Total Pageviews

Monday, 4 March 2013

A Lundy diary - and what follows ....

The posts that follow on from this are my diary of  the past 11 nights on the beautiful and bountiful island of Lundy in the Bristol Channel, which those who know me both on the Internet and in real life will know I like to visit at least once each year. The visits have been a bit less frequent since my "mid life crisis" in 2009, when I lost my job in less than ideal circumstances, and in a fit of madness perhaps, applied for a seasonal position on the island. That though is all water under the bridge, as I have moved on considerably since then. So it seems has the island.

I returned then to the mainland on the 2nd helicopter of the day on Friday 1st March after an eventful if somewhat chilly 11 nights, with one night either end in Barnstaple and Taunton respectively. As I was on an early helicopter, I decided to go into Bideford for fish and chips, where I shared a table with the Uncle of the Island Manager's former wife (she sadly died around 8 years ago). It was interesting then to reminisce about past times and past lives in this way.

After a nice lunch it was back on the road to Taunton and the Premier Inn near Ruishton where I spent the night. It was not perhaps the best hotel I have stayed in, but it certainly was not the worst. The following morning it was a nice long lie in before going back to the big Sainsburys at Taunton for a meat free breakfast and a big mug of tea and back home via the M3 and A303. I was home by around 2.30pm and then it was the usual round of washing clothes and unpacking etc.

Now I am back the island as always feels a million miles away, which in some ways it is. The way of life is as different and remote from mainland and indeed mainstream living as you could find. That is what makes it though more of a fantasy for me at least than reality, for nice as it is, one has to come home and back to reality or some stage. Lundy as in all holidays can only ever be a respite. A very nice one at that.

The letter to my ex boss is finally complete and hopefully put to bed, like the island herself at least, for the next five months. On the way to work this morning, I was thinking about the old job again, and I realised that there has been a fundamental shift these past two weeks, in that I have finally accepted that that chapter of my life is over. It was until now that I was able to accept and acknowledge that that is what has been going on - it was not about the anger or any of that, but about me not accepting that I had made the choice to leave. In the end though there was no choice to make, it was my sanity or my job, and faced with a choice like that, there is no choice at all. I wanted to blame others though for that choice, so that I did not have to take responsibility, and now that I have I am also free to accept, truly accept the new job and the fact that things have changed.

While I was away, at least 2 of the residents said they had missed me, and, my uniform finally arrived, so at long last I really do feel part of the team. Things then are looking up nicely at long last.        

Thursday 28th February

Well the letter has for the moment been put to one side, as the thoughts that precipitated it have gone with it. No doubt at some point they will come back, as the anger too comes and goes, but that will dealt with as and when it happens. For the moment at least, this is my last full day on Lundy and I intend to make the most of it.

I certainly made the most of yesterday – I set out nice and early (for me at least), intending to walk through what used to be the rhododendrons (sadly they are now all but gone) to The Quarries and then back via The Castle to look for those illusive goats. Instead I got it the other way around (still no goats), managing to get to The Quarries by about 1pm. There I found a nice comfortable rock to sit on to eat my Quorn Ham sandwich and drink my cauliflower and  broccoli soup before deciding that actually I did not want to go home and read, but would rather keep on walking – and so kept on walking I did.
Before I knew what had happened I had walked all the way to the North End. From all directions as I began to walk, people appeared as dots on the horizon. This week has been gloriously quiet on that front, and I intended to keep it that way, and so walked briskly in the opposite direction, since most of them seemed to be making their way back. One couple though were not, and as I got to the North End they asked me where I could find the beach, as they had heard of some steps that took them all the way down to the sea. I soon put them right, pointing out that it was not a beach, but more of a platform, and that if they wanted to know where it was they should follow me, as I was heading that way myself. Instead they toddled back up to The Lighthouse, so leaving them to it, I made my way gingerly down the steps, all the way to the bottom. The rail is a lot more eroded that it used to be, blown to bits I guess by the ever incessant wind (the weather that is and not mine, which makes a change).

