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Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Putting my house in order

Tonight I am feeling more relaxed than I have been for quite some time. Why is this you may ask? The answer is simple, because this afternoon I was sent home early and have had some much needed time off to do exactly what I wanted. When my Manager said that I could leave at 2.30, just as I was going for a late lunch, I was not going to argue, and so home I went.

If I had brought my gym stuff, or some CV's with me, I may have gone to the gym or to some agencies to try and look for work, but as it was, by the time I did leave, not having had anything to eat since around 7.45 that morning, I was so hungry that I went straight home. When I got in, it was a quick bite to eat followed by a cup of tea and to check my emails, while my partner went to see one of our neighbours to finish sorting out a problem she had with her computer.

When he got back we decided to go for a drive to have a look at the store I am considering transferring to, to talk to some of the staff. I am glad that I did, since it has put my mind at rest. Initially I was a little reticent about the idea of moving stores, and although I am still not 100 percent certain that this is the right thing to do, it may not be such a bad idea as I thought it might be.

Having had a talk with some of the staff there, I can see that most of the problems at my current store are unique to that one, since for one thing there are more staff, and for another, they don't sell any of the low margin goods that take up so much time for so little money. This store sells only larger items. I may not be the world's expert at these things, but I am getting better all the time, and my knowledge is improving steadily.

I am sure I could learn a great deal from working there. It would also mean a considerable pay rise due to London weighting, although I would have to work weekends. That is the only real problem, plus the fact that the store is further from home. It may not then be as bad as I first thought.

Despite these plusses, at the back of my mind there is still this feeling that I should be looking for a job outside of retail, and that I need to get back into the office routine. It has been difficult these last few weeks, and I am sick and tired of all the problems - difficult customers, the constant battle with dust and grime, not enough staff, heavy lifting which causes endless aches and pains, and not having decent breaks. This all takes its toll, and to be honest, I have had enough. When I am brutally honest, the main reason I am considering staying is convenience, and the fact that I cannot face the idea of going through the interview and job hunting process yet again. I have never been good at interviews, and yet I have so much to offer an employer, with my experience in sales and customer service, and superb track record. If I remain here I will be selling myself desperately short, when I am worth so much more.

When I got home, I spent an hour or so surfing the web looking at the various job sites. I applied for three other jobs - one arranging appointments for a team of sales staff over the phone, following up email enquiries from potential clients, one doing telesales, and one as a customer service agent for a major insurance company. I will continue to keep an eye on these sites, and make the effort to visit some agencies this week, stop being so complacent, and see what else is out there.

When I think about it, there are quite a lot of things that I can and could do other than retail, and I would rather be in an office environment, where it is far less stressful, with better pay and conditions, and far more suitable to my needs. At this time in my life I need routine and stability rather than excitement and stress. My current job is suited more to young people than the middle aged, who cannot keep pace with the technology and do not have the same level of understanding.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

A sense of not knowing

I have been meaning to write this blog almost every night last week, but somehow I have just been too tired. One way and another, it has once again been one hell of a week. Now that I am sitting here writing, I don't know where to begin, or what to say.

Following the wafflers departure from work just over 10 days ago, things have continued much as they were. This week has seen just two of us in each day, the results of which have been such tiredness that I have not known. The last time I remember feeling anywhere like this was when I returned from Canada in 1990 after a series of night flight across the country from Newfoundland to Toronto, and then a connecting flight on to London. I arrived home around 10 o'clock in the morning, and somehow or other managed to stay awake until 6pm, when I finally went to bed. I was so tired that I slept right through until midday the following day! This time though there has been no such respite, as with so much on my mind, I have been unable to sleep at all, and when I do awake, it is back to work where there has been no rest at all.

I have been so tired at times that I have almost been crying with exhaustion, so it was with great relief that I finished work at 5.30pm on Friday, for 2 days off. The weather has been amazing this week; hot sunshine with temperatures in their 80's and cloudless blue skies. I have found myself looking for excuses to visit the box room on the flat roof at work, and selling products off the shelf, so that I can get outside for a few brief moments.

