Do what you can, where you are.

A couple of years into our time on Rum we had a young friend come and stay with us for a month. She was a remarkable young woman who is continuing to fulfil her potential and forge her path through life making a difference and beating her wings very hard so that the world has to be affected by what she has to say. Back then she was utterly charmed by our off grid, remote, survival style lifestyle and felt that that would be her calling. We had a lot of interesting conversations her and I, with both of us teaching the other. What I could offer in age and life experience she could more than match in youthful positivity, fresh eyes and a belief that anything was possible. One of the conversations I have often thought back to with her was about making a difference in the world and the best way to do that. My advice was that you should make your changes where you were in the first instance. Make the most of where you happen to be right now. The world certainly needs big voices, big changes and leaders to gather behind in order to make those big differences. But we also need smaller voices and smaller changes too.

Our lifestyle on Rum was incredibly low impact environmentally most of the time. But it was also reliant on a lot of the infrastructure we had chosen to leave behind still being there when we needed it. For us it was about living lightly on the land, learning about self sufficiency; in food, in power, in heat and water. It was about building community and stripping back all of the twenty-first century trappings of a modern consumer lifestyle to see which bits we could live without and what compromises we were prepared to make to bring back in the bits we missed. About seeing what the true cost – environmentally, financially, spiritually, personally and in terms of our time of our lifestyles. We didn’t set out to be quite so extreme, quite so remote, quite so remarkable. Along the way we met people far more extreme than us and plenty of people doing more or less in some areas but making their own choices and controlling their own lives. We were inspired by them to really understand what was most important to us and focus on those areas. What matters to us as a family is not necessary what will matter to other people. What matters to us as individuals is not always the same as each other, what mattered to me yesterday or might matter to me tomorrow may not be what matters today. Life is like that, ever changing, ever evolving, ever learning.

Returning to the mainland is involving compromise again. It is meaning that we are once again evaluating what is more or less important to us, what we care most about, what our priorities are. There is always an ‘ideal world’ scenario in my head, offset against doing what we can, where we are. I’d love to reduce car travel (or indeed travel generally) but we live somewhere with very limited public transport and the green options of walking or cycling are tricky due to single track, very windy roads making some of the routes unsafe. So we do the best we can – for us this means working as close as possible, or indeed actually at home. It means co-ordinating work trips with other members of the family or other reasons to take the car out to minimise journeys wherever possible and trying to organise lift shares with neighbours. As and when we do need to look at a second vehicle (which as four people living in a remote area with poor public transport links we very likely will do) we will explore various options including electric vehicles, small engines etc. We make the trip into town for grocery shopping just every ten days or so and have invested in freezers to mean we can stock up on food and store it to allow for less frequent trips.
This past month has involved a lot of driving and for Scarlett and I it has also involved air travel – something both of us were uncomfortable about and had looked at alternatives to. Although we were more than prepared to take longer to arrive at our destination – Northern Ireland – the alternate mode of transport to a budget airline was a ferry and was about five or six times the financial cost (if taking our car). On this occasion we decided to save the money being spent on travel knowing that having more money to spend in other areas means we can make better choices there -e.g. more environmentally friendly purchases on food. We have agreed that subsequent trips will be planned further in advance and we will take advantage of special offers and promotions from the ferry company to allow us to choose that transport option next time though.

Mainland life has meant electricity from a large supplier again in our home instead of the solar and wind power that we used on Rum. I’ve already mentioned having a freezer and we also have a washing machine and dishwasher here. We had a washing machine on Rum – powered by petrol generator which I used once a week to do our laundry in small loads. It would have to run for a couple of hours to get through four people’s washing. I would say the automatic washing machine here is running for a similar amount of time each week. All our drying is done just the same, out on the washing line (still making use of that wind and solar power!). Dishwashers seem to be touted as the more environmentally friendly option for water and energy use.

Our hot water here is oil fuelled, clearly not the best eco-option. If we were to own a house we would look at better options for that, but we don’t, we rent so we limit hot water use. So far we are on track to use about half what the oil company told us was typical usage for our house and house-hold size so I think we’re doing OK there. The oil also fuels the heating but we have a log burner so that will be our primary heating source with just the radiator in Davies’ room on (as he feels the cold).

Mainland life is a re-entry back into consumer society in lots of ways which Rum was not. Of course consumption has negative impacts. It also has positive ones too – the choice on how to use your consumer power being one of them. Sometimes being in the system gives you a voice.

Doing what we can where we are has enabled us to re-join a more mainstream, although still fairly small community and find voluntary opportunities in areas that we are passionate about and feel we can make a difference in. It has meant we have found employment in places which are not just enjoyable for us but also make a difference to others. I am writing for the local paper and getting to cover stories about subjects that I want to raise awareness of, working with young people helping to shape their ideas and support them in finding their future paths.

I think we achieved a lot in our time on Rum – we learnt so much and were able to give Davies and Scarlett a rich, wild, adventurous and alternative end to their childhood. The ripples and impacts of that will spread way beyond our time actually living there.

We also touched the lives of other people – those who visited us on the croft – family and friends, groups of students and school children. All those who came and volunteered with us, many of whom I am still in touch with and went on to change their lives in larger or smaller ways as a result of the time they spent with us. People who read this blog, who watched the TV shows or read magazines or newsletters, heard us on the radio talking about our lives. People we met on our cob course, at the Eden project community camps, friends of friends…. I have lost count of the times I have been told that people have made changes in the way they think about things, approach things or live because they have heard about us – our low impact life, our alternative education, different way of life, moves towards self sufficiency.

Part of doing what you can where you are is in realising when your work somewhere is done. I think that was the point we reached on Rum. We felt we had achieved all we were likely to manage there within the boundaries and confines of what our own health, wealth and desires dictated along with those imposed on us by external factors. Moving away has changed our stage and our audience but is allowing us to learn more ourselves while potentially do more in some areas, despite maybe not being quite so close to our ideas in others.

This post came about partially in response to a comment left by a regular reader but had also been prodding me as one of the potential posts constantly forming in my mind while I’m going about my day to day life. Our Rum life was a bit of a bubble and coming out of that bubble to realise that in some ways the world has changed a lot while we’ve been away but in others it has not changed at all has been a really interesting concept to catch up on.

3 thoughts on “Do what you can, where you are.”

    1. It is actually fine now Morag. It clearly was still playing him up as a result of our lifestyle on Rum. The croft is a pretty steep hill and walking up and down in wellies countless times every day was just aggravating it.

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