Island Blog – Hide and Seek

Peering out this morning, through rain smeared windows, the birds look like they are fraying at the edges. The flowers too, poor bowed soldiers in the face of a strong opponent, flagging beauty, ripped petals, but still standing firmly rooted. I had a wee chat with them this morning when I went out to fill the bird feeders. Stay strong, I told them. This too shall pass. Returning to the warm and coffee and a chattering woodturner, I think today will be a day to hide in. Not from, but in.

As a child, hide and seek was the best game ever, especially in a friends house where there were many more rooms than people. Connecting corridors, secret doors, lofts and cellars. the ‘hider’ could disappear for days on end in that rich man’s castle. However, the slightest sound of incoming sparked a rich anticipatory excitement in my young breast. I wanted to be found. I had been inside this old wine barrel for ages, my twisted legs were sound asleep and I wanted one of Cook’s jammy dodgers. Funny how things change. At first, I wanted to stay hidden forever and then, at the first creak of a floorboard, I longed for deliverance. It thinks me.

At times I want to hide away. I can see me now, in my mind’s eye, dropping like a stone behind the sofa when someone knocks on the door. I remember dashing upstairs to dive under the duvet, blocking my ears from the ‘Hallooooo!’ noise as someone just walked in. I don’t answer the phone, avoid the picture window through which everyone looks as they walk by. In short, I invoke no intrusion on my hide-ness. Of course, on Hide days everyone and his wife call, visit or peer in. On Seek days, when I would happily host a convention complete with light refreshments, the world is silent, mouthless, happy doing something else that doesn’t involve me.

Hiding during isolation and lockjaw (down) is simples. Almost nobody is out there. In fact, for all I know, the island has set sail for other lands; perhaps Englandshire is no longer attached to Scotland; perhaps all the islanders, bar the odd one or two who walk by, have emigrated to Australia and there is just us left, hiding from nothing and no-one, never again to be sought. The thought smiles me, but only because I know it to be imaginary nonsense. Of course everyone is still here; of course we are still joined from south to far north and of course all the islanders still inhabit the homes I know belong to them. That’s true……isn’t it?

Half the fun of Hide and Seek was getting lost myself. If I was seeking, creeping on silent toes, avoiding old creaker boards, and not committing to memory the way I had come, I could find myself half way down a completely unknown darkened corridor with someone coming my way. It could be her ladyship, in full sail, as ever and with a tongue inside her thin strip of a mouth that could cut through steel; or it could be his Fumbleship, the ancient old grandpa who thought everything a chuckle, especially his sharp edged daughter in law. I remember overhearing her tell him once that he was only living there because of her great beneficence. I didn’t know what that word meant, but he did, and after a great hoot of laughter, one that nearly carried him downstairs rather faster than usual, he continued his merry way leaving her pink faced and puffing. He found me that day, hiding behind the desk he always sat at to read his paper. Hallo little one, he whispered. My eyes were wide with rabbit terror but he just chuckled softly. Shhhhh, he said. I won’t tell. And I was more than happy to remain hidden, hearing his gentle breathing , the snap of news pages, my nose inhaling the smell of his pipe.

I felt both hidden and sought. And in that moment I knew I could be both at the one time. It filled a space in me I never knew was there. Instead of either this or that, either black or white, either yes or no, there was a whole wonderful world in between and I for one decided I would step into that world, curious as Alice.

And so it is, still.

Island Blog – Unicorns, Bananas and Hope

I wake with a wobble this morning. I suspect I am not the only one. I know there is a big shopping list downstairs in my cosy kitchen, plus a couple of things to post, and, yet, I don’t want to go anywhere near people who still breathe. I make tea and drink it, watching the day rise like Venus from the troubled waves of the night. She looks good. The usual fly-by of geese, loons, swans and garden birds entertain me for a while until I hear the sounds of the seventies overhead. That’s himself getting up. It thinks me of a first drum lesson, all bangs and thumps and with no rhythm to speak of.

Although I am not nosophobic at all, I have a healthy respect for an invisible enemy. Who doesn’t! So, after a ridiculous and chuckly conversation with a girlfriend about what bananas remind us of when baked and floppy, I decide not to shop this morning. We have enough in store and besides I can cook the sole of a gymshoe and make it tasty, or so I tell my grandchildren. I decide to inhabit the day with an attitude of ad hockery which feels rather racy and sounds loaded with opportunities. First, I bleach the door handle after a delivery of unicorn poo. For those who have never encountered a unicorn, never mind its poo, let me explain. These pellets, prettily gathered into the depths of a little hessian pouch, ribbon tied, are, in fact, wildflower seeds. You just push the pellet into the earth, not deep, and wait for your unicorn to grow……should take between 4-6 weeks. I can’t wait. I bake the bananas and cover them in custard. They may taste lovey but, naked, they are far from eyesome. Listening to tunes of the 80s and dancing along a bit, the day moves forward in a beamish sequence of start, middle and finish. Many tasks complete themselves this way and all I do is walk beside them, mindfully, of course. We sort it out together.

