Island Blog – If this is how it is, then Act

I feel sad for our world today. I know I live in a tiny part of it, beautiful, stunning, peaceful but yet tiny. It doesn’t stop me noticing the rest. Although for many years I have busily inhabited the aforesaid beautiful, stunning and peaceful place, it seems like there is a loudspeaker on the others, on the bigger world. I know of corruption in governments, of hidden information in order to keep the ‘masses’ quiet and I have never been okay with that. It is as if the ‘masses’ are mindless idiots who don’t think and who don’t need to know. I am one. I am protected up here with the Gulf Stream and with lunatic winter gales the biggest threats to my survival. They don’t stop me knowing, even as I am able to turn off the news, ignore the ‘bad stuff’ that might infect my sleep.

In my busy young mother overthetopworkedout life, I ignored with impunity. After all, there were guests to feed, hospitality requirements (endless) and a family to protect and provide for, so I never had a scooby about wars and corruption and governments hiding pretty much everything. Now, there is silence, endless silence in my life and I finger my way into the light of outside information. I don’t understand most of it, which, by my way of thinking, is just the point, but I know when I hear, or don’t hear, something that butts against my gut, when something in me stands up. Hairs, goose bumps, those sorts of things. If you stood me up in a group and demanded explanation I could not find the words. Much as my dream job was to be a thoroughly difficult woman in all situations, I am not her. I loved to hear the confidence and courage from those who wore red shoes and lipstick and who stood to be noticed at great risk and just knew I would only ever be a choir girl to their solo.

Now I find myself needing to be that soloist. Not in a group, not in public, not on a soapbox on the corner of a dank lonely street but for my own self. I see, even from the aforesaid magical place, that I must make difficult choices, brave up and stand for myself. We would love to have had clear direction from our ‘leaders’ but even they had no idea how the virus would morph, develop and consume. Nonetheless I see good leaders and I see dithery ones. I still won’t blame. This is up to me, me is up to me and, you know what, it is how it was when people thought for themselves instead of waiting for direction in a crisis. We seem to have lost the use of that muscle.

I find myself listening to the news more now, just the headlines. There is fear and doubt in all our hearts. There is detail and posturing although how anyone can posture against an invisible enemy astonishes me. It’s a bit Scifi. But, I remind myself as I contrive a grin with my teeth, this is how it is now. My mail box is coloured with bright offers of ‘freedom’ through summer sandals to cheap flights to loans. The world has gone mad. The leaders are flagging (not all of them) and the country is sagging like an old woman tired of the fight. Another winter of fear? Maybe. Another lockdown? Maybe. Another slug of fear in our whisky? Maybe. Another endlessness of isolation and loneliness? Maybe.

I always see a ‘Maybe’ as a butterfly, or a moth. I have done since childhood, perhaps because the word was employed so often by my mother as I asked the endless questions that drove her crazy. And, the thing about Maybe is that she has two sides. Will and Won’t. Show and Hide. Run and Stay. And more. There are times for each side of her and we need to tap our own intelligence in order to know to react. Our own intelligence. Not the government’s, not that or our opinioned friends/mothers/relations, not that of our neighbours, but our own. Some of us have not gone there for years, maybe decades. Hallo Maybe…. But we have it people, strong within us. Ask yourself ‘What do I believe?’ What Do I think?’ And keep asking until the only right answer comes. Then Act.

Island Blog – You First My Friend

Lockdown, schmockdown. Time gentlemen, please! It is almost a year since this whole stay home thing began and it feels like it may never end, even as I know it will. Of course winter hasn’t helped in our slow trudge back to what we took for granted so easily before. This time has made us think, stretched our inner resources and taught us new skills. Some of us have become bakers, some painters, some just good with the management of Time which, to be honest, has turned into something we all notice and some of us, minute by minute. To say ‘I am Too Busy’ are words for caseworkers and frontliners but not for most of us. Most of us can spend ages staring out at the rainy dark wondering what on earth we can do to turn this day into something other than a trudge.

