Word for week 9 is Bleh!

This is my first experience of the start of summer up here in the ever jaw dropping highlands. And it is turning out to be an experience I never would have dreamt of. As we enter week 9 of the lock down with the graphs showing ever decreasing number of cases of this evil virus and the powers that be erring on the side of caution with regards to the opening up of the remote areas of Scotland, the uncertainty is quite debilitating, soul crushing and at times can make it hard to breathe.

At the start of this enforced hibernation period, the crisis brought out the best in people, where groups expounding positive messages abounded, then came the anger and now it is the tweaking of curtains and paranoia.

I read and listen what is happening back in South Africa and my heart breaks. My family are living in what can only be called insanity with regards to the restrictions that have been enforced, and I feel almost guilty for being in what has to be the best location to be in the world right now.

And with this also comes the uncertainty of what you can expect summer in the Scottish highlands to throw at you. Just last week I was able to hike the beautiful moors and catch a bit of sun, then the next week, it is back to heaters, jackets, snow on the ground and minus temperatures.

Mother nature however is rejoicing.  On my excursions outdoors, the bird song is never ending, the newly born lambs (by their hundreds) and their ever patient mothers have taken ownership of roads, which usually by now would be teaming with summer tourists and their campervans.  The deer are definitely not as skittish and I find them venturing further and further into the village. Which got me worrying for them for next season when, (note I say when, not if) normal life has returned, that the babies will not have had any exposure to the dangers of traffic so will not be street wise and we may well see more roadkill than normal.

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And the questions still remain ….  Will we open this year? Won’t we open this year? Will it be sunny tomorrow? Will it snow tomorrow? Or maybe it will rain!!!!

On re-reading this post, it alarmed me.  I was typing as I felt.  I always thought that I had a positive mindset and can see the glass half full and the light at the end of the tunnel, but obviously as the words flow my angst is coming to the forefront. I was thinking of discarding this post and starting again with a more positive ring, but then thought no – this is my coping mechanism. This is my therapy and a way of getting my concerns off my chest. Maybe we can look at the animals, despite facing bitter climates and deadly predators, they have survived generations.  The glass is half full and there is a light at the end of the tunnel, just hoping its not the train heading in our direction.

Same, same, but different!

I have to say that I do not envy any politician in this crazy world right now, as whatever decision they make – they are damned either way. They are making decisions with guidance from others in circumstances never experienced before and are feeling their way.  They have no precedence to follow.

Here in the UK as we roll into week 8, an announcement was made last night about the relaxing of the lockdown restrictions and it was with bated breath that I opened my media apps this morning. Nothing really earth shattering, as they say in South East Asia, “same, same, but different”.  The new “lighter” restrictions I read, are for England only.  Scotland and Wales want to do their own thing, with hospitality remaining closed into the unforeseeable future.  And the anger and the criticism never stops. How dare they! Why haven’t they! My neighbour is …..! If they aren’t why should I! People turning on each other and the media are feeding off the paranoia and conspiracy theories. It’s the uncertainty that’s the killer.

Watching from the relatively unscathed safety of the remote highlands, where apart from not being able to work and the required social distancing, life carries on pretty much as normal, it is almost like watching a bad movie unfold.

I try not to listen to Trump as it makes my skin crawl and his fanatical following are like something out of a Mad Max movie. In South Africa, the president who was revered for his initial stand on combating the spread is now being ridiculed. Here I realise his advisors have really advised him badly, where you can now go to a shop to buy school books, but not novels? Corbyn slating Johnson on his handling of the lockdown, how would he have done it differently? (I am a supporter of neither). I am tired of opposition parties using this unsettled time to try and score brownie points with the detractors. We are all in this together, so why not work together.

So stop being angry armchair critics. If you can come up with a constructive measure that would be embraced by all going forward then by all means voice your opinion. We all want this to end – sooner rather than later, including the politicians.

Falling asleep last night I fantasized what it would be like not to have corona as the main topic on everyone’s mind when I woke up in the morning.  I can dream!

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Swimming into week 7 – what lies beneath!

Something brushed up against my foot. My heart skipped a beat and the adrenalin coursed through my veins. I stopped hoping to see what it could have been, and realised that I had swum into a bed of long clingy seaweed.  This was my second solo swim in the icy waters of Loch Glendhu.  The waters of which are crystal clear and almost cry out to be swum in, belying the freezing temperature of the salty Antarctic tide that flows in and out every 6 hours.

The waters had been sending out invitations to me daily and I had vision of myself slicing through the still waters and revisiting my joy of swimming freely in nature – you cannot get much wilder than swimming in remote lochs in Scotland.   But my mind and reality proved to be poles apart.

