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.

Happy Birthday Scarlett

Scarlett is 18! No more children in our house, just a whole load of adults now. Of course Scarlett will always be our baby though, despite the fact she is often the most responsible, sensible and adult of the lot of us!

It seems this year has been filled with cancelled plans, foiled events, postponed happenings and lists of things which didn’t happen and Scarlett’s birthday could easily have been the same. There was an original plan to surprise her with a city break in Edinburgh to meet up with her best friend. We had the accommodation booked, the travel planned and even a draft itinerary including meeting up with more friends. That weekend will still happen and be all the more special for the added anticipation as and when it does.

In the meantime though December 6th still arrived regardless of the rules, guidelines and factors preventing us all doing what we might have liked to do to mark and celebrate a big birthday so we ensured we found other ways to make it a special and memorable day.

Scarlett has a huge environmental and ecological conscience and so is a very difficult person to find gifts for. Our usual method is creating experiences instead but obviously those are in slightly short supply just now. When asked what she wanted (and we have asked oh so many times over the last few months) her laughing reply was always ‘a dragon’. As in, something you can’t buy.

But what you can’t buy you can often make and so I decided to make a dragon. A rainbow sparkly dragon crocheted with love. Then I decided to make more than one and my ambitions grew with the pile of crocheted dragons into an idea of 18 dragons – one for every year of the celebrated birthday. I’ve been stealthily crocheting for weeks and weeks and stashing the resulting sparkly rainbow creatures as I went. In my online searches for patterns and inspiration I happened upon a most spectacular pattern for sale for a crocheted dragon to sit atop a globe light which I was very taken with.

I was so taken with it that I paid for the pattern from the designer (always nice to support creative people, especially ones as talented as this designer) so that I had something to follow in my crafting. As always I didn’t follow fully but it heavily inspired my creation. I decided my version would sit holding a moon so found a cordless light up moon to position the dragon around. It is not entirely out of character that my dreams rather run away from me and I bite off slightly more than I can chew and this was no exception. I reckon there is well over 100 hours of crocheting in the eventual pile of dragons that Scarlett woke to on her birthday – which numbered just 15 in the end as the final one was completed at almost exactly the time she was born 18 years previously – 1.51am. She has a promise of another 3 dragons to follow. I am taking a rest from the hook for a while though – three days later and the feeling has just about returned to the numb tips of my fingers from almost constant crocheting for the week or so just before her birthday!

Also on the birthday table were a game for her switch, some art materials, a bottle of elderflower gin, a personalised wooden box containing an engraved swiss army knife and pocketwatch. There is another engraved pocket knife to follow via some friends in America which is where I found the perfect one for sale from a small seller who offered engraving but wanted to charge ridiculous postage to the UK so I had sent to friends in the US to forward to us. Scarlett has seen the photos of it though. All gifts which are to be used up / consumed or kept for a very long time made either by us or by other small independent craftspeople. Definitely passing the Scarlett principles test!

There were also a couple of parcels from various friends all containing suitably Scarlett-esque gift choices which she was delighted with. And cards from family and friends too, along with fabulous cards made by Davies and Megan.

It was a gorgeously sunny, but incredibly cold day (my morning swim had been my first ever breaking ice to swim through!) and in the short amount of daylight the Highlands offers at this time of year it was already getting towards twilight by the time we managed to head out for the walk Scarlett had been keen to squeeze in to her day.

A magical frosty walk through the part of our lane which we call ‘Narnia’ at this time of year as it is often a little frosty pocket of winter wonderland. And then home for cosy family time back in front of the fire.

Dinner was Scarlett’s favourite ‘birthday pie’ followed obviously by traditional Birthday Brownies. During December we watch a Christmas film every day, holding a ‘names in a hat’ draw before the start of the month to work out what we’re watching. We usually vote out a couple of less favourite films from previous years and add a few new ones too but the date which never gets drawn from the hat is Scarlett’s birthday when she gets to choose the film – and pretty much always chooses Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmas – a sweet little trio of Disney festive shorts, which is charming and reminds her of childhood.


I’ll finish with what I posted on social media as my tribute to our wonderful girl – forever our baby even if she is now a fully grown woman.

18 years of my crazy, clever, cool, bright, beautiful, funny, feisty, wild, wonderful, amazing daughter.
18 years of fun, laughter, love and learning.
18 years of walking by your side, often running to keep up.
The world is a better place for having you in it. Your bravery, courage, passion and Scarlett-ness will take you through your life spreading your joy as you go. You live your life more fully than anyone and are the best woman I know.
Happy birthday my darling ❤️ ❤️ ❤️

Thanksgiving

Anyone who knows us, or has been reading here for any length of time will know we love celebrations. We love anniversaries, birthdays, marking times. We love traditions and occasions.

We are not a religious family although we are very close to nature and celebrate the turning of the seasons, the solstices and equinoxes. We tend to shy away from consumerist capitalist celebrations where possible and aim to give memories as gifts whenever we can.

We have Megan here with us just now so for the first time we thought we would celebrate Thanksgiving. Our newly created just today tradition was our take on some of the delicious food served in America for Thanksgiving and sharing what we are thankful for.

I have yet to search for an American recipe and be able to follow it precisely as there is always at least one ingredient not easily available here (hello corn syrup, pumpkin puree, tinned cheese!). Plus I am a cooking from scratch fanatic. At least three of us are very picky eaters too and I really wanted everyone to be up for at least trying everything on the table today.

Megan’s requested menu included roast turkey, trimmings (what we’d call stuffing), cranberries, mashed potato, sweet potato, green bean casserole, bread rolls, gravy and pumpkin or pecan pie.

So this afternoon I made bread rolls and pecan pie.

