2020 The year as seen by me

Here we are almost at the end of another year and I’m not going to apologise for not blogging regularly or make any promises to do so next year because I know that it won’t happen! I start with good intentions, just a little blog each week to sum up the happenings of the week, it really wouldn’t take long but I just don’t do it. So, it’s my blog and I’ll blog when I want to.

Firstly, the header picture. This is the Hull New Theatre when I visited in January to see Swan Lake which was absolutely wonderful. I have missed the theatre more than anything else this year.

What a year it’s been! Who ever imagined in their wildest nightmares that the entire world would be struck down with a global pandemic called Coronavirus. Starting in China around this time last year and quickly spreading throughout the world, by March most of the world was in a lockdown situation, people only being allowed out of their homes for essential needs and daily exercise. However, I don’t think I’m the only one who when being sent to work from home at the end of March, actually imagined I’d still be doing that now in December and probably into the new year. At least one new variant of the virus has evolved running rampage throughout the UK causing France to close it’s borders to anyone travelling from England. Scenes at Dover of thousands of stranded lorry drivers who just wanted to get home for Christmas is just heartbreaking. Our NHS is again at breaking point and I just wonder when and how it is all going to end. There does appear to be light at the end of the tunnel that is 2020, with several vaccines having been developed and now being administered to vulnerable people and healthworkers around the world.

There are some aspects of this year that I have enjoyed, some that I have found a pain in the arse and and of course some that have made me very sad for others. I have been happy working at home for the most part, it’s been quite nice not having to wear ‘work clothes’ or do hair and makeup each day. We were very lucky with the weather this year too, from March on, we had sunshine mostly so it was a pleasure to sit in the garden with my lunch and watch the birds coming down to the feeders or bathing in our little water cascade. We had decided to add to our little pond with a waterfall kind of thing and so being unable to go to garden centres, we ordered online. Patrick worked so hard to get it into place and right from the start, our resident robin and blackbird were giving it some attention. By the time it was up and running they were bathing and drinking several times a day.

Junior blackbird enjoying a bath.

I cannot express strongly enough what pleasure have gained from the birdlife in our little garden this year. We were priviledged to watch ‘Tufty’ our blackbird, so called because of a tuft of feathers stuck up on his head, raise and feed two pairs of fledglings, one after the other. The first pair were very demanding of dad and got up to mischief in the garden, we watched him care for them and scold them when they were out of line. I nicknamed them Ronnie and Reggie, after some other famous twins! Tufty himself became quite used to us and would happily come down to eat from the dish of mealworms provided quite close to where we were sitting, always keeping a beady eye on us though. Sadly I think Bob the Robin’s nest must have been predated as we had seen both Bob and his missus Bobette very obviously preparing a nest and then eventually, taking food back and forth but it went quiet after a week or so and we didn’t see either of them for ages and definitely no baby Robins. The Dunnocks were the surprise of the year for me. Unassuming little brown birds, scrabbling about under the bushes picking up scraps dropped from the feeders, I’ve never really taken much notice of them before, but what a stunning song! They sing so loud and beautifully, I couldn’t believe that song was coming from such a little bird, they also make a sound like a squeaky wheel sometimes though which can be a little annoying. We soon learned to put food on the ground for ground feeders like the Dunnocks, Blackbirds and Robins and loved watching them hopping around. We had sunflower hearts, peanuts and niger seeds for the tits and goldfinches and they didn’t disappoint with even the goldfinch fledglings paying us a visit. The sparrows will eat anything and everything from wherever it is! As soon as garden centres were able to open, we popped along to Southwoods and bought all of our supplies for the baskets and tubs and we had a beautiful summer display. Yes, the garden has been a great comfort this year in particular. I feel the need to point out that the grotty looking net curtain on the window behind the bird feeder is in the garage not the house! Hover over the pictures for a caption.

At the beginning of March, I had started my 10,000 steps a day challenge to raise funds for Prostate Cancer UK. This was a personal mission you can read about here. Going into lockdown, I wondered how I would complete it without the walk to and from work each day to bolster the step count. It is surprisingly difficult to complete 10,000 steps when you have a sedentary job and even with the three mile round trip for work, I still had to go for either a lunchtime or evening walk to complete each day’s challenge. In the event of lockdown, I actually took three exercise sessions each day for those last few days of March (don’t tell Boris!), I would go out in the morning, lunchtime and evening and occasionally even took to walking around the living room and kitchen! This had the effect of making me see and appreciate the area I live in. It’s not the most fabulous area in all honesty, quite densely populated with a council estate bordering one side and student housing to the other, but I found beauty where I didn’t expect it. The local drain has a footpath all along it and is teeming with wildlife, birds, insects, wildflowers and trees. One day during my morning walk, I watched two foxes on the other side of the drain, sunning themselves lying in the grass. I watched for quite a while and as a woman with two young children approached I pointed them out, sadly that was too much for Freddy and Freda Fox, four people staring at them across the water had them a bit spooked and they slunk away into the undergrowth. Wandering around the streets of the estate, trying to get my steps in, I found pretty gardens where the occupants clearly got a lot of pleasure from creating and maintaining them and across the main road for a walk around some playing fields called Oak Road where, as well as access to the bank of the River Hull, there is a lovely fishing lake with ducks, swans and in summer, dragonflies. That’s not to say that I didn’t find it very difficult some days to make myself get out there and walk. However, it was an achievement I am proud of and it has taught me that you don’t have to travel to find beautiful places, just open your eyes to the places you walk past everyday.

