Island Blog – A Letter

Ten days since you died my husband. One week till your hillside funeral. All of your family think of you every minute, probably more often than even that. Memories come back, moments resurrect and stand tall, blocking our path. And yet we move on, doing normal things with an abnormal head on and a heart all flapdoodle but still beating. Mine feels like wings, as if there’s a bird trapped behind my ribcage unable to escape.

This morning I cleaned your room, now that all the hospital kit has gone. I took my palette knife and some white filler for all the many holes left in the walls, holes that remind me of hand rails and other attractive supports, no longer needed. Neither are the holes. There is a big enough one in me and in our little island home, even if I can move about more freely. The furniture is not pinned to the edges any more for easier wheelchair access. Actually, I did think you were a bit over the top in that particular demand. A wheelchair isn’t that wide, after all. Then I realised you had lost your innate spacial awareness and the evidence of that loss is scraped along doors and lintels and walls. You were pretty nippy in that chair, nonetheless, turning on a sixpence, making U turns and scoots forward when space allowed, and even lurching at great speed down the ghastly yellow ramp which is now looking for a new home.

The leaves are beginning to turn now. Conkers (we always looked for them didn’t we?) are landing on the track but I haven’t found a big one yet. You told me you always won conker battles and you also told me that you soaked them in vinegar overnight, making them like concrete. Scabious peppers the grassy banks finding the best sunshine spots. I saw 6 kittiwakes the other day, your favourite bird, flying seaward up the loch. I don’t think I have ever seen them here before. They came just for you.

The garden is looking a tad tatterlicious and the sweet peas gave up fighting the last big wind, but even broke-backed they bloom and their scent keeps wafting indoors, reminding me how much you loved them. I pick them for the house but soon they will be over for the year. Season rolls into season. You knew the sound of each one, its taste, its demands and its gifts. As one thing dies, another begins to live and that is how you saw life and death – the same circle, a never-ending story.

I am so happy that your dying was peaceful. No fight at all, no panic, no fear, just a soft leaving. And you wanted to go, you said so, to anybody who was listening. And so it is and was and ever will be when someone who cherished every second of a long adventurous life finds the living just too much. We didn’t want you to go but knew you did. We also knew that your living state was very compromised. But even at the last, your humour shone through those cloudy old eyes. Even knowing that the Great Beyond was calling you, hands held out in welcome, you whispered to me ‘ I don’t want to leave you.’

And then, you did.

Island Blog – Tuning, Turning and Today

I awake this morning knowing that I have been out of tune with life for a bit. I know it because, on awakening, I feel in tune once more. Instead of a night of mares and violent interlopers and slugging through the days quite certain that my internal cheerleaders have downed their pompoms and left for Ibiza, I floated inside the arms of sleep all the way up to 3.30 am. Going quietly downstairs to make a cup of tea, I noticed how dark it now is. Only last week, it seems, it was light enough to show me the way. Perhaps, I say to myself, it is the turning of the seasons that has set me at a discord; perhaps it is the unwinding of lockdown and the threat of incoming, be it friendly or hostile. This bubble has lived us pleasantly since March 16th, weeks passing like minutes, moons waxing, waning and all days are Today. We needed nothing more.

Of course, the current subject matter of care home, separation, guilt, grief, loss and fear may also have colluded in my needing a re-tune. Time is the best one for that, but we are impatient; I am impatient. When I might expect to back on my feet instantly, life is telling me Stay Down Awhile, you ridiculous woman, but I don’t take kindly to being told. I battle on, expecting my mood to lift with my feet as I troughle round the daily do’s and grow furious when it stays limp as old lettuce.

Trusting, however, as I do, in the spirit world, the one I cannot see, touch or control, softens my wires and loosens keys that have gone rigid of late. The tunes I played sounded like a mess of angry cats; hurtful even to my own ears, going nowhere, no cadence, no major lift or minor bend, just a racket. From this morning, I can hear the lilt once more of harmony, melody, flow and the relief runs through me like warm honey. Nothing has changed. All will go ahead, in its own time, at its own speed and all will be well. I know this now, even as I know that discordant days will come again as we make the journey to a new place and time. However, knowing this doesn’t disturb the melody for I have learned that life is not a set piece of music, but, instead, one that changes over and over again. All I need to do is allow it all to happen, to accept the sad times, to sit with them, say Hallo, and wait for them to move away.