It has been a good weekend of doing not much at all, and I am feeling much better after two days of rest. I have spent time lounging around in the sun, listening to music, enjoying the company of nature and the sound of the the birds.

Today was our annual village fair, and very good it was too. I missed last year's since I was visiting my favourite island (a lot of time has also been spent in front of the camera cupboard this week). I wish I was there now in this glorious weather, sitting on the stile that overlooks Acklands Moor, watching the sun sink slowly beneath the horizon, and the red streak across the sky.
The fair though was good, with stalls from most of the local groups, as well as local growers and producers hawking their wares. Entertainment was laid on for both kids and adults, with a dog show, as well as a display of hawks, plus snakes and crocodiles. The hawks were amazing, but I didn't have the courage to go near the snakes, much less stroke them.

The weekend is almost over, and tomorrow a new week begins. Thankfully there will be three of us in, since my Manager is back from his holidays, and our weekend assistant, who normally works only on Saturdays will be covering days off. This means that I can finally have a decent lunch break and get out in the sun at lunchtime, sitting in the church yard and having the chance to relax and enjoy the sun and the small pleasures in life. I did not realise how much lunch breaks are needed, and do not know how so many employees seem to manage without them. I have made a mental note to make sure that from now on, no matter which job I end up in, I will make sure that I take all the breaks to which I am entitled, and also make sure that I am paid for those that I do not take. Thankfully my boss will be seeing to it that I shall be paid for the extra hour for each day last week.

There is still no news re our closing date, and this is really beginning to wear us all down. There is a new moon with partial solar eclipse this Friday, 1st August, so will this be the day? I hope so, as I don't know how much longer I can go on like this, with this sense of not knowing.

Friday, 18 July 2008

In the s***

Well, the last few days at work have been completely hectic. I am cream crackered and that's no lie. The reason for this is that the waffler has finally put us out of our misery and left - a week and a half early, in not the most considerate of ways.

He did not turn up on Wednesday because his girlfriend had problems with the baby she is expecting. That is fair enough, but he did not ring us at lunch time as promised to let us know what the situation was, or if he would be in later on. It is not the first time he has done this, as he recently took four days off, he said, due to sunstroke.

He has though gone and gone for good. He was working out 2 weeks notice, and so was due to go at the end of next week anyway, but decided that he wanted to go now, and start his new job on Monday, as they originally requested him to do. This has left us all right in the proverbial as with the closure looming over our heads everyone else is going too.

Our Assistant Manager was offered another job yesterday, so he will be handing in his notice, and all that leaves is the Store Manager, myself and our weekend assistant, who works on Saturdays, and he will be leaving us soon as well, to go to university. The waffler just had so many chances and seemed hell bent on self destruction. He repeatedly went off sick, without bothering to keep us informed, went against company policy by offering to deliver goods after work for extra cash, when the company did not insure him to do so, did not look after his appearance or even bother to wash his uniform, which stunk to high heaven, and proved time and time again that he was a liar and a blagger who just could not be trusted.

That proved to be his undoing, as due to his actions, our boss did not believe a word he said, and so each time he went off sick, and did not bother to keep us informed, he did not pay him. He was perfectly within his rights to do this, as technically it was unauthorised absence. The waffler felt that he was being victimised, and what with everything else that was going on in his life, rather than stay and do the right thing, by facing up to his responsbilities, he left and just ran away.

We are without a doubt much better off without him, but to leave in this way leaves a nasty taste in the mouth and is just bad manners. My Manager was so angry that he practically threw him out of the store, and given our situation, I can't say I blame him.

