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Children

It occurred to me recently that life on Rum is a bit like childhood. You sort of know it won’t last forever and you will eventually have to take on proper responsibilities and inhabit a wider world but why would you rush it? Why not enjoy the learning journey, the whole new world adventure, the living in a bubble knowing it will eventually burst and subject you to the bigger outside. There is a lot of den building, camp-making, gang forming, personality shaping stuff happening.

I know, I need to stop picking so many brambles and spending so much time inside my own head!

And I have. I reached my personal goal of 300 jars made today. It was a jar of bramble and rose which hit the 300th mark. The 299th was a bramble and chilli. I’ve also made 140 mini jars in a mix of flavours. I make that around 40kg of brambles picked, around 50kg of sugar bought and carried up the hill, along with those 440 glass jars. That’s a lot of pricked fingers, boiling pans, labels handwritten and stuck on. Tomorrow is Michaelmas – (from Wikipedia)

Folklore in the British Isles suggests that Michaelmas day is the last day that blackberries can be picked. It is said that when St. Michael expelled Lucifer, the devil, from heaven, he fell from the skies and landed in a prickly blackberry bush. Satan cursed the fruit, scorched them with his fiery breath, and stamped and spat on them, so that they would be unfit for eating. As it is considered ill-advised to eat them after 29 September, a Michaelmas pie is made from the last of the season.

I usually continue to pick after that date and tend to freeze any brambles for our own use in crumbles, pies and if I can face eating it – jam! So I am not quite done yet with the bramble picking but certainly the pressure is off. Today I picked a last few kilos and made the last few jars of jam.

The next challenge is working out a place to store 440 jars of jam. It will obviously be in the shed shop but we need to construct some sort of cupboard or concealed space for them. We’ll be overhauling the shop over the winter anyway, taking stock of what has sold and what has not, what are the best display locations, whether our pricing, labelling and general merchandising has worked on various lines. As experienced retailers from our past lives we are well versed in that side of our Croft 3 business. On my to do list over winter along with creating back up stock of various top selling craft lines (crochet midges!) is getting the croft 3 website properly up and running to maximise the potential for online and postal sales.

Returning to my childhood theme September of course is the start of the autumn term, back to school, college or university. It’s definitely a time of change and taking stock. Harvest is coming to an end, nights are drawing in, colours are changing and here on Rum the cast of characters is changing with folk leaving which will inevitably lead to new folk arriving. September is hurrying away, I wonder what October will bring.

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Bramble Philosophy…

I love mindless, simple tasks. I love the head space that something occupying your physical self without the need to engage your mental self offers. The opportunity for your mind to wander, butterfly like all over the place. I relish the methodical, rhythmic pace of an activity your body can get stuck into and what that does to my state of mind. I have never meditated, or done exercise for the sake of it but I suspect this is what it would be like.

Being outside in nature makes the exercise so much easier to become creative in your thoughts, you have the sky to remind you how very small you are, the sounds of birds singing, insects buzzing, the river running to lull and soothe you and feel in good company with your busyness, the ever changing landscape, the sun on your back, wind in your hair, raindrops on your face to stay in tune with. The ground beneath your feet, the trees, the rocks all tell you that they were here before you existed, will remain long after you have walked away or left this life.

I have picked brambles this week alone. I have picked them with Scarlett, who chatters almost constantly – in a stream of consciousness style, sharing every thought as it enters her mind. I have picked with Ady, an experience which usually is about laughter, teasing, the odd rant and a bit of competitive seeing who fills the bag first. I have picked with a friend who happened to join us as we walked by and came along for the walk and chat for an hour or so. I have picked in the sunshine, I have picked in the rain, I have picked in the wind. I have picked listening to music and I have picked while singing. I have picked on my way to the village, on my way home, on the croft and around and about.

As I pick I compile blog posts, letters to friends, replies to emails, acceptance speeches, leaving announcements, closing words… all things I will likely never write or say or send. It’s an exercise in words which have always been my currency. I make my peace with things, reach conclusions, realise what I should do next.

Brambles are like pigs – you should never chase them.

Some brambles are not for you to pick, you need to let them go, they are for someone else to pick.

It is worth weighing up the risk of the out of reach or dangerous brambles. Sometimes I balance on precarious footings, tread on ground I am unsure of, stretch further than I can really reach. Sometimes the bag gets ripped on a thorn and I lose everything I had already picked just because I was being greedy and trying to get a bit more. I often leave the path that others have already taken and find an amazing patch of brambles just around the corner. More frequently I discover that if I look lower down under the leaves where I think I have already picked everything there is a huge amount of brambles just hidden but already easily in my reach.

