Island Blog – Dear Sir

A word. As far as I am concerned, throughout my whole life I have given you respect. that respect is not personally delivered, in that I cannot walk up to your door and hand it over like a present, but I have offered it, nonetheless. As ever, there is no response from you but still I give it. Now why do you think that is, hmmm? My favourite answer is that, although I cannot see you, I have a sneaky feeling you are there and not as a neighbour but as a man in control. Apparently you are everywhere and that is just a tad weird, not to say spooky. No other person I know is everywhere.

But I have issues. In my learnings about you, I have picked up that you only ever want us to be happy, providing we keep off any worldly addictions. Well, there’s an issue for starters. If we weren’t supposed to enjoy tobacco, why did you plant it? if we aren’t allowed any red wine, who stuck all those healthy grapes in the ground, and who worked out how to ferment and trample them barefoot in order to produce liquor? Don’t tell me that wasn’t anything to do with you because I don’t believe it for one minute. I hear that you are the voice within so I tolerate no flapaway excuses from you. And, besides, you are everywhere, remember?

Then there’s the issue of money. How come it is in the hands of the rich and not the poor? I am neither, but I still can wet my metaphorical pants as I watch the month slow to a crawl whilst the bills seem to turn into hares all cantering to the finish. If I am supposed to be happy, why can’t I buy 4 jumpers from H&M just because I am sick to death of the same old same old, all peppered with pills and yawling around me like an overworked sail? You, of course, are not even remotely bothered with the jumper problem. I doubt you wear anything at all being, as you are, an everywhere spirit. Clothes, as you have already set in print, scribed long time ago, are irrelevant, but if you can just imagine we minions stepping out in our birthday suits to do our Tesco shop, just one streetful of us, you might consider doing some serious editing of that particular line. It was okay for you in your flowing robe of linen to float about (above water, if you don’t mind) in temperatures that soared way over the 17 degrees we enjoy here, in a warm summer month. We need clothes and happy clothes, to boot. Clothes nowadays are made with short term in mind. Only the very rich can choose what they want when they want.

There’s another thing. You, apparently, inspired medical science to go bonkers. There is even talk of a replacement head, and I am not saying that’s a bad thing when you consider a person who really needs one. but, honestly, this whole deal of keeping us all alive until we are almost petrified mummies is not a good idea at all. Just think of the ones who are sort of okay with their heads and have to care for a person who….(or is it whom?) has basically gone anyway, someone who is not who they were and never will be again. Do you? Think of them, I mean?

I get, now, that life is a fight. I get that we minions learn loads when the chips are down. But the balance is all wrong. I remember, often, being sent back to re-do my homework, to think things through and to make changes. Although I can’t see you to say this in person, I am writing it in the hope that you might take a dose of your own medicine and do what you want the rest of us to do. All 65 million of us. As far as we know.

I’ll be back tomorrow with some more. Till then, sleep tight.

Island Blog – Wise Feathers

In the fairy woods, I find a black feather. Crow. I don’t find many of those as a rule. Crows rule here and nobody, it seems, fancies the taste of crow. I remember we had one, once, back in Tapselteerie days, a decoy for the controversial crow trap. Crows kill lambs, but slowly, the weak ones, the ones left behind by first time mothers who go through the whole pain of giving birth and then walk away once the pain has stopped. We trapped the crows back then, but now I know how pointless that was long term. Dispatching crows to Crow Heaven just makes space for other crows. It was a losing battle. The decoy, called Jim, smelled like a rotten fishcake and that smell filled the milking byre with a stink I never want to experience again. We fed him over winter then put him in the trap with something dead to lure the others in. Not a part of farming I am proud of.

However, one lone feather is compelling. It doesn’t stink but just lies there in the fairy woods catching sunlight and glinting blue. Crow medicine is strong. Crow is an omen of change. I could do with some change. Perhaps that is why I find the feather, although I don’t pick it up. it can stay down there on a bed of old larch needles and peaty earth. In my garden feathers abound. The young sparrow hawk, all gangly flight and poor timing makes a rush at the garden birds every day. Sometimes she is lucky. Mostly not. But she will pick up speed and improve her timing by the autumn. When she shoots like a bullet into the midst of bird breakfast, she sets chaos in motion. Birds of all sizes and creeds erupt like the ground just exploded, leaving feathers to flutter, curlicues of soft down, lightly onto the grass. Some birds hit the window. Some recover from that close encounter, some do not. I watch the hawk cant away over the field, my eyes hoping for empty talons even though I know she must eat too.

