Island Blog – Animation

This night my African son tells me he is going out for dinner with his wife and her folks. I know the place. Its all sand drives and security controlled, a sort of housing estate but without living too close to anyone else. In the mornings and evenings, they watch giraffe, zebra, warthog and a million rainbow birds who come by in their search for water and possible food. The local shop sells wild animal food pellets and, although none of the above agree with feeding wildlife, it is tempting. It means the animals stay awhile and I get that. Did it myself when I was there.

On the ‘estate’ that flanks a big croc busy river, lies Kruger park on the other side and fenced high. From viewpoints we can see elephants, leopard (if we are lucky), crocs, hippos, kudu, giraffe, zebra and so much more. It is quite intoxicating. They seem so near and so safe and yet not one of them is either. There are a few restaurants, all a big sandy drive away, and some offering eventide views of the big five coming for water, for it overlooks a freshwater pool (when there is rain, which is not often). Some restaurants are nestled in the bush, and the sounds of cracking branches and birdsong, like we never hear in the UK, interrupt and cause us to look here, or there for a catch of rainbow or the big butt of a rhino just minding her own business, for we are are on her territory.

It thinks me. It has been a very long time since I felt that flutter of anticipation, knowing I was going out for dinner; what dress to wear after a shower, what boots to wear, what perfume? Like an electric pulse but not one that hurts. If I knew in the morning, it fizzed me all day long. If, as was often the case with me and Popz, it was 30 minutes warning but nonetheless the electricity fizzled. He might say (way back in the day) What’s for supper? I might say Ah I don’t feel like cooking tonight and he would respond immediately with Let’s go out and I was hooked, line and sinker. We have…..had…. superb restaurants on the island, brilliant ambience and excellent chefs and I knew he was driving so I could just enjoy my wine. We went oft in the summer months. I loved that. Needless to say we didn’t go out (for some time) once he became compromised with what he could eat, the amount of voice ‘noise’ he could bear and the whole faff of driving out when he was really ready for bed. It happened like a season. Slow, gradual, almost not noticed.

Looking back I remember the wild times. The suddenness of action. Pick up your bed and walk, kind of thing. I got really good at looking marvellous in minutes. I can do it now, but now there is covid and fear and all restaurants closed and the ferry a threat and, although I thank this isolation time for the chance he and I had to re-connect as friends, I would choose it gone.

Once, on my chance for escape, when day time carers were enough for him, I took myself to Glasgow, to the river and to a flat on the quayside. It was a few minutes walk to about four excellent restaurants. In the morning I wandered out to choose my place for the evening meal, the lights, the buzz, the life. I had no problem at all booking a table for one.

I wonder if I will find this place again, this animation, this lift of independent life.

Island Blog – All Change

I remember bus conductors calling this out, or hearing that remote voice through the speakers in a carriage as the train touched the buffers. Nowadays trains ‘terminate’ which I always feel is a bit of an overstatement. The first time I heard that word in relation to a train plus buffers, I laughed out loud, startling the quiet around me and drawing attention to myself. I wanted to explain. I wanted to question the use of that word in this context, but I said nothing. Just grinned foolishly and gathered up my chattels. On the platform I did look back, once, to see what might happen when a train ‘terminates’ but the old engine just sat there, puffing a bit, and not, it seemed, in any danger of termination.

In life we all have to change and sometimes all is in need of a change. The old ways of doing things, even the things themselves, demand to be released into the past. We know it. We resist it, at first and if you are like me, at second and even at third. Sometimes I have got all the way up to ten in my resistance. Welcoming change is easy when it doesn’t require much of me, doesn’t tell me I need to do yet more inner work, write yet more plans of action, or to step out of my comfy slippers and into jack boots. It is bothersome to say the least. I mean, I was fine, wasn’t I, doing things this way? For ages, in fact. So many ages that I don’t have to think about my doings or beings around this thing. I just do it and I just be. And who says I need to change, anyway? Some high principled god figure with a pointy finger? It never sits well with me when I sense a pointy finger until I realise it is my own.

So this change I apparently need to make is a pain in the aspidistra. My aspidistra. How irritating is that! It seems I am required to improve myself in some area of my doing and being. I tell myself that the benefits will resound like a gong in the empty room I am about to create for myself, that one I have just cleared of all furniture and drapes; the one with only spiders and dust. The gong will sound marvellous, echo-ey and with a boing that will bounce off the bare walls for some minutes, filling my ears and rumbling my breastbone. I will feel it, as well as hear it. This is my new beginning. It is very tempting to lug the furniture back in but with my own pointy finger pointing, I cannot. Besides, the air is clearer now and the room without geography. A blank canvas. Even though my fingers are twitching, my yearn for the old design strong-voiced and persuasive, I resist. I walk around the room, touching the walls, seeing the marks of what once hung there, rectangles of grime. Cobwebs loop.

