Archive for October, 2010

Castaway part 8 – the return

October 10, 2010

Castaway part 8 – the return

SATURDAY September 25, 2010:

The promise of sleep evades me. I toss and turn till past 3 and then sleep fitfully chased by nightmares of the capricious snatching sea. I wake at six, heavy eyed and tired.

The day of reckoning is come! My nightmares all week have been about falling out of boats. This is surprising as I am usually a complacent sailor. Thank goodness for rescue remedy!

And now the moment of truth is here. Mercifully there are two handrails to cling onto. The boat rocks gently at the bottom of these and I climb down without incident. The sharp northerly wind of the night before has softened in intensity, but not in temperature. It is bitterly cold on the boat as it bobs its way across to Mull under a dull sky.

I alight on the rock jetty without incident. As I wait by the minibus, I feel the sun come palely out to warm my face until chased off by the brisk little wind.

Travelling with companions this morning, I am glad to relax and let the journey unfold how it will. We climb aboard the Craignure bus at Finnphort. The driver is grumpy. We squish into the narrow seats and the bus eases off down the one-track road.

Two local walkers flag us down. A little later on, some tourists climb aboard. Shortly after that, the side boot springs open and some luggage falls out. It takes quite a bit of time for the bus driver to yield to pleas to stop so the wayward luggage can be retrieved.

The sun, which has been out since we landed on Mull at about 8:15 am is still shining, though the air is cold. I don’t remove my wooly hat till I’m almost on the ferry. On the boat, I feast on a veggie breakfast and celebrate indoor flush toilets by using the fully automated one provided.

Obon is wreathed in sunshine and fried fish. I don’t have a reservation for the train, although I do have a valid ticket. There is a tense 10 minutes or so when we line up by the ticket barrier, ready to charge what is a very small train. Two irritating Ionian pilgrimages next to me are upping the ante with anxious words about not being able to get a seat, it’s going to be so crowded and there’ll be standing room only, they prophesize. I want to tell them to “shut it”, but I am too polite. In the end, I find a seat and pass a reasonably comfortable three hours alternately snoozing and reading.

Compliantly, I have pre-booked assistance at Glasgow Queen’s Road. It very efficiently turns up in the shape of a cheerful local lass. She takes me to the efficient shuttle bus, and a Brumby bloke helps me to find a member of staff at Central station, who tells me he was just going to get me. I am put on the London train and sit in the buffet car so I can indulge my compulsive eating travelers tendencies without having to stagger around from carriage to carriage.

I settle back with a disappointing pre mixed g and t and privately bemoan the absence of any whisky whatsoever on a train that starts from Scotland. That’s sacrilege, I think getting my knitting out. Next stop, London and then home.

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Castaway part 7 community living

October 10, 2010

Castaway part 7 community living

Friday September 24, 2007:

It is nearly over I think as I brush my teeth. What’s that about then, I ask myself? Am I so shallow that I put creature comforts above being in this beautiful environment?

What would make this place palatable? An assurance of hot water! A composting toilet a bit nearer than half a hill away? More space for me? Someone who will take me onto the hills and down to the sea?

Ok, but I am here now. I make breakfast and sit down and knit for a while. I share a couple of songs with one of the community who collects them and head off in what is now a bitter northerly to the comfort that is morning meeting.

It’s funny how I am anchored by the aspect and reality of the morning meeting. I always turn up. Deep down, despite my aloofness, I am obviously quite community minded.

I like it when people work well together. I’ve lived in a number of communities and, despite the lack of privacy I have frequently felt, have on the whole enjoyed the experience. I’ve lived alone now for 25 years and love it. If at times I feel lonely, it is in most measure well made up by the peace I find being with myself.

We are not a socially cohesive house. One is very self-contained, enjoying reading books and watching DVDs on her computer in her bedroom. The other is haply optimistic and full of wonder and joy in the moment. She studies quietly at the dining table. Me, I’ve taken up residence on the sofa with my audio book and knitting. We are all careful of each other’s space.

