Island Blog – All About Henry

I awaken into a beautiful crisp morning, all blue sky and Wolf Moon shining enough light to afford me a greenish wander from kitchen door to kettle. Barefoot, I encounter what I already knew was there, even if I have been keeping my eyes above floor level for a few days. Dust. Bits of dropped food. Fluff. Well Dammit, I mutter. I will need to take action today. Knowing, as I do, my excellent ability to distract myself from housework, I decide to add another dull task as a sort of punishment. The bathroom needs cleaning. These days I can ignore the bathroom-needing-cleaning thingy for days. When Himself was still above ground, it needed cleaning daily and I accepted the work as a part of my morning routine without question. Even before that I would clean it just in case the Bathroom Police dropped in to check. But, now there is no Himself and absolutely no chance of anyone dropping in, let alone the BP, I have grown indolent and Henry mutters away to himself in the dark of the cupboard below stairs. He is bored, I know it, but I also know that precisely because I have neglected him, he will take full advantage of today’s outing for he is mischievous and resourceful.

I can hear him now, as if he is reading my thoughts, or maybe I spoke out loud. He has perfect hearing and I know this as he knows I know this. I move towards the door and open it a glimpse. I hear rustling. It could be him or it might be a scuttle of mice who have enjoyed a long period of quiet, undisturbed. Hallo Henry, I say, my moon face peering into the darkness. Are you where I left you or have you relocated? Are you hiding? I know he is shy. My hands find him and I begin to tell him where we will work this morning. He grins. It’s quite an area of carpet I plan to let him loose upon and he is full of anticipation.

First we climb the stairs and I thank him for being light. My previous carpet sucker, a very expensive Miele, weighed a flipping ton and refused to recover on stair work after I pulled too hard on her trunk, thus sending her into a series of backflips thus landing her, most undignifiedly, on her back, her belly exposed to the world. At that point I recall sitting down for a think. Perhaps, I thought, I should buy myself a male hoover this time and one that weighs less than an SUV, one with a very long and hand-winding flex, no electric one that almost but not quite draws in the cable, one with bags I can bin instead of having to wash out the catacomb of Miss Miele every time in order to get rid of the smell and the bits.

When I first met Henry, I thought everything would now be easy and un-smelly. I was wrong on the second count. It was so depressing because now I had no chance of washing out the innards. I was hardly going to bin a bag after every hoovering session after all. Once I had risen from my depression, I decided to seek some fragrant oil, one that could be dripped onto the filter, and one that just might do the trick. It did. But for Henry’s shyness there seems to be no cure. He snags in every doorway. I encourage, wheedle, soothe, beg even, but nothing overcomes this unfortunate trait. I try empathetic questions. Is it because you are embarrassed to be cleaning? Is this a Macho Man thing? Are you afraid the Bathroom Police are in the next room just waiting to laugh at you, to mock and deride? To say, This is Women’s Work, in that idiot man sort of way? Henry just grins and keeps schtum.

In the bathroom, quite alone with me, Henry sucks bravely, intent on his work. I wheech off the brush and point the nozzle at the corners and the edges. We move behind and under everything that isn’t stuck down and I feel quite jaunty at the difference we are making. Hoover/Woman synergy, a sort of bond between us and I turn to tell him so. My mistake. Never trust the smile of a man who says nothing, for there is a deal of control planning going on behind that face. In that moment of complacence Henry sucks up a cleaning sponge and a cloth. Just like that, straight into his belly, no chewing. Henry! I admonish, and here he turns to the skirt of my frock. It takes me a few seconds to reclaim myself even if I do realise there is no chance said frock would disappear in the same way up that proboscis, affixed as it is to other parts of my body which would need surgical removal in order to allow such a snatch. After I have a word with him about respect for a co-worker, the engine silenced, we continue across the landing and down the stairs. He only backflips once and I right him with abject apology. Now we are cruising and, apart from two further attempts to pull my frock off, eliciting a raised eyebrow from me, we lift the dirt from all floors, up and down.

I thank him and return him to the mice and the dark. The house smells lovely and I tell him so. I thank him for his help and say magnanimously, as an afterthought, that he can keep the cloth and the cleaning sponge. As I close the door, I can hear him chuckle.

Island Blog – This and That

Sitting here, this evening, I reflect on the past couple of days, the content, or imagined content of which halted my footsteps for many days before. I had found a breast lump. Bad timing even for a positive woman, fettered as I felt by my long isolation from the world ‘out there’. In fact, I haven’t been out there for over a year now, cocooned within a leather protective casing of caring for a very vulnerable old dude. It suited me, if I am honest, the not going out there thingy. I am, by nature, happy being isolated, solitary, independent with more work required, individual, content with my own company. I have barely been to the local shop since last March and my everything is delivered either by the post or by hand to my door. One could get lazy inside this. I know that.

