Islanders

moving to Mull

 

40 years ago, this very day, we moved from the flatlands to the island.  I can hardly believe I have been here most of my life, as have my children.  Arriving full of excitement and terror, with a large heavy horse, two dogs, two cats and two weans, and minus the lime spreader I had ditched about a mile from the farm, we turned into the village street.   I had never driven such a long distance before in the land rover, let alone towed anything at all.  The faith placed in me was, well, let’s just say, nothing short of ridiculous, and I knew it at the first layby.  Driving in tandem is all very well in theory, but keeping up becomes IT.  I found it very hard to focus on what I should have been focusing on, ie the road and the traffic, my neck stretched out like a goose, eyes peeled for the horsebox up ahead.

Since that day we have dug our roots and even those who no longer live here call it home.  The solitude and space, the big skies, the rain, sun and wind, all sing my song, or I sing theirs.  The rhythm of life is a slow and steady beat, a rolling in and out of the tides, the moon, the seasons.  I have little desire to visit the mainland, especially as it is now so easy to buy most things online, barring explosive materials or liquids, of which I have little need, even if it is mildly annoying not to be able to order a wee bottle of essential oil for my essentials.

We have lacked little and found everything we need.  I do remember the times of yearning amongst the children as they moved awkwardly into the teenage years, and had I been a teenager, I would have felt the same.  A dance in the village hall is so not the same as a rave.  But I guess they made their own raves for they all bounce like Tigger even now, now they have their own children, who also love an island visit.  There is something so wholesome in this island life, but don’t confuse wholesome with dull or boring.  The real islanders, those born here, their parents from here, have the most spontaneous and wicked sense of humour, an eye for the fun in pretty much everything, even the dullest of tasks.  I’ve had more fun here than I ever did in the flatlands, been laughed at and kidded on and hoodwinked; been the butt of all the anti English jokes, teased for being posh, and celebrated as a friend, and I have loved it.  How strange it is to up sticks and to move to a completely different world, and yet to find the cap fits as it did right from the start.  I had no prior experience of the West Coast or the folk who scatter themselves across the wild places, of village life, of community spirit, of real hard work, until I came here.

I wrote my book because there was, and still is, so much to say about island life.  It is not for the faint-hearted and that’s for sure.  It is inconvenient, demanding and wet.  Things don’t work, don’t arrive at all, don’t turn up on due dates, get rusty, rot, are mouse-damaged, break down, blow over or disappear completely in high winds, can’t sail, sink, fall over, lose their sump in a pothole deep enough for the vicar of Dibley and, yet, it has the heartbeat of home.  These things can go wrong in all lives, but, here, we can’t just replace the broken immediately.  We have to find a way around a whole load of problems and I am glad to have learned resourcefulness, something an easy life in a convenient place would never have taught me.  I have learned to be independent, inventive and accepting.  Oh it makes me swear when things go wrong, of course it does, but I have that inner core of can-do that only living here has taught me.

I don’t wish for another 40 years, for I would be over 100 and that doesn’t sound like much fun, but I am so thankful that, on that mad day in 1978 we decided to drive up to ‘look’ at a place for sale.  9 hours on the road, with two little ones in the back seat, and absolutely no idea that this whim would manifest itself into a shared life of fun and challenges I had never imagined existed, of learning and of learning some more; of spontaneous musical ceilidhs and of

 

no locked doors.  With not one jot of experience between us, no idea of how to run a hotel, a hill farm, a whale-watching business or a recording studio, we dived right in with childlike enthusiasm.  There were many pitfalls to come, many mistakes to make, many sadnesses to experience, but this is the truth of Life for anyone who has the courage to let go of what isn’t working and to take a huge risk.

I’m so glad we did.