I know we must wait. I know not one of us wants yet another lockdown as the restrictions lessen their grip on our days. I know this, but knowing something and living it are two very different things. So how do we continue when we feel fed up with the prison we are all in? One day at a time, that’s how. There is no other way to face this. Many of us, if not most, have hit rock bottom a few times over the past year and for good reason. Not being able to hold and hug, meet and talk, visit and touch are all alien concepts for a human race. No travel, no lift share, no hand holding, no gathering of friends around a table. And, for some, the death of a loved one. It abnormals us, all of us. And yet we must abide and we all know it. However, the damage done by such restraints will show once we re-emerge into the light of ordinary life, it has to for we are not all strong like bull. Some of us, isolated with our fears and doubts, our imaginings and anxieties, will need a hand to walk again. Some of us will have lost confidence around more than two people, two we know well. Strangers may appear even stranger. We may be asking ourselves, Where have they been, what have they touched, who have they met with? The natural reach out for a handshake may be compromised, a hesitation freezing our limbs and stumbling our words. We are going to need help.

Let us who are strong like bull consider all of this. In any mix of people there will be ‘outsiders’, folk who hesitate, who are shy, afraid, unsure and compromised by this long incarceration. Emotionally we may be damaged and damage takes time to heal and then only with help. Let us remind ourselves that odd behaviour may well emerge alongside the damaged ones and let us keep our hearts open. Let us wear our coat of empathy in our rush to the shops or the cinema, theatre, concert. To consider all other human beings is to be truly human. We are, after all, a team. Together is the word for the future, not alone, not any more. It didn’t work after all, now did it, this alone thing? I beat you to the front of the queue might have felt good at first, been reflected in a higher salary or the best parking space, but the elevation of such ‘success’ will never sustain its position, not for long, and it brings no lasting peace, not to the winner, not to the ones left behind. How much more benefit might be felt if I was to turn in grace to another and to say ‘You first my friend.’?

You first my friend.

Island Blog – Season Shift – Resist or Lift

I always do this, although I only noticed the ‘this’ that I do quite recently. As Summer gives way to Autumn I continue to wear bare legs and feet for as long as I can outrun chilblains. Once into Autumn, I find ways to layer up without ballooning and look forward to each morning, even planning my layers whilst still beneath the covers. As Winter sinks in her teeth I find it progressively harder not to balloon, but I am on a roll here and the cold comes incrementally, in the main. But when Winter begins to concede to Spring I am oft confounded. I have become used to my layers, ones that used to fit me the whole day long. Now they only suit me up to midday and from then on become a massive irritation. I feel as if I might combust, but it is still not yet warm enough to leap out of a vest. I open doors and wonder where on earth my shades are. I sit in the glare of Father Sun and feel cross. Go Away, I want to say, even as I don’t. The fire still burns and I will need it in about an hour when the Old Man is taken down by the forever hills, but it makes the room stuffy. I open windows and in whoopees a freezing draught full of chilblains and icicles. Jersey on, jersey off. It’s a ridiculous day and not the first, nor will it be the last. Perhaps, I tell myself, it is so much more natural to layer up than it ever is to brave off the layers of comfort, layers that have become my friends and protectors for months now. Is Winter the longest season? I always said so in my talk with tourists who decided on a happy holiday whim to buy a plot and build a home. Don’t. I said. Do Not. Not until you have spent a winter or two here. Why is that? they quizzed. Because winters here begin in October and hold fast till Mid May, that’s why. Not with frost and clean clear icy, shiny, sunny days but with wet, wet and more wet and when the wet thinks we need a change, it turns to ice and sleet in an annual battle against the rise of a Spring sun. Just in time for lambing.

I walk in the slipslide of ice meets sun and marvel at the blue of the sky. Hallo Mr Blue Sky, I sing to myself without the backing group and I search for buds and studs of green on trees. It is pointless. These studs and buds know jolly fine about winters up here. I hear them snigger from the safety of their twiggy nests. You think this sudden sun will fool us? It only happens once, after all. It is, this time, a holding time, a waiting. And yet it is we or is it just me who is longing for warmth and the chance to open doors to let out the stuffy, even if I might have to de-balloon. Is Winter the longest season, and what does that mean for the inside life?

