Island Blog – Captured in Words

Today I awoke to a gale, a Sou’Westerly blast and birthing rain. Good Morning, chirruped I, wheeching back the blackout curtains to see goldfinch flying backwards and the mouths of my wheelies opening and closing in excitement. Here we are again. We did this, I said to my first frock as I pulled it over my head. It’s climate change. My frock said nothing as it fell in silent acquiescence over my body. Once dressed I downed the stairs and made for the coffee pot, noticing the time. 04.30. Great! Another long day just bursting with opportunities to notice and to learn something I didn’t know yesterday. The wind ruffed up the rain-stabbed water on an incoming tide making the fretful waves popple irritably. I didn’t share the mood. I don’t get irritable, not any more because there is too much to wonder at, to watch in peaceful silence and too many opportunities to learn something new.

I work through Book 2, drafted some months back and in serious need of distance (from me) and revision (by me) throughout the morning, discarding much and slashing my red pen across swathes of utterly indulgent nonsense. I was too close to it. My agent was right. Later, after reading for an hour and listening to a podcast on grieving, I decide to wander. Wander! I admonish myself as I note my fast pace, feet going like the clappers as if Himself was still back home and without a grasp on the concept of time. For him, 45 minutes, the length of my walk, was more like 3 hours and counting. I slow my pace, watch the thrust of my right foot, then my left, noticing everything as I go. The bark of an Alder. Must pull some off to make a yellow dye, I say out loud, very probably startling said Alder. I swear she pulled her tummy in, holding tight. I laugh and she softens. Just a little bit, I soothe, and not all the way around, I promise. Sunlight dapples the track into negative space. I stop to admire the ever shifting mosaic for the wind, now westerly warm and more like a caress, still lifts the leaf-heavy limbs of beech, oak, alder, birch, hazel, chestnut and the conifers I cannot name, although I know a pine. Everyone knows a pine.

A snapshot of the now calmer sea-loch shows me sparkles as if the sun is melting golden drops. Dandelions answer with butter yellow, speedwell with indigo, oxeye daisies with snow, stems swaying as if in time to the music, all faces turned sunwards. Turning down to the shore, a path I haven’t walked since my baby sister was here with her husband some weeks ago, I gasp at a crowd of foxgloves. They stand as tall as me and in that disco pink Himself loved best. Bumble bees fly in and out of the bells sounding like tiny dirigibles but without the threat. I stand awhile and tell them all how beautiful they are, out here where only a few will ever see them. We don’t mind that, they say. We like our isolation and besides, the bumbles will always find us and that’s what matters. Out on the shore the wind whips at me, warm and westerly and full of stories. I smell seaweed and salt, stories and history. Men rowed out from here once to fish for their families when to catch fish was to stay alive, at least for one more long winter. Seaweed in rainbow colours cover the rocks, the 200 million year old rocks that line the shore, the seaweed lifted and abandoned by the recent full moon tides. Rust, lime green, yellow ochre, kettle black, it looks like art to me. It is also draped over the old Alpha Beta pier, now just a skeleton made beautiful with mermaid hair and shells, random, natural, passing. Soon it will dry and break up and be gone. Such is the life death cycle.

Wandering (yes I am still mindfully wandering) back home, I see a broken egg shell and stop to study the crushed coloration. It’s a big egg so not a blackbird, robin or thrush but it is blue, striated grey, silver, rose gold. A heron’s egg, it must be. I lift my eyes to where the herons nest, just over there among the bow-backed hazels that flank the shoreline, frontliners, protectors of the woods and they can take it, have done for centuries. How sad, I whisper. This little one didn’t make it to life. I pass the pigless pen, move through the gate and step onto the home path. So much I learned today but what did I learn? Ah, I know. I learned that disco pink foxgloves grow at the shore for the first year since the bracken was cleared. I learned that they can stay dormant in the earth for 50 years just waiting for sunlight. Such confident patience. And see how they they gasped me and changed my whole day and poignantly because in a few days me and Himself would have been married for 50 years. When I drive the switchback I look down on his gravestone. Golden script. Sun-melt, captured in words.

