2022 September

calendar for September
calendar for September

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!

macro of gladiolus flower

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!

a basket of rowan berries
Victoria Plums

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.

new green Yuta Segawa vase

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.

Book shelves

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!

art room workspace
Small bonsai scissors

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.

cheese grater bokeh

And sometimes I just take things from my treasured collections … and make pretty pictures! This lovely perfume bottle was a charity shop find.

still life with perfume bottle


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!

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2022 August

calendar for August 2022
Calendar for August 2022

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.

Infrared landscape

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.

Infrared local landscape
B+W Doorway at light

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!

Sun specs
Guitar abstract

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!

pink geraniums
Agapanthus flowers

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.

making a temari ball
making a temari ball

And so on to September, when the world here cools down!

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2022 June

Calendar for June 2022
Calendar for June 2022

June has been a month of recovery! It is month 3 of our major undertaking of the year. We are both ‘disabled’ by long term health problems, and have a very meagre energy supply. So we live very restricted and limited lives, and only maintain a balance by carefully monitoring our energy output. For me it is crucial, as long term ME/Post Viral Syndrome is so similar to Long Covid …. as the world wakes up to what we have known for decades … that viruses can do long term and irreparable damage to the human body! Fatigue is not a new concept to me, it is what I’ve lived with for decades!
So April saw us preparing for Laurie’s visit from the USA – May was the month Laurie was here – and now June has been the month of recovering. Energy is very low – an energy drought that is echoing the water drought across Aberdeenshire – so staying at home is the best idea all round! We have had deliveries of groceries rather than driving to Inverurie and shopping for ourselves. So my photography has been home based, with indoor still life photography replacing the usual summer visits to the coast and local beauty spots.

Another reason for staying home is Covid. The latest versions of the virus (BA.4 and BA.5) are still very active and growing in numbers both locally and nationally – Scotland is always the worst figures of the 4 nations. I follow Aberdeenshire quite closely, and we began June with a recorded 350 cases (134.2 per 100,0000) peaking at 996 on the 26th and ended the month with 868 cases (332.8 per 100,0000). In May I had my second booster shot, but Mike has not been offered one, so we are super-careful this summer.

And as June progressed the garden has blossomed, growing apace despite the meagre rainfall. It has been neglected this year, as the growing season has coincided with us focussing on Laurie’s visit and the preparations. So weeds abound, the honeysuckle is running rampant, and the dandelions are thriving! But we do have some surprises and delights in the mix too.
I’ve tried to grow clematis over the years and always failed. Last year I planted 6 along the bare ranch fence in the back garden.

The clematis fence

In the Spring everything looked dead, but then they started growing from the ground up. By early June at least 4 were looking promising with plenty of buds ….

the clematis fence 2

And by the end of the month the fence is a blaze of blossoms, both purple and pink. I’m told they are ‘Clematis Pink Champagne’. I am just so thrilled that they have managed to thrive in our northern climate!

clematis flower

Needless to say I managed to bring indoors some of the beautiful clematis flowers so I could shoot them!
Here one flower, in the sunshine, shot with the Lensbaby Double Glass and macro ring.

a white peony

Buying flowers from the supermarket is becoming a very occasional treat now, as prices of everything sky-rocket! But I did indulge in a small bunch of peonies, something I can’t grow here.

physalis or Peruvian groundcherry

One thing I did add to my range of planters was 2 physalis plants. I have them indoors and they are thriving and growing rather tall! They are a new venture for me … I’ll see how they do. I’d love to be able to grow my own!

tree cutting

On a more sombre note about ‘growing tall’ we have had to cut down our tallest tree, an alder. If we are to expect gales like Storm Arwen this coming winter, then this is the tree most likely to succumb, and damage house and garden.

signs of barns wallows

As ever, we share our house and garden with visiting barn swallows. This year we have two families busy raising their first brood. We sometimes have a second brood – so we are hoping.

Here the first eggshell I found, and an early feather. Shot with a miniature vase – with the Lensbaby.