Then Davies, Scarlett and Megan took over the kitchen to make some sugar cookies which they spent an hour or so decorating

while I went back in to make cranberry sauce (with apple, orange and red wine), a green bean casserole (with a creamy sauce, topped with onions, cracker crumbs and cheese), two types of sweet potatoes (one mashed with spices and topped with pecans and marshmallows, one sliced and roasted with rosemary, onions, garlic and sea salt) and stuffing balls. Ady took care of the mashed potatoes, turkey and gravy.


And then we feasted!


It was all delicious. We just about had room for pecan pie afterwards.

We finished the meal with some indoor fireworks. Which are a lot of fun, perfectly, underwhelmingly brilliant!

And with everyone’s permission I’m sharing what we were all thankful for, as it seems the sort of thing which belongs here recorded on this blog.

Megan: I’m thankful that I can even be here right now, that’s probably the thing I most thankful for. I’m thankful to have all my family and friends and all of the good things I have. Anything that makes me laugh. For life improvement in general. And cats!

Davies: I’m thankful for Megan, for being here and all the money and effort she put into getting here and for putting up with me now she’s here. I’m thankful for Mummy for helping me with study and everything else you do which is helpful and that I am thankful for. I am thankful for Daddy for his positivity and infinite hospitality to Megan and anyone else who ever comes to visit. I’m thankful for Scarlett for her enthusiasm and positivity and everything that she does. For her encouragement and just the way Scarlett is in general.

Scarlett: I’m thankful that we are all healthy in the middle of a pandemic because I know a lot of people are not. I’m thankful for where we live and how we have not been as affected as other people. I know it can be really sucky to be stuck inside and I am thankful that we still have the ability and freedom to go outside on walks and that our lives have not changed that much. I am thankful for the food because it is all delicious.

Ady: I’m thankful that the sweet potatoes with marshmallows are not too awful. I’m thankful that our family is all here and we’re all together. It’s great that we have Megan here and our children are so happy to be in our house all together. I am thankful that we have a very comfortable and very fulfilling life which I am very grateful for.

Nic: I’m thankful that we’re all here together – Davies, Scarlett and Megan too. I’m thankful that no one I love has been too affected by illness with coronavirus despite it being a very awful thing. I’m thankful that we have a groaning table full of food. I am thankful that we live somewhere where I get to be so close to nature because that means a lot to me. I am also thankful for gin.

The November Post

As it seems to have become a monthly blog just now! I guess there are only so many ways to say ‘not much has changed’.

Of course that’s not strictly true. The month has changed, the season has changed, the clocks have changed, the view from the window has changed.

I was sitting just yesterday morning observing the weather rolling past – first sunshine, then a very heavy rain shower, a rainbow, some hail. The sky went from dark to bright, grey to blue and an interesting yellowy shade just before the hail. There was at least one rainbow, probably two. All the time the wind blew, shaking the final leaves from the oak trees I can see outside and hustling the clouds on their way from the far right window to the far left at quite a pace.

I reflected that life in a house could very easily disconnect you from the world outside – no longer do the walls shake, the windows rattle, the roof produce an symphony of sound depending on the size and frequency of the raindrops with pitch changes depending on the wind direction. Caravan life on Rum was always a very close connection to the world outside, in fact it was never truly left outside. Leaky ceilings, condensationed windows and thin metal walls only ever kept it at a small distance rather than shutting it out.

Rum was already on my mind thanks to that reflection and then a google alert I still have set up from our time there pinged to tell me a news story was in the Scottish press about the first new residents moving there this week to take up the newly built houses. There was much press coverage and social media interest in the new houses during lockdown. A perfect storm of conditions for a frenzy of noise about island life, isolating living, getting away from it all at a time when many were feeling the isolating feelings of the pandemic anyway. There are just four houses, each one attracting interest a hundred times over with well over 400 applications for the small Community Trust to consider.

From our seven years there, starting in much the same way with an application for our croft tenancy, supported with business plan and comprehensive family ‘CV’ followed with an interview before being offered the croft we could well empathise with those looking to apply. From our jubilation at being accepted to the logistics involved in making the move and cocktail of emotions as the big move drew closer we can understand some of what those new residents will be feeling as they arrive. From our subsequent lives there we have a fairly good idea of the rollercoaster ahead of them as they settle in to their new lives, getting to know the island and the residents.

This week will mark the anniversary of the first time we set foot on Rum, November 2011. Nine years ago we stepped off the ferry and walked around the village and the perimeter of the croftland which was to become our home.

From our time on the island including my own several years as one of the directors for the community trust I can well imagine the excitement felt on island at the prospect of these new people. New faces, new energy and ideas. New children for the school, new customers for the shop, new volunteers to help get involved in the many, many aspects of keeping a small island community working. Unique to island living in a way no one who has not lived somewhere like that will ever fully understand, unique to Rum specifically. And of course, 18 months since we left, nearly a year since we last even went to Rum ourselves unique to those who now call it home in ways we won’t understand any more either.

I am in turn excited for those new residents, and for the rest of the community. Ever so slightly wistful for an adventure we once had and also even more aware that that is no longer our adventure to have and that other things are for us now. New challenges, new friends, new lives.

Life continues to move on, and away from Rum, for us. We have even had chapters closing in the brief time we have been here on the mainland. We have finished our housekeeping contracts now with keys handed back, or passed on to new housekeepers. We sold our second car as Ady now has use of a company car for his job. I have been offered a payrise and more hours for the charity I am working with. My writing work is going well with some lovely feedback from readers of the various pieces I am writing in various places. There is an opportunity on the horizon for Scarlett which is too early to share but exciting to think about. These are the life chances only available to us now we are away from Rum.

