Explaining charity to kids

The schools here have regular fundraising for various different charities. I quite like this as I think it’s good for children to learn about donating to those in need. This week they’ve been asked to donate a pound to a charity in Africa but Daniel questioned this. “I don’t want to give them something if I don’t get anything in return”. To which I replied that he’d feel good about himself instead. He wasn’t convinced by this so I tried to explain that some people in the world are so poor that they don’t have enough food to eat and many don’t have homes to live in. He said they should get a builder to build them a house. I replied that they don’t have any money to pay the builder. So he said they should do what they do in Minecraft and mine for gold and diamonds and then give that to the builders. I gave up at this point :) Perhaps I’ll share the drowning child story when he comes home to see what he makes of it. It’s here if you’re unsure what I mean:


I like that Daniel questions everything. I wish more adults did. Always question everything.

Celebrating small boobs

I recently watched a couple of BBC documentaries: My Small Boobs and I and My Big Breasts and Me. Both were good but the small boobs one was quite sad. It followed three beautiful young women who were deeply unhappy with their appearance. As a small breasted woman myself I thought I would write about how wonderful it is to have small boobs and my boobs are very small. I have no evidence to support this but I wouldn’t be surprised if most men over the age of 40 had bigger boobs than me. So what’s so great about this?

1) They don’t sag. At almost 40 years of age, and two children and five years of breastfeeding, I can still pass the pencil test. This means that when I stick a pencil under either breast, it falls to the floor. Small boobs defy gravity. Why is this so great? See point 2).

2) Bras are optional. I can choose not to wear a bra if I want to, indeed bras don’t do very much since my boobs are pert and taut anyway. Going braless can feel quite sexy especially under tight tops when the outline of the breast and a nipple is visible. I can wear a bra too if I want to but the great thing is that I have the choice.

3) Small boobs are more sensitive to touch. A University of Vienna study found that large boobs are less sensitive than small ones. The explanation for this is that large boobs contain more fatty tissue than glandular tissue and the glandular tissue is the sensitive bit.

4) Small boobs are a good filter for the undesirables. It’s true that some men prefer large breasts and that’s fine. It is a personal preference. But if someone is basing their decision about whether or not to have a relationship with you on the basis of something superficial like boob size, then they’re unlikely to make a good partner. Thank your small boobs for getting rid of them before making this discovery.

5) Small breasted women can wear boob tubes and strapless dresses at any age without fear that something will pop out and without the need for a strapless bra.

I don’t want to make women with large breasts feel inadequate here. There is beauty in all shapes and sizes. My intention really is just to encourage people to be happy with what they’ve got. Self-value and self-confidence is where true beauty lies.

Aberdeen Jazz Festival

We spent a couple of hours at the Aberdeen Jazz Festival this afternoon. It was terrific. I love jazz. Especially live jazz. We used to go to the Christchurch Jazz Festival every year which was at a similar time of year; April I think. I wonder whether it still runs? The Aberdeen Festival was just as good if not better. Music was playing at a few different venues in what is called the Merchant Quarter in central Aberdeen. There was outdoor jazz at The Green although I think it should be called The Stone rather than The Green and here’s why:



We also went to the Carmelite Hotel where we listened to Alison Affleck and Vieux Carre playing 1920s and Tin Pan Alley jazz. They were great. Alison Affleck sang a lovely Billie Holiday song – You Can’t Be Mine – which I particularly liked:

Daniel and I were selfie-bombed (that guy looks way too serious to be at a jazz festival):


The kids got up and boogied out on The Green which was mildly embarrassing. Oh, how I can’t wait for them to become teenagers so I can embarrass them back. What is dancing exactly? Does running around in circles constitute dancing? I think not. Dancing might involve some running every now and again but running itself is not dancing. Boogieing to the jazz for Daniel and Elizabeth meant running round and round in circles. I asked them whether running is dancing and they looked a bit confused so Elizabeth decided to run around in circles and kick her legs out to the side at the same time which was somehow worse. Still, a fun time was had by all which is the main thing.

