Island Blog – Thinks and Daddy Longlegs

I have too many of them. Thinks, not Daddy Longlegs. I wonder how the name was gifted. I often wonder that. Was it something to do with the One Who Discovered? If this discovery had been made by a woman might it have spent all eternity being known and recognised as Mummy Longlegs? I wonder that about God too. I know, I know, too many thinks. My thinks might be my undoing for as often as they travel through my mind in the hours of daylight as questions begging answers, they do not sleep overnight. I feel sometimes as I did as a child, excited and bunked in Cattle Class on a sleeper from York to Inverness, so awake to every sound, every shunt, pause, toot and groan of the carriage, one more redolent of an old woman in ill-fitting stays than the sleek, spirited (and grubby) fast train of today. I barely slept and this has not changed. I don’t mind, not often, nor usually but just sometimes I wonder what it might be like to go to bed, hit the pillow and drift off into the night, waking at first light with no idea what just happened.

Inside my home for the last few days I am Daddy Longlegged out. They are everywhere and here am I marvelling at their obvious confoundment. This morning at some pre dawn hour I met one in the kitchen, just by the kettle. It flapped at me a bit and I said hallo and waited till it had done with checking me out. It landed on the wall, spread in all its fragile beauty, six legs splayed, until I filled the kettle for coffee spilling a drop of water on the counter. Immediately it lifted and landed by the water drop. I ran for my specs, my magnifying glass (no laughing please) in order to watch this extraordinary and so short-lived survivor bend for a drink. It has a snout. Yes, it does. Like a hyena only way smaller. It also has a number of eyes which makes sense considering the short lived/predator thing that is ever present. Humans swatting, birds snatching, spider webs waiting, wind slamming and so on.

I watched it drink, wondering should I put it out or should I not? I make coffee taking care to keep it out of the way of the killing steam. It finished drinking and seemed revived. It lifted all the way up to the ceiling. Should I leap about in my goonie in attempts to catch it, to set it free? Into what? Danger? I Googled. I often Google. What did we ever know before Google? I learn little.

I go through the to the conservatory and light a candle, sip my coffee and wait for the dawn. You came in, I say. Your choice. Who am I to make a decision for you? Then I slide back over my Night Thinks. I decide to set them free too. You came in. I repeat. Your choice. But here I can make a decision. And I do. I choose to move into my day, into my daylight, into the new and I leave my thinks behind me. After all, they were only thinks.

Island Blog – Fairy, Dragon, Princeling

Yesterday I had two granddaughters with me for a short while. I collected them, backpacked up with games, toys, pens, snacks and we wandered down the track to my home. I watch them pause, flip off shoes, respectful. Once inside the door, enthusiasm skids beneath their feet as if they were on ice. Just a doorway change. I remember noticing that their grandfather’s mind wiped as he moved through a doorway. The anger, frustration and, well, the whole rant thing, disappeared as he shuffled through. It seemed as if he forgot all of it. I saw it on his face, knew it, relaxed.

We, no, not we, for I was distracted, I had email to check, fuss to fuss over, initially. As I heard them plant, root and bring out Deep Sea Bingo, I was a doorway away but listening. One was losing and causing a mini explosion until her older sister talked her down. All the usual. There is no pain in losing. We all need to lose now and again. It doesn’t mean you are a loser. That sort of 8 year old wisdom. The wails subsided and I kept schtum. Let it be, let them be, I said as I fiddled another tricky tapestry stitch. I am watching. I am hearing.

Then I join in. What in the heck is a Fiddle Fish? I put my specs on. Oh, I quite like the look of you. And there were many more with names and images that left me lost on the land. But what really intrigued me was the interest of the wee ones. It was a loud thing, of course. Loads of chat and chatter, arguments rising like tiny fires and then dying back into a concentrate of calm. I watch the redhead and the strawberry blonde. The girls are quicker than I at seeing whether or not they have a Lesser Spotted Cattlehead or a Snub-nosed Dinky Bird. It takes me a while to scan my bingo board, to read the words. I realise I am better at this thing if I get a visual. Show me the card, I ask the Strawberry blonde. Better. My brain works on visual i.d. I don’t win, of course. Gaga, you did have the Yellow Beaked Fake Dolphin……look! Silly Gaga. We all chuckle. Maybe I did win after all. I consider the names of these extraordinary creatures. Who ever thought the prefix ‘Common’ would sit well with something completely uncommon? I always feel sorry for the ‘Commons’ in both the animal and flora/fauna worlds. It sits like an insult. Nothing and no-one is ever common, not in my story.

