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A pound of flesh

My parents are going to Oban for the day. Judging from the frenzied activity going on outside my office one might think they were going for a month.  In fact they are going to Oban for an hour.  The summer ferry service which allows day trippers to spend an afternoon on Colonsay doesn’t work quite so well in reverse.

My Dad has ascended and descended the stairs at least six times.  With each ascension the severity and decibel level of his expletives has grown louder and louder.  My mother and I remain silent.  We have extensive experience in dealing with his grumps and much like Helen’s tantrums they are best ignored.

I am cocooned in the spare room (my office).  I have taken to this room as our own house is simply too small for me to get any work done in.  Helen and Sally have no respect whatsoever for the rules of gainful employment and my need to earn an honest living.  On the odd occasion I have tried to work at the kitchen table Helen climbs onto my knee and tries to press the buttons on the laptop whilst Sally stands under the table repeatedly bumping her head, pulling at my trousers leg and irritating Helen.

I am now in the last week of working my notice for the NHS.  Our original plan had been that I would return to Edinburgh and hospital medicine for five weeks.  Allan and the girls would come with me and enjoy a few weeks of mainland fun whilst I fulfilled my obligations.  Instead my boss came up with a project I could do online.  At first I felt very grateful to him for coming up with a rescue package that would prevent the upheaval of my family.  Of course I was bowled over with gratitude, stressed how hard I would work and enthusiastically agreed to an ambitious project.

He’s a smart man my boss.  Had I returned to the mainland I would have been physically present at work between the hours of 9 and 5 each day.  As I am giving up my medical career I would not have felt under any particular obligation to work hard. Now I don’t’ want you to think that I am some sort of evil, work avoiding, embezzler of tax payer’s money.  I would have carried out my allocated tasks well and with good grace and enthusiasm.  However, I am capable of a lot more than this.  Pre-child (and before I decided that I really did not want to spend the rest of my life looking down a microscope at bits of flesh I had hacked to pieces the day before) I was hardcore.  My boss knew this.  How? Because on more than one occasion he had come into the office at 10pm on a Sunday evening to find me hard at work over my microscope – Rock and roll.  We’ve also had the occasional e-mail conversation at 2am (no no no we’re not talking 50 shades of Grey here).  He knows that if I feel obliged to do something then I will forsake all others and get on with it.  He offered me what seemed like a lifeline and has instead extracted a far greater amount of work from me than I would ever have imagined.  No wonder he’s emperor of pathology or whatever his actual title is – he knows how to extract his pound of flesh.

Meanwhile life on the rock still goes on.  We’ve acquired a duck and 8 ducklings.  We haven’t named them yet though as they are still gender unspecified – I fear at least a few of them will be named Christmas Dinner.  We have also acquired two more hens – Kathleen and Karine in honour of the great musicians.  Allan is engaged in a battle royale with whoever it is who does or doesn’t issue building warrants and we hope to have permission to build our house very soon.  Great all we need now is the money!  Sadly that is all spent.  Allan has been led astray by my father and is now the co-owner of an ancient tractor which my Dad is picking up in Oban today.

Helen is pretty much potty trained now although this doesn’t affect me much as I rarely see my children……apart from Sally who I see several times a night, each night…………she too knows how to extract her pound of flesh.

Oh well, my Dad has found his man-bag and he and my mother have roared round to the pier in their dysfunctional car which sorely needs servicing.  It’s being left in Oban to be mended.  I offered to pick my parents up from the pier this evening but they declined – they will drive back round in the tractor.  It’s only three miles I’m sure they will be home by midnight.  Now the house is quiet I’d better get back to work.

p.s. I’m now on the third of the 50 shades trilogy.  I still don’t want to criticise these books as I’m giving up valuable sleeping time to read them but I must say I do understand now why the average Mills and Boon stops after 180 pages.



Come on baby!

You know that feeling.  You’re heavily pregnant.  You’re uncomfortable, miserable and you just can’t wait for the baby to come out because however tough it is after it’s born it’s got to be better than things are as they stand.  I’m feeling exactly like that now – except it’s not my baby.

It’s been a week since the Shopmeister and his girlfriend left these shores to await the birth of the Shopbaby in a safer environment.  One week since Allan and I started looking after the shop and it seems like a lifetime.  In fact, hideous as both of my childbirth experiences were, I would happily go through both of them consecutively or simultaneously tomorrow if it would relieve me from my shopkeeping obligation.

