Island Blog – Repeat Daily

The way I see things when I am tired, stressed or fed up is never how they really are. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. In certain moods or when pressure feels heavy as a truck on my head, I slip into a weird world, one full of victims with me being the biggest. I am at the mercy of whatever comes my way; my seeing becomes slanted, ditto my hearing and my poor underused brain turns into an untethered disco ball. Instead of being inside this body, I am all over the place, running here and there like a headless hen.

And then the next day comes, the next songbird dawn, the new light, and what happened yesterday seems small and insignificant, solvable in a few simple steps. Why I couldn’t see it that way yesterday beyonds me. Yes, I was tired of repeating things, gently; yes I was upset about the rain getting into my post box; yes I was lonely and wondering when life would begin and yes I was pitching for a fight. I guess the nice lady from the Council, just doing her job, is fortunate I didn’t get to speak to her. I have no idea what she called about, beyond a vague and fluffy explanation (and even that word is too long to describe what I did learn). Are we still shielding? Are we allowed to see anyone and would that be from Now or from July 31st, and are we still getting the food deliveries? I know the answer to the last question having just learned it from a friend, but the rest, himself nodding and saying No and Yes and then No again could mean he has signed us up for a pilot mission to Mars. I guess I will find out eventually, if a space suit arrives by carrier.

My point is that, in my strong and right mind, I can see all the mild irritations and the intense enfuryments as just things colliding with my just thoughts and just feelings. I can step back, breathe, observe and quantify, deconstruct and take appropriate action. When in a compromised state of being, it looks and feels as if I am under attack from a mysterious, invisible band of mercenaries, with me in their sights. Of course, it would be impossible, being an ordinary extraordinary human woman, to sustain such a peaceful equilibrium at all times and in all sets of circumstance. life isn’t like that for any of us. Tsunamis will rise and threaten to destroy; rain will seep into post boxes, mushing paper and packaging, days will feel trudgemonkey and food will go off in the humid heat, just before I go to re-heat it for dinner. Life is not plain sailing and we all know that. But, if I can set up an inner programme of self-encouragement, write down uplifting affirmations to stick on walls, seek conversation with friends and read good guide books – if I eat well, exercise, laugh a lot, show kindness, share love and think more often of others that of myself, I will have prepared myself for anything that might come my way on any given day.

Which is what I am doing this day. One day at a time.

Repeat daily.

Island Blog – To Fathers

I am not a father. Never will be and there’s somewhat of a relief in that secure bit of knowledge. I don’t think I realised just how much of a weight a wife and children were, and still are, on a father’s shoulders. He mustn’t cry, of course, no matter how lost or useless he might feel. At least, not in public and most of his life is in public, wife demanding, children requiring clothing, adequate food, toys, space, tuition, guidance and a massive Christmas gift. Never mind that there are five all expecting a massive Christmas gift, whilst taking all the rest for granted. I did too. I took him for granted and that is what we do until we notice something, or look back and join the dots because unless you have experienced living life as a father, you, like me, haven’t a scooby. Not a clue.

On raising children in the most humanly perfect of ways, which, naturally, was our plan, fathers have to take the buck, one that always stops with them. Fathers, if they are the main breadwinner, must leap out of bed every morning for decades in order to be whoever they are required to be on any given day. If it is an off-to-work day, then the mental suit is on and the tie tied right. All the way there, he must leave behind the father role for a few hours and immerse himself in whatever business or job lies ahead of him with all its associated demands. Then, knackered and possibly fed up, he must come through that front door and become husband and father with enthusiasm and wisdom. Blimey. That is quite a lot of requiring.

If, like me, a mother is exhausted herself by end of day, she may nip and criticise, demand and wheedle. She may offload her worries, fears and reports on the children as she might empty a dumper truck full of multiple flotsam, jetsam and other random things right into his lap. He may have only just sat down, but she hasn’t had that pleasure since he left at 07.30 so why should he be allowed now, now that she has to cook dinner, clear toys, bath the unwashed, read stories and all in the secure knowledge that Groundhog Day will come tomorrow and all the tomorrows until the children become adults and fledge? Blimey. That is quite a thixotropic thought.

