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 – Three Keys in My Hand

I have one, no, two meetings this week. One on Tuesday, a zoom with a writer friend, and one on Wednesday with my counsellor. In my opinion, many of us need to find someone just a bit more above things than we are. I have always found that a hand reaching down is a huge help, despite the initial shame I felt at asking for it. And there’s a thing. As this lockdown keeps us stuck/imprisoned/safe, there are many who are finding it super tough, whose mental stability is being seriously challenged. I get it. As one who has always been mentally turmoiled to a degree, and who sees that last week was Mental Health Week (as if one week would ever be enough) I am more than happy that the world is getting it, or, at least, the slowmovingrulemakers are thinking wider, perhaps. In my life I have met many who could flower but cannot flower within the confines of stigmatism and of what is socially acceptable. Hence the hidden pain. And the most destructive judge of all lives within. We are all flawed, broken to varying degrees, doing out very best to fit in without sticking out in ways that might draw attention to our faults.

Looking out upon the natural world is key, but we must also look within. As I have been a student of self-improvement for decades, I have absorbed a million positive phrases and still found myself not quite at home with myself, no matter how bright the epiphany. However, I am finally beginning to understand that time holds the second key and time requires my patience, my faith in the strength of a human spirit and my trust that the goodly gods are working for me, and not against me. When the world demands something I do not want or cannot give, I need this trust. If we were all meant to be the same we would be mere automatons. We are far from that, thank goodness. Although we are currently required to live as such, it will pass eventually. Confined to home, required to wash our hands a hundred times a day, separated from loved ones, stuck in the wrong country and so on, we have this time to reflect on who we are and on the life we want for ourselves once we are freed from the chains that bind. Think on that.

I watch the young birds fly through my little garden, feathers awry, all ruffly spot and unsure of where to land. New life learning old ways. For them, survival is the teacher. They cannot suddenly square up to a cat or challenge the dive of a sparrow hawk without almost certainly turning into lunch. But we can. If we consider our predators, our demons, our self-doubts and our fears to be in control of our lives, then they will be. Noticing every thought and questioning it is key number three. Even if I am uncertain of my path, my voice, the strength, or lack of it, of my own human spirit, if I decide to turn this thing around, to turn myself around, then wonderful things begin to happen. I don’t need to run from my doubts and fears, my thoughts and worries, I just need to about face and question. Do I really think this or is this thought thinking me? Then, if it isn’t useful, I say cheerio. I don’t need you. Every time I do this, I empower my true self. I am not controlled by my thoughts. I control them, and in this uncertain life when a single day can throw a tidal wave over my carefully constructed sandcastle, my thoughts are the only thing I can control.

I know what it is like to be in the darkness of depression. I know how overwhelming life can be. I also know how to rebuild my spirit and I am thankful for all my guides over the years. Not everyone finds their way. Some souls are lost. Most of our illnesses come from inner stress, manifesting in the physical body, sometimes destroying it. This time of reflection is a gift to us all, not only to make new ways to live for ourselves by taking a long hard look at our core values, our life choices, our work and our families, but to look and to see others who may need our clear and open friendship. Those, whom we might have dismissed before as misery guts or gloomy or bad tempered. Nobody wants to live like that. Nobody. But everybody needs somebody to lift them at some point in their lives.

There are less of us still breathing in the world today. This virus is greedy and it isn’t done with us yet. Let us make sure that the ones who will emerge back into the light of ‘normality’ even more broken, even more damaged and even more fearful of their futures, do not have to walk alone.

Island Blog – Sunrise, Nature and the beginning of Humanity

It’s 5am. My favourite time of the day. I used to say it was because there’s nobody about, but now there’s always nobody about, so it’s not the truth anymore. I consider how many other absolutes will lose purchase on my mind and will just drift away, like the will o’ wisps over there, floating on the ebb tide, backlit by sunfire. They remind me of water sprites, beneficent creatures, transitional, made of water and to water they will always return. Black-throated divers fly by right on time, turning pink as they head into the sun and the sea beneath their wings glows like rose quartz. Anyone rising from slumber later than this will miss it all. But not I said the island wife. I have always been a dawn raider, greedy for everything my eyes can gobble up, catching every spark and twist, every snatch of colour, every bird flit or cloud shift, each start of new beginnings, life whispering into life.

