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 things. The midges are back and the solar panel was still charging the battery up and gone 1030pm tonight even though it was daylight at 430am this morning – ah, the trade off for those long dark days of winter at last.

13 months in to our new life here I’ve been looking around and taking stock of how far we have come. It’s a hearteningly long list of achievements and I’m in a celebratory mood thanks to all that sunshine. That bare field of just over a year ago is looking like a working croft these days, producing food and income, feeling a lot like home. Today has seen us deliver eggs and salad to the shop for sale, sell eggs from our honesty table at the top of the croft and eat salad and quiche (made with our eggs) for dinner with a friend up for the evening. I’ve replied to an email regarding the delivery date of our next livestock venture – turkeys (and some more geese) arriving next month and taken a phonecall about another sow to run with Tom and Barbara as breeding stock. It all feels a lot like we have a business 🙂

the raised beds. Made from recycled scrap wood from all around the island, all gifted to us

this one is made from strainer posts that were no good as strainer posts any more but are perfect for raised beds. This is with a layer of cardboard (waste product we have a LOT of here on Rum given how many things come in boxes on the ferry) laid as sheet mulch.

Star helping to saw wood for the stakes to fix the beds

Bonnie, not particularly helping as such but enjoying the sunshine and the excuse to run around barking lots

Elliot, he’s new. A cockerel who has mated with all available hens in the village and was starting to get too incestuous with his own offspring so has been relocated up here where he has no relations – yet

Dave – the one eyed cockerel, king of Croft 3, his reign remains undisputed after a brief clash with Elliot saw him retain his crown as King Cock

Oh he has plenty to crow about!

the beds, still at sheet mulch stage so far

step two is a manure layer – I’m using the manure rich straw bedding from the pigs. Worms are already working their magic on this stuff which I am moving across from where the pigs houses were to be the second layer on the raised beds.

The beds should rot down beautifully with added layers of cardboard and newspaper, more animal bedding and manure and possibly some seaweed. I’ll put in some crops like potatoes, marrows etc that will be just fine in these beds now and give some crops and act as green manure too.

Pig family. Tom is theoretically seperated from Barbara and the piglets but they all seem to mingle happily together. The wee ones are growing fast and are very curious and adventurous.

The ducks in their new overnight pen which includes house and pond and backs on to the Shit Heap Hider shed. We’re getting all the eggs each morning now.

meanwhile, over at the polytunnel – the potatoes are doing well

I’m sowing seeds in egg boxes. They are the perfect size and shape and will compost down around the plant as it grows when time comes to transplant them. The box stays nice and wet which helps with watering too.

The current two cropping trays of salad leaves

and the next two to come – I’ll get the next lot sown this week to ensure  continuous supply

herbs – a combination of some live plants from ebay, some cuttings from our own plants and some stuff grown from seed. All ready and waiting for me to get the herb spiral ready for them.

purple sprouting, ready for moving to a bigger tray

chillis and tomatoes, loving that polytunnel

an experimental crop from Star – a handful of bird seed sown in a tub is showing sprouts in just days. She has dreams of grinding her own flour to make her own bread.

beetroot in a box! Seems to be the perfect growing environment!

strawberries, runners from ebay delivered by post. We have four varieties and these in the pots in the grow bags are doing by far the best with three flowers on them today.

peas doing really well, the next sowing are starting to germinate, more to be sown this week to keep ’em cropping

 Star’s sunflower grown in a welly. I took this shot and was stunned to spot the view looking out from the inside of the polytunnel. It never fails to take my breath away!

radishes, grown in an old compost sack for want of suitable containers.

more herbs, coming on ready for that spiral

strawberries and more of that view

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 one season or story, about to emark upon another. Always leaving something behind but heading towards the next bit – harsh winter behind, midge filled summer ahead…

Emotionally and challenges and victories wise it feels like we’re forever in sunshine or showers here too. Someone said to us early in our time here on Rum that everything here feels magnified, more intense. And it’s true. A delivery not coming or a boat being cancelled feels HUGE, one bad day leaves you feeling stranded in your own life without the possibility of getting a takeaway, going to the cinema, heading into town for some retail therapy. All of those tried and tested pick you up methods we relied on in our previous lives just aren’t here for us here. But a good day, oh a good day has your heart singing, everything validated and confirmed and the whole world on your side.

