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Two letters.

Yesterday, a witch wrote to me from Idaho.   What did she see in me that I do not yet see or acknowledge in myself.  She said that we would have been called witches – it was, and I took it as, a compliment.  My hair is becoming shaped and reshaped by the wind, knotted at the neck. Since being so far North, it has taken on a grass-like quality.  A little like a long cat’s tail with a curl at the end –  like a plait made of grass.

Tiggy purrs loudly beside me with watery eyes. His coat is wet from his night hunt in the rain – thankfully, he came back empty mouthed.

Today, 25th November, is the day I can open a letter I wrote to myself exactly one year ago to the day.  Also in the envelope is the letter I wrote to myself the year before.  The letters write what I hope for myself for the coming year, what I think I ought to do, try to aim for and wish for. I always forget what I wrote in the letter (s).  Today is the day to find out what I was thinking.  Here are both letters written to myself – word for word.

25th November, 2019, Upper House, Brindister, Shetland.

Dearest Tracey, So many things have happened since you wrote to yourself one year ago.  Some of the hopes have come true – risk taking, finding a path that is true to you, becoming more open.  
There is one thing you did but need to continue doing – that was to make calculated decisions and stick with them.  

You need to really decide now, because you are at a cross roads – what will you decide?  – here – I’ll list a few options.

Get an artist studio @SI Get an interesting job in Sheffield p/t – like arts co-ordinator

Sell the flat to buy in Shetland

Look to rent a place in Shetland for a year to see what happen
Apply for the Phd @ NTU – 2 options there

You WILL NOT get a full time office job – that’s for sure.

Tracey, choose a path.

Your patience has paid off lately.  Patience waiting @ SHU, patience with the situation last month, have patience with S because I think if you could have anything – it would be a growing, deepening relationship.

You learned to love on FI and you were loved also.

Do not forget that love in the coming year.   Open up more to love, Give more of yourself and of gifts of time – Just give

Volunteer, if you feel lost when you return to Sheffield. 

I wish for you, that your creativity flourishes – that you grow creatively  –  that the path you started to carve when you took VR is more deeply carved and you are on a great journey of self.

Be kind, be open be love and loved.  Xxx

Also, in the envelope was the letter from 6th November 2018, which I opened on 6th November 2019 by the sea whilst living on Fair Isle.  I took Lola, way before dawn and we walked to the North of the Island and I sat on a rock and opened the letter written to myself exactly a year before.

6th November 2018. 

Dearests Tracey.

Be kind to yourself.  To push yourself every minute is not entirely fruitful.

Take those moments to continue to be real, more real, most real.

What is this real?  What is the shape and colour of this reality?

Build on what touches your core, opens you up, loses you deeper into the life that is ever present. 

Wellbeing – basics – go to more yoga, keep going swimming, wear your cycling helmet, talk to dogs, wave at kids, book those trains, ferries, planes. 


Remember ( the distance between what we want and what we fear is the width of an eyelash)

I hope in one year that you will have carved a path that is entirely true to you, a place that you are happy to work, a place of wellbeing, a place of some kind of contentment ringed by periodic risk taking.  Don’t stop taking risks.  Be true to the real reasons.  Do not blame.  What do you want for yourself for in one year?  

To be less (not isolated, not alone, not single – but more open to a partnership with someone – will you ever find that – that thing?

You are still on a journey – be patient, it will grow.   So much growth already, but we never stop developing ourselves, do we?

I hope that you will be more professionally fulfilled.   You take calculated risks but actually, you should make calculated decisions and stick with them.

Do you want to live on the Tibetan Plateau for a month – if so, do it.  This is now.   What do I want now for you in the future?  I want you to be sound and happy.  Eric would say during yoga, ‘comfort and stability’ whilst standing on one leg.  I want contentment and joy, or excitement and joy, or health and connection.  Does it have to be two things only?  No. 

I want you to grow more sound in your wellbeing, more connected to people, more open to those things that you can have, break through any fear, give more of yourself to others, open yourself to others because you already make opportunities.

Be pure, be you – 6th November 2018.

Midnight, 25th November 2020, Shetland.   

