Island Blog – The Right Feet

Well, we all got through it, did we not! Christmas Day, done, for another year. I suspect we all felt a bit weird about this one, this strange creature in control of all of us, to some degree or another, faltering our forward motion as if we had our shoes on the wrong feet. Some of us could still meet with loved ones, some of us could not, thus facing a very deep sense of loneliness at a time when family becomes so very precious. Sharing laughter and games, songs, dancing, and the brightly lit faces of children takes on a new air of importance. And it was denied us. We don’t like being denied big things, if we are honest. As teenagers we would have found any such denial of liberty an anathema and, if you were like me, would have felt outraged, defiant and rebellious. But this time we were/are not in any position to stick our heads over the parapet. The bullets are too multiple, too accurately delivered by an enemy far more powerful than we mere mortals, and invisible. All we can do, regardless of boiling blood, resentment, isolation and with no sign of an end to this war, is to hunker down and support each other through the shivers and wails of despair. A bit like life in the trenches. There will be those whose natural humour will lift us with the most awful jokes, at which we laugh anyway, because we long to laugh and pretty much any humour will do, for now. We have been whittled down to a new shape and this has gifted us a new noticing. We see any light brighter; any voice more welcome to our ears; any gift greater than ever before. We can see, now, the loving care that went into that gift, the effort it took to make, or discover online, or purchase from a non-essential shop, all masked up and queueing for 3 weeks in the rain.

In short, we are becoming more human, not less so. In times like these, the ones to ask are the ancients. They have been through war, rationing, queuing for 3 weeks in the rain for a single loaf of stale bread. Most of us haven’t a scooby about such times, but now we do, to a degree, for we are living it and learning it, learning how to be the best humans we can be, despite the fear and ditherment, the lack of any light ahead, the lack of an end. We like an end. In business plans, dream plans, goal plans, the end comes first. What do I want to achieve? Well, that’s simple. I want ‘this’. Okay that good. Now, how do I get there? And so we break it down, and down and down again until we arrive at the first baby step. Getting out of bed is a good start.

But this situation is all about baby steps because not one single one of us can see the end. We can talk about it (endlessly), can raise a guesstimate or two, can prophesy and preach but it is all surmise. However, if you are like me, you like order. I want to know where I am going and why and how I will get there, even if ‘there’ is invisible and likely to remain thus for some time to come. If I cannot see the end, then what shall I do about the baby steps, and, what am I walking towards anyway with my shoes on the wrong feet? Answer comes there none. So, in this state of wrong-footing, and because I like order, I must decide what to do and how to do it. Then repeat it daily until the end reveals itself. The little things (which are actually very big things) I can do for myself, for my family and friends, can grow into a very long list. I consider this list and notice that, although I am writing these steps down for me to walk out, each one is not for my own gain. But, as I tick them off, completed, I feel a great warmth in my heart and I know why. It’s because I am thinking outside of my own insecurities and needs and giving a little (huge) something to someone else; friendship; recognition; kindness; acknowledging they exist at all and that they really matter. I think this is what we are learning. The basic principles of life on earth, a life shared by millions of other humans, all of whom know what it is to feel lost, scared, hopeless and stuck, are the fundamental rules of living. We forget them when we live as islands, which is exactly what we were doing pre covid, caught up in what we want for our selfish selves.

This time is a reminder. This time is our leveller. Let us hold out our hand to lift someone who stumbles and let us make sure our shoes are on the right feet so that we can all walk on through this courageously, together as a great big human team.

Island Blog – A Different Summer

Looking back on life, I imagine we can all remember one particular summer, for its joy or for its unjoy. Perhaps it was that one, as a carefree youngster, first in love, heady with dreams and hopes and madly keen to escape the confines of diligent parenting. Perhaps it was that memorable holiday, the colours, swirls and shape of which are ingrained in a mind, body and soul. Perhaps it was the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, the time the wisteria went crazy up the walls, dropping sweet perfume and amethyst blooms every time you walked underneath.

