Island Blog – Elephants, Clouds and Paper Smoke

This morning starts at 4am whilst the night sleeps on. In the time between dark and light, the darkling, I sip tea and watch the sea-loch. The air is flat, the sky the colour of paper smoke. Nothing moves, not yet. Then, a sudden arc of silver burst into the sky above the flat water and I know there’s an otter on the hunt somewhere in the filmy depths. The ripples ripple on. Then I see it, the hunter, its black head piercing the surface, only to disappear again into the deep down dark.

I feel dark, even though I know that once the light blossoms into morning, it will fill me up, the light, infusing my skin as hot water does a teabag. They say women are like teabags. You don’t know their strength until you drop them in hot water. It laughs me, even as I know it’s the truth. Today, like every other day, will be a round of mopping and cleaning, washing and caring. And yet, now there is a difference, now that I have admitted to myself and to my family that I am no longer able to care all by myself. I feel a teensy bit of relief, heavily clouded, heavy as a whole sky coming down on me. I used to believe clouds were light as air. Planes fly right through them, after all. But now I know they can weight as much as 800 elephants. That’s a lot of elephants and a very heavy cloud. How does it stay up for goodness sake? I have no answer for that, not being an expert on the matters of cloud.

Walking through the day with my inner judge on repeat. You are pathetic, weak, giving up, what makes you think it is okay to say I’m done? I always knew you would never see anything through. You have always run when the going got tough. You disgust me. And so on and on, ya-di-ya, the whole day long, and it is long, the day, second by slow second, minute by slow minute, hours and hours of it. I fill in gaps, sweep a floor, try to avoid eye contact with anyone, tell myself I have served well, thou good and faithful servant, but the judge’s voice is way louder and she barely pauses to draw breath. I change my frock combo to see if that helps. The outer me might just have some influence over the inner one. I change the position of the kitchen bin, wipe a table, turn up Radio 2, watch the sparrow hawk dive and miss.

I know that at such a crossroads, Lady Providence stands with her hand held towards me. I know I have done all I could. I know the decision is the right one. Dementia is cruel in all ways. It separates and divides. It eats the brain until any chance of a communication flow is cut. It takes a big strong, loving, able, powerful human being and second by slow second, shuts him or her down. The family can only stand and watch, help where possible, encourage all attempts at retaining independence, autonomy, humour. Then the time comes when it’s clear there is no way this beloved will return to his former glory. Ever.

The light is light now, the tea drunk, the morning shoving night over the horizon, blazing white and cloudy, like paper smoke. Roses pink the view, one sweet pea flower, the first, waggles in the breeze; daisies and those blue things I can’t name turn to face the sky, searching for sunlight. I don’t think they will see it this day but, loyal as they are, they will persist in their looking until they fold up for rest once more. Goldfinch spangle the fence, taking turns on the nijer feeder, bickering, flitting. Across the sea-loch a heron stands immobile, staring into the deep dark waters, patient, waiting, watching, beneath a cloud-heavy elephant sky, the colour of paper smoke.

Island Blog – Noticing Thoughts, Starlings and the Wonderful

This time of isolation, for us since March 16th, has given me the chance to really think things through. I decide, for example, thanks to the nudges from my body, the universe and my long bedroom mirror, to change a daily habit in order to discover something wonderful. Although the process of re-jigging and then maintaining daily a new way of doing old things can be a pain in the aspidistra, the ‘wonderful’ is going to be so worth the effort. Writing down a new plan is key; bullet points numbered, and with space at the end for an achievement tick. After a week, I want a gold star, so that means I must write down the date of first commitment, to keep track of my progress. July 1st sounds like a good date upon which to set this ship a-sail.

Perhaps I want to finally lose this jelly belly, the one that flops over my underpinnings. Perhaps I drink too many glasses of coke, or sherry, or coffee. Perhaps I turn away from a walk if its raining. There’s that kitchen cupboard asking to be scrubbed clean all the way to the back this time and not just wiped at the front in a kidding sort of way. Whatever it is I want to change, for no reason outside of myself, I must begin by noticing the triggers that keep me lazy about taking action. I write them down. They look ghastly, sloppy, unthinking. Luckily nobody but me is going to see them as they stare back up at me from my A4 notepad. I had thought I was in charge of me. Obviously I was wrong.

What will the ‘wonderful’ be? Well, I don’t know, but at a guess, the jelly belly will retreat somewhat, if not completely. Who will notice or care? Well, nobody but me. Is that inspiring enough? Yes it is, I tell myself, noticing that trip up thought. Although it might be true that I expect the first day to have me all sorted, I can very easily fall back on what has become my norm, the one that doesn’t require me to think much at all. Day two might feel like trudgemonkey. This is when I must refer back to my plan with bullet points of action and room for an achievement tick. Oh…..must I? Seriously? Yes I must, because the ‘wonderful’ is not an instant thing but a distant one, and I will never know how distant unless I remain steadfast in pursuit of my goal. It is innately human to believe that results should be served up the minute a decision implants itself in a brain. This is a lie, a big fat lie. Nobody ever got nowhere without consistent dedication to their goal.

