Island Blog – Noticing

It’s been a few weeks now, this lockdown thingy and I notice changes inside my head. Looking at what was and at what is present me with two different views of the same thing. Funny that. Back then, when I clucked through my routine life with a hen-like disinterest of my surroundings, I had no idea there was such depth to a life. Well, I suppose I did, but chose not to poke my head over the edge in case I fell into the dark. There were things to do, tasks to begin and complete and to a high (ish) standard but I didn’t really notice how I did them, nor why. The things I did notice were, if I’m honest, viewed through a negative lens. The arduous drudge of whatever chore awaited my attention denied me the excitement of options. For instance, I always washed clothes on a low energy almost cold 30 minute cycle. I never thought about it, just turned the dial and pressed play. Now I consider the pile of washing, separating the sheets from the synthetics, put on my specs, hunker down and think about what cycle to kickstart. It has brought a wild burst of fun to my life and this freedom of choice around dirty laundry has led me to notice a whole load of other things. The tasks have not changed, the routine is still in place, but I have come like the tooth fairy to swap old dentin for a shiny new sixpence.

Noticing things can be momentarily upskittling. Because the house is so quiet now, I can hear it breathe, hear the scurryings and creaks, the sound of the wind through a crack. A sudden flash of movement in a corner could be an old ghost feeling welcome. It isn’t just me who sees it. The dog does too. I watch her look up quickly then move slowly over to where I saw movement, to sniff around. Dust has changed too. When I had cleaners every fortnight, the dust was brazen. Look at me, all thick and sticking to everything, dust-motely floating in streaks of sunlight, turning white things a tawdy brown! Look at me!!! I see you, I saw you, but where are you now, now that I am cleanerless and with a merry lack of dusters in my box of cloths? I don’t see you anywhere and, going by your past behaviour, it should be impossible by now to open the sitting room door, let alone breathe deeply.

Noticing and not noticing brings a very interesting switch of womanly tactics. Where I had to brace myself, like Effie, for some unpleasant chore, I barely think about it now and, much like the giddy excitement I feel as I decide which wash cycle to employ, I am curious to learn a good deal more. When I sweep the endless supply of crumbs from the floors I paint a design with my broom. I consider its potential for flight, but it’s not a besom so I doubt it has much, and, besides, I think my flying days are over. But what I just don’t understand is why this lockdown/slowdown time is effecting such dramatic change for so many of us. Despite the threat this virus still poses, and for some long time to come, the stopping of Routine is having a profound influence on all people. Doing old things differently, seeking out new things to do, brings them all to our attention. To ask Why Am I Doing This? may never have crossed our minds, minds numbed by what we thought was normal, minds dull as hens, clucking our way through the days and weeks, questioning nothing and overly hysterical should someone pinch our grain. Now, forced onto the wasteland we have to pay attention.

I know, of course I do, that not everyone can get excited about a shift in washing cycles, but there will be little things to question, notice and change. Children always ask Why when told to do something. Somewhere in that ghastly and painful process of growing up, our Why gets lost. Asking why, even of self, is to notice, to be mindful. It is also poking your head over the edge to look into the dark. But, as eyes grow accustomed to it, lights shine, contours reveal themselves and there is shape and texture to appreciate. And I always find it isn’t deep at all. I can let my arm sink into the dark, feel it cool on my skin, run my fingers through it. I cannot hold it, cannot grab a handful for closer study, but it is strong and powerful despite its lack of substance. And, when I turn back to whatever nonsense I plan for my day, the light is brighter, the air clearer, the dust silent and best of all I have the time to notice everything, every thought, every action, each precious living minute.

Island Blog 123 Freedom is all in the mind

 

World_Scotland_Scottish_Heather_007815_

 

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 70 – Life is a simple thing

Island Blog 70 - Freedom

fig: http://favim.com

It’s all about breathing in and out for decades, something that happens to us quite naturally.  We can take no credit for this and it’s not complicated, until it stops, of course, or struggles to continue.  All we have to do, as out heart beats and our lungs fill and empty a thousand times a day, is to get on with living.

Ah, you might say.  That’s the rub.  My life is so much harder than just breathing in and out and getting on with things.  My circumstances, you see…..well, life is not simple at all.

Yes, I say, it is.  It may not be easy, but it is simple, and then I draw back in case I get swiped, because why?

