2022 June

Calendar for June 2022
Calendar for June 2022

June has been a month of recovery! It is month 3 of our major undertaking of the year. We are both ‘disabled’ by long term health problems, and have a very meagre energy supply. So we live very restricted and limited lives, and only maintain a balance by carefully monitoring our energy output. For me it is crucial, as long term ME/Post Viral Syndrome is so similar to Long Covid …. as the world wakes up to what we have known for decades … that viruses can do long term and irreparable damage to the human body! Fatigue is not a new concept to me, it is what I’ve lived with for decades!
So April saw us preparing for Laurie’s visit from the USA – May was the month Laurie was here – and now June has been the month of recovering. Energy is very low – an energy drought that is echoing the water drought across Aberdeenshire – so staying at home is the best idea all round! We have had deliveries of groceries rather than driving to Inverurie and shopping for ourselves. So my photography has been home based, with indoor still life photography replacing the usual summer visits to the coast and local beauty spots.

Another reason for staying home is Covid. The latest versions of the virus (BA.4 and BA.5) are still very active and growing in numbers both locally and nationally – Scotland is always the worst figures of the 4 nations. I follow Aberdeenshire quite closely, and we began June with a recorded 350 cases (134.2 per 100,0000) peaking at 996 on the 26th and ended the month with 868 cases (332.8 per 100,0000). In May I had my second booster shot, but Mike has not been offered one, so we are super-careful this summer.

And as June progressed the garden has blossomed, growing apace despite the meagre rainfall. It has been neglected this year, as the growing season has coincided with us focussing on Laurie’s visit and the preparations. So weeds abound, the honeysuckle is running rampant, and the dandelions are thriving! But we do have some surprises and delights in the mix too.
I’ve tried to grow clematis over the years and always failed. Last year I planted 6 along the bare ranch fence in the back garden.

The clematis fence

In the Spring everything looked dead, but then they started growing from the ground up. By early June at least 4 were looking promising with plenty of buds ….

the clematis fence 2

And by the end of the month the fence is a blaze of blossoms, both purple and pink. I’m told they are ‘Clematis Pink Champagne’. I am just so thrilled that they have managed to thrive in our northern climate!

clematis flower

Needless to say I managed to bring indoors some of the beautiful clematis flowers so I could shoot them!
Here one flower, in the sunshine, shot with the Lensbaby Double Glass and macro ring.

a white peony

Buying flowers from the supermarket is becoming a very occasional treat now, as prices of everything sky-rocket! But I did indulge in a small bunch of peonies, something I can’t grow here.

physalis or Peruvian groundcherry

One thing I did add to my range of planters was 2 physalis plants. I have them indoors and they are thriving and growing rather tall! They are a new venture for me … I’ll see how they do. I’d love to be able to grow my own!

tree cutting

On a more sombre note about ‘growing tall’ we have had to cut down our tallest tree, an alder. If we are to expect gales like Storm Arwen this coming winter, then this is the tree most likely to succumb, and damage house and garden.

signs of barns wallows

As ever, we share our house and garden with visiting barn swallows. This year we have two families busy raising their first brood. We sometimes have a second brood – so we are hoping.

Here the first eggshell I found, and an early feather. Shot with a miniature vase – with the Lensbaby.

Japanese tea

Since the last vaccination in the spring (Pfizer) I’ve found my taste buds have gone really weird. I lost my taste for Japanese food, and it has only now returned. What a delight to enjoy my favourite tea –Genmaicha Iri Matcha.