After they had gone, I heard the silence. With little ones around there is never silence. If you can’t hear children, then there aren’t any. My name flies into the air a hundred times an hour. Questions too. Gaga, did you know that all dogs are round? Are they, I raise my eyebrows and cast a glance towards the Poppy dog, asleep and indeed curled into a donut. Yes, she says. They like being round. People can’t be round. They’re straight. Daddy is straight. Excellent observation, I tell her and her smile beams. But Mummy can be round, she says, her red curls bobbing. Ice blue eyes lock with my own. She is expecting correction, I think, and here it comes but not from me. No she isn’t, snorts her older sister, laying out the chips for a second round of Bingo. She is straight too. But she can curl into a round, I say. I’ve seen her do it. Your mummy is made of elastic. She can stretch and ping anywhere. They erupt in hysterics.

Around children, truth will be told. Questions require answers, observations are made and they have a canny knack of getting right to the core, one you may well have kept hidden for good reason. Where is Popz now? One asks. he is flying about up there, I tell them. Like a bird? Well, not quite like a bird. More a spirit. What’s a spirit? A spirit is mostly air and scoot. Like a cloud? Sort of. I would be a spirit, says the older one, if I could. No, not a spirit, a good fairy. I warm to this change of subject. I would be a dragon, I announce, a good one, a luck one. Pink? Yes, naturally. Well I would be a princeling says the redhead, straight-faced and I haven’t the heart to tell her that princelings are usually boys. After all, who knows what will be possible when she moves out into the world?

Island Blog – Butterfly, Change, Motion and Lift

This day my eldest son returns to sea for 10 weeks. In theory. Who knows what rulings will be in place as his supposed return date moves closer? Nobody, that’s who. Or is it ‘whom’? I don’t give a damn to be honest. All I do know is that my heart is a butterfly this morning. His time at home is always wonderful but this time tops the lot. The suspect in this has to be the death of his dad and said dad’s loud absence from life. And he has been so caring, so present, so available. Of course, it isn’t just me who has benefited from his being here. He has a wife, a family, a home and friends. But I am his only mummy. Just saying.

Funny thing, this mummy role. New birth is one thing but growing and developing a child and then letting go is a very different one. It is history in the making, memories captured or consciously lost. It is both good and bad, happy and sad, upsetting and elevating. It is butterfly lift, fragile, beautiful, dangerous and transient. A mother, well, this mother, is always, even now that all five glorious children have their own, vigilant and alert for danger, even when she is laughed at and teased about her state of alertness and vigilance. She cannot change. She cannot let go, even if she has done just that in real time, on the outside of herself, marking her own reactive behaviour, her choice of wordage and comment, denying her own longings for the greater good of which she is only one part.

Mother’s Day, my birthday showed me clearly how precious I am to my children and my grandchildren. I was celebrated to the point of exhaustion, requiring many naps during and after both days. It thinks me. We mothers are not born mothers. Our children birth us. Without them how could we possibly know such depth of feeling, such agony of concern, doubt and worry? And on the other side of those dingly depths, there are the highs, those gloriously wild lifts of joy, of celebration, of wonder and amazement. The threads that link us mean that every yank shoogles us. We respond. Change comes as it always does and just when we think we have found our balance. People leave, some return, all change in the face of change. We do so, or we find ourselves left behind on some draughty platform with not a train in sight. I have been there but only when I resisted the inevitability of change. If I stayed down, then I stayed down, flat, pancaked, immobile. Motion is required. Get up you plonker and catch another train. Find them. They are not lost. You are. I remember such times, the desire strong in me to give up, to hide, but the pull of motherhood always got me to my feet.

