Island Blog – The Dance

I have just cleaned my screen. It took a while to eliminate all the greasy finger marks upon’t. T’is done now and my screen is blaring white and clean, causing me to pull back a bit as if in the headlights of a oncoming car. I recover. I consider ‘clean’ against ‘not clean but easy to work with’ and I confounder myself. What else is not clean but easy to work with in my life? I am rocketing towards 70 and that’s an OMG, here she goes thing for children, probably now in their 40’s.

Moving on (quickly). This day I have listened to 3 TED talks on End Of Life. The one thing only we, in the West have any problem with. I mean, people, for goodness sake! We are all going to face it. But how? We don’t know when but we can decide the how of it. As I am doing. And, with great respect I will challenge anyone who is not clear about their choices for that time that will come to us all. Oh, yes, I have heard my fellows telling me I am being morbid but I dance those tellings away because I have been there with the generation above me, now long gone. It is more than a choice. It is a responsibility. Just saying. A Power of Attorney and a Living Will. Easy. Done and freeing for the kids who grieve and grieving slams you into space, one you don’t know, don’t like, fear and run from but which engulfs you for years and affects every step you, the left-behind, is left to take, day by gruelling day.

I am almost there on the legal stuff, which, by the way is a thixotrope of complexity. I remember when the Old Sea Dog was wheeched off to Glasgow with one of his 3 heart valves (2 down) doing it’s best (I named it, the only valve working, Falkor (you have to see the Never-ending Story to know that name), and whilst said Sea Dog was, to say the least, discombobulated, we could find no legal, official thing about his living will. That lack caused my kids intense angst. I don’t want that again for them. Hence I am required to act. No, I require me to act. It is only fair. Many I know have all this in place. And an equal many wave it away. The list is What I Want For My End of Life. It is so simple and yet here we run from it as if anyone can ever run from Death.

I love Fun. Fun is my absolute friend. If someone says Come Now and With Boots On, I am ready in 2 minutes. How much preparation does anyone need for Fun? It is gone in seconds unless we are are ready for it every moment of every day, even the dark ones, the cold ones and cloudydeep ones, the ones we don’t want to wake up for, the same old day tramping like nuns through the cold of our bereaved and broken lives, even then. Even them.

Moving into later life is not a time to deny that life. It is ours. We can ‘old’ with attitude or we can hide away and pretend it isn’t coming, tell ourselves we now have to wear sensible colours, forget the music in the pub that we loved, deny travel because travel is scary (for all of us btw)and fold in. why? Well, I am there, so I can tell you. We don’t want to look like fools. That’s it. We know where we are even as our kids want to tell us we will live forever. We won’t. Let us brave up and make things clear. Let us.

On a swippy note, I am listening to dance tunes in my kitchen as I cook my supper. I love the flavour, the swing, the colour, the flow and the creativity of this dance for life. Although limbs might not respond as they once did, so what! They did once and didn’t my body love that? Yes. it did. Celebrate old body and dance on when you can and if you can. Just don’t deny the olding. Just don’t. It is our path. It is so glorious, so freeing, so fresh and so, well, the dance.

Island Blog -Still Breathing On

I meet with two other widows over coffee in a brightly lit cafe/chocolate factory. All last night I was fearful, not of meeting them but of going out at all. I had to choose paint, collect a prescription, buy soap from the best soap shop in history deliver a huge landrover tyre to the garage for unpunctuation and leave my own mini there for an hour or so. She, my mini, Miss Pixty Forkov, was having an argument with her onboard computer and I don’t blame her. She was telling me her tyres were fine thank you very much whilst her screen flashed me dire warnings of certain disaster. This long list of things confounded me, overwhelmed me and I had to take 3 deep breaths prior to firing up the engine. I realise this to be ridiculous. I have driven this tootling switchback road up and down endless hills and skirting 2 lochs for decades. But nowadays it can take on monster proportions inside my overactive imagination and it has everything to do with Covid restrictions and fears and widowhood.

