Friday, June 27, 2008

mossy heart

Decided to take time out from Poo Central to do some work. On a Friday night? Jeez. How bad, exactly is Poo Central? It's not that bad, really, just a tad puppy obsessed. I have no room to complain, in truth, since 99.9% of the mopping-up operations are carried out by Michael, but there still is only so much obsessing over has she, does she, will she, oh, not again that one can take. I need to disengage for a wee while in order to regain a sense of proportion. I need to remember that this stage will not last the rest of our lives, right? There's only so much toilet-training an intelligent puppy can undergo before her dumb owners realize that, like a small baby, she is simply too small to understand what is being required of her.

Poor thing. If synaptic pathways could be willed into existence, she'd be sitting on the toilet like a human, demanding to have her bum wiped, but as it is....well. It's Friday night and I'd rather work late than stand in the rain, begging an infant dog to void her bowels on the grass rather than the carpet.

Yes, it's raining and yes, it's the first day of the children's summer holidays and yes, we're spending them in Scotland, more or less at home, except for one short week in August when we'll decamp to Wester Ross to sample a different kind of rain. Last summer, The Dreech, started just like this one. The Dreech just about finished us all off with its incessant chill and wetness. Another one of those we do not need. And should you wish to know, the plural of Dreech is Drek. With the 'R' rolled, as in Drrrrrek.

So. The mossy heart I found on Eshaness, on the day that Mary Blance and I were lost in fog. Sometimes you find exactly what you're looking for in the strangest of places. I went to Eshaness for the view and the majestic seas, and instead I found this bonsai heart- garden of moss and sea pinks, growing on salt-drenched rocks. Proving that love can flourish in the harshest of places.

Monday, June 16, 2008

roar of distant thunder

or was it a drum roll?

Ta daaaaaaa.

Introducing She Who Has No Name Yet. We have a history of this nameless thing. It's our understandable reluctance to slap on a label that may well be the wrong one. At least, that's our excuse. In keeping with our lovely Islay, we're looking for Scottish islands names. But with one proviso - whatever it is has to receive the majority vote from all of us who are going to share a house with this dear little puppy.

So far, Cara is a strong contender. Not only a Scottish island but also means 'dear one' in Italian.

Right, must go - poo detail awaits. Who'd've thought one so small had so much inside her?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

green and leafy

I'm speeding by train through the English countryside late on a
summer night after a day of astonishing heat. Most of today has been
passed on a train heading South or a train heading North and in
between these compass points, in an overheated room in a library in
Birmingham talking to independent booksellers and librarians about
Witch Baby.

And being in a city centre with the crush of people and the mindless
buying of pretty stuff and the endless consuming stupidity of our
desire to own, to have, to have more of whatever didn't quite fill
our inner void, and the many glossy temptations on offer in our
cities today...well, too much of that leaves me rubbed raw and dirty
by association.

But now, on the way home, looking out at twilit fields and hedgerows,
I am astounded by all the beauty. Eleven days before midsummer and
the world beyond the glass is full of the promise of summer. And so
green and soft. The quilted fields look deep enough to sink into, the
barley more like swansdown than stalk and stem. On a night like this,
the world could break your heart.

This weekend we go and collect a small Golden Retriever puppy from
her loving breeders and bring her home with us. Over three years in a
dog-less house and we know that we have mourned our beloved golden
Islay enough now. Although when she died the hurt was almost
unbearable which makes us wary of putting ourselves in a position to
feel like that ever again. Even writing this, now, years later and I
am close to weeping. Gone but not forgotten. Our beautiful Islay
dog. Last night I sat beside her grave and hoped that she would have
given this new puppy her blessing.

So. Soon this weblog will be deep in puppy tales. Not to mention
other puppy things which are far funnier in retrospect than they are
at the time you're scraping them off various surfaces and precious
furnishings... Once she comes, there will be photos. But right now
I'm mentally cataloguing my shoes and wondering where the hell I'm
going to hide them from her little nibbly fangs. Not to mention how
we're going to save our youngest daughter's Sylvanian Family members
form being chewed- bunnies, foxes, cats etc. And the doll I knitted
for youngest daughter's last birthday. What if....Oh lordy. It
reminds me of the day when one's adorable littly finally graduates
from crawling to standing up and making swipes at whatever takes her
fancy. With the big difference that you can't put a nappy on a puppy.