Walking along the Tapseteerie track, dry-cracked and steady underfoot, I feel the weight of the canopy. This horse-chestnut has never been so abundant with huge green leaves, richly bottle green, a strong spread of gratitude, for whilst we desist in our race to disaster, we gift back life to nature. A robin flits with me, from branch to branch, tree to tree, telling me something that sounds wonderfully joyous but which is beyond my understanding. Bees and other buzzing creatures fill the branches, all of them. I have never heard such a buzz and it smiles me. New mosses adorn the floor of the woods, some emerald green and star-tipped, some gathered in perfectly smooth igloo shapes, the colour of lemon sorbet. I can see the tracks left by deer in their darkling wander, the grasses flattened by hoof-scuff. They will always walk this way, along this ley line, the ancient wander path, following the ones who learned it before them and then taught it on.

Flowers watch me pass, their faces tipped to sunlight. Wood sorrel, violets, primroses, anemone, bluebells, campanula, and stitchwort. Tiny alpines cling to cracks in the drystone wall, feathery ferns, arched like question marks, will open this day to spread their soft fingers wide. Orange tip, tortoiseshell and brown spot butterflies dance around my head as I move through the warmth of the morning. Everywhere I look, there is abundance. Wasn’t it always so and I just didn’t see it, or is it true that our land is healing herself? I believe the latter.

As I turn for home, a flash of silver in the tidal flow shows me a big fish, a salmon, perhaps, or a sea trout on its arduous journey to find a place to spawn, and then to die. Gulls shriek overhead, little gulls, black backs, herring gulls and other gulls I cannot name, for they saw it too. No doubt the otter did as well. I know she is down there somewhere with her kits and soon I will see her on a still morning from my bedroom window as she teaches them to hunt or to play touch-tig.

Writing about the beauty through which I can walk every day is not something I take for granted. This lockdown has gone on long enough now, that’s what I think, although wild horses wouldn’t drag me back among people, knowing as I do, how easily the virus can spread, silent and deadly, invisible to the naked eye. So I consider this. If I, who have barely had to change my life at all, am feeling this way, then what about those whose entire lives have been full-stopped? Starved of social oxygen, meetings, encounters, business flow, cash income, school friends, loved ones and options for free travel, what life are they, you, living now? Many, I am sure will thrill to the peace of it all, perhaps all of us do, some of the time, but when I am told I absolutely cannot do something, it is the thing I want to do most of all.

When I write about my encounters in nature, it isn’t to gloat, but to show to others, who last saw nature in 2019 on a country break, that life is still living on, whether we can see it or not. In fact, the regeneration of this earth is a wonderful thing to hear about, and perhaps it makes the sacrifice worth the pain. I had no idea the ozone layer could heal. I thought it was already dying and so were we all. But it isn’t true, for it is healing, repairing itself and offering us another go at a good life. And so, I write on, a witness to the changes, sending anyone and everyone who is finding this all just too much, who is frightened, lonely, depressed or sick, my deepest respect and encouragement to stick with isolation until we can meet again, and once more walk free.

This could have been the end of humanity. Let us hold fast and make it the beginning.

