Island Blog – Alone and Together

This morning I see one bushbuck, one giraffe, one warthog. The bushbuck, nervous, ears twitching for sounds of danger comes to the water hole. He has probably been tossed out of the family group, the herd, if, indeed, there is a herd, and is alone in this vast terrain. He will be seeking another group, a mate, the chance to clack antlers with a rival in order to earn his place. The giraffe looked at first like a movement of tree trunks as I could only see his legs but as he slowly wandered onto the track he was caught in silhouette against the rise of the African sun. He looked back at me through velvet eyes as I looked at him, then turned to lope away, all speckles and sand and alone. The warthog is a grumpy old bugger. Yesterday, as I walked the pup around the house, he started forward and I took off like lightening. Nobody wants to meet the front end of one of those horned-up wild pigs. His vision is poor but his temper is rich and his sense of smell very strong. It was the pup he didn’t like, being a natural wimp around humans, for which I am always grateful. I lifted the pup over the rails of the stoep and arrived shortly after in what must have looked like a very ungraceful half-somersault, my dress up around my ears and my sandals all wonky-chops.

It thinks me of wandering alone. Although I know full well how precious are community, family, friends and other social encounters and relationships, I also know we all walk alone through this life. Each one of is an intricate tangle of nature, nurture, experience, choices, personality and character. We also all look different, which if you think about it is quite a miraculous feat of engineering. Even as one of identical twins, the word identical is an overstatement. Deep inside both will have an unique pattern, no matter how the outside is designed. One can sing, the other can’t hold middle C without slippage; one finds this joke hilarious, the other puzzles to find more than a polite smile; one loves eggs done this way, the other, that. And so on.

When we were five young children and travelling north for our Scottish summer break, our mum had us knitted and kitted in matching jumpers. We could choose the style but not the colour. Yellow, one year, blue the next and so on, always in bright primary colours. We had to wear them for the journey. Mum said that it was so she could find us in places like York Station or on Princes St, Edinburgh as we skittered like excited monkeys through the crowds of moving feet, eyes level with a thousand navels and worse, even more handbags that could deliver a mighty head clonk if we weren’t paying attention. I don’t think we looked after each other much, being intent on our own agendas and deeply fed up of being One Of Five. Although I didn’t visit the same knitted uniform on my kids I do remember those wild times such as boarding the right train intact as a family, or shopping in a mall where, quite frankly, havoc could be wrought at any moment and always by One Of My Five.

I see that the world thinks in terms of numbers now. We are number this on a plane, at work, in school, in a theatre, the tube, the office and it saddens me because we are not numbers, we are individual people, no two alike. We are Just One among many other Just Ones, linked through culture, our job, our street, out village, our church, our market, our orchestra, our singing group and more. But I is not always We. Paying attention to the ‘I’ is something we may have forgotten altogether, such is the pressure of group thinking. We may also have forgotten how to nurture and nourish and listen to the I. In this fast moving world of apps and social media, advertising, subliminal or overt, competition, addiction, poverty growing disproportionate to wealth, corruption and the general malaise of apathy and defeat around Big Brother and his Nanny State, we (no, I) must remember what it is to be unique among millions. I must stop running and think for myself. This might take a while because, if I am honest, it is easier to go with current worldly thinking, which has a strong and powerfully persuasive voice but which is really relieving us, ever so slowly, of our own unique voices. I might wonder what it is I do think. I might come up blank, at first. I might not know where to begin following my own inner voice, once I can hear it again. I might find myself stopping to talk with a street beggar and feeling deeply conspicuous. (it gets easier with practice). I always wanted to, to give, to show respect, but none of my friends do and if I have ever faltered beside such a sad picture of a human life, I would feel a firm hand on my elbow, guiding me away, and a bright schoolmarm voice in my ear suggesting ‘Coffee?’

We travel alone, and yet together. We need each other for friendship and so much more……..but it is our prime duty to respect our own unique individuality, to relocate that inner guiding voice and then to take appropriate action, because every single one of us is here for a purpose, one purpose per living soul. It is our job to work that one out. Alone.