The waffler has just been so stupid though, since he had the offer of a transfer to another store within walking distance of his home, where he could have a big pay rise due to London weighting, and a real future. He has also thrown away the chance to earn a large bonus, which he may have qualified for had he stayed that extra week. He has chucked this all away to go and work with a group of bitchy women, with a Manager who criticised a member of her staff for wanting to go fishing instead of going out with her so called mates from work to get drunk! I guess if that is what he wants, it is not for me to judge ...

Because of his actions, my Manager and I have had one hell of a last 3 days. It has been just the 2 of us in since Wednesday, and neither of us have had a break at all. It has been a real struggle, and as I write this, I am so tired that I am struggling to keep my eyes open. It will be another early night tonight, straight after EastEnders, and a very lazy weekend.

If I hadn't gone in today, which was supposed to be my day off, then we would have had to close the store, since our Assistant Manager is on a training course, and my own boss could not run the store on his own. There will be just 2 of us in next week as well, as our weekend assistant is unable to do any overtime until the following week. This will mean more missed lunch breaks (thankfully I will be paid for these), and being unable to get out of the store to look for another job, or attend any interviews should Waterstones ring. I had to ring my partner yesterday as it was, and ask him to go and deliver the application form, since if I had waited much longer than I could have missed the boat. I don't know after all how long that sign has been up for.

My Manager and I then have not had a good week and are not happy people. I have to be careful of what I write and say though, since I was getting rid of some old flyers today and stood right in a pile of fox s*** which must have climbed over the fence! I was tempted to rub it off on the bag that contained the wafflers uniform that he had left behind, but even I am not that cruel, so I wiped it off on the flyers instead and then washed my shoes and hands ...

Still you know what they say, when the going gets tough, the tough gets going, and I am nothing else if not tough. If all else fails I can always apply for a job with the new lease holders and serve coffee all day! This could though be an opportunity to prove my mettle which could work to my advantage, since not only has it given me the chance to earn more money (my Manager has asked me to work full time until the shut down), but if I continue to do as well as I have done, then I stand a much better chance of getting a transfer when the time does come. I must be mad to even think of staying with this company. You know what they say, you don't have to be mad to work here, but it helps!

Monday, 14 July 2008

Wish me luck!

It has been a week now since I got back from Lundy, and somehow I have not felt like blogging at all. Neither can I be bothered to keep looking to see what is happening in the book world, the impetus to do these things just seems to have gone. It just doesn't seem important.

For the first two days after I got back, it felt like I was on cloud nine. I was bursting with energy and confidence, and got some really good sales at work. Then Wednesday came, and with it my day off, and something seemed to shift. It seemed like there was so much to do - go the gym, get the food shopping, go to Edenbridge to get the books that my friend Sue had not sold at the Winchester Book Festival. It was chucking down with rain as well which didn't help. I found myself loitering on the computer just to fill in the time, and using it as a distraction, which is a bad habit of mine, and one that I need to break.

When I went back to work on Thursday then the sense of melancholy and disquiet had returned with a vengeance, and most of my get up and go had well, got up and gone. On Friday I was booked to go to a quarterly training event. This was kind of like a roadshow/training day with different suppliers. Staff were split into teams of 4, where they went around the different stands learning about the products and being tested on what they have learnt, with prizes for the best teams and the most interactive individuals.

It was a fun day I suppose, but also a bit overwhelming, as there were over 400 of us there, with 14 stands for us to get through (I was paired with three members of staff from a nearby superstore). I learnt a lot and met some interesting people, but it seemed very rushed, and they insisted on playing this excruciatingly loud music as we rushed between stands. My team did not win anything, but on a personal level, I did win some gift vouchers for use online.

The other thing that happened on Thursday, which I admit has knocked me for six, and made me think, is the fact that the waffler has got another job, and will be leaving us in 2 weeks. I am glad in many ways that he is, especially after today, when he once again took one of my sales, having butted in during my conversation with the customer and stolen them away, but in some ways it is not good at all. It will be very difficult if not impossible to find a replacement with the closure looming over us, the date for which has still not been announced, and so this means that the two Managers and I will have to struggle on as a team of three during the shut down phase, with on days off, just 2 members of staff and half hour lunch breaks, being unable to get out of the store and look for another job during this critical phase.