Japanese tea

Since the last vaccination in the spring (Pfizer) I’ve found my taste buds have gone really weird. I lost my taste for Japanese food, and it has only now returned. What a delight to enjoy my favourite tea –Genmaicha Iri Matcha.

And I can’t close without referring to ….
the cost of living crisis.
Everything, but everything is shooting up in price. Food bills are creeping up week on week. And when there is no price rise we find that the quality or quantity of items has been reduced! Do they think we are idiots and don’t notice??
And our heating oil has had a 50% rise this Spring, with a bigger rise promised in the autumn. We have no gas supply in rural Scotland – and have never enjoyed a ‘price cap’ – so suppliers are free to charge whatever they want /0\
Electricity is another essential that is set to sky-rocket this autumn. So we do daily monitoring to get our usage as low as possible. Only use dishwasher once a week. PCs off unless specifically needed. Laptops and iPhones replace the PC. Lights and appliances off unless needed. It feels like wartime as describes by my parents!
Scary when you think we are in summer … winter in the north of Scotland can be brutal! So as we leave June we are feeling sombre and wondering what disasters await us as 2022 progresses …

So on to July and summer arrives and the world around us gets madder!

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2022 May

May 2022 Calendar
Calendar for May 2022

May begins and the world here turns from Spring into summer. Mostly it is overcast with few sunny days, little rain – and there is a constant cold wind. But despite that, the crab apple and the Victoria plum trees are full of white blossom, and the azaleas and rhododendrons give the garden some magnificent colour! No matter how cold it feels, the colours warm me!

May begins with rape seed

Even the dark and threatening sky can’t take away from the colourful world around us. There is such a lot of rape seed planted here this year!

Late light on the acer

In the rockery the delicate acer bushes have been suffering from so little rain, so we’ve been watering them carefully to keep them growing! Caught here is a burst of late evening light.

Early apple blossom buds

As the month started the crab apple tree began to turn a deep pink – a sure sign the blossom is on its way. Caught in the late sun, every branch and twig is glowing with the promise of the visual delight to come.

apple blossom in May

As the weeks pass the flowers open, and the evening air is filled with a scent of almonds. Such a beautiful extravaganza of pinks and white. When the sun catches them, the delicate pinks and white of the flowers really shine.

Yellow and green

In the wider world the rape seed and barley fields set patterns of yellow and green that fill the world. Sometimes it feels like moving through a colourful jigsaw.

The landscape is a yellow and green patchwork

The skies might be full of stormy signals, but the rainfall is still very low, sometimes nothing – at most 23 mm over an entire week.

The front garden and rockery

But the garden is a riot of colour! This is the best time of year, when all the rhododendrons and azaleas are in full bloom. We planted an entire hedge of yellow Azalea Luteum some 6 years ago.

The front garden azalea luteum

The Azalea Luteum were expensive plants, but they are the only azaleas that have a scent … and so far they have weathered all the storms and winter freezes.

books on Colour

And indoors? I’ve had little time for either painting or photography, as we have our friend, Laurie Kern across from America this month. But I am reading about the history of colour – fascinating!

The months of April and May have both been shaped by Laurie’s visit. It is so long since we had anyone to stay, even for a few days! So the spare room needed to be prepared, and an enormous amount of ‘stuff’ moved into loft, sheds, and other spaces!

Laurie amid the Azaleas

Yes – Laurie arrived early in the month, and planned to spend 10 days walking the Moray Way, over 100 miles in all. But she fell and damaged her hip, and had to return early to rest and recover.

the sea at Cullen Bay

On our way up the coast to deliver Laurie to the start point for her walk, we called in at Cullen, and I had the chance to shoot the sea there … it’s been many months since we had that delight!

It has been such an eventful and packed month, it seems to have flown past! As we move towards June, we are planning a long rest, some time to catch up with the garden and with painting, and maybe some more outings to our coast and local beauty spots!

