Island Blog 146 Travelling Light

suitcaseAs I pack my bag for the trip to the Reader Room on Skye, I meet all sorts of thought tangles. What to take, what not to take and in which suitcase. The big stripey one or the smaller spotty one? Both have noisy wheels and both weigh too much empty. I won’t need much, will I? Just jeans and tops, a warm jumper, walking boots, books, notes, wash things, face paint, a frock for the night, leggings. The smaller spotty one will do. Until it won’t.

Travelling light is a dream of mine, almost a passion. I want to be light and flexible, easy to move along please, to glide through doorways, over metal bridges without needing CPR on the other side. I want to fit into that space the huge-suitcased lumberers leave between themselves and the dangerous side of the pavement or platform. To scurry, hurtle, dash with momentum and forward thrust. I want to be at my destination before half of these goodly folk have reached the ticket barrier. I catch earlier trains that way, denying myself the takeaway coffee, the creamy bun. I don’t push or shove. I am perfectly respectful of the Overladen, but my constantly working mind maps out the fast route and my feet take me on. I don’t mind queuing at all and must be the only Brit who doesn’t. I just factor it into my dash to wherever I’m going, and speed up where necessary when momentum is paused.

Travelling light, I tell myself, is a state of mind, a decision. Taking too many changes of clothing, just in case, comes from a place of fear. Will I have the ‘right’ thing to wear? Will I be too cold or too hot? Have I the right shoes? All of this is dithering and arrives me laden, out of breath, hot, bothered, and with a load of unnecessary vestments, not one of which gets beyond crumpling itself in the dark depths of my suitcase. But we all do this dithering, if we’re honest.

When I first decided to travel light, it was to a funeral in Yorkshire. I just needed the gear for the church, and mufti. We said bye bye to the kids, minder, collies and cats and left Tapselteerie. It was coming into York that we discovered we had left the cases in the front hall. As our life had always been lived by making good decisions quickly in the face of adversity, we dived into a dress shop and bought this and this and that, then shoes, and arrived at the funeral with the labels still attached. Nobody cared. It was enough that we had made the journey.

The second time was when I went South for a different occasion, on my own. This time, I did have my lightly packed suitcase with me, too heavy even when empty, and handed it over to the nice Easy Jet steward at check-in. I arrived, my case did not. Mum and I dashed to Sainsbury’s, picked this and this and yes, shoes, and off I went to my date. Nobody cared. It was enough that I had made the journey. My case arrived home ahead of me, minus a handle, rendering it completely pointless.

It has happened since, the careful planning, folding, fitting into a small space, all that I think I might need, in case of shipwrecks, strandings, sudden invitations to a military ball, a funeral, a heatwave in October, that my luggage has abandoned me. I have always found a laugh in it, after my initial fish wife impression. I have borrowed clothes I would never buy, applied make-up all wrong for my small pale face, shared toothpaste, boots and even underwear, but, most of all, I was given the chance to find my sense of humour and to lean on it as my support. In the absence of things, I found people, and people can rise over things every time. It’s boundless, the human spirit, warm and strong and constant. Their handles don’t fall off, and in the main, they do what they say they’ll do, and much, much more.

But we forget don’t we, as we live out our lives as islands.  We think we must have everything we need with us, just in case.  We imagine, with horror, the disaster of being cold, or hot, or lost, or stranded, of our train/ferry/plane being late or worse, cancelled, and yet, in all of those circumstances I have found human warmth and friendship.  I have found team spirit, good attitude and kindness.  In times of trouble, we look to each other.  Sometimes we might consider doing that every day, troubled or not.  It might make us less fearful.  We might engage in sharing ourselves with others until it’s easy to do, natural, uncomplicated.  All of us are alone, but we can travel side by side.

Now I’m going back to fret about packing, about the ferry being cancelled due to gale force 22, the bus breaking down on the way north, and, finally, me arriving on the wrong day.

