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Really only seven days?

It’s been one of those weeks where I can’t believe it’s only been seven days since it was last Sunday evening!

Davies, Scarlett and I had a mainland trip – less than 48 hours off but it always feels like days and days. We did pack a lot in; chats with fellow Small Islanders on the boat and a lift along the road for a friend from Eigg so plenty of inter island gossiping, a trip to the dentist for Scarlett, a fast food fix for dinner, bath and junk TV, charity shop trawling, supermarket shopping, collecting a new tent we’d ordered and paid for online, a spur of the moment trip to a little museum we’ve driven past probably a hundred times in the last five years, an overnight stay with friends, bringing friends home to Rum for a few nights stay, boat trip, post office shifts, Rum friends visiting the croft, our first bell tent customer, firewood processing, tending birds, fruit cage grass cutting, bird releasing and ringing, pen building for Ady, cloche making, harvesting and planting for me. Yeah, busy.

mcd

treasures

treasures of the earth

new tent

friends

strawberry cloche

This evening we are enjoying the brief return to ‘normal’ before tomorrow brings a whole new load of busy for the week ahead – volunteers, more post office shifts, a visit to an neighbouring Isle for the annual Small Isles games and very likely a whole load of other stuff we haven’t even thought to anticipate yet!

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Watch the birdie

It’s been an amazing year for birds for us so far with so many hatchlings and such a high success rate in rearing them. We already have five of this years hens ringed and released with another 12 or so ready do have their mother released and the young ringed and released too. We have two more broody hens sitting in large clutches of eggs and of the young ones identifiable so far we have a really good number of hens to add to our egg producing flock for next year. Any cock birds will be kept penned and fattened for eating as we don’t need any more boy birds this year.

We’ve had three successful broody ducks hatch cluctches of eggs and all ducklings are doing well too – our superstar duck Crispy has six almost ready to be released ducklings (plus one which Scarlett has reared and is also doing really well and living outside now, although it still comes in the caravan for daily cuddles!), her daughter Orville has carried on her mother’s legacy and hatched eight ducklings who are all doing well and one of our white ducks (who could quite possibly be Crispy’s mum, one of the white ducks is) has also hatched six healthy ducklings who are almost ready for ringing. Too early to tell the gender of the ducks just yet but we will likely fatten any drakes of this year’s brood for eating too as we already have two drakes and otherwise the girl ducks just get too hassled by the boys, a 1:10 type ratio is ideal and we have had more of a 2:12 for the last year.

We have been making more houses and pens this week, a task made a million times easier since we invested in some cordless power tools. We’ve had a drill for a while which utterly changed our lives having been using screwdrivers and rachets / socket sets prior to that which made every task so much harder and took so much longer. I was not so confident with the drill and found it a little heavy. We have bought a cordless circular saw, reciprocating saw and a smaller drill which were a big investment for us but have already made life so much easier and enabled us to get on with construction tasks so, so much quicker. While Ady was building houses I was able to make pens without each of us having to wait to take turns with the tools.

drill

The wood is all scrap or dismantled pallets, the roofs of the various houses are very creative – so far we have used panels from a drop side table, the plastic tops of dishwashers and fridges which we scavenged from appliances waiting to be collected by the council as they are broken. The netting over the pens is off cuts from the fruit cage netting. The only parts we are buying in new are the screws and the chicken wire. At the end of the breeding season all the pens can be dismantled into individual panels as they are held together with re-usable cable ties and all the houses will be dotted around the croft as mini chicken houses / nesting boxes ready for next season.

We have runner ducks arriving tomorrow – a new breed of duck for us but one we all really like having seen them at various sheepdog displays being herded around. We have three girls and one boy coming and we’ll see how they all settle in to free range life and being part of a larger flock. We have also rehomed a whole gang of Muscovy ducks from our neighbouring island of Muck where their previous owners are moving away. Four ducks, a drake and associated ducklings belonging to two of the ducks.

muscovies

muscovy

It’s a real shame that our geese all failed to hatch a brood this year, despite at least four of the geese going broody and sitting on nests and that the turkeys we had hatch didn’t make it past the crows as despite disappearing for a few weeks the female turkey is back hanging out with the male turkey again so we assume if she did make a nest and start brooding the eggs the crows harried her off of it. Maybe next year – at least we know we have hatched both turkeys and goslings before so it can happen.

Meanwhile we continue to make pens, process the birds along the line – first we move them into a pen with their mother, feed them several times a day so they get used to being part of the feeding frenzy, the sound of our voices, the siren song of the dustbin lid being banged heralding food o”clock, releasing the mothers as soon as the young are fully feathered and don’t need to sit beneath her at night and then ringing their ankles and releasing them a few days afterwards. The area outside the caravan looks like a petting zoo and indeed almost all of the islands children, and several visiting children have been up to meet all the baby birds.