It’s been another productive weekend with the Shit Heap Hider finished and filled, the Shit Heap cleared, dismantled, moved and burned and skipped. I reorganised the polytunnel again and did some more sowing in there and Ady and I have made five raised beds with at least another five more ready to assemble tomorrow (weather permitting).

We’ve been eating salad leaves daily and sold our first bag already. Various seedlings are ready for potting on and I’ve already transplanted peas into an old compost sack with a tripod made from sticks for them to climb up. I want to finish the beds tomorrow and then mulch them with saved cardboard, old animal bedding and some of the soil that is all rich and composted from having the pigs on it for months. Even if I don’t get anything planted in them this season they will be ready for autumn sowings and next spring.

We have some fun projects planned including a herb spiral and an earth oven. Some more potential revenue plans including hiring out our two camping stoves to people staying down on the campsite in tents or the camping cabins and selling more produce to visitors. I have a range of midge inspired craft items planned to get made and we have more livestock due to arrive over the coming weeks.

There is plenty to be fretting about in terms of our house still not sold down south so no movement possible on building a house here just yet although we are still busy with research and fine planning as to what we want when we have the funds. But these are things out of our control so not worth paying too much attention to – far better to be focussing on the things we can change, improve and be getting on with.

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 than four names banded about so I think they may keep changing!). They are thriving and looking really happy in their new Pig Palace. Ady and I spent Sunday building a huge new shelter for them to live in with gifted galvanised sheeting and our own many used fence posts. It is big enough to be the new maternity pen for sows as and when needed with up to 12 or more in a big litter in the future. It has enough headspace (just) for us to get in there too if needed while still being low enough to be cosy for the pigs. It faces south with a small opening and an area inside where they are totally sheltered from the elements on all sides. The floor is two plastic coated mattresses which mean it won’t get muddy or wet and it has a deep layer of straw bedding which we’ll keep topped up. Tom Pig has his usual landrover topper home with a board base and more straw bedding. They have a massive run which is currently divided in half so they piglets can get away from Tom if he is aggressive to them although so far they all seem very amicable and family minded together. We have another sow coming soon so will have a breeding trio and at any time may have any non-weaned piglets still with a mother and two or three we may be fattening to eat.

The ground the pigs have left behind is lovely – their own manure perfectly trodden in and composted down, the ground drained well by their trotters and all weeds, reeds and rushes cleared away. They have been moved five times now since we had them and the first and second patches they were on are growing back now as lush green grass. The intention is to leave them on their new area for good with the odd rest time for it when we may move one or more of them to another area to prepare it for growing for us. Pig keeping so far has gone well for us and I am excited about selling our first piglets, getting another sow and later on this year processing our first meat.

Moving the pigs across was the same fairly easy task it has always been with the new fence being put up and the old fence left operational until the last possible moment when it is turned off, the pigs lured across to their new area with the feed bucket and the new fence turned on once the battery and electric fence gizmo and solar panel all moved across. (We power the fence with a small solar panel which trickle charges a 12v battery – aside from times when the grass has grown up or the fence has otherwise been shorting out and drained the battery the solar panel keeps up with demand and it is a self sufficient little system). Tom and Barbara know the drill and happily trotted over following Ady but the little piglets were just not up to the walk or the adventure and the feed bucket as yet holds no real motivating lure for them. Ady managed to grab one and walk across with it squealing (they are quite the noisiest little animals around!A quick google suggests 100 decibels plus, louder than a chainsaw!) which had Barbara following him baring her teeth and playing the Mama Pig Protector role admirably. After a few false starts and some comedy slipping over in the mud chasing piglets capers Ady shut Barbara and the one piglet in the new house and held her back with all his body weight and a pallet while Dragon calmed down Bonnie Dog who was equally excited  by all the drama and added to it with her own barks, yips and desire to round everyone and everything up. Star helped me corner the remaining piglets and I caught them, held their mouths shut to reduce squealing volume and took them across the mud one at a time to reunite with Barbara. A very fraught 10 minutes or so which I now wish someone had caught on camera and set to the Benny Hill theme tune music as I’m sure it would have been a winning clip on youtube!

