Happy Easter!

Happy Easter from the castle...

...and Happy Easter from the Rumbling Tum Cafe!
And what a beautiful Easter weekend it's turning out to be.  Since Good Friday the sun has shone, the birds are singing away and the island is starting to feel busy - being here is suddenly more reminiscent of being on holiday, even though so much work is going on: our first tea-shop, the garden flourishing, archives to decipher and tourists to look after.

The nights may still be cold enough for an electric blanket (who says we don't do luxury on Rum!) but now those cold clear nights are already just a few hours long, the day starts at 5.00 am and sunlight hits the island as if we were suddenly on a different planet, with new seedlings shooting upwards at an alarming rate, trees bursting into blossom, swallows arriving daily, eagles soaring above us on the thermal currents, etc, etc.  And, er, the Calmac ferry bumping into something at Muck and being put out of action just as the season is getting underway!  Tourists arrive (eventually, having been shipped over by the small "Seafari") with bikes and huge amounts of  "gear", looking excited, if confused, and our first-ever cafe does a roaring trade in coffee and cakes.  We made just over £250 in a day - not bad for the first cafe of the season! (More cafe news later...)

With sunlight and warmth comes a sense of meaning and purpose, also a sense of letting go.  Being here finally feels like a blessing, rather than me just thinking guiltily that it ought to.  The quiet of the island feels mysterious and warm, rather than lonely and cold - perhaps because it's not really silent but full of crazy birdsong and the stormy noise of the waterfalls plunging down the mountains. 

I have an apology to make.  I am sorry for having been so introspective (aka grumpy), so often on this blog when so many of you would love to have the chance to do what we are doing.  In some ways it would have been great just to go "Wow!!!!!! It's all, just, like, you know, AWESOME!", throw in a few pictures of sea eagles and otters (when available) and leave it at that.  But that wouldn't give you any idea at all about how really different it is, and therefore, how really amazing it is - not just in a holiday romance kind of way, but in a deeper way.  

So don't be too frustrated.  I do know how amazing it is to be here, but at the same time, I won't lie.  Now I'm coming out of the dark time I can see more clearly why it's been that way. The winter here was tough, at times a nightmare.  For much of the past six months it seemed like the Gods of Ironic Marital Discord had decided it was time to have a proper go at sorting these humans out, and had abandoned us on a lonely island, in the middle of nowhere, in winter, with no friends or family to love, cushion and distract us from the relentless reality of having only each other for support in one of the darkest and oddest places in the British Isles.  That's not the whole truth, but that's how it felt sometimes when things got very dark.  

Now I dare to hope I'm coming out the other side of the sense of alienation that seemed to dominate the first part of my time here.  Maybe it seems like I've wasted 6 months worrying about being here, rather than just getting on and enjoying it.  But that's not true.  Apart from the fact that I have enjoyed lots of it, I've also needed that time to understand things better, to get to grips with a reality completely different from any I've encountered before.  To start to let go of the compulsive need for outward structure and reassurance to make life meaningful (not that I have actually let go of it, but you do have to start questioning it, because those things just aren't really there when you're here).  Instead, I'm trying to do things a bit differently, asking other people for support, coming to terms with the fact that some things in life haven't worked out as planned or hoped for.  (Big things, fundamental things - not just "Damn! I never got that honeymoon in the Caribbean/got invited onto Strictly/did that Pilates course").  Being on Rum, as we've said to each other and I've probably written on here already, strips away all your pretences, and also all your usual sources of reassurance.

BUT - and now please bear with me, it does get more upbeat - once the shock wears off, this is a privilege.  How often in life do you get to reassess everything you think you know, somewhere that's not only one of the darkest, but, come the spring, also one of the lightest and most beautiful places in the British Isles?  How often do you get to live somewhere where you can hear yourself think properly, think things right through instead of getting distracted and stressed by outside "stuff"? How often can you go for a walk anywhere else and see an eagle fly past?  Where else can you find your way by starlight on a clear night? More practically, how often can you go a whole day without spending any money or needing to lock anything away, and furthermore how often do you get to live in a big pink castle? (Sorry, that's me just being smug now.)  So finally and at last - I can now wholeheartedly recommend living on an island.  If you ever have the chance to do something that gets you this close to nature and takes you this far outside your comfort zone - do it if you can.

The happy teashoppers
And where else would I ever have got to run a tea-shop?

