Island Blog – This and That

Sitting here, this evening, I reflect on the past couple of days, the content, or imagined content of which halted my footsteps for many days before. I had found a breast lump. Bad timing even for a positive woman, fettered as I felt by my long isolation from the world ‘out there’. In fact, I haven’t been out there for over a year now, cocooned within a leather protective casing of caring for a very vulnerable old dude. It suited me, if I am honest, the not going out there thingy. I am, by nature, happy being isolated, solitary, independent with more work required, individual, content with my own company. I have barely been to the local shop since last March and my everything is delivered either by the post or by hand to my door. One could get lazy inside this. I know that.

Anyway, there I was facing a ferry trip, masked like a bandit, humphing a rucksack of overnight-ness and stringing a small Poppy dog alongside. How will she behave? Will she pee on the ferry carpet? (she never would) Will I find a close encounter too close? Will my house fall down whilst I’m away; will that old tree fall on the garage roof; will floods come and wash my home away; did I turn off the lights, lock the doors? All that hoo-ha. Never mind what you call it and how you chortle, it is still real, still clusters beneath a person’s panic button all ready to burst forth once pushed, especially, and I have clocked this, when that person has been cocooned for so many months, apart from the rush and bustle of the out-there world. After all, it could be unrecognisable to me. People could be walking around in pandemic suits for all I know, slow stepping, avoiding each other by miles and breathing stored air in order to avoid breathing in the real stuff, the air that is ever changing, morphing, floating over oceans and over lands and continents with all sorts of names, full of all sorts of stories and holding within its gasp a potential lethal. Shopping bags might be obsolete. Maybe the out there folk have to pull on their pandemic suits for a shopping trip that can only be as successful as the hold of their arms.

So, off I go. Two sons, two strong men, two young men, two sons, gather me up and the rucksack and the non-peeing-on-ferry-carpets dog and we head onto the mainland. The ferry is all masks and the two metre rule. Good for Scotland, I remember whispering to myself, thus muffing up my glasses and rendering me momentarily blind. Scotland is getting this right. I work out how to talk to myself by holding my fingers over my nose and breathing down, like a puff. Now I can see. But, there is nobody. There are 3 passengers on this massive ship capable of carrying many hundreds. I have been aboard with those many hundreds and watched them, the families, the dogs, the way the children burst upstairs to see, to see from the ‘flight’ deck, or the way the exhausted parents find their way to the outer deck to drink in the astonishing beauty of the passing hills and their sharp defines as the sky comes down and says Stop Right There. This time the ferry is empty, like a ghost ship. I feel a bit foolish behind my puffing blue spectacle-clouding mask, but nobody is laughing at me. I arrive on the mainland and off-loading is barely that. Three people don’t take much off-loading.

I am driven the almost 3 hours the the hospital the following morning through mizzle and cloud. He knows what he is doing, strong, calm, googled. He will mind the non-peeing dog. Go Mum. I follow the signs to Clinic 3, very clearly marked. There is almost nobody here either. Nurses, come and go, masked and chirpy, friendly, welcoming. I burst into a waiting room. The chairs are wide apart, tape markings on the floor. There are a few other women waiting, nervous, as we all are. One jiggles her foot, one taps her fingers on her knee, another is busy on her phone. They guide me to Reception and I clock in from behind a big barrier. I have to repeat my name as she is behind bullet proof glass and this big barrier and I am thankful she is of good hearing. I take my seat. We are all quiet beyond the jiggling. Someone opens the doors to the almost outside, for air flow and we have no shared body warmth to soften the push of cold air over bare ankles, old skin and the generally accepted loathing of draughts. We hold. For an hour, for more. Every name called by one of the bright buttoned nurses is one we wish we owned. The relief of being named, of our own name being called into touch is a whole body/mind thing. If that name belongs to another, we wish them well from behind our masks and our fear. We don’t need to ask what these women are here for. We know. We feel their tension as we feel our own.

