17th May - Sail away, sail away, sail away...

It's still proving really hard to find time for writing at the moment and to find your voice when you do get a chance; except when the tea-shop is quiet (I wrote nearly a whole story in the tea-shop last Tuesday, plus I got serenaded by a boy with a guitar! It was a sunny day and everyone was up a mountain except us I think).  So sorry if this is a bit repetitive.  The season is incredibly busy, it's like living on another planet compared to winter.  I am either baking for the tea-shop, working in the tea-shop, planning menus, counting money, doing a cleaning shift in the hostel, doing a castle tour or doing the gardening...not to mention all the usual tasks like laundry, washing up, and emailing people randomly! Oh and blogging of course. And staring even more randomly out of the window. Also, I am determined that working in the tea-shop doesn't totally stop me cooking for Mel and myself...but this is difficult, as when I get home I normally just want to eat chips.  This is BAD especially as it is so easy to buy oven chips (though sadly, not proper chips), and relatively difficult to buy other stuff...
Tomorrow we have visitors arriving - hurrah! - so we have been doing extra cleaning.  The flat is finally fragrant(ish) and tidy, without chaotic collections of empty beer and wine bottles, jars and cardboard cluttering up the spare loo (it may be a Spode toilet, darlings, but to us, it's always going to be the "where did you put the spare bogroll?" and "where's the wine?" room - AND we have to keep our recycling in there as there's nowhere else); a kitchen covered in flour and overflowing with cake tins of various sizes (I am currently feeling persecuted by cake tins and dreamt that Mel and I were being forced to build a castle out of cake for a competition...); or a bowl of bubbling sourdough mix in the spare room. The flat is large, but feels very small sometimes when it's hard to find time to tidy and there is lots of baking to be done. 
"Heb Princess" by day, and unknown sailing boat
Luckily we also have other duties to keep us (relatively) sociable on this very wet and windy Saturday.  After our visit from the Hebridean Princess, or "Heb Princess" as we call her, a large group came today on the Ocean Nova and we did a relay tour at 3.30, one half of the group going in the opposite direction to the other until they catch up with each other on the stairs (but hopefully, not too early or I don't get time to talk about Lady Monica and the stuffed humming birds).  Today was a nice group, they laughed at our jokes and were surprisingly goodnatured, considering that the wind is driving the rain into everyone's faces and it's nearly impossible to walk anywhere.  As always I am heartened by their enthusiasm for the castle, their admiration for Lady Monica's decision to sell it as a nature reserve rather than abandon it to developers, and their ability to enter into the spirit of things despite the weather.  It makes me feel more optimistic about the future of the castle, and even the island.  As they are leaving, having struggled to put their wet boots, overtrousers, raincoats and hoods back on in the tiny entrance hall, I run out to see if Dave is arriving on his buggy to drive them back to the pier...feeling like the lady's maid in Gosford Park I stand in the rain finding people's missing gloves, bags and hats until everyone is safely stowed on the buggy and ready to return to their ship.
Ships are a never-ending source of fascination.  So many anchor at Rum, a place I would hardly even have heard of two years ago yet seemingly a key stop-off point for boats doing tours of the Scottish Islands.  We have discovered the awesome www.marinetraffic.com where you can find out what shipping is around your area, or going to be, or was in the past.  Just on Thursday we had a huge yacht call in, the Adix from Falmouth, a five-master nearly as long as George's Rhouma (209 feet, as opposed to 221).  The masts were startlingly high, looking nearly but not quite out of proportion to the stunningly elegant hull.  She sailed blithely across the bay in bright sunshine while all of us in the tea-shop stared from the decking, peering through our binoculars in amazement; the Adix would look more at home off the Côte d'Azur rather than the Côte de Rum.  Nevertheless, she stayed.  The lights twinkled all night long and as always a pang of longing to be out and away on board struck me as she set sail the next day and disappeared (although not before getting stuck for a considerable time just out of the bay as the wind hit her and one of the sails had to be taken down again!).

