Island Blog – The Light On Ordinary

When I was a small child, barely able to see over the dining table, roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings looked like a range of hills, some jagged, some round as parliament mounds. Slices of roast beef became cooled larval plates and vegetables a compost heap, like the one my dad forked and raked into submission, until the new additions joined the mass of grey. It was only when I had climbed onto my chair that I saw how ordinary it all was, and how temptingly delicious ‘ordinary’ can be.

I recall sitting to ‘Listen With Mother’, only Mother always fled the room having seated us and was long gone before the welcome music had stopped. I remember being immediately drawn into the story as the teller’s voice led me away from the pestilential; my woolly underpants, my too tight shoes, my nails bitten to the quick and beyond, my disappointment in life. I dreaded the end music. I waited, my heart on pause, as the story slowly came to its conclusion, the teller’s voice falling back to its final chord and my underpants reminding me of to disseminate. When I heard the music heralding the Archers, or, worse, the Shipping Forecast, I knew I was doomed, for that meant bedtime and darkness and utter loneliness. Until, that is, I picked up my book and moved immediately into a story not my own, a story fashioned from smoke and stars, wild water and silent red skies, of adventures and choice and freedom.

I am the same now. I do not choose woolly underpants, nor do I bite my nails to the quick and beyond, but I do feel a clutch in my heart when Steve Wright says, It’s time to go, and plays the end music. It is all about being thrust back into the so called disappointment. At five to five I leap up to turn off the radio. I do this because, I now realise, I don’t want that same pattern to repeat itself; that slump back into ordinary; the moment when I need to lift my reluctant self back into my life, when I must leave the story or the music behind and do things like cooking or bathing whilst wondering what on earth I can do to shorten the long hours of evening.

It was the same throughout the latter years of caring. Initially, when himself was still mobile, when he still enjoyed going out for a meal (our favourite thing) or playing scrabble beside a feisty woodburner and surrounded by candles and talk of what we would do tomorrow, I had no such slump when Steve Wright said, It’s time to go. It meant nothing. It was just a wee reminder that dinner might like to be prepared and that a warming bath with scented candles awaited both of us. I didn’t even mind his derisive snort at the festival of light I had prepared around the rim of the bath. For me, it meant stories, stories flickering on the ceiling, the plash of water as I moved, the shadows like creatures from another world, all showing me hope and choice and freedom. I could barely wait to get into bed for all the reading I would do throughout the night.

Latterly, as he sickened and regressed into childhood, he wanted a supper of mulch at 4.30 and was ready for bed two hours later. Then I found little interest in cooking for one, for myself and absolutely no interest in the evening. He sat, headphones on, engaged on WhatsApp with who knows who or watching Casualty, something at which he would have scoffed away before, as mindless tripe. Now, alone, it thinks me. I connect again with the child who imagined a mountain range at eye level when it was just a plate of food to everyone else. It reminds me of the young wife and mother I once was who suddenly realised that life is ordinary. It reminds me of just a few years ago, when, pre-dementia diagnosis, I actually still believed things would change for the better, like in books but with me as the heroine.

Is the alternative, then, a slump into the ordinary? Hell NO!

To my delight, this child who saw mountains that became roast potatoes is alive and kicking within. I find her in the books I read, that curious child who longs to wander through the pages of a story. I ask myself, is this me hiding from the world? Perhaps. I ask, Am I going slowly mad, reading two books a week? Perhaps. Who will deny or confirm? Not I said the goose.

Well, that’s good enough for me. In stories, in books, in reading, I change my thinking. I learn, through novels, a new way to see an old thing. I find that ‘ordinary’ is not such a slump; but that ‘ordinary’ begs my light to shine from within and thus it lifts and lift until my ordinary is your extraordinary. Here’s my hand, I say, reaching down. I can pull you up and here’s a book. What book? you might ask? whilst grabbing my hand to avoid falling into the abyss. Oh, I reply. the one you need for now.