So, as he leaves for the long arduous journey, through Covid tests and isolation, and up up and away into another world, I will reflect thus. I have enjoyed a daily dose of him for 10 weeks. We have laughed and hugged, shared meals and stories. He has helped me re-jig my widow’s brain, celebrated me and helped me to find a new way of being bravely independent with kindness, encouragement and a lot of teasing. This is what I have and I am a very lucky mummy. I will remember all the moments and they will strong me back into my beautiful wings and into the sky along with the geese, the softer winds, the spring light and the gentle peace of this island life. And I will picture him safe, happy, important in his work as master of the super yacht, and, most important of all, home again safe in mid June when the flowers will be partying, the trees heavy with leaf cover, the young birds fleein’ aboot, and the sun high enough in the wide open sky to convince even the cynics among us that we are, once again, free to lift, change and move on.

Island Blog – Little Fires

I believe that grandparents have a gift. One that is gifted to them. They also have a gift to give, through translation, nothing lost, unless they choose to ignore the opportunity it brings them, and by extension, the generation below and the one below that.

On the first gift, I can say it comes as a surprise. This gift is one of a second childhood. Not physically, of course, but in a renewed lease of life. From banging on about arthritis to clambering over a fence with a cackle of glee; from medication programming to random acts of play; from soup at midday on the button to fish finger sandwiches just because we’re hungry – with ketchup, naturally. The awakening of the sleeping child is painless. Sparkles return to rheumy eyes and stolen carrots from the veg counter at Tesco’s are an absolute must. An old woman who has plodded, fallen- arched, and for many years, up one aisle, politely rounding to the next, might suddenly find herself speeding up for a swing-wheelie at the top. The giggles of the little ones egg her on and she just can’t help herself. Her mind is full of naughty ideas that came from nowhere. After all, these half-pint charges of hers have been sternly groomed for a perfect public face and mummy never does any of these things.

As mummy, we don’t either. Many of us are so caught up in right and absolutely wrong that we contain, without intending it, the free spirit of our children until their bodies can barely bend at all. And here comes the second gift, the one given. With granny we can fly and fly high. My granny was like that and we all adored her. The mischief in her eyes set little fires in our own and although she was in all ways the perfect lady, she showed us a side of her true self that my mother rarely saw as a child. I feel sad about that and wonder how much, and how often, I contained my own children in boxes at least two sizes too small for their exuberant personalities. But how else to protect, teach and develop a child into the adult we want them to be, hope they will become? This, in itself sounds like a box, but only to my granny ears. So is it just that we can ‘hand them back’ or is it that second chance to what, make amends? My own children, now parents, are not always delighted at granny’s antics. Initially I faced a few stern reprimands on my behaviour, feeling like the child in trouble and most uncomfortable. Can I say God or should I pretend he doesn’t exist? Can I answer questions on where babies come from, asked by a ten year old, or should I say “Ask Mummy’ thus making it very mysterious and serious? I get my nickers in a right knot at such times, and dither like an old woman who never thought an original thought, or was never allowed to.

9 grandchildren in, I now am more relaxed about the nicker knot thing. I pause a lot after a question is asked. I might distract, as I would a puppy chewing on a cat, suggest some toast or a bounce on the trampoline. I might answer the baby question, but vaguely, with something safe, like ‘Mummy’s tummy’ and leave it at that . As to God, I might say, some believe he exists, some don’t, and round with a question for them. What do mummy and daddy say? Always a safe bet, that one.

I don’t remember my mum having any bother with dithering. She just answered as she saw fit, no matter what parental bans we had put in place. And blow it. Thats what she said. She had no intention of bending to our whims and I cannot imagine ever being brave enough to challenge her. In my day and with my mother, challenge was verboten. However my generation have been confounded with all the new information about parenting. Strait jackets were out, for starters, and choices offered to small people on the best dinner plates. My own children, and I have heard them all employ this, would ask their 3 year old what she would like for supper. I managed to keep my snort silent, although it gave me indigestion and required my scrabble into handbag depths for a Rennies. Now, I am used to it. I remember, once, tapping a child on the leg when her tantrum threatened the entire neighbourhood, and being strongly warned never to touch a child again in anger. It wasn’t anger, I began to say, but said no more after making eye contact with the parent in case. The Childline number is readily available, after all, and there are posters in every school in most of the rooms, and at a child’s eye level.

However, the joys of playing hooky with grandchildren are the best. Naughtiness and mischief fan the embers of my internal fire any time I am with them. And I am reminded, often, of the gift I have received and the gift I can give – that reconnection with my own childhood and the chance to be the child free, the child outside the box, setting all the other children free from their own boxes and, together, heading off into a fantasy world of mischief and fun and laughter.