Our transport to and from the Jazz Festival was by Busby the bakfiets of course.


Busby is named after Busby Berkeley, an American musical choreographer from the 1920s and 1930s. He used to create geometric formations using human dancers. There’s one in this clip that looks like the wheel of a bicycle tyre:

The solar eclipse and a space diary

There was a solar eclipse this morning and just as it went noticeably darker I glanced out my window and inadvertently looked right at the sun. How bad is my luck? All week I’ve been desperately hoping to see the aurora borealis only to be disappointed by cloud and fog. The minute there’s a solar eclipse all the clouds disappear and I look right at it. I didn’t even want to look at it! Now I’ve probably got permanent eye damage and I’ll go blind the moment before a red squirrel and a pine marten make out in our backyard.

Elizabeth drew this cool space diary yesterday. I’ll translate the planet names below.

IMG_9602 12.03.21

Starting from Earth at the top (under Space diary) and moving around anti-clockwise: moon, alien planet, candy planet, star planet, sheep planet (must be NZ), birthday planet (she pronounces birthday, birfday), moon planet, sleep planet. I like the sound of birthday planet.

It is people! It is people! It is people!

I’ve just come home from collecting my kids from school to a lovely surprise that I want to share.

I’m ashamed to say that I never learnt very much about about Māori culture when I lived in New Zealand, but aside from knowing only a couple of cool words (like puku and whanau) I do quite like this proverb:

He aha te mea nui o te ao?
He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!

It translates to:

What is the most important thing in the world?
It is people! It is people! It is people!

I’m not sure that I agree that people are the most important thing in the world unless you view it from our perspective, then it’s true. The people in our lives are the most important thing in the world to us. So it’s with this introduction that I want to say that I work with the best people ever! My co-workers are fantastic. They’re kind, compassionate, funny, clever, and fun to spend time with.

Today I came home to this package which was sent by one of my co-workers:


You know who you are!! Thank you. The box now looks like this:


I expect that by tomorrow it will be empty.

The dentist and playing dress-ups

I took Elizabeth to the dentist this morning and everything is fine which is a big relief after the shock we had last year. We’ve found a terrific dentist here. He told me that what Elizabeth had done, with the stainless steel crowns on her back molars, is the best treatment she could possibly have had. But he also said that they don’t tend to do that here because people fear giving a general anaesthetic to a child. Instead they pull the teeth out altogether or put in white fillings which only need to be replaced again as these don’t work so well on baby teeth apparently. Pulling the teeth out is also not a good solution because it means when the back molars come in, the teeth next to it are absent and so they can grow up crooked and push other teeth out of alignment. This particular dentist worked in the US for a while and he said stainless crowns are standard practice there. The Auckland dentist who treated Elizabeth was also American.

It would have been better had Elizabeth’s teeth not required any treatment at all and I can only recommend to all parents that they floss their child’s teeth from the moment they have teeth. We floss Elizabeth’s and Daniel’s teeth once a day now but we never used to. Never use the baby toothpaste as it doesn’t contain sufficient fluoride and never give your child fizzy drinks. We never did either of those two things anyway but plenty of parents do and it just isn’t worth it.

I usually take Thursdays off work and work on Saturdays instead. Today I was wandering around town and I went into a charity shop, as I often do, and found a lovely silk Monsoon dress for £10. I seem to be amassing a collection of dresses I don’t need and will probably never wear except for when I’m prancing about the house when no one else is home. I don’t think I’ve ever grown out of playing dress-ups. I’ve just spent a good 10 minutes trying to photograph myself in this dress so I can post it to my blog and this is the best I could do (yes, what a waste of my day off, I know, I know):


I managed to chop off the top of my head here but I think this pic shows the dress quite nicely (remember only £10, from Monsoon, silk, and I don’t think it has ever been worn) and at least you can’t see my frown lines :)

Time to go and do something productive now.