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Bags of fun

The cold and the rain have contrived together to keep me mostly indoors for the last week.

So I have been making bags.

I’ve made a blue shoulder bag:

blue bag front

blue bag back

And a green and yellow clutch bag:

green bag

green bg bsck

green bag front

And now I’m working on a brown bag with a pink and purple one in mind for after that.

The rain and the cold have been affecting most folk on Rum and prolonged indoorsness (a real word!) seems to bring out the creativity in all of us. Friday just gone was our monthly bring and share community meal, this month with a theme of ‘From The Sea’. We had a great turn out; several islanders have family visiting, there were a group of volunteers on the island and a few tourists came along too. We had a feast of food including fish pie, risotto, sea trout, bread shaped like a turtle… we had a soundtrack of songs with connections (some of them very, very tenuous) to the sea and dessert was mermaids purses (baklava) or oysters (meringues with chocolate pearls). It was a fabulous evening.

turtle bread

sea night

The night ended early the following day (as in we didn’t get home til nearly 3am) as after the food yet more treasure came to Rum ‘from the sea’ when a boat full of visitors came ashore from their yacht moored in the bay asking if anyone was up for listening to / joining in with some music. So they rowed back out and collected their instruments which included guitar and bagpipes. A very surreal few hours of singing, music and laughter followed.

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Jam and yarn

A slow start to my week due to catching a cold from Scarlett who caught it from a visiting friend. Colds were such a regular part of life for us back in our old lives. Small children, lots of socialising and going to group activities coupled with working at the local library meant almost constant exposure to germs and consequently it often felt like one of the four of us more or less always had a cold. During our year of WWOOFing we escaped altogether and since moving to Rum it seems we only ever catch a cold when people come to visit. The opposite of our old lives with very limited exposure to germs means we are pretty susceptible to catching colds when people bring them to the island. In our first year here I failed to take that as seriously as I should have done and a common cold escalated into a pretty serious chest infection requiring lots of medication, a nebuliser (fairly tricky when you live off grid – we were putting the generator on for 15 minutes every 2 hours so I could manage that) and a precautionary stash of inhalers kept ever since. What it means is that these days I take colds quite seriously and rather than soldiering on I rest lots, drink lots of liquids, get lots of sleep and eat lots of decent food. Bad for productivity generally on the croft, good for getting back on my feet quickly and catching up on sedentary tasks.

Such as jam making – last weeks first harvest of currants which we froze was defrosted and added to this weeks larger harvest which altogether was sufficient for three jars of jam.

jam

Too precious to sell, these will only get as far as our own cupboard but after four years it’s really exciting to finally be getting a crop of some sort off the currant bushes. We’ve been picking raspberries too, not enough to do any more than squabble over them between ourselves but again very exciting – and delicious.

I’ve also been getting busy with the hook and been working on making a freeform crochet bag. It’s a whole new idea to me but I have a couple of books and the idea of being more creative and artistic with crochet really appeals to me. I get really easily bored of things and while I am happy to spend a whole week making midges or scarves I then want to make something different next before going back to doing more of them so this is a great distraction. I’m learning new stitches and techniques and hopefully making something which might be a good addition to the stock on the shed.

What appeals most is the same as with the scarves, no two will ever be the same. So far I’ve filled in all the spaces on one side of the bag and most on the other side. I need to fill in all the gaps, work out the best sort of handle and then finish off embellishing and decorating it.

bag

bag2

It very much meets my criteria of being fun, teaching me new things, using up stuff I already have and offering a sense of creating something nice.

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A few of my favourite things…

Truly rubbish weather and distinct lack of volunteer numbers aside it’s not been a bad week.

We’re still making pens and houses for hatchlings as and when weather allows and moving birds around at different stages. We’re up to two ducks and 12 ducklings (not counting Scarlett’s pet duckling which resides indoors) with a third due to hatch any day (she’s sitting on 10 eggs so we’re hoping for at least 5 more ducklings, a 50% hatch rate is about what you would hope for, although we do tend to be higher than that usually). We have our first three chicken chicks ringed and released although they are still hanging round the nursery pens. Our second pair of chicks have also been ringed and their mother released but we are keeping them penned for another few days to get slightly larger. There are three more sets of hens and chicks to work through the same process with already penned (first we let the mother hen go as soon as the chicks are feathered up sufficiently to not need to sit under her for warmth at night and have gotten the hang of eating full size growers pellets having graduated from chick crumb. Then we feed them up lots for another week or so without their mother, ring their legs with this years colour ring – red – so we can tell in years to come how old they are, before releasing them. We are planning to keep cockerels from this year penned to fatten and release any hens into the free range flock to start laying next years free range eggs for sale, or brood and raise their own young). There are three more broody hens around the croft who we will move into nursery pens as soon as they have hatched their chicks. If we move them prior to that we risk them breaking out of their broody trance and stopping sitting on the eggs. If we wait until at least one chick has hatched their maternal instinct seems to kick in and they don’t seem to mind where they are penned as long as they can watch over their young. We’re keeping the chicks with their mothers for about 4 or 5 weeks which is as long as it takes for them to lose their downy fluff and feather up.

