Never nothing to do

Back in my other, previous life, well actually about five previous lives ago I worked in retail management. One of my favourite catchphrases to standing about staff was ‘there is never nothing to do’ refering to the fact that even when we had no customers, all the days delivery of stock was priced and put out there was always something to do – tidying displays, checking stock levels, price checking items to make sure they were correct, filing of paperwork, having a clear out of cupboards, drawers, till areas… it may not have made me popular with my staff but they were never bored!

Here on Rum on the croft there is also never nothing to do. Rainy days being chances to beaver away on crafting bits to ensure we start the tourist season next year with full fresh stocks of things for sale. There is endless paperwork, reading, planning and researching to do. We need to make our Christmas cake, plan a mainland trip to the dentist… when the weather is fine there is more to do outside, gather more firewood, strim more rushes to dry and store as animal bedding, bring up stones to help make a path through the mud, just walk the croft to better acquaint ourselves with the land and what it does at different times of the year.

There is also the wider Rum life to take into account, various social events, ferries coming in and going out, meetings, vegetable orders to be placed and collected and so on. Sometimes it seems like the week might be a quiet one and this week was looking like it may be the case but then in came those storms and brought with them a vagrant bird from America who was of great note in the twitching world and once word was out meant we had over 30 people descend on us with their big camera lenses and camouflage outfits in search of a glimpse of the bird in one of the local residents gardens. Cue us swinging into action to provide tea, coffee, soup and cake to make these visitors from afar (some of them had traveled through the night, over 600 miles and a very rocky ferry trip from one end of the UK to the other to hope to see this bird) and raise some money for our village hall fund.

The twitchers saw their bird, they ate our cake, put cash into our donations bucket and went away again. And maybe tomorrow if the ferry runs (it is *very* windy and forecast to get worse) there will be more.

Never, ever nothing to do.

Plus One

Yesterday afternoon I was at a friends crocheting and drinking tea when she stopped mid-sentence and said ‘Helicopter!’

Within seconds we could see the ‘copter coming through the mist and rain over the sea. Within minutes I’d had a text from Ady asking if I was okay and if I knew why the helicopter was in. Here on Rum when you hear the helicopter coming in low your first thought is for the members of your family you can’t see infront of you right now. Then a mental checklist starts of the rest of the islanders. You replay the sounds you have heard and what you know people are up to today – is anyone chainsawing? Working up on a ladder? What tourists and visitors are here and what are they up to? Our walking on the hills? What is the weather like?

It landed (as it does, infront of the castle) and we then gauged by the gap between it landing and it taking off and flying away whether it was a big emergency or a small one. A bigger gap probably means the person requires stabilising or on the spot medical attention before moving, a quick turnabout can mean it’s an ambulance ride Rum style to proper facilities. Yesterday was a long gap.

We decided the most likely cause for the helicopter was happy news – our neighbours on Croft 2 were just 10 days away from leaving the island to have their first baby. Sure enough the grapevine got the news to us that that was indeed the reason – baby on the way! The next thing on the sea horizon was a small charter boat coming to collect husband and expectant father – the helicopter is tiny and only had room for a pilot, one and a half patients and the midwife so he was following on by way of a specially called in boat and a borrowed car the other end. What a fantastically exciting start to a life and story for Rum’s newest resident to tell in years to come about the day she was born.

Yep, a little girl. Born on the second birthday of our previous youngest Rum resident so we’ll be gearing up for proper birthday celebrations this time next year. And yes, he did get there in time to be there for the birth.

Fantastic news which has had everyone on Rum smiling and a bit gooey today.

Upcycling aside

The season truly has changed. It’s dark by about 630pm, which means by this time next week it will be dark just after 5pm and the mornings are starting later and later. It’s hat weather and almost gloves weather and I have a torch in every coat, jacket and fleece pocket I own to ensure I don’t leave the house without one.

The chickens have more or less stopped laying. Scarlett found a large stash of goose eggs this week which we’ve tested and found all fresh so we do at least have enough eggs to make our Christmas cake with next week.

The colours are stunning out of the window – purple.s, goldens, greens and oranges. Just breathtaking. I know it will only last a matter of days before everything goes grey – autumn is a blink and you miss it season here on Rum.

