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 – Garlic, Gratefulness and Fairies

In the afternoon sunshine of yesterday we set off to the Fairy Woods to gather wild garlic. I had a recipe for pesto and was keen to make it. Popz on his quad, me on my feet, Poppy trotting alongside, we wound our way through the violets, primroses, wood anemones and sorrel, between the mish-mash of ancient trees, all pushing out green. Turning down towards the shore we couldn’t avoid squashing a carpet of Celandine, faces pointed towards the sun, yellow as new butter, petal perfect. The ground was crunchy, old leaves drying, finally, and as far as we could see, a wide stretch of emerald green wild garlic leaves fluttered in the breeze. I knew I had to find 150 grams and made, as it turned out, a good guess. As we wandered back home, seeing absolutely nobody, we reflected on how this lockdown is a blessing for us. And how it must be a prison sentence for so many others. It’s good to be grateful, good for the health of the person with a thank you in her mouth.

In South Africa, nobody is allowed to go beyond the perimeter fence of their own garden, reserve, township or flat. Anybody found on the streets is at the mercy of the police. One person from each household is allowed to shop alone and once a week. All sales of alcohol and cigarettes are banned. I don’t think that sort of lockdown would make me all that grateful, although gratitude is not something we feel because we have everything. Sometimes our everything is someone else’s nothing much, but we can still find a thank you, if we trouble ourselves to think and reflect and, to a degree, compare our situation with another’s.

This slowdown lockdown time is giving us opportunities to check ourselves from the inside out; to question why we feel this flash of discontent or loneliness or self-criticism. What is it that brings these feelings? Have I felt this before, even when lockdown was not in place? Chances are, I have. So let me poke around through my memories, remembering how good they are at lying. Let me stop when the feeling comes and turn to say ‘hallo’. Let me look this feeling smack in the eyeballs and ask it what it wants from me now, now that I don’t need it at all. There is time for such work these days and, if we are canny, and if we have remembered our dreams and hopes for our own future, we have the chance to find an answer. Ah, so this thing that you do that annoys the bejabers out of me and always has……yes, that thing, the one you have no intention of stopping, even supposing you consciously know you do it in the first place, which you probably don’t.

So, instead of allowing that irritation to rise in me, I will consider a different way to live with this thing in you. How about I am so busy doing my own thing that yours is just a whisper in the winds of change? Or perhaps I will notice and reflect on my own habits that I know irritate you; if I have the humility to go there, of course. It takes courage to go there. Many of us don’t bother. We want everything, not just something and there’s not a lot of gratitude in that. In fact we prefer, if you don’t mind, to grumble about ‘your’ irritating thing, to growl at it, to let it control us, for that is exactly what we are doing.

Well, poo to that. I know that I do spend much time poking about inside myself, and that for some I am a bit of a laughing matter, but it is my thing. If I want to rise from this slowdown lockdown not only intact, but elevated and forever changed, which I do, then I must adopt an attitude of non-judgemental humility and that non-judgement must apply to me too. This way gratitude lies, even for those who cannot walk as we do every day into the Fairy Woods, even them. A time of reflection is laid out before us now, like the Celandine and, if we turn our perfect petals to the light of the sun, we can all come out on the other side of this as better humans.

We never did see a fairy.

Island Blog 101 Enough for any Lion

lion-2

When I first began blogging, I couldn’t even have spoken that word without a schoolgirl snigger and now look at me, tapping across the querty board like a sea bird over rocks.  Knowing how to do something affords me the opportunity for a back flip or a pirouette, a chance to show off, although my back-flip days are long gone.  For example, if I’m singing something I already know well, I can afford the odd contrapuntal hold-and-dash, curving up at the rise and down at the fall of a phrase for maximum effect, although who I am ‘effecting’ is probably nobody but next door’s hens.  If I am cooking, and find I only have half the cream and none of of the grappa, I chortle a bit and adapt, even if the panacotta would be more use as a corner stone.  In my book I describe such culinary adaptions, and it was daily, and it was sometimes disastrous but in the end, everyone got fed and it was never on a ready meal.

Tweeting confounds me a little bit with all those hash tags and @s that other people, who do know what they’re doing, seem to employ all over the shop.  I am never quite sure where to land those symbols inside a sentence, but I will learn and, for now, I just blunder on, pinging symbols onto the screen and counting my characters like the rest with a modicum of confidence.

On the subject of characters and what they say or ‘tweet’ brings me neatly in to land.

In writing my novel I am a woman at the beginning all over again.  I have absolutely no idea if I am writing tripe or something astonishing.  Oh, I know bad writing, can spot it immediately, but my own bad writing?  Of course I couldn’t could I……write badly?

I wonder…….

I could decide it’s all too scary, this ‘what do you think?’ question that keeps peeking around the corners of my days and nights and asking to be given a place at the table. Look at it sitting there booted and suited before me every morning and growing more confident every single day.  The flaming cheek of it.  And see it grow, and grow, until it towers overhead and fills the room so that I struggle to see the telly screen of an evening.

