Island Blog – Forward to go

Today I drove the hill road into the harbour town to meet a friend. I was early and picked the sofa and the comfy armchair beside a warm open fire. The buzz was…..theatrical. I think I say this because the welcoming staff were all dressed in colours, with rings and tattoos and artistically coloured hair. Smiles wide, looking at me. I get it. An old woman in a big frock with bare legs and short boots and a home-fashioned jacket, seeded once in an old cardigan that freaked out when I washed it on ‘Too Warm’. I had thought at first, dog blanket, then I heard the story in it. My feisty impossible mother-in-law had knitted this thing, and for me. That had to have been days of knitting; days of love and commitment. No, I will lift this hunched and crunched woollen thing into my life, breathe my breath into it. Okay, great big respect. Now what? It thought me. I decide to wheech out the material drawer. I find velvet, or something that thinks it’s velvet and it is not for me to disappoint it as I finger the hold of it, the depth and then bring my own knowing into this I am Velvet thing. I am quiet on the subject, lifting out the deep colours, just knowing that this Not Velvet will be a right bugger to shape. It won’t shape. It yawls like sails in a slack-flack wind somewhere off Cherbourg. Hmmm.

I brought down my ridiculously pink tailors dummy on a white stick. I laid the compromised cardigan around her perfect pink shoulders, marvelling, with a snort, at her perfect pink breasts. I tell her this. I am amazed that anything I make for me, knowing my own body and using you as a caption of what I never was can ever fit, not with those pointy things almost taking my eye out each time I move around to pin or tuck, or wheech. But I, we, move on. She stands quiet whilst I pin and sew, pin and sew and then it is done, this bejewelled jacket that can only come out for air on dry winter days. Two, maybe three. Today was one so there won’t be many more.

We ordered soup. It’s always home made and so is the bread, so are the scones and the sweet baking. The fire was tended by a smiling young man. I hailed an artist I know well, one who has got his work into the online Saatchi gallery, and congratulated him as he passed by. There was a writing group just finishing up on a table nearby and I hailed the leader and signed myself up. So cosy in there, so easy, so fine-art. After lunch we visited the new exhibition, all local artists. I was enthralled at the work. I knew most of the artists just from their work. Many had sold and I was not surprised. I talked with my friend, an art therapist working with textiles, and we laughed and shared and quite forgot our old caring roles as we became two women in a space, with nothing but forward to go.

Island Blog – Finish the Line

I remember at art school being taught a valuable lesson. I was the only abstract artist in the class but I still needed to learn it. When painting a landscape, townscape, seascape, the observer knows where the horizon should be, unlike in an abstract piece. The land or sea ends and the sky begins. A cathedral will be taller than Mrs Jenkins semi. A child is smaller than an adult, in the main. We know without the need for over-explaining and if the stop/start thingy is penned in sharp black, it irritates us. It is telling us what we already understand and does not respect our intelligence at all. Let the eye finish the line. That is the lesson. It is no different when writing or speaking. How often do you roll your eyes as someone says to you, having already said the sentence once, As I Already Said…….to then repeat exactly what you took in first off? Glory it drives me wild. I have to stand there and hear it all again feeling like a struggling kid in Primary One. I hear that repetition is important but it still drives me distracted. I take great care not to fall into repeating myself, even as I know I sometimes do and particularly with my own grown children as if they might have nodded off at some point and thus need mummy to resurrect that vital bit of advice. I can feel the silent sigh through the phone line and it blushes me.

Being too wordy comes from passion. Whatever I am feeling passionate about, albeit momentarily, rises in me like a lift of startled chickens, all flap and feathers and squawk. I must get this across to you and the only way I feel I can do this is through over-explanation and repetition. Why? Are you not an adult who has gone through endless situations, scenarios and experiences wherein you gathered a world of information, assessed it, filtered it, checked it through your own lens and then let it settle within? Of course you are. I wonder if this need to over explain is birthed and rooted in our innate need for connection, the need to be seen and to be valued in someone else’s eyes. Short sentences, after all, can sound clipped and nobody wants to be unkind. Certainly I don’t. So, when someone starts to explain on repeat, I may lose interest, but this must not show for I am compassionate and authentic. I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable around me. But what about me in this situation, pinned to the wall? If I stop your babble, will this feel like criticism to you? Will you turn to go berating yourself for being a chatterbox and hating me for flagging it up? I suspect so. I recall Himself saying, just after I burst in with a story to tell, Can You Please Get to the Point? In his lack of interest in detail, I lost my own.

