It’s beginning to look a bit like Christmas might arrive at some point in the next few weeks

We love Christmas. Ady and I loved it before we had Davies and Scarlett, even though as retail managers in our early careers it meant a time of long working hours, lots of stress and finding yourself humming Christmas songs right through from October onwards. Ady worked in Garden Centres so was selling real Christmas trees, artificial Christmas trees, Christmas decorations and poinsettias while I had various retail jobs including working on the tills at B&Q as a teenager learning the barcodes of the two types of netted real trees off by heart, branch manager of Clinton Cards lurching from one ‘season’ to the other, putting away the ‘congratulations on your exam results’ cards and getting out the ‘Christmas wishes across the miles’ cards in the same week as people began thinking about sending cards to Australia months ahead of the big day, gradually extending the footage of cards each week until half the shop was given over to festive cards and cuddly toys with santa hats. I loved working on Christmas Eve and catching the blokes heading home after an early finish at work, a few drinks in the pub and a desperate realisation that the one job they had to contribute to a family Christmas was buying a card and gift for their wife and selling them overpriced cuddly toys and Forever Friends figurines! My final retail job was for Bhs, working as the womenswear, menswear and shoes & accessories manager. We gave over a large amount of floorspace to the ‘Christmas Shop’ so were selling glittery tops and sparkly dressed along with festive ales, novelty plastic reindeers that pooped jellybeans and musical cookie jars shaped like Santa that said ‘Ho! Ho! Ho!’ when you opened them.  December was a nightmare of staff rotas, early mornings to restock shelves, late nights covering late night shopping events, managing queues at the tills, avoiding or succumbing to and staggering through all the seasonal germs from all that contact with thousands of customers, work Christmas parties and getting home late on Christmas Eve after putting in the sale after the store was closed ready to be back at work early on Boxing Day to deal with the bargain hunters in their droves. It was frantic, busy, often stressful but in it’s own way magical and filled with traditions.

Fast forward to our early day of parenthood when Ady still worked in retail or retail support and a whole host of brand new traditions, now bound up in having a December birthday which we were determined not to have overshadowed by Christmas. Trips to see Santa, end of term for events like Rainbows, Scouts, Badgers, Home Education groups all having their own Christmas parties and our December tradition for many years of a get together with Home Educating friends for a Christmas Camp in a youth hostel coming together to celebrate an early Christmas with crafts, cooking, full Christmas dinner, decorations and a secret santa gift exchange. We carolled, we went to various nativity events and at least twice we had snow! The actual day was filled with family magic from crazy early starts waking with small children beyond excited at the piles of gifts under the tree and Christmas dinner shared with extended family.

Our Rum Christmasses have bought us new traditions and customs. Our annual Christmas cake making back in October, our trip out into the woodland early each December to select and fell a tree, gathering natural materials to make wreaths, decorating our tree with an ever increasing collection of hand made, home made or gifted ornaments including new ones collected or made each year, celebrating the solstice and really feeling that turning of the season as the light fades and then grows again. The school play, mulled wine and mince pies at the village hall and an island secret santa gift exchange. Christmas dinner planned around seasonal food we have reared or processed or grown ourselves. We choose 24 Christmas films to watch, one a day, as an advent film count down from December the first. As the years have passed and the children have grown some of the customs have passed to them – I still make the mincemeat each year but Scarlett is now the better pastry maker, we all take turns in stirring the Christmas cake but she will be the one designing and decorating it a few days before Christmas. We rarely send Christmas cards but over the years when we have done it will be one of Davies’ handdrawn designs gracing the front.

We have been making new decorations this year – Ady has cut some slices of wood and created candle holders, I have been foraging for holly, ivy, willow and hazel and making wreaths and reindeer – Scarlett and I made a giant one today. I’ve been crocheting items for a special order and making a few gifts and new decorations for our tree too. I’ve learned a few Christmassy songs on my ukulele and if the weather is kind and the ferry runs we have a couple of nights on the mainland next week to do some last minute shopping and stock up on some food and drink treats too. Now if it could just turn cold enough for snow over the following weekend in time for the big day that would be about perfect!

