Island Blog – Salt, Ladder Resistance, a Giggle

When I went to boarding school aged 13 I believed I was going into a story. Well, I did, but not the one I imagined. I reckoned on adventures, midnight feasts and a lot of giggling. I know, now, that my ideas of how life should be lived does not always agree with the plans Life has for me. When I am expecting fish and chips, she serves up gruel and the key to the gruel thingy is to see beyond it. In my imagination I can see whatever I choose to see and even gruel can taste okay with a pinch of salt and a giggle. It’s saying Hey ho to whatever I face, refusing to allow this bowl of tasteless slop to damage my dreams. Needless to say we girls were carefully monitored at the table. Not a drop was to be wasted and it is not possible, as it might be with sprouts, to hide any of it in your knicker pocket. Yes, I know. Who on earth decided the need for knicker pockets? Well, someone did and they were regulation in my forward thinking school.

It thinks me as I listen to the terrible news from Ukraine. All those frightened and damaged people hiding underground. No chance of escape. From my place of extreme privilege I cannot imagine how they feel. I cannot imagine living through a war, the sheer terror inside each and every minute of what might become months or longer. Whatever gruel I may face, it is as nothing to their plight. I can decide my attitude to anything and everything. I am free to roam in safety. I can actually open my fridge door and choose my next meal from many possible options. I can talk to whomsoever I want without fearing for my very life. My one life, my now life. It humbles me and challenges my potential for too much inner study. Look out, I tell myself; look up. Don’t be ladder resistant like my regulations stockings (no pockets thankfully), those hideous orangey beige things that were supposed to remain intact for a whole term but never did. Oh, they didn’t ladder, no. Instead, when climbing fences (forbidden) or when pushing into a dense thicket of brambles in order to reach the fattest blackberries (also forbidden), I would emerge with polka dot legs. These ‘new age’ stockings about which everyone was thoroughly over excited would ‘hole’ not ‘ladder’. It was impossible to hide the truth, not with those white skin holes all the way up to the regulation suspenders, and I was oftentimes in the headmistress’s office being warned once again about how ‘nice gels’ should behave.

What I did then and what I sometimes forget to do now is to choose how I feel about things in my life, to focus on the blackberries, the thrill of climbing a fence, or diverting matron’s attention just long enough to salt the gruel. In other words taking the opportunity for fun, for naughtiness, for adventure. It matters not what comes at us. What matters is how we deal with it – because we who are free and safe have that responsibility, no question; to look up and out as we are able to do for we are not hiding underground in fear. To see the fingernail moon hanging over the sea-loch. To welcome others with a twinkly winkly smile. To hear the birdsong and to be thankful for every moment. I have homework to do.

It took me flipping ages to sew up the holes. In the end one leg was longer than the other and. even with my suspenders pulled down as far as they could go, I had to walk like a duck. Any thought of fence climbing was quashed at the outset and I raised many titters from other girls as I walked from Latin to History. The discomfort was inevitable. However, as I have already said, my imagination can take me anywhere and when I sat to study the dark lines peppering my legs I relocated my giggle. When the ghastly orangey beige things finally exploded open, way beyond repair, I pulled the stocking over my head and gave matron a terrible fright when she came into the dorm for lights out. Although more punishment was inevitable, I had no regrets. I chose to look up and out. I chose not to be ladder resistant and up there at the top the sky is wide open, the salt in my gruel.

Island Blog – Light Remembered

There are two kinds of light, said James Thurber. The glow that illumines and the glare that obscures.

It thinks me. I believe there are as many kinds of light as anyone wants to acknowledge. For instance, through the hail and sleet and snow as it traverses the sky, tipping the hills and turning the mountain tops into sugar buns, there is the white light of ice, the distance dark sheets of hail looking like treacle poured from the heavens. There is the flash of sunlight on a hill road as a steadfast patch of ice refuses to melt, a glimpse of car headlights as some brave driver rises over a summit, temporarily highlighting a fall of snow, to fold over on a slippery descent. The sealoch lifts into light only to drop back into darkness as the clouds conjoin, part and join again at the punch of a volatile wind. Sunlight turns the bare maple into a Christmas tree, each stem bedecked with tiny drops of water, rainbow tears. Spider webs look like intricate works of art, the cold spider a dark huddle of hope. I haven’t seen a single fly yet, and nor, I guess, has she. The garden is late despite the daffodils doing their best to pretend Spring is on her way, their stalks disappearing into the white slush.

Then there is the light in someone’s eyes, You see it and it tells you something. That’s what eyes do, often belying the words let loose from the same page. Recognition, rejection, admiration, hope, belief, affection, remorse, desire, delight. All clear in someone’s eyes and infectious too, catching, almost physical. If someone is sad, I see it first. Their eyes tell me. If they are exuberant and excited about life I see that too and both will change me. We respond to light, if we take the time to notice it, to watch it. Wherever that light comes from it is wired into our very souls to answer back. Sometimes our own dark can blow out the sun, like a match, but it is dangerous to keep blowing and foolish too. Our beautiful earth is awash with light. The light of recognition, the light of hope, the endless variables of light in nature. The eyes of a startled deer hidden in the scrub as we walk quietly by; the yearning look of a child who really wants us to pick them up; reflections of bare branches moving over the surface of an ordinary puddle, a magical sky painting; the light of an epiphany, a new understanding, gifted, often, by someone else who can see light where I saw only darkness, the way that new understanding, that re-jigging of what I thought was fixed in place for always, sends light through my whole being and suddenly, I see.

