Island Blog – I would tell you

This is for you my one and only husband. As you know (I am sure the angels will have reminded you) today is our 49th wedding anniversary. I can barely believe either of us stuck it out for so many years. I see you smile at that. Neither of us had a scooby about such an intensely complex relationship, speaking out the vows with all that enthusiasm and emotion and blissfully unaware that things would change. That we would change, not at the same time, which was always deeply inconvenient, but singularly and fully expectant of the other to adapt immediately, without a cross word spoken. How naive we were, how trusting in our own set of plans, dreams and expectations. We said we would do it different, remember that? We would never alienate each other, never endure long periods of stony silence, never break apart, never run away, and yet we did all those things. And we survived it all. Did our children, I wonder? Do any children? They are so aware of parental strife, of tension within mother, within father, it cannot leave them undamaged. I suspect we are all damaged, bringing into all our relationships the breaks and black holes from our pasts. As much as I look for the ‘perfect’, there is none.

I would tell you these things. Today I walked beneath the rain-heavy boughs and caught the raindrops, the water from heaven. I cupped them in my hand from a delicate larch limb and drank in the rain. I watched the grey above me, saw the light over the Isle of Coll, open as a window into the sky beyond. A beckoning of light. Look, I said to you, can you see? I wonder how it looks from wherever you are now. How I look, a pinprick dodging puddles in my favourite boots. Did I tell you how hard I have looked for a repeat pair? I find them nowhere. I found five orchids beside the track, no idea what sort of orchids but that doesn’t matter to me. Pink and sudden, for they weren’t there just yesterday and to see an orchid is to find myself in some foreign land. The walk today was the short one. I find walking in the rain jacket a cumbersome sort of walk. My frocks are curtailed from their desire to swish and they mutter beneath the waxed waterproof coat thing that weighs a ton and is far from a pleasant covering. As you know, my slim puffa jacket is as ready to absorb the rain as a sponge might be, although I have donned it pre a rainy walk purely out of vanity and respect for the swish of my frocks, returning drenched.

Then I showered and changed. In other times, this would have been in anticipation of an evening out to celebrate. Not this year. I walked barefoot through the garden to pick myself some flowers and you would not believe the rose you planted some years back, the one called Wedding Anniversary, the one that has heretofore only ever produced 4 or 5 buds. This year it is heavy with blooms and I hope you can see them. And I have been remembering past anniversaries, even as I do have to dig my way back before dementia to find the happier ones. I remember you saying, we are going out at 7. I held the excitement all day long, thinking about what I would wear, what we would talk about, where we would go. You were always the best at celebrations, thinking of everything. Even during dementia years, when you could barely eat, let alone drive me somewhere, let alone walk, you could still smile up at me and I would smile back, so much said, so much unsaid.

I want to tell you I am ok. Better than that, I am doing well. I am learning how to let go and how to make myself into a whole me. I am supported, safe and warm. I am also, finally independent. I know you hated that word, fought like mad against it, but it means something different to me. Independence does not mean a person needs nobody. Oh no. We all need somebody or we die of loneliness. What I mean by that word now is that I have confidence in myself, in my choices, my actions. I take full responsibility for everything in my life and I lay no blame, not even on myself. Although there are things I would have done differently given the chance, I am proud of who I am. And I am thankful. Thankful to you for being my broken rock, for protecting me and our children in the only way you knew; for loving and living as you did and you did your best. I can see that now, for all the squawking I did along the way.

I touch your face in a photograph and remember the feel of your skin. I remember your hands, strong, warm. I remember your smile and the ice blue of your eyes, a gift to our daughter.

These are what I would tell you this day, my husband.

Maybe I just did.

Island Blog – Flip-Scoot, and Go Scotland

I wake this morning to a great big thump outside my wide-open window. It is about 04.30 and light. Ish. I scoot out of bed, tripping over the tome I had been reading the night before and falling into the curtains. Fortunately the window is recessed and the curtains have the added gravitas of a black-out lining, affixed by myself I might add amidst a symphony of robust swearing. The whole scoot performance was definitely stage worthy and, once I have recovered from the giggles, I look out to see what sort of flapdoodle might require my proactive attention. Hawk strike perhaps? No, too heavy for that. Might be something falling over like a bird table or even a landslide, although no, it can’t be that. This was a major thump, not a frickadee tumble. I keen around the corners bumping my nose against the pane. There’s nothing to see, not even the birds, I having scared them away with my tome tripping. What I want to find, I tell myself as I rub my bumped nose, is something wonderful, like a heffalump fallen from the skies, or a whole angel with wing trouble, or a huge waterproof book I could read in the garden whenever I feel like it.

