A new Doctor Who and speed tourism

The 13th Doctor Who was announced today and sadly, it’s not me. I suppose this shouldn’t come as a surprise since I didn’t audition for the part but just in case Jodie Whittaker changes her mind, I’m available. If there are any BBC casting people reading this then this is a FYI.

Today was so busy. It was my last day on holiday and we have visitors so we did speed tourism which is kind of like speed dating but where you see as many sights as possible. First we went to Burn O’Vat which is basically what it sounds like: a giant stone vat.












Next stop was the gardens of Crathes Castle.




Then we made a quick stop at Milton of Crathes which has lots of lovely craft shops, a playground, a brasserie, and a train station for steam trains.



The last stop was Drum Castle because I needed to get a photograph of the toilets.




Rocket seeds and stick insects

I’ve been waiting for my rocket to produce seeds for months and months and months and finally some seed pods have emerged. I’m not sure how or why it took so long because it has been flowering for ages now and I just assumed the seeds would be in the flowers but they weren’t. Today I opened up one of the pods and there are seeds in there. Now to see whether they’ll grow.



I’ve solved the problem of my stick insect population getting out of hand by getting rid of the mesh enclosure. I don’t keep the insects contained at all now. Instead they can roam freely in the laundry and beyond, if they dare. However there’s no food for them anywhere but the laundry so if they leave it they will die. I have several vases of ivy which they can eat. This makes it easy for me to find the eggs and squish them. I don’t know how many insects we have but it’s nice seeing them hanging around the place. When they were in the mesh cage I couldn’t really see them and I had no hope of finding eggs at the bottom.






Sometimes I’ll find them in another part of the house. They can travel quite a long way for such a small creature but I simply pick them up and take them back. Mostly they just stay in the laundry even though I don’t shut them in there.

Born to ride a Pashley

Born to ride a Pashley

Penelope – that’s her name. My new Pashley is called Penelope. I think I emerged from the womb riding a Pashley because it feels so natural. When we’re cycling I’m not sure where the bike ends and my body begins.

The men in the bike shop laughed at me when I said I got her because I wanted a lighter and faster bike but they don’t know that my other bike is a 43kg cargo bike. The Pashley is so light and manoeuvrable by comparison that I’m not getting the same workout as before. The 5 mile ride to Newton Dee barely lifts my heart rate.


The children can ride all the way to Newton Dee by themselves now.


I’m on holiday this week and yesterday I took my mother-in-law to Fyvie Castle. We have only been to this castle once before because it’s a bit further away than some of the others and the drive there is not as scenic as the drive through Royal Deeside.

Fyvie Castle is probably the most palatial inside of all the castles in this region. It’s also something of an art gallery with a magnificent collection of Raeburn paintings. And it’s absolutely enormous.




Fyvie castle also has a walled garden like all the others but it’s not as good as the walled garden at Crathes and Drum. One very cool thing though: you can stay at Fyvie Castle overnight! There’s an apartment in one of the towers and it sleeps 16. I’d love to do that.

My mid-life crisis Pashley

My mid-life crisis Pashley

For more than half my life I have wanted a Pashley. When I lived in Cambridge as a 20-year-old I saw people cycling around on these magnificent-looking bicycles. I couldn’t afford one myself back then and later I became a parent and needed the station-wagon equivalent of bikes, a Bakfiets. I still love my Bakfiets but sometimes I want a bike I can lift by myself and take up stairs. Now, at 41, I have my mid-life crisis Porche, a Pashley Princess.

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I don’t understand why people buy bikes that force them to ride hunched over the handle-bars. I don’t understand why people buy bikes without mud guards. When it rains the mud spatters up your back and makes your clothes dirty. I don’t understand why people buy bikes without a basket or place to put their bag. How do they carry their belongings around with them? My Pashley has a large basket up front, full mud guards on both wheels, and I can ride sitting upright. This is how bikes should be.

I was a bit nervous about buying another bike after how uncomfortable I found the Danish Butchers and Bicycles bike I owned for a year. I wondered whether I should stick to Dutch bikes but then I read that traditional Dutch bikes are modelled on the Pashley. Britain was making bikes first and the geometry of the Pashley was copied by the Dutch and became the design of the Omafiets or granny bike.

