Thursday March 1st heralds the meteorological start of spring 2018. It also heralds our return to Rum, the end of our winter adventure off the island.
Or at least it should do, assuming all of our planned elements of the epic journey back there fall into place. Between now and then much lies ahead with much potential for veering off the path. There are two ferry trips, hours of driving and hundreds of miles of car travel in an aged vehicle packed with people, animals and ‘stuff’. So uncertainty and no guarantees but a plan at least.
Once we get there further uncertainty lies ahead – how will the caravan and croft have fared in our absence? How will we feel once we are back? Will we have come home or will it feel like somewhere we have already left behind and used to live but don’t any more? It’s a whole load of questions and a whole load of emotions just now. Hopefully the answers will reveal themselves to us over the coming weeks and months. We have some idea of what we think we want to do next but there is a lot more talking, planning and working things out before we hatch a plan for that.
For now though, the coming few days will be action packed, hopefully smooth and without too much adventure and as the chapter of our winter off draws to a close and spring arrives we’ve been reflecting on what the last three and a half months have taught us.
* A feeling of purposelessness. In Glastonbury I knew what I was doing things for but for much of the rest of the time we’ve been off I have felt at a loose end and without a plan.
* The distractions of the mainland and Ireland have meant that I have felt we have not been as much of a close family unit.
* The expense of the last few months. We have spent a lot of money, some of which has been on things which we could have provided ourselves on Rum – eg heating when on Rum we can cut down our own firewood, or power when on Rum we have wind turbine and solar energy for free.
* It’s been quite lonely in Ireland as we know no one.
* I have fretted a lot about the car, not having a reliable vehicle plays on my mind.
* All the mod cons. It’s been a nice break not dealing with emptying the toilet, getting gas bottles or jerry cans of fuel up the hill. Flicking switches and flushing levers without worrying about how things are getting to me or where they are going is quite the novelty!
* I’ve enjoyed the retail therapy on the mainland and here in Ireland.
* Christmas was exactly as I had hoped it would be with family.
* I really enjoyed feeling part of things in Glastonbury. It reminded me of happy times being part of a work team and the good bits of my old mainland life being part of things like opening the farm shop and going to the staff Christmas party.
* In bad weather – and we have experienced some, particularly in Ireland – it’s been nice to be in a house unaffected by it.
* I already knew but spending time at Glastonbury with a very ordered regime of animal husbandry bought home to me how inefficient we were towards the end on Rum. Rigid control of livestock numbers, planned breeds and strict feeding is essential to make sure you are not just running an animal sanctuary.
* Cooking on a range or in a clay oven is a whole new experience.
* I had not appreciated just how much of a border and difference there is between Ireland and the UK. Having lived in Scotland for the last 6 years as an English person I was aware of divides but I’ve always really thought of Ireland as part of the UK and getting to grips with the different currency, road speeds and even things like not getting BBC radio has been a learning curve.
* I have learnt that Rum could actually be a long term prospect for us but that our current living conditions in the caravan, particularly over winters are not forever and that if we are going to make Rum work for us we need to find a way to work that out.
* I have realised that for all the down sides of island life and the frustrations of island politics I really missed Rum and our life there. I understand how valuable being part of a community is and how much that means to me.
* The water tastes horrible everywhere. I miss our Rum river water.
* I really missed Rum.
* Bonnie and Kira really didn’t enjoy most of the time off this winter.
* We have had loads of car travel which I really don’t like.
* The ferry travel to Ireland was a really long and miserable experience.
* Spending time with friends and family.
* I’ve enjoyed the access to fast food.
* The unrestricted internet and power. (not entirely unrestricted internet here in Ireland)
* Bristol zoo for my birthday was a real highlight.
* Horse riding at Glastonbury was really good.
* I like sushi! I’ve never had it before and I really like it.
* I learnt lots of facts about the Titanic.
* How to play draughts.
* I learnt quite a lot of family history and stories from spending time with my granddad over Christmas, hearing about his childhood and stories about his parents.
* I’ve had quite a bit of independence while we’ve been off and learned about doing stuff on my own on the mainland.
* I anticipated unlimited internet but we have not had that here in Ireland.
* The house here in Mayo is pretty remote – it’s not walking distance to anywhere so I can’t just go into town.
* I don’t think I had as many opportunities to socialise as I would have liked.
* I have had time spent doing things like walks or going round shops which are boring and pretty pointless.
* I’ve had two colds while I’ve been off. The second one particularly was really nasty and I felt rubbish for ages.
* It was good to spend time with family and friends.
* I’ve had more time online than I get on Rum.
* I’ve improved my drawing as I’ve spent quite a bit of time doing it.
* I got an X box and a TV and enjoyed time spent playing games or watching stuff.
* I’ve enjoyed the family draughts tournament.
* Going back to Sussex and Glastonbury as an older person and seeing what has changed and what has stayed the same.
* I’ve had a lot of chance to watch and downloads stuff and have really learned what I like in terms of genre, plots and types of shows. It’s felt like research for my own stories and ideas for making videos too.
* I’ve learnt about different friendships and how some endure and some do not.
* It’s been really interesting watching a much bigger society or community in action and seeing how people operate and social etiquette when people are strangers.
