Denise: For many folk who come on holiday to Uist – especially the regulars, the islands offer an escape from the drudgery of daily life, the chance to ‘live the dream’ – if only for a week or two. The more active bring bicycles or walking boots or kayaks (and some bring them all!); for some it’s binoculars and cameras and wildlife guides; for a few it’s guns and fishing rods and wellies; and I suspect most bring a book to read in case it rains. But for a lovely couple who came to the Big Garden the other day, staying at house over Boisdale way, the ideal runs along differrent lines: he’d brought his Clarsach (the small Celtic harp). and she her bread-making machine. Now this I really do understand! Anyway, just in case you think that’s a bit over-the-edge, what about our neighbour and mentor Eòghann – an Mullach, the man of Mull. He came here to Uist in 1962 with a young wife and eventually set up a family croft between Stròm and Loch Baghasdal Taobh a Deas, where there was no road and the children had to go to school barefoot on horseback over the hill and anything and everything came to the house in a small boat from Lochboisdale. In 1967 he and the family made a rare holiday ‘back home’ to Mull: they took with them their croft milking cow, so that they could be sure of good wholesome milk for the children and anyway how else would the cow get milked? Seems reasonable enough to me – especially as the return fare for the cow on the ferry to Tobermory was just £1!
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: Guests leaving Carrick recently left a couple of complaints in the guest book. One was that the ventilation system ‘pumped’ pollen into the living room and made hay fever worse. You might have thought that they might consider the legal minefield created for us by suggesting to our subsequent guests that any serious episode of hay-fever might be caused by specific and novel features of the house theye are staying in; you surely would have thought that if they were suffering so badly they would have asked what could be done about it. Had they asked I would – as an acute hay sufferer myself – have suggested that they did not have windows open much of the day, as they did: in fact the ventilation system feeds air to all rooms in the house (except shower room and wc – where air is extracted), but the air intake has pollen filters fitted. I would also have pointed out that if there was one thing that grew well in the islands it is grass, and it is grass pollen that is worst for hay fever.
The other complaint was ‘lack of privacy due to early morning activities’ on the croft. Our website states clearly that it is a working croft, with photos showing the relationship of the house with the land. Not only that, but last year these guests actually stayed in the house next door (directly adjacent to and overlooking our croft) and liked the look of Carrick so much they actually came round to our house there and then to pay in cash for their holiday this year. You would have thought they might reflect on that before putting it into the minds of guests after them that there was something unreasonably intrusive about me walking past the house quietly at 8am and back half an hour later, and possibly spending half an hour or so down the croft head-down amongst the bushes picking fruit (I was doing that when they were here last year!), always mindful of the need to avoid intruding on guests’ privacy (though actually many guests come out to chat with me) . Some guests can be far too quick to leave complaints without considering whether they are reasonable or justified (today’s complaining culture?), and do not stop to think the trouble it causes, providing spurious grounds for complaint for subsequent guests who, annoyed by nothing more than poor weather, are all to ready to find fault and take it out on us (oh they do!, they do!). They complain simply because they know have the power to do so. They never apologize for causing damage: in fact all too frequently they will try and cover it up! But what opportunity do we get for complaining of guests who, for example, willfully ignore basic house rules (or even defy ordinary common sense!): these guests went out for the day leaving several windows open, doors unlocked, and the house key on display! Just before the next guests arrived I discovered the new sliding door track is damaged – probably from being slammed open too roughly: it could cost about £300 to £400 to put right, but even if I’d noticed it before D had gone home ahead of me and posted the cheque for the balance of the deposit (she’s too efficient!!) I wouldn’t have recovered much more than about £60. And what can I do about that now apart from burden you with this lengthy moan? To paraphrase myself, some people moan simply because they know they have the power to do so! ;~) Okay, I’ve got that out of my system – time to get back to work!
Jonathan: Someone coming up to the house door to pay for a jar of jam from the shop, but he stopped on his way to help himself to a handful of gooseberries from the tray D picked this morning, and started eating them. Are you thinking of buying gooseberries? I ask. Just tasting – actually I’d like half a dozen eggs. Back from the kitchen I see that all the gooseberries he’d taken are gone: Well, are you going to buy the gooseberries? Himself: Oh no – much too tart! Well that must be a surprise to you, what with gooseberries normally being so sweet and succulent straight off the bush. You might have asked, they are actually for our own meal tonight – you’re helping yourself to our dinner!
Jonathan: found two visitors wandering around our garden as if it were a public park, and when I asked them what I could do for them, (you know, the way shop workers ask) they blithely ignored the question and pointed to a huge moth sun-bathing on the wooden strenthening of Greenhouse 1. Now, I have to agree it is was indeed a remarkable moth (see photo – probably a Hawk Moth) – perhaps as much as 100cm long (for once I didn’t have a 5m measuring tape in my boiler suit, or an engineers scale rule in my shirt pocket, so don’t huff and tut on account of my vagueness), but unfortunately this moth proved to be the springboard for a great number of tales about their travel experiences and world views, which went into overdrive when I happened mention (oh fool that I am!) that we’d moved to Uist from Minsterley in Shropshire: apparently they lived just a few miles further up the Hope Valley. Anyway when I eventually got them to understand that I really ought to get back to my work and if there was anything they wanted …?, the man said, what we actually came in for was for any pot-grown herbs you have, to take back to Shropshire. We don’t have any, we don’t offer such things. They are not on the notice board of things for sale. He suggested what a good idea it would be if we did: my suggestion to the contrary, that experience had taught us it was a waste of time – lots of work, virtually no sales … So off they went, such a pleasure to meet me, what a wonderful garden, and I fully deserved their praise (did I ask for an official tour of inspection and appraisal? Perhaps I did and forgot!) Meanwhile, another couple wanting attention must have given up – they’d returned the preserves they wanted to the shelves and left. Denise was right all along: some folk are shameless time-wasters.