Island Blog 159 On Marriage

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It all starts with a Wedding, that’s what I say.  When I get an invitation to someone’s ‘Marriage’ I have this strong urge to call them up to correct their grammer, or is it grammar……….. because the wedding is the bit when you make impossible vows and completely believe in them, and the marriage is the rest of your life together.  So not the same thing.

These vows are written in stone, or so you think at the time.  They also ask of you more than will ever be asked of you in any other part of your life.  What seemed like an uphill struggle before, when you were free and single, evanesce as you face the stark and solid truth that the old mother-in-law has the upper hand and, what’s more, always will.  Now that I am one myself, I feel very unsure of myself at times, and rightly so.  The old type of mother in law was comfortably certain of her place on the family throne, whereas we unsure ones watched them from the servants gallery and vowed we would never be like them.  Well, mostly we are achieving just that, and, in doing so, in approaching with more tact we are making new mistakes.  It is the way of things.

I don’t remember if I promised to obey or not, but what laughs me a lot, is that it matters one way or the other. The animated discussions I have overheard concerning which words are left out and which put in to a wedding ceremony adds a value that most certainly dilutes in time. I suppose in the olden days, if someone didn’t obey or honour or cherish and it was brought to the Judgement Mound and proclaimed before the Wise Men, and if it was found to be true, due punishment would have been administered, its legacy, shame.  Nowadays, the Judgement Mounds are covered with heather and bluebells, their ancient role all but forgotten.

After the fluffery wuffery of the wedding, and the first halcyon days of playing house, the serious business of life clicks in.  We put away the wedding dress and don the apron.  It’s not a bad, but a good thing, because scrubbing a floor in a wedding dress is asking for trouble. So, we move on into our new days, we two people who have made the biggest decision of our lives.  No maps are handed out.  We will now sail into uncharted waters, learning from each other and working day by day to weave a new cloth from the colours each one brought to the mix, very different colours, different histories, different understanding of light and dark, texture and balance, give and take, up and down.  Who will lead and who will follow?  Who will let go and who will hold on.  Who thinks of solutions and who chews over the disaster?  None of this has really been revealed as yet for neither of us have stood the test, not yet.  Falling in love is a momentary thing.  Staying there, when things begin to annoy and upset, letting them take their place in the weaving of the cloth when all you want to see are the vibrant colours of joy and happiness, is quite another.  The trick is to let that happen without feeling a sense of loss.  The trick is not to imagine this woman is trying to mother me, when she shouts at me for sock-dropping, or that this man is trying to control and contain me, when he challenges the cut of my dress  The trick is, the trick is………

The goodly thing about Goodly Life is that it keeps waking us up each morning with birdsong or Chris Evans or the dooby doo of an alarm clock, or a baby’s wail, or that eerie silence that tells you it snowed overnight.  We keep waking, we keep feeling hungry, needing a walk, a cup of tea, a chat with a friend.  Our brains must plan school mornings, bus time-tables, train schedules and packed lunch boxes.  This is it, this is life and this, shared, keeps us moving through our daily rounds, bumping into each other, working out the best way to do this or not do that, until gradually we weave ourselves into one cloth.

If any of us knew what lay ahead, we might never begin.  How we learn to deal with whatever comes along, is all in the strength of that cloth, the warp and weft of it, the necessary tension, the edging.  When storms prevail and loud black clouds hang overhead all packed with lightning flash and cold wet rain, we can use this cloth for shelter and warmth, but it will only give back what we have woven into it.  The history we make together is not solely of our own pasts, but it is a new thing.  We bring in children, carving their histories out for them, at least, in the very beginning. Each of us is a new creature, with unique quirks and gifts, thoughts and concerns.  Each one of us sees a thing differently, even if we mostly agree on the image it creates in our minds.  However,  there is one thing I have found to be almost universal, and that is the instant and unconditional love a parent feels for their child.  I know life can sour a relationship, but after the angry words are spoken and the protection in place, I still believe this love surpasses all other loves, and it never fails to astonish on first encounter.  I remember it each time a babe was born from me, that however scared I may have been of dangers unknown, I knew I would protect this child’s life with my own, and I still would.

