Boxing day. I was working today 7am until 11am, serving newspapers to the local villagers and generally being an all round friendly shop keeper. I still had a chunk of daylight left after I finished but sunset crept up on me like it does. I was busy getting wrapped up in winter woollies and rigging the dogs up with their walking paraphernalia, when Helen pointed out the time. So how else could mark the occasion but by taking a getting-ready-to brave-the-cold selfie.
We decided, seeing as the sky was already turning dark, to take these two beautiful beast around the park. The sky by then was grey, the fog still skimming the horizon, and the air had a sharp nip. Overall though, there weren’t many people out walking.
As we completed a full circle of the park though, a family, probably three generations, were out in their winter gear tossing a rugby ball between them. I didn’t recognise them as locals so assumed they were Christmas visitors. How wonderful it was though, to see them playing together. They were chatting amongst themselves, laughing and joking, and two small dogs bounced about in the middle having a whale of a time. It made both Helen and I wonder if this was perhaps an annual tradition. To some, tossing a rugby ball from person to person on a damp and freezing cold afternoon, when there is barely enough light left to see the park gates, may seem odd, but to that family, it may be the only time they get to share something together, that something being a rugby ball. Traditions occur for various reasons, and normally to mark an occasion or memory. Perhaps the ball belonged to someone’s Grannie who used it as a back support while she watched Coronation Street on the T.V. Maybe someone in the family played rugby but couldn’t be there because they were overseas. Maybe it started when Billy was a wee boy and annoyed everyone into playing with him and they had such a laugh that they did it year after year, even though billy is now living in San Francisco, writes for a celebrity chef, and loathes Rugby. By playing ball, they were able to share a memory and bring that memory into the circle. Who knows.
I remember a few years ago when we spent Christmas with Helen’s Mum, there was talk of a Christmas day beach picnic. Now bare in mind that we live in the U.K and December is enough to freeze off a person’s nether region’s, I thought it was a joke. But no, Boxing day arrived and we loaded a bag with Christmas leftover sandwiches, (we were in Yorkshire, if we had been at home they would have been pieces), then we headed to the beach in wellies, scarfs and woollie hats, we took the dogs of course, and they had a great time running in and out of the surf, and to my surprise, so did I. The next time we visit the in laws in Hull, we will be sure to re-enact that tradition, just like my wife did for many years before she knew me.
It certainly sparked up conversation between us and we spent some time sharing memories.
Do you have any Christmas/ boxing day family traditions that you would like to share? I would love to hear from you.
Merry Christmas everyone. It was a quiet Christmas day for us. We got up at our usual time, about 8.30am and opened our presents. Sadly the dogs never got all of their presents as Millie, my 10 year old lab, has sore tummy and we had to cut back on treats and food in general.
After preparing the veg, I had already made the vegan roast the night before, we took the dogs for a walk. I decided I wanted to take a wooden decoration from our Christmas tree to Finlarig castle and hang it on a tree in memory of my Mum. I scattered her ashes there in June, a day before we married there. It was such a lovely winters day that it felt nice to just linger in that space for a while.
By the time sunset came around we were sitting down to dinner. I asked Helen to pause and we told each other what we were grateful for. It felt fitting when there are so many troubles in the world at the moment.
My plans this afternoon were to make my way down to the river for sunset. It has been another damp and raw day and I’ve hardly been outdoors, preferring the warmth of the under floor heating. But at just short of 3.30pm, I ventured out. I took Kimber, my youngest dog, she’s great company and isn’t too bothered where we go as long as there is something interesting to sniff, lamp posts, bins, fox poo, you know the likes.
With a little time to spare we trotted off down the street. On the way, we met several people who stopped to chat. Due to the time and the fading light I would normally have waved and passed by, but the people who stopped needed an ear and, I felt, some kind words. It’s easy to assume that everyone is merry and all wrapped up in Christmas joy, but that really isn’t the case. So many people are grieving at Christmas, from the loss of a loved one, to family who can’t be close because of covid, etc, etc. And people have worries too, illness, finances, loneliness, addiction, the list goes on. Christmas for many can feel like an enormous burden, so it’s no wonder that the weight of those brief conversations stopped me in my tracks, I too feel the weight off worry and loss at Christmas.
