Island Blog – Watcher

In this clifftop cottage I have panoptic view. The sky fall, the sea-rise, the shapeshifter clouds, the sempiternal changes of light and the communication between them all. I am not a member of their group, merely an electrified and interested observer. I cannot watch enough, hear enough, sense enough. I’m always hungry for more, more change, more manifestations of a slant in the conversation, a break down, a loving reconciliation, from peace to a wild fury. Much like a family I suppose. One misplaced word, one tipped comment, one challenging stand and Boom is an understatement. Not that I know. My family is too focussed on the greater good of the whole, thankfully, no matter what.

The days have been tipsy. Rain, hail, sun, calm, hooligan winds, complete still, noise, silence, birds, no birds and so on. Life is exciting on a clifftop on the West Coast of Scotland and very unpredictable. I doubt I could ever live a life that wasn’t either of those. We come back from a wild walk, soaked through and frozen. Wet leggings, rain heavy frock-tails, dripping faces, happy, alive, rejuvenated. Now that we are inside, the sun laughs a big Haha from the sky, a great, round, hot orb of fire who, by the way, was nowhere to be seen whilst we pushed against a wall of hail-gusty wind. Thanks, I say, looking him (the sun) straight in the eye. He isn’t remotely bothered. At his back another load of watery ice gathers a boil of grey into which he will evanesce without a backwards glance. I think he’s enjoying himself. If I was him, so would I. We mere mortals who take 20 minutes from decision to departure, wrapping, zipping, pushing feet into socks, then boots, re-locating gloves and tissues are a joke at our own expense.

Niveous spume froths around the rocky shore, sometimes leaping feet into the air as the sky messes with the ocean which in turn messes with the shore. Oystercatchers lift and land like pinging tiddlywinks, their voices carried on the wind. A sea eagle startles a bunch of Herdwick sheep as it floats like a small plane overhead. They scatter and I wonder if they’ll do that once they lamb. I hope their instinct to protect will decide them on that although sheep are not known for their large brains. I have seen hens do a much better job. Once, when leaving a cottage we had cleaned for the new guests I caught a large shape overhead. A buzzard. On the ground along with me, a hen clucked her tiny brood under the protection of her wings, filling me with a new respect for the farmyard hen. If she can do this, why not a ewe?

In the warmth of the conservatory we, my best friend and I, sew and knit and tell our stories. We are no influence at all on the conversation between the sky, the ocean and the land, and, yet, we are an integral part of the group. Our influence is made evident in many ways, not all of them empathetic. But this bit of the island is in good and intelligent hands. We watch the farmer fork a huge load of kelp onto the grassland which will feed the grass, the wildflowers, the insects, the birds and the sheep. They, in turn, will feed him and his family. This is active participation in the pursuit of the greater good and I am uplifted every time I stay here, just knowing that one small corner of our beautiful worldly conversation is unhindered by short-sighted greed. The place is heaven (www.treshnish.co.uk). Isolation, comfort, welcoming warmth and a family who take their role as caretakers very seriously indeed. My kind of people.

The sun is out now, big and brassy and with no threatening backdrop. The farm tracks bifurcate into the distance. It’s down for the ocean, along to Treshnish Point and up to where the hills nudge the sky. I can choose my way as I do with everything else. Whatever life expects of me, I always have that choice, as do we all. I may not be free to follow my heart at all times but I can always have a conversation with my heart….. and together we can, and we will, go always forward into whatever happens next.

Island Blog 162 Blue Moon

Blue moon

‘A blue moon traditionally marks a time of change and possibility in the astrological world. The blue moon is the first since August 31, 2012, and won’t be seen again until January 31, 2018.’

It won’t be blue, however. The Blue bit refers to the fact that there will be two full moons this month, this lunar month; a phenomenon, and we like those.  For the star-friendly among us, it denotes a time of change, of possibility.  We say that something happens ‘once, in a blue moon,’ as we refer to the rarity of an event.  We, on the island, might struggle to see any moon at all through a closed and soggy sky, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going on beyond our vision.