It’s been a very Rum week. I’ve posted out jam and a bag, taken orders for bread, pies, cookies and cakes for the next few weeks. We learned that someone who was here before we arrived is leaving the island soon, waved off someone who left this week. Our resident numbers are in rapid decline this year. Ferries were cancelled, stranding people here who didn’t intend staying so long, preventing others from arriving at all. There was a potato shortage meaning amendments of menus and adaptations of food plans. Ady has been ghillying, leading a pony around parts of Rum he would probably not otherwise walk, I have done a castle tour and a post office shift. We had a community meal, a leaving party, heard the first roaring stags of the season, ate venison.

And jam. We are at 282 jars and 98 mini jars of jam made so far. While working out costings for jars and sugar I calculated that I have picked about half my own body weight in brambles this season so far. That’s a whole lot of brambles. And a whole lot of time philosophising!

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September so far…

The weather has not been terribly kind. We seem to have either had high winds or midges. Our regular ferry is on it’s annual two weeks off so we have a sort of pot luck timetable running with a small boat sticking to the regular times for foot passengers and a larger one chugging around for vehicles and freight movement. The small one is more liable to disruption from bad weather than our usual ferry though so we have had cancelled boats, missed deliveries and supplies like milk, fresh fruit and vegetables have been in short supply.

Meanwhile on the croft we have celebrated an anniversary (17 years married for Ady and I), a birthday (16 years old for Davies) and had a visit from my parents. Mum & Dad brought with them a gift for us of a new car, suitable for our rather more regular than before trips to the mainland. It is a very compact little car, ideal for the very limited mileage we do, cheap to run and maintain. We are massively grateful and I’m really looking forward to zipping about in it next month when we are next off the island.

cars

The sheep have settled in well, they are getting calmer and more used to us each day and we will be working on getting them used to eating sheep nuts alongside grazing over the next few weeks, getting them used to handling and ready for the regular dosing of various treatments to protect them from all the Rum nasties of fluke, ticks and blowfly. We thought we were done with new additions for this year but the surprise discovery of a broody chicken one day followed by her appearing at feed time with five newly hatched chicks the day after means one of the release pens has been re-erected to keep them all safe while they grow.

The high winds demonstrated to me that the cloches I proudly made and installed over the strawberry beds were not as Rum proof as they needed to be with two of the seven flying off and breaking. Mending the broken bits and re-enforcing the rest is on the job list for the week ahead.

It has been an amazing year for brambles, they are hanging heavy on branches all over the island but the rubbish weather has prevented as much picking as I would have liked. Then I ran out of jars in a Nic-failed-to-keep-up-with-herself error of ordering (this was after I ran out of sugar!). Orders of both jam and sugar are expected next week – random deliveries permitting and I have brambles in the freezer ready to get jamming with and grand plans to catch up with myself again on the picking front too. We’re already at well over 130 jars made though, with four new flavour additions so doing well.

bramble and rum jam

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jams

We’ve added a new shelf in the shed to accommodate the new wee sampler jars and have already had a few sales. A mail order jam sale and a commission for a batch of crochet midges ready for Christmas means the season continues well past the decent weather.

More bags are on sale – a pink vision already in the shop and a silver and grey number almost ready to go.

bags

grey bag

Ady and I spent yesterday afternoon processing a large stag – our freezer is now filled with venison steaks, diced meat for stews and pies, a couple of roasting joints and a huge amount of meat ready for mincing and turning into sausages and burgers when we have time.

The nights are drawing in, it’s dark long before 8pm and suddenly it feels as though the race is on to get everything done in a day, before the end of the week, the end of the month, the end of the year.

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Happy Birthday Davies

There are a few landmark birthdays in life. Your first birthday obviously although you never remember that yourself. My parents bought my brother and I our first watches for our fifth birthdays. Ten feels quite noteworthy as you reach double figures. Thirteen marks the start of the teens. America seems to have celebrated sixteen as a big birthday for years although we don’t tend to particularly in the UK although I recall wanting to try my first cigarette before it was legal in the weeks leading up to my 16th! 17 was about being able to drive, 18 about being an official adult and for me the landmarks ran out a little as we bought our house when I was just 20 so my 21st was certainly not any sort of milestone. From then on it’s been decades; so far Ady and I have both done 30 and 40 and Ady has also celebrated 50.

