Island Blog – Step Out of the Ordinary

Well, here we are……it all begins again…..or does it? To me this sounds like we are in Groundhog Year. But, but, but, no year is the same as the one past, not least because we move into it with more wrinkles, or less, more confidence, or less, more enthusiasm, or less. Whichever what way we approach a new year, a new chance for change, we are not the same people who left the old one. We have lost something, someone, or gained something and someone. We have moved house, changed jobs, learned something new, as I have. I have learned that this pair of spectacles work best in the kitchen for my mobile phone, whereas these ones with stronger lenses, resting in their red case in the sitting room, work best for my laptop and for lighting candles.

Over the years I have met what I saw as cynicism about things like birthdays, Christmas and the new year. We don’t acknowledge them, I heard say and I thought how very sad that is. For me, any chance of celebration is a chance to bring magic into a sad old world that might just say, as a new year approaches, Oh here we go again, in a maudlin sort of voice. I cannot, will not do this, not ever. If life is not about celebration then what the heck is it all about? We spend endless days inside the Januarys and Februarys of Ordinary. Surely we can rise and sparkle a few times a year? Or is it that we don’t have any sparkle left? Well, I have something to say about that. Sparkle, people, comes from inside us, from our child heart. Expecting it to come from outside of ourselves may well be the problem. If you want sparkle, then sparkle.

I wish you all the happiest and most marvellous 2021. I wish that you find your sparkle, even feeling foolish in doing so, regardless of being laughed at or mocked or rejected. Sparkle, people. This world needs the sparklers. We all have a part to play in this new year. What part will you play? Same old cynic or someone, however old, who can find the magic and bring it to the grey streets? We, who know what I am saying are precious. Be foolish, be fun, be spontaneous.

And very happy new year to you all.

Island Blog – As Am I

As I wander through this grieving process, I know that a deal of that grieving is for myself. That might sound weird. I don’t consciously grieve for himself. Our life together was never on a clear wide road where we could see the views and the way ahead. It was more a stumble through the tangle woods, where sky is visible only through a knit of branches, the views, although yearned for, scarcely wide enough to be thus named. One of us always seemed to be trying to lose the other one, and, yet, afraid of exactly that.

This is the time of year to find snail shells. I think about the life that curled within those shells once, before even snails began to move more slowly, too slowly to avoid the hungry and vigilant thrush. I wonder if this snail was a happy snail, blissfully slithering across the ground, a living creature with eyes at the end of its tentacles, with a liver, a kidney, lungs and a heart. I know it has a memory, of sorts, one that will tell it where it has been and whether or not it would be wise to go there again. Such a tiny creature to be so well assembled. I found one, once, on the shore. It was almost bright pink, or, certainly, pinker than the ones I might find in my garden. Perhaps, I thought, it has eaten something down here, and, over an extended period of time that has elevated it from the other run of the mill snails, become a hybrid or royalty. It was certainly something to take back home and to put on display.

Each day wanders along as it will and I consider my feelings, notice them. The one that most surprises me is anger. I am angry for my past. This, I tell myself, and roundly, is surely the road to madness, for who can do a thing to change their past? But, I say, turning my head to look back, all that stumbling through the tangle woods seems like such a lunatic way to live a marriage. Who would ever choose this when just up there lies the clear wide road with views and visibility and service stations every 50 miles or less? I’m not sure we choose it. What we do is choose each other and then find ourselves in a Somewhere we would not have chosen, had we been availed of consequence. Too late, mate.

The anger I feel is busy with criticisms, mostly of me. I am almost word perfect in criticising me, as my friends tell me. This anger is like a catherine wheel that shoots off a post and spirals dangerously close to whoever stands too near. Children for example. Why did I not do this for this one when………Why did I not take action for this one then……Why did I accept this, or that, or this again and again and again? Oh, I know that this sort of self-flagellation will only ever hurt myself but it keeps a-coming, like Christmas and Fridays and lunchtime. At a sensible and logical level, it makes sense to dispel with such…..what….self-indulgence? Put like that I am right with you, but feelings will arise no matter how much logic and sensibility I bring to the table and this anger keeps on arising until I want to bash it over the head with a mallet just to silence it. I know there are others, unlike me, who can address life in general in a way most perfunctory. Their logic is king over their feelings. They can decide to deal with things in a way that never, ever, allows them to indulge in any collapse into confusion. Why would they? It would be (and I agree) a complete waste of time and just might mean they miss the start of Countdown. But I cannot seem to be that way. I am the one who scrambles and scrapes over sharp rocks and who slips down every crevasse, who flounders in the power of an incoming tide and who cannot sleep as the gibbous moon fills to her fullness, lighting up the sky like a super trooper on steroids.

