With a sense of melancholy

I posted the text below on facebook earlier. Ady and I have been taking photos and video clips to remind ourselves of just how many aspects of our lives here are unusual, are not like the lives we had before or are likely to have again.

As the countdown continues Ady and I are thinking about our lives here now, how they compare to our old lives and how they might compare to our lives in the coming months and years.
Today we walked half a mile to where we park our car, carrying a bin bag filled with a weeks laundry for four people and a box of 30 jams. We drove into the village to collect our post from yesterday – as the only people living outside the village we don’t get our post delivered to our door – we did have an arrangement of collecting it from a disused vehicle parked in the village but the vehicle has been moved so we’re back to collecting it from the postman’s house as and when we visit the village – we’ll need to do that after most boats so that he is not having to clutter up his house with our mail.
We drove to meet the ferry, stopping on the way to put the laundry on – a facility which is pretty threatened as it is a hangover from when the castle here on Rum used to be a hostel. We collected two jerry cans of petrol from the ferry. We had made a special trip to the ferry on Saturday to send them off as booked but due to there being bottled gas already on the ferry for another island they didn’t go off. Instead rather than make another trip (1/2 mile walk, 2 mile drive using previous diesel that we have to do the same procedure to get here in jerry cans) we asked a friend who was going to the ferry to put them on for us – the ferry coming at all on Sunday was uncertain and the timetable was amended twice due to the gale force winds and resulting swell. We then had to phone the fuel seller on Monday to arrange for them to collect our cans, fill them and return them to the ferry ready to come back to us.
We were collecting our mainland car which has been parked elsewhere while family stay on Rum last week – they brought a trailer tent to stay in as we don’t have enough room for them in our caravan. Unfortunately they could only tow it a certain distance towards the croft as the roads are in such a poor state. The place they had set up was exposed to the winds last week and in the middle of the night I had been helping them take down the tent, the following day they had suffered further damage and despite moving into the village square they took the decision to call their trip short when all their bedding and spare clothes were wet with further bad weather forecast.
We bought both vehicles (slowly, carefully) back to our parking space, then used wheelbarrows to bring the laundry and petrol back to the croft.
That took most of fhe morning.
This afternoon we chopped and collected firewood, emptied our compost toilet and waded into the river to change the filter on our drinking water supply.
On a good day I am massively proud of all we have achieved here and blown away by the sheer beauty of the place we call home. On a bad day I am reminded that it is these tasks, essential merely to survive here which coupled with the weather and climate and sheer logistics of life here that are what have prevented us from realising our dreams and made us alter our expectations of what this life was all about.

I keep catching myself drifting off into daydreams and deep thoughts, looking out at the views and breathing deeply, trying to commit to memory the sounds, the smells, the feel of Rum, of this life, of what it represents.

We are excited, scared, sad and happy, filled with feelings of missing what we have here before we’ve even left it, thrilled at the prospect of what we’re heading towards.


New Learning Adventures

In the midst of all of our uncertainty about what happens next in terms of where we live and what we do Davies and I have begun studying with the Open University. After lots of consideration, career quizzes, chatting to friends and discussions Davies decided to embark on an access course with the OU with the long term intention of doing a degree in psychology. We did a lot of research on various study options and the OU seemed a really good fit with our location and uncertainty about continued location, his personal aspirations both in terms of learning for learning’s sake and for a potential qualification for a career and as a good way of continuing with his lifelong style of an autonomous, at his own speed, fitted in around and as a part of his everyday life education. A few conversations with an adviser at the OU, some form filling (a first for him) and he was enrolled on the course way back in the spring ready to start now.

Which got me thinking… my own formal education ended with A levels. I didn’t intend it to, I had planned to travel and work for a year, maybe two and enjoy the freedom of being a young adult with a car and a part time job and autonomy over my time to finish work when I left the building rather than feeling a burden of studying hanging over my evenings and weekends. I was not entirely clear on what I wanted to be ‘when I grew up’ or which direction to take further studying so felt getting some life experience and adding to the careers section of my CV might be a better option than the qualifications section. I fully intended going back into education but knew that now was the the right time. The further I moved away from the friends who followed the route into university while I began working full time, climbing the career ladder via long hours at work and learning skills on the job, falling in love and buying a house at 20 the more the path I had deviated from looked less and less for me. I’ve always said that continuing my education was an option should I want to do it, regardless of my age although in latter years that has been more to illustrate a point when talking about Home Education and how not studying for exams as a teenager does not mean you can never do them if they become desirable at some point.