Happy Birthday Scarlett

I wrote this on social media today, to celebrate our lovely daughter’s birthday.

For Scarlett, my Scarlett.

Sixteen years of Scarlett. Sixteen years of being a mother to a daughter. Countless memories of you at every age.

Of that precious, precious moment of connection when all the chaos melted into the background as the midwives bustled around clearing up, Daddy started phoning people to tell them you were here and you and I lay, still and silent, looking into each others eyes saying our very first hello with you on the outside.

Of you meeting your brother Davies for the first time. Barely two hours old, small and soft and suddenly making my tiny two year old look like a giant as he sat next to you stroking your hand, your head before asking if he could open door 6 on his advent calendar now.

Of the times you went quiet and I would suddenly realise and dash into the room where you were to discover what it was you were up to this time. Clambering up furniture to get your dummy, emptying a bottle of baby shampoo onto your bedroom floor, drinking a bottle of rescue remedy, colouring yourself in with felt tips.

Of the battles we had when you were three – the screaming to not sit in your car seat, to not wear tights, to not wear a coat, to ‘go away Mummy’, to ‘not leave me Mummy’. I remember you dressed as a princess in a grubby golden dress, shoes long since left behind, tiara askew, chocolate around your face screaming at me in front of a garden party full of friends to ‘come here Mummy’ as you sat just out of reach but well within hearing range. ‘You’ll spoil’ her someone cautioned ‘you need to show her who is boss’. I Hope by coming to you I showed you that you are indeed the boss.

Of your adamance and firmness. Of the time you told me that if Davies was my son then you must be my moon. Not for you the label daughter.

Of your love of animals, all kinds. Of your encyclopedic knowledge of them and recall for facts about animals, your natural affinity with them. Of you hatching ducklings who absolutely believed you were their mother, of you and I sharing the wonder of assisting in the birth of piglets, of your tenderness with ill or ailing creatures, your command and confidence in handling them.

Of how you can take charge of situations, assessing what needs to be done and falling into whatever role is required – directing, encouraging, cheer leading, motivating or simply getting on and doing. You can step up, step back or step to the side and stand shoulder to shoulder.

Of your kindness, compassion and care. Of your thoughtfulness, understanding and empathy. Of your quiet consideration and capability. Of your spirit of adventure and fun, of your sense of humour, your creativity, your sense of justice.

Of your absolute unshakeable knowledge of who you are. You carry yourself with such confidence and belief and awareness. You never doubt your path or need to question how to be true to yourself. You show no artifice, no ‘for appearances’, you are you and much beloved for it.

I am forever grateful to have you in my life, to know you and love you  Happy 16th birthday my wonderful girl.

We’ve had a lovely day today, filled with Scarlett’s favourite things to eat and drink, cosy in the caravan with the log burner crackling out warmth, the Christmas tree giving out light and laughter and love filling the room. Messages from family and friends have arrived wishing Scarlett happy birthday and we have plans for a couple of days on the mainland just before Christmas for Scarlett to defer some celebrating too.

The whisper of winter

This time last year we’d already ‘flown’ south for the winter. My facebook memories from one year ago is showing me swallow murmurations in Somerset, a visit to Bath spa and a visit to the Glastonbury Frost Fayre.

I’ve often said that I find November one of the hardest times of year here on Rum because all of that winter is still ahead and looming, the light is already fading, the condensation and damp is making it’s presence felt in the caravan and it feels like a long time from Bonfire fireworks to Christmas lights (here on Rum, I know on the mainland both are already well on the way on the High Street by the end of August!). This year though, thanks to a chunk of the month spent off the island and a truly gorgeous week since we’ve been back of amazing sunrises and sunsets with clear blue skies between, autumn colours still very much in evidence and our paths around the croft meaning the mud has yet to be it’s annual winter downer it’s been very manageable.