As I walk today, the ground is icy. One degree the whole day long and the temperature will drop this clear wide night. Frost will sparkle on the ground, diamonds, twinkling. The woods are silent. No birds. The branches of the trees hold ice particles at the very tips of their fingers, droplets of water halted and frozen, natural jewels, catching the slow pinking of the sunset and making tiny rainbows. Deeper in, the silence is all around me. I hear only the scrunch of my boots and the rush of an incoming tide. The woods are mysterious, elegiac and waiting.

As am I.

Island Blog – Shape Shift, Jump and Dream

I woke this morning with thoughts of a lowly nature, aka, negative. Although I find the way our culture always veers from one extreme to another, from superb to ghastly, from white to black without any noticement of the myriad greys betwixt and between, infuriating, I cannot easily find said greys between negative and positive. Perhaps it is something to do with the fact that your light is either on or it’s off and were you to affix your wires wrongly, you might explode.

So, back to the negative thoughts. I am unworthy of joy, of any good thing coming to me; I am not God’s favourite wee girl; I do not deserve to be happy. That sort of negativity. On rising into my frocks and warm woolly jumper (positive word, for one cannot jump much when feeling un-jumpworthy), I considered my thinking. We humans have approximately 6000 thoughts each day. If, I mused, each thought was worth, say, £1, then by close of play this night, I will have earned myself £6,000, whether negative or positive in construction. It is quite a thought, and that’s another £1 in the bag. However, this amount of cash in my mental bank account does not determine my level of happiness nor my sense of well-being (another phrase I detest). So, how might I both earn the cash and update my bank of happiness? Let’s break it down.

I have one egg left. Negatively speaking. But at least I have one egg left. Positive update. My pile of logs is outside and it’s raining. But I have logs and a waterproof jacket. I am not feeling like sewing today. I have sewing to occupy my hours. My audio book is about to finish and I have used my free credit for this month. I have access to many more, some of them free.

I am sure you are getting this. As I turn around my thinking, I begin to feel much better. Just look at how lucky I am, how blest, how filled with abundance in my life! I even feel like a wee jump or two, and all I have done is to re-arrange my thoughts, to shape shift them. It is the easiest thing in the world to do, this inner flipping, but I must be vigilant and diligent and on the ball with myself in order to avoid the claggy bog. And I want to avoid it. Life is short (another detestable cliche) and I wish my own life to mean something to me, not just to other people. For most of this short life I have made others my priority. Now there is just me and it would be so easy to fall into despair and pointlessness. I will not do it. It becomes a game. A thought comes in, earning me cash. I look it straight in the eye. You do not serve me, I say out loud to no-one there. I shall flip you. And, thus I earn another £1.

Today I plan to apply for a renewal on my passport. On reading the instructions online, I discover that the photo of this old girl must be taken with no background at all, no pictures, plants or shadows. A cursory glance around my rooms tells me the photo won’t be taken here. And, there’s another thing. My photo must be captured from 5 feet away. Now even I will find it hard to be 5 feet away from myself. Well, dammit, she says, negatively. So, plan B must involve another person who could easily stand 5 feet away from me. I can remove pictures from a blank wall, not smile, not look away, stand absolutely still and wait for the click. However miserable I look in this stand-still-don’t-smile photo, the image will not stop my thinking. All the while I will be adding cash to my inner bank as I travel back to Africa, or to Spain, or to wherever the heck I choose. I will be walking on board, showing my blank face to some official, endeavouring, as I always do, to make him or her smile and failing as I always do. I will come through passport control with anticipation butterflying beneath my ribcage, my eyes searching for that well-loved face, anticipating that bear hug. This time will come again, one day, and I just earned myself another bunch of cash.

Meanwhile, I will continue to shape-shift my thoughts. I will listen to audio books whilst I sew and jump and dream of the lands of Faraway where we can all be our own selves once again, when we can look up into the wide open sky and know we got through this, not by doing nothing, but by doing absolutely everything we could possibly do in the most positive of ways.

