It ‘s not often I give a nod towards celebrating Valentine’s Day …. the commercialisation that has developed around it is not to my taste. But this year we all seem to be feeling the fragility of life, and the importance of our close relationships. So I’ve been shooting some heart-shaped images. Here using the miniature bench I found recently.
There’s something haunting about this image that appeals to me. The bench, sitting in the sunshine surrounded by nothing but shadows is poignant. And my mind made a link with the current major news event – a massive earthquake in Turkey and Syria. The complete devastation of entire towns and cities – and the plight of those homeless ‘lucky’ survivors lost in a world of rubble.
And so the new year begins …. and I have some new things to celebrate. I have finally found the lightest spectacles I have ever seen. So light I hardly know I’m wearing them. Rimless and with thin titanium arms they have revolutionised the seeing experience for this reluctant late-comer to the world of varifocal specs. I just had to photograph them in celebration!
I have added a new ‘small world’ to my photo prop collection. Inspired by a fellow Flickr-ite I discovered Minimum World where they make miniature furniture and more. All hand-made and beautiful.
So I am beginning to explore the ways in which I can combine my love of macro photography with all the possibilities of story telling that these new finds can offer.
In the dark days of winter I have been shooting indoors, and I love to play with prisms, glass and light ….
Add a brightly coloured scarf as a backdrop, and there are so many surprises for the camera lens – and for me too! Not quite an abstract, but it is difficult to discern the elements.
Take the same elements of prisms and glass surfaces and shine LED lights of several colours at them, and more mysterious abstracts appear. Move the lights or the prisms a little and the image changes…
Another way to use the photographic potential of the winter months, is the low winter sun. The sun is late to rise, and never reaches the heights of the Spring or summer months. So catching the moments when the sun does shine, there are long shadows to be captured.
Catching that low winter sun shining through the window. The shadows are not deeply strong and dark … but they can seem to stretch on forever!
Position the subject just right, and at ‘high noon’ the sun has enough intensity to give multiple shadows. There is so much fun to be had with just 2 forks!
But January wouldn’t be complete without recording the latest venture into the world of technology. Yes … time to upgrade the technology we all depend on more and more as so much of daily life moves online. So, a new iPhone was added to our tech. store. I was fortunate enough (if that is the right word) to fall down the rabbit hole into the world of Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome when the first developments of what would become today’s smartphones were happening. And I got into the cutting edge tech of the time back in the 1990s, while running a website called FoxPop. On the website I could follow and review the latest gadgets from Psion and Geofox in the UK. “The Geofox One was a sub-notebook styled PDA that used Psion’s EPOC32 OS in 1997.” And later we added the Blackberry, and other handheld organisers. Developments in miniaturisation led to handheld organisers and small laptops coming closer and closer in size and power… until we have a smartphone today that is many times more sophisticated and powerful than a large laptop of 2000! The years I spent running the FoxPop website gave me a head start in understanding the technological revolution that has swept the 21st century world into the online, connected, digital world it is today. So – despite being in the age-range of those who struggle with modern smartphones – I enjoy the ever changing and ever challenging world of personal technology.
And so 2023 begins. This it the third year of my online Journal, and each year has confounded my thoughts as I sat and looked into the possible shape of the coming months. Maybe weaving plans and expectations for the year ahead is not really a wise move! But it’s a natural, human thing to do … to make shapes of the future, and to make stories of our past. Maybe all journals should be written only in retrospect. I confess that I have fewer ideas about what lies ahead in 2023 – fewer than I expected I’d have. The last 3 years have completely shaken up all our plans and expectations. I guess that is the nature of a pandemic – a global event that reshapes the world. All I can do is describe where I am now, where the UK is now, and where the wider world is now … as seen from this small corner of the Scottish highlands.
