Island Blog 159 On Marriage

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It all starts with a Wedding, that’s what I say.  When I get an invitation to someone’s ‘Marriage’ I have this strong urge to call them up to correct their grammer, or is it grammar……….. because the wedding is the bit when you make impossible vows and completely believe in them, and the marriage is the rest of your life together.  So not the same thing.

These vows are written in stone, or so you think at the time.  They also ask of you more than will ever be asked of you in any other part of your life.  What seemed like an uphill struggle before, when you were free and single, evanesce as you face the stark and solid truth that the old mother-in-law has the upper hand and, what’s more, always will.  Now that I am one myself, I feel very unsure of myself at times, and rightly so.  The old type of mother in law was comfortably certain of her place on the family throne, whereas we unsure ones watched them from the servants gallery and vowed we would never be like them.  Well, mostly we are achieving just that, and, in doing so, in approaching with more tact we are making new mistakes.  It is the way of things.

I don’t remember if I promised to obey or not, but what laughs me a lot, is that it matters one way or the other. The animated discussions I have overheard concerning which words are left out and which put in to a wedding ceremony adds a value that most certainly dilutes in time. I suppose in the olden days, if someone didn’t obey or honour or cherish and it was brought to the Judgement Mound and proclaimed before the Wise Men, and if it was found to be true, due punishment would have been administered, its legacy, shame.  Nowadays, the Judgement Mounds are covered with heather and bluebells, their ancient role all but forgotten.

After the fluffery wuffery of the wedding, and the first halcyon days of playing house, the serious business of life clicks in.  We put away the wedding dress and don the apron.  It’s not a bad, but a good thing, because scrubbing a floor in a wedding dress is asking for trouble. So, we move on into our new days, we two people who have made the biggest decision of our lives.  No maps are handed out.  We will now sail into uncharted waters, learning from each other and working day by day to weave a new cloth from the colours each one brought to the mix, very different colours, different histories, different understanding of light and dark, texture and balance, give and take, up and down.  Who will lead and who will follow?  Who will let go and who will hold on.  Who thinks of solutions and who chews over the disaster?  None of this has really been revealed as yet for neither of us have stood the test, not yet.  Falling in love is a momentary thing.  Staying there, when things begin to annoy and upset, letting them take their place in the weaving of the cloth when all you want to see are the vibrant colours of joy and happiness, is quite another.  The trick is to let that happen without feeling a sense of loss.  The trick is not to imagine this woman is trying to mother me, when she shouts at me for sock-dropping, or that this man is trying to control and contain me, when he challenges the cut of my dress  The trick is, the trick is………

The goodly thing about Goodly Life is that it keeps waking us up each morning with birdsong or Chris Evans or the dooby doo of an alarm clock, or a baby’s wail, or that eerie silence that tells you it snowed overnight.  We keep waking, we keep feeling hungry, needing a walk, a cup of tea, a chat with a friend.  Our brains must plan school mornings, bus time-tables, train schedules and packed lunch boxes.  This is it, this is life and this, shared, keeps us moving through our daily rounds, bumping into each other, working out the best way to do this or not do that, until gradually we weave ourselves into one cloth.

If any of us knew what lay ahead, we might never begin.  How we learn to deal with whatever comes along, is all in the strength of that cloth, the warp and weft of it, the necessary tension, the edging.  When storms prevail and loud black clouds hang overhead all packed with lightning flash and cold wet rain, we can use this cloth for shelter and warmth, but it will only give back what we have woven into it.  The history we make together is not solely of our own pasts, but it is a new thing.  We bring in children, carving their histories out for them, at least, in the very beginning. Each of us is a new creature, with unique quirks and gifts, thoughts and concerns.  Each one of us sees a thing differently, even if we mostly agree on the image it creates in our minds.  However,  there is one thing I have found to be almost universal, and that is the instant and unconditional love a parent feels for their child.  I know life can sour a relationship, but after the angry words are spoken and the protection in place, I still believe this love surpasses all other loves, and it never fails to astonish on first encounter.  I remember it each time a babe was born from me, that however scared I may have been of dangers unknown, I knew I would protect this child’s life with my own, and I still would.

