Eden: the vet and the artist

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At a whale rescue training course in Ullapool -recruiting Rob as another ocean warrior!

Channel 4’s Eden: shouting, crying, sexism, homophobia, rape jokes… Maybe reading about Donald Trump, refugees and looming nuclear war might be a bit more positive..?!

Well, it was tough. The toughest thing I’ve ever done. In the short programmes you think you see people’s dark sides; they haven’t shown the worst of it.

Doom, gloom, booooo, noooooo!

But I’ll let you in on a secret….
It wasn’t all bad.

I made some lifelong friends, I built a Hobbit House and lived in it with a robin and family of voles, I created 7ft sculptures, I became matey with a massive (and sometimes terrifying) Tamworth pig.

Hmm, have I forgotten anything? Oh yeah, just one other thing… Vet Rob.

It’s been really heartening (and kind of weird) to find that people are interested in our relationship.
Obviously, it’s something I could talk about forever so, for anyone wanting to know a little more, here’s a few thoughts on the Eden couple that got away..!

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Our first day together on ‘the outside’!

I remember this one night very early on where I first realised how much I like him…

It was pouring with rain, we were huddled in the stinky straw of the pen, soaked through, and Rob was showing me how to bottle feed a kid goat.
Poor little Monty was the runt of triplets, a tiny tangle of knobbly knees and white fluff, he was so hopeless he couldn’t even suckle.
I watched Rob pick him up with these massive strong, rough-looking hands and nurse this funny little creature so softly and so lovingly… well, that was it for me. Hooked.

I mean, there’s a reason why you get calendars that feature hefty firemen cradling cute puppies. Incredible strength showing pure gentleness. As I said… Hook. Line. Sinker.

So that was it, we picked up momentum and he became my best friend.

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Big softy! (He’ll go mad at me for putting this on here…)

That’s not to say that we didn’t row like cats and dogs. My goodness, we had some explosive arguments in there!
When you’re in a confined environment and you’re stressed, tired, hungry and anxious you see the worst sides of each other very quickly.*
Still, we stuck by the motto, ‘If we can get through this, we can get through anything’

And there was a lot to get through. As you’ll have seen if you watched last night’s programme, in early December Rob exited the project.

Looking back, we’re both pleased that we left when we did and are confident that the decisions we made at the time were what was right.
Rob is an incredibly thoughtful guy and he struggled for a long time with the boys’ attitudes to the animals and one boy who had a particular problem with me.
He only stayed as long as he did because I’d always persuaded him to persevere. But, in the end, it was getting him down deeplyand he needed to go.
Of course, I was devastated when he left without a goodbye but I understood it completely.

For me, I’m pleased that I stayed.
They may have tainted the experience but I didn’t want them to ruin my opportunity like they had done for Rob. Stubbornness maybe. Don’t let them win. It might look like I’m wearing glitter, but I think if you look closer it’s grit.
Somewhere deep down I knew we’d both be fine.

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Reunited on the decking

Fast forward 4 months and we’re out.
On my first day of freedom Mum rented a beautiful house down the road from the Eden site in Ardnamurchan, the first part of her expertly-coordinated plan to help me gently readjust into the ‘real world’.
We pulled up to the drive and I saw through the window a curly-haired figure standing on the decking looking out to the loch.

I’d never seen him in ordinary clothes before. I thought he looked like a rockstar.
He’d never seen me without all the ingrained dirt (and funny smell)!

He met my Mum and, later, the rest of the family. I often daydreamed in Eden about seeing the people I loved most together in one room.

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Rob and the Tunn clan on Armadale Pier, Skye

We’d been a couple for almost a year and this was the first time Rob and I had been in a house together… the first time we’d sat down to a meal at a table with a proper knife and fork… the first time in a car together… the first time we’d slept in a bed with sheets!

A couple of weeks after this we’d travelled to Brighton for our one-year anniversary.
I don’t think there are many couples who can say that the first time they ever sat down for dinner together at a restaurant also happened on their first anniversary! It’s been surreal.

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First anniversary & first restaurant meal together!

Rob’s now found work near my cottage on the Isle of Skye and I’ve got to be his vet’s assistant on call outs around the hill crofts of my lovely little island (once things have calmed down a bit I’ll write about them here -it was a bit like jumping into a tale by James Herriot!)

It was incredibly hard watching last night. It’s taken months for me to piece myself back together and it’s nerve-wracking to relive certain things. Rob has found it tough too but has been patient and understanding.
But for all the shit that happened (and there was a LOT), I’ll always be thankful that I came home with the best souvenir!

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Being idiots on holiday in Santorini

Before Eden it had got to the point where I had the perfect life but I lived it alone.
My main relationship was with nature and the ocean and I had come to terms with the idea that I might not find a partner, it was sometimes lonely but it was okay. A life with gazillions of rescued animals would do.

So I never expected to return with a boyfriend, let alone someone as lovely as Rob.
I don’t want to pinch myself in case it’s not quite true and I still feel a bit guilty in case I don’t deserve him.

