Island Blog – Outfit, Outflit

One morning I awaken with a lightness in my step once I have connected my feets with the new carpet, found my ground and elevated into my height. I know it isn’t a dizzy height, but it is mine and I know where I start and where I end and that is completely fine with me. It is also reassuring, because the frocks in my wardrobe only fit the me I know and were the me I know to grow or diminish overnight, we would both be confounded, the frocks and me. Thankfully, this scenario only belongs in one of my fiction stories, the ones where worlds merge because some eejit has found a portal into another one and gone through leaving everyone else behind wondering whether or not said eejit will be home in time for tea. I have yet to be that eejit despite locating portals all over the place. Moving on.

I decide on an outfit. It is quite a sassy one for me, given that I have chosen full flowing billow-skirts for a longtime. It is cooler this morning, circa 10 degrees and I needs must address the coolth #scottishword. Pantaloons of a black and white scarpy slash pattern, elasticated just below the knee; long tee-shirt beneath longer frock in an arguing design; overlay, a thin unequally hemmed jersey, also not matching and a wrap-around tartan knee-length skirt fashioned from almost the same amount of fabric required for a kilt, which is, for the sassenachs, about 20 yards in old money. I need safety pins to secure the connecting lengths having lost weight since being widowed. I blame Himself for that. The finishing touch is a bead belt, hip hugging yet loose and well, quite the thing. I pose before my old cracked mirror and think, Yes, You Will Do, and scoot down stairs for a boiled egg.

It takes only 30 minutes for me to realise this outfit is not a long term thing. The bead belt keeps shucking up to my waist and I can bear nothing around my waist. Then the safety pins ping apart and stick my skin. I sit down to eat my breakfast and the skirt tangles with my body. The underneath tee rumples quietly beneath the frock and I now look like an un-made bed. I tolerate and breathe deeply. I know, as does my sassy outfit and my mirror that I will be seeing no-one today, not one soul and that this is all about me and how I feel about me, but that is not what confounds me, is not the thing that twirls me fastly back upstairs to wheech the whole thing off in a rather dramatic fling and to begin all over again with a more considered approach. No. It is that moment I need a pee. The undoing process of wrap around skirt, safety pins, layered tee beneath frock and pantaloons, no matter what the flaming pattern, all conspire to confound and I know when I am beat. T’is now. My dressing up is not working today.

It thinks me, reminds me of happy happy girl days and my absolute favourite of all games. Dressing up. My mum had a chest, or trunk filled to busting with outfits and these outfits were not made of paper or plastic. They were sewn quality and lasting and beautiful. I was Gypsy, my favourite, and mum would darken my face to a Norfolk tan with her powder (she was able to take dark, unlike freckled white skin me) and affix the hoop earrings somehow and I would flash my eye whites into the moment and dance and jingle the bracelets and anklets for hours. I also recall being the fairy, the clothing white and laced and cotton and fitted and beautiful and with wings. There was a sailor outfit but I ignored that one. I became the gypsy then, or the fairy. My friend Angela had to be queen and as I was not even remotely interested in being a monarch there was no contest. I remember watching her walk across the grass on a summer afternoon, straight-backed and completely absorbed in her queen-ness whilst I finagled around the shadows planning gypsy/fairy anklet jangling mischief. It worked for a long time. I think it still does.

So, after the wheeching myself out of the conflictions of an outfit that looked frickin great as long as I would spend the entire day standing still before my cracked mirror, I move towards my frock wardrobe with both interest and trepidation. I don’t want to lose the devil-may-care-let’s-astound-the-wildlife thingy but I do want to be able to move freely. Moving freely is a big thing for me. If I feel contained at any point on my body or in my mind I have this desire to explode. I haven’t done it yet and it could be messy but I am super aware of the exploding gene that figgles about in my DNA and which, if DNA could encompass feelings, would show in my ancestry, I am certain. So, choosing not the sameold and yet poking about with fingers of curiosity, I locate a layering option. Let’s try you, I say, kindly, because I am aware that this particular underlayer has not seen light of day for a while. It is quite hard to get it right for my mood, I say, muffled beneath the foof of the material as it falls over my head and lands around me. We look at each other, the underlayer and me. We agree. Okay so far. I go back again to the dark depths of the wardrobe and flip the hangers along. No, no, maybe but no, hmmm, okay, how about you? I can hear the excited squeak and I love it even as all my abundant frocks know the rules. I hate to disappoint but this may not be your day. Once selection is made I can go about my business. I still will meet nobody, and the frocks know this but together we swing through the day, through the ups and downs and all is well in our world.

