Island Blog – An Old Lady and This Day

Today I watched, on a Zoom meet, a woman of almost 90 and obviously quite the thing around the interworld. She, elegant and with the bright eyes of a bird, was clearly confident. She uses WhatsApp, Facebook and other apps with strange names, although she didn’t announce it in search of a Goodlordwelldonehowamazingyouare response. In fact I suspect she might have looked astonished had any of us shown our resistance or lack of interest in being thus in touch with cyber space. I thought on her life, about which I know absolutely nothing. She knew war and deprivation, loss and fear, possibly hunger and cold. She knew flappers and bombs, new jazz and silent movies. What things she has seen in her long lifetime, what things! And she is not confused, not at all, nor has she lost her beauty, that soft-lined old face with more laugh lines than wrinkles and not a whine in sight. I suspect she was fierce, could be fierce and might yet be fierce and that thinks me. In her days of simple but harsh life, she had to keep her humour and her resilience, her softness and her fight. She needed both heart and claws. I imagine she was decisive and direct, unfearful as we are now fearful to confront rudeness, untruth, injustice and wrongdoings. She looks pint sized but never let a pint sized woman kid you into thinking you are stronger, because you are not. It isn’t about size nor physical strength but about courage, passion and backbone. I wanted to sit at her feet to hear her stories. I just hope her young ask her for I do regret not asking enough for stories from my own old ones.

So an ordinary morning was flipped on its aspidistra. Just like that. An invite to a zoom, to meet women I don’t know turned into a whole day of thinks and mind flips, memories and chuckles. Ah, when we greet the day with open hearts, what delights and sights await our looking eyes! If we are looking, that is. I am always looking so that every incoming thing catches my eyes. Was I born with this? Perhaps, but that perhaps can get subsumed by lifely demands, lists, children, workloads and drudge until it becomes something you can’t really taste in a tired sandwich. I’ve been lost there too. But there is this thing in me that refuses not to live, to really live, even on shambolic tricksy days. I can feel low and full of self-pity and there’s a word or two on that. Self pity is everywhere inside us. It is an easy go-to when life happens, when life throws the shit our way and laughs in our faces. I tried resisting, I tried reasoning, I tried logic and denial and not one of them ever worked. Ok, I said. This is not working. Let us meet, my unwelcome visitor, across the table, my table, and discuss. I soon saw it, Self Pity, for what it is and, after a few direct questions, its voice became skinny against my inner core strength, my own self. It surprised me at first, and then as confidence grew, I took my power back. I am taking my power back, I had said in my best strong voice and it bent and cracked and crumbled until there was nobody but me at that table. It was a gasp for me because I never felt any inner core strength, nor power, but just ran into the fight with heart and claws and with no idea of the outcome. I bluffed, basically.

I wonder how many times that long-living woman did just that right out on the street of her life, within her home, along her neighbourhood. These days we fight with ourselves. In her day there was no such thinking. The tough survived, the weak did not, although I bet she helped a few. Back then, thinking was for the thinkers and not for we ordinary folks. We just pulled on our stockings and got on with it, with all of the ‘its’ day after day after day. Not a bad way to live. Although I do bow to the thinkers, they have, unintentionally, opened up a can of worms because many of us stay with the worms and forget to live, to dance, to fight for injustice, to laugh at disaster because we know what we can do in the face of it. Like her, like that old lady who changed my day and not just this one.

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 30 – Force 10 and Rising

'Force 10'

‘Force 10’

Photograph courtesy of James Fairbairns

Today it’s cold, sleety and wet and with a gale forecast, again, and the maudlin in me could take over if I was less than vigilant.  The thought of going for a good brisk walk, or even just driving Miss Daisy down to the shop, makes my neck sink deeper into the high neck of my big woolly jumper of which I am more than heartily sick.  Although I do need to cover myself from neck to bottom and beyond, every day from the moment I rise, wear fisherman’s socks over my chilblains and a big jacket just to feed the birds, I still look longingly in my ‘skimpy’ drawer.  Strappy tee-shirts, a pair of shorts, silly frou-frou tops, a short denim skirt.  When did I ever wear any of them?  When was it ever warm enough, or when did my pale blue skin ever allow such nudity?

It wasn’t that long ago, I tell myself, as I shut the drawer on my finger.  Fingers move slower in the cold, and sometimes, too slowly to avoid being shut in drawers or doors, or knocked painfully against surfaces that somehow seem softer in the warm sunshine.  Conversations are all about how-to-pay-the-bills and who ran up this cost anyway? And everyone I meet is aching or has lost their greenhouse, and it’s not over yet.  We are exhausted being so positive, but therein lies the key.  Whether you believe in global warming, or not, have a faith or not, there is a spirit within us all that keeps us going and we are glad of it.  We are tough cookies and built to survive, no, more than that, to laugh at ourselves, our situations, our daily disasters.  We can lift, cheer and support each other, just as we are designed to do, and it is the stuff of life.  In cheering you I am cheering me.   Whatever gales and tempests have assailed us and will assail us yet, whatever gets flattened or damaged, torn or ruined, we have ourselves and our sense of humour and we can share both every single day.

So, I tell myself, stand up girl, and be counted. This is much ado about nothing.

‘Life is either a daring bold adventure or it’s nothing at all’

I am off to bake a chocolate cake, visit someone, and tomorrow, I think I’ll wear my jumper inside out.