Island Blog 124 – Chiaroscuro

2013-04-09 12.03.19

 

It’s not a sausage.  It’s a delicious word, nonetheless, and it is the meeting point between light and dark.  Of course, there is always a meeting point between light and dark, day and night joined together until the sun burns out, the light and dark, or shade, in a painting.  Used in the world of opera, it describes two voices, one soprano, one deep, might be contralto, might be tenor or bass, joined to create a thrilling balance for our ears to hear.

So, this lovely ‘meeting of opposites’ has a pretty name and if you say it with an Italian accent, plus the hand gestures, you can quite lift your day.  Chiaro, means ‘clear and bright’, and Oscuro, dark and obscure.  Five musical syllables, and the ‘Ch’ is pronounced as ‘K’.

This meeting of contrasts is everywhere in our world, and, without one, we fail to see or appreciate the other.  When it rains a flood for weeks on end, and the water moves indoors, it must be a very dark time.  Outside, in the village hall, on the sodden streets, in a corner shop, there will be smiles of light, offers of sympathy, support and hope.  I don’t have to see it for myself to know I speak the truth.  Whenever life feels dark, somebody or something casts light in our path and, with that light, we find we can go on a bit further.  At another time, darkness brings a welcome relief.  It’s the balance than matters.  We want both in equal portions to find a happy rhythm.  But let’s just consider the chiaroscuro of life, the meeting point, and an entity in itself.

As we look we find ourselves, for we are both light and dark.  All of us.  Our relationships, too, for they are also a meeting of light and dark.

Well, you can forget the dark, someone might say.  Who wants dark in a relationship?

Have you ever met somebody quite unbelievably light?  For this person, everything is ‘wonderful’  I have met such people and I didn’t believe they were real at all, for it is against our human nature to be all light and no dark.  Of course, the dark bits can be hidden for years, but they will show themselves in behaviour choices, skin condition, ailments and disease.  We are fashioned in balance, and our journey through this life is one of learning and more learning.  We develop a creative agility in order to survive and this means we must recognise the dark and the light and make them both welcome at our table.  I know I have wished for all light and no dark, but, even as I wish it, I know I am a fool, for how could I ever really feel another’s pain and grief, if I had never felt my own?

I have heard folk banging on about the shoulds and shouldn’ts of benefits, taxes, governmental rulings, as if everything ‘should’ be dished up on an endless supply of pretty plates.  I know that some are struggling, many are struggling, with real problems in their lives, with limitations and deprivations I can only ever imagine, but hand-outs seem to be expected across far too wide a swathe of humanity.  If we sit at home, watching complete nonsense on the tv and building on whatever is currently causing angst, and never step into the light of day, of course all we are going to see is darkness. If we feed Black Dog, Black Dog will grow big and strong.

I remember my old granny telling me that when I felt sorry for myself for longer than ten minutes, I needed to cheer someone else up, with a phone call, a visit, a text message, and never mentioning one word about my own self-pity.  My mum always says she is ‘absolutely fine’ when anyone asks her how she is.  And, do you know what……..  both those women have it nailed, because in both cases, their refusal to wallow, their very act of lifting the collective moment, initiates a dramatic change deep inside.  I can leave a house, having arrived with both my legs heavy as old porage, my chin scraping the ground and all my aches and pains playing a noisy percussion throughout my body, as light as air and thinking no longer about Me, me, me.  Something extraordinary has happened quite silently inside me, something that tells me I am the chiaroscuro of the afternoon, for, in me, the light met the dark and became a thing of balance and beauty.

Next time you look at a wonderful painting, or listen to a piece of music, or a song, remember that, although there is both high and low, dark and light, lift and fall, tears and joy, that this is what, this is who we are too – a glorious blend of opposites.

And then step out and share it.

Island Blog 102 – Memories

2013-07-13 21.22.06

 

 

 

They are funny things, memories, but not necessarily in a ha-ha way.  If anyone has ever asked a couple to describe their rememberings from any area or time of their shared life, you will have felt, as I have, that they definitely weren’t there together.

