Six months in…

It will six month tomorrow since we arrived here at this house for our next chapter in our lives. I’ve been quieter on this blog although from my perspective it’s been one of the greatest periods of change in my adult life. Our move to Rum was the culmination of a year of dreaming and planning, followed by a year of travelling and working out what we wanted. In contrast this move felt more of a leap into the unknown akin with new parenting or leaving home for the first time.

It was not planned, we did not know the area, had no real idea of what our day to day lives would look like and we didn’t have to create a business plan, submit an application form or sit an interview to qualify for it. We knew what we wanted in terms of a house, in general terms of location and this felt like the best fit we’d come across yet so we went for it.

I know that does not necessarily make for such interesting reading because we are returning to the known and familiar for most of our readers. Back to the mainstream and the conventional in many ways, departing from the extraordinary, the remarkable and the TV show-worthy.

But for us this is new. Lots of it is not necessarily what I am happy to share with a wider audience – parenting through the fledgling years, the spreading of wings and working out next steps. These are now no longer my stories to tell. In the same way as we did not always tell every single aspect of our WWOOF hosts or the minute details of life on Rum life here and the type of work and small community we have joined means it is not appropriate to comment on every aspect of life here in such a public forum.

However, in the same way as this blog began as an account of a period of change and a break from the norm this next phase is much the same. It’s about readjustment and starting from scratch to work out what is important, what is essential, what is desirable and what our priorities are.

So here we are, summing up those first six months into our new life here. The highs, the lows, the learnings. And we have added in a line each about what we’d like the next six months to bring, where we would like to be after a whole year into this next chapter.

Ady:
Bad:

* We are not fully in the loop of all that is happening just now on Rum but we are aware that there is some turmoil and changes. It is frustrating not being fully part of it, not having a say any more and knowing that some of the things we helped to build are not going so well just now.
* The internet here is poor. It is very slow and not really up to the demands of four people with various devices. We need it for study, for work and for leisure and it is often simply too slow to meet those needs.

Good:
* For the first time instead of dreading it I am actually looking forward to the winter.
* I enjoy my job. I like learning new skills and working with people. The hours (I work evenings) are not great but it does mean no early starts and I still have all day to myself.
* Now we are settled here and planning on staying long term we are starting to make the house our home. We have been furnishing it and getting things like lights. We are also looking for a sofa. We are buying from re-use centres or charity shops to avoid buying new things but it is nice to start making the place feel like our own.
* I have loved having lots of people to stay and am looking forward to having lots more. It is not the worry it used to be on Rum about running out batteries or filling up the loo, we can just relax and enjoy being hosts.
*I have gotten some of my tools over from Rum and am enjoying feeling practical again like I used to in that life. I have fixed a wobby loo seat, am planning to put some tiles up around the bath and re-seal it and it’s good to feel useful like that again.

Learnt:
* I have learned loads from my work at the tearoom, about prepping food, cooking food, waiting tables. I’ve learned a bit about the politics and differences in types of catering kitchens.
* I’ve learned how close Glasgow is! From all our trips to the airport in August and a few deviations off to shopping centres I have realised that getting to the airport here takes not much longer than it would have done to get to Heathrow from our Sussex home, or into a big city for an Ikea trip. Suddenly we don’t feel so remote.
* From the Strontian show we got a real taste of the local community here and how it feels close knit and friendly.
* That it really is possible to find the right balance between how much you work, what you do and what you need to earn.

In six months time.I would like to have a more stable job – with regular hours and term and conditions / a contract. I would also like us to have a second mode of transport and a TV.


Scarlett:
Bad:

* I have only been back to Rum once and still have lots of my stuff there that I would like to get over here.
* I have not done the beach cleans that I used to do so regularly on Rum as it’s too far to head down. I am managing to do it but nowhere near as often as on Rum when I did it most days.
* My room is on the north side of the house and is a bit dark. If I want to do art in there I need to have a light on.
* The internet is very slow here and is often completely unusable.
* I had really hoped to make selling cupcakes a business and that looks like it might not be quite so easy to set up as I wanted because of the private water supply here.

