Turkey neck and gardening

Turkey neck and gardening

I’m trying to reduce the amount of sugar I eat, partly for health reasons and partly for vanity. I’m starting to notice the wrinkles more and more and – dare I admit it, a turkey neck! – and sugar ages you. I’ll never be able to give up chocolate but sugar sneaks into things that don’t need it like breakfast cereals. There’s nothing worse than muesli with sugar in it or tea with sugar in it. Yuk. I no longer have any sugar on porridge either, instead opting just for fresh fruit. However, I love jam on toast and jam is packed with sugar.

Recently I discovered these fruit spreads that don’t contain any sugar, other than the natural sugar in the fruit they’re made with.


The flavour reminds me a bit of baby food but it’s much thicker, less watery, and has a richer taste. Both the Biona and Suma are very good and I can’t pick which I prefer. They’re both deliciously tart.



The first signs of spring are popping up here with snowdrops and crocuses appearing all over the place. My greenhouse is also starting to get a lot of sun during the day and feeling nice and warm inside so I’ve started sewing seeds again. I planted a lot of seeds and as usual I can’t remember what I planted. I’m pretty sure there’s broccoli and spinach in this lot.


After doing nothing all winter my pak choi is also starting to take off. I put wool pellets around the edges of this garden bed in the hope it will deter slugs and snails. None of them have woken from winter yet so I’m not sure if it will work but it did make the greenhouse smell like sheep which was rather nice.


These are the wool pellets. Has anyone used these before? Do they work?


Here’s the view from the cycle path today.



A prickly thistle

Last August I planted an apple tree in the school garden. Since then I’ve watched with dismay as all the branches have slowly been ripped off. I don’t think the children are doing this to deliberately destroy the tree. It’s just that they’re playing there and it gets knocked about and they grab onto it as part of their play. There’s no play equipment in the playground so they play in the gardens.

This morning I couldn’t bear it any longer and so I dug up the tree and planted it in my garden at home. It may already be too late as it’s mostly just a trunk now. I hope it survives. Now I’m thinking something prickly for the school garden is the way to go. Maybe a thistle? Did you know that the thistle is the national flower of Scotland? Most people think of the thistle as a weed but they produce some attractive flowers like this blue one:


Source: http://www.gardenersworld.com/plants/plant-finder/echinops-ritro-veitchs-blue/

I was thinking of getting some of those. They’re called Veitch’s Blue. It’s either that or a cactus. Is that a good idea?

Pumpkin and the Dog’s Bollocks

Suppose there’s a planet called Dog’s Bollocks and the aliens on Dog’s Bollocks have been using something called pumpkin for all their energy needs. But pumpkin has several problems. One: it’s running out. There’s a limited supply of it and eventually there’ll be none left. Two: it produces pollution which when inhaled can cause asthma in young aliens and reduces the lifespan of all aliens. Three: Continued use of it is increasing the temperature of Dog’s Bollocks. As the temperature increases they need to use more of it to maintain a comfortable temperature which only increases the temperature even more in a self-reinforcing cycle. Four: It’s unpleasant to smell.

Some of the aliens on Dog’s Bollocks think it’s a good idea to find an alternative to pumpkin and they have made a number of suggestions for a solution like investing in R&D to find alternatives, offering incentives for investment in alternatives, subsidising alternatives, disincentivizing pumpkin by adding taxes and other policies designed to discourage use, exploring options to reduce the demand for pumpkin, and even addressing some of the problems directly like capturing the bad smells and locking them away.

Most of the aliens on Dog’s Bollocks agree that some kind of combination of solutions is required. However there’s a very small and vocal community who vociferously object. They don’t want anyone to stop using pumpkin or to find alternatives. They say Dog’s Bollocks has been using pumpkin for hundreds of years and has become wealthy as a direct result and therefore they should continue using it for as long as possible. They object to all suggestions for research and investment in alternative options. They sound pretty irrational, don’t they? Irrational is exactly what I was thinking when I saw the Australian treasurer, Scott Morrison, worshipping a lump of coal in parliament last week.