I am then feeling mighty peed off, as his announcement has really brought home the reality of the situation I was facing. Looking at it philosophically though, I have learnt a lot from being here on a personal level, so maybe it is time for me to move on. Perhaps I was only supposed to be here for a short period of time to learn what I needed to learn, and so that some of my energy and some of my wisdom could rub off on my colleagues. My Manager and I have had some interesting chats lately, where I have realised just how similar our views are on so many things. I am sure I do not remember him being like this when I started in this job 8 months ago, but then again, a situation like this does make you stop and take stock of your life and think about many things on a deeper level.

It is difficult though not to get peed off when the lease for your store runs out in less than 2 weeks, and your company have still not told you anything about the hell is going on other than the fact that the landlord is waiting for someone else to sign it. It feels like my last job all over again, and don't whatever to you get me started on that!

That is where I am then today. The other thing that I must mention, which I am very excited about, is that at lunch time today (and that is the other thing that pees me off about the waffler - he takes his lunch at 1pm every day, meaning that I have to either go early at 12 noon when I am not hungry, or inevitably wait until 2pm, or even later to get mine, by which time I am starving), I had the strangest feeling that I needed to go to Waterstones. So I trotted up there, not really knowing why, as I had no intention of buying books, only to see a sign in the window, full time book seller wanted. My evenings task then is to fill in my application form and take it back tomorrow.

How wonderful that would be from both an authors and book lovers point of view, to work for Britain's largest and most influential book seller. Wish me luck !

Monday, 7 July 2008

Homeward Bound

Sunday 6th July

That was Friday and this is Sunday. I am back now, and the island feels a million miles away. Tomorrow it is back to work, and it will all seem like a dream. Is the time that we take away from it all an illusion, or is life itself an illusion? Is there a difference? I think the answer to both is yes, it is all illusion, every single moment of our lives, as we give all the meaning to everything, investing time and energy in constructing stories about our lives, based on the past and the future, but never the present moment, when the present moment is the only thing that we have got. That is the one thing that these last 2 weeks has given me; an ability to live in and for the moment. I just hope that I will be able to continue this in my ‘normal’ life and not slip back into my old ego centred ways of worrying what other people do, think and say, when it is none of my business, and none of it really matters.

It has been as usual then, one hell of an adventure, an adventure that was cut short by around five hours. On Friday afternoon, the wind changed direction from south westerly to south east, and a gale warning was also in place. Now in the good old days this would have meant an extra night on the island, as when the wind blew into the bay, before the jetty was built, the boat would have unable to dock. Now that the jetty is there, it is still difficult, but not impossible. Still, with the weather set to get worse, as it stood on Friday night, there was a distinct possibility of being helicoptered off.

Part of me hoped that this would happen, as one look at the sea convinced me that I did not want to be out there on that boat, for any amount of time. When the man came though to collect the luggage just after 9am, he informed me that we would indeed be sailing, but at 12 noon instead of 5pm, and that we had to be on the beach for 11.30am, half hour before sailing as usual.

I didn’t bother trying to clean the cottage then, but said goodbye to it, and closed the door behind and just walked to the Tavern as quickly as I could. It was a struggle in places walking down the track, the wind was so fierce, although I have seen worse, but once there, the news was confirmed. It was time then for a cup of tea and to pay my shop and Tavern bills, and say goodbye to the islanders plus my friends Peter and Pat, and then walk down to the beach.

I always like to get there a little early to spend time pottering along the beach as a way to say goodbye properly. It somehow seems fitting that I should do this, say goodbye to the island on my own on the beach, as this is where I arrive, and so in a sense, where it ends as well as begins. I also like to have a paddle in the sea to feel the cold water on my feet and the sand between my toes.

