Island Blog – Senses

The colour of his wings, black, fine-tipped, fast moving. He skims the brackish water, rises, then slides down again through the sky. And, he is gone. A diver? I don’t know. He was too fast and I’ve lost my bird book. I could feel the push between his snowy chest and the crisp water, cold, not bothering him, gun metal grey and lifting in tiny lumps, not one of which he damaged. Cold, grey, heaving with life and always moving. In and out. Out and in. The endless warp and woof of a body of water, unconfined and yet soldiered in by granite and basalt, its only escape forward into the belly of the great Atlantic through a narrow rock-peppered slew of water the size of a big snake.

Cloud light dancing along the edges of the faraway hills, still daft with winter boredom, all browns and yellows, waiting for enough trust to push out green. Not yet, not yet, for there was a snatch of frost last night and Aurora played fireworks in the dark. Hold and breathe, be patient. Let time go by as Time always will, whether we like it or not. Sudden sunshine and a jumper too many. The heat stabs at the woollen fibres and yet in seconds, it is cold again.

My little grand-daughter and I walk to the Fairy Woods. I don’t bother to tell her that all woods are fairy woods. Let’s keep the secret in a silent gasp of excitement, trammelled up in sensible Granny Talk. She breathes. She stops her chatter about carrot sticks and school out for Easter. We find wild garlic and I crush a leaf for her to smell. She says it’s disgusting, but Mummy will love it. I show her the cloak of it beneath the bent-backed hazels and the birch all silver and knotted, witch nests hanging from old limbs like spiky Christmas baubles. The moss rises in delicate fern across the huge rocks and there are poke holes dotted across the surface. Fairy homes, I tell her, and she gasps (quietly so as not to frighten the fairies). She goes to stick her finger in and I stop her. Fairies are secretive I tell her, and they bite. She is in awe and I am on a roll here. This is my childhood, all over again. She finds an acorn, still sheathed. Can I gift it to a fairy? She asks, and my heart melts. Of course, darling. We move on along the deer paths, empty now until the dark falls like a safety net upon this land. We find another fairy hole with a primrose blooming right outside the entrance. The yellow petals are wide and smiling at the sunlight. With tiny fingers, and on tippytoe, she carefully presents the acorn, just at the entrance.

The sea-loch vibrates, as if some god has thrown the wind down. It skitters the surface, lifting it like a tune, just beginning, the words yet to be gathered up from the moment. The song itself flew out to sea, for we never heard it. And yet, as we wandered home, all quiet and thinking, the warmth of her little fingers wrapped around my own, sending bubbles through my old heart, I found the song, and so did she. Let’s have a singing competition, she said. Ok, how does it work. Well I sing first (of course) and then you sing.

Off you go, I said. Well it’s a Halloween song, she said. Are you alright with that? Well, considering we just saw witch nests and hushed ourselves around fairies, I reckon I’m up for it. Let’s hear it. She began.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star……

Island Blog – Awakenings

Who will buy this wonderful morning?

I will. Actually, it’s free, no cash required, but not all of us will see it. It isn’t sunny, although there is just enough blue up above to make a pair of sailor’s underpants. However, my point is not about the state of the weather. It’s about the privilege of waking up at all.

I wake, as usual, at 05.30 which, to my delight, now manifests the hour at 06.30, a much more reasonable time to awaken. Thoughts arrive alongside me as I rise into the day, thoughts of how lovely it was to be invited for a roast chicken dinner with family last night; how cute Maz looks, parked prettily in the driveway; how the first bird is waiting for me to throw out his breakfast and how the faithful tide swells the sealoch. Green is coming and it becomes greener every day. The redwings chatter in the larch branches and the sparrows, huggled down inside a bush, sound like women at a market, all talking at once.

