Reading time: 24 minutes
As I write this opening sentence, it was a year ago today that we boarded a flight in Grenada back to the UK. A whole year since we last felt the Caribbean sun on our faces. 364 days since that chapter of our life called Sailing Mirounga ended.
Or is it?
We shall see…
I’d be lying if I said that we’d had a calm and peaceful six months since my last update. But we do feel very settled.
What’s new with us?
We had in our minds that things would calm down for us after Christmas, and then after Easter… No. But we might almost be getting there? Maybe?
We have at least seemed to find some balance of work, home, and play, but winter wasn’t without its challenging times either.
Grange House is the centre of our universe now, it feels like the home we never knew we needed. But still so exciting that it’s like a dream living here.
We pretty much finished the internal work on the house when we painted the attic in November and finished furnishing the guest bedroom in January, though we did just upgrade the attc seating. There’s some pesky repair work to do on the attic hatch, and I’d like to repaint the kitchen eventually, but that’s been convenient to ignore. Our art collection has grown, and much to my dad’s relief we’ve finally removed the last of our belongings from his house. It only took me 20 years after moving out to fully relinquish my bedroom…
There are always maintenance chores like sanding and painting the windows to do. We have some tweaks we’d like to make like replacing the WC basin and getting some Mirounga-based art in place, but when I look around my home it feels done. It was lovely having a house full of family at Christmas and having the space to host big gatherings for the first time in nearly 10 years. We decorated with branches cut (respectfully) from the forest and enjoyed our cosy space while the snow fell outside, watching movies under blankets in the attic home cinema. That was a big deal, as I’d worried that the vast downstairs spaces and Victorian proportions would make this a chilly and stark house – visitors tell us it’s anything but.
Green fingers or all thumbs?
Our focus since January has been the garden. I started by adding bulbs to the lawn (the snake’s head fritillary has been my favourite), and we worked hard together to clear the ‘back’ lawn. This space was a forest of thistle and nettle when we moved in last year. We’ve managed to clear and largely level the ground, including reclaiming space from huge mounds of earth and building materials. We might slightly be losing the battle with the weeds, but our new wildflower meadow is starting to fill in at last. We created a herb rockery which really improved the front drive. Colin also built some wooden steps from our garden to the surrounding community orchard, and it’s lovely to be able to invite passing neighbours up the steps for a chat.
Living off the land – eventually
I’ve become a dedicated gardener, if a little premature with some seedlings. After a false start, we now have a greenhouse full of happy tomato and lettuce plants, raised beds with potato leaves growing at an astounding rate, and promising signs of carrots and onions. I’m raising lupins ready to create a new border around our fire pit area. It’s been a dry spring and I’ve been out each lunchtime lovingly watering everything, but we had some hot sun recently so I’m enjoying watching nature do its thing.
Projects to come
We have a lot more we want to do, but not much that we can forge ahead with. Being in a conservation zone means we need to have planning permission to pave the unfinished patio (currently bare concrete), lay slate chips over the fire pit area, repair the old back patio and add a connecting path, and add a workshop where a garage once stood. We’ve added those projects to a planning application which also includes adding solar panels, a heat pump, and half-glazing the front door. We also need to add a garden shed, and I’d like a swing set once the back lawn has established itself.
Some new friends, and our old one
At the start of February, we took charge of our new wards – a flock of lovely rescue hens. Patty, Tina, Yoko, Aretha, Nona, and Nico turned out to be far better companions than we could imagine. They bring us so much joy – always asking us ‘are you food?’ and eating corn from our hands. We had to put poor Nico to sleep after we discovered a birth defect that meant she lost the use of one leg, but we’re looking forward to welcoming three more girls this weekend.
