Return of the Judy

return of the jedi


So, it’s been over a year since I last wrote anything much beyond a shopping list, my signature on an official form, or, best, one of my loony letters.  I knew it had been a while, but over a year seems like more than a while.

What have I been up to during those months and seasons?  Learning how to, that’s what.  Learning how to be a carer for dementia, how to avoid confrontation or tripping hazards; learning how to make the best of an ever-decreasing bubble within which I now live.  Oftentimes the frustration and the sadness overwhelmed me, how could it not?  Watching a person recede into fairyland, centimetre by centimetre, unable to converse in the old way or to expect sentient reaction to any of a number of daily happenings, is to live as a fool.  Learning what not to say, what not to do, how loudly to speak or how softly, how to read a mood swing and for it not to confound are all extra demands, critical demands, demands that offer no option for escape, for the person with dementia lives both in the distant past and also in the moment.  What he wants, now, will not wait, even a few minutes; what he needs help with requires instantaneous action, not, any longer, a refusal to budge, having only just sat down.  The person with dementia has only his needs in his mind.  He can do as little about that as I can, but the legacy of doing everything required is one to be most carefully addressed or I will turn into a whirling dervish and fly right off the planet.  So, in order to remain reasonably unexhausted, I must set boundaries.  Well, how dare I!!  Yes, I do dare.  That frightful statistic I read somewhere, announcing that 69% of all unpaid carers die before their time, is a red light indeed.  So, I stop and I think whilst the cross traffic passes me by.  I think of ways, clever ways, kindly ways, softly spoken firm ways to make it clear I am not an employee, nor a slave; that although I appreciate his limitations, frustrating limitations for such an active man, I am not a robot (tick this box).  It is a tricky road to walk and no mistake and I get it wrong endless number of times, when I respond sharply to another interruptive demand for something like ‘lunch’ when ‘lunch’ can easily flipping well wait a minute or two.  In creating boundaries, whilst still respecting that they easily become tripping hazards, I accept that they appear unfair, unkind and selfish.  I will need to erect them over and over again every day till the end of time because they are oft forgot. Whilst I’m busy being firm about them, I must also make them of something soft, something easy to move about, because there are times I do jump in response, not because of a disaster in the next room, but because I cannot imagine what it is to feel that urgent need and to then feel so very upset and angry when She Who Creates Boundaries refuses to leap into her pinny?  Must be awful.

As the truth sank in, the removal of a driving licence, a skipper’s licence, the ability to walk without sticks or a walker, I feared he would just sit.  Not him.  Of course, not him.  He discovered WhatsApp and friends to WhatsApp with; he involved himself with Alzheimer Scotland, with the Scottish Dementia Working Group, and with an X Box.  Yes, really.  He hasn’t played much on it yet, having a spot of bother with the tv remote and control over the working thingy that sends out warriors into futuristic landscapes, but he will, one day because his spirit is still as strong as ever.  I watch him battle with the clues and I share his delight when a riddle is solved.  It thinks me often of a spirit strong, one that loses nothing in the demise of dementia.  It is the last thing to go, as it was with my mum who died in May.  I am fond indeed, of spirit and I have one myself, one that can be confounded at times as I dump a load of self pity on its head, but it doesn’t stay down for long, minutes even, rising up with a chuckle and a terse reminder that there are folk much worse off than I.  Of the 60 odd unpaid carers on this island, I am among the youngest, at 65.  Some of these carers are in their 80s.  Now that, Dear Life, is not fair at all.  I meet them sometimes in the shop and I look into their eyes as I say hallo and how are you?  I know how tough their life is to a degree, but not completely.  We share a joke, we chuckle, we shop and we move on.  That’s spirit for you.  And, as I drive home to deal with whatever comes next, I hold their face in my mind and I smile.  Tough old bird, I whisper to the fluffy cross-eyed sheep that hangs from my rearview.

Takes one to know one, he replies.

Island Blog 203 Spirit

Spirit Woman


What is Spirit?  Yes, it’s an alcoholic beverage.  Yes, it’s Caspar the ghost.  But what is my spirit and what is yours?

Unlike the above, it is invisible and, yet, at the same time, highly visible, in who I am.  I wake with it.  It carries me through my ordinary, and extraordinary days but, and here’s the rub, I must needs call it up, because if I don’t, it lies like cold porage somewhere inside me. I must spin it into life regardless of my doubts and fears and self-flagellation.

