Island Blog – Tribute

Yesterday at 0600 we set off for a day in Kruger Park. This vast expanse of wild bush covering over one million hectares is the home of the Big Five. Lion, Leopard, Buffalo, Rhino and Elephant. However, there are many more species living in symbiosis. The Ground Snail (size of my clenched fist), Leopard Tortoise (the only one who can swim) Golden Orb spiders whose webs are as wide as I can throw my arms, Giraffe, Zebra, Wild Dog, Jackals, Vultures, Fish Eagle, Warthog, Hyena, myriad birds of spectacular colour and size and so much more. My eyeballs threatened to fall out with all that looking. Just a tiny movement through the thorn trees could mean, well, anything and it is so easy to miss a sighting. Camouflage is everything. Although we didn’t manage to find Lion or Leopard, we saw many species just doing their thing over the course of nine hours, including a newborn elephant beside his dauntingly huge mama. A gaggle of parked cars meant ‘something’ and so we stopped too, to look. Refreshment stops en route kept us sustained and it made me see how easy life is for us in comparison to all those creatures who must always be on the hunt for their next meal.

As I sat in back of the truck I thought about that. I also thought about the driver, the guide, our protector, my son. He, who has lived a long time surrounded by wild animals and the ways of Africa, marvels me. All my children do. I observe their traverse through adulthood. I watch them deal with daily thingumabobs and disappointments, news both good and bad, ups and downs, people, animals and things, horizons foreshortened and expanded, and, most tricksy of all, unforeseen changes to their inner maps. Although their innate goodness and respect of all life may have had something to do with the way their father and I guided them through childhood, they have each developed their own set of rules, grown their own characters, chosen their own considered paths and set out to walk them down. They have moved on a long way since those days of learning values from us, and now they are parents themselves, teaching values to their own children, probably as clueless as we were, stumbling in the darkness of inexperience, their lights always in need of a re-charge in order to keep the momentum up and the noise down.

But it is their core selves that lift my heart. How did you become so strong and wonderfully good? I whisper that to myself, for I fear they would not have an answer to that. Not one of them is a ‘product’ of their parents. They have become themselves, each one different to the rest and yet with a set of principles that sing in harmony. I admire them beyond admiration and observe their daily ordinariness with a smile. I have also learned #amstilllearning to observe without comment at times when I can see things going a bit diplodocus, for my own words can only come from my own experience and there’s the limitation spelled out for you. It doesn’t mean I can’t be of use at times of trouble and strife but go canny old girl and keep quiet unless asked for help. That’s what I whisper to myself. This is their life now.

I reckon I am blest beyond blessings. In ignorance I helped to grow these remarkable human beings. Each one has gone through a big load of trouble on their journeys and from that trouble, they have grown strong and light. Their ability to see the fun in life, their attention to detail, their love of and respect for all living things and the way not one of them ever gives up marvels me. And now, they teach me too. They tell me that life will always go on, that hope is full of beans and goodness will never be out of fashion.

And, yesterday, traversing Kruger Park, I thought about all of that, as my youngest guided us through one of the last reaches of natural, unspoiled, raw beauty; where life and death walk hand in hand and where very few live to tell their tale.

Island Blog 137 The Light Just Right

Music notes

 

 

I am excitedly working just now on new songs for recording, well,not recording yet, but more for designing and developing.  All day long I am humming little phrases, changing keys, changing words changing rythms.  Once I meet up with the Talented Two in a week or so, we will take my scribbles and mood-inspired poems and fashion music around them.  They, not I, will layer melodies and harmonies, suggest quirky add-ons that create depth and texture, colour and light.  And dark.  All I am required to do is to spend this preparation time doing what I do know how to do – put words together in a way that tells a story, that give a hint of pain or laughter, to show and not to tell it out too much, for we all like to fill in the spaces allowed us with our own feelings.  This is why some songs last forever and, to be honest, a lot of them make very little sense once we try to explain them.  A Whiter Shade of Pale was scribbled down in the back of a van in between gigs, so I am told, and, when asked what it meant, the writers just shrugged.  It’s not like schoolwork this song-writing thing, not at all.  I don’t have to show my workings, nor do I have to justify them, but what I do have to do is sing them with emotional connection as if what I am telling you is really how I feel.  I don’t write songs about Percy the Pig, or Nellie the Elephant, although that song is great to sing to grandchildren if I include all the actions.  I write about feelings.

