Island Blog 116 To See Darkly

 

snow-goose_711_600x450

 

 

 

I saw this large white thing on the sealoch, pushing the water into a triangle with the rocky shore as the third median.  I peered for a bit through the paint-spattered windows as the cover of the night slid back to reveal a new morning.  I always do this ‘peering’ thing first, actually not just first, but second and sometimes third, in a vain attempt to kid on that, overnight, my eyeballs have grown young again.  Ah, halcyon days….. when I could see so much more, often too much, and sometimes that which would have been better not  seen at all, and certainly not by me!

Anyway, I waffle away from the large white thing.

Before it disappears completely, travelling at a fast lick through the frothy tide line, I grab the hefty set of Zeiss binoculars, or ‘bins’ as I gather they are fondly known, and nearly fall into my coffee with the weight of the things.  I don’t believe any bird watcher ever held these up to their eyes for long.  I would need to consider the employment of a personal trainer for at least a year just to manage a period of time longer than 35 seconds.  However, being a woman, I can achieve a great deal in 35 seconds, so I stick them onto my face and focus quickly, to the usual no avail, because why?  Because, as well as giving me instant arm ache and the beginnings of a shake in my ulna, well, both ulnas to be honest, the flaming glass bit mists up as my hot eyeball challenges the cold lens.  Vital seconds pass, as does the large white thing, into the trees that overhang the near shore.  Hmmm.

I call it a Snow Goose.  It was too big for an eider duck and too small for a swan or a flamingo.  Snow Goose it is.  There!  I feel dead chuffed and highly priveleged and can live this fantasy for days.  I saw a Snow Goose today!  That’s what I say in the shop to a resounding chorus of envying OOhs and Aahs.

It makes me think.  Of how we can see things that aren’t there, and not see things that are there.  How an un-misted glass lens can show us something we think we can explain, and how a misted one can talk complete pants to our human brains.  When we ‘see’ something through our eyeballs, we bring a process into being.  First, we see, then we fix this vision into a place, and then, without any conscious decision, we pad it out with all manner of daftness, imaginings, past baggage, phobias, indoctrinated beliefs and hopes.  When I see a beggar on any street, I see someone calling for help, and I will always give something. I follow my own heart in this matter.  When another sees the same sad sight, they may feel angry, begin to judge, or see laziness, bad choices, weakness – in other words, they might look down on the beggar as less than human.  It’s called ‘perception’ and it is in every one of us, however much inner work we might embark on to learn humility and compassion.  We can’t help it.  It is part of who we all are.

When I decide, which I sadly do, now and again, that someone else is heading in the wrong direction, I say so.  And then I learn a new fact or two about them, and regret, deeply, my hasty judgement.  I work on, to soften my perceptions, or, rather, to shut them up, but they can rise unbidden, un-called for, and always at times when I am not mindfully in control of that sneaky little set of wires that run from my brain to my mouth.

One area of perception, that never fails to cause a stooshie, is that of Boundaries.  Whether it is between black and white, the Ukraine and England, England and Scotland, or the African States, there is this thing about boundaries that could curdle milk in a nanosecond, one that everyone has an opinion on, based on personal perception.  Oftentimes, I hear folk talking heatedly on a ‘boundary’ subject. It can wire up a whole shopping queue once it gains momentum, but what saddens me is that I so often hear not what any individual really thinks, but what someone else has said on tv or written in a newspaper.  When you actually consider the other human beings involved in these situations, with only theories posturing as reality, how can anyone opinionate?

My world may be laughably fantasmic to some, even to many, but if we all  (and I believe we all do) want a life of peace and neighbourly-ness, then our arms must be open, our hearts too and, one day, our countries.  Voltaire said, ‘It is sad that, if we are to be a patriot, we first have to make an enemy of the rest of mankind.’

I think a different way to you, and you, to me.  I feel differently about the whys and the hows and the whens of things, but this can either be a glorious Snow Goose pushing through the saltwater of a new tide on a new morning – or, it can be ignored as something I couldn’t quite see, through my glass, and darkly.

Island Blog 74 – Spontaneous Adventures

The Boat House

 

I rarely plan adventures.  They just happen to me, swooping round corners and whopping me in the eyeballs.

Here I am !  Look at me!

And there it is, the adventure, full frontal and blocking my path.

I could, of course I could, step around it.  I could cite a whole gamut of plausible and dull reasons why I can’t take this adventure by the hand and let it lead me astray; like it’s nearly lunchtime for instance, or I must catch this ‘dry’ for a load of wet sheets, or it’s only Wednesday and nobody adventures on a Wednesday.

