February begins quietly here – there is little sense of winter progressing as we used to experience it. Yes there is some snow, but it rarely lasts more than a day and is never as deep as we were used to! The weather pattern seems to be warmer, wetter and windier!
Snow is one of the real beauties of winter. The landscape can be drab here, with fields of raw ploughed earth waiting for the Spring sowing. A bright white is transformative.
At its best the snow can enhance the muted green and browns of the winter garden, and create a misty distance of half obscured trees across the howe, creating mystery as well as beauty.
Both of those shots were taken on February 6th – so to keep the timeline for the early part of the month, let’s take a look at the state of play across the UK with Covid 19. The UK is now dominated by the Omicron variant, which is quite alarmingly transmissible, and has spread so quickly it has taken the experts and the politicians by surprise. Hospitalisation and deaths are not as high, due in part (probably a major part) to levels of double and triple vaccinations. But the high levels of infection mean that more and more people are away from work, self-isolating. And that impacts on every part of the functioning of society. The approach to this situation has varied, with Scotland and Wales both keeping as many ‘mitigations’ as possible in place, especially regarding mask-wearing and behaviour in crowded indoor spaces and large outdoor events. The English government has been keen to lift as many restrictions as possible, encouraging a return to office work, abandoning mask wearing, and freeing social and school situations from Covid mitigations. It is all a matter of ‘self selection’ now, and individual freedom of choice. And the countrywide map for Feb. 5th clearly shows the impact of the different approaches!
The lighter the colour, the lower the rate of both infection and transmission. Personally the impact of Omicron has been to return Mike and I to stricter self-isolation, and upgrading our masks from n95 to n99 (FFP2 to FFP3). Outings are almost exclusively for shopping trips, early in the morning when the shops are reasonably empty of customers! Storm Arwen has curtailed our usual patterns of exercise, as most of the places we visit to walk and take photographs are closed due to the storm damage of last November/December. And they will probably remain closed for most of the year! This is making big problems for us both, as two years of the pandemic has had an impact on our general health and our muscles and general stamina.
Our outings are mainly shopping trips, and I do tend to shoot through the car windscreen as we drive along, whatever the weather! Here I merged several shots to add the sense of speed.
And when the weather is too bad to tempt me outdoors with some cameras, I can record the view through the windows. Here I was shooting with an iPhone. A typically grey and sunless day. As the snow hit the window it melted, adding a nicely cold and wet feeling to the scene. There have been so many days with the same leaden grey skies this February! It does make the world indoors much more appealing!
I’ve begun collecting some wonderful miniature vases by Yuta Segawa – hand-thrown, and so very small. I’ve spent plenty of time shooting them. The smallest of flowers will set off their delicacy!
This is the tiniest one I have, and pure white. With a few dried hydrangea flowers it seems to float. And I do search out flowers from the local supermarket ……
….. they brighten the house, and lift the mood, glowing in the occasional winter sunshine. These yellow tulips remind me that Spring will return … maybe soon?
When I buy flowers I tend to hang on to them, and gradually as the blossoms fade I find a few that still look fresh. So smaller and smaller vases are used until, like this, a small maple syrup jar suffices to show them off!
Yes. Year three of the Covid-19 pandemic begins. It has been such a long journey since November/December 2019 when we first read about a virulent new virus causing concern in Wuhan, China …. then January 2020 when we found it was here in Aberdeenshire, brought back from Italy by someone returning from a ski holiday in the Italian Alps. It is hard to recall just how innocent, how ignorant we were of what might lie ahead as the new decade began! So how does the world look as 2022 begins?
In pandemic terms the Westminster government is yet again trying to suggest that the pandemic is over … well NEARLY. Desperate for some ‘good news’ it is repeating the mistakes of last year by trumpeting the next “Freedom Day” of no face masks and back to work in the office. The reason for this (looked at with a cynical eye) is to divert the populace away from the ocean of lies, corruption and sleaze that is engulfing Boris Johnson and his government. It is difficult to find a way to summarise this … Partygate, lying (both to the Commons and the people), bullying and intimidation of MPs … just a tiny taste of the sewer that the ‘national’ government has become. It is being revealed day after day. Desperate attempts to shore up the government mean that throwing vulnerable citizens under the Covid bus is just one plan to divert attention away from the mess they are in. Declare the pandemic over – compare it to a winter ‘flu once again.