Australia was already hot – that’s why I choose not to live there – but each year it gets hotter and hotter. You would think the people in charge would want to do something about that but their very unimaginative solution is to burn more coal which will only exacerbate the problem. To be fair, it must be frightening for people whose livelihoods depend on coal – they will be afraid of losing their jobs and we should have compassion for those people and help them to find alternative employment. But this is only an argument in favour of diversification. It’s not an argument to do nothing. If you find yourself working for a pharmaceutical company whose only product turns out to be carcinogenic that would be unlucky. But employment is not a valid reason to keep the product on the market. The pharmaceutical company should have diversified. Likewise, Australia should have started investing in alternative energy sources decades ago. But it’s not too late – they now need to invest heavily in alternatives, provide large subsidies for alternatives, put a tax on fossil fuels, remove all subsidies for fossil fuels, offer incentives for lifestyle changes like reducing car use and meat consumption, and lots more. They need to do as much as they possibly can because there’s no one solution to this problem. But sitting around and pretending it’s not a problem is not a good solution.

The dumbest of the dumb

It’s hard to see how the Donald Tump presidency will survive four years given the amount of lunacy and chaos he has unleashed in just three weeks. Sometimes I feel a bit sorry for him because he has become a laughing stock and I don’t think he realises it. Every week there’s something new and outlandish to poke fun at. Here’s Seth Meyers on his first solo press conference last week:

There’s one word that comes to my mind when I think of Donald Trump: thick. I realise I’m not exactly a smarty-pants but I know my limitations whereas Donald Trump is classic Dunning-Kruger. Smart people under-estimate their ability whereas dumb people over-estimate it. Dumb people who don’t realise how dumb they are are the dumbest of the dumb.

Burn O’Vat

Burn O’Vat

Someone recommended Burn O’Vat on my Scolty Hill post from last week and so we decided to check it out today. It’s a WOW place. How have I never discovered it before? It’s at the Muir of Dinnet Nature Reserve which is about 34 miles west of Aberdeen. There’s a terrific visitor centre there.


The main attraction is the Burn O’Vat which is a relic from the end of the last Ice Age. Wikipedia has more info about how it was formed, if you’re interested. Here are the photos.


I am dwarfed by the rock-face behind.





Ben looks pretty miserable in this next photo. He says it’s his “resting bitch face”. I think he’s just jealous because he’s not wearing gumboots like the rest of us. This is definitely a gumboot place.



The kids loved this place so much. The waterfalls, the shallow pools, the giant walls of rock, and the cave-like feel to it made it all a bit out of this world and exciting for them. It’s a very short walk from the visitor centre – more of a wander than a walk – but the nature reserve also includes two big lochs with several walking tracks of varying distance.

I love this photo of the kids choosing to walk through the stream rather than over the bridge.


After the Burn O’Vat we did a 4km walk which took us past a Pictish stone cross which was carved in the 9th century.


The two lochs are Lochs Davan and Kinord. Both were giant ice-cubes that melted and formed lakes, or lochs as they are called here, at the end of the last Ice Age. The Muir of Dinnet is a great place and I highly recommend it. There are toilets and picnic tables at the visitor centre and we took a picnic lunch with us and ate there.

On our way home we stopped at a cool café in Aboyne called Spider on a Bicycle. I love this place. I guess it’s a given that I will love a place with a bicycle outside but the coffee was superb, they had non-dairy milk, and even a vegan dessert. That makes me happy.


Scolty Hill

Scolty Hill

Next to the village of Banchory, which is about 18 miles from Aberdeen, is Scolty Hill. Desperate to get out of the house and into the countryside I suggested we go there after lunch and walk to the summit. It was a superb outing. The walk is about 1.5 hours and not too strenuous. There is a steepish section but definitely doable, even for small children.


It was about 3C but you quickly get hot when you’re walking uphill. Elizabeth took her coat off not long after we started and I didn’t even bother putting mine on.


