Carnage: a mockumentary

I just watched Carnage, a comedic documentary set in the year 2067 when the whole world is vegan and reflecting back on their horrific, meat-eating past. There’s something in this for all diets because I really enjoyed it as did my meat-eating family. I didn’t specifically intend for the kids to watch it but Daniel was very interested and laughed out loud several times. There’s one bit where the meat industry creates a TV show called “Mike’s meat house” – a fun house for kids – to try to rekindle their failing industry. Kids have to beat up the vegan which involves battering a poster of an attractive, young, blonde woman. I’m making this sound pretty dreadful (this is why I’m not a writer by trade) but it was funny.

Throughout the film is an alcoholics anonymous group but for former meat-eaters instead of alcoholics. They reflect on their meat-eating lives as they try to accept their past. The film gives a chronological account of the growth of veganism and how prior to 2020, vegans were mostly embarrassing, self-righteous, and slightly annoying people which is probably true – for all other vegans except for me 😉

Is there any truth to the film? Yes and no. I don’t think the world will be vegan in 2067 or ever for that matter. However I do think there will come a time when we reflect with horror and shame on how we treat animals today, in much the same way as we view slavery now. There’s a never-ending list of reasons to stop eating animals ranging from health, to environmental, to animal welfare and yet for most people something as trivial as taste trumps all these other serious concerns. Even if you’re not interested in any of these issues, the movie also has some gratuitous nudity in the form of penises, and it’s worth watching just for that.

Here’s the trailer:

 

You can watch it on iPlayer:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p04sh6zg/simon-amstell-carnage

 

Inside my greenhouse

Inside my greenhouse

I’m so excited by all the things growing in my greenhouse. I’ve never had a greenhouse before but I can see what useful things they are. It’s much easier to grow from seed because the greenhouse offers some protection from birds and pests. You can also control the amount of water they get. I planted a couple of young seedlings outside and the ones in the greenhouse are much larger and healthier. It’s also so warm in the greenhouse that I sometimes go and sit and relax in there. There’s even a bicycle plant growing up from the floor.

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Haddo House and Country Park

Haddo House and Country Park

Things didn’t go quite according to plan today. We booked the nearest car-club car this morning but it had a flat battery. We’ve been members of the car club for two years now and this is only the second time this has happened. Fortunately there was another car-club car nearby and so they switched our booking for us and we took that one instead. This is one the best things about the car club – all the maintenance and the inevitable mechanical issues that crop up are not our problem to sort out. We book a car on average about twice per month and it has been terrific. Very rarely is the car I want not available and even then there’s usually another one I can book instead.

We planned to have a picnic lunch at Pitmeddon Gardens which is about 18 miles north-west of Aberdeen. However when we got there we discovered it too had a flat battery (= closed) but fortunately there was another castle/stately home/garden just down the road: Haddo House. So we went there instead. It’s handy living in the most densely castled corner of the UK. I’m not sure why this is. Perhaps the Scots used to fight a lot?

I am an active travel person. I walk and cycle pretty much everywhere I want to go in Aberdeen and I do it by choice. Giving up the car was very liberating and I never want to own another, not unless it has pedals. When I get in a car-club car now I find it a bit confining. How can people sit there and not move their bodies for such long periods of time? I want pedals or something to keep myself physically active. It’s just not right to sit on our bums doing nothing. You might wonder how I survive with an IT job but I have a standing desk and I am permanently standing at it. I never sit down, not even at 6:30 in the morning when I start work. It makes no sense to me why people want to sit in cars in traffic when they could walk or cycle instead. Cars needs pedals to allow the occupants to get some exercise while they’re inside them. Who’s with me on this? I Tweeted my request to Elon Musk.

Anyway, I digress. Three paragraphs and still no photos of Haddo House and park. Here they are.

Picnic.

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Lots of daffodils.

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There’s a squirrel hide but we’ve never seen any red squirrels there.

