Island Blog – On the Cusp

There are some wonderful words out there for the plucking and Cusp is one of them. In the dictionary it is explained thus;- ‘a pointed end where two curves meet, e.g. the horn of a crescent moon.’ Now that sounds like a fun place to be! I remember a picture of the man on the moon hanging by one buttock on just such a cusp. The image thinks me of many of us in many different situations, hanging there, not fully in one place, nor the other, but still, somehow, there at all.

Days seem to decide on themselves as they dawn. I have found that one day I am barely hanging on, and, the next, feeling like there is a whole moon beneath my tired old butt. I am high up there and looking down on a scurrying world. Today is such a day and I have no words to explain the difference. It doesn’t seem to be up to me, up to what I do or what I don’t do. It just is different. My thoughts are lighter, brighter and not because of me. No horrid nightmare played out whilst the dark surrounded me, only a sense of peace and acceptance, awakening refreshed and with a zoom in my heart. I no longer think ‘I can do this, or I can’t do this’. I don’t think at all. I just am.

Gentle music plays and the pangs of yesterday, the ‘what do I do with all these seedlings’ angst is now a shoulder shrug. There is time enough for seedlings yet. It’s still cold out there, and the garden will do what gardens do, whether or not I fret. In answer to the question ‘why do you have nightmares?’ I reply that caring is exhausting. He looks blank. How can he know what life is like for me, after all? He cannot know, and none of this is his fault. Yesterday I took myself back to the days of passion and laughter. I walked myself into memories that were the truth. I remember the thrill of seeing him framed in a doorway, the sound of his voice calling out my name. I remember longing to be with him, just us, away somewhere. I can still hear the sound of the land rover arriving in the yard and that huge sense of relief. All will be well, now, because of him, because he is back here, with me, with us.

I will not quibble with the way I feel today. I will not ferret about for explanations, nor will I make a plan to hold on to such a day, for it will escape me once more, as it always does. But, I will remember the moon and the cusp of a new one and the memories of what was, and be so very thankful that I have had what many never have.

And I will keep hanging on to the cusp.

Island Blog – Storm and Calm

I swing between the two every day. The scream inside is loud, but only to me. Outside of me the birds sing most singingly and the grass lies calmly flat (and in need of cutting). The sky is peaceful with blobs of cloud. There is no anger nor angst up there this morning, no sharp dashes of white against the blue. I check the new seedlings, having forgotten what on earth they are and they look back at me. We’re fine, they say, as they rise gently up from their boxed in royal mail squash of yesterday. All flop and drought they were then, but, after a goodly drink of rainwater from the barrel, they have relocated their perk.

I search for my own. Perk, that is. In spite of a recent two days away from the daily grind of caring, I am not as easily revived as my nameless seedlings. I, like them, feel the chill in the air, but unlike them, water is not enough. I book a week away in a remote cottage on a cliff. At first, once I have pressed play on such a commitment, I am euphoric. A whole week with just me, the sea, the sky and nature, books and watching and walking. No caring. Then, as my decision sinks its teeth into me, I feel the rise of guilt. How do I speak out this decision? I am greedy, yes, that’s what it is, restless, unable to complete my task without sprinting for the hills. How weak. How pathetic. What is WRONG with me? And, while we are at it, define ‘grind’.

I struggle to. The bright and breezy carers come in a few times a day. They sort what I no longer have to sort, to a degree. I have a weekly cleaner and someone to cut the grass. I am very privileged. But, what nobody knows, nobody, that is, who is not caring for a partner or parent full time, is what goes on inside a carer’s head, and that is where all the storms rage on. Guilt, frustration, sadness, panic, all wear running shoes with leaden soles. Living with someone who is slowly (very slowly) leaving the planet is a massive strain. We carers are taught by well-meaning advisors to learn how to inhabit the world of the one with dementia. We must practice until perfect the art of separating the person from the illness. All well and good, but nobody tells me how to sustain this tippytoe way of living for decades. As the cared for one declines, I must rack up my caring skills, even if I am exhausted, frustrated, sad and panicky; even if my fed is thoroughly up; even if I wake to another day of clearing up, sorting out and mending everything cracked or broken; even if I am exhausted and my brain, once sharp as a needle is now blunted into submission. I forget words, people’s names, where my car is parked and there is absolutely no end in sight.

