Island Blog – I am Woman

I am woman, my own woman, and yet all women.

I have been broken more times than could be repaired, had I been born a teacup.

I am soft as down and hard as stone.

I have loved with all my beating heart and lost and known it beat again.

I have run over hot coals to protect my children and even with a burned soul I run on.

I have faltered, failed and fallen more times than rain, have dawned and dusked, ebbed and flowed, waxed and waned a million times and I will do it all again.

I have drawn my sword and I have sheathed it.

I have been actively, consistently kind to those I didn’t like and don’t relate to.

I have welcomed my child’s choice of partner, not because I attended the selection process, but because I did not. They have taught me new lessons and I have learned to love them all.

I have read more books than Finland on self-development and applied that learning to my daily life.

I have run into walls, tripped over rocks, fallen off see-saws, swings and roundabouts and may well do so again.

I have fallen in love and out again.

I have nursed, nurtured, carried and cared for children, adults, days, months and years and they all got better.

I have cried ugly and alone for nights and with another until the smile came back to my face.

I have looked in the mirror and felt sick, delighted, upset and happy.

I have given away my last bite as my stomach rumbled.

I have run too fast and reached too high.

I have lived my life.

I am Woman, I am myself, and I am Every Woman. I don’t need to know the details of your life, nor hear your voice for Every Woman knows exactly what it is like to be one.

I honour every one of you.

Island Blog – Darkling grey, Gulls, Chips and Walking together

Rain soft morning, grey enough for the gulls to look like white-light dancers as they cut the sky, wheel, cant, tip and slide, effortless flight like they belong which of course they do. I watch with yearning. They make flight look so easy and their beauty erases the memory of fearsome beaks and stolen chips. I once sat on the harbour wall with chips and within seconds was every gull’s friend. They are massive close up and not very white and sky cutting once their big yellow webbed feet slink closer with a look of black intent in their currant eyes. A sideways step becomes a menace when flanked as I then was and I confess I did elevate my butt, moving it and the rest of me back into the safety of a tourism crowd.

However from my big picture window I can dream. I can watch the spike flight, the lift and luff of not-white currant-eyed, yellow footed gulls become snowy dancers against the grey rain sky and smile. We are miles apart after all and there’s this big picture window keeping me safe from beaks and chip snatchers. I watched the grey and the soft rain all morning, the way it slides my window into smoke, the garden bird colours losing their integrity, becoming a brush stroke flow and return as they flit from feeder to feeder. I sewed a bit, noticing the pinks of this baby girl playmat dulling somewhat. Oh, I thought. These pinks were brighter yesterday. And then I remembered art school. Everything affects everything. On dull grey days in Falkirk (plenty of those) even the primary colours were confounded. We can’t work with this, they said and refused to flow freely from their tubes. The grey weather (is it yellow grey or blue grey?) is sending you, art student, into a dithery looking thing. Concepts, precepts, upsets and greyness are colluding to confine you. It is the real artist who can rise from this, who can utilise whatever is on offer this grey day. I am thankful for those grey Falkirk days. Others might, and did, shake their heads and head for the pub on such grey days. But I wanted to learn, not just how to work with grey days but more, how to walk beside the grey, to have that conversation, and not to turn away. To engage with the grey and to find the colours within, the ask of colour, the beg for it, to take flight.

Life. Yes? It thinks me. Whilst walking beneath the grey soft rain, which I love because rain enhances colour in everything. An upside down electric blue beetle , a feather caught in branches, leaves, speedwell blue, buttery cups, the honey back of a bumble bee, the float and breeze flow of wild grasses, the imprint of horse hooves in sucky mud, even the shine on my jack boots, so much glisten. If I am looking I will see. If I am aware, present, engaged, I will find the art. When I look back on the gull thing, I know that, had I not felt watched by the crowd of tourists, I might well have stayed my ground. I wish I had. I wish I did not give a hoot about being watched. However, I was right in front of an outside cafe and there is only one way to look when the sea beckons and there I was, sat sitting on the harbour wall plus chips. Plus gulls.

In the grey lies endless opportunity. I tell myself that and myself knows it to be the truth. Grey is my life right now, of course it is. When a life goes into grey it has options. Think grey, dive in or flipping don’t. I’m a flipping don’t sort of woman. Even as I flounder and plod, wonder and dither, fill up endless hours with a this or a that, I know that this grey has colours. It isn’t that I must needs grow beyond grey because that says grey is dull and grey is far from dull. To make good grey on an artist’s palette I must bring in rose madder, cadmium red, ultra marine, cadmium yellow, maybe, cobalt, maybe, plenty maybes’ to be honest. Just a touch, just a tiny touch and everything changes. Just like life. I am working with the grey, looking deep into the eyes of it, the currant eyes, and saying, I am not afraid of you. In fact, I like you. Shall we walk together?

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.