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We did see a bear though.

 

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Elizabeth is like me and doesn’t like the heat. It got up to 17C today and she complained endlessly about being hot.

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When painkillers cause pain

I’ve had this awful headache since last Thursday. It’s not uncommon for me to get a headache which lasts several days but this one has gone on for longer than usual and I’ve just felt rotten. When I woke up at 5am this morning with a thumping head I suddenly figured it out.

Last Wednesday I read the news about a new study which found a link between heart disease and ibuprofen. Ibuprofen has always been my painkiller of choice and after reading about the study I decided to get some paracetamol instead. On Thursday I swallowed a couple of pills and they had no effect whatsoever and I even felt a bit worse. I had more on Saturday and then again yesterday. At 5am this morning I suddenly remembered why I have always opted for Ibuprofen. It’s because paracetamol contains preservatives. They put E223 in it which is bad for people who are sensitive to sulphites. Sulphites give me terrible headaches which is why I don’t drink wine. I’ve effectively been giving myself a headache since last Thursday. I caved and took some Ibuprofen this morning.

How to argue with a vegan

I thought I’d do a part two of my “making fun of vegans” post from the other week. I like having my views challenged and engaging in difficult discussions about ethical issues. What I don’t like are the inane and often offensive statements people make. I’m referring to people who lick their lips and claim to love the taste of animals or even pretend to take a bite out of a cow. They are making a pretty distasteful argument to someone who respects the principle of equality and views these creatures as sentient beings with interests of their own. Imagine if a rapist used as his argument,“But rape is so enjoyable! I just love it so I’m going to rape as many women as I can”. I think most people would agree that this is a pretty distasteful thing to say and not a very convincing argument either.

When I argue in favour of abortion I use what are, to my mind, reasonable and logical arguments. I don’t make fun of people who object to abortion and I understand that they come from a place of compassion, even though I disagree with their conclusion. Next time you want to tell a vegetarian how yummy cows are think twice about it. What you can do instead is make an argument based on logic and reason for why the lives of these animals don’t matter and why you think the principle of equality should apply only to humans.

I don’t like what you wear but I defend your right to wear it.

The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled this week that private companies can legally ban employees from wearing religious, political, or philosophical signs. I feel a bit uncomfortable about this ruling and here’s why. But first, let me say that I am atheist. I can’t think of anything I could wear that would fall into any of those categories so it doesn’t affect me in any way. I also view religions as somewhat ridiculous. Imagine someone tells you we ought to wear crocheted Marge Simpson hats in public because aliens say we must and it would be wrong to disobey them. We would, I hope, ask for proof that these aliens exist. Suppose this is their response. I’m going to copy and paste from my favourite philosopher again here, Peter Singer,

‘I have encountered these aliens in moments of deep despair, and they have entered into my head and my heart, and I love them and know I can trust them. Open your hearts to them, and you too will come to love them and see that they are right.’

The President of Good and Evil (pg 124)

The main determinant of what religion we are is what religion our parents are. Not many children brought up in Christian families become Islamic and not many children brought up in Islamic families become Christian. Despite my view of religion I still respect a person’s right to religious freedom. It’s possible to reject one or all religions *and* allow others to express religious freedom. That’s what being in a diverse society is all about: tolerance and acceptance.

We should not ban people from wearing head scarves or crosses or any other religious symbol if that’s what they want to do. A ban will ostracise those people further. People can also be quite contrary if you try to tell them what to do and how to behave. It’s far better to encourage reflection and critical thinking and then allow people to make their own decisions.

Another reason, and probably the most significant for me, is that a woman wearing a hijab or a Christian cross is not harming anyone by doing so. There’s no valid reason to ban something when it is completely harmless. We could even argue that it may be harmful to them by limiting job opportunities and the chance to engage fully with society.

