Friday, 31 January 2014

Chain of cakes

I don't remember the first time I ever heard of a Herman cake. It's one of those concepts that has been in my consciousness for so long that I no longer recall the origins.

You can find more about Herman cakes online   but it is a yeast based starter that you are given, feed and tend for ten days before splitting into four, giving three parts away and baking a cake with your share. Sort of like a chain letter but with cake.

I have only ever been given a share of an existing Herman from friends, dutifully cared for it, baked some and passed it on. A Herman did the rounds here on Rum during our first year here, I made several different varieties of cake, shared the started around and even supplied the Teashop with a couple of versions of Herman cake. I remember chatting to a tourist who had enjoyed the chocolate and cranberry Herman about the idea and stirring her memory of the Herman cake. She was delighted to know the idea was still going strong having had a Herman pass through her kitchen many years previously and we pondered on whether the Herman on Rum was in any way related to the one she had had.

A Rum friend  had some of the very last of her Herman cake defrosted from her freezer when I had a cup of tea with her yesterday and a quick poll revealed no one seems to have Herman here any more. I put out a plea on facebook for someone to send a Herman to Rum and was met with the suggestion of starting a new one. What a splendid notion! A pioneer Herman, born and raised on Rum, finding a home in every kitchen here, getting added to by every household, touched by every hand. Having a different set of ingredients added in every home to make a series of very different cakes all based on the same foundations. It feels like the most symbolic Herman ever....

And so, on  our worktop this evening the 2014 Rum Herman was born. Over the coming days he will bubble, come to life and be nurtured and witness some of the Croft 3 spirit before growing, spreading and being handed out to go forth and multiply. Spreading friendship, cake and happiness.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Productive Tea

In my head January is all about new beginnings, being very industrious and working away to ensure that come the start of the tourist season I am poised, ready with a large stash of lovely things ready to sell.

The fact is that our caravan is damp, a bit moldy and that romantic prospect of tucking up cosy and warm though the cold winter months is not quite as appealing when the home you are tucked up in is not always actually that cosy.

One of the (many) lessons we took from the Big Lunch Extras event was that you need to take time out to nurture yourself too before you can do good for others. I already knew this - happy mother equals happy baby was a very early life lesson in my parenting career and back in the early days of motherhood I spent a lot of time drinking tea and comparing nappy contents, spoonfuls of food eaten, hours of unbroken sleep totted up and ml of milk drunk with other new mothers. Infact it was part of the advice I gave to my sister in law about retaining sanity in the face of parenting a toddler.

So regardless of anything else I achieve I will be taking at least two mornings or afternoons out every single week to sit and drink tea and chat with fellow islanders. It is a soul feeding activity... you either play host or get someone to bring you one (usually two) cups of tea. There are often biscuits. Wrongs get righted, the world gets set straight, problems are halved by virtue of being shared, laughs are had, confidences shared and regardless of what the weather is doing outside it all ceases to matter for an hour or so.

Emails, texts, tweets and the like are all well and good but what I miss most about my mainland friends and family is the unscheduled, go where the mood takes us with no agenda, freestyling conversations that happen over kitchen tables and a plate of flapjacks. I'm championing the return of the cup of tea and a chat and I'm not afraid to ring a doorbell unannounced and demand one!

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Streets of London

Rum is in a state of flux just now. There is lots of coming and going and change and upheaval. I strongly believe that change is good - let's face it, you don't drop a conventional life like we used to lead, head off in an old campervan and end up on a remote island living in a caravan if you are all about the status quo!

But it is unsettling and inevitably tears will be shed as we say goodbye to fellow islanders. If you live alongside folk and share the day to day stuff as we do here on our island then a big hole is left behind when they are suddenly no longer there any more. At least two people commented to me when we got back from our mainland trip that the island felt different without us here. At 10% or so of the island population I guess the four of us missing leaves a space. Particularly when you are as loud as we are!

So everything is being shaken up once more and before it all settles back down in a slightly different pattern there is this time of readjustment, of working out the new normal and everyone reasserting their place, finding their role and checking that nothing important has been moved or shaken up too much. Over the coming weeks and months we are likely to have people changing their address here on the island as some of the house occupants get jiggled about a bit. Some of the job roles will have new members of staff, several of the voluntary posts on the island will have different people filling them. There will be new faces, some of the familiar ones won't be here any more and this will take a while to process and get used to.

So why am I talking about Streets of London in the blog post title? It's because the inevitable politics surrounding some of the changes has had me pondering my stance on a few things and very briefly testing out some of my old mainland mentalities looking at what my neighbours might have, considering my sense of entitlement and judging what others deserve. I caught myself getting wound up and comparing what I have and what I want and what I'm worth. It didn't last long. I might need to remind myself of the words of the song once or twice in the coming weeks but I have it stored in my mind ready to press play whenever the need arises.

