Craigievar Castle

We booked another Co-Wheels car today. I think I’ve got the system all figured out and have tried a few different cars now including electric, petrol, and hybrid. Most of the problems I had in the beginning were down to user error, I’m embarrassed to say.

We drove out to Craigievar Castle, about 30 miles west of Aberdeen. The drive was just lovely. We drove to Banchory first and followed the same route we took before Christmas when we went to Ballater but how different it was this time! The countryside is in full bloom now and all the trees covered in leaves so it looked very lush and leafy. It was lovely in winter too but I have to say it was quite spectacular today.

We stopped at Morrisons supermarket in Banchory where I made a fool of myself not once but twice. I bought some small punnets of vegetables to plant in my garden and clumsily knocked one over on the conveyor belt at the checkout and sent dirt flying everywhere. Then when we went to leave, I pushed open an emergency door, not realising it was an emergency exit, and set the alarms off. So we high-tailed it out of there for Craigievar Castle.

Craigievar Castle is the stuff of fairy tales. It’s the sort of thing you might expect to see in a children’s picture book:

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I half expected to see Rapunzel lowering her long hair down from one of the upper windows.

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We went on a guided tour which is the only way to see the inside and I can understand why. All the original furniture and art is still in place, as it has been for hundreds of years. The castle was built in the 1600s by William Forbes. I wasn’t allowed to take photos of the inside unfortunately so I don’t have any to share but it was marvellous. The ceilings were plastered by an Italian artist when the castle was first built and they are impressive. The spiral staircase is a masterpiece, and the rooms were more cozy and inviting than I had imagined castle rooms to be. We went all the way up to the roof where we got to enjoy the splendid views.

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The castle motto is Doe not vaken sleiping dogs which means do not awaken sleeping dogs.

This part of Scotland has so many castles that I think it will be some time before we’ve visited all of them. It’s a lovely place to live, not just because of the interesting history, but also because it’s less populous than other parts of the UK, and there’s some lovely scenery with rolling hills, forests, rivers, and beaches.


Glen Garioch and Tolquhon Castle

We have had another terrific day today. I almost feel a bit bad that I have so many terrific days and I hope that I’m not rubbing it in too much by writing about them on my blog all the time. There’s something so fun about writing about my experiences. It’s kind of a way of re-living the adventure.

I have Thursdays off and Daniel has been home all week with chicken pox (he’s not at all ill though) and Elizabeth woke up in the night with a sore ear so we decided to keep her home as well. We booked another car-club car – a hybrid this time – and took off for Glen Garioch distillery and Tolquhon Castle.

We’ve been to a couple of whiskey distilleries now but this is the first time we’ve been able to go on a tour and it was wonderful. Whiskey production is far more complicated than I thought. How did they ever figure it all out? Following the process from milling of grain all the way through to storage in barrels was fascinating and the smells along the way, splendid.

Glen Garioch is not pronounced as you would expect. They pronounce it Glen Gerry. It’s one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland and the most eastern distillery. It’s also only 30 minutes from Aberdeen by car.

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I took this next photo because of the dog in it. Apparently dogs were very important for distilleries in those days. The grain they kept here (grain is stored elsewhere now so I think it’s less of a problem) attracted rats and they kept cats to deal with the rats but the cats left headless corpses lying around. The dogs finished off the task. I love the Doric on the photo too.

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These next photos are of the distillation process iself:

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Lots of barrels of whiskey:

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I got to have a go at popping the bung in the whiskey barrel by pounding either side of it with this hammer. Only I accidentally hit the cork at one point and wedged it in further – yes, very clumsy of me I know – so it never actually popped out. Ben had a go after me and managed to do it. You have to slam down quite firmly.

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I didn’t taste any this time as I was driving but Dad and Ben did and both enjoyed it very much. You can bottle your own while you’re there too. The staff were so friendly and knowledgable and I thought it was a bonus to be able to take the kids. Most distilleries don’t allow children.

Then we went to Tolquhon Castle which is not very far from Glen Garioch. This whole area of Aberdeenshire looks to be an incredibly productive farming region with field upon field of barley, rapeseed, and maybe oats and wheat too as well as the usual sheep and cows.