Thank heavens.

wir midder, da sea

Watching the wake of the ferry as it drew me slowly away from Shetland on a beautiful blue evening I saw it as an unravelling lace from the ocean's bodice, a vast thread that stitched the two halves of the sea together. Neptune's zipper, if you will, unzipping me from the island. Leaving, rocked in the embrace of wir midder, the sea. Our mother, the sea from which all life came.

And I secretly long for one friend's hand waving from shore, but Noelle and I share a loathing of long drawn-out farewells, so it was a silent and unremarked leaving. I stayed out on deck till I was numb with cold, then I ate supper and went to my cabin. The sky outside my window was a pale, clear blue and in these days of the 'simmer dim', the light was unlikely to dim until much later. Then I remembered the dvd i'd requested from Medecins Frontieres called ' Invisibles' and slung it into the mac and had my consciousness raised, if raised is the right word. 

I'm lying in comfort, safe on the sea, propped on pillows in my cabin on a gently rocking ship, fed, watered and on my way home to a family who love me, in a warm house with food a-plenty and few real worries.  So - the film didn't raise my  complacent consciousness. It was not raised. No. Probably 'prodded' , 'pricked' and 'shocked' would be closer to what I felt as I watched the series of short films by world-famous directors on the subject of people living in deepest poverty, ill-health and in war-torn lands. 

And as I watched,  I became acutely and uncomfortably aware of what a privileged and pampered life we lead over here in our first world fortress. I saw their faces, their tears, the pain engraved round their eyes and heard the terrible stories of the lives of child soldiers, war-victims, raped, pillaged people and young children who had little enough before their worlds fell in. People dying from curable diseases which aren't cured because big Pharma doesn't think the numbers would add up for the end-of-year reports to the shareholders ( big banks, small banks, tobacco companies, agri-businesses, oil magnates, pension funds, all the vested interests of the million shareholders and thus,  ultimately, us. We, the shareholders profiting from the misery of these people.) And on and on, the films went, one after the other, the parade of beautiful faces, dignified faces, people with the same human needs as us, people just like us except...

Except we live in heaven and they live in hell. And, by and large, they are invisible to us. We don't see them. We completely forget as we go about our daily lives, that over on the other side of our garden planet are millions of people who would give everything to share in one tenth of what we have. Clean air, clean water, enough food to feed our children and ourselves. Roofs, shelter, schools, books and clean clothes.

And that's before you even begin to factor in the toys we love to own. We have so much. So much. If you feel like a wake-up call to your conscience, email Medecins sans Frontieres and ask them to send you a copy of the 'Invisibles'. Watch it, share it with as many like-minded people you can think of, and let's try and start a revolution. We first worlders have enough. We have more than enough. There's enough to go round if we all share. 

Friday, June 6, 2008

land of air and sea

Another day of fog, but experience has shown that while it may be a complete white-out in the South end, driving over to the West side sometimes brings a slight clearing of the skies.

At least, that theory held yesterday. Lerwick was thick with fog, so I spent the morning cooking a special meal for Noelle and Tommy (keema matar with Shetland lamb), then I turned off my pans, tucked the pudding (raspberry and strawberry roulade) into a paper and foil cradle, slung it in the fridge and headed out into the day.

I drove to the Dale of Walls, which was a river-cloven valley with irises and buttercups limning the water's edge and hills on each side speckled with little crofts; some in use, some tumbledown, all picture perfect. And all the while, as I headed seawards, the ridiculously theatrical silhouette of the island of Foula was rearing higher and higher out of the line of mist blurring the border between sea and sky. Dramatic? Oh, yes. Plus as many superlatives as there were flowers underfoot. So, I parked and headed off to the North, heading for Deep
Dale which is a huge cleft running east into the land. This is an utterly exquisite coastline - soft and grassy underfoot, covered in seapinks, wild orchids and cottongrass, and the edge of the cliffs undulating in a line as unpredictable as it was breath-taking. Almost as if the coastline had been drafted by a drunken architect, or perhaps it was more like one of those jigsaw pieces that refuse to be slotted into place, but has a fascinatingly convoluted profile. Damn this slow broadband, if ever there was a case for a photograph, this is the one. Words fail me.