First the doctor, then the mammogram. Not one of us will avoid this. Some of us know it well and for others it’s a first. There are young women here, skinny teenagers and I wonder of their stories. Some partners or mothers try to be here, but a very kindly nurse tells them Only Patients Here, I’m Sorry. I can feel the bereft as they unwillingly leave. Text me, they say, or mime. The woman remains, legs crossed, jiggling, telling herself to be strong, saying I can do this, I am not afraid, and then spending the next hour working on convincing herself of that.

Mammogram. I am an old hand at this. I cast a backward glance at the young woman who smiled at me, who connected. Your turn soon my lovely girl, I say from my eyes. The process moves on. The nurses at every stop and turn, every confusion, every arrival are more than magnificent. They are Grace and Humour. We are undignified to say the least within this place. How trained they are. How emotionally intelligent they are meeting our diminished but ferociously determined woman strength as they strip our clothing and pull across the rather attractive curtain, through which our boots poke. So, here we are, unclothed and yet booted, as if we just know we can do this, whatever comes of the pummelling and the indignity.

For me it was a lucky escape. I have the all clear. There is nothing to report. I wonder of the rest. I can see their anxious faces now, still, and will for a while. Their Glasgow humour is remarkable. These are women who do not live as I do; who do not have it easy; who live lives I will never experience. And, yet, within that chilly blast, that fear, that doubt and worry, they could banter and laugh and pick up the nurse’s joke and take it on and in doing that I learn from them. They have known tough, and may yet know it again, as I never have.

As I left them behind, still waiting, their eyes asked me. I smiled an ok. They were happy for me. What they face right now, I cannot know. But, we met in that place. I came home to warmth and safety and an all -clear.

Did they?

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 – From There to Here

Leaving 40 degrees and arriving back to zero in the belly of a couple of planes with the ambient temperature of an airport or two in between requires a person to be vestment canny. Well, I really don’t know what I was thinking as I packed for Africa but it appears I put little thought into my return. Today I am wearing most of my frocks over jeans with a vest at skin depth, a long sleeved tee over the said frocks and a jumper to complete my shapeless bulk. When I step outside, I add to that a puffa jacket and a scarf long enough to wind into a neck brace. A most fetching look.

I noticed, among my fellow passengers, as a foggy Glasgow appeared at the windows, that they had considered a vestment strategy. How had I not? This question has thought me a lot since I returned to zero. All I can guess is that I was in such a flapdoodle as I packed for the sunshine that my brain dealt only with the immediate. Then I realised that dealing with the immediate has become my default, for everything is immediate around dementia care and any unnecessaries are pushed into the shadowland. Although it is delightful, in many ways, to realise how much of life can be unnecessary when necessary, it behoves a girl to remember those things that still await her in the wings of her life. In Africa I went to a spa and had my nails done. This was a first for me as I usually just bite them off or clip them to the quick so as not to scratch anybody by mistake (or intentionally). I have enjoyed watching my French polish flash little white moons into my looking and this little indulgence will not revert to the shadowlands again. Although this indulgence may not be a regular thing, at least I know the pleasure of it. It isn’t just the nails and how they look. It is the time taken for myself, to sit and watch someone else caring for me. This is important, for all of us, not just me. Taking time to spend time with Me is not something many of us talk about without either getting embarrassed at the blank faces around us as we try to explain what we mean, or getting the giggles. Well, it does sound a bit ‘out there’ does it not? I think the key is not to bother explaining it at all to a world completely caught up in logic and the daily dash to Nowhere. Of course, not everyone is doing this dashing thing but most of us are if we are honest.

But the wisdoms keep coming. They go back to Rumi, to Ancient Greece, and further back, and we still don’t listen, because we have not learned how to live this way, the way of emotional intelligence, the way of good health, calm hearts and heads, peaceful sleep, gentle breathing and love of self, not matter what the demands of our lives. I don’t think it’s easy, far from it, but I do know we need to wake up to a different way of being. In a hysterically busy world we are but cogs in a million wheels, or that is how it seems. children, work, families, governments, religions, rules rules and more rules can overwhelm the very best of intentions. We can feel like tumbleweeds in a desert wind.

