Posts tagged ‘lockdown’

July 30, 2020

Year of the Plague 2020: a far from average year. Self-isolation diary week 19.

Nineteen weeks in chokey and it doesn’t seem a day too long. I get the feeling I’ve said something like this before. I realise it’s been easy for us. We’re used to being self-sufficient and let’s face it we’re both happy with our own company – or as some might express it – we’re anti-social. As that well-known Aberdeen salutation/godspeed goes – “Happy to meet, sorry to part but not too sorry – Bon Accord.” Well, that’s the version popular in our hoose.

19 mix 2

We did break lockdown to visit ‘the young folk’ in Stonehaven as the wee one was having a birthday. He’s the nearest human contact we’ve had in 19 weeks – and very pleasant it was too. Of course this visit required a run over the bypass – a good outing for the car which is also in relative lockdown and it was a pleasure for us seeing parts of Aberdeenshire and Kincardine we haven’t seen for a bit. Still bonny.

I nearly forgot. On our way to the bypass, round about Mason Lodge I think, we drove past a field with a tall stone dyke and looking over the dyke was a coo (cow.) As the dyke was pretty high only the coo’s heid (head) could be seen; a bonny cream beastie. There were folk walking by and the coo’s heid followed them, watched them come, pass and move away. It turned to follow their movement and eyed them up and down. It reminded me of my late Aunty Isabel who we used to take for treatment to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness. During the inevitable waits for and between treatment, Isabel (in her nineties) would inspect fellow patients walking by – eyeing them and the often weird clobber they wore or their hair styles and colours and half turn to me with a knowing nod and trace of a smile. I should add at this point that Isabel was complimented on her own appearance by a man at the hospital – totally out of the blue he remarked, maybe a bit uncalled for and personal but, along the lines of that’s a beautiful outfit you’re wearing. She did have an eye for quality – and mutton dressed up as lamb, as she might have thought but never said. I miss that shared look and smile that wasn’t meant unkindly but spoke volumes, none-the-less.  

This week I phoned my optician to place on record I’d phoned early in March to report my two new pairs of varifocals made the world spin so much I relegated them to the top of the desk in anticipation of returning them once the lurgy passed. Back in March it looked like that was a real possibility. Oh the innocence of early lockdown. The opticians isn’t back to full operation but said they would be happy to see me given that I’ve been using the old prescription specs. It was very good of them but apart from being willing to hand over the useless pair I wasn’t keen on submitting myself to face-to-face interaction in a closed space and said I’d get back in touch in a couple of months. A couple of months! Where will we be in a couple of months apart from bowling downhill towards winter?

More blackcurrants have gone into the freezer. And still they come. They are handy and most mornings a handful of blackcurrants or other fruit but mainly blackcurrants because we have tons of them is added to our breakfast porridge or cereal. Unfortunately, one morning this week husband announced there weren’t any in the fridge. Not possible. With an exasperated sigh I found the plastic container with its dark red contents in the fridge but when I opened it instead of blackcurrants found cooked aduki beans! I had somehow managed the night before to pick up the blackcurrants and put them into the freezer instead of the beans. I love aduki beans but am holding fire on trying them as a breakfast topping. You never know. Nah, I think we do.

19 mix

Our sweet old cat was ill this week. As he’s getting on, about 112 in human equivalent years, we were preparing ourselves for the worst. Not that you ever are prepared. Next day he was as right as rain and our daughter suggested he might have been suffering from heatstroke. It has been hot and as soon as the sun’s up he’s out to laze under an apple tree or baking in his straw-packed kennel beside the greenhouse. I think I mentioned before that he loves a picnic so doesn’t even come in for grub until evening on the nicest of days.  

 We have a linnet in the garden. Fairly certain that’s what it is. Are they simple? This bird brain can’t find its way to the many sources of bird food we have scattered and dangling. Hope it hangs around. Lovely wee thing. Our house martins are still in residence high up on the gable. See them when we’re round that part of the house and every evening out of the sittingroom window we admire them darting through the air grazing on airborne insects. 

Yesterday I crossed paths with a tiny brown frog yesterday while walking. Thought it was a leaf blowing across the road but then the leaf began hopping and stopped for a moment for me to admire it before hopping off into the grass. A speckled brown butterfly occupied the same spot on my way back. Do frogs turn into butterflies? No? Are you certain of that?

