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Life gets in the way

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We’re not very good at hibernating! From Wednesday onwards we’ve had a real social whirl hence the lack of updates on the blog. On Wednesday night we went for dinner to one of the yurts. There are two yurts here on Rum and we joined both yurt-dwellers and the newest Rum resident for dinner cooked…
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My side of the mountain

Good morning Mum :)

Ady has been working today, he’s been bartering his time for other things with fellow islanders and has been busy helping deliver firewood in exchange for a fix on one of our laptops, clearing some garden space for water pipe and later this week will be doing some runs to the skip and general tidying in return for a car which a fellow islander has no further use for but will be perfect for us with a little attention. Funny how we were only talking last week about how our car was not right for us here and now a new one arrives. Thanks cosmic supply company!

This left Dragon, Star and I in the luxurious position of a cosy warm static midway through a book we’ve been enjoying. A friend recommended My Side of the Mountain to me years ago as something she thought Dragon and Star would enjoy I filed the recommendation away but never managed to get hold of a copy. My lovely sister in law sent Star a copy of the trilogy for her birthday though and we started reading it a few days ago and have been grabbing it for another ten minutes whenever we can as we are all so hooked.

So, we breakfasted, dressed and got the logburner banked up then sat and read for another hour or so this morning. It’s a story that feels so very relevant to us just now and the following few sentences just leapt out at me to the extent I marked the page to look back at them again when I read them earlier today. It’s about the changing of the season from winter to spring after a hard, snow filled few months:

This is important when the weather is as near to you as your skin and as much a part of your life as eating.

As much as we are desperate for a proper home, one that keeps the outside at bay I suspect there will be years to come when we look back on this winter. The nights we have laid awake whispering to each other as the wind howls around us and shakes the static – everything taken down from the walls as they flex and bend and our packed bag of space clothes ready at the end of the bed to grab and run should we need to evacuate. The days we have compared mud marks around our wellies to see who managed to put a foot in the deepest bit of boggy ground. The way we all walk down the croft hill six feet apart so we don’t splash each other with our footsteps yet every one of us has a band around our jeans where our wellies end of little stained splash marks of mud. We can taste the bleach in chlorinated treated drinking water these days after nearly a year of drinking water from the burn and we are all masters at watching the skies to judge how long a window we have between rain showers to nip out and get animals fed or gather supplies from the village.

We are noticing the incremental daily increase in daylight hours and while it remains bitterly cold and fairly bleak when I went out with Bonnie to collect firewood this morning there was that indefinable air of a new year in the air; promise, hope and anticipation. We’re still in the middle of winter and it’s all too easy to be wishing it away and looking hard for signs of spring but winter brings much to celebrate and admire and while the rest of the UK has disruption and posts pictures of snowmen and closed roads to facebook we have been enjoying crisp clear sunshine and contrasting snowy peaks against beautiful blue skies. The clock will tick, the calendar will change and we’ll be bemoaning midges again before we know it. Even in the midst of challenging times little bubbles of perfect moments can still be grasped before they pop.

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About that snow…

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First things first…. Hello Mum This week has whizzed past with news reports of snow related chaos pretty much everywhere over on the mainland. I can see snow on the peaks across the sea but here on Rum we have had almost nothing in the way of flurries. We’re all pretty disappointed to be honest…
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But then again, too few to mention

Ady and I had an interesting conversation today as we were collecting firewood. We were above the croft, looking down on the static and across to the snow capped peaks beyond, sea spread out before us and Rum in all it’s wintry glory looking gorgeous, forbidding and a bit wild.

I asked Ady what three things he was most proud of and felt were our biggest achievements in the nine months we’ve been here. And which three things he regrets, would have done differently or would change if he could go back in time and have ten minutes with his past self of a year ago.

He listed top achievements / things he is proud of as:

  • Choosing Croft 3. We had the choice of croft 2 or croft 3 and croft 2 is larger. With no real basis to our choice we went for the smaller croft 3 and it was the right decision.
  • Getting the static to Rum, to the croft and living in it.
  • Becoming part of the community and getting to grips with island life. In the early days I used to feel a real pang when the ferry pulled away from the island and we were ‘trapped’ here. Now it is home.

