My Friday morning view is no longer a sunrise cracking open the horizon line between where the sea meets the sky, it isn’t even a window with a view but the sight of two faithful, calm cats that have been two years and 12 different places of living, sleeping calmly, nose tucked into tail or paws in pockets. This may seem small and normal but for the three of us, it marks that we have come home. Even if my book is accidently placed upon Alfie, he does not flinch except to wrap his arm over his face, he is calm. All three of us have been like sprung cats for so long that I see their relaxed bodies and know that we have found a safe place and a place of our own to come and go as we please. They have their little door built into my door and we are settling into our own patterns. I have no idea where they go when they leave the flat, but they always return and they return to me.
What an honour.
This home is far from perfect – not in structure nor function, form or where I thought I would ever be but it is a place to build upon, a platform from which to go and return to, it will be a creative space when everything that is broken will be mended. It’s just a ground floor flat, in a block of three built in the 80’s with bad plumbing that will never be entirely fixed and a view of a waving silver birch and a brick wall over the road. The outside will always be communal and there is noise and quiet. After Shetland, this may appear a shocking decision but it was a very considered decision that was in my price range in these crippling house prices. I chose it for its location and that I know it because it is in the same set of flats that I lived in and sold to move to Shetland.
Irony or fate to return to the place of leaving? I reread The Alchemist, to try to understand this more. That the real treasure is under our feet.
I am back on the doorstep of The Peak District whilst having access to city stuff. Yesterday, the brokenness of all of this became overwhelming but today is a new day.
I look at my faithful cats to take a leaf out of their books. Find comfort, lie down, rest, sleep. I have forgotten how to rest, if ever I did in the first instance.
My Friday morning view is of simple things that mark a journey of my life
Freshly painted walls
A natural, thick, heavy, old French linen bed sheet on a Victorian iron bed.
A memory filled, long loved, favourite silk ruffled dress that has been repaired hanging on the wall.
Original B/W photographs of Sheffield’s Park Hill flats taken in the 60’s, made for an exhibition in the 80’s by Roger Mayne
Ink drawings bought in the old lanes of Shanghai when I lived in China.
2 calm, sleeping cats
A glass bottle jar from Shetland waiting to be a garden
A lovingly made crochet blanket with over 1,000 tiny squares.
The books I am reading litter the bed.
Sea urchin shells from Shetland, all in a row
A beautiful painting of my knitting sent to me by French artist Françoise Delot-Rolando when I was low.
An etching copy of Hokusai’s The Great Wave bought from the studio at Monet’s Garden in Giverny over 20 years ago.
A dried flower ring of roses and peonies that I made in an attic room in Sheffield this summer.
I’m coming to terms with things. Challenges and changes. My view is a room that is finally a home, broken or not.
At the turning point of the earth, on the shortest day, when the sun is furthest away, I celebrate Winter Solstice thinking of a gradual return of light. Celebrating the Winter Solstice is marked by people all over the world, in their own beautiful, personal ways.
I go outdoors. I wanted to connect with the environment but nothing prepared me for how I responded to that connection.
I waited for sunrise in a white sky. It did not arrive, but I felt its energy opening me up to connect to something hugely greater than self.
As the dank air penetrated, without plan or thought, I stood on the edge of Stanage, opened my arms, closed my eyes and breathed in connecting with the landscape and something deep within myself. I rarely express my life’s energy with open arms. Today, I did.
Here I am in my favourite spot on Stanage edge. Standing on ancient rocks, facing the horizon, in the split second of raising my arms and closing my eyes, there it was – that one pure moment of inner freedom, letting go, connecting with living the dance of life.
It is an empowering action to accept life with open arms to allow my inner landscape to melt into the present moment. It is also slightly embarrassing but honest.
TS Eliot came to mind, written in Burnt Norton, one of the Four Quartets, he said it better than I ever could :-
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity.
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement
from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been : but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time…
I am reminded of the man who gave me these 4 Quartet booklets about 25 years ago. A wise man, a teacher, a friend, a patron, a good man who was previously the Provost of Derby Cathedral and retired as Vicar at Chatsworth where I also lived at that time. A man who swapped books with me. I gave him Jeanette Winterson, he gave me TS Eliot and William Morris books. We learned from each other. I often think of him when I am at the still point of the turning world. And, I am grateful.
Today, I returned to Stanage Edge, as I have done so many times over, to acknowledge my internal and external place in life. I return to the solid rocks again and again connecting to past and present, whilst thinking of future. These stones and rocks become an anchor to steady my heart.
A familiar sight holds me, grouse utter their sounds in the heather, a cow bellows, the wind is a gentle whisper.
It is the shortest day of the year – Winter Solstice and I am finally
Cold fingers and knees atop an edge of ancient stones.
Today, I wore my newly finished ‘New Year Beret’, which I started in Shetland and finished in Sheffield.
I wish you a Happy Winter Solstice and I honestly want to say Happy Christmas and Good wishes for the New Year. I want to say thank you to every one of you who have joined me this last year in an online workshop and thank you to those who have bought a pattern from me. I’m truly grateful. Tracey, December 2021
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.
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If you are interested in staying at Smola in Shetland, the link to Air B&B is here
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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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