Island Blog – Fairy, Dragon, Princeling

Yesterday I had two granddaughters with me for a short while. I collected them, backpacked up with games, toys, pens, snacks and we wandered down the track to my home. I watch them pause, flip off shoes, respectful. Once inside the door, enthusiasm skids beneath their feet as if they were on ice. Just a doorway change. I remember noticing that their grandfather’s mind wiped as he moved through a doorway. The anger, frustration and, well, the whole rant thing, disappeared as he shuffled through. It seemed as if he forgot all of it. I saw it on his face, knew it, relaxed.

We, no, not we, for I was distracted, I had email to check, fuss to fuss over, initially. As I heard them plant, root and bring out Deep Sea Bingo, I was a doorway away but listening. One was losing and causing a mini explosion until her older sister talked her down. All the usual. There is no pain in losing. We all need to lose now and again. It doesn’t mean you are a loser. That sort of 8 year old wisdom. The wails subsided and I kept schtum. Let it be, let them be, I said as I fiddled another tricky tapestry stitch. I am watching. I am hearing.

Then I join in. What in the heck is a Fiddle Fish? I put my specs on. Oh, I quite like the look of you. And there were many more with names and images that left me lost on the land. But what really intrigued me was the interest of the wee ones. It was a loud thing, of course. Loads of chat and chatter, arguments rising like tiny fires and then dying back into a concentrate of calm. I watch the redhead and the strawberry blonde. The girls are quicker than I at seeing whether or not they have a Lesser Spotted Cattlehead or a Snub-nosed Dinky Bird. It takes me a while to scan my bingo board, to read the words. I realise I am better at this thing if I get a visual. Show me the card, I ask the Strawberry blonde. Better. My brain works on visual i.d. I don’t win, of course. Gaga, you did have the Yellow Beaked Fake Dolphin……look! Silly Gaga. We all chuckle. Maybe I did win after all. I consider the names of these extraordinary creatures. Who ever thought the prefix ‘Common’ would sit well with something completely uncommon? I always feel sorry for the ‘Commons’ in both the animal and flora/fauna worlds. It sits like an insult. Nothing and no-one is ever common, not in my story.

After they had gone, I heard the silence. With little ones around there is never silence. If you can’t hear children, then there aren’t any. My name flies into the air a hundred times an hour. Questions too. Gaga, did you know that all dogs are round? Are they, I raise my eyebrows and cast a glance towards the Poppy dog, asleep and indeed curled into a donut. Yes, she says. They like being round. People can’t be round. They’re straight. Daddy is straight. Excellent observation, I tell her and her smile beams. But Mummy can be round, she says, her red curls bobbing. Ice blue eyes lock with my own. She is expecting correction, I think, and here it comes but not from me. No she isn’t, snorts her older sister, laying out the chips for a second round of Bingo. She is straight too. But she can curl into a round, I say. I’ve seen her do it. Your mummy is made of elastic. She can stretch and ping anywhere. They erupt in hysterics.

Around children, truth will be told. Questions require answers, observations are made and they have a canny knack of getting right to the core, one you may well have kept hidden for good reason. Where is Popz now? One asks. he is flying about up there, I tell them. Like a bird? Well, not quite like a bird. More a spirit. What’s a spirit? A spirit is mostly air and scoot. Like a cloud? Sort of. I would be a spirit, says the older one, if I could. No, not a spirit, a good fairy. I warm to this change of subject. I would be a dragon, I announce, a good one, a luck one. Pink? Yes, naturally. Well I would be a princeling says the redhead, straight-faced and I haven’t the heart to tell her that princelings are usually boys. After all, who knows what will be possible when she moves out into the world?

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.