Two years later – I am outside, in the small road by my broken gate and the old wall surrounding my small house, under a sea of stars in this clear Shetland sky.

The Plough is not above me, as it was in Sheffield, but to the North.  the aurora is showing but I cannot see it with my eye. To see it through a six second open shutter is to stretch time, hold time in one frame as if holding my breath to catch the dancing green light.  I will wait.

Already the inside of the windows in the porch and bedroom are clouded with condensation through their touch with the outside cold.  Here on the bench, for the first time in weeks, I see the sea, the stars, the moon and smell the heady scent of peat fire smoke.  All the world is here within the stars, the universe, the sea with its horizon line lit at midnight by the light of the moon, the old stone walls built and rebuilt over almost 2 centuries surrounding this house. All these things turn on the axes of the earth and will still be here long after I have gone. 

The cats have taken themselves to bed.

Tomorrow, I will write myself a third letter of what I hope for myself to come for the year ahead.  3 letters in one envelope to read a year from now – so many changes already – so many to come

.26th November

I nearly deleted this post as it makes me feel open to criticism by being completely vulnerable but I read a beautiful comment which made me leave these words in the hope that it may make you stop, just for a moment. And, then I looked at some of the great changes I have made – moved house, moved 1,000 miles from city to island, had a year of making, of helping people at the NHS, of being brave, taking risks, being open, started designing small knitting projects, started driving again after over 12 years of not driving a car, written words, taken photos, dug out a byre, researched a woman who lived in this house facing the sea. To date, this is my most meaningful creative piece – it may be a hat but it encompasses over 40 years of my knitting, of travel, of recognising strong women. The life that has inspired this latest pattern is a woman that lived in this very house I write in for 83 years, looked out of the same windows and door on to that vast ocean and sky. I called the Pattern Good Wishes for the New Year – Here it is

Here she is

Ravelry: Good Wishes for the New Year pattern by Tracey Doxey

Ravelry: Designs by Tracey Doxey

Further reading and design process below

https://www.patreon.com/TraceyDoxey

Shetland light.

Sun Rising pure light.   

Saturday, Sitting in this old house, with the doors open for this fine Shetland sunrise, listening to the sparrows and starlings mutter and chatter over the breakfast seeds on the wall, the red light pours sharply in to the house as a shard of light, hitting the back wall at an angle in the corner – a different place from even two weeks ago where light hit the middle of the sofa.  I am learning a cycle of annual shifting light. 

Light, so commonly taken for granted, is a big thing here.  Its appearance is being squashed into a smaller opening by the darkness of Winter speeding in to borrow light’s hours. The night darkness is squeezing out the daylight day by day but sunrise is putting up a spectacular morning fight.

For a brief half hour, I listen, wait and watch to see the magnificence of a new day writing its signature across my walls, through my windows and refracted through the old lead chandelier prism crystals that now become brokers in this arrangement between sunrise and light. The crystals throw rainbows of light across the walls and ceiling. The moment is enchanting.  Why not be enchanted? – if only briefly. 

I have always noted shifting light, where it hits the walls of my homes, how it affects me, how it shifts around the room at different times of year, how I wait for it to appear at certain times of year and how it slips away. I have rejoiced in it for years.  But here, here it is more powerful because being so northerly, the light is extra precious during winter. I have yet to learn of its daily power during living here through a summer where the light fights back to take over the hours of darkness.

This morning, all my world stopped to be in this November moment. Grateful at being able to see the pure light and to feel its powerful healing properties.

Pure Moon light.

A moon beam paints its light in the whole shape of the window across my bedroom floor. Unbeknown to me, light is also painted across the floor in the room downstairs.

Outside, the moon world is brought together by a party of present and missing elemental guests.  The sharp light is here because wind and rain are missing.  The moon is the main guest of honour.  A moon so bright and full that it creates a pool of light in the basin of the wide and deep sea.  The fold of the earth, visible through the window,  as horizon line between earth and sea, marks a line between moon light and night darkness as if drawn by a spirit level.

After the storm, after the Orcas, the moon paints the sea silver and my bedroom floor with a faint but clearly defined light in the shape of a window resting on the old wooden floor boards.

