Island Blog – It’s okay that it’s not okay

I could have said that better, my English tutor would have told me, her huge bosom leaning over me so that the whole room went momentarily dark. I can still smell the tweedy smell of her fitted (very well fitted) jacket and hear the scritch-scratch of her thickly nylon-ed thighs as she travelled the distance to my desk, then home again jigetty-jig to the safety of her chalk blown upfront tutor desk. And she is right, was right then. I am very thankful for my English tutors down the ages, who challenged my brain to dig deep for words, old words, old ways of saying, poetically, what turned into street talk. Not that I mind street talk at all, for it has rhythm and beat to it and I am ever the dancer. But when writing it is important for me to stretch my brain, to find a way of saying an ordinary thing in an extraordinary way.

Forward to the point. I honestly believed I had got away with it, the grieving thing, this widowhood thing. At first, I felt only relief. 10 years of caring for a big man who was slowly falling away, was horrible, even though he himself was always positive no matter the declination. His peaceful and accepting dying brought relief to him, to all of us. I thought, maybe this lovely gentle leaving after all those years of angst and battle (on my part) would rub out the horrible, like my old India rubber did for my spelling mistakes. A foolish thinking. Here I am two months off the anniversary of his death and everything hurts. A bird caught in a fence (thankfully freed and flown), a child crying, the hearing of someone else’s pain, the fact that the stairlift has stopped working, the leaks in my ceiling, the stubbing of a toe en route to the wood pile. Sharp as needles, these ‘small’ things that were okay are not any more. I tell myself I am doing okay, that this is normal, that it will pass and myself rolls her eyes and goes “ya-di-ya”. What did we say before ‘ya-di-ya’ I wonder?

I know of others. Those who, since the Covid lockdown and the fear and fallacy this past year and more has brought to us, are scared of going out, unsure if they actually want to do the going out thing at all. I know I can be confounded at the gate of my gypsy home, in the so called middle of nowhere, if I see walkers moving up the tiny track on their way to Tapselteerie and her wild delights, her vision, her stretch right out into the Atlantic Ocean. And I pull back, hide, wait. This happening-to-us thing is what is happening to us. And, although it feels thoroughly not okay, it has to be okay. Our clenched teeth, our fears, our resulting flip into nowhere, well, owe have to find a landing. I haven’t yet, even here, even in this free, gentle land, and if I haven’t then how the heck is it for those who have survived in cities? I have no answer for that. Only respect.

And then there is the grief. Not mine, not just mine but the everyman, everywoman grief because it is loud in my ears and a strong part of the music that sentient composers will play into our future days, in our remembering days. As will poets and novel writers with their prose. They are working on it now, this omg (sorry) in our lives and they will come up bright, intelligent and colourful, I just know it.

Till then, I, and hopefully you, have family, siblings, kids, grandkids who lift us into ourselves, the ones we knew so well a year and then some ago. They are still with us as we are with them. This connection is rooted and unbreakable. Friends too, formed way back or even more recent. Roots grow quick and they need to.

I am thankful. I am broken. I am me. And, I am okay that I’m not okay.

Island Blog – Darkling grey, Gulls, Chips and Walking together

Rain soft morning, grey enough for the gulls to look like white-light dancers as they cut the sky, wheel, cant, tip and slide, effortless flight like they belong which of course they do. I watch with yearning. They make flight look so easy and their beauty erases the memory of fearsome beaks and stolen chips. I once sat on the harbour wall with chips and within seconds was every gull’s friend. They are massive close up and not very white and sky cutting once their big yellow webbed feet slink closer with a look of black intent in their currant eyes. A sideways step becomes a menace when flanked as I then was and I confess I did elevate my butt, moving it and the rest of me back into the safety of a tourism crowd.

However from my big picture window I can dream. I can watch the spike flight, the lift and luff of not-white currant-eyed, yellow footed gulls become snowy dancers against the grey rain sky and smile. We are miles apart after all and there’s this big picture window keeping me safe from beaks and chip snatchers. I watched the grey and the soft rain all morning, the way it slides my window into smoke, the garden bird colours losing their integrity, becoming a brush stroke flow and return as they flit from feeder to feeder. I sewed a bit, noticing the pinks of this baby girl playmat dulling somewhat. Oh, I thought. These pinks were brighter yesterday. And then I remembered art school. Everything affects everything. On dull grey days in Falkirk (plenty of those) even the primary colours were confounded. We can’t work with this, they said and refused to flow freely from their tubes. The grey weather (is it yellow grey or blue grey?) is sending you, art student, into a dithery looking thing. Concepts, precepts, upsets and greyness are colluding to confine you. It is the real artist who can rise from this, who can utilise whatever is on offer this grey day. I am thankful for those grey Falkirk days. Others might, and did, shake their heads and head for the pub on such grey days. But I wanted to learn, not just how to work with grey days but more, how to walk beside the grey, to have that conversation, and not to turn away. To engage with the grey and to find the colours within, the ask of colour, the beg for it, to take flight.

Life. Yes? It thinks me. Whilst walking beneath the grey soft rain, which I love because rain enhances colour in everything. An upside down electric blue beetle , a feather caught in branches, leaves, speedwell blue, buttery cups, the honey back of a bumble bee, the float and breeze flow of wild grasses, the imprint of horse hooves in sucky mud, even the shine on my jack boots, so much glisten. If I am looking I will see. If I am aware, present, engaged, I will find the art. When I look back on the gull thing, I know that, had I not felt watched by the crowd of tourists, I might well have stayed my ground. I wish I had. I wish I did not give a hoot about being watched. However, I was right in front of an outside cafe and there is only one way to look when the sea beckons and there I was, sat sitting on the harbour wall plus chips. Plus gulls.