I’m of necessity a very tidy person. I’ve learned from the haphazard of hurry that if I don’t put something down in the place it’s meant to be in, I might not find it when I come to want it again. My biological family is for the most part, remarkably untidy although my father had an obsession for compartmentalizing everything when he was allowed to.

I’ve lived with infuriatingly untidy people who innocently scatter theirs and others belongings in the daftest of places. The times I’ve knocked a balanced half empty mug of cold coffee flying or stepped into a plate of cold dinner, left carelessly in the middle of the lounge floor are countless! With careful schooling, some housemates have become tidier. I remember the chaos of community living and am thankful that my two housemates this week are remarkably tidy.

After morning meeting, we “attune” (meditate) to decide how much we will pay. Then we head to our homes to clear up. Anxious again that I’m not going to be able to contribute, I opt for the kitchen, and suggest my housemates do the other rooms. , we set too scrubbing, wiping and hoovering, and a pleasant morning is had by all.

The house clean, I set to doing my packing. How is it that what came out of my suitcase seems never to go back in again?

I do lots of post lunch KP (two hours at the sink!) then I sit and read and finish the stole cum shawl cum blanket thingy that I’ve been knitting for years. It is a strange rhomboid shape, with a number of interesting holes in it. I began to knit it when I was a novice knitter. I’m no expert now, only recently having learned to “pearl”, so the knitting shows the progress of my learning. I like the fact that a number of others have had to rescue me at various points and thus knitted a row or two as well. I wonder what I’m going to do with it now that it’s done.

We feast to celebrate the week. We drink wine and chat, enjoying the dinner made mainly from what the island has produced.

Later I sit by the wood stove and think about the week. How am I feeling? I am relieved it is nearly over but regretful that I found it so hard. I am however sad to be returning to the mainland and to my life back in London.

Well I’ve given my mind a rest this week, and that’s been good. Whether I’ve really worked out what I am going to do with myself when I grow up, is depended on me accepting the work I did earlier in the week.

I roll into bed and snuggle down amongst the hot water bottles. I can think about all that tomorrow.

Castaway part 6 Impact and balance

October 10, 2010

Castaway part 6 Impact and balance

Thursday September 23, 2010:

It is raining again and I feel miserable. The wind has shifted to a bitter North-Easterly. I scowl as I climb to the composting toilets.

At morning meeting I report having survived traumatic Tuesday and wobbly Wednesday. We divvy up the jobs for the day. Being a fair weather gardener, I opt for cooking all day.

I spend the morning cutting up apples to contribute to something to do with blackberries, picked by others of the community. In the afternoon, I help cook the evening meal and do a ton of washing up.

The cook this day is a bit stressed. She’s making a complex recipe that she has to adapt to cater for various allergies. There are down times in the afternoon where I am unoccupied and feel powerless to help.

I ruminate upon being useful. There is a lot of work to do to sustain the community. I really want to play my part in doing that.

I worry about my impact upon the community and the wider world. Am I being helpful right now in this kitchen or am I getting in the way? Again, I dance with the fear that my impact is negative.

How deeply I have ingested that lie, I think. The concept of the useless eater is repeatedly expressed in euthanasia policies past and present. Even current debates about assisted suicide and the right to die have their impact. In a tired moment, I pick away at the worry that I am more in the way than is helpful.

I think about a recent conversation with my frail 83 year old mother. She recounts an incident when she is trying to help but those she is helping find her too slow and brush off her aid. She hates to sit in a corner and wait when she knows she can contribute. I know how she feels and dread to hear that someone finds it quicker to do something themselves than let me help.

This is the balance about living in community though. We each have something to contribute; it’s about getting balance between what we give and what we receive that really matters. I can imagine this is sometimes hard to negotiate around, but is rewarding when it works.

The dinner we produce, a butter bean, cauliflower and leek casserole with cheese + bubble and squeak and an apple, walnut, lettuce and cucumber salad, goes down very well.