Just before we had our visit off I was hanging out with our chickens in the low hanging sunshine and had the realisation that actually it’s not November I struggle with necessarily, it’s November inside. If we only get a limited number of hours of daylight each day then spending as many of them outside stretches them massively. I am sure my walks up the hill also help a lot, getting air into my lungs, space into my head and perspective into my heart.

I’m getting a perfect blend of creativity in the shape of a few crochet projects and some more arty crafty projects in the planning, some learning in the shape of a planned wind turbine upgrade and hydro power experiment along with helping Davies with his studying which is fascinating just now as he’s covering a study unit on consumer society which has all four of us joining in conversations about lifestyles and consumerism. I’m getting plenty of outside time with my walks, some firewood processing and this week we’ve been tree planting too. A lot of our next step forward planning is out of our hands which can feel disempowering and stifling but thankfully there is plenty of other planning of small trips and adventures for next year taking up the slack and meeting that need too.

With just a few days left to go I think I can say that so far this November has been far from hard.

I remember it well

We’ve been off gallivanting and adventuring. Bridging generations, making memories and revisiting old ones.

We started with a night in Fort William – our nearest town, bustling metropolis by Rum standards. Home to supermarkets, hotels, hospitals, dentists, opticians and clothes store selling every bra I think I own these days (nearly seven years of very limited bra shopping opportunities)!

This time it was the dentist for us – catch ups in the waiting room with our original dentist when we first moved up here and Scarlett’s orthodentist – I love that about living here, people don’t see you from one half a year to the next but they recognise, remember and chat with you as though they saw you only yesterday.  A new dentist for all four of us this time, so chats about her visit over a decade ago to Rum to walk the ridge, a bit about Ben Fogle and what life is like for us here and a quick scale and polish and we were on our way.

Down to Sussex. A smooth, straightforward and uneventful if incredibly long, boring and tedious drive down to my parents. We arrived late in the evening but not so late as to be hideous, settled Bonnie the dog and Kira the cat in who thankfully remembered it well from spending time there over Christmas and speedily recalled the routines for litter trays / walks / feeding / places they could curl up for naps. 

The next morning, still slightly reeling from the transition we upped it a level and caught the train to London!

It’s a journey the teens and I know well, having been regular day trippers to London back when we lived in Sussex, heading up for museum trips, lectures at the Royal Institute and meet-ups with friends. Ady also spent a lot of time driving around the capital for work and at the QVC shopping channel studio during his stint on TV. Reassuringly nothing much in London changes so the travel was straightforward. What had changed since our last trip was all four of us now being classed as adults for ticket prices, so a speedy check on tube fares, bus fares and a chat with a black cab driver had us doing the maths and concluding the taxi was the cheapest option!

What made it even cheaper was clocking where we were and spotting landmarks to enable us to walk back to places again later. Cunning travel tip and one not available from the underground!

So a cup of tea, a bag drop off and a mind blown by the technology of the vending machine issuing our room key cards later we were back out walking to the Natural History Museum for a few hours. Despite having spent days on end there in the past we all still found something new we’d not seen before, revisited old favourites, learnt new things and were able to look at the place through new and more well travelled eyes than when last we were there.

 

A quick flick through old photos brings up these ones from the NHM visits over the years. Lovely to have up to date versions!

We walked back to the hotel, got some food, stopped to take some pictures with the Tardis outside Earls Court tube station,

had baths and hung out in our room waiting for very special friends to arrive all the way from Northern Ireland. The first planned part of this whole trip had been a theatre visit the following day. The day I had booked it I had plotted with my friend C, mother of Scarlett’s best friend E for them to join us. Initially it was going to be a surprise for the teens with us keeping it secret for as long as possible, with the ultimate reveal being them finding themselves sat next to each other in the theatre. A planned get together a few weeks prior to the theatre had fallen through though leaving them sad and begging to know when we would next meet up so we had decided to blow the secret and give them it to look forward to as a treat instead. It was the right decision and they had both been counting down the days. Suddenly it was here!

Some drinks in the hotel bar and catching up before a late bedtime ensued.

The next morning we walked through London back to Victoria, stopping for cakes along the way.

We ate our cakes and drank takeaway tea and coffee outside the theatre

(Not all teens permitted pictures being taken!)
And then it was time. Through security, up about a million stairs and finally into the Room Where It Happened.

The show was Hamilton. Much and long beloved of Davies and Scarlett, entirely unknown in advance to Ady and I – I had asked Scarlett if I should listen to the songs beforehand and she told me I should not, both because she felt it would make seeing and hearing it for the first time at the theatre even better AND because she didn’t want me to start learning to play any of the songs on my ukulele!!

I was a fabulous show, very much enjoyed by all of us. It was my (and Davies and Scarlett’s) first London show. We’ve been to various theatre shows, concerts and stadium things but never a London stage show and it was amazing and everything we might have imagined it would be. Having since listened to the soundtrack (albeit the original American cast recording) a few times on various drives I do think Scarlett was right. As I sniffled my way up the M6 on Friday listening to a couple of very sad pieces I know that would not have moved me to tears were I not recalling the amazing staging of those scenes.

We waved our friends goodbye at Victoria station and then we had a couple of hours to hang around before our train back to Sussex. Fortunately if you are going to be hanging around anywhere for a couple of hours Victoria station is one of the best places going – we were entertained for a whole hour by following the adventures of a dropped glove on the floor. It got kicked, dragged along by people’s wheelie suitcases, it was trodden on and moved back and forth. We didn’t see who originally dropped it and I imagine they were sad to discover it missing when they realised but it certainly made our wait almost as captivating as the theatre had been. Not quite such a catchy soundtrack or strong plot though.

We were back at my parents house in time for dinner. The next day Ady and I got a broken part of one of our generators fixed, had a bit of a drive around where we used to live and had a really lovely couple of hours with my brother. Scarlett and I went to the local pet shop and I bumped into a friend by pure chance, so that was a lovely hug and catch up ten minutes with her.

The next day we were off, in convoy with my parents to North Wales. We had a cottage booked for a week in the town near to the village where my Dad grew up. That area is very special to all of us – obviously as Dad’s childhood home it is filled with all sorts of memories for him but I also have memories of visits there during my childhood, then Ady and I had holidays there during our early days together. When we lived in Manchester we visited regularly with our children when they were tiny and have since visited a couple of times while we were WWOOFing; once to meet up with Mum & Dad and once to meet up with my sister in law and the cousins.

Here are some pictures from the past…. one of them pre-dating Scarlett even being here!

The two locations are the Horseshoe Pass a location that I have heard tales of since I was ‘knee high to a grasshopper’ and passed on to my own children and the bridge at Llandegla overlooking the garden of the house which belonged to my Great Grandparents and was my Dad’s very early boyhood home before he moved from one to another house in the same village. Somewhere there are pictures of a tiny me stood by that bridge. When Ady and I were very first together and visited the village the house was up for sale so we booked a viewing and have actually walked around it. It was not the right time for us to buy it but maybe one day it will go back on the market.

The churchyard has the graves of my great Grandparents and great uncle who died fighting in the first World War and we were in Wales last week for a 100 year year anniversary of Armistice Day commemorating the men from the village who died during that war, who included my great-great uncle and those who fought and returned, including another great uncle and my grandfather. So our Saturday evening was spent in the memorial hall for a fantastic evening of songs, stories, photographs and memories, of those who fought, those who came home and those who stayed behind.

We sang, we laughed, we cried (more than once), we shared memories and stories, we ate from ration boxes and we gave thanks and remembered. It was a very, very special evening. That fifth name down is David Davies, my grandfather. Had he not returned my Dad, and therefore me and therefore Davies and Scarlett would not be here living our lives. Davies and Scarlett did a lot of Remembrance Day parades when they were younger and we lived in Sussex. We talked about what it all meant and the sombre marches through the streets of Worthing left their mark in their memories but I think this was by far the most powerful way any of us have remembered the fallen.

Mum, Dad, Ady and I returned the following morning for the full service and two minutes silence. We spent some time at the graveside, congratulated / thanked the organisers of the previous evening’s event and Dad spent time reacquainting himself with three old friends from the village, who he had not seen in many years.

The remainder of our week was spent in much the same way. Dad caught up with more old friends, again after a gap of some 70 years. Hearing them talk of playground adventures as the years melted away was a very special thing to witness.

I fully intend to sit with a group of my friends in my 80s gossiping about the good old days and toasting my memories with a glass or two! Hopefully just like Dad did as my grandchildren look on….

We were close enough for very special honorary family members of Ady, Davies, Scarlett and I to come and visit too which was perfect. Thank you Lynda and Stuart, we’ll see you again very soon!

The rest of the time was spent returning to old haunts, reliving old memories and making new ones. The best of times.

A wonderful week in Wales.

Friday was spent on the long drive back north again. Although I love returning south because it means family and friends, bright lights and big cities I think I love driving north even more as the roads get quieter, the skies get bigger, the air gets cleaner. We had a last night of mainland TV, eschewing the fast food in favour of sandwiches, a final supermarket trolley dash for fruit and veg and crisps before heading to the Saturday morning ferry.

Ady and I spent the ferry trip standing outside in the glorious November sunshine as the mainland grew smaller and Rum loomed larger. By pure coincidence it was a year to the day that we had left Rum and arrived in Fort William last winter to having driven back up and arrived in Fort William this year.

As always there was vehicle hokey-cokey with unloading one car into another, driving part-way home to the croft followed by countless wheelbarrow runs to get us, the cat and dog and our stuff plus the shopping we’d bought home back up to the croft but it was all conducted in sunshine.

Own bed, own view, own mug…. for now, for at least as the sun shines it is certainly good to be home.

All quiet on the western croft

Well the most westerly croft on Rum anyway!

It is the time of year that not a lot seems to be happening outside generally. Well not stuff of note anyway. Ady and I did some fruit bush pruning. The redcurrants and whitecurrants and some of the raspberries. The blackcurrants still looked like they were considering not being entirely died back so we’ve left them for another week or two. The polytunnel is all cleared out for the season and Ady has put the mini greenhouses inside there too. Our strawberry beds will get a covering of fleece in the next few weeks prior to the frosts and we will invest in better quality polythene coverings for the hoops over them next spring as the design worked well but the cheap plastic we bought was not up to the job of withstanding Rum winds. Glass would be preferable both in terms of cutting down on plastic use and in terms of longevity but unless we can repurpose something already here on the island that is not entirely practical.

We released the chickens from the raised bed area as the egg laying season is over. They are now freeranging the croft with the geese, turkeys and sheep. We have kept the ducks in the fruit cage though as they seem pretty happy in there and are doing a a good job of keeping the area largely bug free.

Along with clearing ditches and a bit of path maintenance the autumn jobs outside will also include finishing off that pruning, gathering seaweed to cover all the raised beds with a mulch over winter and we are expecting a delivery of 500 trees next month to be planted on the croft. This time we are planting up an area at the very bottom of the croft in an effort to help dry out a wet corner and create a long term mini woodland patch there.

Ady’s knee injury has kept him out of action in any off-the-croft work which he finds tough as he struggles with being indoors and not active. He has been doing firewood runs daily though and finding small projects to keep himself busy. These have included some tweaks to our power set up including new digital readers for the power on our batteries, some work repairing the caravan roof which is getting tired and starting to suffer the effects of going into it’s seventh winter on Rum with heavy rain and high winds. Talking of wind our turbine sustained some damage this week during a night of wind speeds which were higher than the forecast had us expecting, so some interim repairs have been done with a plan hatched by Ady and I to create one new super turbine from the bastardized component parts of two broken ones. We are awaiting delivery of a tap and die set to carry out this Frankinstein-esque operation – more details to follow once we are working on it.

I’ve been getting on with some crafty bits during enforced indoorsyness. I made santa hats for various cuddly crochet creatures that we sell in the shed such as our midges and cows and eagles….

which rather inevitably ended up being placed on some of the real life cuddly creatures of Croft 3

I made some sparky midges, perfect for hanging on a Christmas tree…

And used up the very last of the supply of 2018 midges in some resin pendants and keyrings

While we were in the festive mood we also made our Christmas cake, a little earlier than we usually do it but based on the fact it will sit and be regularly doused with brandy for the coming weeks until it is wrapped up in marzipan and icing we felt extra time to do that would only be a good thing! As usual we all had a turn at stirring and making wishes…

I love looking back at the photos of us doing this over the years and seeing how we have all aged / grown / changed.

Davies is well into the first chunk of his studying and is enjoying the new material, the challenges of the assessments and the interesting ideas and conversations of the subject matter which often get talked about between all four of us.

Scarlett has been spending a few hours on the beach most days for the last few weeks collecting up litter, mostly plastic. She has collected several bags worth which is a both a fantastic thing to have done in terms of stopping it making it’s way into the ocean or blowing inland and creating hazards for wildlife on land or sea, but also very sad even on our tiny remote and largely clean beaches that such high levels of litter exist.

We had a very lovely wildlife encounter the other evening when late at night a strange sound had me looking out of the window and spotting two pairs of eyes shining in my torch beam, so I got Scarlett up and we crept out on to the decking to watch a deer hind and her calf just a few feet away from us.

I’ve been heading up my hill as regularly as feasible with the poor weather and enjoying watching the changes in the colours of the trees, hills and skies as the season changes. This morning was a beautiful walk to the village inbetween rain showers with raindrops balanced atop grasses, trees and spiders webs.

Our ferry timetable has changed from summer to winter so we get fewer ferries each week. The final Saturday evening ferry of the year came in at 730pm last weekend and we could see it all lit up from the croft as it came into the pier. Seeing a ferry in the dark is always a real landmark moment of the turning of the year.

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!

Autumnal Vibes

It’s autumn. Both astronomical and meteorological. The calendar tells us it’s autumn, the drawing in of the evenings and the latening of the evenings tells us it’s autumn. The dropping temperature, the changing colours of the landscape around us. The heather in bloom, the brambles ripening, the increasing alerts to the presence of aurora on my phone app. The pick up of the winds speeds, the absence of the summer migratory birds. The roaring of the red stags, the changing behaviour of the croft creatures – the ducks and chickens are no longer laying eggs, the ganders have stopped hissing at us as we walk past. The crops are over, the trees are changing colour and dropping their leaves. The way we open the door and stand outside for a moment to gauge whether another layer of clothing would be prudent (it often is, I seldom bother, that will change!). Bringing in firewood is back on the list of daily tasks, the window vacuum is back in regular use as the condensation levels rise within the caravan but at least the midges have gone. It’s almost time to eat soup!

Jam making is temporarily on hold while I await a delivery of jam jars but bramble picking continues apace with the harvest waiting in the freezer for now. I’ve been taking stock of what has sold well this season in the shed and planning stock for next year. I’m still working on the big blanket commission just now but coming to the end of that and will be embarking on crochet midges as soon as that is done. I think the current jam total so far is at about 150 jars with hopefully the same again still to be made.

Last week I ran a resin key ring and pendant workshop for a group staying at the bunkhouse on a walking retreat. Their trip was hampered by poor weather preventing them from getting out into the wilds of the island as they had planned and preventing some of them from leaving Rum when they had intended to as ferries have been disrupted. The workshop was fun, I really enjoy sharing skills, meeting new people and talking about Rum and our lives here. We have various future plans being tossed about here at Goddard Heights just now and workshops of various types are definitely on the list of possible ideas. Watch this space.

We do have a job list to be working through once the bramble /jam season has finished which includes tasks like pruning the fruit bushes, moving the chickens and mulching the raised beds with seaweed over winter, clearing the polytunnel and planting the next batch of 500 trees which are due to arrive sometime in November. Ady is doing lots of path maintenance and ditch clearing in our ever increasing bid to improve the Croft infrastructure and ground quality.