Island Blog – Shift, Fly and a Dog’s Questions

This afternoon I walked into Tapselteerie, as I do every single afternoon, small terrier bounding afoot. She is always full of ridickerluss bounce as if we have never walked this way before; as if she and I are about to discover a gruffalo nest or a ferocean of fairies. I pointed out the conkers to her, the star moss, the positive pebbles I hid that someone has moved on, but she just looked at me like I was a weirdo. Her plan is to locate the biggest and longest stick she can find and then lift. She waits for me to forward, then runs full tilt, whacking the backs of my legs with half a hazel tree, thinking it hilarious and most satisfying. I don’t mind. She thinks I don’t know what’s coming, but my advantage is my human brain. I have worked out the math of this particular pole, considered the level of scratchy branch activity, the then width of the track, the level of recent rainfall and its ability to soak my calves. It’s a daily game and only infrequently I am required to say enough is enough. This day was one of those times. The pole would have held up an elephant’s weary head, no bother.

Up in the woods I heard childlaughter, my favourite sort. Poised on a rock and looking like a dream, a little girl squeaks with delight as her father completes the construction of a swing. I can see she will begin on the rock, but the fall away of the hill and the subsequent leap into the sky takes her 20 foot off the ground. She is tiny, wiry, slim and excited and I want to hide. I see a thousand disasters, but she sees none of them and nor does her father. He has swung many times higher in his time, almost to the moon and back, and, for all I know, touching moon base. He is, after all, my son and all of my children are risk takers and always were. I have no idea where they got that from. After successful launch, momentary panic as she looks down to see the blue planet below her tiny butt, followed by a happy landing back on the rock, the game is on, the shift from land to outer space completed.

Back home there is a shift. A sudden shift. In the journey that is dementia, this is oft how it works. Plateau, shift, level out, plateau and shift again. Everyone involved needs to catch up, learn, accept, take action. This is where we are now. Just 2 weeks ago the plateau felt like it was staying flat, for some long time, with only little skips and twirls that showed a gradual demise. But now on this road, the pilgrim has met landfall and it seems there is no way around it for him. He doesn’t want to eat, cannot move anywhere or anyway without help. We, his family, are coming to terms with that but I won’t say it is a natural nor an easy thing to come to terms with nor accept. How could it be? This is Dad. This is the strong provider of 50 years and then some, the one who knew the answers to everything and, if he didn’t, never let on. I remember a violently horrific North Sea crossing when I was so terrified I thought I would faint clean away (but didn’t), with a force 10 gale battering our boat, full sails up because it had come in so fast there was no time to reduce, nor crew (me being terrified) to strap on, walk the slippery deck in lashing rain, and then find the strength to work the winch. But, and but again, he never left the helm, navigated us home to within a few maritime feet of home harbour, using his skills and whatever stars he glimpsed. 17 hours of rocking and no soft cradle in sight, but he got us home and intact. This is the Dad who took risks, flew high and taught all of us to trust in him and to shut up and fly.

This shift is tough. I want to reach out to anyone and everyone who is going through this end game or who has gone through it. My utmost respect and admiration to you all.

Even the dog knows something’s up. She keeps looking at me, a million questions in her eyes.

Island Blog – Composing History

This morning, around 4 am, the chaos awakened me. I cannot call it a dawn chorus because, by definition, a chorus is a group of musicalities singing, or playing the same melody with sensitively selected harmonies plus the odd discord for salt. This gradually escalating cacophony smacks more of jazz, country, classical and pop all playing at the same time and yet, bizarrely, it is far from discordant. It flows in a glory of counterbalance through the open window telling me the day is rising and so should I because light is my thing and this music is the most uplifting I could ever wish for. Wherever we live, birdsong is a daily gift, whether it be given to us on the island, in a flat in Glasgow, on the coast of Spain or in Crinkly Bottom, Englandshire. And it is free, no need to download an app nor pay a monthly sub. We cannot see the music, but we can see the musicians, if we let our eyes roam the landscape. They are free, wild, not in lockdown, not separated from loved ones, and they can do so much to uplift a flagging spirit.

I come downstairs, make tea and go check on the moon. I know she is there, could almost hear her and most definitely saw her light seeping through a crack in the curtains. She is gibbous, pregnant with a burgeoning rounded bump, about to give birth to fulness. The tide is waiting, I see her, sitting there, flat and rising as the undertow pushes more sea beneath her bulk, swelling her until she will reach her full height on May 7th. Gulls shriek above her, their sharp eyes following the fish just below the seafoam, occasionally to dive, with no grace whatsoever, thus erupting the surface into splash and bother. Greenfinches bounce along my fence, Goldfinches flit like butterflies across the field and a lone heron, yelling abuse as always, flaps over the narrows heading for the sea.

