Island Blog 145 Standing on Wasps

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This is the time of year when our little home welcomes (not) a host of eejit flying things in search of food and warmth.  They find warmth sure enough, more than they bargain for as it happens thanks to our electrocution chamber, set high on the kitchen units.  It’s blue light bars are obviously very seductive and we often stop our daily round in response to the fizz and spark a fly creates when making contact with 100 volts.  We know when a wasp has made such a choice, because the fizzing and sparking goes on for yonks, backed by an appalling stink of burning flesh.  Sometimes the shock is enough to spin the fried creature to the floor and my bare feet must be careful not to walk on wasps.

I know this all sounds deeply cruel, but it is mostly pretty quick, although not for us with a good sense of smell.  Prior to the installation of this high voltage addition to the kitchen white goods, we were inundated with bluebottles, greenbottles and all other bottle-named egg-laying irritating summer visitors.  I could rarely leave any bit of food uncovered.  We don’t really understand why, as we don’t live next door to a chicken farm, nor are there horses in next door’s garden.  The house is kept reasonably, but not obsessively clean, and the kitchen bin is small and emptied often.

This morning, as I woke to the first frost of winter, white-laced fingers of cold stretched over Tommy’s field, I thought about making choices.  Yes, I know it’s a bit far-fetched to suggest that a fly with huge eyes and a very small brain could possibly say, with hindsight, that perhaps diving into the fire was not it’s finest decision, but, we could, for we have small eyes and a huge brain and thus decide our own fates, to a great degree.  I thought about all my poor decisions, and ran out of fingers.  Fortunately, I cannot remember them all, for there were many and will be more.  Thing is, we make choices based on not just the situation, but how we feel about it.  Sometimes it is mighty difficult to be objective in an assessment of those two uncomfortable bedfellows.  Assessing a situation, well, that’s okay, I can do that.  You may not see it the same way, but at least we both have something visual, something solid to poke at, to give shape and form and texture to.

But how we both feel about it, well that can change everything.  You might say I am wrong to feel the way I do, referring back to the situation, the physicality of it’s form.  Even if we both completely agree on how we see it, a different emotional response is inevitable, and those emotions are what guides our hearts.

Perhaps the key is to keep quiet and say nothing.  Perhaps this keeps us all safe from attack.  But surely, if I keep quiet and you keep quiet, how can we move on, with all those emtions racketing round our insides like trapped wind?  I don’t have an answer.  Many of my poor decisions involved speaking out, and thereafter spending whole days in regret, madly trying to pull the foot out of my mouth.

What we choose to say and choose not say is up to us each one.  Speaking out is an action.  I remember being urged by one son to ‘hear the words behind the words’ when I was raging at some comment aimed at me by Granny-at-the-gate.  She just said whatever she wanted to say, and I was sometimes in the cross hairs, but the real woman was a flaming marvel.  She was loyal, supportive, funny, creative.  A woman who taught me a great deal of things through her wisdom and experience.  He, my son, saw her words as one thing, I, with all my hang-ups and a deep sense of always slightly falling short of the mark, as another.  Without his view on things, I might have spent all week walking on wasps, whereas Granny-at-the-gate had forgotten it all by coffee time.

Back to the flying eejits.  Although I have killer white goods in my kitchen, I also have compassion.  If I see a flying insect caught in a spider’s web, I will leap up to free it.  I know, it’s ridiculous of me, especially as I am so fond of spiders.  I just hate to see anything trapped and struggling to escape.  I feel the same about humans, not that I see many of them caught in spider’s webs.

Compassion is the key here.  However differently we see a situation, however polar our emotional responses, if we have compassion, we can allow that difference.  The situation doesn’t change, but we do, and, in the wake of that change, we meet the peace of acceptance.

And then we can look up to the great wide sky of things once more, and move on.

unlike the flying eejits.

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 61 – Reading and Believing

Island Blog 61

As of this blog I have now surpassed myself.  In age I mean.  I have yet to experience the dizzy delights of turning 61 and yet, quite without the right boots, here I am.  Post Woman’s Hour.

My mum used to listen to Woman’s Hour a hundred years ago whilst I enjoyed Listen With Mother, sitting as comfortably as I ever could manage.  I loved the stories of Creatures and Fairies and Kings, and Animals with huge brains, and a great sense of right and wrong.  Noddy and Big Ears, The Famous Five, Rupert the Bear, although, to be honest, Rupert was more a boy’s bear.  Winnie the Pooh, on the other hand was anybody’s bear.  Something to do with his lack of public schooling I think.  He just bumbled about in Hundred Acre Wood and got stuck in doorways and had bonkers ideas that always made me smile.

Now it is not only I who listen to Woman’s Hour, but I was actually one of Jane Garvey’s guests last Monday May 27th, talking about my own book, Island Wife, published by Two Roads.

Who would have thought life could become as it has?  From that little uncomfortable girl to a 60 year old with a book hitting the shops, a blog, some new songs in the making and book signings ahead next week in Edinburgh.  A full day, in fact, beginning at the Edinburgh Book Shop at 9.30 and spinning through many more by bedtime.  The next day, I have to be at the BBC Studios (again!) for an interview with Sally Magnusson for her programme ‘Sunday Morning’.