Island Blog – Nothing Else Matters

My life is golden, a flower, one that has lain dormant (but plotting) for many soggy months, one that is now above ground, looking up and out towards summer. I have seen oh so many summers but this one is new to me and I can feel the fizz of excitement in anticipation. As I sit on the stoep, feeling the warmth of Father Sun on my bare skin and watching seabirds wheel and cant, hear the chase-off when a buzzard comes in to their air space, or a sea-eagle, I smile and whisper a thank you. As I hear a distant woodpecker nattering at deadwood in a call for a mate or see siskin and goldfinch on the nijer seed, I feel the free space around my body for I am a part of this burgeoning Spring day. I listen to my neighbours enjoying a barbecue with friends, a just over the hedge spiral of shared talk and laughter as their little ones demand another rib or a water pistol and I smile through my happy solitude. I see the sea-loch calm and soft beneath a wide sky and wonder about the life beneath the surface. I think about ‘surface’, the way I can see something that appears to be the truth only to discover that it is anything but, like the way I might think a person is until I get to hear their story. So much depth, so much history, so much about experiences I have never had nor ever will. I hear the words, Be Careful, in my head and I will. Be Care Full. I want everyone to know the peace I feel, the acceptance of a life golden because for those of us who do not face danger every single minute, nor abuse, we who have a home, a place in space, enough food in the fridge and our health and strength, our memories and our family do indeed live a golden life. A daffodil life. We can rise through the sog and bog of winter into a new timeline, a new day every day. We can walk in freedom and, if we have eyes to see, we can watch it all in awe and gratitude. We cannot change the lives of all those millions of others who have not even one of our life gifts but we can spend time appreciating our own, noticing them, naming them, listing them.

My children and theirs are well and happy. My siblings ditto. I have friends, moon rises, sunsets, tasks to complete, people to encourage, letters to write that will be received with a smile, frogspawn to move before it dries out a thousand tadpoles, supper to choose, music to listen to, a beloved dog to walk with and to cuddle. In this world right now, all of those are privileged gifts. To whom much is given, much is expected. I get it. I really do. To be thankful, mindfully thankful despite loss and a mucky past, despite the inner demons that have no power unless I give it to them, is key. Key to what? The door to the next big adventure, that’s what, and we all have one of those just around the corner. Life is golden for any of us who are not running from war, from abuse, from ethnic cleansing, from a painful past, but even they, one day, will find the golden. Let us who have it now rise into the sunshine because the truth is this:-

Nothing else matters.

Island Blog – I am alive

And so it rains again, sideways and spiralling like wet smoke. I watch islanders walk by attached to damp dogs, legs all a-skitter. The humans are water clad, their faces shining rosy, their laughter lifting into the sky as they share a chuckle, again, about the rain, again. Visitors drive by, droop-faced, vision misted, windscreen wipers tick-tocking to keep the skinny road clear ahead. Where will they go today to see notverymuch I wonder? Inside the heating warms me, the fire curling amber red flames around the dry wood that spits and crackles; timpani. This is the island, the one that tongues far out west, dividing the Atlantic with its basalt and granite determination. I am content.

Walking out to feed the jittery birds sinks my feet into the sodden grass but no weather stops the need to feed their hunger. They scoop and swoop in, wary of the neighbour’s cats, of the sparrow hawk dive. I watch them cluster around the swinging feeders and am thankful that my meals are easier to access and without danger. I hear the drip drip of a ceiling leak, the plink of the drops as they land in an enamel jug. I used to need buckets, four of them, but not now, not since the ingress was located and bunged shut. And so I am thankful for that. Soon the day will kick off, unfold, pull me here and follow me there. I have music, words, timpani, birds, windows and rain. I am alive.

Island Blog – I hold the balance

I watch the rain. A constant, a steadying. I am not overly fond of endless rain but there is little I can do about that. There is also little I can do about long evening darkness, one that holds on like a black fist for way too long, well into what laughingly is called My Morning. Sleep is a friend, yes, but fickle. She soothes me for a few short hours but she allows in dreams, nightmares, startlements that shock me into waking and leave me still shocked even as the dream evaporates. I am not good at ‘still shocked’, won’t stand for it, get up, go downstairs to watch the darkness, try to love it at 4 am. I remember trying to love something when it defies the rules and it was never easy, my skin prickling, my mouth empty of words, my body longing to run, but if I could do it once, I can do it again. Let it be.

