Sorry to bring it up….

But I’ve heard people talking about Christmas.

I know, you probably have too, in fact I suspect if you have been anywhere near a supermarket, high street, social media, a TV with adverts or a newspaper you have been hearing about it for weeks already.

For a long while now Christmas for us has been far more about the experience of the day than about the gifts. Living here means there is no such thing as ‘last minute’ shopping, in fact a few years ago the ferry was cancelled due to bad weather all over Christmas and several gifts arrived after the day had been and gone. Decorations are home made, food is home produced where possible and gifts are about the giving as much as the receiving.

It’s a style of celebrating that I am seeing and hearing more and more people adopt and with very good reason. January can bring blues related to far more than just the weather when it is also the results of excess spending, eating or drinking coming back to haunt you with tight waistbands and scary credit card bills. In the same way as we are all aware of the reduce, reuse, recycle mantra of reducing our waste we are all starting to apply the same thinking to our spending and consuming. Creative and thoughtful gifts, home made, hand made for the actual recipient are so much nicer to receive. If asked what I would like as a present for many years I have requested something I can use up or consumer rather than keep – food or drink, chocolates or bubble bath (back when I had a bath!) were all perfect for me. I got to enjoy them and didn’t have to find a space for them in an already cluttered home. My favourite gifts in recent years are those that I use every day – my mug, tumbler and penknife are all things I have in my hands daily and really enjoy using.

Business in the shed has pretty much finished for this season, only very hardy tourists are visiting this time of year, egg production has finished for the year and the shed door is often closed and sometimes even braced against the rain and wind. But so many of the items we make or create or produce are perfect gifts and we can post them off anywhere. So if you are thinking about gift giving this year and will be buying from somewhere please do think about supporting a small business, an artist, crafter or maker as you’ll be giving a gift not only to the recipient of that item but also to the person who made it and you are giving your custom and support to as well.

We have consumable artisan jams made with brambles foraged from our gorgeous wee island and combined with ingredients we have grown here ourselves too where possible – bramble and chilli jam is amazing with cold meats or cheeses (or for hard core chilli lovers on their breakfast toast!), bramble and lavender jam has the taste of late summer captured in every jar. Other flavours include bramble and rose, rum, violet, cinnamon, vanilla, ginger or the very festive mulled spice.

Useful items include cost hats and scarves inspired by the colours of Rum from rainbows to autumn hues, spring colours to the northern lights.

My free form crochet items include bags, notebook or diary covers and drawstring pouches which can be used as glasses or sunglasses cases or holders for your phone or MP3 player.

Our slate signs or clocks can be personalised with a slogan or name of your choice.

Paracord survival wristbands are perfect for adventures young and old

Or if you really are after ornamental not useful then our cuddly midges, highland cattle or eagles are winning. Santa hats or other accessories can be added (I’ve made bagpipes, a tam o shanter and a kilt in the past!). I can change the colour or indeed give you a quote for a different creature of your choice. I also make crochet flowers for the everlasting, doesn’t need watering bouquet!

 

Returning to Rum

It’s now over seven months since we returned to Rum after our winter off. We’ve seen the end of winter, spring, summer and the start of autumn. Davies has turned 18, Scarlett will soon be 16. With that changing dynamic and with all we learned while we were away, what bought us back and what has happened since, we have been talking about what happens next.

Our next stage plans are still being tossed about between the four of us, there are various factors which will influence what happens next and we’re not quite ready to share them with the world yet but part of those conversations have been pondering on how it has been to come back. So in our usual style we’ve compiled a list of what has been bad, what has been good and what we have learned about coming back to Rum back in March after a prolonged period away.

Ady:

Bad:

  • It’s felt a bit like starting again with the animals. It was a really harsh winter and we lost some of the livestock having already run down our numbers anyway.
  • It was a hard lesson to learn about leaving the caravan empty for a prolonged time. The damp and mould we had to deal with upon our return and the rats getting in was a rubbish home-coming.
  • Resident numbers on Rum are very low and the people who are here are all busy with their lives. The feeling of being a part of a community seems lacking since we’ve been back. There have been no ceilidhs, events or parties this year which is a shame.
  • I’ve come to feel that we may have exhausted every sensible feasible opportunity here. Unless we spend disproportionate amounts of time, money or energy it feels that we have come to the end of what we are able to achieve here.
  • I injured my knee a few months ago. It was a minor accident due mostly to the daily activities of our life. It’s been ridiculously difficult to get proper medical diagnosis and treatment due to where we live, harder to rest and recuperate it due to our lifestyle and frustrating to feel limited by it.

