Island Blog – Sharing the Story

This morning I decided to sort out my freezer. It didn’t take long as there are only 3 drawers below the fridge but you’d be surprised how much of a farrago I can create over time. Most of the bags of bits are translatable into something I recognise but none of the tubs have labels so it is anyone’s guess as to what their contents will thaw into. Something dark could be blackberry compote or red onion gravy and it does tend to matter which one gets served as pudding. I pull out one such tub and a bag of something that looks like meat thinking, rather devil-may-care, that whatever is in the tub will somehow be workable. I am nothing if not inventive.

Now it is all of 9 am and there’s a whole day stretching out ahead of me expecting to be noticeably and productively lived. Can’t disappoint it. So, what next? I know, I’ll strip the beds and wash the linen. Well, my part stops after stripping and that takes ten minutes. Next…….I could hoover the carpet if really pushed or I could ignore the crumbs and keep my eyes on the future. I choose the latter. There is a top and a skirt waiting to be conjoined which may or may not work. My sewing is enthusiastic, my imagination wild with ideas, but my skills at logic have always come home last. I can see, in my mind’s eye, this classy home-assembled frock, wowing all who see me in it (which won’t be anyone till the Autumn) but there is a gap in my Dom Sci training. I must have looked away at some point and it’s too late now. However, this doesn’t stop me forging ahead, and it takes some time to pin, tack and sew the parts together. I take the dry washing upstairs and have a chat with my soft toy collection. They are a motley crew of characters collected over time. A couple of them appeared one day attached to a small child who decided they could do with some granny time; some are left after my own children grew out of them, knowing that I never would; one, Sheepy, fell out of a window in Sauchiehall St Glasgow which is where I found him. He was flat, filthy, sodden, and cross-eyed but after a good soak and blow dry, he fluffed up nicely and has been here ever since. He is still cross-eyed but far less flat. The whole surface of the chest is covered in little people and they all grin at me as I rise the stairs. They are my little team of supporters and I always smile back.

The important thing, I am finding, is to stop my mind falling into slumber. If I entertain myself and my mind with a routine of sorts, allowing the odd dash into spontaneity and unlikelihood, whilst sustaining a healthy approach to the necessary round of small things, I can make it all the way to the evening. To enter into a day with no plan of action just doesn’t work for me. And, yet, it used to work so well. I could plan all I liked but then a child falls into the bog or gets stuck up a tree, or leaves home, aged 6, in a wild fury, to mention but a few of the many things that always happened should I dare to make a plan, it was essential that I moved to plan-less mode. In these unusual times, however, it seems important for a well-laid out daily plan to be well-laid out and implemented. As we are all confined to quarters and some to eighths or even sixteenths, I imagine we all feel this. After all, there is a limit to how many times you want to count the roses on the wallpaper, or sort the freezer, or hoover the crumbs. Small things get bigger if they are given enough attention. And that can be good and it can be bad. If the small thing appears as an irritation and is allowed to grow, I could find myself in a frightfully bad mood by lunchtime. On the other hand if the small thing is a kindness gift, due attention given to detail and presentation, then everyone is happy.

My key is to hold on to the constants and the perpetuals. Okay they might be soft toys or they might be out there in nature, like birds and rocks and daffydowndillys, for those of us who can see nature between buildings. I am aware there are many who would have to look very hard to see nature at all in this time. The odd pigeon might not cut the mustard. Drab streets, rules about going out, and so on. It’s just tougher, as it always is, among those for whom everything is always tougher. But now, here comes the leveller. Nobody is privileged against this enemy. No amount of wealth or privilege makes one jot of difference, and we are all afraid at times.

In times of ‘strait’ and fear, of lack and loss, thinking outside of ourselves is most helpful. The day will take its usual length of time to keel over so we may as well entertain ourselves and everyone else we can think of right up to night. Sharing what we have, teaching each other, working together, thinking outside of self, sharing ideas, recipes, jokes, stories, all these create bonds that no enemy can cut. Developing a relationship by asking questions and really listening with empathy sets that relationship up for life. Investing in what we can do for someone else has consequences, beneficial to all parties. Too long we have only shown interest in our own lives, families, friends, work and choice of sandwich filler. A change of heart demands action. I agree that we need to take care of ourselves in order to stay the right way up, but it is good, nonetheless, to remind ourselves, gently, that we have this golden opportunity to do something we have never done before. Like sending an I Love You message, just because. Maybe someone you know could do with talking about how they feel. Maybe they might need pulling closer to the fire to hear a story.

We will all have stories to tell once this is over. We can start writing it now.

Island Blog – Moss and Otherness.

