The Burkini ban

I find it quite extraordinary that French police are demanding women remove clothing when lying on the beach. Have they gone completely mad? It seems like half the world wants women to cover their flesh and the other half wants them to expose it. Can we just let women wear whatever they want?

As an Australian I always used to wear a long-sleeved vest on the beach at home because of the skin cancer risk. That and a full-brimmed hat to cover my face. Australia has one of the highest skin cancer rates in the world. These muslim women, although their reasons are different, are at least protecting themselves from the sun and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I realise the French are feeling fragile after the recent attacks and there’s some anti-religion sentiment as a result. I’m not religious and don’t particularly like religions of any flavour but I don’t think banning someone from expressing their religious and cultural beliefs will have the impact they want. When you want a child not to do something the worst thing you can do is tell them not to do it. That’s a sure invitation for them to do exactly that. A better alternative is to encourage critical thinking and then let people make their own decisions, provided those decisions are not hurting anyone else, which in this case, they are clearly not.

A mathematician’s clock

I accidentally broke Ben’s clock. I knocked it off the wall, thinking I was reaching for the light switch, and it fell on the floor and broke. We love Ben’s clock. It was a gift from his sister and always entertains visitors to our house.

IMG_6247.JPG

Ben and I spent a bit of time yesterday afternoon finding a replacement online and it turns out he’s quite fussy. While he loves the old clock the 11 has always bothered him since it’s not exactly 11 and requires a bit of rounding. And when I found an algebra clock, not unlike the one below, he dismissed it with, “That’s not algebra; that’s arithmetic”.

$_57.JPG

We ended up finding one he’s happy with and it’s on its way! I’ll post a pic once we’ve got it.

 

The Imitation Game

I just watched this movie for the second time and it was just as fantastic as the first. We watched it with Daniel and he really enjoyed it and indeed I think it’s a good movie to get kids interested in mathematics.

Alan Turing was a mathematician and a war hero. He broke Enigma, the German cryptography machine, and in doing so is said to have shortened the war by several years. He also invented one of the first stored program computers.

What is particularly sad in the movie and in real life is that he was never honoured or even acknowledged for the work he did. Even worse, he was convicted for being a homosexual after the war and forced to either go to prison or take hormonal drugs. He chose the drugs and committed suicide a year later. In 2013 Queen Elizabeth II granted him a posthumous pardon. Why did it take her so long? And why was homosexuality illegal in the first place? It makes no sense. It’s sad that a genius and a man who gave so much to the world was treated so poorly and made so miserable.

I despair when I see people today, more than 50 years after Alan Turing’s suicide, still making life miserable for homosexuals by preventing them from getting married. Alan Turing has taught us that the world needs all kinds of minds and being different is not bad or immoral. Can’t we just be kind to one another?

Benedict Cumberbatch is brilliant as Alan Turing. He’s probably my favourite actor at the moment and if I wasn’t already married I’d be offering to have his children. Kiera Knightly has a leading role in The Imitation Game and is equally superb although I have no desire to have her children🙂

The anti-helmet goddess

Yesterday when I was cycling home I was a fitness goddess. Today I had steam coming out of my ears because as I was cycling uphill and at little more than walking pace, a woman called out to tell me I should be wearing a helmet. Aside from the fact that I was wearing a helmet, it’s really none of her business. I didn’t shout out telling her to lose weight – “it’s a health risk to be overweight, didn’t you know?” 

I’ve written about helmets on my blog several times and can’t really be bothered doing it again. But I have been meaning to post a series of Tweets which were posted by @modacitylife after a recent trip to the Netherlands. The Netherlands is the safest country in the world to be a cyclist and yet practically no-one wears a helmet.

 

Fitness goddess

I was cycling the kids home from school this afternoon and just made it to the top of a hill when a young man shouted out in a very exuberant and “look, there’s a flying pig!” kind of way,

OH MY GOD! YOU MUST BE SO FIT! JESUS!

