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January and fruit cage epiphanies

What an eventful month you have been this year. Some high drama for us personally and some high profile losses to the world of the UK rich and famous, talented and celebrated. Several friends have faced or are facing losses of those close to them, the weather is at it’s most challenging , the days are darkest, the winds are whistling, the rain is pouring. And yet, and yet…

January the very embodiment of new beginnings, the first month, the fresh page on the calendar, the brand new year. January brings my birthday, a whole new age to try on and see who I am at this stage in my life story. January here on Rum brings Burns Night, my most favourite celebration in my adopted homeland, celebrating the life of a poet, a carouser and merrymaker with fine food, poetry and song. January this year brought many more tears of joy and gladness of the love, support, friendship and caring that friends showed us during our hours of need, January brought thankfulness for the helicopter services, our wonderful National Health Service, the kindness and compassion of strangers. January offered the opportunity to reflect on a health scare, to re-evaluate our lifestyle, to count blessings and discover that actually, we are just where are supposed to be. January has offered us cause to be grateful for living in a world with fellow humans who by their actions, words, songs, lives, creativity and ideas brought a bigger, brighter, livelier, more colourful, more musical, more inspirational world than it might have been without their presence.

I spent the first day of January looking out of a ninth floor window over Glasgow. I spent some of this last day of January in our fruit cage here on the Croft. That fruit cage has been the location of many an epiphany for me. It was where I pondered life in a cage and not being chicken, it is a rather symbolic icon of Croft 3, build as it is of mostly repurposed materials, stocked with a real mish mash of fruit trees and bushes – some were gifts, from friends, from the TV crew, some were expensive considered purchases, some were from the nearly-dead, reduced to clear section in supermarket plant areas. The fruit cage is an investment in our future here, a tribute to our belief that we may one day reap what we sow and that we have faith in the long haul, bigger picture. Today there was snow on Hallival, brief hail, regular rain while I worked in there. Previously I have been in there during midgey times, given myself a headache squinting in bright sunshine or as with today, worked until my fingers went numb with the cold.

The top of the fruit cage is enclosed with netting, to keep out both our own croft birds and the wild birds who may steal the harvest of fruits. Last year, ironically having invested so much time and energy in keeping our chickens and ducks out we spent a few weeks encouraging in there with food so that they could eat up all the bugs and beasties who may infect the trees with parasitic moths and grubs, and to do the task of weeding and scratching up the ground around the trees far more effectively with their beaks and claws than we could with hand shears. Over the last couple of years I have spent hours and hours painstakingly fixing the netting as it gets torn and damaged in the wind, like a fisherman tending his nets. Today, in advance of the coming storms, aware that the ripped loose netting is getting tangled and caught on the new buds on the fruit trees and ripping them off I decided to remove the netting altogether, to roll it up and secure it and fix it back on again in the summer when there is actually berries and fruit that needs protecting. I realised that instead of being a task which once done could be ticked off as complete and moved on from it should be classed as part of the seasonal tasks to do here. Put it on once it is required, remove it once the harvest is spent and tuck it away safely from the winter storms. In the same was that I plant new seeds every spring and clear away again in the autumn I should celebrate the need to put the netting up each year once fruits start to appear and gladly take the netting down once more once the years harvest has been gathered.

I may take it upon myself to have a ponderance time set aside each month in that fruit cage. I think it does me good.

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1

Burns Night

Most of the time I feel like a British person living in Britain, but with over half the residents here on Rum being Scottish and the Scots history and culture being so very strong there are some very special Rum traditions we are always delighted to participate in. Our very favourite of these is Burns Night. This was our fourth here on Rum and although we have spoken poems and participated every year this year we were heavily involved.

On Sunday we were part of the team of preppers – getting our village hall ready for the event and peeling and chopping mountains of tatties and neeps (spuds and swedes to us English folk!), finely dicing up the tops (heart, liver, lungs) of a deer hind and stuffing the haggis, whipping up cream with raspberries, honey and whisky for the cranachan.