Good fathers are often judged by the memories they make. Bad fathers, ditto. Of course, the same applies to mothers but this blog is not about them. I doubt there is a single father anywhere in the world, one that wants to be one, that is, who doesn’t take great care to be the best he can be, all the way up to the end. Then Life kicks in, a rogue player on the field, one with tremendous tackling skills and a complete disregard for empathy. Demands overwhelm, families get noisier, cost more money every year and never seem quite as happy as this father saw in his mind’s eye. The happy toddler becomes the door-slamming child who refuses broccoli and ignores all pleas for a stable conversation. Blimey. This is the truth and then some.

So, please raise a toast to all fathers, to yourself if you are one, to your dad, your work colleagues, your neighbours, your friends and your extended family. Consider, and remind yourself of the sacrifices these fathers have had to make in their lives. Fathers…..remember the times when everything swam along like happy fish and then remember the times when storms lashed your shores and terrified you. I salute and celebrate you. All of you excellent, strong and resilient men.

To Fathers.

Island Blog – Waiting, Silence and Engagement

This day I walk into absolute silence. Nothing moves, not a whisper, not a leaf, not a nothing. Under the tree canopy, beech, birch, sycamore, hip-hop, ash and alder, all branches, all leaves are completely still. T’is a rarity on this wind blown island and one to be noticed; one to become engaged in, to stand still beneath the huge silence and to become a part of it.

It is tempting to march on, my thoughts pushing at me like a man might ‘encourage’ me to get a move on. The Hurry Up of life is a part of our being. In order to get this done, I must move quickquick because the next thing is out there tapping its fingers on the table and rolling its eyes, impatiently. Do I always need to buy into this? Well, no, I don’t. Not now, anyway.

Standing under this still canopy, I reflect on those days, when the list was so tightly packed as to be almost impossible to achieve. Is there time between the napkin ironing and the school run, the first school run, for me to walk? Maybe, but only if you go like a dingbat, whatever that is, and avoid any such nonsense as looking out, up or around; no following a woodpecker’s looping flight, no sniffing of a wild rose in the cupped hand of that wee burn because that might take a few minutes being as you will have to lift your skirts, flip a fence and clamber.

These slow days, these days of so-called retirement, lend me time. Time that begs a payback and that payback is engagement. So, I engage. I turn to watch the sea-loch. It is flat as a mirror, burst open only by an otter, hunting. The waters close over almost immediately, as the air does once I push through it, ready, cleansed, new, for the next thing that might interrupt the still. The track is empty, as it mostly is. The stones lay flat or sometimes upskittled by a passing estate vehicle. I notice change. A branch fallen, a new growth spurt on a blackthorn, a higher rise of glorious grasses, a touch of sunlight illuminating a dead branch on an ancient tree.

In these extraordinary times, there is stillness. In fact, there is complete stopness. Where there was a flow of communication, a moving towards each other, we now step back. This day, as giving people delivered food, fish, vegetables and mail to our lockdowndoor they all pulled back as I came forward to receive. That space in between us has become, could become a long term space of fear. It must not be allowed to do that. In many ways it is so simple to go with the rules right now, but when they are lifted, will we lift, also? It thinks me, a lot. Living with Captain Vulnerable, I have many thinks about it, to be honest, and find it quite hard to see my feet on any of the future ground.

No matter. I will wait, as I did beneath the still trees, until something new illuminates my thinking. After all, I have lived through many battles, climbed many mountains, felt the fear and still marched on. And, in the meantime, I will celebrate the care and the giving and the inventiveness of those who have made these extraordinary times their chance to engage in ways they might never have known, had life stayed ordinary.

Island Blog – Diving for Change

This morning I woke to a deeper understanding of an old thing, a truth I already knew at a lighter level. Funny that, how we can hear the same thing at a different time and hear it as if for the first time. The lift of emotion is the giveaway. Going below the surface changes the view, as it does in real time. Above the surface, and even at its level, there are sounds of the world all about our ears. Diving below brings silence, at first. We leave the world behind as it were and sink into the unknown. From where we were we could probably see something down there, maybe a few somethings, but in allowing ourselves to move among the somethings we let go of control. Down here in the swirly depths, the fish, the imaginary sea creatures, we are vulnerable and we feel it. The colours that drew us in from up there become vibrant as precious jewels. Closer now and we can see movement and lives being lived. We can reach out and touch a shell, brush a tendril, catch the filtered sunlight on the diamond back of some fish or other, feel the rush of its escape as our body invades space.