When my own mum recounts something from my childhood, she tells it in a way that assures me I was in another family at the time.  I used to think she was right and that I was wrong – ever the swing from either to or – and that this ‘wrong’ in me was because I……..what?  Wanted it to be different?  possibly.  Refused to acknowledge the truth?  possibly.  Had blanked out reality in favour of fairyland?  possibly.

Nowadays I see it differently because I understand that she saw me through her own eyes, as a child inside her life and that wasn’t how I saw it at all.  I looked with my own eyes, filtered each experience through my own emotions, needs, hopes and dreams, which were never hers.  She has ideas for me that I didn’t like or understand or even want.  So, the battle begins early in a life, the battle for a good hold on reality.

And who is to say what Reality is?

Even in a marriage, where two supposed adults, really still children themselves, encounter days and times and moments together, the looking will differ to varying degrees.  Where one sees rain, the other sees the light inside a raindrop.  One feels he cold, the other doesn’t, so was that house a cold, uncomfortable one or was it a wonderful home, or was it both at the same time?  And, in the spinning out of the tale of of it, who will name it?

Then, there are the ears that hear that tale.  Are they on one side or on the other according to who or what they personally relate to?  If I am angry about something or someone, I will, however ‘good hearted’ I may be, paint them in certain colours, and colours stick, words stick, take root and grow.

It isn’t as simple as the glass half-full, half-empty cliche.  Cliches are always too simple, sounding like goodly truths but lacking substance, texture, depth and context.  They may help to elevate our thoughts and this is helpful indeed, but no living soul is ever one type of person or another.  To get from black to white and back again, we must allow and embrace a thousand shades of grey, and it is inside those greys we mostly live out our days.

So, now, as an old woman (I love being an old woman, choosing, as I do, the picture of old age as a cumulation of experience and wisdom and of letting go) I can hear a story re-spoken and learn, from it’s presentation, more about the person speaking it out than I ever do about the ‘facts’.  I even hear my own voice doing the telling and notice where I put the emphasis, what colours I choose, what body language I employ, what tone.  And it often smiles me a lot.

On days when I only see the rain, there is a moan and a whine in any telling out.  The simple question How are You? can see me grabbing someone’s hand and leading them into a miserable dark wet cavern littered with the old bones of all the women I hoped to become and allowed to die without a voice.  On days when I am energetic enough to slip between the raindrops, pausing to catch the warmth of their reflected light, I can swirl us both into the sky along with the fairies and the angels and actually feel critical of their need to tell me about the bunions on their big toes.

Same circumstances.  Exactly the same circumstances.  The days are the same, the tasks the same, the view the same, and yet everything is different.

So, although we are all within the parameters of this day Friday September 20th, and even if we spend a part of it together, we will tell very stories about it’s 24 hour span.

Which of us is ‘right’ I wonder?

Island Blog 54 – All Roads Lead

Island Blog 54

 

I had arrived as a surprise.  My daughter met me in the hallway and we hugged and exchanged greetings.  A little voice from deep inside the house asked ‘Where is Granny talking from Mummy?’ and we both laughed, as did the little girl once she found me.

I could have been using skype as my road, or the house phone on loudspeaker.  Her last thought was that she would round the corner and find me standing there.

But there are many roads we cannot see, such as a span of years or a scene from the past.  We can only find a shape to those inside our imaginations, and no two imaginations will find the same route, although the destination is the same.

Driving Miss Daisy the other day, through the wintry  island wasteland,  I pointed out a wonderful stone formation, obviously man-built as support for the rise of a narrow track, that wound its way down towards the Atlantic shoreline.  There was not a drop of mortar holding it together, but only the skill of the dry stone builder.

We considered the time when this track would have carried man and his animals, and nothing weightier than a pony and cart loaded with hay or feed for the hungry animals. We could hear in our imaginations, the slow march of a day long gone by, the lowing of the cattle, the call of a ewe to her lambs, the odd shout or whistle of the shepherd, and the bark of his dogs.  For a moment we could count the day in hours, smell the changing seasons, according to the rise and fall of the sun, or the flow and ebb of the moon tides.

But our pictures would have been very different.

Sometimes in the clipping season, or when the ewes are brought in for dosing, the hill road from the little town grinds to a halt. The local shepherdess is gathering her flock and calling for them to follow her, through the open window of her truck.  Those of us forming an ever-growing snake are required to dig for patience as we lurch and stall in the wake of a hundred woolly legs. There is no opportunity to overtake, and no possibility of speeding up.

