As I began my Journal for 2021 I looked both back and forward, as Janus, the two-headed does! Looking back to the 2021 cover page I wrote: “2021 and we are in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic. 2020 began with hope and a sense of a fresh start to not only a new year, but a new decade. Hopes were quickly dashed as the virus spread across the globe, and we all struggled to handle the new reality. It changed the shape of our lives!” I envisaged 2021 in month blocks, defined by protective vaccinations, and the year has been punctuated that way, February and April for the first 2 vaccinations – and October for the booster shot (together with the annual ‘flu jab). So we face the new year with the maximum protection that our amazing and wonderful scientists can provide! And there is an ominous sense of repetition as we look forward to 2022. 2021 was spent battling the Delta Variant of the virus, 2022 looks to be another battle year, with the Omicron variant … which might prove to be less damaging, but is frighteningly more transmissible, doubling numbers every few days.
But as December began the immediate battle for us was to recover from Storm Arwen. We began December cold, hungry and with freezers full of partially defrosted food! 6 days of basically camping out in our own home, in the middle of winter, had taken every ounce of determination and energy. We are no longer young, fit and healthy … and the experience has proved to be very hard to recover from. Throughout the month we have tackled a long list of ‘Lessons learned from Storm Arwen’ that covers ways to ensure we can survive better next time an extended power cut happens. And we can expect more power cuts, either from climate change events, or from lack of planning by the UK government regarding energy supply resilience! ‘Resilience‘ is a big buzz word these days, and we have learned that in the event of a major weather event we can rely on NO-ONE except ourselves and our neighbours! So our month has been very unlike previous years when December is our month-long celebration of birthdays, anniversaries as well as Christmas and Hogmanay. As I write this December is closing, and we have achieved our goal of having as much ‘resilience’ as possible organised and available. From extra clothing, sleeping bags and blankets …. to extra camping stove and fuel …. to a working generator and prepared open log fire …. to battery supplies and Power Banks to recharge various devices. All of this has replaced personal presents, but it has given us some peace of mind as we approach 2022.
We spent long hours in the dark with little lighting except for torches. If we aimed a powerful torch at the ceiling it lit the whole room enough to see by. And I shot some of the shadows making shapes against the ceiling!
There was a vase of flowers that I could place close to the torch, and take photos, as well as their shadows on the ceiling! Yes, my trusty Sony RX100 had enough battery power to keep me shooting throughout the power cut.
As soon as we had power back on, and the house was warm and light enough to move about, I started combining the fleeting sunlight with some artificial light …. and colour returned to my world!
One of the indoor survivors was ivy that I had growing in small pots. So it was the first subject I could find to shoot when light returned. Here combined with a temari ball the echoes the colours of the ivy.
But the experience did leave me with a sense of the world in black and white, so I kept processing some shots in monochrome.
And it was winter … and that is the time when the world naturally turns to mono! Once I had recovered from the cold experience, I ventured out into the white world.
Mid December and some spectacular days of fog, and even freezing fog. This morning the fog slowly rose, and the sun began to break through. The birds collected on the restored power lines. Then the fog returned, and froze the world once more. The trees were coated with hoar frost and the view across the howe vanished into whiteness.
It was the end of the month before we could go shopping, and replace some of the freezer-damaged food stores. Here morning breaks as we make an early trip to Inverurie and our local supermarket and stores.
And finally the month and the year ends. Hogmanay celebrations are muted, and we have been so exhausted by the last 2 months that we are content to sleep our way into the new year of 2022!
The “Word Hoard” One of the most beautiful and resonant concepts we have derived from the Old English saga of Beowulf is the “Word Hoard”. I love the idea of a deep chest full of valuable, almost mystical words that we can open and use. And of course we can also add to the language “Word Hoard” as time passes and new events happen. So it is time to pause and take stock. We have new and resonant words to add to our “Word Hoard”
The world has changed so much and so fast over the last (almost) 2 years. Yes – it was November 2019 when we began to hear of an outbreak of a new viral infection in Wuhan, China, that had authorities there worried. We didn’t know that labs at Wuhan were working on bat viruses – the coronavirus family – that could jump species barriers and infect humans. Initially it was just called “novel coronavirus” and in the West we thought that like Sars (SARS-CoV-1) and MERS it would not substantially affect our daily lives, and our society. Looking back, how naive and complacent we were!
Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2) has so many names now, as it mutates and continues to outwit attempts to control or eradicate it. The virus was first confirmed to have spread to Italy on 31 January 2020, though more recent tests have discovered cases in November 2019 – so Covid-19 is the best general name, as 2019 was when it emerged. The last pandemic to touch our Western consciousness was the flu pandemic of 1918. There were blueprints for dealing with another more virulent outbreak of influenza – but basically no-one in our UK government looked beyond that. Surely a modern technological society could handle a viral outbreak?
How the Word Hoard has changed:
Pandemic – not a new word, but it has jumped into prominence and acquired a new and frightening significance. Coronavirus – most of us hadn’t heard of the word, but now it is in daily circulation (much like the virus itself) Covid or Covid-19 are the most common terms used. Mutations – We now have Alpha (Kent), Beta (South Africa), Gamma (Brazil) and Delta (Indian) Variants.
PROTECTIONS PPE – Personal Protective Equipment – equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and illnesses. It came to the fore as medics needed to be protected from the virus while treating those infected with Covid-19. Hand sanitiser – a protective liquid to rub into your hands – in this case alcohol-based (typically between 60 and 95 percent alcohol). I found online recipes to make up my own gel hand sanitiser which I still use! Face masks – entire books could be written about different types of face masks, which is best for particle-spread infections, and which best for airborne. We have all become mini-experts! Nose guards? Filters? How and when to clean and wash them? How often to re-use them? Bleach – especially at the start of the pandemic when Covid was thought to be a particle-spread infection we were advised to wash all incoming deliveries in dilute bleach. Lock-down – the ultimate protection was to close down all but essential activities within the entire society. Only leave home for essential purposes such as food shopping! Shielding – the most vulnerable people were totally confined to home. No straying beyond the garden gate! Self-isolating – if you contracted Covid you were (and still are) obliged to isolate yourself from everyone for a given length of time. Food delivered to the door. No person-to-person contact with anyone.
MITIGATIONS – especially now it is known to be airborne. And ‘mitigations’ has itself become a new buzz word! But broadly it is things we can all do to help minimize the spread of the virus. Bubbles – The idea that a small group of people (maybe a household or a school class) who are in regular contact could relax the rules, in order to support each other, or to function in a necessary way. Hand sanitiser – still, in October 2021 placed at every entrance to a shop or indoor public place (such as a library) here in Scotland (though England may be different and more relaxed.) Face masks – (no mask no entry) still essential for shopping trips, and indoor public meeting place. Again this is here in Scotland (though England may be different and more relaxed.) Social distancing – originally the rules were to keep 2 metres/6′ apart, with guide marks on the floors of shops or queues, and a one way in and one way out system. Now it is a little more relaxed, though people do try to keep a reasonable distance apart. Ventilation – this has become increasingly important as the implications of Covid as an airborne virus has sunk in! Best to meet outside,and indoor spaces should be well-ventilated. Even at home keep doors and windows open if possible! Crowded indoor spaces with circulating (recycled) air are the ones to be avoided. WFH – we are still encouraged to Work From Home as much as possible, to avoid public transport and enclosed office spaces. Remote Learning – originally something only used for geographically remote students in the Highlands and Islands – this became the norm for most school and college/university students throughout 2020 and well into 2021. Using broadband links and computers, tablets or smartphones it is still a part of most children’s world, especially as they are now the ‘super-spreaders’ (as cases fall during holiday times, and rise again when schools re-open!) Furlough – a term for employees who have to be laid off due to Lockdown – but who are kept afloat by having most of their wages paid by the government. Zoom – became the most popular and widely used video chat link app for people to keep in touch with friends and family, or for business conference calls. PCR test – as testing for Covid became available, taking a test became obligatory in many circumstances. A negative test could allow for travel, for example. The test has to be sent away for laboratory processing, and there is a waiting time for results. Lateral Flow test – this self-administered test is not as reliable, but is used more often as a guide to whether it is safe to enter places like schools.
