Island Blog – Friend, Ships and Wide Open

If I was to ask you – how many true friends do you have – might you have pause for thought? Let me help you out with a definition or two…..

A true friend is always wide open. They may not be able, at the very moment of your ‘massive drama’, to speak with you on the phone, or rush over to your place. Perhaps her granny has just fallen into the wheelie bin whilst searching for her missing dentures; perhaps the kids have buried the dog in the sandpit and all she can see is a wiggling mound; or, maybe, she has just burnt the strangled eggs, is late for work, can’t find the kids, the granny or the dog and her partner has gone off with both sets of house keys. But, rest assured, this true friend will be thinking of you all the way through her own massive drama and will make contact the very first moment he or she can. Then when he/she hears of your pain, she will not compare it to hers. She might not even mention it. She will listen, respond without fixing, suggest nothing unless you ask for such, just leaning into your flow of pain, putting her hand in yours and saying – Let’s sail together on this.

This probably narrows the list down somewhat. On reflection, you might think, I wouldn’t go to this person, or that with my massive drama because it will pass and if I tell him/her I will need to follow up once the missing members of my family are re-located, returned to the upright and able, once again, to breathe. Or, perhaps this person might think you weak, or fix you with some cutthroat bright solution which will confirm she knows you’re weak. How long has she thought that about you? It gets worse, this line of thinking. It heads one way only, into the pit of all that you feared, have always feared. And now it’s the truth. You are a lame duck, a pathetic wimp of a woman and nobody likes you anyway. You can see the neon flashing sign above your head. It reads, Loser. So don’t add this one to your dwindling list. Nobody is that desperate.

This true friend might not be the first person who comes to mind. After all, not one of us is immune to self-protection. Most of us keep our true selves very private, considering what we will reveal and how we will reveal it on a moment to moment basis. There are things I have told no-one, not never, and I am sure you are not so different. But when you look at your list, pondering each name and reflecting on past history, shared moments both good and uncomfortable, you will eventually get that list down to about 2, if you are very lucky. And this, my friends, is absolutely normal. We may have hundreds of acquaintances, but the true friend, the one who just sails along with you, keeping a respectful distance when required, one who watches you fly the crests of monster waves as a purple storm approaches, or who keeps her eyes on you as you head towards jag-toothed rocks in some crazy game of Chicken, and who prays for your safe return, well, she’s the truth.

In a perfect world, this would describe a mother or a father, or both. Parents who do not load their own expectations of supreme success onto the soft-boned backs of their young, who do not reward according to achievements; who welcome you home late, under-age drunk, in suggestive clothing or with a biker boyfriend twice your age and with no space left for another tattoo; A loving mum and dad who, when you fail your exams for the third time, or when you tell them you cannot spend another day in this college, university or relationship, no matter how much of a messy split, will welcome you into loving arms and who will stand beside your decisions for all time.

I hope I have been that mum. I suspect we all do, we mums. To be a true friend and a parent is not simple, however. We want for our kids what we didn’t have for ourselves. We know, as they don’t, how tough the world is on colour, creed, race, sexuality, relational splits, career women, traditions, freedom of speech, independency. The labels live on. In fact, they are thriving. Nobody escapes the criticism, the labels, the judgement. But a true friend, one who sails beside you, who sees who you really are will make all the difference in the world. Even if this friend lives miles away she knows you without needing to own you; you don’t have to start from the beginning with her, not ever. She knows that you will fill in gaps if you want to and not if you don’t. She may well challenge you, you can be sure of that. But inside that challenge there is only heart, only love. You can tell her to truck off, as she can tell you to do the same, but she is authentic. You are authentic. Your true friendship is authentic.

Ok, so now we might be down to one. Still lucky.

Island Blog – What if…..

Take a whole day in your hands and look at it. Inside there is disparity. There are lifts and shifts, downs and frowns, light and gloom, noise and silence, thought and unthought, time and no time. Colours swing from rainbow to mud and back to rainbow. Words spin like hornets or flit butterfly bright, soft edged, fragile, all around you. Views are wide or through a lens darkly, moods yoyo, news is good, news is bad. It is a day and we all have them, inhabit them, cannot avoid them, if we are the fortunate ones. What we might need to be reminded of is our part within each day. We, just for the record, are the lead. We are the main character, the one who can lift an audience to hurrahs and shouts for more, or who can send them all home at half time. The way we engage on stage is critical to what happens next, the hornets or the butterflies, the rainbows or the mud and the impact we have on our audience will affect them more than we can ever imagine.

