Posts tagged ‘House Martins’

Aug 28, 2020

Year of the Plague 2020: a far from average year. Self-isolation diary week 23

Boris Johnson was on holiday this week. Don’t know why he thought that was appropriate. I suppose it doesn’t really matter since he comes across as a guy who does virtually no work anyway – getting others to do it for him. He was in Scotland – allegedly, although some people thought he might have posed beside a tent in Scotland then flew off to Greece or vice versa. Who cares. He shouldn’t have been on holiday in the first place during this terrible pandemic. The British prime minister is a man whose moral compass, if he ever possessed one, broke a very long time ago.

See that badger! Domestic crisis last week meant we forgot to take in the bird feeders one night and, of course, by morning the stand inside its very heavy plant pot lay on their sides. The peanut feeder was later found empty and abandoned elsewhere in the garden – a virtually full container of nuts having gone down the badger’s or badgers’ gullet(s.) Both stand and pot were tumbled again the following night by Brutus the Badger but as no feeders had been left on it there would have been disappointment at Tubby Badger Set that night. Angry words have been targeted at the badger.

Last time I was wondering if the house martins, swallows and swifts flew south as early as August because ours seemed to have scarpered. Someone got in touch to confirm they did.  Days later we spotted about 30 – 40 swallows, swifts, martins strung out along power lines near us. A fine sight. As for our own martins they do seem to have abandoned their Scottish homes until next year but we still see a number take to the skies in the evenings.

We’ve missed out pheasants. Not so long ago lots were coming across to the garden to feed but then they all disappeared apart from an odd sighting. One day this week a scruffy young male with a bad leg turned up. He fairly hirples, poor thing. At least there’s plenty for him to eat once he makes it here from wherever he’s from.   

The woodpeckers have also returned. They are such handsome birds we get a lot of enjoyment out of seeing them. And there’s been a magpie. At one time magpies were breeding close-by and were frequently stopping off in the garden. We’ve even had on occasions a brown and white one but all vanished until I noticed a single one under the bark-peeling acer earlier this week.

Weather has taken a turn for the worse. We in northeast Scotland have enjoyed a lovely summer with lots of bright sunny and warm days and the recent cloudy skies and cool temperatures are disappointing but at least we haven’t experienced the torrential rain that is constant in many parts of the west of Scotland. Don’t go off with the impression it hasn’t rained for we’ve had some downpours but not joined together like western areas get them. With the onset of cooler conditions comes the impression of autumn’s approach – aided and abetted by summer flowers fading and dropping off. Gardening has altered with the weather and back-end of summer so that lots and lots of industrial levels of pruning are happening – in most cases not carried out by me but my trusty husband.

Still going strong is the chard crop. One of the most reliable, tasty and easy vegetables to grow it’s used just about every day by us, one way or another. Until recently ours escaped the unwanted attentions of snails and slugs but our mollusc fellow-gardeners are now chomping their way through our crop. They’ve been warned so they know the consequences of their actions. Broad beans are a welcome addition to home-grown produce as well. We don’t have many plants this year so the freezer won’t be packed with them but we do appreciate those that we have.  Broad beans are one of the most undervalued of vegetables.

The last of the gooseberries have been picked but there are still blackcurrants unbelievably. They are bigger than ever now, presumably having had longer to mature. We must have collected around 3 tons so far.

Last year was a poor one for apples with us – the previous year having produced big crops. This year is another bumper one but several branches on our trees are collapsing under the weight of fruit. What we need are clothes line stretchers to hoist them back up and keep them from breaking entirely. Husband heavily pruned a cooker, Lane’s Prince Albert, which produces muckle-sized delicious apples. The tree grows at a fearful rate and so he topped it but several young apples came off during the operation. Made an apple tart with one or two which has lasted us four days. A slice with a side helping of coconut yogurt or Swedish glace vanilla ice cream is just what the doctor ordered (my husband being a doctor – of the philosophy kind.)

It was my turn for chairing the family virtual quiz so I selected questions for their quirkiness and stuff Scottish. Most were difficult, I admit. Far too difficult for me were it not for having benefit of the answers. All that said our grandson won by a huge margin so he is officially hailed as a genius in addition to being extremely handsome and charming.

Dark – what can I say?  It is extraordinary how it demands total concentration so that it is virtually impossible to divert eyes from the screen while watching it. Characters come and go, the same characters over different periods of time, with most managing to pick up scratches and smudges on their faces as they travel between the 2050s and the 1880s. If you have access to Netflix watch it.

Bedtime reading is currently Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow. It is a fascinating look at how our brains respond to events, questions etc through initial responses to slower more in-depth consideration. It’s written with humour and is crammed with examples for readers to try for themselves – raising a smile and some head scratching. Here’s an example of some of the exercises:

A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? Scroll to the end for the answer. Oh, this is the end. Most people immediately answer 10c.  Before thinking about it more closely. The answer is 5c. Another nice one consists of two words –

banana     –      vomit.

But I’ll leave that one there.

Stay safe.