I’m really not that fit but this put a smile on my face for the rest of the afternoon.

We now have a constant supply of cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and kale from the garden. All my rocket went to seed but I have some new seedlings on the way. It’s so satisfying to grow your own food. I suppose it will all come to an end in a couple of months as the cooler weather sets in. What vegetables grow well in winter here?

IMG_6176.jpg

Haddo House

We’re starting to run out of castles to see for the first time and so today we visited a stately home instead. Haddo House was built in the 18th Century and sits in a huge country estate with lakes, woodland, and a deer park.

IMG_6206.JPG

We were completely blown away and didn’t even go inside the house. They have guided tours for the interior but these take 90 minutes because it’s so huge and we ran out of time. You can spend an entire day just on the estate itself, without ever going inside Haddo House.

There was a choice of places to eat and I was pleasantly surprised to discover they could make a soya cappuccino *and* a vegetarian hot dog. Both were delicious.

IMG_6187.JPG

IMG_6190.JPG

IMG_6201.JPG

IMG_6215.JPG

IMG_6211.JPG

IMG_6179.JPG

There’s a fabulous adventure playground on the estate, not that it’s really needed since there’s already plenty of things for kids to do like feeding ducks, craft activities, and searching for red squirrels. But playgrounds can be fun places for adults too.

IMG_6227.JPG

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

We took the kids to open air theatre at Drum castle last night. We saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare and performed by Illyria. It was wonderful and Illyria are fantastic!

IMG_6146.JPG

We thought the kids might get bored and find it hard to stay up so late but that was not the case at all. It was very funny and Illyria had the kids laughing out loud in a number of places.

IMG_6153.JPG

IMG_6139.JPG

IMG_6168.jpg

IMG_6136.JPG

There’s something very special about sitting next to a 14th-century castle watching talented people perform a play that’s more than 400 years old. Aside from the entertainment value we also get to feel virtuous for taking our children to something cultural🙂

This Beautiful Creature Must die

We’re all addicted to the new 80s-themed Peta computer game to which The Smiths have lent their 1980s song, Meat is Murder. It’s quite retro with 8-bit audio and pixelated graphics and it’s also very addictive. The song grates on your nerves after a while though. Daniel is the reigning champion with a score of 234. My best is 123.

I used to listen to The Smiths when I was teenager. Not so much because I was a fan but because I liked a boy who liked them. I even have one of Morrissey’s albums, Vauxhall and I. It’s actually quite good and not as dark as some of his other stuff. Apparently the lyrics to some of his songs have become the subject of academic study.

Morrissey has long been an advocate of animal rights. The idea of animal rights might seem strange at first but if we consider that the principle of equality does not depend on biological characteristics like race or sex it follows that it should not depend on the biological characteristic of species either. When we draw the boundary of equality to include our species and ours alone, we are guilty of speciesism.

Is Pokémon Go immoral?

Ben brought back an English newspaper from Russia. He thought I might be interested because there’s an article about Pokémon Go in it. Here’s an excerpt:

Nintendo refuses to reveal when the game will be released in Russia. But Russia’s traditional values crusaders are already worried nonetheless. “It feels like the devil arrived through [Pokémon] and is trying to tear our morality apart from the inside,” said Frants Klintsevich, a senator of the Federation Council, Russia’s upper chamber of parliament. Klintsevich has called for a list of “restricting measures” to help gamers avoid falling under Pokémon’s corrupting influence.

Is Pokémon Go immoral? If we say yes we have to give a reason. But Klintsevich doesn’t say why Pokémon is a “corrupting influence” or how it will “tear our morality apart”. It’s not enough to say it’s immoral because a politician said so or because our mothers said so or because some man who lived two thousand years ago said so.

Some people think moral judgements are subjective but I disagree. The philosopher, Derek Parfit, argues for the existence of objective ethics in his book, On What Matters. I tried reading it but it’s rather long and a bit over my head. However when someone says “Pokémon is immoral” or “Homosexuality is immoral” or “Women who don’t cover their heads with a burqa are immoral”, it’s worth asking them why?