Our connections to that outside world may not keep us awake on windy nights any more but still form the bigger part of us all. We gathered outside just this week to marvel at the starry night sky spotting Uranus and a new moon. Ady is photographing sunrises and streaky November skies as he takes his coffee break watching the Mull ferry travel between the mainland and the coloured row of houses visible from miles away on Tobermory (made famous on the children’s TV show Balamory). I have been marvelling at the bumper crop of acorns this autumn all beginning to sprout in the garden and the spring bulbs in my pots already sending up tiny green shoots.

I am still swimming most days. The loch is down to single digits in temperature now and offers a huge adrenaline rush along with exercise and life affirming connection to the natural world. Last week there were otters swimming close by me. I have a close circle of local swimming friends who I often swim with, getting to know each other, sharing secrets and stories, sharing joy and swear words as we swim alongside each other.

I would be lying if I said all was well. Not having seen family or further afield friends is hard, so very hard. It was the way of life on Rum but even by our isolated island life standards we have seen less of the bright lights, big cities and people we love this year than ever before. It is somehow harder to swallow when it is not through our own life choices and a compromise we understood and accepted when we chose a lifestyle, rather a pandemic related prevention of these freedoms. But compared to so many we remain incredibly fortunate.

On balance life is good. Which is pretty much all we have ever strived to achieve. I’m pleased to report we continue to meet that aim.

A new addition

Having had all sorts of animals as pets and as livestock I can confidently say that my favourite creature to share space with is still a cat. We have had at least one cat as a part of our household for more years than we haven’t since Ady and I set up home together and bringing Kira to the croft on Rum made me very happy.

Recently a few friends online have been sharing pictures of new kittens (it seemed to be a lockdown trend…) and while I was not bothered about a kitten I did like the idea of having a second cat in our house so I have had a vague eye on cats looking for a new home as I’d always prefer to rescue a cat which otherwise wouldn’t have a home.

A couple of weeks ago late one evening a friend shared a post on social media of a cat looking for a home. I followed the breadcrumb trail back to the originator of the post as it was one of those degrees of separation type posts which had been shared and shared again by friends of friends of friends and got in touch to say we could offer the cat a home.

The story of Kitty as she was then known was that she belonged to a woman who had gone into residential care as she was no longer able to live unsupported at home. Her pet cat, who is about five was being fed by neighbours. The owner was firmly convinced that Kitty would not be able to be rehomed as she is quite skittish and she felt the best option would be to have her put down. The neighbour, although unable to take her herself thought she should be given a chance to be rehomed.

Several messages back and forth with the neighbour, via the friend who had shared the post and then a phonecall with the owners daughter who lives abroad plus a slightly last minute cobbled together arrangement of Kitty being caught and put into a cat carrier, someone bringing her part of the way towards us as they happened to be having a weekend break and Scarlett and I found ourselves, at pretty short notice, driving a 300 mile round trip to go and collect Kitty from someone in a car park.

She spent the first 48 hours under the sofa hissing and growling at us, at Bonnie the dog and very much at Kira the cat.

By day three she was on the sofa being petted.

And by day four she had ventured on to a lap.

(side note – this is a dreadful angle for photographs unless you are a cat!)

We often call Kira ‘Kitty’ so we knew that Kitty2 would need an additional name – a prefix to Kitty. So everyone got to suggest a few names, then from the long list we all chose our favourite two and ended up with a clear winner in Luna. We like the fact that just like the moon she has black and white / dark and light to her. She seems pretty happy with her new extra name and comes to it quite readily, as well as still getting called Kitty pretty often too.

Once Bonnie worked out she was here to stay she has settled into just ignoring her as she does with Kira. Kira has much the same approach to Luna and seems pretty accepting of her presence as long as she is not directly in her way. Luna is rather less prepared with this arrangement and does tend to follow Kira about a bit, but then hisses or growls at her once she gets close. There has not been any actual physical contact though and despite a high level of awareness of each other I think they have all settled in to space sharing pretty well.

One of the reasons Luna’s previous owner was prepared to let her come and try and settle with us was our rural location and access to plenty of outdoor space for her to roam. Now she is a bit more settled in the house and with us she is starting to show some interest in going outside. She smells the air around an open window and is aware of the sound of the doors in the house opening.

My plan is to let her outside in the next few days, with doors firmly open so she can run back indoors if she feels unsafe and with me out in the garden too. I want her to feel that coming back into the house is her safe space if she gets spooked rather than running away. She also needs to work out how to let us know when she wants to come back in. Bonnie taps a paw to ‘knock’ at the door and Kira jumps up to the outside windowsill . Luna is very vocal with her miaows so I suspect she will alert us with her voice when she is keen to come back in.

We were supposed to be down in Edinburgh for the week when we went to collect Luna. We had got friends due to house and pet sit here and have a bit of a Highland break, friends flying over from Northern Ireland to meet up with us for the week and plans to spend a night with more friends while we were in Edinburgh. We were all looking forward to seeing loved ones, enjoying the bright lights of the city, showing Megan round a new and exciting part of the UK and having a change of scenery.

We are consoling ourselves with the knowledge that we would not have had Luna come to live with us if that planned trip had gone ahead. It was not sufficiently consoling enough for us to consider ‘Corona’ as her new name though. Too soon, still too soon.

Normal?

I’m not going to comment on what’s going on in the world. Frankly we’ve never been great at ‘normal’ anyway and there is quite the irony in the whole world heading as far away from normal as it’s been in my whole lifetime less than a year after we aimed to rejoin normal after leaving Rum.

I think in so many ways our lifestyle was excellent training for us in lockdown. Never having used school, having always had strong ties in whatever community we lived in, conducted lots of our socialising remotely or online, being used to all being together most of the time, cooking with sometimes limited ingredients and being used to having a decent store cupboard of food. Nothing much out of the ordinary as far as we were concerned.

