The meaning of tea-shops...aka losing my Rum virginity...

(No, not in that way).
In a random moment I said to Claire, who runs our tea shop, that I'd be happy to help out with shifts as she is currently short staffed.  The tea shop was another reason I agreed to come here.  An island without a tea shop is not an island as far as I'm concerned - I'd be rubbish on Desert Island Discs!

Now she's taken me up on the offer and I am quaking at the thought of having to do some actual work after many of my days  so far have been spent wandering around in a kind of dream, absorbing island life but not having to contribute to it.  I've wanted to - I've felt strange not having any role to play.  But part of me has needed to "do nothing" - in other words to play, rather than be at work.  I hadn't had a holiday since New Zealand and the past three months have been the hardest I've ever known...true, but see how I'm already feeling the need to justify "not doing anything" rather than just enjoying it.

In reality, doing something so new is so worthwhile in itself, that I don't want to have to justify it.  Didn't I want to leave London in order to get away from the attitude that only work that makes money is worthwhile? I want to work to live, not the other way around - even better I want work and life not to be separate entities - work should have a "real" outcome not just a financial one. So logically, here I am in a tea shop!

Teashop!  Shown here on a "Community Teashop Day" with cakes by Fliss.

The tea shop is a very important thing on Rum.  It is run by Claire as a business, which is more complicated than it sounds.  It has huge benefits for the island as a whole - making a visit to Rum a more inviting prospect, giving people somewhere to go for refreshment that isn't their own kitchen - in other words creating a public space, which we otherwise don't really have except for the equally important "standing outside the shop with a beer" that takes place every evening.  But it is also important for Claire to be able to live from it, at least during the summer.  This can be difficult, as it's near-impossible to predict takings - like so much else on the island, visitor numbers are weather-dependent besides being subject to the myserious laws of tea shops everywhere in the world - why is everyone eating chocolate cake today when yesterday they all wanted scones?  Why is there always a run on the most complicated food when we are short-staffed?

Claire rents the community hall in order to have a space but uses her own equipment and pays her own staff.  Me! I am excited as well as scared - will I forget the orders?  Break the cups? Drop the cakes?  Probably. But I'll also get to meet people in an "official" capacity and "out" myself to tourists as a resident of Rum. 

I soon realise that besides being excellent training for a future life as a tea-shop owner one day, the main effect of this job really is to turn me into a Rum resident in super-quick time.  Like everyone else I too will now spend a good deal of time answering questions such as: "How many people live on the island?" (44 now I'm here!); "Why isn't the castle open all day?" (we can't afford to staff it); "When does the shop open?" (it depends); "Wasn't the castle on one of those TV programmes, um, with Prince Charles?" (yes it was, Restoration - we came second! Please, Prince Charles, come back and help save the castle); "Why isn't the hostel in the castle any more? Such a shame, it was so much more romantic..." (because no-one likes to share a cold shower with 60 other people and the bedrooms were getting mouldy...actually that's only two of the reasons...I can't go into it here...sorry).  Like the other 43 residents of the island I will become needlessly defensive towards "yachties" (the contrast between our muddy boots/ancient jeans and their pristine Hunters and Joules outfits is sometimes all too worrying - you can tell they often feel the same way...),  become fiercely protective of the island's unique weirdness in the face of any (even imagined) criticism yet also fiercely want people to get involved and be interested.   There is a temptation in this kind of small community to imagine you are totally self-sufficient - well, we're not.

Anyway, in the midst of all these questions I am running about trying to remember who ordered what drinks to go with what meals. (All the Victoria sponge does go - obviously a Vicky sponge day not a chocolate one...why?! The cakes are all home-made by people on the island and are amazing.)  We're fairly busy today although Claire assures me this is nothing compared to last week when 84 came in off the Sheerwater.  84!  I am not the cool, calm, collected manager I liked to think I was in my last job (as if...) but an anxious bundle of tea-shop nerves.  Claire remains cool, calm and collected.  I concentrate on smiling and answering the questions.  It seems to work as a combination but I'd like to get all the drinks right next time too.
A Rum resident. Can I have two puddings please?

At 4 pm everyone is just about gone and it's time to tidy up and count our takings.  Claire pays me!  I am in receipt of my first Rum wage.  It is very exciting and I skip home.  On the way, however, I realise I've lost my Rum longer hovering on the outskirts of the community I too have now unconsciously taken on that "them and us" feeling.  I don't want to feel that way, though.  After all, I was an "outsider" myself until just a short time ago - to everyone else on the island, I probably still am.  And the island, or at least the castle, needs outsiders and always will, to survive.  George and Monica were the ultimate outsiders - they owned the island, but didn't live on it.  But they did love it. That, at the time, kept people employed (although without many rights), helped the land to thrive and at Monica's wish, ensured that the island would be kept as a nature reserve after their deaths.  They could have sold it to the highest bidder, but they didn't.  They kept it safe - though not for us necessarily.

Even if we wouldn't want those days back (or at least not for long, I'd love to revisit it just for a couple of hours!) the island still struggles without the wealth that could create more of an infrastructure here.  No-one has any capital, for example to start a business, open a restaurant, build new housing.  We keep on pondering this lack of money and what it means for the island.  Some people here are not ambitious for Rum, they are happy with things as they are.  Others (a mix of old and new) would love more things to happen and to make it more of a welcoming place, not to mention to give us islanders more "stuff" to do.  A visitor today told me he and his wife have a house on Shetland (now that's remote), and up there, they are already preparing for their long, long winter of almost total darkness - they are starting up evening classes, organising weekly events and preparing to transform their lives while waiting for the planet to move slowly around the sun.  Then in summer they will transform back into "outdoors people".  For us, it's harder - we don't have evening classes, cinemas, theatres, pubs or restaurants.  But we do have plans - and the tea shop is the beginning of all civilisation!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.