Island Blog 117 Animals I have known

 

2013-12-19 12.35.45

 

It’s cold here today.  I’m looking out across the sealoch through a hail of white bullets. A huge white-tailed eagle has just flown past the window, pinching all the light. The trees are quite stripped of any whisper of autumn, thanks to the endless storm force winds that plunder the nights.  Last night the roof tiles danced as if there was a load of Gene Kellys up there, singing in the rain.  Sleep gave up on me around 4am and I woke to a lime green glow casting weird shadowy shapes around the room as the curtains fought to stay connected with their moorings.  Oh hallo moon, I said.  Full she was and quite chuffed with herself sitting there all alone in the sky, quite the big cheese.  I checked my clock, though what for I can’t tell you.  There was nothing to be learned whatever it said, with it’s luminous hands morse-coding the passage of time.  I suppose if it had read 7 o’clock, it would have meant I could get up and make tea.  But 4am is not the right time for anything other than going back to sleep, which I didn’t manage.

On summer mornings, when I wake early, I can bounce (quietly of course, although I bounce a bit more noisily these days) down the stairs, make tea and feel warm and excited about the day ahead, as I write.  In the sleety wind-battered winter, the very thought of pushing back the duvet and stepping into the chilly room is enough to remain me beneath the goose down.  So, I lie there thinking about things like sealing wax and kings and sundry other daft forays into the world of my imagination.  One such journey showed me a mouse, made of velvet and the colour of chocolate which is very swish for a mouse by the way, and I bet you’ve never seen one.

Animals often appear in dreams and play large parts in whatever drama unfolds before my eyes.  It has always been the way of things and not least, I imagine, because of all the hundreds of animals I have shared my life with.  I remember the working horses in the flatlands, those gentle chestnut giants with slow gait and kindly eyes, with broad backs and feet like meat plates.  I remember watching them pull a plough, bracing their wide chests against the harness and leaving, in their wake, deep straight lines across a field that reached to the horizon.  After their work was done, we unclipped them and turned the huge collars around on their thick necks to give them some relief.  The children, just toddlers, always wanted to ride them home to the stables and a welcome bucket of nuts.  They looked like coloured dots, perched high above the rest of us, and clinging on tightly to the wiry manes, laughing with glee as they rocked and rolled their way down the track.  We never had to lead the horses, for they were weary and only looking for food, water and rest.  I remember someone making a hoo-ha about the danger we put our children in and it made us laugh out loud.  They never fell off, couldn’t fall off, not with that width of back beneath their little bottoms, a back that could have hosted a small tea party quite safely.

Then we had collies, labradors, hens and cats, one, named Cosmic Creepers, whom we found with a rabbit snare embedded in it’s neck.  It was wild and had a set of extremely sharp teeth that it enjoyed sinking into arms and fingers.  Mum and I spent ages snipping the wire, bathing the wounds and minding our fingers.  Cosmic Creepers became part of the family, as did Isobel the hen as you will know if you’ve read Island Wife.  Isobel was also wild, but, thankfully, quite without sharp teeth.  We had pet calves and lambs who always got daft names.  Mint Sauce, for example, and Bovril, and Lamb Chop.  Once we had a crow called Jim who lived in a cage in the barn and smelled dreadful.  His wing was hurt, and after he was set free, he hopped around the garden as if he couldn’t quite remember what to do next.

Living with animals is never dull.  They teach me.  If I only think as a human I miss something, an extra dimension, for animals are quite honest and rather definite about their needs.  They don’t fanny about wondering if it’s convenient for me to serve up dinner, they just whinny or moo or march into the kitchen, which is okay-ish if we are talking Hen. A working horse might have caused a bit of a stooshie, had she got indoors, but I caught her in time.  She just followed me back from the stable and……well…..kept coming.  I fed her a carrot and turned her smartly around.  She did wander back, but not immediately, deciding to visit the farm veg shop on the way for a big mouthful of winter greens.  I could see them hanging out of her mouth as she sashayed up the track, and wee Polly, who worked in the shop had to go home for a lie-down.

I always thought of myself as a wild horse.  I said so, to the island husband one day.  He snorted, which was a bit rude.  No, he said, not a wild horse, oh no definitely not!