Daniel complained endlessly on the way up and this photo was taken in the midst of complaints, hence the miserable expression on his face. He would rather sit in a café and eat cake than walk up a hill to admire the views. His mood changed significantly on the way down because the steepish parts were covered in snow and made for good sliding. Perhaps he was also thinking about cake.






At the top is a large stone monument with a spiral staircase inside. You can walk right to the top to admire the views.


It was incredibly windy on the summit and in this next photo it looks like a storm is about to engulf us so we didn’t stay for long. There was also cake to be had so we took some photos and made a hasty retreat. It started to snow on the way down which was lovely.





Afterwards we went to Milton Brasserie and ate cake.


I always get a bit annoyed when cafés don’t have non-dairy milk so I’ve started taking my own with me. I bought a pack of mini cartons and if I think we’ll be going to a café which won’t have non-dairy milk I’ll take one with me which is exactly what I did today. It was perfect.


Milton Brasserie is surrounded by lots of lovely shops selling, art, crafts, and Scottish things. I bought myself a tweed hat because once you hit your 40s it’s time to start wearing tweed. There was a matching tweed jacket but it was £350!!! I didn’t buy it.



Accessorising with snow

It was snowing when I dropped the kids at school today. I love it when it snows. Snow is not wet like rain and this morning I discovered it makes a nice hair accessory.


As you can see I’m holding a Doctor Who magazine – there’s a story behind this. We gifted Daniel a subscription to Doctor Who Adventures for his birthday but I stuffed up and accidentally subscribed to the adult version. There was much gnashing of teeth from him when he realised he must wait even longer for his first magazine with free gift to show up. I think he’s more interested in the free gift. I was able to switch my subscription over to the children’s version except that it’s much cheaper and so we’ve had to subscribe to it for four years now!

It’s still cold but the days are getting longer and it’s time to start planting seeds for spring. Elizabeth planted some sweet peas a week or so ago and they’re doing nicely.


I’m not sure how long they’ll be able to survive in little pots but I can’t plant them outside until April or May.

The stick insects have been fornicating

The stick insects have been fornicating

Last week I discovered lots of little baby stick insects in our stick insect habitat. We started with four nymphs which I purchased on eBay last  year and they ate lots of leaves and grew and they must have laid eggs at some point because now there are babies. I’m not even sure how many – 7 or 8? At this rate we’re going to end up with an over-population. I read somewhere that they don’t live very long so maybe the four adults will die at some point? Here’s their habitat:


I fill it with ivy which is sitting in vases of water to keep it fresh. I usually top it up once every two weeks or so. Here’s a close-up of one of the babies.


This is a photo of the same thing as the one above but I’ve zoomed in on one of the adults at the very back.


A new piano!

Yesterday I took possession of a brand new, second-hand piano. No, it’s not a Steinway but it’s still the best piano I’ve ever, ever had and I’m so happy. I did try to convince Ben that if we sold the house we could buy the Steinway but sadly, he was not to be persuaded. He’s cruel and insensitive.


Ben took some videos of me playing the new contraption this morning but instead of a sharing a wonderful rendition of Mozart now I really just have bloopers since I always seem to hit the wrong notes and then swear. But I think there’s entertainment value in watching people blunder. Just be warned: there’s swearing in the following videos.



Our day didn’t start so well today. The power went out overnight in the place we were staying which meant I didn’t get a cup of tea at breakfast. NO TEA! The horror! What’s the point of getting out of bed if there’s no tea?

Consequently we left fairly early and went to Pennan. I was looking forward to visiting this tiny fishing village after watching the film, Local Hero. Something which is not clear in the movie is that Pennan is at the bottom of a gorge between two very steep cliffs. The road down to the village is very steep and narrow and not something I’d want to drive down in the snow or frost. Despite having a northerly aspect the cliffs cast a shadow over the village. We were there at 10am and although it was a brilliantly sunny day, the entire village was in the shade. I imagine they must get some winter sun but the cliffs are so high and so close that it’s probably only very little over winter. The cliffs make an impressive backdrop to the white-washed brick homes along the shore, though. It was cute.


