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2015 – Bad, Good, Learnt

Ady

Bad
1. More losses to the island community – people leaving, someone dying, we are at an all time low in resident numbers since we have been on Rum.
2. Still very much at the start of having sufficient power. We have a south facing plot, with reliable wind and water on two sides of the croft. We have not yet really got to a point where we are harnessing all of those things to full potential. An example of this is that we would really like to set up an incubator to hatch more birds but cannot find one to run on our sporadic power set up.
3. There have been some big divides on the island this year with some huge decisions to be made about the direction which the community should go. It is frustrating and causes tensions.
4. The logistics of island living meaning we are very tied to Rum. The last twice Nic and the kids have been off to the mainland for doctor / dentist visits I have stayed behind as we don’t have dog or croft creatures sitters here any more.
5. Lack of really good social gatherings and events. There have not been as many on or off island gatherings as last year and we miss those highlights which get us through.

Good
1. Livestock – our ducks, geese and pigs have all bred successfully this year, another step forward in the quest for self sufficiency.
2. Ghillying, really hard work but a lot of fun. I saw parts of the island I’d not been to before.
3. The flushing loo. The set up still is not perfect and requires some unpleasant maintenance but it is a massive leap forward from where we were this time last year.
4. Doing the New Lives In The Wild TV was an amazing experience. We have had so much feedback from people who watched the show and to realise we are living so many peoples dream is fantastic.
5. The romance of Christmas on Rum is lovey. Chopping down a tree, eating our own produce, low key present giving and shopping, our own traditions.

Learnt.
1. More car mechanics maintenance. Replacing the battery terminals on our Jeep was a real victory and working on the Rangerover with a friend learning new skills.
2. More about pig processing, we’ve now done seven all by ourselves and feel more confident with each one.
3. How to build Rum proof structures. Or at least ones more likely to cope here with modifications and acknowledgements in what is vulnerable here.
4. More about Rum, where places are, the routes around the island from the ghillying work.
5. Despite saying we have not fully harnessed alternative power as much as I would have liked I have learned so much about how to make bespoke power set ups and how it all works.

Hopes for 2016.
1. Neighbours! It would be great to have the next door croft occupied full time.
2. We have a croft sitter organised for February to enable us to go off, meet up with friends and have a break while knowing Bonnie, the croft creatures, crops and caravan are in safe hands. I hope this goes well and is the start of us being able to do this more frequently.
3. To create a footpath to the top of the croft. I have managed about a third of the way up and it is so much easier to walk, push a barrow and get up and down the hill on that section. I’d love to have it all the way to the top.
4. To increase the livestock on the croft, definitely sheep, possibly other animals.
5. To plant 100 trees in 2016.

Ady’s special bonus wish for 2016 is to fly over the croft – helicopter, plane of other method.

Scarlett

Bad
1. It was not a great summer and we didn’t spend as much time outside as I would have liked to.
2. There has been lots of condensation in the caravan this year.
3. My pet duckling Lily dying.
4. Not seeing as many friends this year as we did last year.
5. We had quite a lot of broody birds this year but only one goose and one duck actually hatched and raised any young.

Good
1. Hatching ducklings.I had done this before in Sussex and really wanted to raise ducklings again and this year I raised a couple of the ducklings which were rejected by the mother.
2. Seeing and helping Barbara pig give birth to her litter.
3. Made new friends – we met a new friend at our Outward Bound residential in February and have been to stay with her and her sister who is also now our friend several times and they have been to stay with us on Rum too.
4. Going to Edinburgh Zoo in February. I loved seeing the pandas and the penguins.
5. Seeing my first live proper antler clashing red deer fight during the rut.

Learnt
1. How to make clay models (self taught).
2. I learnt some technical stuff about the cameras and sound equipment when the film crew were here with us.
3. I learnt more about bike riding (and got a new, big bike).
4. More information about animals. The zoo trip and lots of watching animal documentaries has taught me lots more animal facts.
5. How to cook new foods.

Hopes for 2016
1. To hatch more baby birds in an incubator – so to get an incubator!
2. To spend more time with the pigs, particularly Waddles the mini pig, maybe train her.
3. To still be on Rum this time next year.
4. I would love to see more marine wildlife.
5. I would like to see bears (this one is not a Rum hope, obviously!)

Scarlett’s special bonus wish for 2016 – to fly in an aeroplane or helicopter.

