Island Blog – Along the Way

On my road to recovery I learn many surprising things, see much through a different lens, complete old puzzles that I had thought missed an essential piece for decades, the very one that would show me the whole picture. It bothered me, this missing piece thingy and I would find myself going back over and over again, my fingers digging through the dirt for that chunk of gold as if I believed everything would be just as I remembered it way back when my ass was pert and my feet fleet. It smiles me now, for nobody can piece together their past from where they stand now. Not nobody. And also I recall recalling memories with himself and seeing that ‘what are you talking about woman’, a statement not a question on his face. He wasn’t there apparently.

When I say recovery, I don’t mean me coming back to me because I will never be that me again and because I have nobody to remind me of that me, I am free to build, foundation up. First off I need to find that foundation and I now believe that this is the hardest part. When there is a ‘we’ in the mix, there is discussion, argument, tantrums, acceptance and solution, not least because the digger is revving impatiently just a hillock away and costing money. So ‘we’ decide and there it is. It begins.

It is the same within a shared life, sometimes tantrums, sometimes arguments, hopefully acceptance and solution, but nonetheless, each ‘I’ affects the shaping of the duo dynamic. When he is in this mood, I keep clear. When she is slamming doors and honking horns, I look out at the birds and say not one word. And so on. We change each other without even knowing we do. We can tear down and we can build up and most of us do a bit of both, but as we grow above the foundation we alter each other, smoothing down edges, rounding them into a learned shape that works, even if only as far as the next volcanic eruption.

Alone is not lonely. Alone is powerful and free and scary at times. Nowadays there is no other close enough to perform any shaping manoeuvres on the one of two. Just the ‘I’ is left, an ‘I’ with complete autonomy, absolute freedom of movement and thought; a singular soul who can, and has, felt both utterly bereft and warmly supported. Happily, if this person is curious about life even if he or she finds the whole thing terrifying, he or she will find others along the road, surprising others. In my afterlife I have met with kindness I never expected, such as offers of help and then those who actually see what I need just by walking by and who turn up to do the job. I could think that this is just the way islanders think, the community strong and bonded through winter gales and no ferries running but I don’t believe that. I believe, as I always have, that although this world is broken, she is beautiful because of her people. Of course there are those who choose greed, corruption and worse and who’s actions cause terrible consequences but they are in the minority. They do not define the human race. I see community and kindness everywhere because it is everywhere. And I for one am a very grateful beneficiary of that kindness.

We all have some kind of shit flung at us, but along the way we will find those who give of themselves just so we can rise and shine once again, and in a shape we are still working on but one we rather like the look of.

Island Blog – Salt, Ladder Resistance, a Giggle

When I went to boarding school aged 13 I believed I was going into a story. Well, I did, but not the one I imagined. I reckoned on adventures, midnight feasts and a lot of giggling. I know, now, that my ideas of how life should be lived does not always agree with the plans Life has for me. When I am expecting fish and chips, she serves up gruel and the key to the gruel thingy is to see beyond it. In my imagination I can see whatever I choose to see and even gruel can taste okay with a pinch of salt and a giggle. It’s saying Hey ho to whatever I face, refusing to allow this bowl of tasteless slop to damage my dreams. Needless to say we girls were carefully monitored at the table. Not a drop was to be wasted and it is not possible, as it might be with sprouts, to hide any of it in your knicker pocket. Yes, I know. Who on earth decided the need for knicker pockets? Well, someone did and they were regulation in my forward thinking school.