How can I turn away from this natural visual world that is lit by a full moon guest?  To sleep is to miss it. I cannot sleep, or read and although knitting beckons me, the moon light pulls my gaze and I see nothing but tones of grey, silver, slate, graphite,  black, white.  A boat sails on the horizon trailing its own white light.

To be alive at this moment, here, now, with all the elements in perfect harmony is priceless. Except for the personal cost of noticing, taking time, being aware, being in the moment – given freely.

I write in the pure darkness, not seeing the pen or the words. The white page is faintly highlighted by the painting moon light. 

Suddenly, rain arrives at the party, accompanied by blowing wind and bringing cloud. Other natural elements join the party, breaking up moon’s isolated glow. Rain, wind and cloud cover moon – he leaves the moonlit party, taking with him light. 

Black ness returns accompanied by rain on the roof and wind down the chimney.

If you would like to receive a monthly newsletter on living in Shetland, I have started a Patreon site for unpublished stories – which will only be available to Patreon supporters. If you would like to receive monthly newsletters, stories, updates on research on this old house and Susan Halcrow, discounts on my knitting patterns and information on Shetland, please consider supporting me through Patreon at £3 per month or £6 per month. The link is here. https://www.patreon.com/TraceyDoxey

This story is the first one and it is free. After that, my Patreon supporters will receive exclusive stories and I will dedicate time to my writing on that page.

If you are interested in staying at Smola in Shetland, the link to Air B&B is here

https://airbnb.com/h/levenwick

A Shetland sunrise

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.

sunrise reflected in the window


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

A letter to a rainy day

Saturday, 24th October.

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.

old Wedgwood

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.

Where ever I lay my hat….

Sea Urchin and Fire and Sea hats hanging behind my bedroom door.

If you would like to knit either of these hats, here’s the link https://www.ravelry.com/designers/tracey-doxey

Smola

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.

Levenwick Beach online Knit along – Smola Gloves

I pack the bike paniers for the beach – a place that I know is today in a wind storm.  Laying the blanket upon the fine sand, making ready to start knitting the gloves with my online Ravelry Knit group is wonderful moment.  It is THE perfect location to sit and knit, think, feel – the sea rolling and heaving in front of me, the bike tyres being quickly buried under small sand drifts behind me.  I dig into the bank of the crescent beach and unpack a speckled banana and Christmas biscuits in an old tin, my 5 year old Thermos from Japan, my note book, pen, yarn and chart. 

I sit as if a child on a picnic for no one and watch the weight of water lift the surface of the sea in front of me.  Waves break and reach the shore line as if they move along the keys of a piano – right to left along the entire long beach. 

Sand grains settle on the surface of my tea as if in a grain huddle, in the base of the open biscuit tin, on the blanket in the shape of the base of my shoe, in the threads in the ball of yarn, on the canvas yarn bag that travelled a thousand miles, in my hair, on the scarf.  

I am here, this is me.
Sand blown, wind blown, sea salt tasting.

I scan the sea for whales – the whales that came in to the bay last Weds when I was at St Ninian’s.  The weight of the sea water, rising and sinking, ebbing and flowing – covering secrets below its surface in the cold, cold depths of ancient sea sounds.

Today is the first day of my online Ravelry Knit Along where you can join me until 12th October in a group to knit the Smola gloves – named after my home in Shetland.  You can ask questions, add photos, let me see your projects.   THANK you to all those who have bought the pattern for the gloves already. 

If you would like to join this online group –   here is the pattern and here is the ravelry group, if you would like to join

Happy knitting, happy sea and beach thoughts –  If you’d like to join me on the beach next year, I will be offering Air B&B for single lady crafters, artists and explorers.  Message me if you are interested in staying in my 200 year old house by the sea.

Smola, Shetland. One week in.

Thoughts on the 18th day of the 9th Month, 2020.

 Exactly to the minute of one week since arriving at this tiny house.

I am utterly grateful for this opportunity to live in this life changing place by the sea. It wasn’t an easy journey but I am finally here.  

Every moment, I feel connected to the earth and I’m mindful of the days through the ever present wind, the break through of the sun and the pure blue skies, the wetness moving in over the hill – the weight of water moving in a line of cloudy fog, hail crashing onto the skylight at the top of the stairs so that the cats and I run around thinking we were under siege – new sounds, the weather making my face raw and ruddy and my hair in sea spray straw and above it all, this tiny house that is becoming the love of my life.

