West Word excitement, crows in the chimney and tea-shop doubts

I think there may be a crow in our chimney!  Just sitting drinking tea in the living room at breakfast and for once, feeling no need to go outside as it's so cold and I have lots of baking to do for tomorrow, and I heard a very loud "Caw" from what sounded like just behind me.  There's nothing outside on the battlements so I wonder if it's a bird in the chimney, it's happened before in Yorkshire and sounded just the same.  Just when you're looking forward to a cosy day in front of the fire and hoping the heating will work...

Life hasn't been too cosy this week but it's been quite funny!  It's getting very cold, and the castle creaks and the radiators bang with the attempt to keep the temperature up.  The boiler has been making "funny noises". One of the Bullough pictures fell off the wall the other night when we were having dinner with friends...there was a huge crash and we thought it was burglars, but the string had perished that was holding the frame up...There've been unexpected fire alarms going off recently due to power outages...every time one goes off you have to go and inspect the control panel to find out where it is - and in a castle, that can be a lot of places. The deafening middle-of-the night one woke us at 2.30 in the morning and the panel told us that the alarm had gone off in the "Old Beer Cellar".  "That sounds nice," I say optimistically. It wasn't, it's under a huge trapdoor in the middle of the courtyard that is too heavy for one person to lift, with stone steps going down into a scary and freezing cold basement...We stand in the courtyard in our slippers in the dark struggling to hold the "lid" of the cellar up and I vow I am never, ever going down into it.  There is no smell of smoke so we close it again.  "Probably a spider got into the alarm," Mel shrugs.  Spiders, crows, fire alarms, power cuts, heating out, internet down...I don't like winter! But hopefully the crow isn't actually IN the chimney...maybe on top of it.   Nearly spilling my tea I move carefully out of the room and am going to listen from afar...

It really is getting near to winter now, and reading our favourite local newsletter "West Word" (the best £1.20 you will ever spend on a newspaper!) we can see that there is lots going on out on the mainland to help people get through those dark days.  West Word is an amazing institution, well known beyond the Lochaber region that it serves.  There is a regular page called "West Word around the World" featuring fans holding up their copies in various parts of the globe ranging from Skegness to Malawi to Adelaide.   Besides telling you all you need to know about tide times, council meetings and ferry and railway timetables, it also has regular slots with updates on the Lifeboat "shouts" for the past month (from serious to hilarious), results of local school games and other competitions, articles about the history of local families and places, wildlife top tips, adverts for logs, and (my favourite), "Family Announcements" featuring births, marriages and deaths, usually with grateful letters from families addressed to the doctors, nurses, priests, bridesmaids, helpers etc who got them through these life-changing events. Grateful letters from tourists also feature strongly - this month there is a long letter from "Two Yorkshire Ladies" (not us!) whose car broke down but was repaired in double quick time by the local garage to enable them to get home.  There are lots of in-jokes that I don't yet understand, often based around families who have lived in the region for generations.  This month, there is a long story about Davey Davidson, a driver for the West Highland Steam Railway (the "Jacobite") for many years, who recently died.  In accordance with his father's wishes, his son Dave Davidson convinced the railway managers to allow him to carry his father's ashes on a last journey to the Glenfinnan Viaduct before scattering them - not over the viaduct, as I expected, but into the engine's firebox! And so Davey, the article concludes, lives on forever in the "Jacobite".

Tales of crime are included at times - luckily there is not much of it, but it can be bad (poachers abandoning deer carcases on the railway!) or simply funny (the roadsigns warning about deer on the roads have been amended to show rhinos instead!).  There is heated debate for and against Scottish Independence and recently also a shocking article by a local Councillor about how he had been ousted from office while absent.  But he still seems to be there as he is in this month's edition too. 

The reports from Mallaig and the news about the huge variety of clubs people can join (swimming, Highland dancing, Zumba, the Women's Institute, angling, knitting) and democratic organisations they can belong to (lots of community associations here) are a great reminder of the community that exists out on the mainland and how strong and close-knit it can be.  There are also reports from the other islands (Eigg, Canna, Muck) and near-island (Knoydart, which can only be reached by sea or on foot), that tell us of farming successes, theatre and music events and sponsored shoe-wearing (a lady on Knoydart has 48 pairs of shoes and got sponsored to wear a different pair every day for a month, not easy in our climate but she won!). 

