Posts tagged ‘coronavirus’

July 3, 2020

Year of the Plague 2020 – a far from average year. Self-isolation diary week 15

Bit of unusual activity this week of eased lockdown number 15. Nothing that would warrant much of a mention outside of a far from average year but I suppose for many people whose lives have not been personally affected by Covid19 there’s a growing sense of confidence that it’s not so bad or it’s probably passed us by. Neither impression has any logic to it. Fact is Covid 19 has not gone away. It will not be going anywhere for years and years and years. Some of us have, fortunately, not contracted it. One day some of us who mistakenly think we’ve beaten it will be nonchalantly rounding a corner and walk slap bang into the virus.

But, as I was saying, there is a feeling among some of us that it might be okay to go out a bit more. Now, I don’t mean go to a crowded beach, a crowded shop, any sort of pub or the hairdresser. I mean meet up with a handful of tried and tested family members.

Diver and Mexican on gates at Dunecht Estate

 

So, this week we did just that. Met up with our daughter and son-in-law and went for a walk – a very long walk as it transpired – through Dunecht Estate. Hot day and there were lots of exquisite damsel flies flitting about. Dunecht Estate was owned by the Cowdrays who made their cash in Mexican oil and salvage hence their arms on the gate. The body of one of the Cowdrays disappeared from the family vault at the Aberdeenshire estate. This particular wealthy Earl was fond of travelling, a hobby he carried on after his death, in Italy in 1880. His corpse journeyed across the Alps, across the North Sea, and was driven by coach up through Scotland to Dunecht – during one of the worst snowstorms ever to hit this country, it is said, so delaying his arrival by weeks. Hope he was well embalmed. Local poacher/rat-catcher led police to the shallow grave where the body lay for many months and was sentenced to five years penal servitude – as poor people often were.

Next day we travelled a little further afield to visit a relation of my husband who lives down the coast. She’s on her own and has ‘neighbour trouble.’ Boy has she got ‘neighbour trouble.’ I think that subject should be avoided for the present. During a brief visit we took a quick shufty at a track one of the village folk restored down the steep slope to the shore. A bench at the top includes names of local people who have died – a nice touch and a map of the world next to the bench so you can find your bearings between Aberdeenshire’s coast and a’wy else. The sun was shining. The day very warm and the sea was sparkling blue but it was time to leave and westwards we headed, over that marvel of the northeast, the bypass, and home.

But in the way of these things – the relief of scarcity comes in threes – like buses. Our third and final outing of last week was closer when we took our old cat to the vet. As usual our travel-averse cat threw up during the short drive there. He was handed in and duly handed back out with some expensive eye drops. He really is nae keen on eye drops.

There was also a flurry of phone calls this week. North to Strathpeffer and south to friends in Tunbridge Wells in England ( a place whose name I can never remember, Tunbridge Wells that is.) Most of the talk was Covid related, though not entirely thank goodness. Doesn’t sound like anything major is happening in either place.

We also had three deliveries this week. Our new garden chairs arrived. Well-packaged in large boxes lined with insulation that would have made perfect plant-rearing containers were they not made out of cardboard. Our self-assembly Adirondack chairs proved challenging. Between bewildering written instructions and absurd illustrations what should have been a straightforward assembly turned into an afternoon of scratching heads to the point my husband was about to drill out a larger hole for one set of screws when I suggested swapping over a couple of things – it worked. Second seat was put together in no time. We like them.

A second delivery was also due from Royal Mail. I didn’t worry when it failed to arrive ‘next day’ since where we live there is no such thing as a ‘next day’ delivery. But when it didn’t come the following day I was getting a bit pee-ed off. About tea time my husband called down from upstairs asking if I was expecting a delivery as there was a man walking about the garden. On looking out our front door in that tentatively Covid way, hoping not to bang heads with someone round the other side of the porch, I spotted the said man, large box in hand, about to go back to his car at the end of our drive (it’s a very short one.) I shouted to him and he shouted back that Royal Mail had dropped parcels at his place, they’d opened my box but they hadn’t got Covid. I thanked him for driving it to us and he dropped it where he was, at the end of the drive. Now despite my gratitude to him for taking it to us and not just arranging for Royal Mail to uplift it, it occurred to me it was a funny place to leave the heavy box, it being much too heavy for me. And open by now.

The third delivery was our fortnightly grocery delivery. We’ve never yet received an order exactly as we’ve selected but they usually come there-abouts. Substitutes are fairly normal so what was unusual was that no coffee arrived. Not even a substitute. Now I don’t drink coffee but luckily I’d ordered ground coffee from the supplier of the box in the drive so not all was lost. The perils of online shopping.

mix 15

There was a less-than-dramatic thunder storm around 5 am on the Saturday. Saturday being the day I won the family virtual quiz at night!! But before that I got up and unplugged just about everything that runs on electricity for the duration of the thunder and lightning. We’ve lost electrical stuff previously to lightning strikes so don’t take chances.

Well into eating our last-minute-let’s-grow- salad crops. It is the way to eat if you can manage it. Radish contest ongoing. More on that next week, hopefully.

All quiet on the house martin front. They’re still active and so far the nests are holding up. Long may that continue. Hearing a cuckoo occasionally and owl at night (suppose it’s a night owl.) Just the one I think which is a bit sad. Those starlings that persisted in nesting in a tree hole frequented by jackdaws appear to be proven right for there are lots and lots of starlings flying around here now and quite a few are feeding off the seeds and nuts in the garden. Such striking plumage when the sun hits it. Haven’t seen the heron for ages. Don’t know what that means. Certainly whenever I look down into the burn that runs alongside our garden there are no fish – which is unusual. Think we know who to blame for that Ms/Mr Heron.

Made some pancakes half and half with banana and ordinary SR flour and added a handful of some freeze-dried raspberries which were delivered last week. The pancakes rose beautifully but were not dissimilar to shoe leather texture. Eaten fresh were fine. Left a day or two – forget it. Those raspberries are strange. Astronaut food, our son described them which I suppose they are. Like instant coffee. Freeze dried, that is, not the taste. Disappointed with the pancakes I decided to bake what turned out to be a large consignment of flapjack-type biscuits made from a huge amount of porridge oats, dark sugar, sour cherries, a handful of aronia berries, lots of chopped up dried apricots, desiccated coconut, ground ginger, cinnamon, syrup, marg – think that was about it, oh sunflower seeds. Message here is bung in what you like, mix it up, drop spoonfuls onto baking tray and bake for about 15 to 25 mins depending on how chewy or crunchy you want them. You cannot go wrong with anything that uses porridge oats. It is the best food ever.

