Year of the Plague 2020: a far from average year. Self-isolation diary week 18

johnson twatt

Week 18 of lockdown but not to worry – the end is nigh. Probably not words you want to hear in relation to Covid 19 but hey, it’ll be over by Christmas brayed Prime Minister, Boris Johnson – the man who reads nothing, knows nothing and says whatever springs into his head – no, not  Italian party filled with glamorous Russian women hosted by Russian oligarch, Lebedev, media mogul and owner of the Independent in England. I’m saying no, but possibly.

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Anyway, let’s get onto more intelligent life. Spotted a couple of yellow hammers this week on two occasions around the same spot. One was singing that familiar refrain, a little bit of bread and no cheese, in a birdy fashion. Very pretty birds with vivid yellow from breast to head; the gilets jaunes of the bird world. According to the RSPB website yellow hammers are in decline to the tune of 54% loss between 1970 and 1998. Don’t have more recent figures but they’re surely not good. As with so many of our songbirds they’ve lost the battle against industrial farming that swallows up every cultivated field inch thereby depriving birds of seed sources around the margins where wildflowers and grasses once thrived. On another walk we spotted a jay, apparently cooling off with its wings spread over a tree branch. I managed a not very good photograph of it from behind before the bird realised there were potential enemies around and flew off. Another unusual discovery was a giant tiger moth in among grass as the side of the road. I think it may have been dead but didn’t want to poke it, in case it wasn’t.

Neighbour is missing her daily early morning swim since pools closed down in March. From what she was saying I suspect that when they do open she won’t be rushing to take the plunge, irrespective of her longing to exercise in water again, for she realises that pools could be Covid hotspots despite chlorinated water. Have you ever looked down when swimming in them? And that’s only what you can see. Pee and spit tends to dissipate. Then there’s social distancing. Our local pool isn’t large. In fact, it’s quite a bit smaller than first designed because bigger pools cost bigger bucks so it’s narrower and that means very few swimmers could be safely accommodated to comply with social distancing. Plus, changing areas, showers and lockers would create points of contact. When it comes down to it, swimming pools being confined by necessary number reductions would become a costly public service. Get in the sea.

Anticipating spring blossom on fruit trees and bushes is always exciting during the dark days of winter. And fairly soon following on from the flowers the fruits swell. So far so good but then if you aren’t an idle or wasteful harvest comes round super-fast. While picking apples is easy-peasy lemon squeezy, picking blackcurrants and other small fruit, specially gooseberries, is largely just a chore. Sweet Alpine strawberries are the exception, coming in penny numbers.

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Still we enjoy eating our way through frozen supplies in succeeding months so once the little blighters are packed into their plastic boxes we can relax. But I’m getting ahead of myself for we have a huge crop of large glossy blackcurrants ready for picking. Redcurrants, too, although I doubt we’ll pick many as we’re not so keen on them and certainly not as keen on them as our blackbirds who just love them. I used to make jam. A lot of jam and jelly and redcurrants are good to mix in with other fruits because they are tart and have lots of pectin to help with set but we have jam still from years back so I’m not inclined to add to the collection. Anyway, in a rush of blood to the head I threw out our store of empty honey jars last winter. I like to use honey jars for jam because the shape makes storage easy and you can get your spoon or knife in easier than with some narrower jars. And don’t forget to pick blackcurrant leaves. They make delicious tea.

 Visited neighbours in their garden this week. It’s a garden like no other garden. Once it was the walled garden of the local ‘big house’ and retains a very long and very tall stone wall on which are attached many old and established espalier fruit trees; apples, pears, plums – with a few recent replacements for lost plants – bought to match the old metal labels still attached to the wall.

Within the vast area of this garden is a large skelp of water – rather two skelps of water plus a burn running through the property. No wonder we hardly see our neighbour, he’s got so much work to do in the garden. All that said, I noticed their blackcurrants were way less big and glossy than ours!

After a tour of the policies it was time for a cup of tea (each couple providing their own) but the fine morning had given way to a changeable afternoon and the light shower that began when we sat down, on appropriately socially distanced seats, turned to pelting rain. But we’re Scottish. So out came the umbrellas and we doggedly sat on, drinking tea and chatting till eventually we decided to pull the plug, so to speak. Mind you, that was after about two hours of conversation and it was hardly surprising that despite umbrellas – and partly because of the rain streaming down them onto us, we squelched our way home to peel off every stitch of sodden clothing down to the scud. Good to catch up, though.

Woke one morning to discover some varmint had overturned a bird feeder stand and made off with one of the peanut feeders. A prolonged search and application of track and trace revealed it towards the roadside. This was not the first time we’ve lost feeders and corvids were initially suspected, along with squirrels because we haven’t heard badgers in the garden lately, despite the bedroom window being open most nights.

 One night-time raid was quickly attributed to badgers when a seed feeder was destroyed – totally flattened – obviously by feet bigger than belonging to any crow, jackdaw or squirrel.

We don’t mind badgers getting their fair share of food but eating a whole container of peanuts is not fair shares. It’s gluttony. Now we take that particular peanut feeder in at nights because attaching the container to the stand with wire didn’t work and we lost it the following night as well. Other peanut feeders are hung higher up on tree branches and they stay out as Brenda Badger is too short to get at them.

 Finished revising my old novel Banana Pier which took almost as long as writing it. Actually no, it didn’t but my slow pace of work meant it was a long-drawn-out business. Decided to publish it on Amazon which is not the easiest thing in the world to do, I find. But easier than the long wait for rejection from a publisher. I retitled it, too, as Evil Brings Men Together which says more about the story than Banana Pier which is a local reference and might have led some to imagine it a book on port commerce.

 I used Amazon a few months back to publish my latest novel, set in Germany in the early 1600s featuring the brilliant artist Albrecht Durer. I don’t think Durer got up to the dodgy business in The Durer Affair, despite the name – then, again maybe he did. When I was writing it – I’d imagine Durer and his mates, Willy Pirkheimer and Otto Beck, accompanying me on my daily walks or sitting in the backseat of the car. I realise how crazy that must sound but it was a way of getting into the characters and, hey, I’ve got a vivid imagination! I never tried the same trick with my protagonist from Banana Pier cum Evil Brings Men Together – for obvious reasons.

Not much time left for TV and book. Now reading another Ethel Mannin book – one off our bookshelves – Brief Voices; an autobiography from 1959. A different side to her character emerges through these essays about her travels and impressions of different parts of the world but I don’t have my notes to hand so I’ll try to write something on this next time.

 Working our way through Series 2 of Bordertown on Netflix. We’re fairly certain we watched Series 1 ages ago and weren’t enthralled by it but Series 2 is absolutely absorbing television. A million miles different from Deadwind I complained about last time, Bordertown is well crafted, well-scripted and directed. Excellent stuff.

 Stay safe.

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