Island Blog – Island Mothers

Many of us are islands this day, kept from our children by a common enemy. What this enforced ‘islanding’ is doing to us is a lonely and a sad thing. What it is doing for us is quite a different matter. Everyone, it seems to me, is finding other ways to send loving messages through calls, texts, emails and letters and cards or through phoned in messages to radio stations. In these mediums the words must be more carefully considered. Although the usual “Best Mum in the World’ sentence may well apply, we search our minds for more. We think carefully of specific words that apply just to our mum. In short, we acknowledge and we affirm who she has been to and for us, how she lifted our flagging spirits, caught us out when we said “I’m fine, Mum” with a staying put stand in our bedroom doorway. We remember when she cooked something different for us on the days we purported to be sudden vegetarians; we remember the time she didn’t go where she wanted so much to go because we were sick or low or angry. She knew we needed her more than she needed her. We might remind ourselves of the time she stayed up for most of the night making a fancy dress costume for us, or sat in an upright chair through the long darkness when we had a fever, no matter what Dad might have said about it. that time we were in mental agony, remember that time? When nobody loved us and everybody hated us. Well, she did, and she didn’t and she put her feet firmly on mother ground and stuck beside us, even if we brushed away her reassuring words as so much tripe. She didn’t budge, even when her heart was cut right down the middle, because that is what mothers do.

They also get it all wrong. Most of us know how wrong we got it and still can, but it doesn’t falter our determination to launch a child into whatever world they want to move into. And it doesn’t stop on the launch pad. It never stops, even when our children have children of their own. We can still spend nights awake in an upright chair, our hearts bleeding for the pain our child is going through. We can still call to reassure “Bad timing Mum’ or stand square in a doorway refusing to budge until this child, who has grown his or her own set of protective armour plating, lets us in, just a bit.

My mum is gone now. We all had a list of how wrong she got things and we would laugh about them, once. We still can, but now I think more of all those times, those specific times, she stood to be counted for one of us and there are plenty of those. I think that this attack of Covid 19 is making us all think, changing our perspective on life. Perhaps we are finding the compassion that is the life blood of life herself. Perhaps we are thinking less of our own selves and more of how others are living (hopefully) through these times of inordinate change, and it is a very good thing. We have lived too selfishly for far too long. Nature is fighting back. Now is the time to stick a pin in our own little bubbles so that we can really see the rest of humanity and not just with our eyes, but with our hearts and minds.

And in the meantime, let us hold mothers high, for this is their day, our day, to be recognised for all the love that overwhelmed us at every birth; a love we could hardly understand, a love gifted to us by Mother Nature herself.

Island Blog – A New Path

I have begun. Pulling jeans out of the jeans drawer, way too small, way too skinny-legged for me now and, yet, held on to like a Precious, just in case I awaken one morning to find my skin tighter across my bones and my belly flat. How bonkers is that! I even hold on to dresses that have been the wrong fit for years and they hang as from a gallows tree all pretty and flouncy and empty of breath.

But it is hard to let go of them. Within those folds lie memories of what was, of who I was, once when the carefree in me sang in a higher key; when the crone didn’t huddle in a wrinkled corner, beckoning. But they are cuckoos now, these frocks and swingle skirts and they aren’t the only ones holding those memories. Jeans, boots, tops and froufrou; halter necks, strapless, slim-lined, tight-waisted – for family weddings, parties, dances, ceilidhs, stage events at book festivals, I will remember you when you are gone, all by myself.

I take a big bag upstairs and begin. There are button boots with cuban heels still in their boxes, worn once, maybe twice; there is a sparkly sequinned sheath bought years ago in a Glasgow shop, electric blue and minus a few sequins now and a sheath. A sheath. I will never ever wear a sheath again. Inside that wardrobe hangs my past. In the depths of the dark they call for their release, like long-term prisoners from a cell and it is I who am their jailor. I have no idea if anyone will find them, eyes ablaze with excitement, pull them off the rack and take them home, but what I do know is that I need to let them go, for them to breathe new air, to adorn, possibly, a younger body, one inhabiting the carefree, careless of the lack of sequins.

