New horizons all round

Time is definitely the weirdest it has ever been. As we get older it seems to move more quickly, as the pandemic and lockdown continue it seems to have stretched and bent and almost caught up with itself coming around the other way.

I can’t believe how quickly Friday comes around every week and often wonder if there are not somehow two of them each week instead of just one. It surely cannot be mid June already and yet 18 months ago feels like 18 years ago…

Anyway, since the last blog post which was only last month (just!) lots has changed for us.

Davies has started an informal work experience opportunity at the local art gallery. It is an excellent place which in ‘normal’ times hosted not just regularly changing exhibitions of amazing art but also events. In the year before lockdown we attended many such events there, indeed I covered a few of them for the newspaper. These included live music, a book launch, opening of art and ceramics / sculptures / photography exhibitions and talks and an amazing artist demonstration.

The gallery also has a framing service and as well as being open to visitors has an online presence on social media, an excellent website and sells online. Davies is getting a fantastic overview of all of these aspects to the business, learning loads and really enjoying being there for a day each week.

Davies has finished his studying for this academic year and has slightly altered his planned path for next years studying taking on a more increased study load and adding in philosophy to his psychology studies which he is really looking forwards to starting in the autumn.

Scarlett is continuing to love her job at the croft and is really enjoying the combination of learning new skills, doing lots of hands on practical stuff and getting plenty of time to hang out with the animals. It’s perfect for her.

Ady also continues to love his job too and is really looking forwards to the times ahead when the full on PPE is no longer necessary and his clients can see his whole face!

Meanwhile my jobs have rather changed….

When Ady took on extra hours at his job and negotiated use of a pool car which meant we could very happily go back to just running one family car rather than two we stopped our holiday cottage cleaning contracts, which was just as well as Scarlett soon started her job. My work at the community centre / youth work had stopped during lockdown and as I was on a zero hour contract there was no real certainty as to when and indeed if that would start again.

My writing work for the newspaper was less than it had been although I have still been writing a semi regular column for them, alternating between writing about Crofting and Mental Health Matters, diverse but both very relevant to the Highlands. I have also been doing increasing numbers of hours for the local mental health and wellbeing charity I started freelancing for last summer including some writing, some project management of various initiatives and some development of new services.

I have also been doing various voluntary bits and pieces including joining the committee for the local newspaper which was undergoing a slightly difficult phase but has a lot of local support having been running for 40 years. When it became apparent that there may be an opportunity for a paid role as editor of that I decided it would be a perfect fit for my other bits and pieces of freelance work and applied.

Yesterday I had an interview, was offered, and accepted that post. So I will now be combining the three roles of editor of the local newspaper, columnist / correspondent for the larger newspaper and project officer for the mental health charity. I feel incredibly fortunate to be combining my passions, interests and the things I would have told you I wanted to do when I grew up when I was a little girl to being the things I get paid to do.

It is wonderful that currently all four of us are managing to follow our passions, feel as though we are contributing to our local community, learning new skills and still have time for the other things we love doing and spending plenty of time together at home too.

Meanwhile whether it all falls into place or not we are starting to book and plan things for the coming months and into next year, which feels filled with promise and hope.

Scarlett starts work

We never had first days at school photos. I had vague notions to take first day of not going to school photos over the years but always lost track of when it would have been a first day.

We often used to go to Home Educators ‘not back to school’ events on the first day of autumn term / start of the school year when we would reclaim the parks, beaches, museums which suddenly felt quiet again during the day times, but there was never any real official marking of it because we why would you officially mark something you were not doing?

But a first official day at work feels very much worth marking and this week that is exactly what Scarlett had. Two days of induction and training, health and safety and risk assessments, payroll forms and uniform ordering and official changing of status from ‘home educated’ to ‘in employment’.

We dropped her off for her first day, took a ceremonial photograph and then I went for a swim and spent the whole time pondering about ends of eras and quite how my little baby was suddenly a grown woman with a job!

Here she is on her first day at work

And as only seems appropriate I’ll hand over to her to share what that has been like.

I’ve had my first two days at work doing induction and training. I’m working alongside someone else who has just started which is really good as we can learn together.

I also went along to a forest bathing / nature walk which the croft run at the weekend where we took a group of people on a guided walk around a local woodland.

Lots of the first two days have been about policies, paperwork, health and safety and necessary stuff like that but we’ve also been able to spend some time meeting the animals. There are goats, sheep, chickens, cows and a horse. I’ve been around chickens for as long as I can remember and we had sheep on Croft 3, but there are lambs at Darach croft which we never got to have on Rum.

There is going to be a fair bit of practical work like fencing and helping to put up a polytunnel along with getting the animals used to us. Particularly the goats as part of my role will be doing goat walking. The croft has a licence to walk the goats along certain paths so we have walked some of the route and done risk assessments for potential issues such as what we do if a dog is off a lead, or people / horses are walking towards us. Where would be suitable places to stop for rests for the people or the goats, checking locations which may have evergreen trees which are toxic for goats.

Mostly I am looking forward to getting started.

Growing

In our first year back on the mainland we grew nothing other than some strawberries. We did bring some chickens over from Rum and got back to Rum five times to pick fruit, deal with the sheep on the croft and generally just settle in here and get back there as much as possible.

Last year though a combination of more work tying us to the mainland and lockdown preventing us from getting to Rum at all meant we did some growing in the garden here. On the decking I created a container / pot garden with herbs and flowers in a huge variety of pots. Our strawberry bed started to establish with runners bought across from my plants on Rum, we put up a mini greenhouse and turned our spare room into a growing space for starting off seedlings too and we created two large raised beds in the garden.

Slugs were my nemesis. They munched through a vast proportion of what I had grown and even munched through replacement sowings AND a few more established plants which I bought off a friend. I think four crops of chard made it into the beds. Four crops of chard were enjoyed at various stages by slugs. No chard at all was eaten by any of us. The greenhouse was not up to the job either, despite many repairs, a whole new cover, bracing and tethering efforts and several emergency dashes outside in high winds it really struggled with the weather here.

My dwarf beans were a lot more dwarf than I had anticipated. I am still giggling at myself for my grand arches I constructed for them next to much smaller pea supports. The peas grew up and down the supports several times reaching up and beyond…. the beans grew about 3 inches, were mostly eaten by the slugs and I think I picked one single bean which was sad and small and curled up, quite probably feeling inadequate in the face of the towering bean arch!

I sowed too many peas which meant I planted them out too close together and probably had no bigger crop than if I’d planted half that number although that was by far the strongest crop providing garden snack opportunities for all and several dinners.

I lost the potential sweetcorn crop (although sweetcorn outside up here is always ambitious) to a late frost despite us covering the beds with old sheets to try and protect them. My cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower were all slug fodder. They also munched on all the carrot tops and any salad leaves or lettuces I sowed into the beds.

I tried egg shells and slug picking at nightfall, neither seemed to have much impact.


My leeks, finally harvested on St David’s Day were more spring onion than leek. Having tried – and failed – to grow leeks in sunny Sussex, wet and rainy Rum and now soggy and slug infested Strontian I may concede defeat and accept that it’s not them, it’s me.

The triumphs were salad leaves and other salady bits like tomatoes and spring onions, regular cut-and-come-again crops in containers, the peas, the herbs and all the flowers (including edible ones which we used in salads and as cake decorations.) Our decking was a riot of colour with bees and butterflies all summer long, glorious scents and lots of faffing around with arrangement of the pots opportunities as things grew up and got moved around. We also had fresh mint, coriander, rosemary, sage, garlic chives, lavender, basil for cooking with. I freezed and dried some of it and shared the lavender with the bees! We had a decent crop of potatoes although our plants grew like mutants and never flowered. We did worry that they may come and get us in our sleep as they were taller than me! I grew some comfrey which did quite well and I have planted some in the garden and chopped up some of the leaves to make a tea for feeding this coming years crops.

