On being smug, blaming Pepper Pig for cavities in teeth, and three solutions to all the world’s problems

I was planning to be all smug in this post and write about how vegans can make their own milk from a packet of soy beans while non-vegans have to find a cow to milk. Unfortunately my first attempt at making soy milk created a watery and slightly gritty mess. I tipped it down the sink. I milked a cow once and it was easier. I’ll go back to buying soy milk from the supermarket.

Elizabeth told me recently that Pepper Pig is to blame for her cavities. A few years ago the dentist found three cavities in Elizabeth’s mouth. This was a shock to all the rest of us who have near perfect teeth. She now has three stainless steel caps on her back baby teeth – they’ll fall out when she’s about 10. Since that episode both children floss their teeth everyday. What has this got to do with Pepper Pig? Apparently when Pepper Pig brushes her teeth she just goes back and forth across the front and doesn’t clean the back teeth and Elizabeth says she was copying Pepper Pig and not cleaning the back teeth. I was all prepared to take the blame myself but if Pepper Pig is a willing scapegoat I’m not going to stand in her way.

I went to the allotment last Saturday after a two-week hiatus and I was expecting to see it completely overgrown with weeds. Much to my delight and gratitude a whole section was freshly dug and ready for me to plant some seedlings. There are volunteers who work at the allotments doing things like digging, painting, and various other jobs and someone had cleared a patch of weeds in our plot. Isn’t that amazing! I think some of the volunteers might be on a waiting list for their own plot while others like the work but don’t want the responsibility and maybe some are looking for a place to bury a body. Whatever the reason I feel very fortunate to be a part of this community. Every country should have allotments for its citizens. Imagine if impoverished countries had something like this? It could go a long way to solving the problems of hunger and malnutrition. I have a three solutions for most of the world’s problems: cycling, veganism, and allotments.

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The future of food

The future of food

Aberdeen had its first ever vegan festival today and we went to check it out. Despite being vegan for more than a decade, this was the first vegan festival I’ve ever been to. I’ve never lived anywhere that had such a thing. It seems ironic that my first vegan festival should be in the home of haggis.

It was held at the most unusual place: the Aberdeen football club’s home, Pittodrie stadium. Perhaps this is not so unusual these days. After all, there is a vegan football team in England and the US has a vegan strip club. When I think of a vegan festival I think of plants and nothing remotely like Pittodrie stadium, which suffers from a dearth of plants and too-much-brick-and-concrete. It’s a very ugly and uninspiring building.

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We got there early and, as you can see, there was a long queue out front. How can that be? I thought I was the only vegan in Aberdeen. Daniel was equally perplexed and asked me why there were so many people in a “Why would anyone go to a vegan festival?” tone of voice. It turns out hundreds of people would go. The festival was absolutely packed.

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There were lots of stalls selling food but only two lunch-type places and the queues at both were longer than an average vegan’s life expectancy. Then one of them ran out of food and so I think it was much busier than anyone expected, which is terrific, although a bit disappointing for me as I was hungry.

Glasgow-based French chef Laurianne was there with her delicious raw cakes. You will not taste a better cake anywhere else on Earth.

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The queue for these delicious-looking pastries was also ridiculously long and so we didn’t try any, unfortunately.

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Vegan food products are experiencing enormous sales growth right now and with people like Bill Gates promoting and investing in plant-based foods, it’s only going to become more and more popular. I just want to say I was vegan before all the cool kids were doing it. The following video is from Bill Gates’s site: it explains the science of plant-based proteins and why they’re more sustainable.

Who should I vote for?

Since we moved to the UK in 2014 I have voted in four elections: a general election, a Brexit referendum, a council election, a Scottish parliamentary election, and another general election next month will make five. We also narrowly missed out on voting in the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 by just two weeks. I’m starting to suffer from election fatigue and am still undecided about who to vote for in the general election next month. The only certainty is that I will absolutely not be voting for Theresa May whose election promises so far are to unban fox hunting, further endanger elephants by removing the ban on ivory trading, and to introduce a dementia tax (I think she may have since scrapped this last one).

