Thursday, 31 October 2013

Never nothing to do

Back in my other, previous life, well actually about five previous lives ago I worked in retail management. One of my favourite catchphrases to standing about staff was 'there is never nothing to do' refering to the fact that even when we had no customers, all the days delivery of stock was priced and put out there was always something to do - tidying displays, checking stock levels, price checking items to make sure they were correct, filing of paperwork, having a clear out of cupboards, drawers, till areas... it may not have made me popular with my staff but they were never bored!

Here on Rum on the croft there is also never nothing to do. Rainy days being chances to beaver away on crafting bits to ensure we start the tourist season next year with full fresh stocks of things for sale. There is endless paperwork, reading, planning and researching to do. We need to make our Christmas cake, plan a mainland trip to the dentist... when the weather is fine there is more to do outside, gather more firewood, strim more rushes to dry and store as animal bedding, bring up stones to help make a path through the mud, just walk the croft to better acquaint ourselves with the land and what it does at different times of the year.

There is also the wider Rum life to take into account, various social events, ferries coming in and going out, meetings, vegetable orders to be placed and collected and so on. Sometimes it seems like the week might be a quiet one and this week was looking like it may be the case but then in came those storms and brought with them a vagrant bird from America who was of great note in the twitching world and once word was out meant we had over 30 people descend on us with their big camera lenses and camouflage outfits in search of a glimpse of the bird in one of the local residents gardens. Cue us swinging into action to provide tea, coffee, soup and cake to make these visitors from afar (some of them had traveled through the night, over 600 miles and a very rocky ferry trip from one end of the UK to the other to hope to see this bird) and raise some money for our village hall fund.

The twitchers saw their bird, they ate our cake, put cash into our donations bucket and went away again. And maybe tomorrow if the ferry runs (it is *very* windy and forecast to get worse) there will be more.

Never, ever nothing to do.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Plus One

Yesterday afternoon I was at a friends crocheting and drinking tea when she stopped mid-sentence and said 'Helicopter!'

Within seconds we could see the 'copter coming through the mist and rain over the sea. Within minutes I'd had a text from Ady asking if I was okay and if I knew why the helicopter was in. Here on Rum when you hear the helicopter coming in low your first thought is for the members of your family you can't see infront of you right now. Then a mental checklist starts of the rest of the islanders. You replay the sounds you have heard and what you know people are up to today - is anyone chainsawing? Working up on a ladder? What tourists and visitors are here and what are they up to? Our walking on the hills? What is the weather like?

It landed (as it does, infront of the castle) and we then gauged by the gap between it landing and it taking off and flying away whether it was a big emergency or a small one. A bigger gap probably means the person requires stabilising or on the spot medical attention before moving, a quick turnabout can mean it's an ambulance ride Rum style to proper facilities. Yesterday was a long gap.

We decided the most likely cause for the helicopter was happy news - our neighbours on Croft 2 were just 10 days away from leaving the island to have their first baby. Sure enough the grapevine got the news to us that that was indeed the reason - baby on the way! The next thing on the sea horizon was a small charter boat coming to collect husband and expectant father - the helicopter is tiny and only had room for a pilot, one and a half patients and the midwife so he was following on by way of a specially called in boat and a borrowed car the other end. What a fantastically exciting start to a life and story for Rum's newest resident to tell in years to come about the day she was born.

Yep, a little girl. Born on the second birthday of our previous youngest Rum resident so we'll be gearing up for proper birthday celebrations this time next year. And yes, he did get there in time to be there for the birth.

Fantastic news which has had everyone on Rum smiling and a bit gooey today.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Upcycling aside

The season truly has changed. It's dark by about 630pm, which means by this time next week it will be dark just after 5pm and the mornings are starting later and later. It's hat weather and almost gloves weather and I have a torch in every coat, jacket and fleece pocket I own to ensure I don't leave the house without one.

The chickens have more or less stopped laying. Scarlett found a large stash of goose eggs this week which we've tested and found all fresh so we do at least have enough eggs to make our Christmas cake with next week.

The colours are stunning out of the window - purple.s, goldens, greens and oranges. Just breathtaking. I know it will only last a matter of days before everything goes grey - autumn is a blink and you miss it season here on Rum.

The log burner is lit for at least part of every day now, Ady tends to be up first and get a small fire going so that the rest of us get up to a cosy lounge and then depending on the weather and what we're up to it either stays going all day or gets cold and then relit in the evening. Yesterday we cooked the meat for our steak pie dinner on the log burner top afternoon - delicious slow cooked meat, gorgeous smells wafting through the static and money saved on gas too - win:win:win! I also put my proving bread dough close to the log burner and was rewarded with very well risen bread and two lovely loaves. All those house carting sacks of logs up the hill and swinging an axe to split firewood are certainly paying off now.

To get into the crafting groove ready to create a whole stack of items ready to sell next year I have been making lovely things for myself first. I made two hats - one slouchy one using some gorgeous thick green yarn that a friend sent me and one more formal cloche style hat with a crocheted flower on it in some Harris tweed wool I picked up in Harris back in the spring and was waiting for inspiration to strike me. I've been wearing the slouchy one out and about lots already. I've also been knitting squares and rectangles of various yarn to create a patchwork fleece. I've long coveted one of those gorgeous snuggly fleece lined woolly jackets that sell for way more money than I'd spend on a fleece and so decided to make my own. A full on garment is probably beyond me (in patience if not skill!) particularly when things like zips might be involved so I had the brainwave of using an old unloved and unworn fleece (a Tesco purchase about 8 years ago on a cold camping trip when everything else I owned was wet, muddy or not warm enough) and stitching patchwork onto it. The sleeves and neckline may well provide me with challenges but I'm starting at the bottom and pleased with how it looks so far.
It still doesn't mean I'm going to eat lentils. Or chickpeas... It probably means Ady will refuse to hold my hand while I'm wearing it outside the house though!

