Island Blog – A Dalliance with the Dark

In spite of a strong ability to focus on the light in everything and everyone, there are times when the shadows band together, creating dark. I can see it coming, feel my arms begin to flail and my happy heart turn tearful. The inevitable is coming and I know it will pass, as everything always does, but my own core strength is no match for it. At first, I feel irritation at things I had thought were completely accepted, in a state of order like soldiers, rank and file, and under my command. Then I might react, verbally or with tuts and sighs to those irritations, my cheerful voice dulled, silenced or delivered in a minor key. Dammit, this shouldn’t be happening. I have been in control of me for so long now. I must be falling back, losing my grip on things. I search for reasons. It’s because I am weary of this, of all of it; of the endlessness of caring, the fight against a strong desire to run for the hills; Groundhog Day, over and over and over and, by the way, there is no sign of it ever being truly over; The domestic round, the isolation, the fear of Covid 19, the washing, the cleaning, the lack of excursions, meals out, coffee with friends or the chance to jump in muddy cuddles with my grandchildren. A collusion of reasons to fall into darkness.

But I don’t want to. However, at the point, ie now, that I accept such times as perfectly normal, as times other people go through just like me, that it is not my sins finding me out and the Great Judge is not jabbing a finger of blame in my direction, I can begin to relocate the light that never really left. In accepting such times as understandable, as reasonable, as justifiable, I stop beating myself up. Although the days roll on ad infinitum, it is fair to say that only Mary Poppins could sing through such interminability. An ordinary human will falter, the inner tantrum will rise from time to time because we are not fictitious characters nor are we robots. We are remarkable, indeed we are, living through this with our best attitudes and most inventive brains, but we must also allow ourselves to grow weary of the drudge, sad at the lack of ‘out there’ opportunities and picnics on the beach, fed up of the same four walls, the same encounters in doorways, the brain-numbing battles of will over the same issues over and over again. Without external encounters our thinking remains just that. Our own thinking. Sharing tales, stories, ideas, laughter and recipes in a sociable situation will always lift a flagging spirit. We miss that and sometimes, very much indeed, no matter how positively we are living through this strange time.

So I am not failing, nor falling. I am still a sunshine me. I choose not to be the Great Judge. Instead, I will settle the stooshie inside my heart with kindness and empathy, stepping as lightly as I can into yet another day.

Island Blog – Remembering the Butterfly

Today started well. I rose at 5.30 as usual, washed and dressed. Downstairs waiting for the kettle to boil I realised my frock wasn’t feeling like it did yesterday. It was tight under the arms and squashful across my bows. As I wear two or three frocks at the one time, layered with musical precision and always clashing wildly with each other, I wasn’t sure which frock was the offender. Well, dammit, I will have to pull them all off, whence I discovered the blue one, the last one, the one playing the bass line, was on back to front. it was a relief to finally reassemble the noisy ensemble and to hear and feel, once again, a smooth and velvety tune. I take a big drink of water, fill and flip on the kettle for coffee, and prepare to put a wash on. Lifting a pasta bowl from the drainer, I dropped it on my bare foot. Yelling in silence, so as not to disturb himself so early, and hopping around the table I glowered at said pasta bowl which had rolled off into the corner and was definitely sniggering.

On making the coffee #footthrobbing I put 3 tea bags in the pot and poured on the water. There was just enough. I left the brew to steep and went off to refill himself’s water bottles and to lay our clean hankersniffs. I wiped down his rolling stock (hospital bed tables) and poured myself a coffee. I planned to listen to the birds, watch them flit and flut, fight and fly off, a lovely show of colour and attitude. This is not coffee. Initially I was a bit shocked #foorstillthrobbing at the thought of my folly. How could I do that? I don’t even drink tea, although my hand knows the route to the caddy as I make tea for himself all the live long day, so it could be that. I’m not losing it, I swear.