In the grey lies endless opportunity. I tell myself that and myself knows it to be the truth. Grey is my life right now, of course it is. When a life goes into grey it has options. Think grey, dive in or flipping don’t. I’m a flipping don’t sort of woman. Even as I flounder and plod, wonder and dither, fill up endless hours with a this or a that, I know that this grey has colours. It isn’t that I must needs grow beyond grey because that says grey is dull and grey is far from dull. To make good grey on an artist’s palette I must bring in rose madder, cadmium red, ultra marine, cadmium yellow, maybe, cobalt, maybe, plenty maybes’ to be honest. Just a touch, just a tiny touch and everything changes. Just like life. I am working with the grey, looking deep into the eyes of it, the currant eyes, and saying, I am not afraid of you. In fact, I like you. Shall we walk together?

Island Blog – Outfit, Outflit

One morning I awaken with a lightness in my step once I have connected my feets with the new carpet, found my ground and elevated into my height. I know it isn’t a dizzy height, but it is mine and I know where I start and where I end and that is completely fine with me. It is also reassuring, because the frocks in my wardrobe only fit the me I know and were the me I know to grow or diminish overnight, we would both be confounded, the frocks and me. Thankfully, this scenario only belongs in one of my fiction stories, the ones where worlds merge because some eejit has found a portal into another one and gone through leaving everyone else behind wondering whether or not said eejit will be home in time for tea. I have yet to be that eejit despite locating portals all over the place. Moving on.

I decide on an outfit. It is quite a sassy one for me, given that I have chosen full flowing billow-skirts for a longtime. It is cooler this morning, circa 10 degrees and I needs must address the coolth #scottishword. Pantaloons of a black and white scarpy slash pattern, elasticated just below the knee; long tee-shirt beneath longer frock in an arguing design; overlay, a thin unequally hemmed jersey, also not matching and a wrap-around tartan knee-length skirt fashioned from almost the same amount of fabric required for a kilt, which is, for the sassenachs, about 20 yards in old money. I need safety pins to secure the connecting lengths having lost weight since being widowed. I blame Himself for that. The finishing touch is a bead belt, hip hugging yet loose and well, quite the thing. I pose before my old cracked mirror and think, Yes, You Will Do, and scoot down stairs for a boiled egg.

It takes only 30 minutes for me to realise this outfit is not a long term thing. The bead belt keeps shucking up to my waist and I can bear nothing around my waist. Then the safety pins ping apart and stick my skin. I sit down to eat my breakfast and the skirt tangles with my body. The underneath tee rumples quietly beneath the frock and I now look like an un-made bed. I tolerate and breathe deeply. I know, as does my sassy outfit and my mirror that I will be seeing no-one today, not one soul and that this is all about me and how I feel about me, but that is not what confounds me, is not the thing that twirls me fastly back upstairs to wheech the whole thing off in a rather dramatic fling and to begin all over again with a more considered approach. No. It is that moment I need a pee. The undoing process of wrap around skirt, safety pins, layered tee beneath frock and pantaloons, no matter what the flaming pattern, all conspire to confound and I know when I am beat. T’is now. My dressing up is not working today.

It thinks me, reminds me of happy happy girl days and my absolute favourite of all games. Dressing up. My mum had a chest, or trunk filled to busting with outfits and these outfits were not made of paper or plastic. They were sewn quality and lasting and beautiful. I was Gypsy, my favourite, and mum would darken my face to a Norfolk tan with her powder (she was able to take dark, unlike freckled white skin me) and affix the hoop earrings somehow and I would flash my eye whites into the moment and dance and jingle the bracelets and anklets for hours. I also recall being the fairy, the clothing white and laced and cotton and fitted and beautiful and with wings. There was a sailor outfit but I ignored that one. I became the gypsy then, or the fairy. My friend Angela had to be queen and as I was not even remotely interested in being a monarch there was no contest. I remember watching her walk across the grass on a summer afternoon, straight-backed and completely absorbed in her queen-ness whilst I finagled around the shadows planning gypsy/fairy anklet jangling mischief. It worked for a long time. I think it still does.

So, after the wheeching myself out of the conflictions of an outfit that looked frickin great as long as I would spend the entire day standing still before my cracked mirror, I move towards my frock wardrobe with both interest and trepidation. I don’t want to lose the devil-may-care-let’s-astound-the-wildlife thingy but I do want to be able to move freely. Moving freely is a big thing for me. If I feel contained at any point on my body or in my mind I have this desire to explode. I haven’t done it yet and it could be messy but I am super aware of the exploding gene that figgles about in my DNA and which, if DNA could encompass feelings, would show in my ancestry, I am certain. So, choosing not the sameold and yet poking about with fingers of curiosity, I locate a layering option. Let’s try you, I say, kindly, because I am aware that this particular underlayer has not seen light of day for a while. It is quite hard to get it right for my mood, I say, muffled beneath the foof of the material as it falls over my head and lands around me. We look at each other, the underlayer and me. We agree. Okay so far. I go back again to the dark depths of the wardrobe and flip the hangers along. No, no, maybe but no, hmmm, okay, how about you? I can hear the excited squeak and I love it even as all my abundant frocks know the rules. I hate to disappoint but this may not be your day. Once selection is made I can go about my business. I still will meet nobody, and the frocks know this but together we swing through the day, through the ups and downs and all is well in our world.