Rain and Leeks

Today it is not raining.  Yet.  We have enjoyed many days of heavy rain, enough to turn the seed in the bird feeders to a soggy mush, enough to soak dog walkers after a few steps forward, enough to flood the little roads around the village.  The river burst over the bridge and the school car park became a pond.  Luckily, for us, this island sloughs off water quicksharp and the ground can look like ground again in a mere day of dry.  Built on granite and super lumpy in parts, there are few of us living in a flood risk.  We just aren’t low enough for that.  What we face at times of big winds and stair rods of heavenly water is that the ferries don’t sail.  They sit fat and empty of life in their mainland dock.  We, they say, are going nowhere today.  Tough bananas if you don’t get your new sofa Missus, or your mail, or yourself to the dentist.

And so we remain at home, looking out at the blattered dahlias and the neighbour’s wheelie bin cavorting about the road in a macabre dance, spitting no end of interesting garbage into a field of startled sheep.  And we make soup.  That’s what we do, although I resisted the temptation, myself.  Soup is IT when things like ferries don’t sail and the weather takes control of our day.  I meet women, like me dressed up in crinkly damp jackets,  somewhere near the leeks and carrots and we just smile at each other.  Not one of is phased for long when we see the leek tray all but empty.  No matter, we say, I’ll just find an alternative.  And we do.

We need to find alternatives for our soups on regular occasions living on this island, and not just in the physical process of preparing a nourishing brew for lunch.  We must use our attitude to find alternatives in all areas of our lives.  And we are resourceful, rarely stultified, and I don’t think we even realise we are.  It’s only when speaking to a person who lives near all possible conveniences, with alternatives on tap, that we recognise our experiential brilliance.  Anyone who has faced Christmas Day in a power cut, cut just as the turkey was beginning to turn into dinner, knows what I mean.  Being without newspapers or milk or mail is not a national disaster.  There is always someone with milk enough to share and the mail will be just another bill, anyway.

I think what we depend on and learn to dance with is that we are a community, one that has known tragedy, loss, and deep potholes.  We may not love each other all of the time but we are never alone in trouble and the more widespread the trouble, the more we rally.  Those whose lives are superbly organised are easily confounded because Life, God bless her, is a proper little madam at times, and she can pull the carpet out from underfoot at a whim.  Prepared for such is not being fatalistic, but sensible.  Being aware that change boogies around our edges on a daily basis, change that can so easily stick out a tripping foot and bring us down, is showing respect for the forces of nature, of Life herself. It isn’t a gloomy attitude, for which there is no excuse, not ever.  If we can learn to live in the moment we are in, right now, and then in the next, when it comes, light on our mental feet and solution-oriented, then we have learned the secret of Life.  Many of us share the pearls of such wisdoms, quote them even, word perfect, but they are like dust in the wind if we cannot live by them.

It doesn’t mean being insistently upbeat all of the time.  That’s just an act and I can see right through it when I meet it.  But, to be open as a child, ready to jump in the flood puddles and to fall over and to laugh all the way home, to be able to make soup without leeks when necessary, well, now, that is really living.

And, in really living, whatever comes our way, whatever our past mistakes and regrets, however blattered are the dahlias, if we have eyes to see the rainbows, a pair of wellie boots and a hand to hold, this, surely is more than enough.  And, it is the only way to change the past.

By making a new one.

The meaning of words

latte

 

Talking with a friend the other evening, we discussed the meaning of words, how we each see and hear a word differently according to our experience of using a word in context.  Both of us might have liked to take the conversation deeper, but as we were at a celebration, it was never going to happen.  Happy people, all saying hallo, moving around the room, laughing, joking, having fun, sharing words that require no inner Googling.

We are taught in all the good books to accept, that acceptance is half the battle, half of any battle within a relationship, whether in work, school, home or community.  To accept that we are different, not just on the outside, not just in the way we see colours or moods or situations, but deep inside and based on childhood learning, familial teaching, experiences and lifestyle.  How on this good earth can we ever expect that to work?  It presupposes that whatever subject arises between us is never going to land in a soft place, unless, of course, we can accept our differences and just enjoy the chat.  I have a friend who is colour blind.  He sees everything in shades of grey.  I can wax as lyrical as I like about the Autumn colours and he will just chuckle.  I imagine for a moment not being able to describe anything at all in terms of colour.  Well, I can’t imagine that, and yet, he, who has never seen red or green or anything in between is barely phased at all.

