Last week a swallow had got into my house….I’d had swallows nesting under my verandah roof for some years now, but they didn’t return for the last two years.
Spot the swallow….impossible to photograph as you see it, aren’t human eyes brilliant in their ability to refocus instantly!
This ceiling is 22ft high, the open-plan room 27ft long, and this poor bird flew up and down, up and down, resting on beams before resuming his flight path.
The swallow about to land on the beam, again.
I opened all the windows and skylights that I could reach upstairs, and doors and windows downstairs, but his (or her!) flight went on for some hours. Enlisting my neighbour for bright ideas, I remarked on my worry it would be exhausted, to which he reminded me that this bird had flown here from Africa! Which reminded me of a wonderful experience in 2010. I was in Marrakesh in February, and from the rooftops I had watched the swallows gathering together in readiness for their flight north.
No swallows in this photo, but magical memories of hearing the call to prayer at sunset.
And then the joy, a couple of months later, seeing the swallows arrive in the North West of Ireland…so awesome to think of their journey.
Back to the story.
Eventually the bird found it’s way out of the house…relief all round.
Now we skip to a few hours later; sitting in the house in the evening, my neighbour noticed a wee cat poo on the floor. I had moved the litter tray outside, as I thought new rescue cat Rasta was now used to going outside….as opposed to the litter tray, or the large plant pots around the house.
The offending wee pile.
I leapt to my feet, got Rasta by the scruff of the neck, and was about to put his nose in it, when I realised our mistake…..it wasn’t cat poo at all, but a filthy cobweb that the swallow had knocked from the beam! I was mortified, and made a huge fuss of Rasta, and as he’s a total love junkie, he settled into being loved as if nothing had happened, bless him!
Rasta when he arrived, so named as they’d had to cut great dreadlocks off the wee mite!
My neighbour and I are now booked in for eye tests!
This post had a rake more text…but it became increasingly like a Victorian slum…..words like grotty piles of broken bricks in dark alleyways, leading nowhere. Detours into derelict buildings with glimpses through broken glass…barefoot ideas vanishing around tenement corners; so I’ve kept the Fleeting Beauty, and a bit about Photography, the Losing my Marbles bit doesn’t bear a rewrite!
My all-time favourite cartoonist…Michael Leunig.
Some mornings I wake far too early, and the head nips pathologically….somedays I can silently ‘sing’ myself back to sleep, but on ‘bad head nip’ days I just have to get up and get on with summat…(funny how the “summat” is never yesterday’s washing up! ). So, some sorting of my favourite plant photographs.
My favourite flower, the Himalayan Poppy.
Tissue paper thin petals, short lived, but so beautiful!
Perhaps equally beautiful, the incredibly architectural Michauxia Tchihatcheffii…a biennial that I haven’t been able to find seeds of, for a year or two.
From the swelling bud to the profusion of bursting open flowers, and then the seed pod, it’s an amazingly sculptured plant.
Then there’s the wonderful Stipa Barbata Silberfeder…(must mean silver feather, eh?!) As the seeds mature on their long awns (?), the awns get hairs and go all curly…the breeze makes pure calligraphy and choreography of them…there’s a wee stretch of stalk between the seed and the awl, which is corkscrew in form. As the awn floats down, the spiralling movement “bores” the seed into the earth…magic design! I’ve grown a lot from seed, planted out this year as 2 year olds, so I’m excited to see how they’ll look en masse, in July or August.
The hairy awns coiled round an Agapanthus.
Whilst trawling through the hundreds of photographs I have in my computer, to find the Michauxia photo’s from 2012, I was thinking about how digital photography has many advantages, and some drawbacks….
I feel nostalgic when I remember learning black and white photography in 1969; there were 24 or 36 pictures to a film roll, and film was precious so we didn’t snap away with abandon. We couldn’t check whether we had “caught” what we wanted to, so we learnt to really LOOK, to frame the image…did we want the background in focus or out? Should we take it from a higher or lower angle, or change the lens?….it was slow, and needed concentration.Then came the different mysterious realms of the Darkroom….First, in complete darkness, you loaded the film from it’s cartridge into the developing tank..then turned the light back on , nervous to see that it was loaded properly. We developed the negatives, hung them to dry, and, finally, you had the delights of the printing room….with it’s warm, red glow…a womb with a view? !
