The Siege

Weather: Rain, rain and more rain.

Reporting as John Kippin and Nicola Neate : We have been living on North Uist for just over a year. During that time we have moved house on three separate occasions; we have had a catastrophic general election resulting in a reactionary Conservative Government; much of the World has caught fire due to accelerated Climate Change; the U.K. has ‘left’ the E.U; has been one of the wettest winters for years; and if we were not isolated enough by virtue of living on the Western Isles, we are now obliged to further isolate ourselves due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) sweeping across the World, although at the time of writing , there are no known cases in the Outer Hebrides.

A one year commitment to writing a diary/blog, to document our time and activities for the  project ‘In this Day and Age’ was our goal, however, we have reconsidered this decision…given  the extraordinary sequence, of almost apocalyptic events, it feels incumbent upon us to continue to relate our experiences of life, and work, on this island and to further reflect upon these times, whilst continuing to work on our photographic book publication ‘In this Day and Age’.

Everything is being cancelled. The University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) closed it’s doors on Wednesday the 11th March. Online teaching and tutorials are being put in place. We cannot go to the pub. The swimming pool and gym are closed, even yoga classes have dematerialised. The Arts Centre events have dwindled to a standstill. Our planned Symposium ‘Imaging an Island’ has been postponed, at least. Various exhibitions have been postponed although our ‘in progress’ exhibition will take place at Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts Centre, this summer.

There has not yet been a recorded case of COVID-19, however, there is an ageing population and should an out-break occur, it could prove catastrophic, as there are minimal medical facilities for intensive care patients. Consequently, the isolation and separation that is applied is essential. Quarantine in a remote place is different and possibly freer than it is in an urban environment. There is still the space and freedom to go on beautiful walks (weather permitting) and there is less temptation to want to go shopping or visit cinemas and cafés, but the silence has intensified and become slightly ominous and we worry about our children (now all adults) and grandchildren. We have had to cancel a planned Easter trip and meet-up (with family) in Glasgow, this is difficult and makes us feel a bit cut-off. Other small things that we have noticed are that people are becoming more cautious with each other and if there is an impromptu meeting, with a fellow being, there is a visible concern and distance is silently being adopted and added to the normal greeting behaviour and mannerisms. A new way of thinking and acting has perhaps begun and will likely not be undone easily.

The Co-ops here have also been afflicted by the much talked about ‘toilet roll collecting’ disease. Kitchen roll is also popular, as are boxes of tissues. The reasonably priced bottles of quality wines are thinning quickly, as alcohol has an obviously beneficial effect on (the concept of) impending isolation, tinned scotch broth is in short supply.. dried lentils are still happily available (for now) although the tinned bean shelves are considerably depleted and there is absolutely no hand sanitizer or soap which is in short supply. In addition to this, the Sunday papers have not arrived on many occasions over the winter due to the high winds making ferry crossings impossible … so no relief there either!

The Co-op’s staff however are commendable, cheerful and stoic in this crisis. A special ‘THANK YOU’ goes out to all those working directly with the public –  in ‘frontline’ services.

The characteristic weather here has been predominantly wet – evidently wetter than is usual. Taigh Chearsabhagh basement conference room flooded with the high Spring tides on the 10th and 11th of March (not all together an unusual occurrence). There is at least some encouragement with these floods in that ‘SPRING’ is on its way. The daffodils have begun to bloom.

About 6:00 Dawn and 19:30 Dusk in North Uist and the clocks have not even changed yet! The world is always a little easier to handle when it is warmer and lighter.

We took Alice, our one –year old Siamese cat to the Vet to be ‘spayed’. This has been the cause of much discussion and soul-searching but we are resolved that it was necessary. She is eating well and is recovering well in front of the fire.. Although, scratching and licking her bandaged wound has become an intense occupation, which is challenging to deter. Our other cat Angie (AKA the White Lion) continues to decimate the local rat population and to proudly present their eviscerated and dismembered carcasses at our door. Bless. 

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