A venture South (social whirling)

5am survivors photo at the Duchess of Richmond's Ball, Germany

Our 5am ‘survivors photo’ at the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball, Germany

To say I’ve been busy over the last couple of months has been an understatement.

My previous visions of having endless spare time to read, write and faff about aimlessly on cold, windswept beaches have all been thoroughly smashed to bits. I’m not quite sure how it’s happened but my life up on Skye has become almost equally as busy as it was back in London.

I’m always very conscious that life is short. It flies by.
We don’t have long to do everything that we have ever wanted to do. And there are all these little opportunities that could lead to a million different things.
It’s a race against time and, I suppose, also health…

Aaargh, how stressful is that?!

He's right you know...

He’s right you know…

 

So, my calendar gets filled up with all these things that I mustn’t miss out on, even up here where supposedly life is calmer (hmm, yeah right).

On a similar but smaller scale, whenever I visit home I find myself packing so much in that the trip becomes a blur of activity planned with military precision. So many people to see in such a brief period of time…
A business meeting in the morning, lunch with the girls, 3pm tea with family, a dinner party with old friends…

“Hi Katie, I hear you’re back in town this weekend, fancy a drink?”

“That would be lovely, I’ve got a slot between picking up a canvas in Covent Garden at 4:30pm and supper in Brixton at 5:15…”

Celebrating my sister's 21st birthday with a night out in Brixton Village

Celebrating my sister’s 21st birthday with a night out in Brixton Village

Though it might be exhausting it’s definitely not unenjoyable.
I suppose it’s actually quite a treat to see most of your loved-ones all in one go, one straight after the other. A bit of a ‘favourite person binge’ perhaps..?

My last trip down South was exactly that.
This was my third trip back home in a month (I popped back two consecutive weekends before this, once for a funeral and then again for my uncle’s 50th) and as it was a longer visit I decided to drive down.

My primary reason for returning was to attend the annual Whalefest event in Brighton.

In  case you haven’t already noticed I’m massively into marine conservation; I’m all-at-once both fascinated by the variety of life our oceans hold and horrified by the way it’s exploited.
In fact, my love for the ocean might explain much of why I chose to move to an island; there’s something about being close to the water that is soothing and renewing in an almost primal way (that might sound mad but it’s a recognised truth, it’s quite well-explained in this article here)

A beautiful Brighton sunset after the first day of Whalefest

A beautiful Brighton sunset after the first day of Whalefest

Put simply, I think Whalefest is brilliant.

From it’s beginnings in 2011 it’s now become the largest celebration of wild whales and dolphins in the world.
It brings the general public together with scientists, conservationists, TV personalities, NGOs, international tour operators… basically anyone and everyone interested in protecting our marine environments.

What makes it really special is that there’s something there for everyone.

I could take a toddler there and they’d have a great time playing with shark teeth whilst I could chat to an expert about how international activism affects relations with the Faroese authorities regarding the annual grindatrap (whale slaughter).
Whether you’ve got biology degrees bursting out of your wetsuit or whether you think blubber is just what you do at the end of watching Titanic, if you like ocean wildlife you should pop down.

Okay, enough of the promo spiel now (would you believe, they didn’t even pay me to say all that!)

Hands on stuff for kids (and excited adults) in the Experts and Artefacts zone

Hands on stuff for kids (and excited adults) in the Experts and Artefacts zone

 

Aside from all the interesting talks and interactive exhibits it’s also a great excuse to catch up with like-minded mates. The marine conservation community in the UK is surprisingly small and through Whalefest I’ve had the chance to meet tons of inspiring individuals who I’m now lucky enough to call friends.

But there were still new people I hoped I’d get a chance to chat to. Weirdly, almost all of these new people have been or are based in Scotland.

For example, I’ve been familiar with Mull’s Basking Shark Scotland for years but I hadn’t had a chance to meet it’s founder, Shane Wasik, until we were both down in Brighton, very far from our home islands!

Meeting the ever-inspiring Virginia McKenna and Will Travers of Born Free at Whalefest 2014

Meeting the ever-inspiring Virginia McKenna and Will Travers of Born Free at Whalefest 2014

Perhaps the person who I was most keen to meet was Monty Halls. For those of you who haven’t heard of him he’s an ex-military man and diver turned TV presenter who did a BBC series called The Great Escape, a series where he left city life for 6 months to become a crofter near Applecross on the West Coast (which was then followed by an Outer Hebrides and an Irish version)

I didn’t pay much attention to the series when it aired back in 2009 but my family gave me the box sets when I first moved to Skye. I’ve watched in amusement as I seem to have been following in his footsteps a bit more than intended; from learning to deal with the weather and remoteness to going deerstalking (all with similar emotions!)