Good:

  • Our return to Rum felt like a real proper home coming. A friend who had looked after our croft animals was so welcoming, we were offered space in the bunkhouse to help while we got the caravan straight, it was amazing to catch up with everyone again.
  • I struggled a little with feeling productive while we were off, particularly in Ireland. The buzz of getting stuff working and winning at things again was really rewarding.
  • It’s been amazing to feel the freedom that we enjoy in our lives here again. Working for someone else, following rules which often don’t make much sense were all difficult things to readjust to back on the mainland / in Ireland. It’s been lovely to enjoy doing what I want, when I want again.
  • I missed having my stuff around me. My tools, my speaker, my own bed.
  • It was good to see Rum friends again. It felt like coming back home to my family.

Learned:

  • That there is a widely held perception from some of the residents here that we are somehow separate to the rest of the village or community.
  • My knee is severely limiting what I can do. I hope it will improve but the reality is that my age combined with my lifestyle means even if this recovers it is only really a matter of time before the next physical or health related challenge presents itself.
  • We had gotten used to a really quite poor standard of living in many respects and make regular allowances for it. Most of the time we are aware of the trade off for this being the things I’ve listed above as good but there are times when the contrast feels huge.
  • If you pen the birds you get all the eggs!

Scarlett

Bad: 

  • It is so much harder to see friends or family or to do the things I’d like to do when we are here on Rum.
  • Losing the animals we did while we were off. Friends looked after the croft creatures really well and we would probably have lost animals over that harsh winter anyway but not knowing what happened to some of them was tough.

Good:

  • Coming back to Rum felt like coming home in a way that none of the other places I’ve gone back to has.
  • I think we had gotten quite set in our ways before and going off then coming back meant we realised there are other options.
  • I missed my things and it was good to be back in my space with my things around me.
  • It was really good to see Bonnie and Kira back in their home. They seemed OK while we were off but seeing how much they love their lives here has been good.

Learned:

  • Being on the mainland was lovely, there are so many things to do, so many distractions. I’ve looked around lots of the places we stayed over the winter or have visited since we’ve been back to Rum and all of them are nice to visit but not places I would like to live. I feel connected to Rum and it feels peaceful rather than frantic, not too busy or making me feel like I need to always be making the most of everything all the time.
  • I think I learned from the winter off and coming back to Rum that you need to try new things. You can’t hear about them and make a decision based on that, you need to experience and live things yourself.

Davies:

Bad:

  • It’s nothing new but having a smaller space and lack of privacy from living in a caravan. It’s not a huge deal but would make the list of things about this life which are not great.
  • We have made efforts to improve how much power we have and I mostly have internet all the time but we are still limited for power for things like gaming or being online whenever I want.
  • Although we have been off island more there is still no one my age or even close in age living here which is bad.

Good:

  •  Coming back and everything still being the same. Rum is our space, we designed it and made it ours. It’s reassuring to know it is ours and it will always be here waiting for us. Going off and coming back showed us that.
  • Mummy & Daddy are around more here on Rum than when we were on the mainland and they were working.

Learned:

  • I really enjoy travelling and getting different experiences. I like getting to know new places and doing new and different stuff. I already knew that but coming back to Rum has really reinforced it for me.
  • I feel a combination of being off and then coming back has enabled me to start thinking about what I really want. It’s given me ideas to contrast with each other.

Nic:

Bad:

  • The initial return to Rum was very full on with massive highs and crashing lows. Dealing with the rats, the mould, the frozen water was all a pretty hard core home coming.
  • Being off and having such easy access to social opportunities has thrown into sharp relief what we miss here on Rum. I can live without many of the modern conveniences we don’t have in our life here but being able to meet up with friends, find a reading group / choir / ukulele band were all things I knew I was missing and coming back has made me almost grieve for them anew.
  • There feels to be a lot of unresolved issues within the community just now. I’ve lived here long enough to know things will blow over and stabilise again but the months since we returned to Rum have so far been some of the most unsettled in all of our time here.
  • We went off for the winter on a researching adventure to see what else might be out there for us. We came back because we felt there was nothing better than what we had here but the reason we left in the first place was because we all felt we were lacking something, missing a challenge or the feeling of moving forward. Once our initial challenges of settling back in had been met we have not really found any new challenges here.