I find it helpful to jot down my thoughts. Not all of them or I would never get anything else done, but the ones that catch my attention, telling me I am in need of a snack, a sweet one, and right now. Hang on a minute, I say, putting up my hand. You aren’t hungry for a sweet snack at all. You are just a bit bored or lost or feeling uncomfortable. That’s when I step back, look at this hungry little whiner and tell it straight. You are not useful to me at this time. You had breakfast 30 minutes ago, and even if you think you really are in need of a snack, it won’t be sweet, trust me on that. It will be a shaved carrot. So there.

Same goes for the sherry call. Perhaps a thought tells me I am not coping with this, or that and that I need a shot of something to take the edge off. The edge off what, precisely? This situation within which I live and move and have my being, that’s what. And how will numbing your brain help change said situation? It won’t, not long term. So, you are not useful to me right now whereas a cup of tea most certainly will be. Please leave.

It’s amazing how obedient my thoughts are. Quite surprising in fact. I think they are astonished at my questioning them. After all, they have ruled my roost for decades, confident in their control over me. In my facing them down as the questioner, they are lost for words. It’s rather exciting and one of the early glimpses I get of my ‘wonderful’. So this is how it works! If I commit to change, notice my thoughts and challenge the ones that want to keep me living like a robot, the serendipities begin to rise. I actually feel good about myself, more powerful, more excited about what happens next. My jelly belly may still flop over my underpinnings, my nightly sherry may still beckon from the wings, and the rain may still put me off walking, but I have moved forward and it feels, well, wonderful.

This morning I sat with coffee and watched the birds around the feeders. Siskin, goldfinch, greenfinch, sparrow, collared dove, robin, coal tit, blue tit, great tit, blackbird. Suddenly the sky darkened and in flew about 50 starlings. They covered the feeders, lined the fences, perched on the shrubs, all the while twittering in fluent starling. My heart lifted, as did I to get my camera. By the time I got back, they had gone. But I had seen the wonderful, noticed it, logged it in my mind. Next time I will remind myself just to sit and to notice. The way the sun turns their feathers blue, their darting flight, the way they stay together, fly together; the sound of their voices, the quick turns of their shiny heads.

Noticing the outside is very important and we have the time now to do just that, but noticing our internal world is even more important. We are not robots, we are wonderfully intelligent agents of change, and when we stop to think, to notice our thinks, we become more powerful than we could ever have imagined. It all starts with a decision to take back control.

And, as we do, the ‘Wonderful’ awakens.

Island Blog 51 – Stirred Not Shaken

Blog 51

 

When I am home again on the island, after a time away, I spend the first day remembering.

I remember a sudden smile on an old familiar face whilst sorting through the washing to be washed.  I hear again a comment, made days back and long forgotten by the one who made it and whose mouth has filled with many words since.  For that person, it is gone forever, but not for me, who heard it and held it and find it still inside my head, and sometimes my heart.  Lisa from Two Roads, for example, who spoke out before all those who came to the second book launch of Island Wife in Norwich, the home of my formative years, although, to be honest, I would question the formative bit.  It’s not like I stopped forming once I left, frozen in time as ‘her’ because ‘her’ has changed a whole lot since then.  For beginners, ‘her’ no longer wears shiny hotpants, nor does she feel like a bit part in someone else’s play.

Back, as they tell me ALL the time…..to the subject……..

Lisa stood up and said things about me as a person that made me feel like I was really something.  She talked about the book, about Island Wife and how it came into her hands and how Hodder multiplied it thousands of times over, flying out into the world on its own wings.  Karen, Queen of Publicity, came too and spoke of new avenues, new ideas, new hopes and plans for my story as we shared a cream tea in a smart town hotel.  Actually, I didn’t share mine, but that is so not the point.

Old friends I haven’t seen for 3 decades bought first editions and invited us for coffee, tea, supper and lunch, taking us on journeys through little Norfolk lanes lined with old red brick cottages and a lot of history, and the sun shone the whole time.

At the launch, someone tapped me on the shoulder.

I’m June, she said, and I knew her face at once, although on another’s shoulders, for she is the youngest daughter of the Old Horseman in my book.  We talked a little, whilst we could, and she went away with her signed book.  I had tried to find the descendants of those who gave of their best to us on the farm, and her unexpected visit (I hadn’t managed to find her) lifted my heart the highest.

The other lifting thing was that I realised among old friends, that, although we are all older, I am still the daft eejit.  Some long to be daft eejits, and some are jolly glad they aren’t, but, for me, it says just the right thing about me.  However tough life is, whatever comes our way, tries to break our spirits, confound us, shake our confidence, we always have our inner spirit, and it is our own.  My confidence shaker may be different to yours, but I still experience the shake.

May as well make it one with ice cream, fresh strawberries, mango juice and champagne.

 

With Two Straws.