Times like these we learn from, if we notice, stop, say Hallo and wait in trust. I wish I had understood this as a young woman instead of turning from the darkness, fighting the demons with sickeningly inadequate weapons, thinking that if I sang loud enough the melody would find me once again. So much time wasted in ignorance. But I am thankful to understand it now because I do not believe in the bad press; I know the nightmares are just unpleasant dreams and that all days are, simply, today.

Which, I am reminded, is Winnie the Pooh’s favourite day of all.

Island Blog – Elephants, Clouds and Paper Smoke

This morning starts at 4am whilst the night sleeps on. In the time between dark and light, the darkling, I sip tea and watch the sea-loch. The air is flat, the sky the colour of paper smoke. Nothing moves, not yet. Then, a sudden arc of silver burst into the sky above the flat water and I know there’s an otter on the hunt somewhere in the filmy depths. The ripples ripple on. Then I see it, the hunter, its black head piercing the surface, only to disappear again into the deep down dark.

I feel dark, even though I know that once the light blossoms into morning, it will fill me up, the light, infusing my skin as hot water does a teabag. They say women are like teabags. You don’t know their strength until you drop them in hot water. It laughs me, even as I know it’s the truth. Today, like every other day, will be a round of mopping and cleaning, washing and caring. And yet, now there is a difference, now that I have admitted to myself and to my family that I am no longer able to care all by myself. I feel a teensy bit of relief, heavily clouded, heavy as a whole sky coming down on me. I used to believe clouds were light as air. Planes fly right through them, after all. But now I know they can weight as much as 800 elephants. That’s a lot of elephants and a very heavy cloud. How does it stay up for goodness sake? I have no answer for that, not being an expert on the matters of cloud.

Walking through the day with my inner judge on repeat. You are pathetic, weak, giving up, what makes you think it is okay to say I’m done? I always knew you would never see anything through. You have always run when the going got tough. You disgust me. And so on and on, ya-di-ya, the whole day long, and it is long, the day, second by slow second, minute by slow minute, hours and hours of it. I fill in gaps, sweep a floor, try to avoid eye contact with anyone, tell myself I have served well, thou good and faithful servant, but the judge’s voice is way louder and she barely pauses to draw breath. I change my frock combo to see if that helps. The outer me might just have some influence over the inner one. I change the position of the kitchen bin, wipe a table, turn up Radio 2, watch the sparrow hawk dive and miss.

I know that at such a crossroads, Lady Providence stands with her hand held towards me. I know I have done all I could. I know the decision is the right one. Dementia is cruel in all ways. It separates and divides. It eats the brain until any chance of a communication flow is cut. It takes a big strong, loving, able, powerful human being and second by slow second, shuts him or her down. The family can only stand and watch, help where possible, encourage all attempts at retaining independence, autonomy, humour. Then the time comes when it’s clear there is no way this beloved will return to his former glory. Ever.

The light is light now, the tea drunk, the morning shoving night over the horizon, blazing white and cloudy, like paper smoke. Roses pink the view, one sweet pea flower, the first, waggles in the breeze; daisies and those blue things I can’t name turn to face the sky, searching for sunlight. I don’t think they will see it this day but, loyal as they are, they will persist in their looking until they fold up for rest once more. Goldfinch spangle the fence, taking turns on the nijer feeder, bickering, flitting. Across the sea-loch a heron stands immobile, staring into the deep dark waters, patient, waiting, watching, beneath a cloud-heavy elephant sky, the colour of paper smoke.

Island Blog – Diving for Change

This morning I woke to a deeper understanding of an old thing, a truth I already knew at a lighter level. Funny that, how we can hear the same thing at a different time and hear it as if for the first time. The lift of emotion is the giveaway. Going below the surface changes the view, as it does in real time. Above the surface, and even at its level, there are sounds of the world all about our ears. Diving below brings silence, at first. We leave the world behind as it were and sink into the unknown. From where we were we could probably see something down there, maybe a few somethings, but in allowing ourselves to move among the somethings we let go of control. Down here in the swirly depths, the fish, the imaginary sea creatures, we are vulnerable and we feel it. The colours that drew us in from up there become vibrant as precious jewels. Closer now and we can see movement and lives being lived. We can reach out and touch a shell, brush a tendril, catch the filtered sunlight on the diamond back of some fish or other, feel the rush of its escape as our body invades space.

