Island Blog – Thinks and Daddy Longlegs

I have too many of them. Thinks, not Daddy Longlegs. I wonder how the name was gifted. I often wonder that. Was it something to do with the One Who Discovered? If this discovery had been made by a woman might it have spent all eternity being known and recognised as Mummy Longlegs? I wonder that about God too. I know, I know, too many thinks. My thinks might be my undoing for as often as they travel through my mind in the hours of daylight as questions begging answers, they do not sleep overnight. I feel sometimes as I did as a child, excited and bunked in Cattle Class on a sleeper from York to Inverness, so awake to every sound, every shunt, pause, toot and groan of the carriage, one more redolent of an old woman in ill-fitting stays than the sleek, spirited (and grubby) fast train of today. I barely slept and this has not changed. I don’t mind, not often, nor usually but just sometimes I wonder what it might be like to go to bed, hit the pillow and drift off into the night, waking at first light with no idea what just happened.

Inside my home for the last few days I am Daddy Longlegged out. They are everywhere and here am I marvelling at their obvious confoundment. This morning at some pre dawn hour I met one in the kitchen, just by the kettle. It flapped at me a bit and I said hallo and waited till it had done with checking me out. It landed on the wall, spread in all its fragile beauty, six legs splayed, until I filled the kettle for coffee spilling a drop of water on the counter. Immediately it lifted and landed by the water drop. I ran for my specs, my magnifying glass (no laughing please) in order to watch this extraordinary and so short-lived survivor bend for a drink. It has a snout. Yes, it does. Like a hyena only way smaller. It also has a number of eyes which makes sense considering the short lived/predator thing that is ever present. Humans swatting, birds snatching, spider webs waiting, wind slamming and so on.

I watched it drink, wondering should I put it out or should I not? I make coffee taking care to keep it out of the way of the killing steam. It finished drinking and seemed revived. It lifted all the way up to the ceiling. Should I leap about in my goonie in attempts to catch it, to set it free? Into what? Danger? I Googled. I often Google. What did we ever know before Google? I learn little.

I go through the to the conservatory and light a candle, sip my coffee and wait for the dawn. You came in, I say. Your choice. Who am I to make a decision for you? Then I slide back over my Night Thinks. I decide to set them free too. You came in. I repeat. Your choice. But here I can make a decision. And I do. I choose to move into my day, into my daylight, into the new and I leave my thinks behind me. After all, they were only thinks.

Island Blog – Autumn, Our Gift.

I almost didn’t go to the pier today, to sit on the flat rock and to watch the tidal activity. Almost. Waking twirly and feeling it as the day slowed on, I conversed with myself as though to allow such a falter, to give it credence and approval. I will walk the short walk today, I said. It’s fine. I am allowed. But, as I moved closer to the exit opportunity, the rebel in me drew blood and stood in my path. I could see her in my mind’s eye and she laughed me. Ok, ok, I said, I will walk on. She withdrew to allow safe passage. I would so not want to challenge her.

Leaves are turning. Above my head, beech, alder, hornbeam and birch show me tip. That tip into Autumn, that acceptance with a rebel of colour shouting at them. No dying without colour, she says, no dying without that glorious dress of swish and ruby, of gold and speckles, that differentness that comes only now, only as Summer with all her flounce and confidence yawns like a princess and takes a first class flight across the world. There, she can astonish as only she can, lifting tired human minds, human bodies into swimsuits and flowing wraps and barbecues and beach encounters, but Autumn is pragmatic. She speaks to the dying light, to those on the cusp of change, she is change. And she does it well. Even though the storms may come and the light give way to a big dark, she is clever with time, for those who are watching. She is not one to sleep in.