* The travelling. The car journeys have been long, uncomfortable and a bit fraught at times worrying about whether the car will make it. I love the UK and enjoy exploring it but sitting on motorways in traffic jams in a cramped car for hours and hours has felt like a real endurance test. Our ferry trip here to Ireland was overnight with no chance of seeing any wildlife and with a long and tedious day spent in the car before as we waited for the ferry to run and a long and anxious drive afterwards with no sleep.
* I have felt really guilty at times about Kira and Bonnie. On balance I know that they have been happier to be with us than to have been left behind on Rum but the travelling, the keeping them contained after their usual endless freedom and the times when they have had to put up with intrusions into their space. The four of us have made choices which have led us to our decisions and have been able to talk about, rationalise and balance out the highs and lows. The cat and dog have had no such luxury.
* The famine or feast quality to our time off. We have either had full on socialising or weeks of seeing nobody. It would have been good to have been able to spread it out more.
* The disconnect with the outside world and the unhealthier lifestyle we have led. We have all eaten more junk, sat around a whole lot more and not used our bodies as we usually do. There has been driving instead of walking, processed food instead of cooking from scratch, sitting and reading rather than carrying things up the hill or being out chopping firewood. 3 months is not that long and I am confident that a few months hard slog back on the croft will sort that out but I definitely feel pretty slothful after a winter off.
* We spent a winter off Rum. All of the challenging bits of caravan / island life that make December, January and February really long, difficult weeks and months to get through have gone. Usually I feel as though we stagger out of the winter desperate for the spring but exhausted from the effort of surviving the harshest time of year.
* It was so lovely to spend time with friends, many of whom we have not seen for several years. It was lovely to have friends and family to visit us without having to make the epic trip to Rum and to do things like meeting someone for lunch, going out for dinner or having tea and cake in a cafe.
* I am definitely an adventurer at heart and it’s been really fun to be able to head off on jaunts and day trips, make snap decisions about what to do next and be a bit reckless. After five years of pretty much staying in one place it has been wonderful to add a whole list of new experiences, memories and photos of things we have done.
* It’s been really heartening to watch Davies and Scarlett enjoy the winter off, slot in at times while remaining true to themselves as individuals and be able to translate the independence and capability they both have as young adults on Rum with all that entails to being able young people in other settings. As a Home Educating parent, with children who moved from a fairly conventional life aged 7 and 9 to travel and then live on a remote island I have wondered quite what it would mean as and when they wanted or needed to step back into a more mainstream life. While they are still undeniably them with their own ways I can see that their unusual childhood has not done them some dreadful disservice.
* I honestly felt that having lived a conventional life and then very deliberately having chosen to live an alternative one meant I knew the differences between the two options and how they compared. But there were things I hankered after or missed from our old lives and this winter was an opportunity to have them back. I am very specifically thinking about things like the washing machine or bath, access to shops and other resources, proximity to family and friends. I thought that I had done my fill of spending a half day totted up each week walking up and down to the village to collect things from the freezer, of spending a day a week processing laundry. Sure enough the novelty of daily baths, bunging a load of laundry on and pressing the button before I went to bed and waking up to a clean load, then popping across to the tumble drier and pressing another button for dry clothes if the weather was not suitable for outdoor drying were great. But at a price! I realised that the reality of laundry is that it *does* cost you a day a week regardless of your life. It can either cost you a day a week in processing it, walking up and down the croft, waiting around for it to be done, hanging it out and hoping for dry weather or it can cost you a day of working to earn enough money to buy a washing machine and pay to live in a property with power and water with the associated bills to cover those costs and a space for a washing machine indoors and maybe a tumble drier too. These are known as modern conveniences for a reason and often they are not actually saving us time, rather robbing us of it. I was reminded anew, or maybe re-educated about the choices I had made, why I had made them and spent a lot of time considering whether those were still my favoured choices or if I wanted to change the deal.
*I learned what I missed about Rum – the view, the freedom, the people. It’s funny that these were the very things which led us to choose our life on Rum – somewhere beautiful, somewhere with a sense of community and somewhere we can have freedom to spend our time the way we choose. It’s been really healthy to have those desires tested and see if they are still of prime importance to me. And they are.
*I’ve learned how much I have changed. Spending time with family and friends, sitting back in the scenes of my old life was like being taken back by one of Dickens’ ghosts of Nicola’s past. In just the last couple of weeks on Ireland we visited a place we had been to 14 years previously and I was so taken with the landscape I bored the other three taking photos and commenting on it. I couldn’t believe that we had driven that exact route years before and I had no recollection of how remarkable it was. It made me realise how much having children, Home Educating and the life choices we have made in the last decade have changed and shaped me and opened my eyes to the world around me.
*I’ve learned some new skills, some new approaches to things and had some new ideas about various things from business ideas, craft projects, ideas for the croft. We’ve spent many hours talking this winter in various combinations of the four of us. Talking about next life steps for Davies and Scarlett, about next life steps for Ady and I. About ambitions and aspirations – both solo and collective. I guess these are not really learned until they have been fully formed and put into practise but it has felt like a period of real exploration and consideration.
So, some duplication in things we’ve considered good or bad or learned, some bits some of us found highlights while others found challenging. We left Rum behind for the winter to avoid the worst time of year there, to have a really good catch up with beloved and much missed family and friends and to get some perspective away from our life to reflect on what we wanted to do next. We definitely achieved all of those objectives and we’re looking forward to seeing what impact the ripples moving out from the last few months will be. Stick with us, I suspect there will be more of the same to come.