Reading these, I realise this is what I expected Rum to be like as well - I thought living on an island here would be like living on the local mainland.  But Rum is really, really different.  We don't have "culture", farming (as such), clubs or even a "close-knit community".  The community is still finding itself, it can be unwelcoming, its processes are opaque, sometimes it seems downright dysfunctional, although it can also make amazing things happen.  I wonder why here is so different but it's obvious really: the island "community" has only existed for a few years.  Unlike Eigg and Muck, let alone the mainland, it's not got a history of private housing, businesses, or much practice in running its own organisations.  The Community Trust was set up only in 2007 and the assets handed over from SNH only in 2009/10.  That means that the island has only really been a self-directing community for most of its inhabitants for four years at most.  Hence it feels, still, like an experiment and like all experiments it can be hugely exciting to be a part of it, or just really frustrating when things don't work.  Just as an example, West Word sometimes tells us things we didn't know about Rum and that we should have known - I found out this month only by reading it that CalMac is trialling a new "passenger only" speedboat service alongside a "freight only" ferry service to our island - no-one here had told us. (It's a v. bad idea as most would-be tourists are not keen on the idea of getting on a speedboat to cross the choppy Little Minch, especially in the rain, snow etc even if it was able to run then anyway.  During the recent "replacement ferry service" we lost quite a few tourists, hostel bookings and catering orders due to tourists losing their nerve, plus had lots of complaints about "feeling sick".)

Oh, "community" - what does it mean?! Tomorrow I am responsible for the Community Tea-Shop - as opposed to the "normal" tea-shop, the Community one is run on a voluntary basis to make sure we have a tea-shop on a Sunday.  Before we went away I was approached by several people separately (not quite in dark alleys) with the seemingly casual suggestion, "You know you said you like working in the tea-shop...would you like to put forward an application to run it next year?" Although Claire's tea-shop is great, there have been mutterings that it would be nice to have a change or an alternative using more local produce, keeping it open for more hours, offering different dishes etc...Hmm.  I agree it would be nice, but there are things that need sorting out first...

Lots has been achieved since 2009 - the crofts, the community hall, a housing plan, a management plan - but lots of things that we take for granted elsewhere just don't exist.  Imagine those really frustrating work meetings you sometimes have where everything goes round in a circle - well it can be just like that, but without the organisational "rules" that you can usually refer back to at work.  The Directors of the Trust are still relatively new to the job, and some of the people on the island just want to do their own thing.  It's a dilemma - should everyone who lives here feel like they are part of one organisation, as if living here was a "job"?  Or should we just all do what we like, without worrying about what other people are up to?  For example some people don't want to pay the road charge that is levied every year (£36 for the year) that pays for the roads to be repaired.  "I don't care if they're repaired or not," they say, "so why should I pay?" Because if you don't then the Trust can't afford to keep them maintained and the whole island suffers.  It's pretty much the same question that applies to the rest of society as well, but on a smaller scale.  But the difference here is that you can actually influence what your "taxes" are spent on fairly directly, whereas in the bigger scheme of things you can only influence this very very slowly.  And it frustrates me beyond belief that some people are not in the least bit interested in influencing what happens - they just want to stand outside the shop and complain about it, not realising how lucky they are to have the chance to change things.

But I've realised it's not easy.  Theoretically I subscribe to the idea that living here means you are part of a community, not just on your own and I try to act accordingly.  But I'm taking it slowly - I need to check things out first.  Despite pressure from "above" I realise I'm not ready to apply to run the tea shop next year, as it turns out there's a whole lot of island politics bound up in this that I don't want to get involved in at the moment (plus I don't rate my cooking highly enough!).  I also can't measure yet how long it takes to "make things happen" if you do want to get involved in projects or how much energy it would take up.  There is a new project going on to build a community bunkhouse and a new visitor centre, which will be amazing.  But it's going to take a lot of arguing, stamina and optimism to get there...

I vow I will try harder!

So, I haven't heard any more "cawing" from the chimney...I am going to have to risk going back in...will keep you updated!  Off now to bake some pies.

No comments:

Post a Comment

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