The light lifts as I walk. Although it seems that the sky is closed, all grey and without comment, there is a shift. I can feel blue coming even if I cannot see it and it comes, with dissonant clouding and cerulean blue. For now it is just sweaty and cloying and my frocks clamp my skin. Then home again as Father Sun finds his spot and beams hot and sweaty after a jumper and boot day. I roll my eyes and peel off morning layers, damp down the fire. The temperature flips from nothing much to 27 degrees in a matter of moments. My neighbours suddenly barbecue. It is what we do if we are working with what is on offer, much like Autumn. I like her. She is feisty and determined. She is beauty in the face of death only it isn’t death. Death is forever, whereas she, Autumn is just one of four and playing her part. She is that jazz singer with a whisky/cigarette voice you hear whilst walking home, one that draws you in to hear more. She is nuts and berries, vibrant and wild, offering a harvest that comes only to her. She is preparation for the winter months when we all lose the plot, light endless candles, and pretend we don’t mind the dark and the cold. She is a herald, nonetheless. She is saying, get ready, pay attention, get real about this time, in particular, This Time, for we are all afraid, all wondering, all peering out at a world we are no longer sure about nor confident to walk in.

I won’t do the cheesy and say that this is nothing. It is not nothing. But we humans have survived, lived, loved danced and made a difference over and over for thousands of years. None of us know what will happen next but next is out there and we are right here, right now and this is Autumn. Our gift.

Island Blog – The Gift of Days

Sometimes we can see days as days, as days, as daze. Like numbers, like names of the week, like a length of hours and minutes and even seconds, although most of us don’t notice the seconds unless we have a Fitbit thingy or are timing a boiled egg. But we know days. I can ask someone How is, or was your day? They can answer many ways but the one that gets me is this one. Bad Day. I find myself confounded. I stand still on my feets but the upper half of me is fizzing like a firework. I have a zillion questions inside my mouth – there is barely room for my teeth. But, I keep quiet, initially. I say to myself, I know the place this person is in. I have been depressed enough to consider leaving this life by my own hand, and not just once. What I want to do is to bring in the sun for them but I know that if their whole day really was a bad one and I go and explode my can of coke-cheer all over them, all I will achieve is a sticky mess. However, if I feel the bridge between us is open to walkers, I might take a few steps. I might smile and ask, All of it? And, every time the body pulls back, a smile rises and they admit, after consideration, Well No, Not All of it, but if today was a gift, then this one was socks. (quote) We laugh and the air brightens around us, and I am always glad I stepped onto that bridge at such times.

We can all take a hit, often a random one and feel sad and unfizzy. That feeling, if allowed to fester, will morph into more of the same. However, telling ourselves to stop thinking that way, to focus on what we are thankful for, may not prove a strong enough combative and, besides, that advice is plain irritating. I think at such times that it is important, and nourishing, to sit with the ‘flat’ and to allow it to pass. It does take courage to do that, to adopt a willingness to accept that this feeling I am feeling is just a feeling, and no more. Sometimes, if the feeling is recurring, I will investigate. Why does this come to me at all, never mind oftentimes? I don’t ask anyone else. Just my own heart because as we all know, our own heart will never lie to us and will always give us the best advice whereas others, however true and loving will give an opinion. Not helpful.

I wake, as you already know, full of beans. I adore the dawning of a new gift-day. I am not sick, not dead. Therefore I am beansed up just because of the aforesaid. Childlike, I yank back the curtains to reveal a blowsy wildflower garden, already chirping with every little bird you can name. They await me, and when I do appear, heavy laden with various foodstuffs, they stay around me. I know to walk slowly and to softly warn them I am coming around the miniature maple fronds so as not to startle. Later I will wander up to see grandchildren and to hear about yesterday’s birthday party, that huge green-iced cake covered in horses and sporting candles as tall as Hobbits. Walking in the afternoon around the coastline, through the woods and across the expanses of wild grass, I will sing my thankfulness in nonsense words to a made-up melody. I have no idea what I am singing but the nonsense words come and in my mind I hold the warmth of my thankfulness, an image of all that I am thankful for. It is often quite a squash once I mindfully count up each tiny second of a thing. 360 seconds for each hour. That’s a load of thankings.

