of the moon, the golden glow of an inner sun, the healing rain and the odd crow.

Island Blog – Looking through Windows

My impatience, during this ‘grieving’ thing, oft gets the better of me. Why am I not sorted yet? After all, I knew he was going to die earlier than he might have done because dementia grabbed him by the throat. Why do my emotions swing like an overly excited pendulum, from an inner darkness to the bright light of freedom and opportunity, not once a day, not twice, but non flaming stop?

‘Ah, you humans……..don’t you know that your time is not my Time? My Time is a very different creature, one unfettered by schedules and earthly dates. You expect things to fit in with your plans but this is not how life works’. And that is that, apparently. I know it has only been just over 3 months. I know that those who have gone before me will say it will take 12 to 18 months to re-locate myself, not least because the last time I knew myself was almost 50 years ago; that time when I could say “I’ without being sternly reminded that ‘I’ is now ‘We’ and that most of that ‘We’ was on his terms of employment. To be honest, the ‘I’ I was back then was a strange creature, lost in Wonderland, curious, yes, but scared of my own shadow, unlike Alice. Understandable, then, that the promise of safety and shelter beneath the ‘We’ umbrella drew me in and out of that sharp, cold teenage rain. But now I am required to find myself again.

I didn’t think I was lost, not really. Despite the rollercoaster of marriage, children and rules, I knew who I was. I was a wife and a mother. I was cook and cleaner, business gofer, facilitator of others’ dreams and goals, full of sparkle and energy and quite able (a lot of the time) to ignore any inner cries for escape. Now all those memories face me through each window. Hallo, they say, noses pressed to the glass. We are all still here, you know, Mrs, not Mrs anymore. I don’t want them peering in at all. I don’t want to look out upon them all tattered and gnarled and persistent, jigging with that glee that thinks me of bullies. I could close the curtains, t’is true, but that doesn’t mean they go away. I could ignore them but, well, ditto. Apparently I just have to let them have their day and to keep walking down this new path.

I remember, well, looking through windows and wishing I could fly south with the geese. I would even have accepted ‘north’ in the darkest of times, but I am a grounded woman and we tend not to be flyers, Mary Poppins notwithstanding. However, inside a mind, the opportunities are endless. I know now that the worst failures and the best adventures happen inside a mind. In there, all choices and decisions are made. Right argues with wrong, downs argue with ups and light dances with dark. It doesn’t really matter what physically happens inside a life if the inner windows are kept clean and clear. Demons, bullies, failures, regrets come to us all and it is up to each one of us as to how we empower or disempower them. On the side of Light, we have the same choices. Although nobody can sustain a positive outlook on everything and everyone all of the time, it is possible to develop a strong reserve of endorphins so that, when the demons dance and cackle through the windows of a mind, a person can just watch without attachment or engagement.

Especially if those windows are triple glazed.

Island Blog – How to see Rain

In the rain, an ever present presence in an island life, things look brighter, not so much through a window, when it just looks dreich and dull and unappealing, but out in it and engaged with it. No waterproof keeps all of the rain out for rain is a pushy wee so-and-so. It gets down a neck, into a boot, up a skirt and even manages to defy the velcro go-away fixing at my wrists. Once rain is in, I can feel a sense of acceptance. Ok, so you win…..let’s walk, shall we? Splash, squish, slop and try to avoid the grabbing fingers of bramble thorns and flopped over bracken. It amazeballs me how much water a skinny flopped over branch can retain and how generous it is at sharing said water.

It has rained, now, for many days. November seems doomed as a mostly wet month. I wonder if November is okay with that? You have to accept it, I say, because that is the only way to be marvellous even if you feel like you are drowning. I know you would rather be May or June, but those spots are taken. You have the name you have been given and the place you must inhabit. Think yourself lucky you aren’t February. I would hate to be February, or January for that matter. A lucky escape, I say.

