Island Blog 197 The Bones of Conversation


If it was easy, life would be a breeze.  But it is far from easy.  There is no greater maw to swallow men and women, countries, races, creeds, than that which requires us to converse with each other.  Lifetimes have been lived avoiding certain subjects, people, situations, all in the name of personal peace.  We avoid those who challenge our beliefs, our standards, our morals and ethics for fear of taint. We choose our friends carefully as if we were born to such a luxury.  It is our right, after all, in this free country, is it not?

I have learned over the years that whatever I madly, frantically, try to avoid follows me like a shadow.  I don’t want to be challenged after all.  I want a simple easy life, and yet that is not what I was offered.  Those who would challenge me don’t have murder on their minds.  I know this now, but my brain is often a fool.  Because I feel uncomfortable in a challenging situation, I avoid any further discourse.  I leave the space we share for the safety of solitude.  But, in doing so, I am learning nothing. This other person has the words, the phrasing, the depth of knowledge on our shared subject and I have run out of all of those.  I must counter his or her opinion.  The fact that I now cannot, is alarming me horribly and I take this challenge as a personal wounding.  I leave the situation hot and flushed, cross and embarassed and I mentally plan safe ground in future encounters, or no ground at all.

But, I am missing something here.  I love a good discussion.  It’s just the subject matter that must be chosen carefully.  No politics, religion or whatever the other one is.  What a shame!  Do I avoid these subjects just because he or she is of a conflicting opinion?  I believe in God, but he doesn’t.  So?  Are we both out to convert the other; could we not just converse, share our thoughts and beliefs without fear of taint? I don’t mind if he doesn’t believe in God, and he doesn’t mind if I do.  What we both mind is that our conversation will elevate to bullying, to all those clever words barracking our ears, the feeling of being trapped and powerless before such empassioned twaddle, for that is what it is most of the time.  Our beliefs do define us to a degree, but is nobody allowed to rethink, to develop old ways of thinking into a new and beautiful synergy?

I have watched people fall out with each other over a mere difference of opinion.  The danger of this is that each returns home to do two things.  One is to re-establish what they already believed in and the second is to build a false image of the other.  In short, it is easy for conversation to collapse into a fight, albeit a verbal one but no less aggressive than had one punched the other in the face.  Over a cake?  Yes, it was, over a cake.  10 years of cold shoulder because the one who didn’t win the prize had noticed a flaw in the winner’s Madeira and said so.  Loudly.

We can laugh, but we all do it.  Perhaps not over a cake, but a message perhaps, a rumour, those times we say something we can’t back up with evidence, and are accurately challenged.  What if we rid ourselves of that fear, those walls of protection we build around our little lives/beliefs/principles/morals?  What if we embraced another’s right to their beliefs without being scared we will be taken over?  What if we just learned to enjoy the sharing of space and words with another precious human being?  Instead of suspicion, we could befriend and learn.  We could ask and listen.  We could even not respond with our own fixed beliefs.

When a life is done, all that remains is what it meant to others. The impact it made, the legacy it leaves behind.  That, and a few bones.


Island Blog 196 Keep Talking


The morning is crisp and peaceful, a slight frost holding to the grasses, making them look a bit startled.  Nothing moves but the smokey grey clouds in a pink peppercorn sky.  I walk out to join the dawn as a soft breeze begins to ruffle the sea-loch and a noisy line of curlews pipe in the new day.

I fill the bird feeders.  For a few days now I have heard the change in bird song.  There is a spring in their voices now, and feeding time is a mad dash of grab and scuttle as male blackbirds fight for their dames and little coal tits play a romantic hide and seek among the the little trees, ghost bare for now.  I know it immediately, when the song shifts from winter minimalism to a spring aria, and it smiles me.  There are snowdrops flowering, a bonkers daffodil or two in a sheltered spot, crocuses and even primroses, butter yellow jewels along the old drystone wall.

