Island Blog 156 Another Way Back Home

2014-12-31 09.15.26

I realised, whilst getting myself lost in the streets of Barcelona, that although most of us have two eyes, two ears, one nose and one mouth, no two of us look exactly the same.  Similar, yes, almost identical in twins, but never exactly the same.  Even the identical twins I know, numbering one brace of birds, are not exactly the same; eyes slightly further apart on one, mouth a bit wider on the other, one quiet and pensive, the other gregarious and full of chat.

People throng through these streets.  I stop in a patch of sunshine as they flow by me.  They seem to know where they’re going, these hundreds of different faces, just in this one square with 10 narrow cobbled streets running out from it like sunbeams in a child’s painting. Not only am I seeing different nationalities and colours, but within those very numbers there are more differences, and more.  Perhaps, I wonder to myself, as I puff for the enth time back into Government Square, they are all thinking it’s Groundhog Day and I am the one keeping it going, popping into view again and again as if I can’t get enough of Government HQ. Although they are a moving mass of human souls, I’m sure I recognise a few of them and they do stare a bit as I grow more and more de-hydrated and anxious.  How on earth I manage to keep returning to the same flipping square, when I choose a new street every time is a marvel, even to me, although in my defence, I would like to point out that every single one of them is lined with the same shops.  One Desigual, one Barcelona Football Shop, one Flower Shop and one Pharmacy.  I might be needing that one if I don’t find my way out of the maze.  I also have no money, no idea of the address I’m staying at, nor do I have my mobile phone.

I bet not another soul in this flipping Government Square (oh here it is again!) is as vulnerable on this deceptively calm sunny afternoon.  I decide to stop panicking and lean against a wall looking as nonchalant as I can manage. Even though my mouth is dry as sandpaper and my heart about to take off,  I manage to calm my breathing, refusing to pay attention to any thoughts of being lost in Spain for months and dying of thirst.   Nobody knows where I am, other than somewhere in Barcelona and, as it took us 30 minutes to reach the outskirts yesterday in a speedy motor, it’s a pretty big city.  It’s beautiful too, and filled with stunning architecture, churches with bells that toll every quarter and on the hour, quirky alleyways (!), window boxes ablaze with colour, bustling cafes and wine bars.  Gaudi is everywhere, or his influence is.  The Gran Familia is spectacular from the outside with swoops and swirls of stonework, angels and trumpets, holy words and what looked liked bowls of fruit at the very top.  The queue was long and it was raining that day so we didn’t go inside but sat, instead under a cafe umbrella drinking strong black coffee and sharing our opinions on the charge of 25 euros per person to walk through a sacred space, squashed, as you would be, in a seethe of people, and unable to see very much at all.

We are not only different on the outside, but on the inside too.  It’s a strange part of our DNA, this difference thingy, because, to be honest, if a little more consideration had gone into our wiring, we might all be great pals, and life would be a doddle.  And dreadfully dull, or so I imagine.  If we knew just what to do next around each other, we wouldn’t have to ask, research, enquire.  We wouldn’t have to dig deep inside ourselves for those folk we find ‘difficult’.  We would never need to change. It sounds like Pleasantville to me.

However there are times when I get thoroughly fed up with all this inner changing.  It’s all very well writing, and reading, books on the subject of inner betterment, but putting any of it into practice is hard work.  Sometimes minute by minute hard work and for years and years.  What I have learned is that, if I want to succeed in life I must put everyone else first.  I must be compassionate even when I feel like murder – especially then – and I must learn not to talk about myself as often as possible.

I could fold my mental arms and stay exactly as I am, but the damnable thing is that if I put into practice all of the above, learn to breathe more slowly and to count to ten instead of ripping someone’s head off, it is I who feel better about me!   I have achieved something, because I have overcome myself. I have found a new way. I don’t welcome change, not in the areas I don’t feel need it, but it is needed for there to be any peace. Biting my tongue is painful, but so much better in the long run.  Those unspoken words can leave my mouth in one slow outbreath.  Simples.