Personally we (Mike and I) still treat the pandemic as active, along with ‘flu and several other winter infections. So we live a quiet life of ‘shielding’ and wear masks when shopping etc. This is unusual now, as most people try to act as if the pandemic is over. But cases are still fluctuating, and the advice in Scotland has changed to mask wearing in crowded public places – ventilation and social distancing. There is no functioning NHS. Under-funded and overstretched for 13 years it is collapsing around us. Indeed all public services are collapsing: teachers, local government workers, train drivers, social care workers … so many are striking after 13 years of ‘austerity’ which meant pay freezes all round. The tipping point came in the final months of last year, as rocketing inflation has driven more workers to need Food Banks to even eat minimally. The UK government is doing nothing, waiting for ‘public opinion’ to turn against the strikers, and the strikers to be starved back to work. It sounds Dickensian, doesn’t it …. and it feels Dickensian too, living through it!
January …and the journey begins with some new delights.
And so the third year of my online Journal draws to a close. For us December is our month of celebrations, as it holds all our personal anniversaries as well as Christmas and Hogmanay. But this year there are both personal and less personal reasons to stop and look back … to pause and take stock before we move into the new year that lies before us.
The national (UK wide) situation is the worst it has been since the Tories took over the government in 2010. It has been 13 years of wage freezes, savage cuts to infrastructure spending, a widening of the gap between the deprived north and the well-funded south of the country, and the creation of more millionaires and billionaires than ever. Rich and poor now live in separate universes. Overt and covert government policies have intentionally widened the gap. And Brexit, Covid and the war in Ukraine have together turned the gap into a growing chasm. When you have highly qualified teachers and nurses dependant on food banks, you are fools if you can’t see that you have led the country into disaster! There is so much more to say about this past 13 years, but maybe this is not the place to contemplate the grim realities of 21st century Tory Britain. This is a more personal space ….
So how are we coping? We find ourselves doing daily checks of electricity usage, and cutting back on using the dishwasher, oven, hobs … using slow cookers and the Instant Pot (pressure cooker) and microwave. Both washing machine and baths are closely monitored too. It feel like a return to the 1950s, something I never imagined! Of course for us the bulk of our heating and hot water is oil-fired, and that has not been capped or controlled at all. Our last 6-monthly bill was 50% more expensive than the one before. That usage we cannot control, as winter started here in October, and 24/7 heating is essential in northern Scotland. Food bills are ever increasing too. Regular grocery shopping costs roughly double what it cost a year ago. Petrol for the car too. There is nothing that has not seen a huge cost increase. And as pensioners we cannot add to our income to compensate. The picture is bleak as we survey the month that should see us celebrating.
Together Mike and I keep ourselves alert to the outside world, and engaged with world and national events … but try to keep a perspective that will allow for us to laugh and enjoy our time together living in such a quiet, rural and beautiful part of the world. Every sunrise and sunset, seen from a garden that is full of plants, bushes, and trees … and equally full of birds and insects. A regular shopping trip that takes through beautiful countryside. There is much to value and enjoy! For me it is the creative world of photography and painting that keeps me optimistic and gives me most enjoyment. If I can create an image that makes me smile, that takes skill and thoughtfulness, and reflects the world around me … then I am content.
The month began with us remembering last December, when Storm Arwen devastated large swathes of Aberdeenshire. We learnt valuable lessons from 6 days without power in the freezing cold.
This December we checked our emergency generator, power banks, stores of calor gas, coal and logs … we were determined not to be caught out again! This year it was a 10-day deep freeze that we were treated to! Temperatures down to -10c, and sunshine that melted the surface snow enough to freeze solid again overnight. Eventually we decided we had to fight our way into the cars, to run the engines for a while. Two days of chipping away at the ice got us into them … and we have kept them as frost free as we can ever since!
December was also a time to remember our losses. The funeral for David, my brother, was held in the middle of the month. We could only attend remotely, but modern connectivity allowed to watch the service. Even at a distance it was moving.