Because people love to complicate things, all things and especially their own things.

I know people who have come through cancer and people who have not come through.  I am not one of them.  Therefore my life is a breeze.

I know people who have lost a child.  I have not.  Therefore my life is a breeze.

I know someone disabled, paralised, in prison,bereaved,destitute and hungry.

I am none of them. Therefore….etc

At Jenny’s funeral yesterday, I listened to the tributes.  I counted 250 at least in the church.  I caught the sparkle of a woman who refused to moan, although, believe me, she had plenty of reason to. In fact, she had absolutely no time at all for moaners.

On the way to the church, down winding country lanes, I saw a land rover parked  in a driveway.  Across the top of the windscreen the words in bold black said this:-

ONE LIFE.  LIVE IT.

Jenny did.

Short or long it is the same for us all, as far as we know, although one friend whose family are fisherfolk, plans to return as a crack shot seagull.

Whatever our piddling ailments, our list of miniature disasters, we were born with laughter in our hearts and we all know it.

We might consider laughing more and particularly at ourselves.

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 57 – A New Song

Island Blog 57

 

There’s a young man that I know……

Well THAT’S bad grammar for a start!  It should read…….There’s a young man whom I know……..no…that sounds heavy and requires too much lip puckering. It also sounds like the plural of hummus.

I know why the songwriter chose to forfeit the English Prize – some words are really hard to sing in certain combinations, and it sounds different again when you listen back to it through a fancy recording thingummyjig.

We were writing songs, me and two professionals from Wild Biscuit, in a lovely farmhouse in the middle of nowhere.  There was a beautiful dog called Blossom, a bonkers horse with wild eyes that dashed by every now and then in a tartan blanket, ignoring any wheedles to come in for the night, and a loudly colourful pheasant from a hot country who (or is it whom?) appeared outside the kitchen door one morning and who now resides in the yard, fed on porage oats and leftovers. Swallows busied themselves with nest building and chattered me awake in the early mornings.  I watched a dipper on the pond and heard the Bark Chorus from the kennels across the valley.

Everyone knew this place already, but I didn’t.  My bed had soft white cotton coverings, and there were daffs from the garden in a little vase.  I sat down with my writings and John said Pick a line, so I did.  ‘Hey did I get here early?  I see you’re packing up the car.’  and we were off, me with my pencil and he with his guitar and recording thingummyjig.  When Mags came in to see if we wanted coffee, we already had the bones of a song in shape and my sore throat had quite forgotten itself in the excitement.

It was the same the next morning.  Only this line was ‘Sometimes I feel beautiful, easy in my skin,’ because I do sometimes, and I did that day looking out this time on sunshine and promise and that bonkers horse shooting by to interrupt my reverie.   By mid-afternoon we had two songs down, and harmonies and different instruments that rose into place with the push of a button.  I loved losing myself in the music, singing into a microphone for the first time in years, hearing the reverb and the feedback and remembering to free one ear so I could hear my voice in real time as well as the enhanced one, that sang me like a boy in a cathedral, with those high ceilings and big echoes and time standing still. There was even  Photographer Bill to capture the magic of all this creativity.  I gave him a copy of Island Wife and he said he would write his own story one day.  Shame, I said, you can’t photograph sound as I scrambled through another verse sounding like a donkey.  The next day I would be horse.

It’s a beginning, which is why we call it the ‘Imagine Sessions’. I am already writing a third song in my head and listening back to the cd I brought home of the first two, to think more on rhythm, beat, musicality, harmonies and lyrics; to practise, to lift a word clean away, or shift it, or lay down a new one altogether.  And the cough has nearly gone, for on mental tiptoe I can reach the high notes again.

A new door opens and I am stepping through.

Island Blog 54 – All Roads Lead

Island Blog 54

 

I had arrived as a surprise.  My daughter met me in the hallway and we hugged and exchanged greetings.  A little voice from deep inside the house asked ‘Where is Granny talking from Mummy?’ and we both laughed, as did the little girl once she found me.

I could have been using skype as my road, or the house phone on loudspeaker.  Her last thought was that she would round the corner and find me standing there.

But there are many roads we cannot see, such as a span of years or a scene from the past.  We can only find a shape to those inside our imaginations, and no two imaginations will find the same route, although the destination is the same.

Driving Miss Daisy the other day, through the wintry  island wasteland,  I pointed out a wonderful stone formation, obviously man-built as support for the rise of a narrow track, that wound its way down towards the Atlantic shoreline.  There was not a drop of mortar holding it together, but only the skill of the dry stone builder.

We considered the time when this track would have carried man and his animals, and nothing weightier than a pony and cart loaded with hay or feed for the hungry animals. We could hear in our imaginations, the slow march of a day long gone by, the lowing of the cattle, the call of a ewe to her lambs, the odd shout or whistle of the shepherd, and the bark of his dogs.  For a moment we could count the day in hours, smell the changing seasons, according to the rise and fall of the sun, or the flow and ebb of the moon tides.

But our pictures would have been very different.

Sometimes in the clipping season, or when the ewes are brought in for dosing, the hill road from the little town grinds to a halt. The local shepherdess is gathering her flock and calling for them to follow her, through the open window of her truck.  Those of us forming an ever-growing snake are required to dig for patience as we lurch and stall in the wake of a hundred woolly legs. There is no opportunity to overtake, and no possibility of speeding up.

Some of us click our tongues and roll our eyes impatiently.  Some of us smile, knowing we have arrived in an afternoon where time is not the issue, and to hurry along would be to risk lambs becoming separated from their mothers. And we can notice, at this slow pace, the first buds on the heather, the marsh harrier overhead, the way the clouds change and reform into new shapes above the gentle roll of the hills.  We can catch the soft calls to ‘follow!’ as they float back to us on a breeze.

And we will all arrive at our destination.

In the end

Island Blog 53 – The Colour of Children

image

In the night I listen to the wind rising up like an angry woman.  By 3 am she has bullied the curtains into a right state.  The snapping of upset floral chintz wakes me with a start.

Gunshot, I tell myself as I burst up from another of my apocalyptic dreams.  I had just been wandering across a dead grey wasteland, somewhere beyond Thunderdome, and looking for my children. I can’t go back to sleep to find them once I’ve left the dream.

The curtains lift out into the room exposing the window glass, but no light falls in, for this night is just plain black.  The only light, if I can name it such, sneaks up the stairs from its source- that disco ball of a mouse.

You would think, wouldn’t you, that shutting down my laptop would shut the rodent down too?  But nothing will persuade it into sleep and on it glows, red and blue, all night long, but irritating me a little less tonight, as it lights my way down the stairs and all the way to the kettle.

During the day we had visited a little school over the hill.  The sun was warm and yellow (well, maybe not warm) and the sky ice blue with scuds of snowy clouds as we climbed our way up, over and down the hill.  The little isles were still where we remembered them to be, but faded a little inside a veil of mist. Ewes with their bright white lambs, peppered the roadside and, behind a wonky fence, slow cows peered at us through long russet fringes.

Neither the island husband nor I had remembered to make packed lunch.

We spent an hour in the light bright classroom on little plastic chairs, discussing her plans to decorate a school shed with beach gatherings;  bits of fishing net, bits of rope, colourful plastic, shells and so on.  The children do many beach cleans during the summer and after a big tide, pickings are treasure for those who care to think so.  Ideas flew like swallows around that little classroom and we could just see how wonderful it would be, once we got beyond talking about it, of course.

The children came back from some outside adventure just as we were leaving, all breathless and excited, their cheeks rosy and their mouths full of chatter.  We watched them settle in their places around the wide tables.  The teacher introduced us, and explained the hut project, the abstract design ideas, the use of shape and texture and lots of colour.  I wondered if those little heads could imagine what we had imagined.

I burped ten times.  said one little girl a propos of nothing.

Green burps, she continued, then furrowed her brow.

No, not green………what’s that big colour Mrs Eden?

The big colour?  We were all wondering.

Big as your dad?  asked a little tousle-headed boy.

No, silly, she replied.  Nothing’s big as that.

As we drove back along the little winding road, sucking toffees to quiet our growling stomachs, we considered big colours a bit smaller than a dad, and we felt the awe of it.

Island Blog 48 – Mother Love

Island Blog 48

 

This morning way too early I wake and step through the automatic doors of the hotel to say hallo to the new day.  The sky is closed, a thick pale grey over the wasteland which calls itself an industrial estate, perhaps in the hopes that it will be once industry moves in.  Outside a young woman smokes a cigarette and shivers.