There are also likely to be cultural aspects we don’t understand. Imagine you suddenly find yourself in a different country where it is considered normal for women to walk around topless. It feels strange and embarrassing for you to do that and so you continue to dress in the cultural norms you are used to. But local people tease and bully you; it’s hard to find employment and make friends but when you have been taught all your life not to bare your breasts in public it’s very difficult to change overnight.

Can we just be a bit more tolerant, please?

Not a true Australian

Not a true Australian

Recently one of the dads at school was telling me how he’d played professional rugby as a teenager. He said he got to play against some really great players and then listed off a few names. I could tell by his tone that I was supposed to be impressed by this and that these were people I should have heard of and so I pretended to be wowed but I had no idea who he was talking about. Later I relayed the conversation to Ben and because I couldn’t quite remember the names I said the closest names I could remember: something like Lumos and Kamekaze. Ben roared with laughter. Apparently I should know who Jonah Lomu and David Campese are. Obviously, I’m not a true Australian.

The wool “slug gone” pellets I tried are useless. This week I started to notice holes in my pak choi.

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Then I saw the tell-tale sign of slime right on top of the wool pellets.

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The cheeky bugger crawled right across the top of them! The other night I decided to wait until dark and then go and investigate with a torch. It was very timely because just as I went into the greenhouse I saw the antenna of a giant blank slug just about to crawl over the side of the raised garden bed. That’s the end of midnight feasting in my greenhouse for that slug. Now I just need someone to stand guard all night long in the greenhouse.

The wrongness of killing and abortion

I cried when I watched this clip this morning. The baby’s mother has just died in a car accident and the infant is visibly distressed and mourning for her mother.

Story in The Independent.

We’re not the only animals to mourn the loss of loved ones. We’re not the only animals who love and care for our infants. We’re not the only animals with infants who need others to care for and love them. There’s something particularly “human” about monkeys. They closely resemble us in appearance and I don’t doubt that they experience pain and suffering in the same way we do.

When you cease to view the world as divided into two groups – humans and non-humans – boundaries become blurred and more clear at the same time. What is morally relevant is not what species an organism belongs to but whether they are are self-conscious, capable of pain and suffering, can see themselves over time, and have desires for the future. It’s for this reason that I’m in favour of abortion and stem cell research. A human embryo is not a self-conscious being and cannot experience pain and suffering. It is far more morally objectionable to perform experiments on an adult monkey than a human embryo. In the case of abortion the developing fetus likely doesn’t feel pain until 20 weeks and even then it is not regarded as a person where a person is a rational, self-conscious being. A fetus is not rational or self-conscious.

From Practical Ethics, by Peter Singer (page 150)

The point should now be familiar: whether a being is or is not a member of our species is, in itself no more relevant to the wrongness of killing it than whether it is or is not a member of our race. The belief that mere membership of our species, irrespective of other characteristics, makes a great difference to the wrongness of killing a being is a legacy of religious doctrines that even those opposed to abortion hesitate to bring into the debate.

Recognising this simple point transforms the abortion issue. We can now look at the fetus for what it is – the actual characteristics is possesses – and can value its life on the same scale as the lives of beings with similar characteristics who are not members of our species. It now becomes apparent that the “Pro Life” or “Right to Life” movement is misnamed. Far from having concern for all life or a scale of concern impartially based on the nature of the life in question, those who protest against abortion but dine regularly on the bodies of chickens, pigs, and calves, show only a biased concern for the lives of members of our own species. For on any fair comparison of morally relevant characteristics, like rationality, self-consciousness, awareness, autonomy, pleasure and pain, and so on, the calf, the pig and the much derided chicken will come out well ahead of the fetus at any stage of pregnancy – while if we make the comparison with a fetus of less than three months, a fish would show more signs of consciousness.

Remote work and children

Working from home means sometimes I’m working when the kids are around. This is the case after school on weekdays, on the weekend, and on school holidays. Mostly it’s not a problem at all. However I frequently have video conference calls and sometimes my kids will interrupt or there’ll be loud kid sounds in the background coming from another room. One time one of them poked the head of a puppet into the background view so that only the puppet could be seen by everyone on the call.

