Thursday 3rd January 2019. An Island to Ourselves for Christmas.

It’s nearing the end of our family-together-time on Gometra, so I’ll be here on my own again soon: Katy will go back to school and Andy will leave the Island for the grain-bin and his construction projects in Shropshire. I’m sitting here in bed having listened as long as I can to Radio 4 on the wind-up/solar radio given to me for Christmas by Mum. It’s a tiny little red one that reminds me of radios that I used to strap to the handlebars of my bike as a teenager, before Walkmans were invented. It hisses a bit, and I have to lean the aerial against the kitchen taps to get a decent signal during the daytime, none of which bothers me because at least it doesn’t burn battery power and data and threaten to stop working at all.

We’ve had to share the solar battery for two weeks, and so, naturally enough, Katy’s devices get first dibs. When we are all together I have much less need to obssess about the state of my phone, so it isn’t hard to sacrifice the solar power.

I expected the holdays to be wonderful at times, which they have been, but I thought I’d also find them intrusive after so many months mostly alone. The culture shock, though, was minor and short-lived against the relief and comfort of sharing, and the injection of sheer energy and intelligence in the person of Andy.

Driftwood chicken shed

The days are being spent working our ways through the projects, big (fixing slates back onto the roof and mending the dormas) and small (building a home that is fit for purpose for ‘Ship-Ahoy’ the cockerel) as well as inventing a few new ones (like dragging the frame of an old quad-bike trailer up from ‘Tractor Bay’ so that we can put wheels on it, and building a dinghy trolley so that it can be moved on and off the pier at Ulva Ferry single-handed). Both of those transport projects remain uncompleted, but at the moment, with three of us here, we can join forces and move things about more easily.

Katy and Andy are leaving the Island today by quad bike and dinghy to bring in supplies and some of the household things that we haven’t been able to transport here yet. I find myself writing again now that I’m faced with a day alone – alone apart from the company of Faffy-dog and Mara-kitten. They’ve been getting acquainted with a mixture of anxiety and puzzlement, but seem to have each worked things out to their own benefits now. Mara stalks and pounces like an Arctic Fox, flying spins up in the air with rigid legs and arched back, then hurriedly tapping Faffy on her landing and running away. This sets Faffy’s playfulness off, reminding her, no doubt, of the cat ambushes that she used to enjoy from next-door’s kitten when she was a puppy (and she was smaller than the cat). It’s taken her a while, though, to figure out how to play with a tiny fluffy thing that looks like she might break, but who brandishes pin-sharp claws and teeth, and how to mother a prickly thing like her. Her strategy is a swift lick across the face, which knocks Mara off her feet and disarms her completely. ‘Ship-Ahoy’ is a bit more of a challenge, though. He spent a few hours on Boxing day hassling her for a lamb’s leg bone that she’d won off us. Greed overcame fear, though, and she possessed the bone in spite of his menacing prances, albeit it watching him nervously.

They’ve all spent time outside on the step, whist we worked, but Mara’s determination to have the front door open for an escape route was going a bit too far for the end of December, so she’s not been out much.

The whole of Christmas and New Year has me reeling with a feeling of extravagance: we have built up stashes of firewood in each of the bays that we forage in, ready to carry back up over the cliffs as needed, and we heated both downstairs rooms on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve so that we could eat around the dining table and enjoy our decorations. Our food has been comparatively lavish, supplemented with food gifts from Shropshire, and enabled through having all three of us to carry shopping back from Oban. I went over on my birthday, a few days before Christmas, to meet Katy and, excitingly, to also meet my sister and mother, bringing Andy and Faffy with them. Louise, my sister, treated us all to a weekend stay in an apartment. It mean’t that I needed to take Mara over with me (on the quad bike, the Ulva ferry, across Mull by car, and over on the ferry as a foot passenger to Oban). There she met Faffy for the first time, and we sat on the floor of a warm kitchen for hours while she tried to find places to escape to. Eventually her need to play took over and we could relax a bit and start to celebrate properly.

The next day we were like Sherpas at the ferry terminal, weighed-down and waiting for the luggage van to take our loads before we boarded – only a cat box and dog on a lead to worry about until the other side. Then the rain set in, and we had to face a soaking while we off-loaded and crossed back to Ulva. Andy went with Faffy the eight miles by foot, in the dark and rain, and I took the quad with Katy, kitten and most of the bags. By the time I was heading back out for them, Andy and Faffy had nearly reached Gometra and the rain had stopped. Since then we’ve had mostly dry days, and very little wind, making a mockery of my weather-induced suffering during October and November.

Sunrise on the island

On Sunday we’ll be crossing together, and Mara will have to join Faffy for the long journey to Shropshire, as I drive Andy down and go on to Kidderminster to do a book talk that was arranged last Winter, when I lived in Shropshire. Kitten’s travels continue! I’m thinking of her as a ship’s cat – on the move – which feels about right for Gometra since, as Andy said, living here is like living on a boat: a constant prcess of maintenance and no chance of stock-piling. The house even feels that it might be adrift when the winds catch her and shriek through her fabric.

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