Tonight it is full moon and today is the astrological equinox, the exact point of balance in the year when day and night are equal. We have a community meditation.

Afterwards, I walk slowly down the hill from the sanctuary under what my companion says is a cloudy but moonlit sky. The air feels clear and clean. The sea down below sounds like it is ebbing and flowing peacefully.

Later, I stand on the hill above the gardens and listen to the night. Behind the sea and the breeze, I hear the sheep shifting about and tugging at the grass. A cow moos and her calf snorts back. A gale of laughter bursts from the house below.

I think of how the moon might light up the land. The rough and stony terrain thinly covered with heather, bracken and bog is delineated by the light. Does the moon shine on the sea below and make it glitter? In my mind I paint a picture of the land around me.

I breathe deeply the night damp smell of crushed grass mingling with the faintest whiff of composting toilet. No traffic, no sirens, no electronic music. All is peaceful on this glittering rock. I head back down the hill to the cottage and the warmth of the sitting room.

Castaway part 5 – wobbling

October 10, 2010

Castaway part 5 – wobbling

Wednesday September 22, 2010:

Early in the morning I stumble out to the compost toilet. It is pouring with rain and the wind has strengthened distinctly. I get soaked and stump back indoors grumpily.

It’s the Midpoint of the retreat, we have a day off. My housemates are off to Iona today. However, getting off the island involves an open rowing boat. They are going to get soaked.

I’m in two minds about whether to go or not. I don’t fancy getting wet and cold again though so opt to stay behind. Morosely, I wander over to the wood stove and prod the dead embers. No life there. That means the water will be cold. I make tea and toast and peanut butter and sit grumpily at the table eating it thinking about the day and feeling generally rather sorry for myself.

Disorientated by the rain and wind this morning, I got lost coming back from the compost toilet. Tasks that seem easy in the sunshine are trials in the pouring rain. Without the compensation of a warm fire and a hot bath, it all feels a bit too much. Fleetingly, I wish to go home.

A beam of sunlight hits my face from beyond the window. It has stopped raining! I pull my boots on and go and stand in it. Everything smells fresh and green as though newly washed. Perhaps I can do this island thing after all, I think.

Later, someone comes by to offer me lunch. I take the opportunity to ask her to show me how to light the wood stove.

Pushing aside my fear of the fire, I ease the half burned log to one side of the stove and stack rolled and folded newsprint on the other. I wrap some lumps of wax in more newsprint and balance the kindling sticks across the top. It’s not so different lighting a fire in a stove than it is to light one on the ground, I muse. With the last match from the box, I light the paper and the fire catches.

It spits and hisses, hums and snaps and soon is burning merrily. I prod it with a poker to enliven it, and when it is burning merrily, lay another big log across it. It continues to make contented healthy fire noises, so I deem it safe to leave and go off to have lunch.

After lunch, I return to the fire, which is still singing. I prod it some more with the poker, which it appears to like. With some considerable satisfaction I settle back contentedly to read, drink tea and knit and eat chocolate for the rest of the afternoon.

I’ve lit my first stove fire and it’s not gone out! I’ve not burned my hands or burnt the house down in the doing of it either.

I’ve always been cautious about fire, coming late to an ease with it. Fire can so easily run away with itself. Within minutes it can destroy. I am also learning, as I tend the stove this afternoon that, more often it needs coaxing and persuading to burn. I think about the capriciousness of fire as the afternoon spins on.

My companions return with travelers’ tales of their day. I am gratified by their delighted welcoming of the cozy warm room and the vibrant fire. Their day’s sound good but I’m glad I stayed here. I feel warm and rested, and not a little proud of the fire I made.

Castaway part 4 – breaking

October 5, 2010

Castaway part 4 – breaking

Tuesday September 21, 2010:
It is already Tuesday. Almost half the week is over. I suddenly think of this and feel glad.

Am I not enjoying myself then? Well yes but I do find the lack of creature comforts, a bit unsettling. Everything takes so darn long!

