The temptation of bacon, homelessness, and spelling

Elizabeth’s vegetarianism on the weekend involved having just a little bit of bacon to go with her sausage and egg at the buffet breakfast. I think she’s finding bacon too tempting to resist. I didn’t say anything because I want it to be her decision. I personally find bacon and sausage a bit repulsive now that I haven’t eaten either of them for more than a decade. I suppose I also associate both things with pigs: animals that have at least the same level of sentience and self-consciousness as a dog and I would never eat a dog.

Meanwhile Daniel came face-to-face with his first homeless person in Edinburgh. We caught the train there on Friday night and walked the 10-15 minutes or so to the hotel passing a couple of homeless people on the way. There are homeless people in Aberdeen too but for some reason this is the first time he really noticed them. Maybe because it was cold and dark and he was tired after a long day followed by the train journey and he was subsequently able to understand the harshness of a life without a home. Then he chastised us for not giving the man any money. We were weighted down with luggage and just wanted to reach the hotel but Daniel was quite cross. So the next day he gave some money to the next homeless person we saw.

Daniel has always really struggled with spelling. He never learnt phonics and has difficulty sounding out words. We’ve tried lots of things like word searches and interesting spelling activities but whenever I quiz him it seems to end in tears. A couple of weeks ago I got desperate and spent a couple of pounds on a spelling app. This one lets me record my voice saying the word which Daniel can then play later. But what makes it good is I can choose to have the word flash up on the screen when Daniel presses play. It only flashes on the screen for 2 seconds but for some reason this has made a huge difference to Daniel’s interest in spelling and the results have been good. He has gone from getting 0/10 in the weekly spelling test at school to last week getting 10/10. I love technology.

Edinburgh Christmas market

I’m writing this on the train back to Aberdeen. We had a fantastic day in Edinburgh today. The Christmas markets just began this week and they are wonderful. We went on the ferris wheel and it was a gorgeous day which meant we had spectacular views from the top.







There’s an outdoor skating rink there which I couldn’t resist and we were the first on the ice when it opened at 11am. Edinburghers must like to sleep in on Sunday because it was fairly quiet until about 12pm. Daniel and Elizabeth are good on ice skates now and don’t need my help which is great.



This next pic is just to show off my new WordPress swag which I got from the WordCamp yesterday: a buff with a tartan WordPress logo. You can’t really see the tartan unless I pull it up over my face as in this next pic but it’s definitely my favourite swag by far.



Edinburgh WordCamp 2015

I’m in Edinburgh. We all came down for the weekend so that I could attend the Edinburgh WordCamp today and it was terrific.

How cool is this Scottish bag-pipe-playing Waapu?



Skyscanner HQ provided the venue. Skyscanner started with just four employees working out of a tiny office in Leith. They now have several offices all over the world but their head office is in Edinburgh in this building:


There were quite a few volunteers from Skyscanner who helped out today and they were fantastic. I’ve been using Skyscanner for many years now and so it was great to meet some of the people from the company and to see where they work.

There were two of us from Automattic: myself and Sérgio.


I was impressed to see a sign for vegan food at lunch time.


I’m so impressed by the WordPress community and I don’t mean just here in Edinburgh but all over the world. The people are always so friendly, humble, keen to share their knowledge and also to learn new things. It’s hard not to feel proud of where I work and like I’m a part of something special. It’s also lovely to spend the weekend in Edinburgh.

A haircut, a new vegetarian, and dancing

I had my hair cut today. It has been 7 months since the last cut. The hair dresser was not impressed and took several centimetres from the bottom. I think I’m half a kilogram lighter as a result. She also chastised me for not brushing my hair everyday. When your hair is as long as mine there just isn’t time to brush it everyday.


Elizabeth announced at the dinner table last night that she’s going to become a vegetarian. I know what you’re all thinking: I’ve brain-washed her. But that’s just not true at all. The kids have always been free to eat what they like. We eat vegetarian at home but when we go out they’re free to choose a meal with meat in it if they want and they’re also free to choose meat for lunch at school. The school has several choices available including meat and vegetarian options. I just don’t hide the truth from them. Elizabeth says she feels sorry for the animals and doesn’t want to eat them. Daniel wasn’t impressed and said, “Oh no. This is bad news. Now half of us are vegetarians and half are meat-eaters”.

There’s a KickStarter campaign for another Where the Hell is Matt? video. I want to make clear that I’m not mentioning this here to encourage anyone to donate, but feel free to do so if you want. You might even be able to claim the donation from the NHS since it will probably make you feel better (this is a joke in case it’s not obvious).