Davies

Bad:
1. We had nearly no visitors this year, maybe next year we can go off more or have more people to visit.
2. Limited power meaning limited internet / charge on devices.
3. Lack of opportunities for things like cinema visits.
4. This year for the first time I experienced first hand the challenging side of living in such close contact with such a small number of people and island politics.
5. This year more people have left Rum and no one new has come. Several of the people who have moved away were those I enjoyed spending time with.

Good
1. Bikes! We have new bikes, I know that is not a lot to do with this year but I will be riding mine a lot.
2. Outward Bound. I did not have the most fun but I enjoyed going and me and Scarlett met our new friend Jenna (and later her sister Iona)
3. The Ben Fogle show – I know even though I wasn’t in it! (Davies says he was not in the show as much as the rest of us). It was really cool to be able to say that I did a show with Ben Fogle and that it will be out there forever and all through my life I can show it to people and say ‘Look, that was me when I was 14’.
4. I have found online ways of chatting to people like Skype and other things and that means I can keep in touch with old friends and make new friends.
5. Going off. I do really REALLY love Rum but it is also nice to go off and this year we have gone off and just relaxed, not rushing around and I would like to do more of that next year.

Learnt.
1. I have learnt how to spell a lot better which is great and I would to carry on improving.
2. I have sadly learnt that my postcards are just not selling so I will need to make a new thing to sell.
3. From doing the Outward Bound weekend and spending time with other kids my age I learnt how lucky I am to have the life that I have, not going to school, learning in my own time and in my own ways.
4. The two sound / camera men on the TV crew spent lots of time with me and taught me lots about their equipment and film making tips, some of which I have used in my own film making.
5. Scarlett and I had our first solo trip off Rum without our parents and I had to deal with things like buying tickets and the machine not working, so I learnt the way I deal with responsibility.

Hopes for 2016.
1. I want to improve my reading and writing and spelling even more.
2. To have an idea of what direction I’d like to take my life by the end of the year. I will be 16 and starting to think about what I want to do / learn / experience next.
3. To go off Rum more and maybe visit friends.
4. I’d like to learn how to process / butcher a pig. I don’t want to kill one but I would like to be able to do the rest.
5. I’d like to explore more of Rum. Now we have bikes I would really like to get out into the island, maybe even camp overnight somewhere.

Davies special Bonus wish for 2016 is to visit another country outside of the UK. I’ve been to France and Belgium but I’d love to go to another country.

Nic

Bad
1. Feeling a long way away from family. There have been events I have not been present at this last year which would have been inconceivable to imagine before we moved here. The reality of missing birthdays, parties, a funeral or simply there to offer a hug has hit home this year.
2. The summer was a total wash out, it felt like spring just didn’t get here, summer barely put in an appearance and it was actually a relief to get to autumn and stop pretending there was any chance of decent weather. The midges barely even appeared. For a life so reliant on sunshine and warmth (for solar panel energy, for crops to grow, for animals to flourish) it was bloody awful. More than once this year we said that if this had been our first year here we’d probably have given up and left! It was a shockingly bad year for growing, my only consolation was that it seemed the same the whole of the UK over.
3. Losing residents. The first death on Rum and a further seven people leaving the island. Every single one of those eight people who no longer live here have left a hole which as yet has not been filled or even covered over.
4. Island politics. This year has seen some of my friendships here on the island really deepen and after nearly four years I know that I have some friends here who will stay in my life forever. With that familiarity has also come some tough times here and I’ll be ending 2015 stepping down from my role as a director. It will be a relief to no longer be a key decision maker and to focus on our lives here on the croft more heavily.
5. The weekly Sheerwater boat trips which are usually a highlight of our summer were disappointing this year. Very often the weather was so poor the trip was cancelled, more often it ran but was so rough that people were seasick and enduring rather than enjoying the experience. We saw so little wildlife above or below the waves. We remained hopeful and positive for the duration and were rewarded once or twice with whale sightings which is always special but more often we came back to dry land feeling disappointed.

