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Everybody wants to rule the world

I can’t change the world but I can change my world.

which is precisely the sort of sentiment that led us to be living here on Rum. When we left Sussex, nearly two years ago now to head off on our travels we had a leaving party. We decorated the walls of the hall we held it in with about a hundred quotes I had written out – some were old favourites, some were newly discovered but all spoke to us on some level and inspired and encouraged us to chase dreams, live life to the full, push boundaries and seize the day. I’m claiming credit for the one above on the basis I often say it and can’t find anyone else credited for it on the internet (which is the best research tool I have access to) I’m sure it’s been said before and by many others though.

It’s been a busy few weeks here. Along with trying to crack on with the required research and learning and getting our heads round a house build next year, winkle picking , feeding the animals, collecting firewood, baking bread, parenting and facilitating education for Dragon and Star, ensuring we have food on the table and so on we’ve also been doing lots of community stuff. Attending meetings and training sessions, planning and emailing, reading business plans and minutes of meetings. In just seven months here I have gone from being the new crofter to sitting on various committees and steering groups, being a director of two different community interest companies, helping to keep the island website up to date, helping to set up and organise events. And I couldn’t do any of that unless Ady was supporting me by being a sounding board for my ideas and rants, talking me down and building me up accordingly. Ensuring if I am not here he picks up the slack on the croft with the animals, cooking dinner, doing stuff with the children. We work as a team and we play to our strengths – meetings and planning and being gobby and pushy is my thing, enabling me to do all of the above is his. It’s how we’ve operated for nearly 20 years and it works really well for us. 

It can be a full workload and of course it’s largely unpaid, not always appreciated and certainly not one anyone should take on unless they are doing it because it ticks all of their own personal boxes. When we moved here we were very open about the high expectations we had on Rum to deliver – to provide our everything and the amount we were prepared to give back in return to help it achieve. Running an island, creating our own rules, having such freedom and writing our own agenda is a massive privilege and a huge responsibility. Being in control of your own destiny to such a large degree comes with the trade off of putting in the effort, the time, the care to ensure it is done properly. I can’t think of any more important way of spending our time.

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Lighter side of life

One of the things that strikes me most here on Rum is the difference in light. There are dramatic landscapes and acres of sky, stunning sunrises and sunsets, beautiful beaches and sea views. The stars seem closer here than anywhere else I have ever been, the colours of nature are so varied and breathtaking and the changing face of the river from gushing angry torrent to trickling musical meander never cease to have me stopping and standing in awe (after all, what is this life if full of care we have no time to stop and stare…) But it is the light that most pulls me up time and again and has us commenting so frequently. Murky cloudy low levels are mostly what we’re having at the moment but today the sun shone, and lit up the hills, tonight the moon is hanging low in the sky so that even though it is not yet midnight it is as bright as dawn were creeping up already outside.

On Rum there are no streetlights, no light pollution so unless the moon is as bright as this evening once darkness has fallen at about 5pm torches are an essential piece of kit for outdoors walking. Jinty told me yesterday that she can pretty much identify islanders by their torch light – speed, height, pattern of up and down-li-ness. Funnily enough a comment from fellow small islander over on Eigg that has stayed with me was how he could tell if someone was from Eigg or not just by their distant silhouette and gait of walking. We watch from the windows these days as people walk along the nature trail and can deduce ‘islander’ or ‘tourist’ on the same basis even if we are not immediately sure who it is. We have wind up torches and head torches and both are essential bits of island life kit.

Indoors with our off grid lifestyle we have limited electric light as it quickly drains our leisure batteries so we tend to use candles and tea lights. There is a cosy charm to both, particularly now accompanied by the crackling of logs burning. It means reading or crafting is out of an evening though. which would be my preferred activities but it does mean I blog more frequently as I don’t need light for using the netbook!

My favourite light just now is the glow of the woodburner when I open it to put another stick on though. I’ve been outside gathering fire wood each day and yesterday looked up across to the mainland and saw a hefty covering of snow on the peaks – the hills of Knoydart and the Nevis range beyond. Somehow they loom so much larger and look so much nearer with snow capped peaks clearly defining them than when they are lost in the merge between clouds and sky.

