Castle Fraser

We went to another castle yesterday, Castle Fraser, which is about 16 miles west of Aberdeen. It’s a Scottish baronial castle built in the 15th century. Like all of the castles we’ve visited so far it is surrounded by gardens and woods with lots of lovely walks. There was also a wonderful children’s playground which was not like a modern playground at all but was set in a wooded area with play equipment made out of vines. Elizabeth just loved it. Here are some pics of the playground.

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The castle gardens were magnificent but I’m yet to visit a castle that does not have a magnificent walled garden.

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Here are some photos of the castle itself but none of the inside because photos were not allowed.

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The wooded area on the estate is managed with the help of the Forestry Commission and there were lots of young saplings which was good to see. There was also a field of very healthy and happy-looking cows. There were calves there too, including one in this next photo, drinking milk from their mothers. This is something rarely seen these days since we separate mothers from their babies at a very young age so we can take their milk instead. I can’t say enough how much this disturbs me given that we don’t need to drink milk from cows in order to survive. We are stealing the milk that is meant for a baby for our own convenience and without any good justification for doing so. This why I don’t drink milk.

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Mr Lemon

Elizabeth drew a face on a lemon the other day and now takes the thing with her everywhere. She even took it to school today.

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Unfortunately the waxy surface of the lemon is not a very good surface for drawing anything permanent and the face invariably rubs off. Last night she woke up in the middle of the night upset because she couldn’t see the face. She ended up going downstairs by herself, found a pen, and drew the face back on. Then, feeling satisfied again, hopped back into bed and went to sleep. If only we could solve all the problems in the world by drawing faces on lemons.


To Aberdeen by bicycle via Drum Castle

We cycled back from Banchory to Aberdeen yesterday and it was rather hellish. I thought I was going to die. We arrived home and I collapsed in a heap with a very sore butt and feeling sorry for myself. I’ve decided to give up cycling for good. Just kidding :)

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Banchory Lodge and none of us wanted to leave on Sunday morning. I love these British hotels that are each unique, without the soulless furnishings of a large hotel chain, and also a little rough around the edges. We stuffed our faces at breakfast and enjoyed lovely views of the River Dee.IMG_1891

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Here’s the view from my chair:

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I like this photo of the kids and the painting above them:

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The day started rainy and overcast so I was thinking we’d have a nice cool cycle back to Aberdeen and dressed accordingly but the sun came out and it got hot again.

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A close-up of the flowers behind me in that previous pic:

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Someone yesterday asked to see a photo of my hairy legs. Here you go:

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Ok, so that’s not really a photo of my hairy legs :)

A couple of pics outside the lodge before we left:

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The part of the Deeside cycleway between Banchory and Crathes is just lovely; my favourite part of the whole trip. It’s very leafy, quiet, flat, and right beside the River Dee. This particular section is not tarmac but it was still easy enough to cycle along. It was not like the gravelly bits in some of the other places which I found quite arduous. Busby is not a mountain bike and cycling on gravel is hard. The section between Drumoak and Peterculter is the worst part with lots of gravel and hills. In fact, it’s so awful that we went back an alternative route which was better.

We wanted to visit Drum Castle on the way home which is slightly off the track so we ventured away from the cycleway and along the main road to the castle. We were so exhausted by the time we got there that I think we spent more time resting in the castle café than walking around the castle itself. We’re going to have to go back for another visit to see it properly. There was quite a long hill up to the castle and I ended up making the kids get out of the bike and walk the last stretch. Cycling uphill without kids was easy peasy. I’m seriously considering getting an electric motor for my bike.

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Drum Castle is gorgeous even though we didn’t even get to see it all. The grounds are huge and there are lots of walks you can do as well as a children’s playground. The café is right at the bottom of the castle in what looks like the old kitchen. Since we spent so much time in there here are a couple of pics of it:

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Aberdeen Art Gallery is currently undergoing some renovations and the collections have been moved to various other locations in the area including to Drum Castle. This means that not only is there all the usual stuff to see at a castle – gardens, woods, architecture, furniture, history, sculptures etc – there’s also an art gallery. It was just lovely.

