Island Blog – Grief, Music and Cooking

I miss him. It’s like I am forgetting the last ten years of caring and remembering the before times, the good times. I wake at 2 am, cold, and turn to borrow his warmth. It really shakes me at first until I remember where his body now lies, in the frozen ground. I feel the warmth of his hand in mine, that I Am Safe Now feeling. I never slept well, unlike him but he always woke enough to calm whatever storm was going on inside me. I miss him. I wish I had told him he was my everything but I did not. The way we changed, the children who came and whose needs became our modus operandi and our division bell, the way life upped and downed us, all stopped my mouth. Why didn’t I say it? I just don’t know. My deep need for independence was of such importance to me that I forgot to remember the basics. Ah, regrets! All I can do now is to talk to him as I move alone through my days. I am thankful for the rise of good memories even as they do not come without guilt and regret. This is grieving.

Downstairs I flip on the radio. The Living Years by Mike and the Mechanics. A tad cruel. I think back on Mike, Angie and their two sons in our big kitchen at Tapselteerie. We are sharing tea and cake and Mike is telling my kids, whose eyes are on stalks before this celebrity visitor, that he had never had a guitar lesson in his life, that he taught himself in his bedroom. It is just what they needed to hear. it doesn’t matter how you develop your passion, he says, just as long as you do develop it. Remember that. When I look at my five children now, as adults, passionate about their work and with barely a qualification between them, I know they took Mike’s words to heart.

I empty the fridge drawers of veg. Onion, garlic, butternut squash, sun-dried tomatoes, apple, ginger, lime, red pepper, leek and kalamata olives. Add honey, balsamic vinegar, tinned tomatoes, white wine, herbs and seasoning. It simmers now on the range and will last me days. I always cook for a platoon. Old habits die hard. I make a flavoured olive oil (extra virgin) mix and pour it into one of those sealable jars. I soak more sun-dried tomatoes for a little, chop them and add them to the oil mix, for later, for lunch perhaps, in a tortilla wrap, not that I have ever worked out how to fold those damn things effectively. I always need a shower after a tortilla wrap. The music plays on.

Poppy dog comes downstairs. She doesn’t mind that it is still night time for most people; she just works with my wakefulness and if I am up then it must be breakfast time. I boot her out into minus 2 degrees for a quick pee and prepare her food. Dried kibble topped with raw carrot slices and a few bits of chopped chicken to draw her in. Kibble, after all, is a bit dull on its own. I order a small extending lead for our daily walks for she is going deaf and no longer hears my callback should we meet another dog. Although she is all bark and no bite, or all fur coat and no nickers, it can alarm folk, the noise and the rush of her. I think of how it is these days without tourists and of how all that will change when they return to walk around Tapselteerie, to lose themselves inside her wild beauty. We islanders have enjoyed a year now of peaceful bliss even as we need visitors and their cash. One side of the coin and the other. It thinks me.

Ten years of caring and I am glad it is over. 49 years of marriage and I miss him. How tricky it is to find perspective in those two opposing thoughts. How fine it will be when I do. When he was declining, I became practical and cool. I stayed that way right up to his dying. Perhaps I became what was necessary and productive for the times but now, as I begin to soften, I have regrets. Can anyone hold balance when facing the appalling horrors of dementia? Perhaps not. One day I will write on this, but not yet. My inner writer tells me there are many miles to go yet. Many miles too, till morning.

