Monday, 30 April 2012

Garden wildlife

This morning I spotted a neighbour's cat stalking our birds not far from the back door and, within seconds, I had scared it away with the threat of a water jet...

Our birds have become quite dependant on us over the years, and Sooty (our blackbird), his partner, the five or so Sweeps (sparrows), two nuthatches, two collared doves and those dozy old wood pidgeons have become a vital part of our menagerie. But I am not pleased with the cat and shall do my best to keep it away.

Our purchasers have promised they will look after the birds, but its hard not to feel a little anxious knowing that we are leaving them all behind in just a few short weeks.

12 bags of shredded papers have been delivered to the dump today and not a moment too soon: the three shredders need frequent rests because they cut out after about ten minutes and it has been a monumental task getting rid of twelve years of paperwork. 

Its a fabulous sense of 'feng shui' clearing... saying goodbye to all those tax receipts and expenditure records from so long ago. And, this is what our new life is all about... a blank canvas, a starting out refreshed, renewed, revived.

This time a two years ago, one of our most beautiful irises was just developing, but this year because of the cold weather there's no sign of it at all...


This is the picture I must hold in my head...a beautiful ray of light coming through the storm of unpredictability and uncertainty.

Nicholas has an uncanny ability to wait just long enough for the light, for the moment, for the darkness to give way...I am grateful he is my life's companion, that my destiny is, in more than a small way, linked to his. 

For, above almost all else...this sort of photograph is all about the patience of the photographer, the willingness of the spirit behind the lens to wait until this kind of event occurs.

We are waiting for a lot of moments right now, so very many things have to be in synch for us to board the ship bound for our future in the USA. 

How grateful I am that my husband is by my side today...for today, when I see mostly clouds...he reminds me that something amazing is there, right there, behind them...


Sunday, 29 April 2012

Still time...

Today was my last probable day of painting before we emigrate....
Oil paint usually takes weeks to dry and I have to be sure that the paintings I have created this week will be hard enough to withstand the process of wrapping and packing.

So here is a small painting entitled 'Island Light 2' which attempts to encapsulate a feeling for the north and for the mysteries of the sea.

And, today, Judy and I have borrowed no less than 3 shredding machines: at times our office sounded like a demented orchestra of mosquitos as we fed documents and papers into the cross-diamond cutting faces.
Nine full bags later we have still a lot to do; but the process feels cathartic, as if, in the act of shredding we are casting off the shackles of old stuff.

Now, as I write, the evening light is glowing like gold amongst the embers of the day, and our shredding machines are cooling down. There is much to do tomorrow.


Things have had a tendency to be less than straightforward this year. The moments that have felt like absolute blessings have been utterly phenomenal. The moments that have sideswiped us and, literally blind-siding us with challenges we had not foreseen, have been equally as powerful. If I am honest, I'd say the two, the positive and less than positive, are running hand in hand in terms of impact. Or at least they are today. I guess I am tired today and I wish things could just go according to plan...

The only thing I can do with that equation is choose to keep focusing on the positive, keep focusing on the belief that, in the end, things will work out as they are meant to...and that, even if I don't always understand the present scenario, it is all unfolding for the good.

With so many details needing to fall into place, to dovetail, to is, frankly, a little exhausting to keep all the balls in the air. But I am reminded that I only need to see enough to take the next step...sometimes the big picture is not fully available to us as we look to the horizon. 

I am somewhere in the fog tonight....I am hoping to see more clearly tomorrow after a good night's sleep.


Saturday, 28 April 2012

Letters and Memories

Our process of sorting continued apace today: draws full of letters and documents to sift through and sort, including several boxes of letters that Judy and I had exchanged during the first two years of our knowing each other. Back then we had no email and we had no access to the Internet. Instead, for two years our main form of communication was by hand- written letter.

They evoke such a different pattern of memories compared with the bright computerised documents we deal with now... the formation of letters and words in turn encapsulating the feelings and spirit of the time at which they were written.

My first letter to Judy was sent from the small post office on the island of Colonsay on Friday June 11th 1998... the postmistress had shaken her head when I said it was to be sent to America and then carefully weighed it out on a small old fashioned set of scales that had seen much better days. 

