Island Blog – Threads

This morning I saw two hinds on the hillside across the sea-loch. Their calf-rounded bellies confused me at first. I am used to seeing them more slimline, hungrier. My long sight is excellent. It’s quite a different matter when I need to see something at close quarters, such as 23 count needlepoint. For me, it is just a spread of white with dots and any attempts to align a needle with one of those dots ends up in complete failure. My cross stitch is decidedly cross.

I wander through the day from this to that and back again, each time scrubbing my hands to two Happy Birthdays. I’m amazed there is any skin left. It thinks me. The hinds are blissfully unaware of what we humans are currently facing down, the scrubbing and the fear and the ridiculous overbuying of things that should be shared out equally, as are the mint, the daffodils, the buds on the climbing rose, the siskin (just returned) and the perky little robin building a nest in the bonfire pile down the road. The other thing that has no idea what we are currently facing down is the skin on my hands. Beyond being rather startled, it stays firmly in place. How wonderful is that! I remember people saying how amazed they were that the world kept turning as they fell into the dreadful darkness of bereavement. How can this be? Why doesn’t nature know what we are going through? I guess she does but keeps on keeping on anyway and thank the holy crunch for that.

Like everyone else my ears are glued to the news. Changes radical and maybe catastrophical come moment by moment and it ain’t going to stop. People are being sent home, pay-less, their businesses going under, the forecast more than gloomy, but through the brume of these times we are seeing the effulgent power of the human spirit. Heroes and heroines are popping up like toast from a toaster, offering kindnesses that lift all other hearts. It is as it was in wartime and perhaps this is just that. Isolation, depression, fear and loneliness will grow. They cannot not. What we choose to do will keep us together, like those flaming needlepoint threads that are so skinny as to be invisible to me unless I took myself to another room, thus employing my long-sight. Each skinny thread, each act of random kindness is going to turn this thing around. We will remember the tough times, of course we will, but these will fade into nothing when we remember the chiaroscuro of human kindness. Those moments when someone else stepped up, delivered groceries, called to calm with a warm voice, wrote a letter that came at just the right time or sent a text saying I’m right there with you. We are in enforced lockdown, many miles apart and yet we can all send a gleed, a glowing coal, to others so that they can rise the fire in their grate.

Thoughts change things. Keeping positive when we see and hear of the dreadful circumstances of others, of our own perhaps, is not always easy, I know this. But if we can keep hold of the threads that join us, we will get through this if we can just see beyond our own perceived fears. Too long we have made ourselves islands, working just for ourselves and not thinking as we were always meant to do, of the community in which we live. There are always, no exceptions, others who are worse off than we are, no matter what our circumstances.

And it begins with one action, one thought, one single thread caught and followed and sewn (if you aren’t me) into a beautiful picture, multi-coloured and, ultimately creating the most perfect blend.

Island Blog – Watcher

In this clifftop cottage I have panoptic view. The sky fall, the sea-rise, the shapeshifter clouds, the sempiternal changes of light and the communication between them all. I am not a member of their group, merely an electrified and interested observer. I cannot watch enough, hear enough, sense enough. I’m always hungry for more, more change, more manifestations of a slant in the conversation, a break down, a loving reconciliation, from peace to a wild fury. Much like a family I suppose. One misplaced word, one tipped comment, one challenging stand and Boom is an understatement. Not that I know. My family is too focussed on the greater good of the whole, thankfully, no matter what.

The days have been tipsy. Rain, hail, sun, calm, hooligan winds, complete still, noise, silence, birds, no birds and so on. Life is exciting on a clifftop on the West Coast of Scotland and very unpredictable. I doubt I could ever live a life that wasn’t either of those. We come back from a wild walk, soaked through and frozen. Wet leggings, rain heavy frock-tails, dripping faces, happy, alive, rejuvenated. Now that we are inside, the sun laughs a big Haha from the sky, a great, round, hot orb of fire who, by the way, was nowhere to be seen whilst we pushed against a wall of hail-gusty wind. Thanks, I say, looking him (the sun) straight in the eye. He isn’t remotely bothered. At his back another load of watery ice gathers a boil of grey into which he will evanesce without a backwards glance. I think he’s enjoying himself. If I was him, so would I. We mere mortals who take 20 minutes from decision to departure, wrapping, zipping, pushing feet into socks, then boots, re-locating gloves and tissues are a joke at our own expense.