It turns out that for me the sun does shine....

Tuesday, 28 January 2014


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

We walked a different part of the island today and the view back to croft 3 was stunning. It looked like a little toy farmyard in the January sunshine. Good to be reminded of how small everything is relative to the rest of the world.

Croft 3

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

from the hillside opposite

Distracted by the view at animal feeding time this evening

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

Monday, 27 January 2014

Big Lunch Extras

The main thrust of our mainland trip last week was Ady and I attending a Big Lunch Extras Camp at the Eden Project.

Big Lunch Extras is a three year programme funded by the Lottery, sponsored by Halifax and delivered by the Eden Project to help individuals across the UK create positive change in their communities. We got involved with the project last year when we held the first Big Lunch here on Rum and have stayed in touch with the Eden Project since. When the opportunity to attend one of the weekend camps came up we were really keen to go along despite it being a rather epic journey and we are very glad we did.

There were a selection of workshops, talk and activities over the course of the weekend. Some were delivered by Eden staff - and I have never met a bunch of more enthusiastic, energetic and happy staff in my life! Every one of them truly loved their job, believed wholeheartedly in the aims of their employer and were positively evangelical in everything Eden stands for. A very refreshing and inspirational group of people to spend time with. Also appearing were some key speakers from various places - we heard from Matt Hastings community energy guru, Matthew Thomson from the Cornwall Fifteen restaurant. We participated in some workshops hosted by the fabulous Sue Hill of Wildworks and some of the volunteers from Barefoot taught us some great new arts, crafts and hands on skills. A highlight for everyone was a talk from Sir Tim Smit (I was going to tag him as 'Mr Eden Project' but of course he is so, so much more!). I had an unexpected chat with Tim afterwards just as he was leaving when he told me he had spent 3 months here on Rum back in 1976 studying the ticks here. He asked what had made us come to Rum so I gave him a very brief answer - brevity never being my strong point! It was lovely to shake his hand and exchange a bit of mutual 'yay you' 'no, yay you' with such an inspiring man. I do love meeting a hero, particularly when they prove to be so wonderfully ordinary.

The Eden Project has a fantastic back story, continues to evolve and grow and this was our third visit there. It was great to see such changes and moves forward and to hear of the exciting plans for the future. I think what I love most about it is that it will never be done, it will always be a work in progress, what a great ethos. So, a wonderful location was provided, the hospitality by way of excellent hosting staff, fantastic food and drink and every logistical need more than met was faultless. The timetable of information, thought provoking speakers and workshops was really good but what really, really made the weekend such a memorable one was the other attendees. We were among forty odd other people from all over the UK. Activists, local heroes, fundraisers, community members, parents, teachers, coaches, young people, mature people. It was sharing stories and getting to know these people that made for such a magical weekend for us. We laughed, we cried, we learnt. We were inspired and re-energised. Ady and I told our story countless times, pointed out Rum on the map, explained how many of us there are here, why we came, why we stay, what we want to achieve. In telling our tale we were once again reminded of how passionately we believe in our island, our croft, our community and what we can make happen here.

I have come home filled with new ideas, a new resolve to do things just a little differently, validated in some of the choices we've made and decisions we have taken. We are part of many communities - our own little family, our island, our corner of the UK, our online Home Education friends and now another, equally scattered about the country but joined in spirit, in ideas and in a passion for making a difference community. Massive thanks to all at Big Lunch Extras for everything that went into making last weekend happen and to all of the other attendees for making it all it was.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

there was singing

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

there was an awesome guitar player

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

there was dancing

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

Burns Night

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

a fitting end to a mad week, a Burns Supper home on Rum. Poems, staggis (venison haggis), cullen skink, cranachan, a wee dram or six, dancing, music and excellent company.

beauty of a different kind

DSCF9201 by nicgee
DSCF9201, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Here at home I get my soul feeding beautiful view fix from nature. Elsewhere is no less stunning and inspiring. People can make gorgeous landscapes too.

and I would drive a thousand miles

and I would drive a thousand more... we clocked up nearly 1800 miles, two ferry trips, six different beds in nine days.

just another traffic Tuesday

just another traffic Tuesday by nicgee
just another traffic Tuesday, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

this used to be our neighbourhood. Its a rather different view than we're used to these days.

homeward bound

homeward bound by nicgee
homeward bound, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Den building challenge

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

a fun example of working together

Visual Minutes

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

Instead of writing notes there was a team of visual minute takers at Eden for the weekend, creating illustrated records of what went on. This was their interpretation of our story of Rum - how the whole community helped us get the caravan up the croft hill and how island folk are like wombles, never throwing anything away incase it is useful some day.

we missed them so much

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

the longest we've ever been apart from Davies and Scarlett (3 nights). They were in very safe grandparently hands but it was way too long.