Island Blog – Up to Me

Morning has broken on this beautiful island and I am ready for the day. I write down all my sins of yesterday, something I do in order to release them. I see them fall away into the earth as neutral energy. Any actions I regret, thoughts that don’t serve me and, in particular, any poor-little-me conversations with my inner self, are all dealt with pre the boiled egg. It has become a habit. Once a habit is formed, it begins to trust in me and grows roots whilst pushing up a bit of green to catch any sunlight that might just be available in between hail showers. Life is like this, I think. I may be alone with nobody now to correct the trim of my sails with a raised eyebrow or a ‘shush’ or a ‘do you mind if I tell you something’ pre-cursor to criticism, but I am still responsible for my behaviour at all times. I yawn. It was so much easier when the judge lived with me (not that he always donned his wig and banged his gavel) to live in a well-established state of defence and defiance. Now that all of me is down to, well, all of me, I can spin a bit on my axis, if I am honest.

When everything, every moment, is my own choice, I no longer have to fight. I longed for that back when the naughty step grew flat and submissive beneath my butt. My voice does not rise in a whine and nor does my wordsmithing brain need to find big long words to justify or explain myself, as I sought to confound him with eloquence and delivery. Arguing with myself takes longer, seeing as both of us are wordsmithing away with equal power and a shared determination not to lose the battle, and it seems pointless anyway, because I know what I am going to say and what the impact of it will be and so does she. It’s like playing scrabble with myself.

Once I have written down my sins and before delivering them, mindfully, back into the earth as neutral energy, I eat the bit of paper. Biro tastes better than felt tip pen, I have discovered, even if it does turn my tongue black. The symbolism amuses me. Eat your sins, swallow, digest and let them go. Then decide not to sin again. Roger that, I say, even as I know that I must stick to my habit forming programme if I wish to avoid falling into the same sinship today. To be honest, my ‘sins’ are more like errors of judgement but I use the ‘sin’ word because it fits me like a crown, or it used to. Believing that you never quite get it right for decades makes it harder to budge such a belief, for it has big strong roots and a good ear for triggers. The cadence of a voice can flip doodle me; certain words or the catch of a sideways look; a silence; a less than welcome ‘Welcome!’ And these are fed by my incredible imagination, one that scoots me from Alice to the Wicked Witch of the West in a heartbeat. I hear what I think I want to hear even if I never want to hear it again.

What to do?, I ask myself, but she is as clueless as me and just sits there looking like a spare part, her face vacant. Well, someone needs to think this through and that’ll be me and so I write down everything from my thoughts, through to my ‘sins’, and on beyond to my goals and aspirations. Then I jot down the ‘how to’ of each and I’m already rolling my eyes at all that homework. But homework always was and is the key to change as I discovered by not doing it when at school. When Penny or Liz or Melanie charged forth in History or Maths or even Latin, with smug smiles and a pat on the head from Teacher, I was sent to the naughty step. What I didn’t seem to understand is that being a rebel is all very well providing you have a cause, and know clearly what that cause is, the how to and what and why of it. I have learned since those days that homework is essential, whatever life I choose to live, that daily practice (yawn) is the key to that door into a new place, and the only one. I honestly believed that something or someone would come to save me, make me happy and free of sins, but, of course, this is just a fairytale and never happens to nobody, including me.

So, once again, and with renewed energy, I start stepping through the morning, the hail stones, the beauty of this sea-girt land. I notice everything (excluding the un-hoovered carpet which is an exception to all rules) mindfully. I notice how I feel and what I think. I notice what tries to push me forward into action. Will it serve me, make me feel good about me, ease my troubled conscience? If t’is a no, then no it shall be, even though it is much harder to stay strong when there is only me and myself watching.

The naughty step is lonely now. I feel a bit sorry for it and sit on it now and again whilst I read from a book on self-improvement or happiness or self-control for we are long time friends. Then I look up and I smile out into the empty room, remembering that if it is to be, it is now entirely and exclusively up to me.

