Island Blog – A 3 Frock Day

The wind is up and my wheelies are dancing. Only yesterday I freed them from their storm restraint, a rope affixed around their bellies and secured to my fence with chandler’s hook thingies that would normally keep boats from taking off to Holland. I forget their names. I was certain the gales had stopped and it laughs me as I watch the newly freed and recently emptied bins having a blast out there. My fence is smirking at me, I know that look. As a new gust, circa 40 knots, barrels up the loch, one bin, then the next open and shut their mouths. I can’t hear what they say but they are definitely talking. Or laughing.

It’s a three frock day for me, as I cannot risk going out there with anything light and floaty. Light and floaty could bring on an exposure I would rather not experience and nor would anyone else who happened to be nearby. And yet walking in high winds is exhilarating so I will still go out to watch the skinny trees bend towards each other, towards me, creaking and groaning like old women at a WRI meeting. There’s always lots of chat on gale days. The mail might not arrive and the ferry may not run. We are used to this even if it is an infuriation to the best laid plans. Deciding to pop over to the mainland for a shopping spree can lose its shine if a person is still over there 3 days later without a spare pair of knickers and a dog shut up at home. We live dramatically on the island. Nothing is ever a given and I think that’s what makes us so enterprising and so ready to help each other out.

There was no indication yesterday afternoon that a gale was filling its lungs in preparation for a dawning onslaught. The barometer read ‘Set Fair’, and this morning it shouts ‘Hooligan’. I don’t mind so much if I have warning, the time to batten down flapping things, but coming all of a sudden is just plain rude. Birds are flying backwards or in scoops and dives and the bird seed is half way out to sea by now. The feeders swing like ships lanterns in a force 10 and any bird that dares to catch on must feel bilious. I do, just watching them and am very thankful that I can eat a poached egg from a dependably calm and static plate.

The sea-loch is a rise of spume and irritable wavelets, wind blasting over the incoming tide, a conflict of interest. Geese honk over the house and I have no idea how they manage to stay the right way up. If I was up there I would be spinning like a top. It’s hard enough to remain the right way up with two feet on the ground and 3 frocks for ballast. But the weather up here is what keeps me balanced which may sound bizarre until you understand that the capricious sudden-ness of it has become the norm. When visitors rapture on about a beautiful sunshine day of calm and tweeting, they don’t see the truth. Make the most of today, I smile at them. Tomorrow could lose someone their garden shed. They eye me as they might a crazy woman. Sometimes they decide to move up here based on the untruth and then they meet the winter which begins in November and might possibly depart mid May. Endless rain, persistent gales to excite the wheelie bins and power cuts are all a given but we who know this are usually prepared. We have nourishing soup on the hob, loads of frocks and a great attitude. Or we don’t live here at all.

I could live nowhere else.

Island Blog – Just a Dog

Over the last weekend, the Poppy Dog was very sick, so much so that I had to take her over the switchback to the vet. Negotiating a series of chasm potholes, sharp upward twists and barely any passing places, we arrived. Poppy was to stay overnight to be on an IV drip as she was extremely dehydrated. Leaving her was tough even as I know the vets on the island are quite brilliant. I didn’t expect to collect her alive to be honest and made my wishes clear. I did not want her back as a sickly thing, not this feisty, barky dog, my wee mate, the only other one breathing within these four stone walls. No way.

Needless to say, my night was more day than night. Every hour I wondered how she was doing until Sleep left the building. Early morning, in the dark, I swear I heard Poppy snuffling in the next room. The vet called at 07.30 and I missed the call in the one moment I went out to gather wood against the fourth bl**dy freezing storm in a single week. The answerphone told me she had enjoyed a peaceful night, had not pulled out her drip and had eaten some chicken and rice for breakfast. I couldn’t believe it and my relief lifted into a lip cracking smile. A friend drove me over to collect her early this afternoon and, despite the spectacular wind emissions, Poppy was bright and waggy.

Needless to say we are both tired but happy. She is just glad to be back home and I, well I am full of gratitudinal thanks to the vets, the friend and the survival of my wee barky mate. Poppy is more than just a dog. She is the reason for walks, for conversations (a bit one-sided I admit)and for play. She is the over-the-top welcome when I have been away at the shop for 20 minutes. She is the one who wakes me in the night because her bladder is reminding her it needs emptying. She follows me everywhere, watching with those big velvet eyes where I go and, even before I do the ‘go’ thing, when I am only just thinking about it.

