Island Blog – Keep the Girl – Write the Woman

I watch the little bus round the sea-loch from the warmth of my conservatory. This bus looks warm, cosy even, all lit up like a party, although I know that inside there will be a smattering of grumpy teenagers heading for school. The headlights sparkle the frost, caught in the beam, striations of fairy dust. Then it is gone and the meadow settles back down again. The top of my car is white. White on black. Startling. Sweet peas, still standing, show me soft pinks and purples; a rose lifts crimson against the sunrise as the songbirds line my fence awaiting breakfast.

I remember waiting for the school bus. Grumpy, teenage, cold, isolated even inside a group. The world was a stinkhole. I wanted to join a circus, flee the country, anything to get me out of those awful school shoes that were made of steel and offered me no warmth at all; that uniform; that ridiculous beret that perched like a mushroom on my head. I blush now even to think we were made to stand out in such a way, like jokes. Does nobody think it through, this uniform business? Scratchy all the way down to the knickers, rigid enough to negate the chance of running anywhere, never mind to the circus, and all of us looking the same. Except we didn’t, of course. Some of us looked positively svelte inside those confines. Some of us had mothers who bent the rules a bit, thinking of the child first and the design of shoes, second. I had a friend whose mother bought her soft leather with pointed toes and a subtle design on the tongue. My tongue was also made of steel and stood up like a cows ear no matter how tightly laced into submission. My toes froze. Frost was my anathema.

In those days, when mothers and teachers, doctors and policemen told me how to live my life, giving no quarter whatsoever to my opinion, likes, dislikes or dreams, I gave in, as many others did. The svelte ones with avon guard mamas and papas were just lucky, that’s all. They were probably rich, owned lots of land, and sat on the board of directors. They had big homes and holidays on the Costa Del Sol twice a year, at least. Their daughters weren’t lumpish, or limping from chilblains, and they actually looked good in berets. They both fascinated and repelled me. I wasn’t allowed to write my own life, not even a line or two. I decided to go under cover.

Writing my own life was not the breeze I thought it would be. There was something deeply scary about stepping out of those steel shoes. The world is a very big place, buzzing with opinions and temptations and I felt I was walking into danger most of the time. When someone asked me what I wanted, my brain emptied of all thought. Nobody had asked me that before and now here I was, in a mini skirt, a tight-fitting top, lipstick and kohl, swinging on a bar stool and completely confounded. I won’t pretend I got it right first time. Babycham is disgusting after all. So were most of the men who slithered up to me looking like wannabe Bee Gees, all smiles and roving eyes. I was way out of my depth and I knew it. As I walked myself home, feeling colder than I ever did in my steel shoes, I decided there were as many ways to live a life as there were people and that I could choose for myself. I wrote down my plans.

Find a man older than those idiots. Get Married. Have lots of healthy children. Live in a wild place right beside the ocean. Cook warming stews and bake bread. Fill the home with laughter and song and people. Write a book. Keep the wild girl but write the woman.

And that is exactly what I did.

Island Blog – A Diamond Day

This day we gather for our son’s wedding to his lady love. Well, some of us gather in person, whilst others zoom in, virtually, to bear witness to promises made and happiness shared. This day will be remembered for many years to come. Impressions will stick, spoken words and tributes will be held inside the human heart; moments will be re-lived over and over again. Even as I write, cars full of excited guests and family members traversing the land are googling directions, tweaking outfits and wondering how they look. There will be laughter inside these cars, anticipation and the odd snap of tension as a tail back tails back. The time they all aim for is 1pm on board MV Emma Jane at Dunstaffnage Marina. The sun has appeared, the sea loch is calm, the air soft and kindly. I did my famous Be-Off-Rain dance yesterday and, despite a few clouds, it looks like I haven’t lost my touch.