Once I am done with it I will turn my crafty attention back to items for sale next season - my scarves proved very successful so I will increase that little range of Moods of Rum scarves and maybe think about some other accessories in a similar vein.

We have been thinking about long term plans for the croft and engaged the help of a fellow Rum resident who just happens to be a bit of a whizz with such things having proper qualifications in such matters. Looking forward to seeing what she makes of my rather rambling future plans.

It's a busy week for meetings including (probably my last) visitor management group meeting as I am retiring from that group due to having taken on more things than I am able to give proper attention to. I have been rationalising my commitments and this was a clear one to step away from so I have done so. Next week is looking just as busy but with social events to mark autumnal festivals and celebrations so that is all to look foward to.

We're planning the various endeavours that keep us busy during the winter months including venison processing and winkle picking and gearing up for the early starts, layers and layers of clothes to combat the cold larder and wet seashore. The wind has returned spinning our turbine round and round and charging everything up for us. We're as ready as I think we can be to face the winter ahead.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

A soggy carnival

Jax, over on Making it up asked what you do when it rains. And given that I still direct the occasional nod towards being a Home Educating blog, or at the very least a blog that belongs to a family who Home Educate I thought I'd join in. What with rain being a fairly recurrent theme here on Rum.

Years ago when I had younger children and lived in a house with electricity a rainy day would be a reason to stay indoors and see where an inside adventure took us. That might mean sticking on one of our many dvds - a film fest complete with home made popcorn, drawing the curtains to close out the grey day outside and turning the lounge into a cinema. A wildlife documentary, filling our ears, eyes and brains with David Attenborough's dulcet, soothing tones educating us and taking us on adventures around the globe, under the sea, inside the microscopic world of bugs. Either of these could result in a spin off activity - getting out all the toy dinosaurs and creating a habitat for them, lining them up on opposite sides of the room depending on whether they were herbivores or carnivores, getting out the art supplies and painting, drawing and cutting out the star characters from the Pixar movie of the day then laminating them to play with. Heading off to the dressing up box to turn into those characters themselves and act out the on screen action using the house as a movie set. All of these are true and regular examples of what went on in our house.

Or we might curl up with a huge towering pile of books and work our way through the lot, reading until my voice grew hoarse and the last page on the last book was closed.

We might embark on a culinary adventure. For a while we worked our way through the River Cottage Family Cookbook which if ever I was to follow a curriculum of any sorts would be high on my list. If you don't have a copy you should get one
We spend many happy hours writing shopping lists, heading off to the supermarket for supplies and then making a mess in the kitchen. We baked bread, made our own pasta, shook milk to churn it into butter, spent time measuring out a teaspoon, tablespoon, ounce and gram and then working out how to do the same by eye and testing ourselves. We made sourdough starter, experimented and learnt.

Talking of experiments they were a popular rainy day activity too - making rainbow solutions from sugar water and food colouring, volcanic explosions from vinegar and bicarb or Scarlett's personal favourite of potions from random assorted things she could find in my bathroom cabinet and glitter! We grew crystals, allowed white flowers to suck up coloured water to shade their petals and testing gravity by flinging things down the stairs!

We had toys, oh so many toys. But the winning items time and again for rainy days when we were stuck indoors were Lego and Geomags. Adaptable, able to take on whatever flight of fantasy the kids imaginations took them on and be endlessly pulled apart and put back together again while teaching them about architecture, building, the laws of physics, design and improvement, building and aesthetics.

But that was if we happened to be stuck indoors on a rainy day. We had a car and access to all sorts of resources in all four directions. Museums, art galleries, libraries. Places geared up for learning opportunities at every turn with interpretation boards, resources, people on hand to ask questions of and point you in the right direction, to interact with and to soak up knowledge. The less obvious but no less valuable resources of the local supermarket, the local pet shop. Engaged, interested children are not a liability in these environments, rather a willing audience to learn yet more about the world around them. Looking at the labels on food in the supermarket to see where it came from, working out the raw ingredients for a meal, pricing up the different brands and choices on offer. Understanding why some food was chilled, some frozen and some just on shelves. Looking at all the different animals for sale and what type of care that pet may require, looking at life expectancy of different creatures and understanding how the home they might need within your house replicated their natural habitat in the wild.

Finally celebrating the weather and mother nature. Understanding that without the rain we'd all very quickly be in trouble and putting on wellies and waterproofs and heading out to find the biggest possible puddles to splash in. Heading to the beach to see what happened to the sand and the waves when the rain poured down on them. Making sure that the turn of the season was something we felt, were part of and experienced fully by seeking out the daffodils in spring, the turning leaves in autumn and the crunchy frost hardened winter ground.

Here in this life rain is such an every day part of life that if we pressed the pause button just because it was raining outside we'd spent a lot of our lives suspended. Living in a caravan means it is not practical to head out and get soaked if we can help it - drying clothes is not easy and mud is best left on the outside. But we probably have more of an in touch with the seasons rhythm now than ever before as the summer is for being outside, stretching those incredibly long Rum days when it is still dark at 11om and the sun rises again before 4am to the limits. Tending livestock, growing crops, soaking up the sunshine and being productive. It is peak tourist season so there is always plenty to be done from collecting eggs, filling up the honesty table and supplying the shop, ensuring our craft supplies at the Craft shop in the village are topped up, manning the weekly Market Days at the hall to sell our wares and harvesting, baking and foraging. Autumn is for gathering the harvest and bringing in winter supplies, making sure we have firewood and winding down for the season.

Winter - and the most rainiest time of all is for crafting - creating next seasons items for sale - for Davies this will be designs of postcards and other artwork, for Scarlett it will be turning this summer's haul of seaglass and other beachcombed treasures into keyrings and other trinkets. Rainy days also mean drawing and other crafting for craftings sake. There is writing to friends to keep up their correspondence by post friendships they both have, making props for the films they like to make, art for pleasure rather than for sale or sending, writing stories. There is still dvd watching, online time spent on youtube or minecraft or other online games. There is time spent on games consoles, listening to music, reading books. There is still creative play, still use of resources and I have to admit still a fair bit of putting on wellies and finding the biggest puddles we can to splash in!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

In all honesty...