Good:
* I am really enjoying wild swimming in the loch with Mummy.
* It’s been nice having guests here. We were able to collect people from the airport and have lots of people here to stay.
* Winning first prize for my cupcakes at the Strontian show. Also selling my cakes on our stall there.
* Going to the cinema week at the Sunart centre. It was really fun seeing four films in five days.
* It was cool to see a fox (even though it had caught two of our chickens!).
* I’ve really noticed how much Bonnie has slowed down and aged and life here is so much easier for her so it’s nice that she gets to retire in comfort here.

Learnt:
* I’ve learnt loads from the Marine ID surveys we’ve done and really enjoyed those.
* I have learned lots about swimming, particularly in open water from having some lessons with Mummy with a swimming coach.
* Our visit to the local sand mines taught me a lot about how mines work.
* In the six months we’ve been here we have seen about four or five road traffic accidents, all of which have had a big impact on traffic and holding people up. It has made me realise that people are not stupid but are so used to being told what to do that they struggle when they have to think for themselves. They either wait for the police to direct traffic or someone else to take charge. Back on Rum we were used to using common sense and making decisions for ourselves.

In six months…. I would like to have set up a small business selling my cupcakes. I would also like to explore the possibility of volunteering or getting involved with an animal rescue charity or sanctuary.

Davies:
Bad:

* The internet is very poor. It stops me from doing much of what I would have planned to do.
* I have set up as a self employed artist and registered for universal credit. This has meant meetings and phone calls with a work coach at the job centre. I find this a bit stressful and not really very helpful. Often the coaching sessions are not relevant to what I want to do and I feel they are taking away my time and attention from my art or selling my art.
* I often blamed my lifestyle on Rum for preventing me from achieving some of the things I wanted to. Six months away has shown me that actually it is myself.

Good:
* Megan came to visit! It was easier to collect and take her to the airport living here, we had more room and privacy here than we would have done in the caravan and we were able to do more stuff like: bowling, shopping, meeting other friends, going for a meal, visiting Inverness, going for walks.
* I love the space, the freedom to do more of my own thing in a bigger room, the increased privacy, the extra bathroom of the house.
* There are increased opportunities here than on Rum for social, educational, voluntary things. I am not necessarily making the most of all of them yet but at least things I don’t do here are because I am choosing not to rather than because I simply don’t have that option.
* The cinema. In six months we have seen lots of films at the cinema, in Oban and at the local community centre. Cinema was one of the things I missed on Rum so it’s been good to go regularly again.

Learnt:
* I have learnt things about running a business and the ins and outs of running a small business. I have created a business plan and looked at things like cash flow.
* I have learned a lot about biology both from the Marine ID workshop and surveys but also while Megan was here we looked at lots of videos about evolution and genetics which used lots of the same terminology and theories as we’d learned on the marine courses.
*I have learned lots on the training courses for my voluntary work on the phone line. Both the actual content of the courses in areas such as suicide prevention and awareness, phone line counselling, confidentiality, protecting vulnerable people etc. But also about how training courses work as I have not been on anything like that as an adult before. I am attending another course soon on domestic violence awareness. I have also found that a lot of the course content fits in to what I have been learning in my OU course about social sciences.
* I have learned some more things about cooking such as making lasagne, cheesecake, potato gratin, pork chops in pepper sauce. There are more things I would like to learn to cook but this was a good start.
* In the last six months I have made moves towards an adult independent life. This has included setting up a business, managing my own money, living with my girlfriend for a month. Mummy and Daddy were away for a lot of August either working or actually staying away and I was responsible for the animals, the house and things like food.

In six months...I’d like to have a trip to America planned. I would like to have my business more established with an understanding of how it will develop into the future. I would like to have my next module of study well underway and the end of that block planned.