I made it to the river at 15.45pm, but only after giving my best wishes, my ear, and to one person, the wish of laughter on Christmas day, I do hope they get that wish. I took a moment by the river bank to reflect on my short journey and concluded : It wasn’t important to be by the river at 15.42pm, I would get there eventually, I was in the exact right place at the exact right time for someone else, and that made absolute sense to me. Below is a short video of the river.
After standing for a minute or two, we headed to the park, after all, puppy time is fun time.
My sunset might not have gone to plan, but I hope by pausing at the right time, someone elses day was a little easier. Merry Christmas everyone. Peace xxx
An inversion of fog has sunk below the mountains tops and settled on our tiny village. All around us the world has alerted into an underdeveloped sepia photograph with blurred edges and featureless faces.
With such an abundance of thick fog, the village has felt cold and eerily dark. Its no surprise then that the the arrival of winter solstice yesterday was heartily welcomed.
My wife and I did our first solstice ritual which, amongst other things, involved the lighting of candles and thinking of what the coming light means to us.
The first warmth of the sun on my skin
The transformation of nature
Clean washing hung on the washing line
The sound of birds in the trees
New growth in the garden
I am going to start recording my journey from winter to summer solstice, starting today, with the hopes of becoming more aware of the changing light. I feel this gives me an opportunity to take a moment at sunset to gather my thoughts, be still, and record what I see. A mindful moment.
Day 1 Sunset 15.41 UK
I was in B&M, so certainly not a mindful moment, but an awareness of the time lingered in the periphery of my mind. We came in for wool, because Helen wanted to start a new crochet project, and I needed dry stuffing mix for the Christmas dinner. Helen wheeled off in her wheelchair while I headed to the vegan section to see what bargains I could pick up. Five minutes later, and with a basket half filled with groceries that I didn’t need, Helen wheeled up behind me with a bewildered look on her face.
‘They’ve started selling Cherry Ripe, it’s my absolute favourite chocolate bar. I audibly gasped when I saw it. But it isn’t vegan.’
There was a look of disappointment on her face, but a glint of a memory pulled her lips into a soft smile and she was temporality transported to Australia, to a different time, to a time before us, before Scottish mountains, cold inversions and wheelchairs, to a time that shaped my wife into the woman she is today. I never saw her taste her first Cherry Ripe bar, but maybe one day, perhaps on a cold winters afternoon, when a cloud inversion has transformed the world into a blurred photograph, we will share our first vegan Cherry Ripe bar together. Until then, I will sit for a moment, after this post is sent out into the world, and listen to her tell me of that first taste, and learn something new on the first day of the coming light.
There's a wicker chair
In a second-floor room,
Where she sits as still
As the space between the sky and the sill
In her time to just be.
She used to watch the time fly by,
Now it ebbs and flows
As her willow tree grows
In the frame of a big bay window,
In her time to just be.
Then one day in spring,
In her time to just be,
She saw wind tangle knots,
In her flat sheets and socks,
And her fingers - twisted and curled,
Looked like branches of willow.
When summer came,
With sun licked leaves,
And barbeque tastes
On the tail of the breeze,
She lingered still, calm and at ease,
In her time to just be.
Then summer expired,
In a long exhale,
And from twisted fingers a leaf fell,
Then autumn arrived, armed with a brush,
Painting the land with fire and blush,
But still she stayed,
As leaves fell, and the willow swayed,
In her time to tell.
Now let me tell,
That the land lay still,
With snow thick on her windowsill,
The wicker chair, an empty place,
The willow tree, an empty space,
A fallen branch, lay on the ground,
The snow fell without a sound.
A cold teacup with unread leaves
In a time a to just breath.
Thanks to Thrawn Craws for posting this poem to their Facebook group today . I realised, after an hour of pulling my hair out, that Facebook no longer allow us to embed video’s. How annoying. So here is the video that was posted on the Thrawn Craws Facebook page. Please also click on the link to be directed to their page, check out all the creative talent they offer and give them a like.
