Jonathan: One day you’re 17 – a juvenile and free of all cares; the next you’re 18 and burdened with all the responsibilities of adulthood. Apparently. Ten years ago right now, heading home from our first visit to the Outer Hebrides (and just two days before that our first visit to the walled garden), Denise and I were camped for the night off a quiet road between Moffat and Lockerbie. It was a still quiet evening, moodily overcast, a moment of stand-still between early summer vigour and the slow decline towards autumn. The following months we tossed and turned, the clamouring hopes and nagging fears held at bay with a mantra of ‘it’s now or never’. But within six months we were here at An Garradh Mor, cast off from almost all the familiar and trusted hold-fasts of life. Ten years on and today’s my 55th birthday, and yesterday’s hopes have become today’s to-do list: The fears? Well, many just melted away; but others persist as worry lines. The ages of man are redefined by each generation to suit itself; but was there ever a generation content to be known as ‘middle aged’ – neither one thing nor another? Yes, Denise and I are growing a bit faded and worn at the edges, but as to being in our middle age, I look around at all the many projects in progress, and the even more numerous daily tasks, and I have to admit we certainly always seem to be in the middle of something! And I expect tomorrow will be just the same.
Jonathan: Yes, at the Big Garden, 1 May is indeed Runrig Day! Since we first got Runrig’s ‘In Search of Angels’ album, every 1 May I’ve plaid Maymorning full volume with all the windows wide open – a celebration of new life rising, an affirmation of everything the song has to say. The words stir the soul, but the music makes the body jump with joy! The other tracks of this album are also especially life-affirming, acknowledging the value of all the conditions we face over the years, from joy to sadness, hope to despair, from love anew to the loss of a loved one. This Maymorning, this May Day, has been a fulfillment of all our winter-cherished hopes for fine weather, warmth and ease. Today has been glorious! Clear blue skies; warming sun with no more than a light cooling breeze, the grass greening and growing so well we can hear it!; the white sands and the many-hued seas and the familar outlines of the islands; fishing boats about their work; lambs skipping and their mothers baa-ing, gannets a-diving … If, to you, life is but years of work and possessons, then come you to Uist in May, and see life afresh, see life as it truly is, with the eyes of angels!
Jonathan: When we first got bees, more than two years ago now, I got stung and reacted very badly – painful swelling that spread over the body and on one occasion virtually immobilized me for at least a fortnight. After several visits to the doctor, it became apparent that bee stings provoked my immune system to go into overdrive. For some such a reaction can be fatal, and after one occasion when the doctor had to come round to the house to inject a huge dose of steroids, I was asked whether it might be wiser to give up the bees. Fortunately I soon discovered that taking two anti-histamine tablets immediately on being stung prevented any reaction. Until the other day. I had unwisely started a ‘quick’ check on one hive when one bee stormed angrily out of the hive and went straight for my wrist and gave me a sting that would make me think again before disturbing the bees at their work! It hurt so much – immediately – that I went into a bit of a panic. I took the tablets as usual, but the pain continued and it was obvious I was reacting. I took two more tablets an hour later, but no effect – the redness and swelling was spreading fast and my heart rate was up and my mind spinning. After three or four hours and no sign of improvement, the surgery was long since closed for the weekend, and I had no choice but to phone for emergency help. After wasted time with NHS24 and answering services that didn’t answer, I phoned A&E at the hospital in Benbecula and they said come right over and we’ll do something. So down north we went, Denise driving, into the hospital … the treatment was steroids … as tablets. What an anti-climax. Anyway, it was obvious with a half hour or so they were doing the trick: 30 tablets and a couple of days later and I was back to normal. But why the over-reaction when normally I’m fine? I now suspect that the key is to remain calm when stung. When I discovered that anti-histamines worked, it reassured me and I remained very calm when stung, just carefully pulling out the sting and taking the tablets – then resuming my work. But for some reason this time I panicked – just as I did when stung when we first had bees. I believe the panicking sets off the adrenalin, and that excites the immune system to over-react. Not a theory I’m particularly keen to put to a rigourous programme of testing!
Jonathan: Nine years ago today, about this time of the evening, D and I were driving south along the M74 looking out for a place to pull up for the night in our motorhome. That morning we’d boarded the ferry from Lochmaddy in North Uist, heading back home to Shropshire. It was my 45th birthday and I felt keenly that I was at a turning point in my life. The day before, the last day on our tour of the Outer Hebrides, we’d discovered that the old walled garden with a modern house in it we’d spotted a day or two before was to be put up for sale. We’d always had a fancy for a walled garden, and indeed we’d lived in one before, in Bavaria in the mid 1990s. Our time there was the result of personal will; but this felt different – something outside of us, bigger than us, drawing us forward. Either we stepped back from the riptide of fate – and made our own way in life under our own steam as before; or we just waded in and let the current take us where it would. I remember now the extraordinary feeling I’d had that day, standing in the walled garden, with the sweet scent of grass warmed by the summer sun, and not a sound but the gentle lapping of waves on the beach across the road, the drowzy flies amongst the Veronica flowers, and the sound of a dog barking across the water in Barra – it was really that still!. It was if the walled garden and us had each been waiting for that moment, and time itself had paused awhile, wating to see which way it would go. Six months later we’d moved in; and since that day, in storm or stillness, anxiety or delight, plenty or dearth, there’s never been a day anything less than profoundly enriching.
Jonathan: I’m struggling to shake off the back pain I’ve been suffering for a month or so now: it’s really painful trying to get up out of a chair and near impossible stand or walk straight. I do get back trouble from time to time, but I usually find the best remedy is to carry on pretty much as usual, though taking things relatively gently. But right now there’s too many heavy loads to carry and too much anxiety and stress – which I know are a big factor in back trouble. However I guess if I persevere it’ll help to toughen me up. All the work I’ve been doing over the past few months, I’ve now lost 35lbs, down from 15 to 12 1/2 stone. I’ll just have to tighten my belt!