I believe in mind self-control. I do not believe any of us are victims of circumstance, no matter what that circumstance may be. If I am in a poorly lit, slow-moving, dank swamp of a place, only I can get me out. Oh yes, I can ask for help, in fact that’s essential for an uplift from a swamp, for someone else to recognise my struggle, but it is I who must decide I will not stay here any longer. Someone might say ‘I hate my job’. I say Look into changing. ‘I am miserable in my relationship’. I say Look into changing. ‘I am frustrated, bored, unfulfilled and broke’. You know what I say to that. Bit by bit, step by step (and it may take a long time to turn around) I know, as you do, that every day is precious and that I am important and valuable and that the gift of days can be snatched away at any moment. Knowing all these knowings, I have no alternative but to live to my fullest. And right now I can take the first step into my own future. Walking out, noticing, seeing and pausing to see more. Out is the key. Home I know, its walls and confines and the keeping in of it. That door, in hands reach, will lead to the Out of it. Sometimes Out is terrifying. But Out is the answer to too much In. And the In will cripple given half a chance because when we are fixated on the self, all we do is circle old beliefs, thoughts and memories. Just going for a walk can bring in something new, enough to shift the thinking plates, to make space for light to come in. I know it because whenever I find my knickers in a twist, I need to walk out, call someone to find our how they are, drive somewhere, anything that unstales the air.

‘Each day is a gift. Don’t send this one back unopened.’

Island Blog – No Matter the Sky

The sky, umber grey, day long, a greasy cloud cover like soapy water on old chip fat. Not cold, though, not as it has been which tells me that Siberia has recalled the wind and I am thankful. It is high flipping time the grass stopped feeling sorry for itself and got on with providing the food these sheepish mothers need for their babes. Daily I check the seedlings I put out too early, reminding me that my exuberance, once again, blinded me to the truth. Why did I, why do I, year in year out, think that early April sunshine indicates a first night in mind, when it is always just an endless process of dress rehearsals? Well, I just do. A long winter, covid restrictions, loss and loneliness together with a natural human craving for other human contact, all drives my sensible mind out of the park. I think we all know what I mean.

It thinks me deeper. I know I have always been what you might call a party girl, although the girl is not a girl anymore on the outside of me. I can recall so many times when skies within or without were a relentless umber grey and I took it upon myself to be the colour. Now, for the artist in you, you will know how one single dot of red or vibrant blue in a canvas of umber grey lifts the whole thing into something quite wonderful. You don’t need much. In fact much will just make mud or confusion, but that little dot, that tiny eye-drawing spot of colour lifts the watcher into a world that the umber grey alone could never do. Before it just looked like a wall of nothing much with nothing to draw the eye, nothing to ignite, excite, delight. But with this tiny suggestion of the Other, our imaginations can take off like rockets into space. Banksy gets this, bigtime. His images of ‘almost nothing’ lift and elevate not just his work but anyone who looks in. There is a something, a wotwot, a subtle shift of perspective and an invitation to dance.

Anyway that was me, is me. I don’t bring this dot of colour because I have studied dots of colour on the umber greyness of most people’s lives. I don’t do it because I want to be seen as the dot of colour. That could not be further from the truth. I do because I can’t not do it. It is, I believe, a gift. If I see someone down or sad or lost or afraid, my heart actually hurts. I want to do something to make them smile, anything, everything. Of course, in our extremely broken world with all its dangers and threats, I cannot act as I might want to. I am not a fool and I have the same fears as everyone does. So I think on this. If I believe I have a gift to lift some other human being, no matter if they smell awful or I don’t like them or if they appear to be ‘bad’ people, then what do I do with this gift that will not let go of me, given the aforementioned? I can hide away, run away, like most of us do, avoiding the people who upset us, make us feel vulnerable, threaten us, or I can dig deep to find a way where this gift of mine can be of use to another human’s suffering. I am never going to be a media heroine. I would so loathe that. But this drive is strong and my job, as I see it, is to accept it and to wait for direction. That is not easy. The desire to fix the world is lively as a dancer in me but I am just me, small and here on an island and growing older.

That’s ok, says my inner guru. Nae worries, lass. Just keep digging, keep researching, keep peaceful and trust. It may seem like a big ask but I find I am pretty okay with it. In this more peaceful time of my life, with himself at rest and me alone now, I have plenty of time to let my thoughts emerge to fly like butterflies from a cocoon, wings wet, vulnerable on a branch, inviting sunshine and light for the first lift into sky, umber grey or blue. No matter the sky colour.