May she continue to mend, particularly in the wind emission department.

Island Blog – The Wild

I walk this day through copper gold and spandangles of sunshine. The track, wet, muddy from all the rain, dapples into light, peckled with mosaic, the light glinting off the water spots, the puddles, and lighting up the prints of yesterday walkers. I watch the down, erstwhile forgetting the up until it calls me to me in blue and gold. Me and the Poppy dog keep the beat, or I do, for she scoots and slows, sniffs at pretty much everything, oftentimes right before my feet and it thinks me of tripping. Old folk do think of tripping. I never considered making such a foolish error before, but now I do. How odd that tripping, a simple fall that comes with an answering bounce back into the upright, now holds menace. I could be here for hours, days, should I allow this tripping thing. Then I wheesht myself, saying, out loud, Nonsense, and loudly enough to startle a quiet other walker with his terrier who rounds the bend in a way that wonders me. Is he a ghost, so quiet is he? No, I have seen him before with the same little terrier, politely held on an unstrained leash. Hallo, I say, unable to quell the launch and startle of the Poppy dog, the gap between me and her ears being too great to prevent a situation. I say Hallo in my quietest tone, in A major, I think, and muted, so as to calm things.

He is unfazed. We talk. He suggests unleashing his dog and I nod in agreement. Dogs are always better off without the strangle-throat of a leash. Always. At best, they will sort themselves out in moments. At worst, the one who knows they are about to be dishevelled, right here on this peaceful track, can get away. Humans always cock things up, these sorts of things, their fear, their ignorance of the animal kingdom. It rolls my eyes and often. Just let them spar, just let go, just let. But not everyone gets that ‘let’ thing. I suspect my life as a farmer’s wife has loosened my desire to control something way more powerful than I. The animal instinct is definitely a ‘let go’ thing for me. And, I have a lot of opinions around the rules of controlling wild animals, even dogs or cats, but I keep it all to myself. Anthropomorphism is a big deal in the human world, and practised to our detriment, but try explaining that to someone who thinks their pet is their pet.

We humans forget our wild too. It is a big mistake and one we can rethink. During lockdown a lot of folk bought puppies and kittens for their own pleasure, to entertain and to fill a lockdown hole. I am really hoping that most realised they had taken on a wild creature, no matter how domesticated they may have been over many decades. The wild is strong, it never goes. It can be battered into compliance by fear but the worm will turn (whatever that means).

I can see a happy and respected dog or cat immediately. Any cowering, any slink back when a hand is raised, speaks me volumes. A canine or feline who is loved and understood will walk straight-backed, will wag a tail, will merry a look, be curious and open, like the terrier and his man I met today in the dapples and around a quiet corner. A good man, a happy dog, a merry, and a bit shouty, encounter. I thank him. He knows the wild.

Island Blog – Some Time and the God Mother

Recently I have watched change develop, a responsive change to what is happening with the season. Local dog walkers are now clad in jumpers, one or two (jumpers) I recognise from last year, at a similar time. They sauntered by in teeshirts and shorts, it seems like moments ago. Was I asleep for days? Did I miss something and, whilst I did this sleeping thing, did the weather send these goodly folk into their drawers for a wheeching out of warmer kit? No, I didn’t sleep, rarely do, so it wasn’t that. Maybe the gods of weather flipped a switch, laughing at us down-belows and deciding to stir things up a bit, because body language speaks volumes. Instead of ‘sauntering’, these folk are bowed, bent and clad in plastic. Where before they walked with jaunty air companionable with time as if it was a holiday stretching out for days, they now march, get out, get back, wet and longing for a hot cuppa, teeth gritted, defences up against the sideways rain avoiding puddles deep enough to sink a vicar. I feel it myself, the oh-god-do-I-have-to thing pre dog walk. I resent, big time, the reach for the plastic covering, the boots. I feel irritation as the doglet pauses to sniff at every other blade of grass, yanking her on and then carrying the guilt of grumpy yanking for another half mile, at least. Walks are shorter, faster, marchier. Dammit.