As I rolled my socks up though and put on my shoes, it began to rain, and well, it did not stop raining for most of the 7 hours that we were on that boat. It was quite possibly the worst crossing I have had, and I have had some pretty awful ones in my times (14 hours overnight to Shetland, 4 hours in an open fishing boat to Fair Isle and so on). We sailed for an hour and a half to Clovelly, where we dropped anchor and had to wait a further three hours for the tide to change, so that we could then sail up the River Torridge to Bideford.

When we got on board, the Captain announced that he didn’t need to tell us the conditions were rough, and he was right, it was rough with a capital R! The winds tossed the ship back and forth and the waves came over the side and pretty soon the decks were drenched, and not just with sea water! There was a party of school kids travelling back from the island, and they were really suffering. I didn’t fare much better, but what made it worse was having breakfast so early in the cottage, meant that there nothing in my stomach, and so I was heaving on an empty stomach and just acid was coming out, leaving a horrible taste in the mouth. I am sorry to be so graphic, but well, there is no point in pulling any punches.

By the time we dropped anchor, and the queue for the buffet had subsided enough for me to think about joining it, they had run out of veggie pasties completely (I am supposed to be wheat free, but in certain situations you just have to sod it, and eat what you can). The only other hot food on the menu was bacon sandwiches and sausage rolls, and so I had to content myself with a mug of cup a soup and bag of crisps, and that was all I had during the entire 7 hour journey (plus a cup of tea and a cereal bar very kindly bought for me by another passenger).

By the time I finally got off the boat in Bideford just before 7pm, I was soaked to the skin, shivering all over and starving hungry, so I got my bags, walked back to the car, and then went to the nearest fish and chip shop I could find. It was some of the best food I have ever eaten in my life. Back at the hotel where I was staying, an hour later, it was a hot shower and a phone call home and then bed.

How nice it was to fling back the curtains at 8am this morning to blue skies and to see the island on the horizon once again. It was almost as if she was saying to me, ‘yes I am still here, and I will always be here when you need me’, and so she will be. An hour and a half later I was on my way home. The journey was uneventful, and just after 3.15 I walked through the door. It is good to be back with the man I love and be in familiar surroundings once again. The pictures are brilliant, some of which you can see here, and the memories shall sustain me through the months to come until I am back on the island once again.

It sounds mad after that sea crossing, and only another Lundy lover would understand, but if I could get back on that boat right now and sail back, and not have to worry about work, or any of that, then I would do it in a heartbeat.

A change in the weather

Friday 4th July

Yesterday was such a perfect day, with intense blue skies, and clear views of the mainland, that I had the feeling today might bring a change, and it has indeed. As I write, the winds have moved from south westerly round to the east with squally showers and dull grey skies. It looks then as if we might have to be helicoptered off. The decision will be made after 9am tomorrow though, as late as they can manage really, as if there is any chance at all of using the boat they will take it. The helicopter does after all cost an awful lot of money – something like £1100 an hour I believe, and they do not want to spend this sort of cash if they can avoid it. In fact as I write, a light aircraft is circling the island, several have been around this last week, but none as far as I know have landed. I do not know when the Lundy Flying Day will be this year, but I will miss it anyway, so it matters not.

Back then to today – it has been a quiet and uneventful last day, as they tend to be. I had a late start after a late night to watch the sunset and the stars, both of which were spectacular (another sign of an imminent change in the weather). I was just drifting off to sleep as well, around 11.30pm when my neighbours from the Old Light, who have young children in tow and should have known better, decided to start taking flash photographs of the Old Light at night and talking in loud voices just outside my kitchen window. It obviously did not occur to them that someone may be in the cottage trying to sleep, although I don’t know why not, since I had spoken to them earlier that evening and they knew that I was staying here. I guess as always, people just do not stop to think. The rain is coming down again as I write this.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, this resulted in me not emerging from bed until almost 9am. It was a cloudy day though, and I had done virtually all the walking I wanted to, so I was in no hurry.