And where am I personally as the year begins? Well my energy seems to have shrunk to the size of a walnut! I guess 2 years of constant stress and anxiety would be enough of a problem for the ME/PVS (Post Viral Syndrome) my body has had to live with over the past 30 years. I used to avoid the annual ‘flu jab because it took months to recover from the after-effects. But Covid has redrawn the map! Now I have had 2 ‘flu jabs and 3 Covid jabs. I guess the answer is right there! And since the booster jab of Pfizer I have had some strange side-effects such as alterations to my sense of taste. Nori, which I love, became quite horrible. This winter’s ‘flu jab was administered at the same time as the booster shot, and the arm muscle involved has remained painful – even now – 3+ months after the jab.
So I find very little energy for my creative drive. Even back-pedalling on the housework, and neglecting the garden, I find myself sinking into watching DVDs or recorded TV programmes rather than beginning my painting for the year! And endless card games on my iPhone take the time I used to spend reading poetry, or books on Cezanne, or my only magazine on B+W photography. My eating is chaotic, with far too much sweet (cakes and chocolates) and little salad and fresh fruit! So I have a mountain to climb to get myself back on track!
It is only slowly, as the end of the month approaches, that I feel able to take some tentative steps towards what was ‘normal’ in 2021, or further back in 2020, and even pre-pandemic times. I sourced a ‘new’ vintage lens on eBay, and now have a second Meyer Optik Gorlitz lens – this time a closer Domiplan 50mm. Not expensive, and very like the Helios range, but giving an hexagonal bokeh light ball. And I am beginning the year by brushing up on my photographic skills. Something I can do every day, especially in the early morning, is to step outside and shoot the dawn from the garden. It is often the most interesting and colourful time of the day.
In winter a stunning dawn like this can resolve into a grey, overcast day. So the zoom of my RX10m3 is by the door, to catch the ‘lightshow’ that welcomes the morning!
The other photogenic morning offering is the early mist. Here I tried out the new Domiplan 50 lens outdoors. Focusing on something as insubstantial as the mist across the howe is quite demanding of any lens!
And indoors I’ve been using the Domiplan 50mm as my ‘go-to’ lens. I find it’s the best way to learn a new lens, to have it to hand as much as possible, and shoot anything and everything that catches my eye. Looking at the results later on the PC monitor I can discard disappointing shots, but all of them build up my knowledge of what are the strengths and weaknesses of a lens.
The remnants of a vase of yellow tulips, caught in the sunshine and reflected on the wooden table surface. The hexagonal bokeh in the window was a delight.
A ‘grab the camera’ moment as the sun caught some glass photo props before I put them away! I was about to finish for the day … and prepare some lunch.
One of the few remaining ‘normal’ activities we have is the weekly shopping trip to Inverurie. The range of shops we visit is reduced to just two, and has been since the early days of the pandemic. It makes for a quick ‘exposure’ with masks and sanitiser …. early in the day before the shops are crowded. But there is a bonus to the early start, especially in the winter, as it means we drive through the dawn! We drive into the sunrise as we go, and the sun is behind us as we return. Both effects can create beautiful photographs!
As the daily ‘light show’ of the dawn unfolds before our eyes, there is the chance of the sky silhouetting the trees by the roadside. Irresistible for me with my Sony RX100 – which is perfect for such ‘drive by’ shots.
By the time the shopping is done, the day has opened up, and with the low winter sun at our backs we can take in the full glory of the world we live in. I’ve recently learned that the clouds we often see here are called Lenticular and can look like rolls of cotton wool.
By the middle of January we made our first (short) trip to the coast – the first since last April! The day was grey and cold, but we missed being able to walk by the sea and enjoy the freedom to exercise in fresh air, walk on the sand, and feel the power of the sea as it meets the shore. The damage inflicted by Storm Arwen has closed our local exercise places, Fyvie Castle and Leith Hall, so the sea is the only space that is open to us. As it turned out we found that Storm Arwen has robbed us of our usual seaside spots too! The road to Banff Scotstown was closed off, with nowhere to park. so we couldn’t even park and investigate on foot!
I had to shoot Banff Bay from above, fighting a gale as I tried to catch the sea with my new lens! It was beautiful, but I couldn’t stay long, as standing upright was a battle in itself!
We decided to try Portsoy, further up the coast. If the sea was too wild and windy, then the shelter of Little Loch Soy might be a place we could stretch our legs and get some exercise. We discovered that Storm Arwen had marked even Little Loch Soy, with trees destroyed, and only freshly cut tree stumps remaining in some places. I had decided to take my Lensbaby Double Glass lens with me, as it too had been languishing over the past few months. At least I could try for some interesting lens effects, if the day was grey and the lochside walk was dull!
As it happened the Lensbaby did transform the dull day into something more magical! Back home I took 3 Lensbaby shots and wove them into a wintery wonderland. It is amazing what the Lensbaby can create!