I did wonder, only this morning, does everyone else have this much fun in such ordinary moments?

Island Blog – Touch only Rain

Rain, at 0400 is a sigh, a shake of my head, a slump in my gut, yet I know the flowers need it so and it makes a pretty mist picture-coat on my window pane. The sky is heavy with it, with rain, fat pregnant greys all lined up like women at an anti natal clinic, emitting rain. The morning seems just fine with it. There’s no sense of disapproval, no cross words flitting across the in between where humans like me are earthly bound and at the whim of weathers. The birds don’t mind enough not to fly, to swoop down for soggish seed and to rise up again quickquick into shelter, although it is not from the rain they hide. I sit on the other side of the window, watching rain. My phone app tells me in an inappropriately luminous yellow that there is an 100% chance of rain the live long day and I slump again. What is all this slumping? Well, I don’t know. Perhaps I am bemoaning the loss of those recent balmy summer days, the ones we recently enjoyed on our rain-sodden island. Our summer could already be over. We all know that. We are well known for being sodden, have been rain sodden for about 600 years give or take and we are also well known for going completely bonkers on sunny days, completing gargantuan tasks in record time like re-roofing a hotel, landscaping a 20 acre garden or building Gran a bungalow by tea-time, foundations and all. Or perhaps this slump is that I am thinking of another’s tears.

The wood pile is rained wet but the wood pile has no care of such a minor incursion. This wood grew from sapling right here on the island after all and has rain in its DNA. It burns regardless, wet or dry, no smoking. No bees though. Bees don’t like to fly in rain. I imagine them all peeping out through that tiny hole watching the clouds and needing a sugar rush. Buzz buzz, not yet ladies. How’s Her Majesty? She’s fine the old bat and who wouldn’t be with all that royal jelly plus, if you don’t mind, 1000 nurse bees at her every whim whenever she fancies whimming?

Gulls cut the sky looking white as newborn snowflakes against the greys, lazy, leisurely, nae rush at all, whilst other colours sharpen and shout new defiant music into the sleepy air. Rain turns ferns apple green. Moss and lichen lift into shades of Ochre, Sienna, Olive and prick tears to my eyes, Granite rocks divide into maps of the world, the cracks darkling with wet. There, the Mason Dixon Line, here, the continent of Africa minus Angola and over there, Iceland, more or less. Rhododendron leaves are polished to a sheen. My face drips as I walk and the little dog grows ever mud coloured. Puddles big enough to bathe in squat along the track, rain plash hiding tree reflections beneath its surface. Come another day reflections, for this day has no time for such gob-smacking indulgence. Mirror another day, bring out the cameras, click, post, marvel, compete, Like. We raindrops are legion and extremely busy watering the flowers and pissing people off. In short, we are having fun rumpling puddles and filling the wellies of anyone who stands still too long. We are chewing up the mud for the spreading, clarting the roads with it and sinking the baleful cows up to their knees as they wait to grab mouthfuls of hay before it becomes insulation for wall cavities.

Diamonds shiver at the tips of weeping larch, hundreds of them, thousands, perfect pear drops of heavenly water held in stasis, catching the light, on hold until it is their turn to fall into the mud. Still, it is surely a wondrous thing to be a light catching water diamond even once in a lifetime. Rain popples the sea-loch, lifting, luffing, tickling the surface until it giggles. A single heron stands as if on water, still and patient. Beneath a spread of hardwoods, beech, chestnut, elm, birch and ash, their branches lowed with rain weight, the ground glows liquid green, a molten gold carpet of Creeping Buttercup and Lady Elizabeth poppies. Even the wheelie bins gleam bright.

I remember rain, as slump and lift, as promise and disappointment, as joy and sadness. Rain, tears; Rain diamonds; Rain liquid life; Rain skid death; wash clean, wash away, wash out; I remember the joy of rain and the unjoy of it. Walking in the rain helps to shift a slump even if I cannot stop thinking of the family who will reach arms out to a beloved pet this day and touch only rain.

Island Blog – Pixty Forkov and Going a Bit Far

My new mini. She is waaay sassy. And impossible to understand. For a kickoff she goes from nothing to outer space in about five minutes and five minutes is not enough time for me, the new old woman, to adapt. I have to pull in. What happened there? We just flipped over terrain I would normally take in a leisurely fifteen. Forget the outer space bit. Never been there and never plan to go. She is a Mini Cooper not a trainee rocket. Pre her sassy outerspaceseeking self, I had bought Maz. Those who follow the star walkers will know who Maz is. I felt, when I bought my black Mini Countryman in order to facilitate himself and his wheelchair and sticks and dog and bags of this and important that, that I was as old as Maz which, of course, is nonsense, as Maz was about 3000 years old and I so never aspire to that, even as I thought her wrinkled wrinkles rather lovely.

