Island Blog – Feeling the Bones

As I walk beneath the coppering beech trees, the bare bones of ancient larch, the garnets of gold on this tree and that, like halos, I become suddenly aware of my body. Paying attention to this I can feel each muscle ripple and stretch, contract and stretch again as my legs take me down the track. In my mind’s eye I see my bones, my skeleton and it makes me laugh out loud. I think, What if someone saw me like this? All flowing frock and skinny bones. I hear the creak and grind of ball and socket, the constant movement deep inside my skin, my protecting armour. I think of all that movement, that silent and secret life of very important organs and other bits of gloopy squidge that mean the bones can keep me going. I stretch my bare toes inside my furry boots, consider each one and its unique purpose. I feel the stones beneath my rubber soles and notice how that foot, those toes, work together without me doing anything conscious at all. One toe less and I would be wonky chops for as long as it took my brain to catch up, to readjust, to set me level once more. I flex my fingers, the only part of me not moving, as they hang limp inside my warm fingerless mittens. They curl in repose and are colder than any other part of me. I lift one hand to my face and study those gnarled old digits which have worked hard and for many many years at all sorts of different things. These bumpy looking sticky-out appendages can play soft and soothing piano. They have held newborns and adults in times of joy and times of grief. They have obediently frocked me up of a morning and then deconstructed me at bedtime. They have made tea, dinners and beds. This finger has pointed. Often. In anger, at an astonishing sight, at the openly merry mouth of a welcoming cafe in a rainstorm. This thumb has pressed, eased and held down string for knotting. So many important actions I simply took for granted.

Moving on through the canopy of beech and alder, hazel scrub and ancient pines I notice a newly dead pine, tall as a building and now naked as a skeleton. A peppering of holes tells me of woodpeckers and unfortunate bugs. The spine is almost white, all sung out now and suggesting firewood. The tide flows noisily out followed by a shriek and cackle of gulls, snow-white against the smoky grey of a raincloud. Earlier I had watched 3 otters fishing in the sea-loch, when the tide had stopped to draw breath before turning back to Mother Atlantic. Flat water. Otters like flat water, I have noticed. I suspect it is a more peaceable hunt for them.

Still aware of my body moving, still feeling and noticing, I realise I haven’t done this before, not quite like this. I didn’t set out to notice. The ‘notice’ just came as if something had changed outside of me drawing my attention. Staying with the moment and allowing it to take control I consider what this body, this mind, this vital combination has achieved through life and what it is achieving now. Perhaps as we age we grow more aware of such things, whereas in youth we just expect everything to work without question. Perhaps. Does it matter? No, it does not. What matters is simply that I respond to the gentle nudge of awareness and that I engage with it.

I am happy to report that the walkers I did meet on the track were not horrified by a skeleton in a frock and furry boots and I am glad of it. This special and powerful invitation for an inner dance was for me. Just me.

Island Blog- Rule of Thumb

The dawn turned the far hills blood red. Although Father Sun rises behind my home, he makes his presence known in casts of colour, short-lived but marvellous to see. The sky, flat and brushed with Payne’s grey, Rose Madder and Ultramarine looks like it is unsure about what to do next. Threatened storms may roar around us as they often do, we who stick out into the Atlantic like a determined finger, independent of any weather forecast. It thinks me.

In a few days I will have been married for 48 years. We both will. A lot of what happened over those years were not as I had dreamt, nor planned. My ideal of a marriage is not so unusual. White knight, independence, the freedom to make my own choices, take my own actions, sing my own song and all under the loving and approving smile of a benign king. I would share the throne, choose my own frocks, laugh loudly when I wanted, speak out my truth and be heard. I’m not saying this never happened because it did, but where I thought this would be a rule of thumb, I found, at times, that I was under said thumb and unable to rise to my full stature.

Did it damage me, this thumb thing? It did not. Instead I have learned that on many of those remembered and unremembered times, I had a lesson to learn. I would have been, and can still be, too quick to respond, to act, to speak out. My vivid and often unrealistic imagination could have launched me into trouble without that thumb. I thank the thumb owner, that’s what I do, now that I can look back and join up the dots. I married a man 10 years my senior for a very good reason, even though I didn’t do so consciously. Somehow, my sub conscious knew what was best for me, what or who would keep me safe from danger, from myself.

