Philosophising over a Portuguese custard tart

So I’ve been working on a load of posts about what I’ve been up to over the last month. There’s a post about staying at my favourite castle hotel, one about raving the weekend away at Skye Live and one about a trip to the Outer Hebrides following some boy troubles.

For some reason the writing hasn’t come easy. I keep writing bits here and there but it’s been a struggle; I’m not sure why.

Then sitting at home this evening, under a light dusting of pastry flakes, I felt compelled to share some thoughts…

Portuguese custard tarts (Photo by leitesculinaria.com)

Portuguese custard tarts (Photo by leitesculinaria.com)

It’s been an average day at the gallery. Nicely busy, lots of interesting folk popping in for a chat, normal, good.
After work I nipped into the Co-op to buy a few bits and on my way to the till I noticed a pile of reduced pastries. Amongst the doughnuts and croissants there were a couple of Portuguese custard tarts, an old favourite of mine that I haven’t had in years. I dropped them into my basket.

After supper I put the kettle on and made myself a cup of tea.
It’s a tempestuous night tonight and the sea was dark-grey and dangerous-looking. It’s unusual to see such large, angry swells in the bay and I perched on the windowsill to watch the waves crashing. There’s something peaceful about watching something so powerful from the safety of a warm home.
Also, I think there’s something humbling about knowing how powerless you would be against the force of the water. A reminder of how insignificant we really are.
As I thought about this I shook a tart from the paper bag onto a plate and went to take a bite.

But I didn’t get a taste… I got a clear-as-a-mountain-loch memory.
How is it that tastes and smells can yank up the past so much more vividly than sights and sounds?

Biting down into the pastry I got slingshotted back in time, all the way back to when I first discovered Portuguese custard tarts…

I was in my mid-twenties living in South London. On Saturday mornings my boyfriend and I would wander down the road to the farmers market that was (is?) held at the big church near Oval tube station. We’d nose round, deliberating over which flavour sausages to have for brunch and what type of cheese we might like to nibble that evening in front of the telly (we were softly rounded in that contented-coupley kind of way).
If we felt indulgent we would pick up a couple of treats from the Portuguese cake stall to distract our appetites on the journey home (Oval has a large Portuguese immigrant population and these people know how to make good cakes!)
One day we decided to try the custard tarts, cajoled by the little handwritten sign telling us that they were a handmade speciality.
The tarts were delicious. The pastry was crisp with sugar at the edges and chewy at the bottom where it had gone all eggy and soft. They left a strangely fatty, grainy feeling in the mouth but it didn’t matter; we’d found a new favourite.

Oval farmers' market, South London

Oval farmers’ market, South London (Photo courtesy of City & Country Farmers’ Markets)

That must have been about 3 years ago now and this food-induced flashback made me think of how much life can change.
Maybe not all of a sudden with a shocking tragedy or lucky lottery ticket… just bit by bit.
‘Then one day you look back and everything has changed…’

I often think about how confused 2011 Katie would be if she was suddenly transported into the position of 2015 me.
I wouldn’t recognise the place I live, the people who spoke to me, I wouldn’t know anything.
It’s a funny thought…

C.S.Lewis

C.S.Lewis

Just few years ago I was living in an average flat with a nice boy in an okay part of London.

He’d put on a suit in the mornings and go to work in his government job. When I wasn’t at home trying to paint I’d be selling overpriced polo tat in the Burlington Arcade to fat sheiks with world-class ponies. In the evenings we’d slump into our Ikea sofa and watch TV until it was time to go to bed. Once tucked up he’d kiss me on the cheek then roll over and start snoring. I’d lie awake for hours staring at the ceiling.

It was a nice life. I’d become a bit introverted and didn’t go out with our large group of friends much but it didn’t bother me. My boyfriend was a good guy. I’d just sold my first painting over £1k. My family was happy and healthy.