The little dog tumbles down the stairs and greets me as if I had been away for months. This, I decide, is how to welcome in a morning. If I had a tail, I tell her, I would be wagging it too. I make coffee and bask in the smell of freshly ground. The morning light catches hold of my Mother and Child statue and she glows, her face calm and loving as she looks down at the baby in her arms. I will buy myself some flowers today, flowers grown on the island, and arrange them in a pretty vase for my own pleasure. I will work more on my current tapestry which, if I’m honest, looks like it has no idea where it’s going. No matter, for it will show me how it wants to look, eventually. All I need to do is listen to that voice inside when no colour or shape is clear to me. Red, now, the voice says. Red? No, surely not. Yes. Red. It matters not that I disagree, preferring more of this green or perhaps some blue, as long as I don’t override the voice with my own. My own has let me down often enough before.

The trees are moving now as the wind picks up. Finches balance on the wobbly overhead wires whilst siskins swing like crazy on the nyjer seed feeder. An early plumber drives past on his way to somewhere up the track and a neighbour strides by attached to a trotting dog. The woodburner crackles and spits as it fires into a warmth that will make no matter of any outside weather. It is enough – enough to have woken to another morning, to be able to see, to touch, to smell, to hear the earth, or this side of it anyway, stretch and yawn into life; to be fortunate enough to choose what I will do this day; to be free and upright, to have enough to eat, to be warm, to be loved.

And all I have to be is thankful for every single thing in my life, even the things I might not choose to share my life with. There is a purpose and a time for everything even if I cannot see where any of it is going. Just knowing this, as a truth, sets me free. I may not have the blueprint but I do have this day, this morning, this awakening, this chance to wag my tail.

I’m buying.


Island Blog – Confidence and Jiggetty Boots

Each time the chance of a break comes along, I am both excited at its coming and full of the desire for it to go away, to not require my attention or my attendance. Living in this little bubble of mine, or ours, is comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time. I often yearn to pop it, to look out onto the larger world a-bustle with people and encounters, noise and hurry, music and conversation. Then, when the dateline is crossed, I feel like a little girl on her first day of school. What do I pack for this huge adventure, to a B and B about 8 miles away? When shall I leave? Could someone please take this cup away from me?

It puzzles me. So, I decide to think about said puzzlement, to bring it right here to my feet, where they stand, booted up and ready for another day inside the bubble. Where does my confidence go, I wonder? Why do I pack my jiggetty red boots and then see them, lying there among the clean jeans and the same old tee-shirts like a piece of a different jigsaw puzzle that will never fit? I take them out again. That’s better. All the pieces fit now. This is what I wear every single day after all. I know where each piece goes by heart. Eyes’ closed, I would know each one just by the feel of it. Red boots with Cuban heels have no place here. They go back into the dark of the cupboard and I can hear them sigh with disappointment. I’m disappointed too. What happened to my rebel streak? Is it gone for ever?

When I am somewhere else with my ordinary stuff, I pause for a moment in regret. I could easily have packed the jiggetty boots, the dress, the leggings, a bit of jewellery, a ring or two, for fun, just for fun. But I didn’t and now look at me…….I am here but they are not. They are back home in the dark, inside the bubble, and so, it seems, am I.

How secretly and silently my inner me, my confidence out there in the world trickles away like a dripping tap. I don’t even see, nor hear it leaving me. I just know it isn’t there when the chance of an escape shakes my hand and asks Shall We? In this life of caring, everything is simple enough in between the uprisings and skirmishes. Routine, essential for someone with dementia is easily maintained. I do the same things every day at more or less the same time in more or less the same order. I found an acceptable pattern, one that raises no surprises or sudden movements or elevated noise, and hold tightly to it. I’ve done so for many years now, Sometimes I erupt like Vesuvius but not so’s you’d notice. It happens inside.

I think so often of other carers, many of whom live on this very island, who have yet to find their way into the puzzle, to make the pieces fit. I remember my own struggle at the start of this and I ache for them. I am one of the lucky ones, knowing what I know, finding the confidence to accept that I need regular forays into the scary old world and trying madly to hold on to the jiggetty red boots part of me. I remember driving into the village, turning around and driving right back out again because I just couldn’t face anyone. I remember staying home, hiding, not answering calls, praying I would meet nobody on my dog walk in the wild. And, I also remember making myself go into the shop for broccoli or bin bags and finding a real live adult with a smile on his or her face, arms open for a hug and the chance of an interesting conversation, one that didn’t focus on the demise of dementia.

