2022 April

April 2022 Calendar
April 2022 Calendar with tiny daffodils

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!

Spring snow

The month began with some dramatic displays of winter weather. Whiteout conditions, blizzards and sub-zero nights were common – too common!

April snowstorm 1

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.

Xmas cactus

The plants that had overwintered indoors thrived, sheltered from the cold – and our Xmas Cactus gave us a lovely colourful display – at Easter!

Victoria plum blossom

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.

macro of computer circuit board

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!

Two clear crystal balls

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 ….

lines and light

…. 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.

Collage for April 2022
Collage for April 2022

On to May …… which brings us a visitor from the USA
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2022 Vision

Happy New Year
My New Year greeting Card for 2022

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.

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2022 January

calendar January 2022
My Calendar cover for January 2022

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.

morning sunrise

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!

Misty winter world

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.

fading yellow tulip

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.

glass and light

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!

January dawn

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.

On the road with lenticular clouds

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!

Banff Bay January 2022

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!

Little Loch Soy with Lensbaby

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!

tulip petal

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.

Banff from across the Bay

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!

Storm Malik

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!

On to February, and the hope of calmer weather!
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2021 August

the garden in August
The garden in August is alive with colour!

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!

Barn swallow nests
A good year for our resident barn swallows!

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!

A Yuta Segawa miniature vase
My turquoise Yuta Segawa miniature vase with a cocktail parasol

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!

Fiesta steering wheel
Driving again! Brushing up my solo driving skills!

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!

Japanese snacks
More delicious Japanese snacks to taste and enjoy!

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.

bees on the lavender
Our wild bees finally feasting on the lavender

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!

August collage of Flickr postings
My August collage of all the shots I’ve uploaded to Flickr this month

So – on to September, and the approach of autumn.
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2021 July

close up of dried twigs and petals
Inspiration from the garden – some dried hydrangea flowers caught in a dead twig. Macro captures so much more than the naked eye

I’ve taken a break from Flickr for a couple of weeks this month, mainly because Mike’s back is bad and I need to take over a lot of the lifting, bending etc. There just isn’t the energy to do it all. But the odd moments I have managed to carve out of the housework have been devoted to my much neglected watercolour project! And I’ve managed to do a little almost every day … keeping my new ‘habit’ of touching base at least! So I decided to give over most of the July Journal to my painting.
I use the ‘dining room’ as an art room – always have, as it houses the big paper storage unit and the large draughtsman’s table that I use(d) for pastel painting. But until recently I have felt the watercolour painting space to be cramped and inhospitable. I finally sat down and looked at it, and pondered how it could be improved. The biggest problem is the light, closely followed by lack of table space.
I reversed the table so I sit close to the only window. That single move has made a massive difference! Then I have added a second fold-out table behind, for extra lights, paintbrush holders etc. Mike found me a small portable easel to allow the right gentle angle for the paper … and I am in business! It is such a transformation – I actively want to be in the room, where before I had to reluctantly drag myself in!

my art room 1
Looking from the living room into my art room space
work surface from above
My working surface seen from above. A friendly clutter!
my painting pin board
The draughtsman’s board used as a pin board for bits and bobs.

I have moveable lamps to add to the lighting, as well as some light from the front room, through the archway between the rooms. The room is also full of my pastel paints, with pastel works on the walls …. and then there are my photography prop stores ….. so there’s not a spare inch of surface anywhere!
I’m having fun, and learning a whole lot about watercolour painting. The more I expore, the more I understand why it is considered the hardest and most demanding of paint media! There is no room for changing your mind, or correcting a mistake – once the paint mark is made, it is final! No scraping back, no rethinking …. you are committed!

OK! So I’ve reached a sticking point here! There is so much I want to write about that it will swamp my more general monthly Journal ‘digest’. So I am going to do a spin-off into another part of the website. I’ve called in HANDS ON as it seems to sum up all my creative pursuits over the years since Post Viral Syndrome put an abrupt stop to my career in the educational world.

The garden in full bloom
The garden is suddenly full of colour and growing apace!

And so July passed, with the world shrunk to our own home and garden. Back to ordering groceries online for delivery to our door – an absolute blessing for when we can’t get to the shops ourselves. Mike is slowly recovering. It is a painful process, but he has discovered that simply walking, to strengthen his leg muscles is also strengthening his back muscles, and he is building up the total of steps. Great news, and a real sense of progess! His world is still limited to walking, lying down and the occasional sitting at a table for meals. Sitting for long hours at the computer is definitely out for the moment!

raindrops into the clear water
And it rained – like nothing we’ve seen before here!