Needless to say, once my lungs are well pumped back up again and my head silenced, all tasks are completed with ease. I arrive at the cafe and settle down with a double shot cappuccino to wait. I can feel myself calming down as we talk about how life is for each one of us. All our husbands died differently. All of us are still somewhat lost without them, no matter how pragmatic, how busy with ordinary tasks we may be. We feel abandoned and rather pointless. We live on for our children, not quite yet able to say we live for ourselves, having not lived for ourselves since we were 20 and that was half a century ago. What happens to souls after death, I wonder to myself. Is there an end date for a soul as there is for a body? If not, heaven must be overcrowded when I consider the thousands of years humans have been living out their lives. I look at my friends, two good strong women whose faces show me what they must see in mine. More lines, eyes not so bright, mouth busy but changed somehow, the ends pointing chinwards in repose. Is my heart broken? Is yours? We all agree. Yes our hearts are broken, our lives as we knew them stopped forever dead. It doesn’t mean we won’t heal, although the scars will always be there. It doesn’t mean we sit around feeling sorry for ourselves but it does mean we give life to these deaths in that we talk about them, about our dead men, the impact on our children, the legacy of loss, of father loss. You only ever get one of those.

For my own part, as the most recent widow, I have only just come to a place of acceptance, a sort of quiet river flowing underground. Sometimes this river hits a confoundment of rocks that cause a lot of hiss and spit, spume and roar. Other times a waterfall, rapids and quiet swirling pools. There are bends and long straights, deeps dark as the middle of a forest at midnight, shallows where fish skitter and reeds wave softly from where they root, denied air. I inhabit the ground above this river, walking alone. The river compels me, beckons me, calls to me and offers me continuity, hope and a future even if I have no clue what that future will be. I know, as my friends know, that our children watch us now like hawks, picking up on every stumble, every doubt, every fear. Mum is all we have left now. Mum must go on and we will make bloody sure she does, the old bat.

When we separate back into our own solitary lives, having covered most subjects in the book of subjects, I know we all feel lighter because of what we all have in common and because we are not afraid of death any more. It is not a word whispered as it was before we watched it happen to our life partners. At the very point of death, when we turned all practical and businesslike, we left a part of ourselves behind for ever. We can be afraid of driving short distances, of imagined dragons, but Death has no hold over us now. We met him, after all. We watched him cross the room. We felt his presence. We are taller now, stronger now and more likely to laugh with abandon at things we might well have censored before. We are woman, invincible and still breathing on.

Island Blog – Fractal Dance and Twee Storms

I leave my little home and swing right onto the Tapselteerie track. There are no cars parked in the wheen of a passing place so that means no walkers unless they arrived on foot. Good. I love solitary walking. As the sea breeze lifts and luffs around me I get a faceful of wispy down, seeds from the rose bay willow herb, white, soft, fractal. I don’t take a deep breath as the cloud floats around me and away into the sky. Thistles are also setting flight their hopes for the future, and this down is hardier, more able to land with a modicum of precision. The cloud down can blow on for days, weeks, at the mercy of a capricious breeze, ever changing its direction over this land of rocks and tides and capricious breezes. I have found cloud seed everywhere, inside the house, in the bird food bins, stuck to the washing on the line, in my knicker drawer. I’m not hopeful for them. I catch some seed and study one. Aeronautical perfection with tiny limbs, one weighted and with a tiny barb for holding on. The seeds spin like tops through the air, catch on clothing which then travels home with the wearer only to be shaken off in a new garden. Nature is genius.

The Tapselteerie track is dappled mosaic. Sunlight creates a masterpiece beneath my feet, a work of art. As I walk over such beauty my eyes lift up through the canopy of hazels to a mosaic of cerulean blue, bright green and icewhite, then back down to golden hexagons, polygons and all the other gons laid out before me like a star studded carpet. I hear long-tailed tits somewhere in the density of woodland, warblers and the prrrt of a robin’s warning. Two herons flap and screech at each other on the shore, vying for territorial rights. They lumber and flap, crashing into bowed-back hazels as if nobody ever taught them how to fly with elegance and precision, as if they still have dinosaur blood coursing through their veins and the wing thing is, well, awkward. The tides are both very high and very low just now because of the full moon, the Sturgeon Moon. The full moons were named by the ancients, called to reflect the season. How sensible. Not like the naming of hurricanes or storms which always scoffs me. A twee name for a disturbing natural eruption of astonishing energy tells me much about how our current culture really isn’t taking life seriously at all.