I could hide my ‘novel’ under my bed or clasp it to my chest within the dark folds of my old woolly jumper, saying to the world that I and my great story are zipping along like Road Runner on blades, allowing nobody to see it at all until the very last minute, when it’s finished.

But now it weighs a whole country.

Now I am upwind of the lions. And they are hungry.  Hungry for all those big dreams we dream and then abandon in our desert because we think we are not enough to walk them out.

Well, all I need is myself.  And who says I’m not enough?  Oh, of course……I do.

It is at this point I remind myself that I am not a famous author, nor a queen, nor the sole hope of a desperate people. I am just a woman, a writer with a big personality and a great sense of humour.  I can rise and I can fall like anybody else and should get on with doing so, or the False Evidence Appearing Real will consume me and lose me in the place where failure is a real threat.

I am nobody’s hope, nor disappointment – just my own.  Paws for thought.

So, I hand it over, the draft, now up to chapter eleventy three and a half, to my husband of a thousand years and he begins to read it.  As he leafs through the sheets of A4, lowering each, when read, onto a growing pile, I see the chapter numbers rise and rise, and he says not a word.  After 30 minutes, whereupon my indigestion level has caused me to locate and swallow a double dose of liver salts, he removes his half-moons and says……..

It’s great.

I want to know more.

I am ecstatic for about half a day.  Then I remember that for him, or anyone else, to know more, I must dance back onto the querty rocks and begin to tap again.  No back flips, no pirouettes, no contrapuntal gymnastics for me, for I don’t know this well, not yet, and nobody can run before they can walk except my little grand-daughter who never slows up enough to walk anywhere. I watch her take off, her little legs pumping with enthusiasm and energy and I watch her fall.  And then someone lifts her up, dusts her down and within seconds she is off once more, running into her life with a thrown back giggle and all our eyes upon her and I think to myself that even if she did come upon a lion, she would probably wrap her arms around its neck and bury her nose into its mane, confounding it completely.

Island Blog 44 – To Live Again

Island Blog 44

Sometimes, in ordinary conversation, a friend might ask me if, given a choice, I would live my life over again.

I think back across the millions of miles of it, the lush richness, the deserts, the rainbows of success and the stumble-grounds; the learning and the laughter, the birthing and the dying, the joy,grief and inner growth.  Particularly the inner growth.

It is not a logical question, or answerable using logic, so you can guess that there are no men present, although maybe that’s just the men I know who, bless them, would say it can’t be true unless it’s been proven.  I know what ‘proven’ means to me.  It’s that point in the process of bread making, when the dough has risen as high as it can without pushing open the skylight.  The point when it requires further bashing and twisting and pummelling into shape before being popped into an extremely hot oven for a permanent shape-arrestment and a nice brown crust.

Anyway, answer the question you daft island wife….

Well would I? Live it all again?

My first feeling is one of huge tiredness.  It is not easy to imagine, let alone believe in, the energy required, not just to go through it all again, but to know what I’m going through as I go through it and worse, to know what comes next!

My head is reeling at the very thought.  So, park it for now.

My next thought/feeling/response is that, had I not been gifted the life I lived, there would  be no story, dynamic and whacky enough to have led me to write it down;  to have been guided to an experienced agent and through her, to have found a well established ‘we-don’t-take-on-books-unless-they-are-top-quality’ publisher.  And if there had been no madcap story, just a regular law-abiding disaster-free life, kept under militant control, I probably couldn’t imagine wanting to go through it all again.  The very idea would just have made me wriggle my ageing butt deeper into the sofa cushions and pull out my knitting, thankful that all those requirements to jump about and be adaptable are just blurred memories.

Instead , look at me learning to Tweet and Blog and answer messages on Facebook (for goodness sake) and feeling rather like I hoped I might feel, but didn’t, at the age of 17.

Is this, I ask myself, because you are being stretched when others are shrinking?  Or is it just that I am still living this life, instead of peering back across it all from the soft plumpy feathers of my wide-mouthed armchair?

So ask me now.  Would I live my young life over again?

Absolutely N.O.T.

But….. I wouldn’t change one bit of it, except, perhaps, that one time I drove right over a roundabout near Greenock because I didn’t know it was there.  Men were digging up the road and the leading lights had failed.  It was a splendid performance and I came to rest in a field with my headlights illuminating the bottom of a large white bull.

You can’t park here!  Said the roadman after chapping on my window.  Yellow rain streamed down his face and a furious gale played skittles with the traffic cones.

No mention of the roundabout.