Just time to tell you to watch the 1933 film of Alice in Wonderland with Gary cooper as the White Knight (funny scene on horseback), Cary Grant as the Mock Turtle (doesn’t look a bit like him,) W.C. Fields as Humpty Dumpty (absolutely brilliant) and Edna May Oliver as the Red Queen (pitch perfect performance.) Alice (Charlotte Henry) is good as well. Some very funny lines. Amazon Prime or YouTube. But, whatever you do, do-not-watch  The Sinner on Netflix. Annoying and stupid.

Nearly finished biography of Walter Benjamin. It’s a tragic tale of victims of fascism in the 1930s but the guy would have driven me mad. More on it next time, hopefully.

Stay safe.

June 26, 2020

The Year of the Plague 2020 – a far from average year. Self-isolation diary week 14.

Fourteen weeks under lockdown have come and gone. The strange thing is, as several friends and family agree, time under lockdown has passed very quickly. The weeks fly by. It’s a strange phenomenon because logic tells me time should have dragged. It hasn’t.

Despite that this weekly blog is getting later and later. Tuesday is our switchover point into the next week and already it’s Friday but I won’t reveal any of the exciting goings-on between Tuesday and today until next week. And to be honest there aren’t really any.

So, week 14 was quiet down our way. Managed the Financial Times Weekend Magazine crossword in record time (for me.) One or two health issues again but nothing major only enough to curtail my walks. Weather’s been very warm in the main and the vegetables* continue to flourish – or as our granddaughter might say, are looking lush. So lush they need potting up again which meant we had to don masks and gloves and make a rare visit to our local filling station for more compost and growbags. I’d been at my husband to buy more for a few weeks since he only bought very few, clearly far too few, on our initial foray out. Well, what d’ye know – growbags were sold out. Take 3 bags of compost, he then advised. I looked at the sign beside them – special offer on 2 so we bought 4. That will do us but we could have had all this ready weeks ago.

During this pandemic lockdown I’ve noticed there are two kinds of people – those who think – ‘aha, pandemic – shortages, let’s stock up just in case some things become scarce or unavailable later’ – and those who say, ‘but we’ve already got one in the cupboard, let’s wait till we use that up then buy another.’

NO!

Friends confirm that couples comprise one of each. Obviously the keep yer cupboard/garden shed stocked are the ones to be admired. Living on the edge chancer types are likely to disappear down an evolutionary blind alley. Just wait and see.

I am in charge of ordering online. We both usually sit together to carry out an initial grocery order once a fortnight but then I go back in adding this and that. It’s called power. Power of ordering on my laptop.

mix for 14

I’ve never been someone who’s loved traipsing around shops. I used to do a twice yearly clothes shop in town when I would buy lots of stuff at once then never go near the shops again for six months or more. However, lockdown has turned me into a shopping addict. I especially like gazing at what health and wholefood outlets have to offer. A lot. That awkward bit between clicking on an item and actually getting it delivered is the frustrating part. What is it about some delivery companies they don’t understand about their central role – to deliver goods bought? I’ve been at war with Hermes parcels who received some bird food on 1 June at which point it disappeared down a rabbit hole apparently because it didn’t ever arrive. No response on twitter. No response by email. They have a website that is useless. They have a virtual assistant called Holly. Holly is useless. I now check with companies before giving them my orders because there’s no point paying for something that fails to arrive.

Car MOTs were given 6 months reprieve or rather a deferral at the start of Covid but ours had a little problem so we booked it into our local garage for a service and MOT. Typically the ‘little problem’ didn’t show up at the garage – what is it with cars playing up when they go in for a service? No idea how long the garage has been re-opened for but they say they are very busy which is good. Of course we were nervous putting the car in and paying, being canny about coronavirus and rarely out. Some of the difficulties were resolved by getting my husband to drop the car off in addition to liberal applications of anti-bacterial gel over a’thing. Yes, it passed its MOT.

martins 14

Not much to report of the house martins. They seem happy. Career around like boy and quine racers out of their nests (plural – this is a palatial nest as nests go) flying around our tiny village and back into the nests (plural.) It is with pride we watch them in the evenings, from our massive sittingroom window, as they dart back and fore – part of the family.

Our actual family participated in the weekly weekend quiz. Good fun as usual but I really don’t want any more questions about hot chillies. And then there was the terrible news that our granddaughter is losing her job after furlough finishes at end July. It was a blow to her and more so when her scumbag boss texted her the news at 11.30 at night. There will be many like her looking for jobs in a market that supports fewer jobs. Here in Aberdeenshire where so many people are reliant on oil and gas that’s bad news in many ways and she may not be the last member of the family to be looking for work.

Babylon Berlin is great television. It is so good at the dramatic bits although sometimes they are laugh out loud funny. Terrific railway scene that for some reason reminded me of The 39 Steps although the only similarity is a train chuffing along and some dare-devilry.  The series drains the viewer. Wrings out every emotion and elbows the poor viewer over a cliff – every episode. So good.

Finished Gault’s The Provost. Glad I did and I was skipping the final few pages as it was becoming boring by then. Still worth looking at for the vocabulary (see last blog.) Picked up W G Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn only to realise I’d read it and I’m not keen on re-reading books unless it’s Hogg’s Justified Sinner so asked husband what was piled up at his side of the bed. I picked over a copy of Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy but wasn’t much interested in it – too many pages, writing too small, no detectives. Then, taking my cue from something said on Bablyon Berlin I asked if we had any books by Walter Benjamin. We have. I thought he was American as I’ve only heard his name pronounced Walter Benjamin and not Valter Benyamin. But he wasn’t. German – a Bavarian. I don’t read philosophy but was curious and have started with a biography of him by Esther Leslie. It’s fairly interesting although I don’t like her habit of referring to Benjamin as Walter. Bit too chummy. I don’t think I’ll become a disciple of his but who knows by next week?

