Three weeks on the island...and a trip to the mainland

I've been reading back over the past weeks and feel slightly dizzy. So much has happened, and continues to happen, and it can range from being totally overwhelming and awesome (a sky so dark you can view another galaxy at the edge of our Milky Way), to being just a bit too much and you want to put your head under a blanket until it goes away (five days of continuous rain and no TV, working radio or heating), to the totally surreal; watching "Kick-Ass" on a laptop in an Edwardian millionaire's dressing room, which is now painted orange and full of teddy bears, before donning a head torch to visit the millionaire's bathroom, has got to be one of the more surreal experiences I have had in my life to date.

Writing a blog is a good way of connecting with that earlier self that arrived here just three weeks ago, as otherwise things can move so fast, it becomes easy to forget how it was at the beginning.  And because it's not just for me to read, it's a good way of forcing me to step outside my immediate experience and reflect on it a bit more. It helps to deal with what I now understand is a Rum phenomenon (maybe an island phenomenon) - it's not only me, but other people also are prone to days where you just miss "normal" life, your friends and the familiar.  It's not like homesickness (at least not for me).  It's not the wish to be elsewhere or dislike of where you are.  It's more like a sudden realisation of how disconnected you are from what you used to find normal.  It happens particularly when people have "gone off" - i.e. gone off island and then come back.

When civilisation beckons
We "went off" last week to go to Fort William, home of shops!  There were lots of practical things to do (the priority being haircuts, closely followed by a need to eat chips), but also I just wanted to know what it felt like to re-connect with "normality".  Strange, was what it felt like.  Although actually, it wasn't strange until we came back.  Getting on the ferry to go to Mallaig was very exciting!  Mel hadn't "been off" since June but it wasn't only Mel who had cravings for chips and a ferry trip.  We realised we were islanders when we didn't stay up on deck to "watch for wildlife" but ran below to get a seat in the cafe and be first in line for CalMac's amazing bowls of chips.  And we didn't really move after the chips either...we were enjoying being "elsewhere", able to passively sit in the warmth and relax, while mad tourists stood outside in the cold and enjoyed the scenery.  Scenery? Who needed it? preciousssss.....
The mainland was full of wonders! I bought a mountain bike (with massive wheels so I can actually get around the island), kitted myself out with new "proper" walking boots (again an essential, not a luxury here) and we had proper pints of beer in a proper pub (the brilliant Grog and Gruel in Fort William, if you're ever up here, where we were also accosted by a bearded man from Hebden Bridge who wanted to bond over real ale and tales of "alternative" Yorkshire folk.  He was giving a French friend a tour of Scotland and was wondering where to get dinner. "Why not here in the pub?" "Sadly, I don't think my French friend will appreciate the chips.")  We'd actually watched TV in our lovely B&B; Mel had stayed there twice before when coming up for her interview, and the landlady knew the whole history of our move to Rum - Mel and she were old friends by now.  We'd marvelled at the array of toiletries on sale in Superdrug and the bizarre things people need for "normal" life ("What's an air inhibitor spray tanner?"), and at the complete lack of interest in customers shown by the majority of Fort William shop assistants.  In the pub it suddenly dawned on me that it was relaxing to be somewhere where no-one knew or cared who I was or why I was there - within just three weeks I'd almost forgotten what it feels like to be anonymous.
But after just two days, in Mallaig I started to get homesick for the island.  It was raining (of course) and very windy and I rejoiced inwardly at the feeling of soon being able to shake off the odd mainland sensation of having to be "grown up", not take up too much space, fit in around everyone else...It's hard to explain. 

Do you remember being eight years old?  Or maybe a bit older or a bit younger...whatever age it was when you were first allowed out to play on your own, with your friends, outdoors.  I was lucky enough to be able to run around in fields and bike up and down on the estate as much as I liked.  And I liked it a lot - I was outside.  Much as I like being grown-up in other ways, it can often be stifling - offices, cars, the gym, pubs, restaurants, bars...there are hundreds of indoor places you can go, but the outdoors can become a weekend place if you're lucky, or it can mean a nice walk around the park, rather than the more elemental experience we have here.  That's why I was happy in Mallaig that it was raining and windy, and longed to get back on to the island, where the weather is all around you, all the time.  I wanted to be what the RSPB calls "connecting with nature."  I certainly was - the journey back was queasily choppy in "a heavy swell coming in from the north-west" according to the CalMac man.  I spent the first twenty minutes outside on deck, just me and lots and lots of rain, until a lot of the sea came over the side as well.  Then I went in again.  But it was fun.

Connecting with nature again!
Getting back on the island in the rain was strange though.  I was completely exhausted and it wasn't just that all the shopping had worn me out.  Both Mel and I spent the rest of the day in almost complete silence.  The mainland was so loud.  We had talked to so many people and had so much "noise" thrown at us - just everyday noises of cars, machinery, music, chatter in the pub, adverts on the TV in the B&B plus ten minutes in Morrisons of sheer madness: tills beeping, shop announcements on the tannoy and riverdance on the sound system.  Apart from Morrisons it was great, I'd enjoyed nearly every minute, but now we were back, we were re-adjusting to the quiet.  I was relieved but also scared.   Did this mean it was more "natural" to be quieter? Were our body clocks more attuned to island life than mainland life and if so, how fast did this happen? But it's not just your body clock that has to adjust, it's your mental "clock" as well - your sense of what is normal, what is "natural" and what is "right" - they're not all the same thing.  I can tell that this question of what is a more "natural" way of life is going to be a question for a long time.  People on the island tell us that it's essential to "go off island" at least every couple of months - otherwise the danger is that you lose the ability to go between one reality and another and the sense of disconnection gets just too much (much like Edwardian bathrooms and "Kick-Ass", really).  They are very different realities and it's hard to imagine one while you are "in" the other.  It's just as well that the journey between the two is so long - although it's not exactly a normal journey either - the West Highland Line has become our shopping commute!

Coming back...the train journey between Mallaig and Fort William

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