I was certain I was right in my choice of direction out of the square and yet I was insistently walking the same way over and over, hoping for a different outcome.  Once I stopped marching forth with all the conviction of a zealot, my mind set in concrete, and I slowed down, breathed away the panic and allowed in, if not welcomed, the possibility that I might be wrong in my choice of direction, I noticed a wooden walkway between two buildings that had been there all along.  It was the one I had walked beneath and admired some hours before. This was my way back home.

I can do the same around a routine, or the way I like something done.  It can be a no-big-deal sort of thing and yet it escalates into exactly that when I hold on too tight. After all, I’ve done it this way for years.  Why should I change it?

But….  if I let go,(just saying it lowers my shoulders and unclaws my fingers) I allow in the possibility that there might be another way.

Another way back home.

Island Blog 148 Dark and Light

 

Dark room wisdom

 

 

We were talking, my small-panted grandchildren and I, about the dark.  Was I, Are you, Button Granny, frightened of the dark?  I was having a ying tong at the time (ying tong piddle etc) and she, the smallest pants, burst in, quite the thing with this fairly big question.  Well, I said, thinking, or looking like I was…….I used to when I was little, and then, later, when I was bigger than little, yes I did.  Why?  she asked.

Good question.  They ‘why’ bit always throws me unless it’s obvious, such as Why did you not put your fingers in the fire Button Granny?  I thought more, albeit in a slightly compromised state (I can still think at such times, being a woman) and said, Well because I know the dark now.

How?  she continued.  Oh dear.  Well, I said (what would we do without that wonderful word of delay?) I think that I know that, that……there is nothing to frighten me in the dark anymore.  Oh, she said, and dashed off to complete her Angry Cabbages Puzzle, which, by the way, I do wonder at.  If cabbages are angry in her little mind, then what hope is there?  I had, earlier, read both herself and her bigger brother a story about an Elephant and a Bad Baby, who, together, stole two pies, two pork chops, with no thought for the poor pig, nor, I might add, the butcher, two ice creams, two buns and two apples, so I guess Angry Cabbages are small fry by comparison. I am consoled greatly to know that their parents think the book ‘dickerless’ too.

The dark is just the other side of the light.  I remember my lovely dad saying just that, as I shook him awake, about yay high, my little heart beating like mad, my feet light and running all the way to his side of the marital bed.  He rose and guided me to the bathroom, his voice soothing, regardless of his broken sleep, sleep he badly needed for his busy working day, yet to dawn, and laid a towel on the edge of the bath.  He turned on the taps to run tepid water into the tub and then lifted me onto the towel so that my feet dipped into the soothing water.  He talked about this and about that whilst I calmed, and then, softly dried my feet and lifted me back to bed with a gentle voice saying gentling things.  I don’t know if he stayed till my eyes grew heavy, but I do know that I never saw him leave.  He never asked me to tell him of my fears, just seem to understand them and then he washed them away.  I thank him for that, although he is now long gone, a Marine Commando, another dad who never talked about the war he lived through, at least, not the dreadful bits.

As a teenager I was still afraid.  Not outside, bizarrely, but within the walls of a house.  Once, when invited at stay with a schoolfriend, the daughter of a pig farmer, for the night.  I lay in the guest room, weighed down with warm bedding and I just knew there were rats in the room.  I said to myself, Don’t be Dickerless, but the rat-knowing part of me stayed resolute. Then, as I began to doze off from complete exhaustion, the house around me quiet (which meant the parents were in bed too…..) a rat ran over my blankets.  I saw it and I felt it.  I spent the night in the cupboard and cried so much at breakfast that my poor mother had to come and collect me, effusive with apologies and, no doubt, embarassed for ever and a day.  But I Saw the rat!  I wailed.  Uh-huh, she said.

The dark is something personal.  To each one of us.  Maybe it isn’t the night sort of dark, although it can be, but perhaps the inside dark stepping out.  A fear of something or someone.  Doubts can bring the dark.  Crime on television just before bed can continue to play out and develop in our dreams.

Dark is the other side of light.  As adults, sentient adults, we know this.  But knowing something and it settling into our bones can be a universe, a lifetime apart.  I know that when I am troubled, my dreams bring more dark than light. I have downloaded a Sleep App on my android phone (get me) by someone with the most boring voice I have ever heard, whose control over the english language would have sent my english teacher, Miss Machoolish into one of her dizzy spells, and it works, the boredom treatment, never mind the bright lights, the secret garden or any of the stuff he drones on about.  I just want out, so I fall asleep.