Anyway, there I was facing a ferry trip, masked like a bandit, humphing a rucksack of overnight-ness and stringing a small Poppy dog alongside. How will she behave? Will she pee on the ferry carpet? (she never would) Will I find a close encounter too close? Will my house fall down whilst I’m away; will that old tree fall on the garage roof; will floods come and wash my home away; did I turn off the lights, lock the doors? All that hoo-ha. Never mind what you call it and how you chortle, it is still real, still clusters beneath a person’s panic button all ready to burst forth once pushed, especially, and I have clocked this, when that person has been cocooned for so many months, apart from the rush and bustle of the out-there world. After all, it could be unrecognisable to me. People could be walking around in pandemic suits for all I know, slow stepping, avoiding each other by miles and breathing stored air in order to avoid breathing in the real stuff, the air that is ever changing, morphing, floating over oceans and over lands and continents with all sorts of names, full of all sorts of stories and holding within its gasp a potential lethal. Shopping bags might be obsolete. Maybe the out there folk have to pull on their pandemic suits for a shopping trip that can only be as successful as the hold of their arms.

So, off I go. Two sons, two strong men, two young men, two sons, gather me up and the rucksack and the non-peeing-on-ferry-carpets dog and we head onto the mainland. The ferry is all masks and the two metre rule. Good for Scotland, I remember whispering to myself, thus muffing up my glasses and rendering me momentarily blind. Scotland is getting this right. I work out how to talk to myself by holding my fingers over my nose and breathing down, like a puff. Now I can see. But, there is nobody. There are 3 passengers on this massive ship capable of carrying many hundreds. I have been aboard with those many hundreds and watched them, the families, the dogs, the way the children burst upstairs to see, to see from the ‘flight’ deck, or the way the exhausted parents find their way to the outer deck to drink in the astonishing beauty of the passing hills and their sharp defines as the sky comes down and says Stop Right There. This time the ferry is empty, like a ghost ship. I feel a bit foolish behind my puffing blue spectacle-clouding mask, but nobody is laughing at me. I arrive on the mainland and off-loading is barely that. Three people don’t take much off-loading.

I am driven the almost 3 hours the the hospital the following morning through mizzle and cloud. He knows what he is doing, strong, calm, googled. He will mind the non-peeing dog. Go Mum. I follow the signs to Clinic 3, very clearly marked. There is almost nobody here either. Nurses, come and go, masked and chirpy, friendly, welcoming. I burst into a waiting room. The chairs are wide apart, tape markings on the floor. There are a few other women waiting, nervous, as we all are. One jiggles her foot, one taps her fingers on her knee, another is busy on her phone. They guide me to Reception and I clock in from behind a big barrier. I have to repeat my name as she is behind bullet proof glass and this big barrier and I am thankful she is of good hearing. I take my seat. We are all quiet beyond the jiggling. Someone opens the doors to the almost outside, for air flow and we have no shared body warmth to soften the push of cold air over bare ankles, old skin and the generally accepted loathing of draughts. We hold. For an hour, for more. Every name called by one of the bright buttoned nurses is one we wish we owned. The relief of being named, of our own name being called into touch is a whole body/mind thing. If that name belongs to another, we wish them well from behind our masks and our fear. We don’t need to ask what these women are here for. We know. We feel their tension as we feel our own.

First the doctor, then the mammogram. Not one of us will avoid this. Some of us know it well and for others it’s a first. There are young women here, skinny teenagers and I wonder of their stories. Some partners or mothers try to be here, but a very kindly nurse tells them Only Patients Here, I’m Sorry. I can feel the bereft as they unwillingly leave. Text me, they say, or mime. The woman remains, legs crossed, jiggling, telling herself to be strong, saying I can do this, I am not afraid, and then spending the next hour working on convincing herself of that.

Mammogram. I am an old hand at this. I cast a backward glance at the young woman who smiled at me, who connected. Your turn soon my lovely girl, I say from my eyes. The process moves on. The nurses at every stop and turn, every confusion, every arrival are more than magnificent. They are Grace and Humour. We are undignified to say the least within this place. How trained they are. How emotionally intelligent they are meeting our diminished but ferociously determined woman strength as they strip our clothing and pull across the rather attractive curtain, through which our boots poke. So, here we are, unclothed and yet booted, as if we just know we can do this, whatever comes of the pummelling and the indignity.