I get to thinking about language and communication.  It seems effortless between bird species, the pecking order clear, submission and deference, fight or flight.  Not so with humans.  How someone says something often overrides and negates the initial issue as a discussion declines into a battle of wills.  Semantics cause endless strife, the understanding of a word, what it means to each individual, what its root source is in their own past, how it filled their young ears.  I remember calling my much younger husband a slob once.  To me it meant he was being lazy when I was rushing about doing all the domestic chores.  To him it meant something very different, a label he refused to wear, pertaining, in his mind, to a useless lummox who hung around street corners pinching handbags and spitting and being rude to old ladies.   He was upset for some days after.

As we learn to live with dementia, he and I, language and sentence delivery require a greater consideration than before.  It is a test of the powers of adaptation, and a welcome one, for it has taught me much about being careless with word usage and timing.  In my own birth family, we learned from our mum how to outdo each other with sarcasm and sharp wit.  There is no place for that now, and what I have found is that I am far more respectful than ever before, quicker to apologise for being rude or dismissive, humbler. I wish I had learned this sooner, for it sits well with me, being respectful and kind and patient instead of flashing my talons in defence of my small corner. It all seems so silly now, with hindsight, such a waste of time and energy.

It is true, because I know it from experience, that when I need to adapt my language and behaviour because someone else has changed their song, or it has been changed for them, I find myself at peace.  The rythym of the day is a soft beat, soothing and calming, sort of calypso, my favourite.

All we have to do is listen for a change in someone’s song, and find the harmony.

Island Blog 195 Ordinary Days


I love ordinary days, days when I have nothing in the diary and nowhere I have to be.  As I wake, I savour the feeling of ordinariness.  I dress and send up my thanks to God for another new morning.  Coffee and a whizz pop (not what you think) made with spinach leaves, rocket, ginger, soft fruit, goji berries and apple is a green delight that I just know sets me up for the day.  There is a newly delivered bag of locally sourced forestry firewood to unload, so I lift the barrow from the back to the front and don my splinter-defence gloves.  I love such physical work and the regularity of such work strengthens and empowers me.  After all, I can do anything, for I am Woman.

Prior to the unload I fill up the bird feeders with nuts and fat balls and seed for the birds that have been lining my fence awhile now, since first light, in fact, chirruping their encouragement with increasing volume and impatience.  They depend on me and my fat balls etc, and if I am away, I feel guilty.  It takes them a day or two to return after I’ve abandoned them to Winter’s meagre pickings.  This morning I watch a goldfinch alight on the peanuts.  I see his rainbow colours flash as he pecks at his breakfast, seeing off any cheeky tits with a few swear words.  I learn that he is higher than they in the pecking order, for they only try to move in once, dashing back to the wire, like reprimanded children, to wait their turn.  There is a feeder full of nijer seed, but the goldfinch hasn’t found that yet.  I hope he will, and that he will bring his friends along for the joy of a goldfinch is something to lift a heart every single time.  I make a note to clean the feeders for the diseases old wet seed can develop is fatal to our garden birds.

Gulls wheel over the sea-loch in the fine smoky rain, calling to each other, talking of fish and tides, freedom and flight.  Although I don’t speak ‘gull’ my imagination can tell me anything I want it too, and it is here, in my imagination that most adventures are born.  I can make an adventure of any situation and I always could.  There are some grounded folk who believe that what you can explain is the real truth, but I disagree with them, although I don’t refute their knowledge of the facts, but, more, find  it limiting.  Einstein believed that the imagination is of more value than the proven fact and if he believed that, with all his scientific brilliance, then so can I, little old me, small but dangerous, living my ordinary days out on the island.