Underneath a humungous fallen pine, some years down, is a dazzling carpet of moss. There is Fingerley moss fronding through the cracked bark, delicate falls of emerald stems, each lifting softly in response to the heckling rain. It isn’t heavy, not soaking me or the little dog, just pinging wet drops at us all for the fun of it. The puddley dyke is drying up so anything damp is going to help revive the frogspawn I noticed a few days ago, although it’s too little too late, methinks. Old leaves mulch down, retreating back into the earth as food for the next thrust of life. It’s coming, at last.

Star moss grows down in the peaty bit, stunning bunches of delicate stalks with a star on top, facing up. Big rocks, upon which this giant landed, are coated in Afro moss, so tightly affixed they could fool you into seeing a soft landing. To throw myself onto one would end me up with broken ribs and embarrassment rising, so I don’t. Then there’s Moss moss that covers anything it fancies covering. They all look fabulous and green and very much alive. The otherness beneath the lonesome pine, which, in its dying grabbed a larch tree on the way, poor love, and has pinned her to the ground ever since, includes little yellow things that tell me they are dandelions but are obviously lying, Monbretia which doesn’t bloom till after lockdown and other coloured things I don’t have names for. None of them seem to mind that at all.

The sky is milk with a whisper through of grey. It is also shut if you don’t count the spits of rain. Sometimes if I look hard enough at a shut sky, I can find a smile of light, enough to believe in, but not today. Today it is just a flat white. Walking under the sky always marvels me. It stays up and I stay down. Such a synergistic friendship, and long may it remain that way or we’ll have Chicken Licken getting into another flapdoodle. A raven floats overhead, that sharp-eyed carnivore with a taste for lambs, parping like the horn on Noddy’s car. His mate follows. There is something both regal and scary about ravens. All that black and so much of it and so intelligent. Way back in the days of Tapselteerie we tried to get rid of a pair of ravens. It probably wasn’t legal but they took too many little woolly jumpers at lambing time. They nested on a cliff face which made it extremely difficult to get anywhere near them and they would have known our intention from the very moment we donned our balaclavas. Needless to say, we didn’t succeed and I imagine they live still as they have no predators save man.

Across the sea-loch I see a holiday cottage. Empty, of course, as they all are now. Elevated standards count for nothing in these times. You could have Moss moss on the inside of your windows as we always did or an immaculate palace of a moss-less place and still nobody would come. It’s all rather levelling. This virus is catalytic and no mistake. I look ahead a month or two, seeing the same road winding on into the distance, every walker keeping 2 metres away from any encounter, touching nothing, holding breath. Then I look around my home at the books, the things, the bibelots that gather dust now that my lovely cleaners are holed up in their own burrow. The news is just numbers where it once managed a few words in between the latest statistical revelation. Drink is bad, drink is good, children are important until they drive you bonkers whence that importance retreats into the latest Pixar movie with enough popcorn to rot the collective teeth of a whole country within 45 minutes. Meditation is calming unless you get they giggles as I do and exercise is an excellent plan as long as you do it alone and in the wilderness or at midnight.

And we knit on, we tough, inventive humanoids, or sew, or paint, cook and sort out drawers and cupboards, and we dust the bibelots. We are learning to move more slowly through each project, taking time, perhaps as a first, to consider the minutiae, maybe even to read the rules. And this will do us no harm at all. Watching moss, any moss, takes considerable self control. My legs are all a-jiggle. Stand still, I tell them and they huff. But it is good re-training. It is good to sit and read, even in the mornings, to call a friend, to FaceTime, to start a jigsaw (that’s as far as I ever got with a jigsaw), tend the garden, watch the moss.

Mother Nature has called a halt. She wants her finery back, her intelligent order and we, who have turned her world into a veritable tatterdemalion must listen and we must learn.

Island Blog – Unicorns, Bananas and Hope

I wake with a wobble this morning. I suspect I am not the only one. I know there is a big shopping list downstairs in my cosy kitchen, plus a couple of things to post, and, yet, I don’t want to go anywhere near people who still breathe. I make tea and drink it, watching the day rise like Venus from the troubled waves of the night. She looks good. The usual fly-by of geese, loons, swans and garden birds entertain me for a while until I hear the sounds of the seventies overhead. That’s himself getting up. It thinks me of a first drum lesson, all bangs and thumps and with no rhythm to speak of.