For me it was a lucky escape. I have the all clear. There is nothing to report. I wonder of the rest. I can see their anxious faces now, still, and will for a while. Their Glasgow humour is remarkable. These are women who do not live as I do; who do not have it easy; who live lives I will never experience. And, yet, within that chilly blast, that fear, that doubt and worry, they could banter and laugh and pick up the nurse’s joke and take it on and in doing that I learn from them. They have known tough, and may yet know it again, as I never have.

As I left them behind, still waiting, their eyes asked me. I smiled an ok. They were happy for me. What they face right now, I cannot know. But, we met in that place. I came home to warmth and safety and an all -clear.

Did they?

Island Blog – This Journey

I will agree that these lockdowns have given us time to reflect. It has also given us fear and a stuttering of easy movement. Any journey holds both. Even going to the local shop on a little island. Imaginary demons lurk on every door handle and in every breathy encounter. Even from behind a mask we are cautious of guffaws so we try not to be funny, even if being funny is our absolute thing. For those of us who love to cheer others no matter what, our vocal chords are compromised if not fettered, our lungs on hold. We turn our faces away from other faces we know so well, pushing out a gentle Good Morning with as little puff as we can, for we must not forget the responsibility we carry. Touching anything is risky. Touching each other, forbidden, even if touching is our absolute thing. It is stultifying at times and we must not give in to imaginary fears. We must keep journeying for we cannot hold back the days any more than we can hold back the virus. Both are invisible.

Other invisible things also keep coming, rolling beneath our feet like thunder. These things can confound. Not now, we say, Not Now! But they do come anyway, bringing birds into bellies, all a-flutter and a-twist. Some of us must go to another place, a hospital, perhaps, for a check up or an essential operation. We must ride the road, traverse the water, open doors, breathe in air that may or may not be healthy and fresh. I think of these folk, compromised, fearful. I hope they have good family support. I wish them the very best outcome and enough courage to push away the fear. These journeys, in ordinary times, were bad enough. Now it must feel like a walk into Dante’s Inferno. I know of some who are back home now and healing well, who have journeyed through the Inferno and are cool again and safe. This is how it can be and this is what to focus on, never mind the flutter and twist of belly birds. It is natural to be afraid at such times. We feel thus as we face the unknown.

My way is to look at the other side of things, the flip side, the arrival and not the departure. When a journey is inevitable, no matter how badly we might wish it away, there is a choice. Look at the fear and feed it, or don’t. Instead look at the smile on your face when it is all behind you, when this journey that looms is already a fading memory. Look at what you can learn as the journey flows beneath you. Notice and reflect and store these observations away for a future think. Precious are these observations, the shared chuckles, the muffle of masked conversation. Look out and up at Nature as she flies by the car window. See how the clouds part and conjoin, how the sun takes a quick peek at you, enough to dazzle. See how quiet are the roads, how the rain spits up from the car ahead, how crimson are the tail lights. Listen to the music coming from the speaker. In other words create a distraction, create many of them. What you allow into your mind is what your mind will develop. It is such a powerful lesson to learn. No matter the journey, no matter the timing, we have a chance to learn something we never imagined was there at all.

Island Blog – Rain, Wolves and Happiness

It rained on all of us this day. Rain brings out the best people and the best in people. It also brings out the worst in them, in us. Black wolf/White wolf analogy. Sometimes we feed Black wolf, sometimes White wolf in response to something or someone, to events or lack of them. Rain after such a spell of stunningly white slippage is, indeed, an event. On the island, as a rule, rain is no such thing. It is just…..well, a ‘thing’, and a thing that is always upon us or drenching us or causing us to hide away and shiver. It leaks through roofs and drips down walls, necks and wood piles in its attempt to reduce us to varying stages of ‘puddle.’ Thus it is yet another reason to find cheerful, to be cheerful. How exhausting all this effort is! According to the uniform teaching on the pursuit of Happiness, we can never rest, for all of the work is done within. Not one single one of us can change what comes at us, after all. And the within of us is fickle and full of expectations. We should be happy and if we are not then it is his fault, or hers, or theirs or the rain. It might be quite marvellous if this contained a shred of truth, giving us strong purchase on an abdication from responsibility, but it does not. Unfortunately. Whatever slants sideways at us in its attempt to fell us is all in our minds. How we respond to that onslaught, whatever it is, will immediately decide our state of happiness. This is truth and, at the same time, a pain in the aspidistra.

