Island Blog 157 Light on Dark

 

 

Blue eye, close-up

 

We rarely draw the curtains against the night.  Even in the winter, when the dark creeps out from the woods so much earlier to dim our eyes and send us running for the long life light bulb switch – even then I hesitate to make that final call, so entrancing is the ‘out there’.

Out there a massive power shift is already playing out.  The creatures of the night are waking, alert and ready.  Their eyes are not ‘accustomed’ to the dark, they are made for it right from the very beginning; it is their light.  The rest of us whose vision is, at best, impaired in darkness, must draw in, draw our curtains, hide from danger, sleep.  There is a strong pull of the wild in me as dark descends, a longing to be a part of it, and without a torch.  Turning back from the window, having reluctantly closed off the night, I face warmth and safety, some polite crime on television, or a read beside the fire, supper, and I wonder what I’m missing.

Rabbits know fine what they’re missing, ditto hens and rodents.  Although the latter do pop out at night, they must needs scurry beneath the dense shelter of undergrowth for the screech owl is about.  Even scurryings won’t save them from the neighbouring cats.  So, it isn’t darkness we, or they are afraid of, but the creatures who inhabit it.  In our case, imagined ones too, demons and lurkers and no-gooders with an eye for weakness. And we are weak in darkness, compromised and slow to focus.

And so, we turn in, pushing the darkness back into the woods and back across the sea, flooding our night with light, and more light, neon and flashing, computer screens, television, digital clocks, standby lights on printers, sound systems, streetlights lighting our hurried steps until we find our own doorway, unlock it and step into our nests, leaving the stars behind.  We cook, argue about homework, phone mother, answer emails, bathe and sleep until the light begins to rise again, a slow green at first, then lifting white or blue or pinkly clouded into the full light of day.  But maybe we miss something.  Maybe that’s what I feel so strongly.  The way we divide our days and nights into themselves, stored neatly, controllable, separate, and, yet, they are one.

To stand out inside the darkness, to feel it’s soft mantle about our shoulders, and to stand long enough to see is a wonder.  Even without visible stars, even on the blackest of nights, there is still light.  We make it.  It emanates from our ancient human spirit, this light, and all I have to do is wait until I am fully present.  Dashing out with the recycling is not the same.  I need to stand, to let the inside worries slip away, to move, without moving, into the wholeness of the dark, to let it become one with me.  I become aware of movement, of sounds, of the depth and texture of the dark.  My ears hear, my eyes see, my mind empties of everything that lies behind the front door.  It is, as if it is another world, one of bustle and of chaos and the quack of televised nonsense, of clatter and youtube, of the ping of an arriving email, of the whirr of a fridge, the hum of a computer, the ticking of a clock.  There is no time out here, no hum, no white noise, only the immediate and raw darkness, broken by the rustle of mouse deep in the dry stone wall, a triumphant hoot, a warning cry, the rush of spring water over rocks, the wind through the pines.

No currency exchanges hands out here; no bartering or negotiating required.  No clothing, fashion, menus or public transport.  No strife over friendships or loyalties, no business sense, no degrees, no difficult mother in laws.

I stand for a while, a part of the darkness.  I feel vulnerable and alone and I thrill to those feelings, for this is real life, real dark, real and raw and sharp and edgy.  This is Order.

Then I turn back to what the world calls order, with a twinkle in my eye.

Island Blog 147 If Not Now

georgebernardshaw385438

 

 

Today is Halloween and I already have a witch or two in my head, and if crossed, in my mouth.  Not a really bad witch, but one of those ones that knows her power and won’t take any messing.  I like her.  She is a tad unpredictable, but we work together pretty well in the main, perhaps because I am also a tad unpredictable.  Witches are really ‘storybook’ to me, I don’t do black magic at all, although the white ones are worth a second look. I pull them in and shape them up for whatever hurdles I need to cross on a daily basis.  My witches are humourous and feisty, clever and quick, kindly but firm, independent, solo, and able to lift above any situation with a switch of a wand.  They don’t sport warts, nor crooked chins, nor do they cackle unless it’s whilst watching the ‘bad’ guys fall into their own come-uppance, in which case, I cackle too.

My time on Skye was wonderful.  Every time I travel to new places, I meet new people and people fascinate me.  I watch them and I listen and I learn.  I stayed as a guest in a lovely home overlooking a sea-loch that raged and spat for days, driven mercilessly into a right stooshie by strong winds and heavy rainfall.  The rain travelled sideways, whipping into my face and grabbing the breath out of me.  It was hard to stand up whilst walking two lively spaniels whose main aim was to find rabbits and chase them, not possible whilst held firmly on a lead, but nonethless, their aim.  When we had the rare sighting of a car approaching along the single-track road, we had to bundle into the grass in a fairly undignified heap, the spaniels panting for breath and the blood cut off from my lead-holding fingers.  Waving was tricky, lifting just my hand and not a whole spaniel into the air.  I was treated like royalty and yet welcomed as part of the family and now I have new friends, new people to learn from, a new bond between us.  Just as an aiside, I belong to the Scottish Book Trust who can sponser such trips and I am always delighted to be invited anywhere in Scotland to talk about Island Wife, to sing my songs, to reach out to people who relate to my story, in book groups, libraries, or at any public event.  I know, shameless marketing!