Selling eggs is one of our biggest revenue streams here on Croft 3. We sell chicken, duck and goose eggs. Some of them through Rum shop (at whole sale prices), some direct to businesses on the island and the rest from our honesty table at the croft gate. I was really surprised when we set the first incarnation of a camping table and jam jar up down at the croft gate at how successful it was. We are bordered on three sides of the croft by a nature trail which brings tourists walking along the top, one side and bottom perimeter of our croft; a fact we have never underestimated or taken lightly in terms of giving us a 'shop front'. We are also a nice accessible circular walk that many of the villagers do regularly in their own personal 'get out of the village / walk the dog / burn off their dinner / reconnect with nature' quest. Now that they can buy eggs from us along the way I think it has become an even more desirable destination walk too.

The table was soon replaced as it was not weather friendly (eggs got wet in the rain, blown away in the wind, cooked in the sun) or crow / passing dog proof - a fact we learnt the hard way after crows pecked at the eggs from the bottom of the table up and an unidentified dog cleared a whole table full of eggs leaving only broken shells and muddy pawprints as evidence. The next incarnation was a brightly painted cast off bedside table from the castle hostel. We mounted it on the gate post and it stood up well for the whole of this years tourist season. But the Rum weather is not to be underestimated and underestimate it I did. The honesty bedside table fell to pieces having had it's colour washed off by rain, bleached off by sun and the door blown off by wind and rotted off by, well by exposure to all of the above really.

If our business is to work here we need to do a lot of low key  unsupervised selling while we are busy getting on with getting the next lot of produce ready to sell and the honesty table / cupboard has proved itself as a winning way of selling our produce at retail prices without us having to walk down and deliver to the village. So the hunt was on for an alternative, more robust solution. Something sturdy enough to stand up to the wind, rain and sun, keep the produce safe from the elements and the predators, look appealing to potential customers and sum up all we are about.

Bring on the freezer!

I can't think of a more appropriate and suitable solution than what Ady came up with. Here on Rum when white goods are no longer any use they are heaped up in a corner of Rum and left to die. In theory once there is sufficient numbers to justify it a trip out will be made by the council to collect and recycle them. In practice I have no idea how frequently this happens but judging by the state of the appliances living in this electrical graveyard it is not often. To be honest shipping them off by sea, then transporting them by road to wherever the nearest recycling plant on the mainland may be and then trying to make the best of these big CFC boxes is still far from a green solution anyway. So Ady and took a trip to the white goods graveyard and selected an old freezer. A bit grubby, a little rusty but still with drawers and the perfect size and shape for our new honesty larder. We bought it back to the croft and I attacked it with hot soapy water until it was fit once more to put food items in. Fully insulated against hot and cold, secure and rodent and crow proof, ready to live on as a useful item rather than languish in the pit of rusty white goods nestled between a dead cooker and an expired washing machine. When we were WWOOFing we came across several hosts who used old fridges and freezers as animal feed storage containers for all the same reasons. So we can't claim full credit for the idea.

But for an off grid lifestyle treading lightly on the land, re-using and recycling whatever we can, being like modern day wombles making good use of the things everyday folk leave behind this seemed perfect.

But this needed to be nice looking, something you were invited to open and peruse inside, be attracted to and want to buy from. An old freezer, no matter how clean, which is no longer plugged into anything may send the wrong message... a sort of extreme off grid one perhaps...

It needed some beautification, a bit of Nic-love.

First of all I needed it to stop looking quite so much like a freezer. So I painted it black. Bear with me, I only had black, white or red paint at that stage. It was already white and Ady suggested if I painted it red people might try posting letters into it, so black was my only option.

I like to think of this as the upcycled freezers goth phase. A sort of uncomfortable teenage state in which is was reflecting on who it was, why it was here and what the end result of this chrysallis stage might be. A period of experimentation and self examination...

Briefly I (and the freezer) toyed with this look - stark, black and white, farm shop style. It didn't feel right. There were too many connotations of school, blackboards and chalk for either of us to feel comfortable. It was as though the freezer was expected to be teaching the customers something and at any moment pi to thirteen decimal places might appear underneath the croft 3 produce heading. Also sitting as it does at the foot of the croft this is the natural point of vision - the first layer is a panorama of natures finest, sky, cuillins, trees and quite possible eagles circling overhead. Below that is Croft 3 - evidence of humans and animals, agriculture and life, some might say a shambles, others may see the permaculture beauty in it but one way or another it didn't feel right ending with a big black box.

So we went green. Which felt far more appropriate!

On every level. And Ady found me a wee pallet to stand it on and build a little path to it so it doesn't get all muddy when we get tens of visitors coming to buy stuff. Meanwhile I spent ages and ages trying to come up with a vision of what I wanted it to look like. I wanted it to be quirky, original, embody all that we stand for here on Croft 3. After some soul searching I came up with a design. It is indeed quirky and original. And a little bit gypsy. I think that sums us up!

It's still a work in progress but I can share what I've done so far with it between rain showers, making use of a jam jar of petrol to clean out my brushes when the brush cleaner failed once again to arrive on the ferry...

with writing - white on green somehow so much more pleasing than white on black
With swirls on the writing and the first colour added - brown. Lots of guessing as to quite what that shape at the bottom was ranging from pig to hippp - none were right but it briefly had me pondering the market for hippo eggs... they do like mud after all and we have plenty of that!
Swirls and outlines complete the lettering. I am very happy with it, it looks exactly as I hoped it might.
No more hippos any more. Still no facial features but a comb, wattle, some eggs and a chick on it's back hopefully identify the pig hippo to actually be a broody hen. Some ducks, geese and some beaks and legs for the chickens above. Next step is to turn those purple blobs on the lower left into something but rain stopped play once more this afternoon.
What do you think so far?

