Island Blog – Fair Warning

Yesterday was dire, the whole way through to evening, when everything lifted. Sometimes I wake beneath a cloud, heavy like a cloak or a shroud that pushes me floorwards, or tries to. However, being a woman of Lift and Light by nature, I tolerate this not, even if it is a big struggle to reach my full height. I have flexible knees, strong limbs and eyes that look out, although it feels almost impossible to keep those eyes from flipping inwards. When they succeed they peer into all my private corners like snoopers in the attic, opening this old box and that in search of treasure. In other words, Reasons To Prove I’m Not Good Enough, Not Coping. Believe me, there are billions up there, in those old boxes. I know this because I lugged them up there myself. I don’t need you anymore, thanks very much for nothing. That’s what I said. I should have burned them, I know it now, but I always thought, and still do, that the old beratements have a purpose and need acknowledgement and recognition. On most days I can do this. And then yesterday comes at me full face and loaded with power.

This, apparently, is grief. It makes me furious. Why on earth am I gifted days, weeks, even, of feeling the healing, only to be cloud dumped and snooped on and to know that I have just landed on a snake and slidded back to square one? How completely cruel is that! Not only do I plod like an old cow through the minutes, which is so unlike me with my quickquick scurryings, but this cloud fills my mind too and it doesn’t have a single positive thing to say about me. A double attack. It is, was, tempting to believe the lies in my yesterday state, the criticisms and judgements in old voices and to lose sight completely of tomorrow, of hope, a future, freedom and the Springtime. I felt like Miss Haversham, even finding the cobwebs and dust and fluff to complete the scene. You should hoover, dust, clean, sneered the attic snoopers. I ignored them.

Now it is today and you would be forgiven in thinking there is a new woman in this dusty, fluffy, needing cleaned house. I had to check in the mirror myself. What changed? I have one idea. In the soggy black of yesterday I was invited to supper with my bubble family. I didn’t want to go. Wasn’t hungry. Wanted to melt into the evening with my cloud wrap and my snoopers, all chuckle and blame, the judgements and criticisms, fear, sadness, self-pity and Miss Haversham-ness. However I did go and as I walked in the door I was hit by light, music, granddaughters, the warm arms of son and daughter-in-law and the delicious smells of roast pork with all the trimmings. As I sipped the wine and crunched the crackling I looked back on the day. It was just a day, that’s all, part of the process. Perhaps the snoopers were also cold, lonely, longing for connection and interaction. Perhaps the cloud helped me allow myself to rest. Perhaps the silence, the no contact with the outside world was just what I needed. Perhaps.

I can accept that, from where I am now, inside my bouncy-happy new morning. However, I have one demand. The next time you decide to come, Heavy Cloud and Chuckling Snooping Judgemental Critics, please email me first. I want plenty of warning so that I can be out when you come.

Island Blog – No Crime

I am working on myself. T’is no surprise, really, considering I am now popped out like a cork and into a lone life. Not lonely, well, sometimes, but not all times. Just lone. I like the word. It thinks me of a wolf or an explorer nobody believes in. It speaks of courage, determination, vulnerability and faith, regardless of any worldly snorts of derision, a great number of which come from all those voices inside my head, the ones who, for decades, kept me ‘safe’ and away from prying eyes and dream-promoters. I would be a dancer. Not safe, no future. I would be an actress. Ditto. I would sing in a band. Okay but not after 11 pm and I’ll collect you then as it will be dark and dark is laden with no-goods and false promises. I would wear these crazy boots, this hat, that flamboyant frock. On a Monday morning? And so on. Although those voices belong to bodies long gone, I can still work them like puppets on my hand. I can speak for them, and I do. Did.

I say ‘did, because I am learning to unprotect myself from these controllers. To be honest, I didn’t actually realise I could change them for ever simply by acknowledging their existence. I thought to turn them off, madly fumbling for the switch. I thought to turn my back, to ignore them, to yell at them to SHUT UP! It never worked and now with the help of a therapist I am discovering a new way, the way of gratitude and acknowledgment, of respect proffered to those who did protect me out of love back then when I could easily have thought to exercise my wings on a high clifftop just to know what it might be like to really fly. They, the old protectors I have conjoined into one voice. It makes sense to me as they all said the same thing, held me back in the same way, had me believing that being a woman meant fragility, foolishness and the inability to lead; a woman with too many feet off the ground; one that required renovation, a new construction according to the laws of man, mother, mother-in-law etc. You should wear a nice tweed skirt for this, not a lemon tutu, and sensible shoes, not those elvish boots, and gloves sans sequins, ditto hat, and those bare legs……no. Here are some 20 denier tights, nice caramel coloured ones, with a seam to keep you straight. Less eye make-up too so they don’t mistake you for a panda. Etc.