Anyway, once at the bottom I found a dry place in which to sit and watch and listen to the sea. My arrival had been timed to coincide with low tide, so most of the rocks were exposed and with the north easterly winds, the sea was giving those rocks a good pounding, with spray surging up into the air. A solitary seal was bobbing about and kept sticking his head out of the water every so often, no doubt wondering what I was up to. I managed a few photographs before he disappeared. This is not really the time of year for them to be honest – like us they like the warmer weather so that they can haul themselves out on the rocks and sing. I have that then to look forward to in July.
Eventually the couple did join me at the bottom, where they sat looking very cosy snuggled up under a big fleece blanket. I took a picture of them when they weren’t looking! I must admit that I sometimes do get a bit envious of couples having someone to share this glorious place with, but I also feel (having been here in the company now of Coran) that you get more from being here on your own, both in terms of the solitude and the benefits that that brings, and also in terms of seeing more. Somehow the solitude seems to deepen the experience and make it all the more special. Not everyone though likes their own company as I do, and can spend this amount of time on their own. That much I understand, although I have my own theories as to why.

By about 3.30pm I was starting to get a little chilly anyway and back I slowly trudged, back up all those steps and the well trodden path, once again via the west coast path all the way home. When I got towards Quarterwall a little past the Earthquake Zone, the Kitchen Manager was there, hopping from foot to foot looking a little lost. He asked me if I was going back to the pub, and then explained that he and the rest of the islanders were taking part in a coastguard exercise, whereby he was the “casualty” and they all had to find him. I said that if I saw anyone in yellow trousers I would let them know where I had seen him.
An hour and a half later, I was just sitting down to dinner when I heard a radio crackling outside and saw torches shining in the distance. I rushed outside to be greeted by a man in yellow trousers searching for him. I informed him then where he had been and he and his companions with their torches aglow set off once again in search. It was getting quite cold by then, so I hope they found him quickly, although he has not long returned from Antarctica where I sure it was a lot colder than this.

Talking though of cold, once again my morning coffee is getting that way, and the island beckons. The sunshine that awoke me has for the moment done, but the skies are only part covered in cloud, so I am hopeful that it may yet return.
Onwards as they say and upwards. In this case, upwards and out of my chair.

It’s now 5pm and the sun is just beginning to snake its way slowly across the landscape, as it does in the hour or so before it dips beyond the horizon. It has once again been an eventful day. I walked all the way again the Lower East Side Path, where I once again encountered the group of deer with young stags, all the way on to Gannets Combe and back via the main path. Part of me wanted to continue walking on what I knew was my last full day, but the part that wanted to go home and rest proved stronger, or so I thought. When I got back to Quarterwall, instead of walking straight across Acklands Moor and back home, I kept on going through the village, taking photographs as I went. It was a hive of activity with the Oldenburg in dock, and various tractors and trailers trundling backwards and forwards with supplies – mostly from what I saw, bags of animal feed. Then it was up to The Castle to check whether the Oldenburg was indeed still here, and eventually by 4pm home via the Southwest field and the lovely pig pen near the heliport.
Now I am back, I feel a headache coming on with an ache in my shoulder and neck muscles.  I guess I have been carrying a heavy rucksack all week, not to mention the camera which seems to have been a permanent fixture around my neck. I must buy a proper bag for it when I get home, to keep it properly protected. The birds are soaring into the sky as I write, and as the sun begins to dip slowly ever more closer to the horizon. Once she is gone, I know that I will not see the island again until the morning and my final walk to the Tavern.

This week as ever has prompted much musing as to the nature of my relationship with Lundy.  I am not sure if I am any closer to reaching a conclusion, but I do know that it is is an intensely personal relationship which rivals sometimes even with Coran for my affections. Coran is of course a permanent fixture, whom I live with every day, whereas my relationship with Lundy is more transitory. It is almost one of those can’t live with, can’t live without things. I have tried to cut back on the amount of visits that I have, but somehow I always feel the need to come back. I know that there are other places out there to be seen and explored, and I have seen and explored more in recent years, but somehow it is not the same. Lundy is such a special place, that is so hard to define, and try as I might I don’t think I can ever bring it justice.
One thing that I do know is that the island is a very intense place, a place that seems to act almost like a mirror, bringing everything to the surface for us to look at – all the joy, all the fear, all the drama and all the deception, for we all like to deceive ourselves. Are we truly happy in our lives, or it is all just an illusion – most of life I have to conclude is, and it is us that gives it the meaning that it has for us. I guess then that I give Lundy all the meaning that it has for me too.