So how to change that feeling of being out of control of a life? I am no guru with a mouthful of answers but what I have learned in this decade of dementia care with all its associated ‘immediates’ is that I want to come out of this as intact as is possible. Too many of my compadres have fallen sick as a result of intense caring over a long period, wherein any time for self was intermittent and without a plan. Perhaps, like them, I thought it wouldn’t drag on for years but it does. Perhaps, like them, I thought I could wait for me, that I would be there at the other end, just as I was before. I don’t now. Now, I know better. This is a journey and there is no map, no destination I can stick a pin in. And it’s ok. In fact, I would not have learned the valuable lessons I have learned had dementia not come knocking. One of these lessons, the one I most value, is the importance of self love and how it never seemed important before. I don’t believe I am alone in this. With accusations of selfish up-yourself coming from older generations, schoolmarms and all the other ‘For Your Own Good’ ies, it would have cried anarchy and that meant trouble at any age. But I have learned to own the ‘selfish’ accusation and it fits me well. Let them think that, is what I said to myself and myself grinned wide.

There is no rule book for self love either. Only this. Stop and listen, as the world threatens to swallow you whole and the noise of it is deafening and the demands relentless, to what your heart whispers. Hear it and do as it guides you. Just once will do for now, because when it whispers again, you will hear it more clearly. Then go with it a second time, a third, a fourth and on and on until your heart is a match for both the outside world and the inside mind. I admit there is quite a lot of stopping required at first, until you get in step with You, but the rewards are endless. Eventually the outside of you fits the inside no matter what Life brings.

I arrive home tomorrow. Let’s see how clever I am at walking my talk when the old ways and I collide on a familiar doorstep. One thing I do believe in is all that stopping to listen to the inner whisper.

It just has to have made a difference.

Island Blog 143 Own Hair and Teeth

 

old woman

 

Just in case you are wondering if I’m still at sea, like half-way to Norway by now, let me tell you it’s not true.  I have just been busy with lifey things for a while and somewhat strapped for words, but as I tootled back north the other day after a lively visit to my old ma, I heard them all (the words, that is) stomping back into my brain like old and welcome rellies.  Now there’s a thing!   I captured a lot of them on paper, laying them down word by word and I swear I heard them all sigh with relief.  When your words take off like that, it may not have been entirely their fault.  If anyone, or anything feels neglected and unloved, then I don’t blame them for pulling on their stout boots in search of alternative warmth and friendship.

The down south bit was fun.  I was reminded of delays, of queues and of road rage, of warm locals filled with locals, a merry fire blazing in the grate and good hoppy beer on tap. I became re-aquainted with the red and green man who tells me when I can cross the road, saw babies in catwalk clothing being propelled along in buggies the size of small cars, of business women in heels and pencil skirts, with strident voices and sassy black ear pieces, talking to themselves, not an anorak nor a dither among them.  I wandered through supermarkets sporting foreign sounding pulses, sauces and I marvelled anew at the down south size of parsnips, pidgeons and farm machinery.  Even the brambles are huge which is why they’re called blackberries.  Down south, brambles are those sharp things that tear your stockings when you take short cuts home.

I made friends on the trains.  I say ‘trains’ because to get to Norfolk is not for the faint-hearted, not on public transport. Four trains to get down and four to get back and by the time it was over I was well-practised in minding the gap and in avoiding those delightful old darlings who hump their suitcases onto the platform and then stop dead to pull on gloves or to re-arrange their scarves, causing a massive pile up and not a little tutting.