In the rainforest biome

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

at the Eden Project

hotel room

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

a real bed, plug points, a bath. a flushing toilet! We didn't know ourselves!

back on the mainland

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

a meal out on our first night back on the mainland.

our old house.

our old house. by nicgee
our old house., a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Where Scarlett was born and both children took their first steps

Friday, 24 January 2014

What happiness is to you....

I've spent a LOT of time sitting in the passenger seat of a car this last 10 days. Those who know me will know that being a passenger is not something I adapt well to....

An epic journey that took us from our home here on Rum by ferry, 1800 miles of car driving, through Scotland and large chunks of England, too many counties to count, six different beds over nine nights from the north west of the UK to the south west via the south east.

We had brief time with all of our precious family in Manchester and Sussex, held close those we love and miss, met new relatives and laughed and cried with those no longer in our lives as often as we may wish.

We sat again in traffic jams, listened to commercial radio, watched TV, slept in rooms too hot to sleep in, looked our at views from windows that told very different stories to the views we see from our home up on the hill.

A snapshot moment I will remember for a very long time was Scarlett piping up from the back seat hours after we'd left Rum when we were about 20 miles away from Glasgow.

"What time is it?"
"Nearly 730pm. Why?"
"Why is it getting light over there then?"

Our children, born and raised within spitting distance of Brighton and Manchester and having spent the first decade of their lives living in the suburbs of sprawling metropolises are now so used to inky black night skies and full on solar system displays of clear planetarium quality that the light pollution of Glasgow had Scarlett assuming it must be dawn.

Somewhere in our moving and transporting of belongings we have all lost some items which were precious to us. We were sure they were at my parents but a trawl through the small amount of boxes we now have left there had us all without something. For Davies and Scarlett it was toys which held memories and meaning to them. Scarlett cried as though her heart was broken when she realised that those cuddly toys were never going to be cuddled by her again. Ady (a man who does not cry. Ever) looked ever so forlorn as he realised a box of comics which had traveled with him through various childhood homes was no longer safe in the loft of our house as he had assumed. I struggled to come to terms with the knowledge that the shoes I wore to marry Ady in will never be worn again. Going back does not mean going home.

When we arrived back on Rum on Thursday, travel weary, slightly shell shocked from such rapid transition from Mainland Land to here I was upset to discover my clock, my most precious material possession which Ady gave me on my 21st birthday so celebrated my birthday last week with me as the 19th anniversary of belonging to me, had been on our bed to keep it safe if the winds were high and the caravan walls flexed (which they had done) was directly under the patch of ceiling which leaks in heavy rain (which it had done) and the top of the face between the 11 and the 1 now has brown water damage. It should dry out and the stain should fade but it will be forever marked. I shed a tear or two, we hung it back on the wall and I decided that it is not damaged at all, it merely bears a badge to show the journey it's been on. Just as I told Davies and Scarlett when they were tiny that each individual freckle on their nose was a sign of where the sun had kissed them, as I view the stretch marks on my tummy as evidence I carry with me everywhere of the privilege, honor and adventure that is motherhood. Just as Scarlett proudly tells the tale of the cat who scratched her when she was 3 when she shows the mark above one eyebrow, the swan who bit her when she was 4 as she points to the scar on the back of one knee and the time she tripped over the wall of the croft and Davies kept her calm when she pulls up a trouser leg to show the pink puckered dent on her shin. Davies wears a full wrist full of arm bands he began collecting aged 5 to show places he has visited, friends who have gifted him wristbands and bracelets. One day that clock will hang upon a different wall and I will point to that faded yellowing mark between the 11 and the 1 and tell someone, maybe a grandchild, about how it once rested on a bed because the walls shook in the wind and so we put it somewhere safe when we went away only to realise there was nowhere safe.

I meant to come and write about other aspects of our trip. To thank the people who tended our animals and kept an eye on our croft. To the friends on Rum who met us from the boat with 'welcome home' and helped us load up our car. I wanted to speak about the wonderful feeling of being on the ferry back with six other Rum residents, making a total of 10 of us, a quarter of the island population on that ferry. I planned to write about the amazing weekend Ady and I had at the Eden Project and I wanted to capture it before it starts to leave my mind. I was inspired by the song which is referenced in the title and has been a soundtrack to our lives this last month, from being danced to when we had friends visit to see in 2014, to played on the radio countless times during our epic driving around the UK, to how it was played several times at key moments during the weekend at Eden. And I will. But maybe not tonight. For tonight I am too rambling and butterfly-esque in my leaping from subject to subject to do any of that justice. So I will return soon and try and put at least some of it into words.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

(Bacon) Roll with it

Every week on a Monday we write on our white board in the static what the plan for the week is. We try to have a loose idea of what we might be eating, when we might go to meet the ferry, visit the shop for supplies, go down to the village for community meetings, to see people and so on. We have a 'to do' list of sorts, tasks that we can do on the croft in fair weather, wet weather and so on. Most weeks at least one thing gets carried over or overlooked but in the main we get through what we set out to achieve.