We’ve worked out a permanent spot for the hen’s enclosure that we can see from the kitchen and living room windows, and they have a coop with a light-activated door, shelter from the rain and sun, a wire run (which they love for preening time), a swing (that I’m not convinced they’ve used), and even a solarium crafted from one of the cold frames left behind by the old owner. We love watching them scratch about and dust bath, and if the avian flu restrictions ease we’ll let them out to forage further afield (our orchard friends would welcome them). Colin has near enough trained Patty to sit on his shoulder after Tina had a go first, and Aretha loves to rake with me. We enjoy eggs for lunch every day and thank the girls constantly for their love and nourishment.
Fur to balance the feathers
Schrödinger the cat is wholly indifferent to the hens, following some jealousy at first. We celebrated her 18th birthday on May 4th, and she is still our kitten. She now demands Colin’s arm every night to curl up in, loves to potter around the greenhouse with me, and has taken to sleeping in the toasty attic on sunny days. She is so happy in this house that we’ve decided she doesn’t need to join us in Iona this year. Previously we’d take her for the time in a big house and garden, but she has that at home now so she’ll have some ‘Trusted Housesitters’ for company instead.
Work and more
Work for both of us is going fantastically. I had a ridiculously busy period in Autumn which somehow crept through until March but is easing off a little now. I’ve been lucky enough to go to Paris and stand on the bell tower of the Hotel de Ville, and see my ideas for improving budget scrutiny well received. I’m still doing far more strategic and managerial work than I used to do. Every week I learn something new.
Outside of work, I spent 10 weeks training to become a member of the Children’s Panel from January to March. I now sit as a panellist on a morning of hearings each month in a statutory voluntary role. It’s challenging, having to be confident that we’re making decisions in the best interests of children and young people, and it takes an emotional toll. But as someone who suffered adverse childhood experiences and has been diagnosed as having PTSD as a result, I feel I bring the passion and empathy that’s needed. I know that my analytical skills from the day job help me as a panellist, and I’m sure it’s going to be useful the other way round as well.
We’re also continuing our involvement in the work of the community orchard, and I’ve recently agreed to join the management board. I never used to think I had time for ANYTHING. How wrong I was.
A new brain
It’s been a year now since I started taking ADHD medication, and I’ve still never had a single regret. It’s so clear from what I’ve achieved in the last year how much my struggles with focus and self-confidence were holding me back. As well as a busy full-time job, two voluntary roles, and a large property to look after, I’ve even been able to enjoy something that was elusive to me before. I have hobbies.
I have my gardening now, and the time it takes to look after all my seedlings. I also developed an interest in family trees and historical research after clearing out my Grandma’s home last September. I’ve managed to build a large tree for both my family and Colin’s. I found out, quite amazingly, that the house we cleared in September was far more than just my Grandparents’ home since 1951. It was actually also my Grandad’s childhood home! From when it was built, only he and his parents, then he and his wife, and their daughter (my mother), lived in the house. It’s half of a semi-detached home, and the other half has also been in the family (of a sort) for all but around 9 years of its existence. It’s quite amazing.
And historical seats
I also got deep into researching Grange House and the Drygrange estate and reading up about all of the lost great houses of Scotland. It turns out that our house started life in 1890 as a single-storey coal-fired boiler house, which powered the electric lighting in ‘the big house’ – the newly expanded baronial great house that was known as Drygrange House. By 1905, the lights were being powered by a hydropower system, and our house had become the battery house. The plans are missing, but I’m sure that by this point the roof and chimney had been removed and the single-storey cottage added upstairs.
The downstairs remained functional, and the cottage continued to be known as ‘battery house’, including when it was sold into private ownership to a rabbit trapper in 1949 up until 2000 when it was passed on in his will as Drygrange Cottage. In 2003 it was sold to a couple who converted it. The upper and lower floors were joined in around 2007, and it became Grange House. The person we bought from took it on in 2016 and continued with extensive renovation. I have a wealth of information on the ownership and use of the whole estate, but never did find definitive detail on the building of the cottage, or its original floorplans. I keep hunting when I can. I’ve even spent many hours carefully unrolling and scrutinizing the original architect’s drawings at the search room of Historic Environment Scotland!