Nic:
Bad:

* An inevitable consequence of both moving away from Rum and getting busier lives, along with young adult children is that we do not spend quite so much time together as we previously did. While this is a natural move towards Davies and Scarlett becoming more independent and the next stage of our lives and we are all finding ways to ensure we still spend quality time together as it was more me who has always had one or both of my children within very close physical distance I am mourning this change a little bit.
* Life is a bit more compartmentalised. Further to what I said above back on Rum our work / life / family / leisure / hobbies were all very blurred together and it was all just ‘life’. Now I have clearer boundaries between things I do to earn money, things I do to keep the house going, time I spent with one or more of the rest of the family, ways to ensure I am staying active etc. I am working really hard to ensue that I still merge these things wherever possible but it requires more effort.
* I still have not found my social niche. I have met a fair few people that I have clicked with and some I would even start to call friends but still no one I could send a message to and have turn up an hour later with a bottle of wine for an evening.

Good:
*I will echo what all of the others have said and say how many friends and family we have had to stay over the six months here. We love having a house full of people and while we had lots of guests to stay while we were on Rum it was always harder to manage due to space restrictions in the caravan. Here we have plenty of room and have really made the most of it.
*The work we have found. I was confident that if we had just a couple of months somewhere we would be able to find opportunities to earn money and we did. I possibly have slightly too much work to feel I am doing it all justice but I am sure that over the coming months I will work out which to prioritise and find the right balance. I am really enjoying getting to know people in the community, working with local young people through the youth work and flexing my writing muscle with the freelance reporting. All of the jobs have potential to create more opportunities to suit me and it’s good to feel useful and that I am an asset to these various employers.
* I am absolutely LOVING the wild swimming. I am loving doing something with Scarlett who is a perfect buddy for it as she is adventurous, enthusiastic and super fit so she urges me on to be better myself. We have shared so many magical moments out of our depths, bobbing about in Loch Sunart looking at each other with absolute glee. We have made new friends, experienced new challenges, encouraged more people to do the same and seen a whole world beneath the surface of the loch as well as a whole new perspective of where we live.
* Seeing my family so happy and settled. There was a moment last month where Ady had just arrived home from work full of gossip and pride for having cooked for a huge number of people with sounds of chatter and laughter drifting downstairs from Davies, Scarlett and their two best friends / partners where I just felt so happy. I’ve not really had any doubts that this move was the right one for us, but seeing the other three so happy here is a real high.
* The opportunities. From being easier to get to events such as a gig, the cinema, a concert, away for a weekend, to collect or drop off a friend from the airport. A highlight which was amazing in itself but also a shining example of this was going to Edinburgh festival and seeing Tony Slattery.

Learnt:
* I’m learning new stuff in all my various jobs, as you always do in new jobs. Stuff like actual skills to do the jobs, stuff like the work place culture. It’s great to be doing contract / self employed work too so that the things which I know I would struggle with in a more conventional job are not an issue because I think learning or re-learning those would prove tricky.
* How life works here – from the ferry times to the etiquette for the single track roads, having bin-day and the opening times for the local shops. The best place to get local information or who to ask about what. All of those general, not always quantifiable things to learn about the mechanics of a life somewhere.
*That in the same way as you will always spend at least as much money as you have you will also fill up all of the time that you have. I would have anticipated having loads of free time without all of the time sucks I used to have on Rum like fetching things from the freezer every day, meeting the ferry to collect the post, spending hours each week processing laundry. But I actually seem to spend less time with nothing specific to be doing now than I did then.
* I would agree with Scarlett on learning about swimming. I have been having some lessons and have massively improved. I have not paid to learn anything for years and would previously have always thought I could teach myself something. So I have not just learned the swimming, I have also learned about learning!

In six months time… I would hope to be ending our first year in this new phase of our lives with our various jobs more settled. I would like to have some crops growing or at least seedlings planted for the season ahead and some crafty or creative pursuits happening for myself. I would like to have a more local social life established.

Do what you can, where you are.