There’s a site where you can enter your postcode to find out who to vote for if your main priority is to keep the Conservatives out of power. It’s called Tactical2017 and it tells me I’m in a safe SNP seat so I should vote SNP but theoretically I can vote for anyone. The isidewith site tells me my views align most closely with policies from the Liberal Democrats followed by Labour and then SNP in third. I have been thinking of voting Labour but then my local Labour candidate put a letterbox leaflet through our letterbox on Thursday in which his top pledge is to “Invest in the oil and gas industry’s future”. If you are someone who wants evidence-based policy-making as I do then oil and gas has no future. I have asked him for more information but haven’t heard back yet.

It seems to me that if we want to protect elephants and keep the Conservatives out of power the only option is to vote Labour. A vote for any other party will only dilute the vote against the conservatives. What do other people think? Who should I vote for?

The Trojan Slug

It’s frustrating to watch seeds germinate and then grow only to see them eaten by slugs a week later. In an attempt to outwit the slugs, yesterday I moved two trays of seedlings inside overnight and put them on our dining table. When I woke up this morning I saw telltale signs of slug dining: there were more leaves missing and a silvery trail on the dirt.

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I lifted up one of the trays and this is what I saw:

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I’m such a moron. I brought the slug inside with the seedlings and he spent the night munching away on our dining table! I’ve been outwitted by an invertebrate.

International Festival

International Festival

I have spent most of this weekend hard at work in the kitchen. The school had an international festival today and the mum organising it asked me whether I’d like to bring some vegan food. I was delighted to be asked and felt I had to put on a good spread as a representative of plant-based diets. The idea behind the festival is that each person bring some food relevant to their cultural heritage so it’s somewhat ironic that I should bring vegan food since Australians eat more meat per capita than any other country in the OECD.

Cooking is not my forté. I prefer gardening and crochet so I felt a tiny bit nervous in the weeks leading up to this event and did several practice runs, most of which failed miserably. Thankfully everything came together this weekend and the food I made was very palatable.

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I made curry puffs, cinnamon scrolls, chocolate muffins, and orange shortbread. There’s nothing left now except for a couple of shortbread biscuits.

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Aberdeen is a very multicultural city. There was food from France, Holland, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Indonesia, China, Russia, India, Poland, and Scotland. It’s nice for the children to grow up with such diversity and I really appreciate this aspect to Aberdeen. My own school when I was a child was similarly diverse and we also had international food festivals like this. I have fond memories of them.

Daniel and Elizabeth have been learning Highland Dancing at school and the class put on a performance. It was terrific.

I love being vegan.

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Inside my greenhouse

Inside my greenhouse

It’s a lovely drizzly day today. I cycled to Newton Dee thinking I’d have the bike path all to myself but there were lots of people there – dog walkers, cyclists, and joggers. I love it when it’s overcast and I don’t have to squint. Squinting is annoying because it gives me wrinkles and somehow squinting and frowning affects my mood. Try relaxing the muscles in your face except for those that make you smile for about 30 seconds and see how you feel. Now frown and squint for 30 seconds and see how you feel. It’s much more pleasant to smile and not frown, don’t you think?

I took a photo of Busby, my trusty steed, outside Newton Dee.

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I’ve got seedlings growing in abundance in my glasshouse right now. All the plants in this next photo were grown from seed.

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My tomatoes were also grown from seed and one of them is beginning to flower.

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These are carrots in this next photo and also grown from seed. I’ve never grown carrots before so not sure how they’ll turn out.

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Do animal rights activists care more for animals than humans?

Some people think that those who advocate for animal rights care more about non-human animals than human animals. That’s not true at all. The ethicist, Peter Singer, who wrote Animal Liberation back in 1975 thinks we rich people ought to donate 10% of our salary to the world’s poor. He gives around a quarter of his own income to charity. He says it’s our duty to give.

