Island Blog 138 The X Factor

 

 

 

originalityTalking today with my whale-watching son, we discussed, as we cleared out his garage and carted dross to the local tip, music and originality.  He told me that there is nothing really original, as there is a finite number of notes on the keyboard and, therefore, a finite number of possible chords.  I felt my heart flutter at the very thought, me being a fully paid up member of the theory of Originality.  I say to him, if there really is no chance to be original, why do any of us get out of bed of a morning?

But that wasn’t quite what he meant.  He was talking complete sense and truth.  What happens beyond the understanding of that truth is a very different thing.  Park that for now.

Another subject we discussed over a delicious dinner at Cafe Fish (don’t ever miss out on that opportunity) was that of relationships, my very favourite subject.  I talk to myself about them all the time, but it is so uplifting to find a co-discusser who is also interested and who is also a man.  Might be a first!  He is 30 years younger than I but has an eye on this tricksy subject and a way of looking at it that I, sealed up in my own history and experience, might have missed.  We spoke of those that last and those that don’t and of why, although nobody outside of any relationship can ever, should ever, decide they know why or how one fails and another doesn’t.  It is pretty damn easy to play judge and, when we do, and we all do at some time, we might consider our own, and how clever we are at them.  Or not.

Now un-park that earlier thing.

What comes into play with a musician, a song-writer, a business owner, an artist, a wife, a husband, and I could go on forever with the list, is Originality.  The only thing we can ever bring to her table is our own originality, and, in doing so, we can change everything.  For example……..there is a clever, gifted, silversmith, young, newly graduated and about to hit the world.  No experience of anything to do with street wisdom beyond the decision not to go out alone at 4 am in a lycra bodysuit and 6 inch heels through a dodgy part of town. He, or she has this talent, this achievement, but has little or no idea how to walk it out in a way that will guarantee success and profit, long term.  It is all down to the self in this, the Originality and, most importantly, whether we honour that and use it, or not.  We all have it.  We don’t all use it.

Hmmmmmm.

If we listen only to the facts, that tell us there is a finite number of chords, of keys, of chord progressions, of dance moves, of colours mixed, of lives lived, then we might just keel over right now.  But we don’t do that.  We go on, believing, albeit very privately, that we just might have that something that changes everything.  But now we have another problem.  We watch television and movies and we set ourselves lower than we should as a result.  Every story is glamourised and idealised to the point of impossibleness.  How can we ever match up?  We don’t look like this star or that, with their perfect body parts, tans, choices, homes and luck.

To stick with something, in the inglorious (second meaning in the dictionnary) hours, when nobody is clapping or even watching, and to keep going…… now that is Originality. To work consistently, through the cold and the wet, to resist the naysayers who question our sanity and who come, like greeks bearing gifts, of trojan horses, of quick fixes, of a quicker route to the treasure chest, to make ourselves go on, following our own heart belief…..this is Originality.

To give up in the face of the inner voice that keeps asking……Who are you to think you can rise up to meet your dream? leads only one way.  Every single time.

Don’t listen, don’t watch, don’t falter.  Originality has chords and notes and moves and moments that build into something that, one day, people will revere.  Our job may be menial.  Our home may be simple.  Our life, ordinary.  But, wait a minute, this is all of us.  Those who appear to have it all are just like us.  We all have in our hands, whatever our situation, that chance to change everything. We just have to rack up and dust off and step up.We need to say Here I am, and not There I was.

Not one of us is perfectly formed, according to the world.

And yet, every one of us is exactly that.

Island Blog 132

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We never talk about shrimps up here.  In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard that word used anywhere in Scotland.  Up here, across the tempestuous border, we talk about prawns, and they are quite believably so.  Shrimps I remember from Norfolk days, and you needed 3000 of the little so-and-so’s for all of seven sandwiches.  I have been served up a plate of ‘prawns’ before now, and knew fine I was being ripped off, but not up here.  Folk can’t believe their good fortune when they order a prawn dish, savouring the fat pink bodies, dense and firm and tasting of a fresh wild ocean.