A couple of years into our time on Rum we had a young friend come and stay with us for a month. She was a remarkable young woman who is continuing to fulfil her potential and forge her path through life making a difference and beating her wings very hard so that the world has to be affected by what she has to say. Back then she was utterly charmed by our off grid, remote, survival style lifestyle and felt that that would be her calling. We had a lot of interesting conversations her and I, with both of us teaching the other. What I could offer in age and life experience she could more than match in youthful positivity, fresh eyes and a belief that anything was possible. One of the conversations I have often thought back to with her was about making a difference in the world and the best way to do that. My advice was that you should make your changes where you were in the first instance. Make the most of where you happen to be right now. The world certainly needs big voices, big changes and leaders to gather behind in order to make those big differences. But we also need smaller voices and smaller changes too.

Our lifestyle on Rum was incredibly low impact environmentally most of the time. But it was also reliant on a lot of the infrastructure we had chosen to leave behind still being there when we needed it. For us it was about living lightly on the land, learning about self sufficiency; in food, in power, in heat and water. It was about building community and stripping back all of the twenty-first century trappings of a modern consumer lifestyle to see which bits we could live without and what compromises we were prepared to make to bring back in the bits we missed. About seeing what the true cost – environmentally, financially, spiritually, personally and in terms of our time of our lifestyles. We didn’t set out to be quite so extreme, quite so remote, quite so remarkable. Along the way we met people far more extreme than us and plenty of people doing more or less in some areas but making their own choices and controlling their own lives. We were inspired by them to really understand what was most important to us and focus on those areas. What matters to us as a family is not necessary what will matter to other people. What matters to us as individuals is not always the same as each other, what mattered to me yesterday or might matter to me tomorrow may not be what matters today. Life is like that, ever changing, ever evolving, ever learning.

Returning to the mainland is involving compromise again. It is meaning that we are once again evaluating what is more or less important to us, what we care most about, what our priorities are. There is always an ‘ideal world’ scenario in my head, offset against doing what we can, where we are. I’d love to reduce car travel (or indeed travel generally) but we live somewhere with very limited public transport and the green options of walking or cycling are tricky due to single track, very windy roads making some of the routes unsafe. So we do the best we can – for us this means working as close as possible, or indeed actually at home. It means co-ordinating work trips with other members of the family or other reasons to take the car out to minimise journeys wherever possible and trying to organise lift shares with neighbours. As and when we do need to look at a second vehicle (which as four people living in a remote area with poor public transport links we very likely will do) we will explore various options including electric vehicles, small engines etc. We make the trip into town for grocery shopping just every ten days or so and have invested in freezers to mean we can stock up on food and store it to allow for less frequent trips.
This past month has involved a lot of driving and for Scarlett and I it has also involved air travel – something both of us were uncomfortable about and had looked at alternatives to. Although we were more than prepared to take longer to arrive at our destination – Northern Ireland – the alternate mode of transport to a budget airline was a ferry and was about five or six times the financial cost (if taking our car). On this occasion we decided to save the money being spent on travel knowing that having more money to spend in other areas means we can make better choices there -e.g. more environmentally friendly purchases on food. We have agreed that subsequent trips will be planned further in advance and we will take advantage of special offers and promotions from the ferry company to allow us to choose that transport option next time though.

Mainland life has meant electricity from a large supplier again in our home instead of the solar and wind power that we used on Rum. I’ve already mentioned having a freezer and we also have a washing machine and dishwasher here. We had a washing machine on Rum – powered by petrol generator which I used once a week to do our laundry in small loads. It would have to run for a couple of hours to get through four people’s washing. I would say the automatic washing machine here is running for a similar amount of time each week. All our drying is done just the same, out on the washing line (still making use of that wind and solar power!). Dishwashers seem to be touted as the more environmentally friendly option for water and energy use.

Our hot water here is oil fuelled, clearly not the best eco-option. If we were to own a house we would look at better options for that, but we don’t, we rent so we limit hot water use. So far we are on track to use about half what the oil company told us was typical usage for our house and house-hold size so I think we’re doing OK there. The oil also fuels the heating but we have a log burner so that will be our primary heating source with just the radiator in Davies’ room on (as he feels the cold).

Mainland life is a re-entry back into consumer society in lots of ways which Rum was not. Of course consumption has negative impacts. It also has positive ones too – the choice on how to use your consumer power being one of them. Sometimes being in the system gives you a voice.

