“You can’t carry big loads on a bicycle”, Really?

I love seeing the sorts of things people carry on their bikes. I came across this image today which was taken in Edinburgh (I think!) on the Edinburgh Cycle Chic blog. I think it would be a struggle to get that load into a car but it seems to be almost effortlessly sitting on top of that bike.

Edinburgh Cycle Chic

“You can’t carry big loads on a bicycle”, Really?

"You can't carry big loads on a bicycle", Really?

This box wouldn’t easily if in back of a medium sized car, you certainly could get it on a bus, yet here it is on the back of a bicycle. The humble bicycle has all the advantages of car as personal transport, but without the negatives. OK so you wouldn’t want to play a game of dodge the bus when carrying a load like this, so without high quality infrastructure most people are going to try it.

Recently there have been calls for reduction of congestion, air and noise pollution in the City of Edinburgh, well here is a means of personal transport that requires little space, produces zero emissions and is almost silent. It should be a total no brainer to promote cycling as transport and give space to enable people to travel with the lowest impact on the city.

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Time to say goodbye to the tracky dacks

I always feel a bit sad after a fun weekend away somewhere and immediately start thinking about the next trip. Where should we go next? I want to see more snow.

When we arrived home yesterday there was a present waiting for me from my sister which was very exciting. It’s some very trendy-looking exercise gear called Fabletics. I like to secretly make fun of women I see wearing expensive exercise gear because most of them look as though they spend more time buying the clothing than actually exercising in it. I never wear anything special when I go cycling. That’s the beauty of cycling; you can wear ordinary clothing. It’s no different to walking or driving to work and anyone can do it. You don’t need specialist equipment other than the bike, of course.

But I *do* wear special clothing when I go for a run. It’s special in the sense that I don’t wear it anywhere else but it’s just a pair of old tracky dacks and a shirt; both chosen for comfort rather than looks. It might even be more appropriate to call them tacky dacks such is their attractiveness or lack-of. However now it looks like I’m going to be ultra trendy in proper exercise gear. And I’m guessing I won’t be able to secretly make fun of women out exercising in lycra since I’m going to be one of them.

What do you think? Am I likely to be mugged for my outfit?

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What do you run in? Tracky dacks, shorts, lycra?

 

William Wallace Monument

We’re in the train on our way back to Aberdeen. Here’s what we can see out the window:

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Before leaving Stirling we walked to the William Wallace Monument. Is there anyone who hasn’t heard of William Wallace? Think Mel Gibson, Braveheart. Some famous battles were fought in Stirling because at one time it was thought that if you had Stirling Castle, you had Scotland and so the English and the Scottish fought over the city more than once. One famous battle, the Battle of Stirling Bridge (11th September 1297), saw the Scottish defeat the English despite having a much smaller force. The William Wallace monument was built in memory of him and is perched up on the top of a hill overlooking Stirling.

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You can climb up lots of stairs to the very top of the tower but we didn’t do this. However we went into the very bottom part of it where there’s a gift shop and the Keeper’s Lodge and also some activities for children:

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The William Wallace Monument is in the back left of this next photo.

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Stirling station:

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Stirling has a bike rental scheme and it seems like they’re making some early progress towards making it more bike-friendly.

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This is the old town gaol. Isn’t it beautiful? It looks like a castle.

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It feels like we haven’t been away for the weekend for ages and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Stirling

9 years ago today I became a mother. Daniel’s birth was very quick and hideously painful. I did not get any pain relief for his birth because although I asked for an epidural, there was no anaesthetist available at the hospital in Christchurch to administer one. It was ghastly. But now he has grown into a kind and gentle boy and I love him to bits. Happy birthday, dear Daniel.

We are celebrating his birthday with him by spending the weekend in Stirling. I asked Daniel whether he wanted a party or a weekend away and he chose a weekend away. Last year we went to Aviemore for his birthday and that was really nice. However, Stirling is even better in many ways because, historically, it’s a very interesting place and we also woke up this morning to a landscape dusted with snow.

Here are the kids at breakfast this morning.

