Island Blog – Life, Death and Corsets

I thought it would get better, exponentially, as if I had a sore toe, with rest and chicken broth and good nursing care. But this is not a sore toe. This is a yawning maw of days ahead, learning, reluctantly, to begin a new life. Did anyone think this through? If I was 25 again, wiry and with skin that actually fitted my bones, then possibly the prospect of ‘beginning a new life’ might just have sounded like fun. Now, it just feels scary. We get so set in our ways, do we not, even without clocking that this is happening, until it stops, dead, and the future is anyone’s guess.

As a body ages, we deal with it. We harrumph into bigger knickers and aggressive support bras and cover up bits that we used to show off, quite the thing. Our frocks lengthen. Old knees are a bit ‘witchy’ after all. Make up takes longer to apply and should only happen at all in full daylight and with a magnifying mirror. I have seen some shockers out there in my time, orange tipped noses and the face stopping at the jaw as if it wasn’t part of the neck at all, apples on cheeks and lips leaking towards the nose. A wearer of jeans will note that her bottom is sinking. She might need a belt, but that can become a hazard too as it fights mightily to keep a connection between buttocks and the middle bit we used to call a waist. It is so depressing to accept we need either a larger size, or, worse, old woman jeans with legs wide at the top and enough room in the upper part for most of a weekly shop. Fingers look like twigs or sausages and there is no going back.

All of this laughs me. I have no problem at all about ageing. In fact, I am rather proud of it, to have got this far, to be able to bear witness to such an extraordinary change. Animals don’t do it this way. Dogs or cats might get thinner, show some white hairs, but the rest, the wild things or even the not wild things, like sheep or cows just slow down and then stop, dead. I have been gifted the chance to wonder at the conflict between my body and my mind. As a ‘bereaved’ I know that the fears I have are all about my bodily capability and never my mind. My mind is strong and capable, versatile and inventive, but my body may not be able to follow my lead. Ah, I say to myself, I don’t like that. The answer comes back, What are you going to do about it? (Why does she always ask me that irritating question?) I round on her and ask her direct. She says nothing. Just throws me a wry smile like she knows everything and I don’t, which is probably the truth of it.

So it is just us, we humanoids who notice and wail about ageing, or deny it altogether. If I say to someone (is there anyone left out there?) that I am old, they flap like birds in a stramash and witter at me that I am not old, that I am as old as I think, that there are years left in me. That sort of twaddle. I like being old, I say. It means I have really lived and better, survived when so many others have not. There are my peers and younger, good strong loving impossible individuals who fell at a fence. Characters, warm-blooded feisty and hopeless at life as most of us are, getting it wrong more than right, full of regrets and defiance, energy and exhaustion, and yet they forged their trails when they found themselves in a position of responsibility for others, living out that life out in colour and rage and joy and fear and were quite marvellous at the whole thing.

Being stilled is sobering. From a huge and impossible presence in another’s life, in others’ lives, to a flatbed, to pale and cold, to gone. It will take longtime to accommodate that thought, never mind allow it to move its long stay luggage in. Hard, indeed, initially, to remember the actually there person who now is not. But he was always there, like, forever, through my this and through my that, knowing my faults (!) and my successes and very probably highly opinionated about both.

So, now it’s up to me. Me and myself and she is doing a grand job with her snorting and her opinions and her wry smile. She keeps me right and, don’t tell her, I am glad of her company. We are 2 in 1 even if I baulk at the thought of it. I spend much time working on exponentiation. It keeps my mind bright whilst she swans around all febrile and wispy and lifting those eyebrows to the clouds. She hasn’t aged, you see. She is forever young and full of beans and quite infuriating as a result but I do tap her energy as my skin fights to escape my skeleton and I am in danger of a skin puddle.