And so the year ends, and we turn our eyes towards the new year. This year I admit to feelings of anxiety, and even dread, as I wonder what lies in store for us in 2023. With a government hanging on with a deadly grip, doing nothing to improve the situation that they have created, yet stubbornly refusing to call a general election … things look to get worse!
I am more focussed on the after-effects of October’s latest bi-valent vaccination. Put together with the latest winter ‘flu jab it makes a powerful challenge to my body. Already weakened by decades of Post-Viral syndrome (which is in reality a pre-covid Long Covid state) my body has been asked to cope with so many Covid vaccines, topped up with annual ‘flu jabs too. Prior to the pandemic I refused the annual ‘flu jab, as it wiped out too much vital energy. I relied on Mike’s vaccination to protect me through the ‘flu season.
But Covid has been a real game-changer. It meant a year ‘shielding’ before the medical wonder of the first vaccines began to appear. It was 2020 when I started this online version of my Journal, learning WordPress so as to revive my long dormant website. I thought the highlight of the achievement would be the luxury of putting my photography together with my written journal. Little did I know that it would become my personal Journal of the 21st century Covid pandemic!
So here we are with “the pandemic is over” chorus from the UK government and Covid cases are rising, as are ‘flu cases, along with a few other winter visiting viruses floating around too. Statistics on Covid are very sketchy now, as the UK government is dismantling ALL the infrastructure and research labs etc. that could form the front line defences against the next pandemic that is forming somewhere out there. If there is one overwhelming lesson that Covid has taught the world it is that global travel is the sure-fire way to create and spread a viral infection! On the next level down, travel within your country is the quickest way to spread infections, and on the local level it is meetings in public spaces with little or no air circulation. So masks and hand sanitisers, open windows and minimal gatherings are our individual defences.
After the Spring and summer of drought we are now in a phase of torrential rain alternating with deep freezes! We used one freezing morning to tackle the large freezer. Stacking the baskets of frozen items on the patio, we used the steam cleaner to break up the ice that has accumulated over the past year. We ended up with both us and the carpet soaked, but about 25% more storage space in the freezer itself!
And another milestone. I decided to try out the “Scan and Shop” app for M&S at our local Food Hall. I needed help for the initial foray, but feel that I have got the basics sorted. Might as well use my smartphone whenever I can! Inverurie is our main shopping town (as we have no shops at all in the village). So Tesco and M&S provide the choices for groceries. Aberdeen is an 80 mile round trip – Inverurie just 30 miles.
But the big news for me came in the middle of the month. My brother, David has died. He is the first of us three children to die, and memories of my childhood, and my brother then, came flooding back. He was my big brother, and quite protective of me, being 8 years older. He helped me when I struggled (being undiagnosed dyslexic) and encouraged my love of music (we shared a love of opera). When your parents die there is an irrational feeling of being somehow an orphan. Odd, but so true! Those who knew you from the day you were born, and knew so much about you and your siblings that you had forgotten, are suddenly not there. All the unanswered questions, or sudden revelations that put a deeper meaning on a remembered event – those moments are lost forever. This is another feeling …. for me it brought home the years – decades – that have been lost due to the Post Viral effects that wiped out my life as it was in the mid 1980s. Finally with the advent of Long Covid there was the chance of an understanding of what had happened to me then. I always felt David hadn’t really believed in the extent of the total wipe-out of life as I had known it. And that made communications somewhat awkward and strained. Now that opportunity is forever lost too, along with all the memories of when we were young!
Autumn has arrived – the nights are cooler, and nights close in sooner. The leaves are changing colour. Yellow is the predominant colour, there are fewer blazing reds – I wonder if that is due to the change in our weather that climate change is bringing? We had a long drought in the Spring and summer, and then a week or two of extreme heat. October began with mopping up after the rainstorms that broke our months of drought. We bought a simple rain gauge this summer, and placed it in the middle of the front lawn. It measured over an inch of rainfall overnight during the worst of the rainstorms.
In autumn we start to see some stunning dawn ‘events’. The sun is lower in the sky when I wake to catch the rising sun.