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Then last night was the event itself. A three course meal cooked communally with folk bringing bread, soup and whisky to share and add to the feast.

The haggis was piped in and paraded around the assembled diners, then addressed and slit open and toasted.

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We enjoyed the delicious meal and read poems – some Burns, obviously…
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Some other poems too
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And Ady and I read our toast to the lassies and toast to the laddies – poems written by us.

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The quaich was passed around, once or twice…

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Followed by plenty of singing. A fabulous night had by all.

2

Crofting focus

At the end of 2015 I stepped down as a director of the Community Trust. I had been a director for nearly 3 years and although I could have served for a further term I felt the time was right to stand down. Four new directors have been elected to join the two remaining directors so there is a really strong team of 6 on island directors and an off island chairman now. This is fantastic for Rum and hopefully so much energy and willing hands to spread the workload of volunteering will mean this is another great time for the future of our little island community. It also means I have hours and hours of my time every week back to focus on new and exciting things myself.

One of the things which is really important to all four of us is feeling part of our community and in recent months we have simply not had the capacity to offer time or head-space to volunteer for anything. This year we are planning on getting much more involved with events and getting some social, educational, cultural and entertaining things happening here on Rum, for us, for fellow residents and for visitors.

Davies and Scarlett are now both teens and starting to think about the next stage of their lives – what adventures lie ahead and what direction they want to head in when they start to spread their wings. They have their passions and interests and while they are both very capable, independent and amazing young people I don’t want to miss a minute of being around for them when they do need me – for support, advice, cheerleading or assisting in the facilitation of their continued education and exploration of the world around them. Every year which passes, every season, every celebration, every moment almost feels as though it could be the last for us as a foursome. I know they are only 13 and 15 but there are limited times ahead before they are forging their own path and we cherish every memory the four of us share, knowing that one day they will be off making memories all of their own.

Ady’s recent health scare drama brought all of our priorities into sharp focus too. I am so happy to report that he is doing just fine and that faced with the prospect of our worlds being tipped upside down and never being the same again not only have we managed to return to our own special brand of ‘normal’ we have done so without regrets, knowing that if there had been a different outcome to that helipcopter ride there is little we would have changed. You can’t live every day as though it is your last, despite knowing that one day it will be, but you can at least be aware of your mortality, of making every day count and appreciating how very short, precious and fleeting life is. We are fortunate to already be living more or less the life we want or at the very least be well on the path towards it and enjoying the journey as we go.

So a new year, a new era of family life, a new focus on contributing to our community here on Rum and a fresh perspective on what is important to us. All combined with being a few weeks away from celebrating four years here on Rum. We arrived with a three year business plan which was always flexible and open to being adapted once we had found our feet. We are putting together a business plan now for the next three years, taking into account all we have learnt so far, the help and support of others who have offered it, the growing skills and interests of the four of us and the market for what we can offer here on the croft. As usual we have created a Masterplan for the year ahead and will be breaking down tasks for the week every Monday to give us a job list to work through but over the next few weeks we will be putting together a comprehensive plan of what happens next here on Croft 3, where best to invest time, money and other resources, what new skills we need to focus on and any gaps in what we already have.

In the meantime we are slowly getting on with the business of living, surviving and investing in the future in small ways. Today we all spent time on the beach gathering seaweed to bring back to the croft and spread around the fruit trees and bushes in the fruit cage as a mulch. We’ll gather some more this week for the raised beds. We’ve done an inventory of our seeds and ordered some ready to start planting, we’ve carted firewood up the hill and chopped some up, we’ve watched some TV shows – entertainment, educational, played some games, done some crafting, some tidying and plenty of laughing, talking and generally just living.

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0

Getting back in the groove

There is a definite balance to be struck for Ady’s convalescence. Weighing up the physical need to take it a bit easy with the psychological need to get back into things. I think he is more or less striking that need with probably pushing himself a tiny bit more than he should just to prove to himself that he still can.

