2021 November

Autumn colours in the trees
Our only sunny morning trip to Fyvie Castle is rewarded

November is ushered in with a heavy heart – the prospect of another winter struggling with Covid. This will be the third winter, and there is a feeling of Deja Vu all over again. We have had both the Covid booster and the annual ‘flu vaccine – both administered together, one in each arm! So we have the maximum protection possible. But we remain very cautious about exposure to the virus, and continue to limit social contact, continue to wear masks, continue to use hand sanitisers etc.
The NHS is still struggling, and most staff are completely exhausted. The situation is far from rosy!

Looking back on 2021, we have been more limited in many ways than we were in 2020. Much of the limitation has been due to our own health conditions. The knock-on effect of 2020 Shielding and Lockdowns has impacted our physical well-being. Muscles that are not used will weaken – and we have suffered and failed to keep the strength and mobility we had pre-pandemic. It is a downward spiral that it is hard to correct when we are still limited.
But nature continues to raise our spirits, and we went to photograph the autumn leaves at Fyvie on the 8th.

A golden carpet of leaves

We had some stormy days at the start of the month, so we were pleasantly surprised to see so many vibrant colours still on display.

Still glowing golden

In a sheltered corner the full glory of autumn gold remains. The colours are wonderfully intense.

Auchterless village in B+W
Strong shadows make an ideal B+W composition of our village

Though I don’t usually process a lot of shots into mono …. this one of returning home to the village seemed to ‘sing’ in Black and white! Late autumn and winter are the time of the year when the low sun makes long, strong shadows.

collage of one dawn

November can be a spectacular month of colour – like a final display of fireworks before the more monotone winter arrives.
So when there was a Flickr challenge to create a photo collage … I decided to offer one early morning shoot in our own garden.

Some of the shots are across the howe/valley to the hillside behind which the sun is rising. There are stands of trees where crows nest, and they will rise in clouds to greet the sun! Further along are 5 massive turbines. And turning to look back at the house I can see the dawn reflected in the curtained windows. This particular morning I went out to shoot the frost on the car windshield … so I included two of the frost patterns! Then as I was coming in, a skein of geese flew overhead, flying south for the winter, and making a noise as they flew. And finally as I shut the glass front door I caught the dawn colours through the reeded glass. 10 minutes later the wonderful colours were gone, and the greyness of November took over!

So, as the cold weather closes in I find more time for both painting and still life photography – both indoor pursuits!
Earlier this year I found a source for miniature hand thrown vases. They are exquisite, and I love to feature them in my photographic work ….

Miniature vase and leaves

Summing up autumn in a few tiny leaves. I love the simplicity of these tiny vases, with beautiful glazes. They fit perfectly with my taste for macro photography!

Miniature vase with ribbon

Thinking of the festivities to come. For us December is an entire month of celebrations, as all our major anniversaries happen in December – so togther with Xmas and Hogmanay it is a month packed with things to celebrate!

Then as the month seemed to be coming to a peaceful close ….

Friday November 26th and Storm Arwen arrives
We had warnings of a fierce storm bringing severe gales all down the North East coast of Scotland … and that is us! The storm arrived in the early afternoon and knocked out the entire power supply for our area.
So, as the bitter cold brought temperatures close to freezing, we struggled to find alternative sources of light, heat, and cooking. The mobile phone network is down also – so we rely on our landline and an old ‘analogue’ handset for communications with the outside world. Ironically we have invested in a new generator as a back-up … but it is not functional yet. A week later and we would have been in a much better position!

Saturday November 27th and the winds abate.
Still no sign or hint as to when the power might be back on. Every suggested time passed with no sign of power. There are hundreds of thousands of homes without power, so the outlook for us is bleak! When the wind permitted we surveyed the damage to home and garden. Only one tree has been brought down so far. But it threatens a small wall – so we tried to remove some of the branches, to minimize the strain on the wall. A second night trying to cope with room temperatures of 13c.

