Island Blog 146 Travelling Light

suitcaseAs I pack my bag for the trip to the Reader Room on Skye, I meet all sorts of thought tangles. What to take, what not to take and in which suitcase. The big stripey one or the smaller spotty one? Both have noisy wheels and both weigh too much empty. I won’t need much, will I? Just jeans and tops, a warm jumper, walking boots, books, notes, wash things, face paint, a frock for the night, leggings. The smaller spotty one will do. Until it won’t.

Travelling light is a dream of mine, almost a passion. I want to be light and flexible, easy to move along please, to glide through doorways, over metal bridges without needing CPR on the other side. I want to fit into that space the huge-suitcased lumberers leave between themselves and the dangerous side of the pavement or platform. To scurry, hurtle, dash with momentum and forward thrust. I want to be at my destination before half of these goodly folk have reached the ticket barrier. I catch earlier trains that way, denying myself the takeaway coffee, the creamy bun. I don’t push or shove. I am perfectly respectful of the Overladen, but my constantly working mind maps out the fast route and my feet take me on. I don’t mind queuing at all and must be the only Brit who doesn’t. I just factor it into my dash to wherever I’m going, and speed up where necessary when momentum is paused.

Travelling light, I tell myself, is a state of mind, a decision. Taking too many changes of clothing, just in case, comes from a place of fear. Will I have the ‘right’ thing to wear? Will I be too cold or too hot? Have I the right shoes? All of this is dithering and arrives me laden, out of breath, hot, bothered, and with a load of unnecessary vestments, not one of which gets beyond crumpling itself in the dark depths of my suitcase. But we all do this dithering, if we’re honest.

When I first decided to travel light, it was to a funeral in Yorkshire. I just needed the gear for the church, and mufti. We said bye bye to the kids, minder, collies and cats and left Tapselteerie. It was coming into York that we discovered we had left the cases in the front hall. As our life had always been lived by making good decisions quickly in the face of adversity, we dived into a dress shop and bought this and this and that, then shoes, and arrived at the funeral with the labels still attached. Nobody cared. It was enough that we had made the journey.

The second time was when I went South for a different occasion, on my own. This time, I did have my lightly packed suitcase with me, too heavy even when empty, and handed it over to the nice Easy Jet steward at check-in. I arrived, my case did not. Mum and I dashed to Sainsbury’s, picked this and this and yes, shoes, and off I went to my date. Nobody cared. It was enough that I had made the journey. My case arrived home ahead of me, minus a handle, rendering it completely pointless.

It has happened since, the careful planning, folding, fitting into a small space, all that I think I might need, in case of shipwrecks, strandings, sudden invitations to a military ball, a funeral, a heatwave in October, that my luggage has abandoned me. I have always found a laugh in it, after my initial fish wife impression. I have borrowed clothes I would never buy, applied make-up all wrong for my small pale face, shared toothpaste, boots and even underwear, but, most of all, I was given the chance to find my sense of humour and to lean on it as my support. In the absence of things, I found people, and people can rise over things every time. It’s boundless, the human spirit, warm and strong and constant. Their handles don’t fall off, and in the main, they do what they say they’ll do, and much, much more.

But we forget don’t we, as we live out our lives as islands.  We think we must have everything we need with us, just in case.  We imagine, with horror, the disaster of being cold, or hot, or lost, or stranded, of our train/ferry/plane being late or worse, cancelled, and yet, in all of those circumstances I have found human warmth and friendship.  I have found team spirit, good attitude and kindness.  In times of trouble, we look to each other.  Sometimes we might consider doing that every day, troubled or not.  It might make us less fearful.  We might engage in sharing ourselves with others until it’s easy to do, natural, uncomplicated.  All of us are alone, but we can travel side by side.

Now I’m going back to fret about packing, about the ferry being cancelled due to gale force 22, the bus breaking down on the way north, and, finally, me arriving on the wrong day.

Island Blog 115 Primary Three

 

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Thirty Three years ago this morning, a child was born.  A boy.  The Third Boy – 3 being the first prime number, the lucky prime, the only prime triangular, the triad, the noblest of all digits, and the only one of five to be born on the island; the only one to spend his first night on this earth in matron’s bottom drawer.