A line in sales
My most recent focus has been selling and buying clothes on Vinted. Having given away most of my clothes before going sailing, and ending up 35lbs lighter a few months after coming home, I needed to rebuild my work wardrobe. I decided to find some old favourites on Vinted, which my ridiculously detailed memory and knowledge of brands and cuts helped a lot with. At the same time, I began to sell what I no longer needed, and have found it surprisingly effective.
It’s hard to think now how much time I used to waste watching TV and scrolling. I don’t use social media nearly as much as I used to, nor have I mindlessly watched TV in bed since I had Covid last July. I don’t mind at all – we finish work, do some project or garden work, sit and eat dinner together, and maybe watch an hour of TV a night. It’s a world away from when we used to park ourselves on the sofa for whole days at a time and eat every meal staring at a screen… We drink less too, it’s more of a social thing for me now. The one thing I never quite seem to find time for is exercise, but we’ve had a few good long walks, and gardening has kept my sailing muscles solid.
Not all sunshine and roses
Unfortunately, there has been sadness, and this year in particular has been challenging.
In December Colin’s dad, aged 86 and having been in declining health because of Parkinson’s for years, started to suffer repeated bouts of infection, and was hospitalised and very ill. We spent much of Christmas visiting him. In the end, he showed remarkable strength even when it was clear he would not recover. After a month in the hospital, he was able to spend his final month at home and passed with his daughter by his side, after many days of having his family around his bedside. Aidan Michael Burn-Murdoch died in February, and at his funeral in March we said goodbye in our own way. I was proud to be one of the women in his life, walking with his wife, daughter, granddaughters, and my sister-in-law with flowers behind him into the church.
The blessing was the time we got with family. We spent more time than we have in years with Colin’s sister Rachel, and we got to fill our house twice with her children and their partners which felt wonderful. I also had the honour of writing Aidan’s obituary, where my family history work came in handy, and am still trying to find all of his long-lost godchildren. His lifetime of service to the church, his sense of adventure, his humility and kindness, and his sense of humour, were all admirable.
We knew it was coming, but it didn’t make it any less hard to bear. And then, history repeated itself. Four years ago we lost a best friend and a parent in quick succession. This year, it was the other way around.
We knew our friend Mal wasn’t going to survive aggressive cancer in her liver (even though the original bowel cancer, diagnosed in September 2020, was long gone). We knew she and her wife Emma had decided to elope for a reason in January. We knew it was uncertain how much time we had left.
It was still a huge shock when her health declined suddenly on Easter Monday. She was gone the next day. Unlike the other significant losses we’ve had, there was no time in a hospice. No time to come to terms with what was happening. No time to talk, or to say goodbye. I’m so glad at least that we had been able to say what we needed to when giving a wedding gift. And that we had one last fantastic adventure last October at the Crystal Maze. I bought my own Mal ‘crystal’ the next day while helping Emma at Mal’s geology and gemstone stall in Cambridge market, I’m so glad I did.
The only Mal there was
There will never be another Mal. She was utterly unique. Full of bizarre, inane yet strangely useful knowledge. Wildly engaged in other people, and engaging. A calming and empathetic woman with a soft voice, who was also highly chaotic and anxious at times. A woman who ran a busy and successful business, but could also arrive for a flight on the wrong day. Who managed a team of staff effectively and kindly, yet managed to go home one night from a house party wearing Colin’s boots instead of her own. We never knew which Mal we’d get on any day, and I loved that.
We went to Cambridge a few weeks ago to bury Mal and found our small group of friends once again drinking rum and laughing about the good times with someone we’d lost. We got to know Mal’s three sisters a little, and hope to meet up in Iona, a place Mal loved, to walk the pilgrimage route in her honour together. We saw what a varied and interesting collection of friends Mal had gathered, all compartmentalised neatly. And we laughed at how many people also had stories about footwear mishaps – a fair few people wanted to hear the story of the time she wore red heels on a boat trip from the source, and I wore a similar pair in her honour. It felt wholly right to sink into the soil in completely inappropriate footwear.
It still hasn’t completely sunk in. But we did get some much-needed time with friends and a reminder of what it is that makes the best friendships endure. Taking flowers to her stall, drinking in ‘her’ pub, and singing and reading tarot cards in Mark and Livio’s new camper van. She would have loved it all.
Just as we crawled back into normality, it was time for my Grandma Joan to leave us. She died aged 96 on 12th May. My brother, her legal next of kin, lives nearby, and we’re back in the realm of funeral planning. Joan Taylor was a constant. Her particular brand of loving disapproval was defining to us, but as we’ve grown older we’ve also become more aware of her devotion to her church and community, her fastidiousness, and her adoration of her small family. Because of Grandma, we will always be a little bit Yorkshire.
Life as we know it
It would be easy to feel hard done by. We’ve been to three funerals (and counting) in the year since we came home. To have lost three good friends and have just one parent left between us at our age is not normal. It’s not fair. But we feel so lucky to have had the people we’ve lost. Death may not happen for a reason, and we may not believe in a God who has a purpose for us all, but we do believe that it’s what you do with yourself, your life, and your relationships after a loss that can bring meaning to the grief.
None of the people we’ve lost were unremarkable. All of them were fascinating, special, amazing people. All of them have taught us so much. We know that we carry them with us. And we know, because we’ve done it before, that we’ll be okay. That we’ll keep going without them.
I used to be obsessed with the future, the next step. The next holiday. The next home. The next job. The next time I changed my appearance.
Now? The future is there. My looming birthday and our 10th wedding anniversary (not that we’ve made plans). We’re looking forward to summer. To relaxing in the garden, and welcoming more friends to stay. We’re excited about a holiday in Cornwall, Dorset, Bath, and Gower, and our annual trip to Iona. We’re hoping to spend more time at my brother’s house, which is the first he can call his own after a decade and a half of renting. We know eventually we’ll be eating the veg we grow. We’ll celebrate when our friend Mark gets his Masters degree after so much hard work. That there are opportunities my new focus at work might bring. I might even, one day, get round to writing the book/s I’ve pondered.
But living for now
But it’s every day that counts the most. It’s the beautiful space we live in, the way we spend our time. It’s living each day, instead of waiting for the next blip of excitement. It’s not putting things off. It’s not wishing time away. Dreaming of something else. It’s just being.
And the boat?
Ah yes. The boat.
We’ve no doubt we’ll sail again someday. We know that. But not for now. Yet somehow, Mirounga stays in our life. Like a mirage, sometimes that life seems a distant dream, and sometimes it’s far more vivid.
The new owner, in the end, has struggled. He had some health complications which meant hauling her out and leaving her for many months. And he, at 82, met someone new and found himself spending a lot of time with her in Mexico. There were plans to move Mirounga up to Bequia with the help of her original owner, Richard. We loved the idea of her being there, meaning we could borrow her for a little jaunt down the islands on Bequia holidays (when we run out of guava jam is when we’ll book our next trip – we have 1 3/4 jars left).
Unfortunately, she can’t be moved. Mirounga is fine, but she’s too big for Richard to single-hand with a crewmate that hasn’t been able to get himself up to the skill level needed to help. Keeping her in Grenada, away from the minor hurricane risk in Bequia, seems most sensible. And the experience has persuaded the current owner that, if he hasn’t moved her in a year (he’s now 83), he probably never will.
So, Mirounga is going back on the market. And of course, we are helping. Aside from having been in storage for a year and having had her antifouling done, she’s effectively unchanged from when we sold her, so we’re using our listing and promotion material.
Mirounga is a family, her old owners apparently never go far… Do we wish we could buy her back? Of course. But we can’t. So we’ll be helping her find a home with someone who will hopefully love her and sail her as much as we did and get her back to being the liveaboard she was built to be.
And take care, we miss our friends from sailing so much, online and on the seas.
Keep in touch, and know there’s always a spare room in a lovely country retreat in Scotland available for our friends.