Good:

  • I missed a huge amount of things about Rum. Last summer and autumn before we went off I was carrying a lot of sentimentality around with me thinking it might be the last time I did certain things – attended a Small Isles games, picked brambles, watched the seasons change, heard the stags start to roar. It’s been lovely to be here again seeing, doing and watching them all once more.
  • I missed my friends here. I missed the easiness of feeling you belong somewhere. I am not a fan of the anonymity of a big town or city, of walking past people avoiding eye contact in case they think you are weird, or worrying about whether they are weird. I can’t think of any other creature that passes another creature and pretends the other doesn’t exist like humans do – even dogs sniff each others bums! Here on Rum you never walk past anyone without exchanging a word or two even if you are strangers, that feels so much more natural to me. A step further is knowing who people are, even if I just know they don’t live here, and people knowing who I am.
  • The others have already said similar – I missed that sense of home. That is both my belongings, many of which we left here and that feeling of roots. I know it is not only on Rum where I am likely to feel that, it is anywhere which is my permanent address but what we have created on Rum is entirely our own and I am never likely to experience that again anywhere else.
  • Almost in balance to my previous ‘bad’ I think that returning and taking stock this year has been good. We have not done nothing but we have not made any great leaps forward or tried anything new. It has been a season of considering and measuring where we are while pondering about where we could be.

Learned:

  • In coming back to Rum after a prolonged period off I think we have learned how to leave and how to come back. We have learned the ways in which is is possible to spend time away from the island and the ways in which you need to adjust to return. We have had quite a lot of time away for short and long trips and I think we have come a long way into working out what balance suits us for the next phase of our lives.
  • That maybe we don’t need to take quite so much rough to get the smooth. That the bits of this life that we adore and cherish maybe don’t need to come at quite such a high price.
  • That this definitely is not enough any more. It was, it has been, now it’s not.

 

Use Your Power

I have always had a quick temper – whether it is really because of my hair colour or whether I developed it as a self fulfilling prophesy because people treated me as though they expected me to have a quick temper is a whole other debate for another day but I definitely have a low flash point. I’ve certainly mellowed as I’ve gotten older and tend to save my energy for fights that are worth it – I am more considered and better at choosing my battles these days. I rarely hold a grudge, I often regret losing my temper and always, always endeavour to put right any wrongs I have caused as a result of acting in anger. I should state that I am not and have never been physically violent. My weapons are my words, but as we all know despite chanting ‘stick and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ we can all recall words which have wounded probably with more remembered pain and clarity than any bruises over the years.

A little brother, a long life partnership with Ady, a career of working with customers and colleagues, bumbling through life for 44 years and (possibly most instrumental in teaching me a thing or two) motherhood have taught me patience, tolerance, skills in biting my tongue, in keeping my counsel and finding better ways to deal with the things which may have previously had me entering the spectrum of emotions from mildly irritated to incandescent with white hot rage.

Some things still push my buttons though and I feel the physical twinges in the style of the Incredible Hulk. I have been told my face changes and my voice alters, I feel a flush hitting my cheeks, I know my eyes are flashing. I feel icily calm even though I know I am actually quite the opposite of calm. The thing is though, like so many human reflexes there is a point to anger, to that adrenaline rush and the fight or flight response it is preparing you for. I feel taller, stronger, more lucid, more able to command attention and feel heard. It is my anger, my feeling riled that tells me something is worth my energy and gives me that additional energy rush in order to use up the extra required.

We all have our own causes that we would champion, things which we would march for, protest against, issues which we are passionate about, care about, are affected by. Some are those which directly challenge us or or those we care about, things that threaten our own way of life or those we love, some are those which we feel empathy for or can see how they might have an impact on us either in the future or in a hypothetical way. Some issues provoke a feeling of needing to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Fights for the rights of children, of animals, of women, of the oppressed, the needy, the helpless, the worthy, for all.

The feeling of powerlessness, of hopelessness, of having no rights, no choices is one we have all experienced at some point, in some capacity. It can have various effects on us – it can make us shrink and shrivel, feel submissive and without options. Or it can make us feel a stirring, of anger, of rage and able to unleash our power. The form of that power can alter from person to person, from situation to situation but it may be physical power; strength to fight, to run, to march, to overthrow. It may take the form of a creative energy – to shout, to draw, to paint, to write, to sing. It may be personal and individual, it may be collective and create a protest, a petition, a social movement.

Daily something will spark in me, in most of us I imagine. It may be a brief flash which we either swallow or deal with by uttering a swear word or slamming a door. It may build or fester, it may go away or it may keep getting bigger and building. Earlier this week Scarlett was angered, as so many people in the UK have been by watching the Drowing in Plastic documentary. We talked about what to do with that anger – what power she might have to use, ways in which she could use the energy that her anger had created to do something about what was making her angry. Short term things like picking up plastic when she walked along a beach, looking at every bit of her own plastic use to ensure it was as minimal as possible. Mid term things like petitions or writing or speaking to her MP, to the shops who stock items she may buy about why they are using plastic, making use of social media to spread the word, longer term aims like considering a future where she continues to use her power. Over the years we have met all sorts of activists using their power in various ways – people who work for Greenpeace, journalists, film makers, TV and radio presenters, politicians…. all inspiring people who find the way in which to use the power they have to make a difference.