After breakfast then and a quick shower I set out across the south west field aiming to try and get down to Montagu Steps. This is about the only place (along with Pilots Quay and Lametry – some places are just a little beyond me) that I have not managed to get down to. The rain is really coming down now thick and fast and battering against the windows, and the wind is rattling the windows – I think they will be shut tonight!

Found the path anyway and ventured down as far as the cliff edge, where the path just seemed to disappear. There seemed to be a sort of isthmus that one had to scramble over and then presumably the steps were over the top of that, but it was too windy for me to think about trying to get down. That, along with the base of the Pyramid (I almost got there on Wednesday) will have to wait for another time, when I am feeling braver, the sun is out, and there is an easterly wind. It does occasionally happen!

I then went on the Castle and down to Bensons Cave when I realised that it was almost low tide, so walked quickly back home, made a hasty lunch of cheese salad, chucked waterproofs and water bottle into my backpack and off I went back down to the Beach to get pictures of Lametry (from the South Light) at low tide. The skies were beginning to turn a very dark shade of grey as I made my way back up the path.

I couldn’t decide whether to go home for a cup of tea or go to the Tavern, but I decided on the Tavern when another couple walked past and went inside. It was then Liz told me about the helicopters tomorrow and that the weather was going to change, and almost on cue that was when the wind seemed to shift from west to east. Rather than walk home in the squall I then spent the afternoon with Peter and Pat in Big St Johns, who are moving to Hamners tomorrow for their final week. After all, I may not get to see them for another year, and maybe not then.

They are coming back on June 13th for 3 weeks again, as there is wedding on 5th July for which the whole island they tell me, is booked, so that may limit my own choices then of when to come back. I was thinking maybe the following week, although that would take me into high season for the 2nd week, when the prices go through the roof. I would also mean going home on the double turnaround, and so less hanging about and possibly less time off from whatever work I am doing this time next year. With the way things are (yet again) at the moment, almost anything can happen, and I am open to whatever the universe (well almost) throws at me.

That then has been the sum total of my last day on this years summer sojourn to Lundy and it is with great sadness, but tinged with acceptance that this time tomorrow I shall be back on the mainland with fond memories of these two last two weeks. Those memories, together with my photographs shall sustain me through the dark winter weeks to come, until I can return again, hopefully in November.

Sunshine and showers

Thursday 3rd July

The last few days have seen a mixture of sunshine and showers, making it very difficult to know what to wear. If you wear long trousers then your legs are insulated against the cold winds, but if you wear shorts then you don’t have to worry about carrying waterproof trousers. On the other hand though, when you stop, waterproof trousers are a very useful thing to sit on!

Yesterday though I lost count of how many miles I walked. I started off around 10.30 I suppose, aiming to get to the North End in time for lunch. At the viewpoint just south of Jenny’s Cove, at the top of the Earthquake Zone I met another strange couple, the female half of which was wearing a long skirt and sitting on one of those portable seat things, and the male half of which was just standing beside her, not really wanting her to be there, but humouring her anyway. I can tell these things from reading people’s body language you know. I wanted to try and take some pictures of myself at said viewpoint, and so being the cruel person that I am, sat down beside them knowing that would be the quickest way to send them on their way! It worked as within five minutes they were scurrying away, her encumbered by one of the largest day sacks I have seen, and him carrying her seat! Some people really are very strange indeed.

Anyway, I proceeded to take pictures of myself, and very good they were too, and after about 10 minutes walked on to Punchbowl Valley and on to Halfway Wall. There they were again, with her once again sitting on her seat! The sun came out and so off came my hooded jacket which was tied around my waist. No sooner did I do that than the rain clouds appeared and unleashed their watery content on myunsuspecting head. On once again with the hoody and the waterproofs and sheltered for a while at Halfway Wall before the sun came out once again and I trooped down to the Pyramid for a look at the waves.