Now that himself has made his own journey into space, I am free to choose my own own-ness and this cream coloured wheech of a mini is my choice. And yet. And yet. She regularly confounds me and not just with her speed and take off and whizz and wheel turn, all of which can make me feel that I may never be in charge of this creature. But the real confoundment lies in her internal computer. I have no idea why anyone would ever want one of those, but, nonetheless, she has one and I must needs, in my sitting position behind her wheel, concede, at the very least, to compliance, peppered with a cautious curiosity. And I have named her. Well, to be honest, it is more about me remembering her registration plate, the demand for which comes when you least expect it. I have met ‘least expect it’ way too many times in my life not to be prepared. So in my life, I prepare and not just for number plate memory. To be honest I think preparation is key, in order not to be that woman on the pavement having no idea where she parked her car. I named her Pixty Forkov. She, I have decided, is the daughter of two eminent Russians, circa Imperial days. Her father was Vladimir Gotalotovitch and her mama Saskia Kalashnikov. You can guess who wore the trews in that marriage. Her name suits her for she is very much her own person and I am just a woman permitted to sit behind her wheel. Once I have pressed ‘play’ on the start engine key, one that took me quite a while to find, it is she who decides what happens next. I guide her, certainly. I don’t want her thinking, despite her cruise control options, that she can go off without me whenever she fancies a road trip.

I know that my adventures into the land of nonsense might seem childish to others, but ever since my mother rolled her eyes at me, tutted and sighed “I should have called you Alice”, I have engaged more readily with Wonderland than I ever have with the un-wonderland of a life where ‘measure’ rates way higher than ‘imagination’. Thus I am one who gives names to creatures without human form as easily as I would to a newborn child. Life lived this way is so much more fun, I find. And fun is my absolute thing, as it was for my granny and, oddly enough, my mum too, although she could get very fankled up in un-wonderlandment as the cares of life weighed her down. She was sensible. I was not, even if I could be should the need arise.

Pixty’s current hold over me is her refusal to open her mouth. No matter how hard I pull on the lever marked Bonnet, she clamps her jaws shut and I am thus forced into calling my neighbour for help. Whilst I yank on the lever, he inserts his strong fingers between her lips and pulls up hard. I can hear her sigh but no matter. She had run out of windscreen wash and action was required. I poured the blue solution into the correct hole marked with a WW, realising too late that I hadn’t watered it down. I will need to call said neighbour back for another dual operation because the slimy concentrate once applied merely coats the windscreen in oily gloop rendering me blind. Not a good state to be in whilst driving. And as for the computer, well I am quite lost. Not one of the symbols that flash up alarmingly correlate to the symbols in the driver’s manual, which, in my opinion, was written, not for the likes of me but instead for someone with a degree in computer science and a Phd in mechanics. Yesterday as I went to deliver a birthday present to a village friend, in the rain, this computer gave me one word, presented in capital letters, in neon blue, and in disturbing flashes. DRIVETRAIN. Hallo? What the heck does that mean? I pull over and consult the confusing manual. There is no allusion to such a word. I decide to ignore it and drive anyway, returning home safely. You and me, I say, stabbing my pointing finger at the screen, need a chat. In fact, no. I am done with you scaring me half to death with your flashed up warnings that mean zip. Duct tape will be just about wide enough to cover you over once and for all. That’ll sort you out, and me. Then, from behind that blackout tape you can flash away to your heart’s content whilst I drive here or there without a care in the world.

Someone needs to take another look at drivers’ manuals, in my opinion. They might avoid a whole lot of road trouble that way because I believe that many of us do not understand cars and we need simple language mindfully delivered. I would even like to see a ‘Well Done!’ at the end of each section. Or is that going a bit far I wonder……

Island Blog – Slow Day in a Big Life

Sometimes a day begins as if someone has a finger on the pendulum, slowing it down. I know about pendulums. I have been working with an old stable clock, a beauty, for the past ten days tweaking said pendulum up a bit, down a bit as the minutes either raced away, leaving the morning behind like it never happened or slowed down so that the morning was still the morning at 3pm. I think this day me and the pendulum might just be in sync. It is extremely exciticating, as if I have found a new friend and wonderful synergy. I swear that clock is grinning with an all-the-credit smile from high up on the kitchen wall. I remember the stories about it, the way it told accurate (hmm) time in my father-in-law’s stud in Yorkshire so that the time for exercising the horses worked with the grooms, the stable hands and the master. Quite a feat. In my shared life with this lovely clock, its tick and its tock kept the beat in our farmhouse kitchen and its old yellowed face with Roman numerals was my go-to when children needed to get to school or it was time to scoot out and open the veg shop. This clock was our time keeper. This clock has hung in complete silence for 2 years, since I could not be bothered negotiating with truculence, too busy with the demands of caring. Nowadays it is a rare thing to encounter a pendulum clock because, perhaps, it is just too much trouble to work with pendulum time. And I get that. People want instant and digital which, in my view, takes a lot away from the understanding of time and says a great deal about how impatient we have all become, even though I was there myself not so long ago.

