Sunday, 24 October 2010

A procrastinatory post

In exactly 10 days I have two assignments due. And then another 3 days after that. Originally they were all due on the same day, but I've just gotten an extension for one. So now seems like the perfect time to write a blog entry! I sat down this morning to work on an essay, but couldn't get in the headspace, and I wrote 500 words of it yesterday anyway. So thought I'd work on my translation (more on that in a moment), but then someone commented on my blog, and it got me here, and I thought 'really should write that long overdue summary of what I ACTUALLY did over summer, and uni and all that stuff', and that's way more important, right?

Important note before I start. I'll give you links to various facebook albums. Sometimes it will be the whole album, sometimes I'll just give you the first photo of a particular adventure that is included in a larger collection. If you're not on facebook, you should still be able to look at them. Let me know if you can't. Otherwise there are some here, or you can look at the map from a couple of posts ago.

Ok, so the boring stuff first. Uni this year. Or this semester, depending on what hemisphere you're in. I'm in the same room as last semester, with almost all new flatmates. The international to UK student ratio is a little skewed - 8 internationals to 4 domestics, but it seems to work pretty well.
The weather is turning wintery, it's not getting above 12°C (74°Fish) and there's a nice mixture of rain and sun. The leaves are turning golden, and piling up in little corners, all ready for me to jump in.
My subjects aren't too bad so far. The one I really wasn't looking forward to, Modern Germany, is turning out to be pretty interesting, partly because the lecturer is really into it. Medieval Writing is interesting, reading lots of Chaucer and other medieval writers, and discussing all the symbolism and stuff. It is reminding me why I stopped doing English after first year, but it's good to learn about understanding medieval texts. Translation Theory and Practice is tough but great. I'm translating a section of Beowulf from German into English, his battle with the dragon. An extra challenge is that it's from a book published in the 1920s, so the German is a little more old fashioned than I'm used to. In my wisdom I borrowed the newest dictionary from the library, when really I probably should have gone for the oldest they had. But I had to get special dispensation to borrow a German-English dictionary (they're all reference only), so I am not going back to swap it. Just using a combo of that, the online Oxford one, the free Leo one (which is often better than either of the others) and google. Have to take my work so far to my advisor tomorrow, so will get back to doing a bit more of it after I've done a bit more of this... Overall, there's a LOT of reading - we're expected to keep a reading log for Modern Germany, Chaucer takes forever to read (although I'm getting quite adept at finding modern English translations...) and because that's the unit that doesn't count towards any of my majors, it's the one I put the least work into, and Beowulf auf Deutsch. Well do I need to say anymore? But I have set my computer system language to German, and Chrome and Facebook too so going for the immersion technique.

A sign of how much work I have to do is seen in what books I'm reading. Still on Vanity Fair (and loving it), but also reading a Frank Herbert (wrote Dune, all time favourite of mine) one called The Dosadi Experiment (picked it up in a second hand shop, hasn't really enthralled me yet), but my focus right now is back to Terry Pratchett (standard relaxation reading for me). But in German. so it's not all bad. And my past week has been full of anti-social behaviour. And not the sort that would get me an ASBO. I hit my study streak for a while (looks like I may have lost it again today though), and didn't really want to go out anywhere, because I just wanted to work. Yesterday evening people asked me if I'd had a good day out. Unfortunately, no adventures for me, I was locked in my room writing about the creation of a German national identity before 1815, with the thought of watching His Girl Friday as my reward for good work to keep me going. Been on a classics streak for the last couple of nights, with Shall We Dance and Bringing Up Baby before that.

Anyway. Enough of my anti-sociality. You want to know about my summer adventures. There's been a lot of photos floating around, but what about the actual stories I hear you say (yes Erica, I got the message :D).

Well, I left you when I was on my way to Iona. I'm not really sure how to capture seven weeks in a blog, but I'll do my best. First, I should tell you about the island. At about 3 miles by 1.5 miles (4.8 x 2.5 km ish), it's tiny.
But I also cannot emphasise enough, just how beautiful this island is. Its main uses are sheep farming, some cattle farming, and as a tourist destination. There are various arts and crafts that happen too, and the population, not including the Iona Community, is about 50-100 people (correct me if I'm wrong - just going off my memory here). It is remote, 3-4 hours from mainland Scotland, only tenuously connected to the outside world - the ferry is the only way on and off the island, and in bed weather that cannot always run, and there's a sense it is fighting to return to the isolation of years gone by. Power cuts, while not regular, are to be expected occasionally. I only experienced one and discovered that no matter how peaceful I thought the island was, it was even more so when there was no power. We kept the shop open for a while, putting everything through manually, before closing a little early. Some places are eerie without power, but Iona is just even quieter.

The weather is mad, raining in the morning, warm and sunny in the afternoon. It can be very windy, but can also be very very very still (and that's when the infamous Scottish midges attack).
(A few of us went for a walk one blustery afternoon. For more photos, start here and go on for a bit.)

But when God created rain, he made it for this place.

And before I go any further, I should introduce the people. From all the ends of the earth, from Paraguay, Russia and New Zealand. Czech Republic, Canada and Germany. And everywhere else. Every week people came and people left. Wednesdays were both Vollie farewell day :( and New Vollie Day :) (vollie being volunteer).

Tierney left. Even the Meese were sad to see her go.

On Fridays one lot of guests left, and on Saturday a new group arrived. Everyday there were day visitors coming through the shop, often from Germany, Norway or Sweden. I don't have photos of everyone I met, or remember the large proportion, but there were certainly many who wrote on my heart in permanent marker. And expect me to drop in sometime. I will be visiting. You'll see lots of photos of them as we go through, but let's just meet a few for starters.

This was a sad day. I was leaving the island. But it's tradition that all the other vollies and residents come to wave us off.

Toben (Canada), Tierney (Canada), Alex (England), Katie (England), Matiss (Latvia/US), watching the sunrise. More later.

Fiona (Germany), Nellie (US), Me (Aus), Lea (Germany), Maggie (US) and Tierney (Canada) at a Ceilidh (traditional Scottish dance, held every Monday night for the guests. This was Tierney's last one, so we dressed up for it.)

Back: Me (Aus), Christina (US), Nellie (US), Grant (Hong Kong)
Front: Fred (Germany), Milci (Paraguay), Jakob (Czech Rep.)
This was at Christmas in July, which I organised because everyone always laughed at we Aussies for having Christmas in summer. Here's an aside of a few photos from that.

Ashley (US) and Maggie (US) were pretty excited when they saw what we were eating.

Oh yeah, full Turkey roast. With all the vegies. Fran the cook in the Mac Centre is amazing!

Everyone got into the mood. It was on a Friday night, so all the guests were gone, and we the staff could enjoy ourselves. All kinds of decorations appeared.

And we had a secret present giving thing. It was wonderful. I got Kevin (photo later). And now back to the introductions.

Tierney was my second roommate after Karen. I don't have any photos of Karen, but she was wonderful too. Tierney's Canadian and we had a lot of fun together. She'll pop up in lots of photos.

Oh look, there she is again. This was on our shopping spree, we walked from Bunessan back to Fionnphort, and bought things. Including the Meese (see Tierney's feet and a later photo).

Toben (Canadian). We have the same taste in movies and tv, and led a campaign to watch good movies. Along with Tierney, we had lots of fun adventures with Meese, Movies and More.

Nellie (US), Fiona (Germany) and Tierney (Canada). It's going to get a bit tiring to try to remember everything I did with everyone, but needless to say you'll see Nellie again lots in my next post, because we 'did' Ireland together. And Fiona and I arrived and left on the same days, and in between we laughed a lot, and baked yummy things.