It’s a whole new life post-Eden, though our shared love of all things 4-legged means that I still might end up with those gazillions of rescued animals…

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Eden (if you can bear to watch a load of shouting and me ugly crying) is on Channel 4 at 10pm tonight.

*And not just in terms of personality… If a man can still love you when you smell like wet sheep, have a smear of pig poo on your cheek and snot everywhere because it’s too cold to feel it running down your face -well my friends, I think that’s a keeper!

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He seems to be enjoying Skye so far…

Blackout

When I woke up the morning after the storm there was still no power.

The windows were streaked with bits of grass and soil as I looked out to assess the damage. It was grey and the sea was choppy but everything seemed fine.
As I got in my car to pop to the shops I bumped into my landlady, Patsy, unfortunately they hadn’t been as lucky. Their chimney pot and shed had both been smashed to bits and one of their little boats had been lost over in Staffin. All the animals were fine but it was such a shame that there was so much damage for them to sort out.

All the fences looked like they'd been decked with little streamers from the grass that had got caught.

All the fences looked like they’d been decked with little streamers from the grass that had got caught.

I later made my way into Portree and as I drove it became evident that it wasn’t just Patsy and Donnie who’d lost stuff…
Bus stops, field gates and sheds were in pieces and there was rubbish all over the place. And wheelie bins everywhere, of course.
If I ever get reincarnated as a wheelie bin I sure as hell hope it wont be on Skye. Whenever it’s windy they’re the first thing to be hurled across roads, flung into fields or pushed down ditches. All over the island people have built little houses or brackets for them but they still seem to be the first casualties of bad weather. The great wheelie bin massacre.

Despite feeling sorry for them, I was amused to see that the sheep were a particularly bright shade of white this morning and the cows seemed slightly fluffier.

Stormy seas. It's hard to see because there's not much here for scale but these waves were huge.

Stormy seas from the road above Dutulm. It’s hard to see because there’s not much here for scale but these waves were huge.

Once I’d collected my provisions I returned to set up my nest for the night.
One of the problems with my cottage (and most houses on Skye) is that everything is electric, including the oven and heaters, so I’d need to stay by the fire to keep warm.
P&D very kindly lent me their BBQ which has a gas ring so I was able to have a nice hot cup of tea with the biscuits I’d just treated myself to. Nae bad really.

The thing with situations like this is, you can either complain or you can make the most of it.

I enjoy camping out. Not the pack-your-spork-and-book-into-a-site camping, more the let’s-grab-a-bottle-of-wine-and-shove-on-every-jumper-you-can-find spontaneous camping, the trampy kind where you feel like you’re one of the Famous Five (but less fresh-faced and maybe slightly tipsy)
It would be like camping, only indoors.

After the Tunn Family Blackout Christmas Of 2013 I’ve had plenty of practice in coping without power. That particular festive gathering also involved flooding, explosions and a BBQ’d turkey supper for 17 people. This would be a breeze.
Actually, it was quite literally a breeze since the wind did a good job of joining me inside the house but a little bit of DIY door-sealing and cushion barricading soon sorted it out.

BBQ-ing the turkey, Christmas 2013

BBQ-ing the turkey, Christmas 2013

I went upstairs and selected a few books to keep me company. Then I dotted tealights around the hearth, piled up blankets and poured myself a nice glass of Glayva (which was gross so I poured a Jura instead).

I strapped a small torch to a headband for a hands-free reading light and tucked myself in. Before the night was over I’d devoured my entire novel in one go. It’s such a luxury to have the time to do that. Plus, the torchlight-reading made me nostalgic about those sneaky childhood reading sessions I used to have when I should have been sound asleep.
There are ways to hate a blackout and there are ways, it seems, to have a lovely time.

Cosiness

Cosiness

(The book, by the way, was The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. Nice enough but not one of the best books I’ve ever read, though I like the African setting and references. The next day I read The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; short but interesting)

The following morning there’s still no power or phone. I try to make myself look vaguely human and drive down to Portree again in search of hot food and wifi.
Of course, I’m keeping my distance from anyone with a nose as I haven’t seen hot water in quite a while now. Luckily everyone else seems to be in a similar, stinky boat.

Rumours fly around the village… This person says it’s back on at 8pm. This person says tomorrow morning. This person says Monday at the earliest.
Huge van-sized generators have appeared dotted around in an attempt to keep the main hubs running.
I nip into Cafe Central where the owner very kindly lets me use his power sockets to charge my computer for work stuff. In there I meet a group of somewhat harassed-looking engineers, one of them tells me he’s driven for 12 ½ hours to fix the problems. I’m glad I don’t have that job.

I hear that many areas also lost their water supply as the sumps stopped working. I think to myself how strange it is to be on an island surrounded by water, where water pours from every hill and mountain, but there’s nothing in their homes.
Further water shortages are expected in more places but it’s not a problem, I’ve got plenty of fresh burns and springs nearby where I can take some buckets if needs be. When I moved here I expected blackouts, snow and ice but I didn’t think I’d be going to collect water from the streams!