Obviously I laugh at this now for these are mere trivia in the work of controllers. The real harm that can be done by those who, lovingly, seek to dominate and guide, is much more subversive. It is a gradual denial of self that leads to inner doubt and ditherment. What do I feel? Oh, I don’t know. Could somebody tell me please? What do I think about this? Erm……….(look to husband), He will tell you what I think. So much easier as I have not a scooby anymore. But the other side of this protection is very welcome indeed. I did need looking after for sure. I was lost and young and clueless about the dastardly workings of a dangerous world, and I needed guidance. However, in buying in to this comfortable protection, I lost myself. Now, cork-popped into my new life, I am seeking her, that girl/woman who has lived long and prospered; whose God given gifts are manifold and whose heart is warm, loving and still beating away behind her scraggy chest.

And this is not just about me. I know thousands of women (and men) who will relate to my experience. I know how life works now. There is a time when a person will, perhaps unconsciously, gravitate towards another within whom she sees just what she needs to feel safe. There is no crime in that. We all do it. However, as the world moves around the sun, tilting more each day, we change as we grow. In that bubble of confidence that comes from feeling safe, we grow braver and that ‘brave’ builds self-confidence and assertiveness, something that makes life a bit bumpy for the protector. I get that. Unless that protector is able to change accordingly, there will be war because once a wimp finds courage he or she holds on to it with both hands. It felt heady, exciting and burgeoning with opportunities. I could do this! No, you can’t. I could speak out my opinion amongst a group of men. What???? You have to be joking. I could sing in a band past 11pm and walk home. Ridiculous! Get back to the dishes and the children, Woman, and maybe go see the doctor for a stronger dose of anti-depressant.

For years I have sat in blame and in shame. I don’t need either any more, but those protectors, whilst curtailing my various lunacies and sending me for more meds, still live on inside me. Ignoring them is futile. Blaming them even more so. They were more than good to me. Without them and their protection, I could well have flown off that cliff and what a waste that would have been. So, this new way, this way of grouping them together and giving them a name means I am acknowledging their work on my behalf. I can ask this multi-personed protector to protect me in a different way. Hey, Tinkerbell, I say (my favourite feisty fairy) I want to thank you for all the wonderful ways you kept me here, moderately sane and breathing; the way you saved me from myself and other animals; the way you kept me alight with flame and warmth; the way you guided me through hardships, children rearing and tough days. I honour you. However I am now asking for your loyal protection in a different way. I no longer need to numb nor to hide in the briar patch. Will you stand beside me with all your experiential wisdom and your exclusive knowledge of who I am and walk with me into the rest of my glorious life? She’s here. I can feel her, hear her. For the first time ever I can see the possibility of walking and waulking with this guide, this protector who never did really want to hold me back, who loved me, loves me, who just did what I asked her to do. And all I had to do was to acknowledge her as I had longed to be acknowledged, for who she is, for who I asked her to be way back when.

Although neither of us know where we are going, we are new friends in old bodies and that is enough for now. First off, there is a briar patch from which to extricate ourselves and beyond those sharp-toothed tangles I can see dappled light, new green shoots and over there, waving trees. When I twist my neck and look skyward I can see a new moon-bride, her accompaniment of stars, patterns of lace in a rising dawn. The glorious cycle of life, death and rebirth.

Island Blog – Finish the Line

I remember at art school being taught a valuable lesson. I was the only abstract artist in the class but I still needed to learn it. When painting a landscape, townscape, seascape, the observer knows where the horizon should be, unlike in an abstract piece. The land or sea ends and the sky begins. A cathedral will be taller than Mrs Jenkins semi. A child is smaller than an adult, in the main. We know without the need for over-explaining and if the stop/start thingy is penned in sharp black, it irritates us. It is telling us what we already understand and does not respect our intelligence at all. Let the eye finish the line. That is the lesson. It is no different when writing or speaking. How often do you roll your eyes as someone says to you, having already said the sentence once, As I Already Said…….to then repeat exactly what you took in first off? Glory it drives me wild. I have to stand there and hear it all again feeling like a struggling kid in Primary One. I hear that repetition is important but it still drives me distracted. I take great care not to fall into repeating myself, even as I know I sometimes do and particularly with my own grown children as if they might have nodded off at some point and thus need mummy to resurrect that vital bit of advice. I can feel the silent sigh through the phone line and it blushes me.

Being too wordy comes from passion. Whatever I am feeling passionate about, albeit momentarily, rises in me like a lift of startled chickens, all flap and feathers and squawk. I must get this across to you and the only way I feel I can do this is through over-explanation and repetition. Why? Are you not an adult who has gone through endless situations, scenarios and experiences wherein you gathered a world of information, assessed it, filtered it, checked it through your own lens and then let it settle within? Of course you are. I wonder if this need to over explain is birthed and rooted in our innate need for connection, the need to be seen and to be valued in someone else’s eyes. Short sentences, after all, can sound clipped and nobody wants to be unkind. Certainly I don’t. So, when someone starts to explain on repeat, I may lose interest, but this must not show for I am compassionate and authentic. I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable around me. But what about me in this situation, pinned to the wall? If I stop your babble, will this feel like criticism to you? Will you turn to go berating yourself for being a chatterbox and hating me for flagging it up? I suspect so. I recall Himself saying, just after I burst in with a story to tell, Can You Please Get to the Point? In his lack of interest in detail, I lost my own.