Now of course, this is in fact the learning I am receiving here isn’t it? If I want to live in harmony with the earth, I must take time.

I take time to put each foot down. By doing so, I can gage if the earth will support me. I am kept steady as I do so. It’s hard though. I’ve got a lot to do in the world outside, and maybe this is my problem. I have too much choice!!!

This morning, we have a workshop about the season and our vision for the future. We each go into nature and pick up stuff that speaks to us. I pick up some herbs, a piece of sheep’s wool, three crows feathers stuck together, a shell, some stones and various seeds.
I think of health when I smell the herbs. The crow’s feather speaks to me of purpose of mind although to me, crow is also about death .hmmm, what am I prepared “to die to”? The shell symbolizes flow, the stone – solidity and the sheep’s wool about breakthrough for it was found in a place where a sheep has pushed past.

I battle with my vision of the future, wanting two key things and not one. As in everything, I accumulate. Briefly I wonder about attempting to streamline and then dismiss the thought, I can’t make up my mind!

We ruminate upon the fears that will stop us reaching our vision and then write these on an archery arrow. Now comes the hard bit. We are expected to break the arrows with the soft part of our throats. This is seriously scary – which of course is the point. We are focusing on our vision whilst doing this. It is the fear that raises the energy for change! Ok, compliantly Kirsten does stupid thing number 97 in the cause of self-development. Let no-one say I don’t walk my talk!

“What the hell am I doing here?” I wonder. I fail to break the arrow. After a bit of a dance with myself and disappointment, I rip it into pieces, which makes me feel much better.

I muse on the symbolism of doing difficult things whilst trying to focus on a future vision. I understand the thinking behind it, but the school of daring-do vision setting is not one that makes me feel particularly comfortable, which is probably the point. In any case, I do scary things every day, like crossing a busy road, and remembering that, I leave off beating myself up about the arrow.

After dinner, we take our broken arrows and bind them with the objects we found into a sort of prayer – stick. The fears we wrote on the arrow are broken. We put our resources, the things we picked up, onto the stick. Together they are about the victory being an optimist, I like this,

I hang the creation I’ve made above the mantelpiece in my bedroom. It feels satisfyingly tribal! I retire to bed with two hot water bottles and seek oblivion in the middle-class 1960s world of an Ellis Peters book.

Castaway part 3 – getting stuck in

October 5, 2010

Castaway part 3 – getting stuck in

Sunday September 19, 2010:

I nip out to the compost toilet one more time this evening. A cow is mooing in the garden a few doors along. She is loud and sounds in distress. Her lowing is deep, intense and piteous indeed. I wonder if the pregnant cow is calving and having a hard time of it or what. I go to bed still hearing her calling beyond the thick granite walls.

Sometime in the early hours, I wake and head towards the compost toilet. The cow is still mooing sadly. It is raining and in the rain, I hear an answering cry of distress, and restless shuffling. I moo back quietly, answering the sadness with a sympatheticmoo of my own. I wonder if she is calling to her calf.

Monday September 20, 2010:

The day dawns bright and sunny. The island is washed clean and the skies are clear. We gather for the community meeting. Everyone else seems to have had a restless night on account of the distressed cow.

“It makes you want to become a vegan, says the community member who milked the cow this morning. He explains that by separating her from her calf, the morning milk yield is more than twice what it would be and anyway we were low on milk.

Jobs are assigned. I opt to make bread in the morning and prepare the evening’s dinner in the afternoon.

I am in seventh heaven making the bread. I love to feel the dough in my hands. I pull it and kneed it and it unfolds itself pliantly. I bang it down, drive it into long flat pieces with the heal of my hands, and it submits, curling around my fist as I push and pull it.

My mind wanders, drifting gently from topic to topic. I focus on what my hands are doing and feel all thoughts drift away into only the essentialness of making my hands do what they are doing. I sigh happily, knowing that all I have to do is make the bread.