I live here, she tells me, as I am homeless.  I must have looked surprised, thinking, as I did, that a hotel is not where I would expect to find a homeless anyone.  She says she has a little boy, aged six and the council have lodged her here temporarily whilst they find her a place to live.

I know my jaw drops, for it suddenly seems so huge, being homeless with a young son.  I ask her about his father and she tells me that he had hit the boy, just once, but once was enough, especially as she gave him 3 days to show remorse before leaving.  She says in that split second, what love she might have felt for him left her and stayed gone.

Her family lives in Cornwall which is light years away from here, but she won’t go home as it would disrupt the child, who loves his school, and, by the way, his father lives up here.

I thought about mothers.  What we do, what courage we find, what love we show.  We may get it all wrong, but that strong protective fire deep inside us burns bright from the moment of birth and stays with us for the rest of our lives.  Nobody, not even the child’s father, stands a chance against such a powerful energy.  We would give up our freedom, our quality of life, our life itself for our children and, if asked, we could not explain why that is.  It is both a gift and a life sentence and we have no defence against it, nor can we escape its hold on us.  Most of us, regardless of personal cost, wouldn’t want it gone anyway.  It becomes our drive, our reason for waking every morning to bring out the sunshine, even if the sky forgets to.

She finds herself some breakfast and eats alone among a scattering of strangers, all dressed crow black for the working day ahead.  I’m going back to bed now, she says…..my boy cries at night, doesn’t sleep good and I stay awake to hold him.

The cleaners will wake her around 11 and she will wait here, beneath the wide screen set to silent, with the hotel muzak beating out its quick fixes, until school is out.

Island Blog 44 – To Live Again

Island Blog 44

Sometimes, in ordinary conversation, a friend might ask me if, given a choice, I would live my life over again.

I think back across the millions of miles of it, the lush richness, the deserts, the rainbows of success and the stumble-grounds; the learning and the laughter, the birthing and the dying, the joy,grief and inner growth.  Particularly the inner growth.

It is not a logical question, or answerable using logic, so you can guess that there are no men present, although maybe that’s just the men I know who, bless them, would say it can’t be true unless it’s been proven.  I know what ‘proven’ means to me.  It’s that point in the process of bread making, when the dough has risen as high as it can without pushing open the skylight.  The point when it requires further bashing and twisting and pummelling into shape before being popped into an extremely hot oven for a permanent shape-arrestment and a nice brown crust.

Anyway, answer the question you daft island wife….

Well would I? Live it all again?

My first feeling is one of huge tiredness.  It is not easy to imagine, let alone believe in, the energy required, not just to go through it all again, but to know what I’m going through as I go through it and worse, to know what comes next!

My head is reeling at the very thought.  So, park it for now.

My next thought/feeling/response is that, had I not been gifted the life I lived, there would  be no story, dynamic and whacky enough to have led me to write it down;  to have been guided to an experienced agent and through her, to have found a well established ‘we-don’t-take-on-books-unless-they-are-top-quality’ publisher.  And if there had been no madcap story, just a regular law-abiding disaster-free life, kept under militant control, I probably couldn’t imagine wanting to go through it all again.  The very idea would just have made me wriggle my ageing butt deeper into the sofa cushions and pull out my knitting, thankful that all those requirements to jump about and be adaptable are just blurred memories.

Instead , look at me learning to Tweet and Blog and answer messages on Facebook (for goodness sake) and feeling rather like I hoped I might feel, but didn’t, at the age of 17.

Is this, I ask myself, because you are being stretched when others are shrinking?  Or is it just that I am still living this life, instead of peering back across it all from the soft plumpy feathers of my wide-mouthed armchair?

So ask me now.  Would I live my young life over again?

Absolutely N.O.T.

But….. I wouldn’t change one bit of it, except, perhaps, that one time I drove right over a roundabout near Greenock because I didn’t know it was there.  Men were digging up the road and the leading lights had failed.  It was a splendid performance and I came to rest in a field with my headlights illuminating the bottom of a large white bull.

You can’t park here!  Said the roadman after chapping on my window.  Yellow rain streamed down his face and a furious gale played skittles with the traffic cones.

No mention of the roundabout.

 

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.