Maybe it's the tea-shop that has cheered me up so much.  We had a fantastic, if exhausting day, with maybe around 50-60 visitors.  Doesn't sound much but that's one and a half times the number of inhabitants of Rum!  With me over-organising everything in advance and Debs sweeping in superbly at the last minute with amazing soups and cakes (plus that awesome Lidl shopping from the mainland - thank you Debs!), we complemented each other well.  Chocolate and banana loaf, Simnel cake, Easter bun(nie)s and Victoria sponge...by the end it was nearly all gone, devoured by the ravenous hordes.  By the end I was totally worn out and suddenly realised I'd signed up to do this 3 days a week, not just one.  So I have become even more organised and started a spreadsheet of recipes...having had a long, strenuous walk to Bloodstone Hill yesterday, I am now forcing myself to bake cakes today and to plan things just as cautiously as I did last week, just in case the cakes run out!
Debs' amazing Simnel cake

Never having run any kind of enterprise before, it's a daunting thing to do, but also has something really special about it.  People love finding a place on Rum where they can stop, keep dry and eat cake, and they are hugely appreciative. I just hope we can keep our standards high.  But the main thing (for me) about our newly minted cafe is that it's given me a sense of actually belonging here.  A tiny bit. And that counts for more than living in a castle.  Okay, let's be honest - maybe not more, but just as much.

Yes!!! Finally made it.  Bloodstone Hill in the background...very small figure in the foreground

14th-15th April - Moonlight over Rum

Couldn't see the eclipse as it took place (for us) in the daytime at 6 am...but what a night!



Starry sky

Night about to fall...

Castle by starlight

So long and thanks for all the fish - News from the Archive

Besides tea-shops and gardens, the project I am really excited about at the moment is the archive. The Library is out of bounds at the moment, at risk from falling ceilings due to all the rain we had over winter - the poor castle can't absorb any more.  But the archive materials are available, and I have been diligently (well, sometimes) going through boxes, listing details properly so that there is some kind of systematic information available.

I wasn't only motivated to do this by curiosity - although of course I am curious.  It's more to do with my own writing as well (besides the strange need, common to many academics and students, to feel closer to those who are gone, even if we never knew them, to read their words and learn about their lives). I try to imagine the lives of those who built this place, for whom it was a kind of home, a different kind of home to "normal", but imagination isn't enough.  I need to know more, be more accurate in what I write, not just fantasise about the past.  Unlike many people who wrote about the Bulloughs in the 1970s and 1980s, for example (these magazine articles keep turning up in the archives, usually full of inaccuracies and myths), I bear no resentment towards them for their wealth; instead I feel somehow fiercely protective, perhaps because out of all the experiences on this island so far, living in their castle - a privilege I could never have expected in my life - has been the most enduring, positive and lovable.  It has felt safe, even homely, at times when I have felt lonely and unhappy.  No matter that I would never have fitted into their world.  I'm not of their time, so our respective "classes" have no real meaning - not now.  Instead, gifted with a life a century on (I am 101 years younger than George, who was born in 1870), I have experienced the joys and challenges of an education that women in those days could never have had.  When you are lucky enough to have an education and your (comparative) freedom (I don't have to skivvy for a living), you get a sense of being equal with anyone.  You feel you are outside "systems" - class systems, gender systems, or perhaps a better word is "hierarchies" - even though the first thing you learn as an academic is that this is an illusion - no-one is outside their own history.  But despite the illusion, it's still true that education can give you a freedom in your mind that you may not have in terms of money.  Your mind is your most important birthright, not your wealth, status or family.  In this way, being an archivist becomes not just a privilege where you are allowed to see into other people's lives - it can become a way of finding a common ground with people who, had you been born into their time, would hardly have known what to say to you.  

Anyway I am digressing from the important thing, which is the archive itself.  And what have I learnt so far?

So far I have mainly been looking at letters.  Not personal letters or love letters, I'm afraid.  But these letters are just as fascinating.  They describe how the Bulloughs lived their everyday lives, how they shaped their island and their castle, the networks of people they needed to fulfil their dreams.  For example, a fishery to provide salmon and sea-trout eggs, to build fishing grounds at Long Loch - where there are still trout, as we explained to our visitors last week, but no salmon. And now we know why. 
What, no fish? Only trout...
After an initial set-back, where it appears that buying fish eggs is going to prove too expensive, it seems that Sir George and his factor finally reach an agreement with the fishery in 1928.  Exacting and complicated arrangements are made between the factor on Rum, R. Wallace Brebner, and his contact at the Solway Fishery, J.G. Richmond, for the transportation of salmon and sea trout ova in special boxes, by train and boat, to be accompanied by the gamekeeper, McNaughton, early in 1929.  A risky business, as the eggs won't survive if they are subject to too strenuous conditions; they must be kept "cold, but above freezing point".  