And the month ended with a spectacular day of rain! After nearly 3 months of very little rain we had forgotten to check the gutters and down pipes – they just weren’t in our minds. Hosepipes, and keeping the newer plants in the garden alive were our main concern.
And then, after reading about torrential and spectacular flooding across Europe, and in areas of the UK too …. we had our own taste of ‘climate change’. A day so full of torrential rain that the paved areas were under water and the gutters couldn’t cope at all. Solid sheets of water poured from the gutters over front and back doors …. threatening to collapse. And the water rose too close to the actual house for comfort. We spent the day with buckets of all sizes, trying to carry the flood water to the storm drains, and wondering if it would ever end!
Sheer madness, but standing in my knee-high red wellies I just had to capture the beauty of the clear water on the flag-stones … inches deep! The water brought out the colours and the textures! I couldn’t resist!

And so the month ends, and there is the first touch of autumn in the air, as the nights begin to draw in…..
And on to August, as summer begins to fade just a little.
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2021 June

Yunomi and mochi
A Japanese Yunomi cup and a mochi snack with red bean paste.

June 2021 – in which I discover the joys of Japanese snacks, find that we are in a drought period here, and try to get a grasp on the Covid ‘Delta’ variant.

I’ve long been an admirer of many things Japanese; from their food to their philosophy and art, there are so many things to enjoy, admire, and ponder. ‘Art’ is a word that you can extend to encompass almost every aspect of Japanese life – from the tea ceremony to making paper, there is an expertise that has been developed over centuries. And recently my friend and fellow Japan admirer Laurie Kern introduced me to the taste experience of traditional Japanese ‘snacks’.
Laurie discovered two suppliers offering snack-boxes on a regular basis, each with a selection of traditional artisan-made snacks and sweets. Sakuraco supplied their April box that included the Yunomi cup and mochi in the shot I took as the header photo for June.
There are many different kinds of mochi. This one is red bean paste encased in a soft cake.
The snacks seem to be less sweet and sugary than our usual Western sweets or snacks, and the tastes are more subtle and gentle. And they are wickedly delightful and ‘more-ish’ 😊.
Each box comes with a booklet that describes each snack included, so it is a learning experience as well as a taste experience! And after sampling some of the delights of Laurie’s April box, she sent me a box of my own from another supplier, Bokksu as a surprise gift!

Bokksu Japanese snack box
My surprise present of a Bokksu Japanese snack box.

And like Sakuraco it came laden with snacks, and an accompanying booklet about each snack. No little porcelain cup this time … just delicious treats to nibble!

Momoyama Japanese snack
Japanese snack called Momoyama, which is quite delicious!

Apart from savouring the different tastes from Japan, the month of June was also one of the driest on record! After a prolonged winter that lasted through until May, we were looking for some relief for our garden. Some plants didn’t survive the winter, and those that did were blighted, with new leaves and buds blackened by constant overnight frosts. So we hoped to welcome some warmer and sunnier weather, to allow the garden to revive. It was such a blow to find week after week with no rain! We had to resort to using hosepipes to keep everything alive …..

June garden colours
The blossoms which make our garden so colourful were quickly dying due to the drought.
The back rockery
The light sandy soil doesn’t hold the water well – and strong sunshine will soon defeat the plants!

Some areas like the back rockery find that the steep slope means our light, sandy soil doesn’t hold the water well – and strong sunshine will soon defeat the plants!

And so onto the third and final part of my June Journal – the progress of the pandemic!
I saved writing about this aspect of June until the month ended, as it quickly became apparent that there was a further wave (3rd? 4th? I’ve lost count!) of Covid infections breaking on the shores of the UK – the Delta variant.
“SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant, also known as lineage B.1.617.2, is a variant of lineage B.1.617 of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. It was first detected in India in late 2020. The World Health Organization (WHO) named it the Delta variant on 31 May 2021.”
[source: Wikipedia]

I live in Scotland, so I keep an eye on the Covid statistics for Scotland, and in rural Aberdeenshire, so I track and record the statistics for my area too.
This variant was being tracked at it was even more transmissible than the Kent (Alpha) variant. And instead of closing down international travel between the UK and the Indian sub-continent, the Westminster government allowed hundreds of thousands of potentially infected travellers to enter the UK without testing or quarantine. Another political disaster, to add to the seemingly endless succession of disasters the Westminster government has inflicted on us! I despair /0\
The Indian (Delta) variant quickly took hold and throughout June it spread like a wildfire throughout the UK, especially in densely populated cities. Scotland has fared worst of all, with almost double the number of confirmed cases when compared with England.

A quick snapshot of the data here in Aberdeenshire shows the trend throughout June:
* May 31st – 22 recorded +ve cases.
That is 8.4 people infected per 100,000. And a test positivity rate of 0.4%
** June 29th – 514 recorded +ve cases.
That is 196.8 people infected per 100,000. And a test positivity rate of 5.9%
And Aberdeenshire has been one of the least badly affected areas of Scotland.