Some threads of life have begun to pick back up. We have been able to start looking at what we can begin to do again in terms of recreational, social, voluntary stuff once more and in our usual style we have done lots of evaluating and scrutinising all aspects of our lives to see if they are still working for us.

Ady is still really enjoying his job. It looks set to change a little with some additional hours and an altered round of clients which is great because it offers more learning opportunities for him. It has meant we have had to look carefully at the various things we do and let our housekeeping contracts know that we are no longer going to be available for our regular cleaning and gardening contracts in the fairly near future. In all cases we had some lovely responses to those communications and have agreed we are happy to stay in touch to provide back up / emergency cover if we are available and they find themselves needing help. So the end of regular cottage cleaning but not entirely the end.

Davies has started his 4th year of study with the Open University. Having passed his first units with distinction he has a good rhythm of working on his studying during term times and taking the long summer off. This year’s unit is a brand new module and is a really interesting one. He is already steaming through the course materials and finding it fascinating. He continues to do his art and is certainly worth checking out for original gift ideas (I won’t say the ‘c’ word but I suspect you know what I’m talking about….). Give him a follow on instagram to see some of his fabulous artwork. https://www.instagram.com/davies_with_an_e/

Scarlett continues to be out collecting litter daily and has signed up for a really interesting looking online course in marine litter. She also has some online training coming up for her volunteering with the local Cats Protection League. Scarlett is also a very talented artist but she doesn’t share her art online so I can’t link to it. She has also started volunteering at a local croft where she is helping to train some pygmy goats and hang out with the croft creatures including the sheep, horse and dogs. She recently did a really interesting online training session on animal tracking and is hoping to do some more of those with maybe even some real life training in that area if and when such things ever happen again.

Megan is a good chunk into her extended visit this time and is also ‘back to school’ with online studying. She is busy learning about social sciences and also science with plenty of kitchen chemistry experiments. We’re having some excellent dinner table conversations. She has also just filled out her absentee ballot for her first presidential election back home in the US. It’s so lovely having her here with us and great for her to get to really spend such an extended time with Davies and by extension with us.

My furlough for my youth work / centre supervisor period has come to an end yet with still no return date for the community centre to reopen as it is part of the local high school building so is a fully closed and contained space with no admittance to anyone outside of teachers and pupils. It certainly won’t be opening any time this year. As one door closes (very tightly) so another door opens though and I have been having a regular column in the local paper and managing to meet and interview people remotely by phone or video call.

I have also been working a few hours a month for the mental health charity that Davies and I volunteer for. I’ve been doing some practical stuff like holiday cover / back up for the volunteer coordinator along with some work on the website which is being overhauled and some writing for various publications and online places for them too. This is brilliant – working for an organisation I feel so passionate about, doing the thing I most love is the best sort of work I can think of.

I also decided during that ‘back to school’ period of the end of August that having been writing for the paper for a year now and getting paid for it along with being offered the work for the charity I probably do get to actually call myself a writer. Which is all I have ever wanted to be since I was a small girl. In the spirit of taking my own advice I know that the only way to get from thinking about doing something is to do it. So I signed up for a whole load of online writing training – The Effective Freelancer, The Entrepreneurial Freelancer, Feature Writing, The Book Route, and Creative Writing. I have done all of the first four and learned so much already, with a four week Creative Writing course still to come in a few weeks time. I have also been accepted onto a pilot programme for six months of mentoring from an amazing woman with an award winning career in journalism, a long list of brilliant writing, several published books and years of experience in the things I want to be ‘when I grow up’.

I have joined the NUJ, ordered my press card, negotiated my first scary phonecalls, set up a website and facebook page for my writing, come up with several ideas for books I would like to write and articles I want to put together and am spending a few hours most days working on that alongside my regular columns and work for the charity.

I am sure I will still do cleaning and centre supervising again at some point and obviously freelance writing is far from a certain career but it feels like an exciting time with some early initial wins. Having Ady in secure work and the children no longer children means my long ‘career’ as a Home Educator and when we first moved back to the mainland as the main earner is enabling me to have a real bash at something I’ve long wanted to do.

I am swimming pretty much every day and thanks to my own impetuous nature in seeing a challenge just beyond my reach and making a grab for it I have signed up for the Polar Bear Challenge which sets a minimum distance of swimming each month from November to March with several individual swims below certain temperatures. The rules state no neoprene so although I swam through last winter without a wetsuit just in my swimsuit (or ‘skins’ as it is termed) I did wear gloves and boots. This year those are staying in the drawer and I am bare of hand and foot too.

Today the water dropped below 10 degrees in the loch for the first time and I certainly got the cold water tingle back in full force. But I managed over an hour in the water and clocked up a distance of over 1300 metres. It will be a challenge for sure but one I think I will really enjoy rising to, even if I end up falling short and dropping to the level below.

We are massively missing not seeing family and friends though. We did manage a cinema trip to see the David Attenborough film last week which was very sobering viewing. Our second planned meet up with my parents has had to be cancelled though, as has our planned trip to meet up with friends in a couple of weeks time. We appreciate we are still much luckier than most people though and will continue with our slightly abnormal form for normal feeling grateful for all that we do have.

Happy Birthday Davies

A not quite lockdown but certainly not back to normal world birthday for Davies this year as he turned 20.

Certainly the very best present was having Megan here to share his birthday with him this year. As always birthdays mean you get to choose the food and plans for the day. Davies is far from an early riser which meant Ady and I still had time to listen to Popmaster and go for a swim (just me swimming! Ady is beach patrol base camp!) and get pizza dough proving before he was up for the day.

