9th June - More news from the Archive, and what have we been up to?

More like, what haven't we been up to? A huge sense of exhaustion keeps washing over us like a wave, as we struggle to keep up with all the needs of the island and our visitors and ourselves at the height of the Season...the last two weeks have been non-stop cake-baking, dog-walking, piglet-feeding, midge-cursing, whale-watching (someone's got to do it...), gardening, cooking, entertaining, organising and planning for what comes next.  There's a sense that there is no time at all to stop and think, which is hard when you need to process so much.  But also a sense that lots of things are happening, which is a Good Thing.  Who would have thought this time last year, that I would not only be tea-shopping and archiving but also helping to resurrect the library service and organising a revamp of the community hall? Not me. I would never have imagined having the guts to do any of it.  It would be very exciting...if I didn't just want to lie down and have a nap.
Never mind! Onwards!  There are more archive stories to be told...
I am continuing with my research, and have been archiving letters, photographs and notes. It looks at the moment as though most of the correspondence saved is with the factor, R. Wallace Brebner, rather than with George and Monica themselves.  But this throws a fascinating light on everyday life on Rum at the time, the practical issues people dealt with and - last but not least - why the deer went missing.
Telling our lovely visitor, Andrea, about the archive, I came across another folder of letters. Frustratingly, many of these obviously belong with the first set of letters I catalogued, but for some reason have been put randomly into plastic wallets and juggled about by someone in more recent times.  Still, at least they've been saved.  Once I get the new acid-free folders, I can start to put the correspondence in order...then we will know just when and how boilers were ordered, accounts were audited, cars were insured and deer were put on the train...Oh, on second thoughts it's far more fun doing it this way...
So, you may remember that last time, there were mysterious complaints about the L&NER (London & North Eastern Railway) having muddled up the deer and not sent them properly.  I was intrigued as to what had happened.  What did a railway line and Sir George's deer have to do with each other?  Well, now all is revealed.
It appears that George regularly purchased new deer to top up his stock on Rum, and what's more, he didn't buy them from another Scottish landlord.  The deer came from Sussex, from an estate owned by Charles Lucas at Warnham Court, Horsham. He had been supplying deer to Rum since at least 1926, when in February he wrote to Brebner confirming that he would send six stags and two hinds to Rum in September.  This would cost Sir George just £96; "and I will see that he has good, strong and promising young beasts", writes Lucas. Later that year, in August, it appears that Sir George orders six more hinds, so that a total of six stags and eight hinds would be sent up to Mallaig in September.  "The stationmaster has the matter of train arrangements in hand," writes Lucas, and we learn that all the deer "will be available for despatch in one large covered van from Horsham through to Mallaig per passenger train."
While this may seem like a long and hazardous journey, it's nothing to what other deer have to go through.  Lucas writes that Brebner and Sir George need not worry about the transport, as the deer from his estate have been so much in demand that they sent 72 deer away the previous year, of which 30 went to India!  And two - he mentions casually - to Sandringham; so he was supplying royalty too. But if you think India is a long way, "We have sent over forty deer to New Zealand over the past fifteen years or so."  What could possibly go wrong?
In 1929, however, the mishap with the L&NER occurs. Luckily, the deer merely arrive late: "As I thought the fault lies with the L&NER people at King's Cross in not sending the van containing the deer by the service arranged as promised..." He advises Brebner to seek compensation, "I do think that you will insist upon full satisfaction."  Hopefully the deer were not too traumatised by their extra wait at King's Cross Station; where did they put them, I wonder?
Naturally, where there is a shooting estate there are also DOGS, and we learn that in 1921, Brebner was seeking to purchase pointers and setters to assist with the stalking, this time exchanging letters with "The Cornwallis Kennel of Gun-Dogs" in Banffshire, "the property of Capt. R.B. Ricketts".  Rodney Ricketts writes enthusiastically to Brebner that he can offer him an excellent choice of dogs: "Grouse" and "Bruce", two English setter dogs ("Both expremely [sic] good looking specimens and know their job"), "Hughie" and "Shot", black and white and liver and white setters ("Splendid workers and from a good strain") or "Pat" and "Jock", Irish setter dogs. Pat is "an exceptionally good looking dog and a tireless worker", although Ricketts clearly has some worries about Jock: "[He] should not be judged by his age (6 yrs) as he can do a days work on the moor with any dog, has a splendid nose, ranges a nice pace quartering his ground well and is perfectly steady and staunch." But eventually Brebner decides on Hughie and Shot - just in time as someone else has offered for Hughie, and so Ricketts cunningly ups his price "I cannot accept less than 25 gns [guineas] for him as this is the definite offer I have waiting."  We shall probably never know what happened to poor Jock...
Throughout the 1920s it seems the estate continued to flourish, with new deer (and dogs) being purchased, the amazing boiler and new radiator system being installed in 1924 (the one we still have today!) and a variety of exciting new purchases for the house being made, including a "Frigidaire" in 1928. Yet, by 1930 Sir George is looking to let the whole island; a tenant is sought by his agents in Edinburgh, but despite some interest from the Duke of Leinster, eventually no-one is found who is prepared to pay the £3,000 asked for.  A Mr Bowlby writes in August that he knows someone who wants "a shoot", but "he is anxious to have a place where there are grouse, & that is what brought me over." The friend thinks there are not enough grouse on Rum, so Bowlby went away again; not before he reminisces fondly, "I remember the excellent sport we had in 1891 and 1892 in Rhum, and am sorry to have heard that grouse have now almost disappeared."  Other concerns of potential tenants may seem familiar; the agent sends Brebner a list of questions from clients which include:
"1. How often are letters received? Is there a daily mail?...3. Is there a Doctor on the Island? If not, where is the nearest?..."5. What roads are there on the Island?"
Ah, yes...some things never change.  And in the light of recent discussions about the Calmac not bringing our fuel over due to there being too many passengers on board (a source of great controversy at the moment, as said passengers don't actually get off the boat and visit Rum, but stay firmly aboard the ferry, thus bringing us no benefits at all, despite all our efforts to attract them), local readers may like to know that certain problems existed in 1924 as well as in 2014:
"Dear Sir.  We had a letter this morning from the Station Master at Mallaig Station stating that the Captain of the cargo steamer could not take the boiler and radiators as he was full up with other cargo, and it will be Monday before he calls again."

