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!
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.
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.
In a sheltered corner the full glory of autumn gold remains. The colours are wonderfully intense.
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.
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 ….
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
They can be difficult to shoot, as the camera struggles to find a focus in the misty morning.
Night shots can be very intense with big light contrasts
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).
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 ……
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.
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! Back to Journal Page Back to Notebooks cover