It thinks me. Not just of clothes but of life as a whole. Letting go is being open. It is also being vulnerable. If my wardrobe stands empty, what then? What if I am invited to something swish, some event that requires a dress, or a pair of button boots and all I have to hand are wider frocks and flat plimsolls? Will I still go? Having little or mostly no access to shops I cannot replace any of them short term. Besides, I loathe shopping with a vengeance. I can go into a dress shop and be overwhelmed within 3 paces, so overwhelmed that all I see is a blur of colour and rack upon rack of 25 dresses all in the same style but in different sizes. I run for Costa.

Letting go of old things, old ways of being, old beliefs that birthed when I was young and carefree, and are now quite obsolete, is not easy. But….This is what I believe. This is what I think. This is how I do this. If I let go of any of these, what do I replace them with? Well, replies my inner guru, Nothing. You just wait patiently for something else to come in, something new and right for Now. But, I am not patient, I snap at her. I want things to be there when I need them, people too, help and support and more carpet cleaner. She only smiles. I can feel the warmth of it and I know our conversation is done.

When life feels like a wobbly back tooth I can panic. I can think I am all alone in the world, the Only Weirdo at 67, the one whose insecurities are alive and kicking and whose self-doubt is as fat and magnificent as the Taj Mahal only without the bejewelment. But (and there is always one of those) when I sit and talk with other women of my age, even if their lives are markedly different to my own, I hear the weirdo in them too. They confess their own insecurities and those insecurities rhyme with mine, they harmonise, they match. It seems we all feel these things and I am mindful of the arrogance that thought me I was the Only One. What changes me are these encounters, these shared laughs about missing sequins and memories hiding in the folds. They also have held on as if youth might return one day with her confidence and her wahoo and her carefree danceability.

We agree, this Other Weirdo and I that she is not gone; nor is she beaten into submission; nor is she dead on the gallows, empty of breath. She has quietened down, yes, she has felt foolish and turned in, but she has something within her that has replaced her trust in the world. Trust in herself. Yes, it’s like a toddler learning to walk, this trust, but it has potential, even now, even when life has bashed and scarred with all that is thrown the way of every one of us.

In the light of this knowledge I am inspired to greater heights. If I think, just once, that keeping ‘this’ will bring back my vim and vigour, it has to go because I am not trusting in myself if I hold on to the old. Not just clothes but old beliefs, old ways of doing things, old lies. I will no longer pick through the rubble of what once stood four-wall-tall. I will gather the bits I can carry and make a path.

A path into whatever comes next.

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 – Seed Pods, A Hawk and Me

Today there is a breeze – a welcome one, even if it is already 27 degrees out beyond the cooling thatch of the stoep where fierce old Father Sun is warming up for a ten degree elevation. Little brown seedpods scurry across the velt as if chasing each other. The big stones, left behind as the bushland erodes even more, show me their shoulders, rounded from a thousand years of ocean turmoil. These huge stones have stories to tell. I remember years ago flying in a tiny plane, not much bigger than a swan, through the fjords of Iceland, heading north to where the houses run out and only the ice tundra remains. The sharp toothed mountains reared into the blue sky like pointing fingers, young still, in the lives of mountains, unlike their Scottish cousins whose stories go way further back. These mountains, these teenagers, could still fell a man (and a plane the size of a swan) just by falling out with the sky, thus creating a synaptic flu. And, as with we humans, one person with flu affects everything and everyone else.

As I sipped my coffee and watched for a giraffe visit, I heard a guinea fowl. The distinctive sound is not usually heard in solo, for guinea fowl, those comical hen-like birds travel in groups, all talking at once. The singular sound alerted me and soon I saw, first, the bird running at a surprising lick between the still-bare trees followed by what I thought was another fowl in flight. the guinea fowl lifted into the air somewhat clumsily, still yelling its head off, still alone but for its follower. Ah……not another fowl but a hawk! The chase was lost to my view and I had no phone with me to capture such a sight, nor would I have had the time to focus and press ‘video’. It all happened so fast – the large hen fowl, the smaller hawk in pursuit, an unlikely meet. Who knows? Not I, said the cat. Not I said the goose. And nor do I.