Tolquhon Castle is one of the lesser-known castles and not so popular with tourists but we all absolutely loved it. Perhaps we loved it because there was hardly anyone there? But it’s also a very beautiful castle, apparently built for aesthetics (in the 16th century) rather than as a fortress. It was also run-down enough not to have to worry about the kids trashing it – they ran freely from room to room playing hide and seek – but not so much a ruin that you couldn’t imagine how all the rooms looked once before and how the inhabitants might have lived.

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They must have been really short in the 16th century:

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A rant about human rights and trying to see a doctor

It must be time for a rant. I haven’t had one for a while and things build up.

Apparently the recently re-elected conservative government in the UK has plans to scrap the Human Rights Act. Why would they want to do that? It’s sort of like saying, “Let’s scrap the right to vote for women. They don’t need it”. Or, “Let’s make it legal to keep slaves. We need the cheap labour”.

I don’t really know much about the act but the very notion of scrapping an act that is designed to protect human rights seems a bit backwards. I can understand a desire to add to it and fine-tune it but remove it altogether? What could they possibly be thinking???

According to this Guardian A-Z of the act, it incorporates things like:
* the right to life
* prohibition of torture
* right to liberty and security
* right to a fair trial
* freedom of expression

It all sounds very reasonable to me and I agree wholeheartedly with all of it. Thomas Paine is probably rolling around in his grave right now. Paine is the author of the Rights of Man, a book that was written in 1791.

He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.

People tell me that the philosophy of conservative politics is individual liberty. If that’s the case, then why would a conservative government scrap a law which specifically protects individual liberty and freedom of expression? This is why I’m a swing voter. I don’t think any one party ever really completely follows the philosophy they pretend to aspire to. It’s very much dependent on the person at the helm. I also think that the longer one party is in power the more they go from listening to the views of the population to becoming a power-crazed despot.

The other thing that peeved me off this week was trying to get an appointment for my father to see a GP. The GP system seems to work fine here if you’re registered somewhere, but if you’re not registered, then you’re at the mercy of the scary receptionist holding guard over the appointment book. I rang the place I’m registered with to get him an appointment. They said no, because he’s not a resident here, and that he’d have to go private. They gave me a private hospital to ring which I did but they had nothing until next week and Dad will be gone by then. I then began ringing every medical centre in Aberdeen trying to get an appointment. Some places were helpful until they discovered that I was registered somewhere already and this seemed to put up a barrier. They said I had to ring the place I am registered at. But each of the four times I rang my own surgery, they turned me away. I told them that Australia and the UK have a reciprocal health agreement which means that British citizens can access the health service in Australia when they’re tourists there and vice versa here. There’s information about this online:
http://borderpractice.co.uk/index.php?scl_page=overseas_visitors
and here:
http://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/Healthcareabroad/countryguide/NonEEAcountries/Pages/Non-EEAcountries.aspx

In the end he got an appointment at a centre on the other side of town. They were really nice and not at all concerned that I wasn’t registered at their practice. I don’t understand why it had anything to do with me at all. I wasn’t the one seeking an appointment. I wasted an hour ringing around and in the end decided not to tell them that I was a resident here. What if we were both tourists and didn’t know anyone here who was already registered with a GP? Why should it matter that my father knows someone who is lives here? I hope British tourists in Australia get better treatment when they’re ill.

**NB** Apparently the conservative party plan to replace the Human Rights Act with their own Bill of Rights and so I was wrong in thinking that it’s a complete erosion of human rights. See comments for more info.


More photos from the Shetland Islands

Dad came with us to the Shetland Islands and took much nicer photos of the puffins than I did so I thought I’d share his photos as they’re really terrific.

