Island Blog 148 Dark and Light

 

Dark room wisdom

 

 

We were talking, my small-panted grandchildren and I, about the dark.  Was I, Are you, Button Granny, frightened of the dark?  I was having a ying tong at the time (ying tong piddle etc) and she, the smallest pants, burst in, quite the thing with this fairly big question.  Well, I said, thinking, or looking like I was…….I used to when I was little, and then, later, when I was bigger than little, yes I did.  Why?  she asked.

Good question.  They ‘why’ bit always throws me unless it’s obvious, such as Why did you not put your fingers in the fire Button Granny?  I thought more, albeit in a slightly compromised state (I can still think at such times, being a woman) and said, Well because I know the dark now.

How?  she continued.  Oh dear.  Well, I said (what would we do without that wonderful word of delay?) I think that I know that, that……there is nothing to frighten me in the dark anymore.  Oh, she said, and dashed off to complete her Angry Cabbages Puzzle, which, by the way, I do wonder at.  If cabbages are angry in her little mind, then what hope is there?  I had, earlier, read both herself and her bigger brother a story about an Elephant and a Bad Baby, who, together, stole two pies, two pork chops, with no thought for the poor pig, nor, I might add, the butcher, two ice creams, two buns and two apples, so I guess Angry Cabbages are small fry by comparison. I am consoled greatly to know that their parents think the book ‘dickerless’ too.

The dark is just the other side of the light.  I remember my lovely dad saying just that, as I shook him awake, about yay high, my little heart beating like mad, my feet light and running all the way to his side of the marital bed.  He rose and guided me to the bathroom, his voice soothing, regardless of his broken sleep, sleep he badly needed for his busy working day, yet to dawn, and laid a towel on the edge of the bath.  He turned on the taps to run tepid water into the tub and then lifted me onto the towel so that my feet dipped into the soothing water.  He talked about this and about that whilst I calmed, and then, softly dried my feet and lifted me back to bed with a gentle voice saying gentling things.  I don’t know if he stayed till my eyes grew heavy, but I do know that I never saw him leave.  He never asked me to tell him of my fears, just seem to understand them and then he washed them away.  I thank him for that, although he is now long gone, a Marine Commando, another dad who never talked about the war he lived through, at least, not the dreadful bits.

As a teenager I was still afraid.  Not outside, bizarrely, but within the walls of a house.  Once, when invited at stay with a schoolfriend, the daughter of a pig farmer, for the night.  I lay in the guest room, weighed down with warm bedding and I just knew there were rats in the room.  I said to myself, Don’t be Dickerless, but the rat-knowing part of me stayed resolute. Then, as I began to doze off from complete exhaustion, the house around me quiet (which meant the parents were in bed too…..) a rat ran over my blankets.  I saw it and I felt it.  I spent the night in the cupboard and cried so much at breakfast that my poor mother had to come and collect me, effusive with apologies and, no doubt, embarassed for ever and a day.  But I Saw the rat!  I wailed.  Uh-huh, she said.

The dark is something personal.  To each one of us.  Maybe it isn’t the night sort of dark, although it can be, but perhaps the inside dark stepping out.  A fear of something or someone.  Doubts can bring the dark.  Crime on television just before bed can continue to play out and develop in our dreams.

Dark is the other side of light.  As adults, sentient adults, we know this.  But knowing something and it settling into our bones can be a universe, a lifetime apart.  I know that when I am troubled, my dreams bring more dark than light. I have downloaded a Sleep App on my android phone (get me) by someone with the most boring voice I have ever heard, whose control over the english language would have sent my english teacher, Miss Machoolish into one of her dizzy spells, and it works, the boredom treatment, never mind the bright lights, the secret garden or any of the stuff he drones on about.  I just want out, so I fall asleep.

