Island Blog – Drunken Cakes and Rising

Today I didn’t bake a cake. It was time to take a day off and besides, I had no butter in the fridge. Recently I have been baking in those early hours when even the blackbirds are still asleep out there, up in the safety of tree foliage. The idea came to me one dawn as if someone spoke the word. Bake. But, I said, fighting my way out from beneath a twisted duvet, I loathe baking, don’t you remember? All that flaming baking palaverance at Tapselteerie, when guests expected tea and cake after a day out and me in the kitchen facing yet another flatpack frisbee, burned at the edges and refusing to rise to the occasion? Remember that? And I never got better at it, not in 15 years. That’s because you refused to follow a recipe, she snorts. So? I hate following anything or anyone.

Bake, she says again and I watch the bee words fly about the room, hear them laughing. I get up to flap them away but they are too fast for my morning flaps. They follow me down the stairs and perch, one on each shoulder. Bake, bake they say again, tweaking my ear lobes before lifting like bluebottles into the air. Well dammit! Alright, alright I will bake but the idea is ridiculous because I don’t eat cake and rarely have done so throughout my long and cakeless life, and the only time I did was because it was someone’s birthday. I breakfast and perform a few mindless chores, mindlessly.

This is my point, says Bake Voice. Mindless tasks are not enough for you, not these long solo days. Not any more. It is time to push away the walls of your comfort zone, to reach beyond your beliefs that you have no point, you are done, might as well sit and brood thing. If you bake, they will come. Who will come? I feel defensive. I don’t want any ‘comings’ thank you very much. I am just fine on my own, fine without cake. Bake Voice is quiet for a bit and just as I’m thinking she has gone to harry another poor cake-disliking soul, she says this. Give the cake away. Now that peaks my interest because I am a giving-away sort of woman who takes great pleasure in the process. Who to, I begin to wonder, and how much to who to? I hear Bake Voice chuckle. She knows she’s got me.

Stocking up with stork and butter, icing sugar, jam, castor sugar, flour and soft fruit, I lightly baste a deep cake tin and flip on the oven to 160 fan. This cake will rise I tell the line-up of ingredients, wagging my finger. You will rise. Nobody responds which I consider a good student reaction. They are subdued and obedient. I haul out the big mixer and affix the whirly thing although it takes me a few minutes to remember how to, and set the process in motion. Apple Cake today, I decide and I slice up dessert apples, pouring a hefty tablespoon of artisan chocolate rum over the pieces to marinade. Assembled and smelling divine, I feel a little tipsy at 5 am which is something I haven’t felt since I was a teenager. I smile, pour the mix into the cake tin and slide it into the oven. Although I have made this recipe up, I do know that a deep cake full of drunken apple slices will be a slow cook. 45 minutes should do it.

Although I can barely believe it, the cake rises and remains risen, its top warmly golden, its centre cooked through according to the clean tip of an inserted skewer. I leave it to cool a while in the tin then turn it onto a wire rack. I am excited and very proud. Share your pride with me, says Bake Voice from the other side of the kitchen and I drop her a deferential curtsey. Later, once cooled, I split the deep cake and fill with jam, sliced strawberries and butter cream icing. I take a photo, just to prove I have evolved from my frisbee period. My neighbours are delighted. So are the local shopkeepers, passing strangers, the chimney sweep, the plumber and the gardener. Some of them are going on a diet. Each morning I bake. Lime cake with gin and blueberries; Raspberry sponge with strawberry jam, lemon zest and plum brandy. Yes, it sounds confused yet it still rises into a moist and delicious Not-Frisbee. Each recipe is made up, magically. None of them should work, let alone rise, but they all do. I am obviously a gifted cake genius.

It isn’t magic, says Bake Voice, startling me from where I sit watching the birds flit and flut among the feeders. What? I say. It isn’t magic, she repeats and you’re no genius. It’s me guiding you. If life had been left up to you, it would be same old same old. I got you off your butt and into elevated thinking. I un-dulled your mind. I smile. She’s right. I have felt excited and curious each day as my thoughts dance through an unlikely list of ingredients, turning them into gifts that bring happy smiles to cake-loving faces. So, Smartarse, I round on her, when I have run out of friends because they all weigh 28 stone and hide when they see me coming, what then?

Oh, she grins, don’t worry, I’ll come up with another idea. Trust me.

Island Blog – Thing with a Point, Small Whispers

Have you ever said, or asked yourself – What’s the point in me doing this thing? I certainly have and still do, only now I understand that even the smallest step is always worth taking even when I can see no end result, no point that brings me the whole Something; that Something that would show me the point of my pointless steps and would surely confirm that I was actually prophetically brilliant without realising it.

Every single day proffers opportunities and we evaluate each one. What is the point in me sweeping the kitchen floor when nobody but me will see it today? What is the point in my adding a few more stitches to my latest fantasy landscape tapestry when I make no effort to market them? What is the point in applying loud makeup? For the sheep to ‘baa’ at or for the birds to tweet to their own Twitter mates? Why am I considering hoicking out that lithograph of an ancient stuffy old ancestor I never ever met, just to add ink and make a print? For whom? Whom cares?