It thinks me about doing what I do best, and not wishing I was best at something else.  At school I longed to be an athlete but I was so very far from getting beyond ‘ath’ that it would have made a whole heap of sense to do my best, loathe all of it and spend my free time writing.  The problem with writing is that the only time I found the limelight is in English Lit classes and that was providing I kept to the letter of the law concerning Good Composition.  Nowadays, it is fine to write slang, a lot of which has found its way into the Oxford Dictionnary, which is fine if it works for the piece.  It is not ok to swear, but, then, what is swearing now?  I can read words that would have had my school mistress dialling the emergency services had she ever seen such an assemblage of letters in print, let alone heard them read out in class.  The book would have magically disappeared from the Reading Shelf and parents would have been informed.

In songwriting, words can be hinted at, the front or the back of them lost in a rising instrumental.  It’s infuriating for those of us who want to cover a song and we must needs leap to Google for the lyrics, but I am encouraged by the Talented Two that it sometimes really works best that way and that my Elocution Prize might consider staying in my past.  Enunciating every word as if the whole world depended for its survival on my clear conscise rendering of a particular phrase, is, it seems, vanity of vanities.  Who gives a rip?

As I wrote my book, I let go of the Eng Lit teacher, pushed her off my shoulder and reminded her she was most probably dead and should shut up.  Although I love good prose and therefore find bad prose irritating enough to put me off the whole story, I find that I look more for a gentle sway, an easy rise of words that don’t trip me up with their brilliance, but, instead, show me an unfolding about which I am fascinated to know more.  I want to be led outside of myself and into another world and, yet, I still want that pull on my heartstrings, that connection to my own experiences, my own feelings.  When I read the tale of someone who is living through something I hope I will never live through, something that involves the loss of a child, perhaps, I will think about my own children, my love for them, my fears for them, and, in my heart, I will re-affirm my vow to them, the one I made as each one was born, a vow to protect and defend them to the death.  If I read of a world catastrophe, as a back drop to a tale of people, I will re-jig my priorities in that light.  In short, I will make changes because, through the words of another, I am changed.

I hope I can do the same with my songs.  For now, I am playing word games, reducing sentences down, questioning the need for all the adverbs and adjectives to be there at all, for what I can do, through my voice, as long as it is emtionally connected, is to pull back to indicated thoughtfulness, pain, fear, gentleness, or bring the air more forcefully across my vocal chords to show power, anger or determination.  I can leave out the paraphernalia and keep just the crystals……ones that should make it sparkle, if I get the light

just

right.

Island Blog 48 – Mother Love

Island Blog 48

 

This morning way too early I wake and step through the automatic doors of the hotel to say hallo to the new day.  The sky is closed, a thick pale grey over the wasteland which calls itself an industrial estate, perhaps in the hopes that it will be once industry moves in.  Outside a young woman smokes a cigarette and shivers.

I live here, she tells me, as I am homeless.  I must have looked surprised, thinking, as I did, that a hotel is not where I would expect to find a homeless anyone.  She says she has a little boy, aged six and the council have lodged her here temporarily whilst they find her a place to live.

I know my jaw drops, for it suddenly seems so huge, being homeless with a young son.  I ask her about his father and she tells me that he had hit the boy, just once, but once was enough, especially as she gave him 3 days to show remorse before leaving.  She says in that split second, what love she might have felt for him left her and stayed gone.

Her family lives in Cornwall which is light years away from here, but she won’t go home as it would disrupt the child, who loves his school, and, by the way, his father lives up here.

I thought about mothers.  What we do, what courage we find, what love we show.  We may get it all wrong, but that strong protective fire deep inside us burns bright from the moment of birth and stays with us for the rest of our lives.  Nobody, not even the child’s father, stands a chance against such a powerful energy.  We would give up our freedom, our quality of life, our life itself for our children and, if asked, we could not explain why that is.  It is both a gift and a life sentence and we have no defence against it, nor can we escape its hold on us.  Most of us, regardless of personal cost, wouldn’t want it gone anyway.  It becomes our drive, our reason for waking every morning to bring out the sunshine, even if the sky forgets to.