I read lots of reviews before buying the Pashley and on the whole people rave about it. The negative features are that it’s heavy and slow but everything is relative and a 20kg Pashley is as light as a feather next to a 43kg Bakfiets which is what I’m used to. I had no trouble carrying the Pashley upstairs. It also felt much faster to me.

I had the leather seat replaced with a Brooks Cambium C19 which is what my Bakfiets has. I love this seat and as a vegan I did not want a leather saddle. The Brooks Cambium is made with rubber and organic cotton. It’s also maintenance-free unlike the leather version which requires constant attention. I think it looks better too.






Power dressing, old friends, Drum Castle, and new toilets

Power dressing, old friends, Drum Castle, and new toilets

I have a new look. Just call me Bond, James Bond. I even have my own trusty Aston Martin, a.k.a. Busby.


Daniel is very lucky to have a friend from New Zealand visiting him right now. They haven’t seen each other in almost three years and a lot changes in that time when you’re a kid. They spent the afternoon today rampaging around Drum Castle.


















Perhaps even more exciting than James Bond and long-lost friends are the new toilets at Drum Castle which are simply smashing!




Bonobo Café

Bonobo Café


A couple of weeks ago Aberdeen welcomed its very first vegan café, Bonobo, and today I got to check it out. It’s the result of a kick-starter campaign which I, along with hundreds of others, donated to. All our names are on the wall inside.


The food was delicious and the service, perfect. They have done a wonderful job inside and created a very warm and friendly place to hang out. The outside garden is a showstopper and puts my plot at the allotments to shame.




The garden has fruiting tomatoes that are not in a glasshouse. I didn’t think this was possible in Aberdeen.

I had a satay wrap: tofu cooked in a peanut sauce and rolled up with other veggies.


Elizabeth got the vegan quiche:


Daniel had the soup:


Bonobo gets a 10/10 from me. Daniel, the very fussy eater, gave it 8/10 which is terrific! We’ll be back.

The Host – Film Review

After enjoying the film Okja we decided to watch another South Korean film by the same director, Joon-ho Bong. In 2006 he directed The Host which is about a monster fish that walks on land and terrorises and eats humans. The fish appears after some scientists pour toxic chemicals into the River Han.

Joon-ho Bong captures moments of suspense so well. At the beginning there’s a scene where the dad loses contact with his daughter’s hand as they run from the monster and when he grabs it again he accidentally grabs the wrong person’s hand. It all happens in slow motion but you know that the daughter is left behind and that the monster will take her. Then towards the end there’s another scene where the girl is trapped in the monster’s lair and tries to escape when she thinks the creature is sleeping only he isn’t sleeping. There’s a terrifying 20 seconds that feels like several minutes.

Most of the film is about watching the girl’s incompetent family try to rescue her. The family is thwarted at every turn by the authorities who are even more incompetent but also corrupt and, frankly, more terrifying than the monster itself.

Some parts were a bit unbelievable; for instance, the girl was able to survive for ages in the monster’s lair by hiding in a small side tunnel. Why didn’t the monster just grab her with his tail? But as Ben pointed out it’s probably pointless to argue that a scene is unbelievable in a film about a man-eating fish that runs on land.

Frank Spencer at the allotments

Frank Spencer at the allotments

I went to the allotment today to assemble a small cage I purchased to keep the pigeons off the vegetables. I bought what I thought was an easy click-together frame but when I pulled it out I discovered screws and I hadn’t taken a screwdriver with me. Who carries a screwdriver around with them? I got increasingly frustrated slotting poles together only to see them fall out again as soon as I let go. At one point I had it in one piece but upside-down and when I tried to right it everything fell apart again. It was like an episode of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em but with me playing the part of Frank Spencer.

Just when I was about to give up, Graeme, another plot-holder, came to the rescue and helped me put it together. Graeme had a screwdriver. Here’s the end result.


Thank you, Graeme. I couldn’t have done it without you. Here’s Graeme with his newly harvested potatoes.


My slug beer traps have been very effective. Here are the slugs I’ve caught in one week.


Okja – Film Review

Okja.pngA soulless multinational company develops a giant pig which poops less and eats less than regular pigs while providing a greater volume of meat. The company sends a number of these super pigs to farmers all over the world to raise for ten years. One of them is sent to South Korea where the farmer’s daughter befriends the pig and when, inevitably, the pig is taken back to New York the girl is devastated and sets off on a rescue mission.