In Tapselteerie days, I would drive over the hill to meet the fisherboats coming in, bartering with the raw and ruddy-faced hard-working ‘boys’ for an overflowing crate of still-twitching jewels, the huge aga pans left to bring themselves to boiling point as I travelled.  The eyes of the guests grew wide with amazement as I laid down plates of them, pan fried with garlic and fresh herbs.  Then I would make bisque from the shells.  Nowadays, you can’t buy them on the quay, as I did, because they all go for export.  But there are a few choice restaurants who either make sure they have their own creel boat, or have found a way to do as I did, and connect with the fishermen. Some of these ‘boys’ are still fishing, some have stepped back to let their sons carry on the good work.  After all, shrimp or prawn, lobster, oyster or mussels are always a different experience when they are fresh and still full of personality.

Much like us.

So why am I talking about shrimps and prawns and the like?  It isn’t to lead on to the obvious Bigger is Better thing.  What I am talking about is choice and quality, yes, but more about paying attention to the strings that bind us.  Driving over the hill to find fresh shellfish meant I had to know and befriend the fisherman.  If he thought I was a stuck up little madam, he would have said nothing was available and I wouldn’t have blamed him for that.  I know that the lonely process of buying goods, any goods, via the interweb is easier, cheaper often, but it involves no human contact, or very little.  In fact, we seem to enjoy  as much ‘very little contact’ as possible these days, and, yet, it is only through a bonding process that anything in life really works.  Oh, I am not saying we don’t need, use and value the internet, but out of balance we can find ourselves clumsy and careless at times when we are with another person.  Out of practice.

When I go shopping for clothes (I hate shopping for clothes and am the very first to look online), I will avoid with great energy, huge shopping malls, caves of blue lighting, plastic walls and no air, or none already breathed in and out again.  Instead, I will choose the little shop with a ‘ping’ as I open the door and a welcome smile on the face of the assistant.  I don’t want ‘NEXT!’ yelled at me.  I have a name, and it isn’t that.  Although I absolutely do not like a pushy sales person, I do like the question ‘Can I help you with anything?’ and then, when I say I just want to browse, to be left to do just that.  If I buy something, I want her, or him behind the pretty counter, to be interested in me and my choice, as I will be in them.  I want to walk out feeling very chuffed with myself and with my purchase, and, more, the pleasant memory of our human encounter.

If I sound stuffy, I don’t mean to.  I blog, I Facebook, I text and tweet, but it isn’t all I do.

Recently I came to realise that my work is lonely work.  Writing, painting, loving my little home and being in and around it, walking with Poppy in the fairy woods, none of these get me in front of people. This is my choice.  I am, at heart, solitary and I need that space around me to feel creative and healthy, but, out of balance, I get fearful in crowds and resist meeting friends.  The good news is, that this is instantly fixable, once recognised.  Driving through Glen Coe, beneath the craggy snow-covered tops of the Three Sisters, I pulled over to call Lisa, my publisher.  We talked of mice and men, cabbages and kings, and, as I turned back onto the road, I felt a lift.  It wasn’t the content of our conversation that did that, but her voice in my ear, connecting me once again to the outside world and, in doing so, raising my confidence in me, making me feel important and interesting and changing my whole outlook so that I was, once more, fresh and full of personality.

Island Blog 107 A Change in Time

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Well here we are on a Friday again and it seems like yesterday is was last Friday.

I know that as we get older we find time passing more quickly, but even young and sprightly things tell me they find it’s the same for them.  We have endless encouragement through the wise sayings of Deep Thinkers to make the very most of every minute, and we all nod, because we believe in such a truth and then carry on rushing past precious moments and precious people.

As a young mother I would decline all offers of a ‘quick cup of tea’ because I always had to be somewhere ten minutes ago, and calmly so.  I left, rushed, arriving way too early in a bright pink fluster, having no doubt remonstrated with one, or a few, of my children at the top of my tension, parked badly and banged my knee as I cornered too fast.

Why did I do that?  And worse, why did I keep doing it?  To arrive anywhere with my chest calm, my heart softly beating, my blood moving steadily and freely was a very rare and tea-less occurrence.