All of this looking and seeing thinks me. Of us, of all of us, all people, all colours, shapes and sizes. We are a chorus of humanoids, no matter what melody we choose, and in singing together we have the same power to uplift a flagging spirit. I know that in this crazy-bonkers time we cannot meet each other to compare notes, and all of us are changing, will be forever changed by this. There is a new score being crafted, new melodies unfolding, twisted and turned by capricious tides, pushed along by a strong undertow, powerful as the pull of the moon. 2020 will never forget what happened, what is still happening. And, there will be stories, millions of stories, myriad hearts speaking out, singing out and the chorus of these songs and stories will be remembered and resurrected long after we go back to dust. How remarkable to be living in this time! This period in history will be taught and learned in schools for generations to come. And we were there, we are there, we are here, living it, seeing it. This is our time. May we take it all in, really look and really see everything, employing all our senses in order to round the story gibbous, pregnant, like the moon, ready to give birth to a brand new world.

Island Blog – A Crescendo of Growth

I can see it coming. The new shoots pushing through cold ground, like babies being born. One minute, safe, warm and dark, and suddenly thrust into the light, sharp, blinding. Flipped by the wind (or the midwife), smacked by the rain (ditto) and cold, so cold. It is understandable, the heartfelt desire to return to B4, but that option has been taken away for ever. Moving onto A1 is what Mother Nature insists we do, all growing things. If she is always moving on, then so must we. Instinct drives, timing is life or death. We must comply.

This, sadly, also goes for bodily hair. I think we women will all look like scarecrows with moustaches and caterpillar eyebrows by the end of this enforced lockdown. Unless we have a family member who can offer us smooth passage and who happens to own salon scissors. Ah…….there may not be many of those who inhabit such fortunacity. My word. But sticking to the subject, I wonder how we will grow through this time. The people I have talked to on Skype, messenger, WhatsApp and the Alexander Bell are all thinking we will grow better. I am with them on that. I know folk who have faced down death and returned to live a stronger, more focussed, more sensitive life, letting more unimportant stuff go and ferreting around for the things that really matter, but felt like ordinary and uninteresting. Before this. In a way we are all facing down death right now and it will teach us many things.

As I come down the stairs to see the moon face to face instead of letting her think that her sneak through the cracks in my curtains will ever be enough, I am thankful for the stairs holding up. There was a time when holding up caught a fever and wobbled a lot, requiring skilled assistance to de-wobble. I am thankful for my washing machine, car, ability to scrub the inside of those flaming mugs that will not let go of tea tannin, go for walks with my frocks always at odds with the capricious snatches of the west coast wind. I watch primroses push out more colour, a siskin or a goldfinch on the nicer seed feeder, the way my dwarf willow dances flamenco on the hilly back garden. I am thankful for the postmistress #suchacrazytitle delivering mail in her disposable gloves, smiling and joking with me through the window as I stand on the laundry basket from Nincompoo Laundry, Calcutta. I’m thankful for that too.

My finger nails have never been this clean. Neither has my husband. What I am learning in this time is what really matters, such as looking after him myself. I am cooking good food once more having absented myself from any meaningful connection with pots, pans, process and palavers. For what seems a long time I have served him one of his ready meals (good quality) from the microwave and then boiled myself pasta, added pesto and salad. One of my granddaughters was horrified, not about her grandfather’s ready meal thingy, but my pasta on repeat thingy. Granny… she admonished. This is not like you! But it was like me, back then. Now I am purposed up, my extra busy imagination coming up with all sorts of marvellousness just as I did when cooking for five hungry kids plus hangers on. There were always plenty of those, and nobody on this island ever sends anyone home without something in their bellies. It just isn’t done.

Now I am about to start finding out how to make face masks. This should be interesting. I wonder if I will be able to stick with the J Cloth plus ribbons rule? What…..no macrame flowers or beads and bobbles? Abso- flipping-lutely NOT. Rats. I am also knitting dog blankets for our dog. She is currently the lucky owner of 3 colourful/wool and easy wash blended reaches of bonkers colour. The easy wash part washes, well, easy. The wool part is obviously sulking and retreating into itself, so that a part of the blanket looks more like a ploughed field, but Poppy doesn’t seem bothered all that much. She just turns a few circles and flops down on the easy wash, resting her delightful black nose on the ploughed field, so she can see out all the better.

I am daily delighted by all the entrepreneurial posts on social media. People are doing things they probably always wanted to do, but didn’t consider their work to be of notable value. Now it definitely is and this is what the human race is all about. I remember, as you will, the oldies saying that what the world needs is a jolly good war. Although there is nothing jolly about any sort of war, they had a point, one that now makes sense to me. What they meant is that, during wartime, a family, a community, a village, a city, a country, the world has to pull together, as we are all now doing. How does it feel to you? I think it is marvellous partisan excellent quiddity. In fact, I am quite astir just thinking about how wonderful folk are. We are learning to care outside of our boxes and demonstrating that care in ways that fulfil and nourish the givers as much as it does the receivers. In short, we are finding a new currency.

Hats off to all of you doing whatever you are doing for others. I am just waiting for that balmy summer evening inside a city when all those musicians, isolated in their own homes, communicate with each other, fix on a song or a piece of music and open their windows to delight a whole street, to lift, just for a short while, the anxiety and the fear, turning them into birds and butterflies and telling us all that together, we will grow through this.