Sunday, 20 October 2013

kinloch river in spring

kinloch river by nicgee
kinloch river, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

in the river

in the river by nicgee
in the river, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Isle of Rum - River Kinloch

Isle of Rum - River Kinloch by nicgee
Isle of Rum - River Kinloch, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

bring our house across the river

in the river by nicgee
in the river, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Take me to the river

Kinloch river runs along the bottom of Croft 3. One of the many wee burns and falls that feeds into it runs down the side of Croft 3, infact that is where our water comes from. The many ditches, drains and culverts that take (some of) the water off of Croft 3 all feed into the river. The river then runs just under a mile to Loch Scresort, the sea loch which forms Kinloch bay around which Kinloch Village on Rum sits before meeting the sea.

The river is part of our daily lives. I have walked along the section between our croft and the village hundreds and hundreds of times and it is different with every walk. The speed of the current, the height of the water, the width of the river all depend on various factors - rainfall, what the tide is doing on the beach, what the weather has been like for the last week, day, hour. What the weather is like elsewhere, higher up on Rum. Melting snow from the peaks can create a sudden rush, as can a cloud burst up on higher ground even if it is fine down beside our stretch of the river. I have heard the pitch change as it suddenly runs faster on more than one occasion. It can change within a single day from bursting its banks to a stream you could paddle in. It is the most mercurial body of water I have ever known.

We cross the river on foot by a small bridge which sometimes has an angry flood of water running so close it almost flows over it - I have heard tell of times when the river goes over the bridge but have yet to see it for myself. When it is running low we can drive the car across at another point called a ford. That is where we took the static across. Sometimes you can wade across in wellies, at other times I wouldn't go anywhere near the riverbank for fear of being washed away. The ducks and geese spend hours every day on the river, we wash Bonnie in it when she is muddy, once the pigs went down in the height of summer for a paddle. Davies and particularly Scarlett spend hours playing beside it and in it. I have floated found chicken eggs in shallow places to test their freshness, rinsed out muddy clothes, washed my hands, collected water for crops in the polytunnel.

The deer drink from the river and perform graceful leaps across it when spooked by us walking along. Herons fish along the banks, I saw a cormorant on the river once. Dippers breed, nest and rear their young. Scarlett has caught tiny fish, others have caught dinner. I've yet to see an otter anywhere on Rum but I am told they lurk along it's banks.

On a sunny day diamond sparkles splash as it gently trickles along, clear and clean and lazy. Other times it is a raging torent, angry, brown and frothing, carrying ripped branches, rocks and anything else that gets in it's way. In spring it is flanked by yellow broom and gorse blooms and the green of fresh new leaves and shoots, in summer there are creamy elderflowers and wild roses, in autumn purple heathers, shiny red rowanberries  and the golden oranges and reds of falling leaves. In winter all is grey, stark, colour all washed out.

The river seems to know my mood, to echo my emotions and play a suitable song as I walk alongside it each day. It is at turns cross and raging, filled with promise and hope, lazy and meandering, rushing to fit everything in. I used to think I'd love to live by the sea, to have ocean views from my windows and the sound of the tide as a background song to my days. Now I can't imagine anything other than this river.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Banking the sunshine

Another unforecast day of sunshine today, the river is so low we'll be starting to fret about our water supply soon! The wind turbine has seen no action but at least the solar panel is sucking some energy into the static.

Ady spent lots of the day being mechanics mate. The good news is the car is back in action, the bad news it is only restored to part working order. We will definitely need to find a replacement but of course that tends to be more complicated than in mainland land. We need a 4x4 , something with enough ground clearance to cross a river, it needs to be diesel and it needs to be very reliable. It does not need to be roadworthy, look nice or go more than 10mph! There is hope of a suitable vehicle on the grapevine, we'll see if it comes good.

In the morning I caught up on emails, made two lots of dough - one for bagels for dinner, one for bread and rolls for the next couple of days, did some cheerleading / overseeing / assisting with some spelling on a poster Davies was making for a friend and a card Scarlett was making for another. They adore getting post - it makes them so happy when an envelope arrives on the ferry with their name on it but persuading them that they would get more mail if they sent more and that they get to be the bestower of that excited feeling when it is them sending things to their friends can be an uphill battle. I was telling Scarlett about how I had at least 5 pen friends when I was her age and used to get as much out of writing and sending the letters as I did from receiving them. For non- writing children, particularly in this internet age the simple joy of getting to know someone, sharing news and life stories by way of longhand on coloured writing paper stuck with a stamp seems to be some archaic idea from generations and generations ago, not just something their mummy did when she was a child.

We all had lunch and then deciding that the rain was not going to put in an appearance after all the kids went off to look for eggs  - none - all the birds have stopped laying for the winter I think - and exercise Bonnie who has fully recovered from whatever was ailing her and no longer has a limp. I knitted for a while,did sme reading and then went to do some tidying up in the polytunnel. I've done some organising, a little harvesting, a tiny bit of sowing and generally made our half look less abandoned. I experimented with some hanging baskets for strawberries and just enjoyed being in there without the company of any midges.

Ady arrived home in the car and brought me a cup of tea down to the polytunnel. I joined him in taking the car back up to the fork in the road (we tend to leave in there incase it rains and the river gets too high to cross and it is where any car in the village can get to easily to jump start us if we need it rather than a brave 4x4 driver).

I chopped up the three bags of firewood Ady had carried up the hill and then turned all the dough into dinner and bread.


Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

they are less hanging basket and more dangling plastic boxes but I think they'll do the job!

new sowing corner

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

How to make the wind stop blowing

Install a wind turbine, obviously!

It's been uncharacteristically still for the last ten days... Rum local hero to the rescue on the car front, lending us a vehicle to get around, looking at the poorly Pajero and generally helping us out. Tomorrow Ady is playing mechanics apprentice and fingers crossed it may live to cross the river once more.

Davies and Scarlett had a letter from a friend in Monday's post to say she is visiting for the weekend - hurrah! Much excitement at this great news, particularly as we thought we had waved our last visitors of the year off already.