Then I remember the discomfort of change. Ah…….yes. Every time a season changes it feels too soon, even when the coming season is Spring and this is why. I like to know where I stand within my environment, my life. I want ‘ordinary’ to remain so, even as I absolutely don’t. Eventually, I get comfortable with the change until it isn’t change at all. It just is as it is. The in-between time, when I am on the cusp of things, I swither, feel out of sorts, resistant. It’s not anticipation of a seasonal change because it slam dunks me. I don’t know what it is, and I get bored of myself looking for reasons. I work not to be crabbit. I poke about in my insides to find some explanation and find none. This finding none thing also irritates me. I like an answer, that lovely well-honed explanation, much like a well-penned musical phrase that jitters, lifts, curves and flows down to an Aha. Nothing. Dammit again.

When dressing these chillsome mornings, I paint my way through my frock layers. This, yes, that, maybe, and this one onatop. No, try again, and again and again. What is wrong with me? For many lovely months I just rose from beneath my duvet, picked up this or that for its colour, or shape, or layering power. Now I am a snivelling child of a morning, with no power at all. I realise, I know, as I write this, that it is a First World problem. I remind myself of that as I stomp down the stairs to yet another dark morning. Is it morning at all?

There are so many who dread mornings. There are so many who have left their last ever morning behind, lost like a full stop in the dark. I have frocks and choice. I have Autumn and change. I have rain-soaked dog walks. I have Christmas ahead, visits from family and friends, my children, their partners and the grandchildren. I have my eyes, my ears, my legs, my face, my arms and a choice for dinner. I have enough money, enough warmth, enough light, enough dark to remember the full stops for others. Again I ask, what is wrong with me?

The Soft Voice comes to me. Nothing, she says, this God Mother, Nothing at all. You are but human (the ‘but’ bit clicking me into pause. And, she continues, there may well be another day, another morning. There may not, but there may be. Keep living, not just breathing. Keep fannying about with your frock talk, keep dithering and swithering and be grumpy if it helps. All is allowed, is normal. But one thing……

Yes? I ask.

You have one time, some time. Use it, dance with it, in it, play with it, have fun with it, make it hilarious and precarious, vicarious, salubrious, nefarious, whatever. But notice which and what. Choose from your own ground, your own roots, where and when you will spread and when you will flower.

She’s wise, the God Mother.

Island Blog – The Best View

Heavy rain, like water bullets, straight down rain, none of this fluffing fallshift of soft water dash against my face. This was a wetting. I watched the opportunity for a while. I considered my cloaking, my ineffective coveration, my footwear, and pulled back. I pulled back long enough for even the Pull Back to raise its eyebrows. Are you going or are you planning to spend the day lurching towards the window like a catapult with old pants elastic?

I don’t like the old pants bit and it stirred me somewhat. I stand taller. Ok, I say, I am offski. Before the old girl in me can catch up I am footed and rainproofed and attaching the wee dog to her lead. Door open. We are out. Good grief! This rain is pelting like reproval. It is so straight down I turn to yell (and regret it) Bend Somewhat! It is either deaf, the rain or determined. I sigh, open the gate and head for the wild place. The track is jiggling water in potholes, the rain-off sloughing like a serpent down into anywhere that’s down. Water always seeking the sea, the river, the outfall, the easy way to go. I am not doing ‘easy way’ but I am not water, I remind myself.

As I wander, because I like the whole wander thing, even in the rain, I observe. The chestnut tree is hanging low, branches so huge and so powerful are bending. I look up and say hi. On and more trees, bowed in fragility and yet still so strong. The wind rises and rises puffing and luffing, lifting, playful. It wonders me as I see massive wood limbs holding life-giving leaves, reach out way too far from the body, from the mother trunk. And yet there is power there, control and the fabulous knowing that that ancient trunk is holding you, holding and holding.

The leaves are already turning, I see the beech leaves twisting at the edges and giving in to copper. I hear the woodland choir, led by the wind. At the shore, where I walk every day to remind myself of not where we began but where so many hundreds, thousands of others began their beginning with us. The chance to see whales. I can smell the excitement even now as I wander in a past land, through gorse, popping seeds and noisily, where the seaweed lays across the out-tide rocks, copper, flaxen, lime, blood and where a heron squawks at me and lifts in lazy flaps; where oystercatchers fly above the tide, turn to me, catch the sudden sunlight and turn into fluttering pearls; where the chance of seeing some wild thing lifts a head above the water in an hour’s watching. We yearn for the wild encounter. We always did and we always will.

Let the seasons be. They are not as we once knew them, predictable and uniform, to a degree. They are wild now, and free. We have a hand in that but it is not the hand that gives up, that turns, that lifts in latent anger. It is done. We are here. We can dance through them, adapt and welcome. We can be a part of what is happening now or we can whine and criticise from the sidelines of life. Eish…….don’t do that. Engage. Join me in the frontline. We’ll get the best view.