Although I usually avoid anything political or strug-mental (my word) inside my blogs, there is a time for every season, one of which is to be counted, to stand tall for something I believe in.  Okay, I’m not so tall, not so important that my little stand can change circumstances, but perhaps, by becoming one of a crowd of ‘standers’ I can make a difference.

On the island, no business, no charity can survive without extra oomph.  That old ferry boat divides us from access to all the instant supports you mainlanders take for granted.  Every one of us has to work that bit harder, that bit longer, our wits and ideas our lifelines.  Tourists come in the Summer months, in the main, although a friendly Autumn or Spring can bring stout-footed walkers and hikers, lycra-clad cyclists to pump their calves into balloons as they rise and descend our endless hills and valleys, eagle-nest watchers and so on.

So, the work we think about all winter long is distilled into a powerful action once the snowdrops begin to show and what should pass for Spring (but forgot this year) lifts the sun a centimetre or two higher in our skies, to illuminate the snow patches, many of which have only just thawed.

One of these worthy and high-profile attractions is our theatre and arts centre, Comar.  I remember, and many of you will too, watching excellent theatre in the barn in this village, where the idea was birthed and delivered to the world.  The Smallest Theatre In The World.  It attracted thousands of thespians and the excellence of this theatre spread far and wide.

Nowadays, it is bigger business, grown from that tiny seed and tended and loved and fed and watered by those whose passion for theatre, music, dance and art led them to invest themselves completely in its development.  Today, amongst its ranks, chaos reigns.  It seems that some now consider it not an island thing anymore and, in their eagerness to make money, have removed the control of it from the very hands, the talented and caring hands of two men whose life revolved around little else, such is their passion.  Being made redundant is not fun for anyone, but on an island it is tough indeed.  Jobs are few and there are many more months without visitors than with.

I am not able, nor willing to state accurate facts about this situation, but the press is doing a good job thus far.  You can read it for yourselves.

http://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.heraldscotland.com%2Fnews%2F13521125.Equity_calls_for_board_of_Mull_arts_company_to_resign_en_masse%2F%3Fref%3Dtwtrec&h=DAQExViOo&s=1

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-33728339

What I can do is stand beside these island folk, and I am and I will.  Too often we overthink ourselves into stillness, watching precious moments pass us by because we feel the fear of challenging the bully and we logic ourselves back home where life is safe enough, where we can pretend everything is okay.

Theatre and art and music and dance are quite without logic, and all about emotion, about passion, about the red blood of who we are. The island is like no other place.

Once, in a Blue Moon, we must stand and be counted.

 

Island Blog 150 Space and Time

 

 

 

Space station 1Space station

 

 

Last night I watched the International Space Station move across the starry sky. A golden orb it was, arcing overhead, just a tiny dot. Six atronauts are aboard. I waved. I know, sad really, but you never know what a welcome wave can impart across space and time. I’m thinking ‘butterfly wings. The illusion of ‘just a dot’ in the wide sky of a sparsely inhabited island would be no less to anyone who glimpsed it last night between high rise buildings in a big city. And, yet, six whole living people are aboard. To them, we, the whole WE, that is, the Earth, is also illusive. They know we are millions, we are legion, and yet, all they see is a rolling ball of mountains, plains and seas. They don’t see us and we don’t see them, but because of our vast technology, we know we are all where we are.

Let’s look closer.

Up there, last night, NASA emailed a racheting socket wrench. Well, not quite the actual wrench, but a 3D image via a 3D printer that guided the Commander to fashion one himself. It would have taken months for supply vessel to deliver one. Months.

When we look up, we imagine stars to be small sparkly lights dinging about when the clouds are away bothering someone else, even though we know that some of them are much bigger than our own world.  Still, as we point them out to a little one, to gaze up in wonder, we don’t think of great lumbering planets, already dying, but of diamonds in the night.