Good
1. Although we missed Ady I loved my mainland adventure with Davies and Scarlett in September. We ticked a load of experiences off our wish lists from trying pistachio ice cream (Davies) to riding in cable cars up Ben Nevis (me). We had a brilliant time with loads of little treats like ice creams, hot chocolates, fast food, bubble baths and crap TV which we simply don’t get to partake of here on Rum and for four nights the novelty value was huge. I loved hanging out with them again, just the three of us like old times and the dynamic, conversations and silly fun we all had together was a real highlight of my year.
2. The TV show. Last year in my hopes I said I wanted us to have an adventure. I think that having a film crew and celebrity staying here with us filming our lives and making a one hour show about us which aired on national TV and was viewed by 2 million people qualifies as an adventure! The response was fantastic, the show will be a forever momento of our lives and we have had so many people make contact with us as a result. It was also brilliant for so many friends and family who have not managed to visit us here to see something of what our life is like through the TV show.
3. More writing. Last year one of my ‘goods’ was that I had managed some writing work. I have continued to build on that this year and have had several articles published, been working on co-authoring a book and made contact with a publisher myself.
4. Livestock successes. We’ve not been without losses this year to livestock but we have done well with helping our creatures breed and rear young too. Barbara and Tom had their third litter and Scarlett and I helped Barbara deliver her piglets this year which will be a memory I will keep forever as magical. We revived a couple of non breathing piglets and sitting in a cold and draughty pighouse with my daughter watching the miracle of birth was just so special. Our first goslings to reach adulthood and the really momentous first ducklings hatched by a duck who was hatched here on Croft 3 herself. Second generation Rum!
5. Progress! I can see a real progression on the croft from this time last year. We lost the community polytunnel but managed to create a new one, we finished digging out the cob house foundations, we hosted several volunteers, we graduated from a honesty table to a fridge to the shed. We’re still very much getting there rather than arrived but when I look back at our original croft business plan I can see the very real progress we have made and continue to make, against all odds, every year.

Learnt
1. Acceptance. You will notice that none of us have listed ‘we don’t have a house yet’ in our ‘bad’ category this year. The reason for that is that we have stopped measuring our success here on something we never set out to achieve anyway. When we left Sussex it was to find a different life, to live more simply, to spend more time together, to be more in touch with what was really important. We never set out to take on such a huge challenge as Rum, we never intended to move somewhere quite so remote. We never had ‘build a house’ on our list of dreams. This opportunity fell into our path and we took it without really appreciating just what we were taking on. Over the last four years we have come up with various versions of a masterplan but the big hurdle we always have to overcome is building a house. It stops us from feeling we have done well, it prevents us from focussing on livestock or crops, it is always in the back of our minds, looming large, reminding us of all we have not done rather than celebrating what we have achieved. This year we admitted that actually building a house is not on any one of the four of us wish lists. We need a better dwelling than the caravan, we love the idea of a cob house but we lack the skills and ability to actually build one. Currently we also lack the facilities to house the volunteers we’d need to make it happen. That doesn’t mean it won’t, it simply means we are going to focus most on the things we actually enjoy doing – growing food and rearing animals, working on arts and crafts, writing and photography, welcoming volunteers and visitors who are able to fit in and accept what is here just now. That may mean the cob house takes 5 years to make happen, it may never happen at all, the caravan roof may blow off in the next big storm and mean we need to rethink absolutely everything. It does mean that we get to forgive ourselves what we have not made happen and focus on doing the things we want to, are good at and enjoy, which is what our motto for life was always supposed to be.
2. Next stage of parenting! We now have two teens in the house and the leap in independence and different needs we have seen over this year has been huge. From their first residential trip to their first solo mainland visit, physical changes and just plain growing up. I’m loving having teenagers and so far the transition has been smooth and straightforward but it is a transition nonetheless and realising that the ways in which my children need me now are so very different to how they used to is definitely a learning experience.
3. New crafts – I experimented with string art, am teaching myself basket weaving (I have been out and about gathering materials for this), learnt tunisian crochet and various new knitting and crochet stitches. Scarlett and I have experimented with candle making more this year. I have several books on knitting and crochet which I have never really attempted to make anything from before, always getting fed up with trying to follow a pattern. This year I have actually managed a few.
4. I learned a lot from the TV experience. I learnt how much work goes into a one hour show and how many people are behind the scenes, I learnt that even a reality / documentary style show has an agenda, a story to tell, an angle. I learnt that we are not just four people out there doing our thing, we are actually living a lot of peoples’ dreams. I learnt how one sided viewing something on TV can be. Every single TV show we watch now we view with a completely different perspective.
5. I learnt how far we have come from who and where we used to be. It is now five years ago that we were spending our final Christmas in Sussex, our lives already part packed up ready to head off on adventures. I think it was the week before Christmas that we found tenants for our house, the campervan was already sitting on the driveway. Those four people don’t even exist any more. On our trips back to the mainland this year we have felt like tourists, like visitors, like aliens. Sometimes we have enjoyed the novelty, sometimes we have felt uncomfortable and unhappy. We talk sometimes about where we would go if we ever left Rum and as has happened to so many people we know who have lived here we know we have been forever changed by this experience. This year I realised it fully for the first time.