Okay……….thanks for that……….what then, if not a wild horse?

A hen, he said and thought it was terribly funny, for quite some time.

Island Blog 103 – New Things and Clown Fish

clownfish

There are things I have never bought.  I’m not talking yachts and diamonds, but household things like a new sofa or a multi-functional, all purpose blender.  I have looked at them online and not believed one word of their wonderment.  For a start, in that exciting world of sofas, which, by the way, fails to excite me at all, I puzzled over two things.  One is the material and the other the exhorbitant price.  In my world, a sofa could be wrecked in one short day.  It could be stained with all manner of tenacious colourings and smells, be flipped on its back to become a defence against military attack, or offer a comfortable resting place for swamp creatures such as collies or children just in from the rain forest, so I never bought one, not ever, relying instead on second hand ones already ‘broken’ in.

However, the multi-functional all-purpose blender has niggled at my peripheries for a while now.  I do have a small liquidiser, which can whizz up easy stuff like over-ripe strawberries and yoghurt, and an old magimix which belonged to Granny-at-the-gate and got left behind when she went northwards to heaven, but it leaks and, besides, is not multi-purpose, whatever than means. I also have a bread-maker that produces amazing works of sculpted art.  I sprayed one once with enamel car spray and it lasted a whole winter of island rains before I threw it over the fence.  It hit a rock and I wasn’t sure which one had shattered.

So, last week, with a helpful link to a good one from my healthy eating sister, I ordered my own copy.  A few days later, when dashing out the door to feed the 15 doves who have adopted me as mummy, I fell over a box the size of a small bathroom, which had been silently delivered earlier that morning.

Can’t be.  I thought.  Are there half a dozen of them in there?  Oh, no, of course not.  it will be all packaging and poly bags warning me not to put them over my head, or that of any in-house child.

I find myself, at this point, wishing I hadn’t ordered it at all, because now I have to do something like unwrap it and assemble it and then, worst of all, whizz a few somethings into a whole new something.  Then, I will have to spread it, or slap it on meat, or fish, or drink it.  The very thought brings on a yawn and I go to do another job for a while.

Eventually I have to face it so I lug this huge container inside the porch and grab a sharp knife.  Ok, here’s the top of the whizzer and here’s the bottom.  So far, so good.  Isn’t that enough, I ask myself?  Well, in a word, no.

Ten bags are nestled among the moulded corrugations of cardboard, each one wrapped in polythene danger.  I remove it all and lay each piece out on the counter, which I can no longer see.  Even the Clown Fish in the tank dive for cover.

I begin to assemble.  30 frustrating minutes later, I still only have the top and the bottom identified.  There are round things with small holes, round things with big holes, whisks, plastic discs, a small rocket, metal blades contained in immovable shells, each yelling out LOUD PROMISES of finger loss should any contact be made.  I am now a bundle of nerves and have to call my healthy sister who just giggles unhelpfully.

Did you assemble yours?  I shriek at her.

Nope, she says.  Her husband did.

Well, I have one of those but he is at sea, so that doesn’t work.

She guides me gently onwards and the motor leaps into life, although it has nothing to do but spin around at a terrifying speed, for now.

Later I bring together not a well-thought-through list of ingredients from a tried-out recipe, but just what I have in the fridge.  A bit of almost mouldy red tomato pesto; half a bag of raw spinach; one apple with the brown holes removed; one floppy carrot; a clove of garlic;  5 pitted black olives (ha! you thought I was going to sabotage it with pits didn’t you!!) and the juice of one orange.

Well it whizzed for two seconds and stopped.  I poked about with a wooden spoon and it whizzed again for another two seconds and stopped.  It went on offering me the same resistance, one I have only ever met before in myself, for half an hour, but I was determined to win the fight.

What I ended up with is a paste that resembles the inside of someone’s liver, but it tastes delicious.  It made me think of how important it is for something to look good for us to want to eat it.

Trouble is, I have only used one tenth of the flipping thing.  The rest of its working parts slumber in a dark cupboard. Just the thought of working out what they do makes me want to join the Clown Fish.