Eventually we hopped back on our bikes for the final stretch home. Unfortunately I drank too many cups of tea in the café and ended up desperate for the dunny the whole way back. I couldn’t very well crouch behind a bush after all my rants about men pissing in the city centre so I had to put up with the discomfort. I’ve probably given myself permanent kidney damage now. This along with a headache, sore throat, sore arse, and a general feeling of un-wellness made what was really only a 1-2 hour trip feel more like 4 hours. But I made it home without wetting my pants and that’s the main thing :)


To Banchory on the Deeside cycleway

We stayed in Banchory last night and I’m typing this from a very comfortable hotel bedroom. For a little while now we’ve been wanting to extend our cycle ride on the Deeside cycleway but felt that Aberdeen to Crathes and back was about our limit given we’ve got small kids and the Bakfiets. If wanted to go further we’d need to stay overnight. So about a month ago we booked a hotel in Banchory and made plans to cycle to Banchory on the Saturday, spend the night here, then cycle back to Aberdeen on the Sunday.

When you book in advance though you can’t predict the weather or other unknown factors and we all woke up yesterday morning feeling sick. Elizabeth has had a cold all week and vomited on the Friday night. I woke up with a headache, burning throat, and generally feeling under the weather. Ben also felt unwell. Only Daniel felt fine. But we couldn’t cancel our trip and we were all looking forward to it so off we went anyway.

I didn’t feel as energetic as the last time so we took it slowly and enjoyed the surroundings. It was also really hot and muggy. One of the things I love about a cool climate is that I get to wear tights everyday and because of this I haven’t shaved my legs for months. My husband loves me hairy legs and all and so I don’t really see the need to do it and I just can’t be bothered. It was so hot yesterday though that I had to take my tights off and bare my hairy legs – shock, horror!

Here’s a pic of the kids in the bike – one on the iPad, the other having a nap, and both picking their noses by the looks of it.

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Ben also had some cargo as you can see in this next photo and we spent much of the ride in the vein of the Four Yorkshire Men discussing who had it the hardest.

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This dress of mine is more than 20 years old. I don’t remember it being quite as tight as this so it must have shrunk while hanging in my wardrobe :)

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Some of the sights:

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Rachel declaiming:

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We cycled past lots of productive agricultural land including this field of wheat or oats or barley. I can’t tell the difference. Does anyone know? There were lots of fields like this and they never seem to have any sort of irrigation there. They must get enough water from the sky.
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I love getting somewhere under my own steam. There’s something satisfying about that and also about enjoying the sounds and smells of the countryside which is something you don’t get sitting inside a car. However while I’m happy to struggle during the travel part, I like my creature comforts at the other end. So we booked a room at the fabulous Banchory Lodge. It’s right on the river and I can look outside our bedroom right now and see the River Dee. The Deeside cycleway pretty much cycles right to the lodge. Here’s a view of the Lodge from the outside:

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Some pics of the River Dee outside the hotel:

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The nearby Falls of Feugh:
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Vegan macaroni cheese recipe

I haven’t shared a recipe for a while and last night I cooked a vegan version of macaroni and cheese which my kids love and so do we. It’s adapted from a recipe called Sunflower Mac in one of the best vegan cookbooks on the market, Isa Does It.

My sister told me recently that the photos I put on my blog to accompany recipes often look like vomit. This is the nice thing about sisters: they tell you the truth when others are too polite to say it :) I’m still going to include a photo with this recipe but it’s not very good and possibly looks more like vomit than food. This is partly because I forgot to take a photo and we’d all licked our bowls clean before I realised. So I had to scrape the remains from the saucepan and put them in a little ramekin. This is all there was left. Is a bad photo better than no photo?

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Ingredients

1 cup of cashews finely ground (I grind them in a coffee grinder)
2 carrots thinly sliced
1 red onion
3 cloves of garlic
2 cups of vegetable stock
2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp tomato paste
Juice from one lemon
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I don’t cook with salt but feel free to add some salt to taste.

Fry the onions and carrots for about 10 minutes until soft then add the garlic and fry for about 30 seconds. Cook the pasta while the onions and carrots are frying.

Remove the onion mixture from the heat and add the vegetable stock, tomato paste, ground cashews, and lemon juice. Use a stick mixer to mix it all up into a smooth paste. Add the flour and return it to the heat for a few minutes to thicken the sauce.