Washing spun and ready to go out, I gather the peg bag and climb the mosaic steps up to the hill garden. It isn’t blowing much and the air is looking rather tut tut but I’ll risk it. One of the items is a large woollen blanket and I don’t really want that draped inside the house if possible. The vetches, alpines, wildflowers, berberis, dwarf willow, violets and daisies all accept my greeting. I always talk to my flowers and other growing things. In fact, I have noticed the birds calm as you like around me when I go to feed them of a morning. I walk in slow motion and soothe them with my soothiest voice and they know me now. It’s rather charming. The flowers are quieter but I know they hear me. Anyway, back to the washing line. Hallo Lady Larch! She is the tree who supports the yellow plastic line and we respect each other. The last thing to fix is the blanket. I admire it for a bit. It is considerably whiter than it was pre wash, like snow or sea froth. Last peg connected and I spin around to leave. Ah……

My other foot, not the still throbbing one, manages to catch a corner I hadn’t noticed, still touching the grass but only just. There’s a little hole in this corner and my toe leaps through. I know I’m going to fall, and it is only grass, which reassures me as I do. Picture me now. I am lying on my back, my leg extended cloudwards, my toe in a woollen blanket stranglehold. There is nothing to do but laugh, even as I realise that both feet are going to have something to say about this morning’s abuse. I stay where I am for a few minutes, watching the clouds schist and shrink, billow and spin against the blue. Lying back, quiet now, all laughed out and barely moving, a butterfly lands on my nose. I stare at its underbelly, feel its tiny feet on my skin, see its wings lit like disco balls as the sun shines through. It stays, and stays for what seems an age, and is suddenly gone.

Later I couldn’t open the back door because himself had parked his wheelchair right up against it; the bruschetta mix I made is watery without lovely greek tomatoes that have actually seen sunshine; I’ve almost run out of kindling and I forgot to get bananas at the shop; the bulb for my flytrap died; I dropped flour all over the flour (bag burst) and my stillthrobbingtoe is turning blue.

But all I remember is the butterfly.

Island Blog – Garlic, Gratefulness and Fairies

In the afternoon sunshine of yesterday we set off to the Fairy Woods to gather wild garlic. I had a recipe for pesto and was keen to make it. Popz on his quad, me on my feet, Poppy trotting alongside, we wound our way through the violets, primroses, wood anemones and sorrel, between the mish-mash of ancient trees, all pushing out green. Turning down towards the shore we couldn’t avoid squashing a carpet of Celandine, faces pointed towards the sun, yellow as new butter, petal perfect. The ground was crunchy, old leaves drying, finally, and as far as we could see, a wide stretch of emerald green wild garlic leaves fluttered in the breeze. I knew I had to find 150 grams and made, as it turned out, a good guess. As we wandered back home, seeing absolutely nobody, we reflected on how this lockdown is a blessing for us. And how it must be a prison sentence for so many others. It’s good to be grateful, good for the health of the person with a thank you in her mouth.

In South Africa, nobody is allowed to go beyond the perimeter fence of their own garden, reserve, township or flat. Anybody found on the streets is at the mercy of the police. One person from each household is allowed to shop alone and once a week. All sales of alcohol and cigarettes are banned. I don’t think that sort of lockdown would make me all that grateful, although gratitude is not something we feel because we have everything. Sometimes our everything is someone else’s nothing much, but we can still find a thank you, if we trouble ourselves to think and reflect and, to a degree, compare our situation with another’s.

This slowdown lockdown time is giving us opportunities to check ourselves from the inside out; to question why we feel this flash of discontent or loneliness or self-criticism. What is it that brings these feelings? Have I felt this before, even when lockdown was not in place? Chances are, I have. So let me poke around through my memories, remembering how good they are at lying. Let me stop when the feeling comes and turn to say ‘hallo’. Let me look this feeling smack in the eyeballs and ask it what it wants from me now, now that I don’t need it at all. There is time for such work these days and, if we are canny, and if we have remembered our dreams and hopes for our own future, we have the chance to find an answer. Ah, so this thing that you do that annoys the bejabers out of me and always has……yes, that thing, the one you have no intention of stopping, even supposing you consciously know you do it in the first place, which you probably don’t.

So, instead of allowing that irritation to rise in me, I will consider a different way to live with this thing in you. How about I am so busy doing my own thing that yours is just a whisper in the winds of change? Or perhaps I will notice and reflect on my own habits that I know irritate you; if I have the humility to go there, of course. It takes courage to go there. Many of us don’t bother. We want everything, not just something and there’s not a lot of gratitude in that. In fact we prefer, if you don’t mind, to grumble about ‘your’ irritating thing, to growl at it, to let it control us, for that is exactly what we are doing.

Well, poo to that. I know that I do spend much time poking about inside myself, and that for some I am a bit of a laughing matter, but it is my thing. If I want to rise from this slowdown lockdown not only intact, but elevated and forever changed, which I do, then I must adopt an attitude of non-judgemental humility and that non-judgement must apply to me too. This way gratitude lies, even for those who cannot walk as we do every day into the Fairy Woods, even them. A time of reflection is laid out before us now, like the Celandine and, if we turn our perfect petals to the light of the sun, we can all come out on the other side of this as better humans.

