Monday, 15 August 2011

Rum And Raisin' Kids

The typical summer family holiday, if we believe the clichés, involves a stressed out car journey with the kids whining “Are we there yet?” followed by a frantic dash to catch a flight while struggling with luggage and then trying to find entertainment for everyone at a concrete resort.

Ours involved homeopathic anti-sickness pills, spotting nineteen varieties of butterflies and a gentle ferry ride to a place with no tarmac roads or street lights.

I heartily recommend the Isle of Rum for your next vacation although you’re unlikely to be able to do so as there are no hotels or B&Bs on the island - only a hostel and a campsite, which is fine if you like that sort of thing. I may be Green but I demand a comfy mattress and fresh ground coffee beans in the morning!

Luckily our pal Ikki lives on Rum and has a spare room. Toddler and Ikki get on like old chums so Wife-features and I weren’t constantly on parent duty. Luxurious.

Our visit swelled the population of the island by ten per cent. We were hopeful Toddler would meet the other two year old but sadly they didn’t quite co-ordinate diaries. The school has one pupil who’s about to move up to high school on the mainland, putting the island school into mothballs for a wee while.

With the whole island a nature reserve and no crime other than the occasional egg thief it’s probably a great place to raise a family but really you’d have to have a couple of kids and put one to school on the mainland to observe the difference. And I’m not that mad. I bet as I type it’s being suggested as a reality TV format by some “creative” twerp.

It’s a real lo-fi existence on Rum and I’ll admit to being envious. No roads means you don’t need a car and there’s no TV and only patchy radio reception. (Ikki made me smile when she revealed she could get Radio 4. My smile quickly faded when she failed to switch off when Weekend Woman’s Hour came on.) There’s a wee bit of internet but not much. The real test will be in the winter. It’s nice to imagine holing up for a couple of dark and stormy months with a pile of good books and a log fire but I suspect the reality is less charming.

Boiling water for a cuppa takes longer as electric kettles are frowned upon. If everyone switched on theirs at the same time in the morning the small hydro power supply would apparently fall over. It’s little things like that that make some people roll their eyes and mutter about Greenies wanting to send us back to mud hut existences. But it makes me sad - is the immediacy of boiling a kettle for a mug of coffee so important in the grand scheme of things? If we’re to tackle the Energy Crunch or whatever we’re calling it we have to face the uncomfortable reality that it’s unreasonable to expect as much power as we want when we want it.

What I really loved was the absolute darkness at night with only the lights from yachts moored in the bay twinkling and studding the black out. (Apparently the islanders are encouraged to close their curtains at night if they have lights on as these can distract Manx Shearwaters who fly into the houses.) Upon our return to the Brighton of the North I couldn’t help noticing the traffic noise from the A96 whereas before I thought our back garden was a tranquil haven.

Toddler’s trip resulted in her coming to a number of conclusions:

Horses should wear nappies as they do big poos all over the place.

The sea is full of whales and dolphins and crabs and daddy fish and mummy fish and baby fish and seals and otters and jellyfish and more whales and more crabs.

Ferries are wibbly wobbly.

I also earned some new Dad stripes thanks to our Rum adventure. I inflated an inflatable bed for Toddler which she then only played in and slept instead in a travel cot already assembled by Ikki. I endured midge bite after midge bite insisting they were building character. And I took pride in helping Toddler trace our journey along the A96, down the A82 and along the A830 to Mallaig with her finger on a big map every day until she could do it by herself.

Oh, and the road to Mallaig was mental. Lovely sweeping chunks of carriageway courtesy of the European development fund but few places to overtake and I kept getting stuck behind caravans doing 39mph. As an added frisson many of the vehicles in front would suddenly slam on their brakes, yank over onto the embankment and spew forth a bunch of people frantically clicking cameras. The Jacobite/Hogwarts steam train was right behind us it seems.

Best bit? (Apart from trying not to laugh at Wife-features realising the expensive anti-sickness pills she bought in Fort Augustus - to cope with the twists and turns of the A82 rather than the ferry crossing - were homeopathic placebo nonsense.) During the drive down the A82 Toddler kept pointing out of the window at passing mountains and saying “I want to climb that one and that one and that one…” That’s my girl!

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