Another time I was chatting with my mentee and we were discussing how to find a good work/life balance when you’re a parent of young children. It happened to be school holidays and my kids were at home that day. It was about 1:30pm and Daniel came in and said, “Mum, you still haven’t given me lunch  yet”. It was a not a good look.

One of my coworkers shared this live BBC interview with me. It makes me thankful that none of my calls are broadcast live to the masses. Poor guy.

What is Twitter good for?

Lots of things! I found one particularly good use for it recently. Yesterday I published a fact sheet which I copied directly from George Monbiot’s blog about the harm traffic pollution does to children. I thought I’d better double-check with him that this would be ok and so I sent him a Tweet. He replied almost instantly.

Isn’t that great?

On other matters we’ve exhausted our Doctor Who collection. We’ve watched all the new series from 2005 onwards and a number of the old 1970s and 1980s episodes and this week we decided it was time for a change, at least until the new season comes out next month. I decided to introduce the kids to Fawlty Towers on Tuesday night and it was a huge hit. They absolutely loved it! We watched the Basil the Rat episode which is probably one of the best.

 

Animals eat each other, so why shouldn’t we eat them?

People criticise and mock vegetarians quite a lot. I’m always happy to be laughed at and I’ve taught my kids that this is a good thing because it means you are making someone else happy and there’s nothing bad about that. However I get annoyed when people say silly things or incorrect things. Maybe I just like to be laughed at on my own terms or I’m not as good at being laughed at as I would like. Sometimes I feel like the person in this cartoon.

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There are a lot of myths that vegetarians hear and after a while they get a bit tiresome. They are things like “but lions eat animals” and “but you won’t get sufficient protein” and “but if we didn’t eat animals they’d all go extinct” and “lettuces have feelings too” and “vegetarians are hippy types who don’t vaccinate their kids”. No-one has actually said that last one to me but I’ve had people ask me in a tone that is expecting my reply to be against vaccination simply because I’m vegan. I’m always happy to see their disappointment when I say I’m pro-vaccination and to shatter the stereotype. I’m 100% pro-science and pro-vaccination. I’m also pro-nuclear and pro-GM foods.

I thought I’d address the “but lions eat animals” argument because it seems to be quite common. Some people justify eating non-human animals because some of those non-human animals eat other animals. It’s true that there are animals who eat each other but it seems a strange thing to look to lions and other carnivores with answers to moral questions. Some animals eat their babies. Is that justification for eating babies?

Peter Singer addresses this argument much more eloquently than me in his book, Practical Ethics, which I think should be compulsory reading in high school. It is used as the text book in some introductory ethics courses and I’d love to see ethics taught in schools. Here’s an excerpt from it:

For a start, most animals who kill for food would not be able to survive if they did not, whereas we have no need to eat animal flesh. Next, it is odd that humans, who normally think of the behaviour of animals as ‘beastly’ should, when it suits them, use an argument that implies that we ought to look to animals for moral guidance. The most decisive point, however, is that nonhuman animals are not capable of considering the alternatives open to them or of reflecting on the ethics of their diet. Hence it is impossible to hold the animals responsible for what they do, or to judge that because of their killing they ‘deserve’ to be treated in a similar way. Those who read these lines, on the other hand, must consider the justifiability of their dietary habits. You cannot evade responsibility by imitating beings who are incapable of making this choice.

He also goes on to address the argument that we’ve evolved to eat meat and it’s “natural”. There’s nothing evolved or natural about industrial factory farming. Women have also evolved to give birth every couple of years from puberty to menopause but most of us do not and most of us would agree that not doing so is an improvement over what is “natural”.