Island Blog – The Right Feet

Well, we all got through it, did we not! Christmas Day, done, for another year. I suspect we all felt a bit weird about this one, this strange creature in control of all of us, to some degree or another, faltering our forward motion as if we had our shoes on the wrong feet. Some of us could still meet with loved ones, some of us could not, thus facing a very deep sense of loneliness at a time when family becomes so very precious. Sharing laughter and games, songs, dancing, and the brightly lit faces of children takes on a new air of importance. And it was denied us. We don’t like being denied big things, if we are honest. As teenagers we would have found any such denial of liberty an anathema and, if you were like me, would have felt outraged, defiant and rebellious. But this time we were/are not in any position to stick our heads over the parapet. The bullets are too multiple, too accurately delivered by an enemy far more powerful than we mere mortals, and invisible. All we can do, regardless of boiling blood, resentment, isolation and with no sign of an end to this war, is to hunker down and support each other through the shivers and wails of despair. A bit like life in the trenches. There will be those whose natural humour will lift us with the most awful jokes, at which we laugh anyway, because we long to laugh and pretty much any humour will do, for now. We have been whittled down to a new shape and this has gifted us a new noticing. We see any light brighter; any voice more welcome to our ears; any gift greater than ever before. We can see, now, the loving care that went into that gift, the effort it took to make, or discover online, or purchase from a non-essential shop, all masked up and queueing for 3 weeks in the rain.

In short, we are becoming more human, not less so. In times like these, the ones to ask are the ancients. They have been through war, rationing, queuing for 3 weeks in the rain for a single loaf of stale bread. Most of us haven’t a scooby about such times, but now we do, to a degree, for we are living it and learning it, learning how to be the best humans we can be, despite the fear and ditherment, the lack of any light ahead, the lack of an end. We like an end. In business plans, dream plans, goal plans, the end comes first. What do I want to achieve? Well, that’s simple. I want ‘this’. Okay that good. Now, how do I get there? And so we break it down, and down and down again until we arrive at the first baby step. Getting out of bed is a good start.

But this situation is all about baby steps because not one single one of us can see the end. We can talk about it (endlessly), can raise a guesstimate or two, can prophesy and preach but it is all surmise. However, if you are like me, you like order. I want to know where I am going and why and how I will get there, even if ‘there’ is invisible and likely to remain thus for some time to come. If I cannot see the end, then what shall I do about the baby steps, and, what am I walking towards anyway with my shoes on the wrong feet? Answer comes there none. So, in this state of wrong-footing, and because I like order, I must decide what to do and how to do it. Then repeat it daily until the end reveals itself. The little things (which are actually very big things) I can do for myself, for my family and friends, can grow into a very long list. I consider this list and notice that, although I am writing these steps down for me to walk out, each one is not for my own gain. But, as I tick them off, completed, I feel a great warmth in my heart and I know why. It’s because I am thinking outside of my own insecurities and needs and giving a little (huge) something to someone else; friendship; recognition; kindness; acknowledging they exist at all and that they really matter. I think this is what we are learning. The basic principles of life on earth, a life shared by millions of other humans, all of whom know what it is to feel lost, scared, hopeless and stuck, are the fundamental rules of living. We forget them when we live as islands, which is exactly what we were doing pre covid, caught up in what we want for our selfish selves.

This time is a reminder. This time is our leveller. Let us hold out our hand to lift someone who stumbles and let us make sure our shoes are on the right feet so that we can all walk on through this courageously, together as a great big human team.

Island Blog – A Christmas Dream

Merry Christmas to you all, and may all your dreams find legs this coming New Year, for, it is one thing to have dreams and quite another to walk them out. It will take courage and sacrifice, belief in the light of them even as we fumble about in the dark. I used to think dreams of change were for children until I remembered that, although our bodies age and our minds get stuck in how it was and always will be, we are all still children. Just because Life knocks us back time and time again, disappointments walk in like they owned the place and each time we try to step out someone makes us trip, there is no reason on God’s goodly earth that any one of us cannot achieve something amazing. It might not be noticeable to anyone but ourselves, might not mean we achieve fame and wealth, but that doesn’t diminish the amazingness, not one jot, because we will feel the thrill of having gone beyond that which we thought was the edge of it all.

And we are all afraid of failing, which is the only thing that keeps us stuck. It is understandable. I can hear the voice in my head telling me that, at my ripe old age, this dream is impossible now. I am too late to unfurl it into the sky, too misshapen, lumpen and my mind is not as bright as it was when, had I paid attention the first time I dreamed this dream, I might well have succeeded. Poof! I say, even as that voice loudens in my head. And my ‘because’ is this. If I don’t pay attention now, right now, then this dream will die with me and that is not going to happen. Perhaps you always wanted to achieve something but fear held you back; fear of failing, of not being encouraged or of disapproval from a nearest and dearest? Perhaps you saw someone else achieve this very dream of yours and succeed, thus comparing yourself in an unfavourable light?