Hopes for 2016
1. A good year for growing. I’d really like to be proudly showing off bumper harvests this year. We have the polytunnel, herb spiral, raised beds and fruit cage all set up now, it’s all ready to go it just needs the sowing and tending from me and the right conditions from nature to help things along.
2. More livestock. Ady has already mentioned sheep and we definitely plan to get two or three ewes for the croft to graze, help control the ragwort and give us some wool. Possibly we’d look at breeding the year after if the first year of keeping them goes well. If we have learnt anything here it is to start small so that you only make small mistakes. I am also keen to keep bees and would like to at least fully investigate this possibility, cost it out and look at what I need to learn to embark on beekeeping this coming year even if I don’t actually get the bees here to Rum in 2016.
3. In the Shed. I’m really hoping that the shed shop has a good first season with some good sales. We have some initial stock of produce and crafts and ideas for more. I’m looking forward to seeing what visitors think of it and how we do with it.
4. More published writing. I want to carry on building on what I have achieved with my writing this year, continue writing for the publications I have already written for and explore further possibilities.
5. More focus on family. I am really aware that time slips away so quickly and our current life is only one chapter for all of us, for Davies and Scarlett it’s just the start of their lives. I want to spend more time with them helping them reach for their dreams, having adventures and building memories together in 2016.

Special bonus hope for 2016 for me – Reading what everyone else has written I can see a very clear hope for an exceptional experience, maybe a holiday or trip somewhere really special for the four of us. I have no idea how feasible that is with all our commitments here and financial constraints but our special bonus wishes are always pie in the sky ones we have little control over so I’ll write it down anyway.

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Merry Christmas 2015

We hope all our readers sharing our adventures with us have had a peaceful, love and laughter filled Christmas. Rum has been calm, dry and still today and we have had a lovely Christmas Day shared with friends and family near – and far, thanks to phone and internet technology.

Merry Christmas!

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Feeling Festive

Everything is here, wrapped and ready. We’ve had two Rum Christmas parties, one featuring Santa, the other lasting long into the night with suitably fuzzy heads the following morning. Mince pies have been made, Christmas cake iced, gingerbread house attempted (give me cob any day over gingerbread!), festive films watched, Christmas songs sung along to, everything posted off, turkey killed, plucked and oven ready.

Tomorrow is ham glazing and roasting, home made Christmas cracker making (a la The Good Life), a couple of beers at the shop and then an attempt at an early night in recognition of an early morning.

pies

cake

tree

santa

solstice morn

party

fliss party

solstice selfie

solstic moon

turkey

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I’d like to get to know you well

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Our very first WWOOF host was an intentional community in Devon. It was an amazing place for all sorts of reasons – for the sheer extreme contrast to the life we had left behind just a few weeks before hand, for the baptism of fire that was sleeping in a tent in minus 4 degrees in an off grid community on a steep hillside using compost loos, lighting a log burner for two hours to warm sufficient water for a bath, adopting a vegan diet and the physical challenges of WWOOFing work. But the most amazing thing about that host, as was probably the case with all our hosts actually, was the people. The people there challenged all of our preconceived ideas, made us think again about how we judge people and form opinions, how others live their lives and what is really important. It was a perfect first WWOOF host and the start of a brand new chapter of our lives.

One of the people who lived there was a man in his 20s who was a passionate birder. His knowledge and love for birds was encylopedic and his passion and desire to share what he knew was something which I have always remembered nearly five years later. He wanted us to see what he saw, hear what he heard, understand what he did. I have always watched wildlife documentaries but he was the first animal behaviourist I had ever spent time with and learnt from. It was thanks to him that I know that a raven sounds like a pig, that birds have various calls and songs for all sorts of reasons – to attract a mate, to warn off other birds of the same type who may be venturing into their territory, alarm calls, or simply just singing. Despite having attended all sorts of workshops and Forest School and Bushcraft sessions with Davies and Scarlett where we’d done exercises in deers ears and owls eyes and foxes feet it was here that I had an epiphany about *really* watching and listening and being present and observing.