After being warned about strong currents and the possible dangers of swimming solo, I had decided to time my swims with the tide, in or out from one jetty to the other. The tide was going out, so headed off up the road, wet suit attired, wet shoes, swimming cap and goggles, (must have looked a really odd sight), only to find that the water at the fishing jetty, where 2 fishing boats rocked gently against the quay and the water was slightly more sheltered, was teaming with jelly fish. Time to get really wild and make my way through prickly gorse and rocks and slimy seaweed to get to the waters edge a little further away.

The extreme temperature took my breath away. I needed to get moving to warm up my body. By now I could not feel my feet or my hands and after a few strokes of freestyle with my face submerged, I realised that a smooth stroked swim was not on the cards. My head pounded and my face froze.  Instant ice-cream headache. So, it was backstroke most of the way. Looking up at fluffy clouds and the occasional seagull, I am in my element. An inquisitive seal pops his head up a few meters away, watching this ungainly creature making steady headway to next boat jetty.  The sense of accomplishment was immense. It was years since I had last swum in open water and these open waters are extreme. And it was this that brought me back the next day, this time with my face slathered in Vaseline to try and keep some of the freezing effects at bay.  It worked (to a degree). Think I might harbour a bit of masochism and thrive on pushing my limits, I am hooked.

Swimming in these unknown waters got me thinking about my initial fear, how deep, how cold, what lies beneath, the unknown. On looking down into the dark depth of the loch, there was a prickle of fear. It is of the unknown.  And right now in every day life we are all living with the unknown. How much longer, what is going to happen, what lies beneath. But as I swam toward shore and started to see the shimmering bottom of the loch and welcome sight of the concrete slipway, so too there is a shimmering at the end of this dark tunnel.  We are wired to survive. Life will return as we knew it and we will look back in years to come and be able to say, remember when….! So keep swimming and when something brushes against your foot, know that it is only your own fear which you can control and head for that shore.

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Watch your thoughts….

We are now in week six in the UK (and if you believe the news,  Scotland could be in this limbo state longer) – not sure where the fifth week went but have found I need to catch myself and watch my thoughts.

There is not much on anybody’s minds at the moment but this cursed virus.  Open any media platform and that is all that is being reported.  Reading and watching the news can become quite an obsession. Conspiracy theories abound, those for and those against either opening up or remaining in lock down.  Anger spilling over at the supposed unfairness of it all.  How dare the governments prescribe to its citizens how to live their lives.  People dying daily, that wouldn’t have, if it wasn’t for this hidden enemy. People living daily and making the most of what is being thrown at us.

I binged watch the series “The Sopranos” and one phrase has stuck with me when Tony, the boss, was in a coma asked the question “Who am I and where am I going?”  This hit home as the questions running through my mind recently are “Why?” “What is the purpose of all this?” and my belief in the Buddhist teachings of what is meant to be will be.  “Is this meant to be?”

Out on a solo walk through the beautiful, peaceful, meditative Scottish highlands with “Who am I and where am I going” playing on a loop though my mind, demanding answers.  The most obvious one, I am Cathy and I am hiking up a mountain. “Why?” – because I can and I want to.  I think that is a good enough reason. But to delve deeper, that is when you have to watch your thoughts.

I stray from the well worn path – physically – almost daring myself to get lost, find a hidden loch and stop to take a breath, my mind wandering on its own path less travelled. Who am I really?  I don’t think any of us see ourselves as others do.  And we never will as we cannot see inside the minds of others. I am a daughter, a mother, a grand-mother, a friend and possibly, though I don’t like to think so, an enemy.  But that doesn’t define a person. I consider myself a good person. Trying to give back to others more than I take. To what purpose? Where am I going? I have always believed that where we are is where we are meant to be at that particular time.  And this makes me stop once again in my tracks and watch my thoughts which have become almost tangible .  I am meant to be here, off the beaten track , alone in this expanse of beauty surrounding me, making me question our very existence. Knowing that it is quite okay to ask these questions.  Knowing that all it will take is to retrace my steps to find my way back again.

And I realise, I am me, I am unique in my own way as each one of us are, I am human and I am not concerning myself as to where I am going, I am living.IMG_7492

Just slow down and breathe Cath … just slow down and breathe – heading into week 4

The cold of the hard wooden bench is seeping through the thin fabric of my jeans, but it doesn’t matter. My feet are slightly damp from wearing not the most practical shoes when walking through the Scottish undergrowth after a rain shower, but it doesn’t matter. My eyes are closed and I am interacting with all five senses. This is the sense of touch. There is also a slight breeze, with still the frost of winter on its wings, which ruffles my hair and brings a chill to my exposed face, but it doesn’t matter. I am feeling.

