Eight days a week

 As the days get longer, tempers get shorter - at least as far as this particular resident of Rum is concerned. I remember this from last year. Spring is on its way - but not quite there yet; tourists are starting to visit - but we're not quite prepared for them; those last-minute jobs that need to be done before the season starts (little things like mending the electricity, stopping the castle flooding and filling the giant potholes in the roads that winter storms have caused) are living up to their name and the last minute is ticking unstoppably on...in fact those sixty seconds appear to have expanded into something like a couple of months, and we still can't fit everything in. Even if it did feel as though we'd had an eight-day week this week, with two sunrises in the course of a few hours on Friday...

But things are happening. And it's not just the strange appearances in the sky that herald the start of spring (besides the solar eclipse, Rum had its first northern lights since we've been here, although we didn't notice, due to falling into a deep slumber at 10 pm and not waking till 8 the next morning...we had a good excuse though...). The frayed tempers, frantic organising and general sense of underlying panic are just the price we pay for Getting Things Done - as though we'd suddenly been hit by a burst of sudden energy that we're not really sure what to do with. Also, of course, they are down to Rum itself.

Eclipse skies

Over the past few weeks I've noticed that all of us here talk about Rum as if it were an entity in its own right, with an overpowering personality, capricious moods (oh yeah) and the ability to throw you off your course just as you were getting comfortable. Comfortable? We can't have that! It'll be complacency next! We groan and sometimes want to throw things back at this island that throws so much at us; but in the next minute, Rum does what it always does and entrances us with its wonders, so that part of us thinks we can never leave.

This past week, we've veered between exhaustion and exasperation on the one hand and exhilaration and excitement on the other. And some general "just nice" stuff in between. Gearing up for the season to start, and for the Rum Open Day on Tuesday, some of us launched ourselves at the Village Hall on Saturday, to remove the months of mud, cigarette ends, bits of old candle, sweet wrappers, broken toys and empty wine bottles that have accumulated there over the winter. The usual suspects turned up - Claire, Nicola, Sean, Debs, Trudi and eventually Mike joined Mel and me in a determined assault on the chaos. I scrubbed the fridge and freezer, cleaned the oven and did my best to create a kitchen that doesn't offend against any hygiene regulations, while Nicola cleaned all the windows til they sparkled, Claire painted the toilet doors and Mel donned full protective apparel to clean the toilets themselves. Meanwhile Debs scrubbed the stage, Trudi rearranged and polished all the furniture and Sean moved the internet to the pulpit which unaccountably lives in the hall, so that we have re-christened the internet station the "Pulpanet".

The decking outside the hall - now clean and fit for eclipse-watchers!
It was a cold sunny day and after a while, as rubbish bags collected and wood began to shine, the hall began to look like an inviting and even cosy space again. With a sense of triumph we cooked a meal for us all and ate it by candle-light in the hall, feeling not only slightly smug but also that nearly forgotten sense of what it's like to do something as a team on Rum and to enjoy celebrating our achievement with each other, not just alone. And it paid off - on Tuesday, as the visitors arrived and Steve and I served the lunch we'd made for them (baking and cooking frantically on Monday), our guests from Fort William, Skye and further afield seemed to feel at ease and told us how much they were enjoying seeing our wonderful island. True, they had wonderful weather and - a bonus - saw a sea eagle after they'd been on the castle tour - how could they resist us after that? But I'd forgotten how nice it is to see people from "the outside" and see how much they marvel at Rum and at our ability, which I sometimes doubt, to live here. I feel the usual pride mixed with a need to tell them what it's like when the sun isn't shining - but also a need to see myself through their eyes, and to wonder at what we've managed to achieve since being here. It gives us a way of measuring ourselves - how far we've come, where we might be heading.

FAM event (Open Day) in our shiny Village Hall
But I'd forgotten how truly exhausting it is to run the tea-shop...a taste of things to come!