But, I say, and but again, the best times I have had in my bonkers life have been spontaneous adventures, when logic is wheeched over the fence leaving ample room for imagination and emotion to fill the inner void.  Then, and only then, does the adrenaline fizz like bubbles in my veins and my head feel light as goose down. I never get that fizz hanging out the sheets.

 

Yesterday we were planning to turn left.  The day had arrived in its customary shapeless grey but as we walked the little girls through the woods that climbed into the sky, we noticed a patch or two of blue.  Avoiding as best we could, the manic desire to search for more, we found a bridge with fast-running peaty mountain water and looked down to play Pooh Sticks.  We went under the bridge and sloshed over the slippy rocks, and climbed up the banks till our knees were brown as caramel and we were dizzy with giggles.  When we looked up again the day had shucked off the shapeless grey and the sky smiled blue and gold and warm.

 

So, instead of turning left for home, a sensible lunch preparation and an even more sensible change of trews and wellies, wet on the inside, (overly enthusiastic Pooh Stickery), we turned right and headed up and over the hill on the skinny track that first laid itself down, hundreds of years ago, beneath the feet of animals.  We turned up the tunes and sang our way up and down again, stopping only to remove a jumper or to admire the view or to encourage a mother and lamb to step onto the verge.  We passed by the little school shed with its beach hut stripes (The Square Rainbow) and turned down the track to where the little ferry would take us over to lunch. We pulled back the slide to reveal the red square, and the little boat cast off it’s moorings and began to move towards us.

 

Lunch, as I have said before, is a really delicious experience at the Boat House.  The welcome is warm and gentle, the food superbly prepared and presented.  We sat outside, watching the seabirds, and eating fresh prawns and I don’t mean those piddling shrimps most people understand to be prawns.  I mean island prawns, big and meaty and you only need four to be quite filled up.  The bread was straight from the baking oven with a lovely crust, the salad crisp and fresh and the dressing delicious.  But, it is not just the food that makes this place, run by Becky and Emma, so very good.  It’s the light in their eyes, the passion and enthusiasm for their business, their island welcome, their no-fuss-about-anything attitude.  They think outside the box.  They don’t say NO.  In fact, there is not a single NO visible on the island – such a joy to see in a world where NO is the most overly used word in all public places.

 

On the way home over the hill, past the Square Rainbow, we stopped to buy fresh strawberries from a roadside stall with an honesty box.  It was the last bag and as we put our money in the little till, and I saw the amount of cash already there, I thought…. how wonderful it is to adventure, to take risks, whether it be leaving an honesty box by the roadside, or opening a restaurant on a tiny little island or simply by turning right instead of left.

Island Blog 67 – Arriving too early

Island Blog 67

Soon I will be leaving the island for my long journey south to Jenny’s funeral.  I enjoy journeys, especially by train and especially the first part when we travel through the wild bracken and the bonny purple heather.  Bracken is the name for our land’s plague, although it redeems itself considerably once amber-dead, enough, even, to feature in sentimental songs about leaving and losing love.

The second part of the journey will be in the air, zipping through clouds with barely enough time to knock back an orange juice and certainly not enough time to prise open the hygienic packaging and free the currant scone.

Or, indeed, to re-locate myself.

Half an hour ago I was in Scotland, and now I am in England.  Countries shouldn’t be crossed so quickly, as if they were hardly there at all.  There is no time to absorb the change, the process, to consider a new culture, a new way to hold my fork.

This sudden way of travel may be convenient, but I wonder if it’s all it says it is. In any part of our growing and learning, our minds and bodies need time to sort ourselves out, to slowly absorb a new way, to consider what we do or don’t like about it, and to decide how and who we shall be in context.  To travel too fast through a state of change, finds us leaving our self behind.  We may understand at a logical level what it is we undertake, but unless we have allowed time (and that length of time is not something we can set in stone) for our senses, emotions, body and heart to join us, we will ultimately fall in the poo.  No change works if only based on logic.  Not a single one, and not at any age or level of brilliance or intelligence.  It is, quite simply, un-rushable, a journey into change.

So how do we do this change thing, considering the fact that everything is speeding up in every area of life and we are failures if we can’t keep up?  And there are so many of us who can’t keep up and when we find ourselves at the bottom of the pit, with nowhere to go, worn out and broken, we fall ill.  But I don’t think there is a collective solution to this, I think it will take each one of us, on our own, to decide to look away from the world and its empty promises of success and beauty, and look for something higher.  We know it’s there when things happen we can’t explain, like a coincidence.  We might need to employ our imaginations a bit more, develop eyes that really see the natural extraordinariness of our world and a thankful heart, all day long, for what we do have, instead of wanting what we don’t.