Thankfully, my spirit is way stronger than any of those enemies, like David was to Goliath.  As I rise from sleep, whatever excitements the night brought me, and, nowadays that means a dive into the oatcake tin and a barefoot wander through the quiet house, I make a choice.  Out you damn spots, because I don’t want you littering my face any more than I did as a teenager…..out I say, for there is no room for you once Spirit steps in to hold her sway.  She is magnificent, tall and strong, proud and unique and she demands the whole room.

I remember hating this unique thing.  I didn’t want to be unique.  I wanted to be like Lizzie or Jill with their only childness and beans on toast in front of the telly.  When someone flagged up my talents and gifts I wanted to bop them on the nose and run back to the crowd.  Now I get it, but with that ‘getting it’ comes responsibility.  Now I have to see who I am and actually be who I am which means I write with my own hand, say what is in my head, act according to Spirit, and then, unfortunately, to take the consequences.

T’is odd that I have spent so many years wishing I wasn’t me, especially as all that wishing made absolutely no difference.  It was just a waste of time and that is something Spirit won’t allow. The key, for me, was giving in and letting go.  Ok Spirit, I said, I’m all yours, warts and all, you win.

Surprisingly, I feel free.  It is as if holding on to the control stick did me no favours.  She swings with the wind, they said, she’s flighty and unpredictable and she talks to the trees, for goodness sake.  She hears stories in the rain, flies with the geese, lifts with the cloud animals and cooks without recipes.  She wears crazy clothes and wellies with a tutu and a fisherman’s jumper whilst weeding the garden. She makes mistakes, says the wrong thing at the wrong time, feels anger and frustration, sends an email she wish she hadn’t. But, this same woman is the one who will stand to be counted.  She will rise in defence or attack for her family and friends.  She is kind, she is strong, she is wild. This is Spirit, her spirit.

I see spirit in those I meet every day.  Rising into their eyes, evident in the way they take on whatever life throws at them, still moving on into the next day.  Invisible, yes, but not if we really look and really notice, pausing in our own rush towards death just long enough to recognise and respect another spirit strength.  And, sometimes, if I have left my spirit at home, the light of another shines bright enough to illuminate my own demons, and to send them scurrying back into the shadow dark.




Island Blog 202 Harmony

old lady makeup


Who on earth decided it was ever going to be okay for us to gain facial hair whilst simultaneously losing our sight?  I don’t mean going blind, merely the fact that I now need binoculars to put make up on and still I can’t really see the lovely tache on my upper lip, until the sun shines.  Perhaps it’s a good thing the sun is shy up here from time to time, so that, when it does brilliantise my face, turning me into a shiny gorilla with eyebrows (thin and greying) that feel quite happy to spread (thinly and greyly) both up and down, I can gasp, and then get over myself.   Add to this joyous sunshine discovery my slightly shaky hand, my meanly sharp tweezers and my sagging skin and I have one result.



I could not look, of course, but it isn’t about me seeing me, it’s about you talking to me with your 20/20 vision whilst trying madly to focus on what I’m saying and suppressing the tidal rise of giggles as you watch my untamed facial hair waggling at you like feelers, only in all the wrong places.  On cloudy days, I am fine about it all, in fact, I quite forget, but not on sunshiney days.

I remember well, as a child, watching such feeler activity in the older generation.  I know that rise of giggles and how very hard it is to keep them from erupting into my mouth.  I thought these women looked like jokes, like a cross between apes and heavily perfumed witches  Some even had warts and that’s another unwelcome thing that just comes to us all.  The lucky ones find them beneath their stoutly sensible clothing;  others find them on their noses.  I check mine for warts every morning and, so far, the binoculars tell me I am safe.

These disrupters of my harmony are unkind at the very least.  At this stage of life, when silly aches and pains deny me the chance to leap over a fence when being chased by a bull, or a wasp, I find a seed of rage has taken root in me.  I’m not saying we should have these things whilst young.  I’m wondering why we have to have them at all.  We have to be filled with beans as a matter of choice and not because there is no challenge to challenge back as in youth and middle age.  And they are nothing really, these aging things, nothing more than an opportunity to bite back when bitten by this getting older thing.

