Island Blog – Two Ways of Looking

I have weird taste in breakfasts. Where most good folk are chomping on muesli, yoghurt and fruit, I hanker for poached egg over warmed avocado and chopped banana with lemon juice, salt, pepper and herbs. Sometimes I tuck into last night’s leftovers. I don’t have a sweet tooth, in fact teeth play a lead part in my breakfast choice because it takes me a whole lot of work, and time, to sort them out after muesli. I also eat very early, long before the sun is up so that lunch is often required around 11 am. Living alone, this is not a problem at all. Who cares when I eat? Who will notice? Only me and that’s just fine.

There are times, I confess, when I think enviously of those who sleep for 7 wonderful hours and who, on waking, can sip tea or coffee, read in bed, pondering the day from the warm snuggle of a duvet for another hour or so. These people sleep, I understand that, whereas I can manage a few short hours at best, waking into darkness and with no desire to remain in bed for another second. I am way too excited about the day ahead, too curious to see what awaits me downstairs. Did I wash the supper dishes? Did I buy something online, something I absolutely do not need at all? As I rise, I laugh at myself, at those questions. Washing dishes after each meal was a big issue when I cooked meals for large numbers of hungry people, most of whom were in my own family, but not now. One plate, one pan, one knife, one fork. I can barely see them on the draining board. Back in the years of manifold dishes there would have been a crockery crash had I not washed up after every meal. But it does think me because I know how easy it is to not bother as a live-alone person ages. There is nobody here to judge my standards after all. Ah, no, that’s not true because there is me and I am the strictest judge of self. My standards are always in need of improvement, and I have vowed as I watched other live-alones get sloppy that I would never allow that in myself. So, the dishes are washed, the floors swept, the bathroom clean, the rugs bashed to death and if the dog starts to smell, she is dunked in a bucket and scrubbed to a shine.

In short, it is exhausting being me. I often wish I could lower some of my standards, not one of which I expect to see in another living soul. Quite the opposite. Was I reared to be so damn critical of myself, allowing no laxity? Very probably. But surely at my age I could be less driven? It seems that I am fated to run all the way up to the end. I can’t even sit still for long, the dance in me is too dancey. I am curious about what might be around the next corner and I just have to find out, even if it is only another corner, which it often is. This doesn’t slow me down at all and when I think of this condition, this endless curiosity, I can see it two ways. Fidget, restless, too imaginative, hyperactive, or really alive, curious, interested, imaginative, mischievous, fun, inspiring.

I pick the latter.

Island Blog – Memory Thinks and Flying Colours

As I light the candles in my lovely sitting room, I remember how oft I have done this over the years, and not just here but everywhere I have settled. My home is a sharing place. I remember the faces of all the young people who have barrelled in after a pub visit or for a party here and there was always a party here. We were known for it. Always a welcome. A candle or 20 at the window beckoning. Come in, come in and rest by the fire; eat, share, drink, laugh, settle that tired body right here. Music played then and music still does.

However there is no sharing now, no candlelit welcome, no visits at all. How extremely bizarre is this time in our life. I sit alone beside the merry woodburner and I reflect. I remember. I can hear the music and the voices, the laughter and the fun and, more important of all, I can say thank you that I have known these times; times when I could hardly cross the floor without tripping over somebody; times when young people chose this home to visit, knowing, as they always did, that there would be a warm welcome, refreshment, friendship and the chance to dry off. I know that everyone left feeling better. I know that we gave that, me and Himself and I feel a rush of happiness flooding through me. We didn’t live with a stricture, nor a fixed structure; rules were rules of course and there certainly were times when I waved my stick at bad language, or poor behaviour, but apart from that, freedom reigned within these walls and the ones before and the ones before that. I like that. It is not how I lived as a child. There were so many rules it was hard to move at all. A bit like those laser security beams, criss-crossing every room. Only a spider would get from one wall to the other in safety. Perhaps that is why we did it differently.

Now all these young people, the marine biologists, the geologists, the cetacean experts, the ecologists and many other ‘ists’ have grown into their own worlds, have their own families, their own four walls. They will not come again. But they did once and I am glad of it for I have an ocean of memories to warm my cockles. I can hear their voices, see their faces wreathed in smiles. I remember feeding the five thousand on huge pots of refried beans or bolognaise or chilli con carne (chilli sans carne for the vegetarians) and just loving each shared meal. I see steaming bowls in cupped hands and bodies on every available horizontal surface. Even now, after so many years, I still cook too much and my first thought when someone visits is of what I can give them to eat. So strange to know for certain that there is no chance of anyone visiting anyone and for some time to come, and when that time does return to us, will we really connect with the gift of that freedom or will we just take it for granted as we did back in the normal times? I did, take it for granted, I mean. It is natural to do so, until that ‘natural’ is removed, forbidden, wiped out. Only then do we consciously think.