It was the same for me this morning. Somehow I had allowed myself to sink below the surface, I had let go and I was vulnerable in that. And, you know what…..it feels wonderful. I realise that I have been holding onto a pattern of living that no longer serves me. Joining the dots of hindsight I see that I have known this for some time, for look…..there is a shape to it now; the hindsight dots have shown me that. How did I not see it from the get go? Because it wasn’t the right time. Time knows herself. She’s a keeper. She will illuminate the right thing at the right time for me, for everyone. She also knows when to suggest a dive. My emotional response to her is the giveaway. Learning a truth, puffing out an Aha is one thing. it is also devoid of emotion. It is understood at the level of sensibility, of logic, of the world. But, when I respond to it again at a deeper and more vulnerable level, my eyes can make rain. This is the real Aha. From this point I can never go back because once my heart gets it, it stays got. And it is such a peaceful thing. No fireworks, no need to call a friend all excited, no need to teach it, not my thing, not my new understanding.

I probably longed for this to come to me yonks ago. I wish, I wish, I wish, but it didn’t come no matter how much yoga I imagined I did, or how often I walked mindfully through the fairy woods; no matter how many books I read on the subject. This process of learning and letting go of something is out of my hands once I start wishing for it, start doing the work, and, believe me, that work is demanded of me. Wishing is for children. Wishing adults just die of an overdose of unfulfilled wishes. So my trudging along for all those yonks has finally paid off. Nothing has changed and yet everything has changed. And all I did was dive in and let go.

Island Blog – The Circus, Night Fairies and Life

I have baked a honey cake and drizzled it, put a wash on, changed a bed, dressed, applied slap, made a cauliflower cheese for supper, wished a grand-daughter happy unicorn birthday, swept the kitchen floor, prepared a salad, ate breakfast, fed the birds and the dog, danced to Ronan Keating’s new single and it is now 7 am. There is something manic about me, I am beginning to believe. Residue automatic morning-ness from when the tourist business was up and running, endless children, many of whom I didn’t know, also up and running, and food food food required by hundreds kept me cartwheeling from first light. Half the time there was little point washing up as meal demands bunched together like giggling girls on an outing. I whisked, beat, baked, stewed, roasted and steamed mountains of produce. It thinks me I am unable to step out of those running shoes, even now, when days are slow and gentle, mostly, with the exception of the odd crappy day wherein I cannot run for the life of me. My legs are leaden and my mind is a roundabout on speed. However, I am happy to report that such days are rare, not least because I can’t be bothered with any sort of sickness, mental or physical, disallowing either much space in the room. Be off with you, I say, but don’t go bothering anyone else because you are just not welcome. Try outer space.

Mornings bounce me like Tigger. I wake with the birds and absolutely cannot turn over for more sleep. Despite my passionate love for my recycled plastic bottle filled duvet and my feathery down pillows, I have too much energy fizzing through my veins to lie a minute longer. I have to be quiet, though. Himself won’t rise till about 8 and my kitchen is a floorboard below his bedroom. I don’t think they lagged things much in the 1870’s. I tiptoe through my tasks, interested, excited, curious and particularly curious when I discover that the washing pile is gone. Who has gone-d it? There is only me who washes in this house. I discover it a little later through a downstairs window, bobbing like bunting on the line. I have no recollection of hanging it there. Perhaps I didn’t. Perhaps the Night Fairies did it for me. How sweet they are. I remember them from my young harassed mother-days. They always surprised me with their kindnesses but there were times when I would rather they told me what they’d done because I might then have avoided wasting precious time in search of something I knew I had left just there the night before. Just there stares back at me emptily. I began to suspect collusion with the Night Fairies. Once, when I was certain of a pile of bed sheets awaiting a spin in the belly of my washing machine, I found them half way up the stairs, draped into an Aladdin’s cave and with two guilty looking collies curled up inside, each one enjoying a bowl of muesli.