I did wonder, only this morning, does everyone else have this much fun in such ordinary moments?

Island Blog – Rain Light

I walked today with my eyes open, as best I could in the slanty rain showers. I need to see, and everything, not just the odd one or two things of spectacularness. Actually, if I look with intent, a great many things take on such a quality. Marching past, thinking ‘rain shooting up my frocks or stones kicked inside my boots to irritate my bare toes’ I can easily miss something I should not miss if I want this walk to mean anything more than a mere mindless exercise for both myself and the Poppy dog. She, needless to report, has no issues with frocks or stones in boots and I am glad of it, for her sake.

Lifting my mind from the aforesaid, I steady my gait, slow my footsteps, turn my face to the rain and all the skinly benefits it has to offer me, for I know it does, I can feel it prickle and stipple my wrinkly face, making it really quite lively. My mascara will not run, and if it does, I won’t mind because the feel of this heavenly water is so much more refreshing than the slosh of chlorine controlled tap water. I look about me. The leaf mulch is like burnished copper and the stems of strong-backed bracken think me of bare trees in a fairy forest. Rose Bay Willow Herb (such a mouthful of a name) stems are of similar beauty. I wonder when they will all finally fall to earth. Perhaps never. I forget.

Moss coats the trees. Beech, Alder, Sycamore, Hornbeam, Oak. All of them gleam and glow, luminescent, elvish, the tiny moss tops holding the droplet diamonds. Thousands of them, on closer study. The sycamores or plane trees patched like the necks of giraffes show me burnt siena and umber. Some trees are bald and the rain has shone them into beacons of light, like wraiths among the living, standing without breath. All sung out. The flash of a Jay overhead, the greyling light illuminating its colours, the translucence of its wings in flight. A buzzard hums the air, holding it, balanced to perfection, almost still as punctuation. Poor rabbit, I think, or mouse. You will see nothing coming as you scurry from cover to cover, always hiding, hiding for a lifetime.

The track is puddled, the extraneous rain pitching down through little gullies, down, always down, as freshwater will always down to the mother sea. The loch popples, tiny drops peppering the surface whilst beneath, salt meets fresh and the inevitable collision shows me a frothy curve of resistance and attack. Sticks lie here and there, thrown perhaps for laughing dogs with play in their mouths and dance in their legs, abandoned like dropped kindling on the path of a forager. I remember each Autumn walking up here on dry days to forage for kindling. There was something wonderful about knowing who lit my fire. Buying bags of split wood never felt the same. I like provenance, stories, meaning behind things. I felt the respect owed and due as I lifted, carried and then lit my fire with something from the woods of Tapselteerie. So much of my life lived there. It matters. Thank you, I breathe, as I lay the gathered sticks, marking, in my mind, the tree they fell from, the one still living, or the wraith that once flowered and spread, following the seasons and just begging to be noticed.

Almost home and I hear the chatter of a very busy household. I can see the evergreen shrub shaking with all this noise and bustle. Hallo Sparrows, I say, but quietly so as not to disturb or alarm. I toss up a prayer of thanks for their safety in concealment. I like that they can live together this way, as I absolutely could not. A commune never attracted me but sparrows seem to love it. They are safe for now, for this time when the sun, barely able to lift his head over the horizon offers a shortling day in which to feed or to forage. T’is the season, I tell them, as I walk by and they, having paused at my footsteps, in an alert concern, relax and chatter back to me. I know how to move around birds; slow and with a soft, reassuring voice. In the mornings as I fill the feeders, the birds come close, even the male blackbirds and that was my best delight for they are the biggest panic merchants I have ever encountered, screaming alarm at the slightest twist in proceedings and frightening all the other birds into bushes and over fences, their little hearts beating like a drumroll, and oft for nothing.

Another day passes. This one with rain light in its eyes. I meet those eyes. And I see.

Island Blog – Just For Today

I can do anything just for today. I can think what I like, just for today. Today is all I have in truth and tomorrow never comes anyway. Everyone knows that. So how will I inhabit this day? What will I decide to do or think? How remarkable it is that I can choose these, no matter what ‘luck’ does or doesn’t come my way. Inevitably, there will be moments that happy or smile me, and moments that seek to trip me up, to send my frocks a flying. Feeding the birds holds both. I am happy and smiley to feed them even as I absorb a cloudful of rain and feel quite whisked about by the horizontal blasts of a damp wind flipping my hems. Chopping wood smiles me and I like the comforting crack of axe success as the big log splits in two. Lifting the log basket tells me my stomach muscles are in good working order and I am thankful for that.