The tappsled seaweed is flung across the rocks in a sort of gay abandon. Gold and copper, black and emerald against the black of the basalt and I wish once again I had brought my phone for a photo. No matter, myself says. You can just take it in through your eyes, feel it sink into your body, your mind and your heart and by the way who on earth goes for a walk in the wild with a phone? Good point, I concede. My sensible self, my let go and shut-the-hell-up self is often right. She is all about just enjoying the moment or, if the moment is a shit storm, then not enjoying it at all and just waiting until it moves on to the next moment. It’s a good ethos.

The oyster farmers are working across the narrows now the tide is low enough to walk across from one side to the other at such tidal times. Their puffing tractors work the shore, the men in full body wellie boots as they tend to the cages. I wonder what they need to do and how hard the work might be, probably is. In sunshine weather it must be easy, in sharpening bite-cold, not such fun. The oysters are the best I have ever tasted and we can enjoy them anytime we choose. The shucking shed is big and green and sometimes I can hear voices floating across the search as the men and women work. I can hear laughter, jokes shared and it reminds me of working on our farm way back in Norfolk, way back in the 1970’s when I first learned that being part of a ‘waulking’ team was the warmest and happiest I ever could be.

Deer can swim over the narrows and we did warn the new owners of Tapselteerie once we heard they were deer fencing the estate. Don’t bother, we said, the deer swim and nobody can deer fence an entire rock-solid shoreline. They didn’t heed us. I remember wondering back then if my heeding skills might be due an MOT. Now the fences sag and flop anyway and the deer go wherever they please. Once I watched a stag leap said fence, startled by me. My heart was in my mouth as I watched him head for the impossible. I envisioned broken limbs, damage, wounds and general disaster. What actually happened was that he cleared the fence but his back legs caught, bringing down the whole thing as if it was matchwood and string. Once the clanging and puffing and snorting and leaping and heart-in-mouthing thing was over, he stopped, looked back at his awaiting hinds, all shivering and silent on the ridge above him, above me. I drew respectfully back quietly, my eyes down. Make no eye contact, I remember that lesson in Africa and it makes sense to me. No eye contact, no challenge, no threat. With nervous steps, the 3 hinds descended the ridge, stopped once to look at the not-looking me and the not-looking dog clamped under my arm, and then elegantly flowed over the matchstick fence, up, up and away into the trees.

These sunshine days are a gift. The winter is long enough, loud enough, scary enough with twee named storms causing danger of death which is very real for some. We have lived with storms and disturbing natural eruptions for thousands of years. The problem is dissociation. Instead of connecting with what is way bigger than us, way more powerful, we are hiding. And, thus being fools. I know I am fortunate, living high enough on these old rocks to avoid flooding and all the horrors that brings to bear and I am glad that my husband was overly alert to nature’s power along with her gifts. He taught me to be vigilant, to be aware, to make sudden decisions based on what was plucking at his gut and not what we heard on the news which, sadly, is often too cautious in its decision not to cause panic. If we as alert and intelligent human beings felt confident enough to decide for ourselves, what spirit would come to life! What powerful and intuitive choices would be made, what influence that might have, and how many lives could be saved! These are not questions.

All this on my dappled seed blown walk today. Let us, people, learn things, like CPR, like what happens in a tidal flow, a flood, a storm. From what direction? How much build up is there, considering the friction, drag and density of that tidal flow. Tidal spiders, taken into account. The earthly tides flow widdershins but not always. I am not saying that everyone needs to know what the tides are doing but I am saying learn something. You might live in Glasgow or Stevenage. No matter. You will be affected by the tidal flow and the altercation that is going on between the heavens and the earth. And it is real. We must teach our children. We absolutely must.

