Jonathan: Hardly! Frankly, the dreariest Christmas I can ever recall, what with the never-ending barrage of wind and rain. This is without any shadow of doubt the worst autumn and winter since we moved to the islands more than nine years ago. And it’s not as if the earlier part of the year was much better. May – normally the best month of the year, and reliably so – was gales and rain from beginning to end: so little light and warmth that the tomatoes plants never really got going and we lost out both cash sales to tourists and tomatoes for ourselves, including preserved for the winter. Other crops suffered too – and the bees;. But to cap it all the rats – the winters here are too ‘mild’ to kill them off – are this year so numerous and so hungry that they’ve been digging up and eating our carrots and parsnips: they’ve got into the potting shed too and eaten or damaged lots of the potatoes. The nerve of it! But we can’t live without carrots: when the Co-op reopens after New Year we will indeed have to bury our pride and for the first time ever (in Uist) stop by the vegetable display, grit our teeth, master the strong impulse to throw up at the mere thought of having to actually choose something from that morgue-like display of dead vegetables – and buy some something to put on our plates. But where do we put them? I don’t know what mainland folk do, but we normally keep our vegetables in the ground until we need them: even in the depths of winter, we can go out into the garden and pick them for a meal that day – and they’re still alive. I suppose, they’ll have to go with the potatoes (which we do harvest in autumn and store – more a matter of convenience than necessity). Except that we’ve had to bring the potatoes into the house to keep them from the rats. Yes, the carrots will have to go in the weaving room too, then. At least there’s plenty of peas and beans in the freezer, and winter cabbage in the greenhouse – the rats haven’t got that far … yet!
Jonathan: Sales of garden produce – sales generally – plummeted at the end of August: it was if Calmac had simply cancelled all sailings from Oban until further notice – there’s scarcely been any visitors on the island since the beginning of September. And those that come aren’t for spending much. Campervanners are renown for bringing half the shelves of their home-town supermarkets with them and scarce a penny here; but this year it’s others too. A young couple declined the offer of juicy sweet freshly picked tomatoes because they’d brought their own home-grown with them – picked a fortnight earlier in the south of France! A regular guest at our Askernish cottage brought the essentials with her – from her local supermarket at home in Canada! Mind you that’s a different matter altogether: when I think of my morning ritual of fresh roast coffee and toast, I think I’d do the same. Too important to leave it to chance!
Jonathan: The last couple of days have been pretty windy, with a cyclonic storm rolling in from the mid-Atlantic. Today’s been quieter day with sunshine and showers and very mild, but tomorrow we’ll be under the far side of the cyclone; and after that they’ll be two or three days of south-westerlies, gale to severe gale force (the rump of Hurricane Katia, which battered Virginia and New York a week ago). With a view to the greenhouses being safe rather than us sorry, this afternoon we pulled out from the store all the 6in x 1in x 8ft boardsand re-fixed them to the wooden ‘exoskeletons’ of the greenhouses (of my own devising, and much commented-on by visitors to the garden). We do this every autumn, usually just before the equinox and the storms that come with it. Thanks to Katia we’re a month early: the tomatoes are still in the greenhouse with fruit still to ripen! Tilly came out to help, of course, though as we seemed to be getting on just fine without her she went woffling round the garden, looking for things to stick her nose into: which is course what dogs were created to do. Back she comes with something in her mouth which she looks very excited about. Not a bone, not a stick, not a ball (she’s chewed up all the balls she had). Not a gooseberry – they’re long since gone, and not a broad bean or a pea pod either. And not a potato because we can see some red. Come on Tilly, just what is it you’ve got there?. Okay so you don’t want to show us, you just want us to know you’ve got something that’s all yours because you found it. Oh you do want to show us! Well, well, well, where did you get that apple? And off she goes to show us – under the sycamore trees and into the tiny clearing in the SW corner of the wall, where about eight years ago we – rather naively! – planted apple trees. On the floor are a few more bruised and mis-shapen apples like the one Tilly had; but lo – the tree is laden and the branches curved down with rosy apples! And nearby another tree also is laden with apples, rather more green than rosie it is true, but that’s how that variety is meant to be. We’ve had a few apples from these trees before, but nothing like this! Back from the potting shed with a basket, D set about bringing in the harvest: but first to check the quality. Mmm! crisp and juicy, sweet and scented! Absolutely delicious! So there we were taking a break from our labours, in the eye of the storm, eating apples from our own trees no more than thirty paces from the Atlantic!