I open my eyes to experience sight – the one sense I would hate to ever lose. The bright yellow daffodils at my feet sway in the icy breeze, their faces all turned away from me facing the still setting watery sun. The vast expanse of the loch before me shimmers and ripples almost welcoming the movement of the air.  Gulls head for home on the distance shores.  Directly below are a couple of gulls and oyster catchers with their vibrant red bills, pecking at the mussels that have been exposed by the low tide.  They are feasting and not heeding the night time homeward call.

I close my eyes once again to focus and to listen and soak in the approaching night. Far off geese cry their distinctive cry which disturbs the harmony of distant cascading waterfalls. Then it is quiet, silent – eerily so.  No voices, no cars, no machines humming – silence, which is then broken by the gulls squabbling over a tasty morsel found in the crystal clear waters gently lapping.  But it doesn’t matter – I am listening.

I breathe deeply in – the soft smell of wood smoke which is so pleasing and brings back fond childhood memories of holidays at farm hotels. The slight salty whiff of the tide gently pushing in on the rocks below and a lovely earthy smell of damp rich soil.

In my mouth I can still taste the remains of my dinner, a spanish omelette. The herbs and spices used as well as the long lasting onions.  It was a delicious meal served up by one of the hotel chefs.

It is this meal that got me to this spot on the hard wooden bench, the idea to go for a walk and settle my meal before heading off to my room for the night. Absorbing the world I find myself in.  I had been jotting down thoughts and ideas the whole week for my blog and they all revolved about why, depression, lack of motivation, the need for routine, stress, worry, loneliness, isolation, time, what is going to happen, what is normal  and guilt (we put ourselves under so much unnecessary pressure) …………?? I don’t have the answers and neither I think does anyone else unless they have a crystal ball.

So everyday I am going to remember this moment, when I slowed down and breathed. Because in the end, all the questions, worries and concerns don’t matter.  We are alive and we can breathe.

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On my soap box – into week 3

I’m am using this platform to vent and what a perfect platform it is (and really my only one). Maybe it is because we are going to the third week of lockdown and my moods seem to be taking on a life of their own, roller coasting between irritation, acceptance, depression, anger, frustration and tolerance. As I am sure every other person in the world is also feeling – so I am not unique by any manner of means.

Vent 1

Twitter comment “I’m not allowed to walk my dog in a deserted street, but taxis are allowed to load their vehicles with 50% of their normal capacity – not fair” #lockdownSA

Ok  mister twitterer.  You are fortunate to live on a street that can be deserted.  You have a dog. You have a home.  And you more than likely have your own vehicle parked in your garage. Hundreds of thousands do not have this privilege in South Africa and those people who are using these taxis, are your check out staff where you can drive to buy your essential goods. Or maybe the nurse at the hospital.  Or the guys collecting your refuse weekly. They live in overpopulated townships, miles away from their workplace and no option but to catch that taxi, because if you got to your local Pick n Pay to find no one at work then imagine your irritation then.  I am sure they would also rather stay safely at home than risk their own health daily to serve you.

Get a hold of yourself and consider yourself fortunate.

Vent 2

Another common complaint in South Africa. No alcohol, cigarettes or non essential items can be sold at the shopping outlets.  I am sure the government did not sit down and think okay how can we make life as difficult as possible for our citizens.  Maybe just maybe they feel you should be saving your money for really essential items like food, for who knows when your next paycheck is going to be.  It has taken a while for this virus to filter down to the southern tip of Africa and by implementing these really stringent restrictions is the right way to ensure that it does not get a foothold with the resultant thousands of deaths.

Get a hold of yourself and consider yourself fortunate.

Vent 3

People complaining about their situations, when they have a roof over their heads and food on their plates and money in the bank. Wanting life to be normal.  Well life is not normal for any of us, and who knows how long it is going to be until it is.  Life is what we now make it.  It is up to each of us individuals to take responsibility for ourselves, for our own mental well being.  Stop blaming others.  Even though there are restrictive laws in place, you can make your own new normal.

Get a hold of yourself and consider yourself fortunate.

Create your own new normal!

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Rambling into week 2 …….

We have completed our first week of total lockdown and the novelty, if you can call it that, has worn off.  We, the Kylesku family, must be the most well looked after staff anywhere in the world, with meal time get togethers and chefs cooking for us twice daily, basic chores still needing to get done to keep the hotel at a ready for when the green light gets given to reopen, still with a roof over our heads and the management following up on all avenues on how we can still get some form of remuneration during these undecided, uncertain times. Definitely fall into the category of the more fortunate.  And I am rambling.