Island Blog – A Beetle, Selkie Song and Kitchen Units

I met a beetle last night in the middle of it. The night, I mean. He was rather spectacular with a long oval back, shiny black, indented white. I was sitting drinking a herbal knockout tea around 2am and he ran along the wainscot, bumping against it every few seconds as if he had forgotten where it was. I hunkered down to watch him and he saw me, rising his pincers at me, his body an oblique accent with waggles. I laughed a guffaw, almost blowing him right back to base, and then apologising as he had to do the whole journey again. So brave, I schmoozed, as he repeated the laborious thing. I wondered where he was headed, and my eyes followed him as I thinked. He likes the dark. I just turned on the sun, well, for him, anyway and he is freaking out. He scuttles, bumps and scuttles again his way to where the old kitchen units don’t meet the ground, a thing that seems legion in old houses build almost 200 years ago and with no thought for foundations nor levelling. At least not in inanimate things. I suspect there was a great deal of levelling going on between sentient beings. As he got closer to that perfect lift of warped unit and sinking floor about 6 spiders scooted down their silken ropes, their legs clutching and flailing. Oh don’t be silly, I said to them. Just look at you all, you skinny little things and look at him, armoured up and with a serious pincer waggle going on. They ignored me as they all pretended they had just popped out for air without any beetle-munch intention, performing a few trapezoid spins and then disappearing back into my units.

I wonder, often actually, about the wildlife inside my units. I have met plenty over the years. A family of slugs, no, a whole township. Spiders of every size and colour. Mice. There have been times, when I felt so compromised and overwhelmed that I might take a deep breath prior to opening a door in search of ordinary dinner plates for an ordinary dinner and been quite prepared to encounter some big predator, one that has grown weary of a spider/slug/mouse diet and is ready for change. It has never happened for real. Not yet. Living in the places I have lived, around horses, cattle, sheep and feral children, anything has always been possible and I am no fool. I am prepared. Have always been. Mostly I don’t mind at all but since the old man is gone, I am requiring myself to learn my own courage. Things can overwhelm even as I know for sure that I was always the bravest. However, being brave beside someone else, a husband, a wife, a child, is so much braver than mere courage for self and alone is a load scarier. My beetle encounter teaches me. I could imagine an infestation of waggling warriors or I could decide to marvel at the extraordinary beauty of both the chance encounter and the creature itself. I am just glad I turned on the ‘sun’ prior to entering the lift and luff of my kitchen, thus avoiding crunching this stunning creature under a careless foot.

Later I walked the Tapselteerie loop. As I rounded the point, the breeze caught my breath, salty, straight from the great wide ocean. I saw Sgeir Mhor rock, peaceful today. A singing came to me. My dog twisted and stopped dead at the sound. The Selkies, I said. No worries. I hear them, I tell her, the seal people singing. It is a beautiful song and we stand awhile to listen. I wander home in a smile. Ah wildlife! The one thing that is a gazillion things. Is that a collective noun? And if I am wild, does that make me a part of wildlife or do I need to grow more legs or feathers, or fur, or fins to join this glorious freedom?

I feather home. Open the mail box, deal with probate, answer emails, remindings of the duality of my life. Wild at times, unwild at others, and yet, and yet, if I am learning anything from my innovative (and feral) children, I am beginning to think that, although I have no plan to scuttle nor waggle, nor, if possible, inhabit the night, I can become conscious of both worlds, of all worlds. Being conscious is not about knowing what the hellikins you do next, but about just being open. Life can feel like boots stuck in mud, can it not? But we don’t have to stay stuck. I am learning and loving the learning even when it scares me. Remember the Selkies, I tell myself. They were there and you couldn’t see them but their song, their perfect pure song reached you and stopped you in your tracks.

I am learning. Curious. And learning again. Now, this is living.

Island Blog – This Day

I just have to write about it because it is fire in my heart and, as we all know, fire dies to embers in the grate, and in our minds it takes a smokey back seat if it is not captured immediately. So I am being ”immediately’. I am beginning to realise, is the only way to really live. Parked stuff melts into grey; other peoples demands rise like new flames into that grey and it will dissolute, diminish, and ghost and unfortunately that ghost takes a stand in the doorway of revelation, blocking it.