Our blue salvias flowers are taking geological time to open. First saw the plant in a park somewhere in Germany. Can’t recall where but they were massed together and looked fabulous. We have only one or two plants and I suspect winter will be upon us before they fully open. Talking of blue – the wild chicory has been blooming for a good while now in the verges. It’s very pretty and one year I made the mistake of introducing seed into our garden. We are still trying to get rid of plants that spread like wildfire. Every year more spring up. Bloody stuff.

And on the subject of garden pests, although ones we are quite fond of – the badgers are still at it. The heavy pot and bird feeder stand goes over night after night. Now along with the peanuts having to be brought in overnight so, too, is the seed feeder for they pull it to pieces searching for seed. Not that there’s any left by the end of the day. 

The latest trend in lost jobs continues to pick up pace. Three out of five of one arm of our family have recently been made redundant. As they are anything but alone finding work is going to be a nightmare for them. And the knock-on consequences very serious.

It’s a while since I finished reading Ethel Mannin’s series of essays Brief Voices. It covers very many topics; far too many to comment on here so one or two points only. Mannin flirted with Buddhism but was hugely critical of Buddhists in Burma where her writings were banned as a result. She criticised their cruelty and claims of being against killing animals while happily consuming them on grounds they didn’t personally kill them – e.g. fishermen don’t kill fish only take them out of water – where they die, it was the servant who bought meat at market so nothing to do with them eating what was prepared while butchers who definitely did kill animals were, at this time, despised – yet not the meat they produced.

She was very much a woman of her time and class. Despite her radical political views – she was a member of the Communist Party for a time – Mannin was, nonetheless, a bit of a snob and was intolerant of things she didn’t understand or care to understand. She didn’t have much sympathy for aspects of working class lives and positively railed against Teddy Boys and the rock and roll generation (slack-jawed and joyless she described young people), beats and Angry Young Men literature. She thought the ‘atomic generation’ brought up on violent films would become inured to death. How wrong. The protests of the 1960s were just around the corner. Interesting and complex woman, nonetheless. I will look for more of her works in future.

 Stay safe.

 

July 23, 2020

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

johnson twatt

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

mix 1

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

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

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

Mix 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Stay safe.

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 13, 2020

Year of the Plague in 2020 a far from average year – self-isolation diary. Week 8

Hello again. Week 8 has come and gone and we are as is. Short of a vaccination for Covid-19 being found that is as good as it gets.

Death statistics are still pouring out of the mouths of politicians. All very sad. So they say. Do we believe them? Not when “…and sadly blah blah hundred died…” becomes a meaningless mantra. If only there had been warnings – examples of the spread through other countries to allow our governments to be proactive and not reactive and so alleviate the necessity of the daily mantra becoming a monthly mantra soon to be a seasonal mantra. What if they had been forewarned. Oh wait, they were. They waited – and – waited – and – waited – did they arrange orders for PPE? Did they pick. And so it is necessary to recite the mantra –“sadly” “sadly” “sadly.”

Heard today that the daily test number proudly announced by Hancock or someone like Hancock but probably not Johnson because he’s a work shirker was claimed to be on 10 May 70,000 when the actual figure was around 30,000. “Sadly.” Fewer than half the entirely fictional figure issued and regurgitated by UK journalists. “Sadly.”  Not only are politicians getting younger – they’re getting more duplicitous. Possibly. And very bad at arithmetic.

Daily deep clean of parts of the house continues to the extent it smells permanently of a gigolo’s oxter. “Sadly.”

The young seedlings in the greenhouse are looking pretty good. Apart from the courgettes which are very slow to germinate. “Sadly.” The compost discs eventually reconstituted themselves back into something resembling actual compost but now I’m wondering if that’s what the courgette seeds went into. Peas are doing great. Don’t think I mentioned peas before. They’re outside most of the time, which is more than can be said for the rest of us, despite the weather changing from summer back to winter (that relates to the peas, not people.)  I won’t add a “sadly” there because I don’t mind changeable weather.

In the garden tree seedling show their usual determination and grit and succeed in germinating everywhere. If we didn’t howk them out this place would become a forest in a matter of 6 months. Ash is the worst culprit but all sorts find their way in via air currents and birds’ backsides. “Sadly.”

Beech seedlings are popping up wherever I turn. They are very distinctive and beautiful – almost frilly cotyledons. See photo – if I remember to post it. But a blooming great beech tree or several is not a good idea in a relatively small garden. “Sadly.”

