Island Blog 140 Larks and Kate

 

dna

 

 

Singing is a lark don’t you think?

I feel like singing a lot of the time and sometimes in the wrong places such as the dentist’s waiting room or in a queue at the airport.  In my imagination I play out what would happen if I did sing.  That old lady over there would probably smile.  The kids would gawp and wonder if they had stepped into a movie and all the rest would study me from top to toe and think me bonkers.  None of that would matter if I could guarantee sounding good, which is never a given.  I would have to be travelling alone because being with someone else puts me in a situation of being One of Two, giving Two the right to an opinion and to take preventative action, neither of which boost conifdence.  I can feel very sure about a spontaneous decision and very unsure indeed about that same decision in the flip of one second when I am One of Two.  No, I need to be One of One if I plan to orchestrate my own flashmob without the mob.  I suspect this leaves me ‘flash’ and all my minders will roll their eyes and nod their heads at that association.

What, I wonder, is so wrong about bursting into song all alone whilst completely sober just because other people are around?  Other people are always around.  I would have to wander a desert or fly to the moon to find no people around.  It isn’t the same singing in the shower, or the car or when the house is empty and I don’t know why but it just isn’t.  There’s a sudden joy that pre-empts a desire to sing which I just don’t feel in the shower or the car or when the house is empty.  There is something about being out in the world, being among fellow humans, being alone among the crowds;  a sort of devilment, a pixie sense of fun, a frisson of excitement at absolutely nothing.  This is when I want to jump over the railings or tightrope walk a garden wall; when pavement squares threaten bears and, in their less dangerous moments, hopscotch.  I like sitting on the pavement and I do if I feel tired of the concrete seeping into my legs but rarely, if ever, has anyone joined me.  Why do we hate to stand out in a crowd when we so long to be individual and recognised as such?  It’s about looking foolish isn’t it. (not a question)

The thing is this.  We are a long time dead.  A boarding school best friend, lost over the years and found again quite recently has just contracted a wasting disease and died within months.  She was the same age as me.  When we unwillingly schooled together, we recognised a fellow scallywag immediately.  She didn’t want to knuckle down to ancient scratchy-knickered traditions any more than I did.  We found many ways to make life fun, and to make fun of everyone else.  She was wiry and fizzing with energy and always up for a lark.  And now she’s gone. But I did know her and I am remembering her and that time we hooked up in London and shared lunch and memories.  Our lives had been different and neither one a merry breeze but we were resilient, strong, feisty women who ‘sung’ our hearts out at every opportunity whether it sounded good or not.  If I had Kate behind me as my foolish imagination began to propel me into a flashmob without the mob, she would have joined me, not having a clue what to do but looking all enthusiastic about it anyway.  Perhaps we are born bonkers and perhaps this bonkerness is so deep within us that no man nor beast nor disaster nor catastrophe can even dent, never mind eradicate.  Well YAHOOO! to that is what I say.

When we talked, Kate and I about the other girls there, we discovered she had kept up with them whereas I had not.  She knew bits and pieces about each girl’s life and had met up with a few of them, even returning once to an old school reunion which I most definitely didn’t, not least because by that time I had 65 children and lived on the moon.  I wonder about their lives lived – what they really dreamed of.  We never talked that way at boarding school.  We talked about netball and ghastly cheese pie and who had fallen out with who, and why.  Most girls kept in line. The risk of being punished was way too great for any out-of-line-stepping.  It was all about the ‘Team spirit gels!’ – a team spirit structured by Them for Us, regardless of allergies or differences of opinion on the ‘how and why’ of such a structure.  Clomping to church in galoshes on a dry morning did little to encourage this team spirit and a whole lot for my inventive imagination.  In fact, I think it may well be precisely because I was grown in Boot Camp and then, at my most difficult stage, packaged off to Corntonvale au Sud, that I learned singing at all.  I don’t mean this literally, although I was a choir member and I did take my pianoforte exams, but more the sort of singing that comes from a deep place, one that won’t be stopped, one that doesn’t mind how it sounds when allowed to escape;  that singing that lifts and separates better than any playtex living bra; when one of two is suddenly one in a million and forever fixed in 999999999 minds, with adjectives various affixed; that singing you meet in another’s eyes, the one that tells you it’s ok now. There are two scallywags in this convent.

Singing is a lark.  Kate was a lark.  Therefore Kate was Singing.

Island Blog 134 Reality Check

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This morning the air is still on the island.  Nobody is about, except for the birds playing out their dramas.  The doves, including Dave,  whose mate was nabbed by a sparrowhawk a couple of years back, and who will always be a gooseberry, turn up to feed, their beaks tapping out a syncopated rythm on the wooden base of the bird table.  We found the remains of the kill on the track outside the house, and Dave stumbling about lopsided and scared. Not a lucky dove, we said.  After a week or so inside a box, fed and watered each day, he managed a wonky lift from the ground, straightened up and flew right onto the telephone wire.  We hadn’t fixed anything, weren’t sure how to, but perhaps the combination of love and his own will to survive did their work.  Now, however many pairs line the wire, sometimes up to 15 in the winter months, he is the uneven number, but always faithful, staying close to home, when the others loop away across the hills to build nests, raise young, complete the yearly circle once again.