I could see from the top of the cliffs that the waves were spectacular, as they have been for most of the week with the strong south westerly winds, but when I got to the bottom they looked even better. When I was halfway down the sun came out again, and so it was another half hour sitting on the Pyramid to recover my breath and my composure, followed by a scramble all the way round to the next cove (not sure what it is called) where the views were almost as spectacular there. I must have scrambled all the way round to St Marks Stone looking at the map, where I met you guessed it, the strange couple once again, who were looking at me with a rather bemused expression as I scrambled back up the cliff face following a rather haphazard goat track and surprised them as they sat on a rather large chunk of rock, well he did anyway, she was perched on her chair alongside him (of course). Oh well, each to their own …

Onwards and upwards I trooped anyway, eventually reaching the North End, through a series of small rain showers by around 1.10pm. Then it was down to the Lighthouse for lunch (salmon paste with rice cakes and a small salad washed down by water with a slice of lemon) and then down to the landing stage to look for seals. There was already a couple down there, but I didn’t care, I went down anyway and sat on the bottom steps just above the stage, as the waves were tremendous and I didn’t want the salt water to ruin my camera. I spent a happy half hour photographing a group of three seals, trying unsuccessfully to get all three in the frame (must remember to try the burst mode later today at Brazen Ward) before the rain started to come down once again, this time a lot heavier. Let it never be said that June is not a hardy soul, as on went my waterproofs and I sat tight for another 20 minutes or so bravely photographing the seals, with my camera inside my slightly unzipped waterproof jacket. After a while I got fed up though, and so trooped back to the top, only to get waylaid by a group of razorbills perched on the cliffs halfway up the path. I finally got to the top of the cliffs (all 400 steps, I counted them) thoroughly wet but exhilarated and collapsed in a heap inside John O’Groats house for some more water and my Satsuma’s.

It was then of course that the sun came out again – how annoying. I toyed briefly with the idea of going down again, but couldn’t face the thought of coming back all those steps a second time, and so took pictures of myself by the North End Rock itself, and the top of the steps themselves as they go down. And then I trooped slowly back home in the sunshine and the wind, getting waylaid by various landmarks on the way, such as the ruins of an old field system, ancient burial mounds, goats, birds and so on.

I finally trooped through the door around 5.50 pm footsore and weary and realised that before I could cook I would have to do the washing up. Washing up done it was time to wash my dirty clothes and hang them up to dry, and then I could finally get some food. It is the time of the week when sadly I am beginning to use things up, and so last night it was pasta with roast vegetable sauce followed by tinned fruit salad with angel delight, and a nice hot cup of tea.

A little later on I strolled out again in the sunshine following yet another shower, to watch the sunset and take some pictures of myself silhouetted against the sky in various poses (arms outstretched, prayer position etc) – my feet got soaking wet in the process – shoes were still damp this morning and are drying on top of the fire as I write. Still it gave me an excuse to put off going out in the wind, and to write this, and write this I have. The shoes are now dry, and the house is nice and warm. The seals at Brazen Ward, which will hopefully be out of the wind, are calling, and so I am off to explore. Tomorrow is the last proper day, and oh how I will miss this place. Still, as I always say though, if you don’t leave then you can’t some back, and back I shall be just as soon as I can manage.

Words are not enough

Tuesday 1st July

So much has happened since I wrote this last Friday, that I hardly know where to begin. Lundy seems to have such an effect on me that I cannot begin to describe, where the mind goes incredibly still and silent. It is difficult to find words to describe such intense and deeply personal experiences – walking across sunlit fields in the evening light as a group of deer cross the path in front of you, watching the sun slowly sink beneath the horizon as a ball of glowing red fire that sets the sky ablaze, listening the skylarks as they rise high into the air and sing their hearts out, presenting to you your own private aria. How you do find the words to adequately express such intensely personal experiences that touch your soul in ways that no one could begin to imagine.