I would never, even in my wildest dreams, have lived the live I have lived, the one I shared with my king. I would never have known the exciting highs nor experienced the awful lows without him and his thumb. In balance, and this is where the dot joining comes in, my life, our life together has been extraordinary from the beginning and all the way up to the now. When I recall our adventures, the spontaneity of them, the sudden Let’s Go thing, the way we led our children into independent thought, creative action, kindness towards all living people and things; the way we laughed and partied, invited and welcomed, shared and made ourselves known in the work we collectively undertook. The way we steadfastly marched on through bad times, poor times, times when our inventive strengths pulled us through. And the way we made a difference, made memories that so many others share and still remember with fondness and a chuckle.

It was never plain sailing, not for either of us. I doubt that marriage ever is, for anyone. But, to survive and thrive through such a vast ocean of years is to have made many sail corrections. Thousands. Millions. And we have, and we still are making those corrections, working with the winds of time, rising over and over again, no matter how big the waves, how fickle the chop, how far away the next peaceful harbour.

I feel honoured and proud. We did it. We got through. And we are still here, still breathing, still sailing towards a new horizon. Together.

Island Blog 118 Children I have loved

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Now that Christmas is back there somewhere, and the hoover is choked with small and completely useless cracker gifts, bits of tinsel, fallen food morsels (where ARE you Sula??) and trinkets various, there is about five minutes of coffee and calm before it all begins again on Hogmanay and a New Year.

When we first moved to the island, I thought Christmas was IT, meaning, that, once the fairyland of it was done, we might just bask in its echoing warmth for a while, watch the twinkly winkly lights for a few more days and justify a wee whisky mac after a chilly walk along the 6 miles of Atlantic coastline, even if it was nowhere near 6pm.  I always reckoned time was an illusion, and used to say so, on more than one occasion, sometimes missing the start of the school term altogether.  But, once the tree was down, the lights and dingle dangles boxed and returned to the silent dark of the cupboard under the stairs, ready for the mice to re-format into comfy, albeit prickly, bedding for their Spring hatch, even I heard my voice sounding slightly desperate as I suggested a warming nip in the middle of an ordinary day.  Because days do that.  Become ordinary and far too quickly for my liking, perhaps for everyone’s liking.  So how do I keep the magic going?  Not with a ‘wee half’ at midday that’s for certain.  Heading into work at the local school as a stand-in (not clown, but classroom assistant……ok, same thing….)and smelling of whisky, even if it is the liquor of the gods, would lose me street cred in a nanosecond.

When the children were little, which, for us meant about 25 years, I worked out a way of keeping magic.  The secret lay in beginning again, but not with a big list of impossible resolutions, none of which ever made it into February.  It was simply a daily decision to be a big kid, to look out at the world through the eyes of a child, and this resolution is sustainable, or it is at least for me and the island husband.  It is absolutely nothing to do with cash in the bank, or a new sofa.  It has nothing to do with dinners out and fancy wines or two holidays abroad every year.  I can have not one of these ‘things’ around me, or even in far sight, because it has little to do with ‘things’.  Oh, I’m not saying things aren’t fun or even necessary as basics, but we tend to look for the right things in the wrong places.  We give our ‘love’ to the wrong things and it isn’t the fault of the tv adverts, or technology.  The fault lies deep inside each one of us and the good news is, so does the solution.

If, on waking, on that pi**y day when I have to find my car keys, or bus money, in the dark, grab my pack lunch and take my place on the tube, in the car, on the bus, to re-enter those office doors and re-locate my desk in stiff backed shoes that pinch, and a skirt that sparks everytime I move (ah, that’s why it was so cheap), I say to myself….’I shall look at all of this, as a child would,’ then I have begun to change.  Nothing has changed and yet everything has changed.  A child doesn’t fret about what lies ahead, unless we show him how to, by fretting ourselves.  A child, my children, bounced into days like monkeys or terrorists or pirates, or clowns, and the only thing that fussed them into a right panic, was probably me.  Me and that old illusionist, Time. The only person who got cross with potholes was me.  Everyone else imagined a trip over the rockies with Jeremy Clarkson at the wheel.  The only person who imagined that if this child didn’t eat SOMETHING today, they were going to get rickets or anorexia, was me. The only one who couldn’t laugh as one child inflated a rubber glove into a a huge balloon and then pulled it over his head, was me, because I was too serious about what could have been fun, what was fun, through a child’s eyes.  Running into a snowy afternoon without a well-zipped-up polar jacket was a given, and yet I would scream and fret about what………hypothermia?  Jings woman, it’s just an afternoon!!!!!