What Traffic Fumes Do to Our Children

I copied the following factsheet from George Monbiot’s blog, Car Sick. He is encouraging people to share it:

I shared it with our local primary school on Twitter in the hope they might share it with parents. They did not. I also shared it on the school Facebook page but only one person liked it. Sometimes I feel like no-one cares. Here’s the factsheet in full taken from Car Sick. Please share it.

Car Sick

Every year, we discover more about the harm being done to our children by the fumes that cars and other vehicles produce.

The more we learn, the worse it looks. In polluted places, the damage to their health can be very serious.

Here is what we now know about the harm that traffic pollution can do to children:

It can damage the growth of their lungs. This means that the lungs of children who have been affected don’t work so well. The damage can last for the rest of their lives.

It raises the risk of asthma and allergies. For children who already have asthma, pollution can make it worse.

It can damage the development of their brains. Air pollution can reduce children’s intelligence, making it harder for them to learn.

It can change their behaviour and reduce their happiness. Air pollution has been linked to anxiety, depression and Attention Deficit Disorder.

It raises the risk of heart disease later in their lives.

It can cause cancer, both in children and when they become adults.

Unborn children can also be affected by the pollution their mothers breathe. Air pollution is linked to babies being born prematurely and small.

Pollution inside your car can be much worse than pollution outside, because the fumes are concentrated in the small space.

By driving them to school and by sitting in our cars with the engines idling, we are helping to poison our own children.

We don’t mean to do this to our children. But once we know how much we are hurting them, we can stop it, by changing the way we travel. Walking and cycling are ideal.

Groups like Living Streets can help schools to turn this around. Together we can protect our children from harm.

The information sources for this factsheet can be found at https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/wp-content/uploads/advpub/2016/6/EHP299.acco.pdf, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26825441, http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1001792, https://www.rcplo ndon.ac.uk/projects/outputs/every-breath-we-take-lifelong-impact-air-pollution, https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1306770/, http://www.lung.org/our-initiatives/healthy-air/outdoor/air-pollution/children-and-air-pollution.html and https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/feb/05/the-truth-about-londons-air-pollution

 

When is a reasonable time to eat dinner?

I’ve got a work trip to Spain coming up and I’ve been looking for places to book for dinner since we’ll be a large group. However many of the restaurants don’t open until 9pm which is ridiculous. I’m usually in bed by that time. One place said they’d open early especially for us but even then it’ll only be 8pm which is still ridiculous. I can’t accept that this is a cultural thing because what did they do before electricity was invented? I do not believe that they waited until 9pm and then ate dinner by candle-light. That’s absurd. What do families with young children do?

Some good news: my efforts to like the taste of whisky are starting to pay off. I had some on the weekend and it did not remind me of industrial cleaner which is definitely progress. All this hard work of constant tastings is returning dividends, at last.

I’ve replaced my chocolate addiction with a halva addiction which is surely an improvement. Halva is probably better for me, especially the ones I buy which do not have any processed sugar added. Halva is delicious. I never knew it existed until recently. My life is complete.

Gardens and woodland walks at Crathes Castle

Gardens and woodland walks at Crathes Castle

Most weekends I find myself craving for some fresh country air and a walk through the woods or up a hill. Today we satisfied my craving with a trip to Crathes Castle and a walk on one of the woodland trails there. I keep telling Ben we need a country house where we can spend weekends and holidays. I think he thinks I’m joking.

Crathes Castle is always nice and their gardens are among the best in Aberdeenshire. There are also plenty of woodland walks, A Go Ape zip-lining adventure, and a café for tea and scones.

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In this next photo I’m wearing some crochet leg warmers I made. They’re great! I love them and wear them over boots and flats. I’m sharing this now just in case they appear at Paris fashion week so you know you saw them on rachel.blog first 😉

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A field of snowdrops.

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I’m always very taken with the hedges at Crathes Castle, particularly this one which has grown around a gate.

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I wish my glasshouse looked like this.

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They’ve even got wattle. I could smell it before I saw it. Wattle is Australia’s national flower.