Things he’d have done differently:

  • I’d have maybe not put the static up on the hill. I love the view and it has been fine so far but whenever it is windy I wish we’d put it in a more sheltered spot and a more accessible place where we don’t have to bring everything up the croft hill every day.
  • I wish we had planted trees already. It should have been one of the first things we did and we have not done it yet.
  • We should have got a different car – the Pajero is still just about running but there is no denying it is too small and is not up to the 4WD challenge we need living here on Rum. A bigger, more reliable car would have been a wise investment.

I congratulate us on the following:

  • Not being hasty – we always said we would give ourselves a year and get to know the land, the island, the seasons and not make mistakes or spend unnecessary money before we knew what we were doing or were sure we were on the right track. We have managed to do that really well and although there are times it feels frustrating not to have swept in and made massive impacts straight away we have done the right thing in watching and waiting and learning.
  • Fully immersing ourselves in our new lives. Being part of a community was so important to us, particularly me, it was really high on our list of things we wanted in our new life when we went off in search of it at the start of 2011. I wanted to make a difference, take a real active role in shaping our lives and have more control than we used to back in a big town on the mainland. I love being part of the various groups making decisions and creating opportunities, events, making things happen here on Rum. I love the freedom to decide to do something and just get on with doing it, I love feeling I am contributing and making a difference in real, tangible ways. In just nine months I feel our family is genuinely a large part of the community and helping shape what happens next here. I’m really proud of us for finding our roles within Rum and making positive and valid contributions.
  • My third one is quite likely what led us to be here in the first place but I’m pleased it has continued to hold true and that is resilience and positivity. This has been a really testing and challenging journey so far in many ways and we have been forced to examine over and again our motivation for being here, whether it is worth it and if it is still what we really, really want to do. We talk all the time about our plans and dreams, what bits we find hard and try to predict and anticipate how things will pan out. There have been several times over the last nine months when it would have been all too easy to focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do have. Although this is our dream and a life of our choosing and creating there have been many moments when wallowing and self pity would have been quite forgivable but instead we have risen to the challenges, found ways to make the best of things and taken comfort in counting blessings. It is true that I will always manage to put a positive spin on things and find the best in any given situation but we are also pretty good at realising when something is no longer working and being able to about turn without a loss of face. The option of packing up and heading off to the next adventure is always there and I think it is a tribute to us that we have never even come close to heading that way.

What I’d have done differently:

  • Infrastructure stuff. There are still some areas that we struggle with or take a large chunk of our time each week which I regret not having just dealt with and got sorted out already. Namely water, toilet and footpath. We planned out how to extract water from the burn months ago and even priced it out but something else always cropped up to take precedence over us doing it. We collect rainwater for showers and washing up but still collect our cooking and drinking water from the burn in jerry cans because the water off the roof often ran out in the summer and now tastes too smoky to drink as it runs around the chimney from the woodburner. We still have to dig a hole to bury our toilet waste and the croft hill up to the static is currently above ankle deep in mud in places which on a steep hill in the dark is not easy to negotiate. I think all of those were anticipated issues that we should have prioritised in better weather to get sorted.
  • I would not have made the static our home. I am not sure what we would have done instead although for similar money we could have bought a large wooden shed and some insulation, a wood burner and some basic furniture including cooker. The stress of getting the static onto the croft was something we’ll never forget and the reality of living in a metal box designed for summer seasons during a harsh winter on Rum is a daily battle. I know that a year from now I will probably have forgotten this and be thankful that we have such a great self contained holiday home here to let out but for now I hanker after something that keeps the weather on the outside a bit better.

So there you are. We both struggled to come up with three things we’d do differently, infact you will notice I squished several together and called them infrastructure so I only have two. Our watching and waiting period is coming to a close and we feel the pressure of new crofters coming soon nipping at our heels, showing us up and hopefully infecting everyone with new enthusiasm and energy! It’s going to be an exciting year, I wonder what we’ll be summing up at the end of it and wishing our future selves could pay us a brief visiting now to fill us in on!