The kindness of friends and neighbours helping me arrive and settle in:  B – meeting me at the ferry then driving me to the house, flowers and veg from C and H, BD – bringing me peats and coal for my first hearth fire, D brought me a Sunday dinner and E, brought me home grown flowers and shiny wholesome home grown veg last night. 

Post cards from well wishers from all over the world begin to fill the wall.

I hear the geese fly over the house, knowing that they fly in their perfect V formation.  I step outside to watch how they change position and take turns to fly at the point of the V facing into the wind, the rest in the slip stream.  I am learning every moment, every day.  Old stones surround my house. Standing on hand hewn stones is grounding.

I have 3 doors – a front door that is mostly open, a small white glazed porch door and an interior door with a very old square wooden latch opener.  It’s wonderful.  How many people have turned the wooden latch-block before me to open the wooden latch inside? The inside latch clicks and hits the wooden housing and on that recognisable sound I hear the thud of the cats jumping off the bed in the bedroom above to come to greet me.

They have settled so well – now I put them out in the middle of the night if they are talking too much. They roam the area and roll in the sunshine outside the house on the road.  They squint into the wind and rain and change their minds about going out. They are becoming island cats.

I am painting the visible wood in the window frames outside before the Winter sets in, I need to order coals, oil for the heating and any number of things.  I still need to learn how to read the oil tank but I have managed to get the oven clock working so now I the oven works.

I am learning new things every time I turn around – looking at the hedgerow flowers growing with their faces away from the wind, the beach changes by the day, I search for heart shaped stones, I peel slugs the size of snakes from my porch floor, I move plants into a place of shelter, I wake and look out of the window towards the East for the sunrise every day – from the ship that is my bed sailing in a tiny house built into a bank for shelter. My TV doesn’t work but my environment is my TV.

This place will, at times, challenge me but I feel that there is nothing I cannot overcome. I’m beyond grateful for this time to live properly, feel deeply, touch the earth with integrity.

Beach wear – 60 degrees North

All knitting patterns can be found on my Ravelry page here https://www.ravelry.com/designers/tracey-doxey

If you are interested in following my journey then sign up here.

meeting a tiny house.

It is exactly one week to the minute that I stepped off the overnight ferry from Lerwick, arriving in Aberdeen at 7am on the morning of 14th August after a ten hour visit to Shetland to see the little house with a view of the sea. A long arduous journey back to Sheffield was ahead of me with so many thoughts within me.

The three hour bus journey from Aberdeen to Edinburgh gave me ample time to self sabotage with whys, hows, and what ifs about my decisions to move a thousand miles.  Parallel to the broken disjointed eight hour journey down the east coast of England to Sheffield, my thoughts shifted, opened, slipped and dispersed across my lap in front of me. The beauty of the landscape blurred by to my left, without being seen, both on bus and train –  I never looked outward – only in.   Of course, I was beyond tired having travelled non stop for three days whilst dealing with life changing decisions of buying a tiny house without any idea of future plans.

Now, exactly one week to the hour and minute of docking in Aberdeen, I’m able to reflect whilst beside me, within the folds of the deep quilt on the bed, my loving cat lies sleeping unaware of what is going to happen in a few weeks for the long return journey north.   During the last week, so many physical, emotional and sensory things have happened since that whistle stop ten hour visit to Shetland with 24 hours travel on either side, which also entailed major disruptions from a tragic derailment, a heart-breaking loss of life from that train ahead of me, journey  decisions on the hoof and scary heart stopping moments of trying to make a ferry leaving the country whilst stranded four hours away form the point of catching it.  There were times during journey that I really thought I would not make that ferry for Lerwick which was leaving from Aberdeen – a city on lockdown where I had no place to stay or go.   

Here is an extract from my urgent, cathartic scribblings on 12th August.