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Music from Pride and Prejudice

I love Pride and Prejudice. It’s my favourite book. I’ve read it numerous times and I’ve seen the Greer Garson 1940s film as well as the Keira Knightly 2005 movie several times; Elizabeth is partly named after my grandmother Elizabeth and partly after Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. I’ve also seen the BBC mini series but I prefer the films. The music from the 2005 film is wonderful and composed by an Italian, Dario Marianelli. Recently I got the piano music for the song Dawn which plays at the very start. Here’s my rendition, Swiss notes and all 🙂

The food revolution

America sometimes seems like a country of extremes but one thing they do very well is innovation and entrepreneurship. I don’t think any other country in the world does these two things as well as America. One industry I have been watching with great interest is the food technology industry and America is leading the way.

I’ve always been interested in food – not food for myself to eat, but food to feed the masses. What will we be eating 100 years from now? I don’t think it will be dead animals. Humans will likely still be eating meat but we will not be farming animals to produce it for two main reasons:

  1. Livestock farming consumes too much land and water and produces far more greenhouse gas emissions than the average plant-based diet.
  2. Animal welfare and speciesism. If you accept that it’s racist and sexist to give more consideration to the interests of beings based on their race and sex then it follows that it’s speciesist to give more consideration to the interests of beings based on their species.

How will we eat meat without farming and killing animals for food? This is where the burgeoning food technology industry comes in. An American company, Impossible Foods, is making a burger without using animals. Apparently it even bleeds, although, technically it’s not meat since it’s made from plants. Another American company, Memphis Meats, is making lab-grown meat. This one is apparently real meat which is cultured from the cells of animals in a lab. Another American company, Perfect Day, is making milk – real milk – without cows. Hampton Creek, again an American company, makes mayonnaise and cookies with a lab-grown egg substitute.

Would I eat lab-grown meat and milk? Probably not and not because I have any ethical objections to either. It’s more that I gave up those things more than a decade ago and no longer have the taste for them. Milk and meat smell and taste revolting to me now. However I’m hopeful about the prospect of a kinder and more ethical planet which this technology could bring. I feel like we’re on the precipice of a food revolution that is long overdue and America is leading the way.

Are there European companies charging into this new territory that I’m not aware of? Let me know in the comments if you’re aware of some.

Keep calm and carry on or panic and freak out?

One of my coworkers told me recently how when we Happiness Engineers report bugs it’s not always clear how bad the bug is. We use the same tone, if there is a tone in text, for all bugs. So a minor user interface glitch will have the same tone as a major bug. There are ways around this, of course: we can – and often do – assign a severity rating. However, the question of tone is an interesting one because it comes up in life all the time. How should we communicate something with a high severity and high impact rating effectively? HELP! I’m FREAKING OUT! doesn’t usually work very well.

Climate scientists have a similar problem. I’m generalising here which I know is always bad but I’m going to do it anyway to say that on the whole scientists tend to be very undramatic and not inclined to outbursts of emotion. They have been reporting the global warming problem in the same monotone for decades but no-one is really listening. The earth is getting hotter and this will affect rainfall patterns and our food supply; the oceans are warming and acidifying which is affecting coral reefs and fisheries; heat waves are becoming longer and more intense; the risk of fires is increasing; land ice is melting and increasing sea levels and so on. Why aren’t we in a panic about this? Why aren’t the scientists reporting it in ALL CAPS!! Would we listen if they did?

Before the Christchurch earthquakes started it was recommended that everyone in Christchurch have an earthquake survival kit. No-one had one except me. Now most people have them but they needed the fear and panic of the disaster to act. Advising people in a calm and collected manner to be prepared did not work.

When the pilots of ill-fated Colombian flight 52 communicated their low fuel situation to air traffic controllers at Kennedy International Airport they said, “I think we need priority”. They were not given priority because they did not use the word “emergency” and the plane ran out of fuel and crashed.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Here’s the view from the cycle path today.

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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:

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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.