I am going to have to live for decades more, it seems.

Island Blog 120 On Leadership

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It’s a funny old chestnut, Leadership.  It sounds so grand and important.  In fact, as a youngster I wanted it for myself.  Those, it appeared to me, who were given such a badge of honour, positively glowed with the warmest of light.  They were lifted above us earthly girls, fixed to the ground with our lack of leadership skills, our heavy lace-up brogues and our triple-layered (for safety) regulation greys, and they never came back down again.  I met them in corners with members of staff, or prefects, or team leaders, discussing something important in hushed tones, corners I rounded in an un-leaderly, and often late dash to the next fixture in my school diary.  They would both stand in a conspiratorial silence, one that positively burgeoned with importance, as I hurtled by, knowing two things for sure – that I would meet some disgrace for running in passageways, and that my bottom jumped around way too much inside those earthly greys.

When they said to me that they were sorry I was leaving the school because, did I realise that they were going to ask me to be Music Prefect next school year……I knew what they were up to, asking me AFTER I had announced with barely concealed joy, that I had now collected my 7 O Levels and was abandoning my brogues for ever.  If I had said……Oh, ok then, I will stay, they would all have fainted clean away and I would have finally become a leader, one they may well have regretted inviting into a corner.

A few minutes later, as a newly engaged farmer’s wife-to-be, I pondered leadership once more.  This farmer with whom I was about to spend the rest of my life, needed some serious leadership.  For a start, he didn’t want to be led at all and most certainly not by me.  Well, ok, I can be patient.  After all, look at how he does what his mummy says, albeit now and then, but ‘now and then’ looked promising to an over-zealous young woman (child, really) with a fat sapphire on her forever finger and plans already laid out in the loft of her mind.  He argued with every plan I brought forward for discussion.  He made all the ‘big’ decisions with automonic confidence. He dropped his clothes on the floor, the ones he deemed ready for washing, which was usually two weeks later than my deeming.   He wore white crimpolene flares.  There was a lot of work to be done.

Leadership isn’t nagging.  Ok, ok, so what is leadership then and why can’t I lead him?

Answer……he doesn’t want it and, listen girlie, he is as determined as you on this matter.

Once this sank in, was resisted vehemently, caused endless rows and overly slammed doors, removal of priveleges and absolutely no cake for tea never mind the honey, I remember falling into a black depression.  My mother, who also tried to lead my dad, who also had no intention of being led, had the advantage.  Dad was away all week so that she could lead all five of us, the neighbours, the butcher, the baker and the candlestick-maker to her heart’s delight.  Then, when Dad came home at weekends, she could probably just about manage to shelve her leaderly urges for two days until she popped him once more on a plane to Dubai or Italy or Africa or wherever his veterinary consultant skills were currently in demand.  But my husband was always at home rejecting leadership, so I had to think sideways.

43 years later I have a crick in my neck and still no husband running along behind.  I ask myself, is that what I want?  And the answer (quick learner, me) is absolutely not.  What I want is actually just to lead myself, not to lead, and not to be led, although that bit is very much according to my current mood swing.  There are times, many times, when I do want him to lead me, and love the feeling of safety and protection his leadership brings.  When it goes wrong are those times I feel controlled, which is, of course, the same for him.  My tutting over dropped clothes, or whatever, serves only to make him feel controlled, and therefore to resist.

Aha…….now we are getting somewhere!

So, if I can’t control him and don’t want him to control me, and he feels the same, why does this need to lead still raise it’s discordant cry?  Because dear sweet daft woman, it is yourself you need to lead.

Well how can I lead me?  I am me and me is me and that’s three of us already.

Yes, and you can lead all of them, all the mees, as much as you like, to your hearts desire, knock yourself out!

Thinking, reflecting on this bonkers truth, opens many doors to me, to all mees present.  If, in an argument, I only consider my own voice and the content of my retorts, my behaviour, I am in control.  I am leading. I don’t need to lead the other (the one who is so obviously wrong) in this situation.  I only have to lead myself.

Yes, but, will you listen to what he is saying!  It’s complete tripe and EVERYONE would ALWAYS agree that he NEVER gets it.