Perhaps when life has been a circus for long enough, the circus becomes the life and each performer becomes the circus. I think I have. And I don’t mind one bit. I think the circus training has kept me bouncing through all sorts of horrible, kept me mostly up and taught me that nothing in life is going to get me down for long. I just wish I could share this with everyone else. Life is such a precious gift, and always too short. Living it right up to its end is the only path to happiness.

After all, stumble stones can always be turned into building blocks.

Island Blog – Space

Today the photography volunteers have been given the name of their project.  Minimalism.  I watch them wander around the reserve, deep in thought, eyes looking down, eyes looking up, looking out, thinking in.  What does minimalism mean to me?  Is it this leaf in a dustbowl, or that emerald green gecko shinning up a fat brown tree?  What do I hear while I seek my subject?  What do I feel, how do I feel?  Someone hunkers down to take a picture of an attention bell, one of those ping things that sit at reception when reception has popped out for a pee.  She places it carefully on the wide stone floor and crouches down to get it right.  I see the bell, tiny in such a lot of negative space.  From above it certainly is minimalism.  A child’s boat in a great stone ocean.  From down there, where she is, the bell becomes huge and the stone ocean goes on for ever, or, at least, until it meets the wall.

At art school we were required to work on negative space.  I hadn’t a scooby what that was, thinking it was something dodgy, the opposite of positive space, if, indeed that’s not an oxymoron. I found it extremely difficult at first, looking at what wasn’t there, the space in between the things that were.  We had to look, see, draw the spaces, not the jugs or benches or trees or parked cars.  All I could see was physical presence until, eversoslowly, just as my eyeballs threatened early closing, I got it, saw it and it was huge.

My understanding of opposites can often be This or That.  I forget there are many miles in between the two, many colours, hues, options.  Inhabiting that space is something I need to re-train my mind to work with.  A physical life requires certain choices between This and That and decisions are based on what I see, what is available, what is acceptable in any given moment.   We like routine, most of us, known quantities of things fixable and in good working order, things we use in our daily lives.  There is, after all, a time and place for everything, is there not? I want a positive space to live in, one that protects me, mostly, from myself, one that nurtures, one I can see clearly and understand.

At home, I would call those times of deep internal unrest, negative space.  Instead of really looking into that space, seeing it for what it is and allowing it just to be, I feel that I need to colour it in with my own pack of crayons.  I need to get busy, sweep the floor, cook something, change a bed, anything that gives me good grasp of the positive, the physical. What I can touch reassures me.  At least, over these things, I have control. That awful empty space back there, the one I just ran away from, the one full of unhappy thoughts and doubts and fears, well I sincerely hope that, by the time I descend the stairs, it has flown out the window.  Go pray on someone else you horrid negative space.  I’m fine now, with my pinny on and not long till lunch and the aftermath of dishes and cups to wash and dry.  When I focus on the tasks ahead of me, I can feel the calm.  There is always something to be done, after all, something that demands straightening, or mending, or wiping down, and once collected in an orderly fashion inside my mind, I am happy again. I am safe.  this life is just fine.

However, this is a life out of balance.  It must be, because the negative space is still there and it still bugs me. I don’t ask for it but it has something of import to show me.  Drawing the space in between two jugs, I began to notice the distance.  It wasn’t empty at all.  Behind the jugs I could see someone’s hand as they drew their own negative space, a corner of a cupboard, a snatch of white-scuffed blackboard, and even further back, the branch of a tree through the murky window.  It made me realize that I could look for ever into negative space and find positives, but distant positives, not too close, not mine to fix or mend or rearrange.  They were simply there.  I could fill in the gaps, complete the cupboard, the hand or the tree in my mind, but, somehow, I didn’t need to.

In order to control my mind, my thoughts, thoughts that fuel my choices of action and thoughts that will always have consequences, I need discipline, but discipline and I have never enjoyed each other’s company. I didn’t ever complete the drawing (no discipline!) because I was so pulled into the space.  I may have been given  poor marks, but what I learned about negative space back then has become a life-long fascination.  The trick is to be able to inhabit it, just as it is.  Those times of discomfort and self-doubt will still come to me.  I can fill them with stuff and noise and self pity; I can beat myself up, tear myself to shreds with my hyena teeth, or I can simply let them wash over me and move on.  I doubt that I will ever learn my way around them, never ‘complete’ my drawing, but if I just sit and let them come to me, surround me, without fear……. if I can find the courage to do that, I believe I will, at last, be able to say this is Me.