At this end of a verrrrrry long marriage, there is a very colourful cloth around us, five colourful children and their families.  Nobody could say we quietly got on with our lives together, obeying the rules, but, instead, raved against the wrongs, laughed and lived wildly, generously, and mostly in complete chaos.  On this day, we look at each other and we both marvel.  How on earth we managed, against all the odds, to be celebrating 43 years together, even all ‘vowed up’, is a mystery, and not just to us.

What larks!

Island Blog 123 Freedom is all in the mind

 

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My favourite word is Freedom, and I have no doubt written about it before now in my blogs. I have also changed my thinking about it over the years, of all it encompasses, of where and how it is grounded, where it finds settlement, sinks its big old flag and stakes its claim.

It has zip to do with place or time, with Mr or Mrs Right, with money or lack of it, new sofas, kitchens, bathrooms, or even the four stone walls that surround me, and everything to do with that airy fairy head of mine, and yours, although I won’t presume to know the percentage of airy, or fair,y in your head.  We are taught, or do we just learn……..that the acquisition of a good education, of a good grounding in common sense or many worldy belongings should be our main aim as we walk through our life; that, if we haven’t succeeded in surrounding ourselves with all those things expected of us, that we ourselves expect of us, by a certain age, we are idlers, bad planners, twits.  The odd thing, though, is that not one single one of us finds fulfillment or deep happiness in any Things and yet, still we seek them out, stack them up, protect them with a ferocious zeal, and then plan our next move to gather more in and more.  In doing so, we imagine this Freedom thingy will come too, eventually.  The more we own, the free-er we will become.

In a word, this is pants, because Freedom, real Freedom is all in the mind, all of it and it always was and ever will be till the sand runs out.  I have read many tales on this, tales told by people who own nothing, who are locked up and enslaved, and they speak of Freedom. And yet, how can they?  Just look at their lives lived, the restraints and fences that locked them behind another’s barricade!  They were never free, were they?

Oh yes, they were.  And all because they refused to allow the fences or the bars define their state of mind.  They chose, in the face of extraordinary and unbelievable constraints, dished up daily for years, for a whole life, perhaps, not to see the mud, but to see the stars.  Most of us, so I am told, live lives of quiet desperation, trapped in some way, or many ways, and we have no real tangible understanding of these lives lived in circumstances only ever described to us on the news or in newspapers.  We ordinary folk, living however we live, may not imagine that Freedom is in our grasp.  After all, aren’t we tied in to our work, doing a job that demands most of our allotted daylight hours, and don’t we have partners, children, homes, all of which require our devotion to varying degrees?  By the time all those calls on our so called Freedom have been met to a good standard, what is left for us?

Well it all is, because Freedom is not limited unless we limit it.  I know that it is considered selfish to take for ourselves when we ought to be giving everything to others, but I don’t agree with that concept, if, indeed, it ever was a real concept in the first place.  We learn to love our neighbour as ourself.  This meant nothing to me for many years, as I most definitely did not love anything about myself.  So what does it mean?  It means I must give to myself all that I give so readily to another, and that means an equal share of Freedom, not freedom from whatever my life requires of me, but Freedom to myself.  Freedom to think, to love, to create, to consider my actions and their consequences.  I may live inside another’s boundaries, but that person cannot control my thoughts, my times of reflection, my understanding, the passions that keep my heart beating, my hopes, my dreams…..in short, my self.  No-one else can control these, and these together make me, and I am unique.  I don’t need to step on anyone else to do this, nor put another soul down, for life is not a race, but a journey.  Although we may sail alongside each other, we all sail alone.

So, when I feel controlled or constrained or forced or entrapped by another, let me understand this.  I have chosen this domination and therefore I can bring to bear the same power to change it.  And I don’t need to say one word out loud.  All that squealing and whining, all those ‘how could you’s’ just tell me that it is now I who try to dominate, to change another’s way of being, to make them more like me, and this is merely a power struggle, one nobody ever wins.

