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Photograph by Alistair Pryde of Words & Pictures,

Ask not for whom the hound roos; she roos for thee.
(From: "Send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee." John Donne, 1624)

A birthday party via Zoom
(details next month)

Ian with greyhound Tara.

Out for a walk during Lockdown.


April ... well, what a month that was! We all learned a new way of living. For archive purposes: we all had to stay in our homes except for specific designated activities (shopping, exercise, medical, key working). For us, we got into a routine pretty quickly – Hannah did Tara’s morning walk as exercise for both of them followed by a bit of yoga or a workout for Hannah before breakfast. We had a quiz session after our family breakfast to get the brains going. Lois and Ian did either a long walk early afternoon or later in the evening with Tara, depending on the weather, and we went shopping when we had to. The evenings, we have to admit, have been taken up utilising our Netflix and Amazon Prime subscriptions, BBC iPlayer and so on. Any platform where we can avoid interminable adverts, really!

Shopping was interesting – while we are not vulnerable, we fall into the “at risk” category so are trying not to go to places where other people are ... as we’ve been advised – the government has asked us to use home deliveries whenever we could. However, Tesco were completely overwhelmed and their home deliveries and click and collect were simply unavailable a month ahead. This appeared to be so right across the country. They didn’t give any information or any help ... availability simply stopped. Morrison’s and Iceland kept going pretty well with a much better web portal than Tesco, as did Sainsbury’s - and Lidl were fantastic. Our concern has been that if we had to isolate for a fortnight, we couldn’t have eaten! But Morrison’s and Lidl, between them, came up with the goods – literately. Loo rolls became available as the month went on as did pasta, both of which were simply unavailable for the first half of the month.

What are the up-sides of our month, then? We had planned to go up to the Highlands for Easter, but that wasn’t within the rules so we didn’t; so we had a lovely Easter at home ... the supermarkets near to home having a surfeit of chocolate eggs! We also had a couple of barbecues when it was warm (Lidl did well for those) but apart from those days we were in an arctic airstream (literally) and it was cold. Above all, though, it was quiet – it still is. Lovely and quiet! It’s quieter than our Highland retreat now! Very few cars go by and going for walks has been lovely; indeed we have found some beautiful places to walk close to home (see above right). Brandon Woods, for example ... we didn’t even knew that they existed before and they offer some fantastic walks in near solitude! There are also lots of open spaces – grassed, lit and maintained by the Council ... wonderful. The air itself is fresher and cleaner that we’ve ever known ... and the clarity of views is fantastic too. It just shows the crap that we pump into the air normally.

Oh, and Tara has learned to go up and down stairs. She sounds a bit like a drunkard coming down, but greyhounds are hardly built for stairs!

Perhaps the most uplifting of all the activity going on at this peculiar time is the “clap for our carers” on Thursday evenings at 8:00. We took part in them – from a high platform on the deck in the garden so that we could see over the hedge. At first we felt a little guilty at our surprise of the enthusiasm of the people of Brandon, but then felt quite emotional at the solidarity of the support for those who are in the “front line”. We haven’t used pots and pans to make more noise yet (as some do) – we’ll keep that for next month.

Towards the middle of the month came the news that the lockdown would continue for another three weeks at least – no surprise there. Settle in ....

 
   
Today is: 2020
Site last updated: Monday, May 18 2020
 
March 2020
WOW! Well, how things have changed since last month. And it's all happened since the latter half of March. For those reading this as an archive - Covid-19 hit the UK hard and serious controls had to be put into place. Around the middle of the month, the government gave strong advice to everyone to stay indoors and not congregate. That was just before a nice weekend when everyone went to Snowdon and Ben Nevis, thus congregating. People went to pubs, some restaurants stayed open. It was exactly what one might have come to expect, really. On top of all that, lots of people with camper vans tried to go to Scotland to isolate and one story had it that 30 such vans turned up at the Ben Nevis visitor centre car park (where there are no facilities) demanding to stay there; police were called and it was all a bit messy. So the government had to get heavy, putting out a direction, rather than advice, that we all had to stay indoors apart from very specific listed reasons. Schools closed, clubs, pubs and restaurants closed, and so on. This was all backed up by law which was hurried in.

