Island Blog – Keep the Girl – Write the Woman

I watch the little bus round the sea-loch from the warmth of my conservatory. This bus looks warm, cosy even, all lit up like a party, although I know that inside there will be a smattering of grumpy teenagers heading for school. The headlights sparkle the frost, caught in the beam, striations of fairy dust. Then it is gone and the meadow settles back down again. The top of my car is white. White on black. Startling. Sweet peas, still standing, show me soft pinks and purples; a rose lifts crimson against the sunrise as the songbirds line my fence awaiting breakfast.

I remember waiting for the school bus. Grumpy, teenage, cold, isolated even inside a group. The world was a stinkhole. I wanted to join a circus, flee the country, anything to get me out of those awful school shoes that were made of steel and offered me no warmth at all; that uniform; that ridiculous beret that perched like a mushroom on my head. I blush now even to think we were made to stand out in such a way, like jokes. Does nobody think it through, this uniform business? Scratchy all the way down to the knickers, rigid enough to negate the chance of running anywhere, never mind to the circus, and all of us looking the same. Except we didn’t, of course. Some of us looked positively svelte inside those confines. Some of us had mothers who bent the rules a bit, thinking of the child first and the design of shoes, second. I had a friend whose mother bought her soft leather with pointed toes and a subtle design on the tongue. My tongue was also made of steel and stood up like a cows ear no matter how tightly laced into submission. My toes froze. Frost was my anathema.

In those days, when mothers and teachers, doctors and policemen told me how to live my life, giving no quarter whatsoever to my opinion, likes, dislikes or dreams, I gave in, as many others did. The svelte ones with avon guard mamas and papas were just lucky, that’s all. They were probably rich, owned lots of land, and sat on the board of directors. They had big homes and holidays on the Costa Del Sol twice a year, at least. Their daughters weren’t lumpish, or limping from chilblains, and they actually looked good in berets. They both fascinated and repelled me. I wasn’t allowed to write my own life, not even a line or two. I decided to go under cover.

Writing my own life was not the breeze I thought it would be. There was something deeply scary about stepping out of those steel shoes. The world is a very big place, buzzing with opinions and temptations and I felt I was walking into danger most of the time. When someone asked me what I wanted, my brain emptied of all thought. Nobody had asked me that before and now here I was, in a mini skirt, a tight-fitting top, lipstick and kohl, swinging on a bar stool and completely confounded. I won’t pretend I got it right first time. Babycham is disgusting after all. So were most of the men who slithered up to me looking like wannabe Bee Gees, all smiles and roving eyes. I was way out of my depth and I knew it. As I walked myself home, feeling colder than I ever did in my steel shoes, I decided there were as many ways to live a life as there were people and that I could choose for myself. I wrote down my plans.

Find a man older than those idiots. Get Married. Have lots of healthy children. Live in a wild place right beside the ocean. Cook warming stews and bake bread. Fill the home with laughter and song and people. Write a book. Keep the wild girl but write the woman.

And that is exactly what I did.

Island Blog – Waiting, Silence and Engagement

This day I walk into absolute silence. Nothing moves, not a whisper, not a leaf, not a nothing. Under the tree canopy, beech, birch, sycamore, hip-hop, ash and alder, all branches, all leaves are completely still. T’is a rarity on this wind blown island and one to be noticed; one to become engaged in, to stand still beneath the huge silence and to become a part of it.

It is tempting to march on, my thoughts pushing at me like a man might ‘encourage’ me to get a move on. The Hurry Up of life is a part of our being. In order to get this done, I must move quickquick because the next thing is out there tapping its fingers on the table and rolling its eyes, impatiently. Do I always need to buy into this? Well, no, I don’t. Not now, anyway.

Standing under this still canopy, I reflect on those days, when the list was so tightly packed as to be almost impossible to achieve. Is there time between the napkin ironing and the school run, the first school run, for me to walk? Maybe, but only if you go like a dingbat, whatever that is, and avoid any such nonsense as looking out, up or around; no following a woodpecker’s looping flight, no sniffing of a wild rose in the cupped hand of that wee burn because that might take a few minutes being as you will have to lift your skirts, flip a fence and clamber.