We built a little wildlife pond which we raised some tiny froglets to release in to and also rehomed a rescued toad that Scarlett saved from the beach (salt water is a killer for frogs and toads but they often find themselves washed down to the loch after heavy rain turns burns into rivers) although we have seen no evidence of either frogs or toads in the garden this spring. Bonnie Dog did bring a hitchhiking newt into the house last week though, riding on her back! This is excellent news for biodiversity in the garden, for slug population control and for having interesting critters around. It does mean we won’t stock the pond with frogspawn this year though as that might just be a buffet for the newts!

In the autumn once I un-netted the raised beds to let the chickens go back on the soil to scratch around, keep the weeds down and maybe help with the slugs we dismantled the greenhouse, saved what was salvageable from it (the plastic cover is being used to cover our log pile – more on the shelves in a minute) and planted loads of spring bulbs in the pots on the decking, around the fence line of the garden and around the pond. We have been rewarded with daffodils since early March, iris, crocus and now have tulips and grape hyacinths starting to bloom.

Which brings us to this year – the spring equinox has arrived and we’re already nearly in April. Despite a flurry of snow last week and a still cold feel to the temperatures the lengthening days and the calendar tell us it’s spring once more.

We have spread some manure from our neighbour’s horse onto our raised beds, I’ve emptied our own compost bin (which was beautifully rotted down other than a few eggs shells, which I spread anyway, assuming it can’t hurt to annoy the slugs a bit even if it doesn’t entirely deter them!). I have used a dose of nematodes on the beds too to see if it makes a difference and will attempt to both plant out seedlings a little later so they are more established and perhaps a bit more able to tolerate a bit of slug nibbling. I will also have a look at some companion planting tips this year, using some crops dotted around that deter slugs too.

I will sow fewer peas, install taller pea supports and smaller bean supports. I will sow fewer tomato seeds (says every gardener every year and almost never manages to do it – if you live near me I bet I’ll be offering you baby tomato plants a month or two from now!). I was very conservative with my seed purchasing this spring, although Ady ruined my sensible behaviour by arriving home with six multipacks of flower seeds and some more pots so the decking will be florally adorned again this summer despite reticence in vegetable plans.

The main plan for this year though was a more fit-for-purpose place to start the seedlings off. I’ve been collecting loo roll inners and plastic pots to cut up for plant labels, digging out the sunflower and lettuce seeds I lovingly harvested, dried and saved last year and shuffling through my seed packets like a deck of cards putting them into sowing date order, crops we most like eating order and alphabetical order since early February waiting to get my hands in compost.

A friend gave us some old windows and Ady picked up an old pallet so one day a couple of weeks ago we assembled the windows, the pallet, power tools, screws and brackets,a clear space on the decking (we decided that was best – ease of location for regular watering and monitoring, south facing for most sun with east and west aspects too, backing on to the house for shelter / additional warmth, elevated away from slug action) and spent about an hour holding windows up in various configurations, talking ourselves in and out of ideas, measuring and cogitating. Finally we came up with this.

Three smaller windows around the front and two sides, a larger window on top, a pallet on the back. It is secured to the decking and to it’s component parts. The top slopes down to get the most daylight / sun and it has plenty of gaps for ventilation as condensation was a big issue with the mini plastic covered greenhouse. We repurposed some of the window hinges we took off to make the door on the front hinged. Originally the plan had been to have the top able to be lifted off but it is *so* heavy it would have been unsafe.

It is super sturdy and has been comprehensively tested with some very high winds. The recess of the glass set into the frame on top was collecting rainwater but Ady has drilled some holes so it now drains. We have sufficient windows left to create an extension to it once we get another pallet for a back. The pallet back means we can cover it with cloth on cold nights or open it up when it is warmer so we can control the temperature a little in there too. We could also cover the whole thing with something white and reflective (that old sheet!) if it got really too hot in there.

After giving it a day or so to ensure it was definitely up to the job and test in heavy rain (hence drainage holes) and high winds I was finally able to get sowing. Scarlett has collected all sorts of useful things off the beaches, mostly fish farm rubbish like fish boxes and trays which are really useful seed trays. I also have supermarket meat or veg packaging trays and of course my loo roll inners which with a few snips and some folding make perfect modules for sowing peas, beans, sweetcorn etc.

I managed to cobble together some shelving from the old doomed mini greenhouse too so there are several hundred little seeds all tucked up in warm compost doing their thing in there now. Watering proved slightly trickier than in the walk-in mini greenhouse where a fine rose on a watering can did the job but Ady had the genius idea of a pressure sprayer which he picked up for me from the supermarket for under a tenner. Thanks to it’s long arm I am able to reach in and perfectly deliver the right amount of water to each module AND feel like I’m in Ghostbusters (or is that just me when using a pressure sprayer?).

Two weeks on and this morning when I went out to water and cheerlead I was thrilled to spot the first little green leaves peeking through. Even more excitingly these are from lettuce seeds that I harvested, dried and saved myself last year.

Of course the reason I saved them was because they had bolted and gone to seed, so I cut them off, dried the seed pods and kept them, then crushed them open over the compost a couple of weeks ago. I am currently taking this to mean I am an excellent seed saver although if they bolt again then I may have to accept they are simply a very energetic and enthusiastic breed of lettuce and feed them to the chickens!

Excitingly though this could mean we are eating home grown salad by the end of April.

I have some seed potatoes to go in and some currant cuttings from a friend to get put in the ground, plus a bramble which I would like to train growing in the strawberry bed (train to grow in a certain direction, not train to do tricks!) and of course I need to keep doing succession sowings of things every few weeks too. It’s great to feel that the garden is coming back to life after winter though and think ahead to all those lovely summer days spent out there last year.

Some of the ‘Watch This Space’ stuff.

If you know us in real life, or even have just been following us for a while you will know that Davies is the artist and Scarlett is the naturalist.

If you read back to the start of this blog and then all of the various posts along the way you will discover how these passions have shaped not just their lives but also the direction our whole family unit has taken.

Of course they both have other interests too and in fact Scarlett is also a very talented artist and Davies is very knowledgeable on all things nature related too but in the same way as the first thing Davies reached for as soon as he was able to make a move in a certain direction as a toddler was an unattended pen to scribble with or even a mug of tea to dib a finger in and daub somewhere, Scarlett was grasping for our pet cats, or slugs in the garden.

Home Education, in the autonomous style we followed has allowed them both the freedom to follow these passions without distraction. A story I will tell for the rest of my days is of kissing a barely-school age Davies goodnight, sitting on his bedroom floor for a while and then heading downstairs confident that he was moments away from sleep after a relaxing dinner, bath, cuddles and story bedtime routine before bed. Only to discover many hours later when I finally headed up to bed that he had filled half a notebook with an entire retelling of the story (it was Ted Hughes The Iron Man) of the story in picture form. It was way past midnight but set the scene for the rest of his days and in fact still does even now he is an adult, when his most productive, creative, imaginative and brilliant moments are late at night when the rest of the world sleeps.

Scarlett, who does not have an official diagnosis but is probably dyslexic came late to reading and writing, despite having a groaning bookshelf and surrounding herself in bed each night with a heap of cuddly toy animals and a pile of animal related books. During the day if she was not out exploring she would be glued to a dvd / tv documentary channel about animals. If David Attenborough was explaining things to her then so much the better but Gordon Buchanan, Steve Backshall, Steve Irwin or Chris Packham were just as acceptable. Despite being interested in the natural world myself she had far outstripped me in her ‘specialist subject’ before she reached double digits in age. I distinctly recall walking around Edinburgh museum with her when she was 12 as she confidently identified every single creature on display asking me to cover up the labels on things. Not only could she tell me what bird or animal they were she could also reel off a whole load of facts and information about each one too.

Our pre-travels, pre-blog life had us arranging educational workshops and experiences, family holidays and weekend trips and any opportunity we could find around supporting Davies and Scarlett in their interests. Whether it was zoo trips and keeper for the day experiences for Scarlett, joining the RSPB wildlife explorers and supporting her through bronze, silver and gold awards with the RSPB, finding educational sessions at the British Wildlife Centre, Longleat safari or Drusillas Zoo Park or camping in Scotland planned around the very best time of year to spot dolphins in the wild. For Davies it was sourcing decent art materials, taking him to every art gallery from Brighton to London and beyond, supporting him in booking display space at three local libraries to put up his first public art displays aged 7 or finding him as many opportunities to experiment with creative art techniques as possible.