That particular example is pretty easy to accept, but there are many others, millions of others where we can potentially butt heads.  I want white walls and you hate white.  White reminds you of hospital waiting rooms.  I attempt to change your mind because white, for me, is cloud, ice cream, frost on winter branches, school socks, Persil.  But I cannot change your experience of white any more than you can change mine.  One of us has to accept.

Or, is that resignation?

My friend at the party did have a moment of two to think deeper whilst I yelled my return hallos into a very noisy room.  He has always been good at that, being a deep thinker and on his feet regardless of noise.  He first thought that resignation sounded like giving in, like a weakness, a washing of hands, but, then he found a different way to understand that word.  Resignation is pro-active, not necessarily reactive.  ‘I resign’ sounds powerful, autonomous, in control of self, of my own mind.  It’s also a very good way to hold onto dignity should I come to the realisation that I am about to be fired.

Back home, I know that I have consciously chosen both those words to explain how I am managing my role as carer.  I accept that I have been gifted a role in this new production.  It isn’t the lead role, nor the one I would have auditioned for, but it is the one assigned to me.  On a minute to minute basis I get to choose how well I play my part.  When I meet bad temper, does it cause me to react like for like?  Yes, sometimes, when I am tired or when I take my childhood understanding of those words, the way they fit together, the way they sound and let them hurt me.  To him, they mean nothing much.  He was just grumpy, that’s all, and once the words are out, five minutes later, he is cheery and chatty and asking me if I slept well.  I was seeing, at that vulnerable moment, colours he never painted. Those words, projected like a fireball, were aimed nowhere in particular and rooted in frustration and fear.  I get that when I am not tired or low or feeling sad.

Then, there is resignation.  I am resigned to the fact that I am here, right now, and for the long haul. Does this make me feel weak?  Am I giving in?

Absolutely not.  In choosing that word I take control, not of the situation, not of him, but of myself.  I resign myself to the fact that this will not get better, nor will it go away.  I resign myself to no end in sight, to more bad temper, more of everything.  And I learn, bit by bit, inch by inch, that if I watch the words carefully, seeing them in my colours and yet understanding that he may well only see in shades of grey, then I can accept that words are just words.  It’s in the interpretation of those words where lies their power.

If I sound like your mother when ticking you off about not picking up your socks, you will scoot straight back to childhood and respond accordingly. You will probably whine and then sulk.  I undoubtedly do sound like a mother, but it will be my own peeking through those words because she is the one who taught me the inflection and tone and colour of a ticking off.  I do it her way without a second’s thought, and, as all mothers around dropped socks sound much the same, I could easily sound like your own.  I try a different tone, a different choice of word assemblage floating towards you on a fluffy cloud, but the message still stands.  ‘Pick up your fricking socks will you!!!!’  And the response doesn’t change.  Nobody responds with a ‘Of course I will, I’m so sorry, it will never happen again’ (aka an adult response) do they?

So, if none of us have really ever grown up at all, then how do we manage to look and sound like adults right up to the point when words blast us back to the playground?  We may be suited up and sensible but if we don’t begin to understand that words mean different things to different people, and then to consciously work on our childhood bungees, learning how to release them, to become the adults we purport to be, then wars really will never end.

If dementia had not come knocking, I would never have travelled this journey of learning, of inner Googling.  It is humbling, oh yes indeed, uncomfortable, yes, angry making and very frustrating at times, but the lessons I am learning tell me that whatever circumstances any of us live in, we can always go deeper, become stronger, wiser, more aware, more compassionate, more ready for fun.

More likely to wear the Unicorn Hat.

Sunflowers and Unicorns

unicorn 1

 

Well, what a lovely welcome back from those I abandoned some time ago, and who, it seems, forgive me my absence!  I really don’t know where I went.  Into myself I think, and that ‘think’ word has a whole lot to do with pretty much everything in life.  Thinking is a veritable rock at times until I find myself in a hard place, whence it may become destructive.

