Island Blog – A Tawdry Spin and Miss Rose

When standing before my minute but ferocious execution teacher, Miss Rose, I might have matched her height even though I was twelve and she many twelves and counting, I was diminished by her power and knowledge. She was so confident, standing there just above the floor with her fingers pointing, her arms working, no fear of taking up space. I wondered, even then, if she had wanted to be on stage. She would have been someone noticed and that’s for sure, but back then beauty and elegance was all the fickle world of theatre wanted unless you wanted to play Bottom. Nowadays, there is more room for character actresses. I say Actresses because Actors could get away with no end of compromises to their body and still be taken for a chance. Let’s see how you act. Not so women. I am happy it has changed. Back to the point.

El-oo-si-date! She annunciated at me from behind the desk that dwarfed her, her whole body shouting at me. Not a shortened ‘oo’ but a loooong one. I did that, forming my lips into a ridiculous fish pout. Better, she said. Go again. I also remember the word snow. You must round on the O, she said, like this. And did the O thing with her own shaky old lips. I heard her, wanted to please her, wanted to be the best. I noticed I was standing on tippytoe as if my height could alter anything. Relax your heels, she said, without looking. She just felt what I was doing and could hear it in my voice. Even then I was marvelled. How did she know? Well, she was passionate about her work, that diminutive woman in a sensible frock that never showed her knees because knees meant something dodgy, like an invitation and she was of a generation that thought that way, or, at least, her parents did. Did she have parents? I could barely imagine them. Was her first name Rose, or her surname? I never knew, never asked. I just brought my heels down and practised enunciation for hours.

I did win the elocution cup. I recall the thrill of it, that being called up to the stage, a grass stage that Shakespeare would have known well, the parental audience flanked in rows that spread all the way back to the headmistress’s office with its big light-wild windows. She, the headmistress was also both diminutive and powerful and all her dresses forbad knee escape. Did they have knees these women, these women with all the heart longings and losses and confinements we know today but now have the ok to talk about, as they did not? I may forever wonder that and in that wondering send back a great big hug. But with that freedom we now have, that chance to speak out and to be taken seriously, there is still the old cover-your-knees thing in our thinking. Who among you has not wanted to step out in something a bit different to the ‘brown’ functional clothes you once wore? Who has not wanted to show her knees and more? I understand why so many young women go crazy with their clothes for a night out, I really do. There is something blood red and fire inside each one of us that is so easily extinguished for ever.

Oh, the point……trust me to forget that. Rein in you blood red and fire woman with knee issues.

I walked the doglet to the old pier, the skeleton and I know that the old sea dog is now just that. I wonder how it is inside that coffin. Of course I do. So much not to bother about in that safe case. Just let go. The old pier, my husband, is diminishing now. He would have hated that, but he is not here to do the hating thing. He had a big problem about letting go. I pick up a feather, divided into white and black, and wonder which bit of Goose this came from. Not a wing feather, not a kill, just a shed. Ok. We walk on, the doglet watching my every move, ahead of me, looking back, behind me, following up, always there, always right there. We pass Scabious flowers and watch honey bees (who’s?) and two peacock butterflies, blue, eyed-up, blood red, letting me watch the beauty of them as they go about their work. The tide is outing, the oystermen at work across the inlet. We sit awhile and the doglet keeps vigil. Actually, I ignore her keeping vigil thing because it is relentless. Every single sound alerts her to ‘vigilling’. I begin to swing back to my watching, curlew, gulls of many a hue, oystercatchers, a seal, the flip of an otter, the indecision of the tide. Still she alerts. Turning, eventually, (a tawdry spin) I see a young woman coming across the seagrass. She hesitates and I welcome her. We talk. She is French and on holiday. She wants to explore. Can I guide her someway? I do, with my heart right in it. She smiles, thanks me for my ‘direction’. She understands me, she says, because my English is proper.

God bless Miss Rose.

Island Blog – Curiosity and Attitude

I love mornings. Always have and I don’t mind early. According to my ma I could lounge about in bed till lunchtime as a grumpy teenager but all that changed once I floated up the aisle in my Edwardian frock and made my vows, sans obedience, for the record. I cannot imagine the damage that vow has done to so many women of generations past. Well, actually, I can. It was hard enough sticking with ‘in sickness and in health’ or ’till death do us part’, which it eventually did of course. I never thought I would manage that bit having been infuriated for decades. I had wings but they were clipped, or maybe I clipped them myself. Who cares. What I feel good about now is that, in spite of me wishing I had been born a greylag goose with all the challenges and thrills and freedom of migration being quite acceptable in all their circles, I accomplished the whole shebang. Let us not dig too deep into the way I accomplished this massive accomplishment. A lot of the time I slammed doors, ran away, hid my secrets and spat into his coffee. That’s enough for now on the subject.