Stay safe.

*not Tories, the useful kind

June 19, 2020

Year of the Plague in 2020 a not very average year. Self-isolation diary week 13

 

Who’d have thunk it – 13 weeks in lockdown. It’s becoming a way of life.

A week in pictures

England is opening up – for business and doubtless greater numbers of Covid victims in two or three weeks’ time. They were to be opening schools but have now decided not to – too dangerous said critics. They were to abandon England’s poorest most vulnerable children to go hungry through the summer holidays but have succumbed to a tirade of criticism and dumped that policy – Tories don’t fall far from their principle of ‘me first and always.’

Tory Messiah, Johnson, bragged to the world in that distinctive bumptious style of his – each utterance stuffed with superlatives signifying absolutely nothing just like his doppelganger, Trump, across the herring pond. Where was I? Oh, yes, Boris Johnson boasted to the world that England would have a ‘world beating’ tracing system from June – not any virus tracing system but a ‘world beating’ one capable of tracking 10,000 new cases a day from 1 June. It didn’t. He just made that up. It seems he makes everything up. So shambolic was No 10’s track and trace system some English folk were being instructed to travel to Northern Ireland for tests.

Johnson’s Cabinet of idiots, including his Foreign Secretary, Raab, a man so ignorant he thought taking the knee came from Game of Thrones, bumble on until their disastrous policies are ridiculed by the public to the extent they grow worried for their jobs – not the wellbeing of the population just their own careers.

It’s interesting to compare the handling of Covid 19 by adjoining neighbours – Scotland and England. For all the problems and faults in the early handling of the pandemic in Scotland with much too close a liaison with Johnson’s disastrous regime Scotland’s FM has risen to the challenge and her strong delivery at daily briefings and months into the virus demonstrates she is conversant with it. The dumb blond at No 10 shirks his duty, tries to duck responsibility for good reason, he is woefully under-informed about Coronavirus and is a liability to his team of nodding and braying donkeys around the Cabinet table – shouting about ‘world beating’ this and that and delivering nothing.

The term collective is absent from England’s Covid 19 briefings because collective signifying ‘the people’ is an anathema to him and his fellow Tories. On the other hand collective is a term often heard at Scotland’s Covid19 briefings – not accidentally because there really are significant differences in attitudes north and south of the border between Scotland and England. Scots tend to value sacrifice in the public good while in England greater emphasis is placed on the individual. Thatcher exemplified this English attribute while making a public exhibition of herself when she tried to tell the Scottish kirk, at the Sermon on the Mound, how they should interpret Christianity – arguing it was about the individual and should not be a basis for improving society as a whole for there was no such thing as society. She was told where to stick her message.

Some birds form societies – or rather they group together. Others live more individual lives. Robins and wrens belong in the first group while sparrows and chaffinches follow a collective lifestyle. Our house martins began as three and are now – goodness knows how many. They decided to re-apply themselves to the task of nest construction and now there are two semis attached to the gable and the birds are very active, flying in that darting style of theirs, feeding on airborne insects. Hope these two stay-put long enough for them to raise a few broods.

Prepare yourselves for a piece of sad news. I found a spotted flycatcher on the floor of our balcony. Beautiful little bird. I’d never seen one before but immediately recognised it. Anyway it had flown against the glass and was dead. I’ve just looked them up. They are in serious decline and this wee mite possibly had just flown in from Africa. It’s always horrible to find a dead bird but knowing that one adds to the species’ decline is depressing. There’s been a 50% decline in their numbers in the UK over the past 25 years.

Walks as per usual – meeting the same people, usually at the same time of day. Crossing road has become a shared practice with one of my neighbours but most just stick to their route irrespective of how close we’d have to pass if I didn’t cross the road and maybe a reason I like walking in dreich weather as that tends to thin out the opposition.

Our Saturday night family virtual get-together came in the form of a murder mystery this week. We all dressed up for our parts – everyone looked amazing. Some adopted great accents but I, who spend my days talking in tongues from all over the UK, found I couldn’t manage anything other than my own when it came to ACTION! Suppose that’s a future stage career knocked on the head.

When it isn’t Saturday our evening television has moved on from films to Babylon Berlin. Thought it looked a bit Readers’ Digest drama set to begin with but it’s good. Very good. Really, really good. Great characters – which is how we like our drama and exciting set pieces. But poor Stefan. 

From RLS last time to another Scottish author, John Gault’s The Provost. This is the first political novel written in English, in 1822, and as sure as eggs is eggs, politics hasn’t altered much in the past two centuries. The novel as I’ve said is written in English but it’s Scottish English and there’s a substantial glossary of Scottish words that will be unfamiliar to non-Scots readers and many Scots nowadays given how universal English English/American English is in Scotland. Among the richly descriptive Scottish terms are beauties such as clanjamphry meaning worthless; jookerie meaning deceit; fashed – troubled – now familiar to many through its use on Outlander – ‘dinnae fash yersel’ Sassenach.’ Phrases such as ‘the cloven foot of self-interest was then and now to be seen to be aneath the robe of public principle’ and ‘the flatulence of theoretical opinions’ are already in my little notebook of dastardly things to say about our current gang of self-interested politicos. It is not an easy read for the modern reader because its style is that of the early 19th century but it is a significant, amusing and perceptive piece of writing – said to be recognised as brilliant by the poet Coleridge.

Stay Safe.

June 12, 2020

Year of the Plague in 2020 a far from average year – self-isolation diary. Week 12.

 

It’s been a quieter week in so many ways from the frenzied worries of week 11 and most outstanding were the ginger biscuits I baked and a drive to the next town to pick up filters for our water supply which as many of you will know is private and is what drains through the land. The soil in this part of northeast Scotland is acid so the water draining through it without going through a chemical filter will turn hair , shower etc green and corrodes pipes. Our acid land grows excellent rhododendrons, however, see below.

mix 11

Week 12 was heralded in with a change in the weather. In place of weeks of warm sunshine came the wind – from the north by the feel of it – and some rain. I’ve been hoping for rain for several weeks (for the aforementioned water supply) and it arrived. Hurrah! But, not enough to raise the level of the local burns. Boo! The final day of our week 12 brought a return to very warm sunny, dry weather. Hurrah! and Boo!

