Two Different Types of Lockdown

It was 17 days ago that I dragged the last item of my student belongings through the door of my Aberdeen flat. My mood was rather sombre as I carried my annoying elephant costume, which I regret ever purchasing, and placed it beside the dusty staircase. Having said my final goodbyes to my Jamaica Street accommodation, I turned the keys in the door for the final time.

The nine months I spent there had been for the most part enjoyable, but with the semester coming to an abrupt close and the other complicated outcomes of a global pandemic to consider, I realised it was time to move on.

Indeed, I hadn’t actually inhabited my flat since the nationwide lockdown began following Boris Johnson’s 8pm speech on the 16th March. I watched the announcement in my girlfriend’s flat and decided to stay there, being fortunate enough to isolate with company. A luxury many haven’t been so lucky to enjoy over the last 57 days.

During the first five weeks of the unprecedented restrictions I spent a ludicrous amount of time watching boats manoeuvre in the nearby harbour. This rather than focusing on a challenging, but doable web design project. I even became excited about witnessing the Northern Isles ferry’s arrival and departure on its reduced Covid-19 timetable. Sometimes the small things in life can keep you mildly entertained.

Throughout those first few weeks I lived for my daily opportunity to experience the outdoors, predominantly taking a liberating run down to the often-blustery beach. Often the limited exercise would be reduced to a short trip to the shops to buy essentials and cider. The cider likely negating much of the good work being done through the regular running.

Journeys to the supermarket where anxious affairs with many audible sighs being heard as customers grumbled at other customer’s apparent lack of adherence to the new social distancing precautions. At first, I was disappointed by the absence of patience, before quickly realising that some of these aggrieved customers were likely key workers, experiencing high stress in their jobs.

I was also admittedly irked by a gentleman in the queue one day who was standing so unnaturally close to me that I could feel him breathing down my neck.

Out with the organised chaos of Morrisons and days of warm spells were spent cooped up inside, with no garden to inhabit. The lack of a green area is of course a common feature of most Aberdeen flats and therefore, an extremely minor issue.

When it comes down to it, I know I have been fortunate to have company and to lead a lifestyle in relative safety. These considerations are likely why I hated myself for beginning to become jaded with my city surroundings by the start of the fourth week of pandemic restrictions.

My longing for a bit of greenery was fulfilled by runs around to the Girdle Ness lighthouse at Nigg Bay, gaining a picturesque view back across Aberdeen. This accompanied by short but breathless efforts up the steep Broad Hill beside Pittodrie Stadium.

I guiltily missed the countryside which lay just outside mu current concrete jungle surroundings. Again, this being offset by the company I was enjoying.

Though ironically, I now find myself in the countryside again, returning to Braemar after my girlfriend and her flatmate opted in for the NHS as students. With the tables turned I realised I should move-out, wanting to decrease the risk of cross-infection for her. I also realised that I would likely not see my girlfriend in the flesh for another several weeks.

It was also time to depart the flat as the unpredictability of the future effects of Covid-19 made me hesitant in agreeing to a lease into next semester and beyond. It was a Friday evening when I gathered all of my belongings into an overladen Vauxhall Corsa and made my way back up the valley.

I would be joining my family in lockdown and hoping that I wasn’t breaking lockdown rules by moving to a new house. I had already set out a two-week self-isolation period which meant avoiding the village.

The journey along the length of Deeside was dark and uneventful. I happened across a couple of buses and five police cars travelling eastwards, but otherwise the roads were spookily quiet. I remained convinced until I reached the confides of the Pass of Ballater that I would be pulled over by a rightfully inquisitive bobby.

Resting up that evening and considering my new quieter surroundings without the pleasant company of my girlfriend, I awoke the next morning to the almost foreign sound of birds singing. Having inhabited rural village settings for around 18 of my 21 unproductive years on this planet I’ve been lucky enjoy this sound of nature along with the eerie hoots of owls in recent nights.