Radio Two plays me happy encouraging tunes but the news is pretty dire. I choose not to let it bother me. There would be little point in bothering, anyway, as there is diddly squat I or anyone else can do about it. However, there will be an opportunity for me to do something for someone else, to lift their spirits. All around me, faces are doing their best to smile out but I see the worry in their eyes. I don’t know what disappointment they may be dealing with, what despair has taken root in their hearts and minds, but I can offer a welcoming smile. Smiles pass through windows after all, saying a great deal without words. I am looking out as they are looking in and we can share that moment, that distant connection. Just for today I will think of someone to call and then I will dial their number. Even if they don’t answer, I can leave a cheerful message of upliftment.

Just for today I will do 2 things I don’t want to do. One of them might just be hoovering. Or it might not. I know that Henry is lonely in the cupboard under the stairs and it’s dark in there and this knowledge alone might spur me into hoover action. Might. I make no promises. After all, there are other things I don’t want to do such as wiping out a kitchen cupboard or digging up the dahlias for a winter dry out. It’s a bog out there, slimy and heavy and I will need to be quick-quick in order to catch a dryish moment between showers. I could do my exercises, which aren’t mine at all, to be honest. Someone else designed them and mostly I ignore them as much as possible. It seems such a waste of time, stretching and bending and rotating my shoulders, but I hear it’s good for me at my age to keep supple. Or, I could sort out the mound of legal paperwork that comes when someone dies, something I have managed to ignore for quite some time. The thing about doing something I don’t want to do is the feeling of personal success once the task is completed. I will focus on that, turn up the tunes and get the heck on with it.

When my mind strays to the gloomy, I will notice and take action. I have become quite good at noticing and taking action. This is something to do with a refusal to allow misery in. I have let misery in oftentimes during my life and I can tell you, it is a most unwelcome guest. It doesn’t come alone either. Misery brings self-pity, despair and loss of self-control. Well who on this goodly earth wants any of those lurking about inside their head? Not me for sure. Although I cannot control what happens to me, I can always control myself and my attitude. Sometimes I get frustrated when a person refuses to see that no matter what happens to them they can choose their reaction to it. But, I remind myself, I only understood it when I found I was seeing mud instead of stars through the bars of my life, and, besides, all of us learn new truths at different times. It is not for me to preach but only to uplift and encourage.

Just for today I will follow a programme. I will waste no time in moithering. I will be decisive and prompt in whatever I undertake. I will not moan, grumble or show irritation, no matter what goes wrong. I will be happy all the way through the day. I will decide to take time for myself even though this is rather irrelevant nowadays because all time is my own. There are no distractions, no calls to arms, no interruptions beyond the tring-a-ling of my telephone. However, there is much to be said for 30 minutes reflection and rest. I would have killed for 30 minutes reflection and rest not so long ago, after all. If I stop whatever I am doing to spend 30 minutes somewhere peaceful, such as on a wander into the fairy woods, my thinking will change as I stand in marvelment beneath the bows and branches. So much bigger than me. So much older and wiser. So much to say without words. Look at us, they whisper. Aren’t we majestic? Then I will bring that majesty home with me and it will filter through the house, lifting, uplifting, freshening the air. It may take me the afternoon to dry out, but I will have achieved much more than dripping skirts and the onset of trench foot. I will have made myself get up and out and into what is solid and strong, loyal, beautiful and ever-changing, qualities I want for myself.

I know that some folk think that when things go wrong, they are doomed, either momentarily, or forever, and that my way of being, of thinking, is just nonsense. Perhaps it is. Perhaps I am deluded, mad, even. But if I have learned anything of value in my life it is that to focus on what isn’t, what cannot be and what isn’t there, is just plain depressing. Looking instead at today, just today, and deciding that I will see whatever happens as an opportunity and not a stumbling block (poor little me), tells me I have complete control, not over the events but over myself and my attitude. And that feels just fine.

Island Blog – I and the Ghost

There is one in my system. A ghost. I know it is there, can feel it, smell it. Sometimes it is a catch of earthen mulch, autumny, wet and visual, sharp with the glint of long buried crystals, and stories. Other times it is lavender or lemon pressed close to my nose and causing me to pull back from the attack to my senses. It is never rose or bergamot or patchouli. Never. Visual. yes. But fleeting, so fleeting. I wonder if I am now too slow to turn my head, that, if I were still a young woman, I might turn faster and snap! Catch it. I wonder, too, if I my snap-catch might arrest it, for it and I seem to be strangely connected by an invisible line. It might pause for no reason other than this. But I cannot and it does not. It slips like mist through me, serving only to stop me for a second and to fill me with a sense of discomfort and perplexity.