It was the same for me this morning. Somehow I had allowed myself to sink below the surface, I had let go and I was vulnerable in that. And, you know what…..it feels wonderful. I realise that I have been holding onto a pattern of living that no longer serves me. Joining the dots of hindsight I see that I have known this for some time, for look…..there is a shape to it now; the hindsight dots have shown me that. How did I not see it from the get go? Because it wasn’t the right time. Time knows herself. She’s a keeper. She will illuminate the right thing at the right time for me, for everyone. She also knows when to suggest a dive. My emotional response to her is the giveaway. Learning a truth, puffing out an Aha is one thing. it is also devoid of emotion. It is understood at the level of sensibility, of logic, of the world. But, when I respond to it again at a deeper and more vulnerable level, my eyes can make rain. This is the real Aha. From this point I can never go back because once my heart gets it, it stays got. And it is such a peaceful thing. No fireworks, no need to call a friend all excited, no need to teach it, not my thing, not my new understanding.

I probably longed for this to come to me yonks ago. I wish, I wish, I wish, but it didn’t come no matter how much yoga I imagined I did, or how often I walked mindfully through the fairy woods; no matter how many books I read on the subject. This process of learning and letting go of something is out of my hands once I start wishing for it, start doing the work, and, believe me, that work is demanded of me. Wishing is for children. Wishing adults just die of an overdose of unfulfilled wishes. So my trudging along for all those yonks has finally paid off. Nothing has changed and yet everything has changed. And all I did was dive in and let go.

Island Blog – The Circus, Night Fairies and Life

I have baked a honey cake and drizzled it, put a wash on, changed a bed, dressed, applied slap, made a cauliflower cheese for supper, wished a grand-daughter happy unicorn birthday, swept the kitchen floor, prepared a salad, ate breakfast, fed the birds and the dog, danced to Ronan Keating’s new single and it is now 7 am. There is something manic about me, I am beginning to believe. Residue automatic morning-ness from when the tourist business was up and running, endless children, many of whom I didn’t know, also up and running, and food food food required by hundreds kept me cartwheeling from first light. Half the time there was little point washing up as meal demands bunched together like giggling girls on an outing. I whisked, beat, baked, stewed, roasted and steamed mountains of produce. It thinks me I am unable to step out of those running shoes, even now, when days are slow and gentle, mostly, with the exception of the odd crappy day wherein I cannot run for the life of me. My legs are leaden and my mind is a roundabout on speed. However, I am happy to report that such days are rare, not least because I can’t be bothered with any sort of sickness, mental or physical, disallowing either much space in the room. Be off with you, I say, but don’t go bothering anyone else because you are just not welcome. Try outer space.

Mornings bounce me like Tigger. I wake with the birds and absolutely cannot turn over for more sleep. Despite my passionate love for my recycled plastic bottle filled duvet and my feathery down pillows, I have too much energy fizzing through my veins to lie a minute longer. I have to be quiet, though. Himself won’t rise till about 8 and my kitchen is a floorboard below his bedroom. I don’t think they lagged things much in the 1870’s. I tiptoe through my tasks, interested, excited, curious and particularly curious when I discover that the washing pile is gone. Who has gone-d it? There is only me who washes in this house. I discover it a little later through a downstairs window, bobbing like bunting on the line. I have no recollection of hanging it there. Perhaps I didn’t. Perhaps the Night Fairies did it for me. How sweet they are. I remember them from my young harassed mother-days. They always surprised me with their kindnesses but there were times when I would rather they told me what they’d done because I might then have avoided wasting precious time in search of something I knew I had left just there the night before. Just there stares back at me emptily. I began to suspect collusion with the Night Fairies. Once, when I was certain of a pile of bed sheets awaiting a spin in the belly of my washing machine, I found them half way up the stairs, draped into an Aladdin’s cave and with two guilty looking collies curled up inside, each one enjoying a bowl of muesli.

Perhaps when life has been a circus for long enough, the circus becomes the life and each performer becomes the circus. I think I have. And I don’t mind one bit. I think the circus training has kept me bouncing through all sorts of horrible, kept me mostly up and taught me that nothing in life is going to get me down for long. I just wish I could share this with everyone else. Life is such a precious gift, and always too short. Living it right up to its end is the only path to happiness.