Niveous spume froths around the rocky shore, sometimes leaping feet into the air as the sky messes with the ocean which in turn messes with the shore. Oystercatchers lift and land like pinging tiddlywinks, their voices carried on the wind. A sea eagle startles a bunch of Herdwick sheep as it floats like a small plane overhead. They scatter and I wonder if they’ll do that once they lamb. I hope their instinct to protect will decide them on that although sheep are not known for their large brains. I have seen hens do a much better job. Once, when leaving a cottage we had cleaned for the new guests I caught a large shape overhead. A buzzard. On the ground along with me, a hen clucked her tiny brood under the protection of her wings, filling me with a new respect for the farmyard hen. If she can do this, why not a ewe?

In the warmth of the conservatory we, my best friend and I, sew and knit and tell our stories. We are no influence at all on the conversation between the sky, the ocean and the land, and, yet, we are an integral part of the group. Our influence is made evident in many ways, not all of them empathetic. But this bit of the island is in good and intelligent hands. We watch the farmer fork a huge load of kelp onto the grassland which will feed the grass, the wildflowers, the insects, the birds and the sheep. They, in turn, will feed him and his family. This is active participation in the pursuit of the greater good and I am uplifted every time I stay here, just knowing that one small corner of our beautiful worldly conversation is unhindered by short-sighted greed. The place is heaven (www.treshnish.co.uk). Isolation, comfort, welcoming warmth and a family who take their role as caretakers very seriously indeed. My kind of people.

The sun is out now, big and brassy and with no threatening backdrop. The farm tracks bifurcate into the distance. It’s down for the ocean, along to Treshnish Point and up to where the hills nudge the sky. I can choose my way as I do with everything else. Whatever life expects of me, I always have that choice, as do we all. I may not be free to follow my heart at all times but I can always have a conversation with my heart….. and together we can, and we will, go always forward into whatever happens next.

Island Blog – Hope for Change

There’s a hum I hum when things infuriate or frustrate me, when I meet a bump in the road. It, the hum, begins in upper case and probably in B minor, my favourite key and the one that fits best between clenched teeth. These bumps in the road are not just there for me, but for all of us at times. Of course, there can be no actual bumps inside this house because, if there were, himself would be tipped, all ungainly, from his wheelchair and then I would be tasked with the job of lifting him up. Neither of us want that. Once he is down there, gazing at the cobwebs, the seat of the wheelchair is as far away as base camp, Everest, or it looks like that to me. So, no bumps allowed.

However, actual bumps are not what I’m talking about. I mean bumps, as in ‘stops’ in the running of a life; things that go wrong without asking if it’s ok to go wrong. They could be little things or huge things, but, either way, they alter facts. Life herself makes a subtle shift in a new direction and it is easy to get left behind as she turns away. Standing by the roadside is not taking anyone anywhere, so we are expected to accept this shift and to turn with Life. We can do this in B minor, with clenched teeth, or we can take on the major key and loosen our jaw. I am actually sick to death of loosening mine. I have done it a zillion times and will, inevitably, be required to do another zillion times before the fat lady sings the whole flipping song. But, being sick to death of this required repair work on my attitude is not all that helpful. I get indigestion, for starters, and then cross and then crabby and before I know it, the bump has become a Monroe, one I will really struggle to climb.