Decisions to be made: Exposure time, then Developer, watching the image magically appear, into the Stop, into the Fixer, Patience, Patience…… then Dry…..more Patience. And maybe, just sometimes, you had a photograph that you loved.
Now we shoot off loads of shots, make adjustments in Photoshop…..(although I’m quite purist about how much I tweak photos), and I have so many photos that many never get seen….
A last couple of photos, the glorious Magnolias, Stellata and Soulangier.
And a beautiful, white Eremurus…
On to the Losing My Marbles bit!
…………they’ve gone. They might roll back….
As a Liverpudlian poet wrote way back,
“After a whole moon-walking night, succesful re-entry into earth’s orbit is each tomorrow’s ‘maybe’ “.
p>Today I saw this photo on Facebook, of the wonderful Cliffs of Moher, here in Ireland.
One person had written a comment underneath: “What are those crazy people doing there on the ledge? I thought there was a huge fence around the cliffs nowadays to deter jumpers.“
Well, that got me going and we had a wee dialogue:
Me: “Hope to god there isn’t a fence! H&S taken too far. I went to some amazing, huge caves in Mallorca, which had no warning signs splattered about, no safety measures except an unobtrusive 9″ high concrete edging…teaches people visual awareness…and if someone really wants to jump they’ll find a place….(the big joy of the Mallorcan caves is that they were warm!).”
Other person: “Hey Charlie, I don’t think you can compare the caves of Drach Mallorca with the height of the cliffs of Moher (214 meters high). Sadly the cliffs of Moher have become a bit of a magnet for jumpers like the Golden Bridge San Francisco. I’m for trying to deter people either falling off some of the highest cliffs in Europe or deliberately jumping. They can learn visual awareness elsewhere surely?”.
Well, that set me thinking about a few different aspects, and I felt a blog coming on!
The Drach caves in Mallorca.
Firstly, why would the ‘Powers That Be’ fence in the cliffs? I was once told that the Irish taught the Americans about litigation, it certainly flourishes here, and so that’s probably the P.T.B’s number one reason.
But how sad to lose that awesome wonder at the overwhelming power and majesty of nature at her wildest!! Devoid of human attempts to label it, control it, to dominate it with human concerns. Not even Mount Everest is immune to the appalling desecration left by our species. ‘Other Person’ wrote of trying to deter people from falling off….this reminded me of living in a community, where one boy had a very over-anxious mother, and sure enough, he was the one child who fell off the huge rope swing over a gulley, and broke his arm. Yes, as parents, (or even just as Adults), we need to protect our children, and teach them how to be observant and safe, but a parent who is overanxious can imbue their child with anxiety and fear, which over-rides their own instincts. Just as we need to teach children to be aware of others, we also need to teach them visual/spatial awareness to keep them safe, but not fill them with tension that may contribute to them having accidents. Then we come to suicide…anyone determined to do that will want the highest place possible, rather than the spectre of just paralysing oneself and ending up in a wheelchair. Yes, there can be cases where the intervention of a caring bystander can give the intended suicide pause to consider, and if the i9ntended act was a spur of the moment thing, that person’s life can be saved. They may be forever grateful that a stranger intervened, and may then see life anew. However, an attempt at suicide can come after prolonged despair, and one has to have experienced real despair to know that there may be no other way to end that excruciating state. One cannot judge other people’s lives by our own.
I remember being in a group of women in Scotland, after a mutual friend had walked into the sea and drowned. One woman present wanted us all to promise that if we ever felt suicidal, we’d ring one of the other women first. She was obviously well intentioned, but to me, having known periods of deep despair, it’s not just needing a chat, or a cup of tea, or to be looked after for a weekend, or a week, or a month….it’s a deep, black hole inside that feels like it will never be alieviated, that no one else can ‘fix’. And the idea of asking someone else to take on responsibility for one’s own life, would be a huge burden and an impossible imposition on them….We can all feel so helpless in the face of other people’s pain and suffering, our natural inclination is to try and fix it, but it may be beyond our realm to do so. Having lost my own parents, suicide was never an option; there’s no way I could have ‘done’ that to my sons, but I would argue for the right of any person to have autonomy over their own life. Obviously, as with euthanasia, there are huge issues involved…that are hard to resolve with mere legalities. There’s one culture, was it the Marsh Arabs? who live in floating homes. Their belief is that if a small child fell into the water, that was their fate, and if you rescued them you would be responsible for that person’s life forever. To us, that seems SUCH an alien concept….and yet the children were brought up with enough spatial awareness to not be falling in left right and centre.