Next Sunday 07:05 BBC Radio Scotland (add it to your diary now so you don’t miss out)

All I did was write down my life.  The feedback, the comments tell me it is unusual to write with such honesty, but I have nothing to hide as you will see when you buy your own copy.  As stories I read during my own years on earth have helped and guided me, so I hope mine will help you in some way.  Someone once said, wisely, ‘we read to know we are not alone’ and that person was spot on.  It could be Avatar or Winnie the Pooh.  It could be a quest to Everest or a lone woman canoeing the Amazon.  It could even be a text book although all those proven facts worry me somewhat in a world where nothing is as it seems.  I can lose myself in someone else’s life, picnic, journey, song and there will be something inside it that touches me, lifts me, teaches me something I may have known but didn’t know at all.

I don’t know what I thought my life would become, although I always knew the Hundred Acre Wood was an important part.  When a writer lays down a story for children, he or she is not a child, but is looking back through their own lives to take hold of truths they still hold dear.  The sparkle and twist of a sugar spun tale comes from experience and it is a gift we have who can bring it into today’s light and make it sparkle anew.  We seek the values that take us out of our ordinary lives and into one that makes us dance.  We read on because we want to know what happens in the end.

And when it does end, what then?  Do we lift our sights higher, consider how we might change the parts of our textbook lives that bore the shenanigans out of us?  Or do we put the book aside and do nothing?

It takes courage to step out.  But therein lies the key.  We don’t have to know how to do anything.  We just have know why we want to do it.

That’s when Lady Providence steps out of the shadows to walk beside us.  Inside every one of us lies genius.

We just need to believe it.

Island Blog 45 – Small Giants

Island Blog 45I am an old fashioned sort of girl.

Big statement that.  Sounds like it defines me, but don’t stop there if you please.  I can be new fashioned in many ways when it suits me.

The thing about Big Statements is that they can confuse.  For instance, if I were to say ‘That man over there is an irascible old bore’  and you didn’t know anything about him, you could think that being irascible, old and boring is the sum of the man.

Which it most definitely is not.

Nobody is that simply wired.

I love language, the rise and fall of a phrase, especially, in the way my dad used to deliver them for maximum impact.  He used short words now and again, when he was playing the irascible old bore and the tonic water wasn’t cold enough, but in the main, he made language sing and he taught me well how to communicate.  This is not to say that in order to communicate we need to be graduates in English, or Scottish, or any other language, for that matter.  Words in the wrong mouths however cleverly phrased and delivered, can be as welcome as a fire in a paper factory, and as destructive.

In the world of technology, this new crazy fast non-human way of communicating, I find the old fashioned girl in me lurching into the foreground.  I know it is the new way to tell out our latest product, opinion, story, but it is not the only way.  We do not need to drown our voices in an ocean of electronics.  Deep inside every one of us, is the need for human contact, for the soothing velvet sound of a loving voice, for the kindly helpful efficiency of a stranger on the other end of a telephone.

No electronic recorded voice can do that for us.  We need voice to voice in order to reach a new place together.  Yes, a recording can guide us through a button-pushing and monotonous process as we plod our way to submitting our white meter reading for the quarter, but oh what joy it is, what heart-lifting warmth fills us when a real person says those loving human words ‘Mary speaking, How may I help you?’  I can almost hear the angels in the background, as she pauses for my reply.

I remember meeting my first robot.  She (was it?) answered with tick-tack words and no music to her phrasing.  I thought, this’ll never catch on.

So, Big Statement.  I am an old fashioned girl in the world of Communication.

I can also dance you off the floor when the DJ racks up the beat, and I can weep when Piglet gets blown off his feet in the Hundred Acre Wood.

Island Blog 22 – Colour me Purple

A young friend, half my age and still scampering through her life, arrived the other day with perfectly painted toenails, a crisp bright red and not a single mistake.  I had to put my specs on to be sure.  Not only was the polish perfect (she had painted them herself, whilst her children ate their coco-pops), but so were her toes.  I looked down at my own unpainted, bent battered toes and had a little sigh to myself, but only a little one.  I remembered carrying all those babies, those half hundredweight sacks of potatoes, and all that marching up and down the hill, all that stomping around in various stages of outraged indignation and I thanked my bent battered toes for their unquestioning loyalty to the rest of me.  She, of the perfect toes, is careless with her youthful vitality, just as I was.  I never thought, for one minute, I would cascade into a heap of wrinkles, because it just seemed impossible. It seemed so unlike me.

Well here I am, and it’s hilarious most of the time.  What I have found, in these purple years, is the wonderful humour of women. More precious than any jewels, we are born with it and we can always access it when faced with challenges.  We can rise, as we always have, to the occasion, joshing with each other, encouraging and teasing, propping each other up, accentuating the positive.  Even when this ageing process brings us up short and sharp and sore, there is a woman near to hand to help us laugh at ourselves, in a gentle and sensitive way, because she knows exactly how we feel about our five stomachs and the cold in our bones, and our rheumatic fingers that used to play Rachmaninov and now have trouble peeling an orange.

Well I say this to all of you fabulous women.

Firstly, you really are fabulous, every single one of you, and younger women need to see us plucky old girls with a smile on our faces.  It takes longer, I agree, to elevate the wrinkles, but it’s still possible, and, besides, we can smile with our eyes, our humour, our experience of life.   Getting older is getting better, if we decide it is so, and what about this childlike sense of devil-may-care?  That desire to jump on sandcastles and run a stick along someone’s railings, or pinch an apple from their tree.  Where did that come from?  I think it arrived when I turned 50 and I believe it to be the Great Consolation.

So, I’m going to make the very most of this delicious ageing process, and, when I am really old, which is a very long way off, I don’t want to be a sweet old lady.  I want everyone to be saying……….oh glory, what IS she up to now?

Dance as though no-one is watching....

Dance as though no-one is watching….