The courage it takes not to compare, not to self judge, is huge, but the good news is that, once you take the very first step, you find that the way begins to show itself; not like a motorway with lights and lines and tarmac for easy motion, but as a little winding path just wide enough for two feets and a body. You cannot see where this path leads, but you keep going, just for the hell of it, just for the ‘why not’ of it. There’s a soft breeze blowing the grasses and you see them bow their heads so gracefully, bending, yes, but rooted strong. You are curious, like Alice, like a child and you move further on and further until, when you turn back to see how far you’ve come, you realise you can no longer see the beginning. You feel a frisson of fear. You are alone now among the bendy grasses with no clue as to where this path will take you. Too late to turn back now. After all, you left that judge voice behind and you absolutely will not give it the opportunity to snigger, which it would, were you to retrace your courageous footsteps. And remember you are doing this not to impress, not to beat anyone else, but simply for your own self. As you walk on, you see things, hear things more sharply, using, as you must, all your senses in order to be safe in this new and wild place. Up hills, climbing tough at times as each step takes you nearer to the sky. Rocks lie in your path but you can scale them. When it rains, as it well might, you have grand old trees to shelter beneath. There is fresh spring water to slake a thirst and Nature’s larder is all around you. As you walk, you remember words you have read and heard, words of encouragement and you hold them close. From time to time, as you weary, you also remember the discouragement or disapproval of the naysayers, one of whom will be your own self, and you bat them away, like flies. They are not serving you any more. You say to yourself “I can do this’.

And, trust me. You can.

Island Blog – Not About Me

This is about you, you who follow my blog, who send encouraging and supportive messages, wherever you are in this bonkers world.

I wish you all that is good and lovely. I wish you, not just for today nor tomorrow, surprising gifts, things you don’t look for or expect; a random act of kindness when you need one so badly. I wish you a future you cannot see right now but one that is filled with unexpected joys. I wish you a peaceful heart, no matter what comes. I wish you friendship and familial love, perhaps rifts healed, perhaps a new hand reaching out, one you thought never would. I wish you fireworks and stars, moons and fairies, realisations that come unexpected, unbidden, that slant your thinking in a new way, a way that changes things like ripples. I wish you another Christmas. One that is free to roam and hug and share. One without masks and zoom and waving as the only ways to say I love you, I value you, you matter so much to me.

And, just to say, in my life thus far, my wishes have had serious gravitas and, flip me, come to fruition.

I may need to have a word with my wand aka some of my wishes…….

Blessing to you all and thank you for being my friends. You have no idea of your value to me. But I do. x

Island Blog – Father Christmas and Old Gloom

Mince pies out for Father Christmas and carrots for his reindeer plus a wee shot of brandy to warm the old man’s cockles as he continues on his merry way through the skies. Not that he ever got the chance in our home. Himself knocked back the booze and ate the mince pie, once the children had finally gone to sleep and I got the carrots. Not sure it was quite fair but hey ho, t’was the way of things. There are lots of reindeer, little voices told me. We should leave lots of carrots! I tried very hard to explain that reindeer are good at sharing and that I needed said carrots for the Christmas dinner but all I got were dirty looks and muffled comments on how mean I was. I recall stuffing those carrots under the mattress and sleeping on them, firmly.

I had not realised how tough this time would be. I think of those lorry drivers stuck still on their way to nowhere, in small cabs and with little hope of getting home to their families. I think of homeless people, those in isolation, those, like me, holding a death in clear memory, those who face a terrifying future of loss and lack, and those whose life’s work is about to go down the plughole. I also know it will all pass, if not in any of the ways we imagine right now. For instance I know I miss people, family, a husband and that missing is not about to change, not yet. We have months yet to come of fear and separation, of confusion and loneliness, no matter what our circumstances. This pandemic has shifted us onto a new plane and we will think differently, act differently from now, whether through necessity or choice. I know it.