So, this time tomorrow I shall be back on the mainland, sitting in my hotel room near Taunton and wondering what lucky person has a week of Lundy adventures to look forward to. I have as always enjoyed my time here, despite the relentless cold and the somewhat lack of sunshine. Lundy is though beautiful in all weathers, from the howling westerly gales to those brilliant sunlit summer days. I know that I have two more weeks to look forward to in the summer, when hopefully I shall experience those long summer days once more.
For the moment though, it will be back to reality and tonight’s packing. I hope I am not too late getting home tomorrow, as I hate the hanging around, much as I love to also spend the time here. Once I know I am going, I want to do just that, leaving behind nothing but memories – memories and dreams.

Tuesday 26th February

The time has gone so quickly that it hardly seems possible I have been here a week already. This time last week I was looking forward to 11 days of adventures – walking in all weathers, against the elements, or sometimes without them at all. The first day certainly felt like that. I walked all the way down to The Pyramid where I scrambled halfway down that chunk of jagged rock and lay sprawled up facing the sun – the first time I believe that I have actually lain on the rock itself. One day I keep telling myself, I will make it all the way to the bottom.

As the weather worsened, and we have had some atrocious conditions this week, with icy cold south easterly winds that go right through you, I seem to have settled into a routine – wake up, take breakfast back to bed, coffee (or tea), shower, lounge around and then finally, walk. The only day I have been out for what I would call a substantial amount of time was I think Saturday when I walked all around the island – that and the first day, one week today when I went down to the Pyramid. As a result, I do not really feel that I have gained everything from this holiday that I hoped, but then again, I am not sure what I hoped to gain.
Peace and solitude – well if that is correct, then I have gained both of these in abundance. For some reason though, the mind does not seem to have switched off. I am not sure why that is. It is quieter for sure than when I got here, and the body too has relaxed, but it does not have that same quality as when I first began to come to Lundy all those years ago. It has been eighteen years this summer, and after 34 visits I still find new things to see – like the hut circles that I stumbled into out of nowhere and probably will never be able to find again. When you start to see them properly you suddenly start to see them everywhere I find.

Why though I ask myself have I found it so hard to completely switch off? Maybe it is because as I get older I spend more time indoors with the mind for company, or maybe it is the weather that has forced me to do this. No, I do not think this is true, for I have been out and about most days, and the mind has continued to wander even then. It is like an endless stream of anxiety and discontent that I am vaguely aware of, always there just on the periphery of my vision – like something you catch out of the corner of your eye. Whispering away in dark corners, in all the recesses trying to grab your attention and divert you from being in the now. And in that one brief statement, I have probably answered my own question. It is the ego that seeks to distract, by finding ways to keep your mind constantly going over the past and the future, in order to keep you from the now, for it knows that should you hit that golden moment, then in that moment the ego and therefore the mind, in which it dwells will cease to exist. Since we equate our mind with ourselves (I think, therefore I am), we subconsciously feel that if the mind goes still, then we ourselves no longer exist, and so we learn to equate this stillness with death. The irony is that when the mind is allowed to completely go still, then time itself stands still, and we are the most alive that we have ever been.
What though does it take to reach this state if a week on a half on Lundy fails? All it takes is one minute, one second even to glimpse infinity, for once we have reached that moment even once, there is no going back, and I have reached that moment for seconds at least most days if I am honest and really look for them. I have just not been able to maintain them - not for more than a few hours on that Saturday that I spoke of. Then the mind was back, chattering away as usual with all the endless internal babble about what to have for dinner and about what I needed to bring with me when I return in five months time – ridiculous I know, but that too has become a habit.