I’m totally up for discussions on these thoughts….my opinions are not cast in stone and I’d welcome feedback!
At the moment, I’m just skirting around parts of my story…in the early hours thoughts, memories and words tumble through my head, only to seep out again with all the “Have To’s” of the morning… My new rescue cat Rasta is already the Boss in this house, I’ve developed a high-stepping walk as he’s a real ankle-weaver, with attitude, but he’s small enough to get trodden on; and Osh the dog, having being painfully abused and starved in early life, is hilarious in his twice daily amazement at “Food! Again! Oh Wow! My favourite thing!”
I sleep really well, I could sleep for Ireland! but I wake early, sometimes after weird, wonderful, unsettling or scary dreams… research has shown that the heart neurons react to stimulae before the brain and send messages to the brain, and the stomach can affect the brain too….maybe nightmares are my gut’s way of saying <em>”Bathroom! Now!”. </em>
Then I doze away, “writing”, or dreaming again. (Just sometimes, I dream of Francis, or my sons, and those dreams can be like an aura of warm blankets for the whole day. Except the ‘sometimes’ when my sons are expressing their “Oh MUTHerr!!” tendencies!)
So where was I? Wanting to write about being adopted, feeling insecure, not belonging, an Outsider, and unloved. I made my peace with my adoptive mother many years ago…but I was just thinking recently that my early experience of losing my parents and my older sisters, may well have caused a perennial “Fight or Flight” default mode in me…defensive and untrusting, critical, ready to run, they are unloveable tendencies! When I was fostering children in Scotland, many years later, I sometimes had a placement of such a child, and here’s a statement that may well be challenged! I believe that one can ACT being loving, patient and caring…it takes self-awareness, but it can work to turn a child around…maybe it is a true form of loving? I did feel a lack of love from my adoptive mother, but heaven knows, she had a helluva lot on her plate! Looking back over my life, I can see how the fight or flight mode came up in many situations…I’ve always been unable to fight, “it’s just too dangerous to get angry or people will leave, again”…so I reject before I can be rejected again, I abandon people and places…always in search of what I will never find. Hey Ho!
Also, with the Fight or Flight mechanism, one lives in the moment. Now, ‘Living In The Day’ can be a wonderful thing, but not if it’s because of a state of underlying nerves or fear. It can also lead to not remembering things….my adoptive father always said I had a very good Forgettery! Now that I’m older, there’s less time stretching ahead of me, and trying to sort out the multitude of papers and photo’s, letters and writings, that I’ve built like a cocoon around me, reminds me of long forgotten things, and times. Patterns begin to emerge…not all of them comfortable! But if one doesn’t consider one’s pathologies, one may be forced to repeat them…Heaven Forfend!
Rasta is at the door.
I don’t have fixed beliefs on an afterlife, but the first time I met Rasta at the rescue centre, I felt he’d been sent by Molly…a very Zen cat that I loved more than any before, and used to think of as a Spirit Guide. Her death devastated me, as do all the deaths I’ve had in my life…they all trigger that confusion and grief of an early-age orphan. Rasta is very like Molly, but male, feisty, and far more affectionate than the Zen Molly was…in the photo you can see a photo of Molly, up on the right, in the same clinging to the door pose…long leggedy cats, eh?! I want to write of my beloved sons, of the children I fostered in Scotland after Frank died, of obsessions and work and addictions and salvations (ahem!). But this morning I have D.B.M again, (Dishevelled Brain Mode), so I’ll end with a quotation from the man I wrote my thesis on, which relates to the title of this blog,…a wonderful artist called Nigel Henderson, who I exchanged letters with for three years or so, back in the ’70’s.
” Instead of Happy New Year I could wish some people a nervous breakdown. I am quite serious. I believe that to survive it is to experience Rebirth and that some people need badly to come apart so as to have the opportunity to re-knit to a truer pattern. This is a dangerous doctrine but I believe most of us (certainly I) were thrown together like clay battered in a pug mill and given the most approximate shape by the most insensitive hands. I mean the shape of the personality hammered into you by the blind will of others raping your weak defences. All that has to be vomited up again later and a fresh start made…”
An old friend, Dee, came to help me sort through my chaotic house last week, which was a blessing indeed! I had vowed last year to start sorting through all my shtuff, and she really kickstarted the process….shaming me with ancient foodstuffs in the nether reaches of the fridge, and doing what nobody has achieved before, helping me learn HOW to keep order, in my advancing years!
