Island Blog 143 Own Hair and Teeth

 

old woman

 

Just in case you are wondering if I’m still at sea, like half-way to Norway by now, let me tell you it’s not true.  I have just been busy with lifey things for a while and somewhat strapped for words, but as I tootled back north the other day after a lively visit to my old ma, I heard them all (the words, that is) stomping back into my brain like old and welcome rellies.  Now there’s a thing!   I captured a lot of them on paper, laying them down word by word and I swear I heard them all sigh with relief.  When your words take off like that, it may not have been entirely their fault.  If anyone, or anything feels neglected and unloved, then I don’t blame them for pulling on their stout boots in search of alternative warmth and friendship.

The down south bit was fun.  I was reminded of delays, of queues and of road rage, of warm locals filled with locals, a merry fire blazing in the grate and good hoppy beer on tap. I became re-aquainted with the red and green man who tells me when I can cross the road, saw babies in catwalk clothing being propelled along in buggies the size of small cars, of business women in heels and pencil skirts, with strident voices and sassy black ear pieces, talking to themselves, not an anorak nor a dither among them.  I wandered through supermarkets sporting foreign sounding pulses, sauces and I marvelled anew at the down south size of parsnips, pidgeons and farm machinery.  Even the brambles are huge which is why they’re called blackberries.  Down south, brambles are those sharp things that tear your stockings when you take short cuts home.

I made friends on the trains.  I say ‘trains’ because to get to Norfolk is not for the faint-hearted, not on public transport. Four trains to get down and four to get back and by the time it was over I was well-practised in minding the gap and in avoiding those delightful old darlings who hump their suitcases onto the platform and then stop dead to pull on gloves or to re-arrange their scarves, causing a massive pile up and not a little tutting.

Annie and Damien were (and probably still are) a delightful young couple on their way to a relative’s wedding plus a few family visits.  I knew Annie was going to be fun when she said, as she reached up to the luggage rack, and her flat, firm midriff was revealed, that her granny used to warn her that her kidneys would fall out.  I told her that’s exactly what I was going to say and we were firm mates for 3 hours from that first chuckle.  Of course I gave her the lowdown on island Wife and of course she said she would Google me.  Ten years ago that would have sounded insulting.  Now it’s something to be proud of, the fact that you are Google material at all.  I was sad when we said goodbye in Peterborough.

My next new friend was on the journey north, two fine young men (everyone’s young to me) en route for a presentation in Stirling.  At first, they sat opposite each other, squashing me and a very charismatic pastor against the window, until we established between us that they were going to have to keep whizzing the laptop round in order to complete their work, which would drive me and the charismatic pastor nuts long before Ely.  I swapped seats and then started chatting, which wasn’t all that kind or sensitive, as they had work to do, but they were gracious enough to indulge me as we swapped life histories, zip folder sized.  One of them South African John was most intrigued about the Island Wife bit and instructed his wife, via text or whatsapp or something, to Google me too and then to buy the book.  I hope their presentation went well.  I was rather sad to see them go too, even if it did allow me and the charismatic pastor to spread out a bit.

Growing older is not always fun.  My old ma is pretty tired of waking up every day to the same number of hours alone.  Most of her friends have sailed heavenwards already and those that haven’t might do any day, even if they do still drive and play scrabble like champions right up to the cocktail hour.  However mum still jokes with the postman, milkman, paper boy, delivery man, etc and they all adore her.  There she is, this silver fox, with a ready chuckle in her mouth and smart as you like when off to see a movie (only she calls them films of course).

