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Darker days

We’re only a few weeks away from the shortest day and as always at this time of year the memory of long summer days when it is still light outside at gone 10pm are so far away. It is too dark to do drawing or crafting or reading after 4pm now indoors and the weather is too wet and windy to be getting on with much outside. Despite getting home on Tuesday this week has slid away in lots of chunks of days – a morning at the post office, needing to meet the boat to collect petrol, an afternoon of crafting and chatting with friends (with enough artificial light to carry on crocheting until gone 5pm!), a morning of sorting out the woodshed and chopping firewood. This time of year we are productive but in a different way to the summer when you can get stuck into a project for hour and hours at a time, this time of year it is much more about windows of opportunity for short bursts of activity instead.

Projects on the job list include more bite sized ones – plant the rose bushes which arrived on the ferry ordered to remember my Granny (yellow roses were her favourite flower, I thought it would be nice to have a few here on Rum), move the kids’ bikes out of the shed and into the bike shed and then staple up the bunting which is in the shed ready to hang up. Put up the mirror and start looking at shelving and display ideas for the shed. Collect some seaweed from the beach to mulch the raised beds.

We have an all day task of the last two piglets to be killed and processed, we are confident we can do both in the six hour or so window of daylight but we need a decent day of weather. Then we have another day of sausage making ahead once we have all of the pigs dealt with.

We are smarter with our power management this year than ever before and have finally got our heads around dinner prep during the day where possible in daylight – 10 minutes of chopping up veg in the afternoon is way better than a later dinner or using up precious power for a light to see by. Instead we are working towards a couple of hours of snuggling by the log burner watching downloaded the night before stuff. Wildlife documentaries, fun stuff like cooking shows and then things like The Apprentice, The Naked Choir and Dragons Den which we all love for massive entertainment, shout at the TV value.

But nothing photo worthy or sufficient for a blog post all of it’s own so far this week. Bits and pieces and bite sized chunks.

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A hop and a skip to the mainland

Davies, Scarlett and I had a brief trip to Mainlandland for an orthadentist referral. Winter ferries and consultants only attending that clinic for a couple of days each month meant it was a three night trip for less than an hour in the chair and as Scarlett will be getting a brace fitted in the new year we will be making that same trip pretty regularly over the next couple of years. Hurrah for the new road equivalent tariff meaning the ferry is now less than half the price it used to be. And excellent public transport links. And a Premier Inn really close to the railway station.

While we were off Ady was busy on the croft building a bike shed for the kids’ bikes, enjoying whisky and a few beers down at the shop, watching films that the rest of us don’t like and eating chilli con carne which none of us like.

Back on the mainland it is already Christmas and by all accounts has been for a while already, while here on Rum we’re still in autumn. Davies and Scarlett did lots of watching TV, using 24 hour wifi, taking baths and buying books (Davies) and cuddly toys (Scarlett). I did lots of walking around Lidl, Morrisons and Poundstretcher carrying heavy bags of food shopping back to the room. More than once I pondered on the wisdom of carting back an uncomfortably heavy load to the hotel room to add to the previous load knowing I’d need to remove it all from the room in one go…

I’ll be very honest and say that despite it being November, historically my trickiest personal month here on Rum I was desperate to get home for most of the trip. I was bored, too hot and really, really missed Ady. When the kids and I were off a few months ago we made the most of being tourists, this time everything was closed for the season, everyone in the shops seemed stressed, preoccupied and worried about Christmas. We ate junk food, created loads of packaging, got our middle night accommodation refunded due to the smoke alarms going off throughout the hotel at 11pm waking everyone up.

There was a four hour ferry trip, much of which I spent catching up with a friend from a neighbouring isle who happened to be on the boat heading home, a train ride through the dark – I love how the lights of Fort William suddenly appear through the darkness, the contrasting train ride back through increasing daylight this morning,
trainride
a choppy boat ride back to Rum and the feeling of just being home again as we stepped off the ferry to familiar faces. There was bumping into someone in Fort William (which seems to happen every time we visit these days, make me feel like a proper local!).

There was moonrise at sunset over the snow capped peaks of the Nevis range.
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ben nevis

And then finally as Davies and Scarlett each walked back with a wheelbarrow Ady and I took the very loaded up car back across the too high to attempt really river. And it was too high. The engine nearly stalled, the water began to gush in through the doors and Ady and I looked at each other in silent horror until he managed to rev it sufficiently to get it to make it across when we looked at each other in glee. By the time the children caught us up with the wheelbarrows there was just water draining from the headlamps to prove our tale

rivercrossing

It’s excellent to be home!