Disappointed and with my fed rightly up, I swing my cosy dressing gown around me and trip (not that sort of trip) down the stairs counting every one as I always do. There are 17. I plug in the coffee and flip on the radio. There is a great big star in the Western sky. What? We see no stars in summer. Venus is ahead of herself, if, indeed, it is She.

Then I think, what if that great big thump was a star falling? Obviously not in my wee garden because even at 04.30 I would notice a crater and smell the smoke dust. But maybe nearby? Stop it, I tell myself, coffee. We sit, coffee and me and study the possible Venus. The star is not the usual shape. This is more like a circle of brilliant white light and fixed, not moving. It is there for about 30 minutes, then gone. Could be cloud cover, could be magic, could be nonsense, but I know it is not the latter two. I know what I see when I see it.

So what was the heffa-thump? I, as always, scurry about inside my Alice brain to find resolution. I don’t care about so called realistic or rational thinking which, in my opinion is culture enforced and designed to control imaginations. I am one who works between the worlds, which is also nonsense now I come to write that down. There is no disconnection between the imagination and the logical brain. Fact. There is no disconnection between the spirit and physical world. But there are many who would have us believe that, thus marginalising the ones who effortlessly move between the two. Like me. I would not have been horrified to find a heffalump nor a fallen angel in my garden this morning. I don’t think I would have minded a fallen star not neither, although the mess might have required me to employ the services of a landscape gardener. The former two could have become my friends and just think of the stories they could tell, and the latter would have saddened me, made me think a deal about the poignance of a dead star and then had me with a bellyful of conversational material for years to come.

I move through the day, crossing the dapple mosaics of sunlight through branches, watch a mother warbler shout at me from her branch whilst her babies squeaked from within the safety of the nest. I don’t understand ‘bird’ but I got her point and moved on. I notice the way a spring seeps from the bank above me, rising from deep deep deep in the ground. I watch the trickle of of it through the cadmium grasses, the way they bend politely to let this ancient being pass, step over the outfall and wish the ancient safe journey, apologising for the way humans decide to plant a track, or build a home without a single thought for the ancients. Then I smile. Good for you old y’uns. You can suppress, break, contain and silence them, for a time. But they will rise, the deeply rooted. Always.

I never did discover the origin of the big thump. However, I did reflect on my current tome and was reminded of a recent chapter, based in County Cork where, like here, it rains for 300 of our yearly allowance of days, and wherein the chimney pot, exhausted and ancient, just decided enough was enough with the whole wheezing puffing thing and which, in all its brick and stone marvellousness finally capitulated to the inevitable and made a big show of itself on a quiet night when windows were wide open (for the midges) to land like a startling statement on the front lawn. Perhaps I was replaying the exhausted chimney thing. I will never know.

I like that. And PS, Go Scotland!!

Island Blog – Darkling grey, Gulls, Chips and Walking together

Rain soft morning, grey enough for the gulls to look like white-light dancers as they cut the sky, wheel, cant, tip and slide, effortless flight like they belong which of course they do. I watch with yearning. They make flight look so easy and their beauty erases the memory of fearsome beaks and stolen chips. I once sat on the harbour wall with chips and within seconds was every gull’s friend. They are massive close up and not very white and sky cutting once their big yellow webbed feet slink closer with a look of black intent in their currant eyes. A sideways step becomes a menace when flanked as I then was and I confess I did elevate my butt, moving it and the rest of me back into the safety of a tourism crowd.