On to June …… which brings a change of pace!
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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 March

Calendar March 2022
Calendar March 2022

I began February by looking at how we, in Scotland, were handling the Covid pandemic. The map of case numbers showed that we were more ‘in control’ than elsewhere in the UK. But now as we reach the middle of March the picture is completely changed! It just proves that the pandemic is still very much with us, no matter how much the politicians prattle on about ‘living with Covid’ and ‘we are now in the endemic stage – it is no longer a pandemic’.

Scotland covid map March 2022
Scotland Covid map March 2022

Scotland is being completely overwhelmed with yet another new variant of Covid.
Omicron, the previous variant, is called BA.1 and the tsunami of cases now showing on the map are 85% variant BA.2. We’ve been told that it is as infectious as measles, which apparently is the most transmissible virus in the world!
Rather than tracking the ‘headline’ reported cases, the emphasis has changed to following the hospitalisation reports, the ‘severe’ cases (needing ICU), and deaths. All these indicators are rising, and especially concerning is the rise in admissions among the 50+ and 70+ so there are plans to get the most vulnerable another booster shot. So it looks like I will have a 4th shot some time in April … though at the moment the cut-off age is 75, and that will exclude Mike who has a very relevant underlying condition in diabetes!
So with the prospect of yet another vaccination, I decided to try and tackle my bad eating habits! Long term PVS/ME has cut my energy levels to the bone – and years ago I realised that taking the winter ‘flu vaccine knocked me back for months. So the past 2 years of taking not only the ‘flu vaccine, but also three Covid vaccines has pretty well flattened my energy levels. In response I have upped my sugar intake to boost my flagging energy levels and help me through the day. But if I am to face yet another vaccine, then I need to get my sugar intake (and blood glucose readings) under control. So March is proving to be a hard month, as cutting back on sugar is proving to be a struggle!

March begins with winter
March begins with a familiar scene of snow and mist.

The month started with heavy frosts and morning mists. Spring has taken a hit, and even by mid March the snowdrops dominate, and crocuses and daffodils are only found in protected sunny corners!
But we did hear that the gardens at Fyvie Castle are open again – after Storm Arwen and all the following storms. So we went to see what the damage was like, and what has survived, and what has been destroyed. The day was bright and sunny but cold. And evidence of the devastation was everywhere.

Storm Arwen damage

On the entrance drive fallen trees had simply been cut in two and dragged to the sides to allow for access. Everywhere trees have been torn up by the roots – young and venerable old trees.

Guessing at the grim reality awaiting us I took my Lensbaby cameras with me, to give me something colourful and beautiful to capture!

Lensbaby Fyvie loch

Even the dark bleakness of the bare trees skirting the loch can be given a lift with the Lensbaby, and a personal choice of White Balance!

Lensbaby can enliven a grey day at Fyvie loch

And what a difference the Lensbaby can make to a sudden shaft of sunlight through a stand of undamaged trees! A rainbow prism caught by the lens.

beech leaves

With a Sweet 50 Lensbaby optic and a macro ring …. the beauty of last year’s beech leaves can brighten the cold Spring morning.

I’ve been shooting the seasons, the walks, and the castle itself for many years now – so I decided to look through my archives, and remember what March in 2019 looked like – a time of seeming innocence before the world was rocked by the pandemic!
I chose a day when I took an Infrared camera with me … with the ‘Super Goldie’ (590nm) filter on my old Sony A5000. It can make the world through the lens quite magical – changing the colours radically! [More about my Infrared journey here]

B+W Fyvie Castle grounds 2019

Sometimes when we visit Fyvie Castle we are lucky enough to catch a rider, exercising her horse. Here I processed my Infrared shot in black and white, as she rode down the entrance driveway ….

Fyvie Castle grounds 2019 shot in infrared

….. and here I processed the shot to give a ‘faux’ effect, where the grass is white (not covered in snow, as it might seem) and the sky a brilliant blue. The two photos don’t look like they were shot within minutes of each other. The magic of the camera!