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We’re staying in a Victorian school that has been converted into a hotel and it’s wonderful. We ate breakfast in one of the old classrooms:

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If you look closely you can just make out the William Wallace Monument in the next two photos:

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Daniel got straight into his task for the day of throwing as many snowballs as he possibly could:

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Ben got his obligatory, “I hate snow” photo:

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We walked passed The Church of the Holy Rude (haha, Rude …. being the immature person that I am, I couldn’t resist getting a photo of the sign)

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Stirling is a really pretty place. The architecture is beautiful and there are views in almost every direction.

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We walked up to Stirling Castle and then the sun came out and it was magnificent. My photos don’t do it justice.

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We made a snowman, of course:

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Stirling Castle is one of the best castles we’ve visited. There are so many things of interest to children and lots of hands-on activities. They even had dress-ups for little AND big people:

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The kids enjoyed sitting in these thrones and pretending to be King and Queen:

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I got myself a hat to match Elizabeth’s :)

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I love living in Scotland. We’re so lucky to have so many cool weekend destinations to choose from. Stirling is only a couple of hours by train from Aberdeen. Everyone here is also incredibly friendly.

The God Delusion

I’m currently reading Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. I’m already an atheist but have become somewhat interested in religion lately, perhaps because of the rise of ISIS and the violence they encourage in the name of God.

What makes someone believe in the supernatural? The existence of a supernatural being is no more likely than the existence of the tooth fairy or Santa Claus, and can you imagine ISIS killing non-believers in the name of the tooth fairy? That’s pretty much how their logic looks to an atheist like me.

Anyway, there are lots of quotes in the book and I might share some of them as I read it. This one is from Gore Vidal. It’s particularly interesting because I didn’t know that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all evolved from the same religion.

The great unmentionable evil at the centre of our culture is monotheism. From a barbaric Bronze Age text known as the Old Testament, three anti-human religions have evolved – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. These are sky-God religions. They are, literally, patriarchal – God is the omnipotent father – hence the loathing of women for 2000 years in those countries afflicted by the sky-God and his earthly male delegates.

Cycling in the rain: BRING IT ON!

I got completely drenched cycling the kids to school this morning. But as I was peddling along and struggling to see through the curtain of rain battering my face the glass half full part of me was happy about one thing: the fresh, clean air. I, and all the other people in the city, have to inhale the toxic fumes from the exhausts of motor vehicles which is definitely less noticeable when it rains. I don’t like the smell of car exhausts very much and I’m certain inhaling the fumes is not good for me, or for anyone else living in a city.

The WHO recently announced that air pollution is a “public health emergency” killing more than 3.3 million people around the world each year. London exceeded its annual air pollution limit in just seven days earlier this month. And Rome and Milan had to temporarily ban cars from their roads recently in an effort to curtail air pollution.

Next time you want to take the car out for a trip that could be made using a more active mode of travel, think again. Think about the pollution your car emits that everyone, even those of us without a car, are forced to inhale. Think about our changing climate and how burning fossil fuels is adding more carbon dioxide to our atmosphere. Think about how good for you it could be to adopt more active modes of transport on a regular basis.

The sun has come out now. I hope the air still smells fresh :)

 

Ben

In case it isn’t obvious on my blog, Ben is a genius, so I’m going to dedicate this next post to him. After all, who knows all the poems in Lord of the Rings off by heart?

Something I haven’t mentioned before is that Ben is an International Chess Master. He’s been playing chess, and winning, since he was younger than Daniel. When he was 9 or 10 he sometimes played against Russians on Russian ships that pulled into the port in Dunedin. This was in the late 70s in the middle of the cold war. We’ve got these two photos of him playing against the Russians:

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He’s third from the right in the second photo.

He played for New Zealand in international tournaments too, going to Manila in 1987 as a 17-year-old and then Colombia in 1989 as a 19-year-old.

 

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Something I love about Ben is the way he thinks. As a mathematician he’s a very logical thinker and so I’m forever bouncing my ideas off him and asking him to find flaws. He’s very good at this. He also listens to my rants but doesn’t fuel them, which is probably a good thing!