This day I shiver. This day I huddle into extra clothing, despite the rise in temperature from -1 to 4 degrees, despite that. This day I wake twirly (too early in Edinburgh Speke) and dark myself all the way up to a boiled egg with ryvita at 0600. I inch through the morning, Oh Blam it’s only 10.30 and it feels like lunchtime. Now I have had enough. I stoke the merry log burner and climb the stairs to read in bed. My book is a fascinator. Madame Tussaud’s story dictated by her and called Little. I had no idea she was so small and so tenacious. Heart high to a small man, and orphaned early, she found her way to happiness through the most dire of circumstances and a deal of rain, not all of it from heaven. And then she left a legacy the whole world has embraced and exhibited. I read awhile as the clouds twist and billow, my window an ever-changing canvas, the light shifting, brightening, flexing, a light show no amount of rain can suppress. It smiles me, encourages me up, up and up again. So I ‘up’ in respectful obedience. I watch wheeling gulls and listen to their cries, their gull-talk. What are they saying, I wonder? The songbirds chatter to each other and warn of danger, walkers, vehicles, sparrow hawks and sudden human movements behind glass. Always alert, always focussed, always driven by the need to survive and to survive well. This might be named Happiness. It might.

Later I walk and blow the rain. Clouds come with me, from bright white puffs to the dip-fingers of grey spit, from purple angry to the slidescape of soft smokey wisps, linear, leaving-the-party sort of clouds. It wisnae me, they are saying as they slide sideways and away from the billows, innocent as baby’s breath. Diamonds adorn the birch branches and I duck to avoid knocking them from their perch, Rose gold on the far hills, sun kissed, a last farewell to the rainday, for the sun did show his face now and again, reticent, shy, or maybe just resting like me with a good book. Ach, do I have to turn up every day to make this race smile for goodness sake? Is that what he is saying?

On my walk, the initial bit of it, I see a friend. I am glad of it. I walk alone every single day after all. And, he might be happy to walk with me. I like him. He is an intelligent, questing young man and our conversations are always immediate, as if neither of us has to ferret about in our pockets for something to say, some pleasantry that may or may not lead beyond the weather, the rain. We agree we are happy to share our walk, although our terriers take a while to stop narking at each other. No, that’s not true. His terrier is no narker. It is my old and deaf border who shouts at everything and everydog. I learn what books he likes to read and he learns my choices. We meet on one and discuss it at length in lively bounce and laughter and develop each other’s fixed opinions into a sort of rain, a sort of rendering. We are not fixed. We are flexible, open, curious, interested. We were happy as we slithered a bit now and then across the ice plains that refuse to reduce or assimilate, and I am lifted. I am lifted not just because he was there and we did share, but because he touched the me in me, that core intelligence that oft feels like moving clouds, blame and rain. My meeting with him was random.

Or was it?

Island Blog – This Day, This Ice, This Learning

The morning almost capsizes me. I blame the ice. There I am, all ready to venture forth in the arm-crossed and defiant black of a winter’s dawn, one that seems unwilling to appear at all, and I find myself confounded. Mornings should be mornings. That’s what I think. Winter has no respect for human comfort, nor for early venturing. I find my car an igloo. Beneath my skittering feet, slip-ice threatens to upskittle me in a most undignified way. I keep thinking, what if someone comes along, eventually, after some hours considering the unwillingness of the day to appear at all only to find me all spreadeagled, my skirts around my ears and my body cracked and held in frozen gravitas? Well, that’s not going to happen. I turn but slowly, holding onto gate and fence and inch my way back into the warmth of the house. You should not have gone out, said the house. You old eejit. I concur.

Light comes, and most welcome. You are, late, and I don’t do late, but it seems you are quite fine about it. We may need to have a word. It is always intriguing, nay infuriating, when things or people feel quite fine about not explaining themselves or at the very least proffering apology. Perhaps Dawn is above such rulings. I may have to accept it. I turn towards my ordinary tasks. Clean out and light the fire. This requires another traverse across the slip-ice to the wood stack. I know the rules. I studied, if you can believe it, Posture Control now renamed Adequate Motor Output (if you don’t mind) at school. I know, scary. Keep your body directly over your feet. Heel first, then toe, no flat foot. I hear the voice in my head and it comes to me now because I am one who is utterly determined to remain upright for as long as she possibly can. We manage it, me and the wood, even though it distremebles me somewhat as I take in the humph and lumph of a lift of snow laden logs in my arms. This imbalance requires intelligent correction for it is not just me keeping me directly over my feet. I now have a big armful of insensitive logs to accommodate and before me, thus altering my centre of gravity. See how complicated life can be?