I take my time to light the woodburner, watching the flames catch the spindly kindling.  I blow the dust off the mantel and the dresser, watch the motes catch and reflect a flash of light from the fabulous and subtle Christmas lights I decided not to lock away for the mice to chew.  I have no idea what time it is and I don’t want to know.  My stomach will tell me when lunch is required, or if I need more water to drink.  We all need more water to drink and most of us ignore that sound piece of advice, choosing coffee and tea instead whilst our poor minds and bodies quietly and politely dehydrate.  I consider the small list of tasks I must complete this day and my eyes lift to a card I received from a friend.  Believe in Magic, it reads, and I place it in full view, in between Sisi the colourful beaded giraffe from Africa and the drip bucket for the leaking ceiling.  Another card-to-keep, from my sister, placed beside the other reads thus:- ‘Don’t you hear it? she asked and I shook my head, no, and then suddenly she started to dance and suddenly there was music everywhere and it went on for a very long time.’

I consider whether or not to make a seafood risotto or some soup, or neither.  This is how a day without deadlines can be with choices to do or to do not, a day to dance or to read or to sit and watch the birds, to count the raindrops, to hear the gulls talk, to open my heart and my mind and to absorb it all, this life, this earth, and to be oh so very very thankful that I am here, that I am me, that I can be whoever I want to be.  I have known deadlines and tension, pain and sadness, sickness and death.  This is what a life is all about.  Nobody has an easy one.

There is magic in ordinary days and in ordinary things, if we choose to seek it out.

Island Blog 194 Returns


January is all about returns.  We return to our homes after the Christmas celebrations.  Children return to school, adults to work.  The Christmas tree is returned to the ground, whence it came, and the bells and baubles are returned to the big box, which, in turn, is returned to the cupboard under the stairs, for the mice to enjoy through the long cold winter months.  It’s quite fun to discover half a fairy or a guddle of tinself that once was a long unbroken line of shimmering nonsense.  How a mouse can possibly enjoy shimmering nonsense is beyond me.  Must be one hec of a chewing job.

Amazon and other gift companies will probably define their January by the number of returns they receive.  The wrong trousers, the faulty toys, a dress size too small, or, joy of joys, a size too big. Slowly and gradually we begin to rid our lives of packaging and cards, of old bones and stale buns, and most of us go further.  We decide to tidy up our lives, beginning, perhaps, by emptying our tee shirt drawer onto the floor for sorting.  If you are like me you only ever access the favourites anyway, the upper layer of lycra/cotton mix, the strappy ones that come down over my bum and stay there.  The ones that ride up or gape in the wrong place or strangle me by the armpits, all are left in the dark to grow smelly from lack of use.  But I keep keeping them just in case.  In case of what?  In case I suddenly grow gappy in the same place, or my armpits shift up a notch, or my bum lifts higher?  Fat chance is the truth, but still I hold onto them.

What if there’s an apocalypse?  Well, if Trump has his way, there just might be.  Nonetheless I doubt any shape of tee-shirt would save me.  No, what I must do is return them to the tee-shirt holding place – in other words, the charity shop on the island, having first washed the smell out first, of course. I think I need 45 of them when in fact I need 2 or 3.  What is this fear of letting go?  It isn’t just about tee shirts either, and when I consider the plight of my fellow women across the world, I am ashamed.

As I walk out into the wild, picking my moment as the last hail gale moves on to blast another’s afternoon, and with 20 minutes before the next one gathers in the north, I think on the movement of everything.  Everything in Nature moves on, moves out, returns another day.  This circular pattern means that this cold wind that tips my wheelie over and coats the ground with a wet white carpet of crunch carries on its wings, the breath of the Northern Folk.  I look behind me as it passes by as if I might see my own breath joining theirs.  What dreams, what stories, what whispers just touched me briefly, and moved on?  Can I smell the high mountains, the pine trees, the ice rivers swollen with snowmelt and rain?

When the wind changes direction, coming from warmer climes, the stories change, the pictures in my head.  Tides ebb and flow, the moon waxes and wanes, and all is a circle, many circles, constantly  moving, turning, returning.  Sometimes when I make contact with a new person and feel, as she does, that we know each other very well, I consider the circle of life, the winds that blow between us, around us, through us, and the stories we hear that sound like our own.  I know you although we have never before met.

