Tuesday, 17 September 2013

At The Hostel Door

There has been no lack of inspiration for writing this contribution since my last piece in June, simply the shortage of time to do anything other than welcome and provide for guests in what has been a most glorious summer at the hostel.  We are now in our last two months of volunteer summer helpers and are enjoying the mature energies of Doris from Dresden and Louise from Devon whose highly developed skills in gardening and groundsmanship are making a real difference around the place as we start to look at the imminent autumn clear up.

They have taken over the polytunnel, keeping the summer salads we string on the old painted up bike for hostellers, hutters and campers to take in return for a contribution to the coffers of our local mountain rescue team.  Even more impressive perhaps is their knowledgable handling of the compost bins.  We knew a bit before we started them three years ago.  However, this cultured high school teacher/gardener and her colleague,  humanitarian relief truck driver/country property manager/croft worker on Eigg/ great grandmother have taken us to a heightened level of understanding and practice on composting and we are truly grateful.  Their work sets a benchmark for the future.

And speaking of futures, to help us into the next decade, we are not selling as some of our contemporaries have decided they should do, and neither are we handing the reins of management to some distant corporate investment 'house' whose eye would be more on profit than ethos and true hostel style hospitality – try some child care homes, caring establishments for the elderly and in some instances, education providers for models of what I mean;  no, we have found, after diligent searching a couple who, with their nearly two year old son,  will be resident with us on our six acres and whose values seem to chime exactly with our own.  They declare themselves thrilled at the opportunity to gently take the strain and join us in identifying and achieving both their and our futures.  In the heady days when I was responsible for a staff of forty professionals I reckoned on watching and working with newcomers for four seasons round before we could judge whether or not we had a winner.  I guess the same applies here but if their referees from around the globe and our initial experience counts for anything we have got off to a good start.  Will the pennies stretch that far?  Well yes – just.

The summer has seen us nicely packed. 'Packed'  is a relative term here in this laid back set up,  with solo travellers, couples,  activity groups and in particular,  children and young people whose parents have been wise enough to bring them into the outdoors.  I always look out for those who take it on themsleves to burn our hard won wood for their open fire in the hostel covered garden.  While we happily supply logs for the inside woodstove, indeed it is the only form of heating, we make it clear by providing lengths of  soft wood, a sawing horse, a bush saw and safety gloves that the expectation is that if they choose to burn wood outside they leave enough replacement cut logs on the old peat barrow for those who come after.  Time after time though my diplomatic intervention is needed to guide our often first time log cutters to cut over the end of the sawing horse, thereby allowing the cut to open up rather than inside the legs of the sawing horse which serves only to close the cut progressively.  This, of course, leads to a head scratching standstill situation where no further progress can be made, embarassment in front of the children, bad temper and little wood cut.

If you are reading this as either one of the crowd or an isolate within your own wee bubble at the computer desk of a jolly urban hostel where many of those around you would not dream of being anywhere else other than in a building, the heat for which comes from they know not where, much in the same way claims broadcaster/ journalist, hutting enthusiast and PhD candidate Lesley Riddoch:-

“The majority of Glasgow pupils aren’t even sure that eggs come from hens – is lack of connection with nature to blame?”

then you may just wonder which planet both we and those guests who choose this more elemental hostel lifestyle inhabit.  There is room for both of course depending on our mood and inclination.  To party or not to party? Recluse or not?  There is no right or wrong, simply I suggest a deep down obligation to ourselves and to our young to bear in mind the ethos and outlook best summed up perhaps by the Norwegian humanitarian Fridhof Nansen when he wrote:-

“ The first great thing is to find yourself, and for that you need solitude and contemplation: at least sometimes. I tell you, deliverance will not come from the rushing, noisy centres of civilization. It will come from the lonely places.”

Contemplate then and be exhiliarated by the glorious, riotous coloured, stormy autumn which is almost upon us.

Hostel Keeper


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