But. When someone who has no idea about widowness, my widowness, says something that doesn’t even come close to the depth of my feelings, I snort. I hear all the advice, the platitudinal fiction that spills from lips and eyes and I want to roar like Aslan. I don’t, naturally, but that roar held in my small body is wild and dangerous. I smile and thank them, the grief counsellors, the Facebook lovers, the ‘friends’ who write another supportive line pinched from a book they’ve read, but the within of me belies the without. Thank God for skin and good manners! Deep down I am grateful for kindness, nonetheless and all those words of uplift and encouragement come from good warm hearts. I know this and it thinks me into a questioning.

What is it that bothers me when I hear or read words that are just birds around my head? I consider the question and it comes to me as a flash of light. It is my inner speke that needs my attention, not the words I hear, the intention behind them. Oh dear, that can feel so impossible at times when I am busy doubting and fearing and self punishing, even as I know the truth of mind control. I decide to step into my own head and there they are, standing like sentry guards at the door. We can’t let any positive stuff in, they tell me as I confront them, not when you are busy nourishing us in our negative space. I sit down to consider the situation. Ah, so it is up to me to select my thinks? They nod. Are you telling me, I continue, that I am not at the mercy of negativity, regardless of my loneliness, my fears around Covid, my lack of confidence without my husband around to confidence me up? Again they nod. So, I fake it, pretend, kid myself on? Yes, they say. You keep feeding the uplifting words, the light bright beautiful birds. You receive all of them both from outside and those of your own making and you catch every one, lifting them gently into your mind and your heart. They are all light and flight. They lift your spirits into a positive orbit. They are all true and they are so much stronger than the loneliness, the fears and the self doubt. They are your true power, and we are tired of sentry duty. It’s time to change the guard.

I begin with ‘I am strong, happy, powerful and all light.’ I hold back the guffaw and the candle burns bright. The sentries fall, one by one and the door opens wide. Welcome holds out her hands, pulling me into a warm, light room, one I recognise. What on earth made me walk away from this! Well, says Welcome, life is not a straight path. The path winds every which way and everyone can get lost from time to time. I make a list so that every time the negative looms, I can hold it back with my own light. I might feel I am at the mercy of negative thoughts but it takes just one candle to illuminate a darkened room. Just one. It doesn’t matter that the doubts are there, the fears and the regrets. They are there to guide me, I know that.

But it is I who hold the balance.

Island Blog – Turmish

My word. I love to make new words. I remember writing an article for BBC Wildlife magazine years ago. Lordy, the editor was a tough nut and a half. She picked and poked and corrected until I was back before the headmistress who expelled me mid A levels. My embers were stoked and, eventually, I burst into fire, my tether at its end. The loch, I wrote, describing a far north body of water in which, apparently, a minke whale was ‘trapped’, poppled with balls of ice. It, the whale, was no more trapped than I inside my polar suit whilst fighting to remain vaguely upright in a slanty gale on a freezing, sleet-blasted hillside, and in February. I had personally watched the whale slide easy as an eel through the narrows as the tide began to ebb, returning for a feast of trapped fish at the next flood. Not once, but four times. Nobody was listening. The fish farmer freaked out about his cages being damaged. I wanted to shake him, tell him we had observed and studied these whales for decades and any one of them would have considered any such bumping or damaging as plain foolish. Big brains, remember and way bigger than the ones we lug about inside our own small and limited confines. There was talk of ‘herding’ a single whale (hallo?) out with a flotilla of boats. There was talk of explosives. We sighed a lot during that week, I can tell you. But when you are up against fear and small community thinking, you are blowing against the wind, expecting it to say, Oh Sorry, I’ll just go the other way, shall I?

Back to ‘poppling’. There’s no such word, she said, the headmistress/editor said. By now I was busy hoping she got absolutely nothing off her Christmas list, ready to fire, to yell, to tell her many rampageous things, but instead I went quiet, deadly quiet, like the eye of a storm. Leave it in. I said, surprised at how commanding I sounded. She said nothing for a beat, then conceded, reluctantly with a lot of tuts and mouth blowing. Today, I find that very word in the dictionary, so ha, ha, ha.