What it never takes into account is what some people here call the 'Rum Factor'. I guess the Rum factor is a bit like Murphey's Law or the ' never work with children or animals' rule in showbusiness. If it can go wrong, it probably will. And spectacularly. Here the biggest Rum Factor is always the weather - we've certainly had our share of best laid plans falling to wrack and ruin thanks to a timely gale or heavy rainpour, or cancelled ferry. Other Rum Factors have included our car and the static not behaving as expected...but the animals have also given us many unexpected twists, turns and hiccups along the way.

Tomorrow we go off island for nine days. We have a very full schedule of around 1800 miles of driving, six different beds and a whole lot of non welly wearing to do. More on than when we get back. Suffice to say leaving is never straightforward or without lots and lots of planning, logistics and organising. We have three teams of people doing six shifts each of pig and poultry feeding, another team on Bonnie sitting and another household still looking after Humphrey the hamster. Half of Rum is involved in one way or another! It has taken fine tuning, many emails and conversations and although I have faith and confidence in everyone to manage just fine there will still be a bit of me holding my breath for the entire duration of our trip hoping that everything is ok.

The wind turbine fins have been taken off, the batteries to solar disconnected, the gas turned off, the water will be stopped at the outside tap. All possible measures taken to ensure as little goes wrong as possible. We'd done all the animal sorting with days to spare to ensure they were all happy with their routines and thought today would be a straightforward day of packing for the trip, delivering the hamster to it's sitter and a friend up for lunch to help eat all the veggies left in the house in a 'last day before we go away soup'.


Tom starting very violently attacking the smallest boy pig to the point that he was getting injured and suffering. Various emergency ideas were tossed around - separate the wee boy? separate Tom? but alll of these require time to strim a new boundary, set up a fence, move or build a new shelter and then get the pigs used to the new arrangement. At midday with only 5 hours day light left none of these were workable plans. So we took some advice and made the decision we should probably have made about six weeks ago to kill the small boy pigs. The larger boy pig also needs killing but is not in danger from Tom so can wait the ten days until we return.

I'll not elaborate too much on the details here but suffice to say the deed was done with love, kindness and utter humane execution. It knew nothing of it's fate between eating a last meal and being no more. Two hours later it was 15kg of probably the nicest pork we'll ever eat. It will be in our freezer by the morning and while all four of us have shed a tear we are all very happy that we have made another huge leap forward towards our dream of self sufficency, eating home reared, happily produced meat. A pig that has never travelled more than a few metres from where he was born, lived a full life in a totally natural environment with his family group, grown slowly and killed with respect.

It's been an unexpected twist to an already rather full day but another step closer toward our goal of self sufficient in meat.We'll take that as a victory.

And so it begins

DSCF9128 by nicgee
DSCF9128, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Rudolph displaying

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

Friday, 10 January 2014

Pigs, photography and processing laundry

Monday was my birthday and we pretty much took Tuesday off, it felt much needed, particularly as Ady and I have now gone down with the cold that Davies picked up last week. Wednesday was back to work though and we had a trailer full of firewood down at the croft gate that we'd been adding to but needed to get up the hill, chopped and stacked. I like chopping wood and Ady is much happier carrying it up the hill - another example of our perfect Jack Sprat and his wife compatibility! So that's what we did. I think it was about 15 sacks in total, all now split, stacked and drying out nicely in the woodstore.

Thursday was Pig Move Day. Barbara has been escaping several times every day since new years eve. She was in season and we speculated she was getting fed up with Tom's attention but it had clearly become more of a habit than anything with a motivating reason and we were getting really fed up with hearing her snort around the outside of the static in the middle of the night, chasing us along the nature path as we walked down to the village and generally treading her trotters and putting her snout into things not meant for her! It's only a few weeks since we last moved the pigs but it's been exceptionally rainy even for Rum and they were looking muddy so we decided to give them double the area we had originally planned which takes them right to the far south west corner of the croft and means that they have now worked their way across the entire bottom strip of Croft 3 since we first got Tom and Barbara. Suddenly the croft starts to feel just a little bit tamed and smaller knowing the pigs have worked between a quarter to a third of it and we have pretty much made use of the ground behind them as they've gone, or at least have a proper plan to do so in the coming year.

