6:25am. A calm, slightly damp, silent, start of a day, with a waft of wind around my bare legs.
The one star left, after the star-studded sky has evaporated, is high and to my right – it may be a planet, I need to learn. Last night, at 3am, the Plough, ploughing amongst a sky of stars, I, noticing its different position to that when I was in Sheffield.
Here, 60 degrees north, the tilt of my view is different, sharper, present. On opening the door, in dressing gown, slippers and down coat, I’m greeted by a peachy ribbon hugging the sea top and sky bottom, falling temporarily in its homemade fold in the Earth’s atmosphere. Since moving here, it has been my greatest pleasure to be greeted by a line of colour dividing earth from sea – this is on lucky weather days. Some days, there is no differentiation between either. Almost seven weeks since I arrived and my first waking moment has never changed. I look out to sea, to the horizon, in search of a sunrise.
I have renamed the bench a Thinking Bench, rather than a Procrastination Bench. I procrastinated in that quiet garden in Sheffield, here, I view the changing light, devouring its fleeting moments.
This place is not an easy place to live but I am alive by its weather challenges and gift of light because it is becoming briefer at this point of the world. Nothing is missed, nothing taken for granted, nothing is sure – the changing light is a gift.
The door is open. Shetland
If you are interested in visiting this part of the island – bookings are open from spring time for single traveling, exploring ladies who want to experience this part of the world in a safe, unique house by the sea. Air B&B offer 20% off for the first 3 bookers. https://airbnb.com/h/levenwick
The weather has turned but I am still deeply happy here. For the last week, it has seemed as if the house has been a small boat buffeted by the 50 mile an hour winds and the relentless rains, bobbing on a sea of all imaginable water – rain, sea, fog, mist – except for Thursday. Thursday was bright and sparkling where we all came out brightly and sparkly blinking in the sun to do outdoor jobs.
Last night the aurora appeared but I didn’t leave my bed until 3am when Alf started his routine nighly bip bip bipping noise wanting to go out and my night was disturbed again much like 32 years ago when my children were babies. We now have a cat flap but he cannot, for some unfathomable reason, use it and Tig can only go one way – in. So every night, I am woken and have to let them out. Sometimes, I get up, get them out, return to bed and sleep wondering in the morning if I did get up, sometimes, I get up, wait and let them back in then feed them and we are all confused about 3am being part of a dark daytime, but mostly, I am awake for at least 2 hours either mulling over the many, many jobs to be done or thinking and feeling. I write words that are so crystalline that these nocturnal hours may be my best for writing. There doesn’t appear to be enough hours in the day, so my thoughtful times blead into the night.
I have found some kind of rhythm. It is dictated, in the first place, by weather. If it is fine, I start digging out the byre behind my house. I am hoping that it will be my greenhouse. I’m slow. I’m getting old but every spade of years of growth moved, every flag stone revealed, and every time I bump my head on the low door way, makes this little shell of an old stone building more into the fabric of my daily life and for the future. I’m keeping the ferns in it and there appears to be grape vine but the rest is slowly being removed to make way for a roof next year and a sheltered place to grow veg and scented flowers. Every stone placed by someone before me, every shovel of overgrowth removed by me puts my small mark inside the place. There’s a barn too – called a shed. It leaks and houses inherited junk, rusted metal things, old wood and peat. I like it. I have a vision for it but that will wait.
The house has not yet been changed inside by me. I am letting it speak to me, expose its foibles, and express its joys.
Things are returning to this place, kindly returned to me by a man who cleared it after his Aunt moved out in the early 90’s. His kindness at returning old jugs, glasses and plates that were once in this beautiful old house has been deeply moving. The pottery has once again seen the light of day and become pride of place. My favourite returning jug is a mid 19th Century Victorian salt glaze cream jug with pewter lid, which Raymond remembers being in the kitchen. It is returned to its old home after about 35 years of being away. I also love an old Wedgwood plate and if anyone can shed light on this plate, I’d be grateful These tactile treasures have been touched and used by the last two women who lived in this house for nearly 100 years. Just think of that – all the touches, all the pouring, all the meaningful reasons they were used.
This place and surroundings are always real, always natural. I am finding out more of the house and who lived here as well as change of land and outbuildings. My boys have settled into island life – mostly taking to bed during storms (which appears to be quite a lot) I’m glad they came with me – they make this place a home.
Anyway, it’s raining, to put it mildly. I’m going to put on 3 more layers of clothing and get out for a walk.
I also want to let you know that I have opened up my spare room on Air B&B for next year for single lady travelers, explores, lovers of knitting and crafts who would like to experience this island and lovely old house – the link is here.
I came to Smola in the 57th year of my life, wondering if it was foolish, due to age, aloneness, no income, no idea of future with two cats in a cat pram, arriving in a storm.
I still wonder those things, but will be patient with myself and life.
There are real highs and fairly low lows but I am in the right place, I know it. This place in time belongs to me and how I live it. I should not worry, I should just continue and be the best person I can be for myself and towards others.
I’ve said it before but I will remind myself that, Anais Nin said, ‘we do not see things as they are but as we are’ .
Yesterday, I called in at John’s who said speak to Jim, so I went to Jim’s and Martin was there too, they were off to a funeral and Jim was gracious with his time with me. He told me of Susanna (Susan, Cissie) who lived in the house that I now live in and that he was sent, as a child, to get the milk from her. She had one cow and rowed the little milk bills up on a shelf in the porch, the same porch that I have. He was a young boy – he told me of his house too, so much history in every place. After, I walked out of Jim’s old back gate, across the tufted grass, down the bank and on to the beach, along the length of it then up the south bank to come up behind the cemetery. I stupidly and possibly unempathetically, didn’t think that the funeral would be at Levenwick, so when I saw the people all in black with face masks arriving, I left.
But Martin, spoke with Raymond who came to see me today with the most wonderful handful of photos of photos of Susanna Halcrow (Susan, Cissie, or even Zizzie) and I saw, for the first time, a face to a name of a woman who lived in my old house for many years. She was born on the 6th February 1876 and Died 4th January 1960 – she was 83 and what a beautiful picture she was. Raymond brought me 4 photos of Cissie and 4 of John, that had been left in the house before his Aunt Alice lived in it. Raymond remembers it well. I had seen John in a photo before – John Halcrow, who one day walked out of that front door of the old porch facing the sea in Levenwick and never came back – he died in the battle of Jutland 31st May 1916. I am beginning to gather the stories of the lives in this old house – some sad and this one of war and loss and a wonderful looking woman called Susan with a dog called Ralph. So, if Tiggy will allow me, I will also get a new puppy and call him Ralph too. The woman looking back at me, who appears to have only worn dresses, gives me strength and look – the group are leaning against the wall that still surrounds this tiny house that used to be called Croft number 7 and Ralph sits upon it too. Susan looks absolutely calm and I want her to know that I already love her old house which is now called Smola and hope to share it with other women who possess a love of the wild and windy Levenwick and the old authentic place with a wall around it. And I think my next knitting pattern will be named Cissie.
With great thanks and appreciation to Raymond Irvine.