Now, I love the dark.  I know that, inside it, there is calm and peace.  I also know that night creatures move at such times, but they don’t want me, they want mice or wandering birds, and, although I may, indeed be a wandering bird, I am way too big for their taste.  I sincerely believe that television, for all its great dramas has bigged up the darkness with fear and we believe it.  Although I do acknowledge that, living on an island, my dark is just dark with not much inside it to worry any of us, I still think fear as food is something we don’t need.  We spend too much time, me included, looking at how things might go wrong.  Why should that out-balance them going right?  Perhaps more looking at the light in our lives would gentle the dark in us.

Dark is dark.  Light is light.  It is enough.

 

Island Blog 134 Reality Check

2014-06-05 11.15.11

 

 

This morning the air is still on the island.  Nobody is about, except for the birds playing out their dramas.  The doves, including Dave,  whose mate was nabbed by a sparrowhawk a couple of years back, and who will always be a gooseberry, turn up to feed, their beaks tapping out a syncopated rythm on the wooden base of the bird table.  We found the remains of the kill on the track outside the house, and Dave stumbling about lopsided and scared. Not a lucky dove, we said.  After a week or so inside a box, fed and watered each day, he managed a wonky lift from the ground, straightened up and flew right onto the telephone wire.  We hadn’t fixed anything, weren’t sure how to, but perhaps the combination of love and his own will to survive did their work.  Now, however many pairs line the wire, sometimes up to 15 in the winter months, he is the uneven number, but always faithful, staying close to home, when the others loop away across the hills to build nests, raise young, complete the yearly circle once again.

A pair of swallows have taken the nest we fixed at the back of the garage years ago.  Each spring, they check it out, and each spring, they reject it.  Perhaps this is because we are constantly in and out of the garage, for it offers the only access to the hill garden at the back, where the bee hives nestle in the wild grass, their faces towards the sun.  Every day each community, numbering thousands apiece, fly out to find pollen. The scouts communicate directions to the others in waggle dances, performed on the front step and taken seriously by the other worker bees, all women of course, who might be dithering about which way to go.  The hive mind is an extraordinary thing and one that never sleeps, for even when the bees don’t fly, we know that if we lifted the lid (which is not for the faint-hearted) we would not see one single bee loafing about with a vacant look in her eye.  Every single one is busily employed, going about her business mindfully, intelligently, continuously.  Any loafers would be thrown out.

Trouble is, the swallows number three.  I don’t suppose this works, a menage a trois, in the swallow world, but the three of them dive in and out of the garage each early morning and evening.  On the wire, they have words.  No violence is employed, but you can tell, from the tone, that it’s not friendly.  Perhaps, like doves, and swans, swallows mate for life.  Perhaps this lone one lost its mate on that huge journey back from Africa.  We watched them gathering on wires, rooftops, swirling like a dark cloud over Capetown, when we were there in March, preparing for their flight across the globe, and we marvelled.  How they manage to find their old nest sites year after year beggars belief.  We would need maps, charts, radar, provisions, a transport vehicle, confidence, determination and periodic rests in soft beds with cotton sheets and a spacious en suite.  They just fly.

In honour of their unusual tryst, together with the excitement at their final acceptance of the Garden Centre nest, (buy one, get a House Martin one free) I have fixed signs, one on the inside of the door, so we remember not to dive out and head butt a swallow, and one for anyone coming through the little gate who needs guiding to the other door.  If we need to access the hill garden, we must open the garage door slowly, peeking gingerly out, to see if our new friends are around.  Sometimes they wobble on the inside washing line.  We need an inside washing line on the island, as the outside one is often long-term unemployed.  The concrete floor is already guano-ed up and this situation won’t change, as long as they decide, finally, to lay their eggs, which they still may not, given the human comings and goings.