I make fifteen loafs, the last, I mould and shape, reluctant to release it to the oven.

I’m a bit attached to this one,” I say to my cooking companion, who laughs in understanding. I’m relieved not to be thought batty, for what the outside world might see as a piece of anthropomorphic whimsy, (if you can be anthropomorphic about a piece of dough!). The thing is, the bread does feel alive, growing under my hands and then expanding some more before it is put in the oven to bake.

There is something deeply grounding about the ritual of bread making. I feel warm and satisfied and happy as the first loaves emerge from the oven, their sweet-savory smell filling the kitchen.

There are a lot of wasps agitating in the back garden. Yesterday, I had a close encounter with a confused one who tried to enter my right eye. Terrified that it would sting me, I began to hum quietly, this slowed down my breathing, and the wasp left.

Having nothing better to do after lunch, I suggest the community come and dance with the wasps! Half a dozen or so of us gather in the back garden of the house next door. We hum and dance.

I find myself weaving in and out of my companions, dancing a figure of eight like the flight path of a wasp when it is contemplating settling upon its dinner. The funny thing is that a wasp comes and joins us and we all buzz and weave away for a time.

I’m a bit scared of wasps. As I dance, I think about how they are also part of the balance of life on this earth. People are hostile to wasps and respond aggressively to them. Wasps like every other creature, also have their place in the eco system. It’s not their aim in life to sting humans; it’s because we get in the way.

The sun is hot, real bee heat in fact. As we dance and buzz, a light sprinkling of cool rain falls upon us through the sunshine. This is crazy little-island weather, someone says. We laugh and dance some more and the wasps, buzz away in the distance.

At the end of our dance, we decide to set up a decoy wasp feeding station as an offering to them down at the end of the garden by a fuchsia bush. If wasps bother us, we can hum back at them and tell them about the goodies we’ve put aside for them.

It’s time to start preparing for dinner. I chop a mound of onions, bash a ton of nuts into submission, (but they resist arrest, even when I attack them with a rolling pin and then an industrial mixer). I shred several bucket loads of spinach and grate a brick of cheese. We are making lentil, nut and spinach bake with chips made from the potatoes pulled this morning from the garden and pink tomato coolie.

With the rest of the group, I climb up to the community sanctuary building to meditate upon the season and thanksgiving. I think about what I’ve sewn this season that I can harvest. I’m on this retreat partly to think about what I will do when I grow up and to rest after a busy few months. Since the Coalition government came in, my professional life has been shaken up. It’s not that I didn’t know it was coming, one always hopes bad things won’t happen. But now I have to think about what I am going to do.

. This is a time of harvest, of reaping what we’ve sewn, of moving forward towards the drawing in of the year. Here on Erraid, we harvest what the sun has ripened, so we take the energy to preserve it to sustain us through the winter. I think about what I am harvesting to take me forward to the next stage of my life and career.

All is quiet. In the corner, a fly buzzes amongst a display of fruit and flowers. Robins chatter to each other down the hill in the garden, an unknown bird calls briefly and harshly from somewhere uphill. I can hear the sea singing.

A bell jangles down below on the street by the cottages. It is dinner time!

Our dinner is of course delicious and I have two helpings. After dinner, I sit by the stove reading, writing and knitting. What would make this perfect right now would be to be sitting here drinking a nice peaty single malt, I think, stretching my legs out on the sofa.

Castaway part 2 – what is this place?

October 4, 2010

Castaway part 2 – what is this place?

Sunday September 19, 2010:

I pass a peaceful night. Failing to drink enough fluids, I sleep through the night but wake up with a fierce headache. The wood stove heats our water and it has gone out in the night. I wash in cold water, feeling slightly miserable until I remember that I’ve faced worse in a tent! I make gluten-free toast and eat it with butter and Lady Gray tea.

