We’ve had our first visitor to the cottage this weekend – to my delight, my sister Lou – and the island hasn’t let us down. The red deer stags and hinds appeared magnificently on the hills around us, and we even walked in on the island’s herd of goats in ‘washing machine bay’, which looked like ibex on account of their size and long sweeping horns (or even yak-like with their dark thick coats, if you’d enough imagination to see it!).
With spring tides and sunny weather on the first day, we were able to get wetsuits on and walk in the sub-tidal zone, into the garden of seaweeds there, not to mention being spooked occasionally by the motion of creatures brushing against our legs. I finally came across the grapepip weed that I’d been looking out for ever since first coming here, and now I know that I was foraging too high up the beach for it. It’s one of the weeds that exudes a gel when you soak it that can be used as a thickener for sauces and puddings.
I’m wondering whether the food that I’m so fond of eating here, like the seaweeds and sea beet, would taste the same to me inland, because I brought-in some strawberries from Oban that I didn’t much enjoy at the time, but now that I have them on Gometra they are indescribably delicious. Katy stopped me from buying some wine to take back, saying “you don’t need it”, which is correct. It’s interesting how compelling alcohol was in my old life, but how uninteresting it has become to me here. I could have done with some, though, at the end of last week to dull the pain of my grief.
Losing Percy has made me very aware of our vulnerability here on the island. There was nobody to help (a vet in this instance), and there will be no immediate help for the rest of us here either. I registered with the GP surgery in Salen (on Mull) a few weeks ago, and managed to make my initial appointment on time. The first things I was told were that I’d get used to seeing locums if I came to the surgery, and that there’d be no medical service to the island. I’ve postponed my visit to the nurse form my initial ‘work up’ since she isn’t there on a Friday (nor a Sunday of course), when I make my day-long treks to and from Gometra.
Although I was already aware that there are no services to Gometra, period, it does make me think that we need some serious kit out here to do things for ourselves. The necessary drugs to manage unsupported will be out of the question, but with livestock (potentially) the list probably includes a gun (it is euthanasia that I’m thinking of).
Having Andy here, it was a good opportunity for our first visit (as residents on the island) to Roc and his children in Gometra House, which occurred at their invitation and came to involve a later visit to us from the film-maker staying with Roc. We did a short piece to camera about living on the island, then I occupied myself with cooking to try and ‘come down’ from the enjoyable but surreal feeling that I get from that kind of thing.
Yesterday the family dispersed: Lou and Andy and Faffy-dog in the car back to Shropshire, and Katy back to school. Andy is living in a grain-bin that he is converting into a holiday let for a farmer in Shropshire, and is coming to and from the island when he can using the overnight bus and other interesting transportation. I thought that Faffy would be more restful with him on the farm with the farm dogs, rather than following me obsessionally from room to room in the cottage. She has begun to settle here, but it was really obvious that when we were all present she was content, and that being here alone with me is stressful for her. She has enjoyed going to Oban with me to take Katy to the hostel, but hangs her head and refuses to leave the hostel again without her. On the basis that it easier to leave loved ones than be left by them I figured that she should go with Andy until we can all be here together. We don’t know when that will be though, since we’ve not found opportunities for paid work here yet. I look forward to the day when we might not need any money!
But those were all issues to put aside for the weekend. The company was good, and we had enough food to eat well what with the hamper that Lou had sent a few weeks ago. What I’d not known was how Scottish Lou herself has become in her domestic life: once inside the cottage she liked most of all to sit by the stove knitting. She has a set of tiny needles and balls of gorgeously coloured yarns, which were positioned around her as she completed an intricate shawl, and which she then, after asking me if I liked it, gave to me! I need to ‘block’ it though first, which she explained is washing then shaping it to dry. Then all I need is to dare to wear such a fabulous thing!
Seeing them all leave was disorientating, but once I’d walked onto Gometra I noticed the layers of colour on the shore created by demarcations of rock, grass, weed and water – the colours of tartan and tweed – and I was inspired again!