I love being a shop assistant.  I love standing behind the till and beeping things.  I love chatting to people and I enjoy counting out their change.  My favourite game to play on quiet afternoons is scanning random items and trying to guess how much they cost.  However being a shopkeeper is much less fun.  All of a sudden I am responsible for the flow of essential items such as milk, bread and toilet paper onto the island.  We are the only outlet for these essentials and let me tell you people do not respond well to having to put UHT milk on their cornflakes.  Not only have we brought the island to its knees with a Whit induced famine (who was to know that Whit lasted a whole week and not just a weekend?) but we also seem incapable of the relatively simple task of writing people’s names on a newspaper and then not selling that newspaper to other people.  It’s strange.  You would think that people who are on holiday on a beautiful Hebridean island enjoying glorious sunshine, with miles of unspoilt beach to walk along would be able to forsake their Daily Telegraph.  You would be very wrong int that assumption.  The Tourist becomes extremely angry when deprived of his newspaper.  It’s not always my fault that the newspaper is unavailable.  When you only get five boats a week it stands to reason that newspapers are not going to be delivered seven times a week……..doesn’t it?  Surely part of the charm of Colonsay is the unavailability all the commodities we take for granted on the mainland.  If I have to explain to one more red-faced, corpulent, pompous old fool that no we don’t have todays paper I will not be responsible for my own actions.  Lets just say I’ve had to move the lighter fluid from behind the counter.  That along with all those newspapers is just asking me to commit pyrocide.

I’m rather disappointed to find that I am not the perfect shopkeeper.  I had fond imaginings of Allan and I running the shop perfectly.  We would never run out of bread and milk and the vegetable fridge would remain constantly stocked with the finest of fresh fruit and veg. I would stand behind the counter, holding court to a gaggle of admiring customers and occasionally carrying the bags of elderly locals out to their cars.  The reality is that we didn’t order quite enough milk and we’ve managed to run out of eggs.  It’s not the end of the world but we’re not going to win any awards either.  More worryingly in terms of stress levels and temper I appear to be turning into my father.   The good news is that since Shopbaby doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of coming we have plenty of time to practice.  Next week we will probably have so much spare milk we’ll all be bathing in it and surely that will be relaxing if nothing else.

Lambs are like buses

Of necessity this post must be short.  This will be tricky as I am, by nature, verbose and I have imbibed two glasses of cava which will only make me more so…..

Our lambing started two days ago.  When I say that I mean that Monday was the first day that our sheep could have given birth.  Allan, bless his little cotton socks, has been trudging round the croft four times a day since then looking longingly at his sheep and dreaming of lambs.  My father prefers to take a more relaxed attitude to his lambing – his sheep have beenImage lambing for over a month and are showing no signs of stopping.  This morning Allan arrived in for breakfast and announced with joy that our first lamb had been born.  Much rejoicing ensued (well I rejoiced with as much joy as I could considering I had only had 3.5 hours sleep).  Just before lunch he headed off to check the sheep again and to mark the lamb (and possibly do something to its testicles that should not be mentioned on a mainstream blog).  I was in the midst of defrosting some rather questionable soup when he arrived home and announced that the lamb was now one of triplets!  For those of you who are not crofting experts this is not cool.  A single lamb is good, twins is better but triplets are too much for a sheep and are an abomination which should not be allowed.  Allan did the only thing possible and telephoned my dad.

My Dad arrived home from a hard morniings LDO’ing and admitted that in his 30 odd years of farming/crofting he had never actually had triplets.  After much deliberation and hopeful examining of our own and my dads sheep for a possible foster mother it was decided that we would have to take one of the lambs ourselves.  So there you have it.  Our first sheep has lambed and already we have a pet – pretty much the worst possibly outcome.

Sally lamb (named by Helen, she doesn’t know any other baby names) is now residing in Allan’s vegetable garden.  Hopefully she will not do the plants any damage.  The hens have already eaten all of the leaves off of his plum trees. I fear for her.  Allan and I both spent a large amount of time trying to feed her before we realised that you have to cut the end off of the teat to actually make a hole for the milk to flow out of.  I suppose in our favour is the fact that we have managed to keep Helen and Sally alive – they seem a bit more resiliant though.

Today was my first day in the shop.  It was rather overshadowed by events on the croft. I felt extremley guilty on leaving.  Both girls were sitting in their high chairs, covered in food.  I had just realised that Helen’s nappy was leaking.  Sally hadn’t been fed for several hours and Allan was holding a newborn lamb in his arms. Also I had been forced to admit that the soup was in fact beyond question and indeed inedible. When I phoned later to announce that the boat would not be bringing his mother to help Allan uttered these words “I’m going to have to go and put the lamb outside.  It’s keeping Helen awake.” He has a lot to learn as a father.

I would love to continue this and regale you with tales of the shop and further examples of our general unsuitability for the crofting lifestyle but time is wearing on and it’s nearly time to give Sally lamb a bottle.