Back home I played with the Lensbaby indoors. With macro rings I can get in really close. There are lovely swirling patterns the lens can create with a fallen tulip petal and stamens, on pebble glass.
As the month progressed we continued to slowly clear up the damage from Storm Arwen. So many branches brought down in the garden, and debris together with leaves needing to be hauled up to the recycling centre in Turriff. As the month drew to a close we were warned of another severe storm arriving. The closing weekend was going to be graced with not one but two storms – Storm Malik and Storm Corrie. So before the worst began to hit Aberdeenshire we returned to the coast and treated ourselves to fish and chips by the sea at Whitehills.
The weather was already becoming wild and stormy, so we ate in the comfort of the car before venturing out to catch the surf breaking on the rocks. As it happened this was the quiet before the real storm arrived!
An online capture of the two storms! We waited for power cuts, and for trees in the garden to be brought down, but we were lucky and survived with just more debris to clear away!
And so the month draws to a close with us feeling battered and bruised and very tired! Anxiously waiting for both storms to pass, and wondering how we could run our generator with 70+ mph gales battering us. We look forward to a more peaceful February, and are in need of time to rest and recover!
After the deluge that closed July, the whole garden has sprung into life with renewed vigour! The months of little or no rain saw the blossoms fall early, and growth severely limited. Now there is a sense of catching up with our chaotic year of 2021 – an overlong winter, cold and frosty Spring, and dry summer. Not too promising! But we even have hopes that the Victoria plums will revive and fatten – fingers are crossed! There is sense of optimism as we approach August, Covid numbers are down to quite low levels – we might finally see some summer weather – and there is the promise of some return to ‘normal’ pre-pandemic life!
High under the eaves, above my bedroom, we have the ‘homes’ of our summer visitors – barn swallows. This year they have been very busy! We suspect that their first brood didn’t survive the late and long winter, as there were no signs of new life apart from the eggshells. But since then there have been at least 2 more broods, with copious bird droppings adorning the honeysuckle that grows below them 😊 I can see the shadows of the swallows against my bedroom curtains, as they swoop up and into the nests, feeding the young. Some mornings there seem to be dozens of them circling and zooming in to the nests. I watch them with amazement! And through August we have seen a new nest, and a first brood appear under the eaves at the side of the house! They are spreading their wings – quite literally!
I was given a miniature vase years ago – a blue one I use often use, with a few small flowers, in my still life photography. I’ve never found another so small and so photogenic …. until now! They are hand-thrown and beautifuuly glazed. There’s a link here to a video of how they are made. I am having fun shooting them!
And by the middle of August I have started driving again! I need to keep my driving skills up-to-date. The very long and hard winter meant I avoided driving in such difficult conditions. Since then we have had our two Covid vaccination shots, each of them takes away energy, and has left me more tired – not good for the low energy levels from my long-term PVS/ME. But with Mike’s back problems I figure it is wise to make time and find the energy to polish up my driving. So a few early morning sessions at weekends have got me feeling safe and confident – though the energy has only taken me to Turriff a few times!
Since Laurie introduced me to the delights of Japanese snacks, cakes and pancakes I have been enjoying adding to my range of eating experiences. And I confess to being well and truly hooked! Just like here, it is the small, traditional artisan makers who produce the best flavours. This lovely delicate momoyama snack is just one example.
August has been a poor month weatherwise, with little rain to help the crops or our garden! And there has been even less sunshine – the skies have been a leaden grey most days. So we are relieved, as the month draws to a close, to finally see the small wild bees returning and swinging in the breeze on the lavender. Usually the garden is buzzing with activity, but everything is late this year – and insects, especially bees and butterflies are here in much smaller numbers.
And finally, as the month ends, I have to include a Covid reality check at the end of August.
Covid-Delta numbers quadrupled during August! Yes! We started the month feeling optimistic about the progress we had made against the Covid-Delta variant. But as August ends things are running madly out of control here!! Our schools have been back 2-3 weeks now, and colleges are ready to return. And this is all on top of a summer of football, sporting and music festivals, and now the Edinburgh festival.
Previously Aberdeenshire had seen low infection rates – but in the past month infection numbers have more than quadrupled!! August 1st – 230 cases reported a rate of 88.2 per 100,000 August 31st – 1,159 cases reported a rate of 444.4 per 100,000 VERY locally we have usually had weekly numbers too small to count (0-2) with a max of 3 and an occasional 4. As the month draws to a close we have 25 reported cases.