At Newcastle, I’m told there are no trains from Edinburgh to Aberdeen, due to major landslides and floods on the track.  Initially, I feel sick but also naively hopeful – as if it will all clear up and get working for when I arrive – either this is a princess talking to herself about being above all this or more pragmatically and closer to the truth; me burying my head.  After conversations with the lady at information in Newcastle station – who assures me that Scotrail have a duty to get me to Aberdeen – (looking back I now think why would the make sure I would make my ferry?) and that there will be buses provided.  Beside her, I stand on the platform and urgently call the ferry company – I have until 5pm to cancel but really, I’m being pushed further up the country with no idea of what will happen and no way to get back with a massive back pack, old lady shopping trolly full of precious china from China, a front day pack with laptop and a bag with water.  Add Corona to that with masks, social distancing, hand sanitiser, no toilets on some trains, no tickets, lockdown in Aberdeen, no place to stay and I’m already thinking of turning back.  I call Patti and mention that maybe this is a sign. She said it’s not a sign. There’s maybe no chance of going forward, chance of being stuck and not getting back yet I naively still think there is a way.  The information lady gets me on an earlier train out of Newcastle to arrive in Edinburgh 20 minutes ahead of my planned time. I sit in first class waiting to be moved by the conductor who knows I am there and talks with passengers and leaves me be.

This whole incident is teaching me to not give up – keep trying.

Little did I know in Newcastle, the terrible tragic severity of the mentioned landslides and floods.  Little did they know.  Near Stonehaven, the train had changed route after halting due to flooding on the line, then hitting another flood or a landslide, it had rolled down a steep embankment and caught fire – the driver, conductor and one passenger were dead, six were injured. The crash had not been noted for some time because it was in an isolated place. I cannot think how terrifying it must have been for those passengers and how shocking the outcome is for everyone. 

Between Newcastle and Aberdeen, a friend messaged me and I relayed all the problems of travel and that I was heading for Edinburgh and there had been flooding and I was hoping it would be cleared up by the time I got there but if it wasn’t – I had no idea.  She suggested Megabus out of Edinburgh and sent me the times of the two buses to get me to the ferry in time (just) for the overnight crossing to Lerwick and my 9am meeting of the house I am buying the next day. She mentioned a regular bus service could also be an option if there were no buses provided for stranded passengers. But I knew that booking had to be way in advance because of corona and social distancing, everything was stacking up against not making the ferry. In my head, catching a bus was not an option I had thought about or considered or could do.  It seemed unthinkable to go the last 130 miles by an unplanned bus.  She screen shot two photos of mega bus times. 

Five hours into my journey, my sinking thoughts were that if I couldn’t make the journey to Aberdeen through cancellation of services, then was this the right move to an island and was this was the calm before the storm.  At that point, I could not hear self-sabotage starting.  She encouraged me, she wrote,  

‘how many people would have continued once Covid happened? Here you are now, one more push, you are the one still standing. If you do everything you can and it doesn’t work, then there will be just accepting it but if you have not tried, there will always be the what if in your mind’.  

This message from a woman who had gone through her own deep searching journey on an island was not to be dismissed and gratefully received.

However, Edinburgh Waverly Station was in turmoil.  Of the many Scotrail staff in the station, none were able to help me with advice, they pushed me from one to another staff member then on to LNER to see if I could get a bus from them to Aberdeen – at which point I was turned away and back to Scotrail. Scotrail provided no back up transport on Weds.  Not once did Sctorail staff suggest to go to the bus station, not once did they offer any suggestion to meet the ferry at Aberdeen and I was stranded, way up north, in between destinations so I ran, dragged the bags and made it to the bus station in search of Megabus.  I asked for the ticket office.  All closed due to Covid and then I saw it, the Megabus itself. A glorious shining blue double decker to Aberdeen to arrive in time for the ferry.  I asked the driver, he said get on and at that moment, I could have kissed him. Lockdown or not, virus or not, he was my ticket to the ferry. Backpack unceremoniously thrown in to the hold and a discussion over the wheeled shopping trolly carrying precious china that in the long run, meant nothing – my water and I boarded the megabus and I became instantly hungry.  How do you eat when your hands have touched many rails, handles, tables, bags, trains, doors, buses in a virus where there is no water to wash your hands?  You use hand sanitizer and hope.

leaving Edinburgh

Later, when I caught my breath, I wrote: As the bus crosses the bridge towards Dundee, over the Firth of Tay, I feel it – a small but discernible hint of excitement.

