Island Blog – Grace of an Otter

Life comes and goes in waves. That’s what I think, but as I think the think, I wonder what I mean by that. Life, by definition, as long as I am alive, is a constant. More a line than a wave, like a path I walk each day. It is my nature to deviate as often as possible, but even my deviations are visible. Oh, yesterday I must have pathed off this way and last week, accordion to the way grass has grown back, I meandered that way. Unless the path is well-trod and regularly, grass will grow over quickquick, beginning it all over again as an opportunity to head off piste and, perhaps this is good enough in the limitations of my deviousness.

One of the most infuriating, at worst, or thought provoking, at best, sayings is ‘I always do it this way, or I usually walk this way, or I always have lunch at midday and so on. I work on not falling into the always and the usually, simply because of my desire for deviation and also because it heralds a setting in of routine and the shutting down of curiosity and imagination. Living this way is living in the past and not with an eye on the future, in my opinion.

Today I set off for my ‘usual’ walk. Oh, Hallo. As I wander up the track towards the sea, I stop to locate the sudden of fragrance, stand quite still and just breathe it in. Honeysuckle tumbling over a long fallen pine trunk. I watch the bees disappear into the cream and yellow trumpets, whizzing like an electric egg whisk pulled from the froth of albumen, and then emerging laden with pollen and free to fly. I notice brown leaves beneath the Horse Chestnut and find my eyes looking for conkers. No No Silly…….not yet (please not yet). These leaves just fell and turned brown on the track, that’s all. There’s a soft warm breeze and I shuck off my jumper to feel the sun on my skin, nice skin, brown skin thanks to these glorious summer days. My tattoos catch my eye as my arms swing. Each one marking an event. This one, Pegasus the Flying Horse, affixed in Glasgow when Himself was airlifted into the Uk after a massive African stroke. I had to do something that flew me above it all and Pegasus came to life. That one, the dragonfly curlicues, on a visit to Edinburgh with a lovely friend. She bought a lighthouse and I, a tattoo. This is my favourite. The artist so talented. There’s a Butterfly, a Quill, another dragonfly and I am not done yet. I have a date with my niece in Glasgow to visit her tattooist and, although I cannot go there yet, I enjoy searching through designs and placings. It matters not to me that my skin, my lovely skin, is wrinkled. Not one tiny bit.

I turn down towards the sea on a sudden whim, open the gate and read the sign affixed. YOU ARE NOW ENTERING…….and then nothing. I enter. Walking through thrift and wild grasses we reach the flat rocks, smell the salt and the kelp. I sit whilst the wee dog bolts in and out of the shallows barking at nothing. The tide is flooding, the air warm, the sun hot, the peace complete. There is nobody here but me. I remember things, like the whale-watching boat departing from the pier just behind me, returning with happy visitors, day after day after day. I hear their voices, their laughter, their whoops of delight if they had encountered whale. You will sleep well this night, I told them, and they always did. I remember Himself, all grizzled and strong, the Whale Father, the cantankerous hero. Suddenly a head pops up, sleek, black, fleeting and is gone again. I watch the water for some time. A young seal perhaps, a big otter? I am not sure, it was fleeting.

I am just about to leave when the sleekest finest dog otter rises effortlessly onto a rock not 12 feet away from me and the wee dog. She doesn’t see it and I grab her collar to stay her with me. The otter rests on a rock and crunches away at something. He is so clear to me but with his poor eyesight, he doesn’t see me. I watch him complete his meal, slide back under the kelp and reappear moments later with another crunchy thing. He is even nearer now, looks straight at me, but still doesn’t see. The wee dog makes a small bark and he looks at me square, holds, holds, then goes back to his meal. I can hardly believe my luck. I watch this wild creature, flow like liquid, sleek dark, effortless, easy in the tide tow, the flood and ebb, the wild and calm of an ocean. Elemental grace. I totter carefully away across the rocks looking back again and again. The otter just keeps being an otter. It reminds me that my very best bet is to be what I am. A woman aging, a woman strong, a woman who likes adventure, deviation and tattoos. A woman open and wild. A woman who cannot take on an ocean but who surely can take on her own life, the tide tow, the flood and ebb, the wild and calm and with as much grace as an otter.