…the failure of people in the rich nations to make any significant sacrifices in order to assist people who are dying from poverty-related causes is ethically indefensible.

I do not believe in a supernatural god but I believe there was a man called Jesus who once walked on the earth and who said similar things about helping the poor. It pains me to see Christians and other religious groups hounding homosexuals and women who choose to terminate a pregnancy rather than focussing on some of the extreme suffering in the poorest regions of the world.

We donate regularly to a charity called the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI) which is run by Imperial College London. For about 30p we can treat one person for this debilitating disease. When children are healthy they can attend school. Healthy parents are better able to support their families. You can’t lift people out of poverty when they’re ill and dying. SCI is one of the most cost-effective charities in the world.

Advocating for animals does not mean we care less about humans. It simply means we do not draw the boundary of moral consideration at species membership. Instead we expand the bounds of compassion to all sentient beings. As Jeremy Bentham once said, the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?

 

Cultural blindness

The following excerpt is from an article in The Times this week, Richard Dawkins: ‘When I see cattle lorries, I think of the railway wagons to Auschwitz‘.

Is this what it was like, Richard Dawkins wonders, for ordinary people in Nazi Germany? “There’s a kind of laziness if you live in a society where things are just accepted. People might have been vaguely uneasy about what was going on in Germany but also thought, ‘Oh well, everyone else is doing it’.”

What crime is it that he thinks that we, like Germans in the 1930s, are blind to? It is, perhaps, a surprising one from him: the crime of eating meat. Dawkins, 76, is not known for being a woolly, liberal, tofu-eater. He is better known for his espousal of red-in-tooth-and-claw evolutionary logic and, even more so, for his three million-selling atheist book The God Delusion. Speaking from his Victorian Gothic house in Oxford, he says that just because you don’t fear the judgment of God, doesn’t mean you don’t fear judgment.

The judgment that Dawkins fears, as he recovers from a minor stroke, is that of history. Will the 21st century’s “speciesism” one day be viewed in the same way we view the 20th century’s racism? The world’s most famous evolutionary biologist thinks so.

“We put humanity on a pedestal miles higher than the surrounding territory. A human foetus that has approximately the anatomy and brainpower of a worm is accorded more status than an adult chimpanzee,” he said. And chimpanzees have more rights than, say, cows. “When I pass one of those lorries with little slats and see fearful eyes peering out, I think of the railway wagons to Auschwitz.”

To see Richard Dawkins promoting plant-based diets in a mainstream newspaper is amazing. Veganism is no longer a fringe movement for hippies and crackpots. We now have lots heavy-weight intellectuals arguing for a meat-free diet which gives me hope for our planet.

 

Why does the Aberdeen city council think it’s acceptable for children to cycle in the bus lane?

This is the expectation on Union St because there is no cycle path. Children are wobbly on bicycles and do not always cycle in a straight line. Buses are huge compared to bicycles, especially children’s bicycles. Visibility is also poor for bus drivers. Children are slow cyclists and cannot keep up with traffic. Children on bicycles in the bus lane are a nuisance to bus drivers and are putting their own lives at risk.

We want to encourage children to ride their bicycles to address the obesity crisis, traffic congestion, pollution, and climate change, but the city council needs to give them road space away from cars, trucks, and buses.

Cycling infrastructure returns more to the community than it costs to build. A study commissioned by the City of Sydney found for each $1 that was spent on cycling infrastructure, $3.88 was returned to the community through improvements to health, pollution, and congestion –
https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-13-963

A University of Auckland study found the benefits of spending on cycling infrastructure were 10-25 times greater than the costs. – http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1307250/

A recent Finnish study also found benefits outweighed costs even in the worst case scenario:
http://www.flanderstoday.eu/innovation/cycle-highways-pay-themselves-say-researchers

Compare this to building roads for cars and in all cases the costs outweigh the benefits.

