Island Life - Roc Sandford autobiography excerpt
Ghostwriters get to rub shoulders with some fascinating people. Sometimes it's celebrities, but often it's simply those who have lived unusual and intriguing lives. In the words of bestselling ghost Andrew Crofts: "Behind the title of ghostwriter, I could converse with kings and billionaires as easily as whores and the homeless, go backstage with rock stars and actors. I could stick my nose into everyone else's business and ask all the impertinent questions I wanted to. At the same time, I could also live the pleasant life of a writer." The below autobiography excerpt is based on an interview with Roc Sandford about life on the island of Gometra, a remote and beautiful place that he describes as a "peopled wilderness".
I believe that we all have a kind of homing instinct. If the home we grew up in is gone, then we have a desire to find somewhere like it. I wanted my son Cato to have a similar childhood to me and learn to live in the wild. I was looking for somewhere remote that would be hard to spoil. I was finding it hard to find a place that I liked. I drove around Europe looking - I went to Eastern Europe, the German Democratic Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Scotland. I heard about a place called Gometra that was for sale alongside various other remote Scottish islands. I wasn’t particularly interested but I went to have a look. Getting here is challenging - you have to take a train from Glasgow, a ferry to the Isle of Mull, a bus, and then another bus to Ulva ferry. After that you have to row across or get a ride on the ferry, followed by an eight mile walk across a mountain dirt track. Finally you cross a little bridge and you’re on Gometra. It’s quite a good way to approach because you leave more and more behind you. The physical rigour puts you in the right space to enter a new place. When I arrived at Gometra I met Iain Munro for the first time, who became a good friend. He lived on the next door island and I got the impression he was vetting potential people looking at Gometra. I liked to think that I chose Gometra, but I think in reality Iain chose me. When I first arrived at the island with Cato it was deserted. There were a number of people on Ulva, the next door island. Gometra in contrast had nobody living here, in part because it is such a challenging place. There were about six empty houses, only one was liveable. Quite a few people had tried to make a go of it and most had lasted about two years and then left. There’s a very distinct pattern on the island- you usually have an amazing two years and then you have to go because it’s too hard. There’s no electricity, no doctor and no schools. There’s no ferry either so it’s very tough. I didn’t always have communication with the outside world out here. There was a landline but it was intermittent. It ran with copper wires and BT had actually forgotten how to mend them. They would swing together in the wind sometimes and you would hear these amazing sounds from the wires shorting. At the beginning of my time here I found a lot of wreckage that had washed up on the beaches. If you needed something like a dish brush you could often find it lying on a beach somewhere. It was very handy as we didn’t have shops nearby. When I first arrived I didn’t have a particular plan. I was just looking for a farm, somewhere beautiful and wild, a place surrounded by nature to live with my son Cato. It was just me, Cato and often, my dad. We spent a lot of time playing music, reading, chopping wood, and trying to make the water run. It was very much a Garden of Eden-style existence. But the moment I saw those houses, I found myself thinking “they need roofs putting back on and some people in them”. It became a new project. Over time, and with Iain’s help, we started to fix them up and people came to the island. Before long, we had a little community. The most at any one time has been about 12, but in all about three dozen people have lived here over the past quarter century. I had a policy of giving ad-lib housing to anyone who came. Just occasionally there was a good reason to refuse a person, but provided we had the capacity, we almost never turned anyone away. Our residents would range from people who had dropped out and didn’t want anything to do with the outside world and were maybe living on benefits or just foraging. Then there were the ones who had jobs and would travel for hours every day to get to work. Some of the islanders worked for me on the farm, fixing up houses and doing odd jobs. Then there were many transient guests, who would come and go for short periods. When more people arrived it became more of a community with a division of labour and community interactions, a lot of ceilidhs, a lot of partying, and a lot of drinking too much whiskey at night. It was wonderful.
On Gometra you move into a different, more tranquil state. You sleep more, you slow down a bit, you maybe don’t think so clearly. But you arguably have a closer grip on the deeper realities.
Sometimes in the winter it would rain and blow for weeks and you would want to get away. Most of the time though I found that I didn’t want to leave, provided I had my children with me. But unfortunately we couldn’t get a teacher, so the children are educated offshore and we live here part time.