Island Blog – Dreamers, Just Go

We are the dreamers. Did you know that? Dreamers are the ones who, if they believe in those dreams, can change their world, and, accordion to the ripple effect, change other lives in the process. I am not necessarily talking about the weird things that come into our heads overnight, nor am I a follower of those who say they can explain such dreams. What I mean is that, if someone can follow their dream, even if it is just for today, just a weeny thing that appears to have no import, then, if that someone takes action, even if it feels weird and a bit ‘out there’, then who knows what may come of that dream?

It can be powerful. Let me break it down. In this strangest of days, as I wonder who the hellikins I am having buried a strong, dominant leader of a man, I could fluff. I could be like a dandelion clock, just there for someone to blow away. But I know I have roots, even if I cannot feel the security of those roots in the ground. All I know is that I will not flop. Not me. I am not a flopper. So, this dream thing. I wake early and know, although I wonder who told me, I just suddenly ‘know’ that I need to walk out, and right now. Because I am used to someone else telling me what I ‘know’ for so long, I am somewhat confounded when the messenger comes to me direct. I am looking about for himself. Oh, he isn’t here. You mean me? Well, yes, I hear, and I am now facing this directive. I swither. But, but and but again. I planned to do this, or that. I can see eyes rolling and I chuckle. I haven’t washed the breakfast dishes I whine, nor swept the floor and I always do those things at this time and in sequence. More eyes rolling. I do pause to wonder how often eyes can roll without disappearing altogether.

Ok, ok, I say, I will go walk right now, leaving the dirt and the dishes. Ok, enough already. I am pulling on my trainers and it is barely light. I wake the dog and drag her puzzled self out into the wild. She resists, a lot, digging in her small feets but I am having none of it. I know she is telling me that we walk later, following the routine. Yes, yes, I tell her but I am bigger and stronger than you and you will come. Her skids show in the track. I feel slightly sorry for her but if I know anything about the female of any species I know that we are very good at adapting. Eventually she concurs and trots along beside me. We watch early sunlight turn beech leaves to emeralds. We startle deer in the woods and they thunder away, their white scuts flashing. At the old pier the tide is full and still. Slack water, the pause between flow and ebb, the moment captured. I, we, are part of this moment. The tide is flood, meaning there is a full moon coming, but not yet. The water is very high and so clear. I can see way down. It is a while before the plankton bloom turns the sea cloudy. We are a part of that moment too. I see crabs scuttle, oystercatchers fly, geese swashbuckle in the shallows, curlews pipe overhead and herons croak like old smokers.

Then it comes, that flipjack, that effortless gymnast, the otter. I stand in awe, watching this extraordinary creature, king or queen of his or her world, dive, catch and eat, on the run. I hear the crunch of shell. He or she is only a few feet away but I am no threat. The kelp lies still, no wave action. The rocks, illuminated by saltwater, shine like varnish. The early sun lifts and pinks the clouds and here am I watching a dream. Had I stayed home to wash dishes and sweep floors as is my routine, I would have missed this magic.

Don’t miss the magic. If that dream nudges, then go.

Island Blog – Wild Pesto

Today began a tad early. It was still dark, so I guessed about 3 am. I am good at guessing time. Himself taught me how to read the sun, his position in the sky and then to trust what came into my head. However, 3 am is sunless, but I seem to have learned the darkness too. I don’t have nightmares anymore so waking is just waking. I pad downstairs for a cup of herbal tea. I check to see that I did remember to bring the doglet in last night. I do that often, having once, only once, left a before dog out all night. It was summer, I remind myself soothingly. She was warm and curled up when I found her on one of the soft cushions of a sun chair, but still…….the memory has not left me unshattered, the image of her sweet face a morning welcome to one who deserved no such thing. Funny things, memories. Anyway, dog was in of course. I went back to bed with an audio book, most of which I didn’t hear as I did doze off, arising at five.

When I wake I am filled with beans. Always. No matter what my body feels, my Alice mind is like a drone already heading out into the wild, into the morning, the sunrise, the retreat of the darkness and I struggle to keep up but I know I want to follow. Each day is an adventure, even as I know that it will probably be just the same as its predecessor. However, this morning I have a mission in mind. I want to garner wild garlic to make wild pesto. It is my sister’s fault. She sent me a jar and I have never tasted anything so amazeballs. Well, maybe I have, but not in the world of pesto-ness. She is, after all, a professional chef.