Island Blog – Little Fires

I believe that grandparents have a gift. One that is gifted to them. They also have a gift to give, through translation, nothing lost, unless they choose to ignore the opportunity it brings them, and by extension, the generation below and the one below that.

On the first gift, I can say it comes as a surprise. This gift is one of a second childhood. Not physically, of course, but in a renewed lease of life. From banging on about arthritis to clambering over a fence with a cackle of glee; from medication programming to random acts of play; from soup at midday on the button to fish finger sandwiches just because we’re hungry – with ketchup, naturally. The awakening of the sleeping child is painless. Sparkles return to rheumy eyes and stolen carrots from the veg counter at Tesco’s are an absolute must. An old woman who has plodded, fallen- arched, and for many years, up one aisle, politely rounding to the next, might suddenly find herself speeding up for a swing-wheelie at the top. The giggles of the little ones egg her on and she just can’t help herself. Her mind is full of naughty ideas that came from nowhere. After all, these half-pint charges of hers have been sternly groomed for a perfect public face and mummy never does any of these things.

As mummy, we don’t either. Many of us are so caught up in right and absolutely wrong that we contain, without intending it, the free spirit of our children until their bodies can barely bend at all. And here comes the second gift, the one given. With granny we can fly and fly high. My granny was like that and we all adored her. The mischief in her eyes set little fires in our own and although she was in all ways the perfect lady, she showed us a side of her true self that my mother rarely saw as a child. I feel sad about that and wonder how much, and how often, I contained my own children in boxes at least two sizes too small for their exuberant personalities. But how else to protect, teach and develop a child into the adult we want them to be, hope they will become? This, in itself sounds like a box, but only to my granny ears. So is it just that we can ‘hand them back’ or is it that second chance to what, make amends? My own children, now parents, are not always delighted at granny’s antics. Initially I faced a few stern reprimands on my behaviour, feeling like the child in trouble and most uncomfortable. Can I say God or should I pretend he doesn’t exist? Can I answer questions on where babies come from, asked by a ten year old, or should I say “Ask Mummy’ thus making it very mysterious and serious? I get my nickers in a right knot at such times, and dither like an old woman who never thought an original thought, or was never allowed to.

9 grandchildren in, I now am more relaxed about the nicker knot thing. I pause a lot after a question is asked. I might distract, as I would a puppy chewing on a cat, suggest some toast or a bounce on the trampoline. I might answer the baby question, but vaguely, with something safe, like ‘Mummy’s tummy’ and leave it at that . As to God, I might say, some believe he exists, some don’t, and round with a question for them. What do mummy and daddy say? Always a safe bet, that one.

I don’t remember my mum having any bother with dithering. She just answered as she saw fit, no matter what parental bans we had put in place. And blow it. Thats what she said. She had no intention of bending to our whims and I cannot imagine ever being brave enough to challenge her. In my day and with my mother, challenge was verboten. However my generation have been confounded with all the new information about parenting. Strait jackets were out, for starters, and choices offered to small people on the best dinner plates. My own children, and I have heard them all employ this, would ask their 3 year old what she would like for supper. I managed to keep my snort silent, although it gave me indigestion and required my scrabble into handbag depths for a Rennies. Now, I am used to it. I remember, once, tapping a child on the leg when her tantrum threatened the entire neighbourhood, and being strongly warned never to touch a child again in anger. It wasn’t anger, I began to say, but said no more after making eye contact with the parent in case. The Childline number is readily available, after all, and there are posters in every school in most of the rooms, and at a child’s eye level.

However, the joys of playing hooky with grandchildren are the best. Naughtiness and mischief fan the embers of my internal fire any time I am with them. And I am reminded, often, of the gift I have received and the gift I can give – that reconnection with my own childhood and the chance to be the child free, the child outside the box, setting all the other children free from their own boxes and, together, heading off into a fantasy world of mischief and fun and laughter.