Monday was spent tidying up after the Big Pig Move, digging out fence posts, gathering up some of the manure rich old straw bedding ready to create some lasagne beds in the next couple of weeks once we designate a growing area and planning out the next phase of Croft 3, Year 2. We’ve been looking at processes and conducting a sort of time and motion study on ourselves in order to make best use of resources, energy and make life as easy as possible. This has involved moving things like feed bins so that we can get as close as possible to them with the car when the delivery arrives but still be able to fill up the smaller feed bins on a weekly basis without walking too far. I’ve been applying permaculture principles to our planning and trying to think ahead as to what potential issues could be. An example of how we’re getting better at this is that we have put down pallets to protect the pathway we walk twice daily between the feed bins and the animals so that it does not go to mud within a week. We are planning to create a proper path there in the next month or so but it is better to not let it go to compacted mud first.

We then built our second galvanised sheet and fence post construction – what we are calling the Shit Heap Hider. For a whole year we have been gratefully accepting any cast off scrap material from fellow islanders whenever it’s offered. We have wood, metal and other random stuff all of which we don’t have a use for right now but may do in the future. It is this heap which has provided fish boxes and other plastic crates for my container growing in the polytunnel, the frame for the roof on the new buildings and more so it is valuable stuff. It just looks really untidy. While asthetics are not our number one priority really we are ever conscious of being sited on a nature trail on a National Nature Reserve and we don’t want to live on a bombsite either so we have built something to store it all in. We have constructed it on a slope (frankly it’s hard to build anything *not* on a slope on our croft) and will make use of that by putting some gutter pipe on the roof to collect the rainwater which will be the water for our pigs and our turkeys when they come next month. We’re also using the back of the shelter to be the back of the duck enclosure (we pen the ducks at night so that we can collect their eggs which they lay in whatever random location they happen to be sitting in unlike the hens who will go into the chicken house to lay so we have been penning them at night and getting all the eggs rather than none of the eggs). The side of the shelter will also be the side of the turkey enclosure so we will be using less materials to build them all and less fencing to go around. See, getting smarter.

That second photo? An audience with Nic. There are several universities which visit Rum as part of their field trips each year. Some come for the geology, the archaeology, the wildlife, the scenery. We’ve had people studying the rats, the red deer, the manx shearwaters, the plantlife, the newts, the rocks and fossils, the earthworms and more. This group are interested in the people and the realities of life on an island. We talked to a  group from this course last year just after we arrived on the island about our hopes and plans and what we wanted to achieve and the course leader contacted us to ask if we’d be up for doing the same this year. They arrived while we were working, muddy and grubby and fully ‘in action’. The kids were in the piglet pen so they got a really good snapshot of what our days involve. They stood, those 30 young people and their 4 tutors and listened to what to my ears sometimes sounds like a script these days. Our story. The story of how we were Ordinary Citizens, Living Ordinary Lives just a couple of years ago. But we had A Dream. We thought there was A Better Way. (I’ll stop with the capitals letters now!). We talked about how we had proper jobs and a house, running water, a TV, private health care, company car, pensions schemes and paycheques. How we also had stress, traffic jams, supermarkets, Monday Mornings, meetings and a feeling that this couldn’t actually be all there was to life, how there had to be more. How growing food at our allotment and in our garden, tending to our chickens, walking on the beach, in the woodlands, talking, dreaming, feeling free was what we really wanted to be doing. How we’d go on camping trips and exist without electricity, have to carry our drinking water to our tent and ration it’s usage, collect firewood to build a campfire and feel like we were properly alive for a few days only to return to our house with sinking hearts and ponder why we needed so much stuff in our lives.

I told this group of young people, most of whom were struggling to find a spot of ground to stand in that wasn’t swallowing their inappropriate footwear into the mud (really – deck shoes to walk to a croft rather than wellies? And why have they no coats? In my day…..) about our year in a campervan, living with people all around the UK, doing things differently. Working for food, a bed for the night and the satisfaction of being part of something that makes sense. About how we found ourselves here on Rum at the end of our journey, starting from scratch with a bare field at the end of a crappy track where it rains more than it doesn’t and when it’s not raining there are probably midges. I stood in my patched up jeans, infront of my car that doesn’t really work, while my kids played in the mud with the piglets and tried to convince this group that really we haven’t always been hillbilly types, that this is Living The Dream.

Some of them shuddered when I talked of no electricity, no TV, no mobile phone reception. Some of them visibly paled when we talked of only having been back to the mainland twice since we arrived here a year ago. Some asked about the cinema, McDonalds, shopping (as a recreational activity, not as a means to purchasing essential items like food!). But some of them really got it – we were asked how Ady and I had met and whether we ever dreamed we’d end up living here. At the end several of the students came and shook our hands and said they admired us, were impressed and inspired, thought we were doing an amazing thing and wanted to wish us well. Then on Monday one of the students came back again to buy some eggs and chat some more. Knowing we had managed to reach someone to such an extent and convinced him we were worth coming to visit again means a lot.

