like the deserts miss the rain

Every so often I have a moment or two of doubt about our move here. It is pretty darn extreme, both the day to day lifestyle we as a family currently live and the reality of living on a remote island. When we were planning our move here the biggest thing family and friends were concerned about was how we’d all cope without our friends. We are very sociable people and the idea of cutting ourselves off from people was a scary one which people quite rightly predicted would be an issue for us.

We were very confident that we’d make friends here. Unless the whole island was populated by nutters it would be hard not too. You are in the same boat as everyone else here which is after all the first step towards friendship – a common circumstance. It’s why we make friends at school, at work, at parent and toddler group, at the school gates – shared life experiences and being in a similar place to each other. Rum has a very diverse community of people, a fairly wide demographic and although many of the islanders came here initially to work for SNH in some capacity people here now make their living from all sorts of different ventures and spend their days doing all manner of interesting and different things. It’s not quite like Balamory but there are times when I think it comes close!

This means Ady and I have made some really good friends here, people who we feel we have properly connected with and really value the friendship of. People who we feel the richer for having in our lives. I adore popping in for a cup of tea at various houses in the village, exchanging banter with fellow islanders on facebook, starting to build up in jokes, catchphrases, little traditions, starting to forge friendships which will last a long, long time. I miss friends and I really miss family but the community on Rum are doing a fine job of meeting our needs and we are pushing hard to help along the sorts of things we’d like to see more of socially here on the island.

But what of Dragon and Star? We’ve always been very aware that taking them away from everything they know, their local friends, their cousins (to whom they are very close and saw pretty much weekly when we lived back in Sussex) could become a problem. Our children are also very sociable, like mixing with people, making friends, spending time with others. There are other children on the island  but the three girls who are older than Dragon and Star anyway are away to school for two weeks at a time coming home only every other weekend. The three girls who are younger than Dragon and Star (one is nursery age, the others are not even that old yet) are good company for a while but the appeal of 3 and 4 year olds when you are 10 and 12 is fairly limited and a different sort of company to peers and equals. The ninth resident child on the island just celebrated his first birthday… I cannot deny that this is a concern for me and one which I ponder regularly. I do watch the children being friends with various adults on the island and I know that these relationships are no less valuable than the friendship of children the same age as them would be, just different. Dragon and Star are very fortunate to have each other; they have always been close and chosen each others company over more or less anyone else even when lots of potential friends were available. Many of their friends are mutual ones and they have shared interests and passions and happily fulfil the ‘best friend’ role for each other admirably. All of those vital socialisation skills are more than covered in the sibling relationship – conflict resolution, cause and effect, bargaining and negotitation, give and take, reading social cues and just understanding how relationships with another young human work. As for their socialising they seem to be doing okay with the people available here on the island, happily spending time with various people here in various ways and they have regular top ups of friends and family coming to visit to bolster them when needed.

There is no question that this is a different life and the effects on them of having spent this chunk of their childhood in this environment will no doubt be evident in some way – I hope positive or at least benign.

This morning I was having a ‘it would be nice to be able to just nip to…’ moment briefly so I asked the others what 3 things they most miss about the mainland:

Ady –

  • Retail therapy. I loved going to supermarkets for reduced to clear items at the end of a day and finding bargains.
  • Electricity – I did point out that most of the rest of Rum has electricity but of course it is still rationed here rather than available on demand no matter how much you want to use.
  • Being able to go out for a meal or get in a takeaway – either as a celebratory treat or just because it’s easy sometimes to get in dinner from the chipshop.


  • Toy shops
  • Friends
  • Home Ed groups and activities such as Badgers (St Johns Ambulance 5-10year olds), Wildlife Explorers ( RSPB kids group), Magic Lantern (film club), Forest School.

Star –

  • Toy shops (She was not copying Dragon, infact she gave her answers first!)
  • Friends and cousins and family
  • Museums and days out like that. We used to go to London every six weeks or so to visit museums, attend lectures on Science at the RI, the theatre, cinema etc.

Nic –

  • Charity shops – it is true that there is nothing we can’t get here, internet shopping is amazing. But I have dropped a dress size or three and could really do with all sorts of new clothes to fit properly and am not really up for paying brand new prices or not being able to try stuff on. 
  • Library – we do have a little branch library and can request items and get in books but it is not the same as being able to head to the library whenever you like and find a selection of fiction and browse the cook books, craft manuals and kids books for inspiration.
  • Family and friends. Celebrating birthdays and Christmas is going to be hard without our usual family and friend traditions. We’ve missed various get togethers over the last few years with friends and that is hard. My brother is about to become a father and I won’t be around to meet the new baby. We catch up on the phone and online but nothing compares to simply hanging out with my sister in law for several hours every week just being part of each others lives, or having my Dad call round for a coffee in the middle of the day because he was passing and saw my car there.