Moving on…….

In every area of life, there are people.  Machines do a hec of a lot to assist communication, its reach and the speed of it, but we need people or there is no heart.  Talking of hearts, I believe hearts are inherently good, even when the outside of someone challenges that theory.  Nothing is black or white, we are all both, plus all those rainbow colours in between.  Of course, life can throw us from time to time, but none of us want to be remembered, or pidgeon-holed at such times, especially if the outside of us says different.  But we can and do define people, if we’re honest, by their behaviour on a certain day/week/month or year.  We may be asked to describe someone.  We may say…..well, she is very good at her job but dreadfully overweight.  Now why do we add that last bit?  Is it that we must balance a good thing with such an unnecessary comment?  It’s irrelevant to the profile of that person and, sadly, the one thing that will be remembered.  Her overweight is something she doesn’t like either, we can be sure of that.  I have heard such defining often and, to my shame, said nothing.  I remember one of my boys saying once ‘I wonder why we don’t stand up for each other’ and he is right.  Why don’t we?  Perhaps we don’t want to be the reason for any awkward feelings.  After all, we can just remove ourselves can’t we and think how judgemental that comment was and the person who made it.  It’s easier that way.  But aren’t we judging too by keeping quiet?  It has a name this keeping quiet thing.  Although we didn’t directly commit the crime, we affirmed it by omission.  We omitted to stand and be counted.  In this climate of not standing, we need to make changes.  I have a rule for myself.  If I wouldn’t say something direct to a person, then I won’t say it at all.  I can’t always manage it.  I am human.  But what I aspire to, and practice, will eventually become a habit.

We are all doing our best to manage our lives.  We fall, we falter, we stumble and we crack, but we are not china cups and we can mend.  Not one single one of us knows what it is like to live another’s life.  The saying that we should not judge another man till we have walked a mile in his shoes, is a good one.  Even living closely with another human being tells us little of what lies in their hearts, what dreams are shattered, what disappointments hurt, what shame or oppression has done to their sense of self.  Little choices make up our pathways, but we cannot all walk straight and tall if those pathways are not going the way we want them to.  We redress the balance as best we can, and it takes time to find the normal, sometimes a long time, often a long time.  If I have learned anything in my life it is that I am not an island.  Although I love solitude and am happy on my own, I still crave a warm smile when life feels like it’s wrapped me in chains and thrown a tsunami in my face.  Stopping to smile back, to ask How Are You? and to listen to the answer can lift me far higher than any job-well-done will ever do.  I may rush by you, Can’t Stop, and you may understand my busyness, and I may complete the housework in record time, but, I am smile-less deep inside and not lifted up at all.  Better, by far, that I dally a while with you beside the dried goods and coffees for a human encounter.  We are dead a long time.  Life is for us to live or it will carry on without us.

If not now, then when?

 

Island Blog 129 Out of Africa

African woman

 

 

In Africa I was more likely to find wildlife than wifi.   Of course, there were odd times, in a bar perhaps in town or in a friend’s spanking new office block, but mostly, the only form of contact with anyone at all, was with a handshake, a wide smile and an exchange of words, a state of being I rather like, even if I did, out of habit, reach for my phone if ever we stopped for coffee.

This new office block, with its wide light rooms and wrap around views across Capetown, is already a business hub.  Inventive and creative thinking, interior design and spatial understanding brings together anyone with a business to run and no desk to run it from.  Hot Desks are affordable and genius, because, not only do you get your own space, wifi connection, etc, but you also get to work in a bustling energetic atmosphere among other creators, all of whom are more than happy to network over coffee or a beer.

At every robot (traffic lights) there may be 3 lanes of vehicles.  I look across at those parked beside us in our little silver car (Maggie) and can hardly see the tops of the buckies (four-wheel drives) without craning. Inside these sit the well-upholstered Africaaners, their windows tight shut for the aircon to work.   On the other side, a people carrier taxi, all windows open, pumps out music, the black passengers grinning and bopping on their way to or from work.  The second we stop, the street sellers move in, weaving their way among the cars, holding their merchandise, such as beaded animals, children’s wooden puzzles, mobiles, jewelery, long-legged birds fashioned from plastic bags, woven sunhats and the Big Issue. The sellers are clean and proud, in the main, the turbanned women flashing sparkly smiles, the men making eye contact.  Not begging but business.  We don’t buy because we can find exactly what they are selling on the high street or at the market, even though they did assure us it was all their own work. It could also cause a cafuffle if the lights changed in the middle of negotiations, for there are always negotiations.  The asking price is set high, the rest is barter.

I found the beggars, when we did meet them in town, and you always meet them in town, most distressing to observe.  I always wanted to give something, but, had I done so, I would still be there in Market Square with not a penny left to my name.  Once you give to one, others move in, many of them children, and all of them thin as rakes.  Those who live in Capetown are not cold hearted, but they have grown a thicker skin.  They will consider employing anyone who turns up, who cleans up, who decides to move up in life, but they will not easily support those who choose doorways to sleep in and some lethal coctail as nourishment.