Although I am not nosophobic at all, I have a healthy respect for an invisible enemy. Who doesn’t! So, after a ridiculous and chuckly conversation with a girlfriend about what bananas remind us of when baked and floppy, I decide not to shop this morning. We have enough in store and besides I can cook the sole of a gymshoe and make it tasty, or so I tell my grandchildren. I decide to inhabit the day with an attitude of ad hockery which feels rather racy and sounds loaded with opportunities. First, I bleach the door handle after a delivery of unicorn poo. For those who have never encountered a unicorn, never mind its poo, let me explain. These pellets, prettily gathered into the depths of a little hessian pouch, ribbon tied, are, in fact, wildflower seeds. You just push the pellet into the earth, not deep, and wait for your unicorn to grow……should take between 4-6 weeks. I can’t wait. I bake the bananas and cover them in custard. They may taste lovey but, naked, they are far from eyesome. Listening to tunes of the 80s and dancing along a bit, the day moves forward in a beamish sequence of start, middle and finish. Many tasks complete themselves this way and all I do is walk beside them, mindfully, of course. We sort it out together.

Walking, I see the larch green above my head, the little primroses peeking out from sheltered dips, yellow as sunshine. A pair of mallards lift like an eruption from the burn as I startle them into the air, the drake a rainbow of colours. Two otters cavort in the sea-loch, pushing out from the rocks, from the safety of their holt, out in the wide open on a fish hunt. I watch a huge fish jump although it seems too early – maybe not. Horse chestnut leaves look like green fingers against the sky, now a mackle of clouds in shades of grey. I see nobody. For a whole 40 minutes as I walk through woods and along side the rocky shore, I am alone, just me and the little dog. By this time, visiting walkers would be all over this place like a pox, and welcome indeed, but not this year. Maybe not at all this season, for who can say? We are, after all in the incunabula of something we cannot explain nor define and that’s enough to wobble the sturdiest of us.

I light the fire for it is still chilly, even if the sun does shine down his generous warmth. Flowers are pushing through the earth, shrubs throwing blooms and trees beginning to spread their canopy. It’s a time of hope and that is one thing that never runs out. If one person loses it for a while, someone else can bring it back and it doesn’t require physical contact to spread. It just flows between us like a soft breeze and we can safely breathe it in until it fills us up once more. Then we can pass it on to another who needs it.

In 4-6 weeks I hope to have a garden full of unicorns. What larks, Pip!

Island Blog – Chaste with Cheese

This morning I heard a different goose sound. It wasn’t the scrabble babble of greylags, all talking over each other and yet still managing to fly in formation, the ones who are here every year to breed. No, this was two geese making what sounded like gentle conversation; one waiting for the other to finish before responding. It leapt me out of bed in what once was a trice and now takes a bit longer so that my limbs can catch up with the trice thing. I saw them. A pair of geese from the Branta genre, black geese, Canada geese as far as I could tell. I have never seen them before here and it thrilled me to my toes. I watched them swim together through my binoculars and verified my sighting. How completely wonderful that they have chosen to come, just when we are all wondering how on this good earth we are going to manage with in-housing, not to mention those of us who might have chosen option B, had we had the choice. I’m sure you have seen that YouTube funny. If not, take a peek. But, option B or option A aside, there is life growing on outside our windows, unaware of our collective need to see life in the face of death.

Meanwhile, her indoors is making cauliflower cheese. I am aware that at some point, cheese, along with other important will run out somewhere. It might be here, so I am chaste with cheese, flavouring the sauce with chopped spring onions, red pepper and coriander before adding about half the cheese I would have lobbed in during times of abundance. I am chaste with loo paper too and that won’t surprise you. Someone, somewhere has bought up the lot and good luck to them and their associated familial bottoms. We have a saying in the north. If you run out of loo paper, just grab a handy scotsman. I thought that was a rather unpleasant idea on first hearing it, even if I did laugh so as not to look stupid, until I realised it meant the newspaper, which, on reflection, sounds equally as unpleasant. Let us hope it won’t come to that. I don’t really fancy finding editorial print on my bahookie.

Along with being chaste around everything, I find I am cleaning more things and more often than I ever have in my life. I don’t think I ever scrubbed the latch on the front gate, nor the door handles and knobs, light switches and taps. I would have given them a cursory wipe whilst cleaning the room, but not like this. I count 67 hand washes a day, and that doesn’t include washing up or squishing soft suds through a woolly. At first it felt very odd and quite tired me out, but now it’s a habit. Washing himself, however, is not quite so straightforward. I tell him, You need to wash your hands. I washed them on Wednesday, he said, his feathers somewhat ruffled.