Now, I love the dark.  I know that, inside it, there is calm and peace.  I also know that night creatures move at such times, but they don’t want me, they want mice or wandering birds, and, although I may, indeed be a wandering bird, I am way too big for their taste.  I sincerely believe that television, for all its great dramas has bigged up the darkness with fear and we believe it.  Although I do acknowledge that, living on an island, my dark is just dark with not much inside it to worry any of us, I still think fear as food is something we don’t need.  We spend too much time, me included, looking at how things might go wrong.  Why should that out-balance them going right?  Perhaps more looking at the light in our lives would gentle the dark in us.

Dark is dark.  Light is light.  It is enough.

 

Island Blog 147 If Not Now

georgebernardshaw385438

 

 

Today is Halloween and I already have a witch or two in my head, and if crossed, in my mouth.  Not a really bad witch, but one of those ones that knows her power and won’t take any messing.  I like her.  She is a tad unpredictable, but we work together pretty well in the main, perhaps because I am also a tad unpredictable.  Witches are really ‘storybook’ to me, I don’t do black magic at all, although the white ones are worth a second look. I pull them in and shape them up for whatever hurdles I need to cross on a daily basis.  My witches are humourous and feisty, clever and quick, kindly but firm, independent, solo, and able to lift above any situation with a switch of a wand.  They don’t sport warts, nor crooked chins, nor do they cackle unless it’s whilst watching the ‘bad’ guys fall into their own come-uppance, in which case, I cackle too.

My time on Skye was wonderful.  Every time I travel to new places, I meet new people and people fascinate me.  I watch them and I listen and I learn.  I stayed as a guest in a lovely home overlooking a sea-loch that raged and spat for days, driven mercilessly into a right stooshie by strong winds and heavy rainfall.  The rain travelled sideways, whipping into my face and grabbing the breath out of me.  It was hard to stand up whilst walking two lively spaniels whose main aim was to find rabbits and chase them, not possible whilst held firmly on a lead, but nonethless, their aim.  When we had the rare sighting of a car approaching along the single-track road, we had to bundle into the grass in a fairly undignified heap, the spaniels panting for breath and the blood cut off from my lead-holding fingers.  Waving was tricky, lifting just my hand and not a whole spaniel into the air.  I was treated like royalty and yet welcomed as part of the family and now I have new friends, new people to learn from, a new bond between us.  Just as an aiside, I belong to the Scottish Book Trust who can sponser such trips and I am always delighted to be invited anywhere in Scotland to talk about Island Wife, to sing my songs, to reach out to people who relate to my story, in book groups, libraries, or at any public event.  I know, shameless marketing!

Moving on…….

In every area of life, there are people.  Machines do a hec of a lot to assist communication, its reach and the speed of it, but we need people or there is no heart.  Talking of hearts, I believe hearts are inherently good, even when the outside of someone challenges that theory.  Nothing is black or white, we are all both, plus all those rainbow colours in between.  Of course, life can throw us from time to time, but none of us want to be remembered, or pidgeon-holed at such times, especially if the outside of us says different.  But we can and do define people, if we’re honest, by their behaviour on a certain day/week/month or year.  We may be asked to describe someone.  We may say…..well, she is very good at her job but dreadfully overweight.  Now why do we add that last bit?  Is it that we must balance a good thing with such an unnecessary comment?  It’s irrelevant to the profile of that person and, sadly, the one thing that will be remembered.  Her overweight is something she doesn’t like either, we can be sure of that.  I have heard such defining often and, to my shame, said nothing.  I remember one of my boys saying once ‘I wonder why we don’t stand up for each other’ and he is right.  Why don’t we?  Perhaps we don’t want to be the reason for any awkward feelings.  After all, we can just remove ourselves can’t we and think how judgemental that comment was and the person who made it.  It’s easier that way.  But aren’t we judging too by keeping quiet?  It has a name this keeping quiet thing.  Although we didn’t directly commit the crime, we affirmed it by omission.  We omitted to stand and be counted.  In this climate of not standing, we need to make changes.  I have a rule for myself.  If I wouldn’t say something direct to a person, then I won’t say it at all.  I can’t always manage it.  I am human.  But what I aspire to, and practice, will eventually become a habit.

