Island Blog – The Circus, Night Fairies and Life

I have baked a honey cake and drizzled it, put a wash on, changed a bed, dressed, applied slap, made a cauliflower cheese for supper, wished a grand-daughter happy unicorn birthday, swept the kitchen floor, prepared a salad, ate breakfast, fed the birds and the dog, danced to Ronan Keating’s new single and it is now 7 am. There is something manic about me, I am beginning to believe. Residue automatic morning-ness from when the tourist business was up and running, endless children, many of whom I didn’t know, also up and running, and food food food required by hundreds kept me cartwheeling from first light. Half the time there was little point washing up as meal demands bunched together like giggling girls on an outing. I whisked, beat, baked, stewed, roasted and steamed mountains of produce. It thinks me I am unable to step out of those running shoes, even now, when days are slow and gentle, mostly, with the exception of the odd crappy day wherein I cannot run for the life of me. My legs are leaden and my mind is a roundabout on speed. However, I am happy to report that such days are rare, not least because I can’t be bothered with any sort of sickness, mental or physical, disallowing either much space in the room. Be off with you, I say, but don’t go bothering anyone else because you are just not welcome. Try outer space.

Mornings bounce me like Tigger. I wake with the birds and absolutely cannot turn over for more sleep. Despite my passionate love for my recycled plastic bottle filled duvet and my feathery down pillows, I have too much energy fizzing through my veins to lie a minute longer. I have to be quiet, though. Himself won’t rise till about 8 and my kitchen is a floorboard below his bedroom. I don’t think they lagged things much in the 1870’s. I tiptoe through my tasks, interested, excited, curious and particularly curious when I discover that the washing pile is gone. Who has gone-d it? There is only me who washes in this house. I discover it a little later through a downstairs window, bobbing like bunting on the line. I have no recollection of hanging it there. Perhaps I didn’t. Perhaps the Night Fairies did it for me. How sweet they are. I remember them from my young harassed mother-days. They always surprised me with their kindnesses but there were times when I would rather they told me what they’d done because I might then have avoided wasting precious time in search of something I knew I had left just there the night before. Just there stares back at me emptily. I began to suspect collusion with the Night Fairies. Once, when I was certain of a pile of bed sheets awaiting a spin in the belly of my washing machine, I found them half way up the stairs, draped into an Aladdin’s cave and with two guilty looking collies curled up inside, each one enjoying a bowl of muesli.

Perhaps when life has been a circus for long enough, the circus becomes the life and each performer becomes the circus. I think I have. And I don’t mind one bit. I think the circus training has kept me bouncing through all sorts of horrible, kept me mostly up and taught me that nothing in life is going to get me down for long. I just wish I could share this with everyone else. Life is such a precious gift, and always too short. Living it right up to its end is the only path to happiness.

After all, stumble stones can always be turned into building blocks.

Island Blog – Noticing

It’s been a few weeks now, this lockdown thingy and I notice changes inside my head. Looking at what was and at what is present me with two different views of the same thing. Funny that. Back then, when I clucked through my routine life with a hen-like disinterest of my surroundings, I had no idea there was such depth to a life. Well, I suppose I did, but chose not to poke my head over the edge in case I fell into the dark. There were things to do, tasks to begin and complete and to a high (ish) standard but I didn’t really notice how I did them, nor why. The things I did notice were, if I’m honest, viewed through a negative lens. The arduous drudge of whatever chore awaited my attention denied me the excitement of options. For instance, I always washed clothes on a low energy almost cold 30 minute cycle. I never thought about it, just turned the dial and pressed play. Now I consider the pile of washing, separating the sheets from the synthetics, put on my specs, hunker down and think about what cycle to kickstart. It has brought a wild burst of fun to my life and this freedom of choice around dirty laundry has led me to notice a whole load of other things. The tasks have not changed, the routine is still in place, but I have come like the tooth fairy to swap old dentin for a shiny new sixpence.

Noticing things can be momentarily upskittling. Because the house is so quiet now, I can hear it breathe, hear the scurryings and creaks, the sound of the wind through a crack. A sudden flash of movement in a corner could be an old ghost feeling welcome. It isn’t just me who sees it. The dog does too. I watch her look up quickly then move slowly over to where I saw movement, to sniff around. Dust has changed too. When I had cleaners every fortnight, the dust was brazen. Look at me, all thick and sticking to everything, dust-motely floating in streaks of sunlight, turning white things a tawdy brown! Look at me!!! I see you, I saw you, but where are you now, now that I am cleanerless and with a merry lack of dusters in my box of cloths? I don’t see you anywhere and, going by your past behaviour, it should be impossible by now to open the sitting room door, let alone breathe deeply.