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As if by magic…

the deliveries arrived. I’ve still not got used to the fact I am no longer a Very Large Person. I could probably fit a friend inside these waterproofs with me! I’ll settle for lots of layers of clothing next time I wear them. But more excitingly than oversized oilskins was the arrival (finally! At last!)…
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Logistics and crochet hooks

So on the plus side this week I have thus far (and it only Wednesday so I may be speaking too soon…) not spent any time on my hands and knees in salty water chipping my nails gathering winkles. I have sustained no bruises and have come into contact with no flappy flat fish or pinchy crabs.

I have infact been mostly sitting indoors wielding a crochet hook or pair of knitting needles and making Christmassy things. I have crocheted mini Christmas trees, snowflakes and a few circles of brown, white and red which may or may not turn into either a robin or a reindeer. I even had a go with my new rhinestone setter tool and put twinkly things on some of them. And I hand stitched a little bag as a present for a little girl who had a birthday this week. This was due to my sewing machine having lost a vital bit or itself and the results were rather painfully handstitched looking, full of rustic handmade charm rather like my cutlery organiser… I’ve also been knitting scarves. Gorgeous scarves inspired by the weather, landscapes and moods of Rum. All of this is for selling at the Christmas Fayre in a couple of weeks. Anything not sold will be adorning our own Christmas tree (location still under discussion – we don’t exactly have an empty corner in the static!) or being gifted to friends and family – I won’t know a single person with a cold neck this festive season!

Meanwhile the logistics of island life have been hitting hard. Deliveries going astray all over the place to the point where car hire and a road trip of a collection run to gather all the things we need is looking attractive. My log burner is somewhere between here and Scunthorpe with an unidentified courier. Our oilskins may well be testing their waterproof qualities and floating across the sea to us, my book order is in Llandudno which is certainly inbetween Sussex where I accidentally sent it and the west coast of Scotland where it is supposed to be but appears to be taking a rather more scenic route than I’d have recommended, we finally got a refund for the faulty powerpack but it is less than I paid for it and I haven’t even started thinking about ordering stuff for the kids for Christmas. See this space for wailing about having to postpone Christmas until February due to lack of presents sometime in the next month or so. See also how we reach March before our waterproofs and log burner arrive by which point spring will have sprung and we won’t need them anyway!

On the plus side a friend brought back a bottle of advocaar for me yesterday so we can still drink snowballs. Christmas will come to Rum yet!

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winkle pickin’ mama

which almost tied for blogpost title with all winkled out but just won.

I’ve been alerted that I have not actually made it clear why we have been picking winkles this week – it is to sell. They go off to Spain or France or somewhere where they are cooked, probably with lots of wine and garlic and then scooped out of their shells with little pins or sticks or winkle picking implements. I wouldn’t personally want to eat them, I don’t much care for shellfish generally, much less anything I have to ‘mess about with’ (a trait I get from my Dad who also is not up for using tools at the dinner table other than perhaps a steak knife). But they get sent off on the ferry to the mainland where someone takes them and pays us then they get shipped off to the next place. Lots of islanders make cash in the winter this way and it is just one of the ways we intend making our living here on Rum.

When we arrived we were already aware that crofters of old had employed many different skills to make ends meet – crofting alone is rarely a way to provide for a family year round. Our plan was always to have a variety of revenue streams at different times of the year. We’ll be busy putting in crops in Spring, raising new livestock and gearing up for the summer. In Summer we will be selling produce, working at market day selling to tourists, in autumn we are gathering foraged spoils, fishing and stocking up, butchery as part of the venison processing, in winter we will winkle pick and make crafts to keep us topped up for the following season. Always thinking and planning ahead, always moving with the tide – a bit like those winkles!