Here comes a wind change. A door slamming, fly curtain whipsnap sort of wind. Puff clouds rise above the Blue Ben and the sea-loch ruffles and skids to the shore where, if I could hear it, there would be an argument with the rocks. From up here I can only imagine it, unhook the fly curtain and retreat into my home. Changes. At times infuriating, at best thought provoking. I like the latter best. I will be an otter inside my life of changes. I may have to swim faster or hunker down within the safety of rocks. I may enjoy sunshine kelp slip and slide days when apparent threat just observes me but does not confront. I may face off fears, imagined or real. I may bask in family or feel completely alone. None of these are in my control but I am. I. Am.

Think Otter and take on your ocean. It works.

Island Blog – It’s okay that it’s not okay

I could have said that better, my English tutor would have told me, her huge bosom leaning over me so that the whole room went momentarily dark. I can still smell the tweedy smell of her fitted (very well fitted) jacket and hear the scritch-scratch of her thickly nylon-ed thighs as she travelled the distance to my desk, then home again jigetty-jig to the safety of her chalk blown upfront tutor desk. And she is right, was right then. I am very thankful for my English tutors down the ages, who challenged my brain to dig deep for words, old words, old ways of saying, poetically, what turned into street talk. Not that I mind street talk at all, for it has rhythm and beat to it and I am ever the dancer. But when writing it is important for me to stretch my brain, to find a way of saying an ordinary thing in an extraordinary way.

Forward to the point. I honestly believed I had got away with it, the grieving thing, this widowhood thing. At first, I felt only relief. 10 years of caring for a big man who was slowly falling away, was horrible, even though he himself was always positive no matter the declination. His peaceful and accepting dying brought relief to him, to all of us. I thought, maybe this lovely gentle leaving after all those years of angst and battle (on my part) would rub out the horrible, like my old India rubber did for my spelling mistakes. A foolish thinking. Here I am two months off the anniversary of his death and everything hurts. A bird caught in a fence (thankfully freed and flown), a child crying, the hearing of someone else’s pain, the fact that the stairlift has stopped working, the leaks in my ceiling, the stubbing of a toe en route to the wood pile. Sharp as needles, these ‘small’ things that were okay are not any more. I tell myself I am doing okay, that this is normal, that it will pass and myself rolls her eyes and goes “ya-di-ya”. What did we say before ‘ya-di-ya’ I wonder?

I know of others. Those who, since the Covid lockdown and the fear and fallacy this past year and more has brought to us, are scared of going out, unsure if they actually want to do the going out thing at all. I know I can be confounded at the gate of my gypsy home, in the so called middle of nowhere, if I see walkers moving up the tiny track on their way to Tapselteerie and her wild delights, her vision, her stretch right out into the Atlantic Ocean. And I pull back, hide, wait. This happening-to-us thing is what is happening to us. And, although it feels thoroughly not okay, it has to be okay. Our clenched teeth, our fears, our resulting flip into nowhere, well, owe have to find a landing. I haven’t yet, even here, even in this free, gentle land, and if I haven’t then how the heck is it for those who have survived in cities? I have no answer for that. Only respect.

And then there is the grief. Not mine, not just mine but the everyman, everywoman grief because it is loud in my ears and a strong part of the music that sentient composers will play into our future days, in our remembering days. As will poets and novel writers with their prose. They are working on it now, this omg (sorry) in our lives and they will come up bright, intelligent and colourful, I just know it.

Till then, I, and hopefully you, have family, siblings, kids, grandkids who lift us into ourselves, the ones we knew so well a year and then some ago. They are still with us as we are with them. This connection is rooted and unbreakable. Friends too, formed way back or even more recent. Roots grow quick and they need to.

I am thankful. I am broken. I am me. And, I am okay that I’m not okay.

Island Blog – Potluck and Possibilities

As the island opens up to visitors and there’s a load of thronging going on where not so long ago there were long stretches of nothing and nobody we didn’t know by heart, there is a natural confoundmentness. We who live here still long for connectivity, for friend meets, for adventure and for the chance to enjoy our glorious wild spaces and yet, it is almost as if we are on trip alert. I know it is not just us here. It must be the same all across the country. We want to share, of course we do. We want to welcome, to accept and acknowledge that there are so many who have felt trapped and confined for many, many months. We do indeed live in interesting times.