This attitude is one I adopt for myself. In life, a life that can throw all manner of tiddleypom at a person, that person still has a choice. If I actually look at the extraordinary beauty of rain, drifting like a murmuration across the sea-loch, my heart lifts. When I stop to look at the brilliance of apple green moss or the diamond droplets on a field spider web I see perfect art, natural art, Mother Nature’s achievements. I stop noticing the ingress of rain, its initial shiver down my neck or up my frock and think instead on how my body warms the droplets almost instantly. Then I remember this water falls from the sky, from purity, from ice melt and from far far away. Who knows where this drop of sky water came from, sucked up from an ocean perhaps or from flatwater in, say, Iceland or Alaska. Maybe, before it came to me it had listened to someone speaking out their dream, their hope and longing, their prayer for guidance. Maybe there is a deal more to this droplet than first I thought. I could be absorbing something magical, someone’s story, a someone I will never meet. How completely marvellous is that!

I stop beneath a fat old gentleman of a beech tree and see his bark shine as if it was drenched in olive oil. The hole left by a branch that began itself but never finished is full of water, sky water, stories and dreams from far away. A little finch lands on its lip and drinks. I watch it dip and tip back its perfect head for a few seconds until it notices me and scoots into the sky. I think of the gift of rain. I remember, well, the intensity of drought in Africa where the ground is dry all the way to the centre of the earth, where rivers evaporate and the wild ones die and I am thankful to be here in this November, on this rocky island in a warm home on this wet day where I can choose how to see rain.

Island Blog – Curiosity, Mother Nature and the Joy of Sparrows

I walk this day along the track I know so well. And, yet, do I really, when each day shows me change, the change that Mother Nature brings with an enthusiasm I aspire? I watch the apple green of ground moss and the stone moss that covers each ancient story stone along the old dyke, like elvish hats. Above me silver lichen clings to the plane trees, their trunks giraffe necked and just as tall. Further on and I see the old dried blood colour of blackthorn branches, bare but for the thorns. Further still and there is the old beech giant, politely fallen some years ago and just above the track, beautiful in death, cracked, the host to spectacular tree fungi. The track beneath my feet is all beech leaves and larch needles, copper and ochre, golden and the green that says it will hang on for as long as it can.

In the fairy woods I gasp at the brilliance of tree moss, the way it fingers its way up the trunks of beech and oak, covering them like a glove and shining out new beauty into the season that some people think is the dying. It is, for some, but not for that life that thrives at such a time, through rains and gales and the menopausal flush of sudden shifts in temperature. Moving into the fairy woods I am pulled into the land of Hobbit. I can almost hear the apocalyptic horses pounding over the soft peaty ground, almost want to hid behind a giant luff of overgrowth, brambles, tree stumps, thornbush. I don’t, of course. I just pause in wonder.

There are no birds today. Not even the jays with their ice-cutter voices; no geese overhead, no songbirds. There is peace and an autumn silence. The track is muddied and puddled. I see the sky in those puddles. Hallo sky, I say. I smile at the faithful evergreen fir trees, the Douglas fir, the old Scots Pines that know the sky well. Of course they do. They almost touch it. And as I walk and as I watch and notice and pause and muse, I learn. I know I always will. There is always more for me, for us, to learn, if we can remain curious about our world, which, of course, is not ours at all, but just one we are so privileged to be living in. My belief is in that privilege and I do not take it lightly. Every single thing or person I see and notice teaches me.

I remember, when living in Glasgow and thereabouts for a couple of years, wondering how on earth I would survive for a week, let alone years, in such a concrete centre of noise and shout and traffic and fear. I decided. That’s what I did. And, thus, I walked the streets with the same curiosity. I sat in a park and watched families and their games; I stood beneath a tree confined by pavement and road and watched a blue tit pick off the new buds that would have become leaves. I learned that the tree knows this will happen, that hungry birds will pinch first growth and that they accommodate just that by sending out more than one first growth, the second of the first developing much faster into a leaf? Mother Nature is a wise old girl, for sure.

