Jonathan: Ten years ago, right now, we were busying ourselves amongst a multitude of boxes, scattered around the house, that together contained all our wordly goods. It had been a bright, cold day – just like today – and as the sun sank into the Atlantic, the house returned to the profound cold of a house that has been left empty and unloved for a long time. The previous owner – as a gesture of courtesy or generosity completely at odds with his behaviour towards us otherwise – had left some wood and coal for the wood-burning stove: I set about lighting that as Denise found the box she’d organized with all we’d need for our first meal at our new house. We’d left our old house in south-west Shropshire two days before, Denise and I, Lady, Molly and Meg (our Jack Russel Terrier and two cats, only Molly now being still with us) in the old motorhome (now also gone). The first night on the road we camped on the shores of Loch Lomond; the second was spent just down the road from here on a triangle of grass between the road and the sea. The removal took longer and was more expensive than our move in 1993 from Dalbeattie (in south-west Scotland) to Ochsenfurt in Bavaria. And emotionally this was a much more significant move: our move to Germany (and all that arose from that, even after our return two years later) taught us much about who we were not ; whereas this move was our final attempt – after so many moves of home and work – to find the place and opportunity to develop our interests, our personalities, our values and our practical skills. In short: our last-ditch attempt to live life the way we wanted to! We knew it wouldn’t achieve our goals instantaneously, and that there would have to be compromises (it’s the lack of realism that results in so many incomers returning to their old lives within a year or two). I recall having laid down a time-frame of five years to have a small business which was established and growing, and ten years until we were free of dependence on mainland income. Thinking about this now – for the first time for a number of years – I realize that we did indeed achieve those goals, though perhaps not quite as we’d imagined. In fact we now have a number of business activities, ranging from crofting and cottage industry to professional practice, all of which are important to our domestic economy. Whilst engineering and construction remain the principal source of income, that has over time – and without much in the way of nudging or steering on our part – shifted from straightforward bum-on-seat contract work, entirely away from home, to specialist designer – much in demand for major infrastructure projects across the UK and Ireland, to general civil-engineering consultancy, and now as project manager employed by private clients for their house-building projects throughout the Outer Hebrides. But today, through a conversation on the Sound of Harris ferry with someone who moved here a few months after us, I am reminded that establishing a local income is only one side of the equation, and morevoer was never the real driver for moving here in the first place: we could have done all that where we were before. Though the work is challenging and satisfying, building houses for other people is not actually what I want to do with my life. For one thing it would be good to have the time to complete the renovation of our own house, which after ten years is still in a state of disarray! It would be good to have the time to more fully enjoy the fruits (and the veg!) of our labours in the garden and on the croft (actually I’d love to have more time to spend on gardening, alongside Denise), or to have a little time to do anything or even nothing, just as we please. Like many of the fruit bushes and trees we’ve planted in this garden, we’ve thrown out roots and branches in the intersts of establishing ourselves, but some of which, through the weather and seasons have become tangled and unproductive. Winter task: sharpen and oil the garden tools: now where did I put those pruning shears?
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.
Denise: Thank heavens for Becky’s annual visit to her Mum and Dad: we get to go on excursions – you know, just for the pleasure of it. This evening we went down to Daliburgh machair and walked down the track to Cladh Thallan prehistoric settlement and then on to be beach – which stretches away into the distance, white sand and pale blue skies, a refreshing release from the heat wave that has unexpectedly settle over the Hebrides.