I digress. Today was super wet, wet like a complete soak just going out to feed the birds. I did not walk the dog who is still puzzling up at me as if I have finally lost the plot. Instead, I lit candles, the fire, and watched a movie. Now this is a rare thing for me, to watch tv during an afternoon. In fact, it is rare for me to settle comfortably in the evening to watch a movie. Watching tv is a sharing thing. My African son said that to me this very day as he watched the same movie and he is right. Perhaps this is why I, to date, have not been able to settle by the fire to enjoy a damn good story, beautifully presented, to get lost in someone else’s world just for an hour or two. When the movie is over and I flick the room into silence, there is nobody there to talk to about the experience. What do you think? What did you feel about this bit, or that; him or her; that happening, that twist? Since the bodach is gone, even though, latterly, he was engaged with some soap series whilst I watched a movie, there was no silence when the light of the moving pictures were turned off. There was some sort of conversation, even at the very end when barely a sentence came from his mouth. I had plenty to say, of course and now I say nothing and to nobody. It is a strange time indeed. A time of turmish.

Island Blog – Words, boundaries, life

It is quite wonderful how things can change. From the lowest low to a gentle rise of goodly spirits. This morning, the first day of Spring, I wake to birdsong and the Snow Moon. She hangs in a misty sky, a rainbow corona surrounding her not-quite-full circle, lemon yellow and bright as a lighthouse beam. She smiles me. The garden slowly lifts in response showing me new shoots, tulips, daffodils almost in flower and snowdrops by the squillion, survivors of some sharp frosts, the plucky little mites. Much like me, like you, for if we have survived this past year, we are indeed lucky and plucky.

2020 saw this home locked down on March 16th and I can barely believe a nearly year has moved beneath my scurrying feet, for they did indeed scurry over such great swathes of time as I took care of the one who could no longer take care of himself. I look back with pride and no guilt at all for that time even if I was sometimes angry, upset, frustrated, snippy and downright exhausted. In that time I learned how to build my boundaries, stone by heavy stone. I would take the work, accept the demands, work with his confusion and upsydownsy mood swings but I would not take attack of any sort. I was ready behind my wonky wall for I am no construction expert and there were times when a stone wobbled off to land with a laugh at my feet. It took concentration and dedication to detail, to the logistics of wall-building but I did learn and my wall stands firm now. It is not to keep people out nor to keep me in, but simply there to remind me of what I will take from anyone and what I will stand against with words of my own truth, my own respect of self.

Reflecting back over the years, I find memories of times for which I am not proud, times when I wasted precious energy on trying to persuade a rigid thinker that my way was better than his, or when I defied, lied, pretended, gave up and ran away. But it is a soft reflection. From this distance I can see what I did and what I didn’t do, how I twisted myself into storm enough to upset the whole family or worse, when I turned in on myself and everything went black. I thought, back then, really believed, that I was solely at fault, that if only I gave more, did better, complied with everything, life would be wonderful. I know better now. I know that when a couple fall in love and decide to spend a lifetime together, they are stepping into a world they cannot possibly imagine. It begins, usually, with the first child. Suddenly mother is no longer the girl of my dreams and father is decidedly lacking in his ability to support effectively. We both spend many quiet moments, hours even, wondering what on earth went so wrong. Of course a child is always a joy and more, a thankfulness for his or her safe arrival and healthy body and mind, but how to hold onto these truths in the face of sleep deprivation, constant demands, endless screaming and lack of experience, is oftentimes impossible. We weather the changes and if we are able to deny ourselves all the freedoms we once enjoyed, and together, we have a chance to hold on to each other through the shit storm. But many of us change too much. Many cannot let go of the ideals we began this whole adventure with, those certainties. We will be fine. We won’t do it that way. We are invincible. Well, we all thought that.

