I find the alphabet a helpful structure in my writing, so when I came to write a list of what I feel grateful for over the past twelve months, I turned to it again to help me.
It didn't let me down.
A is for Art and creativity – admittedly, this has come in waves, but at times has been very helpful in keeping me moving forward.
B is for Black Isle Correspondent, daily videos from; a little bit of madness, kindness and real life every day, especially during the first lockdown. Grateful thanks to Anna Massie.
C is for Camomile tea. And cake – the making and partaking of it, the sharing of it with friends, when possible.
D is for Dog. My dog for making me smile every day, and often laugh too
E is for Empty beaches for walking on, I'm so lucky to live where I do.
F is for Friends and family, for staying in touch
G is for Growing things and gardening.
H is for Hugs - the ones we had before it all started, which we didn't know were so precious, and the illicit ones which were all the more precious for being so.
I is for Isolation – that may sound strange, but living at a distance from densely populated areas gave me a feeling of safety. Also, conversely - I is for Internet, for keeping us connected.
J is for Just being – some days, that was all that was required, or indeed possible.
K is for Kindness – to myself and from others
L is for Love from old friends and new
M is for Mindfulness, learning a new way of being and practicing it.
N is for Noticing nature in so many ways. The tides, the seasons, the light.
O is for Oranges and occasionally olives.
P is for Playing music on my mandolin. Also Photography - taking photos feels like a form of meditation to me.
Q is for Quiz shows on TV, especially Only Connect and Mastermind. Monday evenings’ entertainment.
R is for Refreshing my knowledge and love of languages and learning a new one or two, on Duolingo. Also, reading. Novels, poetry, familiar and new.
S is for Slowing down, social media, staying in touch. Also Soup, the making and supping of it.
T is for Tunes – playing old ones and writing new ones
U is for Unforgotten – a cold case series on TV; totally hooked. Also old murder mysteries, the familiarity of them, the satisfying resolution.
V is for Very funny radio programmes, especially some of those on at 6.30pm on Radio 4, providing lots of laughter while I make my tea.
W is for Walking. Every day. Walking and the peace of it. Sometimes walking with a friend. Also for Writing; the joy of putting words together, in a poem, a story, a post.
X is for Acceptance – I will cheat a little here perhaps – taking the X to mean being not being allowed to do things. Accepting the situation, the imposed restrictions, the fact that I could not travel anywhere and no-one could come here – all that. Accepting it all made it a whole lot easier to make the most of what I could still do – many of these things are listed here.
Y is for Yes – saying yes to new things, to taking part in online workshops and courses and exhibitions.
Z is for Zoom, which I hadn't heard of this time last year, but now value highly, for staying in touch and keeping things going.
There are days
when your footsteps in the sand
barely break the surface
when the grains are hard packed -
stacked by the receding tide
the sea seeped away
drained into the bay
those are the days
when you make no impression
barely a dent is rent
in the perfect surface
only the occasional crack
of a shell as your track
shifts to the high tide line
there are days
when the sand shifts -
drifts beneath your feet
each step an effort
in the soft brown sugar
of the shore
and others have been here
before, churning, turning
stirring its softness,
leaving it spoiled
soiled until the
there are days
when the top layer
of sand looks firm
but your boots sink
into its depths
you plod on,
across the bank
leave holes where
but rose again
there are days
when the sea weeps -
seeps its way
back up the shore
more and more
till what seems firm
and when stepping forward
a little late
the fate awaiting -
the fluid form
ready to pull you beneath
its innocent surface
with an insistent grasping
there are days
when the wind howls
across the bay
sandblasted by the
loose top layer -
the poor dog’s eyes
filled with grit -
no days to sit
out to sea
I spent the weekend in Edinburgh recently. The main feature was to take part in a sponsored walk to raise funds for the wonderful Maggie's Centre in the city. It provides support for people who have encountered cancer and also for their families. It has helped one of my oldest and dearest friends and her family, so that was reason enough for me to take part. The "Culture Crawl" started at the magnificent edifice that is Fettes College and from there it all went downhill. Not literally, of course; Edinburgh is quite a hilly city, which I had conveniently forgotten when I signed up for the event more than six months ago. There were cultural events along the route (which we only found out when we turned up to take part) - including Gilbert & Sullivan at Parliament Hall, an organ recital at St Stephen's church in Stockbridge, storytelling at the... yes, you guessed it, the Scottish Storytelling Centre on the High Street and singing in a hidden-away chapel at the back of George Square. Added to that lovely mix were some light refreshments, including paella (perfect walking fuel), homebakes and tea and even a few alcoholic beverages to spur us on. A good time was had by all. And I raised over £200 for Maggie's. Many thanks to all who donated.