We did a lot of gallivanting about in our Home Ed life previously; if one of the children showed an interest or developed a passion for something then we would find the best place to visit and discover more – art galleries, museums, parks, zoos, cinemas, theatres, lectures were all part of our day to day lives. I miss that easy availability of finding the right resource to answer their questions, inspire and educate them (and me!).

Never ones to dwell on what we don’t have my next question was ‘what three things would you like to have a magic wand to wave and make happen’. I usually find the magic wand is not at all necessary and most of our wishes are perfectly possible to make true all by ourselves with a bit of time and creativity.

Ady –

  • Electricity -I’d like to be able to charge up my phone, keep the internet on all the time, watch iplayer in bed whenever I want without thinking about where the power is coming from.
  • An indoor toilet – I’d like to not be emptying the loos every few days and just have the waste gone once it’s left our bodies!
  • A log fire – I want to be warm without worrying.

Ady’s answers demonstrate where he is struggling just now and are interesting because I’d consider them all modern conveniences (aside from maybe the log fire, but really that is a heating request which again is a modern thing).

Dragon –

  • Enough electricity to charge stuff up and maybe run my Xbox console so I could bring it out of storage
  • A bigger bedroom – I want to set up stuff to leave out all the time in my room rather than having to pack everything away every day.
  • A playpark – grand plans for a trampoline, zip wire, climbing frame, swing, slide etc.

Star –

  • A bigger bedroom so I can build a really big house for Humphrey (her hamster) and have a desk to draw at and bookshelves to put all my books on.
  • Less mud on the croft so I don’t get splashed every time I go out to feed the animals.
  • Less condensation in the static.

Star was also pretty struck with the idea of the playpark.

Nic –

  • I’d love a bath. A bath that I can soak in for an hour with a book and a glass of wine, then get out of, into my pjs and snuggle on the sofa afterwards.
  • a washing machine, here at home. So that getting a load of washing done does not require allowing a couple of hours once a week and a roulette risk as to whether I get it home before it gets rained on as I carry it up our muddy hill.
  • Indoor space I guess, space to store our food indoors so we don’t have in the dark and wind and rain dashes out to the horse box because we’ve run out of gravy granules. Space to hang wet coats and waterproofs and put our wellies. Space to stash Christmas presents where no one can find them.

A really interesting exercise. I think it proves that six months in we are coping well with our rather extreme lifestyle but are ready to get into a proper house with some of the home comforts that will provide.

What would you miss if you lived our life? What magic wishes would you ask for now in your current life and could you actually make them happen all by yourself if you thought about how to do it?

Compost Loo update

So we didn’t hit our target of £2000 for the compost loo 🙁  We were pledged £800 which was fantastic and is actually halfway to what we needed to raise to get the compost loo here – I had included the extra £400 to cover the cost of buying the wheelie bins required to put beneath the loo to catch the humanure, supplies of loo rolls and antibacterial handwash and various other extras.

I have been approached by various other crowdfunding websites and may think about putting together a pitch for one of them in the future but for now we are going to carry on quietly raising funds to get this project off the ground. Most of the £800 pledged was just that – pledged. This means that as the pitch was not successful no money will be taken from you if you did it through the crowdfunder website. Some people donated via the button the side of this blog though and that money is now held securely in a fund which will be used to fund our compost loo as soon as we have collected together enough money to make it happen. If you pledged funds via the crowdfunder website but would still like to help us please do consider sending money to us via the paypal account using the donate button or this link – all of the promised rewards still hold good and we may well add to them as time goes by.

I have reset the counter on the side to reflect the actual money raised so far – once we hit the £1600 required I will get the compost loo ordered from free range designs and I will of course keep everyone informed of our progress by way of this blog and email updates.

Once again, thanks to everyone who either pledged to donate or actually has already donated – please don’t let this set back put you off – we WILL have that loo set up as soon as humanurely possible!