I watch the goldfinches in my garden, six, 3 pairs, such beauty. Dave the dove and his mates, greenfinch, robins blackbirds #alwaysfighting, siskin feeding young, chaffinch, sparrows and they have to arrive in the plural, as this is how they live. The sparrow babble from the rhododendron bush nearby wonder me how it is able to remain rooted for all the household drama being played out within its depths. A starling. Well, that’s odd. There is never just the one. Maybe he/she fell out with the rest. I love the rainbow feather flash as he fidgets about on the bird table, his beak primed and ready to fell a small tree. I walk beneath a hovering honey buzzard, scanning, canting, holding the wind. It says nothing which tells me it is not this year’s young or it would be mewling like a lost kitten. Neighbour’s hens scritch and scratch the ground into early flatbeds and the rabbits dig burrows and the moles come in and spoil the whole plan with hummocks and interruptions.

The sky is wide and blue. Ice blue. I am on my way to gather wild garlic before it flowers. Into the fairy woods. On my way I cantilever towards my daughter-in-law’s house with a gathering in my arms for my grand-daughters. They love the fairy woods. Together we have discovered many fairy homes and left acorns and leaves and a flower head as a respectful gift. They are caught, as I was, in the wonder of fairies and elves and their parents encourage such adaptive thinking. But, they have a play date with friends, so not today. I head off alone, me and the doglet and my basket deep into the wild woods, sun dapples guiding us in. The garlic is young, holding back. We had frost, you may have noticed, they tell me, all straight-backed and not very tall. I wasn’t judging, I reply. I imagine frost is a big hazard. Ah, they tell me, their voices all coming at once, we can survive it but for the future of the species we need to be cautious. I get that, I say, and the leaves settle. The doglet cavorts through the woods without me, ahead of me but always, and I am sure of this, knowing exactly where I am. I can walk off anytime without her but within seconds she is beside me. I always see you, she says through those velvety brown eyes. Well, thank the holy crunch for that my girl as I am depending on you to be the eyes. We trot away from the wild, the garlic (I did ask if it is ok to pick) the old hazels, the witch trees, the honeysuckle, the primroses that flank like a battalion bank of golden strength, the violets and the celandine’s buttery faces that follow the sun. We emerge onto the grassland. A horse has been here. I see the hoof prints. A quad too, I think, or are these the tracks of Himself’s quad from last summer, when the bracken had dropped and he hated it enough to drive over it again and again? I have no answer. I have no answer for a zillion questions now.

But I do have wild pesto.

Island Blog – And So It Was

This morning woke me at 4am. Actually, it wasn’t the morning that woke me. It was the Poppy dog. As she has been alternately well and not well over the last few weeks, I am super alert to her every move, even in the thick dark of the night. I turn over, snuggle down, hope she will settle. But she does not. She patters across the boards like a mini tap dancer with too many legs, jumps onto the chair, then to the bed, then onto me, all wagging tail and snuffles. We get up, she full of beans and quite impervious to the thick dark. I pull on an old fisherman’s jumper and go downstairs to let her out. I make coffee, light the fire, flick on the twinkly winky lights and pretend I don’t mind that it is a good four hours till I can see anything at all through my windows. Mine now. Not ours anymore, not that I ever said ‘Our Windows’ seeing as I was the only one who cleaned them. For that reason, they were always really mine, but I do remember how antsy himself would get on hearing the word ‘mine’ when he felt he shared whatever came after; windows, home, driveway, dogs, children. If I ever said ‘my son’ or ‘my daughter’ he would correct me and in a cold clear voice. I found that infuriating but with hindsight I wonder why it bothered me so very much. Perhaps I felt that so little inside our shared life was ever really mine and thus I would hold on to any opportunity for a verbal claim to some degree of ownership.

I decide to find his most recent iPad. He kept buying replacements for no particular reason, the same no particular reason that saw him buying new mobile phones, of which there are now six sitting in the darkness with Henry the Lonely Hoover. Nobody knew why he did this, but I do. Dementia creates her own world and he was a resident in that world. Reasoning from this world meant little to him, was brushed away, as I was. It must have felt, for him, like conversing with an alien. This man who was never easy talking about his inner doubts and fears, who demanded ownership of pretty much everything, was never going to realise that to keep me out and outer still would just feed the Lonely in us both. Although he did soften towards the end, the stage was already set and the playwright refused to change the script, so we mumbled on like draught horses, plodding and submissive. I couldn’t change what was happening to him and nor could I change what was happening to me even if I did make daily decisions to be cheerful and capable.