I have enough roasted vegetables and pasta for at least 4 days. As I sit alone by the merry woodburner watching the candles flicker and dance, I let the memories float through my mind and I say a thank you; thank you that I can remember; thank you that I experienced all that youth and colour and fun; thank you that I am still alive, can still use my brain, am well, happy and absolutely certain that we will all get through this time of strange estrangement with flying colours.

Island Blog – Turn a Feather

People are living. The lucky ones. Watching from the ridge, balancing afoot the cat sharp rocks, teetering, our heads in the sky, bodies somewhere in between, and, in our breath, a question. Will I, will we come out of this alive or not?

We are one, now, we people of the world. We have un-countried ourselves as we face down a terrifyingly powerful enemy. And the heroes keep rising like the sea-eagle I just watched playing with gravity as it slid through the wide blue sky, master of it. We are showing out true colours and making rainbows for each other. It is good.

When the day avoids me I remind myself of this. However isolation goes for those of us isolated, there are people who find that fear defines them. Otherwise strong and confident, this invisible monster lurking in every action, every move, confounds them. It is not good, but it is understandable. It is one thing to face down a big swashbuckling opponent who stands square and loud and inches away, and quite another to face down a ghost. Much is at stake and most of the much is me. And you.

We cannot enjoy a commensal meal, perhaps for months and certainly not on Mother’s Day, not if the mother in question is a bit past her sell by date. We older mums must stay doggo, take up our handiwork and make gallons of nourishing soup for the freezer, in preparation for whatever is to come. Our mums and grannies did it for years during the wars, but they didn’t have to isolate and this is the hard part.

So we must look up and out. We must listen to the sounds of Spring wherever and whenever we can. We can write letters, send emails, make calls to bring cheer to someone else. There may be a hole in the universe right now, a big black one into which many of us are falling and will fall yet, but above us is a huge sky full of weather and birds, painted with daylight and the soft black velvet of night. Those of us who can muster belief must spread that belief to those who are cast adrift from the joy of Life. We must scatter laughter like wildflower seeds, seeds that will sprout under the warming sun, no matter what comes.

This morning a sparrow hawk took one of my visiting doves. I didn’t see it but I saw the resulting scatteration of feathers around the bird table or caught in the branches of a potentilla hedge. It looked awful and I was so sad. I watched the other dove wander endlessly around the garden in search of its mate and felt even sadder. Destruction standing alone, I thought, freezing the moment, and my heart. However, as I watched, a sparrow fluttered down to grab a feather, soft as down. Other small birds followed suit until nothing was left. They had taken the destruction and turned it into hope, a soft lining for a nestful of new life.

If Nature can turn things around so beautifully, then so can we.

Island Blog – Fun

So, yesterday was all about love and cards and flowers and romantic dates. For some. Me……..? Well, I busied myself with the craft of housekeeping and caring right up to the evening, my favourite time of day (or is it night?) when the northern hemisphere teeters on the cusp of transition. It’s time for a shower, to put the tatties on to boil, to gee up the woodburner and to check the garage door is shut against Dennis. He could flip that old thing into matchsticks, taking out several solid things in passing, the way he is growling behind the sky.

On this cusp, after delivering a meal to himself as he sits encased in his pyjamas, his ears clamped shut inside the headphones, some TV series playing out on his screen, silent mouths moving in a dialogue to which I am not privy, I return to the kitchen, light myself a candle or two and pour a glass of wine. Happy Valentine’s I told myself and myself smiled. I love myself enough not to bother about such lovey dovey nonsense. I could clean the faces of the kitchen units; I could have another shower; I could sweep up the crumbs or I could go to the pub. Which is what I did. The kitchen unit cleaning thing almost got me. I had tunes playing and candles flickering shadows up the walls and it all looked rather pretty until I put on my specs and noticed that there was more to cleaning the units than I had thought heretofore. Some reddish blobs had the chutzpa to stick themselves right across one door and there was much dust along the horizontals. Blow that. This is not evening work. It was a quick shift into a jacket and boots and off I toddled, giving Growling Dennis a quick and filthy look en route.

It was fun. Fun is what I love best and the one thing that isn’t always available here unless I fun the flames of it all by myself. I’m pretty good at it, though I say so myself. By the time I left, I had hugged old mates, commiserated, reassured, discussed the excitement of historical geology and understood better the palaver involved in building a new house on an island already drunk on rain. Conversation and communication in a life that has lost so very much of both are as welcome as 12 red roses any day.

When I was a recalcitrant and bloody-minded teenager I sent myself valentine cards. It saved anyone else the bother, after all, and guaranteed that I wasn’t the sad girl without a boyfriend, horribly visible in the school playground, awash with shame and certain that she has terrible breath. Nowadays I believe boyfriends are highly overrated. It all starts out rosy but mostly that’s where it begins to stop. I heard of someone who was incandescent about not getting a card from her husband. I held in a smile because if that is how he feels about her then its better out in the open. Others keep the flame burning, I know that. I met a couple of them last night, still dancing and planning to dance right up to the end of love.

And I smiled at that too.