Doing what we can where we are has enabled us to re-join a more mainstream, although still fairly small community and find voluntary opportunities in areas that we are passionate about and feel we can make a difference in. It has meant we have found employment in places which are not just enjoyable for us but also make a difference to others. I am writing for the local paper and getting to cover stories about subjects that I want to raise awareness of, working with young people helping to shape their ideas and support them in finding their future paths.

I think we achieved a lot in our time on Rum – we learnt so much and were able to give Davies and Scarlett a rich, wild, adventurous and alternative end to their childhood. The ripples and impacts of that will spread way beyond our time actually living there.

We also touched the lives of other people – those who visited us on the croft – family and friends, groups of students and school children. All those who came and volunteered with us, many of whom I am still in touch with and went on to change their lives in larger or smaller ways as a result of the time they spent with us. People who read this blog, who watched the TV shows or read magazines or newsletters, heard us on the radio talking about our lives. People we met on our cob course, at the Eden project community camps, friends of friends…. I have lost count of the times I have been told that people have made changes in the way they think about things, approach things or live because they have heard about us – our low impact life, our alternative education, different way of life, moves towards self sufficiency.

Part of doing what you can where you are is in realising when your work somewhere is done. I think that was the point we reached on Rum. We felt we had achieved all we were likely to manage there within the boundaries and confines of what our own health, wealth and desires dictated along with those imposed on us by external factors. Moving away has changed our stage and our audience but is allowing us to learn more ourselves while potentially do more in some areas, despite maybe not being quite so close to our ideas in others.

This post came about partially in response to a comment left by a regular reader but had also been prodding me as one of the potential posts constantly forming in my mind while I’m going about my day to day life. Our Rum life was a bit of a bubble and coming out of that bubble to realise that in some ways the world has changed a lot while we’ve been away but in others it has not changed at all has been a really interesting concept to catch up on.

August of Adventure

I was going to title this post ‘August of Opportunities’ but then I realised I’ve already used a similar title and there were plenty of adventures so I went with that. Because who doesn’t love an alliterative title? But it is mostly about opportunities.

It’s been quiet here because we’ve been so very busy. I’ll have a ‘six months in’ up in the next week or so because, yes, it’s been six months this coming weekend since we left Rum and started setting up our lives here. We’re still tweaking and working out the finer details of precisely what our lives will look like post-Rum, or maybe not post-Rum but certainly post-full-time-Rum as we combine very part time crofting with our new mainland lives here.

As my previous post described Rum in a day so August was a snapshot month of life now. In a word – busy. Busy with work, busy with volunteering, busy with hobbies and busy with friends. Probably a bit too busy to be honest, certainly at a level beyond what we could keep up with all the time, but a lovely whirlwind of a month packed with loads of good things.

Work first – lots of shifts at the tea room for Ady. He enjoys the work, feels like he is learning loads of new skills, really likes working as part of a team and is getting to know lots about the local area and meet lots of local folk and visitors to the area. The hours are rather unsociable and it is likely to be be very seasonal so will start to slow down now we are heading into autumn so he may well need to think about alternative ideas moving forward but he has a couple of things to ponder further on with regard to volunteering / studying / career paths. August was his busiest month so far there though with shifts six days a week.

August was super busy for me at work too – I had stories in the paper every week, was out on tour at a couple of local schools for summer holiday youth events, worked at the community centre for film screenings and gig events, put on a couple of events for crafts and games and did the first weekly youth club after the summer holidays (schools have earlier summer holidays here in Scotland than in England, breaking up in June and going back in August). We’ve also been doing our holiday cottage cleaning.

We took a stall at the local agricultural show in the craft and produce tent where Davies had his art work on display, Scarlett sold cupcakes and I had jam and crafts for sale. We all did pretty well but Scarlett cleaned up – she entered various cakes for the competitions and took first prize for her fabulous cupcakes. Showing true entrepreneurial family spirit she took her remaining cupcakes out into the crowds towards the end of the afternoon and sold the lot walking around, Apprentice-style talking to people and offering discounts.

