Island Blog – Ups and Downs

Changing the furniture. That’s what I am doing. I am free now to make this little house more homely. For years it has looked like a nursing home with most of the tables and chairs stacked in what used to be the office, out of the way of your wheelchair manoeuvres. The carpet cleaners came to lift the tracks across the sitting room with a big noisy machine. The painter came to re-decorate your room and it smells quite different now. Your hand prints are painted over, so only I will remember all those times you held on to the wall for support. Your favourite mug is at the back of the cupboard and our little dog no longer sleeps in what was your room. She doesn’t sleep in mine, either, choosing instead to curl up on a chair downstairs. When you were dying, she wanted to be close and spent many nights tip-tapping between us, bothered, pacing, if a border terrier could ever manage anything as big as a ‘pace’.

Music plays all day now, all sorts, classical, country, ballads, blue grass and as loud as I want for there is no-one here to yell at me to pipe down. I even play women singers, screechers to you, even repeating a song three or four times. That would have driven you to eruption, as you did erupt, Vesuvius, suddenly, and at full volume, causing Poppy to bark and me to drop something that probably broke.

I light the fire, no longer concerned that you will be too hot within minutes, demanding open windows and water to put it out again. There are no wires across the cleaned carpet, no phone chargers, of which, by the way, you seem to have been the proud owner of about ten, all plugged into an plug bank, all ready for active duty. You had one phone. No, that’s not true. You had 6 phones but 5 of them lie, rejected, in the cupboard under the stairs, along with enough wiring and enough headphones for a large choir in an even larger recording studio. What will I do with all this stuff? Nothing, for now.

The washing machine is bored. She has enjoyed a lot of spinning and sloshing for months and she stares at me, open mouthed each time I pass her by. It takes a few days for me to fill her maw, but when I do, when I pour in the wash liquid, add the conditioner, select the cycle and press Go, I swear she squeaks with delight. The fridge is almost empty, the draining board very quiet and I only have to sweep the floors every four days instead of four times a day. It all feels both great and sad, for who am I now? What do I do with my lack of purpose, the one that has driven me (to distraction at times) for years? I suspect it will come to me, over time.

The children are beginning to gather, the first arriving later today and the others tomorrow, for your laying to ground on Friday. The weather forecast promises rain and wind so we are searching for wellies and umbrellas. You always loved the wild weather, we all remember that, especially at sea when the waves rose to the clouds and the clouds answered back, soaking everything including everyone’s sandwiches. You just laughed. In your element, you were. The wilder the better. However, it might have been kinder on us to have organised something sunny and soft for Friday, for we will all be on that hill for as long as it takes to lower your body back down into the arms of Mother Earth. We are even discussing how to waterproof our readings because, as you know, rain on the island never falls straight. It curves and whips and flips and shoots up noses and skirts and kilts. I can hear you say ‘So?’. And it makes me smile.

When the children leave, I will stay. The Autumn will come, and then the Winter bringing darkness and cold and long spaces in between everything. And I will miss your wisdom. ‘We must close the garage door tonight. The wind is in this direction.’ Or ‘That drain needs scraping out’. Or ‘The gutters will need a clean now.’ Even when you couldn’t do these tasks yourself, you knew when they needed doing. Now I will have to work them out for myself and that feels scary. I tell myself I am no fool, that I will learn new ropes, that I am strong and independent and practical. And it’s true, I am, but there is always that little voice of doubt in my head.

So, my old gone husband, I will keep missing you, even though I know life will be easier from now, even though I can do what I want to do whenever I want to do it. After we lay you down whilst we stay up, keep an eye on us from your new home in Neverland. I’ll wave at you on a starry night. We all will.

Island Blog – To Fathers

I am not a father. Never will be and there’s somewhat of a relief in that secure bit of knowledge. I don’t think I realised just how much of a weight a wife and children were, and still are, on a father’s shoulders. He mustn’t cry, of course, no matter how lost or useless he might feel. At least, not in public and most of his life is in public, wife demanding, children requiring clothing, adequate food, toys, space, tuition, guidance and a massive Christmas gift. Never mind that there are five all expecting a massive Christmas gift, whilst taking all the rest for granted. I did too. I took him for granted and that is what we do until we notice something, or look back and join the dots because unless you have experienced living life as a father, you, like me, haven’t a scooby. Not a clue.

On raising children in the most humanly perfect of ways, which, naturally, was our plan, fathers have to take the buck, one that always stops with them. Fathers, if they are the main breadwinner, must leap out of bed every morning for decades in order to be whoever they are required to be on any given day. If it is an off-to-work day, then the mental suit is on and the tie tied right. All the way there, he must leave behind the father role for a few hours and immerse himself in whatever business or job lies ahead of him with all its associated demands. Then, knackered and possibly fed up, he must come through that front door and become husband and father with enthusiasm and wisdom. Blimey. That is quite a lot of requiring.