I am curious. I am intrigued. Who or what is this ghost? Then I wonder more. Does this ghost have purpose? Does this ghost know who it is, if, indeed, it is a ‘who’ at all and not merely a what without purpose or function, identification or mission like a sudden rabbit bursting into my space as I wander along a track in the wild lands? What if it has blundered into me, by mistake and is now trapped somehow?

All these questions beseech answers I cannot give, but here is something I do believe. As a human, being the top predator, the top of the pecking order etcetera etcetera, and thus, that all things weird happen to me, this may not necessarily be the truth. Now this is, at first, confounding, ungrounding. It baffles me and I must explain it, for if I cannot then I am all at sea, so to speak. But what if it is just where I need to be? At sea, I mean. I have sailed enough dodgy oceans in ever dodgier seas to know that, at such times, when the balance of power shifts to an unfathomably powerful force, I find my place. I find my lack. I find my feet, my hands and my brain.

And here I am with the ghost, at a worldly human level, limited by what I was taught, what I learned, whom I trusted and who let me down; on my sibling dynamic, my understanding of how it should be and of how it should not; through religious curfews and constraints, through expectations and demands; through loss, anger and frustration. But the ghost will not explain itself, nor do I have the snap-catch to arrest it long enough for such a demand. I am the ‘I’ of the beholder and much good it does me. ‘I’ stands taller than a lower case ghost and yet has no supremacy over it. This fleeting misty invader holds it all with its ability to arrest and confound, to take a free flow morning into chaos, albeit momentarily, for the human ‘I’ will immediately rise into armour plating with his, or her, lance at the ready. But we are fools. The ghost can move through walls, through empires and lives and through history without a second thought or any thought at all.

So what is it? I decide to acknowledge what I already know and so what I say is this. The ghost that apprehends my normality (whatever that is) and challenges it, is a friend and, like a friend, it challenges me. Like a friend it leans in closer than anyone else. It is easy in my company. I need no armour plating. It tells me there is something as yet undone, unfinished, even unexplored and it will not leave, this laughing wraith, until I have addressed the issue. I might ask, what issue? But it will just laugh and wisp away, only to come again and again and again, because it knows that ‘I’ know exactly what needs to be addressed. My weak humanity is avoiding it and we both know it.

I am glad of the ghost in my system. It is my helpmeet at every turn, even if there is a great longing in me for no more turns. It stops me folding in, giving up, turning weak and feeble. It makes me strong and fiery, all punch and growl, all fight and roar. It also makes me impish and jocus, wild and circus with belief. It friends me in ways I would not, could not fathom; would never ever have invited in. Am I privileged in this ghost invasion? I doubt it.

I think we all know this ghost.

Island Blog – Tribute

I always feel better after writing a blog. Is it, I ask myself, to offload, to teach, to preach, to, in other words, misuse my public forum? It’s a goodly question to ask myself. Once I have ferreted around in the cellars of myself, once I have come up feeling strong in my purpose, sure that it is not about me but about anyone else who may click with something I write, I write. This is one of those well-ferreted writes.

Today was troubled. The way it works for a full-time carer is this:- Day begins hopeful, trusting and light. Then one becomes two as the one in care descends the stairs, floating on metal poles and thanks to Major Tom, aka the chairlift. This is when the mode and mood of the day is proffered as IT. Now I have a choice and a decision to make. If the gloom descends with him, then I must attend to said gloom. I can resist it, but we all know resistance is futile. I can poke at it, ask questions, play bright, but I can hear my voice, in a slightly higher key, sounding sharp as badly cut tin. This won’t work. I lift my ass from my seat, round to the kitchen, make coffee, hot strong and black. Not enough. This gloom is following me, I can see it, smell it, feel its touch on my back. I swing about. Go Away! I hiss, but hissing works no better than resistance. I can feel it pulling at my skin, seeping in, changing me.

The day rolls slow. At 10 am I bake a cake, thinking, this will do it. It’s my usual flat pancake but with cherries which makes flat okay. Taste is everything, after all. We wander through the morning, him restless, moving moving moving all the time, the click and whir of the wheelchair setting my teeth on fire. Ears, I say, stop listening! I have always believed, and proved, that ears are obedient souls, if you organise them right. Pulling birdsong forward and pushing clicks whirs and other unpleasant noises back works well, for a while, but I must be vigilant. One relax and the click whirs are wild in my head whilst my teeth could burn down Rome, even from here. I read the affirmations on my kitchen wall. You can do this. I’m doing great. I believe in my dreams. This too shall pass. Those sorts of affirmations. Ya di ya I tell them today, but I don’t rip them down as I have in the past because that is resigning myself to the gloom. I cook, walk, feed birds, watch the clouds, berate Lady Moon for not showing me herself at 4 am and keep going, keep going, keep going.