Another thing I love about Ben is how kind he is. Indeed there’s no better quality in a human than kindness. Ben never says anything bad about anyone. Never. He’s not at all manipulative and never plays silly games and is very considerate of others. He’s also a fantastic Dad and always has time to play with the children and has never, ever, not a single time, hit them. We don’t think hitting children – or adults or animals for that matter – is an acceptable thing to do.

He also taught me to be a feminist. I realise now that all of us who believe in the right to vote and the right to equal pay for women are feminist. But it’s not something I would have called myself before I met Ben.

And lastly, Ben likes chickens just as much as I do, but not to eat! His family had chooks when they were little and we’ve got a photo of the each of us holding a chicken when we were kids.

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In case it isn’t obvious, I love my husband very much and dedicate this post to him. He makes me a better person.

Robert Burns

It’s that time of year again when Scotland celebrates Robert Burns with a Burns night or Burns supper, as they call it. These are typically held on the 25th January, the poet’s birthday, and each year school children are required to learn one of his poems as part of their education. Last year we had to rip all of Daniel’s teeth out to get him to memorise the poem which is appropriate given that this year he has to learn the poem, Address to the Toothache. This poem is even more challenging than last year’s and when you see it I’m sure you’ll understand why. And no, I don’t understand half the words either :)

Address to the Toothache

My curse upon your venom’d stang.
That shoots my tortur’d gums alang,
An thro my lug gies monie a twang
Wi gnawing vengeance,
Tearing my nerves wi bitter pang,
Like racking engines!

A’ down my beard the slavers trickle,
I throw the wee stools o’er the mickle.
While round the fire the giglets keckle,
To see me loup.
An raving mad, I wish a heckle
Were i’ their doup!

When fevers burn, or ague freezes,
Rheumatics gnaw, or colic squeezes,
Our neebors sympathise to ease us,
Wi pitying moan;
But thee! – thou hell o a’ diseases –
They mock our groan!

Of a’ the numerous human dools –
Ill-hairsts, daft bargains, cutty-stools,
Or worthy frien’s laid i’ the mools,
Sad sight to see!
The tricks o knaves, or fash o fools –
Thou bear’st the gree!

Whare’er that place be priests ca’ Hell,
Whare a’ the tones o misery yell,
An ranked plagues their numbers tell,
In dreadfu raw,
Thou, Toothache, surely bear’st the bell,
Amang them a’!

O thou grim, mischief-making chiel,
That gars the notes o discord squeel,
Till human kind aft dance a reel
In gore, a shoe-thick,
Gie a’ the faes o Scotland’s weal
A towmond’s toothache!

I told Daniel that one of his ancestors had the surname Burns, hoping that might motivate him a little, although I omitted the bit about this ancestor being a convict. I saw a few sparks light up on his face and he asked me whether I thought he looked like Robert Burns. To which I said, “possibly”.

Baby photos

My father sent me some old family photos. Here are some early ones of me. I think, though I’m not 100% sure, that the first one was taken at my 1st birthday and that’s my chocolate cake all over my face.

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I’m pretty sure it’s my birthday again in this next one and that’s more chocolate cake all over my face. I’m still a big fan of chocolate cake but these days all of it goes in my mouth :)

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And here I am sitting in between my sister and cousin on a horse at our grandparents’ farm in outback Queensland. Much fun was had at the farm. I think I was probably 4 in this next photo.

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Have you got any baby photos of yourself to share? I’d love to see them if you do :)

The Lord of the Rings

I’ve been reading The Lord of the Rings by J.R. Tolkien to the children at bedtime for the past month or so. We’re just about to finish; we’ve reached the bit at the end where the Hobbits return to the Shire after the quest so today we watched the last of the films since this part of the book is not included in the movie.

I first read the books about 15 years ago and loved them. I’ve really enjoyed reading them again. It’s a fantastic tale; so absorbing and hard to put down once you get into it. I read that Tolkien had to change his address and telephone number because obsessive fans would ring him at 3am begging to know whether Frodo makes it.