If you inspire me I will leave all inspired, not to be a part in your play but to play the lead in my own. I will be planning rainbows and butterflies all the way home in the rain with the wrong shoes on. It won’t matter because you have inspired me, elevated me to my higher self, the one who doesn’t blame or shame, moan or grumble, lean back into the fat and greedy arms of inevitability and hopelessness. Whatever I may think of my lack of talent requires a re-think. We all have talent, we all have gifts, even if we were never encouraged to develop them as children, even then. I must look long and hard at myself to find this little seedling of talent and cosset it until even I believe it’s really there, inside little un-influential me. And I mustn’t stop there. I must work, daily, on that self-trust and belief. Nobody else is going to do this for me, only me, in the quiet of my heart, in the silence of my mind, in an ordinary day, the one I hold right now in my hands.

Many settle for less when unless would elevate, would fly them. What if I fail? Ah…..but what if you fly? Many complain and grumble about the state of the world this very day, how hopeless it all seems, how poorly managed, how clearly they can see disaster looming for us all. And do nothing about it. Who am I to change the world? Who are you not to? This day will never come again. This day, regardless of the state of the world, is a huge opportunity for change. It could be a change inside the home, a change of habit, a decision to begin something. It could be the rearrangement of furniture, a garden re think, a kindness offered, a new book ordered, it could be anything. But to moan and rant about the out there is to lose this day in pointlessness. Turn in, my friends, Look long and hard at this new morning and decide something, anything. Let a new wild begin. What if, what if, what if I could do something to effect change?

What if, indeed.

Island Blog – Natural Colour

I am seeing people, the ones who walk by, changing colour. I ‘m not saying I see auras, because I don’t, but the colours they send my way from 6 feet away remarkable me at times. I knew them as one colour, or one set of colours, and, now, they have changed. The look in their eyes has changed. No surprise there. One month of lockdown is manageable; we know we can do it. We can do dry January, after all, or Lent which is even longer, and we can see the end. Not now. We have no idea when the end will come and it is beginning to bother us. Maybe not our innate tigger mentality, but deep inside, we are changing colour. We look out, feeding like greedy, on the the new life, the migrant birds returned, the lush of wild violets, the unusual spread of primroses, anemones, wood sorrel, trip tides, new moons, that twisting eyelift chance of an otter in the saltscape. But we can tire of life, if we are not in renewal. Long term, anything dodgy can become a prison warden, bad relationship, wrong home address, a lockdown. I watch faces as they pass. They look at me, and I at them and we see different. And, you know what……this is good. The chasms in between mountain ridges make us pause for thought, and think we must.

Early on, in this lockdown thingy, we brought out all our colours because that is who we are, and who we will always will be. We saw and loved the alpine frocks of pink and blue, clutched in the fists of a crevice and holding on to life by a skinny holdfast, and we smiled. We saw the insect life, the colours of beetles, the jewelled flit of butterflies and other beautiful things without names; we watched sky born spectaculars cut the sky in two on their way to somewhere else and we snatched their colours for our own heart palette. We thought we could use them, and we did for a while, but now is the tough time, the time of pall and frustration, and all of us feel it to some degree. This is the long haul, like mid term for schoolers, except they know the end date, whereas we do not. Now, it is, that we must go back to those colours and remember them, notice how they have changed, as we have all changed. As the whole separation from loved ones takes root we plant new seedlings in our gardens. We decide to hear, anew, the rise of a wren song from a random fence, watch the flounce of goldfinch in fight, see the slowflow of a gannet draw a wavy line across our looking, because we must continue to find the beauty in everything around us.

Before she whipped our ordinary lives out from under our feet Mother Nature sent all these glories, free of charge, to every one of us. Perhaps we see, now, how much we took for granted, for it has been a long time, and as Mother Nature knows only too well, we are impatient. Not yet, she reminds us, not yet. Stay well and just breathe. In breath there is a rainbow. Let us consider this. It may be a long time before we can walk out again, never mind fly, never mind colour up, but Nature is working with us, not against us. She is Mother, She is Earth and she knows more than we do. We are down here, small, fretting, bothered about chasms, but she is not. We can trust her. And, if our colours change as a result of this new way of living, then that just may be in her long term plan, and we are wise to thank her for opening our eyes to our precious earth.

Island Blog – A Crescendo of Growth

I can see it coming. The new shoots pushing through cold ground, like babies being born. One minute, safe, warm and dark, and suddenly thrust into the light, sharp, blinding. Flipped by the wind (or the midwife), smacked by the rain (ditto) and cold, so cold. It is understandable, the heartfelt desire to return to B4, but that option has been taken away for ever. Moving onto A1 is what Mother Nature insists we do, all growing things. If she is always moving on, then so must we. Instinct drives, timing is life or death. We must comply.