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November

November has been the trickiest month for us here every single year so far. Sometimes due to outside of Rum factors, family reasons and the reality of being so far away from where we started (I hesitate to say ‘home’ because for the four of us, this is home), sometimes it has been our own ill health – nothing sinister but just a cold can be tough to get over living as we do. Sometimes it is Rum specific stuff like the change of the ferry timetable, the lack of tourists, the closing down of the place for another year, some people who don’t live here year round heading off. It can be the cold, the damp, the rain, the mud, the wind. The lack of daylight hours. Yep, November can be a challenge and the hardest part can be that the whole of winter is all still ahead of you, weeks and months of it to come before the promise of spring.

Ironically it was November that we very first set foot on Rum, fell in love and made the decision that we wanted to move here though.

We have developed various methods of coping with November as we head into our fourth winter here. We try to get outside every day wherever possible. Sometimes that is literally just to dash and feed the animals twice a day but if we can we aim for some proper outside time, exercise, fresh air, finding the beauty even when it is hidden under grey clouds and big puddles. We make plans for ‘winter projects’ things we can do indoors on days when the rain lashes the windows all day long. We stash films to watch, popcorn to eat, hot chocolates to be drunk, books to read, arts and crafts to get on with.

This November has been no different – there has been the call of Sussex, the messy Rum politics, the mud, the winds, the first loss of livestock of the season. There has also been cycling, photography, amazing sunsets, the first snowfall on the highest peaks, collecting hedgerow materials for basket making, experimental baking, candle making, a Jack Black movie marathon.

November, business as usual then.

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Another storm weathered

Abigail here on Rum was not as severe as we may have feared. Or maybe we are desensitised, or hardened, or a bit punch drunk by the wind these days. Anyway, we’re fine, no casualties of the winds and rain which hammered the croft and caravan last night, today and is raging outside still.

Ady did the rounds outside, feeding and checking animals and shelters, doing a bit of extra work on the glazing on the shed window, bringing in firewood. I made the most of the spell of moderate but not extreme wind this morning which meant we briefly untied the wind turbine and had internet to do a few pieces of writing work. This month I’ve written for Barefoot Diaries, almost finished my contribution for a book on Home Education that I have been working in collaboration with a group of other Home Ed parents on, been interviewed for Mindful Pie and gathered items for our residents newsletter. I always wanted to be a writer when I grew up and while at nearly 42 I seem to have failed in my growing up it would appear I am indeed a writer.

This afternoon my fingers were twitching to create so I dug out some yarn my Mum brought up on her last visit and started to make some triangles to make bunting for decorating the shed shop. Appropriately they are ‘granny square’ bunting and I think will look really pretty in the shed. I do love that the paint I’ve used to decorate it is from my Dad and now the yarn used to make it pretty is from my Mum. Both parents helping from afar in my latest project.

granny squares

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About the wind

As a child I had an awareness of types of wind – hurricanes and tornadoes. Of course I did live in the south of England where even snow was something of a myth so I possibly only believed in them as fairy tale weather conditions which whipped girls with red shoes and their dog away to a land of yellow brick roads…

I do recall the Great Storm of 1987. I remember snuggling down in my bed listening to the wind outside my bedroom window. I never quite knew what it was that made the noise – perhaps a loose gutter or rattling washing line? But it always sounded to me like a plastic yoghurt pot being shaken around a sink whenever it was windy outside. When I woke the next morning there were two trees down in our garden – one a cherry tree which had beautiful blossom in spring and red leaves in autumn, the other a large conifer which was in the corner of the garden and had a void underneath between the lower branches and the wall. My brother and I would play underneath and call it our ‘camp’.

The whole of the south of England was in turmoil, roads were closed, trees were down all over the place, cars had been squashed by fallen trees, building damages, sheds blown away, roofs blown off. Whole caravan parks had been decimated, a nearby block of flats had had the roof and whole top floor taken off, the sea had flooded the coast road, fences were down between neighbours, farm animals were crazed by the wind, zoos had lost animals escaped into the wild, birds were grounded dazed and unable to fly. As a 13 year old I confess to being mostly concerned with the fact that my school had sustained damage and was declared closed for 2 weeks. It was my first personal experience of disruption and chaos at the hands of Mother Nature.

