And the Livin’ is Easy…

Weather: All round pretty good

We have both had our 2 COVID vaccinations – some reactions, both times, were experienced, although nothing terrible. Neither of us seem to have been genetically modified (that we are aware of) and we have not noticed any extra surveillance issues, oh – nor have we had COVID. More people that we know personally (not in Uist) do seem to be getting COVID, although no deaths, that we know of, have been reported thankfully. There is still a constant ongoing awareness and the usual tabloid reporting of all new COVID cases and deaths –there appears to be a little less panic about the situation, so perhaps more control and understanding of the disease is slowly developing.

June 6th – 11th

John:  After many delays apparently caused by the shortage of some components and import control problems courtesy of the U.K. leaving the E.U. and ‘taking back control’ the long-awaited new motorcycle was ready to collect from Gateshead. I have never owned a new motorcycle although there have been many used ones over the years. This particular machine is a Moto Guzzi V7 Centario in special 100th anniversary colours, mirroring the famous V8 racing Guzzis as ridden by the likes of world champion Bill Lomas. There the similarity ends, and the bike is a genteel touring machine, all be it one with a useful turn of speed. It is suitable for someone of my proclivities. Alan, Rebecca and Franco, all on Italian motorcycles rode with me as far as the café at Kielder. After some lunch, the others returned to Newcastle and I set off on the ride up through Glasgow to  Glencoe, Fort William and Mallaig. This was pleasant with the weather improving. The bike was running in and as I was in good time there was no hurry. With the new bike at the Croft the pressure was on to get the shed built to accommodate it. The bike is one that has no chrome parts to tarnish, but the Uist salt-air atmosphere is notorious for digesting metal parts. A wood shed is the answer. I ordered the shed, which was courteously delivered to the Croft by D.R. MACLEOD LTD .Keith Dawson and I levelled the ground and laid the base before scratching our heads as to how to assemble the flat –pack shed. Keith made the breakthrough with the suggestion that we had managed to get everything upside –down.

Na h-Eileanan Siar COVID tier – level 0 – This does not mean ‘no masks’, although there is a definite sign of a more relaxed atmosphere. People are able to meet each other and a better social life is now possible. Since the lockdowns ‘getting together’ in public spaces has become strange. The usual protocols that were used – handshakes, hugs, kiss on the cheek – are no longer used, now we all stand awkwardly, judging what might be a safe distance apart, trying to access the proper way to say hello. There are definitely a lot of confusions, surrounding all the COVID rules and restrictions.

June 14th  

The days are now fabulously light up until around 10pm and there have been many still, quite humid days – The down side of this are the midges. The midge is well known to be a highland bother. They congregate on mass, form black clouds that loom and circle overhead. Should you be caught under a midge cloud an attack will be imminent – this is debilitating – you are stung simultaneously and repeatedly by several hundred midges at once. It is quite an unpleasant experience. Your skin feels pricked all over, with a nasty irritant and you can feel the blood sucking mites crawling about and around your skin. You might find that you start to wave your hands and arms around, propeller like, to try and protect yourself, but this is to no avail –  they can even get inside your clothes. We did find some lemon scented joss sticks, that helped, but really the only thing that works is to retreat into the home, lock all windows and close all gaps (‘cos believe it or not, they will get in via any available vent) and stay indoors until the ‘wee b-rst-rds’ have flown off, or have been blown away! However, if the wind-speed is more than 5mph (8km/ph), the midge is too small and light, even if it beats it wings to maximum speed, it won’t be able to fly. The summer months, which are the midge months (May until September) are the time of year when a certain amount of wind is preferable. This year there has been a significant rise in the midge numbers all over Scotland, which has been good for the birds, bats and fish – not so good for the stay-cationer!  Other insects to be wary of are the horse fly – a nasty bite is given by these critters, and then of course there is the dreaded TIC!

June 17th

The relaxed COVID regulations have meant we can enjoy friends coming over for Barbeques and bonfires making full use of the warmer, longer evenings in our lovely outside spaces. We have had beautiful nights inside too, where we can view the evening seascape through our fantastic new window installation.