Allowing you to finish the line is all about respect – for you, for your intelligence but also for myself. I don’t need to explain everything. I don’t need to repeat my story. I trust that both of us will see what we see and hear what we hear. The need to explain or justify is really just insecurity. Perhaps, I say to myself as I stand in the blast of explanation, one already aptly explained some moments back, this person knows what it feels like not to be listened to respectfully. Perhaps he or she longs for compassionate, interested audience. Now I am back down on my heels and calm, leaning into it, into you, as the welter of words crowd my ears, even if the rhubarb has boiled dry and the smallest child is feeding muesli to the calf who, on finding the kitchen door open and it being cold outside, has wandered in for a warm up. It takes me no time at all to finish the line. This person is cold at night and needs more blankets. That’s it. However I now know that Grandad is arthritic and Gemma is frightened of the dark so she stayed home with Granny Music and that this person lives in Leamington Spa, well, just outside, but Granny Music lives right in the town where there are street lights right outside her home and Sandra has just passed her A levels, well, most of them, not maths, she’s not good at maths even with a private tutor who has awful breath and lives with 20 cats and it’s a long drive in the dark to get Sandra mathed up and it was a waste of money after all, not Sandra, though, she’s not a waste of money, of course not, she’s 17 now and very pretty and we are getting the early ferry next Saturday I hope that’s ok for you and where can we see otters?

I let the calf back out, muesli powder on her black snout. My visitor walks away armed with blankets and a couple of hot water bottles, feeling heard and respected. I just know it. The rhubarb is beyond hope now but that’s ok. There’s plenty of time to make an alternative crumble. I look at the clock. Fifteen minutes, that’s all this visit took and yet I have seen a whole lifescape in that time, one I will think about all day. I look out at the wide sky and the tall trees and find a warmth inside me. What came to me sharp and infuriating and with dreadful timing for the rhubarb at least, now feels like a soft line, a link between me and my visitor. I could feel her anxiety, touch her loving mother heart, see the care lines around her eyes and feel a deep respect for who she is.

I wonder how Granny Music got her name? I will never know but that’s ok. My own eye can finish the line.

Island Blog – A Vulnerable Courage

Chilly today even as the temperature rises a degree or two. It’s the wind and rain that do it. Although I light the fire early, I keep moving on principle and to keep my blood, bones and muscles believing they are yet miles from turning 68. It’s not easy in four frocks. It’s funny how warm frocks can be and how much heavier four are than one. It took me a while to layer correctly, allowing each hem to show itself just a peep and the process was very artfully managed, even if I do say so myself.

I lift the tarp from the outside Woodstock and fill the barrow enough times to bring the spirit level up on the inside wood box. We are both jolly now, both spirit levels high. I return the tarp, fixing it down at the corners with old dog leads and determination. Come Gale, come Rain, Come Sleet and do your worst! Me and the outside Woodstock are more than prepared for your incoming insults, that skirt-lifting ‘wheech’ that can render light dry logs to dark mush in a surprisingly short time. I walk with the same attitude. I know it is possible to buy little weights to hold a frock down, which sounds like a real faff, but if I choose the right outwear for the weather I am not usually de-frocked, nor even mildly embarrassed. I have my crimson long johns on anyway so there would be no chance for any walker or wood sprite to glimpse my never-to-be-seen-agains.

I sew some more patches for another baby playmat. These playmats have gainfully employed my fingers and my brain for most of lockdown, all the lockdowns, and it is my greatest pleasure to assemble the patches, six wide, 8 long, to measure (usually wrongly) the padding and the backing material to fit, in theory, and thence to sit before my trusty and uncomplaining sewing machine who will chatter away as she transforms the parts into a whole. My stitching is always wonky chops and the machine will growl at corners where the padding is likely to bunch somewhat. But, generally speaking, we succeed and the completed mat, jaunty with unicorns, daisies, stripes, dots and fairies in blues, greens, pinks, reds and yellows is a treat to the eyes. Then I wash the quilt/playmat, dry and iron it. I fashion a cloth bag with drawstring and the gift is complete. Now I must needs locate a baby. This could get me into trouble if I pick the wrong words. It isn’t, I explain, as I sense or see hesitation, that I want a baby, nor to steal someone else’s, no, no, not at all. It can take a few minutes to reassure. Fortunately there seem to be plenty of babies due in Feb, March, April, May and June, and I am ready for each one.