Being profligate is not something we can be any more and that is no bad thing. I had no idea I was so tally ho with pretty much everything from cheese to loo paper…..until now. Now I could sit with my old ma and agree on half a tomato each without rolling my eyes once. I get it. And, I think, I hope, that it will become the norm not to waste as much as we all did before. It isn’t being parsimonious, more respectful of whatever we handle, cook, use in our daily lives. It might mean we learn how to repair things like paddling pools and socks and broken wings and in this learning we will honour what we need instead of grabbing what we want without a backwards glance. Perhaps we will become kinder to each other, more ready to keep in regular contact, less fond of staying late at work in order to gain an A+, whilst a grudging E- awaits us at home.

And Mother Nature is smiling wide. Because we are not tramping down the grasslands, wild flowers can grow, bees can visit, birds can nest and the whole glorious circle of what life should and could be, is turning us into mindful humans. Let us find the fun in-house, around our children, through contact with friends and family and let our minds be wide open. One day, when we can open our doors without having to scrub someone else off the handles, when we can walk out free once more, let us take what we have learned, and are still to learn, out into a brave new world.

Island Blog – Stasis, Statues and the Extraordinary

And so it is. The ferry will not carry anyone who cannot prove they live here; the shops are closed, as are the pubs, hotels and hostels. We are held in stasis, like the statues we see dotted around our cities. Whenever I walk past one, bronzed and frozen in some public place, I wonder what was happening to that notable person before that moment in time and after, if, indeed there was one of those. Did he or she live out a mostly ordinary life until he or she chose to perform something remarkable? Was that laudable moment his only laudable moment? Or was her life so very laudable that we, living out our own ordinary lives (that never epiphanied us into statue material) have to keep being reminded of our ordinariness every time we pass by? Did his feet ache in ill-fitting shoes or no shoes at all? Was she late for school/work/choir practice and did her teeth hurt eating ice cream? What does this laudable dude think of the pigeons that perch on their horizontals and shit them white and greasy grey? Do they notice the baggy coated homeless wanderer who slumps beneath their lofty limbs glugging poison from a bottle and staring out at the world through nearlydead eyes?

Who knows. Statement, not question. I would have to stop, obviously, and read the plaque, the blurb about this hero or heroine but I rarely do if I’m honest. I notice, more, the face, the expression, and I follow the trajectory of their gaze and even that cursorily because I am on my own trajectory from A to B, and this bronzed or marbled elevation of one human being (or been) will still be here should I come this way again with more time and with my specs on.

But now we are not marching from A to B, most of us. Those who aren’t directly servicing the good of our fellow men and women are at home behind window glass and doors with sterilised handles and knobs. The walks and talks and coffee meets and random encounters are now forbidden as we work together to prevent the unnecessary spread of a killer virus. Silent, deadly and very much alive. But we are enterprising, we ordinary people, and I am daily delighted as I hear more of this online idea or that distance contact. I laugh at the online videos created by minds with sparkle and am thankful when they are forwarded on to me. We are not statues. Most of us never will be anyway. But, in our ordinariness we are showing strong signs of the extraordinary. I knew we would. My granddaughter is doing a co-ordinated bake off with her school mates through WhatsApp or Skype. And what she is learning, what we are all learning, is that our ordinary brains are capable of so much more than we ever knew. The world will be forever changed once we come out on the other side of this war and although some won’t be with us, those who are left will walk into a new world and, although not many of us will warrant a statue in our name, there are those who would surely deserve to be remembered in such a way.

I remember a statue once, in Amsterdam. A rather splendid fellow in frock coat and tights with an ebullience of rakish hair and a fabulous face. He was holding out a painters palette in one hand, a paintbrush in the other. I was not on my way from A to B and he was worth a second look, so I did read the plaque. ‘Barent Fabritius – who lived till he went back to Amsterdam, whence he died’. Not a great ad for Amsterdam. It made me chuckle and look back up into his face. And then he moved.

He moved, he moved! I screeched at my friend who raised one eyebrow and shook her head. See that glass of white you had for lunch….? she said and walked away to check out some tulips. I risked another glance upwards. He smiled at me and winked and I laughed delightedly, upsetting the pigeons who burst into the sky, and the old homeless man on a nearby bench swore in technicolour, then slumped back down into the folds of his baggy old coat.

I knew then, as I know now, that nothing and no-one in this world is ordinary. Oh no, not at all.

Island Blog – A Mouse, A Monday and a Child

It’s Monday, but it could be Sunday for all the quiet out there. On the island we are taking this Covid 19 virus very seriously indeed, unlike other places, or so I am told. We plan to survive this siege and although our drawbridge is now firmly up, we have found a way to keep in touch. I get funny videos and cheery texts and FaceTime calls often and I am very grateful for them. Being a natural hugger I now have to stand far away from anyone I meet, washing my hands before touching anything they have touched, and it feels deeply weird. We are looking in now, finding things for entertainment, edutainment and upliftment. All those ‘ments’ are forcing us to use our big brains, and inventiveness is the key.