This day my friend and I plan to meet for a cafe lunch above a beach. So simple, so ordinary, once. But I falter and she agrees. The sun is out. It is warm. It is half term for Englandshire. There might just be a great big thronging thing going on at lunch time. Fortunately, neither of us are throngers, so we opt, instead, for a potluck bench picnic at my home. It is the best. Uncomplicated by orders, masks and hesitations, we just flow. We talk of everything, of anything and nobody interrupts us. We don’t have to fuss about distance or touching or standing in the marked spot. So very freeing. We also talk about how much we feel we need to tidy up if someone comes into our home, and we laugh because who the flip gives a damn about a clean floor or whatever when the chance to connect is the main goal? Did this thinking, I wonder, make us into islands? Did this need to be, what, perfect, prevent us from free flow, from potluck? I think it probably did. When I remember the ordinary take-for-granted freedom of movement among peoples, my biggest panic was how clean is my house. What hilarious nonsense! I am hoping we can all learn from this, learn to be more spontaneous, more adventurous and less caught up in the old games which were never games btw, but more like paralysing strictures, as if we were in starting blocks with a faulty release mechanism. We long for contact, for connectivity, for connection and yet our nonsense heads tell us we can not unless the home is spit spotless. Let us think on that.

I walk in the sunshine with my little dog, now shaved and looking marvellous. I can see all her wiggles now that the overlay carpet is gone. She trots beside me through glorious tree hang. Bees come to check me out, like right up to my nose in spectacular hover control. Hallo, I say. Welcome. I watch greylags with goslings in tow cross a narrow inlet and there’s a load of chat. These parents are strict about safety, vigilance and behaviour. I can see that. A female lesser spotted woodpecker comes in, close. She is on a fence post, her head snapping left, right, her colours fabulous. A single movement, my hand to my mouth in awe of her beauty, and she is gone. I hear young tits deep inside the drystone wall cheeping. They hear my footfall crunch, think parental boots and call out. You are safe with me, I whisper, but be cautious little ones. Not all incoming is friendly. The wood floor is alive with blooms and the grass still soft and emerald. As the Summer progresses, these grasses will tire, grow sinewy, yellow. This is the time to see the island, when the green is filled with new life and hungry to lift towards the sun, when birthing is so very important. It thinks me. This strong reach is all about the next generation and we are not so different. Creation is a very important word.

As I watch my own children creations parent and adult up, I know they are all good strong humans. They learned how to live adventurously in a wild safe place. No matter that they did not get the latest overpriced something-or-other for Christmas or birthdays. They learned to make their own fun, whooping through trees like monkeys, devising potluck games and surviving them all with just a few cuts and bruises. They had strict parents when it came to table manners, respect for all others, kindness and wide-open thinking. Possibilities are always right there, we told them, just waiting for you but it is you who need to grab them for they won’t grab you. They will just catch your eye, or whisper in your ear and you must be vigilant, ready, prepared for action, my little birds. Always. Now they are teaching all that to their own little ones and it happies me. We did ok, no, we did very well considering the fact that parenting is a terrifying and turbulent process and not one of us can lean on experiential wisdom because we all learn as we go along. It is only when looking back to join the dots can we see how we succeeded and how we did not. The did nots can confound in later years, the guilt glueing a parent to the past. I know it, but I choose to focus on the dids. It is always a choice, the thinking thing, the remembering shape and colour, texture and dimension. I can build on either, as can you.

Possibilities can find me at any point inside this day. I can decide to be curious, open hearted and ready for them. When, as always happens, self doubt or fear or anxiety nudges my elbow, I am vigilant, ready, strict with them. You are not helpful, I tell them, please leave. Then I reconnect the wild in me with the wild out there. It has to be a daily practice because if I am not vigilant then I open up the runway for incoming unfriendly. And, it is not complicated at all, but simply a decision. A decision not to waste one single moment of this beautiful and fragile life.