Island Blog – Mountain, Tomorrow and Me

Not every day can be positively thinked. Some days, randomly, it seems, come slam dunk, presenting little positive, no matter the incoming. Could be a card through the post, a gift, some encouraging words in a text or just a lift of light in a dark place. On those days these gifts mean little or nothing at all. The sun might be doing his best, huffing up to the top of the sky and beaming like a beatific parent but all he does is blind me and I blink or shade him away. I am impervious to positive on those days. I read that I am supposed to accept such times in such times and to ‘allow’ myself to do whatever I can and to not do whatever I can’t. Enter my ingrained teaching. You do not give in my girl. You get on with it, whatever it is. You present as positive and not only to the outside world but to your own self. I am up and down on those days, battling with guilt and shame. I am lazy. I am giving in. I am not presenting the positive. I avoid speaks. I avoid texts that ask direct questions about how I am. My finger hovers over the answer bit and slides away. I put the phone on silent and avoid mobile calls.

Tomorrow will be different, I tell myself and together, me and tomorrow, will deny and forget this day. We will. But a part of me knows another will come slam dunk and both tomorrow and I will flounder like goldfish outside our bowl. We will gasp for an air that is denied us and we will both think back. Could we have prevented this unpleasant situation, this day of nothing, of no purpose of no point at all, with an ending that doesn’t bear thinking about? I say no. I have worked through this before, many times. The days of nil point are just that. All we can do, me and tomorrow, is to really celebrate those random gifts of words, texts, flowers and smiles and make them bigger, in order just to get through the very long hours of pointless. Because that is how we feel. Pointless. Our purpose, our plan of action, our very raison d’être has died, is gone and with this gone thing, he took us too. We don’t want to believe it. We don’t want it to be this way, but this way it is. For now. That’s what tomorrow tells me. But it feels like a life sentence. These gifts that come are lifts for sure. They move my heart, jig me into thankfulness and light but they don’t last long, not on those days. I see them as hold points on the mountain I am climbing. That rock that juts out just enough for a foothold, that sturdy branch, that ledge. But they are not enough, never enough because I have to climb this flipping mountain and it looks to me like it touches the sky. I go through cloud, ice, snow and darkness, through fear, loneliness and loss. It is just me up here. Tomorrow stayed at base camp, wisely.

I know I have to keep climbing, accepting the giftly footholds, resting on safe ledges and then going again the next time dawn shows her light. I know this. But in my wildest dreams I never thought me on the flank of a mountain and certainly not one that is in collusion with the sky. Cloud covers me wet. Cold. Then the sun warms. This is how it is. One day at a time. Nothing I expect is what I get. I used to know who I was and where. Now?

No clue.

Island Blog – Composing History

This morning, around 4 am, the chaos awakened me. I cannot call it a dawn chorus because, by definition, a chorus is a group of musicalities singing, or playing the same melody with sensitively selected harmonies plus the odd discord for salt. This gradually escalating cacophony smacks more of jazz, country, classical and pop all playing at the same time and yet, bizarrely, it is far from discordant. It flows in a glory of counterbalance through the open window telling me the day is rising and so should I because light is my thing and this music is the most uplifting I could ever wish for. Wherever we live, birdsong is a daily gift, whether it be given to us on the island, in a flat in Glasgow, on the coast of Spain or in Crinkly Bottom, Englandshire. And it is free, no need to download an app nor pay a monthly sub. We cannot see the music, but we can see the musicians, if we let our eyes roam the landscape. They are free, wild, not in lockdown, not separated from loved ones, and they can do so much to uplift a flagging spirit.

I come downstairs, make tea and go check on the moon. I know she is there, could almost hear her and most definitely saw her light seeping through a crack in the curtains. She is gibbous, pregnant with a burgeoning rounded bump, about to give birth to fulness. The tide is waiting, I see her, sitting there, flat and rising as the undertow pushes more sea beneath her bulk, swelling her until she will reach her full height on May 7th. Gulls shriek above her, their sharp eyes following the fish just below the seafoam, occasionally to dive, with no grace whatsoever, thus erupting the surface into splash and bother. Greenfinches bounce along my fence, Goldfinches flit like butterflies across the field and a lone heron, yelling abuse as always, flaps over the narrows heading for the sea.