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He also took some nice ones of Shetland Ponies:

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And some of the beach:

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Seals (that’s Lerwick in the background):

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A photo of Scalloway:

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And I took this one of the local dialect:

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There’s a visible Viking influence in Shetland which is left over from when the Vikings arrived in the 8th and 9th centuries. Every year they celebrate Up Helly Aa, some kind of fire festival which celebrates the end of Yule. Some of the place names and words they use also have Nordic origins like Eid which is apparently old Norse for isthmus. The museum we visited next to Scalloway Castle was also opened by the Prime Minister of Norway. There is quite a lot about Norway and the wartime resistance movement known as the Shetland Bus in the museum. Up until about 6 or 7 years ago you could even catch the ferry from Lerwick to Bergen in Norway, a trip of similar distance to the one we made from Aberdeen to Lerwick. I wish that ferry was still going as I’d have loved to try it. I guess it would be similar to the trip the Vikings made on their boats but without the mod cons! I took this photo of a model of one of their boats in the ferry terminal (I don’t think they had an onboard cinema):

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I have to say I’m very keen to return to The Shetland Islands so perhaps we’ll go back sooner rather than later. I’m already dreaming about where to go next. Any suggestions? It has to be near enough for a day trip or a one- or two-nighter since we all have work and school commitments.


The Shetland Islands

I’m not quite sure how to begin this post. I’ve just had a fantastic adventure in the Shetland Islands and saw and did so many wonderful things so this is probably going to be a long post.

On Friday evening we boarded a ferry, the MV Hjaltland, for the Shetland Islands. The Shetland Islands are at 60deg north, the same latitude as Bergen in Norway and St Petersburg in Russia. It’s an overnight trip which leaves Aberdeen at 7pm and arrives at Lerwick in the Shetland Islands at 7am. As we left Aberdeen we stood out on deck to farewell the city and there were dolphins in the sea near Aberdeen beach. The kids got very excited about this.

You can book a 4-berth cabin which is what we did. It’s quite exciting to go to sleep in a bed and then wake up in a completely different place. The ferry is large with a restaurant, a couple of bars and lounge areas, a shop, a kids’ play area, and even a cinema.

At first glance Shetland looks very barren. There aren’t any trees and instead just lots of green hills and steep, rocky cliffs. It’s hard to imagine how anyone could have survived here but humans have thrived in this area for thousands of years. There are about 23,000 people living in Shetland now and just a few thousand in the capital at Lerwick.

We were only in Shetland for a day as we took the ferry back on Saturday night, so we made the most of our time and hired a car and drove around to see as much as we could. The first stop was a seal colony next to Tesco’s supermarket in Lerwick. The seals look a bit like large slugs sun-baking on rocks.

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I zoomed in on this next one:

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Next we drove to to Jarlshof, an archaeological site dating from 4000BC. It was only discovered in the 19th century when a storm ripped off the green mound to reveal the ancient human settlement beneath. I just love places like this. I find them fascinating and I’m always so impressed with what humans thousands of years ago were capable of. It seems like such a hostile environment but in fact humans did quite well here and survived by fishing, eating shellfish, and farming emmer wheat (emmer is an old wheat variety), barley, and sheep. There was no wood to burn for fire and instead they burnt peat.

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Next stop was the lighthouse at Sumburgh Head where I got to see my first puffin. These birds are pretty cute and have a distinctive orange beak. They did not seem frightened of us and we were able to get quite close and at one point a puffin was within a metre of where we were standing. The views were also spectacular.

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We left the puffins for St Ninian’s Isle, a tiny island joined to the main island by a sand bank called a tombolo. As a Queenslander I have quite high standards for beaches as I don’t think many places in the world can compete with Queensland ones, but this little beach was right up there with the best. The water was cold but very inviting nonetheless and had I brought my swimmers I think I might have gone in for a dip. Instead we walked along the sand and clambered over some rocks.

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After the beach we went to Scalloway Castle. On the gate into the castle grounds is a sign pointing tourists to the nearby museum to get the key for the castle. It doesn’t cost anything to go in and walk around. When the fellow in the museum gave me the key he said, “Make sure you don’t lock anyone inside”.

