My journey home, from two weeks away in the Shropshire Grain Bins and Andy’s dad’s house in Surrey, took its usual form: great speed to begin with, followed by a gradual broadening of horizons and a slowing of pace. Katy and I left Andy late afternoon on Saturday, reluctantly leaving Faffy-Dog there with him, and we drove until the early hours Sunday to the Inverary road, stopping at the woodland site that we’ve become accustomed to using for a sleep, then continued on to Oban at 5am. I’d managed to put my nerves more on-edge than they already were by risking the fuel situation, and just as I was turning into the filling station outside Oban the fuel light went from solid to blinking. So I had to ‘come down’ emotionally from quite a teetering state. The rain usually helps me, but the non-stop downpour throughout the Scotland stage of the journey just made me more fearful about my return to Gometra.
I felt distinctly vulnerable in that car, pointed towards waters-to-cross and a knarly bike ride over the islands. I got an inkling of the reason for my father-in-law’s caution and exceptional care in life. He grew up in rural Scotland, and worked in variously dangerous occupations, so he has a regard for human vulnerability. The paternal signs along the motorways of Scotland extorting drivers to take care, expressed in messages to get your eyes tested and check your tyres, visit your family etc. etc., and the noted dourness of the Scots, probably arise from the same, culturally ubiquitous, underlying anxieties. Faffy is no Scot, but she has also taught me about self-care. She knows when it’s sensible to resist my demands to go or to stay outside, or make journeys into the unknown. It was because she was becoming increasingly reticent on the island that I decided to leave her with Andy, in the company of the farm dogs.
The first ferry to Mull was not until 9.50am, so we had time for another sleep in the car-park while we waited for the supermarket to open for a cup of tea, then joined the queue for the boat. That morning I had to visit our rented shipping container on Mull to drop off the last of our belongings from Shropshire, and meet someone who wanted to share the container space, then see Katy back to the hostel in the afternoon, meaning that throughout the day I needed to hold up some semblance of calm fortitude. To pass the time I decided to take her to the swimming pool on Mull to have a tour and ask our questions – like, “how much” and “can she use a monofin?” (Eventually we had to agree that the question was really “are mermaids permitted in the pool?”, to which the answer was a gleeful “yes!”). When we’d spent as much time as we could doing that, I was forced to fork out yet more cash, (after an already costly few weeks) on coffee and cake in order to pass the next hour before Katy’s ferry back to Oban, and our parting of company for the week. She seemed quite perky, and affectionately said goodbye before striding, like the confident young woman that she’s becoming, down the ‘gang plank’ onto the boat, with her case-on-wheels following behind her.
I breathed out deeply and stole myself for another night in the car and an early start for Ulva Ferry in the morning. Thankfully it had stopped raining, so I spent over an hour standing at the boot and re-arranging all the things down into three loads – one for my shoulders and one for each hand – so that I’d be able to get it all onto and off Donald’s ferry at Ulva, and then stow it on the quad bike. I was as hopelessly indecisive as it’s possible to be, and anyone watching me would have thought I was drugged or sick. That’s how this transition gets to me – it’s extreme. With family, with electricity, with services and shops one day; then the push-pull back to solitude, no power, no services and shops, and a cold/damp house via a tenuous journey, the next. Those are the contrasts that always overpower my imagination, but that are vanquished as soon as the shift really begins – as soon as I’m alongside Loch Na Keal.
I’ve more reason than ever now to feel calmer about it (though I probably never shall): whilst I was away storm Calum blew and drove the water way up the pier, to where our dinghy was perched and above the boat shed where the outboard was left, but Donald and his family had moved the dinghy and weighted it down with gas bottles, and retrieved the outboard from below that water (as well as the casing and life jackets which had washed away) and Nick (the engineer, living across the water) had mended it. I might imagine that I am alone, but I am not. And I’m thankful!
The quad-bike had survived the deluge and the gales, and broke my stony-face into a relaxed smile in no time as I rode it home. Then came the next relief. Arriving at the cottage I saw that the solar panel and ‘Post-Buoy’ were still in position. ‘Ship Ahoy’ the cockerel was also still alive, and hassled me for porridge oats almost as soon as my feet hit the doorstep. It was odd, though, to be in the house again. I didn’t really know what to do here, and walked about in my boots and waterproofs just looking – unsure where to put my things and what to do first. Over all the wooden surfaces there was a thin dusty layer of mould, and it took me a while to find the initiative to wipe things down, then to light a fire. It didn’t feel cold at first, but once the fire was burning I began to see my breath and to feel the dampness.
During my visit South I used all my data allowance through watching programmes (namely the ‘Bake-Off’ and one of Katy’s that we all got into called ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’). Anyhow, I found it difficult to adjust no having no media again, and it’s only through doing this (writing my blog) that the feeling of being at a loss is resolved. I’ve had to make another shift too – forcing myself to turn off the solar powered light bulb and get out the candles before I end up draining the battery.
The final element – food – has also required a shift. When I looked in the sink there was the evidence of my last meal here, which included a frying pan. So I ate well back then. So it shouldn’t be hard to achieve that again. I reached for the seaweed, picked some dried Dulse to chew, and made the bodily adjustment to ‘making-do’. It didn’t feel bad; it tasted good.
It’s now 9.15pm and the wind that was blowing-up this afternoon has quietened a bit. The tide must be out since the blow-hole has stopped ‘th-rumping’. Tomorrow I’ll re-stock the firewood from the beaches. There should be some new offerings after the storm.