nursery pens

ringingnic

ringing

pens

We’re having a run on survival wristbands in the shed shop – there have been lots of student groups staying and they seem to be popular with them. We’ve also sold a couple more midges and I am working on a giant Queen Midge but scaling up the pattern I use is taking a bit of experimenting with. We’ve taken delivery of this years jam jars ready for when the brambles are ripe and also bought in a batch of mini jars so that we can make some taster size jars for those people who just can’t choose between our ten different flavours.

Our early strawberries have finished cropping and are sending out loads of runners so we’ll be working on getting some of the runners to put down roots then cutting them for next years strawberry supplies. The redcurrants and blackcurrants are ready for harvesting, as are peas and the first rapsberries are ready too.

harvest

We’ve done our Big Pig Move of the summer, opening out both pens to fresh grass. All the pigs are happy and healthy, the next move will be the pre-winter one so a few months away just yet.

pig move

Our previous wood store was chicken infested – infact it’s been the site of choice for three hens to go broody so far this year, which is great for increasing our chicken stock holding, not so great when all the firewood is covered in chicken poo! It was always a rather poor design as you had to duck down to get inside and it was damp and while undercover not actually that great for drying and storing wood. So we’ve redesigned that and created a new open sided space attached to our tool shed. We’ll cover the wood from the top with plastic but leave it open at the sides to allow the wind to help dry out and season the wood. Eventually we’ll plan to work all the way around the three sides of the tool shed so we can have six or eight sections of wood.

wood store

wood

Processing firewood in July is usually pretty miserable as it’s hot work. The upside of this cold snap is that it’s actually been quite nice swinging the axe to warm up!

So, those favourite things? Stroking my cat who has settled in so very well to our lives here, seeing Davies and Scarlett hanging out with visiting mates for the summer (and another friend emailed today to say she is arriving this week for a few days too), harvesting our food, seeing the shed do well in sales, seeing the young birds thriving and moving through the ranks to release, swinging the axe…

Oh and a splendid evening of community socialising and hanging out with visitors as we had one of Rum’s regular visiting musicians here for a gig on Saturday night and we laid on food. She was excellent, as always, and when the proper event had finished a few of us Rum folk joined in with singing and playing for a bit of an after hours session.

sing

singing

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Volunteers and volunteering

For most of my adult life, certainly since I have been a parent I have had some sort of voluntary position on the go. From being the helper / assistant leader / attending parent at Rainbows, Scouts or St Johns Ambulance, to running a kids reading group at the local library, from being a lookerer to a Waste Prevention Advisor . We stepped that up a notch when we spent nine whole months as WWOOFers volunteering and since moving to Rum I have held all sorts of roles all of which have been voluntary – director of the Community Trust, of the trading arm of the Community Trust, creator and editor of the community newsletter… I also write several articles each year for various publications on an unpaid basis.

I remember the episode of the US sitcom Friends where the character Phoebe attempts to find a truly selfless good act and struggles. At every turn trying to offer help and labour for no financial reward is thwarted by good fortune or karma coming her way. I think that’s true, giving your time, your skills, your effort is never really giving as you always get so much back. Thanks to my volunteering over the years I have learned countless new skills, spend time with some amazing people, done wonders for my CV (although I have reason to suspect and hope I never again have to actually compile, print or send my CV anywhere in search of a job!). All of this is quite aside from the actual reason I put my hand up and say ‘I could do that’ when a volunteering opportunity presents itself which is that I honestly believe if you can do something to help you should, if you have something to share you should offer it, an abundance of anything you should divvy it up with those who could do with some, give it back, pay it forward, share and give and offer. There is a massive intrinsic reward in volunteering, it’s a perfect situation in so many ways, or certainly should be. The volunteer should feel appreciated, fulfilled, a bit warm and fuzzy and good about themselves.