When the pasta is done, pour the sauce over the top and mix well. Serve and eat!

The original version of this recipe users sunflower seeds instead of cashew nuts for people who are allergic to nuts.


The Hövding invisible helmet – a review

I’ve been using the Hövding – the invisible helmet – for a week now and I thought I’d write about the experience so far. I’m wearing it in this next photo (NB: the helmet is the black collar around my neck. It’s an airbag which deploys in the event of a crash):

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When I first put it on it felt strange. I imagine this is how a dog feels when it’s first trained to wear a collar. I wear scarves all the time but this felt different. There’s a hard piece at the back and so it’s not soft like a scarf. I’m guessing this is where the sensors are located.

The instructions that came with the Hövding discuss this and say that over time it softens up. The hard piece at the back will never soften up but I can imagine the fabric probably will. However after a week of use it no longer feels quite so strange. It’s not comfortable to wear when you’re walking because the weight at the back pulls the front of it against my neck and I feel as though I’m being strangled. However this is not a problem when you’re on the bike. The reason they’ve done this is because when you’re cycling you’re slightly bent forwards and they didn’t want the weight hanging in front and creating a strain on your neck. Instead it sits at the top of your back which is better ergonomically. It just means that as soon as I get off my bike I take it off, which I suppose is fine since it’s not needed anyway. When I’m cycling it sits comfortably and I don’t notice it. It’s not heavy at all but it’s not weightless either. Here’s a photo from the back so you can see what I’m talking about.

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It’s very easy to put on and take off. There’s a zip and a button where the button activates the sensors that deploy the airbag. This means you can walk around with it unbuttoned without the risk that it will deploy. Knowing me I’ll forget to unbutton it one day, trip over on the pavement, and end up with the air bag around my head feeling stupid. Let’s hope this doesn’t happen.

When I was researching the effectiveness of helmets one thing that came up was that helmet wearers potentially take greater risks because of the perceived safety benefits of wearing a helmet. This is very hard to measure of course and so there are no conclusive facts for how big an effect this is, if any, but I have noticed a difference in my own cycling. I’ve been cycling on the roads more for a start and although subconsciously, I think I’m taking more risks. I think it’s because previously I had the thought in the back of my mind that if I did have an accident people would say accusingly, “She wasn’t even wearing a helmet”. At least if I get hit by a truck and die I can now die feeling righteous :)

Overall I’m very happy with the Hövding. The main benefit for me is I can wear my hair in a bun with 100 pins in it without having to pull every single one out just to put on a plastic helmet. In winter I’ll be able to wear my beanie. All I need to do is zip and button up the collar. I think it’s fairly unobtrusive as well and easily blends in with most outfits. The Hövding requires charging but this is also very easy as it charges via USB so I just plug it in every few days as I do my iPhone. Most importantly though, it aces safety tests.

A friend once said to me, helmets make cycling look sporty and dangerous. Cycling can be both things but it can also be neither. Although I’ve got a Hövding now I still view the sort of cycling I do – commuter cycling – as very safe. It would be even safer if more people cycled and the infrastructure was better, but there’s nothing I can do about either of those things.


Duthie Park and buying a house

I took this photo of Duthie Park back in April this year just before all the buds on the trees opened up for spring:

Today I went for a run through the park and took some more photos. Here’s how it looks now:

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I love watching the plants and trees change with the seasons. Duthie Park is looking very green and leafy at the moment. It’s such a treasure.

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Buying a house in Scotland is a very different experience to the process in New Zealand. They don’t have real estate agents here for a start. Instead people list their homes directly with a solicitor. When you find a house you’re interested in, you ring the owner directly to arrange a viewing. That’s right, the owner shows you around their own home rather than an agent. This was quite nice because the owner knows more about their house than anyone else and they can tell you all the little quirks. If you want to put in an offer you get your own solicitor to do it and it’s all verbal. You don’t have to sign anything either. All that happens is that you tell your solicitor what offer you’d like to make, they phone the vendor’s solicitor who phones the vendor and relays the offer. They either accept or not accept or negotiate and it goes back and forth verbally until an agreement is reached. It was all very civilised, straightforward, and pleasant. This is how the process was for us anyway. I think in a seller’s market houses are sold by tender.