Mornings. Curiosity. Opening like a flower to each day. Sometimes I am like a daffodil that needs de-heading, sometimes a vibrant rose, smelling divine and perfectly formed. I never know what way the which of it will be. I just spring out of bed, ping into the bathroom and out again, pull on a frock or jeans and scoot downstairs towards the coffee pot. Since himself flew to the higher realms I haven’t always been the rose. Sometimes I sprang, pinged and scooted just to outrun the mare of the previous night, but didn’t always manage it. She has four legs after all and I only two. But, in the main, it was my decision not to repeat the mare even to myself. Always the same theme, wanting to run but stuck in glue, wanting to scream with a mouth full of silence, the usual. At least I don’t meet an overrun of rats as my old ma did. I told her she deserved it. All those years of criticism and judgement. And we laughed about it because she thought I was making a joke, which I wasn’t.

Each day comes anew, obviously, and with potential. A deal of the unfolding of that potential lies inside me, in my attitude, my list of ‘ways to live again’. There are many. But the most important start point, the blocks from which to leap, ping and scoot through whatever the day brings, is my attitude, followed closely by my action. I like A words. They are beginnings and that’s a favourite B word. A and B. Much better than beginning sloppily midway through the alphabet. I mean, do I go back or forward now? I never do that. I start at the beginning with a big fat A. Or two.

I notice, have oft noticed, that without himself to ‘correct’ my diction, choice of clothing and sound levels, I am surrounded, enclosed and flailing at times within a new freedom. Freedom, another favourite word, and, as a word, it is the call of the wild, a heart thriller, new lands, new skies, new choices, independence and excessive sound levels, but to actually live in freedom is quite a different flower, sometimes a daffodil needing decapitation, sometimes a rose. I swing from one to the other, sometimes hour by hour. I don’t know what to do with all this freedom. Could someone hem me in please? I know how that feels, how to live as a reactionary, how to slam doors, swear like a fishwife and throw spectacular tantrums. All that pent up energy has nowhere to go now. It can feel like a phantom pregnancy. No chance of birthing. How bizarre.

I am learning to step out of myself, just a few steps back, and to observe. I am rather interesting, I decide. A query in a frock, someone worth further investigation, more study. I am curious about who I am just now. The overstory is still me, looks like me, sounds like me, laughs and jokes and cries like me but beneath what you see, what I see in the mirror, lies complexity personified. Both dead daffodil and vibrant rose. Very confusilating. But I know enough to know that it has only been a few months after almost 50 years of having my diction corrected and my sound levels on mute, so patience is required. That’s a P word, yes, but I know that attitude and action are my ways to be patient, so I’m allowed a P dash. If I am thankful for all of my life, all of it, the memories, the darkling times, the fear, love, misery and joy of it and I let it all settle within, patiently, then this gratitude will grow a new flower in me. As will action. Not the sort of frenetic action that hides me from the grieving process but the little insignificant-in-themselves actions I take daily; a little sewing, a bit of reading, a lot of bird watching and a moderate amount of walking in the wild, all actions that lift my eyes off myself and into the real ‘out there’. These actions create my attitude and as the circle circles, my attitude creates more action, more interest in ways to live again, to flower anew and to keep moving on through the alphabet, letter by letter.

Island Blog – Keep the Girl – Write the Woman

I watch the little bus round the sea-loch from the warmth of my conservatory. This bus looks warm, cosy even, all lit up like a party, although I know that inside there will be a smattering of grumpy teenagers heading for school. The headlights sparkle the frost, caught in the beam, striations of fairy dust. Then it is gone and the meadow settles back down again. The top of my car is white. White on black. Startling. Sweet peas, still standing, show me soft pinks and purples; a rose lifts crimson against the sunrise as the songbirds line my fence awaiting breakfast.

I remember waiting for the school bus. Grumpy, teenage, cold, isolated even inside a group. The world was a stinkhole. I wanted to join a circus, flee the country, anything to get me out of those awful school shoes that were made of steel and offered me no warmth at all; that uniform; that ridiculous beret that perched like a mushroom on my head. I blush now even to think we were made to stand out in such a way, like jokes. Does nobody think it through, this uniform business? Scratchy all the way down to the knickers, rigid enough to negate the chance of running anywhere, never mind to the circus, and all of us looking the same. Except we didn’t, of course. Some of us looked positively svelte inside those confines. Some of us had mothers who bent the rules a bit, thinking of the child first and the design of shoes, second. I had a friend whose mother bought her soft leather with pointed toes and a subtle design on the tongue. My tongue was also made of steel and stood up like a cows ear no matter how tightly laced into submission. My toes froze. Frost was my anathema.