This all thinks me. The seed pods tippling along in the wind, powerless to change a single thing. The guinea fowl in the wrong place at the wrong time. The old round-shouldered stones and their younger cousins poking at the sky to trouble it as all teenagers will do around authority. In my days and weeks here I have studied and rested, read and watered the plants who could never wait a week for refreshment, not in this dry heat. Sometimes, and for no reason I can find, I am like a seed pod, trundling this way and that across some bare-assed tundra and the best I can do is to make little trundling noises as a bully wind decides where I go next. Someone might say something that reacts inside me like an axe-chop and all my anxieties rise to welcome the blow, confirming what I always feared, that I still haven’t got it right, whatever ‘it’ is. I might hold my ground (mindfully) but my rational mind has abandoned me and all I want to do is to hide in the dark of the broom cupboard with all the other old brooms whose bristles are more like whispers but which nobody quite got round to chucking on the bonfire.

Other days I am the guinea fowl in the wrong place at the wrong time. I can feel the terror and hear the hawk and a greater part of me just wants to give up and wait for the inevitable, however slow and unpleasant that would be. Funnily enough, I never feel like the hawk, not in such a chase. Even if I do know that hawks need food like all the rest of us and is not able to pop to Tescos for a weekly shop, I still prefer to envisage such a magnificent creature soaring over my head and enjoying the upthrust of thermals.

In my studies, I am learning both to ‘ground’ and to ‘elevate’ in my daily meditation (well, almost daily). It’s all done through imagination and I have plenty of that to spare, too much most of the time to be honest, and the imagery really does calm and restore me. But, and here’s my jagged toothed poke at the sky, I really do wonder at the efficacy of loading one wee woman with so much imagination whilst others seem to have just enough to live a normal and pleasant life. I think things nobody else thinks, or would admit to, perhaps. I go down into valleys and up the rocky mountains whilst others walk calmly along the road. I can see them. I can talk to them but I cannot walk that way it seems. My way (thank you God) is a daily bother about appropriate footwear for a terrain I did not choose and am quite unprepared for. Are there others like me out there, I wonder? Yes, I know there are and the reason I write all this in my blogs is not just to reach out to all you others who have to abseil slimy rock faces instead of take a wee donder along a road built by man and following the line of least resistance, but to know I am not the only one who fights life every single step of the way. It isn’t that I am unhappy with my lot, far far from it. I love my life, am in love with my life. I have the imagination to see far far into the void even if it terrifies the bejabers out of me. I can climb mountains in the wrong footwear if I have to. I have something extraordinary within (thank you God) even if I do wonder (and often) what on earth I am supposed to do with it all. I have envied, many times, the folk who just get on with life, who don’t think too much and who appear rarely, if ever, consumed by doubts, fears, anxieties and predatory hawks; those who see what is visible and who are not concerned with what is not. It looks like such a pleasant way to live, but I could not live that way however hard I tried. My inner nutcase is way too strong for me to conquer. I know. I’ve tried to kill it off since way back when. She, and it is obviously a she, so obstinate, so strong, so defiant, so stubborn and loud and ornery. No hiding in the broom cupboard for her, dammit. I have even tried to outwit her; wearing clothes that look like other people’s, or practising normal ways to live, to speak; voicing opinions that present me as #notme but it never lasts for long. I get the giggles. This me is this me. End of.

And here you are, my fellow crazies. I see you on your own rock face and I am waving from my own – in the wrong footwear with the hawk screeching in my ears and a bully wind buffeting my ass. Above all of us who take the path less travelled, if indeed you could call it a path at all, so invisible at times, so thrawn with roots and other trip-ups, is Father Sun, Mother Moon and a sky wide enough to hold all of us down whilst lifting all of us up.

And so it is.

Island Blog 115 Primary Three

 

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Thirty Three years ago this morning, a child was born.  A boy.  The Third Boy – 3 being the first prime number, the lucky prime, the only prime triangular, the triad, the noblest of all digits, and the only one of five to be born on the island; the only one to spend his first night on this earth in matron’s bottom drawer.