And now Spring has come once again, as she always will, as sure as eggs are eggs. New growth, new hope, new light, new freedoms too if we can believe that one. I have read words he wrote in his diary. I know how he felt as I pulled away and immersed myself in motherhood. He doesn’t write much but even a short sentence can reel me. I suppose I knew he was feeling the way he did, but why didn’t he say? Why didn’t I ask? All I can remember is being exhausted all of the time and furious with his inability to change. He adored his children, there was no mistaking that. He adored me too. But his way of communicating that adoration was not my way and often clumsy. Neither of us was in the wrong. We just struggled to find mutual language. I allow that thought to float about me as I continue to look through the things, the words and thoughts he left behind. And I think this:-

We loved and we lived. We raised five extraordinary individuals who made us both proud, made us laugh, made our life as colourful as the rainbow corona around the Snow Moon, and as circular, endless. We survived right up to the end of it. My work now is to hold those memories, thoughts, words, good times, bad times as precious gifts, to bring them into my own days and nights and to fashion a new ground for my old feet to wander into a newly enriched life.

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 – Shape Shift, Jump and Dream

I woke this morning with thoughts of a lowly nature, aka, negative. Although I find the way our culture always veers from one extreme to another, from superb to ghastly, from white to black without any noticement of the myriad greys betwixt and between, infuriating, I cannot easily find said greys between negative and positive. Perhaps it is something to do with the fact that your light is either on or it’s off and were you to affix your wires wrongly, you might explode.

So, back to the negative thoughts. I am unworthy of joy, of any good thing coming to me; I am not God’s favourite wee girl; I do not deserve to be happy. That sort of negativity. On rising into my frocks and warm woolly jumper (positive word, for one cannot jump much when feeling un-jumpworthy), I considered my thinking. We humans have approximately 6000 thoughts each day. If, I mused, each thought was worth, say, £1, then by close of play this night, I will have earned myself £6,000, whether negative or positive in construction. It is quite a thought, and that’s another £1 in the bag. However, this amount of cash in my mental bank account does not determine my level of happiness nor my sense of well-being (another phrase I detest). So, how might I both earn the cash and update my bank of happiness? Let’s break it down.

I have one egg left. Negatively speaking. But at least I have one egg left. Positive update. My pile of logs is outside and it’s raining. But I have logs and a waterproof jacket. I am not feeling like sewing today. I have sewing to occupy my hours. My audio book is about to finish and I have used my free credit for this month. I have access to many more, some of them free.

I am sure you are getting this. As I turn around my thinking, I begin to feel much better. Just look at how lucky I am, how blest, how filled with abundance in my life! I even feel like a wee jump or two, and all I have done is to re-arrange my thoughts, to shape shift them. It is the easiest thing in the world to do, this inner flipping, but I must be vigilant and diligent and on the ball with myself in order to avoid the claggy bog. And I want to avoid it. Life is short (another detestable cliche) and I wish my own life to mean something to me, not just to other people. For most of this short life I have made others my priority. Now there is just me and it would be so easy to fall into despair and pointlessness. I will not do it. It becomes a game. A thought comes in, earning me cash. I look it straight in the eye. You do not serve me, I say out loud to no-one there. I shall flip you. And, thus I earn another £1.

Today I plan to apply for a renewal on my passport. On reading the instructions online, I discover that the photo of this old girl must be taken with no background at all, no pictures, plants or shadows. A cursory glance around my rooms tells me the photo won’t be taken here. And, there’s another thing. My photo must be captured from 5 feet away. Now even I will find it hard to be 5 feet away from myself. Well, dammit, she says, negatively. So, plan B must involve another person who could easily stand 5 feet away from me. I can remove pictures from a blank wall, not smile, not look away, stand absolutely still and wait for the click. However miserable I look in this stand-still-don’t-smile photo, the image will not stop my thinking. All the while I will be adding cash to my inner bank as I travel back to Africa, or to Spain, or to wherever the heck I choose. I will be walking on board, showing my blank face to some official, endeavouring, as I always do, to make him or her smile and failing as I always do. I will come through passport control with anticipation butterflying beneath my ribcage, my eyes searching for that well-loved face, anticipating that bear hug. This time will come again, one day, and I just earned myself another bunch of cash.

Meanwhile, I will continue to shape-shift my thoughts. I will listen to audio books whilst I sew and jump and dream of the lands of Faraway where we can all be our own selves once again, when we can look up into the wide open sky and know we got through this, not by doing nothing, but by doing absolutely everything we could possibly do in the most positive of ways.