This one, the one we are welcoming right now will surely be a collective memory, one we will talk about, write about and think about for a very long time to come. By definition, ensuing summers will still be summers but might appear ordinary, now that we have met extraordinary. I love this time of year. Less clothing, more colour, bare feet and crisp salads; sunshine skin and long bright evenings; new life all around, birds, animals, flowers; brown babies, freckles, picnics and barbecues. Everything in me shifts with the rising warmth, reflections of green at the waters edge, the sound of Earth singing us back to life.

Okay so this summer is different and although each summer is different, in that we have all moved through the winter and, therefore, learned new learnings, this one is more different than most. But, even as we are refused access to each other, to dinners out, lunch al fresco at a local restaurant, long walks together or parties on the lawn, we can still summer. I know that the isolation can chip away at us, because, as humans, as social creatures, we long to share. Witnessing something wonderful, something new and delightful all on your own is just not the same. There will be many, like me, who are talking to themselves. I tell me many things throughout the day, share jokes and stories and me is a good listener, wise, too, sometimes irritatingly so. I remember learning once that inside me are as many as 25 others, all still me but different aspects of me. There is the Judge, of course, the poker-faced harridan with a lemon in her mouth. She is the most vocal, but as her repertoire is unimaginative and predictable, I can soon shut her up. There’s the little Alice in Wonderland and I am very fond of her. She always wants to play or shrink or sup tea with the Hatter and, together, we have great adventures. Then there’s Mrs Sensible. She is the wise one who keeps me from sailing out to sea without a compass. There is the Wife, the Mother and the Grandmother, and together we are quite a team. We are the ones who move through each day in acceptable clothing and with a well-ordered mind. Keeping a balance of the females inside my head is sometimes tricky. Sometimes I want to run riot, to disappear into my imagination, to break the rules of the well-ordered daily routine. And sometimes I do.

We are all having to search ourselves to find the fun, at times. And, for all the worries and concerns that have cut us off from each other, we have the chance to learn something wonderful from this summer. How we live thereafter will be directly aligned to what we have taken the time to study and consider. Great things will grow from the ashes of this, much like the flowers are doing right now, just outside the window.

Island Blog 49 – Flight

Sometimes a story unwraps like a ribbon. The words just tumble out in the right order and, better still, reflect what I want them to reflect. But not today it seems.  

I blame last night and that whistling wind and the clack of the plastic air vents and the scritch- scratch of Virginia creeper, not yet softened with leaves, sounding like the bony fingers of a witch against the window glass. Today is a big day.  

It’s launch day for Island Wife, my book published by Two Roads.  Actually, to be correct it is Launch Number Two.  We already held one on the island, for the folk who see me often and I them for over 35 years now.  

The people, who will come this evening to Jarrold’s Book Department in Norwich, will wear faces I haven’t set eyes on for 3 decades.  

I guess, like me, they will look older, a bit worn, a bit broken too, but we will know each other in a heartbeat.  Faces, hair colour, shapes may have altered dramatically or barely at all, but voices stay the same.  I could close my eyes all evening and still know exactly who speaks, even if I have to dig deep into my memory bank.  

So many voices and no two the same. There won’t be time to hear the stories, the tales of joy and sadness, the lost and the found in that short 90 minutes, but when it is done and books are signed and drinks are drained, I will walk out with those voices darting around inside my head like swallows just back from Africa. And they?  

Well, they will drive or walk or catch a train back into their own lives with a new book in their hands. I may never know their stories, but from tonight, they will all know mine, perhaps hearing my voice for the very first time.

Island Blog 44 – To Live Again

Island Blog 44

Sometimes, in ordinary conversation, a friend might ask me if, given a choice, I would live my life over again.

I think back across the millions of miles of it, the lush richness, the deserts, the rainbows of success and the stumble-grounds; the learning and the laughter, the birthing and the dying, the joy,grief and inner growth.  Particularly the inner growth.

