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.
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 ….
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 …
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 skies might be full of stormy signals, but the rainfall is still very low, sometimes nothing – at most 23 mm over an entire week.
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 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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
The month began with some dramatic displays of winter weather. Whiteout conditions, blizzards and sub-zero nights were common – too common!
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.
The plants that had overwintered indoors thrived, sheltered from the cold – and our Xmas Cactus gave us a lovely colourful display – at Easter!
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.
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!
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 ….
…. 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.
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 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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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]
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 ….
….. 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 ….
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
Yes. Year three of the Covid-19 pandemic begins. It has been such a long journey since November/December 2019 when we first read about a virulent new virus causing concern in Wuhan, China …. then January 2020 when we found it was here in Aberdeenshire, brought back from Italy by someone returning from a ski holiday in the Italian Alps. It is hard to recall just how innocent, how ignorant we were of what might lie ahead as the new decade began! So how does the world look as 2022 begins?
In pandemic terms the Westminster government is yet again trying to suggest that the pandemic is over … well NEARLY. Desperate for some ‘good news’ it is repeating the mistakes of last year by trumpeting the next “Freedom Day” of no face masks and back to work in the office. The reason for this (looked at with a cynical eye) is to divert the populace away from the ocean of lies, corruption and sleaze that is engulfing Boris Johnson and his government. It is difficult to find a way to summarise this … Partygate, lying (both to the Commons and the people), bullying and intimidation of MPs … just a tiny taste of the sewer that the ‘national’ government has become. It is being revealed day after day. Desperate attempts to shore up the government mean that throwing vulnerable citizens under the Covid bus is just one plan to divert attention away from the mess they are in. Declare the pandemic over – compare it to a winter ‘flu once again.
And where am I personally as the year begins? Well my energy seems to have shrunk to the size of a walnut! I guess 2 years of constant stress and anxiety would be enough of a problem for the ME/PVS (Post Viral Syndrome) my body has had to live with over the past 30 years. I used to avoid the annual ‘flu jab because it took months to recover from the after-effects. But Covid has redrawn the map! Now I have had 2 ‘flu jabs and 3 Covid jabs. I guess the answer is right there! And since the booster jab of Pfizer I have had some strange side-effects such as alterations to my sense of taste. Nori, which I love, became quite horrible. This winter’s ‘flu jab was administered at the same time as the booster shot, and the arm muscle involved has remained painful – even now – 3+ months after the jab.
So I find very little energy for my creative drive. Even back-pedalling on the housework, and neglecting the garden, I find myself sinking into watching DVDs or recorded TV programmes rather than beginning my painting for the year! And endless card games on my iPhone take the time I used to spend reading poetry, or books on Cezanne, or my only magazine on B+W photography. My eating is chaotic, with far too much sweet (cakes and chocolates) and little salad and fresh fruit! So I have a mountain to climb to get myself back on track!
It is only slowly, as the end of the month approaches, that I feel able to take some tentative steps towards what was ‘normal’ in 2021, or further back in 2020, and even pre-pandemic times. I sourced a ‘new’ vintage lens on eBay, and now have a second Meyer Optik Gorlitz lens – this time a closer Domiplan 50mm. Not expensive, and very like the Helios range, but giving an hexagonal bokeh light ball. And I am beginning the year by brushing up on my photographic skills. Something I can do every day, especially in the early morning, is to step outside and shoot the dawn from the garden. It is often the most interesting and colourful time of the day.
In winter a stunning dawn like this can resolve into a grey, overcast day. So the zoom of my RX10m3 is by the door, to catch the ‘lightshow’ that welcomes the morning!
The other photogenic morning offering is the early mist. Here I tried out the new Domiplan 50 lens outdoors. Focusing on something as insubstantial as the mist across the howe is quite demanding of any lens!
And indoors I’ve been using the Domiplan 50mm as my ‘go-to’ lens. I find it’s the best way to learn a new lens, to have it to hand as much as possible, and shoot anything and everything that catches my eye. Looking at the results later on the PC monitor I can discard disappointing shots, but all of them build up my knowledge of what are the strengths and weaknesses of a lens.
