Island Blog – The Magic of Christmas

Hallo it’s me, the 4 am riser. Actually I would have, could have, slept longer but for the early dog. There is little I can do as she appears not to understand my reasoning around things like consideration of others, dawn rise and the need for humans to enjoy a good night’s sleep. She just cocks her head and blows down her small nose at me, derisively, continuing to patter across the boards and to clean herself noisily. I have to give up, eventually, pulling back the covers and telling myself it’s fine, there’s coffee waiting and the light will come as it always does.

I think on Christmas past with a smile, now that I am frocked up and swilling with strong black coffee. I loved the build up, the knowing that work would stop for himself once I persuaded him that family comes before his work. That was always the tricky bit, persuading him. I doubt I am the only woman who had to find clever ways to get this elementary message across. It bizarres me. Why does a man want a family in the first place if he never plans to prioritise it? Ho, I say, and Hum. At first, when the children were little, I managed 2 days of him not working. Over time I achieved a greater number until, oh joy of joys, he would agree not to work all the way through to January 5th, his birthday. I felt such euphoria then. I could actually relax into family plans and believe they would come to life instead of waving him goodbye and turning back to the chaos alone.

It is the anticipation for me. In everything, if I’m honest. Just moving softly into the magic of carols, messages, decorations and meal designs brought the fairy dust out. I would skip through chores that dragged at my ankles the rest of the winter. The cold at Tapselteerie retreated, not least as I was ‘allowed’ to burn all the fires at full blast for a whole ten days and he chainsawed, hacked, chopped and delivered half a fallen forest without a single tut. The heating, which proffered a whisper of warmth at best, was on twice a day. This was unheard of unless we had paying guests, naturally. The ice inside the lavatory bowls took considerably less time to thaw of a morning and the sound of excited and capering children throughout the big house was a delight to hear even at 4 am. We were happy and together and that was all that mattered, for ten whole days. After that time, grim faces would return, school would cast a gloom over chilly child faces, and back would come the annual dread of another tourist season and the huge amount of work required to make each room, each cottage a dry, clean welcome for whomsoever would brave the long track of potholes. But not yet, those feelings and dreads, not yet. For now it is us and warmth and Christmas just around the corner.

I feel it still, even now. Although there is no ‘We’ anymore and the children are far flung across the world with their own anticipation and fairy dust, I still feel it, right here in my heart. It is under my feet, inside my head, all around the house. It is in the music, the twinkly winky lights, the blast of skin-searing cold as I chop wood for the fire. It is on the faces of islanders walking by. And I love every minute. Although we are all missing someone this year, we have memories and there’s a whole world of them inside each one of us. I can do nothing about the rules this year. I cannot change a thing about any of them. But, I can sit with rememberings, smile at those faces I cannot see, one I will never see again, and I can still feel the magic of Christmas time. And, I remind myself, that this will pass; that there is someone out there, someone I cannot see, don’t know, will never meet, who is far worse off than I; someone desperate, neglected, rejected, abused, terrified. In this light I am humbled. In this light I have everything. In this light, I am a lucky woman indeed. I have loved ones, I am warm, I have lights, friends, beloved family, my health, my working brain, my gifts and skills and my cherished memories.

And I have the magic of Christmas, once again.

Island Blog – Anything I Want and Magic

Out walking this morning, something came to me. It made me laugh out loud, which thoroughly startled the air around me, sent little birds bursting up like fireworks and caused two doe-eyed rabbits to hurtle into the underpinnings of the wood. It was this. I can do anything I want in this lockdown time. There are no checkers with opinions popping their heads around doors at random times of the day. I don’t need to close the loo door when going for a pee. I can wear my frocks inside out, put my pants on my head, cook in just a pinny, drink 3 bottles of wine with lunch and sleep in the same sheets for a month. This freedom is a chuckling thought and my imagination is already running wild.

So, what did it mean before this, before all checkers with opinions were checked out, and for some time to come? Well, I reckon I may well have kept my standards high precisely because of their startlement tactics. If I thought someone might catch me cooking in just a pinny, or appear as the third bottle of wine sank to the dregs, it would think me, and more than once. This structure is/was a good thing, and it will be again, once we are all free to check on each other once more. In fact, I could feel rather unhinged if I considered the possibility that I might never be checked on again. Being checked on created me a discipline, a structure, a blue print by which to navigate my daily life. It kept me upright and moderately sane, grounded and with a strong idea of how things should be on any given day. Does this mean I am now running rampant like a rebellious teenager? No, thankfully. I did that once and it brought me no end of bother, not least because I had no idea of where I was running to, and had I kept on running I would have fallen off the edge of the world. Eventually.