She finds herself some breakfast and eats alone among a scattering of strangers, all dressed crow black for the working day ahead.  I’m going back to bed now, she says…..my boy cries at night, doesn’t sleep good and I stay awake to hold him.

The cleaners will wake her around 11 and she will wait here, beneath the wide screen set to silent, with the hotel muzak beating out its quick fixes, until school is out.

Island Blog 44 – To Live Again

Island Blog 44

Sometimes, in ordinary conversation, a friend might ask me if, given a choice, I would live my life over again.

I think back across the millions of miles of it, the lush richness, the deserts, the rainbows of success and the stumble-grounds; the learning and the laughter, the birthing and the dying, the joy,grief and inner growth.  Particularly the inner growth.

It is not a logical question, or answerable using logic, so you can guess that there are no men present, although maybe that’s just the men I know who, bless them, would say it can’t be true unless it’s been proven.  I know what ‘proven’ means to me.  It’s that point in the process of bread making, when the dough has risen as high as it can without pushing open the skylight.  The point when it requires further bashing and twisting and pummelling into shape before being popped into an extremely hot oven for a permanent shape-arrestment and a nice brown crust.

Anyway, answer the question you daft island wife….

Well would I? Live it all again?

My first feeling is one of huge tiredness.  It is not easy to imagine, let alone believe in, the energy required, not just to go through it all again, but to know what I’m going through as I go through it and worse, to know what comes next!

My head is reeling at the very thought.  So, park it for now.

My next thought/feeling/response is that, had I not been gifted the life I lived, there would  be no story, dynamic and whacky enough to have led me to write it down;  to have been guided to an experienced agent and through her, to have found a well established ‘we-don’t-take-on-books-unless-they-are-top-quality’ publisher.  And if there had been no madcap story, just a regular law-abiding disaster-free life, kept under militant control, I probably couldn’t imagine wanting to go through it all again.  The very idea would just have made me wriggle my ageing butt deeper into the sofa cushions and pull out my knitting, thankful that all those requirements to jump about and be adaptable are just blurred memories.

Instead , look at me learning to Tweet and Blog and answer messages on Facebook (for goodness sake) and feeling rather like I hoped I might feel, but didn’t, at the age of 17.

Is this, I ask myself, because you are being stretched when others are shrinking?  Or is it just that I am still living this life, instead of peering back across it all from the soft plumpy feathers of my wide-mouthed armchair?

So ask me now.  Would I live my young life over again?

Absolutely N.O.T.

But….. I wouldn’t change one bit of it, except, perhaps, that one time I drove right over a roundabout near Greenock because I didn’t know it was there.  Men were digging up the road and the leading lights had failed.  It was a splendid performance and I came to rest in a field with my headlights illuminating the bottom of a large white bull.

You can’t park here!  Said the roadman after chapping on my window.  Yellow rain streamed down his face and a furious gale played skittles with the traffic cones.

No mention of the roundabout.

 

Island Blog 20 – On Relations and Ships

Island Blog 20 - Dude Dog

 

I’ve been thinking about relationships recently, about the width and length and depth of them, about their shape and colour.  They are randomly dotted throughout our lives like wild poppies in a cornfield; bright, nourishing, individual and personal; at work, at home, at school, in our village street and every relationship unique as a snow flake.   Relationships matter from the moment we rise until the moment we lay us down to sleep at night, and, without them, or with destructive ones, we humans falter and weaken in spirit and confidence. We wander as lost souls in what looks like a cold and unfriendly world.

Which it isn’t.

As a child I don’t worry about the dynamics of any of my relationships for the language is not yet grown in me,either to explain or understand.  I just am.  I run and play my way through my days, trusting (although I don’t even know that word yet) that I will be dressed and fed and loved and cared for.  As I move into the angst-ridden and angry teenage years, I begin to question, I begin to understand, but I have not yet learned how to communicate, other than with my peers in ways that cause my elders considerable puzzlement.  If I am a boy, I grunt in varying keys and laugh in staccato bursts, often rather unsure of the joke. And that’s about all I can say about boys, not being one myself.