I really enjoyed it. It was funny in parts but also sad. The ALF (Animal Liberation Front) have a prominent role in several action scenes and they are all very well done. I don’t know all that much about the ALF in real life but in the film they were depicted as organised and well-resourced but slightly nuts. There was also some lovely scenery at the beginning of the film which was set in South Korea. It was directed by a South Korean writer/director, Joon-ho Bong.

Would it make a meat-eater question whether to eat bacon for breakfast? I don’t know. It has been so long since I ate bacon that I find the thought repulsive so I’m not the right person to ask. But I do think the film will challenge perceptions of factory farming and how we treat animals today. Towards the end of the film I was reminded of a quote by Nobel Prize winner, Isaac Bashevis Singer:

In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka.

But there is reason to hope. We may see lab-grown meat available in stores as early as next year.

Where is health and safety when you need it?

Something I’ve always found a bit odd and somewhat irritating about living in the UK are the health and safety rules. For instance, you can’t enter a school building after 9am without someone buzzing you in. In Australia and New Zealand anyone can walk into school grounds and classrooms are all unlocked during lessons.

When we lived in York I was unable to volunteer as a parent helper for excursions because I didn’t pass the police check. This was because my Australian passport had my maiden name on it while my driver’s licence had my married name and they said this was insufficient to prove my identity.

Given my own experience and some of the stories I’ve heard from others about health and safety gone mad it is with complete astonishment that I now read about all the buildings in London that have failed a simple fire safety test. We won’t allow employees in large companies to walk around with a cup of hot coffee and yet we allow children to live in flammable buildings. There is something seriously wrong with policy-making to end up with this ridiculous situation.

Fruit and veg boxes

Fruit and veg boxes

I ordered some fruit and veg boxes from The Organic Delivery Company and so far I’m impressed. The company is based in London but my order still arrived the very next day which is fantastic given we’re at the other end of the country. My main complaint with fruit and veg from supermarkets is all the plastic they use. Everything is wrapped in plastic. There was still a little bit of plastic in my box but hardly any when compared with the supermarket versions. Here’s what I got:


I don’t know what that big orange thing is next to the bananas. Anyone know?

Meat allergy tick is spreading thanks to climate change

Meat allergy tick is spreading thanks to climate change


I thought this story was a hoax at first but I Googled it and found reputable sources like the New Yorker, ABC Science, BBC, and Science Daily.

There’s a nice symmetry to the thought that one of the causes of climate change – livestock farming – could also bring about its demise. Livestock farming produces more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transport sector – that’s all the cars, trucks, trains, planes, buses, and ships on the planet. As our planet warms, insects, like this meat-allergy-inducing tick, are spreading to areas which were previously too cold for them.

It’s not sustainable to feed 7 billion people the same meat-based diet that most North Americans eat today. Over 50 billion farm animals are slaughtered every year to feed humans. Most of them live short, painful lives in miserable conditions.

Livestock farming is also contributing to antibiotic resistance. “About 75 percent of the antibiotics used in the United States and the European Union countries are used in agriculture.”

Eating animals is not a very efficient way to get protein because we have to grow a lot of crops to feed those animals. We could just eat those crops ourselves and then we’d have more food to feed a growing population. Here’s a good infographic from an article in The Conversation on deforestation. As you can see, when we pass protein through an animal first we get less out than we put in. And no, I’m not denying that cows eat grass. They do eat grass but most of the 50 billion animals slaughtered for food each year are not grass-fed cows.

If humans really want to eat animals there are more sustainable alternatives. Eating some of the many wild rabbits and deer that are culled each year is one option. There are also rats and mice. I think it’s less ethical to consume dairy products which cause undue suffering to a mother and baby than to eat game marked for culling.

Another possibility is to eat roadkill:


If that’s unpalatable then just eat any of the 20,000 species of edible plants in the world.