We cannot be there in person so we are two who will zoom. I want to hear the words, those vows, readings and speeches in real time. I want to see the well-tweaked outfits, the smiles, hear voices and laughter, see children in their wedding kit, the groom and the bride in immaculate finery, their joy complete for they have fought hard to bring this day into their life. Postponed in its original shape since March (thank you Covid) this new wedding design is smaller but none the less valuable, like a small diamond instead of a big fat garnet. The diamond twinkles more, however small; distinctive and distilled into perfection. You must look at closely at it in order to appreciate the way each tiny face catches sunlight and reflects it back like a gift.

This young pair have found each other when neither were looking. They have weathered storms within and without and held on tight. I am proud of their courage and resilience and in awe of their beauty and strength. This day brings to both of them a dream, a completion, a new beginning. Despite the changes they have had to make in order to bring us all together as witnesses, they are making it happen. They never wanted a big fat wedding anyway. What they value most is family, a few friends and their children.

To James and Emma – on this, their diamond day.

Island Blog 127 Reasons to Stay

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Since writing my book, Island Wife, I have received many emails and letters from women whose own story relates to my own.  Some of them are short, some long and detailed, but many of them have the same question to ask me.  Why did I stick with my marriage?

The ‘how’ of it, I can answer.  Despite what appeared to be going on, and growing shape and form, I could always find one good reason to stay, one reason, however small and squeaky.  There may well have been a thousand reasons to leave, but it only took one to keep me in place.  In the early days, the reasons numbered five.  My five children.  I was confident and strong in the knowing that, were I to abandon ship, they would be damaged.  I make no judgement, nor did I ever, on women who do leave.  In fact, as I re-investigate my heart right now on this matter, I feel no critical twinges, nor any sense of superiority beside those good women who made a choice, a really tough one and one not without considerable personal angst and pain, guilt and fear.  I just couldn’t do it myself, not for long, anyway.

I used to watch other wives and mothers, as they flew in on warm winds to stay at Tapselteerie for their family holidays.  I warmed myself in the light of their eyes, eyes that told me they had found a nourishing bond in their own relationships, and that they were, yes, happy.  Of course, I have no knowledge of them now, but those glimpses into another’s life both helped and hindered me.  On the one hand, they made me envious.  They had managed to find a man who honoured them just as they came to him, not in need of any re-arranging, not faulty.  The new light they brought to the marriage was something he needed, wanted to be around, in order to find fulfillment.  He basked in it, sought her wisdom, let her be.  On the other hand, they made me feel that, had I been like them, I would also deserve such freedom within a relationship.  Oh poor little me.

As the children began to try out their wings and, eventually, flew the nest, I became increasingly aware that I was being abandoned by the five who gave me context.  Who am I now?  is a question I often asked myself, as the rooms hollowed out and the quiet of ‘just us’ settled like dust.  People, friends, told me that this was now my time to do something for me, and, yet, after decades of not doing something for me, I had no ideas at all.  When someone has ploughed the same furrow for that length of time, investing fully in the work of every day, and night, it is almost cruel to take it all away and to offer a wide horizon.  What could a no-longer-girl like me do with a broad horizon?  I’ll tell you what she does.  She stands there looking at it, mouth open, eyes wide and head empty, and then dives back to wash the kitchen floor, just to feel safe again.

In a different sort of relationship, one I observed in others and dream-wove from novels and movies, this woman would be given free rein to investigate, to research new roads, and, most importantly, encouraged gently to find her own wings, to grow new confidence as just herself in a new context – that of the big wide world.  If that encouragement is not proffered, and if it matters as much as I think it does, then she will hold to what she knows.

I know about monkey mind.  That chatter inside a head that always works to undermine walking out a dream.  I have worked hard to quiet that voice, and still do, for it is not the truth.  To imagine another life, without stepping into it, is just that.  Dreaming.  I found my way, by writing my story and setting it free in the big wide world.  You might say it was written in the hope for understanding, for empathy.  You might say I hoped it would bring a flash of remorse and a new beginning.  And it might do all of these.  It has already brought me a new self-confidence because to have a well-known and respected publisher take up your book, you must be able to write, and in these times of excellent writers, doubly so.  It has also taught me that feeling sorry for myself and doing nothing to change my situation is, well, pathetic, at best.