Over the years there would probably be one instance a year on average of weather creating upheaval in my life – I remember a 20 mile drive to work which usually took 40 minutes turning into a 3 hour epic adventure when an unexpected snowfall and frost created black ice on ungritted roads, floods closing a whole section of roads for weeks, high winds blowing a roof tile onto the front windscreen of our car, a fence panel blowing down, snow causing panic buying of bread and milk in the local supermarket. But really the weather stayed outside and other than travel disruption we remained largely unaffected by the elements.

It’s a very different story now. We are dependant on the rain and sun for our crops, at the mercy of the temperature for our livestock to thrive, reliant on sunshine or breezes to keep the midges at bay, in need of sun and wind for our power, rain to fall to keep the river flowing for our water. We exist courtesy of nature these days and as such need both the generosity of the elements as well as a measure of reticence from extremes. Except of course in the north west of the highlands of Scotland, on an exposed and open hillside, in a coastal location there is very little in the way of half measures, it’s pretty much all or nothing. 20 hours of daylight in the summer, 6 (if you’re lucky) in the winter, one of the rainiest places in the UK with not much in the way of snow or frost but a fine line in hail, wind, almost constant wind, gales at every equinox, rainbows an almost daily sight.

Here in the highlands you can dry your clothes outside year round, there is always enough wind to make up for the lack of warm temperatures. I think we have had a ferry cancelled due to winds or tidal swell caused by winds every single month this year. There is not a single thing safe to leave untethered in the winds from sheds to full water butts to animals houses. Polytunnels are ripped to shreds, if you live within falling distance of a tree you lie awake listening to it creaking. This is a place of extremes, of living close to nature and knowing full well what the weather is capable of. Bridges are closed, high sided vehicles are stranded, everyone knows about wind speeds and directions as has apps on their phone and websites bookmarked to tell them the long and short term weather forecast by the hour, not just the day.

For us here in our caravan the wind is almost like a fifth person living with us. We make allowances and adjustments. We take down the clock, secure things on shelves, know which things rattle and which windows can be opened in different conditions. We know that sometimes the log burner will rage and burn thanks to the draft, sometimes if the direction is a little different then we can almost give up on getting it lit as all that will happen is smoke will billow back into the room. We know the walls will flex and shake, the roof will rattle and slam, the straps will vibrate and sing. We know when the wind turbine needs to be tied up and the caravan door locked to secure it. In our first winter we kept an emergency bag packed ready for evacuation, we had a plan with all four of us fully briefed, torches at the ready, responsibilities for various duties dished out in the event of something happening. Friends in the village were ready to offer us floor space for the night should we need it and friends on the mainland were poised to hear from us with news that we’d made it though another storm.

These days we tend to stick it out. I can’t deny my heart races a little, Ady obsessively checks the wind speed forecasts, I reassure him it will be fine, Davies and Scarlett seem largely oblivious and will probably feel strange one day when they live in a house where the walls don’t shake at anything over a 35mph gust of wind. Sleep eludes us when the wind is really fierce, both due to the sheer noise of the caravan, the roof and walls, the straps, the trees outside, the grass moving, the geese every so often getting spooked and all 10 of them honking at once. We have developed something of a que sera sera attitude to it all these days, knowing we can prepare but not change things and we really just need to cross our fingers and hope that this storm is not the one which finally spells the end of our adventure here as we know it.

Tomorrow Abigail arrives, much heralded by the press, the pre-storm winds are howling around outside already as I sit here typing and across the Highlands there are already tales of power cuts and phone signal outages, pretty much every Calmac ferry is on amber alert for tomorrow and while my mantra remains ‘it’ll be fine’ deep down I am hoping just as hard as everyone else that I am right and it will be.

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Pass it on

Back in 2010 I wrote about my grandmothers.

My paternal grandmother died when I was about 10. She was 90. Over 30 years later my maternal grandmother passed away this morning, she was not yet 90. Due to an age gap between my Mum and Dad, my Dad’s Mum having him late in life and my Dad being well into his 30s when he had me and in contrast my Mum’s Mum having my Mum very young my grandmothers were more than a generation apart and lived very different lives.

I have found it very difficult knowing my grandmother was ill and approaching the end of her life these last couple of weeks. Hard not to say my own goodbyes and hard not to be around to support other family members. When we heard this evening that she had died we raised a glass to her and remembered her. We exchanged letters with her after the TV show earlier this year and she had been thrilled to see us all on her TV and have an insight into our lives here on Rum and see some of the croft and the island we call home. She was proud of us and supportive of our crazy life even though it had taken us all far away.

