I doubt that 2021 will go down as my favourite year. We've lost Mum and Nigel, and more recently Peter. You'll either know them or not so there's not much point in explaining them. They'll all be missed, but each did well with their lives.

     I've always tended to make friends that are older than myself, but that is getting harder, for obvious reasons so I'm starting to look to the younger ones. 50ish.
    I don't feel old myself, although pushing 70 is bound to have a few effects. Beyond a few minor bits of wear and tear I'm much the same as you'll remember. Well, I think so anyway.

    Up here in our bit of Scotland we are getting some very reasonable weather and have done for a few years. There doesn't seem to be the depth of snow in winter that there was and the summers are getting longer. I had to go back to 2010 to find a photo with any significant depth of snow. We've had 4 feet on occasions and -20˚C on others. On this day we had the snow melting on the roof tiles and running down the roof underneath the rest of the snow, and then freezing again as it reached the open air. There was a six inch thick slab of ice on the roof, I'm glad it didn't do that very often.
     Although the weather is less dramatic than ten years ago I expect it'll get a bit more frosty for a while, I can't complain, but there's room for improvement.
    Springs and Autumns seem to be shorter and possibly damper. I'm not sure they are more windy where we are, other areas have suffered more quite recently. I suppose we are quite sheltered here, but planetary changes may work their way through eventually. 
    A nice balance point would be just dry enough to eliminate the midges but wet enough to prevent fires, I'll not start tinkering with the environment myself, it always has unexpected outcomes.
    The larger trees in the garden were getting a bit too large for safety in high winds, and unexpectedly heavy snow can break them, so I've had the tops deliberately taken off the highest and nearest. I have also reduced the number of Larch upwind of the house as they block up my down pipes every time it blows. I prefer to cut them myself, but only up to a certain size and height. I tend to leave anything with a diameter of more than 18" or 30' high to the professionals.

    The fruit trees Fiona has been planting seem to be doing ok except the James Grieve variety of apple, which die here if you look at them sideways, or indeed drive over them with a large lorry. Hopefully the latest ones will fare better, they should be a bit hardier and are useful in terms of pollination. 
    Eventually native deciduous trees should replace the alien conifers like Sitka which had the advantage of fast growth when planted 50 years ago, and the Leyland Cypress, which must have gone in at much the same time. Still, they all make reasonable logs for the fire. Both are looked down on as firewood, however they have the advantage of being free, which is difficult to beat once seasoned, and they provide shelter for the garden in the meantime. Random cats use the wood sheds for shelter in bad weather and give me a shock when they escape as I collect logs. Custard (right) now trusts us enough to enjoy a log fire. Photographing cats is almost as bad as photographing meals at restaurants but I was looking through the photographs I've taken while out and about recently, and since Covid has scuppered most of it, so pictures of cats now feature heavily. 
    The woodland has continued to grow, as you might expect and now, or at least in the right season, echoes with birdsong. I have cut down and of course logged the bulk of the Sitka Spruce that shouldn't have been planted in the first place. Somebody in the forest planting organisation that did our patch obviously found themselves a bit short and padded the order out with non-native. We have lost a few trees to various effects, ash die-back was the worst, although there are a few ash unaffected. Perhaps 10 of the original 25. I don't know if they were naturally immune or just lucky, I'll take seedlings from them if they survive a few more years. Other bald patches will get proper post ice-age replacements, although climate change seems rapid enough that we might need to re-calibrate.

    With a bit of luck our out-door activities should change soon as one of the charities (WATIF?) we are involved in, gains momentum. It is focused on improving the local communities and has applied for a large bucket of money to buy a small farm, or part of it, to use and develop as a local amenity. Unsurprisingly there have been a few negative opinions, but the response has been mostly favourable and it should give us room to bring in some activities and facilities that the area has lacked since the mine closed. Some people will object to almost anything, and we had some opinions expressed that we should turn down a large amount of virtually 'string free' money. We now have a communal vehicle which facilitates heavily subsidised travel for villagers, and will be useful for taking them to the farm when it gets going. It's the same EV model as mine but a white 7 seat, seen on the right ,although it now has some lettering that advertises the organisation and who paid for it.
    Several villagers are now involved with volunteer driving, the pop-up cafe has proved popular and so has gardening along with various out door activities and groups. These can all be expanded and I hope to help with a Men's Shed, bicycle repair and rental, heritage centre, library, small shop and community hub. However it'll be down to what is wanted, can be supported and afforded. So there's a way to go yet.
    All in all we've managed quite a bounce back since we lost the last facility (the phone-box). The villages still have quite a lot of commuters who don't really get involved much, there isn't much in terms of local employment, but more of the locals, now working from home, are getting into the various activities that we can organise despite covid restrictions. The 'dormitory village' effect isn't too noticeable now, a couple of decades ago there was a distinctly abandoned or deserted feel about the place.
    We've both had our 3 Covid jags now, that's jabs in England, and haven't had any significant side effects. A slightly aching arm and a vaguely flu like effect for a day was as bad as it got. Certainly better than any of the Covid strains, and they were free. Elsewhere that could be $300. The process was of course slightly chaotic, but not too bad considering the amount of work going into immunising the 5 million Scots in short order. England has been similar I believe, although I've not experienced their system in a while. That brought me to appreciating what I had, and reminded me of the creeping privatisation, especially in England, that is fragmenting the NHS. I've been retired for more than a decade now and have needed very little health-care, but I've noticed how the American system is being introduced and the American companies that are promoting it.
    Stealthily we have all now had parts of our bodies privatised, not just the catering and cleaning of hospitals but eyes, teeth, hearing, skin, feet and various other bits. Car parking is just the tip of the iceberg. I would recommend Stephen Fry's blog  
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLQAUH2Ueyc  to give anyone with any health issues, or any chance of developing any in the next 20 years a bit of a wake up call. Imagine, or remember if American, the effect of not being employed or insured and finding that your pregnancy or that of your daughter might entail a £10k to £20k bill (rising to £100k without much trouble). I guess I'm a bit of a Champagne Socialist, but seeing the NHS being drained, pilfered, underfunded and over worked does annoy me. Fortunately Scotland is resisting.
    Individually I'm sure the private practitioner is a lovely person, but then so is the individual soldier who has popped over from Russia or Germany, it's a question of where his instructions are coming from.

    We are still on the 5/2 'diet' so the festivities shouldn't add too much to my waist-line. The fasting days are 23rd and 24th of December this week, I can't say we do the full blow-out groaning table thing but fasting on Christmas day might be a bit too much. For the meantime I shall go and get a black calorie-free coffee and look forward to the 25th. 

    Well anyway, we hope y'all have a good Christmas and generally enjoy yourselves (safely of course),
Jim and Fiona

Custard, toasting.