It thinks me as I listen to the terrible news from Ukraine. All those frightened and damaged people hiding underground. No chance of escape. From my place of extreme privilege I cannot imagine how they feel. I cannot imagine living through a war, the sheer terror inside each and every minute of what might become months or longer. Whatever gruel I may face, it is as nothing to their plight. I can decide my attitude to anything and everything. I am free to roam in safety. I can actually open my fridge door and choose my next meal from many possible options. I can talk to whomsoever I want without fearing for my very life. My one life, my now life. It humbles me and challenges my potential for too much inner study. Look out, I tell myself; look up. Don’t be ladder resistant like my regulations stockings (no pockets thankfully), those hideous orangey beige things that were supposed to remain intact for a whole term but never did. Oh, they didn’t ladder, no. Instead, when climbing fences (forbidden) or when pushing into a dense thicket of brambles in order to reach the fattest blackberries (also forbidden), I would emerge with polka dot legs. These ‘new age’ stockings about which everyone was thoroughly over excited would ‘hole’ not ‘ladder’. It was impossible to hide the truth, not with those white skin holes all the way up to the regulation suspenders, and I was oftentimes in the headmistress’s office being warned once again about how ‘nice gels’ should behave.

What I did then and what I sometimes forget to do now is to choose how I feel about things in my life, to focus on the blackberries, the thrill of climbing a fence, or diverting matron’s attention just long enough to salt the gruel. In other words taking the opportunity for fun, for naughtiness, for adventure. It matters not what comes at us. What matters is how we deal with it – because we who are free and safe have that responsibility, no question; to look up and out as we are able to do for we are not hiding underground in fear. To see the fingernail moon hanging over the sea-loch. To welcome others with a twinkly winkly smile. To hear the birdsong and to be thankful for every moment. I have homework to do.

It took me flipping ages to sew up the holes. In the end one leg was longer than the other and. even with my suspenders pulled down as far as they could go, I had to walk like a duck. Any thought of fence climbing was quashed at the outset and I raised many titters from other girls as I walked from Latin to History. The discomfort was inevitable. However, as I have already said, my imagination can take me anywhere and when I sat to study the dark lines peppering my legs I relocated my giggle. When the ghastly orangey beige things finally exploded open, way beyond repair, I pulled the stocking over my head and gave matron a terrible fright when she came into the dorm for lights out. Although more punishment was inevitable, I had no regrets. I chose to look up and out. I chose not to be ladder resistant and up there at the top the sky is wide open, the salt in my gruel.

Island Blog – I wish as you wish

It doesn’t matter how much he or she irritated the bejabers out of you at times. It doesn’t matter how many times you may have wished them away for longer so you could drown the goldfish, sleep wide in the bed, eat what you wanted or go out spontaneously and without curfew. Once they are gone, we are all lost. With my logic head as Speaker, I get it. Of course we are lost. We have been with this person of irritation/love for decades. We know them, or we think we do and they knew us as they think they did. There was a compliance, a working together, a stand-back or fight thingy. A thingy that became our normal.

When our normal is thrust into outer space, just like that, no matter the months or years of caring nor even if the separation is sudden, we are actively lost. I say ‘actively’, because it is just that. When the whole thing about living together stops dead, we just don’t know who we are anymore. Active still wants to be active. We find things to do and over-do. We still have the momentum we always had but what is lost now is purpose. Why am I still doing this, this getting dressed/ stepping out thing when I come home to nobody, not to the smile, the questioning, even the sharp remarks about how long it takes to go to the local shop?

Most of us are productive, action folk, oftentimes because that is what life needs us to be. Just think about it. I mean, who on earth sees the massive role they are suddenly required to ontake when they fall in love? Well, not one of us, that’s who; suddenly wife; suddenly husband; suddenly parents; suddenly carer. And then it stops. Dead. We were running with it all, weren’t we, and fast, just yesterday and then we meet the buffers. I don’t know if you have experienced meeting the buffers on the inside of a train with a driver who wasn’t ready. Well I have and it sent sandwiches and old ladies off piste and flying wide. Not pretty, neither of them. It is way worse in life. Way worse. Did I miss something? Was I being selfish, looking the other way?

When a partner dies, we may be relieved. I was and I am not afraid to speak it out. Although I was the primary and the (godlovethistitle) unpaid carer, not everyone goes through it and I am glad of it. Nonetheless this place is my experience and thus I cannot imagine sudden death, the shock of it rippling for ever, the inner questioning, the self doubt and the regret for all the words unsaid, the loving gifts not given. Let me tell you, those of you aforementioned, that the I feel the same sans your experience. I wish I had said this and not said that. I wish I had asked more questions, been kinder. I wish as you wish.