It also meant we could make use of two sides of the croft boundary fence rather than electric fence. They have a lovely diverse mix of ground to work on, some heather, some reeds and rushes, a spot of trees, some brambles, a few ditches to clear and some stones to turn up. They look really happy in there and Barbara has not escaped once! Fingers crossed we've broken that habit.

Ady strimmed the area to put the fence in while I started staking it out and then putting up the electric fence. Ady then moved the one house which was outside of the new pen (they have two houses, the strip of croft that had the second house on remains within the new area as we always open out half new area and keep half of the area they have already been on. It's way easier to move them that way, just capturing them in a smaller section of their existing enclosure and then opening it out the other side, it seems less unnerving for them too when their house stays in the same place. We were doing really well and broke for lunch leaving them in the small section. After lunch we carried on well ahead of schedule and then a friend appeared to visit. After being dry all day suddenly a cloud burst so we dashed up to the static for a cup of tea and another two friends arrived so we had quite a tea party! It was lovely to see them all but did mean we lost about an hour which was rather more than we'd been ahead. And then we lost the light. We were very close to finished with just some final touches to complete so gave up trying in the dark.

Today we have finished that off and result! Barbara has stayed in all day. The current set up also means we don't need to cross any muddy bits to feed the pigs and we have been able to move the bird feed to a different place. The turkeys had decided that actually pig feed is much nicer than bird food and were eating more of the pig nuts than the pigs were (they are much faster gobblers!). This has scuppered that too!

We also hooked up the rather complicated but just about working washing machine. It entails taking our water to the static off and hooking up the washing machine (we know what bits we need to prevent needing to do this, just haven't ordered them yet), using one generator to start the washing machine (the other for some bizarre reason does not seem to have the power to activate the door lock and open the water valve), then swapping over to the other genny which is more powerful but less sophisticated and copes fine with the increased demand of the spin cycle and heating the water. We managed three loads and it being a perfect drying day the first two are all dried and put away having aired infront of the log burner to finish them off this evening. The final wash didn't finish til after dark so I hung it out with my headtorch on and hopefully it will dry tomorrow between showers.

In the middle of all this Bonnie caught a rat which provided amusing distraction. Yay Bonnie!

I've been getting to grips with my lovely new camera and really enjoying learning what all the different settings do.The results are still very experimental and hit and miss but with such spectacular subject matter I may not be taking brilliant photos but it's almost impossible to take a bad one! Some results below.

First Pig Move of 2014

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

wonky stitching

DSCF9098 by nicgee
DSCF9098, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

the cloud was moving faster than the shutter!

cosy looking from the outside

DSCF9101 by nicgee
DSCF9101, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Rats beware

DSCF9111 by nicgee
DSCF9111, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

This dog is after you...

The geese

DSCF9116 by nicgee
DSCF9116, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

always noisy and last to the party


DSCF9046 by nicgee
DSCF9046, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Croft 3

DSCF9045 by nicgee
DSCF9045, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

gradually moving forward

working the croft

DSCF9047 by nicgee
DSCF9047, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

even a polytunnel looks romantic under this sky

DSCF9123 by nicgee
DSCF9123, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Our kingdom

DSCF9125 by nicgee
DSCF9125, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Barbara, Escapologist Pig

DSCF9049 by nicgee
DSCF9049, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

This is Barbara. She is a naughty sow.

For the last week she has kept escaping from the pig pen and creating havoc and mayhem wherever she roams. She has been in the woodstore (and attempted to eat peat blocks), snuffled around the polytunnel and done damage to my strawberries (it did at least spur us on to fix the blown off door so that she can't get in there anymore) and today she followed us halfway to the village when we went out for a walk. 

She is very good tempered most of the time and happily trots along back to the pig pen when led back there but I do wish she would just stay in there in the first place with Tom and their boys. I was utterly staggered to see her today leap back over the fence to get in when Ady put food in there, she easily clears the fence which is taller than her in a very elegant horse jumping style. We thought we had fixed the fence sufficiently but clearly not, so tomorrows task is to try and Barbara proof the electric fence to secure Barbara Pig inside. Either that or look on ebay for a saddle or a lead!

Monday, 6 January 2014

One of my presents

DSCF9033 by nicgee
DSCF9033, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.
taken with another present (new camera).

It's my new motto 'Ignoring Advice for 40 years'.

Without exception all of the best choices and decisions I have ever made have been against advice. Settle down at 19 with someone 10 years my senior, not send our children to school, head of traveling around the UK in a decrepit campervan for a year staying with complete strangers we'd just exchanged an email or two with in advance.  Move to a remote Scottish island and attempt to live through some of the most extreme weather conditions the UK has to offer in an off grid caravan halfway up a muddy hill, buy a puppy the day before moving to start a new life, arrange animals to arrive just two weeks after you do.

The fact is it will all be fine. And if it's not then that will be fine too.