Or did we?

Clearing out tee shirt drawers and cupboards and garages and so on might seem like a chore, like a very small task but in truth it symbolises the willingness to lay myself open to something new.  Creating room is my job.  As is paring down my material grabbiness and the clutter of centuries.  What we need is never what we have around us.  What we need is shelter, food, friendship and God, or, if you prefer, spirtual openness, a vulnerable heart and ears to hear another man’s story all the way through to the end.

Island Blog 193 To be content



It is one glorious morning out there. The sealoch is rippled but only just, the surface like oil turning the water sultry and giving me back blurry trees.  Sunlight lays across the hills bringing the dying grasses into relief, long lines of 9 carat gold.  A flurry of white birds, too fast in flight to identify, moves across a hillside, glorious in its dying. A buzzard sits on a fence post, close enough for me to study that huge beak, the bright eyes watching every move, the speckled tail feathers.   A heron squawks as it follows the tide, its flight slow and langorous, huge wings, a pterodactyl.  A woman walks her dog past my window, deep in thought.  What day does she have in mind I wonder, or is it the day that has her in mind?

As the season changes, so do we, if we take the time to engage with it.  Autumn is the favourite of many, me included, although I could be challenged on that once the long cold months that follow like bridesmaids in her wake knock her on the head and take over.  For now,  I love to walk among conkers and acorns, to consider the creatures preparing for hibernation like my friend Mel who doesn’t do ‘cold’ and who has her house set at boiling point from now till May.  I tell her she’ll be broke by 60 if she thinks that way now and I am tempted to tell her to put on another jumper, but resist for fear of sounding like my mother. Besides, I’m not wild about cold either.  I don’t mind it out there, but I do mind it in here.

Cold is a verb I think, much like Happy.  The words we employ as states of being are often states of doing.  I appreciate that the grammer buffs will be itching to correct me, but just indulge me for a minute or two.  When I feel cold, I have choices, whether the cold is outside of me or deep within.  If I don’t want to be cold I have choices – yes, another jumper is a good start.  A better idea is to plan a walk – what now?  yes now.  Why not now?  It doesn’t have to be a 10k hike, but simply a stepping out into the day, walking into a bit of it, feeling it, watching it, becoming a part of it. I will find I am not only able to create warmth inside and out, but because of that involvement with something much greater than me, I will also be changing my mind.  I will see something that makes me smile, or I will find an answer to a problem.  I have no idea how it happens but it does.  If I stay here shivering, nothing changes and no answers come to me.  I am likely to consider turning up the heating which leads to concerns about fuel bills, or to feel disgust at the uninteresting contents of my jumper drawer, leading to Grumbledom where everyone is always cold.

Being happy is also a doing thing.  If I wait for something magical to happen I will die in the waiting.  Not because nothing magical happens but because I am too busy not engaging with my life to notice when something does, and those somethings are always the ‘little’ things, the moments, the encounters, the diving into whatever my life currently is and to set about ferretting for the acorns or the conkers shiny-hiding beneath a carpet of gold.

I am not cold and I am happy but not because life has given me an easy ride.  Life doesn’t give anyone that.  In fact, the more challenges life throws at a person, the more content she can find herself becoming.  Inside a secure and well planned life there may appear little need to seek anything much beyond the gratification of the next appetite.  Everything is wonderful, safe, sorted.  If, no, when that life is tipped or toppled a girl is thrown with it and will find herself showing her underpants for a while, until, that is, she straightens herself, not her life.  Only then will she seek the small things.  The big things (she thinks) are beyond her control now.  But in noticing the small things, the apparently small things, those small things that have stood the test of thousands of years, she will find them a whole lot bigger than she ever thought.  To laugh out loud at a furious argument between two male sparrows, or to gasp and to really feel that gasp as a robin grabs a butterfly for lunch is to be engaged with life at its deepest level.  It also makes mockery of the accumulation of dust on mahogany surfaces or the blobs of sheep poo on the beige carpet (who on EARTH ever chooses beige?) or the fact that yes we have no bananas because I forgot to buy them.

