March away from Februrary

Another month gone.

This week I started work at Rum Primary School, not my natural environment by any means – there are things about just being in the building that make me itch – extrinsic rewards, curriculums, policies on behaviour management… I was asked whether I’d like to be known to the children as Mrs Goddard! But perks outweigh these issues and for now it is the right place for me to be for a few hours four mornings a week.

The daily commute is hardly a grind…

a two mile walk that takes me half an hour and sees me saying good morning to fellow islanders and wildlife like these greylag geese

as I walk along the shores of Loch Scresort

Leaving Ady, Dragon and Star to their own devices for the morning while I head for my own little office space

it’s rather odd to be sitting at a desk again, I’ve taken a pair of grown up shoes down to wear while I’m there – I leave my wellies at the door! There is a kettle, a photocopier machine that probably has a bigger IQ than I do and a landline phone – such technology, it made me jump when it rang this morning, it’s been a long time since a phone rang anywhere near me!

Meanwhile it’s been cold but stunning – mornings are breathtakingly beautiful with ice on the river (and the inside of the windows in the static!)

look at the icicles on that riverbank

beautiful light, ice inside the windows

this is the way the geese walk about on a cold and frosty morning

frost on the river

And that was February.

Moving forward, and upward, always upward

when you live on a hill you spend a lot of time moving upward!

Ady has been suffering with a bad neck this week, not sure if he has pulled a muscle, trapped a nerve or just strained something but he has been struggling with eating, sleeping and hulking things about. So of course it would be the week that a massive order of animal feed (12 sacks) and a haybale arrived for us on the ferry. Along with five pallets (when there are excess pallets kicking around at the ferry terminal back on the mainland they send them across to us here and email to let me know they are coming. We must have had 20 or so from them now and every few weeks we get another few – it’s great, we are using them to create paths across the mud, be the bases of animal housing, create screens around useful but unsightly ‘stuff’ we want to hang onto but have no outbuildings, shed or garage to keep things in, stack up wood to season on and more. Google ‘recycled pallets’ and you turn up all sorts of creative ingenius ideas. Our first chicken house was built from old pallets years ago so we knew they were of value even when on the mainland, here they are like precious and sacred materials!) and the box of veg and lots of firewood all needed carrying up the hill. Ady is on the mend now but as ever when you are here and health is not 100% it is a worry both in terms of recovery when life is slightly tougher than normal and in terms of being ‘a man down’ when there is a lot of practical stuff to do just to keep ticking over.

Fortunately the weather has been lovely. Sunshine, blue skies, no rain, a couple of hard frosts making the ground lovely to walk on. We’ve been busy remedying the lack of loo, running water and footpath which were my top three things I felt we’d been too slow in getting sorted – more on them in future posts. We’ve had friends up for dinner twice this week and plenty of sitting on the sporran for lunch and the last coffee of the day as the sun starts to go down (which happens that little bit later every day). The chickens, ducks and geese are getting used to this arrangement so we end up surrounded by the hoardes all hoping for a bit of discarded sandwich or apple core. There was full on scrapping over some melon skins earlier in the week which was hilarious, like some sort of rugby match with them all snatching bits off each other and running away with it. I also managed to line dry two loads of washing which is a sure fire sign that spring is finally coming our way.

On island talk is starting to be looking towards the tourist season – we have various exciting new ventures on Rum this year including a new B&B, the first full season for the venison processing company, hopefully building starting on a community run bunkhouse and talk of the future of Kinloch castle. The four Small Isles are talking about the ferry review which may impact on our ferry timetable with some services enhanced but others potentially taking a hit which is a worry for the islanders who all pretty much rely on tourist trade in one form or another, not to mention needing the ferry to bring food, post, deliveries and get us on and off to the mainland for doctors, dentists and other such appointments.

sun risen bread

Doesn’t that sounds nice 🙂 I bought fresh yeast from ebay last week, all a bit strange living on a remote island, baking my own bread, using the internet to buy it. It’s great though, the bread is loads better than with dried yeast. I bought it with the intention of trying to start a ginger beer plant but have been baking bread with it too with great results. Today it was so sunny that I left the dough to prove on the windowsill rather than next to the log burner AND we had all the doors and windows open airing the static AND we drank three cups of tea out on the sporran in the sunshine.

It’s been a gorgeous few days, the gorse is in flower, birds are singing and suddenly everything feels possible and new and shiny again. I know we could still be hit with wintry weather but the days are getting lighter for longer every day and even if winter returns again with a real vengance it will still only be days rather than weeks or months to go.