The local pub/hotel is for sale for £350,000.



I got the obligatory photo at the phone booth. Sadly I did not see an aurora borealis.




Afterwards we went to the Saplinbrae Hotel in Mintlaw where I had several cups of tea followed by lunch and then several more cups of tea. Then we walked around Pitfour Lake which was very nice.



I swam in the North Sea in winter

I swam in the North Sea in winter

A couple of years ago I swam at Balmedie Beach. It was March and so I just missed out on being able to say I swam in the North Sea in winter. We’re currently staying at a secluded spot up on the Fraserburgh coast an hour or so north of Aberdeen and so I decided to take the opportunity to go swimming again. Oh my goodness it was cold. Although I think the water temperature was probably about the same as when I swam at Balmedie (6-7C) it was harder this time because rather than sand the beach here has pebbles and when your feet are frozen pebbles are painful to walk on. But I did it and hopefully a 30 second dip still counts as swimming. I had to go in twice because, like last time, Ben didn’t take a photo of the first dip! I was not happy.


I’m 41 years old and have had two children but I think I’m in pretty good shape nevertheless. I attribute this to an active lifestyle and mostly vegan diet. I also don’t consume drinks other than tea and water – with the occasional sip of whisky thrown in. Drinks like orange juice, wine, and beer are full of calories and don’t fill you up so you still eat your regular meals but exceed the calorific requirement from fluids. I also exercise every day by using cycling as a mode of transportation.


When I got out of the water I was able to stand on the beach in my bathers without feeling cold at all. I felt quite warm. I also saw a couple of seals swimming.


Ben took this video of the first swim. While I look brave in the photos if you watch the video you’ll see what a wuss I was.

I got up early this morning to walk along the beach as the colours in the sky are nicest at sunrise and sunset. Sunrise here is not until 8:20am so it’s not that early.





It’s a lovely, peaceful spot.


I played a £26,000 Steinway

I went into Gordon Bell Pianos in Aberdeen today to look into getting a decent piano. They have a £26,000 Steinway which they let me play. It was amazing. I can see why Steinways are so famous and expensive. I played several different pianos in the shop and this one was on a completely different level in terms of sound quality and pleasure when playing. It also looks beautiful. If I was rich I’d buy it. The fellows in the shop were so nice they even took a photo for me.


Robert Burns Night and Donald Trump

It’s Burns night in Scotland today. January 25th is an annual celebration of the Scottish poet, Robert Burns. In school the children tasted some Scottish foods and learnt one of his poems off by heart. Daniel has come such a long way since we first moved here. In our first year he protested vehemently about having to learn a poem. This year he memorised it with enthusiasm and his recitals are completely way over the top, but in a good way – full of actions and emotion. I think he’s what they’d call an “overactor”. He’s also apparently one of the first to volunteer to stand up in class and recite it.

I’m still in denial about Donald Trump. It’s unbelievable. I would not have believed this possible a year ago. He’s the most unlikely, unsuitable, and unlikable person imaginable for leader of the United States. He lies, he’s divisive, he’s more concerned with image than reality, and he’s intellectually challenged.

I was very disappointed to see Donald Trump and a room full of men preside over a decision which directly negatively affects women’s health and that is the decision to ban funding for international aid groups that provide safe pregnancy terminations for women. Poor women are harmed most by this because wealthy women can travel to a place where abortions are safe and available. The poorest women will be left to make do with dangerous, botched abortions.

I am not religious and do not believe in the sanctity of human life; instead I believe that pain and suffering is wrong and should be avoided as far as possible. A foetus in the early stages of pregnancy does not feel any pain and does not have a right to life. Species membership is a biological classification and is not a moral or ethical boundary. Membership of species homo sapiens does not give a being the right to life. What does matter is the capacity for pain and suffering, self-consciousness, and the ability to see oneself over time – mothers do feel pain and they do suffer and can see their lives over time.