Walking, I see the larch green above my head, the little primroses peeking out from sheltered dips, yellow as sunshine. A pair of mallards lift like an eruption from the burn as I startle them into the air, the drake a rainbow of colours. Two otters cavort in the sea-loch, pushing out from the rocks, from the safety of their holt, out in the wide open on a fish hunt. I watch a huge fish jump although it seems too early – maybe not. Horse chestnut leaves look like green fingers against the sky, now a mackle of clouds in shades of grey. I see nobody. For a whole 40 minutes as I walk through woods and along side the rocky shore, I am alone, just me and the little dog. By this time, visiting walkers would be all over this place like a pox, and welcome indeed, but not this year. Maybe not at all this season, for who can say? We are, after all in the incunabula of something we cannot explain nor define and that’s enough to wobble the sturdiest of us.

I light the fire for it is still chilly, even if the sun does shine down his generous warmth. Flowers are pushing through the earth, shrubs throwing blooms and trees beginning to spread their canopy. It’s a time of hope and that is one thing that never runs out. If one person loses it for a while, someone else can bring it back and it doesn’t require physical contact to spread. It just flows between us like a soft breeze and we can safely breathe it in until it fills us up once more. Then we can pass it on to another who needs it.

In 4-6 weeks I hope to have a garden full of unicorns. What larks, Pip!

Island Blog 143 Own Hair and Teeth

 

old woman

 

Just in case you are wondering if I’m still at sea, like half-way to Norway by now, let me tell you it’s not true.  I have just been busy with lifey things for a while and somewhat strapped for words, but as I tootled back north the other day after a lively visit to my old ma, I heard them all (the words, that is) stomping back into my brain like old and welcome rellies.  Now there’s a thing!   I captured a lot of them on paper, laying them down word by word and I swear I heard them all sigh with relief.  When your words take off like that, it may not have been entirely their fault.  If anyone, or anything feels neglected and unloved, then I don’t blame them for pulling on their stout boots in search of alternative warmth and friendship.

The down south bit was fun.  I was reminded of delays, of queues and of road rage, of warm locals filled with locals, a merry fire blazing in the grate and good hoppy beer on tap. I became re-aquainted with the red and green man who tells me when I can cross the road, saw babies in catwalk clothing being propelled along in buggies the size of small cars, of business women in heels and pencil skirts, with strident voices and sassy black ear pieces, talking to themselves, not an anorak nor a dither among them.  I wandered through supermarkets sporting foreign sounding pulses, sauces and I marvelled anew at the down south size of parsnips, pidgeons and farm machinery.  Even the brambles are huge which is why they’re called blackberries.  Down south, brambles are those sharp things that tear your stockings when you take short cuts home.

I made friends on the trains.  I say ‘trains’ because to get to Norfolk is not for the faint-hearted, not on public transport. Four trains to get down and four to get back and by the time it was over I was well-practised in minding the gap and in avoiding those delightful old darlings who hump their suitcases onto the platform and then stop dead to pull on gloves or to re-arrange their scarves, causing a massive pile up and not a little tutting.

Annie and Damien were (and probably still are) a delightful young couple on their way to a relative’s wedding plus a few family visits.  I knew Annie was going to be fun when she said, as she reached up to the luggage rack, and her flat, firm midriff was revealed, that her granny used to warn her that her kidneys would fall out.  I told her that’s exactly what I was going to say and we were firm mates for 3 hours from that first chuckle.  Of course I gave her the lowdown on island Wife and of course she said she would Google me.  Ten years ago that would have sounded insulting.  Now it’s something to be proud of, the fact that you are Google material at all.  I was sad when we said goodbye in Peterborough.

My next new friend was on the journey north, two fine young men (everyone’s young to me) en route for a presentation in Stirling.  At first, they sat opposite each other, squashing me and a very charismatic pastor against the window, until we established between us that they were going to have to keep whizzing the laptop round in order to complete their work, which would drive me and the charismatic pastor nuts long before Ely.  I swapped seats and then started chatting, which wasn’t all that kind or sensitive, as they had work to do, but they were gracious enough to indulge me as we swapped life histories, zip folder sized.  One of them South African John was most intrigued about the Island Wife bit and instructed his wife, via text or whatsapp or something, to Google me too and then to buy the book.  I hope their presentation went well.  I was rather sad to see them go too, even if it did allow me and the charismatic pastor to spread out a bit.