And I can remember the moment as if were yesterday... a bright spirited collie had followed be down to the post office and then followed me back to the hotel.


Tonight was the last of the events celebrating NIcholas' retirement and the transition for the Oxshott Medical was a wonderful dinner party hosted by the women physicians who work at the surgery.

These three doctors, Richard Draper, Nicholas and Jackie Pickin were in partnership for 25 years, the longest GP partnership in Surrey's history...

I thought this post would be about this, about how proud I am of Nicholas' medical career, his clinical excellence, his capacity to listen to patients with grace and sensitivity, his unending patience in getting to the core of someone's anxiety or fear...and, in part it is...but more than that, it is about this.

Nicholas began his journey to be a doctor 37 years ago and at that moment in his life, he was deeply conflicted about whether to pursue medicine or to explore the less obvious, perhaps more precarious world, of artistic expression and creativity.

He is on a new path now, his life is opening before him and he is embracing it with joy....moving to the light and a deeply authentic expression of his talents on this earth.


Friday, 27 April 2012

Rain and Hail...

From the top of Leith Hill, not far from us, you can see the South Down Hills, about 30 miles away and, just beyond those is the English Channel. It's a reminder just how small England is.

This week we've been battered with hail and the heaviest April rain ever recorded in some parts. Islands attract all sorts of weather, but this has been exceptional. And, officially, the South of England is still in drought!

Our clutter clearing was hampered by yesterday's IT madness, but thankfully the problem has miraculously been solved and we're back up to speed. But I look at the drawers of documents that need either sorting or shredding with a certain Herculean dread... just what we need to keep and what to discard is likely to take several days to accomplish.

Our house sale is to be completed in five weeks time. Our removals company is booked and will take three days to pack everything into boxes; I may have found a buyer for the car and, we've given notice to Sky, the TV rental company and to our utility providers and yet there's so much more to do!


Today I am still walking the least in my memory...

This one was on on Iona, just above Columba's Bay on the south shore of the island and I walked it just last week. As I was slowly moving along its circular pathway, I was deeply conscious that at the moment I first came near to the middle of the circle, the arc of the stone path guided me away, and not only a little distance away, but to the very outside ring of the labyrinth, as far from the resting point in its core as I could physically be. how I feel today. As far from having completion as can be. The house, the packing, the pensions, the disposing or selling of all we are not storing or moving, the goodbyes, the endings, the new beginnings...for a brief moment it all felt calm and close and within reach. But now, In this moment, for all sorts of reasons (most of which are out of my control), I am emotionally walking the circumference of this circle called my life in transition and I don't like it. I want to be in the centre, I want to be able to rest.

I am thankful for the lesson of this ancient symbol, in having experienced it, I know the path will ultimately arrive me where I long to be and that, while it might not be my first choice, walking at a distance may just give me perspective on the journey and a deeper appreciation for the process. 


Thursday, 26 April 2012

Communications Madness!

Well, today we hit the buffers! For some reason our broadband has been cut-off and we are up against the stupid bureaucracy of British Telecom who have removed our internet access a month before we sell the house, on the misunderstood orders of our purchasers. And the company who authorized this has suspended its activities for an 'emergency evacuation' training.

Thankfully our neighbour has allowed us to use their internet... and we can connect.

But it makes us remember how crucial connectivity is... with so much required via email and so on, it's like being stranded on a desert island without any way off.


It is difficult to imagine the time when we couldn't simply pick up a phone and dial a number and connect to someone across the ocean, or send a document via fax, or even better pdf, email, FB, instant message, Skype...but, not so many years ago, Nicholas and I communicated predominantly via handwritten letters, all of which will be coming with us on the journey-we can't bear to think of them lost in a container somewhere.

This "event" with our internet provider has demanded that we actually speak to our neighbour in person and ask for help, that we connect, that we actually reach out in a physical form. And, our fantastic next-door neighbours met our immediate needs with grace and understanding and generosity. non-virtual necessity!

The labyrinth above is the one at Stony Point in New York State. It was walked by us and a number of our guests at our wedding weekend and we subsequently walked it when we visited in the years following. There is a labyrinth of a similar design on Iona, which I walked just last week.