This week saw Davies’ 16th birthday. That still feels pretty landmark. At 16 in Scotland you can do all sorts of things (I know, I just checked on line!) many of which Davies appears to have no desire or need to do (skin piercings, alcohol, buy lottery tickets, enter a civil partnership, leave home…) but he is now on the electoral roll, has a national insurance number and if he follows in his parents footsteps is on the very cusp of adulthood and all that that entails.

I have tended to blog less about Davies and Scarlett as they have gotten older feeling that that it is not my place to tell their story but increasingly their own. I can however share what being Davies’ parent means to me. Motherhood has been a complete joy, a privilege and honour to share in the life of such amazing, interesting, creative, funny, curious and unique individuals.

From a very young age Davies demonstrated all encompassing passions, an interest for Davies has never been fleeting; always all consuming, entire and enduring. From a very early age it has been TV or films which have captured his imagination and interest. I can chart his birthdays by the character he was into at the time. Over the years this has determined birthday party themes, party cakes, gifts, dressing up outfits, trips out and more. Two year old Davies went everywhere dressed as Buzz Lightyear including a trip to see Disney on Ice. When he was four he wore a Peter Pan outfit and gifts included a handstitched Peter Pan toy (which still resides in his 16 year olds bedroom!) and a Neverland island toy. At six it was Wallace and Gromit with a themed party (we won a prize for our Gromit cupcakes and still use the bakeware and oven gloves to this day) and a visit to a local zoo park where costume characters were in attendance and trip to the Science museum in London for an Aardman exhibition. When Davies was seven it was Doctor Who with a party where the goody bags where mini Tardis, a lifesize papier mache dalek attended the party and guests included weeping angels and Oods.

The themes of 16 are (enduringly) Doctor Who, Sherlock and Lost with all gifts associated with one of the above. True to teenage form Davies got up at least three hours after he had planned to! Birthday food included bacon sandwiches, sweetie laden tiffin as birthday cake and pizza for dinner. His favourite dinner of venison steak and chips had to be delayed a few days until we had venison (having processed a beast today we enjoyed some very large steaks for dinner tonight!) and he was blessed by a visit from grandparents here for the big day.

Sixteen years have passed since I first gazed into the eyes of my newborn son. Back then his tiny hand grasped my fingers, he relied on me for his every need and I had all the answers. Now he stands taller than I, is very much his own person and relies on me less with every passing year. The intensity of the early parenting years has passed – this middle phase of cheerleading, supporting, nurturing and waiting, perhaps just out of sight and hearing range but poised nonetheless should you be needed calls on different skills. I have loved every stage so far and this is no exception.

Davies at 16 is a young man, a fledgling almost ready to spread his wings and fly. His emerging world view, ideas, opinions and take on life are a pleasure to witness and share. His funny, thought provoking, insightful and unfettered comments an education to be privy to. The footsteps during this part of our journey through life together are great strides rather than the tiny faltering hesitant baby steps of the past, I know that in the not too distant future he may well leave me behind for a while or walk a different path. I am confident we have many more side by side walks to take together in the future.

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Happy 16th Birthday Davies, that loving, funny, intense, talented small boy may be growing up and becoming a man but it looks like you’ll be taking all those same traits with you into adulthood.

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davies eyes

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Every day should be a nice pants day…

A while ago we were chatting down in the village about the order you would eat a selection pack of chocolates in. My rationale for such occasions has always been to start with my least favourite and work back towards my most favourite, saving it for last. One of the people we were talking to disagreed with this and said ‘Oh no, you should always start with your favourite, then your next favourite and so on’. The reasoning being that you were always selecting the very best chocolate available.

I was reminded of this today when doing a tidy up of our wardrobe. The winter is coming and we know that it will be a daily battle against the damp once we can no longer have all the windows open every day so we took everything out of the wardrobes, cleaned all the surfaces with a bleach solution to kill any spores and then put everything back in again. I took the opportunity to go through the box which contains all my underwear. Despite having limited space and scant opportunity to acquire clutter we still seem to gather things we don’t use regularly here somehow, my underwear collection being a case in point. Despite sometimes going a week or more without the change to do laundry I still had at least 25 pairs of pants and 10 bras. Including a selection of greying, elastic given up pants and some uncomfortable, spend all your time tugging on the straps bras. So I chucked them all out! Now all I have are nice bras and nice pants. Which means every day I can choose my favourite underwear, every day can be a nice pants day.