VACCINES – we have been amazed at the speedy development to vaccines to protect against severe Covid. They do not protect against catching or spreading Covid, but do protect against severe infection and death. “Vax” has become the OED word of the year 2021 Brand names – we have a growing number of named vaccines. In the UK the main 2 are Pfizer and Astra Zeneca. They are designed to be used in 2 doses at least 8-12 weeks apart. Moderna is more used in the USA, along with Jannsen (single dose). Efficacy levels – these are constantly monitored as it appears that the protection they offer will wane after about 6 months. One dose – a single does is being offered for younger children now, and has been the starting point for us all. The protection level takes at least 2 weeks to develop. Two doses – most vaccines require two doses, so to be ‘fully vaxxed’ takes several months. Booster jabs – As time has passed the level of protection from the vaccines has waned, so autumn 2021 has seen the roll-out of booster jabs. Initially for the most vulnerable groups (over 70s and immuno-compromised, along with health and social care staff). The preferred method has been to mix vaccines. Most Scots had Astra Zeneca for the first 2 doses, and now Pfizer for the booster. Again the race is on to get as much protection in place for the population before winter sets in. ‘Flu vaccine – This was made widely available last winter as ‘flu on top of Covid was a frightening prospect. As it happened the extent and success of Lockdown and mitigations such as mask wearing lead to almost no ‘flu over the winter! Indeed many winter infections were greatly reduced! This year the fear is that we might lost the ‘herd’ protection against ‘flu – so the ‘flu jab is being administered together with the Covid booster jab! Two arms, two jabs! Covid pass or passports – These are being developed so you can have proof of your vaccination status when entering a ‘high risk’ environment such as a nightclub, a concert or travelling abroad. Its use can be extended to pubs, restaurants and other indoor social venues … depending on number of cases being reported. Anti-vaxxers – There are many vocal groups against the vaccination policies of many governments. Some tout conspiracy theories, some claim Covid doesn’t even exist, and others demand the righ to remain unvaccinated, but free to roam throughout the country.
TRACKING THE VIRUS, collecting data and advising goverment Spike – this is something to look out for as an early indicator that Covid may be getting out of control. Mapping – this is done increasingly, to learn where the virus is most active. We can follow the statistics for Scotland as a whole, or each administrative area. We can even dig down to the local areas we are planning to visit, as well as where we live. Hotspots – as the term suggests, these are places where spikes have been seen, and infection numbers are rising quickly. Daily statistics – this is part of our daily routine. The statistics come out at 2 p.m. each day. They refer to the picture of 3 days ago – the lag is due to the time it takes to collect and correlate the data. They are still the most helpful guide to what is happening locally and nationally. R number – the R number should be 1 for the virus to be stable. Below one and it is retreating, above one and it is increasing. Currently Scotland’s R number is between 0.9 and 1.1 so we are on a knife-edge! Numbers per 100.000 – this is another way to quantify the numbers infected, and indicate when cases are rising or falling. Currently Scotland’s 7-day positivity rate is 382.4 Hospital numbers, ICU and Deaths – these are daily and weekly figures collated by the various UK ‘Governments’ which are intended to offer accurate (but with a three-day time-lag) information as to the current impact of COVID-19 on the NHS as the primary organisation attempting to treat patients whose illness is severe enough to require hospitalisation. When placed alongside daily and weekly numbers of ‘new’ infections as revealed after tests it is clear that the vaccination programme has had a powerful positive effect in reducing these numbers. More worryingly, it is increasingly also clear that an increasing – even dominant – proportion of the people who are identified as seriously ill enough for hospitalisation, and then need ICU intervention, and then who die nonetheless are unvaccinated. SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) – or the ‘Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies’ as the acronym stands in the UK is described by the gov.uk website as: ‘SAGE is responsible for ensuring that timely and coordinated scientific advice is made available to decision makers to support UK cross-government decisions in the Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBR). The advice provided by SAGE does not represent official government policy.’ SAGE bases its advice from a huge range of sources – experts from academic, public sector, industrial and commercial communities provide research and current information. Independent SAGE – as described on its website, this is a group of scientists who are working together to provide independent scientific advice to the UK government and public on how to minimise deaths and support Britain’s recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. It is independent of government and does not answer to it. It does however share its work openly with the government as well as with the public. JCVI – this is the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which holds 3 main meetings a year. JCVI comprises several sub-committees relating to specific areas: COVID -19; Pneumococcal; Travel; HPV (Human papillomavirus); Varicella; and Influenza. In December 2020 JCVI published its advice on priority groups for COVID-19 vaccination, and since then it has been the ‘gate-keeper’ whose go-ahead is needed before vaccination of any group(s) is given the green light. NERVTAG – New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group This group advises the government on the threat posed by new and emerging respiratory viruses. Covid is proving a difficult virus to track, as it is mutating all the time, and is worldwide in its reach. So there are many potential new threats to study and report on. Herd immunity – Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community (the herd) becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely, The key to herd immunity is that, even if a person becomes infected, there are too few susceptible hosts around to maintain transmission. Many people wondered if this concept was behind the puzzling slowness of response by the Westminster government when the Covid virus was first detected in the UK. Was it only as the death rate rose that they began to deny it was a part of their strategy?
This is just a quick look at some of the new words phrases and acronyms that have entered our daily vocabulary since November 2019. There are so many more that I haven’t included! But the sheer volume does indicate the many ways that Covid has turned our ‘normal’ lives upside down!
Well, I waited until the end of the month to write this. It has been such a tumultuous four weeks. I thought I might have a better grasp of what is going on as the month ends. There is a saying – “a week is a long time in politics” – well a month is even longer, and the landscape of our daily lives has been changing throughout September. The key word for the month is ‘SHORTAGES’ We have been warned of shortages of imported goods from outwith the UK – consumer goods – food we usually import such as fresh fruits, salad crops and vegetables – microchips for cars and electrical goods assembled here. The start of a very long list! We all know that in reality the root cause lies in Brexit, and severing ties with the EU. Next there are the shortages of people, again mainly due to Brexit. Shortages in nurses, health care workers and lorry drivers, to name but a few. Then there are new emerging shortages, in gas supplies, supplies of CO2, and finally as the month draws to an end, petrol. ALL of these could have been predicted, and many could have been addressed and tackled months or even years ago. Brexit was always going to mean an exodus of workers in many key areas where wages are low, from seasonal fruit picking to NHS and care home workers to bar/hotel/restaurant staff. We knew that way back in 2016! Among the less obvious were HGV drivers – on whom we depend for the distribution of just about everything. Since Beeching destroyed the rail infrastructure in the 1960s the ever deteriorating road infrastructure has had to handle ever more and ever bigger haulage vehicles. And September 2021 has laid bare the extent of the problem …. as we all queue at the petrol stations hoping to keep our essential cars (public transport is a thing of the past, along with rail travel) on the road. So we are being educated about the 2017 decision to close our UK gas storage tanks, which used to give us 70% emergency supply. Now we have 2% emergency back-up, compared with 100% and more in France and Germany. And gas is used in electricity generation – so we are looking at power cuts this winter! CO2 we learn is used in abattoirs for slaughtering pigs and chickens. This shortage will mean inhumane slaughtering, and reduced food supplies on supermarket shelves. Oh yes! A trip to the supermarket is now a guessing game … guessing how many items on your shopping list will be available! Supplies might appear if there is a delivery (HGV drivers permitting) – or not, if there have been production problems, importation problems etc. etc. This excuse for a UK government keeps calling on the ‘wartime spirit’ (as they seem to live in the past!) …. well, they are doing a fine job of returning us all to rationing!
