Updated: Jan 8
I’ve been reminded more than once over the past year of the fine line between love and insanity. It's been a crazy year so far and it's not over yet. I love what I do but I'm not sure it's healthy. Not this year anyway. Speaking purely for my own business, I’d say if 2020 was a rollercoaster then 2021 has been a runaway train. It trundled off steadily enough to begin with when the brake pads were removed in May, but it gathered speed in no time and was soon packed to the gunnels with rabid passengers eager to shop, eat, and drink their way round a country they couldn’t escape. And then the sun joined in, like it was some homecoming party the Greek gods had bestowed upon us without warning. Lockdown Levels were easing, floodgates were opening, the starter gun had been fired and the sun was going for gold.
People reported that Tiree was busier than it had ever been, which can’t have been the case because the ferry continued running at 30% capacity right up until mid-August. And yet we definitely seemed busier. Perhaps it was down to people being allowed out again after more than a year of abstinence. Perhaps those who wouldn’t normally eat out or shop when they holiday here opted to because for the first time in forever, they could very nearly do what they damn well pleased, thank you very much.
Having kicked off the 2021 season with a £40k debt from 2020, my COVID Recovery strategy was to do without staff for most of the year and treat myself to two or three priceless specimens for the entire month of August. This largely involved working my booty off for between 12 and 14 hours every day, unpaid, seven days a week for three months; slacking off a bit during August and then straight back on it for September and most of October, by which time I’d be down to a chilled 50-hour week with a day off thrown in, albeit still unpaid. Simples. Except of course it shredded me. The daily treadmill of up at 6, bake until 9, shop until 5 and bake until 10 was taking its toll. By mid July I was seriously questioning the madness of it but it was too late to jump ship. I’ve never been workshy but it’s a long, long time since I’ve had to do anything remotely resembling a 12-hour shift, seven days a week. Even last year, when I was baking my socks off day and night, the closest I got to that was three all-nighters over a four-week period to get cake orders completed and mailed by 8am. This was another level entirely. I was tired, crabbit, bedraggled and tearful. I wasn’t getting enough sleep, I wasn’t eating properly, I wasn’t exercising and I certainly wasn’t socialising. In other words, I was basically everyone who has a small business to recover this year. I saw them here, on Tiree, too; the Aislings, Ionas, Williams, and Fionas – overworked and stressed and having to plough on regardless. We just had to get to the finishing line. And now we almost have; we're on the home straight. Yeee-ha! Well done us.
August was my game-changer. Oh, my-oh-my, the JOY of having staff! Not having to bake at night, not having to be on time every single morning – nay, not having to be there at all! – not having to ensure I had everything I needed for the entire day; being able to go to the bank/Co-op/post-office mid-morning; getting to sift through the admin mountain at long last; taking a DAY OFF – whoop-whoop!! – and, glory be, sometimes even slouching around in pjs until 10am. And as for the effect new faces had on customer experience, well, where to begin…
Young, happy, smiling staff; youthful, eyelash-batting staff who triggered a flurry of all sexes, many previously unfamiliar with our bijou booth, all of whom suddenly and inexplicably discovered a penchant for hot chocolate, or Mochas, or Smoothies, or any manner of things seemingly only to be found at Yellow Hare. Bliss, it was, for four heavenly weeks... I'd have those fun-loving, upbeat, heart-warming staff back in a heartbeat and will be eternally grateful for the fun and laughter they brought me for that one incredible month.
The long and the short of it is that we had the most stupendous season. As recoveries go, we could not have contrived a more successful one. Sun, visitors, eaters, drinkers, browsers and spenders. All our ducks were in a row for almost the entire summer.
Which brings us neatly to our round of Thanks, to you, for the part you played in all of it.
Thank you, those who helped us get through 2020.
That was the year that never was and this is our time to thank everyone for everything that it wasn’t. To thank you for trying to be there; for buying what you didn’t need and sometimes didn’t especially want; for showing your support through whatever channels were available, be it social media or in writing. When there wasn’t anywhere to be but at home looking out, pressing those Buy Now keys was the best you could do and you did it skilfully and eagerly. After decades of being the also-rans and underdogs to hugely successful High Street chains and multi-nationals, Small Independents became the frontrunners in the Covid survival race and pipped them all at the post. Not with a price-match promise, a BOGOF, or by any other tactical means but simply by being small, independent and needy at a time when being small, independent and needy reverberated with us all. Old, young, wealthy or poor-as-the-proverbial church mouse, you all did your bit. There’s something about adversity that brings out the best in most of us.
Thank you, Staff
You came, you smiled, you conquered. I watched you; not only in Yellow Hare, but in other places too. I watched you work hard and long hours, and smile when you probably didn’t want to, and thank people who were sometimes rude. I watched you not get the tips you deserved, or the time off you wanted and the breaks you needed. I watched you become jaded at having to do the work of three people because there were no others to help. And I watched you leave when you'd had enough. When this is all over please come back and try again in the places you worked and enjoyed but became weary of; see them in their proper context, full and happy and with lots of staff to help and support each other. This year and last have been the toughest times to work in the hospitality industry. If you liked even a small part of it under those circumstances, you’ll love it when it’s back where it belongs.