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Home

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Winkle money all spent! We’ve had Bonnie spayed, she is now wearing a Cone of Shame and hates it. The vets went to great lengths to remind us how she needs to be kept calm, quiet, clean and dry. They did then say ‘but we have met her, so just do your best!’ as she…
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Hold on tight to your dreams

Today marks all four of us celebrating a first birthday on Rum as I turn 39. We’ve also had a Christmas, New Year (or as us trainee Scots call it ‘Hogmanay’ ;)), wedding anniversary, Halloween, Bonfire Night. I thought there was not much left but a quick check of the diary tells me we still have Burns Night, Valentines Day, Mothers Day and Easter! We’ve saved a fortune in greetings cards since we moved away from the mainland!

It’s been a lovely birthday. Rum continued to leak water from the sky pretty much all day long but I had phonecalls from family, cards had arrived during the last week or so to open today, Dragon and Star had made me cards, I had some lovely gifts from them and presents from friends on island too. Ady made me a cake, one friend called up for tea and cake and we visited other friends for more tea before coming home for dinner. I like birthdays, I like marking the passage of time, I even quite like getting older (it beats the alternative!). I’m still far from grown up, mature or responsible as I proved quite spectacularly on Friday night at a party night crammed full of wii dancing, chatting and general raucous and rowdy behaviour but I quite enjoy the outward appearance of being an adult!

We’ve been doing lots of looking ahead, trying to control as much as we can of what happens in 2013 while ever aware that we can plot and plan as much as we like but we still get a hefty dose of what life chucks at us alongside it and life could chuck ever such a lot at us this coming year given how many variables there are for all we want to achieve. More on all that to come, I have various blogposts in draft waiting to be fully written.

Tomorrow we’re off to the mainland for three nights – the bright lights and dazzle of Fort William and Inverness. Shops! Electricity! Baths! Traffic! Fast food establishments! We’re off to blow our winkle money on exciting essentials such as underwear, toothpaste and more supplies of candles, hopefully get Bonnie spayed, trawl some charity shops, soak in the bath for hours on end, watch tv and plug things in to our hearts content and then come back here and feel smug about how this is the right place for us and the mainland is nice in short sharp bursts but we can’t be doing with that many people, cars and 24 hour supermarkets all the time!

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Because I’m not done with 2012 just yet…

The last blog was a fitting reminder of all we achieved in pictures. We’ve been doing the usual looking back and looking ahead stuff that this time of year inspires and so here is our Bad, Good and Learnt of 2012.

Star
Bad – leaving belongings behind when we moved to Rum. I miss the books, toys and other stuff that is in storage because we don’t have enough room for it here. I miss my Granny and Grandad.

Good – Getting the croft and moving to Rum was the best thing of last year. Getting Bonnie. Having my first birthday and Christmas here. All the wildlife and ranger events we have been to this year and encounters with wildlife like the superpod, minke whales, seeing sea eagles. The Sheerwater boat trips were epic!

Learnt – loads about animals and wildlife, about bird ringing -how to do it and why we do it. How to live in a small community and on an island.

Summary – This year has been epic, awesome, totally wicked and cool. Did I mention epic?

Dragon
Bad – Leaving stuff behind to move to Rum, not having as much space in my bedroom as I’d like. Missing family and friends. Moving the static.

Good – I loved Midgefest – it was perfect weather and lots of people came and it made me think there is so much to look forward to here in the future seeing what can happen from a small idea. It was the best Christmas ever! All of my presents were something I’ll actually use instead of needing to find a home for but never using.

Learnt – I have loved watching the seasons change looking at the view out of our windows and seeing how nature changing through the year. I learnt lots about teamwork and what community means and how it works, particularly when we were moving the static. I have learnt lots from Ranger Mike, especially bird ringing.

Summary – Everything we do in our life now has a meaning and makes me feel content. I understand the feeling of climbing a mountain or carrying home something heavy and then sitting down and feeling really happy and content and knowing I deserve my sit down which I never really understood before.

