All of a sudden I understood my mother! What felt clinging and annoying to me as a daughter back then was what I was seeing in my own daughter’s eyes now when I started to talk about missing her. About to leave, all these opposing feelings swirled around inside me – happiness that she had decided on a path she was looking forward to treading, while at the same time feeling like my own path was heading … well, nowhere really.

It was an overwhelming feeling. I’d never thought of myself as a very motherly type of woman. But when the time came to say goodbye, I was falling to pieces. In desperation I started making lampshades. Yes. You read correctly. Some people head off to extreme territory to push their limits, run marathons, go on 30-day fasts, swim the Channel… I went for lampshades. Weekends began cycling down to the local recycling center to find old lamps. I was soon on first name terms with the modern-day rag and bone lady of the center. And the living room at home filled up with these thrown-away, often quite hideous lamps. I stripped them of their dusty shades and turned them into rag lamps – knotting plaits of material to the skeletal bones of lampshade wire; tearing faded blue or green or red t-shirts into thin ribbons and tying them to the frame. Shades of knotty, interlacing fabric were created. And I worked, sitting, absorbed, on the floor, a moat of frayed snarls of material, bubbles of soft white pom-poms and rills of snaking threads protecting me.

Two years and countless lampshades later and it was time for our son to leave home. But this time, I’d lampshaded myself out. To be brutally honest, there is only so much fun to be had out of knotting pieces of material to a lamp. I had no distraction. And I needed one. After reading an article about a woman who swam a mile a day for 50 days and being inspired by the photos of all these beautiful oh-so-blue swimming pools, I decided to try a similar thing: swim a mile every other day for 6 weeks. I put on my goggles and jumped in. But with every stroke and rush of water around my ears, I felt like I was swimming away from myself, yet caught in a watery world, pacing the pool, to and fro, again not really heading anywhere in particular. I completed the six weeks but apart from feeling a bit fitter, and gaining an almost continual imprint of googles around my eyes for 42 days, all I’d done was swap the island for the moat.

It took a week in Scotland on a songwriting course to bring back some direction into my head.


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