Over the year of travelling and WWOOFing we met plenty more folk who lived close to animals and taught us about their behaviour and we had some amazing wildlife encounters ourselves – watching otters, red deer, seeing salmon leap, our first glimpses of eagles and osprey. Since living here on Rum we have spent time with probably some of the world experts in certain creatures, living alongside research scientists gathering data and observing animals in long running research projects, sharing our island with wildlife which is regularly filmed and written about and photographed.

I now know a tiny bit about a few creatures and how they behave and the reasons for it, I can identify various animals by appearance, by call, by footprint or tracks, by flight pattern and I am so much more aware of their behaviour. I realised recently that while my wild animal knowledge has increased my observations and understanding of our own livestock is even deeper and how much we can learn from observing, understanding and interpreting animals behaviour.

Our animals here on the Croft are very much trained around feedtimes. They very quickly learn the routine of what time they are fed morning and evening and the location of the feeding, even though we tend to move the feed bins around to ensure that no one area gets too heavily used, it only takes them a day to recognise where the feed will be arriving from. They also recognise Ady and to a lesser extent me as the people who feed them. During the summer months there are regularly people walking around the croft perimeter but as soon as the birds see either Ady or I walking along they start making noise and coming towards us, on foot or on wing depending on how close to feed time and therefore how hopeful they are of getting fed. We can tell what the weather is doing or likely to do based on where the birds choose to roost – if it’s wet or windy they will find proper shelter in one of the sheds and houses dotted around the croft, if it’s midgey they will get as high up as they can in search of a breeze.

There are very few ground predators here on Rum for our birds – no foxes, no pine martens or other members of the weasel / stoat family. There are otters but we’ve never seen any come as far up the river as our croft. Rats will predate on young birds and we have lost livestock to dogs but in the main the biggest risk to our birds comes from the skies – hooded crows and ravens are regularly above the croft, we have many birds of prey here on Rum, we see hen harriers, sparrowhawks, buzzards on a semi regular basis, golden eagles and sea eagles fairly frequently and had a short eared owl last year which we are pretty sure is what took away a duckling being raised by a chicken. I am regularly alerted to the presence of an overhead visitor by the croft birds. They will fall silent and be instantly alert with heads tilted to keep an eye on the sky. I will be working outside and suddenly be aware that all of the general bird noise has stopped and everyone has gone still.

In the spring the ganders, male geese, will get aggressive and chase us whenever we walk past, the male turkey will begin displaying, the cockerels will start fighting each other, the two male guinea fowls are constantly vocal, the drakes will not leave the ducks alone. In the summer even the most placid of the female birds gets all feisty when they start brooding eggs and rearing young. As we walked down to the village the curlews who seem to nest in the same place every year dive bomb us calling angrily as we pass by their nest and young, particularly if we have Bonnie with us.

I watch the relationships between the creatures on the croft and how the animals interact with each other. The baiting, chasing and game playing that goes on between various birds (almost always male ones) and Bonnie, the teaching that mother birds and Barbara pig offer to their young, how to eat, drink, how to get around. The birds who always hang out together, pair up, or seem to seek each other out, the pecking order and hierarchy in each grouping, who gets to eat first, who gives each other a wide berth when walking past. Who are the bullies, who are the leaders.

It would take me many years and much more conscious effort to learn to speak the language of the animals in the way that some of the people I have met have managed, although I suspect Scarlett is on track to do so. But I am learning, I am able to look out of my window or be out working on the croft and without the aid of at Attenborough narration I comprehend and just somehow know what is going on. It’s a wonderful secret to be let in on.

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Pigs and pork

This year we have let the piglets reach the largest ever before, they were an early litter and despite the poor summer they have all grown well and thrived. We have also left it later than last year to kill them so have had the largest weights so far.

We still have one pig left to kill. If we have a good day of weather on Friday we may do that then, if not it will be next week. That will leave us with Tom and Barbara and the wee runty piglet who has won hearts all over Rum and gets to stay. She is really friendly, eats little, so far has shown no sign of being in danger of being mated by Tom and although she regularly skips out of the pig pen does not seem to do much damage to the croft in terms of rooting up the ground in places we don’t want her to.