Rebecca Solnit (another favourite) said that ‘Change comes, not by magic, but by the incremental effect of countless acts of courage, love and commitment.’ And I believe her, however fed up I may get with all these acts of courage, love and commitment, required daily. I may be an official unpaid carer but so is everyone else. If we don’t care, we might as well walk into the sea with stones in our pockets, for life has no meaning at all. The danger in our country now, perhaps across the world, is apathy, not caring, giving up, shrugging at the gift of Life and making no effort to engage with our fellow humans. With Christmas coming, many are thinking of others in a wonderful caring way, but that mustn’t stop come January. If, like me, the opportunity to improve my attitude comes at you daily, hourly, minute by minute, then we are the lucky ones, for we have no choice in the matter. We cannot be outfoxed by a bump in the road. I have learned and still am learning that I can make or break a situation with my attitude. I can make someone smile, or make someone cry. I can lift and encourage or cut down and break. That power is immense and we all have it. The choice is down to us. We may not be able to predict a new bump in the road but if we have decided not to make this broken world any worse than it already is, we can find our way around the bumps with laughter in our eyes and loving care in our hearts.

That way lies hope, change and the first few lines of a new song, one we can all sing together.

Island Blog – Dot Dot or Dash

Last night we had a thunderstorm. Huge flashes of greenish light illuminated the darkness in my room turning the furniture into eerie monsters. The thunder didn’t bother with clapping. It roared like a god in a filthy temper. And the show went on, and on, and on. I could have been at a rock concert. Sleep gave in and curled up without me and I turned to my book for solace, two books actually, one on meditation, the other on Forgetting Self. Each time the lightning flashed I startled, counted, held my breath as the storm rolled around the Blue Mountains then deafened me with an explosion of thunder so as to make me ask myself what would happen if the sky really did fall down. I don’t remember when it grew calm again but by then it was already light and the day was rising into life.

Sipping strong coffee the storm thinks me. Not just the thunder and the lightning but my part in the performance. I was there. I heard it, saw it, thought about it, tossed and turned inside it, sighed at it and read to distract myself whilst it made its attention seeking journey across my night. I watched the way ordinary becomes extraordinary, the eerie furniture in greenish light, noticed how the flash-shadows menaced my thinking, felt the anticipation, acknowledged my insignificance beneath such life/death power. This its what Life does. That’s what I thought. Life lives on and Life is everything, everyone and everywhere. And I am not everything, nor everyone, nor everywhere. I am a small dot in a vast and endless tapestry of colour and form, shape and design, texture and flow. My world is piddling in this everywhere-ness, just a blip, just a dot and yet I can believe, in my arrogance, that my world is of tantamount importance. More important than yours, for instance, with a more considered layout and healthier stuff in my fridge; my Christmas tree is bigger and better decorated; my children more polite; my floors cleaner, my day more organised, my diary up to date and my appliances all charged.

What foolish nonsense is this! Even writing it down I smirk at such thinking and yet such thinking thinks me at times because in creating a warm wrap of ‘smug’ I feel safe in this everywhere and everyone world. Unless I decide to unthink the thinks. To change them.

I have used my time here in the African bush for much unthinking. With my piddling world many thousands of miles away it has been possible to look back, forward and at each moment and it has been a splendid journey. In ordinary life I/we tend to run through the trivia, listing it, dealing with it, sorting out the bits that don’t fit, dashing through the to-do list in order to arrive. Why is that? Is it because we feel we must get through everything in order to win a prize? Where is this prize anyway? I’ve never won it and that’s for sure. All I achieved was over-tiredness and a mouth full of scratchy nips. Did I seek pity from those I scratchy nipped? When I was too busy ‘Sorry, Thingy, I’m too busy to chat just now, got to dash’, to give of my time (so much more precious than yours by the way) and way too behind on the day’s to-do list to listen to your story down the phone line (I’ll call you back……yeah, right!) did I consider you for one single moment? I don’t think so. Although we say, particularly at Christmas, that we will give more time/of ourself to our family, friends, neighbours and strangers, we mostly unthink that once the gloom of January sets in. We get all emotional about change but once a year. Sounds ridiculous to me. How can anyone change but once a year? I’m changing every day, don’t know about you. I believe that life is change and the whole flipping point of being a dot on the tapestry of Life is to make a difference to the whole. Without the dot that is I, the dot that is you, this line would merge with that line. We dots are important, critical in fact, as long as we think beyond our piddlingness and pay attention to our dotting process. We could be a big dot. We might even be a scatter of dots, depending on how wide our loving arms can reach, on what kindnesses we proffer and how often we proffer them. Inconvenient? Absolutely. Interruptus? Of Coursicus. Infuriating? Oh yes. But, the inside feeling that comes from knowing we showed kindness, respect and affection to whoever disturbed our extremely valuable time will leave a glow inside that no outward success can ever bring.