I am going to have to live for decades more, it seems.

Island Blog 70 – Life is a simple thing

Island Blog 70 - Freedom

fig: http://favim.com

It’s all about breathing in and out for decades, something that happens to us quite naturally.  We can take no credit for this and it’s not complicated, until it stops, of course, or struggles to continue.  All we have to do, as out heart beats and our lungs fill and empty a thousand times a day, is to get on with living.

Ah, you might say.  That’s the rub.  My life is so much harder than just breathing in and out and getting on with things.  My circumstances, you see…..well, life is not simple at all.

Yes, I say, it is.  It may not be easy, but it is simple, and then I draw back in case I get swiped, because why?

Because people love to complicate things, all things and especially their own things.

I know people who have come through cancer and people who have not come through.  I am not one of them.  Therefore my life is a breeze.

I know people who have lost a child.  I have not.  Therefore my life is a breeze.

I know someone disabled, paralised, in prison,bereaved,destitute and hungry.

I am none of them. Therefore….etc

At Jenny’s funeral yesterday, I listened to the tributes.  I counted 250 at least in the church.  I caught the sparkle of a woman who refused to moan, although, believe me, she had plenty of reason to. In fact, she had absolutely no time at all for moaners.

On the way to the church, down winding country lanes, I saw a land rover parked  in a driveway.  Across the top of the windscreen the words in bold black said this:-

ONE LIFE.  LIVE IT.

Jenny did.

Short or long it is the same for us all, as far as we know, although one friend whose family are fisherfolk, plans to return as a crack shot seagull.

Whatever our piddling ailments, our list of miniature disasters, we were born with laughter in our hearts and we all know it.

We might consider laughing more and particularly at ourselves.

Island Blog 65 – Follow me follow

Bumble Bee

Yesterday, the Bee Father decided to investigate all his hives.  It’s the time for swarming, he tells me and I remember one of those not so long ago;  a great blackening of the back garden and the Sun quite peely-wally behind  a thousand whizzing bees.  I heard the noise first and went up the garden stets, well, two of them, or maybe just one.  It was mightily clear to me that the cup of coffee awaiting me on the table was going to go lonely cold for I, sure as hector, was not taking one more step into that melee.  I could have disappeared completely and would likely have swatted and begun a war.  The swarm finally cuddled up with the New Queen on a bough of larch, bringing it at least two foot closer to the ground.  The solid ball hung there in a perfect shape until the BF climbed up to unhook the ball and drop it into a cardboard box and covering it with a piece of white cotton.

Whilst he worked high above me among the lofty Soldier Pines, where the sun dapples the wild orchids and the bees live in harmony and peace, I could hear a marked rise in the tonal buzz.

We are not enjoying this, all of us, it tells me, for we buzz as one.

After the BF had gone right through 3 hives, discovering all was well, that there were not too many queen cells growing new queens to generate a swarm or two, down he came, quite bridal in his white and veil, to sit and eat a quiet lunch with me.  I had carried up an array of dishes, bits of this leftover and that leftover with salad.  For a few moments, all was peaceful munching, until She appeared.

She is a Follower, one of those female worker bees, set the task of making sure any unwelcome visitor goes a very long way away.  Whilst he sat quite still, she bumped against his face and his head, never landing.  After a few minutes, he got up and walked slowly down to the cool of the garage, thus planning to let her know he was leaving.  He came back without her but it was only minutes later and she was back, bumping her warning against his face, head and neck.  She came nowhere near me and I was right beside him.  I watched him never swat (fatal) and sit calmly, waiting for her to get bored or decide her point is made or whatever it was she wanted to tell him in no uncertain terms.

3 more times he walked away, waited a little and returned.  3 more times she found him.  By now I’d had enough of this lurching lunch and removed myself indoors.  The little bee had popped over to check me out, but I was spooked by her right in my face.  I don’t mind once or twice, but she was just too persistent.

