Island Blog – You First My Friend

Lockdown, schmockdown. Time gentlemen, please! It is almost a year since this whole stay home thing began and it feels like it may never end, even as I know it will. Of course winter hasn’t helped in our slow trudge back to what we took for granted so easily before. This time has made us think, stretched our inner resources and taught us new skills. Some of us have become bakers, some painters, some just good with the management of Time which, to be honest, has turned into something we all notice and some of us, minute by minute. To say ‘I am Too Busy’ are words for caseworkers and frontliners but not for most of us. Most of us can spend ages staring out at the rainy dark wondering what on earth we can do to turn this day into something other than a trudge.

I know we must wait. I know not one of us wants yet another lockdown as the restrictions lessen their grip on our days. I know this, but knowing something and living it are two very different things. So how do we continue when we feel fed up with the prison we are all in? One day at a time, that’s how. There is no other way to face this. Many of us, if not most, have hit rock bottom a few times over the past year and for good reason. Not being able to hold and hug, meet and talk, visit and touch are all alien concepts for a human race. No travel, no lift share, no hand holding, no gathering of friends around a table. And, for some, the death of a loved one. It abnormals us, all of us. And yet we must abide and we all know it. However, the damage done by such restraints will show once we re-emerge into the light of ordinary life, it has to for we are not all strong like bull. Some of us, isolated with our fears and doubts, our imaginings and anxieties, will need a hand to walk again. Some of us will have lost confidence around more than two people, two we know well. Strangers may appear even stranger. We may be asking ourselves, Where have they been, what have they touched, who have they met with? The natural reach out for a handshake may be compromised, a hesitation freezing our limbs and stumbling our words. We are going to need help.

Let us who are strong like bull consider all of this. In any mix of people there will be ‘outsiders’, folk who hesitate, who are shy, afraid, unsure and compromised by this long incarceration. Emotionally we may be damaged and damage takes time to heal and then only with help. Let us remind ourselves that odd behaviour may well emerge alongside the damaged ones and let us keep our hearts open. Let us wear our coat of empathy in our rush to the shops or the cinema, theatre, concert. To consider all other human beings is to be truly human. We are, after all, a team. Together is the word for the future, not alone, not any more. It didn’t work after all, now did it, this alone thing? I beat you to the front of the queue might have felt good at first, been reflected in a higher salary or the best parking space, but the elevation of such ‘success’ will never sustain its position, not for long, and it brings no lasting peace, not to the winner, not to the ones left behind. How much more benefit might be felt if I was to turn in grace to another and to say ‘You first my friend.’?

You first my friend.

Island Blog – Memory Thinks and Flying Colours

As I light the candles in my lovely sitting room, I remember how oft I have done this over the years, and not just here but everywhere I have settled. My home is a sharing place. I remember the faces of all the young people who have barrelled in after a pub visit or for a party here and there was always a party here. We were known for it. Always a welcome. A candle or 20 at the window beckoning. Come in, come in and rest by the fire; eat, share, drink, laugh, settle that tired body right here. Music played then and music still does.

However there is no sharing now, no candlelit welcome, no visits at all. How extremely bizarre is this time in our life. I sit alone beside the merry woodburner and I reflect. I remember. I can hear the music and the voices, the laughter and the fun and, more important of all, I can say thank you that I have known these times; times when I could hardly cross the floor without tripping over somebody; times when young people chose this home to visit, knowing, as they always did, that there would be a warm welcome, refreshment, friendship and the chance to dry off. I know that everyone left feeling better. I know that we gave that, me and Himself and I feel a rush of happiness flooding through me. We didn’t live with a stricture, nor a fixed structure; rules were rules of course and there certainly were times when I waved my stick at bad language, or poor behaviour, but apart from that, freedom reigned within these walls and the ones before and the ones before that. I like that. It is not how I lived as a child. There were so many rules it was hard to move at all. A bit like those laser security beams, criss-crossing every room. Only a spider would get from one wall to the other in safety. Perhaps that is why we did it differently.