Pine martens, red squirrels, and aurora borealis

The Northern Lights were on display across British skies last night but I didn’t see them. I looked out many times before bed, I woke at 3am to have another look, and then again at 5:30am but there was nothing. Only clouds :( Here’s what I might have seen:

I have never seen the Northern Lights. Nor have I seen a red squirrel or a pine marten despite my many attempts to catch a glimpse of one of these things. What’s life all about if not to tick these experiences off our list? I can’t even say I’ve swum in the North Sea in winter since, although I did swim in a chilly 6°C in the North Sea on Sunday, it’s technically not winter anymore! This means I’m going to have to do it again.

Maybe one day I’ll look out the window to see a pine marten having sex with a red squirrel under the aurora borealis. Imagine that! Did anyone else see the show last night?

Balmedie Beach

We had a superb day today. We booked one of the Co-wheels cars to try out and went to Balmedie Beach where I went for a swim in the North Sea.

We drove one of the electric cars parked very close to our home. We have a swipe card which unlocks the car from 5 minutes before the time of our booking. Ben and I are mechanically challenged and we spent a good 5 minutes rummaging through the glove box in search of the key to start it. According to the guide the keys are supposed to be in the glove box. Well, it turns out that’s just for the petrol cars. Electric cars don’t have a key as they have a push-button start. Eventually we figured this out and were able to get the car to start moving.

It felt a bit like driving a dodgem car, but without the banging into things of course, as there are no gears, no clutch and not even a proper ignition. It was very easy to drive though, very quiet and very smooth. It even came with some CDs which meant I got to boogie along to the Spice Girls which Ben was not so happy about. It’s terrific to be able to have the use of car whenever we want. The car was also very clean and it’s nice knowing we don’t have to worry about the servicing and general maintenance of it.

We went to Balmedie Beach which is only about 10 miles north of Aberdeen. It was beautiful. Golden sand for miles and miles and dramatic sand dunes along the shoreline. It reminded me a bit of Fraser Island in Queensland but much colder. The air temperature was about 7°C and the water temperature about 6°C.






For some very strange reason I have been wanting to swim in the North Sea for a little while now. I’m not sure why. I think the only reason is so that I can say I’ve done it and then blog about it :) Fortunately there are no sharks or jellyfish here and I didn’t plan to go out very far so the risk of doing a Harold Holt was slim. Harold Holt was an Australian Prime Minister in the 1960s who went swimming at Cheviot Beach in Victoria and disappeared, never to be seen again. They never found his body.

Ben took lots of photos and a video just to prove I did it.







It was invigorating. I can see why people do it. I felt great afterwards and when I first got out I felt really warm. Although having said that, please excuse my language here, but it was fucking freezing and I’m not sure if or when I’ll do it again.

The kids really enjoyed the beach. They always love it even when they don’t swim. We went for a little wander and then had lunch and a hot drink at the nearby Beach Cafe which was very nice.



Tree Change Dolls

An Australian woman has gone viral for her doll makeovers, although in this case, they are makeunders rather than makeovers. She finds second-hand Bratz dolls, removes their face paint, paints on a new face, and her mum knits the new clothes. The transformation is quite remarkable. It’s hard to even believe they are the same dolls.

Here are some before and after shots taken from her Tumblr site at http://treechangedolls.tumblr.com:

The make-under dolls are a huge improvement on the original in my opinion. Aside from having a ridiculous amount of makeup for a doll, the original Bratz dolls are just plain ugly. I showed my kids these photographs and asked them which they preferred. Elizabeth said she liked the dolls on the right because the other ones “are ugly”. Daniel also chose the transformed dolls because the original ones “look funny”.

Here’s a wonderful interview with the woman behind the dolls. She’s a scientist who was made redundant from CSIRO. Now she has a shop on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/au/shop/TreeChangeDolls

We’ve joined a car club

We don’t own a car and we have no intention of buying one. It’s very easy to live in Aberdeen without a car as we can walk and cycle everywhere. This is our car (photo was taken a couple of months ago when there was snow and ice on the ground and I think Ben must have been shivering when he took it as it’s all blurry):


For longer journeys we catch the train which we love because train travel is just the best. Very occasionally though, it’s nice to have a car. For instance, over Christmas we went to Ballater and there’s no train out there so we hired a car for a week. We’ve also caught a handful of taxis since we got here.