Island Blog – Ma, Him and the Canyons of my Mind

Ok so yesterday was yesterday. In looking back I always ask myself, What do I learn from the day before? I am quite unable to just let it go without a considered and mindful consideration. It has come to me, puzzled me in its intensity and thus has a message. I won’t miss that message. Although the terrain through which I inched my snail-like hours swung between a tricky wade through old porridge, a vast empty desert that scalded my skin and burned my toes and an endless stretch of bog with pummets of strong grass and sinkholes to trip me, I knew I had something to learn, to understand.

It has only been 12 weeks since he abandoned me to me; since he fled the nest and left me with a thousand words in my mouth and as many questions. Although I can now choose white lights over those miles of coloured ones, choose where I put this chair or that little table, choose when I walk the dog and where I walk her without having to say where I am going, I find such a freedom both heady and terrifying. All those little things we said, like Look at that! or It’s our granddaughters birthday on Monday, or Shall we play scrabble? Maybe it was Do I feed the orange tree or shall I wait till next weekend? Now there is no him to say it to, even if, latterly, I got little response. The warm being that was there and not there was still there, was here. I remember my old ma saying to me when I furioused at her for his lack of interest in me ‘At least you know he is there.’ I didn’t get it. Dad had died a long time ago. But I get it now.

Today, this day, the day after porridge, desert, bog day, I feel an acceptance. I know that I spend a lot of time in the canyons of my mind, wandering like Alice sometimes and like a refugee on the run at others. I am looking for a new land, after all. I know it will be there one day and that this ‘wandering’ is very important. I will not stay fixed like one of those old Scottish stone markers still planted and dating back to the days of Rob Roy, my forebear. One says 25 miles to Oban. In a car it is half that. Walking the ups and downs, traversing the bogs and avoiding musket fire en route meant more miles on foot. It meant something once, a reassuring marker and guide but nowadays it is obsolete and I know this is important to ‘get’. Fears nowadays are not of musket fire, nor of sudden ambush from the reevers or royal soldiers, loyal to the king, but of the inner enemies that live inside a mind. I work to challenge my mind, to stop as I wander through its canyons and to notice, to notice. Birds of prey flying high means something is dead beneath. A song bird means trees and fruit are not so far away. A scampering rat means there is a predator around, something with a higher shelf life. Geese, swans and ducks mean water. Distant laughter means humans.

This may sound a bit weird but I have know since childhood that I live in many worlds. It compromised my dreams and confounded me as a young girl. Now, in my evening life, I get it. And in that knowing comes responsibility. I need to pay attention and to learn, even when I sometimes feel fed up with all these learning requirements. I never know what any day will bring but I have chosen to notice and to pay attention. Sometimes, when I meet someone and look into their eyes (not in a weird way) I can see they also live in many worlds. I also see that this world has managed to tame them and I am sad. My ma always said, after we chatted about the fact that I was born in Westmoreland which has now become North Yorkshire at some human’s whimsy hand, that I would have been burned at the stake had I lived in an earlier time. She didn’t really get me and no more did I, but latterly when we had time together she was open to my ‘nonsense’ in the fondest of ways.

So I walk on through the canyons. They do not meet my eyes as I look out of my window. They are not in the conversations I have with friends or passers-by. They are not in legal documents nor in the discussion about what grave stone we should erect for himself who fled the nest and left me to me. But, and this still astounds me, he ‘got’ me. It infuriated the bejabers out of him often when the worldly requirements were required, but he did say I was his spiritual guide and that I was the one he came to when, on rare occasions, he could speak of his own porridge, deserts and bogs. And sometimes he would walk the canyons with me.

I’ll rest with that.

Island Blog – The Light On Ordinary

When I was a small child, barely able to see over the dining table, roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings looked like a range of hills, some jagged, some round as parliament mounds. Slices of roast beef became cooled larval plates and vegetables a compost heap, like the one my dad forked and raked into submission, until the new additions joined the mass of grey. It was only when I had climbed onto my chair that I saw how ordinary it all was, and how temptingly delicious ‘ordinary’ can be.