The owners of the house we’ve just bought, or will buy when it settles, rang us yesterday to say how delighted they are that we’re buying their home. Isn’t that nice? They’ve lived in it for more than a quarter of a century. They’re also going to have us over for drinks to tell us all the things they think we’ll want to know about their home.


We bought a house and Slains Castle

We went out for a celebratory dinner tonight because we put an offer on a house today and it was accepted! We decided it was probably a good time to buy because interest rates are ridiculously low (<2% for a two year fixed term at the moment) and a dip in the price of oil has left the Aberdeen housing market stagnating. We won’t settle until the end of September as our lease doesn’t finish up here until October. But we found the perfect place and I intend to call her Heather, after my Scottish grandmother.

Our celebratory dinner was at Slains Castle. My father is going to be a bit upset about this because he really wanted to go here for dinner when he was staying with us but time disappeared so fast and we never made it. Slains Castle is not a castle but a converted church. It’s a pub but they have quite a good selection of meals and several things for vegetarians. The interior was supposedly inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula and is really spooky with cobwebs, stuffed animals, weapons, and other creepy things hanging around the place.. There’s also apparently a resident ghost so definitely a good place to take kids. I took lots of pics but it’s dark inside and so none of them turned out very well. Here they are anyway:

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Here’s my creepy look:

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The outside:

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A couple of months ago I had a bit of a rant about men pissing in the street here and how I think it’s rather uncouth. Not far from Slains Castle we passed this:

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I suppose it’s good to see they’re acknowledging the problem and trying to do something about it. I thought the notice was rather funny.

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I personally couldn’t care less if someone wants to flash their penis to all and sundry, it’s the pissing in the street that I don’t like. It stinks for a start and the street is not their personal ensuite. People work and shop in these city streets and they don’t want to have to walk though someone else’s excrement when they do it. But I have no objections to nudity. So I think the sign would be better if it said: “Please stand close to the urinal to make sure you don’t miss”.


Countering extremism with truth and reason

Sometimes it seems like half of the people are desperately trying to leave Syria while the other half are trying to get there. News this week of another group of women leaving the UK for Syria was even more astonishing that the last because this group took young children with them. A society that condones slavery and crucifixion is not the sort of place I’d want to raise my children.

I just read Graeme Wood’s fantastic article – What ISIS Really Wants – and it sheds some light on why people are drawn to Syria. These are deeply religious people and the Islamic State are following the teachings of Islam with seriousness, obsessiveness, and astonishing literalism. The leading expert on Islam, Bernard Haykel, says Islamic fighters are not cherry-picking from the Koran when they condone things like slavery and crucifixion, they are “are smack in the middle of the medieval tradition and are bringing it wholesale into the present day.”

Graeme Wood says:

Muslims can say that slavery is not legitimate now, and that crucifixion is wrong at this historical juncture. Many say precisely this. But they cannot condemn slavery or crucifixion outright without contradicting the Koran and the example of the Prophet. “The only principled ground that the Islamic State’s opponents could take is to say that certain core texts and traditional teachings of Islam are no longer valid,” Bernard Haykel says. That really would be an act of apostasy.

And on calling ISIS anti-Islam, Wood says:

But Muslims who call the Islamic State un-Islamic are typically, as the Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, the leading expert on the group’s theology, told me, “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion” that neglects “what their religion has historically and legally required.”

Peter Singer wrote a good piece on Countering Islamic Extremism in which he concludes that the only way to counter extremism is to acknowledge its religious basis and to fight with reason. Supporters of ISIS are certain that their beliefs are correct and that all others are wrong. But every other religion in the world is equally certain that their beliefs are correct while everyone else is wrong. They can’t all be right but they could all be wrong.

The British mathematician and philosopher, Bertrand Russell, once said,

I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.


How dangerous is cycling?

One of the biggest barriers to cycling is the perception that it’s dangerous. But is it dangerous? Public perception of risk is often quite different to real risk but it’s also difficult to change. I’m speaking from personal experience here too: I know that flying is one of the safest modes of transport but knowing this doesn’t make me any less terrified of it.

According to the CTC (The National Cycling Charity), the “risk of injury from cycling in Great Britain is just 0.048 injuries per 1,000 hours of cycling”. You’re actually more likely to be injured in your backyard than out cycling. But perhaps more importantly, the benefits of cycling far outweigh the risks and life-years gained through physical activity account for more than those lost through injuries.