A pair of swallows have taken the nest we fixed at the back of the garage years ago.  Each spring, they check it out, and each spring, they reject it.  Perhaps this is because we are constantly in and out of the garage, for it offers the only access to the hill garden at the back, where the bee hives nestle in the wild grass, their faces towards the sun.  Every day each community, numbering thousands apiece, fly out to find pollen. The scouts communicate directions to the others in waggle dances, performed on the front step and taken seriously by the other worker bees, all women of course, who might be dithering about which way to go.  The hive mind is an extraordinary thing and one that never sleeps, for even when the bees don’t fly, we know that if we lifted the lid (which is not for the faint-hearted) we would not see one single bee loafing about with a vacant look in her eye.  Every single one is busily employed, going about her business mindfully, intelligently, continuously.  Any loafers would be thrown out.

Trouble is, the swallows number three.  I don’t suppose this works, a menage a trois, in the swallow world, but the three of them dive in and out of the garage each early morning and evening.  On the wire, they have words.  No violence is employed, but you can tell, from the tone, that it’s not friendly.  Perhaps, like doves, and swans, swallows mate for life.  Perhaps this lone one lost its mate on that huge journey back from Africa.  We watched them gathering on wires, rooftops, swirling like a dark cloud over Capetown, when we were there in March, preparing for their flight across the globe, and we marvelled.  How they manage to find their old nest sites year after year beggars belief.  We would need maps, charts, radar, provisions, a transport vehicle, confidence, determination and periodic rests in soft beds with cotton sheets and a spacious en suite.  They just fly.

In honour of their unusual tryst, together with the excitement at their final acceptance of the Garden Centre nest, (buy one, get a House Martin one free) I have fixed signs, one on the inside of the door, so we remember not to dive out and head butt a swallow, and one for anyone coming through the little gate who needs guiding to the other door.  If we need to access the hill garden, we must open the garage door slowly, peeking gingerly out, to see if our new friends are around.  Sometimes they wobble on the inside washing line.  We need an inside washing line on the island, as the outside one is often long-term unemployed.  The concrete floor is already guano-ed up and this situation won’t change, as long as they decide, finally, to lay their eggs, which they still may not, given the human comings and goings.

As I walked Miss Poppy around Tapselteerie yesterday, she made me laugh at some antic and, in response to my voice breaking the silence of the afternoon, a well-hidden nest of young tits leapt into action, their collective cheeping floating out from one of the dark holes in the old dry stone wall.  The mother, behind me on a branch, yelled at them to shutup, but they were having none of it.  I didn’t stay around to worry her, but the experience lifted my heart, just to have been allowed to witness that moment, and to fix the knowledge of it into my ordinary day.  I call that an ‘internal shunt’, for It changes me, even though nothing has changed.  My usual list of miniature disasters is still there; the demands on my time, my patience, my purse, stay in place; nothing is certain, nothing really safe and nothing I can do to make it any different.  I could lose a loved one in a nanosecond and there is little I can do to stop it happening.  I can fall ill, a silent enemy moving in to establish victory whilst I dash through my daily list, unaware until too late.  But it does me no good to focus on what may or may not happen, in fact, it will falter my step, weaken me, make me dull at parties.  What I need to do, mindfully and intelligently, is to learn from the birds, from the natural world, of which I am a part.  I am at the top of the food chain, yes.  I can think and reason, yes.  And these gifts are not given to be wasted.  They are gifts of sight, gifts of power, not over others as we seem to believe, but over myself, the choice to get real, like the birds.

How does that song go………oh yes…..

‘Hey, you know what paradise is? It’s a lie
A fantasy we create about people and places as we’d like them to be
But you know what truth is?
It’s that little baby you’re holding, and it’s that man you fought with this morning
The same one you’re going to make love with tonight. That’s truth, that’s love.

I’ve been to paradise, but I’ve never been to me.’

Island Blog 34 – To Rise and Fall and Rise again.

Today I spent a happy time with 3 other women over lunch.  We talked of many things, and sometimes all at the same time, but the theme that wound its way through all our conversations, was the ‘how’ of living.  How we each manage it.

Some of us walk a steady, even path, although it wasn’t always so steady.  Another is young, and she will take many paths, mainly out of youthful curiosity.

Do we lose that curiosity I wonder?  Or have we found that it doesn’t only kill cats?