All of this looking and seeing thinks me. Of us, of all of us, all people, all colours, shapes and sizes. We are a chorus of humanoids, no matter what melody we choose, and in singing together we have the same power to uplift a flagging spirit. I know that in this crazy-bonkers time we cannot meet each other to compare notes, and all of us are changing, will be forever changed by this. There is a new score being crafted, new melodies unfolding, twisted and turned by capricious tides, pushed along by a strong undertow, powerful as the pull of the moon. 2020 will never forget what happened, what is still happening. And, there will be stories, millions of stories, myriad hearts speaking out, singing out and the chorus of these songs and stories will be remembered and resurrected long after we go back to dust. How remarkable to be living in this time! This period in history will be taught and learned in schools for generations to come. And we were there, we are there, we are here, living it, seeing it. This is our time. May we take it all in, really look and really see everything, employing all our senses in order to round the story gibbous, pregnant, like the moon, ready to give birth to a brand new world.

Island Blog – Translation

Geese woke me this morning. It seems they are quite unable to go anywhere at all without engaging in a loud conversation, as if, their vocal chords are wired to their wings. It’s 4 am, I said, but they ignored me, honking on as they skimmed past my open window to land with effortless grace on the water. It’s all but flat, the water, and the far shore reflection of striated rocks, adorned like bridesmaids in butter yellow lichen, shivers – a slight surface rebellion, probably the translation of a tidal undertow. It makes the rocks look like they’re shimmy shimmy shaking. Perhaps they are. What goes on beneath the surface is only a guess, for me, but the body of water understands itself and knows from long experience how to communicate.

I eat breakfast, change bed sheets, clean up, ready for a new day, and all the while, my thoughts flow along, mostly unchecked by me. Sometimes a hand goes up. We need more blue milk. Or, I must water those little seedlings. Those thoughts alert me, ask for immediate action, or they might float off into the, now clean, ether to become part of a cloud and thus lost to me. Weetabix without milk is a crunchy thought, dry, not the same at all. Seedlings will flop and die of thirst. So, I must make a note of both and right now. Other thoughts circle a bit before they flee and I bring my brain to bear, make it listen, make it follow through. Sometimes that’s a mistake. By employing my logic I can see a seedling thought die of boredom. This thought doesn’t want to be fixed, arrested and imprisoned by me. It just wants to stay as a thought and the only reason it circled at all was to say Hallo and to hear Hallo back. Hallo, I say, and off it goes.

In these times of slowdown-lockdown #not meltdown, thoughts are busy. I suspect thoughts are busy in everyone’s head. All of a sudden there is time for them, space to circle and float without being batted away like bluebottles. It serves us well to allow this space to widen, to deepen, until we can learn, not to organise our thoughts, but to conjoin with them, for they are ours, they are us. The translation of these thoughts might, in the busy past, have been misleading. Reacting immediately, without due process, to a thought can lead us to making poor decisions. We don’t need to do that now. Now, we can spend time with them, get to understand the craziness inside our minds, see that every thought is there because of who we are, because of what we do, or what we did. This way we teach ourselves to reconnect with the whole body and it feels good.

Although you will never know all my thoughts, as I will never know all of yours, we will both be able to see a person who has reconnected with their undertow. It probably takes a lifetime. All the great thinkers who understood the power of this reconnection, of creating a synergistic relationship with their own thoughts, are ancient by the time they ‘get it’. Right now we have this gift, this opportunity, to consider understanding our own selves a bit better. If we can allow our thoughts just to be thoughts, to say Hallo when they circle awhile, they will flow at ease, no matter what.

The geese are diddling about on the field now, chattering incessantly, picking at the grass, preparing for young. Later, when the chicks are ready to swim, they will lead their young across the sea-loch, on a day when the water is a mirror, when it looks like they are paddling through the sky, when the undertow is at peace. I will watch them and I will smile as thoughts float through my head like will o the wisps.

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 – Little Fires

I believe that grandparents have a gift. One that is gifted to them. They also have a gift to give, through translation, nothing lost, unless they choose to ignore the opportunity it brings them, and by extension, the generation below and the one below that.