 

Island Blog 16 – Locomotion

I walked today in the snow along paths flattened into bob sleigh tracks. I just knew that if anyone was going to hit the deck, it would be me. The students, just leaving school traveled confidently in their wellies, talking on their mobiles or chattering happily in twos or threes, their heavy school bags banging against their hips. Confidently, I said, which is not what I was doing.  What is it with growing older that brings new fears?  I recall leaping over rocks and skittering over ice with laughter and the fizzing taste of danger on my tongue.  If falling over was to happen, well, I wasn’t going to fuss about that, or even consider it, for youth is a fearless time, when I was invincible and above all unpleasant things, such as breaking a bone or looking a right charlie in public with my shopping bags bursting open and tins of baked beans rolling under the wheels of a long line of passing cars.

I joined the crocodile of students in the hope that, in their midst, I would maintain an upright position, but soon they peeled off, to their own homes leaving me to face a long stretch of shining ice, alone.  I kept close to the trees, where the ice was mushier and less threatening, humming a little hum to myself, telling my legs to relax their tension and to trust the image in my head, of being attached, by a long thread, to a cloud. I made the mistake of looking up only to find there were no clouds, which threw me somewhat.  I passed dog walkers, my age, striding out as if the ground were as solid and clear as it is before and after snow, thinking…’what is wrong with me?’

And then I watched the dogs.  They trot.  Well, you can trot when you have four legs!  When I walk in the wild places on the island, down steep hillsides and so on, following the deer tracks, I think about this whole number of legs thing, and I realise how compromised we humans are to have only two.  A centipede flows.  All those legs make walking, as we know it, unnecessary, for who would walk if they could flow instead?  I would much rather flow to be honest, but I do appreciate that a human with multiple legs might struggle to fit into society. Just think of buying shoes!

It seems to me that this blog is more about giving in to fears, than it is about growing more legs.  What I need to do is get out more, step onto the ice and walk it until it loses its hold on me.

In other words…..keep walking over it until I know it so well, I can dance.

A life lesson perhaps?

 

Island Blog 16 (1)

Island Blog 5

Did I tell you I cook and clean for Old Harry?

Well, I am now, and I do.

The job sort of came to me.  I wasn’t looking for work, but Old Harry has looked after me and my family for over 35 years, doing odd jobs and bringing those little bits and pieces to us when we were without them.  A short length of roofing felt, perhaps, or a special size of bicycle screw, or a bit of wire fencing to block up a hole in the fence.

Well, since his old wife died, he has had to fend for himself in a kitchen he never knew existed.  He did outdoors and she did indoors and that was that for a whole lifetime.  So, Old Harry found someone to cook meals for him, freeze them and deliver once a week.  There was a bit of washing, a bit of cleaning too.  When one cook left him, he came to tell me and I said, quite without thinking, I’ll do it Harry.  For you.

And I do.

This morning I was supposed to go over with supplies, clean washing and my rubber gloves for the cleanup which is never much as Old Harry was a Regimental Sergeant Major in the war and still lives that way.  But, it was raining again, cats and dogs so I knew Harry, whose work is all outside, remember, would be stuck at home and not wanting a merry little cleaner like me moving him around whilst I cleaned.  So, I stayed home and cooked extra meals for him instead, which is timely as we are off to see our new grand-daughter in London on Wednesday and I will be away for ten days helping out.  I will still keep up my blog, though, so no worries there.

I’m bushed now, though.  Time for a walk in the Fairy Woods.  I’ll tell you what I find tomorrow.

Island Blog 4

Yesterday, my husband the old sea dog, turned 70.  Nobody really believes he is THAT old and he certainly doesn’t look it. When we were young, people that old were bordering on fossilisation, but we seem to be ageing differently these days, and keeping ourselves young and fit.

We had a great day, just pottering about and took a lovely walk up into the Fairy Woods with the little dog, managing to lose her during games of hide and seek! The wallow, used by the deer, was more like Lake Titicaca with all the rain we’ve had recently. We lit the fire and played scrabble and laughed a lot over tea and crumpets (or that’s what they called themselves on the packet)

 

Later, we went through to one of our boys, James (the tv star!)and his family, for a fondue and indoor fireworks.  The fondue was delicious and lasted for hours – the best sort of meal.  The Birthday Boy was truly spoiled and celebrated with the generous birthday present of five gold tickets.  I’d never heard of such a thing, but think it quite brilliant.  As the kids are dotted across the world, busy with their own lives and families, their gift to him, a whole day one to one, is a fabulous idea.  When they were little, they were a collective – inevitable when you have five and an extremely demanding work life, and, as they grew, he had to find out anew, who they are, as they did him.  They had to learn a new friendship.

 

We stayed over, and woke to play with the grandchildren on another rainy morning. Then, after a cooked breakfast (as if we needed more food) we went for the wettest walk in years, getting completely soaked, even through big ass waterproofs and we didn’t mind at all.  Once you’re wet, you’re wet!  The massive waterfall was spectacularly swollen with the rains, and the sound of it drowned out all conversation.  We just looked up and marvelled.

 

Back home, we booked our flights to London next week.  Another adventure and this one takes us to meet our littlest grand-daughter, born on Boxing Day.

Can’t wait!