Nothing in life is too big to bear. That’s what I say. I have all the right bits of the jigsaw in my hands, even if the picture might change at any moment. Athough we carers are required to live inside a bubble, we can access a wealth of support. We can sustain friendships, ask for help with care, keep our eyes on the horizon, even if it is only an imagined one, at times. When I thought that I could do it all by myself, I created my own loneliness. I didn’t listen to those in the know who had seen all this before. I’m fine, I said. I’m tough, I said. I can do this without you, I said.

I don’t now. Now I see clearly that this caring role requires others and I must let them in. Accepting support is not admitting failure. It is bringing warmth to the cold, red jiggetty boots to the light, colour, music, laughter and fun into the home. This is not a life sentence, although it is, but instead the chance to share a load. The care support on this island is superb. It is kind, full of knowledge, experience, good humour and friendship. I am, as I said before, one of the lucky ones. I have heard some awful tales from other carers in other parts of the country who feel abandoned and very scared.

Dementia is like a storm brewing in the distance. It is one of the most common diseases and one that kills. Whole families fall apart because of it. But not mine. My family and my care support team are rock solid, strong, sad, supportive, solution-oriented and ablaze with humour. Together we find the spoonful of sugar. I wish it were the same for all carers, but I know that’s fairyland thinking. All I can say is look for help, for support, an do it asap, unlike me. It is out there just waiting for all of us. We are not islands. We need each other and, just for the record, the next time I step out of my bubble, I shall force my flat feet into those jiggetty red boots, because I think that’s where my confidence is hiding.

Island Blog – Mouse Power

Mice. Little creatures that move in silence wherever they please. Behind walls, in the loft, the garage, the kitchen cupboards, and upstairs among the frocks and heels. I don’t mind living alongside them, for they inspire me, as well as infuriating me when I discover holes in the bottom of my suitcase. I even discovered, once, a jacket in shreds, one that hangs in the garage, a waterproof. I wonder what that tasted like? Oil, general grub, fish scales, garden earth and yummy plastic. I don’t suppose they actually swallow, but they might.

Sometimes I hear them scurrying about over my head, in the loft. I think, wistfully, of all those boxes of books up there losing words, perhaps whole sentences to those determined little teeth. Does that mean the words are gone forever or does the mouse learn something new as he or she ingests their wisdom and guidance? I can’t remember what books are up there anyroad. Old ones, leather bound, tales of pioneers and flower arrangers and naughty rebels who broke rules and found new lands when the world insisted it stopped on the shore of the Barents Sea.

Inside the drystone wall that tells the neighbour where he ends and we begin, there is a family or two. I see them hurtle out from the smallest of cracks to pinch the bird seed from a feeder. The hunter/gatherer will leap onto the perch, it’s little back legs swinging free whilst the other end of it grabs a bite. It drops down, pouch full, and disappears back into the stonework. A field mouse. Not a house mouse, although I am unsure of the difference. It smiles me, watching wild Nature go about her endless routine. There will be new blind babies down there among the old granite, hungry and trusting. Good luck, I whisper, for their life is so precarious. Buzzards, sparrowhawks, merlins, kestrels and goshawks are always hiding somewhere, watching and waiting with hungry babies, back home and trusting.

Mice think me of power. That may sound silly but the impact they can make, in absolute silence, is astonishing. We tend to think that bigger is better, but I disagree. It is the little things that make the most impact, little things and the repetition of those little things that can change darkness into light. It is easy to throw money at a problem, if you have it to throw, and so much harder to believe that a little thing will make any difference at all. What little thing can I do, today, right now? I look at my problem, whatever it is, and it is the size of Russia. How can my little thing make any change to it?