It seems that most hospitalizations are of younger age-groups, mostly unvaccinated or with a single vaccine. But the authorities won’t give the go-ahead for school-age children to be vaccinated yet. And about 1/3 of hospital admissions are among the older and double-vaccinated groups. ICU figures are slowly creeping up, but so far deaths remain low. But there is no idea of what long-term damage there could be from Covid-Delta itself. The Scottish Govt. is holding its breath and hoping that we can ride out the current wave. But already the demands on hospitals are forcing them to cancel non-urgent surgery etc. as the wards are filling up again with Covid cases.
On which happy note we end August! September means we are moving into autumn and winter weather (with more indoor activity). So it looks like we will remain essentially self-isolating and relying on masks and keeping away from any crowded places. But before we move on to September, a look at my Flickr activity for August. I post regularly to Flickr, with a mix of macro, still life, landscape and experimental images. And as the month ends I create a collage for each month. They act as dividers in the flow of images, and also as a reminder to myself of what I have been up to over the previous weeks!
April is the cruellest month! How right T S Eliot was! Winter continues unabated – sub zero nights and cold days have dominated April 2021. The plum blossom is almost completely killed on the Japanese flowering plum tree by the gate. Usually the tree turns into a pink delight in April, but this year there are just a few random pink dabs among the bare branches! The new green buds on the hydrangeas and azaleas are blackened and blighted too. It is indeed cruel! There is more hail than snow, and the high winds sweeping down from the Arctic are driving the hail off the large field behind the house, and into our garden, building up against the house, and into our faces when we open the back door!
By the middle of the month the snow has been replaced by overnight frosts and bright sunny days. Better than the constant snow and hail, but the weather pattern is still so very cold, even at midday. The blue skies are very welcome, and the sun is hot through the window glass – but it is deceptive! And there is now no rainfall at all – so the land that has been soaked all autumn and frozen solid all winter is now too dry for the Spring planting to germinate properly.
On the personal front we have managed to continue to do some of our own grocery shopping. The lockdown together with the vaccine roll-out has seen a welcome and reassuring fall in infection rates, hospitalisations and deaths. There is now a Covid Dashboard provided by PH Scotland that shows cases by Local Government areas, and within each area too. So we can check to see how safe the places we wish to visit are. It is a strange world when the freedom to enter a shop and choose my own fruit and vegetables is a real treat! What used to be a regular chore has become a mark of returning normality, and real delight to look forward to!
April 14th – and another milestone. We both get our second vaccination jag! That is only 8 weeks since the first, and we were expecting to wait another month. So now we only need to wait another 3 weeks to ensure the antibodies have built up fully. Early May will be so good! No ill effects from the 2nd AZ shot – a mild ‘flu’ feeling for a day, but not even a sore arm!
April 26th – and there is a lot of easing of restrictions, both for travel, meeting others, and for opening up of shops, cafes and pubs. The emphasis is on outdoor meetings and venues as these first tentative steps test how effective the lock-down and vaccine roll-out have been.
But most of these changes are not affecting us two, as cold winter weather continues to make indoors most appealing! So I have been enjoying shooting anything and everything that I can find lying around in my studio! Catching the fleeting moments of sunshine, and celebrating the feeling that the year of constant stress might be loosening its grip…
I call this slightly frivolous excursion into random still-life shots my Flickr Odds and Sods album, and am happily adding to it as often as I can!
And before April ended we managed another trip to Fyvie Castle and grounds, to see if the new green of Spring had finally managed to emerge. This time I took a Sony NEX-7 with the magical Zeiss Makro E 50mm F2.8 lens. Usually used for close macro photography, I have discovered it is a wonderful landscape lens too!
To round off April with the photography I’ve posted on Flickr, here is the collage of my online month.
April ends the way it began, with driving hail and freezing temperatures.
Self-isolating now for most of March, with only about 4 trips out to exercise or shop! So photographing the plum blossom in the garden is as far as I go most days! Today it was blowing a gale – it often is this year. So I brought a spring indoors to capture its delicate beauty!
The kind of place you just want to sit and watch the world go by! The rhododendrons are still blooming at Fyvie Castle. Too good to miss the chance to enjoy them! And a chance to try out my latest Lensbaby optic, the Twist 60.
We’ve had a small wooden ranch-style fence in the garden for years – and this year we have replaced it. Work completed yesterday, and the smell of new wood, and wood shavings, fills the garden! I’ve planted clematis to grow up and over the fence, but at the moment it is bare, pale wood. I wanted to celebrate the new fence, so I took some rhododendrons from the front garden to adorn it. Shot with the Sony A77ii and the Sony 100mm F2.8 Macro.
A simple single white rose, shot against a black velvet cloth. I used the Lensbaby Edge 80 optic, which means shooting in Manual Mode. This optic is a favourite of mine, as it can produce amazing clarity and detail. I’ve written more about it here And ‘Flying Solo is all about using full Manual Mode on your camera.