Did I tell you previously our house martin’s nest collapsed? Well, the saga continues. I suspect the nest collapsed because of the drought and lack of sticky mud for building. With the rain showers came, I assumed, mud supplies but they continued to fiddle – going through the motions of building but not actually getting anywhere. Sound familiar in the human world? Are these martins too young? Too inexperienced? Not the brightest martins in the circlage? (apparently that’s the collective term.) They managed a tiny ledge and fly back and fore to it but don’t extend it.

Ver excited to see a colourful wagtail on a table in the garden. Thought it might be a yellow wagtail because it was so, well – yellow, but it was possibly a grey wagtail which belies its plumage. There are lots of pied wagtails around here but the first time I’ve spotted its more colourful kin. Oh, and before I finish on the birdies till next time, that most colourful and eagerly anticipated one, the lesser spotted woodpecker is/are stocking up on peanuts, big time. When they land on the feeder the other birds scatter. Very wise.

I have about 6 variations of manageable walk (for me)  in the immediate vicinity of our house – make that 7 for an old right of way that’s been overgrown by evergreen tree branches for years has been reopened. Hurrah! For years I felt I should be proactive and chop down the offending branches but wasn’t up to the job and now someone has done it. I believe the path was used by people further down country getting to and from church so was probably in use for a long time before someone’s garden encroached across it. Only downside was having to tip-toe between plastic doggy bags of poop, generously abandoned by dog walkers. There’s an awful lot of them being left around here for some reason. Someone new arrived in the area? No idea. Why put them into plastic and leave them? No idea. Hopefully the reinstated path will stay open and as horse riders are using it there’s a good chance it will.

The yellow broom lining part of the path adds to the treat of walking the novel right of way. It is spectacular this year, along with the whin which has been blooming in remarkable quantities. May blossom, too – the hawthorn is looking wonderful and smells almost as good as the whin though not quite. Ne’er cast a cloot till the may is oot – and it is so cast away, though in week 12 you’d have been well-advised to ca’ canny and keep haud o’ yer simmet for a bitty yet.

The verges and hedgerows are ablaze with pink and white bladder campion, yarrow, cow parsley, myrrh, daisies, pink polygonum, yellow fleabane and dandelions. Chestnut trees’ white candelabra are spectacular against green leaves and blue skies. Grasses – so many varieties and colours tangled in with vetches and birdsfoot trefoil. A skylark sang as it loitered over a field and an oyster catcher hurtled across the grass peep, peeping to clear the way. And joy of joys a tiny lizard scooted across the long grass at the side of the road on a roasting hot day. Coronavirus has meant the council hasn’t been cutting back the verges and they’ve been looking like they used to, full of plants and beasties – and immensely fascinating for us humble pedestrians.

mix 22

Our garden rhododendrons are mostly past. We have spectacular ones like the one that has enormous pale pink bells and grows tall to tiny pot azaleas. Tree peonies are big in our garden such as the rockii pictured previously. The Laburnum tends to flower prodigiously every second year and this year is one of those. Fabulous. Unfortunately the rowan next to it which looks lovely with its pale pink berries later in the summer is covered with blossom that smells like carrion, rotten flesh, somewhat detracting from the sweetness of the laburnum. The first year it did this had us searching high and low for some unfortunate animal’s remains. The smell must be attractive to some pollinators, presumably night-visiting moths.

Couple of films stood out this week. The highly successful Korean film Parasite which I didn’t much like. It questions who are the parasites – a poor family who worm their way into a rich household through deceit or the wealthy couple and their children who live in a stunning designer home and are dependent on poor people to help them live their lives. It began fine then degenerated into a Whitehall farce and ended up with blood all over the carpet – or rather lawn. Whatever floats your boat.

What did float my boat was an American film about a former army vet and his daughter living in the wilds of Oregon. Leave No Trace is a beautifully paced, totally absorbing film about how their relationship changes when the inevitable happens. It’s as subtle as Parasite is frenetic. Well acted. Recommended.

Bedtime reading has been mainly Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. My favourite book about doppelgangers is his fellow-Scot, James Hogg’s masterly, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. In fact, it is my favourite book of all. Stevenson’s work is, of course, a far-better known classic and a straightforward read. Our copy is an old one picked up in a second-hand bookshop many years ago, where all the best books spring from. It includes a lovely engraving and the font is large and easy on the eye.

Stay safe.

May 29, 2020

Year of the Plague in 2020 a far from average year – self-isolation diary. Week 10

Looking back at week 10 I have to report it was a most unusual week.

We had a liaison in a deserted graveyard with our son to receive some health supplies I needed – all gloved and masked up. Social distancing was practised throughout the short liaison which was odd, to say the least. Then it was straight back home and the bag taken from car boot to the quarantine room aka spare bedroom aka pantry for three days. He had slipped a honey comb in with the essentials so looking forward to that.

A couple of days later our daughter and son-in-law brought other medicine and rare commodities such as bags of flour and fresh yeast. It was a lovely warm day and chairs had been set out sufficiently distant from each other (pairs of) and we enjoyed a nearly normal visit albeit we sprayed their chairs and left them outside for several days afterwards.

Another major variation this week was a virtual family quiz. After some instructions earlier in the day from our granddaughter’s partner we got set up and it went remarkably well. Granddaughter spent hours compiling an excellent set of questions and really deserved her glass of wine during the quiz. Make that glasses. Tell me how many glasses does it take to affect eyesight? Grandson thought question about the Spanish Steps was a trick one but I couldn’t follow his logic of assuming they were somewhere in Spain since all steps in Spain are, er Spanish. Also since he has been up and down the Spanish Steps in Rome with US we weren’t too sympathetic when he struggled to get that one right. Well, he didn’t.