We’ve had a few ‘repeat visitors’ in the last month or so, people we don’t actually know ourselves but have visited Rum twice now since we’ve been here and have been keen to catch up with us. People who we chatted to in our first week here when we were staying at the castle and saw us in our first flush of enthusiasm, students who were here when the static was in it’s first location along the nature trail. I’ve had at least four people tell me they’ve been following this blog to see how we’re getting on and how much they can see we’ve achieved in our first year. That motivates us to do more, make it happen and carry on.

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 birthday – cards from the kids, bacon butties for breakfast, a bath at the castle, five pounds to spend on whatever junk food he wanted at Jinty’s shop, lunch of home made rolls, pate and salad, a visit from family in the afternoon and then a couple of birthday beers at the shop having been sung Happy Birthday to and shared his cake with fellow islanders. Home for curry for dinner and the promise of a fishing rod still to come.

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 have a notice board in the static which I write on, usually on a Sunday afternoon / evening. It’s headed with the title ‘This week on Croft 3’ and we write a list of stuff that is due to happen in the coming week. Some of it is calendar type stuff – visitors, people up for dinner, meetings. Some is job list type stuff – order animal feed, finish the community newsletter, some is aspirational stuff ‘ move the pigs, plan the sowing, get the grant application forms completed’. It more or less always gets done with the odd thing carried over for a week or two. We also have a monthly plan with larger tasks that Ady and I have planned, that is far more fluid and subject to change and depends a lot on money, weather, what else happens to crop up. A thousand months…

While I was at school this morning Ady had a go at the curtains with some mould cleaner. Its changed his life! The curtains which were covered in black spots despite our best efforts through the winter have come up as good as new. We had resigned ourselves to just replacing them all once we move out of the static and it becomes a holiday home to rent but this stuff has cleaned them right up. It has also removed all the ground in dirt that all sorts of fancy hand soap had failed to get off Ady’s hands. We’ll gloss over the fact he and the static all now smell of bleach and there are no doubt all sorts of nasty chemicals floating around!

Ady and the children met me from school and we dashed to the pier where it was our first Sheerwater trip of the season. We didn’t make the first of the year last week as I was at a meeting and the weather was pretty dire so Ady and the kids elected to wait and share the first one with me this week instead, particularly as the cousins are here so it was a real Family Excursion. The boat was super early and actually had to come back for us as it had started to head away. We jumped on and had a lovely two hours off to Soay and back. We saw loads of seabirds – kittiwakes, gannets, great skuas, manx shearwaters, black guillemots, shags. Amazing to think that this time last year we could not have identified any of those and now it is just knowledge we have. Ady saw a porpoise too but the rest of us missed it.

I love this photo of the four older cousins today on the boat. I love how Star is talking, Dragon is grinnning back at us and they are all immersed in their world. It reminded me of the countless photos I have of the four of them over the years in a similar pose looking out from various vehicles.

Here’s one from many years ago of them on a tractor at the pick your own farm we used to live near to and visited countless times every summer.

After the boat the kids all scattered to play while Ady and I nipped back to the croft. We got distracted by the piglets all being out in the sunshine playing and exploring

Before settling back down with Barbara for a feed

Further good news in the chicken coop – Mrs Chicken now has THREE chicks. All seem well and she was out with them teaching them how to peck this afternoon on the new path.

And because I am sharing photos here are two rather gorgeous moths that we saw hatching out yesterday. The kids identified them as hawk moths.

We had a cup of tea with our neighbour Crofter Gav and then I went to the hall for a meeting (SWOT analysis and self evaluation of the bunkhouse project) while Ady rejoined the others to start a barbecue down at the beach to cook dinner on. I joined them a couple of hours later and we had a lovely evening eating venison burgers and chatting while the kids played.

Yesterday’s post brought me some strawberry plant runners which I have put into containers and growbags in the polytunnel and a load of seeds including comfrey, borage, tarrragon and nasturtium. I have some little plants on their way – lavender, rosemary and some other hard to grow from seed stuff along with some gel rooting compound to try and take some cuttings of the lavender plant we brought up with us. My broccoli is sprouting, potatoes have had their final covering of compost and the first tender salad leaf shoots are almost ready to start picking.

1000 months. We’re making sure this one really counts.