Yesterday was Pig Day the Ninth and as it was very cold we did a simple cut in half, took off the front and back legs (one back leg is in brine to make a ham, the others are large roasting joints, one of which we gave to a friend in exchange for help on the croft), another couple of roasting joints of rib roasts, and a belly to roll, ribs for sticky barbecue ribs and all of the rest for mince this time. We have the processing down to a fine art now and could manage all of that in about two hours. Ady brought in the heart and liver to cook up for Bonnie and the kids had an impromptu biology lesson. They have both seen all the organs and internal stuff before, but I am always still fascinated by the insides of an animal.

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Today was mince and sausage making day. We hire the village hall as we have not got the power or space to manage processing like that up here on the croft and we used the community mincer and sausage maker. I did buy a hand crank mincer but it was simply not up to the job. We may well consider investing in a mincer, sausage maker and slicer for next year but the expense, the power requirements and quite where to store them when not in use would all prove problematic for us up here. We had taken the frozen meat from the previous three pigs out to defrost yesterday afternoon but it was still very cold and fairly solid which is good for sausage making as you want everything as chilled as possible.

First we minced it all – there was kilos and kilos of it!

mincing

mince

Then we added sausage mix, I buy it in although next year I would like to make the whole thing from scratch and experiment more with flavours.

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Then the sausage stuffing. I had bought three packs of sausage skins anticipating that being more than enough. Infact it didn’t even suffice for half of the sausage meat we had, so I needed about 8 packs. One of those times when you really feel the remoteness of our lives and you can’t just ‘nip’ somewhere to pick up some more. The next ferry is tomorrow but the next chance of getting sausage skins sent here would probably be Monday at the earliest, too late to work with mix ready today and not able to be refrozen and nowhere large enough for us to keep it chilled. Ah well.

There is a real art to this, it requires the sausage handle turning to be done at a slow but very steady pace to ensure an even fill, while the skin filler works to guide the evenly filled skins into a pile. We work well together but doing this just once a year means you just about get the hang of it as you are finishing for another year!

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Next the Generation Game fun begins with the linking. As above it is a knack which I just about remember from year to year but could probably be quite good at if I did regularly. I’d over stuffed these, worried about the lack of skins so they are far too full really.

sausage

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We ended up with 12 packs of sausages (I was working on 800g ish packs to feed the four of us, two or three sausages each depending on fatness of sausage!). We’d also bagged up 5 lots of plain mince suitable for bolognaise etc. Then the large quantity of leftover sausage meat with no skins. Scarlett and I bagged them into 800g packs too which can be used for stuffing or as we had tonight for sausagemeat patties or skinless sausages. There were 16 of them. Many, many dinners!

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Next year I’d like to do more adventurous stuff with the pig meat. This year I have made some excellent bacon and some lovely hams, experimenting with wet and dry cures and air drying. I’d like to try some of the more unusual cuts along with charcuterie, smoking and doing something with the offal.

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The twelfth day before Christmas….

And my true love brought to me, four yellow wheelbarrows filled with rounds of wood.

Ady slipped down and staggered up the croft hill bringing wood to me while I used our latest tool – a wood grenade, a metal wedge which you hit with a sledgehammer into a lump of wood too big to split with an axe until it splits it for you. Then an axe to split the wood again. I filled three wheelbarrows with split wood which I then stacked into the wood shed.

wood chopp

The 12 days of Christmas likeness doesn’t end there though, although the numbers didn’t tidily go up and down from 1 to 12 I did get utterly distracted from my task by an assortment of creatures.

First was a sea eagle, you can’t make it out in this picture, but I have shared it anyway because the view alone was pretty distracting in it’s beauty. This is looking north from the croft and there is a black spot there in the sky somewhere which was an eagle. It soared and circled overhead for a good five minutes before heading back over the ridge again. I was busy, but I will never be too busy to put down my axe and watch the majesty of an eagle.

invisibl eahle

Scarlett brought me out a cup of tea which I paused to drink and look south for a bit. Teenagers they may both be but the novelty of a properly cold and frosty morning was not lost on them and they headed off down the hill to the river in search of ice. Smashing ice, stamping in puddles and seeing who can find the largest single piece of ice is great fun they tell me. Being proper teenagers they didn’t wear coats…

masher

The sun hangs low in the sky at this time of year, just about grazing the top of Hallival for an hour or so in the middle of the day before dipping low again. This time of year the sunrises and sunsets are the most magnificent. Looking across to the mainland showed the whole range of mountains snow capped.

december sun

The Three Muscovy ducks spent a lot of time ‘helping’ for which read being a nuisance and getting under my feet. We had a cockerel years ago who always came rushing over to me when I was chopping wood to try and fight me. The wisdom of attacking a woman, 100s of times bigger than you armed with an axe always bypassed this particular bird. Fortunately they realised they would be even more annoying to Ady getting under his feet walking up and down the hill so didn’t stay with me all the time. Time share nuisance ducks!