I've ordered a selection of soft fruit bushes to fill the fruit cage including cranberries, raspberries, gooseberries, blueberries, whitecurrants and rather excitingly a novelty honeyberry bush too. All paid for and will be on the way once they are in their dormant period and ready to transport.

We've decided on a site for our orchard and will mark it out on the next dry day we have. I have emailed a couple of Scottish apple tree suppliers for advice on varieties and we'll work on a proper orchard plan. The next decision is to whether protect individual trees from the deer or to create an entire orchard cage area screened off. My initial feeling is to section off the whole area but we'll do a price up of both options and see which comes out best.

After nearly 18 months of pig keeping and numerous pig moves we have finally cracked the perfect pig move technique. We used to just have them roaming for the half hour or so it took to set up a fence and lure them into the new fenced area which when it was just Tom and Barbara was fine as they follow the pig bucket anyway and are always more interested in hanging around us while we work, chat to them and scratch behind their ears than heading off on adventures. But with six pigs the lure of a whole island to discover is greater than a handful of pignuts and it took us *hours* to get all of them in last time we moved them.  So we have invested in extra posts and developed our new, patent pending Nic & Ady Croft 3 Pig Moving Grand Plan which basically entails extending the pig pen on one side, wiring it all up, making it live and then cutting the middle section of fence and removing it giving them a double size pen. When it is time to move them more we will just ushed them to the newer side, reinstate the dividing wall using the spare posts, move the other three sides round to extend it, wire it all back in and cut the divide again. This will give them a larger pen comprising half new grass and half old which gives them wallow mud on the older side and allows them to fully dig up everything plus fresh ground to root on and feed on to supplement their twice daily pig feed. Result! We are very pleased with ourselves :) Hurrah for living and learning.

Davies the driver

Untitled by nicgee

Davies' birthday present from a fellow islander was a drive around the village on the Rum Shuttle, an electric golf buggy which provides Rum's visitors with a taxi and luggage delivery service from the pier to the village and all around. Davies did a cracking job of mastering stop, go, steering and avoiding potholes. He has a provisional licence and approval to have another go on the buggy. Top birthday gift :)

quiet at the back!

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

watching the deer in the dark

Untitled by nicgee

Just off to the right of Scarlett you can see the deer's eyes and make out it's silhouette. 

Croft 3 creatures

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

it must be dinner time!

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Best laid plans....

We had a fair weather and a wet weather plan for this week. The start of the week has the best weather so we should have been out moving the pigs to the next plotted area and constructing a tree cage for our planned orchard today.

Except when we looked at the pig moving we decided that with six pigs it is no longer feasible to have them roaming for the half hour or so between dismantling the old fence and setting up the new one. When it was just Tom and Barbara it was fine as they mostly hung out with us anyway and then went into the new pen with the lure of a handful of pig nuts. But with the four piglets too it is mayhem and chaos and needs further planning. So we have ordered some extra posts and have a plan to extend the pen and then take out the divide.

I did some more research on apple trees for our orchard and learnt mostly that we need to do more research! If we're going to spend over £100 on 8 trees then we need to be sure they are the right trees for here and do all the proper preparation work for the arriving, including working out the best location and constructing a deer proof area for them. I have sorted out stock for the fruit cage though and have a selection of raspberry, blueberry, cranberry, white currant, gooseberry etc arriving to add to the stock of raspberry, gooseberry, blackcurrant and red currant already in there. That will have it fully stocked and hopefully fruiting for 2014.

After lunch of a using up the last of the veg before today's order arrived soup (red onion, carrot, sweet potato, ginger) and fresh rolls Ady and I headed down to the village to put a wash on. The car is almost officially dead and so we had to come back a couple of hours later carrying our fruit and veg for the week, a full load of washing and various things from the freezer including 4 pints of milk, a pack of butter and some cheese. My head hurts from carrying the veg box on my head after Ady insisted it was the correct way. We struggle to survive without a vehicle and given we have a huge delivery of animal feed, compost and fence materials arriving later this week which would take us about 12 hours of hard labour to carry to the croft from the pier I am hoping we can get this sorted asap.

It is times like these when there is no breakdown cover or mechanic we know who can do a good bodge job that we curse that chunk of sea between us and the mainland. Well that and our own lack of mechanical know-how.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Roaring stags, twinkly stars, skies on fire

More pictures than words these last few days, unlike me I know.

We're enjoying a last burst of summer here on Rum with t shirt weather days although we're getting hot water bottle nights thanks to the same clear skies. Clearly the way to reduce the winds on Rum is to install a wind turbine - it's barely turned in days. Fortunately the solar panel is getting a good whack of power demonstrating once again that spreading your bets is the best approach in all things, power included.

We've been busy making the most of the fine weather, getting more firewood up the hill, chopped and stacked, the raised beds weeded, a small amount of garlic planted for an autumn sowing, some general tidying up and a final bramble pick of the season.

I'm waiting on some paint to arrive to do something creative with the old freezer / new produce cupboard / smallest farm shop in Scotland and have been trawling the internet for inspiration.

We have a list of fine weather jobs for the next few days: move the pigs (well open out their enclosure to include a new patch of land, the outline of which is already strimmed, we just need to set up the fence), move the barbecue to a less exposed area next to the horsebox, put a tarp over the exposed firewood stash, make a fruit tree cage ready to plant fruit trees we're about to order. And a list of wet weather jobs: Clear out the polytunnel and do some autumn / winter sowings, get some soft fruit bushes and some fruit trees ordered (this month's investment of funds is fruit trees and bushes to stock our newly created cages ready for next year) - this is the time to order and plant them and we have an excellent book
which lists specific varieties which should do well for us so we'll refer to that to help us make our choices. We want to plan out next years planting generally including the polytunnel, the raised beds and some fodder crops for animal feed too which is an indoors with cups of coffee job for a rainy day. We have various other paperwork-based tasks to crack on with when the weather stops us from being outdoors too and the forecast tells us that will be happening later this coming week.