Fast forward 3-4 years…

I now live on my own in a big old croft house overlooking a picturesque bay. Every morning I wake up to the sea and the hills.
I’m not wealthy but painting commissions are steady. I couldn’t care less about money; the majority of things that make me happy are free. I indulge in my passions, particularly in regards to the environment.
I’ve sloughed off all the fake mates and I now only have a small group of friends who I see rarely but love dearly. We party hard when we meet but when they leave I like to go back to reading quietly by the fire.
My family is now a 14-hour drive away but they’re still happy and healthy. I’ve now met my father, found out I have two beautiful (mostly) grown-up half sisters and my parents have reunited after 28 years. Also, we now have almost as many dogs in our entire family as we do people.
I’ve been through an illness that took me into hospital one week a month for a year and I still keep an overnight bag ready in case I’m admitted again. The outlook on life it gave me was worth every moment of nausea and pain. In hospital I saw how short life can be; every chance and adventure should be grasped tight.
I also smile at stuff more, spontaneously, like a loon. Like earlier today when I stopped to wait for a chicken to cross the road. I was almost late with all the animals on the road this morning but I amused myself by wondering why this chicken might be trying to get to the other side.
When my head hits the pillow at night I’m out like a light.

'Traffic' on my way to work this morning. Animals on the road drive me mad as they're always making me late but they make my drive a bit cheerier.

‘Traffic’ on my way to work this morning. Animals on the road drive me mad as they’re always making me late but they make my drive a bit cheerier.

Don’t these sound like the lives of two different people?

I’m thinking hard; trying to sieve through the categories of my life to find out what’s still the same.
Other than getting continued love and support from my favourite people (and the art career) there’s not much, barely anything at all…

However… I still enjoy custard tarts.
(Even though Co-op custard tarts don’t really come close to the authentic Portuguese ones we ate back in London. Those were pretty special)
But, though the quality of the pastries has got worse, I’d say that my life is unequivocally better.

As I said in a previous post, I had intended to return to London life this Spring. I was going to get back to little rented flats and brunches in Clapham.
But I can’t leave yet, my life here is just right for me at the moment and I couldn’t change it now. Even a proper custard tart isn’t worth going back for.

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I wonder what’s next..?

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.

On Romance…

There are two questions that I always seem to get asked when talking about my move to Skye.
First I’m asked why, then some people, especially close family and friends, ask the question “Wont you be lonely?”

Sometimes it’s asked in regards to romance/finding a partner and at other times it’s asked in reference to simply being on my own in a remote place.
This will be the first of a couple of blog posts where I’ll respond to these questions. They’re not hard to answer but they’re tricky to put into words concisely so please excuse me if I ramble on…

Whilst being lonely is not something that’s crossed my mind, the idea of romance up here is hard to ignore (especially for someone like me who always has her head in the clouds…)

Situations that we consider to be super-romantic elsewhere are everyday here.
For example, curling up in front of a log fire with a glass of red on a cold, stormy night is just another normal evening in on Skye. Whilst I’m happy to share this with just an old book, I know that it could also be a cosy evening with company.
Then there’s the stargazing, the long rambles across the moors and the stunning beach sunsets.
If you were that way inclined you could easily imagine that you were in some soppy novel here. There are plenty of visiting honeymooners that do!

Curling up in front of the fire on a stormy night

Curling up in front of the fire on a stormy night

But I can’t deny that it’s unusual to be alone in a place, a situation even, that is deeply romantic.
Although I think there’s something strangely romantic about being on ones own too, especially in a place as beautiful as this.

A clifftop sunset

A clifftop sunset

But I don’t miss having someone to share this with.
I think that being single is quite indulgent; I can do what I want when I want with no need to consider anyone else. I can spend my money on whatever I like and spend my time in any way I wish.
Why, I could even run away to live on a hill on a remote island if I wanted to… 😉
I suppose it’s an intrinsically selfish way of being but it’s one that I truly appreciate at the moment and that I’d find hard to part with.