One step at a time...this life I am leading is


Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Clutter.... and memories

We have three floors to pack and sort here at St Pauls Mews and, yesterday, we began to sift through cupboards and boxes in the studio. When we moved here six years ago it had been so hectic that we had no opportunity to do this.

And of course the process is a journey back in time….Coming across letters, cards, bric a brac and memories from our two lives, both separate and joined. When I had come to boarding school in England from Tanzania, on my own, as a 9 year old child, I had a little brown suitcase in which I had tucked some clothes, the odd cassette tape of African music, a few toys, and that was all. Later, when I qualified in Medicine in 1980 and began the transition from student to doctor, the suitcase was still with me, albeit battered and scratched. It journeyed to Iona in 1998 when I met Judy, but finally fell apart when I got divorced in 1999.

Its staggering how much clutter we’ve accumulated…and now we’ve begun the process of sifting through it all, giving much away and discarding much too. But it feels good doing this, even though it takes time; as if the clearing away can lead to new possibilities, a renewal, a fresh start and a host of memories that emerge from the shadows, like dreams.

“Footfalls echo in the memory, down the passage we did not take, towards the door we never opened, into the rose garden.”

TS Eliot


Yesterday, surrounded by music and lyrics, reviews of performances I have done, and hundreds of lovingly written opening night cards and notes from two decades of my career as a professional actress, I was quite overwhelmed. Partly at the outpourings of well-wishes, partly at the praise my work received critically, but mostly by the stark reality of time. 

My one-woman show, Angels Unawares, was nearly 20 years ago. 
Nearly half my lifetime ago.

There is a power in actually touching memorabilia, it is as though in so doing I am transported to other times, yesterday I saw the faces of people I had journeyed with, the places I had visited, the back stages and dressing rooms, the sounds of the orchestras, the highlights and the lowlights of my life in the theatre flooded back to me in wave after wave of recollection. 

In slowing down enough, in creating space and time to order our lives, we are finding what we can let go of, what is superfluous, what is unnecessary. And, yesterday, I found that, although I have not been an actress for this past decade, it is still an enormous part of who I am, who I have been, and who I will yet be.

The gentle sorting of my life in the process of moving illuminates moments, reminding me to pay attention, reminding me to give thanks.


Tuesday, 24 April 2012


Almost exactly twelve ours after leaving Iona we arrived back at St Pauls Mews.

An almost seamless connection of different modes of travel with our flight arriving ten minutes early! But at Gatwick airport our cab driver was prevented from leaving by a faulty ticket machine, a snafu that lasted for a quarter of an hour.

Looking at our garden this morning we can see that the cherry blossom has been battered by last week's hail and it's a sorry sight, but the Japanese Maple is unfurling delicately and looks untouched, its bright red trunk glowing in the grey light of the morning. 

We're trying not to be dazed by so much to do before we embark on June 10th and I feel inspired to start some new paintings whilst the studio is still usable... I'm hoping the oil will be dry by the time our removals company arrives. A giant 40-foot container to be filled...


As we boarded the ferry from Iona early yesterday morning, a van filled with the belongings (well, some of the belongings) of the former owners of the Argyll Hotel, driven by Dan, the former owner, also boarded. It seemed a wondrous and spectacular full-circle moment in a way.

Actually, Dan and his wife Claire, purchased the Argyll from Fiona Menzies shortly after NIcholas and I overlapped for those incredible 3 days in 1998. When we returned to the island in 1999, it was Claire and Dan who provided us with the hospitality and care we have enjoyed on each subsequent visit, including the one we took with all four of our parents in 2002. Now, they are moving from Iona to an island in BC Canada with their 3 small children. Dan will finish his Doctorate and Claire is studying psychology and yoga. He was driving their belongings to a container that would be shipped from Oban in a few week's time.

It was wonderful to see him again and to hear their story unfold. I also saw Fiona, quite by chance. And, interestingly, her brother has been a patient of Nicholas' for the past 25 years! She remembered us and our unfolding romance even in those briefest of moments in her 21-year stewardship of the Argyll.