So, this morning, I decide to print out photos of my hundreds of grandchildren and their parents, captured moments of fun, in wild places, doing crazy things. I know where my Picturemate printer is. It’s on a shelf in the Land of Mouse, a dark cupboard underneath the stairs. The space is like a mini fairyland, draped exquisitely with cobwebs, the many shelves holding ancient nonsense. There are photo albums that date back to slavery, old recording equipment, wires for nothing we still employ and, in the nighttime bit, the big fat darkness, lie the Christmas decorations, silenced for another year in the belly of an old school trunk circa 1820. I can see where the mouse has made a nest or two, chewed through some obsolete wires, nibbled at the edges of this album or that cardboard box, and I whisper Good Luck Mate. I don’t mind living with you as long as you respect my Importants. Eventually, I find the printer and haul it out through the cobwebs. Now to affix it to my laptop with the right plug. So far so good. I find the downloaded photos and begin.

And that is where I stop. All I manage to achieve, in spite of double and triple checking the settings is one leg of one child on one spit of paper and the other leg on the next. At this rate I will have to assemble 12 photo sized cards in order to make one whole child. And there are 3 of them in this picture. It makes no sense to me, but even though I apply my finest and calmest logic to the matter, I make no headway, much like in the printing process, for the head of child number one never printed at all. I unplug the printer, save the photos in my gallery (I think) and return the box to fairyland. I think the mouse has jinxed it.

In the bigger picture, this little pictorial upset is nothing. But, we must be careful not to let such small things grow. And we must help each other to do the same, to see wide and free and the drawbridge down once more. It will come. And this time will have thinked us all. We will have found strengths we never knew we had, friends we never thought cared that much, ideas that come, that only ever come in times of extreme fear and deprivation. The human spirit marvels me.

I just wish mine could work out how to print a whole child.

Island Blog – Island Mothers

Many of us are islands this day, kept from our children by a common enemy. What this enforced ‘islanding’ is doing to us is a lonely and a sad thing. What it is doing for us is quite a different matter. Everyone, it seems to me, is finding other ways to send loving messages through calls, texts, emails and letters and cards or through phoned in messages to radio stations. In these mediums the words must be more carefully considered. Although the usual “Best Mum in the World’ sentence may well apply, we search our minds for more. We think carefully of specific words that apply just to our mum. In short, we acknowledge and we affirm who she has been to and for us, how she lifted our flagging spirits, caught us out when we said “I’m fine, Mum” with a staying put stand in our bedroom doorway. We remember when she cooked something different for us on the days we purported to be sudden vegetarians; we remember the time she didn’t go where she wanted so much to go because we were sick or low or angry. She knew we needed her more than she needed her. We might remind ourselves of the time she stayed up for most of the night making a fancy dress costume for us, or sat in an upright chair through the long darkness when we had a fever, no matter what Dad might have said about it. that time we were in mental agony, remember that time? When nobody loved us and everybody hated us. Well, she did, and she didn’t and she put her feet firmly on mother ground and stuck beside us, even if we brushed away her reassuring words as so much tripe. She didn’t budge, even when her heart was cut right down the middle, because that is what mothers do.

They also get it all wrong. Most of us know how wrong we got it and still can, but it doesn’t falter our determination to launch a child into whatever world they want to move into. And it doesn’t stop on the launch pad. It never stops, even when our children have children of their own. We can still spend nights awake in an upright chair, our hearts bleeding for the pain our child is going through. We can still call to reassure “Bad timing Mum’ or stand square in a doorway refusing to budge until this child, who has grown his or her own set of protective armour plating, lets us in, just a bit.

My mum is gone now. We all had a list of how wrong she got things and we would laugh about them, once. We still can, but now I think more of all those times, those specific times, she stood to be counted for one of us and there are plenty of those. I think that this attack of Covid 19 is making us all think, changing our perspective on life. Perhaps we are finding the compassion that is the life blood of life herself. Perhaps we are thinking less of our own selves and more of how others are living (hopefully) through these times of inordinate change, and it is a very good thing. We have lived too selfishly for far too long. Nature is fighting back. Now is the time to stick a pin in our own little bubbles so that we can really see the rest of humanity and not just with our eyes, but with our hearts and minds.

And in the meantime, let us hold mothers high, for this is their day, our day, to be recognised for all the love that overwhelmed us at every birth; a love we could hardly understand, a love gifted to us by Mother Nature herself.