There are many wise wisdoms about the journey into old age and I know most of them, but in my opinion, aging is too quick in coming, sending many of us into the sickness queue.  Because of what?  Fear, that’s what.  And I refuse to give fear an inch of room.  When we get an ache or a wart, we have a choice.  Flight or fight.  If I get my eye lashes all stuck together, so what?  It is extremely hard to apply mascara whilst peering through binoculars anyway.  Does this mean everyone with 20/20 vision has a giggle at my expense?  of course it does. If I feel the odd twinge and if I grunt as I elevate from a comfy chair, well, so do most over 60’s.  I check my grunt levels, however, and always find a laugh somewhere in my mouth.  Words escape me too, but if I search the room, I always find them in the end.  My mum said once, whilst we drove into town, ‘oh look at all those men with their arms sticking out!’


Thing is, I can giggle about it, as can she, for, like her, there is harmony with me and the aging palaver.  And, if I have lived as a rebel thus far, then I can rebel on.

So can you.

Island Blog 201 Solidarity

I wonder how the world is feeling now?  Since my last, there have been two terrorist attacks on ordinary folk who were just being ordinary folk.  It is beyond belief, such terrible acts of destruction, and yet, they keep happening, and in the name of a god.

In my heart, I know that no god desires such homily to his or her name.  A god, by definition is a deity way above the foolishness of we humans, a loving spirit whose whole ethos is to protect, uplift, inspire and preserve life in all her glorious forms.  The care of people, land, productivity and beauty all come into a god’s curriculum.  All gods, bar none, are worshipped and venerated because of their unseen force for good.  I couldn’t name them all, nor does it matter, because what matters is the way they can work within our lives, collectively as the human race and individually inside a single life.  Some call it coincidence; some the result of prayer and faith, but no matter what a person believes in, I would like to bet that none of us think of any god as destructive, excluding, perhaps, the ancient Greeks who have long lost their credibility as time erases any chance of proving that when Zeus is in a bad mood, earth suffers.

What happens as a result of such insane destruction is all about the rise of the people; true socialism wherein we all help each other.  Heroes are not born heroes.  Heroes rise from the inferno to show their true colours, colours they always had but were never called upon to bring into the light.  There are those who begin charities, those who visit, those who volunteer, befriend, support and those who make cups of tea.  In short, disasters of any sort bring us together in solidarity and strength.  We will not be broken by any act of destruction, god or no god.  We have been formed this way from the very beginning, whether we believe in Adam and Eve or the Big Bang, or evolution from apes or a bit of all three.  It matters not in the long run, although it can certainly cause us to dismiss each other as fools when we come up against an opposing opinion.

Perhaps that’s the problem.  If we cannot even consider listening to someone who believes in a different beginning, different gods or no gods at all, perhaps we play a part in this war of worlds.  Road rage, bad temper in a Tesco queue, cruel whispers, sloppy relational behaviour all sow seeds of anger along our streets and inside our homes.  People are different, some more than others, but we are unwise to think we are safe inside our little cliques.  People Like Us are all very well and easy to associate with.  After all, we share ideas, likes and dislikes, opinions, taste in music, ethics and morals.  So what about People Unlike Us?  Well, they’re over there somewhere, out of our gardens our homes and schools, out of our line of sight.

No, they are not.  They are right here under our noses and they are humans too.  What I find quite wonderful is the learning I can gain if I step off my middle class path and into the scrub.  Of course, once I step, I find it isn’t scrub at all, but another path brimming with colourful and interesting people, and yet another and another, and all of them moving towards the same horizon.  How come I never noticed that before?  There I was feeling safe and superior, thinking I knew it all, when in fact, I know nothing.  The more I learn about another person’s life, the more I look back at my own to find it needs a lot more than a couple of tweaks.

It is so easy to protect ourselves with things and gadgets, new kitchens, cars and home security systems, those of us who can afford such choices.  We can walk this way every day until someone or something destroys it, just like that.  It can be an act of destruction, mindless, so they say, but it is not mindless at all.  Each attack was well planned and thought through, and that is the part that chills us most.  All we can depend on is each other, a collective strength, one big open heart, one big open mind ready to be kind right where we are, now, today, this minute, and especially to that person over there who bugs the hell out of us.

This is a beginning we can all be a part of.

Island Blog 200 Patch Perfect

patched heart

This morning I am patching Popz’s jeans.  On the inside…..?  Or the outside…..?

I opted for outside, to which himself agrees.  To be honest, I am sewing the patches, (courtesy of my daughter’s old maternity trews) onto smoke, which is about the sum of it, but these jeans are old friends and the rest of them are still reasonably substantial.