If an individual’s actions do not cause harm or suffering to themselves or to anyone else then it’s hard to see how the action could be immoral. Indeed when we prevent homosexuals from marrying each other (I’m looking at you Australia) we cause them harm and suffering and you could say it is we who are being immoral rather than them. This is because we exercise power over them against their will, as John Stuart Mill famously said,

…the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant….Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

The same is true when we force women to cover their faces in public: we are taking away their liberty for no good reason. I don’t think I can make the same argument for Pokémon Go because my kids wouldn’t suffer if I stopped them from playing it but equally they do not cause any harm and suffering to anyone else when they do. Put simply, it’s not a moral issue at all and neither is homosexuality or revealing our faces in public.

What does matter? According to Derek Parfit “What now matters most is that we rich people give up some of our luxuries, ceasing to overheat the Earth’s atmosphere, and taking care of this planet in other ways, so that it continues to support intelligent life.”

Peter Singer discusses religion, the bible, abortion, and same sex marriage in 4 minutes

Peter Singer talks about abortion and same sex marriage in this video and specifically how Christians often focus more on these two issues than on poverty. He finds this strange because abortion is not mentioned in the gospels at all, while homosexuality is mentioned very little and mostly in the old testament; not so much in the gospels. What is mentioned in the gospels over and over again is an emphasis on helping the poor and on giving away our personal riches to help the poor. Peter Singer has for years now given away 10% of his personal income to the poor and he thinks everyone in rich nations should do the same.

A poppy dress

Several of my sunflowers have opened up now. One of the plants has sprouted lots of little buds that are threatening to reveal themselves also. I thought each plant produced just one flower?

IMG_6104.JPG

Do you remember the dream I had about a dress which, when I woke up, I had to have but the shop only had size 14 left in stock? I had it resized down to a size 8 and I think it turned out well:

IMG_6107.jpg

I am a big a fan of poppies. They’re all over my garden, I have a painting on the wall of poppies, and now I have a dress with poppies all over it. I don’t have anywhere to wear the dress but maybe something will come up one day. Or I can just wear it in my lounge room.

I tried to give myself a hair cut today. It has been more than 6 months since I went to a hair dresser and the ends are in a terrible state and it’s getting too long to manage. I just don’t have time to go to the hairdresser so I thought I’d try doing it myself. I put it in a pony tail and cut a few centimetres off the end. I don’t think it really worked because it seems to be shorter at the back than the sides now. Only I don’t have a mirror that will allow me to see the back of my head so I can’t say for sure.

If you think I’m eccentric it’s because I am – so there!

What to do in Aberdeen?

My favourite thing to do in Aberdeen is to cycle along the Deeside cycleway to Newton Dee. We’ve been doing it multiple times a week over the summer holidays and I never tire of it. However in the list of “Things to Do” on Trip Advisor it’s way down the bottom. It needs a higher profile and I’m going to give it one right now. If I was a tourist to Aberdeen for one or two days this would be the top of my list of things to do: hire a bike and cycle to Newton Dee or further. You can also walk it, if you prefer.

The cycleway starts at Duthie Park which is wonderful in its own right and home to one of the largest winter gardens in all of Europe. It’s also within walking distance of the train station. You need to go through the Polmuir Road carpark to find the cycleway and then it’s fairly straight and flat all the way to Newton Dee, which is about 4 miles along the path. There are no cars whatsoever, just lovely friendly people walking dogs, jogging, scootering, and cycling. It’s neither crowded nor desolate. It’s just right.

The pathway follows the river Dee and so there are lovely views overlooking the river. There are also a couple of places where you can sit and rest.

IMG_6092.JPG

If you go in summer there’s a food source along the way in the form of wild raspberries and they’re delicious!

IMG_6084.JPG

Newton Dee is hard to find because there are no signs to it from the pathway. When you pass the golf course on the left, it’s about 3 minutes of cycling after that. You’ll see a bridge and the exit is on the left just before it.