Annie and Damien were (and probably still are) a delightful young couple on their way to a relative’s wedding plus a few family visits.  I knew Annie was going to be fun when she said, as she reached up to the luggage rack, and her flat, firm midriff was revealed, that her granny used to warn her that her kidneys would fall out.  I told her that’s exactly what I was going to say and we were firm mates for 3 hours from that first chuckle.  Of course I gave her the lowdown on island Wife and of course she said she would Google me.  Ten years ago that would have sounded insulting.  Now it’s something to be proud of, the fact that you are Google material at all.  I was sad when we said goodbye in Peterborough.

My next new friend was on the journey north, two fine young men (everyone’s young to me) en route for a presentation in Stirling.  At first, they sat opposite each other, squashing me and a very charismatic pastor against the window, until we established between us that they were going to have to keep whizzing the laptop round in order to complete their work, which would drive me and the charismatic pastor nuts long before Ely.  I swapped seats and then started chatting, which wasn’t all that kind or sensitive, as they had work to do, but they were gracious enough to indulge me as we swapped life histories, zip folder sized.  One of them South African John was most intrigued about the Island Wife bit and instructed his wife, via text or whatsapp or something, to Google me too and then to buy the book.  I hope their presentation went well.  I was rather sad to see them go too, even if it did allow me and the charismatic pastor to spread out a bit.

Growing older is not always fun.  My old ma is pretty tired of waking up every day to the same number of hours alone.  Most of her friends have sailed heavenwards already and those that haven’t might do any day, even if they do still drive and play scrabble like champions right up to the cocktail hour.  However mum still jokes with the postman, milkman, paper boy, delivery man, etc and they all adore her.  There she is, this silver fox, with a ready chuckle in her mouth and smart as you like when off to see a movie (only she calls them films of course).

What I love about the little train from Glasgow to Oban is that I know all the guards and trolley dollies.  I also find most endearing (and seek it) the station announcements that are always a station out.  As we pull into Crianlarich (where this train divides) the nice woman tells us we are now arriving at Gairlochhead, astounding anew the visitors who look around a lot and stare hard at the station sign just to be sure.  She, the nice woman, has been getting it wrong for months now and nobody official seems to mind or notice.  The trolley runs out of sandwiches in the summer, ever single summer, long before 2pm and those who lingered over a glass of French red regret it for miles.  Those of us in the know purchase our baguette or our meal deal in the station and some of the older ones (including me) get up early to make our own. What I don’t like about our little train is the state of the WC (I refuse to call it a toilet, having rebelled against the word somewhere in my teens as it sounded way too grownup and proper), although WC is pretty ridiculous if you think about it.  Water Closets date back to Victoria Regina and she’s long gone.  On trains down south some eager official sorts out the loo at regular intervals, but this is obviously deemed unimportant or ‘not my job’ on the west highland line.  On a friday evening, it is actually dangerous to need a pee beyond Taynuilt, going either way.

Going back to the growing older thing, I find I rather like it, even if I do have to remind myself when leaving this train, with all my belongings, not to stop as soon as my feet hit the platform.  People are getting heavier these days and a collision might land me in A& E – or them, but either way, it would, or could, be messy.  When someone hears my age, they always tell me how young I look, and I don’t want to hear that.  I know I am an OHAT woman (own hair and teeth) for now, but I am proud of all those years at the back of me and if everything is about looking young, then does this mean I am more seriously OTH (over the hill) than I already thought?  Is being older a bad thing?  I hear so many folk say they don’t want to grow old, but they are saying this through pert lips and still with the ability to run for cover, whereas many of us need to bring our own because the chances of finding it (cover) let alone being able to run for it, is way in our past.

In Sainsburys, that massive animal with every conceivable foodstuff couched in its belly, I bought, without specs, a seed mix.  When I sprinkled it on my morning muesli and poured on the half fat milk it turned brown.  On further investigation (specs on) I discovered the seeds had been roasted in soy sauce.  I laughed and laughed and ate it all.  This is the fun of growing older.  Let not this cup be taken from me as it has so many others, for I will cause mayhem for as long as I possibly can, whether I intend it, or not.