My little grand-daughter has just returned from a family camping holiday.  Each day they visited somewhere new with a picnic and the sunshine overhead.  One day they went to a safari park, another to the river, another through the hills to a lochan for a swim and so on.

I asked her what animals she had seen, and which was her favourite, expecting her eyes to light up and her mouth to fill with names like Elephant!   Lion!  Giraffe!

Tadpoles, she said and the whole room lit up with her smile.

Island Blog 61 – Reading and Believing

Island Blog 61

As of this blog I have now surpassed myself.  In age I mean.  I have yet to experience the dizzy delights of turning 61 and yet, quite without the right boots, here I am.  Post Woman’s Hour.

My mum used to listen to Woman’s Hour a hundred years ago whilst I enjoyed Listen With Mother, sitting as comfortably as I ever could manage.  I loved the stories of Creatures and Fairies and Kings, and Animals with huge brains, and a great sense of right and wrong.  Noddy and Big Ears, The Famous Five, Rupert the Bear, although, to be honest, Rupert was more a boy’s bear.  Winnie the Pooh, on the other hand was anybody’s bear.  Something to do with his lack of public schooling I think.  He just bumbled about in Hundred Acre Wood and got stuck in doorways and had bonkers ideas that always made me smile.

Now it is not only I who listen to Woman’s Hour, but I was actually one of Jane Garvey’s guests last Monday May 27th, talking about my own book, Island Wife, published by Two Roads.

Who would have thought life could become as it has?  From that little uncomfortable girl to a 60 year old with a book hitting the shops, a blog, some new songs in the making and book signings ahead next week in Edinburgh.  A full day, in fact, beginning at the Edinburgh Book Shop at 9.30 and spinning through many more by bedtime.  The next day, I have to be at the BBC Studios (again!) for an interview with Sally Magnusson for her programme ‘Sunday Morning’.

Next Sunday 07:05 BBC Radio Scotland (add it to your diary now so you don’t miss out)

All I did was write down my life.  The feedback, the comments tell me it is unusual to write with such honesty, but I have nothing to hide as you will see when you buy your own copy.  As stories I read during my own years on earth have helped and guided me, so I hope mine will help you in some way.  Someone once said, wisely, ‘we read to know we are not alone’ and that person was spot on.  It could be Avatar or Winnie the Pooh.  It could be a quest to Everest or a lone woman canoeing the Amazon.  It could even be a text book although all those proven facts worry me somewhat in a world where nothing is as it seems.  I can lose myself in someone else’s life, picnic, journey, song and there will be something inside it that touches me, lifts me, teaches me something I may have known but didn’t know at all.

I don’t know what I thought my life would become, although I always knew the Hundred Acre Wood was an important part.  When a writer lays down a story for children, he or she is not a child, but is looking back through their own lives to take hold of truths they still hold dear.  The sparkle and twist of a sugar spun tale comes from experience and it is a gift we have who can bring it into today’s light and make it sparkle anew.  We seek the values that take us out of our ordinary lives and into one that makes us dance.  We read on because we want to know what happens in the end.

And when it does end, what then?  Do we lift our sights higher, consider how we might change the parts of our textbook lives that bore the shenanigans out of us?  Or do we put the book aside and do nothing?

It takes courage to step out.  But therein lies the key.  We don’t have to know how to do anything.  We just have know why we want to do it.

That’s when Lady Providence steps out of the shadows to walk beside us.  Inside every one of us lies genius.

We just need to believe it.

Island Blog 42 – A Tale to Tell

Island Blog 42 - pic

 

By now, my book is out there in the world and you may even be reading it.  You may be loving it, you may not, and over this bit, I have absolutely no control.  It is how it is.  My responsibility ended as I caught the words from the air around me and laid them down upon a blank sheet of A4.  The thoughts and feelings that will arise in you as a result of reading those words, in the order I chose, will relate to your life, not mine, and, in that moment of connection, become something new.