We sat down on Tuesday afternoon once we had caught our breath and drew up a list of jobs that need doing over the coming weeks and pledged to do at least one every day. Also taking into account a list that the four of us came up with on the morning of New Years Eve about making sure each of the four of us is meeting our own personal lists of what makes us happy and is important to us. We had all got a pen and paper and made a list of the things which we wish the other three would do and the things we want to do ourselves in an effort to live in harmony. With four individuals in a small space, making compromises and sacrifices to live the way we do it is really important that all four of us are happy and fulfilled. We all have expectations on each other and sometimes it can slip into resentment if we feel others are not doing what we want them to. Sometimes these expectations are unfair, sometimes you just hadn’t realised that it was quite so important to someone. So we sat down all four of us and talked about the things we hold dear, what we would like to happen in our own perfect ideal world and how best to shape our days taking everyone’s thoughts into account. We talked about what time to get up in the morning, what time to go to bed, whether eating together was important, what we would like to do more of, when we value time alone and when we crave time together and so on. It was really illuminating and while there were no great surprises (Ady would like everyone to get up earlier, I think it’s really important we all eat lunch together, Davies is thinking about what courses or further education he might need in his next stage of life plans, Scarlett wants more responsibility for animal feeding) it threw up some interesting conversations and helped us paint a picture of a ‘normal’ day and reminded us of being tolerant of each other and striking the balance of not being selfish but also being comfortable with stating our own needs. It was a really useful exercise and helped us shape our 2016 Masterplan and come up with the job lists for the coming weeks and months ahead.

So this week we had a very pared down list including things like file tax return, process some firewood, stock take and order animal feed, sort out our upcoming trip off island (visiting friends, dentist trips for Scarlett), deal with the laundry mountain, get petrol ordered, check and clean water filters, inventory of seeds and order anything missing for growing season, collect seaweed for mulching fruit trees. We’ve worked our way through a lot of it, dealt with a few extra things as they have cropped up and found time to slot in some of the other things which had made it onto our life lists such as crafting afternoon with friends for me, bedroom tidy up for Scarlett, playing a game for an hour or so every evening together, organising various trips to meet up with friends (here or away), walk the croft and make future plans (Ady and I). For a low key week it has felt very productive indeed.

It has been very, very cold, you can see your breath in our bedroom which is fine once you are safely in bed but means a lot of condensation. It also means nice hard frosty ground outside on the croft, everything is beautifully topped with a sprinkling of snow or frost and we have had sunny days and blue skies. I can’t remember a time since we have been here of such calm still conditions, particularly at this time of year. It is as though Rum has taken a deep breath and is holding it, waiting to exhale. There is an air of expectation about it and I cannot decide if that is my own state of mind, of the anticipation of spring waiting in the wings or the pent up excitement of us at the start of a new year with so many plans and dreams ahead.

2016 showed its hand really, really early on and if the game is raised to such a high level right from the start I think it’s going to be an interesting year ahead.

2

Another sort of world

We’re home, back on Rum, safe and sound on the croft once more.

What a whirlwind start to 2016 we have had. In a few short days our lives were picked up, moved somewhere else completely, shaken up, turned upside down and now we’re back where we started, the dust settling and our minds reeling trying to make sense of everything.

Last year Davies had an appointment at Inverness hospital – it was fairly routine and nothing of great concern but as he and I sat in the paediatrics ward waiting room I realised there was this whole other world, right there parallel to our own which by a kind twist of fate we had never experienced or even been aware of existing. I watched parents and children come and go, some scared or unsure in what was clearly an alien environment, as it was to us. I also watched the parents and children come and go for whom this was an everyday part of their world. They knew the nurses, walked along the corridors and in and out of the rooms with obvious familiarity. To them, this world was home. That stayed with me and has haunted me ever since, the knowledge that it is mere luck which means neither of our children have suffered health problems which meant we felt at home in that childrens ward.