Just recently we discovered there’s a car club in Aberdeen called Co-wheels so we decided to join up. There’s a one-off membership fee of £25 and after that it’s £5 per month if you don’t hire a car, free if you do hire a car. There are 18 co-wheels cars in Aberdeen, and they’re a mix of petrol, hybrid, and electric cars. Members can book the cars online for as little as 1 hour at a time or for as long as you want. The electric cars are very cheap to hire at only £3.75 per hour and there’s no fuel cost because they plug into public charging stations. Registration and insurance are fully covered and the maintenance and cleaning of the car is also taken care of. So essentially we get the use of a car whenever we want, without all the hassle and expense (including the depreciation) of actually owning it. And let’s face it, who wants to spend their free time washing and vacuuming the car?

Something else which struck me as very useful is that there are co-wheels cars all over the UK and we can use any of them. So we could catch the train to the Lake District for a holiday. Then if we want a car while we’re there, we can book one of the co-wheels cars in the area. We haven’t used the cars yet and I’m not sure how often we’ll actually want to use one but it’s useful to have and I like knowing that we’re supporting a great social enterprise. It might come in handy for picking up family members from the airport when they come to visit or for taking a drive one Sunday to see a castle which is not on the train line.

Dressups, hair removal, and pine martens

The kids had to dress up as a character from a story at school today. They both chose to wear hats I had crocheted for them. Isn’t that sweet? I didn’t threaten them, I promise. At what age do kids start to hate the things their mother makes for them?


Elizabeth is the big bad wolf from Little Red Riding Hood and Daniel is the Viking from There’s a Viking in my Bed. One little girl had a pair of underpants on her head and so I asked her who she was. Captain Underpants of course! How silly of me.

I read an interesting article recently about women’s obsession with hair removal over the last few centuries. Apparently women used to use x-rays to remove hair despite the deleterious consequences for their health. There was also a product in the 1930s called Koremlu which contained the toxic metal, thallium. Thallium has been used in rat poisons and insecticides so it defies belief that women would smear it over their bodies. Apparently thallium poisoning causes hair loss – from all places – nerve damage, blindness, and even death. Now we have the Brazilian which, well, I’ve already expressed my thoughts about this.

Elizabeth is channeling George Monbiot with this picture she drew on our white board:


It’s a tree in which a pine marten is about to catch and eat a grey squirrel. The pine marten and grey squirrel are coloured in blue on a branch near the top. The other creatures in the tree are red squirrels. According to an article by George Monbiot – How to eradicate grey squirrels without firing a shot - red squirrels have evolved with pine martens and are small and light enough to get to the very ends of small branches that pine martens and grey squirrels are too heavy for. These are the results from a paper that was published last year which found that the recovery of the pine marten in Ireland brought with it a recovery in red squirrel numbers and a crash in the grey squirrel population.

I wonder why the government is not doing more to increase the population of pine martens? I have never seen one of these animals so they must be quite rare. I still haven’t seen a red squirrel either despite many efforts to seek them out.

Vegan for more than 10 years and still alive

The best thing about having all our belongings back is that I’ve got all my cookbooks again. I’m not that good at just making recipes up and I also like flipping through cookbooks for inspiration. We had visitors over last Sunday and so I really needed some inspiration. I ended up making four vegan dishes: Moroccan Chickpeas, Chewy Indonesian Rice, Revive-Dorf Salad, and Honey & Soy Tofu Steaks. They were all delicious and I think our visitors enjoyed them too as they went back for seconds and thirds.

Here’s what we ate:


These are all recipes from The Revive Cafe Cookbook. It’s a cafe in Auckland (which we never actually went to) but their cookbook is fantastic. I’ve shared a recipe from this book once before, the Vegan blueberry and cashew cheesecake.