Joe (England) and John (England) were often mistaken for brothers. I don't have a photo of both of them, but just imagine a second Joe and you'll have it about right. You won't actually. They looked nothing alike apart from having similar dark curly hair, arriving as friends, working in the same department and having crazy frisbee skills. Apart from that, they're totally different. Or so they insist...

And that's a small selection of the people on Iona. Now back to the island.

The sunsets are almost always incredible, and we had some fun with them. One night God really pulled out all the stops for us. Sunsets usually lasted for a long time, and we played with this one for about an hour before the show ended at about 11pm.

Tierney and Milci

Serge, Tierney, Nellie and I spell "Iona"

Sunset from the top of the tallest 'mountain' on Iona, Dun I, on another night.

Even when the colours were a little less vibrant, we had good times.
On the way to the North End one evening.

This one had started out well, then fizzled a little. But we spent a good hour or so skimming rocks, before it really was too dark to see anything.

But it isn't only the sunsets that are wonderful. Once a few of us got up to see the sunrise.
A small selection of the group, Katie, Matiss, Tierney, Lea and Me.

We got up at 4:30am to head up Dun i. And it was worth every yawn.

Sometimes I wish I was a sheep. Imagine waking up to this every single day.

This one may help you get some sense of the size of this island. But also shows that our descent from Dun i was pretty marvellous too.

And then there was just the general islandy-ness, separate from the whole pretty sunrise and sunset thing. The water is generally pretty freezing, but in moments of madness, we sometimes went swimming...

Tom, Tierney and me after swimming at Port Ban one sunny afternoon.

It may look blue and idyllic, but really, it was cold.

This particular beach is generally considered one of the best to swim at, and seeing a sunrise and going for a swim were two of the things I really wanted to do while on the island. There were a couple of other families at the beach that day, and I think they thought we were quite mad. Especially because this usually sheltered and still beach was quite breezy that day. And there's nothing between this beach and Canada. There are two kinds of beaches on Iona, sandy (like above) and pebbly.
Toben, Sarah and Joe at Columba's Bay

In fact, in many ways this whole island is a giant pebble party.

And then there's the actual abbey, a beautiful building with sections dating from around the 13th Century. I found worshipping challenging in this building, simply because it was so beautiful and old, and I constantly found myself getting distracted by details.

Walking up to the abbey, one of the first things you notice is how imposing it is. It is neither tall nor grand in the traditional sense, but because it dominates the landscape.

It sits in the middle of open fields, nothing to distract the eye from it. The island is not dead flat, but it this Abbey that draws the eye from the moment you catch sight of Iona.

Not the world's best photo of the Abbey from the ferry, but the only one I've got.

I loved sitting in the cloisters on rainy or windy days after all the day trippers had left.

They were very peaceful, but I also loved the sense of connection with the past they inspired. I knew that the sounds of the wind whistling through the cracks, the rain dripping off the stone, perhaps chanting from the Abbey were the same sounds as monks were listening to 800 years ago. It felt incredible to know that when I closed my eyes, my ears were taking in the sounds of almost a millenium, and that continuity held a remarkable appeal for me.

Every evening a service was held in the Abbey, each day with a different theme. One evening at the end of a Creative Space - worshipping through creativity, word passed through through the congregation of a beautiful double rainbow outside. We all flocked outside to enjoy the spectacle.

This island was designed to be admired. I took to always carrying my camera, simply because there were always things to be photographed.

On the walk to the Abbey through the paddock, or field as they like to call them here.

The Abbey one atmospheric evening

St Martin's Cross, outside the Abbey

At the North End Beach

And there was lots of wildlife to be seen. Some wilder than others.

Cows with heads...

... cows without heads...
Nellie and I spent quite a bit of time mooing out the window at these two.

... cows with babies.

Very cute sheep. Including one very friendly sheep who loved to be patted.

Sheep with mad horns.

Sheep on the move.

One of the island cats.