As I walked Miss Poppy around Tapselteerie yesterday, she made me laugh at some antic and, in response to my voice breaking the silence of the afternoon, a well-hidden nest of young tits leapt into action, their collective cheeping floating out from one of the dark holes in the old dry stone wall.  The mother, behind me on a branch, yelled at them to shutup, but they were having none of it.  I didn’t stay around to worry her, but the experience lifted my heart, just to have been allowed to witness that moment, and to fix the knowledge of it into my ordinary day.  I call that an ‘internal shunt’, for It changes me, even though nothing has changed.  My usual list of miniature disasters is still there; the demands on my time, my patience, my purse, stay in place; nothing is certain, nothing really safe and nothing I can do to make it any different.  I could lose a loved one in a nanosecond and there is little I can do to stop it happening.  I can fall ill, a silent enemy moving in to establish victory whilst I dash through my daily list, unaware until too late.  But it does me no good to focus on what may or may not happen, in fact, it will falter my step, weaken me, make me dull at parties.  What I need to do, mindfully and intelligently, is to learn from the birds, from the natural world, of which I am a part.  I am at the top of the food chain, yes.  I can think and reason, yes.  And these gifts are not given to be wasted.  They are gifts of sight, gifts of power, not over others as we seem to believe, but over myself, the choice to get real, like the birds.

How does that song go………oh yes…..

‘Hey, you know what paradise is? It’s a lie
A fantasy we create about people and places as we’d like them to be
But you know what truth is?
It’s that little baby you’re holding, and it’s that man you fought with this morning
The same one you’re going to make love with tonight. That’s truth, that’s love.

I’ve been to paradise, but I’ve never been to me.’

Island Blog 99 – Bareback

 

_mother-nature

 

I realised on waking this morning for the 4th time, that there is a clunder of whizzing things inside my head.  Actually, whizzing things probably don’t ‘clunder’.  A clunder sounds heavy, thick, like old porage.  A clunder of sticky oats.  that’s better.

Moving on……….this ‘whatever’ of whizzing things can make a girl want to get up and sort some of them out, and yet, on the first 3 wakings, it was still dark as chocolate and I didn’t feel like rising into it at all.  But I did lie there staring at where the ceiling probably still was, to notice each whizzer one by one.  The to-do list is there of course, but being of superficial importance, is quite easily parked.  That list can take over a girl’s whole thinking if she isn’t mindful of its anaconda properties.  After all, if the carpet behind the tallboy is not hoovered today, the spiders will be overjoyed.  I hate losing spiders up sucky pipes anyway.  We need spiders.

So, list parked, now what?

The evolution of characters inside a story is a process I cannot rush, nor can I speed it up.  I can set aside the time to write each day that I am on the island, but if there is a part of the tale that is dependant on something evolving inside my own life, then I am at the mercy of Old Father Time, and I must patiently and mindfully wait.

When the horses in my mind are pulling me along, straining at their bits and pounding along a wide sunny path, everything flows like honey, but when they come across a fallen tree, they have to stop and so do I.  I can get off the wagon, study the obstacle, tell you all about how it lies and why I think it fell, and whether or not it is deciduous or evergreen, but I can’t move it one half centimetre out of the way.

I am not in control at this point.  Or am I?

Well, yes, I am.  I am in control of my response to the fallen tree, and I have two options.  I can puff and snort and shake my fist at the skies, creating not one ripple.  I can shout and swear and give myself a sort throat.  I can turn my wagon round and go back the way I came.

Or, I can water the horses, loosen their girths, let them refresh and graze.  I can sit on the trunk and notice the mosses, touch the places where the bark is torn away, lean my head to the trunk and listen for the dying heartbeat.  I can think into the shade it has offered and the lower leaves it offered to passing deer.  I can hear the chatter of nesting birds inside the protection of its many arms, and I can see the roots, wrenched from their moorings and reaching now like old fingers into the light.   I can notice the shine on the worn leather harness as it lies against the warm chestnut necks of the horses and I can smell their sweet grassy breath on the breeze.

And then I realise that I don’t really need the wagon at all.  I can leave it here, pull it over into that rocky scoop.  It is laden with a load of bahuki anyway.  Clunder I don’t really need at all.  I can flip off the harness and ride one horse bareback, the other in tow.

So, the situation I had set the characters in, had become awkward and clumsy.  I could feeling it growing more so, but kept writing them into it and then tried to justify it, when any reader would have spotted my error in a heartbeat.

It took a fallen tree for me to realise that.