The turkeys came around for a while too. The male and one of the females headed off again once we started waving the axe around but one of the females stayed. I had Merry Christmas Everyone by Shakin Stevens playing on my phone and she joined in. It was very funny, she really sounded like she was singing along. Again, the wisdom of a turkey trying to sing Christmas songs leads me to question her sense. Tonight she started roosting with the guinea fowls. I think she may be trying to pretend she is not a turkey…

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The most entertaining visitor though was Waddles the piglet. She is the piglet we are keeping from this years litter. She was about half the size of her siblings for months, despite not being the actual runt of the litter and for ages we didn’t think she would make it. She has bags of character and despite getting whacked by the electric fence when she goes in and out she comes out of the pig area several times every day to wander round the croft and see what everyone is up to. In the style of Babe or Wilbur from Charlottes Web she has won hearts all over Rum and earned a reprieve from the fate of sausages and become something of a mascot / pet pig. I sort of wish she had a better name really… the kids named her after a pig in a TV show they watch.

She came over for a stroke, scratched her back on the axe handle for a while and then sat and watched me chopping wood, bobbing her head up and down as I swung the axe like a nodding dog. Very amusing.

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On their way back up the hill to come in for lunch I got this photo of Scarlett which I think is a fairly iconic image of her, surrounded by her beloved animals like a sort of Snow White figure.

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Feeling Festive

We’ve had some wild winds with plenty of cancelled ferries and a few sleepless nights. It’s not really daylight much before 9am and by 330pm it’s already twilight. The river burst it’s banks at the weekend and I consider it an absolute triumph if I get all the way down the croft without slipping over in the mud. The sure fire guarantee of doing so is to put clean jeans on and leave the caravan! Our hats are constantly drying infront of the log burner from getting wet being outside and we’re in that time of year when the log burner is lit from waking moment to bedtime.

But the caravan is also filled with twinkling lights and candlelight, the smell of pine, chocolate, cinnamon and oranges, the sound of Christmas songs. We are watching a different Christmas film every night, some old favourites and some new ones too. We also have several Christmas specials of classic TV shows on dvd to watch too. On Monday we selected this years Christmas tree and Davies and Scarlett took it in turns to swing the axe and fell it, Ady dragged it home. On Tuesday we brought it indoors and decorated it with battery powered lights, candy canes and our selection of home made decorations made by us and gifted from friends over the years. Even in our small living space we have room for a small box of Christmas decorations. We made some paper chains because Ady insists it is simply not Christmas without them so they are adoring the ceiling and I have even put some solar powered fairy lights down in the shed to welcome us home to the croft.

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We are all busy making and creating various gifts for various people and feeling nicely festive.

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Happy Birthday Scarlett

On Sunday Scarlett was 13. So another period in our lives comes to an end and a new chapter begins. We no longer have children, we have teenagers. We celebrated Scarlett’s birthday for the whole weekend – on Saturday we had Birthday Brownies (now a Rum institution for all birthdays worthy of capital letters!) at the shop with candles and singing and a really good turn out of Rum residents. Scarlett was given some lovely, thoughtful gifts by Rum friends.

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In the evening I managed to get a birthday shout out for her on the Liza Tarbuck radio show which we listen to every Saturday night. Despite the level of media coverage our family has had this year Scarlett was surprised and delighted to hear that on the radio, her face was a picture!

Yesterday, as is Goddard birthday tradition every meal and activity was chosen by the birthday person – for Scarlett this meant cinnamon rolls for breakfast, cheese, crackers, twiglets and pickled onions for lunch, steak pie and mashed potatoes for dinner. Playing with presents, staying in pjs all day and having a small glass of fizz with her dinner. Birthday cake was tiffin, another family birthday cake staple.

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Scarlett had some fabulous presents – books, a cd player and loads of audio books from us, some Playmobile and some stick insects. From family and friends she had cards and gifts which had arrived over the last week or so and been stashed away. One of her favourite gifts was a picture from Davies – a series of pictures of herself in the style of various cartoonists and illustrators, it’s fantastic!