I was reminded of that feeling while Ady was in the hospital. Very, very quickly we fell into a routine. I would visit the hospital in the morning leaving Davies and Scarlett at the hotel. I perfected the best route from the hotel to the hospital depending on weekend or week day and time of day – one route was better after rush hour on weekdays but better avoided during weekends as it took me past a shopping mall. I learned the pot holes in the road to avoid, became familiar with the complicated lane lay out of the roundabouts. The hospital car park I favoured (there were four) allowed four hours parking with no return within 2 hours, so I would arrived in time to catch the doctors morning rounds and listen to Popmaster with Ady. He would have breakfasted and showered, but I would be there in time for the morning tea round which I was kindly included in getting a couple of biscuits too. After the first takeaway cup of tea from the hospital foyer I bought an insulated mug for less than that cup of tea had cost me and brought my own in from the hotel each morning. I’d stay while Ady had lunch, depending on how he was feeling and what medication he was due we might go for a walk then my four hours would be up and I’d head back to Davies and Scarlett. We’d eat lunch together – I’d stocked up on sandwich fillings, bought bread every couple of days and we always carry plastic plates, knives, forks and spoons in our rucksack anyway for picnic food in hotels, then fetch any shopping required – clean clothes, anything Ady had requested before heading back to the hospital. We had failed to find a laundrette nearby so had resorted to buying clean underwear and t shirts – actually if I’d known how long we’d be off for I’d have invested in a clothes airer and handwashed and dried stuff in the hotel bathroom. On the plus side we now all have plenty of new pants, mostly in festive designs as they were all half price due to having snowflakes and reindeer plastered across them! We would all four catch up for an hour or so until Ady’s dinner arrived at which point Davies and Scarlett would go to the patients lounge where they could catch up with friends online using the hospital wifi and watch the big screen TV. Ady and I would chat and then the kids and I would head away back to the hotel, either picking up food on the way or walking across to the food and entertainment complex adjacent to the hotel for something having scoured the internet for vouchers, discount codes and promotions.

My phone learnt all sorts of new words and now autocorrects for cannula, gallbladder, antibiotics, MRI scan. Between reading Ady’s chart, googling everything and talking to every doctor and nurse who came in I almost feel I was there watching the surgery myself. I watched the hotel, the shopping mall and the hospital all get de-Christmassed. There was a certain comfort in the institutionalisation of learning those routines and becoming immersed in that world. A safe, secure, sterile bubble where it was always the same temperature and light level. The same existed in the hotel and the mall. I smiled automatically and agreed with the sales staff that I was ‘enjoying a day of shopping’, enjoying my anonymity rather than crumble and cry and explain why I was buying all those snowman patterned underpants. For ten days our family left our lives and went visiting that world, learning the language, wearing the uniform and playing by those rules. I answered emails, sent messages, returned phonecalls and kept people updated on what was happening with Ady.

There were moments though, where our real life pushed through. A message from friends on Rum to say firewood had been carried up the hill and chopped up for us. Our Christmas tree had been taken down, photos of Bonnie looking settled and loved, or the chickens being fed, snippets of news to remind us that home was still there waiting. A parcel arriving at the hospital for us – gifts for all four of us including a birthday card for me, the only one I actually got on my birthday. Several gifts of money, quietly given and so, so appreciated. A friend arriving at the hotel and taking Davies, Scarlett and I out for lunch and talking about normal things other than hospitals, the local car club reassuring me that I didn’t need to worry about the car and it could all be sorted out later, a video message from friends on Rum on my birthday. The only ‘stranger’ I had shared our story with was the girl on reception at the hotel when the kids and I checked in at 1130pm on New Years Eve. She was just going off duty and caught up with me a few days later for an update. On our last morning when I went to pay for our breakfast she said it was on her and she was so pleased to meet Ady and know the story had all turned out OK.

We’re back home now, Ady is feeling better and stronger every day and is slowly easing himself back into life here. In a few weeks time he will be back to full health and the pain, the stress and the shadows of our start to this year will be memories. We have learnt from this experience though and are starting to put together some ways to ensure we feel less vulnerable at the prospect of this sort of situation reoccurring. We can make practical changes, get better at cross-training so all four of us have a better idea of the various tasks that each other does, we can improve communication channels, create information sheets, know what we would have done differently next time (not much as it happens).