The International Space Station travels at 27,000 km per hour at an orbit height of 431 km, and here I am wondering how long it will take to drive to Doune for Christmas with all that festive traffic.  But, my place is down here, not up there, and here is where I need to remember the illusions of time and of space.  We know both are always with us, always influencing our decisions, our routines, our days and our nights, but because we cannot control either of them, tame either of them, rule over either of them, we just have to let them be.  We must walk with them, through them and around them as fellow miracles.

Now, we may not think of others as fellow miracles.  In fact, some are way off miracle grade, in our opinion.  But again, this is an illusion.  I know that, at this time of year, everyone is ‘goodwilling’ themselves to death, smiling when before there was no smile, giving when we only take for the rest of the year, lifting our care-worn spirits  and tired bodies in frightful jumpers and paper hats and telling ourselves it’s fun, and I never did understand why January is all about diets and New Year’s Resolutions.  Why don’t we eat sensibly and employ self-control all through the year?  Why can’t we give to those who need something we have, and they don’t, every single month? It seems we turn back to ourselves after this crazy happy festive season to face the big black hole inside every one of us all over again.

Black holes.  They’re in space too, and in time.  Those who are lonely are often closer by than we might like, often in the family.  In space, they eat you.  As they do down here.  For all the technology, the space research, the developments in education, social media, lifestyle (for some) and health care, we are still lost.

And yet, we are found too.  If every one of us chose not to turn back in, to scrabble around in the illusion that we are not enough, not clever, not destined for greatness, not important, we might learn, bit by bit, to look out, to see other walking miracles, to learn from them.  It isn’t easy for any of us.  We all have black holes, black illusions.  But those who do make a difference, who do become important, who are clever and definitely more than enough, are those little people who choose not to be consumed by self-pity, guilt and regret. Not one of them was born with anything more than the rest of us.  There’s no magic here.  Every single one of us grows a black hole.  Once we acknowledge that, we can move on beyond it, whether we have ‘everything’ or ‘nothing’.

Another human illusion.

The people who have chosen not to turn back in are the heroes, the warriors, the fighters for life. And they began right here, taking one step at a time, one day at a time.

It’s a new day today.  Christmas is coming.  But Christmas will also go, leaving us behind.

What will you make of yourself when it does?

Island Blog 115 Primary Three

 

2013-12-13 11.27.05

 

Thirty Three years ago this morning, a child was born.  A boy.  The Third Boy – 3 being the first prime number, the lucky prime, the only prime triangular, the triad, the noblest of all digits, and the only one of five to be born on the island; the only one to spend his first night on this earth in matron’s bottom drawer.

Let me paint the picture……….It was a wild and stormy night (which it was) and I was determined to miss the last ferry.  I knew a-plenty about birthing by then, had already had 3 labours (one being the Only Girl) and did not want to be inside a hospital.  The first two had been home births and the process is straightforward enough anyway – I mean, there’s only one direction to go down, and all I have to do is swear a lot, push when told to and trust in the doctor and nurse, both of whom I knew well.  So, in the middle of this gale, and in the darkness and in the crankitty old landrover with its binder twine door hinges and sheep food in the back, we rattled to the old folks home and Mrs MacFlorrie’s bed.  Not that she was sharing with me, you understand, but was, instead, shunted down the corridor to bunk up, temporarily, with another ‘old folk’.  That is how it was in the olden days, for we had no island hospital back then.

He was small and stayed that way for a while.  They suggested a growth hormone, but we said..