To put things further into perspective, the biggest risk to health today is actually physical inactivity. That’s right, sitting in front of a computer screen is far more likely to kill you than a bicycle ride is. In fact, a sedentary lifestyle now accounts for more deaths than does smoking. It’s actually better to be fat and fit than thin and unfit. Physical inactivity is a risk factor in cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, anxiety and depression, and certain cancers. So perhaps rather than worrying about a minuscule risk of injury when cycling, we should think about the real risk of our sedentary lifestyle and get out on our bikes more often.

I took this photo of some poppies in someone’s front yard today. Aren’t they gorgeous.
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From Aberdeen to Crathes on Deeside Way

This is my last day of the five-day blogging challenge and because I’ve had quite an eventful day I’m going to post a number of photos.

I am absolutely knackered. We went out for a cycle ride on Deeside Way today all the way out to Crathes. According to Map My Ride it was 22km away making a distance of 44km (or 27 miles) in total. It was also challenging in places. Between Peterculter and Drumoak the path becomes gravel and there are hills. Busby is not really suited to hills or gravel and so I struggled on these bits and found myself longing for electric assist but we made it and now I get to enjoy a very satisfying feeling of accomplishment. There was one particularly long hill which I made it all the way to the top of without having to get off and push. This is on a heavy cargo bike with two heavy children inside. Is it ok to boast about how strong my thighs are?

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At Crathes, by chance, there was a fair and the kids had a fabulous time jumping in the bouncy castle, tearing about the playground, and eating ice-cream by the River Dee.

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We also cycled through Beatrix Potter’s backyard:

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Some friends of ours joined us for the ride which was great:

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Time to relax and put my feet up now.


I’m going to nominate Fossil Cyclist to take up the five-day blogging challenge because he has the best blog title ever!

The rules of the Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge are:

1) Post a photo each day for five consecutive days.
2) Attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or a short paragraph. It’s entirely up to the individual.
3) Nominate another blogger to carry on the challenge. Your nominee is free to accept or decline the invitation. This is fun, not a command performance!

I was nominated by Geoff Le Pard  at TanGental.


The Beach Dog

Here’s my image for day four of the five-day challenge.


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I’m going to be lazy today and use a story Daniel wrote at school this week and a picture Elizabeth drew to go with it.

The Beach Dog

Once upon a time there was a beach dog who lived on the beach. He lived under a sand castle by himself. He loved the beach because it’s fun and he played all day.

One day he met a crab.
“Hello'” said the crab.
“Hello,” said the dog.
“Want to play?” said the crab.
“Yes,” said the dog.

The dog was so happy that he had a new friend.

The crab and the dog played in the water and made sand castles and played in the jungle. It was getting late and the dog said he had to go. “Me, too,” said the crab.

In the morning the dog heard a cry. When he came out the dog saw the crab getting chased by a shark. The dog knew he won’t make it in time.

The dog shouted, “Go away, you mean shark!” The shark went away.

“Thank you,” said the crab.”Can I live with you?”
“Yes,” said the dog, then they lived happily ever after.

The end.


I’m going to nominate Denise at Listen Watch Read Share to take up the five-day blogging challenge. Denise writes awesome book and movie reviews so if you’re looking for some new reading material or a film then check out her blog.

The rules of the Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge are:

1) Post a photo each day for five consecutive days.
2) Attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or a short paragraph. It’s entirely up to the individual.
3) Nominate another blogger to carry on the challenge. Your nominee is free to accept or decline the invitation. This is fun, not a command performance!

I was nominated by Geoff Le Pard  at TanGental.


You’ve Been Trumped!

Here’s my image for day three of the five-day blogging challenge.


The image is not mine. It’s the work of artist David McCue and is the poster for the film, You’ve Been Trumped, a documentary about Donald Trump’s development just north of Aberdeen.

I bought the DVD online and we watched it last night. I was interested because back in March we visited Balmedie Beach, where I went swimming, and I later discovered it is near the location of a controversial golf course development of Donald Trump’s.