So what to do with what we have? If we have anything at all, we are very fortunate indeed. We can eat. We can put up lights. We can make ourselves warm, give gifts, send messages, zoom, Skype, WhatsApp and call. But the hardest part of all of this is how we decide to think; what message we give out in our words and our responses; how we act during the days ahead, during this day. Will we bemoan our fate or celebrate the fact that we have one at all to do with as we choose. Okay I know we cannot change the circumstances but we absolutely can think independent of all circumstances. I am lonely. Well, that’s ok and understandable. What do you plan to do about it? I am frightened. That’s ok too and understandable. What can you look at instead? If you look long enough and with consistency at happy things, you will find they come quicker next time and so on until they jump right in the minute Old Gloom plods into a mind, all damp and dark and doomish. Swap Old Gloom for Father Christmas, that’s what I say. Doubts fizzle to nothing but bubbles when you think fairies and magic, or elves and reindeer and it is quite possible to sustain this method of thinking for a very long time.

At Tapselteerie when Old Gloom arrived, I would look out of the window, or, better still, take myself off for a walk along the Atlantic shoreline. The weather was irrelevant. I just knew, and still do, that we humans lean towards the negative and must be alert and vigilant in order to avoid being taken over. I also know how tempting it can be to give in and sigh a great big sigh. There are days and times when it feels like just too much effort is required to even bother with drumming up a single happy thought, but it is our only recourse if we want to avoid sinking. Life is such a gift. Christmas is such a gift. Even too many carrots are a gift. There are many who would relish too many carrots, after all. Thinking wide and beautiful thoughts is a daily duty and, trust me, it can take away any amount of pain whilst banishing Old Gloom to his own darkness. So, shine your light this Christmas, this winter, and remember, often, that if you have anything or anyone at all, you are so lucky it’s embarrassing. That’s what I tell myself.

And Old Gloom is nowhere to be seen.

Island Blog – The Magic of Christmas

Hallo it’s me, the 4 am riser. Actually I would have, could have, slept longer but for the early dog. There is little I can do as she appears not to understand my reasoning around things like consideration of others, dawn rise and the need for humans to enjoy a good night’s sleep. She just cocks her head and blows down her small nose at me, derisively, continuing to patter across the boards and to clean herself noisily. I have to give up, eventually, pulling back the covers and telling myself it’s fine, there’s coffee waiting and the light will come as it always does.

I think on Christmas past with a smile, now that I am frocked up and swilling with strong black coffee. I loved the build up, the knowing that work would stop for himself once I persuaded him that family comes before his work. That was always the tricky bit, persuading him. I doubt I am the only woman who had to find clever ways to get this elementary message across. It bizarres me. Why does a man want a family in the first place if he never plans to prioritise it? Ho, I say, and Hum. At first, when the children were little, I managed 2 days of him not working. Over time I achieved a greater number until, oh joy of joys, he would agree not to work all the way through to January 5th, his birthday. I felt such euphoria then. I could actually relax into family plans and believe they would come to life instead of waving him goodbye and turning back to the chaos alone.

It is the anticipation for me. In everything, if I’m honest. Just moving softly into the magic of carols, messages, decorations and meal designs brought the fairy dust out. I would skip through chores that dragged at my ankles the rest of the winter. The cold at Tapselteerie retreated, not least as I was ‘allowed’ to burn all the fires at full blast for a whole ten days and he chainsawed, hacked, chopped and delivered half a fallen forest without a single tut. The heating, which proffered a whisper of warmth at best, was on twice a day. This was unheard of unless we had paying guests, naturally. The ice inside the lavatory bowls took considerably less time to thaw of a morning and the sound of excited and capering children throughout the big house was a delight to hear even at 4 am. We were happy and together and that was all that mattered, for ten whole days. After that time, grim faces would return, school would cast a gloom over chilly child faces, and back would come the annual dread of another tourist season and the huge amount of work required to make each room, each cottage a dry, clean welcome for whomsoever would brave the long track of potholes. But not yet, those feelings and dreads, not yet. For now it is us and warmth and Christmas just around the corner.

I feel it still, even now. Although there is no ‘We’ anymore and the children are far flung across the world with their own anticipation and fairy dust, I still feel it, right here in my heart. It is under my feet, inside my head, all around the house. It is in the music, the twinkly winky lights, the blast of skin-searing cold as I chop wood for the fire. It is on the faces of islanders walking by. And I love every minute. Although we are all missing someone this year, we have memories and there’s a whole world of them inside each one of us. I can do nothing about the rules this year. I cannot change a thing about any of them. But, I can sit with rememberings, smile at those faces I cannot see, one I will never see again, and I can still feel the magic of Christmas time. And, I remind myself, that this will pass; that there is someone out there, someone I cannot see, don’t know, will never meet, who is far worse off than I; someone desperate, neglected, rejected, abused, terrified. In this light I am humbled. In this light I have everything. In this light, I am a lucky woman indeed. I have loved ones, I am warm, I have lights, friends, beloved family, my health, my working brain, my gifts and skills and my cherished memories.