For me that point has arrived. I’m not sure if I’ll go beyond the access course – despite not needing to do an access course and being able to sign straight up for a degree I decided to do the access course. Partially because it felt like a great way to support Davies – to learn alongside him and work through the content together (although we have different tutors and will do our assessments independently of each other, it is so far proving really useful to both of us to be studying together) but mostly because I realised that I would feel quite envious of him doing it. The more I read the course information and learned about the way the OU works the more I felt it was something I wanted to do too, for me. I may yet decide I’m still not ready to commit to studying for a degree and if I do I am unsure in what or quite what I’d aim to do with it once I had it, but certainly for now I am enjoying learning for the sake of learning and flexing that particular muscle once again.

So far, a month in we’re enjoying it. We have found a rhythm to our studying and not only is it springboarding lots of discussions and further research and talking about ideas and experiences it is radiating out with all four of us getting involved in chatting about the new things we are learning. It’s great welcoming the Open University into our learning partnerships in our household, so far they are fitting in really well.


The last pig day.

A very emotional day today here on Croft 3. And perhaps the fact it was emotional goes a way towards stressing the difference between commercially successful farmers and us.

We said goodbye to the last pig reared for meat – now in the freezer and goodbye to Barbara pig, our original mother pig. It was a really tough decision, one of the hardest we have made and certainly not taken lightly or without quite a lot of tears shed. But it was the right one in terms of welfare for Barbara (she was well past her breeding prime so attempting to re-home her would prove pretty much impossible, involve the major stress of getting her from the croft, onto the ferry and further transport to a new home, introducing her to different conditions and so on).

Instead after much soul searching she is now buried with Tom, her original pig partner.

It has been our adventures in pig keeping which have probably taught us most here on Rum. We have had some crashing lows – losing piglets, losing older pigs, the saga of Bob and Blackie, processing pigs in all sorts of weather conditions, chasing escapees, frequent moves from one area to another, losing all of our salami and chorizo when the polytunnel blew away, losing a joint of gammon when an unseasonal hot spell interfered with the curing process. We let our pig numbers get too large, like every single pig farmer we have ever met had also done. We let our pig feed bills get too high, again like every other pig farmer we have ever met. We have had some amazing highs – being present at births and resuscitating ailing piglets, realising that both Tom and Barbara were fertile and good parents, making sausages and bacon and butchering quite literally in the field.

Tom and Barbara were on TV, mentioned on the radio and in magazine articles and blogs, they have been photographed and petted by so many visitors to the croft. They were not pets, they were livestock but the lines certainly got pretty blurry.

It’s the closing of another chapter of our lives here for sure and while I know it was the right thing to do and am at peace with the decision my heart is sore today.


Exit this way

Our lives since we left employment have taken on a different level of organisation and commitment. Once upon a time the rhythm of our lives was dictated by work schedules and meetings. We now have obvious demands such as animals needing feeding, people needing feeding, firewood needing chopping, gas bottles getting up the hill and so on but in the main we get to decide what happens when and work on our own job list prioritising. It’s fluid and flexible and a mix of what simply must be done in order to survive, what makes life nicer or more comfortable and things which make life move forward, are nice optional extras or are working towards the future.

We tend to create a Masterplan each year, an overview of things we’d like to carry on with or introduce to the croft in terms of animals, crops, infrastructure and business. A list of fun things we want to do – places to visit, new skills to acquire, experiences to have. This is a discipline we have been following for years as a family – it has shaped Davies and Scarlett’s education, family holidays and adventures, learning opportunities and new experiences. It was this sort of Masterplan over the years that led to us camping in Scotland dolphin spotting, Davies joining the Young Archaeologists Club, me attending a book group (which led to working at the local library), us getting an allotment and more. It’s definitely a technique from school and work where Ady and I learned about reviews and appraisals and succession planning. We then break that down into seasonal, monthly or weekly plans, all of which are fluid and often have to be reactive to other factors such as weather, health, what else might creep up and happen. A mix of proactive and reactive, being adaptable and having planning skills has served us well in moving things forward and feeling productive while still having a nice life with plenty of freedom to follow our dreams.