So we’re done with the winkles for this round and we’ve learned a lot in our first week of doing it. Learned where the good spots are, what the best techniques are. Learned that there are essential bits of kit – wellies, oil skin waterproofs (we’ve invested part of our earnings in a set each which should arrive tomorrow ready for the next round of picking in a couple of weeks time). We need two pairs of socks, knee pads and I need a scarf to hold my hair back but not a hat because my head gets too hot. Neither of us can work in gloves (Ady has sausage fingers, I have tiny child sized hands so normal gloves are empty at the ends of the fingers and hamper me) but we smother our hands in barrier cream before we start to prevent getting too wrinkled and sore. Layers are good but not if you get wet, one cup of tea before you start is warming, two cups means you need a wee while you are picking. There is a trade off to be made between wet knees and aching back (kneel down and your back is fine but your knees get wet, bend over and your knees stay dry but your back aches lots), accept that chipped nail varnish is an occupational hazard (maybe this is just a tip for me!).

The coming week will be about preparing for Christmas I think – we have various crafty things we want to do, some reading stories and snuggling up together to make up for the lack of time spent with each other this past week. Hopefully the log burner will arrive so warmth will also play a role too. There are lots of windy days forecast which along with the usual Rum rain should mean we feel utterly justified in staying mostly indoors catching up on paperwork, baking and things involving wool and glitter.

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All hail the winkle

This week I have mostly been looking like this While Ady has been mostly looking like this: we’ve been mostly looking at this: Tomorrow is the last day of the current round of daylight tides. People do winkle pick in the dark with torches. We won’t be. So seven days of picking and we get…
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When it hurts

I cried today for the second time since I arrived here on Rum. I don’t cry much. I cry at films, sometimes at books but crying for me, out of self pity is something I do on a very infrequent basis. The first time was during that awful week when the static was halfway between where it had been and where it is now. A bleak week. This morning was an accumulation of things; all fairly minor in isolation, all added together had me feeling like a camel with a rather sore back buried under a whole bale of straw.

The challenging side of living on a remote island doesn’t often seem to impact on our little family. We tend to get our post and deliveries and although we accept we have to wait a wee while longer for things and maybe pay a bit more in carriage charges it tends to be something we anticipate and factor in. Having limited internet and limited phone signal and limited electricity to charge up devices to make phone calls, receive emails and get online makes it all the harder to chase things up when they do go wrong though. This week we’ve been pursuing the well known electrical retailer in getting delivery of a replacement order and refund of a returned order. The replacement finally arrived, the refund is still outstanding. I don’t want to name and shame but they are pushing me close to that point. We sourced a log burner and have spent three days this week getting all the required details to arrange a courier to collect the item from the supplier, so it can be sent to us as they don’t deliver. Finally yesterday we had all the information needed to make arrangements, paid for the item, paid for the courier and emailed the address label to the company. We now wait with bated breath to see if it makes it here – there is just so much scope to go wrong I am rather failing to be positive about the possibilities.

My knees are bruised. I’m enjoying the winkle picking, although I do see winkles every time I close my eyes and have been dreaming about them all week. But it is cold, wet work and takes us away from Dragon and Star. We’re happy to be heads down getting on with it but with other stuff going on too it’s hard.

We had a testing encounter with the local planning department to run past them our ideas for a house build on the croft. Much of what we came away feeling very low about has since been thrashed out or put into perspective but it was still another thing to add to the list of stuff we need to summon up energy reserves to deal with. We will, and it will be fine, I know that. I just need a little while to find my mojo with that again.

It’s coming up to Christmas, before that Star’s birthday. Friends are planning and plotting for an annual pre Christmas group holiday that not only have we attended for the last 6 years but I actually set up and made happen – for a while they were even called ‘NicCamps’. It’s really hard not to be going, hard to hear references to a party you won’t be at. Tough to explain to Dragon and Star that no, we probably won’t even be able to go next year because it will cost such a lot of money to get there, at a time of year when ferries are not always reliably running anyway, we’d need to get our animals all looked after and these are the sorts of things we talked about not being able to do any more when we decided to move here. We knew it would be the case but it doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to hear talk of Secret Santa, Christmas carol practise, who will be bringing which cakes, craft items and so on.