Island Blog – Thinks on Why

This morning I was discussing various outlandish things with my faraway son. We don’t bother, he and I, with myopia, moving with a zip straight into deep thinks on even deeper things such as ‘how is it I can remove my feet from my boots without unzipping the zipping and yet find it impossible when inserting them?’ That sort of deep think.

We spoke on the Why of things, the Why that explodes you out of bed of a morning, so excited are you to get the day rocking. Without a Why, we agreed, we would remain in bed considerably longer, rising with a sad sigh of resignation. The day would not rock at all, not even once. So what is your Why? I ask him. He doesn’t know, yet, but with his investigatory brain, he’ll locate it I feel sure. Sometimes it is there, the Why, but playing hide and seek with you. You have to look for it until it leaps out from grandad’s old chest on the landing with a loud Wahoo!

I think about my Why as I walk, reluctantly, the dog this afternoon. Why reluctantly……when the sun shineth down on all his people and the sky could set up a sailor’s trouser factory to match the largest in China? Why, when you have had lunch, prepared supper, brought in the wood, sorted the palaverous palaver for tomorrow’s journey to the care home, affording you a week of peace, no wheelchair motor thrumming like a bee stuck in a strip light, no spills or crashes, nothing lost that can never be found again, not even the wifi going down, deliberately timed for maximum upset? Because I am exhausted. So you will understand that my Why is not in Grandad’s chest on the landing, nor any of the other likely hiding places. My Why is awol.

However, forcing my tired old brain into action I took a wee donder through the limbic region for something that lit my fire. I meandered through sewing, knitting, caring, holidaying, making money, painting, singing, playing my piano and into writing. That stopped me. Writing. Yes. Is this my Why? Perhaps I wouldn’t have to ask that question if it was. I know that, when writing I am totally engaged, time slips by without me noticing and in a life (nowadays) when I could scream at the slow slow ticking away of the seconds as I wait for a day to run out of puff, this is exciting. Had I even begun Book Two I might be so absorbed as not to notice the dull drudge of caring for decades. Is it a truth, then, that I am actively not seeking out my Why in the vain hope that soon this will be over and I will be free to write without endless interruptions? I am not sure this is a healthy, nor a realistic, way to live.

I know one Why that explodes me up of a morning. I am out so fast that it may take all morning for my bed to regain its comfortable calm. My children. And their children. Whatever skirmishes are going on inside my own brain, if one of them is going through shit, or facing an exam or a life test, I am fired up like a rocket. I can’t manage their stuff for them but my support, my texts and voice messages can tell them I am here for them, always and as long as I draw breath. Probably long after that too. But it isn’t right to live inside someone else’s life, or for someone else’s life. It is the Why inside my own that needs finding, naming, sticking on the wall, fastening to my heart. This Why must be writing. It has to be. Writing is the only island in this turbulent ocean, the only thing that eats the indigestible whilst feeding me at the same time.

There are no books at all on How to cope with long term caring, beyond suggestions for joining groups or taking up community singing. Not that I have found, and, believe me, I have looked. With a How there needs to be a What. If the What, for me, is a book to help others caught in this cruel trap with no sign of an ending that is in any way pleasant for anyone, to make them laugh out loud at the funny side and to let them know they are not alone as they plan murder or an imminent departure from their post, then this book is begging to be written. Experiential learning is critical, as it is to pretty much anything in life. I have that in spades. The How is to flaming well get on with it, find a space, make a space, defend that space. Now, not when it’s over. Right now.

And the Why is the writing. No matter that I have no idea how to begin, nor how to couch the awfulness, the drudge and boredom and frustration of it, in polite language; no matter that there are a zillion stupid tasks inside this myopic life all needing Only Me to fix them, from finding a jersey that doesn’t exist, never was red, nor did it have buttons down the front, this jersey crucial and of great value that will never be found, to relocating the wifi dongle that I deliberately put away somewhere deep and dark out of spite, and with many others in between. Many. Others. Not even these can take away my Why, My How and my What.

How I do this, I have no idea. But what I do know is that if I don’t flaming well get on with beginning it, I might as well howl at the moon in the vain hope she will howl back. And I don’t think that has ever happened. My head is a jumble right now. I am scrabbling around inside my knowledge of a day in my current life and there is no space left. And yet, and yet, I seem to recall great people who made space for a dream, who planted its seed with no assuredness of future growth; who tended and nurtured and waited patiently for a green shoot, for validation.

So, if them, then why not me? Why not you?

I leave you with a quote from one hell of a fine woman.