Some of the things that have been disappointing this year; being unable to go to the theatre, which I love to do. We had so many booking this year for shows and also gigs but almost all have been either cancelled or postponed. The way this virus is going, who knows even if they will go ahead next year! We did manage to see Swan Lake and Beautiful – The Carole King Story, in January and The King and I in February, I also went to see Purple Rain, a Prince tribute at the City Hall with my work friend Julie which was very enjoyable. The funniest thing was that whilst standing up and dancing I managed to do about 6000 steps!

We missed our customary long weekend in London this year too, we like to see a show, have a meal out and a beer or three in our favourite pubs, and usually visit a museum or choose an area to explore on at least one of the days. During our last visit in 2019, we went to the Victoria and Albert museum for the first time ever. I had no idea it was so huge, we spent several hours in there but still hadn’t really seen all we wanted to, so that was definitely on our to do list for this year along with the National Portrait Gallery which I’ve been wanting to visit for some time. Sadly, even if we could have visited London, all the theatres, pubs and museums were all closed so we couldn’t have done what we wanted to. We can only hope with the vaccine being rolled out now that we can start to go out to places again next year. The arts and hospitality industry have suffered more than most during this pandemic and my heart goes out to them.

We were also disappointed to be missing out on our annual stay in a caravan in Flamborough to see the seabird colonies at the YWT reserve on North Landing Cliffs and the RSPB reserve at Bempton Cliffs. Thankfully the Government announced that at the beginning of July, holiday parks would be allowed to open under strict restrictions, no entertainment or sports facilities would be open but that doesn’t bother us at all, it isn’t what we go to the caravan for. So, pleased that we were going to be able to visit my favourite place afterall, I booked it immediately. As always, we had a lovely few days and enjoyed seeing the seabirds. It really is a sight, sound (and smell) to behold and some new binoculars meaning we now have a pair each, meant that we could both watch the antics on the cliffs at the same time. Not only on the cliffs but watching the birds in the sky is completely mesmerising. The auks of which puffins, razorbills and guillemots number, have only small wings so watching them flapping like crazy in order to get anywhere is quite amusing at times, by contrast the gannet with its wingspan of about six feet glides gracefully through the sky before plumeting beak first into the sea to catch their dinner. As always, I was sad to leave. Flamborough is my happy place.

In September, we were able to book a holiday cottage in Staithes, a place I have always wanted to stay in. We had a lovely time which I did start to blog about but have since lost the posts somehow! You can read about it on Patrick’s post instead though and view my picture slideshow below.

During the summer, a Facebook message from Mike, the son of my cousin asking a question about the family history in which he’s interested rekindled a spark in me this year. I first started out in genealogy about 1992, when you had to visit local history libraries and archives to find the records you needed. At that time, I didn’t go out to work, being in the fortunate position of a stay at home mum so I spent countless hours in libraries and archives, corresponded with people all over the world, through contacts in family history magazines and websites, and amassed a lot of names and dates to add to my tree, using a family history computer program to compile it all into tree format. Then, the now ubiquitous genealogy website Ancestry.com came along and I purchased a subscription, imported my tree and continued researching using their online records. After going back to work spare time was a rare commodity so I let my subscription lapse and so hadn’t done any real work on it for many years. I’ve dipped in and out occasionally but didn’t really feel I had enough time to pursue it as I wanted to. Well the spark that Mike’s message alighted soon developed into a blazing fire and before I knew what I was doing I had renewed my Ancestry subscription and was well and truly back on the trail. Thanks to modern technology giving us access to so many records online now and archive material being either available or easier to locate, I have found so much new information, new family members and a lot of historical material with which to enrich the stories of the lives of these people from whom I am made. I treated myself a few weeks ago to a DNA testing kit, the results of which were a little bit surprising to me due to what I have learned about my ancestors. On most of my closest family lines, the ancestry goes back to Ireland. My father was Scottish and my mother English but both of their families partly originate from Ireland. With this in mind, I expected my DNA ethnicity to come out very heavy on the Irish but it is very much mostly Scottish at 60%. I have since done a bit of reading and learned that DNA inheritance isn’t as straightforward as most of us expect it to be but I’m still trying to work it out in my mind. What I have learned is that we inherit 50% of DNA from each parent, although which segments of their DNA we inherit is random, so siblings may have a different DNA make up depending on which segments they inherit. I still cannot quite understand though how 60% of my DNA is Scottish if only 50% of my DNA is from my father, there is no Scottish at all in my mother’s side of the family. I’ll let you know when I work that one out!

