Posts tagged ‘Bordertown’

July 23, 2020

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.

July 17, 2020

Year of the Plague 2020: a far from average year. Self-isolation diary week 17

The door has been wedged open for lockdowners in week 17. Some of us have peered out and aren’t sure we like what we see and have shut that door again. Some of us have raced out over the doorstep and were last seen driving to a campsite, our cars packed with trashy camping gear designed to be left behind as litter in some of Scotland’s most beautiful settings thereby destroying the beauty of those settings that attracted us in the first place. Some of us have hot-footed it down to our local bar or non-food shops to purchase stuff because we can’t ever get enough of stuff. Some of us are off to see our mates – although some of us have never stopped seeing our mates, if we’re being honest – certainly not the two driving very noisy motorbikes with lawn mower engines around these parts.

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Our granddaughter who lost her job recently received a not unexpected double blow when her partner heard he is also likely to lose his job. Working for oil and gas related companies is proving hazardous for many folk in the northeast nowadays with petroleum production seen as yesterday’s technology. Things are already tough but surely they are about to get far tougher.

When granddaughter and partner visited us this week it was intended to be a garden call but the afternoon was overcast and not too warm so we had a socially-distanced catch-up indoors instead with a thorough clean once they left. Good to see them but there’s an edge to visits in these Covid 19 times.

Took ourselves up to the nearby recumbent stone circle at Old Keig. Doesn’t matter how many times we visit the partial remains of this stone circle – Aberdeenshire’s recumbents are unique – we are in awe of the sheer size of this slab of stone. How on earth did people move such immense rocks – uphill, as many are positioned? Several stones from the circle have been removed and scattered but the recumbent and its flankers remain. Hardly surprising.

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The emergency-grow-our-own salads have been proving their worth for ages now. All sorts of leafy things, some decidedly peppery, and in rainbow colours (kind of.) Gherkins coming thick and fast. Courgettes doing well and peas swelling up. I still have to do rigorous slug/snail searches of the sacks we are growing our runner beans in as they’ve reduced the bottom growth to lacy doilies. They get thrown to their new life across our burn, usually, but I have witnessed ancestors of these snails determinedly working their way back over the bridge to our garden before now.

It is also getting to that time we’ll have to pick the blackcurrants. And we’re only finishing last years such was the size of the crop then. Raspberries offer a change of flavour for grazing gardeners but the cherries are well out of reach in the wild French cherry tree my husband grew from seed a number of years ago. Every year we think it’s stopped growing. But it hasn’t. As it is disappearing into the vast blue yonder of sky we’re contemplating getting someone in to cut down to size.

 Dreams have become more memorable recently. Is this a pandemic thing? Usually my dreams evaporate into the morning light but one that has stuck with me involved a quiz, much like the family quizzes we’ve been doing except it was taking place in a bar/café/room. A large dark-haired woman who spoke a combination of English and Welsh was asking the questions in a language I couldn’t decipher. Despite not knowing what she was saying I attempted answering but couldn’t keep up – although there were only three questions by the time I woke. Apart from the language things I couldn’t get my pencil to write my answers on the inside of a chunky grey woolly man’s jumper – which I suspect was a reference to Nordic drama.

 The Nordic drama causing me so much angst was Deadwind from Finland. Now we are partial to all things Nordic but this should have been entitled Deadloss. Why we watched two series I don’t know. It was formulaic and derivative of the excellent The Bridge, down to its main protagonist, Sofia, a dead ringer for Saga, also clad in a coat. Like Saga she lives for her work with family coming a long way back in her priorities. While The Bridge was well-scripted and directed Deadwind is full of ridiculous howlers such as her referring to photographs she hadn’t previously seen and while investigating a deserted house gets out of her car and goes straight to a flower border, lifts up a plant and discovers the concealed whatever it was. Plain silly. Evidence turns up at the drop of a hat. Where Sofia wins over Saga is in her ability to shine a torch in the invariably dark buildings she forever enters. Seems there’s a lightbulb shortage in Finland. And, the grey woolly jumper in my dream was presumably related to Alex in Series 1 of Deadwind. He ay wore chunky knits. Finland has also produced Bordertown which is pretty good and way above Deadloss in terms of production values.

Alternative viewing came in the form of Netflix’s Midnight Diner – Tokyo Stories … for any who have nostalgia for 1970s comedy – this is up your street. Plus you get some food ideas.

Coming to the end of the journey with Ethel Mannin around Germany. Still enjoying it. She was greatly affected by the appalling condition of children in Germany post-war – many were orphans or abandoned and living like ‘stray animals, pale faced, elf-like,’ ‘living in holes in the ground beneath ruined buildings’ and some very tiny ones didn’t even know their own names. Russian occupying forces organised an event to encourage adoption of these kids called the Lost Baby Show.

 Going back to living in rubble. Mannin tells how some landlords continued to charge people rents for living in bombed remains of flats and cellars where people were reduced to sleeping on the ground or on tables.  The United Nations Refugee Relief Agency (UNRRA) was known in Germany as You Never Really Relieved Anyone. There are some terrible accounts of suffering – few of which ever found their way into the British press.

Mannin reserves her greatest criticism for a Brian Connell of the Daily Mail for distorting the truth about conditions in Germany at the time such as claiming food supplies there were greater than back in Britain. Mannin never tires of saying – some in Germany did live the high life with never ending supplies of champagne and cognac for Britain’s top military brass and journalists who were treated as officers. But for the German people food was virtually impossible to obtain. Cigarettes became currency. Folk were paid for services in fags – virtually never smoked because they were the only means of bartering for something to eat, usually through the black market. A joke in Germany ran – “anyone found alive after 1947 would be prosecuted for black market activities.”

 Stay safe.