Island Blog – Things, A Morning and Ripples

This morning my phone charger fell apart. No matter how I shoved it in or bound it with tape, these two refused to fuse. Battery is low and my phone is important to me – all those WhatsApp images of home schooling, babies rolling over for the first time or sitting up back-straight and giggling. Okay, I thought, my heart a little heavy, I am going to have to burrow into the thousands of obsolete chargers, wires and other dangly things, kept, as all things must be, just in case, in the cobwebby dive beneath the stairs. Personally, I have never encountered ‘case’ and happily throw everything away once something new has arrived at my door. I have tied up fence posts with phone charger leads in my time and they’re also really useful at keeping down a wheelie lid, bent on escape. Eventually, I found one that fitted, muttering to myself that, in a perfect world, manufacturers of electronic thingamajigs would just agree on a universal charger for the whole universe instead of holding onto their toys like toddlers.

Across the sea-loch, in the outside world, the one that really matters, the trees bow to their reflections in the mirrorwater. A finger of gold touches one emerald beauty, lighting her into surreality and the water beams her across to me. Geese fly by, heading seaward, many of them, encouraging each other on. Gulls cant in a soft breeze and beneath their light white bodies, the sea-loch stirs into life. Two heavily pregnant hinds push through the water, belly deep and I watch their peaceful flow as they rise into the seaweed to bend their necks. And the echo ripples keep going. None of these things require a charger. As if by magic, everything out there just keeps going. All they need is food, water, light, each other and a safe place to sleep. Just like us, in truth.

However, we could get ourselves into a right flapdoodle at the very thought. It thinks me of all I could quite easily do without. I remember days when bread was toasted under a grill and it still tastes better that way, even if the clothes on the pulley oft retained the perfume of charr. This is not about what was, because what is, well, is, and many of the things with which we surround ourselves have elevated our quality of life considerably. But I think we have grown (rather scarily) dependent on things, so much so, that we might actually think life is quite impossible without them.

The most welcoming, hospitable and generous hearted people I have ever met have been the ‘poorest’. They don’t think so. What we might consider deprivation, turning back to our shiny car for escape, and feeling uncomfortably guilty, is Life for them. What they do have, they honour. I wonder how much we honour what we have? Do we even remember what we do have or is your cupboard full of nonsense like mine, nonsense like rejected mobile phones, boxes of techno kit I couldn’t even name, or a wardrobe so full of clothes I would be lost for a week were I to step within? And all those boots…..six pairs…..do I have enough legs for such abundance? Perhaps not, but I doubt I am alone in my excess. The world will do her best to convince us that we really need this new shiny thing, this pretty colour, this remote controlled baby stroller with timer, voice control and a light sensor panoply that rolls out in silence if the sun gets too beamy, and all achieved whilst mum stays at home to get on with something. We are caught, hook, line and sinker, time and time again. I read that online purchases have quadrupled since March and that retail stores are quaking in their boots. It is so so easy to click, so easy to believe in the hoodwink of it all and it takes some self control to turn back to the shoreline and the hinds and the finger of sunlight and to let what is real make a home inside me.

I might not remember what frock hides at the back of my wardrobe but I will remember how I felt as I watched the simple morning awaken. I’ll remember it as the day ripples out, even if I buy absolutely nothing.

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Island Blog – Sharing the Story

This morning I decided to sort out my freezer. It didn’t take long as there are only 3 drawers below the fridge but you’d be surprised how much of a farrago I can create over time. Most of the bags of bits are translatable into something I recognise but none of the tubs have labels so it is anyone’s guess as to what their contents will thaw into. Something dark could be blackberry compote or red onion gravy and it does tend to matter which one gets served as pudding. I pull out one such tub and a bag of something that looks like meat thinking, rather devil-may-care, that whatever is in the tub will somehow be workable. I am nothing if not inventive.

Now it is all of 9 am and there’s a whole day stretching out ahead of me expecting to be noticeably and productively lived. Can’t disappoint it. So, what next? I know, I’ll strip the beds and wash the linen. Well, my part stops after stripping and that takes ten minutes. Next…….I could hoover the carpet if really pushed or I could ignore the crumbs and keep my eyes on the future. I choose the latter. There is a top and a skirt waiting to be conjoined which may or may not work. My sewing is enthusiastic, my imagination wild with ideas, but my skills at logic have always come home last. I can see, in my mind’s eye, this classy home-assembled frock, wowing all who see me in it (which won’t be anyone till the Autumn) but there is a gap in my Dom Sci training. I must have looked away at some point and it’s too late now. However, this doesn’t stop me forging ahead, and it takes some time to pin, tack and sew the parts together. I take the dry washing upstairs and have a chat with my soft toy collection. They are a motley crew of characters collected over time. A couple of them appeared one day attached to a small child who decided they could do with some granny time; some are left after my own children grew out of them, knowing that I never would; one, Sheepy, fell out of a window in Sauchiehall St Glasgow which is where I found him. He was flat, filthy, sodden, and cross-eyed but after a good soak and blow dry, he fluffed up nicely and has been here ever since. He is still cross-eyed but far less flat. The whole surface of the chest is covered in little people and they all grin at me as I rise the stairs. They are my little team of supporters and I always smile back.

The important thing, I am finding, is to stop my mind falling into slumber. If I entertain myself and my mind with a routine of sorts, allowing the odd dash into spontaneity and unlikelihood, whilst sustaining a healthy approach to the necessary round of small things, I can make it all the way to the evening. To enter into a day with no plan of action just doesn’t work for me. And, yet, it used to work so well. I could plan all I liked but then a child falls into the bog or gets stuck up a tree, or leaves home, aged 6, in a wild fury, to mention but a few of the many things that always happened should I dare to make a plan, it was essential that I moved to plan-less mode. In these unusual times, however, it seems important for a well-laid out daily plan to be well-laid out and implemented. As we are all confined to quarters and some to eighths or even sixteenths, I imagine we all feel this. After all, there is a limit to how many times you want to count the roses on the wallpaper, or sort the freezer, or hoover the crumbs. Small things get bigger if they are given enough attention. And that can be good and it can be bad. If the small thing appears as an irritation and is allowed to grow, I could find myself in a frightfully bad mood by lunchtime. On the other hand if the small thing is a kindness gift, due attention given to detail and presentation, then everyone is happy.

My key is to hold on to the constants and the perpetuals. Okay they might be soft toys or they might be out there in nature, like birds and rocks and daffydowndillys, for those of us who can see nature between buildings. I am aware there are many who would have to look very hard to see nature at all in this time. The odd pigeon might not cut the mustard. Drab streets, rules about going out, and so on. It’s just tougher, as it always is, among those for whom everything is always tougher. But now, here comes the leveller. Nobody is privileged against this enemy. No amount of wealth or privilege makes one jot of difference, and we are all afraid at times.

In times of ‘strait’ and fear, of lack and loss, thinking outside of ourselves is most helpful. The day will take its usual length of time to keel over so we may as well entertain ourselves and everyone else we can think of right up to night. Sharing what we have, teaching each other, working together, thinking outside of self, sharing ideas, recipes, jokes, stories, all these create bonds that no enemy can cut. Developing a relationship by asking questions and really listening with empathy sets that relationship up for life. Investing in what we can do for someone else has consequences, beneficial to all parties. Too long we have only shown interest in our own lives, families, friends, work and choice of sandwich filler. A change of heart demands action. I agree that we need to take care of ourselves in order to stay the right way up, but it is good, nonetheless, to remind ourselves, gently, that we have this golden opportunity to do something we have never done before. Like sending an I Love You message, just because. Maybe someone you know could do with talking about how they feel. Maybe they might need pulling closer to the fire to hear a story.

We will all have stories to tell once this is over. We can start writing it now.

Island Blog 146 Travelling Light

suitcaseAs I pack my bag for the trip to the Reader Room on Skye, I meet all sorts of thought tangles. What to take, what not to take and in which suitcase. The big stripey one or the smaller spotty one? Both have noisy wheels and both weigh too much empty. I won’t need much, will I? Just jeans and tops, a warm jumper, walking boots, books, notes, wash things, face paint, a frock for the night, leggings. The smaller spotty one will do. Until it won’t.

Travelling light is a dream of mine, almost a passion. I want to be light and flexible, easy to move along please, to glide through doorways, over metal bridges without needing CPR on the other side. I want to fit into that space the huge-suitcased lumberers leave between themselves and the dangerous side of the pavement or platform. To scurry, hurtle, dash with momentum and forward thrust. I want to be at my destination before half of these goodly folk have reached the ticket barrier. I catch earlier trains that way, denying myself the takeaway coffee, the creamy bun. I don’t push or shove. I am perfectly respectful of the Overladen, but my constantly working mind maps out the fast route and my feet take me on. I don’t mind queuing at all and must be the only Brit who doesn’t. I just factor it into my dash to wherever I’m going, and speed up where necessary when momentum is paused.

Travelling light, I tell myself, is a state of mind, a decision. Taking too many changes of clothing, just in case, comes from a place of fear. Will I have the ‘right’ thing to wear? Will I be too cold or too hot? Have I the right shoes? All of this is dithering and arrives me laden, out of breath, hot, bothered, and with a load of unnecessary vestments, not one of which gets beyond crumpling itself in the dark depths of my suitcase. But we all do this dithering, if we’re honest.