And as if all these practical problems were not enough to keep us all concerned, Scotland saw a massive surge in Covid infection rates through August, and in September the rates have finally begun to stabilise and even fall. But whereas the rise was meteoric – the fall is proving to be painfully slow!
In our corner of the country the Covid cases are everywhere. The darker the colour the greater the infections per 100,000. And although we are a largely rural area the infections are reaching us all. In my own small administrative district here we are nearly 500 per 100,00.
So September has had the feeling of being battered from all directions! But happily nature is unaware of our human preoccupations, and this year despite the late Spring and poor rainfall through the growing season, we have had a good crop of plums from our Victoria plum tree!
And in the protected south-facing porch the geraniums I keep in pots have been a glorious display of pink….
And the month has not been barren on the creative front! I have been painting in watercolour and also keeping my cameras busy too. We have not been able to get out into the lovely landscapes and seascapes of Aberdeenshire as much as we would like, but the garden and the still life ‘studio’ have been my inspirations.
Another image shot using the wonderful Yuta Segawa miniature vases I bought a month or two ago … here filled with a few begonia flowers from a planter in the garden. And finally the images that I have uploaded to Flickr this September …
As September gives way to October, and nights draw in, temperatures fall, and the leaves fall too – we are left wondering what more can go wrong with this ‘government of all the imcompetents’ that has been in charge of our lives since 2010. Twelve years of growing disaster. As WB Yeats put it … “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”
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!
June 2021 – in which I discover the joys of Japanese snacks, find that we are in a drought period here, and try to get a grasp on the Covid ‘Delta’ variant.
I’ve long been an admirer of many things Japanese; from their food to their philosophy and art, there are so many things to enjoy, admire, and ponder. ‘Art’ is a word that you can extend to encompass almost every aspect of Japanese life – from the tea ceremony to making paper, there is an expertise that has been developed over centuries. And recently my friend and fellow Japan admirer Laurie Kern introduced me to the taste experience of traditional Japanese ‘snacks’. Laurie discovered two suppliers offering snack-boxes on a regular basis, each with a selection of traditional artisan-made snacks and sweets. Sakuraco supplied their April box that included the Yunomi cup and mochi in the shot I took as the header photo for June. There are many different kinds of mochi. This one is red bean paste encased in a soft cake. The snacks seem to be less sweet and sugary than our usual Western sweets or snacks, and the tastes are more subtle and gentle. And they are wickedly delightful and ‘more-ish’ 😊. Each box comes with a booklet that describes each snack included, so it is a learning experience as well as a taste experience! And after sampling some of the delights of Laurie’s April box, she sent me a box of my own from another supplier, Bokksu as a surprise gift!
And like Sakuraco it came laden with snacks, and an accompanying booklet about each snack. No little porcelain cup this time … just delicious treats to nibble!
Apart from savouring the different tastes from Japan, the month of June was also one of the driest on record! After a prolonged winter that lasted through until May, we were looking for some relief for our garden. Some plants didn’t survive the winter, and those that did were blighted, with new leaves and buds blackened by constant overnight frosts. So we hoped to welcome some warmer and sunnier weather, to allow the garden to revive. It was such a blow to find week after week with no rain! We had to resort to using hosepipes to keep everything alive …..
Some areas like the back rockery find that the steep slope means our light, sandy soil doesn’t hold the water well – and strong sunshine will soon defeat the plants!