At this end of a verrrrrry long marriage, there is a very colourful cloth around us, five colourful children and their families.  Nobody could say we quietly got on with our lives together, obeying the rules, but, instead, raved against the wrongs, laughed and lived wildly, generously, and mostly in complete chaos.  On this day, we look at each other and we both marvel.  How on earth we managed, against all the odds, to be celebrating 43 years together, even all ‘vowed up’, is a mystery, and not just to us.

What larks!

Island Blog 153 On Good Men and Unicorns

unicorn

I have heard said, that good men are like unicorns.  Everyone talks about them but nobody ever sees one.

To compare a man with a unicorn, is, indeed, a strange thing to be sure.  Unicorns may be ‘fictitious’ creatures, but they are very real in fairy stories, folklore and even in Harry Potter’s world, which is one I almost believe in.  Many times I have faced down a pillar on some bleak and windy station, thinking positively about rushing towards it in search of Platform Nine and Three Quarters.  I don’t, of course, being ever so slightly aware that I may, indeed, be a Muggle after all, and, thus both bitterly disappointed, and in need of cosmetic surgery.

The other thing that stranges me about a comparison between unicorns and good men, is that men, in my experience, couldn’t be more earthed.  I may attempt, for example, to unfold my feelings about some aspect of my life only to be asked scientific questions. What shape, when, why and how.  I may float (just a bit) around concepts of life, love and marmelade and be yanked back down to earth with a sensible ‘fix’ to the situation, one that completely misses my point, not that I have had one of those in a long time.  In fact, my being afflated about some other-worldly issue very possibly negates the need for a point, as there are many and none in the mackle mind of a woman at such times.

Now, I know, like you do, that unicorns have hooves and must, therefore, do things like walk, trot, canter and gallop, and for all of these activities, they require some sort of stable terrain, one with depth and structure, one they can see and expect to see whilst they do all of these things.  In this, they are very like men, I agree.  But, and this ‘but’ divides and separates, they can fly, of float, or elevate and there are few, if any, good men who can do that.

But is there a difference between Men and Good Men?  I wonder if this is simply an act of perception.  I say ‘act’ because it is a doing word and not a being word and there’s my point.  And I have another.  Does the perception of a man make him good?  If I imagine him to be like a unicorn, powerful, there when you need a lift out of danger, able to move fast over ground or through the air, beautiful, intelligent, magical and interesting, might he not become so? Whereas, if I imagine him stupid and blunt, strong-like-bull but dimwitted and messy and thoughtless, might I not be fashioning him that way?

I know this is a chicken and egg question, but it has thinked me for a while and made me watch folk and consider.  We can divide our lives into little controllable units, and, in many ways, this is a good thing.  I want my day planned, to a degree, to the degree that is important to me, that is.  I want to know when this or that is needed by my family, and what my role is in making it right for them.  But, if I have forgotten what it was like when first we met, then, chances are, so has he.  Life and the gravity of it has pulled us all down.  It happens, but the clever ones among us notice this.  If I stopped the car suddenly and said to you, Look There Goes a Unicorn, even if you were the biggest domesticated woman cynic ever, you would look, you would ask Where?  But if I said There Goes Your Husband, you might look, you might, but, if it was somewhere you didn’t expect him to be you might say…..well you might say all sorts of things but you would not have the same look on your face as you did when I called him a Unicorn.

Island Blog 152 Small Things

Island Blog 152 Small Things

I had to take action.  I’d been listening to their scurryings above my head every night and wondering what they were up to in the loft.  It’s a dark, cobwebby space, long and spooky, silent, waiting, holding boxes of heaven knows what, familial bric-a-brac, books – stuff the children will wander through when we are gone, wondering why on earth we ever kept any of it.

Okay I said to myself, time for mouse traps.  Yeuch I hate them.  I hate mouse poison even more, not that I’ve ever tasted it, of course.  I hate the slow dying of it.  At least traps are quick, unless they’re not.  It’s the ‘not’ bit that keeps me turning over in bed and pretending it’s the wind pushing things over up there.  Well, it could be.  There are loads of holes for it to shoot through. ‘Up there’ is one of our mysteries.  Unlike modern day lofts, ours is 19th century and has hardly changed at all over the years, beyond its contents.  Gaps between slates show me sunlight, and as for lagging, there is a bit here and there, but nothing that quite spans the space between roof trusses or ceiling beams.  There is flooring, but that just hides a possible Mouse City so I’m not fooled by it.  The cobwebs are black and strong.  I’ve been right to one end on my hands and knees in search of something, anything I might recognise, batting away cobwebs quite impervious to batting.  After a fretful and panicky few minutes during which every episode of Nightmare on Elm Street shot through my brain like fire, I re-appeared down the wonky steps in dire need of both a jolly good hoovering and a double brandy.  I could hardly breathe for hours and my dreams were littered with gigantic spiders for nights after.  I actually like spiders very much.  Just not the nightmare ones.