Let me paint the picture……….It was a wild and stormy night (which it was) and I was determined to miss the last ferry.  I knew a-plenty about birthing by then, had already had 3 labours (one being the Only Girl) and did not want to be inside a hospital.  The first two had been home births and the process is straightforward enough anyway – I mean, there’s only one direction to go down, and all I have to do is swear a lot, push when told to and trust in the doctor and nurse, both of whom I knew well.  So, in the middle of this gale, and in the darkness and in the crankitty old landrover with its binder twine door hinges and sheep food in the back, we rattled to the old folks home and Mrs MacFlorrie’s bed.  Not that she was sharing with me, you understand, but was, instead, shunted down the corridor to bunk up, temporarily, with another ‘old folk’.  That is how it was in the olden days, for we had no island hospital back then.

He was small and stayed that way for a while.  They suggested a growth hormone, but we said..

‘Leave him be. When you have this many children, it’s handy to have one you can just pop in your pocket.  Whilst other boys are growing and talking about how big they are, Rhua squeezes through the gaps.  he is as wiry and as fast as Spiderman, and just as fond of heights.  Look at me! he shouts, aged two and half, from half-way up a cliff face, or from the top of the massive old oak tree, and we all do look, just to keep him quiet, and we keep looking, although I must have looked away at least once, as there is another baby on the way.’  (Island Wife Chap 17)

When he came home to Tapselteerie, he spent any sleep times, never longer than 20 minutes, day or night, in the tea towel drawer, whilst I worked in the kitchen.  Because the house was so huge, I could never have left him upstairs, just below cloud level, for goodness knows what he might have got up to.  He was the one who tipped all liquids and powders from all bedrooms into the loo and mixed up a cauldron of seething bubbles and curious smells.  He is the one who left home aged six in the dark of a wild night, with only his toys as luggage.  He is the ‘chef’ who signed up for trial of a deep fat fryer, one that arrived in the back of a big lorry.  The delivery man did not believe me when I tried to send him away, saying it was a mistake.  He would not countenance that he had driven all the way from the depot in Glasgow to this isolated place, with moon rocks and pitfalls and nothing but sheep and heather for days.  I had to show him the 6 year old chef, before he would even consider returning to base camp.

It was this third boy who rose from his short sleeps with a head full of ideas, and a deep sense of purpose.  I found him once frying bacon on the aga, start naked, aged 2.  For our breakfast, he said.  He had already laid the table, with brandy, bread, salad cream and red sauce, tonic water and chocolate. It was hard to be cross.  How he managed to lift the heavy aga lid, without nipping his manhood in the bud, still amazes me.

I took to sleeping outside his bedroom door, lying across the narrow landing on the servants floor (no servants to be seen) in order to save us all from this boy’s nocturnal ideas and sense of purpose.

When he finally grew into a young man, he hit the world with a force it might not have been ready for.  Wherever he went, wherever he worked, he was enthusiastically bonkers, and very successful.  And now, as a father and husband, and broker in the flatlands, he still is, but it is not the outward success that matters, but the man he has become.  A man I respect, admire and adore.  One who makes me laugh, whose heart is huge and strong, who can blag and wind up, who can reach too far, fall down, and get up again in a nanosecond.  Although he is born of me, he is himself as are all my kids, and each one of them delights and surprises me.

I remember the illnesses, and the times of trouble.  I remember the nights of worry, the fears and hopes, the dreams dying, the prayers a-plenty, but when I look at them, at any of them, I am so very proud.  All we ever wanted for our children, was that they find their own way into a fulfilled life.  I know this is not a thing that comes gift-wrapped – indeed no,t for it is a process, and a long one, but to see young people on what appears to be the right track, is indeed a blessing for any mother, or father.  We couldn’t give them life on a plate, or expensive tuition or finishing school in Switzerland, but we gave them Tapselteerie and we gave them adventures and memories.

‘From the mound of dogs and kit, they(the children) marvel at everything, and, in their marvelling, I can taste the freshness of seeing things for the first time, the elation and sparkle in that seeing, like having lemonade in your veins and butterflies in your head.  There are no seat belts in the back of the Landrover, and no law to put them there, so the children bounce and whoop and flip like monkeys, free as air, as the car rocks like a boat in a storm.
Suddenly, my head is bursting.  Enough!  I roar, causing everyone to freeze mid-flip, and Alex to swerve.  He is not pleased.
Why are you shouting? he asks with a frown across his face, deep as the Limpopo River.
I don’t bother to respond, enjoying the sudden silence.  Instead, I turn to fluff up a very flat collie and to settle my sons the right way up.
What are you going to spend your money on?  I beam at them.
Jake is buying a Lego set, one of those big ones with enough pieces to block the vacuum every week.
Rhua wants an Action man.  Well, that figures.
And Solly?  Well, Solly wants a gun and chorus.
A gun and chorus?
Yeah! Gun and chorus, like Duncan’s at crayboop.
He is getting upset, as he always does when we have no idea what language he speaks.
Okay, okay Sol, that’s grand.  We’ll find one.
Cassie, seeing my predicament, pulls her finger from her mouth.
It’s a dinosaur with flashing eyes.  Duncan’s got one and he brought it to playgroups.  It’s called a Gunnacaurus.
She says all this in a monotone, staring straight ahead, like a code breaker in a spy movie.  I wonder what we would all do without her translation skills.
I bend my head down to hers.  Where do we get one?  I ask.
She looks at me in puzzlement.  A dinosaur shop, she says.
Of course!  Silly me.    (Island Wife Chap 21)

So, to the First Odd Prime Number I say…….Happy Birthday!