Influenza strikes
But disaster nearly strikes as McNaughton falls ill of flu in Glasgow and can't get to Mallaig.  Worried letters are exchanged, Richmond sending telegrams and letters sometimes simultaneously to ensure his instructions, as well as the eggs, arrive safely.  In his fine, copper-plate handwriting, or in careful typewriting, he describes the conditions needed and what to do with the hatching boxes once they finally arrive at Rum (or Rhum, as it was known at George Bullough's request).  Later, we learn that the salmon do not do at all well and even the sea trout eggs do not hatch as quickly as hoped.  It's all down to the weather (what else on Rum?); Richmond writes he has never known of such a prolonged cold spell

Shipping live creatures to Rhum did not stop at fish eggs, or indeed, as we know, alligators.  Two small postcards from a C. Eric Lucas from consecutive years (1927 and 1928) note that "the stags for Sir George" will be sent direct to Mallaig by the London & North Eastern Railway, not the London Midland and Southern Railway as they were last year; it is hoped that this will avoid the problems experienced with the LMSR (what problems? Did the deer escape?  Were they travelling on the wrong ticket?).  I at first thought this must mean venison, but the second postcard clarifies that live deer are meant: "the best plan will be to mark the six Hinds for Sir George by taking the top off the left Ear. It is as good a distinguishing mark as is possible." Evidently, there was a whole trainload of deer on their way to the Highlands, destined for the hills and perhaps later, the hunter's pot.

Many of the letters are about money, of course; insurance and tax play a major part in the correspondence.  Both George and Monica take a keen interest in the policies and we learn that in the 1920s they kept not only two Trojan cars, but also an Albion and a "Motor Lorry", all of which need insuring.  Meanwhile their solicitors are determined to make their accounts as correct as possible and chase up receipts, valuations and expenditure; we learn that they require proof of how much the estate spends on hens' eggs (£2 15s), but the proof is not forthcoming.  Brebner writes, somewhat tetchily, that their supplier, MacLeod simply refuses to provide receipts: "He is supplying the eggs but no matter how often asked for will never send acknowledgment of payment, treating all business as cash transaction." Instead Brebner is forced to request a copy of his own cheque from the Bank, which is then forwarded to the solicitors.

I learn too of how the new boiler and heating arrangements were ordered and obtained, how kitchen ranges were scrutinised and finally built (in the 1920s, not as early as I expected), and read the original letter of application sent in 1914 by the gamekeeper, Duncan McNaughton, who remained on the island for many years and later became factor after Brebner was sacked. "Dear Sirs, seeing you are advertising for a Gamekeeper Stalker in Sat's Scotsman I apply for same. I am 27 Years old Married, w[ith] family I may say I thoroughly understand Pheasant rearing Grouse and Partridge Driving the breaking and working of mostly all sporting dogs 11 years experience in dogs and the management of a Grouse Moor & of which I had experience in Deer stalking and Driving on the strathgartney [sic] Deer forest and Grouse moor where the killed annualy [sic] 20 stags.  I am strictly sober (and good pipes) You can have my character by writing to Mr John Paterson, Brenachoile Lodge, Trossachs, Callands, and A.S. Maenaghten, Craiginie, Balquhidden, Perth Shire and T.H. Mann Esq., Trulls Hatch, Bothesfield, Sussex.  I am Yours Obediently Duncan McNaughton". 

I've yet to learn what happened next -  during the war, and the flourishing 1920s (although, by all accounts, not as flourishing as the Edwardian years).  We always think of the Bulloughs as Edwardian, but of course they were far more than that; Monica lived through nearly a century herself.  

Meanwhile, we continue to establish ourselves in our own small way; sadly we have no classic cars (nor would the roads let us drive them if we had), but we have our little vegetable plot.  We don't aim to be self-sufficient, not physically - what I want from my time here is to learn to be mentally self-sufficient, but also to learn when and how to need others.  A writer in West Word last month spoke about how in a truly healthy society we would know that we are all dependent on each other, rather than striving for total independence from other people.  People with lots of money can easily become isolated, not part of the social fabric, as well as people who have none, because they can view themselves as not needing anyone or anything, and conversely, not needing to give anything back either.   Sometimes I feel we're so much less advanced than George and Monica - our society here is at such a basic level.  Other times, I feel we're ahead of them in our striving to each contribute what we can.  I'm glad we have the opportunity, as it were, to live alongside each other, past and present.

Hope in our garden - an onion is growing...

7th April - "The season" is nearly upon us - in more ways than one!