Anyway, back to the mice.

In trepidation and braced for Cobweb Attack, I donned my head torch and pulled out the wonky steps, took a deep breath (my last for a while) and, with my head, pushed up the trap door.  Let’s re-name it.  Loft door.  Yes, that’s less scary.  I pushed up the loft door and let my torch scan the darkness.  What did I expect?  A line of jaunty mice, all waving and saying ‘Gosh, we haven’t seen you since last winter!  How have you been?’  Hmmmm.  Nothing, of course greeted me beyond the long dark spooky silence and all those flaming boxes of nothing I recognise.  I actually did wonder if the stuff wasn’t ours at all, but left behind by one of the Whoevers who lived here before.  I saw a cricket shin pad thingy, well, half of it to be precise, the upper part now a fluffy mish-mash of ‘munched white’.  Spurred on by this sight (himself will be horrified…..no more Wicket Man) I set the traps with peanut butter and nearly lost a few fingers before getting it right.  Sorry…..I whispered into the gloom and let myself down.  All day I hated myself with a strong hate.  How can I be so cruel?  I know it is utterly foolish because mice should stay outside shouldn’t they, and if they don’t, well, it’s their funeral?

It thinked me of small things, generally, in life, because it is the small things that have the power of big failure or of big success.  For example, our daily habits are small things.  We dont really consider them much, are not mindful of them until one of them begins to jar, to feel wrong, to nudge for change.  If we don’t make regular checks on our daily habits, we may find ourselves caught in the cobwebs of our lives, trapped in the dark.  We humans can think that we are who we are and that’s that. We can’t change now.  Well, I will challenge that.  However old we are, we can change and all change begins with the small things, one small thing.

I may feel ludgy and lethargic.  What can I do about that?  Well, I can stay ludgy and lethargic, or I can decide to take a walk for ten minutes and then tomorrow, I can make the same decision until, after a few days, I have created a new synapse in my brain, a new habit, one I don’t even question.  I just do it.  Then, one morning I wake up and I don’t feel ludgy and lethargic any more.  Gosh!  How did that happen?  Well, it didn’t ‘happen’. I happened it.

I caught 12 mice.  I didn’t feel great about any of the process, but I knew I had to deal with the small things before they became a big thing and chewed up all those mysterious boxes in the long, dark, spooky loft.  I went up this morning and found both traps un-pinged.  I’m not saying the job is done, for the small things will, no doubt, be back, but because I have taken action, I have created a new synapse in the loft of my life.  Who knows……perhaps this Spring I will crawl up there in a hard hat, with a sharp knife to open up the past.

Somebody’s past, anyway.

 

 

Island Blog 149 Fire and Ice

 

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149 – another Prime Number – indivisable by any number other than 1 or itself.

I like that.  That’s me.  Others may suggest alternative descriptions of something or someone so resolutely singlular, not many of which would raise me high on any Christmas card list.  Words like Selfish, Stand-Offish, Stubborn, Thoughtless, Narcissistic, Ego-Centric and so on and so fourth and fifth and sixth.  You get my jist.

But (and there’s always a few of them) in order to carve a furrow along which I am happy to walk, I have to be the one to carve it.  No, no, not that way!  they might cry.  Look, see, here’s a nice womanly path, one full of other nice womanly dudes with behaviour manuals and clean tea towels in their well-ordered drawers.  One look is enough for me.

How I have managed to love love love being a wife and mother of many, whilst maintaining my singularity is a puzzle to me.  Actually I didn’t manage that maintaining thing to be honest whilst living in the melee.  It was a question of forward motion at all times to avoid being crushed, but now, with hindsight, I can see that my intense and consuming need to be singular, even in those times, kept talking to me – an internal sustaining dialogue, despite the requirements of hostessing, mothering, catering and, against humungeous odds, domesticating those in my precarious care.