These were children who were always offered as many diverse opportunities as possible but were dragged away from and distracted from their passions as infrequently as possible because we believe that even at a very young age a person already knows best what it is they most want to invest their time in.

Our original travel adventures and eventual move to Rum was as much shaped by the dreams Davies and Scarlett had as those Ady and I had. For our poetic, artistic son a whimsical land filled with dramatic landscapes, wild weather and endless inspiration for creativity. Our little shed shop was home to much of Davies’ creative output. For Scarlett a whole croft full of animals where she was around to rear hatchlings, witness piglets being born, be around to help with feeding and tending the animals and understanding what keeping livestock meant in all it’s full technicolour good and bad glory. As a National Nature Reserve and home to world famous natural research and monitoring projects including the red deer who feature on Autumnwatch, a massive share of the world population of Manx Shearwaters who return to the island each year to breed and rear their young, the release site of the reintroduction of white tailed sea eagles back into the wild in the UK as well as access to a community ranger, visiting and resident animal researchers and weekly boat trips to spot sea birds and cetaceans.

During our seven years on Rum the young children we moved there with became adults and so when the time came for us to leave it was as four adults with diverse and collective ideas about what happened next. Davies has been selling his art, alongside his studies and voluntary work. Scarlett has been involved in more practical life stuff like making sure that when the rest of us are working or studying we are supported with food and so on, looking after the chickens, cats and dog and helping in various part time jobs when an extra pair of hands were required.

Scarlett was also seeking her own voluntary opportunities and along with hours every week on the beach collecting rubbish and plenty of citizen science projects last year she has been working through the training to volunteer with the local Cats Protection League and pre lockdown was involved with a local social croft – Darach Croft where she was helping with various animal related tasks on an ad hoc voluntary basis.

All of which meant that when some paid work experience / apprenticeship / training opportunities arose at Darach Croft she was perfectly placed to apply for one. This week she had her first ever job interview, having previously put together her first ever CV and job application and did wonderfully well, being called back the same day to be offered one of the posts.

It was amazing to see Davies and Scarlett from nearly 6 years ago feature on the TV this week being asked about what they might want to do in the future. Davies talked about travelling – a dream which should have become a reality last year were it not for the pandemic. That is fine, he has simply got more time to further plan for that exciting adventure. Scarlett talked about how she would like to work with animals, probably on a croft. The day before the show aired she had just been offered precisely that opportunity.

She starts in a few weeks time and I am sure there will be updates from her on how it is going once she is settled in. For now though we could not be more proud and pleased for her. As well as slightly relieved she did indeed stop trying to grab and eat all the wildlife as she did with that first garden slug!

Revisited

Back in the brief lift of lockdown in the summer we had our first visitors to the house. They came socially distanced in a car each, wearing masks, with all of us taking daily temperature readings and applying regular hand sanitiser.

Way earlier in the year, before Coronavirus was even more than a passing news story off in a different continent we had had an email from the TV company who filmed New Lives In The Wild with us way back in 2015. They were planning a revisited series and wanted to know if we would be up for it.

We explained that we no longer lived ‘in the wild’ and had left Rum the previous spring. That while we still lived a slightly unconventional life we were now in a house, connected to the grid, running a car and even though it was still a 60 mile round trip involving a ferry we could actually get to a supermarket! That we would consider ourselves now more rural than isolated, semi-feral rather than wild….

We were persuaded that we still had something interesting to talk about – that a ‘life in the wild’ was about more than just chopping firewood and living in a caravan. After some discussion between the four of us and several more phonecalls with the TV company we decided to go ahead with it.

It was truly great to catch up with Ben again, to hear about his last five years adventures – scaling Everest, living through lockdown, home schooling his children…. and share our stories about life after Rum. Obviously in a 45 minute show with a large proportion of the time being spent on flashbacks to the original there is a limited amount of new footage that can be fitted in, particularly when life has changed as much as it has for us in the past five years.

It was good to take Ben for a swim and give him the opportunity to reconsider some of his own ideas about home education and childhoods in the wilderness. It was also nice for us to see the finished show this evening when it finally aired – some 7 months after it had been filmed. Despite the rather harsh story it told of our life on Rum we all enjoyed seeing the us of 6 years ago, the animals and the life we had then.

As happened last time we have already had a flurry of communication via the internet – friends who saw it, people who went to school or worked with Ady or I decades ago who were reminded that they once knew us and a mix of people who have lovely things to say (always welcome obviously!), genuine questions or interest in our story (equally always very welcome) or simply want to say something (more or less welcome depending on what it is they want to say!).

For us this show, as was the previous, was a snapshot of our lives at a particular point in time. It is lovely to see and to have as a momento, it was lovely to catch up with the crew and with Ben. And like the ten years plus worth of archives along the side bar of this blog it will become another of our memories, of the things we did and an opportunity we decided to take when it was offered to us.

2 year mainland-iversary

On 9th March we marked two years of leaving Rum and arriving back on the mainland. It’s been a very strange second year as just as we marked a year here the Coronavirus pandemic altered everyone’s lives across the whole world.

In many ways our experience of living a remote island existence prepared us really well for lockdown life. We have always Home Educated (not home schooled – there is a very big difference!), Davies was already completing his university studies remotely with the Open University, a lot of our socialising had always been done remotely via internet connections or telephone, we were very used to being at home all day every day with each other. Baking bread, sowing seeds and feeling isolated from family and friends for long periods of time was something we had blogged about for years. Bulk buying and making do with substitutions for missing ingredients or cooking from scratch had been our way of life for nearly a decade already.

We all four felt pretty fortunate for seeing out 2020 in a house on the mainland rather than an off grid caravan on a remote island though. More than most islanders (hooked up to the island grid for power and relying on kerosene for heating and hot water) we relied on deliveries of bottled gas or petrol to back up our wind turbine and solar panel power supplies for cooking and heating or charging up devices to connect with the outside world.

Our celebration of the good things about a return to mainland life is therefore a little more muted and hypothetical as a result of many positives not actually been realistic during our second year off the island, but we wanted to mark it anyway with some contributions from each of the four of us about what has been good and what has been bad about leaving Rum and coming back to mainland Scotland.

Ady
Bad:

A return to working in an employed role. Although I am part time and I am in a role I love there are still associated pressures with having to be at a certain place for a certain time. There are pressures and stresses associated with work which I never had in our island life.

The need to have a car means expense and worry and regular maintenance and upkeep. The expense of tax, insurance and fixing things we are not able to bodge ourselves is huge compared to our ability to run a clapped out old car on Rum which was not always reliable but we were usually able to get going again.

I miss the people from Rum and the community feel. I miss being part of a time and place so unique. I miss the social life – some of the best and most memorable nights of my life were spent sitting with Rum residents outside of the shop drinking beer from cans. It would not happen anywhere else than during island life.


Good:

I like being able to get in the car and go to places without relying on ferries. Lockdown restrictions aside there is more freedom to get to places on the mainland.

I love living in a house again. I love it when it is bad weather outside and I don’t need to worry about the roof / leaks / keeping things warm and dry.

Despite mentioning working in bad as a restriction of my freedom I do consider my actual job to be a positive. I like the commute / drive to and from work, I like the pride attached to working for the NHS and feeling like I am making a difference to people’s lives.

I like that we have maintained a level of living a slightly wild life and feeling enabled to fix things and stay connected to nature – from collecting firewood to dealing with a frozen water supply.

I don’t miss the mud of our crofting life, the dampness of the caravan, or the logistics of getting everything across the river and up the hill.

Scarlett

Bad
:

There is less freedom and less wilderness on the mainland. There is always evidence of people whether it is houses, roads, power lines. You can’t escape civilisation whereas Rum felt truly wild and as though every footstep you took could be on land which no one else had stepped on for years.