‘Leave him be. When you have this many children, it’s handy to have one you can just pop in your pocket.  Whilst other boys are growing and talking about how big they are, Rhua squeezes through the gaps.  he is as wiry and as fast as Spiderman, and just as fond of heights.  Look at me! he shouts, aged two and half, from half-way up a cliff face, or from the top of the massive old oak tree, and we all do look, just to keep him quiet, and we keep looking, although I must have looked away at least once, as there is another baby on the way.’  (Island Wife Chap 17)

When he came home to Tapselteerie, he spent any sleep times, never longer than 20 minutes, day or night, in the tea towel drawer, whilst I worked in the kitchen.  Because the house was so huge, I could never have left him upstairs, just below cloud level, for goodness knows what he might have got up to.  He was the one who tipped all liquids and powders from all bedrooms into the loo and mixed up a cauldron of seething bubbles and curious smells.  He is the one who left home aged six in the dark of a wild night, with only his toys as luggage.  He is the ‘chef’ who signed up for trial of a deep fat fryer, one that arrived in the back of a big lorry.  The delivery man did not believe me when I tried to send him away, saying it was a mistake.  He would not countenance that he had driven all the way from the depot in Glasgow to this isolated place, with moon rocks and pitfalls and nothing but sheep and heather for days.  I had to show him the 6 year old chef, before he would even consider returning to base camp.

It was this third boy who rose from his short sleeps with a head full of ideas, and a deep sense of purpose.  I found him once frying bacon on the aga, start naked, aged 2.  For our breakfast, he said.  He had already laid the table, with brandy, bread, salad cream and red sauce, tonic water and chocolate. It was hard to be cross.  How he managed to lift the heavy aga lid, without nipping his manhood in the bud, still amazes me.

I took to sleeping outside his bedroom door, lying across the narrow landing on the servants floor (no servants to be seen) in order to save us all from this boy’s nocturnal ideas and sense of purpose.

When he finally grew into a young man, he hit the world with a force it might not have been ready for.  Wherever he went, wherever he worked, he was enthusiastically bonkers, and very successful.  And now, as a father and husband, and broker in the flatlands, he still is, but it is not the outward success that matters, but the man he has become.  A man I respect, admire and adore.  One who makes me laugh, whose heart is huge and strong, who can blag and wind up, who can reach too far, fall down, and get up again in a nanosecond.  Although he is born of me, he is himself as are all my kids, and each one of them delights and surprises me.

I remember the illnesses, and the times of trouble.  I remember the nights of worry, the fears and hopes, the dreams dying, the prayers a-plenty, but when I look at them, at any of them, I am so very proud.  All we ever wanted for our children, was that they find their own way into a fulfilled life.  I know this is not a thing that comes gift-wrapped – indeed no,t for it is a process, and a long one, but to see young people on what appears to be the right track, is indeed a blessing for any mother, or father.  We couldn’t give them life on a plate, or expensive tuition or finishing school in Switzerland, but we gave them Tapselteerie and we gave them adventures and memories.

‘From the mound of dogs and kit, they(the children) marvel at everything, and, in their marvelling, I can taste the freshness of seeing things for the first time, the elation and sparkle in that seeing, like having lemonade in your veins and butterflies in your head.  There are no seat belts in the back of the Landrover, and no law to put them there, so the children bounce and whoop and flip like monkeys, free as air, as the car rocks like a boat in a storm.
Suddenly, my head is bursting.  Enough!  I roar, causing everyone to freeze mid-flip, and Alex to swerve.  He is not pleased.
Why are you shouting? he asks with a frown across his face, deep as the Limpopo River.
I don’t bother to respond, enjoying the sudden silence.  Instead, I turn to fluff up a very flat collie and to settle my sons the right way up.
What are you going to spend your money on?  I beam at them.
Jake is buying a Lego set, one of those big ones with enough pieces to block the vacuum every week.
Rhua wants an Action man.  Well, that figures.
And Solly?  Well, Solly wants a gun and chorus.
A gun and chorus?
Yeah! Gun and chorus, like Duncan’s at crayboop.
He is getting upset, as he always does when we have no idea what language he speaks.
Okay, okay Sol, that’s grand.  We’ll find one.
Cassie, seeing my predicament, pulls her finger from her mouth.
It’s a dinosaur with flashing eyes.  Duncan’s got one and he brought it to playgroups.  It’s called a Gunnacaurus.
She says all this in a monotone, staring straight ahead, like a code breaker in a spy movie.  I wonder what we would all do without her translation skills.
I bend my head down to hers.  Where do we get one?  I ask.
She looks at me in puzzlement.  A dinosaur shop, she says.
Of course!  Silly me.    (Island Wife Chap 21)

So, to the First Odd Prime Number I say…….Happy Birthday!