Let me paint the picture……….It was a wild and stormy night (which it was) and I was determined to miss the last ferry.  I knew a-plenty about birthing by then, had already had 3 labours (one being the Only Girl) and did not want to be inside a hospital.  The first two had been home births and the process is straightforward enough anyway – I mean, there’s only one direction to go down, and all I have to do is swear a lot, push when told to and trust in the doctor and nurse, both of whom I knew well.  So, in the middle of this gale, and in the darkness and in the crankitty old landrover with its binder twine door hinges and sheep food in the back, we rattled to the old folks home and Mrs MacFlorrie’s bed.  Not that she was sharing with me, you understand, but was, instead, shunted down the corridor to bunk up, temporarily, with another ‘old folk’.  That is how it was in the olden days, for we had no island hospital back then.

He was small and stayed that way for a while.  They suggested a growth hormone, but we said..

‘Leave him be. When you have this many children, it’s handy to have one you can just pop in your pocket.  Whilst other boys are growing and talking about how big they are, Rhua squeezes through the gaps.  he is as wiry and as fast as Spiderman, and just as fond of heights.  Look at me! he shouts, aged two and half, from half-way up a cliff face, or from the top of the massive old oak tree, and we all do look, just to keep him quiet, and we keep looking, although I must have looked away at least once, as there is another baby on the way.’  (Island Wife Chap 17)

When he came home to Tapselteerie, he spent any sleep times, never longer than 20 minutes, day or night, in the tea towel drawer, whilst I worked in the kitchen.  Because the house was so huge, I could never have left him upstairs, just below cloud level, for goodness knows what he might have got up to.  He was the one who tipped all liquids and powders from all bedrooms into the loo and mixed up a cauldron of seething bubbles and curious smells.  He is the one who left home aged six in the dark of a wild night, with only his toys as luggage.  He is the ‘chef’ who signed up for trial of a deep fat fryer, one that arrived in the back of a big lorry.  The delivery man did not believe me when I tried to send him away, saying it was a mistake.  He would not countenance that he had driven all the way from the depot in Glasgow to this isolated place, with moon rocks and pitfalls and nothing but sheep and heather for days.  I had to show him the 6 year old chef, before he would even consider returning to base camp.

It was this third boy who rose from his short sleeps with a head full of ideas, and a deep sense of purpose.  I found him once frying bacon on the aga, start naked, aged 2.  For our breakfast, he said.  He had already laid the table, with brandy, bread, salad cream and red sauce, tonic water and chocolate. It was hard to be cross.  How he managed to lift the heavy aga lid, without nipping his manhood in the bud, still amazes me.

I took to sleeping outside his bedroom door, lying across the narrow landing on the servants floor (no servants to be seen) in order to save us all from this boy’s nocturnal ideas and sense of purpose.

When he finally grew into a young man, he hit the world with a force it might not have been ready for.  Wherever he went, wherever he worked, he was enthusiastically bonkers, and very successful.  And now, as a father and husband, and broker in the flatlands, he still is, but it is not the outward success that matters, but the man he has become.  A man I respect, admire and adore.  One who makes me laugh, whose heart is huge and strong, who can blag and wind up, who can reach too far, fall down, and get up again in a nanosecond.  Although he is born of me, he is himself as are all my kids, and each one of them delights and surprises me.

I remember the illnesses, and the times of trouble.  I remember the nights of worry, the fears and hopes, the dreams dying, the prayers a-plenty, but when I look at them, at any of them, I am so very proud.  All we ever wanted for our children, was that they find their own way into a fulfilled life.  I know this is not a thing that comes gift-wrapped – indeed no,t for it is a process, and a long one, but to see young people on what appears to be the right track, is indeed a blessing for any mother, or father.  We couldn’t give them life on a plate, or expensive tuition or finishing school in Switzerland, but we gave them Tapselteerie and we gave them adventures and memories.