A snapshot of the state of things in mid-June. By no means as bad as it was when June finally ended! On this daily tally for June 18th we are only 54.4 per 100,000. By June 28th we were 196.8 per 100,000.

Scotland COVID June 2021
Delta variant cases in Scotland by mid June 2021

Truly horrifying and exponential growth! The figures just got worse and worse as the month went on. We became even more aware that we were guinea-pigs in a giant experiment to see how far vaccination could protect us all in the real world ‘laboratory’. Every afternoon we checked for the latest stats, and drilled down into the Aberdeenshire figures. It was the only way to find information to guide our decisions about when it might be safe to go grocery shopping, or to go out for exercise. The detailed statistics were always lagging 3 days behind, so it could only be a general guide – but it was better than nothing!

Broadly the results seem to suggest that vaccination (double vaccination) does help to protect against the severe form of Covid, as hospitalisation; intensive care numbers and registered deaths all remained low. But the infection rates for the younger and unvaccinated groups have soared, and the implications in terms of Long Covid, and longer term effects remains unclear. And as July approached we wondered about the promises from London of “Freedom Day” and a quick return to ‘normality’.

On to July – and where next for the pandemic?
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2021 April

plum blossom
The Japanese plum tree is usually a mass of pink by now – but winter is still with us!

April is the cruellest month! How right T S Eliot was!
Winter continues unabated – sub zero nights and cold days have dominated April 2021. The plum blossom is almost completely killed on the Japanese flowering plum tree by the gate. Usually the tree turns into a pink delight in April, but this year there are just a few random pink dabs among the bare branches! The new green buds on the hydrangeas and azaleas are blackened and blighted too. It is indeed cruel! There is more hail than snow, and the high winds sweeping down from the Arctic are driving the hail off the large field behind the house, and into our garden, building up against the house, and into our faces when we open the back door!

winter in April
The garden is full of the snow and hailstones blown off the field behind the house!

By the middle of the month the snow has been replaced by overnight frosts and bright sunny days. Better than the constant snow and hail, but the weather pattern is still so very cold, even at midday. The blue skies are very welcome, and the sun is hot through the window glass – but it is deceptive! And there is now no rainfall at all – so the land that has been soaked all autumn and frozen solid all winter is now too dry for the Spring planting to germinate properly.

winter sunset in Spring
It looks more like midwinter than April!

On the personal front we have managed to continue to do some of our own grocery shopping. The lockdown together with the vaccine roll-out has seen a welcome and reassuring fall in infection rates, hospitalisations and deaths. There is now a Covid Dashboard provided by PH Scotland that shows cases by Local Government areas, and within each area too. So we can check to see how safe the places we wish to visit are.
It is a strange world when the freedom to enter a shop and choose my own fruit and vegetables is a real treat! What used to be a regular chore has become a mark of returning normality, and real delight to look forward to!

April 14th – and another milestone. We both get our second vaccination jag!
That is only 8 weeks since the first, and we were expecting to wait another month. So now we only need to wait another 3 weeks to ensure the antibodies have built up fully. Early May will be so good!
No ill effects from the 2nd AZ shot – a mild ‘flu’ feeling for a day, but not even a sore arm!

April 26th – and there is a lot of easing of restrictions, both for travel, meeting others, and for opening up of shops, cafes and pubs. The emphasis is on outdoor meetings and venues as these first tentative steps test how effective the lock-down and vaccine roll-out have been.

But most of these changes are not affecting us two, as cold winter weather continues to make indoors most appealing! So I have been enjoying shooting anything and everything that I can find lying around in my studio! Catching the fleeting moments of sunshine, and celebrating the feeling that the year of constant stress might be loosening its grip…

feather and hydrangea
Feather and hydrangea, one of my many ‘odds and sods’ shots.

I call this slightly frivolous excursion into random still-life shots my Flickr Odds and Sods album, and am happily adding to it as often as I can!

tiny medicine bottles
Some of my tiny antique medicine bottles – as a monochrome
feather and stone
Feather and stone, one of my many ‘odds and sods’ shots.

And before April ended we managed another trip to Fyvie Castle and grounds, to see if the new green of Spring had finally managed to emerge. This time I took a Sony NEX-7 with the magical Zeiss Makro E 50mm F2.8 lens. Usually used for close macro photography, I have discovered it is a wonderful landscape lens too!

Spring at Fyvie loch
Spring is finally showing the first signs of new fresh green!

To round off April with the photography I’ve posted on Flickr, here is the collage of my online month.

collage of shots for April 2021
The collage of shots taken and uploaded for April 2021

April ends the way it began, with driving hail and freezing temperatures.

And on to May, and has Spring arrived .. at long last?
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© 2021 Elisa Liddell

2021 March

winter road shot
The bleakness of winter still remains in March!