Island Blog 98 The Weight of Words

It’s getting colder they say, and they are right.  It is.  But, if I were to unmorph myself from the Island and re-morph down south, right now, I would be shucking off my semmet and my woollies and be ‘foofing’ about the heat.

I know, whenever I leave the Island to go somewhere south of it, I stand over my heap of clothes and after considering frock requirements and, oh, shoes to go with said frock, I consider temperature.  Apart from the fact that I can manage about 30 minutes inside any mainland shop before melting into an unsavoury puddle, I must think about the street heat and then, oh worst of all, the level to which the central heating is set, which is almost always way up to high – so high I can hardly breathe without seizing up and turning into sandpaper.  Windows are usually closed, against pollution, flies, neighbours and, of course, weather.

We have a woodburner and no central heating, but that baby does all the work here, warming upstairs, downstairs and the lady’s chamber, although not too much up there because:

a.  its not healthy and

b.  The window is slightly shy of the available orifice thus allowing all four winds many opportunities for a knife-sharp entry.

Of course, not all four winds come through at the same time, even if they can on the odd day, as the Island wind changes her mind as frequently as a woman in the make-up department of Fraser’s department store.

The north wind is ‘hard’ black, the south ‘bright’ silver, the east is purple and the west, amber – everyone knows that, especially light-house keepers, as I have learned from the wonderful book Stargazing by Peter Hill.

Lighthouse-keepers………they don’t exist anymore.  Now the lights that save our ships from dashing their brains out on sharp-toothed rocks, are worked by someone miles away, electronically, someone who doesn’t need to feel the wind, taste the salt, watch the other lights as dusk falls, become a part of a new adventure every night for weeks on end – someone who would never need the right clothes for such an adventure.

But, back to packing.  The things I need to make room for in my travel bag are mostly words, and those receivers of words, such as my little laptop and my notebooks.  These are heavy, compared to any bodily flim-flam, but when I weigh my luggage, in my hand, I know that, were I to remove something, it would be in the flim-flam department, and never at the expense of the words I have chosen to keep.

These words can be, and often are, half-inched from wiser mouths than my own.  I have absolutely no problem with that.  I don’t consider it stealing, more the recognition of another’s starry brilliance.  I learn from them, use them in part, or in the whole, as a part of something I want to put into either my own mouth, or the mouth of a character in a story.  They are more precious to me than gold, than frocks, than the right apparel for any given occasion.

So, if I arrive in the wrong shoes but with the right words in my mouth/suitcase/head, then who will notice?

Oh yeah……..my mum.the weight of words

Island Blog 32 – Circles of the mind

The Island

This morning is a cracker.  I know it before I open the curtains, for I can hear no rain, no wind, but only the sound of happy birds calling for breakfast.

I sit here and think about this blog, about my writing, my need to write.  Looking at something, a view, a morning, an encounter, is not enough for me, because I can hear the voice in everything, one that asks to be remembered.  It’s not enough to say ‘it’s a beautiful morning.’  There has to be more than that.  Is it a warm one, a Saturday, my child’s first birthday?  Is it busy or quiet?  Do I have something to come that excites and delights me, or am I just a morning person?

All these and more affect how I look upon what I see.  And the person next to me, next to me in the same moment of morning, might say it’s about as beautiful as cold rice pudding, for we all look out from our own perspective, our own context in the life we live.

Some folk look for flaws,  some folk look for beauty.  I just look.

Start a blog, Lisa said, as if it was a really simple thing, the simplest. Lisa is my publisher at Two Roads/Hodder.  She also said I should upgrade my mobile from one purchased at a street market in Africa 3 years ago, with just a few knobs and an On/Off switch, to one fashioned in the 30th century with a thousand applications, including Tetris (whatever that is) and a camera with screen rotation which I can’t turn off.  I have taken many pictures already of things and people tumbling like beach balls, including some mint wrappers inside my jacket pocket, a shot that looked quite artsy once I stopped rotating and my eyeballs settled down.