The morning passes without incident. I sew and listen to an audio book, warm in the firelight and, later, blazed by a sun who is thankfully melting the slip-ice, I watch it melt, hear it crack and fissure, leak and then disappear randomly. Why this hole and here? Why not there, or there? I walk midday. The ice, it seems, is having fun. The chutzpah of something so fragile and yet so powerful during its short reign! I admire it even as I dint and divvy my way over the stumbleground of latent snow fall, still crisp but not as ice distilled as this side of the track or that where the wide tyres of massive vehicles have rendered walking an impasse, even if I am learned of Adequate Motor Output and a confident student. I am always looking down. Watching, heel toe, no flat, catch the stones, heel, toe, no flat.

Beyond this, once I am no longer engaged with the ice control, I walk more freely. Here is mud, pine peat sludge, ridges melted, squelch, and I follow the dog. When she is not sniffing every trace, every track, she is bonhomie. She is my guide. Even without any school training, she is in complete control of her manifold feets. She can skid and correct in the face of any ice challenge. Here she chooses a lift to the left, a change of choice there and I follow her. I know that animals have instincts that we have allowed ourselves to forget. Some places on the track lie frozen, still, silent. Others lift back into exhaling ridges of peat sludge, airy when I tread them, rised, it seems, by frost and then abandoned to their thawing fate. Prints are widening. That big dog is now a wolf. That confident bicycle track the backbone of a Titanoboa. The ground is spreading out, losing definition, becoming a new self, becoming nothing until it reforms into another something.

I love this about life. Something is here, yes, it is here, for I can see it, and then it melts and is gone, and something new comes in its place. Unless we are watching we will miss this. Perhaps we don’t mind the missing, nor the rebirth, but for me, to see it is essential. This is why, despite my eye rolling and my puffs of derision around Adequate Motor Output, I will remain upright for as long as I possibly can and I will keep watching and learning.

Island Blog – Point Full

Two days of snow. Most unusual for this Gulf-streamed island. Warm we are and wet, windy too and almost always dripping, the washing included. I am thankful for a wish washer machine as I have been since I took delivery of my first. Any woman who has had to wrangle with the inner workings, or not workings, of a twin tub that stretched everything and who was, overnight required to grow longer legs and arms and a larger bottom will know how exciting this delivery was. I will never forget it, my first independent helper within a mainly unhelpful household.

I walked today, reflecting. The snow is softer today, sloppy like a slush puppy but without the violently coloured additives. I stopped at a the dog prints. Big. Slightly jaunty-legged but heavy and purposeful. Not many deviations for sniffing off track. Annihilated sticks in neat piles along the track. This big, slightly jaunty-legged, heavy and purposeful beast paused in his work. I wonder if the humans waited for him. I wonder if they stood over him saying….Aw look at him. So purposeful. Or if he had to chop chop with his chop chopping and belt after them. I think not. The paw prints do not show me belting. There would be a skid or two, the legs working less as individuals and more as paw gallop. I continue. The slop of snowfall falls around me as the sun warms Snow White and it falls lumpish and slightly grey. Holding on too long, I tell it, remonstrating. You could have fallen Snow White if you had thought this through, if you had really wanted to make an impression.

It thinks me. Making an impression is something I can do well, because I think about it. Although the pointlessness of my life now, for now, weighs heavy and litters my dreams with even more pointlessness, I endeavour not to show this to the outside world. For ‘outside world’ read ‘the odd neighbour’. Well, it is the world for now, and not just for me. How small we have become, despite growing bigger on cakes and lack of exercise. A young jogger shoots by me running confidently across the snow and the slush, making her own tracks. I hear her dog heralding her arrival, her voice following shortly after, reassuring. Oh ignore her, she puffs (actually she wasn’t puffing at all despite her run of many miles, and over slippy snow), she is all shout and no do. A mere pup, a collie, bouncing in excitement, confounding any sleuthing I might bring to bear on her footprint analysis.

The wild honeysuckle is leafing, brave wee trailing thing, wrapped like a delicate cobweb scarf around the trunk of a fallen pine, the leaves tiny and frosted with icing sugar. Be brave, I tell them. Don’t give up. You are showing the world (the odd neighbour) that you are punch-strong and still green despite the cold. If you can do this, so can I. My sister calls. She is one of my favourite people. She combines strengths that in others might argue. A genuine warm and instant compassion combined with a steel confidence in her core self. She is who she is and can still gift compassion whether or not she shares an experience. She, unlike me, her much elder, knows exactly who she is and is always ready to make laughter and to share it. We came from the same familial home but our experiences were very different. I was first. She was last, but that was the last time she has ever been last in her life. She can make me feel pointful.

