February begins quietly here – there is little sense of winter progressing as we used to experience it. Yes there is some snow, but it rarely lasts more than a day and is never as deep as we were used to! The weather pattern seems to be warmer, wetter and windier!
Snow is one of the real beauties of winter. The landscape can be drab here, with fields of raw ploughed earth waiting for the Spring sowing. A bright white is transformative.
At its best the snow can enhance the muted green and browns of the winter garden, and create a misty distance of half obscured trees across the howe, creating mystery as well as beauty.
Both of those shots were taken on February 6th – so to keep the timeline for the early part of the month, let’s take a look at the state of play across the UK with Covid 19. The UK is now dominated by the Omicron variant, which is quite alarmingly transmissible, and has spread so quickly it has taken the experts and the politicians by surprise. Hospitalisation and deaths are not as high, due in part (probably a major part) to levels of double and triple vaccinations. But the high levels of infection mean that more and more people are away from work, self-isolating. And that impacts on every part of the functioning of society. The approach to this situation has varied, with Scotland and Wales both keeping as many ‘mitigations’ as possible in place, especially regarding mask-wearing and behaviour in crowded indoor spaces and large outdoor events. The English government has been keen to lift as many restrictions as possible, encouraging a return to office work, abandoning mask wearing, and freeing social and school situations from Covid mitigations. It is all a matter of ‘self selection’ now, and individual freedom of choice. And the countrywide map for Feb. 5th clearly shows the impact of the different approaches!
The lighter the colour, the lower the rate of both infection and transmission. Personally the impact of Omicron has been to return Mike and I to stricter self-isolation, and upgrading our masks from n95 to n99 (FFP2 to FFP3). Outings are almost exclusively for shopping trips, early in the morning when the shops are reasonably empty of customers! Storm Arwen has curtailed our usual patterns of exercise, as most of the places we visit to walk and take photographs are closed due to the storm damage of last November/December. And they will probably remain closed for most of the year! This is making big problems for us both, as two years of the pandemic has had an impact on our general health and our muscles and general stamina.
Our outings are mainly shopping trips, and I do tend to shoot through the car windscreen as we drive along, whatever the weather! Here I merged several shots to add the sense of speed.
And when the weather is too bad to tempt me outdoors with some cameras, I can record the view through the windows. Here I was shooting with an iPhone. A typically grey and sunless day. As the snow hit the window it melted, adding a nicely cold and wet feeling to the scene. There have been so many days with the same leaden grey skies this February! It does make the world indoors much more appealing!
I’ve begun collecting some wonderful miniature vases by Yuta Segawa – hand-thrown, and so very small. I’ve spent plenty of time shooting them. The smallest of flowers will set off their delicacy!
This is the tiniest one I have, and pure white. With a few dried hydrangea flowers it seems to float. And I do search out flowers from the local supermarket ……
….. they brighten the house, and lift the mood, glowing in the occasional winter sunshine. These yellow tulips remind me that Spring will return … maybe soon?
When I buy flowers I tend to hang on to them, and gradually as the blossoms fade I find a few that still look fresh. So smaller and smaller vases are used until, like this, a small maple syrup jar suffices to show them off!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
But the experience did leave me with a sense of the world in black and white, so I kept processing some shots in monochrome.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!