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Island Blog – Wildsong

We have a January Hooligan blowing around us today. The gusts are enough to throw a girl against things, or people and I am overly aware of the ancient Scots pines behind this old stone cottage, waving, as they are, like parents at a kids sports day, only with the whole trunk falling menace thing, unlike parents. Who knows how deep the roots go? I can see them lifting above the grass, the thin layer of grass covering the rocks, big strong looking roots the width of my arm. All very fine, you might think, solid and fixed and probably so for many decades, but these winds are real hooligans, gusting enough to blow a whole ferry off course and to stir up massive waves in the bit between us and the solid hen of a mainland. Nature is our mistress out here on this brave soldier of a rock and we are more couried in, by a long chalk, than those islands in the Outer Hebrides, the ones where only gannets fly and then with difficulty. Ideas and stories up there in the blast of Nature’s ferocity must struggle to keep in line. Not surprising, is it, that old tales morph and change and become as potent as a drug in the telling and the re-telling. This happened once to someone. Then it happened in perpetuity to a generation and please add the lifeboat and the bagpipes and that wispy maiden ghost who still haunts the basalt and gannet flying shoreline. Add a fishtail and bring in a song and before you know it, Sirens are doing their work. It is as it has always been. Wind, water, wide skies, fickle moonshifts, lonely people and no electricity will stir up a right drama before you know it and nobody can pin it down. As soon as it is written, it changes, it shape shifts, becomes another creature altogether in another set of natural unnaturals.

I watch a silken ribbon of gulls fly through the narrows, away from the rise of what will be a full moon soon enough. Last night, she, the moon was all wonky chops, soft around the edges, not gibbous, wrong time for that, but firming up as she always does for the big show. The clouds are running from the hounds of hell and nowhere in the sky is there peace. The damp patches make swirly patterns of amber across my ceilings and the windows luff and suck their way through the nights. I remember, once, at Tapselteerie, when an old huge window luffed and sucked and blew into the garden in the midst of a dark winter night, leaving us fluttering along with our bedding and ornaments and grabbing the curtains into the wild where they cracked against the frame, heavy with skywater until I cut them free with a kitchen knife. I have no idea where they ended up.

Tonight may send a power cut. These dottery poles stuck into the rock do not grow roots. There are hillsides here that defy any pole affixment. And, yet, affixed they are, like soldiers across a wildscape, confident enough most of the year, barring January, to stand tall, giving buzzards a better view and the chance to realign a confluence of feathers. They are marks for fishermen, for sailors, not that any sailor in his right mind would be out in this. It thinks me.

The gale, just now, shrieking and moaning around the house is in E Minor. Of course, that will change, and I clock every change in key throughout the night. Last night, I barely slept. The key changes awaken me, as does the shift in the wind as she flexes her muscles, happy to be free and loud and in control. A bit like me on the dance floor, which is what she is as she takes over, demands the super trooper light on her alone and makes the most of that limelight. We whispering mortals, all in bed holding our books and pulling the duvet right up tight, are nothing compared to her and she knows it. The gulls knew it, as I watched them ribbon with her, making her beautiful, defining her as she whiplashed by, exuberant and utterly wild. They were not stupid enough to fly against her, not like we do, out on our walk with the dog, pushing into her motherly breast, her fire, her E minor. You cannot, will never, win against a strong mother, and, yet, we try because the paths we can walk are not nature’s paths. They no longer follow ley lines but go where it is convenient for us to manage a covering of ground. When we lived at Tapselteerie, we honoured Ley lines. These are the lines that wild animals walk and have walked for generations. In honouring these ‘walkways’ we didn’t upset the natural balance. New owners came in with fences and I recall gasping out loud as I saw a ley line fenced off. I couldn’t believe my eyes, wanted to scream, to cry out, to say something, but those people would have laughed me out. So, I said nothing. But, one day……..

As I walked the small dog around the fences (to keep out the deer, which nobody can ever do here btw) it was the darkling time. That cusp of still when day gives in to night, but not quite yet. The sky was full of gulls and divers and blackbirds out way too late. I heard a tawny owl cranking up her vocal cords, could see her eyes black bright somewhere inside the woods, sense her hunger. I could feel mice hunker down, sense the exciting tension around me. The little dog wasn’t looking, but I was. A fine young stag startled right beside me, on a bluff. He stopped. I stopped. We looked at each other. Behind him, as my eyes acclimatised, stood four hinds, equally disturbed. Nothing moved, not even the dog, for what felt like a month. Then, suddenly, the fine young stag took off, across the path I challenged and, in doing so, took down the deer fence that blocked the old ley line. His hinds followed and to my amazement the small yappy dog said not one word. She just watched. it was a historic moment, that time when Nature, all wild and fiery eyed said No. And No it was, and is still.

E minor is fine for me, if that is what Nature wants to sing just now. To be honest, I would love to be as flexible in my key shifts as she. All I can do, as a wee wummin is to let my fingers flow over the keyboard, to listen to music long written down by those who had the gift of Natural Connection and who captured what they could when they could, and to love every lift into the wild.

Island Blog – Seed Pods, A Hawk and Me

Today there is a breeze – a welcome one, even if it is already 27 degrees out beyond the cooling thatch of the stoep where fierce old Father Sun is warming up for a ten degree elevation. Little brown seedpods scurry across the velt as if chasing each other. The big stones, left behind as the bushland erodes even more, show me their shoulders, rounded from a thousand years of ocean turmoil. These huge stones have stories to tell. I remember years ago flying in a tiny plane, not much bigger than a swan, through the fjords of Iceland, heading north to where the houses run out and only the ice tundra remains. The sharp toothed mountains reared into the blue sky like pointing fingers, young still, in the lives of mountains, unlike their Scottish cousins whose stories go way further back. These mountains, these teenagers, could still fell a man (and a plane the size of a swan) just by falling out with the sky, thus creating a synaptic flu. And, as with we humans, one person with flu affects everything and everyone else.