Finally, the thing which made me cry this morning was a text from my brother who became a father last week. Of all the things I had anticipated and made my peace with being too remote to be part of when we decided to move here becoming an aunt was one I had never thought of. I am already Auntie Nic to Ady’s brother’s three children and I love my nieces and nephew dearly but not being there to have a newborn cuddle with my little brother’s baby is hitting really hard. I want to give my brother a hug and see reflected in his eyes the thoughts that I’m now having about how maybe we actually really are grown ups too now we both have children of our own. Even though it feels like just last year we were plotting what time we could sneak into the lounge on Christmas morning to look at our presents and making secret camps together in the loft space of the house.

So it hurts. Knees hurt, head hurts from all the long lists of stuff I have to do for the various committments I have made, heart hurts from not being there instead of here.

You’ll notice I have not moaned about the winter. It is true that it is still dark at 8am and dark once more long before 5pm. The days are so much shorter. The weather is grim; wind and rain. The croft is a mud bath and I’ve not left the static without waterproofs in weeks. The generator is running over time because with so little daylight the solar panels are not charging up the batteries. We are revolving three batteries with one always on charge while the other two run the lights, water pump and internet. This means carrying a really heavy battery up and down the croft hill most days. Doing my washing today was the usual weekly challenge of checking the washing machine is available, going back to swap over washing into tumble drier, going back to collect it, fold it all up, put it in a waterproof bag and walk it up the croft hill. The static is dripping with condensation; walls, ceilings, cupboards, windows. I am not moaning about these things because although they are tough I knew they would be. They were the trade off we had anticipated and accepted in exchange for all the amazing things about being here. The space, freedom, light, beaches, stars, sunsets, rainbows, autonomy. They are worth it. I’m just adjusting myself to this weeks challenges being worth it too.

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Touching the stars

I walked home this evening and was struck anew by how spectacular the stars are. As I climbed up the hill to the croft it was like I was climbing further into the sky and the skyline was dropping so it felt I could almost reach out and grab a handful. I had a chance encounter last year with a woman on Skye where we sat for a few minutes, exchanged very brief ‘how I came to be sitting on the side of this hill’ stories and shared a few deep and philosophical thoughts. It brings that side of you out does Scotland. She told me about the idea of thin places –

 There is a Celtic saying that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller.

We decided we were in a ‘thin place’ right there at that moment. Tonight as I looked up at the millions of stars, to me just tiny pinpricks of light but somewhere else much bigger and brighter than me and my whole world will ever be I thought just maybe I was in a thin place, one where whatever it was that might have worried me today was all put back into perspective by those stars, that little box at the top of the hill with a light shining out and my family inside, cooking dinner, chatting, listening to music.

We picked winkles again today and Dragon, Star and Bonnie all came down to join in. We had a good day and got a fairly decent haul – we have nearly 2 sacks now as a result of 3 mornings work. We’re hoping for a good few hours again tomorrow. Dragon and Star really enjoyed it – Star brought a bucket and her net and aswell as helping with winkle collecting she also filled her bucket with crabs, eels, sandeels and some little fish. She released them all back into the sea before we left but thoroughly enjoyed watching them and closely inspecting them. They both want to come again providing it’s not raining. Well actually that is probably my proviso rather than theirs…

We had a very interesting chat about pocket money yesterday including why I don’t agree with either pocket money as a concept or pocket money in exchange for helping with household chores. I often wonder whether our children will utterly rebel against our unconventional ideas, embrace them as their own or fall somewhere in the middle…

I had another meeting this afternoon. I must have been down to the village more times in the last few weeks clutching a notepad and pen and heading for yet another meeting  for one steering group, community interest company, community association or trust related pow wow than in months of working in proper jobs with Manager in my job title. This time it was for the Visitor Management Group, something I am very passionate about being involved in – both from providing a service to visitors and ensuring we make the most opportunity from tourism possible as an island, as a community and as an individual business with our croft. Interesting stuff.

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Dancing in oilskins

which is ever so slightly restrictive so not necessary recommended. Mind you sparkly dresses and very high heels can only serve to hamper dancing too surely. Leg warmers and sweatpants it is then. Dancing of course referring the quote at the end of my last blogpost. Oilskins referring to today which has mostly been spent…
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