The only good thing about Donald Trump is he’s a never-ending source of entertainment for the media like this funny YouTube video from the Netherlands about him.

The Man from Snowy River: a film, a poem, and piano music

We watched another 1980s classic film today, The Man From Snowy River. This is an Australian film made in 1982 and based on a poem by Banjo Paterson. It’s an Australian classic which I can remember watching as a child. All Australians are familiar with Paterson’s poem and anyone who has had piano lessons in Australia will have learnt Jessica’s Theme which is from the movie.

I haven’t seen this movie in about 30 years but I can still recite the first few lines of the poem and I regularly play the music on the piano. It’s one of my favourite pieces. The film is a bit corny and dated now but I still thoroughly enjoyed it.

It’s set in the Snowy Mountains which is the highest mountain range in Australia and the cinematography in the film is wonderful. It’s worth watching just for this. There’s some romance in it and lots of scenes with horses running wild across the countryside. Paterson’s poem is not until the end when the colt from old Regret runs away and joins the brumbies (wild horses). The best horsemen gather to retrieve him because he’s worth £1,000 which, in 1888, is a shitload of money. They set out on a wild chase which ends when the brumbies take off down the side of a steep mountain. None of the horsemen have the courage to follow them except for one: the man from Snowy River.

It’s uplifting and will make the more sentimental among us cry. It did me. It was nice to see some Australian actors I haven’t watched in years – Sigrid Thornton and Jack Thompson. Kirk Douglas is also in the movie.

I took a very amateur movie of me playing Jessica’s Theme. It’s not the full song and my piano is pretty shitty and the sound isn’t very good so lower your expectations 🙂 The full poem is below.

THE MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER by A.B. “Banjo” Paterson

There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around
That the colt from old Regret had got away,
And had joined the wild bush horses - he was worth a thousand pound,
So all the cracks had gathered to the fray.
All the tried and noted riders from the stations near and far
Had mustered at the homestead overnight,
For the bushmen love hard riding where the wild bush horses are,
And the stockhorse snuffs the battle with delight.

There was Harrison, who made his pile when Pardon won the cup,
The old man with his hair as white as snow;
But few could ride beside him when his blood was fairly up -
He would go wherever horse and man could go.
And Clancy of the Overflow came down to lend a hand,
No better horseman ever held the reins;
For never horse could throw him while the saddle girths would stand,
He learnt to ride while droving on the plains.

And one was there, a stripling on a small and weedy beast,
He was something like a racehorse undersized,
With a touch of Timor pony - three parts thoroughbred at least -
And such as are by mountain horsemen prized.
He was hard and tough and wiry - just the sort that won't say die -
There was courage in his quick impatient tread;
And he bore the badge of gameness in his bright and fiery eye,
And the proud and lofty carriage of his head.

But still so slight and weedy, one would doubt his power to stay,
And the old man said, "That horse will never do
For a long a tiring gallop - lad, you'd better stop away,
Those hills are far too rough for such as you."
So he waited sad and wistful - only Clancy stood his friend -
"I think we ought to let him come," he said;
"I warrant he'll be with us when he's wanted at the end,
For both his horse and he are mountain bred.

"He hails from Snowy River, up by Kosciusko's side,
Where the hills are twice as steep and twice as rough,
Where a horse's hoofs strike firelight from the flint stones every stride,
The man that holds his own is good enough.
And the Snowy River riders on the mountains make their home,
Where the river runs those giant hills between;
I have seen full many horsemen since I first commenced to roam,
But nowhere yet such horsemen have I seen."

So he went - they found the horses by the big mimosa clump -
They raced away towards the mountain's brow, 
And the old man gave his orders, "Boys, go at them from the jump, 
No use to try for fancy riding now. 
And, Clancy, you must wheel them, try and wheel them to the right. 
Ride boldly, lad, and never fear the spills, 
For never yet was rider that could keep the mob in sight, 
If once they gain the shelter of those hills."