On the first gift, I can say it comes as a surprise. This gift is one of a second childhood. Not physically, of course, but in a renewed lease of life. From banging on about arthritis to clambering over a fence with a cackle of glee; from medication programming to random acts of play; from soup at midday on the button to fish finger sandwiches just because we’re hungry – with ketchup, naturally. The awakening of the sleeping child is painless. Sparkles return to rheumy eyes and stolen carrots from the veg counter at Tesco’s are an absolute must. An old woman who has plodded, fallen- arched, and for many years, up one aisle, politely rounding to the next, might suddenly find herself speeding up for a swing-wheelie at the top. The giggles of the little ones egg her on and she just can’t help herself. Her mind is full of naughty ideas that came from nowhere. After all, these half-pint charges of hers have been sternly groomed for a perfect public face and mummy never does any of these things.

As mummy, we don’t either. Many of us are so caught up in right and absolutely wrong that we contain, without intending it, the free spirit of our children until their bodies can barely bend at all. And here comes the second gift, the one given. With granny we can fly and fly high. My granny was like that and we all adored her. The mischief in her eyes set little fires in our own and although she was in all ways the perfect lady, she showed us a side of her true self that my mother rarely saw as a child. I feel sad about that and wonder how much, and how often, I contained my own children in boxes at least two sizes too small for their exuberant personalities. But how else to protect, teach and develop a child into the adult we want them to be, hope they will become? This, in itself sounds like a box, but only to my granny ears. So is it just that we can ‘hand them back’ or is it that second chance to what, make amends? My own children, now parents, are not always delighted at granny’s antics. Initially I faced a few stern reprimands on my behaviour, feeling like the child in trouble and most uncomfortable. Can I say God or should I pretend he doesn’t exist? Can I answer questions on where babies come from, asked by a ten year old, or should I say “Ask Mummy’ thus making it very mysterious and serious? I get my nickers in a right knot at such times, and dither like an old woman who never thought an original thought, or was never allowed to.

9 grandchildren in, I now am more relaxed about the nicker knot thing. I pause a lot after a question is asked. I might distract, as I would a puppy chewing on a cat, suggest some toast or a bounce on the trampoline. I might answer the baby question, but vaguely, with something safe, like ‘Mummy’s tummy’ and leave it at that . As to God, I might say, some believe he exists, some don’t, and round with a question for them. What do mummy and daddy say? Always a safe bet, that one.

I don’t remember my mum having any bother with dithering. She just answered as she saw fit, no matter what parental bans we had put in place. And blow it. Thats what she said. She had no intention of bending to our whims and I cannot imagine ever being brave enough to challenge her. In my day and with my mother, challenge was verboten. However my generation have been confounded with all the new information about parenting. Strait jackets were out, for starters, and choices offered to small people on the best dinner plates. My own children, and I have heard them all employ this, would ask their 3 year old what she would like for supper. I managed to keep my snort silent, although it gave me indigestion and required my scrabble into handbag depths for a Rennies. Now, I am used to it. I remember, once, tapping a child on the leg when her tantrum threatened the entire neighbourhood, and being strongly warned never to touch a child again in anger. It wasn’t anger, I began to say, but said no more after making eye contact with the parent in case. The Childline number is readily available, after all, and there are posters in every school in most of the rooms, and at a child’s eye level.

However, the joys of playing hooky with grandchildren are the best. Naughtiness and mischief fan the embers of my internal fire any time I am with them. And I am reminded, often, of the gift I have received and the gift I can give – that reconnection with my own childhood and the chance to be the child free, the child outside the box, setting all the other children free from their own boxes and, together, heading off into a fantasy world of mischief and fun and laughter.

I am going to have to live for decades more, it seems.

Island Blog 161 In Pursuit of Excellence

wisdom

Unlike the pursuit of happiness, which is always the end goal of any human being and never the right one, the pursuit of Excellence is one that must be embarked upon to elevate our own sense of self.  Happiness is a secondary part of this pursuit, for, in each success, therein happiness lies.