Allowing you to finish the line is all about respect – for you, for your intelligence but also for myself. I don’t need to explain everything. I don’t need to repeat my story. I trust that both of us will see what we see and hear what we hear. The need to explain or justify is really just insecurity. Perhaps, I say to myself as I stand in the blast of explanation, one already aptly explained some moments back, this person knows what it feels like not to be listened to respectfully. Perhaps he or she longs for compassionate, interested audience. Now I am back down on my heels and calm, leaning into it, into you, as the welter of words crowd my ears, even if the rhubarb has boiled dry and the smallest child is feeding muesli to the calf who, on finding the kitchen door open and it being cold outside, has wandered in for a warm up. It takes me no time at all to finish the line. This person is cold at night and needs more blankets. That’s it. However I now know that Grandad is arthritic and Gemma is frightened of the dark so she stayed home with Granny Music and that this person lives in Leamington Spa, well, just outside, but Granny Music lives right in the town where there are street lights right outside her home and Sandra has just passed her A levels, well, most of them, not maths, she’s not good at maths even with a private tutor who has awful breath and lives with 20 cats and it’s a long drive in the dark to get Sandra mathed up and it was a waste of money after all, not Sandra, though, she’s not a waste of money, of course not, she’s 17 now and very pretty and we are getting the early ferry next Saturday I hope that’s ok for you and where can we see otters?

I let the calf back out, muesli powder on her black snout. My visitor walks away armed with blankets and a couple of hot water bottles, feeling heard and respected. I just know it. The rhubarb is beyond hope now but that’s ok. There’s plenty of time to make an alternative crumble. I look at the clock. Fifteen minutes, that’s all this visit took and yet I have seen a whole lifescape in that time, one I will think about all day. I look out at the wide sky and the tall trees and find a warmth inside me. What came to me sharp and infuriating and with dreadful timing for the rhubarb at least, now feels like a soft line, a link between me and my visitor. I could feel her anxiety, touch her loving mother heart, see the care lines around her eyes and feel a deep respect for who she is.

I wonder how Granny Music got her name? I will never know but that’s ok. My own eye can finish the line.

Island Blog – Chaste with Cheese

This morning I heard a different goose sound. It wasn’t the scrabble babble of greylags, all talking over each other and yet still managing to fly in formation, the ones who are here every year to breed. No, this was two geese making what sounded like gentle conversation; one waiting for the other to finish before responding. It leapt me out of bed in what once was a trice and now takes a bit longer so that my limbs can catch up with the trice thing. I saw them. A pair of geese from the Branta genre, black geese, Canada geese as far as I could tell. I have never seen them before here and it thrilled me to my toes. I watched them swim together through my binoculars and verified my sighting. How completely wonderful that they have chosen to come, just when we are all wondering how on this good earth we are going to manage with in-housing, not to mention those of us who might have chosen option B, had we had the choice. I’m sure you have seen that YouTube funny. If not, take a peek. But, option B or option A aside, there is life growing on outside our windows, unaware of our collective need to see life in the face of death.

Meanwhile, her indoors is making cauliflower cheese. I am aware that at some point, cheese, along with other important will run out somewhere. It might be here, so I am chaste with cheese, flavouring the sauce with chopped spring onions, red pepper and coriander before adding about half the cheese I would have lobbed in during times of abundance. I am chaste with loo paper too and that won’t surprise you. Someone, somewhere has bought up the lot and good luck to them and their associated familial bottoms. We have a saying in the north. If you run out of loo paper, just grab a handy scotsman. I thought that was a rather unpleasant idea on first hearing it, even if I did laugh so as not to look stupid, until I realised it meant the newspaper, which, on reflection, sounds equally as unpleasant. Let us hope it won’t come to that. I don’t really fancy finding editorial print on my bahookie.