And the ripples go on. Think not, no matter how he or she irritated, that the ‘lost’ will dissipate soon. It won’t. And do you know why? Well, I’ll tell you. It is because you care. Even in storm conditions for years, even when you just wanted out, even for a month or a year, the human heart has a deep sense of allegiance. It is nothing to do with logic. It is who we are. So if you know loss as a wife, a husband, a father, a mother, a partner, a sibling or a friend, rest easy my lovelies. Let the ripples flow on because they will even if you build a dam. It takes time to be okay with the loss of someone and then, eventually, to find yourself, a shrimp in a desert, yet still strong enough to find the sea.

Island Blog – Just a Dog

Over the last weekend, the Poppy Dog was very sick, so much so that I had to take her over the switchback to the vet. Negotiating a series of chasm potholes, sharp upward twists and barely any passing places, we arrived. Poppy was to stay overnight to be on an IV drip as she was extremely dehydrated. Leaving her was tough even as I know the vets on the island are quite brilliant. I didn’t expect to collect her alive to be honest and made my wishes clear. I did not want her back as a sickly thing, not this feisty, barky dog, my wee mate, the only other one breathing within these four stone walls. No way.

Needless to say, my night was more day than night. Every hour I wondered how she was doing until Sleep left the building. Early morning, in the dark, I swear I heard Poppy snuffling in the next room. The vet called at 07.30 and I missed the call in the one moment I went out to gather wood against the fourth bl**dy freezing storm in a single week. The answerphone told me she had enjoyed a peaceful night, had not pulled out her drip and had eaten some chicken and rice for breakfast. I couldn’t believe it and my relief lifted into a lip cracking smile. A friend drove me over to collect her early this afternoon and, despite the spectacular wind emissions, Poppy was bright and waggy.

Needless to say we are both tired but happy. She is just glad to be back home and I, well I am full of gratitudinal thanks to the vets, the friend and the survival of my wee barky mate. Poppy is more than just a dog. She is the reason for walks, for conversations (a bit one-sided I admit)and for play. She is the over-the-top welcome when I have been away at the shop for 20 minutes. She is the one who wakes me in the night because her bladder is reminding her it needs emptying. She follows me everywhere, watching with those big velvet eyes where I go and, even before I do the ‘go’ thing, when I am only just thinking about it.

May she continue to mend, particularly in the wind emission department.

Island Blog – About the Real

I walk into another evening alone. Oh yes I did have a great friend staying and other friends here making music, yes I did. And then they all go back into their shared lives. And I am so thankful they came. I loved the moments chuckled between us, the laughter, the conversations, the music. I really did. But after them there is just me, just the old loneliness.

In our ‘out there’ lives, we don’t mention loneliness and yet it is rife among us. We don’t want to speak out the word because it invites questions, or fixings, or mentions of Spring and daffodils and light. We see it coming so we keep quiet. We say we are fine and after a little chat about this, that and the weather, we turn back into the lonely. It doesn’t begin after the death of the one we shared everything with. No. It creeps in after the probate is sorted, the paperwork filed, the busy time that keeps us, well, busy and then stops dead like a train hitting the buffers. The shunt of silence is deafening and it isn’t going to make noise anytime soon, bar the odd visit of friends, the lift of music, laughter and shared time.

So what do we Lonelies do about this? Good question. I will work on it. Many of us are just short of 70. What options are out there for us, we who have stayed solid throughout maybe 50 or more years of being one of two? Well we may not be able to see them options but they might just be there, out there, somewhere. So what I say is this, as I wander, restless, through an empty house, more empty than it was when the other of two was away for a bit… you remember your dreams? I am working on that. Dreams I had as a young woman with no clue just don’t make sense now. However, a person without dreams, without aspirations, is basically dead whilst still breathing. It doesn’t matter what you do in the loneliness. But it matters if you do nothing. I catch the lift of the young woman I was, at 18, before marriage and kids and a most adventurous and demanding life subsumed me, or tried to. It never worked, this subsuming thing although it took all my spirit strength to remain Me. And now, on my own is mostly wonderful. I no longer have to say where I am going, nor when I will return. I no longer have to explain myself. I no longer this or that, and that is a void I do not know how to navigate. I was this woman and for decades. Now who am I?