Now I am glad to back here on the island, where things are slower and peaceful and allowed to do their thing. The wind can batter, the rain soak, the track change daily and, as long as I can keep my curiosity alive and well, there will never be a day when there isn’t something out there that is worth an investigation, like the joy of sparrows as I returned home. Hidden within the depths of a rhododendron bush, they chipped and twittered at me as I passed. I don’t know how many were in there but I wished them well. Keep safe, little ones, I said. There are tawny owls and sparrow hawks about this autumn and we, we in this world, we need you.

‘The Nightingale one day was listening to a Shepherd’s skilful notes on his flageolet, and following them with his voice; the Sparrow who had been watching them for some time, at last broke out, saying, “How provoked I am to see a bird so learned as you are take lessons as if you were a novice, when you must know that the song of the Nightingale was heard with pleasure and admiration long before any instrument of music bad existence, and that it is yourself who are the teacher!”—” However that may be,” said the Nightingale, “if this Shepherd has learnt from me, I may now learn from him—he tries to imitate the capricious variations of my voice, and I may gain much if I can copy his scientific manner of arranging them; and I hope you know that even the voice of a Nightingale might be improved by rule.”

Application

When the man of genius disdains to study, let him remember with the Nightingale in the Fable, that the greatest talents are those most capable of being improved by studious application’. Aesop’s Fable

Island Blog – Ma, Him and the Canyons of my Mind

Ok so yesterday was yesterday. In looking back I always ask myself, What do I learn from the day before? I am quite unable to just let it go without a considered and mindful consideration. It has come to me, puzzled me in its intensity and thus has a message. I won’t miss that message. Although the terrain through which I inched my snail-like hours swung between a tricky wade through old porridge, a vast empty desert that scalded my skin and burned my toes and an endless stretch of bog with pummets of strong grass and sinkholes to trip me, I knew I had something to learn, to understand.

It has only been 12 weeks since he abandoned me to me; since he fled the nest and left me with a thousand words in my mouth and as many questions. Although I can now choose white lights over those miles of coloured ones, choose where I put this chair or that little table, choose when I walk the dog and where I walk her without having to say where I am going, I find such a freedom both heady and terrifying. All those little things we said, like Look at that! or It’s our granddaughters birthday on Monday, or Shall we play scrabble? Maybe it was Do I feed the orange tree or shall I wait till next weekend? Now there is no him to say it to, even if, latterly, I got little response. The warm being that was there and not there was still there, was here. I remember my old ma saying to me when I furioused at her for his lack of interest in me ‘At least you know he is there.’ I didn’t get it. Dad had died a long time ago. But I get it now.

Today, this day, the day after porridge, desert, bog day, I feel an acceptance. I know that I spend a lot of time in the canyons of my mind, wandering like Alice sometimes and like a refugee on the run at others. I am looking for a new land, after all. I know it will be there one day and that this ‘wandering’ is very important. I will not stay fixed like one of those old Scottish stone markers still planted and dating back to the days of Rob Roy, my forebear. One says 25 miles to Oban. In a car it is half that. Walking the ups and downs, traversing the bogs and avoiding musket fire en route meant more miles on foot. It meant something once, a reassuring marker and guide but nowadays it is obsolete and I know this is important to ‘get’. Fears nowadays are not of musket fire, nor of sudden ambush from the reevers or royal soldiers, loyal to the king, but of the inner enemies that live inside a mind. I work to challenge my mind, to stop as I wander through its canyons and to notice, to notice. Birds of prey flying high means something is dead beneath. A song bird means trees and fruit are not so far away. A scampering rat means there is a predator around, something with a higher shelf life. Geese, swans and ducks mean water. Distant laughter means humans.