For why building new roads is not cost effective see the theory of induced demand:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Induced_demand

For something more academic try:
http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.447.73&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Sometimes adding additional roads to a network can impede the flow of traffic. See Braess’ paradox for more:
https://rachel.blog/2014/03/31/roads-traffic-and-braesss-paradox/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Braess%27_paradox

If you live in Aberdeen please write to the city council and ask them to provide space away from traffic for children to ride their bikes.

Single-function devices and other things

You know those times when you have a brilliant idea that you’re convinced everyone will love? But when you pitch it no-one else is remotely interested? Or those times you learn something new and it feels like you’ve always known it and that everyone else should also know it but you forget that most other people don’t? Or before you learn a new skill it seems really hard but once you’ve mastered it it seems easy? How can the same thing be hard and easy at the same time? How come I assume everyone else knows what I know? But most concerning: why doesn’t everyone love my ideas?

Today I bought myself a single-function device: a wristwatch. I haven’t had a wristwatch for many years – not since I started using a smart phone. Lately I’ve found myself longing for a good, old-fashioned watch that does one thing well and doesn’t require charging. To satisfy this longing I bought myself a Q&Q Smile by Citizen. It wasn’t very expensive, it’s waterproof, and it looks cool.

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I have a Fitbit which I’ve been using on and off for the past year or so but it keeps going flat and requires regular charging. I’m tired of devices that need constant charging. The Fitbit is also not great for cyclists. I cycle up a hill with a 150kg load and it says I’ve done zero steps and burnt zero calories. I can see how they are motivating for someone who needs to make an effort to include exercise in their day but when exercise is your mode of transport, as it is for me, this is not necessary.  I don’t have to make time for exercise because it just happens when I cycle to the places I want to go. That’s the beauty of active travel.

Other things that don’t require fuel/charging that I like: our push mower. We never have to buy any fuel for it or plug it in. We just push it and it cuts the grass. I love it. Don’t get me wrong: I can see the benefits of a ride-on petrol mower for people who live on a golf course, but we just have a small patch of grass and a push mower is more than adequate.

Our kids are big fans of Horrible Histories, a BBC program which explains history in a very funny and engaging way. I recommend it for anyone with kids. It’s entertaining for adults too.

The inconsistency of eating meat while objecting to abortion

For any woman having an abortion is a serious decision that she will only do if she has something quite important at stake. Whereas people who are prepared to go into the supermarket and buy some ham don’t need to do that at all. They could easily eat something else. They are supporting the pain that is inflicted on those animals during their factory-farmed lives in the process of slaughter for a very trivial reason. So they certainly shouldn’t be looking askance at women who have terminated their pregnancy for much more serious reasons. At least not on the grounds of pain that might be inflicted on the foetus.

This quote is from Peter Singer in a conversation with Richard Dawkins:

Hodmedod’s

Hodmedod’s

Recently I discovered lentils and soya beans are grown in the UK and in the process I stumbled upon Hodmedod’s, an online store selling British grown beans and other products. I decided to give it a try and bought the big vegan box:

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Apparently carlin peas make a good replacement for chickpeas. I will whip up a curry with my newly purchased Hodmedod peas over the weekend to test this theory. One 500g pack of British-grown carlin peas costs just £1.99. This is enough to feed 8 people or a family of four for two nights, at least, and this is a conservative estimate. It would likely go further because whenever I make a chickpea curry there’s always enough for leftovers the next day. Compare this to four steaks which cost £4 and only last one night.

Peas and beans are a terrific source of protein, cheap, much better for the environment than animal protein, and they taste good. It’s more efficient for humans to eat protein directly from plants than to pass it through an animal first. Livestock farming accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transport sector; that’s all the cars, trains, trucks, buses, and planes on the planet. I know I have said that several times before but I will continue to say it over and over again because I keep meeting people who don’t realise this. Livestock farming also uses 30% of the earth’s land surface, causes unnecessary suffering to animals, and contributes to antibiotic resistance (80% of all antibiotics are used by the livestock industry) – all this for no reason other than to satisfy our palates.

