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 – A Secret Garden of Change

When change or improvement of standards are required, they nudge me, bump me, sprawl me until I turn to acknowledge their existence. I don’t really want to make friends with any of them to be honest because change, or improvement of an existing way of doing things, requires effort and action and the only person who can effect said change or improvement is little old me. Me, who, btw was quite happy not changing for ages, dammit. But these infuriating bumpers, nudgers and sprawlers will not give up. They know, smartarses that they are, that they know a better or, worse, a new way to do an old thing. However, I have to admit that on consideration I can see their point. There is always a better way to do anything, everything, always. Pretending I am not interested just sharpens their wits so that they bounce and trounce me from around corners that were just corners before – nothing lying in wait for me. It’s like hide and seek except they are the only ones hiding and seeking. Okay, okay, I say from where I have landed all ungainly and definitely cornered, okay. I’ll do it.

Now the work begins. I must deconstruct the doing bit of this thing, embark on a new spreadsheet #myanathema, write a list of do’s and absolutely do nots and this is the hardest bit. Absolutely do nots are so well established in my neural pathways that it is going to take the wiles and the wisdom of Captain Cooke to navigate new passage and I’m already yawning. However, I do know what comes next for I remember this embarkation process of old. Change is a procedure and can drag on for months. What it does not do is arrive for one sleepover with an instant solution in its pyjama pocket. I don’t get handed a miracle, complete, accomplished. Oh no indeed. What I need to do now is to relocate the secret garden, find the key and walk myself inside. Once within those walls that hide me from the world, I must open my mind, be still, reflect, consider and above all, not come out again until I know what I need to do next.

In order to effect change, to add gravitas to a new way of seeing and doing an old thing, or even to not do that old thing anymore, there is an uncomfortable period of self restraint. In small matters such as biting someone’s head off every time they slap their lips together whilst eating toast, or turning into Miss Trunchbull at every spill of milk, or a big matter like eating a whole cake for lunch every day, thus putting on 3 stone in a week, there must be a time when self control, diversionary tactics and a plastic smile must be applied appropriately. Whatever it is, we all know what we need to do but not always how to do it. The steps towards refinement of a person are so personal that there is no official manual to follow. And some of don’t fancy refining anyway, which is perfectly okay by me. I am not one of those people. I most definitely fancy refining but it still irritates the bejabers out of me. Just when I think I could not do this thing any better, those nudgers, bumpers and sprawlers who, obviously, don’t have enough takers for their grand designs, arrive to trip me up and, with my eyes rolling back in my head, I am eventually given no option but to turn around and acknowledge them. Again.

When I have finally conceded defeat and am still and reflective inside the secret garden I always wonder why I resisted to the degree that I did. Surely everyone loves to be better, kinder, more sensitive, compassionate, interested – curious to find out how they will feel as the process of effecting change reveals that which was hidden before. It’s like an Alice adventure. Wandering through the fruit trees, noticing the delicacy of petals, their vibrant colour, hearing the birdsong, the bee song, the rustle of soft breezes combing the leaves on the tallest tree, looking up at the wide, clear sky, all this stops me, halts my breath, slows my mind. And it is healing me too. From here I can see the old thing, the old way, as definitely passed its sell-by date. Why did I not see that out there? Well, I’ll tell you why. Out there, running like a hare on fire, doing things out of habit, routine or because my mother always did it that way, leaves no room for my imagination to rise above zero. I might think everything is tickety boo but that is my illusion, my delusion. Inside the secret garden of change I can see that now. I can breathe at my own speed, hear my breath, feel my heartbeat. I notice, that’s what I do, in here, waiting, reflecting, accepting. Out there I could run into a herd of elephants and not see them until we collide.

Everyone has a secret garden and everyone has a key. That’s the wonder of this human life.