There’s a question. The real is the truth. Lonely is real.

Island Blog – Stories on a Backwind

It’s been ten days since I blogged, give or take. I blame my best friend because she and I have been here on the island together and there is much to talk about after a year apart. She hasn’t been able to leave, thank you Dudley, Eunice and Franklin, even as it irks me to buy into this nonsense naming of storms or winds. We were always quite the thing just acknowledging a new storm and for hundreds of years, as if we knew we could never tame, nor name them, so powerful and volatile were/are they. Nowadays they take on bowler hats or the memory of old grumpy great aunts who smelled of things nobody ever wanted to smell outside of a wheelie bin long uncollected.

Moving on.

The winds whip crazy this month, flipping from North to Northwest, to West and back to North. Sometimes the South pulls up her big girl knickers for a wee toot but she is up against the big winterboys so doesn’t get much of a word in. Occasionally I have met her on the Tapselteerie track, a sudden hug of warmth but she is wheeched away in seconds. I might walk backwards a step or two to see if she is still there because she was about to gift me a story, but no. She is gone. So what story did she carry on her back? I caught the first line but no more. That’s ok. She’ll be back soon enough.

However the winterboys carry stories too on their backs. If you look at where the wind is coming from and check out the country in line with the wind, you can hear the stories from Iceland where all the mythical stories began and beyond to Greenland. They know cold as ancient. And stories come from ‘ancient.’ Listen as you clothe up and bend against the hail stones. Listen to the slough-song of the wind. Let it blow through you, feel it on you skin and listen. No, not just listen, hear.

Most of the time I do this listen/hear thing and have no translation. Thing is, it doesn’t bother me at all. I am a tiddler in this walk through time, but I am here, I am a tiddler and I can engage. I might catch an image, see how it was when skinning an Elk was the biggest thing for that day. We, now, Elk free, can fight against the winterboys but we will never win. Nor will we master them with expensive outdoor kit nor giving them ridiculous taming names. The moment we can just thrill to the cold, feel the wind, walk out barefoot (just me I think) and really feel the whole craziness of winter life whilst listening to and hearing the windback stories, we are, at once, at home with the whole gamut of seasons.

Such a freedom.

Island Blog – A Sylvan Lift

Woods. I recommend them. Among trees, my daily ‘among’ thing feeds my soul, lifts my feet, my heart. When I walked, careless and young, my hand inside my dad’s big warm palm, there were trees but I had no idea of their sentience. I knew they kept me from rain beneath their wide leafy branches. I knew they shaded me from the intense sun-punch. I knew I could climb through their limbs. I knew they lined our suburban street. Beyond that? Clueless.

Oh my, how I have learned over time, so much, so very much. Even the street trees, those ones pushing through the confines of concrete paving slabs in shopping centres, even they have a voice and a story and more, something wonderful and something healing to share. However, my daily walk is into wild woods, no people, only the trees, the deer tracks, the otter spraint, the lift of a a snipe, although I only heard a flutter from the bracken as I walked and the flash of a lifting bird.

