Island Blog – Mountain, Tomorrow and Me

Not every day can be positively thinked. Some days, randomly, it seems, come slam dunk, presenting little positive, no matter the incoming. Could be a card through the post, a gift, some encouraging words in a text or just a lift of light in a dark place. On those days these gifts mean little or nothing at all. The sun might be doing his best, huffing up to the top of the sky and beaming like a beatific parent but all he does is blind me and I blink or shade him away. I am impervious to positive on those days. I read that I am supposed to accept such times in such times and to ‘allow’ myself to do whatever I can and to not do whatever I can’t. Enter my ingrained teaching. You do not give in my girl. You get on with it, whatever it is. You present as positive and not only to the outside world but to your own self. I am up and down on those days, battling with guilt and shame. I am lazy. I am giving in. I am not presenting the positive. I avoid speaks. I avoid texts that ask direct questions about how I am. My finger hovers over the answer bit and slides away. I put the phone on silent and avoid mobile calls.

Tomorrow will be different, I tell myself and together, me and tomorrow, will deny and forget this day. We will. But a part of me knows another will come slam dunk and both tomorrow and I will flounder like goldfish outside our bowl. We will gasp for an air that is denied us and we will both think back. Could we have prevented this unpleasant situation, this day of nothing, of no purpose of no point at all, with an ending that doesn’t bear thinking about? I say no. I have worked through this before, many times. The days of nil point are just that. All we can do, me and tomorrow, is to really celebrate those random gifts of words, texts, flowers and smiles and make them bigger, in order just to get through the very long hours of pointless. Because that is how we feel. Pointless. Our purpose, our plan of action, our very raison d’être has died, is gone and with this gone thing, he took us too. We don’t want to believe it. We don’t want it to be this way, but this way it is. For now. That’s what tomorrow tells me. But it feels like a life sentence. These gifts that come are lifts for sure. They move my heart, jig me into thankfulness and light but they don’t last long, not on those days. I see them as hold points on the mountain I am climbing. That rock that juts out just enough for a foothold, that sturdy branch, that ledge. But they are not enough, never enough because I have to climb this flipping mountain and it looks to me like it touches the sky. I go through cloud, ice, snow and darkness, through fear, loneliness and loss. It is just me up here. Tomorrow stayed at base camp, wisely.

I know I have to keep climbing, accepting the giftly footholds, resting on safe ledges and then going again the next time dawn shows her light. I know this. But in my wildest dreams I never thought me on the flank of a mountain and certainly not one that is in collusion with the sky. Cloud covers me wet. Cold. Then the sun warms. This is how it is. One day at a time. Nothing I expect is what I get. I used to know who I was and where. Now?

No clue.

Island Blog – Standing, The Silent Tree

The trees are still today as I wander through them, beneath their arms, limbs and twigs. They appear to be waiting for something, or someone. Perhaps it is me. Here I am, I say, you know me for I am here every single day. Not every day, they say in a stilled silence. Not every day. Okay, maybe not every day. Some days are too cold, too wet, too dark, or have been thus for some months. But where are your voices now? I trunch through a boggy bit on the track, my eyes down, focussing on not getting my sauncy boots coated beyond the plumb line. They are still still. The trees. Not a murmur, not a whisper beyond that reproach at the bend where the track moves with the bedrock. Nothing. Rhododendrons giggle each side of me, stupid infiltrators who never did understand their beginnings, their birth home, who think nothing of claiming all the available space and the space not available too. The Tapselteerie estate manager can spend hours, days, chain-sawing these bullies down to their tippytoes only to watch them rise again the following Spring. They push even now through the others, the residents of this wood, between the oaks and the plane trees, the hazels, hawthorns, beech, larch, pines, birches and the jinks trees, those twisting ballerinas of the woods, the hornbeam, who find space that isn’t enough and bend and twist and lift to the light like some women I know.

The light is held this day, caught in the cold grip of loud cloud, penetrating like a voice, holding the room all the day long. I pull on leggings for my walk, boots, fur lined, a scarf, jacket and woolly hat. I notice how I pick the right colours for this walk, blending to match my current frock. How ridiculous. I meet nobody, nowhere, never, or, rarely and if any of the rarelies bother with my kit, they never say. I plan to walk further but my small wee dog stops at the cut off for a short one. I know she isn’t behind me as I push on through the silent trees so I turn. She cocks her head. This walk, she says without a word, is boring today. There are no dapples of sunlight, no word from the trees, no sway of the grasses and. even the tidal flow is being politely quiet. Let’s go home to the fire. And, so, we do.

Back home and still with a million steps left to step, I decide we will clear out more of my dead husband’s stuff. I cannot and will not chuck a lot of it. I want to wait for this flipping virus to die off so that his children can come calm, wander, reflect and choose. I could be waiting another year, I know this. However, I do plan to have his office repainted and carpeted as a child’s room for the familial visiting I hope will come. I sort, clean, lift, drag and box. In this afterworld of death and responsibility, I have been confounded, silent like the trees this day, standing, waiting. In one moment I just know what this son would want, this daughter, how each individual child might, might have connected with their dad, but what do I know? What I do know is that not one of them is easy around this thing, this waiting, this silent stillness. As in this room now. His office, one he demanded and one he never used. Very ‘man’ in my experience. I get it now, now that I remember and understand how impossibly impossible it is for any man to remain himself in the face of birthing his own children. What appeared a dream became a nightmare. I get it. It still pisses me off, nonetheless.

The room is all but cleared for the painter. It is a silly, pointy room with one small window and not enough air flow. It will only ever be good for a child sleepover, a child, or children who do not yet bother with air flow, lack of sleep, confined quarters. At least it is there for them when they come and I am glad of it, even if it is going to take Henry a while to suck up the ancient cobwebs. I touch the grease mark on the wall, once made by my lovely father-in-law for he slept here towards the end of his life. Hallo, I say. Old Tree. Old Silent one. I did love you and you knew that. We winked at each other over bossy controlling heads, didn’t we? You saw me a friend. Didn’t you?

Yes I did, he whispers. The silent tree moves.

Island Blog – Stasis, Statues and the Extraordinary

And so it is. The ferry will not carry anyone who cannot prove they live here; the shops are closed, as are the pubs, hotels and hostels. We are held in stasis, like the statues we see dotted around our cities. Whenever I walk past one, bronzed and frozen in some public place, I wonder what was happening to that notable person before that moment in time and after, if, indeed there was one of those. Did he or she live out a mostly ordinary life until he or she chose to perform something remarkable? Was that laudable moment his only laudable moment? Or was her life so very laudable that we, living out our own ordinary lives (that never epiphanied us into statue material) have to keep being reminded of our ordinariness every time we pass by? Did his feet ache in ill-fitting shoes or no shoes at all? Was she late for school/work/choir practice and did her teeth hurt eating ice cream? What does this laudable dude think of the pigeons that perch on their horizontals and shit them white and greasy grey? Do they notice the baggy coated homeless wanderer who slumps beneath their lofty limbs glugging poison from a bottle and staring out at the world through nearlydead eyes?

Who knows. Statement, not question. I would have to stop, obviously, and read the plaque, the blurb about this hero or heroine but I rarely do if I’m honest. I notice, more, the face, the expression, and I follow the trajectory of their gaze and even that cursorily because I am on my own trajectory from A to B, and this bronzed or marbled elevation of one human being (or been) will still be here should I come this way again with more time and with my specs on.

But now we are not marching from A to B, most of us. Those who aren’t directly servicing the good of our fellow men and women are at home behind window glass and doors with sterilised handles and knobs. The walks and talks and coffee meets and random encounters are now forbidden as we work together to prevent the unnecessary spread of a killer virus. Silent, deadly and very much alive. But we are enterprising, we ordinary people, and I am daily delighted as I hear more of this online idea or that distance contact. I laugh at the online videos created by minds with sparkle and am thankful when they are forwarded on to me. We are not statues. Most of us never will be anyway. But, in our ordinariness we are showing strong signs of the extraordinary. I knew we would. My granddaughter is doing a co-ordinated bake off with her school mates through WhatsApp or Skype. And what she is learning, what we are all learning, is that our ordinary brains are capable of so much more than we ever knew. The world will be forever changed once we come out on the other side of this war and although some won’t be with us, those who are left will walk into a new world and, although not many of us will warrant a statue in our name, there are those who would surely deserve to be remembered in such a way.

I remember a statue once, in Amsterdam. A rather splendid fellow in frock coat and tights with an ebullience of rakish hair and a fabulous face. He was holding out a painters palette in one hand, a paintbrush in the other. I was not on my way from A to B and he was worth a second look, so I did read the plaque. ‘Barent Fabritius – who lived till he went back to Amsterdam, whence he died’. Not a great ad for Amsterdam. It made me chuckle and look back up into his face. And then he moved.

He moved, he moved! I screeched at my friend who raised one eyebrow and shook her head. See that glass of white you had for lunch….? she said and walked away to check out some tulips. I risked another glance upwards. He smiled at me and winked and I laughed delightedly, upsetting the pigeons who burst into the sky, and the old homeless man on a nearby bench swore in technicolour, then slumped back down into the folds of his baggy old coat.

I knew then, as I know now, that nothing and no-one in this world is ordinary. Oh no, not at all.