Bonnie is doing really well on her long lead when we’re not around and we’ve all been outside loads with her, Dragon particularly taking her on long walks and doing lots of training and tricks with her so she’s getting loads of stimulation and company so certainly no longer bored or lonely.

We’re getting chicken, duck and GOOSE eggs – we had goose egg pancakes for breakfast yesterday.

L-R (what would be sold as a large) chicken egg, duck egg and goose egg

We’re still discussing, debating and planning housebuild stuff so more on that to come but I’ve been reading this Building Green (Building Green: A Complete How-To Guide to Alternative)
 and finding it very inspiring.

It’s only a matter of weeks now until our first family and friends visitors of the year start arriving and we have two sets of friends up for dinner to the croft this week. Life is good.

Getting a yes-iversary

I love anniversaries. You may have noticed this before 🙂

Yesterday we celebrated a year since we had our croft interview and were told yes, we had been successful in our application. 16th February 2012. It marked the end of a year of travels, adventures and searching for the answer to the question ‘what happens next?’.

We were exhausted after months of uncertainty, time spent staying with friends scattered all over the country and the trip from one end of the UK to the other to actually come up and do the interview. When Vikki and Sean caught up with us after their deliberation period to say ‘yes, we think it will be a challenge but we think you’re up to it, the croft is yours.’ we headed down to the beach and sat down on a bench to look out over the sea back at the mainland, get enough phone signal to send texts to family and friends and let them know the news and to just sit and catch our breath.

February 16th 2012, just told ‘yes’

 We decided it would be fitting for the four of us to go to the same bench, take a drink and toast our yes-iversary so at 5pm, about the same time as we sat there this time last year we raised a can / bottle to each other and took another picture a year on.

February 16th 2013

Same coats, everyone a year older, new dog. Same weather, no more certainty about what the future holds  in many ways but a definite feeling that we are home. This time it’s not just a bench, it’s the bench outside our friends’ house on our island.

Out came the sunshine

it didn’t dry up all the rain exactly but it certainly reminded us that it doesn’t rain all the time.

Bird news first – the chicken didn’t make it. She made it through the night and appeared to have perked up having been brought inside and squawked through the evening making my jump every time. She failed to eat or drink though and having already started laying again we knew she would have a partially formed egg inside that unless she managed to lay would start to turn bad and cause problems. By lunchtime she was fading fast and after another family conference Ady took her outside and within half an hour we had an oven ready corn fed free range chicken. If that sounds flippant believe me it is not and tears were shed by all concerned but the fact remains we are meat eaters rearing livestock for consumption as well as egg production and although that was far, far from the way we wanted life to end for any of our animals it makes far more sense to put a suffering animal out of it’s misery AND ensure the life was not in vain too.

The injured duck is thriving, has made a total recover and as the scab of it’s back wounds starts to lift we can see new skin grown underneath. I don’t know if the feathers will totally regrow or not but it’s managing just fine without them anyway and has been swimming on the river and back with the flock with no long lasting ill effects.

As we are doing bird news I’ll update on Margo and Jerry the geese too. The goose we knew as Jerry and assumed was the gander is infact a goose. Star watched her lay an egg! We’re keeping the names that way round anyway – gender confused geese are the least of our non conventional lifestyle worries! The sad news is that having constructed a nest and laid her first egg and been protective enough of it to bruise Star’s chin with a go-away wing flap the hooded crows (known locally as hoodies) mithered her off the nest and stole the egg. Grr.

Bonnie news – we’ve been keeping her in with us unless we go out and ensuring she gets lots of supervised access and plenty of stimulation in training and trick teaching. Yesterday the ground spike and very long lead (30m) arrived which is not thrilled about but means she can be outdoors unsupervised without getting into mischief. The plan remains that she is simply with us most of the time and as such is given lots of company, stimulation and entertainment but for the times when that is not possible we no longer have to fear for our livestock, her safety or the wildlife on the island, not to mention tourists walking the nature trail that borders the croft on three sides!

We feel it’s a harsh lesson learnt and dealt with as best we could.

In other news I’ve edited and produced a new community newsletter which has had some positive feedback – we have lots of vital community information to circulate each month but I’ve mixed it with some frivolous and fun content and hopefully put together something interesting to read. We’ve had pancake day complete with pancake race, meetings about the community bunkhouse project, ferry review consultations and been sending off rough plans for our proposed house along with sitting out on the sporran debating what life is all about.

