Jonathan: No, this not about that great 60s-70s English blues and rock band of that same name … though come to think of it … No, no – must keep ‘on-subject’! This post is about Eight Askernish. Ten Years after renovation was completed (just! – only just!) and our first ever self-catering guests arrived! Ten years after to the day, 27 May 2006. Penny Ritson – and her husband, from Warwick on Eden in Cumbria (coincidentally just down the lane from where we used to live in Wetheral, when Denise and I were first married).
For us then, in 2006, buying a property – especially one in such poor condition – to renovate and let out was a major project – way out of our experience and comfort zone! The house had to be stripped back to just the bare concrete walls (and even those needed repairing): even the concrete floor was ripped up and all the incoming services replaced. In fact that turned out to be just the first of so much other and far bigger building projects … but that’s another post, for another time!
Here’s a slideshow from back then. And if Penny Ritson is reading this and would like to return some time, we’ll be happy to offer a generous discount as a thank you for putting up with our beginners’ blunders!
Both Denise and I would like to take this opportunity to thank our neighbour Domhnaill Iain MacIsaac of 9 West Kilbride South Uist for his hard work and patience in renovating Eight Askernish, and ten years of collaboration on so much building work and other projects. Tapadh leat, DJ!
Jonathan: Email notification this morning of the expiry in seven days of the domain jonathanbridge.co.uk . It’s the domain that we set up in early 2003, just after moving to Uist, for my self-employed professional work as a Chartered Civil Engineer. Using those words already seems strange – was that really me? – yet it’s not even a year since I ‘retired’ from all that. No leaving party or first pension payment – just a discontinuance. Or perhaps less sudden than that suggests – more a piece-meal letting go: unsubscribing, not renewing, thanks-but-no-thanks emails to offers of work, ignoring emails … until, eventually, there’s nothing to remind me of what dominated my life for 40 years. But not quite yet, it seems … or possibly ever: our home and our lives here in Uist are an enduring reminder of the good that came to us through that domain jonathanbridge.co.uk – and the good work done contributing to public works large and small throughout the UK and abroad, over four decades.
Jonathan: It was the mid 1970s when Denise and I met – both students in Portsmouth. It was too late to be hippies, too soon to be yuppies – and anyway just being ourselves was more than sufficient for us. So when we came across John Seymour’s ‘Self Sufficiency’ – the famous Dorling Kindersley ‘Complete Book of …’, then just new on the bookseller’s shelves – the path ahead to self-realisation opened out excitingly before us!
At first we assumed that continuing with our chosen careers would be the means of accumulating the wherewithal – money, skills, experience – to set out on a life of self-sufficiency, but as time passed and our family grew (and our finances groaned!), the destination appeared ever further out of reach, and ultimately unattainable. So we did what we could. Wherever we’ve lived – and our homes have been many and varied, we’ve found ways to put principle into practice, albeit never as comprehensively as in the Seymours’ many books – and certainly never as picturesquely! Spinning, weaving, making our own clothes, growing our own food, keeping poultry, home-baking, taking responsibility for our own education and entertainment: we did what we could according to the circumstances and opportunities that lay before us – and within us.
When, opportunities were few, our means too meagre, and the way ahead blocked at every turn, hopes of a more fulfilling life ebbed. But then – out of the blue – we’d stumble on fresh inspiration, and hope would spring anew! And then one day (and yes, it really happened just like that, as in a fairy tale!), when hope had all but died, the phone rang and …
… And here we are now, with land and livestock, workshops and websites, crafts and customers … But you know, in the end – and how ironic! – none of these has come from capital accumulated during our previous lives, for there was next to none : they are entirely the fruits of our labours (oh, and what labours!) since starting over.
Over the years we’ve revisited John Seymour’s writings many times, and have increasingly found the term ‘self-sufficiency’ to be unsatisfactory. It does not really do the job: it is misleading, self-centered, and ultimately self-defeating. There is no man or woman, or family, or community, that is sufficient unto itself. We need neighbours – all of us! But, having no better term for it, we describe our way of life – in respect also for another broadcaster and writer that inspired us, Jeanine McMullen – A Small Country Living in the Outer Hebrides.
Here in Uist, we do all we’ve ever done in our many homes over the years, all at the same time, and more besides. It’s hard work and no holidays, and outgoings always seem to prevail over incomings ; but in the moments we have to pause and reflect, we recognize that in our own do-what-we-can version of self-sufficiency, we have at last grown into the people we were so long just rehearsing to be.
To John Seymour, smallholder, teacher, broadcaster, writer – we owe respect and admiration. But we cannot think of John without instantaneously thinking of Sally Seymour, whose contribution to their partnership does not seem to receive the recognition she deserves. With a longer perspective, we now find the books we go back to again and again are John (and Sally’s!) earliest books on the subject, The Fat of the Land, and I’m a Stranger Here Myself, the first of which in particular captures the vigour, self-belief and buoyant hope of those pioneering days in the 1950s to early 1970s.