I call out my hoover, attach myself to the non-business end and press ‘play’. Within moments all signs of the past have gone. I have nowhere to sit, nothing to look at, no place of rest. So be it. I make a cup of rosy lee and lean against the door jamb. I look around me, try my voice out in the empty space. Who am I now? now, now,now,now.

Answer comes there, none. Apparently, that’s ok. Whatever change I have requested from the great high Out There is, as yet, unknown to me, its benefits a guess at best. But I do know I asked for this, no matter the flaming inconvenience of it actually arriving at my door. We all ask for change at times. What we don’t all do is welcome it in and trust, no matter how scary it may feel.

For now, I am on ‘pause’. Something wonderful will come, because I have cleared the way for it. The next bit will be what it will be, and Lady Providence is always standing at the crossroads. I see her up ahead, her hand held out to me.

And so, it is.

Island Blog – Noticing Thoughts, Starlings and the Wonderful

This time of isolation, for us since March 16th, has given me the chance to really think things through. I decide, for example, thanks to the nudges from my body, the universe and my long bedroom mirror, to change a daily habit in order to discover something wonderful. Although the process of re-jigging and then maintaining daily a new way of doing old things can be a pain in the aspidistra, the ‘wonderful’ is going to be so worth the effort. Writing down a new plan is key; bullet points numbered, and with space at the end for an achievement tick. After a week, I want a gold star, so that means I must write down the date of first commitment, to keep track of my progress. July 1st sounds like a good date upon which to set this ship a-sail.

Perhaps I want to finally lose this jelly belly, the one that flops over my underpinnings. Perhaps I drink too many glasses of coke, or sherry, or coffee. Perhaps I turn away from a walk if its raining. There’s that kitchen cupboard asking to be scrubbed clean all the way to the back this time and not just wiped at the front in a kidding sort of way. Whatever it is I want to change, for no reason outside of myself, I must begin by noticing the triggers that keep me lazy about taking action. I write them down. They look ghastly, sloppy, unthinking. Luckily nobody but me is going to see them as they stare back up at me from my A4 notepad. I had thought I was in charge of me. Obviously I was wrong.

What will the ‘wonderful’ be? Well, I don’t know, but at a guess, the jelly belly will retreat somewhat, if not completely. Who will notice or care? Well, nobody but me. Is that inspiring enough? Yes it is, I tell myself, noticing that trip up thought. Although it might be true that I expect the first day to have me all sorted, I can very easily fall back on what has become my norm, the one that doesn’t require me to think much at all. Day two might feel like trudgemonkey. This is when I must refer back to my plan with bullet points of action and room for an achievement tick. Oh…..must I? Seriously? Yes I must, because the ‘wonderful’ is not an instant thing but a distant one, and I will never know how distant unless I remain steadfast in pursuit of my goal. It is innately human to believe that results should be served up the minute a decision implants itself in a brain. This is a lie, a big fat lie. Nobody ever got nowhere without consistent dedication to their goal.

I find it helpful to jot down my thoughts. Not all of them or I would never get anything else done, but the ones that catch my attention, telling me I am in need of a snack, a sweet one, and right now. Hang on a minute, I say, putting up my hand. You aren’t hungry for a sweet snack at all. You are just a bit bored or lost or feeling uncomfortable. That’s when I step back, look at this hungry little whiner and tell it straight. You are not useful to me at this time. You had breakfast 30 minutes ago, and even if you think you really are in need of a snack, it won’t be sweet, trust me on that. It will be a shaved carrot. So there.

Same goes for the sherry call. Perhaps a thought tells me I am not coping with this, or that and that I need a shot of something to take the edge off. The edge off what, precisely? This situation within which I live and move and have my being, that’s what. And how will numbing your brain help change said situation? It won’t, not long term. So, you are not useful to me right now whereas a cup of tea most certainly will be. Please leave.

It’s amazing how obedient my thoughts are. Quite surprising in fact. I think they are astonished at my questioning them. After all, they have ruled my roost for decades, confident in their control over me. In my facing them down as the questioner, they are lost for words. It’s rather exciting and one of the early glimpses I get of my ‘wonderful’. So this is how it works! If I commit to change, notice my thoughts and challenge the ones that want to keep me living like a robot, the serendipities begin to rise. I actually feel good about myself, more powerful, more excited about what happens next. My jelly belly may still flop over my underpinnings, my nightly sherry may still beckon from the wings, and the rain may still put me off walking, but I have moved forward and it feels, well, wonderful.