Over the years I have found such connections myself as I devoured the stories of many folk in many places and times.  Sometimes I have been tearful for the writer, the hero, or for myself as I become lost in a life that connects deeply with my own.  Sometimes thrilling with delight at the way a story bubbles and chatters over the stones like a clear fall of mountain water after new rain.  In a well written tale, I can hear the voices and see the landscape.  I can smell the wind and taste the grit of it in my mouth;  I can feel the warm skin of a dancing child and shiver at the ice cold of a closed mind or a bitter Arctic night.  I can twist and turn in the sweaty damp of an unfriendly sleeping bag and I can pull quickly back into the shadows to hide as a cruel drama unfolds before me.  I can waken in the night to remember, and then wish I could forget.  In short, I become part of the story, and yet play no part at all.  I may follow this person, or that.  I may long to go back, to see what happened to the child, or the old woman, even knowing that I may not;  not until the writer catches the words and lays them down for me on the page.  Sometimes I even forget to breathe, so lost am I in the story.

And every one is real.

Although it may be a work of fiction, you can bet that the writer is in there somewhere, for, if not, the tale would be as dull as a Monday shopping list.

But it is not just in books that I can connect with another life.  I can find stories in faces along the island roads and they can touch me just as deeply.  Of course, we don’t often get to this level on a daily basis – merely exchanging husband news or word of new additions to the family, new accomplishments, new sofas, new guests and so on, but the eyes are the windows to the soul and no mistake.  Some bright chirpy person can tell me one thing with their mouth and quite another through their eyes.  I do it myself, did it for years.

You are always so bright!  They told me, and because it was the done thing, I kept doing it.

Just like you do, or most of you.  There are some that might consider leaving their list of ailments and complaints at home, for we all have them to some degree or other and I have found from experience that those with most to complain about, usually don’t.  And when I meet those people, who have made a decision not to bore the bejabers out of the rest of us, telling us things we can do nothing whatsoever about and causing rain to fall on that precious moment of shared sunshine, I find my supplies of compassion and respect, verging on reverence, threaten to overwhelm me altogether.  My whole day changes as I guess my way into their life and out again feeling humbled.  Suddenly my load lightens, supposing I thought I had one in the first place.

There is always an argument between reality and fairyland.  I have always preferred fairyland, finding reality way too matter-of-fact for me, and, as we know, these Matters of Fact change daily according to the latest discovery/statistic/breaking news. Shifting sands I reckon, whereas fairyland is always fairyland and you can depend on it remaining so forever, for in that world (the real world in my opinion) we are allowed to be individual in our response to that which we observe.  All views are acceptable.  Nobody is right and nobody is wrong, for we all see things in different ways according to our creed, birthright,childhood and experiences. And we should stand tall and proud inside our own story, and sing it out, for it is the only one we can really tell.

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 29 – Elephants and Crossroads

 

Turning Point

Just before I meet a cross in the roads, I get what feels like indigestion.  A friend of mine once called this state ‘The Churny Pits’, and it’s a pretty good description of the upsy-downsy state of my inner woman.  Things I did up to this point seemed ok, if a little samey and ordinary, and I got on with them, in the main, with a positive attitude and a spring in my step, I waved my usual wave, bought my usual coffee at my usual place, arrived at my usual time, said the usual things, got on with my usual routine. But something is different.  Each of these usual things feel empty – empty of life, as if I am acting out a role, one I have played for years and know off by heart.

For a while I ignore the unrest, gathering in the ‘usual’ closer to my chest, to keep it with me, for without it I might be nobody and, having been a nobody once before, I don’t plan on being one again. But it doesn’t work and soon those things that gave me my place in my own world, abandon me completely.

And then I stand at a crossroads I never asked for, never even considered was there in the first place. I can’t avoid it, not this time.  It’s like finding a herd of elephants in the Fairy Woods, which, to be honest, has never even thrown up a fairy.

I know what all this means by now, although it has been no less uncomfortable in the gestation period, much like the onset of flu.  This herd of elephants is here to tell me it is time to change direction, that Life has something in store for me, something up her sleeve and I can’t see it until I let go of the old and turn towards the new. It could be old thinking, old habits, old responses or it could be something bigger.  The good news is that I won’t be asked for more than I can give, although my idea of what I am capable of is not necessarily all I am capable off, as has been clearly demonstrated to me more than once.

Sounds like a stretching opportunity cometh my way.

Again.

Well, I whine, from where I sit on the old couch in my old slippers with my usual cup of tea at the usual time……I would turn toward the new if someone would just show me where it is.  I could waste weeks pounding up the wrong path, whether my boots were right for the task or not.  Someone needs to tell me.  I need hard facts, a good argument for this whole airy-fairy change thing.  After all, how will the household bills be met, and what will the coffee vendor think and what will my children/husband/mother say?

Besides, I know nothing about this daft dream that’s been floating in my head for weeks now, months perhaps. What if it’s just a mini crisis, a temporary loss of balance, or even just indigestion?

Well, says Life to me, there is only one way to find out.