I shared this on facebook where a friend said that she applies the same mentality to mugs – all her mugs are nice now. We have a limited number of mugs here – a couple of photo mugs featuring us with Ben Fogle and our favourite quotes from the New Lives in the Wild show which always make us smile, one lonely nicked from Starbucks about 14 years ago mug which has lasted countless house moves and travelling around the UK in Willow with us, a Wallace and Gromit mug from back when Davies was obsessed with W&G and we used to collect every single bit of W&G stuff we could find at car boot sales and charity shops and my birthday mug – handthrown and very special. All of them make me smile every time I make a drink or take a swig of my morning cup of tea.

We can’t always live every day as though it might be our last (although of course it might and one day it will) but neither should we always be cautious and hang back depriving ourselves of everything nice and saving the best til last or keeping it in reserve for a rainy day.

From now on I am always going to choose my very favourite chocolate first from selection packs. And whilst it’s not really any of your business you should probably know I am wearing nice pants.

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A baaahrmy cruise

Our livestock plans for this year were pretty ambitious but I’m happy to say that with the exception of bees, which are proving very tricky to come by, we have ticked everything off our list.

This week it was sheep!

I did a crazy 11 hour day on the ferry travelling around all the islands so I would already be on board when the sheep were loaded. I checked on them every time we pulled into one of the islands and I was permitted onto the car deck where the trailer was with them and they were very calm for the duration.

in transit

I spent some time on board catching up with folk from the other islands, visitors and the ferry staff, read a book and did some crochet, gazed at the sea and stood for a while outside when I needed some fresh air. It was a long day…

When we finally reached Rum Ady brought the car on board to tow the trailer off and with a brief stop so people at the pier could peer in and meet the sheep we headed for the croft. Fortunately the river was low enough for us to cross and drive all the way to the croft. The first patch of ground we have fenced off for the sheep is just inside the croft, so Ady was able to catch them one at a time and carry them into their new pen.

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sheep

They all settled in straight away and started grazing, precisely why we have them!

We have three girls – all this years lambs so still babies really. They are Lleyn crossed with Cheviot and are really pretty white faced, white fleeced sheep. They will be great for grazing and for their wool and next year if we have kept them on Rum with our unique climate and soil conditions we will probably breed from them meaning lambs in 2018. But that is a long way off and we have much to learn about being shepherds before then.

In other news bramble picking continues apace – this afternoons pickings were turned into bramble and rum jam – I can’t quite believe I have not made that particular flavour combination before…

bramble and rum jam

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Rediscovering crazy and channelling Bob Marley

Today brings autumn.

There is so much behind this simple sentence. It’s right up there with ‘today brings spring’ when you live here on Croft 3, Isle of Rum. For Autumn means winter is coming, while spring means it’s leaving. And winter is probably the single most defining seasons of our life here.

I’ve talked before of turning over to a new page on the calendar and seeing what the photos tell us of that month last year. The September page freshly flipped to this morning reminds me of nice weather, a mainland trip for the kids and I with a cable car trip and ice creams, ghillying duties for Ady, the last Sheerwater boat trip of the season (it looked choppy), new adult sized cycles for Davies and Scarlett, clay crafts, butchering and processing a pig, a wedding anniversary and birthday. Some of the same lies ahead for this September, some does not.

The week past has offered lots of the usual autumn prep type tasks we engage in every year – processing firewood, picking brambles, making jam, thinking about autumn sowings of crops. Along with some we don’t normally engage in. After years of promising I definitely would and not ever actually doing it I finally went swimming in the river with Scarlett. It was as I feared it might be – cold getting in, cold getting out and a hazardous, bramble and slippery stone filled trek to the perfect spot – at the foot of our croft yet a 10 minute scramble across boggy, overgrown ground and burns. It was also as Scarlett had promised it would be – magical, exhilarating, fun and crazy. I’m so glad I did it, next year I will try to remember how much I enjoyed it and get in the river more than once and earlier in the season. Full body immersions in water at all are in limited supply here let alone opportunities to actually swim.

I did a tally up of jams in the shed – last year we made over 200 jars and barely 20 remain with several flavours sold out. This year we’ve bought some tiny jars in aswell as our full size ones to allow folk to sample more than one flavour, buy just the right amount for their camping stay here on Rum, or to create some mini Croft 3 hampers which we’re planning on working on over the winter.

jams