But for now we're enjoying the sun while it lasts, safe in the knowledge that it's only a matter of time before the wind turbine spins round and round and gales blast us and make the walls rattle once more.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Saturday, 12 October 2013

SAM_7876 by nicgee
SAM_7876, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.


SAM_7877 by nicgee
SAM_7877, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

from the sporran tonight

SAM_7878 by nicgee
SAM_7878, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Home sweet home

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

cold and frosty morning

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

first frost of the season

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

I choose...

It's been a beautiful sunny day today and we've done lots of outside, autumnal, getting jobs done ready for the winter type stuff. I spent an hour or so picking rosehips and brambles (as task for which my sore finger tips are not thanking me now) and another hour later in the day chopping firewood. Both fairly mindless tasks which leave you free to head off on flights of fantasy and introspection while you get on with the job in hand.

I've been thinking about the parts of our life here which are challenging, which test us and make us wonder what we're doing and why we're doing it. I've had a grumpy few days myself due to various factors which have clashed rather with children turning into teenagers and some frank words have been exchanged, some new boundaries established and some new responsibilities allocated. I very much believe in everyone spending as much time as possible doing whatever it is that makes them feel happy and fulfilled, whether that is minecraft, lego, drawing, listening to music, planting seeds, knitting a scarf, watching a wildlife documentary... I don't believe there is any one task more worthy or credible than another but there is a basic level of stuff which just needs to happen to keep our lives ticking over when you live like we do. Not everyone is able to do all of the tasks, some of us prefer some of the tasks while loathing the others, some of us are more physically or mentally able to carry out some things than others but if this is the life we have collectively chosen then we all need to do our bit to make it work for us. There is am intrinsic joy in contributing to the family which we should all share in and add our own individual strengths and skills to the mix. At certain times of the day, week, month, year different things will pull different members of our family away and we all need to support each other to make this happen. We need to be individually fulfilled and doing things which make us happy and feed our souls, help us relax and are important to us and move around to fill the spaces left when someone is busy elsewhere.

I've been really proud of Davies and Scarlett's efforts to make this happen this week - washing up after lunch, making cups of tea and bringing them out to us, feeding the animals, tidying up the static and coming outside with us to do their bit where possible. It turns out Scarlett is excellent at chopping up kindling and her and I had a very happy hour together while I split the big logs and she made sticks.

While I was pricking my fingers with rose thorns and bramble spikes earlier I was recalling the things which used to be testing and challenging and worrying back in our old lives. I remembered the angst of Monday mornings going back to school, fretting about homework not done, teachers who picked on you for no apparent reason, complicated friendships I never seemed to grasp the rules of. Workdays where the onset of this time of year simply meant longer (unpaid) working hours getting ready for Christmas, the stress of sales, stocktakes, deadlines, targets, budgets. The anxiety of meetings, of a new manager and dancing to a new tune, of management initatives and brand new methods of working  (oh how many of those I worked through during my years in retail management), of staff, of appraisals and reviews and structure changes and redundancy threats. I thought about traffic jams, credit card bills and supermarket queues, of potholes and road works and feeling like I should wear jeggings because everyone else seemed to be. I pondered on the dilemmas of various friends about homework, issues at their kids' schools.

I would never try to belittle or demean those issues because for pretty much everyone I know, and for me, for well over 30 years of my life they were my issues too. Rum is far from Eden - 40 odd people does not make a balanced, complete society in which to function, raise children, exist. Issues are magnified, problems go unresolved. Our life is a long way yet from our ideal - I want a bath, a washing machine and a freezer closed than a mile walk away, I'd like a place to hang my clothes where they do not go moldy and if I need the loo in the middle of the night it would be nice to not have to go outside and brave roaring stags, wind, rain and the risk of slipping in the mud to do so. But I can feel that our challenges have meaning, we are making a difference and most of all the issue we face are within our control. We get to decide how to tackle these things and how best to find solutions. I've never felt so empowered, so in control, so able. I love that phrase ' be the change you wish to see in the world' and I think here in this life we get to be the change.

Friday, 11 October 2013

short term solution

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

I'm not really happy with the blackboard look, a bit too teacher-y I think. I'm waiting for some paint to arrive to glam it up a bit. While telling Scarlett about how I need lots more colours as I only had black, white and red she informed me I only need to order yellow and blue and will then have all the primary colours and both shades and can therefore mix all the other colours from them. Curse those clever ten year olds!

paint it black

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

I'm initially mostly just trying to make it not look like an old freezer any more, I did come over a bit Fast Show while making it all black though.

soon to be our new honesty cupboard

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

which sounds a bit wrong, like a sort of Catholic confession booth or something. It'll be where we sell produce from the croft gate.


Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

I'm making syrup following the WW2 recipe used to ensure children had sufficient vitamin C in the days before we had oranges,,, or chocolate... or bananas... or shoes ... sorry, come over a bit 4 Yorkshireman suddenly!

the wood store

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

almost winter-ready

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Not normal, not normal at all

It's the red deer rut on Rum. The couple of weeks each year where the stags leave their usual same sex groups of males they generally hang out with and spend their time acting like louts on a Saturday night, shouting, fighting, urinating and mating!

For some reason while this behaviour is fairly undesirable in humans it is utterly compelling watching in red deer and so today we headed over to Kilmory for front row seats to catch the action.

It is all too easy here, as it is everywhere to get caught up in every day life and forget to stand and stare. We're pledging to try and make sure we do our fair share of standing and staring, drinking in and committing to memory. Once a week if we can, but certainly as often as possible we want to head out and reconnect with this amazing island we live on, forget the tough bits and the reality of life here and just stop for a while and become part of the land we walk on.

As you can see from the pictures that follow it was amazing. We watched from the deer hide there and while I already knew from hearing the stags roar on the croft (they have kept us awake for the last few nights) that they are noisy but today they were close enough to smell! I know the smell from working in the larder processing venison that stags have a very distinct smell when you are up close to them but I didn't expect to be close enough to live beasts to smell it on them.