If I want to be free, I just decide I am (and read good books on the subject) and get on with my day, my life. If I find chores dull and demanding, I can either sigh and moan or sing and laugh.  There is fun, even in washing dishes and I can work up a great percussive concerto all by myself, my arms sud deep, my mind entirely my own.  And my first step is to understand, and then decide, to believe that there is enough Freedom going, ad infinitum, to free every living soul.

Who out there can tell me I am wrong?

Freedom.  It’s a way of being.

Island Blog 114 Two Shadows

 

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Well well well – here I sit to tell you that I have done all my Christmas shopping, wrapped it and posted or stored it under the skirts of my easy chairs.  When Sula was alive, that would have been impossible for she would have joined them, cooried in to the crackly nest and torn the cheap skinny wrappings into a gorgeous cosy nest.  I would have heard her, of course, but probably not in time.  I would have grabbed her waggy tail and hauled her out, whence she, astonished and alarmed would have embedded her sharp claws into the soft winciette pajama bottoms or the fine weavings of an expensive cardy, exacerbating the situation skywards and threatening me with spontaneous combustion, for which, at this time of day, there is only one cure. The Chilean syrah.

I am mindful, as I wander into houses where most of the inmates wear very small pants, that their days were mine, once.  The only large-panted members of the Tapselteerie clan, numbering one, (that’s me) were far too sensibly grown-up for such fun, hence the elevated size of pant.  We, or, rather, I, would never have bothered tiptoeing around by torchlight to rustle, as quietly as possible, under any skirts in search of a label with my name written upon’t.  Certainly not.  I was the one, with the megaphone and steel toe-caps, who stalked the dark reaches of the baronial mansion house, in search of rustlers.  Even the island husband could be caught snooping, although, to be honest, he could, quite easily, and did, lose a chainsaw under a sheet of A4, so he was never the leader in this shenanigan.  It seemed to me that everyone worked in secret, as if they didn’t want to be caught by anyone, let alone Miss Trunchbull.  I would find them, red-faced and jabbering with guilt, often in gumboots and hand-me-down jama bottoms, pretending to me, their Trunchbull of a mother, that they were looking for a book to read.  Like I was going to believe THAT!

And yet, a wistful part of me longed to be them.  Being sensible is deathly dull on a good day.  As my pant size changed, it seemed I had to become my clothing.  As a child, pulling on just something to get me down to my cornflakes was all I cared about.  How I looked meant absolutely nothing.  I didn’t consider what would happen if I was cold or if my shoes didn’t go with my outfit.  I didn’t consider my outfit at all.  I just yanked off my nightie and pulled on something a little more robust for my descent into the day.  I don’t recall wondering what I might feel like if the milkman caught me without a good 2″ of slap across my face, or if my jumper might be too warm for the time of year.  I just got dressed.

Admittedly, there were times, many of them, as my pants got bigger, when my mother might smirk at my bonkers assemblage of gold sequinned jumper over hotpants, but it was only her smirk that upset me, not the clothes upon my back. At Tapselteerie I fussed like a hen over my children’s casual attitude to clothing.  Wear a warm jumper out there, I would say, trying to thaw out the collie dog currently frozen to the ground by her girly bits.  She only sat down for a minute.  But they ran out, wild and skimpily clad into the day, into every day, and there were times I hated my job.  My Miss Trunchbull job.  At the shore, they swam in the freezing sea any time of the year, emerging sapphire blue and making wonderful percussion with their teeth.  I couldn’t even catch their jumping knees to rub them dry.  There, I said, now NEXT TIME……….. but next time was just the same as the last and still they laughed at me.  I think they probably still do, because I still do it.  If they had listened to my fears, they would be locked up by now, terrified by the voices in their heads, portenting doom if they so much as open the fridge.