My coffee in the meantime continues to get cold, but the wind howls and rattles the windows outside. The sun is trying to poke its way through, so we will see what the day decides to bring and where I deice to walk today. The rhododendron walk is calling – the one place I have not got to since I arrived, and perhaps a sit in The Ugly admiring that views that I never tire of. Whatever I decide, I will make the most of t, for it will be over all too soon.
In the end I spent most of the morning holed up in the cottage with a book for company – one about a midwife in Mali, West Africa and her American Peace Corps companions – the fifth book I have read since I arrived. After a quick lunch of toasted cheese and quorn ham sandwich with cauliflower and broccoli cup soup, I finally made it outside just before 2pm.

I was intending to walk only as far as Halfway Wall and then back via The Castle to try and see the goats, but decided to go down to The Battery, where I sat in the wind behind the wall at the old ammunition store for half an hour just enjoying the silence. Then it was back up to Halfway Wall and on The Pyramid, where despite the wind and the overcast skies, I decided to walk down, knowing perhaps that I may not have the chance again before the summer. It was a brief visit just to take some more pictures of the rocks below, warmed by the slightly reddish hues of my sunset mode.
The new camera I bought a few months back has more than provided its worth during this trip, with the slightly wider lens and even longer zoom, not to mention the exceptionally wide aperture – f2.8 even at the extreme end of the zoom – unheard of in even an old film camera. Pictures that I have been seeing in my mind’s eye for several years now have finally been captured to good effect.
Anyway, it was while I was sitting at The Battery that the mind began to wander again – back to the old job and everything that transpired. The tears began to fall as I finally gave in to those emotions that I felt were gone for good  - all the anger and frustration of being forced to leave a job that I loved, and I felt was rather good at, due to the behaviour of a selfish and arrogant man. I knew in that moment that when I got home, back to the cottage I had to write those feelings down in the form of a letter to him, not for him to see but rather for me, so that I could finally let it go, and so when I got back shortly after 5pm that it what I did.

The beginnings of the letter have been written, telling the story as I see it, from the beginning with no holds barred. I know that a lot of it has been said before, but I never did have the chance to speak to him, and this is my way of finally doing this, so I can put the whole thing to bed. There is more that needs to be said, and the words will come in time, but for now I have made a good start. The only thing I need to start now is tonight’s dinner.

Sunday 24th February

It seems like forever since I last wrote this, but it is only three days – so much has happened in so short a time, and yet in many ways I feel that I am only now beginning to relax and truly enjoy being here. That may sound strange after 34 visits, but I guess it has a lot to do with the last few months, and also quite a lot to do with the fact that I have not had what I would call a proper holiday since September – five long months ago. That is a long time for someone like me, given what I have experienced these last few months.

As I then have been slowly coming to life, so it seems has Lundy. Thursday and Friday were bitterly cold days, the coldest I have ever experienced here, with strong easterly winds that shortened my usual walks around the island to a few short hours. On Thursday I managed to get down to the Landing Beach and for a stroll around Millcombe and the Southwest Field, but the wind was so cold and so intense that I soon made my way back. Friday was a little better, but frozen pools of water were much in evidence around the island as I finally made it to the North End. I made the effort to walk down to the lighthouse, but again the wind defeated me and I walked quickly back along the well trodden path.
Yesterday was better, although I can’t remember exactly where I walked – I think it was the west coast. What I do remember is getting back around 4pm, sitting down with a coffee and then a hour later glimpsing out of the window in time to see the sunlight streaming across the landscape before a beautiful sunset. On went the boots for a quick stroll back across Acklands Moor and then to sit on the stile (how many times have I done this) watching the sun go down. It was so intensely quiet with a whisper of wind and just the starlings chattering away for company, as they flew around the eaves of the Old Light.