As I sipped my coffee and watched for a giraffe visit, I heard a guinea fowl. The distinctive sound is not usually heard in solo, for guinea fowl, those comical hen-like birds travel in groups, all talking at once. The singular sound alerted me and soon I saw, first, the bird running at a surprising lick between the still-bare trees followed by what I thought was another fowl in flight. the guinea fowl lifted into the air somewhat clumsily, still yelling its head off, still alone but for its follower. Ah……not another fowl but a hawk! The chase was lost to my view and I had no phone with me to capture such a sight, nor would I have had the time to focus and press ‘video’. It all happened so fast – the large hen fowl, the smaller hawk in pursuit, an unlikely meet. Who knows? Not I, said the cat. Not I said the goose. And nor do I.

This all thinks me. The seed pods tippling along in the wind, powerless to change a single thing. The guinea fowl in the wrong place at the wrong time. The old round-shouldered stones and their younger cousins poking at the sky to trouble it as all teenagers will do around authority. In my days and weeks here I have studied and rested, read and watered the plants who could never wait a week for refreshment, not in this dry heat. Sometimes, and for no reason I can find, I am like a seed pod, trundling this way and that across some bare-assed tundra and the best I can do is to make little trundling noises as a bully wind decides where I go next. Someone might say something that reacts inside me like an axe-chop and all my anxieties rise to welcome the blow, confirming what I always feared, that I still haven’t got it right, whatever ‘it’ is. I might hold my ground (mindfully) but my rational mind has abandoned me and all I want to do is to hide in the dark of the broom cupboard with all the other old brooms whose bristles are more like whispers but which nobody quite got round to chucking on the bonfire.

Other days I am the guinea fowl in the wrong place at the wrong time. I can feel the terror and hear the hawk and a greater part of me just wants to give up and wait for the inevitable, however slow and unpleasant that would be. Funnily enough, I never feel like the hawk, not in such a chase. Even if I do know that hawks need food like all the rest of us and is not able to pop to Tescos for a weekly shop, I still prefer to envisage such a magnificent creature soaring over my head and enjoying the upthrust of thermals.

In my studies, I am learning both to ‘ground’ and to ‘elevate’ in my daily meditation (well, almost daily). It’s all done through imagination and I have plenty of that to spare, too much most of the time to be honest, and the imagery really does calm and restore me. But, and here’s my jagged toothed poke at the sky, I really do wonder at the efficacy of loading one wee woman with so much imagination whilst others seem to have just enough to live a normal and pleasant life. I think things nobody else thinks, or would admit to, perhaps. I go down into valleys and up the rocky mountains whilst others walk calmly along the road. I can see them. I can talk to them but I cannot walk that way it seems. My way (thank you God) is a daily bother about appropriate footwear for a terrain I did not choose and am quite unprepared for. Are there others like me out there, I wonder? Yes, I know there are and the reason I write all this in my blogs is not just to reach out to all you others who have to abseil slimy rock faces instead of take a wee donder along a road built by man and following the line of least resistance, but to know I am not the only one who fights life every single step of the way. It isn’t that I am unhappy with my lot, far far from it. I love my life, am in love with my life. I have the imagination to see far far into the void even if it terrifies the bejabers out of me. I can climb mountains in the wrong footwear if I have to. I have something extraordinary within (thank you God) even if I do wonder (and often) what on earth I am supposed to do with it all. I have envied, many times, the folk who just get on with life, who don’t think too much and who appear rarely, if ever, consumed by doubts, fears, anxieties and predatory hawks; those who see what is visible and who are not concerned with what is not. It looks like such a pleasant way to live, but I could not live that way however hard I tried. My inner nutcase is way too strong for me to conquer. I know. I’ve tried to kill it off since way back when. She, and it is obviously a she, so obstinate, so strong, so defiant, so stubborn and loud and ornery. No hiding in the broom cupboard for her, dammit. I have even tried to outwit her; wearing clothes that look like other people’s, or practising normal ways to live, to speak; voicing opinions that present me as #notme but it never lasts for long. I get the giggles. This me is this me. End of.

And here you are, my fellow crazies. I see you on your own rock face and I am waving from my own – in the wrong footwear with the hawk screeching in my ears and a bully wind buffeting my ass. Above all of us who take the path less travelled, if indeed you could call it a path at all, so invisible at times, so thrawn with roots and other trip-ups, is Father Sun, Mother Moon and a sky wide enough to hold all of us down whilst lifting all of us up.

And so it is.

Island Blog 142 Back to the Sea

2014-06-05 11.16.07

 

I have come to a conclusion.  One I might have come to long ago but didn’t, not least because I couldn’t really explain it, should anyone ask for my ‘workings’.

