Island Blog – Alice and Me

I have noticed this. In the morning, when I awaken, could be 4, could be 5 and sometimes a glorious sixer, I think new thoughts, like a child, and all those thoughts are interrupted by questions. What is the morning like beyond those blackout curtains? What will the weather do, what will I do? What shall I wear? Do I smell coffee #obviously not? Where’s the dog? That sort of thing. All fresh and spontaneous and floaty, newish, new, light as air. These Alice questions follow me to the bathroom as I wash and brush and take a look in the mirror. That grounds me. Oh, hallo Old Wise Fool, I whisper with fondness. I have no idea why I still whisper, but I do. Decades of early whispering gets stuck in a woman’s DNA.

I descend the stairs, avoiding the stairlift chair. Let me tell you about that. A week or so ago, my little grand girl was chair-lifting herself up and down. All the grand girls know the rules. One at a time. Ask permission first. She had gone through that process. I, on the other hand, being Wise and Foolish, had not checked that the duvet cover, draped over the bannisters, was clear of the workings. She ground to a halt, my little grand girl. Oh, Gaga, she said. I’m stuck. I should let you know that when they call me thus, they refer to Lady Gaga and not the alternative meaning. When I called the engineer of chairlifts, he was most kind and said he would pop over shortly to sort the twist of thick material now almost a part of the cog mechanism, so melded it was, and is, still.

As I descend those same stairs, I notice that early thoughts don’t all come with me as if they know they are dream thoughts and know their place. The Alice in me meets the day about half way down. The day before has its own residue, and rising. We meet for conversation. It’s like I grow up every morning, from dream child to sensible old woman. Sometimes there is a collision. Other times, a collusion. Either way, it is new each morning.

As the day grows and develops, bringing with it a list of things to fill in, such as lawyer’s letters requiring originals of every important document, plus my own ID, for goodness sake, as if nobody knew I had stuck with this man for almost 50 years, and, as if I might be a sudden nobody, I drink coffee and move on. Each day brings its accompanying thoughts and fears and doubts. Overwhelmed, often, I remember the Alice on the mid-stairs and breathe. I can meet her there anytime I choose, and I do. It thinks me, about thoughts. They tend to gather as the ordinariness of a day crowd in like a noisy rabble, set to confound and dissemble. I go half way up those stairs, just below the strangled chairlift and sit. Hallo world, I say (not whisper). I am strong, wise and paying attention. I can do this. I’ve got this. It will pass. I’m not sure the world likes that much.

When I go to bed, I pass Alice mid-way and crook her in my arms. My thoughts are a circus. In my thinking I bring her, fresh young child, upstairs as a gift to my night. Even if my head is thringing with a million thoughts, she, on the stairs, half way down and half way up, is still fresh as a daisy, that beauty that rises with the sun and closes as it sets. So simple, so fresh, so free. I have dealt with lawyers, probate, funeral expenses, ID requirements and also ran. I am ancient by the time I trudge to bed. But she is not.

And she is me.

Island Blog – Hide and Seek

Peering out this morning, through rain smeared windows, the birds look like they are fraying at the edges. The flowers too, poor bowed soldiers in the face of a strong opponent, flagging beauty, ripped petals, but still standing firmly rooted. I had a wee chat with them this morning when I went out to fill the bird feeders. Stay strong, I told them. This too shall pass. Returning to the warm and coffee and a chattering woodturner, I think today will be a day to hide in. Not from, but in.

As a child, hide and seek was the best game ever, especially in a friends house where there were many more rooms than people. Connecting corridors, secret doors, lofts and cellars. the ‘hider’ could disappear for days on end in that rich man’s castle. However, the slightest sound of incoming sparked a rich anticipatory excitement in my young breast. I wanted to be found. I had been inside this old wine barrel for ages, my twisted legs were sound asleep and I wanted one of Cook’s jammy dodgers. Funny how things change. At first, I wanted to stay hidden forever and then, at the first creak of a floorboard, I longed for deliverance. It thinks me.

At times I want to hide away. I can see me now, in my mind’s eye, dropping like a stone behind the sofa when someone knocks on the door. I remember dashing upstairs to dive under the duvet, blocking my ears from the ‘Hallooooo!’ noise as someone just walked in. I don’t answer the phone, avoid the picture window through which everyone looks as they walk by. In short, I invoke no intrusion on my hide-ness. Of course, on Hide days everyone and his wife call, visit or peer in. On Seek days, when I would happily host a convention complete with light refreshments, the world is silent, mouthless, happy doing something else that doesn’t involve me.

Hiding during isolation and lockjaw (down) is simples. Almost nobody is out there. In fact, for all I know, the island has set sail for other lands; perhaps Englandshire is no longer attached to Scotland; perhaps all the islanders, bar the odd one or two who walk by, have emigrated to Australia and there is just us left, hiding from nothing and no-one, never again to be sought. The thought smiles me, but only because I know it to be imaginary nonsense. Of course everyone is still here; of course we are still joined from south to far north and of course all the islanders still inhabit the homes I know belong to them. That’s true……isn’t it?