And that is the Prize.

Island Blog 162 Blue Moon

Blue moon

‘A blue moon traditionally marks a time of change and possibility in the astrological world. The blue moon is the first since August 31, 2012, and won’t be seen again until January 31, 2018.’

It won’t be blue, however. The Blue bit refers to the fact that there will be two full moons this month, this lunar month; a phenomenon, and we like those.  For the star-friendly among us, it denotes a time of change, of possibility.  We say that something happens ‘once, in a blue moon,’ as we refer to the rarity of an event.  We, on the island, might struggle to see any moon at all through a closed and soggy sky, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going on beyond our vision.

Although I usually avoid anything political or strug-mental (my word) inside my blogs, there is a time for every season, one of which is to be counted, to stand tall for something I believe in.  Okay, I’m not so tall, not so important that my little stand can change circumstances, but perhaps, by becoming one of a crowd of ‘standers’ I can make a difference.

On the island, no business, no charity can survive without extra oomph.  That old ferry boat divides us from access to all the instant supports you mainlanders take for granted.  Every one of us has to work that bit harder, that bit longer, our wits and ideas our lifelines.  Tourists come in the Summer months, in the main, although a friendly Autumn or Spring can bring stout-footed walkers and hikers, lycra-clad cyclists to pump their calves into balloons as they rise and descend our endless hills and valleys, eagle-nest watchers and so on.

So, the work we think about all winter long is distilled into a powerful action once the snowdrops begin to show and what should pass for Spring (but forgot this year) lifts the sun a centimetre or two higher in our skies, to illuminate the snow patches, many of which have only just thawed.

One of these worthy and high-profile attractions is our theatre and arts centre, Comar.  I remember, and many of you will too, watching excellent theatre in the barn in this village, where the idea was birthed and delivered to the world.  The Smallest Theatre In The World.  It attracted thousands of thespians and the excellence of this theatre spread far and wide.

Nowadays, it is bigger business, grown from that tiny seed and tended and loved and fed and watered by those whose passion for theatre, music, dance and art led them to invest themselves completely in its development.  Today, amongst its ranks, chaos reigns.  It seems that some now consider it not an island thing anymore and, in their eagerness to make money, have removed the control of it from the very hands, the talented and caring hands of two men whose life revolved around little else, such is their passion.  Being made redundant is not fun for anyone, but on an island it is tough indeed.  Jobs are few and there are many more months without visitors than with.

I am not able, nor willing to state accurate facts about this situation, but the press is doing a good job thus far.  You can read it for yourselves.

http://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.heraldscotland.com%2Fnews%2F13521125.Equity_calls_for_board_of_Mull_arts_company_to_resign_en_masse%2F%3Fref%3Dtwtrec&h=DAQExViOo&s=1

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-33728339

What I can do is stand beside these island folk, and I am and I will.  Too often we overthink ourselves into stillness, watching precious moments pass us by because we feel the fear of challenging the bully and we logic ourselves back home where life is safe enough, where we can pretend everything is okay.

Theatre and art and music and dance are quite without logic, and all about emotion, about passion, about the red blood of who we are. The island is like no other place.

Once, in a Blue Moon, we must stand and be counted.

 

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 152 Small Things

Island Blog 152 Small Things

I had to take action.  I’d been listening to their scurryings above my head every night and wondering what they were up to in the loft.  It’s a dark, cobwebby space, long and spooky, silent, waiting, holding boxes of heaven knows what, familial bric-a-brac, books – stuff the children will wander through when we are gone, wondering why on earth we ever kept any of it.