Island Blog – Fear+Courage=Brave

I remember ordering a dress online and when it arrived and was miles away from wonderful on me and in itself, poor material, wrong swing or no swing at all, duller than the image I ‘bought’ promised, I realised with a sink and a rise that what I was really buying was the young, fit, beautiful woman who modelled it. Hey and Ho. Life lessons that really teach us are rarely pleasant like ice cream. They are more like constipation medicine, good for you but utterly vile in the taking in. And Life doesn’t change her style. No, indeed. You begin to realise that which you have fought against for longtime is never going to be a perfect sunshine sail across an expanse of gentle water with just the right breeze to luff and exhilarate, beneath a cloudless sky and with a nice landing ahead, accessible, safe, easy and without challenge from other yachties. It does happen but never expect it. Such is Life. She is always feisty, dammit.

Anyways, this covid/bereavement thingy has certainly sucked out my self-confidence which was never strong to be honest. The expanse of time between what I took for ordinary to now when nothing will ever be ordinary again, is huge. I can’t even see the other side of it as I come into land, into a new land, one with hand sanitisers at every docking point and the whole world hidden behind masks. Even the thought of driving the switchback into the harbour town scares me. I must not, I must, I have to, I am in chains. The skipping across the little harbour road into the arms of a friend is no longer okay. The touch of a friend, no. And, as the island opens up again to visitors, albeit monitored and controlled the volte face of it is very alarming. I know we need their cash but all of us have loved the year of just us. The wildlife has benefited, the flowers too, the roads are in better condition, but the businesses have really struggled to stay afloat and, sadly, some will drown. I don’t like the thought of that, these brave islanders who came in better times, worked to establish something vital and beckoning and then who had to shut down, and for a long long time, maybe too long time.

Today I walked with a good friend. I told her, when she told me her possible plan for our walk (way further than I have gone for decades) that it scared me, that I might not want to go that far. Was it memories? After all, I had walked, driven on a tractor, a quad, that far out into the Atlantic so many times without a single dither. Maybe. I don’t have a handle on an answer to that. But it queried me and I thought about it. Maybe, as older folk, or as a folk with a trauma on their shoulders, we stick to the small world we have created for protection. Over time, this small world begins to challenge our breath, our breathing, as if we had pulled a polythene bag over our own head. Maybe. It makes sense. I haven’t been anywhere for well over a year and even before that, whilst caring, I pulled in my world like a comfort blanket, for safety and also in order to feel the edges of it, to be in some sort of control, when the daily demands threatened to take me over. But now things want to change, so they tell me. I am fearful but, somehow, equipped with the courage to brave up. It sounds ridiculous that I feared walking over land I know as well as I know my own body, land that is soaked with over 43 years of memories, land with which I bonded at a physical, emotional and spiritual level for a pivotal catch of my life, above which my children grew into feral crazy beauties, where decisions were made, changed, adapted and developed hour after hour, day after day, season after season.

But, the truth is, I have allowed my comfort world to smallen and now it is time to brave up. Although this, this walk, this day with this good friend was just a baby step, I loved it. I felt no anxiety, no fear. I knew as I always know with her that I am safe. She is feisty as hell but so kind and so emotionally wise. I already knew this but I can still doubt myself listening instead to the rubbish inside my head, the judge talk, the fear. I am learning to notice and to control my thoughts. It will probably be a slow process so I will be required to live a lot longer.

That’s ok with me. I am braving up, no weapons, no defence, just trust, good boots and caution on buying online frocks.

Island Blog – Wild Pesto

Today began a tad early. It was still dark, so I guessed about 3 am. I am good at guessing time. Himself taught me how to read the sun, his position in the sky and then to trust what came into my head. However, 3 am is sunless, but I seem to have learned the darkness too. I don’t have nightmares anymore so waking is just waking. I pad downstairs for a cup of herbal tea. I check to see that I did remember to bring the doglet in last night. I do that often, having once, only once, left a before dog out all night. It was summer, I remind myself soothingly. She was warm and curled up when I found her on one of the soft cushions of a sun chair, but still…….the memory has not left me unshattered, the image of her sweet face a morning welcome to one who deserved no such thing. Funny things, memories. Anyway, dog was in of course. I went back to bed with an audio book, most of which I didn’t hear as I did doze off, arising at five.