We had so much snow yesterday but most of it melted as it hit the ground. It did lie on the grass through. When I went out with the dogs, on a not very adventurous walk around the park, the snow was blowing sideways, big thick snow that made visibility difficult. I kept my face to the ground, hurrying my wee legs as quick as I could with the vision of a steaming mug of tea waiting for me at home, and of course my jammies.
It’s easy to take the surrounding beauty for granted when the weather isn’t to your liking, and to be honest, the above picture was taken on another day when the wind was just a wee whistle and, the snow just a wee crust on the periphery of my walk. It wasn’t until I was on my last lap of the park when a flake of snow, a giant flake of snow, landed on my lip. It was only a second before it melted, but the wee snow kiss ripped me out of my daydream and I found myself in the middle of a snow globe. There wasn’t another in sight, just me and my snow patterned dog, who looked at me wondering why I had stopped. It was a moment of absolute beauty, from the cold fizz of the melting snow on my lip, to my tongue reaching for a taste. I was utterly alive. For the remainder of my walk I kept my head up, letting the snow land on my face, my hat, but it only took.a single kiss to bring me into the present moment.
One of the best things about living in the Scottish Highlands in the wee detached village of Killin, is the night sky. It’s pretty dark at night, with little light pollution and the brightest moon I’ve ever seen. When there is a scattering of clouds, however, the sky puts on the most spectacular show of patterns and shapes, it’s like art. When the days are clear and the rain is at bay, we have a new exhibition to indulge in every night, and often with twinkling stars dotted in between. That’s not to say it’s not freezing, wrapping up is essential for sky gazing. The picture that accompanies this post was taken in December 2020. It was taken on my phone and zoomed in. I couldn’t help but notice a genie smoking his pipe and pondering what’s to become of this bloody pandemic.
What do you see?
The night sky is a great place to start for writing inspiration. Perhaps on a clear night, get yourself wrapped up and venture out into the dark.
Listen Look Smell Feel
By tuning into the senses, you might be surprised at what the night has to offer. For me, on a night like the one in December, I would hear the hoo-hoo of the owl, the swishing of the trees on the old railway, the creaking of the car port roof, possibly a car in the distance bit mostly not.
The sky can be anything from a yellow oil slick, to a blue fox stretching lazily between the seven sisters and the plough.
There’s usually a smell of a burning wood in the air, the smell of wet grass, sweet frost or mulch. Sometimes even the smell of laundry from someone’s tumble dryer.
I will feel the sharpness of the air as it reaches my lungs, the sting of cold on my cheeks, my feet on the ground, my heart beating, the clothes on my skin.
This is present moment awareness, a moment of mindful contemplation. All of it relevant as I stand completely alive, sharing the sky with those brave enough to be out too.
Today the temperature has remained below zero, the lowest being -4°, but the sky was the deepest blue I’ve seen in a while, and with only a slither of cloud on the horizon. Me and my two chocolate Labradors walked along the river bank, the river was flowing so slowly that the opposite bank was reflected clearly on its surface, apart from the odd random ripple and patches of grey ice around the bank that is. My dogs love the water, but they also love chasing the ducks, and there are an abundance of ducks on the river at the moment. So they remained safely on lead while I took lovely photographs. Here’s one of them in a little sandy cove.
Once we moved away from the river and into the field, the dogs relaxed a bit and I was able to settle comfortably into my surroundings. The mountains seem to have gathered more snow overnight and looked particularly dramatic. One in particular, Ben Lawers, looks to me like its twisting away from the other. There are parts of Lawers that are so incredibly steep and its a wonder that so many people climb it. And even though I view it with that sense of fear, I can see the draw because it is overwhelmingly stunning. This sensation reminded me of an English Literature lecture about the feeling one gets when confronted with the beauty and the terrifying in nature – I believe it was described at the sublime.
Edmund Burke identified the sublime as the experience of the infinite, which is terrifying and thrilling because it threatens to overpower the perceived importance of human enterprise in the universe.
Where was I? While I was having these wonderful emotions, and keeping one eye on the dogs, who sounded like little piglets sniffle out truffles, except it wasn’t truffles, it was frozen rabbit poo, I wandered into some frozen flood water.