Breakfast / lunch was ‘Birthday Pizza’ (we prefixed everything with ‘birthday’ for the whole day and also stuck candles in his pizza).






He then opened his gifts. When I’d been hassling him as to what he wanted for his birthday he had been agonising and eventually confessed that he felt that being 20 he should probably be asking for something sensible as a gift but that actually all he really wanted was a couple of video games.

I’m unsure as to how any child of mine, raised in such an unconventional manner could ever assume they should be sensible at any time, let alone at birthdays. So I assured him there was no expectation at all, I was 46 on my last birthday and still felt no reason to be asking for sensible gifts and have no intention of doing so if I live to be 100. So video games it was. Along with a large stash of his favourite sweets and a to follow gift which arrived slightly late of a pair of socks with pictures of Davies’ head (from a picture when he was about 7) all over them. Sensible schmensible!





After Birthday pizza Davies decided a Birthday walk was in order so we headed out to a nearby woodland walk which we enjoy. We missed the bluebells season this year there which was a huge shame but it was during full on lockdown so it was lovely to be there for the start of autumn and see the start of the changing colours and falling leaves as well as the fungus.


Birthday dinner was steak and chips, followed by Birthday Brownies with the most excellent coloured flame candles. We were super impressed with those.


Happy Birthday Davies

Like every parent ever I struggle to look at the strapping man celebrating being 20 with his girlfriend by his side and equate that person with the tiny new life I cradled in my arms 20 years ago, the toddler who cried when I left a room, the small boy tearing around waving sticks and shouting with his friends, excited for Christmas, desperate for Lego sets.

Davies has grown into a wonderful man. It is a great joy to share his life with him, to see his many talents grow, to watch him secure his place in the world. I am so proud of our son, in all his many aspects of his life from his art to his volunteering, his studying to his relationships with family, friends and with Megan. He is a quietly astute and intelligent soul with a fantastic sense of humour and a head full of of ideas and creativity. It has been a blessing to have watched him grow from that tiny newborn to the man he is today and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him as he carries on through life.

Bad, Good, Learned in lock down.

I do not need to introduce this blog post really. 2020 has been the most dramatic year the world has seen in any of our lifetimes. We have lurched from one gripping news story to the next. Every single life has been affected in some way, some forever changed, some beginning to return to some semblance of normal. Whatever normal might be.

For the five of us living here it has been collectively and individually as massive a year as it has for everyone else. For Ady, who has worked throughout, his life has felt unchanged while all around him altered. For Scarlett life has felt mostly the same but with blockbuster movie worthy news stories spilling from the TV and radio to make sense of. For Davies it has been more about the lost opportunities and planned adventures that have not happened than anything which has happened. For Megan, spending most of the lockdown in America it has been both a different and a parallel experience to our own. For me it has had shades of change, shades of returning to a life I knew back on Rum, new frustrations and new opportunities.

We have decided to document our experiences – so far, with an appreciation that the changes and challenges are far from over, the new normal is far from set and everything could alter in the time it takes me to press publish on this post – in our usual collaborative post style of what has been bad, what has been good and what we have learned during these strangest of times.

Scarlett:
Bad
The very obvious realisation of how little faith we should have in those who hold positions of power. Governments in the UK, US and worldwide have failed to do what their job is in running countries, keeping people safe and making the right decisions on our behalf. We did not lockdown soon enough, we are coming out of lockdown too early.

This will also count as a good in as much as it has been bought to people’s consciousness but it has been bad to realise how far we still need to come in civil rights and fighting racism.

The riots have been disturbing to watch on the news. I believe that if we work on the idea of an eye for an eye all that will happen is the world will go blind. Violence and fighting does not feel to me like the way to solve problems.

The amount of litter which is appearing now that visitors are returning to the Highlands is really sad. It is even sadder to notice how many face masks and disposable gloves are being added to the litter. It feels like we all pulled together during lockdown but we have not learned anything and as soon as life returns to something like normal we are back to our old ways.

It was so nice to see less traffic on the roads and in the skies but I feel like we are just catching up having delayed that impact because people are just going back to work in their petrol cars and booking flights to go on holiday, rather than looking at alternatives.

Good:
Communities pulled together during lockdown. Doing things like shopping for each other, checking on neighbours.

The Black Lives Matter issue is now one that can’t be ignored or swept under the carpet any more. People have to talk about it and confront it.

Learned:
TV scheduling has been different to normal times with lots of repeats and lots of factual documentaries airing. This has been good for me because I love watching those sorts of things so I have had the opportunity to learn lots about various interesting things including historical documentaries, abandoned architecture, the world wars, conspiracy theories and some nature documentaries. I have also watched a lot of true crime documentaries and learned loads about how long cases can remain open and how slowly they can be solved.

I have learned lots about how people reacted differently to the pandemic / lockdown. I have seen people be really scared and fearful, some very upbeat and pragmatic and some utterly deny it and focus on conspiracy theories.

I did not fully understand how much of an issue racism still is. My eyes have been opened to that.

Summary: While our day to day lives didn’t change much as we are used to being cut off a bit and having a quiet life it was hard to not be in control of that or step out of it and have plans.


Ady:

Bad:


The fear of the unknown has been really hard. It’s been hard for me and my family and it was very hard for my clients and people I saw.

Having choice and control taken away was hard. Worrying about running out of supplies like loo roll or flour did make me feel panicky.

Wearing PPE for work. It is uncomfortable and makes it really difficult to communicate with my clients, particularly those who rely on lipreading due to hearing impairment or are confused and upset by the masks and visors.


Good:

The rhythm of days during early lockdown were something I will remember fondly. We used to have a Boris Biscuit while the daily press conferences were on and all watched Gareth Malone’s daily choir practise together.