Sunday November 28th and it gets colder
Day 3 dawned with snow to add to the weather picture! There are still many thousands of homes without power. Hope of power being restored today is fading. As we have no shop in the village, and 15 or 30 mile round trips to shops, we rely on well-stocked freezers and fridges for our food supply. No power for days can end is a food disaster. We are heating one bedroom and the kitchen … we have only 2 calor gas heaters for the whole house. We hope there is enough fuel for the camping gas portable 2-ring cooker, but of course we are limited as to what we can cook, and uncertain as to when the camping gas will run out!

Monday November 29th and there’s no reliable news
Day 4 and we wake to bedroom temperatures of 13c. It is sub zero outside and there is snow on the ground. As usual we look out of the windows at complete blackness. No hint of a light anywhere, and no tell-tale brightness beyound the hills to suggest nearby villages are back on the power grid. Another day of trying to eke out our diminishing resources. Last we heard there are still over 24,000 homes cut off. I doubt we will see any power today.
Evening and Radio Scotland have an interview with someone in the know (at last!!) who says they are almost complete with the high voltage network repairs, and then ‘the rest’ will be tackled. Another 2 days of no power looms /0\ WHY oh WHY didn’t they tell us the truth in the first place?!?!?!
If they had said …. “You are looking at anything up to a week – maybe longer” – then we could have planned better! BUT NO …. every day we spent half an hour on the phone waiting to find out what was going on – and if we got through to a human being they seemed to know less that we did … and the mantra was always “the power should be back on by 10.30 tonight”. It NEVER was. And as the days passed the 30 minute wait on the phone just offered a ‘ring back’ that never came.

Tuesday November 30th and we light our fire
Day 5 and the day begins with a temperature above freezing. Last night we finally decided that we will have to revive the open fire! It means a cold session emptying the shed to get at the stored grate, coal scuttles, fire-guard etc. It is some years since we needed an open fire! Happily we had the chimney swept recently.
So by mid-morning this end of the house is finally warm and I am typing this in front of a log fire \0/ It feels better to be able to sit in another room! I could have done this days ago!
Lunch time and Lucy called to tell us that there is a free hot meal available at the Village Hall. So we had fish and chips for lunch, and we have soup as well, which will give us supper too! Suddenly there is a smile on our faces!
To complete the story of Storm Arwen I’ll start December on this page. December began with us looking at more days without power.
It was Day 6 of our ongoing ordeal and the fridges are too warm to be of any use. We’ve moved the contents into a shed which is colder. Of course it means getting cold ourselves to bring items indoors!

break out the log fire

Finally we decided that none of the news releases by our electricity company, SSEN, could be trusted.
“Reconnected by 10.30 tonight” was just face-saving lies!
So we emptied the shed in the sub-zero dawn to get what we needed for lighting the open fire. And huddled close to its warmth.

SSEN finally arrives in our village

Then, suddenly in the morning the field across from our house was filling with men, vehicles and equipment from SSEN! The first sign of activity in 6 days! Was rescue at hand?

By nightfall on Wednesday we were reconnected, and warmth and light were restored!
It had been a long 6 days, and slowly through the month of December we will absorb the lessons learned from the experience of Storm Arwen, and prepare for future events that will leave us powerless! We need to ‘winterise’ and ‘power-proof’ ourselves and our home. So we are giving Christmas a miss this year, and stocking up on the essentials we need to survive in our power-hungry world, when everything is cut off!

So – on to December, Picking up the pieces – and winter arrives with Omicron.
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2020 November

November 2020 collage
A collection of images posted on Flickr this November 2020

Yes, it is month 9 of living with the pandemic, and it seems that the promised winter ‘second wave’ of COVID is here.
Once again we are struggling to contain the impact on the NHS as the numbers hospitalised and in intensive care rise. The naive view of the ‘experts’ that somehow older people could be ‘careful’ and not be infected by younger members of their families has been revealed to be the nonsense we always knew it to be! Grandparents were called upon to undertake childcare, and free up younger adults to return to work, while also being exhorted to protect themselves as they are the most vulnerable group. Square that circle if you can!!