What will haunt me though, in the same way as those parents in the childrens ward stayed with me, is the heart squeezing prospect of life changing forever in just a split second. Because while I was concentrating on the best route to avoid traffic, or weighing up the best price for a three pack of boxer shorts with robins on, remembering which level of the car park I had left the hire car on this visit, finding the best meal deal for the kids and I, finding out just what was in the drip Ady had hooked up to his arm and why he was having it administered I was not thinking about all the other stuff. I was categorically not thinking about what happened if he didn’t get discharged and sit in the back seat of the car while I drove us back up to Rum. I was not thinking about how this is our dream and a life we have built for the four of us. I was definitely not thinking about the consequences of him not being able to do all the things he does here any more and what the impact of that might be. For over half my life Ady has been next to me. I draw the pictures, he colours them in. I write the words, he takes the pictures, he brings the wood up the hill, I chop it up. We grow older, maybe wiser, definitely crazier together, hand in hand. When one falters the other is strong. As long as we are out of context together we can adapt, we quickly learnt our roles in the new setting and whilst we are hopefully back to our usual life again now with some minor tweaks I am reminded anew how very lucky we are and to make the most of every single day.

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An Ady update

Thank you for the comments and messages this last week. It is exactly one week ago that I made the first phonecall to start the ball rolling for where we are tonight.

The two bank holidays and weekend held up any progress at all other than monitoring Ady and keeping him stable. Hospital life is a very weird place and I think we lived much more than a weeks worth of emotions and experiences.

After lots of tests Ady had a scan yesterday which showed a very inflamed gallbladder and this afternoon we was operated on to remove it. The surgeon spoke to us beforehand to explain the best and worst case scenarios and while it was not the completely straightforward removal we had hoped for as the gallbladder was ‘minging’ to quote the surgeon and had attached itself in places to his liver most of it was removed and the remainder disconnected to ensure it is now non functional.

We left him tonight post-op looking very tired but massively relieved for it to all be over and on the road to recovery. We will find out tomorrow what the longer term recovery plan is and how we can expect the new few days and weeks to pan out but the worst is behind us.

This week is always a busy one for us – the end of one year, the start of the next and my birthday. Today I turned 42, if you believe Douglas Adams in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy it’s the answer to life, the universe and everything. Having spent 10 hours at the hospital we left Ady looking like this…

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and went for a meal followed by a mad £1.50 spending spree in the amusement arcade on the top floor of the complex near our hotel.

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I was always pretty confident I already had the answers to life, the universe and everything, or certainly all that was important. Today on my 42nd birthday I know for sure.

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Careful what you wish for…

It turns out that assuming nothing much will happen in the last couple of days of 2015 so you can sum it up a bit early was wrong.

It turns out that making rash hopes like flying over the croft by helicopter and going off Rum more often may well come back to bite you on the backside.

In the early hours of 31st December Ady developed severe abdominal pains and started being violently sick. I sat in the only place in the caravan with mobile signal and spoke to NHS 24, a doctor, the coastguard and the Royal Navy helicopter base. Davies was still awake anyway so got up to sit with me and we woke Scarlett. Ady was incoherent with pain and barely conscious. Having explained that I could try and get him down to the village where the helicopter usually lands but it would be a mile walk it was agreed they would try and land on the croft. Rum coastguard came up to mark the site and bring the defib and the helicopter landed just outside the caravan.

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The walls shook so much we had to take the clock down! After 3 hours of sitting in the dark concentrating on not panicking followed by a chaotic ten minutes of the paramedic taking details and helping Ady into the helicopter everyone left again. The lighting battery had long since run out so we had no lights in the caravan so by candle light Scarlett made Davies, her and I hot chocolate / cups of tea and then they went to bed to try and get some sleep.