This year we planned to hold four big volunteer events with 10 or so people attending each. We scheduled in ten day events each time giving weekends off and plenty of time before and after working hours for exploring the island and getting stuck in to island life. We planned them around other events happening on Rum – community meals and visiting musicians so that there would be plenty going on. We warned about midges and weather and gave huge amounts of information about what to expect. All the things that we most appreciated from our best WWOOF hosts and missed not having at our more challenging hostings. Despite all this forward planning our June event didn’t happen – we had five firm bookings which I thought would be a good way of easing us into this years planned events. At short notice two people dropped out and another two got in touch to say they could no longer make the arranged dates but could come later. That left one volunteer on their own which was what we were hoping to avoid this year – our very isolated location coupled with our volunteer accommodation being either sharing the bell tent space or bringing their own tent (or of course paying to stay in the various options down in the village instead) means volunteers on Croft 3 are likely to get more out of their experience if they are here with other volunteers. Our rather small caravan is not suited to hosting additional people and despite really enjoying having volunteers and guests here we also value our time as a family in the evening, ensuring Davies and Scarlett have privacy and peace to get on with their various activities and we can get our fix of down time just the four of us. So we arranged for the lone volunteer to work with our community ranger instead where there was more variety of tasks and the opportunity to be with other volunteers in the village. The rescheduled volunteer couple did come but arrived during a bleak few days of weather and suffering with ill health so despite a good match of personalities and life philosophies they left earlier than planned to continue their adventure somewhere rather less extreme than Rum.

Our July event was looking really promising with 10 people booked to come. One dropped out with a good few weeks notice, two more the week before, three cancelled on the morning they were due to arrive and a further two simply didn’t turn up at all. Which meant arriving on the ferry was, you guessed it, one lone volunteer. Argh! Once again the weather has been cruel with high winds and relentless rain. None of the planned team activities have been remotely possible with just one extra pair of hands. Our usual Thursday boat trip which is often a real treat for visiting volunteers was rained off, the weekend when she had planned to get out and explore Rum was spoilt with rain and mist. It could easily have been a complete disaster. And yet, despite all this our volunteer this week has remained cheerful, filled with humour and gratitude for what we can offer, philosophical and accepting of what we can’t. She has worked hard and achieved lots and been a real ray of sunshine in a rather grey and dismal week. This week has not been about what either we as hosts or our WWOOFer as a volunteer had necessarily hoped for or expected. It has certainly for me been yet another reminder that making the most of opportunities, even when they are not quite as anticipated can often pay off and give even more than we first hoped.

I’m still hoping we get a full quota of the expected 10 volunteers in August. I’m still really hoping we get to put in those paths I have top of the list for volunteer activities. I’m sure that whatever happens I will learn something regardless.

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Base Camp

The biggest hurdle in hosting volunteers previously has been our ability to actually host them in terms of providing beds and cooking / eating space. Combined with setting up the bell tent ready to rent out to campers we have also been doing it in order to be able to offer that space to volunteers. Some WWOOFers travel with their own tent, indeed we travelled with Willow the campervan and really valued having our own space to retreat to and call our own, but others are travelling light, or from abroad and a bed in a shared bell tent is perfect for them. We are not able to bring more than one or two people (and even that is a squeeze) into the caravan for meals and despite enjoying having people here we also value our privacy and space, particularly Davies and Scarlett, so being able to provide a space for volunteers to cook and eat their own meals if we supply the food has long been an aim.

It’s taken a while and a few re=models and a lot of making it up as we go along but we have finally created a semi permanent space on the croft which houses the compost loo, a sink with running water, an undercover cooking and eating area, gas stove with double burner and grill, seating etc. It’s rustic, obviously, but it’s the sort of set up we’d have been delighted with as campers or as volunteers ourselves. We’ve got it kitted out with basic cookware and kitchen kit and will add to that as folk tell us what else they need up there.

washing up view

camp kitchen

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Stuff. And nonsense

I am not much of a one for material possessions. I’ve never set any store by fancy labelled clothes and I’ve always been way too careless and clumsy to attempt to have anything treasured to look after and keep safe. I only wear cheap trinket type of jewellery (wedding ring aside, which has double sentimental value as it was my paternal grandmother’s wedding ring and a piece of amber with a cadisfly captured inside which I wear around my neck. Both are very, very old, one way older than the other which is what I love most about them both – they existed way before me – as mineral gold and as pine sap – in different incarnations and will exist long after I have gone, they are excellent for keeping you grounded and realising your own finite existence).