Going back over an early draft is not how I work.  Initially, I just flow, knowing that the energy of first words is a powerful one, although I will need to pick out the strands of that energy from a load of self-indulgent twaddle at some point.

However, if my instinct is to doubt the situation I am painting my characters into, then I must listen to that voice and allow it to manifest itself in a tree across my path.  Often, the idea of re-writing any part of a story can be scary and tiring just to think about, but, once I begin, I can find happy surprises, like the moss on the trunk of it, brilliant green with tiny fragile flowers I never knew were there…..or the scars left by the torn bark, showing me a filligree beauty no human being ever designed……or the finger roots, twisted in search of life-giving water, once hidden, now a visual symphony just for my pleasure.

I can take off the harness and ride on.

Bareback.

Island Blog 32 – Circles of the mind

The Island

This morning is a cracker.  I know it before I open the curtains, for I can hear no rain, no wind, but only the sound of happy birds calling for breakfast.

I sit here and think about this blog, about my writing, my need to write.  Looking at something, a view, a morning, an encounter, is not enough for me, because I can hear the voice in everything, one that asks to be remembered.  It’s not enough to say ‘it’s a beautiful morning.’  There has to be more than that.  Is it a warm one, a Saturday, my child’s first birthday?  Is it busy or quiet?  Do I have something to come that excites and delights me, or am I just a morning person?

All these and more affect how I look upon what I see.  And the person next to me, next to me in the same moment of morning, might say it’s about as beautiful as cold rice pudding, for we all look out from our own perspective, our own context in the life we live.

Some folk look for flaws,  some folk look for beauty.  I just look.

Start a blog, Lisa said, as if it was a really simple thing, the simplest. Lisa is my publisher at Two Roads/Hodder.  She also said I should upgrade my mobile from one purchased at a street market in Africa 3 years ago, with just a few knobs and an On/Off switch, to one fashioned in the 30th century with a thousand applications, including Tetris (whatever that is) and a camera with screen rotation which I can’t turn off.  I have taken many pictures already of things and people tumbling like beach balls, including some mint wrappers inside my jacket pocket, a shot that looked quite artsy once I stopped rotating and my eyeballs settled down.

I used to re-charge my old mobile once a week.  Now it’s a daily thing, and not just for the mobile. If I am not actually writing my blog, importing (!!!???) photos, once they have stilled, from my mobile, I am sifting through my thoughts on life, love and what’s for supper.  Preparing my mind;  pulling at the sinews of it, encouraging blood flow, breathing in the morning.

Initially I resisted, squeaked and screamed and whined and moaned.

I can’t do this! I wailed.  I am a techno-phobe, an island girl, no roundabouts, no traffic lights, remember??

That was one of my voices.

The rest all yelled ‘Shut up, make coffee and get over yourself!

In the face of such encouragement, I had to listen.

Now it comes, more or less, naturally, and what I have learned, in this new process, is that I can change, even though I struggle with it as much as anyone else does at first.

It’s the thought of it that scunners us.  There is comfort and predictability in staying the same.  We think we still move forward, but we don’t. We circle.

The benefits of personal stretching far outweigh the disadvantages.  In fact, I am not sure there are any disadvantages, for, in the light of this new view, it’s not only my mornings that are different, nor, indeed my afternoons or evenings.  I find I think in a different way.  I am more able to face whatever comes next, because I have already done it, and can do it again.  The unknown is no longer frightening, not because it won’t be at some point – I am sure it will – but because I have proved to myself that my mind is not stuck, that my old way of doing things is not all I am capable of, and there is a new beauty in that.

My advice – recognise your circle and step out of it.  Oh, and please remind me of these wise words when I need to hear them again.

Island Blog 18 – Words on a Feather

This morning I heard a woodpecker in the trees nearby.  I have seen his vibrant colours before now, his looping flight drawing semi-circles in the morning sky, but not until today have I heard the sound of him seeking grubs from the bark of a dead tree.  Poor bugs I thought at first, all cosy inside the winter bark.  A rude awakening for sure – that sudden battering against the walls of sleep like someone firing an Uzi in the bedroom.  But the woodpecker must feed and if you happen to be prey for a predator, then this is part of your life, and your death.