People pulling together was heartening to witness. The local volunteer groups and other initiatives. The local ferry became free during lockdown as it was only being used by locals and key workers. Key workers and vulnerable people were really looked out for, people in the shops were sharing and being considerate.

The empty roads! Both for ease of driving but also observing wildlife starting to be more obvious on quieter roads.

I felt really fortunate to be living where we are during lockdown. We were close enough to shops to get what we needed but felt safe.

Learned:

That in times of adversity people do generally behave well and it brings out the best in them.

Summary: It felt quite momentous and exciting to have lived through this era as a family unit watching it all unfold.


Megan:

Bad:


I was really disappointed at how poorly people responded to everything to do with the pandemic. Although I saw it coming seeing world leaders fail so badly was hard to witness. I am especially disappointed in how badly the US handled it. In America it feels as though everything has opened back up while here in the UK it still feels as though things are being taken slowly and carefully.

When Coronavirus first hit I had just started a new semester at school and it just ended. I had also just joined a new club at school and made new friends, I liked my new teachers and was hanging out with some interesting people. I did not manage to even get contact details for some of those new friends and I will not actually go back to that school so those potential connections feel lost for ever.

All of my life outside of my home and family was shut down completely. I would usually visit the library, athletics clubs, friends and all those things just stopped. All of my progress in things like studying and exercising was lost. Time spent with family felt more intense without any of the usual other pursuits.

During Coronavirus there was a lot of drama and diversity. It felt like you had to pick a side on some issues such as lockdown. I know of people who fell out and stopped talking and it felt uncomfortable to share your views on things in case you had an alternate view to them. It felt like walking on eggshells trying to decide what to share and say. Everyone was so passionate about their views it was impossible to be calm about things.

My summer plan to travel around the UK with Davies has not been able to happen and although I am actually here now there was so much uncertainty about it happening.

When the numbers went down for the virus I was so hopeful they would stay low but they rose again.

People are still not listening about the environmental issues even though it seemed that they might.

I really struggle with the uncertainty around everything. Not being able to predict what is going to happen and when is really hard. Not knowing what normal might be like is really hard and worrying.

Good:

I have gotten to see Davies and due to lockdown and the changes this year has brought I have ended up here for a longer visit. This means I am getting to actually properly get to know Davies without the pressure of a time limited visit or via online / text. It feels more authentic to be here together for a long period of time and to get to know each other really well.

It has been nice to pause and take stock and think about what I really want. I feel less pressure to be doing things and that when I do make a productive choice it is because I really wanted to do that thing. It feels a bit like I’ve had a second chance to be a child again with less responsibilities and more free time but with a bit of experience of already being an adult.

Hopefully people around the world may have learned from this time and make positive changes in their lives. I hope that people are better prepared for something big like this happening again. Although this has been a bad time it has maybe prepared us for the future a little.

It was really good to have school work move online. The pressure of the exams was taken away and I really shone during online work. I was able to contribute and often lead group discussions without the pressure of being in person and I found self directed learning really suited me. I got excellent feedback from my teachers about how well I was doing and that made me really proud.

The pause of the world gave the environment a short break.

Although it is tragic what is being highlighted I think it is really good that people are now more aware of Black Lives Matter issues. I had no idea of how bad things were and I have learned so much. I think it is good that people are more aware and are talking about it.

Learned:

That I knew people in power were not necessarily going to get everything right but I was still shocked to witness how badly they did and how they continued to get away with it. Particularly in the US where Trump handled things so badly but his supporters still continue to sing his praises and support him.

Worldwide pandemics in modern society felt like something which should not actually happen. I feel like we have all learned that things like this can happen and could easily happen again and we don’t have the right tools to fix everything.

I have learned to trust reliable sources and consider where I get my news. Mainstream news, the general public and even our president were not taking CV19 seriously or giving it focus but there were online sources telling us to pay attention.

I have learned that when I used to wish for a long period of time at home with no distractions and that as an introvert to want to have time without people it is only ever nice for a time and that I need the balance of both busyness and down time to appreciate both.

I learned loads about civil rights and BLM. I learned about the movement, the need for the movement and the background. I was not aware of the level of the issues. I wish I had been more aware and I feel I have really learned a lot. There are a lot of movements which are talked about and I think this is one of the most important ones to come to light.

I learned about the people I know in real life and how their responses to the pandemic have shown their true colours.

Summary: This is the biggest event of my lifetime so far, affecting the whole world. I have learned so much from this time and it’s been fascinating to have lived though something this big.

Davies:

Bad:


A disruption of plans from me going to the US and then spending the summer travelling the UK. We also had various visits to and from family and friends planned which didn’t happen.

In the early days I was worried about family members catching coronavirus and then worried about Megan getting here at all. Then when Megan actually was going to come I was worried about the logistics and safety of her travelling here.

Good:

I feel like this period will be remembered forever and for all the downsides I am glad to have lived through it and experienced it all. It has been fascinating to watch the whole story unfold.

I was in the early stages of adult stuff like visits to the job centre, which I found stressful. It’s been nice to take a break. My end of module assessment for my studying was cancelled and an average score based on my assessments throughout the year dictated my final grade.

The highlighting of civil rights and Black Lives Matter coming to the fore and getting spotlit with attention.

Learned:

Early in lockdown I bought an online piano tuition programme and have taught myself the basics.

I was aware that racism was still an issue but I had not fully appreciated the scale and prevalence of ingrained racism. Hearing the different stories and views that are now being openly talked about is very enlightening.

With so much of the world stopping certain things have been given a spotlight. This includes social issues including the environment, wildlife, consumerism. It also includes celebrities still finding a platform on the internet but without directors and producers to manage their representation and more eyes on them.

