9 August 2020

Sunday 09 August 2020

Another scorcher. We cherish good weather as the thirsty cherish water.

Yoga on the decking again. Next door, Strathlorn, is now a self-catering rental and this week’s renters are keen and competent paddleboarders. The house wasn’t there when we arrived in 1990. There were founds, but I only had eyes for the view and quickly decided I wanted to buy it. (We were also desperate and there were no other houses for sale.) The house was in a poor state cosmetically and was an ugly box which was common in Scotland at the time. Architects appeared to be asleep

It had been built by the late Iain MacCorquodale, known as Iain Mòr (big Iain), who owned this house and subdivided the very large garden and got planning for another. Iain had bought the house from Mrs Carmichael who had built it after she sold Point House and farm to the non resident Gilmours. After Iain, the late Bob and Grace Hall lived there but since they left for the common reason for leaving Health, it has been done up to a high standard, as they say on television, and is a rental. That is a brief history but will do for now. So slowly in thsi way the area has lost its residents

The sustainability of this island is very complex. Basically a community needs residents and too many rentals can quite suddenly make the island unsustainable. It’s simple: not enough people to run the show. A small community needs people to fill the school, run and use the shop, the church, the heritage centre and cafe, the hall, the fire service, and ambulance, the community trust, the community bus, Lismore Lumiere, several websites and most of these are volunteers, Residents working near enough full time to keep the place running . And in danger of volunteer fatigue, which can be fatal.

But … the island also needs visitors to support the shop, the heritage centre, the businesses etc. And it needs accommodation for visitors. While long lets may appear to be better for the island, they are not good for absent owners who normally want to visit several times a year. And, a number of shorter lets are always required. Then there is the income islanders can get from maintaining and caring for the homes of absentee owners. Possibly not well paid and with little security and nil perks. The worst is possibly second homes seldom visited, as it’s not a great sight for islanders who need a first home.

I’m not considering second homes owned by islanders as that is different again for many reasons and some are on long lets which the island always needs. Neither am I talking about the bunkhouse, a great asset which has taken a hit during the pandemic. But I will. And Air B&B … the jury has been out for a while and I can’t see it returning … Finally, there are second homers who volunteer when they are here and sit on committees and help run things. They are most desirable!

Conclusion: Rentals are complex; owners need to understand island needs.

Interestingly, between Stronacraoibh and Point there are now only two residents’ houses. Of the five second homes, three are owned by non islanders. And all have connections to Lismore or were frequent visitors. Because we are now surrounded by holiday homes with visitors flowing in and out, naturally we hope they are virus free and that they splash their cash liberally as that is what tourists are for. (I know I am one at times.) Tourists are economic units on the move, putting money into the local economy. Staying here and bringing all your food and spending nothing is the worst outcome for a vulnerable island. Leave nothing on the island except your money.

The great thing is that these days we have an abundance of local produce: meat, vegetables, oysters (delivered to our door from the Oyster Croft), to mention three. It is not hard to spend locally and get great food. At the moment we hope the island remains sustainable as it is bursting with productivity, creativity and entrepreneurialism. Much more as I blog on.

Quite a change from when I arrived 30 years although even then people found innovative ways to survive. But it was also assumed I would join the cooking and baking sisterhood, the B&B running sisterhood and every other group designed to keep women doing womanly things ONLY. And for no money. That’s the important word. Womanly things are great but not when they are part of an iron-clad role from which only the bravest escape. And never on female terms. It comes from an age when men had special chairs no-one dared sit on. Don’t you love that! Aren’t you glad they don’t do that now? Or do they? Special chairs are fine but not special gendered ones closest to the fire! (None of this is peculiar to Lismore.)

Chief Officer Stuart Ross (H) on the MV ACT 7

Not long after we moved in, two kind women called suspecting I may be lonely. H was away at sea for four months. I gave them a piece of wedding cake; thank goodness I had loads of that. They asked how I was going to fill my time. I knew they were being kind, but I just wasn’t used to either filling my time or being asked, as I had lived by then most of my independent life in London and was thinking I had landed in the perfect spot for writing, which was by then my job. A room of one’s own. I couldn’t help feeling a little patronised when one suggested I do a university degree which would have been flattering, except I had at least two by then. Having a husband with a known brain (Dux of Oban High, Maths honours from Glasgow Uni) they assumed I wasn’t entirely stupid or he wouldn’t have wanted me.

Sometime before, a woman I had never seen before asked what it was like being married to someone so clever! ‘Ask him,’ I quipped. She didn’t get it. No-one knew then that I could, caught at the right time, quip. No-one knew anything about me. They just saw this brainy man had a wife and I was obviously different, possibly odd, and we had decided to live on Lismore. That was fine. (My oddness was the result of being frequently disabled by migraine, a condition without a shred of credibility evincing ground level sympathy.) My backstory was of no interest, especially if I was not going to bake or, possibly worse, go to church. I accepted all that but I did tire of hearing, e.g. ‘I never knew you were,’ whatever it was (a singer, a dancer, a dominatrix) and my having to say, ‘you never asked,’ as though I had been hiding stuff! Things have changed enormously on this delicious island. We are now tripping over each other’s creativity. We long for backstories and baking is entirely down to your love of it. It’s a business. I’m impatient to tell you more about all this.

A small taster of local stuff you can buy in the Heritage Shop: Slàinte Sauces, Lismore Luminations candles, Shepherd’s Cottage soaps, Camas Lavender

We are often told by random visitors who come for a day, a week, even an hour and get great weather, we are lucky. It’s a repeating theme and goes like this: ‘Do you live here?’ ‘Yes.‘ ‘Wow you are lucky.’ ‘You are welcome. We take anyone.’ I say this because it’s true. If you can afford it, there is nothing to stop anyone moving here. New residents are always welcomed. Sometimes, if I suspect they are dodgy, I over smile in an in-bred, slightly scary way just to brighten my day and make them suddenly glad they don’t live here.

A textbook walk to the south coast via Achinduin and the Bàrr Mòr. Hot but a pleasant cooling wind and not too trudgy underfoot. One dramatic high dyke to negotiate, but we found a way. Painfully scenic. Parked past Frackersaig and through Achinduin to cover parts of the south coast raised beach we hadn’t walked before. A visitor’s car was parked next to ours when we returned. They were possibly going to Bernera. Astonishing. We are so used to having the island to ourselves it was a sort of shock.

 Today’s tip: Never accept anything is age-related. Whatever your age. Not helpful. A fob-off. Ask for chapter and verse.