Anyone who has forged ahead in life has to be of singular persuasion.  Forging ahead and tidy tea-towel drawers probably argue with each other.  Now, shall I forge today or tidy my tea-towel drawers?

Some might say there are those who could do both and in the same day, but I doubt it, because the whole thing about forging is that it decides not only what you do or where you go, but who you are, your choice of path.  Consequences arise inevitably.  For example…..if I choose not to cook supper because I am busy writing, which is important to me, this ‘me’ who is completely forging and not a bit hungry, I may well upset you who are:

a.  Hungry

b.  Not a little irritated that I have abandoned my post.

c.  Alarmed at this turn of events, and concerned that, if ‘allowed’ this turn may take an unhealthy hold on me.

If I continue to walk this path it will eventually become the norm, expected and, to a degree, accepted.

Really? Well my mother never told me that and nor did anyone else by the way Jimmy (certainly not him), but it doesn’t mean I can’t learn it now.  Anyone can learn it now, any now, however grey and worn and old and tired.  People who decide to make a change will always find a guide when they need one.  Thing is, you have to take the first and scary step.

When a volcano erupts, it doesn’t ask permission.  ‘Oh, now, sorry to bother you, but would it be okay if I erupt next Tuesday night about 10pm, hmmm?’

When a glacier decides to move along a bit, causing masive tidal chaos, seals to flip overboard and huge ships to bonk their noses, it doesn’t check with anyone first.  It just moves.

These are prime events, huge events with consequences for us all, and, of course, barely related to any human ‘forgings’, but they illustrate my point to a degree.  If I wait for permission to forge, when my internal voice is hot enough to bend steel, then what on earth is my life all about?  I may well be remembered at the wake as a Good Woman (with tidy drawers) who was kind to everyone, never said NO, and certainly not in capitals, and who always put others first, which, in my opinion, says only a small thing about me.  The BIG THINGS are :

What did I do with my life?

How did I make a difference?

What legacy do I leave and who will learn some wonderful new freedom for themselves, by observing my work?

If the answers are Not Much, Didn’t, and Not Much, then all I have done is make a sandwich.

We are born of Fire and carved by Ice, like mountains.  We might take a little trip inside ourselves and remind ourselves of that.

 

Island Blog 147 If Not Now

georgebernardshaw385438

 

 

Today is Halloween and I already have a witch or two in my head, and if crossed, in my mouth.  Not a really bad witch, but one of those ones that knows her power and won’t take any messing.  I like her.  She is a tad unpredictable, but we work together pretty well in the main, perhaps because I am also a tad unpredictable.  Witches are really ‘storybook’ to me, I don’t do black magic at all, although the white ones are worth a second look. I pull them in and shape them up for whatever hurdles I need to cross on a daily basis.  My witches are humourous and feisty, clever and quick, kindly but firm, independent, solo, and able to lift above any situation with a switch of a wand.  They don’t sport warts, nor crooked chins, nor do they cackle unless it’s whilst watching the ‘bad’ guys fall into their own come-uppance, in which case, I cackle too.

My time on Skye was wonderful.  Every time I travel to new places, I meet new people and people fascinate me.  I watch them and I listen and I learn.  I stayed as a guest in a lovely home overlooking a sea-loch that raged and spat for days, driven mercilessly into a right stooshie by strong winds and heavy rainfall.  The rain travelled sideways, whipping into my face and grabbing the breath out of me.  It was hard to stand up whilst walking two lively spaniels whose main aim was to find rabbits and chase them, not possible whilst held firmly on a lead, but nonethless, their aim.  When we had the rare sighting of a car approaching along the single-track road, we had to bundle into the grass in a fairly undignified heap, the spaniels panting for breath and the blood cut off from my lead-holding fingers.  Waving was tricky, lifting just my hand and not a whole spaniel into the air.  I was treated like royalty and yet welcomed as part of the family and now I have new friends, new people to learn from, a new bond between us.  Just as an aiside, I belong to the Scottish Book Trust who can sponser such trips and I am always delighted to be invited anywhere in Scotland to talk about Island Wife, to sing my songs, to reach out to people who relate to my story, in book groups, libraries, or at any public event.  I know, shameless marketing!

Moving on…….