And I can’t close without referring to ….
the cost of living crisis.
Everything, but everything is shooting up in price. Food bills are creeping up week on week. And when there is no price rise we find that the quality or quantity of items has been reduced! Do they think we are idiots and don’t notice??
And our heating oil has had a 50% rise this Spring, with a bigger rise promised in the autumn. We have no gas supply in rural Scotland – and have never enjoyed a ‘price cap’ – so suppliers are free to charge whatever they want /0\
Electricity is another essential that is set to sky-rocket this autumn. So we do daily monitoring to get our usage as low as possible. Only use dishwasher once a week. PCs off unless specifically needed. Laptops and iPhones replace the PC. Lights and appliances off unless needed. It feels like wartime as describes by my parents!
Scary when you think we are in summer … winter in the north of Scotland can be brutal! So as we leave June we are feeling sombre and wondering what disasters await us as 2022 progresses …

So on to July

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2022 May

May 2022 Calendar
Calendar for May 2022

May begins and the world here turns from Spring into summer. Mostly it is overcast with few sunny days, little rain – and there is a constant cold wind. But despite that, the crab apple and the Victoria plum trees are full of white blossom, and the azaleas and rhododendrons give the garden some magnificent colour! No matter how cold it feels, the colours warm me!

May begins with rape seed

Even the dark and threatening sky can’t take away from the colourful world around us. There is such a lot of rape seed planted here this year!

Late light on the acer

In the rockery the delicate acer bushes have been suffering from so little rain, so we’ve been watering them carefully to keep them growing! Caught here is a burst of late evening light.

Early apple blossom buds

As the month started the crab apple tree began to turn a deep pink – a sure sign the blossom is on its way. Caught in the late sun, every branch and twig is glowing with the promise of the visual delight to come.

apple blossom in May

As the weeks pass the flowers open, and the evening air is filled with a scent of almonds. Such a beautiful extravaganza of pinks and white. When the sun catches them, the delicate pinks and white of the flowers really shine.

Yellow and green

In the wider world the rape seed and barley fields set patterns of yellow and green that fill the world. Sometimes it feels like moving through a colourful jigsaw.

The landscape is a yellow and green patchwork

The skies might be full of stormy signals, but the rainfall is still very low, sometimes nothing – at most 23 mm over an entire week.

The front garden and rockery

But the garden is a riot of colour! This is the best time of year, when all the rhododendrons and azaleas are in full bloom. We planted an entire hedge of yellow Azalea Luteum some 6 years ago.

The front garden azalea luteum

The Azalea Luteum were expensive plants, but they are the only azaleas that have a scent … and so far they have weathered all the storms and winter freezes.

books on Colour

And indoors? I’ve had little time for either painting or photography, as we have our friend, Laurie Kern across from America this month. But I am reading about the history of colour – fascinating!

The months of April and May have both been shaped by Laurie’s visit. It is so long since we had anyone to stay, even for a few days! So the spare room needed to be prepared, and an enormous amount of ‘stuff’ moved into loft, sheds, and other spaces!

Laurie amid the Azaleas

Yes – Laurie arrived early in the month, and planned to spend 10 days walking the Moray Way, over 100 miles in all. But she fell and damaged her hip, and had to return early to rest and recover.

the sea at Cullen Bay

On our way up the coast to deliver Laurie to the start point for her walk, we called in at Cullen, and I had the chance to shoot the sea there … it’s been many months since we had that delight!

It has been such an eventful and packed month, it seems to have flown past! As we move towards June, we are planning a long rest, some time to catch up with the garden and with painting, and maybe some more outings to our coast and local beauty spots!

On to June …… which brings a change of pace!
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2022 April

April 2022 Calendar
April 2022 Calendar with tiny daffodils

April always seems such an ‘in-between’ month, suspended between winter and Spring, havering, unsure whether to let go of winter and commit to Spring! And this year it has seemed just as indecisive as ever!

Spring snow

The month began with some dramatic displays of winter weather. Whiteout conditions, blizzards and sub-zero nights were common – too common!

April snowstorm 1

It looked as though another Spring would be blighted, as the early Japanese plum blossom struggles with the snow. Last year much of the garden suffered with blackened buds.

Xmas cactus

The plants that had overwintered indoors thrived, sheltered from the cold – and our Xmas Cactus gave us a lovely colourful display – at Easter!