Island Blog – Season Shift – Resist or Lift

I always do this, although I only noticed the ‘this’ that I do quite recently. As Summer gives way to Autumn I continue to wear bare legs and feet for as long as I can outrun chilblains. Once into Autumn, I find ways to layer up without ballooning and look forward to each morning, even planning my layers whilst still beneath the covers. As Winter sinks in her teeth I find it progressively harder not to balloon, but I am on a roll here and the cold comes incrementally, in the main. But when Winter begins to concede to Spring I am oft confounded. I have become used to my layers, ones that used to fit me the whole day long. Now they only suit me up to midday and from then on become a massive irritation. I feel as if I might combust, but it is still not yet warm enough to leap out of a vest. I open doors and wonder where on earth my shades are. I sit in the glare of Father Sun and feel cross. Go Away, I want to say, even as I don’t. The fire still burns and I will need it in about an hour when the Old Man is taken down by the forever hills, but it makes the room stuffy. I open windows and in whoopees a freezing draught full of chilblains and icicles. Jersey on, jersey off. It’s a ridiculous day and not the first, nor will it be the last. Perhaps, I tell myself, it is so much more natural to layer up than it ever is to brave off the layers of comfort, layers that have become my friends and protectors for months now. Is Winter the longest season? I always said so in my talk with tourists who decided on a happy holiday whim to buy a plot and build a home. Don’t. I said. Do Not. Not until you have spent a winter or two here. Why is that? they quizzed. Because winters here begin in October and hold fast till Mid May, that’s why. Not with frost and clean clear icy, shiny, sunny days but with wet, wet and more wet and when the wet thinks we need a change, it turns to ice and sleet in an annual battle against the rise of a Spring sun. Just in time for lambing.

I walk in the slipslide of ice meets sun and marvel at the blue of the sky. Hallo Mr Blue Sky, I sing to myself without the backing group and I search for buds and studs of green on trees. It is pointless. These studs and buds know jolly fine about winters up here. I hear them snigger from the safety of their twiggy nests. You think this sudden sun will fool us? It only happens once, after all. It is, this time, a holding time, a waiting. And yet it is we or is it just me who is longing for warmth and the chance to open doors to let out the stuffy, even if I might have to de-balloon. Is Winter the longest season, and what does that mean for the inside life?

First off I can see the dust. Blimey, it is legion. Although I say I don’t believe in dusting, I am glad there is no chance of visitors. My dust is remarkable. Not quite an inch thick, because I move about within these walls at speed, but almost. I don’t notice it on grey days, normal days, but when this lunatic sun decides to shine like a beacon into the future, lighting the way for all but the blind, I find him invasive. Shine out there, I tell him, and not in here. Don’t bother flagging up my smeary windows or my table tops that once were oak and shiny. You make me feel like I will never win a good housekeeping award. The dust is on every single surface. I sit and watch it, the way it sparkles in the sunlight; diamonds and pearls, rubies too and emeralds. Are there stories to tell in that dust? Is there history? There must be. My cleaners have not been here since just after Himself breathed his last. Almost six months. I have hoovered and wiped, a bit, but dust and I will not meet. Clearing dust, in my opinion, is not for me anymore. I have shared my life with too much dust for decades and the clearing of it, if indeed that is ever possible, is no longer for me. But I can smell it. I can see it, lit up like it was a celebrity, glinting, sure of itself, holding ground.

It is this time of the year that I find hardest. Not only is the dust shouting out her stories and memories, but the sun is taunting me, offering light and bright but not enough warmth for me to shed a layer. Getting dressed in the morning is just confusion. 5 layers till midday and then what? Upstairs to take it all off and start again? This, this, is the winter and it is the one season that fights like hell to hold on. And it is the only one that makes me cross, even as I love it. What dichotomy. At Tapselteerie, I remember hoping winter would never end, that the new season would just forget to arrive along with all the tourists and the work, even if I did have chilblains on my chilblains. But once that season began I felt a lift and a joy. Life was living again and so was I. Momentum creates momentum, at least it does for me. Having to bare my wintry arms and legs and to see my body after months of concealment under layers might give me an awkward moment but perhaps this is the gift winter leaves behind her. You have rested, she says. You have covered and concealed but now is the time for joy and lift. Take my gift and rise with the buds and studs.

You are stuck with me. Deal with it.

Island Blog – Snow Angels

This very day I set sail, winds permitting, for the mainland. Destination the French Alps. I travel with family, kiddies and adults and am away for a week. In theory I will don ski boots and give the slopes a chance to delight and excite me, but my last efforts at maintaining the vertical in such conditions warn me that I may not continue with my lessons. Back in the day when I was a tricky teenager I really hated ski lessons. In fact, I only had one and that was enough. I am a walker by nature, taking my time, gathering no speed and certainly not at the mercy of those long Turkish slippers. In walking, I control myself.

It thinks me. Although I am not interested in gathering unnecessary speed either grounded or in elevated position, such as on the back of a horse, or inside a car, or, even, on skis, I always like to give something my best shot before saying this is not for me. It is the same with anything I do in life. To say ‘this is not for me’ without experiential knowledge of that to which I say No, is just plain foolish. How can I possibly know from the outside of anything? Of course, there are many things in this life, in any life, to which saying No is just not an option. But there are ways around that too.