My little sister arrived today with her partner. It has been easy 2 years since I saw her, hugged her, looked into her eyes. They are bright, for the record, she who has braved massive stuff over the years. She is as wild as I remember, tousled haired, dancer body, feisty, bright, and so so very giving. A complete inspiration around small children because she can catch them and entrance and connect from nowhere and anywhere and they love her and remember her for life. When I watched her come in to see two of her nieces today, one of whom, aged 5 was unsure she would remember her aunt, well, it was a concerto of perfect music. There is something about the flow between ages and distance and she, my sister, has it in the bag. Not that she contrives it. No manipulation, just a gift.

And. It is her birthday. Managing to catch an earlier ferry, she and her man arrived early. Now, we had a plan. A seafood smash and grab thing around 5, pre this knowledge. Quick as squirrels grabbing nuts as they smell a frost, we set to, as they say here. Food was hurried up, tables laid, wine chilled, balloons ballooned and I watched her arrive. She is a tad glorious to watch arriving. We feasted on fresh caught seafood. We laughed and joked and shared, sorted little ones on the wet slide and in the paddling pool. It was a glorious celebration of my sister and also of ourselves. We needed this. As I dippled and scanted my way back down the track I thought this.

In the nothing of the last scary months, this was a very big something. And I am thankful, so very very thankful.

Island Blog – Fairy, Dragon, Princeling

Yesterday I had two granddaughters with me for a short while. I collected them, backpacked up with games, toys, pens, snacks and we wandered down the track to my home. I watch them pause, flip off shoes, respectful. Once inside the door, enthusiasm skids beneath their feet as if they were on ice. Just a doorway change. I remember noticing that their grandfather’s mind wiped as he moved through a doorway. The anger, frustration and, well, the whole rant thing, disappeared as he shuffled through. It seemed as if he forgot all of it. I saw it on his face, knew it, relaxed.

We, no, not we, for I was distracted, I had email to check, fuss to fuss over, initially. As I heard them plant, root and bring out Deep Sea Bingo, I was a doorway away but listening. One was losing and causing a mini explosion until her older sister talked her down. All the usual. There is no pain in losing. We all need to lose now and again. It doesn’t mean you are a loser. That sort of 8 year old wisdom. The wails subsided and I kept schtum. Let it be, let them be, I said as I fiddled another tricky tapestry stitch. I am watching. I am hearing.

Then I join in. What in the heck is a Fiddle Fish? I put my specs on. Oh, I quite like the look of you. And there were many more with names and images that left me lost on the land. But what really intrigued me was the interest of the wee ones. It was a loud thing, of course. Loads of chat and chatter, arguments rising like tiny fires and then dying back into a concentrate of calm. I watch the redhead and the strawberry blonde. The girls are quicker than I at seeing whether or not they have a Lesser Spotted Cattlehead or a Snub-nosed Dinky Bird. It takes me a while to scan my bingo board, to read the words. I realise I am better at this thing if I get a visual. Show me the card, I ask the Strawberry blonde. Better. My brain works on visual i.d. I don’t win, of course. Gaga, you did have the Yellow Beaked Fake Dolphin……look! Silly Gaga. We all chuckle. Maybe I did win after all. I consider the names of these extraordinary creatures. Who ever thought the prefix ‘Common’ would sit well with something completely uncommon? I always feel sorry for the ‘Commons’ in both the animal and flora/fauna worlds. It sits like an insult. Nothing and no-one is ever common, not in my story.

After they had gone, I heard the silence. With little ones around there is never silence. If you can’t hear children, then there aren’t any. My name flies into the air a hundred times an hour. Questions too. Gaga, did you know that all dogs are round? Are they, I raise my eyebrows and cast a glance towards the Poppy dog, asleep and indeed curled into a donut. Yes, she says. They like being round. People can’t be round. They’re straight. Daddy is straight. Excellent observation, I tell her and her smile beams. But Mummy can be round, she says, her red curls bobbing. Ice blue eyes lock with my own. She is expecting correction, I think, and here it comes but not from me. No she isn’t, snorts her older sister, laying out the chips for a second round of Bingo. She is straight too. But she can curl into a round, I say. I’ve seen her do it. Your mummy is made of elastic. She can stretch and ping anywhere. They erupt in hysterics.

