Island Blog – Spindrift and Rememberings

The ice is melting though the wind is ferocious cold, swirling with stories from the north, enough to make my eyes water. The ground is hard as iron, water like a stone. Waterfalls are strung with icicles and the rocks coated in ice froth. Inside the car we are warm with our own stories of times long gone, the people too, characters in the theatre of our shared history. We exchange funny tales of this person and that, re-enacting the scene in our minds as we tootle our way over the switchback hill, avoiding great expanses of ice-hold. In the rear view I see the village receding, falling away into the valley, the frozen sea glinting in the lemony sunlight.

We are off to the vet. You would be forgiven for imagining we were headed for outer space because the climb is steep and our craft points skyward for miles. Peaking, we return earthwards, our vista now of outer islands settled in a different tidal flow. They look so close and yet it would take a couple of hours by boat to arrive at the nearest. The sea chops and twists as wind fights tide. I see smoke, no, not smoke, spindrift. Spectacular clouds of it lift like eerie dancers from the waves, rising into the sky. We stop to watch. Well, actually we are stopped. It isn’t a choice for there are big warm bodied highland cows all across the road. I am glad they have such thick gold and chestnut coats. They stand and stare and we stare back into big dark eyes. It seems they hold sway on this single track curl of a road. We inch forward and they pull back. There will be calves this spring, little kick-heel babes and this track will be awash with their leavings. I remember a story. On a frozen snow day many years ago when my children were young, they grabbed our old wooden toboggan and dragged it up a hill. Crowded on its back, they looked like the whole colour wheel. Faster and faster they sped, shrieking with delight, until they met a frozen cow pat. The sled exploded into a thousand splinter shards and the sky was full of flying children. I was glad of their puffy snowsuits and the soft arms of a snow landing. We had kindling for days.

Returning a different way we snake past farmhouses, cottages, empty self-catering bothies, a castle and the carved out bay with the machair now protected, erosion held at bay for a while and then the curl of silver white sand. I remember all our visits here over the last 43 years. Children, visitors, dogs, barbecues, picnics, games and swimming. I remember boats and play, football, cricket, sandcastles and moats. I remember him. He loved walking here even when he could barely move far and not without a stick for support. I wonder how he felt then, once he realised this decline was no longer to be held at bay like the erosion of this beach. He would never be drawn into such a conversation so I can only guess. His attitude was always that his life had been magical; he had nothing to complain about. I can see him down there as we round the bay. Hallo you, I whisper. You won’t see the machair wildflowers this summer. You won’t walk here again, nor lick your lips at the thought of Charlie’s ice creams or a cup and cake in the cosy cafe atop the hill. You won’t laugh at the dog biting the waves or watch grandchildren dig holes to bury each other.

It’s ok. I’ll come and remember for both of us.

Island Blog 140 Larks and Kate

 

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Singing is a lark don’t you think?

I feel like singing a lot of the time and sometimes in the wrong places such as the dentist’s waiting room or in a queue at the airport.  In my imagination I play out what would happen if I did sing.  That old lady over there would probably smile.  The kids would gawp and wonder if they had stepped into a movie and all the rest would study me from top to toe and think me bonkers.  None of that would matter if I could guarantee sounding good, which is never a given.  I would have to be travelling alone because being with someone else puts me in a situation of being One of Two, giving Two the right to an opinion and to take preventative action, neither of which boost conifdence.  I can feel very sure about a spontaneous decision and very unsure indeed about that same decision in the flip of one second when I am One of Two.  No, I need to be One of One if I plan to orchestrate my own flashmob without the mob.  I suspect this leaves me ‘flash’ and all my minders will roll their eyes and nod their heads at that association.

What, I wonder, is so wrong about bursting into song all alone whilst completely sober just because other people are around?  Other people are always around.  I would have to wander a desert or fly to the moon to find no people around.  It isn’t the same singing in the shower, or the car or when the house is empty and I don’t know why but it just isn’t.  There’s a sudden joy that pre-empts a desire to sing which I just don’t feel in the shower or the car or when the house is empty.  There is something about being out in the world, being among fellow humans, being alone among the crowds;  a sort of devilment, a pixie sense of fun, a frisson of excitement at absolutely nothing.  This is when I want to jump over the railings or tightrope walk a garden wall; when pavement squares threaten bears and, in their less dangerous moments, hopscotch.  I like sitting on the pavement and I do if I feel tired of the concrete seeping into my legs but rarely, if ever, has anyone joined me.  Why do we hate to stand out in a crowd when we so long to be individual and recognised as such?  It’s about looking foolish isn’t it. (not a question)

The thing is this.  We are a long time dead.  A boarding school best friend, lost over the years and found again quite recently has just contracted a wasting disease and died within months.  She was the same age as me.  When we unwillingly schooled together, we recognised a fellow scallywag immediately.  She didn’t want to knuckle down to ancient scratchy-knickered traditions any more than I did.  We found many ways to make life fun, and to make fun of everyone else.  She was wiry and fizzing with energy and always up for a lark.  And now she’s gone. But I did know her and I am remembering her and that time we hooked up in London and shared lunch and memories.  Our lives had been different and neither one a merry breeze but we were resilient, strong, feisty women who ‘sung’ our hearts out at every opportunity whether it sounded good or not.  If I had Kate behind me as my foolish imagination began to propel me into a flashmob without the mob, she would have joined me, not having a clue what to do but looking all enthusiastic about it anyway.  Perhaps we are born bonkers and perhaps this bonkerness is so deep within us that no man nor beast nor disaster nor catastrophe can even dent, never mind eradicate.  Well YAHOOO! to that is what I say.