Aug 20, 2020

Year of the Plague 2020: a far from average year. Self-isolation diary week 22

During week 22 of Covid isolation not a lot happened – other than chaos erupting over exam grades across each of the four nations of the UK.

Ruth Davidson in place as the Scottish (sic) Tories interim leader because their last one, some car dealer bloke, was so peeing bad at the job even the Tories couldn’t stomach him. Talking of stomachs they seem to think Ms Davidson would be somewhat better. She sure can pull a sulky face better than the guy unceremoniously shoved aside in a move Stalin would have been proud to pull off. This week the queen of stunts regal procession shuddered to an inglorious halt when confronting the queen of put-downs. She was given her erse to play with, as we say in Scotland, following an attack on the Education Minister,

“They deserved new leadership in education and John Swinney cannot deliver it, why won’t the First Minister see that?” said Ms Davidson.

To which Nicola Sturgeon retorted, “I’m not sure loyalty to colleagues is a strong suit for Ruth Davidson.”

Davidson who has an unfortunate habit of opening and shutting her mouth throughout replies to her questions giving a misleading impression she is saying anything of consequence while impersonating a drowning fish continued to goad the FM who responded that on the day everyone’s thoughts were on a terrible and tragic train accident (everyone’s except the queen of stunts) she was on her own in pushing constitutional differences.

And Sturgeon continued,

“Just in a few months I will submit myself and my government to the verdict of the Scottish people in an election. That is the ultimate accountability for our record and our leadership. And as we do that, Ruth Davidson will be pulling on her ermine and going to the unelected House of Lords. Can I gently suggest to Ruth Davidson that if it comes to holding to account and scrutinising politicians, she’s really not coming at this from a position of strength. It is not me that is running away from democratic responsibility.”

As put-downs go it was brutal although oddly, that organ of honest journalism, the Daily Express interpreted the gutting and barbecuing of Davidson as her ridiculing the FM.

Badger battles continue with one stand of nuts and seeds having to be taken inside overnight because the badger makes off with the lot. One evening we put on the outside light at the back of the house and were able to watch a huge, and I mean huge, badger attempt to scale the heights of a wooden pole with its bounty of fat balls. The pole was too narrow for Brock and she/he returned to the stand that normally contains nuts and seeds, ignored the tray that sits below to catch seeds dropped by birds during the day and scuttled off to try out other feeding stations in the garden. The sheer bulk of the badger is what you get when you guzzle whole containers of peanuts. Mind you, watching the beastie search in vain for the peanuts tugged at our heart-strings and next evening when taking in the feeders we left some peanuts for her or him. And they were gone by morning. Nice compromise.

New kettle bought this week. We have an unfortunate history with kettles in this house. For some reason they break down far too frequently. A few years back we bought a whistling kettle for the top of the stove. It is a work of art but takes 6- 7 minutes to boil which is fine except when there are visitors and coffee and tea need topping up fast. Anyway, when our last electric kettle left this mortal coil – a pity as it was the exact colour of our painted cupboards – we reverted to smart stove kettle. There’s hardly been a soul crossing the threshold since March so what difference did it make? Not much. The whistle was rarely attached because if I thought the nagging sound of the tumble drier having completed its cycle was annoying (it is) it is nothing on the shrill whistle of a steaming kettle. So the whistle tends to get set aside. All well and good until forgetful me went off on my daily jaunt one day and straight into the garden for a spot of weeding and pruning, eventually wandering into the kitchen to put the kettle on for a cup of tea to discover there was just enough water left in it to stop it melting all over the stove. Straight online and a spanking new electric kettle arrived within days. It isn’t as bonny as the whistling kettle but it’s a helluva lot quieter and does that remarkable thing of switching itself off – safer for forgetful dopes like moi. Oh, it takes 2 minutes to boil. Not that that’s here nor there but maybe one day.

House martins and swallows and swifts appeared in their vast numbers this week like flying dervishes across our evening skies. Usually they pop in and out whenever we walk past the side of the house where their nest is but over the last few days they’ve been visibly absent. What did those great numbers – between 30 and 50 I’d say but it’s impossible to count martins and their cousins while flying – signify? They couldn’t all be ours despite their semi-detached houses and obviously having had a very successful breeding season but then to be no sign of them at all. Had they flown south already? Didn’t seem likely but where had they gone? Nowhere it turns out. Unless some have flown off and left a late brood there are martins still in residence it transpires. And for all you folk stopping martins from sharing your home – there still is no mess after months living with us. And that is always our experience despite having neighbours insisting they make a real mess – neighbours who don’t have any birds. Isn’t it always the way with folk who are so certain in their opinions who have no experience of what they’re talking about?

A powerful thunder storm one morning resulted in a tragic rail accident that has shocked the majority of folk in the northeast. Also shocking has been the irresponsible and hugely offensive sensationalising of it and disgraceful treatment of affected families by The Sun newspaper. It’s hard to understand why anyone would want to work for such a disreputable and offensive organ. But it takes all sorts and they must think it’s perfectly alright or else they would go off and take up alternative jobs.