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There are lots of Shetland ponies on the Shetland Islands, which is not surprising, I guess. I think there might soon be one more, too:

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The people who live in Shetland would have to be among the friendliest I’ve ever encountered anywhere. The roads are quiet and the whole place feels remote and peaceful: not unlike the very south of the South Island of New Zealand. It’s a wonderful place for a holiday. We’ll definitely go back. I also really enjoyed the ferry. Arriving and leaving somewhere by boat gives you quite a different perspective of the place. I lived and worked on a boat for a few months many years ago and have very fond memories of that time. This boat was a lot bigger than that one but it was still very pleasant. The only negative is that it’s quite expensive and the food wasn’t all that great. But we will still take the ferry again next time.



Dunnottar Castle

I took Dad to Dunnottar Castle today. I booked the electric car again which I had no problems starting but we couldn’t get the plug out of the charging station. I phoned Co-wheels and they weren’t sure either so they said I could just leave it there and that’s what we did.

I have been to Dunnottar Castle before but it’s the kind of place you can visit many times without getting bored. The castle is old and in ruins now but it’s perched on the top of an imposing and scary-looking cliff above the sea. Humans have lived on the site since 5000BC and the castle itself dates from the 13th century. The history of the stone walls combined with the natural beauty of the environment make it a fabulous place to visit and it’s only 18 miles from Aberdeen.

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The guy in this next pic is saying, “How did you get up there?”

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This was the castle brewery:

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An election, rtfm, and other matters

There’s a general election tomorrow in case anyone hadn’t noticed and somewhat surprisingly, I am allowed to vote. This is because I’m a Commonwealth citizen. Some people are not very happy about this. A friend of mine here is Dutch and although he has lived in the UK for 17 years, he is not allowed to vote. I think he is a bit miffed that I can. It does seem a bit unfair, I do agree, however I am grateful to have the opportunity to vote and I will be voting.

Now I have a confession to make. I have been in contact with the co-wheels car people and it seems there was nothing wrong with the car last Saturday and I am just incompetent. There is indeed an immobiliser which kicks in if the car is not started within a few minutes of unlocking it. When I first discovered this I convinced myself that their communication was poor and they should have made this clear to all new members. Then I went back and had a look at the pamphlet they posted out when I first joined up. In the troubleshooting section at the end it says: “I am in the car but the ignition will not start: The immobiliser will kick in after a few minutes of presenting your card on the reader ….”.

On other matters, Elizabeth told Ben to fuck off the other day.


The electric car and cycling

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the electric car and why I couldn’t start it on Saturday night. So yesterday I booked it just for an hour so that I could figure out how to use it. I unplugged the charging cable from both the car and the charging point first go and the car also started first go. All I did was press the start button while my foot was on the brake. That’s exactly what I did on Saturday and so I don’t know why it didn’t work then. I have a swipe card which unlocks the car and I have a suspicion that if I don’t use the car within a certain time after unlocking it that I need to swipe again. On Saturday I wasted about 10 minutes faffing around trying to unplug it and so maybe I needed to re-swipe? I’m not sure. In any case, I started the car first go and drove around the block. It’s very nice to drive and has a nice interior with a touch screen on the Dashboard with a map. Although I am partial to my Busby and will always prefer bicycles and trains to cars, cars are useful from time to time.

A friend sent me this funny article about test driving a petrol car – Test Drive of a Petrol Car.
After writing about my issues with the electric car I was thinking about how easy I find petrol cars to use, even though they’re not all that straight forward. Imagine stepping into a petrol car without ever having driven one before. There’s no way you could just figure out the clutch and gears or even how to start it without lessons. By comparison an electric car is pretty easy.

As much as I love cycling, it’s tough cycling in most cities. Bicycles are not welcome on the road or the footpath so there’s not really any place to cycle. I cycle on a mix of both and in some ways it’s more exhausting mentally than physically. I love it though and I know it’s good for me. When I cycle to get from one place to another as part of my daily routine, I don’t have to make a special effort to exercise that day. It just happens as a consequence of getting from A to B. People who don’t have this option need to make a special effort to exercise everyday and this is where we fail. It’s hard to persist with daily trips to the gym or regular runs when you have to make a special effort. If you live somewhere where you need to cycle to go to the shops or to schools or to work then you get exercise for free.