It’s been really interesting watching how people have reacted and responded to the various points of the last few months. Pretty much everyone has behaved as I would have expected, but it has still been interesting to watch it unfold.

Summary: I feel fortunate to have lived through what has been a fascinating period in history.

Collaborative good / learned from Scarlett, Megan and Davies – Animal Crossing. Which they tell me is an example of new ways of connecting with people without real life opportunities. They have connected with friends, made new potential connections and explained that a whole world of virtual interactions have been created including attending weddings, tours of aquariums and virtual protests. They have all taken up playing during lockdown and it’s a big part of their lives just now.

Nic:

Bad:

In the very early stages of the pandemic my fears were entirely around the powerlessness of the situation. I was worried about my family down in Sussex and unable to help in any way. What if they got ill? What if they died? What if I couldn’t get to them? What if I never saw them again?
I was worried about Megan in America, about friends scattered about the country and the world. I was worried about Ady out at work, about Davies and Scarlett if Ady caught the virus and bought it home to us. I was worried about our distance from the hospital. I was worried about me dying and what that would mean for the rest of them left behind. I suspect that is the same panic and fears which kept most people awake at night. My personal way of dealing with that was to rationalise as much as possible, put as many safety buffers in place in terms of vocalising (only to myself a lot of the time) my worse fears and then doing logical ‘and then what?’ type thinking through. This meant I tidied up a lot of our family admin, ensured everyone was informed about more things so if something happened to me it was not such a logistical nightmare. I ensured that if it was the last time I ever saw anyone I loved I had asked any questions, said anything I wanted and made sure they knew how important to me they were. None of these things negated the risks or the chances of bad things happening but it gave me back some feeling of control and power in the situation. But fear, panic and sense of powerlessness have all crept back in at various points during lockdown in greater degrees than I have previously ever experienced.

Which leads me to anger and frustration – the other emotions which have run high during this time. While I concede that the very fact I am writing this post acknowledges the unprecedented times we have lived through and are still living through we do have power systems, elected and well paid authority figures and a society which is actually set up to anticipate, mitigate and prepare for disasters, unexpected emergencies and crises. We had a heads up from China, a further example of how not to deal with Covid from nearer European countries and yet still we failed to make the right decisions at the right times. In the early days the general public were compliant, eager in fact desperate for guidance and reassurance from government. They failed us. So, so badly. The stand out moment for me of the whole period is the Dominic Cummings debacle, which as far as I am concerned remains entirely unresolved. At the time it has most mattered we have been let down. I am still coming to terms with that and working out what it means going forward.

As the others have mentioned there have been disrupted plans, cancelled and postponed events, periods of uncertainty about what may happen. I am fairly sanguine about that and I don’t massively struggle with unknowns and upset diaries. However I really, really missed people. I missed the people I love, my family, my friends I see regularly, my work colleagues, my swim buddies, I missed all the times we had been expecting to spend time with people. I missed chatting to the woman on the checkout in the supermarket, chance bumping into someone as you walk through the town, I missed the people who annoy me. I missed human contact and all it’s joyous, irritating, wonderful, dreadful, peopleness.

Good:

I loved watching people find their place. Watching the worriers calm down, the stressed out people stop. I loved watching people find the ways to help, to be their best. I loved the creativity – the hastily cobbled together cooking shows Jamie Oliver did using tins from the back of the cupboard while his wife filmed him on a phone and his kids barged in while they were recording. I loved the adverts on TV that never failed to make me cry for banks and building societies, supermarkets and TV stations. I loved the radio shows phoned in from presenters spare bedrooms. I loved the rainbows painted everywhere and the genuine gratitude for the NHS, for the bin collectors and the supermarket staff. I have loved seeing how many people have found volunteering, helping and supporting opportunities. I have also been pleased to see the flip side of people accepting and asking for help too. I have also loved seeing the very human side of people and their kindness, compassion, humour alongside the darker sides.

I have grown things in our garden / allotment / croft for over a decade. It’s why this blog exists. I have long since baked our own bread and made cakes and cookies, we have cooked from scratch forever. We have never sent our kids to school and we have always spent most of our time all together in the house. It’s been good seeing other people have a go at that lifestyle. It’s been lovely to offer help from a place of experience in some of those areas. It’s not been for everyone but for those who have had lightbulb moments and said to me ‘oh…..now I see why you did that’ it’s been wonderful. And we have had a fabulous display of flowers on our decking, a huge harvest of peas from our raised beds and an array of splendid cakes ourselves too.

A huge highlight of the lockdown for me was the Great British Home Chorus. Having been casting about for a place to sing for all these years I suddenly found myself in a choir with thousands of others, all joining in with a daily weekday choir practise at 530pm with Gareth Malone. Then we recorded our parts and sent them in. Then a CD of our efforts was released which made the top 10 in the charts. A song to say Thank you to Gareth was also recorded and I made the video for that. The CD and the video are a fab reminder of one of the many wonderful projects which came about during the dark times of the pandemic.

Two other personal projects which have been lockdown inspired are the swim sketch book exchange which I have been involved with. A project of wild swimmers around the UK who have been contributing to and then passing on sketchbooks. We are coming to the end of the project and will all finish with a book containing the collaborative art work of 9 people to keep. I have experimented with all sorts of art materials, tried many new art techniques and really enjoyed the process of each piece of art, the group nature of the project and and connections formed from sending and receiving the books. The other project is my shell art on the beaches which I have done throughout the lockdown. It has been something which I have enjoyed as a creative and thoughtful process but have also connected with others by sharing it online. I have also had local people tell me they have seen and enjoyed my art in real life on the beaches too.

Learned:

Like the others I have also learned more about racism and Black Lives Matter. I would have considered myself pretty well informed and already had a couple of books either on my bookshelf or my kindle. I have to confess to not having read them or been as aware as I thought I was though and the deeper I have delved the more I have learned and the more I realise I have to learn.