So am I? Point Full? It doesn’t feel like it much these days but I do have faith in hope and hope in faith. I do believe that time heals, that being open to the Universe, God, Dust, Startalk and other things not one single soul can present as an absolute, is key. There are answers not enough down here beneath the clouds and above the snow, in the In-Between of life, the place we inhabit. That place we need to explain and justify. The way we live in that place, the how, the where, the what and the why of it. Myriad confusion reigns, like a bad king, all shout and no do and at times we all butt up against this regent, find ourselves in his eye-stare and are stopped in our tracks. It’s ok, we tell ourselves, are told by counsellors and wise men and women who know that all you have to do is blow a raspberry at this bad king. He won’t be used to raspberries, not the blown ones. I do it even now when something bad-king-ish upsets the balance of my footprints along the track of life. I have been taught this by my youngest son. Another of my favourite people. It makes me laugh and, as I do, the bad king disappears. Pouff! gone.

Homing, and I see blackbird tracks. Deeper than I would have expected. Then I see him. A male blackbird with a black beak. A first for me. The light is changing. Brilliant snow light, billowed clouds, grey shifts of oncoming sleet or hail above the hills, a blast of sun, coppered, fiery, pushing through for a glimpse of us. No time to grab a camera, just watch. See that perfection of heavenly firelight and take it in through your eyes and down down into your heart and let it rest there. Let it rest alongside the paw prints, the slush snow, the brave green honeysuckle and the black beak, and see that everything is point full. Everything.

Island Blog – Pock, Shot, Falling and Holding

Early. I am up for the silence. The silence of snowfall. I hear something that sounds like nothing. A flip and a flop against the roof, the window, like something soft landing, politely. I know rain. I know hail, the blatter and scattermongery of it, the slap and splat against doubled glass, the alert of ice. Rain is easy. Like a friend. A well-known. It may cause me to sigh or raise my thinning eyebrows when it comes in the night but I know it nonetheless.

Waking, too early. Darkness with cold fingers, pre my ineffective central heating set for 0600, those ancient radiators puffing like old women losing the will to breathe, the ones affixed below windows as if that was ever a good idea. Hunkering behind thick, light refusing curtains, they pump their lightbulb warmth into a wide open space. But, I tell them, thank you. Good for you, you little cobwebbed fatlings. You do your best. If I had the money, I would sentence them to the metal tip, to landfill, and buy myself those svelte flatscreen daughters of effective heat. I don’t tell them that.

Walking in snowfall. It feels cold but is, in truth, warmer, or there would be no snow. My boots pock the elevations. I am old enough to know that it is wise to walk upon the elevations, the fresh-fall, where other booted feet have been equally wise. Where the tyre marks ride lie ice and a potential slip. I don’t beckon a slip, potential or otherwise, with my spindleshanks and my old bones that, apparently, break on contact, first with gravity and thence with a landing. We are not so good at landing as we age. Too much caught in the fear of it, tense, awkward, doomed.

My boots follow the high riser boots that have gone before, invisible walkers who only came today. I am enough of a tracker to know this. Pock, pock, scrunch, scrunch, my boots louding the sound of distant gunfire. I think of the trenches, of war. That sound must have brought such fear to listening hearts hiding in the dark. I notice the tracks. A man here, a bit overweight, or maybe just confident and well-balanced, his head and body strong above his striding legs. A child here and another, a bigger child. but both walking at ten to two, as we were always encouraged (enforced) to do. Here, someone, a woman perhaps, lighter of foot, and distant from the familial group. Or, maybe she walked alone and the other prints relate not to her snow traverse. I will never know. The scoot and slush of a bicycle, hollowing out the resistant mud of the woods, easy to slop and skew, wiggling and re-founding on its passage through the trees, beneath the moss-covered trunk of the massive Elvish Beech. Rounding back onto the other track, I study a flush of blown snow from last night creeping up the almost fallen trunk of a massive pine. It has fallen, but not quite, against another somewhat weaker tree. It makes me think of family, of sisters and of brother. I am huge. I falter and fall, but you are there and I know I am putting an inhuman pressure on you, but look at you……you are holding me up.

Do trees brace? Do they make a decision when they are fallen against, to hold and hold and hold for both? I like to think so. In human terms I know this. I can fall, but I will be held. But, as I watch this ‘a deux’ I can only see a final crash to the ground. The roots of the holder are still beneath the goodly earth, but the ‘leaner’ is showing her underpants and is so much bigger. Time will tell.