However from my big picture window I can dream. I can watch the spike flight, the lift and luff of not-white currant-eyed, yellow footed gulls become snowy dancers against the grey rain sky and smile. We are miles apart after all and there’s this big picture window keeping me safe from beaks and chip snatchers. I watched the grey and the soft rain all morning, the way it slides my window into smoke, the garden bird colours losing their integrity, becoming a brush stroke flow and return as they flit from feeder to feeder. I sewed a bit, noticing the pinks of this baby girl playmat dulling somewhat. Oh, I thought. These pinks were brighter yesterday. And then I remembered art school. Everything affects everything. On dull grey days in Falkirk (plenty of those) even the primary colours were confounded. We can’t work with this, they said and refused to flow freely from their tubes. The grey weather (is it yellow grey or blue grey?) is sending you, art student, into a dithery looking thing. Concepts, precepts, upsets and greyness are colluding to confine you. It is the real artist who can rise from this, who can utilise whatever is on offer this grey day. I am thankful for those grey Falkirk days. Others might, and did, shake their heads and head for the pub on such grey days. But I wanted to learn, not just how to work with grey days but more, how to walk beside the grey, to have that conversation, and not to turn away. To engage with the grey and to find the colours within, the ask of colour, the beg for it, to take flight.

Life. Yes? It thinks me. Whilst walking beneath the grey soft rain, which I love because rain enhances colour in everything. An upside down electric blue beetle , a feather caught in branches, leaves, speedwell blue, buttery cups, the honey back of a bumble bee, the float and breeze flow of wild grasses, the imprint of horse hooves in sucky mud, even the shine on my jack boots, so much glisten. If I am looking I will see. If I am aware, present, engaged, I will find the art. When I look back on the gull thing, I know that, had I not felt watched by the crowd of tourists, I might well have stayed my ground. I wish I had. I wish I did not give a hoot about being watched. However, I was right in front of an outside cafe and there is only one way to look when the sea beckons and there I was, sat sitting on the harbour wall plus chips. Plus gulls.

In the grey lies endless opportunity. I tell myself that and myself knows it to be the truth. Grey is my life right now, of course it is. When a life goes into grey it has options. Think grey, dive in or flipping don’t. I’m a flipping don’t sort of woman. Even as I flounder and plod, wonder and dither, fill up endless hours with a this or a that, I know that this grey has colours. It isn’t that I must needs grow beyond grey because that says grey is dull and grey is far from dull. To make good grey on an artist’s palette I must bring in rose madder, cadmium red, ultra marine, cadmium yellow, maybe, cobalt, maybe, plenty maybes’ to be honest. Just a touch, just a tiny touch and everything changes. Just like life. I am working with the grey, looking deep into the eyes of it, the currant eyes, and saying, I am not afraid of you. In fact, I like you. Shall we walk together?

Island Blog – Touch only Rain

Rain, at 0400 is a sigh, a shake of my head, a slump in my gut, yet I know the flowers need it so and it makes a pretty mist picture-coat on my window pane. The sky is heavy with it, with rain, fat pregnant greys all lined up like women at an anti natal clinic, emitting rain. The morning seems just fine with it. There’s no sense of disapproval, no cross words flitting across the in between where humans like me are earthly bound and at the whim of weathers. The birds don’t mind enough not to fly, to swoop down for soggish seed and to rise up again quickquick into shelter, although it is not from the rain they hide. I sit on the other side of the window, watching rain. My phone app tells me in an inappropriately luminous yellow that there is an 100% chance of rain the live long day and I slump again. What is all this slumping? Well, I don’t know. Perhaps I am bemoaning the loss of those recent balmy summer days, the ones we recently enjoyed on our rain-sodden island. Our summer could already be over. We all know that. We are well known for being sodden, have been rain sodden for about 600 years give or take and we are also well known for going completely bonkers on sunny days, completing gargantuan tasks in record time like re-roofing a hotel, landscaping a 20 acre garden or building Gran a bungalow by tea-time, foundations and all. Or perhaps this slump is that I am thinking of another’s tears.

The wood pile is rained wet but the wood pile has no care of such a minor incursion. This wood grew from sapling right here on the island after all and has rain in its DNA. It burns regardless, wet or dry, no smoking. No bees though. Bees don’t like to fly in rain. I imagine them all peeping out through that tiny hole watching the clouds and needing a sugar rush. Buzz buzz, not yet ladies. How’s Her Majesty? She’s fine the old bat and who wouldn’t be with all that royal jelly plus, if you don’t mind, 1000 nurse bees at her every whim whenever she fancies whimming?