Tonight we will be trying Peter’s quinoa. Thank you, Peter!

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Stick insect abortions

I’m a murderer. I killed dozens of our pet stick insects yesterday with my bare hands, squishing them into green slime. I felt pretty awful about this and had nightmares last night about mistreating pets. I realise this self-imposed guilt is irrational because I frequently squish insects in my greenhouse. Why do I feel guilty about the stick insects and not aphids?

You might be asking how a vegan can kill insects but I’m not a Jain Buddhist. I simply reject speciesism; it’s wrong to apply the principle of equality to members of our species only. The principle of equality says we do not give preference to others based on characteristics such as sex or race and for the same reasons, species. However that doesn’t mean I don’t draw the line somewhere; after all, there are parasites that infect the human eye and I have very little sympathy for them. But difficulty knowing where to draw the line is not an excuse to avoid trying to do so. Species membership is not morally relevant. What is morally relevant are things like the capacity for pain and suffering, self-consciousness, self-awareness, and the ability to see oneself as having a past and future. Insects are a long way down on this spectrum.

So why do I feel bad? Because they were our pets. It was my duty to take care of them and I have betrayed them. Is this how meat-eaters justify petting their dog while sticking a fork into a pig? A dog is in their care whereas the pig is not. Emotionally it makes sense but it’s still irrational.

My plan for the stick insects from now on is to try to find the eggs before they hatch and squash them. Think of it as stick insect abortion.

Vegan menus, radio programs, and strip clubs

Vegan menus, radio programs, and strip clubs

Last night we went out for a pub meal at The Justice Mill on Union St in Aberdeen. It’s part of a pub chain in the UK called Wetherspoon; I like it because there are several options for me to eat and it’s cheap. They even have a menu especially for vegans and vegetarians – eat your heart out Spain.
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I usually get the sweet potato and chick pea curry which is delicious.

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Last week on BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today programme were several episodes (here and here) about veganism. Some people think the rise of veganism is a threat to British farming but vegans still have to eat and unfortunately many of the staples we rely on like soya beans, lentils, and chickpeas, are grown elsewhere and imported. The BBC program was about how this represents a business opportunity for British farmers and indeed some are starting to recognise it and experiment with new crops. Soya beans are now grown in the UK, although only in small amounts and most are fed to livestock. They also mentioned lentils and I found this article about lentils growing in Suffolk. I’m very excited to hear about this and since vegans also tend to be concerned about the environment, I imagine the market for home-grown produce will be lucrative.

Some funny news: apparently a vegan strip club and a steak house are engaged in an altercation. They’re right next to each other in Portland, Oregon and the steak house is not happy about the vegans next door.

 

 

A wood-fired hot tub

A wood-fired hot tub

The wood-fired hot tub at the glamping bus is an absolute treasure. It’s made entirely of wood and looks a little bit like a giant whisky barrel. On one side is a log burner immersed in water. It takes several hours to heat up the tub but once hot it retains the heat for a long time. It can also get very hot. Last night we heated it up too much and had to add some cold water. In the end it was a perfect 39C.

In this next photo you can see the log burner and flue. The fire is started in the log burner and wood added as needed. The log burner is just a long, metal container which is fed from the top. Also in the photo is the giant paddle we use for stirring the tub of water because a layer of hotter water forms on the top.

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Elizabeth has lost three teeth in the past few weeks which has given her this cute, gummy smile.

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There’s something comforting about all the surrounding farmland. In the foreground of this next photo is wheat – one of my favourite foods. The owners tell us they’re longing for rain right now but it all still looks very green to me. There’s no sign of any irrigation but the dirt does look dry. Apparently they haven’t had any decent rain in 5 weeks.