Having visitors over and cooking yummy dishes is a great way to share vegan food with other people and dispel the myth that you need to eat meat to eat well. I should do it more often.

Every year I have a blood test to test for diabetes. It’s called the HbA1c and it gives an indication of blood sugar levels over the previous three months. This is because I had gestational diabetes when I was pregnant with Daniel and I’m at a higher risk of getting type 2 diabetes. I didn’t have it with Elizabeth which is unusual because it tends to be something that gets worse with age. But I changed my diet during my pregnancy with Daniel as a result of this diagnosis and completely gave up orange juice and other sugary drinks. I’ve never been someone who consumes fizzy drinks but I used to like the odd gin and tonic. I haven’t had one for 8 years now.

My HbA1c test result was 34 which is within the normal range of 20-42. I was quite pleased because last year it was 39 and lower is better. Perhaps it’s all the cycling on Busby I’ve been doing? I’m running less here than I was in Auckland but I’ve got stronger muscles in my thighs now from peddling a bakfiets with two children, uphill. Strength training is supposedly good for managing blood sugar levels. This is because lifting weights develops white muscles which help to lower blood glucose, according to this study –


My iron levels are 21.2 which is on the low side of normal and not surprising given that I don’t consume red meat or take regular supplements. My B12 is 561 which is great and my folate is >24 which is very high because I eat plants rich in folate like beans and lentils. So despite everyone telling me when I first went vegan about 10 years ago that I’d get ill and die (ok, I exaggerate a bit), I’m in very good health.

In praise of cinnamon buns and hydro power

I’ve just discovered something quite wonderful. Apparently the smell of cinnamon buns has been shown to increase blood flow to the penis. Just joking! I mean, it is true apparently, but that’s not the wonderful thing I want to talk about. It was just a cheap shot to get your attention :)

Perhaps not quite as exciting as an erect penis but still pretty good is a community-led hydro project in Scotland which was launched last year. The village of Callander, in Stirling, has approval to build 36 run-of-river hydro power plants within Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. They’ve already built 11 which are now operational and generating electricity. The electricity is sold back to the national grid with the proceeds going to the community in Callander.

They raised £1.9 million in funding for the project and although this has to be repaid, they still anticipate making £3 million over 20 years which is pretty good for a small village of fewer than 3,000 people. It’s also expected to generate 1.3 – 1.4 gigawatt hours per year.

A run-of-river hydro scheme is not something I’ve heard of before and is different to the large hydro power stations I am aware of like Lake Tekapo in New Zealand and Snowy Mountains Hydro in Australia. This one is very sympathetic to the landscape and doesn’t involve creating dams or reservoirs. From what I understand, water is diverted from the river where it flows down a buried pipe, spins a turbine which generates electricity, and then returns to the river downstream. It’s explained in more detail on the community website: http://www.callandercdt.org.uk/proj-hydro.html

Both the rivers running through Aberdeen, the Dee and Don, I imagine would be good for schemes like this. Aberdeen seems to be so full of clever, thoughtful, diverse, and talented people that I’m sure it must have the man-power to get something like this off the ground. Indeed I don’t think I’ve ever lived anywhere before with such a lovely community feel to it and with so many people with all sorts of skills.

Global warming = smelly armpits

One of the best things about living in a cold climate is an almost complete absence of armpit stink. Women aren’t supposed to get smelly armpits but we do in fact get just as smelly as men. Perhaps we have the heating too low in our home here in Scotland but for whatever reason, I find I can wear the same top two days in a row, sometimes even three, and it still doesn’t smell. This would never happen in Auckland or Brisbane. Sometimes I had to change tops multiple times a day in Auckland.

Over at …andThenTheresPhysics, there has been some discussion about the impacts of climate change. However no-one has mentioned body odour. Just think how smelly our society will become and how much extra washing we’ll need to do in a hotter world. On the plus side it could spell big dollars for manufacturers of deodorant and perfume.