This morning I sat with coffee and watched the birds around the feeders. Siskin, goldfinch, greenfinch, sparrow, collared dove, robin, coal tit, blue tit, great tit, blackbird. Suddenly the sky darkened and in flew about 50 starlings. They covered the feeders, lined the fences, perched on the shrubs, all the while twittering in fluent starling. My heart lifted, as did I to get my camera. By the time I got back, they had gone. But I had seen the wonderful, noticed it, logged it in my mind. Next time I will remind myself just to sit and to notice. The way the sun turns their feathers blue, their darting flight, the way they stay together, fly together; the sound of their voices, the quick turns of their shiny heads.

Noticing the outside is very important and we have the time now to do just that, but noticing our internal world is even more important. We are not robots, we are wonderfully intelligent agents of change, and when we stop to think, to notice our thinks, we become more powerful than we could ever have imagined. It all starts with a decision to take back control.

And, as we do, the ‘Wonderful’ awakens.

Island Blog- Rule of Thumb

The dawn turned the far hills blood red. Although Father Sun rises behind my home, he makes his presence known in casts of colour, short-lived but marvellous to see. The sky, flat and brushed with Payne’s grey, Rose Madder and Ultramarine looks like it is unsure about what to do next. Threatened storms may roar around us as they often do, we who stick out into the Atlantic like a determined finger, independent of any weather forecast. It thinks me.

In a few days I will have been married for 48 years. We both will. A lot of what happened over those years were not as I had dreamt, nor planned. My ideal of a marriage is not so unusual. White knight, independence, the freedom to make my own choices, take my own actions, sing my own song and all under the loving and approving smile of a benign king. I would share the throne, choose my own frocks, laugh loudly when I wanted, speak out my truth and be heard. I’m not saying this never happened because it did, but where I thought this would be a rule of thumb, I found, at times, that I was under said thumb and unable to rise to my full stature.

Did it damage me, this thumb thing? It did not. Instead I have learned that on many of those remembered and unremembered times, I had a lesson to learn. I would have been, and can still be, too quick to respond, to act, to speak out. My vivid and often unrealistic imagination could have launched me into trouble without that thumb. I thank the thumb owner, that’s what I do, now that I can look back and join up the dots. I married a man 10 years my senior for a very good reason, even though I didn’t do so consciously. Somehow, my sub conscious knew what was best for me, what or who would keep me safe from danger, from myself.

I would never, even in my wildest dreams, have lived the live I have lived, the one I shared with my king. I would never have known the exciting highs nor experienced the awful lows without him and his thumb. In balance, and this is where the dot joining comes in, my life, our life together has been extraordinary from the beginning and all the way up to the now. When I recall our adventures, the spontaneity of them, the sudden Let’s Go thing, the way we led our children into independent thought, creative action, kindness towards all living people and things; the way we laughed and partied, invited and welcomed, shared and made ourselves known in the work we collectively undertook. The way we steadfastly marched on through bad times, poor times, times when our inventive strengths pulled us through. And the way we made a difference, made memories that so many others share and still remember with fondness and a chuckle.

It was never plain sailing, not for either of us. I doubt that marriage ever is, for anyone. But, to survive and thrive through such a vast ocean of years is to have made many sail corrections. Thousands. Millions. And we have, and we still are making those corrections, working with the winds of time, rising over and over again, no matter how big the waves, how fickle the chop, how far away the next peaceful harbour.

I feel honoured and proud. We did it. We got through. And we are still here, still breathing, still sailing towards a new horizon. Together.

Island Blog – Extra the Ordinary

Although I live my life according to the rules, most of the time, my heart and soul are pure Paris. As a girl, as a young woman, I could feel the inconvenient wild in me, this fire blaze that burned no matter how politely I crossed my ankles or demurred to the authority of a man. The confusion of living with the two opposing women inside came with a great deal of trouble, most of it unseen by anyone but me. The trouble was my lack of enough experiential wisdom to accept both the Paris and the Quiet Suburbs and to love them both. How can I, how can anyone, hold two contradictories in one head at the same time? Well, practice, and a lot of self-love. En route to this acceptance brought tantrums, a smouldering silence, spots, ridiculous clothes, lost friendships, poor decisions, all of which came with legacy, one only I was forced to live with and through. Those in ‘authority’ over me called me names; deluded, hysterical, rebellious, ornery, bloody difficult #needsprofessionalhelp, possessed, reckless and so on. I was, in short, impossible and would never fit in. Until one day I overheard my French teacher, whom I adored, saying to my mother #headinhands that I had a lot of the Paris in me. I suspect that was the beginning of my quest, one that has led me over the bumps, into walls, off chasmic edges and on and on to many wonderful places and times.