Now, at my big pant age, I think back and I wonder.  What if I had just shut the hell up?  Well, I will never know what the answer to that, and I cannot change the past, but I can make a new future for myself.  I watch them with their own children, letting them fall, letting them burn a finger or two, warning quietly, then letting go.  I watch other people, other nations, like today at Madiba’s memorial service in Jo’burg and I see the wild musical African women, bopping and singing and ululating, and all in very much bigger pants than mine, and I see a new freedom.  I also see the stiff backed British sitting with stiff backs and not letting go at all.  Well, it isn’t British, is it?

There are times, many times, as I find myself in a train station of grownups, or a shop or just walking down a street, when I have the intense desire to spin around, to begin a song and to sing it right through.  Not for an audience to boo or applaud, but just for me.  The other day I went out at dusk in Glasgow, to collect something from a shop.  As I walked back among other grownups, intent on their mission, their Iphone, their deadline, I had this feeling and just spun around, my arms wide.  There was a fingernail moon in a clear cold sky, and, as I walked back feeling very delighted withe myself, and smiling like a loon, I saw two shadows on the pavement.

They were both mine.

Island Blog 73 – To Give or not to Give

Island Blog 73

I learned recently of a man who gave his wife a lovely piece of jewellery.

And then left her.

She kept it for some years, eventually making the decision to sell it.

Of course, any beauty it ever had was lost way back when it no longer spoke of love and giving, but more, perhaps of duty and guilt.

It made me think of what really is beautiful to our eyes, and not for a moment, but for always, and the answer is that it has little to do with eyes and everything to do with heart.

Gifts are often given to alleviate guilt, to fill in that huge empty void, so often an unwelcome part of a relationship, the place where communication forgot to settle and make into a home.

I don’t know how to love you the way you want, so I will buy you this, once I’ve checked the price tag and been suitably impressed.  I won’t even be sure you will like the gift, but you won’t be able to show anything other than delight, once you realise how much it cost me.  After that, I can go back to not communicating with you for another year.

Phew!

Lovely gifts are always free.  We never remember the gifts that were bought and paid for, unless they directly reflect the level of communicated love we receive from the giver.  If this giver always criticises and grumbles at us, then suddenly presents us with a pretty gift they just know we will love to wear, but have never worn before, what on earth do we believe of them?

Confused, no dot or com.

So each time I put it on it feels awkward for it is not something I ever wear nor ever have worn so why…….

Aha!  I get it.  This is what you would like me to like, so that you can like me better, because, then, I’ll be more like you, not me!

No longer confused, although I do wonder if I’m really here at all.

The giving of gifts is a free offering, without expectation of anything.  Not even a thank you letter.

Otherwise, it is just control.  Of course, I am excited to give whatever it is I am giving you.  It could be my time, my smile, my kind words, my whole life, but I must remind myself that, unless I give these and many more similar gifts, freely, I am not giving at all, but taking.

So what do I do when my giving is not received as such?  When it is, at best, unnoticed, at worst, rejected?  Do I keep giving, fighting back the hurt and resentment that curdles my belly, or do I stop altogether and be true to myself?

Many have pondered this one but only a handful ever managed to get it right.  I don’t mean a handful this year or even this century, but ever in the whole history of time.  A handful.

For those who seek this blissful state of giving without expectation, there is a huge and lucrative business out there just waiting to welcome us in.  There are ‘Find Yourself’ workshops, group therapy sessions, counsellors and psychiatrists all trained and qualified in this method and that method and many, including myself, have benefited from their wisdom and guidance.  But there is no quick fix answer that works across the board.

I think it is a daily journey, as long as we are seeking a better way to love.  And never giving up.

Island Blog 72 – Back to the Future

Island Blog 72

I’ve been digging.  Not in the garden, which, this year is doing without me.  First, I announced I was no longer the Little Weed Weeder.  No, not true.  First I looked out across the brown shrubs and trunks of winter resisting furiously the spring urge to spring, and not surprisingly, as the sky was still the colour of ice and the wind sharp enough to cut through fast food packaging. Although part of me longed for the warmth, there is a price to pay for warmth I have found and it arrives overnight in wide seas of determined green, growing more determined as the days follow the nights.  I had gravel outside the door a month ago.  Not any longer.  Now it is a wondrous display of dandelions, plantains, campion and thistles.  Much softer underfoot.