Workings are what art teachers demand when they stand before a huge canvas, liberally splodged with texture, glue, sparkly bits, string, and fat brush strokes telling them absolutely nothing.  ‘Where are your workings?’  they asked me.  I had to find out first what they were talking about before answering.  Once I knew, of course, I back-dated said ‘workings’ on paper, parchment,card, board and copper plate and stuck them into my Workings Book, which I didn’t know I had till a fellow student found it stuffed into my locker – another thing I didn’t know I had.

When a painting is abstract, there is a process.  You begin with the real thing.  A duck for example, or a pot of flowers, a seascape or a human form.  You draw that bit first, kind of whizzily with a loosely held pencil or bit of charcoal or even a paintbrush if you’re jolly smart.  You might be out of doors doing it, perched on a cold stone wall in the middle of Linlithgow, or you might have hooked a buttock or two onto an old tree stump on the shore of some spectacular place, or you may just be at your desk beneath the blue light of those vile tubes.  Wherever you are, you are supposed to be capturing the thing of interest onto a bit of paper in your drawing pad.  We were for-bid-den to call it a sketch pad.  We are not sketching, class.  We are drawing.

Semantics.  It amounts to the same flipping thing, but it’s always best not to argue, when the argument is about words and what they mean to other people, especially teachers.

So, you capture this interesting thing and then you loathe it to death.  It is, at best, dreadful, and looks nothing like it should or even could and even less than nothing like the interesting thing.  If it was a naked being, then I was doomed from the outset.  I could have a deliciously formed adult male just feet away from me under the blue lights and, in a matter of one short hour, he would be reduced to a Lowrie figure with no blood pumping through his veins, nor sinewy life in his supple limbs, both of which were there until my pencil removed them.  Picasso, I kept whispering to myself, fighting back the tears of shame.  Picasso.  Gee-ed up by such thoughts I stuck one eye on his thigh and thought I’d got away with it until Miss Fineart mosied over and snorted, alerting the class to do their own spot of mosying over and snorting.  The young man in question couldn’t move, for which I was deeply grateful as he was facing away from us and stark naked.

So much time was spent on ‘workings’ for pretty much all of my pieces for End of Year Show.  In my case it was both a lottery and a farce because not one back-dated working had entered my head for a single second as I plunged headlong into the world of the abstract.  Abstract just comes first for me and that’s that.

Back to my newly drawn conclusion.

I believe without a doubt that I came from the sea.  Not as a mermaid, or silkie, or even a fish.  I am not talking about the body of me, but the spirit of me.  Whenever I am by the ocean I am at peace.  I can go there carrying tension, rage, frustration.  I can feel heavy and old and tied down and lumpish. But, when I have stayed awhile, listened to the tide roll in or out, felt the salt spray in the breeeze and tasted it on my lips, I am a new woman again.  I don’t just believe that it’s about dumping my baggage for the old tide to take away, because whatever I took down there doesn’t join me as I walk back home.  I never see it again.

When I am in busy places, far from the ocean, I can do whatever I need to do, for a while.  But after that while, which isn’t very long, I feel the old scratch I can never itch, the one that tells me I am not all that wonderful, in fact, not wonderful at all.  I feel irritations niggle at my gut, threaten to spill out of my mouth.  I feel claustrophobic and find it hard to breathe.  No, it is not a panic attack.  There is nothing my logical mind could find to panic about.  It is true that all around me is concrete, noise, people rushing here and there, traffic, lights, dirty pavements and man-made deadlines.  I know how to cross a road safely and what bus to catch.  I know where I am heading and the time arranged for me to arrive.  There is no panic in any of that.  So it’s not a panic attack.

It’s just that I am not in the right place for me.

I know the rocks on the shore.  My eyes need to see the broken mussel shells, left by geese or an otter.  They need to see thrift, purple and trembling in the salt breeze, gulls white against the sky, calling out to each other as the new tide brings in the sprats.  I watch them poppling the surface of the water, pushed up by a predator deep beneath them and out of sight to me.  I must see the kelp thrown high upon ancient rocks, the little pools left by the flood tide, the tiny shrimps stranded till the next one comes in, perhaps whilst I sleep.  I have to see sunlight on the yellow lichen, turning it to gold, to hear the popping of sea-gorse seeds, marvel at the darting of goldfinches on the barbed stalks, and hear their animated chirrups at the abundance therein.  I absolutely must watch the single snow goose leading four, no five families of greylags across the sea-loch in serried ranks cutting perfect lines across the water.   I know the state of the moon by the tides and the state of the tides by the moon. I know the sea and the sea knows me.

It’s not a fairytale.  it’s a conclusion. Mine.

So I go, as I will always go, every day of my life.  I will go to where I came from.   Back to the sea.

Island Blog 140 Larks and Kate

 

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Singing is a lark don’t you think?

I feel like singing a lot of the time and sometimes in the wrong places such as the dentist’s waiting room or in a queue at the airport.  In my imagination I play out what would happen if I did sing.  That old lady over there would probably smile.  The kids would gawp and wonder if they had stepped into a movie and all the rest would study me from top to toe and think me bonkers.  None of that would matter if I could guarantee sounding good, which is never a given.  I would have to be travelling alone because being with someone else puts me in a situation of being One of Two, giving Two the right to an opinion and to take preventative action, neither of which boost conifdence.  I can feel very sure about a spontaneous decision and very unsure indeed about that same decision in the flip of one second when I am One of Two.  No, I need to be One of One if I plan to orchestrate my own flashmob without the mob.  I suspect this leaves me ‘flash’ and all my minders will roll their eyes and nod their heads at that association.