Our allotment two months later

Our allotment two months later

I spent several hours at the allotment this morning. Our plot still needs a lot of work but when I compare the now photo with the before photo I realise we have come a long way. Here’s how it looked in April:


Here’s how it looks today:


Now I just need to turn it into food. Right now I’m mostly feeding the resident slug population. My kale has been decimated:


I have a three-pronged strategy in my war against the slugs. Firstly, I bought some nematodes which are microorganisms that infect slugs and kill them. I watered that into the soil today so hopefully I’ll see some improvements in the coming weeks. Secondly, I put out some beer traps which will attract the snails and drown them. Thirdly, I put down some strulch. Strulch is a straw mulch that repels slugs and snails. I put it on the garden at home. It reduces the number of weeds and helps retain soil moisture. It also smells lovely. Poisonous slug pellets are best avoided. I’ve heard they can be eaten by small animals and then the small animals are eaten by larger animals causing the poison to travel up the food chain getting more and more concentrated. The poisons have also been found in streams and rivers.

Here is one of the beer traps:


It’s fair to say our allotment is the worst one there except for this one but it doesn’t look like anyone is tending to this one so it doesn’t really count.


Tell lions not to eat dogs

This post is for my vegan friends who I’m sure will enjoy this Facebook article that appeared in my feed this week. I had a good laugh because every single one of those points has been said to me in the 15 years that I have been vegan. If you click the “See More” link you can see the full post without having to visit Facebook.

I particularly like this one “Before you tell the people of Bali not to eat dogs you better go to Africa & tell a lion not to eat a dog.” I posted about this recently on my own blog in Animals eat each other so why shouldn’t we eat them? and a couple of weeks later someone used the same argument with me again. I confess I was a little curt with them in my response. How can people be so stupid? I should be more understanding and compassionate but this is what happens when you hear the same stupid arguments for 15 years. I will endeavour to be more understanding going forward. No-one ever became vegan because they were made to feel stupid.

Arguing in a bike, swishing, and pollution

Arguing in a bike, swishing, and pollution

I cycled into town with the kids this evening and they had a huge fight in the bike. The fight was because Daniel said he can click his fingers and Elizabeth says he can’t. This is the downside to having kids in a bike. When you’re in a car members of the public can’t hear your kids arguing in the back and so parents are spared the embarrassment. But in the bike every pedestrian we cycled past heard it. Thankfully they very rarely fight and had made up by the time we cycled home which was just after this next photo was taken.


One of Ben’s old PhD students from New Zealand is visiting. He lives in China now and complained about the pollution there. Walking along Union St in Aberdeen he commented on how great it was to breathe the fresh air. Union St is one of the most polluted Streets in Scotland. Thank goodness we don’t live in China. I would not like it at all. Aberdeen is a great place to live. While the rest of the UK has been complaining about the heat we have been lovely and cool with temperatures no higher than 20C this past week.

A couple of days ago I went to a swishing night which is an event where you take a heap of clothes you no longer want and swap them for clothes other people no longer want. As one mum put it: it’s like shopping without spending any money. It was fantastic and I got the dress I’m wearing in the photo at swishing. I would definitely do it again.

I planted a couple of sweet peas in a small patch of dirt on our footpath. They started flowering a couple of weeks ago and look lovely.


Bichon Burgers

Bichon Burgers

I humbly suggest for consideration that the tens of thousands of dogs that are killed each year in Britain be offered for sale to feed the hungry and growing population. A German Shepherd could feed as many as 50 people while a chihuahua could feed a family of four. People in Britain are familiar and comfortable with the idea of dogs as pets, so there will be good brand recognition.  Surely it is only a small step to take from owning a dog to eating one?

Dogs are currently eaten and enjoyed as a nourishing food source in China, South Korea, and Vietnam. An estimated 13-16 million dogs are eaten by humans every year in Asia. Traditional uses of dog meat are roasted dog, dog soup, and dog-meat sausages. Most dogs can be eaten from around 1 year of age and the fur could be used in gloves, coats, and other garments by the fashion industry.

By eating dogs we will solve two problems: the desire to eat meat by a growing human population and also the problem of abandoned, stray, and unwanted dogs. The factory farming of animals is creating lots of environmental problems like climate change, waste pollution, and antibiotic resistance. Stray dogs don’t contribute to any of these problems and are killed anyway. The human population is expected to grow from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050 and humans have an insatiable appetite for meat.

Eating dogs also provides us with economic opportunities. Dog catchers can earn a living by rounding up and collecting dogs while the sale of the meat will provide business opportunities for butchers and restaurants. The great variety of breeds lends itself to clever marketing and recipe ideas like spaghetti spaniel, peppered pug, and terrier tagine. Enterprising chefs can capitalise on novel dishes involving different breeds and body parts like dog tails and paws.