And there is a similar shift in the sky when it comes to moon-rise!
It isn’t often that I manage to catch the moon rising behind the same trees as I shoot with the rising sun behind them!
The low winter sun is wonderful to capture as we drive along, but not so good for the driver! It can dazzle and shine right in your eyes!
I am the passenger, needless to say! I often shoot with my Sony RX100, which is great at handling both the speed and the bumps in the road.
Personally the first week of October was marked by a sudden eye “subconjunctival haemorrhage”. The entire eye looked blood red. I went to the optician to get it checked out. It seems that sometimes, a blood vessel in an eye can break, leaking blood on the surface of your eye. It looked most dramatic, but was not dangerous, or signalling an underlying problem. It took two weeks for the haemorrhage to disperse … and I am hoping that ‘red eye’ will not visit me again! I did feel a little beleaguered, as I am still recovering from my first tooth extraction in over 50 years! Not since teenage removal of wisdom teeth! And the cavity is sore and tender, and making eating quite a challenge still. But there has been a positive ‘after effect’ of the tooth extraction – and that has been my introduction to the salt mouth-wash. I never knew about the benefits of using plain salt water as a mouth rinse after brushing. Remaining on health issues, we both have our winter Covid booster and ‘flu jabs booked in Insch Cottage Hospital at the end of October. So we drove there twice, scouting out where the cottage hospital is and what parking facilities there might be.
Aware that we might have some significant ‘backlash’ after the double vaccines, I tried to catch up with my ever-expanding ‘To-Do’ list beforehand. There is always a big energy hit with these vaccines, my Post Viral/ME underlying condition ensures that a long balancing act is to be expected. So we arranged for an oil delivery (our primary heating is by oil-fired boiler). We found a 50% rise in cost – 1£ per litre. We fill up twice a year, so it was a 50% rise in just 6 months. And no ‘cap’ has ever been imposed on heating oil, unlike those lucky enough to be on mains gas supply! I wonder what it will be like in the spring of 2023 when we next need to fill up the storage tank? Next was to renew our driving licenses – getting older means renewing every 3 years!
A big task that has been hanging over my head for some months now is my iPODs. I have 7 or 8 of them collected over the years, and all full of music, podcasts, dramas and audio books. They are getting older and Apple no longer produce them. So over this Spring and summer I have sent them away to have the internal hard drives replaced with SD cards. That means that the SD card can hold more data (music and audio books) and it is also less likely to be damaged by a fall or knock. The down side is that I’ve lost all my playlists, and all the songs I had loaded – they are wiped clean. So now I need to start the long process of re-loading iPods etc with all my listening!
Another revolution in my listening is the discovery of a Bluetooth speaker which can play music direct from my latest iPhones! My iPods are too old, but the newer iPhones can play anything I load, as well as streaming services such as BBC Sounds. So I am loading up both Classical and Jazz, as well as my favourite groups and singer/songwriters.
The big advantage is that it is not dependent on electrical power – so the 6-day power cut of last winter could have been made easier – as will the planned ‘rota’ of cuts for this winter!
But there have been tech problems as well as triumphs …. my 8TB HUGE store failed with corrupted data segments. I had to replace it (expensive!) then replace and rebuild contents. A long slow process . It also threw up problems with Dropbox – issues with exFAT and NTFS. Dropbox uses HTFS and the new EHD uses exFat. I discovered later that Dropbox requires NTFS on Windows. Always problems!!!
And how can I forget (though I am trying VERY hard to) the TRUSS fiasco /0\ A new PM (for a few days/weeks) and a spectacular crashing of the financial structure of the UK economy, that we will be paying for over the next many years! Together with the Brexit fiasco and the runaway inflation … the Tories are showing the reality behind their much-trumpeted claim that “the economy is safe in our hands”.