In the sitting room, I chat with my housemates, whilst battle commences with the wood stove. I talk about the balance between independence, interdependence and dependence. Here at Erraid, they are trying to live in balance with the environment. This puts certain responsibilities upon those who try. Some of the things are quite hard. It may mean having to take time to do something, like composting, which yields huge benefits although the short-term one is mixed.

I muse about the challenge of living close to nature for a blind person such as myself. So many modern conveniences have made my life hugely easier. From automatic washing machines to hot running water, from gas stoves with pilot lights to internet grocery shopping, it is much easier for me to live an independent life. Whoever invented the speech screen reader has liberated thousands and thousands of visually impaired people.

I used to bemoan my fate to live without reading a daily newspaper, now I can do it on the net. I hated getting someone to read my post, now I mostly correspond privately with friends via email

But all these things have an impact upon the environment. Living inharmoniously with the earth has irrevocably damaged her. Learning to pacer her in her seasons means learning to preserve and conserve and to have only those things in the garden or field or from the animals we live with, when they are in season.

So today, it’s a holiday. We’re going for a walk round the island. I’ve already mentioned that this might be hard for me. I ask about the shorter alternative. One of the community member’s is deputed to walk with me. A sense of relief floods over me. I won’t hold others up or have to sit this activity out.

I think about the issue of asking for help. Everything we do on Erraid has an impact (as indeed it does everywhere else too). I am sometimes over anxious about the impact of my presence upon others, especially assuming that it is always going to be negative. But then so many times disabled people are thought to only have an negative impact upon the world as we cost more, need things adjusted, take more time and so on. I don’t want to “spoil” things for others, I think, not thinking that how I will walk the island might enhance another’s appreciation of it. There’s a balance to be struck between owning my place and contribution in society whilst allowing myself to be supported and my way of being to be celebrated and informative of how others can live too.

Everyone else disappears up the hill by the community’s Sanctuary building. My companion and I head off across the garden, shin over a stone wall and strike out amongst the bracken and heather. Soon, the ruts between the tufts are boggy and my boots sink luxuriously into deep dark ooze.

We step carefully. I place each foot on the earth, feeling to check it will hold my wait and then move onto it. We edge between rocks, bogs and rare islands of firm ground. It is hard walking.

My companion tells me that years ago he went on a training course to learn how to lead blind people. They didn’t teach him to guide anyone across deep dark bogs! Still and all, he does quite well considering. Neither of us falls into any pits.

The ground rises, then dips down and rises again. In the distance, his five year old daughter’s voice comes to us on the wind, her exuberance audible even from the other side of the island. This is not surprising as Erraid isn’t much more than a glorified lighthouse rock and she is brimful of energy.

Now we enter the treachery of a serious Scottish bog. We edge our way carefully around the dark stinking, sucking black pools, and I stretch my stride to feel for a firm hold before swinging forward. It is tiring work. My walking stick and companion prospect for firm footing, and aside from once when the ooze nearly has my right boot, we arrive at the first of a serious of narrow bridges, relatively unscathed if a little muddy.

“Perhaps I was a goat in a past life” I muse as I balance on a wobbling rock. I engage my core muscles like my personal trainer is always telling me and the rock stops shifting. I edge across each bridge, resisting the temptation to sing “All of life is just a narrow bridge”, for I need to concentrate if I don’t want to fall in a ditch.

Beyond another shallow valley, the sea lies. The hard packed sand is firm beneath our feet. We splash through a winding rivulet and step between granite rocks onto the beach.

The weather seemed so benign when we left the settlement but now I am soaked through. The soft southern wind brings at first soft rain which intensifies as the hour goes by. For the last half-hour it has been a determinedly damping horizontal rainstorm. Not for the first time today, I wish I’d worn the plastic trousers. I sit damply, on a rock to rest and wait the rest of the party.

It’s a beautiful sandy beach. My companion’s children come tumbling down towards us dancing in and out of the shallow waves. They find a fishing weight and imprison it in a sandcastle then chase the waves in and out of the sea.