Despite all the medicines delivered last week wasn’t a great one for me but nothing too major. Managed to make some delicious griddle cakes which are a bit like girdle scones. Felt obliged to make something other than the bread my husband bakes given the amount of flour we now have; strong white, wholemeal, rye, spelt, Polish, plain white, SR white and banana flour. Yes, banana flour! And if any bananas turn up in our supermarket delivery this weekend I might bake a banana loaf using it. Bananas are a rare treat as we try to eat organic and they seem as rare as hen’s teeth although there were always plenty around when we used to get out shopping. What we did enjoy last week was an organic watermelon but I don’t think I’ll be making watermelon bread anytime soon.

The weather has been perfect for watermelons which is great for us folk with gardens but not so great for people without. Speaking to a friend on the phone who told me of a friend of hers with severe breathing problems has not been out the whole lockdown. He stays in a small flat. That must be hard. Another of her friends is slowly recovering from Covid19. He was extremely touch and go months ago and his voice was badly affected by the tubes down his throat so that he is only now finding his voice again.

Leaf cover means I can no longer report the starling saga in the tree across the road. Haven’t heard any great ruckus so assuming all is well there. Meanwhile our martins are busy doing what house martins do, eating mainly and tearing around at high speed – sounds like teenagers. They have been surveying another gable at our house for nesting, presumably, because our neighbours have again this year hung plastic carrier bags on the outside of theirs to deter the birds from nesting. Believe me it isn’t a good look (in all senses.)

Runner beans, lazing ladybird, evening sky, red tree peony, griddle cakes (weel done)

Most of the plants being raised in the greenhouse are enjoying the fine weather outside along with everybody else. Runner beans still romping away as much as possible given they are confined in pots. The summer savoury is possibly ready to eat but if we do that would clear one of the pots. The radish competition is hotting up and my five seedling are, well, seedlings not seeds anymore.

Still struggling to find anything we can bear to watch more than twice on Netflix and Amazon Prime (that we haven’t already seen.) I’m sure there are lots but not got into anything recently.

Finished reading Dreamers. The fascists still won. Latest fiction – I read other stuff all the time but the books mentioned are my bedtime reading. The latest as I write this is big, described as an epic and you can’t get bigger than that. As some of you know I’m not keen on big, epic, books as they’re not easy to hold up in bed and I tend to get bored before the end. Will see how I get on with the Icelandic Independent People by Halldór Laxness. It was recommended by my husband, he described it as superb. Annie Proulx described it as funny, clever, sardonic and brilliant though not directly to me. I like Annie Proulx’s writing, her descriptions are funny, clever, sardonic and brilliant.

I’ve not commented on the politics of the lockdown this week. Nothing I can say can top the bizarre and corrupt roguery that’s been happening with the backing of Johnson. We expect nothing less from the contemptible Cummings. Think they’ve ramped up the deceit surrounding ‘we’re all in this together’ crap. From the ridiculous to the sublime. I am not uncritical of the Scottish Government’s handling of Coronavirus, specially at the beginning (and I recognise how difficult handling a new virulent virus must be) but Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon has put herself up for scrutiny day in day out. She is faced with a hostile press not like the lame bunch down south and shows she has detail at her fingertips, adroitly handling questions on a wide range of topics. Compare with the bumbling fool that is Johnson. People thought that was an act. How tragic it is to discover he really is not clever but the biggest fool in Christendom. And not only a fool but ignorant. Totally and woefully ignorant – turning his head from side to side looking for someone to dig him out of a ditch because he hasn’t the first clue about – well, anything. Maybe that’s what he meant by dead in a ditch – his reputation.

Stay well.

May 22, 2020

Year of the Plague in 2020 a far from average year – self-isolation diary Week 9

And here we are again. Week 9. Doesn’t seem too unlike week 8 although each week does have subtle and sometimes not so subtle variations mixed in. It struck me I don’t really say much or, indeed anything, about what I actually do through a week – and that’s not about to change. I’m not one of those let it all hang out types but here’s what I am prepared to tell you.

It won’t surprise you to know I’m still mouthing off at the politics of the Covid-19 pandemic. Machiavelli will be spinning in his grave at the sheer audacity of the lies being dished up daily by government which we are expected to take at face value. My main source of information about coronavirus is the Financial Times which has been unerringly informed and informative on the virus.

No 10 has been spinning like the proverbial top. Matt Hancock is as useless as he looks. No you haven’t ever reached 100,000 tests on any single day – my ref is the FT. And Boris Johnson is now in full Trumpian flow promising even more. It is quite, quite extraordinary that anyone retains any regard for Johnson. He is evidently a lazy, rather stupid man who hides behind other people – occasionally popping up for a photo opportunity such as hypocritically clapping NHS staff and carers and making ridiculous inflated promises.

starlings at nest

Another family birthday this week. Mainly virtual but virtual can be good fun. We’re fairly getting into this singing online lark. Presents were actual and delivered as promised by the Aberdeen shop entrusted to do so.

The starlings are still living dangerously, nesting under the eye of jackdaws and rumours of them having given up on the hole in the ash tree have been greatly exaggerated as they are indeed installed there. With the beech next door to them coming into leaf it will become more difficult to see what they’re up to very soon.

House martins' nest with remains of last years additional nest

The house martins have also being playing games with nest building. Came and seemed to go after a day or two. Then they came back again. We saw them mostly in the evenings for a start and surely they must have been constructing their classy nest under cover of darkness because suddenly it was up. Lots of activity now with them flying back and fore so suspect there are eggs there already or wee ones hatched out. I know why they build under eaves etc – as protection from rain. That probably sounds obvious but it’s a bit strange to build in the open given their nests are made out of regurgitated mud. Last year we had a lot of rain in late summer and the nest collapsed with young dropping to the ground. We tried to save them but couldn’t. The martins then quickly built a second nest, alongside with a late brood being produced. One little one was slow in flying and while the others were champing at the bit to fly away south it couldn’t leave the nest. Fairly sure it did eventually get away but it was late.

carob in greenhouse

Young plants doing well in the greenhouse and the plug gherkins arrived looking in great shape. Those runner beans are now going at a jog. This week we launched our inter-generational radish growing competition. Doesn’t have many rules so far, not even an end date which we’ll have to fix although there seems plenty time since there’s three days after sowing my five seeds there’s no sign of germination. Meant to mention in earlier blogs that our carob tree is looking tip top. It’s kept in the greenhouse, grown from a seed for a bonsai carob, bought by a friend in Aberdeen at least 15 years ago. The carob is also known as the locust tree or St John’s bread and in its natural Mediterranean habitat produces large edible seed pods. Among its uses is as a chocolate substitute. They can grow to up to 50 feet but doubt our little bonsai in a greenhouse in Aberdeenshire will get anywhere near that – or else we’re moving. And I doubt there will ever be a Lenathehyena chocolate. Which is a pity.