There are sights, sounds and smells which will forever remind me of her. She was a florist and as children my brother and I would spend time in her flower shop, sitting in the back room eating marmite on toast. The first flower shop was on the corner next to a train station and the windows would rattle as the trains thundered past, the sound of the gates being wound up and down by the man in the signal box and the scent of cut flowers. The word ‘oasis’ and those tiny fake birds made with real feathers which would sit in flower arrangements and she would let us sometimes play with aslong as we were very careful with them.

I remember her love for Wedgewood, the blue and white china, and for onyx ornaments and furniture, the first artificial Christmas tree I ever saw at her house, Spanish flamenco dolls sitting on top of the TV, a crocheted toilet roll cover doll in a dress, a bright orange 70s sheepskin rug and a fibre optic rotating light. Her house today contained none of those things (well maybe a little onyx) but in my 70s childhood memories they are all attached to my Granny.

As the sole Great Grandparent Davies and Scarlett ever knew she delighted in them, probably more obviously than any other relative. She took joy in their every word and deed and their lives have been the richer for the time spent with her listening to tales of her childhood and a life which somehow sounded so much more than just a lifetime ago.

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Why we came

I’ve blogged several times about why Bonfire night is special to us so I won’t do that again. But it is and it was again this year.

Ady and I helped construct the bonfire this morning in the pouring rain. It was a soggy exercise but we laughed lots and all went for tea and biscuits together afterwards.

bonfire1

bonfire

The weather was pretty uncertain all day long but we were poised expecting the best and sure enough the skies cleared and it was all good. There was a very brief downpour right in the middle of the evening but clear starry skies before and after. It’s pouring down again now so it was a very clear meant to be window of opportunity.

Fireworks, roaring bonfire, venison steaks and sausages from Rum, mulled wine, hot chocolate, marshmallows, soup, sparklers, kids running round playing scary games in the dark with torches, men being all macho lobbing wood at the fire. It was perfect.

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Inside and out

We’ve been starting to put the croft to bed for the winter a little bit. I’ve taken all the netting off the raised beds which are done (there are four left still netted – carrots, parsnips, leeks, cabbages and strawberries) and we’re feeding the birds on those beds to clear them down to earth level before covering them with mulch – either seaweed or manure. The birds are loving this, plenty of fresh stuff and worms for them to eat while they scratch up weeds and tread in their own manure. Permaculture in action.

I’ve cleared all the various bits and pieces of rubbish which seem to collect, tidied up the tools and we’ve burned some of the rubbish. Ady put up a windbreak to protect the polytunnel and fixed a hole where crows have been sitting on the top and pecking. We think they must have been after the spiders they could see through the plastic inside. The windbreak is a bit experimental but we had the posts and netting not being used for anything just now (part of our nursery pen kit we put up around broody birds and their chicks and take down again once they are grown) so it seemed worth experimenting.

windbreak

I decided to tackle the shed floor with gloss paint mixed with a couple of handfuls of sand to make my own version of yacht paint. It worked! It’s creating a great non slip surface in there although I may do a second coat. Then we can put a door mat inside to encourage folk to wipe their feet and it should stay looking good.

shed flor

While sitting on the floor painting inside the shed I realised how beautifully the window framed Rum in autumn.

autumn shed

I then painted the Croft 3 in the shed above the door, it will need outlining and swirls once that is dry.

shedfront

Of course me infront of a blank shed with a paintbrush in my hand is like a toddler with a crayon standing next to a lounge wall and so despite not planning to decorate the side of the shed I found myself doing this…

shedside1

and then this…

shedside

and now I have very ambitious plans to tackle a turkey painting on there too. I was encouraged by children! More on that as it happens.

The new ducklings are settling in well. We let them out and about a bit today putting them back in the fruit cage at night. They have already got the hang of following people around for food

leading

and found their way down to the river for a swim and met the other ducks.

muscy

first river swim

Meanwhile inside it was Christmas cake making day yesterday with our customary picture of everyone having their turn at stirring the mixture and making a wish.

niccake

adycake

daviescake

scarlettcake

This is the fourth set of these annual pictures here in the caravan – amazing to see how much Davies and Scarlett have grown.