Kevin the Sock Creature

And of course puffins.

Next to Iona is a very small island called Staffa.

There's a big cave that looks quite impressive, and the island is sometimes said to be the other end of the Giant's Causeway because it's the same rock structure.

Twice a week a bunch of the guests piled onto a boat and went out to see the island and, in the right season, the puffins that live there during summer. Tierney and I joined in one day,

Did I mention how windy it gets in the Inner Hebrides?

for a fairly choppy hour and a half boat ride followed by an hour looking at the Puffins

Then we ran to Fingal's Cave to look, snap and run back to the boat.

Some other time I'll have to go back and check out the cave properly. When there aren't super cute puffins to admire.

Another time, a group of us decided to go to Mull for the day (that's the island just off the coast of Iona), and climb a mountain. When I said to Tom "I just want to go up a mountain", I did not necessarily mean the biggest mountain on the island, but that's where we headed.

The Isle of Mull, with Ben Mor in the background.

Right from the beginning the views were spectacular.

When we set off, we couldn't see the top of Ben Mor, but decided to head up A'Chioch, the smaller mountain beside it. The guidebook warned us it was a difficult walk, although I would say it was more just hard work than difficult. We followed the path up through the mud and grass. As usual, I ended up at the back of the line, enjoying regular pauses to admire the scenery. And that is not a euphemism for catching my breath. The scenery was more breathtaking than the walking.

Finally we reached the top.
Serge, Fred, Maggie, Tierney, Tom and Nellie

We some of the others thought they'd walk up a little further, but I was perfectly satisfied with sitting and gaping at this

See, gaping.

And then it was time to head back down, although we probably could have stayed for another half an hour - we had to wait at the bottom for quite a while until the bus came back past.

But it meant we had time to dawdle down, stop for a snack,

Serge and Nellie eating Tiffin. Mmm.

and then rest at the bottom before we hit the road again.

Fred, Serge, Nellie, Tierney and Maggie waiting at the bottom while Tom went to find a tap to fill his drink bottle.

Despite my fear of climbing such an enormous mountain, it was a great day. Tiring, but super fun. And we were all pretty happy at the end of it. More photos here.

Fred, Tom, Maggie, Nellie, Tierney and Serge

And that was Iona. It was wonderful, I didn't really want to leave, but had to. And I wouldn't have had more adventures elsewhere if I'd stuck around. More general photos of all stuff and things Ionian are here.

Right. That's enough now. I'm going to do an hour of work before I have to get ready for church, so you'll have to wait to hear about the rest of my summer, but surely this is enough to keep you going for a bit?


  1. Oh my goodness Imo, your phots of the sunsets are AMAZING!!! Sounds like you're having a blast!

  2. Well that was long. So long I didn't actually read most of what your wrote. But your pictures are cool. You should post more regularly but shorter. But keep the pictures. Good pictures.

  3. Fantastic Imo, that was a fun lunch-read for me! I love the bit about the cows with and without heads, I didn't get it at first. Your uni work sounds very interesting, the kinds of things you wouldn't learn and experience without being ultra motivated -Good on you!

  4. This is an awesome post and pretty much made me cry, particularly the picture of people waving you off and the amazing ones of the mountains and the abbey. You've got some impressive photography skills and a way of evoking a sense of place in your words (how much do I sound like an English lecturer?) :)

  5. What everyone else said (except Matt!).

    This post is all I could have hoped for – lots of stories, observations and your beautiful photographs :)

    Also: you learnt to hug?! :D

  6. hey, i typed "mac centre iona" on google image and it linked to here! Your pics and words totally brings me back to the happy times! Thanks. You may not know me, but i have seen a lot of your pics on facebook through other vollies :) Tom Chen

  7. Hey Tom, that's pretty funny. I wasn't sure if my blog ever came up in google searches. Yeah, I think we just avoided crossing paths, but likewise about the facebook thing. It's a mad connected world!