Hmmm……so many absolutes.  But life and love isn’t about who is wrong or right, always or never.  It isn’t about what happened in the past and the past is only a minute behind me.  It is about leadership of myself, and if I can get that right, after a few, or many clumsy crashings through the thorn and thicket of life, then I just may find, to my eye-wide surprise that someone is following on behind.

Island Blog 103 – New Things and Clown Fish

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There are things I have never bought.  I’m not talking yachts and diamonds, but household things like a new sofa or a multi-functional, all purpose blender.  I have looked at them online and not believed one word of their wonderment.  For a start, in that exciting world of sofas, which, by the way, fails to excite me at all, I puzzled over two things.  One is the material and the other the exhorbitant price.  In my world, a sofa could be wrecked in one short day.  It could be stained with all manner of tenacious colourings and smells, be flipped on its back to become a defence against military attack, or offer a comfortable resting place for swamp creatures such as collies or children just in from the rain forest, so I never bought one, not ever, relying instead on second hand ones already ‘broken’ in.

However, the multi-functional all-purpose blender has niggled at my peripheries for a while now.  I do have a small liquidiser, which can whizz up easy stuff like over-ripe strawberries and yoghurt, and an old magimix which belonged to Granny-at-the-gate and got left behind when she went northwards to heaven, but it leaks and, besides, is not multi-purpose, whatever than means. I also have a bread-maker that produces amazing works of sculpted art.  I sprayed one once with enamel car spray and it lasted a whole winter of island rains before I threw it over the fence.  It hit a rock and I wasn’t sure which one had shattered.

So, last week, with a helpful link to a good one from my healthy eating sister, I ordered my own copy.  A few days later, when dashing out the door to feed the 15 doves who have adopted me as mummy, I fell over a box the size of a small bathroom, which had been silently delivered earlier that morning.

Can’t be.  I thought.  Are there half a dozen of them in there?  Oh, no, of course not.  it will be all packaging and poly bags warning me not to put them over my head, or that of any in-house child.

I find myself, at this point, wishing I hadn’t ordered it at all, because now I have to do something like unwrap it and assemble it and then, worst of all, whizz a few somethings into a whole new something.  Then, I will have to spread it, or slap it on meat, or fish, or drink it.  The very thought brings on a yawn and I go to do another job for a while.

Eventually I have to face it so I lug this huge container inside the porch and grab a sharp knife.  Ok, here’s the top of the whizzer and here’s the bottom.  So far, so good.  Isn’t that enough, I ask myself?  Well, in a word, no.

Ten bags are nestled among the moulded corrugations of cardboard, each one wrapped in polythene danger.  I remove it all and lay each piece out on the counter, which I can no longer see.  Even the Clown Fish in the tank dive for cover.

I begin to assemble.  30 frustrating minutes later, I still only have the top and the bottom identified.  There are round things with small holes, round things with big holes, whisks, plastic discs, a small rocket, metal blades contained in immovable shells, each yelling out LOUD PROMISES of finger loss should any contact be made.  I am now a bundle of nerves and have to call my healthy sister who just giggles unhelpfully.

Did you assemble yours?  I shriek at her.

Nope, she says.  Her husband did.

Well, I have one of those but he is at sea, so that doesn’t work.

She guides me gently onwards and the motor leaps into life, although it has nothing to do but spin around at a terrifying speed, for now.

Later I bring together not a well-thought-through list of ingredients from a tried-out recipe, but just what I have in the fridge.  A bit of almost mouldy red tomato pesto; half a bag of raw spinach; one apple with the brown holes removed; one floppy carrot; a clove of garlic;  5 pitted black olives (ha! you thought I was going to sabotage it with pits didn’t you!!) and the juice of one orange.

Well it whizzed for two seconds and stopped.  I poked about with a wooden spoon and it whizzed again for another two seconds and stopped.  It went on offering me the same resistance, one I have only ever met before in myself, for half an hour, but I was determined to win the fight.

What I ended up with is a paste that resembles the inside of someone’s liver, but it tastes delicious.  It made me think of how important it is for something to look good for us to want to eat it.

Trouble is, I have only used one tenth of the flipping thing.  The rest of its working parts slumber in a dark cupboard. Just the thought of working out what they do makes me want to join the Clown Fish.