No apology.

 

Island Blog 150 Space and Time

 

 

 

Space station 1Space station

 

 

Last night I watched the International Space Station move across the starry sky. A golden orb it was, arcing overhead, just a tiny dot. Six atronauts are aboard. I waved. I know, sad really, but you never know what a welcome wave can impart across space and time. I’m thinking ‘butterfly wings. The illusion of ‘just a dot’ in the wide sky of a sparsely inhabited island would be no less to anyone who glimpsed it last night between high rise buildings in a big city. And, yet, six whole living people are aboard. To them, we, the whole WE, that is, the Earth, is also illusive. They know we are millions, we are legion, and yet, all they see is a rolling ball of mountains, plains and seas. They don’t see us and we don’t see them, but because of our vast technology, we know we are all where we are.

Let’s look closer.

Up there, last night, NASA emailed a racheting socket wrench. Well, not quite the actual wrench, but a 3D image via a 3D printer that guided the Commander to fashion one himself. It would have taken months for supply vessel to deliver one. Months.

When we look up, we imagine stars to be small sparkly lights dinging about when the clouds are away bothering someone else, even though we know that some of them are much bigger than our own world.  Still, as we point them out to a little one, to gaze up in wonder, we don’t think of great lumbering planets, already dying, but of diamonds in the night.

The International Space Station travels at 27,000 km per hour at an orbit height of 431 km, and here I am wondering how long it will take to drive to Doune for Christmas with all that festive traffic.  But, my place is down here, not up there, and here is where I need to remember the illusions of time and of space.  We know both are always with us, always influencing our decisions, our routines, our days and our nights, but because we cannot control either of them, tame either of them, rule over either of them, we just have to let them be.  We must walk with them, through them and around them as fellow miracles.

Now, we may not think of others as fellow miracles.  In fact, some are way off miracle grade, in our opinion.  But again, this is an illusion.  I know that, at this time of year, everyone is ‘goodwilling’ themselves to death, smiling when before there was no smile, giving when we only take for the rest of the year, lifting our care-worn spirits  and tired bodies in frightful jumpers and paper hats and telling ourselves it’s fun, and I never did understand why January is all about diets and New Year’s Resolutions.  Why don’t we eat sensibly and employ self-control all through the year?  Why can’t we give to those who need something we have, and they don’t, every single month? It seems we turn back to ourselves after this crazy happy festive season to face the big black hole inside every one of us all over again.

Black holes.  They’re in space too, and in time.  Those who are lonely are often closer by than we might like, often in the family.  In space, they eat you.  As they do down here.  For all the technology, the space research, the developments in education, social media, lifestyle (for some) and health care, we are still lost.

And yet, we are found too.  If every one of us chose not to turn back in, to scrabble around in the illusion that we are not enough, not clever, not destined for greatness, not important, we might learn, bit by bit, to look out, to see other walking miracles, to learn from them.  It isn’t easy for any of us.  We all have black holes, black illusions.  But those who do make a difference, who do become important, who are clever and definitely more than enough, are those little people who choose not to be consumed by self-pity, guilt and regret. Not one of them was born with anything more than the rest of us.  There’s no magic here.  Every single one of us grows a black hole.  Once we acknowledge that, we can move on beyond it, whether we have ‘everything’ or ‘nothing’.

Another human illusion.

The people who have chosen not to turn back in are the heroes, the warriors, the fighters for life. And they began right here, taking one step at a time, one day at a time.

It’s a new day today.  Christmas is coming.  But Christmas will also go, leaving us behind.

What will you make of yourself when it does?

Island Blog 78 – Reality Check

crazy

I have sailed the seas in a ship made of diamonds

pearl coloured sails and the moonlight to guide

I have swum in the depths and played in the shallows

felt the child in my womb jump for joy in the night

but wherever I go, that’s where I’ll find me

there’s no running away.