I read from his short-dash sentences, as he tried to write down his life, that I turned cold once the diagnosis came in. I knew that it was true but it saddens me greatly now, to read it because he never spoke of it at the time, beyond a push-away comment. And that was at the heart of the Lonely. I am open and a talker. He hid from anything that lay below the surface. They say that opposites attract and that was certainly true at first. But as life trots on, people change, need new and different things, things that need discussing, understanding and appreciating or there is just Lonely. However, resourceful as we humans are, we learned how to live well enough as long as we stayed on the surface. And we did, for decades. But my need for stimulating conversation burned through me and I would find it with other people and he knew that, wrote that, hated that.

However, a long shared life is not to be remembered for the loneliness, because this would not show the whole truth of things. From the outside we appeared strong together, and we were. We laughed at the same things, talked of nature and wildlife and children and home life. We were careful around each other, in the main, for nobody wants war, if you can call sustained silence ‘war’. Nobody ever won these wars. Somebody always proffered the hand of peace and took it all away in a nanosecond. We were very good at that, even if I did long for a conversation about why and how it came to be in the first place. We lived together for ages, and well, and always confused about each other. Perhaps this is marriage.

As dementia crept on like a silent cancer, he became softer, as did I. When the bare bones of it showed so clearly, there was only kindness left. To hope for conversation was the hope of a fool and I am no fool. To wish things had been different, another choice for a fool; to long for resolution, explanation, the chance to understand how a man can live a whole long life without ever seeing beyond himself, another fool’s errand. So we didn’t bother, I didn’t bother. And the last few months were so much easier, even if the old scream did sometime rise in me. I had a task and it was a big one, but I also gifted myself a purpose, to make the end game as pretty as I possibly could. I always said I am no carer and then Life laughed, God laughed. I told himself that if he ever got sick I was off. He said he knew that. I told him he was a menace when well, so heaven knows what he would be like sick. Then he told me that he would care for me whether I was sick or well and he would have, for he was rock solid, unbending, immovable when it came to looking after me. He just didn’t see the need to ask me how I wanted to be cared for, that’s all.

And so it was.

Island Blog – Friend, Ships and Wide Open

If I was to ask you – how many true friends do you have – might you have pause for thought? Let me help you out with a definition or two…..

A true friend is always wide open. They may not be able, at the very moment of your ‘massive drama’, to speak with you on the phone, or rush over to your place. Perhaps her granny has just fallen into the wheelie bin whilst searching for her missing dentures; perhaps the kids have buried the dog in the sandpit and all she can see is a wiggling mound; or, maybe, she has just burnt the strangled eggs, is late for work, can’t find the kids, the granny or the dog and her partner has gone off with both sets of house keys. But, rest assured, this true friend will be thinking of you all the way through her own massive drama and will make contact the very first moment he or she can. Then when he/she hears of your pain, she will not compare it to hers. She might not even mention it. She will listen, respond without fixing, suggest nothing unless you ask for such, just leaning into your flow of pain, putting her hand in yours and saying – Let’s sail together on this.

This probably narrows the list down somewhat. On reflection, you might think, I wouldn’t go to this person, or that with my massive drama because it will pass and if I tell him/her I will need to follow up once the missing members of my family are re-located, returned to the upright and able, once again, to breathe. Or, perhaps this person might think you weak, or fix you with some cutthroat bright solution which will confirm she knows you’re weak. How long has she thought that about you? It gets worse, this line of thinking. It heads one way only, into the pit of all that you feared, have always feared. And now it’s the truth. You are a lame duck, a pathetic wimp of a woman and nobody likes you anyway. You can see the neon flashing sign above your head. It reads, Loser. So don’t add this one to your dwindling list. Nobody is that desperate.

This true friend might not be the first person who comes to mind. After all, not one of us is immune to self-protection. Most of us keep our true selves very private, considering what we will reveal and how we will reveal it on a moment to moment basis. There are things I have told no-one, not never, and I am sure you are not so different. But when you look at your list, pondering each name and reflecting on past history, shared moments both good and uncomfortable, you will eventually get that list down to about 2, if you are very lucky. And this, my friends, is absolutely normal. We may have hundreds of acquaintances, but the true friend, the one who just sails along with you, keeping a respectful distance when required, one who watches you fly the crests of monster waves as a purple storm approaches, or who keeps her eyes on you as you head towards jag-toothed rocks in some crazy game of Chicken, and who prays for your safe return, well, she’s the truth.