June 18th

The first swim at Balashare beach – the summer has begun! On some of the cooler bright, breezy days we have been, taking new mini hikes, embracing the elements – one of which was to the Fairy Knoll. Walking can be great here, on the right day, with glittering light, reflected and sparkling in the lochs, the air smells fresh and there is room to observe and take in all that nature has to offer – swans followed closely by their, now maturing, cygnets, paddling gently on the lochs– it can all become a kind of meditation; the colours, the sounds and the space create moments that are entwined, transient and special. This is our third year living in Uist, and we are starting to feel like we belong here. We love living and waking up in our beautiful Croft – with the morning light pouring in through the windows. The Croft house used to be considered a dark cottage, we have completely transformed it, it now has the most amazing light together with spectacular views.

June 25th

An early start today, to catch the ferry at Lochboisdale. We set of at 4.00am and arrived a little early. We have had trouble booking on our usual ferry – Lochmaddy to Uig, because of COVID and the boats not being able to take full capacity passengers – also due to the big influx of ‘stay-cationers’. The early morning drive through to Lochboisdale, was very pleasant with a lovely pink hue in the sky, we spotted an owl and several groups of deer – always a delight. For this early morning ferry trip, it is advisable to take a blanket, anyone who knew this did. The upstairs lounge area was filled with children and adults sleeping, with covers and inflatable cushions. We shared a fluffy sweatshirt, that just about protected our cold knees. The COVID mask restrictions were laidback, if people were seated they mainly lowered their mask, even if they were not drinking a coffee. Perhaps a slackened attitude to the mask wearing is required for the sake of every one’s sanity. We arrived at Mallaig at 9.50am. The traffic was BAD. Before we reached Fort-William there was a 45 min hold up due to an incensed male driver, not obeying the temporary traffic light signal – that was held up by road worker. The crazed driver drove up to the signal-man (jumping the queue by driving on the wrong side of the road) and then swerved around the signal-man almost knocking him over. People started getting out of their cars and wandering around, the police were called. Then the crazed man was seen to be coming back, he again swerved round the signal-man, driving the other way, back. He was grimly bent over his steering wheel. What had happened (evidently) is he got to the other end of the traffic works, and couldn’t get through. He was apprehended and his keys were confiscated, but he had a spare set that he used to turn around and go back! A case of COVID isolation fever perhaps?

The traffic was astounding – cars double and treble parked along the route to Glasgow. The effect of the COVID restrictions and cabin fever that everyone has been experiencing was clearly apparent. The surreal remoteness of before is no more – it felt like the whole of the UK had decided to travel to the Highlands of Scotland. We arrived in Sunderland at 21.15 – in pouring rain. COVID level 3 – (laxed)

June 26th

We slept like logs. 8.30am wake-up call. We are here to pack our things and needed to get to Newcastle. The weather was wet and miserable, which is not what we were expecting.

Oh no! the key to the lock up was accidentally left at the Travel Lodge (by John), so in the end, despite an early start, the day was slow and heavy. Our tension was definitely exacerbated by noise pollution, bad traffic and a general aggression/ road rage that seemed to float around in the atmosphere… still there are some good things about a city… SHOPPING. All of the shops were open (those that survived the COVID crisis), so after packing some things we hit Boots and other shops – Ker-Ching.

June 27th Sunday Foggy morning.

Sunday Lunch with Laura Kippin (John’s youngest daughter)The weather started to improve. After a lovely Sunday lunch in ‘The Badger’, we dropped Laura back home and went on our way. Heading back towards Sunderland we dropped off at Roker Beach, it was a good decision. The weather was ‘scorchio’- lots of people out and about. No obvious COVID precautions in place – oh well, we are all outside and there was plenty of distance between us and them. We spent several minutes downloading a ‘Neuron scooter’ app and then we were away, larking around by the beach. Taking photos, riding scooters and dipping our toes in the sea. It was a perfect afternoon.

June 28th

Weather took a turn for good – summer.

We finished the packing and drove to Glasgow to stop off at Abigale and Chris’s (Nicola’s daughter and her partner). They had a much anticipated, Indian take-away waiting for us – something that is unavailable in Uist. We had a welcoming and comfortable stop over. It is so nice having adult children.

June 29th 16.49 ferry from Malaig – Lochboisdale.

European Championships: England 2 – Germany 0

The game was on the television in the ‘coffee cabin’ to some interest. A great achievement after all the ensuing years. Shame that it is not a G.B. team, not just Enger-land..