If, like me, a mother is exhausted herself by end of day, she may nip and criticise, demand and wheedle. She may offload her worries, fears and reports on the children as she might empty a dumper truck full of multiple flotsam, jetsam and other random things right into his lap. He may have only just sat down, but she hasn’t had that pleasure since he left at 07.30 so why should he be allowed now, now that she has to cook dinner, clear toys, bath the unwashed, read stories and all in the secure knowledge that Groundhog Day will come tomorrow and all the tomorrows until the children become adults and fledge? Blimey. That is quite a thixotropic thought.

Good fathers are often judged by the memories they make. Bad fathers, ditto. Of course, the same applies to mothers but this blog is not about them. I doubt there is a single father anywhere in the world, one that wants to be one, that is, who doesn’t take great care to be the best he can be, all the way up to the end. Then Life kicks in, a rogue player on the field, one with tremendous tackling skills and a complete disregard for empathy. Demands overwhelm, families get noisier, cost more money every year and never seem quite as happy as this father saw in his mind’s eye. The happy toddler becomes the door-slamming child who refuses broccoli and ignores all pleas for a stable conversation. Blimey. This is the truth and then some.

So, please raise a toast to all fathers, to yourself if you are one, to your dad, your work colleagues, your neighbours, your friends and your extended family. Consider, and remind yourself of the sacrifices these fathers have had to make in their lives. Fathers…..remember the times when everything swam along like happy fish and then remember the times when storms lashed your shores and terrified you. I salute and celebrate you. All of you excellent, strong and resilient men.

To Fathers.

Island Blog – A Secret Garden of Change

When change or improvement of standards are required, they nudge me, bump me, sprawl me until I turn to acknowledge their existence. I don’t really want to make friends with any of them to be honest because change, or improvement of an existing way of doing things, requires effort and action and the only person who can effect said change or improvement is little old me. Me, who, btw was quite happy not changing for ages, dammit. But these infuriating bumpers, nudgers and sprawlers will not give up. They know, smartarses that they are, that they know a better or, worse, a new way to do an old thing. However, I have to admit that on consideration I can see their point. There is always a better way to do anything, everything, always. Pretending I am not interested just sharpens their wits so that they bounce and trounce me from around corners that were just corners before – nothing lying in wait for me. It’s like hide and seek except they are the only ones hiding and seeking. Okay, okay, I say from where I have landed all ungainly and definitely cornered, okay. I’ll do it.

Now the work begins. I must deconstruct the doing bit of this thing, embark on a new spreadsheet #myanathema, write a list of do’s and absolutely do nots and this is the hardest bit. Absolutely do nots are so well established in my neural pathways that it is going to take the wiles and the wisdom of Captain Cooke to navigate new passage and I’m already yawning. However, I do know what comes next for I remember this embarkation process of old. Change is a procedure and can drag on for months. What it does not do is arrive for one sleepover with an instant solution in its pyjama pocket. I don’t get handed a miracle, complete, accomplished. Oh no indeed. What I need to do now is to relocate the secret garden, find the key and walk myself inside. Once within those walls that hide me from the world, I must open my mind, be still, reflect, consider and above all, not come out again until I know what I need to do next.

In order to effect change, to add gravitas to a new way of seeing and doing an old thing, or even to not do that old thing anymore, there is an uncomfortable period of self restraint. In small matters such as biting someone’s head off every time they slap their lips together whilst eating toast, or turning into Miss Trunchbull at every spill of milk, or a big matter like eating a whole cake for lunch every day, thus putting on 3 stone in a week, there must be a time when self control, diversionary tactics and a plastic smile must be applied appropriately. Whatever it is, we all know what we need to do but not always how to do it. The steps towards refinement of a person are so personal that there is no official manual to follow. And some of don’t fancy refining anyway, which is perfectly okay by me. I am not one of those people. I most definitely fancy refining but it still irritates the bejabers out of me. Just when I think I could not do this thing any better, those nudgers, bumpers and sprawlers who, obviously, don’t have enough takers for their grand designs, arrive to trip me up and, with my eyes rolling back in my head, I am eventually given no option but to turn around and acknowledge them. Again.