But for most of the month we have been at home, with the mixture of cold winter weather and tantalising spells of sunny Spring sunshine keeping us indoors. We are both feeling the effects of two long years of confinement and stress – energy is low, and everyday household chores seem to devour more and more of that meagre supply. The days pass, and we feel like we have accomplished very little!
I have managed to keep my photography ticking over, mainly shooting still life and macro indoors. The living room is strewn with small shooting sets, and a myriad of items (large and small) awaiting me ….

Swarovski brilliants

Here I was shooting tiny Swarovski crystal beads (1cm each way) – multi-facetted and clear glass. Placed on glass, lit with small coloured LED lights they glow and sparkle. A macro lens can offer a world as different as the infrared filter can!

3 glasses in B+W

And here, using the same background of black velvet cloth, I took 3 small drinks glasses, and used the reflections of the daylight on glass to define the glasses and give form to them.

reflected smiley faces

I like taking part in challenges in my Flickr groups – it often pushes me into trying something new and different, stretching me. Here it was a challenge to show smiles reflected in spoons!

miniature vases in silhouette

The challenge here was to a create a macro silhouette in black and white. It wasn’t new to me – but how to make something interesting within the terms of the challenge? Here I bent the rules a little, as there are quite a few reflections in there!

And so, as the month draws to a close there are the first signs of the latest Covid wave slowing down, if only a little! And the first signs of Spring are definitely appearing through the snow showers and bursts of warm sunshine!
So to finish I’ll include my monthly ritual for Flickr, which is to make a collage of all the photos I have uploaded to Flickr during the month. It is a way I divide up the unending flow of images that make up the ‘photostream’. This month was quite a busy one, as I uploaded 28 images in all. Some of them have already been featured on this page too …. but here is the full complement.

March 2022 collage of photos
March 2022 collage of photos uploaded to Flickr

On to April …… which I hope doesn’t echo the words of T S Eliot as “the cruellest month”
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2021 December

calendar December 2021
The year ends with a feeling that little has changed

As I began my Journal for 2021 I looked both back and forward, as Janus, the two-headed does! Looking back to the 2021 cover page I wrote:
“2021 and we are in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic. 2020 began with hope and a sense of a fresh start to not only a new year, but a new decade. Hopes were quickly dashed as the virus spread across the globe, and we all struggled to handle the new reality. It changed the shape of our lives!”
I envisaged 2021 in month blocks, defined by protective vaccinations, and the year has been punctuated that way, February and April for the first 2 vaccinations – and October for the booster shot (together with the annual ‘flu jab). So we face the new year with the maximum protection that our amazing and wonderful scientists can provide!
And there is an ominous sense of repetition as we look forward to 2022.
2021 was spent battling the Delta Variant of the virus, 2022 looks to be another battle year, with the Omicron variant … which might prove to be less damaging, but is frighteningly more transmissible, doubling numbers every few days.

But as December began the immediate battle for us was to recover from Storm Arwen.
We began December cold, hungry and with freezers full of partially defrosted food! 6 days of basically camping out in our own home, in the middle of winter, had taken every ounce of determination and energy.
We are no longer young, fit and healthy … and the experience has proved to be very hard to recover from. Throughout the month we have tackled a long list of ‘Lessons learned from Storm Arwen’ that covers ways to ensure we can survive better next time an extended power cut happens. And we can expect more power cuts, either from climate change events, or from lack of planning by the UK government regarding energy supply resilience! ‘Resilience‘ is a big buzz word these days, and we have learned that in the event of a major weather event we can rely on NO-ONE except ourselves and our neighbours!
So our month has been very unlike previous years when December is our month-long celebration of birthdays, anniversaries as well as Christmas and Hogmanay.
As I write this December is closing, and we have achieved our goal of having as much ‘resilience’ as possible organised and available. From extra clothing, sleeping bags and blankets …. to extra camping stove and fuel …. to a working generator and prepared open log fire …. to battery supplies and Power Banks to recharge various devices. All of this has replaced personal presents, but it has given us some peace of mind as we approach 2022.

shadow play

We spent long hours in the dark with little lighting except for torches. If we aimed a powerful torch at the ceiling it lit the whole room enough to see by. And I shot some of the shadows making shapes against the ceiling!