In a perfect world, this would describe a mother or a father, or both. Parents who do not load their own expectations of supreme success onto the soft-boned backs of their young, who do not reward according to achievements; who welcome you home late, under-age drunk, in suggestive clothing or with a biker boyfriend twice your age and with no space left for another tattoo; A loving mum and dad who, when you fail your exams for the third time, or when you tell them you cannot spend another day in this college, university or relationship, no matter how much of a messy split, will welcome you into loving arms and who will stand beside your decisions for all time.

I hope I have been that mum. I suspect we all do, we mums. To be a true friend and a parent is not simple, however. We want for our kids what we didn’t have for ourselves. We know, as they don’t, how tough the world is on colour, creed, race, sexuality, relational splits, career women, traditions, freedom of speech, independency. The labels live on. In fact, they are thriving. Nobody escapes the criticism, the labels, the judgement. But a true friend, one who sails beside you, who sees who you really are will make all the difference in the world. Even if this friend lives miles away she knows you without needing to own you; you don’t have to start from the beginning with her, not ever. She knows that you will fill in gaps if you want to and not if you don’t. She may well challenge you, you can be sure of that. But inside that challenge there is only heart, only love. You can tell her to truck off, as she can tell you to do the same, but she is authentic. You are authentic. Your true friendship is authentic.

Ok, so now we might be down to one. Still lucky.

Island Blog – The Circus, Night Fairies and Life

I have baked a honey cake and drizzled it, put a wash on, changed a bed, dressed, applied slap, made a cauliflower cheese for supper, wished a grand-daughter happy unicorn birthday, swept the kitchen floor, prepared a salad, ate breakfast, fed the birds and the dog, danced to Ronan Keating’s new single and it is now 7 am. There is something manic about me, I am beginning to believe. Residue automatic morning-ness from when the tourist business was up and running, endless children, many of whom I didn’t know, also up and running, and food food food required by hundreds kept me cartwheeling from first light. Half the time there was little point washing up as meal demands bunched together like giggling girls on an outing. I whisked, beat, baked, stewed, roasted and steamed mountains of produce. It thinks me I am unable to step out of those running shoes, even now, when days are slow and gentle, mostly, with the exception of the odd crappy day wherein I cannot run for the life of me. My legs are leaden and my mind is a roundabout on speed. However, I am happy to report that such days are rare, not least because I can’t be bothered with any sort of sickness, mental or physical, disallowing either much space in the room. Be off with you, I say, but don’t go bothering anyone else because you are just not welcome. Try outer space.

Mornings bounce me like Tigger. I wake with the birds and absolutely cannot turn over for more sleep. Despite my passionate love for my recycled plastic bottle filled duvet and my feathery down pillows, I have too much energy fizzing through my veins to lie a minute longer. I have to be quiet, though. Himself won’t rise till about 8 and my kitchen is a floorboard below his bedroom. I don’t think they lagged things much in the 1870’s. I tiptoe through my tasks, interested, excited, curious and particularly curious when I discover that the washing pile is gone. Who has gone-d it? There is only me who washes in this house. I discover it a little later through a downstairs window, bobbing like bunting on the line. I have no recollection of hanging it there. Perhaps I didn’t. Perhaps the Night Fairies did it for me. How sweet they are. I remember them from my young harassed mother-days. They always surprised me with their kindnesses but there were times when I would rather they told me what they’d done because I might then have avoided wasting precious time in search of something I knew I had left just there the night before. Just there stares back at me emptily. I began to suspect collusion with the Night Fairies. Once, when I was certain of a pile of bed sheets awaiting a spin in the belly of my washing machine, I found them half way up the stairs, draped into an Aladdin’s cave and with two guilty looking collies curled up inside, each one enjoying a bowl of muesli.

Perhaps when life has been a circus for long enough, the circus becomes the life and each performer becomes the circus. I think I have. And I don’t mind one bit. I think the circus training has kept me bouncing through all sorts of horrible, kept me mostly up and taught me that nothing in life is going to get me down for long. I just wish I could share this with everyone else. Life is such a precious gift, and always too short. Living it right up to its end is the only path to happiness.

After all, stumble stones can always be turned into building blocks.