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I spent some time looking at photos of Scarlett over the last 13 years to find some to share on the blog. We have thousands of images of her at every age but the majority fall into only a handful of categories: with animals (by far the largest number), holding a cuddly toy, in water – be it the sea, a river or just a puddle, with an ice cream or an alcoholic drink!, climbing up something or jumping off something, with family or friends, with messy hair and scruffy clothes, fiercely cuddling one of us. There are a couple of photos of her as a small girl with a stroppy, feisty look about her, there are tons more of her grinning with delight.

This photographic documentation of the life of Scarlett is very accurate. She was a delightful yet challenging small girl, filled with attitude and curiosity, always ready to do whatever she was told not to and to find as much fun as she could in doing so. On Scarlett’s first birthday we went to an Open Farm, on her fifth and seventh birthday the Sea Life Centre, for her sixth birthday she was a zookeeper for a day, a safari trip for her eighth birthday – animals have been her consuming and enduring passion whether stuffed toys, creepy crawlies, cute and cuddly, wet and wild or plain ugly and scary!

Scarlett remains a free spirit, unconcerned with trivial (to her!) details such as wearing a coat or brushing her hair. We are approaching her teens and transition from girl into woman in the same way as we went about baby into toddler into child – with love, laughter, mutual respect, a lot of learning along the way for all of us and a delight in seeing the world through Scarlett’s eyes. In the place of the wayward toddler stands a capable, responsible, thoughtful, compassionate young woman who we can rely on to calmly find ways to support and help us, while still needing the security of a cuddle after a bad dream or reassurance when she wobbles. Scarlett came along and taught us all that we still had far more to learn than we ever realised, exploding into our lives with passion, excitement and fireworks.

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Scarlett Outward Bound 2015

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Being The Change

We listen to the BBC radio news each day which often sparks conversations and research with Davies and Scarlett. We discuss integrity in reporting, in the sometimes one sided nature of journalism and how people often only access the media which reflects their personal thinking and opinions. We encourage the children to be challenging in their thinking, to never take things on face value, to probe further and question their own views and try and fully form them. To hear something and try to look behind the headline, to research and learn, question, ask, be open to having your view changed, to empathise and see the other side.

Our biggest lesson in educating our children has always been to carry on learning, to never accept something or feel powerless, to always know you have a voice and even if you have to shout really, REALLY loudly to make it heard to strive to do just that. We are living in difficult, dark days right now in many ways, the news is filled with sadness, fear and horror, with dis-empowerment and bleak stories.

Last year we met a really amazing woman, Debbie Hyde, who has a weekly internet radio show called ‘It’s All Good‘ where the focus is on positive stories, people doing good things, feeling empowered, helping and being the best version of themselves they can be.

Debbie has just released an e book – called ‘Let Go Or Be Dragged’, a book of conscious choices. You can download the book here and read a bit more about Debbie and her work.

I love that Debbie is out there, being the change in the world she wants to see, using her voice and helping others to find theirs. It is precisely the life motto that we try to live by and pass on to our children. Well done Debbie!

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The last day…

The last day of November. Tomorrow is it meteorological winter here in the UK. We’ll be starting to feel festive here with Christmas songs, our Christmas dvd advent calendar (we watch a different festive film every day from 1st to 24th December) although we won’t put up the tree until 7th, the day after Scarlett’s birthday.

The last day for one of our Rum residents who left the island today. He was here for a finite period from the very start, 3 years of field work on a PhD studying the rats on Rum but has been a bit part of the island community and will be much missed. We gathered at the pier today to wish him well, wave him off and watch as the ferry took him away to start the next chapter in his life adventures.

The last day for Pig 8, who we killed this morning, butchered and processed. A really good sized, healthy pig, netting us over 21kg of meat which is now in the freezer, in a dry salt, sugar and spice cure making bacon, in a seasoned brine making hams and a bit inside all of our tummies as we had pork stir fry and sticky ribs for dinner tonight. We’ll be killing the last of this years pigs on Wednesday and are planning to do an afternoon of mincing and sausage making too meaning all of this years processing is done. Ady has a plan to build a little hut for the air drying of hams and charcuterie.

The last Monday of Scarlett being 12, by the end of this week she will be a teenager. Another chapter of our lives over.