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 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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2020 October

collage of October shots
The images I uploaded to Flickr during October 2020

October and month 8 of living with the pandemic.

October started with more signs that the ‘normal’ things of daily life were re-emerging – appointments for a dental check-up, a call for the annual ‘flu jab, and the one most on my mind – the annual service and MOT for my car!

reflections in the car window
Reflections in the window of my car!

This had been the moving force behind the long, slow return to driving that had dominated several months of lock-down. And all the hard work paid off handsomely, as I drove alone through mid-morning traffic to deliver and then collect the car. A great feeling to be back as a competent and safe driver!
The month was so full of practical needs that I took a break from my usual Flickr routine (16 photos to my more usual 24).
October means autumn this far north, and the garden needed readying for winter. This year had seen an explosion of growth – everything from weeds to trees seemed to flourish and grow alarmingly! The autumn colours were glorious, but short-lived as storms and gales stripped the leaves.

Azalea Luteum
The hedge of azalea luteum has grown massively this year!

So there was much to do, and many visits to the local recycling point! And like so many everyday things the pandemic means we have to plan for every visit – book online for a 15 minute slot, take the print-out of our slot, and then make sure you arrive roughly on time! It’s a routine we are now used to, appreciate and are happy to keep even after the pandemic …. but it does mean we need to plan in advance!

Then there was the boiler emergency. We found the boiler controlling our central heating and hot water couldn’t be turned off! And worse still, the hot water was always on too, overheating! So we needed urgent help as we poured boling water down the drain! The worst problem was sorted quickly, so we could turn off the entire boiler. But getting the central heating and hot water un-coupled took longer. Another chunk of time and energy!

We did manage one short trip out to Fyvie Castle grounds.
Locally, the signs that the harvest was over for the year were apparent. I love the fields when the barley is cut – the lines are wonderful (computer controlled machinery, of course in our 21st century world)

Barley fields
Barley fields in autumn, after the harvest.

Walking round the loch made for a refreshing sunny morning away from the demands of house and garden…

autumn trees
Walking round Fyvie loch as the autumn leaves begin to turn.

…. and the autumn tints were beginning to show, despite the extremely wet and windy month. Even the raindrops made for some lovely photo opportunities!

black and white berries
Raindrops caught on the rowan berries

At home I began to work again on my Canon 70D project, to master the skill of in-camera multiple exposures. It’s amazing how quickly you forget the details of how a camera works, and the techniques of getting what you want from the shots you take!

mutlipe exposures
Shelves – creating multiple exposures in Photoshop

so I started again by shooting around the house and blending the shots in Photoshop.

And, as we couldn’t get out as much as wanted, we strolled down the village to the Kirk.

Auchterless Kirk
Auchterless Kirk, around which the Kirkton (village) is collected

I’m ashamed to admit that I rarely visit the Kirk and surrounding kirkyard, though it is on our doorstep. I guess a lot of times we overlook the closest things, and go in pursuit of the more ‘interesting’.

Auchterless old Kirk
The remains of the old Auchterless Kirk, which has been restored and cleaned

Some years ago there was extensive ‘rescue’ work done to save the facade of the old Kirk that is in the Kirkyard, and was being overgrown by ivy. So I wanted to catch the sun on the newly revealed facade. The day was cold, and the sunshine was soon overtaken by the rain clouds – but I managed a few good shots. And I am determined to return and shoot the Kirk through the seasons!

And finally – how was the pandemic playing out?

Since the re-opening of primary and secondary schools the infection rate started to rise noticeably. The next step was to start the academic year for colleges and universities. It doesn’t take a genius to guess what happened next! We knew it would lead to growing infection rates, and as October played out the numbers catching and passing on the coronavirus grew exponentially. The figures for any area were expressed as numbers of positive cases per 100,000 people. And here is a snapshot of Scotland on October 20th.