Here’s a recipe idea: Bichon Burgers

225g cooked meat from a bichon frise
1 small onion
40g fresh bread crumbs
2 tblsp chopped parsley
1 clove garlic
1 small egg, beaten
a couple of chopped spring onions

Mix all ingredients in a food processor then divide into small burger-sized portions and fry in oil. Serve between two slices of break with ketchup and eat.

Some pics

Some pics

Ben took this photo of me and Elizabeth at the Handmade Burger Company on Sunday night. I love the new WordPress t-shirt I’m wearing which I got in Paris.


My colleague, Kathryn, took the next two photos of us at the Jetpack booth in Paris. They’re really great.


This last photo is one I took of the view each day on the walk from the hotel to the venue. People think Paris is glamorous and maybe it is but every city has a dark side and Paris is no exception.

Queues, parties, anxiety, and dad-friendly swimsuits

The party last night was a bit of a disaster. Everyone was told not to eat first because there would be food there but the food was a small pop-up stall selling hamburgers and hot dogs with a long and mostly stationary queue of about 100 people. To get drinks you had to purchase tokens but the queue for tokens was similarly long. Meanwhile a DJ was blasting techno music onto an empty dance floor. There is something almost comical about seeing two huge and non-moving queues of people at a party. Aliens must think we are nuts. Is it always necessary to have a DJ blasting techno music at a party? What’s wrong with a string quartet or am I just too old for this now?

Apparently in Eastern Europe in the old days you had to queue three times to buy things: once to place your order, again to pay for your order, and then a third time to collect it. There was a huge queue at Charles De Gaulle airport this morning and even, inexplicably, a queue in Aberdeen. Aberdeen airport never has queues but apparently it’s graduation this week and so there are lots of families of students flying in to attend. I don’t want to see another queue again for at least a month.

A small group of us left the party to search for food and we ended up at a delightful Indian vegetarian restaurant and so I still had a nice time. However the restaurant was so far away from the party and the party so far away from our hotel that we made the decision just to go back to the hotel. This meant that I didn’t get to see as many people as I would have liked. I will have to wait until next year for WordCamp EU 2018 which will be in Belgrade.

It’s nice to be back with the family. I’m not a keep calm and carry-on person; I’m panic and freak out. Before I left for Paris I was anxious – about everything. Would Elizabeth drown at the swimming birthday party she was invited to? Would the kids be kidnapped? Would my plane crash? Would British border control refuse to let me back in again? The swimming party invitation caused me a lot of grief. Elizabeth can swim but she’s not great and 30 seven-year-olds at a pool party sounds like a bad idea, especially in this country where kids are much less confident in the water.

To add to this there was the problem of her swimsuit. Do you know how hard it is to find dad-friendly swimsuits? Her last swimsuit had a clip behind the neck which neither she nor Ben could undo so I replaced it with a suit without clips. However the replacement had cross-over straps at the back which was equally challenging for dad and the 7-year-old. I thought I could teach Elizabeth how to do it and she seemed to get the knack but on one trip to the bathroom, where she had to take it off and put it on again, she reappeared wearing the suit back-to-front and inside-out. After this I decided to get a third swimsuit and this time chose a two-piece which, thankfully, she can manage herself.

Ben had to take the kids to school on Friday and apparently he slept in. He was awoken by Elizabeth at 8:10am saying, “Daniel says you need to get up”. The kids have to be at school at 8:45am. I’m so proud of Daniel. Not only was he keeping an eye on the time and aware that Daddy needed to wake up, but he also delegated the task of waking him to his younger sister.

French Wapuu

French Wapuu

I’m having a wonderful time at WCEU 2017. The venue is enormous and works well for the 2,500 people who are here. People come to WordCamps for so many different reasons. Some come to learn about WordPress and attend as many talks as possible; some come to see old friends and make new ones; some come for the swag; while others come to get a photograph with a French Wapuu.


If you retweet my Tweet then you’ll increase my chances of taking Wapuu back home with me. Thank you in advance 🙂

I got these two little dudes for my kids.




A group of us went for dinner last night and we got this amazing selection of tapas to share.


I have another long day ahead of me today so I’d better get ready.