Jonathan and Denise >
So many things to do, not enough time. Life’s a blur!
First a fortnight of mostly fine weather, blighted by a string of calamitous problems with the new fencing, and then a back injury that left me scarcely able to stand straight, walk properly, or sleep at night. Other tasks, too, have had to be left to the goodwill of the elves. As the pressure guage has swung into the red, the body has responded with painful joints and sore glands, muscle pain, chronic lethargy and fatigue, blurred vision, inability to concentrate, dulled thinking, slow speech, vertigo, headaches, depression … the whole gamut of symptoms that, back in 2015, forced me to ‘retire’ from civil engineering – essentially to give up my profession due to ill health. The symptoms have ebbed and flowed with the seasons and the circumstances, but this recent episode has been the worst I recall since the first onset, two years ago.
Test have furnished neither cause nor diagnosis – just a shelf-full of repeat prescriptions. A working explanation (at least on my part – based on my own research), was that it’s a neurological condition that can be traced back about 12 years to when I was infected with Lyme Disease: back then it was quite new to the UK, and my infection wasn’t diagonosed (let alone treated) until the ‘infection aura’ had spread all the way from ankle to groin. Now, reluctantly, I have to admit that it seems more consistent with ME / CFS – though a formal diagnosis wouldn’t make any difference. Perhaps its best, as the doctor says, just to treat the symptoms.
This weekend the UK is basking in a heat wave, at the fringe of a high pressure system that’s centred over the Iberian peninsula. Our daughter Catherine and her Basque partner Ion, who live in a mediavel village perched high up in the hills of Navarra, are struggling to cope with temperatures around 40degC. In the UK, it’s been in the upper 20s – low 30s, even reaching 34degC. Except, that is, in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland: here the temperature is about 14degC. Well, that’s not so bad, you’re thinking (I know you are!), for the Outer Hebrides. Well, we have known it much warmer than that … but I take your point. Or I would, were it sunny too, here. But it ain’t! Persistent winds, swirling low cloud or sea fog – resulting in humidity at 99%, and very poor light. The grass is growing like Topsy, and there’s nothing we can do but stop indoors with the lights on, the wood-burning stove lit to try and invoke the winter we’re-just-so-grateful-to-be-tucked-up-indoors-where-its-warm-and-dry spirit – and pick up the books and weaving (for me, just to be on the safe side, it’s books about weaving) that we put aside months ago when Spring finally sprung.
That, then, was the context for this morning’s discovery of Rhubarb dead in his sleep.
So yes, I’m feeling down. But not out.
Deserted. Many visitors to Uist remark on the extraordinary number of deserted and derelict houses. The causes of such abandonment are numerous and well-documented. Not so the solutions.
It’s known as Rural Depopulation – but in truth it’s more a question of the younger generation leaving in search of education, opportunity, and life-partners. They don’t come back ; except the few with the desire and means to retire to their homelands. Even then, newer better-built homes closer to amenities are preferred. The remotest homes – the least accessible or connected, are left empty. Those of more primitive construction, already in need of expensive repairs, and prone to storm damage and decay, deteriorate rapidly. Here, in Uist, the road to ruin is short and summary: a house, previously in good order, might well within five years become uneconomic to refurbish, unfit for human habitation within ten years, and before twenty have passed, may already have been broken open by winter storms and will soon thereafter be beyond any hope of repair and renewal.
Even in the United Kingdom, this problem is by no means unique to Uist! Except in what might be referred to as ‘Metropolitan Stornoway’ – desertion and dereliction are perhaps characteristic of the human landscape of the Outer Hebrides. The same is true of the remoter and most mountainous districts of the Scottish Highlands – especially in the north-west. It’s true, also, of the northern Pennines and Northumberland. And certainly of the hill-farms of mid Wales.
Our daughter Becky has, since she left home (nearly twenty years ago!) to study at the university there, lived in and around Aberystwyth, on the west coast of Wales. Exploring Ceredigion – and beyond – on foot, bike or (more recently) by car, Becky has accumulated an extensive and intimate knowledge of the landscape – the upland landscape in particular, with its numerous deserted hill-farms and derelict farm houses.
Here’s some of Becky’s images from her explorings over recent years in the Outer Hebrides and Wales . Think on this: these places where ordinary families, ordinary people – just like you or me, lived and worked. One day they went out … and never came back. There are many houses like this, in varying degrees. Ask yourself: what would it take for that to happen to your house? And if it did happen, how might your house be brought back to life – and by whom?
Click/Tap on the View More button to extend the gallery eight photos at a time – there are sixty four in total. Click on any photo to open a slideshow of those photos already displayed.
All images by © Rebecca B Bridge, reproduced by kind permission of the artist.