It’s like holding up a bridge every single day. Just me (or just you). Mostly I can do this (so can you). Mostly. But it is exhausting, endless and with no end in sight. I have to be cheerful for two every single minute of every single day (so do you). I have to think ahead, plan, make sure the way is clear, be kind, laugh, smile, show up no matter how I feel or what I want. I could go a bit further for a walk. Easy. Not. I still could, but I don’t. On Gloom days I am fearful. What if he falls, gets more muddled about this or that, what if he just feels scared and needs me to hold that heavy bridge up?

This is caring. You who do it, already know. Outside of our lives are many who support us and show great compassion. We need it, oh boy we do, but they haven’t a scooby about what it’s like for us, minute by minute, day by endless day and I hope they never do. Holding up a bridge, alone, scared, ageing, tired, exhausted, doubting, weak and sleepless is something we have fallen in to. We won’t abandon our post but the ask is great.

I salute all of you who care enough to be caring. This is my tribute to you.

Island Blog – Garlic, Gratefulness and Fairies

In the afternoon sunshine of yesterday we set off to the Fairy Woods to gather wild garlic. I had a recipe for pesto and was keen to make it. Popz on his quad, me on my feet, Poppy trotting alongside, we wound our way through the violets, primroses, wood anemones and sorrel, between the mish-mash of ancient trees, all pushing out green. Turning down towards the shore we couldn’t avoid squashing a carpet of Celandine, faces pointed towards the sun, yellow as new butter, petal perfect. The ground was crunchy, old leaves drying, finally, and as far as we could see, a wide stretch of emerald green wild garlic leaves fluttered in the breeze. I knew I had to find 150 grams and made, as it turned out, a good guess. As we wandered back home, seeing absolutely nobody, we reflected on how this lockdown is a blessing for us. And how it must be a prison sentence for so many others. It’s good to be grateful, good for the health of the person with a thank you in her mouth.

In South Africa, nobody is allowed to go beyond the perimeter fence of their own garden, reserve, township or flat. Anybody found on the streets is at the mercy of the police. One person from each household is allowed to shop alone and once a week. All sales of alcohol and cigarettes are banned. I don’t think that sort of lockdown would make me all that grateful, although gratitude is not something we feel because we have everything. Sometimes our everything is someone else’s nothing much, but we can still find a thank you, if we trouble ourselves to think and reflect and, to a degree, compare our situation with another’s.

This slowdown lockdown time is giving us opportunities to check ourselves from the inside out; to question why we feel this flash of discontent or loneliness or self-criticism. What is it that brings these feelings? Have I felt this before, even when lockdown was not in place? Chances are, I have. So let me poke around through my memories, remembering how good they are at lying. Let me stop when the feeling comes and turn to say ‘hallo’. Let me look this feeling smack in the eyeballs and ask it what it wants from me now, now that I don’t need it at all. There is time for such work these days and, if we are canny, and if we have remembered our dreams and hopes for our own future, we have the chance to find an answer. Ah, so this thing that you do that annoys the bejabers out of me and always has……yes, that thing, the one you have no intention of stopping, even supposing you consciously know you do it in the first place, which you probably don’t.

So, instead of allowing that irritation to rise in me, I will consider a different way to live with this thing in you. How about I am so busy doing my own thing that yours is just a whisper in the winds of change? Or perhaps I will notice and reflect on my own habits that I know irritate you; if I have the humility to go there, of course. It takes courage to go there. Many of us don’t bother. We want everything, not just something and there’s not a lot of gratitude in that. In fact we prefer, if you don’t mind, to grumble about ‘your’ irritating thing, to growl at it, to let it control us, for that is exactly what we are doing.

Well, poo to that. I know that I do spend much time poking about inside myself, and that for some I am a bit of a laughing matter, but it is my thing. If I want to rise from this slowdown lockdown not only intact, but elevated and forever changed, which I do, then I must adopt an attitude of non-judgemental humility and that non-judgement must apply to me too. This way gratitude lies, even for those who cannot walk as we do every day into the Fairy Woods, even them. A time of reflection is laid out before us now, like the Celandine and, if we turn our perfect petals to the light of the sun, we can all come out on the other side of this as better humans.

We never did see a fairy.