And I have the magic of Christmas, once again.

Island Blog – And So It Was

This morning woke me at 4am. Actually, it wasn’t the morning that woke me. It was the Poppy dog. As she has been alternately well and not well over the last few weeks, I am super alert to her every move, even in the thick dark of the night. I turn over, snuggle down, hope she will settle. But she does not. She patters across the boards like a mini tap dancer with too many legs, jumps onto the chair, then to the bed, then onto me, all wagging tail and snuffles. We get up, she full of beans and quite impervious to the thick dark. I pull on an old fisherman’s jumper and go downstairs to let her out. I make coffee, light the fire, flick on the twinkly winky lights and pretend I don’t mind that it is a good four hours till I can see anything at all through my windows. Mine now. Not ours anymore, not that I ever said ‘Our Windows’ seeing as I was the only one who cleaned them. For that reason, they were always really mine, but I do remember how antsy himself would get on hearing the word ‘mine’ when he felt he shared whatever came after; windows, home, driveway, dogs, children. If I ever said ‘my son’ or ‘my daughter’ he would correct me and in a cold clear voice. I found that infuriating but with hindsight I wonder why it bothered me so very much. Perhaps I felt that so little inside our shared life was ever really mine and thus I would hold on to any opportunity for a verbal claim to some degree of ownership.

I decide to find his most recent iPad. He kept buying replacements for no particular reason, the same no particular reason that saw him buying new mobile phones, of which there are now six sitting in the darkness with Henry the Lonely Hoover. Nobody knew why he did this, but I do. Dementia creates her own world and he was a resident in that world. Reasoning from this world meant little to him, was brushed away, as I was. It must have felt, for him, like conversing with an alien. This man who was never easy talking about his inner doubts and fears, who demanded ownership of pretty much everything, was never going to realise that to keep me out and outer still would just feed the Lonely in us both. Although he did soften towards the end, the stage was already set and the playwright refused to change the script, so we mumbled on like draught horses, plodding and submissive. I couldn’t change what was happening to him and nor could I change what was happening to me even if I did make daily decisions to be cheerful and capable.

I read from his short-dash sentences, as he tried to write down his life, that I turned cold once the diagnosis came in. I knew that it was true but it saddens me greatly now, to read it because he never spoke of it at the time, beyond a push-away comment. And that was at the heart of the Lonely. I am open and a talker. He hid from anything that lay below the surface. They say that opposites attract and that was certainly true at first. But as life trots on, people change, need new and different things, things that need discussing, understanding and appreciating or there is just Lonely. However, resourceful as we humans are, we learned how to live well enough as long as we stayed on the surface. And we did, for decades. But my need for stimulating conversation burned through me and I would find it with other people and he knew that, wrote that, hated that.

However, a long shared life is not to be remembered for the loneliness, because this would not show the whole truth of things. From the outside we appeared strong together, and we were. We laughed at the same things, talked of nature and wildlife and children and home life. We were careful around each other, in the main, for nobody wants war, if you can call sustained silence ‘war’. Nobody ever won these wars. Somebody always proffered the hand of peace and took it all away in a nanosecond. We were very good at that, even if I did long for a conversation about why and how it came to be in the first place. We lived together for ages, and well, and always confused about each other. Perhaps this is marriage.

As dementia crept on like a silent cancer, he became softer, as did I. When the bare bones of it showed so clearly, there was only kindness left. To hope for conversation was the hope of a fool and I am no fool. To wish things had been different, another choice for a fool; to long for resolution, explanation, the chance to understand how a man can live a whole long life without ever seeing beyond himself, another fool’s errand. So we didn’t bother, I didn’t bother. And the last few months were so much easier, even if the old scream did sometime rise in me. I had a task and it was a big one, but I also gifted myself a purpose, to make the end game as pretty as I possibly could. I always said I am no carer and then Life laughed, God laughed. I told himself that if he ever got sick I was off. He said he knew that. I told him he was a menace when well, so heaven knows what he would be like sick. Then he told me that he would care for me whether I was sick or well and he would have, for he was rock solid, unbending, immovable when it came to looking after me. He just didn’t see the need to ask me how I wanted to be cared for, that’s all.

And so it was.