Island Blog 114 Two Shadows

 

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Well well well – here I sit to tell you that I have done all my Christmas shopping, wrapped it and posted or stored it under the skirts of my easy chairs.  When Sula was alive, that would have been impossible for she would have joined them, cooried in to the crackly nest and torn the cheap skinny wrappings into a gorgeous cosy nest.  I would have heard her, of course, but probably not in time.  I would have grabbed her waggy tail and hauled her out, whence she, astonished and alarmed would have embedded her sharp claws into the soft winciette pajama bottoms or the fine weavings of an expensive cardy, exacerbating the situation skywards and threatening me with spontaneous combustion, for which, at this time of day, there is only one cure. The Chilean syrah.

I am mindful, as I wander into houses where most of the inmates wear very small pants, that their days were mine, once.  The only large-panted members of the Tapselteerie clan, numbering one, (that’s me) were far too sensibly grown-up for such fun, hence the elevated size of pant.  We, or, rather, I, would never have bothered tiptoeing around by torchlight to rustle, as quietly as possible, under any skirts in search of a label with my name written upon’t.  Certainly not.  I was the one, with the megaphone and steel toe-caps, who stalked the dark reaches of the baronial mansion house, in search of rustlers.  Even the island husband could be caught snooping, although, to be honest, he could, quite easily, and did, lose a chainsaw under a sheet of A4, so he was never the leader in this shenanigan.  It seemed to me that everyone worked in secret, as if they didn’t want to be caught by anyone, let alone Miss Trunchbull.  I would find them, red-faced and jabbering with guilt, often in gumboots and hand-me-down jama bottoms, pretending to me, their Trunchbull of a mother, that they were looking for a book to read.  Like I was going to believe THAT!

And yet, a wistful part of me longed to be them.  Being sensible is deathly dull on a good day.  As my pant size changed, it seemed I had to become my clothing.  As a child, pulling on just something to get me down to my cornflakes was all I cared about.  How I looked meant absolutely nothing.  I didn’t consider what would happen if I was cold or if my shoes didn’t go with my outfit.  I didn’t consider my outfit at all.  I just yanked off my nightie and pulled on something a little more robust for my descent into the day.  I don’t recall wondering what I might feel like if the milkman caught me without a good 2″ of slap across my face, or if my jumper might be too warm for the time of year.  I just got dressed.

Admittedly, there were times, many of them, as my pants got bigger, when my mother might smirk at my bonkers assemblage of gold sequinned jumper over hotpants, but it was only her smirk that upset me, not the clothes upon my back. At Tapselteerie I fussed like a hen over my children’s casual attitude to clothing.  Wear a warm jumper out there, I would say, trying to thaw out the collie dog currently frozen to the ground by her girly bits.  She only sat down for a minute.  But they ran out, wild and skimpily clad into the day, into every day, and there were times I hated my job.  My Miss Trunchbull job.  At the shore, they swam in the freezing sea any time of the year, emerging sapphire blue and making wonderful percussion with their teeth.  I couldn’t even catch their jumping knees to rub them dry.  There, I said, now NEXT TIME……….. but next time was just the same as the last and still they laughed at me.  I think they probably still do, because I still do it.  If they had listened to my fears, they would be locked up by now, terrified by the voices in their heads, portenting doom if they so much as open the fridge.

Now, at my big pant age, I think back and I wonder.  What if I had just shut the hell up?  Well, I will never know what the answer to that, and I cannot change the past, but I can make a new future for myself.  I watch them with their own children, letting them fall, letting them burn a finger or two, warning quietly, then letting go.  I watch other people, other nations, like today at Madiba’s memorial service in Jo’burg and I see the wild musical African women, bopping and singing and ululating, and all in very much bigger pants than mine, and I see a new freedom.  I also see the stiff backed British sitting with stiff backs and not letting go at all.  Well, it isn’t British, is it?