Around children, truth will be told. Questions require answers, observations are made and they have a canny knack of getting right to the core, one you may well have kept hidden for good reason. Where is Popz now? One asks. he is flying about up there, I tell them. Like a bird? Well, not quite like a bird. More a spirit. What’s a spirit? A spirit is mostly air and scoot. Like a cloud? Sort of. I would be a spirit, says the older one, if I could. No, not a spirit, a good fairy. I warm to this change of subject. I would be a dragon, I announce, a good one, a luck one. Pink? Yes, naturally. Well I would be a princeling says the redhead, straight-faced and I haven’t the heart to tell her that princelings are usually boys. After all, who knows what will be possible when she moves out into the world?

Island Blog – Heroes Awake

Accordion to Radio Two, all of us who bother to wake up at all, are superheroes. Anyone who bakes chocolate cookies before 6 am, someone who runs 10k as Father Sun lifts into his sky or a woman who makes her own muesli, automatically grow wings to lift above the rest of us who achieved none of these. Even the morning greeting is directed to superheroes leaving me to feel somewhat wingless, and this feeling causes me thought.

In my memory, superheroes, or even just heroes, were those who achieved something remarkable such as leaping off a rocky bank and into a swirling river to save a life, or the old woman who took in homeless kids and asked for no benefits. People, in other words, who did what they did just because it was the right thing to do, expecting no publicity or recognition at all. Although I understand the need for a leader-ship to find a way to uplift us during the lockdowns with all their sadness, loneliness and fear, I do confess to hoping that we might now shift into a more realistic perspective on heroes. I think of the children. Is she a hero or a superhero just because she dressed herself this morning? Is he a superhero because he brought mum a cup of tea? Well, possibly yes if these achievements are long overdue, but only within the family. If children really believe it is that easy to superhero-up, then how on earth are they going to cope with the Big Bad World? Life is a truly wondrous gift but it is no easy one, not for anybody. I would like to see more intelligent teaching for our children, lessons on kindness and compassion, relationships, heart/mind balance and connectivity. Teaching them to notice, honour and develop their own skills and gifts instead of pitching them against each other. Showing them that each one of them is important and no less nor more important than her or him. This hero thing causes a non-hero to feel less than, every time, and that is a crushing feeling.

Perhaps my way of teaching all these things to my own children is not how it is out there in the BBW. Maybe it is just fine to hero yourself by totting up the number of likes you get on Facebook. More than her, less than him. I can’t see a happy outcome, can you? Nonetheless I know that the way I feel has no influence on the BBW, but it can perhaps have some among my own little grandchildren and maybe that is the best I can proffer from my not hero place. Life is tough enough without it being presented at a very early age to be a competition and then fed and nourished by social media, radio stations, online games and t.v. In my opinion.

I believe that our times of lockdown and isolation has given us the chance to rejig our thinking on life and if we are wise and visionary, thinking of our little ones who will face a very different world as they grow into adults, we will sew new seeds right now. We might find a voice instead of accepting what is powerfully offered by those wielding that power. Quietly, gently, we might think independently about our own life values. Banging on about how much better it was, apparently, in the olden days, helps nobody. Action is the key. I know that each of us is just one person and the powerful ones are, well, powerful, but we can do something within our own space and life to grow awareness, suggest a new way to see an old thing. We can support and encourage and this will make a difference however much we may doubt it. We can stop shrugging our shoulders and sighing resignedly.

My belief is that everything is just as it should be, but that doesn’t mean we can sit back when something troubles us. When that happens there is a call to action. What action? you might ask. All I say to that is ask yourself that question and wait for the answer. Once a heart is open, there is an invitation sent out and answer will always come. Covid has been a wake-up call. Are you awake?

Island Blog – I am Woman

I am woman, my own woman, and yet all women.