There are several Where the Hell is Matt? videos. I’ve watched them many times. This one from 2008 is my favourite. It does make me feel good to watch it and often brings tears to my eyes. I’m not sure why. There’s something heart-warming about seeing so many different cultures unite doing something we can all do and understand and that’s dancing. It doesn’t matter where we come from or where we live, we can all dance. We’ve been dancing since before the earliest human civilisations. The music is good too.

Rain tent for a cargo bike and homeopathy

For a little while now I’ve been lusting after a new bicycle. I currently have my heart set on a Triobike. The main reason I want a new bike is because the kids are getting too tall to fit under the rain tent in Busby. However Bakfiets, makers of Busby, recently released a taller version of their tent and so rather than buying a new bike, I bought a new rain tent instead. Here it is:


There’s quite a bit of head room in there now although I think the kids are still too tall to sit on the seat. They currently sit on cushions on the floor of the bike. The new rain tent is great though because it has zips on both sides which act as windows. These won’t get much use over the winter but in summer they’ll be very useful. There are times when it’s too hot with the tent on but too cold with it off completely. The zips should make it just right.

I still might get a new bike at some stage but not in the near future. The Triobike is 10kg lighter and that appeals to me. However there are benefits to keeping Busby and these are:

  1. Busby might get upset if I replace him.
  2. I don’t think anyone will steal him because he’s old and rusty whereas a new bike might be more attractive to thieves.
  3. I’ve spent quite a bit of money on him getting puncture-proof tyres and other things.

Yesterday I discovered that the NHS pays for homeopathic prescriptions. I do not think this is a good way to spend NHS money especially given it is under strain. Please note that I am being very restrained here. The revelation that the NHS pays for homeopathic prescriptions got me rather worked up. What were they thinking! People are still free to seek homeopathic treatments if they want but not at tax-payer expense.

A co-worker shared this funny YouTube clip about a homeopathic A&E. The patient dies, but they did their best :)

Global meat consumption

I saw this graph in my Twitter feed today. It comes from an article in the World Economic Forum:


I’m not surprised to see Australia at the top but the numbers are still mind-boggling – 93kg of meat per person, per year. I almost doubt their accuracy but the numbers come from here. They’re extraordinary and also unsustainable.

The recent bombings in Paris are terrible. My heart goes out to all of those affected. The media coverage of the disaster has been extensive. However I wonder how much media coverage the up and coming climate conference in Paris will generate when it begins at the end of this month? I suspect it might make headline news for one day if we’re lucky. And yet the ramifications of what is decided there will affect our species, and all the others living on earth, for centuries to come.

Livestock farming accounts for about 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions which is more than the entire transport sector put together. That’s all the trucks, planes, buses, trains, cars, and ships on the planet. Reducing our meat consumption is an easy and attainable win for the climate. It might even save the NHS some money which is surely a good thing :)

Oh and good article from Peter Singer here:
Paris and the Fate of the Earth.

Pissing in the streets and self-driving cars

A friend sent me this article about a Scottish councillor who was recently fined for urinating in public. What was particularly ironic about it is that this councillor was responsible for closing public toilets in an effort to save money. I’ve already had a couple of rants about men pissing in the street – I’m not a fan of public urination – and then last week we discovered that public toilets get closed for the winter.

Flushing toilets were invented more than 400 years ago and Britain was apparently the first country to construct a modern sewerage system to combat disease and improve sanitation which are worthy goals. So why do people still piss in the streets?

While I’m sharing interesting articles I also came across this ethical dilemma about self-driving cars on the web recently. The question is: should self-driving cars kill their passengers to avoid hitting a large group of pedestrians? Or put more simply, is it better to swerve and kill one person – the occupant of the car – or a group of 6 pedestrians who would be run over if the car didn’t swerve. I think the answer is yes, it’s better to kill the occupant of the car, but would you buy a car that did that? I think I’ll stick with my bicycle :)

Fish antibiotics

Mum has been ill this week with a headache, sore throat, blocked sinuses, cough and just generally feeling miserable. She wanted to see a GP and after my experience trying to get an appointment for Dad when he was here I was not hopeful. It seems I was right to feel this way because every place I rang said no, they were completely booked. They said I had to ring back the next day at 8:30am to see whether there were any spaces available and keep doing that each morning until something came up.

Mum was naturally feeling quite anxious about it and went on eBay and ordered some fish antibiotics. You can buy pharmacy-grade amoxicillin on eBay. I am not kidding – see here. Given the concerns about antibiotic resistance I think it’s astonishing you can buy amoxicillin on eBay.