That same working backwards from an end goal is what I applied to our heading off WWOOFing and then again when we moved to Rum. A friend tells me it’s called Critical Path Analysis. To me it’s making sure that on November 16th the four of us, plus cat and dog are on board a ferry off Rum leaving behind us a croft that is packed up waiting for us to come back in March or with plans in place for our absence. We’ll need to leave equipt with everything we need to see us though the short and long term time away or plans for how to make that happen as we go.

I’ve divided this into the following areas:

Animals: Rehome, kill & process or organise food and shelter and supervision while we’re away for pigs, sheep and poultry.
Our pigs will be going next week. One will be processed for the freezer. One will be buried alongside the other pigs who have been killed or died for non food reasons. We will then dismantle and pack away all of the fencing . The housing will be reused for the other animals staying over winter.
The Sheep will be staying. There is sufficient food and shelter here on Croft 3 for them over winter and they will be regularly checked for health and condition. We will dose them before we go and again on our return.
The turkeys will be staying on Rum with a friend who will feed them for us while we’re away. We will supply the food so they will still be our turkeys. They will come back to the croft when we return.
The geese will be staying on the croft. There is a huge population of wild geese on Rum and they thrive here needing no special food or shelter. They will remain on the croft along with the sheep and continue to graze and keep the croft grass down.
The guinea fowl will do the same.
Most of the chickens and ducks will be killed and processed. A tiny number will remain and be fed and checked along with the sheep by a friend. We’ll leave sufficient food supplies behind along with lots of shelter on the croft. As a fully free range flock they are well used to finding their own food and shelter on the croft and have very few predators.
This plan for the animals means that if we return to Rum in the spring with the intention of staying here then we already have our starting livestock here for us. If we have decided we are moving on then we can make arrangements to take the livestock with us or rehome it.

Crops: I have the usual end of season clearing up to do in the polytunnel, fruit cages, walled garden and other growing areas. I will clear any spent crops, tidy away anything at risk during the winter weather, cover all the bare soil with a thick mulch of seaweed and prune the fruit trees and bushes. These are my usual activities at this time of year and for the sake of a few days work it is worth preparing the ground for next years crops incase we do return.

Caravan: The caravan will be sealed up against the weather and pests during our absence as best it can be. We will turn off the water to the caravan and re-route the supply to drain into the ground to ensure it does not freeze, burst or grow stagnant in the pipes during our absence. The wind turbines will be dismantled, the solar panels disconnected, the batteries disconnected and the generators emptied and stored (we may take the main one off for a service). We will cap the log burner, turn off the gas and seal any vents with fabric conditioner sheets to deter rodents from moving in. We will remove or cover all soft furnishings, seal closed the doors and windows which leak water in the rain and leave internal doors and cupboards open for the air to circulate as much as possible. All food and perishable stuff will be removed and precious things taken with us or carefully stored away.

The croft: all tools and machines will be drained of fuel, cleaned and put away securely. We will not be leaving anything of great value, mostly because we don’t have anything of great value! But we have moved things useful and specific to croft 3 into a shed which will be sealed up to keep things safe.

The Shed: Most of the crafts are listed on Etsy so will be coming with us to ensure we can carry on fulfilling any sales we make. Jams will be stored here ready for next season. The shed will be locked up against the elements while we’re away.

Off Rum:
The logistics of leaving include booking the car onto the ferry (we have successfully completed the task of getting a new car and selling the old one – hurrah!), organising accommodation for our journey break down to Sussex (we have booked dentist and orthodentist check ups for the day after we leave which will dictate how far we get on the first leg of the trip), organising immunisations for Bonnie who has not needed them before by virtue of living here with no contact with other dogs. Planning things like mail redirection, emergency contacts and so on.