The garden birds are both hungry and thirsty within our frozen landscape and they need our help.  This weekend is the official Bird Count and I hope everyone will take part, for our garden birds are under threat.  It shocked me to discover that many of the ordinary visitors to the garden are now marked as amber or red on the RSPB web site, indicating their demise, and it may not be something that will get better, not without human interest and support.  Sparrows in huge and chattering groups make a thinner sound in our hedgerows.  Why is that?  Because we have taken the hedgerows down clearing land and clearing land again for new houses, offices, big settlements with concrete pathways and fat houses for the hungry home-dweller market.

Birds, like us, are creatures of habit.  Swallows, swifts and house martins, wintering in Africa, fly over thousands of miles to nest in the same place they nested the year before, in barns and empty buildings, that can be razed to the ground in a day, leaving them lost and wondering.  Owls have no place to rear their young, unless some wise man has fixed up a nest box in safe, quiet woodland.  Is there any safe quiet woodland left I wonder?  Thrushes are dwindling and even the blackbird and the robin, so very common in our thoughts, are less in number country wide.

But, this is not about doom and gloom, for we can all do our bit.  We can’t stop progress, nor should we, for this is the turning wheel of life and we must turn with it.  We have no choice.  But, we can do our own small bit to help.

In winter, birds need water, and not just to drink.  They must be able to wash and clean their feathers on a regular basis.  A shallow bird table, freshened through the week will not only bring more birds to our gardens for their own good, but for ours as well, for birds are enchanting to watch as they go about their normal lives.  Fat balls and good quality bird seed on a table will save them from wasting precious winter energy flying miles in search of something to eat.  Food scraps, and tired old fruit are a good food source too.  Check the RSPB web site for more information.

The ground is like iron just now, so the earthworms are safe for a while, but not the birds that depend of them for food.

Let us pay attention and not turn away from this because of our busy lifestyles.  We can all do something, and that is what excites me about this crazy life. We may think this doesn’t really matter to us, but without birds a lot of our wild flowers and trees would never seed in the first place.  I don’t go with those who say the world is on an inevitable downward spiral into the black hole of time,  but I do know that if we all do a little bit, form a new habit, we, you and me in our ordinary lives, in ordinary streets and houses, can really make an extraordinary difference.

Island blog 18

‘The Woodpecker has to go!’  

 www.funny.com

Island Blog 17 – Moon Talk

What I like to do around this time is step outside with a glass of red wine; any time of the year, makes no odds to me, for what I am wanting to  join in with is the evolving of day into night, when bustling daylight gives way to the gloaming (Scottish word) and everything around me begins to settle.  The only bird not already in bed is the blackbird, and sometimes, a late robin.  Even if I can’t see them I know their song, and their song changes at dusk (explanation of Scottish word).

Actually, their song changes at other times, like in early Spring when they are rivaling for a mate.  But that’s another blog, another time.

If it is raining hard, I may only manage stepping into the garage, with its open maw, but, in the main, I can stand for a little, watch the sky and let myself both absorb, and be absorbed, by the coming night.  Tonight the moon is wonky, not that she feels in the least wonky, but she looks that way to me, for her fullness is coming, but not just yet, making her an oval in the black heavens.  Full moons mean something when you live by the sea, and I don’t mean beside it, but ‘by’ it.  When your next move must shift to accommodate the powerful pull of the moon and she, the moon, is always guaranteed to make a big statement.  The tides are very high and very low at ebb and flood, and if you work with a boat, you have to know this, or you land in trouble.  Big winds, grumpy weather leading to grumpy seas, high winds and sudden squalls all work together at full moon, to unsettle mankind and remind him he is not in control at all, however much he may think he is.  And women change at full moon.  Have you ever worked that out?  I know that, when I did, it made me laugh and that knowledge settled inside me like a loving hug (for me) and a warning to my man.  Now he knows, and so do I.  I am a creature of the moon mother and now that we accept this inevitability, we can both be sensible, most of the time. In real life, that is, the life where we accept, even if we don’t understand, the balance between our physical and metaphysical selves, we can move easily within that life, without trying to fix or alter it, but, instead, to love it and claim our part in it, for it is wonderful indeed and, by the way, our only chance to shine like the moon in someone’s sky.

 

One man and his dog