The log burner is lit for at least part of every day now, Ady tends to be up first and get a small fire going so that the rest of us get up to a cosy lounge and then depending on the weather and what we’re up to it either stays going all day or gets cold and then relit in the evening. Yesterday we cooked the meat for our steak pie dinner on the log burner top afternoon – delicious slow cooked meat, gorgeous smells wafting through the static and money saved on gas too – win:win:win! I also put my proving bread dough close to the log burner and was rewarded with very well risen bread and two lovely loaves. All those house carting sacks of logs up the hill and swinging an axe to split firewood are certainly paying off now.

To get into the crafting groove ready to create a whole stack of items ready to sell next year I have been making lovely things for myself first. I made two hats – one slouchy one using some gorgeous thick green yarn that a friend sent me and one more formal cloche style hat with a crocheted flower on it in some Harris tweed wool I picked up in Harris back in the spring and was waiting for inspiration to strike me. I’ve been wearing the slouchy one out and about lots already. I’ve also been knitting squares and rectangles of various yarn to create a patchwork fleece. I’ve long coveted one of those gorgeous snuggly fleece lined woolly jackets that sell for way more money than I’d spend on a fleece and so decided to make my own. A full on garment is probably beyond me (in patience if not skill!) particularly when things like zips might be involved so I had the brainwave of using an old unloved and unworn fleece (a Tesco purchase about 8 years ago on a cold camping trip when everything else I owned was wet, muddy or not warm enough) and stitching patchwork onto it. The sleeves and neckline may well provide me with challenges but I’m starting at the bottom and pleased with how it looks so far.

It still doesn’t mean I’m going to eat lentils. Or chickpeas… It probably means Ady will refuse to hold my hand while I’m wearing it outside the house though!

Once I am done with it I will turn my crafty attention back to items for sale next season – my scarves proved very successful so I will increase that little range of Moods of Rum scarves and maybe think about some other accessories in a similar vein.

We have been thinking about long term plans for the croft and engaged the help of a fellow Rum resident who just happens to be a bit of a whizz with such things having proper qualifications in such matters. Looking forward to seeing what she makes of my rather rambling future plans.

It’s a busy week for meetings including (probably my last) visitor management group meeting as I am retiring from that group due to having taken on more things than I am able to give proper attention to. I have been rationalising my commitments and this was a clear one to step away from so I have done so. Next week is looking just as busy but with social events to mark autumnal festivals and celebrations so that is all to look foward to.

We’re planning the various endeavours that keep us busy during the winter months including venison processing and winkle picking and gearing up for the early starts, layers and layers of clothes to combat the cold larder and wet seashore. The wind has returned spinning our turbine round and round and charging everything up for us. We’re as ready as I think we can be to face the winter ahead.

A soggy carnival

Jax, over on Making it up asked what you do when it rains. And given that I still direct the occasional nod towards being a Home Educating blog, or at the very least a blog that belongs to a family who Home Educate I thought I’d join in. What with rain being a fairly recurrent theme here on Rum.

Years ago when I had younger children and lived in a house with electricity a rainy day would be a reason to stay indoors and see where an inside adventure took us. That might mean sticking on one of our many dvds – a film fest complete with home made popcorn, drawing the curtains to close out the grey day outside and turning the lounge into a cinema. A wildlife documentary, filling our ears, eyes and brains with David Attenborough’s dulcet, soothing tones educating us and taking us on adventures around the globe, under the sea, inside the microscopic world of bugs. Either of these could result in a spin off activity – getting out all the toy dinosaurs and creating a habitat for them, lining them up on opposite sides of the room depending on whether they were herbivores or carnivores, getting out the art supplies and painting, drawing and cutting out the star characters from the Pixar movie of the day then laminating them to play with. Heading off to the dressing up box to turn into those characters themselves and act out the on screen action using the house as a movie set. All of these are true and regular examples of what went on in our house.

Or we might curl up with a huge towering pile of books and work our way through the lot, reading until my voice grew hoarse and the last page on the last book was closed.