Leap before looking, run don't walk, leave the trodden path, take the scary option, trust. Watch the crowd and then head off in the opposite direction. Life is for living.

Hurrah for 40, if life is only just about to begin I've already had a fantastic time hanging out in the wings before the curtain goes up!

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Letting 2013 go

I did say there might be another 2013 round up post and this is it. We had our traditional Bad, Good, Learnt family chat about the past year and talked about some hopes for the coming year at the same time. We managed to come up with five things for each.

Here's what everyone said:

  1. Losing the pigs.
  2. Still being in the static (I would really like a bigger bedroom)
  3. I've not done as much training Bonnie as I had hoped.
  4. Not selling more turkeys this Christmas (we sold one).
  5. The lack of 'low key' socialising here. I miss friends but I miss seeing them for the day or just for a few hours. It is great to have people here to stay but it makes for a really intense socialising experience. It would be good to just see people without having to have them to stay.
  1. We spent loads of time in 2013 just being on our croft and making things happen up here.
  2. 2013 was a really relaxed and chilled out year, it didn't feel like there was much pressure.
  3. The Small Isles Games weekend was a real highlight for me. I loved having people from the other islands here and being one of the hosts, I liked joining in the races, we made a great new friend (who has visited again since).
  4. We have made some really good friends on Rum and it's been great to do stuff like set my Xbox up at someone's house to go and play, watch films and play games at people's houses down in the village.
  5. Lots of freedom. Scarlett and I had an excellent summer exploring, playing outside, swimming in the river and being on the beach. When friends come to stay we can just go off and do our own thing.
  1. That island life is a good life. There are tough bits but it is all meaningful and really worthwhile.
  2. I have learnt lots of new business skills and made my postcard business a success in it's first year.
  3. I have learnt how much Scarlett and I can help. Things like feeding the animals on the croft but also stuff like doing the washing up, keeping the fire going and tidying up indoors while Mummy and Daddy are working are really important and helpful things we can do.
  4. I have learnt that good times don't cost money. Some of my best memories and my favourite gifts from my birthday and Christmas were not the most expensive things.
  5. I have learnt more new skills for living here on Rum, like lighting the boiler, starting the genny, keeping the fire going, lighting the fire at a friend's yurt while they are away.
Hopes for 2014
  1.  I'd like to finally learn to ride a bike (somehow this has just never happened - when we lived in Sussex our garden was too small and sloping, the road we lived on was too close to a very busy road and on a steep slope and we just never got into the habit of loading the bike into the car and driving somewhere so Davies and Scarlett could learn.)
  2. I'd like to read more, both fiction and non fiction.
  3. I'd like us to end the year in a house.
  4. I want to do more training with Bonnie.
  5. I'd like to grow my postcard business more.
  1. Losing the piglets
  2. Losing Dave the cockerel
  3. The short daylight in winter (although she does concede the tradeoff of very long daylight in summer makes up for it she still counts it as a bad as the days feel so short!)
  4. When our wind turbine burnt out.
  5. Still being in the static.
  1.  That the static is still here after hard winters.
  2. That we have so many animals now. From a bare field full of reeds and rushes when we arrived we now have a full field full of animals.
  3. The power we get from the wind turbine.
  4. That we have still got all our friends from when we used to live on the mainland and so many of them have come to visit us.
  5. I had a white birthday! (snow!)
  1.  That some things sell and some things don't, thinking mostly about Davies' success with his postcards and me not doing so well with my seaglass jewelery.
  2. About animal keeping and reading their behaviour. I know that different animals have different temperaments and you can get to know them and learn about them.
  3. More about the wildlife on Rum, mostly the birds.
  4. About the history on Rum - the people who lived here, stuff about the castle, stories about how life used to be here.
  5. Scarlett struggled with a final one and I reminded here that I have seen a massive leap forward in her being very helpful, capable and mature. She was amazing when I was ill recently, is a fantastic cheerleader when one of the rest of us is feeling low and is brilliant at seeing what needs doing and getting on with it. She often just sticks the kettle on and brings a cup of tea out to Ady or I while we're working, gets the table set ready for meals and countless other examples of spotting a way to be helpful and doing it.
Hopes for 2014
  1. A house.
  2. I'd like to see our turkeys breed some young.
  3. I want to find a business that works, find something to make or create to sell to visitors to Rum.
  4. I'd like to rear ducklings as pets again (Scarlett did this years ago and eventually released the two adult ducks into the wild, she is desperate to do it again and be able to keep the ducks)
  5. I'd love to have a white Christmas.
  1. We are still in the static.
  2. We are still making mistakes that frustrate me, like leaving the wind turbine up instead of stopping it when such high winds were forecast. We always learn from our mistakes but I wish we made fewer.
  3. Our car is unreliable and not up to the job. We spend far too much time fretting about whether it will start, allowing extra time for how slow it goes, managing to squash people in that don't really fit, working around the times the back door sticks shut and so on.
  4. Losing the pigs.
  5. The wind this winter.
  1. Water - finally getting running water to the static.
  2. Renewable energy - we have the solar and wind harnessed and giving us energy.
  3. Compost loo in the horse box - I was really proud of us for finding a solution to the compost loo being too big to fit in the static and making it work for us.
  4. The winkles - this year we managed the whole winkle picking ourselves from booking them on to the boat, getting the sacks here and talking to the man buying them from us. We are learning more about how to do these things under our own steam.
  5. Having neighbours. Although they have yet to actually move onto their croft having our new neighbours arrive on Rum and start working on their croft and making things happen over there has been a real highlight for me.
  1. About the wind turbine, all the wiring, installation and managing the power. Having done it twice now I really understand how it all works.