Some of us click our tongues and roll our eyes impatiently.  Some of us smile, knowing we have arrived in an afternoon where time is not the issue, and to hurry along would be to risk lambs becoming separated from their mothers. And we can notice, at this slow pace, the first buds on the heather, the marsh harrier overhead, the way the clouds change and reform into new shapes above the gentle roll of the hills.  We can catch the soft calls to ‘follow!’ as they float back to us on a breeze.

And we will all arrive at our destination.

In the end

Island Blog 37 – New Road

Island Blog 37 - White Wood Sprite

 

Things are hotting up for the launch of my book, Island Wife, to be published by Two Roads on March 28th.  The Hodder team, of which Two Roads is an imprint, are working hard on press releases, magazine reviews, media opportunities and book signings.

As my penultimate son would have said when the excitement in him rose like a wave….’I can hardly bear my seating!’

People, friends, ask me ‘what does it feel like?’

Like champagne in my veins.

Like a moon flash on the sea loch as the storm clouds part.

Like the smell of sunshine after rain, or the first cuckoo in Spring.

And so much more.

Far more.

That’s my new name.  Honest, no kidding.

‘Farmor’ means Father’s mother in Swedish and it is the name my new little Viking grand-daughter will probably call me on her Swedish days.

I digress somewhat.

Over the next few weeks, my story will be heavying down the post-people and the carriers as the copies wing their way around the country.  E books will ding through space and time to settle into Kindles and Ipads and people in dentist waiting rooms will forget the tropical fish for as long as it takes to read some review on me and my book.

I will find my book in shop windows, or held in hands on a train, or a bus.  Will I say anything?  Will I bounce up all full of beans and introduce myself, offer to sign the copy and leave just knowing they will spend days buzzing with the excitement or will I slide past with a flicker of a look and hope I am not recognised?

Honestly, I just don’t know, for who is born for this, for a sudden chance at some level of fame, be it good fame or not so good fame?  Who knows, when stepping into new shoes (haven’t bought them yet) or onto a new path, what to do or what to say?  I won’t know my surroundings and we are always better when we know our surroundings.  And people will look at me differently once they have read the bones of me.  I wonder what that will feel like.  After all, for most of the year, I hide myself happily away on the island, sometimes seeing not one person all day long.  Now it seems I must walk this baby into the world, which is what I always wanted, always dreamed of.  Not the publicity, although I am sure I will enjoy it all, but to touch on another’s life, to make a connection through my story, with theirs, with yours, perhaps, and to tell you without telling you at all, that you can do it too, whatever it may be for you.

I might meet you on this new road.

New Road.  Two Roads.

Island Blog 30 – Force 10 and Rising

'Force 10'

‘Force 10’

Photograph courtesy of James Fairbairns

Today it’s cold, sleety and wet and with a gale forecast, again, and the maudlin in me could take over if I was less than vigilant.  The thought of going for a good brisk walk, or even just driving Miss Daisy down to the shop, makes my neck sink deeper into the high neck of my big woolly jumper of which I am more than heartily sick.  Although I do need to cover myself from neck to bottom and beyond, every day from the moment I rise, wear fisherman’s socks over my chilblains and a big jacket just to feed the birds, I still look longingly in my ‘skimpy’ drawer.  Strappy tee-shirts, a pair of shorts, silly frou-frou tops, a short denim skirt.  When did I ever wear any of them?  When was it ever warm enough, or when did my pale blue skin ever allow such nudity?

It wasn’t that long ago, I tell myself, as I shut the drawer on my finger.  Fingers move slower in the cold, and sometimes, too slowly to avoid being shut in drawers or doors, or knocked painfully against surfaces that somehow seem softer in the warm sunshine.  Conversations are all about how-to-pay-the-bills and who ran up this cost anyway? And everyone I meet is aching or has lost their greenhouse, and it’s not over yet.  We are exhausted being so positive, but therein lies the key.  Whether you believe in global warming, or not, have a faith or not, there is a spirit within us all that keeps us going and we are glad of it.  We are tough cookies and built to survive, no, more than that, to laugh at ourselves, our situations, our daily disasters.  We can lift, cheer and support each other, just as we are designed to do, and it is the stuff of life.  In cheering you I am cheering me.   Whatever gales and tempests have assailed us and will assail us yet, whatever gets flattened or damaged, torn or ruined, we have ourselves and our sense of humour and we can share both every single day.