Say I am stuck in a job I dislike, that doesn’t float my boat. I may dread stepping into another day of this arduous drudgery, among these people who aren’t of my tribe, who don’t respect and value my work, and yet it seems I have no choice if the bread is to be earned. There are two ways to change how this goes. Either I tell myself that these people do not define me, that I know my work is of value and that I wholly respect myself, leading me to research new work and to give in my notice, or I take a good look at my perception of the situation and work on changing it. I know, from experience that this is entirely possible when giving in notice is a million miles from possible.

Snow is both cold and exciting. If I don’t continue with my lessons there is a vast array of alternative pleasures. I could walk over it, listening to the scrunch of it beneath my feet, look back on my footprints alongside all the others of those who have walked this way before me. I could consider their lives, their size and weight, their choice of boot. I could look up to where the mountains point into the sky, imagine the cold up there, wonder who climbed so high and how it might have changed their view on life. I could see the flowers in Springtime, now sleeping beneath their winter blanket, careless of the weight of human trudge. I could hear the laughter, ride on the chairlift, laugh and play with snowballs, breathe in the ice and feel it freeze my face. I could watch the skiers and marvel at their skill, my heart in my mouth as they hurtle down the breast of this huge majestic mountain. I could even see Hannibal and his elephants and wonder at his courage.

In ordinary times, as the West Coast rain rains and rains without ceasing, it is hard to imagine that in a few hours I will be in a very different landscape. I have my writing pad, my books, my waterproof kit and, most important of all, I have me. How this holiday goes for me is down to me, no matter how many others I may share it with. In order to really ‘see’ it all, I must clear my misperceptions and step out naked, obviously not literally or I may not get home at all, and be as a child, ready for any mystery to open out before me. It is no different at home, just much harder to believe in, but it is the key to life and I have proved it over and over again. The drudge is inside a mind, not out there, as is my definition of myself, my love and respect of self, my childlike sense of mystery ahead. And, although it could be hard to make a snow angel from rain, I will give it my best shot when I get home.

Island Blog – Jiggetty Jig

Home again, home again, etcetera, and I am just getting into the swingle of it here. Agreed, the slap of cold did hit me head on (and foot on for I had omitted to pack stout boots for the chilly ground), but welcomes always warm and they certainly warmed me. Now on the island and with a fire lit for the day I am thankful for having a home at all, let alone such a cosy one.

The furniture within has re-arranged itself, as I suspected it might. When the Old Dragon (me) is gone long enough, himself will make things the way he wants them. In the case of chairs and other well-placed items of comfort, they are all pressed against the walls of the house and looking rather startled. I decided I would not be willing to spend my evenings against a far wall, two miles from the fire, but it took some negotiating and a lot of justifying with just a tiny mention of the fact that I live here too and that I am important, to pull my (somewhat relieved) arm chair back into the mix.

The reason for the changes is to more easily facilitate the wheelchair, the chariot, upon which himself will glide (endlessly) through the rooms. Naturally, a turn or two will be required on this restless pacing, hence the rejection of the startled, and rather upset, sitting room furniture. I lifted two more chairs upstairs to join all the other ‘unnecessary’ furnishings, such as lamps, tables, ornaments, free-standing artwork and so on, apologising as I went and wondering how much more the beleaguered office can hold without crashing down a floor. Everything, you see, has to be ‘safe’ for himself and, besides, I am done with picking up, dusting off and repairing things precious to me as he fells them and continues his glide through the days.

I find it doesn’t bother me so much now, if at all. This house is now a certified safety zone with easy access to pretty much all he needs. So many things that worked before can never work now without an accident and we don’t want one of those. The heart monitor beeps. The fall alarm glows red on the desk reassuring me that those kind voices somewhere in Scotland are one press of the button away. Sometimes himself presses by accident when no accident has occurred and I suddenly hear Lorraine or David asking if everything is ok. I tell them it is, and so sorry, but they are always kind. God’s angels for sure.