Today I did not feel great at all. It was a big thing to walk at all in the sunlit snow where most folk are out sledging and laughing and being eejits. But I did walk and I did track and this has to be a tick in my box of who-the-hec-am-I-now. There are so many fears. Fears that were possibly always there but were swashbuckled away by Himself, and, now, my kids. But the bottom line is just me. And that is my biggest ever learning curve and not one, if am honest, I really want to learn. I gave my final statement to the police this evening. He tells me the abuser has been located and will be contacted. I said, Oh, just a warning? No, he said. This is a crime. They will let me know once they have knocked on his door, but to be honest I can only guess at what the Met has to deal with on a 24 hour basis, real dreadful crimes, real imminent fear, and I am patient. Nothing has come since my number change.

How bizarre that it unnerved me so very much; made me fear shadows, look for footprints at ten to two or not; when I live hundreds of miles away from the caller, the sad, lost, angry man who, randomly (obviously) targeted an old woman.

The snow stands. The light it gifts to the evening, the way it answers the inside twinkly winky lights, marvels me. I will not shut the outside out. Is that a double negative?! I will embrace the inside and the outside of my life. I will not live in fear. I reach out, right now to anyone who is afraid. I won’t say Don’t be Afraid, because you might punch me as I would you if you said that to me. I am just waving. Just saying Hallo. I know how this feels and I so wish it wasn’t happening to you or to me.

Salut.

Island Blog – What I Miss

Freedom to travel. Not anywhere in particular. Even going up the track or down the road invites caution, even fear. I never knew that before, and nor did you, bar the obvious. It limits. A man sawing a fallen tree, a walker, a passing car that halts to expend greetings for health and well-being. All that breath. Anyone who turns towards me, even a metre or two away, brings a shrink. I can feel it. And it works not naturally with me. I halter, falter, dither and the questions in my head look like a wealthcome of a nervous system, as I always see in images. I might have said Spaghetti Junction but I will not, because that place is all about finites and endings and beginnings we can actually see, however lost we may become during the dive into its complex depths and twists. This is different. This is confusion and random chaos. This twangle diverts and complicates and migrates and deviates in an attempt to founder our race, to bring us to our knees. We can run to books on wisdom. The dictionary; Roget’s thesaurus; innovative books written in their times that yet speak truths we understand, for they still apply. But this is Dante’s Inferno, for us, now.

I miss being able to text or call a friend and to know I can meet them for lunch. I miss inviting them up for a glass on an evening when the clouds are arguing and the light is fabulous and I just want to share the whole kit and caboodle with someone who shows me light in their eyes and give me laughter from their mouths. A sky shared is a sky affirmed. It is not the same just me doing this affirming thing.

I miss saying, on a moonlit night, meet me half way. I’ll bring the wine. Lit, backlit, by Mother Moon, the single track is elevant, guiding. I find my way, as I always have. I miss sitting on a wet mossy settle and not minding at all. I miss singing songs way out into the night, across the sea-loch and out and up into the sky thinking that maybe our melody actually. meant something.

I miss seeing basalt rocks and knowing that once they were lava and sharing that. I miss the ordinary meets I always took for granted; young mums, school collections, high fives at the salad counter . I hate the fear.

I’m not going to schwack in a ‘fix’ there. I’m just saying what I miss.

Island Blog – Thought, Feeling, Action

This day I have spent in my bed watching an otter take on a sea-loch. I saw the briny surface break and explode as the creature chased down salmon. I saw the flash of silver as the fish leapt to escape, caught by gravity and doomed to curve back down into the ready jaws. I sipped beef tea and listened to Hilary Mantel’s book, the Mirror and the Light read by Ben Miles. It is captivating.

My reason for being so indolent is one of the aftermath. Although I know that my home telephone number has now been changed and that the police have located the abusive caller, one who, thankfully I do not know and who lives hundreds of miles away, I am left upset and sleepless. I am a child now, afraid of the dark as I remember being when my shoes were mouse sized and sensibly buckled up. I lock my doors at all times and have to check the surrounding area before going out for wood. The fire burns all day long, a friend to warm and a living light to watch. I hide from phone calls and conversations. I am momentarily caught in the gravity of the situation.

