The Isle of Rum has been right in the middle of the area most affected by the Weather Bomb that has hit the UK. On the news there are tales of closed schools, disrupted roads and traffic, cancelled ferries, closed bridges, washed away coastal kids playgrounds.
We have been overwhelmed – locally by emails, texts, visitors to the croft and phonecalls to check we are okay from our fellow Rum folk. On a wider scale we have had the same from family and friends scattered all around checking in with us to make sure we are still here, still safe and to let us know they are thinking of us.
The reality of life on a remote Scottish island is this. Ferries will be cancelled throughout the winter (and also sometimes in the summer, autumn and spring!) – you need to be sure you have enough bottled gas, petrol and diesel to fuel your car, your chainsaw, your generator. You need to have a good stash of tinned and dried goods because there will be times when there is no fresh milk, fresh veg or cigarettes (if you smoke, we don’t!). You will need decent waterproof outerwear and to carry a torch at all times. In the summer there will be midges. And ticks. And clegs. The weather might be gorgeous, it equally might be worthy of yet more cancelled ferries. The trade off for it still being daylight at 11pm and sunrise again before 4am in the summer is a scant six hours (sometimes five and a half) of daylight in the winter. Weather permitting.
If you put something down outside you need to consider whether it will still be in the same place when you come back to it. If it is edible then something may well come and eat it – a deer, an eagle, a rat or a crow. If it is not very heavy then the wind may relocate it for you while you are not looking. Unless something cannot be pushed or kicked over by you using all your might then you may as well consider it temporary because the Rum elements are a hell of a lot stronger than you are.
You will be out of touch – sometimes figuratively when the rest of the mainland world is already stressing about Christmas long before Halloween has happened when you don’t even think about it until well into December, or when Black Friday is something you hear about on facebook but still don’t really believe in. Or when traffic reports on the radio are a bit like fairy stories from some far off mythical land. Sometimes for real, when the mobile reception is non existent and the internet goes down, the ferry does not come to send post or bring parcels and it’s so misty and rainy that although you sort of believe the rest of the world is still out there beyond the five foot of sea you can see around the island you have no actual way of proving it.
That is the harsh, grim reality. The fact that for every hardship you are facing in your personal challenge of life here everyone else is really quite busy dealing with their own thank you very much. The tourists who flock here during the summer months giving us brief celebrity status and making us feel important and pioneering for living here are but a distant memory. It’s just us. Alone. Facing both the island and it’s testing reality and our own hopes and fears and judgement.
In our first winter here we were very aware of being observed. If I had a pound for everyone who said to me in months leading up to December 2012 ‘well you haven’t done a winter yet’ then I would never have to launch another crowd funding appeal again and I’d be typing this from my diamond encrusted laptop (well maybe not, but a lot of people said it!). The locals scoffed at our every wide eyed shocked exclamation of how dreadful the winds were, how relentless the rain, how fast and high the river was running. In our second winter we knew what to expect but foolishly expected it to be easier for having that knowledge. This year we have developed that que sera sera attitude to the winter that I observed in islanders when we first came. You can check the weather reports, angst over the ferry timetable and keep fingers crossed over all sorts of things but ultimately it is out of your hands. You can be prepared, have things sorted in advance and be ready for the worst eventuality. And that is all.
So the wind has howled, the caravan has been battered by rain and hail. Thunder shook the roof, lightning scared the dog, we had to get wet and windblown to feed the animals. But we’re fine, we’re safe, we’re okay. I think that the knowledge that we are not alone, that people care and are thinking of us, willing us well and worrying a little eases the burden and shares the stress. If you have given us even a passing thought then thank you, I am sure that in some small way it has meant that things are a little easier for us up here.