2020: The Year of….

Well, hi! I would normally add, “how ya doin’?” but… * flails wildly * … you know. Everything.

I’ve been following things here at aNewsCafe’ and boy howdy it’s been a heck of a year, hasn’t it? If you feel about 2020 the way I feel about it, here’s a video you might enjoy. Watch it burrrrn!
(thanks to Eileen Parzek for this one!)

It’s been a while since I’ve been here. I miss you. I hope you are all as well as can be expected in these trying times.

How has pandemic been here in the far north of Scotland? Difficult, though less rife with Covid-19 cases than other places, fortunately.  One of my husband’s dialysis nurses said the other week, “It’s in the community but no one is in the hospital right now.” Of course things change, but we remain hopeful that it won’t get worse. It doesn’t help that all summer and autumn (and even now) people thought it was ok to bring their cooties to the Highlands because they “needed” a vacation.  When this all first started they came up in their thousands, fleeing the Covid-ridden south, and if that wasn’t bad enough, when they went home they left behind the biggest messes you can imagine. Not content to just leave trash and camping gear strewn around, they also took to dumping waste everywhere, and I mean both of the ‘empty our RV’s waste tank’ AND ‘drop our shorts and squat a crap at the side of the walking path’ variety. People who live here were understandably livid.  Thus began my festering dislike of the general public, and it would only get worse.

 I know not ALL campers are rotten and selfish… but
too many of them were, this year.

Ignoring ‘do not travel’ orders, coming to the vulnerable Highlands in droves without taking into account that we don’t have enough hospital beds for our own population let alone thousands of people from other places, not wearing masks even though pretty much everyone who lives up
here was doing so without argument or shouts about ‘rights’, and parking so badly in places that emergency vehicles literally could not get through, all made my dislike of people grow and grow. But what could we do? Sem and I have basically become hermits because it became clear early on that the general public cannot be expected to behave themselves  or give a flying you-know-what about anything but their next gathering, vacation, or shopping trip. By the way, for those of you who “can’t” wear a mask? My husband has asthma, COPD and bronchiectasis and he struggles to breathe on a good day let alone a bad one, yet for the past ten months or so he has worn a mask for five hours at a stretch, three times a week at dialysis, because he is an adult who cares about protecting those around him and being responsible. If he can do it, so  can you, specially for a 20 minute trip through a store. And if you have enough breath to shout and argue with others about how you can’t or won’t wear a mask or I HAVE MY RIGHTS OMG, well… I’m not usually this blunt, but, shut up. Just. Shut. Up.

 A little bird called a wagtail.

And then there’s Brexit. I don’t know if you hear as much about Brexit there, as we hear about the Trump Madness here, but Brexit adds another layer of uncertainty and anxiety to life in the UK. You’d think that the politicians who had pushed so hard to leave the EU would actually have a
plan on how to do it, by now (it’s not like they haven’t had a couple of years to think about it!) but, no. We’re in the eleventh hour and there’s still no real resolution, making it look more and more like a no-deal Brexit is about to happen. The papers started warning this week that people would soon begin stockpiling supplies because if there’s a no-deal Brexit we will not be able to get many, many things, thus ensuring – of course – that people began stockpiling. Unbelievable. My general dislike of humanity goes double for most politicians, really.

It has been such a hard year for so many. We’ve had a few scares ourselves. You know how it is: is this a fever or am I just overheated… is this a cough or THE cough… Every time Sem reaches for the thermometer I feel my heart in my throat. A few nights ago I actually packed him an overnight bag because we both thought he was headed for a hospital stay and we both wondered if it would be the last time he left this apartment, never to return. Fortunately that didn’t happen. We are still here, together, covid-free as far as we know, and awaiting the roll-out of the vaccine.

 Sem leaves notes for me in the kitchen.

One last thing about this rotten year… a couple of weeks ago we had to have our beloved tortie, Smartie, put down. It was unexpected and terrible, a series of seizures and then one that didn’t end until the vet gave her the injection. Our cranky, feisty, vocal, headstrong house-tiger did do us one last favor, though: it all happened on a weekend and that meant that the vet could let us be with her at the end, rather than just taking her away. In the parking lot on that cold morning we asked if we could stay with her and after a small hesitation he said, “I’ll have to do things a bit differently, but yes. Come in to the waiting room, you can be with her there.” He knelt in front of me as I held Smartie, gave her the shot, and then left the room while Sem and I said our goodbyes. I will never forget feeling her finally relax in my arms, growing still and heavy, her heartbeat under my hand slowing down, her breathing easing and then… she was gone. In the last few moments when the seizure lost its grip on her she turned her head at the sound of our voices, and at least she knew she wasn’t alone.

Two vets helped us that weekend, and they were both incredibly kind even though the first call-out was at nearly 11pm on the Saturday, and the next one not even twelve hours later on Sunday morning. They were filled with empathy and kindness, both on the phone and in person. We
are grateful.


And that brings me to the next part of this column: the kindness of individuals. Oh I still loathe the general public at this point, don’t get me wrong. 2020 has become the year of the selfish jerk, the entitled asshole, and the petulant “adult,” but there have been some absolute stars as well, like the vets who helped us in Smartie’s final hours. There are others. The superb dialysis staff who take such good care of my Sem (and medical staff of all types), and the postal workers and couriers who have delivered nonstop during the pandemic, along with the folks who pick up the garbage, stock store shelves, and provide take-out meals when we want something different. Probably plenty of others, too. Truck drivers. Restaurant/cafe workers. Volunteers of all kinds. The list goes on. On a more personal note we have many far-flung friends online who never fail to make me laugh, and boy do we need some humor these days, right? Special mention goes to ANC’s own Barbara Rice whose daily Facebook photos keep me giggling, not least because she has so many funny friends (Matt Grigsby high on the list among them) who make the comments section pure comedy gold.