alstroemeria in the dark

There was a vase of flowers that I could place close to the torch, and take photos, as well as their shadows on the ceiling!
Yes, my trusty Sony RX100 had enough battery power to keep me shooting throughout the power cut.

shooting ivy

As soon as we had power back on, and the house was warm and light enough to move about, I started combining the fleeting sunlight with some artificial light …. and colour returned to my world!

temari and ivy

One of the indoor survivors was ivy that I had growing in small pots. So it was the first subject I could find to shoot when light returned.
Here combined with a temari ball the echoes the colours of the ivy.

eggs in black and white

But the experience did leave me with a sense of the world in black and white, so I kept processing some shots in monochrome.

freezing fog in B+W

And it was winter … and that is the time when the world naturally turns to mono! Once I had recovered from the cold experience, I ventured out into the white world.

freezing fog

Mid December and some spectacular days of fog, and even freezing fog. This morning the fog slowly rose, and the sun began to break through. The birds collected on the restored power lines.
Then the fog returned, and froze the world once more. The trees were coated with hoar frost and the view across the howe vanished into whiteness.

dawn on the road

It was the end of the month before we could go shopping, and replace some of the freezer-damaged food stores. Here morning breaks as we make an early trip to Inverurie and our local supermarket and stores.

Hogmanay card
Hogmanay card 2021

And finally the month and the year ends. Hogmanay celebrations are muted, and we have been so exhausted by the last 2 months that we are content to sleep our way into the new year of 2022!

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2021 October

Beowulf manuscript
Where does Beowulf meet Covid?

The “Word Hoard”
One of the most beautiful and resonant concepts we have derived from the Old English saga of Beowulf is the “Word Hoard”. I love the idea of a deep chest full of valuable, almost mystical words that we can open and use. And of course we can also add to the language “Word Hoard” as time passes and new events happen.
So it is time to pause and take stock.
We have new and resonant words to add to our “Word Hoard”

The world has changed so much and so fast over the last (almost) 2 years. Yes – it was November 2019 when we began to hear of an outbreak of a new viral infection in Wuhan, China, that had authorities there worried. We didn’t know that labs at Wuhan were working on bat viruses – the coronavirus family – that could jump species barriers and infect humans. Initially it was just called “novel coronavirus” and in the West we thought that like Sars (SARS-CoV-1) and MERS it would not substantially affect our daily lives, and our society.
Looking back, how naive and complacent we were!

Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2) has so many names now, as it mutates and continues to outwit attempts to control or eradicate it.
The virus was first confirmed to have spread to Italy on 31 January 2020, though more recent tests have discovered cases in November 2019 – so Covid-19 is the best general name, as 2019 was when it emerged.
The last pandemic to touch our Western consciousness was the flu pandemic of 1918. There were blueprints for dealing with another more virulent outbreak of influenza – but basically no-one in our UK government looked beyond that. Surely a modern technological society could handle a viral outbreak?

How the Word Hoard has changed:

Pandemic – not a new word, but it has jumped into prominence and acquired a new and frightening significance.
Coronavirus – most of us hadn’t heard of the word, but now it is in daily circulation (much like the virus itself) Covid or Covid-19 are the most common terms used.
Mutations – We now have Alpha (Kent), Beta (South Africa), Gamma (Brazil) and Delta (Indian) Variants.

PROTECTIONS
PPE – Personal Protective Equipment – equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and illnesses. It came to the fore as medics needed to be protected from the virus while treating those infected with Covid-19.
Hand sanitiser – a protective liquid to rub into your hands – in this case alcohol-based (typically between 60 and 95 percent alcohol). I found online recipes to make up my own gel hand sanitiser which I still use!
Face masks – entire books could be written about different types of face masks, which is best for particle-spread infections, and which best for airborne. We have all become mini-experts! Nose guards? Filters? How and when to clean and wash them? How often to re-use them?
Bleach – especially at the start of the pandemic when Covid was thought to be a particle-spread infection we were advised to wash all incoming deliveries in dilute bleach.
Lock-down – the ultimate protection was to close down all but essential activities within the entire society. Only leave home for essential purposes such as food shopping!
Shielding – the most vulnerable people were totally confined to home. No straying beyond the garden gate!
Self-isolating – if you contracted Covid you were (and still are) obliged to isolate yourself from everyone for a given length of time. Food delivered to the door. No person-to-person contact with anyone.