IMG_6064.JPG

Take this exit from the pathway and then go through the gate at the top and turn left again.

IMG_6073.JPG

From there it’s about 20 metres down the hill and on the right. The café is open Tuesday to Saturday and has a wonderful selection of cakes. You can also have lunch there and they always have a couple of delicious soups to choose from as well as pizza which is made in their bakery and is very good. It’s all vegetarian or vegan. There’s also a superb grocery store and bakery.

If you want to be more adventurous then you can continue along the path. About 14 miles from Duthie Park is Crathes and here you’ll find Crathes Castle which is fabulous and also Milton of Crathes, which has a nice brasserie and some cute boutique shops. It’s worth noting that the pathway from Peterculter to Crathes is not complete and there are a couple of places with dirt track and also a small section where you’re back on the road with cars. But if I can manage it on a bakfiets with two kids onboard then anyone can do it. If you’re only going as far as Newton Dee it’s fully surfaced the whole way and in good condition.

For the really, really adventurous the pathway continues all the way to Ballater in the Cairngorms. We haven’t made it past Banchory yet but I’m sure we’ll do it one day ….

How to use a telephone

I’m feeling a bit dumb. I had to make a work phone call to a company today, a big company, and I was feeling nervous. I’m not good on the phone. I prefer text or even video. Nevertheless I was fully prepared and sitting waiting by the telephone for a good 30 minutes before the scheduled time. The time arrived and I suddenly realised I didn’t know how to dial the number! It had been given to me with the +44 in front and of course when I tried dialling that it didn’t work. I started to panic and perhaps because of this I couldn’t think how to dial the number. One minute went by, two minutes went by …. Then I dialled the other number they gave me – an international number to a different country – and that worked so I heaved a sigh of relief. When the call was over I realised all I needed to do was drop the +44 and add 0. Is that embarrassing or what?

Will we still have telephones in the future? I remember when telephones looked like this:

 

I wonder whether kids today would know how to work one of those?

Dogsbody and wood chips

The past couple of weeks I’ve been reading Dogsbody to the kids at bedtime. I love it! I’m now a huge Diana Wynne Jones fan despite having never heard of her before. The book is so well-written and so entertaining in a can’t-put-it-down kind of way.

It’s a fantasy novel told from the perspective of a dog and it’s clear the author knows about dogs. It’s set in England in 1975 at a time of tension between England and Ireland. People today associate terrorists with Muslims but back then it was the IRA blowing things up. I’m fairly ignorant of the politics but I should point out that the IRA did not blow themselves up and nor did they make it their modus operandi to target civilians as Islamic terrorists do. However it seems poignant that terrorism is still a problem today; only our foes have changed.

Terrorism doesn’t feature in the story but a young Irish girl, the main character, is the victim of racist abuse because of the political situation at the time. I was surprised by this because I didn’t realise the Irish were targeted by racists.

I read that if you like the Harry Potter books then you’ll like Diana Wynne Jones. I definitely plan to read some of her others stories.

Last weekend I ordered a cubic metre of wood chips to put under the new trampoline. This was a stupid idea for two reasons: a) Ben was away in Russia when they arrived. b) We have no pavement outside our house because the city council is still ripping up tree roots and putting in a new one. This meant I had a couple of problems. Where was the delivery man going to put a cubic metre of wood chips? And how was I going to transport them to our backyard very quickly and by myself?

The wood chips arrived on Tuesday afternoon, after the city council workers had left for the day. I was pleased about this because the irony of my fierce objection to them felling our trees and then ordering a cubic metre of chopped up tree was not lost on me. I didn’t want them to see the wood chips because that would have been embarrassing! This meant I had to get rid of them that evening before they turned up again the next morning.

Here’s a photo of our pavement, or lack of, taken on Tuesday:

IMG_5901.jpg

As you can see there’s no pavement there at all. The bag had to go on that yellow board.