March began with the first vaccination accomplished, and a wait for the second dose that may reach into May. It developed into a month of unholy wrangling with the EU over vaccine supply. Over half of the UK adult population have received a first dose, and the impact has been striking. Numbers in hospital with COVID, in the ICU, and dying from COVID have all fallen dramatically since December when the vaccination began. Studies are showing that the gamble of maximizing the range of the first jab and delaying the second jab has paid off.

The EU has been slow to give medical approval for the vaccines, and also slow to place orders for them. They have an average of 10% of their populations vaccinated, and are facing a third wave, with lock-downs. The immediate outlook is bleak for people in Europe, as the variant becoming dominant is the B117 (Kent variant) that has plagued the UK too. It has proved to be more tranmissible, and more deadly than the original virus here.
Sadly the EU Commission response has been to try to block vaccines produced on the continent from being exported to the UK. They have spent two months trashing the reputation of the AstraZenenca vaccine, and are now trying to ‘sell’ it to their populations! Currently there are significant numbers who are refusing the AZ vaccine, despite growing research evidence of its efficacy and safety. What a mess!!

Here we both had the AZ vaccine, and after a couple of days feeling like a mild dose of ‘flu we have had no adverse effects. The Shingles vaccine was much worse!! So now we feel more confident going out and about. Still in lock-down in Scotland in March, so exercising at Fyvie Castle and essential shopping in Inverurie are the extent of our ‘out and about’. But there is a slight feeling of returning normality, as we are no longer totally dependent on deliveries for our weekly grocery needs!

Infrared of Fyvie loch
Winter still rules! Infrared at Fyvie loch

The weather has been against us, as sub-zero temperatures (especially overnight) have made for bleak, cold and windy outings for exercise. The trees have been battered by the severe winter and are not at all photogenic , and only snowdrops are adorning the pathways at Fyvie

snowdrops at Fyvie Castle
Snowdrops make for a magical white carpet at Fyvive Castle.

With a little Helios lens magic the snowdrops appear to swirl, and add a little magic! Indeed magic is needed to see the beauty hidden in the wintry corners of the castle grounds….

Lensbaby snowdrops and fence
Last years leaves and this years snowdrops caught with the Lensbaby.

This time it is the Lensbaby optic adding some colour and sparkle to the cold day!

So much of my time has been spent indoors – too cold to think about tackling the garden and all the dead-heading and clear-up after the winter!
Decision time! I am still determined to fit my watercolour adventure into the already cramped timetable for the day/week/month! It does take my energy reserves right to the edge, and it does mean the housework is being neglected!
The more I dig into my first watercolour venture (some 20+ years ago), the more I understand when artists say watercolour is the most difficult and challenging medium of all! I have a whole lot to learn or re-learn, and yet I know where I want to go ….. so balancing the need to learn important things with wishing to avoid a “watercolours by numbers” approach is making for slow progress! I don’t want to lose my own vision …. The first thing that I need to get a grasp on is the colours that I have got.

watercolour transparency chart
My watercolour transparency chart

I want to use as many transparent colours as possible, as they can let the paper glow through – but there are so many qualities to each paint. Transparent, semi-transparent and opaque is only one quality to weigh! There are staining/non-staining colours, and then reflective colours, and sedimentary colours … and then how about warm and cool colours, colour dominance? …. and I am nowhere near the paper choices, or the brush choices!

I have decided to simply throw myself in the deep end, and sink or swim. The problem is that I am not good at failing … especially not repeatedly! I tend to beat myself up, and get discouraged…. so I am trying to fit a small watercolour ‘corner’ into each day … failing, but gradually getting closer to every other day! So I have ‘built’ my first palette.

My starting palette
My first palette selection, with transparency in mind.

I’ve already been experimenting with mixing my painting with my photographs ….

Eggs blending photo and watercolour
Daily sketch eggshells and blend with photo
Blending art and photography
Blending art and photography

See more on the August 2020 page, and on Flickr I have an album of all kinds of blending and merging of media. I want to use some of the landscape images I’ve captured over the years, and express them in watercolour too … like this winter sunrise as we drove along ..

freezing fog on the road
Ice and fog, a dangerous but magical mixture.

So, as March draws to a close, and the sunny days begin to outnumber the wintry ones, my ToDo lists are packed with ideas for photography and painting, and my online Flickr presence will vie with the demands of house and garden! Hopefully there will be the chance to travel to the coast, as lock-down restrctions ease. It may be May before we see a second vaccination jab … so extreme caution is still the 2021 ‘normal’. Here are the images that I posted on Flickr during March ….

The collage of shots taken and uploaded for March 2021
The collage of shots taken and uploaded for March 2021

And on to April – has Spring arrived .. at last?
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Flickr holds Elisa’s online Photo Gallery
© 2021 Elisa Liddell