We were also fortunate enough to have one of the red deer researchers on hand to id the main players, explain some of what was going on and answer some of our questions. We also got to see some of the recording and research data collecting in action.

Another fantastic example of why we are so very fortunate to live where we do...


DSCF3004 by nicgee
DSCF3004, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.


DSCF3003 by nicgee
DSCF3003, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.


DSCF3009 by nicgee
DSCF3009, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.


DSCF3017 by nicgee
DSCF3017, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.


DSCF3019 by nicgee
DSCF3019, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.


DSCF3023 by nicgee
DSCF3023, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.


DSCF3024 by nicgee
DSCF3024, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.


DSCF3026 by nicgee
DSCF3026, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.


DSCF3028 by nicgee
DSCF3028, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

I know who lives there!

DSCF3030 by nicgee
DSCF3030, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

pretty darn close

SAM_7846 by nicgee
SAM_7846, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

so close we could smell them

SAM_7847 by nicgee
SAM_7847, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

some Autumnwatch style photos

SAM_7853 by nicgee
SAM_7853, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

from the Red Deer Rut on Rum 2013

Home sweet home

SAM_7865 by nicgee
SAM_7865, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Blog post brought to you by a brisk south-easterly

Untitled by nicgee

All the while we have tenants renting out our house we have a small amount of money per month which we re-invest back in to something to make our life easier up here on the croft. That has been spent on things like our solar panels and invertors, the pipe and plumbing bits to take water out of the burn and hook the static up, the costs involved in getting our compost loo here (helped along lots by the crowd funders and donators of the loo itself). This month we spent it on a wee wind turbine. It's just 500w max but plenty for our modest requirements living a life as we do with no washing machine, fridge, freezer, toaster, kettle or microwave. 

Our current power set up is pretty straightforward but not very intuitive. We have a small solar panel which charges up a battery from which the water pump and the main lights work in the static. A second larger solar panel is connected to another battery which runs the internet for a few hours each night and during sunny days charges up various things including torches, mobile phones, tablet / netbook / kids games consoles. A petrol generator fills in the gap and is run most evenings for an hour to so to charge everything up and give us some light to eat dinner by. 

So we've invested in this little wind turbine which will hopefully lessen the need for the genny and therefore save us money on buying in petrol and the planet on us burning a little less petrol. It should also mean that rather than rely on a set time every evening we can charge stuff up as and when and maybe even have the internet on all the time - something which will please Davies and Scarlett no end and make replying to emails, researching things and uploading a quick photo to the blog a much easier affair. Long term it may mean we can look at appliances like a dehumidifier to reduce the condensation and damp in the static, maybe run the little fridge in the static (currently run off bottled gas). It's another of our small steps meaning only small mistakes experiments. If it doesn't work for us or goes wrong we have not invested too much money and will have learnt some more about wind turbines and alternative technology into the bargain.

So the turbine and charge controller arrived. We already had a pole to mount it on - purchased to the spec given to us by the turbine supplier. We forced ourselves to work slow and steady on it rather than race ahead in excitement and after two days we finally raised the pole late this afternoon. With a wind turbine you work backwards, doing all the wiring and electrics first before finally putting the rotor blades on the turbine and lifting up the pole last. It was quite a momentous feeling standing that pole up and seeing, hearing and actually feeling the blades start to turn and lights come on in the static to show it was working, generating power and making this work.

It's not been without teething problems, swear words and experimental bodging and we still want to further secure the pole with some more guy lines but for once we are sitting here listening to the wind with glee and delight as it feeds power into our battery bank and charges up things for us rather than threatening to take the roof from our heads and keep us awake.

You live, you learn

A couple of weeks ago we hit a bit of a wall. Regular readers and those who know us well could probably tell by the tone of posts. In our original business plan we hoped to built a house in year one here on Rum. We speedily readjusted that ambition to year two and set about lots of research accordingly. Permaculture principles and our own wisdom dictated that you make small, slow decisions and then any mistakes are small too. We always planned to spend at least a year living on the land learning about our environment before choosing a house site. We wanted to be familiar with where the sun rose and set at different times of year, where the wind blew most, the rain fell least and so on. After our first winter we were ready and had a house site marked out - it took into account sunrise and sunset, access, drainage and lie of the land, access both for building materials and for us to live in it. We looked at various options for house builds from metal agricultural building type sheds to kit houses to log cabins and took lots of advice. If our house had sold down south we were pretty much poised and ready to go.

Except it didn't. So we thought about alternative short term temporary accommodation which would be better than the static and buy us time to build what our actual dream home might look like if time pressure were no object (money will always be an object even if we sold our house, won the lottery (which we don't even play) and struck oil or found an export market for mud on the croft!). I never meant to raise my children in a caravan, this was supposed to be a pop up temporary housing solution to get us to Rum so we could start building our life here and making our dreams come true.

Next year our plan is to sort out a longer term short term house for us. Something that will be suitable for the two or three years it might take us to build our alternative green build dream home. Something that we can have a washing machine and a bath in. Somewhere with more space than the static, less damp and condensation, somewhere that feels more like a home and less like a slightly upgraded camping trip. This will take some doing - it comes with a pretty big price tag but we have A Plan - to be unleashed upon the world once we have worked out the final details ourselves.

In the process of arriving at The Plan we had some frank family discussions. About whether this life is working, about whether the highs make up for the lows, if the tough bits are simply too tough and whether when we look back on this period of our lives (which for Davies and Scarlett is a very big period of their lives and forever will be - what you do when you are 39 and 49 is much less likely to be life forming than what you did when you were 10 and 13) it will be with affection, with appreciation of an experience worth having or as a period of endurance not worth the high costs.