Being shoved onto a new path can bring about me a host, not of golden daffodils, but of shrieking wraiths and hobble trees, all out to trip me up.  If I stop to think about that, all I achieve is a greater number of shrieking wraiths and more hobble trees.  So, although I know they are there, I ignore them, keeping my eyes focussed on that sliver of light way up ahead, and there always is one out there for the seeing.

That light could be a few hours peace, sorry, minutes, in which to write uninterrupted.  It could be the thought of a really strong coffee, or some wind-battered gladioli, blood red and wonky chops that need staking.  I did a lot of staking this summer past.  Hollyhocks standing 9 ft tall and sunflowers dotted about like big yellow umbrellas.  Nobody knows who planted them and everybody knows that such triffidicae cannot possibly stand for more than 3 hours on the west coast without enough ropes and pegs to hold down a wedding marquee in a force ten.  Notwithstanding, they appeared and they grew and they dazzled all passers by, until last week when they made it clear they had done their bit, and fell over.

When life confounds, all small things take on a grandeur they mostly don’t deserve, nor warrant.  This phone call to the doctor, that prescription to collect, this carer to call, that occupational therapist to contact for another hand rail or a fancy gadget to make life safer.  The wood to unload, another to order, to split the kindling, change the bedding, fix the back light bulb in the car,  or to sort out yet another confusion on a laptop or a mobile phone.  In ordinary homes, I am guessing the daily grind is divided into blue and pink jobs, although I’m betting the pink part of the arrangement takes on a lot of the blue task list just to make certain it is completed .  The light in all this, for me, now, is that I am becoming a real whizz at blue jobs, halting only when faced with a chainsaw.  I can see me legless and without fire.  Not a good look at all.

What I have learned, too, is how resistant we unpaid carers can be in asking for help.  I think we think too much about it.  We don’t need help after all.  We have always sailed alone in this wife/mother life having got over the initial crushing disappointment, one that hit us smack in the chops just after we held out our finger for the wedding ring.  Where we were thinking White Knight, he himself was thinking Unpaid Slave, only he never said, because, as we all know, men only grunt once they have exhausted their entire vocabulary during courtship.  I wonder, even now, why on earth I am reading my granddaughters fairy tales, when I really should be reading them Tales of the Unexpected, unabridged.  We never learn……….

Laughter and light, that’s what I want and if it isn’t on offer from outside of me then I just have to conjure it up from within.  Fun and nonsense costs absolutely nothing to produce, has its own inbuilt marketing plan and requires no staff.  The most important thing is to keep moving at all times.  That way, I get through the hobble trees and outrun the shrieking wraiths, which, by the way, disappear (noisily) if you blow a great big raspberry into the place where their face should be.  If, in the blast of some accusation or criticism from the white knight, I get a fit of giggles, it all miraculously goes away.  No darkness is ever stronger than light and it takes one small candle flame to illuminate a room.  I may be one small candle flame, but I am damned if I will let any cold wind blow me out.

The other afternoon I was playing with two of my grand-daughters in the garden,  We rolled down the grassy bank and bounced on the trampoline after planting some hyacinth bulbs in a border.  Earlier I had picked up a unicorn’s horn, sparkly gold and crimson attached to a headband.  it was a bit tight, but not so tight I remembered it was there as I bounced and rolled and planted.  Some walkers came by and stopped to watch us for a moment or two.  My granddaughters are very beautiful after all and we will have made a pretty collage on a green hillside.

Hi, I called out.  You ok down there?

Yes, we are, came the reply, and still they stood, and looked.

It’s coz you’re a unicorn Gaga, said the older girl, rolling her eyes at me.

Oh yeah………

 

 

Return of the Judy

return of the jedi

 

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

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

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

Takes one to know one, he replies.

Island Blog 203 Spirit

Spirit Woman

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Island Blog 202 Harmony

old lady makeup

 

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

Pain.

Eish.

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

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

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

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

Scarecrows…….

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

So can you.