However, I am not a salmon and I no longer have an otter-like predator stalking me. I am not bound for doom and probably never was for if this perpetrator had known how old I am, I doubt he would have persisted as he did. I also know that these fears and frets will ease over time. They are all, of course, in my imagination. Where he left off, hung up having delivered his explicit threat or promise, my mind took up the line and held on to it. Even waking in the night, something I can easily do at any time, I no longer feel confident about going downstairs to make tea and to sit awhile in my cosy kitchen awaiting further sleep to soften me, to lead me back upstairs and to hold me till morning.

As I lay in my bed today, I realised how much I miss, and have always loved, the sound of someone downstairs, someone pottering about doing this or that. The sound of the kettle coming to the boil; a door opening and closing, the radio chattering quietly in the distance. Any incoming phone call or knock at the door would be answered by someone else, and I could safely lie watching otters take on a sea-loch without a care in the world. As a child I could only go to sleep if I could hear my parents beneath my floor, the television on, their muted voices. Were I to awaken into silence, the fear would grab me at my throat, refusing to let me go. I had to speak firmly to my jangled nerves, unravel them enough to walk along the darkened landing and into my parents room in search of a hug or a story.

As dusk begins to fall and the otter, sated and spent, is back in its holt, another night lies ahead of me. But I am safe. I know that now. My thoughts, bellowed into flame by my own unrealistic imaginings, will not imprison me. I have been offered only kindness and action from the police, from Victim Support, from friends and family, and I am mindful of the fact that to allow any theatre to develop inside my head, inside my body, is the short walk to madness. My old ma would immediately respond. You are already mad Duckie. And maybe she is right, but fear will take no root in me. No flag will stay in the ground for I will see it and remove it. However, for now, the aftermath will be my companion, for a while, until this thing passes as all things always do, and if I decide to watch an otter take on a sea-loch, drink beef tea and listen to Hilary Mantel then I will do just that.

Island Blog – Bindings and Absolutes

The other day I took delivery of a new shower curtain in pale grey with black dandelions leaping up from the hem. Well, there wasn’t actually a hem, nor weight to prevent the whole thing flying towards me as soon as I and the hot water became a team. I admonished it, the curtain. Social distancing if you don’t mind, I said as it wrapped around me like a clammy hug. Hmmm.

The old shower curtain, white and weighted, I removed because of memories and stains that won’t quite wash out. This curtain is the right length and the correct width for my disabled shower. It hangs quietly, and without any rush of affection towards me, against the lock-and-load glass panelled defences which keep the water both in and out depending on which side I stand. I decide to attempt a removal of the length of plastic hold-me-down from the white curtain and to affix it to the grey one with leaping dandelions which, by the way, is not long enough. I am not too concerned about that because of the lock-and-load defences. The water will still remain in its allocation. I am also not surprised. If I ever have to measure anything I always get it just a wee bit wrong and sometimes a big bit wrong and this failing of mine has irritated me, but not taught me, for decades. I am just not interested enough in measurements. That’s what I tell myself and it is okay. I am very good at plenty of other things after all, but there have been disastrous times, such as that time I took up the hem of Himself’s smart trousers and cut off the residue material before he had tried them on. That wasn’t a good moment.

I bring down the grey curtain with leaping dandelions and lay it across the sitting room carpet. I carefully remove the plastic hold-me-down strip from the other one and find it to be 2 inches short. No matter. I turn up the hem and pin it. Then I call my sewing machine into action. Come on old girl, we have a job to do. I can see her eyes roll. She knows, as do I, that her accurate brilliance will, once again, be confounded by my lack of ability around straight lines. Making encouraging noises as I take my place at the table, I insert the start end under the needle and we are off. It looks like a range of gently rolling hills but I do manage to avoid the needle connecting with the thick plastic which is definitely a ‘Good for Me’ thing. As I work, as we work, I scoot back to sewing classes at school and the frightful mess I was making of a knitting bag. Who on earth wants a knitting bag anyway? I loathed ever single minute and obviously showed it. The teacher, who could have made anything from a space suit to a pin cushion with perfect, neat stitching, even with the lights off, called me to the front, to her desk. She sighed. This stitching is quite dreadful, she said, in a louder voice than I felt necessary. I hung my head. I just don’t enjoy it, I ventured, bravely. I must have been reading Greer or Woolf or Wollstonecraft at the time, although Miss Seamstress wouldn’t have known that. I concealed such insurrection within the hollowed out bindings of The Holy Bible.

You don’t enjoy it? She gasped, her eyes wide as saucers and her breath coming in distressed pants. I shook my head. Class? she yelled and heads snapped up. I would like to make it very clear to all you girls, she continued, banging her hand on her desk, that learning is nothing about ENJOYMENT!

It can take a lifetime to unlearn such absolutes.