Island Blog – Steer Your Heart

As we move into Easter, the weirdest yet, without family around the table, perhaps even without eggs, we are having to be inventive. I think that is one of my favourite words, perhaps because I have been re-inventing myself all my life. I like this, no I don’t, I like her/him, no I don’t, I want to be an air hostess/intrepid explorer/dancer/aid worker………no, maybe not. Perhaps we are all like that as new fizz comes into our mental veins on hearing of someone else doing any of the above, until the morning comes and with it an abundance of realism, dammit. I often think morning has a lot to answer for. By the afternoon, anything is possible, I am possible, what I long to do is possible and I can go to bed with the absolute certainty that I will awaken to a dawn never known previously, one that affirms my breakout plans. It hasn’t happened yet.

Today is Good Friday, or Easter Friday if you don’t buy into the Good bit. Either way, it is a time we look forward to, as we do Christmas and Birthdays. Our own, anyway. But this year we can look until our eyeballs fall out but we won’t see what we want, what we have always known. First time ever for my generation and below. The Aboves knew it of course. War was woven into their memories, as this one will be for us. Everything this Easter must be done remotely, or from a distance. And it matters. Regardless of how inventive (there I go again) any of us are, it still hurts. There’s a slump in it as if life is lying doggo and we have no idea how or when it will wake up again with a Ta-da! We are moving along, going through the days, hope alternating with despair, bright and beamish one minute and sad as Eeeyore the next. It’s normal, its acceptable, more, it’s human. We long, we love, we care and without touch it feels like homesickness. Nostomania. Our instant leap to logic creates a pedagogue. This teacher is one of those I longed to flick cold chewing gum at, without being caught. Telling ourselves we must only think of the positive can send us captious. We might criticise others for walking twice a day, or those who shop every day and we know they do because they live upwind of us and the shop is downwind. We must take care we don’t let that thinking be our guide. Each one of us is required to make our own choices, our own decisions at this time. I remember, weeks ago, people saying to me….We will wait for the official decision on this, or that, whilst I had decided to release the carers and lockdown. Waiting never suited me.

So, I say, people, steer your own heart. It will guide you right, always. I notice some visitors have come to the island. I have a few opinions on that, not least because they may extend this time of lockdown just by travelling here. However, I won’t let myself become the judge. Instead, I will continue to make my own decisions, listening to my own heart, my best friend. As, I am sure, will you. There is no room for dithering these days, nor waiting for the official ruling, nor, even, asking someone else their opinion. After all, we all know at our deepest level, what we need to do to survive and to make sure our loved ones do too.

Happy Easter my friends. I wish you serendipities by the score. No matter what is to come, we may be broken, but we are not beaten. We are strong, intelligent, wise, loving, emotional, caring humans. I salute you all.

Island Blog – Valentine

There is a valentine in all of us, even the most cynical cynic, even there. Not one living soul on this planet would say that a show of love doesn’t touch a heart. It always matters. It can come with flowers, a card, or a romantic getaway date. It can come inside a hospital ward with a hand held tight. It is there in the eyes of the forgiver and the forgiven. It lifts like sunshine into an ice wind, melting, softening, kinding. It says I see you, and you matter to me. A glance can send love, a smile, a pause to talk. We remember such times and they warm us with a memoric hug as we step back into old shoes and new rain. Love is love and we all need to see it and feel it.

As life batters us, drawing the skin across our bones and flabbing our bellies, the roses, the card and the romantic getaway may lie in our past. But love doesn’t. Thankfully we can show love anytime we so choose. Although in our emotionally strangled country we make a BIG POINT about the difference between love and like, there is no difference at all. A kindly word to a harassed ticket collector on the commuter train is showing love; a knock on our frail old neighbour’s door to ask if she needs anything from the shop is showing love. A jump to arms if someone is in trouble – that’s showing love too. Giving time to someone when we think our 24 hours are already solidly booked – that’s love. There are as many ways to love as there are people on the planet and the source is an everlasting spring, one that no drought can turn to dust.