Indeed, it didn’t take me long to conclude that a rural lockdown and an urban lockdown are two quite different prospects. The day after my return to village life I went for a run in the nearby woods, uninterrupted by vehicles or over socially distant pedestrians. It was hugely enjoyable despite the missing presence of some who I hold closest.

There are of course many who don’t experience living in the countryside are prefer inhabiting a concrete jungle. For me, gaining a taste of lockdown in the city made me realise how much of a luxury sitting in a garden at a time like this is.

“Braemar Folk” – Doreen Wood

It isn’t difficult for Doreen Wood to reminisce about her happiest memories in Braemar as she has so many of them. Growing up in Braemar in the 1950’s and 1960’s, she loved the freedom that she and her friends had in the village. She describes how they treated it as a “playground” and is quick to add that this aspect of the village is still similar today. Long, bright summer nights were spent swimming in the rivers Clunie and Dee or challenging each other to races up Creag Chonnich.

In her first 18 years here she admits that she never really gave much thought to the remoteness of Braemar’s location. It may have become more prevalent when she started secondary school in Banchory but she and her fellow schoolmates just got on with it. Leaving an often snowy Braemar in the winter at 6.50 am and not returning untill around 5.15 that evening, female students likely felt the cold more as trousers were firmly disallowed by the school.

At 18 years old she left her family home to pursue a degree in Sociology. A home which had been built by her great, great grandfather, a joiner from Dundee married to a local woman from Crathie. It was this grandfather which built the house where Doreen spends her time in Braemar.

Her family was perhaps most well known for Joey, a monkey which her uncle had picked up while working in Africa. This however wasn’t the first time a monkey had inhabited Doreen’s family home with two already being killed off by the harsh winters. Becoming increasingly frustrated, her father contacted Edinburgh Zoo for advice on keeping such an unacclimatized creature in Braemar. Using their advice Joey was kept warm by blankets and a hot water bottle and lived in the village for 22 years, becoming something of a celebrity.

It was while returning from university in the holidays that she met her husband Brian while both of them were finding work in the “Fife Arms”. It was this hotel which she can remember watching the 1969 moon landings from. Her other memory of a major news event being playing badminton behind the mews, the night Kennedy was assassinated.

Moving to Stonehaven in 1975, Doreen had an absence from work while focusing on raising her children. During this time she did however participate in amateur dramatics before becoming involved in hospital radio. This was seemingly a good fit for her and she sought a job as a continuity announcer for “Grampian TV” in Aberdeen.

Unfortunately she wasn’t given this job, but “emboldened” by this experience, sent her CV to the BBC and was given a three month placement on a farming program, reporting on the state of the cattle and sheep markets.This was a stepping stone to bigger things, and soon Doreen was providing radio news reports, playing a significant role in a new Aberdeen based radio program.

It was when her mother passed away in the 1990’s, that Doreen and her husband returned to Braemar to look after the house she had left behind. When discussing any changes which the village has undergone she points to the significant increase in movement in and out of the village. For many centuries many people would stay put, but she believes the increase in people moving to this picturesque Highland village in the last 20 years or so has been hugely positive.

returning to her true home. She says she has a “total sense of belonging here”, which isn’t hard to believe while sitting in a house which was built by her great, great grandfather all those years ago.

Many locals will also know that Doreen plays an important role in the community, being at the centre of many of the events taking place at the castle. This popular tourist attraction was at risk of being sold off before the community took it over in 2004.

Since then it has been a huge success and Doreen says it is a “glowing example that we (Braemar locals) can do anything”. When considering the many tourists which flock to Braemar, many thoughts turn to the ongoing renovation of the “Fife Arms”, a hotel which Doreen reckons will go further in making the village even more appealing for visitors.

A perhaps harder question for Doreen was about her favorite pastimes and hobbies as she is a busy lady. After a short pause she remembers that she teaches yoga and enjoys a bike ride every now and then. Though she is quick to remind me that everybody seems to cycle in Braemar and did when she was growing up in the village.

