A year ago today was my last day in the office before the first lockdown, with our university telling us all to work from home a week before the prime minister did. For almost three months we’ve been in Scotland’s second lockdown, which is only now starting to ease: older primary school kids (including ours) went back to physical school full-time yesterday, and younger high school kids (including ours) have started going back a day a week until Easter.
There was no time to write anything here this month, so instead I’ll mark this latest period of lockdown with a photo or two of early-February snow.
This is no time to neglect the blog, with covid cases rising steeply in the UK, the first visible impacts of Johnson’s hard Brexit, Trump rallying his thugs to storm the Capitol on the sixth, and the prospect of worse in the next nine days. America is playing out all of my fears of four years and two months ago, and like much of the world I’m holding my breath.
But a new lockdown in Scotland has meant that the kids didn’t return to school on the sixth and probably won’t for another month and a half at least, and four of us are trying to make this a workplace and a school and a studio and a cinema and a home and a refuge and an escape under the same modest roof again. January is always a busy month, with new courses coinciding with marking last semester’s, and this year I have additional management duties and less time in the day to manage them, so I don’t have much hope of doing much here. But I’m posting this anyway, to put in place this month’s sidebar of this morning’s frosty window and leave the door ajar in case I feel compelled to vent about the state of the world.
It snowed a couple of days ago, and the sub-zero temperatures have kept it lying around, although today the icy slush has started melting away in the rain. A couple of days beforehand I went for a bike ride along the Water of Leith and the Union Canal, while after it snowed my daughter and I went for a hike in the Pentlands, which is as far as we could go during lockdown. Here’s a dozen photos of those outings to see out the year.
As part of tidying up some loose ends before midnight, here’s a new gallery of panoramas taken this year, which will eventually be supplemented with whatever I take locally next year. Most of them are from a day-trip to Fife with the kids in the October school break, which is as far from Edinburgh as we’ve been since February.
It’s the end of the bleakest lead-up to Christmas that I can remember. Boris Johnson is touting his just-agreed EU trade deal as if it’s the best Christmas present ever, when in reality it’s the hardest Brexit short of no deal and will set Britain back for years. Thousands of lorry drivers are stuck in queues at Dover after borders were closed because of covid, when they were already racking up because of increased delivery traffic ahead of the end of transition. A new strain of the disease is spreading across the UK, with Scotland just over 24 hours from a new lockdown and UK covid cases approaching the peak of the first one. The prospect of widespread vaccination still seems a long way off.
A few weeks ago our students on An Introduction to Digital Environments for Learning were looking at Tom Flint’s excellent project replicating Jupiter Artland in Minecraft, which prompted me to share with some of them the two galleries I made in 2014 of my first visits to the real-life Jupiter Artland.
Looking at them again made me realise that I’ve taken a lot of photos there since, and have posted hardly any of them here. So I’ve made a new gallery, covering the art and the nature of the first two. Many of the artworks featured aren’t in the first gallery, because they weren’t there yet, but there’s some overlap.
On Saturday we made another trip out to Jupiter Artland before it shuts for the winter. As with everywhere in these pandemic times, we had to book a time-slot for our visit rather than just turn up, and it was a time we wouldn’t normally have gone: arriving at 3 p.m., 46 minutes before sunset. But it turned out to offer a whole new perspective on the place we know; as well as the obligatory sunset-over-Jupiter photos, I took several of the rising full moon behind Cells of Life, Love Bomb, and other Artland fixtures. We also got to see Joana Vasconcelos’s Gateway pool, which had been closed for most of the pandemic. A dozen of these photos of Artland at dusk round out Artland Seasons.
The kids were on their term break last week, which usually would mean some sort of trip away for a few days… but in covidtimes, not so much. Instead we did a few day trips, including one to a place I’d long been curious about: the Scottish Owl Centre at Polkemmet Country Park near Bathgate, halfway between Edinburgh and Glasgow. It’s operating at reduced hours but still open, so we went along for a couple of hours of owl observation.
It was great. There’s something about a place devoted to one specific kind of animal (or bird) that’s even more satisfying than a full-blown zoo: you get to see dozens of variations on a theme, and realise how diverse they are. It’s a terrific place to take photos and turn them into a gallery:
I haven’t written much here about Pandemic Life for a while. Things have been busy since the start of August, when I started a new management role in my institute, alongside getting ready for the start of an unusual semester of teaching. As usual, until September we had no idea how many students would turn up, but with none of the predictability of normal times that would let us get close in our forecasting. At the back of everyone’s minds was the thought that all of our preparation for hybrid teaching, with online-only fall-back options for formerly face-to-face courses, might be for the benefit of half as many MSc students as usual. But as it turns out, our school has matched the record numbers of last year. Our Digital Education programme’s intake is up by half, and student numbers on my option course are up 60% on the previous peak. It seems everyone wants to improve their knowledge of digital education, and of its wider global context.