Chances are, nobody. Not a who nor a whom; not at step one, nor two or even ten, but when a body remains committed to the small steptasks, something wonderful joins that bodymind on the long and winding road. As I make myself perform these, frankly ridiculously ridiculous, tasks that have popped into my intelligent head only to be sideswiped by my intelligent head, I feel a sense of achievement in my soul. Now, the soul is powerful and it has a voice. I turn to address the cynic in me and hold up my hand. Stop right there. I am doing this ‘pointless’ thing because something way bigger than you or me sent me a whisper. Through a word, a song, a looking, a noticing and I am tired of being so grounded in earthly limitations. I have wings and you, Mrs Cynic, do not. You are not spiritually wealthy. I can tell by the tight purse of your mouth.

So I do all the pointless things because every one of them has a point, in itself, its own point and who doesn’t want one of those? If I honour the whisper as the one who can make this thing a better thing then, what is not to like? In my long life, I have found that the end game is often imagined. The success story we read, the achiever, the award winner, the one who won Strictly. We are fools to aspire to such ‘success’ unless we are prepared to swallow the bitter pill of the millions of small steps that would make that success possible. I don’t want awards, nor to win Strictly, but I do want that sense of warm pleasure that comes from any job well done, no matter how pointless it felt at first. It doesn’t matter if nobody sees because I do and I am my finest seer. We all are. I wonder sometimes that we teach our children shortcuts, to run fast and not to stop for anything, resulting in hollow hearts. Taking the fast route can work at times but not all the time. There are small whispers being missed at a cost.

So, I would say this. When a small task whispers in, take action and value that connection. You never know what will come in to help and to guide. Don’t give up and don’t give in to old Purse Lips. What does she know, she who never partied till she lost a shoe? Live wild, people, no matter how old or young you are. Adventurize your life right now. Otherwise that life, our only one, is nothing at all.

And nothing is pointless, at best.

Island Blog – Repeat Daily

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

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

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

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

Repeat daily.

Island Blog 153 On Good Men and Unicorns

unicorn

I have heard said, that good men are like unicorns.  Everyone talks about them but nobody ever sees one.

To compare a man with a unicorn, is, indeed, a strange thing to be sure.  Unicorns may be ‘fictitious’ creatures, but they are very real in fairy stories, folklore and even in Harry Potter’s world, which is one I almost believe in.  Many times I have faced down a pillar on some bleak and windy station, thinking positively about rushing towards it in search of Platform Nine and Three Quarters.  I don’t, of course, being ever so slightly aware that I may, indeed, be a Muggle after all, and, thus both bitterly disappointed, and in need of cosmetic surgery.

The other thing that stranges me about a comparison between unicorns and good men, is that men, in my experience, couldn’t be more earthed.  I may attempt, for example, to unfold my feelings about some aspect of my life only to be asked scientific questions. What shape, when, why and how.  I may float (just a bit) around concepts of life, love and marmelade and be yanked back down to earth with a sensible ‘fix’ to the situation, one that completely misses my point, not that I have had one of those in a long time.  In fact, my being afflated about some other-worldly issue very possibly negates the need for a point, as there are many and none in the mackle mind of a woman at such times.

Now, I know, like you do, that unicorns have hooves and must, therefore, do things like walk, trot, canter and gallop, and for all of these activities, they require some sort of stable terrain, one with depth and structure, one they can see and expect to see whilst they do all of these things.  In this, they are very like men, I agree.  But, and this ‘but’ divides and separates, they can fly, of float, or elevate and there are few, if any, good men who can do that.

But is there a difference between Men and Good Men?  I wonder if this is simply an act of perception.  I say ‘act’ because it is a doing word and not a being word and there’s my point.  And I have another.  Does the perception of a man make him good?  If I imagine him to be like a unicorn, powerful, there when you need a lift out of danger, able to move fast over ground or through the air, beautiful, intelligent, magical and interesting, might he not become so? Whereas, if I imagine him stupid and blunt, strong-like-bull but dimwitted and messy and thoughtless, might I not be fashioning him that way?

I know this is a chicken and egg question, but it has thinked me for a while and made me watch folk and consider.  We can divide our lives into little controllable units, and, in many ways, this is a good thing.  I want my day planned, to a degree, to the degree that is important to me, that is.  I want to know when this or that is needed by my family, and what my role is in making it right for them.  But, if I have forgotten what it was like when first we met, then, chances are, so has he.  Life and the gravity of it has pulled us all down.  It happens, but the clever ones among us notice this.  If I stopped the car suddenly and said to you, Look There Goes a Unicorn, even if you were the biggest domesticated woman cynic ever, you would look, you would ask Where?  But if I said There Goes Your Husband, you might look, you might, but, if it was somewhere you didn’t expect him to be you might say…..well you might say all sorts of things but you would not have the same look on your face as you did when I called him a Unicorn.