Weather: Wet, wet, wet with hail, wet with some sleety snow and lots of wild wind storms, although still relatively mild with some welcome brief bursts of sunshine.
The puddles on the drive way/ car track, to the house, have become enlarged and a great plume of water envelops our vehicle when going to and from the homestead. The water sometimes makes one of the engine warning lights come on and reduces the efficiency of the brakes for a while, but we are still able to drive through without drowning. The storms, of which there have been three (Brendan Ciara and Dennis) have caused some coastal erosion and loss of land – this was highly evident on Balashare Beach. This beach is a special haunt for many of the North Uist residents, and Nicola and I spent much of our summer camping and swimming there. Not only was the coast line altered, a Minke whale and a baby seal got washed up alongside an enormous amount of plastic waste. This whale was then cut into pieces by a scientific team, to ascertain its stomach contents. Many pieces of the whale sadly remained on the beach looking like massive steaks.
The storms have of course, affected the whole country, and in many ways, this area has had some of the least damage. Possibly this is partly because houses on Uist are built with storms and flooding in mind. The landscape is already more water than land and seems to soak up additional water with only small visual adjustments apparent.
Some other, more humorous effects of the storms are: opening the car door can take up to 5 minutes. A handy tip: only open one door of your car (or house) at a time – if you want the contents to remain inside. Swans and other large birds can sometimes be seen suspended in mid-air – flapping their majestic wings – but not moving.
The waste and re-cycling wheelie bins are best left lying on the ground with their lids secured tightly with bungees, otherwise these will be found scattered, often with contents, along the roadside. Our post-box is weighted down with a heavy stone and this is sometimes challenging to lift in a stiff wind. There is always the abandoned microwave oven which is used as a backup for small items.
There has been a lot of hail with ice pellets that fire at your face, making trips to and from the house to the car, the car to the Co-op and back like crossing a mini firing range. The electricity has been temperamental, which has caused disruption – Internet blips; UHI College closed for a day; the local Co-op had to shut for a few hours on a couple of days; there have been no Sunday newspapers for 3 weeks! due to stormy seas; and the swimming pool closed early, which I found out, only after driving 25 miles… However, we are still here, and have been for one year as of the 15th February, which is both astonishing and unexpected and has been life changing for both of us. It has been over this year the Nicola and I have decided to permanently move to the Island. This adds a new dimension to our work here, which has become more open ended and is an ongoing venture that will in time unfold to a different plan.
We are a year into our project ‘In this Day and Age’ – it has been an epic undertaking. Making portraits of people and representing a community as diverse as this takes time. We are committed to an interactive kind of portraiture where all parties concerned can make an input to the final result, both in terms of their visual representation but also with some additional written inputs as appropriate. Nicola and I are steadily collecting a range of portraits and landscape pictures which we take, make and craft together. We enjoy the process of engagement with people and the extensive research and exploration that this involves. Some of this in progress work will be exhibited at Taigh Chearsabhagh in June. There will also be a two – day Symposium to discuss some of the issues that our work has precipitated, these are exiting times for us.
Our first portrait of the new year was of our next-door neighbour Andy. Andy is married to Effie who comes from North Uist. Effie makes fantastic cakes which we spent a half-hour or so eating, whilst drinking tea and having a catch-up blether, before the photo shoot. Andy has a beautiful 1950’s tractor which we managed to photograph him on, in between the rain and hail storms.
We have also visited J.P. who is the manager of the seaweed extraction plant on the island. J.P. generously gave us ‘the grand tour’ of the plant, introducing us to the people who work there, also showing us some video clips of the seaweed gathering processes that have been developed to efficiently collect this complex and valuable plant. Seaweed is being used as a bio- catalyst fertiliser and is relatively sustainable given sensible harvesting practices.
During the absence of our close neighbours, Nicola has been feeding the sheep on the croft that surrounds the house where we are staying. They are a mixture of black face and cheviots. She shouts out ‘trot, trot’ to them at feeding time, and they obediently trot to her, which is touching to see. It is said that sheep are rather stupid, but it seems that they just know what they want to know…
The weather has also brought about some magnificent sights, with pitch black skies lit up with spectacular fluorescent rainbows. We have had lovely romantic, cosy fireside dinners with euphoric ASMR rain sounds and sleeping in a storm can be quite exhilarating. The landscape has become a pale, damp yellow although there are signs of shoots emerging.
Winter is long and dark, but the geese are gathering, for their spring migration, and the daffodils are now in bud.
Alice has not ventured outside this winter, she prefers the safe warm haven of the house the fire and her lovely warm basket. She is also very fond of her toy mouse which she adores and wants to tirelessly play with. Ange will rush out the house, reluctantly (often with his ears back) for his toilet and the odd rat, but he too, seldom stays out for long before rushing back to the comfort of his basket.
We will be moving from this house shortly, as it has been sold. It is a special place, beautiful, elemental and challenging and we are both grateful to have stayed here. Our project is developing successfully and we look forward to the future. This blog has been an essential part of our work to date, and we will continue to discuss important developments regarding this project in due course.