Island Blog – Watching, Waiting, Wondering

The morning begins well in that I wake up and it’s morning, well almost, still dark but the clock tells me of others who rise at this hour, dark or no dark. I slip into my dressing gown, thank my bed, pat the dog and glide down the stairs. I remember actually doing that once, for a dare of course, on a tin tray and an oak stair case that dog-legged into the room. Not a good plan. I started off well, gathered warp speed and just knew I was about to be sliced like an egg when I hit the sharp corner, all balustrades and newel posts and rigid as if it had rooted into the earth’s core. The wails arose in me, alerting all inmates who were quietly sipping Earl Grey from china cups and pretending they didn’t want another scone. My mama was livid even if she feigned compassion. I could see it in the slit of her mouth, the narrowing of her eyes as she scooped me up and marched me away, my knees bleeding, my face scratched and my mouth yelling out a storm. This morning’s glide was more gentle, my hands holding both bannisters and my cautious eyes wide open for the fall that always threatens old folk, the one that leaps out for a rugby tackle from somewhere in my blind spot.

I descend in regal safety and round the corner for coffee and a peer into the darkness. No moon, but she is coming, the Beaver Moon, tomorrow I believe, although why the moon has to keep to a schedule un-moons me somewhat. I had thought her above such calendar control. I perceive her as reckless, upskittling, wild, and that’s because her full bellied lightshow creates that reaction in most women I know and some men too. I tap tap wait for the light to rise. I iron something, sweep another thing, flip through Facebook, write some notes about what I will do with my day, this day, today, most of which will be scratched out by breakfast once I realise that the ladder to any of them has faulty rungs, most of them missing.

I WhatsApp chat with my best friend and she laughs me and we share all our familial concerns and delights. We have done this for years now and her face takes me right back to her, the way she waggles her head when telling me of something that pains or puzzles her, the way she looks straight at me when she asks how I am. I know why. When I say ‘Fine’ she smirks and challenges, but I will always say ‘Fine’ because mostly, I am just that. However, as the day rolls on, not like chocolate, more like a stubble field and with me barefoot, I am ratty with the dog. It shocks me for I am only occasionally ratty and I don’t like it in me at all. I watch the wind, hear the roar of the whips and twisting punches of it, see it scrape rain across my window and bend the trees like torture, laughing at its bully power. Reluctantly I decide to walk, no matter the rain, the bully punching wind, the darkling grey, the wet underfoot.

To begin with, I stomp. I know I am stomping and the track looks up at me, eyebrows raised. I pause and smile and slow my boots. Then, as I rise into the woods, the rise of the track lifting me from my earthly grump, I begin to see, to notice, to watch. The bare limbs stick out like old fingers, old friends, the ancients who still stay to protect and to remind. Leaves still holding on, copper, gold and blood, tremble in the wind, showing me this face, then that. I hear the tic-a-tic-a-tic of their dance and I stop to watch. Beneath my skinny soled boots, a bronze carpet tongues out before me, inviting. The wind lifts again and the pines sing as the wind combs the needles, the ones that don’t ever give up, the ones I will see all winter long. A stand of ditchwater has been claimed by water moss and I chuckle at the emerald courage of this survivor. Well done you, I say, as I pause to wonder and I swear it shimmies. Tree ferns waggle like random hair tufts all the way up an alder tree, flapping at me as I meander beneath the high stretch of ancient trunk. Geese navigate the sky wind adjusting their positions and I wonder again at their understanding of all this power and of my complete lack.

I will never understand the power of watching, waiting and wondering, will even thwack it away with an irritable flap, but once I step out into it, bring myself to walk, to stand as a part of it, engaged with it, no distractions from it, I return with hope. Where the hell I found that hope, I can not answer, but it doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that in my reclusive sadness there is a beckoning, one irritating enough to get me inside my boots and out there.

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.