Illustrated Guide to Croft 3

As promised (ages ago, sorry) pictures! And hello Mum and hello Lynda 🙂 It’s been a gorgeous couple of days. I have a slight tan line where my t shirt is, bruises in odd places from carrying bits of wood around the croft and a sense of well being that only comes with achieving good…
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Forever April

Ady commented yesterday that living on Rum is forever living in April. Sunshine, showers, sunshine, showers. It is true the weather does seem to do that regardless of the season. It is truly the island of the rainbow. April is a month that has many parallels with life here generally though. Just coming out of…
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As if by magic…

A lack of promised pictures I know, here are a couple but I do have more to follow: We’ll deal with the second one first. It’s Barbara Pig and the piglets (who have been named by Star and Dragon and I *think* are called Bacon, Biter, Gammon and Speedy but there seem to be more…
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When it all makes sense

There is a feeling in the air of change, of moving on, of tides turning, seasons changing, clocks ticking.

It could well be the spring finally arriving – delicate flowers are in bloom underfoot, the air is filled with the sounds of curlews and cuckoos calling, tonight it was still daylight at 1030pm.
We’ve had family here which always leaves a bittersweet taste as they leave – lovely to have them here, sad to see them go, knowing it will be months before we next see them. Birthdays will have passed, children will have grown, lives moved on without that constant contact and simply being present for the small stuff.

It’s been an intense few weeks for visitors for us – people staying with us in the static, visiting for day trips, staying in the village but eating with us. All lovely to have but distracting from our purpose. We’d gotten a little sidetracked – by the winter, by visitors, by various other responsibilities and the feeling that not much had moved along on the croft was weighing heavily. I shared this with an on island friend who drew my attention to the fact that the way to make things happen was not to bemoan them but to get on with them. Buoyed up by support from her and some tear jerkingly wonderful parting words from my sister in law we have many plans of action and have spent the last two days making things happen.

Inevitably things have stopped a full on, no hitches result. The car battery was dead so that took time, a friend needed a hand and you can never underestimate the time spent having ‘a quick cup of tea’ but it’s been a productive weekend with tired muscles, mud covered clothing and a real visible difference on the croft to show for it. Pictures to follow as they probably tell the story far better than my words.


Setting an example

I am frequently proud of my children. They are amazing people. I love them for their individuality, their quirks and diversity, their ability to be whoever they want to be. I’m proud to know them, to love them and to be associated with them. In the last 24 hours I have watched them both demonstrate kindness, thoughtfulness, maturity and many other traits which I can be proud of having influenced and guided them in. I’ve watched them deal with younger and older people, animals, strangers, family and friends and conduct themselves in ways of which I – and above all they – can be proud of. I actually had two seperate compliments just this afternoon about them both from tourists to the island which always serves to have me glowing with parental pride and reaffirm that I am doing this parenting malarky just fine.

But are they proud of me? In the same way that I can only take a limited amount of actual credit for who they are, the choices they make and the direction they choose it is interesting to ponder on how they view me. Whether I am an embarrassment or source of pride, someone they are happy to be attached, associated with and influenced by or would rather they could claim to not actually know at all.

Children have an innate faith and trust in their parents and even the most fallible of us have to go a really long way to shake their love and confidence in them. Until they are teenagers of course at which point allegedly it all heads in the opposite direction. I’ll let you know in a couple of months when I get my first teenager whether that generalisation is deserved ;).

I know I have often recounted this story in real life but I am not sure if I have shared it before on this blog. If I have, or indeed if you know me in real life and have already heard it I apologise but it serves as an excellent example of where I am going with this post. On the day that we left Rum after our interview to get the croft it was a windy, wet and bleak February afternoon. We had been told we were successful in our application for Croft 3 and had two weeks WWOOFing planned on Eigg to catch up with friends there, spend more time on an island, learn more about our new lives and feed and board us while we waited for a crofting course I was booked in to attend in Inverness. In my usual manner I had everything organised, planned and sewn up with everyone knowing what was happening next, expected of them and the direction in which to go. We stepped on board the ferry and were told that due to the weather we would not be going to Eigg after all but straight back to the mainland.