As the bus pulled in to Aberdeen, I felt as if I had crossed the line of resilience and built an experience through friendship that stands the test of time.  It’s not easy for me to accept help having built a wall around my independence and feelings over many years  – I noted –  We need to look out for each other, hang on in there and keep trying. I learned a lot from today. No wo/man is an island, we work better with friends.  

And I have Mati to thank for getting me on that Megabus to make the last call for the ferry. 

In the morning, I dressed on the ferry to meet my house, as if for an interview – would the house like me – you never get a second chance to make a first impression – I already liked it without ever having met or seen or been inside or touched or smelled it.  I knew I more than liked it.  Maybe I was a little overdressed to meet the house. Silk blouse, navy trousers, packed for another season another place in mind. I looked slightly neat but knew the back pack, front pack and bags would sort that appearance into a more well-worn dishevelled look.  It was the first time I had worn socks and trainers since March.  My sun marked feet pushed into trainers.

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Hope and Memory have one daughter and her name is Art …

W.B. Yeats – Preface to Celtic Twilight, 1893

At times, I am an artist who has, on occasion, created small, site-specific worlds in abandoned croft houses across Shetland as a response to the researched details in the realities of stories which I seek, hear, see and experience.  My art is a respectful conversation with the women who used to live in those beautiful places. I have an instinctive autoethnographic response in writing, site-specific films and photographs by using textiles, hand block prints and words. If I make art, this is currently my artistic practice, evolved from years of embedding myself within other cultures and places including Shetland and China.  

When, as a mature student at art school, a wise man who lived a stone’s throw from my house (once a Provost of Derby Cathedral then a retiring Vicar on the Chatsworth Estate), said to me, ‘I read widely, if somewhat cursorily,’1  I was reading Winterson and he,  Dostoevsky. On that comment, we swapped books, I went home and looked up the word cursorily in the dictionary and began my love of existential works – he read a modern ground-breaking 90’s book on sexual Identity and love; this was some time in 1996, he in his 80’s, me just turned 30. 

Exuding wisdom, not always in what he said, but how he thought and mostly his ever open, learning mind was a turning point in my life and our conversations became somewhat magnetic for me.    

Every now and again, this man, now long dead, returns to me either in the form of a found note, the gift of a book, a photograph, or lead chandelier crystals.  As he handed over the large prism crystals and cut nuggets that were once part of something larger but now lingering in an old shoe box in his shed, he said, ‘Tracey, never sell these, I had them during my grandiose period.’2  I, who don’t even remember what I did on Saturday, remember these words and both moments as if he had just spoken whilst sitting next to me on this bench in Sheffield.  Words that have shaped every year of my life since spoken.

But he didn’t speak to me here, his memory does.   I have hung those crystals in windows of every place I have ever lived in the 25 years since the he said that line, including in the old hutongs of Beijing and Suzhou.  He is not my story – I can tell you another.

In 2008, after 3 months of living in China, I found out that my partner was cheating on me whilst I was working full-time.  At first, I fell down, felt my heart damaged, tightened and fractured but after telling my Chinese friend, a Buddhist barber who lived in a one roomed house in the old hutongs of Suzhou for 50 years, he sat down and in front of me, wrote me a note in full Mandarin which I had translated at work.   He wrote, ‘There’s an old saying in China and Buddhists say it too. Falling down is not terrible. The terrible thing is that you don’t stand up in time.  You should stand up and brush off the dust and go on walking proudly as you used to do’.3 He also told me to let it go. 

5 years after this conversation, I travelled over 3,000 miles to meet him on an ancient bridge in the old hutong lanes of Suzhou.  He didn’t know that I was revisiting China, there was no way of contacting him, he hadn’t seen me in 5 years, he was walking with his head down, he raised his head, raised his arm in greeting and his eyes spoke.