We had an incredible amount of rain in December and the field, which is normally filled with sheep, was flooded. The sheep were replaced by ducks, but with this new cold snap, even the ducks are warming their bums in the river rather than the solid ice.
So, as I stood in this mini ice rink wondering how I’d got there, I realised there was an opportunity to walk mindfully, to bring myself back into the present moment, all because of a crunch…
What does it mean to walk mindfully?
Mindful walking is about intention and paying attention. Let me explain. When I found myself on the ice, the first thing I noticed was the sound, the satisfying crunch as my wellington boot broke through. It was a familiar sound, something that drew me back to my childhood and I found myself smiling. This is when I decided to walk mindfully, in other words, I made an intention. The dogs were sniffing around, eating poo and were in no hurry to move on, so I stopped, and I took three long deep breaths, (this is kind of like the Bell or the Gong in my previous post as the breath allows you to arrive into a moment, to be present). I then took a moment to check in on how my body felt, to relax any muscles that had become tense, to feel my feel on the ground, or in the ice for that matter, and that’s when I noticed, for the first time that day, the cold on my face. In fact, I was so surprised to feel the sting on my cheeks and neck that I raised my hand and touched it. Then I began to move. Mindful walking is walking intentionally, walking slow and feeling the range of motions while experiencing all the sensory pleasures available to us. That’s not to say that this exercise is exclusive to able bodied people, it can be adapted to wheelchair users too, although I wouldn’t recommend wheeling into a frozen flooded field, but the exercise can be adapted on less dangerous terrain. As I began to walk, I concentrated on each movement, the weight of my legs as I lifted my feet, the feeling of my feet landing on the ice, that moment of resistance before my foot broke through the ice and then landed on the sticky earth below. Then there was the sucking sound, and a moment of fear which I noticed landed between my shoulder blades and high in my stomach. It felt like a screech, if a screech were a feeling, and for a moment my breath became tight as I lifted my foot. I suddenly felt my face flush with warmth and my hair filled with prickles, and I breathed a long sigh when I discovered my wellington was still attached to my foot. I continued to walk like this, observing each movement, each emotion, watching the ice crack and crumble as I punctured a path of size fives through the middle. It was the crunch that kept me right there though, the brief squeal before the coosh sound, (I think it sounds more like a coosh than a crack). I could smell the frost, that sharp almost sweet smell, followed by a rush of mulch and sulphuric bog smell. I only walked like this for about two minutes, but managed to collect so much information as well as becoming more aware and feeling relaxed.
How can Mindful Walking help with my writing?
It’s all about the experience.
What did I notice?
How did it feel?
When we walk mindfully, we begin to notice a range of things, such as the temperature of the air, the ground beneath our feel, textures and smells, our surroundings, the soundscape. Have another read at my experience and see if you can identify these things. There is definitely many benefits for a writer to practice mindful walking, although it is easier to plan the mindful walk than to decide halfway through a walk that you are going to do it. By planning a walk, you can pick a place that may resemble a setting in your story, then you can experience the setting in the same way your character will. This will enhance your description. Remember the old phrase,
Write what you know.
It might be relevant to disclose to you at this time that I am writing a novel set in this very village and partly in this very field, so all of this is wonderful research for my book. But I will conclude today by saying, thanks for reading, and also, of you would like any more advice on mindful walking or how this could be adapted to a wheelchair, please comment and we can chat. In the meantime, here’s a photo of my side of the mountain.
I was alright in mid-June apart from the weather which was typically Scottish. Charcoal clouds were scribbled over the only green hill that formed part of our view. The air was thick. A warm breeze swayed the vertical blinds and they clattered together.
“I can’t concentrate.” I said, saving the document I was working on. I put my lap-top on the couch and got up to close the window, but Helen began coughing. She sat forward, red faced and I thumped the top of her back, careful to avoid the line where the nerve pain started. “Are you alright?” She shook her head. “Not…” “What can I do?” I asked. She pointed to the window and wagged her finger. “You want it left open?” She nodded. I hurried to the kitchen and edged a glass between last night’s dinner dishes and the cold tap. I filled the glass with water. “I need to clean the kitchen,” I said when I returned. “You said you’d do it later.” “I know, but it stinks.” “It’s just last night’s dishes.” “It’s disgusting.” “I’ll do it then.” She sighed. “You try to do too much, and you need to work on your dissertation.” “It can wait. Besides, I can’t have you struggling to stand at the sink.” I kissed her cheek. “You worry too much.” “You’d be better going up to the university to write. There’d be less distraction.” I shrugged my shoulders, sat down and I lifted my lap-top onto my knee. The blinds rattled.