‘From the mound of dogs and kit, they(the children) marvel at everything, and, in their marvelling, I can taste the freshness of seeing things for the first time, the elation and sparkle in that seeing, like having lemonade in your veins and butterflies in your head.  There are no seat belts in the back of the Landrover, and no law to put them there, so the children bounce and whoop and flip like monkeys, free as air, as the car rocks like a boat in a storm.
Suddenly, my head is bursting.  Enough!  I roar, causing everyone to freeze mid-flip, and Alex to swerve.  He is not pleased.
Why are you shouting? he asks with a frown across his face, deep as the Limpopo River.
I don’t bother to respond, enjoying the sudden silence.  Instead, I turn to fluff up a very flat collie and to settle my sons the right way up.
What are you going to spend your money on?  I beam at them.
Jake is buying a Lego set, one of those big ones with enough pieces to block the vacuum every week.
Rhua wants an Action man.  Well, that figures.
And Solly?  Well, Solly wants a gun and chorus.
A gun and chorus?
Yeah! Gun and chorus, like Duncan’s at crayboop.
He is getting upset, as he always does when we have no idea what language he speaks.
Okay, okay Sol, that’s grand.  We’ll find one.
Cassie, seeing my predicament, pulls her finger from her mouth.
It’s a dinosaur with flashing eyes.  Duncan’s got one and he brought it to playgroups.  It’s called a Gunnacaurus.
She says all this in a monotone, staring straight ahead, like a code breaker in a spy movie.  I wonder what we would all do without her translation skills.
I bend my head down to hers.  Where do we get one?  I ask.
She looks at me in puzzlement.  A dinosaur shop, she says.
Of course!  Silly me.    (Island Wife Chap 21)

So, to the First Odd Prime Number I say…….Happy Birthday!

Island Blog 95 Broken Circle

broken circle

 

 

What is the shape of disappointment? I know how it feels, and how it looks on another’s face, how it infiltrates the hours that follow, how it changes an opinion, a truth, a person, but if I had to pick a shape, to visually explain it, I think I would opt for a broken circle.

A broken circle tells me it can’t quite arrive. It began, quite the thing, knowing it was heading for Circledom and then stopped short of completion. Therefore it is no longer a circle, because there is no such thing as half a circle, or a bit of a circle, or, even a circl.

We like to know what lies ahead, or as much of it as is possible through the cloudy eyes of a mere human being. To know everything would surely require considerably more A levels than I ever took, which, by the way, was none. Well, I never got the chance once I was expelled.

And so, we strain to see as much as we can of what lies ahead, completing the circle as we mentally arrive at our destination, factoring in room for the unknowns and unforeseens, but still confident to varying degrees that we will, indeed, arrive.

But what happens when everything changes in a heartbeat and our circle is broken? Not because we faltered on the journey, lost heart and turned back and not because we changed our minds about setting off at all, but because someone, or something took it all away.

Pouf! Just like that.

And all those wise sayings about how Disappointment Will Pass and how it Makes Us Stronger can just go and flush themselves down the loo, because I have a raging miserable fury inside of me right now that just might boil up all over you if you tell me once more that I’ll feel better soon, because I plan never to feel better, ever again.

I remember my first big disappointment very well. Early days of motherhood, dressed for a party and looking forward to it overly much.

We can’t go, he said. The corn dryer’s broken down and I have to fix it.

And then he went back out on the farm.

I sat down on the bed, in my pretty dress and sobbed until all my face had melted into my palms. Then came the rage, which was dark red and black and full of forked lightening and thunderous door slamming.

The circle was broken. I know it was only a party but for a young mother, just to dress up and go out was such a big deal and had meant days of a champagne anticipation.

And nobody let me grieve, including myself. I was spoilt, petulant, selfish with nothing in the fridge for supper.