In every area of life, there are people.  Machines do a hec of a lot to assist communication, its reach and the speed of it, but we need people or there is no heart.  Talking of hearts, I believe hearts are inherently good, even when the outside of someone challenges that theory.  Nothing is black or white, we are all both, plus all those rainbow colours in between.  Of course, life can throw us from time to time, but none of us want to be remembered, or pidgeon-holed at such times, especially if the outside of us says different.  But we can and do define people, if we’re honest, by their behaviour on a certain day/week/month or year.  We may be asked to describe someone.  We may say…..well, she is very good at her job but dreadfully overweight.  Now why do we add that last bit?  Is it that we must balance a good thing with such an unnecessary comment?  It’s irrelevant to the profile of that person and, sadly, the one thing that will be remembered.  Her overweight is something she doesn’t like either, we can be sure of that.  I have heard such defining often and, to my shame, said nothing.  I remember one of my boys saying once ‘I wonder why we don’t stand up for each other’ and he is right.  Why don’t we?  Perhaps we don’t want to be the reason for any awkward feelings.  After all, we can just remove ourselves can’t we and think how judgemental that comment was and the person who made it.  It’s easier that way.  But aren’t we judging too by keeping quiet?  It has a name this keeping quiet thing.  Although we didn’t directly commit the crime, we affirmed it by omission.  We omitted to stand and be counted.  In this climate of not standing, we need to make changes.  I have a rule for myself.  If I wouldn’t say something direct to a person, then I won’t say it at all.  I can’t always manage it.  I am human.  But what I aspire to, and practice, will eventually become a habit.

We are all doing our best to manage our lives.  We fall, we falter, we stumble and we crack, but we are not china cups and we can mend.  Not one single one of us knows what it is like to live another’s life.  The saying that we should not judge another man till we have walked a mile in his shoes, is a good one.  Even living closely with another human being tells us little of what lies in their hearts, what dreams are shattered, what disappointments hurt, what shame or oppression has done to their sense of self.  Little choices make up our pathways, but we cannot all walk straight and tall if those pathways are not going the way we want them to.  We redress the balance as best we can, and it takes time to find the normal, sometimes a long time, often a long time.  If I have learned anything in my life it is that I am not an island.  Although I love solitude and am happy on my own, I still crave a warm smile when life feels like it’s wrapped me in chains and thrown a tsunami in my face.  Stopping to smile back, to ask How Are You? and to listen to the answer can lift me far higher than any job-well-done will ever do.  I may rush by you, Can’t Stop, and you may understand my busyness, and I may complete the housework in record time, but, I am smile-less deep inside and not lifted up at all.  Better, by far, that I dally a while with you beside the dried goods and coffees for a human encounter.  We are dead a long time.  Life is for us to live or it will carry on without us.

If not now, then when?

 

Island Blog 139 An Elegant Truth

 

 

One

139 is a Prime Number.

‘A prime number (or a prime) is a natural number, greater than 1, that has no positive divisors, other than 1 and itself.’

Now that is exciting!  The word ‘prime’ is enough to lift my shoulders and to fix my eyes on the horizon.  In fact I have decided that I, also, am a prime number,  with no positive divisors other than 1 (that’s still me) or itself (me again).  How can I lose with that positive thinking?

Although every moment of my life requires an involvement with A. N. Other, a relationship in other words, be it complex and thixotropic or easy and naturally flowing, I am still singular, just me, I, The Prime Number.  Of course, I can be far from such in another’s eyes.  I might, in fact, be entirely divisible by anyone who cares to divide me up, spinnable by anyone who fancies throwing me into one, but whatever Lady Life tosses my way, even she can never ever divide One into more than itself and, once I spot this dividing thing going on, I can stop it just like that.  If I have the power of one, then I have the power of one.

In my earthly woman life, I can spread myself too thin, stretching myself progressively flatter in an effort to play carpet for all those around me, regardless of any risks to my health, self-esteem or direction in life.  I can do all this thinking I am solving others’ problems, when what I am really doing is interfering.  Instead of me respecting A.N Other’s right to be a primary number, I am dividing him or her up, telling her what to do and how to do it because I would know, wouldn’t I!   I am saying she cannot do without my advice, when without my advice is precisely how she needs to be.