I can still say no to a cuppa and leave wondering why.  If I have said yes, and sat my butt on a stranger’s chair, patted another person’s dog, looked around another’s room, I have come away, not necessarily with the best cup of tea ever slopping inside my belly, but with my heart and head completely changed.  It was the encounter that mattered and the pleasure I gave and received by just saying yes, and giving myself to another soul.

The conversation can be wild, can be funny, can be informative and is sometimes astonishing.  The things on the inside of us never see the light of day in a shopping queue.  It is only when we sit and share something as ordinary as a cup of tea, that a person opens their heart.

‘Life is short’ is one of those immensely irritating cliches that makes me want to scream.  The reason I want to, but don’t, of course, is that saying these well known throwaway words make absolutely no difference to either the person saying it, or the person hearing it, for all the smiling and nodding that goes on.  However, it is the truth.  Over one single day, I know of people fighting for their very lives, when last Friday they were full of healthy bounce.  When they recover, they will truly know that Life is Short and both will change their lives, and the one area that will enjoy their total focus will be that of relationships.

All those terribly worldy concerns will melt away into a dirty puddle.  Suddenly, and it is sudden, the choice of family over work is easy.  Suddenly, it no longer matters if there is an immovable stain on the carpet, or the cooker stops working.  It no longer matters that our mother/sister/neighbour/cousin said something or did something to let us down, either yesterday or when we were six.  The familial baggage we lug through our healthy years, we can lay down and walk beyond.  Just like that.

What matters is the happiness within the home, the smiles we can bring to the faces of our loved ones, by forgetting Things and putting Them first.  There will never again be a chance that we would say yes to the boss, and call to cancel dinner out.

Nothing travels beyond the coffin, but the spirit of a person.  All else becomes dust.

We, who are still bouncing this Friday and not fighting for a second chance at life.. we who can change everything right now……. might pause for thought.

Island Blog 102 – Memories

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They are funny things, memories, but not necessarily in a ha-ha way.  If anyone has ever asked a couple to describe their rememberings from any area or time of their shared life, you will have felt, as I have, that they definitely weren’t there together.

When my own mum recounts something from my childhood, she tells it in a way that assures me I was in another family at the time.  I used to think she was right and that I was wrong – ever the swing from either to or – and that this ‘wrong’ in me was because I……..what?  Wanted it to be different?  possibly.  Refused to acknowledge the truth?  possibly.  Had blanked out reality in favour of fairyland?  possibly.

Nowadays I see it differently because I understand that she saw me through her own eyes, as a child inside her life and that wasn’t how I saw it at all.  I looked with my own eyes, filtered each experience through my own emotions, needs, hopes and dreams, which were never hers.  She has ideas for me that I didn’t like or understand or even want.  So, the battle begins early in a life, the battle for a good hold on reality.

And who is to say what Reality is?

Even in a marriage, where two supposed adults, really still children themselves, encounter days and times and moments together, the looking will differ to varying degrees.  Where one sees rain, the other sees the light inside a raindrop.  One feels he cold, the other doesn’t, so was that house a cold, uncomfortable one or was it a wonderful home, or was it both at the same time?  And, in the spinning out of the tale of of it, who will name it?

Then, there are the ears that hear that tale.  Are they on one side or on the other according to who or what they personally relate to?  If I am angry about something or someone, I will, however ‘good hearted’ I may be, paint them in certain colours, and colours stick, words stick, take root and grow.

It isn’t as simple as the glass half-full, half-empty cliche.  Cliches are always too simple, sounding like goodly truths but lacking substance, texture, depth and context.  They may help to elevate our thoughts and this is helpful indeed, but no living soul is ever one type of person or another.  To get from black to white and back again, we must allow and embrace a thousand shades of grey, and it is inside those greys we mostly live out our days.

So, now, as an old woman (I love being an old woman, choosing, as I do, the picture of old age as a cumulation of experience and wisdom and of letting go) I can hear a story re-spoken and learn, from it’s presentation, more about the person speaking it out than I ever do about the ‘facts’.  I even hear my own voice doing the telling and notice where I put the emphasis, what colours I choose, what body language I employ, what tone.  And it often smiles me a lot.

On days when I only see the rain, there is a moan and a whine in any telling out.  The simple question How are You? can see me grabbing someone’s hand and leading them into a miserable dark wet cavern littered with the old bones of all the women I hoped to become and allowed to die without a voice.  On days when I am energetic enough to slip between the raindrops, pausing to catch the warmth of their reflected light, I can swirl us both into the sky along with the fairies and the angels and actually feel critical of their need to tell me about the bunions on their big toes.

Same circumstances.  Exactly the same circumstances.  The days are the same, the tasks the same, the view the same, and yet everything is different.

So, although we are all within the parameters of this day Friday September 20th, and even if we spend a part of it together, we will tell very stories about it’s 24 hour span.

Which of us is ‘right’ I wonder?

Island Blog 85 – Coming Home

2013-07-25 09.56.40When I go anywhere I take me with me.  Now I know that sounds, at best, numptyish, at worst psychotic, but I don’t mean it physically.  It is obvious on a human level that I am pretty much stuck with me till death do us part.  But the natural desire to escape my inner self, that part I cannot see, can sometimes overwhelm.

No-one admits to it of course.  Well, it is possible to keep this tricky creature well and truly hidden, and for a whole lifetime if I so choose, which I do not.  As I ‘open my heart’ to someone, I let them glimpse into my very soul.  Sometimes it really helps.  Sometimes I regret it.  I can feel trampled.

As I skitter about the country on this new adventure, I can feel as light as a bird, catching a ride on the thermals, soaring through the clouds and into wide new skies, or I can feel like a desert tumbleweed with sand in my eyes till I’m blind.

What I have worked out is that it has less to do with whatever I meet on my journeys and everything to do with how I feel about me.  Not in a ‘will I be good enough for them? sort of way, but more…’will I be good enough for me?

For it is always me who judges me, and my judge has a knife for a tongue.  When I meet new people, they don’t hear my judge.  In fact, if I was to tell them what she thinks of me, they would laugh out loud.

Now, if I, with all my confident energy, who can write, paint, sing and dance my life…..if I am still trying to co-ordinate the inside with the outside of me, in my final trimester, what on earth is it like for the rest of the world? And why is it we have this constant search for peace?

Well, I think it is what life is all about.  I don’t think anyone has it sussed, lives a perfect life.  I don’t believe in material wealth as the answer, nor academic brilliance.  Most of us don’t remember those who made no impression on our lives, and remember clearly those who, through struggle, did something different, made something happen.  These people, the ones we do remember had the same judge we all have.  Some people call it the devil.  Some people think it’s what they eat, or where they live, or who they live with, but I think we are all born with it all fankled up in our DNA and it’s quite impossible to hide from.

The good part of it tells us to be careful, to watch our step, to consider our actions.  In balance this is all good.  Out of balance, it becomes growing self-doubt, and, if we keep feeding it, it takes over our inner garden, rising high as weeds that eventually block out our sun.

What a waste.

Well….. I have said, What a waste to myself a million times and still crouched there behind the weeds, peering out at a passing crowd of confident others and snivelling into my pocket handkerchief.

Travelling through new lands I get time to think things through.  I never thought anything through for decades as there was never more than five minutes available for such indulgence.  But now, I can, and I do and its very exciting and encouraging, because I realise this.

It is never ever too late to begin again and I begin with one conscious decision.

To get on with it.

To thank the judge for her protective presence, but to take charge of her.  To listen, but to respond with confidence.  When she tuts and shakes her head and says in that ‘I know what’s best for you dear’ voice…..’You can’t do that.  You never did it before and got it right.  Just give up the idea and stay where you are…….’ I will stop, turn to her and say………

Just watch me!

And then I will spin on my sassy heel and step into my life.

Island Blog 78 – Reality Check

crazy

I have sailed the seas in a ship made of diamonds

pearl coloured sails and the moonlight to guide

I have swum in the depths and played in the shallows

felt the child in my womb jump for joy in the night

but wherever I go, that’s where I’ll find me

there’s no running away.

For I always need to come home again

even if voices may beg me to stay.

When I write a song, I just let the words flow.  Nonsense a lot of the time, but this doesn’t bother me.  Nonsense never did.  What bothers me is what the world calls reality.

If I set off into reality, to scrub a bathroom, say, or plunder the veg counter in the local shop, I can call it whatever I want.  If it’s me, which I usually am, I will find faces among the brassicas and patterns in the legume basket.  Bananas are definitely grammar (( as are the full stops of blueberries, although the mushy ones could be commas.  In the bathroom, I can set up quite a rhythm with the loo brush around the bowl, and a serious counterpoint if I add the squirts of cleaner at just the right moment.  Over at the basin, there is a splendid piece of art going on with shaving foam droplets and toothpaste in a lovely concave composition, one I almost don’t want to wipe away.

Downstairs, the new washing machine having finally laid down moorings (I found the spirit level), hums and sloshes and the washing powder tin on the shiny white top, thrums a little to itself.  In the kitchen, I can whizz, chop, stir fry or simmer.  The fridge, faulty, bless it, but still going, hums and burps and emits sudden gurgles, much like a happy baby.  When the man of the house makes a sandwich, the floor takes on a wonderful speckle, that looks as if we had an early flurry of snow, and when the little dog laps her water, the spilled drops reflect the sunlight and sparkle like jewels.

On the line, the breeze pulls and pushes at the washing, slowly, at first and faster as the water moisture lifts back into the sky, whence it came, via the tank in the loft, of course.

I have flown as high as the geese and then higher,

burst like a seed through the hymen of space

I have watched a star explode into millions

new lights for the darkness, in patterns of lace

But wherever I go, that’s where I’ll find me

there’s no running away

for I always need to come home again

even though voices may beg me to stay.

lucky that.

Island Blog 51 – Stirred Not Shaken

Blog 51

 

When I am home again on the island, after a time away, I spend the first day remembering.

I remember a sudden smile on an old familiar face whilst sorting through the washing to be washed.  I hear again a comment, made days back and long forgotten by the one who made it and whose mouth has filled with many words since.  For that person, it is gone forever, but not for me, who heard it and held it and find it still inside my head, and sometimes my heart.  Lisa from Two Roads, for example, who spoke out before all those who came to the second book launch of Island Wife in Norwich, the home of my formative years, although, to be honest, I would question the formative bit.  It’s not like I stopped forming once I left, frozen in time as ‘her’ because ‘her’ has changed a whole lot since then.  For beginners, ‘her’ no longer wears shiny hotpants, nor does she feel like a bit part in someone else’s play.

Back, as they tell me ALL the time…..to the subject……..

Lisa stood up and said things about me as a person that made me feel like I was really something.  She talked about the book, about Island Wife and how it came into her hands and how Hodder multiplied it thousands of times over, flying out into the world on its own wings.  Karen, Queen of Publicity, came too and spoke of new avenues, new ideas, new hopes and plans for my story as we shared a cream tea in a smart town hotel.  Actually, I didn’t share mine, but that is so not the point.

Old friends I haven’t seen for 3 decades bought first editions and invited us for coffee, tea, supper and lunch, taking us on journeys through little Norfolk lanes lined with old red brick cottages and a lot of history, and the sun shone the whole time.

At the launch, someone tapped me on the shoulder.

I’m June, she said, and I knew her face at once, although on another’s shoulders, for she is the youngest daughter of the Old Horseman in my book.  We talked a little, whilst we could, and she went away with her signed book.  I had tried to find the descendants of those who gave of their best to us on the farm, and her unexpected visit (I hadn’t managed to find her) lifted my heart the highest.

The other lifting thing was that I realised among old friends, that, although we are all older, I am still the daft eejit.  Some long to be daft eejits, and some are jolly glad they aren’t, but, for me, it says just the right thing about me.  However tough life is, whatever comes our way, tries to break our spirits, confound us, shake our confidence, we always have our inner spirit, and it is our own.  My confidence shaker may be different to yours, but I still experience the shake.

May as well make it one with ice cream, fresh strawberries, mango juice and champagne.

 

With Two Straws.