And so onto the third and final part of my June Journal – the progress of the pandemic! I saved writing about this aspect of June until the month ended, as it quickly became apparent that there was a further wave (3rd? 4th? I’ve lost count!) of Covid infections breaking on the shores of the UK – the Delta variant. “SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant, also known as lineage B.1.617.2, is a variant of lineage B.1.617 of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. It was first detected in India in late 2020. The World Health Organization (WHO) named it the Delta variant on 31 May 2021.” [source: Wikipedia]
I live in Scotland, so I keep an eye on the Covid statistics for Scotland, and in rural Aberdeenshire, so I track and record the statistics for my area too. This variant was being tracked at it was even more transmissible than the Kent (Alpha) variant. And instead of closing down international travel between the UK and the Indian sub-continent, the Westminster government allowed hundreds of thousands of potentially infected travellers to enter the UK without testing or quarantine. Another political disaster, to add to the seemingly endless succession of disasters the Westminster government has inflicted on us! I despair /0\ The Indian (Delta) variant quickly took hold and throughout June it spread like a wildfire throughout the UK, especially in densely populated cities. Scotland has fared worst of all, with almost double the number of confirmed cases when compared with England.
A quick snapshot of the data here in Aberdeenshire shows the trend throughout June: * May 31st – 22 recorded +ve cases. That is 8.4 people infected per 100,000. And a test positivity rate of 0.4% ** June 29th – 514 recorded +ve cases. That is 196.8 people infected per 100,000. And a test positivity rate of 5.9% And Aberdeenshire has been one of the least badly affected areas of Scotland.
A snapshot of the state of things in mid-June. By no means as bad as it was when June finally ended! On this daily tally for June 18th we are only 54.4 per 100,000. By June 28th we were 196.8 per 100,000.
Truly horrifying and exponential growth! The figures just got worse and worse as the month went on. We became even more aware that we were guinea-pigs in a giant experiment to see how far vaccination could protect us all in the real world ‘laboratory’. Every afternoon we checked for the latest stats, and drilled down into the Aberdeenshire figures. It was the only way to find information to guide our decisions about when it might be safe to go grocery shopping, or to go out for exercise. The detailed statistics were always lagging 3 days behind, so it could only be a general guide – but it was better than nothing!
Broadly the results seem to suggest that vaccination (double vaccination) does help to protect against the severe form of Covid, as hospitalisation; intensive care numbers and registered deaths all remained low. But the infection rates for the younger and unvaccinated groups have soared, and the implications in terms of Long Covid, and longer term effects remains unclear. And as July approached we wondered about the promises from London of “Freedom Day” and a quick return to ‘normality’.
March began with the first vaccination accomplished, and a wait for the second dose that may reach into May. It developed into a month of unholy wrangling with the EU over vaccine supply. Over half of the UK adult population have received a first dose, and the impact has been striking. Numbers in hospital with COVID, in the ICU, and dying from COVID have all fallen dramatically since December when the vaccination began. Studies are showing that the gamble of maximizing the range of the first jab and delaying the second jab has paid off.
The EU has been slow to give medical approval for the vaccines, and also slow to place orders for them. They have an average of 10% of their populations vaccinated, and are facing a third wave, with lock-downs. The immediate outlook is bleak for people in Europe, as the variant becoming dominant is the B117 (Kent variant) that has plagued the UK too. It has proved to be more tranmissible, and more deadly than the original virus here. Sadly the EU Commission response has been to try to block vaccines produced on the continent from being exported to the UK. They have spent two months trashing the reputation of the AstraZenenca vaccine, and are now trying to ‘sell’ it to their populations! Currently there are significant numbers who are refusing the AZ vaccine, despite growing research evidence of its efficacy and safety. What a mess!!
Here we both had the AZ vaccine, and after a couple of days feeling like a mild dose of ‘flu we have had no adverse effects. The Shingles vaccine was much worse!! So now we feel more confident going out and about. Still in lock-down in Scotland in March, so exercising at Fyvie Castle and essential shopping in Inverurie are the extent of our ‘out and about’. But there is a slight feeling of returning normality, as we are no longer totally dependent on deliveries for our weekly grocery needs!