No food deliveries this week but there’s one due this next weekend. Been trying to order from another supermarket and after hours and hours  and days and days of clicking on ‘book a slot’ we got one – for the very end of the month. That’s June, all but. Good grief.

About the most memorable sight on my walks has been the reappearance of a local farmer who has been away recuperating from a heart attack. He looked as pleased as punch. And quite right too. Wild flowers keep on blooming in big numbers which is delightful always. Tree blossom, too, which is a joy and last time I meant to mention the bird’s eye cherry blossom which is now nearly past – “sadly.” I’m not so fond of it as our wild genes which look spectacular against blue skies but close up the bird’s eye is bonnie enough.

Our house martins seem to have deserted the nest they began. “Sadly.” I spotted three the other day – two flew round and around a deserted hut and eventually flew in through the open doorway. Then three flew out! One flew off while two (presumably the pair) flew back in. Perhaps they are ours who’ve chosen to go elsewhere. Looks like one martin has not got a mate. “Sadly.”

Our woodpeckers are ravenous, as usual. Eating peanuts and pecking at the occasional fat ball as though there was no tomorrow. The starlings, like the martins, are still not committing to their nest. In their case that’s good because the jackdaws will have the young. “Sadly.” The pheasants that visit everyday are great at picking away at seed thrown out of feeders and the bird table by smaller birds but I wish the cock pheasant had a more pleasant voice. And it amuses me when all those poetic types who talk so fondly of the dawn chorus and how lovely it is – never mention that after the blackbird strikes the first chord the coarse rasp of a cock pheasant comes next. “Sadly.”

Also sad was the poor bloodied body of a large toad on the road. The road beside us is crossed by hundreds of toads (used to be, fewer now) every season to lay their eggs and then they return across the same road. Every year they are killed under the wheels of motor vehicles. With this year’s lockdown the road has been much quieter – hurrah – and hopefully, fewer wee toads will have made the dangerous crossing unharmed. But not that poor wee soul we found – “sadly.”

Finished MacDougall Hay’s Gillespie. A good read. Impressive at times but it descended into melodrama towards the end. Tragedy for all concerned. “Sadly.”

Still no time to update you on our friends back from New Zealand. Maybe next time. Hopefully.

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 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

April 12, 2020

LOCKDOWN COOKING: 4 – Oven Fried Potato Peelings and Pizza Soup

The following recipes from Alberta, Canada couldn’t be simpler to follow and they use fairly basic ingredients. The peelings you might start with, as an appetiser, followed by the soup. Or vise versa. Whichever way you decide to take them – enjoy. Till next time –

tattie

Oven Fried Potato Peelings – serves 4 – 6

2tblsp melted butter/margarine
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and pepper

Sauce
Sour cream or yogurt
Chopped chives/other herb
1 tsp mustard

Scrub 6 large potatoes and peel quite thickly (keep the rest of the tattie for other meal.) Mix butter, garlic, salt and pepper and dip the peelings into this mixture. Place skin side down on greased baking tray. Bake in hot over 425ᵒF 220ᵒC  for 15-20 mins or till lightly browned. Turn them and bake for another 10-15 mins. Meanwhile mix the sauce ingredients. When the peelings come out of the oven dip them into the sauce as you eat them.

Pizza Soup – serves 4
½ pint (8fl oz) stock
28oz tinned tomatoes
1tsp basil, oregano
1 tblsp oil
1 small onion
62 g/ 2 oz mushrooms sliced
30g/1 oz green or red pepper
Grated Mozzerella cheese
Any other ingredient you like on your pizza

Simmer stock, tomatoes and herbs for about 10 mins. Fry other veg in oil for 5 mins and add to tomato stock. Pour soup into heatproof bowl or bowls, cover the soup with grated cheese and grill till bubbling.
Watch the salt content – depending on what you include – you shouldn’t need additional salt.

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April 8, 2020

Year of the Plague in 2020 a far from average year – self-isolation diary. Week 3

Actually into our 4th week of isolation but writing about week 3 and already I’m losing the ability to count as far as the fingers on my hand. Been an up-and-down week which started fine but a few days ago I became suddenly ill including the worst headache I’ve ever experienced, a real sledgehammer job, which has resulted in this blog being a day late. Don’t suppose any of you are counting that accurately either, or caring.

The morning clean continues apace with a well-established routine set using diluted bleach for bits and anti-bacterial spray (I know Covid isn’t bacterial) for other parts. Being very canny with the spray as last time I ordered it from my online supermarket I was sent floor wipes (which I haven’t used.)