This may sound a bit weird but I have know since childhood that I live in many worlds. It compromised my dreams and confounded me as a young girl. Now, in my evening life, I get it. And in that knowing comes responsibility. I need to pay attention and to learn, even when I sometimes feel fed up with all these learning requirements. I never know what any day will bring but I have chosen to notice and to pay attention. Sometimes, when I meet someone and look into their eyes (not in a weird way) I can see they also live in many worlds. I also see that this world has managed to tame them and I am sad. My ma always said, after we chatted about the fact that I was born in Westmoreland which has now become North Yorkshire at some human’s whimsy hand, that I would have been burned at the stake had I lived in an earlier time. She didn’t really get me and no more did I, but latterly when we had time together she was open to my ‘nonsense’ in the fondest of ways.

So I walk on through the canyons. They do not meet my eyes as I look out of my window. They are not in the conversations I have with friends or passers-by. They are not in legal documents nor in the discussion about what grave stone we should erect for himself who fled the nest and left me to me. But, and this still astounds me, he ‘got’ me. It infuriated the bejabers out of him often when the worldly requirements were required, but he did say I was his spiritual guide and that I was the one he came to when, on rare occasions, he could speak of his own porridge, deserts and bogs. And sometimes he would walk the canyons with me.

I’ll rest with that.

Island Blog – The Maker of Days

This day woke me at 3am. It happens sometimes. I know it isn’t morning for the light. It’s a night sort of light and greenish, weird. The morning light is like a hand outstretched, a golden warmth, even if it comes with a cold wind and a slamming of rain against the window. It has a different voice. The one at 3am is discordant, like a jay or a crow.

So who decided this day for me? Not me, for sure. I would make all my days happy, given the choice. Or I would, at the very least, explain myself when presenting a day to someone, were I in charge of it. I would explain that, in the great scheme of days, there needs to be the odd one or two that are shit. But that is not how it happens. The shit days come like a slap in the chops. They explain themselves not, nor do they forewarn. You go to bed all chipper from a day spent in productive this and productive that and go, trustingly, to sleep. Then comes the morning, or, in this case, the not morning, the green impish twister of an hour that offers nothing. Even if ignored it chatters on, fiddling with your legs until they twitch, and your head until it can take no more and must arise for herbal tea.

I am not the Maker of Days and I am glad of it. I think of it as a job given to some failed wizard who has been relegated to the outer circle of Middle Earth. I see him alone in his poorly assembled cabin in the middle of nowhere with no mates and no chance of a hot chai latte, with an outside latrine and a fire that refuses to draw. I see him lonely, pouring over his charts and drawings by candlelight, for he has a big job to do. There are millions of us waiting for our Day prescription, every 24 hours and all across the world. He can never sleep.

Tomorrow, I know, will be a gift. Tomorrow will be a good one. How do I know this? I know it because this is just how it is for me. One day wonderful, one day shit. They alternate and have done for many years but I only noticed the pattern recently. No matter what I do, nor how I think, nor what I eat, nor who I speak to or don’t, the pattern stays in place. On the days that are wonderful, I can see forever. I notice everything as just everything. On days that aren’t I see that everything crumbling or menacing and loud with it. I see fear and destruction in things that seem laughably simple on wonderful days. I doubt I am alone in this. It doesn’t matter what I do or don’t do, the Maker of Days is stuck in his rut and it will be as he designs.

This day, this day that began at 3am with a weird green impish light and twitched my legs and refused me sleep, I know I am greater than the Maker of Days and I told him so. I pushed through chores, played music, spoke with a friend, got through to lunch. I ate well (home-made beetroot hummus, salad, oatcakes), rested and read. I sewed, fed the birds, chopped and barrowed in a stack of wood, swept floors and changed a bed, loving the fresh snap of new sheets and the final result of a pretty and welcoming bed for guests, which may have some waiting to do.

On my walk I watched the flip and snatch of a wind that reminded me of a pre-menstrual woman. All over the place. The luff and fist-punch of the wind this autumn is surprising. Hail meets rain with no lessening of the slam dunk. And, yet, it isn’t surprising at all., It has always been thus. It is my widow walk that elevates each single thing, each slam dunk, each moment, each day. I know this and I am impatient for it to be done. You listening, Maker of Days?

