So, we look forward to 2022 with hope, but tempered by the sense of Deja Vu – that we have been here before! Last year we were facing the first big Covid variant, called Delta – and wondering if the newly tested vaccines could help us through. This year we are triple vaccinated, and facing the next major Covid variant – called Omicron – and wondering what the variant will throw at us, and how we will cope!
Scotland begins 2022 with the promised ‘tsunami’ of new infections. Omicron is highly transmissible, but seems to be ‘milder’ in that the symptoms can be quite like a bad cold, and it doesn’t seem (so far) to be damaging the respiratory system as badly as Delta does. Omicron has been circulating mainly among younger adults and children, as they are the most socially active, and the least vaccinated groups. It remains to be seen how badly it will affect the older age groups, and how well the vaccines will protect us. Being among the most vulnerable group, we are especially cautious when leaving home!
For us, the ‘Pandemic Reality’ has limited us physically. There are shops and locations we haven’t visited since 2019. The shops and locations we do visit are ones we have become happy with in terms of the protection they offer. They form our new ‘comfort zone’. Wearing masks, physical distancing, limiting number in a shop at any one time, spacing while queueing, paying by card and screens at checkout points. All these are the pandemic ‘normal’. Open air or good ventilation are very important … so grocery deliveries to the gate are safest (we take items up the drive in the car, or by hand ourselves) again masks worn even outside now. Omicron is many times more transmissible than Delta, so we are super-careful!
The year and the day starts with the usual daily pattern of checking for cases in our local area, especially when planning to go out. But the numbers now are so far beyond anything we have encountered before – so we no longer feel that anywhere is ‘safe’ or ‘low risk’. So we feel we are in new and uncharted territory once again – which raises the anxiety level.
So… on to the monthly record of our journey through these partly familiar, partly uncharted waters: January – and the 3rd year of the Covid-19 Pandemic begins, and I have a new lens to play with in my photography! February – and the winter of storms continues. From Arwen to Franklin, we have clocked up 7 storms dangerous enough to be named! March – and a new variant, Omicron BA.2 sweeps through Scotland. The government acts as if the pandemic is over, and number soar locally! April – the most volatile month as winter finally gives way to spring. May – which brings Spring and Laurie to visit from Texas! June – as summer blossoms, we are in recovery mode.
I’ve taken a break from Flickr for a couple of weeks this month, mainly because Mike’s back is bad and I need to take over a lot of the lifting, bending etc. There just isn’t the energy to do it all. But the odd moments I have managed to carve out of the housework have been devoted to my much neglected watercolour project! And I’ve managed to do a little almost every day … keeping my new ‘habit’ of touching base at least! So I decided to give over most of the July Journal to my painting. I use the ‘dining room’ as an art room – always have, as it houses the big paper storage unit and the large draughtsman’s table that I use(d) for pastel painting. But until recently I have felt the watercolour painting space to be cramped and inhospitable. I finally sat down and looked at it, and pondered how it could be improved. The biggest problem is the light, closely followed by lack of table space. I reversed the table so I sit close to the only window. That single move has made a massive difference! Then I have added a second fold-out table behind, for extra lights, paintbrush holders etc. Mike found me a small portable easel to allow the right gentle angle for the paper … and I am in business! It is such a transformation – I actively want to be in the room, where before I had to reluctantly drag myself in!
I have moveable lamps to add to the lighting, as well as some light from the front room, through the archway between the rooms. The room is also full of my pastel paints, with pastel works on the walls …. and then there are my photography prop stores ….. so there’s not a spare inch of surface anywhere! I’m having fun, and learning a whole lot about watercolour painting. The more I expore, the more I understand why it is considered the hardest and most demanding of paint media! There is no room for changing your mind, or correcting a mistake – once the paint mark is made, it is final! No scraping back, no rethinking …. you are committed!
OK! So I’ve reached a sticking point here! There is so much I want to write about that it will swamp my more general monthly Journal ‘digest’. So I am going to do a spin-off into another part of the website. I’ve called in HANDS ON as it seems to sum up all my creative pursuits over the years since Post Viral Syndrome put an abrupt stop to my career in the educational world.
And so July passed, with the world shrunk to our own home and garden. Back to ordering groceries online for delivery to our door – an absolute blessing for when we can’t get to the shops ourselves. Mike is slowly recovering. It is a painful process, but he has discovered that simply walking, to strengthen his leg muscles is also strengthening his back muscles, and he is building up the total of steps. Great news, and a real sense of progess! His world is still limited to walking, lying down and the occasional sitting at a table for meals. Sitting for long hours at the computer is definitely out for the moment!
And the month ended with a spectacular day of rain! After nearly 3 months of very little rain we had forgotten to check the gutters and down pipes – they just weren’t in our minds. Hosepipes, and keeping the newer plants in the garden alive were our main concern. And then, after reading about torrential and spectacular flooding across Europe, and in areas of the UK too …. we had our own taste of ‘climate change’. A day so full of torrential rain that the paved areas were under water and the gutters couldn’t cope at all. Solid sheets of water poured from the gutters over front and back doors …. threatening to collapse. And the water rose too close to the actual house for comfort. We spent the day with buckets of all sizes, trying to carry the flood water to the storm drains, and wondering if it would ever end! Sheer madness, but standing in my knee-high red wellies I just had to capture the beauty of the clear water on the flag-stones … inches deep! The water brought out the colours and the textures! I couldn’t resist!
And so the month ends, and there is the first touch of autumn in the air, as the nights begin to draw in….. And on to August, as summer begins to fade just a little. Back to Journal Page Back to Notebooks cover
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’.