That’s when I made my announcement.

Yesterday I did waiver eversoslightly when Guilt nudged my elbow and made me take a good look at the sloppy trollope I have become.

No, I said, No….go away (or words to that effect) – for I have a book to write, a new one and if I start following your fat batty guilt as I have done for centuries, I will find my gravel but lose my raison d’etre, and, having only just found it, I don’t plan to do that.

Back to my digging.

In boxes, cupboards, drawers and the like, I am finding trinkets and gewgaws from 200 years ago and marvelling at the quality of materials and workmanship. These things may be cracked or damaged, and they all smell funny, but they still work, still open and close as they did at first and that is a lot more than can be said of pretty much anything for sale on our high streets today. I am careful how I word that bit for there are indeed exceptionally high standards of workmanship spread right across the material world, but the attitude of care and accompanying skills in crafting each item as an individual piece is no longer something we expect.

As I find each piece, I can tell you nothing about it.  Chaps no longer keep a personalised manicure set bound in leather, each piece resting in a nest of soft blue velvet.  For a start, it is cumbersome, and would probably make his hand luggage too heavy.  For the ladies, a weighty and heavily ornate ladies make-up mirror.  Something else to dust and polish and blow that for a lark.  Leather bound snuff boxes, cigarette cases, monogrammed and silvered up enough for royalty, silver lighters, personal ash trays, also monogrammed, for waistcoat pockets or handbags.  Nobody smokes anymore and those who do have packets in pockets and hide round stony cold corners.  There would be little interest in the sporting of flashy pointers towards the habit they would dearly love to break.

And so on and on.

So, what to do with it all?  Do we, as Keepers of the Past, keep it?  And for what?  Our ikea children?

I don’t think so.  I think we should hold the stories and tell them into the ears of the children who want to know.  After all, not everyone is interested in great granny’s trinkets, having never even met the old girl.  And then, I think we should clear our attics, empty our veneered cabinets of decorative cups and quaintly useless fal-de-lal, and move them on.  Otherwise, trust me, when we are pushing up the daisies, some poor soul will have that awful job of clearing it all out in a volatile atmosphere of ignorance, guilt and sentimentality.  In my own role as Clearer Out, I struggled a lot.  Not with the clearing, for we could hardly breathe in this little place for lumpy trinkets and I could hardly wait for the new wheelie bins to be delivered- but with the familial tussle over letting anything go, as if, in doing so, we would threw out granny’s memory as well.

What we need to learn is to let go of things that do not take us forward in our lives.  So many of us, including this sloppy trollope, waste our precious days in general maintenance, allowing our God given gifts to float away into the recesses of our minds like clouds.  Come the day we lie, wondering what on earth we have achieved in our life, we just know we didn’t get it right.  Oh we may have polished, and labelled, looked after and managed, but did we create something completely new?  Did we say Poo to all that grey mind-numbing drudge and turn towards doing what we know we love, even if we don’t yet know how to make it work?  Did we risk?  Did we clear out the ‘granny junk’, still remembering her sparkle, her wisdom, her humour, those things that changed us and made us who we are, or did we store it in the loft, in mice-chewed boxes, moaning every time we had to dust or polish things we hate looking at?

Letting go is not easy for most.  And yet, it is the only way to clear space for the new and I do not mean substitute material trinkets.

I mean space.  Emptiness.  Nothing.  Patience.

One day, an idea will come.  Let it settle.

Then begin.

Island Blog 63 – Silver Girl

Silver Girl

 

On June 1st Jenny  died.

We have been friends for over 4o years, the same as my years of marriage.

Our children knew each other as little ones and those children now have little ones of their own.  We had a bet going, she and I that her daughter-in-law would give birth before my own did.  The due dates hold hands, they’re so close.  I will see my new grandchild, but she won’t see hers.