Awkward photo with Monty Halls

Awkward photo with Monty Halls

 

It turned out that he was a really nice bloke. We had a bit of a chat about foraging the seashore, escaping the rat race and local conservation. He also noted down a couple of people he thought I would be interested in meeting when I’m next over in the Outer Hebrides; a couple of characters that I’m keen to get in touch with as soon as I can.

So after an inspiring weekend in Brighton it was back home for Mother’s Day with my favouritest person in the world.
I love Skye and I feel at home here but we have a close family and I miss them to pieces, Mum especially, so time back with her is extra special. I’m still working on getting them all to move up here…

The next few days consisted of pub visits with friends, London dinner parties, drink dates and brunch catch-ups. (It was especially exciting to meet little Eli, the newborn son of one of my oldest and best friends, Orla. Congrats guys, he’s gorgeous!)

OMG my mate made a tiny person!

OMG my mate made a tiny person!

On the Thursday I took my half-sister, Emma, out for a meal for her 21st birthday. I thought we should go somewhere trendy (note: someone in late 20’s trying to be cool for someone in their early 20’s) so I decided to take us for dinner and drinks in the new Brixton Market.

Having spent 4 years living in Brixton (well before it came back into fashion) it was weird to be back in the area with all it’s hot new bars and ethnic food joints. We had a really fun night but  I must admit I felt a teeny tiny pang of sadness that this stuff wasn’t part of my life anymore.
(That particular feeling lasted about 3 minutes, after which I got stuck in traffic and decided I hated cities and needed to get back to single track roads!)

I ended the week with a jaunt even further South… flying to a military ball in Bad Fallingbostel, near Hanover.
The white-tie bash was being held by the Scots Dragoon Guards regiment as a final farewell to Germany before they relocate up to Leuchars, just north of Edinburgh.

Here come the girls! (With thanks to Sammie-Jo for the photo)

Here come the girls! (With thanks to Sammie-Jo for the photo)

 

I’m very lucky to have been invited to a fair few Scots DG events, having worked for them doing a couple of military portrait paintings (they’re a really lovely bunch of guys, it’s been a pleasure working for them).
To say that these guys know how to throw a party is a bit like saying that The Queen Mum was just slightly fond of a tipple.
That said, this was without a doubt the best bash they’ve thrown. From pre-parties to battle re-enactments, fireworks to champagne fountains, to DJ’s and pipe bands; it was an epic weekend.

The ball was themed after the historic Duchess of Richmond's Ball and all the courses were inspired by meals/people of the time. This is a Duke of (beef) Wellington!

The ball was themed after the historic Duchess of Richmond’s Ball and all the courses were inspired by meals/people of the time. This is a Duke of (beef) Wellington!

The Scots DG also happen to be historically affiliated to Pol Roger champagne and it’s certainly a celebrated partnership…

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many magnums and jeroboams popped in my life (I might never see it again either!)

Champagne aftermath (and this was only the pre-party!)

Champagne aftermath (and this was only the pre-party!)

And more champagne…

A champagne fountain with the biggest bottle I've ever seen. What even is that, a Balthazar?!

A champagne fountain with the biggest bottle I’ve ever seen. What even is that, a Balthazar?!

And more champagne…

Extra stock

Extra stock

…And even champagne to wash away the hangover!
(Don’t try this at home, this was not a good pairing. I can still feel the nausea now….)

Um no

Um no

But there’s only so much fun you can have before you have to come *bump* back to earth…
We flew home from Germany on the Sunday evening and I was up at 5:30am the next morning to begin the 14 hour drive back up to Skye.

It was a hellish journey but, as always, it was nice to be coming back.
It’s funny how sometimes you have so many fun social commitments that you sometimes feel like you need to get back to work for a bit of rest!

Whilst all this busy-ness has been pleasurable, I think it’s time for me to slow down a bit now and concentrate on enjoying the island again.
I find it very hard to say no to things, both social and work-related -imagine missing an amazing opportunity to do something new!
But it’s time to be firm. Time for me to turn down some voluntary work requests, stem the stream of guests and clear some space in the diary.
Just me and Skye for a bit again.