In my previous long-term relationship I let my personality fade into the background as I tried to become the archetypal perfect girlfriend. It’s something I didn’t notice until I came out the other side and realised that much of what made me ‘me’ had been worn away.
After steadily rebuilding my confidence and rediscovering my sense of fun I’ve now become fiercely protective of my lifestyle and that’s probably why I’m extra wary of falling into another potentially wrong relationship.
Whilst having a partner is a wonderful thing, I’d rather wait until I’m 70 to find my perfect sidekick than to settle earlier for someone who doesn’t quite see the world in the same way.

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A quote I live by. I think you can also interpret it as love or passion for a vocation, lifestyle or hobby too…

 

When I made the decision to move to Skye I was quite content to temporarily remove myself from the dating scene.
Over the last couple of years I’ve been trialling a Pick n’ Mix of potential suitors, some sweet and some that were, quite frankly, awful.
Perhaps if I wasn’t up here writing about Skye I could be in London writing a comedic blog about dating. There was…

  • The 21 year old country boy with whom I had nothing in common but a remarkable chemistry (it didn’t end well, unsurprisingy)
  • The conspiracy-theorist musician who believes he’s the Freemason’s chosen one and who insisted on taking me to a very expensive restaurant before admitting he only had £15 when the bill came.
  • The crappy pop singer and shark-lover who seemed perfect until he ditched me for a Spice Girl (he still haunts me, even up here, with his naff songs via pub jukebox machines)
  • The cockney actor that started a fight on our first date and ended up arrested.
  • The Clapham guy who’s a dead ringer for the serial killer in The Fall. Not just in looks either… after a couple of cocktails he genuinely listed his interests as red wine and ‘strangling’. Er…
  • The ageing polo playboy who suggested our first date should be a trip to the Isle Of Wight to help look after his four children.

…Then there were the numerous Mr Nice-But-Dulls and sweet-but-generally-unnatainable pretty boys (I’m a sucker for a nice face).
Plus a generous sprinkling of eco egos, polo creeps, Machiavellian city boy sociopaths and generic all-round hopeless cases.

It’s all been unbelievably fun but it’s also exhausting and sometimes frustrating. Some time off from it all could only be a healthy thing.

Amazingly appropriate stock image

Amazingly appropriate stock image

Of course, when you decide something like this, someone comes along and makes things slightly complicated.

I met someone awesome just a few weeks before I left who could’ve probably ticked all the boxes (and I’m picky so there’s a lot of boxes).
We decided to keep in contact with the promise that “if it was meant to be it will be…”
Timing is always a troublesome thing…

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Whilst I’ve been fine with the idea of having someone special back in London or Surrey, I’ve been reluctant to meet anyone here.
This place for me is somewhere to concentrate on myself without the complications or dramas that come with dating and relationships. I’m here for the beauty and nature, for freedom; no distractions.

But as the messages from London began to peter out I’ve allowed myself to say yes* to meeting people up here and last week I found myself on my first Skye date…
(*I’ve been trying to learn to always say yes and never turn down an opportunity because you never know where it may lead…)

The Boy From The Mainland works on one of the big private estates and lives one small boat ride, one ferry crossing and an almost two hour drive away from me. We ‘met’ via the Tinder app about a month ago but have been so separated by geography and busy schedules that we’ve resorted to postcards and letters to keep in contact (a tick for romance and much more interesting than Whatsapp)

During the day he tends to the animals, goes out on the boat and does physical work on the estate. In the evenings he reads or carves knife handles in front of the fire with his dogs. When he first told me this I laughed and said that he sounds like a real life Mellors from Lady Chatterley. He answered that he hadn’t read it yet and I advised him that it was probably for the best if he didn’t look it up.

So far so typically storybook romantic.

This kind of thing but less beardy...

Er, this kind of thing but less beardy…

Our first date went well and there’s a second planned.
We’ll see… you never know what will happen in the future.

Although there is one thing for certain, that whatever happens/doesn’t happen with Mr Mainland I’ve already been romanced here and I’ve already fallen head-over-heels in love.
Though, it’s not with a person just yet… it’s with Skye itself.