Noticing and not noticing brings a very interesting switch of womanly tactics. Where I had to brace myself, like Effie, for some unpleasant chore, I barely think about it now and, much like the giddy excitement I feel as I decide which wash cycle to employ, I am curious to learn a good deal more. When I sweep the endless supply of crumbs from the floors I paint a design with my broom. I consider its potential for flight, but it’s not a besom so I doubt it has much, and, besides, I think my flying days are over. But what I just don’t understand is why this lockdown/slowdown time is effecting such dramatic change for so many of us. Despite the threat this virus still poses, and for some long time to come, the stopping of Routine is having a profound influence on all people. Doing old things differently, seeking out new things to do, brings them all to our attention. To ask Why Am I Doing This? may never have crossed our minds, minds numbed by what we thought was normal, minds dull as hens, clucking our way through the days and weeks, questioning nothing and overly hysterical should someone pinch our grain. Now, forced onto the wasteland we have to pay attention.

I know, of course I do, that not everyone can get excited about a shift in washing cycles, but there will be little things to question, notice and change. Children always ask Why when told to do something. Somewhere in that ghastly and painful process of growing up, our Why gets lost. Asking why, even of self, is to notice, to be mindful. It is also poking your head over the edge to look into the dark. But, as eyes grow accustomed to it, lights shine, contours reveal themselves and there is shape and texture to appreciate. And I always find it isn’t deep at all. I can let my arm sink into the dark, feel it cool on my skin, run my fingers through it. I cannot hold it, cannot grab a handful for closer study, but it is strong and powerful despite its lack of substance. And, when I turn back to whatever nonsense I plan for my day, the light is brighter, the air clearer, the dust silent and best of all I have the time to notice everything, every thought, every action, each precious living minute.

Island Blog – Sharing the Story

This morning I decided to sort out my freezer. It didn’t take long as there are only 3 drawers below the fridge but you’d be surprised how much of a farrago I can create over time. Most of the bags of bits are translatable into something I recognise but none of the tubs have labels so it is anyone’s guess as to what their contents will thaw into. Something dark could be blackberry compote or red onion gravy and it does tend to matter which one gets served as pudding. I pull out one such tub and a bag of something that looks like meat thinking, rather devil-may-care, that whatever is in the tub will somehow be workable. I am nothing if not inventive.

Now it is all of 9 am and there’s a whole day stretching out ahead of me expecting to be noticeably and productively lived. Can’t disappoint it. So, what next? I know, I’ll strip the beds and wash the linen. Well, my part stops after stripping and that takes ten minutes. Next…….I could hoover the carpet if really pushed or I could ignore the crumbs and keep my eyes on the future. I choose the latter. There is a top and a skirt waiting to be conjoined which may or may not work. My sewing is enthusiastic, my imagination wild with ideas, but my skills at logic have always come home last. I can see, in my mind’s eye, this classy home-assembled frock, wowing all who see me in it (which won’t be anyone till the Autumn) but there is a gap in my Dom Sci training. I must have looked away at some point and it’s too late now. However, this doesn’t stop me forging ahead, and it takes some time to pin, tack and sew the parts together. I take the dry washing upstairs and have a chat with my soft toy collection. They are a motley crew of characters collected over time. A couple of them appeared one day attached to a small child who decided they could do with some granny time; some are left after my own children grew out of them, knowing that I never would; one, Sheepy, fell out of a window in Sauchiehall St Glasgow which is where I found him. He was flat, filthy, sodden, and cross-eyed but after a good soak and blow dry, he fluffed up nicely and has been here ever since. He is still cross-eyed but far less flat. The whole surface of the chest is covered in little people and they all grin at me as I rise the stairs. They are my little team of supporters and I always smile back.

The important thing, I am finding, is to stop my mind falling into slumber. If I entertain myself and my mind with a routine of sorts, allowing the odd dash into spontaneity and unlikelihood, whilst sustaining a healthy approach to the necessary round of small things, I can make it all the way to the evening. To enter into a day with no plan of action just doesn’t work for me. And, yet, it used to work so well. I could plan all I liked but then a child falls into the bog or gets stuck up a tree, or leaves home, aged 6, in a wild fury, to mention but a few of the many things that always happened should I dare to make a plan, it was essential that I moved to plan-less mode. In these unusual times, however, it seems important for a well-laid out daily plan to be well-laid out and implemented. As we are all confined to quarters and some to eighths or even sixteenths, I imagine we all feel this. After all, there is a limit to how many times you want to count the roses on the wallpaper, or sort the freezer, or hoover the crumbs. Small things get bigger if they are given enough attention. And that can be good and it can be bad. If the small thing appears as an irritation and is allowed to grow, I could find myself in a frightfully bad mood by lunchtime. On the other hand if the small thing is a kindness gift, due attention given to detail and presentation, then everyone is happy.

My key is to hold on to the constants and the perpetuals. Okay they might be soft toys or they might be out there in nature, like birds and rocks and daffydowndillys, for those of us who can see nature between buildings. I am aware there are many who would have to look very hard to see nature at all in this time. The odd pigeon might not cut the mustard. Drab streets, rules about going out, and so on. It’s just tougher, as it always is, among those for whom everything is always tougher. But now, here comes the leveller. Nobody is privileged against this enemy. No amount of wealth or privilege makes one jot of difference, and we are all afraid at times.

In times of ‘strait’ and fear, of lack and loss, thinking outside of ourselves is most helpful. The day will take its usual length of time to keel over so we may as well entertain ourselves and everyone else we can think of right up to night. Sharing what we have, teaching each other, working together, thinking outside of self, sharing ideas, recipes, jokes, stories, all these create bonds that no enemy can cut. Developing a relationship by asking questions and really listening with empathy sets that relationship up for life. Investing in what we can do for someone else has consequences, beneficial to all parties. Too long we have only shown interest in our own lives, families, friends, work and choice of sandwich filler. A change of heart demands action. I agree that we need to take care of ourselves in order to stay the right way up, but it is good, nonetheless, to remind ourselves, gently, that we have this golden opportunity to do something we have never done before. Like sending an I Love You message, just because. Maybe someone you know could do with talking about how they feel. Maybe they might need pulling closer to the fire to hear a story.

We will all have stories to tell once this is over. We can start writing it now.

Island Blog 129 Out of Africa

African woman

 

 

In Africa I was more likely to find wildlife than wifi.   Of course, there were odd times, in a bar perhaps in town or in a friend’s spanking new office block, but mostly, the only form of contact with anyone at all, was with a handshake, a wide smile and an exchange of words, a state of being I rather like, even if I did, out of habit, reach for my phone if ever we stopped for coffee.

This new office block, with its wide light rooms and wrap around views across Capetown, is already a business hub.  Inventive and creative thinking, interior design and spatial understanding brings together anyone with a business to run and no desk to run it from.  Hot Desks are affordable and genius, because, not only do you get your own space, wifi connection, etc, but you also get to work in a bustling energetic atmosphere among other creators, all of whom are more than happy to network over coffee or a beer.

At every robot (traffic lights) there may be 3 lanes of vehicles.  I look across at those parked beside us in our little silver car (Maggie) and can hardly see the tops of the buckies (four-wheel drives) without craning. Inside these sit the well-upholstered Africaaners, their windows tight shut for the aircon to work.   On the other side, a people carrier taxi, all windows open, pumps out music, the black passengers grinning and bopping on their way to or from work.  The second we stop, the street sellers move in, weaving their way among the cars, holding their merchandise, such as beaded animals, children’s wooden puzzles, mobiles, jewelery, long-legged birds fashioned from plastic bags, woven sunhats and the Big Issue. The sellers are clean and proud, in the main, the turbanned women flashing sparkly smiles, the men making eye contact.  Not begging but business.  We don’t buy because we can find exactly what they are selling on the high street or at the market, even though they did assure us it was all their own work. It could also cause a cafuffle if the lights changed in the middle of negotiations, for there are always negotiations.  The asking price is set high, the rest is barter.

I found the beggars, when we did meet them in town, and you always meet them in town, most distressing to observe.  I always wanted to give something, but, had I done so, I would still be there in Market Square with not a penny left to my name.  Once you give to one, others move in, many of them children, and all of them thin as rakes.  Those who live in Capetown are not cold hearted, but they have grown a thicker skin.  They will consider employing anyone who turns up, who cleans up, who decides to move up in life, but they will not easily support those who choose doorways to sleep in and some lethal coctail as nourishment.

I thought much about that.  If someone has lost whatever they had, which may not have been much, it might not take long for that loss to turn into an acceptable way to live.  I imagine self-confidence and respect dissolve pretty quickquick when your only chance of food is by raiding bins on collection day.  I watched a man walk down the street doing just that and talking away to himself. He was oblivious to me, beyond stepping off the pavement to avoid a collision, and his eyes were bloodshot and empty.  I pulled my bag closer and felt vulnerable and overdressed and frightfully well spoken and, well, guilty.  We were heading out of town for a few nights on the coast, with food and wine and a rented beach hut to wrap around us and all he had to look forward to was another long street of wheelie bins and the possibility of Thai curry leftovers in polystyrene. And a doorway to sleep in.