Lots of wandering around the garden, in between weeding. Still very dry. The burn is getting lower and lower. Our water supply is, to some extent, reflected by the amount of water flowing downhill. Will be one to watch.

Many of the rhododendrons are passed but several still to come. We have lots of rhododendrons as this is a great area for growing these acid-loving plants. Some are real beauts.

rhodie pic for blog

My marsh marigolds have come on a treat. Can’t tell you how I got them but they’ve taken to their habitat in the old sink. I’ve got a soft spot for marsh marigolds since I was a child in the Black Isle and they grew along the burn at Rosemarkie. Here we’ve grown different varieties on the burn bank but one by one they’ve been washed away downstream during spates.

Got another delivery of all sorts of goodies from a wholefood company in England. Our spare bedroom aka pantry aka food quarantine area smells like an eastern bazaar. We’ve almost finished eating the madjool dates we bought from them last time. There is nothing that can compare with a medjool date from Palestine. Big, fat, soft and bursting with flavour.

Our two hours evening screen watch has moved into suck it and see mode since we finished Breaking Bad. What’s that Walt White like!! We’ve finished Outlander. Good last episode after one or two weak ones. Had to give up on the latest Bosch as it’s far too ‘bitty’ and the fast, clipped accents of some actors are too difficult to make out.

Bedtime reading has moved from fiction to the tragic events of the Bavarian uprising in 1919. Dreamers by Volker Weidermann gives an account of the chaotic attempt to establish a worker’s state in Bavaria on the back of the Great War and its horrific impact on the lives of ordinary people. Dreamers because behind the movement and influential in it were writers and poets whose hearts were in the right place but they lacked the ruthless selfish drive of politicians for their movement to succeed. They had some ideas but no roadmap, as today’s parlance goes. Contrary to the impression always presented in the press and by politicians of most stripes it is the right who tend to be most violent and this was true in Bavaria in 1919 when the extreme right started to shoot anyone suspected of siding with the revolution. The intellectuals and workers who supported a people’s revolution and survived the bullets during the rightwing crackdown were hauled off to concentration camps when the right achieved what the left couldn’t in Bavaria following Hitler’s rise to power. He has a bit part in Dreamers though always denying he was anywhere near there. Wouldn’t recognise truth if it slapped him on the face. A true politician. They’re the real storytellers.

Stay safe.

May 7, 2020

Year of the Plague in 2020 a far from average year – self-isolation diary. Week 7

Week 7 has flown past. We’ve had jubilation from Matt Hancock, Westminster’s Health Minister, that 100,000 tests daily for Covid-19 have not only been achieved but surpassed by over 20,000 – never mind the detail that his numbers included test kits posted out, many without return labels making them meaningless, and examples of test centres with no test facilities. No doubt the posted out tests will be counted again when they come back in to be read. But why carp on detail when the press will present Mr Hancock of master of all he surveys. And it has been quietly forgotten that the number originally promised by Boris Johnson was 250,000 daily tests. Also being quietly parked is news that test numbers have fallen dramatically since the humungous effort to save face on one day at the end of April. Circuses.

Brexit shambles/ferry contracts to company with no ships/ easiest thing in the world to make commercial deals. Circus clowns.

Never mind the PM is back at work – as much as he ever is. Has anyone seen him – apart from that photograph of him strolling through a park with a cup of bought coffee in his chubby mit? Crisis? What crisis?

On the home front there is much germination happening in the greenhouse: chard, lettuce, radish, dill, nasturtiums, courgettes, basil, Scotch marigolds, runner and broad beans, tatties are sprouted. Did get a very few bags of compost but found little discs of peat? which was a thing many years ago but we didn’t use because they didn’t seem very good. Anyway, they’ve been brought back into service so we’ll see how that goes.

We’re a bit behind this year because we never intended growing any veg or extra herbs but with the weather being so warm and sunny plants will surely catch up. The begonia plugs have been potted up and are looking good.

We had two food deliveries this week. One muckle one on the Saturday and a smallish one on the Sunday. They went straight into quarantine, as per usual for the requisite three days, followed by the soap bath – for all except frozen and fridge foods which get the bath treatment immediately. Still not getting the eggs we order. Replacement of a box of tiny what look like pullets eggs arrived. Oh, and just for the sheer hell of it bought a vegan kate and sydney pie – in a tin!

Neighbour’s are getting restless. Visits from family, folk dropping off plants and even negotiations going on with some builder bloke. There are people who take this virus seriously and people who don’t.

Now carrying my mask on my walks, on my wrist so I can put it on when it’s needed. I live in a rural area and usually on my daily walk I don’t meet a soul but sometimes it’s non-stop pedestrian traffic. Had to put it on a few days ago when to my horror a young guy was walking towards me on the wrong side of the road – so I crossed with my mask on. We said our hellos but he had showed no sign of moving away. I also wore a mask when we went into our local filling station to buy the compost to grow our food this summer – first time into anything like a shop in 7 weeks. Another young guy came in after me, no mask and no social distancing but then the filling station had not taped off any area either. As I say some folk take it seriously.

Lots of lovely wildflowers and tree blossom to enrich every walk – primroses at the end of their blooming period, sadly, but wood anemones by the thousands still glowing white among the dappled shade. And the golden marsh marigolds are in full bloom in ditches and burns. What a fabulous sight.

The starlings across the road still can’t make up their minds over whether to nest in the tree hollow or not but the house martins are building in our gable end – three of them – not sure what that says about the home life of house martins. Great to watch them as they diligently create a masterpiece of engineering.

Must tell you about the curious case of two coos. Noticed one heifer struggling to remove a large piece of black plastic from her mouth and was obviously in some distress. Plastic is used to wrap silage for feeding the beasts. She was being watched by another cow who comes to her aid and pulls at the plastic with her mouth, freeing it and the two walked away as though nothing had happened. The co-operation of cows is a joy to behold.