First off I can see the dust. Blimey, it is legion. Although I say I don’t believe in dusting, I am glad there is no chance of visitors. My dust is remarkable. Not quite an inch thick, because I move about within these walls at speed, but almost. I don’t notice it on grey days, normal days, but when this lunatic sun decides to shine like a beacon into the future, lighting the way for all but the blind, I find him invasive. Shine out there, I tell him, and not in here. Don’t bother flagging up my smeary windows or my table tops that once were oak and shiny. You make me feel like I will never win a good housekeeping award. The dust is on every single surface. I sit and watch it, the way it sparkles in the sunlight; diamonds and pearls, rubies too and emeralds. Are there stories to tell in that dust? Is there history? There must be. My cleaners have not been here since just after Himself breathed his last. Almost six months. I have hoovered and wiped, a bit, but dust and I will not meet. Clearing dust, in my opinion, is not for me anymore. I have shared my life with too much dust for decades and the clearing of it, if indeed that is ever possible, is no longer for me. But I can smell it. I can see it, lit up like it was a celebrity, glinting, sure of itself, holding ground.

It is this time of the year that I find hardest. Not only is the dust shouting out her stories and memories, but the sun is taunting me, offering light and bright but not enough warmth for me to shed a layer. Getting dressed in the morning is just confusion. 5 layers till midday and then what? Upstairs to take it all off and start again? This, this, is the winter and it is the one season that fights like hell to hold on. And it is the only one that makes me cross, even as I love it. What dichotomy. At Tapselteerie, I remember hoping winter would never end, that the new season would just forget to arrive along with all the tourists and the work, even if I did have chilblains on my chilblains. But once that season began I felt a lift and a joy. Life was living again and so was I. Momentum creates momentum, at least it does for me. Having to bare my wintry arms and legs and to see my body after months of concealment under layers might give me an awkward moment but perhaps this is the gift winter leaves behind her. You have rested, she says. You have covered and concealed but now is the time for joy and lift. Take my gift and rise with the buds and studs.

You are stuck with me. Deal with it.

Island Blog – Spring into Winter

Tomorrow I leave African Hothot, traversing space and time over 24 hours, to land in what sounds like an icebox. En route I will meet, without meeting, thousands of other travellers going back the way I came or on to lands I may never see for myself. Many, like me, will be confused about what to wear during our journeys, knowing that what lies ahead of us is drastic change. I find change is often like that, but that’s another blog altogether.

I will miss the sound of inexhaustible cicadas and frogs. I will not miss the mosquitos. I will find myself listening for the lite bytes of sound across the bush from maids and gardeners I cannot see, who josh and laugh with each other all day long as they go about their work. I see them delivered and collected, standing together on the bed of a truck, butterfly coloured, their teeth white dazzlers in the sunlight. They look but never wave unless we do first, at which point they leap into action and we feel like famous people. Always friendly, always smiling, always generous, proud of their work, with a strong faith and a strong community, these Africans could teach us all a thing or two about how to be an effective human.

In the local town when buying food or cogs for machines or plastic grommets for piping, some folk recognised me, as I did them. Two months of exposure does that. I will miss the crazy drivers and the dirt tracks in game reserves; a sudden 6 metre giraffe by the roadside or a baboon family under a shade tree, invariably scratching. The jacaranda, coral, frangipane and other wildly coloured up trees will be just brilliant memories as I wing my way into winter. And Spring, back home, will come again. The dead time is Nature’s rest and she needs it as we all do. Unlike many, I love the winter as I love the sunshine warmth. Winter is a time for reflection and reading by the fireside, for bracing walks, long johns and hot buttered toast.

And Christmas is coming……

Island Blog 151 Winter and Spring

2014-01-27 14.08.00

“Winter is not a season, it’s an occupation.”   Sinclair Lewis

Now, as the cold sets in and the winds bite, we can turn towards home.  The lack of strong daylight draws us to the soft lighting, the fire glow, candles and a good torch for the Last Dog Walk at bedtime.  I find I read even more, if that is, indeed, possible.  My tastebuds changed their tune and thick soup replaces a rocket salad.  I remember Elisabeth Luard, the famous cookery writer saying to me, once, that she loved the winter.  All those bonkers unmatching hats and gloves, the fat woolly jumpers, thick socks, big boots and nobody watching her waistline, least of all, her. It was almost with a sigh she welcomed Spring, knowing full well that those pretty frocks might well resist joining at the zip.