  2. To do the job properly! Not to cut corners or be lazy as it will come back and bite you if you don't do something right the first time here.
  3. About ditching and drainage and what a difference you can make to the ground.
  4. Getting the water from the burn. I understand a bit more about plumbing, gravity fed, filtering and all of the things involved in piping the water to the static.
  5. About venison processing. Although I did the actual training in 2012 it has been in 2013 that I have done most of the venison processing and I now feel I properly understand how to do it and do it well.
Hopes for 2014
  1. A house.
  2. Developing a business - I have a few ideas, some croft based and a couple not croft based which I'd like to at least explore further.
  3. Sort out transport.
  4. Hydropower, the next thing I want to learn more about and hopefully install a micro hydro to complement the solar and wind technology we already have.
  5. Working with our neighbours. I am looking forward to sharing ideas, resources and working together. 
  1. Frustrations at a lack of progress. While I can see what we have achieved I am also aware that we have missed opportunities to take some things forward in 2013.
  2. We are still in the static.
  3. It is challenging to be so much at the mercy of the elements. I find that very hard and it has been a big downside to 2013 at times.
  4. I share Davies' view that low key socialising is hard to come by living so remotely. While having guests is lovely it is also very intense and I miss just spending an afternoon with my parents, an evening with friends, going out for a drink with a mate rather than having people to stay in our (limited) space for several nights.
  5. I have found the lack of coherent collective vision for the future of Rum a challenging and often frustrating thing this year. While I accept that 40 people all with different backgrounds and ideas will not all agree on one single path forward it has been hard to witness the lack of energy and enthusiasm, sometimes apathy and at times even obstructiveness that gets put in the way of progress. I am sure this is whatever would happen in any group of people but it doesn't stop it being a 'bad' on my list when summing up the year.
  1. Infrastructure. We have achieved loads in 2013; running water, a compost loo, a stocked woodstore, a washing machine. All of which make life incrementally easier with every step forward and collectively improve things hugely compared to life at the start of the year.
  2.  Crops - the polytunnel, raised beds, fruit cage and herb spiral. I still have a stock of herbs I grew from seed, transplanted, harvested and dried. It was a great start to growing here on Rum.
  3. Livestock. We began 2013 with 2 pigs, 11 chickens, 5 ducks and 2 geese. We end the year with 4 pigs (and were only a couple of weeks away from it being 6 pigs), over 50 chickens, 7 ducks, 8 geese, 6 turkeys, most of the increased numbers were bred here on our croft. We were not without our livestock losses over the course of the year but we certainly had plenty of successes too.
  4. Business. From our Honesty tables at the croft gate, orders taken from our website, produce and crafts sold at market days, through the shop and to local businesses, the childrens' fledgling business ideas we have had a really good first full year of testing our markets and finding there is scope for the sort of things we want to sell. It's been a promising year with some great feedback.
  5. Rum people - we have some great friends here and feel so lucky to be part of a community and something special. Events like the Small Isles games, our Community Teashop Sundays, pop up teashop when we had a rare bird attracting lots of visitors, Halloween and Christmas parties, residents birthdays and community meals all give me the sort of warm glowing feeling I used to only get from soppy films back in our old life!
  1. About my limitations. In the past I used to feel a sense of failure if I could not win at something I had set out to do. This year I have learnt to just stop if something is not working - a job I really didn't enjoy, volunteer work that was not rewarding, trying to make something happen and finding I could not do it. Instead of battling on I just stopped doing it and discovered a sense of relief and liberation rather than a sense of failure, Truly a lesson worth learning.
  2. About growing crops specific to Rum. I thought I knew about growing fruit and veg from my allotment days in Sussex but have had to accept re-education is in order for the different climate, soil and conditions here on Rum. I still have a lot to learn but I'm getting there.
  3. Permaculture. I have done a lot of reading, a lot of online research and a lot of thinking and working to understand both permaculture as a concept and idea and as a practical application specific to us, our live here and our land. This may well be a lifelong learning project but I've certainly come a long way in 2013.
  4. About nature and the seasons. I have talked about this before and started to learn more about life so close to nature in 2012 but having seen the seasons come around again I am finding I am ever more in tune with the rhythm and pattern of life here.
  5. More about foraging and preserving. I have done loads more jam making, bottling, preserving etc this year. Again it is something I want to do lots more of but my full cupboard of dried herbs, bottled preserves and cordials, jars of jam and pickled onions make me very happy and feel as though I have learnt lots.
Hopes for 2014
  1. A better shelter, including a bath!
  2. Host volunteers or WWOOFers. I have been involved in two lots of volunteers doing great things here on Rum in 2013 but in 2014 I would love to actually hosts WWOOFers here on Croft 3. It would be amazing 3 years after we had our fantastic WWOOFing adventure to give some of that experience back, I feel we could offer WWOOFers something special here, we could gain a lot from having volunteers and it would perfectly close that circle.
  3. Develop a business further. I love that we have little trickles of income from winkle picking, venison processing, selling our produce and crafts etc. but I have some bigger ideas I would like to explore to offer more products, produce and services.
  4. Crops - I'd like to be producing far more of our own food for us and our animals and get more out of our land.
  5. Animals - I'd like to make our animal keeping more productive too, with better breeding / rearing facilities, improved housing etc and move closer to being self sufficient in our protein. My idea is to only eat meat, poultry, fish and eggs from Rum (so our own pork, poultry and eggs, Rum venison and fish and seafood from Rum) - that should be more or less achievable in 2014.
So there you are, our 2013 summary and a bit of a wish list for the coming year. Some duplications that made it onto everyone's list, some big ideas and dreams, not too much in the way of dire proclamations of dreadful times and some great lessons learnt, skills acquired and high points shared.