The way we germinate the seeds of our own personal existence, it seems to me, is decided by the choices we make as we live out our life.  But if we felt we had no choice, or if choice was made on our behalf, does that mean that those seeds never grow and bloom?

There is a theory that we make our own choices, whether it looks like it or not.  Actually, I do agree with that theory, but I also hate it at times.  It is so much more pleasant to present myself as a victim of circumstances, or of some overbearing ‘other’ in my life.  After all, I could have been this or that, had I been allowed to make my own choices.

Couldn’t I?

When you live like I do, on a daily roller coaster, you are allowed to cast envious glances to those marching steadily along their level path of choice.  It’s fine when I am riding on point break, towering over the world and shouting ‘Woohoo, Look at Me!’  but quite another as I sink into the troughs and nearly drown.  And I do it every single day.  It is, in a word, exhausting to be me, but I am me and that’s that.

So, Me, how are we to accept that we made this choice very early on in life?  Our sisters seem very sorted, our brother too, and we all came from the same nest.  What, or who decided that we would think too much about every flaming thing, lifting up the carpet of life over and over again until the tacks give up and ping off into the unknown, leaving a permanent curl for everyone else to trip over?

Enough questions.

I have found that my first important decision each day lies not in what I do, or where I go, but in how I see what I see.  This doesn’t mean I should spend all my time looking inward but quite the opposite. When I have heard that someone is off to find themselves, in India or some such place, I have to conceal an inner snigger. In order, it seems, to feel ok, no, better, good about being a volatile lunatic, like I am, is to look at the world of which I am an essential part.  I know that sounds a bit cocky, but to be honest, it works for me.  If I can tell myself that I am here for a specific purpose, just as I am, with my own seeds to nurture and grow, then my roller coaster begins to make some sense.  After all, I can see higher and lower than the ones on the steady path.  I can spin among the clouds and swim in the deeps and I can use those powers of observation to help another.  I can take what looks like a heavy load and call it a gift. And I need to do this exactly where I am, because to flip off to India would be fine, but only if I could leave me behind.

Which I cannot.

If I am the one who has to surf the biggest waves, then let me learn how to surf.  If it is I who must sink into those troughs, then I must learn to be a cork.

And then, let me have the presence, the absolute engagement with where and who I am, to find one who fears their own sinking, and to show them that they can do it too.

Island Blog 29 – Elephants and Crossroads

 

Turning Point

Just before I meet a cross in the roads, I get what feels like indigestion.  A friend of mine once called this state ‘The Churny Pits’, and it’s a pretty good description of the upsy-downsy state of my inner woman.  Things I did up to this point seemed ok, if a little samey and ordinary, and I got on with them, in the main, with a positive attitude and a spring in my step, I waved my usual wave, bought my usual coffee at my usual place, arrived at my usual time, said the usual things, got on with my usual routine. But something is different.  Each of these usual things feel empty – empty of life, as if I am acting out a role, one I have played for years and know off by heart.

For a while I ignore the unrest, gathering in the ‘usual’ closer to my chest, to keep it with me, for without it I might be nobody and, having been a nobody once before, I don’t plan on being one again. But it doesn’t work and soon those things that gave me my place in my own world, abandon me completely.

And then I stand at a crossroads I never asked for, never even considered was there in the first place. I can’t avoid it, not this time.  It’s like finding a herd of elephants in the Fairy Woods, which, to be honest, has never even thrown up a fairy.

I know what all this means by now, although it has been no less uncomfortable in the gestation period, much like the onset of flu.  This herd of elephants is here to tell me it is time to change direction, that Life has something in store for me, something up her sleeve and I can’t see it until I let go of the old and turn towards the new. It could be old thinking, old habits, old responses or it could be something bigger.  The good news is that I won’t be asked for more than I can give, although my idea of what I am capable of is not necessarily all I am capable off, as has been clearly demonstrated to me more than once.

Sounds like a stretching opportunity cometh my way.

Again.

Well, I whine, from where I sit on the old couch in my old slippers with my usual cup of tea at the usual time……I would turn toward the new if someone would just show me where it is.  I could waste weeks pounding up the wrong path, whether my boots were right for the task or not.  Someone needs to tell me.  I need hard facts, a good argument for this whole airy-fairy change thing.  After all, how will the household bills be met, and what will the coffee vendor think and what will my children/husband/mother say?

Besides, I know nothing about this daft dream that’s been floating in my head for weeks now, months perhaps. What if it’s just a mini crisis, a temporary loss of balance, or even just indigestion?

Well, says Life to me, there is only one way to find out.

Island Blog 28

This afternoon a gaggle of women sat down to discuss our personal responses to a study we are working on.  Although the time in which the words were written dates back over 2000 years, it has a relevance today in ordinary lives.  The language is dated, the context not relevant to us in this western, and predominantly material, world, but how we feel as humans changes not that much.