There is so much mainland litter compared to island life. Even during lockdown there is so much roadside, beach and village litter, some of which must be from locals. On Rum no one who lived there would ever litter, in fact all of the residents used to collect litter and take pride in keeping the island clean.

I miss having livestock. While we do have chickens, they are probably the least affectionate of all the livestock we have had. I miss the sheep, pigs and ducks we had on Rum. While you can have livestock on the mainland obviously there are more predators, more issues to worry about with neighbours than we enjoyed on Rum. It is also not entirely safe for Bonnie to roam, certainly if we are out at the beach or close to a road, whereas on Rum she could be out of sight but you knew she was safe.

I miss the sense of community of island life. Once you were accepted as a proper permanent resident on an island you were almost part of a family. Even in a small community there is not the same necessity to deal with people, resolve and accept differences.

There is a loss of safety and security and a lack of trust being back on the mainland. There are suddenly strangers and people you don’t know, there is crime and the ability for people to run away from their actions in a way that island life does not allow.

Good:

Easier access to seeing existing friends than we did on Rum. It is possible to get to people the same day you left home. Although we still need to have pet / house sitters if all of us want to be away from home it is so much easier to arrange than it was on Rum.

There is so much more to explore here, even locally. With a short drive we are able to access a whole load of interesting walks and places.

We are able to access stuff like craft materials, ingredients and so on. On Rum we had to hope that what we had ordered online would be right and that ferries would run. Here we are able to visit several shops and find what we are looking for or get stuff delivered here so much quicker.

Davies
Bad
:

Rum was a microcosm with everything that was available all within a small space. Mainland life means everything is spread out and not as accessible.

Individuals do not have as much of a voice back on the mainland. On Rum all decisions would be voted on and you had a real impact on shaping what happened. Now there is not that opportunity to make so much of a difference to what happens around you.


Good:

More opportunities – greater accessibility to opportunities for things like work experience.

Access to deliveries, food shopping and general supplies is easier.

People coming to visit or stay is much easier. Megan has been here for 9 months this visit and had previously been for two month-long stays. That would not have been possible in our caravan and even in a house on Rum the logistics of her getting to us would have been trickier.

Nic
Bad:

I would echo what the others have said about loss of freedom and autonomy with a return to the mainland meaning a need to fall back into the constraints of society again. I enjoy the various work I do but the ties of meetings / phonecalls / deadlines which are a necessity of employment do curtail my ability to do what I want, when I want. I am fiercely protective of maintaining the balance as much as I can but I do still sometimes question whether the positives outweigh that loss of absolute control over my time.

I also miss the close connections and almost family-like relationships with fellow islanders. Although we are still in a smallish village here and I have made some very good friends who crossover between work and social life (in a small community you always find everyone wears several hats and has various jobs, volunteering posts, hobbies etc) it is now possible to avoid someone if I don’t want to deal with them and the intimate relationships of understanding who people really are which are inevitable in a tiny island community are something which despite the associated frustrations, on balance I miss rather than am relieved by the absence of in my life.

I miss the ability to just do / make / set up / create something whenever I feel like it. On Rum and on the croft we could simply decide to put up a shed and make a shop, to get interested in a new craft or new skill and set it up as a little trading opportunity or business. We could decide to start keeping any animals or experiment with building styles. Of course there were huge barriers in terms of logistics of getting materials or deliveries, of the challenges of the weather or of the survival requirements of our lifestyle but space and permission were not issues to overcome in the main.

I do also miss what Davies touched on about having both a greater voice and a heavier weight of responsibility living on Rum. While there were of course people who lived on the island and did not engage fully with decision making, volunteering for the community trust, contributing to finding a shared vision for the direction of the island and making it work even their voices of dissent or apathy still counted for something. Despite living in a small community still that pioneering spirit, feeling of being fully in control and having a really loud voice and steering your destiny is definitely something I miss from our Rum life.

Finally I miss the quiet and the peace. I miss the lack of noise and distractions. I miss the being utterly present in the here and now which was so much a part of Rum life. I still capture it here, but I have to work harder. People on the mainland are never without a phone, or a set of car or house keys. There is traffic and timetables and watching the clock. There is no ‘we just popped down to the shop for some milk, but we stayed for a beer and someone got a guitar out and oh suddenly it’s 2am, but that is fine because no one has to be anywhere but here.’ The loss of that is something I definitely mourn.

Good:

This is a difficult one to phrase as I don’t want want to compare living in a caravan to living in a house as that is not really comparing island life to mainland life. However in some ways, for us, it is. If we had lived in a house on Rum we would have indeed had more space, less exposure to the elements / midges than we did the caravan. We could have been hooked up to the island power grid, we could have driven to our front door rather than had to wheelbarrow everything up to our croft.

However we would have either been renting a house down in the village, away from our croft, away from our livestock and therefore still requiring that need to get animal feed / infrastructure to support water supplies and power supplies etc. up to the croft, or we would have had to build a house and the surrounding infrastructure. Either of those options would have meant a substantial financial investment and a continued income beyond what it was feasible to earn on Rum doing the sort of jobs we feel are meaningful, soul feeding, making best use of our actual skills. The moneyless existence of self sufficiency, bartering and skills / products / service swapping which was our philosophical ideal required a climate, community and set up which simply does not exist on Rum at this present time.

Which brings me (in a classic Nic, very long winded and roundabout fashion) to my actual good, which is that the mainland does offer what Rum could not in terms of opportunities to live as closely aligned to our ideals of swapping some of our time and skills in the things we can do for trading in exchange for the things we can’t. I cannot grow tea or coffee crops, I cannot easily grow, grind and process wheat or sufficient year round fruit and vegetables, rear animals off the land, store crops and so on to sustain four adults while living in a caravan with a self set up water, heating and power supply. There are not enough hours in the day or resources at hand.

I don’t want to work for 40 hours a week so that I can have my groceries delivered in packaging, an automatic washing machine and heating which turns on with a switch on the wall fuelled by a twice yearly delivery of fossil fuels either. Our new mainland existence offers me the mid-way compromise between those two lifestyles in a way which Rum was never going to be able to. I’m not great at being a realist rather than a dreamer and schemer, but I am adept enough at finding balances to know that for now at least our current life offers a better option than our previous life did between my absolute ideal and what is actually achievable.

This leads me to all of the other goods, which I will probably just list rather than bullet pointing them as they all fall under the same broad title. It is good that I can wild swim every day – again I could have done that on Rum but a two mile walk back to a damp caravan would have had me hospitalised by December in my first winter of attempting it. Being under a hot shower and a warm blanket in a cosy house has made wild winter swimming if not entirely sensible at least not complete lunacy!

I like the opportunities to do things I am really passionate about – to write, to shape my own freelance career based on what I really, really want to do rather than where I spotted a gap. I like that the volunteering opportunities are still here and I can still make a difference and that sometimes I can walk away without feeling worried about there not being anyone else to pick up the slack.

I like seeing the opportunities Ady, Davies and Scarlett are able to explore too. They all three have work and voluntary opportunities here which are a perfect fit and would not have been options back on Rum.

Work – not just a four letter word

For various reasons I’ve been reading back on the very first year or so of keeping this blog when we were at the planning stages of our 2011 WWOOFing adventures.

Ten years ago, right about now, we were working our notice in our jobs and gearing up to head off on our year of unknowns. Nine years ago we were planning the move to Rum, two years ago we were about to move back to the mainland and our current life, picking up the threads of a slightly more conventional life and some of the ways we had left behind us.

Both Ady and I had had some form of employed work from our teens, working weekends or evenings while still at school, through college for me and then to pay the bills. Work was very much a means to an end and while we both would concede we learned a lot, gained some levels of job satisfaction and enjoyed the company and camaraderie of work colleagues the truth is that we mostly went to work to pay the bills. Worked to live, not lived to work. Stepping away from that ‘treadmill’ was one of our big motivators for heading off on our adventures in the first place.