When I have finally conceded defeat and am still and reflective inside the secret garden I always wonder why I resisted to the degree that I did. Surely everyone loves to be better, kinder, more sensitive, compassionate, interested – curious to find out how they will feel as the process of effecting change reveals that which was hidden before. It’s like an Alice adventure. Wandering through the fruit trees, noticing the delicacy of petals, their vibrant colour, hearing the birdsong, the bee song, the rustle of soft breezes combing the leaves on the tallest tree, looking up at the wide, clear sky, all this stops me, halts my breath, slows my mind. And it is healing me too. From here I can see the old thing, the old way, as definitely passed its sell-by date. Why did I not see that out there? Well, I’ll tell you why. Out there, running like a hare on fire, doing things out of habit, routine or because my mother always did it that way, leaves no room for my imagination to rise above zero. I might think everything is tickety boo but that is my illusion, my delusion. Inside the secret garden of change I can see that now. I can breathe at my own speed, hear my breath, feel my heartbeat. I notice, that’s what I do, in here, waiting, reflecting, accepting. Out there I could run into a herd of elephants and not see them until we collide.

Everyone has a secret garden and everyone has a key. That’s the wonder of this human life.

Island Blog – Steer Your Heart

As we move into Easter, the weirdest yet, without family around the table, perhaps even without eggs, we are having to be inventive. I think that is one of my favourite words, perhaps because I have been re-inventing myself all my life. I like this, no I don’t, I like her/him, no I don’t, I want to be an air hostess/intrepid explorer/dancer/aid worker………no, maybe not. Perhaps we are all like that as new fizz comes into our mental veins on hearing of someone else doing any of the above, until the morning comes and with it an abundance of realism, dammit. I often think morning has a lot to answer for. By the afternoon, anything is possible, I am possible, what I long to do is possible and I can go to bed with the absolute certainty that I will awaken to a dawn never known previously, one that affirms my breakout plans. It hasn’t happened yet.

Today is Good Friday, or Easter Friday if you don’t buy into the Good bit. Either way, it is a time we look forward to, as we do Christmas and Birthdays. Our own, anyway. But this year we can look until our eyeballs fall out but we won’t see what we want, what we have always known. First time ever for my generation and below. The Aboves knew it of course. War was woven into their memories, as this one will be for us. Everything this Easter must be done remotely, or from a distance. And it matters. Regardless of how inventive (there I go again) any of us are, it still hurts. There’s a slump in it as if life is lying doggo and we have no idea how or when it will wake up again with a Ta-da! We are moving along, going through the days, hope alternating with despair, bright and beamish one minute and sad as Eeeyore the next. It’s normal, its acceptable, more, it’s human. We long, we love, we care and without touch it feels like homesickness. Nostomania. Our instant leap to logic creates a pedagogue. This teacher is one of those I longed to flick cold chewing gum at, without being caught. Telling ourselves we must only think of the positive can send us captious. We might criticise others for walking twice a day, or those who shop every day and we know they do because they live upwind of us and the shop is downwind. We must take care we don’t let that thinking be our guide. Each one of us is required to make our own choices, our own decisions at this time. I remember, weeks ago, people saying to me….We will wait for the official decision on this, or that, whilst I had decided to release the carers and lockdown. Waiting never suited me.

So, I say, people, steer your own heart. It will guide you right, always. I notice some visitors have come to the island. I have a few opinions on that, not least because they may extend this time of lockdown just by travelling here. However, I won’t let myself become the judge. Instead, I will continue to make my own decisions, listening to my own heart, my best friend. As, I am sure, will you. There is no room for dithering these days, nor waiting for the official ruling, nor, even, asking someone else their opinion. After all, we all know at our deepest level, what we need to do to survive and to make sure our loved ones do too.

Happy Easter my friends. I wish you serendipities by the score. No matter what is to come, we may be broken, but we are not beaten. We are strong, intelligent, wise, loving, emotional, caring humans. I salute you all.

Island Blog 145 Standing on Wasps

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This is the time of year when our little home welcomes (not) a host of eejit flying things in search of food and warmth.  They find warmth sure enough, more than they bargain for as it happens thanks to our electrocution chamber, set high on the kitchen units.  It’s blue light bars are obviously very seductive and we often stop our daily round in response to the fizz and spark a fly creates when making contact with 100 volts.  We know when a wasp has made such a choice, because the fizzing and sparking goes on for yonks, backed by an appalling stink of burning flesh.  Sometimes the shock is enough to spin the fried creature to the floor and my bare feet must be careful not to walk on wasps.

I know this all sounds deeply cruel, but it is mostly pretty quick, although not for us with a good sense of smell.  Prior to the installation of this high voltage addition to the kitchen white goods, we were inundated with bluebottles, greenbottles and all other bottle-named egg-laying irritating summer visitors.  I could rarely leave any bit of food uncovered.  We don’t really understand why, as we don’t live next door to a chicken farm, nor are there horses in next door’s garden.  The house is kept reasonably, but not obsessively clean, and the kitchen bin is small and emptied often.

