Island Blog – The Right Feet

Well, we all got through it, did we not! Christmas Day, done, for another year. I suspect we all felt a bit weird about this one, this strange creature in control of all of us, to some degree or another, faltering our forward motion as if we had our shoes on the wrong feet. Some of us could still meet with loved ones, some of us could not, thus facing a very deep sense of loneliness at a time when family becomes so very precious. Sharing laughter and games, songs, dancing, and the brightly lit faces of children takes on a new air of importance. And it was denied us. We don’t like being denied big things, if we are honest. As teenagers we would have found any such denial of liberty an anathema and, if you were like me, would have felt outraged, defiant and rebellious. But this time we were/are not in any position to stick our heads over the parapet. The bullets are too multiple, too accurately delivered by an enemy far more powerful than we mere mortals, and invisible. All we can do, regardless of boiling blood, resentment, isolation and with no sign of an end to this war, is to hunker down and support each other through the shivers and wails of despair. A bit like life in the trenches. There will be those whose natural humour will lift us with the most awful jokes, at which we laugh anyway, because we long to laugh and pretty much any humour will do, for now. We have been whittled down to a new shape and this has gifted us a new noticing. We see any light brighter; any voice more welcome to our ears; any gift greater than ever before. We can see, now, the loving care that went into that gift, the effort it took to make, or discover online, or purchase from a non-essential shop, all masked up and queueing for 3 weeks in the rain.

In short, we are becoming more human, not less so. In times like these, the ones to ask are the ancients. They have been through war, rationing, queuing for 3 weeks in the rain for a single loaf of stale bread. Most of us haven’t a scooby about such times, but now we do, to a degree, for we are living it and learning it, learning how to be the best humans we can be, despite the fear and ditherment, the lack of any light ahead, the lack of an end. We like an end. In business plans, dream plans, goal plans, the end comes first. What do I want to achieve? Well, that’s simple. I want ‘this’. Okay that good. Now, how do I get there? And so we break it down, and down and down again until we arrive at the first baby step. Getting out of bed is a good start.

But this situation is all about baby steps because not one single one of us can see the end. We can talk about it (endlessly), can raise a guesstimate or two, can prophesy and preach but it is all surmise. However, if you are like me, you like order. I want to know where I am going and why and how I will get there, even if ‘there’ is invisible and likely to remain thus for some time to come. If I cannot see the end, then what shall I do about the baby steps, and, what am I walking towards anyway with my shoes on the wrong feet? Answer comes there none. So, in this state of wrong-footing, and because I like order, I must decide what to do and how to do it. Then repeat it daily until the end reveals itself. The little things (which are actually very big things) I can do for myself, for my family and friends, can grow into a very long list. I consider this list and notice that, although I am writing these steps down for me to walk out, each one is not for my own gain. But, as I tick them off, completed, I feel a great warmth in my heart and I know why. It’s because I am thinking outside of my own insecurities and needs and giving a little (huge) something to someone else; friendship; recognition; kindness; acknowledging they exist at all and that they really matter. I think this is what we are learning. The basic principles of life on earth, a life shared by millions of other humans, all of whom know what it is to feel lost, scared, hopeless and stuck, are the fundamental rules of living. We forget them when we live as islands, which is exactly what we were doing pre covid, caught up in what we want for our selfish selves.

This time is a reminder. This time is our leveller. Let us hold out our hand to lift someone who stumbles and let us make sure our shoes are on the right feet so that we can all walk on through this courageously, together as a great big human team.

Island Blog – Coming out, Irony and Eye rolling

‘Coming out’ means something in contemporary language, I know, and I don’t mean it that way. However, the process of coming out, of walking into the spotlight and of facing down the imagined and, perhaps, very real reactions this coming out may bring is what I am doing.

Since a long time I have self-medicated with red wine, too much of it. I had good reason, I told myself, as I pushed on through a difficult marriage and then dementia caring, but that good reason has lost its truth. To continue to self medicate when the husband is gone, along with any caring demands, is just lunacy. I don’t want it any more. I don’t want the guilt, regret and sheer terror each morning after a bad sleep full of nightmares. So, I have reached out to an addictions counsellor and our work is beginning. Although I am 67 and old (in my opinion) it doesn’t mean life is now a slow slip down the slope, not at all. There is another book in me, after all, more songs perhaps. I haven’t sat down at my piano for ages. It sits there, open-mouthed, ebony and ivory and beckoning. Why on earth not? Well, I am guessing that this self-absorption is taking over my mind on a daily basis. How blissful might it be to just get the heck on with life, with Life? I imagine wonderful, freeing, energising, peaceful.

I write this because I am betting there are many folk out there caught in a similar trap. Addictions come in many shapes and sizes. Drinking, drug use, running, over-eating or eating disorders, spending money, and many more. It isn’t anything to be ashamed of because every single one of these is birthed from a deep inner pain, one that may well date back to childhood. At first, it feels great. At second it creeps silently in to claim more territory and before you know what’s happened, you cease to exist without it, cannot imagine a day without this addiction. However, the great news is that there is help out there, gentle, empathetic, intelligent guidance and support. Hallelujah!

I don’t feel shame writing this. Living covertly, unauthentically, is crippling and there comes a time to stand in that spotlight, to come out, not to shock others but to admit to being human and caught in a trap. So here I am. I know that once a person has the courage to admit, to speak out and to lay themselves bare, the healing has already begun, even if there appears to be no way ahead. This is faith. Faith in self, in life, in the power of experienced guidance and in believing that, no matter how old a person is, there is plenty more to achieve in this single glorious life. And, just maybe, someone else will read this and know that they, too, can claim back the ground if they can just find the courage to come out.

My son, Ruari, has just won the Spectator’s Innovative Entrepreneur of the Year for Scotland and Northern Ireland with his work on encouraging and supporting people (of all ages) who want to stop drinking too much; to turn their lives around. Check him out at http://www.oneyearnobeer.com.

The eyes of my brain are rolling with the irony.

Island Blog 49 – Flight

Sometimes a story unwraps like a ribbon. The words just tumble out in the right order and, better still, reflect what I want them to reflect. But not today it seems.  

I blame last night and that whistling wind and the clack of the plastic air vents and the scritch- scratch of Virginia creeper, not yet softened with leaves, sounding like the bony fingers of a witch against the window glass. Today is a big day.  

It’s launch day for Island Wife, my book published by Two Roads.  Actually, to be correct it is Launch Number Two.  We already held one on the island, for the folk who see me often and I them for over 35 years now.  

The people, who will come this evening to Jarrold’s Book Department in Norwich, will wear faces I haven’t set eyes on for 3 decades.  

I guess, like me, they will look older, a bit worn, a bit broken too, but we will know each other in a heartbeat.  Faces, hair colour, shapes may have altered dramatically or barely at all, but voices stay the same.  I could close my eyes all evening and still know exactly who speaks, even if I have to dig deep into my memory bank.  

So many voices and no two the same. There won’t be time to hear the stories, the tales of joy and sadness, the lost and the found in that short 90 minutes, but when it is done and books are signed and drinks are drained, I will walk out with those voices darting around inside my head like swallows just back from Africa. And they?  

Well, they will drive or walk or catch a train back into their own lives with a new book in their hands. I may never know their stories, but from tonight, they will all know mine, perhaps hearing my voice for the very first time.