COVID test information
A snapshot of infection rates across Scotland as of October 20th

In Aberdeenshire we are relatively low down the administrative areas – though we are affected by the ripple effect of Aberdeen city. Plenty of people live in the shire and work in Aberdeen. So as the month closed Scotland was divided into 5 levels, each with differing levels of restrictions. We were in Level 2, along with Aberdeen city. It meant:

Scotland wide rules:
Shops have been asked to reintroduce two metre physical distancing rules and reintroduce some measures which had been taken earlier in the pandemic, such as one-way systems in supermarkets.
The use of face coverings is now mandatory in indoor communal settings, such as staff canteens and corridors in workplaces.
Face coverings are also compulsory in shops and on buses, trains, trams, planes and taxis.
People are also being advised not to share a vehicle with another household. Where you have no other option, the advice is to keep windows open, wear a face covering and sit as far apart as possible.
People have been banned from visiting other households indoors since 25 September, when restrictions in the west of Scotland were extended to the rest of the country.

Some of the new rules are similar across levels one, two and three:
Places of worship can open with restricted numbers (50 people), and there is a 20-person limit for weddings and civil partnerships, and for funerals, wakes and receptions.
Schools will remain open, but senior secondary school pupils in level three areas must now wear face coverings in class, not just in communal areas.
Colleges and universities must use blended learning, and driving lessons can also take place.

In level two:
pubs and restaurants can only serve alcohol with a main meal. They must close indoors at 20:00 and outdoors at 22:30.
Cinemas, bingo halls and amusement arcades are allowed to remain open. While stadia will be closed to spectators, drive-in events are permitted. All sport is allowed, except indoor contact sport for over-18s.
In addition people in Levels 1 and 2 are asked not to travel into Level 3 areas unless essential – and Level 3 people are not to travel to Levels 1 and 2.

That is quite a lot to absorb.
As far as we are concerned, as long as we can travel to the coast and places for exercise and fresh air we are content. Shopping is all online with delivery service.
So as October ends we are in Level 2 and hoping that the Level system will help to contain and then reduce the infection rate. But we are not feeling optimistic!
Personally I think that until senior school pupils and college students are working from home by remote learning we will not see any improvement. The numbers of people in hospital, in intensive care, and dying are the true indicators that are inescapable facts. And all three are alarmingly high! And like the first wave, this second wave is hitting the older age groups. So there is a sombre feeling here as we approach the winter months.

And so on to November and the winter closes in
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2020 September

September 2020 collage
My collage of all the photos and images I uploaded to Flickr during September 2020

We started month 7 of our pandemic experience with bright sunshine and the determination to get out and about as much as possible! So September 1st saw us driving to Fyvie Castle grounds for fresh air and photo opportunities.
When Mike is driving I usually shoot my ‘drive-bys’ of the countryside as we pass. With today’s smartphones taking such good qualty shots, I often use mine rather than an actual camera! Here we are climbing up the steep hillside out of the howe of the Ythan.
The barley has been harvested, and the fields are ready for hay baling. This croft and the trees on the horizon are a feature of the landscape we see from our house. But I rarely get to catch such a goood, close-up shot! And yes, that angle really is accurate, the hillside is steep!

hillside croft
climbing the hillside out of the howe

I took an unusual combination of cameras and lenses – an old Eastern European lens, the Meyer Optik (known now as the ‘bokeh monster’) and an old Nikon D90 which has been converted to shoot only in the infrared range. This one has the gentle 720nm filter, and was my very first infrared converted camera, and my way into the whole IR world!
[more about my adventures in IR here]
Trees are a special subject for me, and together with catching the play of light, a great obsession when I am photographing outdoors.

Infrared sunshine and trees
Sunshine and trees at Fyvie Castle, caught in infrared.

The infrared light range turns the greens of the grass and leaves white, which makes the foliage very delicate, and also makes for a scene that looks like winter!