Much later in the day, after another hive was checked, the dog walked, church over and thoughts of supper in my mind, we went back up to sip a glass of wine in the warm evening sun.

Within seconds she was back and bumping round and round his head.

I think it’s that aftershave I put on this morning, he said, as we re-settled inside, but we both know the real truth.

Charisma.

Island Blog 64 – Square Rainbows

Island Blog 64

This morning I set off along the single track road from my little stone built home in warm sunshine.  My task today is to help paint the school shed in a small (but vital) island primary school.  The head teacher had already talked with me about what she would like the shed to look like, using as decoration, all the beach litter the children had collected since last summer.  Each time there is a high tide or a high wind, the beaches are covered with flotsam and jetsam, some of it intriguing, some disgusting.  Obviously the disgusting bits are appropriately disposed of, but the colourful bits of plastic and rope and twine, shells and bones,  and all those things careless folk toss overboard, all are gathered, cleaned and stored for the Grand Shed Occasion.

Which is now.  Well, the beginning of it is now.  It may take some time to assemble, not least because little children have attention spans extremely short but sweet and by the way, not one of them can stand still without fidgeting.

We walked them around the brown slatted shed, and asked them how they would like to see the end result.  We fed them the odd line as they began heading off into Disneyworld, just to reel them in a bit, but not too much.  We explained the deck chair stripe idea and the starburst of plastic milk bottle tops on one side; the butterflies and daisies on one end, to compliment the big tubs of wild flowers already established to encourage butterflies.  We said that once the stripes were finished, they could play with spatter paint, flicking brush loads (well, not LOADS) against the wall.  The boys arms were already flexing and they did have to question whether we really meant it.  Their mouths formed a WOW.

Throwing paint at the wall…..like THIS????

Can I use a gun?  asked one boy.

Er……I think brushes this time, we told him and there was a chorused ‘Awwwww’ with that sweep up at the tail of it, as if we just might say…….Ok then, why not?

We plan a sort of mural on the side nearest the road, to impress the tourists.  Deck chairs, they thought.  We could stick one on the wall!  chirruped one girl.

Not with PVA, I said, sorry, but you can paint one on.  I could hear my voice go all dinky winky but she was no fool, and lost interest immediately.  She decided, instead, to paint a square rainbow.

Excellent.

A pair of swallows chattered at me as I worked.  Birds on the wire with plans for nest building arrested.  Sorry I said, but I’ll be gone soon and there’s plenty of daylight left.  A pair of lapwings serenaded me from the seaward field,  and sparrows dived in and out from the eaves;  everyone so very busy.

It’s good to be busy, among little fidgets, in the sunshine with a salt wind blowing my heart around.

Oh, and a square rainbow about to appear.

Island Blog 63 – Silver Girl

Silver Girl

 

On June 1st Jenny  died.

We have been friends for over 4o years, the same as my years of marriage.

Our children knew each other as little ones and those children now have little ones of their own.  We had a bet going, she and I that her daughter-in-law would give birth before my own did.  The due dates hold hands, they’re so close.  I will see my new grandchild, but she won’t see hers.

Over the years, our roads travelled in different directions, but we kept in touch.  When she first got breast cancer, she was completely herself about the whole thing.  No time for this, she said, need to sort out treatment and keep moving.  She went sailing after that, for 7 months, she and her man, in a yacht to beat all other yachts with big-ass sails and comfort below deck, every comfort, and the wind in her hair and salt on her tongue, whilst I became an Island Wife.  But women who connect at a wild and deep level, who recognise each other’s spirit and love it, never lose touch, even if the contact is once a year.

We sailed with them once, meeting them on a Greek island.  We all wondered how it would work, four of us converging where Two Roads meet, after 30 years apart, and living in close quarters for a couple of weeks.

I could have been a big pain in the ass, I said.

You are.  She replied and handed me a beer.

In the evenings, moored in a little warm harbour, we would cook, eat and make music.  They taught me songs, and I them, and there was something magical about the candlelight, the warm nights, the laughter and song.