Victoria plum blossom

And as April drew to a close the Victoria plum was full of blossom. We kept our fingers crossed that no sudden blast of frost would kill the blossom before the fruit buds were established. Maybe a good crop this year?

With the weather still cold, and the arctic winds strong, I spent most time indoors.

macro of computer circuit board

Here I was shooting macro, and having fun with what the macro lens can show. This is a small 1 inch slice of a computer motherboard!

Two clear crystal balls

I love to shoot glass, all sizes and shapes – it is always a delight and a surprise too. Here a burst of evening sun caught two crystal glass balls ….

lines and light

…. and here shooting a glass cube on a glass side table, against the reeded glass of the front door. Shooting on glass or through glass there are always interesting effects to find!

And finally the collage of all my uploads to Flickr this month. My uploads reflect only a small selection of what I have been shooting, out and about as well as indoors in my little studios.

Collage for April 2022
Collage for April 2022

On to May …… which brings us a visitor from the USA
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2022 March

Calendar March 2022
Calendar March 2022

I began February by looking at how we, in Scotland, were handling the Covid pandemic. The map of case numbers showed that we were more ‘in control’ than elsewhere in the UK. But now as we reach the middle of March the picture is completely changed! It just proves that the pandemic is still very much with us, no matter how much the politicians prattle on about ‘living with Covid’ and ‘we are now in the endemic stage – it is no longer a pandemic’.

Scotland covid map March 2022
Scotland Covid map March 2022

Scotland is being completely overwhelmed with yet another new variant of Covid.
Omicron, the previous variant, is called BA.1 and the tsunami of cases now showing on the map are 85% variant BA.2. We’ve been told that it is as infectious as measles, which apparently is the most transmissible virus in the world!
Rather than tracking the ‘headline’ reported cases, the emphasis has changed to following the hospitalisation reports, the ‘severe’ cases (needing ICU), and deaths. All these indicators are rising, and especially concerning is the rise in admissions among the 50+ and 70+ so there are plans to get the most vulnerable another booster shot. So it looks like I will have a 4th shot some time in April … though at the moment the cut-off age is 75, and that will exclude Mike who has a very relevant underlying condition in diabetes!
So with the prospect of yet another vaccination, I decided to try and tackle my bad eating habits! Long term PVS/ME has cut my energy levels to the bone – and years ago I realised that taking the winter ‘flu vaccine knocked me back for months. So the past 2 years of taking not only the ‘flu vaccine, but also three Covid vaccines has pretty well flattened my energy levels. In response I have upped my sugar intake to boost my flagging energy levels and help me through the day. But if I am to face yet another vaccine, then I need to get my sugar intake (and blood glucose readings) under control. So March is proving to be a hard month, as cutting back on sugar is proving to be a struggle!

March begins with winter
March begins with a familiar scene of snow and mist.

The month started with heavy frosts and morning mists. Spring has taken a hit, and even by mid March the snowdrops dominate, and crocuses and daffodils are only found in protected sunny corners!
But we did hear that the gardens at Fyvie Castle are open again – after Storm Arwen and all the following storms. So we went to see what the damage was like, and what has survived, and what has been destroyed. The day was bright and sunny but cold. And evidence of the devastation was everywhere.

Storm Arwen damage

On the entrance drive fallen trees had simply been cut in two and dragged to the sides to allow for access. Everywhere trees have been torn up by the roots – young and venerable old trees.

Guessing at the grim reality awaiting us I took my Lensbaby cameras with me, to give me something colourful and beautiful to capture!

Lensbaby Fyvie loch

Even the dark bleakness of the bare trees skirting the loch can be given a lift with the Lensbaby, and a personal choice of White Balance!

Lensbaby can enliven a grey day at Fyvie loch

And what a difference the Lensbaby can make to a sudden shaft of sunlight through a stand of undamaged trees! A rainbow prism caught by the lens.

beech leaves

With a Sweet 50 Lensbaby optic and a macro ring …. the beauty of last year’s beech leaves can brighten the cold Spring morning.