MITIGATIONS – especially now it is known to be airborne. And ‘mitigations’ has itself become a new buzz word! But broadly it is things we can all do to help minimize the spread of the virus.
Bubbles – The idea that a small group of people (maybe a household or a school class) who are in regular contact could relax the rules, in order to support each other, or to function in a necessary way.
Hand sanitiser – still, in October 2021 placed at every entrance to a shop or indoor public place (such as a library) here in Scotland (though England may be different and more relaxed.)
Face masks – (no mask no entry) still essential for shopping trips, and indoor public meeting place. Again this is here in Scotland (though England may be different and more relaxed.)
Social distancing – originally the rules were to keep 2 metres/6′ apart, with guide marks on the floors of shops or queues, and a one way in and one way out system. Now it is a little more relaxed, though people do try to keep a reasonable distance apart.
Ventilation – this has become increasingly important as the implications of Covid as an airborne virus has sunk in! Best to meet outside,and indoor spaces should be well-ventilated. Even at home keep doors and windows open if possible! Crowded indoor spaces with circulating (recycled) air are the ones to be avoided.
WFH – we are still encouraged to Work From Home as much as possible, to avoid public transport and enclosed office spaces.
Remote Learning – originally something only used for geographically remote students in the Highlands and Islands – this became the norm for most school and college/university students throughout 2020 and well into 2021. Using broadband links and computers, tablets or smartphones it is still a part of most children’s world, especially as they are now the ‘super-spreaders’ (as cases fall during holiday times, and rise again when schools re-open!)
Furlough – a term for employees who have to be laid off due to Lockdown – but who are kept afloat by having most of their wages paid by the government.
Zoom – became the most popular and widely used video chat link app for people to keep in touch with friends and family, or for business conference calls.
PCR test – as testing for Covid became available, taking a test became obligatory in many circumstances. A negative test could allow for travel, for example. The test has to be sent away for laboratory processing, and there is a waiting time for results.
Lateral Flow test – this self-administered test is not as reliable, but is used more often as a guide to whether it is safe to enter places like schools.

VACCINES – we have been amazed at the speedy development to vaccines to protect against severe Covid. They do not protect against catching or spreading Covid, but do protect against severe infection and death. “Vax” has become the OED word of the year 2021
Brand names – we have a growing number of named vaccines. In the UK the main 2 are Pfizer and Astra Zeneca. They are designed to be used in 2 doses at least 8-12 weeks apart. Moderna is more used in the USA, along with Jannsen (single dose).
Efficacy levels – these are constantly monitored as it appears that the protection they offer will wane after about 6 months.
One dose – a single does is being offered for younger children now, and has been the starting point for us all. The protection level takes at least 2 weeks to develop.
Two doses – most vaccines require two doses, so to be ‘fully vaxxed’ takes several months.
Booster jabs – As time has passed the level of protection from the vaccines has waned, so autumn 2021 has seen the roll-out of booster jabs. Initially for the most vulnerable groups (over 70s and immuno-compromised, along with health and social care staff). The preferred method has been to mix vaccines. Most Scots had Astra Zeneca for the first 2 doses, and now Pfizer for the booster. Again the race is on to get as much protection in place for the population before winter sets in.
‘Flu vaccine – This was made widely available last winter as ‘flu on top of Covid was a frightening prospect. As it happened the extent and success of Lockdown and mitigations such as mask wearing lead to almost no ‘flu over the winter! Indeed many winter infections were greatly reduced! This year the fear is that we might lost the ‘herd’ protection against ‘flu – so the ‘flu jab is being administered together with the Covid booster jab! Two arms, two jabs!
Covid pass or passports – These are being developed so you can have proof of your vaccination status when entering a ‘high risk’ environment such as a nightclub, a concert or travelling abroad. Its use can be extended to pubs, restaurants and other indoor social venues … depending on number of cases being reported.
Anti-vaxxers – There are many vocal groups against the vaccination policies of many governments. Some tout conspiracy theories, some claim Covid doesn’t even exist, and others demand the righ to remain unvaccinated, but free to roam throughout the country.

