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

It’s been a few weeks now, this lockdown thingy and I notice changes inside my head. Looking at what was and at what is present me with two different views of the same thing. Funny that. Back then, when I clucked through my routine life with a hen-like disinterest of my surroundings, I had no idea there was such depth to a life. Well, I suppose I did, but chose not to poke my head over the edge in case I fell into the dark. There were things to do, tasks to begin and complete and to a high (ish) standard but I didn’t really notice how I did them, nor why. The things I did notice were, if I’m honest, viewed through a negative lens. The arduous drudge of whatever chore awaited my attention denied me the excitement of options. For instance, I always washed clothes on a low energy almost cold 30 minute cycle. I never thought about it, just turned the dial and pressed play. Now I consider the pile of washing, separating the sheets from the synthetics, put on my specs, hunker down and think about what cycle to kickstart. It has brought a wild burst of fun to my life and this freedom of choice around dirty laundry has led me to notice a whole load of other things. The tasks have not changed, the routine is still in place, but I have come like the tooth fairy to swap old dentin for a shiny new sixpence.

Noticing things can be momentarily upskittling. Because the house is so quiet now, I can hear it breathe, hear the scurryings and creaks, the sound of the wind through a crack. A sudden flash of movement in a corner could be an old ghost feeling welcome. It isn’t just me who sees it. The dog does too. I watch her look up quickly then move slowly over to where I saw movement, to sniff around. Dust has changed too. When I had cleaners every fortnight, the dust was brazen. Look at me, all thick and sticking to everything, dust-motely floating in streaks of sunlight, turning white things a tawdy brown! Look at me!!! I see you, I saw you, but where are you now, now that I am cleanerless and with a merry lack of dusters in my box of cloths? I don’t see you anywhere and, going by your past behaviour, it should be impossible by now to open the sitting room door, let alone breathe deeply.

Noticing and not noticing brings a very interesting switch of womanly tactics. Where I had to brace myself, like Effie, for some unpleasant chore, I barely think about it now and, much like the giddy excitement I feel as I decide which wash cycle to employ, I am curious to learn a good deal more. When I sweep the endless supply of crumbs from the floors I paint a design with my broom. I consider its potential for flight, but it’s not a besom so I doubt it has much, and, besides, I think my flying days are over. But what I just don’t understand is why this lockdown/slowdown time is effecting such dramatic change for so many of us. Despite the threat this virus still poses, and for some long time to come, the stopping of Routine is having a profound influence on all people. Doing old things differently, seeking out new things to do, brings them all to our attention. To ask Why Am I Doing This? may never have crossed our minds, minds numbed by what we thought was normal, minds dull as hens, clucking our way through the days and weeks, questioning nothing and overly hysterical should someone pinch our grain. Now, forced onto the wasteland we have to pay attention.

I know, of course I do, that not everyone can get excited about a shift in washing cycles, but there will be little things to question, notice and change. Children always ask Why when told to do something. Somewhere in that ghastly and painful process of growing up, our Why gets lost. Asking why, even of self, is to notice, to be mindful. It is also poking your head over the edge to look into the dark. But, as eyes grow accustomed to it, lights shine, contours reveal themselves and there is shape and texture to appreciate. And I always find it isn’t deep at all. I can let my arm sink into the dark, feel it cool on my skin, run my fingers through it. I cannot hold it, cannot grab a handful for closer study, but it is strong and powerful despite its lack of substance. And, when I turn back to whatever nonsense I plan for my day, the light is brighter, the air clearer, the dust silent and best of all I have the time to notice everything, every thought, every action, each precious living minute.

Island Blog – Into the Mirror

Last night I dreamed the strangest of dreams. Everything is acceptable, believable, in dreams. The craziest happenings are, well, just normal. I had driven miles to a place in the middle of nowhere, a place of one house at a time and hundreds of miles apart. In between, vast cornfields. Poppies and other wildflowers grew at the edge of one such field, although I never found the responding edge. Chances are it was a three day drive away, so huge was this crop of golden stems. Man food. I considered those who were here before, the wildflowers, the great trees, the wildlife, all working together in a synergy we have never successfully simulated.

I parked at the end of a track but could see the guest house nestled in a halo of man-planted, fast growing shrubbery and whiskery trees. I was extremely tired and considered, for a while, sleeping in my car. But the longing to lie down between crisp cotton sheets overtook such thought and propelled me towards the door and check-in.

My room had no walls. Not one. It seemed quite normal to me. Furniture, a desk, a cupboard with hangers, a chest of drawers and a chair created the illusion of a contained space. There was even a door in a frame, attached to nothing. I lay awake a while staring out at the cornfield, watching it vanish as the dark intensified. Then I slept and deeply.

I awoke to the sound of the door opening. A manservant (I knew him by his dress and his demeanour) came in with a silver coffee pot to fill my cup. I asked him the time and when he told me it was 9 am I was astonished. I never sleep beyond 6. I rose, dressed and headed out for a cornfield walk. A man walked by on stilts and I greeted him, watching him lope through the corn in long easy strides. Two children played with a stuffed giraffe. I heard their laughter before I saw them. This giraffe was a fully grown male, or had been, once and it was lying on its side. The children jumped over his neck, a skipping game of their own devise. The girl, breathless, sank down to wrap her arms around the long neck, her little fingers scratching over the glass eye. I watched them a while. All still perfectly normal.