It got me thinking about patching.  I like patching which is why the family all bring their jeans and such to me for repairs (no flowers, ma, I’m an boat skipper).  I sit in the window and I repair.  I patch.  I do the same over cracks in walls and holes in my heart and dignity.  We all do it, some of us well and some of us poorly, not careful of the thread, the tension required to effectively cover up the damage, not following the grain or the weft.  Some of us don’t bother at all and just buy another one, find another lover, choose another location, but I have learned to be very good at patching, for in the process of working with the old, of giving it new life and colour (no flowers please, we’re British), I am mindful of the time this old thing, this faithful working part, has served me.

This life is this life.  The choices we make, I made, compile my story.  I did that.  Nobody made me do any of it, although the consequences of those choices often tried to break me, to defeat my wild woman spirit, so that I gave up and fiddled with my wedding ring and dreamed of escape.  I wasted time in victim thinking.  Poor little me.  Such a shame her life isn’t a doddle, or his or mine or yours.  Well, it just isn’t, not for nobody.  That person, or couple or family or car or lifestyle you envy is a figment of imagination.  It’s a Disney nonsense, believe me.

Well….. I Disneyed far too long and now I could sell wrinkles to most of China.  However, I am deeply fond of my wrinkles and my patched up internals because they tell me I am strong, not weak.  They tell me my wild woman is well and thriving, bloodied but not broken, never that.  She is open to change and joy and disaster.  She is present, absolutely present, as she continues marching like a wrinkly amazon through every single little minute of her life.  She and I are mates now and she helps me often, when another hole appears in something, to find the fun. She re-lights the sparkle in my eyes and she also tells me to stop whining and to DO something!

Patching his nib’s jeans thinks me of the design, the worker who fashioned them and the place he or she might live somewhere on Earth.  Is it a good job?  Are you happy?  What’s your story?  Oh, and thankyou for being such a faithful friend.  Although I ask the question about being happy, it always stops a person into a think.  Define happy.  Is it living your dream, flying high, free and definitely Disney or is it just deciding to be patch perfect?

I know which I believe in.

Island Blog 199 Mindfulness


Chopping wood today and splitting kindlers thought me about work.  How we define it and what it really means.

Work is good.  I remember my brother saying that to me years ago and I felt like punching him.  He, after all, seemed fired up and excited about his work, whereas I was unfulfilled and exhausted with all the demands of life.  Everything felt like work and work was all there was.

Then, as Tapselteerie faded into my ‘past’ and the children grew wings and flew into new worlds, I remember still feeling resentful about housework, cooking work, shopping work.  Slamming the hoover into corners and bumping it rudely down the stairs, I cursed the ‘have-to’ of it all.  Dust was always landing somewhere, windows were always grubby (that flaming dog snuffling at an outside rabbit) and once again I had no idea nor any interest in planning the next meal.  Oh poor little me!

At art school the tutors spoke of ‘our work’.  Work?  This surely is play!  No, it’s work.  Seriously?  I could feel my heart open to the idea and I practised saying ‘this is my work’ as I held up a big, colourfully indulgent canvas to an admirer.  It felt weird in my mouth for quite some time, but eventually I got the hang of it.  Somehow, as if by magic, other work, like the domestic round, became less of a monster in my head.  I found, that, by hoovering gently, respectful of  floor, corners and hoover, whilst planning my next move on canvas, I was lighter and brighter and more mindful.  Ever so slowly, the resentment left me and no woman could ask for more because most of our lives are spent working and reworking and reworking within the home.  Even one with a full time job will still be required to plan the meals and the sort the children and cater for her husband’s moods and whims.  It was aye thus.

Then one of my sons brought Mindfulness to me, the practise of it, the art of it.  I had known of it before, but, like all wise truthdoms, it was only known to me in words, a sentence that brought me an ‘Aha!’ but never found its way to my feet. However, working resentfully is exhausting and I was becoming progressively bored with my downturned mouth in the mirror.  I began to walk the talk of it and over time it has changed me completely.  Although so many aspects of any work are dull and repetitive, I can bring an element of Mary Poppins into each task, if I am mindful of each one.  My mind can float whilst I wash yet more dishes and there is nowt wrong with that, for some of my best ideas spawn whilst labouring at such a job.  However, I can also, and I do, bring myself into the very place I stand right now, and by carefully cleaning a plate with pretty flowers around its rim, I can remember where it came from, the person who gave it to me, perhaps, and can then bring them to mind, their face, their smile.  Instead of cursing because the washing up liquid is running low, and I forgot to buy more, I can take in the smell of it, wonder, as I do, if its septic tank friendly, why it has to be coloured a luminous green or a pus yellow, and so on.  I am here.  Right here, doing this, or doing that and I am mindfully engaged.