From tiny acorns

Last night saw the bonfire and fireworks happen. Isle of Rum venison burgers and sausages and steaks cooked on the barbecue, a towering inferno of a bonfire with the guy we helped make perched on top, fireworks whizzing and banging, kids writing their names in the air with sparklers and people chatting, laughing, sharing cakes they had brought along. I guess there were about 20 of us, so about half the community were there. It was a perfect night with a gorgeous moonrise over the sea and when we got home we sat on the sporran and gazed at the stars drinking a cup of tea laced with brandy and feeling content and at one with the world.

moonrise, the first I’ve ever seen over the sea. It felt as though you could walk across the ocean following the reflection like a magic pathway

taking a turn at turning the burgers.

watching the guy catch fire

There has been controversy over which night to have the fireworks – some said it should be at the weekend; we have the older children who attend high school on the mainland home every other weekend so they could have come, others felt it should be on November 5th no matter what day of the week that fell on. We have no such strong feelings either way not being school attendees or die hard pedants about calendars. We also are not much affected by what day of the week it is anyway – ferry timetables, vegetable deliveries and pancakes for breakfast on a Saturday are the only things that shape our week and the pancakes will be stopping now the egg laying has dried up. So we had a win: win situation of fireworks both last night and tonight. I think we deserved to see them two nights running after the crazy walk home from the postponed event on Saturday though.

Although we have Star’s birthday as our next celebration thoughts are inevitably turning to Christmas and today we made our Christmas cake ready to be stashed and fed with regular drinks of brandy over the coming weeks. I made our mincemeat weeks ago and have been keeping that topped up, getting a burst of the scents of Christmas every time I open the container up to give it a stir.

We all had a stir of the Christmas cake and made our traditional wishes while doing so. I never remember what I wished for so can’t tell you if mine ever come true, Dragon and Star tell me their’s always do but I think they may be for quite specific acquisitions each year rather than the sort of wider reaching philosophical stuff I tend to come up with!

Christmas consumerism is not escaped even here on our remote island – Jinty’s shop took delivery of festive booze last week; ginger Grouse, Baileys, the bottle of avocaar which apparently is older than Star was dusted down and brought to the front of the shelf. The Christmas signage has gone up and there is a stock of Roses chocolates with holly leaves on the packaging.

Meanwhile I am campaigning to get as many islanders as I can to join in with Secret Santa. I love SS – when done properly. By properly I mean rather than run around getting token, price governed tat for lots of people you are given just one person to focus on. Instead of having a long list of people to shop for you have the luxury of spending time thinking about what to gift to that individual – consider what they might like, quite possibly learning a little about them that you had not previously found the time or had the inclination to do before. What is their favourite colour, flavour, song? Making a hand knitted scarf, a little box of chocolate truffles, burning a cd of songs that remind you of them, framing a photo of their favourite place on the island, writing out a recipe for something you have made and they commented they enjoyed and making it the first entry in a beautiful notebook for them to start collecting other recipes in. The best gifts to give are those you know you have put love and heart and soul into, the best gifts to receive are those you will use, treasure and know were given in the true spirit of passing on a real present. I already have a third of the island signed up – I have further persuading to do…

I can’t change the world, but I can have a bloody good try and changing my world 🙂

Who needs fireworks anyway?!

Firework night here on Rum will be a big deal for us. It will mark a year since we were over on neighbouring Eigg and fell in love with island life. It will mark a year since we were WWOOFing for the last time and one of our duties was helping build the bonfire for the island, a year since Dragon, Star and I helped make the guy to be hoisted onto the top of the fire. A year since people on Eigg were telling us their thoughts on Rum and what it would be like to live here.

This rather blurry and probably nondescript photo does not do justice to the memories it stirs up for me. Imagine a cold, crisp night with amazing stars. Crackling wood from a bonfire, cosy heat, sparkling embers. Mulled wine passed round, a gaggle of children sharing sweets and giggling, writing their names with sparklers. A bonfire built as a team, faces all aglow from the firelight. Fireworks working their own special brand of magic and echoing replies from neighbouring islands and the mainland in the distance. We retired to the tearoom after the fireworks ended and the fire died down. We played pool, chatted, somone started playing the spoons and the squeezebox. The atmosphere was like something from a film. We were aware of tensions, of annoyances, of politics within the community but the overwhelming feeling was affection, pulling together, working towards a common goal. We’d been adrift for 9 months from anywhere we called home, moving from place to place every few week, searching for the place to settle and put down roots.