Is it a myth or were all us girls brought up to put ourselves last?  Outside the door is better, in sackcloth and ashes, with voice on ‘mute’ and all desires surgically removed, as a baby.  Well, maybe it is the truth, but why on earth do we perpetuate such nonsense?  There is a lot to be said for the new woman (many of them my own daughters-in-law) who refuses to wear a modesty vest and who bites off her mute button and spist into into the undergrowth, standing her ground like Boudicca.  But this situation still smacks of war to me, one the sackclothed little carpet-woman manages to avoid by obligingly upholding the pillars of household peace, like Samson in a frock.

There is a third way.  There has to be.

This leads me on to the next bit.

‘One, sometimes referred to as unity, is the integer before two and after zero‘.  Integer means either a ‘whole number’ or ‘a thing complete in itself.’  It comes from the latin verb ‘tangere’,  to touch, and from it we have the word integrity, which translates as ‘the state of being whole and undivided, or ‘having the quality of being honest and with strong moral principles.’

Zero is the first number, according to some but I am only giving zero a nod and a wink for now.  It’s the number 1 I am thinking about, because, although I am one of two or of many, from millions to a book club membership,  I will always be One, and within that understandng, acceptance and knowledge lie the seeds of a colourful unity.

Having strong moral principles is a wonderful thing, providing I don’t expect anyone else to have them.  If I do, and make such an expectation clear, I am laying down my baton of integrity to don the periwig of a judge. I have just made myself divisible and I deserve whatever comes my way.  I would be wiser to concern myself with my own dirty washing, of which I may have a considerable pile.  As I judge another, thus I show, loudly, that I am wondrous to behold in my perfection, and yet it is only wordish vanity somersaulting from my mouth.  When I turn to walk away I may feel smugly chuffed but I may as well have no back to my trousers for the fool I have just made of myself.

However, if I consider not others’ failings, but my own, and if I turn the beacon inwards to study each and every one of them, and begin to address them one by one by one, I am now a Prime Number.  I have just elevated myself through the dirty cobwebs of my secretest hiding place and I can see the sky.  I have nothing to lose from now on.

Well, that’s not true.

What I am about to find as I walk back into one or other of my relationships is that nobody likes change, unless they are the one doing the changing, in which instance, it’s fine and they can’t understand what the fuss is all about.  However, if change comes in the old garb, ie the old me who always used to join in the salacious gossip, or the deliberate rebuff of a ‘lesser mortal’, or if I ran about like a ferret after everyone else’s insecurities and am suddenly absent, or, worse, actually present but unmoving, then I am going to astonish and disappoint and what’s more, be told so.  If I decide I am going to walk the other way, against my own established direction,  I will undoubtedly find myself lonely, feeling foolish and wondering how big my bum really does look.  I might even feel a frisson of fear, because I have no map for this road, not yet. Someone is bound to mutter that I have been on the sauce, or maybe I’m going through a rebellious menopause thing, hmmmm?   But, if I keep doing this new thing by not doing the old thing, I will soon find a rhythm for my feet. As long as I simply concern myself with my own sense of integrity (the state of being whole and undivided) I may not save the world, but I am saving me from carpet heaven –  I, the Prime Number One, the only one for whom I am responsible.

When I am required to make a choice that involves another, I can still approach it with integrity.  After all,  I cannot concern myself only with what I want to do or achieve at any given moment, because I am part of two.  However I am still One within that couple.  I watch young folk pull and push for independence, negotiating deals for the smooth running of a shared life. Tried it myself now and again over the years, but I make a mistake here if I expect approval for wanting something the other person doesn’t want. So what can I do?  Do I just give in and lie down?  Or do I cut my losses, decide we are incompatible and head off to find someone else to be incompatible with?

Or………..maybe I might take a hold of myself, my integrity as a Prime Number, the Number One, divisible by nothing, and take a good long look into my own shadows, and then, with the intelligence of my own heart, quietly and lovingly begin to walk my own path, the one that runs beside yours at times, and not at others, thus embodying both unity and singularity at once, without any divisor.

Such an elegant truth.