In my imagination I wander into the interior of Middle Earth and right up to his bothy. I know I would do this, in reality, were it an option. He is not scary. He is a fallen wizard, remember? I would ask him questions, sit by his fire, share stories and laughter and then go. He cannot change, not with that sentence over his head.

But I can.

Island Blog – The Light On Ordinary

When I was a small child, barely able to see over the dining table, roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings looked like a range of hills, some jagged, some round as parliament mounds. Slices of roast beef became cooled larval plates and vegetables a compost heap, like the one my dad forked and raked into submission, until the new additions joined the mass of grey. It was only when I had climbed onto my chair that I saw how ordinary it all was, and how temptingly delicious ‘ordinary’ can be.

I recall sitting to ‘Listen With Mother’, only Mother always fled the room having seated us and was long gone before the welcome music had stopped. I remember being immediately drawn into the story as the teller’s voice led me away from the pestilential; my woolly underpants, my too tight shoes, my nails bitten to the quick and beyond, my disappointment in life. I dreaded the end music. I waited, my heart on pause, as the story slowly came to its conclusion, the teller’s voice falling back to its final chord and my underpants reminding me of to disseminate. When I heard the music heralding the Archers, or, worse, the Shipping Forecast, I knew I was doomed, for that meant bedtime and darkness and utter loneliness. Until, that is, I picked up my book and moved immediately into a story not my own, a story fashioned from smoke and stars, wild water and silent red skies, of adventures and choice and freedom.

I am the same now. I do not choose woolly underpants, nor do I bite my nails to the quick and beyond, but I do feel a clutch in my heart when Steve Wright says, It’s time to go, and plays the end music. It is all about being thrust back into the so called disappointment. At five to five I leap up to turn off the radio. I do this because, I now realise, I don’t want that same pattern to repeat itself; that slump back into ordinary; the moment when I need to lift my reluctant self back into my life, when I must leave the story or the music behind and do things like cooking or bathing whilst wondering what on earth I can do to shorten the long hours of evening.

It was the same throughout the latter years of caring. Initially, when himself was still mobile, when he still enjoyed going out for a meal (our favourite thing) or playing scrabble beside a feisty woodburner and surrounded by candles and talk of what we would do tomorrow, I had no such slump when Steve Wright said, It’s time to go. It meant nothing. It was just a wee reminder that dinner might like to be prepared and that a warming bath with scented candles awaited both of us. I didn’t even mind his derisive snort at the festival of light I had prepared around the rim of the bath. For me, it meant stories, stories flickering on the ceiling, the plash of water as I moved, the shadows like creatures from another world, all showing me hope and choice and freedom. I could barely wait to get into bed for all the reading I would do throughout the night.

Latterly, as he sickened and regressed into childhood, he wanted a supper of mulch at 4.30 and was ready for bed two hours later. Then I found little interest in cooking for one, for myself and absolutely no interest in the evening. He sat, headphones on, engaged on WhatsApp with who knows who or watching Casualty, something at which he would have scoffed away before, as mindless tripe. Now, alone, it thinks me. I connect again with the child who imagined a mountain range at eye level when it was just a plate of food to everyone else. It reminds me of the young wife and mother I once was who suddenly realised that life is ordinary. It reminds me of just a few years ago, when, pre-dementia diagnosis, I actually still believed things would change for the better, like in books but with me as the heroine.

Is the alternative, then, a slump into the ordinary? Hell NO!

To my delight, this child who saw mountains that became roast potatoes is alive and kicking within. I find her in the books I read, that curious child who longs to wander through the pages of a story. I ask myself, is this me hiding from the world? Perhaps. I ask, Am I going slowly mad, reading two books a week? Perhaps. Who will deny or confirm? Not I said the goose.