Growing older is not always fun.  My old ma is pretty tired of waking up every day to the same number of hours alone.  Most of her friends have sailed heavenwards already and those that haven’t might do any day, even if they do still drive and play scrabble like champions right up to the cocktail hour.  However mum still jokes with the postman, milkman, paper boy, delivery man, etc and they all adore her.  There she is, this silver fox, with a ready chuckle in her mouth and smart as you like when off to see a movie (only she calls them films of course).

What I love about the little train from Glasgow to Oban is that I know all the guards and trolley dollies.  I also find most endearing (and seek it) the station announcements that are always a station out.  As we pull into Crianlarich (where this train divides) the nice woman tells us we are now arriving at Gairlochhead, astounding anew the visitors who look around a lot and stare hard at the station sign just to be sure.  She, the nice woman, has been getting it wrong for months now and nobody official seems to mind or notice.  The trolley runs out of sandwiches in the summer, ever single summer, long before 2pm and those who lingered over a glass of French red regret it for miles.  Those of us in the know purchase our baguette or our meal deal in the station and some of the older ones (including me) get up early to make our own. What I don’t like about our little train is the state of the WC (I refuse to call it a toilet, having rebelled against the word somewhere in my teens as it sounded way too grownup and proper), although WC is pretty ridiculous if you think about it.  Water Closets date back to Victoria Regina and she’s long gone.  On trains down south some eager official sorts out the loo at regular intervals, but this is obviously deemed unimportant or ‘not my job’ on the west highland line.  On a friday evening, it is actually dangerous to need a pee beyond Taynuilt, going either way.

Going back to the growing older thing, I find I rather like it, even if I do have to remind myself when leaving this train, with all my belongings, not to stop as soon as my feet hit the platform.  People are getting heavier these days and a collision might land me in A& E – or them, but either way, it would, or could, be messy.  When someone hears my age, they always tell me how young I look, and I don’t want to hear that.  I know I am an OHAT woman (own hair and teeth) for now, but I am proud of all those years at the back of me and if everything is about looking young, then does this mean I am more seriously OTH (over the hill) than I already thought?  Is being older a bad thing?  I hear so many folk say they don’t want to grow old, but they are saying this through pert lips and still with the ability to run for cover, whereas many of us need to bring our own because the chances of finding it (cover) let alone being able to run for it, is way in our past.

In Sainsburys, that massive animal with every conceivable foodstuff couched in its belly, I bought, without specs, a seed mix.  When I sprinkled it on my morning muesli and poured on the half fat milk it turned brown.  On further investigation (specs on) I discovered the seeds had been roasted in soy sauce.  I laughed and laughed and ate it all.  This is the fun of growing older.  Let not this cup be taken from me as it has so many others, for I will cause mayhem for as long as I possibly can, whether I intend it, or not.

 

 

Island Blog 135 Little Weeds

 

Flowers close up 1

 

 

As the garden grows into complete hilarity, with an ebullient chuckle, I watch the weeds find their places.  They’re clever, these weeds, finding quiet little dark places to begin their journey, rising into view long after the roots have winkled their way around, along and through those finer species, once carefully placed by us.  When we clear space for such a planting, we see, not the weeds to come, or those now removed, but just this fine sunny spot, allocated to a shrub or bush, envisioned in full majestic bloom, with the ground floor as peaty brown as it was at the start.

Well Ho, says Mother Earth, and Hum to that, for she has other plans and she’s not giving them up to any old human.  Let them eat cake, she says, for now.

Over winter the roots keep spreading, like witches fingers, in the silence of the earth, out of view, out of mind.  Some of us employ evil sprays, conveniently forgetting the lasting damage any of them might do in the long term.  We don’t worry too much about long term, unless we are a fledged and experienced gardener, which I am not.  I quite understand those who buy all their bedding plants each year, thus creating what appears to be an established garden.  It’s tempting.  We don’t use sprays, choosing, instead, to allow the witches fingers room and time to stake their hold.  Then, whatever Spring might bring in showers, snow, frosts and sunshine, these roots decide to reach for the sky, pushing up green and strong, and tempting me with pretty yellow blooms the bees love to visit.  Well, that makes it okay then, if the bees choose thus.

It thinks me about weeds, or wild flowers in the wrong places.  But who says  it’s so?  The wild flowers were here long before me and they’ll be here long after me, so which of us has rights in this little hill garden?