Along with being chaste around everything, I find I am cleaning more things and more often than I ever have in my life. I don’t think I ever scrubbed the latch on the front gate, nor the door handles and knobs, light switches and taps. I would have given them a cursory wipe whilst cleaning the room, but not like this. I count 67 hand washes a day, and that doesn’t include washing up or squishing soft suds through a woolly. At first it felt very odd and quite tired me out, but now it’s a habit. Washing himself, however, is not quite so straightforward. I tell him, You need to wash your hands. I washed them on Wednesday, he said, his feathers somewhat ruffled.

Being profligate is not something we can be any more and that is no bad thing. I had no idea I was so tally ho with pretty much everything from cheese to loo paper…..until now. Now I could sit with my old ma and agree on half a tomato each without rolling my eyes once. I get it. And, I think, I hope, that it will become the norm not to waste as much as we all did before. It isn’t being parsimonious, more respectful of whatever we handle, cook, use in our daily lives. It might mean we learn how to repair things like paddling pools and socks and broken wings and in this learning we will honour what we need instead of grabbing what we want without a backwards glance. Perhaps we will become kinder to each other, more ready to keep in regular contact, less fond of staying late at work in order to gain an A+, whilst a grudging E- awaits us at home.

And Mother Nature is smiling wide. Because we are not tramping down the grasslands, wild flowers can grow, bees can visit, birds can nest and the whole glorious circle of what life should and could be, is turning us into mindful humans. Let us find the fun in-house, around our children, through contact with friends and family and let our minds be wide open. One day, when we can open our doors without having to scrub someone else off the handles, when we can walk out free once more, let us take what we have learned, and are still to learn, out into a brave new world.

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 from Africa

sausage tree

 

 

They tell me the sausage tree hasn’t flowered for years.  It is now.  Two fat crimson blooms, deep as trumpets, hang down and waggle in the hot wind.  A sugar bird dips its beak into the nectar, then throws back its head to swallow.  Only two blooms as yet, but tomorrow rain is promised.  I sit in the dappled shade of a jacaranda and over there a coral tree waves fire blooms at the sky.  It’s super hot today and the sky is wide and blue with just faint brushstrokes of cloud. I look up and all I see is colour, bright primaries, nothing muted or almost there, but loud in my eyes, almost blinding.

I woke early this morning, around 5 am and opened my curtains slowly.  There she is, Shiloh the Peaceful, a heavily pregnant Nyala, a deer in a land of many different species of deer.  Her body is light tan, softly streaked with white and she has chosen the safety of this small reserve to give birth.  Her herd could be anywhere but she needs solitude for the task ahead.  I could reach out and touch her, she is so close to my window.  She looks at me.  I look back but she isn’t alarmed and soon her head returns to the ground, to pick the watered grass, her nourishment.  Keep safe, I whisper.  She would make a fine breakfast for a hungry leopard and there is a big male that walks this place at night.  Many other deer have made this place their home.  Little hunched Bush Buck, jumpy Impala and, now, Shiloh the Peaceful.

Swifts cut through the blue above my head whilst petrol blue blackbirds scuttle along the ground.  On a walk through the bush yesterday I saw grasshoppers as long as a Scottish housemouse, green at first until they spread their crimson wings.  When the rains come so will the spiders, the scorpions, and the snakes.  When the new arrivals gathered this morning for a power point induction, we learned the guidelines for a safe and happy stay here.  Some have come for a few weeks, some a few months, a few for longer, but the rules around wildlife are always the same.  How to behave in the wild is not a matter of choice, but of survival.  All of us gave our full attention, needless to say.

When encountering anything with venom, claws, teeth or trunks, don’t change shape.  That’s the nutshell of it.  No flapping of arms, no running, just very slowly back away, or, in some cases, stand absolutely still like in musical statues.  One guide, whilst out in the bush came face to face with a cheetah.  Although raw terror shot through him and every natural instinct was to run, he knew better.  Standing completely still and in silence, he waited as the cheetah came towards him brushing the skin of his leg and moving on down the dust track.  Easily advised, this standing still thing, but the truth is that any movement, any attempt to run would have been disastrous.  However, not one single wild animal has the slightest interest in humans, beyond curiosity.  They don’t fancy a human for lunch, nor do they carry ill intent towards us, nor do they think and reason as we do.  They run entirely on instinct and will not harm any of us unless we do something foolish, like flap or run.

We are all wise to remember that this land is their land, not ours.