We had a split second decision to make – get on the ferry and go back to the mainland or stay on Rum. We were broke; the whole point of WWOOFing on Eigg was because we had no money to get all the way back to Sussex only to return to Scotland again ten days later. Willow the campervan was in retirement, we were driving my old people carrier which would not have been suitable to live and sleep in for that long. Everyone looked to me so I led us on board the ferry. We sat down as the ferry moved away from Rum and Star asked me “So, whats the plan?” to which I replied quite truthfully “I don’t have a plan.”

“What do you mean you don’t have a plan? You ALWAYS have a plan!” she said aghast.

My response was that by the time we arrived at the mainland I would have a plan. And I did. I made some phonecalls as soon as we got phone signal and by the time we got off the ferry at the other end I had sorted out somewhere to sleep that night and somewhere to stay for the ten days until the course started. Star’s faith in me proved founded, quite possibly more so because she had it and that galavnised me to rise to her expectations.

Today I read a quote that said:

If you ever feel like giving up just remember that there’s a little girl watching who wants to be just like you… do not disappoint her.

And I reminded me anew of the responsibility we bear as parents, as grown ups to the children around us. We are role models, life icons, looked up to, imitated and idolised, identified with and offer inspiration, guidance and set the standard.

If my kids are up to the challenge of making me proud them I’m up for having a really good go at doing the same for them. I want to exhibit fight, determination, grit and gumption. Determination to succeed, ability to turn dreams into reality, face adversity and come out on top.

As a mother I have big hopes for that little girl (and of course my little boy too) it seems only fair that they place similar expectation on me and that I strive as hard as they do to live up to them.


Happy Feet

If I could choose, my natural state of shod-ness would be nothing. I would choose barefoot over any shoe on the planet. I dislike socks and although I do wear them within my wellies they come off as soon as the wellies do.

But digging ditches, treading through shin deep mud, walking over stones, through rivers, kicking a ball for the dog, walking along the nature trail all require some level of foot protection over and above what nature gave me.

I had a footwear dilemma while WWOOFing. I set off with fashion wellies and doc martens, tried ankle high waterproofs, mid calf dunlop wellies, further fashion wellies and then finally splashed out on a pair of Dickies rigger boots. They were way above our footwear budget but were rather gorgeous in their rugged brown leather-ness, had steel toecaps which is always good for feeling like an empowered and powerful woman, had cute little pockets (in which I used to keep an interesting selection of small things). They lasted all the way round the UK and did the first few months here too. They finally failed due to splitting at the back which I sort of fixed with ShoeGoo but they were just a little too short being mid-calf rather than knee high. The mud here on Rum, particularly on the croft is *extreme* and has a high up the leg splash point. So I retired them to the horse box which is our storage space. Sadly they shared that space with the winter mouse infestation which meant that while they were still in use even though I was not wearing them they were no longer suitable to act as footwear.

Since then the search has been on for *the* boot for Rum. I wear my wellies hard – they have to be up to walking down to the village two or three times a day (a round trip of 2 or 3 miles, so a regular 10 miles at times) over mud, rocks, track and road. I drive, dig ditches, ceilidh and generally just live in them.

My second to last pair were neoprene lined and topped which I have fallen in love with. I like the warmth, the comfort and the ease of on and off-able -ness that they afford me. So my current pair are the same design. The first pair were just over £20 and lasted a matter of weeks before splitting so they were returned and I got a refund to set against a more expensive pair. Which have just about lasted three months before also splitting and leaking. I once again have a wet foot and a lack of faith in wellies.

I have been given hints, tips and recommendations of all the big brands – Hunter, Aigle, Muck Boots, Le Chameau but I confess to being cagey about forking out £100 plus. There must be the welly out there that can honestly keep up with my feet…


Ten thousand spoons…

I’ve been reading a lot about permaculture recently. Specifically in relation to polytunnels but as with all things once a concept ekes into your consciousness you find it playing out everywhere. One of the many lessons I have gained from the stuff I’ve been reading is a mentality that nothing is a problem – just a question you have not found the answer to yet. Permaculture is mostly about common sense, making what you already have work for you as best it can. Using every resouce, looking to nature for the answers.