Worry is the killer and another is fear and yet another, the almostworstone, is ‘what will others think of me?’

Let’s say that you go into work with a smile and a chuckle at the ready.  Worst thing that can happen is that someone suggests you don’t take things seriously enough.  Well, good for you, say I.  The only things we need to take seriously are the serious things and, trust me, you will know your own list well enough.  Then, another someone might suggest you have an easy life.  And so you might, but then again, you might not, but whose business is that might I ask and what does it have to do with anything?

Some of the most cheerful adults I have ever met have the biggest pills to swallow.  They wear a smile, and more than that, they look for the fun in everything.  They are interested in you, in life, in the magic of what might happen next, for, although you and I may have a routine, a dull daily routine, there are opportunities in every minute, just waiting to be bounced like balls, or thrown like frisbees across a room.  What we allow, and this is an individual choice, is for someone gloomy to bring us down, to feed our guilt.  This is not their fault, but our own, and, as I said before, the solution lies within.

I remember such encounters with les miserables in my long life, and what I found, after some reflection, was that they were really reaching out for friendship and not a caustic comment.  If I asked them about their life, their likes, their Christmas, I could always find their smile.  Now, it wasn’t up to me to keep it on that gloomy face, but I could show them something that touched their heart and that was friendship.  When my kids found themselves stuck with such a person, in school, in college, or in the workplace, I always suggested that they try swimming upstream, towards the crowd and not with it: to see another as a whole human being, not a miserable old g*t.  Each one of them has been glad of that advice and have their own stories to tell after they extended the hand of friendship and found the smile within.  They met extreme lonliness, social ineptitude, fears and self-doubts.  They met inadequacy and rejection, and in that darkness, they met their own.

Children grow and are children no more, so they tell me, although we must be well behind the times, the island husband and I, because we can still have a pillow fight, make fun out of all the leaks in our home, the smoking chimney in a big wind, and it has absolutely nothing to do with life being easy. Life isn’t easy, but living it to the full, is simple indeed, as a child will tell you.

If you ask.

Island Blog – Day One

I have been here a while trying to find a way to start my blog, having never blogged before in my life.  Do I say ‘Dear World’ presuming the ‘World’ is just gagging to read all about me, or do I just launch in, mid-air, so to speak?  Actually the whole ‘beginning’ thing is always scary.  It’s so much easier not to begin at all, whether it’s a painting, or a blog or a whole book.  So much more pleasant to anticipate beginning, to tell friends I am beginning, then go home, make coffee and watch the clouds scud by with a grumpy sou’westerley up their asses.  Can I say ‘asses’?  I suppose I can spelled like that, like they did in the old days before the word ‘donkey’ was invented.

I am Judy Fairbairns and I live on a wild Scottish island in the Inner Hebrides.  Surrounded by a temperamental ocean, we live a smaller life than those of you in huge cities, and yet, it’s a bigger life in truth.  We have to learn about Mother Nature and how to live under her rules.  And that is the backdrop to my book, Island Wife, to be published by Hodder and Stoughton in March 2013.  Seems weird writing that number, all new and shiny and full of what……beginnings?

It took me years to begin Island Wife, which had no name at the outset.  I just had all those stories, all those memories, feelings of joy and agony, anger and laughter, all those words overflowing into my mouth and down my arm and onto a page, with, it seemed, nowhere for it to go.

Like most girls, if they are honest, I dreamed of a charmed life.  I was going to do it differently.  I was going to find true love, true happiness, true contentment, like the lead fairy in a bedtime story.

And then I met a man, an adventurer, older than me, one who had, in his own words, lived a whole lifetime already.  Hooked to his star, I ran to keep up, to fit his ideal, and to make it look like it was second nature to me. I stepped out of my shiny party shoes and into the wellies of a farmer’s wife.

It was not without the odd miniature disaster…