Winter Walk

While the world is still mired deep in the pandemic, while so may of us remain socially shut in and economically shut down, the familiar seasonal colours of nature continue to inspire, to bring a little normality to such an oddly altered reality. Life goes on, albeit differently, firmly grounded in the continuity of the lovely landscape and all the joy it brings… My first Weekly Smile of the New Year, and here’s to many more… 🙂

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from Inverness – the view across the Beauly Firth, Ben Wyvis, the Black Isle, and boats moored in Muirtown Basin taken this afternoon. It was chilly and grey, but at least it was dry and we were wrapped up warm, so we really enjoyed our brisk and bracing New Year’s Day walk 🙂

Boxing Day Sales

I should have been out at work from 10am today, facing the flurry that is the Boxing Day Sales in the department store where I work. Not that there’s often much selling going on, more a mass returning all of the unwanted gifts that other people have been busily buying for them all month. But instead of being rushed off my feet at work as expected today I’m sitting here on the sofa alone as new Scottish Government Covid restrictions have closed all non-essential retail businesses from one minute past midnight last night for the next three weeks at least. My husband is still out at work, a key-worker in a supermarket, but I’m kicking my heels at home.

And to be honest this morning all I feel is overwhelmingly relieved that I’m not actually out there today. I’m emotionally exhausted, it’s been an awful month with all of us working loads of extra hours in a business currently in liquidation with no fixed date for closing, made even worse by the last-minute panic of pre-lockdown purchases mixed with the usual vociferus vultures thinking we were shutting up shop for good on Christmas Eve, complaining loudly and none too politely that our pre-Christmas sale prices weren’t reflecting the last-chance-to-buy rock-bottom levels they were looking for.

So I have three weeks of staying at home quietly to look forward to and then… what? Well to be honest we’re not sure. Will the store open again to clear the last of the liquidation stock, or will the administrators give up the ghost and call it quits? Will there be a last minute reprieve in the form of a new buyer, or will the hundreds of redundacies go ahead in the new year as previously planned? The future for us employees doesn’t look good, but it is what it is. We are where we are across the globe, not just in retail but in hospitality, in travel, in countless other business sectors.

It’s wonderful news that we now have a Covid vaccination programme rolling out – well, several viable vaccines in fact – and hopefully internationally we will all soon have the herd immunity protection we need to stop this deadly virus. But logistically it will inevitably take time and effort to innoculate entire populations of nations – long months not short weeks – and in the meantime businesses are going to the wall the world over. People continue to lose their livelihoods, other people continue to lose their lives. We will get there eventually, but not without cost.

So on this uncertain, sale-free, Boxing Day with a difference I’m sending love and peace to everyone across the world from the cosy comfort of my sofa, with the hope for a more positive 2021 for all of humanity ❤

Stream of Consciousness: Box

Postcards from the Heart

When kindness is shared, it grows ❤

We picked up a pack of 10 of these lovely postcards in our local Lidl supermarket and sent them out to various Scottish friends (those we inevitably haven’t seen for a while due to ongoing coronavirus restrictions across the country) for St Andrew’s Day on 30th November 🙂

One Liner Wednesday

Sunday Stroll: Along the Canal

It’s been a while since I’ve been for a Sunday stroll along the Caledonian canal from Muirtown Locks to Clachnaharry Sea Lock, and although the rain threatened a few times I had no more than a few spots here and there to contend with. But oh, it was bitterly cold today, especially with the bracing sea breeze that’s never far away.

Whenever the sun came out (decidedly intermittently) I snapped whatever I could landscape-wise, and whenever the dark rain clouds dampened the light I concentrated on close-ups of whatever I could find around me. I was out for an hour or so and came home with frozen fingers, pink cheeks, windswept hair, and a big happy smile 🙂

Weekly Smile

Over by Christmas…

Everything feels really ominous just now.

Here in Scotland we’ve all been placed under reasonably restrictive coronavirus rules since the last week of September, unable to mix socially with other households at home at all, and from tomorrow we start our new tiered system going from Level 0 to Level 4 ranging from as-near-as-dammit-normal-as-can-be-without-a-vaccine at Level 0 to pretty much full-lockdown-apart-from-schools at Level 4.