So rest assured, dear readers; even if you are a millionaire, you can't always get the ferry to deliver your goods on time! 

May - Herding turkeys...

We were helping to look after the animals for a few days while their rightful owners were away. Feeding piglets, running the poultry gauntlet and - to our great joy - looking after the dog.  But two turkeys decided they weren't going to sit about waiting for their food...they were going to brave the village! So we had to try and get them back...

You may think herding cats is just a figure of speech; well, herding turkeys should replace it as an even more frustrating - but it has to be said, even more amusing - activity...

Getting ready to herd

I know food comes out of wheelie bins...so if we just wait...

I'm still waiting!

Dammit, they've got sticks and a dog! On the run...in the right direction...

Take a turn left...still going the right way...

It's all gone wrong Gromit! Bonnie spectacularly fails to herd while the turkeys disappear into the distance.

At this point, the turkeys vanished into the undergrowth.

Some time later, Mel made a second attempt by cycling around to get behind them and throwing food over their heads until they followed the food to the croft...There are sadly no photographs of this second attempt, but suffice to say it worked - although it did take over an hour to get them from A to B, B being around a ten minute walk from A in normal circumstances.

We are better and wiser people for this experience!

(The piglets were much cuter, if less adventurous:)

The wildlife on Rum never ceases to amaze!

May 23rd - Entertaining angels

Here on Rum we share our space with so many creatures, but just sharing a space isn't always enough...you have to make contact across the space too and that isn't always easy.

