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Monday, 7 July 2008

Happiness is a week (or two) on Lundy

I would have posted this from the island as I went along, but did not have Internet access, and so have saved it instead for when I got back. My diary then from two glorious weeks on my favourite island, can be read below:

Friday 27 June

It is hard to believe that it is almost the end of my first week on Lundy, and even harder to believe that it has taken me this long to even begin to feel as if I wanted to write. At home it somehow just seems so easy and so effortless, I just sit at the computer and the words seem to come. This though was supposed to be a break from the computer, and so, although I have found myself looking at it and wanting to write, somehow the impetus was just not there.

Today though, and yesterday I am marooned at home due to the weather – when I say home I mean of course the Old Light Cottage, which becomes my home while I visit the island. In some ways it is more my home than the real one, since I seem to spend so much time here – when I thought about it and added it up this morning I was astonished to find that I have actually spent around 8 months of my life here on this island – 207 nights staying at the cottage and another 42 in the Radio Room.

It often seems that I am more the real me when I visit Lundy than when I am at home, what though is the real me? This is something I have pondered on at great length during my time here, and I have come to the conclusion that the real me is what lies underneath all the distractions – the silent core that remains when everything else has gone. When I say everything else, I am of course referring to all those things by which we define ourselves – in my case, the writer, the job, being Coran’s partner, and also all those things that we surround ourselves with – books, music and the aforementioned computer. While I can reach that space at home, perhaps by sitting at the viewpoint, or just through silent meditation, it is somehow easier to reach here, surrounded by nature without the distractions of everyday life. It is telling though that when I look back on my previous visits here, which I use as a marker for how much I have changed, I do not remember bringing books or music with me at all on that first visit, back in 1995, let alone a laptop. I must then have made my own entertainment.

Lundy is the sort of the place though where it becomes very easy to lose yourself not only in distractions but also in the power of now. Books I have discovered can be a distraction, and even the sound of the wind – which I use to drown out the incessant babble of my mind. That is why is seems so strange to wake up and find that the wind has dropped – in some ways, when I come here all I really do is replace one set of background noise with another.

There comes a point though, somewhere in the holiday when this association starts to fade, and for me it happened on Tuesday morning, when I awoke from an intense sleep to find that the mind was beginning to still, as it was no longer racing with thoughts the moment that I awoke. I have been watching my mind since and seeing the madness of it all – how when I become bored of the lack of distractions and unable to cope with the present moment it starts to create lists of distractions – what to eat for the next few days, where to walk, how to spend the evening, when to come back to the island for my next visit, and even what I did and ate on previous ones – it goes on and on. I then start to fantasise about what I would bring with me if I were living here for either the summer season or for an entire year – something I know is not going to happen – that moment passed a long time ago, but I can laugh and smile to myself as I do these things, seeing them for what they are – just silly ways to pass the time.

Time though is an illusion which is created by the mind, which is to say God, as mankind cannot cope with the fact that everything is happening right now. It is a way to stop us from living in the present moment and embracing that eternal moment, which Lundy is in theory at least, designed to help me embrace. For the most part she does this admirably, but still I struggle and fight against this, as it means the temporary death at least of the ego.

The ego was bruised considerably when I arrived and read the log book, and the comments made in response to mine by a certain Mr Grumpy – this is not a name that I have given him, but one that was given by another resident, as he seems to spend much of his time criticising what others have written in the log. He seems to have a strong dislike in particular of those who write longer entries, and those who talk about their lives outside of the island. It is an appropriate nickname in many ways (he does not give his real name), which seems to have stuck.

He seems to have singled me out for some reason, and I suspect this is because I fought back and wrote comments alongside this. He seems though to have a strong dislike of anyone creative, or to be more precise anyone who writes, since he has also made comments about what the mother of the author of a guide to Lundy wrote, asking if she is a friend of mine. I have never met her in my life, although I believe I did once meet her son, the author.

Much as I hate to admit though, Grumpy does have a point. It may be true that I did write a lot of my book here, and have had enquires from visitors, but most of my comments re my book were born from ego, and I do bang on about it far too much. It has been on my mind for much of my time here, will Gardner’s the wholesaler order more in my absence, since the numbers are now at the level where they should be doing so, and will Coran know what to do and do it properly.