How do you start an electric car?

My father arrived late last night and so I booked the Co-wheels car club car to collect him from the airport. This is only the second time I’ve used it and I thought it would be straight forward since we had done it before so I booked the car for 9:30pm; Dad’s flight arrived at 10pm.

The car unlocks with a swipe card and this bit was easy. I then tried to unplug the car (it’s an electric car) and I could not do it. I tried and tried to pull the plug out of the socket but it just wouldn’t give. At this point I started to get a bit flustered and so I looked in the glove box for an instruction manual and discovered that this was a different car to the last one. I don’t usually take notice of car models and this car was white like the last one. That’s the main thing, right? However I knew it was a different car because the interior was different. It turns out this one was a Renault Zoe and the last one, I think, was a Kia.

The instruction manual was about the length of War and Peace. I hate reading instruction manuals, even when they’re short and there was no way I was going to read all of this. Eventually I discovered a button beneath the steering wheel (in about the same spot as the fuel cap on petrol cars) with a picture of a plug on it. Pressing this unlocked the plug from the car. I couldn’t remove it from the charger but decided just to leave it there as I was running out of time.

By this stage I was in a bit of panic as I now only had 15 minutes to get to the airport. I put my foot on the brake and pressed the start button. Nothing happened. I turned the touch screen on and it lit up but nothing happened when I pressed the accelerator. I tried lots of other things including pressing random buttons and saying words beginning with “F” over and over again but I couldn’t get the car to move. I tried flipping through War and Peace hoping to find “How to start car” in all-caps and bold text but failed. At this point I was a frantic mess and gave up. Dad caught a taxi to our house instead and I took a few swigs of cointreau.

This experience has made me realise I’m getting old. Once upon a time I would just have been able to figure something like this out without needing to use a manual or ask someone. I was brought up with petrol cars and so perhaps the electric car is not intuitive to me. But I’m not going to let it defeat me. Next time I’ll book it half an hour earlier to give myself time to have a proper look at War and Peace.

I contacted Co-wheels and they’ve refunded the booking which is very nice and they’re going to hold some training sessions. Yay!


Has Elon Musk solved the climate crisis?

I just watched this video of Elon Musk revealing Tesla’s new “Powerwall”, a battery pack for the home. The Powerwall can store energy from solar panels when the sun’s shining and then deliver this stored energy to the home when it’s dark. I have to say it sounds wonderful and Elon Musk had me convinced right from the start. It almost sounds too good to be true. I hope it’s not.

More here: http://www.theverge.com/2015/5/1/8525309/tesla-energy-elon-musk-battery-announcement


What not to say to a mathematician at a party

Whenever Ben tells a stranger at a party he’s a mathematician the response is usually something like, “I hated maths at school”. It’s a very common response but if you changed the word “maths” to something else it’s also a very odd response. Imagine telling someone you’re a florist and they respond with, “I hate arranging flowers” or a nurse, “I hate caring for people”, or a teacher, “I hate teaching others”. But people have no hesitation saying it about maths to a mathematician.

After the wedding last week there was a party at my sister’s home and Ben found himself having a conversation with a marine engineer who took the opportunity to tell him how all the maths he did at University was a complete waste of time and he’s never used it. He wanted to blame Ben for forcing the undergraduate version of himself to do maths at University. He then explained what his work involves and there was a lot of problem solving which required logic and analysis. Ben then replied that this is exactly how he tries to get his undergraduates to think: to solve problems by thinking about them logically.

There’s a great article in the Guardian this week by Marcus du Sautoy, a mathematician at Oxford University, about making maths work for everyone. I have met Marcus a couple of times and he’s really nice and interesting to talk to. He’s very involved with taking maths to the public and making it accessible for everyone and has written some good books for non-mathematicians about maths. He’d like to see every young person study mathematics up to the age of 18, a plan I heartily support. People think mathematics is just numbers and tricky equations but it’s much more than this. Indeed I occasionally peek at the papers my husband writes and they’re full of words rather than equations. Marcus’ suggestion is to introduce this aspect of mathematics into the school curriculum.