From 40 degrees and no plans or to do lists or prayers to keep myself together, compassionate, my eyes off the things that irritate, to the island and Christmas marching ever nearer. I turn up the tunes and wonder where my fairy lights are. As I burrow into the dark cupboard that holds everything else, I smile. Fairy lights found, but they are not going to be the brightest this Christmas because I shall be twinkling too and my batteries never go flat.

Island Blog 151 Winter and Spring

2014-01-27 14.08.00

“Winter is not a season, it’s an occupation.”   Sinclair Lewis

Now, as the cold sets in and the winds bite, we can turn towards home.  The lack of strong daylight draws us to the soft lighting, the fire glow, candles and a good torch for the Last Dog Walk at bedtime.  I find I read even more, if that is, indeed, possible.  My tastebuds changed their tune and thick soup replaces a rocket salad.  I remember Elisabeth Luard, the famous cookery writer saying to me, once, that she loved the winter.  All those bonkers unmatching hats and gloves, the fat woolly jumpers, thick socks, big boots and nobody watching her waistline, least of all, her. It was almost with a sigh she welcomed Spring, knowing full well that those pretty frocks might well resist joining at the zip.

Gone are those foraging walks, the fresh tang of autumn with skies full of redwings and the leaves turning into gold and red to finally fall to the ground, a crunchy carpet at first, then a soggy mulch beneath our boots.  Mud gathers below the verges, frost splits the tarmac and the potholes re-appear with a vengeance.  But, walking into winter can hold its own delights, after all, who doesn’t like jumping in puddles?  If you have gone beyond puddle jumping there is something wrong with you because it may be the best form of excercise you can take and there is never any harm in re-visiting the inner child.  So many of us lose our sense of play and it is a Zeus of a mistake. The finest people I know still play childish pranks at 80 with twinkly winkly eyes and a dare in them for you to even think of disapproving.

In Sweden, so I am told by my viking daughter-in-law, there is no rain/sleet or slush.  There is only snow.  Kissing the ground at first, this white out can grow to terrifying depths, disappearing whole houses overnight.  If it ever happens here, there is considerable panic as if we are all about to turn into snowmen.  Trains stop, buses stop, and nobody can get to work.  Well, I struggle to find the bad in that, unless, of course, you are an emergency service.  In Sweden this is all carefully thought through and those who need to get about grow wings. Although I don’t want to say this, I do wonder at the flapdoodle this country gets into about seasonal changes, and I do shake my head.  At Tapselteerie, if the track was impassable, we just didn’t pass it.  Sudden holidays, lack of food, the power off, no phone, all meant fun.  As long as the stock were fed, milked and checked, we were all quite happy to play.  I remember once being at the hairdresser in town and the local police (pronounced poh-liss) popping his head round the door of each shop to recommend that those of us who lived ‘over by’ meaning anywhere but the town, should head home as the hill road was fast being wiped out.  Being wiped out is exactly what happens.  The terrain is just one hilly blanket and there is no way to tell where the road lies within it.  I said to the poh-liss that I wisnae going hame with one side cropped and the other trailing over my right ear, and, by the time I did head overby, someone had already found the road and marked it out which was very thoughtful even if it did take two attempts to top the highest hilly bend with a neat short back and sides.

It seems to me that fear is the killer here.  What on earth is there to be afraid of?  It’s only snow and puddles after all, although not both together.  Ice is a bit different though with its chameleon ability to become the road.  When someone ahead of me scooted neatly off the single track road in the un-gritted glen, landing just under the nose of a startled horse munching hay, all of us stopped to help.  We hefted and bumped and, on finding all that hefting and bumping quite pointless, popped the inhabitants into our own cars and trundled them home, waving to the horse as we drew away.

And, of course, there is always the promise of Spring.  Crocuses are coming, snowdrops pushing into the cold light, birds looking for nest sites.  But we should honour winter.  There is a beauty in it, a bare stark beauty that should not be missed, like building snowmen, puddle jumping, making soup, wearing bonkers and unmatching hats and gloves.  Longing for something to end just lengthens it I find.  Our winters are unpredictable, unlike Sweden.

How versatile are you?  I personally want to be able to bounce like Tigger (or move like Jagger) whatever comes my way, even if it does require forward planning and something to hold on to. And, there is always a temporarily unbouncing somebody who needs my help.