For us, we settled in to a routine which included outings for only getting groceries and exercise (which included Tara of course). The huge news was that we managed to get some toilet roll on Friday 27th March! The first available for weeks. We still don't know why everyone panic bought toilet roll - Covid-19 causes neither diarrhoea nor sneezing - but the nation ran out. We're a funny bunch aren't we! The joke of each morning saying in a Geordie accent "Day 4 of lockdown in the house" quickly became stale. Two interesting things struck us. First, just how quiet it is without traffic. Round here rivals the Highlands for quietness now. The loudest thing is the birdsong! Some would regard it as spooky or even scary - we think it's the silver lining of all this. The other is the lack of sociability. We understand the social distance requirement but we hadn't expected people that we see on out daily exercise walk to avoid eye contact or any greeting! That's a bit odd and maybe will settle down as we all get used to this strange way of living.

But, in common with just about every other monthly update since we began them, this month we had some work done (and like just about every previous report, it was the last bit of work to be done). This was to streamline the garage storage. Ian of ISWORX got it done just before the lockdown and it looks fabulous!

January/February 2020
After the rigours of Christmas and New Year (which in fact were not all that rigorous at all), January and February have been much quieter. The high point was a trip to the Highlands, a Travelodge stay. Full details about that on the Travel Blog in “Adventures”. Apart from that, it’s been very quiet indeed ... apart from us having incorporating our open stairs closed in. Ian from ISWORX did a great job as always. Picture below.. We had our birthdays too, which was nice. February was even quieter ... looking back I think we kind of hibernated! One point of mention is that Hannah found that her role with Orangebus/Capita was not as billed ... it was market research rather than product research! Not even close to her desired career pathway, so they parted company (amicably). She's now decided to follow mum and dad's footsteps and go into teaching and in the meantime is concentrating full time on her PhD writeup; as a result it's going very well indeed now. She has also started working p/t as an intern at the UTC which is really great experience for her and is retaining her role as a STEM ambassador at the UTC in Newcastle. All very good indeed and she is looking forward hugely to getting under way with her new career direction.

December 2019
Looking back on December to summarise it for you is quite tough … because not very much happened, really! A glance through our diaries shows that Lois and Ian spent nearly every day doing some sort of voluntary work … Hospital Trustees, Research Groups, Patient Groups, Judicial work, Advisory Committee stuff and so on. It was, depending on how you look at it, either a mad week or one that showed a marked lack of diary control! Hannah continued with her job – which has now graduated away from “new job” to just “job” as she settles in to professional life and the joys of commuting and, towards the end of the month, a Tyne & Wear Metro strike which was carefully timed to hit end-of-year festivities as well as a key NUFC football match. Season’s Greetings to the RMT!

More positively, Tara gained Kennel Club recognition as Flomur Tara, her “posh Sunday name” after a protracted email discussion between Ian and the KC followed by a really, really helpful telephone call with Lesley from the Club who painstakingly and with enormous patience talked Ian through a whole new world of terminology including “sires” and “dams” which previously he had thought were about mediaeval kings and irrigation control, and “stud book” which is a phrase not well served by Google searches! It’s a long time since Ian was fazed by terminology and he found it refreshing … or maybe another word. Also, the Christmas food started to arrive … by van from Tesco, another van from Iceland and a courier also in a van from Campbell’s Meat in Linlithgow. Might’ve overdone it a bit … indeed we had to nip out and buy another freezer to accommodate everything.

We also went to see “A Jazzy Christmas” at the Sage which careful readers will remember we saw last year. We’d booked the tickets in the “BT era” (ie Before Tara) and were now a bit stuck because she’s not yet confident enough in us to be left for several hours … not without us (although probably not her) “worriting”. However, Hannah and Ben volunteered to look after her while we gallivanted. And we had a fabulous time. And then there was the Strictly final …

Christmas itself was wonderful – mostly food orientated of course – but terrific. We all had a brilliant time and Ian got a pie in a tin for Christmas. Nuff said!

November 2019
November was a nice, quiet month (for a change!) We have been enjoying getting to know Tara and she us. We have established a reasonable routine, now, which makes for an easier life for us all. Hounds like routine, we find, and Tara is no different. She goes to bed and sleeps through without hassle and, like us, doesn’t really like getting up in the morning especially when it’s cold … and certainly not when it’s raining. She enjoys her walks on a set route for morning, afternoon and evening “pee and poo” sessions. She also loves going for rides in the car and we have had a couple of lovely visits to the Greyhound Trust people one of which was their Christmas Fayre at Hardwick Park. We have also had a super session at home with Vicky from Have a Good Dog (www.haveagooddog.co.uk) who started us on basic training (in fairness, it really was us rather than Tara who needed training). Vicky really was great and we got a proper set of notes, handouts and references as part of the fee, as well as a very enjoyable session. Thoroughly recommended.