I was a weed, once. I think we can all admit to that at some point in our lives; when we just don’t fit in.  Actually, I think I have often been a weed, but not ‘weedy’.  Finely pedigreed folk who do fit in, might want to remove me, for I pinch the light and the live-giving water allocated to them.  But, the strength and tenacity of me might undermine them, as long as I keep moving, keep finding new ways to reach the sun, keep producing pretty blooms for the bees.  This is not a ‘them’ and ‘us’ thing, for we all have our place and time in this life, but, instead, of ‘both’.  I never did like either/or scenarios, opting every time for a laterally sought choice.  We know there is room for all of us, but the trouble is always one of boundaries – where you stop and I begin.  After all, we don’t have the same voices, you and I, nor the same dreams, visions, hopes and plans.  You may be planning for something I have no interest in.  This doesn’t make either of us wrong nor right, just different.  We laughingly say ‘Vive la difference!’ in our best french accent, but most of us have no idea what it means as a life choice.  No matter how careful we are with our inner thoughts, we all make judgements on others.  Words like ‘should’ and ‘ought’ pop into our mouths and out again and we feel regret long after the damage is done, for, in speaking those words about another living soul, we have shown we are better than they and have established it firmly in the ears of the listener.

I kick myself often for such worthless chatter, gossip to call it by it’s proper name.  If I name a weed, I damage three people.  Myself, the weed and the listener, and on what authority I ask myself?

In reply, I look out of the window, at the fancy shrub about to bloom, and, then down towards the so-called weeds.  The shrub will never surprise me inside it’s controlled boundary limits, but the long-tailed fronded grasses, the speckly indigo blooms of the wild forget-me-nots, the creeping buttercups, the purple-belled ground ivy and the Lady Elizabeth  poppies, the colour of sunshine……?

Well they will.

 

Island Blog 104 – The Unfinished Line

2013-04-10 17.36.27

 

 

Painting a new canvas, I think about lines.  I was taught at art school to let the eye finish the line, meaning that I, as the painter, should leave it half done, indicating by it’s direction and the flow of the piece where the eye might like to take it.  It’s essential to the composition, the alternative leading to a dizzy spell because our eyes will always seek a resolution.  We want to land somewhere and go ‘ah!’ and if we can’t do that, we won’t like the painting at all.  We will be confused and all over the shop, deducing that the painter was too – that he/she just dithered brushes over the canvas without direction.

Writing employs the same rule of thumb, indicating to the reader where the lines are and allowing them to bring the line to it’s resting place, but not telling them exactly where that place is.  If I am too bossy and organising in my story, I leave nothing to your imagination.  I don’t allow you to relate, through your own life experiences, opinions, ideas to this character or that one,  because they are too stereotyped, too plastic, too finite.  You will be yawning by Chapter 3 and probably won’t read the whole book, unless you are one of those people who can’t bear to waste 8.99.  I can easily bear that.  If I find myself yawning by Chapter 3, it’s off to the doctor’s surgery with it, or the local charity shop, which very possibly isn’t very kind of me.

In life I find the same rule applies.  If I am a woman who has a need for a rigid set of lines around her life, I lose out, because, although no-one will tell me I am stuck in my self-absorption, I nonetheless am.  If what I say has to be how it is, then I am not allowing anyone else to complete the line, and, beyond human politeness, I will be skirted around in wide circles because I got boring by Chapter 3.

The good news is that opportunities to be dynamically fascinating and compelling come around over and over again as we begin a new venture, such as having a baby or maybe we leave the family home, or we notice we are turning into a lizard.  I am only a lizard when my hairdresser pops the black cape around my neck a bit tight and I have to wrench it off and remonstrate with her – a remonstration that always makes her chuckle.  Otherwise, the lizard bit goes mostly unnoticed as I avoid at all costs, a magnifying mirror.  Seeing too closely anything in my life can have me pulling on my old anorak and moping along the long and whining road until I realise that nobody is following me anymore and I am quite alone.

Time for some new lines to be drawn, lines for a new adventure, indicating direction, begun but not finished.

So, off I go, this time as a guest speaker at Wigtown’s Book Festival, next Saturday lunchtime.  I have no idea what to expect, no idea how Island Wife will be received, and all I am taking is myself and my reasonably ok skirt and sassy boots, my eyes for looking out and my ears for taking in.  I don’t need to control anything beyond myself and, in that place of freedom, of letting go, I find my sense of humour, alive and well and waiting for me by the side of the road.

I may meet delays, I may get lost, I may forget to pack something vital.  It might rain or snow.  Wigtown might be wiped out by aliens on Friday afternoon, or the hotel we are staying in may have lost our booking confirmation.  But this part-time lizard isn’t going to worry about any of that.  She is just going to draw a few lines.

For someone else to finish.