Our volunteering year and subsequent years on Rum offered a rather more direct ‘you do this – you get that’ exchange for our toil, which while often harder and always more precarious at least offered an obvious reward and very much taught us to decide just what we wanted before deciding whether the necessary effort was justified. It was one of the lessons we were very keen to bring with us back to the mainland.

In our first year back here though, despite such noble ideals the reality was that shiny things and the peaceful sleep of the hard worked body as a reward for a days graft were not really suitable currency for our monthly rent, supermarket food shop, electricity provider or the DVLA in lieu of car tax. Yes it was still important to us to be doing jobs we enjoyed and see the point of but the previously rather dusty and dormant bank account, abandoned in favour of a largely barter based island economy had to be topped up to allow for the regular emptying each month.

Cue a year of hunting down and snatching up job opportunities wherever they showed themselves. Holiday cottage cleaning, washing up and waiting tables, taking the evening shifts at the local community centre supervising youth club and taking payment from people coming to attend yoga and football sessions. People would be almost constantly telling me how busy I was as I dashed from one job to the next, Ady and I swapping the car between us and facing the dilemma between a sit down daily dinner each day for all of us at 11pm when we were finally all back home or everyone foraging for their own food when they were hungry.

Our philosophies on work, on finding the right balance and only doing as much as we needed to do were something we had to hold very dear and remind ourselves of regularly and sure enough within the year we had re-established an equilibrium of part time roles, predominantly in work we enjoyed with scope for improving things further. A global pandemic putting an abrupt end to some of the jobs we were already hoping to withdraw from gave us space to further hone our vision, time to focus on some training and re evaluating and we will go into this coming March (which for some reason seems to be the Goddard New Year for starting new things) looking very close to ideal – for now at least.

Ady has been offered – and accepted – a permanent post with the NHS, just as his temporary one year post has come to an end. He has more training and maybe eventually scope for thinking about further career development if he wants it. A perfect next chapter for him in a role which is a perfect fit for his skills, personality and aspirations.

Davies continues with his studies and volunteering and there is scope for a couple of opportunities he is going to consider and explore further. Watch this space.

Scarlett has an exciting opportunity lined up for later this year too, offering her paid work experience in precisely the sort of endeavours she most wants to be spending time doing. Again watch this space for more on that once it is all finalised and actually happening.

And me? Volunteering has led to two paid jobs both of which I am loving. I am project managing an event for a local mental health and wellbeing charity, making loads of contacts, feeling as though I am helping people and making a difference along with learning and challenging myself. I am also still writing for the local paper and was thrilled to get my NUJ press card last month.

I am also working on my own watch this space project too.

It continues to be a strange time, with so many uncertainties and so few things feeling within anyone’s control. To be able to have work which pays bills at all feels like a massive luxury which we are hugely thankful for.

Ady and I would often sit, side by side, looking out over some wonderful view in a quiet corner of our croft and ask ourselves ‘what percentage of perfect are we at?’ We used to regularly hover between 80 and 90 percent, which is a pretty good place to be. I suspect 100 would be boring – where else is left to strive for at that point?

I’d say in terms of all the things which we currently have choice and autonomy over, the aspects of life which we can control and change we are certainly at 85% just now, with a clear plan for the elusive 15%, which could of course alter along the way. But that’s what makes it interesting and helps us look forward to whatever is yet to come.

Lockdown Birthdays for all

I bought Ady a t shirt for his birthday way back last May saying ‘2020 lockdown birthday’. They were quite the fun thing then although I remember thinking when I ordered it in April that there was every chance we would be out of lockdown before his birthday and the joke might fall flat….

Davies’ birthday in September was not actually that lockdown-y. We had Megan here, we’d not long returned from a trip to Ireland and had a trip to Edinburgh planned for a few weeks hence. It was that brief window of thinking things may be returning to some sort of ‘what used to pass for normal’.

That Edinburgh trip never happened. Neither did the surprise Edinburgh weekend in December for Scarlett’s 18th. Because by then she was having a lockdown birthday of her own.

And now I’ve had one too.

My birthday, as is often the case, was a white one. More heavy frost than ice at ground level but with plenty of snow up on the hills around us. It was a gorgeous sunny day with bright blue skies and the sort of crisp clear ness you only get at this time of year.

I was about to leave the house for a birthday swim when a friend messaged to ask if I wanted a socially distanced exercise swim buddy so we arranged a spot to meet and when we arrived we found another two friends having their own socially distanced swim already in the loch. They are much faster, stronger swimmers than us anyway but we did call across the loch to each other and managed distanced helloes on the beach afterwards. That was unexpected and special.

We got home and Scarlett had put up the Birthday Bunting so my birthday was officially declared started and I was presented with my cards and gifts. I got lovely hand made cards from Davies, Scarlett and Megan, along with a couple of nice gins and some lovely chocolates. I also got a new (to me) waterproof camera. A gorgeous notebook arrived from a Rum friend and a swimming friend gave me a sketchbook. All very thoughtfully chosen, given with love and very gratefully received.

In the style of Dr Seuss by Davies
In my happy place by Scarlett
A few of my favourite things from Megan

We made the most of the sunshine by heading out for a walk at a nearby beach. It was frosty and cold but beautiful.

Back at home Ady and I did some rejigging furniture to create a better side table next to where I sit and made a hole to put all the chargers for my phone, chromebook, camera and tracker watch (my Christmas gift) through. I talked to my parents, enjoyed reading all the birthday messages I was sent online and then had a delicious steak dinner.

Followed of course by birthday brownies. The perfect day.

Perhaps if it had not been lockdown we would have gone out for lunch? Maybe my swim would have been with a group of friends instead of just one and we could have hugged or even just stood closer to each other?

There have been times during this circle round the sun between my 46th birthday in January 2020 and this birthday when I was worried that the people I celebrated it with would not even be around – with me here in real life or around me online and by telephone. The sun shone. I was showered with love, good wishes and gin.

I really hope that now all four of us have celebrated a lockdown birthday the circle is complete and Ady’s birthday in May allows for all the things that were missing in our last birthdays. But this one still managed to be a happy one and for that I am truly very grateful.

Solstice, Christmas and New Year

Way back in the summer when we were missing seeing friends Scarlett and I hatched a plan to hold a festive open house at some point in the week before Christmas, possibly on the solstice. We thought we would invite all our new local friends and work mates to come to our house for festive food and drink. We had plans for mulled wine, nice music, maybe a fire pit as it grew dark…

I’ve thought of her and I talking about that plan several times in the last few weeks. Smiling a little at our naeivity in believing back in the summer that life would have returned to any sort of normal just yet, feeling happy that we had such a long prospective guest list given we’d only been here just over a year when we were talking about our plans, feeling amused that our one big wish really once we moved here and suddenly had all this space was to be hosts as often as possible and how the very window when that all started to fall in to place became the time it was simply not something we could do.

In fact the week before Christmas was actually slightly fraught. A computer problem with our car which had baffled two local garages and a local friend with some technical knowledge and a whizzy gismo which we’d hoped would if not fix it then at least diagnose it had all failed. So with an MOT looming which would fail with this particular dash board warning flashing up we had taken the car to the nearest specialist dealer in early December. Which happens to be nearly 100 miles away, so the best part of a 200 mile round trip – and six hours driving. We had driven all the way there, sat in the showroom with high hopes of a speedy fix only to be quoted a very large sum and told they didn’t have the part in stock so we’d need to come back the following week.

Which we did, having reframed the situation as at least something out of our hands and to be made the best of. So we managed to do some Christmas shopping while in the city, treated ourselves to lunch and marvelled over the last time just the two of us would have been out doing Christmas shopping, realising it would have been 21 years ago before Davies was born. Then we got a phone call to say the car had not been fixed and it was going to need further investigation and would we be prepared to take a courtesy car home instead. The following week we were told the new part had been ordered but was not expected to arrive until February!!! Then, in the style of a Christmas miracle we had another phonecall to say they had sourced the part, fitted it, MOTd the car and were able to deliver part way down to us if we could meet them.