This week we shared our space with a French TV crew (Mel on TV yet again...); several minke whales, which have been cruising up and down the bay regularly for a week now; Manx shearwater, puffins, guillemot...swallows, cuckoos...enthusiastic engineers from Yorkshire and depressed geology students from Edinburgh, who are not happy ("And we're on our own...in a camping cabin...and we don't know anyone...and we have to stay for FOUR WEEKS...and the midges are IN THE CABIN..."). (Oh yes - did I mention sharing space with about 1,000,000,000 midges too? They have no problem making contact with us.) But we've also been privileged to share our own space with Bonnie the dog, whom we were lucky enough to get to look after for a week. And last but not least, Jesus visited...proving that it's not always easy to entertain angels - or would-be angels - unawares.
I spoke too soon about music - we had a rather difficult session when we were unexpectedly joined by a young lad who seemed to have wandered on to the island by accident.  With long hair, a beard and bare feet he seemed to be rocking the Jesus look but sadly didn't act like it.  He drank way too much at the bar on Saturday night while lighting a trangy fire in the hall entrance to cook dinner, abandoned his obviously distressed and equally young girlfriend in order to "find himself" by overnighting at Harris; and managed to piss off most of the people on the island in an incredibly short space of time in one way or another.  Now it was our turn.  He joined in our music session, literally elbowing Steve out of the way so that he could display his musical talents and tell us how well he understood "all this stuff".  True, he was okay at the guitar - it was people skills he obviously lacked.  We all struggled to find the dynamic we'd had as a group before, but couldn't bring ourselves to tell him to leave - we agreed later that "you just can't".  Music is not something you want to exclude people from no matter how much they annoy you...The final straw was when he slept on the sofa in the Community Hall, leaving his food unwrapped in a corner and unplugging all the equipment, thereby temporarily wrecking the post office system, so that he could charge his various gadgets, without offering to pay for anything.  I came in the next day for the cafe only to find him sat telling one of our regular visitors all about how he was going to come and live on Rum and contribute to the community, because it was so spiritual here...In the shop, everyone was very upset!  
Odd how just one person with no sense of community - despite what he was saying - can make such a difference to how people feel.  Unable to contain myself any longer I "had words" and explained that all of us were part of a small, struggling community and it's not OK to come and doss for free in a community space, upset non-drinkers by trying to force them to drink whisky or wander round in bare feet in our cafe.  Especially as the feet were not very clean...Upon this, he was shocked and said he was sorry, he had intended to offer to pay for stuff...just hadn't got around to it.  And he put his boots back on.
I felt sorry too. I recognised in both him and his girlfriend a search for something - the craving to find somewhere that is different from Normalworld and won't judge you in the same way.  Clearly, they'd assumed that drinking was the way to people's hearts.  But it isn't - not here.  Lots of people know the dark side of alcohol all too well and while some of us like a tipple there are few people who actually get drunk in the way that these two lost souls were doing.  She was just 19, I put him at not much older.  We all felt responsible for them, without really knowing what to do. 
But I somehow felt a need to engage with this person who wanted to be so close to our community ("our"? That's not how I would have felt a year ago), yet was so remote from understanding it. I was ashamed of my own lack of empathy, so later on, I spoke to him again, trying to explain why I'd said what I did.  The point is, that a community, much like a relationship, isn't something you can judge from the outside, nor can you become part of it just by saying that you want to be.  I could tell he genuinely wanted to be part of something better and to do something good - just had no idea how. So I suggested to him, with all my own failings in mind since I got here, that he should really talk to people first, to find out what is needed, what he can do, where he could make a difference.  I explained that drink and drugs don't go down too well here - we're a tiny place where anything that gets out of control has a massive impact as we can't contain it. 
Strange how I felt I had to leap to the defence of a community I haven't known how to deal with myself much of the time.   I had a really strong sense of needing to tell it as it is - not to let people romanticise what life is like here, not to set us up as some kind of antidote to the rest of the world.  We are part of that world too.  A different part maybe, but still dealing with the same issues as most other people - how to live with other people, how to create our own livelihood here...and what I find most upsetting, the assumption that we all just doss about as we don't live in the Real World.  Well, as I explained to one regular Rum visitor who was telling me that the young guy was a "good soul" who had just "never had much money" - none of us have much money, in fact most of us have at least two jobs to make ends meet.  He obviously saw me as a rampant capitalist intent on screwing the last cent out of someone who had nothing.  I'm not really (even if I don't do free coffee refills!).  I just wanted the responsibility we all have for our island, to be shared by the people who visit it.

But it wasn't just that.  To be honest, the reason I'd spoken to "Jesus" was more about remembering how lost I was at 19 and how much I desperately needed people's feedback about what I was doing and the effect I had on them, on the world.  Did I have any effect at all?  I needed to know. But that can be true just as much now as it was then. I've often had the sense here either that you have way too much responsibility, or not enough.  I never know how I am affecting the community, though I hope it's more positive than negative. Poor Jesus.  He had no idea that his simple "I heart Rum" outlook would meet with such a forceful response and I expect he just wanted people to be nice to him. I will try. But that's a whole new challenge...
Bridge that gap...dog and me