So, back to this morning. Yawn, wake sharp. Tell you why. Right in front of my face was a woodpecker intent on wood pecking. It scared me. I could see in its eyes that it was certain I was a dead tree and was preparing to hammer a hole. I am most thankful I woke up. Lord nose what state my face might have been in had I not. It was 4 am and light and the garden birds were dinging about in a singalong sort of way which definitely helped the getting out of bed process. On mornings when most other folk are sleeping deeply and I am fighting off woodpeckers, it is a given that the day will be a slow one. Anyone who breakfasts at 05.30 will know what I mean. I will be ready for lunch by 10.30 and so on. But this morning was not just about waking t’wirly. I sometimes find the business of widowness a tricky one. It isn’t that I miss the man overly, even as I do, and it isn’t that I am depressed or miserable or any of that stuff that doesn’t come into my mind. Actually, I don’t know what it is. There is, quite simply, a sense of whatwhat?. What shall I do. What shall I think. What matters now and what doesn’t. What should I cook for dinner. What is the point of all of the aforesaid whats. Answer comes there none. So, Hallo Slow Day.

I read a bit, wandered a bit, swept a bit, chopped wood a bit, walked a bit, watched a bit of tv. A bit day and a slow one but there is, from my experience, only one way to tick and tock my way through the hours and that is to keep moving. I am sure there are many who know such days. I watch walkers, drivers, birds go by, all purposeful and planned up and I feel a twinge of envy. They know where they are going and what they doing and when dinner will be and what time it is and I do not. However, I am no fool. That thinking is delusive. So I auto correct many times in a slow day. It is just a day. Be open, be curious, be mindful, just be. So I just be for many hours, longing for the slow change from day to evening whence I can finally decide that it is now acceptable not to invite Henry out for an excursion around the downstairs carpets. Such a relief. I have heard him knocking all the day long. Tomorrow I tell him, and I just know he is rolling his eyes in the dark because I told him tomorrow, yesterday. Tomorrow never comes I say and the poor chap is confounded. I can tell from the ensuing silence. I feel a bit bad. Hoovers are not really intelligent enough to understand such a concept. They are more play school intelligence.

As the evening sun shines, warm against the sharp cold of this morning, an elevation of attitude, I feel a softening, an acceptance. It was always there, the sun, but not prepared to shine. I was this jumper, no, the warmer one, no, a cardy too and a fire and now I am stripped of all of the above and ready to remember something I think I might have forgot. This slow day was just a slow day. I look back over the months, over the past year, and I remind myself of how far I have come. Try it. I see the way I have come through woodpeckers, pendulums, time constraints, self doubts, slow days and loads of time and times and I smile. Well done warrior. Well flipping done. In a Big Life, there will be slow days. Accept that and keep on keeping on.

Island Blog – Potluck and Possibilities

As the island opens up to visitors and there’s a load of thronging going on where not so long ago there were long stretches of nothing and nobody we didn’t know by heart, there is a natural confoundmentness. We who live here still long for connectivity, for friend meets, for adventure and for the chance to enjoy our glorious wild spaces and yet, it is almost as if we are on trip alert. I know it is not just us here. It must be the same all across the country. We want to share, of course we do. We want to welcome, to accept and acknowledge that there are so many who have felt trapped and confined for many, many months. We do indeed live in interesting times.

This day my friend and I plan to meet for a cafe lunch above a beach. So simple, so ordinary, once. But I falter and she agrees. The sun is out. It is warm. It is half term for Englandshire. There might just be a great big thronging thing going on at lunch time. Fortunately, neither of us are throngers, so we opt, instead, for a potluck bench picnic at my home. It is the best. Uncomplicated by orders, masks and hesitations, we just flow. We talk of everything, of anything and nobody interrupts us. We don’t have to fuss about distance or touching or standing in the marked spot. So very freeing. We also talk about how much we feel we need to tidy up if someone comes into our home, and we laugh because who the flip gives a damn about a clean floor or whatever when the chance to connect is the main goal? Did this thinking, I wonder, make us into islands? Did this need to be, what, perfect, prevent us from free flow, from potluck? I think it probably did. When I remember the ordinary take-for-granted freedom of movement among peoples, my biggest panic was how clean is my house. What hilarious nonsense! I am hoping we can all learn from this, learn to be more spontaneous, more adventurous and less caught up in the old games which were never games btw, but more like paralysing strictures, as if we were in starting blocks with a faulty release mechanism. We long for contact, for connectivity, for connection and yet our nonsense heads tell us we can not unless the home is spit spotless. Let us think on that.

I walk in the sunshine with my little dog, now shaved and looking marvellous. I can see all her wiggles now that the overlay carpet is gone. She trots beside me through glorious tree hang. Bees come to check me out, like right up to my nose in spectacular hover control. Hallo, I say. Welcome. I watch greylags with goslings in tow cross a narrow inlet and there’s a load of chat. These parents are strict about safety, vigilance and behaviour. I can see that. A female lesser spotted woodpecker comes in, close. She is on a fence post, her head snapping left, right, her colours fabulous. A single movement, my hand to my mouth in awe of her beauty, and she is gone. I hear young tits deep inside the drystone wall cheeping. They hear my footfall crunch, think parental boots and call out. You are safe with me, I whisper, but be cautious little ones. Not all incoming is friendly. The wood floor is alive with blooms and the grass still soft and emerald. As the Summer progresses, these grasses will tire, grow sinewy, yellow. This is the time to see the island, when the green is filled with new life and hungry to lift towards the sun, when birthing is so very important. It thinks me. This strong reach is all about the next generation and we are not so different. Creation is a very important word.