I have been broken more times than could be repaired, had I been born a teacup.

I am soft as down and hard as stone.

I have loved with all my beating heart and lost and known it beat again.

I have run over hot coals to protect my children and even with a burned soul I run on.

I have faltered, failed and fallen more times than rain, have dawned and dusked, ebbed and flowed, waxed and waned a million times and I will do it all again.

I have drawn my sword and I have sheathed it.

I have been actively, consistently kind to those I didn’t like and don’t relate to.

I have welcomed my child’s choice of partner, not because I attended the selection process, but because I did not. They have taught me new lessons and I have learned to love them all.

I have read more books than Finland on self-development and applied that learning to my daily life.

I have run into walls, tripped over rocks, fallen off see-saws, swings and roundabouts and may well do so again.

I have fallen in love and out again.

I have nursed, nurtured, carried and cared for children, adults, days, months and years and they all got better.

I have cried ugly and alone for nights and with another until the smile came back to my face.

I have looked in the mirror and felt sick, delighted, upset and happy.

I have given away my last bite as my stomach rumbled.

I have run too fast and reached too high.

I have lived my life.

I am Woman, I am myself, and I am Every Woman. I don’t need to know the details of your life, nor hear your voice for Every Woman knows exactly what it is like to be one.

I honour every one of you.

Island Blog – If This Life

I love audio books. While I sew or cook or fanny about, I listen to those who know a deal more than I. If I run water for washing dishes or flip the electric kettle on to boil I must needs whack up the volume or hold my phone to my ear, but you could never say I am not committed. Is that a double negative…….?

My books could be scientific, factual or fictional fairyness. I love love both. This began during covid and isolation even before himself left the planet. I love to read an actual book and do so at night, pre sleep, but the thing about an audio book, if I like the reader voice, is that my brain absorbs it in a different way. I couldn’t tell you in what way different, but I am aware that the information I can take in from a very factual book is something I could never cope with as an eye reader.

So and thus, I can listen to some tricky stuff on audible. In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, Gabor Mate. Why Love Matters, Sue Gerhardt. Eish I could never read than stuff in a book, stuff I want to hear because even at my age, I am curious and keen to understand and to learn. The former book is on addictions stemming from childhood abuse or neglect. The latter on the effect of parenting on children and its subsequent manifestations. Yes, I know, tough, and most of us won’t go there because we can’t face the guilt, but what I am discovering is not what I feared. We do the best we can, clueless like every new parents are, as they always have been and always will be. I have felt sharp heart bites and warm yesses. I have remembered being present yet absent (aka distracted with guests, husband etc) and that hurts, but I hope I gave the warmth and love and attention to my children at the times they most needed that from me. We mothers are so quick to take the blame, the blood red tsunami of it, upon ourselves. I know this.

With my own mother and many of her generation, there was no desire to look back over the child rearing years. What happened happened. What was done or said was done or said, belonging only in the past and the past is dead as a dodo. My own generation initiated a change in that thinking, deciding to do things differently because we knew we were damaged by a Victorian-ish upbringing to some degree or another, and wanted our own children to feel more obviously loved. Although that old nonsense of ‘this will hurt but it’s for your own good’ still came into my head when some sort of retribution for a crime committed was required, I remember thinking long and hard about a kinder way of getting the same message across. I wasn’t always so clever. Kids drive you bonkers and always at times when your own chips are down. I lashed out in anger at times and the regret and shame consumed me. I learned to say I Am Sorry, something my parents never said. Keeping that regret and shame quiet is very damaging to the self, to both selves in fact.

Listening to these audio books and more besides is not doing me any harm at all. When I relate to something the writer says, something either painful in recollection or uplifting and empathetic, I have the choice to take any action required. The intelligence, backed up by scientific research on children (and I was one once) helps me to smile at myself as a faulty mother. It also kinds me towards my own self as a little girl who believed in fairies and happiness and who was astonished and hurt to discover that her own mother was also faulty and broken. I now know why but I didn’t back then. She, who never got from her own mother the love she needed, did not have the benefit of information available to me and to future mothers and fathers. Knowing this as I do now, affords me the chance to empathise with her, to understand why she was who she was and to love and appreciate her backwards.