We might embark on a culinary adventure. For a while we worked our way through the River Cottage Family Cookbook which if ever I was to follow a curriculum of any sorts would be high on my list. If you don’t have a copy you should get one
We spend many happy hours writing shopping lists, heading off to the supermarket for supplies and then making a mess in the kitchen. We baked bread, made our own pasta, shook milk to churn it into butter, spent time measuring out a teaspoon, tablespoon, ounce and gram and then working out how to do the same by eye and testing ourselves. We made sourdough starter, experimented and learnt.

Talking of experiments they were a popular rainy day activity too – making rainbow solutions from sugar water and food colouring, volcanic explosions from vinegar and bicarb or Scarlett’s personal favourite of potions from random assorted things she could find in my bathroom cabinet and glitter! We grew crystals, allowed white flowers to suck up coloured water to shade their petals and testing gravity by flinging things down the stairs!

We had toys, oh so many toys. But the winning items time and again for rainy days when we were stuck indoors were Lego and Geomags. Adaptable, able to take on whatever flight of fantasy the kids imaginations took them on and be endlessly pulled apart and put back together again while teaching them about architecture, building, the laws of physics, design and improvement, building and aesthetics.

But that was if we happened to be stuck indoors on a rainy day. We had a car and access to all sorts of resources in all four directions. Museums, art galleries, libraries. Places geared up for learning opportunities at every turn with interpretation boards, resources, people on hand to ask questions of and point you in the right direction, to interact with and to soak up knowledge. The less obvious but no less valuable resources of the local supermarket, the local pet shop. Engaged, interested children are not a liability in these environments, rather a willing audience to learn yet more about the world around them. Looking at the labels on food in the supermarket to see where it came from, working out the raw ingredients for a meal, pricing up the different brands and choices on offer. Understanding why some food was chilled, some frozen and some just on shelves. Looking at all the different animals for sale and what type of care that pet may require, looking at life expectancy of different creatures and understanding how the home they might need within your house replicated their natural habitat in the wild.

Finally celebrating the weather and mother nature. Understanding that without the rain we’d all very quickly be in trouble and putting on wellies and waterproofs and heading out to find the biggest possible puddles to splash in. Heading to the beach to see what happened to the sand and the waves when the rain poured down on them. Making sure that the turn of the season was something we felt, were part of and experienced fully by seeking out the daffodils in spring, the turning leaves in autumn and the crunchy frost hardened winter ground.

Here in this life rain is such an every day part of life that if we pressed the pause button just because it was raining outside we’d spent a lot of our lives suspended. Living in a caravan means it is not practical to head out and get soaked if we can help it – drying clothes is not easy and mud is best left on the outside. But we probably have more of an in touch with the seasons rhythm now than ever before as the summer is for being outside, stretching those incredibly long Rum days when it is still dark at 11om and the sun rises again before 4am to the limits. Tending livestock, growing crops, soaking up the sunshine and being productive. It is peak tourist season so there is always plenty to be done from collecting eggs, filling up the honesty table and supplying the shop, ensuring our craft supplies at the Craft shop in the village are topped up, manning the weekly Market Days at the hall to sell our wares and harvesting, baking and foraging. Autumn is for gathering the harvest and bringing in winter supplies, making sure we have firewood and winding down for the season.

Winter – and the most rainiest time of all is for crafting – creating next seasons items for sale – for Davies this will be designs of postcards and other artwork, for Scarlett it will be turning this summer’s haul of seaglass and other beachcombed treasures into keyrings and other trinkets. Rainy days also mean drawing and other crafting for craftings sake. There is writing to friends to keep up their correspondence by post friendships they both have, making props for the films they like to make, art for pleasure rather than for sale or sending, writing stories. There is still dvd watching, online time spent on youtube or minecraft or other online games. There is time spent on games consoles, listening to music, reading books. There is still creative play, still use of resources and I have to admit still a fair bit of putting on wellies and finding the biggest puddles we can to splash in!