What many are not aware of is that maths is so much more than the technical cogs that currently form the backbone of the curriculum. It is about pattern searching, extended analytical and logical thinking, problem solving. I am just embarking on making a new programme for the BBC about the beauty of algorithms. Many of the best algorithms contain no numbers or equations at all, but are full of mathematical thinking. And it is those algorithms that are creating efficient approaches to a whole range of business solutions, from the distribution of goods from supermarket warehouses to decisions about flight schedules at Heathrow airport.

I am not particularly good at numbers and equations but I took a course on discrete mathematics at university as part of my computer science degree and I loved it. There was a great deal of logic in it. Problem solving through logic and analysis are important skills for every profession and I think society can only benefit if all young people are given the opportunity to develop these skills.


Cousins, Provence, wine-making, and climate change

I’m back in Aberdeen after an amazing trip to France for my sister’s wedding. We landed in Aberdeen last night to heavy snow! I’m feeling very tired today and think I need a holiday to recover from my holiday :)

I got these nice photos of the cousins together yesterday:

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As we drove back through Provence yesterday, past field after field of grape vines, I couldn’t help but wonder about the wine industry and how it will survive climate change. We are looking at a minimum warming of 2°C by the end of this century but it could be up to 4°C if we continue on our current trajectory. A change of 2°C is an optimistic outcome and requires large emission reductions from us which we have so far failed to achieve. And it won’t stop there, it will just get noticeably warmer and warmer with each decade after that unless we do something about it now. The wines we so love from the southern regions of France are unlikely to survive in their current form. Farmers will need to adapt, to change the varieties they grow and harvest at different times. The best wine growing regions are probably going to move poleward.

I did a quick search to see what was in the literature and here’s what I found:

The entire range of grape growing climate zones is about 10° C globally; for some grapes, such as Pinot noir, the range is an even narrower 2 °C (Santisi, 2011). The National Academy of Sciences suggests that the general shift of warmer temperatures poleward will lead to a “huge shake-up in the geographic distribution of wine production (Lallanilla, 2013)” in the next half century (Hannah et al., 2013). The practical and economic would be monumental. Premium wine producing regions would shift poleward. “Many quality wine growing regions now on the margin for secure wine production will become safe and other regions will be able to expand their grape selection (Tate, 2001).” Some areas would cease production all together (Kay, 2006 and Tate, 2001). According to Tate (2001), the consequence of this warming will be the ability of Vitis vinifera to “thrive in more poleward locations than it does today,” with some areas now perfect for a given cultivar ceasing to be so.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212977414000222

From the same source, climate change will also alter the chemistry of grapes and thus their flavour.

Additionally, it is surmised that a rise in CO2 will change wine quality. According to Schultz (2010), a rise in CO2 coupled to a lift in temperature and a shift in relative humidity may increase biomass, increased sugar (thus alcohol), and a decrease in acid levels all of which will affect grape aroma and flavor. Tate (2001)states, that rising CO2 will cause faster growth and, therefore, higher sugar concentrations and thicker skin development (thus higher tannin levels). Therefore, it is a certainty that a change in climate, no matter how small, will shift grape chemistry for winegrapes currently in place.

Wine is not necessary for our survival but it would be a tragedy if we lost these wine growing regions, which, in many instances, were producing wine long before we became dependent on fossil fuels. Wine has been made in Provence for at least the last 2,600 years. Our apathy when it comes to climate change is a punch in the face to all the wine-makers of the region from the past. They developed an industry which has lasted thousands of years and which is now at risk because of our own greed and selfishness. I don’t even drink wine but I was still able to appreciate the beauty of the Provence wine-growing region with its grape vines, the tradition of wine-making, the tourism it must bring, and the income generated for the people who live there and produce the wine.


A party in Provence

We were forced to attend another party this evening. What a tough life :)

I got to wear another beautiful frock and hopefully I don’t look too bony and emaciated in it.

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I also got a nice photo of myself with Dad who seems to be turning into a party animal as he gets older. He stays up later partying than all the rest of us.