Over the years, our roads travelled in different directions, but we kept in touch.  When she first got breast cancer, she was completely herself about the whole thing.  No time for this, she said, need to sort out treatment and keep moving.  She went sailing after that, for 7 months, she and her man, in a yacht to beat all other yachts with big-ass sails and comfort below deck, every comfort, and the wind in her hair and salt on her tongue, whilst I became an Island Wife.  But women who connect at a wild and deep level, who recognise each other’s spirit and love it, never lose touch, even if the contact is once a year.

We sailed with them once, meeting them on a Greek island.  We all wondered how it would work, four of us converging where Two Roads meet, after 30 years apart, and living in close quarters for a couple of weeks.

I could have been a big pain in the ass, I said.

You are.  She replied and handed me a beer.

In the evenings, moored in a little warm harbour, we would cook, eat and make music.  They taught me songs, and I them, and there was something magical about the candlelight, the warm nights, the laughter and song.

She did much with her life and was never still.  She was the second woman ever to command a Royal Navy warship.  A transatlantic skipper, a magistrate, a wife, mother grandmother, although that title sounds way too old for her.  She adored her family, and actively showed it.  She was feisty, impossible, decisive and noisy and there is a big hole left now she is gone.

But what will stay with me for ever, and this may sound selfish, is what she gave to me.  She never faltered and when I did, she whooped my butt.  I’m not saying, or even imagining, that she had life sussed, because I know she didn’t think that at all.  I saw, at times, such sadness in her big eyes, and she might tell me, briefly, or she might not.  When she knew she had only time left, she would still pick up if I called, or answer a text with humour.  She came to my book launch down south in a bright pink wig after aggressive chemo.  It was our last hug.

I salute her.  She is a woman who challenged me to be the best I could be, just as she challenged herself.

Sail on Silver Girl.

Island Blog 51 – Stirred Not Shaken

Blog 51

 

When I am home again on the island, after a time away, I spend the first day remembering.

I remember a sudden smile on an old familiar face whilst sorting through the washing to be washed.  I hear again a comment, made days back and long forgotten by the one who made it and whose mouth has filled with many words since.  For that person, it is gone forever, but not for me, who heard it and held it and find it still inside my head, and sometimes my heart.  Lisa from Two Roads, for example, who spoke out before all those who came to the second book launch of Island Wife in Norwich, the home of my formative years, although, to be honest, I would question the formative bit.  It’s not like I stopped forming once I left, frozen in time as ‘her’ because ‘her’ has changed a whole lot since then.  For beginners, ‘her’ no longer wears shiny hotpants, nor does she feel like a bit part in someone else’s play.

Back, as they tell me ALL the time…..to the subject……..

Lisa stood up and said things about me as a person that made me feel like I was really something.  She talked about the book, about Island Wife and how it came into her hands and how Hodder multiplied it thousands of times over, flying out into the world on its own wings.  Karen, Queen of Publicity, came too and spoke of new avenues, new ideas, new hopes and plans for my story as we shared a cream tea in a smart town hotel.  Actually, I didn’t share mine, but that is so not the point.

Old friends I haven’t seen for 3 decades bought first editions and invited us for coffee, tea, supper and lunch, taking us on journeys through little Norfolk lanes lined with old red brick cottages and a lot of history, and the sun shone the whole time.

At the launch, someone tapped me on the shoulder.

I’m June, she said, and I knew her face at once, although on another’s shoulders, for she is the youngest daughter of the Old Horseman in my book.  We talked a little, whilst we could, and she went away with her signed book.  I had tried to find the descendants of those who gave of their best to us on the farm, and her unexpected visit (I hadn’t managed to find her) lifted my heart the highest.

The other lifting thing was that I realised among old friends, that, although we are all older, I am still the daft eejit.  Some long to be daft eejits, and some are jolly glad they aren’t, but, for me, it says just the right thing about me.  However tough life is, whatever comes our way, tries to break our spirits, confound us, shake our confidence, we always have our inner spirit, and it is our own.  My confidence shaker may be different to yours, but I still experience the shake.

May as well make it one with ice cream, fresh strawberries, mango juice and champagne.

 

With Two Straws.