Eventually one of the medical centres told me about a private GP practice in Aberdeen which is new. It wasn’t an option when Dad was visiting. I tried them and managed to get an appointment the very next day. Thankfully Mum got some antibiotics for humans rather than fish which is a bit of a relief for all of us.

I think it’s so great that the NHS is completely free but if it means you die before actually getting to see a doctor then that’s not really that great. I’d rather pay £20 and get an appointment within a reasonable time-frame than pay nothing and wait weeks. But then I come from countries where I’ve always had to pay to see a doctor and because of this, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal to me.

Inverness to Aberdeen

We went for a short walk in Inverness this morning before driving back to Aberdeen through the Cairngorms. Inverness is a lovely city. The population is only about 50,000 and the city is built around the River Ness which is beautiful. Here are some pics:






We wanted to drive back via the Cairngorms to enjoy the lovely views but it started raining almost as soon as we left Inverness and rained the whole way home. Here’s what we saw:




We stopped in Ballater, one of my favourite places, just to refuel. Doug went in search of some toilets and the fellow in the petrol station said, “There’s a loo outside but it’s closed for the winter”. Evidently public toilets are not needed in the winter: Scots must hold it in for several months until spring.

The drive from Ballater to Aberdeen is also very nice and we stopped at Drum Castle on the way so Mum and Doug could have a look. We’ve been to Drum Castle several times now and I learn something new on each visit. This time I learnt that archaeologists recently discovered hidden chambers in the castle including one with a medieval toilet. The castle is about 700 years old and belonged to one family, the Irvine family, from 1323 to 1975.

Urquhart Castle and Glen Affric

Today we went for a very scenic drive alongside Loch Ness, home of the infamous Loch Ness monster. We didn’t see any monsters but we did see Urquhart Castle, a ruin in a picturesque promontory in the middle of Loch Ness. The castle has seen more battles than most and was eventually abandoned in the 17th century. The castle, the drive, the Loch were all just as beautiful as I was expecting and perhaps even better with all the reds and oranges of autumn.








The kids enjoyed the castle. They seem to like the ruins best of all. They also enjoyed the Loch Ness Centre where you can hear about the history of Loch Ness Monster sightings.

Not far from Urquhart Castle is Glen Affric, a National Nature Reserve which contains one of the largest ancient caledonian forests in Scotland. It’s a popular spot for hiking and mountain biking. We admired the views and took photos.




The sun came out briefly but sunscreen was not necessary. Even sunglasses are optional. How great is that?

IMG_3723 2



It really is a gorgeous place. I don’t understand why the locals want to fly off to a tropical beach for their holidays when the landscapes here are so lovely and I would say, better.

Unfortunately the day wasn’t without mishaps. Mum lost her glasses and these still haven’t turned up.

It’s hard to believe Britain is as populous as it is. It’s fairly quiet up here. Everyone must be crammed into the bottom corner of the country.


We’re in Inverness. My Mum and Doug are still here and we thought it would be nice to go away for the weekend. I have been wanting to explore the countryside in this part of Scotland as it’s particularly beautiful but a bit too far for a day trip. We decided to spend two nights in Inverness so that we can explore the area without having to drive here and back in one day.

I booked a car-club car because although we can catch the train to Inverness, and I have to say it is far nicer to take the train than to drive, we really need the car to explore the surrounding countryside. Inverness is about 3 hours from Aberdeen but it took us slightly longer because I’m a Grandma driver, there was traffic, and we made one stop. But the drive was still far quicker than a trip we made with Mum and Doug to the Coromandel a few years ago. What should have only been 2.5 hours ended up taking almost 7 hours because I’m a Grandma driver, the traffic in Auckland is worse than Bangkok in peak hour (ok, a bit of an exaggeration here but it’s pretty bad) and we got very lost. Fortunately the only things that got lost this time were my mother’s iPhone – which turned up again after a frantic 10 minutes of searching the car – a pair of trousers (my mother somehow managed to discard them in a carpark but fortunately she spotted them just as we were driving away), and the car-club swipe card. The car is totally useless without the swipe card but fortunately I found it sitting on the floor of the hotel corridor where I had dropped it.

This is the first time I’ve driven this particular car. It’s not one of the electric ones because Inverness is too far for the battery and we also needed a 7-seater. It’s a manual but has a foot parking break. Maybe someone can help me out here? How do you do a hill start with a foot parking break in a manual car? My left foot is on the clutch and I can’t have it simultaneously on the clutch and the parking break. When I used to own a manual, many years ago now, I had a hand break that I used when starting on steep hills. Fortunately I haven’t had to stop on any steep hills yet but I can’t avoid stopping on hills altogether so if anyone knows then please let me know. It’s a Kia Sedona. Maybe modern manuals don’t roll backwards?