We are not mice. We do not scurry and hide or eat suitcases or jackets. Most of us, anyway. We are humans with agile brains and we can choose our thoughts. This Russia sized problem looks forbidding, menacing, overwhelming, like it could darken us for ever, eat us up, take us over and yet it can never do that, not if we choose our thoughts. If a mouse gave up on pinching bird seed because the bird feeder was empty or gone, with a hungry family waiting at home, it would immediately go in search of an alternative, such as my soft pumps or a few more words from the loft. We, on the other hand, sit down and burst into tears, as if our problem is insurmountable #theend. It isn’t. It never was and it never will be. Everyone has a Russia sized problem at some point in their lives. Everyone faces shockhorrors along their path. Everyone is let down, let go, everyone. Those who think ‘mouse’ keep moving, keep looking because on the other side of us, there is light, if only we would turn around. The power in any set of circumstances lies in the little things, the tiny steps, over and over until those little things grow into something wonderful and warm and radiant with hope.

And everyone can do a little thing.

Island Blog – Summerlight

I am loving the light mornings. Waking, as I do, at silly 0’clock, has been challenging until the light mornings. Although I could bring in the wood and feed the birds with a head torch on, there is something so exciting about the day starting when I do. There is hope and there are possibilities in the light, even if it is beginning to rain just when the roofer said he would come to begin tearing off the old lead and affixing the new. In theory, this could mean that the internal leaks will be arrested mid dribble, that the ceiling will dry and that the painter can come to paint. This old house may have 3 foot thick outer walls, but these walls have stood strong since 1837, and I might be leaking too, if I was that old.

The light is not the only thing that has changed. The air is softer and the wind has lost its bite, for now, although we can never be complacent on the island until about May 3rd, sticking out, as we do, into the wild Atlantic. Her fractious moods can do a complete 360 in half a day. That bite could return; the snow could fall again and we may yet be pounded into powder by hailstones #golfballs.

The seedlings in my conservatory are ready to spread and it is so tempting to plant them out, to set them free, but I won’t risk that for a while yet. There is, nonetheless, a restlessness in this new light and this softer wind, that argues with logic. It’s a feeling, a flying inside, a need to clean out dead leaves and the old bones of winter, to strip down to shorts and frocks and to lean into the promise of warmth and sunlight. Somewhere underneath this fisherman’s woolly jumper, there is a me longing to escape, much like the seedlings. This longing is everywhere. We are all sick to death of fisherman’s jumpers and thick socks and noisy waterproofs. We want to float, to sit outside among the birds and to feel the soft wind fingering our faces. We are tired of hot chocolate indoors with a rug over our knees. We want home-made lemonade and a garden bench and the sounds of natural life filling our ears. We are tired of the news that our country is in chaos, and we long to hear new stories from the natural world, stories being told as they happen around us, stories of new life, of hope and light and the world turning still, as she always will until she fizzles out, and we all fizzle out in the end.

But, we must be patient a while longer for the summer days will come eventually. And, for now, there is a wealth of wonder in my life, and in yours. A wealth that begs acknowledgement and gratitude. As turmoil abounds, at home and far away, we have the chance to be very thankful for what we do have, and to show and tell it to everyone we meet. Being a light giver is a task we can all take on and the only way to do that is through thankfulness. I thanked my bed this morning for a good night’s rest. It may sound riddickerluss but I promise it works. Although it is easy to focus on Brexit or the horror of a cyclone or something closer to home like not enough money for the month, I recommend a realignment of thought. I recommend the noticing of every single good thing, and there will be plenty just longing to be noticed. I’m tired of my fisherman’s jumper, but at least I have one and it keeps me very cosy. I am longing for more sunlight, but at least I can don my noisy waterproofs and walk or run (if absolutely necessary). I can reach out, touch and smell the fragrant daffodils; I can hear sounds of life around me. I can move freely. I have boots for my feet and hot water on tap. I have friends and family, a working telephone, a caring job, food on the table, music enough to fill all the rooms, a car, and choices. I am wealthy indeed.

So instead of longing for more light, I plan to be thankful for the light I have around me, right here, and right now. And then, I shall carry that light into someone else’s darkness, so that together, we bring summer in.