We are all doing our best to manage our lives.  We fall, we falter, we stumble and we crack, but we are not china cups and we can mend.  Not one single one of us knows what it is like to live another’s life.  The saying that we should not judge another man till we have walked a mile in his shoes, is a good one.  Even living closely with another human being tells us little of what lies in their hearts, what dreams are shattered, what disappointments hurt, what shame or oppression has done to their sense of self.  Little choices make up our pathways, but we cannot all walk straight and tall if those pathways are not going the way we want them to.  We redress the balance as best we can, and it takes time to find the normal, sometimes a long time, often a long time.  If I have learned anything in my life it is that I am not an island.  Although I love solitude and am happy on my own, I still crave a warm smile when life feels like it’s wrapped me in chains and thrown a tsunami in my face.  Stopping to smile back, to ask How Are You? and to listen to the answer can lift me far higher than any job-well-done will ever do.  I may rush by you, Can’t Stop, and you may understand my busyness, and I may complete the housework in record time, but, I am smile-less deep inside and not lifted up at all.  Better, by far, that I dally a while with you beside the dried goods and coffees for a human encounter.  We are dead a long time.  Life is for us to live or it will carry on without us.

If not now, then when?

 

Island Blog 126 Light in the Attic

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Our ‘attic’ or loft for the new generation of home-owners, is mostly dark.  There is one piddling light bulb just at the trap door and about a mile and a half of pitch darkness, densly strung with fat dirty cobwebs left by old spiders who thought flies might just fancy a blind spin among the boxes and crates of stuff nobody knows is there, nor cares.

We have employed a miner’s headlamp when required to ferret about for something we think might be there, something high on the critical list for Right Now.  Often, that initial enthusiasm is lost in the fight to avoid strangulation by Old Spider and the unlucky miner emerges furious and unrecognisable beneath Miss Haversham’s veil, coughing and spitting and in need of a number four cycle with maximum spin.  Old newspapers dissolve into powder at a single touch and underfoot lie fossils that foof into blue smoke after one bootly crunch. Then the fine dust of a rodent’s body rises into a gasping mouth to irritate the cilia into a frenzy, like a field of ripe corn in a hurricane.

Whatever it was that seemed so vital, has now lost all of its shine.  Getting out without breaking a bone is what rises to the top of the list.  The steps, just too low to reach the trap door, balance between two stairs in an alarming way, and the support group who said they would remain in position for just this moment, have popped down to put the kettle on.  Suddenly, all those old spiders, the clutch of their webbing, the dead mice and the darkness morph into a terrifying monster, one that is closing in.  All I need now is for the trap door to snap shut and I am doomed to become the next fossil waiting to puff out my own blue smoke in a hundred years time, beneath another booted foot.  My throat, or what is left of it, constricts, my heart begins a mad dash to nowhere and there is no way, without jumping, that I can re-connect with the wobbly steps.

That is the very LAST time I ever go up in that attic!  I cry, once I can speak again.  And, yet, there will be another time, because I am slim and agile and, as the space up there closes down over the years, the only one who will ever be able to get up there at all.

What I want to know, is why we put anything up there for in the first place?  The family silver, the pretty china, the old guitar, the boxes and boxes of books on Walks in the Gloucestershire Countryside, or old AA Roadmaps, or those hundreds of volumes of self-published novels by unknown writers, long dead and completely forgotten.  Their pages are brown and curling, their bound covers stained and damp.  And, yet, we keep on keeping them.  For what?  For whom?  Our children?  I very much doubt they would think beyond a bonfire.  Perhaps we are thinking that something magical might be lurking up there, something that would change all our fortunes, just by being brought into the light. Another never-ending story.

In order to see the light, we must have the darkness.  A darkness that envelops and holds secrets.  I can hear the mice up there some nights.  It sounds like quite a fun party at times and interrupts my sleep.  Tiny feet, many of them, skittering among family treasures, living out their lives in the darkness, along with the monstrous spiders and blind flies.  The mice make nests from old hardbacks, or plastic, or the gut from a guitar string.  Amazing what you can do with what is all around you.