Yesterday I just did not feel like peopling, and was able to stay in my little hole, dvd’s playing, only venturing out for meal times.  I am eternally grateful being one of the more fortunate. I can still venture outdoors for a run in what can only be one of the most beautiful corners of this globe, where the only lifeform I encounter are the local sheep.  It is always quiet here, but now it is eerily so. This quietness was disturbed this morning by the arrival of a flock of geese who are pre-empting the arrival of spring.  And I feel guilty doing this as I know friends and family around the globe are  not allowed to venture out of their own domain. And I am rambling.

Life as we know it has changed – and I have my doubts that we will ever return to the way it was.  I worry.  Even though I know it is useless to do so as this hidden enemy of the world has an agenda of its own and there is nothing that I personally can do that will change its course. I worry about my children, who are on the other side of the world from me and right now in this point in time, I am not able get back to be with them. I worry about what is happening back in my other home in South Africa, the lack of resources, the economy taking another hit to the groin, the uneducated not understanding the full impact of this virus.  Trying hard not to overthink and sink into a depression, to stay positive  – I am one of the fortunate ones.  Hoping that when I awake in the morning that this is all just a bad dream ….. no, a nightmare.  And I am rambling.

Trying hard to stick to a routine.  Humans are creatures of habit and know that in a crisis, routine and habit can be a life saviour. Knowing that the human race has survived far worse for much longer periods of time, we’ve only been in lockdown for a week after all.  On reading various articles, where we are told not to read too much about news, but at the same time social media is a much needed platform to remain sane, where social distancing are the new buzz words. Using this outlet, my blog, to keep my sanity.  To basically give myself my own therapy by airing my concerns, if not for anyone but myself.  And I am rambling.

But by rambling I am off loading my concerns.  Taking each day as it comes and making the most of this enforced down time.  Not to feel guilty when I am out running, or hibernating in my room.  These are my own survival mechanisms.  And each individual will develop their own. And we will come out stronger at the other side of this.

We are survivors.

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Adventures during lockdown

I look up, the sky is crystal clear, a dark moonless night but at the same time filled with never ending stars. It is 1 am, there is not a soul around to disturb my musings.

Earlier in the evening it had been announced that all hospitality outlets in the United Kingdom are to closed with immediate effect.  We, the Kylesku family, are the fortunate ones.  For the enforced lockdown, there are 25 of us, all fit and healthy with no threat of the dreaded virus in our midst.  We have sufficient means to see us through the upcoming weeks and drink to our health and survival out in this remote little corner of the Scottish Highlands. We will play games, garden, write, entertain each other, while at the same time being well aware of what is transpiring in the ‘outside’ world. Our evening of merriment has an almost festive feel to it, but at the same time a feeling of underlying uncertainty.

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Corona virus – cheers !

Way too much alcohol is consumed and I feel that for me personally, it is time to call it a night. My recollection of the rest of the evening is as follows.

Walking haphazardly up the silent road towards my room, I decide to take a short stroll.  Seeing road markings I try and balance myself along the painted stripes – to no avail – to which I laugh quietly (I think) to myself.  Getting to the path way which leads away from any street lights, I ponder the possibility of seeing the northern lights on such a clear night and make my way up the uneven pathway into total darkness.  Getting through the first stile was no problem, stumbling further up the path and walking blind, I get to the second stile and some sanity prevails and I realise maybe not such a good idea to go any further.  This is when I look up and think how small we are, how insignificant in the bigger scheme of things, how uncertain every day is, how good life is. I talk to my loved ones watching over me from up above, more than likely with a shake of their heads.

Time to head back and I try and get my bearings, through the mist of a couple of bottles of wine, only to find myself falling headfirst into a hole. I untangle myself and think now might be a good time to use the torch on my phone, only to find it has fallen out my pocket somewhere amongst the overgrown heather.  A seriously sobering thought – my life is on that phone.  I try and feel around and realise this is a pointless exercise, as it is pitch black. Stumbling back down, getting caught in barbed wire fences along the way, I try and keep my footing and find the path and a look for possible identifying landmarks, to return to find my phone.

I eventually reached the road and trotted back to the hotel with an icy wind blowing my face sober, to get my headtorch. I make my way back, torch in hand.  I am not finding this so funny anymore.  My guardian angels must have been watching out for me, as it took me less than 5 minutes to find my phone caught up in a bramble and lying next to it my reading glasses which I did not even know had been lost as well.  I slept well that night.