Christmas this year was very different for most people with mixing between households limited and in some cases forbidden. For the first time in his life, Michael didn’t spend Christmas with me. Due to the new strain of coronavirus which was most prevalent in London and the Southeast, London was placed into a tier 4 situation just before Christmas, meaning that travel in and out of the capital was not allowed. Mason living in Hull was still able to visit though, so I picked him up on Christmas morning to come to our house for the day. We had a Zoom call planned with Michael, which was supposed to be for us to all open our presents together. In typical Michael style though, he had already opened his when he first got up! I was annoyed for about 30 seconds and then we had a laugh about it and he just had to sit through us opening ours instead. We had a nice relaxed day with our now traditional ‘tapas style’ Christmas lunch. Due to Mason’s vegetarianism and Michael’s fussy-ism, traditional Christmas dinner with all the trimmings had just become a stressful event so we made the decision 2 or 3 years ago to forego it in favour of a meal made up of smaller portions of lots of different foods, so we could all eat what we wanted and be more relaxed. It worked a treat and we do it each year now, Patrick and I enjoying a more traditional meal together when we are on our own.

I hope everyone enjoyed their Christmas, despite (or perhaps because of) it being a bit different!

In summary, I think what we all need to take from the year 2020 is to not be disappointed about what we couldn’t do but to be thankful for what we could.

Happy NewYear. I truly hope everyone has the 2021 they want.

30 Days Wild – 19th June

I think I’m very lucky in that I tend to see beauty all around me, even in unconventional places or situations, like the office car park for instance. I’m definitely the kind of person who gets excited when I see a plant growing in between cracks in a concrete landscape.

So today I popped into the office as I do once every week whilst working from home in these strange times. As I drove into a parking spot my eyes were drawn to a pretty patch of poppies down the side of our and the next door car parks. I rushed to take a photo or two and such was my enthusiasm for their beauty, I didn’t even notice the litter around them until I looked at the photos afterwards. I’ve cropped it out of the pictures, ugly has no place in my little world. 😊

30 Days Wild – 15th June

I’ve had a severe migraine since Saturday night and yesterday passed in a blur of sleeping and throwing up! I woke this morning not feeling much better so phoned in sick and went back to bed. It was a relief to wake up at lunch time feeling like I was coming out of the other side.

So today I have been sitting in the garden just listening to the birds singing and watching them coming down to our feeders. I think I’ve been more stressed over work than I realised and the peace of our little garden has been a blessing today.

30 Days Wild – 13th June

Today I am catching up with the 2 episodes of BBC Springwatch that I’ve missed this week. I have enjoyed this series tremendously with the teams all presenting from their home locations. The minute and a half mindfulness clips have been beautiful and I’d love it if they were to make these available to download and keep for future viewing.

I haven’t blogged everyday but I have definitely been having random wildness moments each day just by watching the activities of the birds in our garden. This certainly brings me peace and helps alleviate the stress of my working day. Just taking five minutes to stretch my shoulders from being hunched at my desk whilst standing at the window watching the birds has kept me sane these last few weeks.

So, I’ll leave today’s post with a random selection of photos from around and about.

Cheeky little lady house sparrow

Tufty up close

Mr and Mrs Mallard

The River Hull full to the brim

30 Days Wild – 9th June

I’m not managing to do something every day but I’m not going to stress over it, that would be counter productive. I’m enjoying what I am doing and I’m definitely thinking about nature each day.

Sunday and Monday were horrible days weather-wise and I just couldn’t be bothered if I’m honest. Monday was a busy workday anyway.

Tuesday was a fabulously wild day though. A bright and sunny morning so I went for my favourite local walk down the drain side. I decided to take some photos of the wildflowers and identify any I didn’t already know when I got back home. I didn’t know this one which I believe is a common knapweed.

I also loved the last of the dandelions with a little butterfly enjoying it.

I also saw poppies, clover and pretty Yorkshire fog grass.

Then, what an absolute delight. I could hear jackdaws calling from the trees on the opposite bank so was trying to spot them when I saw what I first thought was a ginger cat basking in the morning sunshine. It wasn’t a cat, it was a fox, two foxes in fact. Oh how I wished I’d had my camera with me, my phone just didn’t have the zoom capability to get a good picture. You can just spot them if you look closely!

We watched each other for a few minutes and then they slunk off into the undergrowth when a woman with two children joined me to watch them.

I walked back home with a spring in my step ready to face the day ahead and spotted this grass which is very familiar to me but I haven’t been able to find what it is called.

I was at home working when mid morning Patrick called to me to say there were a couple of birds we hadn’t seen before on the Niger seed feeder. We soon identified them as goldfinch fledglings.

This was so wonderful for us and we watched them for ages. For such little birds they can certainly eat plenty!

So, I think I had plenty of wildness on Tuesday to make up for the two days I’ve missed.