It does take courage and the willingness to be vulnerable to read or listen to such information, but if this life is the only one I get, then I want to get to the end of it knowing I have understood myself to a high degree, to have made amends wherever I could and to have learned that we are all broken humans with a huge capacity for loving and understanding others and ourselves. And it is never too late to learn something new.

Island Blog – I would tell you

This is for you my one and only husband. As you know (I am sure the angels will have reminded you) today is our 49th wedding anniversary. I can barely believe either of us stuck it out for so many years. I see you smile at that. Neither of us had a scooby about such an intensely complex relationship, speaking out the vows with all that enthusiasm and emotion and blissfully unaware that things would change. That we would change, not at the same time, which was always deeply inconvenient, but singularly and fully expectant of the other to adapt immediately, without a cross word spoken. How naive we were, how trusting in our own set of plans, dreams and expectations. We said we would do it different, remember that? We would never alienate each other, never endure long periods of stony silence, never break apart, never run away, and yet we did all those things. And we survived it all. Did our children, I wonder? Do any children? They are so aware of parental strife, of tension within mother, within father, it cannot leave them undamaged. I suspect we are all damaged, bringing into all our relationships the breaks and black holes from our pasts. As much as I look for the ‘perfect’, there is none.

I would tell you these things. Today I walked beneath the rain-heavy boughs and caught the raindrops, the water from heaven. I cupped them in my hand from a delicate larch limb and drank in the rain. I watched the grey above me, saw the light over the Isle of Coll, open as a window into the sky beyond. A beckoning of light. Look, I said to you, can you see? I wonder how it looks from wherever you are now. How I look, a pinprick dodging puddles in my favourite boots. Did I tell you how hard I have looked for a repeat pair? I find them nowhere. I found five orchids beside the track, no idea what sort of orchids but that doesn’t matter to me. Pink and sudden, for they weren’t there just yesterday and to see an orchid is to find myself in some foreign land. The walk today was the short one. I find walking in the rain jacket a cumbersome sort of walk. My frocks are curtailed from their desire to swish and they mutter beneath the waxed waterproof coat thing that weighs a ton and is far from a pleasant covering. As you know, my slim puffa jacket is as ready to absorb the rain as a sponge might be, although I have donned it pre a rainy walk purely out of vanity and respect for the swish of my frocks, returning drenched.

Then I showered and changed. In other times, this would have been in anticipation of an evening out to celebrate. Not this year. I walked barefoot through the garden to pick myself some flowers and you would not believe the rose you planted some years back, the one called Wedding Anniversary, the one that has heretofore only ever produced 4 or 5 buds. This year it is heavy with blooms and I hope you can see them. And I have been remembering past anniversaries, even as I do have to dig my way back before dementia to find the happier ones. I remember you saying, we are going out at 7. I held the excitement all day long, thinking about what I would wear, what we would talk about, where we would go. You were always the best at celebrations, thinking of everything. Even during dementia years, when you could barely eat, let alone drive me somewhere, let alone walk, you could still smile up at me and I would smile back, so much said, so much unsaid.

I want to tell you I am ok. Better than that, I am doing well. I am learning how to let go and how to make myself into a whole me. I am supported, safe and warm. I am also, finally independent. I know you hated that word, fought like mad against it, but it means something different to me. Independence does not mean a person needs nobody. Oh no. We all need somebody or we die of loneliness. What I mean by that word now is that I have confidence in myself, in my choices, my actions. I take full responsibility for everything in my life and I lay no blame, not even on myself. Although there are things I would have done differently given the chance, I am proud of who I am. And I am thankful. Thankful to you for being my broken rock, for protecting me and our children in the only way you knew; for loving and living as you did and you did your best. I can see that now, for all the squawking I did along the way.

I touch your face in a photograph and remember the feel of your skin. I remember your hands, strong, warm. I remember your smile and the ice blue of your eyes, a gift to our daughter.

These are what I would tell you this day, my husband.

Maybe I just did.