It’s quite a hard book for the kids. Elizabeth falls asleep pretty quickly and hasn’t really followed along. Daniel has mostly followed along but finds it difficult in parts. The language is quite old-fashioned now and very foreign for him. Tolkien also spends an excessive number of paragraphs setting the scene. Even I found this tiresome at times and found myself thinking I couldn’t care less how craggy the landscape is or where the wind is coming from, get back to the tale for goodness sake! And all the poems! Occasionally I tried to skip through some of the verses in the poems but Ben, who was usually sitting near and pretending to be asleep, would suddenly lurch into life like a zombie in a horror film who you think is dead but isn’t and reappears for one final assault in the finale and make me go back and read it all. Somehow Ben always knew when I skipped a verse. How could he possibly remember every poem in The Lord of Rings?

Some of the poems are very good though, like this one:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

I don’t really like Arwen’s character. She disappointing and doesn’t really serve much purpose and on the whole is a bit of a wet character. Peter Jackson gives her more of a role in the film which is good but in the book she does very little. And she gives up immortality for a man! What kind of woman does that? My favourite character is Éowyn. She’s strong, fearless and she kills the King Nazgûl which is second only to Frodo’s triumph in my view. In the movie she’s played by Miranda Otto who is also from Brisbane. Sam’s character is also pretty heroic and another favourite.

I enjoyed seeing all the New Zealand landscapes again in the film. Edoras, where Éowyn lives, was filmed in Canterbury not all that far from Christchurch. The scenery is spectacular. One of my complaints with the film is that the Orcs had New Zealand accents. Orcs with New Zealand accents just isn’t right. They should have had South African accents because, although I really like the South African accent, I think it’s better suited to villains.

The Lord of the Rings is epic. If you haven’t read it then you really must because you don’t know what you’re missing. The movies are terrific too but the book is better. Tolkien is a master storyteller.

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

Interview with Professor Kevin Anderson – part 1

I enjoyed watching this video interview with Professor Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research in Manchester (Thanks to Manchester Climate Monthly). It’s about the recent Paris climate talks.

From what I understand, although the Paris talks resulted in a very ambitious target – 1.5°C – there’s no plan to actually reduce our emissions in order to meet that target. Therefore there’s an underlying assumption that our children and grandchildren will have to find the technology to suck the CO2 out of the air and what they’ve been discussing is a technology called BECCS – biomass energy carbon capture and storage. Kevin Anderson talks about this in the video and apparently we’re going to need to plant geographic areas between 1 and 3 times the size of India every single year for decade after decade.

I’m famous!

I was in the local paper yesterday – the print version rather than the online version. On Monday someone tweeted me this: (thanks, Steve Bloom!)

I decided to alert Aberdeen City Council to the article in a tweet:

A journalist saw my tweet to the council and sent me this:

I replied and yesterday there appeared this:

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I said he could use the photo on my blog. Credit to my father for taking that. There’s a bit of poetic licence in the article. For instance, he says “cycling enthusiasts” (plural) but as far as I’m aware I’m the only one in Aberdeen who thinks the council could benefit from cargo bikes. I note he also refers to them as “hi-tech” but there’s nothing particularly hi-tech about Busby. I also don’t recall saying the last sentence but otherwise it’s pretty good.

Evil cyclists

An article appeared in the Guardian on boxing day which I somehow missed and just read this morning. The author recounts a recent event where she was crossing the road on foot when a cyclist mowed her down, knocking her to the ground. The cyclist didn’t stop while motorists in cars who were stopped got out of their cars to help her up. Obviously the cyclist is very much in the wrong here. It’s not cool to mow down pedestrians on a bike and very uncool not to stop and make sure they’re alright if you do. So I’m not going to make any excuses for this particular cyclist.

However I do intend to criticise the Guardian article which I think is very poor. It concludes that cyclists are unpredictable and don’t obey the traffic rules while cars are predictable and do obey the rules; cyclists are dangerous to pedestrians while cars are safe. However this is not what the data shows. According to the CTC (references are at the end of the article and are from government statistics) “98% of pedestrians who are killed or seriously injured in urban areas were the result of a collision with a motor vehicle“. Bicycles account for less than 1% of fatalities. Motor vehicles are even more of a risk to pedestrians when they’re on the pavement than are cyclists with an average of 34 pedestrians killed each year on the pavement by cars and only 3 by cyclists over a 5-year period.