Sitting there in the cold watching the sky slowly turn from red to orange and then to black, my mind went completely blank, and I remembered why I was here and what life is all about – reaching the silence within and finding out who and what we are. It is a paradox perhaps that we can only do that in relation to others, yet at the same time we need the silence too, for in silence we find introspection and through introspection we find ourselves and our own soul. It has been a long time since I felt like that; where the mind went so completely still, and it has made me all the more grateful for this beautiful and inspiring place and the fact that I have two whole weeks to look forward to in another five months time.

Of course I also have four more days here, five if you count Friday when I fly back to the mainland and civilisation. Sometimes I think that life out here is far more civilised than what goes on that bigger island, for here there is no crime, no noise and nothing to fear, except perhaps getting kicked by a pony, or falling off a cliff, but well, you just have to be mindful and pay attention to what you are doing. It’s amazing how being completely out of your mind has that affect on you – sharpening the senses as it were, so that you know not only what is really important, but also so that you are that much more aware of your surroundings – both the inner and the outer.
Today then I awoke refreshed and relaxed after the best night’s sleep I have in ages, just in time to see the remnants of a beautiful sunrise. Grabbing the camera I dashed outside to take a few pictures and then back to bed for another hour before finally getting up just before 8am for breakfast and a hot shower. I was out the door by 9.45am, the earliest I have been since I got here, and did not get back in until almost 4.30pm, having walked around most of the island – up the Lower East Side Path and back the West Side Path via the North End, Quarry Beach and Brazen Ward. Not surprisingly I am cream crackered and ready for sleep already, but I shall try to resist until I have at least had some hot chocolate!

Thursday 21st February

Having finished the Icelandic book (the 8th in a series by the same author) almost as soon as I got here, I am now halfway through a book set in Malaysia, about a troubled Indian family. The weather it seems has been almost as changeable as my reading.

My arrival on Monday heralded beautiful blue skies with very little wind and temperatures in what felt like double digits, and it stayed this way for most of Tuesday as well. On the first day I was so tired after a sleepless night in the Premier Inn (I never sleep well the night before I go anywhere, least of all here), that I spent most of the afternoon in bed. Tuesday though once again brought the blue skies back, and so it was a trek down to the Pyramid to scramble halfway down that giant rock and lie recumbent basking in the early spring sunshine.
Wandering back later in the afternoon across Acklands Moor, I ran into two of the islanders on their way out for an afternoon stroll, no doubt on their way to The Battery, and together we reminisced about past times on the island, the ghosts if you like of times past. I do still wonder even now what may have happened had I been offered and taken that job. Good though can come from bad, as in the end it led me to finding the work I am in now – although lately I have been wondering once again whether it is the vocation I thought that it was. That job is of course as a housekeeper in the care industry.

Until recently I worked in a three star nursing home – arguably one of the best in the area. It was for the residents without a doubt, but one thing I learnt as the years rolled by, is that three stars for the residents does not necessarily mean three stars for the staff. It was not the Manager (and we had a whole succession of these) who was the problem, or even (and we had some of these too who were less than amenable) the staff, no, the problem was the Director; a former investment banker who was in it for the money and had no idea as to how the industry worked or what was really involved in our jobs. After three and a half years of his shenanigans I finally had enough and went to work for a care rather than nursing home run by a larger chain. Although on the surface it seems better with much less stress, somehow it isn’t really the same. Since I got here I have trying to figure out why that is, and I am a little closer to a resolution than I was.
I think a lot of it is to do with the fact that I have still not let the old place go – you see, there were a lot of good things about being there than suited me very well – yes the hours were crap, and I had to put up crap from him and some of the carers too, health and safety was a joke, and, and this is the biggest and, I was permanently tired, but there were goods things too. The good things were being closer to home, being able to take breaks when it suited me, being able to control what I ate (I could snack on fruit all morning), carry my water with me (not allowed here, although there are plenty of fountains), and the fact that it paid more (to add insult to injury he has finally after four years given the staff a pay rise) with longer hours, and the fact that he contributed towards my pension.