These slow days, these days of so-called retirement, lend me time. Time that begs a payback and that payback is engagement. So, I engage. I turn to watch the sea-loch. It is flat as a mirror, burst open only by an otter, hunting. The waters close over almost immediately, as the air does once I push through it, ready, cleansed, new, for the next thing that might interrupt the still. The track is empty, as it mostly is. The stones lay flat or sometimes upskittled by a passing estate vehicle. I notice change. A branch fallen, a new growth spurt on a blackthorn, a higher rise of glorious grasses, a touch of sunlight illuminating a dead branch on an ancient tree.

In these extraordinary times, there is stillness. In fact, there is complete stopness. Where there was a flow of communication, a moving towards each other, we now step back. This day, as giving people delivered food, fish, vegetables and mail to our lockdowndoor they all pulled back as I came forward to receive. That space in between us has become, could become a long term space of fear. It must not be allowed to do that. In many ways it is so simple to go with the rules right now, but when they are lifted, will we lift, also? It thinks me, a lot. Living with Captain Vulnerable, I have many thinks about it, to be honest, and find it quite hard to see my feet on any of the future ground.

No matter. I will wait, as I did beneath the still trees, until something new illuminates my thinking. After all, I have lived through many battles, climbed many mountains, felt the fear and still marched on. And, in the meantime, I will celebrate the care and the giving and the inventiveness of those who have made these extraordinary times their chance to engage in ways they might never have known, had life stayed ordinary.

Island Blog 79 On Waiting

waiting

There is something about waiting that can create an internal chaos.

Waiting for a train or a flight.  Waiting for a day to come or a person.

Waiting for life to change, or start, or end.  Waiting for seeds to grow, for my turn to come in or to go out.  For guests to arrive or leave.

For a new baby.  For test results.

That last one has to be the worst.

I knew a very old lady, once, who had been a maid all her working life.  She was deeply proud of being a maid, and would make sure you got it right, the title right, if, perchance you got in a fankle over political correctness.  This woman had no time for such malarky.  Just say it like it is, she would say, wagging a bent finger under your nose.  Maid is maid, however you try to say it.

She used to name certain days, waiting days.  These days, for her, as a country girl, were usually connected with the weather.  A waiting day meant the sky was shut, the wind all blown out, everything just standing there or hanging there……waiting.  Of course, the weather matters a lot when your family are land workers, which hers were.  Whether to plant, of plough, harvest or lay out in rows to dry, all dependant on the weather, and if the weather was waiting for something to happen, it never explained what.  Could be rain.  Could be there was a kick-ass gale in the planning, just off stage and hidden from human view.  In her day, there was the wirless, but no fancy satellite information about high pressures over Iceland.  Just the local yokel out with his moisture meter – or his eyes looking up and his own gut feeling.

On her waiting days, she would do something.  Clean the silver (not her own) or pull out the beds for a good ‘doing’ or tidy handkerchief drawers, that sort of something.  Anything, basically, to fill in the waiting time, and, in the doing of something, she might calm her own anxieties.

We can learn from her.

If, whilst waiting, we focus on what we are waiting for, knowing with perfect clarity that, in doing so, we make absolutely no difference to the thing, but only serve to discombobulate ourself into a right stooshie, we might consider a different approach.  Of course, if the thing we wait for is scary and deeply buried in the underworld, such as the results of a medical test with an alarming set of possibles attached,  we will be unable to erase it completely from our thinking.  But the mind is quite easily led, I have found, and can be eased into a different place, at least for a little while.

I agree that giving the silver a clean, supposing we have any in the first place, or pulling out the beds for a good ‘doing’ are hardly exciting options, but that, I believe, is the key.  Dullard tasks can soothe our brilliant and dangerous minds into a calm humdrum.

It doesn’t take the worry away.  It doesn’t change the end result.  But it does ease the path from breakfast to lunch, from hour to hour, from Monday to Friday.  It won’t be a smooth one, nor easy, but when the demons trip us up and make us fall, the best we can do is get up and try again.