These feathers jettisoned in panic are obviously not critical for flight. It thinks me of what I need, what is critical for my ‘flight’ through this life. Certain that I need this or that for everything to suddenly be quite marvellous is foolish, and, yet, I am guilty of that. Spending money on extras like a new summer dress may be justifiable but not if it doesn’t work with the cash available. But, hang on a minute…….am I not caring full time for no pay whatsoever? Am I not deserving of a few ‘little somethings’ to make me feel less crow more peacock? I well might be, according to Disney. But there is no Disney in this tail of functioning feathers. There is only survival. Like all birds I cannot afford to be looking the other way when the sparrow hawk strikes. I must take great care of my feathers, all of them so that I can fly to greet another day.

Some days I am crow, the omen of change. Other days I can peacock my way through the fairy woods, lifting my colours into the world and making enough noise to scare off a heffalump. I read, once, of a woman who was transported to the New World in the bowels of a convict ship for stealing one peacock feather. I often wondered what became of her. Perhaps she was the start of something. Perhaps, through her, came the woman who invented barbed wire or the man who abolished slavery. Perhaps her journey meant something. She may have lost hope at times, felt abused and rejected, torn from her own future, but I choose to see her fighting spirit and her courage and determination as a force to be reckoned with.

Island Blog – Her Eyes On The Horizon

In the goldfish bowl life goes around and around. There is no other way for it go. I never think goldfish have a happy life, all that circling and looking out on lives that go forward and back, up and down, lives that are always changing. And then, to add insult to injury, I get bigger, me, the goldfish, so that my circle gradually becomes a spiral. I’m dizzy just thinking about it. When I, the goldfish, swam as a free spirit, I could circle if I so chose, but there was a vast expanse of ocean laid out before me, one in which I encountered dangers, yes, but at least I was truly alive and free to roam.

It is easy to limit an ocean. Not out there in the real sense of ocean, but within the ocean of a life. Over time and when faced with demands that require a deal of circling, the woman can inhabit the circle, until she forgets what it feels like to go forward and free. She doesn’t feel free at all. She can spend days, weeks, months and years circling in stagnant waters without really noticing or caring. Until, that is, she spots her own tail inches from her nose. She has become a curve. She is the circle.

When I look out across the sea-loch, my horizon is a line of hills. But, just because I think that is where everything stops, doesn’t make it so. Beyond those hills are more hills, and beyond all hill-ness lies the ocean, that vast expanse of salt, cloud rain and meltwater that rises clear into the sky. And the sky goes on forever. Everybody knows that. But what lies on the other side of that horizon? Well, I can name a country, if that helps, like America for instance, Canada too, and if I twist my eyes north, Iceland, Greenland and Alaska. I fly out on wings of imagination in wild flight up and out into the nothing that goes one forever. Someone over there, or there, is looking back at me right now. Perhaps she has discovered her tail up close and has come to a sudden thinkstop. I don’t want to do this anymore, this circling thing, nor do I want these circular thoughts and limitations. I want ocean, danger and freedom.

So, what do I do next? I can’t change what is, after all. Or can I? Whilst I circled without conscious thought, just going round and round each day in the same direction, seeing the same things from inside my bowl of ever stagnating water, I went nowhere, saw no-one bar the carers, the nurse, the doctor and social services. Declining invitations, avoiding group gatherings, music nights and friendships, I have turned myself into a circling goldfish. How dull.

Once noticed, nothing stays as it is. It simply cannot. Knowledge changes everything. Nervously, I reach out. Do one thing differently. Straighten up for starters. Book a break. Call a friend and don’t be surprised when she can’t remember your name. Just remind her, gently. It isn’t her fault you disappeared into a carer blackout. It isn’t yours, either. Try sending eyes beyond the horizon, looking eyes that sparkle. Someone on the other side is looking back at you. Life is a very big thing, not a series of goldfish bowls even if that is all you can truly believe in right now. Try eating goodly things from earthy soil, grown strong in sunlight, their thirst quenched by heavenly rains. Try slowing down. And read books for a glorious escape into brave new worlds, into someone else’s story. And, most important of all, tell yourself every minute that you are strong, beautiful, kind and important. And no sniggering or eye rolling at that. Keep looking out until your eyeballs bulge, for an imagined view is considerably more exciting that your own rear end.

