Jonathan: It’s already a fortnight since Denise’s Mum moved to Sacred Heart care home in Daliburgh: my goodness where does the time go! The move came much sooner than we’d expected. The need was already beyond doubt : it was just a matter of time before ‘a room became free’ (a euphemism if ever there was!). Of course we did have last minute doubts: was she really getting beyond our coping? were we just being selfish? For her last evening at home with us Betty was on better form than she’d been for a long time, actually following the TV – it was Countryfile in the Peak District – with interest and a degree of understanding, and we were able to talk with her about the Peak District – with which she has been familiar throughout her life – and the events of her younger days. But out of the blue, in the midst of the Countryfile weather forecast – she pulled her glasses forward and asked us to look at ‘something’ on her nose that was bothering her: Other than the groove in which her glasses have perched for more than sixty years, we could see nothing of note. We were about to say as much when she volunteered further clarification : “It’s a fish, I think … It might even be a Cod”. There followed a silence, as profound as it was brief, in which the nagging voices of doubt and guilt were swallowed up as if into a black hole of sound, re-emeerging the other side in one great burst of belly-deep eye-watering laughter, and even Mum herself couldn’t help but join in! Denise: What on earth do you mean, you daft old woman! Betty (glowing from the laughter): Well … I don’t rightly know! We’ve had plenty of the same over the past couple of years, but never to such good effect!
Denise: Over the next days I’ll be packing bags for an eight week stay, which could turn into a permanent move away. But it’s not me that I’m packing for, nor Jonathan, but my mum, Betty. We now have a date for her moving into residential care (strictly speaking, at this stage, it’s an eight-week trial) – at Sacred Heart, Daliburgh (where she currently goes three times a week for day care). More about this, in a day or two, perhaps.
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?