But considering this thought is leading me to all sorts of things. What I am doing these lockdown days is pretty much what I always did. How encouraging that is. For a woman like me who is prone to fantasies of flight on a broomstick it is hugely reassuring to learn that I am grounded in an ungrounded sort of way, but grounded enough to be continuing my standard of living. In truth, it is an elevated one. Now that all the caring is down to me and I am well occupied with an endless list of exciting tasks, I find I have raised the bar. My husband, the sheets, the floors and dishes within this island home are all polished to a shine. Does this mean that I don’t need to feel answerable to anyone but myself? Absolutely. Why didn’t I realise that when checkers with opinions lurked around my peripheries? I cannot answer that, but to understand in the mind of my heart that I am complete, that my conscience is my true guide and that it is I who can give me all the answers, is very refreshing. It means I can talk to myself, always a delightful interaction and most revealing in that I know how me thinks, what irritates me and which way the pair of us want to go.

I am not saying I don’t miss the chance of new light being thrown on an old absolute from the mouth of a friend, but I can still source that via the phone. What I am saying is that this morning I understood something I have preached to both myself and others for years, the fact that I have all that I need for me right here inside this brain, this body, this place, this situation. I just need to go within to look for the answers. They have possibly been waiting for ages, patiently, rolling their eyes every time I expected someone else to bring me the magic I needed. Now I know its inside me and that is a wonderful thought.

We are all enough for ourselves. No, not just enough. More than that. We are completely complete just where we stand right now. And we are the Magic.

Island Blog 118 Children I have loved

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Now that Christmas is back there somewhere, and the hoover is choked with small and completely useless cracker gifts, bits of tinsel, fallen food morsels (where ARE you Sula??) and trinkets various, there is about five minutes of coffee and calm before it all begins again on Hogmanay and a New Year.

When we first moved to the island, I thought Christmas was IT, meaning, that, once the fairyland of it was done, we might just bask in its echoing warmth for a while, watch the twinkly winkly lights for a few more days and justify a wee whisky mac after a chilly walk along the 6 miles of Atlantic coastline, even if it was nowhere near 6pm.  I always reckoned time was an illusion, and used to say so, on more than one occasion, sometimes missing the start of the school term altogether.  But, once the tree was down, the lights and dingle dangles boxed and returned to the silent dark of the cupboard under the stairs, ready for the mice to re-format into comfy, albeit prickly, bedding for their Spring hatch, even I heard my voice sounding slightly desperate as I suggested a warming nip in the middle of an ordinary day.  Because days do that.  Become ordinary and far too quickly for my liking, perhaps for everyone’s liking.  So how do I keep the magic going?  Not with a ‘wee half’ at midday that’s for certain.  Heading into work at the local school as a stand-in (not clown, but classroom assistant……ok, same thing….)and smelling of whisky, even if it is the liquor of the gods, would lose me street cred in a nanosecond.

When the children were little, which, for us meant about 25 years, I worked out a way of keeping magic.  The secret lay in beginning again, but not with a big list of impossible resolutions, none of which ever made it into February.  It was simply a daily decision to be a big kid, to look out at the world through the eyes of a child, and this resolution is sustainable, or it is at least for me and the island husband.  It is absolutely nothing to do with cash in the bank, or a new sofa.  It has nothing to do with dinners out and fancy wines or two holidays abroad every year.  I can have not one of these ‘things’ around me, or even in far sight, because it has little to do with ‘things’.  Oh, I’m not saying things aren’t fun or even necessary as basics, but we tend to look for the right things in the wrong places.  We give our ‘love’ to the wrong things and it isn’t the fault of the tv adverts, or technology.  The fault lies deep inside each one of us and the good news is, so does the solution.

If, on waking, on that pi**y day when I have to find my car keys, or bus money, in the dark, grab my pack lunch and take my place on the tube, in the car, on the bus, to re-enter those office doors and re-locate my desk in stiff backed shoes that pinch, and a skirt that sparks everytime I move (ah, that’s why it was so cheap), I say to myself….’I shall look at all of this, as a child would,’ then I have begun to change.  Nothing has changed and yet everything has changed.  A child doesn’t fret about what lies ahead, unless we show him how to, by fretting ourselves.  A child, my children, bounced into days like monkeys or terrorists or pirates, or clowns, and the only thing that fussed them into a right panic, was probably me.  Me and that old illusionist, Time. The only person who got cross with potholes was me.  Everyone else imagined a trip over the rockies with Jeremy Clarkson at the wheel.  The only person who imagined that if this child didn’t eat SOMETHING today, they were going to get rickets or anorexia, was me. The only one who couldn’t laugh as one child inflated a rubber glove into a a huge balloon and then pulled it over his head, was me, because I was too serious about what could have been fun, what was fun, through a child’s eyes.  Running into a snowy afternoon without a well-zipped-up polar jacket was a given, and yet I would scream and fret about what………hypothermia?  Jings woman, it’s just an afternoon!!!!!

Worry is the killer and another is fear and yet another, the almostworstone, is ‘what will others think of me?’

Let’s say that you go into work with a smile and a chuckle at the ready.  Worst thing that can happen is that someone suggests you don’t take things seriously enough.  Well, good for you, say I.  The only things we need to take seriously are the serious things and, trust me, you will know your own list well enough.  Then, another someone might suggest you have an easy life.  And so you might, but then again, you might not, but whose business is that might I ask and what does it have to do with anything?