Then (for life always sends a balance to help out) I met young black people with a zeal in their bellies. Not priveleged and living in one of the townships –  mile upon mile of tin roofs and dust floors, but still determined to find new quality for their lives, waiting at tables, working on the dustcart, cleaning, odd-jobbing, and so much more.  ‘If anyone wants it, the work is here’, I was told more than once.  This is a country where labour is abundant and cheap.  Wages are low, work is hard, but these people have a joy about them, a laughter that may well not come from a place of comfort.  It’s more an attitude than a result of how life treats them.  In other words, it comes first, that smile, that easy laugh.

We saw the maids arriving at the big smart Africaaner homes every morning around 7am.  Dressed in black with brilliant white aprons, they trudged up the hills from the noisy taxi that brought them out of the townships, talking and laughing together.  They always looked up for a greeting and always responded with friendship.  Their hours, from 7.30 to whenever they were done cleaning, looking after children and cooking, might earn them £8 at the far end of a day that expects a woman to do every domestic job required.  Then they walked back to the taxi rank, back to the townships to their own families to begin all over again, every single day.  When I talked with one maid, she told me she was happy to work.  Work, she said, is important.  No work, no importance. She look at me, astonished when I told her I had worked as a maid for a time.  Why?  she asked me.  ‘You don’t have maids in Scotland?’  As if cleaning was not for my shiny white hands. I fumbled about for an answer that didn’t sound like ‘well, I needed the money.’  She would have fainted clean away, had she known the wage I was paid for doing far less than is expected of her. And then she smiled the widest smile and then she laughed a laugh that made her bangles jingle and shook her head in amazement and amusement at the very thought of the ‘Ma’ cleaning a house, even her own.  Then she gathered up a huge pile of washing and left me wondering at my priveleged life and how often I forget to remember that it is just that.

Island Blog 71 – Letting Go

Island Blog 71

 

Yesterday I took some washing up to the line like a good island wife, in a stout breeze.

That is not an article of island clothing, by the way, but, instead, a good wind for drying things.

As I climbed up the little mosaic-ed garden steps, a bush erupted beside me.  I knew from the sound effects that this was a Blackbird Hoo-ha, at which Blackbirds are pretty good.  They can make one out of nothing with their alarm calls, causing an island wife to drop her laundry basket, tipping her husband’s undergarments into a flowerbed and requiring her to wash them all over again.

I stood still, my back against the wall, my husband’s undergarments safely within the confines of the basket, and waited for the drama to unfold.  For a few seconds, I and the blackbird family listened for each other, neither of us daring to make a sound.  I knew they would give in first, through their natural curiosity and also because time is of the essence for them.  Not so for me.  I could linger here all morning without a shred of embarrassment or guilt, but, then, I don’t have to learn to fly in order to keep a hold of my life.

Or do I?

Anyway, the male jumped out of the bush first, which is quite proper for a Father Protector, and he locked eyeballs with me and said something rather sharp and double syllabled.  I looked away, knowing that this removed me as a confrontational threat, and waited some more.  He chirruped at the bush and out bounced three youngsters – all bigger than their dad, followed by a rather ruffled mother

After a few aviation tips, he told them to get on with it, and led the way, landing on the apex of the roof.  Eventually they followed, but not without giving dad a whole load of lip about this flying thing and his overly high expectations of them.

This morning I noticed them all around the compost bin, which has overflowed with an excitement of worms, thus providing the family with three good meals a day plus healthy snacks.  How wonderful it is, I thought to myself, that this adult pair are likely to have pitched their nest around this very spot precisely because of the overflowing compost bin and the excitement of worms.  I wonder if we are clever with our own nest pitching – considering what is best for the family, and, then, moving if we find a danger too close at hand.  I doubt it somehow, not with all that mortgage angst and debts and work commitments, although none of that makes it right to be living in the wrong place.

At my little grand-daughter’s naming ceremony, the words for her, in poetry, promises and songs, offered gifts and wisdom and freedom.  She must learn from her parents, her guides and then be free to take that learning and shape it her own way.  We all want this and yet few of us get it or give it, not really.  Through our own fear, we try to keep hold, of our children, our friends.  How many of us ever listen to someone, anyone, announce their new plan, a completely bonkers and impossible one, in our opinion and make no comment whatsoever?  No word of caution, no opinion, saying something like this:-

Wow!  That sounds incredible?  How will you achieve that do you think?

And then listen and learn and encourage and only ever give opinion if asked.

Bet you can’t do it.  We are all jailors of someone in order to feel free.