The remnants of a vase of yellow tulips, caught in the sunshine and reflected on the wooden table surface. The hexagonal bokeh in the window was a delight.
A ‘grab the camera’ moment as the sun caught some glass photo props before I put them away! I was about to finish for the day … and prepare some lunch.
One of the few remaining ‘normal’ activities we have is the weekly shopping trip to Inverurie. The range of shops we visit is reduced to just two, and has been since the early days of the pandemic. It makes for a quick ‘exposure’ with masks and sanitiser …. early in the day before the shops are crowded. But there is a bonus to the early start, especially in the winter, as it means we drive through the dawn! We drive into the sunrise as we go, and the sun is behind us as we return. Both effects can create beautiful photographs!
As the daily ‘light show’ of the dawn unfolds before our eyes, there is the chance of the sky silhouetting the trees by the roadside. Irresistible for me with my Sony RX100 – which is perfect for such ‘drive by’ shots.
By the time the shopping is done, the day has opened up, and with the low winter sun at our backs we can take in the full glory of the world we live in. I’ve recently learned that the clouds we often see here are called Lenticular and can look like rolls of cotton wool.
By the middle of January we made our first (short) trip to the coast – the first since last April! The day was grey and cold, but we missed being able to walk by the sea and enjoy the freedom to exercise in fresh air, walk on the sand, and feel the power of the sea as it meets the shore. The damage inflicted by Storm Arwen has closed our local exercise places, Fyvie Castle and Leith Hall, so the sea is the only space that is open to us. As it turned out we found that Storm Arwen has robbed us of our usual seaside spots too! The road to Banff Scotstown was closed off, with nowhere to park. so we couldn’t even park and investigate on foot!
I had to shoot Banff Bay from above, fighting a gale as I tried to catch the sea with my new lens! It was beautiful, but I couldn’t stay long, as standing upright was a battle in itself!
We decided to try Portsoy, further up the coast. If the sea was too wild and windy, then the shelter of Little Loch Soy might be a place we could stretch our legs and get some exercise. We discovered that Storm Arwen had marked even Little Loch Soy, with trees destroyed, and only freshly cut tree stumps remaining in some places. I had decided to take my Lensbaby Double Glass lens with me, as it too had been languishing over the past few months. At least I could try for some interesting lens effects, if the day was grey and the lochside walk was dull!
As it happened the Lensbaby did transform the dull day into something more magical! Back home I took 3 Lensbaby shots and wove them into a wintery wonderland. It is amazing what the Lensbaby can create!
Back home I played with the Lensbaby indoors. With macro rings I can get in really close. There are lovely swirling patterns the lens can create with a fallen tulip petal and stamens, on pebble glass.
As the month progressed we continued to slowly clear up the damage from Storm Arwen. So many branches brought down in the garden, and debris together with leaves needing to be hauled up to the recycling centre in Turriff. As the month drew to a close we were warned of another severe storm arriving. The closing weekend was going to be graced with not one but two storms – Storm Malik and Storm Corrie. So before the worst began to hit Aberdeenshire we returned to the coast and treated ourselves to fish and chips by the sea at Whitehills.
The weather was already becoming wild and stormy, so we ate in the comfort of the car before venturing out to catch the surf breaking on the rocks. As it happened this was the quiet before the real storm arrived!
An online capture of the two storms! We waited for power cuts, and for trees in the garden to be brought down, but we were lucky and survived with just more debris to clear away!
And so the month draws to a close with us feeling battered and bruised and very tired! Anxiously waiting for both storms to pass, and wondering how we could run our generator with 70+ mph gales battering us. We look forward to a more peaceful February, and are in need of time to rest and recover!
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!
After the deluge that closed July, the whole garden has sprung into life with renewed vigour! The months of little or no rain saw the blossoms fall early, and growth severely limited. Now there is a sense of catching up with our chaotic year of 2021 – an overlong winter, cold and frosty Spring, and dry summer. Not too promising! But we even have hopes that the Victoria plums will revive and fatten – fingers are crossed! There is sense of optimism as we approach August, Covid numbers are down to quite low levels – we might finally see some summer weather – and there is the promise of some return to ‘normal’ pre-pandemic life!