Some of the most cheerful adults I have ever met have the biggest pills to swallow.  They wear a smile, and more than that, they look for the fun in everything.  They are interested in you, in life, in the magic of what might happen next, for, although you and I may have a routine, a dull daily routine, there are opportunities in every minute, just waiting to be bounced like balls, or thrown like frisbees across a room.  What we allow, and this is an individual choice, is for someone gloomy to bring us down, to feed our guilt.  This is not their fault, but our own, and, as I said before, the solution lies within.

I remember such encounters with les miserables in my long life, and what I found, after some reflection, was that they were really reaching out for friendship and not a caustic comment.  If I asked them about their life, their likes, their Christmas, I could always find their smile.  Now, it wasn’t up to me to keep it on that gloomy face, but I could show them something that touched their heart and that was friendship.  When my kids found themselves stuck with such a person, in school, in college, or in the workplace, I always suggested that they try swimming upstream, towards the crowd and not with it: to see another as a whole human being, not a miserable old g*t.  Each one of them has been glad of that advice and have their own stories to tell after they extended the hand of friendship and found the smile within.  They met extreme lonliness, social ineptitude, fears and self-doubts.  They met inadequacy and rejection, and in that darkness, they met their own.

Children grow and are children no more, so they tell me, although we must be well behind the times, the island husband and I, because we can still have a pillow fight, make fun out of all the leaks in our home, the smoking chimney in a big wind, and it has absolutely nothing to do with life being easy. Life isn’t easy, but living it to the full, is simple indeed, as a child will tell you.

If you ask.

Island Blog 53 – The Colour of Children

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In the night I listen to the wind rising up like an angry woman.  By 3 am she has bullied the curtains into a right state.  The snapping of upset floral chintz wakes me with a start.

Gunshot, I tell myself as I burst up from another of my apocalyptic dreams.  I had just been wandering across a dead grey wasteland, somewhere beyond Thunderdome, and looking for my children. I can’t go back to sleep to find them once I’ve left the dream.

The curtains lift out into the room exposing the window glass, but no light falls in, for this night is just plain black.  The only light, if I can name it such, sneaks up the stairs from its source- that disco ball of a mouse.

You would think, wouldn’t you, that shutting down my laptop would shut the rodent down too?  But nothing will persuade it into sleep and on it glows, red and blue, all night long, but irritating me a little less tonight, as it lights my way down the stairs and all the way to the kettle.

During the day we had visited a little school over the hill.  The sun was warm and yellow (well, maybe not warm) and the sky ice blue with scuds of snowy clouds as we climbed our way up, over and down the hill.  The little isles were still where we remembered them to be, but faded a little inside a veil of mist. Ewes with their bright white lambs, peppered the roadside and, behind a wonky fence, slow cows peered at us through long russet fringes.

Neither the island husband nor I had remembered to make packed lunch.

We spent an hour in the light bright classroom on little plastic chairs, discussing her plans to decorate a school shed with beach gatherings;  bits of fishing net, bits of rope, colourful plastic, shells and so on.  The children do many beach cleans during the summer and after a big tide, pickings are treasure for those who care to think so.  Ideas flew like swallows around that little classroom and we could just see how wonderful it would be, once we got beyond talking about it, of course.

The children came back from some outside adventure just as we were leaving, all breathless and excited, their cheeks rosy and their mouths full of chatter.  We watched them settle in their places around the wide tables.  The teacher introduced us, and explained the hut project, the abstract design ideas, the use of shape and texture and lots of colour.  I wondered if those little heads could imagine what we had imagined.

I burped ten times.  said one little girl a propos of nothing.

Green burps, she continued, then furrowed her brow.

No, not green………what’s that big colour Mrs Eden?

The big colour?  We were all wondering.

Big as your dad?  asked a little tousle-headed boy.

No, silly, she replied.  Nothing’s big as that.

As we drove back along the little winding road, sucking toffees to quiet our growling stomachs, we considered big colours a bit smaller than a dad, and we felt the awe of it.

Island Blog 14 – Oh the falling snow

First it was a threat, an amber warning, and then, by 8am, a reality, falling in big soft silent flakes, from a sky that looked like my granny’s double damask table cloth.  And every single flake is different- no two ever the same.

In no time the snow is over my boots- something I discovered fairly smartly as I rushed out to build a snowman.  The first of the year.  Even at nearly 60, snow people fascinate me. With our frozen fingers, we can fashion these crystals into a magical creature, letting our imaginations fly.

I read a book recently called The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey and it took me into a fantasy world of snow and trees and silence and magic.  Even though the story is unbelievable, in that a snow girl comes to life, I believed it, because I choose to inhabit such a world where anything can happen way outside what is seen and explainable.  Too many unexplainable things happen and not just to me.  What I see, can touch, and explain, ends right there;  it can never go any further, but if I turn instead to my imagination, there is absolutely no limiting punctuation whatsoever.

 

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