On board the ferry with us as well were the brilliant head chef of the Argyll, Pam, and her partner Rob, who manages the service and front of restaurant, with grace and an incredible ability to effortlessly keep it all flowing smoothly. I hadn't yet met Pam and, after thanking her for the incredibly delicious meals she had created for us, I began to introduce myself. She said, "Oh, I know who you are. The whole island knows you are the two that fell in love here, got married and are moving back to America!" It echoed the gifted artist, Mhairi Killin's words, "Your's is one of my favourite Iona love stories". 

Each of these people, chef, restaurant manager, hotel owners, artist were drawn to Iona for different reasons. Some stay for life, like Fiona. Some are there for a season, like Dan and Claire, some return to their roots, like Mhairi, and others are there for a reason, like Pam and Rob a way, like us. 

After two 12-hour days of ferryboats, trains, planes, cabs and busses, I know that a  journey to Iona is not a chance event, it is something planned for and orchestrated. What happens after you arrive...well, that is the essence of that which is greater than ourselves....that, is the unique gift of Iona to all who make the pilgrimage to her shores.

Our love blossomed in what seems an unlikely place at first island of mostly rock outcroppings and barren hills....perhaps we were simply taking our lead from the thrift...

If you look closely you will see it, that patch of green from which are emerging small pink flowers, each holding a number of tiny star-shaped petals...thriving, against, all odds, held by the ancient stones of Iona...


Sunday, 22 April 2012

Leaving Iona

We’re off back to England tomorrow, catching the 9am ferry from Iona. Fourteen years ago Judy and I had to say the first of 24 goodbyes when we said farewell to each other at Craignure on Mull on the 10th June 1998. We had no idea what the future would bring and all we had then was trust and faith.

Today, we outlined a synopsis of all that has happened in our lives since then and, two hours later, having typed nine pages of annotated memories we were exhausted and amazed at all that has evolved. It was as if we had jumped in the deep end and kept on swimming…

It will be strange to leave this place, to embark on the southerly journey once more and we will leave behind a clutch of memories and recollections that will light us on our way.


Over dinner tonight Nicholas and I were talking about the incredible nature of the journey we have been on. One thing in particular stands out in my mind as I recall our conversation…we spoke of the highs and the lows, the glorious light and the unspeakable darkness we experienced, both as individuals and as a couple in the process of coming together, of trusting, of releasing.

It is so easy to create a picture of it being always joyful and beautiful, but as we paused to truly reflect in the Abbey earlier tonight, we gave thanks for the courage to withstand the stormy times and sail the rough waters.

I suppose I want to present a face that reveals only the positive, the encouraging, the optimistic…but, in reality there have been more than a few moments of doubt and “what on earth are you doing?” going through my head these past years. And, if I know anything at all, it is that it is important to sit with oneself in such moments of despair or searching or fearfulness. For one of the great truths I have learned is this…the only constancy is change…

Iona taught me this again…here is a photo of last night…

And here was the sky this morning…

Change is exquisite…I need only be patient, it always happens.


Saturday, 21 April 2012

The First Cuckoo of Spring

We heard a cuckoo calling this morning at 4 am, and as it is the first time we’ve heard it this week it must have arrived only yesterday; all the way from West Africa…3500 miles or so, crossing the Mediterranean and then Spain and the Bay of Biscay. Such a mysterious journey defies imagination.
Time here on Iona is a variable thing, punctuated now and then by the sounds of the Mull Ferry arriving and departing and by the changing sounds of birdsong. There is a parliament of rooks in the trees behind the hotel and their cawing and cackling goes on all day. We have yet to hear a corn crake, which creates a loud buzzing sea-saw call in late Spring and Summer.

In the cloisters of the Abbey a clutch of starlings create a chaotic, exotic mixture of sounds: clicks, whines, trills and the odd patch of bird song they have copied from elsewhere. They are real clowns these birds, and yesterday morning we watched one dance about on the top of the central statue, showing off for all the world like a court jester, its song echoing around the cloisters and bouncing around in the shadows.
We spotted a flock of geese flying south at midday, quiet as they flew, in a determined fashion and the clouds grew and changed and yet there was no rain.


Today we were with the stones again, this time on a return visit to the Bay at the Back of the Ocean. The day, forecast last in England to be hideous, was instead glorious with sunshine and billowy clouds.