It was good to be back in Edinburgh, where I grew up. I travelled by bus or walked, while there, which made a pleasant change from driving all the time. Nowadays, there are CCTV screens on the buses, so the driver can keep an eye on what the passengers are up to. It means the passengers can keep an eye on each other too. Quite disconcerting, really. I remember when the buses had platforms at the back. There were conductors who took your fare, then furiously wound their ticket machine, slung round their neck, to produce your ticket. They were printed on proper paper, those tickets, not the flimsy stuff you get now. Now, as I discovered from my friend, you can have an app on your mobile phone, so your ticket appears on the screen and you show it to the bus driver. I remember the days when you could smoke upstairs on the bus. I liked sitting upstairs, but didn't like the smoke (I still don't). My Mum could tell if I'd been upstairs on the bus by the smell of my blazer when I got home. I spent a lot of my childhood on the bus in Edinburgh. I had to take two buses to primary school; my big sister valiantly waited with me at the bus stop on George IV Bridge to make sure I got on the right one. By then she was at senior school and that was the end of her bus journey. There was a lollipop man at the end of my bus journey, to assist my crossing of a busy road. Then there was a walk along a leafy street with big sandstone houses on either side before reaching the sanctuary of school. Once I reached primary 6, I too only took one bus to school. The two-bus journey involved an overlapping stretch where I had the choice of where to change buses. I don't recall how I decided where to do this, but I do remember leaving my violin behind on more than one occasion and my poor mother having to go somewhere to collect it. I'm ashamed to say I don't actually know where she had to go; the bus depot, I assume. I still have that violin, and still play it, so thank you Mum, for mopping up my mess!
Happy New Year. I hope that 2016 brings you peace, health and happiness. I was fortunate to spend both Christmas and New Year on the west coast of Scotland with my nearest and dearest this festive season. The weather was mixed, as is to be expected at this time of year. The days seem to take turns; a day of solid rain and howling winds would be followed by mild, balmy air breezing in from the south. We know from long years of experience to head out as soon as it is fair. Fair mainly means not raining. So, we had some good walks on the glorious beaches; Big Sand, Gairloch Beach and Red Point on Boxing Day. The latter was a very windy day and we were sand-blasted as soon as we reached the beach. I love to stand and watch the waves crashing on the shore. The way they roll and break, the foamy whiteness moving along the crest as they approach. It was too cold to stand for long, however. Only long enough to take a few photographs.
We retreated to the south end of the bay and found shelter below the turf line where the sheep had formed hollows to lie in. We perched on the rounded sandstone rocks and drank tea, ate goose sandwiches (we had the good fortune to eat goose on Christmas day) and slabs of Christmas cake with marzipan and sweet, sweet icing. It was a good day. I hope to have more like it in the coming year.
Last week I was away on a tutored writing retreat, at Moniack Mhor, run by Arvon. I had never been on such a thing before and it was a wonderful experience. Not only did I have the opportunity to retreat from the responsibilities of running a home, I found myself retreating from all sorts of other things. The time away made me much more aware of all the time and energy-sapping activities I do while I am at home. I retreated from the internet (there was none available); ceased posting on Facebook, stopped tweeting, didn't post any photographs here on my website (or on any other websites) nor did I update my blog. I could Google nothing, Like nothing, pin no images on Pinterest. I answered no emails, sent only a handful of text messages (to say I had arrived safely) and spoke to no-one on the phone.
I didn't read a newspaper the whole time I was away, nor watch the television (there was none there to distract us), nor even listen to the radio. Funnily enough, it was the latter I started to miss first. But not the news, or the spoken word programmes which I listen to regularly at home; I suddenly craved hearing some music. We finally managed to persuade the CD player to work and so that was soon assuaged.
I didn't go to the shops for five days; didn't drive a car, cross a street or see any traffic lights. For 90% of the time, I didn't have to cook, or clear up, or wash up. Or do any washing or hanging out of clothes, or ironing (not that I do that much of the latter, if the truth be told).
Instead, I wrote, I read, I listened. I talked and walked; I looked, watched, noticed, listened some more and thought. I laughed a lot. I thought a great deal, in a space inside my head which I had almost forgotten existed. And it all felt in balance. Somehow I had retreated from all the mindless things and found all the mindful ones; having the opportunity to do so was a golden one and I believe that I made the most of it. Now the trick is to continue to carve out that balanced time within the days and months ahead.
This post has also been published on the "My Arvon Week" blog page of the Arvon website.