Lockdown life on the Isle of Skye, doesn’t seem very different from life as normal. At least not in the daily routines and pace of life. Meeting people for a blether doesn’t happen often in the best of times, we’re at the top of a steep road and gossip doesn’t flow uphill! The Postie still passes the time of day, as do the bin men. All at the proscribed distance of course. An occasional frown of tension or concern will pass across a face. That’s new but I think we are all showing those signs, and putting the world to rights over the fence is a much more serious concern now. The weather has been glorious, sunny, dry, almost warm and no midgies. All the outside jobs that have been waiting for good weather need to be done now, no matter what else is happening to the world. After the wettest winter in memory these few weeks of sunshine have been a blessing. Hard not to appreciate it and be grateful for the slow down which means we can make the most it. But it is uncomfortable to find such joy at the same time as seeing the despair of the world as we face COVID-19 and global lockdown
Ceramic Art London was cancelled the day before I had to leave Skye. Of course this had to be the first year that I was ahead of myself, packed and ready to drive with a day in hand. So I spent the day spent repacking and cataloguing so that I could head South, avoiding London, to deliver to the Stratford Gallery and Make Hauser & Wirth Somerset. Two gorgeous galleries which I have been longing to show with for a few years. It was so frustrating to be within touching distance of places to visit, shops to browse, views to linger over. I delivered the work and left, heading North and home. Three days on the road but it was quiet and, frankly, a pleasure to drive. There was less preparedness the further South I was. Consternation in the midlands hotel as staff wondered what they were would be doing tomorrow, but no new hygiene protocols or social distancing. That was then.
The first two weeks of lockdown were exhausting. I got home from the South just in time, full of adrenalin and plans for live streaming demonstrations, virtual CAL and internet sales. But my subconscious knew that it had been absolved of all responsibility by the sudden closure of the world. The relief of getting off the hurtling train of commitments was immense. I celebrated by going to bed and sleeping. It was a long celebration, interspersed with obsessive news watching and zero creativity in the studio. I managed a couple of live streamed demos on Instagram and Facebook but it’s all a lot more complicated than the ‘just a couple of clicks’. A new camera (and software, and broadband upgrade and research etc) is needed if that is to become a regular thing, which I think I would like to do.
Over the course of a couple of weeks the local community galvanised itself. Put into action were all the social support networks necessary to look after anyone who needs help in this changed world. More often than not days ahead of central government advice. The reality of a place like this small corner of Skye is that these networks are always working, we simply don’t see them for what they are. The neighbourliness, family connections, the hospitality, the gossip (to some extent), the local pub and shop are all ways of keeping an eye out for the folk around us. The local shop in particular has been amazing. A couple of years ago the Community Trust took on the responsibility for the shop after the keeper of 30 years retired and we moved its entirety to a different building over a weekend. Last autumn it moved again into a couple of shipping containers to allow work to begin on new purpose built premises. These metal boxes are now the hub of the village. The part time assistants have taken on onerous responsibilities to feed and protect us. When London ran out of loo paper, we didn’t. When bread was scarce and flour became currency, we had plenty. The vegetable range is miles better than at the supermarket and the social distancing in the car park is as sociable a time as the pub was. I expect this is happening everywhere and that communities are rediscovering their hearts; that looking out for each other is more sustaining and nourishing than relentless competing.
After a few days of lockdown there was a noticeable tension on local social media. Posts of visitors arriving, of a local business promoting Skye as a great place to self isolate (and keep his business rolling!). Outrage and horror! The threads were hilarious, and then disturbing. ‘Go home’ banners quickly appeared on the bridge, the famous Highland hospitality seemed to be evaporating. The fear was tangible. The closest ventilator is 120 miles away in Inverness and serves the entire Highland region which reaches from Kintyre to Caithness.There are 320,000 people in the NHS Highland catchment area, and 10,000 people in Skye. Last week our fears were realised when the virus arrived and rampaged through one of our care homes. The elderly are close to home here, we all have connections to the bereaved in some way.
The shock of having the virus so close has somehow settled my feelings and brought more balance to this strange state of life. The sense of unreality is gone, there is reason for the rules and precautions. I think my subconscious has accepted the truth of the risks we face. With that, concentration is returning along with the desire to work creatively again. Finally after weeks of sunshine the mists descended again and the rain poured, filling the burns, settling the dust and washing the air. Cloud shadows pass across the sea, shafts of light examine the hill sides which change colour from ochre to green. Perhaps it is this comforting return to a damp and gentle grey normality which I find more settling.