Once the falling darkness means outside stuff can’t be done any more for the day I’ve been working on signs indoors. Signs to direct people to the shed and signs to go inside the shed for our various arts, crafts and produce.

signs

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Jamming and muscovy

It’s been very November-y here on Rum today, low low cloud, drizzly rain and the odd gust of wind. It’s still very mild for the time of year though. I decided to do one last big bramble picking session to bust our aim of 200 jars. I was out for over 3 hours but picked nearly 5kg of brambles, which I turned into 37 jars of jam taking us to 207 jars made. I’m out of sugar now but still have a few jars left so may well pick any last brambles on my way to and from the village over the next week and bung them in the freezer for later use but I’m officially calling bramble season over.

It’s been an excellent year from them and I have really enjoyed the meditative act of ambling along picking them, getting down low to the ground, seeing Rum from a different perspective and having lots of time to think and ponder while picking. It’s probably been the nicest bramble picking weather I’ve had here on Rum which has helped. I’ve also had various brambling companions over the season – Ady, Davies and Scarlett at various points, both my parents, two different visiting friends, so I’ve also had some lovely conversations and company while picking too.

We’ve experimented with new flavours of jam aswell as our tried and tested ones from previous years and have ten different types this year: Bramble & Rosemary, Bramble & Lavender, Bramble & Rose, Bramble & Violet, Bramble & Chilli, Bramble & Ginger, Bramble & Apple, Bramble & Cinnamon, Bramble & Vanilla, Bramble & Mulled Spices. We have at least 20 jars of each and will be recording which are most popular next season when we start selling ready to know which ones to make more of this time next year.

This afternoon for a final wouldn’t have happened if I’d not been picking brambles treat I heard strange noises coming from the beach nearby and peeped around the corner to see three seals basking on the rocks. I watched them for ages before they finally spotted me and I spooked them into splashing back into the water.

seals

My next foraging adventure is hedgerow materials for basket making, so I’ll be out with secateurs rather than bags, I suspect I will still be getting pricked fingers and scratched arms though!

Todays ferry brought new additions to the Croft 3 creatures in the shape of five muscovy ducklings from the Isle of Muck – they are gorgeous and will hopefully settle in happily here. They are excellent grazers and should grow to close to the size of our geese and spend their days swimming on the river and helping to keep the croft grazed. For now they are settling in in the safety of the fruit cage but seem happy with their exciting ferry trip and new home.

muscys

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Shed to shop, installment number 3 (I think)

Another glorious sunny day here today, 1st of November. Autumn has definitely been kinder than summer this year. Ady did some loo maintenance, the sort of job I’d certainly not relish and reason number 35492 why I love him so much. Davies and Scarlett slept in as we’d had a scary dvd marathon well past midnight in honour of Halloween last night.

I gathered paints and set off for shed painting. My Dad gave us loads of tins of paint last year, all odds and ends from clearing out his garage. Many of them will have been leftover paint from work he did as a decorator in customers homes over the years, I certainly didn’t recognise the colours from my parents house. I suspect some of the tins are as old as me, the designs and logos on the tins, plus the excellent names (lichen green, tangerine, gypsy fair) made me smile as I loaded them into a bucket and took them to the shed.

dadpaint

It made me think of Dad all morning while I was painting, wondering where he’d used the first half of each tin, whether that paintwork was still tangerine or lichen green somewhere down in Sussex still – who’d have thought the dregs of those tins would end up adorning our shed here on Rum years later.

I did the outlines on yesterdays words and added some chickens, duck, goose and jams. It’s slow work as the shed wood is so textured the paint really struggles to stick to it. I’m pleased with it though. The main intention was to ensure that when people approach the shed they can tell it is somewhere to come in and shop – we’ll have signs leading folk here from the village anyway – I made the first one this evening, so that will direct people as to just what ‘in the shed’ is. I’ll do a few more of those and then start working on signs for the inside of the shed.

shedpainting

sign

Ady put the hasp and lock on the door along with the catches to keep the doors secured open. I plan to do some more external decoration but for now the outside is almost finished, next we’ll be getting the inside looking good.

I finished with enough daylight left to do an hours bramble picking around the perimeter of the croft. The brambles are so close to over every time I pick I wonder if this will be the last time this year, I’m hoping to get out tomorrow for a couple of hours and that might well be it. I was on the outside of the croft as Ady was inside feeding the pigs with the sky changing colour for sunset throwing him and the pigs into silhouette. An uplifting end to a beautiful day.

pigfeeding