When I wake I am filled with beans. Always. No matter what my body feels, my Alice mind is like a drone already heading out into the wild, into the morning, the sunrise, the retreat of the darkness and I struggle to keep up but I know I want to follow. Each day is an adventure, even as I know that it will probably be just the same as its predecessor. However, this morning I have a mission in mind. I want to garner wild garlic to make wild pesto. It is my sister’s fault. She sent me a jar and I have never tasted anything so amazeballs. Well, maybe I have, but not in the world of pesto-ness. She is, after all, a professional chef.

I watch the goldfinches in my garden, six, 3 pairs, such beauty. Dave the dove and his mates, greenfinch, robins blackbirds #alwaysfighting, siskin feeding young, chaffinch, sparrows and they have to arrive in the plural, as this is how they live. The sparrow babble from the rhododendron bush nearby wonder me how it is able to remain rooted for all the household drama being played out within its depths. A starling. Well, that’s odd. There is never just the one. Maybe he/she fell out with the rest. I love the rainbow feather flash as he fidgets about on the bird table, his beak primed and ready to fell a small tree. I walk beneath a hovering honey buzzard, scanning, canting, holding the wind. It says nothing which tells me it is not this year’s young or it would be mewling like a lost kitten. Neighbour’s hens scritch and scratch the ground into early flatbeds and the rabbits dig burrows and the moles come in and spoil the whole plan with hummocks and interruptions.

The sky is wide and blue. Ice blue. I am on my way to gather wild garlic before it flowers. Into the fairy woods. On my way I cantilever towards my daughter-in-law’s house with a gathering in my arms for my grand-daughters. They love the fairy woods. Together we have discovered many fairy homes and left acorns and leaves and a flower head as a respectful gift. They are caught, as I was, in the wonder of fairies and elves and their parents encourage such adaptive thinking. But, they have a play date with friends, so not today. I head off alone, me and the doglet and my basket deep into the wild woods, sun dapples guiding us in. The garlic is young, holding back. We had frost, you may have noticed, they tell me, all straight-backed and not very tall. I wasn’t judging, I reply. I imagine frost is a big hazard. Ah, they tell me, their voices all coming at once, we can survive it but for the future of the species we need to be cautious. I get that, I say, and the leaves settle. The doglet cavorts through the woods without me, ahead of me but always, and I am sure of this, knowing exactly where I am. I can walk off anytime without her but within seconds she is beside me. I always see you, she says through those velvety brown eyes. Well, thank the holy crunch for that my girl as I am depending on you to be the eyes. We trot away from the wild, the garlic (I did ask if it is ok to pick) the old hazels, the witch trees, the honeysuckle, the primroses that flank like a battalion bank of golden strength, the violets and the celandine’s buttery faces that follow the sun. We emerge onto the grassland. A horse has been here. I see the hoof prints. A quad too, I think, or are these the tracks of Himself’s quad from last summer, when the bracken had dropped and he hated it enough to drive over it again and again? I have no answer. I have no answer for a zillion questions now.

But I do have wild pesto.

Island Blog – Curiosity and Attitude

I love mornings. Always have and I don’t mind early. According to my ma I could lounge about in bed till lunchtime as a grumpy teenager but all that changed once I floated up the aisle in my Edwardian frock and made my vows, sans obedience, for the record. I cannot imagine the damage that vow has done to so many women of generations past. Well, actually, I can. It was hard enough sticking with ‘in sickness and in health’ or ’till death do us part’, which it eventually did of course. I never thought I would manage that bit having been infuriated for decades. I had wings but they were clipped, or maybe I clipped them myself. Who cares. What I feel good about now is that, in spite of me wishing I had been born a greylag goose with all the challenges and thrills and freedom of migration being quite acceptable in all their circles, I accomplished the whole shebang. Let us not dig too deep into the way I accomplished this massive accomplishment. A lot of the time I slammed doors, ran away, hid my secrets and spat into his coffee. That’s enough for now on the subject.

Mornings. Curiosity. Opening like a flower to each day. Sometimes I am like a daffodil that needs de-heading, sometimes a vibrant rose, smelling divine and perfectly formed. I never know what way the which of it will be. I just spring out of bed, ping into the bathroom and out again, pull on a frock or jeans and scoot downstairs towards the coffee pot. Since himself flew to the higher realms I haven’t always been the rose. Sometimes I sprang, pinged and scooted just to outrun the mare of the previous night, but didn’t always manage it. She has four legs after all and I only two. But, in the main, it was my decision not to repeat the mare even to myself. Always the same theme, wanting to run but stuck in glue, wanting to scream with a mouth full of silence, the usual. At least I don’t meet an overrun of rats as my old ma did. I told her she deserved it. All those years of criticism and judgement. And we laughed about it because she thought I was making a joke, which I wasn’t.

Each day comes anew, obviously, and with potential. A deal of the unfolding of that potential lies inside me, in my attitude, my list of ‘ways to live again’. There are many. But the most important start point, the blocks from which to leap, ping and scoot through whatever the day brings, is my attitude, followed closely by my action. I like A words. They are beginnings and that’s a favourite B word. A and B. Much better than beginning sloppily midway through the alphabet. I mean, do I go back or forward now? I never do that. I start at the beginning with a big fat A. Or two.

I notice, have oft noticed, that without himself to ‘correct’ my diction, choice of clothing and sound levels, I am surrounded, enclosed and flailing at times within a new freedom. Freedom, another favourite word, and, as a word, it is the call of the wild, a heart thriller, new lands, new skies, new choices, independence and excessive sound levels, but to actually live in freedom is quite a different flower, sometimes a daffodil needing decapitation, sometimes a rose. I swing from one to the other, sometimes hour by hour. I don’t know what to do with all this freedom. Could someone hem me in please? I know how that feels, how to live as a reactionary, how to slam doors, swear like a fishwife and throw spectacular tantrums. All that pent up energy has nowhere to go now. It can feel like a phantom pregnancy. No chance of birthing. How bizarre.

I am learning to step out of myself, just a few steps back, and to observe. I am rather interesting, I decide. A query in a frock, someone worth further investigation, more study. I am curious about who I am just now. The overstory is still me, looks like me, sounds like me, laughs and jokes and cries like me but beneath what you see, what I see in the mirror, lies complexity personified. Both dead daffodil and vibrant rose. Very confusilating. But I know enough to know that it has only been a few months after almost 50 years of having my diction corrected and my sound levels on mute, so patience is required. That’s a P word, yes, but I know that attitude and action are my ways to be patient, so I’m allowed a P dash. If I am thankful for all of my life, all of it, the memories, the darkling times, the fear, love, misery and joy of it and I let it all settle within, patiently, then this gratitude will grow a new flower in me. As will action. Not the sort of frenetic action that hides me from the grieving process but the little insignificant-in-themselves actions I take daily; a little sewing, a bit of reading, a lot of bird watching and a moderate amount of walking in the wild, all actions that lift my eyes off myself and into the real ‘out there’. These actions create my attitude and as the circle circles, my attitude creates more action, more interest in ways to live again, to flower anew and to keep moving on through the alphabet, letter by letter.

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 – Extra the Ordinary

Although I live my life according to the rules, most of the time, my heart and soul are pure Paris. As a girl, as a young woman, I could feel the inconvenient wild in me, this fire blaze that burned no matter how politely I crossed my ankles or demurred to the authority of a man. The confusion of living with the two opposing women inside came with a great deal of trouble, most of it unseen by anyone but me. The trouble was my lack of enough experiential wisdom to accept both the Paris and the Quiet Suburbs and to love them both. How can I, how can anyone, hold two contradictories in one head at the same time? Well, practice, and a lot of self-love. En route to this acceptance brought tantrums, a smouldering silence, spots, ridiculous clothes, lost friendships, poor decisions, all of which came with legacy, one only I was forced to live with and through. Those in ‘authority’ over me called me names; deluded, hysterical, rebellious, ornery, bloody difficult #needsprofessionalhelp, possessed, reckless and so on. I was, in short, impossible and would never fit in. Until one day I overheard my French teacher, whom I adored, saying to my mother #headinhands that I had a lot of the Paris in me. I suspect that was the beginning of my quest, one that has led me over the bumps, into walls, off chasmic edges and on and on to many wonderful places and times.