Now, I think of the strange impossibility of both men meeting and talking together. I don’t know if they would meet in the heat of China or the well-heeled sitting room of a Chatsworth vicarage but what deeply moving stories they would have recalled for each other.  Wise, Christian, Mr Beddoes, beady hawk-eyes twinkling at the sheer marvelousness of the opportunity to speak with the ever deeply calm Cai Gen Lin, his Buddhist chanting songs playing in the background of his one roomed house, 24 hours a day –  both religious men responding to the other with great respect, without speaking each other’s spoken language but speaking through their understanding, eyes, hands, gestures and intrinsic visible knowledge.  Their stories flowing – neither could ever imagine – such worlds, religions, lifestyles and cultures so far apart both in distance and lifestyles from their own –  that only words could bring them close enough to feel those distant worlds. Imagine THAT story – I am their link.  I suppose, in a way, I am their story.

Yet, I have sat in silence with Cai Gen Lin and felt and known his worlds in China as I sat with Mr Beddoes in the scullery drinking warmed up old coffee on the stove hiding from people knocking at the door.

And then there are the stories of Shetland from my repeated visits between 2015/19 to listen to the oral histories of the old knitters and found that they mostly did not want to share their stories because they thought that I would steal them and their knitting patterns which, during my R&D trip in 2018, raised the question of, ‘Who owns words once they are said?’

I have so many stories inside of me – so many seen and understood lives.

I want to create the daughter of Hope and Memory – Art- but this may now be through words and not images.

Notes:

  1. The Very Reverend Ronald Beddoes, circa 1995 in the old vicarage, Edensor Village, Chatsworth Estate. b. 1912 d. 2000
  2. The Very Reverend Ronald Beddoes, circa 1995 in the old vicarage garden shed, Edensor Village, Chatsworth Estate. b. 1912 d. 2000
  3. Cai Gen Lin, The Old lane by the bridge off Ping Jiang Lu, Suzhou, China, March 30th 2009 b. 1945, the 2nd child of 9, when China was still in Civil War.

This life to the next

Things, objects – why do we keep things?  Things that we don’t touch, or wear, or read or look at or even eat anymore. (go look in my fridge at the jars and see what I mean)

I am packing to leave on an unspecified date and in an, as yet, un arranged manner and it is dawning on me the magnitude of all of this.  Initially, packing is quite exciting – interesting even.  I open the kitchen cupboards, empty things out that have not seen the light of day in the 3 years that I have lived here, dutifully wash, dry, wrap and pack them in boxes that I have been collecting at a rate of two a day from the corner petrol station. I pack in a fine order to be opened up at the other end in an organised fashion.  The boxes grow like interior walls and building blocks under other things – like tables and the bed and I begin to drown. 

Reality of the movement of all of these neatly packed things is brought to a very sharp head when the removal company from Shetland call to say that I have too much stuff for one van and I will need two. The weight is too much and the size is too much – they want to see a video of all the stuff.  A whatsapp video call is dutifully planned and I look around.  It is dawning on me that it might be an idea to burn it all – all this stuff and be free.  The boxes that are packed have things that I might need – a solid frying pan for that camp fire I might have, beautiful embroidered sheets for that guest I might have, my four vases for the flowers I might pick – it goes on and on for things that may never happen and it dawns on me that I am moving things, at great expense, to another place that is tiny where I want to be free. There is an internal argument for keeping these things because replacing them is expensive, they have a history with me, they are good quality – the argument goes on and on but comes to a wonderful crescendo whilst washing a tiny cut glass trinket thing with a battered silver lid with ancient patina going back to Victorian times.  It’s washed, placed onto the drainer but slips gracefully and almost in full technicolour slow motion on to the Portuguese tiled floor and smashes into shards and chunks. Immediately, it’s rendered useless.  It’s neither aesthetically pleasing nor valuable.  It’s gone. And with that simple result I feel nothing and it is let go.  This thing goes in to the bin.

I’ve left previous lives with a few bags and boxes. I’ve travelled to China with a back pack and bag with wheels on. Always, I was starting again and it always felt liberating – cathartic even.

So, when I get time, I will unpack and remove things. Because none of this can come back from that island and no one will want it which brings to mind all of the derelict abandoned croft houses I have been in across Shetland – some containing household objects of the previous occupants; china cabinets with their tea sets all toppled over in dust.  They couldn’t take it with them – wherever they went and no one else took it.  

And, in my case, why would I cover a Shetland life with an English one?