Out with the old

As any regular reader will know the chances of this being the last reflective post of 2013 are pretty slim but this is the Official Round Up of the Year.

It’s been another rollercoaster  ride filled with innumerable highs, lows and everything inbetween. Many celebrations from anniversaries and birthdays to impromptu parties. Massive opportunities to learn, to grow, to spread our wings. As ever the turning of the seasons, the contrast from full on tourist season with hoardes of folk spilling off the ferry to the colder, bleaker, emptier Rum months when we barely scrape double figures of people on the island. Births, deaths, new faces, sad and tender goodbyes. Visiting friends and family, rare but always noteworthy ventures off the island. Adventures, opportunities, excitements, dramas. Another year passed, another year lived, another set of experiences added to our bank of memories.

I posted a photo from each month of 2013 recently. Here are some words to go with 2013 month by month.

January – seeing the year in with a communal meal in the village hall and fireworks on the TV round at a friends house, my birthday (39), a mainland trip to have Bonnie spayed, spend our winkle money, go shopping, indulge in baths and electricity and mostly just feel happy and relieved to be back home on Rum again, safe in the knowledge we missed Rum way more than we’ve ever missed the mainland. Our first Buns Night in Scotland, a magical evening joining in with set traditions and becoming part of Rum history. We visited the castle bar for the first – and last official – time.

February – We had some problems with Bonnie attacking ducks and then injuring a chicken to the point that she had to be killed. Harsh lessons learned. We celebrated our ‘yes-iversary’ of one year since we had traveled to Rum to be interviewed for Croft 3 and were told we’d been successful. The weather suddenly turned and we were eating lunch out on the sporran, all the birds (chicken, duck and goose) were laying eggs and I started working at Rum primary school four mornings a week.

March – We made it to Spring! I wrote a post which has made me all teary all over again just re-reading it. Our Croft 2 neighbours finally moved to Rum, I had a brief visit to Harris and Lewis and Skye. The community polytunnel got another step closer to being up and running and some fellow WWOOF hosts visited and brought us two drakes (one of whom escaped to live in the wild shortly afterwards, the other of whom is very at home here on Croft 3 and is the proud father of our newest duck). The helicopter took away a fellow SmallIslander who was here on Rum working after a heart attack which had us all feeling a little too remote and vulnerable. We plumbed ourselves into the river and had running water!

April – Our anniversary of a year on Rum. Barbara pig had piglets, chickens hatched chicks, the polytunnel went up, seeds were sown, raised beds were constructed. We joined in the community beach clean, we had our first visitors of the year – residential in the shape of my parents and two sets of day trippers.

May – Ady’s birthday, more visitors, raised beds installed, polytunnel yielding it’s first crop of the season and in full throes of sowing, transplanting and harvesting. First Sheerwater boat trip of the year, still light at 1030pm. Piglets and chicks growing well.

June – Rum’s first Big Lunch, the installation of the compost loo, the arrival of more livestock – this time goslings and (to our knowledge) the First Turkeys On Rum. Our honesty tables were installed at the top and bottom croft gates and started generating income. I created a herb spiral and we harvested our first strawberries from the polytunnel. The Battle of Nic & Ady vs the Crows commenced. The Sunday Community Teashop was born and oodles of cash raised for the Village Hall.

July – Davies launched his postcard range – he sold out and earnt enough to repay his start up business loan in full, restock and keep back money for investing in Christmas cards later in the year and spend some on frivilous things too. The birth of Davies Designs. Another visit from my parents, Rum played host to the Small Isles Games which we won every single round of the Tug of War in, Scarlett came second in the hill race and a generally fab time was had by all.  Weekly Market Days were held in the hall on a Wednesday and Davies did really well on postcard sales while my Moods Of Rum scarves sold well, as did my home baked flatbreads and jars of foraged fruits jam. Our duck hatched ducklings and one of the brood made it all the way to adulthood. We had a visit from an islander bearing fish to open up and inspect the contents of it’s stomach – 12 newts! We then ate it for tea. We swapped eggs for a freshly caught crab and had that for dinner later in the month. Scarlett and Davies got to lead the new Rum pony foal and it’s mother from one field to another.

August – We built a wood store and set about filling it, carrying wood up the hill and chopping and stacking it. The media spotlight was on Rum for the castle, a BBC documentary filmed here including a bit here on Croft 3, bramble picking and jam making. A brief mainland visit to the dentist and lots more visitors.

September – More visitors, family and friends. Davies had a big birthday and turned 13. We had the second Blasda food festival on Rum. We walked up to the source of our water. The stags began roaring and the 2013 red deer rut commenced.

October – We installed a wind turbine, went to Kilmory to watch the rut, celebrated Halloween and I embarked on my most ambitious upcycling project yet – an Honesty Larder made from an old freezer.

November – Bonfire night, snow! Nights drawing in. Fruit cage finally stocked. Not leaving the house without a torch. Life slowing down.

December – Scarlett’s birthday, more friends to visit, the very sad loss of two pigs and a cockerel. The despatch and processing of two turkeys for Christmas dinners. Christmas, carols, games, nativity, mince pies and mulled wine. The wind turbine being blown out and replaced, the installation of a washing machine, more friends visiting to see out 2013 with us and welcome in 2014.

Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time

As in, we had a wonderful Christmas time in a very simple manner.

It’s been a challenging Christmas for many thousands of people all over the UK, indeed all over the world really but specifically in the UK many people have not had the Christmas they were hoping for or had planned due to the circumstances beyond their control that the weather has thrown at them.

This has been a common theme for our family here on Rum since we arrived here.

We are not at risk of flooding by rain but it frequently comes through the roof of the static if the wind blows in a certain direction. Our bed, Scarlett’s floor, the area infront of both external doors and the kitchen worktop underneath the spotlight have all at some point or another had pans or towels beneath soaking up rainwater. The rain on Rum is not a simple matter of determining what outdoor clothing we wear or whether we can hang washing outside today or not, it dictates the very rhythm of our lives from if we can drive across the river or not and therefore need to carry groceries, animal feed, bottled gas, firewood and so on a lesser or further distance. It turns our croft to mud, drowns our crops and on occasion has taken an animals’ life too.

The sun although almost always welcome can bring it’s own causes for concern. Rum has been glowing alight from out of control fires across the island on more than one occasion, never during our time here but the regularly spaced firebeaters, warning signs that go up during the summer months and evidence of burnt out patches of land which still exist testify to the issues that the sun can bring. This summer just gone we could see burning areas out of control on the mainland from across the water.

But by far the biggest force of nature here for us is the wind. Wind cancels ferries, destroys buildings, pulls down trees, rattles our roof, wobbles our walls and keeps us awake at night. Wind gave us power and took it away again by burning out our wind turbine. Wind has blown the doors off the polytunnel, the netting off the fruit cage, tossed the Honesty Larder fridge on it’s side and regularly seems to laugh at our attempts to move forward. I had a story when I was a child about a naughty zephyr, a little wind who caused trouble and made mischief and I often wonder if he has followed me to Rum.

We have been hit by storm after storm so far this winter and Christmas had become something of a landmark point to reach. Many times in the last few weeks Ady and I have quietly wondered whether we would actually see Christmas Day here in the static, whether it would still be intact. Our plans of our own turkey, all day power from the wind turbine, presents under our Rum harvested tree all felt in great jeopardy as we lurched from one crisis (dead wind turbine) to another (cancelled ferries) to yet another (more storms forecast). We seriously questioned what the odds were of us waking up on Christmas morning in our own beds might be as we kept readjusting our expectations.

In the event there was a last minute hitch in the form of a lightning strike knocking out the islands internet from Christmas Eve through to Boxing Day (when on islander superstars clambered up Hebnet Hill and fixed things to reconnect Rum to the outside world once more), always patchy mobile phone signal also disappeared and we were concerned as to how friends and family might be thinking the worst of our silence. We managed to get a few messages out to let people know we were fine, happy, safe but disconnected and just before lunch we managed a phonecall to family.

I can’t say the uncertainty has added anything to this years festive celebrations, I think we have sufficient excitement and adventure in our lives of our own making without any additional layers but we have indeed had a very Merry Christmas. An off grid, way out there in the wilderness, edging closer to self sufficiency all the time sort of Christmas. A healthy mix of bought in junk food snacks along with our home made cranberry sauces, pickled onions, Rum reared and oven readied here on Croft 3 roast turkey, Christmas cake, mince pies and other goodies. A variety of presents delivered to Rum thanks to amazon, ebay and other online retailers along with some thoughtful low cost, handmade gifts. Some entertainment brought to us thanks to the newly fixed internet, BBC iplayer and radio, high profile, high budget celebrity Christmas specials combined with carols round the piano, brisk walks in the brief dry sunny spells, parlour games with friends, mulled wine and mince pies and in jokes with the community.

Our second Rum Christmas. A (relatively) quiet one at home.

Christmas Eve Eve

Dire weather warnings continue (but that appears to be the case wherever one lives in the UK just now, our only trump card on that is our caravan dwelling status and the effect of cancelled ferries) but here at Goddard Heights we are ready for Christmas.

The solstice on Saturday saw us carolling and on Sunday we processed two turkeys – one for us and one for a fellow islander. Ady did the first by himself but I assisted with the second one. Davies and Scarlett declined to participate this time although they have previously seen the full process of both chickens and turkeys (and infact assisted in turkeys at one of our WWOOF hosts).

Ady worked at a turkey farm slaughtering turkeys for a few years way back before we met so I got a full biology lesson along with some technical teaching in plucking, processing and preparing. It was lovely to see the healthy inners of our birds and we were so impressed with the full crop of the second one that we bought it up intact to the kids to open up. The contents filled one of our large saucepans and was almost entirely fresh green grass and some corn.

The first bird was just over 3.5kg and the second slightly larger at just under 4kg – slow grown, happy, healthy birds living a completely natural life. I will always eat meat and my dream is to be consuming only our own poultry, pork and venison from Rum.