I listen to a TED talk on vulnerability. I love these talks and this one by Brene Brown is excellent. I have learned as I pad slowly away from bereavement that grief can come in disguise. I am not crying after all. My pillow is not soaked every night and I don’t see Himself in ghostly form along corridors nor hear his voice. I am not sentimental about the things he liked or kept about his person. I feel no nostalgia, no sharp of pain as a letter arrives addressed to him. So you are not grieving you weirdo? Ah, not quite true. There are things I am more aware of now such as fear of being able to cope alone, of lonely times, boredom and a sense of loss; a where am I going sort of awareness. I reply to How Are You with I’m Doing Well. And I am. I have no intention of describing the terrain in which I now find myself, lost upon hundreds of miles of wasteland, sky-tipping mountains, glacial tundra, burning desert, cold dark streets in the wrong part of town at 3 am mid-winter. All of these apply and more, but none of them all of the time. They are just glimpses, coming suddenly from behind or meeting me head on in a doorway. This is normal, I tell myself. You are on the way to somewhere you have never been, never seen before. How could you possibly know either the way or what the destination will look like? There is no brochure for this, no pretty pictures. You have to trust and to keep going, keep frocking up, keep laughing, keep believing, learning, questing. Be curious, eat and sleep well, read good books, listen to music, that sort of thing. Be Vulnerable, for vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage. Thank you Brene Brown for that firework of wisdom.

It has fair lit up my sky this day.

Island Blog – Perception and a Blackbird

I sit in the darkling. Clouds are gathering like a people to church, some big and full of themselves, others following shred-like but I have no doubt they will puff themselves up in followance this night for there is rain forecast.

I watch the wintering geese fly in, fly in chatter and in synergy with the leader and with the nightfall. For me they fly right to left. I see the home-lights across the sea-loch, all warm and welcoming, a pipe of smoke from their chimneys. They are warm. They are cooking, chatting, cajoling and considering each other over there, a big swim away. And, they see the geese fly from left to right.

It thinks me beyond geese and tidal flow. It thinks me of how we see things, any things, all things. If geese can fly from right to left for some and left to right for others then what complexity lies in other of our seeings? Ah, it must be manifold. I can see this and you can see this, but you see that, not this. My perception of any one thing may well not be yours. I would like to be able to allow yours and mine and to consider neither one as an absolute, even as I am certain of my right to left of things.

As we converse, you and I, on matters from how to fix this or clean that, on the rights and wrongs of raising children, on the clarity of our shared memories, we move along different paths. What astonished you about something that happened meant nothing much to me and vice versa. We find it at best bothersome and our minds work like dingbats to convince the other of import and impact. But I still see nothing to upset me. Now why is that? Well, if we agree that my experience, my baggage, my history all come to bear on any given subject, as do yours, then we must also agree on a division of paths. We can both see the situation, yes. We can both recall to a degree what happened back then, yes, but where I see right to left, you see left to right and that is simply that.

How long a life do we need in order to come to such an acceptance? I am fed up of learning things like this. I wonder why it is we don’t finally arrive in that lovely place of complete understanding. I thought I completely understood years ago and yet here I am with my feathers ruffled and my heart beating too fast and my good manners thoroughly challenged as I watch your mouth insist on left to right. Although I write this with no actual cause, it is something I have observed recently between others and it intrigues me. To move freely and happily along an individual path of life, it is necessary to merely observe each other without dishing out labels, however silently. We can all learn from each other at every meeting if we decide not to judge. Every living soul has history, baggage and opinions, either learned or personally constructed, based on their experience of what worked and still works for them.

On returning earlier from slathering honey on young fruit trees, ring-barked by hungry rabbits, of which we have the lion’s share and adding a wrap of hessian to simulate new bark that will allow water to be drawn up the damaged trunks once again, I find a male blackbird flipping and floundering on the track. I gather him to me and feel the delicate softness of his feathers as I calm his wings. Is one broken, I wondered? His leg? Was he hit by a car or attacked by a predator and dropped? No, not that. The predators here are accurate as mathematics and there is no evidence of talon damage. I put him in a box in the garage to calm down. An hour later I return to give him water or seed or to find him dead. He wants none of it and is bouncing up in attempt to fly beyond the mesh that holds him down. I push in my hand and gently bring him out. Shall we see if you can fly? I ask him. He turns his head and looks at me through ebony eyes, then turns back to the great wide open. I lower him to the ground and to my delight he lifts and flies, a bit wonky-chops at first and then up up and away over the fence and into the sky. I watch him until he is a black dot in the blue.

Fly! Fly! I call out but he doesn’t look back. His path is his path as mine is my own. We come together and then we part and as we do, we are changed, just as we are changed after a human encounter. As I held that bird, I noticed his soft feathers, the majesty of nature in that trembling body, the perfection of design.

We can see each other that way too, if we so choose.