Ok, so who cares about smelly armpits? It’s pretty trivial and I’m not really being serious although I do appreciate not having stinky, sweaty armpits all the time. What does concern me is that the world could be 4°C warmer than pre-industrial times by the end of this century. While this doesn’t sound like very much, a change of 5°C in the other direction was enough to bring on an ice age. In this context, 4°C is pretty huge.

Most of the population on our planet lives in hot places. What does this mean for these people? Physiologically humans cannot survive in wet bulb (100% humidity) temperatures above 35°C for sustained periods of time. Our bodies cannot dissipate metabolic heat fast enough and we suffer heat stroke, organ damage, loss of consciousness, and eventually death.

Our crops will also suffer. Once the temperature hits 1°C above preindustrial, wheat, rice, and maize are expected to be negatively affected (except for a few regions which may see a benefit). While some plants will benefit from the extra CO2, these same plants are negatively affected by temperature and they also contain less protein and valuable nutrients.

There’s already some evidence that global warming was a contributing factor to the crisis in Syria. When people have nothing to eat due to prolonged drought, they’re not going to sit at home and starve to death. I know I wouldn’t. Dylan Thomas’ poem is alive in all of us; our desire to live is one of the reasons we’re still here.

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

The wealthy countries of the world have already shown their reluctance to accept refugees. So when it gets too hot and crops consistently fail, where are all these people going to go?

The solutions to the problem seem fairly obvious to me: carbon tax, investment in renewable and nuclear energy, eat more plant-based foods, invest in cycling infrastructure, make our cities walkable and cyclable …. When I see letters to the editor complaining about the appearance of a wind farm in the Scottish countryside, I want to bang my head against a wall. It’s about as trivial as me fearing global warming for the sake of my armpits. Why wasn’t the author of this letter, who happened to be a resident of Aberdeen, complaining about the ghastliness of Aberdeen harbour? Aberdeen harbour has been completely trashed by the oil industry and is the ugliest harbour I’ve ever seen in my entire life. It also happens to be right in the middle of our city. The wind farm is miles away and something we rarely see. They are also no worse, aesthetically-speaking, than power pylons and they look miles better that coal mines.

Wind farms represent a non-carbon source of energy for us and our children and grand-children. They also lesson our dependence on imported fossil fuels. Despite all the oil in the North Sea, the UK is a net importer of fossil fuels. I sometimes hear people complain that renewable energy sources like wind farms and solar panels are costing too much and we shouldn’t have to subsidise them. Why does no-one complain about the tax-payer burden on decommissioning oil rigs in the North Sea? All those oil rigs out there have to eventually be decommissioned and guess who has to pay for it? The taxpayer. Why is it not acceptable to subsidise an industry at the beginning of its life but it is acceptable to subsidise it at the end?

Please note that I’m not a wind-farm-only advocate. I vote for all forms of carbon-free energy including hydropower, geothermal, solar, nuclear, wind, and biomass. We’re going to need all of it and I don’t want to lose my creature-comforts. Anyway, I seem to have gone off on a tangent here so perhaps I’ll leave it at that.

A pic and should healthcare be free?

I took this photo of a church on Union St this morning because I found the colours really striking. The blue-grey of the sky and the gentle sunlight shining on the church spire made me want to whip out my camera and capture it as I raced to a 9am appointment.


I went to the dentist this week and it cost me £4.64. And that included two x-rays. That’s just ridiculous. Why is it so cheap? No wonder the NHS is broke. I’m used to paying $100+ for a dental check-up with x-rays. The GP here is completely free too. My GP in New Zealand usually charged about $50.

I’m not sure what my views on this are. I’m used to paying for these things so it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect people to pay for these services when they can afford it. But then I guess it’s hard to manage a system where some have to pay and some don’t. I really don’t know what the answer is. Wait, yes I do. The answer is bike lanes of course :) Think how much money the NHS would save if there was some decent cycling infrastructure in the UK. The Christchurch City Council just published a report which claims that for every $1 spent on cycling infrastructure, $8 will be returned to the community in the form of reduced traffic congestion, health and environmental benefits.