So as October ends we prepare for the vaccines on 28th – get as much essential planning for ‘resilience’ and the coming winter – bring lots of planters indoors. The rest of the month I can expect some days with a high temperature and feeling very very ‘flu-ish. But to end on a more upbeat note;;;
… on Sunday 23rd we drove to Inverurie and the incredible mix of low winter sun, and early morning mist made for a magical photoshoot. Long shadows and a bright rising sun.
The fields were glowing with mist that the sun had turned golden. The closer fences and trees stood out as stark silhouettes against the brightness.
And so on to November, where winter begins with a personal loss.
A month that started with the heatwave and the drought, and then the rain came … Saving water, and using every drop from the house to keep the garden alive … that’s how September began. It was so dry that one of the barn swallow nests collapsed. There was nothing we could do to help – the nest was just too dry, it disintegrated. The fledglings had learnt to fly, which was a relief – but we wonder if they will return next year! Then on September 5th we had some rain! 15mm over 3 days – the first signs that maybe the hot dry season was ending!
For several months we have been organising and planning for the coming winter. Storm Arwen last November-December, and our week with no power, no connectivity and no way to keep ourselves properly warm have etched into our minds just how vulnerable we are here. It took months before we felt our body core temperature was restored – and we vowed never again to trust the electricity company (SSEN) to tell the truth and address the situation. So we have been adding to our “resilience” stores all year – and topped up our coal this month. Sadly it might be our last top-up, as coal is now becoming too expensive both to import and to buy!
Technology has also thrown up problems for me this year. My large 8TB EHD failed, and I dropped my main portable EHD that I use to connect the desktop with my laptop. Big expense and many hours retrieving data. My desktop USB ports also failed and refused to connect … so work-arounds are needed there. It seems to be a season of technology jinx. My machines are all 3 or 4 years old now – and that seems to be when the problems begin to mount up!
September also saw a few more of our pre-pandemic routines restored. Eye tests, last done over 2 years ago, were accomplished. And new specs ordered. And I had the first tooth extraction since wisdom teeth as a student. A very ‘soft’ diet for several weeks!
And of course the Queen died on September 8th. In a jaw-dropping return to medievalism the entire country came to a grinding halt for 2 weeks of mourning! As a long-time republican I was hoping it would be time to look again at the whole question of having a monarchy … but no debate was permitted, and the whole anachronistic cavalcade rolls on. All semblance of government addressing the major problems of energy supplies and rampant inflation were abandoned, and all news coverage within the UK was restricted to the medieval pageantry.
I’m trying stop buying flowers, as they are becoming so expensive! But can’t resist gladioli!
For so long I believed “Dame Edna” the fictional creation of Barry Humphries, that gladioli were just to be sneered at! How wrong I was – they are both beautiful and extremely photogenic!
I’m bringing in a small ‘something’ to shoot each day – and have made a new Flickr album “From the garden”. Snail shells and feathers, fallen leaves, flowers and berries …
We have a large rowan tree in the garden, close to the patio – and every year a profusion of bright red berries adorn the tree, and then carpet the flagstones! I’ve never tried making rowan berry jelly … must try it!
The other fruit-bearing tree we have is a Victoria plum. And come September we are awash with plums – plenty for all the birds and insects as well as enough to make plum sauce for the freezer!
And September saw some new additions to my collection of miniature vases, created by Yuta Segawa. I find them perfect for small still-life photography. Here with some hydrangea petals from the garden.
Ways to entertain myself, to keep the creative impulse alive is always a challenge as the weather and general stamina (and Covid) keep me limited to the house and garden. So the weekly Flickr challenges always keep me looking again at the everyday things around me.
There are so many corners, doors, shelves and cupboards that are just overlooked – they become so familiar I rarely think of using them as a subject for a close look through my cameras! Here the Flickr challenge was “Libraries and Books”.
Another challenge was “I love to …..” and my non-photographic absorbing pastime is watercolour painting. I want to learn enough to paint like Cezanne! Well – to paint what I want using Cezanne as my guide to technique!