I don’t really understand the illogical hatred of cyclists that people, like the one behind the Guardian article, have. If they fear for their life then it makes much more sense to fear cars since they present a much greater threat. Maybe they’re just jealous of our great legs :)

I personally have had, on the whole, a great experience cycling around Aberdeen with both pedestrians and motorists treating me well. When I cycle on the pavement I’m mindful of pedestrians and by and large they will let me pass and usually smile at me. When I’m on the road the majority of cars will not overtake if there’s insufficient space and when there is they’ll give me a wide clearance. Thank you, Aberdonians!

Elizabeth’s secret admirer and Animals Asia

I think Elizabeth has a secret admirer. Only I know who he is so he’s not very secret. A friend of mine has a son in Elizabeth’s class and my friend told me that her son recently mentioned that he has secret friends and Elizabeth is his secret friend. Then he added that when he’s 18 and moves out of home he’s going to move into Elizabeth’s flat. I don’t think Elizabeth is aware of this plan yet.

For many years now I have been a supporter of Animals Asia, a charity based in China which works to end bear farming in the region. It’s hard to believe the words “bear” and “farming” could go together in a sentence like that but they do.

Our family sponsors a bear through a regular monthly donation to Animals Asia. We also give to a human charity regularly but probably not as much as we should. Some argue that the richest 10% of the world should give 10% of their salary to poorer nations and if we all did that the world would be amazeballs. We have not committed ourselves to 10%. Not yet anyway. But Animals Asia does really great work not just for bears but also for other animals. Recently I came across one of their videos of a puppy they rescued. The puppy had been severely burnt and dumped by its owner when it was just 6 weeks old. It’s sad but has a happy ending and shows the worst and the best of humanity. It’s hard not to be moved by this.

 

Bicycle porn

What’s your weakness? I have several. One of them is bicycle porn. I can waste hours looking at cargo bikes on the web and dreaming of what life might be like if I could cycle everywhere without smelling car fumes and without fear that my kids might get hit by a truck or bus or car. I found this great video about cargo bikes in Copenhagen and about their bicycle culture; the culture that I lust after. What is really great about the video, aside from the discussion about cargo bikes, is that two adults are sitting in the box part of the bike! I want that bike!!!

More cycling in the rain

More rain today and so more cycling in the rain. This time to the beach.

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I was tempted to go in for a dip but I didn’t have my bathers with me.

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Ben’s thinking, “What on earth are those giant cotton reels behind me?”

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I have a new rain coat which got drenched.

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I saw this great t-shirt today:

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It says:

This one runs on fat and saves you money
This one runs on money and makes you fat

You can buy it for £25 at Bone Shaker Magazine. I have not received any compensation, free t-shirt or otherwise, for advertising this shirt. But should Bone Shaker wish to send me one I can provide my postal address by email.

Cycling in the snow

What do you on a cold Saturday afternoon just as it’s starting to rain? Go for a bike ride of course. Only sissies are afraid of the rain. We cycled to Newton Dee as I was in need of chocolate – it has been at least a couple of weeks since I had my last fix :)

There was quite a bit of snow on the grassy verges of the bike path and the surrounding hills. It was so beautiful. I wore my raincoat but I quickly got too hot and had to take it off.

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The kids were tucked up in Busby – Elizabeth watching a film on the portable DVD player and Daniel playing with the iPad. After about half an hour of cycling through this the DVD player went flat forcing Elizabeth to lift her gaze to the surroundings. She immediately shouted, “Mum, there’s snow!!!”. “Yes, Elizabeth, it has been there for the past half hour.”

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The past week has been very dark here so I decided I had to wear something bright to compensate:

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It’s nice not having to put on sunscreen and sunglasses though. There were lots of people using the path today which was good to see. The Scots are not afraid of a bit of rain and snow. As the saying goes, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”, or something like that.