 Pandemic baking success! Irish soda bread.

A few more, of special note: For the past many months, volunteers have delivered prescriptions to people who were shielding, even after official restrictions were lifted. There’s a man who regularly appears at our door who is unfailingly cheerful and never comments on the fact that I’m usually still in my pajamas and bathrobe at 10:30am (often because we are up until two, three, or even later if Sem is having a bad night). Today I gave him a gift bag with some fancy cookies as a little thank you for having done so much for us – we get prescriptions just about every week – and he thanked me and laughed, saying, “So when’s Christmas dinner?” Honestly if we could have him as a guest, we would. Volunteering to drive all over Wick delivering prescriptions to people is a step above, in my opinion, and we are grateful.

 Pandemic baking semi-success, but not the cookies I gave as a gift!

I got to give another gift bag to someone today. The recipient was the Postmaster a few villages over. During lockdown and the early post-lockdown months we closed our fountain pen sales site, feeling it wasn’t safe to go to the tiny local Post Office in a small shop where social distancing was impossible. When restrictions eased and we started selling on a limited basis we decided to ship parcels from a P.O. some eight miles away. It, too, is in a smallish shop but not as bad as the local P.O. and it seemed the better option. There is a three-parcel restriction for the sake of keeping customers moving, but if I’m the only one in the Postmaster kindly lets me offload more. We’ve gotten to know each other a bit over all these months. His political views fall on the side of the angels, he is friendly and chatty and he takes things in his stride, even at the end of October when the more local Post Office closed. Imagine that: one of the biggest towns in the far north, without a Post Office! Who ended up with the resulting glut of customers, just as the Christmas rush started? My new pal at the little country P.O. He has taken it all on the chin with good humor and wry resignation, even one day when I went in and found him so surrounded by packages that he could hardly move. For the first time, he looked a bit flustered and exasperated but he said, “Eh, I’ve got big shoulders, it’ll be fine. The vodka helps!”

Hence my gift: a box of tiny vodka bottles in various flavors. When I gave the gift bag to him this afternoon, thanking him for taking on all my parcels for the past however-many months he looked startled and pleased. I hope he’ll laugh when he sees what it is, and that he’ll enjoy them. I want him to know he is appreciated, and that I recognize how much he has had to take on, and how glad I am that he is there, helping us keep our small business going. We literally couldn’t do it without him.

Then there’s one of the fishermen from our former village. He started a new business venture, opening a stand at the harbor selling his  freshly-caught seafood, which unfortunately coincided with lockdown.  Undeterred, he and his family started making local deliveries within the village, using a credit card reader that could be used through glass so that they could safely conduct transactions and leave the delicious seafood at the door. They broadened their horizons a bit to include the next village over, and they often left treats at no charge for people who were shielding, just ringing the doorbell, giving a wave, and driving away. They are good people.

A couple of months ago I saw on their Facebook page that they were coming up north to Caithness (we did a lot of begging, up here!). I’d been seeing friends’ FB posts showing the lovely fresh crabs and lobsters on offer so I was pretty excited that they were coming to our harbor. We went down and stood in a long line of folks on a cold and ultimately rainy afternoon. I’d dragged poor Sem with me thinking that if we got there a little bit early we’d be fine but there were already at least 50 people ahead of us. Considering they were making up orders on the spot (including grilling scallops and ‘black pudding’ while people waited), it was very, very slow, but people kept up good-natured, socially-distanced banter. Sem retreated to the car to try to stay warm, and I regretted asking him to come with me especially since he doesn’t even like seafood. When I finally had it in my clutches, though, it was wonderful.

A month later they announced they were doing a north run again, but this time they were taking orders beforehand. There was a schedule of times for each village they would visit along the way with the admonition, “If you don’t meet us in your village on time, you’ll have to catch up with
us at the next one!” Count me in – I placed my order and on the appointed day and time I was there (alone this time), ready and eager and fourth in line. Does it get any better than freshly-caught local seafood handed over with a friendly smile?

 Prawn cocktail, crab cocktail and crab salad.

So now we’re nearly at the end of this long, strange, difficult year. We will have a quiet Christmas, just us two, and I’ll be grateful for that. The grocery store will deliver chateaubriand, which I have never had and am looking forward to trying. We will do our part to keep coronavirus cases down by not socializing, much as we would love to see friends and family. What did I see, recently? “Doctors, nurses and medics give up their Christmases every year to keep you and your family safe. You can give up this Christmas to do the same, for their sake.” It’s not really that hard, is it, to be considerate of each other, and to think of someone else for a change?

Probably the only Christmas decorating I’ll do this year. Tiny felted Santa-sheep made by Paul of Phoenix Glass/Felting Phoenix.

It’s a strange emotional state to be in, this utter blazing hatred of humanity coupled with sheer gratitude and affection for the kind individuals. I am perpetually stuck between “argh!” and “aww,” and there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground. I don’t think I can turn my outlook around to view 2020 as The Year of Kindness even though in many ways it really has been… but I’m trying not to lose sight of the fact that there are people whose kindness shines like a lighthouse in the storms that rage all around us these days. The general public can seriously go take a flying leap, but there are individual people who have my deep and sincere gratitude.

I hope that you have people like that in your lives, too.

Deb Segelitz

Deb Segelitz was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and is astounded to find herself living in the Scottish Highlands, sharing life with her husband, a Highlander she stumbled across purely by chance on a blog site. They own a small business restoring and selling vintage fountain pens, which allows Deb to set her own schedule and have time for photography, writing and spontaneous car rides in the countryside. She is grateful to the readers of ANC for accepting her into the North State fold.

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