I used to re-charge my old mobile once a week.  Now it’s a daily thing, and not just for the mobile. If I am not actually writing my blog, importing (!!!???) photos, once they have stilled, from my mobile, I am sifting through my thoughts on life, love and what’s for supper.  Preparing my mind;  pulling at the sinews of it, encouraging blood flow, breathing in the morning.

Initially I resisted, squeaked and screamed and whined and moaned.

I can’t do this! I wailed.  I am a techno-phobe, an island girl, no roundabouts, no traffic lights, remember??

That was one of my voices.

The rest all yelled ‘Shut up, make coffee and get over yourself!

In the face of such encouragement, I had to listen.

Now it comes, more or less, naturally, and what I have learned, in this new process, is that I can change, even though I struggle with it as much as anyone else does at first.

It’s the thought of it that scunners us.  There is comfort and predictability in staying the same.  We think we still move forward, but we don’t. We circle.

The benefits of personal stretching far outweigh the disadvantages.  In fact, I am not sure there are any disadvantages, for, in the light of this new view, it’s not only my mornings that are different, nor, indeed my afternoons or evenings.  I find I think in a different way.  I am more able to face whatever comes next, because I have already done it, and can do it again.  The unknown is no longer frightening, not because it won’t be at some point – I am sure it will – but because I have proved to myself that my mind is not stuck, that my old way of doing things is not all I am capable of, and there is a new beauty in that.

My advice – recognise your circle and step out of it.  Oh, and please remind me of these wise words when I need to hear them again.

Island Blog 29 – Elephants and Crossroads

 

Turning Point

Just before I meet a cross in the roads, I get what feels like indigestion.  A friend of mine once called this state ‘The Churny Pits’, and it’s a pretty good description of the upsy-downsy state of my inner woman.  Things I did up to this point seemed ok, if a little samey and ordinary, and I got on with them, in the main, with a positive attitude and a spring in my step, I waved my usual wave, bought my usual coffee at my usual place, arrived at my usual time, said the usual things, got on with my usual routine. But something is different.  Each of these usual things feel empty – empty of life, as if I am acting out a role, one I have played for years and know off by heart.

For a while I ignore the unrest, gathering in the ‘usual’ closer to my chest, to keep it with me, for without it I might be nobody and, having been a nobody once before, I don’t plan on being one again. But it doesn’t work and soon those things that gave me my place in my own world, abandon me completely.

And then I stand at a crossroads I never asked for, never even considered was there in the first place. I can’t avoid it, not this time.  It’s like finding a herd of elephants in the Fairy Woods, which, to be honest, has never even thrown up a fairy.

I know what all this means by now, although it has been no less uncomfortable in the gestation period, much like the onset of flu.  This herd of elephants is here to tell me it is time to change direction, that Life has something in store for me, something up her sleeve and I can’t see it until I let go of the old and turn towards the new. It could be old thinking, old habits, old responses or it could be something bigger.  The good news is that I won’t be asked for more than I can give, although my idea of what I am capable of is not necessarily all I am capable off, as has been clearly demonstrated to me more than once.

Sounds like a stretching opportunity cometh my way.

Again.

Well, I whine, from where I sit on the old couch in my old slippers with my usual cup of tea at the usual time……I would turn toward the new if someone would just show me where it is.  I could waste weeks pounding up the wrong path, whether my boots were right for the task or not.  Someone needs to tell me.  I need hard facts, a good argument for this whole airy-fairy change thing.  After all, how will the household bills be met, and what will the coffee vendor think and what will my children/husband/mother say?

Besides, I know nothing about this daft dream that’s been floating in my head for weeks now, months perhaps. What if it’s just a mini crisis, a temporary loss of balance, or even just indigestion?

Well, says Life to me, there is only one way to find out.