So Clancy rode to wheel them - he was racing on the wing 
Where the best and boldest riders take their place, 
And he raced his stockhorse past them, and he made the ranges ring 
With the stockwhip, as he met them face to face. 
Then they halted for a moment, while he swung the dreaded lash, 
But they saw their well-loved mountain full in view, 
And they charged beneath the stockwhip with a sharp and sudden dash, 
And off into the mountain scrub they flew.

Then fast the horsemen followed, where the gorges deep and black 
Resounded to the thunder of their tread, 
And the stockwhips woke the echoes, and they fiercely answered back 
From cliffs and crags that beetled overhead. 
And upward, ever upward, the wild horses held their way, 
Where mountain ash and kurrajong grew wide; 
And the old man muttered fiercely, "We may bid the mob good day, 
No man can hold them down the other side."

When they reached the mountain's summit, even Clancy took a pull, 
It well might make the boldest hold their breath, 
The wild hop scrub grew thickly, and the hidden ground was full 
Of wombat holes, and any slip was death. 
But the man from Snowy River let the pony have his head, 
And he swung his stockwhip round and gave a cheer, 
And he raced him down the mountain like a torrent down its bed, 
While the others stood and watched in very fear.

He sent the flint stones flying, but the pony kept his feet, 
He cleared the fallen timber in his stride, 
And the man from Snowy River never shifted in his seat - 
It was grand to see that mountain horseman ride. 
Through the stringybarks and saplings, on the rough and broken ground, 
Down the hillside at a racing pace he went; 
And he never drew the bridle till he landed safe and sound, 
At the bottom of that terrible descent.

He was right among the horses as they climbed the further hill, 
And the watchers on the mountain standing mute, 
Saw him ply the stockwhip fiercely, he was right among them still,
As he raced across the clearing in pursuit. 
Then they lost him for a moment, where two mountain gullies met 
In the ranges, but a final glimpse reveals 
On a dim and distant hillside the wild horses racing yet, 
With the man from Snowy River at their heels.

And he ran them single-handed till their sides were white with foam. 
He followed like a bloodhound on their track, 
Till they halted cowed and beaten, then he turned their heads for home, 
And alone and unassisted brought them back. 
But his hardy mountain pony he could scarcely raise a trot, 
He was blood from hip to shoulder from the spur; 
But his pluck was still undaunted, and his courage fiery hot, 
For never yet was mountain horse a cur.

And down by Kosciusko, where the pine-clad ridges raise 
Their torn and rugged battlements on high, 
Where the air is clear as crystal, and the white stars fairly blaze 
At midnight in the cold and frosty sky, 
And where around The Overflow the reed beds sweep and sway 
To the breezes, and the rolling plains are wide, 
The man from Snowy River is a household word today, 
And the stockmen tell the story of his ride.

The Bulletin, 26 April 1890.

$5 million up for grabs!

I thought I’d share this. It appeared in my Twitter feed yesterday and even if you have no intention of participating there are some interesting questions there.

How are we to solve the problems of today? Humans are good at solving problems but so far we’ve failed to address the problem of climate change despite knowing about it for decades and decades now; well over a century in fact, if you include the discovery of the greenhouse effect.

Does the solution lie in a new shape for global governance? One thing is clear: the solution requires global cooperation. How can we balance personal self-interest with the interests of people living in other countries who may be more severely affected by our actions than we are ourselves? The impacts of climate change will not be felt equally across the globe. Those living in the poorest nations will be the most badly affected and yet they have contributed the least to the problem. Future generations will also be adversely affected and yet they have no say today.

More at https://globalchallenges.org/en


A taste for whisky

A taste for whisky

I feel like I need to embrace my new home country a bit more and learn to enjoy pure malt whisky. Ben likes the peaty stuff and so that’s what we mostly have in the house. I decided to give some of this a try, watered down with soda water.


I’ve got my armchair, pajamas, and slippers. Everything is perfect.


But this stuff is really disgusting. It tastes like industrial cleaner.


I’ve heard people say it’s an acquired taste but then how did the very first person figure that out? Did they force themselves to drink it over and over again until it tasted good?