It is the greatest freedom, this engagement with whatever I am doing.  Sewing on a button, watching the cock blackbirds fight over the girls, brushing down the stairs, chopping the kindlers.  I can consider the tree it once was part of, where the tree stood and for how long.  I can thrill at the warm flames it creates.  I can think of how Spring brings new life to the blackbird who wins, wonder where he will nest and if his young will survive mink, jays, the sparrowhawk.  When stirring a cheese sauce I can consider the farmer, the dairy herd, the wide green grazing, the peaceful baleful eyes of the cows, the way the sauce thickens most delightfully, hot and creamy.

So, although my ‘work’ has become more about the domestic round than before, I am content.  Not because life is perfect at all, but because I have found the perfect in the smallest of tasks and, by living moment to moment I have a child like enthusiasm and acceptance of whatever this day shall bring.

I only wish I had learned it sooner.

Island Blog 198 Love Actually



What did Valentine’s Day bring for you, I wonder?  Errm, nothing.  I’m too old for that lark. When was it anyway…..?  We don’t celebrate such Americanised nonsense.  We prefer to grumble about the retail giants who maximise their percentage by stepping on our hearts. Besides, we’ve been married long enough to know we don’t much like each other.

The thing about love is that it isn’t the first bit that makes any impact whatsoever beyond the affixing of a ring and the fact that ‘I’ am required to become ‘We’ overnight. Where I drop my socks is no longer my choice, nor is the clothing I might select for a quiz night or my daringly cut gown for a ball.  I may not shoot off on a long weekend without saying where I am going and with whom. In the choice of soft furnishings I can no longer choose retro Quant if my significant other feels sick at the very sight of those garish colours and that clumsy patterning.  I may not invite in a passer-by for tea if I know my S.O can’t bear his or her laugh.  I begin to announce when I am going to bed instead of just going to bed.  I may not lend the secateurs to a neighbour without checking with my S.O first.  And so on and so fourth and fifth and sixth.  This is marriage and this is (possibly) when the dislike begins.

When children come, blessedly as very small babies at first, everyone thinks life is now perfect, which it is, up until the drugs wear off, and the car arrives to transport me home. But the motherlove is ferocious and singular and exclusive and the poor old dad, who has barely dared to allow his new name to roll off the tongue, is banished to second base.  As far as he is concerned, he didn’t do anything wrong, but wrong he is, if he should dare to question the new pecking order in the home.  It was aye thus.

However tricky life is after that initial falling into love (which never lasts long) in a relationship that has gravitas and texture, one that hasn’t died of boredom or drink or infidelity, but is just a bit peely-wally, attention is required.  Celebration is a good place to begin.  I have listened to those who tell me ‘we don’t do birthdays, or Christmas, or Valentine’s’,  and then watched the one who said it rather hurt when his SO took an old schoolfriend to Hawaii for 3 weeks on her 50th birthday.  We need to notice each other for flipping years by the way, to gift and to show romance.  I believe this would keep couples together for much longer, for all their time on this earth, if we all woke up to the important fact that every relationship needs food.  Weekly, not once in a while.

For my Valentine’s, I got a lovely card, addressed to ‘My One and Only’ and a box of chocs. He has remembered the romance of Valentine’s Day for almost 45 years, even if, in between Valentine’s days he has been a difficult S.O.b  So, have I.  This marriage thing is a walk in the dark, not the park, for not one of us has an easy ride, like what America tells us in her movies where everything is rosy at the end.  There is no ‘rosy’ unless we accept that roses have their season, scenting the whole garden, filling the eye and the heart with a gasp of wonder…… and outside of that season there is little, or no, fragrance at all.

I want to shout WAKE UP people, but I don’t.  I just wish that young couples out there can hold onto hope, can find the legs to walk on, can understand that a marriage is not one person trying to change the other, (and if that fails, which it always does, there is the justification to move on) but a complete ballsup, a collision of stars, a chaos that only ever needs a regular butterfly.