No one, anywhere on the planet, needs me to tell them what a crazy year 2020 has been? A global pandemic, with all that it entails, would have been enough but, oh no, politicians also played a major role in the pandemonium that ensued. In the UK, our clown prince Bozo and his myriad followers were a piss poor excuse for a government yet, across the pond, the fake tanned loser demonstrated what a completely psychopathic nutcase he really is with his deranged efforts at dismantling the greatest democracy in the free world When viewed in this context I have to admit that my year hasn't been that bad!
I managed to secure a winter ticket on the local syndicate fishery and was happy enough just to turn up and fish for whatever species picked up my baits. Being guaranteed a season ticket, when next due, carp could wait until the weather improved. A cracking venue, all very intimate, with a nice bunch of guys as fellow members. What could possibly go wrong?
As the first wave of Covid-19 rampaged across Europe the reality of what was involved became ever more stark with the T/V news showing scenes of utter despair from with Italian hospital wards. Sadly, it was coming to a hospital near you within a very short period. I did manage to get a few trips down to the Stodmarsh NNR with both Emily and Harry, even grabbing a reasonable sequence of images of a Great White Egret on one occasion.
It all started to get very messy. Infection rates were on the rise with the corresponding loss of life as a direct result. Bozo dithered and delayed, but it was inevitable that a "national lockdown" would be required to control the spread of this deadly threat. Rishi Sunak announced a support package for those who were forced to use the furlough option as a means of getting through the lockdown. I, however, was deemed to be an essential worker, as a member of the chemical manufacturing sector, and the immediate effects weren't an issue. Life carried on, much as before, but no fishing allowed and birding restricted to what could be discovered locally. I must add, at this point, the huge debt owed to Steve Gale. For it was he who devised (based upon an idea from Italian birders) the "Laid back Garden Bird Challenge". Without his patience and skills, the BWKm0 snowball would never have gotten underway. What a brilliant way to bring together like-minded souls during this most uncertain of times. Folk from across the UK, and much further afield, signed up to the challenge and so began something very positive during this challenging first phase.
With the orderbooks empty, Fuji utilised the furlough scheme, but were generous enough to top up the shortfall from their own coffers. Over the next ten weeks, I spent seven on full pay whilst birding from the garden. You couldn't make it up! Three weeks at work for ten weeks money - an absolute no brainer! The weather was kind and the birds provided some superb entertainment. Each evening I'd click onto Steve's blog to see what had been spotted from various locations around the country and it was proving to be a revelation. Raptor passage over Thanet was a great source of interest, with my being able to add Rough-legged Buzzard to my own garden list late in the month. Common Buzzards were numerous and came in all variety of plumages, accompanied by Red Kites, a Marsh Harrier plus the usual Sparrowhawks and Kestrels. Just to add to my exploration of alternative garden wildlife opportunities, I started a hedgehog feeding station; embarking upon a fascinating journey of enjoyment and learning which has far surpassed anything I could have imagined.
Garden birding continued to demonstrate the amazing diversity of species to be seen when forced to watch from a specific spot. The camaraderie amongst those of us involved in Steve's challenge had a good feel about it. We were all in it together and making the most of a bad job. The obvious, personal, highlight, from this period, the Black Kite that I managed to identify, retrospectively, from images downloaded onto my laptop. Angling was, once again, allowed and I ventured down to the syndicate, but with little sense of direction or purpose. It was great to be back at the waterside, yet I needed a project and failed to concentrate my efforts as a consequence.
Full time employment resumed, but with the cloud of redundancies on the horizon. I volunteered, thinking that it was better that the younger guys kept their jobs as I no longer had to worry about mortgages, kids and the like. Fishing continued to be a mish-mash of half baked ideas whilst, in the background, the deteriorating health of Bev's mum, Denise, was a huge cause for concern. Purely because of this situation, Bev and I continued to stay away from crowds not wanting to be responsible for Denise contracting Covid-19. One direct spin off from this stay at home mentality was the massive improvement in the appearance of the back garden. It looked good and I was really enjoying myself, much to my surprise.
The redundancy situation rumbled on with no clear purpose or communication which is very unlike Fuji under normal circumstances. With large numbers of the management/human resources working from home, those of us with questions were left in limbo. Away from work, it was nice to be able to spend some time with the grand-kids, yet I still couldn't find any inspiration to fire up a fishing challenge. Basically, I went to work, looked at hedgehogs and birds in the garden, caught a few eels, whilst awaiting a decision which would then allow me to plan a way forward.
Boom! Fuji finally arrive at a decision and it's absolute chaos. Seventeen people were removed from the payroll, yet volunteers weren't at the front of the queue. An absolute sham, the company used the exercise to get rid of those whom they'd failed to deal with using the disciplinary procedures specifically in place for such malingerers and piss taking abusers of the generous sick scheme. At the age of sixty-four years and eight months, I was told that I was far too valuable to be allowed to leave - "you what?" Thankfully I hadn't allowed myself to make plans based upon assumption and I carried on much as before. Away from work it was much the same, hedgehogs, garden birds and catching a few eels!
Denise's health was a major factor in our lives, with increasingly regular visits from the ambulance crews, district nurses and paramedics during the month, all of whom were telling us to prepare for the worse. I could do no more than be there to offer support and pick up the pieces as the clock ticked on. The autumn raptor passage got underway and I managed to get an image of a Common Buzzard which must go down as the photo of my year. Still no direction to my angling but with the pike season looming I started to make preparations.
I had holiday entitlement of nearly four weeks outstanding and was told that if unused, before 31st December, they'd be lost. I'd set myself the target of another wild twenty before 14th March 2021 and got off to a reasonable start. By the end of the month I'd caught seven pike, from four different venues, best one tipping the scales at 14 lbs 6 oz. On the morning of the 25th Bev and I discovered her mum had passed away overnight and that our promise to allow her to die at home had been honoured. Horrible memories, but we came through it much stronger as a couple.
With the cremation organised for Friday 13th, work wasn't much of a concern, for me, although the order levels were at an unprecedented high. Global demand for our products was triple that of normal and, as such, overtime was unlimited. I didn't get involved until we'd drawn a line under our own issues. Sixty four hour weeks became the norm as I joined in with the bonanza on offer post redundancies? I still had a couple of weeks holiday to take but, with work as it was, the company allowed me to transfer five days over to 2021, which I did. Those few days still to be taken allowed me to break up my shift pattern, and get a bait in the water mid week, with a fair return for the effort. Hedgehogs remained incredibly active and were to provide some nice distraction from the realities of the grieving process.
Got off to an absolute flyer, just a day before my sixty-fifth birthday and the pike fishing gods smiled upon my efforts. Fish of 22 lbs 6 oz & 19 lbs 5 oz were followed up, just a week later with three more doubles. Crazy, wonderful, quirky results which make the hobby what it is for me. With all my holiday taken, it was twelve straight days though to Christmas Eve. This festive holiday has been anything but, although Bev and I have dug out the Scrabble to engender a bit competitive spirit into proceedings. As I type, Bev is seven - five up in our best of twenty-five series which, we hope, will see us through to New Year's Eve?
So there you have it, my personal summary of the craziest year of our lives? I would like to end by thanking everyone who has visited, thus supported, my blog. It is very much appreciated. When all said and done, the real heroes of this year have been the frontline staff at our NHS hospitals, the ambulance crews, paramedics, district nurses, carers. school teachers. police officers, fire fighters, et al, who are at the very heart of the battle to control this dreadful virus. As Churchill once said "Never has so much been owed, by so many, to so few"