This area of dunes just north of Aberdeen, including the piece of land now owned by Donald Trump, was known as a site of special scientific interest. According to this UK government site, Sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) are protected by law to conserve their wildlife or geology. So how did Donald Trump manage to build hotels and a golf course there? He did it through harassment, bullying, intimidation, and a complete lack of concern for the environment and the people who live in the area. I sat through much of the film seething.

Planning permission for his proposal was rejected by the local authority, and rightly so, but overturned by Alex Salmond and the Scottish government. What were they thinking??? Trump pitched his development with the promise of jobs but his promise of 6000 jobs has turned into only 200. In the documentary they interview an economist at the London School of Economics who has a look at Trump’s estimates and concludes the Scottish government were duped by his figures.

At one point during construction of the golf course the local residents lose access to their water supply. A week without water goes by and journalist, Anthony Baxter, fronts up at the Trump golf course office to ask when the locals can expect to have their water turned back on. Answers are not forthcoming but what is forthcoming are the local police, who, rather than charging Donald Trump for harassment and intimidation, handcuff Anthony Baxter and throw him in jail for four hours. What for? He was asking questions which is what a journalist does: they ask questions. It was very concerning to watch. The police are supposed to be neutral and not pander to the needs of people with power and money.

It doesn’t stop there and I can feel my blood boiling now just thinking about it so perhaps I’ll leave it here and if you’re interested you can watch the film. It’s available for £15 at You’ve Been Trumped.

One of the things I enjoyed most about Balmedie, aside from swimming in the sea, was the natural beauty of the place; the undulating dunes, the beach, the plants, and the feeling of being out in the wilderness without having to go too far away from the city. There aren’t many of these places left any more and we should protect the few we have. There is no shortage of golf courses in Scotland. It didn’t need another. What is lost is now gone forever.

The trailer:


I’m going to nominate Lucile at http://luciledegodoy.com to take up the five-day blogging challenge. Lucile takes thoughtful photographs and writes with depth about all sorts of interesting things.

The rules of the Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge are:

1) Post a photo each day for five consecutive days.
2) Attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or a short paragraph. It’s entirely up to the individual.
3) Nominate another blogger to carry on the challenge. Your nominee is free to accept or decline the invitation. This is fun, not a command performance!

I was nominated by Geoff Le Pard  at TanGental.


Wapuu saves the day!

Here’s my photo for day two of the five-day blogging challenge:


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Elizabeth was upset this afternoon because Daniel’s class went to the Satrosphere and he got a small toy. She was jealous because she didn’t get a toy. So to take her mind off it I decided to print out these cool colouring-in pages of Wapuu and Wapuunk which my co-worker shared on his blog last month. The effect was immediate: she went from crying uncontrollably to very proud of her efforts in the space of about 10 minutes. Yay for Wapuu and Wapuunk!

If you’re wondering what on earth is a  Wapuu, go to : http://wapuu.jp/about/


This of course means that Sandy, creator of child-soothing colouring-in pages, is now being nominated to take up the five-day challenge.

The rules of the Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge are:

1) Post a photo each day for five consecutive days.
2) Attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or a short paragraph. It’s entirely up to the individual.
3) Nominate another blogger to carry on the challenge. Your nominee is free to accept or decline the invitation. This is fun, not a command performance!

I was nominated by Geoff Le Pard  at TanGental.


Cargo bike seen in Aberdeen!

I’ve been nominated by Geoff Le Pard – a quick-witted author and blogger at TanGental – to participate in a five-day blogging challenge and I’ve accepted! The challenge is to publish a photograph on five consecutive days with an accompanying story or paragraph – fiction or non-fiction – to go with it. Here’s day one!


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I took this photograph while I was having a coffee at Pret a Manger café in Union St this morning. This is the only cargo bike I’ve ever seen in Aberdeen other than my own Busby. I do enjoy being something of a celebrity, or as close as I’m ever going to get to one, when I cycle around on Busby and people stare at me with mouths open and eyes bulging. Another cargo bike is probably going to reduce the “Look at me! Look at me!” effect somewhat, but do I care? Not one bit. I was thrilled to see another cargo bike and I hope they start breeding like rabbits. Long live the cargo bike!


I have to nominate someone now and I choose PedalWorks, Canadian blogger and cyclist extraordinaire.