Island Blog – Surprise!

It was most certainly one for my daughter-in-law. She knew she was turning 40, but had not a scooby about the plans forming around her. They fluttered like scarves in a breeze for weeks, months, between those of us in the know, secrets on a huge scale, a mighty gathering of family and friends from faraway lands. So very easy to name one of them in error, a slipped word, a ‘see you next weekend’ kind of slip, but no-one did. She had no idea. Continuing with her busy life, her children’s dancing dates and what to cook for dinner, the dog, the cat, the husband, the ordinary hysterics and calm in a young family’s daily life, she must have had moments of questioning. Why was her man being so furtive, disappearing off to meetings from which she, as business partner, was excluded? Perhaps he had gone off her? Was he heading for a breakdown, perhaps, because he sure sounded like he was going to explode any time soon?

As we all hid in the hallway and up the stairs in silence, she arrived. Her face was a picture and it was worth the travel just to see that. Her dad and brothers from the Netherlands, her aunt from the States, my huge family, her friends from Englandshire and a turbulent bundle of little boys and girls all erupted into Happy Birthday to You, in various keys. Let the weekend begin. Let the sun shine. And it did.

Each part of each day was to be a surprise. The meet for lunch in a lovely beach café for fish and chips; the games on the sand, the dogs romping in and out of the waves, the talking, laughing, sharing. The first night in a stunning pine built lodge with enough food to feed a whole village. I met up with young friends I had first laughed with many years ago, before they had partners, before children and the ‘behave yourself’ life took a hold of them. I could still see the fun in their eyes, that party sparkle and I could see them in the faces of their little ones. The woodburner warmed the big room as we settled into the evening. And, still, there were secrets.

CrossFit. Well, I wasn’t going to join that bit of the morning, a 0600 start, but many did and they returned flushed and panting and wanting to go again. I don’t think I was ever like that, even as a young woman, and I am impressed that anyone does it at all, let alone joining in Spartan Races and the like. Running up mountains with bricks on my back just isn’t me, but I could see how the challenge and the being together through it all is so much more healthy than meeting at the pub for a pint. We had an hour or two to rest up before having to be on site by 6pm for the next secret. Dressed for a dazzling night out, we teetered through a spiteful wind and into the venue. It looked like Disneyland. Tables laid, lights flickering, the band ready to go and fizzy pop in fine tall glasses as a welcome. Suddenly, the word came through that everyone, that is EVERYONE!, needs to sit down right now. The guest of honour will be here in five minutes. Through the glass doors, we watched, again in silence, all 130 of us, as she walked into the courtyard on her husband’s arm, looking like she was on the catwalk, which she often is and wearing heels that lifted her head into the clouds. She and her friend had a thing going about heels. Something to do with a long history of who-is-the-tallest-model-in-the-room. I got a stiff neck talking to either of them, standing, as I do, barefoot and shortarse. As we all rose, on command, to our feet, still in silence, she caught sight of us. Well, you can hardly miss 130 pairs of eyes all staring out at you. Her lovely face crumpled with emotion as the light dawned.

There was music. There was dancing. There were speeches, videoed messages from those who couldn’t come and a group of ballerinas from the Edinburgh Academy who performed a very moving piece. My favourite bit was the video of my two little grand-daughters, with their dad, singing (in a recording studio) that lovely song from the Greatest Showman – the one about a thousand dreams. Not a dry eye in the house for that one.

And so it went on.

Making the journey, in secret, was worth every complication. To gift such a gift takes an enormous amount of planning and a can-do attitude. It takes careful consideration, furtive meetings with caterers and venues and helpers and co–ordination of a hundred different facets. But he did it. He did it for her. And that is the most wonderful thing of all.

The young guests, whose partners are nearing this golden age of 40 are now wondering if Tea with The Neighbours is going to be enough. In fact, I think it’s bothering them a lot.