So, I tell myself, stand up girl, and be counted. This is much ado about nothing.

‘Life is either a daring bold adventure or it’s nothing at all’

I am off to bake a chocolate cake, visit someone, and tomorrow, I think I’ll wear my jumper inside out.

Island Blog 27 – Sea-words

We walked on a wide white beach today in the late afternoon light.  The little dog ran here and there through the machair in search of rabbits.  She has never caught one.  I don’t think she really wants to.  It’s the chase she loves, the journey.

Because of the recent storms, the kelp is high, almost on the machair, settled in loops as it was pushed in by the waves.  It looks like curly hair.  In one curl, lay a dead seal.  I knew it before I found it, as the hooded crows and a bird of prey I couldn’t recognise in the shout of blinding sunlight, lifted into the sky as we came near.

Something dead there, I thought.

And there was, its skin blistered pink, at its final resting place.  Food, now, for a hungry world.

We found driftwood and bits of flotsam and jetsam, and I love that around the ocean, there are so many wonderful words.  Not one of them boring.

I saw bladder-wrack and bubble-wrap and plastic bottles and lids and bits of toy, a piece of Lego and another thing, an emergency water bottle.

Whose boat, I thought, and what journey and where did you come from, or go to?

I remember someone found a soft toy rabbit in the harbour car park.  Soaked in the rain, we dried her and placed her for all to see with a sign asking…….Am I yours?

Nobody claimed her, so now, she is mine, with her raggedy ear and her eyes wide with looking.

I call her Anouk.

Grace.

It takes grace to allow ourselves to be moved from one state to another.  One place to another.  We may not choose it, but if we can bring our whole self with us, without looking at what we left behind, with just our wide-looking eyes hungry for right now, right here, we can make a smile appear in the most unlikely faces.

 

Anouk

Anouk

Island Blog 26 – Safe and Sound

They said there would be no ferries as the wind was forecast to rise beyond acceptable bouncing-over-water limits. At such times, ordinary old waves suddenly turn into the Salt-water Alps, and we struggle to hold down our children, our cars and our skirts. Words are snatched from open mouths and everyone wishes they had gone to a health spa in Basingstoke, including me. I may be married to the ocean through my family, but she and I have had plenty of disagreements over the years.  Trouble is, she is way more confident than I am and with the wind up her tail, she can batter ordinary law-abiding folk to their limits.

We decided we would set off anyway, although the ‘we’ part of that is never the result of a discussion. When I married my husband, he became ‘we’ and I remained ‘I’. So we set off because we always set off. To not set off is to be a big girl’s blouse, and we don’t do them in our house.  Even the girls don’t.  To show fear is to appear weak. To hesitate is to be run over.

We spent a happy ten minutes behind a huge mucky lorry, and, having left home a rather cute sky blue, we gradually turned brown in the spray from its many wheels.

What a lovely gentle speed, I yelled over the hysterical blapping of the windscreen wipers. One of them hesitated mid blap. This is it, I thought, and waited for it to ping into orbit.

The moment passed.

Then so did we. Well, he did. I just closed my eyes as we plunged into the brown darkness on the wrong side of a very narrow road.

We passed gritters and snow ploughs, and tourists at viewpoints, holding on to each other to avoid flying over the edge. Anoraks billowed out like kites and nobody looked like themselves, as nobody ever does in woolly hats, scarves and multi-coloured mountain jackets, their hoods pulled right up tight.  I have walked past family in the winter with no flicker of recognition. All I can see are a fistful of features peeping out from the dark.

Eventually we arrived at the ferry point and could see its beak was closed.

We were not to get home this day.

Now, settled in a warm little hotel sipping tea and watching the storm dancing through the wide windows, I find it all rather exciting.  Home will still be there tomorrow and we are safe.

I think of the homeless on the cold streets of a cold city before I sit down to write.

 

Ferry Cancelled