 

Island Blog 134 Reality Check

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This morning the air is still on the island.  Nobody is about, except for the birds playing out their dramas.  The doves, including Dave,  whose mate was nabbed by a sparrowhawk a couple of years back, and who will always be a gooseberry, turn up to feed, their beaks tapping out a syncopated rythm on the wooden base of the bird table.  We found the remains of the kill on the track outside the house, and Dave stumbling about lopsided and scared. Not a lucky dove, we said.  After a week or so inside a box, fed and watered each day, he managed a wonky lift from the ground, straightened up and flew right onto the telephone wire.  We hadn’t fixed anything, weren’t sure how to, but perhaps the combination of love and his own will to survive did their work.  Now, however many pairs line the wire, sometimes up to 15 in the winter months, he is the uneven number, but always faithful, staying close to home, when the others loop away across the hills to build nests, raise young, complete the yearly circle once again.

A pair of swallows have taken the nest we fixed at the back of the garage years ago.  Each spring, they check it out, and each spring, they reject it.  Perhaps this is because we are constantly in and out of the garage, for it offers the only access to the hill garden at the back, where the bee hives nestle in the wild grass, their faces towards the sun.  Every day each community, numbering thousands apiece, fly out to find pollen. The scouts communicate directions to the others in waggle dances, performed on the front step and taken seriously by the other worker bees, all women of course, who might be dithering about which way to go.  The hive mind is an extraordinary thing and one that never sleeps, for even when the bees don’t fly, we know that if we lifted the lid (which is not for the faint-hearted) we would not see one single bee loafing about with a vacant look in her eye.  Every single one is busily employed, going about her business mindfully, intelligently, continuously.  Any loafers would be thrown out.

Trouble is, the swallows number three.  I don’t suppose this works, a menage a trois, in the swallow world, but the three of them dive in and out of the garage each early morning and evening.  On the wire, they have words.  No violence is employed, but you can tell, from the tone, that it’s not friendly.  Perhaps, like doves, and swans, swallows mate for life.  Perhaps this lone one lost its mate on that huge journey back from Africa.  We watched them gathering on wires, rooftops, swirling like a dark cloud over Capetown, when we were there in March, preparing for their flight across the globe, and we marvelled.  How they manage to find their old nest sites year after year beggars belief.  We would need maps, charts, radar, provisions, a transport vehicle, confidence, determination and periodic rests in soft beds with cotton sheets and a spacious en suite.  They just fly.

In honour of their unusual tryst, together with the excitement at their final acceptance of the Garden Centre nest, (buy one, get a House Martin one free) I have fixed signs, one on the inside of the door, so we remember not to dive out and head butt a swallow, and one for anyone coming through the little gate who needs guiding to the other door.  If we need to access the hill garden, we must open the garage door slowly, peeking gingerly out, to see if our new friends are around.  Sometimes they wobble on the inside washing line.  We need an inside washing line on the island, as the outside one is often long-term unemployed.  The concrete floor is already guano-ed up and this situation won’t change, as long as they decide, finally, to lay their eggs, which they still may not, given the human comings and goings.

As I walked Miss Poppy around Tapselteerie yesterday, she made me laugh at some antic and, in response to my voice breaking the silence of the afternoon, a well-hidden nest of young tits leapt into action, their collective cheeping floating out from one of the dark holes in the old dry stone wall.  The mother, behind me on a branch, yelled at them to shutup, but they were having none of it.  I didn’t stay around to worry her, but the experience lifted my heart, just to have been allowed to witness that moment, and to fix the knowledge of it into my ordinary day.  I call that an ‘internal shunt’, for It changes me, even though nothing has changed.  My usual list of miniature disasters is still there; the demands on my time, my patience, my purse, stay in place; nothing is certain, nothing really safe and nothing I can do to make it any different.  I could lose a loved one in a nanosecond and there is little I can do to stop it happening.  I can fall ill, a silent enemy moving in to establish victory whilst I dash through my daily list, unaware until too late.  But it does me no good to focus on what may or may not happen, in fact, it will falter my step, weaken me, make me dull at parties.  What I need to do, mindfully and intelligently, is to learn from the birds, from the natural world, of which I am a part.  I am at the top of the food chain, yes.  I can think and reason, yes.  And these gifts are not given to be wasted.  They are gifts of sight, gifts of power, not over others as we seem to believe, but over myself, the choice to get real, like the birds.

How does that song go………oh yes…..

‘Hey, you know what paradise is? It’s a lie
A fantasy we create about people and places as we’d like them to be
But you know what truth is?
It’s that little baby you’re holding, and it’s that man you fought with this morning
The same one you’re going to make love with tonight. That’s truth, that’s love.

I’ve been to paradise, but I’ve never been to me.’