Jonathan: We’ve sold our central heating system – and today it was taken away (apart from lengths of copper pipe in the walls or under the floors). The rogue who sold this house to us had to put a new oil-fired boiler in as the old one packed up just before the sale went through! But the rest of the system is more than 20 years old, ill-designed and very inefficient. We’ve never been able to justify using it on an every-day basis, even in winter, and only switched it on occasionally and briefly to keep it in working order or when Jack Frost wasn’t content with sleeping in the wood store, but wanted to come indoors! (Very rare that – the Gulf Stream makes for mild winters here). It’s our long term plan to renovate the house and improve insulation and good electric heating, but in the meantime we could do with every penny we can, so we decided to turn a liability into cash. Advert placed at the Co-op: £120 for 28kW boiler in good working order, buyer disconnects and transports, but can have any other fittings wanted – all for the same price. Better than having to pay someone to dismantle it and take it the tip. So for this winter and quite probably a few more besides, we’ll be relying mainly on the electric Aga in the kitchen, the wood burning stove (in the evenings) and a few portable electric heaters in other rooms when the cold becomes unbearable! Next is the oil in the oil tank – 200 litres at say 50/litre: buyer does all the work but can have the tank for free: anyone interested?
Jonathan: The life of the crofter in the 21st century. Up 6am – shower, get dressed. Breakfast and washing up the pots with Denise. 7am – check emails, and into civil engineer mode for a quick reply about changes to the railway crossing at Royston in Hertfordshire. 7:30am – into crofter mode for drive to the Eriskay to feed and the hens and collect eggs, scatter some grain for the geese and make sure they all have access to clean water. Then the sheep – a quick count and a small offering of sheep nuts, just to keep them friendly – not that 0008 needs any encouragement! 8:30am – start work on fixing guttering to Hi Hen House, but discover I need a ladder to reach one corner, but ladder at home so decide to do something else. Walking back to the car our guests at Carrick come out to speak to me. Everything okay? No! Ah but nothing wrong with the house – it’s lovely – but alas their 12-yr old spaniel died this morning. They’d rushed to the vet in Benbecula but it died in the surgery. Apparently it had pneumonia. But they have a problem: where to bury the dog? So switch to grave-digger mode for half-an-hour or so whilst I struggle to find somewhere where the rock has more than just a few inches of soil over it! Ah yes, at the head of the peaty valley, where we’ve been planting trees. Wet ground, but easy digging. I got some straw to line the grave with and then left our guests to a private moment to bury their dog. Switch to builder mode to continue a drystane wall I’m building to provide more shelter by Hi Hen House. And then back to tidying up the grave. Off with the trailer to the skip at Acarsaid Mhor to dispose of accumulated cardboard boxes, rubbish from the shore etc; and then put up some notices about us buying this year’s sheep fleeces. Home for a clean up, a good coffee and toast with D’s amazing lemon curd. 11:30am – half an hour or so of work designing a website for someone’s holiday cottage business. Noon: A simple lunch of bread, cheese, home-grown salads, fruit and a very welcome cup of tea. Back to engineering for some emails about geotechnical report for a beach landing of wind turbine in Barra. Then boiler suit back on, and load up the car with tripod, total station, a flame gun and a petrol strimmer. 1:30pm drive to Askernish, and thankfully the guests are out for the afternoon so I got straight on with strimming the grass and burning off the weeds – a very noisy and smelly job all told! 3:15pm – tools back in the car just as guests return to cottage, and drive back south to the mill stream outfall at Tipperton on the very SW tip of South Uist. Clamber all over the rocky shore marking spots with red spray paint to come back to later to survey; set up total station over permanent marker I installed a week ago (when I came this way to walk the dog) and sighted five trig points on distant hills (one in Barra about 9km away!) to establish my position by a procedure called re-section. 4:30pm – back to the house to persuade D and Becky that we should have an early meal and then go and do the survey work. But Becky has gone out for a walk … Wound up a skein of hand-spun merino wool into a ball for D. D reports that whilst I’ve been out she’s sold almost £200 of items from The Hebridean Woolshed, plus eggs, preserves and fresh produce, all whilst she’s been spinning wool and making two batches of spicy marrow chutney and one of gooseberry and raspberry jam. When Becky is back and we’ve eaten, I drive over to Tipperton to set up ahead of D and Becky only to find the tide is already too high. Back to the house just in time to stop them leaving in D’s car. What to do now? Ah yes, make first ever order with Tesco Online for delivery to a carrier in Glasgow and forwarding to us here in Uist (Tesco have until now been unwilling to deliver directly to anything other than a mainland residential address). Carriage charges saved twice over by savings on staples for jam making. And then a little light browsing on the internet, looking up various things of interest … and watch the news … and some time together with D and Becky and the cats and Tilly talking and making things. 11:30pm – still light as I take Tilly for a walk along the road and then a run back along the crest of Cnoc a Deas, but Tilly comes back with a limp and blood dripping from her front offside paw, so a bit of a fuss and a palaver as we persuade her to keep still whilst we bathe it in TCP solution. The doggy treat helped. 11:30pm – talked to the goose eggs in the incubator – it encourages them, you know – and would you believe it there’s chirruping back from inside the eggs! On closer inspection there’s cracks in the shells of some, so they’ll start hatching tomorrow!! 11:45 – still not dark as eventually we all climb into our beds and fall soundly asleep at the first drop of the eyelids.
Jonathan: A milestone in repairing the great wall around the garden – An Gàrradh Mòr! When we first came here in 2002, there was a huge stone fallen out of the middle of the south-facing wall, so big – and extending almost half-way through the wall as well, that repairs there were a high priority, if not actually very urgent. But by the time I first started repairs back in 2003 it had become apparent that the big stone had fallen out a number of years before, and there was no immediate threat of collapse: so instead I started at the South Gate and and worked westwards – surely it would only be a matter of months before I got that big gap anyway? Well the gap didn’t seem to gape any more as the months went by – and neither did it seem any worse as various new presing projects and really urgent repairs monoplized the to-do list for 2004 , then 2005, and then after the great hurricane all our priorities changed. But a couple of months ago, as I walked past the big fallen stone with my almost ritualistic draw of breath and a murmered pledge to do something about it as soon as I could, I noticed another smaller stone on top of the big one, and on the grass around them a scattering of crumbling old lime mortar. Oh dear, a sure sign that things really have started to get worse – perhaps the deep frost of December was the cause, but whatever it was, I could no longer go on putting this off. So, today, for the first time in at least two years, out came the ladder, the masonry tools, buckets and hose pipes, a big bin of lime mortar (I’ve had half a tonne in store for about 6 years!) and a wheelbarrow to fetch shell sand from the beach. And during the course of today I have repaired that gaping hole. Thankfully it was no higher than my chest, so despite its huge size I was able to lift it – I could never have got it up a ladder, and it readily found a position where it’s own weight (around 70-80 kg!) kept it in place without having to rely on packing. And despite the loss of so much original packing stone and mortar around and behind it, I found I was able to reach every nook and cranny to ensure a complete fill of the void. In short, it went extremely well. Assuming no great disaster befalls the wall in the coming years, this will probably be the biggest single stone I will have to replace in the wall, and to to think it has been lying there on the grass nagging me almost every day for the past nine years! So, with that milestone behind me, I now feel renewed confidence and commitment to repairing the wall. But when I will reach even the south-west corner, I dare not even guess, and as to completing the whole wall, I think that’ll be the generation after me.