When I first decided to travel light, it was to a funeral in Yorkshire. I just needed the gear for the church, and mufti. We said bye bye to the kids, minder, collies and cats and left Tapselteerie. It was coming into York that we discovered we had left the cases in the front hall. As our life had always been lived by making good decisions quickly in the face of adversity, we dived into a dress shop and bought this and this and that, then shoes, and arrived at the funeral with the labels still attached. Nobody cared. It was enough that we had made the journey.

The second time was when I went South for a different occasion, on my own. This time, I did have my lightly packed suitcase with me, too heavy even when empty, and handed it over to the nice Easy Jet steward at check-in. I arrived, my case did not. Mum and I dashed to Sainsbury’s, picked this and this and yes, shoes, and off I went to my date. Nobody cared. It was enough that I had made the journey. My case arrived home ahead of me, minus a handle, rendering it completely pointless.

It has happened since, the careful planning, folding, fitting into a small space, all that I think I might need, in case of shipwrecks, strandings, sudden invitations to a military ball, a funeral, a heatwave in October, that my luggage has abandoned me. I have always found a laugh in it, after my initial fish wife impression. I have borrowed clothes I would never buy, applied make-up all wrong for my small pale face, shared toothpaste, boots and even underwear, but, most of all, I was given the chance to find my sense of humour and to lean on it as my support. In the absence of things, I found people, and people can rise over things every time. It’s boundless, the human spirit, warm and strong and constant. Their handles don’t fall off, and in the main, they do what they say they’ll do, and much, much more.

But we forget don’t we, as we live out our lives as islands.  We think we must have everything we need with us, just in case.  We imagine, with horror, the disaster of being cold, or hot, or lost, or stranded, of our train/ferry/plane being late or worse, cancelled, and yet, in all of those circumstances I have found human warmth and friendship.  I have found team spirit, good attitude and kindness.  In times of trouble, we look to each other.  Sometimes we might consider doing that every day, troubled or not.  It might make us less fearful.  We might engage in sharing ourselves with others until it’s easy to do, natural, uncomplicated.  All of us are alone, but we can travel side by side.

Now I’m going back to fret about packing, about the ferry being cancelled due to gale force 22, the bus breaking down on the way north, and, finally, me arriving on the wrong day.

Island Blog 98 The Weight of Words

It’s getting colder they say, and they are right.  It is.  But, if I were to unmorph myself from the Island and re-morph down south, right now, I would be shucking off my semmet and my woollies and be ‘foofing’ about the heat.

I know, whenever I leave the Island to go somewhere south of it, I stand over my heap of clothes and after considering frock requirements and, oh, shoes to go with said frock, I consider temperature.  Apart from the fact that I can manage about 30 minutes inside any mainland shop before melting into an unsavoury puddle, I must think about the street heat and then, oh worst of all, the level to which the central heating is set, which is almost always way up to high – so high I can hardly breathe without seizing up and turning into sandpaper.  Windows are usually closed, against pollution, flies, neighbours and, of course, weather.

We have a woodburner and no central heating, but that baby does all the work here, warming upstairs, downstairs and the lady’s chamber, although not too much up there because:

a.  its not healthy and

b.  The window is slightly shy of the available orifice thus allowing all four winds many opportunities for a knife-sharp entry.

Of course, not all four winds come through at the same time, even if they can on the odd day, as the Island wind changes her mind as frequently as a woman in the make-up department of Fraser’s department store.

The north wind is ‘hard’ black, the south ‘bright’ silver, the east is purple and the west, amber – everyone knows that, especially light-house keepers, as I have learned from the wonderful book Stargazing by Peter Hill.

Lighthouse-keepers………they don’t exist anymore.  Now the lights that save our ships from dashing their brains out on sharp-toothed rocks, are worked by someone miles away, electronically, someone who doesn’t need to feel the wind, taste the salt, watch the other lights as dusk falls, become a part of a new adventure every night for weeks on end – someone who would never need the right clothes for such an adventure.

But, back to packing.  The things I need to make room for in my travel bag are mostly words, and those receivers of words, such as my little laptop and my notebooks.  These are heavy, compared to any bodily flim-flam, but when I weigh my luggage, in my hand, I know that, were I to remove something, it would be in the flim-flam department, and never at the expense of the words I have chosen to keep.

These words can be, and often are, half-inched from wiser mouths than my own.  I have absolutely no problem with that.  I don’t consider it stealing, more the recognition of another’s starry brilliance.  I learn from them, use them in part, or in the whole, as a part of something I want to put into either my own mouth, or the mouth of a character in a story.  They are more precious to me than gold, than frocks, than the right apparel for any given occasion.

So, if I arrive in the wrong shoes but with the right words in my mouth/suitcase/head, then who will notice?

Oh yeah……..my mum.the weight of words