We never did see a fairy.

Island Blog – Unicorns, Bananas and Hope

I wake with a wobble this morning. I suspect I am not the only one. I know there is a big shopping list downstairs in my cosy kitchen, plus a couple of things to post, and, yet, I don’t want to go anywhere near people who still breathe. I make tea and drink it, watching the day rise like Venus from the troubled waves of the night. She looks good. The usual fly-by of geese, loons, swans and garden birds entertain me for a while until I hear the sounds of the seventies overhead. That’s himself getting up. It thinks me of a first drum lesson, all bangs and thumps and with no rhythm to speak of.

Although I am not nosophobic at all, I have a healthy respect for an invisible enemy. Who doesn’t! So, after a ridiculous and chuckly conversation with a girlfriend about what bananas remind us of when baked and floppy, I decide not to shop this morning. We have enough in store and besides I can cook the sole of a gymshoe and make it tasty, or so I tell my grandchildren. I decide to inhabit the day with an attitude of ad hockery which feels rather racy and sounds loaded with opportunities. First, I bleach the door handle after a delivery of unicorn poo. For those who have never encountered a unicorn, never mind its poo, let me explain. These pellets, prettily gathered into the depths of a little hessian pouch, ribbon tied, are, in fact, wildflower seeds. You just push the pellet into the earth, not deep, and wait for your unicorn to grow……should take between 4-6 weeks. I can’t wait. I bake the bananas and cover them in custard. They may taste lovey but, naked, they are far from eyesome. Listening to tunes of the 80s and dancing along a bit, the day moves forward in a beamish sequence of start, middle and finish. Many tasks complete themselves this way and all I do is walk beside them, mindfully, of course. We sort it out together.

Walking, I see the larch green above my head, the little primroses peeking out from sheltered dips, yellow as sunshine. A pair of mallards lift like an eruption from the burn as I startle them into the air, the drake a rainbow of colours. Two otters cavort in the sea-loch, pushing out from the rocks, from the safety of their holt, out in the wide open on a fish hunt. I watch a huge fish jump although it seems too early – maybe not. Horse chestnut leaves look like green fingers against the sky, now a mackle of clouds in shades of grey. I see nobody. For a whole 40 minutes as I walk through woods and along side the rocky shore, I am alone, just me and the little dog. By this time, visiting walkers would be all over this place like a pox, and welcome indeed, but not this year. Maybe not at all this season, for who can say? We are, after all in the incunabula of something we cannot explain nor define and that’s enough to wobble the sturdiest of us.

I light the fire for it is still chilly, even if the sun does shine down his generous warmth. Flowers are pushing through the earth, shrubs throwing blooms and trees beginning to spread their canopy. It’s a time of hope and that is one thing that never runs out. If one person loses it for a while, someone else can bring it back and it doesn’t require physical contact to spread. It just flows between us like a soft breeze and we can safely breathe it in until it fills us up once more. Then we can pass it on to another who needs it.

In 4-6 weeks I hope to have a garden full of unicorns. What larks, Pip!

Island Blog from Africa

sausage tree

 

 

They tell me the sausage tree hasn’t flowered for years.  It is now.  Two fat crimson blooms, deep as trumpets, hang down and waggle in the hot wind.  A sugar bird dips its beak into the nectar, then throws back its head to swallow.  Only two blooms as yet, but tomorrow rain is promised.  I sit in the dappled shade of a jacaranda and over there a coral tree waves fire blooms at the sky.  It’s super hot today and the sky is wide and blue with just faint brushstrokes of cloud. I look up and all I see is colour, bright primaries, nothing muted or almost there, but loud in my eyes, almost blinding.

I woke early this morning, around 5 am and opened my curtains slowly.  There she is, Shiloh the Peaceful, a heavily pregnant Nyala, a deer in a land of many different species of deer.  Her body is light tan, softly streaked with white and she has chosen the safety of this small reserve to give birth.  Her herd could be anywhere but she needs solitude for the task ahead.  I could reach out and touch her, she is so close to my window.  She looks at me.  I look back but she isn’t alarmed and soon her head returns to the ground, to pick the watered grass, her nourishment.  Keep safe, I whisper.  She would make a fine breakfast for a hungry leopard and there is a big male that walks this place at night.  Many other deer have made this place their home.  Little hunched Bush Buck, jumpy Impala and, now, Shiloh the Peaceful.