Today I found my first white hair – I think Star was more disturbed by this than me, she couldn’t quite get her head around how I got to not be a grown up yet even though I am showing signs of proper old age!

Just another medley Monday

The chicken did last the night but by lunchtime it was clear that she was suffering rather than recovering so after a quick debate Ady took her outside and did the deed. A few tears were shed, more for the events leading to her passing than for her passing and we all said goodbye and thanked her for the eggs. While Ady plucked her and brought in a very gorgeous looking oven ready free range corn fed bird the kids and I talked about being meat eaters, compassion for lives, hunting for sport, animal ownership and responsibilities and the differences between being a parent, a pet owner and a livestock rearer and how you deal with the lines getting blurred inbetween.

Bonnie has been mostly indoors with us aside from supervised outside time – the kids took her on an adventure this morning out in the woods and Dragon took her off to do some tricks and training this afternoon. She is suitably worn out infront of the fire this evening and until her long lead and ground spike arrive we will continue with this pattern and try to up her mental stimulation quota each day too.

In other news we are looking at different building options while our house goes on the market to free up funds to build. This weekend I spent time editing and putting together a community newsletter which I distributed today. On Saturday it is one year since we came to Rum for our interview for the croft and were told yes, we could move to Rum. The rollercoaster had already started moving before that but it certainly starting picking up speed then. In some ways I can’t believe that was only a year ago – tonight I got called ‘a local’ for the first time and Ady and I commented a while ago now that nowhere else has ever felt more like home than this despite us not actually having a proper home just yet. In other ways it all still feels very new and slightly temporary – again I guess the lack of actual house may contribute a fair bit to that. We’ve had some floor plans drawn up to get quotes from kit house manufacturers, I’ve got a couple of books coming from amazon in straw bale builds and other alternative building methods. I veer between wildly enthused in crazy ambitious plans for large scale volunteer projects for inspirational buildings and just wanting to pay someone to sweep in and throw a house up for me so I can lie in a bath and listen to a washing machine on spin cycle while Ady and the kids watch TV as soon as possible. I suspect all four of us will not easily forgive ourselves if we don’t follow our hearts and dreams and create something amazing but in February when you have just ordered new pillows and duvets for the third time because they keep going mouldy due to your damp living conditions and you can’t remember the last time you left the house without needing wellies it can be tough to maintain all your ideals.

A friend is staying on the mainland somewhere fairly local just now and it is hugely frustrating not to be able to see her knowing she is so close but she posted up a picture of Rum from afar complete with our current dusting of snow on the peaks and it looked so beatiful.

Animal challenges

Bonnie the dog is in disgrace today 🙁 Last week we found one of our ducks rather mauled. Having lived alongside the livestock her whole life and not done anything wrong before we gave Bonnie the benefit of the doubt as there are other potential predators here even if not the usual foxes, stoats, weasels etc. Sadly we then found Bonnie with a second duck and then a third this week, neither as badly injured but certainly not loving the attention of a collie with very sharp teeth either. All three seem to have made full recoveries including the very injured first duck who lost all her back feathers and a lot of the skin on her back.

Today though after having been severely told off for the duck misdemeanors Bonnie was caught with a chicken in a very bad way. Ady berated her and we examined the chicken. She has lost all the feathers on her neck and has some nasty wounds. We put her in a warm, dark place for a while to recover from the ordeal thinking she would either die of shock fairly quickly or pull through. Having checked on here every ten minutes or so to ensure she was not unduly suffering we had a family conference about the best next course of action.

As meat eaters a big part of our animal keeping is for our own food. Our plan with regard to chickens is to keep any egg layers for that and to eat any that are older and off lay or any cockerels bred from our stock. As such we debated whether we are better to try and return this chicken to health or to kill her and eat her. It’s a tough issue and one which we will face over again with our animals. We have previously reared, killed and eaten chickens, while WWOOFing we killed and processed chickens and turkeys and we took pigs and sheep to a slaughterhouse and watched them being dispatched. 

Our conclusion today after listening to everyone’s opinions and taking a vote was to see if the chicken lasts the night and if so how she is doing. We know enough about meat processing to be able to look at the body in the morning if she dies and decide whether it is fit to eat and aslong as she is not in undue pain and suffering and lasts the night we will nurse her back to health as a good young laying chicken. So we’re still at wait and see for now. The chicken is currently in a box in the lounge as she will be picked on if we return her to the coop by both the other chickens and probably rats and crows – her injuries leave her too vulnerable to just put outside.

The next question is how to ensure this doesn’t happen again. As rookie dog owners I realise at times like this how much we still have to learn. We stayed on so many farms where birds and dogs lived happily side by side so I know it can happen but I also know we have a responsibility towards both the dog and the birds to ensure this can’t be repeated. For now we will restrict Bonnie’s freedom to only being outside supervised with us and we have ordered a very long lead and ground spike to give her some restricted freedom to be outside when we are not. In the summer we were outside all the time so she was simply with us and therefore always supervised, played with lots and had lots of interactive exercise. Over winter there have been more times when she is outside alone which coupled with natural instincts seem to have resulted in this sad state of affairs. Things could have been worse, lessons have been learnt and hopefully all birds will recover and this won’t happen again.

Fitting it all in

Ady and I have been venison processing today. The deer cull is almost over for the season (until July) so we wanted to have a small stock of venison in the company freezer to meet the needs of our tourist trade before the season starts again. We have two hinds to butcher and process and today turned one into 100 burgers, 4 steaks and 7 packs of mince. Tomorrow we’ll turn the other into steaks, diced steak and maybe some more mince. We have a plan to make some sausages out of some of the meat too.

Meanwhile this left Dragon and Star home alone. At 10 and 12 this is really not a big deal, particularly for mature, responsible children like them. They sorted out their own breakfast and snacks, looked after Bonnie, watched a film, listened to the radio, played a bit of their current favourite computer game (Minecraft – means nothing to me but they have shown me various things they can do on it including rearing animals and building houses, very real skills they have practised in real life and will do again this year but for now on a wet and windy February day they prefer doing it online!). Their Home Ed life has changed rather from years gone by when we were out and about meeting friends, visiting interesting places and attending workshops and group activities. Never structured as such but perhaps with more variety and obvious opportunities. There are no museums or art galleries here on Rum, no scouts or guides and yet just this week they have been offered art lessons from one of the islanders and spent a morning tending to a poorly duck so opportunities have a funny way of outing themselves regardless.

I’ve had fleeting moments of worry about educational provision the last few weeks. For various reasons I’ve had a couple of real life conversations about education, how it works, what is important and that always enthuses me anew for what we do and how we do it. At lunchtime we listened to a debate on the radio about older drivers being dangerous. As usual we all ended up shouting at the radio and Dragon picked me up on something I said about an older caller being unable to construct a sentence to argue therefore certainly not being capable of driving a car. He cited Stephen Hawkins and asked me if it would be right to write him off as unable to do something on the basis of him not being able to construct a sentence.

Star asked me why other creatures than humans don’t appreciate a beautiful view as we do and we talked about art, beauty, poetry and music.

Today I noticed online that today is Rosa Parks 100th birthday, along with a quote from her saying ‘I would like to be remembered as someone who wanted to be free’. Ady didn’t know who Rosa Parks was but Dragon looked up and said ‘wasn’t she the black woman who refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white person?’ and proceeded to tell Ady the story. This made me cry. It made me cry because my 12 year old is teaching his daddy things every day and that is the way it should be – not always us teaching them, but all learning from each other. It made me cry because I don’t even recall the conversation or events that led to Dragon knowing that but I do know it was me who told him and clearly told him with enough passion to bring Rosa Parks to life for him and have him remember her name, what she did and why.

Education, as always for us, is just life. Currently it’s snatched a little inbetween making venison burgers, eating lunch, feeding the animals, listening to the radio. Except of course it’s not snatched moments inbetween all these things, it actually is all these things.

To every season, turn turn

A friend on a neighbouring island told me about how by October everyone is fed up of tourists, the constant questions, the feeling of being ‘on show’ at all times. He said that islanders start muttering about everyone buggering off and leaving them alone. By March the islanders are sick of the sight of each other, ready for a swell in numbers to dilute the personalities and desperate to see some different faces.

Back in April last year when we were enthusing with the naive newcomers passion about spring and summer and long days of endless sunshine people went to great pains to remind us about the midges. When we seemed to be tolerating them okay they started shaking their heads at us and saying ‘of course you’ve not done a winter yet….’ with an air of doom about them. Winter, we were told, is grim. No one comes out of their houses, everyone gets depressed, the boat won’t come for weeks on end, winds and rain batter the island. The last remains of you that the midges didn’t suck the blood out of will simply get blown away.