Disappointment is not allowed to show its face ravaged with tears and mascara, nor can it open its mouth and roar into the sky, because, firstly, there is something alarming about a woman with her mouth wide open, spraying anger and deep grief all over the place; secondly others share that sky and have seats at the top table and, thirdly, we’re British, with all our lips buttoned up tight.

So what do we do with it, any of us?

Well, I have learned that disappointment is indeed part of life and that the jagged wound it makes, does heal, although I don’t want to hear you tell me that. I’ll discover that for myself.

I have also learned that the only person who can deal with the grief I feel at a disappointment, is me, and if I want to roar into ‘our’ sky, you can just block your ears.

You might consider practising the odd roar yourself.

Clears a whole pavement in seconds.

Island Blog 94 The Right to Write

2013-02-14 14.43.19

 

As the story grows and the characters take form and substance, grow opinions and modes of behaviour, I find myself stepping back a bit.  After all, I am not really there in this game, not really walking through the doors into the rooms, not visible to any of them.  And yet, if I don’t make them move, they stand still and silent and nothing moves forward.

They are not mere puppets, though, and their world not fashioned by me.  I didn’t think them up out of nowhere, paint on their faces, line up their strings.  They came to me and said hallo and I turned to take a good look.  We decided we like each other, tentatively at first, for there are no end of opportunities for us to fall out.  Even when things appear to be swimming along, quite joco, the tables can turn a surprise on us all.

Part of being able to present, if that’s the right word, a believable character, first to the reader, and secondly to the storyline, is through intense observation of all human beings encountered.  I watch dynamics between people, study body language, the way a person shrugs when asked a hoary question, for instance.  What do her shoulders do as she shrugs, her face, how does it look?  Does she turn away in miserable defeat, or do her eyes tell me she is working up a mouthful of bullets to spit right back?  Does she have a dog/child/handbag and where is the dog/child/handbag when this dodgy question is asked?  Is she in a crowded place or on a mountain top at sunrise?  Why sunrise?  Why a crowded place?  Does she like one over the other and is she in the place that feels most comfortable, or the opposite?

These are but minutes in days of writing practice – practice in my imagination first, then lobbed into my left brain to find the potholes in the path it is choosing to go down.  I write down words, ‘how can this happen?’ questions, speak them out into an empty room or toss them into the wind that ever blows around the island shores.  I must not meddle with this process, or try to rush it, or that part of the story, perhaps the whole thing, will turn to mud, as my paintings did when I couldn’t put down the brush to wait patiently for an answer.

In life, we often don’t wait for answers, believing that it is down to us, to me, to fix this thing and right now before it irritates any more of the bejabers out of me and, besides, I can’t think straight with it fannying around my head, because I have a to-do list awaiting me……look, there it sits on the desk with hardly a tick beside any of it!

Wrong thinking.  The answer, when considering options, texture and colours for an inter-weave of characters inside a story is to stop thinking.  Of course, it isn’t possible, well, not for me, to unthink once I am in the deep fabric of a piece of writing because I am already part of the life of it and interested, fascinated, intrigued and excited to know who will do what next, and when.  But, I can push it/them/ gently behind the cogs and pistons of my brain allowing forward another thing or two to busy me a bit, and to give the story time to evolve without me.

Without me?  you cry.  But I must control it all the time.

Now let me ask you this.  If it were down to just you, or just me to control everything in our lives, would it be a good thing, do you think?

Just play back on a few bloomers in the past, when control of a thing was down to you.

The most important and critical thing to understand, is this.  Gazing wistfully at a published writer, with varying degrees of apparent success will not write your story.  Only you, only I, can write our own stories because only we can bring that texture, those colours and that melody into the light, and if you or I never turn to say hallo to an idea, a storyline, a character, it will stay forever in the shadows of regret.  We don’t need to know how to do it. I don’t know what I’m doing half the time, but, as I reach out my hand in welcome, I suddenly realise that I am not alone.  It is not just me.  And so, it begins.