Again, we will gloss over the massive amount of money all of this cost and focus on having gotten our car back months earlier than anticipated. By happy coincidence a Rum friend I had arranged to meet on Solstice day as she was bringing her children to the mainland to see Father Christmas had left Rum early due to likely ferry cancellations and was available to meet up when the car was being delivered. So we managed to make that trip into town a worthwhile one too – even more so because Ady came so I was able to drink cocktails with my friend over lunch because he was happy to drive me home again. Silver linings…..

Which freed us up to celebrate solstice in our usual way with an outside fire and some candlelit exchanges of how nature has blessed us this year. I had been up at first light hoping to see the sunrise but it had been a cloudy start to the day, my solstice swim was also cloudy but as the sky grew dark for the longest night we were suddenly treated to a lovely colourful sunset as the sky cleared, the moon rose and we were able to see stars and the great conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter. We had the telescope out to see the craters on the moon and it was a lovely evening.

Seeing in the light – mug of tea at sunrise
Seeing out the light – bonfire, sparklers and candlelit blessings at sunset


Ady’s work rota was very well timed with his four days on, four days off pattern meaning he had 24th, 25th, 26th and 27th December off so we enjoyed a lovely Christmas Eve making and decorating Christmas crackers, watching films and eating nice food.


Christmas Day itself was a wet day but we managed a dash outside in our Christmas jumpers to snap our traditional photos. We completed a 1000 piece Christmas themed jigsaw puzzle, spoke to family on video call and ate even more lovely food.


In line with children not being children any more, ecological and environmental conscience and matching wants to needs the pile of gifts under the tree this year was probably the smallest ever. Wrapped in fabric (which was folded back up again afterwards for using again next year, and the year after that…) and mostly items to be consumed, used up or otherwise sustainable.

New Years Eve was spent gathered watching the various TV seeing in of the new year including Hogmanay with Susan Calman, which was very exciting because we were part of the virtual audience for it when it was recorded a short while ago. It had been great fun celebrating New Year slightly early as part of around 100 other audience members all via zoom. Everyone had been told to bring along something to toast the new year in with and there was proper Auld Lang Syne dancing and cheers-ing at ‘midnight’. We saw Deacon Blue and Amy McDonald sing and various Scottish celebrities were either in the studio or on zoom call in too including Karen Gillan and the winner of GBBO. We really enjoyed the rewatching and were delighted to spot ourselves as part of the giant mosaic audience too.


We also watched the fireworks / drone display at midnight on BBC which never fails to make me slightly teary but this year really had me dripping into my prosecco. What a year 2020 was eh? So, so many memorable moments, good, bad, remarkable, amazing and awful.


New Years Day marks both my parents wedding anniversary -49 years for them this year and Davies and Megan’s anniversary of being a couple – 2 years for them this year.


I saw off the slightly woolly remnants of seeing in the new year with a bracing swim. It had not been arranged as a group swim like we did last year when there was a large number of us, piped in to the water and retiring to the local pub for hot soup afterwards this year. But around 8 of us were there at the same time, a few family members were also around and so a socially distanced swim (very easy in a great big loch) happened with us circling the boat moored in the loch where someone lives, so he came out to his deck to wish us all happy new year and then rowed to shore to join us for soup and cake around a small bonfire on the beach afterwards. A couple of passing walkers called over to say Happy New Year and chat including a lovely older gentleman who said it was the first time he had talked to people in weeks and it had made his Christmas. I’m certainly not advocating general socialising but I could also very much see the huge benefits which this rather impromptu gathering generated with everyone outside and very much keeping their distance from each other in the sunshine.

Who knows what 2021 has in store for us. I suspect nothing any less memorable than 2020, but hopefully with the balance tipped further towards good things. Happy New Year to all our readers.

Bad, Good, Learned in 2020 and hopes for 2021.

2020 eh- that’ll be a year no one ever forgets won’t it?!


In the very early part of the year we managed fairly usual stuff – a trip to London to take in a show, meeting up with friends and visiting family, going to an award winning restaurant and generally gallivanting. We sort of expected that to set the tone for the year and had a full calendar of events booked with theatre tickets for Glasgow, trips to Northern Ireland, visits from family, cinema trips, new volunteering opportunities, trans-Atlantic travel for Davies and further round the UK travel for Davies and Megan already booked in along with semi made plans for other adventures. By March it was clear that few if any of those things would happen and the world grew smaller with every new press conference or breaking news story.
Plans were postponed, put off again and finally cancelled. In so many areas we felt educated, enlightened and in possession of ever more horrifying yet informed facts. In others we felt less and less in control and more suspicious of what we were being told. In so many ways we came to realise and understand that what a bit of knowledge really offers is a window on quite how ignorant you are…
There were glimmers of grabbing chances where we could – a snatched trip to Northern Ireland, a masked up visit to a half empty cinema, Megan managing to spend half of this year here despite her being able to leave looking quite uncertain (not a problem as far as we’re concerned, the home office and her visitors stay restrictions may prove to disagree…).

Many people have wished this year away. I am disinclined to ever wish away what you have right now just in case what follows is even worse. I am also aware that nothing is forever. This too will pass. Meanwhile 2020 was not just an ordeal to have lived through, it was also a year of our stories, our history, our lives. Despite what didn’t happen and maybe because of what did we emerge in to 2021 having had our bad times, our good times, things we learned and our hopes for what the coming year may bring us. Here they are:

Scarlett;
Bad:

* It has been really hard to see how selfish some people have been during a crisis. For example the panic buying during the early lockdown. While I understand that people are trying to protect their family and acting like that because they are scared it is still disappointing to see that people think about themselves and don’t consider others.
* Although we have a good life and go to lots of cool places it’s been really boring not seeing friends and making plans. We are used to a quiet life with lots of interesting things planned to liven it up. Not being able to do things like tours when we go to cool places, or meet up with others has been really hard.
* We didn’t manage to get to Rum at all this year. While Rum is not my home any more it still feels somewhere I am closely connected to having lived half my life there. I have things I want to get from the croft but also I want to spend time there. Covid / boat schedules / not endangering people from the island meant we didn’t get there at all in 2020.
* I’ve been disappointed and angry this year in how our government have treated us. When Dominic Cummings broke all the rules and so many people wrote to their MPs we were basically told to be quiet by the prime minister. To realise that the people in charge don’t respect us, won’t properly look after us and we don’t have much power to change that is hard to take. Also watching other authority figures / people in power in other countries – for example the police in the US it has been really obvious that there is such abuse of power and people feel they are better than others just because they have a badge or job title.

Good:
* While I talked about people being selfish during lockdown we also saw a large amount of people being selfless and going out of their way to help others, even if it put themselves at risk.
*Dear Evan Hansen – the stage show in London we saw in January. It feels so much longer ago than 2020! It was an amazing show and we saw it with amazing people, the whole trip was a lot of fun.
*Getting Luna cat. My Mum has wanted another cat for ages and it’s always lovely to have another pet. Although Luna has a way to go before she is totally settled in it is clear she will be a part of our family.
* Enjoying my Mum being free to hang out during lockdown. Although it was sad to have so many cancelled plans we were also able to make last minute decisions to go and explore locally. We did loads of cool walks together.
* I feel this has been the year that environmental stuff has really started to come into people’s awareness. One because people had wildlife and nature more in front of them with quieter roads, less pollution and so on and another because of David Attenborough’s work. I hope that people who had been so used to living busy lives in big cities may not be so prepared to go back to those lives now having stopped for a while this year.
* My birthday video. Although it was sad not to spend time with far away family and friends the video they all made me for my 18th was amazing and helped make up for not being together in person.
* I participated in the Inktober challenge this year, doing a piece of art every day in October following a prompt. Mummy and Davies did it too and it was fun doing it alongside others and comparing art work with them.