There is now a link in the menu on the left for Tara’s background data including her pedigree and race results before she retired. And some photos too.

Apart from that, the month has seen a lot of interviewing for new JPs – Durham & Cleveland are right in the middle of a recruitment campaign at the moment and we’ve also had a couple of excellent events at the University. And Ian had a very enjoyable “black tie” dinner at the UTC to launch their new STEM initiative.

So all in all a very pleasant month with enough interesting things but a lot of enjoyable stuff going on too.

Oh, and the Christmas trees are up … in November! I know!!

October 2019
Well, what a month October has been! We had the last bits of the new kitchen fitted and the decorating more or less done. In amongst that, Lois had a few days on holiday in London, visiting her family and catching up on some of the genealogy stuff she’s been working on. We got the rubbish removed from the old kitchen (a truck full) and the old but still good fridge and freezer as well as a whole lot of other superfluous stuff went to the BHF charity shop. Later in the month, Ian did a quick run up to the North West Highlands! Alongside all that we attended an excellent Lieutenancy dinner and got on with our usual Judicial business; so all in all a very packed month!

But we know you don’t want to hear about any of that! You want to hear about Tara don’t you! It’s a while since we had someone in the household that needed lots of care and attention - 25 years, in fact! Rescuing a greyhound is remarkably similar to having a baby! September saw Tara settle in, understand what a house is, what stairs were and what a hoover is like. October has been much more about getting her into routines to that she feels comfortable as a new member of the family. What they say about a couple of hours’ snooze for each half-hour walk is about right and we have found some lovely routes round about that keep us clear of the main roads. We have been pleasantly surprised by the amount of green space there is around here – loads of it. All of which makes for a wonderful smellscape to be created for a hound. We daren’t let her off her lead, though ... she finds rabbits very attractive and will go for magpies like a shot; well, she did race at Sunderland after all (that’s a local joke). But other dogs rattle her ... unless they are other greyhounds. We attended the monthly Sunday walk organised by the Darlington Greyhound Trust where she linked up with some of her old friends and we made some new ones!

September 2019
September was dominated by the arrival of Tara. But that wasn't the only thing that happened, so before we tell you about Tara, here are the other highlights ...

We spent a wonderful week in Shetland. We've done Orkney before, so wanted to go a little further afield and do the northernmost extremity of the UK. Details are in the travel blog, of course, which you can access from the Adventures link in the menu on the left or by clicking here.

On our return, we prepared for a lunch to which we invited some friends. It turned into quite a big "do" with about 20 people coming. We'd originally envisaged it being a barbecue but the weather was a little unkind to us - maybe not a surprise for mid-September, but annoying nevertheless. Instead we did a roast dinner (beef, lamp, pork, chicken, salmon and a veggie option too). It seemed to go down well and we had a very relaxed afternoon eating, drinking and chatting; it was very pleasant. In parallel, we had emptied the kitchen because, yes although we'd said we had finished the renovations for now, we got an excellent deal on a new kitchen so went for it. Not great timing, but ...!

Alongside all that was the arrival of Tara who we adopted on 12th September. Tara is a four year old ex-racing greyhound, rescued by the Greyhound Trust at Darlington. Tara’s first race was on 21st July 2017 in Kilkenny, Ireland and she raced 5 times before coming to the UK. Since she was trained in Ireland she has an identification tattoo is both ears. She raced at Sunderland 48 times from 8th September 2017 to her final race on 30th June 2019, winning six times. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately for her) she wasn’t all that good at keeping to her lane as she raced and there are numerous notes in her record about bumping which means that she bumped into the dog running beside her or crowded them – she didn’t baulk them, which would have meant that she interfered with them, she just wandered a bit. She also has notes about being slow away and running on. In other words, she wasn’t a very good racing greyhound which presumably is why she went for adoption at quite a young age.

She's still settling in to life here - we've had a few sleepless nights and some "accidents" too, but things are improving by the day as she learns to trust us and enjoy her new life with us.