We turned to our usual tried and tested Goddard method of checking where we're at - Bad, Good, Learnt. We did it for our 18 months here so far:

- missing friends
Good - the little things - during the course of this conversation I have seen an eagle out of the window. Here on Rum it's a constant stream of little things that I actually notice and lift me rather than an overall good or bad.
Learnt - About people and what a community means.

Bad - moldy toys and a small space to live in.
Good - Having all the animals.
Learnt - so much about wildlife and nature.

- the toilet, the lack of power, the weather, the mud, issues with transport.
Good - Freedom, true satisfaction of achieving victories. Truly relaxing of an evening with candles and firelight, no distractions, the remoteness, the community.
Learnt - About power and alternate technology. About having gratitude fro small, meaningful things, prioritising achivevements, about agriculture and horticulture in a totally different climate. I've learnt some hard lessons.

Bad - No bath. No washing machine. Missing friends and family.
Good - Feeling that I am really living. That all victories are real, genuine victories, that everything is worthwhile and makes a difference, that choice I make are truly my own and have an impact and an influence.
Learnt - How to peg out washing according to wind direction. Something that never made any difference at all in a sheltered back garden. How to read a weather forecast long and short term and apply it to planning your day and week ahead activities -which day would be good to get washing done, collect firewood, drive across the river when it is low enough. How to ensure that you genuinely do have enough food in your 'store cupboard' to feed your family when the boat may be cancelled, planning dinner making use of a freezer a mile away.

I actually think we have learned even more than we listed above. I know that if we'd known before we moved here just how many challenges we'd face then we probably wouldn't have come. Because we could never have believed just how many amazing highs we 'd experience or appreciate how rich our lives are as a result. Davies probably summed up best talking about the 'little things'. This week the colours on Rum have changed. The light is different, the sky is somehow lower. I could not capture than on camera to share with you in a photograph and my words fall way short of explaining what that means. It is part an assault on all our senses - were we to be blindfold or hold our hands over our ears, or to stop inhaling deeply and tasting, smelling, feeling the season changing then we would still somehow know. There is in turn an urgency to finish getting firewood up the hill and chopped up, complete that last pick of the brambles before the go over for this year and hang one last load of washing out to line dry before that joy is once again lost until the spring, alongside that there is an internal slowing down and keeping pace with the winter - earlier to bed and later to rise as the daylight hours reduce, a feeling of *needing* to be outside in the middle of the day soaking up as much daylight as possible. We are only 2 weeks away from the ferry timetable changing to the winter times.

The people we were 2 years ago may have chosen not to take up the offer / challenge / invite / opportunity to come and live here and take this life on. But we are no longer the people we were 2 years ago and it has become clear to all of us in our recent period of re-examination of our lives and what is important to us that everything we have learned tells us that this is the right place for us for now, if only because there is still so much more to learn.

Friday, 4 October 2013

At the wings of a turkey

Untitled by nicgee
Untitled, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

dreadful photo of me, but lesson learned to hold a turkey LOW to the ground and nowhere near your face!

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Win some, lose some

After the busyness that was last week we have been focusing more on ourselves and our croft this week. Yesterday we took a walk up the hill behind the croft. We've long planned to follow Primrose Burn, the fas rushing little waterfall at the edge of our croft where our water comes from. I've looked on maps and it appears to split into two and then stop which we refused to believe so decided to head up the hill and find out for ourselves.

Armed with kendal mintcake bought to us last month from friends who live in Kendal and save for just such an adventure we headed off. Walking anywhere on Rum is hard work - the ground is boggy, very uneven and hard to tell what you're putting your foot on next. The topography is extreme so you are almost always either climbing uphill or downhill too. That means that even a miles walking feels like you've done at least three!

We discovered that the burn does indeed fork off in two directions and both seem to disappear. One is clearly a spring, the other is probably also a spring but may run faster when the water levels are not as low as they are currently. What we did learn though is that most of the water is from neither of those orginal places but from the steep banks of the burn at a certain point where the banks are running with water down the rocks from the ground thereabouts. Rum is like a giant sponge - very mossy and there are places where even when we are on fire alert and it has not rained for weeks and weeks that water still runs from the peaty ground. I think Primrose Burn is one of those natural places where water always runs. And hurrah for that!

We climbed high enough to see right across to Eigg on the south side of the island and Skye and Soay on the north but not quite high enough to see Canna and Muck to the west. The mainland to the east is always visible anyway. A sea eagle glided over head for a while and we startled a herd of red deer hinds and saw lots of small birds darting about which we failed to identify. It was a gorgeous last day of September day as the photos I uploaded yesterday show.

Today was less rewarding - I spent most of the day fixing up the net roof of our fruit cage. We have not yet moved our fruit bushes into it as we were waiting for their dormant time before transplanting them - fingers crossed for dry weather tomorrow as that is our planned job for then. Once we've done that we'll see how much space we have left and order some more soft fruit to fill the cage for next year. The turkeys have made huge holes in the cage roof by roosting on it and I am not at all sure we have prevented them from still roosting on it, indeed in trying to chase one of them out of the fruit cage earlier it landed on a different area of netting and ripped that. I may have sworn at it quite a lot! The turkeys are like toddlers who mash up your lipsticks, use your nice paint brushes for painting custard on the curtains and blunt your good scisssors by using them to dig in the mud, they just trash everything! They have ruined my herb spiral by eating all the herbs and walking all over it, trampled all over my raised beds and wrecked the roof of the fruit cage. I have chased them out of the polytunnel countless times and I worry constantly about them getting into places they shouldn't be. Much though all our ethics and beliefs in livestock keeping are for free ranging animals demonstrating natural behaviours these turkeys are pushing me to my limits and I think we will have to resort to a large pen to keep them in check. We're currently researching cheapest options to build something that gives them a nice large area to do their thing in without ruining anyone else's things...

In other news I am actually looking forward to the rainy days forecast for the end of the week as I have lots of reading and researching I am keen to do to plan ahead for next years crops.

So turkeys on the naughty step, rain a-coming but happily anticipated and much needed Goddard time being taken.