Still reading MacDougall Hay’s Gillespie. Some great descriptive passages in this work – e.g. clouds described as ‘fantastically shaped islands asleep in that vast hyacinth sea’ and ‘the ambush of hope’ I’m going to purloin that. Brilliant.

Don’t have time to tell you about my friends just back from New Zealand who are horrified by the casual attitude of people here towards Coronavirus and furious at the UK government’s inaction. Maybe next time.

Stay safe.

April 29, 2020

Year of the Plague in 2020 a far from average year – self-isolation diary. Week 6

Week 6 was fairly uneventful. That is probably a good thing.

News and figures of casualties of Covid-19 continue to be grim. It’s a strange kind of reality that we grow accustomed to high numbers of dead and dying overnight from a single cause. It is a shock to the system that so many of those we are dependent on, carers and NHS staff of every level, have lost their lives to this terrifying virus. It is a sharp reminder that our complacent lives built around consumerist capitalism and celebrity banality are nothing compared with the force of a tiny virus with knobs on; rich 21st century nations brought to their knees.

We learn revelation by revelation prised from the mouths of politicians of rising numbers of dead. We learn there are so many different ways to count the dead – confirmed by tests, confirmed at hospitals, confirmed by GPs but some dead are omitted. Some in this case being around the same number again and way above the figure of 20,000 quoted by Sir Patrick Vallance on 17 March as the number below which would be a “good result.” As that figure has already been swamped by upwards of 100 per cent it appears the get-out-of-jail card “we are following the science” used as a shield by politicians has been exposed as not being quite THE science it was held up to be. THE science behind Westminster’s response to the virus is a secretive club called SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) and includes Sir Patrick Vallance who is the government’s chief scientific adviser. Westminster has been forced to admit that SAGE includes Johnson’s political aids. So, the mantra should be – “we are following the political science.” The political science isn’t that good for as the Financial Times has been highlighting the real number of deaths from Covid-19 in the UK is running in excess of 40,000. Perhaps SAGE should change its name to STAGED – Scientists and Tories Advisory Group for Emergency Deception.

The seeds are out of quarantine and sown so fingers crossed we’ll have good germination and a bumper crop of veg and herbs later in the summer. Some begonia plug plants arrived, too, for pots and containers which would normally be packed with annuals but as we can’t get out to buy them this year it’s going to be a begonia summer.

Walks have been largely uneventful although I did have a socially responsible social distanced conversation with a local man who cycles for exercise and was lugging around a plastic sack full of empty drinks cans thrown out of vehicles by litter louts or as they are known in these parts, minkers. I felt obliged to do my bit a few days ago and picked up yet another can, the usual Red Bull, and placed it in a recycling bin near at hand. Only then did I remember I should have been wearing gloves so had to do the whole washing of hands thing when I got home. Would love to walk along a beach but the nearest beach is 25 miles away so I’m making do picking over some delightful types of rock filling our ditches. Mainly granites there are other igneous rocks, some white quartz, lots of stones with shiny pieces of mica and bits of flint. You have to find interest where you can and rocks and minerals are fascinating – and every one is different.

Birds – house martins have arrived. Not yet building nests but flying overhead with that fast, darting movement. They are only in penny numbers where in recent years we would see lots of them. It’s beyond sad that some people actively prevent them from building their beautiful nests against gable walls. We love our house martins, waiting impatiently for them to arrive from the south, watching them build and following the broods fly for the first time catching insects in the air. Some folk need to get a life and stop complaining about bird droppings. In actual fact there was no mess beneath our martins’ double nest last year although that’s not always the case. Hanging plastic carrier bags on the end of houses and garages to prevent birds building nests is shameful – and looks mingin – adjective from the noun minker. Pulling down nests is criminal.

Those starlings still seem interested in nesting in the tree hole still under scrutiny from jackdaws. It’s a strange setup. These starlings are like cowboy builders – start a job, turn up once or twice then disappear for ages.

I’ve been re-reading some of Stewart Alan Robertson’s essays in A Moray Loon (loon is a youth in northeast Scotland.) Stewart from Loanhead in Midlothian was a teacher in Scotland and England and for a time an inspector of education. He wrote engagingly on all kinds of fascinating Scottish topics from Kale Kirks to the scientist Mary Sommerville (science writer and polymath – I bet she would have come up with better science than any emerging from SAGE.) Stewart used his extensive Scottish vocabulary to great effect in his articles – many largely forgotten terms such as halflin for a young loon (usually a farm labourer) and blackneb which was one who sympathised with the French Revolution.

I’ve just started J. MacDougall Hay’s Gillespie. MacDougall Hay hailed from Tarbert. Goodness know what sort of place Tarbert in Argyll was in the mid-19th century – this is where the novel is set. It’s dark. Very dark. Perhaps too dark to read during these dark times.

Keep safe.

April 25, 2020

LOCKDOWN COOKING: 5 Blooming Tasty Tofu Noodles with a kick and Rolled Oats Biscuits

How are you all doing? A couple of recipes today. The first is tried and tested the second isn’t but you can’t go wrong combining porridge oats with syrup so confident it will turn out well. We had the spicy tofu noodle dish this week and very fine it was.

tofu

Blooming Tasty Tofu Noodles with a kick (2 very generous helpings – ramp up or down amounts as required, as any government minister might advise on the best scientific advice – unless Cummings vetoes it.)

Pack of tofu (any flavour but not silken – drained between kitchen paper if you like, I don’t bother) cut into cubes
2 tblsp cornflour
1 red pepper sliced (I used mixed frozen)
8 oz noodles (rice or any – I used wholewheat)
2 tblsp brown sugar
¼ cup soy sauce
2tblsp sweet chili sauce or any spicy sauce you have – or bit chili powder or hot paprika
Dash lime or lemon juice
Olive oil or coconut oil
¼ cup peanuts (roasted for a few mins in a hot oven or fried till crispy but nae burnt)

Cook noodles, drain and rinse with cold water to stop them cooking further.
Coat tofu cubes with cornflour using a spoon (for the really inexperienced among you.)  Combine soy sauce, sugar, chili, lemon or lime juice.
Heat oil and fry pepper for about 4 mins in a large pan.
Add the tofu cubes and cook for about 4 mins.
Add the cooked noodles, soy sauce rest of the ingredients and stir while heating till very hot. Add more soy sauce if you want. Serve immediately.
Rolled Oats Biscuits dates from 1938 and is atributed to a Mrs Allen of Plantation Farm, Birchleigh, Transvaal. It sounds easy peasy.

