12 May - Two anniversaries

It's been difficult to focus on writing recently, probably just because there's so little time for reflection.  The season is in full swing but unlike Lady Monica's seasons on Rum, there's not much ballroom dancing (though there was a ceilidh), no shooting and not many parties.  No, our season involves mainly visitors!  Hiking groups, geology groups, muddy boots groups, fishing groups, small wiry individuals bearing huge bulky rucksacks (one of them had a rucksack full of wood: "I'm just off to the bothy overnight, it'll be grand"), kindly, meandering middle-aged couples here for a couple of hours between boats, people wanting cake, people wanting beer, people wanting castle tours, people wanting advice. Mel is on duty most evenings, which means taking a radio home, and it beeps at all hours, usually with people saying things like "the heating hasn't come on" or "the fuses in the kitchen have blown" or "why is there no hot water?" (we have had a definite diesel shortage, so apologies to those caught out by the lack of heating!) Our favourite, however, was the 7 am emergency..."Someone's moved my toilet bag!".   There are students on environmental courses wearing bad beanies and carrying pots of unidentified wildlife.  Sometimes sailing charters come in...we have had the Eda Fransen, a gaff cutter doing tours of the Isles,  and last night, the Hebridean Princess, our regular cruise liner, moored up in the bay in the evening and glittered in the blue dark, while small speed boats carried our late-night visitors across to shore...they pottered around the castle in the twilight while we watched them from our turret and bats flew around our heads.
The tea-shop has been a success so far, although visitor numbers and politeness levels vary hugely.  Most people are lovely, but some have rather huge expectations for a tiny island - I want to say, "Do you know we are just 30 people here?" My favourite so far was the man who missed his ferry and so spent most of the day in the tea-shop, then decided he liked it so much on Rum he would miss another one the next day.   He and his dogs became firm fixtures for the week.  The worst visitors were a reluctant group of posh students who had daddy's yacht moored up in the bay; they came ashore and opened up their hamper (!) outside the shop to eat their picnic, but when it started raining they were forced indoors, only to buy the cheapest drinks they could while shouting rude words to each other across the table and trying to get drunk on their own beer.  One of them came back for another coffee and when I said "That's £1.50 please" (it's proper coffee you know) he said, "Oh, really? I thought you did, like, refills?" Probably the same one who asked Mel if he could carry a guide book round during the castle tour and then put it back afterwards so he didn't have to pay for it....But usually we have lovely visitors who like the cakes and are really interested in Rum.  Debs has the amazing ability to chat to all visitors, no matter how tired she is or how moody they are, and seems to be able to charm them with just a smile, not to mention her amazing Gingerbread Bothies (just £5 to share!).  I can only watch and learn.
Otherwise, I have started working in the hostel and doing Castle Tours.  This is a great job.  I really love meeting the groups and telling them all about George, Monica and the castle.  It makes me feel proud to live here and I enjoy seeing how they become drawn into the story, and how much emotion the castle arouses in people.  People are genuinely enthusiastic about it, they love to wander about taking pictures, asking questions and comparing it to other places that have fallen on hard times or alternatively, have been rescued!  Another cruise boat, the Polar Quest, normally a traveller up and down the Norwegian coast, called in and 50 or so Swedish visitors came on a tour...Mel and I split them up so we did a tour relay, I only just managed not to catch her up in the ballroom!  The Swedish group were very interested; of course they all had excellent English, and told me all about their trip so far around the Scottish islands.  Two of the younger men were Norwegian and came from Svalbard, and one worked at the Ice Hotel...they looked as though they spent all their time in the snow, looking like explorers with their giant boots, waterproof all in one suits and bushy beards.  "Do come to the Ice Hotel...it is very cold." "How cold?" "Oh, just minus 40 or so."  I think that's a trip I will have to take in my imagination only...
The Manx Shearwaters are back.  I saw a huge flock of them flying in, it must have been a thousand. We aim to go up the mountain soon and listen to them calling out, their weird shrieks and shouts leading the Vikings to give the name Trollval to the mountain they live under.  We may not encounter trolls, but the island is full of other noises: cuckoos everywhere, willow warblers, chiffchaffs, geese, crows, raven - and full of creatures: the walled garden is full of butterflies and bees and the polytunnel was invaded by a giant bee the other day - I had to go away until it left.  I hoped it wasn't a queen and she wouldn't be followed by her loyal servants!  Walking under the lime trees to the hostel, we can actually hear a "hive" of bees in one of them, a deep humming from the trunk surrounding us as we walk by.  I wonder if they will actually swarm.

So the island has changed almost to a different place from how it was in winter. From being totally isolated, dark and near-silent, to a literally buzzing, busy place full of sunshine (mostly) - it is hard to imagine winter coming back.  And this incredible liveliness reminds me that anniversaries are coming up.  Not only was there an Anniversary Ceilidh on 9th May - to mark the anniversary of the island assets being transferred to the Community Trust - but it's nearly the anniversary of when I was first here, visiting after my grandma died last May. What I mainly remember about that first visit is the sheer intensity of life on the island.  It was strange, because I was so sad and in some ways just numb, but I remember arriving not in a bleak, cold place but somewhere where literally you could feel the life around you, growing, cuckooing, buzzing, swarming...that was my first impression of Rum, even though when I moved here "properly" in August, it did get bleak and lonely.  Really life should be this alive everywhere - not just on tiny islands.  Wouldn't it be amazing if England was this full of wildlife, irrepressible life shooting up through the concrete and tarmac?  Amazing - if rather difficult to get around.
Again I feel I'm back at that question of how people and nature live together.  Although I can't imagine winter at the moment, I know it happened!  And it will happen again, this time with even fewer people (probably) than last year.  We are now around just 30 people living on the island - three couples have left over the past few weeks and despite the visitor numbers, you can really tell.  The dynamic is very different with just this small change - but I suppose it's not really a small change - six people (seven if you count the baby!) means about one-sixth of the island population leaving.  We really miss the people who have left, but hope that maybe more will join us soon.  (A new Ranger may be starting soon, and a new Development Officer has started, although he doesn't live on the island.)  How can we make it easier for people to live here? 
But this is such a big question and at the moment, I just want to enjoy the beauty of the island, the amazing nights that don't really get dark (just midnight blue), and the fact that in the walled garden, things are coming up! It's not been so long since I felt I couldn't enjoy anything - so I'll leave the big questions to those who want to try to answer them, and for now, just make the most of the summer on Rum.

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