When we arrived here just over a year ago it was with the benefit of a year spent already out of the ratrace and the experience of not having absolute control over what happened to us next. We’d spent our time WWOOFing at the hands of others. Suddenly the jobs for the day, the food we were to eat, where we might sleep was not all certain and within our control. Certainly at no point were we doing anything we really didn’t want to, we were always safe and had the choice to stop or walk away but we had learnt a lot about letting go. Infact the months prior to that had also been about letting go. We’d sold or given away or packed up all our ‘stuff’ – material possessions, jobs, house, clothes, family, friends, daily, weekly, monthly routines. Our time in Willow the camper van taught us that our true needs were pretty basic – food, water, shelter, warmth and each other.

So our first plan when we landed here was always to spend time observing, learning, watching. We deliberately did not make any permanent decisions or choices. We have lived in temporary accommodation which although I suspect will never move from it’s current spot on the croft will not be our forever home. The animals are all sheltered in moveable homes. We have put up nothing that cannot be moved. We have spent hours walking the croft in all weathers, all seasons. Marked out places where we think the ground is best, the view the most spectacular, the land most sheltered. We plot our paths around the croft, thinking about how to carry heavy things the shortest distance, how to make life as easy and efficient as we can. Looked at the resources we need and tried to come up with the most logical, natural solutions to getting them. We still have lightbulb moments every week when we realise that something is harder than it needs to be an with a small investment of time or money now we will save over time.

Last week as we carried heavy sacks of animal feed on our shoulders, slipping and sliding in the mud and cursing in the pouring rain, needing to empty the car of the feed so we could get it back across the river before it ran too high and trapped us on the wrong side I said to Ady ‘there has to be an easier way’. So we stopped, went and had a cup of tea and came up with a re-design. The following day when the sun shone again we put a couple of hours work into moving things around and we have a further plan for moving things more this coming weekend. Currently I spend time every day walking to the river to fill my watering can twice over to water all the pots in the polytunnel – all the while slipping and splashing through the surface water which is gathered under the polytunnel and around the doors. That can’t be right, there has to be a way of both gathering the water that is already under my feet and redirecting to water my crops but also to shelp it not be so slippery and splashy underfoot. A wooden legged table my neighbour has in the polytunnel is wicking up this water and the legs are now darker as the water soaks ever higher up those legs. I’ve tried putting containers outside to capture rainfall but the wind blows them away and I spent more time collecting them from around the croft. The answer has not come to me yet but I know it will if I keep thinking about it hard enough.

Another message I am getting loud and clear from the research I have been doing is that we need to document the tough bits and then get creative about making them work to our advantage. What makes our life difficult? The slope, the rainfall, the peaty, boggy ground, the crows and rats preying on our eggs and our young birds, the lack of access. How can we make those things advantages rather than challenges… There will be a way, we just need to find it. Last autumn we realised that rather than see the reeds and rushes that grow so well on the croft as a nusiance we were better strimming, drying and harvesting them to use as animal bedding and saving ourselves money on buying straw. We’re learning how to work with nature and use things as resources rather than write them off as waste.


About that rainbow….

Through the snot, the coughing, the too-hot, too-cold, rain lashed last few days have crept moments like these: not one, but two rainbows! Today, quite aside from being Ady’s birthday was also the day we first enjoyed crops from the croft – freshly picked salad leaves from the polytunnel for lunch. Ady’s had a lovely…
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Don’t stop believing

There is something really fascinating about people on the edge of normal life. People generally are endlessly fascinating I think but those of us who live life not quite conforming, treading their own path, truly living up to the human condition of being individuals are really. Everyone here on Rum is in that category. You don’t find yourself on a remote island by accident and actually even if you do then choosing to stay here and make it work is a conscious decision. No one is here without having actively decided to be here. That makes for a really colourful collection of people. Not an Intentional Community like some of the inspiring and amazing gatherings of like minded people with common goals that we WWOOFed at in 2011. Not a group of people who all share a dream, a vision, a passion even. Rather a group of people who are all here for individual, unique reasons. All with back stories, ideas, motivators and agendas of their own. It’s like a micro society, except we are light on the wage slaves and crowd followers and heavy on the individuals and ‘different’ people.