After all, stumble stones can always be turned into building blocks.

Island Blog – Self Seeding

When I awaken at silly o’clock, my mind is full of thoughts. In no particular order, they step up to the microphone to tell me things and the critical thoughts are the pushiest. They invite me to revisit my choices and actions from the previous day/week/month/decade, taking care to highlight any such choices and actions that might have been done ‘better.’ I tell them they’re fools if they think (even with my magical powers) that I can turn back time. Other thoughts scatter, flitter, dip and dive about, thoughts on tonight’s meal for himself, whether I need more bird food, who’s trending on twitter, what Boris might say today. They’re like butterflies, these thoughts and pose me no threat. They simply require action.

However, I am disappointed to realise that after all these centuries of life on earth, most of us, if we’re honest, let the ‘could do better’ or, worse, ‘could have done it better’ thoughts take the stage. We actually listen, pay attention, greedy, it seems, to sink ourselves into a bog from which it is surprisingly hard to self-extricate. We don’t talk about these thoughts, not out loud, anyway, and certainly not to A N Other. It would be a confirmation of truth, would make the judgements real and we would run the risk of outside confirmation. So we do everything we can to shut them up, take them out, bury them. Ah…..bury them……well, that’s a mistake, I have discovered because, like seeds in the ground, they can rise into bloom after decades of darkness, alive and spreading. So how do we get rid of this propensity for self-judgement?

There are many ways to do this, and one of them is to let those critics speak out. I sit with mine, once I realise they won’t go away of their own volition. They are ancient voices, after all, rising from childhood, school, marriage, friendships, and they show the other side of my coin, the one that doesn’t really want to be seen. They can tell me I’m all kinds of horrible. I know the guidance that teaches me to feed the white dog, not the black one, to water the seeds of self-love, not those of anxiety, doubt, fear or judgement, but the actuality of each awakening, each morning, can confound me in a nanosecond if I have not watered the right seeds. It is a daily practice and not just for me. Understanding that, even with my magical powers, I cannot turn back time is understood at a logical level, not an emotional one. I know it is a true fact. Nobody can turn back time. Good, that’s that sorted! No it isn’t, because those critics from my long ago past made a scratch on my heart and that scratch is still there. I have to learn a way to accept those scratches, to remember that pain and to then allow them to heal rather than picking away at the scabs. I do this by recognising they are there; that they do not influence who I am now, beyond a whisper memory. I see you, I hear you, I tell them, but I no longer need you in my life. Thank you for reminding me that life was tough (as it is for everyone growing up) and I survived; more, I blossomed, rose like a spitfire into the sky, nurtured my family, loved with all of my scarred and battered heart and although I am nowhere near smug about who I have become, I can see she is rather wonderful and thoroughly deserving of all things good.

There will be someone reading this who knows exactly what I’m saying. We are all unique, spectacular beings doing our very best to live a good long life. We might remind ourselves of that and go water the seeds of self love.

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 – Steer Your Heart

As we move into Easter, the weirdest yet, without family around the table, perhaps even without eggs, we are having to be inventive. I think that is one of my favourite words, perhaps because I have been re-inventing myself all my life. I like this, no I don’t, I like her/him, no I don’t, I want to be an air hostess/intrepid explorer/dancer/aid worker………no, maybe not. Perhaps we are all like that as new fizz comes into our mental veins on hearing of someone else doing any of the above, until the morning comes and with it an abundance of realism, dammit. I often think morning has a lot to answer for. By the afternoon, anything is possible, I am possible, what I long to do is possible and I can go to bed with the absolute certainty that I will awaken to a dawn never known previously, one that affirms my breakout plans. It hasn’t happened yet.