Above is Sally lamb – less than an hour old.  Allan was holding her for my Dad to spray her cord with iodine.  Sadly my camera can no longer focus properly.  I put it into the pocket of Allan’s jacket and it came into contact with a very questionable substance.  Hopefully I will have more cute photos tomorrow.

A return to gainful employment

It may have become apparent from my writing that moving back to Colonsay has been something of a dream for Allan and I.  To be honest I’m not sure either of us really believe it yet.  I was showing our house plans to a friend yesterday and whilst pointing out the large number of bathrooms and mud busting utility room it suddenly struck me that this is actually going to be our house for us to live in……………….  I’ve just read back that sentence and it’s no good.  I still don’t believe it.  Even once it’s built I’ll probably still come into this house instead. A bit like when I moved to a flat below my old one in 2nd year of university but kept trying to break into the old one.  It all rose to an embarrassing head one day when the new inhabitants had failed to lock the front door and I walked in and used the toilet before I realised I no longer lived there.

Here’s a link to the plan of our new house just in case you’re interested.

Over the years actually getting here seemed like the hard part.  Selling our flat (which was subsiding down the hill at an alarming rate), giving up our jobs and packing all of our belongings into one transit van seemed like a pretty tough challenge.  Now we’re actually here it’s become apparent that that was just the beginning.  Getting to Colonsay was relatively easy.  Now we have to stay here.  Of course we did produce a business plan before we were awarded our croft.  It was written utilising a level of creativity and inventiveness that J.K. Rowling herself would have envied. Whilst some of our plans were realistic the fact that our croft is still tied up in red tape means very few of them have come anywhere close to fruition.

We have been very lucky though.  Sally was a rather well-timed baby and for the last few months I have been the sole breadwinner despite never leaving the house.  Sadly my maternity pay will come to an end this month and we are now have to make our spreadsheets balance without a rather generous contribution from the NHS.  This isn’t as difficult as one might think.  Fortunately my father taught me the first rule of accounting many years ago.  Apparently you work out what you want your spreadsheet to add up to and then massage the numbers until they fit. Joking aside I think we’re both quite nervous about what the next year will bring.  As well as actually having to earn the money there are all sorts of terrifying prospects such as tax returns, declaring ourselves self-employed and family tax credits (I’m just making it up now) to consider.

In a way I’m looking forward to finding work.  I love my children dearly but that doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes want to rip their heads off.  Helen is sitting next to me at the moment industriously sticking stickers in a book.  I’m quite concerned that she may be reading this.  As I typed those words she viciously ripped the head off of Gaston the Ladybird Dog.  Although I have been earning money whilst sitting on my behind it doesn’t feel the same as Allan coming in covered in mud (and other more unpleasant substances), reeking of sheep and devouring half a loaf of bread because he’s so hungry after working so damn hard.  All of  this has led us to encourage the advances of the new Shopmeister.

Until a couple of weeks ago the shop was run by my Uncle Mike (not really my uncle). He and his lovely wife have finally sold it on to the current Shopmeister who is around the same age as me (a rare thing on Colonsay, an island populated mainly be geriatrics). Sadly timing could not be worse and the Shopmeister’s girlfriend is due to give birth imminently.  Undaunted the poor woman is to be seen in there every day slaving over a hot till but no matter how mean the Shopmeister is even he will have to admit defeat.  You see it’s illegal to give birth on Colonsay.  Well I’m not actually sure if it’s illegal but it’s certainly not encouraged.  Once their pregnancy hits 38 weeks woman are frog marched to the pier, loaded onto the boat like cattle and are not welcomed onto the island again until they have expelled their sprog.  I hung around myself until 38+1 and every time I saw the GP for the last couple of weeks he looked as though he were going to cry.  Admittedly I did think it was particularly amusing to grab my bump and groan loudly whenever I saw him coming.

I actually have some experience of working in the shop.  Before Uncle Mike (not really my uncle) took it over it was owned by my Dad (actually my Dad) and I was engaged to work there the summer before I graduated.  Unfortunately I abandoned my poor father in order to pursue a young man to South America.  By the time I returned, dragging the poor man by his overly long hair, it was time to head back to university so I only really worked there for a few weeks.

Hopefully (a now short-haired) Allan and I will last a bit longer this time.  Not only have we agreed to look after the shop while the Shopmeister is away but I will be working there for two afternoons a week starting from next week.  So there we have it.  I am about to rejoin the rat race – from pathologist to shop underling in less than a year – I couldn’t be happier.

No more blog posts please.

………….Oops I forgot to say thank you so much to everyone who reads my blog and thanks too for all your lovely comments.  I have worked out how to add a follow this blog widget-me-thingummy-bob on the right hand side so if you’d like to receive an e-mail letting you know each time I post please click it.

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