More festive food preparation with another batch of mince pies (I’m down to just two jam jars of my own mincemeat left from about 10 jars at the start of the month, these may keep over now til next year), three jars of cranberry sauce (made with fresh cranberries, orange juice and zest and ginger wine, delicious) and some ginger liqueur made from vodka infused with a pile of ginger from way back a month or so ago. The ginger which was really a by-product I was planning on throwing away is divine if very firey, so I have put that aside to do something with too. Next year my ambition is for all the fruit and veg to be Croft 3 produce for Christmas but we’re doing pretty well for a self sufficient start to our second Christmas here.

My Christmas cake looks and smells delicious but the icing will require some further attention tomorrow. It turns out icing sugar does not keep well in a very damp caravan and it took quite some coaxing to turn the solid brick into glossy icing. It will need to be done in layers!

Today brought a disrupted timetable ferry and on it came all of the last things we were waiting for and a couple of things I had given up hope of getting before Christmas. We also heard from our winkle man that there is a cheque in the post on it’s way to us for a good price for our winkles so that boosted morale all round. Presents are all wrapped with the exception of a last minute cuddly toy pig I am making for Scarlett (pink with black spots fluffy material being one of the items which arrived that I was not really expecting) to look like her favourite wee girl piglet we lost last week.

Davies and Scarlett spent the morning making and decorating gingerbread houses that had been bought for them by visiting friends a few weeks ago. I think it’s the first time we’ve done them and they really enjoyed themselves and got very artistic and creative. Next year they are planning to construct something rather elaborate having worked out how the construction from panels works – there was talk of a gingerbread Kinloch Castle!

Tomorrow is our final festive film (we have watched one Christmas film a day since December 1st – advent DVDs), making Christmas stockings, a trip to the shop in the late afternoon for mulled wine and mince pies with fellow islanders and a final food shopping spree to spend the Christmas club money we have been paying in each week.

Merry Christmas to all our readers – we hope your festive celebrations are peaceful, filled with love, light, happiness and magic.

The wind blows right through you

I have talked before about how the changing of the seasons and the impact of nature is so much a part of our lives. It was only really when WWOOFing that we began to be in tune with the natural world and that connection has grown ever greater. This year particularly I have been more aware of the summer and winter solstice.

December has been a tough month for us so far, the weather has been unbelievably testing with relentless gales, pouring rain and short grey day following short grey day. In so many ways this winter has been easier than last year – we have our running water, our toilet, our log burner and decent stock of firewood. In other ways it has infinitely harder. I was poorly and here on Rum being ill is cause for concern – we don’t have easy access to doctors or chemists. We have had animal losses which always hits hard. This time last year we had almost daily ground frosts and the croft was hard and mostly dry and crunchy underfoot. It was cold but crisp and clear. This year is it dark, grey, wet and muddy. We have seen more cancelled ferries in the last month than in the whole of the previous 20 months we’ve lived here.

However, it is the time of year to take stock, to be grateful for blessings and to think of others. In these darkest days we have been shown love, kindness, compassion and caring from the community on Rum, from our wider social circle of family and friends and being the 21st century we have had outpourings of loveliness from every corner of the internet too. We have had the Rum nativity, the Rum Christmas kids party (with special appearance from Santa, who I was lucky enough to go home with afterwards!) and carol singing. There has been mulled wine aplenty, mince pies and gingerbread, tinsel and fairy lights.

Tonight I wrapped all our Christmas presents (those that have arrived – we are still waiting for a few), tomorrow we will be making a few turkeys oven-ready and we are planning the last few days before Christmas to be filled with festive baking, some Christmas crafts and plenty of seasonal tunes.

The shortest day is almost over and as of tomorrow the sun will rise that bit earlier, set that bit later and maybe even start putting a bit more of an appearance.

Winkles, snowflakes and ferries

Despite much hysterical doom-mongering about ferries probably never running again we have had a ferry every scheduled day so far this week – there has been some disruption but all the people who wanted to get off have done and all the people who wanted to get here have done so.

Today was a particularly crucial ferry for us as the winkles were booked to leave Rum and head off to get the best possible price. So this morning we were down at the beach gathering them from the various stashed places to take them along to the pier. The back door on our car is stuck shut (obviously!) at the moment so we put the sacks on the bonnet and drove slowly, which is the only speed we have anyway… Once there we put all the sacks into a second sack for safety (the sacks are very thin and could easily have split, spilling winkles everywhere) and tagged them all before putting them on a pallet to be sent off on the boat. Good luck winkles on your onward journey, fingers crossed for a good price.

That done we were able to start getting ready for Christmas and what better way to start that by taking part in the Rum Primary nativity play?! We had been cast as snowflakes, so donning an eclectic selection of white or off white clothing (in short supply up here at Goddard Heights) including inside out T shirts, a borrowed fleece and my dressing gown complete with paper snowflakes dangling off the arms we swirled, twirled and blizzarded our way through our scene. Ady was also a myrrh bearing wise man so donned the obligatory tea towel secured with dressing gown cord on his head and presented baby Jesus with a tupperware box labelled accordingly. We had a festive sing song, drank some mulled wine and I walked home (slightly after the rest of the family as I stayed for another glass of mulled wine) singing Christmas carols at the top of my voice.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas….