Summer’s here and the time is right….

For doing the Midgie Dance, in the street, in the garden or wherever you happen to be in the Highlands really.

Yep, June marks meteorological summer here in the UK and the end of May / beginning of June marks the start of the midge season here on the west coast of Scotland. I have to say here on the mainland is definitely nowhere near as midgey as Rum, and here in a house is positively, definitely, markedly nowhere near as midgey as a caravan! We can shut windows and doors and create a genuinely closed-house in a way that a vented caravan with ill fitting doors and windows never managed. We can put fans on to waft away any sneaky intruders and double glazing and an extractor fan mean we don’t get that damp, humid feeling every night when we are cooking. In short summer, as I imagine winter will be when it comes, is all the easier for being here.

Before you start thinking we’ve gone all soft and namby-pamby though let me assure you we’ve done plenty of midge dancing (a unique and particular style of dancing, no music required, specific to the highlands and islands involving much waving of arms around one’s face, often accompanied by swearing, a strong smell of citronella and sometimes the last thing spotted just before everyone leaves an area). Given how happy we are here in our new house life has gotten very busy and we don’t seem to have been spending an awful lot of time in it these last few weeks.

So what have we all been up to then?

Davies has finished this academic year’s studying and submitted his end of module assessment. He is already enrolled and has funding approved for starting the next module in October but that’s him done for the summer. At which point his thoughts have turned to other things to fill his time. He is still waiting on the necessary but lengthy lead time of paperwork coming back for his volunteering to start but has been thinking about other pursuits to sit alongside his studies and volunteering. Namely something income generating. While we are more than happy to support Davies (and Scarlett!) in every area while they study he is beginning to think of things he would like to do which will involve spending money and is also keen to contribute to the ‘family pot’.

We have always operated on a family pot style financial basis with all incomings going in and all outgoings covered before collectively deciding what to spend any leftover funds on – more often than not this has been our family trips to various places, sometimes investment into things to make life easier (like solar panels or infrastructure around the croft), speculating to accumulate (livestock, tools, growing props, seeds or plants), materials for crafts or hobbies, books or other leisure pursuits. Sometimes they benefit the whole family, sometimes just one or two of us if the others are supportive of that. When we moved to the mainland it was with an awareness that the family pot was going to have a lot more outgoings demanded of it, so we’d need to up the incomings accordingly, with everyone doing their bit.

So, Davies is hoping to fund some long term travel plans, have some cash for various smaller things like cinema or theatre trips, build up some savings and contribute to general living costs and we’ve been having chats about ways in which he could do that. Life here, while offering more opportunities than Rum for employment is still limited by transport and we are currently a two driver, one vehicle family. Our long term plan over the next year is to become a four driver, two vehicle family (with an eye always on limiting car use, combining travel and only going as far as we have to) which rather curtails the usual ‘starter’ jobs in retail or hospitality. He is also keen to continue the family tradition of doing what you love and loving what you do. On that basis his passion, his talent and his natural calling is to art. While not always his chosen subject matter we do live in a beautiful location and Davies is talented at landscapes, which it just so happens living in a renowned tourist location there is quite a call for.

We started the ball rolling with Davies selling his art early on in part of our croft 3 business development so he already has a grasp of profit and loss, costings, marketing and business planning, market research and so on. So we’ve been exploring that further here in our new local area, checking out the couple of art galleries and studios nearby, the range of art sold in the couple of art and craft venues in the area as well as similar art styles sold online. The next step is an online presence, some real life networking and of course lots and lots of collecting inspiration and creating the actual art. Luckily he has a summer off to get cracking with it!

Fridge art by Davies, indicative of his sense of humour and recreation of his childhood art style rather than his current talent levels. You put magnets on a fridge and it’s only a mater of time before your child sticks a ‘my family’ portrait on it, even when that child is now 18!

Scarlett is working with Ady and I on the holiday cottage cleaning which we’ve been doing loads of the last few weeks, as many as six or seven cottages a week. The early (for her!) starts are not ideal but the methodical, fairly mindless but organised work suits her well as she drifts off into her own head while dusting, cleaning and polishing. Scarlett is loving having a great big kitchen to bake in and has been sending parcels of her beautifully decorated cookies to her friend in Ireland. She is also enjoying plenty of time outside, litter picking on the local beaches of the loch and returning with a camera full of pictures of flowers (her particular passion in photography) and stories of encounters with wildlife.

Sometimes she also returns with the wildlife… in the last few weeks we’ve had a fledgling wagtail resident with us overnight after she rescued it from a river where it had gotten waterlogged late in the afternoon. It was returned back where it had come from the following morning, just as chirpy and reunited with it’s parents and siblings who were hanging around calling for it still.

Little wagtail overnight guest – no rating on trip advisor from it as yet…

We have all signed up for a Shoreline surveying scheme running locally this summer but it is Scarlett who is most excited about it. Having met staff from the local marine community organisation at the water festival we attended a marine identification workshop yesterday and will be participating in various shoreline surveys over the next few months, logging survey results on the plant and animal life on the shores of the lochs. Scarlett adored the very hands on session.

We’ve also been looking at other wildlife and nature related voluntary opportunities for Scarlett locally and I was chatting with the local ranger just yesterday about ideas. I’ve also been tipped off about the many local shows with produce competitions over the summer with baking categories so I think a summer of being either outside in nature or inside with ingredients is on the cards for Scarlett.

Ady has been busy working too. Along with the holiday cottage cleaning he and I have also been doing some shifts at the local tearoom. It’s Ady’s favourite sort of work – varied, with lots of interesting people, plenty of opportunities to clean, tidy, sweep and mop and best of all he is learning new things. The job is mostly kitchen based washing up but also assisting the chef and serving tables when it’s busy. It’s a family run enterprise of tearoom, bunkhouse, crafts centre, events venue and more. Three generations of the family are all local and some are our next door neighbours (if you can call them next door neighbours when neither of us can see the other’s house, but they are our geographically closest neighbours). I met the owner when I went along to introduce myself and find out more about the crafting courses they run (which include spinning and dyeing wool) and it all went from there. So far Ady has done the majority of the shifts we’ve been offered as they have managed to coincide with me working on one of my other jobs, which is perfect as it goes back to that car sharing plan. But I’ve also made a valuable contact who is up for teaching me to spin on a wheel – hurrah!

Ady has also been foraging to build up our winter firewood supplies and planning the design and build of a chicken house as we are bringing over some of our flock of chickens next time we visit Rum. He has got a few longer term plans on the boil too, but more about them if and when they come to fruition.

We’d done the most northerly, southerly and easterly years ago, but despite living to close to it all this time the west had eluded us… until yesterday.

And what about me? Well since our last blog post I’ve started two jobs – the one mentioned above at the tea room and the one previously mentioned as a youth worker. I’ve done four shifts in the youth worker post, so still very much finding my feet, learning where everything is and starting to get to grips with people’s names and faces. Bearing in mind the usual session has many more people present than the entire population of Rum I think I’m doing pretty well at matching a fair few names to faces, places and connections. In a small town like this everyone knows everyone else and the same people keep popping up in different places – myself included! I’m enjoying it a lot though and starting to see how things could develop over time and I can start to add in more bits of me. There is possibly more work at the same place (the local community centre, library, high school and primary school, school hostel for some residential students, library, leisure centre and events venue is all housed in one place) coming up soon which I’ve been approached about and expressed an interest in so watch this space for that. And finally I’ve also got a meeting in a couple of weeks with the editor of the local newspaper group about some freelance reporting / writing work. So I’m certainly being kept busy too.

I’ve started to make some local connections and am hoping some of these new contacts become friends over time and that once we’ve properly found our feet in terms of working out what our regular commitments are going to be I can either find stuff already happening or maybe be the person who makes it happen in terms of things like social opportunities.

One social opportunity we all made the most of last weekend was celebrating the birthday of one of our friends with a lovely overnight stay at their house. We ate, drank and made music, the teens stayed up all night talking, we stayed up very late singing and it was a brilliant, sociable weekend. It’s one of the events we’d have still managed to attend even if we’d been on Rum but driving for under an hour and being able to head back home the following day without having a ferry to catch made it all the more easy to attend, and bring plenty of home baked contributions to the table without fretting about how to get them there!

It’s just not a party without carbs!

Plenty of the afternoon and evening was spent outside, with quite a lot of midgey dancing taking place. Which brings me tidily back to where I started.

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