Island Blog 137 The Light Just Right

Music notes

 

 

I am excitedly working just now on new songs for recording, well,not recording yet, but more for designing and developing.  All day long I am humming little phrases, changing keys, changing words changing rythms.  Once I meet up with the Talented Two in a week or so, we will take my scribbles and mood-inspired poems and fashion music around them.  They, not I, will layer melodies and harmonies, suggest quirky add-ons that create depth and texture, colour and light.  And dark.  All I am required to do is to spend this preparation time doing what I do know how to do – put words together in a way that tells a story, that give a hint of pain or laughter, to show and not to tell it out too much, for we all like to fill in the spaces allowed us with our own feelings.  This is why some songs last forever and, to be honest, a lot of them make very little sense once we try to explain them.  A Whiter Shade of Pale was scribbled down in the back of a van in between gigs, so I am told, and, when asked what it meant, the writers just shrugged.  It’s not like schoolwork this song-writing thing, not at all.  I don’t have to show my workings, nor do I have to justify them, but what I do have to do is sing them with emotional connection as if what I am telling you is really how I feel.  I don’t write songs about Percy the Pig, or Nellie the Elephant, although that song is great to sing to grandchildren if I include all the actions.  I write about feelings.

It thinks me about doing what I do best, and not wishing I was best at something else.  At school I longed to be an athlete but I was so very far from getting beyond ‘ath’ that it would have made a whole heap of sense to do my best, loathe all of it and spend my free time writing.  The problem with writing is that the only time I found the limelight is in English Lit classes and that was providing I kept to the letter of the law concerning Good Composition.  Nowadays, it is fine to write slang, a lot of which has found its way into the Oxford Dictionnary, which is fine if it works for the piece.  It is not ok to swear, but, then, what is swearing now?  I can read words that would have had my school mistress dialling the emergency services had she ever seen such an assemblage of letters in print, let alone heard them read out in class.  The book would have magically disappeared from the Reading Shelf and parents would have been informed.

In songwriting, words can be hinted at, the front or the back of them lost in a rising instrumental.  It’s infuriating for those of us who want to cover a song and we must needs leap to Google for the lyrics, but I am encouraged by the Talented Two that it sometimes really works best that way and that my Elocution Prize might consider staying in my past.  Enunciating every word as if the whole world depended for its survival on my clear conscise rendering of a particular phrase, is, it seems, vanity of vanities.  Who gives a rip?

As I wrote my book, I let go of the Eng Lit teacher, pushed her off my shoulder and reminded her she was most probably dead and should shut up.  Although I love good prose and therefore find bad prose irritating enough to put me off the whole story, I find that I look more for a gentle sway, an easy rise of words that don’t trip me up with their brilliance, but, instead, show me an unfolding about which I am fascinated to know more.  I want to be led outside of myself and into another world and, yet, I still want that pull on my heartstrings, that connection to my own experiences, my own feelings.  When I read the tale of someone who is living through something I hope I will never live through, something that involves the loss of a child, perhaps, I will think about my own children, my love for them, my fears for them, and, in my heart, I will re-affirm my vow to them, the one I made as each one was born, a vow to protect and defend them to the death.  If I read of a world catastrophe, as a back drop to a tale of people, I will re-jig my priorities in that light.  In short, I will make changes because, through the words of another, I am changed.

I hope I can do the same with my songs.  For now, I am playing word games, reducing sentences down, questioning the need for all the adverbs and adjectives to be there at all, for what I can do, through my voice, as long as it is emtionally connected, is to pull back to indicated thoughtfulness, pain, fear, gentleness, or bring the air more forcefully across my vocal chords to show power, anger or determination.  I can leave out the paraphernalia and keep just the crystals……ones that should make it sparkle, if I get the light

just

right.