Gone are those foraging walks, the fresh tang of autumn with skies full of redwings and the leaves turning into gold and red to finally fall to the ground, a crunchy carpet at first, then a soggy mulch beneath our boots.  Mud gathers below the verges, frost splits the tarmac and the potholes re-appear with a vengeance.  But, walking into winter can hold its own delights, after all, who doesn’t like jumping in puddles?  If you have gone beyond puddle jumping there is something wrong with you because it may be the best form of excercise you can take and there is never any harm in re-visiting the inner child.  So many of us lose our sense of play and it is a Zeus of a mistake. The finest people I know still play childish pranks at 80 with twinkly winkly eyes and a dare in them for you to even think of disapproving.

In Sweden, so I am told by my viking daughter-in-law, there is no rain/sleet or slush.  There is only snow.  Kissing the ground at first, this white out can grow to terrifying depths, disappearing whole houses overnight.  If it ever happens here, there is considerable panic as if we are all about to turn into snowmen.  Trains stop, buses stop, and nobody can get to work.  Well, I struggle to find the bad in that, unless, of course, you are an emergency service.  In Sweden this is all carefully thought through and those who need to get about grow wings. Although I don’t want to say this, I do wonder at the flapdoodle this country gets into about seasonal changes, and I do shake my head.  At Tapselteerie, if the track was impassable, we just didn’t pass it.  Sudden holidays, lack of food, the power off, no phone, all meant fun.  As long as the stock were fed, milked and checked, we were all quite happy to play.  I remember once being at the hairdresser in town and the local police (pronounced poh-liss) popping his head round the door of each shop to recommend that those of us who lived ‘over by’ meaning anywhere but the town, should head home as the hill road was fast being wiped out.  Being wiped out is exactly what happens.  The terrain is just one hilly blanket and there is no way to tell where the road lies within it.  I said to the poh-liss that I wisnae going hame with one side cropped and the other trailing over my right ear, and, by the time I did head overby, someone had already found the road and marked it out which was very thoughtful even if it did take two attempts to top the highest hilly bend with a neat short back and sides.

It seems to me that fear is the killer here.  What on earth is there to be afraid of?  It’s only snow and puddles after all, although not both together.  Ice is a bit different though with its chameleon ability to become the road.  When someone ahead of me scooted neatly off the single track road in the un-gritted glen, landing just under the nose of a startled horse munching hay, all of us stopped to help.  We hefted and bumped and, on finding all that hefting and bumping quite pointless, popped the inhabitants into our own cars and trundled them home, waving to the horse as we drew away.

And, of course, there is always the promise of Spring.  Crocuses are coming, snowdrops pushing into the cold light, birds looking for nest sites.  But we should honour winter.  There is a beauty in it, a bare stark beauty that should not be missed, like building snowmen, puddle jumping, making soup, wearing bonkers and unmatching hats and gloves.  Longing for something to end just lengthens it I find.  Our winters are unpredictable, unlike Sweden.

How versatile are you?  I personally want to be able to bounce like Tigger (or move like Jagger) whatever comes my way, even if it does require forward planning and something to hold on to. And, there is always a temporarily unbouncing somebody who needs my help.

 

Island Blog 135 Little Weeds

 

Flowers close up 1

 

 

As the garden grows into complete hilarity, with an ebullient chuckle, I watch the weeds find their places.  They’re clever, these weeds, finding quiet little dark places to begin their journey, rising into view long after the roots have winkled their way around, along and through those finer species, once carefully placed by us.  When we clear space for such a planting, we see, not the weeds to come, or those now removed, but just this fine sunny spot, allocated to a shrub or bush, envisioned in full majestic bloom, with the ground floor as peaty brown as it was at the start.

Well Ho, says Mother Earth, and Hum to that, for she has other plans and she’s not giving them up to any old human.  Let them eat cake, she says, for now.