When I am finally down on terra firma again, I look at the shaft of light on the landing floor, cast by the piddling light bulb and in a perfect, and very small, square shape, one I just wriggled through, twice.  I think about the darkness up there, and then of the darkness in my own attic, the attic of my head. Only I really know what’s up there, no matter how much telling I do.  There is always more. And it is not easy to squeeze through the trap door of my mind, nor it is it a pleasant experience.

Over here, are the regrets I admit to, and over there, the ones I don’t.  Further towards the water tank with it’s wonky lid, lie the memories of my children, what they said and did as little ones.  Down there where the webs are dense as a curtain, are the emotions and hurts I have learned to quiet.  Near them are stacked the doubts and the worries about which I can do nothing, and never could.  Closer to the piddling bulb are boxes of hopes.  I keep them near the light for easy access, although I have moved a few of them into a recess because they will never come about.  They are tidied away, but not quite bonfired, even though I really should clear that space.  The mice chew through old words and the strings that made my music, turning them into cosy nests for their young.  I don’t mind that.  It’s good to let go, to allow things to move on.  And, besides, I can make new words, new music.  But, first, I have to let go.

And letting go is the only way to live.  I will change the things I can, and let go of the things I cannot.  Knowing which is which might appear confusing, but, trust me, we always know the answer to that.

Island Blog 117 Animals I have known

 

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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 93 – Tapselteerie Dreams

Tapselteerie

 

 

 

 

Last night was an awfully big adventure.  Sometimes nights are like that. Short on sleep and long on dreams; dreams that skitter away in the process of waking, so quick as to leave me with the odd snapshot, and a depth of emotion I can’t necessarily fix into a shape.

Whenever I dream there are a couple of venues that consistently provide the backdrop for the drama.  One, oddly, is a little corner flat in Glasgow, where I only lived for a short while after Tapselteerie and before moving back to the island.  Those dreams are often good ones and I walk through the park or sip coffee in a busy café and there are no obvious lurkings of menace in any shadows.

The other and main venue is Tapselteerie, I know it is, although the stones and layout of it are often wildly wrong.  For example, we had a roof over our heads there and walls and floors, the usual household structure, but in dreams, they are often shaky if not completely absent.  When I am inside one of these dreams I am always looking for my children, which, for those of you who have read Island Wife, will not be a surprise at all.  The stones are grey and cold, the plaster walls missing, and there is often sky overhead instead of a white ceiling.

In these dreams I always have to fly to save them, my children.  I always know that I can fly, but each time I must find the courage to do it again.  I have sat myself down to think deeper on that search for courage, once the morning comes and strong black coffee brings me in to land.  Is it courage to take on the ‘saving’, I ask myself, or is the courage to fly again?  And, if I know, as I do, that I can fly, why would I need courage?  After all, I don’t need to think twice about walking, running, skipping, now do I?

And I find no answer to that.

One dream took me into the empty ruins of the place, cold it was and abandoned, the grey stone bared, the layout changed beyond my recognition, and yet I knew where I was.  I was alone.  The crunch of fallen debris under my bare feet echoed around me and I could feel my heart beating fast, hear my quick breathing.  Looking up, I could see my children way up high, higher than Tapselteerie high, flattened against the walls, no ground for their feet.  Each one was hooked to the wall by their clothing, and they just hung there, making no sound.  Much younger and smaller than they are now, they looked like friends of the Artful Dodger, all raggedy and torn and grubby.  There were no stairs, no structure, however skeletal, there to allow me to climb.  There was only one way up.

I had to fly.

The resistance to just taking off, knowing I could, surprises me every time.  It seems, in my remembering, to take a lot of wasted time, dithering about in the ruins of a broken house, when I could be up there gathering children off hooks.  But I always do it.

Then, suddenly, I take a deep breath and lift and the feeling it wonderful, the process effortless.