Maybe I am exaggerating a little, perhaps we were not warned of death and destruction exactly, but we were certainly given the impression that life would be far tougher than we expected with our southern softy mainland ways. But we are made of stern stuff. We are a tight knit little family of four and have spent a lot of time over the years sitting things out, finding the humour in the grimmest of situations and reminding ourselves whenever times get tough that we are the ones in charge and at any time can change our minds, backtrack and do something different instead. Such thoughts and reassurances keep us sane when the wind blows, the boat doesn’t come and tensions run high.

We are weeks rather than months away from spring now, the days are getting longer, we have dates booked in for visitors coming once again and although the weather continues to throw a full arsenal of weapons at our little static we have almost been all the way once around the sun on this little island.

These four pictures were all taken at the same time yesterday afternoon when I noticed that every direction had different weather / sky. This is looking out east towards the sea. The sky was greyer than it comes across in this picture.

This is looking west – there is snow falling on the peaks in the distance

Looking south towards Hallival. Snow falling and an eerie sort of light

meanwhile looking to the north we had blue skies

Where are we now?

Some very close friends of ours are about to head off on a travelling adventure. One family, one campervan, it all sounds very familiar. They are in search of different things to us, have a different agenda and different hopes and dreams for their experience but we are able to empathise with a lot of what they are going through as they pack up one life and get ready for another. Meanwhile closer to home we are getting all excited at the prospect of our new neighbours arriving on Croft 2 in the next few months. New people for the island, coming full of new ideas and plans, full of fresh enthusiasm and energy – again they are different people to us with different plans and schedules but we have been where they are headed as the new folk on the island, getting their heads around how things work, getting to know the people here and facing challenges you’d not even really appreciated might exist until they crop up and hit you from behind.

Ady, Dragon, Star and I have been talking about the coming year, what we are hoping to achieve and what our plans are. As ever life is not quite what you anticipated it might be and while we are much further along in some areas of our plans for Croft 3 and life on Rum than we’d have hoped in others we still have far to go. We have come to terms with the idea that growing fruit and veg is more of a long term project that we will need to be further down the line with before we have time, energy or ability to take risks with failed crops. We are hoping to get a few raised beds in where the pigs have cleared land, bring up some seaweed to start conditioning the soil and at least make a start on growing some of our own food but turning that into a business or anything even close to self sufficiency is a long way off for now.

Our livestock is a different matter and while we won’t be embarking on my dream of dairy goats or beekeeping for another few years yet we will be increasing our flock of birds. Our egg sales for last year already turned profit on initial outlay on buying in the birds and their feed. We are planning to get some drakes, another pair or two of geese, some more laying ducks and some more hens too. Once we have more stable electricity we will look at an incubator but for now we’ll be buying in birds and hoping some of our brood hatch their own too. We are also determined to start turkeys this year – we’ll be sourcing some in the spring and fattening them for Christmas as we think there is a big market for them and it is within our previous skills and abilities to manage without too much investment of funds, learning and risk taking. We’re very hopeful that Tom and Barbara pig will produce some wee piglets for us this year too which we’ll either sell on as livestock or fill our freezer with for our own consumption – getting them off to slaughter and butcher is simply not cost effective not to mention against our ethics in terms of ferry rides, long road journeys and stress to the animal on their final destination.

I will be starting work at the local school in the next month or so once paperwork comes through so will actually have a proper job again albeit very part time, combined with the venison processing and various other small endeavours so we are ticking over nicely there regardless of making the croft a living just yet. We can afford to ensure we are making the right moves that balance properly with our family, our desire for a quieter pace and a more outdoorsy, less stressful lifestyle. When your living costs are low it is easier to not fret about feeling you have to work full time – as long as we have enough we don’t need to answer to anyone else and enough here is not very much at all.

So our big project for this year is a house. And we’re chucking everything at it – time, energy, fight, headspace, money. It’s our priority and what will ultimately decide whether we stay here or not. We have a finite pot of funding (which is still currently tied up in our house back down in Sussex. We have just put it back on the market and this time will hope that it sells and releases us entirely from our previous life, pays off our mortgage and other financial ties and gives us enough funds to build a home here) and a housebuild here is still rather an unknown quantity. Getting materials, finding labour, battling the weather, getting access from the ferry to the croft will all be challenges. That is assuming we reach that point when we still have finalising an actual house plan, getting planning permission, working out how to build it at all in the second place. In the first place we have selling our house and getting the money to start it at all. So we’ll be pretty busy with that.

More on house stuff to follow – we have plenty to decide, ponder on and learn about and as long as it takes our house to sell to do it.