I eat my lunch and listen to the children playing in the water. I am leaning against a granite boulder but am beginning to get cold. I need to move and get my circulation going again.

Now that I know what the terrain is like, I am slightly worried about the journey back and anxious to get started. We stride up the beach and begin to cross the series of little bridges that lead to the low valley and then the bogs.

It’s not so bad. I’m damp, but I meet nothing that I can’t deal with. Our companions walk carefully in single file through the bog. The little girl complains because some of the oozing pools seem very deep to her, considering her short legs. We walk on and as we reach the communities little water tank, the little girl’s older brother races past us, enjoining his father to put the bath on for him when he gets back. We’re on the home straight. Only a few more tussocks and some brown bracken between us and that stone wall.

I imagine the scene, a graduated spectrum of browns through to greens, topped by a leaden grey sky. The color is provided by the rain gear of the walkers. It is not a displeasing image, being muted, merged and harmonious, as befits this time of year when the earth balances briefly before spinning on towards winter.

Despite the climb, I’m still cold and thinking about the wood stove. I ask for a lesson in how to light and maintain the heat so that we can all have hot baths. Back in the cottage with the fire lit and crackling, my housemates and I settle down in front of the roaring stove to dry ourselves and our clothing.

Castaway part 1 – getting there

October 4, 2010

Castaway part 1 getting there

Friday September 17, 2010:

Thats it, I snarl, seizing a huge suitcase and towing it behind me, Goodbye cruel world! Im off to hide from everything, castaway on the island that allegedly inspired Robert Louis Stevensons Treasure island.

Getting there is a bit of a challenge in one day; in fact it is probably not possible on account of the trains and boats I have to take. So I opt for the sleeper to Glasgow.

Youd think, after my recent adventures across Europe that Id be sick of trains and especially sleepers, but I cant help getting excited about the train that goes to Scotland. At least Ill be able to negotiate with train staff and passengers. There wont be any language barriers I think complacently, as I trundle my suitcase through the tube station.

Everyone is jolly civilized on the assistance front at Euston, despite the place being deserted. Its 11:30 on a Friday night and the Luton plain to Glasgow has been cancelled. Several slightly desperate Scottish people are importuning the bloke hiding firmly behind the screen at the ticket office. If they dont get on this train they tell him, they wont get home. Tiredly, he informs them that the train is full.

Scot Rail staff are sensible and helpful. My sleeper compartment is right at the front of the train somewhere near Milton keens and miles from the bar! But I am in luck. The accessible cabin is empty and I am ushered into spacious if frighteningly automated luxury. Theres a button for everything and several which set off the alarm. The good thing is that its right next to an accessible toilet and very close to the bar. What more could a girl want.

Before I know it, I am ensconced in the lounge drinking a very acceptable Dura single malt. The bar steward offers to set me up with a tab, which is tempting. I summon considerable willpower and decline, reaching for my wallet.

This is the life I say to myself as I drain my glass. Fleetingly, I contemplate a second but decide that this will only provoke several visits to the toilet in the night which would far out way the pleasure of the drink.

Soon I am tucked up in a narrow bunk wrapped in a warm if small duvet which barely covers my rear. I adopt the now well-practiced sleeping-in-a bunkbed-on-an-moving-train position and settle down to sleep.

Saturday September 18, 2010:

I am awake and drinking tea and eating shortbread biscuits at the crack of dawn. Staff appear at Glasgow Central and escort me to a taxi (the shuttle bus between stations is not working at this hour of the day). I am met from my taxi at Glasgow Queens Street and taken off to the Obon train. I settle back to snooze the morning away as the train crawls slowly through a series of small towns heading North-West.

Sunshine, a sea-breeze laced with chips, and a gaggle of loudly shrieking seagulls, greet me as I alight the train at Obon, and so does the assistance. Scot rail said that they couldnt take me to the ferry terminal (which is next door for heavens sake) when I booked the assistance a few days ago. Happily, the Scot Rail employee assisting me disobediently marches me off and hands me over to someone in the ferry terminal.