Today is Good Friday, or Easter Friday if you don’t buy into the Good bit. Either way, it is a time we look forward to, as we do Christmas and Birthdays. Our own, anyway. But this year we can look until our eyeballs fall out but we won’t see what we want, what we have always known. First time ever for my generation and below. The Aboves knew it of course. War was woven into their memories, as this one will be for us. Everything this Easter must be done remotely, or from a distance. And it matters. Regardless of how inventive (there I go again) any of us are, it still hurts. There’s a slump in it as if life is lying doggo and we have no idea how or when it will wake up again with a Ta-da! We are moving along, going through the days, hope alternating with despair, bright and beamish one minute and sad as Eeeyore the next. It’s normal, its acceptable, more, it’s human. We long, we love, we care and without touch it feels like homesickness. Nostomania. Our instant leap to logic creates a pedagogue. This teacher is one of those I longed to flick cold chewing gum at, without being caught. Telling ourselves we must only think of the positive can send us captious. We might criticise others for walking twice a day, or those who shop every day and we know they do because they live upwind of us and the shop is downwind. We must take care we don’t let that thinking be our guide. Each one of us is required to make our own choices, our own decisions at this time. I remember, weeks ago, people saying to me….We will wait for the official decision on this, or that, whilst I had decided to release the carers and lockdown. Waiting never suited me.

So, I say, people, steer your own heart. It will guide you right, always. I notice some visitors have come to the island. I have a few opinions on that, not least because they may extend this time of lockdown just by travelling here. However, I won’t let myself become the judge. Instead, I will continue to make my own decisions, listening to my own heart, my best friend. As, I am sure, will you. There is no room for dithering these days, nor waiting for the official ruling, nor, even, asking someone else their opinion. After all, we all know at our deepest level, what we need to do to survive and to make sure our loved ones do too.

Happy Easter my friends. I wish you serendipities by the score. No matter what is to come, we may be broken, but we are not beaten. We are strong, intelligent, wise, loving, emotional, caring humans. I salute you all.

Island Blog – Cloud Stories

Waking each morning in this grounded world I take myself through the normal routines, pulling back the duvet, opening the curtains, dressing, finding sneakers for a barrier between my night-warm feet and the cold floor. The only bit that isn’t rooted in this grounded world is the moment I open the curtains. Now I am connected not only with the physical world but also with the cloud stories. They tell me weather, for one. They show me looming hailstorm or a blanket white sky cover depending on their spread, their individual shapes, the plans they have for me. I may have been able to guess their plans prior to that curtain opening ta-da! I would, after all, hear rain slamming, trickling, falling straight or slanty. A cloud dump of hail is deafening, scary even, making me wonder just how strong the panes of window glass are, how much they can withstand. An overnight fall of snow brings a silence like a long held breath and we respond by holding our own, for snowfall is gaspworthy. But, there are none of those shenanigans this morning. Just weather silence, as if there was none to be had this day. No weather at all. Perhaps after endless storms, days and nights of fighting between heaven and earth, everything seems quieter. I feel like a child consoled into peace after a long parental row.

The sea spreads out before me, wide and only a bit rippled. Seabirds split the air, rising, wheeling, keening like lost souls only to land in lines on a rocky bluff, their heads facing the sun warmth, their white chests bright and round, puffed out for preening. They mutter quietly to each other, lifting now and then to perch beside someone else for new conversation. Rainbows appear all the time, their pots of gold lying ocean deep, unattainable. Other island appear and shrink back as the light changes. What looks like an old broch shines, illuminated until the sun shifts round a bit to show me some other natural marvel of basalt and granite. White spume bursts against the coastline even now, even when all I see are a few ripples. Submerged rocks, the pull and thrust of the tide and a living, breathing wind make sure of this; this spectacular explosion of bright white water hurled ashore, snatched back, worked up to a new froth and hurled again. Over and over and over. Ships have foundered. Ships have drowned. Get these hidden rocks wrong and your connection to the world is cut like a ribbon at a garden fete. You are now open to the sky. A part of a new cloud story.

In the evening, as the sun sinks into the sea, the clouds show me castles, pink-tipped, scallions turning into rapunzel towers in minutes. I lift my thoughts into the storyline, guessing, imagining, seeing dragon shapes, eyes watching me, wild horses running free, a baby reaching up, a turtle, the sharp outline of a wolf. Sometimes when the clouds touch the distant island I see whirlwinds, spinning tops. A line of hail greys the distance, moving like a murmuration of starlings, lifting, flowing, at the wind’s bidding. I want to take a photograph but I know that by the time I get outside the palette will have changed completely. Those pink-topped towers, that deep grey face of a beneficent giant, those capering children will have been turned off by some captious old god. So I stay still just watching the weave of a storyline, letting myself lift into each moment as it passes. Then, as night begins to steal the day, bit by bit and the cloud stories are left to themselves, I turn back to the grounded world, a supper to cook, a fire to light and curtains to close all the way up to morning.