In short….and I have been long in saying this……when a day dawns it is I who have it in mind and not the other way around.  I may not be able to control what happens within it, but I sure can control how I respond.


Island Blog 192 Con Fusion



The sun is low in the evening sky.  Just above my horizon of hills, it crowds my eyes, bright like gold.  I hear the changewind of autumn sing through the telephone wires.  The trees shimmy like dancers, rattling their castinets of dry leaves.  Gold and red all around if I look quick, and if I don’t they become a carpet at my tomorrow feet. I feel the wild.  Do you feel it? It’s quite inconvenient really, for supper is due at 6 and I am late all because a feeling took over from the boiling tatties.

I think on my children, all adults now, parents and friends of those I may never meet.  In a long life, there are so many memories, so many times of change and change and more change.  Of adaptation, of quick thinking, of loss and of failure, of high rise buns and success, of pets and walks and talks and laughter.  I don’t remember it all, but at times, I remember something and that something smiles me or gasps me and I know I am still alive because I know I feel, even if those feelings upset earthly plans, which they generally do.

Emotions come to us unbidden, unsought and they can make things awkward.  I might suddenly want to pull over and stop to look at the way the sunlight diamonds the waves, and yet my companion is in a hurry to catch a deadline.  Although I hesitate, I don’t stop, and as I continue along the road I am left wondering if that sight was something worthy of a deeper look and because I didn’t honour it, is now lost.  Or did I leave it behind for less hurrying folk to marvel at, and, if I did, is that good?  I am scurrying like a mouse for a deadline I might not care a toss about, a bit of cheese for someone else, and now I have emotional indigestion.  It has ever been a quandary.

In a discussion that pits emotion against logic, we can be at eternal odds, for the twain shall never meet.  Yes this is the sensible choice considering the worldly demands of the day, but I what I feel is at odds with that choice.  I feel sad, for example.  The natural return for that ball over the net is the question ‘why?’  I have yet to be able to answer that one for I honestly do not know.  I am just sad.  If I am happy, nobody asks why.  When I apply logic to my own emotions they don’t like it.  They shuffle about awkwardly inside me, mixing themselves up so I don’t know who is where.  Searching for a reason is as pointless as trying to bale out the ocean with a teacup.  I might venture a response if the questioner is persistent enough with their ‘whys’.  I feel sad because……this is an anniversary of a sad thing.  The response to that is rooted in logic and comes thus……But that was a year ago!  You need to move on, smell the roses, bla bla bla!  I nod.  T’is true after all but those facts do not change my feeling one jot.  In fact, more arise in response to the logic which is a response to the emotion and suddenly a new beast is born, one with bared teeth and claws out.  All I said was I feel sad.

Or…..I am quiet and thoughtful, in my own world, trying once again to sort out the dichotemy between what I feel and what is available to me.  Once again, the spirit world arguing with the ‘real’ world.  I wonder which is real.  For me, being quiet and thoughtful does not beg the question ‘what is wrong with you?’ and yet, it comes.  Trying to explain it, the feelings I am feeling, in carefully thought through answers always ties my legs in knots.  The truth is nothing is wrong but that question in my ears.  If you ask a man what is wrong, even though chances are you already know, he will answer with facts.  If I ask him how he feels about the situation he finds himself in he will invariably panic and dive off to make a coffee or to assemble a carefully worded email.  He is unlikely to do more with my question than indicate to me that it has astonished him.  What do feelings have to do with the problem?

I wonder how many situations morph intod new beasts just because one counters another’s feelings with logic.  We used to call it ‘fixing’ back in the day.  Please don’t fix me.  But what does a completely logical person do or say when confronted with the potential mess of an emotion, ‘innapropriately’ expressed, one that nobody can explain?  I can quite see the dilemma.  Perhaps life is supposed to be a dilemma, a puzzle, one that will always have missing pieces.