Island Blog – Birthdays

I follow my son’s tail lights through the scary ebb and flow of Glasgow and on, on, up and up, around the swirls of Loch Lomond. Tight fit, those swirls, and too many fat buses with sticky out side mirrors choose that time to challenge me and Maz. Maz is my mini, and she is not ‘mini’ at all, but a wide shouldered broad, with sass. Black and sturdy she is, thinking me of many black, sturdy, sassy, wide shouldered African women. She has Sport Mode, whatever the hec that is, and Cruise Control which thinks me of unfastening my seatbelt at 60,000 feet. I doubt I will press either button. In fact, I am hesitant to push any button, however exciting it says it is on my flashy dash. I manage Radio Two, and Steve Wright is most encouraging for quite a decent distance. He makes me chuckle with his quickfire nonsense. Just for the record, Stains and Staines are not spelled the same. I wonder if anyone will put him wright, or if it doesn’t really matter at all how you spell anything much, unless you’re my dad.

We arrive #knackered at my son’s house at 6pm. Feed me wine. That’s what I said. It is the eve of my birthday and I have achieved much in this lead up, being ‘lead up’ by one of a mother’s strongest allies – a son. The other is a daughter. Can’t beat ’em, and I would recommend everyone has a try for both. We eat a delicious stir fry thingy and are in bed before Corry, not that either of us watch it, but my mother-in-law was a devotee and a visit around that time was stonewalled, so it’s clocked in my marital DNA, even if she did die in 2002.

I manage, pre early bed, to book Maz and me on the 12pm ferry home. Twice. I also booked, so they tell me, when I arrive at the ticket office, on the 2pm. Pretty damn fine I reckon for a 66 year old birthday girl. Let’s do everything in style, shall we? I choose the booking with the prettiest colours and I line up in Lane One. I’m super knackered now. It has been a wonderful adventure and wonderful adventures can take it out of you once they are definitely parked in yesterday. Perhaps I should take to wearing lycra. As far as I can tell, lycra has hidden energy-giving qualities, or so it seems to me, as I’m dazzled by the shiny slink of it sheathing the lithe bodies of high sport achievers or Munro baggers.

On the ferry (with the prettiest booking) I sink into a seat, feeling a tad flip-flop, until a woman rounds the corner, her eyes scanning the room. I haven’t seen her for well over a year so I stand and make her want to sit with me, like Ra the snake. I don’t think my eyes are revolving, but what do I know? I’m not looking at them. It works, anyway. She is someone I don’t know well, but one I liked at first contact and she seems willing enough to join me. The next 45 minutes does something remarkable. All we do is to share chat about our lives. I ask about hers, and she asks about mine. Neither of us dominate the conversation. We talk of dementia, of caring, of dogs, kids, siblings, mums and dads. As we talk, I find an answer to something, a something that was never even raised nor placed on the little round fixed-to-the-floor-for-safety table. I don’t get it till me and Maz drive onto the island and then it comes, like a bolt from the slurry skies, aka, one minute blue, next minute flat white with the threat of something only the flat white knows……for now.

It bizarres me. First off, it was no coincidence that she and I would meet on that ferry on that day at that time. As you already know, I had booked on quite a few. Second, we never touched on that subject. And yet, and yet, well holy milk bottles…….I got an answer! I also notice that my flip-flop has turned into lycra. So I drive back home through the Glen #nocarsatall, arriving home to a birthday dinner invite. I light the fire, tidy up, unpack, la la la and then off I go, me and Maz, a short distance up the track to find balloons, dinner, champagne, music, cake, another son, his wife, two crazy wee girls (one naked, just how she likes to be), a roaring fire and me being celebrated. We, me and the girls, one naked, open the presents and the dog eats the wrappings. I have no idea who gave me what as it happens in a hysterical heartbeat and, besides, I was laughing too much at the show of it. We dance, we flip crazy girls, we sit by candlelight and forget all about the ‘acceptable measure of alcohol for a woman over 60’ thing.

I am going to collect my old car from the ferry terminal this morning.

Best not, says the Voice in my Head. That birthday, dear girl, was one hec of a cracker. I agree. The best in many years in so many ways.