Jonathan: Here in Uist – little more than a scattering of rocks perched on the shelf of the Atlantic – we are very much at the mercy of the elements. And not just in agriculture: in bad weather the visitors stay in their holiday cottages and don’t go out spending money; and whilst they’re staying cosy inside, the wind is tearing away at our roofs or breaking down our fences, or trying its best to snatch away into oblivion anything not bolted down and set in concrete. Since the fine weather broke in the first few days of May, it has never been less than very windy, and frequently gale force: mild and wet from the south or west, cold and dry from the north or east, but from wherever it comes and whatever burden of rain, salt or sand it carries, it has been very destructive.There is scarcely a tree bush or plant that doesn’t look utterly traumatized, with blackened shredded leaves (if not torn off entirely), broken branches … The promise of a good black-currant harvest has at best been halved (but if the leaves don’t re-grow the bushes won’t be able to support and ripen what’s left), and with the growing haulms of the potatoes reduced to blackened mush we may not get any potatoes at all. The tomatoes in the greenhouses are fine, the bees in their hives (consuming expensive sugar syrup to keep themselves warm) and the hens are safe enough in their own sheds, but there’s no-one out and about to buy anything. Worst of all is that there will simply be less food for us to eat in the year ahead, and there’s little income from elsewhere to fill the gap. Just a month ago we felt full of hope that our efforts were not in vain, perhaps even worthwhile, but to watch our livelihoods and our basic sustenance slowly destroyed hour by hour and day by day, with absolutely nothing you can do to stop it, is heart-breaking. At times like this we really do wonder whether we should sell up and do something else, somewhere else. But what and where? No doubt the arable farmer of East Anglia may be at this moment asking himself the same question, having been encouraged by last year’s good grain prices, but this year facing a drastically reduced harvest due to drought! There is no such thing as the good life: all we can hope for is to find a wee corner of this world where we feel we can fit in, and then make the best of it we can, through thick and thin, fair weather and foul. And truth be told that’s pretty much where we are right now. So, when the winds have finally given up (not until next week according to the forecast – into June!) we’ll just have to get outdoors and pick up the pieces, clear up the mess and get on with things. Right now as I write the sun is shining from a broad blue sky, but the north wind is far too strong (and bitterly cold with it!) to do anything outdoors. However this afternoon I have a site meeting in Barra for the wind turbine project, so am off on the 1pm ferry and back around 6pm. I do hope the visiting business person we’re meeting today has had the good sense to bring walking bootsand outdoor gear: the last came in casual wear and with no hat at all, so we could spend no more than the bare minimum of time outdoors.
Jonathan: With all the painting at both Carrick and Askernish now finished, I started today with a treat: a lovely crisp and clean brand new boiler suit and a matching pair of dark blue work gloves. Now I can step out into the world look it back in the face ;~) But after pride comes …. an overflowing septic tank. [Those of a particularly orderly disposition accustomed to other folk doing their dirty work are advised at this point to find another blog to browse – can I suggest Charlie and Camilla’s?] Our tank is not really big enough, and with me in exile last year the clean-out got missed last year. Anyway, there’s Denise and I this afternoon, struggling with a 30m length of armoured so-called flexible hosing, our submersible pump and spattered with … now don’t grimace, it’s only like on a dairy farm, spreading the contents of the slurry tank onto the fields. Anyway, this evening, cleaned up and cheered up with a bottle of wine we could celebrate a job well done: untimely and unwelcome it is true, but over the past 8 years our £650 pump has now more than paid for itself (a pump out by Scottish Water costs over £150, an emergency visit far more); but our compost heaps greatly enriched as well. (Photo: outlet from pump is 50mm, unit is about 350mm high, but weighs ~20kg!!) Aren’t those daffodils beautiful! Mmmm, those tomatoes really are tasty!