I turn to where the track lifts kindly gentle past horse chestnuts and up to the beeches. I say hallo my friends, as I always do. They are quiet for now as a big hooha of a hail storm has passed on through and the sky ahead is promisingly blue-ish with only a few flattened clouds, stunned I decide from the slam of sudden hail arriving on the back of a cold wind. I may just make the whole walk before the next one arrives, which it always does. On I go past the politely fallen pine, 20 paces long I count. One big limb hangs over the road just high enough above it not to poke me in the eye, fingers canting down all bare and dead. Witches fingers. I call a greeting to Finneas and Magnus the only huge pines in the fairy woods who have given me their names. I round the corner and into the straight. This part of the sylvan scape is flanked solid with hazels and birches, the chorus line. Hallo ladies, I smile at them, feeling the usual urge to burst into song, and stop to study another fallen giant, this time a beech and this one still living despite the man-high curve of yanked out roots. Its fall is held in the arms of what looks like an Eucalyptus judging by its bark. The beech fell, arms wide and this beautiful saviour caught it slap bang in the belly. Although the beech, a huge one, did make contact with the ground, the saviour may well have kept it breathing still. Eventually, I am guessing, this holding up thing will exhaust the saviour and I suppose even saviours have a life span.

Where the track curves back on itself there is another beech of whom I am particularly fond, the one who grew straight out from a rock face, turned straight for the light and who now is almost taller than the others that surround it. Brave woman, I say, as I always do. You think me of me, of many women, of all the courage and sheer determination that ensures life goes on, no matter the difficulties. As I head back for home I greet Lord and Lady Larch, Archie Larch and his girlfriend the Alder. She’s shy I think as she is always quiet when I go by. Their limbs are so intertwined that I find it hard to work out who owns which. But, no matter. They are happy together and that’s all that counts. I see the lichen, green, white, orange, the different mosses on the drystone walls, the fallen wood and in the stands of rainwater. So much colour and life.

A warbler warbles at me as I come down the last stretch. I stop to find it, but I never do. Tits chatter in the sycamores, skittering like children when school is out. One flies overhead and there is a little something in its beak, something like a feather. Nesting has begun already. As I open my door and feel the rush of inside warmth, I am smiling, refreshed, rejuvenated and ready for a cup of tea. As I sip it and reflect, I can sense a change in me, a calming peace, a sylvan lift.

Island Blog – Conundrums and Palindromes

An intriguing subject and today I realised something whilst pondering the grammar I so oft forget even as I knew it like I knew my own self a hundred years ago, could navigate its complexities and dark alleyways, its sharp and tantalising edginess, its opportunities for a witchy twist. I still feel that but now I need to let a ferret loose in my thick small print Oxford dictionary, even if it needs a serious upgrade. With all the new language, the new ways of saying the same thing the Greeks said but with different spelling, I can see that my dictionary is a very old man, dusty smelling and wonky chops at his edges, bless his old falling apart interior.

However, it thinks me about life, the subject of conundrums and palindromes. So many many times a conundrum taunts us, challenges us, confines us. Then, if we pause ad reflect we see the palindrome, that what challenges us spells the same way forwards or backwards, telling us that there is a see-saw in the problem. From one end it is all about win or lose but once we see the whole see-saw, we can understand the whole thing. Just a see-saw. Just an up and down and another and another.

I remember see-saws with my kids and my grandkids, the same bump on the same ground as I downed heavier than them but cautioning my downing. and then my uplift. Life, I thought, and learning.

If we can understand that when life slants us off kilter with a conundrum and then in kindliness offers a see-saw palindrome, thus gifting us the chance to monitor our bump down and our uplift, then we can deal with whatever comes our way. There will be endless number of weights that confound and upset us; yes. And here we are on the see-saw. On the other end there may be impossible weights and hitting us at times we don’t expect and feel we are not ready for, but we can hold tight to our end of that board and can learn to work with balance. Whatever comes, comes. Who we are and what we decide to do about who we are in the circumstances will decide not who or what wins, but so much more.

We will understand that we spell the same, forwards or backwards.

Island Blog – Call on Pooh

Although I always awaken with Tigger bouncing in my head, even that striped loon can change shape as the morning unfolds. I never know how it will be until it decides for itself. It isn’t to do with what I do nor what I don’t. It isn’t about the weather, the season or my best laid plans. I can continue to bounce until even I get tired of the bounce thing, all the way up to evening, or I can feel myself turning grey. On the outside of me, I laugh at this. It’s the same for everyone else isn’t it you daft old eejit? Your grey slump is not new, nor is it original enough to warrant a voice. No, it is just a grey slump. Get on with it. You could, if you subscribed to self-pity, find a load of reasons to explain this. Or you can try to outrun it by attaching yourself to Blue (the marvellous hoover) or a bucket and mop or the iron or a pen. Third option. You could just stop running, stop searching for the reasons for grey, and let go. It is allowed.