I’ve been shooting the seasons, the walks, and the castle itself for many years now – so I decided to look through my archives, and remember what March in 2019 looked like – a time of seeming innocence before the world was rocked by the pandemic!
I chose a day when I took an Infrared camera with me … with the ‘Super Goldie’ (590nm) filter on my old Sony A5000. It can make the world through the lens quite magical – changing the colours radically! [More about my Infrared journey here]

B+W Fyvie Castle grounds 2019

Sometimes when we visit Fyvie Castle we are lucky enough to catch a rider, exercising her horse. Here I processed my Infrared shot in black and white, as she rode down the entrance driveway ….

Fyvie Castle grounds 2019 shot in infrared

….. and here I processed the shot to give a ‘faux’ effect, where the grass is white (not covered in snow, as it might seem) and the sky a brilliant blue. The two photos don’t look like they were shot within minutes of each other. The magic of the camera!

But for most of the month we have been at home, with the mixture of cold winter weather and tantalising spells of sunny Spring sunshine keeping us indoors. We are both feeling the effects of two long years of confinement and stress – energy is low, and everyday household chores seem to devour more and more of that meagre supply. The days pass, and we feel like we have accomplished very little!
I have managed to keep my photography ticking over, mainly shooting still life and macro indoors. The living room is strewn with small shooting sets, and a myriad of items (large and small) awaiting me ….

Swarovski brilliants

Here I was shooting tiny Swarovski crystal beads (1cm each way) – multi-facetted and clear glass. Placed on glass, lit with small coloured LED lights they glow and sparkle. A macro lens can offer a world as different as the infrared filter can!

3 glasses in B+W

And here, using the same background of black velvet cloth, I took 3 small drinks glasses, and used the reflections of the daylight on glass to define the glasses and give form to them.

reflected smiley faces

I like taking part in challenges in my Flickr groups – it often pushes me into trying something new and different, stretching me. Here it was a challenge to show smiles reflected in spoons!

miniature vases in silhouette

The challenge here was to a create a macro silhouette in black and white. It wasn’t new to me – but how to make something interesting within the terms of the challenge? Here I bent the rules a little, as there are quite a few reflections in there!

And so, as the month draws to a close there are the first signs of the latest Covid wave slowing down, if only a little! And the first signs of Spring are definitely appearing through the snow showers and bursts of warm sunshine!
So to finish I’ll include my monthly ritual for Flickr, which is to make a collage of all the photos I have uploaded to Flickr during the month. It is a way I divide up the unending flow of images that make up the ‘photostream’. This month was quite a busy one, as I uploaded 28 images in all. Some of them have already been featured on this page too …. but here is the full complement.

March 2022 collage of photos
March 2022 collage of photos uploaded to Flickr

On to April …… which I hope doesn’t echo the words of T S Eliot as “the cruellest month”
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2021 December

calendar December 2021
The year ends with a feeling that little has changed

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.

shadow play

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!

alstroemeria in the dark

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.

shooting ivy

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!

temari and ivy

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.

eggs in black and white

But the experience did leave me with a sense of the world in black and white, so I kept processing some shots in monochrome.

freezing fog in B+W

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.

freezing fog

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.

dawn on the road

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.

Hogmanay card
Hogmanay card 2021

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!

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2021 November

Autumn colours in the trees
Our only sunny morning trip to Fyvie Castle is rewarded

November is ushered in with a heavy heart – the prospect of another winter struggling with Covid. This will be the third winter, and there is a feeling of Deja Vu all over again. We have had both the Covid booster and the annual ‘flu vaccine – both administered together, one in each arm! So we have the maximum protection possible. But we remain very cautious about exposure to the virus, and continue to limit social contact, continue to wear masks, continue to use hand sanitisers etc.
The NHS is still struggling, and most staff are completely exhausted. The situation is far from rosy!