Davies has had his first sales on his local art work and been working on his online accounts and getting plenty of likes and follows on social media.

Davies and I have been doing a shift or two every week on the helpline. So far we have not had any calls but we have more training coming up soon and are both hoping to put our training to use in the not too distant future. An area of volunteering where we have put our new skills to use is in the citizen science project we have been involved with locally on marine identification.

Having done a workshop way back at the start of the summer on identifying the various plants and animals found on our local shores we attended several surveys where we joined in with other fellow amateurs and a marine biologist to identify and record seaweeds, lichens and all manner of creatures found on quadrats on the shore of our local loch. We know our bladderwrack from our spiralwrack and can gender ID a shore crab, spot a lichen, name a barnacle and uncover a starfish with confidence!

As always our hobbies have blurred with our work and with our lives but there has been art and music and baking as usual. Scarlett and I have also started a new hobby which we are absolutely loving – wild swimming. We’ve invested in wetsuits and goggles and I have been taking a few lessons to brush up on my strokes (pun intended!) and we’ve spent a fair few hours bobbing about in Loch Sunart which is just wonderful.

Ady and I had a weekend away. We stayed with friends and went to a film screening as part of the Fringe by the Sea festival in North Berwick but most excitingly of all went to a show in Edinburgh. A bit of background here is that my favourite comedian when I was young was Tony Slattery. I adored him, on Who’s Line is it Anyway? but also on various of the other (many) things he did. Another of my favourite comedians is Richard Herring, who we have seen several times doing stand up over the years and I listen to his RHLSTP podcast too. When I spotted that Richard Herring was interviewing Tony Slattery for one of his Edinburgh shows it was one of those things I would have sighed over back on Rum as something I would have loved to go and see but was utterly out of logistical reach. But now it is not. So we went!!!

And then I had a photo (and a hug!) with them both and thanked them for making me laugh for so many years. And if I look a bit like I am on the verge of tears in that photo with Tony Slattery it’s because I am.

The eagle eyed among you may have noticed a new face in some of the photos above, which brings me rather tidily to friends. We have had various house guests during August – several have stayed for a night or two like my friend Helen. Ady, Helen and I managed a quick overnight trip to Rum in the middle of all the craziness which was fantastic – we had an amazing wildlife encounter on the boat trip over with a pod of dolphins and whales, countless numbers of gannets, shearwaters and a great skua all participating in a feeding frenzy in the waters between Eigg and Rum.

Helen and I got up my hill…

and she got to meet lots of our Rum friends and have a night on the croft with us. Then back here we had a wild swim, a walk in the local woodlands and plenty of time spent here with the rest of the house-full eating ice cream in the sunshine.

The other new face is less friend, more family. It’s Davies’ girlfriend Megan who was here staying with us for a whole month. Megan came all the way from America to spend August with us and was a lovely addition to the family, fitting right in. We did some special trips to show Megan part of our lives like heading over to Inverness to take in Loch Ness, Channonry Point and some of the sights…

Megan also fitted in with our day to day lives joining in with cooking, helping on the stall at the show, being on hand when one of our hens hatched her brood of chicks and joining in with general Goddard craziness.

It was fabulous to have her here with us and we’re already looking forward to her next visit later this year.

The other new face is Scarlett’s best friend E, who was here with us from Northern Ireland for a few days adding further to the blend of ages and accents in the house. Then Scarlett and I joined her heading back home and had a week in Northern Ireland ourselves.

And just to keep the whole circle joined up Helen who had visited us here also came out to stay with our friends there too!

And no, despite appearances I didn’t spend the whole of August with a glass in my hand – just the moments that were captured on camera!

There is more to say, more that the gallivanting and working and volunteering and general busyness have bought to the fronts of our minds. More that visiting Rum and hatching chicks and children growing up have made us think about. More that travel and a changed lifestyle have thrown up as considerations which were not on our radar in our old lives.

But for now, as we pause a bit to catch our breath, flip the page on to the next month on the calendar and regroup back to being a household of four instead of three, five, six or seven it was definitely an August to remember.