I paragraphically distance myself from this conversation, as you can see. I have never been good at allowing myself such an indulgence, as I see it. Oh, I am really good at this allowing thingy with everyone else. It thinks me. Am I perfectionist? Well, maybe, because my standards for myself are as high as the sky and equally unreachable. I look up. Everything up there is doing what it does, naturally and adaptively. Clouds move because the wind moves them. Sun rises and falls, ditto the moon, all naturally. Down here it’s not so easy to adaptively flow. Our wonderful brains make mince of us if we are not in charge of them. We are also impatient and expectant and judgemental, often and mostly of our own selves. I find it reassuring to know that the grey hits each one of us, not that I wish it on a single living soul.

Today began with Tigger and became Eeyore by 0800. He’s a sad old sausage, tail gone plus other losses. Imagined? Possibly. Then I considered the stories lived out in the 100 acre wood. That is quite a wood by the way, and an opportunity to be lost for days. Moving on. Each of the friends find each other, seek each other out so that no distress remains thus for long. They are a team.

I believe that the writer fashioned each creature on the moods of a human. Winnie the Pooh, happy with everything in life, every opportunity a gift; Piglet, scared and lacking in confidence; Eeyore believing that life itself worked against him; Rabbit, tense, anxious and fearful; Kanga the mother, the carer, the soother of troubles; Roo, well, Roo is just Roo; Old Brown trying so hard to control whatever comes his way and failing and Tigger the jester. We all know all of them. We experience them all. What might trouble us, and troubles me is that I want to be always Tigger or Pooh but I cannot control that (Old Brown). Life has a life of its own and all we can do is to be okay about cloud thinking in the face of whatever wind decides to luff into power. Yes we must plan, yes we must take action, yes and yes. But when Tigger turns into Eeyore before the school run, then we might consider leaning into the grey, which, by the way, takes forever to create on the palette, more than 7 colours and in such cautious amounts that it is very easy to turn it into slump mud if distracted.

So when Tigger becomes Eeyore, call on Pooh. Always works for me.

Island Blog – Finding me on Sundays

I’m not sure I like Sundays. I notice more things I don’t want to notice, such as nobody here and nothing on the cards and the wrinkles on my fingers and those bone-age knuckles that would need no ‘duster’ to take out a big man, had they the strength. Saturday, now, passes like a slip of a thing when Saturdays were always more of a yahoo. I don’t think that helps.

Sundays in my young past were a hair wash/get ready for school panic; or a back to work dread. Saturdays were always better. No preparation angst rising like indigestion. It was just a yahoo with crazy plans and sauncy clothing and opportunities, even as a daughter/married woman/wife, when me and him would often suddenly book a dinner table somewhere, just because it was Saturday and Sunday gave enough room for the aftermath. Now Sundays offer the same but without the Saturday fun. Doesn’t really work for me. Funny that I am still stuck in that life calendar.

This is my 3rd winter without him. Although I am, mostly, okay about ‘tempus fugit’, it feels like I am fumbling about, my fingers combing through the times, the timeline, and bringing up nothing more than seaweed or old hair as from a drain. Even as I grow into someone I never knew, nor recognise, I have this pull back to the past. Let me go there, let me have what I had; that sort of nonsense thinking. But, nonsense or not, it is how it is. This bereavement/grieving thing has no shape, no tidelines, no dateline. It is the weirdest of all times of my life as it is for anyone else who knows what the heck I am talking about. There is an identity loss, that identity having been set in place decades ago, refined, pruned, nurtured and encouraged to bloom. It will never be easy to ignore that, nor to walk away. New identity? What on earth does that mean? But, we find it, I am sure, because so many have.

And I am ready to love Sundays, to learn and to find a new me, no matter how hard the work.