Okay I said to myself, time for mouse traps.  Yeuch I hate them.  I hate mouse poison even more, not that I’ve ever tasted it, of course.  I hate the slow dying of it.  At least traps are quick, unless they’re not.  It’s the ‘not’ bit that keeps me turning over in bed and pretending it’s the wind pushing things over up there.  Well, it could be.  There are loads of holes for it to shoot through. ‘Up there’ is one of our mysteries.  Unlike modern day lofts, ours is 19th century and has hardly changed at all over the years, beyond its contents.  Gaps between slates show me sunlight, and as for lagging, there is a bit here and there, but nothing that quite spans the space between roof trusses or ceiling beams.  There is flooring, but that just hides a possible Mouse City so I’m not fooled by it.  The cobwebs are black and strong.  I’ve been right to one end on my hands and knees in search of something, anything I might recognise, batting away cobwebs quite impervious to batting.  After a fretful and panicky few minutes during which every episode of Nightmare on Elm Street shot through my brain like fire, I re-appeared down the wonky steps in dire need of both a jolly good hoovering and a double brandy.  I could hardly breathe for hours and my dreams were littered with gigantic spiders for nights after.  I actually like spiders very much.  Just not the nightmare ones.

Anyway, back to the mice.

In trepidation and braced for Cobweb Attack, I donned my head torch and pulled out the wonky steps, took a deep breath (my last for a while) and, with my head, pushed up the trap door.  Let’s re-name it.  Loft door.  Yes, that’s less scary.  I pushed up the loft door and let my torch scan the darkness.  What did I expect?  A line of jaunty mice, all waving and saying ‘Gosh, we haven’t seen you since last winter!  How have you been?’  Hmmmm.  Nothing, of course greeted me beyond the long dark spooky silence and all those flaming boxes of nothing I recognise.  I actually did wonder if the stuff wasn’t ours at all, but left behind by one of the Whoevers who lived here before.  I saw a cricket shin pad thingy, well, half of it to be precise, the upper part now a fluffy mish-mash of ‘munched white’.  Spurred on by this sight (himself will be horrified…..no more Wicket Man) I set the traps with peanut butter and nearly lost a few fingers before getting it right.  Sorry…..I whispered into the gloom and let myself down.  All day I hated myself with a strong hate.  How can I be so cruel?  I know it is utterly foolish because mice should stay outside shouldn’t they, and if they don’t, well, it’s their funeral?

It thinked me of small things, generally, in life, because it is the small things that have the power of big failure or of big success.  For example, our daily habits are small things.  We dont really consider them much, are not mindful of them until one of them begins to jar, to feel wrong, to nudge for change.  If we don’t make regular checks on our daily habits, we may find ourselves caught in the cobwebs of our lives, trapped in the dark.  We humans can think that we are who we are and that’s that. We can’t change now.  Well, I will challenge that.  However old we are, we can change and all change begins with the small things, one small thing.

I may feel ludgy and lethargic.  What can I do about that?  Well, I can stay ludgy and lethargic, or I can decide to take a walk for ten minutes and then tomorrow, I can make the same decision until, after a few days, I have created a new synapse in my brain, a new habit, one I don’t even question.  I just do it.  Then, one morning I wake up and I don’t feel ludgy and lethargic any more.  Gosh!  How did that happen?  Well, it didn’t ‘happen’. I happened it.

I caught 12 mice.  I didn’t feel great about any of the process, but I knew I had to deal with the small things before they became a big thing and chewed up all those mysterious boxes in the long, dark, spooky loft.  I went up this morning and found both traps un-pinged.  I’m not saying the job is done, for the small things will, no doubt, be back, but because I have taken action, I have created a new synapse in the loft of my life.  Who knows……perhaps this Spring I will crawl up there in a hard hat, with a sharp knife to open up the past.

Somebody’s past, anyway.