Words by themselves could never be enough to convey even a fraction of the magic that Lundy conveys. Where that magic comes from and what it means is as much a mystery as the island herself, and after 26 visits I am still no closer to discovering what this is. To me, it is about the total absence of distractions of any kind, the strength that comes from solitude and spending time in silence with nothing but your own company and the sound of the sea and the wind which washes everything away, like pouring liquid light into the soul.

Visiting Lundy allows me a very brief glimpse into my own soul. This has been a year when I have faced much heartbreak and much agonising over various things – it has been a year when I have had to face the fact that I will probably never achieve the literary success that I would have liked, yet in the end that does not matter. I am alive and Lundy reminds me of that. While places like this exist, there is light and hope for the world.

What then have I done these past few days? I seem to have crammed in a lot – on Sunday a trip to the Quarry Beach – my first since 2000 when I slipped and hurt my knee coming back up. I had been too frightened to go down since, but as I stood at the top of the ladder that leads to the beach, let out a great whoop of joy in triumph at having got over that fear. As I sat on the beach enjoying the hot sunshine on my bare arms and legs I was struck by how beautiful this part of the island is, and how when one spends any length of time there, one is transported almost to another world. Lundy is indeed one of those mythical otherworld realms, and no one who experiences her comes away untouched.

Yesterday then was a trip back to the beach, which was needed as confirmation that I had overcome this fear and could claim the beach back as ‘mine’, as another place that I could visit. This time I stayed down there for the entire morning – from around 11am until after 2pm, and then scrambled back up, as the sun went behind a cloud to traverse the other side of the island, and climb gingerly down to the bottom of the Pyramid.

Who would have thought when I first started coming to this island that I would have the strength or the courage to climb down to the bottom of a long grassy slope to a pyramid shaped chunk of rock at the foot of the sea, and sit for hours with the sun blazing down and seabirds wheeling overhead as they scuttle backwards and forwards feeding their rapidly growing young. Who would have thought that half the things that have happened to me since that first visit back in 1995, would have come to pass.

13 years ago I was working for Boots in a job that I detested; I was living at home, with no partner, but crucially had just met my first spiritual teacher. Today I am a self published author of one book, which is stocked in over 100 book shops nationwide, I have my own home, a job which I for the most part enjoy despite the challenges, and a loving partner. I am also more self aware than I have ever been, and for the first time perhaps in my entire life, have come to really love who and what I am. It is not Lundy that has given me these things, but she has certainly helped, as a place to rest my weary soul in times of trouble, lending me that shoulder of support on which I know I can always depend.

Today I awoke to glorious blue skies, and so left the cottage by 8am to walk to the Battery and around the west side as far as halfway wall to take pictures in the early morning light. Then it was back to the shop, and a brief chat to Reg, who celebrated his 77th birthday the day after mine, after 14 years on the island (the longest standing member of staff I believe), and my friends Peter and Pat.

Then it was down to the Landing Beach for what I had hoped would be a day of lazing around in the sun. The boat came in and I wandered down to the jetty to welcome her in and take yet more pictures as the people disembarked. Then it was a scramble round to Rat Island to find that the tide was too far in to attempt to get too close, and then back round to the main beach for an hour and an half until the sun disappeared behind a big black cloud.

It was still warm though, so I stayed for another hour, enjoying a brief and very cold paddle in the sea, but when the tide began to come in high up the beach around 2.30pm it was time to go reluctantly back to the village, via the shop for the Satsuma’s that I had forgotten earlier. Then onwards and upwards back to the cottage for a heavenly cup of tea and to wash the salt off my skin with a hot shower. The rain then began to come down and has been coming down ever since, in rivulets that cascade steadily down the winter pane. Well, it has been threatening for days, with the humidity steadily building, and a good downpour does clear the air.

I have three more days (four if you count Saturday) to enjoy the island before it is time to go back to normality, whatever that is. I will be counting the days until I can go back to this welcome sanctuary, the light of my existence.

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.