The old-fashioned encouragement of our elders and leaders, in the form of teachers, parents, guides, will tell us to strive on, to do better, to make something ordinary into something extraordinary, In order to be the best, but this teaching needs further explanation.  We do not pursue excellence in order to beat someone else.  We pursue excellence in order to beat ourselves, that negative monkey-mind that keeps us always just below our own par.  In truth, it is ourself we make extraordinary and not the thing we do.  Although each success results inevitably in a ‘thing’ such as a published book on a shelf, a painting sold, a medal awarded, our name on walls in hallowed halls, the real happiness lies in the knowledge that we worked on, through difficult times, through darkness and doubt, cold comments and hot criticism, to achieve what now glows with light in the eyes of the world.  Despite all the difficulties we may have encountered, we continued with our work, perhaps in a lonely silence, until suddenly everyone wants to shake our hand, or bake us a cake,  even those who disbelieved and doubted as we faithfully marched on down our chosen path.

It doesn’t matter to me if this work is in the public eye or not.  Most good work is done alone.  It is easy, so easy, to be seduced into thinking that successes come with the genes, but we can be astonishingly good at many things, do little to develop them, giving up, saying ‘It’s not working for me’ and ultimately waste a gift, flush it down the loo, walk away from it.  Each one of us is placed just where we should be, and it is our job in this one life to locate it and build.  Not one single soul is without a gift.  Perhaps it is for caring, perhaps handywork or bending metal into shapes.  It might be to uplift others, to paint, write or make music.  It could be staying calm and strong at times when others panic.  It might be with animals, with parenthood, with teaching or entertaining, cooking, translating, sports or marketing.  The list is endless.

The problem is nowadays that everyone seeks glamour and judges themselves on that basis, especially the young, although it doesn’t stop in youth.  People consider their lives ruined when life drops a boulder into it, but this is not the truth, for just like that any one of us can lose a job, our looks, a lifestyle, a loved one and yet life is not done with us yet, for somewhere in there, after the grief and the mourning is past, there is something still at which we can excel.  We may not feel like it, but who does want to start again?  And yet, I have seen it too many times, the indomitable human spirit doing just that.

Pursuing Excellence is a way of being, not something for those born with a silver spoon.  Someone washing dishes can wash them consistently with excellence, if they have that burn inside them, that need to do everything to its highest level.  I meet so many people who seem to be waiting for something to happen.  I want to tell them it already is.

Consider this…… it isn’t the great thinkers and do-ers of the past who will make history now, but each one of us.  I don’t mean ‘out there’ in the world, I don’t mean an OBE or a spot on Britain’s Got Talent, but inside our own families and friends, and, more importantly inside our own hearts.  No recognition is worth a fig once the hype has died away.  What lasts for ever is the knowledge that we worked and studied and focussed and never never never gave up.  We alone made this happen. This is what will carry on, will carry us on, will be told down through the generations, will make others think, consider, re-evaluate their own priorities and make a change.  This is what really tells us we can do it, wherever we are placed, despite our limitations, our commitments, our troubles and strife.  One person, one gift, one chance to excel.

As one door closes, another opens.  You’ve all heard that one.  At times I scoffed at it, seeing nothing but closed doors, and considering that open door to exist only in the Secret Garden and other winsome tales, but that was simply because I had my blinkers on.  Thinking we are too old, too tired, too sick is to die whilst still alive. Someone said to me, at that difficult time, ‘It is my opinion that the only way out of any gloom is to turn the light on someone else.’  I thought, Cheeky So-and-So, but it did think me over the next while.  And, he was right.  Initially, when gloomed-up, we need to begin to forget ourselves, because the habitual thinking is poisonous to our minds.  Once we have shone the light on loads of others, seen their lives, heard of their troubles, we gradually realise how much we have at home.  Much that seemed so little not days ago.  Then, once restored, once our mouths are full again of laughter (most of it at our own self) we can ferret about inside our own life with fresh eyes for that ‘something we can do.’  Then, we baby step it out of the attic, dust it off and, without anyone else having a scooby about it, we begin to fashion a new thing, a thing that will challenge us, for we have never done this before, upset and confound us, meet with difficulties and comments, doubts and fears that we are being complete charlies, until one day we discover that we believe in it;  we believe in us believing in it.

And then, my friends, we are off, because we are now in Pursuit of Excellence.