When we talked, Kate and I about the other girls there, we discovered she had kept up with them whereas I had not.  She knew bits and pieces about each girl’s life and had met up with a few of them, even returning once to an old school reunion which I most definitely didn’t, not least because by that time I had 65 children and lived on the moon.  I wonder about their lives lived – what they really dreamed of.  We never talked that way at boarding school.  We talked about netball and ghastly cheese pie and who had fallen out with who, and why.  Most girls kept in line. The risk of being punished was way too great for any out-of-line-stepping.  It was all about the ‘Team spirit gels!’ – a team spirit structured by Them for Us, regardless of allergies or differences of opinion on the ‘how and why’ of such a structure.  Clomping to church in galoshes on a dry morning did little to encourage this team spirit and a whole lot for my inventive imagination.  In fact, I think it may well be precisely because I was grown in Boot Camp and then, at my most difficult stage, packaged off to Corntonvale au Sud, that I learned singing at all.  I don’t mean this literally, although I was a choir member and I did take my pianoforte exams, but more the sort of singing that comes from a deep place, one that won’t be stopped, one that doesn’t mind how it sounds when allowed to escape;  that singing that lifts and separates better than any playtex living bra; when one of two is suddenly one in a million and forever fixed in 999999999 minds, with adjectives various affixed; that singing you meet in another’s eyes, the one that tells you it’s ok now. There are two scallywags in this convent.

Singing is a lark.  Kate was a lark.  Therefore Kate was Singing.

Island Blog 133 One Hand

 

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Whenever I go somewhere or meet someone, or do something, and then come back to my own solitude, I bring rememberings with me.  We all do, of curse, but not all of us revisit them in order to learn a new thing.  I know this, because I have asked people who continue on the same track regardless of encounters of the third, or any other kind.  I have never worked that way, because I believe that everything changes me.  A glimpse of a smile from a distance, unexpected and easily missed had I been burying in my bag for my mobile, or lippy, or notepad; something a person says, albeit like a grace note that leads quickly back to the dominant chord; a fleeting look, hurriedly corrected so the eyes give nothing away; a chance meeting, a chance to see, to hear, to notice.

The world is moving too fast, everyone says so.  Not the actual world, but we who stomp across it’s surface, plunder it’s depths, take too many liberties.  However, it is the way it is, and bemoaning what is lost is a pointless excercise and one that can have me rolling my eyes and taking my leave.  It has aye been this way, and we were sure to speed up.  We thrive on a challenge, ache to be the first to discover new ways to do old things, so I embrace the change, however much it might trip me up.  After all, did I know how to blog, tweet and facebook a year ago?  I did not, and it is only thanks to the team at Two Roads and Hodder that I have learned anything at all, or discovered the delights and noted the pitfalls involved in this trip to outer space. Had I been curmudgeonly, had I succeeded in returning my laptop to a pile of component parts, as I badly wanted to do, I would still be on the outside, swearing I knew all about it and wanted none of it.  I would have sounded knowledgable whilst I sank in the quicksands of ignorance.

Learning how to notice every little thing, is just a habit.  However, like all habits, it requires attention and mindfulness at the outset, until it becomes something that our subconscious mind, our higher self, takes on board.  I am no expert on any of the many wonderful ways we can control the lunacy of our monkey minds beyond knowing that I have 12 monkeys at least in my head and must, therefore be 12 times more determined to shut them up when their screeching and tree-leaping drowns out all gentle sound, such as that of a baby bird calling from across the loch, the sound of one small voice in a busy street, the sound of pain, of hope, of fear, of longing, the sound of one hand.

Walking with my old Ma down a dusty track in Corfu, not lost but heading that way, we moved slowly and noticed everything.  She has just had both cataracts done so she does a whole lot more noticing that I have noticed her doing before.  The scuttle of a tiny lizard, the tipping sideways of it’s head as it watched us pass by; a new red bloom, just opening, on a wild spread of hibiscus; the twinkle in the eye of the sand-seller with his jet black face, and his armsful of colourful sunglasses; the old dog, only it’s tail visible as it lies cooling off beneath a little bridge; the dragonfly and the black butterfly, the old woman clutching her prayerbook, dust on her long skirts and not one tooth in her head.  At each encounter, we stopped to talk about it, and, when I was quietly alone, later on, I revisited them all.

If, by just stopping albeit for a second or two, I grow my own world, not because I passed these things, these people, these moments by, but because I noticed them mindfully, then this must be a healthy option – more healthy than any breakfast cereal, nutritious diet, super-juice or form of excercise can ever be, although they all have their place in our general well-being.  People live and then they die, and sometimes too quickly and as a complete shock.  We know this, and yet we still live fast, rushing past moments to make contact, to make amends, to make friends, to make things well again.  We can be millionaires and poor as church mice at the same time, and we keep doing it.  The monkeys say it’s ok, don’t listen to that stuff.  They say things matter, that we should speculate, accumulate, call in the locksmith and keep it all safe, learn clever tactics for anger management and stress control, plan for the future and so on, and they are right, to a degree.  But we are out of balance if we think they are gods.

What we need to make time for, not merely hope that time will stretch just for us, are those things, people, moments, that grow our worlds beyond the daily admin.  We must become the change we want to see, not waste time wishing on a star as if we lived in some fairytale. We have it all right where we stand.  All we need to do is shut the monkeys up and listen for the sound of one hand.