Swifts cut through the blue above my head whilst petrol blue blackbirds scuttle along the ground.  On a walk through the bush yesterday I saw grasshoppers as long as a Scottish housemouse, green at first until they spread their crimson wings.  When the rains come so will the spiders, the scorpions, and the snakes.  When the new arrivals gathered this morning for a power point induction, we learned the guidelines for a safe and happy stay here.  Some have come for a few weeks, some a few months, a few for longer, but the rules around wildlife are always the same.  How to behave in the wild is not a matter of choice, but of survival.  All of us gave our full attention, needless to say.

When encountering anything with venom, claws, teeth or trunks, don’t change shape.  That’s the nutshell of it.  No flapping of arms, no running, just very slowly back away, or, in some cases, stand absolutely still like in musical statues.  One guide, whilst out in the bush came face to face with a cheetah.  Although raw terror shot through him and every natural instinct was to run, he knew better.  Standing completely still and in silence, he waited as the cheetah came towards him brushing the skin of his leg and moving on down the dust track.  Easily advised, this standing still thing, but the truth is that any movement, any attempt to run would have been disastrous.  However, not one single wild animal has the slightest interest in humans, beyond curiosity.  They don’t fancy a human for lunch, nor do they carry ill intent towards us, nor do they think and reason as we do.  They run entirely on instinct and will not harm any of us unless we do something foolish, like flap or run.

We are all wise to remember that this land is their land, not ours.

Island Blog 160 Heads and Tails

best-inspiring-quotes

This morning I walk out into sunshine.  The greylags are crossing the sea-loch, their babes in tow, paddling like the good little muckers they need to be.  Collared doves float between the telephone wire and the bird table and a little mouse just shot along the windowsill (on the outside).  When I empty the compost bucket into the worm-tastic bin, I stand for a moment watching the new mini-hive with just a handful of workers tending a new queen cell, buzzing in and out, always doing the right thing.  Baby birds line the fence, their beaks open, their wings fluttering, their voices pleading, and, sure enough, there is a parent to make everything okay.  The little blackbird we found in the garage, once lifted into the back garden, yelled its head off until mum and dad appeared, making encouraging noises and darting back and forth between the branches.

‘Yes, yes…..they say, we know you haven’t grown a tail yet dear, get over it……. but if you don’t remember those wings can lift you off the ground, then you never will!’

It thinks me about the way they live, those that have a purpose and know it and never forget it.  Okay they are creatures, not humans, but I am game to learn from anything and anyone.  Learning to fly, sans tail, is something we can all do if we choose.

And, unlike animals, we can think and we can reason.

Perhaps that is our problem, because we might forget at times to be thankful for what we have.

Example…….I look out at the garden and I think….oh flip just look at those weeds!  I look around my house and see the dust.  I have a shopping list and I don’t feel like shopping.  But these are just my work, my everyday, my purpose.  Within each of these tasks I find it, if I focus on the task itself, and if I consider it a thanks to life.  Yes, I have weeds that grow faster than I can yank them out, but, at least I have a garden;  yes, there is dust, daily arrivals of it and yes, it shows up in the sunshine, as do the filthy windows, but, at least I have a furnished house with windows; yes, I have a shopping list but at least I have money to buy what I need, a shop down the road, a car to take me there…….and so on.

With these and so many more of my gifts, comes responsibility, my responsibility to each of them, to honour each one, with respect and good humour, for what is this life, if not a gift?  Whatever hardships I may encounter, they will never be as hard as they are for others.  I tell myself that, often, at times when I forget I have wings.

These times are valuable times.  Pushing them away, pretending they’re not there is never the answer.  Feelings about life come and go;  times are good and times are not good;  the way we see something one day is not necessarily the way we will see it the next.  We all want to be happy all of the time, and, yet this is an ideal, an impossible dream, perfection.  In order to become the best we can, we need a lost tail day or two here and there, because, although it may be uncomfortable, it helps us to remember that we do have wings.

Oh, and good news for those with lost tails…….

They grow again.

 

 

Island Blog 156 Another Way Back Home

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I realised, whilst getting myself lost in the streets of Barcelona, that although most of us have two eyes, two ears, one nose and one mouth, no two of us look exactly the same.  Similar, yes, almost identical in twins, but never exactly the same.  Even the identical twins I know, numbering one brace of birds, are not exactly the same; eyes slightly further apart on one, mouth a bit wider on the other, one quiet and pensive, the other gregarious and full of chat.