Once, I met Shrattle (Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake), or his lookalike half way up, but he was balanced on a spindly ledge and quite without wings, so no threat to any of us.  I lifted each child, light as a feather, off their pegs and into the sky, waking with that glorious light-hearted feeling that always follows flight.

Last night is already leaving me, the memories of the dream, but I do remember one thing.  This time it was in colour.  Never before has Tapselteerie shown herself in colour, and yet she had bucket loads of it.  She gave me walls and ceilings and laughter and spiders and bats in the cellar.  If I came down all those stairs, during a sleepless night to make tea, I had to remember to make light, because in the dark I would have ploughed into the huge migration of slugs from somewhere (I never knew where) to the wine cellar.  Sometimes a dozen deep and many feet long, the army flowed in silence to wherever they were going.  It was a marvel to behold and much less of one to land in the middle of it in bare feet.  People said salt will kill them.  We said, why would we kill them?  We lived with a good number of wild creatures and managed to do so, in the main, without disasters, although the floor in the back hall always needed a wash of a morning.

Dreams I know have symbolism.  Mine are often a chorus of many influences.  My past, my fears, the book I’m reading, the present circumstances, the last thing I watched on television. Add to that something on my mind, a new truth learned and understood, a forthcoming event and so on.  But whatever the graphics, however bizarre and unbelievable the storyline, the emotions of it linger longest, so, to a small degree I can understand what my imagination played out for me and why.

Tapselteerie looked just fine in colour.  It may be 20 plus years since I moved inside her walls, heard her song and moved to her rhythm, but she is alive and well and with her own place in my heart.

Island Blog 80 Acorns

Dreams

Let’s say I have a dream.  Not one that requires a fairy and a wand, but  more like I’ve felt a change in the wind and I need to tighten my sail.  Oh, I’ll still arrive at the next shore in the end, but I could make all the difference to the quality of that arriving, if I made a correction or two.

Well that’s fine.  In the bag you might say.  After all, my big and agile brain has come to this conclusion.  I can just sit back now and watch it happen.

Wrong.

As the day begins I am a veritable bounce of good intentions.  I go about my list of tasks in the way I usually go about my list of tasks, but this time my step is lighter and my inner movie is definitely Disney.  I reel in the line of hours, wind them around my spool.  Done.

Ahead of me, I can see the old habit coming closer.  It’s part of the pattern, of course, so it will come closer and closer until it is right in my face and looking at me expectantly.

This is when I begin to tell myself that the whole commitment thing is pointless.  Who’s looking anyway?  Who cares?  I am still dashing along with verve and vigour, sails full, ahead of the game, aren’t I?

But I know different.  So how to make this change, that’s the question, and the answer is, baby steps.  I just need to correct my sail once, just once, and then to feel the shift and tell myself, Well Done!

Then, do it again the next day.

People we admire are always those who overcome themselves.  We all know what it is to be ‘ok’, doing away, not bad, and other such beige states of being.  We also, I think, imagine that those who overcome themselves, and therefore the mountains that block out their sun, are just lucky.

Lucky Schmucky.  No such thing.

You don’t get through to the Olympic team by luck, nor to Wimbledon, nor to the finals of The Voice.

What those ‘lucky’ people chose to do was to tighten their sails every single day and often during it.  They pushed themselves when others sat back in the sun with a pint pondering the meaning of life.  Over long lonely hours, they kept practising over and over and over again until they stepped out into the light with a Da-dah! and we all marvelled at their superhuman-ness, something each one of them would deny with a derisive snort.

I may not want to play at Wimbledon, join the Olympic team or sing on TV, but there will be something in my life I just know I want to change, if only that fairy would appear with her wand and make it happen.  If I do nothing, nobody will know.  But I will.  And when the fat lady sings, will I know that at least I tried?

We found an acorn and planted it in the woods, just pushed it into the soft peaty floor and moved on.

So did the acorn.  Now, it’s shade from the sun and shelter in a rain shower.

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.