The rules of the Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge are:

1) Post a photo each day for five consecutive days.
2) Attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or a short paragraph. It’s entirely up to the individual.
3) Nominate another blogger to carry on the challenge. Your nominee is free to accept or decline the invitation. This is fun, not a command performance!


How many girlfriends does a boy need?

Daniel said to Ben the other night, “Did you have any girlfriends when you were at school?”. Here’s the ensuing conversation:

Me: Do you have a girlfriend, Daniel?
Daniel: Creeper says that’s none of your business.
Me: Is it Lucy [not her real name]?
Daniel: She’s one of them.


Crathes Castle

It has been a few weeks since we last went to a castle and I’m suffering from castle withdrawal symptoms so we took off for Crathes Castle which is about 15 miles south-west of Aberdeen. I’ve just recently discovered that Aberdeenshire has more castles per acre than anywhere else in Britain. They’re everywhere!

We booked the electric car again and went for a lovely drive along the river Dee towards Crathes. I love living somewhere where I can be out in the country after just 5 minutes of driving and where the countryside is as beautiful to look at as it is in Aberdeenshire. I also love that we don’t have to drive on ugly multi-lane motorways but instead get to enjoy a peaceful, winding country road with views of hills, forests, fields of barley, and the river Dee. I’m so lucky to live here.

Crathes Castle is quite similar to Craigievar Castle from the outside except that it isn’t pink. It’s more popular with tourists too and the upside of this is there’s more to do. They have a restaurant/cafe, magnificent gardens, lots of walking trails, a children’s playground and some wildlife. They apparently have red squirrels, salmon, and otters, although we didn’t see any of those animals. Apparently there are also seals and otters in the River Don in Aberdeen but I think you have to be there at the right time to see the otters. Go Ape (the adventure playground for big people) also has a presence at the castle.

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We’re members of The National Trust Scotland which means we get to do the tour for free and so that’s exactly what we did although I wasn’t allowed to take photographs of the inside. The kids really enjoyed this tour because there was an activity for children which involved searching for something in each room. The castle also has a resident ghost – the green lady. Legend has it that a young female servant in the castle in the 17th century fell pregnant and had a child. Almost immediately they both disappeared never to be seen again. From then on the ghost of a young woman haunted the castle. During the 1800s the fireplace was removed during some renovations and they found human skeletal remains. A video about the ghost is here:

Sadly, we didn’t see any ghosts :)

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I was very taken with a bed spread in one of the bedrooms which was made in 1878 by Lady Burnett after her daughter, Elizabeth, died during childbirth at the age of 36. She cut up her daughter’s clothes and turned them into a patchwork quilt.

There are archeological sites in this part of Aberdeenshire which are 10,000 years old. I can’t help but wonder how the people lived all those years ago. What did they eat? I’m guessing salmon since the River Dee is good for salmon fishing.

The castle gardens were magnificent.

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The kids had a play in the playground.

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We went for a walk in the woods.

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We’ll definitely go back to Crathes Castle.


Bicycle helmet legislation and Hövding

Wearing a bicycle helmet is not compulsory in the UK or anywhere else in Europe and I don’t wear one when I go cycling. I am also vehemently opposed to compulsory helmet legislation. Why? Because it reduces cycling rates which in turn makes cycling more dangerous for those left. It also affects the health of the population as a whole because the health benefits of cycling far outweigh the risk of having a crash.

When it comes to cycling there is safety in numbers: more cyclists on the road = reduced risk of fatality and injury per cyclist. It’s the same for pedestrians. See Safety in numbers in Australia: more walkers and bicyclists, safer walking and bicycling. In places where compulsory helmet legislation has been introduced, the effect was to reduce the number of cyclists and not just randomly. It reduces the number of cyclists in the lowest risk group for having an accident. These tend to be people who don’t have lots of fancy equipment and who ride at a slow pace.