Here’s my other favourite picture from that time on Eigg. Infact it’s one of my favourite pictures of me ever. I had it as my screensaver for ages. That corner of land on the right is Rum. I spent hours and hours pacing this beach on Eigg thinking through the idea of a move to Rum while Rum itself loomed large in the background. With every footstep I changed my mind about whether it was wise or foolish and this was before we’d even stepped foot on Rum. It’s quite possibly the hardest I’ve ever thought about anything. My conclusion was that if it was meant to be then it would happen. As we know, a year later here we are having actually lived her for over six months now.

Today we learnt that Croft 2 has been let. We’re really excited at the thought of having neighbours and new people coming to the island. Our turn as the new people is coming to an end, we’ll be part of the welcome committee, the ones sharing tips on how to settle in and get to grips with island life. That feels pretty amazing just a year after the above photos were taken.

Tonight was supposed to be the Rum bonfire night. We were all set – Ady helped build the bonfire yesterday, I helped mix venison with herbs to make burgers. This morning Dragon, Star and I along with others built the Rum guy ready to set atop the bonfire. We left the croft and walked down to the village but it rained and hailed and rained some more to the point that it was called off for tonight and postponed til tomorrow. The benefit of living on an island is we get to decide such things between ourselves.

The walk back to the croft was particularly challenging this evening with the path more like a river. We had to carry children and dogs across parts and Ady and I both required a stiff drink once we got into the static although Dragon and Star considered the whole thing a big adventure. We definitely did our thing today that scared us.

And we haven’t even had the fireworks yet!

The more I learn, the less I know

It’s been a life in the spotlight this last week again. Life in a West Sussex coastal town prepared us to an extent for the seasonal nature of life here on Rum but this is to the extreme. In the summer the village and indeed the whole island is packed with thousands of visitors coming here during the season. We spent our first few weeks here saying hello to everyone we met unsure as to whether they were islanders or tourists. This time of year it can be like a ghost town here with nobody staying but us locals and even we are in depleted numbers with people off on holiday, seasonal workers starting to leave and some folk saying goodbye for this year as they head off to lead the other part of their lives – not everyone on Rum lives here all the time! Kate and Ian from the Tattiehouse have headed to the other place they call home for the winter, Claire who runs the teashop is off for a month catching up with family and friends and taking a holiday now the teashop has closed for this year.

But it being half term in England has meant a small flurry of visitors and elsewhere the red deer of Rum featuring in Autumnwatch has meant eyes are on us from afar. We enjoyed a Ranger event Coastal Otter Walk on Tuesday this week along with five visiting tourists. We never stop telling ourselves how lucky we are to live here but it’s nice to have someone else saying it too. Reading the various coverage on the Autumnwatch stuff on facebook, forums and other online places and seeing the passion people have for our beautiful island makes me very proud to live here and very humbled at how little we still know about this place. We have a plan to explore a new corner of Rum every week and have been doing well so far pushing further out into places we have not been to before. This could easily take us forever, there are a lot of hidden corners and secret places to discover!

The run of gorgeous sunshine has ended very abruptly and we are back to rain again now with the first fall of snow on the peaks this morning. It is beautiful and the light here is amazing – walking to the croft this afternoon at about 4pm felt like the hours just after dawn with a clear and slightly eerie quality to the colour of the sky and the way light was bouncing off everything. The full moon and galaxy of stars reflected in the sea and the river this evening when we walked home later was equally breathtaking. But it’s cold, oh so cold. We are having to re-think our plans to keep gas heaters burning to keep cosy as the condensation in the static is already creating problems and it is only just the beginning of the winter. The ceilings, walls and internal doors are literally dripping, not to mention the windows and external doors. Bedding, soft toys, clothes and curtains are growing mould and mildew before our very eyes and we are very aware that the impact on our health not to mention our belongings could be dire if we stay in these conditions for the next4 or 5 months. We’re looking at woodburners having been told by everyone (literally, everyone!) that it’s the answer to the cold, damp and condensation so that is next week’s project.

Halloween was very comprehensively marked here with pumpkin carving and gingerbread biscuit baking and decorating in the morning, a party at the school (Dragon and Star dressed as zombies!) in the afternoon and the judging of the island Pumpking Growing Competition and some trick or treating in the evening. Mucho sugar, lots of silly games and plenty of wandering round in the dark with torches. Plans now are for Bonfire night – the good thing about this time of year is that you never seem to be more than a week or two away from the next celebration!