What do other people think? Should the dentist and doctor be free for all?

Be careful what you say

A couple of times recently I’ve replied to a Twitter direct message on my iPhone expecting my reply to also be a direct message only to be horrified to see my message become a Tweet on my public profile. At first I thought maybe I had done something wrong so I tested it out today. A friend sent me a direct message. The notification appeared on my iPhone and I had the option to reply to it which I did. But my reply was not sent as a direct message; it was sent as a Tweet to no-one in particular.

This is potentially quite dangerous. What if I’d said “John Doe is a poopyhead” or something like that, thinking it was going to be a private message when in actual fact it was added to my public profile. What if John Doe saw my Tweet and sued me for £6000? Sound unlikely? A number of Tweeps are being sued for calling someone antisemitic. Be careful what you say.

Next time I want to call John Doe a poopyhead I’ll just whisper it under my breath in my office :)

Voting, blogging, times tables, and Aberdeen

Apparently we can vote here. Amazing. I was under the impression that we couldn’t vote since we don’t have permanent residency but it seems I was wrong. When I arrived back from Barcelona in early January, I caught a taxi home from the airport and the taxi driver was talking to me about voting. I told him I wasn’t eligible to vote because I’m a foreigner. He replied that his daughter’s boyfriend just recently moved here and he’s a foreigner too, yet he is eligible to vote. I asked him where the boyfriend is from and he replied, “England” :)

I’ve made lots of friends in the blogging world and although I feel as though I know some of these people quite well, most of them I will probably never meet. But what happens when a blogging friend simply disappears? Someone who always posted everyday or almost everyday suddenly vanishes off the face of the earth? As blogging friends we only see one part of someone’s life and so we have no idea about all the other aspects and they’re under no obligation to keep us informed. But when someone vanishes, I can’t help wondering what happened. Is everything ok? Are they still alive? It doesn’t seem fair that we might never know.

Last weekend Elizabeth asked me about the times tables and I explained that two times three is the same as adding one group of three with another group of three. She seemed to understand this and began drawing dots of the seven times tables. For two times seven, she drew a group of seven dots and another group of seven dots then added them all up. Then she tried seven times seven. She drew the forty-nine dots perfectly but when she added them all up she accidentally counted one dot twice and ended up with 50. There were tears.

It’s coming up to six months in Aberdeen now and I really like it here. The people are so friendly and there’s a wonderful mix of nationalities. So far I’ve met people from Scotland, Ireland, England, Australia, Iraq, Egypt, Malaysia, Lebanon, France and Holland. I’ve heard other languages but I’m yet to identify them all. The climate is mild: not too hot and not too cold and we can walk and cycle everywhere.

The dress, Oliver Sacks, and more writing from Elizabeth

The results of the poll in my last post are, at this point in time, 42.3% for blue, 42.3% for white, and 15.3% for other.

In my family, I see blue, both my kids see blue, and Ben sees white. It’s quite funny because the kids are now concerned about Ben’s eye-sight and have been asking him what colour various other objects around the house are. I probably didn’t help the situation by telling them that Ben sees white because his eyes are old and not working so well any more :)

The dress drama reminds me of a book I read and thoroughly enjoyed, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, by Oliver Sacks. The book is written as a series of case studies, one of which I wrote about before. The case of the man and his wife starts like this:

Sometimes a student would present himself, and Dr P. would not recognise him; or, specifically, would not recognise his face. The moment the student spoke, he would be recognised by his voice. Such incidents multiplied, causing embarrassment, perplexity, fear – and, sometimes, comedy. For not only did Dr P. increasingly fail to see faces, but he saw faces when there were no faces to see: genially, Magoo-like, when in the street, he might pat the heads of water-hydrants and parking-meters, taking these to be the heads of children; he would amiably address carved knobs on the furniture, and be astounded when they did not reply.