Over winter the roots keep spreading, like witches fingers, in the silence of the earth, out of view, out of mind.  Some of us employ evil sprays, conveniently forgetting the lasting damage any of them might do in the long term.  We don’t worry too much about long term, unless we are a fledged and experienced gardener, which I am not.  I quite understand those who buy all their bedding plants each year, thus creating what appears to be an established garden.  It’s tempting.  We don’t use sprays, choosing, instead, to allow the witches fingers room and time to stake their hold.  Then, whatever Spring might bring in showers, snow, frosts and sunshine, these roots decide to reach for the sky, pushing up green and strong, and tempting me with pretty yellow blooms the bees love to visit.  Well, that makes it okay then, if the bees choose thus.

It thinks me about weeds, or wild flowers in the wrong places.  But who says  it’s so?  The wild flowers were here long before me and they’ll be here long after me, so which of us has rights in this little hill garden?

I was a weed, once. I think we can all admit to that at some point in our lives; when we just don’t fit in.  Actually, I think I have often been a weed, but not ‘weedy’.  Finely pedigreed folk who do fit in, might want to remove me, for I pinch the light and the live-giving water allocated to them.  But, the strength and tenacity of me might undermine them, as long as I keep moving, keep finding new ways to reach the sun, keep producing pretty blooms for the bees.  This is not a ‘them’ and ‘us’ thing, for we all have our place and time in this life, but, instead, of ‘both’.  I never did like either/or scenarios, opting every time for a laterally sought choice.  We know there is room for all of us, but the trouble is always one of boundaries – where you stop and I begin.  After all, we don’t have the same voices, you and I, nor the same dreams, visions, hopes and plans.  You may be planning for something I have no interest in.  This doesn’t make either of us wrong nor right, just different.  We laughingly say ‘Vive la difference!’ in our best french accent, but most of us have no idea what it means as a life choice.  No matter how careful we are with our inner thoughts, we all make judgements on others.  Words like ‘should’ and ‘ought’ pop into our mouths and out again and we feel regret long after the damage is done, for, in speaking those words about another living soul, we have shown we are better than they and have established it firmly in the ears of the listener.

I kick myself often for such worthless chatter, gossip to call it by it’s proper name.  If I name a weed, I damage three people.  Myself, the weed and the listener, and on what authority I ask myself?

In reply, I look out of the window, at the fancy shrub about to bloom, and, then down towards the so-called weeds.  The shrub will never surprise me inside it’s controlled boundary limits, but the long-tailed fronded grasses, the speckly indigo blooms of the wild forget-me-nots, the creeping buttercups, the purple-belled ground ivy and the Lady Elizabeth  poppies, the colour of sunshine……?

Well they will.

 

Island Blog 117 Animals I have known

 

2013-12-19 12.35.45

 

It’s cold here today.  I’m looking out across the sealoch through a hail of white bullets. A huge white-tailed eagle has just flown past the window, pinching all the light. The trees are quite stripped of any whisper of autumn, thanks to the endless storm force winds that plunder the nights.  Last night the roof tiles danced as if there was a load of Gene Kellys up there, singing in the rain.  Sleep gave up on me around 4am and I woke to a lime green glow casting weird shadowy shapes around the room as the curtains fought to stay connected with their moorings.  Oh hallo moon, I said.  Full she was and quite chuffed with herself sitting there all alone in the sky, quite the big cheese.  I checked my clock, though what for I can’t tell you.  There was nothing to be learned whatever it said, with it’s luminous hands morse-coding the passage of time.  I suppose if it had read 7 o’clock, it would have meant I could get up and make tea.  But 4am is not the right time for anything other than going back to sleep, which I didn’t manage.

On summer mornings, when I wake early, I can bounce (quietly of course, although I bounce a bit more noisily these days) down the stairs, make tea and feel warm and excited about the day ahead, as I write.  In the sleety wind-battered winter, the very thought of pushing back the duvet and stepping into the chilly room is enough to remain me beneath the goose down.  So, I lie there thinking about things like sealing wax and kings and sundry other daft forays into the world of my imagination.  One such journey showed me a mouse, made of velvet and the colour of chocolate which is very swish for a mouse by the way, and I bet you’ve never seen one.