People throng through these streets.  I stop in a patch of sunshine as they flow by me.  They seem to know where they’re going, these hundreds of different faces, just in this one square with 10 narrow cobbled streets running out from it like sunbeams in a child’s painting. Not only am I seeing different nationalities and colours, but within those very numbers there are more differences, and more.  Perhaps, I wonder to myself, as I puff for the enth time back into Government Square, they are all thinking it’s Groundhog Day and I am the one keeping it going, popping into view again and again as if I can’t get enough of Government HQ. Although they are a moving mass of human souls, I’m sure I recognise a few of them and they do stare a bit as I grow more and more de-hydrated and anxious.  How on earth I manage to keep returning to the same flipping square, when I choose a new street every time is a marvel, even to me, although in my defence, I would like to point out that every single one of them is lined with the same shops.  One Desigual, one Barcelona Football Shop, one Flower Shop and one Pharmacy.  I might be needing that one if I don’t find my way out of the maze.  I also have no money, no idea of the address I’m staying at, nor do I have my mobile phone.

I bet not another soul in this flipping Government Square (oh here it is again!) is as vulnerable on this deceptively calm sunny afternoon.  I decide to stop panicking and lean against a wall looking as nonchalant as I can manage. Even though my mouth is dry as sandpaper and my heart about to take off,  I manage to calm my breathing, refusing to pay attention to any thoughts of being lost in Spain for months and dying of thirst.   Nobody knows where I am, other than somewhere in Barcelona and, as it took us 30 minutes to reach the outskirts yesterday in a speedy motor, it’s a pretty big city.  It’s beautiful too, and filled with stunning architecture, churches with bells that toll every quarter and on the hour, quirky alleyways (!), window boxes ablaze with colour, bustling cafes and wine bars.  Gaudi is everywhere, or his influence is.  The Gran Familia is spectacular from the outside with swoops and swirls of stonework, angels and trumpets, holy words and what looked liked bowls of fruit at the very top.  The queue was long and it was raining that day so we didn’t go inside but sat, instead under a cafe umbrella drinking strong black coffee and sharing our opinions on the charge of 25 euros per person to walk through a sacred space, squashed, as you would be, in a seethe of people, and unable to see very much at all.

We are not only different on the outside, but on the inside too.  It’s a strange part of our DNA, this difference thingy, because, to be honest, if a little more consideration had gone into our wiring, we might all be great pals, and life would be a doddle.  And dreadfully dull, or so I imagine.  If we knew just what to do next around each other, we wouldn’t have to ask, research, enquire.  We wouldn’t have to dig deep inside ourselves for those folk we find ‘difficult’.  We would never need to change. It sounds like Pleasantville to me.

However there are times when I get thoroughly fed up with all this inner changing.  It’s all very well writing, and reading, books on the subject of inner betterment, but putting any of it into practice is hard work.  Sometimes minute by minute hard work and for years and years.  What I have learned is that, if I want to succeed in life I must put everyone else first.  I must be compassionate even when I feel like murder – especially then – and I must learn not to talk about myself as often as possible.

I could fold my mental arms and stay exactly as I am, but the damnable thing is that if I put into practice all of the above, learn to breathe more slowly and to count to ten instead of ripping someone’s head off, it is I who feel better about me!   I have achieved something, because I have overcome myself. I have found a new way. I don’t welcome change, not in the areas I don’t feel need it, but it is needed for there to be any peace. Biting my tongue is painful, but so much better in the long run.  Those unspoken words can leave my mouth in one slow outbreath.  Simples.

I was certain I was right in my choice of direction out of the square and yet I was insistently walking the same way over and over, hoping for a different outcome.  Once I stopped marching forth with all the conviction of a zealot, my mind set in concrete, and I slowed down, breathed away the panic and allowed in, if not welcomed, the possibility that I might be wrong in my choice of direction, I noticed a wooden walkway between two buildings that had been there all along.  It was the one I had walked beneath and admired some hours before. This was my way back home.

I can do the same around a routine, or the way I like something done.  It can be a no-big-deal sort of thing and yet it escalates into exactly that when I hold on too tight. After all, I’ve done it this way for years.  Why should I change it?

But….  if I let go,(just saying it lowers my shoulders and unclaws my fingers) I allow in the possibility that there might be another way.

Another way back home.