Island Blog – Funambulist v Fatalist

I like a challenge which is just as well considering recent events. Although I, like everyone else, can plummet the depths of fear and confoundment, I can also rise quick quick once I spot myself down there in the dumps, all sog and sniffle. Get back up here you daft woman and check out the light. Look how much there is! Down there is dark and cantankerous and, besides, you are beginning to dissolve. I can see that from here.

I yank myself back up because there is something rather embarrassing about being the centre of such attention. She, the upper me, could sit there all day. She could drop rocks or eggs or derisive comments and I could not stop her, nor defend myself against her as she works hand in hand with gravity. I am, after all, stuck in the middle with clowns to the left of me and jokers to the right, a portrait of me I would rather not see on Facebook. Once back inside the light, I look down. Why did I ever think being soggily there would help? I know not but I did not consciously lower myself down. It took weeks, months in truth and I hardly knew I was becoming slippage. Inch by slimy inch I got used to the darkling, found it pleasantly concealing even, so that, by the time I was rock bottom, it felt like protection. I could hide, did hide and then She found me as I knew she would eventually. I guess she missed me.

It is over 5 months since my lord and master went underground; 3 or so weeks since the rather dimwitted abusive caller was pounced upon by the Malevolence Police and a few days since the Breast Clinic journey. It feels like I am free now, no longer a fatalist, and back in the light, not one I have seen before. It has changed, shifted beyond the old way of being and I look around me in awe. Having followed Himself’s light for centuries, I am now presented with own. What will I do with it? How will I use it, cherish it, work with it? Well, I don’t know just yet but what I do know is that, for now, for a while perhaps, I will employ my inner Alice and walk in curiosity, wide-eyed and open-hearted. How strange life is. We lose someone and feel horribly alone with our fears and doubts, with the who-the-hec-am-I-now thingy. Hesitation, the inability to stop monkey-mind chatter, frustration, anger and the quieting of natural laughter and joy. The dumps, in other words. It must be, I tell myself, because such a massive shift in my tectonic plates is bound to destroy before it heals in fresh alignment.

I balance on a new wire and I must keep that balance for I do not want to fall. Watching a tightrope walker is almost impossible for me unless I am behind about 10 cushions and with my hands covering my face. Falling seems inevitable. Hundreds of feet above the ground and not a wing in sight. How can anyone think of this as fun and, yet, fun is the beginning of the word. Fun. Ambulist. A fun walker? Ok, I will accept that. Although I am not and never will be a funambulist in the full meaning of the word, I like it, like speaking it out, like the fact that it is the opposite of fatalist. I believe that every single move of my life, however domestic and ordinary, is under my control; not what happens but how I respond to what happens. Everyone will meet tragedy and disaster, will slump with despair and loss of hope, will fight against the inevitability of a mind-blowing change. It is natural, understandable, acceptable and many other ables for we are soft warm loving human beings who resist mind-blowing changes in the main, who long for what we once had, not because it was comfortable but because we knew it so well.

Now we are required to walk in a new light, one we don’t yet understand; one we have never handled before, nor worked with, unsure, unsteady and hundreds of feet above the ground so well travelled by our beforefeet. Now we are funambulists and once we have found our own balance we will climb back down to the goodly earth with a confident step, our caps tilted, our backs straight and our wide eyes open to whatever this new life has in store.

Island Blog – All About Henry

I awaken into a beautiful crisp morning, all blue sky and Wolf Moon shining enough light to afford me a greenish wander from kitchen door to kettle. Barefoot, I encounter what I already knew was there, even if I have been keeping my eyes above floor level for a few days. Dust. Bits of dropped food. Fluff. Well Dammit, I mutter. I will need to take action today. Knowing, as I do, my excellent ability to distract myself from housework, I decide to add another dull task as a sort of punishment. The bathroom needs cleaning. These days I can ignore the bathroom-needing-cleaning thingy for days. When Himself was still above ground, it needed cleaning daily and I accepted the work as a part of my morning routine without question. Even before that I would clean it just in case the Bathroom Police dropped in to check. But, now there is no Himself and absolutely no chance of anyone dropping in, let alone the BP, I have grown indolent and Henry mutters away to himself in the dark of the cupboard below stairs. He is bored, I know it, but I also know that precisely because I have neglected him, he will take full advantage of today’s outing for he is mischievous and resourceful.

I can hear him now, as if he is reading my thoughts, or maybe I spoke out loud. He has perfect hearing and I know this as he knows I know this. I move towards the door and open it a glimpse. I hear rustling. It could be him or it might be a scuttle of mice who have enjoyed a long period of quiet, undisturbed. Hallo Henry, I say, my moon face peering into the darkness. Are you where I left you or have you relocated? Are you hiding? I know he is shy. My hands find him and I begin to tell him where we will work this morning. He grins. It’s quite an area of carpet I plan to let him loose upon and he is full of anticipation.