August 2019
August has been a month of getting on with life, really. There have only been a couple of excitements! We have both been settling in to our volunteering, catching up somewhat on things that have drifted by. For once we didn't do much in the way of holiday ... we didn't need to because we can go any time (did I mention we're retired). And anyway, Scotland is currently sinking under the sheer number of camper vans on its roads - best to stay away unless you have a camper van of your own. We nipped up to Edinburgh to collect Hannah from university - for probably the last time. We've done this for seven years, what with her first degree then her PhD, and it was a bit of a "lump in the throat moment" to drive away after we'd loaded up. We'd intended to have a "final breakfast" at Frankie and Benny's in Fountain Park, but they don't open until 9:00 and we were ready to leave at 8:10, so we went to McDonalds in Berwick-upon-Tweed instead which was very nice and a fitting "full stop" - or maybe a semi-colon - in Hannah's educational journey. Next month she starts her first full time job!

We spent a few days up at the caravan, which alternated between very hot and pouring rain on what seemed like an almost hourly basis, but which was actually only daily. The key entertainment was watching the croft owners using a mini-digger to remove rhododendron bushes (which are weeds up there). It ranks alongside "Bones" in entertainment value. Ian also had some work with UHI so than necessitated a trip to Inverness which is never a hardship.

We've kept the big new until last, though. You'll recall we we're considering adopting a rescue dog and we have spent a good deal of time in July and August visiting rescue centres, seeing all kinds of dog (often embodied in one animal). After a lot of thinking, an interview, a home visit and a great deal of reading around the subject, we have reserved Tara - pictured above with Hannah - who will join us in September. We'll begin yet another chapter of our history as a family ... and we'll tell you all about it here.

July 2019
Last month I promised to tell you about the photograph of the Forth Bridges, above. Well, here you go!

In February 2015, Lois was in Scotland visiting Hannah in Edinburgh and decided to drop in to South Queensferry to see if she could find out about the building of the Forth Replacement Crossing, as it was called then. Construction had been going on since 2011 and it was due to open in 2016, so it was close to opening around the time of Ian’s 60th birthday, she thought. Something linked to the bridge, like a visit to an exhibition about the construction might make a suitable additional birthday event. While wandering along the narrow road through South Queensferry and admiring the existing bridges that reached so high she spotted a small shop and studio on the High Street called Words & Pictures. Along with wedding and family portraits there was a nice print of the Forth Bridge and the Forth Road Bridge, plus another photograph of local architecture. These took her eye and she called in. She met Alistair Pryde, the studio owner and chatted with him. Between them a plan was hatched that involved a commissioned photograph of the three Forth bridges, to be taken once the new crossing had been completed. This was agreed and then the wait for the perfect shot began.

Alistair quickly realised, based on our brief and his creative knowledge, that a night-time photograph would be best, but even after the formal opening by The Queen the work on the bridge was still going on. There were overnight lane closures (with all the orange flashing lights necessary for those) and the bridge’s own lighting design was still under discussion so was not yet in place. Furthermore, there were still lots of construction paraphernalia on the bridge – portacabins, plastic sheeting and so on. It didn’t make for a good photograph, so we waited … sort of patiently. It wasn’t until November 2018 that the works were finally completed and the construction paraphernalia cleared away. So Alistair had not been able to take advantage of the autumnal light which he favoured. Meanwhile he had been hunting around to select the best spot from which to take the picture. We waited for further news. The winter weather, however, was very poor which led to more delay. January 2019 Alistair had chosen the perfect location, but now faced another problem. The newly installed lighting to complete the bridge was an issue. Alistair wrote:
“The lighting on the Queensferry Crossing continues to frustrate us because it is so much more intense than the lighting on the other two. So shooting at dusk is the solution to this dilemma and will give us the contrast that Ian wants, and will look spectacular in black and white.”

On 9 July 2019, we collected the print!

The picture hangs on the end wall of our dining room, alone and spectacular. The causeway in the foreground takes you as you walk into the room from the other end and leads you forward into the picture. On the left is the new Queensferry Crossing, to the right is the Forth Road Bridge. Look beneath the Road Bridge and you can see the Forth Bridge.

Apart from the picture (which obviously took over the month, really) we've fitted in another couple of things. Ian had a very enjoyable couple of days at UHI sitting on their assessment boards. Always very good discussion and an excellent group of people. He also had a day at the University of Sunderland Graduations - it's always lovely to see the students crossing the stage.