All is chaos. Theres a long queue to buy tickets. The ferry is leaving in five minutes and various confused passengers are charging about towing impossibly large pieces of rumbling luggage. One nearly takes my foot off as she scoots past me and pounds on the lift door. The Caledonian McBayne member of staff is sanguine as she steers me through the Millay.

On the ferry at last, I wonder towards what sounds like a café and am intercepted by another member of staff. I sit down and allow myself to be waited on.

I imagine a sparkling silver sea and a misty dark shape on the horizon. Bourne on placid water, the great boat undulates gracefully. A loudspeaker announcement informs drivers of the etiquette of driving on the roads of Mull, as they are in the main, single track and narrow.

I speculate about my onward journey. Ive got to get a bus and then I will be picked up by someone from Erraid and taken to the island. Ive no idea how I will get there, and imagine a causeway upon which we can drive.

The port approaches. Everyone gets up and crowds about getting tangled up in each others luggage. I trail after them and am headed off by another helpful member of ferry staff.

“Ye dinna pay, yere bleind” says the bus driver hefting me up onto the bus. I clamber up and sit down in a seat near the front. The bus is crowded. Behind me, some women I first encountered on the train from London are chatting about their lives back home. They are going to Iona, which necessitates another boat.

As we approach finnphort, the signal on my mobile fails. I am told there’ll be no more mobile signal for a week. My insides shift slightly with anxiety. It looks like I might be truly cut off from the world. Blimy!

So much for driving across to the island. The last leg is in fact a rowing boat with outboard motor. I step carefully across a slippery rock jetty and lower myself clumsily down into the boat, which rocks alarmingly.

I don a lifejacket and we set off. The sea is truly benign today. There is a soft breeze and hardly any swell. The boat bobs cheerfully along and I resist the temptation to sing The Sky Boat song”!

I learn that the boat is the best way on and off the island. It is possible to walk at low tide across a causeway, but that does involve legging it round to the other side of the island, no mean feat as it is just a glorified rock with bogs, bracken and boulders.

It is a matter of minutes to get to Erraid. There is a hairy moment getting off the boat which sways away from the steps just as I am about to place a foot on them. Fortunately, there is a handrail and, aside from nearly pushing another occupant of the boat accidentally into the brine; I step upon land fairly sure-footedly. As I climb up onto the path, a sheep greets me incuriously.

Dodging a huge pile of cow pooh (deposited, I learn, by Jeanie, a bovine member of the community, just outside the gate) we walk up the main street edging the 7 fishermen’s cottages that are now the buildings for the community. In keeping with minimizing the human impact upon the land, everything is recycled or used as fuel. This has certain implications for the state of the amenities!

I had been forewarned about the existence of compost toilets. Indeed, I might say that I am a bit of a veteran when it comes to such conveniences. I fondly imagine one within spitting distance of the house in which I will be staying. It is with some slight trepidation therefore that I clamber the steep muddy bank, flanked by prickly conifer and tangled willows which lie in the way of the lav and my bottom. Gamely, I memorise the way which before long will of course become very familiar to me.

The afternoon is still young. Theres nothing to do before dinner. I sit down in the sun to write. It is a clear breezy day. The wind is kind.

Around the settlement, beyond the extensive vegetable gardens, rough pasture soon gives way on one side to thinly grassed granite. On the other side rise bracken and heather and beyond that is bog.

The island is roughly a mile across. Sheep belonging to the farmer across the narrows on Mull graze the uplands. The cows keep closer to the settlement. Above me, seagulls wheel and on the other side of the garden wall, robins sing.

I can hear nothing but the wind, the sea and the animals. I smell nothing but the damp dank bog, crushed grass and the sea. I turn my mobile off for the week and breathe a sigh of relief. I only have to think about what work I will do whilst I am here and building relationships with the community and other guests. All I have to do when Im not working is sit by the wood stove, knitting and reading. I sigh deeply, stretching contentedly.