I have a masterplan for all of this laid out in a notebook with provisional and last possible dates for ticking things off the list. We have contingency plans for the variables and are starting to make plans for the actual things we’ll be doing while we’re off. But that’s for the next post.


Walking Down Memory Lane

Our WWOOFing adventure was not the first ever time we had packed up ourselves and changed our life direction. In 2001 we were offered the opportunity to move from Sussex to Cheshire when Ady’s old boss set up a new business venture and offered him a job. At the time I had just gone back to work after having Davies (1 day a week in the office, 2 days from home) and we were planning a second baby fairly soon so it felt like a good time to say yes to something and somewhere new and different.

We were there for only a couple of years, during which time we had Scarlett, decided to Home Educate the children, gained loads of new skills and work experiences, settled into life in a completely different part of the UK to what we were used to and set about building a life for ourselves. We’ve been back to visit several times to catch up with friends.

We’ve just arrived back on Rum after a week off, our last trip off the island until we leave for the winter in mid November. As usual it was a multi-purpose visit. An orthodentist check up for Scarlett, collecting our new car for me (I went off the day before the others and got the train to collect the car then drove it back to meet them the following day), but the main reason was to attend a live podcast show which was one of Davies & Scarlett’s very delayed Christmas presents. The same podcast that we went to Sussex for last autumn to watch a live show of. This time when their European tour dates for 2017 came out we had already decided we would be leaving Rum for the winter but had no real idea where in the UK we might be so chose Manchester as the most central location to best suit wherever we might have ended up on the basis that we know the city well and could combine it with seeing friends too.

In the end we didn’t catch up with as many friends as we had anticipated – our dearest friends, more like family, happened to be away during our time there so our catch up with them will have to wait a while. Instead we did a lot of walking down memory lane, re-visiting the places that had meaning to us from when we lived there. I had looked at some old photos of our time in Manchester and we used them to go and take some then and now pictures and re-live the memories of those days when we took them.

This is Davies and I outside the daycare nursery he went to. He went for two short days a week for about 6 months. It was a lovely nursery, with lovely staff but he was very sad to be away from me and when Scarlett was born we took him out. It was in looking at alternatives to childcare and early years education that we stumbled upon Home Education, learned more about it and ultimately ended up deciding to follow that path for Davies and Scarlett.

Our old house. The house where Scarlett was born (home birth), where both the children took their first steps. As we pulled up we noticed a banner in the window proclaiming ‘it’s a girl’. We knocked on the door to ask if it was OK to take some pictures standing in front of the house and congratulated them – a brand new little baby girl now lives there.

Outside The Trafford Centre – where Ady and I both worked and we all spent a lot of time – a shopping mall with cinema, restaurants and more. The old pic was taken in 2003 and was the day Scarlett got her first shoes and took her first outside steps.

Inside The Trafford Centre, little Davies pretending to be part of the band. Now Davies tolerating with good humour my desire to recapture the moment.

There are various water features within the centre which used to fascinate them when they were little.

This indoor ski slope opened after we had already left Manchester but we visited it on a subsequent trip when both the children were still much smaller than me, unlike these days!

We went into the city centre on the metrolink tram, Davies had a haircut, Scarlett got some much needed new clothes and we enjoyed all the fast food, baths, TV and free wifi absolutely everywhere that the mainland has to offer.

We had arranged to bring one of Davies and Scarlett’s friends with us to the podcast show, which I went along to aswell and we had a great evening out in the city at a fabulous venue.

We ended our visit with a couple of nights staying with friends – the friend who had come with us. These have been family friends of ours for well over a decade although we have both moved around a lot. They have visited us here on Rum many times and it was lovely to catch up with them. Continuing in the spirit of the then and now picture pairs we found a snap from a visit to the, back in 2006 and took a new one.

In classic Rum fashion the ferry back home today was on high alert risk of cancellation or disruption as it’s very windy here. We did manage to get home albeit on a rather rough crossing and after much trudging up and down the hill with luggage and shopping (Ady) and putting it all away (me) we are settled back in with the logburner lit, the cat and dog delighted to have us home and a rapidly decreasing number of days left before we head off for a much longer spell.