First we climb the stairs and I thank him for being light. My previous carpet sucker, a very expensive Miele, weighed a flipping ton and refused to recover on stair work after I pulled too hard on her trunk, thus sending her into a series of backflips thus landing her, most undignifiedly, on her back, her belly exposed to the world. At that point I recall sitting down for a think. Perhaps, I thought, I should buy myself a male hoover this time and one that weighs less than an SUV, one with a very long and hand-winding flex, no electric one that almost but not quite draws in the cable, one with bags I can bin instead of having to wash out the catacomb of Miss Miele every time in order to get rid of the smell and the bits.

When I first met Henry, I thought everything would now be easy and un-smelly. I was wrong on the second count. It was so depressing because now I had no chance of washing out the innards. I was hardly going to bin a bag after every hoovering session after all. Once I had risen from my depression, I decided to seek some fragrant oil, one that could be dripped onto the filter, and one that just might do the trick. It did. But for Henry’s shyness there seems to be no cure. He snags in every doorway. I encourage, wheedle, soothe, beg even, but nothing overcomes this unfortunate trait. I try empathetic questions. Is it because you are embarrassed to be cleaning? Is this a Macho Man thing? Are you afraid the Bathroom Police are in the next room just waiting to laugh at you, to mock and deride? To say, This is Women’s Work, in that idiot man sort of way? Henry just grins and keeps schtum.

In the bathroom, quite alone with me, Henry sucks bravely, intent on his work. I wheech off the brush and point the nozzle at the corners and the edges. We move behind and under everything that isn’t stuck down and I feel quite jaunty at the difference we are making. Hoover/Woman synergy, a sort of bond between us and I turn to tell him so. My mistake. Never trust the smile of a man who says nothing, for there is a deal of control planning going on behind that face. In that moment of complacence Henry sucks up a cleaning sponge and a cloth. Just like that, straight into his belly, no chewing. Henry! I admonish, and here he turns to the skirt of my frock. It takes me a few seconds to reclaim myself even if I do realise there is no chance said frock would disappear in the same way up that proboscis, affixed as it is to other parts of my body which would need surgical removal in order to allow such a snatch. After I have a word with him about respect for a co-worker, the engine silenced, we continue across the landing and down the stairs. He only backflips once and I right him with abject apology. Now we are cruising and, apart from two further attempts to pull my frock off, eliciting a raised eyebrow from me, we lift the dirt from all floors, up and down.

I thank him and return him to the mice and the dark. The house smells lovely and I tell him so. I thank him for his help and say magnanimously, as an afterthought, that he can keep the cloth and the cleaning sponge. As I close the door, I can hear him chuckle.

Island Blog – This and That

Sitting here, this evening, I reflect on the past couple of days, the content, or imagined content of which halted my footsteps for many days before. I had found a breast lump. Bad timing even for a positive woman, fettered as I felt by my long isolation from the world ‘out there’. In fact, I haven’t been out there for over a year now, cocooned within a leather protective casing of caring for a very vulnerable old dude. It suited me, if I am honest, the not going out there thingy. I am, by nature, happy being isolated, solitary, independent with more work required, individual, content with my own company. I have barely been to the local shop since last March and my everything is delivered either by the post or by hand to my door. One could get lazy inside this. I know that.

Anyway, there I was facing a ferry trip, masked like a bandit, humphing a rucksack of overnight-ness and stringing a small Poppy dog alongside. How will she behave? Will she pee on the ferry carpet? (she never would) Will I find a close encounter too close? Will my house fall down whilst I’m away; will that old tree fall on the garage roof; will floods come and wash my home away; did I turn off the lights, lock the doors? All that hoo-ha. Never mind what you call it and how you chortle, it is still real, still clusters beneath a person’s panic button all ready to burst forth once pushed, especially, and I have clocked this, when that person has been cocooned for so many months, apart from the rush and bustle of the out-there world. After all, it could be unrecognisable to me. People could be walking around in pandemic suits for all I know, slow stepping, avoiding each other by miles and breathing stored air in order to avoid breathing in the real stuff, the air that is ever changing, morphing, floating over oceans and over lands and continents with all sorts of names, full of all sorts of stories and holding within its gasp a potential lethal. Shopping bags might be obsolete. Maybe the out there folk have to pull on their pandemic suits for a shopping trip that can only be as successful as the hold of their arms.

So, off I go. Two sons, two strong men, two young men, two sons, gather me up and the rucksack and the non-peeing-on-ferry-carpets dog and we head onto the mainland. The ferry is all masks and the two metre rule. Good for Scotland, I remember whispering to myself, thus muffing up my glasses and rendering me momentarily blind. Scotland is getting this right. I work out how to talk to myself by holding my fingers over my nose and breathing down, like a puff. Now I can see. But, there is nobody. There are 3 passengers on this massive ship capable of carrying many hundreds. I have been aboard with those many hundreds and watched them, the families, the dogs, the way the children burst upstairs to see, to see from the ‘flight’ deck, or the way the exhausted parents find their way to the outer deck to drink in the astonishing beauty of the passing hills and their sharp defines as the sky comes down and says Stop Right There. This time the ferry is empty, like a ghost ship. I feel a bit foolish behind my puffing blue spectacle-clouding mask, but nobody is laughing at me. I arrive on the mainland and off-loading is barely that. Three people don’t take much off-loading.