TRACKING THE VIRUS, collecting data and advising goverment
Spike – this is something to look out for as an early indicator that Covid may be getting out of control.
Mapping – this is done increasingly, to learn where the virus is most active. We can follow the statistics for Scotland as a whole, or each administrative area. We can even dig down to the local areas we are planning to visit, as well as where we live.
Hotspots – as the term suggests, these are places where spikes have been seen, and infection numbers are rising quickly.
Daily statistics – this is part of our daily routine. The statistics come out at 2 p.m. each day. They refer to the picture of 3 days ago – the lag is due to the time it takes to collect and correlate the data. They are still the most helpful guide to what is happening locally and nationally.
R number – the R number should be 1 for the virus to be stable. Below one and it is retreating, above one and it is increasing. Currently Scotland’s R number is between 0.9 and 1.1 so we are on a knife-edge!
Numbers per 100.000 – this is another way to quantify the numbers infected, and indicate when cases are rising or falling. Currently Scotland’s 7-day positivity rate is 382.4
Hospital numbers, ICU and Deaths – these are daily and weekly figures collated by the various UK ‘Governments’ which are intended to offer accurate (but with a three-day time-lag) information as to the current impact of COVID-19 on the NHS as the primary organisation attempting to treat patients whose illness is severe enough to require hospitalisation.
When placed alongside daily and weekly numbers of ‘new’ infections as revealed after tests it is clear that the vaccination programme has had a powerful positive effect in reducing these numbers. More worryingly, it is increasingly also clear that an increasing – even dominant – proportion of the people who are identified as seriously ill enough for hospitalisation, and then need ICU intervention, and then who die nonetheless are unvaccinated.
SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) – or the ‘Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies’ as the acronym stands in the UK is described by the gov.uk website as: ‘SAGE is responsible for ensuring that timely and coordinated scientific advice is made available to decision makers to support UK cross-government decisions in the Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBR). The advice provided by SAGE does not represent official government policy.’
SAGE bases its advice from a huge range of sources – experts from academic, public sector, industrial and commercial communities provide research and current information.
Independent SAGE – as described on its website, this is a group of scientists who are working together to provide independent scientific advice to the UK government and public on how to minimise deaths and support Britain’s recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. It is independent of government and does not answer to it. It does however share its work openly with the government as well as with the public.
JCVI – this is the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which holds 3 main meetings a year. JCVI comprises several sub-committees relating to specific areas: COVID -19; Pneumococcal; Travel; HPV (Human papillomavirus); Varicella; and Influenza.
In December 2020 JCVI published its advice on priority groups for COVID-19 vaccination, and since then it has been the ‘gate-keeper’ whose go-ahead is needed before vaccination of any group(s) is given the green light.
NERVTAG – New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group
This group advises the government on the threat posed by new and emerging respiratory viruses. Covid is proving a difficult virus to track, as it is mutating all the time, and is worldwide in its reach. So there are many potential new threats to study and report on.
Herd immunity – Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community (the herd) becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely, The key to herd immunity is that, even if a person becomes infected, there are too few susceptible hosts around to maintain transmission.
Many people wondered if this concept was behind the puzzling slowness of response by the Westminster government when the Covid virus was first detected in the UK. Was it only as the death rate rose that they began to deny it was a part of their strategy?

This is just a quick look at some of the new words phrases and acronyms that have entered our daily vocabulary since November 2019. There are so many more that I haven’t included! But the sheer volume does indicate the many ways that Covid has turned our ‘normal’ lives upside down!

So – on to November, winter creeps closer and we meet Storm Arwen .
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