Jonathan: D is right. So much done, but when, and what? It’s all a blur! Let’s think now: Indoors repairs, maintenance and decorating finished at Askernish, and some guests – ah yes the first night of their 4-night visit was spent in a B&B in Oban due to bad weather, and once they’d eventually arrived it was wet, grey and windy all the while – until they boarded the ferry back to the mainland! Coming off the same boat were guests for Carrick, who enjoyed a week of fine sunny days, with the daffodils in bloom and the birds and bees all a-stir with the excitement of spring. Before these guests arrived we’d completed all the indoors tidying up, re-decorating and deep-cleaning after all the work on the doors, but didn’t manage to get all the larch cladding back around the windows – there’s a few difficult ones still to do and then all the disturbed cladding to repaint. I’ve given the high hen house a ‘deep clean’ with pressure washer, and altered the layout so that the straw on the floor (and the nesting boxes over that) is now where the wind doesn’t drive rain through the rubble stone wall – so I won’t need to change the straw so often. In the same hen house I’ve added to the three-year occasional series of failed attempts to stop the birds perching in the roof trusses from where they can crap over anything and everything, including me – especially me!: a plastic mesh (ususally used to protect fruit bushes from birds) was simply torn to shreds. (The milestone in this case is that I’ve concluded finally the only way to deal with this is to modify the trusses so that there’s no horizontal perch rail to perch on at all!). The doors we removed from Carrick have been collected and gone back to the supplier – almost two years after Carrick was first ‘completed’! – and that frees up at long last a huge part of the workshop floor!). We’ve planted trees at Askernish, Carrick and our own garden: here we’ve also moved huge New Zealand flaxes to create a new planting layout around the new shop, I mean studio. We’ve cleared out the old shop ready for eventual demolition/dismantling for firewood. D has planted the first potatoes of this year, and we’ve been carrying trays of tomatoes seedlings evening and morning between greenhouse and the warmth of our own house. There’s more hens eggs in the incubators for hatching, and in other folks’ incubators as well, as we’ve continued selling hatching eggs on ebay, though this weekend will be the last of these for this year as demand has now all but fizzled out. At Askernish I’ve spent days picking away at loose masonry paint and render, and making good the render (the traditional form here is a single coat that is really just a fine-aggregate concrete. I’ve updated websites, refurbished all hive components, repaired a leaking exhaust pipe on my car, sawn up wood for the fire. Denise has finished my Eriskay gansey – and I’ve worn it to three public meetings in as many days (not that anyone took any notice); today she’ll finish her own also: photos will follow soon! In and amongst all this I’ve somehow found the time to continue working on the design of Burnt Mill Roundabout on the A414 in Harlow, Essex, advising on the condition of the bridge on the machair track at Kilpheder, and continuing discussions about getting involved in a major engineering project not far from here – but more on that in good time. Phew. All this in just a fortnight – and yet my back has got better, not worse (thanks in good measure to daughter Catherine’s remonstrations on good posture). My, I could do with a mug of coffee!
Jonathan: Over to the beach at Smercleit Taobh a Deas this afternoon for another trailer load of seaweed: a beautiful sunny afternoon, which helped compensate for the stiffness and soreness in my back from so much digging, lifting and carrying over the past week or so. The trailer has a 1 tonne capacity but with (in this case relatively dry) seaweed – even when loaded to the top I doubt the weight exceeds 400kg. However every scrap of seaweed will have been forked four times by the time it is on the compost heap (beach to barrow, barrow to trailer, trailer to barrow, barrow to compost). A year later it is turned over by transferring to the next compost (immediately adjacent, thank heavens!), but then two more lifts (compost to barrow, barrow to ground) to get it onto the ground where it will be used. So every 1 tonne of raw compost on the beach amounts to 7 tonnes of forking. No wonder my back hurts. I wonder if I can get an aerial ropeway on ebay? ;~) Tilly came home just as tired as me – from amusing herself on the beach whilst I worked!
Jonathan: Blackbird singing in the dead of night … That’s from The Beatles ‘white album’. Have you ever heard a blackbird sing at night? It’s not the golden song of spring we all love so much, sung from rooftops or high boughs and heard on the wind and far afield. No, it’s more a quiet whistling, heard from amongt the wood-pile – I’ve had to stand perfectly still just to hear it. It’s as if the bird were practicing in private, or comforting itself in the dark and dreich of a storm, as we might ourselves whistle in the dark to keep our own fears at bay (as I did myself as a child!). It’s not just at night either, but at any time outside the nesting season. And today, as I paused in my digging to catch my breath, that is what I heard – barely discernible from the noisy jostling by the wind of the little thicket in the corner of the garden, close by my work. I held my breath, told my heart I would be obliged if also it would cease its noisy thumpings for a few moments at least, and looked out for that little bird. The sound ceased, and then a slight shifting in the arrangement of browns and greys, and behold, there she was – a beautiful female blackbird on the handle of my spade. She looked about at my excavations, dropped silently down and picked over a few grains of soil and sand, and then – away she flitted with a morsel of worm or some other delicacy. Her companion – for to my knowledge it is only the male that sings, whether the song of spring of summer or the winter whistling – remained unseen, but as I resumed my work, I felt sure he would also make a close inspection of my work as soon as I gave it up. And at that point it occurred to me that I really was getting more wet and muddy than even the urgency of this job justified.