There are times, many times, as I find myself in a train station of grownups, or a shop or just walking down a street, when I have the intense desire to spin around, to begin a song and to sing it right through.  Not for an audience to boo or applaud, but just for me.  The other day I went out at dusk in Glasgow, to collect something from a shop.  As I walked back among other grownups, intent on their mission, their Iphone, their deadline, I had this feeling and just spun around, my arms wide.  There was a fingernail moon in a clear cold sky, and, as I walked back feeling very delighted withe myself, and smiling like a loon, I saw two shadows on the pavement.

They were both mine.

Island Blog 93 – Tapselteerie Dreams

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Last night was an awfully big adventure.  Sometimes nights are like that. Short on sleep and long on dreams; dreams that skitter away in the process of waking, so quick as to leave me with the odd snapshot, and a depth of emotion I can’t necessarily fix into a shape.

Whenever I dream there are a couple of venues that consistently provide the backdrop for the drama.  One, oddly, is a little corner flat in Glasgow, where I only lived for a short while after Tapselteerie and before moving back to the island.  Those dreams are often good ones and I walk through the park or sip coffee in a busy café and there are no obvious lurkings of menace in any shadows.

The other and main venue is Tapselteerie, I know it is, although the stones and layout of it are often wildly wrong.  For example, we had a roof over our heads there and walls and floors, the usual household structure, but in dreams, they are often shaky if not completely absent.  When I am inside one of these dreams I am always looking for my children, which, for those of you who have read Island Wife, will not be a surprise at all.  The stones are grey and cold, the plaster walls missing, and there is often sky overhead instead of a white ceiling.

In these dreams I always have to fly to save them, my children.  I always know that I can fly, but each time I must find the courage to do it again.  I have sat myself down to think deeper on that search for courage, once the morning comes and strong black coffee brings me in to land.  Is it courage to take on the ‘saving’, I ask myself, or is the courage to fly again?  And, if I know, as I do, that I can fly, why would I need courage?  After all, I don’t need to think twice about walking, running, skipping, now do I?

And I find no answer to that.

One dream took me into the empty ruins of the place, cold it was and abandoned, the grey stone bared, the layout changed beyond my recognition, and yet I knew where I was.  I was alone.  The crunch of fallen debris under my bare feet echoed around me and I could feel my heart beating fast, hear my quick breathing.  Looking up, I could see my children way up high, higher than Tapselteerie high, flattened against the walls, no ground for their feet.  Each one was hooked to the wall by their clothing, and they just hung there, making no sound.  Much younger and smaller than they are now, they looked like friends of the Artful Dodger, all raggedy and torn and grubby.  There were no stairs, no structure, however skeletal, there to allow me to climb.  There was only one way up.

I had to fly.

The resistance to just taking off, knowing I could, surprises me every time.  It seems, in my remembering, to take a lot of wasted time, dithering about in the ruins of a broken house, when I could be up there gathering children off hooks.  But I always do it.

Then, suddenly, I take a deep breath and lift and the feeling it wonderful, the process effortless.

Once, I met Shrattle (Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake), or his lookalike half way up, but he was balanced on a spindly ledge and quite without wings, so no threat to any of us.  I lifted each child, light as a feather, off their pegs and into the sky, waking with that glorious light-hearted feeling that always follows flight.

Last night is already leaving me, the memories of the dream, but I do remember one thing.  This time it was in colour.  Never before has Tapselteerie shown herself in colour, and yet she had bucket loads of it.  She gave me walls and ceilings and laughter and spiders and bats in the cellar.  If I came down all those stairs, during a sleepless night to make tea, I had to remember to make light, because in the dark I would have ploughed into the huge migration of slugs from somewhere (I never knew where) to the wine cellar.  Sometimes a dozen deep and many feet long, the army flowed in silence to wherever they were going.  It was a marvel to behold and much less of one to land in the middle of it in bare feet.  People said salt will kill them.  We said, why would we kill them?  We lived with a good number of wild creatures and managed to do so, in the main, without disasters, although the floor in the back hall always needed a wash of a morning.

Dreams I know have symbolism.  Mine are often a chorus of many influences.  My past, my fears, the book I’m reading, the present circumstances, the last thing I watched on television. Add to that something on my mind, a new truth learned and understood, a forthcoming event and so on.  But whatever the graphics, however bizarre and unbelievable the storyline, the emotions of it linger longest, so, to a small degree I can understand what my imagination played out for me and why.

Tapselteerie looked just fine in colour.  It may be 20 plus years since I moved inside her walls, heard her song and moved to her rhythm, but she is alive and well and with her own place in my heart.