Strathisla Distillery and Huntly Castle

We had a really full day today with lots of walking and train-travel. We took the train to Keith which is a very small village about an hour north-west from Aberdeen. I thought Doug would like to visit a whisky distillery and Keith is home to the Strathisla distillery.



Question: Does anyone know which whisky is made at the Strathisla distillery?


Answer: Chivas Regal!!

Personally I think whisky is the most disgusting thing ever invented but I quite like visiting these distilleries because they’re interesting places and usually in buildings which are pleasing to look at. Strathisla did not disappoint.

After our whisky stop we caught the train to Huntly to see Huntly Castle which looked particularly lovely in autumn colours.



As you can see we had beautiful weather but mum and Doug, who are used to days like this every day in Brisbane, would have preferred overcast and gloomy. In fact, on their first day here I caught Doug putting zinc cream on his nose before heading out for a walk. I had to explain that zinc cream is not necessary in Scotland, especially in November :)


I’m standing in the castle brewery in this next photo and the sign behind me says “Alewife’s brew”. An alewife was the word they used for a woman who brewed ale.







Right next to Huntly Castle is the Nordic Outdoor Ski Centre and they were having an open day today, so we decided to check it out and the kids did some tubing. I even chatted for quite a while with Brodie Murray, a cross-country skier on the British team, and he was really nice.



Ben stood at the top of the slope pushing the kids down and on one occasion, just as he pushed Elizabeth, he heard a ripping sound and then felt a draft between his legs. He put an enormous hole in his trousers and had to walk all the way back to the train station, then catch the train, then walk all the home from the train station with his underpants visible to anyone who looked. I’m sure I saw a couple of girls on the train whispering and laughing at him. I would have taken a photo except that it might have meant I could no longer claim to have a G-rated blog, so instead I took a photo of the trousers *after* he took them off.


I think we’ll chuck those in the bin :)


Newsflash: I watched the rugby! Well, some of it anyway. I don’t usually take any notice of these high-profile sporting events but my mum and step-father (Doug) arrived yesterday and I discovered that New Zealand were playing Australia in the final of the world cup. Ben decided not to tell me about this (he says he assumed I already knew like all the rest of the world but I secretly think it’s because he didn’t want me looking smug if Australia had won).

At one point during the game I asked who won last time and Ben and Doug gave me a look of incredulity. It turns out it was New Zealand and I was living in New Zealand at the time and suddenly memories of the world cup and Auckland came flooding back. I was about as interested back then as I am now which is not very much at all.

The game tonight was mildly entertaining. You’d think lots of  young men in tight shorts would be enough of a drawcard but footballers have never appealed to me, although I have to acknowledge that Dan Carter is pretty hot. During the game itself they seem to spend a lot of time with their heads in each other’s bottoms and then piled up on top of each other on the grass. It’s a wonder they don’t all have brain damage.

Congratulations to New Zealand. I probably would have preferred Australia win but I don’t really mind. Apparently the New Zealand economy declines when they lose games like these so it’s probably just as well they won :)

Spam posts and my kids don’t need me anymore

About an hour ago someone managed to publish a post to my blog. This was not me. It was a spammer using the post by email feature which was enabled for my blog. I have since disabled this and deleted the post. If you received email notification of a new post to my blog with the title “new message” then please delete it. Sorry for the trouble!

I’m not needed as a parent anymore and it’s glorious. On my recent trip to Utah the kids were fine in my absence. Some parents might find this distressing but not me. It meant that I could relax and enjoy myself. At one point while I was away Daniel asked Ben when I was coming back. Ben thought Daniel might be missing me but it turned out that he just wanted me to install a Minecraft skin on the Mac. The children were fed and watered while I was away, and Ben even managed to teach Elizabeth to ride a bicycle.

After 8 years of feeling like my life was not really mine, things are suddenly getting easier. Nothing can prepare you for having children. Very suddenly you have this tiny life solely dependent on you and gone is the freedom to do whatever you want. Even finding time to go to the toilet in those early years was hard. The sleep deprivation is particularly challenging. There were times when I thought I’d never get to sleep through the night again because there was always a baby to feed and I never did the cry-it-out thing.

Now both kids sleep through the night every night and they can generally amuse themselves throughout the day. It’s as though things have become just as suddenly easy as they became hard.

