Island Blog 117 Animals I have known

 

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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 92 On Writing

On writing

As you may know, it is essential to read, especially if you are a writer.  I read avidly, even during the day sometimes, which would have had me thoroughly tutted at by Granny-at-the-gate.  Reading is for pleasure and wifeys don’t do pleasure inside of working hours which numbered, in my recollection about 22 per day.  But now I have less demands on my time by little or big people, although sometimes, just before collecting my book and settling into a chair, I do check the clock and feel a frisson of minor guilt.  It is so much easier to busy up with faffing jobs that lift the dirt or fill the larder with goodly smells, leaving the me part of me just a bit skinnier.

When I am writing, I become lost in the story, as I am now.  Nights are broken as I weave my web, and ideas come at the most inconvenient of times, when the night is dark as a cave and I know I should fight on to achieve my 6 hours of rest, but once the next idea comes, the something that might happen to someone, the how of it and its consequences gets a hold of me, then Lady Sleep leaves the room.  Over the years I have worked with various top tips.

Get up and start writing.  No thanks, its too cold downstairs.

Keep a pad beside the bed and write down your idea.  Yes I do that sometimes, if the story is just a foetus without a name, but if I am well on with the tale and the tellers of it, I can just lie there and follow the thread.  Often, almost always, a character takes me in a direction I never mapped out for them, and that aspect of story-telling has always surprised and delighted me.  It is, as if, once named on a page, each character accepts an initial structure, quite quietly it seems, until he or she decides I’ve got it all wrong and should listen to what they have to say about themselves.

Yesterday, a woman took an action I would never have expected of her, with a confidence that never came from me.  That action changed the whole course of the story and I sat back in my chair, fingers hovering over keys that had just become a jumble of confused letters.  A moment or so earlier, I knew just how to write a sentence.  I knew where he was going, what she would say, what they would do as a result.  Now I stare down at a keyboard that is singing me, not the other way around.  I have become a player in the greater game.

Some writers don’t like this state of affairs.  Some painters, musicians, song-writers too.  But for me, it is the time when I can, to a degree, let go of control, and enjoy learning about each character by listening to their guidance.  I move wholly and completely into their world.  I work to understand their feelings, often not my own, about what has happened to them.  I endeavour to find empathy with choices I would never make, have never made, although I do wonder if that bit is quite true.  If I have considered, even for one minute a choice of action not in sync with how I see myself, might that mean that I could do that thing in different circumstances?

When I am writing a story, I move into it.  I have to, or nobody would believe in it and the book would be closed and sent to a charity shop, un-read.  Good drama draws us in, involves us and we can emerge from a book feeling angry, upset or filled with a happiness that never came from the outside.  We can love a character, or hate them, wish them joys or want to punch them in the tonsils, but we can never find them dull, for if we do, we won’t bother to read on because we just don’t care.

Once I have found my characters, and, believe me, I do find them, or they find me, more truthfully.  These characters came to me in an ordinary moment when I wasn’t looking for them at all.  Two people sharing lunch in a café, and the dynamic between them.  It captivated me and the story began to tell me how it wanted to be written.  I made notes, kept looking at it as I walked, worked, cooked, cleaned and gradually the protagonists revealed themselves.  How they dress, laugh, eat.  How they love, how they live, and how they wrote their past.

Then, one day, I know it is time to begin and not long after I do, there is a knock at the door and in they all come.

Island Blog 5

Did I tell you I cook and clean for Old Harry?

Well, I am now, and I do.

The job sort of came to me.  I wasn’t looking for work, but Old Harry has looked after me and my family for over 35 years, doing odd jobs and bringing those little bits and pieces to us when we were without them.  A short length of roofing felt, perhaps, or a special size of bicycle screw, or a bit of wire fencing to block up a hole in the fence.

Well, since his old wife died, he has had to fend for himself in a kitchen he never knew existed.  He did outdoors and she did indoors and that was that for a whole lifetime.  So, Old Harry found someone to cook meals for him, freeze them and deliver once a week.  There was a bit of washing, a bit of cleaning too.  When one cook left him, he came to tell me and I said, quite without thinking, I’ll do it Harry.  For you.

And I do.

This morning I was supposed to go over with supplies, clean washing and my rubber gloves for the cleanup which is never much as Old Harry was a Regimental Sergeant Major in the war and still lives that way.  But, it was raining again, cats and dogs so I knew Harry, whose work is all outside, remember, would be stuck at home and not wanting a merry little cleaner like me moving him around whilst I cleaned.  So, I stayed home and cooked extra meals for him instead, which is timely as we are off to see our new grand-daughter in London on Wednesday and I will be away for ten days helping out.  I will still keep up my blog, though, so no worries there.

I’m bushed now, though.  Time for a walk in the Fairy Woods.  I’ll tell you what I find tomorrow.