Island Blog – Alone and Together

This morning I see one bushbuck, one giraffe, one warthog. The bushbuck, nervous, ears twitching for sounds of danger comes to the water hole. He has probably been tossed out of the family group, the herd, if, indeed, there is a herd, and is alone in this vast terrain. He will be seeking another group, a mate, the chance to clack antlers with a rival in order to earn his place. The giraffe looked at first like a movement of tree trunks as I could only see his legs but as he slowly wandered onto the track he was caught in silhouette against the rise of the African sun. He looked back at me through velvet eyes as I looked at him, then turned to lope away, all speckles and sand and alone. The warthog is a grumpy old bugger. Yesterday, as I walked the pup around the house, he started forward and I took off like lightening. Nobody wants to meet the front end of one of those horned-up wild pigs. His vision is poor but his temper is rich and his sense of smell very strong. It was the pup he didn’t like, being a natural wimp around humans, for which I am always grateful. I lifted the pup over the rails of the stoep and arrived shortly after in what must have looked like a very ungraceful half-somersault, my dress up around my ears and my sandals all wonky-chops.

It thinks me of wandering alone. Although I know full well how precious are community, family, friends and other social encounters and relationships, I also know we all walk alone through this life. Each one of is an intricate tangle of nature, nurture, experience, choices, personality and character. We also all look different, which if you think about it is quite a miraculous feat of engineering. Even as one of identical twins, the word identical is an overstatement. Deep inside both will have an unique pattern, no matter how the outside is designed. One can sing, the other can’t hold middle C without slippage; one finds this joke hilarious, the other puzzles to find more than a polite smile; one loves eggs done this way, the other, that. And so on.

When we were five young children and travelling north for our Scottish summer break, our mum had us knitted and kitted in matching jumpers. We could choose the style but not the colour. Yellow, one year, blue the next and so on, always in bright primary colours. We had to wear them for the journey. Mum said that it was so she could find us in places like York Station or on Princes St, Edinburgh as we skittered like excited monkeys through the crowds of moving feet, eyes level with a thousand navels and worse, even more handbags that could deliver a mighty head clonk if we weren’t paying attention. I don’t think we looked after each other much, being intent on our own agendas and deeply fed up of being One Of Five. Although I didn’t visit the same knitted uniform on my kids I do remember those wild times such as boarding the right train intact as a family, or shopping in a mall where, quite frankly, havoc could be wrought at any moment and always by One Of My Five.

I see that the world thinks in terms of numbers now. We are number this on a plane, at work, in school, in a theatre, the tube, the office and it saddens me because we are not numbers, we are individual people, no two alike. We are Just One among many other Just Ones, linked through culture, our job, our street, out village, our church, our market, our orchestra, our singing group and more. But I is not always We. Paying attention to the ‘I’ is something we may have forgotten altogether, such is the pressure of group thinking. We may also have forgotten how to nurture and nourish and listen to the I. In this fast moving world of apps and social media, advertising, subliminal or overt, competition, addiction, poverty growing disproportionate to wealth, corruption and the general malaise of apathy and defeat around Big Brother and his Nanny State, we (no, I) must remember what it is to be unique among millions. I must stop running and think for myself. This might take a while because, if I am honest, it is easier to go with current worldly thinking, which has a strong and powerfully persuasive voice but which is really relieving us, ever so slowly, of our own unique voices. I might wonder what it is I do think. I might come up blank, at first. I might not know where to begin following my own inner voice, once I can hear it again. I might find myself stopping to talk with a street beggar and feeling deeply conspicuous. (it gets easier with practice). I always wanted to, to give, to show respect, but none of my friends do and if I have ever faltered beside such a sad picture of a human life, I would feel a firm hand on my elbow, guiding me away, and a bright schoolmarm voice in my ear suggesting ‘Coffee?’

We travel alone, and yet together. We need each other for friendship and so much more……..but it is our prime duty to respect our own unique individuality, to relocate that inner guiding voice and then to take appropriate action, because every single one of us is here for a purpose, one purpose per living soul. It is our job to work that one out. Alone.