My lesson from this adventure – and it was an adventure – is never go walking on the moors by yourself at 1 am in the morning when you are 2 sheets to the wind!

And this was Day 1 of the lockdown.

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The guilty but innocuous pathway in broad daylight

To Limbo …. Or To Life ?

The road is open, quite deserted actually.  Cloudy dark skies which match my mood.  Feeling dark and heavy and in a sort of limbo. It is very easy to socially distance yourself as per the government’s of the world suggestions,  in the remote Scottish Highlands.  Not knowing what is going to happen to life as we know it from hour to hour.  I am looking inward and need to get out.  Life is not definite.

I turn on my playlist and somehow it picks all the songs I need to lift my spirits.  Song after song, until I feel my mood lifting, together with the clouds, a bird is soaring the thermals above me as I wind my way through the heather clad rolling hills and still slightly snow capped mountains. One sound track that sits with me is the ever inspiring one from Fiddler on the Roof.

To Life. To life.  L’chaim!

Which got me thinking.  These abjectly poor people survived life in a pre-revolutionary Russia.  Mankind have survived world wars, plagues and worse.  We will survive this. We need to stop looking inward and imagining the worst, life goes on.  We are all fiddlers on the roof right now, balancing.

The universe has got tired, so is now forcing us to slow down.  Stop this frantic destructive living of instantaneous gratification, take stock of our lives, catch up and take a breath.  Mother nature is rejoicing and this slowing down is giving her a chance to heal.

As I am driving I can’t wait to get back and put my thoughts down on paper (or blog) . I have been to Ullapool for my fortnightly shop, with some of the food aisles emptied and the lines at the tills busier than I have ever seen.  Everyone surreptitiously eyeing each others’ baskets. All with the same thoughts on their minds.  I am hoping I am not being judged for the 4 squares of fudge  and Lindt chocolate bars that I have in my basket (my weakness) – no I am not stockpiling, that is what I need to get me through 2 weeks till my next shop.

Sitting here now, with a steaming cup of tea, in the hotel restaurant, which still has patrons.  Not everyone is hiding. Off over the loch, the mussel men are out servicing their mussel beds with the weather raging around them.  Life goes on. Just at a slower pace – so relax and enjoy.

So to hell with Limbo – I choose Life!

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Living in the back of beyond aka the “Gumadulas”

 

The “Gumadulas” – with the G pronounced with the guttural Afrikaans G. (Not found in any dictionary). And this is where I am now living – far from the birthplace of Afrikaans – which accordingly to my Scottish father,  is not a language but a dialect.  Being of Gaelic descent – his perception of what a language is, is questionable.  But this is not about my dad – this is about the pros and cons of living in the back of beyond.

The closest ‘decent’ shop is an hour drive away, which can be challenging when living day to day, so careful planning is required, but pennies are then saved as there are less opportunities to spend.  But enter amazon, which after sending to your shopping basket, delivery is just one click to payment and two days away.

As a newcomer to the area you soon find out there are so many people in the area who offer all services required, from hairdressers, delivery of fresh vegetables, free range eggs – the Scots are a versatile bunch.

Politics and world wide drama – somehow this is all on the periphery. With the worldwide panic about the coronavirus – we are aware of the possible repercussions and are adhering to the NHS guidelines – and here maybe I am being that eternal ostrich with my head in the sand and erring on the side of optimism – but don’t think it will affect us out here in the back of beyond – ditto terrorism and crime.

Entertainment – here it is slightly harder and one has to make your own as there are not an abundance of restaurants and coffee shops to pop into for a quick bite, no movie houses or theatres, but again if you keep your ear to the ground, there are music evenings planned in surrounding villages and who needs a movie house when you can buy the latest movie on DVD, delivered within 2 days, on line.

This helps you slow down and appreciate life as there is no instant gratification.  Cell phone signal and wifi is erratic – so bearing just this one point in mind – adds 100 pro points to the quality of life in the Gumadulas.  It gives you time – and with the old age adage – to smell the roses. There is a peace in living out here, with none of the fast paced rat race.  I have just been given a book to read called “The Kerracher Man” of a family who moved to the West Highlands to a croft, accessible either by boat or 1.5 mile foot path. Now they are really in the Gumadulas.

On moving here, I know family and friends, were concerned about how I would adjust to the remoteness and isolation.  There is no isolation, you have a choice to join in or not – the community spirit is strong. The harshness of the climate draws people together in a way I have not seen elsewhere. I will get my urban chaos fix when I visit loved ones, and with social media the world is really a very small place, but the Gumadulas will always be calling.

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