As I watch my own children creations parent and adult up, I know they are all good strong humans. They learned how to live adventurously in a wild safe place. No matter that they did not get the latest overpriced something-or-other for Christmas or birthdays. They learned to make their own fun, whooping through trees like monkeys, devising potluck games and surviving them all with just a few cuts and bruises. They had strict parents when it came to table manners, respect for all others, kindness and wide-open thinking. Possibilities are always right there, we told them, just waiting for you but it is you who need to grab them for they won’t grab you. They will just catch your eye, or whisper in your ear and you must be vigilant, ready, prepared for action, my little birds. Always. Now they are teaching all that to their own little ones and it happies me. We did ok, no, we did very well considering the fact that parenting is a terrifying and turbulent process and not one of us can lean on experiential wisdom because we all learn as we go along. It is only when looking back to join the dots can we see how we succeeded and how we did not. The did nots can confound in later years, the guilt glueing a parent to the past. I know it, but I choose to focus on the dids. It is always a choice, the thinking thing, the remembering shape and colour, texture and dimension. I can build on either, as can you.

Possibilities can find me at any point inside this day. I can decide to be curious, open hearted and ready for them. When, as always happens, self doubt or fear or anxiety nudges my elbow, I am vigilant, ready, strict with them. You are not helpful, I tell them, please leave. Then I reconnect the wild in me with the wild out there. It has to be a daily practice because if I am not vigilant then I open up the runway for incoming unfriendly. And, it is not complicated at all, but simply a decision. A decision not to waste one single moment of this beautiful and fragile life.

Island Blog – A Glorious Freedom

I set myself a challenge. This day I will not say a single negative word about a single soul, and, if a negative thought comes in about any said soul, I will picture them happy, laughing, safe, peaceful. Easy Peasy from my breakfast table, easy indeed from the early hour within which I awoke to a new day. T’was a lovely soft morning, the moon still hovering, the sun rising pink across the over-by hills. No worries.

I set off on the alpine switchback road to the little harbour town to hook up with a friend for a bench picnic, feeling quite the thing, until I met a ‘toddler’. This is a car inhabited by, usually, two old folks, with no plans to hurry. However, the driver does have plans. Whilst he, usually a ‘he’, and his she are watching the sky for birds, the hills for a Wow, the sudden dips that show deep lochs all blue and fabulous, and causing them to slide to an almost stop mid road, I am about to be late for my bench picnic meet. I hold back, understanding, until my understanding muscle is a taught rope, and I, politely, move closer. No change. We swing around another 25 bends passing endless passing places, and still he will not let me pass. Incoming friendly suggests to me that he might now pause so that he and his she can watch the flowers grow without me in my sassy Mini Cooper hooking onto his old butt. No, he pulls out quick. He stays his course. I hear my inner talk. He is telling me I should not be in a rush. I consider this ‘rush’ thingy. Ah, maybe he is right. Maybe I, too, can watch the flowers grow for another 8 miles. I think on the past year when the only people I ever met on this single track were carriers, workers, carers, the postpeople. All of a sudden, the toddlers are back and I know, I know, we need them and they are welcome and I love all people ya-di-ya.

Eventually he lets me by and his face is turned away from my ebullient sunshine thank you smile. Okay, whatever. I collect my friend and I tell her of my personal challenge for the day. She chuckles. Ah, you may have invited in something there my friend. Ha! I say and we swing into the big harbour car park because I need fuel and this is where the garage is located. As I drive in, just as I have done for over 43 years towards the pumps, a big ass vehicle comes right at me, nose to nose. I stop, thinking no judgement, and reverse back. As he (!) comes forward he winds down his window. I smile. I think you will find that this is a one way system, he says. For a moment I am confounded. A lot goes through my head. I have been here 43 years. I know this is the way to the pumps, or one of two ways. I see no one way system sign. Then I feel outrage build. But I cannot allow it because of my stupid self challenge. My friend beside me snorts into her hands and the giggle rises in me. I didn’t say Why, Thank you Kind Sir For Guiding Me Right. Sadly. I wasn’t quick enough with myself. I just looked at him in amazement. I thought, gosh how sad your life is that you need to be aggressive on your holiday. And I binned that because I wasn’t seeing him happy, laughing, safe and peaceful. What shall we we do now? asked my friend. This was an easy answer. We, I replied, are going to drive all the way around the one way system that does exist, the wrong way. And we did.

The picnic was fab. We sat on a bench in the sunshine having bought quiches from the bakery and we laughed like girls. We are both heading for 70 but somehow nothing changes when girls/women get together. We laughed about the One Way Man and sent him whatever he needs which is probably quite a lot, and walked, talked and helped the Navy moor up their ships on the pontoon. What I learned from this, from my self challenge, is that irritation is human, hard not to buy in to. But not to buy into it feels like a glorious freedom.

Island Blog – Plan Be

As the doors re-open into others’ worlds, shops, cafes and space, I acknowledge a little turbulence in that moment when I get out of my car in order to move along a narrow pavement, people heavy. Okay, I am outside now, so…. mask? Not mask? Inside the shop there are thingies on the floor to keep us a metre apart but this doesn’t work in doorways nor when someone remembers they forgot something and makes a U turn between the acres of alcohol and a long colour run of biscuits and cakes. Unable to disappear, there are at best, 12 inches between the U-Turner and the long queue of masked up distanced basket carriers. Suddenly we are, momentarily, way too close for comfort. I help an old lady with her bags, taking her arm on the steps. Of course I do. It wonders me, my choice to do this when I almost felled a structure of pink wafers in my frantic reversement just a few moments ago. This is indeed a time of wonderment. It takes me back to one of those ballets I was in a hundred years ago, one of the Little Swans, I think, all tippytoes and tutu, breathless and terrified and way too close together for ballet shoe freedom of speech.