Having watched lots of ‘after people’ type documentaries and having seen nature reclaim very quickly in real life too I was not at all surprised by the return of wildlife to unoccupied by human spaces during lockdown. In fact I was possibly more surprised by how little others had realised the huge impact humans have. Also that it really is as simple (on the one hand) as just stopping. I share the disappointment of the others than there seems to be a keenness to starting up again rather than treading a different path. However, I am an optimist and sitting with the three young adults to write this post I am massively heartened by what they have learned and had to say and I truly believe that while it feels as though the world is starting back up again with a throaty, fossil fuelled vroom the seeds have been sown for things to change. Maybe not overnight, certainly not as quickly as they should, but in small and important ways with the next generation understanding and feeling ready to make changes and beginning to find their voices, their passion and their anger to make real change.

I think my overwhelming learned is that this strange time has been a super concentrated version of real life. We have all had to confront our vulnerabilities, insecurities, priorities, relationships, place in the world, views and beliefs and they have also all been held up for others to see too. We have almost become caricatures of ourselves, but our true selves rather than who we might have thought we were. This has meant that those who were struggling have really really struggled, those who were on the cusp of going under may have sunk. For me it has cemented that I am happy with the choices I have already made in life and the places I have put most emphasis. It has also highlighted to me how very fortunate and privileged I have been to be able to make those choices though. And I have had to acknowledge that with that privilege comes a responsibility which I will endeavour to step up to even more. This period of history has shown us that there are more iniquities in our world than ever and worse than that we have been in denial about it. The time has come to change that.

Summary: My memory of these times will be of the very best of humans and the very worst of society. My hope is that we can balance that out and come through it battle scared and better.



Coming out of lockdown

Along with most of the country / world we have begun to tentatively come out of lockdown. Adhering to the ever changing guidelines, and sometimes even deciphering them has proven quite tricky at times so like everyone else we have been using common sense and our own risk assessments to decide how and what is safe for us and those around us. This is also balanced with understanding that we don’t (collective we rather than personal we) know enough about the virus to make fully informed decisions every time but that there are some choices which feel the lesser of two evils as well.

Our very first meeting up with people was with some local friends on a beach part way between our two homes. It was all four of us and all four of their family but just two households. We drew a literal line in the sand of the beach to maintain social distancing and all bought our own picnics and beach day supplies and had a wonderful time swimming, chatting and just catching up. We finished the day with a game of pebble bowling.

That was the cue for managing to start small groups of our regular Sunday swimmers meeting up again. Also maintaining big distances between us as we swam – the benefit of swimming in enormous lochs is there are no lanes! It was weird not to hug, to offer a shoulder to balance on while getting changed again, or to accept a swig of each other’s hot drinks post-swim, or to share a car when we decided there were too many jellyfish in our usual sea loch and decamp to a slightly further away freshwater loch for the peak of the hot weather / jellyfish season. But we adjusted and it was just lovely to be back in the water properly and sharing it with friends again.


We did have a slightly surreal breaking of lockdown with our first visitors to our house (all within guidelines, maintaining distancing and wearing masks) but one we are as yet not able to talk about. All will become clear there in due course but it was a lovely catch up with some old friends.

We had been poised on both sides of the Atlantic to get Megan here to us as soon as we could having had her and Davies’ summer plans involving some time for them both in the US, some time for them both in the UK and a large amount of travelling around together utterly scuppered. We decided that the best way of them having any time together was for Megan to come here for a long stay. That allowed for a 14 day quarantine post travel for Megan leading to her being part of our household. The travel for Megan was not without drama, not in any way of Megan’s making and a disappointment in our authority figures and people who’s job it is to keep us all safe rather than intimidate and bully not quite being their best selves, but on an afternoon in July Davies and I finally scooped her up from Inverness airport and bought her home. As with both her previous trips it is just lovely to have her here with us, part of our family and here for a good long stay including several seasons and lots of celebrations.

We had a ‘late’ 21st birthday celebration for her once she had settled in with all her favourite foods and over a month it it feels like she has been here forever.

One of the most sadly cancelled events during lockdown had been a trip to Northern Ireland at Easter. We usually manage to see our friends there 3 or 4 times each year. We had been with them in London in February but had housesitters lined up to come and stay at our house giving them a small holiday while we all went to Northern Ireland. Everyone’s plans were being cancelled at that time but we kept a close eye on how we might be able to make that trip happen again as soon as it was safe to do so. In the end we were not able to safely arrange house sitters and Ady was not able to take the time off work so Megan took his deferred ferry ticket and I took Davies, Scarlett and Megan for a week in August.

Outside of the actual travelling (in our own car, then on a ferry either outside or at great distance from other travellers wearing masks, then collected by our friends at the ferry port – it all felt very safe) we had not been in any risk filled situations and our friends work from home and had also not been in any high risk situations so it felt pretty sensible. Of course once there sensibility was not high on the agenda and a week of fun, laughter, singing, good food, plenty of drink and not nearly enough sleep was had.

As lockdown has eased further we have had two sets of houseguests ourselves. Regaining that human contact again with people sat close enough to touch and getting all of the joy of seeing real faces rather than zoom screen replications, hearing laughter without the time lapse and actually being able to talk all at once was just wonderful.

Our holiday cottage cleaning has started back up. With increased workload and new cleaning protocols, including PPE. It’s been good to dance with Henry again! It’s been perhaps less of a delight to be wearing masks while doing so.

There are more updates on new things we have been starting up but this is probably a long enough ‘coming out of lockdown’ post. Next up is a return to our tried and tested post formula of a bad, good and learned during this strange period of our lives.