This week I was very sad to read that Oliver Sacks has terminal cancer. He wrote about it in a moving piece for the NY Times My Own Life. I smiled when I read how he describes himself, “I am a man of vehement disposition, with violent enthusiasms, and extreme immoderation in all my passions.” The world will lose an extraordinary mind and a thoughtful and caring human when he dies. Everyone should read The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat as it fosters an understanding of neurological conditions which are in many ways swept under the carpet by our society. We are not very accepting of people who say they hear voices or who see things which we cannot and rather than trying to understand the neurological causes, most people will simply assume these people are nuts. On a more visceral level, the book left me questioning what we are. Are we just a bunch of synapses and chemicals sending messages inside a skull? It’s a fascinating read for many reasons.

Elizabeth did some more writing today and I thought I’d share it. This is a recipe for a special type of chocolate cake which she has made up.



3 Bananas
1 jelly
5 chocolate
2 eggs
4 gummy bears
1 candy cane

In praise of cycling and a dress colour

It must be about time I posted another photo of Busby so here he is, with precious cargo:


I cycle to and from school everyday and I love it. My only complaint is that it has become too easy and the distance to school too short. I’m stronger than I was when we first arrived and the hills aren’t as difficult anymore. They still get my heart-rate up which is a good thing, but I don’t feel like I’m pushing myself very hard.

I cycled passed a police officer on the pavement this week and she said hello to me. Phew. I often pass city council vehicles too and they always stop and give way to me, even though I’m crossing from one footpath to another, which is technically illegal. It’s a good sign that the law enforcement and politicians are on-board with cycling. I just wish they’d do more to encourage other people to cycle too. The low cycling rates are undoubtedly due to the perceived danger of cycling in traffic which could be rectified by building dedicated cycle paths.

I’ve heard that roads were not built for cars, they were built for bicycles. When the bicycle first became popular in the late 19th century, there were no cars, and it was cyclists who paved the way for a national road network for the purposes of cycling. Cycling was predominantly the domain of the wealthy and it was these early cyclists and their well-organised cycling clubs that lobbied for proper paved roads and maps. There’s a good article about it in the Guardian.

Bicycles also made a positive contribution to the women’s liberation movement in the 1800s. They gave women freedom, mobility and made women look more sporty and less like the fragile creatures Victorian women were supposed to be. There’s quite a good article about it here with a funny quote from the era:

Cycling tends to destroy the sweet simplicity of her girlish nature; besides how dreadful it would be if, by some accident, she were to fall into the arms of a strange man

Falling into the arms of a strange man doesn’t sound very bad to me at all.

One more, completely unrelated thing. What colour is this dress? Please vote in my poll below (but not if you’re Zandy or Pam). Thanks!


My reckless childhood

Modern parents, like me, have a tendency to wrap their kids in cotton wool. We do it because we don’t want anything bad to happen to them. Fortunately my kids are very cautious and would never do anything reckless anyway but I was thinking recently about some of the things I did as a child and how I would never let my own kids do these things.

What did I do?

My grandfather was a pig farmer in outback Queensland and we used to visit the farm almost every year. The farm is still there; my uncles own it now. Something I used to do that completely horrifies me is I’d climb the tall ladder into the towering silos of grain and run around inside. It was fun because you’d sink into the grain up to your knees or more, making it hard to run. But had anyone poured grain out from the bottom of the silo, and they would never have known I was in there, I’d have become quickly buried in a quick-sand-like substance and suffocated. I’m not sure whether my parents knew that we did this. Probably not.

We also used to tear around the farm on my grandfather’s ride-on lawn mower. He would take the blade off so this was a relatively safe activity. We’d ride horses, sometimes bareback (ponies only I think) and milk the cow (or try to anyway), and collect eggs from the hens. We also used to drive the Mini Moke long before we ever had a car licence.

There were countless hours spent exploring the scrub and wandering off in random directions where I suppose we could have got lost and/or bitten by a poisonous snake. The farm had the biggest huntsmen spiders I’ve ever seen and I’m terrified of spiders. The toilet under the house was a home for green frogs whose legs would appear from under the rim with every flush.

What’s the most dangerous thing you did as a kid?