40 years ago, this very day, we moved from the flatlands to the island. I can hardly believe I have been here most of my life, as have my children. Arriving full of excitement and terror, with a large heavy horse, two dogs, two cats and two weans, and minus the lime spreader I had ditched about a mile from the farm, we turned into the village street. I had never driven such a long distance before in the land rover, let alone towed anything at all. The faith placed in me was, well, let’s just say, nothing short of ridiculous, and I knew it at the first layby. Driving in tandem is all very well in theory, but keeping up becomes IT. I found it very hard to focus on what I should have been focusing on, ie the road and the traffic, my neck stretched out like a goose, eyes peeled for the horsebox up ahead.
Since that day we have dug our roots and even those who no longer live here call it home. The solitude and space, the big skies, the rain, sun and wind, all sing my song, or I sing theirs. The rhythm of life is a slow and steady beat, a rolling in and out of the tides, the moon, the seasons. I have little desire to visit the mainland, especially as it is now so easy to buy most things online, barring explosive materials or liquids, of which I have little need, even if it is mildly annoying not to be able to order a wee bottle of essential oil for my essentials.
We have lacked little and found everything we need. I do remember the times of yearning amongst the children as they moved awkwardly into the teenage years, and had I been a teenager, I would have felt the same. A dance in the village hall is so not the same as a rave. But I guess they made their own raves for they all bounce like Tigger even now, now they have their own children, who also love an island visit. There is something so wholesome in this island life, but don’t confuse wholesome with dull or boring. The real islanders, those born here, their parents from here, have the most spontaneous and wicked sense of humour, an eye for the fun in pretty much everything, even the dullest of tasks. I’ve had more fun here than I ever did in the flatlands, been laughed at and kidded on and hoodwinked; been the butt of all the anti English jokes, teased for being posh, and celebrated as a friend, and I have loved it. How strange it is to up sticks and to move to a completely different world, and yet to find the cap fits as it did right from the start. I had no prior experience of the West Coast or the folk who scatter themselves across the wild places, of village life, of community spirit, of real hard work, until I came here.
I wrote my book because there was, and still is, so much to say about island life. It is not for the faint-hearted and that’s for sure. It is inconvenient, demanding and wet. Things don’t work, don’t arrive at all, don’t turn up on due dates, get rusty, rot, are mouse-damaged, break down, blow over or disappear completely in high winds, can’t sail, sink, fall over, lose their sump in a pothole deep enough for the vicar of Dibley and, yet, it has the heartbeat of home. These things can go wrong in all lives, but, here, we can’t just replace the broken immediately. We have to find a way around a whole load of problems and I am glad to have learned resourcefulness, something an easy life in a convenient place would never have taught me. I have learned to be independent, inventive and accepting. Oh it makes me swear when things go wrong, of course it does, but I have that inner core of can-do that only living here has taught me.
I don’t wish for another 40 years, for I would be over 100 and that doesn’t sound like much fun, but I am so thankful that, on that mad day in 1978 we decided to drive up to ‘look’ at a place for sale. 9 hours on the road, with two little ones in the back seat, and absolutely no idea that this whim would manifest itself into a shared life of fun and challenges I had never imagined existed, of learning and of learning some more; of spontaneous musical ceilidhs and of
no locked doors. With not one jot of experience between us, no idea of how to run a hotel, a hill farm, a whale-watching business or a recording studio, we dived right in with childlike enthusiasm. There were many pitfalls to come, many mistakes to make, many sadnesses to experience, but this is the truth of Life for anyone who has the courage to let go of what isn’t working and to take a huge risk.
I’m so glad we did.