In those times of finding just one reason to stay, I discovered other ones, hiding in my attic.  In any relationship, there are at least two people, each with a very different perspective on life and ideas on how to live it.  Bring into each mix, parental baggage, school history, sibling rivalry and so on and then dress this damaged person in cowboy boots, or high heels and call it an adult.  Then shove it out into a world of high expectations, judgements, parameters, boundaries, social constraints and no mappage, no DIY manual on the subject, but only other opinions formed by those who came before, each one lumbering along under the weight of their own ‘stuff’.

I believe I have just found a new definition for Chaos.

Living now, each day as it comes, I learn something new.  Something new about me, about my marriage, my choices, my life thus far.  I still find reasons to keep walking, keep looking around, keep my heart soft and my stride strong and purposeful.  I have bad days, black dreams, bouts of self-pity and I can still make the house shake with a powerful door slam, but these are just a part of the whole.  What I love is a challenge and life is always thus.  I find only momentary delight in winning an argument if my opponent just backs down, remaining certain still of his own belief.  I find there is little (if any at all) point in going over who said what and when and in what tone of voice.  I find no future in paying the slightest attention to either of us in a grumpy mood. I am learning that perspective is king, and that grace is his queen.

At the end, whenever that may be, I will reflect on my choices, made by me, for me, and be content to know, not that I got it right, but that I got it at all.

Island Blog 109 Beep and Battery

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This morning, early, I come down to a beep.

It isn’t a consistent beep, but intermittent enough for me to wonder if I heard it at all.  It is one of those beeps that turns my head every so often, for my ears to attempt location, and to fail.  It’s irritating.  Distant.  The smooth whirr of the wind through the holes in the window frame is interrupted.  The musical phrasing of birdsong is spiked with a false note, in the wrong key.  The rise of kettle steam is not allowed it’s natural span without interruption and it doesn’t matter where I stand, I cannot pinpoint the sound. I narrow my eyes and sharpen my ears and stand quite still in each space, turning my head this way, and that to better establish it’s whereabouts.

Coffee tastes fine.

beep

Washing machine whirrs.

beep

I scuddle the ash from the fire and carry it carefully out to the garage.

beep

I feed the birds and chop the kindling.

beep

Ok now I am rising as Boudicca, with murder on my mind,  but I must be a quiet Boudicca or I won’t hear this soft… intermittent…. infuriating…….

beep!

I  stand quite still.

beep

Aha!  It’s the washing machine.

beep

No, it isn’t the washing machine.

It’s the microwave, the fridge, the torch charger, although none of these have ever beeped before.

beep.

No it isn’t any of the above.  In fact, it is coming from the big dresser, the one full of tea towels, materials, cloths and painting equipment.

beep

Now I am very intrigued.  I might be the first Boudicca ever to have a beeping tea towel, although I do realise that in putting Boudicca and tea towels together, I make nonsense.

I rummage through a few things and hold my breath.

beep

Nearer and nearer, but not yet……

beep

Right at the very back-back is a box.  The very back-back of this dresser has not seen light of day, nor felt the touch of human fingers, for a very long time, so I bring an element of surprise, which could be to my advantage.

beep

Found you!

It’s a fire alarm.

What on earth is it doing in here, all batteried up and ready to scream FIRE?  Did somebody think the tallboy might spontanously combust?

I remove the battery and consider.  I have lived as a firefighter myself.  Most women live that way.  Reacting positively to each familial disturbance, coming up with bright positive alternatives, keeping everyone and everything safe, and sometimes to feel very much at the dark back-back of an Imposing Tallboy.

But, I can beep – out of key perhaps and intermittently, just enough to make it irritatingly clear that I need a new battery.