Animals often appear in dreams and play large parts in whatever drama unfolds before my eyes.  It has always been the way of things and not least, I imagine, because of all the hundreds of animals I have shared my life with.  I remember the working horses in the flatlands, those gentle chestnut giants with slow gait and kindly eyes, with broad backs and feet like meat plates.  I remember watching them pull a plough, bracing their wide chests against the harness and leaving, in their wake, deep straight lines across a field that reached to the horizon.  After their work was done, we unclipped them and turned the huge collars around on their thick necks to give them some relief.  The children, just toddlers, always wanted to ride them home to the stables and a welcome bucket of nuts.  They looked like coloured dots, perched high above the rest of us, and clinging on tightly to the wiry manes, laughing with glee as they rocked and rolled their way down the track.  We never had to lead the horses, for they were weary and only looking for food, water and rest.  I remember someone making a hoo-ha about the danger we put our children in and it made us laugh out loud.  They never fell off, couldn’t fall off, not with that width of back beneath their little bottoms, a back that could have hosted a small tea party quite safely.

Then we had collies, labradors, hens and cats, one, named Cosmic Creepers, whom we found with a rabbit snare embedded in it’s neck.  It was wild and had a set of extremely sharp teeth that it enjoyed sinking into arms and fingers.  Mum and I spent ages snipping the wire, bathing the wounds and minding our fingers.  Cosmic Creepers became part of the family, as did Isobel the hen as you will know if you’ve read Island Wife.  Isobel was also wild, but, thankfully, quite without sharp teeth.  We had pet calves and lambs who always got daft names.  Mint Sauce, for example, and Bovril, and Lamb Chop.  Once we had a crow called Jim who lived in a cage in the barn and smelled dreadful.  His wing was hurt, and after he was set free, he hopped around the garden as if he couldn’t quite remember what to do next.

Living with animals is never dull.  They teach me.  If I only think as a human I miss something, an extra dimension, for animals are quite honest and rather definite about their needs.  They don’t fanny about wondering if it’s convenient for me to serve up dinner, they just whinny or moo or march into the kitchen, which is okay-ish if we are talking Hen. A working horse might have caused a bit of a stooshie, had she got indoors, but I caught her in time.  She just followed me back from the stable and……well…..kept coming.  I fed her a carrot and turned her smartly around.  She did wander back, but not immediately, deciding to visit the farm veg shop on the way for a big mouthful of winter greens.  I could see them hanging out of her mouth as she sashayed up the track, and wee Polly, who worked in the shop had to go home for a lie-down.

I always thought of myself as a wild horse.  I said so, to the island husband one day.  He snorted, which was a bit rude.  No, he said, not a wild horse, oh no definitely not!

Okay……….thanks for that……….what then, if not a wild horse?

A hen, he said and thought it was terribly funny, for quite some time.

Island Blog 2

This morning early, the phone rang and I ran to answer it.  It only rings 6 times before cutting off and 6 times are a couple of times too short to be honest, and we haven’t worked out how to lengthen the process.  Sometimes, when we don’t want to answer, its a blessing, but never very early in the morning or very late at night. Calls at those times can be bad news.

Anyway, first time I got there and there was a huff and a puff or two then the line went dead.

A call centre I thought, or a mobile in some early bird’s pocket taking matters into its own hands.

I decided to get dressed in the feeble morning light and was just stepping into under garments when the phone rang again.  Again I ran to answer it, fettered ever so slightly by being half in, half out of said undergarments.

This time I heard what sounded like a pig grunting and then a voice I know well.  A friend calling on his mobile from East Timor, just for a chat.  He lives in a monastic community, living on not very much and is happier than ever before in his life.  The pig, explained, had hurtled by his ankles whilst he crossed the dirt road to buy peanut butter.

There are pigs in the streets, he said, as if it was quite normal, which it is for him.

We talked for an hour, me shivering, him bartering for peanut butter, pigs running by, and I said its raining again here.

Thank God, he said, for rain.  We have had months of starving drought, and today, it rained.

It reminded me of a trip to Africa, during such a dry time, and walking into the streets into the first rains – people coming out of their homes to dance and laugh and hold up their arms to feel the healing drops on their parched skins.