Ady
Bad – Moving the static was very stressful and living in it is pretty hard in the winter. Coping with the mud is a challenge.

Good – I love our new lifestyle, it is so rewarding. I like that we can choose solitude when we want it and decide to see no one when we like. The summer was lovely. The help and support and unity of the community is a real high point for me about being on Rum.

Learnt – It would have been better not to have chosen the static as a home I think. I have learnt that you cannot change the island, you have to work with it both in terms of the land and the physical island and the people here too. I learn something every single day which I don’t think was true in my previous life. I am slowly learning that material things really are not important although that is a tough and ongoing lesson. I am learning that people do not actually judge you on what you have but on who you are.

Summary – I’ve never been more fit and healthy – or knackered! Daily bringing everything we need up the croft hill.  I like being part of the community. It could be a massive test of our relationship being together all day every day as a couple but we’re really happy. I couldn’t live without the internet and radio – for all our off grid lifestyle I need these lines of communication to the outside world. 2012 has been a success, not as much as I had hoped, with us probably only achieving about 50% of what I expected but that is not a measure of our failure, more a learning experience for me about the pace of island life and island timings.

Nic
Bad – There have been very few low points for me this year personally, although I have found it hard seeing Ady, Dragon and Star struggle with the times when life has been tough and I tend to feel very responsible as the leader in taking us along this path. It was hard at the start of this year being in limbo without a home and a clear idea of what was going to happen next. The static move was incredibly challenging and had me seriously questionning what we had done and whether it would indeed all be fine in the end. I had a period during the summer of ill health which scared me a bit and I am very aware that our current living conditions of damp and cold are far from idea for our health. Although I do miss family and friends I am usually able to balance that with being so happy here that it makes up for it but when my brother became a father for the first time I found it very hard to not be around to help and support him and of course to meet and have a cuddle with my new nephew.

Good – Getting the croft in February was a massive highlight, as was finally moving here in April and finally getting the static onto the croftland in June. Sharing the island with family and friends was a huge buzz particularly as I had walked around the village when we came for our interview and pictured myself walking round with people showing them everything so to have that come true with some of our most beloved people was lovely. Celebrating various occassions with fellow islanders has been great – the jubilee, both my childrens’ birthdays, the Blasda festival and Christmas. Finally having a home again. It’s not perfect by any means but actually having a proper space to cook food, relax and spend time together again means the world. Becoming a real part of the community and having friends here is another good – hanging out sharing a cup of tea, a chat or a beer with fellow islanders and feeling a real connection and the start of shared memories and things in common is fab. Seeing my children so happy and settled – running with Bonnie, making camps on the croftland, paddling in the rivers, finding treasure on the beaches,engaging and building relationships with fellow islanders is all heartwarming. I’ll also mention the wildlife encounters and ranger events. The Sheerwater boat trips with the dolphins, whales and seabirds were weekly treats that I felt constantly privileged to be experiencing. The red deer rut, seeing eagles glide overhead, spotting deer from my bedroom window are all the sort of encounters I used to travel distances and pay money to experience, now I can have them from the comfort of my own home or a short stroll away.

Learnt – Oh so much! I have increased my wildlife knowledge tenfold. I am getting better all the time at understanding the weather and spotting it coming in. I have learnt about power and off grid living. I am continually learning about people and community and relationships. I have learnt about myself.

Summary – It’s hard to summarise something when it still feels very much like you’re in the middle of the first chapter. In years to come I will be able to put 2012 into perspective with the luxury of knowing what happened next  but for now it still feels like we’re just setting the scene, getting to know the characters and deciding what crazy direction this could all head off in next. I feel rather like a newly hatched chick – it’s already been a huge adventure just getting to this stage but all of the big stuff is still ahead. I think we’ve got the right location and the right set of characters but quite where the plotline is headed is still all very uncertain. I’m hoping I still hold the pen to carry on writing it but I suspect I no longer have all the rights to creative control! But I know I want to stick around to see what happens next!