On Wednesday I thought I might start to relax, and a hot sunny day led to me taking an adventurous route off-piste, leaving the Nature Trail to find my way across the glen - sploshing through the bog and the overflowing burns, I realised after about a mile that I was never going to make it all the way to the junction. Nonetheless, it was the first time I'd been on a "new" path for a while, and I felt that excitement mingled with apprehension that still accompanies me when I go off the beaten track (although all the tracks here are beaten, usually by deer or goats; it's how they come into existence in the first place). Returning to the castle, I was all set to sit and drink tea and fall asleep over my book - but Rum had other plans. "Mind if I just come up and test the cooker, Em?" Colin greeted me. Within a few minutes, I was learning that our cooker - which Colin only installed twenty months ago, when I first arrived - has now met its fate. Colin is finally condemning it! "It's giving off poisonous levels of gas," I was informed.
"Oh, dear," I murmured. I looked at Colin despairingly. "How am I going to cook?" I had visions of my cake-based livelihood slipping away...
"I'll see what I can do," promised Colin.
For the next couple of hours he ran back and forth telephoning various people, coming back to re-test things and tell me about his progress with the oven suppliers. Then the fire alarm went off.
Colin flew into a panic looking for Mel, who was looking for the room that the alarm had gone off in (with twenty bedrooms or so, it's not always easy to remember which room is which). Meanwhile I ambled gently down the corridor, inured to these false alarms - I should definitely try to feel a greater sense of urgency, but it's hard when the usual reason for the deafening sirens going off is "There's a spider in the alarm box".
And so the day went on. The next day was lively too. We were expecting the Friends to arrive (Friends of Kinloch Castle), a little group who tend to take over the island for a few days cleaning, tidying and asking lots of questions about what's going to happen next to the castle, the community and Rum. We were all slightly nervous; that view from the outside and that wonderful enthusiasm that can be so encouraging, can also be daunting; maybe this is how old-timer residents on the island feel when people like us, who've been here for only a matter of minutes really (two years is nothing much on Rum) make excited suggestions about how things could be different...I'd been mentally preparing myself for their arrival, while physically getting the hostel ready for them. Among other chores, I'd been enlisted to clean a freezer that had been left by Billy and the contractors and had defrosted itself and filled up with stinking water. Mel would have done it but "I'm not tall enough," she said. Just as I was coming to deal with it, dressed in an ancient fleece and armed with bits of old sponge, poor Colin came running down the corridor towards me. "Take a look at this!" he cried. The laundry room was flooding with water and more water was pouring out of a cracked in-pipe. I broomed and mopped the water away, while Colin wound reels of gaffer tape around the offending area. Then the Friends started to arrive...
Having dealt with the broken washing machine, the malodorous freezer and the arrival of our visitors, I thought I could shut myself into the study and get on with some work. But just then Mel turned up on the quad bike with a trailer of boxes - it was boat day, and the Co-op order had arrived. I dragged on my boots again and we lugged the heavy boxes upstairs, scissored through the twine they use to tie them up and discovered that there must be someone new on the Co-op team. Not only were there two of everything I'd ordered, but our shopping was packed in the most unusual fashion, with pesto next to butter and biscuits next to washing up liquid and frozen chips. The Co-op had also sent several packets of biscuits we hadn't ordered; a nice touch, probably because they didn't have something else that was on the list; they like to compensate us for these things, but it didn't make up for the chaos that was now ensuing. The corridor was full of boxes, the kitchen was full of things that needed to be put away, and seeing that I was on the verge of tears, Mel kindly volunteered to re-organise the freezer for me. Then she went back to work. I sipped my tea thoughtfully, looking out of the window and noticing there was a rusty iron skip outside the castle...why? Half an hour later a lorry came and took the skip away. A van bearing the name "FilPump" also stood outside the castle for a few hours – I still don't know who it belonged to...

Eventually I got the flat into some kind of order, but just as Mel got back from the hostel and had started drinking her tea the buzzer rang on the flat...during the enthusiastic cleaning that the Friends had been doing in the castle, one of the leaves of the dining room table had come loose and part of the electoliere that stands on the table had broken...Then it was time to go and get our veg from the shop in the rain. So we did that, and decided to have chips for tea – it seemed the only way. But Rum had one more surprise in store ( though by this time it wasn't really surprising) – just as we had got comfortably into our viewing of "The Good Wife" and the plot was developing nicely, the power went off. All around the village. The hydro has stopped working properly...so I washed up with my headtorch on and decided to give up on trying to relax. Sleep seemed the only thing to do...

A new road...

These are the things that can dominate our days at times - seemingly little things that can make you want to tear your hair out, or more likely just go to sleep. And this was why we missed the Northern lights. But the end of the week made up for everything. This is where the exhilaration comes into it...

Besides the eclipse, which we watched from the back of the hall, seeing a strange evening light falling across the mountains and hearing the birds start their night-time calls at 9 in the morning, we went to Kilmory. No, scrap that; we went to Kilmory! The McGowan boys, having worked all through the winter in the worst of the storms, up at 5 am every day, have nearly completed the new track to the other side of the island. 

and the digger that made it happen!
 So rather than walking for two hours down a rocky, awkward road, we can now freewheel down a smooth, exhilarating road in just half an hour to the huge deserted beach, walk over the headland and picnic in the sun before cycling (with somewhat more effort) back home again. With the added marvel of seeing two golden eagles on the way. At those moments, the power cuts, the broken washing machines, the uncomfortable politics, the stinking freezers - they just don't seem to matter quite so much, somehow. Though we may need a lot of these days out over the next few weeks...

Kelp beds and Canna in the background

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