Looking back on 2021, we have been more limited in many ways than we were in 2020. Much of the limitation has been due to our own health conditions. The knock-on effect of 2020 Shielding and Lockdowns has impacted our physical well-being. Muscles that are not used will weaken – and we have suffered and failed to keep the strength and mobility we had pre-pandemic. It is a downward spiral that it is hard to correct when we are still limited.
But nature continues to raise our spirits, and we went to photograph the autumn leaves at Fyvie on the 8th.

A golden carpet of leaves

We had some stormy days at the start of the month, so we were pleasantly surprised to see so many vibrant colours still on display.

Still glowing golden

In a sheltered corner the full glory of autumn gold remains. The colours are wonderfully intense.

Auchterless village in B+W
Strong shadows make an ideal B+W composition of our village

Though I don’t usually process a lot of shots into mono …. this one of returning home to the village seemed to ‘sing’ in Black and white! Late autumn and winter are the time of the year when the low sun makes long, strong shadows.

collage of one dawn

November can be a spectacular month of colour – like a final display of fireworks before the more monotone winter arrives.
So when there was a Flickr challenge to create a photo collage … I decided to offer one early morning shoot in our own garden.

Some of the shots are across the howe/valley to the hillside behind which the sun is rising. There are stands of trees where crows nest, and they will rise in clouds to greet the sun! Further along are 5 massive turbines. And turning to look back at the house I can see the dawn reflected in the curtained windows. This particular morning I went out to shoot the frost on the car windshield … so I included two of the frost patterns! Then as I was coming in, a skein of geese flew overhead, flying south for the winter, and making a noise as they flew. And finally as I shut the glass front door I caught the dawn colours through the reeded glass. 10 minutes later the wonderful colours were gone, and the greyness of November took over!

So, as the cold weather closes in I find more time for both painting and still life photography – both indoor pursuits!
Earlier this year I found a source for miniature hand thrown vases. They are exquisite, and I love to feature them in my photographic work ….

Miniature vase and leaves

Summing up autumn in a few tiny leaves. I love the simplicity of these tiny vases, with beautiful glazes. They fit perfectly with my taste for macro photography!

Miniature vase with ribbon

Thinking of the festivities to come. For us December is an entire month of celebrations, as all our major anniversaries happen in December – so togther with Xmas and Hogmanay it is a month packed with things to celebrate!

Then as the month seemed to be coming to a peaceful close ….

Friday November 26th and Storm Arwen arrives
We had warnings of a fierce storm bringing severe gales all down the North East coast of Scotland … and that is us! The storm arrived in the early afternoon and knocked out the entire power supply for our area.
So, as the bitter cold brought temperatures close to freezing, we struggled to find alternative sources of light, heat, and cooking. The mobile phone network is down also – so we rely on our landline and an old ‘analogue’ handset for communications with the outside world. Ironically we have invested in a new generator as a back-up … but it is not functional yet. A week later and we would have been in a much better position!

Saturday November 27th and the winds abate.
Still no sign or hint as to when the power might be back on. Every suggested time passed with no sign of power. There are hundreds of thousands of homes without power, so the outlook for us is bleak! When the wind permitted we surveyed the damage to home and garden. Only one tree has been brought down so far. But it threatens a small wall – so we tried to remove some of the branches, to minimize the strain on the wall. A second night trying to cope with room temperatures of 13c.

Sunday November 28th and it gets colder
Day 3 dawned with snow to add to the weather picture! There are still many thousands of homes without power. Hope of power being restored today is fading. As we have no shop in the village, and 15 or 30 mile round trips to shops, we rely on well-stocked freezers and fridges for our food supply. No power for days can end is a food disaster. We are heating one bedroom and the kitchen … we have only 2 calor gas heaters for the whole house. We hope there is enough fuel for the camping gas portable 2-ring cooker, but of course we are limited as to what we can cook, and uncertain as to when the camping gas will run out!