I thought much about that.  If someone has lost whatever they had, which may not have been much, it might not take long for that loss to turn into an acceptable way to live.  I imagine self-confidence and respect dissolve pretty quickquick when your only chance of food is by raiding bins on collection day.  I watched a man walk down the street doing just that and talking away to himself. He was oblivious to me, beyond stepping off the pavement to avoid a collision, and his eyes were bloodshot and empty.  I pulled my bag closer and felt vulnerable and overdressed and frightfully well spoken and, well, guilty.  We were heading out of town for a few nights on the coast, with food and wine and a rented beach hut to wrap around us and all he had to look forward to was another long street of wheelie bins and the possibility of Thai curry leftovers in polystyrene. And a doorway to sleep in.

Then (for life always sends a balance to help out) I met young black people with a zeal in their bellies. Not priveleged and living in one of the townships –  mile upon mile of tin roofs and dust floors, but still determined to find new quality for their lives, waiting at tables, working on the dustcart, cleaning, odd-jobbing, and so much more.  ‘If anyone wants it, the work is here’, I was told more than once.  This is a country where labour is abundant and cheap.  Wages are low, work is hard, but these people have a joy about them, a laughter that may well not come from a place of comfort.  It’s more an attitude than a result of how life treats them.  In other words, it comes first, that smile, that easy laugh.

We saw the maids arriving at the big smart Africaaner homes every morning around 7am.  Dressed in black with brilliant white aprons, they trudged up the hills from the noisy taxi that brought them out of the townships, talking and laughing together.  They always looked up for a greeting and always responded with friendship.  Their hours, from 7.30 to whenever they were done cleaning, looking after children and cooking, might earn them £8 at the far end of a day that expects a woman to do every domestic job required.  Then they walked back to the taxi rank, back to the townships to their own families to begin all over again, every single day.  When I talked with one maid, she told me she was happy to work.  Work, she said, is important.  No work, no importance. She look at me, astonished when I told her I had worked as a maid for a time.  Why?  she asked me.  ‘You don’t have maids in Scotland?’  As if cleaning was not for my shiny white hands. I fumbled about for an answer that didn’t sound like ‘well, I needed the money.’  She would have fainted clean away, had she known the wage I was paid for doing far less than is expected of her. And then she smiled the widest smile and then she laughed a laugh that made her bangles jingle and shook her head in amazement and amusement at the very thought of the ‘Ma’ cleaning a house, even her own.  Then she gathered up a huge pile of washing and left me wondering at my priveleged life and how often I forget to remember that it is just that.

Island Blog 98 The Weight of Words

It’s getting colder they say, and they are right.  It is.  But, if I were to unmorph myself from the Island and re-morph down south, right now, I would be shucking off my semmet and my woollies and be ‘foofing’ about the heat.

I know, whenever I leave the Island to go somewhere south of it, I stand over my heap of clothes and after considering frock requirements and, oh, shoes to go with said frock, I consider temperature.  Apart from the fact that I can manage about 30 minutes inside any mainland shop before melting into an unsavoury puddle, I must think about the street heat and then, oh worst of all, the level to which the central heating is set, which is almost always way up to high – so high I can hardly breathe without seizing up and turning into sandpaper.  Windows are usually closed, against pollution, flies, neighbours and, of course, weather.

We have a woodburner and no central heating, but that baby does all the work here, warming upstairs, downstairs and the lady’s chamber, although not too much up there because:

a.  its not healthy and

b.  The window is slightly shy of the available orifice thus allowing all four winds many opportunities for a knife-sharp entry.

Of course, not all four winds come through at the same time, even if they can on the odd day, as the Island wind changes her mind as frequently as a woman in the make-up department of Fraser’s department store.

The north wind is ‘hard’ black, the south ‘bright’ silver, the east is purple and the west, amber – everyone knows that, especially light-house keepers, as I have learned from the wonderful book Stargazing by Peter Hill.

Lighthouse-keepers………they don’t exist anymore.  Now the lights that save our ships from dashing their brains out on sharp-toothed rocks, are worked by someone miles away, electronically, someone who doesn’t need to feel the wind, taste the salt, watch the other lights as dusk falls, become a part of a new adventure every night for weeks on end – someone who would never need the right clothes for such an adventure.

But, back to packing.  The things I need to make room for in my travel bag are mostly words, and those receivers of words, such as my little laptop and my notebooks.  These are heavy, compared to any bodily flim-flam, but when I weigh my luggage, in my hand, I know that, were I to remove something, it would be in the flim-flam department, and never at the expense of the words I have chosen to keep.

These words can be, and often are, half-inched from wiser mouths than my own.  I have absolutely no problem with that.  I don’t consider it stealing, more the recognition of another’s starry brilliance.  I learn from them, use them in part, or in the whole, as a part of something I want to put into either my own mouth, or the mouth of a character in a story.  They are more precious to me than gold, than frocks, than the right apparel for any given occasion.

So, if I arrive in the wrong shoes but with the right words in my mouth/suitcase/head, then who will notice?

Oh yeah……..my mum.the weight of words