In those days, when mothers and teachers, doctors and policemen told me how to live my life, giving no quarter whatsoever to my opinion, likes, dislikes or dreams, I gave in, as many others did. The svelte ones with avon guard mamas and papas were just lucky, that’s all. They were probably rich, owned lots of land, and sat on the board of directors. They had big homes and holidays on the Costa Del Sol twice a year, at least. Their daughters weren’t lumpish, or limping from chilblains, and they actually looked good in berets. They both fascinated and repelled me. I wasn’t allowed to write my own life, not even a line or two. I decided to go under cover.

Writing my own life was not the breeze I thought it would be. There was something deeply scary about stepping out of those steel shoes. The world is a very big place, buzzing with opinions and temptations and I felt I was walking into danger most of the time. When someone asked me what I wanted, my brain emptied of all thought. Nobody had asked me that before and now here I was, in a mini skirt, a tight-fitting top, lipstick and kohl, swinging on a bar stool and completely confounded. I won’t pretend I got it right first time. Babycham is disgusting after all. So were most of the men who slithered up to me looking like wannabe Bee Gees, all smiles and roving eyes. I was way out of my depth and I knew it. As I walked myself home, feeling colder than I ever did in my steel shoes, I decided there were as many ways to live a life as there were people and that I could choose for myself. I wrote down my plans.

Find a man older than those idiots. Get Married. Have lots of healthy children. Live in a wild place right beside the ocean. Cook warming stews and bake bread. Fill the home with laughter and song and people. Write a book. Keep the wild girl but write the woman.

And that is exactly what I did.

Island Blog – Waiting, Silence and Engagement

This day I walk into absolute silence. Nothing moves, not a whisper, not a leaf, not a nothing. Under the tree canopy, beech, birch, sycamore, hip-hop, ash and alder, all branches, all leaves are completely still. T’is a rarity on this wind blown island and one to be noticed; one to become engaged in, to stand still beneath the huge silence and to become a part of it.

It is tempting to march on, my thoughts pushing at me like a man might ‘encourage’ me to get a move on. The Hurry Up of life is a part of our being. In order to get this done, I must move quickquick because the next thing is out there tapping its fingers on the table and rolling its eyes, impatiently. Do I always need to buy into this? Well, no, I don’t. Not now, anyway.

Standing under this still canopy, I reflect on those days, when the list was so tightly packed as to be almost impossible to achieve. Is there time between the napkin ironing and the school run, the first school run, for me to walk? Maybe, but only if you go like a dingbat, whatever that is, and avoid any such nonsense as looking out, up or around; no following a woodpecker’s looping flight, no sniffing of a wild rose in the cupped hand of that wee burn because that might take a few minutes being as you will have to lift your skirts, flip a fence and clamber.

These slow days, these days of so-called retirement, lend me time. Time that begs a payback and that payback is engagement. So, I engage. I turn to watch the sea-loch. It is flat as a mirror, burst open only by an otter, hunting. The waters close over almost immediately, as the air does once I push through it, ready, cleansed, new, for the next thing that might interrupt the still. The track is empty, as it mostly is. The stones lay flat or sometimes upskittled by a passing estate vehicle. I notice change. A branch fallen, a new growth spurt on a blackthorn, a higher rise of glorious grasses, a touch of sunlight illuminating a dead branch on an ancient tree.

In these extraordinary times, there is stillness. In fact, there is complete stopness. Where there was a flow of communication, a moving towards each other, we now step back. This day, as giving people delivered food, fish, vegetables and mail to our lockdowndoor they all pulled back as I came forward to receive. That space in between us has become, could become a long term space of fear. It must not be allowed to do that. In many ways it is so simple to go with the rules right now, but when they are lifted, will we lift, also? It thinks me, a lot. Living with Captain Vulnerable, I have many thinks about it, to be honest, and find it quite hard to see my feet on any of the future ground.

No matter. I will wait, as I did beneath the still trees, until something new illuminates my thinking. After all, I have lived through many battles, climbed many mountains, felt the fear and still marched on. And, in the meantime, I will celebrate the care and the giving and the inventiveness of those who have made these extraordinary times their chance to engage in ways they might never have known, had life stayed ordinary.