I tell myself all of this. I think of a Greenlander in her fishing boat, fur-clad, her fingers frozen, her eyes on the nets. I see her look up and out, something catches her by surprise. It’s just her horizon, or so she thinks. But on the other side of that horizon, I know better.

Island Blog – The Pinch Pixie

The morning begins. Eventually the morning will stop and the afternoon will elbow her way onto the stage. In between them, like a child with elbows pushed right out, is lunchtime, or noon, or dinner time. This child has many names but no specific time slot. I can eat lunch at 11.45 if I am hungry and the morning has barged under my eyelids ‘twirly’. Strictly speaking, 11.45 is still morning, but teetering on a cusp. All you have to do is walk twice around the house for it to become afternoon. When a builder says he will come after lunch on Wednesday, a person could still be waiting for him at 5pm which is obviously ‘after lunch’ although I do wonder at his domestic arrangements. You could lose days this way. If lunch is that far beyond the child with elbows pushed out then I won’t be inviting him for supper. I’d never get to bed at all.

It thinks me of my old friend Perception. How I see something, how you see something, how some people never see something their whole lives through. It makes for a rocky terrain. Then there’s the way that disaster, bereavement and loss can flip my own perception on his back leaving me looking down at him and seriously considering leaving him there. All those learned rules from the ancients rule book, things I was taught to think, ways of doing things or the timing for lunch. Stay down there a while you old master. I’m off to walk round the house twice for a little think.

In a life that runs on efficient timings, behaviour patterns, polite responses and high rise buns for the village fete every summer, a girl can be blind to her own real feelings. They have probably been suppressed for decades whilst the parents, society, school and church attended most diligently to the outside of her. She might have felt rage. Well, that’s not ladylike. She might have wanted to tell the village fete organisers to go boil their heads. She hates cake anyway, baking, more so. She might have had a controversial opinion about something now and again. We don’t do ‘controversial’ dear. In fact, if you check, it isn’t even a word in our Dictionary of Politeness. She might even have said God is the biggest twit of all, but she probably won’t say it out loud, never mind twice in one lifetime.

However, something snarly and sharp-toothed can rise in her when Perception lands on his butt, when her life is stolen from her, the one she imagined would always be as it always has been. She turns feral. Of course, she has no idea what to do with this feral thing because she has dressed pink and polite and kind and obliging for so many years. She hopes she will get over it, like a fever. She just needs to rest a bit and it will all come back to her, that sweet gloop of a sugary woman who offends nobody and always says yes to everything. And, yet, this toothy pixie will not be quiet. It will nip and pinch at her, discomfort her when what she craves is comfort once more. Go Away Pinch Pixie. And, yet, somewhere inside this woman an ember glows. The glow, like a sunshine morning, rises into flame and she is warmed from within. Nobody bothered much with her ‘within’ till now, not even she. But this heady warmth, this rise of Pinch Pixie is intoxicating. Say NO! the Pixie hisses into her inner inner ear when someone asks her if she can do something she doesn’t want to do. What? I’ve never not done what I didn’t want to do.

My point, precisely, smiles the Pinch Pixie. Welcome to You.

Island Blog – A Twist of Memories

This day my son is 40. For him this will probably feel like ripe old age, as it does for most of us. I can’t believe I am 40. Where did my youth go? It has been rudely swiped from my grasp without asking me if I minded. Time, it seems, has the swiping hand. Those of us who can’t even remember being 40, never mind being supple of limb and encased within a skin that doesn’t sag in all the wrong places, chuckle. We, after all, are miles ahead of the 40 year olds, all of us wrinklies pretending we aren’t, wrinkly, and all of us wishing we didn’t grunt on rising from a low slung garden bench. We tell the somewhat astonished sudden 40 year old that they have all these joys to come, countering the generational ‘joke’ with compliments on their achievements and their tight skin.