Island Blog 134 Reality Check

2014-06-05 11.15.11

 

 

This morning the air is still on the island.  Nobody is about, except for the birds playing out their dramas.  The doves, including Dave,  whose mate was nabbed by a sparrowhawk a couple of years back, and who will always be a gooseberry, turn up to feed, their beaks tapping out a syncopated rythm on the wooden base of the bird table.  We found the remains of the kill on the track outside the house, and Dave stumbling about lopsided and scared. Not a lucky dove, we said.  After a week or so inside a box, fed and watered each day, he managed a wonky lift from the ground, straightened up and flew right onto the telephone wire.  We hadn’t fixed anything, weren’t sure how to, but perhaps the combination of love and his own will to survive did their work.  Now, however many pairs line the wire, sometimes up to 15 in the winter months, he is the uneven number, but always faithful, staying close to home, when the others loop away across the hills to build nests, raise young, complete the yearly circle once again.

A pair of swallows have taken the nest we fixed at the back of the garage years ago.  Each spring, they check it out, and each spring, they reject it.  Perhaps this is because we are constantly in and out of the garage, for it offers the only access to the hill garden at the back, where the bee hives nestle in the wild grass, their faces towards the sun.  Every day each community, numbering thousands apiece, fly out to find pollen. The scouts communicate directions to the others in waggle dances, performed on the front step and taken seriously by the other worker bees, all women of course, who might be dithering about which way to go.  The hive mind is an extraordinary thing and one that never sleeps, for even when the bees don’t fly, we know that if we lifted the lid (which is not for the faint-hearted) we would not see one single bee loafing about with a vacant look in her eye.  Every single one is busily employed, going about her business mindfully, intelligently, continuously.  Any loafers would be thrown out.

Trouble is, the swallows number three.  I don’t suppose this works, a menage a trois, in the swallow world, but the three of them dive in and out of the garage each early morning and evening.  On the wire, they have words.  No violence is employed, but you can tell, from the tone, that it’s not friendly.  Perhaps, like doves, and swans, swallows mate for life.  Perhaps this lone one lost its mate on that huge journey back from Africa.  We watched them gathering on wires, rooftops, swirling like a dark cloud over Capetown, when we were there in March, preparing for their flight across the globe, and we marvelled.  How they manage to find their old nest sites year after year beggars belief.  We would need maps, charts, radar, provisions, a transport vehicle, confidence, determination and periodic rests in soft beds with cotton sheets and a spacious en suite.  They just fly.

In honour of their unusual tryst, together with the excitement at their final acceptance of the Garden Centre nest, (buy one, get a House Martin one free) I have fixed signs, one on the inside of the door, so we remember not to dive out and head butt a swallow, and one for anyone coming through the little gate who needs guiding to the other door.  If we need to access the hill garden, we must open the garage door slowly, peeking gingerly out, to see if our new friends are around.  Sometimes they wobble on the inside washing line.  We need an inside washing line on the island, as the outside one is often long-term unemployed.  The concrete floor is already guano-ed up and this situation won’t change, as long as they decide, finally, to lay their eggs, which they still may not, given the human comings and goings.

As I walked Miss Poppy around Tapselteerie yesterday, she made me laugh at some antic and, in response to my voice breaking the silence of the afternoon, a well-hidden nest of young tits leapt into action, their collective cheeping floating out from one of the dark holes in the old dry stone wall.  The mother, behind me on a branch, yelled at them to shutup, but they were having none of it.  I didn’t stay around to worry her, but the experience lifted my heart, just to have been allowed to witness that moment, and to fix the knowledge of it into my ordinary day.  I call that an ‘internal shunt’, for It changes me, even though nothing has changed.  My usual list of miniature disasters is still there; the demands on my time, my patience, my purse, stay in place; nothing is certain, nothing really safe and nothing I can do to make it any different.  I could lose a loved one in a nanosecond and there is little I can do to stop it happening.  I can fall ill, a silent enemy moving in to establish victory whilst I dash through my daily list, unaware until too late.  But it does me no good to focus on what may or may not happen, in fact, it will falter my step, weaken me, make me dull at parties.  What I need to do, mindfully and intelligently, is to learn from the birds, from the natural world, of which I am a part.  I am at the top of the food chain, yes.  I can think and reason, yes.  And these gifts are not given to be wasted.  They are gifts of sight, gifts of power, not over others as we seem to believe, but over myself, the choice to get real, like the birds.

How does that song go………oh yes…..

‘Hey, you know what paradise is? It’s a lie
A fantasy we create about people and places as we’d like them to be
But you know what truth is?
It’s that little baby you’re holding, and it’s that man you fought with this morning
The same one you’re going to make love with tonight. That’s truth, that’s love.