The weather has been against us, as sub-zero temperatures (especially overnight) have made for bleak, cold and windy outings for exercise. The trees have been battered by the severe winter and are not at all photogenic , and only snowdrops are adorning the pathways at Fyvie
With a little Helios lens magic the snowdrops appear to swirl, and add a little magic! Indeed magic is needed to see the beauty hidden in the wintry corners of the castle grounds….
This time it is the Lensbaby optic adding some colour and sparkle to the cold day!
So much of my time has been spent indoors – too cold to think about tackling the garden and all the dead-heading and clear-up after the winter! Decision time! I am still determined to fit my watercolour adventure into the already cramped timetable for the day/week/month! It does take my energy reserves right to the edge, and it does mean the housework is being neglected! The more I dig into my first watercolour venture (some 20+ years ago), the more I understand when artists say watercolour is the most difficult and challenging medium of all! I have a whole lot to learn or re-learn, and yet I know where I want to go ….. so balancing the need to learn important things with wishing to avoid a “watercolours by numbers” approach is making for slow progress! I don’t want to lose my own vision …. The first thing that I need to get a grasp on is the colours that I have got.
I want to use as many transparent colours as possible, as they can let the paper glow through – but there are so many qualities to each paint. Transparent, semi-transparent and opaque is only one quality to weigh! There are staining/non-staining colours, and then reflective colours, and sedimentary colours … and then how about warm and cool colours, colour dominance? …. and I am nowhere near the paper choices, or the brush choices!
I have decided to simply throw myself in the deep end, and sink or swim. The problem is that I am not good at failing … especially not repeatedly! I tend to beat myself up, and get discouraged…. so I am trying to fit a small watercolour ‘corner’ into each day … failing, but gradually getting closer to every other day! So I have ‘built’ my first palette.
I’ve already been experimenting with mixing my painting with my photographs ….
See more on the August 2020 page, and on Flickr I have an album of all kinds of blending and merging of media. I want to use some of the landscape images I’ve captured over the years, and express them in watercolour too … like this winter sunrise as we drove along ..
So, as March draws to a close, and the sunny days begin to outnumber the wintry ones, my ToDo lists are packed with ideas for photography and painting, and my online Flickr presence will vie with the demands of house and garden! Hopefully there will be the chance to travel to the coast, as lock-down restrctions ease. It may be May before we see a second vaccination jab … so extreme caution is still the 2021 ‘normal’. Here are the images that I posted on Flickr during March ….
February began with snow. The deep freeze that ended January moved into the heaviest and most prolonged snow that we’ve seen for several years. I’ve got photos from when we moved here in the 1990s, and we regularly had a foot of snow, or more, each winter. Now we lament that all we get is a small snowfall that melts overnight! So far this winter we have experienced prolonged freezes, gales, hailstorms and finally by mid February most of Aberdeenshire was snowed in and paralysed for several days! It made for a mainly indoor month, with outside photography limited to the garden!
The frost and snow added a sparkle to everything in the garden. Even these hydrangea flower heads I haven’t cut can glow in the winter! And the bad weather did bring us some unexpected visitors – blew them into our garden!
Fieldfares took refuge in our garden. We rarely see fieldfares, but a small group visited our garden and enjoyed the cotoneaster berries from our hedge. They must have resumed their flight south to warmer places to overwinter, as they are gone now! We hope that they will make a regular stop-over here. Towards the middle of the month the weather got seriously bad, and the village, indeed most of the entire county, was snowed in by Storm Darcy. We have thousands of miles of roads in Aberdeenshire, many of them small rural roads, and single track. So many local farmers have snow clearing equipment that they can attach to tractors, and help to clear the roads. For us there was an additional anxiety, as the storm hit just as we were due to go for our first Covid vaccination!
The vaccine roll-out in Scotland has picked up speed during February. By the end of the month about 30% of our population have received their first jag. And our turn came as the snow fell! We had to cancel, and try again when the snow began to melt, and the traffic began to move again!