But I must not give in to fear. I refuse. Stoutly. This is at attitude I have learned and infused into my very bones. The fact that it doesn’t work for me is, largely, my failure. I hear stories of those who have moved beyond the unholy mess of fear and doubt that we currently live in, those who have ‘mastered’ their fear and done it anyway, whatever ‘it’ was. They are beautiful, confident, unreal. I buy into it, and, in doing so, I fail. Again. So how do we ordinary folk doing our best with all our current limitations, whether extraneous or intrinsic (and ps btw how do we know the difference) make sense of it all? How do we correct the imbalance between fear and doing it anyway? It seems to me the biggest map of all, the biggest gap of all, the one between us and where we want to be. It is as wide and as daunting as the Sonoran desert. I have (had) a husband who crossed that desert, that Sonoran Desert with its 1000 square miles of nothing and no-one but sand and massive heat and massive cold and a blast of sudden butterflies to clog the radiator half way across.

My thinking, my counsellor’s advice, is to take baby steps, one day at a time, all that stuff.. Even as I know it is the only way, it bugs me. I’m thinking this. I have got this far, I am 68, mother to five, grandmother to ten plus two steps and surely I have done my baby stepping? I had loads of confidence once. Where the hell is it now? But it seems we still have to work, we oldies, and maybe that’s a good thing, however much it irritates me. These days I notice a gamut of emotions swirling inside my heart bringing thoughts that are not always helpful. The loss of self confidence, the emptiness of this space I inhabit, the feeling that something huge and irreplaceable is gone for ever, all swipe me sideways at times. I walk, I read positive books, I study (deeply) the power of emotions and how to both allow and control them. At first, no, for yonks, I have bought into the theory that moving on or moving through is all about control, self control, emotional control ya-di-ya. This belief has held me up, and possibly down, for most of my life, swooping right back to childhood. Stuff happens. It hurts. Deal with yourself and come back down when you are like the rest of us, aka fitting in and not trying to break the sound barrier. I tell someone I feel sad, afraid, lacking in confidence and angry and they say nothing for a split second, but here it comes……’But look at the sunshine/Spring/flowers/view, as if any of those things have anything to do with how I feel. Such a response is counter intuitive and counter intelligent but we all make that response because we have never been taught how to allow a ‘negative’ just to be.

I walk further, forgetting to acknowledge Lady Larch, for which I will need to apologise tomorrow, not that she is crabbit about such things. She has taken a very very long time to get to her full height and knows a thing or two about distracted walkers passing beneath her graceful branches. I pick up ideas along the banks, from among the self-heal, the wood anemones, sorrel and bluebells, colourful ideas with petals that follow the sun or petals that line a stem, indigo against the bright green grasses. They tumble around in my mind. What is the key to this emotional rampage? Do I allow or do I control or do I both or do I neither? Which way is up? I know about down. Down is always right there.

Listening to a talk today on exactly this subject, I have learned something. I think I have been hoodwinked into believing in the horns of a dilemma, either this, or that, black or white, positive or negative. Our culture promotes Positive, big time. After all, the alternative is pretty unappealing. Who wants to be negative? Negative is glass half empty. Negative is dark, slow, miserable. Negative needs to look up more, look out more. Negative needs to get over herself, get out there, do something for someone else – in other words please make sure you run away from negative as far and as fast as you can. Better, deny it exists, at least in me, in my heart, in my ticketyboo life. As I write this, I chuckle. How utterly ridiculous it sounds as it reads itself back to me. But that is what I have been doing. I have made an art of not being negative, of being insistently positive, of pretending, of not truthing. I am damn good at it, excellent in fact and I am about to deconstruct my own myth, not that I can take all the credit for its pervasive presence within our culture, one that has been fed to us like mother’s milk for generations. So how exactly do I put my inner construct of beliefs back together again in a new shape? Behold all these minute complex parts spread out before me for which there are is no instruction manual? The myriad and tiny parts look up at me and titter. I am not daunted, I refuse to be. That would be me siding with you know who. After all, I have lived almost 7 decades, each one loaded with learnings, with ups and downs and with many an adventure. So, maybe I don’t need to reconstruct this structure of beliefs. Perhaps I just need to let the old lie there in pieces and to walk back out into the world open-hearted, curious and interested. If I just notice my emotions, acknowledge them, all of them, the negative and the positive, then maybe a natural construct of beliefs will form all by itself. I could watch it happen as an observer. I could be emotionally agile, ready to change, ready to adapt at a moment’s notice, ready to engage.

This morning I ‘noticed’ I felt grief, loss, sadness and fear with a sprinkling of anxiety as garnish and with a side of self-doubt. I wrote them down. There they are in a neat list on the page before me. Hallo you. I said. But what I did not say is Go Away. I did not scrunch up the paper and use it as a spill to light my pipe. I did not shut down my heart, draw the dead bolts, pull up the drawbridge, whisper insurgence in the ears of the guard dogs and then hide under the bed. I just watched the list from time to time and said Hallo you. I thought a little about each feeling, brushing over its surface with my fingers, gently. I was kind to each one of them. Yes you hurt. Yes you feel sharp and (interestingly) judgmental and that is when it came to me like a blinding flash. That is the moment I blew up the old belief structure because deciding to be positive always makes a judge of any negatives. I should not feel this way. I do feel this way. Therefore it is I who am to blame. This crime is punishable by a whole stretch of time wherein I will find a gazillion ways to tell myself that I am a waste of space, always was and that there is no earthly chance of anything good ever happening to me because I just don’t deserve it. Anyone relate?