I remember my first corset, so excited I was, shopping with my ma in the lingerie department of a shiny store. It was so white, with little roses in just the right places and stretchy enough not to constrict my breathing. Ma told me she was not so lucky. Hers had 25 hooks you could never see in the dark and if you got one wrong you yawled sideways for the whole day. The world of corsetry was kinder in my day. I do remember wondering why I needed one at all. What was wrong with my wonky body anyway? I was shushed and marched on. It was the way of things.

Isn’t life always just the way of things? Death too?

Island Blog – Kicks, Tracks, a Grandson and a Wolf

I remember, once whilst feeding the calves turnips I had pushed and argued with, until the old cutter conceded and obliged those frozen rounds into long shards, being kicked in the thigh. I was walking behind the long line of twitching butts, never a good plan around such creatures, and the blow send me backwards into the muck. Stunned, at first, I smiled despite the shout of pain and was up on my feet again in a nanosecond, before the urinary wet absorbed me completely. It was my fault, my mistake. I had gone too close, talking to these young things as if they were my own young things who would never have lashed out in such a way. Had they done so, the reprobation might have pushed them right back to touch. It taught me caution and a respect for animals who, whilst they generally might comply, still have boundaries.

Today the sky is light and blue, the sunset pinking the hills beyond the sea-loch, darkening them in a pen line I had never managed to achieve on canvas. It just always looked like a pen line and nothing like the real thing. We have had no rain this day, the first for many weeks and everything changes on such a day. The temperature is lower, the likelihood of frost more likely and the light everywhere is sharper, clearer, more defined. The sea-loch is striated with lines of salt water invasion as the incoming tide makes her name known. The fresh water resists and the result is a tapestry of arguments, beautiful in conflict, sea froth a puzzled creature caught up in a battle not its own. Bubbles of creamy lift form eloquent shapes above the melee and the gulls cry our their endless argument with pretty much everything.

As I walked along the track I heard birdsong, a rapture of it and something I haven’t heard for a long time. Even though it is a winter song now, it is still a heart lift. I watched them flip and dart through the skinny purple limbs of the silver birch with her witches fingers and decided I would cut some for a winter vase, maybe with twinkly-winkly lights, only, that is, if I can finally get some that aren’t cold green despite their warm light promise. Maybe I will and maybe not. They look so stunning just where they are as I duck down and squint through them to the sky beyond. Horse hoof prints mud the track, dipping it enough for me to know they have been here before me. It thinks me.

I oft look for tracks. Had I been a different soul in a different time, my work would have been tracking. Not for gain or destruction but just for interest. Every time I walk here, on a track I know so well, traversed by people and dogs I know so well, I still notice everything. A broken branch, leaves of a tree that isn’t here, where the land falters after rain and when it rises again; where the deer move over a drystone wall, following a leyline, one that has been in place for generations, regardless of human boundary settings. Nosing into the woods, I find a broken stem, a pinch of coarse hair on a branch. Deer moving, moving whilst I sleep, secret, ancient.

When I went to the Alps last February with family, there were two of us who didn’t want to ski. Me and my grandson, the only grandson among nine granddaughters. He and I love books and curiosity. So, whilst the others spent ages pulling themselves into all kinds of warm kit and heading off, we read, or talked. At lunchtime, we agreed to meet them at the top for lunch. Neither of us fancied the lift. All that swinging and shouting and noise. I don’t like that one. He said. I looked at it, all grey and full of people in full voice. Nor me, I replied. We were silent for a bit, me thinking, How the heck do I get him up there? Then he said, pointing to the little red bubble, But I would go up in that one.

It was small and quiet. As we lifted up and up and up, I looked down. Look, Oran……Wolf tracks! He was captivated. When we arrived in the noise and scatter and speakers and bars and noise, I said, with no conviction and surely anticipating a great belly laugh of disdain, We saw wolf tracks on the mountain on our way up, big there were, massive, and on virgin snow! The response surprised me. Oh, yes, they said. There are wolves up here.

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

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.”


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.