You shall go to the ball… somehow!

How do you find yourself standing in a car park in your pants with paint on your face? We’ll get to that in a minute…

Saturday night was the Row St Kilda To Skye ball and ceilidh, an event to celebrate the charity efforts of a group of islanders who raised money for local causes via an epic 100 mile row.
Liza and Barry had booked a whole table for the staff of the gallery and bakery and I was chuffed to have kindly been given a ticket. My first proper night out on Skye, it was a chance to dress up and to spend some social time with my new colleagues.

1920411_382307125251571_2215584694952731040_n

The Row St Kilda to Skye superstar fundraisers. With thanks to them for this photo!

It was a grey day so I’d ensconced myself in my B&B room for the afternoon with a book and continuous cups of tea. Of course, I forgot the time and all of a sudden it was time to get ready. Emma, my landlady at the B&B was staying elsewhere for the night and there were no other guests so I put on some music and started laying my outfit out. I always end up rushing to be ready for black tie things (I’ve got dressed in 5 mins in the back of a London cab SO many times), so I was going to take my time and enjoy this.

To transform from scruffy girl in pyjamas with sleepy panda eyes I needed to grab my hair curlers from the car so I slid on some shoes and popped out.
Slam.
The door!
Oh, you’ve got to be kidding…

About 8 laps of the building and I’ve learned that Emma’s B&B is possibly the most secure place I’ve ever come across (not that I make a habit of trying to break into homes). The curtains in my room are open and I peer in at my phone, door keys, purse, evening dress etc etc on the bed. Everything just sitting there, mockingly. All I had were car keys.

It was no use, I couldn’t get in. The last of the light faded away and I realised I only had 15 mins to get to the ball.
Luckily I’ve got my entire life packed into the back of the Yaris and I ripped through my bags until I came across a long summer dress that could pass as eveningwear. A further rummage uncovered some shoes and a hair tie. I went to put my greasy, frizzy hair up but couldn’t see a thing. I’d have to drive to the square, park under a streetlight and get ready there.

So that’s how I found myself stripping down to my pants in the pouring rain in the middle of a Portree car park.
Have you ever been so desperate to look nice for something that you dug out a pot of black acrylic paint and used it for make-up? Well I have, and I can tell you that old Daler & Rowney actually makes quite a passable eyeliner. I knew that art school degree would come in handy somewhere…

So, slightly frazzled and without ticket I rushed off to the ball.

I followed the beautiful ladies and men resplendent in kilts to the entrance to the Portree community hall. It was beautifully decorated with creels, shells, pebbles and all kinds of coastal paraphernalia. Inside I joined the table and we had a lovely meal accompanied with live music from a local band. A film about the row followed and then the ceilidh begun.
I’ve never really enjoyed country dancing myself but I loved watching everyone flinging themselves across the room to the sounds of traditional Scottish music. It was quite an appropriate introduction to the island, although I’m pleased it was more authentic than those tourists who go abroad and watch belly dancing or something to feel part of the culture!
I also found out that on Skye people don’t call this type of dancing ‘reeling’, only a ceilidh. I assume that it’s a Gaelic thing and that reeling is a mainland term…

10694311_10152757553907177_4839095686117636144_o

The Skyeworks gallery and bakery table. With thanks to the Skye Baking Company for the photo!

I found out today that, with the contributions from the ball, Row St Kilda To Skye have now raised over £39,000 for the RNLI and Skye & Lochalsh Young Carers. So they don’t just throw a good party, they’re pretty incredible fundraisers too!
To find out more about the rowers and their journey check out their Facebook page here: www.facebook.com/RowStKildaToSkye

So, that’s how I went from standing in the rain in my pants to enjoying a rather lovely evening.
As for getting back in? I’d resigned myself to a night in the car but I thought I’d post a note on the B&B door first to let Emma know the situation. By a blessed stroke of luck she’d changed her mind and decided to come home after all. I pushed through the door of my room and collapsed on the bed in bliss.

The moral of the story?
Sometimes there’s no fairy godmother to get you ready for the ball; a princess has to be resourceful and independent and get herself to the ball.

Actual moral of the story?
Just keep a hold of your damn keys.