I was in the kitchen a couple of hours later when I heard the letterbox snap shut. The mail flopped on the floor. It was mostly junk, a Farmfoods leaflet, money off coupons for Domino’s, you know the likes, when I heard the Post woman’s footsteps echo down the stairs in the communal hallway. I considered opening the door and pointing at the sign above our letterbox: NO JUNK MAIL. But I didn’t. I realised for the first time, I couldn’t. “Anything for me?” Helen called from the Living-room. “Something from the council.” I took it through to her. “Maybe it’s about the wood-worm.” “It’s too soon.” I said. “Although it would be my luck to have the council ripping up floors while I’m trying to write a dissertation.” Helen opened the letter. She raised her eyebrows. “They’re coming to lift the floor, aren’t they?” She nodded. “When?” “In a fortnight, and they want the house empty.” “What about us?” “They’re putting us up in a hotel. Guess we have some packing to do. Should I ask some friends around to help?” “No!” I said too quickly. I even surprised myself.
At the beginning of July, the weather was still drab but there had been the odd rumble of thunder in the distance. I couldn’t help wishing it would hurry up, if only to clear the air. “Could you pop over to Peter’s and ask him if he’ll run us to the hotel on Monday?” Helen asked. “I’ll just finish packing this box.” I said laying an ornament on a piece of newspaper and triple wrapping it. “I’ll finish that.” Helen said. “It’s okay, I’m nearly done.” I snapped. “Sorry.” She backed away and I felt a pang of guilt. “I’ll go in a minute.” “I’d go myself, but I can’t do the steps.” “I know that.” I threw the wrapped ornament into the box and turned away from her. “What’s wrong.” Helen sat on the floor beside me. “Are you crying?” I hid my face from her. “I can’t go.” “Go where? The hotel?” I let out a sob. “Kirsty?” “I can’t go to Peter’s.”
By the time we got to the hotel the following week we could barely see a foot in front of us. The fog was thick and white, and our world shrank to the size of the cave we were temporary living in. “What time are you meeting you tutor?” Helen shouted from the other room. “In ten minutes, at the bar.” I sat on the toilet and my stomach cramped. I emptied my bowel. Again.
“Sorry I’m late.” My tutor said and ordered us a pot of tea. “How are you?” “I’m well,” I lied but I wanted to run back to Helen and hide. “How’s the dissertation coming along?” “Fine.” I said a little too loudly and I felt everyone in the bar look at me. I waited for them to laugh. In my mind they did. “Are you in touch with your classmates?” “I’ve been too busy.” I lied because I felt too stupid to say that some of my friends hated me now because I was apparently the teacher’s pet. I felt stupid saying that they were horrible to me – and now I was lost.
It was January 2018 before I realised, I had social anxiety. I was standing in the back garden of our new home, inappropriately dressed for a blizzard but poised, perfectly still with a camera in my hand. Through the lens, I watched a robin on the fence have his breast feathers whipped up by the wind as flurry of snow danced around him. I clicked.
“What time is everyone arriving?” Helen sticks a tahini dip covered finger to my mouth. “That’s amazing.” I lick it from my lips. “Two o’clock I think.” I finish breading the cauliflower and pop it into the oven. “Are you feeling okay?” She asks. “With, you know, people coming around?” “I will be.” I tell her. I lift my purple headphones from the table. “I’ll be back in fifteen minutes.” I go into the spare room and close the door. Before I press play on the app, I check to see how many people will be joining me. 12,351.
Find a quiet space where you feel comfortable. Sit on a straight back chair or on a meditation cushion. When you hear the gentle chimes of the singing bowl, close your eyes. Breathe in to the count of five. Hold. Breathe out to the count of five. Hold.