In all honesty…

Selling eggs is one of our biggest revenue streams here on Croft 3. We sell chicken, duck and goose eggs. Some of them through Rum shop (at whole sale prices), some direct to businesses on the island and the rest from our honesty table at the croft gate. I was really surprised when we set the first incarnation of a camping table and jam jar up down at the croft gate at how successful it was. We are bordered on three sides of the croft by a nature trail which brings tourists walking along the top, one side and bottom perimeter of our croft; a fact we have never underestimated or taken lightly in terms of giving us a ‘shop front’. We are also a nice accessible circular walk that many of the villagers do regularly in their own personal ‘get out of the village / walk the dog / burn off their dinner / reconnect with nature’ quest. Now that they can buy eggs from us along the way I think it has become an even more desirable destination walk too.

The table was soon replaced as it was not weather friendly (eggs got wet in the rain, blown away in the wind, cooked in the sun) or crow / passing dog proof – a fact we learnt the hard way after crows pecked at the eggs from the bottom of the table up and an unidentified dog cleared a whole table full of eggs leaving only broken shells and muddy pawprints as evidence. The next incarnation was a brightly painted cast off bedside table from the castle hostel. We mounted it on the gate post and it stood up well for the whole of this years tourist season. But the Rum weather is not to be underestimated and underestimate it I did. The honesty bedside table fell to pieces having had it’s colour washed off by rain, bleached off by sun and the door blown off by wind and rotted off by, well by exposure to all of the above really.

If our business is to work here we need to do a lot of low key  unsupervised selling while we are busy getting on with getting the next lot of produce ready to sell and the honesty table / cupboard has proved itself as a winning way of selling our produce at retail prices without us having to walk down and deliver to the village. So the hunt was on for an alternative, more robust solution. Something sturdy enough to stand up to the wind, rain and sun, keep the produce safe from the elements and the predators, look appealing to potential customers and sum up all we are about.

Bring on the freezer!

I can’t think of a more appropriate and suitable solution than what Ady came up with. Here on Rum when white goods are no longer any use they are heaped up in a corner of Rum and left to die. In theory once there is sufficient numbers to justify it a trip out will be made by the council to collect and recycle them. In practice I have no idea how frequently this happens but judging by the state of the appliances living in this electrical graveyard it is not often. To be honest shipping them off by sea, then transporting them by road to wherever the nearest recycling plant on the mainland may be and then trying to make the best of these big CFC boxes is still far from a green solution anyway. So Ady and took a trip to the white goods graveyard and selected an old freezer. A bit grubby, a little rusty but still with drawers and the perfect size and shape for our new honesty larder. We bought it back to the croft and I attacked it with hot soapy water until it was fit once more to put food items in. Fully insulated against hot and cold, secure and rodent and crow proof, ready to live on as a useful item rather than languish in the pit of rusty white goods nestled between a dead cooker and an expired washing machine. When we were WWOOFing we came across several hosts who used old fridges and freezers as animal feed storage containers for all the same reasons. So we can’t claim full credit for the idea.

But for an off grid lifestyle treading lightly on the land, re-using and recycling whatever we can, being like modern day wombles making good use of the things everyday folk leave behind this seemed perfect.

But this needed to be nice looking, something you were invited to open and peruse inside, be attracted to and want to buy from. An old freezer, no matter how clean, which is no longer plugged into anything may send the wrong message… a sort of extreme off grid one perhaps…

It needed some beautification, a bit of Nic-love.

First of all I needed it to stop looking quite so much like a freezer. So I painted it black. Bear with me, I only had black, white or red paint at that stage. It was already white and Ady suggested if I painted it red people might try posting letters into it, so black was my only option.

I like to think of this as the upcycled freezers goth phase. A sort of uncomfortable teenage state in which is was reflecting on who it was, why it was here and what the end result of this chrysallis stage might be. A period of experimentation and self examination…

Briefly I (and the freezer) toyed with this look – stark, black and white, farm shop style. It didn’t feel right. There were too many connotations of school, blackboards and chalk for either of us to feel comfortable. It was as though the freezer was expected to be teaching the customers something and at any moment pi to thirteen decimal places might appear underneath the croft 3 produce heading. Also sitting as it does at the foot of the croft this is the natural point of vision – the first layer is a panorama of natures finest, sky, cuillins, trees and quite possible eagles circling overhead. Below that is Croft 3 – evidence of humans and animals, agriculture and life, some might say a shambles, others may see the permaculture beauty in it but one way or another it didn’t feel right ending with a big black box.