At this age of ripeness and with a completely marvellous and exciting past, I smile at my journey. Even now I can meet good women of my age who, on recognising the rebel in me, say that they were never wild; that they never felt anything like an incendiary bomb. I always question that. Did you ever fall head over heels in love, I ask, when your whole world is thrown up into the air like a beach ball, and do you remember hoping it would never come down again? I usually get them on that one. Okay they didn’t lock matron in the phone cupboard and go back to bed, nor set fire to the school shed (didn’t burn), nor did they get back home at 10pm, check in with parents and then climb out of the window to rejoin the party. But I did, and that wildness is still here, still within, now honoured and loved, appreciated and respected. Paris is part of me.

I have never been to Paris and may never go there. I call her Paris because of what I have read, since my French teacher said what she said, and I have learned about that city of bohemian rebellion and energy. I will have added my own imagination, naturally, and together we have got me all the way up to this morning in a lively and unpredictable way. Living as I now do inside my own structure of discipline is just where I want to be. I have no desire to travel in order to find myself. Myself is right here with me and we are an excellent team. Rebelling against my own rules of engagement would be foolish. Rebelling against other people’s rules of engagement was exhilarating, terrifying and often self destructive, but I could not have avoided one minute of it. It is in my DNA and that is irrefutable.

My message in all this is to encourage you all to remember who you really are, not to fanny about with who someone else decides you are. This would be like trying to fit politely and tidily into an empty Weetabix box. So don’t. And, if any of this touches you in any way, there is work to be done. We can die with our song unsung or we can take a risk, open our mouths and sing it out, at any age or stage of our lives.

We can make an ordinary life extraordinary just by living half in, half out of the box, our own box.

Island Blog – Anything I Want and Magic

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

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

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

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

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

Island Blog – 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 – Other Days and Puddles

I know I always sound positive, but I don’t always ‘feel’ this. I make the decision to be hit with shit and then to choose my next action. If someone, anyone, asks me how I am, I say… ….I. Am. Good. I don’t know why I say Good, considering my ma’s response, should she hear me reflect and deflect the question this way. She said…..You Were Never Good. And she was right. I wisnae.

But, it was dinted into me, the upbeat return. And I am glad of that core training. However, it is often not the truth when I am in the thick of being yelled at for the pitch/sound/volume of my voice. My. Voice. When a tiny carolling granddaughter hurtles into the sacred space where all is kept calm, headphones on, next Netflix film running. Where the fire is just right, logs (hauled by me) are plentiful and the tea urn is groaning and wheezing in the next room ready for the endless spout of Tetley. I spin (quietly) from task to task, making not much fuss about the electric wheelchair parked in such a way that to deliver another load of logs would require an athletic leap without spillage. When the fret about which way the headphones fit (having gently guided and explained at least ten times) I may turn and ignore, or respond with a snap and a raised voice, repeating what I said the last time and the time before that and that. I want to twist those headphones into a hair band. But I don’t. When the signing in of yet another new phone is called for just as I have sat myself down to an audible book and my tapestry and I just cannot be youknowwhat to respond kindly/ly.

It must be awful beyond awfulness to be inhibited in the way himself is inhibited. All those things he did without even turning a hair for decades are now a massive frustration. It must be, well, appalling. I cannot imagine it. However, living with such a demise challenges my own sense of self, my values, my modus operandi. And that, too, is a good thing, but all this challenging, all this rethinking of how I must respond, of who I am in this thixotropic gloop is exhausting.

I am exhaustinged. But there are breaks afoot. I leave for a snow holiday in France with one of my lads and his family on Friday. I know I will love it and will hopefully return intact. They all ski but I am a buffoon around snow and hills. I will be staring at the sky, noticing the individual snow flakes, skidding down the path to the cafe, reading, resting, reviving.

I write this in honour and with a salut to any of you who fight daily with what is right versus how you feel. It is an upward battle for sure. The way I mostly cope is involving myself in Nature and even that is a challenge here with weeks and weeks of endless blattering rain. But, today, I walked out with my fireheaded granddaughter and we jumped in every single puddle. But, and here’s the thing, only once we had bent down to check our reflections in every single one. There must have been 50, easy, on a short half mile toddle. Every puddle was recognised and affirmed. Less without our bent heads, whole once we were in there, reflected. It thinked me.

I come home with this. Everyone should come back home with something like this.