Accepting that ‘There’s nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so’ is mildly helpful but the wisdom is not explained very well. If thinking is also a crime, or poor thinking, negative thinking, then off I go again with the self-flagellation. However, if thoughts are unconscious, if such thoughts precede emotions, then they are extraneous, surely? They come at me about 60,000 times a day. My mind is never still and nor btw is yours. There is nothing we can do about this truth but what we can do is to ‘notice’ an emotion, an unconscious thought, to step back from it, to observe and acknowledge it and then make a choice, of action perhaps or maybe inaction. A decision made based on doing nothing much, just noticing, observing, watching or a considered decision that is not a dash for the safety net of positivity. Dashing into a response just gives that random emotion or unconscious thought all of the power, power over me, over you and it ultimately denies the existence of that sad, angry, fearful feeling which achieves two things. First it tells the thinker that he or she was wrong to think that way and second, it fuels up the ‘negative’ feeling for a far greater assault another day.

Bereavement brings so many thoughts and emotions. I want to wind time back and re-do or re-don’t many things. I have so many questions that will never be answered. Even when my relatively sane mind is busy on some project or even fast asleep, my unconscious is working away like a busy little bee so that my decision not to think about the somethings I regret, missed out on or wish had never happened just makes that bee very happy giving it full permission to fatten up the very things I don’t want to think about. Don’t think about an elephant. I know, you just thought about an elephant. But it isn’t just people like me with a dead husband of just a few months who are bursting with emotional chaos just now. The lockdowns, the indecision, the fear of catching the virus, all collude with inner confusion to confound so many of us. We hardly know what to think any more and it will take many of us long time to grow new confidence. And that is perfectly okay. Let us take the time. Let us let ourselves move at our own pace through whatever wilderness we wander, observing, noticing, but mostly not judging ourselves. Thoughts will come all the way up to that last breath. There is no stopping them, but, like a good sailor in a brisk breeze we can work with the thoughtweather. At times we can spill the wind, at others we can let the sails, fill fat-bellied, and just fly. At times we can moor in a peaceful cove, and at others, when the morning is fresh and the wind lively, we can weigh anchor and head far out to sea, laughing in the spray, exhilarated.

In the time between birth and death there are we. I plan to live that time as the very best me I can possibly be.

Island Blog – Add the New and Let us Heal

Well, today was interesting. I went through my check list of new habits, ticking off this one and that. During that process, there were times of momental anxiety, as ever. Self doubt, quandary, up the stairs and down again. The usual. Moments when I doubt myself and never, ps and btw in the moment. I know my moments and they are mine and they are themselves and we work together nae bother. It is the times when I doubt something much bigger and all because a thought comes in. I now recognise these confounding thoughts as those rooted in the past, in childhood, in my marriage, in my gawky and faulty motherhood walk. Oh, Hallo, I say, I see you, I recognise you, I would like you to move back for now so I can see the moment. The moment shows clouds, bird-fly, trees moving in response to the wind, skies responding to whatever shit is going on up there way way way above my understanding.

I walked, although, confessing, I did not walk mindfully today. I walked blind. I was caught up in my thoughts, a gazillion of them and not many of them, if any, helpful nor relevant to the now me. This is the human condition. We are always at the mercy of our thoughts until we learn cognitive management and that is not control, much as we might long for it. No. It is the practice of noticing our thoughts, of stepping back from them and of assessing whether or not they are helpful in the now now. Our new now now. It does take practice. Hoping to be able to cope with a welter of thoughts at anytime is wanting to live in Disney. And, for you Scots, it disnae. I know Ive been at this for years but I am no model student. I can be overwhelmed easy. Like this day.

I am out there in my garden, which happens to be at the front of a lovely old stone house with views fantastic. Anyway, I am out there with seedlings and they are shouting at me to be planted, like we are so tired of this tiny pot, our roots are wound up like Freddie Mercury and Hallo? So I go out there with gravel for the planters and peat and topsoil and other witchy growing helpers and then in they come, the visitors, the lively, lovely dog-tastic, kitted up visitors with bins and backpacks and enthusiasm and a merry smile, their mouths oped for greeting and my peace is shattered. My nearly deaf dog catapults into hysterical terrier barking which has to be in discordant A minor on a badly tuned piano, and because she is fast, I can’t catch her, and because she is nearly deaf she can’t hear my voice and the whole lovely visitor thing turns into a frightful afternoon. Just like that.

They move on with their lovely dogs that don’t bark and I hide within in my turmoil. I know what this is. This is my challenge to get back out there, to get real, to find life again, the new life that I know will come from over a year of being in jail. For all of us. I shower. Change frocks. Look forward to seeing my beloved son tomorrow when his boat comes in to Tobermory. I get over myself. Do you?

This is an opportunity to hang on to the old. Or, it’s an opportunity to be curious about every single thing. This is a new world people. Do we want to be an active and loving part of it, or are we going to stay where we were, constrained by old ways and (seriously?) thinking that was ever helpful to a broken world that yearns to heal?