It is not a logical question, or answerable using logic, so you can guess that there are no men present, although maybe that’s just the men I know who, bless them, would say it can’t be true unless it’s been proven.  I know what ‘proven’ means to me.  It’s that point in the process of bread making, when the dough has risen as high as it can without pushing open the skylight.  The point when it requires further bashing and twisting and pummelling into shape before being popped into an extremely hot oven for a permanent shape-arrestment and a nice brown crust.

Anyway, answer the question you daft island wife….

Well would I? Live it all again?

My first feeling is one of huge tiredness.  It is not easy to imagine, let alone believe in, the energy required, not just to go through it all again, but to know what I’m going through as I go through it and worse, to know what comes next!

My head is reeling at the very thought.  So, park it for now.

My next thought/feeling/response is that, had I not been gifted the life I lived, there would  be no story, dynamic and whacky enough to have led me to write it down;  to have been guided to an experienced agent and through her, to have found a well established ‘we-don’t-take-on-books-unless-they-are-top-quality’ publisher.  And if there had been no madcap story, just a regular law-abiding disaster-free life, kept under militant control, I probably couldn’t imagine wanting to go through it all again.  The very idea would just have made me wriggle my ageing butt deeper into the sofa cushions and pull out my knitting, thankful that all those requirements to jump about and be adaptable are just blurred memories.

Instead , look at me learning to Tweet and Blog and answer messages on Facebook (for goodness sake) and feeling rather like I hoped I might feel, but didn’t, at the age of 17.

Is this, I ask myself, because you are being stretched when others are shrinking?  Or is it just that I am still living this life, instead of peering back across it all from the soft plumpy feathers of my wide-mouthed armchair?

So ask me now.  Would I live my young life over again?

Absolutely N.O.T.

But….. I wouldn’t change one bit of it, except, perhaps, that one time I drove right over a roundabout near Greenock because I didn’t know it was there.  Men were digging up the road and the leading lights had failed.  It was a splendid performance and I came to rest in a field with my headlights illuminating the bottom of a large white bull.

You can’t park here!  Said the roadman after chapping on my window.  Yellow rain streamed down his face and a furious gale played skittles with the traffic cones.

No mention of the roundabout.

 

Island Blog 13 – Secrets

Secrets are funny old things.  We love to have them for ourselves and we can hug them for days, months, even years and, in some cases, forever.  When we know another’s secret, we have to watch ourselves carefully in case it rises in our throats and spills out in a tumble of words.  Sometimes we are more than happy not to know another’s secrets, however desperate they may be to tell us.  They can be a gift, or a liability, a delightful revealing of something we have always wondered about, or a heavy weight we are stuck with, now that we know the hidden truth.

Sometimes, in the early flush of a love affair, we can think we want to know absolutely everything about each other, but I don’t think that’s healthy at all.  Someone once said that once we tell all our secrets, we are left only with their memory.  We can no longer call them our own, nor feel that sense of mystery, like a butterfly in our hearts.  I have many secrets and I am rather fond of them all.  Nobody can tell me they are a lot of cobblers, because nobody knows them.  Have you ever shared a secret and wished you hadn’t?  The response was too casual, or too earnest and you didn’t quite believe your secret was that interesting.  Or you might have been persuaded you were wrong, or not looking at it right and then you felt deflated like an old party balloon.

Keep your secrets, that’s what I say, and keep the mystery, for isn’t that what makes us interesting, intriguing, a someone who might suddenly disappear without stopping to tell you first?  It keeps people on their toes being around someone who doesn’t lay themselves out like a map for all to study.  I like to say I’m going out, without saying where to. It feels wild and exciting, even if it’s just  to buy milk.

You never know where a snowdrop will appear in the wild, because you didn’t plant it.  Nobody planted it.

Now there’s a secret and a half.