Well, that’s good enough for me. In stories, in books, in reading, I change my thinking. I learn, through novels, a new way to see an old thing. I find that ‘ordinary’ is not such a slump; but that ‘ordinary’ begs my light to shine from within and thus it lifts and lift until my ordinary is your extraordinary. Here’s my hand, I say, reaching down. I can pull you up and here’s a book. What book? you might ask? whilst grabbing my hand to avoid falling into the abyss. Oh, I reply. the one you need for now.

I read for survival and for pleasure. The well written word is more glorious to me than jewels; scratchy nickers and long empty evening, lose their power as do lost dinner dates and the ending of things. The light I find in books is endless and there is not ending in endless, for as long as people live and breathe and write, there will be stories upon stories upon stories, like a feast; like a roast dinner that looks one thing at eye level and quite another when ‘ordinary’. I have hauled my way up rocks and over mountains, through floods and deserts and only because I read books and books have always lit my way.

And as long as I live, I will keep that light on. I have ten grandchildren, and two step grandchildren and they all read and are ripe for books. That’s twelve potential families moving out into the future. Now that’s not ordinary at all.

Island Blog – Wind Rock and Stories

A huge bag of wood arrived today, just as it began to rain – again. I love the sight of all those split logs, fine and red and full of stories. I had heard the chainsaws for a few days way out across the sea-loch inside the forestry depths just knowing that my huge bag would be craned over the fence in a couple of days. I drew my trusty and rusty barrow out from the garage and began the transfer from bag to wood store, feeling each log and enjoying the way I simply know how to stack, which log to place where with barely a second’s thought. The pile rose as I considered the stories held within that precious wood. The importance of trees, that’s what I was thinking as my hands held each log, each log of stories. These pines will have only lived for 50 years, t’is true, prior to felling for the warmthly needs of the likes of me, but it reminded me of the huge beech tree I saw at the weekend. It had fallen across the track, all the many tons of it, and politely, as big trees always seem to fall, thus making sure nobody is squashed. The victim of wind rock.

The lines on this big soldier spanned hundreds of years and the bleeding sap made me sad. In death there is a bleeding, even if you are a tree. I touched the newly hewn bare face of the trunk and could feel the stories run up my arm. Even if I am too stupid to actually hear the details of these silent stories, I know they are there held within the warm mother trunk and protected by her coat of bark. What had this tree seen in its time? The estate was formed in early 1800 so, chances are she observed many things. Grand people coming and going, carriages, horses, escapes and arrivals; farm workers on carts with ribald in their mouths and a flask of something stiffening. Children off to school, beautiful sons and daughters off to grand parties, old women out to tea and a gossip and sturdy clan chiefs kitted up for a skirmish. All of that, for this tree stood at the gate to the big house and would have been the envy of the other trees, relegated to a yearning life in the bleachers.

Aside the track, bracken stands tall, copper filigree on burnished stalks. It looks beautiful in death, unlike in life when it suffocates the ground and harbours myriad blood-sucking pests. Few birds today in the bare trees, beyond a few long-tailed tits whipping off doomed buds and a pair of jays, screeching horribly at each other from one side of the wood to the other. Jays always surprise me; a dreadful scratchy call, like fingers on a blackboard and then they fly out, a rainbow of fabulous colour. A line comes to mind. ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’. It takes me back to my youth; beautiful men and women, all sparkles and smiles and convincing words, and without a story. I met a few of those. At the time I was so embroiled in the minutiae of young life, I didn’t pull back to see the bigger picture. I do now. As I watch a female sparrow hawk take a blackbird right outside my window, I see her beauty, her colours and the ebony black of her eyes. I hear the cries from her prey. I am not cold to this. It physically hurts me, but I know the story. She is as hungry as the blackbird. Her life is all about precision and focus, unrelenting focus, day after day for life. Now that is a story.

Back to the tree. I think about it. Some will look at this mighty giant, now sawn rudely in half and bleeding, as firewood in a couple of years. Others will feel great sadness at the loss of yet another tree. And I? I will keep walking by to hear the stories it holds, even as it dies; even if I cannot tell them out, I can hold them within and, somehow I know that this matters.