 

Keni Stops Play – Thursday 12th April

It had been a productive and highly enjoyable sixth week volunteering in the Yasawa Islands. The only disruption to the scheduled school visits had been on Thursday when we had carries out activities at base due to a poor water forecast. This had been followed on the Friday by a slightly hairy experience on our small boat in a larger than usual swell.

This was a perhaps a pre-warning of the storm which was approaching. It was a depression coming from the west which had caught the eye of forecasters who thought it had potential to become a cyclone. The damage from a Category 1 cyclone isn’t usually too significant I can’t so we weren’t too concerned.

On Saturday I waved goodbye to fellow volunteers Jessica and Steph, leaving school teacher Heather and myself with team members Gabby and Jim. Saturday afternoon and evening was relaxed at Botaria Resort, but the next day was far from it…

That night there was loud cracks of thunder over the islands as the rain poured down. We were starting to experience the first indications of the area of low pressure. After breakfast Heather received a phone call from Elle, general manager of “Vinaka Fiji”, informing us we were to be evacuated to the main island – Vitu Levu.

Elle is also plays a significant roll in the “Awesome Adventures” company, an organisation which helps run several of the 16 resorts in the Yasawas chain. It also provides the flyer, a daily catamaran service which provides the best way of travelling to your chosen resort while seeing the other islands. Therefore, it was her call to evacuate all guests at the resorts to Port Denaru on the mainland.

The Flyer is timetabled to arrive at Botaria at 11am on its way north. This time it arrived early and turned at the next resort along, picking up all tourists south of Naviti. Another boat would do the resorts north of Naviti.

The first challenge was actually getting on the Flyer. None of the resorts have a mooring large enough, so we are taken by small longboat to the flyer which stops just out to sea. Once the resort’s boat captain has managed to park next to the catamaran, passengers must step from one vessel to the other. This can be difficult in stormy conditions and proved to be today as Heather and I both found it hard to find any sort of steady surface to step on.

Thankfully making it onto the boat, we started our winding four hour journey south. As every guest at every resort was leaving the Flyer was soon at full capacity. Luckily Heather and I were able to find seats in the middle and at the back of the boat as we swayed from side to side in the large swell. This is seemingly the best place to sit if you don’t have good sea legs.

Relieved to arrive at the port, it was a farewell to Heather who had unfortunately only been able to spend one day volunteering while in Fiji. I was then given a lift from Elle herself to Nadi Bay, an inland hotel which would be my shelter for the next few days.

The next few days were spent sitting around and not doing very much at all. I was desperate to return to the islands but knew this was the a safe place to be as the cyclone arrived. On Tuesday it hit Nadi and there was high winds and flooding in other parts of Fiji. Nadi Bay was a sheltered spot and I felt sorry for the locals who had been forced to batch down the hatches again after the flooding which had followed Cyclone Josie a couple of weeks ago.

“Vinaka Fiji” team member Ross’ family home was flooded along with his farm just outside Nadi. Dengue fever had also been going around his village and he fell victin to it for two weeks. Meanwhile, Gabby and Jim had trekked to Kese when we were evacuated on Sunday. This village on the other side of Naviti from Botaria was hit by flooding from the heavy rainfall.

The Flyer didn’t run next untill Thursday and I met Miss Tema at the port. She had been forced to take an extended break and we were both unaware that Ross was ill as he didn’t join us on the boat. The cyclone had even worse effects in Kadavu, an island 60 miles south of the mainland. Roofs were torn of houses and locals said they thought the world was going to end, as Keni intensified into a Category 3 cyclone.

Arriving in the Yasawas again it was great to be back, but hard to hear of the difficulty my Fijian friends had faced. Difficulties that many say our becoming more common as climate change has a huge effect on a country which actually contributes to the global problem on a much smaller scale than most. When Cyclone Winston hit Fiji in January 2016 it was the strongest ever to hit the Pacific region. Huge Disruption was widespread and the current Fijian government now treats globe warming as a hugely important issue. Let’s hope for the sake of this beautiful group of islands, that there is now some restbite.