Here in the Highlands apparently we’re going to be in Level 1, which is really good for local businesses but sadly we’re still not allowed to meet people indoors at home – only outside, or in public spaces, and still in restricted numbers – so for me personally none of it makes any real difference to life as it has been for the last few weeks, and that’s a bit frustrating to have to deal with as it’s not quite what was promised when the tiers were first set, but caution is the name of the game in Scotland.

The Scottish Government has been very clear all along that according to scientific data close person to person contact at home has played a big part in the spread of the virus to date and acted accordingly weeks ago, banning household mixing socially indoors. So I still have to go out to work and come into contact with strangers every day, albeit masked and sanitised and socially distanced, but basically still won’t be able to see my family at least for the first week of the new system, after which time things will be reviewed.

But in England, although certain local areas in Northern England have also been under greater restrictions than others for weeks now, the UK Government dithered and dallied and didn’t want to mess up their economy or piss off their people any more than they had already, so didn’t impose a blanket ban on households meeting across the whole country like we did here when the scientific data suggested it. Too much carrot, not enough stick. And infection numbers across England do appear to be rocketing again, so perhaps there is something after all in preventing people from mixing indoors in private homes.

And so just as Scotland introduces its new tiered system of loosening things off at last, England is due to be going into full lockdown for four weeks, which feels really weird to think about. Does that mean that here in the Highlands we’ll be inundated with visitors over then next few weeks as people further south try to escape greater restrictions and go elsewhere for the duration? Good for the tourism economy in such a tough year financially but perhaps not so much for the overall health of the local population up here.

It’ll all be over by Christmas, we jokingly remarked earlier in the year with pseudo-war-time spirit in the hopeful belief that Covid 19 would be a dark and distant memory by then, yet here we all are still in the midst of this global pandemic, mired in a no-mans-land of fear and misery trapped uneasily between the two front lines of health and wealth, bombarded incessantly from both sides by propaganda and prophesies of doom. Clearly not a snowball’s chance in hell of any of it being over any time soon, at least in this part of the world…

Yup, everything feels really ominous just now.

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Ominous

Sea, Sand, Sun, and a Smile

OK, so maybe it was a bit cool and sea-breezy rather than baking hot, but what a lovely afternoon yesterday for an impromptu trip to the beach at Nairn. Not the usual busy seaside town tourist spot with the white dunes and proper beach-front, but along the coast a little at the other side of town where it is much quieter, with far less sand and far more rocks.

But it was certainly warm enough for a leisurely paddle in the outgoing tide, for finding a few special rocks and shells, for feeling the cold wet sand squidge so solidly between my toes and then letting the warm dry sand powder my feet afterwards, drying them off… Altogether a perfectly natural setting for my slightly windswept smile 🙂

Weekly Smile

Schools of Thought…

This week’s Provocative Question from Fandango asks:-

Do you believe that children should be required to return to school for the new school year?

Of my six grandchildren, the eldest is 18 and has already left school and the youngest is not quite two years old, so has not yet reached school age. But by the time our schools return here in Scotland on 11th August, we will have two five-year-olds due to make the important move from nursery to their first year in primary school, a seven-year-old with ongoing health problems beginning his third year, and a nine-year-old starting her fifth year in primary school.

All of our school-age grandchildren are really looking forward to attending school in person next month, but are understandably worried about the virus. They’ve missed their friends and have missed their teachers but know that lockdown happened to everyone to help stop people getting sick and dying. They have been keeping up as far as possible with schooling online, but it’s inevitably been a bit patchy over time and not quite the same as being full time in their purpose-built learning environment.

Scotland has chosen to have a much longer period of lockdown than England before starting to ease restrictions, and thankfully for now our levels of new infections and deaths are relatively low so we are in a position where schools returning full time is not such a contentious issue as it may be in some other countries. However contingency plans are still in place to allow for a differently organised ‘blended learning’ approach if this becomes necessary due to a resurgence of infection in the future.