I am driven the almost 3 hours the the hospital the following morning through mizzle and cloud. He knows what he is doing, strong, calm, googled. He will mind the non-peeing dog. Go Mum. I follow the signs to Clinic 3, very clearly marked. There is almost nobody here either. Nurses, come and go, masked and chirpy, friendly, welcoming. I burst into a waiting room. The chairs are wide apart, tape markings on the floor. There are a few other women waiting, nervous, as we all are. One jiggles her foot, one taps her fingers on her knee, another is busy on her phone. They guide me to Reception and I clock in from behind a big barrier. I have to repeat my name as she is behind bullet proof glass and this big barrier and I am thankful she is of good hearing. I take my seat. We are all quiet beyond the jiggling. Someone opens the doors to the almost outside, for air flow and we have no shared body warmth to soften the push of cold air over bare ankles, old skin and the generally accepted loathing of draughts. We hold. For an hour, for more. Every name called by one of the bright buttoned nurses is one we wish we owned. The relief of being named, of our own name being called into touch is a whole body/mind thing. If that name belongs to another, we wish them well from behind our masks and our fear. We don’t need to ask what these women are here for. We know. We feel their tension as we feel our own.

First the doctor, then the mammogram. Not one of us will avoid this. Some of us know it well and for others it’s a first. There are young women here, skinny teenagers and I wonder of their stories. Some partners or mothers try to be here, but a very kindly nurse tells them Only Patients Here, I’m Sorry. I can feel the bereft as they unwillingly leave. Text me, they say, or mime. The woman remains, legs crossed, jiggling, telling herself to be strong, saying I can do this, I am not afraid, and then spending the next hour working on convincing herself of that.

Mammogram. I am an old hand at this. I cast a backward glance at the young woman who smiled at me, who connected. Your turn soon my lovely girl, I say from my eyes. The process moves on. The nurses at every stop and turn, every confusion, every arrival are more than magnificent. They are Grace and Humour. We are undignified to say the least within this place. How trained they are. How emotionally intelligent they are meeting our diminished but ferociously determined woman strength as they strip our clothing and pull across the rather attractive curtain, through which our boots poke. So, here we are, unclothed and yet booted, as if we just know we can do this, whatever comes of the pummelling and the indignity.

For me it was a lucky escape. I have the all clear. There is nothing to report. I wonder of the rest. I can see their anxious faces now, still, and will for a while. Their Glasgow humour is remarkable. These are women who do not live as I do; who do not have it easy; who live lives I will never experience. And, yet, within that chilly blast, that fear, that doubt and worry, they could banter and laugh and pick up the nurse’s joke and take it on and in doing that I learn from them. They have known tough, and may yet know it again, as I never have.

As I left them behind, still waiting, their eyes asked me. I smiled an ok. They were happy for me. What they face right now, I cannot know. But, we met in that place. I came home to warmth and safety and an all -clear.

Did they?

Island Blog – This Journey

I will agree that these lockdowns have given us time to reflect. It has also given us fear and a stuttering of easy movement. Any journey holds both. Even going to the local shop on a little island. Imaginary demons lurk on every door handle and in every breathy encounter. Even from behind a mask we are cautious of guffaws so we try not to be funny, even if being funny is our absolute thing. For those of us who love to cheer others no matter what, our vocal chords are compromised if not fettered, our lungs on hold. We turn our faces away from other faces we know so well, pushing out a gentle Good Morning with as little puff as we can, for we must not forget the responsibility we carry. Touching anything is risky. Touching each other, forbidden, even if touching is our absolute thing. It is stultifying at times and we must not give in to imaginary fears. We must keep journeying for we cannot hold back the days any more than we can hold back the virus. Both are invisible.

Other invisible things also keep coming, rolling beneath our feet like thunder. These things can confound. Not now, we say, Not Now! But they do come anyway, bringing birds into bellies, all a-flutter and a-twist. Some of us must go to another place, a hospital, perhaps, for a check up or an essential operation. We must ride the road, traverse the water, open doors, breathe in air that may or may not be healthy and fresh. I think of these folk, compromised, fearful. I hope they have good family support. I wish them the very best outcome and enough courage to push away the fear. These journeys, in ordinary times, were bad enough. Now it must feel like a walk into Dante’s Inferno. I know of some who are back home now and healing well, who have journeyed through the Inferno and are cool again and safe. This is how it can be and this is what to focus on, never mind the flutter and twist of belly birds. It is natural to be afraid at such times. We feel thus as we face the unknown.