IMG_5902.JPG

As soon as it arrived I got to straight to work ferrying wood chips to our back yard. This was not an easy task because I had to take them up some stairs, through part of our house, then down some stairs. From there I could use a wheelbarrow and transport them all the way down to the very back of our yard. I tried to rope the kids into helping out but after a few small bucket-loads they lost interest. How did the Victorians ever get kids to work down the mines? Kids today have it too easy.

The whole job took me about an hour and a half. I cleaned up all the bits and there was no sign of any wood chips having been there other than the leftover pallet which the city council workers took the next day. I left it on my own pathway (not the yellow board) but they must have thought it was one of theirs and that was fine with me. I didn’t want it anyway🙂

bounce, bounce, bounce

For many years now we have wanted to get a trampoline. But not just any trampoline, a Springfree trampoline. Friends of ours in New Zealand had one and their kids loved it (and still do). The inventor of the trampoline is also an engineer at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch where Ben used to work.

We finally got one! We got the large square and it is fabulous fun.

IMG_5966.jpg

IMG_5973.jpg

IMG_5951.JPG

IMG_5955.JPG

It says in the small print that children should jump one at a time but that’ll never happen. I even jumped with them for a bit and this was probably a bad idea because of the double-bounce effect which was greater when I was on it. I haven’t laughed so heartily in a long time. It seems to be good exercise too because I was out of breath but that might have been because I couldn’t stop laughing.

 

Sunflowers and cucumbers

I have a sunflower at last! One of the flowers opened up in the rain today. It was one of the smaller, sickly-looking plants so I was not expecting to get a flower out of it at all but here it is with a bee hard at work. It’s lovely.

IMG_5892.jpg

We also picked our first cucumber today. I’ve never grown cucumbers before but it was surprisingly easy. I couldn’t think of how to take a selfie with this cucumber without people getting the wrong idea – maybe it’s just me but cucumbers look like giant penises. So I added a spoon to the photo instead.

IMG_5896.JPG

And then we chopped it up and ate it!

IMG_5899.JPG

Harald: my Butchers and Bicycles MK1

I got Busby back about a month ago now but I have been continuing to ride Harald on a daily basis. I think this is probably an endorsement for Harald. He does have some shortcomings but I can’t think what other bike I’d rather ride. Even if I had all the money in the world I’d probably still choose Harald. The main reason is he fits my 9 and 6 year old so comfortably. Most other cargo bikes are designed for toddlers. He’s also light and wonderful to manoeuvre.

In case you’re wondering Harald is my Butchers and Bicycles MK1 whereas Busby is my very old Bakfiets.

Harald has a wonderful lockable compartment which I have become attached to. I put my Hövding in it so I don’t have to carry it around and sometimes also my coat.

IMG_5867.jpg

There’s also plenty of headroom for the kids.

IMG_5875.jpg

The rain cover is really well designed and is easy for the kids to zip up and unzip when they’re inside. This is important because it means I don’t have to stop when I hear the inevitable, “Mum, it’s hot” or “Mum, I’m cold”.

The downside of Harald is that it’s really hard to deploy the stand when the kids are inside. When the bike is empty it’s easy. But with the kids inside I’ve given up now and I stay seated and wait for them to climb out. If they climb out when I’m not on the seat the bike will tip forwards. It’s a design flaw.

The bike must have been designed by a man because it comes with the most uncomfortable seat. This was easy to fix with a jelly cushion.

IMG_5878.JPG

I also wrap the heavy chain around the seat post to provide a bit more stability by distributing some of the weight on the back.

I’ve had a couple of people ask me how I find it without the electric assist. No-one ever asked me the same question about Busby and Busby was 10kg heavier. Why not?

I don’t regret my decision to go without electric assist. It is hard work cycling uphill but that’s part of the reason I cycle: it’s good exercise and keeps my legs toned. It’s not supposed to be easy. People pay thousands of dollars in gym memberships to go and sit on a stationary bicycle and then they spend hours of their life sitting in a car. I don’t have to go to the gym or pay for a gym membership because I get the same workout going to the shops. It’s very efficient and doesn’t cost anything. It’s also fun. However I totally understand why people might want the electric assist especially if they live somewhere very hilly and/or commute over great distances. But I haven’t found a need for it. My legs are all the electric assist I need.