I know, I know that all of this sounds trite, and I had to, despite all of this get out of a place that was affecting my health, but I miss it. There I have said it. I miss the place. I miss the residents, but most of all, I miss the drama. It sounds crazy I know, but that’s the truth – I miss the drama, and the stress and the strife and having something other than myself to worry about. I think in that last sentence I may have finally hit the nail on the head.
Last night I was dreaming about the place – dreaming of all things about doing the washing up. Once a week (every Wednesday) I used to work in the kitchen, operating a big industrial dishwasher. Anyway, for some reason it had got backed up, and there were dirty dishes everywhere – piled up high in both sinks and all over the worktops – just like it used to get at one of the biannual parties. I was doing my best not to panic (and not succeeding) and the water was getting dirtier and dirtier but somehow I got it under control and the kitchen was eventually left sparkling and clean.

It occurred to me as I came to after that dream, that that had been part of the final letting go. I knew when I came here to Lundy that this was one of the reasons for my stay, for it always does have that effect, and I guess then that this is the start.
For the moment though, the sun is out, the wind continues to howl outside, and my coffee is getting cold, so it is time to shut this netbook down, and get on with the rest of my day. I am sure there will be much more musing to come.

Tuesday 19th February

This is the first time for a while, several years in fact that I have stayed on Lundy for this long. The last time I was here for 2 weeks was in August 2009, that fateful year that I almost ended up working here. I can see now what a mistake that would have been, yet I learnt a lot from the process. Anyway, I shall be back here again after a four year absence for 2 weeks in the summer.

When I decided to book this trip I was stressed out from work at the nursing home where I used to work, but several months on, having left that place and stated again elsewhere, the stress is finally beginning to lift. At least I thought it was, but when I got to the Premier Inn in Barnstaple on Sunday where I spent the night, I realised that really and truly I am yet to let that place go. I think it comes from the resistance of still seeing all the good things but not the bad, and while it is true that there were a lot of good things about working there, in the end those few very big bad things outweighed it all. There is still though a part of me that did not want to leave and still wishes that I had not, and that is the part that I need to work for the next 12 nights until I return home.

The journey down to Barnstaple was then uneventful. It took around four and a half hours after a short stop at Countess Services for tea, and a shorter one at Taunton Deane to let it back out again! I arrived at the hotel around 5.45pm and after getting into the room (why do they always put single women on the second floor when there are no lifts), phoned Coran to let her know that I had arrived safely. Then it was the sweet and crunchy salad that I had brought with me with a pack of green olives and a bag of crisps followed by a nice hot bath, a cup of coffee and the latest episode of Call the Midwife, before settling down to read my Icelandic book for an hour before bed.
I wish I could say that I had a good night’s sleep, but sadly as has lately been the case, I was tossing and turning for what seemed like half the night. Still I knew that I would make up for it once I got to the island, and sure enough I did. After a late arrival (I was on helicopter no. 10) and queuing for nearly 45 minutes for coffee at the Hartland Cafe (sadly I am not kidding), I finally got here just before 2pm, where I galloped down the usual jacket spud before heading off to the cottage to drop off my bags and then back out again to the shop. By the time I got in I was cream crackered, so I lay down to snooze for an hour until the rest of my bags arrived, and then reluctantly got up to unpack and make yet more coffee before heading back to bed to read.

A quick supper around 6.30pm of half a wheat free baguette with quorn ham and a large salad, followed by a mug of warm vegetable stock helped me to sleep later on. It was lights out at 9pm having finished the Icelandic book, and the best night’s sleep I have had for at least the last few weeks. When I emerged from the shower an hour or so later, the mist had descended, so I donned all of my warm clothes wondering what to do with the day, before settling down to write this.
I was in two minds whether to bring this netbook or not, but actually now I am sitting here writing,  I am glad that I did. When I look back on my writing in recent years I can see that it has changed, whereby I am no longer writing from what Brandon Bays would describe as “story”, in other words I concentrate less on what actually occurs and more on how it makes me feel, writing from an almost detached perspective. This is good as it shows that I have done real work and made some real changes to the way that I view life. On that note though, the mist has lifted, the clouds have sadly descended, but this is Lundy the first proper day of my holiday, so I am going to go out there and explore.