Thank you, holiday-home and second-home owners
Whether you have opened your doors for strangers, for family, or for friends; thank you. Thank you for being here or returning to stay and welcoming people in, because it’s you, more than anyone, who is helping small businesses like mine and, ultimately, Tiree’s economy, to recover. And it’s you who has given someone the much-needed break that they might not otherwise have had. This year, especially, are the holidays we will remember forever.
You do so much more than simply rent out your house. Lots of us benefit in many ways. Many of you provide regular and viable employment to housekeepers between March and October. The visitors you accommodate, week-after-week, month-after-month, spend their waking hours visiting every available attraction, shop, café, hotel and eatery on the island, of which there were many this year. You inspire and encourage other businesses to start up; it's your guests who use them more than any other – just look at Scarinish now! – and by association contribute to the income of many residents on the island. More than all of that, you keep Tiree firmly on the map as a visible and viable destination by promoting your properties through your own sources and via those you accommodate.
Thank you, first-time visitors
You came in droves by air and sea; day-trippers, campers and friends-of-friends, and waxed lyrical about Tiree’s beauty and how amazing it was to be here. You walked and surfed and swam and cycled your way round the island day after day, month after month, exhausting every nook and cranny and wondering that you hadn’t found us before. You shopped-till-you-dropped, used every resource available to you, showed gratitude for it all and promised to return. You reminded us why most of us are here, what it was that brought us and why we chose to stay. We are all tourists, in some form or other, and the majority of those who live on Tiree now with no family connection very probably started life on the island as a tourist.
Thank you, cyclists, campers and runners
You came, you enjoyed, you shared, and you left no footprint. Literally hundreds of you. You kept the air clean - notwithstanding peak times when it was occasionally a shade of blue as workers tried to get to work – and you cleaned up after you. There were one or two instances of abandoned rubbish, but with a dire lack of rubbish bins to utilise, I applaud your attempts at getting rid of it. Lots of you asked in the shop where the rubbish dump was and travelled to it. Some found it closed and left it at the gate, others tried to force it into an overfull bin, and one or two left bags by the roadside. The solution is obvious. More bins.
To see the Ultra Marathon and 10k / Half Marathon take place again this year was an absolute joy. Even without the Ceilidh Dance or Hub of An Talla, it was a delight. From start to finish, watching everyone wind their way up the pier, laughing and chatting, cyclists and walkers,
drivers and passengers, all eager to be here, to be taking part in a common goal after so many months and missed opportunities, was such a pleasure. It drove me on and inspired me to get on and go for it. I was signed up for it but genuinely didn't think I'd manage the course. But I did manage it, somehow, and I'm so pleased to have done it, although if I am brutally honest it only became fun when I stopped looking out for the defibrillators which was around 2 kilometres from the finish line. It is no exaggeration to say that this year’s 10k will go down as my most memorable run in 25 years of running, for lots of reasons. Thank you Will. You wear the crown.
Things I’ve discovered about me since Lockdown began
I do not harbour a desire to be the next Dot Cotton (thank you, Bradley, but no thank you).
I am incapable of working all day every day and staying cheerful. After two months of this, a choice must be made between one or the other.
Bumping into me in Edinburgh when you haven’t seen me since Tiree and saying ‘wow, you scrub up well’ does not feel like a compliment. Particularly when I haven’t ‘scrubbed up’ at all but have merely brushed my hair or am not wearing an apron. All it does is remind me that I adopt the persona of a bag lady when working at the shop, which isn’t intentional.
I have no time for local politics or cronyism. *actually I knew that about me before Lockdown.
I talk too much and sometimes forget I’m there to serve; sorry sir, ma’am. (*doffs cap*)
I have lots of wonderful friends and I have missed them sorely this year
I can bake.
Good things that have happened since lockdown first began
The sea got fuller of fish.
The landscape recovered.
We enjoyed peace and tranquility.
We got to know each other.
We began looking closer to home when shopping
We rediscovered home through staycations
We showed we cared
Finally… two things.
Firstly… Baking by Mail was borne of desperation, to keep the business afloat until I could reopen the shop. It quickly became something else and I loved it, but it’s time to let go. Now that the season is almost over and we are about to close until next spring I’ve decided to stop, with the exception of Christmas Food - more on that to follow. It’s been such a wonderful journey but it has also been an exhausting one. I will be in touch soon with information on how to order Christmas cakes but meanwhile, thank you SO much for your wonderful support, it has been nothing short of amazing and is appreciated enormously. 🥰
Secondly… Feedback of any kind is of little importance this year. It’s been an arduous and stressful climb to get back to where we ought to be. This is not the year to worry about whether or not we are excelling. Merely surviving is enough for now. If you have left good feedback, thank you. If you have left bad feedback, why? This is the year to be kind. Nothing else matters.
Thank you, Wonderful You!