I read for survival and for pleasure. The well written word is more glorious to me than jewels; scratchy nickers and long empty evening, lose their power as do lost dinner dates and the ending of things. The light I find in books is endless and there is not ending in endless, for as long as people live and breathe and write, there will be stories upon stories upon stories, like a feast; like a roast dinner that looks one thing at eye level and quite another when ‘ordinary’. I have hauled my way up rocks and over mountains, through floods and deserts and only because I read books and books have always lit my way.

And as long as I live, I will keep that light on. I have ten grandchildren, and two step grandchildren and they all read and are ripe for books. That’s twelve potential families moving out into the future. Now that’s not ordinary at all.

Island Blog – Repeat Daily

The way I see things when I am tired, stressed or fed up is never how they really are. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. In certain moods or when pressure feels heavy as a truck on my head, I slip into a weird world, one full of victims with me being the biggest. I am at the mercy of whatever comes my way; my seeing becomes slanted, ditto my hearing and my poor underused brain turns into an untethered disco ball. Instead of being inside this body, I am all over the place, running here and there like a headless hen.

And then the next day comes, the next songbird dawn, the new light, and what happened yesterday seems small and insignificant, solvable in a few simple steps. Why I couldn’t see it that way yesterday beyonds me. Yes, I was tired of repeating things, gently; yes I was upset about the rain getting into my post box; yes I was lonely and wondering when life would begin and yes I was pitching for a fight. I guess the nice lady from the Council, just doing her job, is fortunate I didn’t get to speak to her. I have no idea what she called about, beyond a vague and fluffy explanation (and even that word is too long to describe what I did learn). Are we still shielding? Are we allowed to see anyone and would that be from Now or from July 31st, and are we still getting the food deliveries? I know the answer to the last question having just learned it from a friend, but the rest, himself nodding and saying No and Yes and then No again could mean he has signed us up for a pilot mission to Mars. I guess I will find out eventually, if a space suit arrives by carrier.

My point is that, in my strong and right mind, I can see all the mild irritations and the intense enfuryments as just things colliding with my just thoughts and just feelings. I can step back, breathe, observe and quantify, deconstruct and take appropriate action. When in a compromised state of being, it looks and feels as if I am under attack from a mysterious, invisible band of mercenaries, with me in their sights. Of course, it would be impossible, being an ordinary extraordinary human woman, to sustain such a peaceful equilibrium at all times and in all sets of circumstance. life isn’t like that for any of us. Tsunamis will rise and threaten to destroy; rain will seep into post boxes, mushing paper and packaging, days will feel trudgemonkey and food will go off in the humid heat, just before I go to re-heat it for dinner. Life is not plain sailing and we all know that. But, if I can set up an inner programme of self-encouragement, write down uplifting affirmations to stick on walls, seek conversation with friends and read good guide books – if I eat well, exercise, laugh a lot, show kindness, share love and think more often of others that of myself, I will have prepared myself for anything that might come my way on any given day.

Which is what I am doing this day. One day at a time.

Repeat daily.

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 – Stasis, Statues and the Extraordinary

And so it is. The ferry will not carry anyone who cannot prove they live here; the shops are closed, as are the pubs, hotels and hostels. We are held in stasis, like the statues we see dotted around our cities. Whenever I walk past one, bronzed and frozen in some public place, I wonder what was happening to that notable person before that moment in time and after, if, indeed there was one of those. Did he or she live out a mostly ordinary life until he or she chose to perform something remarkable? Was that laudable moment his only laudable moment? Or was her life so very laudable that we, living out our own ordinary lives (that never epiphanied us into statue material) have to keep being reminded of our ordinariness every time we pass by? Did his feet ache in ill-fitting shoes or no shoes at all? Was she late for school/work/choir practice and did her teeth hurt eating ice cream? What does this laudable dude think of the pigeons that perch on their horizontals and shit them white and greasy grey? Do they notice the baggy coated homeless wanderer who slumps beneath their lofty limbs glugging poison from a bottle and staring out at the world through nearlydead eyes?