What I love about the little train from Glasgow to Oban is that I know all the guards and trolley dollies.  I also find most endearing (and seek it) the station announcements that are always a station out.  As we pull into Crianlarich (where this train divides) the nice woman tells us we are now arriving at Gairlochhead, astounding anew the visitors who look around a lot and stare hard at the station sign just to be sure.  She, the nice woman, has been getting it wrong for months now and nobody official seems to mind or notice.  The trolley runs out of sandwiches in the summer, ever single summer, long before 2pm and those who lingered over a glass of French red regret it for miles.  Those of us in the know purchase our baguette or our meal deal in the station and some of the older ones (including me) get up early to make our own. What I don’t like about our little train is the state of the WC (I refuse to call it a toilet, having rebelled against the word somewhere in my teens as it sounded way too grownup and proper), although WC is pretty ridiculous if you think about it.  Water Closets date back to Victoria Regina and she’s long gone.  On trains down south some eager official sorts out the loo at regular intervals, but this is obviously deemed unimportant or ‘not my job’ on the west highland line.  On a friday evening, it is actually dangerous to need a pee beyond Taynuilt, going either way.

Going back to the growing older thing, I find I rather like it, even if I do have to remind myself when leaving this train, with all my belongings, not to stop as soon as my feet hit the platform.  People are getting heavier these days and a collision might land me in A& E – or them, but either way, it would, or could, be messy.  When someone hears my age, they always tell me how young I look, and I don’t want to hear that.  I know I am an OHAT woman (own hair and teeth) for now, but I am proud of all those years at the back of me and if everything is about looking young, then does this mean I am more seriously OTH (over the hill) than I already thought?  Is being older a bad thing?  I hear so many folk say they don’t want to grow old, but they are saying this through pert lips and still with the ability to run for cover, whereas many of us need to bring our own because the chances of finding it (cover) let alone being able to run for it, is way in our past.

In Sainsburys, that massive animal with every conceivable foodstuff couched in its belly, I bought, without specs, a seed mix.  When I sprinkled it on my morning muesli and poured on the half fat milk it turned brown.  On further investigation (specs on) I discovered the seeds had been roasted in soy sauce.  I laughed and laughed and ate it all.  This is the fun of growing older.  Let not this cup be taken from me as it has so many others, for I will cause mayhem for as long as I possibly can, whether I intend it, or not.

 

 

Island Blog 111 Love Defiant

 

cute-old-cuoples-3

‘Love is giving someone the power to break your heart, and trusting them not to’.  Some wise soul said that, and I pinched it.

When we fall in love, we fall into infatuation at first.  We can think of nobody else all day.  Their face and voice lift us up to heights we never knew before.  Every time.

When I looked up Love on the interweb as my old ma calls it, every link on the first page and beyond guided me towards young love.  Now, young love is not just for the young.  The ‘young’ adjective describes Love, not the people feeling it.  We can fall in love at any age, and thankfully, we do or the world would be chock full of lonely old people, who have loved and lost and find they can love again.  But love is not just a feeling.  It’s a verb.  In order to maintain a love between two people, both have to work, sometimes, very hard and over long periods of time.

So what is love, the verb?

Well, after the first overwhelment of love, hitting us right in the heart like a meteor has landed there, things slowly change.  Is this, we ask ourselves, the death of love?  Did I make a huge mistake? Is the ‘honeymoon’ period over?  Hopefully, yes.  Now we are getting real.

You may have made a mistake in your choice of lover, but you also may not, for at this point comes commitment, a cementing of a love, a choice to grow it into something long term, something that will sustain both people for the rest of their lives.  Ok, so we ‘commit’ whatever shape that takes and on we go.  At first we can allow things to irritate, because we are still floating on cloud nine and, as we know Love is blind.  But, when those things that irritate don’t disappear, we begin to wonder, because our initial plan to make the other person into a carbon copy of ourselves, isn’t working.

This is the uncomfortable bit.

‘Vive la Difference!’ is something we can laugh about and nod our heads to, but can we actually live with it?

There is another saying, that ‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry’.  Well bin that one.  I believe that saying sorry and taking appropriate action thereafter is precisely what Love is.  Otherwise we can just go on with our irritating habits, expecting the other person to get over themselves without considering their feelings and that is not ‘love’.

‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’ is another.  However, the small stuff grows into big stuff if left unattended and, by the way, the small stuff is in the way every hour of every day is it not? Dropping socks on the floor, nagging about who does what, harping on about slamming the car door, not helping with the shopping/kids/accounts etc.

So how do we un-sweat it?

Honestly, I can’t answer any of it, for this subject is one discussed to death all over the world in many languages.  What I can say is that Love is a journey, not just a feeling.  Beyond the chemstry, the longing to get home to a loved one, the daily joy, is a great depth of other things, essential things that, if applied with patience, will grow into a lifetime love.

But what about all that small stuff?  Does he/she get away with it all? Hmmmm.  Jury is out on that.  I have made all the mistakes, harping, nagging, moaning about my lot, and you already know that, if you’ve read Island Wife.  But, what I have learned, thankfully, is that love is not about getting my own way in everything.  It is not about a clear stage, just for me, with himself prancing about like a dancer in tights, to lift me up every time I feel like a pirouette.

No, love is about Compassion.  Kindness.  Loyalty.  Friendship.  Affection.  And each one of these is a choice, NOT a feeling.  In fact, feeling them is unlikely at first, given the small stuff sweats.  These depths of love are something to do, to work on, to write down as reminders.  It’s like going back to school.

Goodness…… that sounds old and boring, even to me who knows all this first hand.  But, as nobody can explain the truest, deepest meaning of Love, its high price and its long term rewards, then we just have to believe in it, even though, as a rule, we really only believe in that which we can explain through logic.

Love is not just about those first fiery weeks/months or even years.  It’s not about agreeing on everything (which is fortunate as we hardly agree on anything)……nor is it something to be taken lightly, thrown away without deep consideration and every effort made to find it again should it appear lost.  It’s not real in movies or romance novels.  It’s not just for Christmas or for days when I feel good about myself.  You won’t find it winning the lottery, or being promoted or writing a bestseller.  You find it by making daily commitment to it’s development and growth.

And my last word, learned through experience, is this.

Forgive, even if nobody says sorry.

Island Blog 99 – Bareback

 

_mother-nature

 

I realised on waking this morning for the 4th time, that there is a clunder of whizzing things inside my head.  Actually, whizzing things probably don’t ‘clunder’.  A clunder sounds heavy, thick, like old porage.  A clunder of sticky oats.  that’s better.

Moving on……….this ‘whatever’ of whizzing things can make a girl want to get up and sort some of them out, and yet, on the first 3 wakings, it was still dark as chocolate and I didn’t feel like rising into it at all.  But I did lie there staring at where the ceiling probably still was, to notice each whizzer one by one.  The to-do list is there of course, but being of superficial importance, is quite easily parked.  That list can take over a girl’s whole thinking if she isn’t mindful of its anaconda properties.  After all, if the carpet behind the tallboy is not hoovered today, the spiders will be overjoyed.  I hate losing spiders up sucky pipes anyway.  We need spiders.

So, list parked, now what?

The evolution of characters inside a story is a process I cannot rush, nor can I speed it up.  I can set aside the time to write each day that I am on the island, but if there is a part of the tale that is dependant on something evolving inside my own life, then I am at the mercy of Old Father Time, and I must patiently and mindfully wait.

When the horses in my mind are pulling me along, straining at their bits and pounding along a wide sunny path, everything flows like honey, but when they come across a fallen tree, they have to stop and so do I.  I can get off the wagon, study the obstacle, tell you all about how it lies and why I think it fell, and whether or not it is deciduous or evergreen, but I can’t move it one half centimetre out of the way.

I am not in control at this point.  Or am I?

Well, yes, I am.  I am in control of my response to the fallen tree, and I have two options.  I can puff and snort and shake my fist at the skies, creating not one ripple.  I can shout and swear and give myself a sort throat.  I can turn my wagon round and go back the way I came.