Monday November 29th and there’s no reliable news
Day 4 and we wake to bedroom temperatures of 13c. It is sub zero outside and there is snow on the ground. As usual we look out of the windows at complete blackness. No hint of a light anywhere, and no tell-tale brightness beyound the hills to suggest nearby villages are back on the power grid. Another day of trying to eke out our diminishing resources. Last we heard there are still over 24,000 homes cut off. I doubt we will see any power today.
Evening and Radio Scotland have an interview with someone in the know (at last!!) who says they are almost complete with the high voltage network repairs, and then ‘the rest’ will be tackled. Another 2 days of no power looms /0\ WHY oh WHY didn’t they tell us the truth in the first place?!?!?!
If they had said …. “You are looking at anything up to a week – maybe longer” – then we could have planned better! BUT NO …. every day we spent half an hour on the phone waiting to find out what was going on – and if we got through to a human being they seemed to know less that we did … and the mantra was always “the power should be back on by 10.30 tonight”. It NEVER was. And as the days passed the 30 minute wait on the phone just offered a ‘ring back’ that never came.

Tuesday November 30th and we light our fire
Day 5 and the day begins with a temperature above freezing. Last night we finally decided that we will have to revive the open fire! It means a cold session emptying the shed to get at the stored grate, coal scuttles, fire-guard etc. It is some years since we needed an open fire! Happily we had the chimney swept recently.
So by mid-morning this end of the house is finally warm and I am typing this in front of a log fire \0/ It feels better to be able to sit in another room! I could have done this days ago!
Lunch time and Lucy called to tell us that there is a free hot meal available at the Village Hall. So we had fish and chips for lunch, and we have soup as well, which will give us supper too! Suddenly there is a smile on our faces!
To complete the story of Storm Arwen I’ll start December on this page. December began with us looking at more days without power.
It was Day 6 of our ongoing ordeal and the fridges are too warm to be of any use. We’ve moved the contents into a shed which is colder. Of course it means getting cold ourselves to bring items indoors!

break out the log fire

Finally we decided that none of the news releases by our electricity company, SSEN, could be trusted.
“Reconnected by 10.30 tonight” was just face-saving lies!
So we emptied the shed in the sub-zero dawn to get what we needed for lighting the open fire. And huddled close to its warmth.

SSEN finally arrives in our village

Then, suddenly in the morning the field across from our house was filling with men, vehicles and equipment from SSEN! The first sign of activity in 6 days! Was rescue at hand?

By nightfall on Wednesday we were reconnected, and warmth and light were restored!
It had been a long 6 days, and slowly through the month of December we will absorb the lessons learned from the experience of Storm Arwen, and prepare for future events that will leave us powerless! We need to ‘winterise’ and ‘power-proof’ ourselves and our home. So we are giving Christmas a miss this year, and stocking up on the essentials we need to survive in our power-hungry world, when everything is cut off!

So – on to December, Picking up the pieces – and winter arrives with Omicron.
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2021 October

Beowulf manuscript
Where does Beowulf meet Covid?

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!

So – on to November, winter creeps closer and we meet Storm Arwen .
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2021 September

petrol shortages in the UK
A bizarre sight of traffic jams as petrol forecourts run dry.

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!

Dashboard for Aberdeenshire
Aberdeenshire covid cases shoot up through September 2021

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.

Aberdeenshire covid cases 2021
Our local area has growing covid infections through September 2021

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!

first plums of 2021
Our Victoria plum tree has overcome the bad weather this year!

And in the protected south-facing porch the geraniums I keep in pots have been a glorious display of pink….

pink geraniums in the porch
The porch protects the pink geraniums that we grow in pots.

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.

begonia flowers in a vase
My miniature vase with begonia flowers

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 …

Collage for September 2021
My Flickr collage of all the shots I posted in September 2021

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”

So – on to October, where Covid-19 meets Beowulf!
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