I remember turning 40. I was mother of five feral children but still in good shape, externally at least. I knew something was afoot but not what. There was an unusual amount of whispering in corners throughout the house. This, in my experience as a mother was nothing unusual. There are about 20 books of whisperings in corners that were never published. Bright and overly loud reassurances pinged around the walls like balls. No, nothing Mum, really. HAPPY BIRTHDAY! (again). Eyes full of darts between them, eyes avoiding mine. I just went about my daily work but inside I hugged the secret with no name, for today, it was all about me.

Around 4pm there was a knock at the door. Nobody knocks at doors on the island. In fact, the only need for a door at all is to keep the rain out and the dogs in. Framed in the well-chewed doorway (dog trying to escape) stood a nun. I thought at first it was Sister Michael, who had encamped herself in a caravan not far away and who flew about in the wind like a crow, her habit billowing out behind her like a sail. It wasn’t her. Who was it? My innate politeness kicked in and I welcomed whoever she was. Behind her stood my mother-in-law. Well, that wasn’t odd at all being, as she was, a devoted catholic. Nuns and priests were never very far away from my mother-in-law, but I did wonder at her thoughtlessness arriving with said nun, all grins and expecting tea and cake, on this, my 40th birthday.

It took me a good few seconds to recognise the nun. My mum. No, my mum is 600 miles away from here and she is definitely not nun material. But it was her. She had purchased the nun habit some time before and had turned up at smart parties inside it, trying not to giggle and making everyone laugh as mum always did, the joker in the pack. This well kept secret was the best of all gifts. My mum, nun notwithstanding, had planned to arrive this very day, just for me. I felt very loved. My kids had arranged a secret party and the evening was perfect. I found a photograph someone had taken of my face, mouth wide open, eyes bright, the surprised one. A perfect click. It smiles me now, when I look on it, on that face, so young, so tightly skinned, eyes like marbles in sunlight.

So this is a tribute to my son. In whom I am more than well pleased, not just for what he has achieved, which is a very great deal in terms of achievements, inner wisdoms learned, his peaceful warrior heart, his fierce and loving protection of his family, but also for his choosing me to be his mother. Happy birthday James. Remember this day, because tomorrow, it will twist away from you and be gone.

Island Blog – Lunar Light

Lunar light is liminal. Lots of ells in there. Liminal is a word I like and its meaning even more. ‘Relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process.’

For most people this liminality passes by without being noticed at all from behind closed eyelids whilst held warmly in the arms of sleep. But not for me. I have entered what appears to be the place of liminal in my life for I do not sleep warmly in anyone’s arms for more than an hour or two. I can see the lunar light, even when the clouds curtain mother moon all around so that only God can see her face. It’s a greenish light, limpid, spread like swamp water across the floor of my room and it sinks my heart every time I wake to find it there. It isn’t that I have a dislike of the moon, far from it, but I don’t want to have to watch her for hours on end. In another time, I didn’t mind at all, turning to look back at the lunar glow seeping around the edges of my curtains and just knowing I could turn away to find sleep again, those arms around me, gently rocking. Not now, and now is precisely the time I need this rest because the demands of dementia are ever growing like an invading army. At first, it was just the beat of marching feet, distant but moving nearer each day. Now they come in tanks that turn the roads of my life into powder dust, destroying the boundaries and crushing the fences. I can keep moving back, but I am just me and they are legion.

I know I am not alone. There are gazillions of broken carers in this world and we all fight it at first shouting What About Me? a lot, to a sky without ears or heart. The quandary of dementia caring is that the carer may shout till hoarse into the oncoming hurricane, even knowing the pointlessness of making such demands on the only set of vocal chords allocated to them, and, yet, what is happening to the cared-for-one is beyond their control. All logic moved out somewhere mid-stage and has no plans to return. Conversations do not exist. Even the word ‘conversation’ is too long to define any exchange of words between us. It is more like random bursts of fire, and not always friendly. He can’t help it. She can’t help it. They can’t help it. Yes, yes, we know that. But how on earth are we to keep breathing through this, let alone imagine living beyond it, whenever that may be. Another dilemma. We want it over. We don’t want it over. And, yet, the person we spent our lives beside, the one who guided, disciplined, protected, laughed with, who soothed our pain, walked tall and full of hope has already gone a long time ago. Is it cruel, in this light of knowledge to wish it over? Yes, at times when the voice of Thankfulness sings from her fence post. Look at what you had. Look at what you have. Kick that self-pity out of the window. And No at others when you are beaten down to a serving girl with no glass slipper in sight. I never know what to think or which is right and which is ‘wrong’. I also know that both are understandable once voiced to another. They show many faces of sympathy but behind their eyes they’re thinking Thank God That Isn’t Me as they turn back to their own homes, devoid of mobility aids and raised toilets, homes for which they are suddenly very grateful indeed.