Makes me chuckle.


Island Blog 191 Earth, Wind and Fire


You know what? We get gales is what. Something about sticking out so far into the Atlantic. I like sticking out too far so that works for me, although my sweet peas are behaving like windscreen wipers and my pretty garden pots keep falling over. But, bashed and flapped about, petals ripped and stems broken is just life up here, and not just for the flowers. We are survivors, more, celebrators of life. I see it everywhere I go. Women with co-op bags flying like dog’s ears but, like dog’s ears, firmly fixed; mack tails flying, puddles avoided or landed in with a chuckle, tights spattered, hair all over the place. We burst through doors into the sudden calm of a shop looking like we just played a bit part in Back to the Future, our eyeballs still swirling in our heads and we need to take a minute to centre.

Builders and roofers smile wry smiles as the wind stops play, or the rain, and they make new plans. The lifeboat shoots out in seconds to save someone surprised by the power of the our weather up here. Shops find sandbags and strengthen their seaward doors to cope with the blast. The ferry runs or it doesn’t. The ferry doesn’t mind if it is critical you get to Tesco’s today, nor if your appointment with a specialist has taken months to finally arrive. It doesn’t mind anything much when the gales come beyond the question it may ask itself…..Can I safely dock? If the answer comes back NO then there is no ferry. But we are luckier than other farther-flung islands for we have two ferries and, thus, more options. Some islands could run out of bacon at gale times or midwives or newspapers. Huge international events could happen whilst the island remains unaware. Sky TV could be down, phone lines, anything that might upset event management, like that man who still thought the war was going on long after it had ended.

Life is not easy for anyone, but we have so very much to be thankful for. The community on this island is strong. None of we incomers moved here because we had to. We chose it. Oh, we might find some aspects of life here difficult at times, hard even, awful perhaps, but those of us who love the salt and sweat of island life feel we have come home. Not home as in birth roots but home where our spirits can fly with the birds (backwards in gales). Where we can find something from what appears to be nothing. Where we can relocate our own common sense, apply enterprise, find the smile that says I can do this, even though I have just landed in a puddle, lost my co-op bag to the winds or got myself soaked through because this heavy shower never told the sky it was coming.

In short we will take the weather and find a story inside it. We will put on our waterproofs and go out anyway because the skirling of the wind dance excites us, if it doesn’t blow us clean over. We will burst into shops with a chuckle, our hair electrified our mascara blotched and we will find the laugh, that laugh that loves to laugh, to catch the dance of surprise in other eyes, to know that, whether we like it or not, we all need each other.

We were never supposed to be hermits although I am not knocking hermits for they have oft times come up with some observation of genius; one that floats into the future, prompting one of us to capture the thought and to weave into our own fabric of life. That powerful concept is just right for a time in a life and it can become a bridge over troubled waters or the door into a secret garden. We use it to ease and facilitate our own journey. But most of us live cheek by jowl with others, even others we might rather not sit quite so close to. Life has handed us an opportunity here. How many times have I thought one fixed thing about this person who gets in my face, only to discover something about them that humbles me, something not obvious at first sight. Often I will find a hermit wisdom and the phrase knocks my socks off. Gosh! I say, and Wow! And then I change, not my frock, although I did have to do that one day when, bending over to dig out some bird seed from the barrel, my retro skirts flew right over my head, just as the bin lorry appeared. No, I mean change my mind. It’s easy when you know how, when you allow yourself. Changing a mind is a good thing, even when it proves awkward for those who don’t want to change their own. It takes courage to change your mind about a person because that change requires other changes and we need that courage, and the subsequent and uncomfortable rush of humility, to learn how to live together.

When a new wind blows across the island, causing the trees to dance and frolic, pushing the birds backwards, twisting the sea loch into a hissing turbulence and shredding the flower petals to confetti across the grass, I look out and just know change is coming.

And my feet can feel the fire of it.