As the snow and hail moves on out to sea, I watch it. It changes as it meets the salt-laden air, changes colour, changes shape, softens and demurs. Ha! I tell it. The sea will always win. Didn’t you know that? A walker goes by with a little dog. The dog looks at me through the window. For a moment, just a moment, our eyes lock. I don’t know this dog and this dog doesn’t know me but we share a glimpse of light.

That’s what we can do for each other. Shine out light, receive it gratefully, store it deep within so that we can gift it on, pay it forward. Someone is walking in the dark. Light them up and when it is your turn to feel like a huddled cold creature, accept light from someone else. It’s how the world keeps turning. We all have dark times but the light will always shine, from somewhere, through someone. And all we have to do is remember that.

Island Blog 93 – Tapselteerie Dreams






Last night was an awfully big adventure.  Sometimes nights are like that. Short on sleep and long on dreams; dreams that skitter away in the process of waking, so quick as to leave me with the odd snapshot, and a depth of emotion I can’t necessarily fix into a shape.

Whenever I dream there are a couple of venues that consistently provide the backdrop for the drama.  One, oddly, is a little corner flat in Glasgow, where I only lived for a short while after Tapselteerie and before moving back to the island.  Those dreams are often good ones and I walk through the park or sip coffee in a busy café and there are no obvious lurkings of menace in any shadows.

The other and main venue is Tapselteerie, I know it is, although the stones and layout of it are often wildly wrong.  For example, we had a roof over our heads there and walls and floors, the usual household structure, but in dreams, they are often shaky if not completely absent.  When I am inside one of these dreams I am always looking for my children, which, for those of you who have read Island Wife, will not be a surprise at all.  The stones are grey and cold, the plaster walls missing, and there is often sky overhead instead of a white ceiling.

In these dreams I always have to fly to save them, my children.  I always know that I can fly, but each time I must find the courage to do it again.  I have sat myself down to think deeper on that search for courage, once the morning comes and strong black coffee brings me in to land.  Is it courage to take on the ‘saving’, I ask myself, or is the courage to fly again?  And, if I know, as I do, that I can fly, why would I need courage?  After all, I don’t need to think twice about walking, running, skipping, now do I?

And I find no answer to that.

One dream took me into the empty ruins of the place, cold it was and abandoned, the grey stone bared, the layout changed beyond my recognition, and yet I knew where I was.  I was alone.  The crunch of fallen debris under my bare feet echoed around me and I could feel my heart beating fast, hear my quick breathing.  Looking up, I could see my children way up high, higher than Tapselteerie high, flattened against the walls, no ground for their feet.  Each one was hooked to the wall by their clothing, and they just hung there, making no sound.  Much younger and smaller than they are now, they looked like friends of the Artful Dodger, all raggedy and torn and grubby.  There were no stairs, no structure, however skeletal, there to allow me to climb.  There was only one way up.

I had to fly.

The resistance to just taking off, knowing I could, surprises me every time.  It seems, in my remembering, to take a lot of wasted time, dithering about in the ruins of a broken house, when I could be up there gathering children off hooks.  But I always do it.

Then, suddenly, I take a deep breath and lift and the feeling it wonderful, the process effortless.

Once, I met Shrattle (Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake), or his lookalike half way up, but he was balanced on a spindly ledge and quite without wings, so no threat to any of us.  I lifted each child, light as a feather, off their pegs and into the sky, waking with that glorious light-hearted feeling that always follows flight.

Last night is already leaving me, the memories of the dream, but I do remember one thing.  This time it was in colour.  Never before has Tapselteerie shown herself in colour, and yet she had bucket loads of it.  She gave me walls and ceilings and laughter and spiders and bats in the cellar.  If I came down all those stairs, during a sleepless night to make tea, I had to remember to make light, because in the dark I would have ploughed into the huge migration of slugs from somewhere (I never knew where) to the wine cellar.  Sometimes a dozen deep and many feet long, the army flowed in silence to wherever they were going.  It was a marvel to behold and much less of one to land in the middle of it in bare feet.  People said salt will kill them.  We said, why would we kill them?  We lived with a good number of wild creatures and managed to do so, in the main, without disasters, although the floor in the back hall always needed a wash of a morning.

Dreams I know have symbolism.  Mine are often a chorus of many influences.  My past, my fears, the book I’m reading, the present circumstances, the last thing I watched on television. Add to that something on my mind, a new truth learned and understood, a forthcoming event and so on.  But whatever the graphics, however bizarre and unbelievable the storyline, the emotions of it linger longest, so, to a small degree I can understand what my imagination played out for me and why.

Tapselteerie looked just fine in colour.  It may be 20 plus years since I moved inside her walls, heard her song and moved to her rhythm, but she is alive and well and with her own place in my heart.