This, sadly, also goes for bodily hair. I think we women will all look like scarecrows with moustaches and caterpillar eyebrows by the end of this enforced lockdown. Unless we have a family member who can offer us smooth passage and who happens to own salon scissors. Ah…….there may not be many of those who inhabit such fortunacity. My word. But sticking to the subject, I wonder how we will grow through this time. The people I have talked to on Skype, messenger, WhatsApp and the Alexander Bell are all thinking we will grow better. I am with them on that. I know folk who have faced down death and returned to live a stronger, more focussed, more sensitive life, letting more unimportant stuff go and ferreting around for the things that really matter, but felt like ordinary and uninteresting. Before this. In a way we are all facing down death right now and it will teach us many things.

As I come down the stairs to see the moon face to face instead of letting her think that her sneak through the cracks in my curtains will ever be enough, I am thankful for the stairs holding up. There was a time when holding up caught a fever and wobbled a lot, requiring skilled assistance to de-wobble. I am thankful for my washing machine, car, ability to scrub the inside of those flaming mugs that will not let go of tea tannin, go for walks with my frocks always at odds with the capricious snatches of the west coast wind. I watch primroses push out more colour, a siskin or a goldfinch on the nicer seed feeder, the way my dwarf willow dances flamenco on the hilly back garden. I am thankful for the postmistress #suchacrazytitle delivering mail in her disposable gloves, smiling and joking with me through the window as I stand on the laundry basket from Nincompoo Laundry, Calcutta. I’m thankful for that too.

My finger nails have never been this clean. Neither has my husband. What I am learning in this time is what really matters, such as looking after him myself. I am cooking good food once more having absented myself from any meaningful connection with pots, pans, process and palavers. For what seems a long time I have served him one of his ready meals (good quality) from the microwave and then boiled myself pasta, added pesto and salad. One of my granddaughters was horrified, not about her grandfather’s ready meal thingy, but my pasta on repeat thingy. Granny… she admonished. This is not like you! But it was like me, back then. Now I am purposed up, my extra busy imagination coming up with all sorts of marvellousness just as I did when cooking for five hungry kids plus hangers on. There were always plenty of those, and nobody on this island ever sends anyone home without something in their bellies. It just isn’t done.

Now I am about to start finding out how to make face masks. This should be interesting. I wonder if I will be able to stick with the J Cloth plus ribbons rule? What…..no macrame flowers or beads and bobbles? Abso- flipping-lutely NOT. Rats. I am also knitting dog blankets for our dog. She is currently the lucky owner of 3 colourful/wool and easy wash blended reaches of bonkers colour. The easy wash part washes, well, easy. The wool part is obviously sulking and retreating into itself, so that a part of the blanket looks more like a ploughed field, but Poppy doesn’t seem bothered all that much. She just turns a few circles and flops down on the easy wash, resting her delightful black nose on the ploughed field, so she can see out all the better.

I am daily delighted by all the entrepreneurial posts on social media. People are doing things they probably always wanted to do, but didn’t consider their work to be of notable value. Now it definitely is and this is what the human race is all about. I remember, as you will, the oldies saying that what the world needs is a jolly good war. Although there is nothing jolly about any sort of war, they had a point, one that now makes sense to me. What they meant is that, during wartime, a family, a community, a village, a city, a country, the world has to pull together, as we are all now doing. How does it feel to you? I think it is marvellous partisan excellent quiddity. In fact, I am quite astir just thinking about how wonderful folk are. We are learning to care outside of our boxes and demonstrating that care in ways that fulfil and nourish the givers as much as it does the receivers. In short, we are finding a new currency.

Hats off to all of you doing whatever you are doing for others. I am just waiting for that balmy summer evening inside a city when all those musicians, isolated in their own homes, communicate with each other, fix on a song or a piece of music and open their windows to delight a whole street, to lift, just for a short while, the anxiety and the fear, turning them into birds and butterflies and telling us all that together, we will grow through this.

Island Blog – Turn a Feather

People are living. The lucky ones. Watching from the ridge, balancing afoot the cat sharp rocks, teetering, our heads in the sky, bodies somewhere in between, and, in our breath, a question. Will I, will we come out of this alive or not?

We are one, now, we people of the world. We have un-countried ourselves as we face down a terrifyingly powerful enemy. And the heroes keep rising like the sea-eagle I just watched playing with gravity as it slid through the wide blue sky, master of it. We are showing out true colours and making rainbows for each other. It is good.