Here, we find ourselves sitting on the fringes of the medium to high infection areas, and quite well able to continue to ‘self-isolate’ together. For us the problems are all practical. Adjusting to not doing our own shopping, adjusting to so many functions of daily life moving online, and finding ways to keep active and engaged with the world beyond our gate!

Winter is really closing in, and we have had some wonderful misty nights and mornings to shoot.

misty morning
A misty November morning as the sun breaks through.

They can be difficult to shoot, as the camera struggles to find a focus in the misty morning.

night street lights
The ghostly street lights in the night mist.

Night shots can be very intense with big light contrasts

night mist
The night-time mist makes the world mysterious.

One area that has gained massively in importance is the technical. So much has moved online this year due to the pandemic, the lock-down, and the need for physical distancing in shops and work places.
Living in rural Aberdeenshire we do most of our shopping online, and have for many years. Grocery shopping in winter months moves online every year – so it is not so strange to move all our local grocery shopping online. But I miss being able to see what is available in the shops – to choose fresh vegetables, fruit and meat – and to buy luxuries such as flowers regularly too!
The pandemic has brought into sharp focus just how important internet connectivity is for everyone! Many people relied on the local library for internet connecivity, but the libraries have been closed here since March. And now banking, booking recycling slots, dental appointments and much more are reliant on the internet and smartphones.

Our biggest technical development has been in mobile phones. I’ve had a ‘smartphone’ for a while, starting with a neighbour’s old iPhone 5. Being a long time user of the iPad and Touch (which is really an iPhone without the phone) I was familiar with the computer system, so it was not a big adjustment. Even before the impact of the pandemic we realised that more and more functions depended on SMS messages to a mobile phone (for verification, identification and information).

iPhone screens
Living with a smartphone – 6 screens

My smartphone can and does track my sleep, alert me to deliveries, connect me to the emergency breakdown service for my car, bring me the news, take excellent photos and check I’ve cleaned my teeth properly! The least used function is making phone calls!

In our village we have very poor mobile coverage, mainly intermittent 3G which is affected by massive wind turbines across the howe. So adjusting to the new reality has been a bit of a bumpy journey and an expensive one! Smartphones are not cheap – especially if you don’t want a contract attached. The pandemic has accelerated the pace for us, and made us aware that we both need the skills and confidence to live with a smartphone by our side. The more we rely on it, the more important it has become that Mike has his own 21st century connectivity, and gets familiar and confident with using it. It seems that the days of having a mobile phone that is only a phone are consigned to the past! And the reality is that the longer we delay it, the harder it is to learn the increasingly complex little computer that accompanies us everywhere.
And so November draw to a close, with ever decreasing hours of daylight, and the first deep frosts and snowfalls ……

snow on the car
The first snow of the winter. The car needs de-icing!

Time to look out the de-icers!
And I’ll end the month with a second collage, of sunrises through November. We live in quite a deep valley, the Howe of the Ythan, which is the small river that rises quite close to us, and runs into the sea along our North sea coast. The steep hillside of the howe means that the sun has to be quite high before it lights us up …. dawn gives us a black silhouette and a sometimes dramatic sky! So mostly I shoot after the dawn display has dispersed.

November sunrises
A selection of November sunrise shots across the howe

But the skies can be so beautiful – vast open skies that the camera can only hint at! The colours are breathtaking, and it is a wonderful way to start any day! The selection here includes two shots I took after the sun reached us, and the black hillside has resolved into the familiar world of trees, fields, fences, sheep grazing, and the croft on the opposite hillside.
And so, on to December, which heralds the much discussed dilemma of how to minimise the spread of the virus as Christmas approaches … and more!
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