Learned:
* I learned so much about civil rights and racism this year. As a white person, living in the western world I was previously blind to how much of an issue it is.
* I have watched loads and loads of documentaries this year, on TV channels like Smithsonian, Yesterday and True Crime. Many of them were from all around the world and I have learned so much about nature, history, geography, architecture, the world, crime solving and how that actually works in reality rather than dramatised shows.
* I’ve done a lot of online learning as a volunteer for the Cats Protection League. While I am a new volunteer and have not done much other than training yet I have covered a lot in the training about cat behaviour, infection control and working with animals in those conditions.
* Daddy and I set up a new satellite dish and box which meant lots of working out the tuning and using new technology I’d not done anything with before.
* About American electoral elections. How different they are from the UK but also the various details around them.

Hopes for 2021:
* spend more time with my friend Elinor – either online (always with hopes for better internet) or in person when pandemic related safety allows.
* I hope that the new awareness of environmental issues that people have translates into real change rather than a flash of intentions before people return to their old normal.
* I’d like to see more stage shows. We managed one this year back in January but other things we had planned were cancelled. I hope in 2021 we are able to go back to the theatre again.

Special bonus wish for 2021 – I’d like to visit somewhere not in the UK, although I don’t want to use air travel, so it would need to be by boat. I’d like to see more wildlife that we don’t have in the UK.

Megan
Bad:

* My experience at border control coming to the UK in July. It was probably the worst thing I went through this whole year.
* Having anxiety surrounding Coronavirus in general. In the very beginning I was incredibly worried about it.
* A lot of things that were going well for me early in 2020 all stopped due to the pandemic. Examples include socialising at college, going to the gym and going to the library all felt like achievements I was doing well with but were taken away with lockdown.
* I feel that I still have aspects of my anxiety which hold me back. Things that I wish I was not afraid of but still am even though I have been trying to work on those.
* I had lots of plans for this year and being stuck not able to go to places has meant so many of them have not happened.

Good:
* Being stuck at home has meant I have gotten into lots of new TV shows and video games. When so many things were taken away this year it was nice to still have new fun things eg The Umbrella Academy, The Good Place, Hannibal for TV and Animal Crossing and Smash Bros for games which are also multi player games which I can play with friends.
* That I got to stay here in the UK with the Goddards for such a long stay. Early in the year it seemed like I might not get here at all but I have been here since July.
* I feel that I have made good use of the extra free time I have had this year when I might have been studying or having a job to think more about my future and what I might want to do.
* A highlight of this year was early in 2020 when I was in a Philosophy club at school where there were really good tutors and interesting people. I really enjoyed spending time talking about deep topics and the thinking around it. I got close to the professor who taught and led the club and was doing really well in school.
* Our trip to Northern Ireland in August was one of the biggest adventures I have had this year. Everything there was fun and new and a really good experience.

Learned:
* I have been with Davies for 2 years now and learned more about making a long term relationship work. I’ve never been with anyone for this long and working through difficult patches and working out how to deal with things has been new.
* Spending a long time here has taught me lots about how another family does things and the ways in which they operate differently. My family is very religious so a lot of our house revolves around religion so it has been interesting to stay somewhere that is not the case. My family also does not eat together every day so that has been nice to be a part of too.
*I have learned a huge amount about political topics – how black people are treated, the Black Lives Matter also led to lots of other civil rights and minority groups, how the pandemic was managed. Also about presidential elections – it was my first year voting anyway but this year was a very educational one for everyone watching the US elections.
*I have done quite a bit of independent learning and research this year on world history and geography, ancient history, different languages and while I have mostly just touched on lots of subjects I am really enjoying learning more. My grandfather is an American History teacher so it has been funny following a bit in his footsteps.
* This follows on to further learning about my own ancestry after I did a DNA test last year which gave me some ideas about my genes. I did some looking at my own family history and family tree and started putting together stories of the people who were my ancestors.

Hopes:
* I have a few hobbies that I think I would like to do and I would like to try and at least see whether I want to do them. They include crochet, ukulele and cooking.
* I hope that after Biden takes office in the US things will improve. Obviously the Coronavirus but also that people begin to do things better in the US and while I sincerely hope that happens in my life time I really hope I start to see change in the coming year. I also hope that maybe can be part of that change. This includes subjects like BLM, corona vaccine and environmental issues. It is good to see more awareness of this generally including in places like social media and I hope to play my part.
* I really want to improve my communication and confidence in talking to others. I also want to carry on with self improvement in general.

Special bonus wish for 2021 – I really want Davies to come to America so I can show it to him. I also really want to see more of the UK with Davies too.

Davies:
Bad:

* Disrupted plans generally due to Covid – instantly springing to mind are: my friend Ben visiting in April, going to the US in the summer, a trip to Edinburgh in October, a trip to the south during the summer.
* The stall on my new business. The stresses around the phone calls and meetings with the job centre, creating art I don’t have my heart in and not having opportunities to sell art.
* I have not achieved or accomplished all of the things I had hoped and planned to. While some of them were not possible due to the pandemic others were things within my own control.

Good:
* Megan got here at all and that she has been here for so long. It’s nice having her here, although we have not managed to do the travelling and exploring we had hoped and planned we have been able to spend all this time together.
* The London trip in January – the show (Dear Evan Hansen) was good. I always love London and it’s good to visit and see what has changed.
*The Northern Ireland trip in August – seeing friends, taking Megan there.
* I got another excellent result for my studying in 2020 with a distinction again for a second year. The module I began in 2020 for this year is really interesting content too.
* I have done more art this year than have done in previous years. I’ve bought new art materials and done lots of experimenting with them, I did Inktober in 2020 and I have filled 5 sketch pads with my art.

Learned:
* In early 2020 I bought an app to help me learn the keyboard and spent a lot of time practising. While I have not been spending as much time in the second half of the year I have retained the skills and got some basic music reading .
* US election process and politics in America and the UK with covid and Brexit. I increased my understanding of other political ideals such as communism, democracies etc.
* Black Lives Matter, racism and civil rights. I learned a lot online and from the general coverage on the news coverage of the riots.
* I learned quite a bit about religion this year. While I would always consider myself an atheist anyway I now feel that I have learned enough to understand why and be able to explain it, to myself and others.
* I have learnt a lot from my studying obviously. I have learned the actual content but also more about what areas I may want to study further or eventually look at careers in.

Hopes for 2021:
* I want to do more art this year.
* I really enjoyed working on Scarlett’s birthday video and would like to do more of that this year and post videos to my youtube account.
* To pick back up on the keyboard learning and carry on improving with that.
* I hope to continue doing well with my studying.
* I want to revisit my business plan and tweak it more towards the types of art I really enjoy doing and the markets which exist for making money from them.

Special bonus hope for 2021 – to travel with Megan, either in the UK, the US or both.

Ady:
Bad:

* Not seeing family or friends for the last 9 months and the general restrictions caused by the pandemic.
* We have had to spend a massive amount of money on our car in the last part of 2020. It was frustrating not to be able to sort it out ourselves as we have previously managed with technical or mechanical things in our Rum life. Despite best efforts this was beyond us (and ended up being beyond several mechanics too to be fair!).
* Christmas 2020 was very special because we got to make the absolute most of our new mainland life with Christmas parties, socialising and special events. I was really looking forward to doing that again, particularly as we are even more settled here now.
* General cancelled events that we had planned and were not able to go to.
* That we didn’t get over to Rum, both because I miss it but also because there are things I would like to bring away to here.

Good:
* Visiting Pitch restaurant in February. It was my Christmas present from Nic and was a surprise. It was a real treat to go, to meet Kenny Tutt (the owner, and winner of Masterchef 2019) and felt even more special as the world locked down just weeks afterwards.
* The London trip to see Dear Evan Hansen. The story of the show was so powerful and the acting was really good. We had super cheap seats with restricted viewing right up in the very highest level which almost made it more special.
* Nic and I went to Inverness (mostly related to the expensive car saga mentioned before but still…) just the two of us and did Christmas shopping, had lunch out and really enjoyed being able to be together just the two of us and meander around enjoying the day.
* My job. While it’s been a crazy year to start working in social care and for the NHS I absolutely love my job. I am proud to be part of the organisation, I enjoy getting to know my clients and helping and I am also proud of myself in less than a year to feel confident in dealing with what ever situation happens to crop up next.
* I loved our lives on Rum and I will be forever pleased we did that. However I also love the contrast of how we live now. I love my daily baths, I love having heating and power and I love going outside to put the chickens away in the evening and looking back into the house to see the lights on and people sitting or busy in the various rooms of the house.
* Despite the lack of real life mixing and mingling this year I really feel we have become part of our local community. People know us and often chat about Nic swimming or her writing in the paper, I regularly drive to work waving at numerous people as I pass them and it feels as though we have made friends here.
* I have invested in lots of smart tech for the house to control plugs, lights and music. I really enjoy tinkering about with it. I also set up our TV satellite with Scarlett and that gave me a real sense of pride.
* To have gotten to a secure financial place where we could choose to give up some of the extra jobs we were doing.

Learned:
* I have obviously learned a huge amount of new skills and lessons through my job, many of which will be transferable skills to take with me elsewhere if we decided to move on again.
* As a result of my job I have really familiarised myself with the local area and gotten to know where we live now in a way I had not before.
* From a second trip to a stage show I have learned that actually I really love them. I would have previously said I would never be interested in something like that. I am very visual and enjoy TV and film with all the special effects but being introduced to a whole new genre of entertainment and being blown away by how much I enjoyed it has been a big new thing to embrace and enjoy.

Hopes for 2021:
* To have a photograph published somewhere.
* To have a go at home brewing.
* To get disciplined at studying for a qualification related to my job.
* To have another meal at a swanky restaurant.
* To get over to Rum and collect things I want here.

Special bonus wish for 2021 – to visit the arctic circle.


Nic:
Bad:

* It is a nearly a year since I saw my parents. Despite having spent a decade living far from them I still rely quite heavily on having real life time with them at least twice a year. We annoy each other, are quickly reminded of what we dislike about intensive time in each others company and just as speedily forgive, forget and are comfortable with each other again. These are the people who made me, not being able to hug them, particularly in such difficult times is incredibly difficult to bear. My parents are in a vulnerable category for the virus, my Mum had it fairly on in lockdown which leads me to hope my Dad did too and they are therefore carrying immunity. Nothing I can find assures me of this though and being 600 miles away and unable to do anything either on a practical or actual level to change that is hard to deal with. It is by far the toughest personal bit for me of this year.
* I miss people generally. While we have managed to have friends to stay and to visit with people during allowed moments of this year I have still very much missed actual time spent in the company of others. Even the allowed times spent with friends, like my regular swims are hard for feeling that a hug or a touch of a hand is dangerous when it is so much of how I usually interact with my fellow humans.
* I dislike having an empty calendar for the year ahead – and for so much of the year just gone. I love having loose plans and vague notions of things we are going to do and firming them up. I like having proper plans and things to look forward to. I like being able to make the most of all the opportunities life offers no matter what our circumstances. 2020 has allowed for very little of that. I had such great hopes for Davies and Megan’s big summer of travel, such plans for celebrating Scarlett’s 18th birthday with surprise trips and meet ups with friends. Having to dismantle and cancel and pack away things I had been hugging to myself as things to look forward to was hard.
* I would echo what the others have said about being sad not to have got to Rum this year. It was even harder to see such a spotlight on the island with the new families moving there and reading about them discovering their new home while we have not been able to get over and spend any time somewhere that still feels at least partly home to us.

Good:
* It would be really easy to focus on what has been hard about 2020, because certainly a whole lot of it was very hard. However I spent a few hours sorting through online photos of the year while making photo calendars for my parents, for Davies & Megan, and for Scarlett as Christmas gifts. Then for a general Goddard family calendar month by month for our lounge as I always do. For not one single month did I struggle to find photos which made me smile. I have my children and Megan here with us and another whole year of memories and happy times spent with them. One of my biggest skills I think is in making the best of where I happen to be right now and that proved a very useful skill in 2020. I am pleased to have seen how it had rubbed off on the rest of my family too.
* Art. Both Davies and Scarlett have mentioned Inktober and I also participated in that and really enjoyed it. It came after joining in with a swimming related art challenge where a whole group of wild swimmers collected together to create collaborative sketchbooks which we contributed to and passed on, finally getting a book which contained the collective art work of 10 people. I became friends with the people above and below me in the exchange, developed new art skills and really enjoyed the challenge. I also ended up doing a more or less daily shell art creation on the beach near our house during the first lockdown when I would gather shells and pebbles and create a new piece of ephemeral art each day and photograph it. The photos and the musings surrounding the art remain but the art itself was washed away with the moving tides. I got a huge amount out of that project.
* Swimming continues to be a huge highlight of my life – both in terms of the connections it has given me to local real life friends and wider virtual swimming community friends but also the connection to the natural world and the more or less daily pause button getting in the loch allows on other world stuff for me. I have participated in various challenges and continue to be in the water, currently often breaking through ice to do so, most days.
* This year could have been dire for us as having only been back on the mainland for a year when lockdown hit all of the various casual, self employed and zero hour contract work we had been doing came to an abrupt end. Holiday cottage cleaning, youth work, community centre supervising and freelance writing for the local paper all ceased more or less straight away. Fortunately Ady had just begun a proper contracted post with the NHS and a brief burst of work with the paper for me followed by a couple of months of average zero hour contract work on the furlough scheme for me got us through the early half of the year. Shortly afterwards two of the voluntary jobs I had been doing translated into paid opportunities and are currently my main work. While circumstances were kind I am also prepared to take some credit for having been both canny and skilled at what I was doing for nothing in encouraging people to value it sufficiently to start paying me for it.
* I mentioned it before in our bad, good, learned of lockdown but being part of the Great British Home Chorus and contributing to the CD which was released is also a big highlight of my 2020.

Learned:
* I joined the NUJ (National Union of Journalists) in the middle of this year and signed up for a whole range of training courses with them. Throughout September, October and November I was doing at least one course most weeks and I learned a huge amount. I learned many useful skills and tips and help with direction on freelance writing work. I also learned some of the things I already know and the value of them.
* As a Home Educator I have long since learned that we never stop learning and this year has been no different in offering myriad opportunities to continue my education. My paid work has taken me to learning more about mental health issues, world issues have led me to learning more about civil rights, body positivity and world politics, my now adult children continue to teach me about environmental issues, gender politics and more. I have consciously acknowledged and owned my ignorance in some areas and strived to educate myself further with reading books, seeking out alternative views, opinions and lifestyles and being better at shutting up and listening as well as understanding when it’s not about me and when it really is and how to step up to that.
* Not a surprise at all but in creating a growing area here in our garden I learned a whole new list of lessons about growing food in new circumstances. Challenges around soil type, irrigation, pest control were all new and different again to what I had faced on our Sussex allotment and our Rum croft. I will take those lessons forward into next year and see what I can improve with that knowledge over and above the classic ‘what you have learned from growing things in 2020 was simply what 2020 offered in terms of growing things’.

Hopes for 2021:
* I am looking forward to seeing my parents, my brother and his son, my sister in law and her children and hugging them. I hope it is not too long before I am able to do that.
* I hope Davies and Scarlett are able to make their way further into their young adult worlds and fledgling lives with their independent hopes and dreams.
* I would love to have a more productive growing season here in the garden and produce more crops this year.
* I want to progress further with my writing. I am working with a mentor and have plans for a book. While it would be amazing to hold a printed copy of that book in my hand at this stage I will say that my hope is to finish writing that book and have someone else at least read it.
* I would like to complete my current swimming challenge (which is a winter related one with specific monthly distances) and to have achieved further progress with my swimming in terms of challenges related to distance / time / temperature / frequency (I’m being vague because none of the swims I would usually have signed up to attempt have been announced due to uncertainty about what 2021 has in store – all of the 2020 swims I signed up to complete were cancelled).

Special bonus wish – last year I wished for some sort of noteworthy positive adventure whether it was a trip or wildlife encounter. With all of the others citing visits to different continents I would echo them in hoping that some sort of exciting travel adventure presents itself this year.