Today Ady used his power – I had been emailing back and forth with the customer services department of the company who make our pressure cooker which had developed a fault. I was getting nowhere so Ady phoned them and used his power of reasonable, friendly, rational speaking, appealing to the better nature and common sense of the person on the end of the phone to sort out the problem and get a replacement spare in the post for him to fix it.

I have a few various things testing my patience and calm just now, some are big, some are small. Some I will probably let go, others I know are worth the fight. They are injustices, not fair, not OK, not something I can let rest and move on from. Rage can feel like such an impotent emotion, able only to wreak destruction or damage to oneself, but properly channelled anger is power, power to spur you on find the best way to fight and set right the wrongs. In the past I have used my power to complain, to raise awareness, to speak to my MP, to report wrongs, to march with banners, to speak to the media, to write blogs and articles. I have used it to spread the word and inform others, I have used it to join with people and add my might to a collective.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead

Sometimes that group only needs be as big as you and your own power.

Intense Mainland Experience

What a week!

Here on Rum we are noticing the onset of autumn. The days are shortening at the beginning and end by several minutes daily. The temperature has dropped and we have the woodburner lit morning and evening now, often through the day aswell if we are indoors because it is wet outside. We have our heavy winter duvet and brushed cotton bedding on the bed and the window vacuum is working overtime on all the condensation on the windows.

It’s a peaceful, mellow, nature-driven transition from one season to the next. Definitely one of the aspects of our life here that I love the most – how we adjust our daily rhythm along with nature and naturally seem to sleep for longer in the mornings, turn toward indoor activities and slow down a little along with the outside world.

But this time last week Davies and I were preparing for a micro-mainland adventure as we went all the way from Rum to Worthing, Sussex. My parents have very generously gifted us a car and so we went to collect it from them and drive it back up to Rum. After lots of research we decided the best way to get down to Sussex was by a bus / coach, with ferry and train journey either side. We did manage to catch a lift on the charter boat taking some contractors who are currently working on Rum back to the mainland, so our trip began with a slightly bumpy but fast ride back to Mallaig. Cup of tea and chocolate biscuit complementary!

We then had an hour or so to wait for the train taking us from Mallaig to Fort William. We had originally planned to come off Rum the following day when the five hour ferry, followed by the 90 minute train journey would get us there in time to catch an evening bus, thus saving on any overnight accommodation but the weather was looking bad and the ferry was on high alert for disruption so we chose to come off earlier and spent the night in Fort William.

We had an ill fated fast food meal (which was neither fast not quite what we had ordered but as we’d already taken it back to our hotel room neither of us could face going back out to take it back so we ate what we were given!), watched some hotel telly and had a restless night with the anxiety of a full day of travelling ahead and the worry of oversleeping and missing our bus keeping us awake.

Which meant that at 630am we were already waiting at the bus stop when the bus arrived. Neither Davies or I are particularly morning-y people but the promise of an air conditioned, wifi enabled comfy bus trip had us feeling at least it would be a restful, if lengthy day ahead.

It was a bad start when the driver informed me I was not allowed to bring my (very securely lidded) mug of hot tea on board. I’d not actually had any of my tea yet so I got Davies to pour it away for me, I think I would have cried to do it myself… The first leg of the trip from Fort William to Glasgow was otherwise uneventful though with the sunrise drive through Glen Coe particularly lovely.

And then at Glasgow, having queued for a good 15 minutes, there was tea! Lovely tea. Davies had another ill fated food experience of a bacon roll which had been buttered, it would not even have occurred to me to ask for it not to have been and neither of us could face the queue again, or the queue-jumping implications to take it back. Instead we gratefully drank our hot drinks and made our way to the next bus for the onward journey.