The macro lens is one of my favourites. It can (just like a microscope) take you places where the naked eye strains, or simply cannot reach. Composition plays its part in any shot – but here a pair of very small bonsai scissors becomes something special.
The kitchen is a treasure-house of subjects to shoot – especially in macro. Here sunlight falling on a humble cheese-grater transforms the metal into a dancing bokeh. Yes – inspiration is all around … though sometimes it is easy to lose sight of it.
And sometimes I just take things from my treasured collections … and make pretty pictures! This lovely perfume bottle was a charity shop find.
Along with a birthday present David Andersen brooch and some geranium flowers it makes something pleasing to my eye – and satisfying to my creative urge to seek out beauty and record it….
And so on to October, where autumn begins, and the summer heat is but a distant memory!
The heatwave that has been dominating the summer across the Mediterranean bringing record-breaking temperatures, drought and wildfires has spread north throughout Europe and finally arrived in the UK. August saw our local Aberdeenshire area feeling just a little effect in comparison, but it was enough for me! according the Wiki
“The 2022 United Kingdom heatwaves were part of several heatwaves across Europe and North Africa. The United Kingdom experienced three heatwaves; the first was for three days in June, the second for three days in July, and the third for six days in August. These were periods of unusually hot weather caused by rising high pressure up from the European continent. There were also more grass fires and wildfires than average, and in August a drought was declared in many regions”.
We found our daily pattern was to move our planters from the overnight shelter of the porch to the patio each morning to catch the shade at the back of the house … and then by late afternoon they were all moved back to the porch as the sun blazed down on the back garden. Chasing the shade cast by the house itself was the name of the game! Every drop of water we could collect from indoors was used for the planters too. Trying to keep little water pans scattered across the garden for the birds, and putting out apples each day was the best we could do to help the birds. We had to move the cars to catch a little shade, and open their windows too … as the metal baked. Temperatures outdoors were in the high 30s at some point each day, and overnight didn’t dip below 20c.
Every window and door was open to the max. trying to get some circulation of cooler air. Not very successful as our houses are built and designed with heat retention in mind, not heat dispersal. I slept with just a cotton duvet cover (no duvet inside) and windows as wide open as possible … but sleep was difficult. We ate less, cooked very little and drank lots of water! As August passed and the temperatures moderated we were so grateful … just a taste of what most of Europe was enduring …. but enough for us!
It all meant that at least half the month was spent on dealing with the heat, and little else was accomplished. And we emerged from our brush with the heatwave feeling exhausted and low on sleep! So there wasn’t a great deal of interest to report! I tried to keep my photography going, with different lenses recording the local scenes.
Using my infrared camera here to record the barley field across the road from us. I use infrared mainly for landscape shooting, and like my other landscape lenses it has been little used since the pandemic began!
Looking the other way from the farm gate, back up to the Kirk. The IR filter here is the 720nm, which gives a soft, gentle effect, and allows a little colour to enter the image.
Another way to combat the heat was to shoot at night when things are cooler! Still too hot for comfort, as our windows don’t open very wide. But the front door looks inviting!
One thing I miss is my collection of sun-specs. When my eyesight was 20/20 I had some elegant and unusual sun specs. Now it is one pair of varifocals with light-sensitive lenses. Not quite the same!
My Flickr groups keep me alert with weekly challenges. Here a macro group asked us to shoot ‘sound’. This is guitar strings in the bright sunlight, seen up close from an unusual perspective.
And another macro shoot brought me close-up to my pink geraniums. As well as keeping them well watered and in the shade, they are also beautiful photography subjects!
It’s not often I can find agapanthus flowers – these ones came from the supermarket. shooting them is a real challenge, as they have such an amazing flower-head!
One thing that I wanted to do was to celebrate my friend Laurie’s wonderful creative work with Japanese temari balls. While she was here in May she made me two new balls, and the making of one of them is described briefly here. It gives just the smallest hint of the skill and complexity of the art form.
And so on to September, when the world here cools down!