Can’t complain though, after all, I did move to Skye for an adventure!

Not so bad after all

Not so bad after all

January Storm

I wrote this post a few days ago. Unfortunately the storms soon took out our power and phone lines which means it’s been a bit delayed in getting to you.
Here it is nonetheless… (at least you now know that I wasn’t actually blown away!)

I never used to be that interested in the weather. Yes, I loved the sunshine and the snow, rumbling storms and autumn breezes. Like any other British person, it’s my go-to topic of conversation with strangers. It’s not forced small talk, I actually quite enjoy it.
But then I moved to Skye and the weather has become one of the main characters in my daily life.

It’s not just any character either, it’s unpredictable and changeable and sometimes more than a little bit absurd.
I looked out of my bedroom window earlier and there was sunshine and blue sky. It was also hailing violently with rainbows beaming up from the sea. As I remarked to my friends, it’s sometimes like Skye’s weather is on drugs.

A day full of rainbows. An everyday sight on Skye.

A day full of rainbows. An everyday sight on Skye.

Over the last couple of days there’s been a torrent of weather reports about hurricane-force gales making their way towards the Hebrides.

Warnings of impending meteorological doom have been coming thick and fast from friends and family down South whilst I’ve been prancing around in the Scottish sunshine wondering what all the fuss is about. “Will it or wont it?” was the hot topic in Staffin stores this afternoon.

Crisp blue skies looking out towards Staffin Island

Crisp blue skies looking out over Staffin Slipway towards Staffin Island

Well, it will. Quite a lot actually.

I’m currently sitting in bed surrounded by candles whilst gales roar round the cottage. I can’t quite describe the noise, I suppose I’d put it somewhere between an aeroplane take-off and Armageddon. Just before the power went out I read a post on my neighbour’s ‘Skye Weather’ Facebook page saying that his instruments had just measured a windspeed of 109mph, the fastest he’s ever recorded here.

I’ve always loved storms but as I’ve got older I’ve begun to worry about their effects (growing up sucks reason #325).
Whilst I’m cosy inside there’s likely to be a lot of wildlife (and people) having a hard time exposed to the elements. These aren’t unfounded concerns; the Scottish Marine Mammmal Strandings Scheme put out a warning today saying that we should expect a large number of animals washed up on the shores tomorrow and dips in certain bird populations often reflect severe weather patterns.
Tonight would be much more enjoyable if I wasn’t sitting here worrying about Charlie the bull and his sheep and cow pals.

A weather-sensitive sheep

A weather-sensitive sheep

When I first moved here a few of my neighbours jokingly said that it was a waste of time buying garden furniture as it just blows away. They weren’t kidding. I popped out to the car this evening and could barely stand up. As I jumped in to move it closer to the house I found myself completely unable to pull the door closed until a lull allowed me to wrench it back.

The weirdest part of the wind outside, though, was that you could hear the strongest gusts coming before they hit you. I heard this really intense whistling sound as they worked their way over the hill towards me. The only thing I can think of that it’s similar to is the whistling of a dropping bomb from old WWII footage, just with a slightly deeper, rounder sound. Maybe like a tornado. This weird howling WHOOOSH coming closer and closer and then you’re smacked sideways. It’s one of the most peculiar natural things I’ve come across and, to be honest, there was something quite creepy about it.

That was more than enough fresh air for this evening so I ran inside and slammed the door behind me. Even inside I had to put my full weight against each door to close them, then I barricaded them with cushions and furniture. Sitting back down on the sofa I noticed little lumps of soot sprinkling their way down the chimney and into the room. The papers on the coffee table rustled in a breeze and loose strands of hair blew across my eyes. It was actually windy inside the house!

I nipped to the loo and found the bathroom soaking. Not flooded but splashed, all over the walls and even up the mirrors. I looked for leaks but couldn’t find one. Then I glanced into the loo and saw the water sploshing back and forth like a miniature ocean tempest. I flipped the lid down as the power went off and everything went pitch black.

One of the last Facebook posts from Skye Weather before we lost power. Shulista is about 3 mins down the road.

One of the last Facebook posts from Skye Weather before we lost power. Shulista is about 3 mins down the road.

That was about 20 minutes ago. I’m now hiding upstairs in the comfort of my lovely bed enjoying the residual warmth from my now-cooling electric heater. The building is actually shaking -not something I’d expected from a sturdy stone crofters cottage. A bit unnerving. The glass of water on my bedside table is doing that ripple-y thing like that scene from Jurassic Park. Other glasses are dotted around the house catching various new leaks that have sprung with gusto this evening. I don’t blame the drops, I wouldn’t want to be outside either!

So, it’s getting louder and louder and I half expect to wake up tomorrow to find my lovely house has been blown away in the night, Wizard of Oz-style. I suppose the only thing I can do is get some sleep and wait for it to pass.

See you in the morning (hopefully…)