My most recent Christmas, birthday and Mothers Day gifts have been a purple opinel pocketknife, something I carry at all times (mainland trips aside, and sometimes I forget to take it out of my jeans even then!) and some pottery from Susan Frankel’s Caractacus Pots – I have a very large mug from which I drink my tea in the daytime and a gorgeously tactile tumbler from which I drink my wine or G&T of an evening. These are small things which make me happy every single I time I use them which is several times every day. Precious, handmade, supporting a true craftswoman and small business, a joy to use. I likely won’t still have any of these things five years from now – the knife may have been lost or blunted, the mug and tumbler chipped or broken in use. In many ways that is what I love most about them, they are useful and functional yet bring pleasure every time I use them. Any knife could cut baler twiner, slit open a bag of compost or animal feed, slice through a gathered up amount of netting but my purple knife makes me smile every time I use it. Any receptacle could hold tea or wine but none would feel quite so satisfyingly heavy and comfortable in my hand as the ones I have now, or bring with them the memory that I knew I was getting the mug because Susan emailed chasing up that it had arrived in time for Christmas making me check with Ady (it was a surprise but he ordered through my account) as my birthday is so soon after Christmas he had ordered it in advance. In the end despite his forethought I got it late as we were not even here for my birthday. The tumbler for Mothers Day was a true surprise as we don’t generally do such extravagant gifts outside of birthdays.

Davies and Scarlett seem to have inherited this idea of attaching memories and intrinsic value to things. They tell me that the two items they wish to keep to remember me by when I die are a blanket I knitted when they were small and my recipe book. The blanket is a ridiculous – learning to knit affair. It is made of a mish mash of weight and type of yarn, all clumsily stitched together to create a ramshackle weirdly shaped, much mended rag of material. It’s been snuggled up under round campfires, taken on our travels with us in Willow and now resides on the sofa. The recipe book is an old notebook, I’m not even sure where it came from, dark blue hardcover lined. It contains recipes which have been made at least twice – prior to that they are written on scraps of paper and held inside until they are approved sufficiently to be copied in permanently. It includes basic much used recipes like cheese scones, pizza dough and peanut butter cookies but also has little stories included such as ‘eggless chocolate cake for winter days when the hens have stopped laying and the ferry doesn’t come’, ‘Pumpkin fritters from the Isle of Eigg’, ‘Katy Beresford’s snickerdoodles’, ‘Katy Salmon’s cheesey stars’, ‘Ridiculously gooey chocolate birthday brownies’, ‘soft white rolls for burgers such as on Back to the Future day when Doc and Marty went back’. It is spattered with grease, cocoa stains and several of the recipes have had to be recopied as the originals have faded. It’s less precious to me because it’s my notebook but I can see why it has heirloom potential to my children.

My most enduring possession though is my clock. It was my 21st birthday gift from Ady. We’d been together for a couple of years, were perpetually broke as we were in the early years of our mortgage and used to regularly peruse a little independent pine furniture shop along the seafront close to where we lived. They had a couple of oversized clocks which I adored. They were priced at £65 which was way out of our birthday budget, but it being my 21st Ady splashed out. This was 1995… I still remember the credit card machine running over Ady’s card with those old fashioned triple carbon credit card slips thinking it was more than we could afford. It hung above our fireplace in our house, a real focal point drawing comment from all visitors. It was that clock which we used to mark midnight on New Years Eve, to time feeds for Davies as a tiny newborn. It moved with us to Manchester and hung in our front room there. It was that clock which I timed contractions for while in labour with Scarlett. It sat at my parents house while we were WWOOFing but it was one of the few possessions which we found space for, wrapped in bedding and towels to keep it safe, stashed in the back of the horsebox to bring up to Rum when we moved here. It has to be regularly taken down when it’s windy but it hangs here in the caravan marking this as our home. It keeps time for cooking dinners, knowing when it’s Popmaster o’clock or time to head down to the ferry. It can be seen from outside the caravan to check on the time. I remember looking at it while waiting for the helicopter for Ady.

For over half my life now this clock has marked the minutes and hours of my life. It has a water stain between the 11 and the 1 where Ady laid it on our bed while we were away incase it was windy but the roof leaked and it got wet. About ten years ago it got unreliable and eventually we bought a new mechanism for it. Last year it got a bit sketchy again and it’s been a bit random for the last few months, working fine for weeks and then stopping or running slow so yesterday we replaced the mechanism. I couldn’t get a mechanism which was compatible with the hands so had to replace them too. They are slightly different to the previous ones, which as I recall were slightly different to the ones before that. At the moment every time any of the four of us looks at the clock we are slightly wrongfooted by the different hands. I know we’ll get used to them and a week from now will forget it ever looked any different.

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It’s all still just stuff. It’s all still just nonsense.

My stuff though.