What, I wonder, is so wrong about bursting into song all alone whilst completely sober just because other people are around?  Other people are always around.  I would have to wander a desert or fly to the moon to find no people around.  It isn’t the same singing in the shower, or the car or when the house is empty and I don’t know why but it just isn’t.  There’s a sudden joy that pre-empts a desire to sing which I just don’t feel in the shower or the car or when the house is empty.  There is something about being out in the world, being among fellow humans, being alone among the crowds;  a sort of devilment, a pixie sense of fun, a frisson of excitement at absolutely nothing.  This is when I want to jump over the railings or tightrope walk a garden wall; when pavement squares threaten bears and, in their less dangerous moments, hopscotch.  I like sitting on the pavement and I do if I feel tired of the concrete seeping into my legs but rarely, if ever, has anyone joined me.  Why do we hate to stand out in a crowd when we so long to be individual and recognised as such?  It’s about looking foolish isn’t it. (not a question)

The thing is this.  We are a long time dead.  A boarding school best friend, lost over the years and found again quite recently has just contracted a wasting disease and died within months.  She was the same age as me.  When we unwillingly schooled together, we recognised a fellow scallywag immediately.  She didn’t want to knuckle down to ancient scratchy-knickered traditions any more than I did.  We found many ways to make life fun, and to make fun of everyone else.  She was wiry and fizzing with energy and always up for a lark.  And now she’s gone. But I did know her and I am remembering her and that time we hooked up in London and shared lunch and memories.  Our lives had been different and neither one a merry breeze but we were resilient, strong, feisty women who ‘sung’ our hearts out at every opportunity whether it sounded good or not.  If I had Kate behind me as my foolish imagination began to propel me into a flashmob without the mob, she would have joined me, not having a clue what to do but looking all enthusiastic about it anyway.  Perhaps we are born bonkers and perhaps this bonkerness is so deep within us that no man nor beast nor disaster nor catastrophe can even dent, never mind eradicate.  Well YAHOOO! to that is what I say.

When we talked, Kate and I about the other girls there, we discovered she had kept up with them whereas I had not.  She knew bits and pieces about each girl’s life and had met up with a few of them, even returning once to an old school reunion which I most definitely didn’t, not least because by that time I had 65 children and lived on the moon.  I wonder about their lives lived – what they really dreamed of.  We never talked that way at boarding school.  We talked about netball and ghastly cheese pie and who had fallen out with who, and why.  Most girls kept in line. The risk of being punished was way too great for any out-of-line-stepping.  It was all about the ‘Team spirit gels!’ – a team spirit structured by Them for Us, regardless of allergies or differences of opinion on the ‘how and why’ of such a structure.  Clomping to church in galoshes on a dry morning did little to encourage this team spirit and a whole lot for my inventive imagination.  In fact, I think it may well be precisely because I was grown in Boot Camp and then, at my most difficult stage, packaged off to Corntonvale au Sud, that I learned singing at all.  I don’t mean this literally, although I was a choir member and I did take my pianoforte exams, but more the sort of singing that comes from a deep place, one that won’t be stopped, one that doesn’t mind how it sounds when allowed to escape;  that singing that lifts and separates better than any playtex living bra; when one of two is suddenly one in a million and forever fixed in 999999999 minds, with adjectives various affixed; that singing you meet in another’s eyes, the one that tells you it’s ok now. There are two scallywags in this convent.

Singing is a lark.  Kate was a lark.  Therefore Kate was Singing.

Island Blog 117 Animals I have known

 

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It’s cold here today.  I’m looking out across the sealoch through a hail of white bullets. A huge white-tailed eagle has just flown past the window, pinching all the light. The trees are quite stripped of any whisper of autumn, thanks to the endless storm force winds that plunder the nights.  Last night the roof tiles danced as if there was a load of Gene Kellys up there, singing in the rain.  Sleep gave up on me around 4am and I woke to a lime green glow casting weird shadowy shapes around the room as the curtains fought to stay connected with their moorings.  Oh hallo moon, I said.  Full she was and quite chuffed with herself sitting there all alone in the sky, quite the big cheese.  I checked my clock, though what for I can’t tell you.  There was nothing to be learned whatever it said, with it’s luminous hands morse-coding the passage of time.  I suppose if it had read 7 o’clock, it would have meant I could get up and make tea.  But 4am is not the right time for anything other than going back to sleep, which I didn’t manage.

On summer mornings, when I wake early, I can bounce (quietly of course, although I bounce a bit more noisily these days) down the stairs, make tea and feel warm and excited about the day ahead, as I write.  In the sleety wind-battered winter, the very thought of pushing back the duvet and stepping into the chilly room is enough to remain me beneath the goose down.  So, I lie there thinking about things like sealing wax and kings and sundry other daft forays into the world of my imagination.  One such journey showed me a mouse, made of velvet and the colour of chocolate which is very swish for a mouse by the way, and I bet you’ve never seen one.