I have changed so much as a person though these last few months that it pains me to see someone relating to me as I was when I wrote those comments, which is not how I am now. This though is the only frame of reference that he has, since he does not know the trials and tribulations I have been through and just how much I have changed. It serves to remind me then of how much work I have done and how far I have come to turn my life and my attitude around, and stop thinking of this book as mine when it is not nine at all. No more than people’s children are theirs anyway. It was interesting as well to stop and catch my thoughts almost in mid air as the ego self was there admonishing what he wrote and wanting to add yet more comments that would add fuel to the flames and get both of us nowhere. The ego you see needs him to be wrong so that I can be right; there is no right and wrong though, just differing opinions. It has been a long and difficult journey and I still have far to go, but I am getting there with Gods help.

When I realised though that my birthday (June 21st) this year fell on a Saturday, I could not resist booking to come back to this, my favourite place. I don’t think I could think of any better way in which to celebrate, although it may have been nice if the weather had been a little warmer. If it had been, I planned to start the holiday with a couple of hours sitting on the beach. There seemed little point in hurrying, as the boat got in early, after an 8am start from Bideford. It was not though to be, as the mist and the rain descended, and so it was a warm cup of tea in the Tavern instead, in the company of the other new arrivals.

This was in total contrast to 2006, when I remember sitting outside on the grass near the cottage in 80 degree sunshine, while the cleaning ladies did their thing. That was the start of a three week adventure that I don’t think I shall ever forget – not only because it was the first and only time (so far) that I have managed to spend 3 weeks in my favourite place, but also because shortly before I went, the first edition of my book was published, and I got to hold it for the very first time. That was a very emotional moment, and one that I also will not forget. It was also of course the year that I got to go up in a light aircraft and see the island from the air, courtesy of a rather nice Pilot from a flying club near Cambridge. I never did put copies of those pictures in the log book.

With the demands of work, and the worry about whether or not I will even have a job to go back to (Coran tells me there is still no news), I have been seriously neglecting myself of late, and I do and did really need this holiday. Today then, being marooned in the rain and the wind means that I am forced to spend time with nothing but my own company, listening to what I truly and deeply need, and not the over busy brain. It is fortunate then that this interruption in the weather has occurred just at the time when my brain is beginning to switch off, and I can for the moment at least, hear what lies beneath the constant babble. I am aware though that if I am not careful, there usually comes a time, a day or so later, that the brain and the ego does its best to start up all over again. Still, a day or two at most, like this, is usually all I need anyway, to re-connect with the silence, the essence of who I am, and to go deeply within.

It was not the best crossing I have had, but by no means the worst. Sea sickness tablets were taken as a precaution, but thankfully my breakfast (a wheat free chocolate muffin) managed to stay down. I met my friends, Peter and Pat at the quayside, having driven from my b&b at Brynsworthy, just up the road for the 8am sailing. After 2 early starts in a row, at around 5.45 am, I was exhausted after very little sleep.

I must be getting fitter though, since despite the fact that I was carrying this laptop and a small rucksack filled with water and spare clothes for the sailing, I made it to the top, stopping just once halfway up the path from Millcombe to catch my breath.

The cottage was as always one of the last to be done, and so following the obligatory jacket potato with melted cheese and coleslaw (yum) it was an afternoon in the pub with the Daily Mail and my neighbours in the Old Light for company.

I finally got into the cottage around 2.45 pm and then made a quick trip to the shop for provisions followed by unpacking and an early night. I slept through to 5.45 am and awoke to clear blue skies with blustery winds, and spent the rest of the morning indoors acclimatising, apart from a stroll around Acklands Moor to pick some wild flowers, and a trip to the village to send a friends birthday card. Work though was the last thing on my mind, so I was in bliss.

After lunch I went out for a walk to the top of the Quarries and back, followed by a trip to the beach, only to find that it was closed due to essential maintenance. I tried to gain access via the goat track, but found that was blocked too and so sat at the top of the track for half an hour reading, and then up to the Ugly, where I was joined by a very strange couple, the female half of which was carrying a Sainsbury’s bag full of cross-stitch and the male of which gave a running commentary as to what birds he could see through his telescope, oblivious to the fact that no one was either interested or listening.

Monday was the best day, wind free with blue skies with dawn to dusk. I made the most of it by walking down the lower east side path, possibly my favourite on the island, to Brazen Ward, where I scrambled down to the outcrop and sat watching seals, reading and sunbathing on and off for around 3 hours. I was joined at one point by another couple, but they respected my privacy and stayed at the top away from where I was, thankfully.

Around 3.30 pm I made my way back up via Gannets Combe to watch yet more seals (they really do make the most amazing sounds) and then slowly back the well trodden path past Tibbetts to the cottage for tea. It was such a lovely evening, it seemed a pity to stay in, and so an evening stroll was in order up to the Castle and back to keep an eye on things down in the landing bay and then a walk back to the Old Light to see one of the most spectacular sunsets I have witnessed.