I am searching for ways to love the liminal light of the lune. Instead of wishing it away, I look it up in the dictionary and decide to use it to my advantage, to absorb the light into myself, to become a part of it and it of me. The second definition for Liminal is ‘ occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.’ Now that sounds like a fine place to be. If I am on both sides of a boundary or threshold, I am really rather marvellous. Versatile. Agile. Sounds good. I may be sleepless but right now I am awake. There is a day ahead when the sun might show his face through those determined clouds, but even if he can’t push through, I can.

And, what’s more, I will.

Island Blog – Thankfulness and Wallpaper

Quite unexpectedly and thanks to one of my kids, I am enjoying 3 whole days without caring. I get those days on my respite breaks, but the exquisite joy of this time is that I am home alone. I am rarely home alone. Every single day for years I share my days with someone who may go out for 2 hours a week. Maybe. This other person, being in the latter stages of dementia, is not only present but dominant, or, rather, his needs are, moment by moment. He demands help with pretty much everything, an everything that changes daily, and one that escalates into an ever greater need as the brain cells shut down and his mobility is challenged even more.

These delightfully fresh smelling and easy days are a huge gift. I feel as if my life is in fact, a life after all. I am not part of his as I have probably always been. In a marriage where the Master Of The House takes his role very seriously, his woman will always only be wallpaper – pretty when new and then gradually yellowing into age stains, blue-ing into biro scribbles and tearing when the furniture knocks into it, or, in my case, when a child decides to skin the wall. Accepting this wallpaper life is something some of us do without realising we are doing it. Drip by drip we dilute who we are until, if we are not mindful, we become a big puddle for everyone else to jump in. These 2 days have shown me I am not that puddle, not now, even if I have puddled a lot over the decades, thinking myself only worthy if I do something that makes someone else smile. There is a lot to be said for that, but not if it becomes a modus operandi, knitting itself into the fabric of a woman until she can no longer find herself.

I sit in the newly cleaned conservatory. Not just newly cleaned (by me) but also re-arranged. Oh lord! How dare she! Sorry….how dare I? Well I did dare and it looks much better. I await the fallout on his return tomorrow. At times, when conflict rolls in like thunder and the air crackles with a killer fork or two, I back down. There are times to stand ground and times when, on looking down at that ground, the parched sandy scrubby earth beneath my feet, I decide it’s rubbish land anyway and I pull out my flag. You have it, I say without words. It won’t grow a single thing. Bizarrely, what appears my defeat is, in truth, my victory. I can see the long term of this, whereas he is fist-bunched focussed on the simple fact that I took a decision of my own. It smiles me.

I play Bob Dylan or Shania Twain at full volume. I move a planter or two because the occupants are shouting at me. We don’t like it here, they tell me. So, I listen, I hear, and I move them. I can hear them sigh with relief. I eat when I am hungry and don’t have to mop up spilt everything or sweep up crumbs upon crumbs or scrub carelessly fashioned stains from carpets. I can breathe freely through my nose without encountering dodgy smells that have a knock on effect right through my body. In fact, there are so many bonuses I feel euphoric and that also has a knock on effect. I feel light on my feet and calm in my breast. And, mostly, I feel thankful.

Nothing and nobody can change what has now become the norm in this home. It is as it is. But my attitude makes all the difference. It’s the only thing over which I have complete control. I am not wallpaper around my attitude. I am not wallpaper at all, wallpaper that sits against the walls of life, looking pretty and getting ripped and scribbled on. Instead I am a moving force of energy and calm. If I build on this, it will shelter me when the tough times come again, when the thunder thunders and the killer forks light up the sky.

And, for now, for today, for this precious moment, I am thankful with all of my strong blood red woman heart.