She did much with her life and was never still.  She was the second woman ever to command a Royal Navy warship.  A transatlantic skipper, a magistrate, a wife, mother grandmother, although that title sounds way too old for her.  She adored her family, and actively showed it.  She was feisty, impossible, decisive and noisy and there is a big hole left now she is gone.

But what will stay with me for ever, and this may sound selfish, is what she gave to me.  She never faltered and when I did, she whooped my butt.  I’m not saying, or even imagining, that she had life sussed, because I know she didn’t think that at all.  I saw, at times, such sadness in her big eyes, and she might tell me, briefly, or she might not.  When she knew she had only time left, she would still pick up if I called, or answer a text with humour.  She came to my book launch down south in a bright pink wig after aggressive chemo.  It was our last hug.

I salute her.  She is a woman who challenged me to be the best I could be, just as she challenged herself.

Sail on Silver Girl.

Island Blog 58 – Through a Glass

2book4

 

You know you’ve got it right when you leave someone feeling better than they did before you came.  I hope I can do that for another but I know for sure someone can do it for me, and not by trying to. It’s all about your heart being right.  I have spent some time observing and reflecting on this and know for certain that if a person is the same on the inside as they are on the outside, then there is no fog of confusion around them.  Let’s bring this into focus…. If I wake in a frightful grump and want to bash anyone who gets up my nose, then let me be honest about it.  Let me not answer, when I hear the nervous question from a shadowy corner of the terrified room, ‘FINE!’ to their ‘What’s wrong?’  thus creating a gale force wind in a confined space and sending everyone to the Fire Exit doors on winged feet. Everyone loses this way.  I who breathed fire am now extinguishing the blaze with copious salty tears and they are outside in the fresh air wondering what needs doing in the garden for the rest of the day, and still none of us knows what’s wrong.   If I had the courage to admit my failing, which is how I really see it, and to pre-empt the ‘what’s wrong’ question (one I deeply hate) by stepping up and telling it out, I would probably have been off on a lunch date by now.  Instead, I can hardly move in the kitchen for elephants and you, who were blasted forcibly outside, are now whistling tunelessly in a most irritating manner, one which will eventually make the whole thing your fault entirely. When someone comes to stay or just to play, they bring good intentions, as a rule, but they also wear their own lives about them, their own troubles and concerns, and if they have never learned to address them in private, to shake hands with each one and listen to what it has to say, these troubles and insecurities will spill out from the darkness and into the room at the most inconvenient times.  If a couple visit and he doesn’t like the way she corrects him, and this happens, her anger will rise and surprise us all.  Now she appears domineering and rude and he is upset and nobody wants to hear the end of the story which by now is quite forgotten.  The root of this lies in childhood, as it always does, and she thinks she has grown up and left childish things in the way back when.  If, however,  she took the steps to walk back in time, to find and recognise, admit to and release the way she felt when she was publicly ‘corrected’ (thus inferring she was a silly twit) it would never ever rise again. We are human and deliciously so.  We are awkward and clumsy in our loving, but life is not something that happens to us.  We happen to Life and therein we have considerable levels of control.  We know who we want to be, to whom we aspire.  We are all basically good people, kind generous-hearted people, but we are much mistaken if we think we can float through and be accepted warts and all.  If raising children requires the employment of intelligent energy and dynamic thinking, and if our jobs require the same to a different degree, do we not realise that our own self demands no less?   The wonderful thing about the inside and the outside of each one of us, is that when there is a mis-match, everyone can see it.  Whatever we might say, it’s who we are that speaks louder and with greater clarity. If we have done the inner work, really paid attention to our own face in the mirror instead of hardly bothering to look and expecting others to allow it, we won’t have to think about what to say next.   ‘Whatever is in your heart –  that is what will spill over.’ In my childhood, there was a woman who made out she was something she was not.  She made my mother feel frumpy and old-fashioned which could not have been further from the truth. Don’t mind her, my granny said.  She’s all fur coat and no knickers.’