Gulls cut the sky looking white as newborn snowflakes against the greys, lazy, leisurely, nae rush at all, whilst other colours sharpen and shout new defiant music into the sleepy air. Rain turns ferns apple green. Moss and lichen lift into shades of Ochre, Sienna, Olive and prick tears to my eyes, Granite rocks divide into maps of the world, the cracks darkling with wet. There, the Mason Dixon Line, here, the continent of Africa minus Angola and over there, Iceland, more or less. Rhododendron leaves are polished to a sheen. My face drips as I walk and the little dog grows ever mud coloured. Puddles big enough to bathe in squat along the track, rain plash hiding tree reflections beneath its surface. Come another day reflections, for this day has no time for such gob-smacking indulgence. Mirror another day, bring out the cameras, click, post, marvel, compete, Like. We raindrops are legion and extremely busy watering the flowers and pissing people off. In short, we are having fun rumpling puddles and filling the wellies of anyone who stands still too long. We are chewing up the mud for the spreading, clarting the roads with it and sinking the baleful cows up to their knees as they wait to grab mouthfuls of hay before it becomes insulation for wall cavities.

Diamonds shiver at the tips of weeping larch, hundreds of them, thousands, perfect pear drops of heavenly water held in stasis, catching the light, on hold until it is their turn to fall into the mud. Still, it is surely a wondrous thing to be a light catching water diamond even once in a lifetime. Rain popples the sea-loch, lifting, luffing, tickling the surface until it giggles. A single heron stands as if on water, still and patient. Beneath a spread of hardwoods, beech, chestnut, elm, birch and ash, their branches lowed with rain weight, the ground glows liquid green, a molten gold carpet of Creeping Buttercup and Lady Elizabeth poppies. Even the wheelie bins gleam bright.

I remember rain, as slump and lift, as promise and disappointment, as joy and sadness. Rain, tears; Rain diamonds; Rain liquid life; Rain skid death; wash clean, wash away, wash out; I remember the joy of rain and the unjoy of it. Walking in the rain helps to shift a slump even if I cannot stop thinking of the family who will reach arms out to a beloved pet this day and touch only rain.

Island Blog – Daynight

The clouds are pink. So are the hills, the trunks of the hazels, the rocks and the sea-loch. It is 4.45 am and everything is pink. I am also pink, according to the mirror reflection and my face needs ironing. This is due to the crumpulation of pillow, duvet and face, conjoined in a less than harmonious trio. We obviously fell out at some point during the night, fought each other until we ran out of oomph, and then collapsed, like all menage a trois do in the end.

The house creaks. The floorboards creak. My knees creak. We are all coming to life, beginning to breathe in a new morning, taking in the pink, leaving the night behind, letting it go. Sometimes I am delighted to let go, sometimes I wonder if being awake most of the night makes it day and not night. Perhaps there is an in-between, like a no mans land, a wild place that has no name, as yet unlabelled. I can give it plenty names, however and not all of them polite, but in deference to social rectitude I shall name it Daynight.

Although it may sound terribly awful spending a deal of the dark hours awake, I am well used to it and find myself able to recover quick quick during the hours of light. Just a 30 minute catchup snooze can lift me right back into a Tigger bounce. It thinks me. Have I devised a splendid plan of action, a modus operandi, one that will always lead me into what may sound like a child’s story, or am I a natural bouncer? Did I learn myself this attitude or was I born with it? Ho, I say and Hum. I don’t have an answer but, for the record, I am very happy with my bounce, even if my knees do creak nowadays. And, even if I did come up with an answer, what would it matter and who would care?

I watch the pink clouds. There is Robin Hood with a huge snake in his grip. Here is the Rockbiter and over there, oh look, it’s Noddy’s car, complete with horn. If I called you over, it would be too late to see what I see. Clouds are like that. Shape shifters, game players, always moving on like night, like day, like everything. Even if I grabbed my camera, it would be over, the cloud show and they would just look like pink clouds. It seemed important, back then, back when I didn’t understand that the whole point of anything is that it changes every minute; people, time, clouds, weather, happenings, all change. The key is to just look, to watch, to stand quite still and let the eyes have it. And with every look, watch, stand still thingy we change because we have experienced something new, something that will never come again, not in this way. A kindness given, a word of support, a smile, a wave; the way rain falls on a window, the swing of a feather falling, a catch of rainbow light, the scoot of a rabbit, distant laughter. A pink sunrise may come every morning, but it will never be the same twice, like zebra stripes and snow flakes, every one unique.

Like you and like me.

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.