So, of course I am justified in taking a week off in May, to myself, and another in June. That is as far as my courage has taken me so far. July can hang on a bit, but I know it is important, nay, critical, that I do meet up with July to discuss a mutual plan. Look after yourself, the well-meaners say, but without a word on how I do that. In Tapseteerie days I told myself I had to keep going. That’s what the world expected of me, ditto my husband, mother and mother in law. It’s what they all did after all, through wars and hungry days, crazy demands and no internet. Any show of weakness was, therefore, unacceptable, to me, to everyone. Besides, if I went down, then so did Tapselteerie. I reflect on what that staunch, well-booted up attitude cost me, and it was a lot. So.….duh….? Ah, but it is so easy to spout logic from a place of inexperience, returning, as the well-meaners do, to that safe place back home, where there is some sort of order and a week ahead to map out with confidence, a place miles away from the house of dementia.

To all of you who care in this way, or who ever have, I salute you. Actually, the very thought that you are out there at all makes my feet want to skip, not because I wish this on any living soul but because it means I am not alone. I can learn from you, the way you accept and smile and keep going. Perhaps this keeping going thing is what makes it all worthwhile, lifts the drudge and calms the storms?

Ok, I’ll buy it. Again.


Island Blog – Time Standing

Some days Time stands still here. There are four old clocks tic-tocking away, all saying different things, but I am used to that. Old clocks and Time have a personal relationship of which I know nothing. They are of another century, and we all know how indulging we are around those of another century. One of them shoots off into the next hour without any guilt, clutching on to youth perhaps, whereas another holds back and arrives with a ding dong ages after the hour has passed. I used to faff and fiddle about correcting them, like, this is Wednesday and Wind Up day and you are almost a day behind/ahead…………but, now, I don’t bother. They are free to do what they like. I like their perception of Time. And, it is, to be truthful, only ever a perception. God thinks in gazillions of centuries and we ferrety little mortals who imagine that our life is THE life, get our panties in a knot over minutes, even seconds. Late for work = nil points; early for a first date = overly keen. Always a negative judgement in there somewhere.

Anyway, back to me. The mornings are busy tiddley-pom with washing and wiping and firing up and laying out, not the dead, but the ship-shape plan for the day. Easy. Done. Then comes lunch and that’s when Time gets weary, and, sometimes stops. I crawl on till 2pm and when we get there, me and Time, I wonder if 2pm isn’t a dividing line between Everything’s Fine and Oh Crumbs! I think it is. I recognise it from Babyhood, not from my own, but around my many children, that lapse in the day when a 6 am start, parked light years in the past reached out to meet the afternoon/evening/night demands that felt like an oncoming army of Borg, with me in their sights. Resistance, as they say, is futile. And then there was me in the middle, confounded by Time, ruled by it, defeated and then elevated by it in equal measure, because, of course, once Time says It’s time, I am up and running like a sleekit cat across the hills of resistance and on, on, on, into the necessary.

However, now that I am a carer and the days are s l o w m o v i n g, I find 2pm a right pain in the aspidistra. I think, Oh Golly, there are many hours between this and bedtime and the afternoon yawns in agreement. Well thanks for that. I do a bit of this and a bit of that. I re-pot, plant out, bring in washing, sweep a floor, go upstairs to come downstairs, wipe something, read a bit, knit……Oh KNIT! Well, this knit thing has become my saviour. Between Yawning 2pm and Thank Goodness Bedtime at 8.30, I have discovered knitting. I have no idea what this length of knit-ness is, but what I do know is that is soothes me into the marvellous. All my troubles seem so far away whilst I knit a load of nonsense in the colours of the sea. It’s like I am knitting my own ocean and the feel of it in my hands is wild, when I think like that. The l o n g hours between 2pm and bedtime are fooled. Ha! I tell them. Do Your Worst. I have found a way around your irritating yawning and indolence. I a m b u s y knitting an ocean and I bet you have never managed to do that, you over there playing games with Time and thinking you are in control…..the pair of you…..one upstairs, still in yesterday, and you, half way up like Christopher Robin, lurching step by step into tomorrow……….

Well I am in Today. It is all I have, and it is my best shot at living. I know that. Everybody knows that.

Island Blog – Lead, Kindly Light

The light around the window is but a shuffle, as though a child has drawn it and then tried to rub it out. 4 am, and the first bird is already out and about. Slowly the light strengthens, becoming more defined, more itself. Morning has broken. I rise to let her in. She floods my wooden floorboards and illuminates the room. There is no sign of darkness. Night has flown. I shower and dress, slap on the slap and head down for coffee. There is only me awake this early, only ever me and in my story, this isn’t early at all. I am diurnal as a member of a diurnal species, but I inhabit the darkness too. I may be unable to see with my eyes but my mind can always see, and what I see may be a bit dodge at times.