When the day avoids me I remind myself of this. However isolation goes for those of us isolated, there are people who find that fear defines them. Otherwise strong and confident, this invisible monster lurking in every action, every move, confounds them. It is not good, but it is understandable. It is one thing to face down a big swashbuckling opponent who stands square and loud and inches away, and quite another to face down a ghost. Much is at stake and most of the much is me. And you.

We cannot enjoy a commensal meal, perhaps for months and certainly not on Mother’s Day, not if the mother in question is a bit past her sell by date. We older mums must stay doggo, take up our handiwork and make gallons of nourishing soup for the freezer, in preparation for whatever is to come. Our mums and grannies did it for years during the wars, but they didn’t have to isolate and this is the hard part.

So we must look up and out. We must listen to the sounds of Spring wherever and whenever we can. We can write letters, send emails, make calls to bring cheer to someone else. There may be a hole in the universe right now, a big black one into which many of us are falling and will fall yet, but above us is a huge sky full of weather and birds, painted with daylight and the soft black velvet of night. Those of us who can muster belief must spread that belief to those who are cast adrift from the joy of Life. We must scatter laughter like wildflower seeds, seeds that will sprout under the warming sun, no matter what comes.

This morning a sparrow hawk took one of my visiting doves. I didn’t see it but I saw the resulting scatteration of feathers around the bird table or caught in the branches of a potentilla hedge. It looked awful and I was so sad. I watched the other dove wander endlessly around the garden in search of its mate and felt even sadder. Destruction standing alone, I thought, freezing the moment, and my heart. However, as I watched, a sparrow fluttered down to grab a feather, soft as down. Other small birds followed suit until nothing was left. They had taken the destruction and turned it into hope, a soft lining for a nestful of new life.

If Nature can turn things around so beautifully, then so can we.

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.

Island Blog 87 Dancing on the Edge

dancer

Today I am dancing.

Yesterday my almost new microwave stopped waving back and I was momentarily arrested in my dance moves.  Things should work, I said to myself, however cheap they might be, and this little machine was cheap.  But, if something is created, and packaged and marketed, it should make no difference at all how much or how little it costs me.  You get what you pay for was a comment from someone and I thought about that a bit, and then found my retort.

Piffle.

If I, in good faith, agree to a contract, which is what I do when I purchase a thing from another person or company or whatever…. inside that contract, written or not written is a promise.  If I find a bargain, for want of a better word and buy it, am I risking disaster because it IS a bargain?  I don’t think so.

Anyway, I contacted the seller who was extremely apologetic and who has already organised a replacement.  So, they didn’t expect it to fail, this little, cheap microwave, now did they?  And nor did I.

Moving on from things, to people………

In every area of my life, I make contracts with other people.  It may be that I agreed to sell raffle tickets for the local agricultural show, or that I said I would pop in this week.  I might have a pheasant called Robin who expects me to throw him grain of a morning, or a cousin who needs to hear my voice as she faces illness and fear.  I can’t be everywhere at once, but I can be somewhere and I can organise myself quite easily to complete my contracts if I take my eyes off myself and point them out into the world.

I have said, in the past, I don’t have time.  Now I wouldn’t allow those words out of my mouth, because it is nonsense.  We all have the same 24 hours in a day.  What I am really saying there is that I am too self-absorbed to take stock and reorganise myself.

When I was young, I danced every Saturday at a local dance school.  Ballet, Modern, Character, Ballroom.  I gained certificates, although heaven knows where they are now.  It doesn’t matter.  I know they once existed and that, apart from the bits I didn’t like, I loved to dance.  As I moved through my life, my footwork got a bit rusty, but what I realised is that I can still dance in other ways.  I can dance through a Saturday changeover, or when baking a cake, or when talking to a seller about a faulty microwave.  Instead of dragging myself along, I can rise on my mental toes and hear the drumbeat of my heart as I move through the ordinary.  Once I begin, my own voice lightens up, my laugh begins to rise and sparkle, and my eyes see only good things.  And, as we all know, Good is always brighter and stronger than Bad.

Once I have practised this a bit, feeling, possibly, a tad foolish at first, I will find it more and more natural, until one day I find myself dancing on the edge of ordinariness with a wild music playing in my heart.  Still feeding Robin the pheasant, still baking cakes, still making a call, or selling raffle tickets, but there is a difference and it is nothing to do with circumstances, and everything to do with the dance in me.

Years ago I had a dream that I would walk by a Waterstone’s window and see my book presented there.  I hadn’t written a single word, nor chosen a story.  Today that dream is in my hands.  Today is the launch of the paperback of Island Wife, my story which will now be sold in big shops and small shops, ferries and visitor centres, both here and abroad, and you know the best thing about all of it?

That through reading my story, someone else may catch a glimpse of themself, and be inspired to put on their own dancing shoes.