Aberdeen experienced very dramatic flooding but oddly our son who stays in one of the worst affected areas was oblivious to the drama unfolding outside his window.

The young buzzard has been back out practising her/his call and showing off his/her flying abilities again. A small bird compared with fully grown buzzards and the voice hasn’t yet broken. Unless it’s a soprano.

Another week another virtual quiz controversy. Which pasta means little worms? Well, of course, it’s vermicelli and I had that smug feeling of being assured of one point, at last. Then our beautiful quizzer announced the answer to be linguine. Linguine? What alternative universe do our young people inhabit? Always best to create a fuss in such circumstances and vermicelli was accepted as correct. Didn’t make any difference to the final score. I still lost. Oh, and how many times must I be asked the collective noun for giraffes before remembering it is a tower? Quite a number, I suspect.

My snail banishment scheme appears to be paying off. Numbers definitely down in the garden but too late for the variegated hosta at the front. A poor specimen now riddled with holes and only the energy to send up one pathetic flower head. The angel’s fishing rods in a pot are looking splendid. Love the way they grow into the shape of a 1970s fiber optic lamp. The little pot acer is also looking healthy. The label says it grows about 8 feet by 13 feet. And that, folks, is why we are growing it in a pot.

For years we filled our medium-sized garden with BIG dramatic-looking plants. Off to the plant nursery. Oh look, a big and dramatic looking plant. And so it (they) would come home with us and now we live inside a forest. I once counted our trees and the total came to a staggering forty plus and that excludes tall rhododendrons, azaleas and other large shrubs. This year the gunnera has decided to take off like a rocket. That’ll be down to the mild winters we’ve been having. On the veg front gherkins have been brilliant. Eating them fresh and not pickling so struggling to keep up with their output. They tend to weigh down the fragile plants if not picked early hence supporting them against the greenhouse where we can. Remember the snails ate most of our runner bean flowers? Well today I’m harvesting the single bean from one of the plants! To be shared between two. There are a few more plants but I’m not raising my hopes too high – as this year’s school pupils have been saying. Our fig was really hacked back a few months ago so removing most of the summer crop. Today I picked a little ripe one that escaped the purge. A few more have outwitted the secateurs and wood saw and there’s time for them to ripen.

Finished watching Ozark on Netflix. Brats will be brats. Criminals will be criminals and lawyers will get their just deserts. Or do they? I’d have written it differently.

What to watch now? We checked newspaper and website suggestions. A German Netflix series Dark was thrown up. It requires total concentration. No time to check out twitter with having to read super-quick subtitles and try to keep up with generations of characters. Science fiction is not really my thing and the first episode bored me. By the end of episode two I thought I’d stay with it for one more. By episode 4 I was hooked.

What’s the first thing you do when returning to your house after dark? You open the door and switch on a light. It’s not difficult. So why oh why do authors and film directors present us with that trope of about-to-be victim walking into her house and wandering through it in the dark? Not since the 1930s, folks. Not since the 1930s. Or earlier has it been a thing to enter your house in the dark. The same applies to scary forests. If you lived in a village with a reputation for young residents going missing in the local forest the last thing you’d think of doing is walking in the said forest – alone – in the dark. It’s a relatively simple to equate being alone in a spooky dark forest where folk disappear with it being perilous. But wait! Not only walking the forest, alone, in the dark but entering the caves in the forest.  Oh no! Not the caves! You’d think it but there they go time and time again. Winden ought to have a signpost signalling WINDEN – SLOW – LEARNERS.

Didn’t have a novel I could decide on for bedtime reading so pored over a couple of thin volumes of poetry by Apollinaire and Hans Enzenberger. I don’t know. Some of the arrangements of words by Apollinaire were novel but my sensitivity to some poetry has been irreversibly damaged by reading too many crime novels. Got a flea in my ear from husband for my flippancy over Enzenberger especially – and to be honest I didn’t give his poetry more than a passing glance so I looked him up and he’s still alive – in his nineties. And he comes from my favourite part of Germany, Bavaria, and was born in little town also the birthplace of Hans Liebherr. Hans was a mason who invented the mobile tower crane. That’s impressive, I’m sure you’ll agree, and they can be seen tootling about the country all the time. But even more exciting for me is that Liebherr make fridges and we have one – it’s huge and fabulous.

A verse from Enzenberger’s poem, Portrait of a House Detective

He’s twenty-nine,
Idealistic,
Sleeps badly and alone
with pamphlets and blackheads,
hates the boss and the supermarket,
communists, women,
landlords, himself
and his bitten fingernails
full of margarine (because
it’s so delicious), under
his arty hairstyle mutters
to himself like a pensioner.

Decided to try an e-book from the local library via the internet. Didn’t like the library’s website which tends to throw up a lot of rubbish and abandoned the first one I borrowed but this one which I won’t name because although I began liking it, have gone off it. It’s a first novel and a bit over-written, too lush with the adjectives. Ordered something recommended to me on how we think from Amazon, It’s an actual book. Hopefully that’ll be more engaging.

Stay safe.

Jun 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

Jun 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.

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.

Apr 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.