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.

Island Blog – Unicorns, Bananas and Hope

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

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

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

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

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