It was good to be home, with more of our things, making it all a reality – we have moved to Uist!

We were helping to hang the Uist Artist Association (UAA) summer show, at Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts Centre . The following day, a small selected audience were allowed to attend the PrivateView of the UAA summer show. It was a very pleasant little event, some new faces all adjusting to socializing again. Everyone is very hopeful for a more integrated time ahead.

July 1st

The yellow flag, yellow iris, water flag (or iris pseudacorus) is out in full bloom. The display of buttercups, such as the common meadow buttercup and creeping buttercup covers the fields in a golden glow. The yellow flowers have arrived – the gorse bush, which does flower all year, at this time, it has a more intense bloom, as if to celebrate the radiant abundant yellow flurry. Everything has flowered a little late this year, due to the late summer – but it is now starting with a vibrant burst. This is also the machair season, the glorious, lush and oh so pretty, wild flowers that cover the fields fronted by sand dunes. The machair grassland flowers from June to early September, beginning with a beautiful carpeting of yellow primroses. Next to blossom, are the purple florae –wild cornflowers, an assortment of different thistles, foxgloves, purple orchids and the start of the heather – and this is just a few of the spectacular varieties that can be found and seen in the Uist landscape.

July 2nd

The swimming continues, this time at  Balashare beach,

July 4th

Nicola – early morning swim in a loch with the ‘selkies’ swimming group (no wet suit, super fun).

We have even been doing some evening dips. It is lovely to swim in the wild, very different to the swimming pool, which can be good too but is still tangled in COVID restrictions. The loch water is clean and fresh, a rich, dark peaty colour, illuminating your immersed skin with a full-on orange spray-tan effect. The sea is uplifting and immense, with rhythmic waves that pulsate to a different beat every day. Uist still has an uncontrolled and unsupervised landscape to explore and play in. This does also have its draw backs – no coast guards and no health and safety warnings – personal safety precautions are required.

July 5th

It is early July and the weather has been amazingly dry recently, so when the rain came, it was a relief.

July 10th

Finally, we managed to photograph another portrait. As always, these are fun to do and can sometimes lead to a nice bit of social time (either before or after the photoshoot) with the sitters, and it did on this occasion.

Taking these ‘Uist portraits’ have been slow in the making. People are a little reticent and we do not want to force anyone, but at the same time it would be good to complete this project and get a range of people who represent the community that have moved to the island from choice. A slow steady perseverance…

July 16th

The weather started to become a little overcast, still warm but slightly breezy.

We continue to grow into our Croft, moving into and occupying more of the spaces. The sheds now have doors and shelves, our boxes are slowly being unpacked, this process is going to take a while.

July 23rd

The weather continues to be mainly good, we celebrated with a private picnic by the sea and a swim at one of our favorite spots near Scolpaig.

July 25th

John: Woke at 3.30am to catch the Lochboisdale – Malhaig ferry. It was as if as soon as the bike had arrived on the island it required to be returned to the dealer in Thirsk for a first service. Normally this is something I would do myself as it is relatively straightforward with an oil and filter change and the tappets re-setting. On this occasion, as the bike is a new one it is important that the warranty is maintained and the bike has to be serviced by the main agent. The weather was beautiful as I rode down to stay with Alan in Gateshead. The following day we set off down the A1 and I dropped the bike off at Teasdale Motors. They loaned me a KTM Duke 890 until the Guzzi was ready to be picked up the following day. Apart from looking like a crashed preying Mantis this was a great bike – light and fast. I do understand that not everyone can like the same thing but most new bikes appear over-designed to me and this one was ugly! It was a great ride though. We (Alan, Rebecca and I) picked up the Guzzi the next day stopping for lunch in Leyburn before riding on our usual route to Middleton in Teesdale and across Stanhope Moor to Edmunbyers and back to Tyneside. Wonderful.

Nicola: I woke with John and had an early coffee, I quite like the very early mornings, they have a special sound, although as soon as John had left I snuggled down with the Alice cat and went straight back to sleep, waking, at the more civilized time of 7am, to a white misty morning. In the day, I went for a swim in the loch near our Croft, In the evening, I went to a barbeque. It is lovely to hang out with people again, new energy, discussions – these things are so valuable and necessary for creative thinking or even any kind of thought. When driving back from the barbeque at 11pm, I came across a big owl sitting in the middle of the road, I had to swerve to miss hitting this beautiful spiritual creature.