One of the main topics, that seemed to inspire us all to make comment, was on our own gift, or gifts.  A gift, by definition, is not something we have earned, nor learned, but, instead, something beyond ourself, something of a surprise, perhaps.

What is my gift?  We asked.  I am just an ordinary island woman, leading a life much like any other life.  I cook and clean, I sew or don’t sew.  I organise to varying degrees, my own life, and those of another or others.  I do nothing astonishing.  I am not a prima ballerina, a rock star, a princess or a surgeon.  I am just me.

Or am I?

What we learned, over cups of tea around a table in a warmly lit room, is that not one of us is ‘ordinary’.  For a start, we each have certain problems and challenges to wake us each morning.  These are specific to us.  As we pull on our sensible warm underwear, we each consider these challenges and make our decisions in context.  One of us is good at being cheerful.  She says her mouth goes up at the edges naturally.  Another is good at writing letters, at remembering those who often forget even themselves, and she loves to take out paper and a pen and begin.

Dear You….

Another can bake seriously risen cakes and buns and does it for pleasure.  Another paints and is lost for hours in the process.

I write and the same goes for me.

What we all realised is that we do what we do because it comes easily, because time loses its grip on us, because we forget context in the content.

Now see-saw that word.

Content.

We are content in our work.

And that is the whole point of a gift.  It is not something we struggle to achieve, nor do we have to study it to get good.  We just do it, effortlessly.  The skill is to recognise it and then, to take it out into the world for the benefit of others who don’t have the gift we have. Not for our own validation, although we all look for that, but for the good of humankind.

Or the village.  Or maybe, just for next door.

Island Blog 22 – Colour me Purple

A young friend, half my age and still scampering through her life, arrived the other day with perfectly painted toenails, a crisp bright red and not a single mistake.  I had to put my specs on to be sure.  Not only was the polish perfect (she had painted them herself, whilst her children ate their coco-pops), but so were her toes.  I looked down at my own unpainted, bent battered toes and had a little sigh to myself, but only a little one.  I remembered carrying all those babies, those half hundredweight sacks of potatoes, and all that marching up and down the hill, all that stomping around in various stages of outraged indignation and I thanked my bent battered toes for their unquestioning loyalty to the rest of me.  She, of the perfect toes, is careless with her youthful vitality, just as I was.  I never thought, for one minute, I would cascade into a heap of wrinkles, because it just seemed impossible. It seemed so unlike me.

Well here I am, and it’s hilarious most of the time.  What I have found, in these purple years, is the wonderful humour of women. More precious than any jewels, we are born with it and we can always access it when faced with challenges.  We can rise, as we always have, to the occasion, joshing with each other, encouraging and teasing, propping each other up, accentuating the positive.  Even when this ageing process brings us up short and sharp and sore, there is a woman near to hand to help us laugh at ourselves, in a gentle and sensitive way, because she knows exactly how we feel about our five stomachs and the cold in our bones, and our rheumatic fingers that used to play Rachmaninov and now have trouble peeling an orange.

Well I say this to all of you fabulous women.

Firstly, you really are fabulous, every single one of you, and younger women need to see us plucky old girls with a smile on our faces.  It takes longer, I agree, to elevate the wrinkles, but it’s still possible, and, besides, we can smile with our eyes, our humour, our experience of life.   Getting older is getting better, if we decide it is so, and what about this childlike sense of devil-may-care?  That desire to jump on sandcastles and run a stick along someone’s railings, or pinch an apple from their tree.  Where did that come from?  I think it arrived when I turned 50 and I believe it to be the Great Consolation.

So, I’m going to make the very most of this delicious ageing process, and, when I am really old, which is a very long way off, I don’t want to be a sweet old lady.  I want everyone to be saying……….oh glory, what IS she up to now?

Dance as though no-one is watching....

Dance as though no-one is watching….

Island Blog 9 – On thinking

As I watch a young couple learn the ropes of parenting, with all the associated doubts and joys, I feel honoured to be invited in, to be a part, a useful part.  So many things change when a baby arrives.  There are tugs on many strings.  They say that children can tear you apart, not that they would ever want to do that, and I can see how, remember how.  When my little ones came along, I turned the full 180 towards them.  Some fathers don’t cope well with that, being relegated to the chorus line, when once they were the star.  We women do our best, but we are not perfect, nor are we superhuman.  We know, in that first flash second of seeing our newborn for the first time, that here is someone we would give our lives for.  We also register, to our, perhaps surprise, that where we once thought we would do the same for our man, we now know we might not – especially if the choice, a Sophie’s sort of choice, was between our child and their father.

It must show, for it causes problems, not that many of us will ever have to make that choice.  It shows itself, this new allegiance in little ways, in where we spend our precious moments, which way we look first, who we listen to when voices rise in competition.

I remember it well.