I love these stones…well, actually I love all stones. I think I have picked up stones from most beaches I have spent time on, both in the United States and in Europe. There is something about the nature of their constancy, their journey; that reminds me to hold fast, to trust.

As if to reinforce this, I met a woman named Essa in the Scottish National Trust shop attached to the Abbey-she thought she recognized me. It was true, she was remembering a time Nicholas and I journeyed here with all of our parents in 2002. How amazing! We went on to share our personal stories, and in the end we spoke of our mutual passion for stones. Essa is a collector, and she told me that she has taken to polishing hers, in not one but four machines. One thing in particular that she told me stands out as I recall our conversation…

She said that the tumbling of the rough stone reveals its inner beauty, reveals a varnished-like surface that shines in the light as if it were fresh from the sea. How often I come back with pockets full of treasures I have acquired, only to find they are grey and faded and not what I thought I’d found. I will look forward to tumbling them back to glory.


Friday, 20 April 2012

Far Horizons...

Today the weather after all defied all forecasts. Bright sunshine and cloudless skies greeted us when we woke. 
We climbed Iona's highest peak today... Dun I, which at 815 feet offers commanding views as far as the eye can see. In the distance to the North are the Black Cuillen mountains of Skye, and to the South East, the Paps of Jura.
Legend has it that there is a well of eternal youth there and we spotted it hidden amongst the rocks in brilliant midday sunshine.


Today we met with an artist friend, Mhairi Killin, who lives and works on Iona, her silver jewellery is exquisite, some her own design, some the designs of her grandfather who also created his art here.

While talking we spoke of this place, this little island which calls people to itself. Mhairi continues to be amazed at the response of people from around the world to her Facebook site Aosdana, they feel connected to her work, part because it is incredible expressive and beautiful, but also because Iona is a contemporary place of pilgrimage. 

There is no easy way to arrive here, it is a journey and one must commit to it. Vast stretches of water must be crossed to arrive here, I needed a ferry and a ferryman, it is the stuff of ancient story, and thus it calls what is destined in me, it awakens what is dormant. Because of this, I think it has a rarified essence and simply being here I feel it.

In being separate from the rest of the large land masses, the noise and pace and pollution and confusion that accompanies them fades and the gentle rhythm of its stones and its birdsong become the melody my spirit responds to. 

Arriving here, whether in body or in spirit, one joins the company of those who seek....and in Iona, in her stillness, questions you never knew you were asking are softly answered.


Thursday, 19 April 2012

St Columba's Bay

Two greylag geese flow over our heads as we walked south to St Columba’s bay this morning and then, as we walked north, later, they flew over us again.
We collected a few sea washed pebbles and sat on the shoreline, facing south. The sense of peace and separation from all the crowded avenues of mainland life is intoxicating.
And then, on the sandy dunes of the Bay at the Back of the Ocean we sat for a while, facing west.

Today we’ve been gifted with sunshine and tomorrow the forecast is dire. Who knows, really, and in many ways, it doesn’t matter at all, for here we can walk into the pace of each day, enjoying each moment for what it is.


Today was a day filled with that odd combination of being in the present and being in the past.

We spent much of the morning and early afternoon walking and resting at Columba’s Bay. This is, according to the storytellers of centuries ago, the place where St Columba landed with his 12 monks from Ireland, thousands of years ago. Together, they brought Christianity to Scotland, Celtic Christianity. The deep peace of the flowing waters…

The bay is filled with pebbles, washed by centuries of ebb and flow, sunshine and rain. I cherish these stones, from the moment I first beheld and touched them; I have felt a resonance and a sense of completion in a way I cannot find language to describe. Let me just say, my backpack weighed a bit more in my departing than it had in my arriving…when Nicholas and I were married we gave a pebble from Iona to each of our guests, wanting to celebrate this place with those who had held us on our journey of immense light and the shadows that had preceded it.

As if to echo that, tonight at dinner we were honoured by a complete rainbow arcing above Mull, directly across from the Argyll Hotel, where we are staying, where we met. It reminded me that reflected light transforms even the darkest skies, bringing joy and beauty in extraordinary ways.