At this age of ripeness and with a completely marvellous and exciting past, I smile at my journey. Even now I can meet good women of my age who, on recognising the rebel in me, say that they were never wild; that they never felt anything like an incendiary bomb. I always question that. Did you ever fall head over heels in love, I ask, when your whole world is thrown up into the air like a beach ball, and do you remember hoping it would never come down again? I usually get them on that one. Okay they didn’t lock matron in the phone cupboard and go back to bed, nor set fire to the school shed (didn’t burn), nor did they get back home at 10pm, check in with parents and then climb out of the window to rejoin the party. But I did, and that wildness is still here, still within, now honoured and loved, appreciated and respected. Paris is part of me.

I have never been to Paris and may never go there. I call her Paris because of what I have read, since my French teacher said what she said, and I have learned about that city of bohemian rebellion and energy. I will have added my own imagination, naturally, and together we have got me all the way up to this morning in a lively and unpredictable way. Living as I now do inside my own structure of discipline is just where I want to be. I have no desire to travel in order to find myself. Myself is right here with me and we are an excellent team. Rebelling against my own rules of engagement would be foolish. Rebelling against other people’s rules of engagement was exhilarating, terrifying and often self destructive, but I could not have avoided one minute of it. It is in my DNA and that is irrefutable.

My message in all this is to encourage you all to remember who you really are, not to fanny about with who someone else decides you are. This would be like trying to fit politely and tidily into an empty Weetabix box. So don’t. And, if any of this touches you in any way, there is work to be done. We can die with our song unsung or we can take a risk, open our mouths and sing it out, at any age or stage of our lives.

We can make an ordinary life extraordinary just by living half in, half out of the box, our own box.

Island Blog – Composing History

This morning, around 4 am, the chaos awakened me. I cannot call it a dawn chorus because, by definition, a chorus is a group of musicalities singing, or playing the same melody with sensitively selected harmonies plus the odd discord for salt. This gradually escalating cacophony smacks more of jazz, country, classical and pop all playing at the same time and yet, bizarrely, it is far from discordant. It flows in a glory of counterbalance through the open window telling me the day is rising and so should I because light is my thing and this music is the most uplifting I could ever wish for. Wherever we live, birdsong is a daily gift, whether it be given to us on the island, in a flat in Glasgow, on the coast of Spain or in Crinkly Bottom, Englandshire. And it is free, no need to download an app nor pay a monthly sub. We cannot see the music, but we can see the musicians, if we let our eyes roam the landscape. They are free, wild, not in lockdown, not separated from loved ones, and they can do so much to uplift a flagging spirit.

I come downstairs, make tea and go check on the moon. I know she is there, could almost hear her and most definitely saw her light seeping through a crack in the curtains. She is gibbous, pregnant with a burgeoning rounded bump, about to give birth to fulness. The tide is waiting, I see her, sitting there, flat and rising as the undertow pushes more sea beneath her bulk, swelling her until she will reach her full height on May 7th. Gulls shriek above her, their sharp eyes following the fish just below the seafoam, occasionally to dive, with no grace whatsoever, thus erupting the surface into splash and bother. Greenfinches bounce along my fence, Goldfinches flit like butterflies across the field and a lone heron, yelling abuse as always, flaps over the narrows heading for the sea.

All of this looking and seeing thinks me. Of us, of all of us, all people, all colours, shapes and sizes. We are a chorus of humanoids, no matter what melody we choose, and in singing together we have the same power to uplift a flagging spirit. I know that in this crazy-bonkers time we cannot meet each other to compare notes, and all of us are changing, will be forever changed by this. There is a new score being crafted, new melodies unfolding, twisted and turned by capricious tides, pushed along by a strong undertow, powerful as the pull of the moon. 2020 will never forget what happened, what is still happening. And, there will be stories, millions of stories, myriad hearts speaking out, singing out and the chorus of these songs and stories will be remembered and resurrected long after we go back to dust. How remarkable to be living in this time! This period in history will be taught and learned in schools for generations to come. And we were there, we are there, we are here, living it, seeing it. This is our time. May we take it all in, really look and really see everything, employing all our senses in order to round the story gibbous, pregnant, like the moon, ready to give birth to a brand new world.