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The kids looked just as cute as ever:

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Quite by accident we three look like a French flag:IMG_0503

Susie looks so lovely she needs a photo all to herself:IMG_0522

My sister, Josey, discovers that high heels are not suited to gravel.

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No, this is not the groom kissing her in this next one.

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And now I must go to bed if I’m to run laps around the grape vines again tomorrow.


Provence

We’re currently staying at a truly magnificent place in Provence. My sister and her husband have organised a weekend celebration for their wedding rather than just the usual day and so a group of about 30 of us have gathered in this lovely part of the world to drink and be merry.

There are quite a few kids and they’re all free-ranging around the vast open spaces. There are no cars, just vineyards, fields, and forest. I went for a run around these grape vines yesterday. It was wonderful.

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I got another nice photo of the sisters again today. You can tell I’m the one who has come from Scotland while everyone else is used to warmer climates. My dress in this next photo came from a charity shop in Aberdeen.

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What a good life I have and don’t I know it :)


A French Wedding

My sister got married yesterday in Antibes in the South of France. It was splendid. She knows how to throw a party like no-one else and it was so nice to see my other sisters (I have quite a few), my father, and various other people I haven’t seen for a long time. I also got to wear a pretty frock somewhere other than our lounge room and pose for photographs.

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Ben got to pose for photos too:

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Daniel and Elizabeth looked adorable:

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My sister looked lovely and her dress was beautiful. You can’t have a wedding without some kind of drama over the dress. Like so many things these days it was bought online and was not quite the right size. There wasn’t time to exchange it and because my sister and I look alike I nearly had to act as her body double and walk down the aisle in her dress. But in the end we decided it might be better to sew my sister into the dress instead and this is exactly what we did, an hour before the ceremony. She cut herself out of the dress at the end of the day. I don’t think anyone noticed my bad sewing :)

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They were married by the mayor of Antibes in the town hall. It was a lovely ceremony even though I didn’t understand most of it as it was in French. The bride and groom didn’t have to say anything other than urine (or wee which is yes in French). I could never live in a country where the word for yes translates to urine but that’s the beside the point.

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I love this next photo. They look like a royal couple emerging from the palace to wave to their adoring fans. IMG_0351

Here’s another lovely sister of mine and her boyfriend:

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At one point I caught this sister’s boyfriend negotiating with a 7-year-old who was in possession of some cake. He suggested to the 7-year-old that he trade the cake for a toy rifle. The kid with the cake looked at the toy rifle and said, “That’s a fake” and disappeared with his cake.

Here’s my nephew looking incredibly cute:IMG_0360

And the very handsome Daniel:IMG_0364

And finally, four sisters:

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An exercise plan

After school yesterday Elizabeth decided to do some exercise. It was her own idea and although I’m a big advocate of exercise myself, I never pressure my kids to do it. However whenever they ask me why I’m exercising I will usually say something like, “because it keeps me fit and healthy and I’ll live for longer”. Elizabeth parroted these reasons when she was doing her exercise so she must be absorbing at least some of the things I say and she even drew up an exercise plan (again all her own initiative). Here it is:

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It says:

Sturjyumps 10
Runing 10
Froing toys 10
Hoping 10

Translation:

Starjumps 10
Running 10
Throwing toys 10
Hopping 10

I asked her about the throwing toys. Is that exercise? She replied that I had said it was, then added a bit indignantly, “I asked you and you said it was exercise!”. Ooops. I’m a bad parent. You know those times when you’re concentrating on something and your kids ask you a question but you’re not really listening and just say, “Yes, yes”? After school I’m still at work and so I’m working while they’re at home. They sometimes come and ask me things while I’m busy and concentrating on something and this was one of those times. Just as well we don’t own a car otherwise I might have inadvertently replied with “Yes, yes you can take the keys to the car and go for a drive”.