On Saturday, gloved up, I moved the supermarket groceries and foods received from an online health food store out of quarantine bag and carton by bag and carton and gave all a good wash down in warm, soapy water – dried them off and put them away. Yeast and flour – self-raising and bread are in short supply and prunes, sadly, but we’ve now got lots of dates, sunflower seeds and even a bag of sour cherries to add to our daily porridge. The bag of linseed had a tiny hole in it. Couldn’t see it but seeds were dropping out so it couldn’t be given a bath and instead the seed was poured into a baking tray and given the heat treatment for around 30 mins. Lovely smell, if you like painters’ studio type aromas.

On the issue of flour and yeast shortages – there are unscrupulous people out there, one I noticed lives in Barrow-in-Furness selling flour and yeast at exorbitant amounts on Ebay. Presume they’re organised going in and out of shops buying it up and selling on. This crisis has brought out the best in people but it has also brought out the worst. Those Ebay types are despicable human beings. Expect they wouldn’t know what to do with a bag of flour if it hit them in the face, which might be a good idea.

Bag of peanuts arrived for the birds. It was so heavy my husband’s legs almost gave way. Should have used the sack barrow. Very grateful to delivery drivers who are dropping off our orders in the porch so allowing us all to keep our distance. I put up a thank you/appreciation notice in the porch for them and our lovely posties, men and woman, who we can’t stand and chatter to as we did in the good ol’ pre-coronavirus days. Husband did have a shouty conversation with one a couple of days ago. He’s become adept at shouting to neighbours across a road. Roadside shouting matches aside we’ve been in telephone conversation with neighbours as well as friends, and emails – messages flying around so much this past week with friends as far afield as New Zealand.

The New Zealand connection is tenuous as these friends were there on holiday when coronavirus hit. NZ closed down and they were forced to move out of their accommodation. They found a self-catering motel where other Europeans were staying while trying to get home. The British Foreign Office and British Commission did not want to know and offered no assistance so our friends were left to negotiate multiple-million-pound airfares with companies taking advantage of peoples’ desperation. They’ve sorted something out but I think they’d be better-off staying put in New Zealand. They were very impressed by its PM’s response to the deadly virus.

Able to get out for short walks most days. Weather still very good. In fact it’s been so dry in my part of West Aberdeenshire the burns (streams) are very low. That might not appear to be a problem but we have a private water supply. If that sounds high faluting it isn’t – just means water running down the hillside is collected in a gathering tank and piped to our homes. When there’s no rain (or snow in winter – and there hasn’t been) then our water tends to dry up. Then we have a problem. Along the banks of the burns the primroses are looking very beautiful with their creamy yellow petals, the darker yellow of whin blossom, stunning white wood anemones flower in abundance round here, goat’s beard glow in the sun and the marshmallow leaves are well-formed. Lots of ladybirds in the garden. Having been such a mild winter they’ve survived in big numbers.

In the tree hollow I mentioned last time starlings are visiting it often but so too, bizarrely, are jackdaws who also appear to be trying to nest in it. I don’t think the two species will make for the best of neighbours.

My bedtime reading has picked up from the last book. Currently enjoying Patrick Hamilton’s Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, a trilogy of stories relating to London’s seedy pub culture in the 1920s. The descriptions are masterful and the dialogue fairly zings along from this accomplished novelist and playwright who wrote Gaslight and Rope, both made into popular films. Our two hours of television daily means we’re still ploughing on with Better Call Saul, nearing the end and series five has I’m pleased to report picked up from the dreary series four. Squeezed in a couple of episodes of Outlander, too, Sam Heughan should be placed on prescription at times such as these.

Stay safe.

March 29, 2020

Lockdown Cooking: 2 Beanery Graveyard Stew

I trust you have all fully recovered from sampling yesterday’s delight of fried eggs and jam and having decided against too much of a good thing are now looking for something a little different.

Today is just that but retaining the sweetness that many crave. It’s taken from a Canadian cook book this time and is a recipe that was a favourite with men who long ago crewed the railroads in western Canada, allegedly.

Canadian_Pacific_Railroad_2

Beanery Graveyard Stew

2 slices white bread, well toasted
Hot milk
Brown sugar
Cinnamon (or a little butter)

Cut the toast into small squares and put into a soup bowl. Pour over the hot milk. Sprinkle on cinnamon and brown sugar to taste.

Sounds like an instant bread pudding.

Buen provecho