At that point I lost phone signal so had no way of getting any updates or the hospital reaching me. I am not sure I have ever felt so alone or vulnerable. I could not get hold of anyone even if I’d wanted to without walking down to the village, either taking the kids with me or leaving them up at the croft alone. It was freezing cold with the fire long since gone out and with only torch light or candles. I didn’t know what was wrong with Ady and was very, very scared. I was not sure how much fuel was left in the generator and didn’t want to try and refill it by headtorch – we have a rule that neither of us ever does anything potentially risky up on the croft without the other adult around, just in case. The wind turbine battery had just enough power for me to get the internet on to book a hire car and a couple of nights accommodation near the hospital in Glasgow that Ady had been taken to and I found an app to down load to my phone to let me make calls by wifi so was finally able to reach the hospital at about 6am. I spoke to Ady himself who was high on morphine so not making much sense but no longer in pain and obviously in the right place to be looked after.

I laid in our bed for about an hour until it was light enough to get up and start clearing up the caravan – washing up from the night before, muddy footprints from all the people coming in and out in the middle of the night, packing up ready to head off and making a bit of a list of things to do / remember. Once again Scarlett was a huge help – she fed the animals, cleaned the muddy footprints, insisted I ate something and packed food up for us to take on the drive, emptied the fridge into a bag to put in the freezer and helped me think through everything.

The morning was busy – Rum friends coming up to help make arrangements and offer help, take away Bonnie’s crate and food, phone calls to cancel one lot of accommodation and sort out another, lots of phonecalls from Ady updating me on what was happening with him. People came to the ferry to see us off and as I got on the boat, still warmed from hugs and well wishes I realised that in a few short hours I had gone from thinking we needed to pack up and leave as soon as Ady was well enough because living so far from civilisation in such a vulnerable precarious position was quite simply the most stupid thing anyone could ever do, to feeling that with a sense of community and support this strong and such wonderful amazing friends we could never consider living anywhere else.

1.5 hours on the ferry – aside from one other passenger we were the only people on the boat besides the crew, then a 3.5 hour drive down to Glasgow. Through snow at Glen Coe, surface water on the windy road beside Loch Lomond, a dark rainy night on no sleep at all. We’d taken an audio book to listen to and Scarlett kept me alert by chatting and feeding me humbugs. Finally we pulled up at the hospital, parked and found Ady. He was giddy with morphine, slow from lack of sleep and the trauma of the whole experience but alive, which at various dreadful moments during the previous 18 hours I had seriously worried about.

2015 was seen out and 2016 seen in by Ady in his hospital bed 2 miles away from Davies, Scarlett and I in our hotel room. We probably watched the same fireworks around Glasgow at midnight. The first new year I have not seen in with Ady in 24 years.

The subsequent few days have seen Ady on intravenous antibiotics, blood thinning drugs but thankfully no further need for pain killers. He has had an ultrasound scan which has shown a fair quantity of gallstones in his gallbladder. We are waiting for a MRI scan to ascertain whether the surgery required will be simply just removal of his gallbladder or whether there is a rogue gallstone wandering around to be dealt with first. Hopefully in the next couple of days we will have answers and some idea of timescales in order to make further plans.

We are yet to fully process it all properly really, still in coping mode and reacting to the whole thing. There is already a huge sense of relief that it was nothing more sinister or frightening and an overwhelming feeling of gratitude at the love, support, kindness and caring of our wide circle of family and friends. I have gone from feeling so utterly helpless, alone and isolated for a few hours to feeling cocooned in a blanket of love and friendship. Ady and I are already starting to think about things we could / would have done differently, what we need to do for the future in terms of first aid kit, accepting that while it feels hysterical to call 999 and summon a helicopter we probably do know enough to make that call at the right time rather than being timid and shy about doing so, realising that a checklist of passwords and phone numbers for various people and places and a back up set of lights would be really useful. We both know that if the roles had been reversed and it had been me helicoptered off Ady would not have managed the organisation of getting him and the kids to my bedside in the same way as I did because I have always done the mainland trip planning.

Top of my list of ‘when everything is back to normal and we’re home again’ though is sitting down on the sporran with a stiff drink and having a bloody good cry!