So right now I must admit I feel pleased that schools here are returning soon, and as long as adequate safety measures are in place for all students and staff I think it is definitely the right thing to do here in Scotland. The children are keen to be back in their usual learning routine, five months has been a long time for them to feel like they have been missing out. They are happy to be at home, but are happy to be out at school too. They like their little bit of independence and the support of their peer group.

Too much longer away from school and I would probably fear their emotional health might begin to be seriously compromised, but children are generally resilient creatures with an elasticity of expectation and experience leading to an easy adaptability and acceptance of ‘what is’ that we have somehow lost as adults. The hope is they will catch up as their schooling progresses, make up for lost time, start to feel secure again in life. Hopefully lockdown will have provided a different type of lesson to be learned long-term.

But would I be feeling the same if I lived elsewhere? Probably not…

Weird But Wonderful

Yesterday was my first day back at work with real customers as well as just us staff in store (I work in the women’s wear section of a local department store), and to my relief it went fine – woo-hoo! On the whole customers wore reasonable face coverings, warily kept their distance, and calmly followed the correct procedures at the till without complaint. I felt a bit apprehensive to begin with, but as my usual sales-assistant work-mode kicked in I soon got used to the initial strangeness of it all.

We’ve been provided with full-face visors to wear at work, or we have the option of wearing our own masks if we prefer, and thin blue gloves are provided if we choose to wear them. Hand sanitiser is readily available for staff and customers to use, and we have perspex screens in front of the till points in use. I’m not fussed with gloves, I’d rather just maintain good hand hygiene, but face wearing some kind of face covering in all shops is mandatory here in Scotland.

In practice I found the visor to be really good to wear in regard to ease of breathing and still being able to see people’s faces when standing still or walking about, so fine when at the till point but not necessarily so practical for the inevitable lifting and bending and reaching when moving stock around – it got caught up and fell off or at got least shunted uncomfortably out of place far too often and I spent a lot of time yesterday adjusting it or replacing it, so the perspex became smudged and soon gave me a headache to be looking through it.

Hmmm… how best to overcome that little difficulty? I’m not generally great at having my mouth and nose covered directly for long periods of time – being asthmatic I tend to freak out at the feeling – but today I think I’m going to try to wear a face mask instead of my visor on shift. I’ve got used to wearing a mask when shopping myself, but coping for ten minutes here and there in and out of a shop is different than breathing through fabric for hours at a time at work. But it’s definitely worth a try.

Or I might take both visor and mask onto the shop floor, and change my face covering as necessary depending on the task at hand? The thing is, everyone’s in the same boat, no-one finds it easy because it feels decidedly odd for all of us. But we’re doing it because however restrictive and frustrating it is in the short-term it is helping us as a country reduce ongoing infection in the long-term, and that makes prefect sense. Sometimes we all have to do what’s difficult for the greater good, and that’s all there is to it.

Overall, though, even with my constant fiddling about with my face covering I really enjoyed my first ‘proper’ day back at work, and however tentative a beginning it may have been it is still a return of sorts to a normal life, or at least to whatever is going to count as normal for the next few months or so. Customers, too, were on the whole relieved to be out and about and enjoying a physical rather than virtual shopping experience. It felt good to have the normality of interaction with others again, even if at a safe distance.

Weird but wonderful is probably the best description of my day yesterday. It does feel weird to have to be avoiding yet accommodating a silent but deadly virus in every part of our daily lives, but at the same time it feels wonderful to have the opportunity to begin to end our lockdown limbo at last. Life goes on, cautiously and carefully, one small step at a time. But I’m taking nothing for granted, the threat to us all is by no means over yet. This virus is clearly here to stay, and the sooner we all accept that stark reality, the better for mankind.

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Tentative

Ness Island Walk

This afternoon my husband and I went for a walk along the Ness Islands – little low islands of trees and winding paths sitting slap bang in the middle of the River Ness, linked together by a series of small ironwork footbridges stretching across from bank to bank. Another dull grey day weather-wise, but we had a lovely enjoyable walk anyway 🙂