My way is to look at the other side of things, the flip side, the arrival and not the departure. When a journey is inevitable, no matter how badly we might wish it away, there is a choice. Look at the fear and feed it, or don’t. Instead look at the smile on your face when it is all behind you, when this journey that looms is already a fading memory. Look at what you can learn as the journey flows beneath you. Notice and reflect and store these observations away for a future think. Precious are these observations, the shared chuckles, the muffle of masked conversation. Look out and up at Nature as she flies by the car window. See how the clouds part and conjoin, how the sun takes a quick peek at you, enough to dazzle. See how quiet are the roads, how the rain spits up from the car ahead, how crimson are the tail lights. Listen to the music coming from the speaker. In other words create a distraction, create many of them. What you allow into your mind is what your mind will develop. It is such a powerful lesson to learn. No matter the journey, no matter the timing, we have a chance to learn something we never imagined was there at all.

Island Blog – Rain, Wolves and Happiness

It rained on all of us this day. Rain brings out the best people and the best in people. It also brings out the worst in them, in us. Black wolf/White wolf analogy. Sometimes we feed Black wolf, sometimes White wolf in response to something or someone, to events or lack of them. Rain after such a spell of stunningly white slippage is, indeed, an event. On the island, as a rule, rain is no such thing. It is just…..well, a ‘thing’, and a thing that is always upon us or drenching us or causing us to hide away and shiver. It leaks through roofs and drips down walls, necks and wood piles in its attempt to reduce us to varying stages of ‘puddle.’ Thus it is yet another reason to find cheerful, to be cheerful. How exhausting all this effort is! According to the uniform teaching on the pursuit of Happiness, we can never rest, for all of the work is done within. Not one single one of us can change what comes at us, after all. And the within of us is fickle and full of expectations. We should be happy and if we are not then it is his fault, or hers, or theirs or the rain. It might be quite marvellous if this contained a shred of truth, giving us strong purchase on an abdication from responsibility, but it does not. Unfortunately. Whatever slants sideways at us in its attempt to fell us is all in our minds. How we respond to that onslaught, whatever it is, will immediately decide our state of happiness. This is truth and, at the same time, a pain in the aspidistra.

This day I shiver. This day I huddle into extra clothing, despite the rise in temperature from -1 to 4 degrees, despite that. This day I wake twirly (too early in Edinburgh Speke) and dark myself all the way up to a boiled egg with ryvita at 0600. I inch through the morning, Oh Blam it’s only 10.30 and it feels like lunchtime. Now I have had enough. I stoke the merry log burner and climb the stairs to read in bed. My book is a fascinator. Madame Tussaud’s story dictated by her and called Little. I had no idea she was so small and so tenacious. Heart high to a small man, and orphaned early, she found her way to happiness through the most dire of circumstances and a deal of rain, not all of it from heaven. And then she left a legacy the whole world has embraced and exhibited. I read awhile as the clouds twist and billow, my window an ever-changing canvas, the light shifting, brightening, flexing, a light show no amount of rain can suppress. It smiles me, encourages me up, up and up again. So I ‘up’ in respectful obedience. I watch wheeling gulls and listen to their cries, their gull-talk. What are they saying, I wonder? The songbirds chatter to each other and warn of danger, walkers, vehicles, sparrow hawks and sudden human movements behind glass. Always alert, always focussed, always driven by the need to survive and to survive well. This might be named Happiness. It might.

Later I walk and blow the rain. Clouds come with me, from bright white puffs to the dip-fingers of grey spit, from purple angry to the slidescape of soft smokey wisps, linear, leaving-the-party sort of clouds. It wisnae me, they are saying as they slide sideways and away from the billows, innocent as baby’s breath. Diamonds adorn the birch branches and I duck to avoid knocking them from their perch, Rose gold on the far hills, sun kissed, a last farewell to the rainday, for the sun did show his face now and again, reticent, shy, or maybe just resting like me with a good book. Ach, do I have to turn up every day to make this race smile for goodness sake? Is that what he is saying?

On my walk, the initial bit of it, I see a friend. I am glad of it. I walk alone every single day after all. And, he might be happy to walk with me. I like him. He is an intelligent, questing young man and our conversations are always immediate, as if neither of us has to ferret about in our pockets for something to say, some pleasantry that may or may not lead beyond the weather, the rain. We agree we are happy to share our walk, although our terriers take a while to stop narking at each other. No, that’s not true. His terrier is no narker. It is my old and deaf border who shouts at everything and everydog. I learn what books he likes to read and he learns my choices. We meet on one and discuss it at length in lively bounce and laughter and develop each other’s fixed opinions into a sort of rain, a sort of rendering. We are not fixed. We are flexible, open, curious, interested. We were happy as we slithered a bit now and then across the ice plains that refuse to reduce or assimilate, and I am lifted. I am lifted not just because he was there and we did share, but because he touched the me in me, that core intelligence that oft feels like moving clouds, blame and rain. My meeting with him was random.

Or was it?