Or, I can water the horses, loosen their girths, let them refresh and graze.  I can sit on the trunk and notice the mosses, touch the places where the bark is torn away, lean my head to the trunk and listen for the dying heartbeat.  I can think into the shade it has offered and the lower leaves it offered to passing deer.  I can hear the chatter of nesting birds inside the protection of its many arms, and I can see the roots, wrenched from their moorings and reaching now like old fingers into the light.   I can notice the shine on the worn leather harness as it lies against the warm chestnut necks of the horses and I can smell their sweet grassy breath on the breeze.

And then I realise that I don’t really need the wagon at all.  I can leave it here, pull it over into that rocky scoop.  It is laden with a load of bahuki anyway.  Clunder I don’t really need at all.  I can flip off the harness and ride one horse bareback, the other in tow.

So, the situation I had set the characters in, had become awkward and clumsy.  I could feeling it growing more so, but kept writing them into it and then tried to justify it, when any reader would have spotted my error in a heartbeat.

It took a fallen tree for me to realise that.

Going back over an early draft is not how I work.  Initially, I just flow, knowing that the energy of first words is a powerful one, although I will need to pick out the strands of that energy from a load of self-indulgent twaddle at some point.

However, if my instinct is to doubt the situation I am painting my characters into, then I must listen to that voice and allow it to manifest itself in a tree across my path.  Often, the idea of re-writing any part of a story can be scary and tiring just to think about, but, once I begin, I can find happy surprises, like the moss on the trunk of it, brilliant green with tiny fragile flowers I never knew were there…..or the scars left by the torn bark, showing me a filligree beauty no human being ever designed……or the finger roots, twisted in search of life-giving water, once hidden, now a visual symphony just for my pleasure.

I can take off the harness and ride on.

Bareback.

Island Blog 59 – Dolphins

Island Blog 59Never let it be said that journeying is for the young. I never journeyed so much in my life as I am these days and all because I wrote down my life and Two Roads Published it. It is not just the trip tomorrow down to Glasgow for an interview with Jane Garvey in the BBC Studios – Woman’s Hour ‘Celebrating Extraordinary Women’ (oo-er) May 27th 10 am; it’s not just the trip the following week for an interview with Sally Magnusson, a sort of Desert Island Discs for Radio Scotland on June 2nd, called Sunday Morning; it’s the journey my mind is taking, and my body, both of which, to be honest, have obviously been resting for quite some time.

The trouble with growing older is that we ‘allow’ ourselves to step out of the slipstream. And everyone around us allows it too. When something or someone requires us to step back in, we begin, at first, to spin, understandably, having not had so much exercise for years. We resist and fall back onto the verge, wheezing and flapping our hands in the air, laugh, if we have the breath and say something like…….oh I’ll just wait here for you and admire the view…….!

Not an option for me.

So how does a woman, like me, part way between young and old (not saying which part) find her way back into the slipstream, the rush and tumble of life, a life where people and things become faint memories overnight?

Colour. Attitude. Confidence. Letting go.

I remember learning once this wisdom. ‘Fake it till you make it.’ and I instantly liked that way of turning life on its head. I realised that just because I might feel frightened, or unsure or too young or too old and wheezy, I could, if I so chose, act a part. Now, you will know, if you have read my book, Island Wife, that acting a part was something I did often as each challenge rose up before me, like a Rachel Whiteread sculpture, blocking all exits. It requires not my own strength, not my own experience, even, but simply a willingness to let go, and to find quiet moments in which to sharpen my sword/teeth/wits as preparation for whatever comes next.

I couldn’t cook until hungry guests arrived expecting dinner. I had no maternal instincts until I gave birth. I knew not the rules of engagement, nor of wifedom until they took over my life and woke me each morning with a to-do list. I had no idea when I wrote down my life that so many others would want to tell me how my story sang out to their own, thus creating a new harmony, one that cannot be contained or filed away, for it has taken wings and will make a new journey, all of its own into new skies and over uncharted lands.

Maybe, just by refusing to wheeze and flap and admire the view, I have become the pioneer I always secretly hoped I might be.

And dolphins often play in a slipstream.