I recall sitting to ‘Listen With Mother’, only Mother always fled the room having seated us and was long gone before the welcome music had stopped. I remember being immediately drawn into the story as the teller’s voice led me away from the pestilential; my woolly underpants, my too tight shoes, my nails bitten to the quick and beyond, my disappointment in life. I dreaded the end music. I waited, my heart on pause, as the story slowly came to its conclusion, the teller’s voice falling back to its final chord and my underpants reminding me of to disseminate. When I heard the music heralding the Archers, or, worse, the Shipping Forecast, I knew I was doomed, for that meant bedtime and darkness and utter loneliness. Until, that is, I picked up my book and moved immediately into a story not my own, a story fashioned from smoke and stars, wild water and silent red skies, of adventures and choice and freedom.

I am the same now. I do not choose woolly underpants, nor do I bite my nails to the quick and beyond, but I do feel a clutch in my heart when Steve Wright says, It’s time to go, and plays the end music. It is all about being thrust back into the so called disappointment. At five to five I leap up to turn off the radio. I do this because, I now realise, I don’t want that same pattern to repeat itself; that slump back into ordinary; the moment when I need to lift my reluctant self back into my life, when I must leave the story or the music behind and do things like cooking or bathing whilst wondering what on earth I can do to shorten the long hours of evening.

It was the same throughout the latter years of caring. Initially, when himself was still mobile, when he still enjoyed going out for a meal (our favourite thing) or playing scrabble beside a feisty woodburner and surrounded by candles and talk of what we would do tomorrow, I had no such slump when Steve Wright said, It’s time to go. It meant nothing. It was just a wee reminder that dinner might like to be prepared and that a warming bath with scented candles awaited both of us. I didn’t even mind his derisive snort at the festival of light I had prepared around the rim of the bath. For me, it meant stories, stories flickering on the ceiling, the plash of water as I moved, the shadows like creatures from another world, all showing me hope and choice and freedom. I could barely wait to get into bed for all the reading I would do throughout the night.

Latterly, as he sickened and regressed into childhood, he wanted a supper of mulch at 4.30 and was ready for bed two hours later. Then I found little interest in cooking for one, for myself and absolutely no interest in the evening. He sat, headphones on, engaged on WhatsApp with who knows who or watching Casualty, something at which he would have scoffed away before, as mindless tripe. Now, alone, it thinks me. I connect again with the child who imagined a mountain range at eye level when it was just a plate of food to everyone else. It reminds me of the young wife and mother I once was who suddenly realised that life is ordinary. It reminds me of just a few years ago, when, pre-dementia diagnosis, I actually still believed things would change for the better, like in books but with me as the heroine.

Is the alternative, then, a slump into the ordinary? Hell NO!

To my delight, this child who saw mountains that became roast potatoes is alive and kicking within. I find her in the books I read, that curious child who longs to wander through the pages of a story. I ask myself, is this me hiding from the world? Perhaps. I ask, Am I going slowly mad, reading two books a week? Perhaps. Who will deny or confirm? Not I said the goose.

Well, that’s good enough for me. In stories, in books, in reading, I change my thinking. I learn, through novels, a new way to see an old thing. I find that ‘ordinary’ is not such a slump; but that ‘ordinary’ begs my light to shine from within and thus it lifts and lift until my ordinary is your extraordinary. Here’s my hand, I say, reaching down. I can pull you up and here’s a book. What book? you might ask? whilst grabbing my hand to avoid falling into the abyss. Oh, I reply. the one you need for now.

I read for survival and for pleasure. The well written word is more glorious to me than jewels; scratchy nickers and long empty evening, lose their power as do lost dinner dates and the ending of things. The light I find in books is endless and there is not ending in endless, for as long as people live and breathe and write, there will be stories upon stories upon stories, like a feast; like a roast dinner that looks one thing at eye level and quite another when ‘ordinary’. I have hauled my way up rocks and over mountains, through floods and deserts and only because I read books and books have always lit my way.

And as long as I live, I will keep that light on. I have ten grandchildren, and two step grandchildren and they all read and are ripe for books. That’s twelve potential families moving out into the future. Now that’s not ordinary at all.