Who knows. Statement, not question. I would have to stop, obviously, and read the plaque, the blurb about this hero or heroine but I rarely do if I’m honest. I notice, more, the face, the expression, and I follow the trajectory of their gaze and even that cursorily because I am on my own trajectory from A to B, and this bronzed or marbled elevation of one human being (or been) will still be here should I come this way again with more time and with my specs on.

But now we are not marching from A to B, most of us. Those who aren’t directly servicing the good of our fellow men and women are at home behind window glass and doors with sterilised handles and knobs. The walks and talks and coffee meets and random encounters are now forbidden as we work together to prevent the unnecessary spread of a killer virus. Silent, deadly and very much alive. But we are enterprising, we ordinary people, and I am daily delighted as I hear more of this online idea or that distance contact. I laugh at the online videos created by minds with sparkle and am thankful when they are forwarded on to me. We are not statues. Most of us never will be anyway. But, in our ordinariness we are showing strong signs of the extraordinary. I knew we would. My granddaughter is doing a co-ordinated bake off with her school mates through WhatsApp or Skype. And what she is learning, what we are all learning, is that our ordinary brains are capable of so much more than we ever knew. The world will be forever changed once we come out on the other side of this war and although some won’t be with us, those who are left will walk into a new world and, although not many of us will warrant a statue in our name, there are those who would surely deserve to be remembered in such a way.

I remember a statue once, in Amsterdam. A rather splendid fellow in frock coat and tights with an ebullience of rakish hair and a fabulous face. He was holding out a painters palette in one hand, a paintbrush in the other. I was not on my way from A to B and he was worth a second look, so I did read the plaque. ‘Barent Fabritius – who lived till he went back to Amsterdam, whence he died’. Not a great ad for Amsterdam. It made me chuckle and look back up into his face. And then he moved.

He moved, he moved! I screeched at my friend who raised one eyebrow and shook her head. See that glass of white you had for lunch….? she said and walked away to check out some tulips. I risked another glance upwards. He smiled at me and winked and I laughed delightedly, upsetting the pigeons who burst into the sky, and the old homeless man on a nearby bench swore in technicolour, then slumped back down into the folds of his baggy old coat.

I knew then, as I know now, that nothing and no-one in this world is ordinary. Oh no, not at all.

Island Blog 46 – Frozen

Island Blog 46

A friend and I play writing games together.  One of us picks a phrase, a subject and we both have to write for say five minutes, or ten, on that phrase or subject.  We are not supposed to think, or lift our pen from the page, but just to let our creativity flow unimpeded.

We have had some interesting projects.

‘The day I didn’t call’  was one, I remember, and another, ‘this exquisite wounding’.

A recent one was entitled ‘Frozen’

Just that.  Could lead you anywhere.

Here’s what I wrote:

‘Whenever I walk past a statue in some public place, I wonder what was happening to that person before someone froze them forever.  Did he or she live out a mostly ordinary life?  Was that laudable (obviously) moment in time their only laudable moment in time, or was it all so laudable that we, living out our ordinary lives have to keep being reminded of our ordinariness every time we walk by?

Did his or her feet ever ache in badly made shoes, and were they ever late for school or work or choir practice and did their teeth hurt eating ice cream? Were they kind to others, loving in their homes, humble in opinions?  What made them so remarkable?  And what would they think of the pigeons who perch on their horizontal bits and shit them white and greasy grey, or the homeless wanderers who slump beneath their lofty limbs?

Sometimes I read the plaque that tells of their achievement, but usually I just march by in my badly made shoes, avoiding pigeon shit and homeless wanderers on my ordinary way from A to B with deadlines in my head and a dirty rain threatening.

In Amsterdam, one moved.  A statue, I mean, and I did stop then.  Suddenly nothing was ordinary at all and I laughed out loud as the pigeons burst into the sky and an old man on a bench unfolded himself and laughed with me before sinking back down into the folds of his oversized coat’.