Half the fun of Hide and Seek was getting lost myself. If I was seeking, creeping on silent toes, avoiding old creaker boards, and not committing to memory the way I had come, I could find myself half way down a completely unknown darkened corridor with someone coming my way. It could be her ladyship, in full sail, as ever and with a tongue inside her thin strip of a mouth that could cut through steel; or it could be his Fumbleship, the ancient old grandpa who thought everything a chuckle, especially his sharp edged daughter in law. I remember overhearing her tell him once that he was only living there because of her great beneficence. I didn’t know what that word meant, but he did, and after a great hoot of laughter, one that nearly carried him downstairs rather faster than usual, he continued his merry way leaving her pink faced and puffing. He found me that day, hiding behind the desk he always sat at to read his paper. Hallo little one, he whispered. My eyes were wide with rabbit terror but he just chuckled softly. Shhhhh, he said. I won’t tell. And I was more than happy to remain hidden, hearing his gentle breathing , the snap of news pages, my nose inhaling the smell of his pipe.

I felt both hidden and sought. And in that moment I knew I could be both at the one time. It filled a space in me I never knew was there. Instead of either this or that, either black or white, either yes or no, there was a whole wonderful world in between and I for one decided I would step into that world, curious as Alice.

And so it is, still.

Island Blog – A Secret Garden of Change

When change or improvement of standards are required, they nudge me, bump me, sprawl me until I turn to acknowledge their existence. I don’t really want to make friends with any of them to be honest because change, or improvement of an existing way of doing things, requires effort and action and the only person who can effect said change or improvement is little old me. Me, who, btw was quite happy not changing for ages, dammit. But these infuriating bumpers, nudgers and sprawlers will not give up. They know, smartarses that they are, that they know a better or, worse, a new way to do an old thing. However, I have to admit that on consideration I can see their point. There is always a better way to do anything, everything, always. Pretending I am not interested just sharpens their wits so that they bounce and trounce me from around corners that were just corners before – nothing lying in wait for me. It’s like hide and seek except they are the only ones hiding and seeking. Okay, okay, I say from where I have landed all ungainly and definitely cornered, okay. I’ll do it.

Now the work begins. I must deconstruct the doing bit of this thing, embark on a new spreadsheet #myanathema, write a list of do’s and absolutely do nots and this is the hardest bit. Absolutely do nots are so well established in my neural pathways that it is going to take the wiles and the wisdom of Captain Cooke to navigate new passage and I’m already yawning. However, I do know what comes next for I remember this embarkation process of old. Change is a procedure and can drag on for months. What it does not do is arrive for one sleepover with an instant solution in its pyjama pocket. I don’t get handed a miracle, complete, accomplished. Oh no indeed. What I need to do now is to relocate the secret garden, find the key and walk myself inside. Once within those walls that hide me from the world, I must open my mind, be still, reflect, consider and above all, not come out again until I know what I need to do next.

In order to effect change, to add gravitas to a new way of seeing and doing an old thing, or even to not do that old thing anymore, there is an uncomfortable period of self restraint. In small matters such as biting someone’s head off every time they slap their lips together whilst eating toast, or turning into Miss Trunchbull at every spill of milk, or a big matter like eating a whole cake for lunch every day, thus putting on 3 stone in a week, there must be a time when self control, diversionary tactics and a plastic smile must be applied appropriately. Whatever it is, we all know what we need to do but not always how to do it. The steps towards refinement of a person are so personal that there is no official manual to follow. And some of don’t fancy refining anyway, which is perfectly okay by me. I am not one of those people. I most definitely fancy refining but it still irritates the bejabers out of me. Just when I think I could not do this thing any better, those nudgers, bumpers and sprawlers who, obviously, don’t have enough takers for their grand designs, arrive to trip me up and, with my eyes rolling back in my head, I am eventually given no option but to turn around and acknowledge them. Again.

When I have finally conceded defeat and am still and reflective inside the secret garden I always wonder why I resisted to the degree that I did. Surely everyone loves to be better, kinder, more sensitive, compassionate, interested – curious to find out how they will feel as the process of effecting change reveals that which was hidden before. It’s like an Alice adventure. Wandering through the fruit trees, noticing the delicacy of petals, their vibrant colour, hearing the birdsong, the bee song, the rustle of soft breezes combing the leaves on the tallest tree, looking up at the wide, clear sky, all this stops me, halts my breath, slows my mind. And it is healing me too. From here I can see the old thing, the old way, as definitely passed its sell-by date. Why did I not see that out there? Well, I’ll tell you why. Out there, running like a hare on fire, doing things out of habit, routine or because my mother always did it that way, leaves no room for my imagination to rise above zero. I might think everything is tickety boo but that is my illusion, my delusion. Inside the secret garden of change I can see that now. I can breathe at my own speed, hear my breath, feel my heartbeat. I notice, that’s what I do, in here, waiting, reflecting, accepting. Out there I could run into a herd of elephants and not see them until we collide.

Everyone has a secret garden and everyone has a key. That’s the wonder of this human life.