St Valentine served the needy and the sick. I doubt that was always fun. In the end he was martyred for it and that thinks me. Showing unconditional love bothers folk. He must be up to something. Nobody can give love all of the time. Oh, really? Giving love is not being perfect. We can still snap and crackle, shout and lose the plot; we can still regret, deny and blame; in other words, we can still be who we are, but feel differently about ourselves. Giving love to everyone we know and randomly meet does not mean great displays of affection that might lead to arrest. It doesn’t mean that someone who never hugged has to learn how to. There are many other ways. Kindness, compassion, time given, a helping hand, a smile, a compliment, an acknowledgement that this other person matters, even if I never see him or her again. And the way I feel after giving such a gift……what is that sunshine warmth inside me? Well, it’s love. When I break out of my selfish little life to show another that I see them, that they are important, no matter who and no matter where, I am changed inside.

And I can break out right now.

Island Blog – Wildsong

We have a January Hooligan blowing around us today. The gusts are enough to throw a girl against things, or people and I am overly aware of the ancient Scots pines behind this old stone cottage, waving, as they are, like parents at a kids sports day, only with the whole trunk falling menace thing, unlike parents. Who knows how deep the roots go? I can see them lifting above the grass, the thin layer of grass covering the rocks, big strong looking roots the width of my arm. All very fine, you might think, solid and fixed and probably so for many decades, but these winds are real hooligans, gusting enough to blow a whole ferry off course and to stir up massive waves in the bit between us and the solid hen of a mainland. Nature is our mistress out here on this brave soldier of a rock and we are more couried in, by a long chalk, than those islands in the Outer Hebrides, the ones where only gannets fly and then with difficulty. Ideas and stories up there in the blast of Nature’s ferocity must struggle to keep in line. Not surprising, is it, that old tales morph and change and become as potent as a drug in the telling and the re-telling. This happened once to someone. Then it happened in perpetuity to a generation and please add the lifeboat and the bagpipes and that wispy maiden ghost who still haunts the basalt and gannet flying shoreline. Add a fishtail and bring in a song and before you know it, Sirens are doing their work. It is as it has always been. Wind, water, wide skies, fickle moonshifts, lonely people and no electricity will stir up a right drama before you know it and nobody can pin it down. As soon as it is written, it changes, it shape shifts, becomes another creature altogether in another set of natural unnaturals.

I watch a silken ribbon of gulls fly through the narrows, away from the rise of what will be a full moon soon enough. Last night, she, the moon was all wonky chops, soft around the edges, not gibbous, wrong time for that, but firming up as she always does for the big show. The clouds are running from the hounds of hell and nowhere in the sky is there peace. The damp patches make swirly patterns of amber across my ceilings and the windows luff and suck their way through the nights. I remember, once, at Tapselteerie, when an old huge window luffed and sucked and blew into the garden in the midst of a dark winter night, leaving us fluttering along with our bedding and ornaments and grabbing the curtains into the wild where they cracked against the frame, heavy with skywater until I cut them free with a kitchen knife. I have no idea where they ended up.

Tonight may send a power cut. These dottery poles stuck into the rock do not grow roots. There are hillsides here that defy any pole affixment. And, yet, affixed they are, like soldiers across a wildscape, confident enough most of the year, barring January, to stand tall, giving buzzards a better view and the chance to realign a confluence of feathers. They are marks for fishermen, for sailors, not that any sailor in his right mind would be out in this. It thinks me.

The gale, just now, shrieking and moaning around the house is in E Minor. Of course, that will change, and I clock every change in key throughout the night. Last night, I barely slept. The key changes awaken me, as does the shift in the wind as she flexes her muscles, happy to be free and loud and in control. A bit like me on the dance floor, which is what she is as she takes over, demands the super trooper light on her alone and makes the most of that limelight. We whispering mortals, all in bed holding our books and pulling the duvet right up tight, are nothing compared to her and she knows it. The gulls knew it, as I watched them ribbon with her, making her beautiful, defining her as she whiplashed by, exuberant and utterly wild. They were not stupid enough to fly against her, not like we do, out on our walk with the dog, pushing into her motherly breast, her fire, her E minor. You cannot, will never, win against a strong mother, and, yet, we try because the paths we can walk are not nature’s paths. They no longer follow ley lines but go where it is convenient for us to manage a covering of ground. When we lived at Tapselteerie, we honoured Ley lines. These are the lines that wild animals walk and have walked for generations. In honouring these ‘walkways’ we didn’t upset the natural balance. New owners came in with fences and I recall gasping out loud as I saw a ley line fenced off. I couldn’t believe my eyes, wanted to scream, to cry out, to say something, but those people would have laughed me out. So, I said nothing. But, one day……..