I do not document anyone else’s story here – their tales are not mine to tell or even to recount. But I am privileged to hear many of them, to listen and learn from the eclectic mix of of people that call Rum home. I get to discover what brought them here, what keeps them here and see the ways in which they make their own personal mark on what happens next on our island. Every individual here counts for 2.5% of the population, everyone has a big loud voice, everyone is a stakeholder. No one can be discounted or written off, nobody ‘doesn’t count’ or ‘doesn’t matter’. There is no room for ‘never mind me’ or ;what I want is not important’. Certainly that can make for frustration, obstruction, slow progress. But it truly is both democracy AND anarchy in action. Power of the people, to the people, for the people. It’s real and true and matters. One person’s crisis is everyone’s crisis, the victory and celebration of one is that of many.

Rum and it’s component parts – people, organisations, factions and groups – are not like a jigsaw or an airfix model where there is only one correct way of putting them all together – I think they are more like a lego set with infinite possibilities or better still a box set of plasticine, where things can be shaped and moulded, pushed together, set apart, reformed and remade, grouped in different ways, different scenes and alternative realities.

Never is this more apparent to me than each month when I pull together and edit the content for the community newsletter.  I gather factual information and communications from SNH, the Isle of Rum Community Trust, the Residents Association, the school, the crofts, the gardeners, the shop and post office, the Ranger, the people with passions about wildlife, nature, the island. Information about events on the island, birthdays and announcements. Gossip, jokes, photos, a spotlight on a different resident each month and one of my personal highlights is Quote of the Month. Given to me each month by one of our residents who is the king of finding the right quote to suit any given moment.

This month, as ever I got the slip of paper with a quote for the newsletter but he also gave me a quote he had found and thought was pertinent for me.

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”

 It’s been a challenging week in many ways this week. The rain has been fairly relentless, the mud continues to colonise the croft, everyone except me (so far….) has come down with the cold that the cousins brought with them and another three chicks have died. All taken by the hooded crows. Yes we’ll learn from this, come back stronger, take lessons from it and ensure the same mistakes are not made again but in the first tender weeks since we celebrated our anniversary here we have lost three piglets and seven chicks. That hits pretty hard when your current life relies on the success of rearing livestock and growing crops. When the ground is too wet to plant anything and the weather and wildlife are claiming the lives of your animals it’s hard to find the rainbow through the rain.

There are many things I could credit with keeping us going – the faith and belief in us from afar, the friendship and support from fellow islanders, the half hour intervals here and there of blue skies and sunshine, the moments of pure joy as I call ‘Good Morning Deer!’ to the herd in the field on my way to school in the morning, the refusal to give up from Mama Hen as she spends half an hour calling to the lost chicks before shrugging her feathers and getting back on the next to hatch more.

This week what has kept me believing in tomorrow is the seedlings in the polytunnel. I’ve had herb plants, strawberry runners and various seeds arrive in the post this week, carried on sowing in egg boxes and yet more seeds have germinated and seedlings poked their way through the soil surface. This coming week we’ll be eating salad leaves grown here on the croft – our first crops. In the darker moments I’ve found myself heading for the polytunnel to plant yet more sowings and I know that investing in the future, believing in tomorrow does not come more basic and heartfelt than that.


On and on

Thursday again already. Ady heard on the radio yesterday that an average human life is 1000 months, give or take. A thousand months. Blimey. That’s not much is it? Not when the days and weeks whizz by so quick. A month’s notice, a month’s mortgage payment, looking forward to the end of the month…. We…
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