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Nicky Marr: Remote or among people, switching off can be great

By Nicky Marr

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Nicky visiting Skye.
Nicky visiting Skye.

Work-life balance. It can be an elusive thing, especially when we’re plugged into our tech all the time.

As a freelancer I don’t have a work phone, just a phone. All my emails come into it, and I feel obliged to check every time there’s a ping or a tiny vibration. My phone is usually in my back pocket, so if I don’t hear that vibration, I feel it.

I should switch that off, but do I? Almost never. It’s a fear of missing out, a fear of being needed and not being available. As my father-in-law would say, a psychiatrist could do a lot with that.

Last weekend, though, I got away from it all. And when I say, ‘it all’, I mean from my phone. My brother has spent the last 13 years breathing new life into a run-down croft house in Skye and invited me along for the weekend. It’s two miles off the road in a sheltered spot near a sandy bay. And it’s rustic, but stunning.

My brother’s personality is all over that house. His sweat, his labour, his ingenuity. Over time, he has given it a roof, tied in its bulging walls, and retrospectively (only 200 years late) dug and laid foundations.

A burn provides running water, which now comes out of the kitchen tap hot, thanks to a repurposed caravan boiler and a Calor gas cylinder. A charcoal filter means we can drink the burn water too.

I had one of the best showers of my life after a morning swim. Another gas boiler heats water from a second burn 100 yards up the hill. He built a stand-alone shower cubicle up there, surrounded by decking, and with the top half of the stable door open I could see Rhum through my shampoo.

We had defied the weather forecast and saw wall-to-wall sunshine, perfect weather for strimming a path to the outdoor composting loo, and for spreading its well-rotted former contents (2020 and 2021 vintages, I believe) around the foot of the oak and larch saplings he has planted.

While he tinkered with the generator I dozed in the sun. Then we kayaked round the point to check out an ancient cave, searched for cowries on a tiny cut-off beach, then walked to the lighthouse.

At night we ate well, lit the fire, and told stories of our childhood, our kids, our lives so far, and our hopes for the future. And we realised that we’ve never spent that much time alone. We’re incredibly alike, and completely different. He prefers his drams peatier than I do but can rustle up a mean seafood paella.

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Perhaps the greatest gift was the lack of phone signal. No 4G or Wi-Fi either. Which meant we were utterly present. Connected to each other, our surroundings, and our thoughts. And that was it. Not a single worry about work entered my mind.

I genuinely can’t remember the last time that happened, and I can’t remember the last time I relaxed so completely. I don’t think I need my father-in-law’s psychiatrist to realise what I need to do, and that I should disconnect more often.

This weekend I’ll be getting away from it all too, although in a completely different way.

This weekend we’ll be surrounded by thousands of others, and instead of losing ourselves in the quiet anticipation that the otter might reappear, we’ll be lost in music.

Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival will be back with a bang, and if previous years are anything to go by, it’ll be another perfect way to switch off from work and achieve that all-illusive balance.

Because it’s hard to worry about anything at all when you’re among friends, singing your heart out, dancing like you should know better, and waking up in the morning with a selection of reasons for that sore throat.

Plus, there’s rarely a phone signal there either.

Remote or in crowds, there’s a common theme. Switch off and enjoy. I intend to try it more often.

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