This morning, as I woke to the first frost of winter, white-laced fingers of cold stretched over Tommy’s field, I thought about making choices.  Yes, I know it’s a bit far-fetched to suggest that a fly with huge eyes and a very small brain could possibly say, with hindsight, that perhaps diving into the fire was not it’s finest decision, but, we could, for we have small eyes and a huge brain and thus decide our own fates, to a great degree.  I thought about all my poor decisions, and ran out of fingers.  Fortunately, I cannot remember them all, for there were many and will be more.  Thing is, we make choices based on not just the situation, but how we feel about it.  Sometimes it is mighty difficult to be objective in an assessment of those two uncomfortable bedfellows.  Assessing a situation, well, that’s okay, I can do that.  You may not see it the same way, but at least we both have something visual, something solid to poke at, to give shape and form and texture to.

But how we both feel about it, well that can change everything.  You might say I am wrong to feel the way I do, referring back to the situation, the physicality of it’s form.  Even if we both completely agree on how we see it, a different emotional response is inevitable, and those emotions are what guides our hearts.

Perhaps the key is to keep quiet and say nothing.  Perhaps this keeps us all safe from attack.  But surely, if I keep quiet and you keep quiet, how can we move on, with all those emtions racketing round our insides like trapped wind?  I don’t have an answer.  Many of my poor decisions involved speaking out, and thereafter spending whole days in regret, madly trying to pull the foot out of my mouth.

What we choose to say and choose not say is up to us each one.  Speaking out is an action.  I remember being urged by one son to ‘hear the words behind the words’ when I was raging at some comment aimed at me by Granny-at-the-gate.  She just said whatever she wanted to say, and I was sometimes in the cross hairs, but the real woman was a flaming marvel.  She was loyal, supportive, funny, creative.  A woman who taught me a great deal of things through her wisdom and experience.  He, my son, saw her words as one thing, I, with all my hang-ups and a deep sense of always slightly falling short of the mark, as another.  Without his view on things, I might have spent all week walking on wasps, whereas Granny-at-the-gate had forgotten it all by coffee time.

Back to the flying eejits.  Although I have killer white goods in my kitchen, I also have compassion.  If I see a flying insect caught in a spider’s web, I will leap up to free it.  I know, it’s ridiculous of me, especially as I am so fond of spiders.  I just hate to see anything trapped and struggling to escape.  I feel the same about humans, not that I see many of them caught in spider’s webs.

Compassion is the key here.  However differently we see a situation, however polar our emotional responses, if we have compassion, we can allow that difference.  The situation doesn’t change, but we do, and, in the wake of that change, we meet the peace of acceptance.

And then we can look up to the great wide sky of things once more, and move on.

unlike the flying eejits.

Island Blog 68 – Songs for the Girls

Island Blog 68 (futureengagedeliver.com)

fig via: futureengagedeliver.com

I wrote a song for Jenny and one day I will sing it out, perhaps after the funeral.  And then I wrote another for my little grand-daughter, the youngest thus far whose naming ceremony is being celebrated the weekend after.

How life organises these things I cannot say, but she always does and it makes a sort of sense.  It’s not about one life replacing another, but more that the sharp-edged void created in a heart, when someone dies can be softened by a new life.  These two girls will never know each other; will never come together except in my heart, and that is something rather wonderful and quite uniquely precious.

When I write my songs, or create my paintings, or lampshades or cushions or whatever, I work for one person.  I think of who they are and what colours they wear and what stories lie in their eyes, and I work to honour and recognise them all.  This is why I won’t create a production line, nor paint the same, but in blue, to match the furnishings.  Every single piece of work is a one-off.

Much like a life.

The song for Jenny celebrates her as a woman of the sea, of the world and now, of the beyond, wherever that is.  The words are taken from a well-known poem and personalised, and I don’t suppose anyone will mind, because they will hear what they want to hear and think what they want to think about Jenny as they take it all in.  The music will lift them and pull on their heart strings and someone may well recognise parts of other melodies and other phrasing from a different song for there is nothing new under the sun.

And yet, everything is always new when someone catches a thing and forges it again in the fires of their heart.

The song for my granddaughter is different in that the words are all mine, and the melody pinched from a couple of other musicians who won’t know and wouldn’t mind anyway.  We are not talking chart topper here.  The words had to be bespoke, just for her, and with respect paid to her mum and her dad and the fabulous crazy wild people they are, and all those attributes now handed on to one little girl.  It’s light-hearted and fun and will bring smiles to all the faces watching me stand and deliver.

We are all unique, but it is a rare bird that can fly alone into a busy sky, with its own song to sing, certain that just by singing it, everything is new.