Quick nurse, more towels!

Doom? Here?

I wasn't going to write this blog again, but so much is happening, and besides – our relationship with Rum isn't over yet...

Is it really March already? Could it be - gulp - nearly spring?
The answer to that, judging by the weather, is a resounding No. Since Saturday, storms have brought so much rain that water is now pouring down the walls...and if you think that sounds cosy, with us perched in our armchairs in front of the fire, while the storm howls outside - try imagining it with the water pouring down inside the walls rather than outside them.

On Saturday night about 10 pm, Mel shouted to me to come fast, the Billiard Room was flooding. I ran downstairs and while we manoeuvred the Japanese lacquer screen, the delicate Mah Jong set and the Edwardian chairs out of the way of the leaks in the ceiling, Mel told me that the cover Billy had left over the roof wasn't enough and rain was coming through where he'd taken the tiles off. He's away til Tuesday...
And above the Billiard Room, we soon found, the water was flooding down from the roof into the Court Room (aka Room of Doom) which we never go in, as one of its walls is black with rot from long-ago floods and the ceiling is disintegrating. Rain was drip, drip, dripping from the torn wallpaper, and in the light of our headtorches (there is no electric light in there) we saw how it shone prettily as it cascaded down the once-pink walls, straight into the floorboards and out the other side on to the Persian carpets downstairs.
I ran for towels in the laundry room while Mel performed emergency operations with towels and buckets. As I was down there, I glanced down at the cellar; and as I returned all I had to say, in an off-hand manner, was "Mel, the cellar..." It was flooding again. Of course. We looked at each other and laughed; what was a catastrophe for much of the winter now seems like the least of our problems; practice has taught us how to fix that!

You should always know where your towel is
But the water was three inches deep, approaching the boiler ignition again, so something had to be done. While Mel in all her waterproofs went out in the gale to get the pump going, I ran back and forth between the old hostel kitchens. Inspired by the giant metal roasting tins, still stacked up idly in the old kitchens, I lined them up against the wall to collect the rain, then did the same upstairs, while Mel arrived and cunningly put jaycloths in place all along the generous Edwardian skirting boards, to help guide the drips into the pans.

We have a system!
Once we'd dealt with the most immediate emergency, the rain started to fall even harder and Mel ran downstairs again, before shouting up to come and help with the pump. By this time it was midnight, and donning my waterproofs and a headtorch I went out into the gale. Where on earth was she? Over in the distance, a small figure only just visible in the rain and wind was shouting at me: "Can you help me with the pipe?" We strode out into the night, view restricted to the few metres ahead but with our ears full of the noise of the storm in the trees all around us which worryingly, we couldn't see at all.  Sinking into the mud with each step while the rain blew into our faces, we eventually found the old concrete pipe next to the giant kerosene tank.
 The pipe may not look special - just an old, raggedy concrete pipe - but secretly, it's part of our hi-tech kit for making sure the plastic tube that comes out of the pump doesn't just blow away. It was heavy - not to mention chipped at the edges - and we struggled back  through the mud with it before lining it up with the pump.
Now the really cutting edge technology was needed... a big stick that we could tie to the pump tubing before dropping it into the concrete pipe and hoping it came out again at the other end...I cleverly inserted the stick into the blue plastic tubing, feeling rather medical as I did so, and made sure it didn't fall out of the tube by tying it up with some old baler twine. "Lift the pipe at one end!" I bawled at Mel over the roar of the wind, and as she lifted as high as she could, I dropped in the tube with its stick...
"Wiggle it about a bit!"
"Ooh, Matron!"
So Mel wiggled and I pushed and, in a scene that might have been straight from Call the Midwife, Mel yelled, "Can you see it coming out yet?" and I ran to the other end of the pipe and knelt down nobly in the mud (although I was wearing Mel's trousers, so it wasn't really very noble). "Yes! I can reach it!" And with a last effort I managed to grab onto the stick and the tubing and triumphantly pulled it out so we could remove the stick and attach the tube to the pump. Once all was in place, Mel pulled the starter string and the engine revved...it was pumping!

Covered in mud (and some petrol) we returned full of virtuous pride to the castle. We'd not only saved the Billiard Room from disaster, but possibly the heating too. And despite the rain, the gales and the cold, I felt warm and toasty, and even quite excited...although Mel was less excited knowing she'd have to check the buckets and the tins every few hours to make sure they weren't full yet...

And for the rest of the night, the next day and the next night we honed our system of tins, buckets and jaycloths, pouring off a gallon of water every hour at one point as the rain reached new volumes and hailstorms hit us. At around 5.30 pm on Sunday, as Mel gave up and went for a nap, I ran down to the Billiard Room with more towels just in case; everything was fine, but as I looked out of the window, the sky suddenly lit up.

I went upstairs again to look out properly, and it was as if a huge floodlight had been turned on, bathing castle, mountains and sea in a dramatic, ominous mood. A storm light was turning the Sound to a lowering dark orange grey colour with a line of dark blue at the horizon, the sea's surface wrinkling and shimmering like a thickening sauce, as if the currents beneath the surface were pushing it into uncomfortable, cramped folds. Meanwhile the sky and the hills were a dirty gold, the grass on the meadows a shiny bright unnatural looking green. I was nervous. Then the hail struck in a huge storm, and instantly the water on the glass roof of the covered walkway turned to thick ice.

But at least it had stopped raining. For a few hours.

Our vigil continued throughout the night until today, when instead of pouring rain or hail, we had a blizzard! Actual snow swirled around the castle, for the first time I can remember.

The winter is coming into its own at the moment; these storms have been going on with no let-up for nearly three weeks now, and there's no end in sight just yet. It's a strange feeling, as despite the weather, the days are getting longer, and birds are starting to sing again. It's odd to think that this time last year, I was still caught in an awful spiral of depression, darker and less definable than the sea out in the bay this morning, unable to see a future, hardly able to sleep. But now, despite the winter, I am happy. 

Though in a way it is sad to lose the sense of shock and naivety over Rum. Without it, I wouldn't have changed anything in my life, and I almost grieve for the loss of that newness. Almost, not quite; I'm glad I no longer feel that terror, am no longer lost to myself.  Now Rum feels familiar, the things that happen here month by month are anticipated. I understand (sort of) what the weather is likely to do, how the paths change, how the earth behaves. I have adapted. I no longer try to walk every day no matter what the weather; I slow down, I stay in the warmth. I eat as much as I need to, I do what is needed to keep us warm, safe and comforted, as far as possible. I recognise my sense of alienation from the islanders, but rather than blaming them or myself, I also recognise that this will change once I start to actually do something for the island again. Once spring is here, and the season starts, we'll all start coming together again – things will happen, our isolation, each in our own small fortress against the winter, will change.

We've talked a lot about what may happen when we leave, and there is so much to do before then. The castle's current vulnerability makes me realise how much I still want it to be saved, how much work I still need to do, to tell people what it means, to write it all down, talk to the people who might be able to help. The brevity of summer makes me realise how despite my sense of familiarity with the island, there's still so much I don't know, so many places I haven't been to – up mountains, along lochs, down pony tracks. There is still a season to work through, tourists to welcome, a tea-shop to run, an archive to catalogue (half done now!).

But most importantly, we've said, we don't want to lose what we've learnt here. We fear returning to our former mainland selves – the discontent, the lack of resilience, the laziness (why not just drive to the shop!), the continual sense of disquiet and restlessness. I guess we won't know until we go back, but I think, I hope, we won't lose anything we've found. And there's still six months to go – six months to be surprised at all the other things you can find on Rum.

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