Tuesday was a boat day, and so I decided that this would be a good day to visit the beach, as I realised that the men would temporarily stop work in order to let people up and down, and I didn’t mind the idea of sitting down there until 5pm if the weather was good. It wasn’t cold, but the sun was not out either, at least not all the time. Still, it was a good day, pottering around slowly watching the tide come in, until I managed to scramble round to the Devils Kitchen for some more scrambling around the various rocks and gullies, watching the seals watching me.

I came back just after 5pm when it started to spot with rain and then went for an evening stroll down to my friends Peter and Pat who are staying at Big St Johns. It is about the fourth year in a row that we seem to be staying on the island together, and it is nice in some ways to know that they are there should I want some company.

It is difficult to remember details of what you did sometimes after the event, but Wednesday I remember as the day when it was blowing billy oh and I went for a long walk all along the west coast as far as the North End via the Battery. I am not sure how many miles I walked that day, but my calf muscles certainly noticed it, and I was so tired I think I went to bed around 9.30pm, the earliest I have been in bed since I got here. Of course it may have been earlier had Coran been here to keep me warm, but I won’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

Yesterday and today have both been uneventful days of mostly reading and listening to the natural sound of wind (not mine!) as it beats against the windows and the walls of the cottage. Yesterday I managed a short stroll up to the Castle and then on to the Ugly before it started to patter with rain, and today I walked in the mist all the way up to three quarter wall. It was that horrible almost half drizzle, the kind that is not really rain at all, but nevertheless soaks through your clothes pretty quickly, running down the length of your waterproofs to plaster your legs.

Still, the fire is on now though with my damp jeans drying off, and the wind and rain continues to beat against the windows as I write this. I get the feeling that the weather will change for the better during my second week, as the forecast is good, and usually a couple of days like this is followed by a longer period of sun. I need to feel the sun on my skin, and so it will be a welcome change of long balmy days spent walking the length and the breadth of the island, scrambling along ledges to reach the sea and watching the day trippers on the top of the island marvelling at how I managed to get down there. Then I will be marvelling as to how to get back up again…

Such is the joy of this island, where you can continually push through both physical and spiritual boundaries to discover what you capable of. It beats sitting on some beach on the Med and dancing drunk in night clubs ‘til 4am with strangers any day of the week, and I can’t think of anywhere I would rather be than right here, right now.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a perfectly valid way to enjoy oneself, and I guess the end goal is the same – to reach that high that can only be achieved through the rush of adrenaline through exposure to an outside stimulus. It is just that I find it preferable to achieve this through a natural stimulus – i.e., through the beauty of nature and through pushing one to the limit of ones endurance as one battles against the elements to get home, as opposed to the artificial rush that comes from loud music and alcohol. They are both highly addictive, but the natural one does not endanger ones health (or hearing) like the artificial one does, not unless you count windburn as a health hazard anyway. Personally I like the way it makes me look, with that weather beaten expression and healthy glow, and natural golden highlights.

On that note though, it is time for a trip up the Old Light to listen to the wind as it roars around the inside of the tower... I climbed up all 136 steps right to the top to admire a view, which well, today is non existent, but which normally you can see in all directions for miles, and sometimes as far away as the South Wales coast. The sound effects though were mighty spectacular, listening to the wind as it battered and howled its way around the inside of the tower.

I guess though it will be a quiet evening in, on this the last night of my first week on Lundy – how glad I am not to be going home tomorrow and leaving this splendorous isle, and how lucky I am to have another whole week to look forward to. It is hard to believe that this time last week I had just arrived at the Red House near Barnstaple, on the eve of my trip out here, having spent a rain soaked and exhilarating afternoon walking across Saunton Sands in the blustery winds that have catalogued this week.

A poem from the top of the Old Light, written by the fair hand of one Chris Eve on Friday 13th June 2008, one week ago:

When I escape this mortal shell
If God excuses me from hell
There’s just one place I want to be
Where my spirit can fly on Old Lundy

I’ll fly with the raven and glide with the hawk
The beasts of the field, with them I’ll talk
And sing in the wind and dance in the rain
And swim with the seals in their own domain

And if God in his mercy will let me stay
I’ll watch this jewel night and day

That to me sums up just what this place is all about. It gives us all a very special gift, and one for which I am eternally thankful.

1 comment:

  1. I was in Old light cottage this week. I HATED the spooky old place. Will NEVER go back to Lundy. Whilst the island is wonderful, OLC is spooky, forlorn, desolate, lonely etc etc

    Good luck to all those that can take the solitude