Fyvie castle walk in infrared
Fyvie castle walk, and driveway, caught in infrared

Branches, tree trunks and tarmac give wonderfully contrasting dark tones. We can walk down this driveway, listening to the pigeons cooing, and the leaves rustling, and the cares of the world seem far away.

Autumn leaves in the sunshine
Autumn leaves caught in the sunshine

This time in colour, with the heavy Meyer Optik lens. It can really capture the rich colours of the autumn leaves. As September began the autumn colours were just beginning to appear. We had fingers crossed that there would be a sunny dry month ahead, to give us the best of the flaming reds and rich golds as the leaves turned.
And a week later we were back to see how the colours were progressing …

across the loch at Fyvie Castle
Across the loch at Fyvie Castle, Aberdeenshire

This time with a Canon 70D and another old lens attached – a Russian Helios 44-2. The Canon is not my usual camera – I use mainly Sony. So I struggle with this 70D!
But the views of the loch and the trees are always beautiful and so calming. I think this year, more than before, we value the therapeutic effect of our trips out. Instead of thinking only in terms of exercise and photography, we now find the added value of reducing the stress levels, and refreshing our spirits.

As we picked out more calm days with the promise of sunshine, we went adventuring up the coast twice during September – once to Banff Bay, and then further up the coast to Cullen, both favourite haunts we had missed through the long lock-down months!
We rarely have the luxury of choosing times when the tide is in or out … we need to go in the morning when our energy is ‘in’. By lunch-time it is most definitely ‘out’ and we need to head home for a siesta!
Banff Bay found us enjoying the sand as the sea retreated ……

The beach at Banff Bay
The beach at Banff Bay on a chilly September day

while Cullen found a wild (and very noisy) sea delighting us with crashing waves.

Cullen Bay stormy weather
Cullen Bay with the waves crashing. Wild and noisy!

We kept true to our plan, and visited the grounds of Leith Hall twice in September too. It was exactly a year since we were last there! This time entering the Walled Garden we met our first sign of Covid changes, with a one-way system to walk around and a reminder to ‘social distance’. On our second visit we found some of the gates we often use to access the top levels of the gardens were locked. We met almost no other people as we wandered around with our cameras … glad at least, and at last to be able to enjoy the fresh air and the gardens.

Leith Hall
Leith Hall nestling among the trees

The Hall looks as majestic as ever. I’m not sure if it is open to the public again, but our main delight lies in the tree walks, the flower gardens and the wonderful views.

Leith Hall autumn colours
The autumn colours at Leith Hall. Shot with the Lensbaby

The autumn colours were showing in some of the trees. This one is close to the huge rock garden, which is being rescued, rebuilt and re-planted according to original plans recently found at the Hall.
So September had the feel of sunshine, the outdoors, visits to favourite haunts, and a whole lot of photographs!
But that was not all. At home we had a surprise with the best harvest of plums we’ve had for years.

the plum harvest
2020 has been a bumper year for our plums!

We are aware that the single Victoria plum tree we have is now over 20 years old, and maybe past its best in producing plums. Some years the frosts kill the flowers in Spring, some years there is not enough rain, or too much – not enough sun or too much. So a sudden bumper harvest was a great surprise and delight. Home grown plums, fresh from the tree, taste so good! We collected a bowl like this every day or two for about two weeks.

But of course I can’t look back on September without reference to the pandemic!

This month saw the biggest gamble, as it was decided that schools, colleges and universities had to open again. It began with schools. Here in Scotland we start the school year a few weeks before the rest of the UK, so we were the first to try out opening up our schools, both Primary and Secondary. Personally we looked on with sinking hearts, as young children are notorious spreaders of infections. Is coronavirus so different? And teenagers and college students are the least likely groups to follow the guidelines on social distancing and avoiding crowds! But the ‘science’ said differently … at least in September! But as the month ended there were signs of infection rates picking up. October might prove to be a difficult month!

On to October and autumn arrives.
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