On my return, I found a woman entirely dressed in pink in a warm motherly sort of way, sitting at a trestle table upon which sat pots and bowls of red jelly and a round mirror on a stand. She tipped jelly from one container to another, studied her work and noted her findings down in a little book. I stopped to greet her, thinking she was my hostess but she assured me she was not. I lingered awhile watching her work. She was lost in it until she suddenly came back to me and smiled, turning the mirror around until I saw me looking back.

It thinks me; not what it all meant because dream divination is not my skill, nor my interest, but more, why the mirror? I know that at the end of every road is a mirror. I read it once, heard it said often. The mirror shows me, me. It also shows what is behind me, the places I have been, my part in a created past, my past, my creation. How I felt, how I feel when catching sight of my reflected self is always a surprise. I look like that? Seriously? From behind these eyes of mine I see ahead. I see you but I don’t see me and when I do, it takes me a few seconds to acknowledge my own face. It brings me back to me and a lot of questions. Am I happy with myself, proud of my achievements? Am I kind and compassionate, strong and vulnerable, humble and yet ready to fight for my beliefs, for others, for justice? Only when I have made answer, settled my initial fright, can I turn back to looking out.

I remember one counsellor (been to hundreds) suggesting mirror work. Back then I could barely look myself in the eye, turning hurriedly from a snap reflection in a shop window. Now I get it. The mirror is vital as a reminder that life is not someone else’s problem, but my own. The walking out, of Me, matters. Not just to others but much more so to myself. All the great and good know this, taught it and still do. All religions hold loving self as a basic truth, a first step, the very heartbeat of life. Until we can look long and steady into that mirror, sorting out all those failings that make us turn away, we will live only half a life. We will snap back into our shame and blame as great pretenders. We will arrive at the final day and wonder what happened.

I want to meet that last mirror with a long hard look, no secrets, no shame. I want to see the miles and miles of my past just as it was and know I did more than okay. And then, to move on.

Island Blog – Patching and a Merry Dance

As I complete my task of sewing up a hole in Sheepy, it comes to me. All my days I have worked on repairing the tears other people made in things, in each other. From Sheepies to hearts, from fixtures to fittings, through burned casseroles to burned chances, I have pulled out my needle and thread or my magic wand or the car keys and set out to patch and heal. I felt like an angel at times when it seemed to work and an obstacle in the way when it didn’t. This morning’s epiphany showed me that a lot of my actions were, in fact, self-gratification. Although my intent was to dry sad eyes and to mend broken hearts, I had set myself up as the answer to the problem. In other words, it was really all about me, not them. It saddens me to realise this. My own longing for love manifested itself in my attempts to please others, more, to be the one inside their lives who could patch to perfection. A wiser me would have done it differently. A wiser me would have stood beside them in their desert and listened, comforted, told them they can sort this and asked them how they might see themselves doing just that, whilst assuring them I would stay right beside them at all times.

I am grateful, always, for the way life teaches me important lessons. Not as an opportunity to blame myself but to move forward in my learning, with curiosity and acceptance. The way a new understanding comes into my head whilst repairing a hole in Sheepy chuckles me, even if I do immediately dash back over the decades past with a machete in my hand, ready to take revenge on my earlier ignorant self. Woa! I say. Steady girl. That woman back there had the best intentions and did good, really good, mostly. She didn’t know what you know now, old woman. She didn’t know the lack of unconditional love in her own life would drive her to select herself as guardian protector of pretty much everyone in her care. Give her a break and tell her Thank you for all you did in love.

These are wise words. Seeing something old in a new light, one that illuminates all the faulty wiring simply means I tried my very best under the circumstances. No matter that I was naive or seeking to fill my own black hole with good deeds (which never works by the way). Let the judge in me leave the courtroom. I recall my mum saying a similar thing to me once after she had felt criticised and judged by us. She said, simply, I Did My Best. And so she did.

However, whilst we girls and women of good intention repair until our fingers bleed, we may forget that we too need that care and love. I certainly did. I took the smallest portion, the back seat, the last straw. I taught myself to accept mean graces because all the best ones were doled out to others. I was the one who cleaned out the landcover with a smile, allowing everyone else to run indoors for toast and jam. I was the one who couldn’t sleep if a child was troubled at school. I was the soother, I was the warmth and the safety net. But what was I to me? Not enough and there’s another learning. In my day to think of self for more than five minutes was heresy. Women who shared the same turning of the earth, at the same time as I, knew this too. To be accused of being selfish was devastating.

Now we know different and thank goodness for that. However, it does present us with a problem. If we have loved and patched and healed others for most of our lives, how can we now place ourselves centre stage? The super trooper is too bright and we have forgotten our lines. Do we have opinions or did we just repeat the ones we heard others opine? Do we like pasta, kangaroos, thunderstorms, cats, driving, dancing naked in the rain? Can we quickly make a decision when someone asks Early Grey, Darjeeling, Builders, or coffee? Oh……I’ll have what you’re having. Wrong answer. But we all make it. We have spent so many years obliging that we have mislaid ourselves.