For I always need to come home again

even if voices may beg me to stay.

When I write a song, I just let the words flow.  Nonsense a lot of the time, but this doesn’t bother me.  Nonsense never did.  What bothers me is what the world calls reality.

If I set off into reality, to scrub a bathroom, say, or plunder the veg counter in the local shop, I can call it whatever I want.  If it’s me, which I usually am, I will find faces among the brassicas and patterns in the legume basket.  Bananas are definitely grammar (( as are the full stops of blueberries, although the mushy ones could be commas.  In the bathroom, I can set up quite a rhythm with the loo brush around the bowl, and a serious counterpoint if I add the squirts of cleaner at just the right moment.  Over at the basin, there is a splendid piece of art going on with shaving foam droplets and toothpaste in a lovely concave composition, one I almost don’t want to wipe away.

Downstairs, the new washing machine having finally laid down moorings (I found the spirit level), hums and sloshes and the washing powder tin on the shiny white top, thrums a little to itself.  In the kitchen, I can whizz, chop, stir fry or simmer.  The fridge, faulty, bless it, but still going, hums and burps and emits sudden gurgles, much like a happy baby.  When the man of the house makes a sandwich, the floor takes on a wonderful speckle, that looks as if we had an early flurry of snow, and when the little dog laps her water, the spilled drops reflect the sunlight and sparkle like jewels.

On the line, the breeze pulls and pushes at the washing, slowly, at first and faster as the water moisture lifts back into the sky, whence it came, via the tank in the loft, of course.

I have flown as high as the geese and then higher,

burst like a seed through the hymen of space

I have watched a star explode into millions

new lights for the darkness, in patterns of lace

But wherever I go, that’s where I’ll find me

there’s no running away

for I always need to come home again

even though voices may beg me to stay.

lucky that.

Island Blog 51 – Stirred Not Shaken

Blog 51

 

When I am home again on the island, after a time away, I spend the first day remembering.

I remember a sudden smile on an old familiar face whilst sorting through the washing to be washed.  I hear again a comment, made days back and long forgotten by the one who made it and whose mouth has filled with many words since.  For that person, it is gone forever, but not for me, who heard it and held it and find it still inside my head, and sometimes my heart.  Lisa from Two Roads, for example, who spoke out before all those who came to the second book launch of Island Wife in Norwich, the home of my formative years, although, to be honest, I would question the formative bit.  It’s not like I stopped forming once I left, frozen in time as ‘her’ because ‘her’ has changed a whole lot since then.  For beginners, ‘her’ no longer wears shiny hotpants, nor does she feel like a bit part in someone else’s play.

Back, as they tell me ALL the time…..to the subject……..

Lisa stood up and said things about me as a person that made me feel like I was really something.  She talked about the book, about Island Wife and how it came into her hands and how Hodder multiplied it thousands of times over, flying out into the world on its own wings.  Karen, Queen of Publicity, came too and spoke of new avenues, new ideas, new hopes and plans for my story as we shared a cream tea in a smart town hotel.  Actually, I didn’t share mine, but that is so not the point.

Old friends I haven’t seen for 3 decades bought first editions and invited us for coffee, tea, supper and lunch, taking us on journeys through little Norfolk lanes lined with old red brick cottages and a lot of history, and the sun shone the whole time.

At the launch, someone tapped me on the shoulder.

I’m June, she said, and I knew her face at once, although on another’s shoulders, for she is the youngest daughter of the Old Horseman in my book.  We talked a little, whilst we could, and she went away with her signed book.  I had tried to find the descendants of those who gave of their best to us on the farm, and her unexpected visit (I hadn’t managed to find her) lifted my heart the highest.

The other lifting thing was that I realised among old friends, that, although we are all older, I am still the daft eejit.  Some long to be daft eejits, and some are jolly glad they aren’t, but, for me, it says just the right thing about me.  However tough life is, whatever comes our way, tries to break our spirits, confound us, shake our confidence, we always have our inner spirit, and it is our own.  My confidence shaker may be different to yours, but I still experience the shake.

May as well make it one with ice cream, fresh strawberries, mango juice and champagne.

 

With Two Straws.