I really enjoyed myself at the Grand Meetup and this was possible because I knew the kids were fine without me. Indeed I felt like a 20-something-year-old again. The party on the last night was a bit like a night club with The Jane Doze (dance DJs from New York – I’d never heard of them before) performing and special lighting. I’m too old for night clubs but nevertheless I was up there on the dance floor pretending to be much younger than I really am and having a terrific time.

I feel like this is the beginning of a new era in my life and I like how it looks from here :)

Proving theorems

It was school holidays last week while I was in Utah and Ben had to juggle looking after the kids with work. One day he took them into the department and took this photo of Elizabeth drawing on the blackboard. It’s so great. I love how she’s this tiny head at the bottom and she’s drawing Minecraft characters alongside maths. I think Daniel drew the Creeper.


Thoughts from a Grand Meetup

I arrived back in Aberdeen this afternoon and must say it was nice flying in over the green patchwork landscape of Scotland and seeing the rugged cliffs along the coast. I think I even saw Dunnottar Castle. I felt like I was coming home. I was pretty shattered and promptly fell asleep for several hours.

I had a terrific time at the Automattic Grand Meetup. On the last night we celebrated the 10th anniversary of with a fantastic party. There was lots of dancing and general merriment. They had a photo booth setup in the ballroom and I got lots of terrific photos but this one is my favourite:


On the last morning I went for a walk with some, er, friends:



It could be New Zealand, right?

My two favourite activities during the week were learning to swing dance one evening and participating in three Escape the Rooms. They were both fantastic but also funny in the sense that it was obvious we were participants from a tech company. The swing dancing had an unequal number of men and women but where typically in these things the women outnumber the men, in this instance, there were more men which is, I guess, a reflection of our workforce.

The Escape the Room was quite funny because one of the rooms had a computer in it with a password-protected file. As part of the activity the team had to solve clues in the room to figure out the password and open the file. However three teams bypassed this requirement by hacking the computer and opening the file without the need for a password. Once the company who organised the activities realised what was going on they took steps to prevent this by changing file permissions. Our team was the last to go through this room and the first to escape it without hacking the computer. We were pretty chuffed about that. Here’s our team:


I love working remotely and I love working from home. But I can see that meeting the people I work with in person will make text-based communication easier. There’s only so much you can learn about personalities from text and body language is so rich and varied. I feel more comfortable pinging people I have met in person. It was definitely a worthwhile trip for this reason alone but it was also great fun and a wonderful learning experience.


Last night I found myself seated at a table with five bearded men. There’s assigned seating each night in a different restaurant here so I sit with different people for each meal. It has been really fun and how lucky was I to be the only woman at a table with five bearded men.

The topic of conversation naturally went to beards and I mentioned that when I first met my husband he didn’t have a beard. So naturally I told him fairly early on that he’d have to grow a beard if this was going to work and he did. I think my husband’s version of this story is slightly different but as I’m younger my memory is more reliable.

I’m feeling much better today and have some fun things planned. I also managed to get a photo of myself yesterday with the fantastic mobile support team:


Park City

I am in Utah for work and have been so busy I haven’t had the chance to write any posts or read any blogs. It’s a good busy though as I’m getting to meet so many of the talented people I work with. Even going to the toilet can be a challenge because I see people I know en-route but have never met and end up stopping to chat. It’s lucky I haven’t wet my pants yet. Although I did lock my room key in my room on the first day and spilt tea on my breakfast yesterday. I’m also giving two talks today and am a bit terrified about that. I also seem to be suffering from jet lag, insomnia, and have a headache.

It’s a beautiful spot. We’re in Park City which is about a 50-minute drive from Salt Lake City and at an elevation of 2000m. Here are some pics of the local area.






Soul Bar

Yesterday afternoon I took the kids swimming and when we returned to Busby afterwards I discovered I had forgotten to chain him up! He was sitting there without a lock for at least 45 minutes but thankfully, no-one stole him. Perhaps it’s just as a friend of mine said, “No-one can steal Busby because everyone in Aberdeen knows he belongs to you”.

Afterwards we went for dinner at Soul Bar which is a converted church. Lots of churches in Aberdeen have been converted into restaurants, pubs, and even residential housing. It was really nice. I took a couple of terrible photos. They’re terrible because it was too dark for a good shot but that just adds to the atmosphere of the place:



There’s even a casino upstairs! I’m amazed they got approval for a casino in a church. Mind you, I don’t have any objections personally. I would have gone up to take some photos but, well, kids. In any case, my photos are crap and I found a good one on the web:

They even had a good selection of meat-free options. We’ll definitely go back.