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: Today An Gàrradh Mòr became a visitor attraction. Must be – there’s an ‘interpretation board’ by the south gate! And very nice it is too – I made it. There are two panels on the board: ‘A history writ in soil & stone’ describing the … ah yes you’ve worked that out for yourself … and ‘A living heritage at The Big Garden’. The latter makes a brave if not entirely convincing attempt to persuade readers that they have stumbled upon a point in the time-space continuum where something extraordinary is happening, and which they can be truly part of by allowing themselves to be separated from some of their money. Alas the tension and sense of peril may be too much for some folk, for they appear to read the first paragraph (okay, the first few lines) of each panel, and then vanish into thin air. Which is exactly what we intended, because we are sick to death of answering the same questions, from the marginally inane ‘Did you build the walls yourself?’ to the presumptious ‘You don’t come from here, do you’ (as statement, not question) to the preposterously paradoxical ‘It must be so private in here!’ Those that ask these questions rarely buy anything – they just entertain themseles at our expense. Well, from now on any visitor that is so foolish as to ask us about anything other than garden produce or hand-spinning – will be politely but firmly asked whether they did in fact come in to the garden through the gate, or whether they teleported in from another dimension, because – on the working hypothesis that it was probably the former, on their way out [significant pause] they will notice that they walked right past our ‘interpretation board’ which at great cost to ourselves (and deomonstrating the highest order of skill and passion) has been provided to anticipate their most profound desire for knowledge and understanding, you know, that sign they banged the car door into as they got out. Well, okay, we’ll probably say, there’s an information board by the gate – you may have not noticed it. And by the way, when they go out they do indeed stop to read – the first few lines. You might like to read a few lines yourself – they’re right here
[Note added 18 Feb 2012: These notices have been revised a number of times since this post, but the attached files are the originals, warts-n-all.]
Denise: Tilly was spayed today. Yes, she’s a lovely dog, and I’m sure puppies would be cute, but there’s enough dogs at the animal refuge with homes to find … and anyway we’ve enough already on our hands with Tilly and the seven cats! So, no food this morning and no walk either: off early on the 25 mile drive to Creagorry on Benbecula. This afternoon both J and I went to collect Tilly. She’d woken up some time before, and she was on her feet alright, but a bit unsteady. Her tail was wagging though! J was less enthusiastic with the bill: £180, plus two round trips of 50 miles each (and a third in a fortnight to have the stitches out).
We set off an hour or so early to collect Tilly so as to give us some time first for some errands and a rare treat. At the hardware store we bought a new kitchen bin – a rather nice Brabantia stainless steel affair at £57: the old plastic one is showing its age – we bought it in 1986 when we moved to Shrewsbury. At the charity shop in Balivanich we handed in some items Catherine no longer wants, we can’t use, and aren’t good enough to sell: three boxes of books, videos and other items. After some shopping for bulk items at Lovat’s store in Iochdar, we went to Hebridean Jewellery, just nearby, for a treat of coffee and cake, watching the light fading over the wet sands, the high dunes of Gualam island, and the glowering winter sky beyond. Winter can be lovely!