What we see and how we see is everything. Light is light and we take daily light as a given, for granted, for it will always come until it doesn’t any more, either when we die or when the world ends, and not one of us has a scooby when either will come to bear. For now I am not dead, and the world is still the world, spinning slow, rising and falling through the seasons, the wars, the disasters and the joys. We need the light to see the weeds that need pulling out, to see the smile on another’s face, to do our homework. But for those who live in constant darkness there is no outside light. For them, the inner light will lead. For the blind, the broken, the abused, the war victims, the abused, rejected and the starving, there is only that inner light, one that we who suffer not as they do, take for granted. We think this is it, this is all we need, this light from the outside, but we are wrong in our thinking. If we expect to be illuminated from any source other than our own hearts, we set ourselves up for disappointment.

The kindly light within is constant, day or night and we all have access to it. This light is not snuffed out by outside influences, or not for long, if it is tended and treated with loving care. This is the light that leads us through life, whatever life we are asked to lead. This light will guide us through any depth of darkness, any despair, any doubt, worries or wars. It will feed us when we starve, give us sight when we are blind, warm us when rejected or abused for it is a kindly light. External circumstances can chill us to the bone, can leave us lost and confused, but if this inner light is nourished, we will come through it all. Inner light is self love, compassion for others, a gentle acceptance of all things, all people. It is belief and belief is faith and faith is trust, not in what we see in daylight, but in what we cannot see.

So, lead, kindly light. It matters not what life asks of us. We are so much more than our circumstances and inside each one of us there is this shuffle of light that, with recognition and trust, will strengthen until it defines who we are and what we are really capable of.

Island Blog – Homecoming and Rust

Last night around ten I heard them pull into the drive. I was floating in and out of a much needed sleep but I know the sound of my own gravel and, besides, nobody drives this way that late. I heard the male voices somewhere in the woozy distance and rested in the sure knowledge that I wasn’t needed. Not this late. It thinked me of all those times before when the mariner returned from the Mara and I would leap out of bed ashine with welcome. It was what a goodwife did. Something to eat? Tea? It didn’t matter that I would be up again through the night with small child and up again as the first bird sang in the morning. I was a good wife. Now, this time, however, I allowed my own exhaustion to take over, feeling somewhat guilty. I am enough and the morning will come soon, the day rolling out like a new carpet and taking me, us, in a new direction.

Home is where the heart is, the wife is, the safety and warmth is. He will have been so happy as the car pulled up and that lovely sigh rises like a sun into his mouth. Aaaaaah……….at last……home! After such a diplodocus of a week, starting with many flooral connections, pale faced, unsteady and scared, an ambulance journey, two hospitals and enough wiring affixed to light up Wembley Stadium, he is now safely re-paced. We, who waited and wondered, who drove miles, flew more miles, made endless phone calls and spoke to consultants, doctors and nurses, are, understandably, bejabered. And relieved.

The day breaks soft, but I did encounter a rather snippy cold wind as I rounded the house to feed the birds. My sweet peas are planted out in a sheltered corner and I know it’s a bit early for this wild place. Although I doubt there will be a frost, my doubting has made little difference in the past and I have stood before, mournfully, above little seedlings, out too early, darkened and flopped over thanks to a sneaky overnight drop in temperature. However, I am hopeful, and the peas are already wrapping strong tentacles around the verticals of two quirky spiral things with knobbles on, things that rust naturally and I love rust. We all rust eventually and it looks to me like a perfectly natural process. The weathers of life will shine on us, batter us, flaw and flake us, but we are beautiful at every stage. Our obsession with youthfulness denies us the pleasure of rusting. It isn’t real, nor possible to de-age ourselves, and when I meet someone who embraces his or her rusting, it is a beautiful thing to see.

My dangly thing didn’t do the trick. Jack Sparrow saw right through it. Now (and fingers crossed) I have stuck on a sheet of window frosting that breaks up the flat clear of glass and turns it into a diamond-shaped light mosaic. I think it might work, well, once I’ve flipped the window round to re-attach the top left corner. Fixing it on the inside didn’t work so I had to stick it to the outside. Outside there is weather and weather will pick and fret at outside things until she wins the fight. Everybody knows that. Everybody who accepts the rust and adorns it with flowers.


