2020 March

Collage for March 2020
A collection of images posted on Flickr this March

And this is where the narrative of our lives really began to change.

I am old enough to remember the shivers of fear that the AIDS advertising campaign had in the 1980s. The falling tombstone, and the sense that there was a hidden ‘enemy’ out there! But nothing really touched me and my life. And after that there was SARS, and again life went on as before. No reason to panic when the next unwelcome visitor put in an appearance … surely not!
Originally known as known as “2019 novel coronavirus” the virus is officially named “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2” (SARS-CoV-2) and in non-specialist use as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) it has come to dominate our lives in so many ways!
The first frisson of fear came on March 4th when our hairdresser told us there were rumours that a case of COVID-19 (and death) had been reported in Turriff. Now that is really close! Maybe rural Aberdeenshire is not going to left in peace this time!
By mid March we were planning for possible restrictons, realising that things could get difficult. We don’t have a shop in our village, and we are dependent on being able to drive to local towns for our groceries and other supplies from their shops and small supermarkets. Online deliveries are possible too. So we might be OK!
Looking at the news, especially online, we followed the progress of the virus as it spread from Italy across Europe. In a few weeks it would be in the UK in a big way. We expected the UK government to close down air travel, and monitor closely international travel of all kinds. But nothing happened!
There was a strange kind of limbo. The country seemed to collectively hold its breath! I stopped sleeping properly, felt tired on waking, couldn’t concentrate or do anything much. I tried to act as normal, photoshooting for Flickr and writing for the ‘Zen Camera’ section of Inedita – but I found myself watching ‘easy’ TV and playing cards or word games on my iPhone and doing jigsaws on my iPad!

iPad jigsaw
A partially completed jigsaw on my iPad!
Word Jong
playing word games on my iPhone!

Sunday March 15th
We woke to a Kafkaesque world. I wrote in my diary: “All people aged 70+ are to be locked down for up to 4 months. I guess we are being encouraged to die quietly behind closed doors – by starvation if not the virus.”
We started to make emergency trips to the supermarkets, to stock up with food. Self-isolating was not a massive problem as we are mainly just the two of us. We have a house and garden, and neighbours are not very close by. Maybe we can make it through 4 months, if we can make essential trips to shops and some exercise at our local beauty spots and at the coast. Fingers were crossed!

Wednesday March 18th
We walked around the small loch at Fyvie Castle. It was cold enough to freeze my fingers as I shot. This is the time when I get out my landscape lenses and metaphorically dust them off for a summer of shooting the countryside and seaside all around us. The winter is the time for indoor photo shoots, as the cold really takes my energy away. So I took an Infrared converted camera with me, to familiarise myself with it again. A new (to me) Sony A5000 with a 850nm filter, that I needed to get used to. It didn’t matter if all the shots I took were duds, and thrown away – the main aim was to ‘limber up’ my outdoor shooting.

March bare trees in infrared
shooting the still bare trees in infrared

Little did we know, but it was the last time we got to walk round the grounds of Fyvie Castle until lock-down was officially lifted in July! Somehow it seemed appropriate that I was shooting with the darkest IR 850nm filter, as there were dark days ahead. The mood of those shots was sombre, and (looking back) full of foreboding.

After that the ‘shock of the new’ began to take shape. Schools closed, supermarkets were overwhelmed and shelves stripped as panic buying gripped the nation. We found our local supermarkets were beginning to organise for ‘social distancing’ and arranging time slots for NHS workers, and for the 70+ (locked down). The postie started putting parcels on the front step, ringing the bell and stepping back. No more signing for a parcel – COVID changed that rule!
We decided to start our own ‘mini-greenhouse’ in a large plastic tub – to grow salad leaves and herbs. It worked out well over the summer, giving us some tasty additions to our salads. But eventually the plants went to seed and we dismantled it in September. All is ready to start again next year!

salad greens and sprouting seeds
Growing our own! salad greens and sprouting seeds

We also started with sprouting seeds, alfalfa and mung beans to start with. Again it went well, except we misjudged the quantities, and became overhwelmed with alfalfa that kept on growing! Again we have the seeds and the jars, and will try growing more over the winter!

This is the time of year when I have the cameras out to shoot the Japanese ornamental plum tree by the gate. It was a welcome escape from the encroaching gloom and impending threats that lay, invisible, beyond our gate!

Japanese plum blossom
set against black velvet, the delight of plum blossom in the garden

As so often happens it was cold and windy enough to bring sprigs of plum blossom indoors to shoot!