The photo on the right is from before her visit…”after” photos may follow….
In the process of sorting, I came across so much stuff from the past, and I want to attempt to make order of all that….photos, letters, writings and drawings….My bi-polar personality veers between abject perfectionism and impatient slapdashery, so to do it chronologically would addle my brain…. it’ll be a jigsaw self portrait.
Almost the beginning.
The next two photos are so poignant for me, I had never seen a picture of me and my sisters all together until I was 52…I’m the wee one second left.
This photo was taken around the time our parents died, our mother when I was two and a quarter, and our father a year later. Looking out to sea, as if wondering what the future held. My three eldest sisters were then shipped off to relatives in NZ, which might as well have been Heaven, for all I understood either. They weren’t even brought to say goodbye to me and my twin as “It would only upset them”.Nowadays there’s far more understanding of what early bereavement can do to children, in those days it was assumed that small children would forget….now it’s recognised that the psychological after effects can last a lifetime.My twin and I were adopted, and we had to learn to speak English, instead of Mancunian! After quite a few carers between my parents dying and our adoption, when someone from ‘home’ came to visit us six months later, I reportedly wrapped myself around my Dad’s knees, and said “They’ve not coom tae tek us back, ‘ave they? “.Learning a new way of speaking, learning new ‘accepted behaviours’, can make one feel an Outsider, and by internalising that feeling one then unwittingly behaves like an outsider, compounding that identity.
And for all that I’ve always felt like an outsider, I’ve also spent a lifetime trying to belong, with all the fruitless people-pleasing that that entailed, and the resulting resentments when people just weren’t pleased…. it’s perhaps no wonder that I became an artist!
This second photo…again not seen by me until I was 52, when the youngest of my three sisters who went to NZ came to meet me for the first time.
I’m the serious, (if not pouting!), wee thing being held on the right. When I asked my older sister who the lassie was, it was a mother’s help, who had been with us from before my mother died until after my father died.
Nobody remembers her name, which I regret SO much, only that she was from Ireland.
Which set me thinking….I’ve always been a bit of a nomad, ricocheting up through England, and then to live in Scotland where my birth father originally came from. Was my move to live in Ireland caused by some distant resonance from this lass? Certainly, I will never ‘belong’ here…but in building my own house I do now have roots of a kind. Perhaps this blog stems from a deep craving to be known, to be understood….the quest of an adoptee?None of this is written for sympathy, Heaven forbid! What has happened to me has made me who I am, fascinated by human psychology, always an outsider, always a champion of outsiders and underdogs, and hopefully an empathetic friend to the unique individuals I’ve met along the way. I’ll finish with a cartoon from Michael Leunig…who speaks to my soul!
It’s twenty two, long years since the great love of my life died, on Good Friday.
Such a bittersweet day of memories….
one of the saddest thoughts is the wish that he could see my garden, which today is flourishing with blossom on the Blackthorn, and on the Magnolias and the Amelanchiers, surrounded with wild primroses at their feet.
The blackthorn are like pearl necklaces around distant fields.
We were together for seven wild, wicked and wonderful years…..as a friend commented:
“Sure, that was a relationship made in the depths of heaven!”.
These photo’s were from when we were up in Jura…..a wild place that forged and tempered his wild and free spirit, and my favourite photo of Francie with Norman. (I will write stories about Norman another time, a great teuchter!).
Now and then I dream of Francis, and for a day or two it’s as if we were together yesterday.
It can be sad to be the sole sanctuary for all the memories of our times together…..
Three months after Frank died, I was offered a sculpture residency by the Scottish Forestry, out of the blue.
I’d never carved anything taller than about 12 inches before…and I doubt that I’d have had the nerve, but for being demented with grief. Eight weeks, in a tiny caravan in the midst of midge infested forestry, with just my dog and a radio, was the perfect sanctuary.
This was my carving for Francis, inscribed “Tha mi lan ionndrain na dheidh fhein”…..I am full of the loneliness after himself.
Whilst looking for the photo, a song came unbidden to mind. It’s a song I used to sing, many moons before I met Francis.
“It’s fifty long springtimes since she was a bride,
But still you may see her at each Whitsuntide,
In a dress of white linen and ribbons of green,
As green as her memories of loving.”