Recently I have been stopping myself from answering like a well trained robot when faced with a question. I pause. this pause can irritate the questioner. It’s a simple question after all but I am tossed on a stormy sea and feeling seasick. In the past I was a I’ll Have What You’re Having sort of woman and she is quick to come forward at such times with her pinny on straight and her bright voice loud in my ears. I push her back. Hold………! What is it I want? I know what I want but I don’t think it will be popular so I can’t let it out. Speaking my truth takes balls and I am terrified of critical judgement, of upsetting the others, the applecart. However, it also feels free-ing.

I suspect it is never too late to learn. I’m curious, too. I might discover what I do like, what I do want and that learning might lead me a very merry dance.

Island Blog 152 Small Things

Island Blog 152 Small Things

I had to take action.  I’d been listening to their scurryings above my head every night and wondering what they were up to in the loft.  It’s a dark, cobwebby space, long and spooky, silent, waiting, holding boxes of heaven knows what, familial bric-a-brac, books – stuff the children will wander through when we are gone, wondering why on earth we ever kept any of it.

Okay I said to myself, time for mouse traps.  Yeuch I hate them.  I hate mouse poison even more, not that I’ve ever tasted it, of course.  I hate the slow dying of it.  At least traps are quick, unless they’re not.  It’s the ‘not’ bit that keeps me turning over in bed and pretending it’s the wind pushing things over up there.  Well, it could be.  There are loads of holes for it to shoot through. ‘Up there’ is one of our mysteries.  Unlike modern day lofts, ours is 19th century and has hardly changed at all over the years, beyond its contents.  Gaps between slates show me sunlight, and as for lagging, there is a bit here and there, but nothing that quite spans the space between roof trusses or ceiling beams.  There is flooring, but that just hides a possible Mouse City so I’m not fooled by it.  The cobwebs are black and strong.  I’ve been right to one end on my hands and knees in search of something, anything I might recognise, batting away cobwebs quite impervious to batting.  After a fretful and panicky few minutes during which every episode of Nightmare on Elm Street shot through my brain like fire, I re-appeared down the wonky steps in dire need of both a jolly good hoovering and a double brandy.  I could hardly breathe for hours and my dreams were littered with gigantic spiders for nights after.  I actually like spiders very much.  Just not the nightmare ones.

Anyway, back to the mice.

In trepidation and braced for Cobweb Attack, I donned my head torch and pulled out the wonky steps, took a deep breath (my last for a while) and, with my head, pushed up the trap door.  Let’s re-name it.  Loft door.  Yes, that’s less scary.  I pushed up the loft door and let my torch scan the darkness.  What did I expect?  A line of jaunty mice, all waving and saying ‘Gosh, we haven’t seen you since last winter!  How have you been?’  Hmmmm.  Nothing, of course greeted me beyond the long dark spooky silence and all those flaming boxes of nothing I recognise.  I actually did wonder if the stuff wasn’t ours at all, but left behind by one of the Whoevers who lived here before.  I saw a cricket shin pad thingy, well, half of it to be precise, the upper part now a fluffy mish-mash of ‘munched white’.  Spurred on by this sight (himself will be horrified…..no more Wicket Man) I set the traps with peanut butter and nearly lost a few fingers before getting it right.  Sorry…..I whispered into the gloom and let myself down.  All day I hated myself with a strong hate.  How can I be so cruel?  I know it is utterly foolish because mice should stay outside shouldn’t they, and if they don’t, well, it’s their funeral?

It thinked me of small things, generally, in life, because it is the small things that have the power of big failure or of big success.  For example, our daily habits are small things.  We dont really consider them much, are not mindful of them until one of them begins to jar, to feel wrong, to nudge for change.  If we don’t make regular checks on our daily habits, we may find ourselves caught in the cobwebs of our lives, trapped in the dark.  We humans can think that we are who we are and that’s that. We can’t change now.  Well, I will challenge that.  However old we are, we can change and all change begins with the small things, one small thing.

I may feel ludgy and lethargic.  What can I do about that?  Well, I can stay ludgy and lethargic, or I can decide to take a walk for ten minutes and then tomorrow, I can make the same decision until, after a few days, I have created a new synapse in my brain, a new habit, one I don’t even question.  I just do it.  Then, one morning I wake up and I don’t feel ludgy and lethargic any more.  Gosh!  How did that happen?  Well, it didn’t ‘happen’. I happened it.

I caught 12 mice.  I didn’t feel great about any of the process, but I knew I had to deal with the small things before they became a big thing and chewed up all those mysterious boxes in the long, dark, spooky loft.  I went up this morning and found both traps un-pinged.  I’m not saying the job is done, for the small things will, no doubt, be back, but because I have taken action, I have created a new synapse in the loft of my life.  Who knows……perhaps this Spring I will crawl up there in a hard hat, with a sharp knife to open up the past.

Somebody’s past, anyway.

 

 

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.