Adix getting underway...

...and "in irons" struggling to choose a direction!
I always wonder what people think when they anchor in Loch Scresort and see the castle just opposite them.  It must be both a beautiful and a bizarre sight, a totally incongruously romantic pink building set in the wilds of Rum, almost on the shore, with just a paddock in front dividing us from the sea.  At the moment, usually a paddock with naughty deer eating the grass.  They know they aren't really allowed down here - at least we think they know by their furtive looks up at the castle as they chew away.  The other night, the moon was nearly full and the whole island was lit up - it did not get dark at all, but when I got up at 1 am to see what was happening, there were the deer by moonlight, at least six of them, wandering about.  It was bright as full day by 5 am.  Nights like that you want to be awake all night to catch the beauty of it all.  But I was extremely sleepy the next day...probably why I said yes without really thinking to doing a "jamming session" with resident musicians Mike, Steve and Sean.  I hadn't picked up my viola in a few years and I should have been nervous, but instead I felt completely at home and grounded as soon as I started to play. 

It was new for me, playing folk music, let alone Scottish ballads, and I realised soon enough that I don't have the "feel" for Celtic music yet.  There's an immediate emotional pang to it that I've been taught, as a classical musician, to distrust; my learning, as an academic as well, has made me feel that somehow emotion should only be accessed via a more "serious" engagement with the music; the more complex the music, the more authentic the emotion it creates.  Becoming conscious of this makes me realise it is a fallacy, really based not on my training at all (and certainly not on my upbringing, where one of my earliest memories is of Mum singing folk songs) - it seems to arise out partly out of a respect for what is difficult, a need to fight back against the prevailing notion that difficult has to equal inaccessible, but partly out of a less admirable state of mind, probably that somehow I am "better" as a person if I can "master" more difficult, more challenging things - whether that is in the field of music, or in life, as in "I must be able to make a success of living on a tiny island..."
Sometimes though it is maybe best to stop trying and to let things judge you, rather than trying to pre-empt their judgement by trying to be the best all the time.  I wonder if I can think this because I've been playing music again, making me a real person, rather than a set of attempts to do something.  And if it's to do with the kind of music, as well.
Folk and especially Celtic music demands a totally different technique to playing classical music, and it's liberating to play something where it's about how it sounds as a whole, about reaching other people, more than mastering the technical niceties.  Of course, all music is more about how it sounds as a whole, but a break from playing has made me realise that in the past I'd too often focused on how "well" I was playing, rather than how good the music sounded...focusing on your own achievement rather than listening to what you're actually doing.  It sounds obvious but it wasn't in the past.  Now it is.  (That doesn't mean I can do it though!  The twiddly bits still sound twiddly rather than romantic...the high bits still sound squeaky rather than lyrical...but I shall keep trying.)  Also, it's fun playing with a mandolin, a guitar and a set of drums rather than a cello and two violins!  Especially when they turn up the amp and say, "just go with it"...
I suppose that this is another gift from being on Rum.  Playing music just because you can, without worrying how good you are, and caring more about its sound than your own ability, is something I should have been able to do a long time ago, but hadn't ever.  Obviously ability is very important - the "feel" of the music can't exist without the discipline of each note.  But which discipline to choose, which of all the many techniques to use for any given bit of music - that's the art I suppose.

Whatever it is, it's fun for others too.  People visiting here are really happy when anyone plays any music.  I think they expect to arrive and find folk musicians penny-whistling away on every corner while wearing kilts, or gathered round a campfire with whisky and a small bodhran.  Perhaps it would be nice (depending on the legs of those in the kilts) but it doesn't happen very often.  But in the past few weeks I've found out more and more about what people do.  We have artists, chefs, woodcarvers, jewellery makers and musicians - and probably much more.  These talents tend to lie hidden, though, as we're all so private, except when we need to make some money and sell stuff. It would be even nicer if we could see these things happening all year round, for us - for now it's nice to see them in the tea-shop!

Claire and Kate's crafts...Lukas' pictures!

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