Nearly ready to go...but not quite there yet...Garden with our polytunnel in the background

It has been a busy week with things starting to "warm up" ("warm" is maybe not quite the right word yet) for the season to start.  The ferries have "changed over" leading to much confusion - when do I order my veg again? (Thursdays!).  Why have the trains changed but are still not coordinated?  Will we manage to organise ourselves in time for the onslaught of visitors?  First visitors arrive, looking confused and slightly daunted, while days veer dramatically between brilliant sunshine and torrential rain. Everyone is slightly tetchy, things need to be in place but they aren't all yet, we know we need to plan properly but it is daunting outside the context of a "proper job" where so much is often organised for you, or the structures are ready made.  I feel clueless much of the time, but all those years as a PA help!  I have been making plans with Debs for our tea-shop, improvisation being the name of the game so that we don't end up spending too much before we even know how our cafe will work.  We both have a vision of a really enjoyable, homely place to eat and drink really good food, home-made cakes, proper coffee (very important!), local produce, selling Debs' excellent marmalade and hopefully, other islanders' produce, even people's art work, if we can persuade them to display it.  It looks as though Mel's work along with the Visitor Management Group has paid off and the Isle of Rum is anticipating a publicity and tourism boom in spring, so we are trying to up our expectations accordingly, rather than just catering for the odd lost person or two who has got caught in the rain...

The RCA meeting where all this was discussed was very positive, although with the mood on the island last week I was dreading it...arguments seemed destined to happen, but in the end they didn't.  Everyone liked our idea, and maybe some people will even pick up the other days so that we have a tea-shop regularly.  Debs and I have asked SNH if we can use things from the old castle hostel, there is loads of stuff in the old cellar - a formal agreement will, hopefully, be signed.  Then we will have cafetières!  And ramekins! How civilised!  Planning the food orders on the other hand will be complicated - we can't just run to Tesco's or Sainsbury's if we run out, we have to think ahead, at least 2 weeks ahead.  But I feel a tea-shop is somehow my destiny, ever since I got here people have asked me to do it...so the pressure is on!

Seedlings waiting to be transplanted! 
Maybe people's moods are because of that strange time in spring when it feels like everything should happen, but it's not quite there.  So with our seedlings.  Some have come up, some haven't and I am dying to put them all out in the actual garden, but don't yet have the necessary equipment; it is proving near impossible to find anywhere that supplies stuff, at an affordable rate, to the islands.  Even reliable Johnston's in Mallaig only has a few things in (and whenever I ring up they get extremely anxious: "Er, gardening? Don't know if we've got anything this week...") and nowhere seems to sell watering cans.  I've asked on the island for any second-hand stuff, but only Mike has responded, offering us his old wheelbarrow.  I am hoping for a wheelie bin to collect rainwater, but who knows whether it will happen?  So I am getting those well-known spring urges...to visit garden centres!

Well, we are off to Inverness next weekend, so perhaps there we can visit not only garden centres but also cafes, tea-shops, gift shops (any shops are fine to be honest), museums, castles (and do a castle tour ourselves!), exhibitions about the Loch Ness Monster (Mel is giddy already), City Trails and tourist information centres! We will feel like people with lives outside the island...difficult to envisage sometimes.  Now that I nearly have a "proper job" here I understand why for Mel, being here is a 24/7 affair, not one you can put down at the end of the day.  Wherever I go I meet people who start talking about work - because nearly everything here is work - and there is never any let-up from island politics, island grumbling, island ideas and island gossip.  I feel my understanding of Miss Marple's world is deepening day by day...small communities have their own psychology, their own needs and their own developmental patterns, some of which really remind me of how village life used to be in England (or how I imagine it was).  Status anxiety, not about what you own or how big your car is, but about who you are on the island; power is always an issue no matter what kind of community you live in. People need it in different ways - some need to feel that they have their own lives in order, and can keep these private and separate, others need to feel they have some control over others, others need to feel they are influencing a community in some way, good or bad, while others just keep out of it all.  This isn't bad or good, just the way things are, and it is good to come to understand your own way of dealing with it and how you yourself fit in; I haven't quite worked it out yet, I veer between staying out of everything and wanting to be "in on" everything, while knowing that neither will work for me - I need my own niche. 

Geese relaxing, or maybe considering their position

Willow "arches" - a bit bendy
Of course, sometimes we just all relax and it doesn't matter so much, if at all.  It's nice just to sit in the sun, drinking beer or fizzy pop and staring at the sea.  It's wonderful to have time for gardening, cooking, writing and just being quiet.  And it's fun improvising...again like being eight years old, I am becoming a scavenger...as you can't buy a lot of things here from shops, you have to make it up!  I have been scrounging what I can for the tea-shop, and making the most of old tarpaulins, breeze blocks and left over bits of wood for shelves for the polytunnel.  Behind the old walled garden is an abundance of willow, which we've used to make arches for the plants.  Water is more of a problem...there's so much of it on Rum, yet it's so difficult to harness.  I need a big plastic  tub, or even a bath, to keep it in! (And not our own bath, obviously).  I hope the seedlings can bear with us until it is all sorted, and we can look after them properly.