Now all these young people, the marine biologists, the geologists, the cetacean experts, the ecologists and many other ‘ists’ have grown into their own worlds, have their own families, their own four walls. They will not come again. But they did once and I am glad of it for I have an ocean of memories to warm my cockles. I can hear their voices, see their faces wreathed in smiles. I remember feeding the five thousand on huge pots of refried beans or bolognaise or chilli con carne (chilli sans carne for the vegetarians) and just loving each shared meal. I see steaming bowls in cupped hands and bodies on every available horizontal surface. Even now, after so many years, I still cook too much and my first thought when someone visits is of what I can give them to eat. So strange to know for certain that there is no chance of anyone visiting anyone and for some time to come, and when that time does return to us, will we really connect with the gift of that freedom or will we just take it for granted as we did back in the normal times? I did, take it for granted, I mean. It is natural to do so, until that ‘natural’ is removed, forbidden, wiped out. Only then do we consciously think.

I have enough roasted vegetables and pasta for at least 4 days. As I sit alone by the merry woodburner watching the candles flicker and dance, I let the memories float through my mind and I say a thank you; thank you that I can remember; thank you that I experienced all that youth and colour and fun; thank you that I am still alive, can still use my brain, am well, happy and absolutely certain that we will all get through this time of strange estrangement with flying colours.

Island Blog – Unicorns, Bananas and Hope

I wake with a wobble this morning. I suspect I am not the only one. I know there is a big shopping list downstairs in my cosy kitchen, plus a couple of things to post, and, yet, I don’t want to go anywhere near people who still breathe. I make tea and drink it, watching the day rise like Venus from the troubled waves of the night. She looks good. The usual fly-by of geese, loons, swans and garden birds entertain me for a while until I hear the sounds of the seventies overhead. That’s himself getting up. It thinks me of a first drum lesson, all bangs and thumps and with no rhythm to speak of.

Although I am not nosophobic at all, I have a healthy respect for an invisible enemy. Who doesn’t! So, after a ridiculous and chuckly conversation with a girlfriend about what bananas remind us of when baked and floppy, I decide not to shop this morning. We have enough in store and besides I can cook the sole of a gymshoe and make it tasty, or so I tell my grandchildren. I decide to inhabit the day with an attitude of ad hockery which feels rather racy and sounds loaded with opportunities. First, I bleach the door handle after a delivery of unicorn poo. For those who have never encountered a unicorn, never mind its poo, let me explain. These pellets, prettily gathered into the depths of a little hessian pouch, ribbon tied, are, in fact, wildflower seeds. You just push the pellet into the earth, not deep, and wait for your unicorn to grow……should take between 4-6 weeks. I can’t wait. I bake the bananas and cover them in custard. They may taste lovey but, naked, they are far from eyesome. Listening to tunes of the 80s and dancing along a bit, the day moves forward in a beamish sequence of start, middle and finish. Many tasks complete themselves this way and all I do is walk beside them, mindfully, of course. We sort it out together.

Walking, I see the larch green above my head, the little primroses peeking out from sheltered dips, yellow as sunshine. A pair of mallards lift like an eruption from the burn as I startle them into the air, the drake a rainbow of colours. Two otters cavort in the sea-loch, pushing out from the rocks, from the safety of their holt, out in the wide open on a fish hunt. I watch a huge fish jump although it seems too early – maybe not. Horse chestnut leaves look like green fingers against the sky, now a mackle of clouds in shades of grey. I see nobody. For a whole 40 minutes as I walk through woods and along side the rocky shore, I am alone, just me and the little dog. By this time, visiting walkers would be all over this place like a pox, and welcome indeed, but not this year. Maybe not at all this season, for who can say? We are, after all in the incunabula of something we cannot explain nor define and that’s enough to wobble the sturdiest of us.

I light the fire for it is still chilly, even if the sun does shine down his generous warmth. Flowers are pushing through the earth, shrubs throwing blooms and trees beginning to spread their canopy. It’s a time of hope and that is one thing that never runs out. If one person loses it for a while, someone else can bring it back and it doesn’t require physical contact to spread. It just flows between us like a soft breeze and we can safely breathe it in until it fills us up once more. Then we can pass it on to another who needs it.

In 4-6 weeks I hope to have a garden full of unicorns. What larks, Pip!