High under the eaves, above my bedroom, we have the ‘homes’ of our summer visitors – barn swallows. This year they have been very busy! We suspect that their first brood didn’t survive the late and long winter, as there were no signs of new life apart from the eggshells. But since then there have been at least 2 more broods, with copious bird droppings adorning the honeysuckle that grows below them 😊 I can see the shadows of the swallows against my bedroom curtains, as they swoop up and into the nests, feeding the young. Some mornings there seem to be dozens of them circling and zooming in to the nests. I watch them with amazement! And through August we have seen a new nest, and a first brood appear under the eaves at the side of the house! They are spreading their wings – quite literally!
I was given a miniature vase years ago – a blue one I use often use, with a few small flowers, in my still life photography. I’ve never found another so small and so photogenic …. until now! They are hand-thrown and beautifuuly glazed. There’s a link here to a video of how they are made. I am having fun shooting them!
And by the middle of August I have started driving again! I need to keep my driving skills up-to-date. The very long and hard winter meant I avoided driving in such difficult conditions. Since then we have had our two Covid vaccination shots, each of them takes away energy, and has left me more tired – not good for the low energy levels from my long-term PVS/ME. But with Mike’s back problems I figure it is wise to make time and find the energy to polish up my driving. So a few early morning sessions at weekends have got me feeling safe and confident – though the energy has only taken me to Turriff a few times!
Since Laurie introduced me to the delights of Japanese snacks, cakes and pancakes I have been enjoying adding to my range of eating experiences. And I confess to being well and truly hooked! Just like here, it is the small, traditional artisan makers who produce the best flavours. This lovely delicate momoyama snack is just one example.
August has been a poor month weatherwise, with little rain to help the crops or our garden! And there has been even less sunshine – the skies have been a leaden grey most days. So we are relieved, as the month draws to a close, to finally see the small wild bees returning and swinging in the breeze on the lavender. Usually the garden is buzzing with activity, but everything is late this year – and insects, especially bees and butterflies are here in much smaller numbers.
And finally, as the month ends, I have to include a Covid reality check at the end of August.
Covid-Delta numbers quadrupled during August! Yes! We started the month feeling optimistic about the progress we had made against the Covid-Delta variant. But as August ends things are running madly out of control here!! Our schools have been back 2-3 weeks now, and colleges are ready to return. And this is all on top of a summer of football, sporting and music festivals, and now the Edinburgh festival.
Previously Aberdeenshire had seen low infection rates – but in the past month infection numbers have more than quadrupled!! August 1st – 230 cases reported a rate of 88.2 per 100,000 August 31st – 1,159 cases reported a rate of 444.4 per 100,000 VERY locally we have usually had weekly numbers too small to count (0-2) with a max of 3 and an occasional 4. As the month draws to a close we have 25 reported cases.
It seems that most hospitalizations are of younger age-groups, mostly unvaccinated or with a single vaccine. But the authorities won’t give the go-ahead for school-age children to be vaccinated yet. And about 1/3 of hospital admissions are among the older and double-vaccinated groups. ICU figures are slowly creeping up, but so far deaths remain low. But there is no idea of what long-term damage there could be from Covid-Delta itself. The Scottish Govt. is holding its breath and hoping that we can ride out the current wave. But already the demands on hospitals are forcing them to cancel non-urgent surgery etc. as the wards are filling up again with Covid cases.
On which happy note we end August! September means we are moving into autumn and winter weather (with more indoor activity). So it looks like we will remain essentially self-isolating and relying on masks and keeping away from any crowded places. But before we move on to September, a look at my Flickr activity for August. I post regularly to Flickr, with a mix of macro, still life, landscape and experimental images. And as the month ends I create a collage for each month. They act as dividers in the flow of images, and also as a reminder to myself of what I have been up to over the previous weeks!