So we went green. Which felt far more appropriate!

On every level. And Ady found me a wee pallet to stand it on and build a little path to it so it doesn’t get all muddy when we get tens of visitors coming to buy stuff. Meanwhile I spent ages and ages trying to come up with a vision of what I wanted it to look like. I wanted it to be quirky, original, embody all that we stand for here on Croft 3. After some soul searching I came up with a design. It is indeed quirky and original. And a little bit gypsy. I think that sums us up!

It’s still a work in progress but I can share what I’ve done so far with it between rain showers, making use of a jam jar of petrol to clean out my brushes when the brush cleaner failed once again to arrive on the ferry…

with writing – white on green somehow so much more pleasing than white on black
With swirls on the writing and the first colour added – brown. Lots of guessing as to quite what that shape at the bottom was ranging from pig to hippp – none were right but it briefly had me pondering the market for hippo eggs… they do like mud after all and we have plenty of that!
Swirls and outlines complete the lettering. I am very happy with it, it looks exactly as I hoped it might.
No more hippos any more. Still no facial features but a comb, wattle, some eggs and a chick on it’s back hopefully identify the pig hippo to actually be a broody hen. Some ducks, geese and some beaks and legs for the chickens above. Next step is to turn those purple blobs on the lower left into something but rain stopped play once more this afternoon.

What do you think so far?

Take me to the river

Kinloch river runs along the bottom of Croft 3. One of the many wee burns and falls that feeds into it runs down the side of Croft 3, infact that is where our water comes from. The many ditches, drains and culverts that take (some of) the water off of Croft 3 all feed into the river. The river then runs just under a mile to Loch Scresort, the sea loch which forms Kinloch bay around which Kinloch Village on Rum sits before meeting the sea.

The river is part of our daily lives. I have walked along the section between our croft and the village hundreds and hundreds of times and it is different with every walk. The speed of the current, the height of the water, the width of the river all depend on various factors – rainfall, what the tide is doing on the beach, what the weather has been like for the last week, day, hour. What the weather is like elsewhere, higher up on Rum. Melting snow from the peaks can create a sudden rush, as can a cloud burst up on higher ground even if it is fine down beside our stretch of the river. I have heard the pitch change as it suddenly runs faster on more than one occasion. It can change within a single day from bursting its banks to a stream you could paddle in. It is the most mercurial body of water I have ever known.

We cross the river on foot by a small bridge which sometimes has an angry flood of water running so close it almost flows over it – I have heard tell of times when the river goes over the bridge but have yet to see it for myself. When it is running low we can drive the car across at another point called a ford. That is where we took the static across. Sometimes you can wade across in wellies, at other times I wouldn’t go anywhere near the riverbank for fear of being washed away. The ducks and geese spend hours every day on the river, we wash Bonnie in it when she is muddy, once the pigs went down in the height of summer for a paddle. Davies and particularly Scarlett spend hours playing beside it and in it. I have floated found chicken eggs in shallow places to test their freshness, rinsed out muddy clothes, washed my hands, collected water for crops in the polytunnel.

The deer drink from the river and perform graceful leaps across it when spooked by us walking along. Herons fish along the banks, I saw a cormorant on the river once. Dippers breed, nest and rear their young. Scarlett has caught tiny fish, others have caught dinner. I’ve yet to see an otter anywhere on Rum but I am told they lurk along it’s banks.

On a sunny day diamond sparkles splash as it gently trickles along, clear and clean and lazy. Other times it is a raging torent, angry, brown and frothing, carrying ripped branches, rocks and anything else that gets in it’s way. In spring it is flanked by yellow broom and gorse blooms and the green of fresh new leaves and shoots, in summer there are creamy elderflowers and wild roses, in autumn purple heathers, shiny red rowanberries  and the golden oranges and reds of falling leaves. In winter all is grey, stark, colour all washed out.

The river seems to know my mood, to echo my emotions and play a suitable song as I walk alongside it each day. It is at turns cross and raging, filled with promise and hope, lazy and meandering, rushing to fit everything in. I used to think I’d love to live by the sea, to have ocean views from my windows and the sound of the tide as a background song to my days. Now I can’t imagine anything other than this river.