July 29th

John: Alan and I rode back to Uist. As we loaded the bikes (one 1974 Moto Guzzi V7 Sport and one 2021 V7 850 the rain started. By the time we were in Jedburgh we were soaked, and by the time we had reached a Shell service station near Edinburgh we were more soaked and frozen. We stopped for fuel and coffee. There were latex gloves to go under our soaked through leather ones, and soft (Shell) plastic bags to go under our socks. We padded out our jackets with newspapers (This is the one thing that the Daily Mail is useful for). As luck would have it, by the time we approached Glasgow the rain had stopped and the sun came out. It is sometimes difficult to imagine the nature of these weather contrasts. From Glasgow we had a great run through Glencoe and on to Mallaig.

Alan, Neighbour Andy and John – finished putting the cladding up on gable roof of the Croft, and constructed the new wooded shed that will house the bike. There was some discussion about necessary weights and ties that will be need on the shed for the coming winter winds.

The weather has become humid, the sky has fallen on our heads – the air is full of water, the dreich has arrived – not too cold.

August 1st

Dinner at our neighbors, Effie and Andy. All three of us (John, Alan and Nicola) had been invited to dine at the home of Effie and Andy. It cannot be said enough times really, how wonderful it is to be invited out, to mingle and relax with other people.Effie and Andy put on a splendid supper, drinks and snacks to start followed by a traditional venison feast, finishing up with apple pie and ice-cream. We had a deeply pleasant evening and walked back to our home, satiated.

August 3rd

After being in Uist for a week, Alan departed on the early morning  ferry (4am start) from Lochboisdale, Hannah (Nicola’s oldest daughter and her family), Nico and the three ‘bairns’ (11 Mikel, 5 Pav and nearly 3 year old Malena) were due to arrive later the same day. Louise Taylor from ‘Wideyed’ Photography Collective, also paid us a delightful flying visit – she was holidaying in the Hebrides.

Back at the ‘Croft’ we had prepared the caravan and put up the tent in preparation to accommodate our five family guests. ‘Lively’ is held back, as a description of this gang. On arrival, the three ‘little piggies’ (Mikel, Pav and Malena), burst into our house and literally touched everything; the pepper pot even lost its screw, the spiral staircase became the climbing frame and our upstairs ‘chill out zone’ became the ‘Frozen 2’ cinema, experience, hub. Tools were needed for building guns and other weapons of mass-destruction – out of wood, nails and anything else at hand. Swimming and walking were done everyday (rain or shine), by 10.30pm every night we literally crawled to bed shattered. Hannah, Nico and the two boys (Mikeland Pav) even took part in the Beinn Lee Hill Race – a Uist tradition – they all received a medal for completing the race. Pav even proudly wore his medal on his journey home to London. They all had a brilliant experience.

August 10th

Our family guests left early (4am) to catch the morning ferry from Lochboisdale to Mallaig.  We had tea with them and then went back to sleep – we woke at 8.30am – silence and calm restored. What a fantastic visit, the caravan and tent worked brilliantly. It was lovely to have the space to house this little rabble. It was a delightful week, we all made up for some of lost time, that has been due to the COVID curfews.

We look forward to more on their next visit…

Alice the cat managed all the visitors very well and even enjoyed the extra attention, hugs and cuddles. The children were exceptionally gentle and kind to her.

There is much concentration on the situation in Afghanistan. Our Sunday papers (which we get on a Monday) show a horrifying reality. How the situation can have been so badly handled by so many in positions of Government is unsurprising, but shameful and depressing. As expected, it is the civilians and those found assisting the Allied occupation of Afghanistan who will suffer the most. On a more local level, it is to be welcomed that the Scottish government have entered a coalition with the Green Party. Perhaps this will mean that there is some serious internal opposition to the Space Ports planned for North Uist and elsewhere in Northern Scotland. The pollution alone makes these industries untenable for the places earmarked for them. Perhaps the Scottish Greens will make their objections to these unsuitable and environmentally challenged projects loud and clear – and underline the fact that they are not just there for the S.N.P. to ‘take back control’.

Extinction Rebellion (XR) is back on the streets protesting and marching for the planet – shouting out for us all to live in harmony with nature and other living beings.

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