This was the longest leg of the trip – 11am start, 930pm intended arrival. Our fellow passengers appeared largely nice enough although the man who sat directly in front of us did spend his entire time on board sniffing very loudly and clearing his throat noisily, which was not charming the first time and was very grating indeed four hours in to the trip. The couple across the aisle from us had adhered to the no hot drinks rule but had bought a particularly rich selection of picnic food which was all very smelly. This turned out to be the least of their anti social behaviour though. Over the course of the trip various passengers got on and off the bus, in fact i think it was just Davies and I and the smelly picnic couple who were on the bus for the duration. We had people behind and in front  of us at various points who snored loudly, had very loud conversations on their phones, listened to music on headphones that were at loud enough volume for us to hear every song lyric, got off the bus at various stops to have a cigarette but in fear of the bus going without them stood on the steps keeping the door open while smoking so that all of the smoke blew back into the bus and were then abusive to the driver who asked them not to do that. We had an unplanned detour to collect some people from a city stop along the way who had been stranded by a cancelled bus and when this was announced over the tannoy the smelly picnic couple, who had been getting increasingly louder and more foul mouthed as the trip continued expressed their dissatisfaction with this very vocally to the driver, first by shouting down the bus, then by going to the front and haranguing the driver (while was driving a bus full of people at about 70mph on a motorway) and then by shouting some more and exchanging insults and swear words with the driver who delivered his side of the argument over the loud speaker for the whole bus to enjoy.

Meanwhile the toilet had become blocked about half way into the journey, meaning the aroma of the collected bodily fluids of a bus full of people during a 10 hour trip were competing with the smell of spicy picnic food still lingering in the air, along with stale cigarette smoke. Just before we arrived in London a rather irate young woman used the toilet, managed to get some of the contents on her clothing and shared her dissatisfaction with this by addressing the entire bus with a torrent of abuse. It would seem churlish to mention that the plug points didn’t work on our seats or any of the seats around us after all of this drama, but they didn’t.

Arriving at Victoria, walking to the train station, collecting our train tickets, waiting for and then boarding the train for the final 90 minutes of our trip felt like freedom and relief – emotions  I honestly wouldn’t have expected to be experiencing at 1030pm on a Saturday night, some 15 hours after leaving Fort William. But the high spirited middle aged drunk men sharing our carriage and the giggly hen party sat across from us felt like safe old friends in comparison to our bus companions.

And then my parents collected us from the station and took us back to their house for food and drink and a comfortable bed and the bus adventures went from an unpleasant experience to a never to be repeated but funny in the re-telling story. The conclusion definitely being Never Again.

It was a brief visit of just a couple of nights with Mum & Dad. Long enough to snatch a quick meet up with friends,

a shopping trip to buy a proper winter coat for Davies, a lovely meal out with Mum & Dad,

A supermarket shop for Davies and I where we got to play with the latest technology in scanning your own trolley as you put the shopping in (we live in the future!),

and a catch up with my brother and nephew. Then it was back up the country again. This time under our own steam in the lovely new car. A rather more relaxing experience, definitely quicker and with no swearing at all (not even me – all fellow road users were on best behaviour!). We stopped just three times – once for a wee, once for some food and petrol and once for a final whizz round the supermarkets of Fort William for fresh food before ending our day parked in Mallaig overlooking Rum.

This time we hit Glen Coe at sunset. I don’t remember the last time I went through that area outside of crepuscular times!

We managed a few hours sleep in the car, having packed pillows and blankets for just that purpose before boarding the ferry home.

The final, final leg of the trip was wheelbarrows back up to the croft with the shopping we’d bought back.

While we were off it felt like we’d been away for ages. Within a few hours of being back it felt as though we’d never been away. The mainland often feels a bit like Bagpuss to me, I can’t quite believe it’s all still there being as busy and filled with life and people and chaos when I’m not looking at it. In my head it all slows down as the ferry pulls away back to Rum and by the time I step off the boat it has all stopped behind me until the next time I come back.

Sitting on a bus with as many people as live on Rum, in a coffee shop or restaurant hearing snippets of all those conversations and lives being lived around me, feeling the tension of the busyness of people’s lives and how easy it is to lose your temper, to behave badly and how that can impact so heavily on those around you even if you have not noticed them or even been aware they are there. Also experiencing the joy of friendship, of families, of the stopping and chatting, sharing a smile or a laugh with someone and how it can lift both of your days even if just for a fleeting moment. That bus trip was people at their worst – frustrated, uncomfortable, inconvenienced, tired or hungry, caffeine or nicotine or alcohol deprived, people who were late for something or otherwise pressured, people who were tired or trying to shut the rest of the world out – none of us behave at our best in that environment. A few years ago I was one of those people, I know I have behaved badly in similar circumstances, lashing out at strangers with rudeness or aggression or selfish acts or just being thoughtless and unaware of who was around me and what impact my actions may have on them. Life in a small community, living in such close quarters with my little family has certainly taught me a lot about how we behave and how it affects those around us, this trip offered a lot to think about. And some ideal fodder for Davies’ studies in social science!