I don’t cycle very fast and most of the time I’m on the pavement. I have even been overtaken by joggers before. I’ve just come back from a run now and some of the time I had to run on the road – when I was crossing it or overtaking pedestrians etc – but I did not wear a helmet and nor do I think it was necessary. I put helmets on my kids when they’re in the bike mostly because I don’t want people glaring at me and accusing me of being a bad parent but I don’t really think it’s necessary. The bike has fallen over with them in it a couple of times and they don’t hit their heads. If we had a head-on collision with a car the helmet wouldn’t be much use anyway. I feel a bit differently when kids are out cycling on their own bikes as kids tend to have more accidents, especially when they’re learning to ride. But sitting in Busby is not really any different to sitting in a pram while your mum pushes you along and jogs at the same time and I don’t see any babies wearing helmets in those things. But people like to blame the victim and so it seems easier just to make them wear a helmet.

Ben Goldacre published a paper a couple of years ago about Bicycle helmets and the law (which I’ve linked to from my blog before so some of you may have seen it) in which he says that the popularity of helmets doesn’t lie with their benefits “—which seem too modest to capture compared with other strategies—but more with the cultural, psychological, and political aspects of popular debate around risk.”. A Canadian study which examined the impact of compulsory helmet legislation and hospital admissions for cycling-related head injuries found minimal benefit in helmet legislation.

Having said all of this I’m now going to announce that I’ve just bought myself a helmet.

But I didn’t buy a flimsy piece of plastic and styrofoam, I decided to get a Hövding – or air-bag for the head. I haven’t got it yet but when I do I’ll be sure to write a review.

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They’re not cheap – £249 – but they far exceed traditional helmets in impact crash tests. The probability of having a serious head injury when the impact is 25km/h while wearing a traditional helmet is 90%. For a Hövding it is less than 2%. One of the reasons I decided to get this is because lately we’ve been cycling on the Deeside cycleway and I’ve been going much faster than I normally do and so I have probably increased my risk of having a crash.

Hövding have produced this video about how their product performs in crash tests conducted by the Swedish insurance company, Folksam. It’s impressive and far outperforms the traditional helmet.


Bicycles, birds, and mathematicians

We’ve just returned from a very enjoyable departmental party at Ben’s work. The pure maths department is very small so it was a small and friendly gathering. There were some other kids there and they paired up with our kids and spent the time tearing about the place and burning off energy. We cycled there and home again and it was glorious. I love cycling so much.

The dome-shaped building in the background is the home of pure mathematics and engineering at the University of Aberdeen.

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Their common room opens onto a nice little courtyard where some birds nest every year. There were two chicks there. I have no idea what type of birds they are. Does anyone know?

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Here’s one of the parents:

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Daylight, UbbLE, and FIFA

It’s light when I fall asleep and light when I wake up now. The other night I woke up at 3:30am to use the bathroom and it was light! Sunrise is officially not until about 4:20am but the first light here is at about 3:15am. Surprisingly it hasn’t affected my sleep at all. I thought I would find it hard to sleep without pitch darkness but I haven’t had any trouble. Blackout curtains probably help even though they don’t block out all the light.

Yesterday I discovered a quiz you can take to calculate your five-year risk of dying – UbbLE. Some of the questions were surprising. There are only ten and none of them are questions about diet and exercise. The questions are also different for men and women. Apparently the best predictor of five-year mortality for men is how they rate their own health while for women it is a diagnosis of cancer. Walking pace is apparently a good predictor for both. The relationships are not causal; that is, the study does not claim that the variable was the cause of death, just that there is a correlation between the two.

The UbbLE quiz is only for 40-70 year olds and although I’m not quite 40 yet – a few more months to go still – I took it anyway. My UbbLE age is only 24 which means I have the same risk of dying in the next five years as a 24-year-old. Although quizzes like these don’t really mean very much on an individual level, I think they’re more accurate for the population as a whole.

I don’t care very much for soccer but I couldn’t help following the news of the FIFA corruption scandal recently. I despise dishonesty and corruption like this so I was pleased to hear that people are finally being called to account. How can we stop this kind of corruption? I think they need more women on these voting boards – not because women are not also susceptible to cheating and bribery, they are, but because more women means a better diversity of views and more diversity means more people challenging existing practices. I also think regular public oaths are useful, or at least, that’s what Dan Ariely says in his book, The Honest Truth About Dishonesty. Apparently people are less likely to cheat immediately after signing some kind of moral oath. I’m sure there are lots of other things they can do too but without knowing more about how FIFA operates, these are my only suggestions. Not that anyone from FIFA is listening or cares what I have to say :)

Here’s John Oliver’s take on it: