Island Blog – Wave away

I write, now, from a distance. It reminds me that memories are hot just once and that they quickly cool. It takes conscious effort to warm them up again, to pull them back into touch. I’m busy doing that.

I met some beautiful people on the cruise, all of us strangers to each other even as some were known to the captain and crew. It awkwards people. They are suddenly unsure about how to move, where to stand, what to ask and when. There is hesitation around the dining table when dinner is called. I see it. I feel it and hear it in the flutter of an elevated voice whilst navigating the steps from one deck to the next, from the saloon down to the cabins. I feel it myself. I know, as the wife of a sailor sea-dog that nobody in their right mind ever attacks decksteps facing forward. Reverse is the way. Arrive at the steps, turn, locate step one and repeat until you reach the new horizontal. Well, we all long for horizontal but aboard ship this is never a given. But on this trip, once we had all got ourselves over the ‘trip’ thing, one that didn’t only apply to steps or dining table navigation, we knew we only faced sea-lochs, and, even if they can scoosh up a stooshie in a storm, the waters upon which we bobbed promised the odd rise and fall, like when you flap your hands in a bath tub to make the bubbles froth. And, we had a very skilled skipper who has taken many trips out to St Kilda where there is no land for generations and no promise of safe anchor. Looking at it this way, this cruise was like bobbing across a puddle.

The young chef did not fail us, not once, not even with a burned biscuit. The guide, far too experienced for her lovely youth, kept us intrigued and informed and although I did try to catch her out, I failed. The stewardess who did all of the caring, and I am not going to list her tasks because she was just always there should anyone want anything from a cup of tea to a glass of whisky, from another blanket to a reassuring and pro-active response to any question. And always with bright eyes and a smile. Jeez, I thought. How in the hellikins do these givers keep giving over so many months and to so many people, especially the ‘challenging’ ones? They just shrug when I pose that question. Most, they tell me, are lovely people, interesting and interested. I nod. Good, I say, and sheath my sword. I do this because these cruises are unusual and so thoroughly planned for the complete comfort of every single customer and it does mess with my sword action when someone complains, not because the cruise or the crew fail them but because they need therapy. Just saying.

The standard of service, the quality of the cooking, the service, in my opinion, was 5 star, if not 6. Catering to guests on board ship, facing ocean squalls and angry horizons is something we, as guests, might wonder about a bit, whilst we hold tight to the rails and reverse down deck steps but what it must mean to the captain and crew is a mystery, just as they want it to be. Our white faces may turn to ask, Are We Ok? and the answer will always be a smile. Of course we are! I remember it way back in Tapselteerie days and I mean way back, when I might be crew and the boat was something you could make out of lego and the sea huge and the prospect only just short of dire because at the helm was the auld bugger and he knew the sea and never ever felt he was in control of her. He negotiated with her, he told me. Work with me Lady, he would whisper but if any soaked and terrified passenger hand-railed him or her self to the bridge to seek hope, the auld bugger turned, grinned and reassured no matter the patter of his own heart. I digress, again.

The guests and I got over the awkwards pretty quick. Soon we just moved and flowed and navigated steps and so on as if we had lived together for longtime. Conversation began to flow and in that flow I watched hangups float downstream, those protection rackets that protect and confound incoming, friendly or not. I watched shoulders lower, eyes stay on another cross table, hand and arm movements flow freer. T’was a delight to see, like a dance. By the end, oh shame, the end, we were looking each other eyeball to eyeball, no shift, really pleased to have known what we have known of each other in four short nights. Humbled, or I was, encouraged and uplifted, astonished at times for the stories that lifted like roses from the dark ground of a person. As we waved farewell to each other at the end, I walked on with a new lift because of those stories. I may forget them but I will never forget the storytellers.

Thank you James, Lynz, Kat, Jordan and Hebrides Cruises. I thoroughly recommend.

Island Blog – From Four Stone Walls to Wild Places

I have been too scared to go anywhere beyond the safe confines of the little village. Most days I spend right here within my four stone walls (best song ever, in my opinion, by Capercaillie) or out there in the out there-ness of a wild place. I can walk a whole walk and meet nobody. Well, nobody with two legs and coated in either lycra, weather permitting, or waterproofs. I meet plenty of other-legged creatures of course. Spiders spinning, deer bolting, rabbits wiggling noses, an otter or two and plenty seabirds. I chat with the trees, imagine their long strong roots and know they help keep each other up, much as we humans could do if we just understood the power of it, instead of jousting at windmills.

I am mostly content with my life, the island wife without a husband. Mostly. Some days are black as the soot in my flue, some days bright as a lighthouse and I never know what will be which. It doesn’t matter what I do or do not do the day before the soot day, it dogs me like the shadow of a giant and no matter how fast I move, I am always in the dark of it. I have spent over a year searching for an answer to this upsy-downsy nonsense and find no answer at all and this is why. It is not a question with one answer at the other end of it. ‘Why’ is never a good question. ‘Why’ is a journey within, a quiet and solo traipse across a mind, not one to be voiced because any answer will fall short of the mark. The voiced question invites opinions. The one who receives this Why question can never respond with a solution. Not never. No other person in the whole wide world, across a zillion continents across all those wild oceans tossing stories and songs into the air, through the air that blows around the globe, can ever know the answer for someone else, because each one of us, like snowflakes and zebra stripes, is unique and therefore alone. So don’t bother with a ‘Why.’

I digress.

I am fearful, yes we got that. I am mostly content, yes, yes. Where is this leading? Ah, thank you. It leads to a phone call from one of my marvellous sons, one of the skippers, the skipper who skippers right here. Would you come on a cruise mama, a loch cruise for four nights on board? We have had a cancellation. My heart takes off but I catch it before it makes a hole in the conservatory roof. I hesitate, visualising massive waves, those ones I remember in a small bouncy thing of a boat crossing to Coll in a hooligan, the ones that, when they rose up like my swimming teacher in a furious mood with her eyes on me, blocked out the light. Then the fall, the slow slip down the other side in the sure knowledge that we would just keep on going down all the way to Atlantis. Or Hell. I breathe. Yes, I say. Yes. And then I twist to look at myself in horror.

I have days to organise things. How many things, I ask myself, noticing my endless pacing and the 2 pages of A4 lists. Well, not much in truth. Just some loving person to look after Poppy dog and my four stone walls. At short notice. A text to friends, a link, a number and she is found. Yes she can come, yes no worries, yes yes and yes. Committed now and planning my approaches, my frockstock, my beanie, socks (never wear socks) my underpinnings, enough for 4 nights. I wait for the fear to giant-shadow me. Nothing. I wait for indigestion, doubt, sheer terror, nights dense with 40ft waves and not a mermaid in sight. Nothing. Momentarily I wonder if I am finally going the way of the senile, that time I remember with Himself when nothing really mattered beyond his clear traverse up to bed. No, I am not there yet. But this is odd, this is strange, strange and rather wonderful.

On the day, Susie arrives, Sunshine Susie and she beams just like the sun which is a timely reminder that there is one at all, a sun I mean. I had quite forgot inside all these days of endless rain and cloud cover. I depart and manage the ferry thing just fine, staying outside the minute I board and arriving on familiar concrete, knowing my way. I keep my new mask firmly affixed to my face but find I am struggling to breathe, so efficient is it in keeping out all breaths, coughs and sneezes including my own. I walk around the harbour, among the visitors, along to the North Pier where the boats will meet and greet us. There are two boats ready for us this wet afternoon. The company is Hebrides Cruises and I recommend an online check. We, the guests, gather atop the pontoon and begin to introduce ourselves to each other. Some have travelled the length of the country for this cruise and me? Oh, me. Well I live over there, I tell them, waving my arm towards the island. I can tell they are amused, interested and disappointed all at the same time. I notice this and turn the conversation back to them, their tales of train changes, delays and clogs on the motorway. I just stepped on and off the ferry after all, did I not? They, on the other hand have much to say and much to share and I listen in pleasure because other peoples’ stories are always a fascination to me. They live a life I just don’t remember, one of limitations, of traffic, of timelines, of restrictions and rules whereas I am always free. Leaning against some metal thing that appears to have no reason to be there, I listen and watch and wonder. These lives, a glimpse. Just a glimpse. Faces, eyes, body language, baggage, all of it a wonderment to me.

Then the metal walkway rattles and we all turn. The skippers are rising like gods from the pontoon, together with the guides and the squeaky baggage trolleys that nobody ever bothers to oil. Relieved of our cases, we walk down the narrow ramps, back in our own thoughts, moving ever closer to the shining bellies of the boats that will be our home for the next 4 nights. They gleam, the superstructure white and all aglow. Our confidence rises yet again although it did already once we met the skippers. This one for you, that one for me. We separate on the floating pontoon and turn to the steps that will lead us all in to an adventure. I don’t know who is scared, who is dealing with something sad, who is hoping that this time will teach them something new, open a new window, show an escape. But as I wave goodbye to those on the other ship and move into the arms and the safety of my son, I know I made the right decision. To go or not to go? Always, always go.

Welcomed with pink champagne, cake and introductions, we heave-ho as the skipper turns the snout of the ship seawards. Into a pink cloudlight, into a blueing sky we move smooth as melting chocolate. Everyone is on the fly deck, binoculars at the ready, looking, searching, hoping for the wonderful.

And so it begins.