Evolution and adventures

Explaining evolution to kids is harder than you think especially when you’re riding a bakfiets at the time and they’re firing questions at you from the box in front. It started on the cycle ride home today with, “How come some kids have brown skin?”. I tried to explain that humans have evolved to have lighter or darker coloured skin depending on how much sunlight the place they originate gets. People with fairer skin are better able to synthesise vitamin D from sunlight which is useful in places with lower UV radiation as vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium. While darker skin types offer more protection from the sun and are important in places with high UV radiation. Elizabeth went from that to, “That’s why we don’t live in New Zealand because New Zealand is hot and we have white skin”.

Elizabeth has obviously forgotten about Christchurch and how cold it can get there. Kids also don’t seem to have a concept of time. It’s hard to explain that although our skin colour is determined by our parents and their skin colour by their parents and so on it’s our ancestors and where they came from who determine whether we are fair or dark.

Some people spend money on cars and house renovations whereas we like to spend money on adventures. Every time we come back from a short trip or weekend away, I start dreaming about the next one. Where will we go? What will we do? I seem to live my life from one adventure to the next which isn’t such a bad thing, I don’t think. I also relive old adventures sometimes. One particularly good one we made was a short campervan trip to Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook in the South Island of New Zealand. Lake Tekapo is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. We went in July 2010, two months before the start of the Christchurch earthquake sequence. Here are some photos of it (Daniel is in the first one and he’s wearing a cardigan I made for him):

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This was taken from the Mount John Observatory:

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Here’s our campervan:

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We slept here one night with not a soul around except for us:

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Elizabeth was only little:

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And I didn’t have any grey hairs yet. I blame the earthquakes for those.

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And the obligatory sheep pic:

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Brig o’ Balgownie

Bridges are very clever things. Spanning rivers and harbours they hold a lot a weight and somehow manage, most of the time anyway, not to fall into the water. Aberdeen has some very old bridges including one of the oldest in Scotland, a medieval bridge over the River Don called the Brig o’ Balgownie.

It was built in the 12th Century according to Wikipedia and is thought to have been the work of Scottish architect, Richard Cementarius. There is some dispute over who commissioned the bridge but credit has been given to both Robert the Bruce and Bishop Cheyne.

It’s a lovely old stone bridge with a single arch and is open to pedestrians and cyclists only. We cycled all the way over to it, which, although it wasn’t far, was quite exhausting because there were a few hills. Busby does not really do hills. I can manage them as long as they’re not too steep but there was one hill that I had to get off and push the bike up. I can’t stand and pedal on Busby as my knees hit the wooden box at the front. Ben actually ended up pushing Busby up the hill for me. There were also quite a few roads with cobblestones and these are not so great for cycling.

This next photo was taken in Seaton Park, which is right beside the River Don, and quite lovely and enormous.

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Here’s the bridge:

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I really am impressed that humans managed to build things like this so long ago. It’s a magnificent bridge that will hopefully be around for many more centuries yet.

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What do you think of this dress? I got it at the charity shop yesterday and I’m not sure whether I like it. The cardigan I made myself.

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There were some lovely little stone cottages nearby:
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I don’t think the kids enjoyed it very much. As we were nearing the bridge I began explaining the historical significance of it to Daniel and his response was, “Where is the cafe?”.


A robin redbreast and more of Elizabeth’s writing

I was out in the garden today and this little robin redbreast came and said hello. Isn’t he cute?

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There are a quite a few birds around. They, and the sunlight, wake us up at 5:30am :) The little robin was interested in what I was doing because my digging was revealing tasty morsels to eat.

Elizabeth got a bird house for Christmas which she painted and which we decided to put out in the backyard for a potential Mr and Mrs Bird. My husband, clever though he is, is not very good at handy man things. Here’s what he did with it:

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Perhaps wisely, no bird has taken up lodging there yet. This afternoon the fellow who lives down stairs, aka my second husband, screwed it to the tree. See how useful it is to have a shared backyard? Maybe now one of our local birds will give the house a try.

Elizabeth wrote a card for her teacher which I thought I’d share:

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Elizabeth wrote: Deeyir Miss Smith. I luv yoo it the bac of yor card ther is sum maths. Luv from Elizabeth.

Translation: Dear Miss Smith. I love you. On the back of your card there is some maths. Love from Elizabeth.

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