If I am a girl I learn to talk a lot and giggle infuriatingly every time anyone opens their mouth. I have a little more awareness of the world I have arrived in, but fight a daily battle with myself over the size of my bottom or the spread of my toes, or the fact that my girlfriend is allowed to turn the tv on without having to make a request in writing, giving due notice.

I am full of envy of pretty much everyone else in my group and I run the very real risk of turning green.  If I am lucky enough to have a mother who remembers her own uncomfortable struggle with hormones, and who can watch me through compassionate eyes, I am one of the lucky ones.  If, on the other hand, my mother never concerned herself much with the discomforts of teenage life, then my relationship with her will be a very different one, defining, to some degree, all future ones.  I seek understanding and I don’t get it, and so I turn away into my lonely self or out to my peer group to forge friendships that may not be healthy ones.

Then I grow up (in theory) and everyone thinks I’m an adult because I now look like one, but my outward appearance belies the inner truth.  I am as insecure as I was in sentient childhood, but I must keep it a secret, or I might appear to be too small for my skin.

If my primary relationship is all the right colours and the perfect shape, I find I can do anything, go anywhere, flow naturally, be myself, but relationships, any of them, need both parties to be aware and interested in the collective result.  Otherwise, we are just tumble-weeds in the desert, at the mercy of every capricious wind.

I like to divide up the word.  Relation and Ship.

One sounds grounded, one wild and free and fizzing with adventure.

Too caught up in worldly cares and I grow brown and dull.

Too wild and colourful and I may find myself  locked up.  I need to be the link between the two and hold on tight.

What I want is a ladder to the moon.

Blog 20 - Full Moon

Island Blog 19 – On Character and Wheedling.

They say that we are born with our own personality and that we grow our character.  I am watching ‘character’ appear daily in a little baby. Each little ‘quirk’ lands on me like a feather, the tickling kind, and I laugh out loud.  Even at this early stage of life, it seems, a human creature has something personal to say in response to the world, to us who care for her, and her statements lift into the air and become a new piece in the puzzle.  Not that we are puzzled, but more, captivated and enchanted at the way this child is sinking her flag into the land, claiming her stake in it, singing her own song.

I know that the world will affect her growth, that stuff will block her chosen flight, or hem her in and limit her choices, but that is an old chestnut in my opinion, for we can all fly if we just open our wings, whatever life we land in.

 

As my five kids appeared and began to show their colours, I wondered, not a little, how much colour any mother could take on.  It sometimes seemed as though the whole house was like a wild abstract multi media canvas and I needed shades to look at it.  How, I asked myself, as nobody else was listening, can there be five completely different characters born from me and their father, when we are just us with limits and baggage and issues and no time to talk about any of them?

 

I never got an answer, but I can tell you, that life was both hilarious and scary at one and the same time.

The way to work with such an abundance of personalities was in the collective, or so I thought.  We called them ‘the children’ and stuffed them into the Landrover along with the dogs and sometimes, a pet lamb or two.  When the older ones (by a short leg) made their claim on later bedtimes, or specific opportunities, denied the ‘little boys’ it seemed like a very big deal, not least in the required explanation and subsequent justification of this new treat.  Stretching the day a little, a later bedtime, a larger portion of supper, an excuse from washing dishes because of Important Homework (as opposed to reading 3 more pages of Enid Blyton out loud with particular attention to commas and full stops) required a brain shift, well-toned arms and one of those calm strong voices that always sounded like a sqwalk from my mouth.  I remember having to stand on a chair as they lurched uncomfortably into the teenage years, just to look like I was taller and therefore, in charge.  But I never felt ‘in charge’, not really, and often, when I looked back, after an encouraging wheedle or two, the only living things following me were the faithful collies, the pet lambs and Isabel the hen, not one of which had the slightest clue what I was wheedling about.

 

Now I look at my five rebels and see fine young adults, with buckets of humour, common sense and character.  So maybe they were following after all.

 

Blog 19 (V2)