Even after the worst of the snow had been cleared, it made for a treacherous journey! The round trip of over 30 miles was quite daunting. Initially we went to check out the location of the centre, and the availability of parking. Once there, we enquired, and were so relieved to discover that they could vaccinate us then – they had the information about our snowed-in cancellation. We were only a few days late! So we only needed to drive through the slush and meltwater once.
The garden was slow to release its snowy grip – areas of the garden were buried deep as the high winds had blown the powdery snow into drifts. Here an azalea bush was almost completely covered. And as I had a folder full of snow images, and nowhere to go – I played in Photoshop making snow abstracts!
So – as the white month draws to a close, it is time once again to look back over the photographic images I posted on Flickr, before moving on to the new month of March.
As January begins we are in a worse place with COVID than we ever expected to be! The virus is mutating, and the more it spreads, the more opportunities it has to create variants that will make it more successful. We have vaccines already rolling out, but mass vaccination is a daunting and long process – and all the while there is the threat of a mutation that the vaccines cannot combat. Our current mutation (B 1.1.7 – the Kent variant) is thwarting all attempts to contain it. It is filling the hospitals to overflowing, and with a younger age profile than we have seen.
Those aged 60+ are highly vulnerable now, not just the 80+. So we start the year with an almost total lock-down across mainland Scotland, reinforced with travel bans entering or leaving the country. Needless to say the general background stress level is high, even though we, personally, are as well protected as possible. The change in the age profile has lifted us both into an earlier group of the vaccine. Hopefully February will see us getting the first dose.
So, while keeping track of the local and national progress of the pandemic, I am trying to keep a clear eye and close focus on the beauty that lies all around me, and close at hand! We’ve had some wonderful red dawns … and I grab a camera and capture the view as the sun rises over the far hillside! The weather has been cold since the start of the year, with overnight deep freezes that mean icy roads and some freezing fog too.
Before the lock-down we drove to Inverurie to fill up the car at our nearest ‘pay-at-the-pump’ filling station. The ice and fog made for a beautiful sight but a treacherous drive! And January 7th and 8th saw our first real snow event of the winter!
It started overnight, and the street light allowed me to watch the snow swirling as it fell silently. I wondered if it would all be gone by the morning …..
…. but the delight of sunshine and crisp dry snow made a white wonderland of our world! As the month progressed we see-sawed between deep freeze and torrential rain. The ground was either a muddy mess or a frozen muddy mess! So I decided that it made good sense to look for some inspiration in the garden, and began shooting some things I usually overlook. One of these is our crab apple tree. The blossom is gorgeous in Springtime, but the fruit is usually ignored, both by the birds and by me too! I brought indoors a few of the last apples hanging tenaciously to the tree …..
And we finally DID make a few trips to Tesco in Inverurie! We needed to fill both cars with petrol, and it is the only ‘pay-at-the-pump’ place we know. And along with the petrol I also raided the store for fresh cut flowers. They lift my spirits so much with their beauty, and also inspire me to reach for my camera and my paintbrushes.
Then, just before the month ended, we drove to Fyvie Castle. It is under 5 miles if we drive the narrow road over the hill – but with snow and icy roads we took the longer route using the main road. There is still lockdown, and the request is not to leave home, but there comes a point where the need for exercise and fresh air is paramount. Regular exercise keeps the muscles in shape, and that is essential. And our village only offers one pavement to walk along – and walking on concrete is not good if you have a bad back or hip! So we took cameras, and went to see if the grounds remained open during this lockdown! They were indeed open, but the parking area was closed as it was too icy to approach. We managed to walk across the lawns, all icy and crunching underfoot. I took an infrared camera, wanting to see how winter looked through the IR lens.
We couldn’t do much, as the grounds were so icy and slippery. Even the loch was frozen! But the visit was a real tonic – and along with the flowers it marked a high point of January.
And so to the collage of all the shots – indoors and outdoors – that I posted to Flickr this month. In 2020 I used these monthly collages as the page header. As a change I think I might use them as a ‘footer’ instead of a ‘header’ from time to time!