The tide's out and the ferry has just come in. The sun is shining although a rainy day was forecast, and high winds threaten to make the prediction come true. But for now we're sitting out the back of the community hall drinking tea and eating cake and watching people come off the ferry. Resting my head on the wooden fencing around the tea shop garden, I'm looking through flowers at the sea and feeling happy but still quite sea-sick...it's been just a week but feels like in some ways I've been here for ever, in some ways as if I've no idea where I am at all!
I got asked today what my first week on the island had been like. Well, where to start? I struggled for a few moments looking for a suitable analogy. All I could think of was the sleeper train. You know you're somewhere different but it keeps changing and you can only see a little bit out of your particular window at a time: mountains, a loch, a weird building, ah, that was Glasgow, was that Loch Lomond? (maybe), that's definitely a goat... It's hard to organise it into a coherent whole and maybe you never will. You don't even know what to ask in order to make sense of it all - you just hope you will make sense of it sometime!
|Um, where am I again?|
In other ways it's like wearing a headtorch in the dark (and please note, I KNOW what this is like now as we have to do it whenever we're walking around the island and there isn't a full moon - there are no streetlights. One night Mel forgot her torch and had to use her camera to take photos of the path until she got home...it was after a party, so the photos were very interesting). Your gaze is completely focused on whatever is lit up at the time. So one morning this week we went out to the post office (which doubles as the shop) - a big event as it's only open three mornings a week and the only way you can access cash on the island! It's an excellent time for gossip, exchanging vital news and generally catching up on one's neighbour's business. Mel had lots to do, so although I only needed to get some money out I said I'd hang around and watch how it all functioned. Watch and learn! I envisaged it as a Miss Marple-style village gathering, a cosy chat over the tins of baked beans and baskets of fresh eggs from the crofts. But as Miss Marple so often observed with her usual wisdom, all human life can be found in a village (not to mention pigs, goats, hens, and geese in this one). This particular morning the usual shopkeeper was away and also, the post office machines had failed to work on Monday, so no-one had been able to get any cash out. Something had gone wrong with the wireless connection. "So what did you do Ali?" "Went up the mountain and chopped a few trees down - they'd been getting too tall and grown over the satellite dish." Not your normal BT call-out response...
|Possible view of the satellite dish....too many geese, not enough bandwidth|
Anyway, this meant that what seemed like hordes of disgruntled cash-less people were now waiting to be served, crowding the tiny shop to escape the rain outside, and our postmistress was getting extremely stressed. Every transaction was fraught with anxiety....would it go through the till?! Had Ali chopped down enough trees? Did we understand the special delivery procedure and would Mel's important parcel ever get to its destination? Lots of swear words abounded and those (like me) hanging about just for the sake of it had made a big mistake...I made a swift exit once Mel had finished and reflected that watching and learning was not really what I'd expected. "Is going to the shop here ALWAYS such an emotional process?" I asked Mel. "Hmmm, sometimes...but you just have to accept it. You can't rush in and just change things...you have to wait until you've heard all sides of the story." All sides? How many sides are there?! "Ah, well that's for you to figure out." Thanks wife.
But my sense of a challenge I may not be able to meet, is tempered with some really simple feelings about being here. My first week has been dominated by gratitude. Gratitude to be living somewhere so completely beautiful and where people may be stressed or anxious about particular things, but are generally able to stop and look around them and know how lucky they are. Somewhere people have chosen to live because they love it, not because house prices are rising or ambition demands it.
|Searching for invisible basking shark; Rum and Eigg in the background|
Strangely enough I've felt most at home on the island this week when I actually went off it...on the Sheerwater....a two hour wildlife-spotting trip around the islands and to Soay, a tiny peninsula with just four inhabitants, where the boat delivers the post to a lady in a dinghy (more on this another time...)
It was a startlingly hot day and the boat rocked gently as Ronnie steered us across a glassily calm, blue sea. Ahead of us seemingly endless mountains, pink, mauve, blue, suddenly dark under cloud, jagged and smooth, endlessly high. I looked out and saw porpoises, gannets and shearwaters but after a while I shut my eyes...if only life could be this calm for ever. Sadness flooded over me as I realised my grandmother will never again make a boat journey. I think she would have loved this, though when we talked about it before she died, she couldn't imagine why I'd leave London - I felt the same at the time, but now I wish she could read this so I could show her why I'm here. Sadness and happiness can be eerily close though, as I realise also how lucky I am to be able to store up more happy memories; it doesn't just stop at a certain age, the treasure chest can be re-opened at any time...perhaps when you least expect it to happen.
|Over the sea to Skye.|