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Sitting in a hot tub in the middle of nowhere without a soul in sight is a wonderful way to spend a holiday weekend. It’s also way better when it’s cold. A 39C hot tub in a hot climate would be unpleasant but when it’s cold outside and you can feel the cold air on your face a hot tub of water is far more enjoyable. It must be especially  nice when there’s snow on the ground.

We had a BBQ last night (vegetarian, of course) while the fire was heating our tub.

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I realise this is so far removed from camping and you might be wondering how it could even be considered glamping since we’re not exactly roughing it, but there’s no dishwasher, so there.

Here I am declaiming: praise the hot tub; praise having no dishwasher; praise the wheat fields; praise the no-sulphur wine; praise the happy hens with their bus house.

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Glamping in a bus

Glamping in a bus

I’ve got lots of bus photos to share today. First, the chicken bus again because I think it’s ingenious. Just inside the front door is a gate to stop the chickens from escaping. Also up front and where the driver sat is a good storage area for food and straw which provides handy access and protection from the elements.

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Inside the bus at the back is a little doorway for the chooks to get in and out. The seats have also been removed and the seat frames now provide a nice perch.

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Here are some photos from inside our bus. The bedroom is at the very back and has a sky light for star gazing.

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The kitchen/lounge area (the kids are cracking eggs for their breakfast):

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The log burner:

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The toilet is where the bus driver used to sit:

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The shower:

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There are two bunk beds for the kids. Here’s a pic inside Elizabeth’s:

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Breakfast this morning:

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There’s an honesty shop on the site where you can take what you want and pay at the end. This is particularly useful because there’s always something you forget to bring with you and it has essential items like tea, coffee, and chocolate.

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In the bus is a book with photos of the transformation from public transport to accommodation. I took some photos of pages in the book of how the bus used to look:

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This is our first time glamping and we’re having a terrific time. The bus has everything we need – kettle, microwave, toaster, stove, fridge/freezer, electric power points, wifi, bathroom, log burner, wood-fired hot tub, bbq, and fresh eggs from the nearby chicken bus. The beds are comfortable and warm and all the linen is provided. There are lovely views from all windows and it’s peaceful, quiet, and private. It’s about 30mins drive from Edinburgh in East Lothian. If you want to find out more they have a web site at http://thebusstop.scot.

Today we walked to the village of Gifford which is 2.7 miles away and was a lovely ramble through wheat fields, forests, and burns (streams). In Scotland they have a freedom to roam rule where the general public has the right to access private property. This meant we were able to walk across private farmland rather than walking alongside a road. It was a beautiful walk. IMG_1780.JPG

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We had lunch in Gifford at a pub called Goblin Ha where I had one of the most delicious vegetarian meals I’ve ever had. There was a lot of choice on the menu for me. It’s so easy to eat a plant-based diet in the UK.

Peeing in the driver’s seat

Peeing in the driver’s seat

We are glamping in a bus and it’s heaven. We have our own wood-fired hot tub in a peaceful rural setting of wheat fields and rolling hills. It doesn’t get much better than this. Teetotal me even enjoyed a South African organic red with no added sulphur. This is my kind of camping.

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Here’s our bus:

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There’s a toilet and shower in what was once the driver’s seat, hence my title, peeing in the driver’s seat. There are also chickens and we can help ourselves to eggs. The chickens have their own bus to sleep in.

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Daniel driving the chicken’s bus:

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Inside the chicken’s bus:

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There are also alpacas but they don’t have a bus because they prefer to sleep outside:IMG_1648.JPG

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It’s the time of year with fields of gold everywhere and they’re beautiful. It’s rapeseed and they match my coat … kind of.

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The wifi is ace too.

La Dispute from Amélie

When I was in Madrid I stayed in an apartment with a Yamaha grand piano – what a luxury! I played it several times and when I returned home I found my own piano, which was previously a luxury for me, somewhat lacking. Everything is relative, I guess.

Here’s my rendition of Yann Tiersen’s La Dispute from Amélie. I have a whole book of his piano sheet music and it’s all wonderful. This song is probably the most famous.