I’ve been to paradise, but I’ve never been to me.’

Island Blog 69 – Aground

Island Blog 69 - Broken back shipThere’s a ship in our harbour aground on the rocks, a big and very stuck ship.  It was on its way from Belfast to Sweden with a load of timber.  I don’t know what will happen to it, or the timber, or the waters in the harbour, but I do know that it matters to me when anything bad happens at sea, because the next part usually involves one of my men.

In the early days of living on the island there was no lifeboat, and the local seamen became auxiliary coastguards.  I remember not infrequent calls, especially during the summer months when every loon with a dream of the wild ocean waves, took to the sea without a clue of tidal rips, wind direction or the rise and fall of the tides.  Add to all that ‘complicata’, those dodgy times when the wind argues with the direction of the tide, creating a real stooshie, when your little craft, so safe, (you thought) begins to screw tail in the boiling soup and runs the very real risk of tipping right over if one big wave comes at you sideways on.  Then there are those razor sharp rocks just below the surface.  You can’t afford to marvel at the wonderful views anywhere near land, because land is not where you think it is.  Land goes on into the sea and says nothing much.  It just blows a few bubbles that can look dead cute if you don’t check your chart.

I’m not saying the skipper of this massive hulk didn’t check his or her charts.  With a ship that big, stopping at all must be planned a mile away, and turning round quickly at the last minute when bubbles reveal their teeth is quite out of the question.

Anyway, back to what I was saying about my men.  The old sea dog had to turn around quick sharp often after a tourist trip to the islands, or out to watch for whales, if a call came through on the radio.  Out he would go, spotlight on the waves, if it was a darkling time of day, to search for a dingy, or worse, a person in the black soup.  It is hard enough to find a huge whale in the sea, never mind a little person with only a head showing.  He has towed sailing boats off beaches and rocks and stayed to reassure folk who had to wait for the lifeboat to arrive from the mainland.  He has helped people be airlifted out, and seen many back into safety.  Now we do have a lifeboat on the island, one with big twin engines, and our son is deputy cox and sometimes the whole cox.  When a storm rises like a bully and when the wind roars and the night is black as a witch, I wonder what he might be called out to do.  There have been some really tough times, but the team is tight and experienced and they know the rocks like teeth just under the surface of the sea, of old.  But still, we women and our imaginations can take the facts and spin our spin and hardly sleep a wink for the pictures in our fluffy little heads.

The sea is a wild thing- unpredictable and demanding respect.  Nobody can be her master and nor they ever will be.

Island Blog 63 – Silver Girl

Silver Girl

 

On June 1st Jenny  died.

We have been friends for over 4o years, the same as my years of marriage.

Our children knew each other as little ones and those children now have little ones of their own.  We had a bet going, she and I that her daughter-in-law would give birth before my own did.  The due dates hold hands, they’re so close.  I will see my new grandchild, but she won’t see hers.

Over the years, our roads travelled in different directions, but we kept in touch.  When she first got breast cancer, she was completely herself about the whole thing.  No time for this, she said, need to sort out treatment and keep moving.  She went sailing after that, for 7 months, she and her man, in a yacht to beat all other yachts with big-ass sails and comfort below deck, every comfort, and the wind in her hair and salt on her tongue, whilst I became an Island Wife.  But women who connect at a wild and deep level, who recognise each other’s spirit and love it, never lose touch, even if the contact is once a year.

We sailed with them once, meeting them on a Greek island.  We all wondered how it would work, four of us converging where Two Roads meet, after 30 years apart, and living in close quarters for a couple of weeks.

I could have been a big pain in the ass, I said.

You are.  She replied and handed me a beer.

In the evenings, moored in a little warm harbour, we would cook, eat and make music.  They taught me songs, and I them, and there was something magical about the candlelight, the warm nights, the laughter and song.

She did much with her life and was never still.  She was the second woman ever to command a Royal Navy warship.  A transatlantic skipper, a magistrate, a wife, mother grandmother, although that title sounds way too old for her.  She adored her family, and actively showed it.  She was feisty, impossible, decisive and noisy and there is a big hole left now she is gone.

But what will stay with me for ever, and this may sound selfish, is what she gave to me.  She never faltered and when I did, she whooped my butt.  I’m not saying, or even imagining, that she had life sussed, because I know she didn’t think that at all.  I saw, at times, such sadness in her big eyes, and she might tell me, briefly, or she might not.  When she knew she had only time left, she would still pick up if I called, or answer a text with humour.  She came to my book launch down south in a bright pink wig after aggressive chemo.  It was our last hug.

I salute her.  She is a woman who challenged me to be the best I could be, just as she challenged herself.

Sail on Silver Girl.

Island Blog 41 – Yikes!

That’s what was in my mouth as I awoke this morning, for this is Book Launch Day for Island Wife and I am fizzing with excitement!

It’s not like a birthday fizz, something that comes anyway, whether I am good or bad, but more the fizz of accomplishment.  I have now, with considerable help and support, brought an idea to life and it is now packaged and ready to go out into the world.

At the beginning, when something is just an idea it can be caught and held, or lost in a single day.  I get ideas all the time and my head can feel like it’s full of bluebottles, buzzing and whizzing and banging against the windows in the way of all foolish things without direction.  At other times, it is just one or two ideas, that are not so hard to catch and pin down, until there is time to pay each one due attention.  This book was once an idea, but remaining an idea wasn’t going to do anyone any good, least of all me because it wouldn’t let me go.  Somehow I knew at the start, that writing my story was not just self-gratification – it was a body of work that other eyes needed to see.

In my life, I have found the strength at difficult times through the life of another.  Yes, for me, it has mostly been women writers, women’s stories, but not exclusively.  What I have sought, and found, in other’s tales, spun like fine webs across the pages, has been a voice to give me courage;  courage to do another day, to take another step.  I connect with that voice, that truth, that story in some way and at some level, and that changes me and brings me hope.  Many times have I risen from the pages and dried my own tears, refreshed my own war paint, chosen brighter clothes to wear and squared my own shoulders.  Many, many times.

I want Island Wife to do the same.  Perhaps for you.

Island Blog 39 – The New Old

Me on the boat

Today I am 60 years old.

When I was a young thing, bouncing carelessly through my days and nights, my greatest concern was that I looked like everyone else whose stocking seams ran in a straight line all the way up to their sensibly clad bottoms, and whose mothers approved of them.

I never managed it.  In fact, it was rather fun to see just how many winds of seam I could wrap around my leg before I choked and fell over.  When tights came in, everything went to pot on the wrapping fun, for reasons I am sure you can quite well imagine.

Those women of 60, to whom I looked up, or so they thought, and, to be honest, some of them earned an upward look, seemed ancient as fossils.  They had looked like their mothers since they were 25 anyway, but somehow, at 60, it all set like concrete, in their attitudes, their faces and in their moral confidence.  I can still roll my eyes and want to hide up a tree just thinking about them, as they pinged my mother’s doorbell and were allocated seats for luncheon. It was there in those lips pursed for ‘a small sherry’ and in the hush of gossip.

Is this now me?

No flipping chance.

I and my 60 year old peers are breaking that mould.  We are no longer ‘mouldy’ nor are we up for being moulded.  Although we may have become shape-changers, we are doing it our way.  Not as a group, which is what the previous generation seemed to do, but as individuals.  It is not necessarily easy nor simple this being an individual thing, but the more I speak with my daft female friends, the more determination I hear and because we support each other, not to be the same as we are, but to be whoever they are, through the filter of their own life, their own heart, I do believe we are about to cause chaos.

I can see that such a change might not be too everyone’s taste.  After all, our mothers happily retreated behind mounds of fluffy scones at just the right time, allowing us to leap out of the conjurer’s hat and into a surprised world as the ones to watch from now on.  Our mothers’ sensibly clad bottoms became just bottoms, when ours invited conversation.  Their voices fell back into an appropriately domestic hum, whereas we say blow to baking on a regular basis (not least because our husbands might grow too fat), and the confident voice of the new olds reaches up and out and can silence a room of men.

Now there’s a thing!

So get ready world, for we are coming and worse, much much worse, our daughters are watching.