Island Blog – On Reflection

The sparrow, now named Jack, keeps on knocking. I called a friend and have discovered why. It seems he sees his own reflection in the window, the one just below his nest under the slates. He believes this reflection to be a rival male, hence he flings his little body at the glass over and over again, glass that is now well and truly beaked. Evidence of his relentless collisions is peppered over the whole pane. I hang cloth on the inside, darkening the stairwell but he still sees himself, still wakes me at dawn. His beak must be quite rounded off by now. I’m not sure I can go through a whole nesting season with his percussive accompaniment. His wife watches from where she perches on the gutter. She might be jolly proud of his manliness for all I know. I don’t speak sparrow. This morning I pull down the darkling cloth and screw a cup hook into the recess. Balanced on steps, I affix my bejewelled dangly thingy. It catches the light and moves gently in the breeze. So far so good. Either he is off somewhere collecting bits and bobs for a soft landing, or he has been fooled by bling. I am hopeful. I just want him to stop beating himself up. It is hard enough to go through the annual palaver of finding a mate, building a nest and rearing his young, without the added extra of having to fend himself off, dulling his beak in the process.

Yesterday the old sea-dog was fitted with a pacemaker. It all went smoothly and he sounded fine when I spoke with him afterwards, if a little groggy. Today he returns to the island, all being well, and, knowing him, all will be. There is a sense of relief tinged with apprehension among the family. Although his heart will now work as it should and he will feel stronger, he still has dementia and I am still practising the true art of caring. My days will go back to what they were and however much I practise, I will never be perfect. This swingle of conflicting emotions thinks me of the sparrow attacking his own reflection. And no bling will fool me. One minute I am wishing this was over, and the next beating myself up. It’s like tennis in my head, back and forth and it never stops. Between the family members there are differing opinions, maddened by high velocity emotions and there’s himself heading down the road to nowhere. And then there’s me with a dulled beak and a load of guilt, hurling myself at my own reflection.

Each day there is more colour across this land. Gorse explodes in a rapture of butter yellow across the bare hills that once stood forest tall. Willows push out new leaves and birches flash silver at the kiss of sunlight. I see deer graze on the skyline, chestnut brown against the winter grasses, slow moving, bellies rounded with new life. I hear the birds and I watch them colour up the little garden as they dart down for food. The air is gentle, the sun warm, the sea-loch a tad bumpy. Today, a beach walk across the white sands and a long listen to the heartbeat of the sea. I will whisper my words into the wind and watch them fly far out to where salty boats punctuate the horizon.

‘True art comes from flying with the madness so close you burn your eyelashes.’ Atticus


Island Blog – The Moon, The Blackbird and Joshua

The moon is loud. I know she is no longer full but she shines through my curtains like a morning, and, this morning, I am fooled awake. Wide awake. Lets-get-on-with-the-day sort of awake, not a single yawn in my mouth nor a blear in my eyes. Rats.

Ok, music. Joshua Bell’s Romantic Violin will more than do and there’s no risk of waking my neighbour, no thumping Def Lepard beat to bump against the dividing wall, which purports to be solid stone, but obviously isn’t. I can hear him open the door of his aga at his supper time when I am reading in bed. I remember we once had a chimney fire, pre wood burner with lined chimney, and the smoke came through into his airing cupboard.

The sea-loch is green lit. Moon colour, mixed with flat dark night, and metal grey water, water that lifts in a rippled response to the wind. I think of the little seedlings out there being reshaped too early. Everything here gets reshaped eventually because there are always winds blowing in from other worlds gathering speed across the ocean until they crash headlong into whatever is taller than a church mouse. I wonder if my enthusiasm for summer hasn’t jerked both me into foolery, and the seedlings into those annoyingly reshaped plants that grow sideways for months, if at all.

Today my youngest son was born, the African one. We shall birthday him well, in spite of the limbo we are all glooping our way through, as we wait to hear from the latest hospital what will be done, and when, and if, for their old dad. We keep dancing, but our feet are stuck in glue half the time and our heads never shut up. Mine jabbers on all hours, although I did manage to find an irritating melody last night that kept me entertained. It wasn’t irritating the first time around, of course, but, after four hours of repeat, I just had to get up. You stay there, I told it, and pulled the duvet back up as I left the room. It seems to have obeyed me.

Birds are singing now and the moon has turned pink. I can see the mountain shadows on her face and it smiles me. I’m not alone. I have the moon, the blackbird and Joshua. Soon the island will wake and the new day will bring whatever it brings. A light flickers into life across the water. Someone is rising, as I will soon to find another log for the fire. And in a hospital miles away, the night shift sorts and calms and tidies. Then prepares for home.