Wednesday March 25th
One of the days that Tesco organises a one hour slot for the 70+ age group. We didn’t have face masks, but did have some disposable gloves, and plastic pouches for credit cards etc. I tried using a knitted scarf as an improvised mask (months later I learned knitted masks are positively dangerous, and worse than using no face covering!)

As things began to sink in we realised that we wouldn’t have the possibility of help from neighbours, or to call a taxi if needed. Age-related lock-down has implications! I really felt the need to get my driving skills back … to help with the practical situation, and also to feel less helpless!

The month ended with the clocks moving into Summer time – and overnight snow to complete the irony of upcoming summer 2020!

On to April – and the word ‘pandemic’ enters our world
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© 2020 Elisa Liddell

2020 February

February on Flickr
February still seemed quite normal…. though we were becoming concerned!

At the beginning of February I was angry about the vulnerable position of Scotland.

We had been lied to by the UK government during the Independence referendum of 2014. The government strategy became known as “Project Fear” – deliberate lies intended to scare Scottish voters into voting to remain within the UK. Two of the strongest fear tactics were that we would have to leave the EU, and also would not be able to use Sterling as our currency.
How ironic that 2 years later there was the UK referendum about leaving the EU. Over 60% of Scots voted to remain in the EU, which gives a hint of how many Scots probably voted to remain in the UK in order to remain in the EU! Now, 2 years later England is dragging Scotland out of the EU! What irony!!

So my focus was on discovering how damaging this is going to be for Scotland. The first thing that struck me was that the plans for problems importing and exporting goods would hit the food supply chain. A lot of fresh fruit and vegetables come from Spain and other EU countries. And hold-ups of any kind could make us especially vulnerable. Most imports come through ports in the south of England – and in the north of Scotland we are 600+ miles away, and close to the end of the supply chain. We are likely to be relegated to the bottom of the heap!
Interesting times lie ahead!

Then my attention was drawn to events in China. There had been the occasional story coming out about a new virus strain hitting the city of Wuhan (capital of Central China’s Hubei province). I’d never heard of it before! Soon it was to become a focus for us all!

There had been rumours of a new SARS-like virus at the start of the year, and in early January there were mentions by the WHO of a mysterious strain of pneumonia. Blips on my personal radar!
By mid January China imposed aggressive containment measures in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus. But international travel had already started spreading it.
Jan 30th the World Health Organisation declares a “public health emergency of international concern” a designation reserved for extraordinary health issues that threaten to spread internationally.
I started to follow events with a little more awareness and concern ….. but China is a long way away!
Stories moved to quarantined cruise ships, stranded off shore and refused docking. And the name we are so familiar with now (COVID-19) was given to the virus – which was proving to be quite deadly to some infected people.

But life continued as normal here in northern Scotland. And the highlights of my month were mainly centred round my photographic work, and illustrated by my monthly Flickr collage …….

sparrowhawk in the garden
A sparrowhawk rested on our back rockery for almost half an hour!

We have had rare visits by a sparrowhawk in the past – usually sheltering from a storm, and once to eat a catch in peace. But this winter we’ve seen it more often, though just pausing in its hunt. We guessed that it was attracted by the large numbers of small birds that we feed through the winter. But it never stayed long enough for me to get a lens trained on it.
This day it landed on the back rockery, and stayed for a long time. It was sunny, but blowing a gale too, so at first we expected it to fly away quickly. But no – it stayed very still, just looking around. Needless to say the small birds vanished!
I managed to take quite a few shots, and have put two together in this image. It finally flew off, and we are back to seeing just a fleeting visit as it settles on a trellis where we hang the bird feeders.

Still life with shell
Testing my ‘new’ Helios lens. A Helios 44-M to add to my 44-2

This month I added a new lens to my collection! I collect old Russian Helios lenses from the 1960s and 70s. I have 2 Helios 44-2 and this is very close, being a 44-M. It was sent very kindly by a Flickr friend Jesse1dog and this is my first test shoot!
The still life is part of my study of Formalism in Photography, and the photographic work of Jan Groover. More of this coming later!

experiment with a marigold

Recently I’ve been experimenting with Photoshop to find a way to add reflections to an existing image. I’ve seen some lovely flower images on Flickr where the image has been enhanced beautifully by the appearance of floating in/on water.
The online tutorial I’ve used is on Photoshop Essentials
It is quite complex and uses a Displacement PSD file.

I found I had to use a very small (for me) image in order to get the ripples to show up at all. I am still working on finding a way I really like!

On to March – and the world becomes surreal!
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© 2020 Elisa Liddell