Nic and Ady and family were going off island for nine days, so asked if anyone could help look after their animals while they were away: four pigs (at time of asking) and assorted poultry, i.e. countless chickens, 6 turkeys, 8 geese and some ducks. Somewhat nervously I volunteered - that was on a sunny, blue-sky day on a cheerful walk around the nature trail. Actually looking after the animals included, as I'd expected, at least one day of torrential downpours, gales and falling over in the mud (me, not the animals). All par for the course for hardy croft owners and my respect for Nic and Ady knows no bounds. There is no let-up; come what may creatures must be fed and watered, and God knows this winter has been enough to test any crofter, however resilient.
|Barbara, Tom and Piglet|
On my first day, all three pigs - Tom, Barbara and the last remaining piglet - were lined up at the top of their pen staring down anxiously towards the path, waiting for someone, oh, anyone to come and feed them...they'd been deserted for at least two hours! A noisy, joyous, if reproachful grunting greeted my arrival and the three of them hurtled heavily down the bank towards the gate where the feed is kept. I'd also brought a bag of food scraps which I tipped over the gate, and within seconds, the pigs were mulching around in it, eating fast, but getting distracted by my throwing pig-nuts into the pen. I attempted to scratch them behind the ears, but only Tom appreciated this treatment - Barbara reacted with suspicion and grunted at me, and I couldn't actually reach the piglet as he was too fast. So I had to content myself with chatting to them and filling up their water by cunningly employing a stick to reach the tipped-over trugs without having to actually get into the pen...
Before the pigs, I'd run the gamut of a reception committee of poultry, also lined up to see who was coming up the path; except for one very slow chicken, who turned up late to the feed looking extremely perturbed. (Interesting behavioural observation: As the days passed, generally it was the chickens that noticed me first, while the geese, turkeys and ducks only seemed to catch on after the chickens had already taken up their place around the feed bin. But there was one group of chickens that was always a little bit slower than the rest and on my way to the pigs I would bump into them hurrying as fast as they could down the muddy slopes, clearly annoyed that they'd overlooked feeding time yet again...)
We have now been offered chickens by Jinty, who is trying to rationalise her large flock by giving some away. Caution has to be observed though, apparently it's important to have three chickens rather than two as then they are less likely to fight (they can't work out the pecking order when there are three...a bit like humans maybe), and the type of chicken is also important! Ali up at the cottage has made the mistake of taking on small black chickens next to the large white ones she already has and the small ones are getting bullied. We are looking for henhouses and already looking forward to fresh eggs. It is not too much of a commitment, either, because everyone on the island likes having chickens, so if either or both of us are away, there will always be someone to look after them.
And in other news this week: The rain earlier in the week caused the burn to rise by around 18 inches in just one day, but by the next day, it had fallen again. I am still not used to how quickly the weather can change here. No-one has removed the tree trunks from the river yet and my enquiry as to when it might happen met with the response, "I'm sure Dave or Rhys or somebody will remove the logs when they need them." There is no such thing as a deadline on Rum...
The drama of getting fuel here continues. On Tuesday, someone finally came off the ferry who had a licence to drive the tanker...we were meeting the boat and so we saw him get off, but then once we were home, watched the pier mystified as the tanker did not move for at least an hour (Yes, we do watch the pier on boat days to see what's going on!)
Then I saw Sean turn up at Mel's office in the tractor, so rang her to get the news.
"The tanker man is too fat to get into the tanker and he doesn't fit behind the steering wheel."
So in the end Sean did the driving just as he would have done in the past, "supervised" by the tanker man, who got to have a ride on the tractor and a look at the castle, before going back on the boat a couple of hours later. Our first visitor of the season!
He was followed closely by our second, an Italian man with a carrier bag and an iPad, who wandered around the village consulting his iPad at all times and looked at us suspiciously when we tried to get him to remove his headphones so we could talk to him. But he did seem to have a purpose:
"The castle, is it open?"
"Yes, there will be a tour at 12.30."
So at 12.30 Mel waited at the castle for 15 minutes without him turning up. Where was he? Where did he go between arriving at the village with his iPad, and departing from it two hours later, still clutching his iPad and carrier bag and not looking us in the eye...? We will never know. But still - a bit like the first swallow - the first tourist has arrived.