There ends our period of looking back at the year gone by. Spring is but weeks away, we have a full list of things to get cracking on and we've noticed almost a full extra hour of daylight each day compared to this time last month. We better get busy...

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Time off for bad behaviour

December was a challenging month for us. We lost livestock, I was poorly, the storms and bad weather were just relentless, worrying and damaging. Our wind turbine broke and it felt like a clinging to the wreckage surviving experience at times.

One of the interesting things about Rum is that when you are here it is almost as though nothing outside of Rum exists any more. It is such an intense place to be, so far away from the mainland, the 'real world', so caught up in it's own dramas, politics, issues, life playing out that it is easy to lose focus on the wider world still out there and get far too Rum-centric. We all tend to only be the people we are right here right now today, so few of us know much about who people were before they came to Rum - where did they live? What did they do? What are their stories? Why are they here on Rum?

I sometimes struggle with that. I find it tough to be the only Home Educator (let alone only parent with children of Davies and Scarlett's ages that live here all the time), the only family living like we do here off grid, outside of the village. I have many friends here who are wonderful people I adore and feel close to but at times all four of us miss friends who have known us for years, knew where we came from, knew us before we lived in a caravan on a muddy hill and only wore wellies. People who know our story and understand what led us here.

So the perfect antidote to a tough few weeks was a spontaneous and fairly last minute visit from friends to see out 2013 and welcome in 2014. We have celebrated the turning of the year with these friends many times over the years, along with many other getting togethers and fun times. They have had their own share of adventures and exciting times this year including a trip to Rum during the summer while they were on the road but are currently having some time saving up for and planning their next adventure so are not quite as free to head off on impromtu gallivants right now. But work schedules, holiday times and a lucky break in the weather all conspired in our favour and on Monday they arrived on the ferry for three nights.

It was just what we needed. Time off, lots of nice food and drink, lots of music, laughter, fun and silliness. Plenty of remembering past good times, plotting future plans and making memories right now. Several very late nights and a spot of over indulging aside I think we all feel very recharged and rebalanced and ready to meet 2014 full of anticipation for what adventures and experiences it might bring.

We waved them off on the ferry today having had a fabulous time. The static feels huge with just four people in it again, particularly as we made the decision to take the Christmas tree down early to make space for extra guests.

Tradtitional New Years Day Beach Walk

SAM_8012 by nicgee
SAM_8012, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.


SAM_7993 by nicgee
SAM_7993, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Party in the static

SAM_7992 by nicgee
SAM_7992, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Happy New Year

SAM_8002 by nicgee
SAM_8002, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

welcome 2014.

Fizz at the ready

SAM_8001 by nicgee
SAM_8001, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.

Getting ready for the countdown

SAM_7995 by nicgee
SAM_7995, a photo by nicgee on Flickr.