Harald has more WOW power than Busby in terms of the response I get from people when I’m cycling around. Kids in particular are completely in awe. I used to get this with Busby too but it has increased exponentially with Harald and I’m lapping it up🙂

Tall things

I took this photo in Aberdeen this evening. Check out the ladder! Is someone really going to climb all the way up there? It’s also not just one ladder but several all tied together. What are they thinking??!!

IMG_5837.jpg

One of my sunflowers is so huge now. It just keeps growing taller and taller and there’s still no flower. Am I ever going to see a flower or is it just going to keep growing up and up and up?

IMG_5856.jpg

 

Countesswells Woods and a strange dream

I have just been to the best children’s party I’ve ever attended. Ok, so maybe that’s not saying much: children’s parties aren’t exactly known for their entertainment value to adults. But this was different and I can honestly say it was an enjoyable and even relaxing experience. The words “Children’s party” and “relaxing” don’t usually go together in the same sentence but in this case it was true.

It was a birthday party for one of Elizabeth’s friends and was held in Countesswells Woods which is on the outskirts of Aberdeen. It was run by a group called OWLS – Outdoor Woodland Learning School – and they got the children building dens, gathering twigs for the fire, and toasting marshmallows.

Countesswells Woods was so beautiful. I’ve never seen such enormous beech trees and the forest floor is a carpet of ferns.

IMG_5802.jpg

IMG_5793.JPG

IMG_5824.jpg

The children loved building dens. Here’s Elizabeth’s:

IMG_5798.jpg

They made their own pizzas and cooked them under the fire.

IMG_5797.JPG

And toasted marshmallows.

IMG_5814.jpg

I had a strange dream last night. I dreamt about a dress I saw on the web some months ago and liked but haven’t thought about since. For some reason it turned up in my dream and I woke up feeling certain that I had to buy it. Unfortunately the shop had sold out of all sizes except size 14 which is too big for me. I ended up buying it anyway and will get a dressmaker to resize it. Is that madness or what?

Back in civilisation

We’re back in Aberdeen after a lovely break in the Cairngorms. The wifi at the place we stayed was so bad that I didn’t write very much on my blog while we were there. I couldn’t even load the site on my laptop. However I was able to publish photos using the app on my phone. I’m too impatient for one-fingered typing so it was photos only but it’s such a beautiful place that sometimes words aren’t necessary.

The first thing I did when we got back was cycle in the pouring rain to Newton Dee. It’s not more than 15°C today and I was in one of my sleeveless Nuu-Muu dresses and a pair of gum boots – I must have looked a sight – and completely drenched when I got back but I loved every second of it. I had the biggest smile on my face the entire time and I wasn’t cold at all. I love this climate.

Here are some photos from the last two days. I love old bridges and this one is one of my favourites. It’s Victoria Bridge and it crosses the River Dee over to Mar Lodge.

IMG_5745.JPG

Pulling faces at the Linn 0f Quoich.

IMG_5736.JPG

IMG_5721.jpg

Braemar Castle.

IMG_5713.jpg

Ben tried on a tweed jacket at a shop in Braemar. When you become a professor you’re supposed to wear tweed. It was £250 so we didn’t buy it. In any case a professor’s tweed jacket should look a bit scruffy and worn with patches on the elbows. This one looks too nice.

IMG_5752.jpg

Ben’s mother and her partner are visiting us and we took them to Tomnaverie Stone Circle. Humans placed these large rocks here more than 4000 years ago. I find that fascinating. No-one really knows what purpose they served but one theory is that they were used by farmers to track the seasons.

IMG_5757.JPG

IMG_5770.jpg

IMG_5782.JPG

IMG_5785.JPG