As I walked the small dog around the fences (to keep out the deer, which nobody can ever do here btw) it was the darkling time. That cusp of still when day gives in to night, but not quite yet. The sky was full of gulls and divers and blackbirds out way too late. I heard a tawny owl cranking up her vocal cords, could see her eyes black bright somewhere inside the woods, sense her hunger. I could feel mice hunker down, sense the exciting tension around me. The little dog wasn’t looking, but I was. A fine young stag startled right beside me, on a bluff. He stopped. I stopped. We looked at each other. Behind him, as my eyes acclimatised, stood four hinds, equally disturbed. Nothing moved, not even the dog, for what felt like a month. Then, suddenly, the fine young stag took off, across the path I challenged and, in doing so, took down the deer fence that blocked the old ley line. His hinds followed and to my amazement the small yappy dog said not one word. She just watched. it was a historic moment, that time when Nature, all wild and fiery eyed said No. And No it was, and is still.

E minor is fine for me, if that is what Nature wants to sing just now. To be honest, I would love to be as flexible in my key shifts as she. All I can do, as a wee wummin is to let my fingers flow over the keyboard, to listen to music long written down by those who had the gift of Natural Connection and who captured what they could when they could, and to love every lift into the wild.

Island Blog – Spring into Winter

Tomorrow I leave African Hothot, traversing space and time over 24 hours, to land in what sounds like an icebox. En route I will meet, without meeting, thousands of other travellers going back the way I came or on to lands I may never see for myself. Many, like me, will be confused about what to wear during our journeys, knowing that what lies ahead of us is drastic change. I find change is often like that, but that’s another blog altogether.

I will miss the sound of inexhaustible cicadas and frogs. I will not miss the mosquitos. I will find myself listening for the lite bytes of sound across the bush from maids and gardeners I cannot see, who josh and laugh with each other all day long as they go about their work. I see them delivered and collected, standing together on the bed of a truck, butterfly coloured, their teeth white dazzlers in the sunlight. They look but never wave unless we do first, at which point they leap into action and we feel like famous people. Always friendly, always smiling, always generous, proud of their work, with a strong faith and a strong community, these Africans could teach us all a thing or two about how to be an effective human.

In the local town when buying food or cogs for machines or plastic grommets for piping, some folk recognised me, as I did them. Two months of exposure does that. I will miss the crazy drivers and the dirt tracks in game reserves; a sudden 6 metre giraffe by the roadside or a baboon family under a shade tree, invariably scratching. The jacaranda, coral, frangipane and other wildly coloured up trees will be just brilliant memories as I wing my way into winter. And Spring, back home, will come again. The dead time is Nature’s rest and she needs it as we all do. Unlike many, I love the winter as I love the sunshine warmth. Winter is a time for reflection and reading by the fireside, for bracing walks, long johns and hot buttered toast.

And Christmas is coming……

Island Blog – Dinner and Confusion

Sometimes I feel an inner confusion as I study All Things Human, referring back to history, genealogy, culture and just plain Getting on with Life Wherever and Whoever You Are. I am, however, a big fan of holding two (supposedly) opposing ideas at the same time with me as an observer. In short, there are 3 of us in this moment, the two thoughts and moi. It is so easy to side with one or t’other as the observer, mostly because holding two opposing thoughts is like arriving at a traffic light stuck on red. Do I go or wait for someone in a luminous jacket to tell us in the stop zone who can go first?

My current conundrum is all about when to speak out and when to shutup; when saying what I think can make a good difference or when it will serve no purpose whatsoever in terms of anyone moving forward, leaving, instead, a confusion of confusions in everybody’s head. Not to mention anger or hurt. Standing up for someone is a good thing, even if I wish they would do it for themselves, but when is the right time for my voice to be heard on their behalf? In doing this standing up thing I will obviously be knocking another somebody down so that the end result is messy, to say the least. In a relationship there are a gazillion chances to make a right stooshie of things by saying anything at all. I guess there are the same number of chances to make good but knowing which and when is the issue here.

In childhood I learned that to speak out was only acceptable when the eyes of my elders and betters turned in my direction and a question was asked of me. Even then I must needs consider my response, taking in everyone’s feelings and placement in the hierarchy of the moment. In other words, not using my true voice at all. Exploding into baby adulthood, I spent long times in my room asking myself what I wanted, believed in or felt and I often came up with a big fat zero. I had no clue. Then I met my life partner and learned some more about myself, but only through his eyes. The length of my skirt, the visibility of my cleavage, the kohl around my eyes, the way I walked, talked and laughed all were dingled through his idea of a wholesome wife, and delivered back to me as my guidelines for my life. I found it most confusing to be told not to laugh so loud. Over time I forgot how to laugh at all, giggling, instead, like a hyena but quieter and in a different key to the one I felt comfortable with. I could be severely remonstrated with over the way I said something whilst the actual something got lost altogether. Confusing that. Coming away smarting from speaking my mind on some relational subject and feeling like I was back at school and had just cheeked the headmaster was weird indeed.

Standing up for someone else is considerably easier than doing that standing up thing for myself. This wonders me. Yes, learned behaviour is in there like the roots of an old oak tree, but I do look forward to the day I can challenge someone’s jab at me with consideration to self and to them, concomitantly. It is so much easier to go quiet, hugging the hurt and the sense of injustice and then to la-la-la away, only to return bright-faced and in collusion with all involved, as if nothing ever happened. Trouble is, those times don’t leave the building, not never. They rise again over time when a similar situation arises, reminding me of those long tangled roots.

However, there are times to shut up and take the knock, never to challenge it at all, ie when the reason for the perceived insult is a result of their baggage, not my own. In many ways I feel privileged to be able to take it and not to respond at all, unless with a kindness. I like to be kind. Working out when to and when not to, on the other hand, seems to be a lifetime’s study into All Things Human, for me, anyhoo, and I still have no definitive answer to that. Perhaps I never will, and doubly perhaps it doesn’t matter one tiddley jot. When I lie on my final bed and consider my long life stretching out behind me, burgeoning with memories of ups and memories of downs and a million squillion hectares in between, will I have the answer? I doubt it.

The biggest load of questions come from my relationship with my life partner. Well that’s not news to anyone with one. A life partner, I mean. Opposites attract and then that oppositeness becomes opposition shortly after returning from the honeymoon. In the Great Plan for All Things Human, this is, undoubtedly, a major flaw in the blueprint. When people rant on about our education plan, saying that none of the really important things are ever taught to our children, I can agree to a very great extent but the old stumbler is that most of what they really need to learn has no formula whatsoever. A conjoining of two souls for life is the biggest ball of confusion ever. Everyone knows that. So how can it ever be taught or learned? Well, it cannot. It is as slippery as an eel and as hard to hold on to.

Yesterday we played a game. If you could invite any 10 people to dinner for just one night, alive or dead, famous or down the road, fictitious or real, who would you invite?

God, I said for starters. And he’d better arrive first and I bagsy sit next to him because I have a constellation of questions to fire his way, to which I will require clear and understandable answers (no parables please). Another would be Freddie Mercury and a third Billy Connelly. (I only got to three but I’m working on the rest). Between the three of them I just might gain a little more insight into this confusion of a life.

Oh, and none of them are allowed to bunk off early.