2 large cups rolled oats porridge oats (porridge oats) (113g)
1 cup four (142 g)
1 cup sugar (213g) I would use about half this amount
1 cup coconut (113g)
2tblsp butter or margarine
1 dessertspoon golden syrup
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch salt.

Mix all dry ingredients, add melted butter and syrup and bicarb dissolved in a little milk. Knead and flatten on floured board or counter. Turn out and cut into small biscuits with cutter or lid of a jar. They spread on baking. Bake moderate oven (180 – 190C or 350 – 375 F ) for about 15 mins. Carefully remove with spatula and cool on wire tray before eating or you’ll burn your mouth.
goeie aptyt

April 22, 2020

Year of the Plague in 2020 a far from average year – self-isolation diary. Week 5

Another week gone. Five down and we are now into our sixth week. So how did last week turn out?

Weather has been running hot and cold and very dry. Our last rain consisted of some light showers on 2nd April and we wouldn’t mind a good drenching because we don’t have water to spare for tubs and pots outside which this year will have to be used to grow vegetables and herbs. Bought seeds online and they have now arrived. Didn’t foresee this as after a lifetime of growing fruit and veg we recently got rid of our vegetable plot and this is the year it has become more vital than ever to grow our own this summer so will have to see how that goes. Some vegetable seeds are in as short supply as bread flour and yeast but in a way that’s encouraging because more people appear to be returning to growing plants in their gardens instead of hard-landscaping that has become a widespread phenomenon in recent years.

After deciding to cut down on fresh vegetables because of uncertainty about contamination since so much supermarket produce comes in from abroad, just like PPE, we have refreshed our stocks of gherkins, pickled red cabbage and sauerkraut (I know but it’s pickled) but I did order one or two British-grown apples, red and green cabbage and carrots and tomatoes. The cabbages are tiny wee things hardly worth a damn as my late aunt might have said. The tomato arrived. I stress tomato singular. Described as a British beef tomato it was quite a nice example but a single tomato between two people over a fortnight will take some mathematical calculations over the best way of dividing it up. Cost 85 pence which fairly astonished me. None of the vegetables that arrived I would have selected had I been able to do my own shopping but they are fresh – even having spent their three days in quarantine and undergone a warm soapy bath.

More essential items were sent out by an excellent health store in Aberdeen, although it only posts out a tiny fraction of its food. Our reserves of Vego chocolate and hazelnut spread have been supplemented by two jars. It is the nectar of the gods and just the thing to perk up folk in lockdown who receive a single tomato to last two weeks.

My confidence in the legal profession has taken a dive this week. I’ve had two experiences over recent months – dire and fairly dire but amusing. Dire has descended into dire hell in sheer incompetence. I suppose fairly dire has also but I’m more amenable to that solicitor. I suspect solicitors are finding their proofing skills are sadly lacking without their office staff to check details for them. Latest signed update went into the pillar-box today hot on the heels of another one yesterday. Professionals huh?

Having dipped my toes into the waters of picture communications I set up a WhatsApp account this week to speak with family and friends and have discovered the signal is much better than on our landline.

Still walking locally. Some days it can get a bit too busy for comfort although it’s always good to catch up with neighbours and folk we hardly know who live about the area. This week the cotton mask I ordered arrived. It’s well made and won’t be as hot as wearing a scarf as the temperature increasingly heats up. Lots of unfamiliar faces keep appearing to walk up the hill at the back, most presumably farther away neighbours who’ve always kept their distance till now. Heard from a social media friend that his wife who works in a care home had a run-in with people who had travelled some distance to walk their dogs in our local village park. Some people don’t seem to recognise the devastating impact of possibly carrying infection from one place to another. My friend now has Covid-19 and so his wife is also in quarantine. One of the women who had been delivering groceries and medicines to people in this area is now also self-quarantined.

Still reading Jack London but think I’ve probably reached my limit of stories about dogs and heroic canines taking down other animals. I suspect for many readers times have changed and the thrill of a kill is confined to a blood-thirsty deranged minority. However, London’s To Light a Fire is very fine piece of writing which I urge you to read.

As for our couple of hours of TV in the evenings we gave up on the BFI’s recommended films for a while. Like the parson’s nose, they’re an acquired habit. The final straw was The Long Day Closes by film director Terence Davies. Having spent an inordinate amount of time watching the opening credits scroll down the screen in a font that was all but illegible and around half an hour staring at a bit of a rug I asked my husband if the film was by that bloke that ruined Sunset Song?” It was. I won’t ever forgive him for that. He took one of the best books ever written misunderstood it totally and made a masterpiece into film kitsch. To prove not all directors are self-indulgent bores we watched two super films – The Guilty is a Danish drama largely comprises a single actor in a police control room. Perhaps a little predictable towards the end but enthralling nonetheless. That was on Netflix. On Amazon Prime we watched the Chinese movie The Farewell that explores eastern and western attitudes towards death – charismatic and charming film with the subject ably handled. On a completely different level we’ve started watching Breaking Bad. Yes, I know – so behind the times. But good huh?

And finally – my alter ego Alex Chisholm published the latest magnum opus on Amazon Kindle and paperback due out soon. The Durer Affair is set in the little town of Nuremberg in the year 1504 where the artist, the painter Albrecht Durer, lives in harmony with the world until strangers arrive who turn his world and that of his fellow townsmen and women upside down. It’s comic and it’s tragic – as is life. You can follow the adventures of Durer and his friends Willy and Otto who all have prodigious appetites for pork knuckles washed down by Ana Brauer’s blackest beer and there’s even a doggy aspect to this page-turning thriller in the form of a very un-Jack London little hound called Ulf.

Stay safe.

My blog on Davies’ Sunset Song