Animals often appear in dreams and play large parts in whatever drama unfolds before my eyes.  It has always been the way of things and not least, I imagine, because of all the hundreds of animals I have shared my life with.  I remember the working horses in the flatlands, those gentle chestnut giants with slow gait and kindly eyes, with broad backs and feet like meat plates.  I remember watching them pull a plough, bracing their wide chests against the harness and leaving, in their wake, deep straight lines across a field that reached to the horizon.  After their work was done, we unclipped them and turned the huge collars around on their thick necks to give them some relief.  The children, just toddlers, always wanted to ride them home to the stables and a welcome bucket of nuts.  They looked like coloured dots, perched high above the rest of us, and clinging on tightly to the wiry manes, laughing with glee as they rocked and rolled their way down the track.  We never had to lead the horses, for they were weary and only looking for food, water and rest.  I remember someone making a hoo-ha about the danger we put our children in and it made us laugh out loud.  They never fell off, couldn’t fall off, not with that width of back beneath their little bottoms, a back that could have hosted a small tea party quite safely.

Then we had collies, labradors, hens and cats, one, named Cosmic Creepers, whom we found with a rabbit snare embedded in it’s neck.  It was wild and had a set of extremely sharp teeth that it enjoyed sinking into arms and fingers.  Mum and I spent ages snipping the wire, bathing the wounds and minding our fingers.  Cosmic Creepers became part of the family, as did Isobel the hen as you will know if you’ve read Island Wife.  Isobel was also wild, but, thankfully, quite without sharp teeth.  We had pet calves and lambs who always got daft names.  Mint Sauce, for example, and Bovril, and Lamb Chop.  Once we had a crow called Jim who lived in a cage in the barn and smelled dreadful.  His wing was hurt, and after he was set free, he hopped around the garden as if he couldn’t quite remember what to do next.

Living with animals is never dull.  They teach me.  If I only think as a human I miss something, an extra dimension, for animals are quite honest and rather definite about their needs.  They don’t fanny about wondering if it’s convenient for me to serve up dinner, they just whinny or moo or march into the kitchen, which is okay-ish if we are talking Hen. A working horse might have caused a bit of a stooshie, had she got indoors, but I caught her in time.  She just followed me back from the stable and……well…..kept coming.  I fed her a carrot and turned her smartly around.  She did wander back, but not immediately, deciding to visit the farm veg shop on the way for a big mouthful of winter greens.  I could see them hanging out of her mouth as she sashayed up the track, and wee Polly, who worked in the shop had to go home for a lie-down.

I always thought of myself as a wild horse.  I said so, to the island husband one day.  He snorted, which was a bit rude.  No, he said, not a wild horse, oh no definitely not!

Okay……….thanks for that……….what then, if not a wild horse?

A hen, he said and thought it was terribly funny, for quite some time.

Island Blog 37 – New Road

Island Blog 37 - White Wood Sprite

 

Things are hotting up for the launch of my book, Island Wife, to be published by Two Roads on March 28th.  The Hodder team, of which Two Roads is an imprint, are working hard on press releases, magazine reviews, media opportunities and book signings.

As my penultimate son would have said when the excitement in him rose like a wave….’I can hardly bear my seating!’

People, friends, ask me ‘what does it feel like?’

Like champagne in my veins.

Like a moon flash on the sea loch as the storm clouds part.

Like the smell of sunshine after rain, or the first cuckoo in Spring.

And so much more.

Far more.

That’s my new name.  Honest, no kidding.

‘Farmor’ means Father’s mother in Swedish and it is the name my new little Viking grand-daughter will probably call me on her Swedish days.

I digress somewhat.

Over the next few weeks, my story will be heavying down the post-people and the carriers as the copies wing their way around the country.  E books will ding through space and time to settle into Kindles and Ipads and people in dentist waiting rooms will forget the tropical fish for as long as it takes to read some review on me and my book.

I will find my book in shop windows, or held in hands on a train, or a bus.  Will I say anything?  Will I bounce up all full of beans and introduce myself, offer to sign the copy and leave just knowing they will spend days buzzing with the excitement or will I slide past with a flicker of a look and hope I am not recognised?

Honestly, I just don’t know, for who is born for this, for a sudden chance at some level of fame, be it good fame or not so good fame?  Who knows, when stepping into new shoes (haven’t bought them yet) or onto a new path, what to do or what to say?  I won’t know my surroundings and we are always better when we know our surroundings.  And people will look at me differently once they have read the bones of me.  I wonder what that will feel like.  After all, for most of the year, I hide myself happily away on the island, sometimes seeing not one person all day long.  Now it seems I must walk this baby into the world, which is what I always wanted, always dreamed of.  Not the publicity, although I am sure I will enjoy it all, but to touch on another’s life, to make a connection through my story, with theirs, with yours, perhaps, and to tell you without telling you at all, that you can do it too, whatever it may be for you.

I might meet you on this new road.

New Road.  Two Roads.