I walked as far as I could see little blue 'access Shetland' signs nailed to posts and stiles, and then when they ran out, and I judged that it was time to turn round, I headed home, Deep Dale-less. ( Oh, okay there were some cows off in the distance, and I'm not brave enough to walk through fields of cows perched precariously on cliff edges. Actually, let's be honest here, I'm not brave enough to walk through any enclosure that has cow involvement, not after the night when I left an old studio of mine in darkness and discovered that its tiny front garden was crammed full of cows. And their calves. And when I opened the studio door, I was face-to-face with a bonsai stampede)

However, I digress. That was yesterday, the walk round the coast at Dale of Walls. Today, I thought I'd attempt to walk another part of the same coastline, and try another approach to the romantically named Deep Dale. With a name like that, I had to try. I decided to approach from the north and walk south to Deep Dale, thus avoiding fields of cows and hopefully finding a path that was liberally strewn with blue 'access Shetland' signs. For the first hour, all was perfect. Stunning coastline, even more seapinks, no cows, loads of blue signs and then...

Attack of the giant skuas. As I trekked towards a high lochin, a flock of these monsters rose up into the air, and my heart sank. Two of them, the outriders, were dispatched to see me off, and they did so with terrifying efficiency. My stick to hold above my head ( surrogate scalp, I'm told) was jammed in my rucksack, and when a giant skua is swooping down on you, trust me, you don't stop to fossick in your rucksack.

I legged it back the way I came, apologizing to the birds for disturbing their loch and trying (but failing) to send out the telepathically reassuring message of - feathered ones, fret not, I come in peace, honest, I haven't eaten an egg for ages - if you don't count the egg whites in last night's roulade, that is - I'm harmless, I'm an illustrator, I'm almost a sodding vegetarian ( if you discount last night's lamb) all I wanted to do was walk to Deep Dale...

They were having none of it. They saw me off their territory, and I had to retreat once more, Deep Dale-less. I have to concede. It belongs to the birds and the beasts, sea-girt and for now, impregnable.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


Shetland is blanketed in one of its summer fogs today. Just like it was yesterday and the two days before that. My walks up hill and down dale have been taking place in white-outs, in which everywhere looks exactly the same, but you keep on marching on in the hope that the fog might lift and whisk away to permit a view that you just know would be stunning if only you could see it.

I've been hunkering down in a variety of peat bogs, sand dunes and heather banks to do my lady watercolourist thing, but all that there is in my sketchbook for yesterday is a big blank page. Yesterday I caught a sense of just how dangerous it is to go a-wandering on cliffy coastal paths in the fog. Yesterday I might just have needed a change of underwear if I hadn't worked out how to use map and compass to navigate a tricky bit of coastline up at Eshaness.

Mary Blance and I wandered blithely along the cliff-top, cautiously admiring the deep, deep fissures cut into the cliffs at our feet. Fissures, or voes, made by the pounding of the sea on the ancient rocks of Eshaness. Some of the oldest rocks in the world are here, and it is a place of majestic, wild beauty which, on a clear day is as breathtaking as it is terrifying. Here, on the edge of the world, you can easily imagine that you stand on the dividing line between the known and the Abyss.

Yesterday, as we peered and oohed and ahhed, we were respectful of the edge, the drop, the exposure. The sea crashing down below, and the crumbly edges carpeted in sea-pinks, thrift and cotton grass. We admired that floral softness, blossoming for such a short season in contrast to the stony eternity of the rock's existence, predating us, and all our foolish human attempts to gain dominion in such a wild place.

We walked, then we turned to head back to the car, talking, talking, talking and assuming that we only had to reverse our path to bring us back to where we began. We noted the fact that the fog had thickened, but on we went. And on. Until we noticed that the little loch on our left wasn't the one we'd seen before, and if that was the case, which loch was it, and, um, where are we? To which the only answer we could find was ; in the mist. In featureless terrain with the possibility of the hole of Scraada opening up like a yawning mouth at out feet, so we had to be mindful of where our feet were, but also to keep a look out for the Edge. On we walked. Assuming that something familiar would hove to out of the fog.

Something didn't. On we went until I hauled out my compass, got a grip of myself, realised that as compass and map bearer it was Up To Me to get us out of this mess. We needed to be heading South West. We had, until then, been heading North East, convinced that we were going the right way. It turned out that we were a very, very long way from the car. Some of the way back involved Mary discovering just how woefully inadequate her walking boots were to the task of keeping the peat bog off her socks, but hey. Some of the way back involved my trying to sound like I knew what I was doing when inside myself I was full of fog and doubt and a worm of terror.

We made it back, obviously, but wiser by far. Hills kill. Fog confuses. Maps, compasses, good boots and decent weatherproof clothing can make the difference between being really lost, and being able to rescue ourselves.